Sunday, September 4, 2016

Getting to the Right Place

Have you ever found yourself in a place you never planned to be, but somehow you knew for certain you were in the right place?

Last month, through a series of schedule changes, I found myself giving blood at a nursing facility; not my usual donation point. It was no coincidence this residence appears to specialize in patients with dementia and Alzheimer's. We have been blessed -- and I do mean blessed -- to care for my mom for the past year. And seeing what life could be like for her, has made that acutely evident to me.

Don't get me wrong, please. Elder care is far from an easy or exact science. What works well for one family does not always succeed in another. Families face difficult decisions regarding loved ones and their care. What one facility provides may not be possible in another. Most of these businesses and their employees do their jobs, do them well, and even go above and beyond to make the lives of their clients -- patients as well as their families -- comfortable and enriched.

That being said, my grandmother had been in a nursing home. As young as I was at the time, I can still recall how depressing a place it was. When I got older, my first real job was in a retirement community; things had changed since Nana, but the medical facility on that campus was little more than the nursing home in which I recall her living -- and dying.

The place I found myself last month? Well, as I walked to the entrance, patients lined the portico. Some chatting with others; some, heads lolling and eyes vacant, simply sat and waited. The grounds were beautifully manicured, but there were tiny signs of neglect and deterioration on some of the buildings. I heard something whisper, "Death."

Inside, sunlight poured through monstrous windows and danced about the crystals of grandiose chandeliers. Patients who were able moved about freely. One conversed with a nurse who playfully teased her about knowing the job better than she did. Another, peering into the windows of the dayroom, questioned me about the activity occurring before her.

     "It's a blood drive," I answered. Her face showed alarm or confusion; I wasn't sure which.

     "People donate blood to help those who need it." More confusion than alarm; I was satisfied there were no vampiric images running through her imagination.

While I was donating, a patient wandered into the dayroom. I believe she thought she was reporting for work. She approached the Red Cross nurse with confidence, her purse slung sassily over her shoulder; she proudly stated her name as if he should be familiar. He gently removed her from the donation area, all the while his eyes searching, pleading for a facility nurse to appear. Comical initially; poignant now.

As I looked around the room, I noticed the trappings of a nursing home dayroom: a TV with ample floor space around for "wheelchair seating"; a couple of wilting plants meant to cheer, but the lack of proper care given them only recollected an end to their glory days; worn out board games stacked up on a worn out bookcase; elementary arts and crafts proudly displayed about the room -- the latest achievements of adults who had yesterday contributed so much. The décor appeared expensive and tasteful, but bargain pressed-wood furniture and acres of stamped wall-to-wall carpeting couldn't hide the truth. This was a grave dressed as a soiree.

It is not my intent to be negative or critical of establishments such as these; this is not some commentary on healthcare or elder care. Let's face it, we do the best with what we're given. But the gravity of aging and death -- mine as well as my mother's -- weighed on me more heavily than ever as I left the grounds that day. I was unspeakably grateful for the opportunity to care for her, yet suddenly aware of gossamer threads holding that opportunity within my grasp. The tragedy of what has become since one fateful day in a garden, and the glory and grace of one fateful day at a cross were at war within me as I drove home to Mom. I could be overcome with grief and hopelessness, or allow God's Holy Spirit to overcome those things with His peace and hope.

I have to admit, one surrender is easier than the other. And I know now, just as I did that day, God is showing me something. He determined my steps that day, He will lead me where I need to be once again.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Commitment to Family

When I was growing up, the concept of family was pretty straightforward: Dad, Mom, a slew of noisy kids, and the family pet. Even the pets were traditional: dog, cat, fish, a bird, or maybe a box turtle, if you were known to walk on the wild side.

ALL of that has changed. Many of today's families are "blended." The way we decorate our homes, the churches we do or do not attend, the holidays we do or do not celebrate, even the foods on our "traditional" holiday tables are as varied as the backgrounds of the people gathered around them. And, of course, our pets are unique: ferrets, hedgehogs, pigs, exotics. "Nontraditional" seems to be the new traditional.

This morning I was reading the book of Ruth in the Bible; the account of a blended family. Ruth was from the country of Moab; she married an Israelite man from the tribe of Judah. Ruth's husband died and her mother-in-law, Naomi, also a widow, living far from her homeland, wanted to return. Naomi advised Ruth to leave her, and return to her family home. Ruth refused, with these words:
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”
Wow! How beautiful is that! Such commitment. Such sacrifice. But stop for a moment and consider just how big a sacrifice!

When my ex-husband and I separated, his mom was sick. Being a senior, a widow, and having a difficult time handling some things most of us take for granted, Ellie required help. I would stop by with groceries on my way home from work, or assist her with paperwork or transportation. I was prepared to stick by her at any cost. When it became clear my ex-husband and I would not reconcile, and when he became more available to help his mom, she and I parted ways. But during that period, I often thought about Ruth and the decision she made. What I never considered was just how much credit I was giving myself!

We don't know how old Ruth was, but she may have been very young; I was 40 -- almost a senior citizen! Ruth and Naomi were from two entirely different cultures; we can't know how long Naomi had been Ruth's mother-in-law, but what if it had only been for a couple of years? a couple of weeks? Ruth would have had barely a chance to become accustomed to a Jewish way of life! Ellie and I were from the same country, the same state, and had known one another almost fifteen years! Ruth was willing to move miles away from the only land she'd known, to nearly the epicenter of Naomi's culture; I wasn't moving anywhere, much less living with my MIL. Ruth's act was real commitment!

And here's something I'd never considered before: Who says Naomi was easy to get along with anyway? What if that whole "No, go back to your family" thing was little more than a pity party? I mean, look at Ruth 1:8 -- Naomi puts herself  in association with the dead, locking in that correlation with certain doom. Almost has a ring of "No, death is my companion now; you go on with your rosy cheeks and your youthful gait," to it. Doesn't it?

And 1:11-13? "Turn back!" Reminds me of something you'd find at the end of a driveway to a vacant old house: "Turn back! WARNING: MISERY AHEAD!" Naomi then asks, (of course I'm paraphrasing) "Why would you want to come with me? What could I possibly have to offer you, or anyone else for that matter?" And Naomi laments, not that she is too old to have children, but that she has no sons to promise Ruth and her other son's widow: she is not pregnant with sons for them. And again: "Turn back!" Woe! Woe! "For I am too old to have a husband." Wait! What?! Too old for a husband, but never does she say she is too old to bear sons. In fact, she even speculates: "IF I had hope, for, of course, why would I?" (Again, I'm paraphrasing) "...but, IF I had hope, and I married today and bore sons, would you wait until they were old enough to marry?" Poor, poor Naomi. "I could never expect you to wait until my sons were grown; far too much for me to ask you to do that for a poor old widow like me."

