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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Blessings

LOL.  ROFL.

These acronyms come into play a lot in our internet world, usually to mark something as laugh-out-loud funny (LOL) or roll-on-the-floor-laughing worthy (ROFL).  Sadly, in reality, neither one happens with great frequency for me.

But then sometimes it does.

Like this morning, when I had a little snafu that I wanted to share with my family via Facebook, and I decided to share it with my whole Facebook circle, because it was a little silly and funny and I thought I’d brighten someone’s day with it.  My toaster, which I consider my favorite household appliance and that we got from my brother and sister-in-law for a wedding gift thirteen years ago, went belly up as I was helping my son fish his English muffin out this morning.

I took a picture of my dearly departed and posted it, with a little description of how I felt about its passing.  It was a minor inconvenience for sure, but thought I’d make a much bigger deal out of it, especially since everyone in my family knows it’s my favorite and everything. 

And also because I tend to like to make a bigger deal out of everything that is silly or funny.

Facebook friends played along, giving tongue-in-cheek condolences and expressing sympathies.   My family members chimed in too, offering up remembrances as if the toaster was part of their lives as much as it was a part of mine.  In ten minutes, ten people had responded.

Then I realized that the GFI switch on my outlet had tripped.  The toaster hadn’t died; the outlet it was plugged into was protecting us from an electrical fire.

I swiftly presented the information to the Facebook crowd, who I envisioned would be shaking their heads and wondering why I am so stupid and being thankful that they aren’t.

Then it happened.  As the goofiness of the whole scenario hit me, I LOL’d, and R’dOFL.  Seriously.  I fell out of my chair.  There was nothing for me to do but roll.

Tears streamed down my face as I typed “IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE” and my brother responded “I hear the trumpets of Angels! Blessed be thou, Dualit toaster!  One by one, the Facebook thread filled with exaggerated blessings and I was overcome with giddiness, embarrassment, and sheer joy that I didn’t have to get myself another toaster this close to Christmas.

All this on a morning where I sat at my kitchen table, tired and in pain from a particularly serious neck tweaking I did the day before and that had me up since 4:30 am, the stress of having only a few days before Christmas and the days and nights are filling up with things to do and places to go and WHERE AM I GOING TO FIND THE TIME TO WRAP MY CHILDREN’S GIFTS? and our nation’s collective sorrow steadily undulating about the senseless murders of 20 schoolchildren and 6 of their teachers.

God knows when I need to LOL and ROFL.

And for that, I’m thankful.  

Christmas miracles are everywhere.  You just have to know where to look.



Thank you, God, for your many blessings.  For the birth of your son, for encouragement from friends and family, and for laughter that you supply in so many creative ways.  My I never overlook the places where your blessings might hide.  Amen.

 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fear Not

When I got serious about God I was a new mom.  My kids were babies, and I was searching for something to hold onto, something that gave life more meaning than spending most days trying to wrangle babies and a work-from-home job that was swiftly slipping through my fingers.

Those early days of Bible study were nerve-racking for me.  I sat in a circle of women who had been serious about God for a long time, some since their teens, some even during early childhood.  I felt grossly ill-equipped to talk about God; I didn’t want to share that just a few years back I was making jokes about God and questioning his presence in my life.  I didn’t deserve to be in this group.   Mostly, I stayed quiet and listened.

We talked about our fears.  My fears at that time centered on the loss of my children, of something happening to them that I couldn’t control.  I feared abduction, disease, house fire, injury.  I had nightmares about leaving my kids in the grocery store.  I would wake up in the middle of the night to see if they were still there and hold my hand under their noses to make sure they were breathing.

As the years went by, my relationship with God grew and I spent more time learning about his gift of Jesus Christ and how I could stay close to him every day.  I learned to pray about everything.  I opened up in Bible study about what I thought about God and how he helps me.  My understanding of his gift deepened.  We still talked about our fears.  I started to regularly cast my fears to God so he could take care of them for me.  My fear of an unknown tragedy befalling my children still lingered, but it did not paralyze me.  

All over the world, tragedies happen.  Too often, they happen to children.  Some are abused; others perish in fires; still others are lost to disease.  And then some are shot and killed.  I find that my fears about these things happening to my children resurface with each event that I hear about, some stronger than others.  I give the fears to God anew.  I pray for victims and their families.  I pray for people who commit crimes against children. 

