Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Day Dreaming

I blame our pastor, really I do. I don't think I'd gotten more than ten minutes into the copy of one of his recent sermons when my mind began to wander. It's not that Pastor Bryan is boring, or dry, or doesn't preach in a way we can understand; it's because our pastor definitely has an anointing. I don't think I've ever heard him preach when his message didn't hit home at some point. That's what happened as I listened this day. As he spoke, a scene from my childhood slowly eased it's way to the front of my mind:

When I was young, my family would take day trips to the beach. Mom would pack sandwiches in the cooler, and pack us into our swimsuits; Dad would pack us all into the station wagon, and off we'd go. Once Mom set up shop on the musty old Army blanket, that's where she remained for the rest of the day; Dad was the free spirit. He would play with us in the surf, splashing and squirting us, coaxing us to swim toward him.  

On one occasion -- the specific one that came to mind as I was listening to Pastor's sermon -- Dad was carrying me piggyback deeper and deeper into the Atlantic. I was excitedly urging him to keep going, my wet feet swinging back and forth along his sides, and my bottom bouncing up and down in his arms. I tightened my grip around his neck as he pressed on. I looked across the surface of the water and saw a discarded cupcake wrapper floating, tarnishing this perfect setting for fun. A few steps further, and there was another. And another. I can't recall if I spoke first, or if Dad offered up the explanation: they were not discarded wrappers at all, they were dead jellyfish.

As I sat down to write today, I was curious as to how Dad had immediately identified those stinging blobs as dead; so...Google to the rescue. The long and the short of it is, unless they are decomposed, or it is obvious they are being carried, lifeless by the current; unless you make contact, there are few ways to determine if they are truly dead. Perhaps Dad had poked one somehow -- he was sort of fearless that way -- or perhaps he did not wish to alarm me; either way, they were "dead" to me. We pressed on.

And that is the point at which my twisted little mind returned to the sermon; but it hadn't strayed far or long. You see, my momentary journey was, in some ways, a picture of the Christian walk. We can all remain "safely on shore". We can trust in what makes us feel comfortable; we can remain on what, for now, appears to be sturdy, dry ground. We can allow our fear to keep us beached on some musty old territory, with only a cooler full of PB&J for the rest of the trip. But where will that take us? And what happens when the tide rolls in, sweeping away our comfortable little roost?

Or, we can frolic in the surf with our Father. We can cling tightly to Him as He leads us further and further into the great Deep. We can ride safely in His arms toward what might normally frighten us were we to travel it on our own; we can fearlessly, excitedly urge Him to carry us "further! deeper!" And we can know, the dangers that may await us on our journey are dead to us; nothing more than harmless discarded rubbish, rendered ineffective and completely under the authority of the Living God. Our Father.

(Although, the old wagon didn't quite make it to the shore on this trip...)

Monday, February 19, 2018

What Is Your Kryptonite?

I have not posted in two weeks. Now, I could list a plethora of reasons: it's tax time and I'm trying to get paperwork together; Mom and I have been taking advantage of some sporadic breaks in the weather to get outside; I've been getting some of my seeds planted for Spring flowers and Summer vegetables -- just to name a few. But the real reason is Discouragement. There you have it (and it actually feels kind of liberating to see it in black and white).

I am beginning to realize Discouragement is my Kryptonite. Kryptonite, of course, was the one thing that was able to bring down Superman -- the legendary hero, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Well, I am no Superman, but I am an organized, intense, focused, multi-tasking wife, mom and daughter who, two weeks ago, picked up a dose of Green Kryptonite. Wikipedia describes Green Kryptonite as cancer-causing to humans, and even, fatal with long-term exposure. I know Kryptonite is fictional, but Discouragement is not.

Dis-couragement: the thing Satan uses to take away the boldness, the courage Christ has given me for Kingdom purposes. Strictly my definition, but one that reminds me of the origin of discouragement; the blessing of courage and its "bigger than me" purpose; and my responsibility to armor-up against discouragement. Think of it this way: to disrobe means to take off what you are wearing, to remove it. To dis-courage or to allow dis-couragement is to remove, or allow someone or something else to remove courage from you.