And, here comes the crème de la crème: (paraphrasing) "I am so sorry you got caught in God's crosshairs when He turned against me. You were just collateral damage when God marked me for takedown. I am so sorry. It's so unfair for you, though I know I deserved it somehow."

What a sacrifice! Of course it could be in how you read it, but I tend to fast-forward to the end of the story, to God's reward for Ruth's commitment, failing to see how Naomi had lost hope, and how that was of little consequence to Ruth. It almost seems Naomi was a fount of despair and pity rather than the gentle, guiding mentor Ruth would have benefitted from following so closely. Instead, it is Ruth, the Moabitess, the pagan, who leads one of God's chosen people back to her God, and "sets her up" for installation in the story of her Savior!

The story of God's blended family: backgrounds, ethnicities, colors, cultures, and lands, grafted into His family tree!

Monday, June 27, 2016

This Is Me, Stopping...

Years ago, Scott and I began this grand experiment that resulted in a marriage recently celebrating its eighth birthday, and everyday is the highlight of my life. If I'd asked at the time, I'm not sure how many reasons Scott could have given me as to why he wanted to date me. I know I had two looming reservations as to why I DID NOT want to date him: the past, and the future.

My relationships in the past had been miserable. I'd start off dating this guy: I'd be "me," and he'd be smooth. Before I knew it, he'd be "him," and I'd be some fragmented being that vaguely resembled a human. My weight would fluctuate, my hair would fall out, my moods would swing; I couldn't make a decision to save my life. I can't blame the men I dated, or lived with, or married -- yeah, it was nuts! -- they were being who they were, and I had no discernment whatsoever. I was not a super nice person either -- proof that water seeks its own level.

And as for me and the future, I wasn't quite certain we were on speaking terms either. I couldn't imagine a good future for me; I couldn't imagine my "present future" could work out any better than my "past futures" had. And there were even more "past futures" stacked up against me since the last time I took a run at this relationship thing!

Obviously, we went through with it. But it took a lot of looooong phone conversations and a lot of -- sometimes brutal -- honesty just to be sure we weren't completely wasting our time. And after we'd decided, there was the issue of making "Us" work. If we could get that up and running, we'd have children to introduce and family to consider; there'd be exes, and property, and jobs, and lions, and tigers, and bears -- O my! Young adults starting out have it rough, but love at middle age is no bed of roses either.

The other afternoon, one of our daughters was in her room, getting ready to go out. She was going through her closet as teenagers do, singing along to the radio as most of us do. Bishop wandered in, and she stopped to scratch him behind the ears, telling him what a good dog he was. Bishop has always gravitated toward the ladies in the house, invading their rooms and their personal space -- most of the time, accompanied by the screaming of names: "Mom!" "Bishop!" This time, Olivia allowed him to stay. Watching the two of them, this relationship that has grown through the years, reminded me of how far this whole experiment has come. Our children are getting so big, and time is moving so quickly. The miles we've travelled -- literally and figuratively -- are countless. We've been through moments of pain which God has used to turn our attention toward those precious moments of joy; mayhem through which He has taught us to appreciate the peace; grief from loss through which He has reminded us to hold a little more tightly to the ones we love; disagreements that threatened to do us in, but God showed us how to forgive; and poor health that forced us to take better care of ourselves for the ones we love. To do anything less than praise God for the victory He works -- even in suffering, chaos, sadness, loss, conflict, or sickness -- is to cheat Him of what He is due.

And to do anything less than stop at a moment -- like the one between a girl and her dog -- and appreciate how far God has brought you, how good He has made this, is to ignore what a loving and mighty God we serve.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

God Is Good No Matter Where I Am

My Pig is dead. The Ford Explorer I've driven for the past fourteen years has breathed its last. At 2:40AM on March 17, 2016, the paragon of mileage and memories known as The Pig Mobile crawled her way up the exit ramp off I-95 and bled to death in a parking spot right in front of my eyes. She was more than transportation; she was my companion, my daily living space, my prayer closet, my ticket to freedom, my dance floor, my workhorse. She had so selflessly conformed her seat to mine, beginning on the day we met. She had endured terrible weather, loads of "stuff," bumps and bruises, kids, dogs, barf, poo... I digress.

"Oh, it'll all work out."
 
"You know, all things work for good."

I assume the folks dealing out these platitudes like some fateful deck of cards, are trying to embrace a remnant of Romans 8:28:
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
The fact is, I know it'll all work out. And I even know the entire verse. And the one after it. And it all applies. But, what I didn't know until this morning is how grossly I had misused that verse; how twisted even Bible-banging, spiritual warfare-waging, church-going Christians get this.

I'd had a particularly rough night last night, dealing with the Pig's untimely demise. (It sounds silly and shallow, I'm sure, to someone who's never had a close relationship with a piece of Georgian tonnage.) As I was reading in Philippians 4 this morning, I paused at verses 6 and 7:
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
I paused and gave thanks. I know this assurance to be true; I know this peace to be real. I know God was with me the morning my precious Pig passed; I know He's with me now. I know He is handling this entire situation, and I know it's going to be better when it's done than it was before. I claim it because my Father God is sovereign and working for my good. Now, here's where it got real.

Why? I mean, why is God working on my behalf? Why is God working for my good? Because I love Him and He loves me. Well, yes. But this is not some saccharine-sweet, big purple dinosaur, facile relationship. We are not His equals; we are His creation. And He loves us -- it's true -- but being good and being loving are part of who He is! He has instilled goodness and love in us; we can relate to those qualities, but the "familiarity" of His goodness and love should not dismiss the reverence due Him. There is no other who is always good, always loving, sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent. Only God! He has earned and will continue to earn our worship; and -- here's the "real" part -- He is working for the good of those who love Him because of who He is!

God is not handling my situation for my good because I love Him. He is not handling my situation for my good because I am seeking His will. He is not even handling my situation for my good because I am walking in complete trust of Him. (Grace is just that, grace; it cannot be earned; it is not a conditional situation. But that's a discussion for another day.) My Heavenly Father is working for my good because that is who He is, and if I am joined to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, I experience the benefits of His goodness. Did you get that? Let me run that past you one more time: My Heavenly Father is working for my good because that is who He is, and if I am joined to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, I experience the benefits of His goodness. And His love. And His sovereignty. And His omniscience. And His omnipotence.

