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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Oversharer

It happens to me all the time.

Because I just want to talk, because I just want to insert myself into any conversation, because I want to relate and connect and be counted, I frequently say things that are embarrassing, things that are mean, things that are inappropriate.  Too often I speak and just like that I wish that I could grab the words right out of the air and stuff them all back in my mouth and swallow them like medicine.

The wise don’t engage in empty chatter. What good are such words?
Job 15:3

Your sins are telling your mouth what to say. Your words are based on clever deception.
Job 15:5

But of course I can’t do that.  Once something is said, it can never be unsaid.  And of course, once it’s said, it forever becomes a part of you.  Who you are.  What you stand for.  Others form an opinion about you, and it is all according to what you say.

Listen to the filth that comes from their mouths; their words cut like swords.
“After all, who can hear us?” they sneer.
Psalm 59:7

We don’t know when our words begin to shape us.  We can’t see into the hearts and minds of others.  Did we drift apart because of something I said?  I can’t believe I said that to them - no wonder they gave me that funny look then walked away.   I haven’t spoken to him again after that one time.  I probably shouldn’t have said that.  My comment received crickets.  I’m so embarrassed – now I’m the joke.  I hope nobody repeats what I just said.  I didn’t mean for it to come out that way.  I hope she keeps what I just said to herself.

With their words, the godless destroy their friends, 
but knowledge will rescue the righteous.
Proverbs 11:9

I love Proverbs.  The words in this book are simple, instructive, and right.  I’ve always admired Solomon’s wisdom, his use of few words to drive home a meaningful point.  Especially when it comes to words, one of my biggest stumbling blocks.  Isn’t it cute how the one thing I love the most is also the one thing that causes me the most strife?  Then again, isn’t that precisely the lesson?

The words of the godly are like sterling silver; the heart of a fool is worthless.
Proverbs 10:20

The words of the godly encourage many, 
but fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense.
Proverbs 10:21

The lips of the godly speak helpful words, 
but the mouth of the wicked speaks perverse words.
Proverbs 10:32

I know that my words bring trouble when I’m counting on them to build me up instead of relying on God to do so.  The holy spirit tells my heart that it is in the wrong place.  I may even pray to God for wisdom like Solomon did all those years ago.

Give me an understanding mind so that I can… 
know the difference between right and wrong.
1 Kings 3:9

God answers me just as he answered Solomon, when my heart moves back into the right place.  God always knows when I’m being sincere.  When I’m not just trying to get out of my sin, when I’m not trying to backtrack, when I’m not trying to cover it up.

I will give you what you asked for! 
I will give you a wise and understanding mind 
such as no one has ever had or ever will have!
1 Kings 3:12

When I’m paying attention, God gives me the words.  When I keep my mouth closed and wait patiently, he teaches me what to say and when to say it.  He reminds me that my words are not important, but his are.

My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words.
Proverbs 4:20

Get wisdom; develop good judgment. Don’t forget my words or turn away from them.
Proverbs 4:5

Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.
Proverbs 12:18

And when I’m humble, and my heart is aligned with God’s, and I seek him first instead of my own strength and my own wisdom, I know that I  will always have the right words.

I rise early, before the sun is up; I cry out for help and put my hope in your words.
Psalm 119:147

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, 
O Lordmy rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19:14

*******

(all Bible verses are from the New Living Translation)


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

In Training

As my kids get older, their activities become more. 

More frequent, more demanding.  We are not new to the “mandatory” attendance rule that some activities carry, but the gradual increase in frequency for everything makes me feel like I am speeding through each day.  There are no more lines on my calendar for more things.  We carefully planned so that our kids aren’t overscheduled – what happened?

There is practice after school and extra lessons before school.  Games on the weekends, early report times, and on and on.

This is in addition to their regularly scheduled activities and fun events they get invited to.  Celebratory dinners for a job well done get the rapid-fire treatment as we squeeze in a slice of pizza between activities to say hey, good job on your report cards.  Parents of friends are asked to pick up, drop off.  Our cars are running elsewhere and can’t get there on time.

It’s a blessing because we can do it.  They have the ability and we have the resources.  The only thing I feel  short on is time.

