No man is an island, but man is it ever tempting to try it out sometimes! There is nothing quite like having to suffer through the consequences of someone else's decision to make you want to bar the doors and windows and give the hermit-life a try. As long as we live on this planet, we will be effected by the decisions of others. Sometimes for good, other times not so much. The same decision-making capability and freedom that God granted you, he also gave to your family members, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, co-worker, boss, pastor, political leader, and even strangers on the street.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot control those around us or insulate ourselves from their choices. So what can be done when we find ourselves tossed in the wake of someone else's decisions?
1. Take a deep breath. Maybe more than one.
2. Remember that you are responsible for your own actions and reactions, regardless of how you feel or who made you feel that way. One bad decision by someone else doesn't necessitate another from you.
3. Plead with God for a higher perspective and a compassionate heart. It may come right away, but it might not. Expect it. Wait for it.
4. Acknowledge the reality of the situation and the greater reality of God's sovereignty and His promise to work everything together for your good (Romans 8:28). Acknowledge it in prayer, in journaling, in a conversation with someone you trust. Keep acknowledging it until you find yourself dwelling more on what He can do than on what was done "to you."
5. Take one step in the right direction. A step of forgiveness, a step of faith, a step away, a step forward, whatever is the next right thing - do that. Don't wait too long.
Repeat as needed.
Bonus - #6. Thank God for your own freedom to make decisions and even to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask Him to help you vividly remember this moment when you next make a decision that will impact those around you.
Ode to JOY
What does it mean to be filled with joy? A young mother of three with a new baby on the way just lost her husband in a car accident this past week in the small California town that our family calls home. Where is the joy in that? A friend is working through the process to adopt a child who has called her, "Mommy," for about a year now and the system is getting more convoluted, not less, as time goes by. Where is the joy in that? A beloved relative is in the hospital with bleeding in his brain. Where is the joy in that? I have a nephew who I have only seen in pictures who is celebrating his 2nd Christmas and a trip to visit and take in that moment with my own eyes isn't in the budget. Where is the joy in that?
This Sunday, our church will light the candle of JOY on the advent wreath. First was hope, then came peace, now JOY. I have been reflecting on the idea of JOY in preparation for this coming Sunday, and frankly, no revelations were happening in my heart, mind or soul. But I kept looking. This morning, I picked up the devotional book (Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young) and there it was. Staring me in the face on the page designated to read on December 10th of each year. Even so, I didn't recognize it right away. It was couched in a lesson on security. "Make Me the focal point of your search for security," it started. My mind started to wander. Clearly, this wasn't going to illuminate the Bible's teaching on JOY for me. Alas, I kept reading, albeit a little miffed and disappointed.
"Make Me the focal point of your search for security. In your private thoughts, you are still trying to order your world so that it is predictable and feels safe. Not only is this an impossible goal, but it is also counterproductive to spiritual growth. When your private world feels unsteady and you grip My hand for support, you are living in conscious dependence on Me. Instead of yearning for a problem-free life, REJOICE that trouble can highlight your awareness of My Presence. In the darkness of adversity, you are able to see more clearly the radiance of My Face. Accept the value of problems in this life, considering them pure JOY. Remember that you have an eternity of trouble-free living awaiting you in heaven." - taken from the inspiration Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 139:10; James 1:2.
Could it be that JOY and security are tightly bound together? The newly widowed mother whose life suddenly looks nothing like she planned, the friend called "Mommy" by a child born to another waiting on the legal system to make it so, the uncle in the hospital whose physical health is fragile and uncertain, the aunt who has no assurance of when she will see her nephew. We all have something in common. We all lack the security of knowing the future. This devotional reminded me that we can all have something else in common too, if we will choose it: a heightened awareness of the presence of God that others on more seemingly steady ground cannot know. These areas of our lives where security is stretched thin and it feels like we are walking on spider webs where they should be pavement, these are the moments, the days, the seasons where we can experience what it is truly like to be carried in the arms of God.
I remember as a little girl, as I was getting a bit too big to be carried places on a parent's hip or shoulders. I would take utter delight in the moments when I could "trick" my Daddy into believing that I had fallen asleep on the couch in the evenings. Without fail, he would scoop me up and carry me to bed. Tucking me in and kissing me on the forehead, while I pretended not to notice, as I faked sleep. Once he was out of the room, I would open my eyes and smile, relishing the moment. There was something so special about being physically carried by someone who loved me so tenderly.
We don't have to fake neediness on earth. We are needy. Sometimes our neediness is more obvious than others, and in those moments (as others feel sorry for us) we get to stop pretending that we have it all together. We get to stretch up our hands, with tears in our eyes and cry out, "Daddy, God, I NEED you!" And after He has carried us for a season, through things we couldn't handle on our own, we can open our eyes as we find ourselves resting in the evidence of His security and smile in a knowing way that others can't. We can remember the feel of His strong arms and the sound of His heartbeat and His kiss on our cheek, and His loving words, and we will know a deeper joy than we could ever feel without having been carried.