God loves me, of that there is no doubt. But God does not stop being who He is because I decide not to be in relationship with Him. He's not some jilted lover who stops opening doors or lending me His stuff. Doors might still be opened, but if I'm not walking with Him, how will I even see them? His stuff is all around me: creation, joy, charity and kindness; He's not going to remove them from the world simply because I've chosen to do things my own way. But if I am not looking at that world through the eyes of Jesus, if I am not growing to be more like Him each day, if I am walking in places where He is not leading, I will see a world very different from the one He has for me.

Who knows? On Easter my mind is geared toward resurrection. Maybe The Pig will rise again. But I know God is working for my good because of who He is and -- thanks, God -- where I am!

 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

God's Work, Good Works, and Surviving a Long Grey Winter

Valentine's Day again, and for the second year in a row I am spending it hiding in my office. Last year, I was quarantined from the radiation I'd had the day before. This year I am hiding from my mother. It sounds terrible, I know, but she has been glued to my hip for the past seventy-two hours, and isolation is crucial to the preservation of my sanity, which is crucial to surviving the remaining days (weeks?!) of Winter. (Besides, Scott is an incredibly wonderful man, and is standing-in for a bit.) These days are particularly difficult for her. She loves to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine; the cold temperatures we are experiencing right now, and the past weeks of grey snow skies and mere glimpses of sunshine have kept her restless and ill at ease. She is forever looking to me for cues: "What are we doing now?"; and she stares at me almost the entire time we are doing it: "What should I be feeling now? What should the expression on my face read now? What is your expression telling me? What should I be saying now?" The role of caregiver goes far beyond meeting physical or financial needs; emotional needs are just as important, if not more, to someone who is trapped in a life going in reverse. "I don't have a problem doing [God's work]; I just have a problem dealing with it."

Many people see "doing God's work" as a Mother Teresa sort of thing: unbelievably selfless, full-time, deeply devout; rubbing shoulders with the destitute and privileged alike, hugely public and incalculably effective. But the majority of God's work doesn't remotely resemble that. The majority of God's work takes place in "the small," "the mundane:" the kind word, the smile, the polite gesture; the brilliant green of the trees in Springtime, or the vibrant colors of Autumn; the soft warmth and clean cottony smell of flannel sheets in Winter; the emerging glow of fireflies at dusk. God's work is found in His creation and in one another. We tend to think God's work stems from us, from the things we do; but God's work comes from God, and when it is revealed in the things we do or the things we experience, it is a privilege and a blessing for us as well as others. Ephesians 2:10 tells us "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Good works like telling the truth and obeying your parents, sure; good works like helping and blessing others, also; but good works like revealing and appreciating how awesome God is! Good works preordained. Imagine that. God set in motion before we were ever born, those we would help, those who would help us, the sunrises we would see and the wafts of wildflowers that would reach us. For His glory, to make His character known, and to edify one another! Whether I am "doing God's work" in the largest or smallest of ways, or experiencing God's works outside our windows, knowing all this is part of God's plan makes me think I should take even the smallest opportunity pretty seriously. And it reminds me that God's work is not about me or even the people I might serve; I -- like skies and birds and seasons -- are His workmanship, created to bring Him glory.

About this time last year, Scott and I were discussing what it meant to "do God's work." That's when he looked at me and uttered those words: "I don't have a problem doing it; I just have a problem dealing with it." How true! God's work doesn't always fit our plans or preferences. God's work sometimes means unhappiness and spiders and cancer; or "private people" relinquishing some privacy; or poverty for the sake of sharing the Gospel with those in poverty. God's work sometimes means having to witness a loved one sink further into addiction, or dementia, or apostasy, or ALS, or despair each day, but striving in Christ to be light and salt and fragrance to them; to minister to their needs in whatever capacity we are called. And it's not always easy to deal with. But God would never prepare good works for us to walk in, and not go with us on the journey: "Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6) God will supply all I need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19). Therefore, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13) -- all the good works He prepared for me to do; all the good works He prepared for me to experience, even a long grey winter.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

I Want to See!

"What do you want Me to do for you?"

Imagine Jesus walking through the streets of your neighborhood. The crowd is stacked three-deep curbside. His people -- throngs of them -- are following close behind. His reputation as a healer and life-giver has preceded His visit, and you anxiously await your first glimpse of Him -- oh, wait! Not a glimpse at all. You have been blind since birth. But the crowd is going crazy; the noise is deafening. You know, He is here! So you begin to call Him, as loudly as you are able: "Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!" Those around you try to hush you; your cries are drowning out the crowd. But you know He is the One. "Have mercy on me, Son of David!" And Jesus tells His disciples, "Call him." What?! Really? He is asking for me? You immediately throw off your bulky long coat; you move toward Him as fast as you can. Your hands probing the crowd in front of you, your feet shuffling. And suddenly you feel His warm strong hands in yours. He draws you close, presses His forehead to yours, so you can hear His every word:

"What do you want Me to do for you?"

This morning, I was reading the account of blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10. And Jesus' question, as open-ended, as incomprehensibly blessed as it is, is not what got me. It was Bartimaeus' response:

"Rabbouni, I want to see!" Bartimaeus didn't tell Jesus, "I want You to heal me," which would have been the grammatically, contextually correct answer to the question. Bartimaeus responded from the depths of his heart. What did he want most in life? "I want to see!" His answer came out impulsively, spontaneously, unrehearsed. His answer was grounded in complete faith Jesus would give him just what He asked; Jesus was fully capable and Jesus was fully willing.

If Jesus appeared before me one afternoon as I was paying bills, and asked, "What do you want me to do for you?", how would I respond? I'm sure I would say something like, "Pay this bill'" or "Drop some cash into our checking account, please." Pay this bill? Pay this bill, really? One lousy electric bill? Is that all I believe He is capable of or willing to do for me? "Drop some cash..." What? I'm going to tell Him how to do it now? Maybe I should remember to "pray" the account number to Him just so there's no confusion. There are no limits on Jesus! Bartimaeus certainly didn't limit Him: "I want to see!" He didn't ask for his vision to improve a bit, or ask for Jesus to heal one eye. He didn't ask Jesus to give the doctors wisdom to know how to heal him. Bartimaeus spoke from the depths of his heart and made himself available to whatever Jesus wanted to do -- or wanted him to do, in order that he might see. He wanted transformation, and fully trusted Jesus to make it happen. "I want to be cancer-free!" "I want to be married!" "I want to be sober!" These are transformative, intimate, limitless, honest responses to what Jesus offers. These are the answers of one who wants more than change -- they want to be changed.

