Sunday, June 17, 2018

Real Men

I usually include some relevant photo at the end of my post, Today, I am beginning with one.

These are the fathers present during our morning worship at Resurrection Life Church on Father's Day today. To say their presence at service is a reason for gratitude is an understatement. To say their role in their children's lives is a reason for us all to be grateful is something we all need to acknowledge. Today is the day to do just that.

Some of these men have young children, children they lead and encourage to come to church, to come to Jesus. Some have children who are grown -- sons they are encouraging to seek the Lord and cherish their wives, daughters they are encouraging to choose godly men and honor their husbands. Some have grandsons for whom they would drop any and all worldly pursuits to take fishing, granddaughters for whom they would suffer indignity to have tea and play dress-up; grandchildren for whom they pray nightly. These are real men, God's men.

Do you see that one there, second to the right? That guy there is father to his children, step-father (meaning, he stepped up) to mine, and grandfather to our grandchildren. That guy there is my husband. My husband has taught me what a good father acts like; my husband has taught me what a loving father says and does. My husband is a father who hurts for his children; society says male role models are detached, and even, oblivious. My husband works tirelessly for our children, and longs to protect his children; society says men are unqualified and lazy. My husband would go to the wall for his children; society says fathers are secondary and unnecessary. In my husband I have found a father who cares, who provides, who uses discipline and correction to keep his children safe and set them on the right paths. In my husband I have learned that real men fail because they try; real men apologize because they are sometimes reactionary and insensitive; real men don't always act like "movie dads"  because there are no script-writers, and there are no retakes. Society says men should apologize simply for being born male. But the true measure of a dad is what they are willing to sacrifice to try to get it right. The true measure of a man is how hard he is willing to swim when the current of public opinion is pushing the other way. The true measure of a family man is where God stands in his life.

Happy Father's Day to some real men!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Resembling the Master

When a neighbor requested Scott and I give Bishop a home, I had reservations. Tinkerbell had been our only pet for more than a year; Bishop was fearsome and intimidating. Nevertheless, Scott agreed. I made it clear it was nothing more than a trial run. That trial run has lasted ten years.

Turns out, Bishop and I hit it off instantly. So much so, Scott and I joke about Bishop and I sharing some of the same qualities. We wake up happy and ready to go; we're fairly laid back, and not too much phases us. As a matter of fact, as I was discussing my arthritis pain with my physical therapist, I told her I'd aggravated it while carrying a 60-pound dog down the steps. "He has osteoarthritis," I explained. "Uh, so do you," was her answer. I guess, reading the "Yeah, and?" look on my face, she continued, "Well, they say pets begin to resemble their owners."

Until recently I would have said there is one difference: Bishop is fear-aggressive. That means when he is forced into a situation where he fears someone or something, his behavior becomes unpredictable. He might relax and let folks pet him; he might lunge and snap. It's hard to tell. Not at all like me, right?

Well, as I've said, it is becoming increasingly evident that anger is a long-time acquaintance of mine -- but no friend. The Holy Spirit is showing me what it is doing to my health, my relationships, and my spiritual well-being. I see how it is woven throughout my life; my choices, my words, my perspectives are all controlled from time to time by my anger. So, I've begun studying anger and what God has to say about it. I figured I'd start with the basics: "10 Biblical Truths to Overcome Sinful Anger." One truth that caught me by surprise was, #8, anger is the fruit of fear.

When I was a child and felt unsafe, I would hide behind anger and a tough as nails exterior. It became my coping mechanism, my companion, my safe place, growing with me as I grew. When I was put into uncomfortable social situations, situations in which I was intimidated by those around me -- "the more talented people, the richer folks, the more successful women" -- anger accompanied me to the party and demonstrated how little I cared about their assets. I would brood in the corner or outside with the smokers; I'd drink heavily and spew caustic assessments of everyone. I was no longer the little girl in danger; I was an immature coward with self-esteem issues.

