I've decided life is really about sifting.
Perhaps I should clarify. In 2013 in the United States, I would venture to guess that most households do not own a sifter and most youngsters today have likely never even seen one. There are many different types of sifters for many different purposes, but the one I'm most familiar with is a flour sifter. Hang with me here... I think it will be worth it in the end... Kitchensavvy.com tells us that, "In earlier days, sifting flour served several purposes. When flour was milled using stone wheels, as opposed to modern steel rollers, sifting removed bits of the millstone and other impurities that might be found in the flour. Sifting also breaks up clumps, adds air to the flour which helps produce lighter cakes and pastries, and makes measurement more uniform."So why do I think life is really all about sifting? Well, I've seen people who've been through horrible, nightmarish things in life who still live healthy, happy, fulfilled, purposeful lives and I've seen others who've been completely sidelined by the most minor offense.
The bottom line is that what we hold onto and what we let slip away, for better or for worse, really does define our human experience.
So how do we sift what life hands us? We can't hold onto everything we experience in life, so how do we decide what to hold onto and what to release? Here are two questions to ask about the stuff in our lives we are holding onto to determine whether it should survive a good sifting:1. Is it pure?
In the description of the flour sifter, we learned that one reason for sifting is to remove impurities. Is what you are holding onto pure? Is it True? Is it producing purity and truth in you?
If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go. 2. Is it adding lasting value?
A flour sifter incorporates air into the flour which makes the resulting baked goods light and fluffy. Is what you are holding onto adding value to your life that will produce something even better in the long run?
If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go.
So, what sorts of things need to be sifted...
- memories (more specifically, the way we interpret memories)
- relationships (careful here, grace is always the first resort)
- recurring thoughts
- possessions (or our attachment to them)
If the flour sifter example is any indicator, things get clumpy the longer they sit. Why not run the stagnant, clumpy parts of your life through the sifter and see what happens...
chances are there are some things that you've held on to that need to be broken up (reevaluated), filled with air (reinvigorated or reframed), and thoroughly filtered (keeping the good and releasing the impure and untruthful).Hosea 10:12
"Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you." ESV
The video below is a PERFECT example of a life that has been well sifted.
This is Luke McMaster. He is a multiplatinum song-writer who recently launched a solo career with a billboard hit song - "Good Morning Beautiful." About a month ago, just before Christmas, a friend of mine from childhood was facing a heart surgery for her 3 year old daughter, Elouise. Prior to her surgery, Elouise's grandma introduced her to "Good Morning Beautiful" and it became her favorite song. They tweeted Luke McMaster (a stranger to them) a picture of Elouise listening to the song before going into surgery. He promised to record a special version just for her.
The thing is, he actually did it.
He chose to be delightful.
He didn't have to. Elouise came through her surgery beautifully and would have lived a happy life without a personalized version of a billboard hit song. But he did it anyway. This isn't the first story or video to inspire this kind of attitude that I've come across lately: Jon Acuff wrote this blog post called Choose To Be Delightful
about his experience at Trader Joe's, and if you haven't been watching the Kid President videos
... well then you are missing out big time!
I guess the theme is, Why NOT be delightful?! It only takes a few extra moments of your time and makes a HUGE difference in the world around you.
P.S. You can get Luke McMaster's debut album, "All Roads," on iTunes or Amazon. (not a paid endorsement, I just think it is great to support artists who take the time to be delightful
Yesterday my son went with his youth group to volunteer with Target:Dayton
. They served a meal to the people who came in need of one. Some were homeless, others barely getting by. Timmy was in charge of the coffee.