Just a few verses before, John Mark (probably) recounts an incident in which small children were rushing to meet Jesus. Jesus' disciples began turning them away -- after all, what would a teacher like Jesus want with a bunch of kids? But Jesus welcomes them, teaching those who heard that childlike faith is what is required to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:15). Bartimaeus was a perfect example of "childlike faith." Have you ever heard a father ask his child as they stand there listening for the carillon call of the ice cream truck: "What do you want me to do for you?"? "Oh, dearest, best, strongest Father (sort of like the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17), I would really appreciate it if you could reach into your wallet and remove the necessary funds to buy some ice cream for me. And, if you have found favor with me, perhaps I could have some jimmies on it. I could work really hard next week and repay you." NO!! "I want ice cream! -- with jimmies!" is what that child says. Simple. Childlike. No pretense. Fully confident. And fully aware that Dad is asking because he intends to give him just what he wants. Dad is capable of giving his child just what he wants. And Dad wants to see the confidence, the enthusiasm, the adoration on his child's face when he blurts out, fully yielded and fully invested, his answer to his father. "I want to see!"

What is it you want? What transformation is your hearts desire? Your Heavenly Father already knows what is in your heart before it is even on your lips. He is able to give good gifts far beyond those we ask from even our earthly fathers. What do you want Jesus to do for you?
  “'Go your way,' Jesus told him. 'Your faith has healed you.' Immediately he could see and began to follow Him on the road." Mark 10:52

Monday, February 1, 2016

Ah, Leah

Ok, it's time to get down to business here. I've started writing this post about four times. Each time I do, I fall into distraction; not because I don't know where I'm going with this, but because I was there when MTV was born. Yup, that's my story. You see, I graduated high school just as MTV was blasting it's way into living rooms all over the country; they actually played music videos then. One such video was "Ah! Leah!" by Donnie Iris; it was as bad as they come, but the tune became his signature. So, as I was reading the account of Jacob, Leah and Rachel the other morning, and as this post began to form in my head, so did Donnie and the rest of the 80s: Red Rider, The Knack, Aldo Nova. I digress.

That decade was truly a turning point in my life. I had my entire adulthood before me. Fresh out of school, a couple of full-time jobs, my own wheels -- I was free! I wasn't going to have one more person tell me what to do. And I wasn't going to sit behind some desk learning more useless stuff and wasting time. I was going to make money. I was going to make cool friends. I was going to make something of myself by getting out there and doing things... 

Like going to work everyday. Partying every night. How long before that gets old? Not long. So along comes this guy. He's nice, responsible, likes to have fun. Nice Guy and I hit it off, and before you know it we're heading down the aisle. But it's not long before I am bored again, the party life comes calling and my marriage ends in a scandal and a hail of lies. I vow I am never going back there again...

I've always thought I was trying to punish myself, but now I'm not so sure. I moved in with this guy. Definitely Wrong Guy, but there I was. More drinking, more drugs. But no lies this time -- Wrong Guy would have killed me. Literally. So I toe the line. Until one night I barely escape with my life. No dignity, but I have what's left of my life. It's not much, because somewhere along the line I've lost all my friends as well. And I've really not made a whole lot of myself but a mess. I am never going back to a life like that again...

The dust had barely settled before I found myself heading to the movies with Knight in Shining Armor. We had so much in common. Maybe too much. There were issues. His and Hers. We were so busy comparing how our tragedies had "unfolded," we never considered fixing the people who'd been forging them -- I'm not certain we realized we had a choice. But I was trying to find in him what I'd been looking for in all my other failures: self-worth. A second walk down the aisle; a second expensive lesson eleven years later. I would never do that again...

And this time I really wouldn't. I was following Jesus -- I mean genuinely following Him; not just going to church, trying to shoehorn my way into heaven. I trusted Jesus as my husband, and God as my Heavenly Father. I began reading His Word and believing what it said. I began talking to Him honestly and often. And He began to show me I would never find self-worth in a man, or the things I did for a man. That's where Leah comes in. (That would be Genesis Leah, not 1980's Leah.)

If you take a minute to read the passage, you will see the story of a woman who'd been sold to Jacob by her father. Jacob didn't even want her -- he thought he was purchasing her beautiful sister, Rachel. Leah wanted so desperately to be loved by a man. To be cherished and adored by her husband, her father, someone who would validate her worth. And the baby wars began. With each labor, Leah strained in hope her husband would finally esteem her. But as it happens when we search for our worth outside of the cross, things got ugly; Leah got ugly -- even "purchasing" her husband for the price of some food. As a little girl, did Leah ever dream she'd end up like this? Probably not. I know I didn't.

The quest to be someone, to be loved by others, to have someone else call us beautiful or valuable or beloved, can lead people to do things they would have never done otherwise. And in some cases, it can make matters much worse: promiscuity, financial burdens, self-mutilation, substance abuse, failed relationships, suicidal thoughts. As I reread Leah's story, I looked back to the person I was decades ago, the person I remained for decades after. I view that young woman with a certain amount of disgust and an enormous amount of sympathy. I was merely looking for the things we all seek: love and worth, And, while my goals were worthwhile, the problem stemmed from the search I was on. Like looking for treasure in a landfill, we sometimes expect others to tell us how much we are worth. And, by God's grace, they sometimes do. But if I'd had the chance to speak to Leah; if I'd had the chance to sit 80's Judi down for a little talking-to; when I do have the chance to talk to young women, I tell them to look in the pages of God's Word, sit in silence before a loving Heavenly Father, and discover your worth as the daughter of a King.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Doubters Welcome... To Go!

The Great Commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you..." What Christian hasn't at least heard of it before? But what are the circumstances leading up to it? Jesus' betrayal, His death, and resurrection? Sure, but what were the immediate circumstances?

Matthew 29:16-17 "Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted." They saw Him. They worshiped Him. Some doubted.

Doubted? Christians don't doubt. Do they? 

I can remember Saturday afternoon TV when I was a child. Six whole channels and nothing on. From time to time though, I'd be content enough to sit with my mom and watch the Joy of Painting; the talented Bob Ross quietly, gently assuring us of our hidden artistic talents: just follow his lead. He'd begin with the most nondescript blob of paint, make a few inconsequential brushstrokes and invoke his palette for the next blob. Within ten minutes the most beautiful landscape would appear. Within twenty, a village full of people working in the glow of a brilliant sunrise. By the end of the show, it all made perfect sense; a masterpiece was born! 

