Pages

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Nourishment

When I was young I ate anything I wanted.  Childhood was marked by canned soup and soda, teen years by Spaghetti-Os and hotdogs, college years by nachos and pizza, 20s by bar food and beer.  And sugar and candy and more sugar and candy.  Chocolate always had a seat at the table.

Then kids came, and also my 30s.  My body said Whoa there, Cowgirl, ease up already.  Give me some air.  Or at least something nourishing.

These days I have to be very careful.  I can still eat all the crap that built the first part of my life, but I will pay.  My body is unforgiving, and never forgets a transgression.

I also have to be careful with what goes into my mind.  Horror movies, sensational news stories, mindless TV - these things rob me of ease of mind and spirit.  I dwell on morbid, dark details and find myself upset and withdrawn, sucked into the abyss of world evils.

My spirit starves and weakens.

Depending on what we consume physically, it can help or hinder our health.  The choices we make can come from the myriad of things the world has to offer, and taste delicious.  It is the same with our spirit; we choose what tastes good to us.  We might think we are doing the right thing by selecting good deeds, loving others, being successful in our work.  Life looks and feels great. 

Our world has so many options - it is overwhelming.  But when we fill our hearts and minds only with what the world has to offer, I'm afraid we will always be hungry.   The ingredients of our lives can seem fresh and healthful, but are they nourishing our souls?   Like I had to when my body started rebelling against junk food, it has become important for me to ask myself: Where were these good things prepared?

When I choose to be nourished by God instead of the world's offerings, I find that things taste better.  Life may not be easier, but my spirit strengthens.  What's more, I find that my decisions are easier, that the world's options don't overwhelm me as much.

This is not to say that I don't regress.  I still take the option of the world's junk food over God's, and pretty often, I have to say.  But I don't stick with it as long as I used to.  The world's offerings aren't as delicious as they were, and they make me sick sooner than they did before.

When I choose to be fueled by God's nourishment, through prayer or Bible study or just his perspective, it overflows into every aspect of my life.  Just like eating nourishing food leads to a better physcal state through extra energy, better sleep habits, and an overall positive outlook, so does God's nourishment lead to added perks like taking care of ourselves and each other better and having a more meaningful perspective on life.  And the best part is that it extends beyond this life.  We are promised eternity in a perfect world, just by accepting God's gift of his son.

And there is no food nor any choice on earth that can offer this, no matter how good it looks or tastes.


photo credit

*******
 
My food, said Jesus, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. John 4:34 (NIV)



Thursday, May 23, 2013

Seasons


In spring, everything is new.  Grass is green, leaves decorate the trees, birds soar through the sky and sometimes, into my windows.

A bird has been smacking into our windows for a month now.  It is irritating.  We’ve resorted to covering the windows so we have less bird poop to clean up, because when birds smack into your windows, they tend to make a mess.

My irritation is mild; it is just a season.  Sometimes you have a carefree spring, and all your grass grows evenly, and all your flowers bloom, and it rains a little, and the sun shines a little, and everything is beautiful.  Then other years, a wayward robin with a screw loose decides that he has found his mate in his own reflection seen in your unscreened windows and makes a mess and a nuisance of himself.

It’s the same with life.  Seasons pass in life where there seems to be nothing but rain, nothing but night, nothing but darkness and confusion.  Then the clouds give way to another season where everything is light, love, happiness and hope.

When a person is a parent they go through seasons of child-rearing.  Having babies is a season.  So is having school-aged children, then teenagers, then grown children who have children of their own.

When people are ill they go through a season.  Illness and recovery are separate seasons, as is the self-identification of being healthy once again.

As the seasons in our lives change, so do we.  We are shaped by our seasons.  I am a totally different person now than I was when I was a teenager, even when I was a new mom.  Events and life experiences changed me, molded me into the person I am.  Seasons of life make us who we are.

Seasons can also repeat themselves.  As spring gives way to summer, then to fall and winter, spring will come again.  It is never exactly the same, but is familiar each year.  So it is with life.  I may find myself in an unpleasant season a second or even third time.  Maybe there is a new lesson to learn; maybe I haven’t learned from my previous mistakes.

It can be irritating, just like that robin banging into our windows.

But also like the robin, God is with me.  Just as he takes care of the birds and the flowers, he also takes care of my needs, sees my struggles with certain seasons.  He helps me become aware of how one season leads to the next.  He helps me search for ways out of a current frustrating season; he helps me recognize attributes of a wonderful one.  He helps me prepare for a new season and leave an old one behind.