This may shock you, but Satan isn't the least bit interested in you. He isn't the least bit interested in me. He's not looking to "mess with us" in the sense that he wants to spill your morning cup of coffee or keep you from that promotion. He wants glory -- the kind of glory only God is due. What better way to get it than to take it from God via God's people? Make them weak, ineffective, and -- best of all -- focused on him! If we are not strong and courageous for Christ, we are not proclaiming the Gospel to those who do not know Him. If we are walking around with the weight of the world on our shoulders, we're not convincing anyone of the power of Christ in our lives. If we are trapped in the grip of discouragement, we are focused on our problems, our limitations, our past failures. Weak, ineffective, focused on our enemy. Just like Superman under the influence of Kryptonite, his eyes fixed on his nemesis, as he collapses to the ground.

Discouragement unchecked eats away at us like cancer. It peeks its head over the fence by reminding what happened the last time we went on a diet. It growls loudly when our husband comes home and asks what's for dinner. It lays on a full-body check when our children come home from school with leftover cupcakes from the bake sale. And brings us to ruin when we step on the bathroom scale the next morning. But discouragement never stays in one area of our lives; Satan wants it to metastasize to our goals, our relationships. Until we can no longer can bear the thought of donning that skimpy little negligee on our wedding anniversary. Until we can't fathom a family vacation at the beach, as long as we look like a whale. Until we are convinced God has let us down again. Why would He make me this way if He really loves me? On and on it goes, larger and larger it grows until we do nothing more than warm the sofa each day. Cancer-causing, even fatal.

But there's hope! Wikipedia says, "Characters have been shown to become immune to the effects of Green Kryptonite due to...long term absorption of sunlight." (Hahaha! Oh, yes! You know where I'm going with this, don't you?) Christians have been shown to become immune to the effects of Discouragement, Jealousy, Unforgiveness, Pride, _____________ (insert your Kryptonite here) due to long term absorption of Son-light!

And here is where I leave you to rid yourself of your Kryptonite. Open your Bibles. Talk to Jesus (and listen when He talks). Head to a Bible study. Sing a few worship songs. Talk a walk. Serve. Call a Christian friend. Accept the pastor's invitation for prayer after the service. Absorb as much Son-light as you possibly can. And eradicate the effects of Kryptonite in your life.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Victory Is (Almost) Always Bittersweet

So, the Birds are, finally, the owners of a Vince Lombardi trophy. I keep repeating it over and over in my head, "They won. They won the Superbowl!" Scott, the auditory learner, keeps muttering it aloud. This household -- like many others, I'm sure -- has not taken its eyes off the television for almost twenty-four hours. Celebration after celebration, interview after interview -- believing, I suppose, the more frequently we hear it, the more time we spend absorbing it, the more angles from which we examine it, the more deeply we will accept and own it. (There might just be a lesson about Bible study in there somewhere!)

But victory, by nature is usually bittersweet. The existence of a winner bears with it the implication of a loser. When the loser of a particular contest is equally deserving of victory, or the loser possesses noble dreams that resonate with an audience, a certain pathos coexists with exuberance at the winner's success. I'd like to just go on record as saying, as far as Superbowl success is concerned, I have no sympathy whatsoever for the owners or players on the Patriots. However, believers exist on both sides of the field -- Christian brothers; players on both teams have been touched by human tragedy; I would venture to say, each player -- in blue or green -- has someone special cheering them on; some have personal goals. Point being, there are human interest stories from one end of the field to the other; a case could be made for either side's entitlement to victory.

Victory also invokes a certain sadness when those who are unable to share in it are recalled. Philadelphia Eagles coach, Doug Pederson lost his father a little more than a year ago. In an interview shortly after the win, a reporter asked Pederson what he believed his father would think; Pederson's tone became gentler, a bit less professional, and he fondly remembered his father's brow-beatings (I believe he called them) and spoke of his father looking down on them in this moment of victory. Bitter sweetness.

As I think about these things, I have to consider Christ's death on the cross. In my younger years, prolonged meditation on the events leading up to and including the crucifixion would cause me to weep heavily. But not because of God's immense love for me or the magnanimous offering of my Savior; because of guilt. The guilt that He had done so selfless a thing for me; and every fiber of my being was self-ish, wrapped up in me -- including that guilt. The cycle of sadness that revolved around the one who was on the throne of my life at the time -- me. It was bitterness to me that He endured so much, poured out His life for me, and I just couldn't seem to get it together and simply read my Bible, or stop cursing, or get excited about church, or be a little less angry. There was no accepting this as victory, no cause for celebration. Only shame.

