Friday, April 20, 2018

Jesus, the Hero of Little Girls

I want to tell you a story. It's a good story, a happy story because, like most happy stories, there is a little girl and a Hero. Only, this story is more about our Hero, and less and less about the little girl.

Once upon a time, there was a Hero. He did not come from a land far away, or a certain place in time, as most little "h" heroes do. In fact, He created lands far away; He created time. And He created all little girls, even the little girl in our story. When He brought her into the world, He did not give her to a mommy and daddy who lived together and ate dinner together, a mommy and daddy who wanted to have a little girl of their own. The Hero gave the little girl to a mommy and daddy who didn't want a little girl -- or a little boy, for that matter. They weren't bad people. The Hero even loved them -- enough to give them a little girl. But they, like all of us, had choices to make, and they didn't always make good ones. And the little girl was the result of one such choice.

The little girl grew up normally enough, but she always yearned for a family where the mommy would look at the daddy with stars in her eyes, and laugh at his jokes. Where the daddy would treat the mommy like a queen and even spank the little girl if she was mean to the mommy. Where there wasn't always so much tension in their little house. What the little girl did not know, was that the mommy and the daddy had tried to fix the things they'd done wrong with lies and more mistakes. The same way we all have from time to time.

Soon there was a little boy. People would smile and laugh, and call them "a rich man's family." They posed for pictures and went to church and had two cars. Some days the daddy would feel quite lonely and overwhelmed and he would not come home. Some days the mommy would feel quite lonely and overwhelmed when the daddy did not come home. The daddy would leave the mommy, and the mommy would threaten to leave the little girl and her brother. Eventually, they were all quite lonely and overwhelmed. And everyone wanted to leave. Except the Hero -- do you remember Him? He was there all along.

The Hero wanted to help everyone in our story. Anyone who would come to Him, who would ask Him for help. So, the little girl asked, and our Hero did. But the little girl did not think she was a little girl anymore. She was tough and fiercely independent. She thought. As soon as our Hero helped her and she started feeling better, she would push Him away and do it herself. The Hero who loved her would never gain her trust; people she trusted betrayed her.

But the Hero never stopped showing her just how much He loved her. The Hero never stopped reminding her He was there. The Hero knew just how badly the little girl had been hurt inside; He knew she needed Him. He also knew she didn't know that yet. And despite the little girl's rejection and disrespect, He continued patiently, gently calling her. For years. And, one day, she came to Him.

That is why He is the Hero still today. Because He would have waited as long as the little girl lived. Because He treated her as if she'd been there all along. Because He is gentle enough to wrap His arms around a broken little girl and strong enough to build her into a courageous, faithful woman.

The End of The Beginning...

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

When Blessings Aren't Easy to Find

It is difficult to see some of the things we go through as blessings. In fact, I think it's one of those principles we, as believers, need to consciously practice. We have to purposely look for God's grace in bad situations; we have to intentionally say to ourselves, "God blessed me (this) way in this situation." Matthew Henry, Welsh theologian, practiced just such an outlook. Consider his words as he meditated on the theft of his wallet:
“Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed."
All too often, we spend the time grumbling or trying to figure out how we're going to get out of the current trial that's plaguing us. "Bad" is what we call the things that don't go our way; things for which we see no immediate benefit. "Good" is what God begins doing as soon as we allow Him to get His hands on our situation -- and us!

Years ago, as Mom's health began to decline, I began overseeing her personal affairs. Mom's judgment was showing signs of impairment, but it was my intent to allow her to remain in her home as long as it was safe for her to do so. Time and again she allowed people to move in, destroy her home, and use her as personal valet. I understood her desire to help, but the situation would eventually deteriorate, she would get upset, and I would be forced to remove her sponging tenants. Repeat cycle. Not only was this time-consuming, frustrating, painful, and expensive, these were family members and friends I was forever being called upon to evict! I was thrust into the role of "bad guy" and my relationships were being affected.

Fast forward to today. I am no longer called upon to be "the enforcer", but I am still entrenched in the contradiction and duplicity that is dementia. As a matter of fact, one day as I was feeling particularly frustrated with my new role, I whined, "I would give anything to be kicking people out of Mom's house again, to be fighting that battle rather than the one in which I'm currently engaged." The truth was, I was longing more for a time when Mom's house was alive; when Mom was present most of the time, and knew how to dress and when to dress, and could choose for herself what she wanted to eat; when Mom had something of her own, and could see and understand her purpose.