God may allow me to bang my head into a window for a season to avoid repeating it.  The pain that results is my lesson to avoid the steps that led to that season of headaches.

Maybe he'll do the same with that robin.

Get it together, man.

*******


For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT)

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Matthew 6:26 (NIV)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Better on Paper


There’s this family who lives in my neighborhood.

The husband has a good job and the mom stays home.  Their two kids are well-behaved, do well in school, and are well-rounded – they play instruments, various sports, are involved in several extra-curricular activities.  The family goes on regular vacations.  They are involved in their church, have extended families who visit often, lots of friends.  They always keep their yard mowed.  The inside of their house is organized and clean.  The husband and wife drive decent cars.  They exercise regularly, enjoy each other as a family, and the parents go on date nights.  Anyone would say that these people love each other, and that they live in a loving, stable home.

This is my family, and we look darn good on paper.

In reality, my husband works long hours and travels more than either one of us would like.  I stay home and have had more than one day where I contemplate the insufferable boredom of housewifery and dream of escaping this life for a more glamorous one.  My kids fight with each other.  A lot.  They take instrument lessons, but they must be yelled at and/or bribed to practice.  Same for doing their homework.  And sports.  We take the same vacations every year because my parents invite us.  I stress out a little too much – okay, a lot too much – when friends and family come to visit.   We’ve skipped church the past few Sundays for no other reason than because we didn't feel like going.  My husband walks around the house for hours on Saturdays and talks about how he is going to mow the yard and it drives me nuts.  Most times he asks our son to do it.  If I have to stick my hand down another one toilet to clean or push the vacuum around one more time I might lose my mind.  I hate to exercise, but I hate how terrible I feel when I don’t.  On any given day our house is filled with the sounds of crying, yelling, blaring TVs, sarcastic remarks, and the silent treatment.  We all love each other, except for the times when we don’t. 

We may look good on paper, but we are not perfect.

Sometimes I wonder how this life came to be.  How did things get out of hand in this situation?  How did we make such a big mistake here?  Why did we decide to do this?  My mind fills with questions that only have one answer:  Because we are human.  Not perfect.

Every night I pray that I would live the life that God intends me to live, that I am doing exactly what he wants for me, that I am walking the path he laid out for me, that our family is on the right track.  I have no way of knowing if we are doing the right thing.  I have no idea of knowing for sure if God is smiling down on us, if he is pleased with us.

Jesus is the only perfect human who walked on this earth.  We have his example to follow.  It is hard; impossible for me to achieve in my time here.  Jesus is the only one who looks as good on paper as he does in real life. 

I have faith that someday I – and my family – will be like Jesus, will be as perfect in real life as on paper.  I trust that God, who promised us a life in heaven, his perfect home, will make us perfect as well.  Our humanness will be gone, our imperfections smoothed over.

But today, I have to settle for looking better on paper.

Look!  We even coordinate our outfits!
*******


Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.  Jude 1:24 (NLT)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Greatness


“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” – William Carey

We all want to do great things.  Fame, fortune, the acknowledgement of every job done, well or not – we all want to be recognized for our efforts.  Our backs get straighter and our chins tip higher if our efforts yield greatness.

Every day I want to achieve greatness.  However, reality causes me to take a step back and aspire for adequacy most days.  My abilities are stretched and wear out.  Patience and time are wasted on fruitless endeavors.  I clean my house for hours, only to see dust and dirt minutes later.  My achievements are dampened, and my hard work leads to nothing.

Lists litter my desk, each one numbering tasks that I think will bring me to greatness in my little world.  Things get done when I’m in charge.  I am the boss.  I own this.

I imagine God smiling a little at my version of greatness.  I have no idea what I am doing.  What I think I can accomplish is limited to my own stunted imagination.  Sometimes I feel holy and imagine that my tasks are done for God.  My way of glorifying him is limited to a scribbled list of to-dos on a scrap of paper.  I think I’m stretching myself if I try to do something new to further the Kingdom of God, if I tiptoe out of my comfort zone for a second and whisper to someone about Jesus.

God smiles a little bit broader then, I’m sure.

If I meditate on what God has done, and what he continues to do in this world, I can see how limiting my own views on greatness are.  Our human imaginations don’t go as far as God’s wonders can.  His creation, a drop of water, inspires greatness.  The power that he holds in his hand surpasses what my small mind could ever conjure up.

