Time for more marrow-sucking
I want to live life deeply and fully and to have grand adventures. So why is my default the couch? And why do my days of kayaking and camping, mission trips and girls' nights, road trips and exploring seem so far behind me? My inner life is deep and full, but not many would know it by my outward life. The reality is that if someone suggested an epic adventure (or even a mildly intriguing outing), I would say, "Yes! Let's do it!" in a heartbeat. But being the instigator of the out-of-the-ordinary has not been a role I've embraced for a long time.
Henry David Thoreau decided to head to the wilderness alone when he was feeling something similar - “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
My best adventures, on the other hand, have happened in community, not alone. Rafting on the Colorado River with a friend from college, climbing Half Dome while living and working in Yosemite for a summer, the worst beach camping experience ever with my family, the best Redwoods camping experience ever with Grace Church family-campers, the most idyllic 2-day kayak trip ever on the Tennessee River with friends from Life Community, walking the streets of Antigua, Guatemala and sipping drinks rooftop with my brother, snorkeling in the Bahamas with my husband, snow sledding with my family near the north rim of the Grand Canyon, cliff diving on Lake Powell with my friends in high school, donkey basketball with my husband, exploring big cities with anyone who will explore with me, swimming in the Merced with friends from work, serving at an orphanage in Mexico with college friends and exploring more of Mexico with my high school Spanish club (speaking only Espanol for a solid week), a weekend in Vegas with a high school chum (getting dolled up, seeing a show, drinking fruity drinks by the pool, and eating at fancy restaurants), a week in Alaska serving alongside our friends who are missionaries there. Sucking the marrow out of life.
It has been too long and I'm hungry for some marrow! Perhaps it is time to be the instigator. Who's with me? Got any good ideas?
The Perfect Way to Love
As a young woman in her 20’s, the man Corrie Ten Boom loved with all her heart showed up at the front door of her family's home with another woman to whom he announced he was engaged. Here is how she described that moment and her reaction in her book, The Hiding Place: “Somehow the half-hour passed. Somehow I managed to shake her hand, then Karel’s hand, and to wish them every happiness. Betsie took them down to the door. Before it clicked shut I was fleeing up the stairs to my own room at the top of the house where the tears could come. How long I lay on my bed sobbing for the one love of my life I do not know. Later, I heard Father’s footsteps coming up the stairs. For a moment I was a little girl again waiting for him to tuck the blankets tight. But this was a hurt that no blanket could shut out and suddenly I was afraid of what Father would say. Afraid he would say, ‘There’ll be someone else soon,’ and that forever afterward this untruth would lie between us. For in some deep part of me I knew already that there would not – soon or ever – be anyone else. The sweet cigar-smell came into the room with Father. And of course he did not say the false, idle words. ‘Corrie,’ he began instead, ‘Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting, but then of course part of us dies too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel. God loves Karel – even more than you do – and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.’”
There are so many deeply moving moments described in The Hiding Place, but this one is one of the most profound to me. I believe that learning how to love people the way that God loves people is the ultimate life lesson. When something happens in a relationship that causes a rift where love was once easy and free-flowing - we must ask God to either repair the rift and restore the relationship or to open up a new channel for our love to flow through. We have to want love to win.
Bitterness and anger destroy us. Love heals us. At the end of the day, it isn't as much about our relationship with the other person as it is about our relationship with God Himself and the health of our own souls.
1 John 4:7-12 (NIV) 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Coinciding with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, I set-up an office Olympics where I work. We had three teams: Fiji, Jamaica, and Barbados. I chose tropical locales because, frankly, it has been a long cold winter here and we all needed a hint of the islands. Over the course of three weeks we had a variety of different events such as Recycling Basketball, Paper Airplane Javelin, Lemon Fencing, Synchronized Office Chair Swivel, Finger Skating, and Rubber Band Archery. Each activity only took about 15 minutes out of our day and it was well worth it. The resulting laughter and just the simple act of getting out of our individual offices and workstations and coming together for a few minutes every day around something other than work was refreshing. The closing ceremonies were this past Friday and included a photo slide show (set to the Olympic theme song, naturally) of the participants and spectators at each of the events.
What I found to be the most rewarding part of the whole experience was seeing how everyone in the office rallied around one of our co-workers in particular. She is a quiet lady who works hard and keeps busy. She hails from outside the United States, and has a lovely accent and a gentle spirit. During the office Olympics, her team needed someone to sign-up to compete in Rubber Band Archery and she agreed even though she admitted that she didn't know how to shoot a rubber band. She approached me in the hallway one day and I thanked her for volunteering and she said, she was nervous about it because she didn't know what rubber band archery was. I told her that it isn't a thing... that I just made it up as a fun activity...that nobody knows what it is. She was so relieved to hear that! Have you ever been sure that everyone else knows about something and you are the odd, clueless man out? I explained that I would be setting up some targets and that rubber bands would be given out and that the object was to shoot the rubber band with your fingers at the targets and try to hit them. Nothing to worry about!
The day of the event arrived and I set up a bunch of paper and plastic cups on the ledge of an empty cubicle and let the competitors from teams Jamaica, Fiji and Barbados have a few minutes to practice. She stepped up to the line and acted like she had been shooting rubber bands her whole life. It was like the heavens opened and shined down on her and her alone for those few moments. She knocked those cups off the ledge one right after the other like a sharp shooter, stretching each rubber band back nearly to its breaking point before letting them fly. The staff who were gathered around cheered and watched in awe, even those who weren't on her team. Turns out that someone on her team had sent her a link to a YouTube video of how to shoot rubber bands (Is there nothing you can't find on the internet these days?) and she had been practicing at home since she had signed-up! She ended up winning the gold medal without breaking a sweat and a conversation broke out around the office at how her approach to rubber band archery closely resembled her approach to everything that she does. Her colleagues raved about how if there was skill she didn't have or a program she didn't know how to use, she would pay close attention as it was taught and she would work at it diligently until she became as good or better at it than the person who taught her. Everyone in the office started seeing this quiet, sweet lady in a different light and by the time the closing ceremonies came around last week, when a photo of the rubber band archery champ came up on the screen, the whole office clapped and cheered.