If I am honest with myself -- which I am, with the Holy Spirit's help, trying to be -- there are things I fear even now. I fear something happening to my mom, and yet, I fear my role as caregiver completely robbing me of who I am. I fear the same thing most adult children fear when living in the same home as a parent or parents: being seen as a child -- constantly assessed and rarely respected. And, the most significant fear? I fear my life slipping into reverse as my mother's neurological health deteriorates. I am a "busy" person -- and not always in a good way. I have toyed with many addictions in my life; I exchanged them all for work, busyness, forward motion. And anger has been the fuel for that forward motion. Keep your head down; plow through; get it done; tough it out. Life with Mom is one big rerun; there is no forward motion. Perhaps that is why my anger has been seeping out -- or bursting forth -- more than usual. It has no place to go.

And now it must be dealt with.

Who knows? If there really is something to this "pets resembling their masters" thing, Bishop might lighten up just a little. My hope is that I will begin to more closely resemble my Master!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Weeding the Garden

It's important to share with one another the good things God has done, the answered prayers and the saving graces. Even "seasoned Christians" need the encouragement received from stories of hope, and we should always give thanks to the Lord individually and corporately for His blessings. Last week at our ladies' Bible study, a friend gave such an account.

It seems she had received a pair of earrings from her daughter. They were the wire hook type, and as they are wont to do, one of those slippery little stinkers just wiggled its way out of her ear, while she was gardening in her front yard. She never even noticed until later in the day; she reached up and -- nothing but naked ear lobe! Half of her precious gift was missing. She and her husband searched, but to no avail. Days later, she and the hubby were once again outdoors, this time simply returning from an errand. She noticed some weeds in the back of the house and decided to pluck them as she walked passed. As she did -- you guessed it! There, under a troublesome weed was the lost earring. And the day it had escaped, she hadn't even been out back!

As I was working the other day, I dropped a dish. It slipped right out of my hand, and a word slipped right out of my mouth. A reminder I have "not arrived," as we are sometimes tempted to think. Anger is still a tremendous issue for me; so, I decided it was time to do a Bible study on anger. I want to uncover God's truth about anger, and meditate on the grace and peace He has made available to us -- to receive as well as pass on to others. I want to spend some time in His word and in prayer, allowing His Spirit to speak to me and direct me, hiding His word in my heart that I might not continue to sin against the very God who loves and upholds me.

I just started this morning, so I don't have any specific precepts to expound yet, but one thing did occur to me. My friend had looked and looked, desperately seeking her lost earring. She searched anywhere and everywhere that made sense to her, anywhere and everywhere her work had taken her that day. But it wasn't until she bent down to get rid of some troublesome, unwanted and, perhaps, threatening weeds, did she uncover that precious gift.

I wonder what I'll find when I toil to remove the weeds from my Master's garden?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Colorful Life!

I was washing dishes when I suddenly looked at my wrist as though I'd never seen it before. On it was this delicate silver bracelet given to me by my husband last Christmas. "When did I start wearing 'dainty'?" I thought.

Last year Scott and I renovated our kitchen. For years I had stressed over this project. The kitchen needed renovating, but I vowed to hold out until the last cabinet plummeted to the floor! Strangely though, in April I began planning. I researched styles and cabinetry; I began thinking about colors. And trust me, there is no shortage of color in this kitchen! But this sudden affinity for color didn't stop with the kitchen. For years my wardrobe made Johnny Cash look flashy. I now own an orange t-shirt and a bright blue skirt. I like them and I wear them! (Not together.)

And then there's the compulsiveness. Or the current lack thereof. I hate to admit this (I really do) but I was so crazy about keeping my home house neat that, even when my children were small, they were not free to play with their toys the way children do -- scattering blocks about and using books for anything other than their predetermined purpose. I feared a toy breaking, or one plastic chicken being lost from a farm set. Toys were neatly returned to the toy box, stacked and assembled like a perverse game of Tetris. Now I purposely buy mismatched dishes, and intentionally set picture frames askew on my desk. So, what is going on?

Years ago I was injured. I chose for the better part of my life to walk in that injury. To prevent further sexual abuse -- I thought -- I had to be less like a girl. To prevent further rejection from those who said they loved me -- I thought --  I had to be hard and uncaring, to do unto others before they could do unto me. To prevent further abandonment -- I thought -- I had to be strong and fiercely independent. To gain control of relationships which, in the past, were in constant upheaval and disorder -- I thought -- I had to control everything else around me. I thought wrong.

