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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Simple Lessons

When you are a kid, life is simple, and so are the lessons.  Be nice.  Listen to your parents.  Make good choices.  We learn that being an adult is so complicated, so difficult.  We joke with our kids never to grow up; being an adult stinks.  There are so many responsibilities, so many choices, so many burdens.  They listen, wide-eyed.  We say these things to keep them from wanting to grow up too soon, to prepare them for what’s to come.

It’s kind of mean.

I have never learned so much about life as I have since my kids were born.  I grabbed the opportunity to stay home and raise them, protected fiercely what has become a privilege in our country, to go without pay simply to be home with my kids as they grow up.  It’s allowed me to simplify my life, to see the world through their eyes without the additional layers of an outside job to consider.

From the beginning of their lives, the instructions were simple:  Eat.  Sleep.  All the love came from me, from my husband.  As they grew, we added: Use nice words.  Use nice touches.  Do not hit.  Do not shout.  Use your manners.  Say please and thank you.  Say you’re sorry.

As they got older, the rules became more detailed.  They are older children now: they can handle it, they can understand.  But the old rules still apply: Use nice words.  Do not hit.  Say please and thank you.  The essence is the same.

Love one another.  And, love God.

The “love God” rule came early, in a different way, and for different reasons.  We may have relied on Sunday School teachers too much for this, weren’t consistent with speaking these words at home, didn’t write them on our doorposts (see Deuteronomy 11:18-21).  We didn’t say “Love God” nearly as much as we said “Do not hit.”  But they still got it.

I have learned that these simple lessons can be applied to every aspect of life, even if the details and situations in which we apply them are complex.  It can be difficult, particularly in terrible situations like losing a loved one or when others are unlovable.  But we are adults.  We can handle it, we can understand.  The lessons we learn as kids and teach our own kids haven’t changed in complexity.  They are still simple: Love God.  Love others.

When I keep these lessons as the focus of how I live, things seem simpler.  I believe that I am doing what God wants me to, what he expects me to.  Questions arise, bumps in the road appear, loved ones are taken and puzzling and tragic events still happen.  But when I focus on loving God and others, the steps are clearer.  Questions seem much less urgent and my trust and faith take over that God will do what he promises.  The details fall away at times where they threaten to take over.

Life is not simple, but the instructions for living are.  I believe it’s my job to make the right choices, to do the right thing, and at times that is very difficult.  But the lessons that are the foundation of how I live are simple, and they are lessons that I learned early, and that I continue to teach my kids.

Love God.  Love others. 

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You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. (NKJV)


So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. John 13:34 (NLT)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Face of Stubbornness

“No, you can’t.”  “Because I said so.”  “Don’t do that again.”  “You need to apologize.”  How many times have I said this to one of my children?

Their lips close, their jaws set; muscles in their faces contract.  Eyebrows lower just a millimeter; eyes narrow.

The face of stubbornness.

Sometimes I could look in the mirror to spare myself their stubborn faces.  Or look at my husband.  We are all stubborn, we all think we are always right, we all want to skate by our mistakes as if they never happened.

They might be minor mistakes: a forgotten chore, a failed follow-through, even a word that may have been taken the wrong way.

They all warrant atonement, and sometimes we just don’t feel like atoning.

We keep silent; we don’t want to admit we are in the wrong; we are stubborn.

Sometimes, we don’t even realize atonement is needed; it is not until someone calls us on our wrong that we see what we have done.  Those mistakes are easier to ignore; after all, we were ignorant; we didn’t know we did anything wrong.  Who are you to tell me that I am wrong? I didn’t do anything!

We dig in our heels. Our stubborn face sets. 

The problem is, mistakes seem to pick themselves up where we discarded them and meet us down the road, far from when they happened.  They manifest themselves in latent guilt feelings, broken relationships, loss of communication, walls between loved ones built higher and stronger.

The Bible is filled with commands to repent.  The Israelites were told to repent. John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Luke, John: they all told various groups, and us, to repent. Jesus does too.

I am in the wrong pretty often.  I’m so imperfect.  I say and do things I wish I hadn’t every single day.  I have only gotten better at repenting.  Sometimes my mouth opens and something flies out and I pray silently for forgiveness.  Sometimes I say it right to the person.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to say that.  I wasn’t thinking.

Sometimes I don’t say anything.  And like David, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.  My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.” (Psalm 32: 3-4, NASB)

When we are stubborn, it wears on us.  It breaks us down physically, mentally, spiritually.  Our burdens, the ones that come from within, weigh us down and get between our relationships with others, with God.  His hand, ever present and upon me to protect and guide, feels heavy on my back, my own mistakes weighing me down.  It is not a nice feeling.  I want to feel like I am sitting lightly in God’s palm, not under the weight of his huge hand.