It took stepping outside of the normal routine to be able to see her uniqueness for what it was. Now when we step back into the norm, we will have a new found respect and a clearer picture of who she is and what she is capable of.
How can you create opportunities in your family, your job, your church, your group of friends to shake off the old routine enough to give people a chance to let their uniqueness show and give yourself a chance to notice it? Give it a try! You'll be glad you did.
I find myself in need of wisdom. Wisdom to know how to behave in a variety of situations, how to spend my time, how and when to sacrifice, how to raise my son, how to be a wife, how to find and be a friend, how to speak, how to write, how to work. I'm at a loss in so many areas of life. The bar is set so very high and I realize that I will never attain it. It is exhausting; both the striving and the realizing. And so, I seek - not more hours in the day or more motivation or more energy - rather WISDOM. To know when enough is enough. To know when I am on the right path even when the ground is rocky, when I'm tempted to question and seek out a different path because, "Surely, it wasn't meant to be this hard."
This morning I read the book of James in the Bible. I learned that there are two kinds of wisdom to be had:
1. "But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such 'wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." James 3:14-16
This is the first type of wisdom that is mentioned in James. I find it funny that wisdom is in quotes in this verse. As if to say, "You call that wisdom? Yeah right!" I remember my son coming home from first grade, all of six years old, and restating something that his teacher had said that day and using finger quotes in the air to denote sarcasm, just as she had done. We mentioned it at our next student-teacher conference and we all got a kick out of it. James isn't giving a silly example though. It is meant as a sign of disgust. "Don't be fooled by this so-called wisdom," James is saying. If your "knowledge" is coming from your own personal feelings of envy and ambition - it is sorely lacking. So clearly, this is not the type of wisdom that I am in search of.
2. "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all
full of mercy and good fruit,
impartial and sincere." James 3:17
This is what I'm looking for! A wisdom that stems from and leads upon these paths.
When I ask for wisdom to know how to be a better parent, am I asking for an answer that involves purity, peace, consideration, submission, mercy and good fruit, impartiality and sincerity FROM ME? Or am I just looking selfishly for the quickest, easiest, "wisest" way to get my son to exhibit these qualities so that my life will be better? Ouch.
When I ask for wisdom do I really want the answer? If I don't, then I better not ask.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does." James 1:5-7
From now on, when I am desperate for wisdom in an area of my life, may this be my prayer:
I know that you give wisdom generously to all who ask for it. I also know that your wisdom doesn't look like the world's wisdom and has nothing to do with my ego or ambition. Help me let go of what I think wisdom looks like and accept the wisdom that you are ready to freely give me. I am asking for wisdom about "insert pressing need here." Will you please show me the purest, most peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruit-bearing, impartial, sincere way to move forward? When you show me, I will act on it immediately and I trust you with the result.
Thank you for your grace and your wisdom and for loving me enough to give both to me so lavishly. I love you too!
In the name of Jesus, your son, I leave this request in your capable and mighty hands. Amen.
Thanks for the challenge, Kid President! Here is my son Tim's list of what the kids need to know:
1. Choose chocolate, not vanilla.
2. Do your homework.
3. Wait to get a phone, until you are 16 or 18.
4. Do something nice everyday.
6. Don't be afraid to ask someone to dance with you.
7. Don't tackle in basketball.
8. Eat stuffing!
9. Laugh! A lot.
10. Be respectful to others.
And here is mine:
1. You might be afraid to try something new, but don't let fear keep you from trying it anyway. Be brave!
2. Find ways to make boring things more fun. Turn the hard things into a game.
3. Don't be in a hurry to get to the next cool thing... make sure you've maxed out on all the coolness right where you are at first.
4. Take good care of your body and ask questions about how it works and what is best for it.
5. Being a friend is one of the best things ever. Get to know people really well... not just the basics, but the stuff other people don't know about them. Everyone needs to be known.
6. Read. A lot.
7. Be careful about what you let yourself see, hear, touch and do.
8. Pray. God is real and he loves you.
9. Always tell the truth.
10. Always say "sorry" and "I forgive you" when you need to. Quickly and out loud.
I am in the middle of reading "In My Home There Is No More Sorrow: 10 Days in Rwanda" by Rick Bass. Last night I read this passage from the book and it floored me. I knew I would need to come back to it and to reflect on its depth. I glanced at the page number to commit it to memory... 39. The number of years I've been alive. Am I as alive as I could be? Should be?
"There is a spirit moving through Rwanda that is profound and surprising. It is a spirit of what most people would call love. I'm not saying that's the whole of it. What I suspect is that there is probably not a word for it - the feeling, the spirit, the phenomenon - and none of us on the outside of it, thank God, will ever quite know what it is; not seventeen years later, and not ever. I wouldn't, on reflection, trade my numbness for what they have. Even an arm's length distance might be a little too close. It's kind of terrifying to witness such capacity for strength, for spiritual growth; who among us would not prefer, really, to remain flabby, vague, untested?"
The author, Rick Bass, visited Rwanda for 10 days three years ago and this book is the essay he wrote about his brief but profound experience in a country that has suffered through genocide after genocide after genocide. The most recent slaughter ended after one million Tutsis were killed by their Hutu countrymen within 100 days' time in 1994. Bass goes to memorial after memorial on his ten day trek taking in the blood-stained walls of churches, piles of bones and stench of decay. He comes in direct contact with both survivors of the massacre and the perpetrators of it. The Hutus and the Tutsis now miraculously live as neighbors and countrymen once again; unfathomable forgiveness has come and life goes on, powerfully, and Bass is at a loss. He would rather embrace his numbness than experience the profound wholeness and depth of a people who have witnessed/perpetrated/been victimized by such evil and yet have overcome through God's mysterious gift of forgiveness.