But, God is good, and merciful to fools like me. As I was throwing my little tantrum He whispered, "And what did you think of your situation then?" Well, I didn't think much of it, that's for sure. I complained, and I barreled my way through each day, never taking the time to thank God for the things my situation was not: Me, traveling miles across country to help her. (Mom and I had been neighbors for years!) Or, Mom being seriously injured, or losing her home to fire during all that drama. And what of thanking God for all my situation was? Mom had me to help her; she never once had to go it alone. Scott was there through all of it; he changed locks and repaired damage for every time I was forced to intervene. Blessing after blessing in the midst of all that chaos.

And so, here we are. The daily chaos of fighting to remove the wrong clothes just to put the right ones on. Or keeping her out of the snacks the minute I turn my back. Or the perpetual struggle to keep her hydrated. Or her inappropriate comments in the waiting room of the doctor's office. Or the tissues and napkins that she hoards like a nesting squirrel (which seems to make their way through the wash cycle no matter how many pockets I check). Do my blessings come to mind as readily as my battles? Does my song of blessing last as long as my wail of complaint? Am I consciously, purposely thanking God for all He is doing -- and not allowing -- in  our circumstances? Have I fully turned things over to Him in anticipation of the good He will do?

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Who Is Better Than I? Everybody.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Philippians 2:1-8. Maybe because it is such a challenge to me.
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
In other words,
I have been encouraged by being part of the body of Christ...
I have received any comfort by knowing how deep and how wide is Christ's love for me...
I have had an experience, a relationship with the Holy Spirit...

...agree with one another in the body on our purpose -- to glorify God; our power -- Jesus Christ; our passion -- for one another because of our passion for Christ. lowly of mind, humble as Christ.
...put others' interest first.
...consider others better than ourselves.

That. Is. Heavy. If any of the three qualifications above apply, we have an obligation to get along with others -- more than that -- consider others better than ourselves! But, how on earth -- this earth -- do we do that? How can we put others first when others are so selfish, annoying, inept, devious, inconsiderate,   (fill in the blank)  ?

There are some practical, behavioral things we can do, despite how we feel. We can actively look for others' talents and positive attributes. We can pray for them. We can let them "go first": hold the door, wave them forward, let them have the last piece of cake, let them sit in your seat or use your favorite pen. We can offer to help bear their burden. But how do we begin to really think that way? How do we believe in our hearts that others are better?

As we seek God, as we surrender to Him, He opens our eyes to all He has done for all those He loves (EVERYONE!), and He shows us our own faults and sins -- and how He has restored us (!!!). As we seek God, our hearts are humbled and our fears are removed. We rest in the assurance of all Jesus has done for us; and our future, which is held entirely by Him, is no longer a source of trepidation or stress. We do not need to scratch and claw our way over others to be the best or prove we are the best. We only want to prove Jesus is the best. We don't have to build walls of our own strength or pride that intimidate others and -- we believe -- keep hurt and failure at bay. We rest. In His strength. In His ability. In His plan. And we give Him all the glory! We are truly fearless! And we have nothing to lose!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Dining with Distinction

I am not a food critic, by any means. In fact, food and I have had a love-hate relationship for years. But that's for another day. One thing I do enjoy is being with my husband. He likes to eat. So, I've had this idea in the back of my mind for years; we finally got around to making it happen.

Many universities and culinary schools have their own dining experiences open to the public. Since we are just a stone's throw from Widener University, we visited their Hospitality Management Program's "laboratory", the Marriott Dining Room, located on campus. What a treat! For a fraction of the cost of a four course dinner for two, Scott and I enjoyed a delicious, relaxing dinner, prepared and served by the students.

I tell you all this not because I want to discuss the piquant flavors or the comfortable atmosphere; I tell you this because I am all about people. And the reason for my experience was all about people. I wanted to spend time with my husband. This was something easy we could do, midweek -- a time when our schedule usually consists of work, sleep, repeat. This was also a new thing for both of us. We experienced something new together, discussed new things in a completely new setting, while interacting with some new people.