It is easier for me to do this, I suppose; I am not a vengeful person.  I have experienced tragedy in my life, and I know it does no good to dwell on what could have been prevented, nor hate people for what they do.  I know that hate only serves to tear me down and tempts me to take the role of judge, a role which I am not qualified to take.  Certainly people do terrible things, myself included.

It is also easier for me to pray for people who commit crimes against children because I have not lost my child to one of their crimes.  They are not abused.   They were not abducted.  They go back and forth to school safely each day.  My children sleep safely in their beds at night. 

It scares me to think this.  My fear tells me that those fears, the ones that I have so openly given to God, are exactly where the evil in this world will threaten me and attempt to break me down.  The superstitious part of me, the one that still takes up space in my mind where God should be, tells me to hurry up and cover those fears with prayers.

But I am slowly learning that along with everything else in my life, my children are not mine.  They are God’s, just as I am his.  My trust that he has his hand in our lives and our larger world comforts me more than the fears have ever scared me.  His everlasting love, the love that never fails, has surrounded me, and surrounds my children.

In a world of so much fear and tragedy, I am comforted by the fact that he is so good.

*******

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Following the Rules

I am a rule-follower.  I like knowing what’s expected.  Give me a set of guidelines to follow where I don’t have to think about what to do, and I’m pretty comfortable and content to act, all thoughts and decision-making left to the parameters outlined.  Usually rules are pretty easy to follow and I get along pretty well.

There are a lot of people who resist rules.  The mostly rebellious question every rule that comes along.  Sometimes people don’t follow rules because they feel they are silly, or that rules don’t apply to them.  I have trouble understanding why people feel this way.  We are all unique, but not so different.  Most rules apply.  I know that sometimes they don’t, and some rules can be stretched or broken, but it’s not in my nature to do so at first glance.  I have made a life out of adapting myself to following the rules of the road, marriage, common courtesy, the law.

On the few occasions where I have chosen not to follow the rules, I have suffered.  Usually I suffer from guilt; my conscience gnaws at me.  The knowledge that I did something against the grain blinks its warning light at me until I fall in line again.

I acknowledge that my general rule following can be dangerous in the world today.  Not all rules are for everyone’s good, and there are some situations in which we find ourselves in more trouble just for following a set of faulty, out of order, or even malicious rules.  I need to be careful about blindly following rules made by untrustworthy sources, or rules made to benefit only a certain few.  When we follow these guidelines we run the risk of inadvertently harming other people that the rules were designed to exclude.

The only rules I trust to follow blindly are God’s.  His rules always supersede any rules that the world has to offer.  His ways are not always the way the world works, but they have never failed me.  When I fail him, I know that I have overstepped, or stumbled over his will, choosing instead to follow my own.  Each instance of my crossing God’s line ends up with me facing the consequences of my own actions. 

I should remember that God’s rules are made only for my good, for my benefit.  They are appropriate not just for me, but for everyone – each one of us will do better when we follow God’s lead and look to him for guidance.  His ways, his rules, are designed for our ultimate perfection; they will never fail us.

*******

The law of the lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.  The statutes of the lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.  The precepts of the lord are right, giving joy to the heart.  The commands of the lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.  The fear of the lord is pure, enduring forever.  The decrees of the lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.  They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.  By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.  Psalm 19:7-11 (NIV)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fa La La La Lord, Help Me

Every year at Christmas I go into a frenzy.

If you think you've read something like this here before, it's because you have.  I wrote about his very thing a month ago.

Frenzied is not my ideal state of being.  I prefer to do things simply, slowly and deliberately.  I lose track of things when the pace of life speeds up and I overlook a lot of important details, and overlooking details stresses me out.

We decorate the house with twinkle lights and evergreens, buy and wrap gifts, write Christmas cards, attend holiday concerts at school, celebrate with friends and co-workers at parties, and bake cookies. We live out of town from our loved ones, so we also have family get-togethers at home and we travel to visit family during the season.  We always have at least two Christmas celebrations each year with our families, and sometimes three, depending on where December 25 falls on the calendar.

And we do all of this Christmas prep and Christmas celebrating with Christmas music playing in the background.

We Wish You A Merry Christmas.

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

Joy To The World.