I am left to ponder my own numbness. When have I chosen to keep at arms length that which I cannot understand? That which I do not want to understand or believe possible. That which I know would require much more of me than I care to give up in order to obtain it?
Is numbness better than soaring on the indefinable heights of the ultimate expression of forgiveness all while the images of soul-wrenching evil still burn in memory, tethering us to the earth and its ways? Is it?
It isn't. Numbness is not better than the display of His splendor. Just ask Moses, who boldly asked God, "Please, show me Your glory!" Exodus 33:18. Just like the surviving and thriving Rwandans today, Moses came down from that mountain after experiencing the glory of God only to have others look away in fear and disbelief. His face was aglow with something they could not comprehend, something they weren't sure they wanted to comprehend. It looked painful. It looked other-worldly. It was easier to look away and remain numb. Easier, but not better. In Exodus, we read how God hid Moses in a crack in a rock while His glory passed by, knowing that Moses could only take a small portion of the weight of the immeasurable glory of God and still live. Is that what we are afraid of? Is that why we remain numb when we could experience the glory of God? Do we fear that experiencing something so beautiful and powerful might just kill us? What a way to go!
May 2014 be a year of shaking off numbness and fear in all its forms. Of living life fully, even when it hurts, especially when it hurts. Of living a life "with such capacity for strength and spiritual growth" that no one can witness it without standing in utter awe of the God who is able to bring terrifying beauty from the likes of evil men all for the display of His life-giving splendor. Glory to God.
Matthew 3:8 NASB, "Therefore, bear fruit in keeping with repentance." This is the first verse that the Ritz family will be memorizing in 2014. It is short, so we are likely to retain it quickly and it is weighty and filled with meaning so it is ripe for personal reflection. These words were spoken by John the Baptist to a group of the religious elite of his day, right after he calls them, a "brood of vipers." John was in the wilderness calling people to repent, then baptizing them as an outward sign to the world of their repentance. Apparently, the pharisees and sadducees were coming to be baptized while skipping over the whole repentance part of the equation. Hence the name-calling. The Greek word that is translated as repentance means "to change one's mind," or "to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins." Baptism by water was meant to show a turning toward God and away from a mindset and life of sin. By calling them a brood of vipers, he is identifying the pharisees with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Satan. He is calling them out, saying in effect, "You haven't turned; your mind hasn't changed. You are masquerading as those filled with light and knowledge, but your hearts are dark." By presenting themselves for baptism as a sign of repentance without actually acknowledging their need to repent, they were making a mockery of what John was doing and the message he was declaring, a message given to him by God, a message he was being prepared to deliver to the world since before his birth. They were poisoning the system.
What about us? If we have repented, are we bearing fruit that demonstrates that we've changed our minds about what is most important in life? Almost two months ago, I changed my mind about how important my health is to me. I cut out the vast majority of saturated fat in my diet, increased my intake of fruits, veggies and water, and started exercising regularly. I also joined with a group of other like-minded folks whose health is important to them as well and we have been tracking our progress together and encouraging one another along the way. What if someone joined our group and regularly reported his weight loss numbers, but wasn't actually committed to improving his health? What if he was actually doing some really unhealthy things in an attempt to show similar or even better weight loss, and in doing so was actually damaging his health all in an effort to be competitive, or to keep up with the "Joneses," or to look the part of someone on the fitness bandwagon? It would dishearten those of us who were committed, to be sure, and it wouldn't do him a lick of good in the long run. In fact it could have some pretty serious negative consequences. The spiritual parallels are obvious.
Memorizing these words from John the Baptist is serving as a potent reminder to me that the fruit I bear should be a direct result of a change of heart and mind about what and Who I believe is most important. NOT about a set of rules, a way to fool the system, or how to look better than others with minimal effort. I have a choice: fruit juice or venom. True repentance or toxic faking.
Romans 2:4 "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness, and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" NASB
2 Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." NASB
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
The word that made me cry
When was the last time you cried because of a single word? Were they happy tears or sad tears? This morning, on my commute to work, I was listening to music and looking out the bus window and I began to think about a phone conversation from the night before. I went over it in my mind and ended up misty-eyed. Not because of the conversation, but because of a single word uttered by the caller.
The word was "unanimous." What?! Not bringing you to tears too? Perhaps I should explain. My husband went through the interview process for an interim-pastoral position at a church in our area the past few months and it went very well. All along the way we were encouraged and the pastor search team seemed to be encouraged as well. When you apply for a job at a church in our denomination, however, the committee doesn't typically get the final say. It is the committee's job to present their best candidate to the church as a whole. The church then takes a vote about whether or not to hire that candidate. Can I confess something to you? The process intimidates me. This is the second time Jason has made it through to the voting-part of the process with a church and both times made me uneasy. I inevitably flash back to high school where I ran for student body office positions every year and never got voted in. I was never turned down for something that I had any control over... If I wanted to be on the honor roll, I worked hard and made the honor roll. If I wanted to be on the cheerleading squad, I practiced until I made it. If I wanted a summer job, I showed up in a suit or dress, respectfully asked for an application and proved that I would be a good employee, and I got the job. But when everything came down to an anonymous vote... it never worked out for me.
The last time Jason went through to the church-vote-stage of a hiring process, the vote came back as 83% "for" and 17% "against" (if I remember correctly). I remember where we were when we got that call as well and how it gave us both a moment of pause and deep concern. Who were the 17%? Would they be angry if he accepted the job? Would they make ministry difficult? Did we really want to walk into a position knowing that, right off the bat, 17% didn't think it was a good fit?
Fast forward to this morning. As I sat on the bus and replayed the phone conversation with one of this new church's elders from the night before, as he said "The vote was unanimous, we would like Jason to be our interim pastor," my mind singled-in on that one word, "unanimous," and I started to cry silent, happy tears, surrounded by a bus full of strangers.