As we drove home, after the bus dropped him back off at our local church, I asked him about his experience. These are the 3 simple things he shared with me and the profound lessons I learned from him:1. Tim's quote:
"Not everyone there "looked" homeless
." Mom's lesson:
Not everyone I meet today who could use my help or encouragement will "look" like they need it. That doesn't mean I should withhold it. Target:Dayton provides their services indiscriminately and lets each individual decide whether or not they need them and want to receive them. I should be so generous with my time, resources and attention.2. Tim's quote:
"I didn't know there were so many people in Dayton that were homeless. There were so many of them
." Mom's lesson
: The need in the world is greater than I realize or have ever actually seen with my own eyes. If I saw it all at once, it would likely overwhelm me and paralyze me. The need is great. I would be wise not to forget that.3. Tim's quote:
"There was a lady who worked there who came up to me and told me I was doing a good job
." Mom's lesson:
It helps to know when we are on the right track. Serving others isn't easy and when I see someone doing it well, I should tell them so. We all secretly wonder whether what we are doing is making a difference and whether we are "doing it right." Words of encouragement are precious gifts that keep the givers giving.One bonus lesson I learned:
The first time our children (or any one else for that matter) experience something, we need to pay attention to their reactions and descriptions. When we have "been there and done that
," we forget the power of a first experience and the unique perspective that comes with it.
This weekend, some friends took Tim and I to the Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival
. It wasn't my first time hearing bluegrass music, but it was my first time at a bluegrass FESTIVAL. As I sip my coffee this morning and think back on the experience, I can't help but think the church (global and local) could learn a lot from the bluegrass music culture. CHURCH, Listen up!
- People really cared about each other and they showed it. This festival is an annual event. During the course of the concerts this weekend, people who were not in attendance for various reasons were appropriately acknowledged. It was evident that while the music is what initially draws people to the festival, the friendships and family-feel is what keeps people coming back year after year. Examples: One lady who ran a booth each year was unable to attend this year because of health problems. The festival organizers left several sheets of stationery in the vendor room for people who would notice she was missing to write her encouraging messages and let her know she was missed. One of the performers lost his mother to cancer a few weeks before the festival. A last minute raffle was organized and people donated to breast cancer research (raising over $2,500) in her memory at the event. Local church - how can you show people in your congregation that they matter? That their losses matter to you? That their presence and involvement matters to you?
- Young people were celebrated and involved in every part of the event. Young people, ages 11 and up, were prominently featured at the festival. Some were musicians who played on the big stage right alongside those who had been playing for decades, honing their raw talent. Others were working at the vendor booths, working back stage, or helping check in the musicians' instruments between sets. The bluegrass culture quite naturally celebrates senior adults, but they go out of their way to honor young people and to involve them and embrace them. Local church, young people are the future of your congregation. How can you embrace their talents, energy and perspective? How can you bring them along and include them in every area of ministry?
- The music was equal parts serious, fun, and inspiring. When people think of bluegrass music, most will think of Dueling Banjos or something upbeat and knee-slapping from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. That kind of music is a part of bluegrass but it isn't everything. Bluegrass music can be soulful, serious, reflective, and even silly and down-right funny sometimes. It pays homage to EVERY human emotion, not just the ones people deem pleasant. While you might go to a concert to hear Dueling Banjos, you may very well leave thinking about something that you never even realized was a part of the bluegrass scene. Local church, Don't be a one trick pony. God created individuals to be creative, unique, and infinitely variable. When the church reflects that reality it brings more glory to God, not less. Our music, teaching, events, programs, prayers, outreach and ceremonies can and should have variety and at times should be unexpected.
- There is no competition in bluegrass. If you have attended a concert, but not a festival, you might be under the impression that it is each musician/band out for themselves. When you sit through a day or two of music with multiple bands present however, you quickly find that they all know each other and they are all very much family. Their goal is a common one - to play great music and to see bluegrass music enjoyed and carried on as a genre. It is very common during a band's performance for them to bring up other artists to the stage for a comedy routine or a special song that they will collaborate on. As the festival goes on this happens more and more frequently and at the end a finale might include 4, 5, or 6 different groups all playing together simply for the joy of the music that they share. Local Church, you are not in competition with other denominations or the church down the street. Embrace your commonalities for the good of your people and for the good of the cause of Christ. Celebrate each other. Work together whenever possible.
