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Monday, December 21, 2015

Love in Action

Sometimes I start talking and I can’t stop.

I get going on a tangent, complain and harp and let loose the ideas that have been rolling around in my head, the comments that I keep bottled up for fear of appearing rude, mean, or worse: uneducated.

Usually I have an audience of one – my husband.

He’s a good audience.  He knows when I’m just blowing off steam and when I need to be reined in with a comment or two of his own.   He listens to my oratories without much interruption – not that there’s much of a chance for that, but still.

His listening is a show of grace – he could walk away while I blather, but he doesn’t. He settles in, no matter how painful.  In the meantime, I learn from his example.  I appreciate his show of grace so much.

Things in the world are scary right now.  We see attacks within our towns and cities, sometimes between cops and kids, sometimes between handfuls of gunmen and crowds of people.  Humans fight every day.  We see what happens on a global scale when there is a lack of grace.

“I can’t even with my Facebook feed right now – so much hatred” – say those who choose to rely on social media for connection, news, and information.  We all have opinions, and those with the most radical, divisive ones have the loudest voices.  The rest of us are offended, scared of what people are capable of, surprised to discover certain things about the people we thought we knew.  We cut them out of our social media lives with the swiftness of death’s arrival.

We receive less and less grace from our fellow humans every day, and we cocoon ourselves tighter and tighter with those who share our beliefs, creating more division.  We respond to a lack of grace with our own, and say we are protecting our minds and hearts. 

What else can we do? 

“You can’t change what anyone else believes by posting articles and links on social media,” says my husband.  “People aren’t there to change their minds.”  We read what we want to read.  Websites offer self-satisfying clicks to obtain the information we want, to get support for our own opinions.   Gone are the days of subtly being influenced by both sides of a story in the newspaper; we can push a button to hear exactly what we want to hear, and click away when we don’t.

We find ourselves more apt to point fingers and warn and cut out, less apt to help along and love.  We forget that we all want life, love, and health – all wonderful things that many of us take for granted – and focus on the things that separate us.  Each of us thinks that our own opinion is the right one, and X out the ones that disagree.  Dissent occurs.

We are missing one ingredient when this happens: grace.



When we cut people out because of their differing opinions, we withhold grace.  When we hear what they have to say and respond with respect, we offer it.  Just as God sent his son to earth to offer us the gift of salvation despite any good we have done, we can respond with grace to those friends and loved ones who offer thoughts and opinions that are drastically different than our own.  We can each do this, no matter which side we’re on.  It’s work, and it’s individually-based, but it can be done.

We might not have the loudest voice in shouting our grace, but it might have a huge impact in our interpersonal relationships.  Grace can beget grace – those of us who believe in Christ’s gift live it every day. 

Why not start practicing it today?

* * *

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.

 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.

This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.

Ephesians 1:3-10 (NLT)


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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Peace In, Peace Out

One of the hardest things for kids to learn is how to be a friend.  Somewhere around twelve or thirteen we begin to run our own social lives – long gone are playdates and mommies arranging social time.  These days my kids tell me what’s happening and can I go and these people will be there and it starts at this time and I don’t know when it’s over, I’ll text or call.

And then they’re gone and I pray that they remember their manners and that all their behavior decisions are the right ones.

In any relationship, bumps and bends in the road can be difficult to navigate.   Adolescents don’t yet understand the nuances that are key to effective communication; they still largely operate from a “me first” position.  Clashing is common.  Throw in all the feelings just under the surface and friendships run high and flame out frequently.

This is where I have found the most difficult work as a parent.  Allowing my kids the space to grow means sometimes holding back from swooping in and taking charge when they do and say the wrong thing.  Waiting in the wings while they fumble around interpersonally or waiting to be asked for help is so much harder than just taking charge.  It’s hard to deny myself the very thing that I have been training to do their whole lives.  Letting them grow means I also have to grow.

Sometimes my kids mess up and suffer so much that I do interfere.  When they’re in the middle of a mess like this, I have to know when to step in carefully.  Guiding them to clean up their own messes – not doing it for them – is tough when frustration spills over in the form of tears and emotional pain.  It’s really tough when I can see the edges of the mess they haven’t quite cleaned up completely.

Doing everything for my kids isn’t my role anymore.  By the time they are twelve, I have spent every waking hour teaching and modeling and instructing.  But I can’t be them.  They have to be themselves.



Living in peace with everyone is what we are instructed to do as Christians.  We can each do our part in relationships and interactions with others to facilitate peace.  We all have the choice to retaliate or live in peace, to hate or to love. 

When we choose peace, we build ourselves and others up.  One thing that sits in the back of my mind when I choose to fight is this: why am I ruining my reputation just to appear tough?  Being hateful is not strong.  It is letting the other person have control.  When someone is ugly to me, and I respond with ugliness, I just willingly entered into the ugly game.  That person threw the first pitch and I threw it right back.  I agreed to be ugly; I allowed that person to dictate who I would be today. 