One can certainly minister for many years in a church that didn't vote him or her in unanimously, and conversely, just because a vote IS unanimous doesn't mean that there aren't those who aren't 100% on-board but just didn't want to rock the boat by voting against the majority. The point of this post isn't about church voting policies or the sometimes gut-wrenching process of finding a ministry position in the United States. The point is - there is tremendous, encouraging power in being accepted, 100% accepted. It is even more encouraging to be accepted when you have been 100% yourself.
I am reading a devotional book right now by Angie Smith entitled, "Mended." In it, she quotes the following from the book, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale,
"'Do you know the story of Rabbi Zusya?' he asked. 'He was a Chasidic master who lived in the 1700s. One day he said, 'When I get to the heavenly court, God will not ask me, 'Why weren't you Moses?' Rather, he will ask me, 'Why were you not Zusya?' "
The quote goes on to say,
"Churches should be places where people come to hear the story of God and to tell their own. That's how we find out how the two relate. Tell your story with all of its shadows and fog, so people can understand their own. They want a leader who's authentic, someone trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life. They need you, not Moses."
What an encouragement to be 100% fully who God made you to be. Sometimes you will be accepted as such and other times you won't. Sometimes it will be unanimous and other times it will be more like 83%-17%. Regardless, God didn't call you to be anything other than who you are.
Today I am thankful that, this time, it was unanimous, and I am also asking God to remind me that it has always been that way with Him where I am concerned. He knows me fully and is unanimously for me. Totally undeserved and completely phenomenal!
Romans 8:28-31 "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He alos justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"
1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Leap of Faith
Whenever someone gets married, we say they are "taking the plunge," or making a "leap of faith." Everyone recognizes that going into marriage, you can't possibly know everything about the person that you are committing to spend your life with, and yet, we do it anyway. We admit we don't know it all, but that what we do know is enough.
In the Bible, in the letter to the Hebrews, the 11th chapter and 1st verse, we read that "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and in the sixth verse of the same chapter we learn that "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." As a parent, this makes complete sense to me: without my son having faith in me, he will never please me. Never. His faith in me is the evidence that we have a good relationship, that he acknowledges my love for him and my good intentions toward him. If he continually questions me and never trustfully relaxes in my presence, how could I ever be pleased with that relationship? It is the same in our relationship with God, our Father, and rightfully so.
Similar to marriage, if we have committed to spend our lives with Him, what we do know about Him should be enough. That doesn't mean we stop getting to know Him after that commitment is made - most married couples learn far more about each other after the wedding day than they do before - but it does mean that we live out our days in both knowledge AND faith - growing in both, but not swerving from what we originally held to when we made that "leap of faith" to begin with.
This reflection on faith, led me to look up places in the Bible that shed more light on the word. Here is what I learned:
1. Faith is more precious than gold. (1 Peter 1:7)
2. Faith results in the salvation of our souls. (1 Peter 1:9, Ephesians 2:8)
3. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. (1 John 5:4)
4. Faith is required for miraculous healing. (Mark 10:52, Luke 8:48, Matthew 9:2, 22, 29, Matthew 8:5-13, Acts 6:8)
5. It doesn't take much faith (relatively speaking) to be able to live out life to the fullest (the size of a mustard seed would suffice). (Matthew 17:20)
6. Faith purifies and sanctifies hearts. (Acts 15:9, 26:18)
7. Local churches are established by faith. (Acts 16:5)
8. Faith brings comfort. (Romans 1:12)
9. Faith is counted as righteousness by God, which is good news because there is no one who actually IS righteous, not even one. (Romans 4:5-20)
10. Faith is the key that grants us access to God's grace. (Romans 5:2)
11. Things that don't come by faith, are often sinful. (Romans 14:23)
12. Faith exercised apart from love is worthless. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
13. There is only one true faith. (Ephesians 4:5)
14. Faith brings unity. (Ephesians 4:13)
15. Faith is a shield against the devil. (Ephesians 6:16)
16. God's promises are inherited through faith and patience. (Hebrews 6:12)
17. When faith is tested (and it WILL be tested), the believer acquires perseverance. (James 1:3)
18. Faith is a required prerequisite when asking God for wisdom. Faith that God is all-wise and that He willingly imparts wisdom to His children. (James 1:6)
I also learned through studying the scriptures about faith that we have internal and external responsibilities once we have invested faith in God:
Internally we are to:
Externally we are to:
It is a beautiful cycle - attending to our faith internally leads to a stronger desire to demonstrate our faith externally, and those experiences of acting on our faith in God fan the flame of our internal faith-walk even more, until 10-25-50 years later we celebrate anniversaries of faith in Christ and marvel at how much more precious He is to us now than he was when we first believed, and tell the world how glad we are that we took that leap of faith!
This morning the students in the youth group at our church were involved in every aspect of the service. <It was great.>
During the "preaching time," our youth pastor interviewed three of the high school students and asked them some very important questions that had some very important answers. I thought they were worth passing on:
1. "How do you want older adults to pray for your generation?"
2. "How can the older generations help your generation?"
Will do! Thanks, Image Youth Group!
As I sit on the couch resting on LABOR Day, I started doing a little internet research on the concept of work (clearly I am more fun than a barrel of monkeys). Specifically, I was curious about what makes people WANT to work hard. Too many times, I'd rather take an easier way out and yet the call to hard work and dedication is ever present... nagging, really. *so rude*
I guess since it will always be the voice in the back of my head, so I might as well find ways to increase my "want-to" where hard work is concerned. Here are some of the positive things, other than the potential to make money, that I found which consistently seem to help make people willing to work harder than your average Joe:
1. A trustworthy leader.
2. Recognizing the importance of the fruits of your labor.
3. The collaboration and camaraderie of a great team.
4. A compelling vision of the future.
If there is an an area of your life where you, like me, want to increase your motivation to work harder, maybe you need to find someone trustworthy to follow who can point the way. Perhaps you need to remember all the good things that could be byproducts of your hard work. Maybe it is time to recruit some enjoyable teammates to join you in the pursuit, or perhaps it is time to imagine what the future could be like if you stuck to it and gave it your all.