Of course there is not more time to add; no more hours will be found at the end or in the middle of the day.  We have to make do with the 24 hours we are given.  And when activities happen at the same time, as they often do, we can only do one thing at a time.

And I would do well to not panic.

As organized as I am with the things in my home, I fall short when it comes to figuring out the timing of things.  Logistics: “the things that must be done to plan and organize a complicated activity or event that involves many people” (hey, how about two or three people?), the “handling of the details” – I am not good at this.  Luckily, my husband is – it’s his job, for goodness’ sakes.  Unluckily for me, when the details of our childrens’ lives must be handled, he is often unable to help.  He’s handling the details at work so that I can handle the details at home.

It’s a kick in the teeth.  Honestly, it makes me want to cry, this unfortunate order of things.  I am always late, kids are calling me from coach’s cell phones to pick them up, they go without dinner because I planned poorly, we have to turn around because I forgot the socks, the shoes, the ball.  Once we had to make a stop and buy underwear.  I’m a mess.

When I calm down enough, I realize that this is happening for a reason.  I am being taught to build this unnatural talent, this skill set that I don’t have.  Me: the woman who can’t even make hotel reservations without calling back two or three times to change the details because I keep screwing it up - I am training for something.

When I calm down enough, I remember that God has his hand in my life.  Each drive-through day has a pattern that I can’t see, one that I would never have planned for myself, but one that stretches me.  For that pattern, I’m grateful.  It makes me feel not so frazzled, not flailing so wildly.  It makes me feel like there is calm in the chaos.

Does it make me feel more capable?  Nope.  But it does make me not panic, and maybe that’s all I need to be learning right now.  To not stress when I feel overloaded.  To stay calm when the kids are calling from the coach’s phone.  To realize that there are some things that just won’t be done, that sometimes we will just be late, and that’s okay.  

I am in training to trust God with my life’s pattern.

Dear God, thank you for ordering my life.  Please help me to stay calm in the chaos of activities, and to trust your pattern.  Thank you, Amen.


*******

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I Want to Party

One thing that always bugged me about Christmas is how everybody wants everything.

I want a new TV.  I want new clothes.  I want this one huge thing that we can’t afford right now.  I want to have a party.  I want to cook dinner for thirty people, bake hundreds of cookies, buy gifts for the faceless and nameless needy, put up a Christmas tree and somehow find the time to decorate my house like you just walked into a Christmas village.  And I want to do it all in three weeks, preferably with Christmas music playing the background at all times.  Chestnuts and sleigh bells and fa-la-freakin’-la.

Every year there is more to want, and it bugs me because I often not only have to deal with my own wants, but as the leader of a household, I have to make sure other people’s wants happen, too.

It’s easy to get caught up in the tangle of Christmas.  What will make me happy this year?  What will make them happy? What’s going to survive the new year and still be around by July?  Are our desires real?

Jesus gets lost in the wants every year.  We all know he is there, know that he is the reason for the season.  How I hate that phrase.  It’s so trite, so easy to flick off the tongue and forget as soon as it’s said.  There’s no better reason for the season, yet we mention Jesus like we would an unwilling birthday boy we are throwing a party for regardless of his desires.  The party is really for us, and the fact that it’s his birthday makes us feel better about being excessive.

Is Christmas about us or about Jesus?  After all, he came to us as a gift – shouldn’t we go over the top to celebrate that?  The Bible is full of good reasons to celebrate, God-sanctioned festivals and extravagant partying that were built into the Israelites’ very way of life.

The truth is, Jesus is worth our extravagance.   God’s grace is extravagant for us, and though we can never repay it, at Christmas it sure seems like everyone is trying.  The trouble is that often our extravagance is not because of what Jesus did for us.  We are being extravagant because we want to be.

So what do we do?  How do we decipher what is real and what is merely feeding into our insatiable hunger for more?

For me, checking my heart is the first step.  Am I thankful for what God has given me?  Am I doing this for Jesus?  Am I really celebrating Christmas the way it should be celebrated, the way he intended, the way he intends for me?  How does what I am doing feel in my heart?  Am I finding joy in this?

I have to say that some years I’m not.  I’m not enjoying Christmas.  It’s too much, too fast, too loud.  I can’t catch up and it makes me cranky.  What’s more, I haven’t seen Jesus once, and this is his party.  I’m a total buzz kill at Christmas sometimes.