- Bluegrass music is not about perfection. There were several points during the festival when mistakes were made by the singers and musicians. They were obvious at times and more subtle at others. One particular moment occurred when the host of the festival couldn't seem to find the right note to start an a capella song with his band. He didn't try to act like it wasn't happening. He made us all comfortable with his struggle by acknowledging it, humorously even. We were drawn to him and rooting for him. Someone brought him a bottle of water and the show went on and the song was great! It didn't take away from the festival one bit... in fact, that moment enriched the festival! People were reminded that the players on stage were just as human as they could be and that they were up there to be a blessing and to bring joy, not to be superhuman and without imperfection. Local Church, do not fear imperfection. The more you cling to perfection and demand it, the more you set people up to feel distanced from what is going on within your four walls rather than drawn to it.
I hope everyone reading this gets a chance to go to a bluegrass music festival at some point, but more than that I hope that you get yourselves involved in a local church and be people who make the church more joy-filled and effective in its work. Romans 12:3-5
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
This is a genuine Guess watch. Well, most of one anyway. Are you impressed?
When I was in junior high school, Guess jeans were all the rage. They were also very expensive. I longed for a pair of Guess jeans with all the longing a pre-teen girl can long with (and that's a lot of longing). If only I could have even one pair of Guess jeans with the upside down triangle on the back pocket, I knew that I would have arrived.
There were times during those years of desperation when I actually had enough cash in my pocket to buy a pair of Guess jeans, but I was raised frugally, and I just couldn't bring myself to spend that much money on a pair of pants, even though I longed for them! I knew I could buy an entire outfit for the cost of one pair of those jeans, maybe even two outfits if I caught a good sale, and that knowledge kept me from fulfilling my longing. I knew the price was impractical, even if the pants were appealing.
Instead, I settled for a Guess watch - the cheapest one I could find that still had the logo prominently displayed. I cherished that watch. I wore it so much that the band eventually broke. I wore it anyway. I clung to this one item in my collection of clothing/accessories that at least resembled something that my peers had deemed valuable. As I was going through boxes and trunks of old mementos trying to prepare for another move, I smiled when i came across this watch. Then I asked myself WHY had I kept this broken watch for so many years? Through so many moves (California, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio)?
I think it is because I was so proud of my little 11/12 year old self! Looking at that watch made me remember a little girl who had enough resolve to have restraint, enough conviction to satisfy a craving with a "taste" of something rather than a feast, enough sense to choose to be satisfied. With a few more years under my belt now, and a great deal more perspective, I can look back at those pre-teen years and realize that if I had owned a pair of Guess jeans, it wouldn't have improved my social standing one little bit. It might have made me feel differently about myself for a little while, but not very long. Something else would have come along that I "had to have," and the cycle would begin all over again.
At some point growing up I had known my parents' favor when I exhibited financial discernment, and it kept me from walking down a path in junior high and high school where fitting in would become increasingly more demanding and expensive. Today, my husband and I (by God's grace) are debt-free. What a life-long blessing reaped from an early lesson learned! Now I long to be faithful to pass on similar lessons and point out the inner beauty and potential in the young people I cross paths with.
Looking back at that watch makes me want to be more intentional about praising the young people in my life for the intangible things that make up their character. It is so easy to give compliments on the external things (beauty, style, athletic ability, talent, performance), but it takes more careful attention and care to compliment young adults on the inner strengths they possess; the intangibles that can help prevent externals from becoming all-important. Traits like kindness, spiritual insight, joy, compassion, frugality, generosity, and patience.
Some suggestions for focusing deeper in our compliments:
Instead of "Good game!" - "You are a great team player! I love how aware you were of your teammates and their strengths." or "You exhibited a lot of patience in that game. It was a long one and you never gave up or gave into frustration." or maybe "I can tell that you are a great leader on your team. The other players really seem to respect you as a teammate and I enjoyed watching you in action."
