Friday, June 29, 2012

Just Let Go.

A few days ago, I woke up very early.  I decided to just stay awake (not something I normally do, I am not one of those 'early bird' folks.  At. All.) and did my devotionals and prayers.  The words "Let Go." came to me repeatedly.  I even inadvertently said the words "Let Go." aloud, which is not something that I usually do.  So these words stayed with me.  I thought about them for a few hours and I didn't feel like those words were for me.  I didn't know who they were for, but for the very first time in my life, I felt extremely confident that I was listening closely enough that these words, this time were not for me.

With my sister's unexpected death last year, at the age of 33, I've had to do lots of letting go.  And, just over a year of letting go and examining things has lead me to the point where I stand today.  I feel good.  Things that I didn't know I was holding on to, I've released.  Wrongs that were committed, I've forgiven.  Emotions that dragged me down for so many years (to be clear, these were MY emotions, MY baggage, I'm not blaming her or anyone else for this.), I've just let go.  They don't have a place in a peaceful existence and I'm working hard toward this as a goal.  But, this isn't what needed to be "Let Go."

Currently, we (my husband and I and another couple) are working on forming a non-profit.  It is a pretty big deal and it is taking a lot of my time right now.  As this non-profit grows, it will continue to take a lot of time.  I will be working full time (albeit out of the home and very near home once we get up and running) in addition to homeschooling, church commitments, family time and all of the other stuff I normally do.  Maybe, just maybe *THIS* is what I'm supposed to "Let Go." of ?   I considered it.  I prayed about it.  I've prayed about it all along the process of getting the organization up and running.  I have, despite the level of busy-ness I've accomplished, never felt so much at peace as I've gone about my day.  I feel like this is finally, what I'm "supposed" to be doing.  Maybe God changed His mind?  Maybe He is messing with me?  I'm thinking that's not the case.  When things are not in order in my world, I feel anxiety.  Order, of course, is relative and extremely subjective.   I'd venture to say that most people, being a fly on the wall, would wonder what kind of order I'm speaking of.  Three kids with Epilepsy. All three with a bleeding disorder. One on the Autism Spectrum.  A service dog.  A puppy in training.  Homeschool.  100* heat with all of the crazies stuck inside.  Endlessly brewing pots of coffee.  Mama and Daddy both in the dining room, typing away at their laptops, working on their projects, occasionally piping up with a deep thought (Mama's is usually a question spurred on by staring at the non-profit section of the IRS code for a few minutes. Daddy's is usually sports related or a seemingly random political thought.).  Boys are either outside, playing basketball or baseball or inside, if it is hot, playing basketball or baseball on the Wii. Every couple minutes, someone interrupts me - asking for help pouring a cup of juice, help in officiating a disagreement, help with something they shouldn't be doing to begin with, a seizure, a fall, a bleed, a head injury, an overheated child who feels like he's going to have a seizure... or something interrupts me - the puppy biting my little toe, Big Dog looking for some attention, the shouts from outside that a rabbit has escaped or a kitten got itself stuck in the Christmas decorations and needs extrication... Really never a dull moment... This is my life. This is "normal" to me.  I think (at least I tell myself this...) that everyone has *stuff* - stuff that other people don't have to deal with that sometimes drives them nutty, stuff that other people don't understand is just part of your life - it isn't easy, it isn't ideal, but it is just part of the life that we have and making the best of it is the only thing you can do to keep what little sanity remains.  So... I don't think He's telling me to let this go.  He told me to do it to begin with. But I thought about and took a step back from this as well... And I don't think that this is what is supposed to be "Let Go."

I've let go of a lot of things. Released them only to be revisited during those uncomfortable times when they peek their unwelcome little faces into my life at the most inopportune times.  But nothing that I'm still actively working through.  I've got a friend who is actively letting go of stuff.  Physical stuff.  Letting go of material possessions is freeing for her.  I've got another friend working on letting go of what others think of her - another liberating thing to "Let Go."

I've combed through my mental stuff.  Tried to figure out if the words "Let. Go." are, indeed, meant for me.  I've yet to come across the right thing yet, though.  So, for the time being, I will share "Let Go." with everyone.  If this wasn't meant for me, and the message got through to me that this one was not for me, my speaking those words out loud, in hind sight, was my direction to share the words.   Maybe because I can attest to how freeing Letting Go can be.  It took me a long time to Let Go of the hurts.  It took even longer for me to realize and understand that even when you "Let Go." those things can come back to you.  It doesn't mean you've not  Let Go, but you can claim victory in the name of Jesus Christ when those past hurts come back to you, after you've Let Go, and they no longer have a strong hold on your heart.

So, today, Friend. Consider what you have to "Let Go."  You are more than able to Let Go of the past and claim this victory, too.  We all have to search our hearts for the things that we need to "Let Go."  Only when we "Let Go." are we able to be free to proceed with our lives... to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Only when those strong holds are broken are we free from the lies that hold us back.

Examine what you need to "Let Go." today.  Let Jesus help you "Let Go." of the hurts, the pain, the negativity, the pressure.  It's time to Let Go...and Live.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Clean Your Desk!

I walked into my office Monday morning and almost turned around and walked out. One look at my desk discouraged me to the point of wondering if I could ever find the desktop again. I actually thought about just raking it all off into the trash can, but was afraid I might discover in six months or so that I’d thrown something really important away.

I sat down at the desk and looked at the piles of envelopes, magazines I’d never looked at, little scraps of paper with notes scribbled on them and empty green tea cans. Maybe it could wait, I reasoned, maybe another week…or even two. 
No, it needed to be done. I needed to face this monster. I couldn’t allow myself to go any longer without cleaning off this desk!

The funny thing was I didn’t remember my desk getting into this mess. It must have happened when I wasn’t looking. No, that couldn’t be. It must have happened one envelope, one note, one aluminum can at a time. A little bit one day, and a little bit the next, and before I knew it…a mess of monumental proportion.
And so, as much as I hated to do it, I started in. I found a few things I’d been missing for a long time, but mostly I found pretty much what I expected...just the remnants of day to day living all gathered in one place…my desk.