When we choose conflict, we choose negative over positive, hate over love, breaking down others and over time, our own character.  A good character that only chooses bad responses will eventually become a bad character. 

This is what we teach our kids.  They may not have control over what a person does to them, but they sure have control over how they respond.  At twelve, they enjoy the freedom of choosing how to act in a way that reveals their character and makes them feel good about themselves and others.  They learn that God will take care of those who are horrible to us; it might not be fun in the meantime, but God always has our backs.  He will take care of us; his power is stronger than anyone else’s.  When Mom can’t (or won’t) swoop in, he will in ways that make us stronger.

When God is the focus, relationships become stronger.  God can turn a friendship around.  When we don’t know what to do, he can teach us how to behave and what to say.  He can turn hate into love.

I am grateful for God’s lessons on friendship.  Nothing I try to teach my kids comes close to what he can teach all of us.


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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

One Way

“Nobody listens to me!”

“I’m bored.  We never do anything fun!”

“You’re bothering me.  Go away.”

“You’re all being annoying.  I’m leaving.”

These four sentences could be said at any time by any person who lives in my house.  As a group, we can get along fairly well, but not always.  Individual needs sometimes take center stage, to the detriment of our relationships.  And to the peace.

The facts are that

We do listen to each other.

We do fun things.

We want to spend time together.

We love each other.

But sometimes, we can only see one way.  When irritated, our irritations become too much of a nuisance and cloud our judgment.  We only see a part of the picture, and we don’t like what we see.  We feel put upon, harassed, misunderstood.

And we pout, blame, and push each other away.

I feel like this is normal, that all families bicker and complain and get on each other’s nerves.  We are all human, after all.  Just because we normally enjoy each other’s company, we also all have feelings and get hurt and offended.  We voice our displeasure and use words to hurt.

We all want our way at the same time.  But this is ridiculous.  A family can’t be pushed and pulled in four separate ways and still function properly.

The Bible is filled with instructions on how to live life.  If you have a problem with someone, go to that person and have it out with them (Matthew 18:15).  Watch what you say; it affects your reputation (Proverbs 11:12).  Do the work that you were asked to do without complaining (Colossians 3:23). The book of Proverbs contains wisdom from King Solomon, the wisest person in the land.  Jesus’ ministry focused on the right way to live life.  Paul continued his ministry across the world to teach new Christians how to keep the faith in spite of obstacles.  Modern Christians read the Bible and go to church to learn how to do life according to his will, to spread the gospel in ways that make sense in our time and in our lives.  Through all of this, we learn God’s will, his way.

Sometimes I follow God’s path and I’m pretty good at being a model Christian. Other times, I veer off and crash, hard.  But then I remember. 

God is bigger than me, than all of us.  He’s so much bigger than our biggest accomplishments and even our most devastating failures.  We need him in our lives to right us when we fall.  Only he can guide us with any kind of success through this world.  Often I need to know my place and see that I am not in the center, that I am not in control, that I don’t have all the answers.  It is humbling and freeing to know that God is in control, that despite my desires for order and my way, his way will prevail.  Just as children crave structure and the safety of a secure and loving home as a landing place, so do we seek the loving, capable arms of God.

God is more than enough, despite what we can see. –Shelly Beach

When my family members and I assert our will upon each other, we experience conflict.  We are a microcosm of what is going on in the entire world – everyone battling for his or her own way.  When I disengage from the fight and the chaos and see God’s way, peace floods my heart and mind.  I may not be able to see clearly how his way will lead, but I trust that he has the answers, that he is in control, that he is the center.

Of everything.


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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It Never Ends

When I got my first full-time job, and having no more school looming on the horizon to buffer the tedium of working every day, I was struck by the fact that I would be doing just this for the next very long portion of my life – going to work and performing tasks that were not all captivating or even a little interesting.  I would be doing these tasks for the biggest part of every day except for short breaks called “vacations” and even shorter breaks called “weekends.”

I despaired.  The working part of being an adult was not on my list of favorite things.



Over time, I got used to working every day, and learned to enjoy it. I made friends at work, was treated well and had a good rapport with everyone except for one person who I tried very hard to kill with kindness.

Eventually life took a turn and I quit my job (by this time just part-time) for a dual position, an even fuller-time job – motherhood and housekeeping.

For a time, both jobs fulfilled me – although there’s a lot of downtime with infants at home, their growth demands more hours, and a house, well, there’s always something to do in a house – but after a while, I started to despair again.  Is this what I went to eighteen years of school for?  To change diapers and wipe dust off of surfaces?  There has to be someone more qualified.

After a while, I settled in.  One baby was now two babies, and a house crumbles a little every year, demanding constant maintenance and upkeep.  I was busy, and although my tasks were tedious, I learned how to mix them up to trick myself into thinking that I wasn’t doing the same exact thing Every. Single. Day.