When we give up being great on our own accord, God enters our lives and works through us to start the slightest ripple or the most earth-quaking movement.  We can’t fathom how he will accomplish this.  We don’t have to.  His plan, his will, is perfect.  We can trust this.  After all, he did it with Jesus.  He could bring greatness to any one of us.

All we have to do is open our hearts and our minds to his infinite possibilities.  If we put away our ideas of what greatness looks like, maybe we will do great things for God without even realizing it.

********

How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.  Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.  Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons.  Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.  They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.  For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.  Hebrews 11:32-40 (NLT)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Face Value


Say what you mean.  Mean what you say.  Don’t ask me to make inferences from your words.  It’s not my strength.  I’m literal that way.

I have this issue of not “getting” it right away.  When figuring out meanings behind actions and implications made within conversations, I am slow to come around.  Things need to be very clear – I like things to be spelled out.  Instructions are key.  Give me a set of steps and I’ll follow them.  Give me a picture of your desired result and it just looks like a picture.  Oh, you want me to get there without telling me how?  I don’t understand.

So it’s paradoxical why it has taken me so long to come around to the gift that God has given us.  He says it right out: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”(John 3:16, NLT).  Why do find myself sometimes wondering if God really means what he says?

It is no surprise that I have stumbled many times in my faith.  I don’t often get that Jesus’ sacrifice is everything, but it’s not that the message is unclear – it’s my own disbelief in the truth that trips me up.  The belief that God would do such a thing for the world, this place that causes hurt for so many – impossible.  The belief that he would care so much for me - what?

Yet the Bible says that with God everything is possible (Matthew 19:26, NLT).  Including what I find so hard to believe.

I would do well to get out of my own way and take at face value something that God has promised to the entire world without exception, that God “has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1: 3-5, NKJV)

Everyday stumbling blocks can lead to skepticism.  Past pain, current troubles, peripheral threats and the occasional feeling of distrust and overarching societal malaise contribute to a doubt that God is the real thing, that what he says has happened and is happening.

It’s what the Bible was written for, what all those past martyrs and disciples lived for and died for.  It’s what wars were fought over and what we battle every day in our modern lives.

For us to understand why we are here and where we are going.  For me to get it.

God must have known that I would have a hard time believing in his gift, his sacrifice, his love.

After all, he knows us.  He knows that we need to hear his message over and over to get it.  Sometimes it takes a lifetime for a person to truly believe.

No matter how literal they think they may be.

*******

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:26 (NLT)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.  1 Peter 1:3-9 (NKJV)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Turning Point


Recently I saw something on Facebook that got me thinking. 

And no, it wasn’t a series of pictures of celebrities at the beach or animals doing silly things or anything else like that.  Although I have to admit, most of my Facebook time is spent looking at that kind of stuff.

A friend was asked by someone she didn’t know well to quickly summarize who she is.  She recalled a moment in her life that defined who she is today, a moment that started the course of shaping her into the person she became.  I was blown away by her quick thinking, and found it admirable that she could pinpoint an exact moment that this happened.  I immediately reflected upon my own nebulous past.  It seemed important, a thing that we all should be able to do.

Also, because I hold the record for world’s #1 Navel-Gazer, I never miss an opportunity to reflect and wonder about myself in any capacity.
The idea rolled around in my head for a few days and I came up with nothing.  What drives me?  Furthermore, when did this drive, this important thing, become my motivation, my inspiration to get out of bed in the morning? 

I so badly wanted that moment to be something spiritual, something to do with God and Jesus and being a Christian.  I admire people who say “I became a Christian at five years old” and “I don’t ever remember not knowing Jesus.”  Loving Jesus and working on my relationship with God has been a truly remarkable time in my life, but it is relatively recent.  I wish I had spent less time during my life resisting Jesus and more time loving him.  It seems nicer, somehow.

But a nice, neat, pure and holy turning point just isn’t my thing.  Then it dawned on me.  My moment.

My defining moment came when I was 17 and I was moping around, a favorite pastime back then.  My moodiness and angst-filled tirades had reached their limit in my mother, who one day interrupted my pity-party-of-one to give me the business about growing up and getting over myself, that I wasn’t the only person in the world who felt the feelings I felt.  Before she slammed the door to my room she advised me to get out there and get a job, for goodness’ sakes.

Her words stung.  Realization dawned on me that I was a brat, first and foremost, but also that I am not alone in the world.  Other people felt like I did?  Who are they?  Where are they?  How can I find them?  Why didn’t any of my friends tell me?  Was it my fault?