It took a good chunk of the day, but I got it cleaned off. The trash filled my trash can to overflowing. But my desk looked good.

The spiritual application is obvious. There are accumulations in my life, (and probably yours) that are simply the remnants of everyday living. Unresolved issues with people, bitterness toward past employers, maybe a debt to a friend or family member that just got put off and put off and never got paid, maybe some money we took from the cash register where we worked or something we borrowed that we never returned. We seldom start out with the intention of letting these things pile up and accumulate, but it happens and before we know it…a mess of monumental proportion.

Cleaning off my desk reminded me that I also needed to clean off my spiritual desk. I needed to make some things right, re-prioritize, send a check or two, and return those books I borrowed. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but my spiritual life got messy, and I couldn’t go any further until I cleaned it off. How about you? Any messes in your life?

Monday, June 25, 2012

I'm Sorry

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins
and purify us from all unrighteousness.

We have four children ranging in age from 4 up to 11.  A day rarely goes by without someone hurting someone else, physically or emotionally.  It may be fighting over what to play or whose turn it is with a toy.  Whatever the situation, my husband or I often have to step in and help figure out what happened and identify the bad words or actions.  We then talk with the person who made the mistake(sin) and help them think about how their actions affected the other person and what they should do the next time.  At some point in the resolution of things we will ask them what they should do and usually, sometimes they need additional help, they will say they need to say, “I’m sorry.”  It’s often not easy for them to go do that, but it usually ends the conflict and the “perpetrator” and the “victim” are able to move forward.  Recently, I have tried to help the “victim” understand that they should also forgive the “perpetrator” and say, “I forgive you.” 

But James gives even further instruction.  James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”  Then verses 19 & 20 say, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”  The Bible says that we should confess our sins to each other and then pray for each other.  It also emphasizes the value of helping another follower of Christ turn away from sin and the long-term benefit of reaching out to that wanderer and bringing them back.

Unfortunately, though many of us were taught as children to say, “I’m sorry,” we seem to find it difficult to do as adults.  We expect children to admit their faults and sins and yet we become stubborn and resentful if anyone points out ours.  We see children as imperfect creatures who need to learn how to behave and yet we forget that even though we are adults we are still imperfect creatures and need to still learn how God wants us to behave. 

If we have a relationship with Jesus Christ then we had to confess our sins and accept His forgiveness for those sins. Though we have been forgiven of our sins and they no longer hold power over us, we still struggle with sin as Paul talks about in Romans 7:22b-25, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

Then if we, as followers of Jesus Christ who have been forgiven of our sins, do or say things that do not fit with what the Bible says or what we have been convicted of by the Holy Spirit then we are sinning.  Does that mean we are suddenly eternally lost?  No, but sin is not healthy for our relationship with God and when God or someone else points out that sin, we should want to confess it and change, so that we can move forward.  Also, the root of sin is self.   When we are thinking more of ourselves than God or anyone else then we will do things to take care of “me.”  We may lie, steal, lust, hate, or hurt others and it will be because we have put “me” first.  That is in direct conflict with putting Jesus first and having Him as Lord and Ruler of our life, so once we decide that Jesus is more important than “me” we can let go of that sin, confess and move forward in a right relationship with Jesus.

If a fellow Christian recognizes our sin and points it out, we should not react in anger or resentment towards that person, but be thankful that they are helping us to repair our relationship with Christ.  Also, if our sin has been seen by others and may be a bad example to them, we need to confess that to them.  Think of the example it would be to others if Christians actually confessed our sins to others.  Maybe we would not be seen as hypocrites, but as people who are imperfect but desire to change and recognize that we still make mistakes. 
Since I expect my children to apologize for their sins, I have had to learn to apologize to them when I sin.  It is not easy to admit to your children that you make mistakes, but I also don’t want my children to think that I think I am perfect.  I want them to know I still sin, but that I also want them to know that with the power of Jesus to help me I can sin less and less.  

What would this world look like if Christians would admit when we sin and make mistakes, big or small, to the people around us?  They would find out we aren’t perfect?  Great!  None of us should be trying to balance on someone’s pedestal they have built for us.  If we would practice accountability with other Christians, confess our sins regularly and open our hearts to correction from God, in whatever way He chooses to correct us than what would our churches look like?  Would sinners feel more comfortable in our presence if they could actually see that we too are sinners who have been saved only by the grace and mercy of God?  Would we be able to share our sins and hurts without fear of banishment or condemnation, but instead be surrounded by a body of Christ who prays for us and helps us, so we are saved from even greater sins?  How many marriages might be saved if men and women had Christian friends they could safely share their struggles with before they turn into “irreconcilable differences” and/or adultery? 

Let’s throw off the chains of sin by stepping up and admitting we still sin and want to change.  Let’s expose sin and Satan’s lies, so that he loses his power over us and God can reign.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blending In or Standing Out

There is a movie that I like to watch with my girls called "What a Girl Wants."  In the movie Amanda Bynes goes to London in search of the father she never knew.  She finds him and soon learns that she is going to have to make some changes and become more proper.  She is going to have to behave.  The boy (her love interest) in the movie asks her a question that I just can never get out of my head.  He asks her: “Why are you trying so hard to fit in, when you’re born to stand out?”  Isn’t that an awesome question?