This year I’m okay.  I feel calmer, feel less like certain things have to be done to have the perfect Christmas.  It’s probably just because I’m getting older, and I’m tired of complaining about it.  It could be that I feel like I have more of a handle on things, that I planned better.  It could be because I’ve let a lot of things go that stress me out.

But maybe it’s also because I’m seeing it in a different light this year.  This year more than ever, I’m seeing Christmas as a time to thank God for all that he has given us, a time to consider who I am in Christ and what that looks like – what God intends for me.  I’m seeing Christmas as a gift, and an appropriate time to celebrate.

After all, this is Jesus’ party.  This year, like every other, his life trumps all.  This year, I think I’m really feeling it.

*******

In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.  The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony.  John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.  The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.  He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.  But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.  And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.  For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.


John 1:1-16 (NLT)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Today

Today I am thankful for good health and working bodies.

Today I am thankful for the love of family and friends.

Today I am thankful for humor and laughter.

Today I am thankful for gifts of all kinds.

Today I am thankful for too much food.

Today I am thankful for our country.

Today I am thankful for goodness.

Today I am thankful for kindness.

Today I am thankful for clothing.

Today I am thankful for warmth.

Today I am thankful for home.

Today I am thankful for grace.

Today I am thankful for God.

And everyday.


*******


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 26, 2013

No Hesitation

“Let it be according to your will,” said Mary to Gabriel the angel, when he visited her with the news that she would be the mother of the Son of God.  I was not there when this scene went down, but it seems to me that Mary did not hesitate to say “Well, okay then” to Gabriel, once he had answered her question of how this could be possible logistically since she was a virgin.

Yeah, yeah.  Mary did not say “Well, okay then.” My Bible translation says she said, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.  May everything you have said come true” (Luke 1:38, NLT).

But the feeling is there.  Mary knew that she would be used by God for something big.  Later we see that she was so excited about her pregnancy that she sang a little impromptu song praising God (v. 46-55).  And after Jesus was born, the stories from the shepherds who had been visited by an angel announcing Christ’s birth were noted by Mary, and she “quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often” (v. 19). 

She knew she was being used by God for something amazing, and she kept all these feelings close to her heart.  She identified closely with this appointment, and claimed it readily and often.

Mary did not hesitate because she knew clearly that God needed her to do something extraordinary.  She didn’t even have to do anything – God took care of all of it, right down to providing a place for her baby to be born on a night when all hope seemed lost.  Mary didn’t hesitate from the start, even when she wasn’t yet married and a pregnancy could well have meant that her life was about to go into the toilet.  In that day unmarried women who became pregnant were likely to remain unmarried and sometimes had to make a living by begging or prostitution.

Mary is an inspiration to me all the time, but especially at Christmas, when she shares the spotlight with her divine Son.  Her faith led her to great things, a role unmatched by any other: the mother of the Son of God.  Her life is an example of who God wants us to be – open to him, ready to take on any challenge that he equips us to handle.

Too often when presented with an opportunity to serve God, I hesitate.  I say “no” readily, only to miss the chance to serve him, to grow in his love.  God gives us chances to do for him what we would not (or could not) think of doing, either for ourselves or for others.  Our short-sighted nature is so far from God’s eternal view and our part in it.  I have missed opportunities because of my hesitation.  Ever faithful, God keeps presenting them to me.

I need to remember that God’s requests are to be taken seriously – they are designed to change lives, and always for the better.  In Mary’s case, God’s request changed the entire destiny of humanity.  He wanted her to bear a son who was destined to take on all the sins of the world so that all of us could live in God’s Kingdom forever.

Likely God is not going to ask me to do something so remarkable.  Probably not you, either.  But he is asking us to be open to his will; all he asks is that we say “yes” to the divine appointments that come our way, no matter what they are.  To not hesitate.

Well, okay then. 




*******

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is a week away, and the holidays are in full force. 

November is a whirlwind, like any other month in the past few years.  We didn’t do anything really big, but this is the first month of the school year that I feel like we are finally in our groove and things are humming along.  And just like that, Thanksgiving is knocking.

Everyone I know is finalizing plans for the holidays: Where are you having Thanksgiving dinner?  Are you free for a holiday party?  When is your family coming for Christmas?  What can I bring for the party?  What do the kids want this year? 