O Holy Night.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

It’s the noise of the Christmas season, which can be a little screamy.

But this year my attitude about Christmas is a little different.  This year, I decided to be in a good mood about Christmas.  I decided not to let the activities and their attendant worries of Did I do this? Did I buy that? and OH NO, the bills! get to me.  I decided to acknowledge that there is a lot going on, and I prayed about it and asked God to help me out.  I even told my husband that I was doing this.  I needed the accountability.

It worked.  I still feel the busy-ness.  But along with the busy-ness is the peace of Jesus, Jesus who we celebrate this year and every year.  The pace hasn’t slowed, but my heart feels better about it.  And my mood has improved.  I know that this is the work of God.  I know that he won’t allow me to overlook the most important thing about Christmas this year.  I am so grateful for that.  I’m sure my husband is, too.

*******

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.   Matthew 1:21 (NIV)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Pray

When I was a child, I prayed at bedtime a prayer taught to me by my parents and recited under my breath each night to a point at which I no longer thought of the words I was saying.  To the outside listener my mumbled prayers probably sounded like I was either talking in my sleep or overcome by the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.

It went something like this:

nowIlaymeodwntosleepIpraytheLordmysoultokeepifIshoulddiebeforeIwakeIpraytheLordmysoultotakeGodblessmomanddadandbrothersandgrandmasandandgranddadsandauntsandunclesandcousinsandeveryoneIknowandlovepleaseodn’tletourhouseburndownoranythinghappentoanyofusthankyouLordAmen.

It took me about ten seconds to say this prayer from beginning to end, and I couldn’t fall asleep if I didn’t pray it; I believed that if I didn’t say this prayer, my family and all my loved ones would be open to any and all horrific events waiting to pounce on our unprayed heads. 

Praying was my safety net.

I prayed this prayer each night until I considered myself too old to pray myself to sleep. As I grew older, I prayed for only the things I wanted, usually under desperate circumstances:  Please God let me get an A on this test; please God let there be no school tomorrow; please God don’t let me get in trouble; please God don’t let them find out about this; please God keep us safe.

Then somewhere along the line I felt bad for using God; I was praying, but rarely thanking. I was asking, but rarely giving. I felt demanding and hypocritical, and stopped praying altogether.  I stopped praying at a time when I could have used a safety net more than I’d like to admit.

As an adult, I started praying again as I went back to church and learned again that God is always there for each of us.  Even then I only prayed for things that I felt were important, and usually only at the bequest of others: Please God take away her cancer; please God show him your light; please God save this baby.  I still didn’t pray for myself much, and most certainly I didn’t ask God for minor things like finding my keys or having enough money to pay all the bills.  I figured that was my responsibility, and why bother God with my personal nonsense?

Then I started reading the Bible.  I read that God wants us to pray throughout the day for everything (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  I heard that some people do “breath prayers” where they pray a word or phrase to God as they inhale and exhale.  We can pray every day, every hour, every minute, every second.  God wants us to try and overwhelm him with our prayers.  God wants us to pray for everything (Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 6:18)

And this includes praying to find lost keys, for the traffic light to turn green, for the front door to be locked when you’re at the mall and can’t remember if you locked it before you left.

I still pray for the sickness to heal, the baby to be saved, the friend’s heart to soften.  I have seen enough answers to prayers that I know God is listening.  I have been in awe of God’s answers more times in my daily prayers than I ever thought a person could. 

Because of my praying, I have learned to trust God, his word, and his plan.  I have relied on him for things that previously I thought were trivialities and couldn’t be important to him.  What I learned is that nothing about us is trivial to God, and if we pray to him, he will listen.

*******
Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Philippians 4:6 (NLT)

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.  Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.  Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the immeasurable generosity of God in every single day.  Although his love is big enough and strong enough to cover the whole world's sins, he sees each of us individually and gives us each exactly what we need.  I am thankful; I don't know how he does it.

For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
John 6:33 (NIV)

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV)

Thank you, Lord, for all that you are, and for all that you have given me.  I pray that the love you give me everyday shows in how I live my life, so that those around me could share it.  Amen.

But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. Psalm 42:8 (NLT)

 


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

All Kidding Aside

There’s one in every family.

The prankster, the joker, the wit, the funny one.  The one who tries to bring the funny to any situation.