Consider it all joy, if your predictable, safe world is anything but predictable and safe this Christmas season. Your Daddy will carry you through it.
He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, yet die a sinner's death on your behalf and to be resurrected from death to eternal life just to make a way for you to run into the arms of His perfect Father and call Him your own at such a time as this. I pray that you will let Him.
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. - Isaiah 41:10
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. - Psalm 139:7-12
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds - James 1:2
When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video." As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up. What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish. Many times God will orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
A couple of days ago, if you'd peeked in my window you would have found me sitting on the couch in my living room weeping after reading a story, shared by Shauna Niequist in her book, Bread and Wine. Shauna had been struggling with infertility and it seemed that everyone around her was pregnant. She wanted to be happy for her pregnant friends , and most of the time she was, but somewhere inside her the desperation increased and the sorrow deepened with each new pregnancy announcement. Finally she felt like she couldn’t take it any more and she posted about her feelings on her blog in a moment of complete transparency. Soon after that she received a call from a friend, a newly pregnant friend, saying she was going to be in town and wanted to get together. Shauna cringed, hoping that her friend hadn’t read her blog post.
When they met at the restaurant, Shauna’s friend handed her a gift and told her that she had, indeed, read the blog post. *cringe* She said that she understood that this was the point in a friendship where many friends would have to walk away from each other for awhile, because the pain and the awkwardness would be too great. She explained, however, that she felt that the two of them could do better than that. Shauna opened the gift and found two pairs of safety goggles. In her blog post she had admitted telling her husband that if she didn’t get pregnant that very month, she was going to break something glass just to feel it shatter in her hands. That day in the restaurant, her friend told her, “If you feel like shattering something, I’ll be right there with you. We’ll put on our safety goggles. I’ll help you break something and then I’ll help you clean it up. You’ve been celebrating with me and I’ll be there to grieve with you. We can do this together.”
Even now, tears sting my eyes as I imagine that moment and as I picture the friends that God has brought into my life in the past who would do the same for me, who feel the same way about me.
Here’s the rub. With Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest, it is more common for people to compete with friends, to feel disconnected from another’s pain or joy, or to assume we know what is going on with someone without ever talking with them or looking in their eyes. Upper-division, safety-goggle-moment friendship is uncommon. It involves phone calls, coffee dates, walks, snail mail, impromptu texts, it involves sacrifice and awareness. It requires emotional commitment, not just an emotional attachment. I long to be that kind of friend, and I long for these kinds of friends in my life. I long for depth over breadth… to know and be known.
My go-to thought whenever I realize something is lacking in my life is to re-prioritize and then adjust my schedule. I’ve been known to put the most ridiculous things on the calendar just to make sure they happen. Is that the answer for making room in our lives for deep friendship? Can friendship be scheduled? Calendared? Itemized? Is it something that I commit to a certain number of hours per week, then check off the friendship box on my to-do list? That may be a springboard, but it certainly is not a way of life… at least not my way of life. Friendship, like a meal at the table needs freedom to take whatever shape is needed in each season to not only be the most nourishing, but to make room for celebration, for fasting when needed. That sounds a whole lot more like an art to me and not at all like an exact science, which, I must confess, makes me uncomfortable. Science leans toward the proven and exact. Art is subjective, open for interpretation. In other words, friendship involves risk. Risk of being rejected, risk of giving more than you receive and feeling vulnerable or foolish, risk of entering too far into the pain of another – making them dependent on you rather than encouraged by you, risk after risk after risk.
The question then becomes, “Is it worth it?”
John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." - Jesus
Proverbs 17:17 "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."
It is absolutely worth it! But we'll have to come to grips with the transient, free-flowing nature of relationships without insisting that they conform to our idealistic definitions. Sometimes friendship may be the main course in our lives, sometimes a side dish or dessert, sometimes we may go through seasons of fasting altogether, but none of these is meant to be the ONLY way to approach friendship for the long haul. The longer I live, the more I believe in embracing the ebb and flow without constantly feeling the need to label it: success or failure, good or bad. We were created by a God who gave us a world of infinite variety and who expects us to delight in that variety and give Him glory in it, not get overwhelmed by a complex and multi-faceted world and, by reaction, sequester ourselves in a tiny corner of it, building protective walls of definitions and patterns of behavior that make us feel like we’ve got a handle on things. Safety-goggle-friendship happens outside those walls, and it is worth it.
The Life Sifter
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...
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.
Walking Your Bike
Bikes were made to ride! I knew this from a young age, but I also knew, that riding them could involve crashing and injury, and that knowledge kept me learning to ride a bike until I was almost 10 years old. I am a late-blooming bike rider, and this is my story.
My brother rode his bike like a speed demon from a very early age. My father, knowing my intense fear (and my stubborn nature), refused to buy me my own bicycle until I bit the bullet and learned to ride one of the bicycles the family already owned. He also refused my insistence on training wheels altogether. (Remind me to tell you someday about how he made me learn to drive in a stick-shift car on a hilly road, during the time of day when the sun was right in your eyes...he wasn't big on coddling, shall we say.) Well, in my mind, the bikes in our shed wouldn't do at all. They were too far off the ground! I could fall, I could get seriously injured! So, I dug my heels in and just refused to learn.