If all of that fails, crank up some great music and just do the next right thing for 1 more hour... just one more hour. Maybe after that hour, we'll be too engrossed to quit, but even if we aren't we're closer to the goal than we were before!
Colossians 3:23 "Whatever you do,work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." ESV
Proverbs 14:23 "In all toil there is profit, but mere talk only leads to poverty." ESV
Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."
NOTE: The quote in the picture above is questionably attributed to Thomas Edison. Check out this link for the history of the quote and to look into any other quotes you find online to verify who really said them first.
Playing Junior God
Do you ever feel tempted to play God? To take over? To make something happen the way you feel strongly it should happen? To get involved in the “how” of something that you feel confident in the “what” or “why” of? You have!? Want to be best friends? I am tempted to do this on a regular basis.
I once took a strengths assessment and discovered that one of my greatest strengths is my sense of responsibility. That sounds good, right? Don’t you want to have people in your life who have a strong sense of responsibility? Who won’t bail on you in the middle of something? Who will take ownership over a task? Who will not drop the ball? Who think ahead and count the cost before committing? That sense of responsibility has served me very well these past 39 years – it helped me get good grades in school, complete my college degree, be a faithful spouse, a devoted mom, a dedicated employee. It has helped me stay on top of finances and keep the housework from getting completely out of control. Not a bad strength to have!
So what is lurking on the flipside of the coin of responsibility? For me, it is a tendency to want to control things that are either beyond my ability to control or exceeding my right to control. As a responsible mother, I want to raise my son with attention to detail – I don’t want any character issue, health need, spiritual discipline, or mental aptitude to go unnoticed or unattended. Why? Yes , because I love him, but also because I feel responsible. The danger comes when I take my responsibility to far. I stop focusing only on my responsibility to do the right thing in a given situation and, in addition, take on the responsibility for the outcome of the situation as well.
To be responsible for myself: my actions, attitudes, and words; is a wonderful thing. To take on the responsibility for anything beyond that is where I start to get into trouble.
In a scientific research environment, experiments are conducted to arrive at conclusions that can lead to helpful solutions to difficult problems. Lots and lots of experiments are conducted before the solution is reached. In order to get the specific desired outcome that they are looking for, scientists isolate all the different variables that could have an effect on the outcome of the experiment. They do this in a sterile environment where they control every possible variable. That way when they complete an experiment, they know exactly how and why the result was achieved and they can replicate it.
My overreaching sense of responsibility would LOVE for life to take place in a controlled, sterile environment. I don’t know about you, but in the complex world I live in, I can do all the right things and still end up with a result that is riddled with the effects of all the variables I couldn’t control along the way… variables like other people’s actions, attitudes, and words, my own limited understanding and perception, and the effects of an unseen spiritual war that is going on all round me at all times.
Repeat after me: “I am only in control of myself! I cannot control any other person on this planet without eventually hurting them. I cannot control every variable. I cannot control other people’s priorities or their desires. I cannot control the outcome of any situation, only my role in it.”
Responsibility is a wonderful attribute, but taking responsibility for things that are clearly God’s responsibility is, at best, setting me up for frustration and, at worst, paving a road that leads to deception and destruction. I think I need to create a pin board somewhere in my mind for my “Junior God” badge. Any time I find myself overstepping my bounds, I’ll remind myself to head to that pin board and hang that badge back up where it belongs. There is no such thing as a Junior God, but there is such a thing as a “dearly love child of God,” and that is the badge I want to wear instead.
How about you?
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.
For the past two days, I've been dealing with a sudden onset of lower back pain. A couple trips to the chiropractor and some x-rays to rule out anything serious, and I am now feeling 65% better. Any time an ache or pain slows me down, I HATE IT. I hate being sick. I hate injuries. I don't manage health related setbacks well. I'm not a fun patient. I just want it to "be over."
Meanwhile, I have a friend in California, a mom of three elementary school-aged kids, who is being treated for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. RSD (as I understand it) is an unexplainable disease of the nervous system that is triggered by an injury. The nervous system and body "overreact" to the injury and go a little haywire, making the pain related to the injury disproportionately severe. Not only that, but the intense pain spreads to other body parts not affected by the injury, basically making life completely miserable, if not unbearable even after the injury heals.
Suddenly, perspective settles in. Why was I complaining again?
My friend is currently undergoing a Ketamine treatment that requires her to be at the hospital from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day. The side effects include nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and hallucinations. She has had all of these.
From now on when my back twinges or pain wakes me up at night when I try to roll over in bed, I'm going to stop and pray for my friend instead of focusing on my own pain. Would you do the same? You don't have to know her name or anything about her really... just pray for my friend... a fellow planet-wanderer who has been thrown a difficult curve ball.
So how do you pray?
Maybe if in our own pain (whether it is emotional, spiritual, or physical), we can be reminded of the ache of another and lift her up in prayer, none of our pain will be in vain. And God will bring a kind of healing we never could have imagined.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9).
You can't MAKE memories
Jason and I recently celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a day in Washington D.C. together. While we were waiting on our bus, we took turns listing off some of our favorite memories from the past 15 years, one at a time. He would describe a memory; I would smile and nod. I would recall something; he would smile and nod. After this had gone on quite awhile and we both had unfading smiles on our faces and fond memories filling our minds, it dawned on me that none of the memories we listed as our favorites occurred on holidays. Huh. Interesting. We didn’t say, “Remember that Christmas when…,” or “I’ll never forget that Thanksgiving when…” It seemed that our best memories happened when we weren’t planning for them to happen!
This was a major revelation to me. It is something that I am still pondering now, a few days later. You see, I’m “the planner.” I’m the one who sees a holiday coming on the calendar and is prone to feel more PRESSURE than pleasure. The pressure of who to spend it with, where to spend it at, how much money to spend, how to make it the most memorable, how to make it meaningful (particularly if it is a faith-centered holiday), how to incorporate tradition and still try new things. It’s no wonder that my favorite memories don’t seem to happen on holidays! They happen on days when I’m not feeling pressured to MAKE memories. When I’m just living life and remembering to appreciate the people I’m with, the places I’m at, and the God who generously provided both. They happen, not when my mind is focused on the details of executing a plan, but when the overriding agenda is being 100% present in the given moment.