In our family there are three of us.  My husband and I can giggle and laugh at the dumbest stuff, bouncing funny comments off one another just because.  I used to muse that I was so happy that my son had inherited my sense of humor.  I said used to.

That was before he started leaping from behind walls and telling wild stories just to see my reaction, then saying “Joking!” when my eyes were about to bug out of my head.

My mother will tell you that I deserve every bit of it.  She’s right.

Our daughter is the odd one out.  Maybe it’s just because she’s the youngest, but she gets very indignant when the rest of us are joking around and she doesn’t get it.

Angry and teary, even.

I don’t blame her.  Sometimes our joking around is at each other’s expense.  No one likes to be teased.  No one likes to be laughed at, even if the laughing is from those who love us the most.  We have to be careful that we don’t damage her sensitive nature.  Someday she might get it, but that time is not now.  She doesn’t like to be reminded that she doesn’t get it.

Isn’t that how we all are sometimes?  Sensitive to others who know something we don’t?  Jealous and resentful that someone else has what we don’t, even if it’s just an inside joke?  We only want to belong, claim our seat at the table.  When we don’t get it, we sulk, are hurt.

One thing that God is not is a joker.  Sure, everyone says that God has a sense of humor, but it is never at anyone’s expense.  God doesn’t tease.  He doesn’t tell us something we find pleasure in, only to pull the rug out from under us.  God takes his word very seriously.  The Bible is full of commands and texts that convict us to reexamine our lives to better align with what he wants for us.

After all, God wants us to live with him forever.  There will be no room for someone who maligns another, who tries to one-up his neighbor, who teases and taunts to produce tears.

I am sensitive of this in my own family, for my daughter’s sake.   I fail every now and then, and am reminded of my failure when her face crumples and the tears roll.  At that moment I hope to stop and be reminded how many times God keeps his word with me, how many times I stumble and instead of laughing at me, he reaches out his hand and helps me to stand.

And I am thankful that God takes his love for me seriously, and there’s no joking around about it.
 *******


Well, I know a few things myself - and you’re no better than I am.  Who doesn’t know these things you’ve been saying?  Yet my friends laugh at me, for I call on God and expect an answer.  I am a just and blameless man, yet they laugh at me.  People who are at ease mock those in trouble.  They give a push to people who are stumbling.  Job 12:3-5 (NLT)
If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.  Galatians 5:15 (NIV)
Help me, Lord my God; save me according to your unfailing love.  Psalm 109:26 (NIV)


Thursday, November 15, 2012

'Tis the Season

Now that Halloween is over Thanksgiving is soon here, businesses and retail companies are free to fill our minds and neuroses with as much Christmas season frenzy as they can.  Anyone who has a chance to make money from consumers is marketing the heck out of whatever they’re selling. 

Sometimes all they’re selling is the idea of a gift.  Make this Christmas the one they’ll remember.  If you buy this second you’ll get 80 percent off.  This offer will not last.  Don’t be a chump.

This is enough to make my heart beat faster and for me to pull the covers over my head and concede my defeat to the holiday season. 

Just pass me by, already.  I can’t keep up.

Last year I confided to my husband that I really don’t enjoy the holiday season.  He responded with shock and awe.  He relishes frenzy and chaos, infinite options, shopping to shop and deals, deals, deals.  He can’t understand that all I want for Christmas is PEACE.

He kicked into action by ramping up his helpfulness with shopping, the kids, the house.  It helps, but it doesn’t stop the constant buzz of external pressure to get out there, take Christmas by the horns, and make it the best one yet by doing and buying everything.

I have to say in past years I haven’t been very good about remembering the reason for the season.  I allow the commercialization to get to me.  I make the season a chore because I am so grumpy about it.  I resist what Christmas has become, but I have had a hard time doing anything about it.

This year, I’ve decided to pray.  Pray when the season gets away from me, pray when I feel like I’m drowning, pray when things get a little too loud and fast and annoying and I focus on those things that have nothing to do with what’s going on in my heart.

And let me tell you, I have never prayed so often during a day than I have the past couple of weeks since those Christmas commercials started.

But it’s working.  Jesus has talked me down from the wall every time, without fail.  He reminds me in times when the blood rushes through my ears after a particular flood of anxiety that he is there.  And he causes tears to well in my eyes when he quietly says, “It’s my life you are celebrating.  Don’t forget that.”

