I Corinthians 14:8 (NIV) says, "If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?" I guess somebody has to do it! BRING ON THE BAND YEARS!!!!!!!!!
When you are facing a particularly difficult challenge, the kind where you are seriously having to grit your teeth and make yourself get out of bed and face things head on, regardless of your instinct to do the opposite, wouldn't it be nice to know that if you did indeed make it through with your head held high that you would get some sort of "get out of trials free card?" That is what I was thinking as I watched an episode of Project Runway the other day. As the fashion designers were receiving the verdict on their designs for the week, one contestant was told by Heidi Klum, in her fabulous accent, "Since you won the last challenge, you cannot be eliminated this week."
How fabulous is that??? It didn't matter how badly the designer botched the assignment this week, she could coast through based on a great performance the previous week. Think about that...the previous challenge winner could completely screw it up! She could send a model down the runway without a stitch of clothing on her, and still be just as safe as the contestant who designed red carpet worthy haute couture.
Ugh how I wish this were true in real life sometimes. The truth is that handling one trial well, doesn't exempt us from the next trial coming down the pike... it just gives us the confidence that if we did it once, we can do it again... scratch that... if HE carried us through it once, He can do it again!
I was trying to explain this difficult concept to our son today. As our family faces a trial, I was praising him for how he had handled everything that life had thrown at him up until this point, but I also told him that no one can ride in to tomorrow on yesterday's graces. We have to choose to accept God's grace daily and never give into the temptation to say, "Okay, that's enough. I've suffered quite enough, thank you very much. I've handled previous challenges with dignity, but I'm done now. This has gone too far." If we do that, the previous challenges didn't actually have the needed affect. They actually built our confidence in ourselves instead of building our confidence in God, and we set ourselves up to fail big time. Choosing to meet the trial of today with a faith that I don't necessarily "feel" is a testimony that I believe my God is bigger than my trial. And that kind of faith is worth more than a "get out of trial free card" any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Yesterday I took a hike with my husband at Glen Helen Nature Preserve. It was a beautiful day for a hike. The rocks, trees, the birds and the breeze: just what we needed.
At one point we walked across a bridge and paused in the middle to look over the stream beneath. The first thing I noticed was a large fish swimming just below the bridge. I pointed it out to Jason, who quickly pointed out FIVE OTHERS. It is unique to see one large fish, but to see six so close together was unusual. The next thing Jason observed was how very low the water was in the stream. He was right. The large fish barely had a couple of inches of water above and beneath them. I looked upstream and downstream and quickly realized that these fish may have become trapped in this area by the bridge. It seemed that this was the deepest area of water and that if the fish swam any farther up or down stream the water would run too shallow to sustain them.
So their beautiful stream where they were able to travel and do what fish do, had become a very small pond. They were now dependent on what would be brought into their pond for sustenance.
Have you ever had a season of your life like that? You were going along just fine, moving with the flow, enjoying the ride and the freedom and joy of life, only to find yourself stuck, dependent and uncertain of the future? I have. Oh boy, have I.
One of the things that struck me most about the scene that Jason and I happened upon was that these fish could have been trapped anywhere, but they were trapped at the base of a bridge. A bridge that is traversed by many hikers every day. Hikers that often have snacks and sandwiches in their backpacks. Of all the places for these fish to become stuck - God ordained it for them to be right where they needed to be to be well fed by passersby until the rains came to release them for the rest of their journey. Next time you find yourself S.T.U.C.K., look around you. Your rescue may not be imminent, but, by God's grace, your source of sustenance will not be far away. These were wild fish, not accustomed to being fed by humans, but do you think they can learn to accept food from a different source for a season? You better believe it! Your hope may not come from a source you expected to receive it from during your time of struggle, but it will come. Will you accept it and wait for the rain?
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?
"Some of us have turned over more new leaves than Central Park! David called on God instead, to create something entirely new within him." - Fresh Faith, by Jim Cymbala
The beginning of a new school year feels a lot like January 1st to me. The calendar year may not roll over and the ball in Times Square may not drop, but there is definitely a sense of freshness and new possibilities. I remember, as a college student, setting goals for the school year that mainly involved dropping the bad habits I'd picked up in the previous semester... I committed to more studying, more time in the Bible, more phone calls home, less skipping classes, less Ben & Jerry's, and less procrastination. Somehow, just like New Year's resolutions, those commitments didn't last long.