Sometimes, the old thoughts crept in: Is this really what I am doing?  I watched friends and former fellow at-home moms launch themselves back into old careers when their children started attending school full-time.  Some women went back to school to start new careers, and others got jobs to fill the hours before the kids returned home from school.  My social circle of stay-at-home moms shrank, and I found myself alone a lot of the time.  They were contributing.  What was I doing?  Should I be following their cues and returning to the workforce?  The very idea of donning appropriate clothing for work filled me with dread.  I considered that my jobs as mother and housekeeper were still valid – after all, I still had children, and the house required even more of my attention now that there were four fully-formed people running through it all hours of the day.  I ignored that the women swirling around me now had new work to do, and put the idea of going back to work out of my mind.   

Through it all, I became close with God.  I went to church and to Bible study and learned about the history of my belief system, nurtured my faith, and listened to other women utter words that were on my heart.  Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?  I want to do something, but what? Am I doing enough?  Am I wasting my life?  I shared that I felt the same thing.

Then, it clicked.  God put me Here.  Right in this spot, right in this very moment.  Like my first real job, I was chosen to do this one, too.  The only thing that needed to change was my perspective.  God gave me this time, these children, this house, to work at nurturing and caring for and filling with the discipline of love.  It might be non-traditional in our current culture, and it for sure isn’t compensated in any tangible way, but I can see the fruits of my labor every day in my family members and in our home.

I no longer worry or stew about what I am doing with my life.  I realize that I am doing it.  My life is happening right now.  God handed a job to me and I ran with it.  Along the way I have learned that no matter how tedious or challenging the task laid before me, when I do it from a holy perspective, I am most fulfilled.  When God is my focus, I do my job with an attitude of what I am to learn from him through it.  I trust that when the time comes for me to change my career path, he will show me what to do.

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. 
Ephesians 6: 8

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ready or Not

“In just a little while, he who is coming will come and not delay.” 
Hebrews 10:37

Ready or not, here I come.
–God

* * *

I hate not being ready.  Last minute preparations and scrambling to get ends tied up send my nerves on edge, not to mention plain old forgetting that one important thing.  When that happens, I can’t seem to focus on anything but that one thing I forgot.  Nothing makes me feel more incomplete than driving down the road or arriving to my destination only to realize that I forgot earrings or my wedding ring.  A naked ring finger and unadorned earlobes become center spotlight on my mind’s stage.

Like a thief in the night, he comes.  The Bible is peppered with allusions to be ready for when God comes.  Warnings to get right with God are common; so is the more modern question Do you know where you’ll spend eternity?  Christians everywhere are given the task of spreading God’s word, remembering Jesus’ sacrifice, and sharing that there is a place for each and everyone in heaven.  Quick – make your reservation, even though not one of us knows when we are leaving.

I remember as a new Christian I wondered if I was ready.  Did I do enough in accepting that Jesus saved me?  Was there still a corner of my mind that doubted what I said I believed?  I prayed the salvation prayer over and over, as if I forgot something the last time: Dear God, I am a sinner, and I believe that you sent Jesus to die for my sins.  Amen? Is that it?  It seems so inadequate.  God, I really really believe that you sent Jesus to die for me.  Oh man, my sins.  Please forgive me for when I did this, and this, and this, and oh, I guess I am sinning now by not believing in the simplicity of your plan, oh God, am I messing this up or what? I’m sorry.  Forgive me.  Please have a room for me in your house.  I know you have one for me.  Amen.

Even in prayer I’m a neurotic mess.

The truth is that God will not wait to come.  When his time is here to reveal himself to the world, even the most powerful will be humbled, but we can be sure that this is also how he works in all of our lives on a daily basis.  God will not wait to teach us something when he deems it’s time.  I was not ready to be called by God to believe; I didn’t make a plan, didn’t foresee the future of life as a Christian.  Nor do I have fair warning to do many of the things I look back upon and say “God put me in that situation.”  If God wants to show us something, he won’t hesitate to show us his hand, ready or not. 

God is always on the lookout for what we need, and his will supersedes any of our plans (or lack of them).  I believe God gives us chances to do his will in our lives, and we don’t always notice them.  There is a time when he needs us for something that can’t be ignored, and we make choices to do them or not.  Even the one who thinks he has lived his life for God can do one more thing for the Kingdom.  God never fails, and this includes never failing to use us for this glory, no matter when or where we are in our lives. 

God doesn’t wait for loose ends to be tied up; he doesn’t care if we forgot to wear earrings that day.  He will come when we least expect it, without warning.  Every day we have the choice to do something with what God gives us, until that very last day when he calls us home.


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Friday, October 23, 2015

Sunday Every Day

On Sundays after church, there’s a feeling of benevolence in the air.

This is apparent to me because on Sundays after church, my children rarely bicker or complain and they are more apt to agree to normally opposed chores like mowing the lawn, putting clean laundry away, and washing my car.

They feel it, too.  I know this because on Sundays after church, more than any other day, I am also more apt to agree to special indulgences like going out to lunch or stopping for ice cream or buying something I'd normally say no to. 

Sundays are when we have each other’s number.  But none of us seems to mind.

There’s a reason why going to church on Sundays feels so good.