I may not be able to stop the onslaught of all things Christmas, but then again, I don’t have to.  All I have to do is look away from the chaos and into the one who makes everything right.

And there is the peace.
*******

But as for me, I will sing about your power.  Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.  O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love. Psalm 59:16-17 (NLT)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Longsuffering

If I’m in a mood, I can really see myself as longsuffering.

Especially when it’s week 10 of college football season and I’ve spent nearly every one of the past ten Saturdays listening to my football-fanatic husband hoot, holler, clap, and scream at the television at the people on the screen, who cannot hear him.  THEY CANNOT HEAR YOU PLEASE BE QUIET THANK YOU

Especially when I’m looking down the barrel of a scowly kid who I’ve just told, like I have every other morning this week, that she cannot wear a tank top to school when it’s 30 degrees out and I don’t care if you are wearing a jacket.

Especially when I find myself at the grocery store for the third time this week because I keep forgetting one item that I need for any given meal.

Especially when I want to browse Facebook to see what my friends are up to, and all I see are political rants and smack-talk about each other’s sports teams.

Especially when we decide to do some home improvements and two months later the oven dies, then the air conditioner, the hot water heater, and the battery in my car.

And especially, ESPECIALLY, when I ask my family for helping tidying up their messes in the house and I get many levels of whining, excuses, and grief as a response.

Longsuffering.

 Sigh.

Look, I know people have problems, bigger ones than the ones I’ve outlined.  I don’t suffer illness, drug addiction, abuse, poverty, or oppression.  Humanity can sling dirtier evils than what I’ve experienced.

Maybe I can't say I'm longsuffering, exactly.  Maybe I'm more world-weary.  Maybe just whiny. 

But when I'm feeling bad about what I'm suffering through, my call is the same as everyone else’s: to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering…" Colossians 3:12 (NKJV)

and I need to remember that

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (NKJV)

Do you see what else abides with longsuffering?  Mercy.  Kindness.  Meekness.  Gentleness.  Temperance.

And I would do well to put these characteristics into effect while suffering long.

I guess I can practice those, too.  Now if I could only get my husband to watch football more quietly.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Reading and Writing

If you're new here, you may not know that I have another blog called About 100%, where I write about the ups and downs in my little corner of the earth, and pretty much whatever comes into my head.  It's heartfelt and kind of funny, but mostly embarrassing.

I have partnered with our local newspaper via their Read and Write for Literacy Program
to promote the Adult Literacy program that my community's YWCA supports.  In today's post at About 100%, I have written about literacy and what reading and writing means to me.

In short, literacy means so much to me that I don't even remember not being able to read or write.

Sort of how I don't know what it's like to not have a head.

Please read my post over at About 100% and help me support our YWCA's program.  You have an opportunity to help that won't cost you a single penny.  Thank you for reading!

About 100% blog post:

http://www.about100percent.com/2012/11/reading-for-life.html



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What I Got

Now that it’s November, many people start talking about what they are thankful for.  Frequently mentioned items include a home, a job, good health, a loving family, many friends, children, enough food to eat and clothes to wear.

Those things are all good things.  They are all things to be thankful for.  I am thankful for them, because without them I would be cold, lonely, sick, and sad, four things that I’ve been before and I can say that being cold, lonely, sick, and sad is no good at all.

My husband and I teach our children to be thankful for what they have.  Not many of the things we give to them are necessities.  They can do without a fifth pair of shoes, dance lessons, Halloween costumes, even their own bedrooms.  Yet they have each of these things.  They live luxurious lives, and they don’t want to hear us lecture about how they should be thankful, how children and adults all over the world don’t have a fraction of what they do so eat your green beans because there are starving kids in China who don’t even know what a green bean is, for goodness’ sake.

I believe that they are thankful for what they have.  They speak the words every day and pray the prayers every night.  But are they – am I? – really thankful?

This past week the issue of thankfulness has surfaced many times for me, which could just be the timing – it is almost Thanksgiving, after all – but more likely it is God trying to tell me something.