I love this quote from Jim Cymbala in his book, Fresh Faith. It is a great reminder that God is willing and able to recreate us, not just repackage us. So, my prayer for all of us, especially those returning to school in the days ahead is the same as David's "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10 NIV.
Here's to a great school year marked by the kind of changes that only God can create!
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.
I read a blog post this week written by a home-schooling mother of 12 children who admits she is still learning how to play with her kids. Parenting children is so multi-faceted, that no one has it all together... NO ONE. We all lack in one area or another... teaching, patience, playfulness, discipline, conversation, spiritual training, consistency, just as soon as we have it together in one area, we are made aware of our deficiency in another. Maybe this is why so many people who stop going to church in their early 20's end up returning to church after they have kids! We all need HELP!
Today we had some kids Timmy's age over for the afternoon to play games and make cookies. There are some days when that would sound like pure torture to me, then there are days like today, when nothing could have pleased me more. The hitch is that, whether I feel like it or not, these are the sorts of things that my son needs to have as part of his life just to help him BE A KID and ENJOY BEING A KID!
It is so easy for me to just expect Timmy to act like an adult. He's outnumbered in our house, after all. But when I really think about it, he has the rest of his life to be an adult and to carry that kind of responsibility around with him, so just like it is up to me to make sure he is ready for adulthood, it is also up to me to make sure he doesn't miss out on a CHILDhood. Here are some of the things that I have found that have helped Timmy find his giggle:
1. Baking/Cooking Together. Not the kind where I am the taskmaster and he is my hopeless assistant, but the kind where I let my high-and-lofty standards down and just enjoy being together and creating something yummy. Today we baked cookies. The measurements were not as precise as I would have liked. Guess what... the cookies still tasted great.
2. Watching Cartoons Together. This is a weekly thing that Tim does with his Dad. They sit down for half an hour to an hour one day a week and catch up on a cartoon that Tim loves. They laugh out loud together and that is a good thing. It isn't the same when he watches it alone.
3. Occasionally Embracing Weird Sounds. There is a reason that stores sell whoopie cushions! Some noises are just plain funny. While making those sounds at the dinner table is discouraged, there are certain times when we just relax enough to admit that armpit flatulence and other weird sounds are not just permitted, they should be embraced...loudly.
4. Say Goofy Things. When you say something (intentionally or not) that strikes a child's funny bone and makes them giggle - give in to it and go with it! Today, Timmy said he was "dumb" while we were baking because he didn't know how to open the salt container. I told him that he wasn't dumb, he was "uninformed." This sparked a 5 minute giggle fest where the kids took turns and acted out the difference between dumb and uninformed.
5. Camp-Outs Are a Must. I am not an outdoorsy girl, but there are things that happen on camp-outs, even the backyard variety, that won't happen anywhere else. You just gotta do it at least once! Preferably more.
6. Getting Dirty is A-Okay. Every kid should have certain clothes and shoes that are designated for getting dirty and it should be 100% okay for them to end up that way. As adults, getting dirty tends to involve work - gardening, cleaning, working on a vehicle, etc. For kids, getting dirty should be fun! Dirt piles, mud puddles, dusty baseball diamonds, grassy hills to roll down, this is where the fun happens.
7. Getting Wet Doesn't Always Require a Swim Suit. If you find yourself at a creek, near sprinklers, somewhere with water guns, etc. with a child, with more than 15minutes to spare - let the kid get wet! Clothes dry, but moments pass all too quickly.
8. Learn About What They Are Interested In. Kids fixate on things... Pokemon, Dinosaurs, Horses, Cars, Paper Airplanes, Jumping Rope, you name it, a kid has fixated on it at some point. Join them in their interest! Show them that if it is important enough to capture their attention then it is important enough to capture yours, even if it is silly and not-very-adult-like.
9. Arrange Times for Them to Be With Friends. Preferably for extended periods of time when possible - sleepovers, summer camp, things like that.
10. Play Board Games Together. If you don't have any, come borrow some from us! Board games involve an extended period of time of sitting around a table or on the living room floor, just being together, face-to-face, with the only goal being to have a good time and laugh with each other.
As I write this, I am reminded of so many children who grew up or are growing up far too quickly because of the bad decisions of those who were supposed to care for them, or because of a tragedy of some sort. Maybe you are one of them. We can't change the past, but we can do simple things today with the kids that God puts into our lives (related to us or not) to make sure that childhood is not lost.