It’s because at church, God is there.  We still our hearts and our minds for one hour and focus on God, our creator and father.  We sit quietly to pray and hear his word, then jump to our feet to sing and praise him.  At church, we devote our lives – for that one hour – to God.  There’s nothing else to focus on, no distractions to lure our attention away from him.  When we’re at church, we allow ourselves to be emptied of worldly things and filled with his presence.  We are in his house, and it is a welcome place.  In God’s house, we have everything we need.  It’s a good feeling.

Praising, praying, receiving the Holy Spirit, reading and meditating on his word – these are all things that happen on Sunday.  How much better off we’d be if we did all of these things every single day?  What would it be like if the benevolence that followed church on Sunday extended into the week? How wonderful the feeling if we distract ourselves from the world with God for an hour on a Thursday afternoon!

This is something that many people know already.  For some who attend mid-week services and Bible studies and breathe prayers to God in the shower and while driving and who praise him while they watch the sun rise and set on each day and who take every care and concern and good thing to him, dwelling in God’s presence is their way of life. 

I can’t say it is mine.  I have too many  concerns that I like to hold close to my heart, where they leach in and make me sad, mad, and discouraged.  I have pet peeves that I like to stroke and feed and keep on a short leash.  Only when I get fed up with myself do I ask God to take care of them for a while.  But eventually I take them back.

Holding onto our cares is not what God wants for us.  He wants us to be in constant communion with him, our lines of communication open and free.  He wants us to confront a problem and look to him whether in Word or Prayer or Deed and say What now, God?  Give me the answer – I sure don’t have it myself.  Guide me in the way you want, and in the meantime I ask you to show me your plan.  But if you don’t, hey, that’s okay, too.  You’re awesome and I trust you, and I’m here to be your hands, feet, and words.

On Sundays, when we are in God’s house, the distractions are few and it’s easier to give up our cares to God.  It’s a prescribed time to do so; we organize our lives to take that time to be with him.  As a result we are refreshed, renewed, and filled with kindness, compassion, goodwill – benevolence.

Why don’t we treat every day – every minute – like Sunday?

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Faith and Other Difficult Concepts

Why do you believe what you believe?

The words hung in the air as our youth small group members searched our brains for an answer that would satisfy such an unfair question.  Seven of us sat, wedged into preschool Sunday school chairs at a low table that some of the teens in our group had sat in when they were preschoolers.

The playing field was leveled.  Students and youth group leaders were equally stumped.

Because things have happened that can’t be explained by anything other than God, offered one.  Because it’s what I’ve always believed, said another.  I grew up learning about God; I don’t know any different, agreed someone else.

I nodded.  These things were true of me, too, more or less.  Because I just do.  Because I choose to believe.  Because of what Jesus did for us.  Because God said these things, and I believe him.  It’s truth.  It’s in my gut, my heart, my mind.  Because at some point I took a leap of faith (there’s no other way to describe it) and I believe that Jesus died on the cross to atone for my sins and that God made this plan and I’m a part of it and I know he’s there.  I just do.  I know Jesus did this for us.  For me.

By faith we are saved.  Not by what we have done, or what we can see.  By faith.  A friend of mine once told me that she would believe in God if she saw all the things happen that God said happened.  If she had proof with her eyes that he is who he says he is.  Somehow reading about it isn’t enough.  I weakly appealed to her heart with my own experience.  I just couldn’t explain well enough to get her to see why I believe, how I got to that leap of faith point.  I couldn’t explain myself because it wasn’t me who gave me the faith.  It was God.  I chose to believe, then he did the rest.


Without faith the story of Jesus dying on the cross is just a tragic story, and God is just an idea created by humans to keep each other in line.  Right and wrong and truth and lies are arbitrary, able to be interchanged according to the social climate.  It seems crazy to believe in some all-powerful being having a hand in the world’s affairs.  Why live according to some concept of eternity that no one can see?  There’s an explanation for every one of these questions that works to unravel faith in what God has done for us. 

And don’t even get me started on how Jesus managed to be human and God and Spirit in one.  I. Don’t. Know.

The fact is that I believe.  Faith in God holds my beliefs intact.  I’ve had enough years of interacting with God to know that this isn’t just some whim.  As proof, I see churches and people who work to spread the Good News about Jesus and read enough about how God works in the world that can’t be explained by anything else.

People may say that I’m fooling myself, that I am just another pawn in some ancient mind-numbing movement that gets people to pledge loyalty to a belief system that has no current significance, just another cog in another money-making machine.  My mind has adapted to conform to a belief system that lulls me into a sense of false security and hope.  It’s the only thing that keeps most people from hurling themselves off the nearest bridge.

Now, I can be a cynic, but even that’s a little dark for me.

I believe that just as God created us individually, he gave us faith the same way.  I can only explain faith the way I’ve experienced it; I can only offer proof in what makes sense to me.  I can’t hold my faith in my hands as an object to show others that it is real, just as God doesn’t present himself on earth wearing a nametag, offering trips back in time to meet Abraham and Moses and to watch Jesus die on the cross.  I can’t tell you how to have faith.  All I can tell you is how I came to have faith.