Thanks be to God, I encountered grace! Grace is what allows us to understand Jesus willing laid down His life, willing withstood such torture in obedience to the Father, out of love for us, for His glory. Grace is the sweetness with which we stand in victory, and we celebrate the forgiveness, wholeness, healing, joy, peace and justification (and myriad other gifts!), despite the gruesome facts of the case. And there are gruesome facts on both sides of the issue: the manner in which Christ was executed, as well as the filth belonging to each of us, that He took upon Himself. Only Christ can eradicate all of that in the name of eternal, supernatural, unimaginable, complete, personal victory we all can confidently celebrate! Sweetly!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Keys to a Better Relationship

Today I am making clams and linguine for Scott. It is one of his favorite meals. Who doesn't love to come home after a long day's work, and sit down to one of their favorites. Good thing for him, I get home from work first, and he doesn't cook. And it makes me happy to see him happy.

We are also planning a trip to see our grandchildren. My schedule is busy but pretty flexible; then there is Mom, and we have two dogs to consider; accommodations. But before all that, I talk to Scott. His schedule requires more attention than any other; plus, he is head of our household, and his input is usually quite useful -- he tends to have a bigger perspective than those of us in the trenches, so to speak.

A few weeks ago, my husband changed up some of the responsibilities typically held by the youngest of our children. As he explained what needed to be done, he also explained that I needed to be free of those things and that I should no longer think of myself as being responsible for them.

All of this to say, if marriage is a picture of Christ's relationship with the Church -- and it is -- how is my relationship with Scott compared to my relationship with Christ? I mean, I can't always say I am as respectful to my husband as I am to the Lord, and I know there are plenty of other things that need improvement; but do I seek to please Jesus the way I seek to please my husband? Do I defer to Christ the same way I defer to Scott? Do I allow God to care for me the same way I have learned to allow Scott to care for me? Maybe I'm just a little backwards that way, but I sometimes think I treat Scott better than I treat my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Really! And I don't think I'm alone in that.

Take the linguine and clams, for instance. We've had pasta a few times in the last couple of weeks, so I wasn't sure if he'd be interested. "Would you like linguine and clams tomorrow, or are you all pasta'd out?" A simple question, but how often do I seriously, slowly, earnestly seek what God wants? Or do I just go ahead 'cause "God really likes this helping the poor thing." Well, sure He does; but that doesn't mean it's what He had planned for me that day.

And our trip. My primary consideration was Scott: his preferences, his plans, and his input. I didn't book a hotel, or put in for the days off; he was the first person I spoke to about my idea. I want to do what he wants and I want his insight. Can I say the same thing for my relationship with God? Do I like it when He puts the kibosh on my plans? Do I avoid asking Him to make sure He doesn't? Is He the first One I go to, or do I wait until I've hit some sort of roadblock, when I need His help bailing me out? "Bless my project, God."

And Scott's instructions to the youngest. In them, he not only gave her some more age-appropriate chores, and updated things to accommodate our current situation, but he set me free. They are no longer my responsibilities, and I don't have to hover just to be sure things are handled. How often have I prayed for something, and tried to "help it along"? Or I've "helped" someone to the point I hurt them because of my need to control or be the hero? Or I've turned a situation over to God, only to take it back later?

Pleasing God in the way He desires, making His plans my plans -- not the other way around, and walking in the freedom purchased for me at the cross. Sounds to me like some pretty solid relationship advice.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Free Will Is Better Than a Free Lunch

Today in Southeastern Pennsylvania, it is about twenty degrees. Yesterday we had yet another day of "wintry mix" precipitation -- which is meteorologist speak for "my truck will require washing again." But this morning was clear and dry, so the dogs and I decided to make a go of it, despite the bitter cold. We hadn't walked far when I noticed a robin hopping along in the remaining snow. "Poor thing is confused," I thought. But then I noticed two more perched in a nearby tree. "They can't all be lost, right?" Of course, when I got home, I had to research robin migration. Of course. (Nerd!) Turns out, not all robins fly south for the winter; they will remain wherever they can find food, and robins, being omnivores, can adapt their diet to the food source available. If food becomes scarce, the robins take off -- literally. That gives new meaning to Matthew 10:29-31. God has thought of everything!