It came up as a quote in the newspaper:  “If you are really thankful, what do you do?  You share.”  (W. Clement Stone)

It came up in my Bible, some text from a hymn that I wrote in large scribbly handwriting several years ago:  “We Thank Thee, Lord, for daily food, For plenteous store of earthly good; For life and health we still possess, With house and home so richly blessed.” (J. S. Mohler)

Then, while catching up on Bible study homework:  “No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)

Jeez Louise.  I get it.  I didn’t know I was so ungrateful.  So I started examining my level of thankfulness.

How is thankfulness shown?  The words Thank You escape from my lips several times a day.  Don’t they?  How do I feel when I say them?  Are they meaningful, or am I just showing off my exquisite manners?

Thanking others is not a bad thing.  Thanking God for what he gives us isn’t either.  But if I am being truthful, I admit that saying thanks more often does a lot more for me than anyone else; it’s a thin shroud of niceness that shields others from who I really am.  If I am polite and nice to everyone, then I am nice and polite.  I am thankful because I say thank you.  It doesn’t sound very profound, and it isn’t.

Being thankful goes deeper than just saying words. God wants me to be thankful in everything, not just for everything.  To be thankful in everything means that I seek God’s will no matter what, and to be joyful and thankful in that, all the time.  It means that I am always truly thankful for what really counts, and that is God’s will and his plan instead of what I am given.

Yeah.  My thankfulness doesn’t always approach that level of profundity.

At least now I know it.

*******

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.  Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.  Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. Colossians 2:6-8 (NLT)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Get Real

I have been appointed a special kind of personality that allows me to see the bad first in everything.  At any given moment I call it pessimism, criticism, cynicism, or a stinging perception of reality.

I am quite the charmer, and clearly no Pollyanna.

To say that something is good is difficult for me.  I see the underside of things first, including my own issues (I’d be a better friend if I wasn’t so lazy to pick up the phone).  Failures define the accomplishments (I passed the test only because I didn’t fail).  When good things happen it is due to the lack of a mistake, the omission of the faulty part (We were on time because the car didn’t give us any trouble).  Somehow the negatives loom darker than the positives shine, and it is only in the absence of the darkness that I come around to see the light (I don’t hate my new haircut; I guess it’ll do).

Once in a while I see the good things first, but I’m rarely surprised when the shoe drops.  I’ve been waiting for it all along.  Unfairness rules.  Frustrations lurk in every corner.  It doesn’t do any good to do good, because something will come up right behind you and ruin it.

This sunny viewpoint has been known to cause personal and interpersonal problems.  Negativity affects mood; frowning causes lines and wrinkles.  Frequent pessimism can lead to anxiety and depression.  Criticism doesn’t stop when I turn away from the magnifying mirror.  It extends to those around me: I see your flaws too.  You really should fix that.

I am aware that no one likes to be around someone who highlights the bad, that nobody likes a sourpuss.  I accept that curmudgeonliness is not an attractive personality characteristic; unfortunately, it’s where I live.

On the clear other end of the spectrum, God created everything from nothing.  He created the light, and the sky, the earth and the water, the trees and the plants, the sun, moon, and stars, all the animals and people, and he did it in six days and then he rested.  He saw that it was good, excellent even, and he never looked back (Genesis 1:1-31).

I want a smidgen of this confident positivity.

What I try to remember in my Debbie Downer moments is that God says everything is for good, and this includes the bad stuff.  There is a silver lining to every cloud.  He promised that there would be troubles, but we can survive them with his help and power.

It’s this silver lining that I’d like to be able to recognize and hold onto, the assertion that good will come from bad every time, even if it’s not in my lifetime.  It may be that I’m not meant to see it, and it doesn’t do any good to set up camp on it.

I’ve learned how to handle myself when Negative Nancy threatens to take over:  I pray.  I meditate on an image of smiling Jesus.  I purposefully think about the wonderful world that God made us.  When I get desperate, I dive into the Bible.

I should do that first.  I hate that I don’t think of it right away.

And there I go again.
******* 
In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him. Ecclesiastes 7:14 (KJV)

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.  He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.  He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. James 1:17-18 (NLT)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Peace


“She is so annoying, Mom!” whined my son from the first floor.  He was referring to his sister.  “She pretends to be good, and she just kicked me!”

It was a typical occurrence in my house.  One small annoyance and I am dragged into it.  My involvement in every conflict is important to my children, who are burdened with the weight of almost constant mutual animosity and rivalry.