But there were some other people I was interested in as well -- the students. While I do not necessarily chase after great places to eat, I love to cook. So, I sort of "get" their passion. My first "real" job was in food service. That job ignited something in me that has remained ablaze ever since -- a desire to create with food and to serve others. As we dined, I watched them nervously search our faces for that look of satisfaction, delight and sweet surprise. If you've ever created something or done some meaningful deed for someone, you understand that look; you understand the hard work and thoughtfulness it takes to get that from the people you serve, and what it means when you know your labors have brought happiness to others. You understand the excitement and anticipation, and maybe even wonder at what you were able to accomplish. I enjoyed being able to encourage the students and give them specific, helpful feedback; I enjoyed hearing a little about them and their goals, and watching them loosen up, their tension melting from their faces as smiles took over.

Well, the food was delicious, and the experience was more than I could have imagined. But, rather than a wait staff who made themselves available but invisible, this group of hard-working students and their cuisine were the stars of the show. And rightfully so!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Are You Bold Enough to Share the Gospel?

I did "street ministry" for the very first time, a year ago. Except it wasn't really on a street. I joined a group from our church as went to a nearby hospital to talk to some folks about Jesus. A hospital in our neighborhood. A hospital where my neighbors work. Five years ago, I could not have done that. All my life I had shown people what being a Christian looked like -- that is, when I wasn't acting like I was playing for the other team. I did good things; I smiled; I attended church. "This is what Christians do." My problem was legalism. I was doing Christian things, but I was not seeking Christ. Once I began truly seeking Christ and giving "me" up more and more each day, I really did begin to look like a Christian. I did things out of love for my Savior and love for others. "I want to serve you because I love Jesus." Better, right? Yes, but still not quite there. I needed to stop hiding behind the "virtual testimony", and start talking to folks. But how would I ever muster up enough courage for that? Let me tell you how.

First, I started mentioning church a little more; I started telling folks about what my church was doing, or how I went to church. But only when asked. "We have church stuff. What are you doing this weekend?"

Then, "God" began showing up in my speech. "God" was safe, right? Pretty much everyone believes in a god or some higher power; certainly everyone has used His name in vain, right? Safe.

"Time to take it up a notch", I thought. I began inviting people to church. "Hey, our worship band is pretty cool, and our church is kinda laid back. I think you'd like it." I was witnessing, right? Not so much.

Then, I began helping at a food bank. I told clients what God had done for me; how, at the lowest times of my life -- God. I told them that God is the reason I help others, that God is the reason I am able to give my time and some extra groceries to help others. I told them God wanted to help them, too, that He was never far from them, that He could turn their lives completely around. Can anyone share the gospel without mentioning Jesus?

Then, something happened. The church I had attended for years began to change. Messages were being preached on praying for the dead. There were "new ideas" about what was and wasn't in the Bible, and was and wasn't obedience to God's laws. There was a new focus, and it was not on Scripture. This wishy-washy brand of Christianity, this "seeker-friendly" gospel nauseated me. "Careful, don't offend people with talk about sin and hell and such." We left. In favor of a church that encouraged Scripture reading, that encouraged being heavenly-minded so you could be of earthly good, that encouraged seeking God above all else, that celebrated the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Publicly and often! I got "fired up", as they say, and I wanted to tell others about Jesus. With the support of a like-minded group of committed Christians, eager to serve the Lord, I began to tell others as well as show others! And I wound up speaking to total strangers about Jesus

God did that. Not overnight. But while I sought Him, while I fell more deeply in love with Him and His people, He planted His word in my heart; He strengthened my prayer walk and challenged my thinking; He drew closer to me and showed me the consequences of not clearly, accurately teaching the facts according to God's word; He gave me the support of a serious body of saints and gave me the words He wanted me to use. I only had to hold His hand and leap. It's all the boldness I ever needed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I Am Sick of Tots and Pears!

Let me just say, I pray. If you want me to do something about your problems, and there is something I can do, I will. But if your problem is your problem, or it is bigger than the both of us, I pray.

Recently, the "tots and pears group" has become a disparaged class. From our President on down to the kid that sat next to you in pre-school and has somehow made it to your Twitter feed, "no one wants your thoughts and prayers." Well, my friend, that is complete foolishness right there. I know there are people who say "thoughts and prayers" who never give your grief or fear another thought, and certainly don't pray -- so let's just get those folks out of the way right now. I'm not talking about those people. And I'm not talking about using prayer as an excuse for inaction. I'm talking about people who really, regularly lift you and your situation up in prayer.