Instead of "You are so talented!" - "I could see the joy you have shine through while you were playing (singing, etc.). It made me enjoy the music even more." or "I know it must take a lot of practice and hard work to prepare for a performance like that. Keep up the good work, your discipline is paying off!"
Instead of "You are so nice." or "What a sweetheart you are!" - maybe we could be more specific like, "You just went out of your way to help me with that and you didn't have to. Your kindness is a blessing!" or "I have noticed that you are always looking out for others. I know it isn't always easy to be compassionate, but I know that God will use that kind of an attitude to bless many. Keep it up!"
What are your ideas? What inner strength were you encouraged to embrace as a young adult that has paid off later in life? Can you still remember a particular phrase or person that helped keep you from focusing on the wrong things?
Our church has a group that meets regularly called Women's Missionary Fellowship. This week, I was privileged to attend and hear from Rachel Chambers who is preparing to return with her husband to Zambia and the work and people she loves and is called to.
Rachel shared from her heart, comparing our training in righteousness as Christians to an Olympic athlete's training to win the gold medal. Here are the four qualities she described as being needed by both in order to train well:1. Discipline (2 Timothy 2:3-5, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)2. Courage (Matthew 25:14-28)3. An Unwillingness to Quit (Hebrews 12:1-3)4. Clarity (Philippians 3:13-14)
Our prize is not a gold medal, nor is our training about beating the competition like the Olympian's is, (Rachel was quick to point this out) but the qualities needed are very similar:Discipline to reject that which weighs us down, misdirects us, derails us, and in any way keeps us from doing what it takes to continue becoming all that God has intended us to be.
Courage to take risks as needed, in faith.Unwillingness to quit when things are hard, uncomfortable, painful, or difficult to understand, maintaining long-haul commitment through it all, problem-solving and trusting instead of throwing in the towel.
Clarity of purpose. A clear view of the reason we are training in the first place. The glory that is to come - HIS.
True victory, as a Christian, is about standing before Christ one day, hearing "Well done," and receiving a reward (Crowns/Jewels) that we can turn around and lay at his feet, getting the greatest joy from finally having something of worth to give back to Him to honor Him for all that He is, and all that He has done.
Thank you, Rachel! *If you want to read more about Rachel's story and be inspired by all God has taught this dear sister, you can get her book, The Summons To Become through Amazon at this link.
We are up to our ears with packing tape, boxes, bubble wrap and sharpie markers at the moment. As we prepare to move to Ohio in 5 days, our house looks the part. Today as I was packing up my kitchen, I gave myself some excellent advice... I'm not the only one who does that right? Internal monologues are kind of a specialty of mine.
Any way, as I was individually wrapping and packing up several glass vases, I thought to myself, "I should label this box as one not to unpack." You see, we are hoping to eventually buy a house in our new city, which would mean we will eventually have to pack everything back up again from the rental home we are moving into and move it all. Again. So as I was packing up all of my vases, I had this "genius" thought that I'd save myself the trouble of unpacking and repacking that particular box. Vases, I thought, are non-essential items. If we just unpack the essentials, there will be less to repack when we do buy a house. Pretty smart, I know.
Here's the deal though. My internal monologue turned into an internal dialogue and another voice rose up inside me to fight back against the pragmatist. This voice said, "Don't you dare leave those vases packed! Why in the world would your husband bring you flowers if you don't have anything to put them in?! Don't you want flowers?!" Oh, I do! I do want flowers! Fresh flowers are something I've had far too few of in my home over the years.
That thought led me to another simple and obvious thought - How many times do I miss out on blessings in my life because I don't want to put in a little extra effort? Unpacking and repacking the box of vases and finding somewhere to put them in the rental house will take a few minutes of time and energy, but seeing fresh flowers on my kitchen table over the next year will bring many days worth of pleasure.