I began to consider, if a few hungry robins can rely on God's timing and provision, why do I have such a tough time with it? It's hardly a matter of life and death for me. When I'm waiting on God for an answer to a "should I or shouldn't I" question, why do I get so frustrated when I am met with silence? When I need God to help me through something, and I feel as though my prayers go no further than the ceiling, why do I feel such abandonment? When I want it now, I need it now, and God reminds me I will be just fine without it -- at least for a little while -- why am I so tempted by self-sufficiency?

Well, the simple answer, of course, is that God designed us in His image: we are intelligent, we can think and reason, and we have a will. But the answer that is a bit more overwhelming is that God has designed us to love Him, not just need Him; to be in relationship with Him, not just reliance on Him. Meditate on that for just a moment. The God of the universe, the Creator of everything -- omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent -- designed us to relate to someone like Him! He is intelligent beyond our wildest imagination, and yet, He wants us to tell Him what's on our minds and in our hearts. He has a plan and a purpose for each one of us, but He inclines His ear to our thoughts, and listens when we present our fears and reservations. He is Lord over all, but He wants us to share in the glory, seeking Him, doing His will and living eternally with Him!

Have you ever really admired someone -- a sports legend or musician, an intellectual giant? What if that person called you -- just out of the blue, called you. "Hey, I've heard about you and your life as a _____ (mig welder, gas station attendant, circus acrobat, sous chef...), and thought it might be cool to kind of hang out for a bit -- that is, if you don't mind." Crazy, right? But God is a magnanimous and perfectly loving being; it's not crazy when you consider all He is. And it's that magnanimous and perfectly loving being who would take such a risk on us: making us in His image, allowing us to refuse Him, patiently bringing us back around when we become frustrated or feel abandoned, correcting us when we choose self-reliance, loving us through it all and pursuing us that we might love Him back, and grieving, I'm sure, when we do not.

My avian curiosity satisfied, it was time to feed the dogs their breakfast. While waiting, their eyes were fixed on me, the most important human in the world. I felt pretty good about myself. As the bowls began their descent, I could see the dogs' focus change -- from my face, to the bowls. Their obedience and loyalty to me was based solely on what I was providing; the gift was, in reality, of greater importance than the giver. I thought of those robins again. "I could learn something from them, " I thought, "but there's something to be said for free will." God has thought of everything!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Lessons from the Laundromat

I spent about an hour and a half at the laundromat yesterday. I hate the laundromat. Clean clothes aside, the laundromat has few redeeming qualities. The air is hot and laced with lint. The television is usually tuned into some mindless drivel like Rachael Ray. The dryers are way too small for our king-sized comforters, requiring the constant stop-fluff-start process so our comforters don't roll into something resembling one of our daughter's slippers -- dry and toasty on the outside, moist and vulgar on the inside. Then there is the issue of time. The laundromat is Stephen Covey's Waterloo. And mine. It is located in a small strip mall with a sandwich shop and a health food store; unless I want a hoagie and a dose of nutritional yeast, there's no doubling up on errands. I put the laundry in, and I wait. I move it to the dryer, and I wait (and stop-fluff-start, stop-fluff-start). Occasionally, there are people at the laundromat with whom I can kibitz -- I mean really kibitz, not just the, "Hey, do you know where the remote to the TV is?" kind of gab. Yesterday, was a sea of cell phones and earbuds. So, I sat and waited and stopped-fluffed-started. In ninety minutes -- give or take -- I had clean, dry clothes. So what's the problem? I didn't do anything. My role in the cleaning process was minimal at best, and nothing else got done.

Women tend to be naturals at multi-tasking; women who have long rested their self-worth in accomplishments, can take multi-tasking to a whole new level. And believe me, I am just beginning to realize where I have placed my worth for many, many years. Strike that -- God is showing me where I have placed my worth. Not my accomplishment, but His and His alone. It's that quest for worth that drives my desire for accomplishment, and it's that desire for accomplishment that drives my compulsive busyness. And I am totally out of God's will.

First of all, my worth is in Christ and Christ alone. According to Jewish Midrash, Abraham's father, Terah was an idol maker; Abraham, by tradition, would have worked alongside his father, learning the family trade. The Bible confirms he was an idolater. Moses was a murderer who personally failed to make it to his destination -- and he lost quite a few of his charges along the way. Eli, the priest who mentored and cared for Samuel, couldn't manage his own two sons. Samson was a hot mess from beginning to bitter end. God chose them. God used them. God loved them. Their worth was intrinsic, and as a follower of Christ, mine is even more so: God loves and values me because He made me, and God loves me and values me because I am His adopted daughter; His Son lives in me and through me. The way God sees me is unchanging because of who He is, and has nothing to do with how much I do.