I freeze like a deer that picks up the scent of a hunter in the woods.  Maybe if I sit perfectly still, and keep my breath shallow, they will work it out and leave me alone.  Maybe I can sneak away and lock myself in the bathroom.  Maybe I can jump out the window.  It’s not that far of a drop; the shrubbery below will cushion my fall.

The fight escalates until I feel the need to insert myself; someone is going to get hurt.  I don’t want to punish them.  I want them to work it out and use one of the many tactics I have taught them to work out conflict: walk away; take deep breaths; lower your voice; compromise; change your perspective.

I find them at the beginning of a brawl.  One child is chasing the other around the kitchen.  I use my mom voice: STOP IT.

They stop, take a breath, and simultaneously launch into their version of the story.  I close my eyes and try not to lose it as they yell over each other to get their words in first.

I wish that it was the last time I had to break up a fight between my two children.  I wish I could say that something clicked in them that made them look at each other as allies instead of competitors for everything they have or want.  I wish I could say that it ended with me taking them both by the hand and showing them one of my favorite Bible verses.  I wish I could say that they STOPPED.

But none of this happened.  I dole out consequences, which for this particular infraction was time apart from each other and time spent in their rooms to cool down.  When they were little I used to make them sit on the couch and hold hands, which is the ultimate anger neutralizer: giggling always ensued after this particular punishment.  The fight was about nothing.  They were annoyed and had no better way of dealing with it than by annoying each other more. 

I see the same behavior all over the place: between my husband and I, friends arguing over petty things, road rage, work disagreements, differing political views.

There is no specific solution to each of our everyday battles.  No one situation has one pretty answer that makes everyone happy.  It’s maddening.  We all want nice, tidy resolutions, every time.  But the world is messy, and it never works out that way.  However, there is something that each of us can tap into to make the load lighter when conflict threatens us.

Peace.

Romans 12:18 says “Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible” (NLT).  Another translation reads:  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably among all men” (NKJV).  And: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV). 

I love this.  It says do your part.  May I add, be friendly.  Pray.  Accept that we are all different.  Stop annoying each other.  Stop fighting.  Live in peace with each other.  Turn the other cheek.  Take it easy.  See the other person’s perspective.  Be cool.

 
As far as it depends on you.

 
We all have a choice to live in peace with everyone.  We may have disagreements, but we don’t have to call each other names.  I may not like your behavior, but I have the choice to walk away and pray, or gently teach a better way.

And if you need a giggle, let's sit on the couch and hold hands.  It just might work.

Monday, October 22, 2012

C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N

If you don’t recognize this song, don’t worry.  I never heard it before my kids started singing it in Sunday School.   Basically, children scream out I AM A C and then gradually add the rest of the letters one at a time to the word Christian until they get to I AM A C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N, then spell/yell about having C-H-R-I-S-T in my H-E-A-R-T and that I will L-I-V-E  E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y.  It repeats over and over, ramping up in speed and volume until your head explodes. 

Obnoxious.

I am a Christian.  The title is one that I don’t announce when introducing myself to others, mainly because I find it a little weird to give a personal ad at first meeting (Hi, I’m Andrea.  I’m a Christian brunette Taurus who prefers soft jazz and spending time indoors), but also to avoid being stereotyped by a religious label, stereotyping which I fully endorsed in the past.  I used to judge people who labeled themselves “Christian” as weaklings who need a cane of righteousness to bolster themselves because of their failures.  If someone said “Jesus is my Savior,” I changed the subject.  My motto was Keep Your Religion to Yourself. 

Because of my past attitudes toward religion, I know that associating yourself with Jesus who died to save the world’s sins can cause people to view you as judgmental, elitist, the sense that you will be looking down your nose at them at any misstep or imperfection.  When I identify myself as such, I know that when some people know that I am a Christian, they may think that I silently file them under the heathen list I keep in my head.  In fact, I try not to pass judgment, because I am imperfect. 

However, we all love to label things, figuratively and literally.  I do not own a literal labeler because everything in my house would have a white label on it spelling out what it is, and no one needs that nonsense.  Labeling figuratively serves little purpose other than to put people into neat little boxes, and we are more complex than that.

