Today we went to a local martial arts studio to see a friend take her black belt certification test in taekwando. The test lasted two hours. That's two solid hours of swinging nun-chucks, kicks, punches, jumps, push-ups, sparring, proper form, jumping jacks, leg lifts and sweat. Lots of sweat. I don't know what I was expecting, but that wasn't it. It was all about breaking down the candidates physically and pushing them to their absolute limits to see how they respond. Earning a black belt was more about perseverance than perfection.
I couldn't help but compare the experience to the walk of faith for a Christian. Here are a few comparisons:
1. The instructors and the spectators were there to cheer the candidates on, to encourage them to go farther and try harder than they would otherwise, and to bear witness to their expected success. The church is meant to do the same. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
2. One of the criteria that the candidates were being judged on was attitude. They could do the entire two hour workout perfectly, but if they refused to bow in respect, respond appropriately to their instructors, and show a level of enthusiasm for what they were doing, they would fail. The same is true for the Christian. I Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."
3. The candidates were expected to yell back their responses to each of the instructors questions. We were in a small enclosed space and yelling seemed odd, but it was required. One of the instructors explained to the spectators that the reason they required the candidates to yell was that when you yell, it forces you to inhale deeply afterward, and breathing is one of the most important things for the candidates to do to keep them going. Rather than telling them to breathe over and over again, they train them to yell and allow the breathing to come naturally. Sometimes directions from a learned master don't seem to make sense, but we trust in our teacher who knows more than we do. It is the same for the Christian. Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the .For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
4. Perseverance and stamina over the long haul are key to success. There will be moments of feeling like you can't go on for every black belt candidate - probably more than one over the course of two hours, but continuing on regardless of feelings, trusting that a second/third/fourth wind will catch up to you if you just press on. The same is true of the Christian. James 1:12 ESV, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."
A black belt is just a white belt that never gave up.
A saint is just a saved sinner that persevered in the faith.
Today I read this story about a young man in Belize whose life was radically changed by people loving him and encouraging him when his own parents abandoned him at the age of 12. I was moved by the way I saw God's hand in his life as he described the twists and turns that led him to the place of gratitude and hope where he is now. I can imagine that it took courage for him to write his story down and that there were probably times where he doubted whether he should or not. Sometimes something means an awful lot to us, but we have doubts about whether or not it would mean much to others. It is disconcerting to share our stories when others may discount their value or weight. Earlier this week I read two different accounts written by fathers who lost a child. One to a stillbirth and the other to a tragic car accident at age five. Both commented that they were hesitant to share their stories. They were concerned about somehow cheapening the weight of their experiences with their own clumsy words and even worse, laying them out there for others to criticize or judge - not just their writing, but their very motives for writing in the first place.
I am thankful that each of these people chose to tell their story. SO thankful. I am drawn to stories. True stories. Biographies, autobiographies, historical sketches, blogs, I want to read them all. To me, this is the stuff of life.
In Shauna Niequist's book, "Bittersweet," she writes this, "There are myths that we tend to believe about our stories: the first is that they're about us; they don't matter. But they're not only about us, and they matter more than ever right now. When we, any of us who have been transformed by Christ, tell our own stories, we're telling the story of who God is... My life is not a story about me. And your life is not a story about you. My life is a story about who God is and what he does in a human heart."
Let's be brave and tell His story about our lives - about what He has brought us through and what He is walking with us in today and where He seems to be leading us. And let's not be quick to judge when others share their stories. There are things to learn about God and what He is doing in the world bound up inside each and every person we meet - my bus driver, the woman I pass in the city each day holding a cardboard sign, your son's swim team coach, the mail carrier, my neighbor, the telemarketer. Perhaps if we saw each other that way, if we saw ourselves that way, we'd approach each other with a bit more grace and dignity, and we'd dive deeper into the the greatest story ever told.
After church today, I found myself frustrated with our son and about to launch into a diatribe on all the reasons he better "shape up or this is going to be one long summer." I then detailed my frustration to him - namely, the constant need to remind. Reminders to take care of the dogs, reminders to eat breakfast, reminders to make sure he has clean laundry, reminders to mind his manners, reminders to keep his attitude in check, reminders to brush teeth or use deodorant, reminders to limit his screen time. I told him that I felt like we'd been reminding him about the exact same things for 13 years and that I was about to lose my mind that he still needed to be reminded. Then I took a deep breath and looked at his frustrated and defeated face and found the grace (thank you, God) to say, "What's driving you crazy? That's what is driving me crazy, but anytime three people live in a two-bedroom apartment together and call each other family they are going to drive each other crazy. So what makes you frustrated with Daddy and I lately?" Surprise, surprise - His father and I have some pretty annoying habits as well! Turns out as much as we hate reminding him about things every day - he hates BEING REMINDED constantly! He also doesn't like that we tell him to limit his screen time, but it seems to him that we are constantly staring at a screen ourselves. There were others, but there's no reason to over-share, right?
We ended up having an impromptu family meeting and coming up with a game plan to eliminate the annoying reminder cycle (we will not remind him about things unless he asks for assistance in being reminded and he will suffer natural consequences and/or loss of time with friends if he lets something important slide) and to limit our screen time as a family this summer (Technology-free Tuesdays for the whole family and a set time limit for internet usage the rest of the week.) We have also posted a family calendar for the summer on the refrigerator and we have committed to finding a family hobby to enjoy together during all those hours that will be freed up by the lack of nagging and internet surfing.
Living together as family is not always easy (sometimes it is down right exhausting and painful), but God is faithful to provide ways to help us live together in peace and even joy when we commit to sticking it out as a family and not giving up on each other. What are some ways that you have found to make family life better, especially during the summer months?
Ephesians 6:1-4 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
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.
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?
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.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!