I have no idea how anyone else feels about that, but I for one have always tried not to just fit in but to blend in.  I am uncomfortable in large groups.  I can talk one on one until you tell me to stop talking.  I am amazed by people who are comfortable performing.  I love to sing but I’m happy sometimes that I don’t sing well because then I might be asked to sing with the choir at church.  How do people do that?  As a child I took dance lessons.  I loved the lessons but hated that I had to get on stage for a recital.  I didn’t want the attention; I didn’t like the idea of all of those people looking at me.  I still don’t.  
I started on a quest about six months ago to publish a book.  In my mind it wasn’t something I was doing for anyone else.  It was more something I was doing for me so I could say I had accomplished something that I had wanted to do.  The reality being that I have a tendency to quit things or I will have an idea to do something but never actually do it.  I thought I would be all hush, hush and then tell my close friends and family what I had done and that would be the end of it.  Cross if off the bucket list. 
That is not how it works in case you are wondering.  Apparently once you complete the book you then have to market the book and try and sell the book.  What?!  You want me to do what?  Oh and then there is talk about parties and book signings and interviews.  All things that have yet to happen and even typing the sentence, I feel nauseous.  I am not a public speaker.  My first response was that I didn’t live in L.A. and it was entirely possible that I would be sick that day. 
All this and yet everything to get this project done was set in motion perfectly by God.  There was no question in my mind that I was supposed to do it.  What His plan is for this, I know not.  Frankly, I’m terrified to find out.  

But, then I am reminded in Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 
Is this why that quote sticks out to me so much?  “Why are you trying to fit in, when you’re born to stand out?”  I don’t know about standing out.  I do know a lot about fear.  Fear I’m comfortable with, standing out, not so much.  I do believe that God is with me and I am going to have to fully rely on Him in order to step outside my comfort zone.  Maybe that is the point.  Maybe that was the plan all along.  Not that I am going to have to learn to be in a spotlight because truly that is far from my plan, God gets all the credit for anything I might be able to do.  I am just not smart enough to do most things by myself.  But maybe, it’s an exercise in learning to depend more on His strength than my own.  


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Monday, June 18, 2012

Let's play "Pretend" again...

Recently, I logged into FaceBook and saw several of my friends had liked the Fan Page for the television series, Dallas. At first I thought, “Dallas is an old show…why is everyone talking about it all of a sudden?" At first, I thought that maybe a beloved actor from the series had passed away…perhaps Larry Hagman or Patrick Duffy. But when I actually checked the Fan Page, I finally realized that this was not a page celebrating the classic series, but one marketing the reboot, a new series that picks up where the old series left off. 

The “reboot”, concept, which has become a pretty popular entertainment strategy lately, is essentially to take a television series or movie franchise and break continuity from any previous version (consider previous canon or story material irrelevant) and introduce new plots and new actors in order to attract a new fan base to old characters and situations. With this concept, we have seen television shows like Charlie's Angels and ThunderCats get re-imagined; again, same familiar characters, but new plots. Also, movie classics like Batman, Superman and Spiderman are reproduced with new actors, plot lines and of course, incredible special effects. And though the latest Dallas series is not a true reboot (Larry Hagman, who is very much alive, will return as J.R. Ewing), the idea is basically the same: take old hits and make them “new old hits”.

This bothers me immensely.

Aside from the fact that I grew up on ThunderCats, He-man, and other classics that I feel should remain untouched (Michael Keaton was the best Batman…sorry if you disagree), this disturbs me about the state of creativity in our society in general. The reboot concept seems to confirm one of my greatest fears for my generation: that most people living today feel it is better, easier and more cost effective to recycle old ideas rather than to create fresh ones. The truth is, we are fresh out of fresh ideas. We lack the creativity, ingenuity and courage to engage the unseen and innovate new concepts, create new characters, form fresh plots, calculate new risks or tell untold stories. We have developed such a mental lethargy that we spend more time rehashing what was than we do imagining what could be.  

The reboot concept has me wondering now if things like imagination, fancy, whim and reverie are now old school. I consider the fact that kids of my generation had a great deal of fun in our formative years with the game, “Pretend”. Pretend was a simple game that I now realize had a profound effect on my development. Here’s the concept in just one word: pretend. It required imagination. Let’s pretend we’re driving a school bus. Now you have to find chairs (or anything that could be sat upon) and gather a mental image of a bus. Turn every object you can find into a part of the bus. An old box became the door. A Frisbee became the steering wheel. An old shoe became the gas pedal. This simple game taught us the resourcefulness of our own creative thought; it showed us that we had the capacity to take things and turn them into other things. It showed us that as long as we had imagination, we were not confined to the limitations of reality as we know it. With just a thought, we could become a doctor, be in another country, or fight with action heroes...if we could imagine it, we could experience it.

The generation that follows mine, however, has been inundated with video games, computer animated cartoons, the internet and smart phones. Whereas life and necessity showed us how to be creative, for this generation, creativity was handed to them…imagination is not something that they often have to use, because it can be downloaded to their Droid, or visited on their iPad, or experienced through their Xbox. This hyper-connected generation in which we now raise children has no need for daydreams or musing, nor space for contemplative practices. They simply engage the existing creativity of a smaller percentage of people who are making easy money by borrowing and rebooting ideas that were once originally fashioned by more “vintage” creative thinkers.

If this is an increasing trend, it can’t be good for our future. If  imagination is the workspace for innovation, and if innovation is necessary for our survival in these rapidly changing times, then our survival as a society is entirely dependent upon our capacity for creative thought. But maybe its not too late to save our future…maybe we still have time to resurrect this seemingly ancient, retro version of creativity. Maybe we should practice the habit of turning off our televisions (especially during the “reality” shows). And I know that its tempting for those of us who remember the horror of internet connections slower than 56k, but perhaps we can take a break from all of the joys of broadband and hang offline for a while. And as smart as our smart phones are, perhaps we could turn them off for a day, and in the midst of this hurried, distracted, over-connected and over-informed world, take a moment to stop, rest, contemplate and delight in the not-so-obvious. Settle into the unseen. And, if only for a brief moment, play a game of pretend, and just see where it takes our mind. No, I'm not talking about escaping life, I'm actually talking about engaging it.

We may find our souls breathing a sigh of relief from the exhaustion of being forced to consume false creativity. We may suddenly remember what is was like to have an aesthetic moment, in which we notice and appreciate the simple beauty of simple things. What if during these moments of rest, we actually pulled out the VCR (you know you still have one) to show our kids the old versions of everything being rebooted…allowing them to watch with amazement as they notice things from these classically creative shows and films that they haven’t seen in their lifetime, like phone booths…phones without text messages…phones with cords and rotary without radios and boomboxes (and explain to them that they were like really-big iPods).