As I pondered that, another less simple, and less obvious thought dawned on me. How many blessings has God been prepared to give me, that I have inadvertently failed to receive because I had safely packed away the very vessel I would need to hold them? How many friendships has He been willing to prosper in my life that I refused to pursue because I kept my time safely packed away? How many times has He been willing to bless my generosity only to have me keep my money safely packed away when I could have given it freely? How many times has He had a Word to speak into my heart and mind that would have brought encouragement and growth, but I kept my Bible safely packed away on a shelf?
You better believe that when we start unpacking boxes at our new home in Ohio in a few days, I'm going to unpack those vases! More than that though, I pray that God will help me to remember that He has a plan to bring beautiful things into my life as well as my home, and that I need to be ready to receive those as well.
Don't leave your vases packed! Lesson learned.
The next two weeks will be filled with goodbyes for our family. As our move date rapidly approaches, each time we see someone now, we aren't sure whether we will see them again before we move, so we end up taking a bit more time and a bit more care when we say each goodbye. The students at Lock Haven University have a special place in our hearts. I first opened my own heart wide to them all when I arrived in Lock Haven several weeks before the rest of the family in 2009. I remember attending the first New Life Student Fellowship meeting of the school year and introducing myself as the wife of their soon-to-be Campus Minister. I remember telling this group of strangers to feel free to call me or Facebook or just stop by the house I was staying at any time. I invited the girls to come over for dinner one night and told them to be sure to RSVP so I'd know how many to cook for. Their unique way of responding is now a cherished memory documented in the picture below. To say I loved it would be the understatement of the century. I loved that I had opened my heart to them and they responded by showing me that they were so grateful that I had.
Whenever we open our hearts to others, we take a risk. We risk rejection. We risk being hurt. We risk learning things about ourselves or them that we didn't want to learn. Certainly, there are those who we initially open our hearts to that end up becoming people that we need to be careful with. Jim Cymbala, Pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, says it this way in his book, Fresh Faith:
"Don't you know how to say no? This is not your house! You don't have the right to let in everyone/thing that wants to enter."
Pastor Cymbala is refering to the fact that, as believers, our hearts are God's dwelling place, and that when He takes up residence, He also takes up ownership. We don't get to choose who we let in and who we keep out any more. He decides. "You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price..." 1 Corinthians 6:20 NLT. Sometimes we agree with Him. Other times we don't. The result should be the same: obedience. We can't keep people at arms-length any more just because they are different or difficult. Nor can we continue to allow others to remain close to us and sin in the way they treat us or interact with us (emotional/verbal/physical abuse, causing us to stumble,) without speaking up. We have to love them enough to set up boundaries that keep them at an appropriate distance to encourage their healing and repentance and not enable their sinful tendencies in our relationship.
Many more times, however, we will open our hearts and be rewarded as a result. Sometimes through finding a kindred spirit, other times by learning lessons we needed at just the time we needed them. Sometimes by finding a catalyst for our own maturity, other times by being able to help another along on his/her journey. We have found all of these things in our relationships with students and friends here in Lock Haven. As we prepare to move, we will once again, open our hearts wide to the people in our new church and city, and wait expectantly to see how God asks us to respond to each and every one.
Until then, we will spend the next two weeks, reassuring those who have a special place in our hearts just how precious they are to us and how very privileged we have been to walk with them these few years. We don't regret opening our hearts to any of you one bit!
Happy Independence Day! We Ritzes are getting ready to do what many other Americans are anticipating today as well - spending time with friends, enjoying hamburgers and hot dogs from the grill, making homemade ice cream, playing games, relaxing and hopefully taking in some fireworks later this evening. This morning as I think about what this day means to our country, I am also pausing to think about the the idea of independence, and how truly illusive it is.
It seems that, as individuals, just as we declare our independence from one person, idea, season of life, pattern of behavior, or situation - another area of dependence is revealed. We cannot escape it. Our country has not been able to escape it either. Dependency is a lifelong lesson-learning opportunity. Figuring out what we are dependent on, deciding if it is a healthy dependency, and if the extent of the dependency is appropriate and then adjusting relationships and behaviors as needed to bring balance. We do this over and over and over again throughout our lifetime.