I want to be open to his word, his nourishment, the life he has so freely given me. 

All I have to do is admit my wrong, open my heart, be willing to change, be malleable to what God wants to teach me. 

A stubborn face is the barrier that keeps all of us from that, and it’s not doing anybody any favors.  That’s apparent when I look at my family, when I look in the mirror.




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Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. Psalm 32: 1-2 (NLT)

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord… Acts 3:19 (NIV)


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Space

We are just back from vacation: a road trip to places some of us have seen before, and other places new to all of us.  It was both restful and busy, and I am thankful to have gone and to be back.  To me, nothing says happy to be home like spending eight full days in hotels and half a day in the car with your family. 

And these are the people I love the most.

I am a loner; I like to have space and time to myself.  Big crowds are no problem to me – they are usually short-lived.  But to live on top of others for a period of time?  Even if it’s really a relatively short time?  Even if it’s a relatively short, fun time?  I am depleted, cranky.

My family understands.  In fact, they can be kind of like this, too.  As soon as we spilled out of the car and into our cozy, familiar house, we scattered like mice to our own spaces.  The kids disappeared into their rooms, my husband to his office, me to the kitchen, the loft area that contains my stuff, the bedroom.  I have been gifted with several areas of my own in this house.

Space.

It takes a while for the space to really sink into my bones, to iron out the kinks of irritability that inevitably make themselves known to the members of my family.  Let me go through the mail; let me get the laundry started; let me make a grocery list, let me make dinner.  Let me be, I say.  My family’s need for space dissipates after a few minutes, maybe an hour.  After this period of time, they are ready to come together again, to be as a family again, to laugh and talk and argue about the TV. I am not there yet.  I always regret being so short with them.

I tell myself, “Jesus took time to go away by himself.  He needed his time, and so do I!”  But then I am reminded: Jesus went away not just to remove himself from his loved ones; he left to pray, and he always came back refreshed and ready to do more work.  I leave to be alone with my thoughts, and they aren’t always holy.

I also remind myself that I am most certainly NOT Jesus.  I am human, and therefore I sin, and I should cut myself some slack.  And when I go off by myself for some space, I should also pray.  Pray for rejuvenation, for a fresh outlook, for patience with my family, for a thankful and grateful heart. 

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The next morning Jesus awoke long before daybreak and went out alone in the wilderness to pray. Mark 1:35 (NLT)

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he went off by himself in a boat to a remote area alone. Mark 14:13 (NLT)

Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” Mark 14:32 (NLT)

One day soon afterward Jesus went to a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. Luke 6:12 (NLT)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Alienation of Pride

Have you ever found yourself sharing an experience or a problem in a conversation with another person, and her response is this: “That’s why I’m so glad that I don’t (fill in the blank with whatever issue you have that she doesn’t share)?  Have you ever found yourself responding in this way to a friend?  You might be glad that you don’t have kids in diapers anymore, or only have girl children, or only have boy children, or have no siblings, or live in a nicer climate, or started to exercise, or became a vegetarian, or only have friends who are Christians.

I’ve done it.

Often, we don’t even realize what we’re saying – we’re so excited about talking about ourselves in a conversation that we don’t see that we’ve just alienated a person right at the point where they need understanding most, when they are sharing feelings and hurts.  But what is the harm, really?  We’re just sharing, right?  She is worried that her daughter is still in diapers at age four – so what?  Mine have been out for years, Hallelujah, OMG, I am so glad that I don’t have to change diapers anymore.  The mess!  The cost!  The stinkiness!

This type of conversation always sat wrong with me.  I can complain, people.  Oh, how I can complain.  So I have heard this a lot.  I agree that while maybe this line may be a person’s passive-aggressive way of getting me to shut up about whatever I harp about, I have also heard it when sharing something that hurts me deeply, something that keeps me up at night, troubles that seem to hang on.  And I’ve felt bad and misunderstood – like the person wasn’t interested in relating to me.  I felt wrong, somehow.  Rejected.  The words “Your troubles make me happy that I’m not you” – which is what is being said – they sting.

This cheering ourselves on as a response to another person’s sorrow has the direct result of making a person feel less about herself, and it serves to place us above them.  It’s our pride talking, and it alienates others.  We all have pride.  Just as the Pharisee prayed “God, I thank you that I am not like other men…” (Luke 18:11, NKJV), our pride surfaces when we see ourselves as somehow better than others when we tell ourselves and others that we don’t share their problems.

Because we do share their problems.  We all have troubles.  Furthermore, we all sin.  Every single one of us.  We are all made in God’s image, and fall short of his ideal. We are not better than one another.  We all need Jesus as an example to live on this earth and to absolve us of our sins.  None of is different in this regard.  When we understand that, we become more aware of how we might be alienating those around us with our pride.