The truth is, we all have suffered damage at the hands of others. Some, pretty substantial. But I made the choice to allow that damage to define who I was. Living a life that reacts to the offenses of others or a life determined by the events that occur in this world is a life anchored in the temporal. It is a life guarded by my own plan and power, a life walled off from others and kept behind closed doors, a life of rules and restrictions, and lived in the shadow of past pain.

My life is much different today because of my purpose for living. Jesus is my focal point -- not healing, or stability, or safety, or even forgiveness. They are all good things and worthy of our longing, but they are byproducts of seeking after a Savior, One who can redeem a colorless, legalistic, abrasive life. 
"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." -- Matthew 6:33

Monday, June 11, 2018

When Change Is Ruff

Anyone who knows me knows I love my dogs. Tinkerbell is a sweet, undelicate little flower who was rescued from a dog fighting round-up. She made herself right at home from the day she arrived. She has since come to dominate just about everything -- the backyard and any suicidal or unsuspecting alien animals who wander into her backyard, the idle hands and feet of anyone who visits and is unaware of the "You Must Scratch Me" rule, and Bishop. Bishop came to us from a neighbor who could no longer keep him. I was pretty nervous about adding another dog to the mix, especially one like Bishop -- he's a pretty intimidating little guy. I had no idea how he would react to Tinkerbell, or to virtual strangers trying to tell him what to do, or to our children -- some of whom were still fairly young. What I came to realize was Bishop was probably more nervous than any of us; he wasn't the terrible, vicious creature I'd imagined him to be. As a matter of fact, a year or two into this little venture, Tinkerbell gave Bishop such a "what for" I thought somebody was going to have to go. (I volunteered.) Instead, I made a commitment to regularly exercising the dynamic duo, and working on some strategies and disciplines for gaining better control over them. We became known around the neighborhood, and the next neighborhood, and the next neighborhood. We walked daily and we walked far. If there's anything I love more than my dogs, it's walking my dogs.

Several months ago, Bishop developed osteoarthritis. Our walks were officially over. Taking Tinkerbell without taking Bishop seemed like some sort of sacrilege to me. I thought of all the new winter walking gear I'd just purchased at the end of last season. I thought of the pounds I'd pack on without that exercise. I thought of the people we'd met along the way, and the people we'd miss. I thought of the days I'd spent praying as we walked for each yard of ground in our neighborhood or the folks who lived along our route. Why had these things been taken away? 

But as time passed, more changes occurred. I have discovered a new place and a new routine for me to walk and, as a result, new relationships have developed -- and my winter walking gear won't go to waste! The people I knew from our old walks are still there. In fact, I have intentionally stopped on my way to and from errands to see some of them -- an act that says our previous encounters weren't just accidental or obligatory, but are relationships that are important to me. I still pray for them as I drive past their homes, and I can still pray for my neighborhood. Without our hours of walking, I've found myself with more time to talk to the neighbors right on my block. There are some interesting relationships within sight of my front door! (What's even more of a marvel is that any of this would mean anything to me -- but that's a story for another day.)

I don't know if any of you are struggling with "good things" being gone, or wondering why God has moved you from an area of ministry that truly meant something to you, but God has a plan -- He always does. There is nothing that happens without His knowledge and -- if you are His child -- without His goodness and blessing in the outcome. Trust what He will do for you, and continue to seek Him. Sooner or later, You will see His generosity and wisdom even when change is r-ruff!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Devil's Diner: Serving Worms Since Eden

"I wouldn't do that to you. I would never do that to you," she said. But she had. I had been betrayed by someone I'd trusted. It was a simple thing, really. Nothing to lie about. Maybe that's what made it so difficult to understand. What other motive besides intense dislike or a desire to hurt could there have been?