A great example of this is a vacation we took to Disney World when our son was 9. I planned my hiney off, folks. As we prepared to leave, I knew I was on the precipice of dangerous territory. I had spent so much time doing so much research that I was poised to spend our trip being so interested in doing things in “the right order” and in “the most efficient way” that I would frustrate my guys and suck the joy right out of the only family vacation we’d had in years. Thank God for self awareness! Somehow, I caught a glimpse of where my pressure-filled, over-planning tendency was heading and I was able to shut it off… that mental compulsion to execute the plan at all costs. Instead, I told myself I had prepared well and now it was time to hold all of that information in reserve and pull it out when it was needed, but not be enslaved to it or force others to conform to it. The result – we had a BLAST! Best. Family. Vacation. Ever. Most of the fun we had and the most lasting memories we made were completely unexpected, like the people we met while sitting in line for a ride in the Animal Kingdom waiting out a thunder storm and the instant bond we formed with them, spending the rest of the evening together going on the same two rides together as a big group over-and-over-and-over again until the park closed and they actually closed the ride down while we were on it; or the daily afternoon family nap we ended up taking at our hotel during the hottest part of the day (if I had planned that ahead of time, both the guys would have balked and it would have seemed like a drag… but it happened naturally and we all laugh about how hard we crashed each afternoon to this day).
So now we look forward to the next 15 years, and hopefully learn from the best memories of the first 15. Here’s to holding our plans loosely, and to waking up each day with the realization that we don’t have to MAKE memories happen. Our God is a good God and He gives good gifts to His children. We don’t have to cleverly conjure up gifts for ourselves – we just have to unwrap His gifts when He gives them! He has built joy into the equation of our lives and He is the one who knows how to bring it out at just the right time to create moments that leave a permanent smile in our souls. No amount of human planning can equal that!
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Have you ever been faced with something that was causing you anxiety and when you reached out to a friend or family member to help you process it, she responded with that question? It’s a good exercise, don’t you think? Facing that thing you are inwardly fearing the most? Well, it is the start of a good exercise, anyway.
Up until that point, you probably haven’t actually said OUT LOUD what the worst case scenario actually is… it has just been haunting the depths of your mind without ever taking a clear shape. So you come right out and say it. The worst case scenario is… Fill in the blank. I lose my job. We lose our house. Someone I love dies. Someone I love leaves me. The doctor will say it is cancer. I will screw up royally and hurt other people. The truth will come out and I will lose the respect of those who I cherish. Whatever the “worst that could happen” in any given situation happens to be, is now out there on the table. You’ve said it. Whew! That’s a relief, right?
Not necessarily. Your friend probably asked that question because she doesn’t think it is likely that the worst case scenario will actually occur. She wants you to say it out loud so she can remind you that it probably won’t happen like that. If the conversation stops with simply answering that question, however, our fear and anxiety may actually increase rather than diminish. Because, even though your friend is playing the odds and counting on positivity to rule the day, you know that even if it isn’t likely… it is possible… and now you’ve said it out loud and have no answers.
A better response to gain peace and arrive at the place where you are getting the upper hand on your fear is to START by asking that question, but not to STOP there. Once you’ve identified your worst case scenario and said it out loud, don’t play the odds. Don’t talk about how likely or unlikely that result is… it doesn’t matter – you don’t know the future so wasting time trying to predict it is futile. Instead, ask the next important question: Then what?
Beth Moore demonstrates this beautifully (and somehow humorously) in one of the lessons she teaches in her study on the biblical book of Esther. In Esther’s story, we see her come to the point where she realizes that the worst case scenario in her situation is that she will die. The king will have her killed for daring to appear before him uninvited. She faces this worst case scenario and in the end asks for the prayers and support of her people and then says, “If I perish, I perish.” As Beth reflects on this idea of facing your fear, she talks about how she occasionally would develop a horrible fear that her husband was going to be attracted to another woman. It would build up inside her and every time he was distant or came home later than expected, or just didn’t seem like himself, the fear would rise immediately to the surface and her thoughts would be plagued with the worst case scenario. So she finally asked herself. “What IS the worst case scenario?” In her mind, the worst possibility was that he wasn’t just attracted to another woman, but that he loved her, and that she was darling and beautiful, and that her own children liked this other woman! Okay. “Then what?” Well, I would be devastated!!! I would throw a fit, a big fit! I would writhe on the floor in pain and my heart would break! Okay. “Then what?” I would be consumed with thoughts of them together and I would have to lay down on the floor with my Bible on my head (you’d have to know Beth Moore to imagine her saying all this. She is a kick) and listen to worship music in the car really loud and cry out to God just to make it through each day. Okay. “Then what?” Well, I’d be mad as a hornet for quite a while and I might take it out on other people until I got a hold of it. Okay. “Then what?” Well, eventually, I’d get back up. Go back to ministry and take it one day at a time.
Well, what do you know about that?! If you ask enough “Then what’s?” you eventually get to a place where a new normal emerges in your realm of possibility… one that is hard, but doable. One that helps you to take in the worst case scenario and not just play the odds, but face the fear and see the hope on the other side.
A word of caution: Faith is the basis of all of this. Faith in God and His goodness and in His faithfulness to fulfill His promises. If you don’t have that as a starting place, then asking yourself “Then what?” is a dangerous proposition, indeed. In Esther’s case, the end result was the possibility of her death… that thought isn’t going to fill you with hope unless you have a faith in what comes after death. So depending on where your relationship is with God today, you may want to start with a different question… before jumping to “What’s the worst that could happen?” why not try, “Is there a God who loves me?”
There is. He does.
Jeremiah 29:13 NIV "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me with all your heart."
Life is not a day at the beach
Life is not a day at the beach it is a swim in the ocean. This is the thought that I have been considering this morning. Here are my conclusions:
1. Sitting on the shore is not really living; it is coming right up to the edge of living and then refusing to enter the fray. It is admiring the power and and pleasure of life but being too afraid to dive in. It is safer, but it misses the point.
2. Others may appear to be better swimmers (life-livers) than you are, but we aren't in it for a an hour, or a day, or even a week. We are in it for the long haul. In time, everyone struggles. It doesn't matter how confident or "well equipped" we are. You can only tread water for so long before you need someone to throw you a life line.
3. Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh, is the ultimate life preserver. (Psalm 119)
4. The point of a life preserver is to keep you afloat in deep water. To keep you just as alive in the depths as you are on the beach.
5. What point is there in obtaining a life preserver and wearing it while sitting in the sand with only your toes in the water? Why accept the saving grace of Jesus Christ and then live within your own strength, settling for only what is safe and easy?
Luke 17:33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.
What are you complaining about?
In February, when it became clear that we would be moving out of rural America, where a monthly mortgage payment on a 2,400sf house was right at $1,000, into one of the most expensive urban areas in the country, where you can't even find a tiny, one bedroom apartment in a bad neighborhood with rent at that price, we had to adjust our thinking. What had been unacceptable to us for the previous 13 years (aka: the thought of apartment life), shifted to becoming highly desirable as we began to get an idea of what it would cost to live in the DC metro area. An hour long commute to and from work, would have been completely unthinkable in any other context and yet here, shockingly, it doesn't seem so bad because it would save thousands of dollars each year. Our perspective had to be altered to suit our new reality.
It was funny to me today to hear myself tell Jason how much I was loving apartment life. I love it because the apartment is small so it is easy to clean. I love that we have absolutely ZERO responsibility for keeping up a yard or maintaining the exterior of our dwelling. I love that we don't accumulate too much "stuff" because there is just no where to put it. I love that it is easy to heat and cool. I love that we have free access to a swimming pool (that we don't have to maintain) and a fitness center. I'm just altogether completely pleased with something I DID NOT WANT in the first place. Go figure.
When Jason and I got married almost 15 years ago, we lived in an apartment for two years. We hated it. We complained about it. We desperately wanted a house, where our neighbors weren't so close and where we would have more space. We then rented two different houses for 3 years total and we complained about each because, although each had their merits, neither was "our own place." We then bought our first house and the excitement quickly wore off and we complained about all the things that needed to be done to fix the place up and make it more modern and more "us." After three years, and a lot of home improvement projects, we moved across the country and bought a bigger, nicer house and thought we had arrived. Turns out, bigger, nicer houses take bigger wads of cash to maintain. They can also be harder to sell, and when it was time to move on from there, it took two and a half years to find someone who wanted to buy our bigger, nicer house. Boy did we complain about that! In the meantime we came to know the joy and heartache of renting OLDER homes (80-100+ years old). Everyone who visited us raved about "the character" and "the potential," while we put off saving for Tim's college education in order to pay the astronomical heating bills for those old houses and , you guessed it, we complained.
So here we are living in an apartment - back to square one - and paying more for it each month than we ever dreamed of paying for housing in our lifetime, and we are happy. It is up to us now, to catch a clue and stay that way, and stop complaining. Obviously, each living arrangement has its ups and downs - but at the end of the day, it is a roof over our heads and a place to sleep, prepare and eat meals, and be a family. It could be better and it could be worse.
Someone posted this quote on Facebook today: "That thing you are taking for granted is the very thing someone else is praying for." I'm taking two lessons from that today:
1. Habitual complaining is lame. It shows utter disrespect for those who are going without and a lack of trust in the One who directs our paths. May I learn contentment and joy in the here and now, whatever and wherever that may be.
2. I should always examine why I am praying for the things that I am praying for. Bigger, better, cheaper and easier aren't the goals of life. If I am praying for something that someone else is taking for granted... maybe it is because they are self-centered... but maybe it is because it isn't really worth praying for to begin with.
"This then is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one."
Amen. Have I told you how much I love our little apartment?
I know who you are.
Today I was adding new music to my iPod for my commute to work and I started exploring the songs of JJ Heller. I'd heard a few, but I wanted to hear more.
One song in particular struck me immediately. It is entitled, "Who You Are." It describes the lives of individuals who are going through trying times; life isn't looking the way they thought it would, and they are in pain. In their sorrow and confusion, they admit that they don't know what God is doing. I can still hear the chorus ringing in my ears, "I don't know, I don't know what You're doing. But I know who You are."
We can get through a lot when we know who we are walking through it with. When we are sure. 100% certain. No doubts. We don't have to know everything in every situation, but we do have to know one thing for sure. Who is it that walks with me?
The most heart-wrenching time in any relationship comes when one offends the other to the point where the offendee begins to not only take offense at the wrong doing, but to go so far as to question whether or not he really knew this friend in the first place. This sense of betrayal is a common theme in movies. We've all heard lines like, "I never even knew you." or "Who are you, anyway?" It feeds into our innate fear of trust. Our fear of giving ourselves completely to another person. There is always the risk that the wool is being pulled over your eyes, that what you wanted to believe about your friend, or lover, or parent, or mentor isn't actually true. That's when the walls crumble down around you and the way out seems bleak.
BUT, what if you knew? What if you never had to wonder? What if you were absolutely certain that the character & capacity of the one you put your trust in was ROCK SOLID? How many more confusing times could you make your way through together? How many perceived offenses could you see past? How much deeper could the water get without you panicking? How much higher would the mountains be that you could climb with him beside you? It is almost impossible to fathom, if you have been repeatedly burned in your earthly relationships... that this kind of trust could exist.
When JJ Heller sings, "Who You Are," this is what she is singing about. She is reminding herself and all of us that we can know God. His character is described vividly and consistently in the Bible and we can count on him to be who He says He is. Every. Single. Time.
Circumstances will change.
God will not.