I wasn’t open.  I told white lies and exaggerated to get attention.  I had walls, held people at arms’ length.  Shyness was a favorite excuse.  I judged others, was stuck up.  The list of my flaws was long and was revealed to me over the years.

Relating to others became my motivation.  I needed to be able to share and be shared with.  The realization that my personality thus far was what kept me from being close to others helped me to battle that list of character flaws one, two, three at a time.  I failed miserably and was humbled again and again.  I studied psychology to understand how we relate, entered a committed relationship to fully relate to another person and had children both to teach and to learn from.  I made friendships by being honest, by letting down my guard and showing people my ugly face.  I observed that we are all similar; there’s no need to put on an act for anyone.  I learned that if I feel terrible, odds are that someone else is too, and we can help each other through it.

Relating to others is why I look forward to difficult conversations with my kids, why my friends and I laugh so hard and so long through our tears, and why I drive my husband crazy by forcing him to think about things he doesn’t want to think about.  It’s why I’ve had an internal dialogue with myself all these years, and why I started writing.  It was revealed as my motivation in that one moment.

The bonus is that I truly believe that relating to others is my purpose, and that God, in his purity and holiness, designed me this way.  He is present in every thought and action I’ve had, and he led me here.  Guess what?  He did that for you, too.  Do you know when it happened?





*******

An honest answer is like a kiss of friendship. Proverbs 24:26 (NLT)

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.  But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NLT)

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. Ephesians 1:4 (NLT)

For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Opportunities

I am a passionate list maker.

I’ve got lists everywhere.  Lists of groceries, lists of tasks to be completed, birthday gift lists, lists of deadlines, lists of books I want to read and movies I want to see, lists of writing ideas.  I have lists of household items I need (and want) to buy; I even have a list of items from our wedding china that will make a complete set.

I know – ridiculous.

“Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days” (Ephesians 5:16).  Are any of these things on my lists going to please God in these evil days?  Were any of my lists conceived solely for that purpose?

No.  They weren’t.

There is not one item on any of my lists that says “Help someone.” “Make a meal for someone.” “Visit someone who is lonely.”

I tell myself that my lists are innocuous, innocent.  I don’t push aside the needs of others in order to cross items off my lists.  Not one of the items says “Rule the world.”

Life is complicated; it goes so fast.  Things need to get done.  But amidst the busy-ness of life, am I making the most of every opportunity?  Recently I skipped Bible study to have lunch with a girlfriend who asked me to be there.  I feel like I did the right thing.  Is God pleased with my choice?  I hope that this was considered to be an opportunity that I made the most of. 

I pray that God is pleased with my choice. 

He might feel differently about the china.

*******

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.  Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.  Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.  Ephesians 5:15-17 (NLT)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Looking Up


When was the last time you looked at the bright side of things first, saw only the positive, spotted the silver lining right away?

Okay, all you Pollyannas out there.  Put your hands down.  I’m not talking to you.

I mean, really.  One need only turn on the television for a minute before conflict, whether it happened down the street, in the next city, across the country or in a far-flung place around the world, enters the room. Children come home from school thinking about which of their friends got in-school suspension, swore on the bus, broke up with his girlfriend, witnessed a terrible fight between his parents.  Things are bad all over.

Unhappiness, struggle, despondency, suspicion, despair; these things meander through the spirit of our times, despite the overwhelming advances we see in technology, medicine, science, entertainment.  There is weeping in whole municipalities and countries which suffer while only a few celebrate, and even these experience trouble sometimes.

Sometimes it feels as if our world is consuming itself.

It is often difficult to view the world from any other perspective than the one in which we are situated, especially when things are hard.  Although this world is temporary and so are our lives within it, we get bogged down by daily struggles and fail to look up to see what God is doing in the world and in our lives.  Dwelling in the Lord is tough when the world seems to spin at a million miles an hour, and nothing seems to slow it down or reverse its course.

But looking up is necessary to refresh our soul, to find our place in God’s plan.  God only wants good for us, wants to give us everything he has.  But we have to do our part, too.  We must tip our faces to him daily, acknowledge him as our Lord, and love him with all that we have. 

The world may fall away, but we are still victorious over death.  And that is a reason to look at the bright side of things.




*******

Many people say, “Who will show us better times?”  Let your face smile on us, Lord.  You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.  In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.  Psalm 4:6-8 (NLT)