I dole out answers as I know them, but many of them are unknown.  Some of them are left to the asker to decide.   I am thankful for a full plate of loved ones who are concerned about spending time with us, but I feel the holiday tide threatening to overwhelm me.

When I feel like complaining about the busyness of the holidays, I remember that there are many for which Thanksgiving or Christmas is just another day.  For each thing I write on my list to do, there is a person who doesn’t have anything to do but survive these days, someone who sees no difference between Christmas and the day that they got their only pair of shoes stolen.

As I’m fighting against the menace of EVERYTHING HOLIDAY RIGHT NOW HURRY UP YOU’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME there is a person who has nothing but time, hours ahead of him containing nothing but hunger.

My blessings are highlighted when I think of the needy.  I have so much – how did I get it?  What is it about me that I’m allowed to sit here in my warm house while there are people in the world who haven’t lived in a warm house in years, maybe never?

The answer is not that I’m smarter, or better, or luckier, or loved more.  The answer is that I don’t know.  I don’t try to find the answers.  I’m not sure that I want to know them.

But God does, and just as he made me, he made everyone.  Just as he provides for me, he provides for the needs of everyone.  That’s as far as it goes.  The rest is in his plan.

I feel like God has given me a responsibility to help and to give to others who don’t have.  Do I give what I have?  Maybe, if it’s appropriate.  What is more important is to give what is needed.  How can I know what other people need?

We can ask them.  We can ask others who have provided for them.  We can buy items off a list of previous gifts given and used.  Or we can ask God.

What is God telling me to do this holiday season?  What is my role in helping him provide for others?  How can I share my thankfulness?  These are questions that I do not have the answers to right now.  I trust that God will show me.

In the meantime, at the beginning of yet another holiday season, I am reminded to share and to give, all the while thanking God for what he has given me.


Dear God, show me what I can do to share your love this holiday season.  Help me to see clearly the opportunities that you have provided only to me.  Thank you, Amen.




*******

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. Psalm 28:7 (NLT)

Always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:20 (ERV)

If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Romans 12:8 (NLT)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Loser

I have a healthy fear of losing things.  My wedding ring, my children, my mind – these things are all things that I hold onto at least mentally, making sure that I know where each of my valued items is all the time.

My mind is the one I’ve got the least handle on.

I'm very cavalier about getting rid of things, knowing that we have far more than we could ever use.  I am no saver, and sell stuff at garage sales prematurely, thinking that I will never use it again, only to buy that same item new later.   It drives my family crazy, and if they lose something, they assume that I sold it, gave it away, or threw it in the trash.

They’re usually correct.

I do hang on tightly to the things I value, however, and rarely lose anything – because I keep tabs on it.

The underlying issue for why I want to control my surroundings all the time by knowing where each item I have lives is the fear of change.  I’ve written about his before, that growing and changing is hard work – sometimes I’d rather watch the world go on changing from my comfy spot on the couch.  I don’t always want to be a part of change.  I’m fine right here.  It’s getting worse as I get older.  My roots are becoming firmly planted in this little box I constructed.

I think a lot of people are that way.  We work hard to create a life we love, and when things veer off in a different direction than we planned, when a wayward wrench is tossed into our gears, we feel out of control.  Nobody likes that feeling.  Each of us is the chief operator of our own efficient machine, and when it breaks down, we want to fix it.

But someday, we will lose a part of our machine, and it will stop working.  That’s just life.  I may lose my wedding ring, my children, my mind.  All of these are terrible things to think about, but our world is one in which terrible things can happen.  None of us is guaranteed a comfy spot on the couch.  We can’t keep tabs on everything, all the time.

Jesus said “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9: 24, NJKV).  This upside down idea, to give away our lives for the sake of preserving it, goes against my grain.  Losing myself and the unknown changes that will come makes me afraid to leap blindly into the arms of Jesus.  I hold back.

The promise is that we will each become more of ourselves if we throw ourselves into the path of God’s love, that when we hold nothing back from his work in us, we will become more of who we are than any well-tuned machine we have designed, any organized mess we have created.  We will become the fullness of who God intends us to be, not some compilation of scraps the world has to offer, gapping at the seams and of a personality that is ill-fitting and uncomfortable when the world’s tides change.