Perhaps we could celebrate all of that creative history, and before rushing back to our “normal” world, maybe we could hear a whisper in our souls of a new idea, a fresh concept, a innovation, an unfamiliar musing…and record them with those sheets of white stuff—you know, paper—and processed them later with trusted friends, just to see how far off of the paper that idea or thought could go? Because the truth is that as much as I loved those old Dallas, I can’t help but wonder how many other cities have stories that haven’t been told, or how many adventures that have yet to make it to the big screen, or how many books that haven’t been written, or how many recipes that haven’t been shared. I am crazy enough to believe that as good as life once was, there is too much life and living yet ahead of us for us to settle for second-hand creativity. 

I’m sure the new Dallas will fare very well, and the new ThunderCats will tell amazing stories, and the newly rebooted feature films will make millions at the box office. But I don’t plan to watch any of it. If you want to know what I’ll be up to, meet me in the backyard with a Frisbee and a cardboard box…

Friday, June 15, 2012

Telling the Story

I got my first journal when I was in 7th grade from my Great Aunt Ruby. She wrote on the tag "key on back cover" and I thought it said, "key on wrap paper." It was years before I discovered that key inside the back cover. If you had read her writing, you would completely understand! 

I began writing in it immediately. I remember that I began my first several entries with "Dear Diary" before realizing that I wasn't really the "Diary" type. It reminded me of a Judy Blume character. I wasn't talking to a book. My journal was between me and Jesus. After that, I just wrote about whatever was on my mind as if no one in particular would ever see it, but I always knew that God knew exactly what those pages said. 

In junior high and even high school, I remember writing a lot about boys. I wasn't overtly boy crazy. I didn't date a lot in high school, but my journals from those days definitely tell a story about a girl who liked a few boys but wasn't brave enough to tell them.

My first date is in my high school journal. My first big break-up. The story of a failed scholarship audition followed by a couple much more successful auditions. Prom. Graduation. Parties. I loved high school, and my journal certainly reflects that.

I was thinking about this today and how my journal has changed since then. While I wrote about what God was doing in my life in high school, I spent a lot more time writing about my faith in college. Since college, my faith journey is what the words on my journal pages reflects most of the time. I am glad for that.

My journals contain talks with God. Poems I've written. Scripture which spoke to me and on which I meditated. Stories of our lives. Ups. Downs. Prayer requests. Praises. Confessions. All the drama that is in my head. My journal is my story. It speaks volumes. It speaks private thoughts that I have shared with no one. I use it to work out the hard stuff, to remind me of the tough stuff that God walked me through, that He carried me through. Reading old entries is good for me. 

My journals are the story of God in my life.

There are holes in my journals, long periods of time when I didn't write anything. Life got in the way. Babies.  Major moves.  Spiritually dry times.  Times when I didn't connect with God daily. 

Those holes speak volumes too. They speak of how God sought me out and always brought me back. He not only accepted me, but He gathered me from afar when needed. He sought me out like every Good Shepherd does. 

Some day, I hope that my children enjoy this story of God in my life. I hope they read the struggles and the pain and the praises and the joy with every emotion that I felt as I wrote them. I hope they see a few tears in the smeared ink.  I hope they hear the laughter as I tell of the times that God moved in glorious ways. I hope that someone, someday is completely blessed by what God has done in my humble journey and that they realize what I most want them to know from reading those pages...We've all been there. We are not alone. We all hurt. We all get blessed. We all have a story.

For now, it is my story, and I will keep it to myself.

How about you? Do you tell your story somewhere? Do you blog? Journal? I know it isn't for everyone, but try it. It is amazing what God can do through something so very, very simple.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Parents' Legacy

My post today is different from the norm in that most of the words are not mine.  Recently, a friend from my childhood reconnected with me after her dad died.  She found me on Facebook and wanted to reconnect with me and my mom.  I received the following message after her attempts to get a hold of my mom got stymied by my parents' answering machine.  I am sharing it because it's a profound message of the way God works beyond what we ourselves achieve:

I dreamt of you all two nights ago.  It was like a family reunion at your old house on 40th Ave., but it was remodeled.  The only thing that was the same was the floor.  That to me was a direct message from God, who woke me to speak to my heart in the night.  When I woke up I tried to make sense of the floor thing, and the one thing that came to me was that the Godly foundations/groundings/ flooring your family shared with me is constant then, now, and for my children.  My heart needs to share with you. When I awoke, God brought me to tears, laying there on my pillow, practically shaking.  He spoke, "This family planted a seed and I watered it."

How can I thank your mother and father enough?  That seed has grown in the last six years, which is a reminder of God's perfect timing.  We want to see the seeds we plant flower and bloom, but sometimes we will miss that.  But now I can say that I planted the seed in both my mother and father before he died because of your parents' love for the Lord and for me (amidst having four children in a tiny house, as I do now).  They took me in as much as they could mentally handle.  I saw the light of God in them; I can totally remember seeing your mom worship the Lord.  Because of that I will see my father in a new body in Heaven, my mother also, and my children are being raised in a church/Awana, being prayed over daily.  My husband and I have been serving the Lord in Sunday school, both leading worship and getting into God's Word daily.  There is more to do, but God is by our side as parents of three, soon to be four, young children.  We live in a TINY house, and I look back to when you all moved out to the country.  Oh how God blessed you all then!  That would be a dream come true for us, but until then we say, "Lord we praise you for our family, this house, and the perfect timing of your provision."

I just can't let another day go by without thanking you all for sharing your love for God with me at a young age.  I now want to do the same for a young neighbor child down the street.  Please pray for that miracle.  You can do Life everyday, wake up and go to sleep, and never realize how your actions, your faith 31 years ago impacted a young child.  I didn't turn to the Lord immediately, but I will tell you this: He held me in the palm of His hands all my life.  I memorized John 3:16 when I went to Sparks [Awana] with you, and God watered that all my life.  I am thankful for you all.  Wake up today and praise Him!  So many lives will receive that seed because of YOU and Him!  God bless.