Prayer is a way we open the door to God in a situation. Sure, God knows what's going on, and God certainly works in ways we are not aware, at times we do not recognize His intervention, but through prayer we demonstrate our willingness to accept His management. Through prayer we give the issue to God and allow Him to work -- on it, on others, on illness, on finances, on pain, on us.

As I was praying for someone the other morning, it dawned on me what a perfect thing prayer is. As we pray for a specific need or concern we petition One who not only loves us beyond description, who not only empathizes with that need, but we petition God, who has the ability to bestow His wisdom, power, goodness, healing and grace on that situation! What good is prayer if we are merely lifting up our problems to an insensitive authority? What good would prayer do anyone if we were praying to someone who can't begin to understand the feelings that come with our tragedies, or the accruing side effects of difficult situations, or the need for us to endure them?! What good is it to pray to someone with no ability to affect your circumstances? But God, the One who inclines His ear to the faithful, loves us, has an understanding of our problems far beyond our own, and can intervene in ways we could never imagine. In fact, as I prayed, I realized I didn't have words enough or even knowledge enough to know how I should pray or what I was really asking for. But God knows! How great is that?!

I always tell folks, if you're on my mind, you're in my prayers. And I mean it. Thoughts and prayers. I honestly believe people have entered my life for the purpose of praying for me or being prayed for by me. Quick story: Two years ago, a young man by the name of Anthony, backed into my Explorer, causing some minor damage. We exchanged information. Less than two weeks later, my beloved "Pig" was totaled in a separate accident. I was privileged to call Anthony and tell him God had blessed him, he was absolved of his obligation. He was so sweet -- he asked if everyone was OK prior to thanking me repeatedly, but we have never crossed paths again. What could be the reason for such an unremarkable meeting? I can see a few -- one of which is, I occasionally pray for this young man. I figure God didn't cross our paths for nothing, and until He shows me something different or enables me to do something more tangible, I pray for Anthony.

So, meme, scoff, tweet, do what you feel have to do; but know, you'll be in my thoughts and prayers.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Tough Love

I can't say my circumstances are unique; I can, however, say they are challenging. This past weekend was particularly so.

Mom normally has trouble verbalizing, but I have found there is a part of her brain, usually linked to some sort of youthful hubris or childlike joy, that enables her to speak pretty clearly. This weekend she had some pretty intense feelings about us -- particularly Scott -- and those feelings weren't joy, and she had no problem sharing them. On one occasion, she confided to me about my husband, "I would kick him right in the face." Funny, right? No, not at the time. That one struck a nerve. Yes, because he's my husband. Yes, because what he was doing was of no consequence to her. But LARGELY because that was Helen. That was not the opinion of some afflicted 87-year old woman; that was my mother! Mom always sought to create division. Mom would whisper in my father's ear that the people at church were whispering about her. Mom would snipe at me that my friends were catty and manipulative. I saw this latest attack, not so much on my husband, as on my marriage -- she was looking to divide and conquer once again.

So, here was this damaged, debilitated woman. I am responsible for her care. And she had struck something so deep in me and attacked something so valuable to me. And we've got a whole lot of life left. She won't be going home at the end of the week. I won't be turning her care over to the next shift. Come Sunday evening when Scott goes to bed, it will, once again, be Mom and I and our routine.

Praise God. He is good! And He has taught me volumes about the way I process my emotions. They are just feelings. Feelings are deceptive. Feelings are not truth. I felt angry at my mom. I felt like I was that naive child or insecure teen again. I wanted her to stop her Machiavellian crap! And I was right to be angry. My marriage is sacred; my husband is a treasure. God made it so. But angry at someone who  always seemed so miserable in her relationships she felt the need to tamper with others? Angry at someone whose pettiness is, in no way, going to destroy what Scott and I have? Angry at someone who will, one day, answer for that? Oh, God, spare her! My anger was just, but misdirected.

I felt small and foolish. But that is not truth. I am more wise and confident than ever, because I am resting in what the Lord says. I see those schemes, and while she was the instrument, Satan is the schemer. I have confidence in my marriage, in truth, in love and grace, because of Christ. I have strength and support in the ongoing care of my mom. My steps are ordered and directed by the One who holds my future, not the one who would delight in denying me a future. I rest in Christ, and what He has prepared for me to do.

He has prepared me to love -- even when it is tough.