That’s all I can offer.  I’m so thankful that God can offer so much more.

Dear God,
The faith of millions is your work. 
Thank you for what you have done for all of us. 
Amen.

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Friday, October 9, 2015

A Simple Command

“This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:10-20

Easy, right?  To love.  For some, love is easy – we have been showered with love; we know what it looks like, what it feels like to be loved.  We love others how we have been loved.  We kiss and hug and smile and give and laugh and share and talk and help and do all the things that we think love is.  It’s easy to love when we have experience with it.  It’s easy to love when the people we love are lovable, and especially when they love us back.

But what if we have little or no experience with love?  What if life dealt us a mean hand, and we don’t know what it’s like to be loved freely?  What if we were kicked, beaten, starved, put down, and hated?  How do we construct something out of nothing?  How do we love if we don’t know what it’s like?  What if we are surrounded by people who don’t know how to love?  What if we consider the people who surround us to be unlovable?

Though we crave it as humans and seek it out, something always seems to happens in life that turns us against love.  Betrayal and hurt are powerful emotions and create seemingly impenetrable barriers, and any growth happens around the hard places.  We wind around these past hurts like a tree confronted with an obstacle, meandering its way around it to find the light again.  What’s left is a malformed thing, twisted and bent.  When love is missing, our spirit merely learns how to survive.  Instead of growing straight, strong, and true, we are crooked and broken.

It's easy to turn our behavior and our words against those who don’t love us, or who we feel are unworthy of our love.  We make fun of, bully, berate, and ignore those who we deem undeserving of love.  Human nature has an ugly side, and we let it fly when confronted with someone who means nothing to us or worse, who has hurt us.  We fight back with discord and dislike instead of allowing love to heal.

I’ve been hurt before.  I’ve been the object of dislike and discord, have felt rebuffed and unloved.  And I have also disliked, ignored, and put down others whom I’ve refused to love.  The absence of love feels like a bottomless pit, a dark nothing with no boundaries and no end.  Whether coming to us or originating within us, feeling no love is a numbness that I do not wish to feel regularly.

How we come about love may be complicated; we may not know how to love due to past or present problems.  For me, to know that we are to love is enough.  Maybe we aren’t given specific instructions on how to love because that’s the part where we are to lean on God’s wisdom and understanding.  Maybe loving is so hard at times because God wants us to ask for help on how to do it. God knows what we should do; he waits for us to look to him.

I appreciate Jesus’ simple command to love.  When the chaos of bad feelings and past hurt haunts me, “Love each other” rises above the endless feed of negativity.  It is our calling, and I am not above asking God for help with it when my tendency is to do everything but love. 

It helps me to know that we are directed to love.  To obey God.  All else is under his control.

Simple.


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Friday, September 18, 2015

After The Casting

It dawned on me at 3 am that my high school freshman would be missing almost half of his math classes the first three weeks of school due to golf matches.

My eyes snapped open.  A core class, at the end of the day.  He has a study hall right away in the morning.  Could he switch it?  How many math classes could there be?  He plays on the school golf team; who (other than the two of us) failed to realize that there might be a problem with this scheduling?  Is this actually a problem?  Who should he contact?  What will he do?  Should I step in?  He’s in 9th grade; this is something that he is capable of handling.  What is my role here? What can he do what should we do what is there to do?

Several times I tried to cast my worries to God.  “I’m casting this to you, God,” I thought, as my husband snored peacefully beside me.  He doesn’t worry like I do.  I casted my concerns to God over and over, imagining throwing an empty net up in the air (Why an empty net?  Shouldn’t it be filled with ugly, fish-faced worries?  To be fair, it was 3 am) and watching it fall back to the earth.  My strength wasn’t up to the task, and as that net in my imagination tumbled down, I gave up and went back to fumbling with the worries.

I like the image of casting our troubles away.  Instead of trying to run away from our troubles or manage them alone, we throw them.  We play a one-way game of catch with God, and heave them with all our might into his waiting hands.  We pray “thy will be done” and put our faith in him, staying close to him in his word and in our behavior.  In the meantime, we draw closer to him.

Trouble is, our strength isn’t always up to the task.  We hang onto our worries because it’s our habit.  Sometimes we say “Here, catch” to God and in the next moment we forget to sit quietly and listen for him.  Worrying is more active.  Waiting on God is noble and I know it’s the right thing to do, but darn it all, he’s going to fail math and he hasn’t even gone to school a full week yet.

Whatcanhedowhatshouldwedowhatistheretodo

Calming down the worries long enough to cast them away is only one step, just a tiny first step.  The real work comes in the waiting, the discipline of reading and meditating and believing over and over that God knows what is right, that he will reveal what should be done in this situation, that he will do what he promises. 