Jesus said, “…For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14).  When we are prideful of what we have instead of humbled about it before God, we effectively cut ourselves off from God, and others as well.

Can we try harder to love each other and not alienate each other with our pride?  We can.  Through God’s goodness and Jesus’ sacrifice, we all have an opportunity to change.

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“Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you.”  Romans 12:3 (NLT)


Friday, August 9, 2013

The Way In

Do you believe in heaven?  My highly scientific and empirical research* shows that around 80% of the adult US population believes in an eternal home.

I don’t know what all of these people think about heaven, how they think it looks or how a person gets there, or even who they’ll see there.  I used to think that if you’re a good person you’ll get to heaven.  I defined good as not being a murderer.

It’s a pretty broad stroke, this what-do-you-believe-about-heaven business.  Everyone has their own ideas.  It’s enough to make someone who isn’t sure about heaven at all turn away, shaking their heads in disbelief.  It sounds so made up.

The skeptical part of me remembers high school English class, where the assignment was to make up our own creation myths.  Twenty 17-year-olds drew pictures and spun tales of worlds being created from an all-powerful being who built them from nothing. Most began and ended with the power of one.  Heaven is just a story, says that part of me.  But then I think of Jesus. 

“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’” John 14:6 (NKJV). 

Seems pretty clear.

Jesus called himself the way.  The gateway to heaven.  God set up for us the perfect plan of getting to his eternal home: he sacrificed his only son for it.  In fact, he sent this son to us for that purpose, to bring us to him.  Can you imagine having a child for the purpose of sacrificing him to save others?  I love my kids more than I love myself.  If someone said “I can’t wait to have a baby so he can suffer and die as an adult,” I would back slowly away and consider that person abnormal, probably unfit to be a parent.

But God is fit.  He is perfect, and his plan included sacrifice, and that sacrifice is our way into heaven.

Our door to heaven is washed in the blood of Jesus.  It sounds like a horror movie, but that blood is the vehicle for us to get to that door.  The love of God, his plan for us, his home forever is built on it.  The part of me, the one that knows the truth, the one that feels at peace when all is right and sound and as it should be, knows that Jesus is who he says he is, that God says does what he says he’ll do, that there is a heaven and that I am invited.  And so are you.

*Not really.  I Googled it.

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“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” John 14:1-4 (NLT)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Giving the Love

I haven’t been giving this blog very much love lately.  A couple of posts here and there are not really what a blogger should do if she is committed to writing for her dedicated and most awesome readers.  After all, the literal dozen of you who read what I have to say here have been with me for years and that means a lot.  I should do better.

Okay, year.  And if we are being truthful here, my readership is much more intimate.  It’s mostly just you and you, and you over there, and my mom.  Hi, Mom!!

I can blame it on the summer and our crazy, no-schedule weeks combined with vacations and weekend outings and the 3 P’s of the season – planning, preparing, and packing – that take up most of my days, but really the lack of writing lately is just due to plain old laziness.

I have not been giving the love to this blog, and it feels a little lonely.

Isn’t that how it works with love in general?  Lack of love equals loneliness, alienation, isolation.  We learn as we mature that when we give the love, we feel the love.  When we work hard to love in our relationships, interpersonal or online, we get it back in heaps.

When I feel the love I get a little silly.  Cracking jokes, making goofy faces, and doing little dances are a few ways in which I show the love.  It’s just one of my many charms.  Some call it awkwardness.

I enjoy showing my silly-love to my children.  Not just an embarrassment tactic, it comes from within as the joy I feel around them translates into behaviors that make them squirm and smile.  When I feel the love, I give the love.  I’m sure they wish I wouldn’t give the love in this way, but this is the card they were dealt and they must learn to deal with it.

We hear all the time that God is love.  He gives the love via his Creation, vast mountain ranges and beautiful oceans and the remarkable living things that make up the Earth, as well as his Word, which pierces our souls exactly how and when we need it.  He gives the love via the Holy Spirit, who whispers in our ears as we struggle to make a big decision and fills our hearts with peace as we make the right choice.  And he gives the love via Jesus’ sacrifice and his comforting example of how to live in this confusing world.  One may argue that God does not give the love in silly ways like I do, but I dare you to do a quick internet images search for "silly animals" and tell me that God isn’t silly.

And those are just pictures of animals.

God gives the love, and he feels the love.  He is never lonely.  It is the same with us.  God designed us to be like him – he doesn’t want us to be lonely, he designed us to be loved.  He teaches us that to feel the love, we must give the love.  Lucky for us, his love goes on forever, and we are all able to receive it and are welcome to it.  Our part is only to give it back.  There are millions of ways to do this.

Writing about it is just one.

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Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God.  Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7 (NLT)