When I lose myself – my whole life – to Christ, I am free to be fully me, strong enough to “take up [my] cross daily” (v.23) with his help.  No amount of organization or fine-tuning I do approaches this achievement.  Saving things doesn’t make me strong.  Trusting God does.

When I see the logic of losing my life to gain it all back, it seems easy – and the right thing – to do.  But like anything, life is a work in progress.  I’d like to think that today I’m one step closer to giving it all up for the sake of Jesus, that soon I will fling myself at the base of the cross and pray for him to take my life.  That the first day of a pure life lived only for God is only breaths away.

But still.  I hold back.

Yet God is working on me. 

*******


Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God.” Luke 4: 23-27 (NLT)


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Loss and Provision

My Granddad died on Halloweeen.

I have a large family, lots of aunts and uncles and cousins and kids, from the biggest who duck to get through doorways to the littlest at six weeks old.  It was a good four days of family, memories, food, and tears.  No one wanted to be there for that reason, but we amassed as one at the funeral home and at family members’ houses and hung onto each other in our grief those four days even as we patted the casket at the gravesite to say good-bye to Granddad one more time.

It’s been almost two weeks, and one week since the funeral.  For my family, life has gone back to normal.  Our kids still have school, my husband and I still have work to do.  We live far from my family, so Granddad’s loss is not as first-hand, his absence relegated to quiet moments where we stop and think: he’s gone.

For my grandmother, who shared his life intimately, loss is felt every minute, every second.  Everyday activities are disturbed.  There is a new normal for her to learn.  Same with those who live close by, who are an everyday part of my grandparents’ lives.  Their new normal looks quite a bit different than mine, which is just slightly changed to reflect the hole in my history, the memories that come more often now because that’s all I have left of his life and I want him to stay close.  But all that goes on inside, where no one sees.

In my Bible I keep several pages from a daily devotional book that I receive each month; topics that stand out are carefully torn out and stashed between the pages.  Many of them deal with loss.  I find it meaningful that of all the pages I chose to stick in my Bible, the ones that speak of death and of God’s provision of comfort and peace during hard times are here for me.  I know this is God’s doing.

The world may not see me remember my Granddad and mourn his loss, but God does.  He comforts me through these pages just as he comforts the rest of my family members with whatever they need to feel at peace with the loss.  He reminds me that he is there as I make dinner, schedule doctor appointments, run kids to their activities.  He reminds me that he experiences my grief, too, and that Granddad is with him in heaven.

God provides for all of us in so many ways that we may not see or recognize, but as I open my Bible to those pages, I see his hand in even the smallest and the most innocuous places.

He did this wonderful thing for me.  He does wonderful things for all of us.


*******

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.  Psalm 116:15 (NKJV)

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:57 (NKJV)

But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength.  They will fly high like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This Is Happening

Jesus is coming – there is no question.

Or is there?

I am so impatient.  So skeptical.  I doubt all motives, doubt that anything in the world will ever get any better.  Ah, I’m even doubtful that I will have anything worthwhile to say here.

It’s how I am.  Is it how God made me, or how I’ve twisted and warped my view of everything in the world?  I crawl into the rabbit hole of my thoughts and get lost at the first turn.

I think about all the hurt in the world and get sad thinking about suffering and the hopelessness of some situations.  I lose hope that some people – whole populations – will ever get to know Jesus.  Who is out there to show them, to teach them God’s word?  That guy in the mountains of Iraq, hiding out from his enemies, his only possession an old machine gun, always ready to kill.  What are the odds that he will ever come to know Jesus?

I think about the woman who has had yet another miscarriage, and how much she wants a child, thinking her only option is to get pregnant over and over and over, to receive nothing at the end of each ordeal but pain and grief.  How can she come to know Jesus through this heaviness?

We will all be hurt someday.  Someday, our troubles will shadow every aspect of our lives for a period of time.  It makes me feel like I am not ready for a test of faith.  It makes me think that my skeptical nature could win and I will run from God the minute things get hard.  It’s an option for me.  It’s an option for all of us, no matter how strong or faithful we think we might be.  I worry that I will become the next Job.  I don’t want to be Job. 