As Christians, our life with Jesus can be something like the Joy of Painting. Why, just this morning, as I was calling the body shop's manager a "knucklehead" -- yeah, it was not my noblest of moments. Long story short: an accident I was in three years ago has come back to haunt me. And it hasn't gotten any better. The customer dissatisfaction I experienced three years ago is still my current situation. The expense and inconvenience I incurred three years ago are still as expensive and inconvenient today. I've had it. The thing is, I cannot for the life of me understand why all this went down. Now, I'll grant you, this is hardly enough to make one doubt her faith, but take a few of these scenarios, string 'em all together, and it can be enough. Enough to make one wonder if the God she serves really cares. Enough to make one wonder if the God she relies on is really as mighty as He says. Enough to make one wonder if God's promises are true. Enough to make one wonder if "walking the walk" is worth the restraint it takes to keep from doing things her own way. But just as Bob would reveal so much beauty one ugly blob of paint at a time, the landscape of my life has not yet been perfectly revealed; the Master is still at work, whether I fully understand all that goes on or not. And just as I trusted for thirty minutes -- a lifetime to a rambunctious eight year old -- that a skilled professional would transform a blank canvas into a spectacle of beauty, my "eight year old" heart can trust The Artist even in times of doubt.

Doubt goes hand in hand with humanity. And we can doubt most strongly the things we believe with the most certainty. But it's that doubt that can sometimes get us to see things from a different angle; to start asking the questions that help us to see things in a new light. Notice in this passage, just before The Great Commission, doubt is nothing more than a passing acknowledgment. No fire and brimstone. No excommunication.  Not even a strong talking-to. Just three words. The human condition; and it doesn't scare Jesus.

And then, they were told to get out there and make disciples. Yep, even the doubters. Perfect faith, unwavering certainty not required. There's not a one of us who is perfect. Whether we're snapping at someone who doesn't deserve it, or wondering if God has forgotten us, we are all human. And we are all loved. God never requires us to be disciples or to make disciples in our own strength. That's why all were sent -- even those who had doubted. Jesus wants us to serve Him and spread His Gospel in spite of the questions we ask. The important thing is, we trust The Master and heed His command to go.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Maybe I Should Start a Fight

Tomorrow my truck is headed to the body shop AGAIN. Almost three years ago I was in an accident in which my poor old truck was damaged so heavily they wanted to total it. Upon thorough inspection they changed their minds, did the work, and spared me a car payment. They did not, however, spare us a two month ordeal simply to get my vehicle back in some sort of shape so as to appear as though the shop had tried to do the work properly. A few months back I ran into someone who urged me to seek out the new management of the shop and ask them to make good on the repairs. So we did. I'm not sure either of us is hopeful this will not be just another fight (primarily the reason we accepted the work as it was done/ undone three years ago).

I've always been told to choose my battles -- something that for many years I was not good at. I was a fighter; I knew things should be a certain way, or I thought things should be a certain way, and I determined to make them that way. These days I'm pretty strong, but I'm not a fighter. American society, and maybe even the world, is losing its desire for excellence; I just don't seem to have what it takes to combat that. People do just enough to move the job past their station on the assembly line, never thinking about the station after theirs and the person waiting; never thinking about the end product. Others are looking to burn the plant to the ground, collect the insurance money and walk away with an easy buck. I suppose that by not hitting the big red button, by not stopping the line, by not speaking out and saying, "Hey, folks, we can't keep churning out substandard work!" or "We need to do the right thing!", I have become part of the problem. I get it, though -- I really do. Where is the reward or even the benefit of doing great work when everyone else is doing just what they need to do to get by? And some of those mastering in mediocrity are getting by pretty well! while others struggle, giving it their all.

The reality of it is, in this world there's very little reward. At least not the type that comes with doing the right thing, or demonstrating character, or doing your best, or even fighting for what is right. Ours has become a temporary society: quality, lasting a lifetime is passé. Disposable, "the next new thing," constant reinvention is where it's at. And I think it's getting to us all.

Some have quietly conceded defeat, stepping back and letting the rest of society do its thing as they do "just enough." Some, not so quietly fight, stepping out of the masses to call others back to "the way things used to be." Some have stepped in line behind the piper, stuffing one hand in their pocket, and their other hand into someone else's. And some work steadily, dutifully, faithfully as if nothing has changed. So, which are you? Which am I?

To be honest, it depends on the situation. I have been guilty of all of the above. But who do I want to be? And why? On this, a day of helping and making a difference, I'd like to say I aspire toward change; to hitting the big red button, calling all of us to excellence again. But that requires fighting, and sometimes I'm not sure how much fight I have left in me for those things. I certainly don't want to burn the place down or do just enough, passing my problems on to the next person on the line. I tend to lean toward "being the change I wish to see;" working steadily, dutifully, faithfully "as unto the Lord and not unto men," leaving others to raise their voices. I'm not sure if that's a bit of a cop out or not.

But in these times, when the welfare system and the legal system are for some nothing more than an easy payday; when "See something, say something" is hushed by "Snitches get stitches;" when hard work and excellence is something reserved strictly for suckers; when status and income outweigh common sense and kindness; when sticking our heads in the sand is much more comfortable and appealing than sticking our necks out, let us all ask ourselves, "Isn't it time I start a fight?"

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Counting the Cost of American Christianity

A Sacramento attorney representing forty-one plaintiffs, has filed a lawsuit demanding the removal of the phrase "In God We Trust," from all United States currency.

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/01/14/lawsuit-demands-us-remove-in-god-trust-from-money.html?icid=maing-grid7%7Cmain5%7Cdl37%7Csec3_lnk4%26pLid%3D1862910381#

Go ahead, suck your teeth, shake your head, post an American flag on Facebook; do all those things we do when we hear or read of our nation's "Christian foundation" eroding. Moment over? Good. Let's begin.

I don't mean to make light of our evaporating Christianity in this country, but I want each of us to get past that moment. That moment when we feel some sort of contempt for atheists exercising their civil rights. That moment when we mumble to ourselves some quaint idiom about hell and hand baskets. I want us to see this for what it is.

First of all, our founding fathers... blah, blah, blah. We all know they "founded our country on biblical principles." Or did they? You know, they made a lot of mistakes if that was the case. If this country was meant to embrace only biblical principles, why did we allow every Tom, Dick and Harry seeking religious and political asylum, to cross our borders? My family would not be here today if they had not found safety from exile on the other side of America's open doors. That is the biblical principle our founding fathers embraced: Charity. Up to and including people who did not think as they did, did not speak as they did, did not worship as they did.