We seek this balance in each of our relationships, in our work life, in our financial planning, in our decision making, and in our spiritual life. When we become overly dependent or overly independent in any area, things start to breakdown and we begin to suffer and, as much as we don't want to admit it, those closest to us suffer as well.
I once heard this quote: "The only entity that can completely control your life without ultimately destroying it is God." He is the only One we can ultimately be wholly and completely dependent on without negative consequences. Jesus himself said in John 15:5 NIV, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me, you can do nothing." YOU CAN DO NOTHING apart from Him. If that isn't a call to acknowledging complete dependency on God and God alone, then I don't know what is. When anything else in our lives, other than God, demands this kind of dependency we get very uncomfortable very quickly, and if/when we become this dependent on anything other than God things fall apart just as quickly.
On this Independence Day, as we celebrate the blessings of life and freedom in the United States, let us also consider the reality of our own dependency on God and ask ourselves a few penetrating questions to see if we are experiencing the most life and freedom in Christ possible:
1. What one thing or person in my life do I feel like I truly cannot live without? Why? Do I really have any control over whether or not this thing/person remains in my life?
2. What good thing am I doing in my life right now that I would likely stop doing if I didn't have the support I currently have? How did I become dependent on this support in order to do the right thing?
3. Who am I allowing to depend on me inappropriately and how? Why have I allowed this? How can I stop this for that person's benefit?
4. How am I demonstrating the reality of my dependency on God on a daily basis? Can any one else in my life tell that I acknowledge this dependence? What is one change I can make today to release my dependency on people/things and embrace my dependency on God?
I am currently reading the autobiography of Helen Keller. I am barely 100 pages in and I have already become enthralled with the world and life of this remarkable woman who lost both her hearing and sight at the age of 18 months (due to illness).
Before language had been fully developed in her mind, she was thrust into a world where her only means of interpreting the stuff of life would be her sense of touch, taste, smell and imagination. She couldn't see the love in her parents eyes or hear their words of affection. Their identity in her life became an amalgam of how they smelled, what they did for her and exposed her to, and how they touched her. She had no way of expressing her needs and wants other than crude pantomime, and she had no way of contemplating anything that wasn't concretely observable through her remaining senses. Talk about a dark existence.
Enter Ann Sullivan, the woman Helen would come to affectionately call "Teacher." When Ann first met Helen (almost age 7), she brought her a doll as a gift. In the days ahead as Ann tried to break through the darkness in Helen's mind by teaching her language by spelling out words in her hand using the manual alphabet, Helen would, understandably, become frustrated and angry. In one moment of particular frustration, she took out her aggression on the doll: "I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment of tenderness.”
On that same day as God would have it, Helen had a breakthrough. Ann took her outside to the well on her family's property and poured the cool well water over her cupped hands and then spelled the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm. "Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”
While this story in and of itself is truly amazing and wonderful, it is what happened next in Helen's account that captured my attention even more. When they came back to the house after her encounter with w-a-t-e-r, this is what she recounts: "On entering the door, I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears, for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”
How remarkable this is to me! It wasn't until the light shined into Helen's dark world through the gift of language that she was able to step outside of her own self-centered existence to grieve over the ramifications of her actions. The doll immediately became, not just "one more thing in a dark world to be touched and examined," but rather "a gift" from someone who cared enough about her to work with her through her frustrations to help her get to a place where the light could shine.
Perspective is a gift. How many things in our lives do we (literally, or figuratively with our words) "dash upon the floor" in frustration all because we lack the perspective?
This is how Helen describes the end of that blessed day in her book: "It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my bed at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”
Perspective. Light. Grace. Living Water. The Word. These are the things that brought Helen Keller out of darkness, out of that unfeeling place and into a state of mind that could make a blind and deaf child joyful and thoroughly excited about the days ahead. Because of the love of God, the best teacher of all, these things still have this power and always will.
The words of Jesus from John 7:38, "He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" NASB