It bogs me down to think about troubles that I may have.  It clouds Jesus’ light if I allow myself to dwell there.  Just toying with it here makes me sad.  I am disappointing God by having these doubts.  I’ve learned that a degree of doubt can be helpful in growing faith, yet I think I’ve gone too far.

But.

So far, in this period of life, God has not allowed me to dwell in that place for long.  He gave himself in his Word, his Son, and his Spirit, to pull me along and to carry me through when things get hard.   These three things are simpler than the world’s troubles, and they push the doubts from my mind.  These things do not allow doubt to plant itself.

The Holy Spirit gets a workout in dealing with me most days.  It guides me and leads me to places I would never go on my own.  It prompts me to act, to speak, to write, to pray.  God’s word is a comfort to me, a place of peace that I can rest when things threaten my faith.  The old saying that no matter where you open a Bible, it lands on the spot that you most needed to read right then?  I do this often.  God never fails me.  Jesus is my role model and mentor, the prime example of how to do life on earth.  I may get frustrated that I will never be as bold as Jesus and will never perform miracles like him, but that is just empty comparison.  I can be Jesus’ hands, his light, his love.  And in Jesus is the hope of the world’s troubles to end, of eternal life in heaven.

All of these things help me to grow my faith.  All of these things bring me closer to God, our Creator and Father.  They transform me into a person who is trying to live this life more intentionally, whatever that looks like today.  They tell me that eventually truth will win out over doubts.  Someday skepticism will fade completely; the light of God will never again allow its shadow. 

It’s happening for me, and it’s happening for you, too.  For all of us, no matter where we are.

*******

The Angel said to me, “These are dependable and accurate words, every one. The God and Master of the spirits of the prophets sent his Angel to show his servants what must take place, and soon. And tell them, ‘Yes, I’m on my way!’ Blessed be the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

“I, Jesus, sent my Angel to testify to these things for the churches. I’m the Root and Branch of David, the Bright Morning Star.”

“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.

Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”

Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who will, come and drink,
Drink freely of the Water of Life!

He who testifies to all these things says it again: “I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon!”

Yes! Come, Master Jesus!

Revelation 22:6-7, 16-17, 20 (The Message)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Growing

Growing is tough business.  Physically, growing is hard.  Growing plants require the right amounts of sun, space, water, and food.  If one of those things is off, the plant dies.   Growing from childhood to adulthood causes changes that can be embarrassing or problematic.  The kind of growing which results from eating too many calories over a period of time is easy to achieve, but the consequence of weight gain takes its toll on a body.  Not one person in the world who carries a significant amount of extra weight feels good getting out of bed in the morning.

Staying the same isn’t easy, either.  I’ve been struggling with communicating to my friends and family members via text messaging for a while now.   It takes twice as long for me to text as it does for me to call, so I don’t text regularly.  As a result, I miss a lot of interaction, and that hurts.

Imagine a woman who is still wearing her hair in a 1960s beehive.  I think how much harder it will be for her to find a hairdresser who knows how to do that particular hairstyle as the years go by.  She will have to search long and wide to find a person who knows how to tease and comb that hair just right, when fifty years ago any salon on the block could accommodate her.

Staying the same in a changing world and among changing surroundings and people causes us to take one step back or forward and twist and arch just to keep a footing in our space.  After a while we might not even notice that we haven’t changed, but our aching body and soul are good indications that adaptation is pushing on us.  Moving beyond where we are is scary and uncomfortable, and we will get it wrong more times than right at first.

It’s the same with faith.  Staying the same in our faith instead of growing and adapting to God’s word will cause each of us to become stuck where we are, and eventually his leaning and tugging will cause our hearts and souls to ache from all the bending we do to avoid being changed.

Having an open mind and a malleable heart for God’s lessons to enter our lives is necessary for us to change according to God’s will, but an even greater struggle may be to keep our hearts and minds open and malleable.  We may say “I received Christ’s gift,” or “I want God’s will,” but are we continuing to be open to growth, as only given by God?  Or are we just saying the words?