That was all fine and dandy until ALL of my friends had mastered the art of riding a bike and we all started to get old enough to be given a bit more freedom. Suddenly, my friends were out riding their bikes around the neighborhood and to each others' houses to visit and I was being left behind. One day a friend who was unaware of my non-bike-riding status, knocked on my front door and invited me to ride to the park. I panicked. Without thinking, I said, "Sure! Just let me get my bike." I purposefully went to the shed and pulled out a bike and then proceeded to WALK IT ALL THE WAY TO THE PARK while my friend rode beside me very slowly, totally perplexed. I kept insisting, "I just feel like walking today."
The truth was that I didn't at all feel like walking. I wanted nothing more than to hop on that bike and ride alongside my friend with my hair blowing in the breeze, but I was afraid I'd crash,fall, and bleed. The truth was, I probably would fall. Most people do when they learn to ride a bike, right? My fear wasn't irrational, it had just become too large in my mind.
Can I fess up right now? This still happens to me to this day. Oh, I learned to ride a bike alright (with minimal bloodshed, thank-you-very-much), but fears can still become inappropriately large in my mind if I let them. There are legitimately concerning things in this world, don't get me wrong! We are all bound to take a tumble or two (or 10) financially, with our health, in our relationships, at work, at church, in service to others, at school, the unknown is vast and the likelihood of coming through life unscathed is nonexistent. So what is a girl to do? Fake it? Pretend to take risks while always keeping one foot safely on the ground? Not an option - we aren't fooling anyone! Everyone can see when you are walking the bike and everyone knows it isn't because you "feel like walking." You are afraid. Admit it. Confess it. Ask God to help you through it.
As someone who is currently and has in the past navigated some pretty treacherous terrain in life, let me tell you - the ride is worth it.
Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you."
Qualifier: I am not currently particularly hormonal... let me just say that up front. I just finished watching episode 9 of season 3 of Fox's cooking competition, MasterChef and I can honestly say I teared up at the end like I was watching a Hallmark tear-jerker. "Seriously?" You might say. "You cried watching a Gordon Ramsay show?" Yes. Yes I did.
This episode was the last episode before the finale and in it the three finalists would be narrowed down to the final two who would compete for the title. Becky, who had been a major front-runner throughout the competition ended up falling short (having to cook frog's legs, no less). She was completely devastated. That in and of itself might have made someone get misty-eyed, but that is not what made me cry. Once the final two were announced and Becky was left as the odd man out, Gordon Ramsay asked her what would come next for her. Feebly she answered that she would go home and see if she could find a restaurant kitchen to sneak into and work for awhile. Here is how he responded:
"I've got a few restaurants. Trust me, each one of those doors are open, whether it is in the center of Europe, Paris, New York, I don't care; the door is open. Any time you wish. You have a gift."
Okay. That's where I lost it. So did she. Gordon Ramsay has worked very hard over many years to get to a place where he can now, not just give others a leg up or a helping hand, but catapult them into the stuff dreams are made of. He put in the blood, sweat and tears to realize the dream and now he can "open the doors" of that realized dream for others to enjoy and benefit from. That is a beautiful picture to me. That is why I strive to do things with excellence and why I am disappointed in myself when I fall short, because it isn't just about me! The more I learn and grow, the more I have to offer the world around me.
When my friend Katie and I started a children's drama and choir troupe in a church in a small town in rural California many years ago, it wasn't to make a name for ourselves... that is laughable to even consider. We wanted to serve our church. We could have just gotten kids together and sung a few songs and taught them about music and it would have served a purpose, but instead, we both felt compelled to offer the children and the church the very best we could, with God's blessing and strength and grace along the way. In the end, I look back on those years with such joy. Because of that commitment and God's favor, we were able to offer the church, the children and parents, and the community an experience they wouldn't have had otherwise, one that the children in particular (who are all grown-up now) will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives. We did full fledged musicals with 2nd through 6th graders! There were dance routines, competitive auditions, full sets, choreographic elements, costumes, and high expectations for memorization and performance. We taught them that "they had a gift" and then we gave them a chance to put that gift to use in a wonderful way.
Do you know who was most blessed during that MasterChef episode? Gordon Ramsay. No matter how blessed Becky felt, her joy couldn't have possibly paralleled Gordon's. Do you know who was most blessed at the end of each and every children's musical? Katie and I, no doubt about it.
What a privilege it is to work hard and in gratitude offer up what God has allowed us to attain to the building up of others. What are you working hard for right now? What possible ways can you imagine that God could use the fruit of your labors to bless others?
Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)
"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."
God is good, God is great!
This has been a week of emotional highs and lows. Emotions are a total enigma to me in many ways. At times I HATE them. I HATE that they cloud my judgement. I HATE that they are at times affected by hormones, over which I have no control. I HATE that they can make me feel so sad/pathetic/helpless/distraught sometimes that the real truth of a situation slips through my grasp.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!