Secondly, 2 Chronicles 7:14. C'mon, you know the verse. It was the battle cry of many a church and Christian foundation in 1976, and has been sufficiently resurrected since a "liberal, illegal, Muslim" Democrat entered office almost eight years ago. Let me try to make this as simple as possible: If I told Olivia, "If you will bring up your grades and help around the house, I will buy you a new pair of Converse." To whom would that conditional promise apply? Olivia, right? Now, one could argue it should, or even could apply to any of my daughters. But in no way would it apply to my neighbor's daughters. And if Olivia did not perform as my promise required, Olivia would not receive my blessing (Converse). 2 Chronicles 7:14 was a conditional promise to Israel, not the United States or any other nation. But it says, "my people," and as Christians, we are grafted into the kingdom of God, His church; we are His people. As Christians; not as Americans. So, if God's people will humble themselves and pray, and seek His face, and turn from -- Wait! Turn from our wicked ways! What wicked ways? Let me suggest a few: complacency, selfishness, laziness, disobedience. Had enough? Brothers and Sisters, if we had spent the last two hundred+ years talking to those who do not know Jesus -- whom God has brought right to our workplaces and schools and neighborhoods, instead of bellyaching like a bunch of five year-olds who've had their playground "invaded" by toddlers; if we'd been praying as faithfully and as many times a day as our Muslim citizens, instead of eliminating stuffy old prayer meetings and luring "the world" into our churches with uber-cool coffee houses; if we'd been reaching out to the poor and loving justice instead of looking to Uncle Sam to do what we've been commanded; if we'd been running for public office and filling the polls on election day, instead of twisting up the separation of church and state as badly as we believe the Supreme Court has...well, we'd have as "healed" o' land as we could get in this lifetime.

Believers, the responsibility falls on us. The charity of our founding fathers has brought the masses to our front door. How many pastors do you know dream of this sort of thing on a Sunday morning? Like shootin' fish in a barrel, right? So how have the fish gotten away?! Think back to the days before you walked with the Lord. Did the four words printed on the bills in your wallet mean anything to you? Tradition? Patriotism? Maybe you didn't even notice them. Why do they mean so much to you now? Because they are an affirmation of what you believe now. And as passionately as you identify with those words, others reject them. They have no idea what it means to serve a God who is perfect and righteous, infinitely loving and sovereign. They have no idea what it's like to trust Someone you can.

Have you told them? Have they seen Him in you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Anger, Stress, and a Cure for the Common Headache

It was the fourth day in a row, my eye was twitching and my head was pounding. Sinuses, I rationalized. By the time my headache and I celebrated our first week anniversary, I had realized my neck and shoulders were in knots, my left arm was throbbing, and I'd worn at least a year's worth of enamel off my back teeth. Stress, I admitted. But why?

Well, Scott and I contend with the same things as most Americans: bills, family, work. But that wasn't it. After several years of hard lessons -- and much crying and whining on my part -- God convinced me He's got it when it comes to money matters. Things were status quo on the kids. Marriage as good as ever. No health issues. Even work was a breeze. Everything was all good, good, good. So what on earth was I worried about?

I don't know about you, but in my case, worry and stress are two different animals, with two different siren songs. When I worry, my stomach churns; my silence and distraction compete for first place in the Anxiety Olympics. Worry stems from a specific problem or event, and I know it when I see it. But stress seems to sneak up on me. Little things that clutter my path or tug at me as I go about my day: the check that bounces, the order that arrives too late, the impolite sales rep, the phone that never stops ringing, the dog that pukes on the carpet -- on and on it goes. Irritated for just a moment, I go on. But before the day is over, twitch, pound, throb, grind -- stress and I are reunited.

As I thought about it some more, I began to realize what causes stress most often -- at least, for me -- is anger. I'm a pretty angry person. A couple years back, a pastor said to me, "You know, sarcasm is just a form of anger." I brushed it off, but it got me to thinking. I realized how bitter and arrogant I sound when I'm always sarcastic; I wondered just how frustrating that was for Scott. Why would he even want to ask me anything? So, I vowed to be less sarcastic. And it worked. I was less sarcastic, but just as angry. And now, apparently, my anger was looking for a new place to hang out.
Cue physical manifestations!

You know, maybe God has corrected my fretfulness over finances, and He has changed me in so many other ways, but I sometimes wish He had an anti-idiot fix for me. Despite everything He's done in my life and the lives of others I know, I still thought I could fix this myself.

"I'll stop ___."

"From now on I'll ___."

I know of some situations in which God's grace has covered folks who have just determined to quit smoking, or drinking, or whatever, but generally those self-sufficient attempts at lifestyle change whither and fail. And I know, in my case, it shouldn't have worked. And didn't. Otherwise I wouldn't have been sitting for days making excuses for the jackhammer resonating in my head. Stress.

I get angry when someone holds up the line because their kid is three aisles away finishing the shopping. Stress. I get angry when their kid returns with the wrong stuff and they wind up not buying it anyway. Stress. I get angry when I finally get to the register and my card has been erroneously shut off. Stress. I get angry when I call the bank and it takes them three hours to call me back with the solution. Stress. I get angry when it's now an hour after my bedtime and I can't fall asleep for another two hours because I'm so stressed out over this nonsense with the bank. But you get the idea.

It all boils down to "these people" who just won't do things the way I want them done. It boils down to "my plans" and "my timeline" being thwarted because of others. Do I really sound that self-absorbed? that arrogant? that obnoxious? Well, not if I keep it all inside and let the stress build up, but that's really what my anger is all about. My wanting things my way; my thinking that I am better, that my way is better. And I'm not getting my way.

So, here it is, my 2016 un-resolute resolution: to get rid of anger, thereby getting rid of stress, thereby getting rid of this brain tumor. "It's not a toomah." I cannot do it on my own. I know that. Anger and I have been constant companions for far too long for this to be possible, in my own strength. That's why it's an un-resolute resolution: I cannot eliminate anger by willing it away, but I can start seeking God in place of it. The next time I'm trapped behind the "Just one more thing" checkout shopper, I can understand it as God's time, not my own, and see what He wants me to do with it. The next time my shopping is sidelined by the bank, I can understand it as God's money, not my own, and wait for Him to reveal His plan for it. The next time I'm up past my bedtime, I can understand my health and my rest is in the Lord, and ask Him to take care of that for me -- like only He can.

Monday, January 11, 2016

When Christians Screw Up

At work I'm known as "The Bible Banger." Not because I go in each day preaching or wagging my finger every time someone misbehaves; but because I don't. I claim to be a Christian -- that means publicly; and I do everything in my power to follow through on that. I think they see that. The Bible Banger moniker doesn't bother me in the least; I consider it a compliment, and the person who started it, a friend. Truth is, my work environment is pretty rough. Take a small group of relatively intelligent people who get up in the middle of the night -- every night -- to go to an office illuminated no brighter than a corner bar; surround them with computers that lock up every couple of hours or so, and telephones that ring constantly with ridiculous questions, and you're bound to encounter some cynicism tempered with juvenile humor. Colorful language and busting each others' chops just seems to come with the territory. But there is one bit of ribbing that bothers me most: the idea that Christians mess up, ask forgiveness, and it's all good.

"That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works!" At least, not entirely.