The real work – where we are strengthened – is not in the casting.  It is remembering what he did for us by sacrificing his son on the cross.  That was an unimaginable plan, one that he made before any of us took our first breath.  He made a promise and when he saw the dear child he made, he didn’t take back his promise to allow him to die for all of us, even though we don’t deserve it.

Our job is not to worry about the things on earth that cause us to toss and turn in the wee hours.  It is to ask God to work in our lives, and ask him what our next steps are.  It is to read his word and open our hearts to whatever it is he wants to reveal to us.  It is to trust that he knows our troubles and exactly what we are to do about them.

God never fails; he always knows just what we need to do in every situation.  After casting our worries away, our work starts.  It always brings us closer to him.

Dear God, Today is a hard day.  Thank you for reminding me that no difficulty is bigger than you.  Please help me to navigate this day.  Thank you.  Amen.

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Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:7

Friday, September 4, 2015

Who Is She?

I've had an identity crisis my whole life.

Different times I thought I was an actor, therapist, academician, businessperson, comedian – but I was an enigma, even to myself.  I achieved mostly confusion.

I wasn’t enough of any of these things to be one of them.  An aversion to commitment only served to spin me around in circles.  I was jealous of those who could say “I’m a teacher.”  “I’m a salesperson.”  “I’m a musician.”  They knewI wanted to know.  But I couldn’t settle on one thing.  I didn’t make any of them happen.

I have the unique gift of reading most people really well, but I’m a complete dolt about myself.  All my powers of discernment – seeing who a person is and what they’re all about – stop at me. Ultimately, I have no idea what I want or what I’m doing in the world, nor do I know how I come across, who people think I am.  I just do my little life, twirl in circles, and watch one year become the next, and the next, and the next.  I’m in my head all the time. 

Over time, I’ve become a wife, a mother, a blogger, and other things.  But I don’t feel like any of those things.  I feel like these are just placeholders while my real self forms.  I can prove that I have a husband and children and a blog, but those identifiers are too much, yet not enough.  I’m just… me. 

I believe in God, and I believe that through our lives, God works to mold and form us into the person he created.  We can make our own decisions and become a criminal, a liar, and a thief, but he can use even those roles to point us to him.  Who we are is from him. 



When I start focusing only on my own abilities, God pulls me in.  He shows me with a word, a nudge, or even a setback, that I am here for him, for his glory.  I don’t always show my holiness, and he is always there to remind me of what I possess.  His image.  Who I am, and whose I am.

In high school, my best friend’s mother said that to her when she’d exit the house: “Remember who you are, and whose you are!!”  My friend played embarrassment when her mother said it in front of me, and I remember smiling about the cute phrase.  I wasn’t much of a God-fearing teen, but I appreciated it.  As we peeled out of their driveway, those words settled in and I like to think that they kept us from doing things that we might have done if we hadn’t heard them.

Now, when my kids go somewhere without me, I say it to them.

God made each one of us in his image.  He knows who we need to be to bring him glory.  If we allow him into our lives, he can – will – show us who we can be with his help.  With God working in us, we are even more than we thought, more than we can become on our own.  We are his children, able to do amazing things that we haven’t dreamed of doing.

Knowing who I am in God’s eyes doesn’t always take away my struggle to find my own personal identifiers.  I still want my own seat at the table.  It’s hard to give that up, even though it has held me back from settling in, just being his, and working alongside him instead of under and around him.  We all want something we don’t have.  What I am working on is to just be.  To not worry about or yearn for a name, a title. 

After all, I already have one.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Words We Use

“Mom, did you say a swear word in Sunday School today?”

The question punched me in the throat from the back seat.  We were traveling home from visiting family a couple of hours away.  It had been a long day starting with early church, then Sunday School, then in the car and off to the home of my in-laws, and back again.  I was exhausted, but the question woke me right up.

“Did you ask me if I swore in Sunday School today?”

“Yeah.  Did you use the B word?”

I racked my brain for the lesson, the context.  I sheepishly admit that it wouldn’t be out of the question for me to say a swear word in church.  Our congregation is full of young and old, friends, acquaintances, and newcomers, and all are the realest real people you’ve ever met.  I’ve said – and heard – all sorts of things under the roof of our church building.  Swearing is not specifically prohibited, but a common law of decorum demands that curse words should probably not be uttered there.  It’s plain common sense and normal respect for the sanctity of God’s house to not use curse words in church.

At once I remembered.  Upon illustrating an example of how we treat each other, I had used the word in a made-up dialogue that teens might hear in the hallways at school, and offered it as an example of something they themselves might say in jest about someone or to each other without thinking.

And, yes.  I was teaching Sunday School that morning.  To said teens.

The very idea that my son heard it, made a note of it, recalled the incident, and then decided to bring it up to me hours later was a red flag.  Probably other kids heard and noted my language.  Probably there were even one or two in the room who haven’t ever heard a parent swear.  Likely most of them hadn’t heard a teacher swear.

Venturing to say that none of them had heard a Sunday School teacher swear during Sunday School.