Even now as I share this with you, the tears will not stop flowing down my face.  My friend's family was definitely one that you would never expect to receive the love of God.  I share this with you to glorify the goodness and the faithfulness of God.  I share this with you so that you see how a tiny seed planted in youth can blossom into a beautiful life later on.  I share this with you so that God may bring to mind a family or small child that you can impact with your love and God's love today. 

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably  more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."  ~Ephesians 3:20-21

Monday, June 11, 2012

Women, relationships, and forgiveness

"Do you love women?"

This was a question presented to me in a Women's Bible Study I was a part of back in 2003 called Five Aspects of Woman.  It was in specific reference to discipleship and practically living out Titus 2:3-5.  I thought long and hard about that question.  As the ladies all went around the room and said emphatically and without question "yes", with nervousness and sweaty palms, my turn came up.  I had to answer honestly.

I said "no"...

Years pass by and I completely forget about this instance.  It's now May 2012 and I'm in another Women's Bible Study entitled Becoming a Titus 2 Woman. This same exact question arises.  "Do you love women?  Do you long to disciple and teach and be an example of godliness to younger women?  Do you desire to be with older women, to learn from them?"  But before I got a chance to answer, my class leader playfully said, "I remember, Mel, what you said long ago!  You said 'no'."

For real?!  I said that out loud?  I admitted to that?!

Yes, I did.  And at the time, unfortunately, I meant it whole-heartedly.

For years now I've never really longed for fellowship with other women.  Like having "parties" (31, Mary Kay, etc) or luncheons or women's retreats or the like.  At our church there is a booming Women's Ministry program, but I'm rarely involved.  To be perfectly honest, I have enjoyed keeping to myself, only sharing my heart with two ladies in particular.  I'll be cordial to others, don't get me wrong.  I'm not socially inept with women.  I just am very careful who I let in.  But I never really knew why.  And for years, this set up was A-OK with me.

But about a month ago, as I sat in that Titus 2 class, discussing what it meant to "teach what is good" (v 3) to those women who are "younger", my heart began to stir, I started getting really uncomfortable, and I began to realize that my social isolation from women was actually a very real area of sin that needed to be dealt with.

Oh, I am daily learning and am growing in my relationship with Christ.  And I nobly hide behind the line that I am "giving my all to my husband, children, home, and homeschool".  But in reality, I'm not sharing my life, wisdom, and spiritual wisdom with other ladies.  I'm keeping it to myself.

That was a long class.  And I went home feeling sick to my stomach.  All these years and have I even really reached out to women?  Do I spend time with them?  Do I get to know them?  Do I listen to their hearts, meet their needs, pray with and for them, encourage them, help them, mentor them, lead them to Scripture, be an example to them...?  Do I do what I can to "teach what is good" to the younger ladies?  Do I pour my life into them?

That whole next week I wrestled with God over this.  I liked keeping to myself.  I liked only really talking and sharing with my two closest girlfriends.  But I had just now learned that God wants me to invest in the lives of women, to listen and learn from them, to give.  How can I do these things if I don't even know the ladies that are around me?  If I don't spend time with them and actually get into their lives, how can I ever expect to know how to encourage them?  And if I don't know them personally, how can I expect to train or admonish them?  They won't listen to a stranger!  They will listen to a friend.  They will listen to someone that listens to them and cares for them.  There are hurting, struggling women right next to me and I don't even know it!

Yikes.  Time to step out of the "comfort zone".

Another week goes by and I'm feeling strong enough to start taking baby steps and venturing out into the world of "building relationships".  As I'm waiting to talk to an "older woman", I pull out my memory verses from my Titus 2 class.

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.
-Colossians 3:12-15


Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
-Ephesians 4:29-32

The line about forgiving others just as God has forgiven me literally jumped off the page.  Wow, both verses say the same exact thing!  I underlined it thinking to myself, "this is a cool verse, especially as I think about marriage and parenting"...

Not 30 minutes later, as I was discussing my desire to take baby steps in loving women was being discussed, this "forgiving others" bit of Scripture came into play.  This "older woman" point blank asked me, "have you ever been hurt by a woman in your past?"

Talk about knocking me off my chair!

Immediately one person came to mind.

A relationship that had a full fledged fall-out about 10 years ago.  I can't go into specifics on this blog since its public, but I will tell you that I was hurt DEEPLY.  This one woman who I revered, adored, and loved very much turned on me and used the life that I had poured into her against me.  To this day, I still don't even know what I said or did to upset her.  All I do know is that she used abusive language, questioned my salvation, called me a false Christian, and then threatened to not even go to my wedding.  It threw me for a whirl.  So much so that my fiance and I had to go to pre-marital counseling to sort things out prior to marriage.

As a safety measure, I was to drastically limit contact with this woman.  I basically cut ties.  At that time I had to because she hurt me so badly.

10 years later... we're cordial, but we do not discuss the fall-out.  We no longer share our lives.

This "older woman" I was visiting pointed out that this deep hurt from my past is very possibly the reason I do not desire or allow relationships with women to start and deepen.  That I fear getting hurt again...

She's right.

I've prayed and prayed and prayed about this.  I'm scared.  I do NOT want that to ever happen to me again.

But it goes further.  She shared that I need to at least attempt to make things right with the woman who hurt me 10 years ago.  I need to apologize for my part of the fall-out.  I need to forgive her, for Christ has forgiven me for SO much more!

Why is forgiveness so hard?
Thinking about even trying to make things right with this woman makes my stomach churn and my heart ache.  But I won't be free until I do.  I won't be free to move on with my life, to develop deep and meaningful relationships with other women.

And maybe this woman is hurting inside, too.  Maybe she needs to finally be free.  Surely she realizes that she's the reason our relationship was terminated.  Maybe she's not strong enough to make the first move.  Maybe she desires reconciliation as well but just doesn't have the strength to be the first to move.  Maybe she's immobilized by her own fears.