I grew up in a neighborhood where the vast majority of my friends attended the same church. They had the idea that if they met all their milestones, if they didn't "do anything too bad," if they darkened the doorstep of the church for -- at least -- the major events, they were good to go. When they screwed up, they just recited a few prayers and -- Voila! Slate clean. I can't begin to tell you how left out I felt as a kid. I got in big trouble for stuff my friends' parents considered part of growing up. My parents didn't hang out drinking and smoking on weekends with the other parents. I had no hope of attending a dance at my Christian school. There were no big milestones, and no parties for big milestones, and no presents at parties for big milestones. Being a Christian was just "No. NO. NO!" I just wanted to be one of them.

Thanks be to God, I am not. My parents may have been strict, a bit old-fashioned even (they were some of the oldest parents in the neighborhood); but we attended church that taught only the Bible. And the Bible says that when Christians screw up -- yes, we ask forgiveness, and yes, it's all good -- but that desire for forgiveness must come from the heart, and a desire to repent must accompany it.
God is no fool. If your child continued to commit the same offense day after day, and asked for forgiveness day after day, and received from you forgiveness day after day, but still persisted in his way; how long would it take before you realized this child is not sincere? How much more a God who sees our hearts? Who knows what we are all about before we ever close our eyes or open our mouths to pray.

All Christians struggle with sin -- or at least, they should; there shouldn't be a Christian alive who accepts sin in their lives. But we are still human, with 100% of our free will still intact. While we may now be "in Christ" and, therefore "new creatures," we don't begin new life in Christ with blinders on or earplugs in; we still reside in, function with, and perpetually observe this fractured world. How else would we be of any use to it? Some of us are constantly tempted by the same sin in our life. Like a skunk that keeps moving back into the woodpile each time you chase him out, the temptation to ___  just keeps popping up, even when you thought you'd gotten it this time. But should we, in our discouragement, give in, ask forgiveness after the fact, and turn around only to do the same thing the next time? "Succumb. Repent. Repeat." No! As Christians, we have an obligation to do all we can to resist temptation: pray, fast, get in God's Word, distract ourselves, phone a friend... Our relationship with Jesus is not "performance based," but it's not a free ride either. We have to put something into it.

How do I know Scott loves me? Not simply because he says it, but because he backs it up with action. The same holds true for my behavior. Being a follower of Jesus Christ, and a daughter now reconciled with her Creator and Heavenly Father, is a loving relationship. But love has standards and love has boundaries. And "Bible Banger" or not, I overstep them sometimes. If I casually rely on God's love for me and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, to cover whatever I do, as many times as I do it, with no real desire to change that pattern, well -- I guess anyone would have to ask, "Is her commitment for real?" Or maybe they'd already have their answer.

When Christians screw up, God's infinite grace is what makes things "all good." Nothing we can say or do, no matter how contrite we are, has anything to do with cleaning our slates. But our clean slates today should certainly determine how clean we endeavor to keep them in the future.

"My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth." 1 John 3:18
 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Where Does Your View Point?

There's an impolite little adage about opinions; it all boils down to everyone's got one and they all stink. In this world, where access to information and misinformation is gained in less time than it takes me to type this sentence, opinions simply come with the territory. And though opinions have not by definition changed, the value we place on them has. Infinitesimal amounts of knowledge at our fingertips, in our vehicles, in our schools, on our televisions, in our watches -- and somehow, we can't stop freaking out because someone approves of gun control, or someone thinks gay marriage should be legal, or someone believes Chris Christie had gastric bypass, or someone loves bacon and fur (probably not together, but you never know). It's really no wonder we as a society are so stressed out! We go to the mat on everything!
 
My brother and I had some knock down, drag out fights. They usually began with some critical issue like: Felix the Cat vs. General Hospital. I'm serious! We would half kill each other. But we were, like, nine. It is no less ridiculous among "adults" in the world today. People have become so committed to what they believe, or their values, they expect everyone else to see it that way. And that's good, I guess, to want everyone to experience the same certainty or peace of mind, but it just doesn't happen by shoving your opinions down the throats of others. When we long to belong to something -- anything -- it can drive us to make a cause out of everything. But there are so many causes that affect us all; causes we could all be fighting for, together. Instead, we are divided over unwarranted, uninformed, unsolicited, and unprofitable opinions. Blame this on those in charge? After all, our leaders can't seem to get along any better than we do. How about the deterioration of marriages? Mom and Dad's refusal to work together has set a bad example for Mary and Johnny. Maybe it's our competition/ sports-obsessed society. Our we could blame it on injustices that have run so deeply for years, they cannot help but bubble over in even the most unlikely of ways. Some Christians have declared we are receiving God's judgment; or because we have removed Him from government buildings and schools, an essential building block of human relations has been removed and love has become foreign in concept. But even our finger pointing can stem from nothing more than opinion.
 
Don't get me wrong, causes are important; especially to Christians. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, in their book When Helping Hurts, discuss the folly of those who, without acknowledging Christ serve causes, expecting to bring about the sort of peace and harmony promised in Christ's kingdom. They also write that, for Christians, it's just as foolish to acknowledge Christ without furthering His kingdom by serving causes. Jesus healed the lame, caused the blind to see, served those who were downtrodden and rejected by society. And I am all for doing the same. But spouting off about this or that, pontificating about the ways our society doesn't measure up to God's holy standards, fixating on the problems or the sins without providing solutions or a willingness to work toward change, makes it more about us and less about the great God that put us here to point to Him. In Matthew 6. Jesus talks about fasting, praying, giving to the poor -- all good things, right? Not necessarily. When they are done to draw attention to the fast-er, the pray-er, the giver, not so much. These things are to be done to glorify our Heavenly Father; not as some publicity stunt or self-serving demonstration of man's goodness.
 
When everyone is fired up about the "hot-button" issues, some times it's best to keep your head down. That's not to say we shouldn't call out a Christian who is downright libelous or inflammatory, but we should use prudence when it comes to tossing in our two cents. That's really more than what most opinions are worth, and it rarely leads to truly intelligent discussion. The Word of God does not skimp on or demur at what it has to say about the tongue, and our words. But the bottom line for Christians is this: it is our purpose and obligation to speak of Jesus. If what we're saying to others isn't pointing them to Jesus, if we are not speaking life to them, what are we saying? To whom are we pointing?
 


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Because He Loves Us So

Our children are one of the most precious gifts we could ever be given. From their first wail to the day they drive off to a life of their own, they are our greatest responsibility and our greatest joy; our greatest exasperation and our greatest sorrow; our greatest victory and our greatest loss. In caring for our children we push ourselves to limits we never thought possible, encounter some of the more disgusting aspects of life, exhaust every resource we have at our disposal, and reduce ourselves to silliness we've not experienced since childhood ourselves. All for this stranger that appears kicking and screaming into our lives, needing everything we've got for the next eighteen years. And we'd do it all over again. For as long as it takes. Because we love them so.