I confessed. “Yeah, I guess I did.  I shouldn’t have,” and cringed.  Hanging my head, I didn’t even look at my husband, who is has no patience with my use of colorful language.  He’s not a swearer by nature, while I could hold an entire conversation using nothing but curse words.  He keeps me in line; my children have heard alllll the bad words in my voice, not his.

Plus, I didn't need his admonition. The tsk tsk tsks were loud and clear in my head.  But he knew he didn't need to say anything; he knows to keep quiet.  Sometimes too much, but that’s another story.



I can’t help but feel as if the Bible is talking to me and just me sometimes.

Holding my tongue is a skill I've practiced hard.  I’m one to talk then think, and this has caused me more than a little grief and guilt in life.  Wisdom is a regular goal of mine, yet there are rarely any days that I don’t wince at the memory of something stupid I said off-the-cuff. 

Wisdom can be elusive.

But it needn’t be.  The word of God advises us how to hold our words and our tongues, and it is up to us to follow that advice.  God speaks to us in many ways, and we can use his example in Christ of how to speak in love and righteousness.  I need these lessons every day. 

Even from the back seat of our car.




Dear God, forgive me when I use words that don't reflect your work in me.  Thank you for your gentle reminders and for teaching me daily of my need to guard my tongue.  I ask for your help in the moment, to give me pause before I speak.  Thank you, Amen.


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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hopes and Dreams

The idea of hopes and dreams brings to mind a teenage girl sprawled on the floor of her bedroom, furiously writing in her diary the things she desires that she wouldn’t utter to another soul, save maybe a best friend or close sibling.

“Hopes and Dreams,” the journal entry might read in purple bubble letters.  “To date the cutest boy in school.  For my parents to buy me a car.  To be a famous singer.”

My images might be a little dated.  I grew up in the 80s, after all.  Those were the days of the teen paperback, Sweet Valley High influencing teen angst in the way of broken hearts and simple yearnings.

It doesn’t matter what our hopes and dreams are, innocent disquiet notwithstanding.  Whether or not we breathe them aloud, they are there.  We have them even if we don’t allow ourselves to entertain them for more than a few moments at a time.

Gut desires go much deeper than general wishes like financial security, physical health, and peace on earth.  We want.  We long.  We obsess over details about how we want life to look.  We think “I would be happy if…” “I only need this one thing to feel fulfilled…” “Life would be perfect if I had…”

We fool ourselves into thinking that having the things that comprise our hopes and dreams is what makes life worth living.

* * *

What I did not realize, as a young person filled with angst, is what God wanted for me.  I spent time in Sunday School but never really developed a relationship with God much deeper than asking for his blessing for my family during nightly prayers as sort of a habit-slash-insurance policy against bad things happening.  I figured if I asked God to bless us, nothing bad would happen.  For the most part it worked.

Lucky for me I stopped praying to God long before bad things actually did start happening – I couldn’t blame God for my failures if I had ignored him for years.  A crisis of faith was not something I suffered as a result; I just figured that God was a myth and any hopes and dreams I had for myself were my responsibility to realize.  There was no crisis – I knew I deserved every bit of what happened to me.

As I matured and regained and broadened my faith, I learned that God wants the very best for me, even more than I wish for myself.  Often I don’t know what that is; I trust that God will provide it. I’m still learning to ask him for specific things – I don’t always trust that I want the right things.  My hopes and dreams are still just wishes.  Only he knows what’s best.

There is always room for growth in faith – this is where I am right now.  To trust God to know what is best in my life, but not quite knowing for sure what to specifically ask for.  Boldness does not come naturally; humility is far easier.  When you’re already low to the ground, falling on your face doesn’t hurt as badly.

It’s not a sin to tell God what we want, and the Holy Spirit will guide us to desire for ourselves what God wants for us.  God is kinder to us than we are to ourselves sometimes.  He is always with us, and as long as we reach out to him, he will never forsake us.

*******
“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Strength of Failure

Doing and saying things that cause us to fail is always disheartening.  It doesn’t matter how far we’ve come and how many successes we have collected – one step back into failure seems like so much more at times.  Some failures are hard to brush off so that we can move forward again.  They hang onto our shoulders and pull us down.

No one likes to fail.  To attempt something and not succeed is embarrassing, humbling, and cringe-y.  I can list little failures every day – I said the wrong thing to a friend, ate cookies instead of carrots, yelled at my kids, ignored my husband when he came home from work – they go on and on.  I feel each of those failures like a pinprick, and usually during quiet moments when my mind’s laser-focus hones in on exactly what’s wrong with my character.

Perhaps that laser-focus could also be considered a failure.

Failure, whether it arrives as rejection, losing a job, forgetting a friend’s birthday, paying a bill one day late, or any number of other things, often isn’t the main event.  What we do with failure is more important.  Did we try to hide our failure?  Was our reaction to it anger and shame?  Did we blame others for it?  Did we internalize it, stew in it for a while, let it affect our relationships, and allow it to be just one more thing that defines who we are?

Or did we acknowledge the failure, accept that we made a mistake, grow and learn from it, use it to encourage others, and come out of it more solid and confident?