*This is cheating, because it is really better when you open your own Bible and pray your very own prayers and let God show Himself to you PERSONALLY, but - if you need a jump-start, a crash course in the character of God - this is a good place to start.
Not one moment that we spend reading the Bible, praying, listening to godly men and women teach and share, acting on what we learn, not one single moment is wasted. Over time, each of these acts becomes a building block in our relationship with Jesus Christ. His character IS rock solid. But in our fallen human state, having encountered unpredictable and untrustworthy people time and time again, we don't come to put our full weight on Him over night. It comes in time. It is built by experience. Give Him a chance. He will prove to be exactly who He says He is, and that knowledge can make the sun rise after even the darkest of nights.
On the Look-Out for God's Favor
On a recent trip to the National Zoo, we had a great time watching this meerkat. The other meerkats in the habitat were rolling in the dirt, playing, and digging, but this one climbed up on the highest rock in the enclosure and stood very still and just looked, systematically, in every possible direction. The educational plaque hanging on the wall nearby explained that this behavior is common for meerkats. Since they are such tiny creatures and generally walk on all-fours, meerkats will frequently pull themselves up on their hind legs to get a better, higher view of their surroundings and search for predators.
This week on my commute to work, I've been reading in Genesis about the life of Joseph. You remember Joseph - the coat of many colors, being sold into slavery by his brothers, being bought by the Captain of the Guard in Egypt, ending up in prison (unjustly), interpreting dreams beyond his own capability, being restored and elevated to the position of second in command to the pharaoh, saving his family from the effects of a severe famine, being reunited with his father who thought he was dead. AMAZING LIFE STORY to be sure. The thing that struck me this week as I read through the account of the life of Joseph again was that He was always experiencing God's favor, regardless of his circumstances:
1. His brothers threw him in a pit, but didn't kill him.
2. He was sold into slavery, but everything he did prospered and he was not treated like a slave in the home of Potiphar.
3. He was put into prison unjustly, but again everything he did there prospered and he was given responsibility and meaningful work even in prison.
4. He was offered a high position in the government of the pharaoh which he did not seek out.
5. Everything he did in Egypt prospered and his work there resulted in saving a nation from a devastating famine and in restoring his family to him.
As I read and reflected on Joseph's life, I was reminded that we cannot gauge whether or not we are living out God's will for our lives based on our circumstances. After all, Joseph was rejected by his brothers. a slave, and a prisoner, all while being right where God wanted him to be. A better gauge of living out God's will, it seems, is His favor. God's favor plays out in the smallest of ways and on the grandest of scales, but is of equal value regardless of the way it is displayed. Sometimes we have to be like that meerkat, and rise above our own limited perspective and try to catch a glimpse of what is really going on in the midst of our suffering. If we don't, we are destined to be enslaved to our current circumstances and our limited interpretations of them.
This is more than looking for a "silver-lining." This is about remaining faith-filled in our attitudes and faithful in our actions regardless of our situation. Refusing to despair when we know we are on the path God wants for us. Submitting to the route that He has deemed best and looking for evidences of His favor along the way to keep us going. When we are in the pit (rejected by those who are supposed to love us and protect us), in slavery (stuck in a difficult situation without any control over it), or imprisoned unjustly (falsely accused and punished without cause) - may we rise up to our full height (in his mercy and grace) and look for evidences of favor smack dab in the middle of the pain and difficulty. If they are there, then we have cause to rejoice in the midst of the mess and hold on for the deliverance that will surely come. If they are absent, we have cause to repent and wait for the restoration that God has promised never to withhold from His children.
Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)
"I lift up my eyes to the mountains-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth."
Psalm 30:5 (NIV)
"For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."
Getting Ahead of Yourself
Today three delightful, hard-working ladies from the moving company are here packing up everything that we own. They have gone about their work pleasantly and with a sense of pride. While they were busy packing-away, a dear friend stopped by to chat and we stepped into one of the rooms that they were not working in for a lovely hour or so to catch up without getting in their way. When I bid my friend farewell, I walked through each room that they had completed and sighed... "This is real!" I thought. I joked with them that I guess there was no going back now and one of them insisted, "Nope, you are moving!"
I went upstairs to, ahem, use the facilities, and only after I'd committed to that act did I realize - THEY HAD PACKED THE TOILET PAPER. Wow. Talk about total commitment to the job. "You ARE moving!" Well, no kidding. We sure can't stay here without toilet paper!
As I reflect on that moment of shocking realization that the T.P. was in a box somewhere and not on the roll, I'm now laughing at myself... how often do I get ahead of myself in life... planning for what is coming a few steps down the road and inadvertently missing what is obviously important in the here and now? Answer: Too often.
Life lesson for the day - Don't neglect the needs of today while planning for the future... or if you prefer: pack the toilet paper last for Pete's sake!
The PROVEN Life
"You are capable, competent, creative, careful. Prove it."
That was the fortune hidden inside my cookie on Friday night at the local Chinese restaurant. I had to laugh. I once heard my Dad jokingly say that my first words were, "Prove it!" I'm naturally a questioner and an analyzer. A truth-seeker. I want things to make sense and to be backed up by logic and facts (life of the party, I know). On the other side of that coin, if something can't be proven, I often have little time for it. I'm not a big fan of philosophical discussions or "what ifs" (much to the chagrin of my visionary, possibility thinking husband). This fortune, turned the magnifying glass back at me though. If I am who I think I am, then I should prove it, right?! It should be backed up by predictable actions and decisions that become "facts" about me and my character.
It is such a blessing to have people in our lives who do what this fortune cookie did for me... remind us of who we are and challenge us to live it out. It is even better to have His Word written on our hearts reminding us of who God says we are and how He's already proven it!
2 Corinthians 5:17 - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed way. Behold, the new has come!" ESV
Galatians 5:1 - "For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." ESV
Ephesians 5:8 - "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." ESV
The reality is, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, and no one has anything to prove to me. God has proven what is ultimately true. It is now up to us to walk in that truth. Daily.
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.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!