And while I'd decided to move on and let that relationship go, there was more. A senior co-worker who didn't like the way I was handling a project; so, rather than discuss her concerns with me, she completed the project as she desired, and without me. The family member I surprised with a gift who never even so much as acknowledged it. The group of sisters who wanted "to do something really special" for my graduation; so they did nothing. The urgent prayer request I sent to many of my prayer warriors which went completely ignored. The many times I began to speak but was talked over or treated as though I'd said nothing. Over and over I was avoided, forgotten, short-changed, disregarded, interrupted and overlooked.

Immediately I defended: "We've been friends for years. There's no possible way she just forgot me like that. There must be a reasonable explanation." But as time passed and the offenses were never acknowledged, as my justification was out-shouted by what I perceived to be verification, a root of bitterness and doubt began to grow deep within my heart. "They are all fake. They don't really love me." The strains of that childhood song flowed, an undercurrent through my every thought:
"Nobody likes me; Everybody hates me; I think I'll go eat worms..."
And the more I thought, the worse it got -- "I've never fit in. They are all prettier, thinner, richer..." -- until it was not only war on them, but war on me as well. But I've learned to ask myself a few questions:

1. What if the voices are right? What if I wasn't pretty or wealthy or skinny enough to be in their group? Did I want to spend my life hiding, never trusting anyone again? Was I willing to change who I was to fit in with "fakes and back-stabbers"? Nope! God loves me. To Him, I measure up because of Jesus. And if I am unwanted, He will direct me to a place I can fit in, with people I can trust.

2. Do I really believe everyone in my life is treacherous or artificial? Were people really going to all that effort to maintain a charade for me? That was pretty self-aggrandizing, don't you think?

3. If everyone around me isn't faking it or lying, who is? The father of lies, Satan, was whispering not-so-sweet nothings in my ear, saturating my mind. Now, he can't have my heart, but if allow him my mind, he can keep joy out of my heart. He can keep me from showing others love, from trusting and communing with others; he can render me ineffective in the battle for the kingdom, that other hearts might become the Lord's.

So the next time Satan and his compatriots Self-Pity and Self-Loathing serve you up the latest hot dish of worms, no need to eat them, just listen to the "Voice of Truth."

Saturday, June 9, 2018

What's It Worth?

My grandmother wore a black onyx ring for years. She was determined that I was to have it when she passed. She repeated that promise over and over to anyone who would listen. Years later I got that ring, but my constant wearing of it, under any and all circumstances, took its toll. The ring needed repair. I took it to one of those chain jewelry stores. "It would cost more to fix than the ring is worth," said the man who greeted me before I'd gotten more than ten feet past the door. I said nothing, turned and left. Material value aside, that ring meant something to me because it meant so much to my grandmother that I have it. It had never occurred to him someone might be willing to pay more than the ring is worth to have it repaired; it had never, apparently, occurred to him the ring might have a value much greater than the worth of its parts.

My old truck (aka The Pig Mobile) was the same to me -- "sentimental value," I guess you could call it. We have invested more in our home than we will probably ever see if we sell; and our customization of it might actually detract from out bottom line. Emotions never make good financial advisers.

About two thousand years ago, what might appear to be the champion of bad investments was made. The God of the universe sent His only Son to earth. That same Son yielded Himself to His Father's plan as well as to the hateful, self-serving machinations of humanity. A kind and loving Teacher who, because of His great love, called people to a higher plane, called people to love even their enemies and be servants of all. A generous and engaging Laborer who challenged the spiritual elite and embraced beggars and thieves. A Lamb who relinquished His role as Lion; a Servant who relinquished His entitlement as King to give humanity what they needed most -- Life. His life.

He laid down all He had for those who despised and rejected Him. He gave the ultimate sacrifice for those who would not give Him a decent cup of water or an ounce of respect. His desire was for souls. Souls to spare, souls to bless, souls to make new, souls to do the same -- to lay down their lives -- to bring more souls. A terrible investment, no doubt. But that did not stop God.

It is His deep love for each of us that explains such a lavish and nonsensical redemption. It is the eternal value so extravagant He imposes on those in peril. It is a grace so amazing, so unfathomable that is His very character. It is the price only a BIG God can withstand and only a magnanimous God would pay. It is the precious worth He gives to all -- to me, to you.