What are your ideas?
Arguments happen. Sometimes they NEED to happen. Sometimes the resolution to a short-term or an ongoing problem will not come WITHOUT a healthy argument. I know, I know, all you anti-conflict people out there are not liking where this is going one little bit. I know because I am one of you. If there is a way to avoid a conflict, I typically find it and take it. Conflict is uncomfortable and sometimes scary, for one reason and one reason only - we don't know how it will end.
There are times, however, when "the known" becomes unacceptable and we must step foot into conflict, hoping that the unknown will eventually be better. Since conflict is inevitable, how do we walk into it with a mind-set that will have the best chance of making the most of the disagreement and help us reach common ground with the fewest battle wounds possible?
1. Guard your words as if you were guarding Fort Knox. Don't exaggerate! Don't think of the next thing you are going to say while the other person is speaking. Don't let your emotions surrounding the issue allow you to say hurtful or untrue things. James 1:26 NIV says, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." Words matter. Keep in mind that what you say and how you say it are the only things you have control over in an argument.
2. Expect the best possible outcome, but be at peace with the worst case scenario. Don't go into a disagreement expecting it to end badly. Many times, conflict HAS TO HAPPEN in order for things to change and move in a better direction, so we shouldn't fear it. Instead, we should pray for the ability to see how it could be used for good. At the same time, we have to make peace with the fact that: A. We cannot control the reactions of others, and B. We cannot control the amount of time it will take others to process what we have to say (aka: the disagreement may not be resolved in 5 minutes flat). With that in mind, we also need to pray for the ability to identify the worst case scenario accurately and have peace with it. Peace and happiness aren't the same thing. Isaiah 26:3 NIV says, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you." Happiness isn't always possible. Peace is.
3. Spend plenty of time searching your own heart and clearing your own conscience before and DURING your argument. I don't know who is reading this, but my guess is, You Ain't Perfect! Listen to what the other person is saying and take responsibility for the results of your own words, attitude and actions, even if you didn't intend for hurtful results. Your apology and admission of imperfection goes a long way toward leveling the playing field and helping bring about reconciliation and change. Don't let pride get in the way. Matthew 7:5 NIV puts it pretty bluntly: "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
4. Keep the purpose of the argument in mind. Don't get distracted by the argument itself. How many times have you started out arguing with someone about one thing and then ended up arguing about something else entirely before all was said and done? This is foolish! Don't let emotions or side comments derail you. Keep the goal of reconciliation and positive change in mind and flatly refuse to follow any rabbit trail that leads away from that or complicates matters. State the purpose of the conversation frequently, clearly and without holier-than-thou overtones to make sure that the person you are in disagreement with understands that you aren't just picking a fight... you WANT resolution.
5. Keep your heart soft toward the other person. At the end of the day, you are no better or worse than he or she is. You may be right, but it doesn't make you better. Don't mentally turn the other person into something in your mind that is beyond redemption or repair. There will come a day when you will be entirely in the wrong, and completely unaware of it. How do you desire to be treated on that day? In Matthew 19:8 (NIV), Jesus says, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning." Arguments don't end repairable relationships - hard hearts do.
I need to be reminded of these things today and every day.
Today I read this article on CNN.com about the arrest of country singer/songwriter, Randy Travis. According to the article, he was found naked (presumably drunk) lying on a two lane highway in Texas and threatened to shoot the officer who came to his aid.
My first reaction to this article was intense disappointment. This is a man who wrote many songs that I found myself humming along to as a young adult, with inspiring lyrics like:
Gonna Have a Little Talk with Jesus
Feet on the Rock
It didn't take long though, for me to remember, that from the same man, came lyrics like:
"I'd better change my wandrin' ways,
I know I've seen my better days,
Always gettin' high when I get low.
Well, I left my soul out in the rain,
Lord, what a price I've had to pay.
The storms of life are washin' me away." - The Storms of Life
"And I hear tell the road to hell is paved with good intentions
And Mama, my intentions were the best
There's lotsa things in my life I'd just as soon not mention
Looks like I've turned out like all the rest
But Mama, my intentions were the best" - Good Intentions
We all wage an internal war each and every day. May we all have compassion toward those who are momentarily (we pray) giving up the fight. Whether we believe it or not, we are all just a few bad decisions away from being found naked in the street, lashing out at those who are there to help us.
1 Peter 3:8 NIV - "Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble."