Thursday, December 12, 2013

Enough is Enough

When I first read the material for my Bible study this week, the word ENOUGH jumped out at me.  My first thought was of something my Mom used to say to me and my siblings when we were much younger and being quite disobedient, "I told you I had enough of that behavior, and enough is enough!"  I learned pretty quickly that this exclamation was a precursor to discipline; if things had progressed this far my Mom's capacity for our misbehavior was completely full!

As I thought back to those days, I realized it was a perfect way to understand the word "enough" and how it applied to my relationship with God.  I looked up some dictionary definitions of the word enough and found these: 

"Sufficient to meet a need or satisfy a desire"
 "Equal to what is needed"
 "An adequate number or quantity"

My mother was completely saturated with our bad behavior--she did not need to experience any more of it--her cup was full!  That is exactly the kind of fullness we are promised when we are told "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2Cor 12:9) or "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:19) These verses assure us that God is enough; we can even plug His name into the definitions above and see that it reads just like these texts:

My God is sufficient to meet my needs or satisfy my desires
My God is equal to what I need
My God is an adequate amount or quantity

I know some people might argue that the last definition of God as enough seems kind of lame, but I would disagree.  God IS an adequate amount or quantity.  He is the perfect fit--never more or less than what we need.  Yes, His love overflows in our lives but He is never intrusive or obnoxious or "in your face" about anything--He is always exactly what is needed.  

When we think of God that way, we realize that "Enough is Enough" is the perfect description of God's presence in our lives.  Whether He is providing wisdom for the difficult choices, strength for the impossible tasks, or peace for the unbearable storms, He is always exactly what is needed.  

"Enough is Enough" also brought to mind what God called Himself as He met Moses in the desert at the burning bush.  "I AM that I AM"  I've always loved this name of God because it really captures the essence of God in these few short words.  God is God; He is everything.  Because of that, God is always Enough.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I Am Not A Barbie Doll

Comparisons have been a struggle for me since the day my sister was born.  But, it didn't stop there--with each new sibling (there are four of us) another competitor entered the ring.  Just as my youngest sister arrived, I entered Kindergarten and found out there were a lot of kids all trying to get the attention of one teacher!  They all needed hugs and encouragement, and so I learned more about sharing both toys and affection.  I think that's how the trap of comparison begins.  The lesson that it's "not all about me" is an important one, but somehow it is so easily distorted into a message that we will never be as good as the others around us.  At least that's how it is for many of the women I know. 

We compare our appearance, our education, our children, and our spouses.  We compare our recipes at church potluck dinners and the decor in our homes.  In nearly every woman's mind is a small voice asking

"Why can't I cook like she does?"

"Why are my children the only ones acting up?"

"How does she get her hair to do that?"

"When will I get my act together and get my house decorated like hers?"

"Why did she get credit for her project, but I didn't get any for mine?"

 The devil has used this issue to harass and discourage me for as long as I can remember and I have followed him down that rabbit hole more times than I would care to admit. At what point did I stop listening to God's message of love and encouragement and begin hearing nothing but the voice of the enemy whispering messages of discouragement?  How did I let myself become so deceived about what God really asks of me?

I blame adolescence.  Hormones, high school, and home problems.  That's the point where I stopped listening to the loving encouragement of my family about my true identity and started taking a serious look at the other females around me and how much better they were than me at just about everything.  It makes me laugh to look back at it now, because I realize that most of them were looking around thinking the same things.  We were all awash in the sea of adolescent anxiety, with its 50 foot waves of hormones, and rational thought was swamped!  Surrounded by that intense experience of not measuring up, many of us began using the same defense mechanism--putting the others down through criticism and gossip in order to make ourselves feel better. 

If those kinds of choices ended with high school, it probably wouldn't be so bad, but often that way of coping with comparison goes on for decades, ruining friendships and leading to superficial relationships in every area of life.  Comparison becomes a way of life; a slow spiral downward of negativity and discouragement.

This is not the life God chooses for me, as His daughter.  He speaks to me in the same voice he used with the Woman at the Well (John, Chapter Four), the Woman caught in Adultery (John, Chapter Eight), and Martha (Luke, Chapter 10).  He offers encouragement based on truth.  He doesn't condemn my mistakes; He encourages me to acknowledge them and then move past them.  I can stop falling into the comparison trap when looking at the women around me.  I can see each of us as who we really are.  I am not a Barbie doll--perfect in a superficial, manufactured kind of way.  I am His--and that is enough. That is the truth about who I am--I am chosen and I am loved; I am forgiven and I am redeemed. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Getting my Good Enough From God

I recently participated in a group discussion on Facebook among women who are studying together the book "A Confident Heart" by Renee Swope.  Many of the topics we discussed were light-hearted and and revolved around our preparations for the upcoming Holiday Season.  There was one question, however, that unified the group in an way I did not expect.

The question:  "What doubt do you want to turn away from?"

The answers:  Almost every answer revolved around the statement "That I am not good enough".

I'm not a good enough mother.  I'm not a good enough wife.  I'm not a good enough daughter.  The list moved on from there. . .I'm not good enough at my job or in my church position.  My words aren't good enough; I'm a terrible cook or housekeeper.  I'm not a good enough neighbor. 

That's a lot of doubt my friends!  Every single comment contained some aspect of the "good enough" issue!  As I read them, my heart ached for all of us.  This was a group of godly women brought together in fellowship and caring and our number one doubt concerned being "good enough" for everyone around us. 

Frankly, I was surprised that so many were willing to share this burden.  I knew I felt that way, and I knew a few others struggled with this issue, but I thought we were in the minority.  I look around at work and at church and in the mall and I see a lot of women who seem to have things pretty well in hand.  They appear confident and happy.  They couldn't possibly feel as overwhelmed and unworthy as I do, at times.

I guess the key is that word appear.  It's all on the outside--the confidence; the calm exterior.  It's like piece of wrapping paper that we put around ourselves as a protective armor, thinking that if the package is wrapped up nicely no one will see the doubt and discouragement lurking beneath.  But, wrapping paper makes terrible armor!  It gets worn and it tears and soon some of what is hiding becomes visible.  We can get so busy re-wrapping ourselves, trying to hide what we don't want others to see, that we never address the real problem.

We aren't good enough.  There isn't enough wrapping paper in the world to keep our unworthiness hidden. 

We need to get our good enough from God.  We need the sacrifice of Christ to cover our crimson sins and make us as white as snow.  We need His love to infuse our thoughts and our words and our actions.  We need to put on God's armor--His belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:13-17).  God's armor will never wear and tear and lay us bare to condemnation.

And we need to remember one more thing--"We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  (Hebrews 4:15-17) 

I'm pretty sure that means that God has my back. He knows about every doubt, every time I make a mistake or hurt someone I love, every hidden sin, and every word of discouragement that Satan is speaking into my heart.  The writer of Hebrews assures me that God does know my pain; He sees my tears and hears the unspoken doubts in my heart.  Jesus can sympathize with every bit of the ugly I experience because He came and lived in this ugly world and He hurt, too.  He endured all of that for me, so that I could come to Him and lay all of my burdens at His feet and surrender my pain and doubt to Him.  I can tell Him that I hurt and that nothing I do seems to be good enough, and He will hold me close and look me in the eyes and tell me the truth. . . .

God is my good enough. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Woman at the Well

She was used to the attention of men; married five times and living with a different man now, she was familiar with their ways.  She was also very aware of how easily their attention could be turned elsewhere.  At one time, she might have considered herself attractive to the opposite sex, but not anymore.  If you have been discarded like trash, even once, it is hard to have a positive view of your worth.  It's not hard to imagine how she pinned her hopes on each new relationship, thinking "maybe this time I will be loved".  It's also not hard to imagine how those hopes dimmed with each rejection. 

It only took a couple of failed relationships for the women of the town to begin to turn their back on her.  None of them wanted her close to them or their families.  What if she decided to go after their husband, or their brother?  No--that was too big a risk to take.  At first the women were subtle.  Every time she sought out their company, they were conveniently busy.  The trips to draw water were very quiet for her, and she found herself at the back of the group, listening to the bits of conversation and laughter that drifted her direction.  Once or twice, she thought she heard her name--and then she realized they weren't calling to her, they were talking about her.  She got the hint, after a while, and began making the trip on her own, and everyone was relieved.

And, that's where we find her.  Approaching the well and finding a man waiting there.  A man she has never seen before; a stranger--perhaps a traveler.  He is clearly Jewish.  It would be unseemly for her to talk to him, even with her reputation, and so she prepares to quietly draw the needed water from the well.

"Will you give me a drink?"  Jesus asks.

She is startled at being spoken to by a Jewish man, and by the tender tone of His voice.  She feels compelled to answer Him, and thus begins one of most powerful stories of redemption in the Bible.  By the time this tale ends, she has found acceptance--and along with it, peace and hope.  She is transformed, in the space of a single conversation, into a powerful witness for Jesus and His ability to turn ashes into beauty.  She is unafraid to return to her village and share her experience with everyone she meets.  And the villagers, stunned by the clear change in her, follow her example and seek out the company of Jesus.  Many of them also accept Him as their Savior.

Why did they listen to her?  Why did they find her testimony compelling?  The Bible tells us it is because of something incredible that she said.

"He told me everything I ever did."

Everything?  No secrets?  Nothing held back?  That's what impressed her most.  Jesus knew every sordid detail of her life, and His voice was still tender; His expression was still accepting.  Her life was an open book to Jesus, yet He did not turn His back on her.  Her neighbors hadn't known half of the mistakes she had made, and they couldn't bear her company.  Jesus knew everything and still loved her.

That is what I love best about her story.  Jesus uses this woman to teach everyone about mercy and grace.  What if your life was transparent to everyone you encountered?  How would you be treated?  I have to ask myself how I would feel if everyone I knew could know my every thought and see each hidden sin.  The answer is devastating--I would be rejected and alone.

Jesus knows.  Everything. 

That knowledge doesn't stop Him from pursuing me and loving me and forgiving me. 

That knowledge is why He offered Himself in my place. 

That knowledge is my only hope!  For if Jesus can know EVERYTHING I have ever thought or done, and still value me--I must be loved greatly by Him.  To be loved like that enables me to see myself as He sees me.  To be loved like that is to be drawn to love in return. 

And, when that happened, nothing in my life was the same again. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Yes, Lord

Dear Lord,

You know how I am struggling, right now, to balance my mornings and make sure my study time/prayer time is not cut short or spent doing things that don't bring us closer together.  It is so easy to get caught up in doing my Bible study leader responsibilities that I lose sight of who/what I am studying about! 

You lord--all for You and all about You. 

To know You. 
To hear You. 
To obey You. 

This is what it means to have You as Lord of my life.

Lately, I have felt You call me to pray. Not just praying during my regular devotional time--other times and other places--to ask others if I can pray with them and for them.  To be bold and let others know that I believe in Your ability to change our lives and also change our circumstances. To share that I believe faith in You changes things, and that the best thing is that faith changes people. . . .changes ME!

I want to answer this call because I know You are preparing me for even bigger ways to serve You and honor You.  Because, if I can't answer Your call to serve in this small way, and experience what You can do through me, then I will never be ready to say YES to anything else You ask me to do. 

All You have asked me to do is pray and to live Your love to those around me through these prayers.

To know You. 
To hear You.
To obey You. 

And so, I obeyed.  I prayed with my co-worker who is grieving over deaths and illness in her family.  I prayed with my son over lost scholarship funds.  I prayed with my friend visiting her new baby in the special care nursery.  Each time I asked them if I could pray with them, my fear of rejection became a bit smaller.  Each time they smiled and bowed their head with me.  Each time they thanked me for that prayer. 

Each time I received the biggest blessing--the blessing that comes from obeying and being filled with a sense of purpose that comes from Someone much greater than me.  The blessing of saying #YesToGod. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Monkey Jar

Years ago, when I was in my teens, I heard about the monkey jar for the first time.  I think, perhaps, it was a missionary speaking about his travels--both the spiritual experiences and the cultural differences that he had learned from.  I don't remember where he said he had traveled; I would guess it was somewhere in Asia.  I do, however, remember learning how to catch a monkey,

I'm sure you've probably seen monkeys at the zoo.  They are fast--they climb, they jump, they cling and they swing--I know I wouldn't want to try to chase one!  Actually, no one wants to, and that is the reason for the monkey jar.  It's simple really; the trapper places a piece of fruit (that barely fits through the opening) into a jar or clay pot and leaves it out in the open.  The monkey is attracted by the scent of the fruit and investigates, finding a sweet offering that is easy pickings.  The monkey places its hand into the jar to retrieve the fruit, but then cannot get its hand out of the jar without letting go of the fruit.   If only it could open its fist and let go of what seems so important!  But, the same greedy appetite that attracted the monkey to the jar, keeps it a prisoner. The trapper can approach the monkey and contain it with a net or a rope because the monkey will not let go of the "treasure" it has found.

I thought of the monkey the other night as I was trying to fall asleep.  All evening my thoughts had been consumed with various ideas, concerns, and responsibilities; racing through one "important" thing to do after another.  I was primarily concerned about my new role as a leader for my OBS Facebook small group.  My mind was filled with questions and ideas and seemed to jump from thought to thought in my enthusiasm about facilitating our study of "What Happens When Women Say Yes to God" by Lysa TerKeurst.  One minute I was considering Facebook parties and group participation contests and the next minute I was pondering blog topics.  As my thoughts careened about my head, I realized the evening had passed and I had not accomplished a thing!  My brain was so full of ideas that nothing cohesive was happening.  I was so greedy for my own accomplishment that I was trapped by the enormity of my plans.  My brain was so full, as I grasped at doing things perfectly, that I could not use it to do anything.

I've felt trapped like that for days.  Each day I would open my email or visit the study blog and find something else I needed to do; spinning my wheels doing important things and never getting traction on the best things.  I held on tight--doing what I do best--making lists of important tasks and multitasking through the job at hand--striving to do each task as perfectly as possible.  I tried to focus on Jeremiah 29:13, "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me with all your heart", but it seemed like my "seeker" wasn't working very well.  My joy was slipping away and I was feeling panicky. 

That changed this morning.  I began my quiet time by reading the blog and posting the link for my group, and then I sat down to study.  I was working on the questions for chapter two and realized that God wanted to talk to me about how I am taking care of myself and how I set boundaries.  He spoke to me about the "junk" in my life--too much time in front of the TV at night, treating myself to the wrong foods because I was stressed out, and the time I was wasting comparing myself to others.  These habits have become poison to my body and my soul.  God asked me to consider that fact that I am not perfect.  He wanted me to realize that I cannot do everything, be everything, experience everything, and have everything; that is greedy--just like the monkey with his hand in the jar.  I can't hold on to everything; it's a trap--just like the fragrant fruit.  It might seem desirable, but it leads to captivity and death.  No, my hands must be opened to let go of the things that are holding me back and they must stay open to receive the blessings God is waiting to place there. I don't get to tell God just how I want things done and I don't get to grab the blessings of my choice, because grabbing leads me right back to the monkey jar of things I can't let go of.  My palms must be up and my heart must be open to say "where are You leading and what do You want of me, Lord?"

It's time to say "NO" to paralyzing perfectionism; "NO" to hours wasted on mindless entertainment; "NO" to medicating my stress with food.  It's time to take my hand out of these monkey jars and experience the true freedom that comes with obedience.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Choose the Golden Door

Today is July 4th; a day of barbeques and apple pie; patriotic parades and fireworks.  It is a jubilant day here in the USA, and rightfully so.  We celebrate the birth of a nation fundamentally different from any other at the time of its conception; a nation that inspired incredible sacrifice by the men and women who founded it and the dreams of countless thousands since that time.  At the core of its foundational principles is the freedom of choice.  We can choose to speak--or be silent; to assemble with others--or remain alone; to carry a weapon--or to employ other defenses; to worship--or to eschew religion in any form.  All of these choices, and so many more, are within our purview each day--so long as we do not choose in ways that invade the rights of others to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

How many empires have been founded on individual choice, rather than on the will of the group?   How many great nations have been able to bind the individual sacrifices of many into a whole that defines each person AND the entire nation?  While this country celebrates those heroes and their sacrifices, both historical and current, we do not elevate them to the position of royalty.  For in that act of setting some individuals as intrinsically superior to others, we deny the basis of our fundamental belief that all men are created equal and all are able to pursue their own course in this world.  

In this essential belief, we see the hand of God at work in the framing of this nation.  There is nothing more important to God than our freedom to choose.  Sin would not exist were it not for our freedom to choose.  We would not have hope for the rescue from sin if not for our freedom to choose the price paid for us on Calvary.  God will not populate Heaven with those who do not want to be there, or with those who do not love Him.  He will not dictate our love or our actions, but He will answer our cry to be rescued when we do choose Him.

I've never visited the Statue of Liberty--perhaps someday I shall have that opportunity--but I have always loved the poem "The New Colossus", by Emma Lazarus, that is engraved on a tablet inside the pedestal:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame.
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

What a lovely description of the gift offered by this country called The United States of America!  You don't have to be someone the world considers "great" to be accepted in this country.  We believe you can start from nothing and become anything you choose to work toward.  The key to success begins with the "yearning to breathe free".
I challenge you to re-read it and imagine this is the voice of the Savior calling out to those who ache for more than what this world has to offer.  Are you tired?  Poor?  Yearning for freedom?  What God offers is His perfect rest, His riches in glory, and His freedom from bondage to sin--nothing in this world can compare!  He lifts His lamp beside the Golden Door and invites us, one and all, to enter in.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

One Last Thing

I think I've identified with Martha all my life.  For years, every time I would read the story of Mary & Martha in Luke chapter 10, I would think "poor Martha!  All she's trying to do is making things perfect for Jesus.  Why isn't anyone helping her?" 

Yep.  I missed the whole point of the story for years. 

I cannot remember a time when I didn't have a list of things "To Do" sitting on the counter or tucked into my purse or on my desk at work.  Sometimes, I have one in all three places.  Occasionally, I will find an old list in my purse and realize there are a couple of things on there I never took care of.  That's how my brain works, I guess--out of sight, out of mind.  There are weeks that are so full of activities and responsibilities that I'm pretty sure I could not function without a list.  The List provides direction, boundaries, and--most importantly--it provides a sense of accomplishment.  And, Heaven knows I love to feel I accomplished something!

This is the week before vacation.  That's right--tomorrow we pile into the Murano and head out for a 10 hour drive to Pennsylvania.  That makes today the busiest day of my whole week, as I clear my desk, tidy the house, do all the laundry, and remember everything I need to pack for the trip.  This has also been the week for Vacation Bible School at my church.  On top of that, two of the nurses I work with in our office have experienced family emergencies that have necessitated their absence for at least 2 days of the week; the rest of us are "covering" their responsibilities, in addition to our own.  And, we had a baby shower at work for one of our business office personnel, so I had food to prepare for that.   Just writing all this makes me feel a little stressed!

The thing is, other than a couple of "OH NO" moments, I haven't really felt overwhelmed.  Really.  I can hardly believe it myself.  I may have learned a bit about "Stress-Less Living" during this whole online Bible study!

I realized a couple of weeks ago that this week was going to be packed tight with important tasks and unavoidable responsibilities, so I tried to plan ahead and think critically about what my limitations were.
  • I was honest with the VBS leader about how much I could participate
  • I started my cleaning chores two weeks beforehand
  • I signed up for food for the shower that I could make easily in the evening after VBS
  • I reminded myself, repeatedly, that I can only do one task at time--so concentrate on the current task and do it right the first time
  • I didn't skip any part of my Bible study/prayer time 
Reading this now, I see that it really wasn't that hard.  It was all about priorities and doing first what mattered most.  Skipping my time with the Lord would have only sabotaged my efforts to remain calm and focused during this stress-filled time.  Being honest with myself and others about my schedule really helped me to avoid over-committing.  Never once did I find myself muttering under my breath about how no one wanted to help or snapping at my family because my nerves were frayed.

That's what Mary understood as she sat at the feet of Jesus, and it's what Martha was struggling with.  Martha wanted to make everything perfect for Jesus--including herself.  That was never going to happen and could only end badly--probably with Martha snapping at servants and family members and crying in her room later over what a failure she had been.  I know; I've done that.  Her focus on all of the things she could do was being used by the Devil to distract her from the things Jesus wanted to do in her life.  That's just how it is with perfectionism.  It starts with our activities, but it takes over our heart, and soon we find ourselves trying to become good enough for Jesus.

But, Jesus gently reproved her and redirected her priorities.  Her worry over the "many things" was put into proper perspective.  He pointed her toward the "one thing" that really mattered.

You know, the Bible doesn't tell us that Martha went back to the kitchen.  I'd like to think that she grasped the truth of what Jesus was explaining to her and had a seat right there next to Mary, at the feet of Jesus.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When We Have No Words

We've all been there.  It's that moment when you are in the middle of an important conversation, sharing a very important point, and you can't find the right word(s).  Your tongue goes numb and your brain goes blank and the stammering begins; no matter how hard you try to come up with the right thing to say--there is nothing.  These moments can come at any time, from a game of Trivia to an interview for a new job.  

Sometimes it isn't our brain that can't come up with the right word; sometimes it's our heart.  When you visit the family of a sick child in the hospital and they ask you why this has happened to them.  When your daughter wants to know why her boyfriend doesn't love her anymore.  When you run into a co-worker in the hall on their first day back after losing their Dad.  We find ourselves looking them in the eyes, feeling a measure of their pain in our heart, and having no idea what to say.

Sometimes the search for words comes when we are praying.  What can we say to God about our problems?   How can we describe what we are feeling?  We search our hearts for the right words to tell Him what we are thinking. . . .but all that comes out is tears.  There is no way to put our feelings into words to pray and we sit there overwhelmed by our circumstances and needing our Father so very much.   We feel helpless, but our intercessor is about to step in.

"The Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray , but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."  Romans 8:26
Does is reassure you that even the Holy Spirit doesn't use words to let God know what is in our heart?   Our pain, our fears, our loneliness--even the Spirit of God doesn't have the words for what is weighing on us!  Just imagine, if you can, the Holy Spirit groaning with the weight of what He carries to the Father on our behalf.  We are assured that God hears us because "He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will" (vs. 27) 

Did you get that??  God knows the mind of the Spirit--they are entwined in the Trinity relationship--and the Spirit intercedes for us as a part of this intimate relationship.  No words are needed.   The very aching of our soul is expressed to God in a way that is beyond words. 

It's time to admit we don't have all the answers to the questions that start with "Why".  It's time to take our cue from the Holy Spirit and quit trying to find the right words to comfort those around us who are in pain.  It's time to hug them and hold them and listen to them and cry with them and know the Spirit is expressing the groans of their souls to the source of mercy and peace.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wounded Warriors

I think God must have a special place in His heart for the men and women who serve our military as medics, physicians, nurses, and their support personnel.  Can you think of a more intense, discouraging, and yet rewarding job?  They wake up every day knowing that they will spend their day tending to those who are wounded and scarred, in both visible and invisible ways.  They carefully apply their healing skills so that they can--return them to the battlefield??  Because, if they do their job skillfully, and their patient recovers fully--which is always the goal--that is what may happen.  

God understands their heart; He feels the joy of victory when a medical team does the impossible and saves the life of someone wounded so badly that there seemed to be no hope.  He feels their pride when they watch a soldier push through the difficult months of physical therapy.  He feels their despair when they recognize the patient in front of them and know that they "fixed" this soldier just months before; did their job so well that they returned him to duty, and now they must tend to his wounds again.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  Psalm 147:3

This text evokes a powerful mental picture for me.  It's not hard to imagine God as healer, especially when we consider the many Biblical stories of Jesus touching the people around him; healing their diseases, straightening their twisted limbs, restoring their vision, and even calling them from death.   This Psalm tells us of the tender loving care God uses to heal our wounds.  It evokes an image of God as the one who applies the soothing salve, who wraps our wounds with fresh bandages, who touches our diseases and restores us.  It also tells us that He knows when our hearts are broken and and He can heal those wounds, too.

God is the Great Physician for all those engaged in spiritual warfare.  He patches us up, knowing that He is returning us to the battle.  He strengthens us and encourages us when our hearts are broken by the pain that sin causes in the world all around us, and especially close to home.   Just like those faithful military doctors and nurses, He knows that He is fixing us in order to return us to the battlefield. 

However, He never sends us back alone.   We are reassured of His presence in this beautiful passage from another Psalm:

The Lord hears His people when they call to Him for help.  he rescues them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.  Psalm 34:17-18

God knows the hearts of His wounded warriors.  He is never far from us and He will hear us when we call. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

He Feels Our Pain

Just a little over 21 years ago, I learned a valuable lesson about what really matters in life.

Let me paint a picture for you of the situation:
  • 8 months pregnant
  • working night shift--and short on leave time to use for my maternity leave
  • moving to a new rental house--in which we were painting the nursery
  • living far away from any family
  • living paycheck to paycheck
  • squabbling about money and moving and painting and everything!
Valentine's Day was celebrated with my husband and 3 year old son, Scott.  We had a peaceful dinner and we enjoyed our first quiet evening in a few weeks.  However, the evening ended badly as Scott became very sick with some sort of stomach bug.  Being small, he naturally wanted his Mommy to hold him and take care of him, so I skipped my usual evening nap and stayed up with him.  By 10:30, when I should have been leaving for work, he was much sicker and throwing up every 5-15 minutes.  I called to let them know I wouldn't be in; feeling guilty about leaving them short-handed in such a last minute kind of way.  Within 30 more minutes, it was clear that something was very wrong--Scott was crying in pain and still heaving about every 5-10 minutes.  The decision was made to take him to the ER.

We must have looked pretty pitiful when we arrived, because they took one look at Scott and found a room for us to lay him down in right away.  After an examination, some blood work, and an x-ray of his tummy, it was clear that he was severely dehydrated and something was very wrong.  The pediatrician on call came in to see us and explained that they suspected Scott had something called an "intestinal intussusception" (part of the bowel telescopes up into the adjacent bowel) and that he needed to have IV fluids, an NG tube, and a Barium enema to confirm the diagnosis.  I was so happy to have a diagnosis, I didn't stop to think or ask about what would happen if the diagnosis was confirmed.  Scott was admitted to the hospital and his hell began.

He whimpered through the IV stick, too weak to even cry anymore, but when they put the NG tube down his nose he found some energy and cried out for me to  "make them stop, Mommy--please make them stop".  The nurse part of me knew they were taking good care of him; all I could do was just stand at the end of the bed and watch--it broke my heart!.  The transport person arrived to take him down to Radiology for the Barium enema and my energy gave out.  My husband Dave told me to sit down and rest--he would go with Scott for this procedure.  They left, but I couldn't rest; I paced the hallway and prayed.  They returned about 30 minutes later and Scott was asleep, but his Daddy was visibly shaken.  Once Scott was tucked into bed and IV lines and NG tube secured, Dave told me what had happened.

As Dave waited outside the door of the Radiology suite Scott was in, he heard Scott scream--a horrible, pain-filled scream.  A begging-for-it-all-to-stop kind of scream.  All he could do was stand there and wait.  It seemed like hours, but it was probably only 5 minutes or so, and the screaming stopped.  Dave told me it was like he could feel Scott's pain in his gut.

It turned out that the same procedure used to diagnose an intussusception is sometimes what fixes it. The Pediatrician told us later that if that had not worked, Scott would been taken by ambulance to the Children's Hospital for emergency surgery.  I was glad I had not known that as I paced the hall--ignorance can be a true blessing!

As I sat in that room that night, I kept looking at that pitiful, but peaceful, little boy in the bed and thinking about how much it had hurt me to see him hurt like that; how much it had hurt Dave to listen to his cries for help, knowing he could not do anything.  Scott's suffering was like a knife piercing our hearts, because we loved him so much.

God loves us that way and more.  He feels our pain as acutely as we do and He longs to be able to make it all stop; to be able to make it all go away.  When Christ walked on this Earth, he demonstrated such intense compassion for those who were sick, forgotten, despised, mourning, and lost.  He found them along the roads he traveled.  He touched their wounds.  He forgave their sins.  He cried with them and raised their dead.  He experienced betrayal and abandonment, but never gossiped or retaliated.   He felt their pain and carried their sins and never, ever complained.

 “In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.” Psalm 22:4-5

I know He felt our pain that night.  The Father in Heaven watched us tenderly care for our son and knew in His heart what it was like to watch a son suffer.  He heard our prayers and spared us the worst outcome and helped us see true peace in the midst of our storm. 

Two days later, we left the hospital and headed home with our son.  He was weak and worn out and had lost about five pounds in two days--but he was healed.   As the three of us sat in the living room, my husband caught my eye and smiled.  I smiled back.  We were done fighting about money and moving and when to paint.  We looked at our sweet boy and realized that we had the most important thing in life right there in that room with us; there was complete agreement on that. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Self-Pity is the New Pride

I wonder what our biggest source of stress really is.  I think all of us would like to blame our stress "issues" on the hectic lives we lead with overloaded schedules, demanding supervisors, never-ending lists of things to do, etc.  This week I experienced a revelation about stress--most of it is not external, but rather it is internal and often has its source in pride. 

YES, our schedules are full and people are constantly asking more and more of us. YES, people speak to us in ways that hurt our feelings and ruffle our feathers.  YES, our environments are full of stressors.  But, how that stress is processed in our own body is a choice we make.  For many of us--for me--it is a pattern of choices and a lifetime of learned responses.  Some of those responses are healthy, but many are not.  The worst response I choose is to whine about the situation. 

Whining.  Anyone who has spent much time with a small child knows it well.  Some of us have raised it to an art form and it seems to resolve around the word "WHY".  Boy, do I hate to hear this word--but I sure love to use it sometimes!

Why is this happening?
Why am I here?
Why are they getting away with doing that?
Why did she say that?
Why can't I have a new _______?  (car, clothes, house--you fill in the blank)
Why are my children so difficult sometimes?
Why won't she be my friend?
Why doesn't my boss recognize my efforts?