Then again, maybe she'll never forgive me...  That's a very real possibility, too.

But I must do my part.  I must truly forgive her.  And I must ask for her forgiveness as well.

The result is up to the Lord.

I'm sharing all this because I could use some prayer.  I have yet to actually contact this woman.  At this time, I feel it'd be very difficult, if not impossible, to share my heart and discuss this face-to-face or even on the phone.  I'm currently working on a letter to mail out.  Please pray that she accepts my apology, that she will listen to me, that her heart will be soft, and that we can finally, once and for all deal with this huge hurt, and start over in our relationship together.

And I would also like some prayer as I venture out into the realm of reaching out to women and building relationships.  I'm fearful of being vulnerable and of possibly getting hurt again.

But if God can forgive me of my many many sins, then I know I can, in turn, show grace to those around me.  And I know the Holy Spirit will give me the strength and the power to not only forgive, but also to start anew in building relationships with the women around me. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

My Name is Josh. I'm Overweight.

Allow me to be transparent for a moment: For as long as I remember: I’ve had a problem with my weight. I was a fat baby. I was a semi-fat toddler. I was a very fat elementary student. I was a heavy Jr. Higher. I started growing taller in High School and all that fat kind of evened itself out all over… so when I look at pictures from High School, I see a thinner and younger version of myself. However, I never knew it at the time… because I thought I was fat even during High School.

I got to college and I just ballooned. Our dining commons was basically an all you can eat buffet, mixed in were late night burritos and Taco Bell runs, and finished off with many care packages from my Grandma Sands who sent many, many cookies. Believe it or not, I gained 60 pounds from the beginning of my Sophomore year to the time I got married the year before my Senior year. Unfortunately, that weight is still on.

Being heavy has it’s set of problems… to be sure. I remember after college being interviewed by a District Superintendent. This D.S. then went to get quick references from one of my professors. When the professor gave positive feedback about me, the D.S. looked at him strangely and said: “He’s overweight, so he appeared lazy to me.” My professor told me this in order to motivate me to work hard all the time… because as long as I was overweight, I would have to overcome the label that us hefty people get: lazy.

I will never forget how hard that lesson was for me to take. I’m a pretty genuine guy. When I meet people for the first time, I typically think the best of them.  I was also very na├»ve in college. I never knew that I might not be considered for a job because I was over-weight. It was very surprising and hurtful… 

I’ll be honest, though. For a long time, I really didn’t care about my weight. I liked being hefty. I liked being able to make fun of myself.  It was something that many people didn’t expect… it turned out to be endearing.  I also found that I surprised many people on the tennis court. “This fat guy does not look like he would be good at tennis…” I like the look of surprise when they realize that I hit the ball pretty good and I actually move alright too. (My weakness is endurance… if they can get me to move A LOT for a LONG period of time… they might have a chance... but I've always been agile.)

Over the past few years, two major events have caused me to re-think my life and specifically re-think my health. The births of my two kids. I want to be around to see them grow up and see them develop into the adults that God designed them to be.

It’s a constant battle. Maybe one of the hardest on-going challenges in my life. It can be really, really frustrating. 
I think every single year, for the past ten years, I've tried to lose weight.  And I do.  And then I proceed to put it back on.  Almost every year, I start in January at my high weight... and then by September... I'm down 20 to 40 pounds.  And then the holiday season starts up:  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas... and my weight explodes again.  Recognizing the pattern is one thing... breaking the pattern is something completely different. 

So, I am going to try really hard over the next few years to drop this weight and get healthy. I’m not entirely sure how to do it, but I just know that I will. I’ve allowed thousands of poor eating decisions to build up to what I am now… it’s time to reverse that. It’s time that I start making wise choices on a daily basis that will start building up towards a healthy lifestyle.  
I turn 35 this August... I'm running out of high metabolism years... I need to get this taken care of in the next year and a half. 

In the meantime, I’ll allow a few faces and images to come to my mind to motivate me. I’ll try to envision what it might be like to fly around the tennis court (comfortably fitting into my old ‘Moline Tennis’ shirt that I wore in high school)… getting to every ball… and doing it for a long time. I’ll think of the little things: Like a life without knee pain.... or something as trivial as tying my shoe and breathing normal at the same time. I’ll think of that D.S. and allow the judgmental people in this world to motivate me. I’ll think of my call to preach and teach God’s Word my entire life… and how it would be better if that life were longer rather than shorter. I’ll think of my family... and how I want to be around them as much and as long as I can…

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

One Of Those Weeks

Ever have one of those weeks?  The kind of week where no matter what you do, nothing seems to go right?  That was me last week.  What should have been a short work week thanks to a holiday turned into the longest week of my life.  Allow me to give you the "high"lights.

--Tuesday started with news that a schedule I had written was going to require a change and the only possible way to make it work was for me to do the extra work later in the week.  This was particularly annoying only because the change was something that should have been foreseen much earlier than two days prior.  While this sort of notification is not unusual, the situation was frustrating nonetheless.

--Wednesday I started feeling sick.  I've been on medication for diabetes and high blood pressure for almost two years, with very little incident; however, this day my blood pressure was way out of whack.  I worked through it, then went home and slept until morning.

--Thursday I went to work because it was the day that I had to do the extra work.  I made it until 11:30, and then I went home, still feeling terrible.  I slept most of that day too.

--Friday was my trip to the doctor who told me that a third medication I was on was likely to blame for the issues, and once I was done with it, things should return to normal.  Even still, I go back this week to confirm that to be the case.

--Saturday Bill had the day off, so we decided to go visit some friends who were going through a particularly trying time.  We didn't get five miles away from home when the power steering went out, and now our car is at the mechanic's awaiting a final total of the repairs.