Peter failed spectacularly as a disciple of Jesus, which makes him one of my most favorite Bible characters.  He showed little faith in big ways several times – he disbelieved Jesus’ ability to do miracles (Matthew 14:18), he told Jesus to stop talking about being crucified (Mark 8:32-33), and despite being one of Jesus’ core group of disciples, when things got scary he denied even knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75). 

Peter’s impulsivity is endearing to me.  He bravely left his job immediately when Jesus said “Come, be my disciple” (Mark 1:17-18) and he boldly told Jesus he would join him in death (John 13: 36-37) – yet his foibles are many, and well-documented in the gospels.  He was blustery and full of enthusiasm for his role as disciple, but he never changed his stumbling ways.  He tried, failed, and picked himself up again, stronger than before.  Fun fact: Jesus actually renamed him Peter, which means “rock” (John 1:42).  Can’t get much stronger than that.

Peter “broke down and cried” (Mark 14:72) when he realized that his biggest failure – denying Jesus – had been predicted by Jesus himself.  He had to have admitted this to the other disciples or his account would not have made it into the gospels.  He didn’t hide his failures.  He used them to teach others that we need not be perfect to do great things for God.  Peter was a leader in the group of twelve disciples, and went on to be one of the key people to spread the word of Jesus around the world.  He wrote two books which made it into the Bible we read today.

When we fail, we do wrong things.  But we can’t let the story end there.  Failure can connect us to others, strengthen our morals, and allow us to do better.  Our character and abilities are vulnerable during failure, but each time we fail, we are given the opportunity to become stronger and role models for others.  The best part is that we can apply what we learned from failure to our faith, which is what God wants for us.

Failure gives us the chance to become rock solid in Christ.  No success is bigger than that.

*******

“Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18)


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Faith and Judgment



“Don’t judge me,” we command.  We are offended when someone tells us we’re wrong – who are they to judge?  They make mistakes, too.  Nobody’s perfect.  If I slip up sometimes, at least I’m not a murderer.

“Don’t judge me,” we implore.  We really mean: “I’m going to reveal something very human about myself.  It’s ugly and alarming; keep an open mind.”

We want to be accepted despite our human nature to look bad once in a while.

When we uncover our real side to others, we have faith that they won’t judge, or we might have faith that their judgments won’t touch us.  We might act and run.  We do or say things that may be less loving and caring, and hope that others will forgive us, will have grace.  We preface a less-than-stellar behavior with the words “don’t judge,” and hope that they don’t.  Or we act and call blame on those who do judge us – who made them boss?

Why do we do this?  Why not sweep all that dirt under the rug and pretend we haven’t done anything wrong? Why not just try to keep it out of sight?

Well, we do this, too.

Not one of us is perfect.  We might put on a good show, and shine up our best parts for public viewing.  We might only say godly things on the outside, but our inner dialogue is riddled with evil thoughts.  We might serve others on Sundays, and hoard time, love and attention for ourselves the rest of the week.  Or we might read God’s word for the purpose of judging others in his name, exposing someone else’s sins while keeping our own sins safely squirreled away.

When my kids argue, it’s usually about something the other one did or said.  Their tattling goes back to when they were old enough to interact.  The youngest tearfully flung herself into my arms when her big brother took a toy she was playing with; the older one complained that yesterday his sister got away with the very thing he got into trouble for today.  Neither is better or worse than the other, and my judgments about their behavior are woefully inconsistent.  Contrary to common belief, mothers don’t have eyes in the backs of their heads. 

I tried to correct their behavior by teaching them the difference between tattling and telling: tattling is when you want to get someone into trouble; telling is when you want to keep someone from getting into trouble. 

It’s a hard lesson to learn; most of us failed it as children, never to relearn it.  When we point fingers at someone else’s behavior, we’re just like children who tattle.  I am guilty of this.  Likely you are, too.  Maturity doesn’t come automatically with adulthood.

Jesus said he came into the world not to judge, but to save the world.  So who are we to judge others?  God knows our very breath.  Nothing gets by him; not a speck of dirt swept under the rug is away from his view.  He does have eyes in the back of his head, and he knows the sins that we see.  He even sees the ones we don’t see.

Our energies can be better used on pursuing not judgments, but truth – that which God gave us.  In the end, we will all be judged by whether we have accepted God’s word.  Have we been faithful and believed in his whole truth, that Jesus came and died for our sins?  Have we laid down our lives at the altar of Jesus’ cross?  What does that even mean?  Have we figured that out for ourselves?

How much are we holding back from God, in the hope that he won’t notice our sin?  He wants our very soul to sing his praises; how can we be free to do this when we are so intent on hiding it from him, from others?

I pray that in the end, my judgment will be one of faithfulness and devotion to God’s word, that although I sin and struggle, God can count me as a faithful servant.

Dear Lord, I pray that my faith and devotion to your word pleases you.  Give me the wisdom and desire to know you more.  Thank you, Amen.

*******