So I am a Christian who at times uses immature language, eats and drinks too much, yells at my kids, is less than gracious with my husband, gossips, likes crude jokes… the list of human behavior goes on.  I’m just like everyone else.  I am a sinner.  I need Jesus in my life to heal my soul and direct my life.

When people who don’t understand what being a Christian is, they say to me, “I don’t go to church; they wouldn’t want me there” or “I’m not good enough for church” or “The church would burn to the ground if I went in.”  I say, “Well, I’m there every week, and it still seems to be standing” or “If everyone who goes to church is perfect, we wouldn’t need church.”  I don’t know if they get it.

It is my experience that we are all the same here: human.  The more you talk to and relate to others, the more you realize that we are all so similar.  Sure, some people seem “better” or “more holy” than others.  But the truth is that they aren’t.  No one measures up to the level of holiness that God is.  They sin, just like me, and just like you, and the pope, all clergy people, and even Mother Teresa.  We all need God’s grace to make us right despite our sins.

Eventually, we will be made perfect, but not on this earth, and certainly not because of anything we do or say or are while we are here.  It’s who God is and what he has done which makes us C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.

And that is not obnoxious.
 
 

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death.  The law of Moses cannot save us, because of our sinful nature.  But God put into effect a different plan to save us.  He sent his own son in a human body like ours, except that ours are sinful.  God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving his son as a sacrifice for our sins.  Romans 8: 1-3 (NLT)

 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Inappropriate

It’s happened more than a few times, and I’m always afraid for it to happen again, for then it might be considered approaching a problem.  There is no resolution, except maybe maturity and controlling myself a little bit more.

I sometimes laugh uncontrollably during reverent times in church.

The first time it happened I was ten or eleven, at the funeral of a great aunt, my grandfather’s sister.  I remember my cousin and I, dressed in 80s plaid skirts and frilly blouses, hair pulled back with beaded barrettes, sitting in the pews of an old country church as the preacher recited the twenty-third Psalm. I was sure that our seriously religious family members would not approve of my mirth as I smiled through the horror – the reality that my great aunt’s coffin was right in front of me and all I could do was stifle the giggles and desperately try to avoid eye contact with my similarly affected cousin. 

It’s happened at weddings and other funerals, during church services and when I was supposed to be singing in the choir but ended up lip-synching, my nostrils flaring and face turning red.

Recently, it came on so quickly and so noticeably at church that a friend turned around in her seat and jokingly whispered that she was going to separate me and my husband, who was trying to calm me while I almost fell out of my seat laughing through my nose.  I needed tissues for the tears.  Another time my husband got in on the action, and the two of us sat in our seats with our heads down, snickering and shoulders shaking, as our pastors and prayer leaders got on their knees to pray for the afflicted, the needy, the hurting souls who populate our world and the local area our church services.

Clearly I need some lessons in church etiquette.

I’m not good at much, but I happen to be exemplary at inappropriate behavior and/or conversations.  I’ve done so many stupid things and inserted my foot into my mouth so many times that I can’t even be embarrassed about it anymore – my self-regard can’t handle it.  How one person came to be so challenged in public situations, I have no idea.

I know I’m not alone, but it is my deal, my sin, my own cross to bear.  It’s challenging because in the moment I don’t want it to end.  Laughing so hard that your stomach hurts and tears stream down your face is fun.  Some weeks life goes by so fast that the only belly laughter I get are those few minutes when all is quiet in church and I get the giggles, and I don’t want to give that up.

But the timing is not great.  I find myself thinking that maybe I’m not the best witness for Christ.  I may be keeping another person from fully experiencing and listening to the Holy Spirit speak to them in those minutes of uncontrollable hilarity.  Maybe I could better heed Paul when he said “Do not cause a brother or sister with a weaker conscience to stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:9 (NLT)

I won’t pretend to know what use God has for my inappropriateness.  Everyone and the Bible says that God uses everything for good, and I trust that he will.  Until then, if you see me doubled over in church, please try to ignore my ridiculousness and pray for me to grow up already.
 ******* 

Oh, what a wonderful God we have!  How great are his riches and wisdom and knowledge!  How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods!  For who can know what the Lord is thinking?  Who knows enough to be his counselor?  And who could ever give him so much that he would have to pay it back? For everything comes from him; everything exists by his power and is intended for his glory.  To him be glory evermore.  Amen.  Romans 11: 33-36 (NLT)