Normally I'm not one to blame things on spiritual warfare, but this time I am.  The potential exists for some pretty amazing things to happen here in our little piece of the world, and Satan is not happy about the prospect.  If that means my blood pressure is going to go crazy the same week that Bill has to work second shift, then so be it.  I'm not willing to give up the future possibilities just to be comfortable.  In all this, I've been reminded of the following passage.  May it bring encouragement to you if and when you have one of those weeks.

James 1:2-4 (NLT)
   "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Devil in the Details

The Devil is battling every day for our souls. He's conniving, sneaky and smart (I like to picture Al Pacino in “The Devil's Advocate” and not so much George Burns in “Oh, God! You Devil!”). Think of the snake tempting Eve in the garden: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.” Genesis 3:1 NIV. The serpent does not force Eve to eat the fruit, but subtly changes her reality telling her what she wants to hear: Did God really tell you not to eat the fruit? Surely God will not punish you for eating the fruit....” Genesis 3:1 NIV. He sneaks up on us when we least suspect it and is most successful when we have no idea that we're being tempted. One of his greatest tricks is deceiving us into thinking there is no Devil, there is no temptation and there is no world beyond our own. Most of us are so busy trying to squeeze every last minute out of each day, that we don't even give a second thought to a life beyond the here and now, let alone the battle between good and evil that is happening every day for our souls.

Normally I'm not a fire and brimstone preaching kind of girl, but I had an experience this week that brought the Devil's cleverness and tenacity clearly into focus. So often, as Christians, when we speak about the Devil or the battle for our souls, it sounds so fantastical that it can provoke eye-rolls from our non-Christian friends. Trying to tell a non-Christian that every day there are unseen forces that lurk amongst us sometimes sounds like we're preaching the equivalent of ghost, goblins and fairies. So many can easily tune out the animated preacher on television who's pounding the pulpit about heaven and hell. I'm hoping that telling my story as just a regular, nondescript mom, might reach the hearts of others and reveal to them that Satan really is amongst us every day: “[R]oaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Job 1:7 NIV. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1Peter 5:8 NIV.

My experience was cold and sobering. Sure I've been tempted in my life to do things I know are contrary to God's teachings, but I've never felt like the Devil was after me like I did this week and it was completely buried in the mundane. I was looking for a book to take on vacation over Memorial weekend. I ordered a mystery from Amazon that looked intriguing and I had heard about on a talk show and brought it with me to my in-laws' cottage. Now is the time to tell you that my biggest struggle in my relationship with Jesus is my tendency to reach for worldly comforts, instead of Christ. A few times in my life, when I was younger, I became quite consumed with worldly comforts like having parties with my friends, spending time with my boyfriend and obsessively wasting time on the internet. So, I began reading my book, only mildly concerned that the author of this book celebrated these same traits in her main character. Until I got to page 200 something in the scene hit me like a ton of bricks. It almost identically mimicked a scene from my past, a scene where I had turned from God, and according to the author, the main character was smart, sophisticated and praiseworthy in this moment. It was identical in some of the smallest details. It might seem silly or nonsensical to others, but at that exact moment, I knew that this temptation was meant for me. Have you every had a moment when you just knew? What was really scary, was all of the seemingly unimportant events that lead up to that exact moment, that led to this subtle temptation coming to me years after I thought I was no longer tempted by such things.

I've even felt like there was something hindering me in writing this article. First, I was embarrassed to write about something so personal, then when I finally committed to writing on this topic, it's literally been impossible to get the words down on the page. Don't get me wrong, with three young children, I usually have anything but a leisurely time finding a few moment to jot down my thoughts for one of these posts, but the last week has been completely insane. First my sweet little 8-month-old boy came down with Roseola. Those of you with young children will recognize this as the oh so pleasant virus that babies sometimes get where they suffer from a really high fever for about three days and then when the fever breaks, the poor baby breaks out in an irritating rash from head to toe. Those of you with young children will also know, that when a baby is sick, pretty much every other task that isn't essential gets dropped to the wayside since most sick babies just want to be held, rocked and nursed all day long. Then I had uncharacteristic headaches in my few moments of free time; my 3-year-old has been overly needy, and I have tons of laundry from being on vacation last weekend. So last night the plan was for my husband to take the baby after we had a friend over for dinner. We were just going to do something simple: steaks and corn on the grill. As soon as we opened the door to grill it started raining. My husband dashed out and lit the grill anyway, only to have it blown out by the suddenly gusting winds. When he and our friend tried to light the grill again, we realized that we were out of gas. My husband showed up at the local hardware store for a refill just as they were closing and he had to go across town to get the gas instead. So, a quick little get-together for dinner turned into much more! Finally, this morning (the day my article is due) my husband said he'd take the kids so I could write, only to have the baby poop himself from head to toe as soon as I sat down at the computer. Of course, all of his clothes are in the dryer because of the laundry situation, so I had to try to dig through the dryer to find more clothes. So I sat down again, and my husband got an emergency call from work (something that almost never happens) to help a little boy with an injured eye. Now, six hours before my article is due, five days after I began trying to write, I'm finally sitting down at the computer!

Some may wonder, why am I so special that the Enemy is specifically targeting me? I can assure you, my soul is not worth more than any other. All are precious in the eyes of God. The Bible says: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7 NIV. Any soul claimed by the Devil is a tragedy to God and thus a pleasure for the Enemy. But, so many are blissfully unaware of the battle that is always raging. Even as Christians, it's easy to forget during the week that there is more to the day than what's on the surface. This week I saw a show on people who have had near death experiences. One man told the story of being clinically dead for four minutes and during that time Jesus took him and showed him the spender of heaven. He had been a Christian his whole life, but didn't realize he had been tempted daily to be hard-hearted and judgmental to those around him. After his experience, he said that he was ashamed that he literally had to die and have Jesus show him heaven for him to realize what had been going on in his soul for so many years.