It can be confusing, can’t it?  I can say “I am a Christian; Christ lives in me” but if I continue to rebel against God, if I continue to go down my own path instead of his, I’m not growing.  The result can be more pain than any I might imagine that results from changing according to what God wants for me.  I will be hacking a path through the tangled woods alone, instead of being gently guided down the one God has prepared.  As a result, I ask him “God, why is this happening to me?”  God may keep silent, waiting for me to find my way back to him.  The growth is hard, but it was my decision to make it happen this way.

Having an open heart to God’s truth has been the greatest pleasure of my life, and the greatest onset of growth for me.  It is a difficult time of change, truly.  It caused me to admit that I was wrong all the years I adamantly refused to listen to God’s lessons, the years that I so surely knew what life was all about.  And it continues to be hard.  I don’t always want to do what I know God is asking.  When I stop growing spiritually, my soul aches and I am filled with sorrow.  Sometimes I don’t even realize that my own refusal to grow is the cause of my pain. 

But God always leads me back to the path he has for me.  And I willingly take his hand and walk it, because the alternative is so much more difficult, and the rewards are beyond my imagination.

*******

On that day after Jesus went out of the house, he sat by the lake. And such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat to sit while the whole crowd stood on the shore. He told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. The one who has ears had better listen!” Matthew 13:1-9 (NET)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Do As I Say

Kindness is kind of my thing.  I preach it to my kids, employ it online, look for and encourage it in the world, strive to show it in my relationships.  But there is one place where my kindness has a long way to go: within me.

Isn’t that cute how we can be all in for a cause, then when it comes right down to it, we’re not really about it as much as we say?  I think they call this hypocrisy, don’t they?

At home, where space is shared and habits grate and patience wears thin, kindness can be hard to find.  On any given day you may hear me snapping back at my husband, sigh in audible exasperation at my daughter, and raise my voice in a shout against my son.  My temper flares and I lash out, and like the flame of a match blown out, it’s over as soon as it begins.  But like the smoke of a match, the effects linger; unkind words and behaviors sting, the consequences of my rashness written all over their faces and in their reactions to me for a long time afterwards.

Now, look.  I am not a monster.  I’m not quite Mommie Dearest, raging against my children over wire hangers.  I am not planning my husband’s demise when he tosses his dirty clothes to the hamper and misses.  But still.  Unkind thoughts often spill out of my mind to my lips, and they would be better left unsaid.

It’s a difficult thing, to keep unkind words inside.  I feel impelled to voice my thoughts, say what is on my mind.  Being heard is one of my biggest desires.  But I need to choose my words more carefully.  We all do.

The problem is that sometimes I don’t feel kind.  Sometimes I feel like things are stupid and I want to say, “That is stupid.”  Or “I don’t care about that.”  There’s a magnet on our fridge that says “I just please need you to shut up for one minute.”  I love it - it says what I think.  But I think that too often – it is unkind.  To tell another person to shut up stops her from sharing, tells him that his thoughts are not important, puts my wants above theirs.

And it’s not really what I’m preaching when I say “Be kind” to my kids, nor what I’m after, ultimately.  It’s not what Jesus taught me, nor how God wants me to act.  So why do I rebel?

Emotions can be hard to handle, especially when they are in response to negative events and actions that go against what we want.  When those emotions threaten to spill over into our behavior, we have a choice: we can add to the fire by lashing out and being unkind, or we can snuff the flame by covering it with love and kindness.  Kindness as love is so powerful.  It can douse a mighty flame of hate and negativity.  There’s a reason for the cliché “kill ‘em with kindness.”  Kindness works; it disarms.  In addition, it transforms our hearts.  I can’t tell you how many tears I’ve cried over words I’ve said that have hurt another person.  Some things are unintentional, but still.  Some things I recall saying cause me to wince – I can’t believe I said that.  My heart is being transformed.

Kindness is in short supply in the world and in our own homes sometimes.  But we have a choice to let it overflow from each one of us.  It’s what Jesus preached and taught; it’s what God wants for us.


*******

I looked up “kindness” in a couple of different Bible translations, and the following are only a few verses about kindness that came up.  Clearly, God wants kindness for us:

You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.  Job 10:12 (NIV)

Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you. Proverbs 11:17 (NLT)

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.  Isaiah 63:7 (NIV)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18 (NIV) – this one didn’t come up under “kindness” – but it’s my favorite, so I had to add it.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness… Galatians 5:22 (NLT)


Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 (NIV)