Some time shortly before the age of two our children begin to develop minds of their own. And that is when -- as they say -- It's on! And sometimes, nothing but prayer can get you -- and them -- through it. The ups and downs we have experienced with all of our children could fill volumes; but right now, we've got one who is going through it again. Having to witness it is almost physically painful. My stomach churns and my heart aches. I want to jump in and stop the mania. I want to reverse years of damage and lies. I want a fresh start for my child; new and untainted; the opportunity to do it all with none of the scars and baggage of a past life -- scars and baggage that my precious child allows to keep him/ her held hostage by the roller coaster life he/ she has chosen. But I can't. So, I pray.

I was doing just that on my way to work this morning. As I was pouring out my heart, I said, "Lord, I don't think I can do this anymore. A part of me dies with every awful decision, every bit of craziness. How can I sit back and watch this? It's like watching your child shoot up right in front of you." ... Wow. Did I really just say that? I mean, did I really have to tell Him that? El Roi, The God Who Sees Me? All those times I thought I was hiding something from someone, I certainly wasn't hiding from Him. Every time I told a lie, picked up a bottle, lifted something from a store, cheated on a test; did something from the most despicable to the least -- every time -- the God who loves me even more than I could ever love my child, was forced to watch me damage my life and break His heart. He watched as I hurt others, and allowed others to hurt me. He watched as I struggled to survive, all the while sinking further into the quicksand of a broken life. He watched as I made one bad choice to hide the consequences of another. He watched as my life spiraled crazily out of control and I foolishly, arrogantly insisted I could do it on my own. This is the God to whom I stated the most obvious. This is the God to whom I was preaching!

But you know what? I know He listened. Yeah, it was a little strange: my explaining that to Him. But He wants me to cry to Him; He wants me to express my deepest needs. And sometimes He even uses our "crying out" as a mirror. Though I gazed into the mirror a flawed, frustrated parent, the reflection I beheld was exactly what He has done for me, a forgiven, deeply loved daughter. My Heavenly Father sent His Only Son to die for me; but if the pain He felt watching me sin time after time is anything like what I'm feeling, He has died a thousand deaths already. This is the Father that loves me. That loves you. This is the Father that patiently, carefully stands by and watches us all at our worst, but never stops reminding us, "I love you." And He'd do it all over again. For as long as it takes. Because He loves us so.

Monday, January 4, 2016

What on Earth Would God Want with a Hopeless Romantic?

I am a romantic. Not the kind that watches sappy Lifetime TV, or reads all those silly novels with Fabio on the cover; but the kind that enjoys solitude, and can be dark and brooding when left to my own devices. I am passionate about the people and things I consider priorities, and I tend to process events in terms of the feelings they evoke rather than details. Being a romantic can mean getting your passions squashed by people who are "just trying to talk some sense into you." Romantics tend to jump headlong into things best tip-toed into, finding themselves broken and alone, double-crossed by their own impetuosity.

As a child I was told I needed to control all those urges in order to be a good Christian; that I was too impulsive, I was too boisterous, and though my intentions were good, my execution was all wrong -- not what God would approve. I tried to fix it. I tried to be more practical, more soft-spoken. I'd read the stories about the women in the Bible, and tried to do things the way Ruth would do them, or Mary. They were blessed, exalted women; true women of God. Can you imagine how frustrating it was for an eight year old to try to become a gleaning widow? I'm sure I didn't even know what gleaning was. Or to picture myself glowing angelically, and gloriously belting out the Magnificat like some character in a Broadway produced nativity scene, and try to become that? Needless to say, I never succeeded. I felt as though I was not being who I really was. I felt like I was trying to become holy, and while everyone else liked that kind of thing, I didn't. It was easier to give up than to struggle that way. God had just made me wrong for the Christian life. I'd been put here by a God who didn't even love me enough to give me a fighting chance to be what I was supposed to be, to be what He wanted.

So what has changed? For one, I have gone from being a hopeless romantic, to a hope-filled romantic. You see, what I failed to realize until very much later in life, is that none of us has a chance on our own. Put a seersucker suit on a pig, and it's still a pig in a seersucker suit. God isn't interested in any of us changing who we are; He wants to change what we are. A lost romantic, to a Spirit-guided romantic. A sinful introvert, to a Christ-purified introvert. A Godless sanguine, to a God-loving sanguine. Once He changes our status, our position before Him, we are free to become whomever we desire to be. Oh, I'm not gonna say being with Him doesn't alter those desires a bit, but if we trust God is who He says He is, it's all good -- the Bible says so: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

When I became a mother, I didn't just decide to "act more maternal." I was still very much the person I was moments before my child arrived, but it was his presence that instantly changed me from a childless twenty-something to a mother. What I was. And it was my growing love for my child that transformed me from self-centered and impulsive, to other-centered and responsible. Who I was. It didn't happen overnight. I made mistakes; I still do. On my own, it can be a disappointing struggle; but with God's direction, I have that fighting chance. Love gives me a desire to change, a desire to be a good mom with every fiber of my being.

The Holy Spirit has shown me, no matter what my current role, some of those romantic tendencies are exactly what He needs from me. My passion for life keeps me striving to do better all the time. The fact I am content in solitude gives me a love of nature I enjoy sharing with others, and for years, allowed me to concentrate on my job as a homeschooling mom without feeling robbed of a social life. Being so close to my emotions helps me empathize with others; and some of the mistakes that came out of my impulses taught me to recognize those same tendencies in others, and help them through difficulties.

No matter who God has made you, or even who you've become along the way, there is a God who wants you to know Him. A God who is in His very essence, love. A God who wants only the best for you. A God who will not leave you or abandon you. A God who, the moment you declare your desire to love Him, will change what you are. A God who, as you walk with Him daily and grow to love Him more and more, will inspire and direct you to become the best "who" you can be. Even if you've got a little bit of a romantic left in you.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2016

Welcome to 2016! I hope you ushered 2015 out in fine fashion, and are looking forward to a better, brighter new year. After spending a glorious Christmas break with my immediate family, and quietly -- or not so quietly -- watching for the new year with my extended family at Resurrection Life, I am going to take at least one more day to myself. (I'm really getting the hang of this!) But as you celebrate the possibilities of the next 366 days, I pray for you hope in Jesus and a walk unlike any other you've experienced; and I leave you with this:

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/7-ways-to-approach-your-bible-in-2016

May God bless you with His relentless pursuit!