A few weeks ago, our minister showed us a big chalk board with one tiny dot on the far left. A straight line went out from the dot that was several feet long. He pointed at the dot and said: “This is our whole life here on earth. The long line is eternity, and it actually has no end.” We need to keep that perspective daily, and trust God to help us recognize, and resist, Satan's perverted focus on the very small dot.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Being Changed

A little over a week ago, I had several clear intentions. I was prepared to fine-tune our summer evangelism strategy, review some training presentations I have to make for an engagement in Colorado, and to write something altogether different for this article. But last Wednesday, a single event altered all of my intentions, and today, by the time many of you have read this article, I will have attended the funeral of a young child from our congregation who died last week. It was a very sad and tragic event that not only adjusted my intentions, but it has irrevocably changed a family, our congregation and our community for the foreseeable future.

In the midst of this sadness, there is an irony in this that has floored me all week. As a Church, we began the year running under this banner: “Change Starts Here.” We embraced an idea that the Lord had provided our church with a special moment of grace to change our lives this year, and the prospect of that was very exciting. We preached messages that gave people tips on how to turn their “New Year’s Resolutions” into reality. We offered practical tools in our bible studies to help people implement practical change in their lives. We submitted to this vision, and empowered people to do what every good Christian should do: make their lives different and different for the better. However, the events of the past week have reminded me that no matter how much we study or preach or pray, changing our lives is not always something under our control.

In speaking on death, Paul uses a phrase in I Cor. 15:51 that strikes a cord for me…he says “Behold I show you a mystery…we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed”. Context aside, that phrase, “be changed” sticks out for me…because again, it helps me remember a truth that we often ignore: change happens through us, but it also happens TO US. To be changed means that change is a force that operates independent of our desires, our will, and our intentions. While change is something important for us all to pursue, it is important for us to realize that change is not a product that sits silently on a shelf, in a can until we open it. It is not an inanimate object that will stay in the garage until your spring cleaning. Change is a force that often has a mind of its own. And as I have participated with our pastoral team in grieving with and comforting this family who has tragically lost a beloved child, change has clarified its identity to me in the following ways:

Change doesn’t ask permission. Often, change comes not only uninvited, but against our desire. When this child died, we were instantly confronted again with the reality that God is Sovereign—a proposition that always seems to work for us when His sovereignty makes room for our desires—and that He had allowed this change to occur. This change didn’t ask us if we wanted it, if we were ready, or if there was a different way we’d prefer it come to us. You see, we tend to treat change as if it flows from a faucet, creating the illusion that we can turn it on or off at our whim. But change really flows like rain does from the clouds. You can see signs in the sky, but when you feel the first drop, you know that the rain is coming, whether you’re ready or not.  And when change doesn’t do what we want change to do, we get offended—because we like to operate under the illusion that we’re in control. But we’re not. And change knows it. Change gets its marching orders from God’s throne, and because of this, it has a rather peculiar sense of self determination in that way. Sometimes, God invites us to consider how to change our lives, giving us the opportunity to make decisions and take action that create change. Other times (most times, actually), we must discern what change is doing in our lives, and trust the orders—in that they come from a sovereign God—and surrender to the change.

Change is neutral. We have a tendency to think of change in two ways: good change, or bad change. For example, birth usually is thought of as good change, while death usually means bad change. But the older I get, the more I learn that most change itself is really neither good or bad. It all depends upon our perspective. As followers of Christ, knowing what we know about this young man’s testimony, our Church is firmly persuaded to believe that this child is now living in eternity with Jesus. Now, the thought of eternity with Jesus is great, but the idea of getting there, especially for someone so young, can be extremely sad. It is very easy to dwell in the sadness of what happened, but as I sat with the mother the other day, a woman of incredible faith, I was humbled and amazed to see her smiling, laughing, and worshiping God as we planned the "home-going celebration". Not because she is in denial, but because her perspective in all of this has been shaped and reset by what Aeschylus referred to as “the awful grace of God.” Despite the understandable and appropriate reality of her pain, she has allowed her faith to place her heart in the hands of God, and it has given her the grace to have an unusual perspective in this challenging moment. This woman’s faith has inspired me, and helped me to see that we don’t have to fight any kind of change, but rather, develop a higher perspective on change as it happens to us.

Change changes us. As we continue living under fallacy that we have total authority over change in our lives, we tend to embrace the more superficial expressions of change. What I mean by that, for example, is when we end an unhealthy relationship, rather than deal with the intensity of our emotions, and really assess what behaviors created the dysfunctions in the relationship, what do we do? We get a new hairdo. We change the way we dress. We take a trip. We move. We make changes to the veneer of our lives, but not to our actual identity. But sometimes, change hits us so hard that it forces us to peel off the mask, and deal with our truest selves. I believe that God allows change to wreak certain havoc in our lives, especially havoc we DON’T like, because He knows that sometimes, this is the only way we will become more of the person He has created us to be.

The night that this child went home to Jesus, I left the hospital fuming angry with God—and this heartless, devastating change that He had allowed into this family’s life. I remember saying something to the effect of, “How could you let this  happen? What purpose could this possibly serve?” Like a whisper, the Lord immediately responded to me by saying. “You may not like the test you’re taking, but it is consistent with the class you’re in.” And as I’ve reflected on that statement the past few days, I have realized that the most unwelcome moments of change in my life has also been the most defining moments of my character, the deepest moments of my faith, the moments that sharpened my walk in holiness, the moments that endowed me with invaluable wisdom. I realized that sometimes, God allows the worst change around us to bring about the best change in us. I’ve thought about how close this death hit to me, closer than any other member deaths I’d experienced as a Pastor, and how ignorant I was to truly knowing the sadness a family feels in such a moment, and the demand placed on a shepherd to continue to remind them of God and His unfailing love even in moments when we don’t understand. Though I don’t understand it, don’t agree with it and don’t like it, I cannot help but see how God is using it to shape me into the person He told me I must be.  

Today, we will acknowledge the sovereignty of our Almighty God, rest in His comfort, and celebrate the life of this fun, loving, brilliant kid. Tomorrow and thereafter, I will likely join others on a journey through many different lands of thought and emotion over recent events, but I choose to surrender again to that journey with peace and a fresh respect for the power change has been given to shape our lives.