And let's talk about what I do. Isaiah 64:6 leaves little doubt:
"But we are all like an unclean thing,And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;We all fade as a leaf,And our iniquities, like the wind,Have taken us away."
Not merely small or worthless -- disgusting! My agenda, my plans disgust God when I stake my life on them. And that's just what I'm doing if I haven't surrendered those things to God -- I am holding on to my old life, and rejecting the new life purchased for me with Christ's blood at the cross. My accomplishments, the badges I wear, the certificates I hang on my wall are rubbish if they were not earned to be given right back to God.

Lastly, my compulsive busyness. Sin. Sin. Sin. I could write an entire book on the supposed reasons behind compulsive busyness -- mine and anyone else's -- so I won't belabor the point. But if God is not running the show, I am running the show; and that, my friends, is sin. Choosing busyness over any of the things that God has chosen me for, is sin. Plain and simple; cut and dried. (No stop-fluff-start necessary.)

Monday, January 29, 2018

Just Humming Along

Mom is directly below me on the main floor, right now. She is sitting at the kitchen table and humming. Mom's got some things going on with the language portion of her brain; it forms the thoughts, but not the words to express them. Music and music lyrics, however, flow out of her like she was twenty again, and sitting by the radio listening to The Frank Sinatra Show. Mom used to prepare Thanksgiving dinner every year. She hummed as she cut the bread crumbs for stuffing, or whisked the gravy. After dinner, she hummed as she washed dishes. Maybe it was all that humming, but no one's Thanksgiving dinner tasted quite as good as Mom's. When I hear her today, it takes me back to that.

Last year, she and I took the seven hour ride to my daughter's home. Just as we hopped onto the interstate, I tuned to a big band station on the radio. She cruised along, tapping and singing like she'd heard those songs yesterday. She was content. So content, in fact, we had driven some five or six hours before she ever asked where we were headed. And she composes her own melodies as well. One day I asked, "What song is that. Mom?" She replied, "Oh, I don't know. Just something I sing." Her humming used to be a way she covered up the noise of sneaking cookies or ice cream; these days it seems to be a way she comforts herself.

So, today I'm thinking about the things that make us feel secure -- those things that make us feel all is well, or soothe us. And what happens when we can't get to those things, or do those things. The nervousness that builds when a smoker holds a cigarette but no way to light it. The "feeling out of sorts" that happens when we haven't had our morning bowl of coffee. The panic when a ball player breaks his favorite bat, or a mechanic misplaces his "best" shop rag. Those things that we allow to become part of our routine that, when unavailable to us, can throw us completely off course.

The irony is, taking care of Mom was not what I had planned; it does not always make me feel comfortable. I had this amazing life with my husband. We had the run of the whole house -- most days. I could fly to church whenever I pleased, and help with various ministries. I could take the dogs on long walks and stop to talk to folks. I could write until my fingers bled. Those things brought me comfort and lifted my spirits. Now, each day, most of the day, I am a constant source of comfort and security for someone else. (And, trust me when I say, as an introvert, someone who values her "alone time" and loves silence, it is not easy.) Additionally, I am faced with -- for lack of a better word -- a decaying situation everyday. Mom does not improve; Mom will not improve. That is a hard pill to swallow. To feel as though God's plan has you stuck in Neutral, not checking off any boxes, not accomplishing anything -- that, by nature, makes me very uncomfortable.

But I am no longer imprisoned by those natural feelings. Jesus died and was resurrected that I might also be dead to sin and ungodliness, and alive with Christ. I have a new life -- a life that was birthed by the same power that overcame the grave, a life that is marked by complete access to the throne of  God and all that He can do. He wants me to be holy as He is holy, to be selfless as Christ was selfless, to show love as He shows love, and to know He is my comfort and my strength. And He is teaching me this daily. He is altering that part of my character that comes unglued when moments of solitude are few and far between. He is speaking to me -- even from other parts of the world -- and reminding me the life He has called me to live is a life surrendered. It is not based on my design or lived by following my agenda; its success is not measured by fanfare or red lines struck through daily undertakings. He wants me to follow the God of All Comfort, that I may be of comfort to others. And He walks me through it every step of the way.

What a God! He makes my soul sing! Or maybe I'll just hum along.