Why.  Whine.  Maybe it should be spelled "whyne" so that we could more easily recognize what it really is--a constant cry for attention and pity.  When others don't, or won't, feel sorry for me, I have a solution.  It's called self-pity.  It is rooted in prided.

Pride?  Really?  I mean, how can self-pity have anything to do with pride?  Pride is being puffed up about oneself and boasting and bragging.  There's no way pride can be the source of self-pity; and yet, it is.  Consider this quote from  Stressed-Less Living by Tracie Miles:

Pride is not only giving ourselves too much credit for the good things in our lives, but also giving ourselves a lack of credit for anything.  If we see ourselves as superior to others, then we take the focus away from God and put it on us.  On the other hand, if we see ourselves as worthless and inferior, then we take the focus away from God and put it on us again.

It seems that pride, like so many things in life, has its healthy purpose and its unhealthy extremes.  I can put myself ahead of God by worshiping my success AND by wallowing in my failures.  Anything that takes my eyes off of God, and focuses my attention on myself, will end up coming between us in relationship.  Too often, as a Christian, I confuse humility with self-loathing or self-pity.  Self-loathing manifests itself through persistent whining about my circumstances and a focus on all of my mistakes.  Humility is manifested when I acknowledge my sin before God and welcome the redeeming power of His love to enter my soul and wipe away the traces sin left behind. 

The difference is the power source.  Philippians 4:13 assures us that we "can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us".   I John 2:16 warns us that "everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world."  What am I plugged in to?  Am I focused on the attention of those around me?  Do I crave recognition from others like a drug?  Am I hoarding responsibilities--never delegating or letting others help me--so that my co-workers or family will recognize how pitiful I am and feel sorry for me?  All of these choices represent a power source, but they all lead to overwhelming stress as I try to fuel myself with the recognition of other sinful people.  And, in the end, this choice can only lead to a sense of failure and discouragement.

God calls me out of this mindset.  He calls me to lay my burdens at His feet.  He promises lighter burdens and the possibility of being yoked with Him--that is, working side by side with Him--plugged in to His power.  And, God assures me I can do all things through Him and in His strength.  This does not mean I can do everything.  It means that everything I do in obedience to Him, will be infused with His power.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Throwing Out the Trash

I heard His voice in my own head, a little more than a year ago.  It was a quiet moment, toward the end of a busy day.  Quiet.  That's exactly what it takes to hear the Holy Spirit whisper into your soul.  Most of my days before that moment had been so overwhelmingly full that I couldn't hear Him over the screams of my "TO DO" list.  Some of my priorities and habits have changed since--I thought I would share the moment when I realized what needed to change most.


I stood in the kitchen, late on Friday afternoon, applying the last of the icing to my daughter's birthday cake.  I did a quick run through of what I had accomplished in the past week, and what remained to be done.  I've been focusing my energy in 2012 on getting rid of the junk in my life that is just holding me down, holding me captive, and holding me back from some goals I've had for a while.  Those goals:
  • a tidy, uncluttered home
  • a tidy, uncluttered TO DO list
  • a tidy, uncluttered mind
  • a tidy, uncluttered body
Seriously, is this too much to ask??  Ha!  You know, it probably is--but if one never has a goal, one never achieves it.

As I applied the cream cheese icing (my favorite!) to the cake, I realized that I had planned to get serious about returning to my pre-Holiday Season exercise routine this week (part of developing a tidy, uncluttered body).  In my mind I berated myself, "Sandi!  How could you make it through Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and not get in another day of walking!?  You know you were supposed to walk at least 2 miles, at least 3 times this week.  If you keep skipping your walks, you're never going to be able to run that 5K this Spring."

I searched my mind, trying to figure out what gone wrong with my plans.  Oh yeah--Wednesday evening I went shopping with my husband for my daughter's birthday gift.  On Thursday I'd undergone an outpatient medical test, and basically was wobbly-legged and swimmy-headed for the rest of the day.  Today I had rushed from work to pick up the last minute party supplies and then returned home to bake a red velvet cake and 18 chocolate cupcakes.  It was now 5:00, I was icing the cake, and Sabbath would soon arrive (Thank goodness!  I seriously need the physical, mental, and spiritual rest!!)  Never mind that I had walked about 3 miles on Monday & Tuesday.  And I had added about 20 minutes of Yoga to my day, every day but Thursday this week.   And followed my eating changes pretty successfully every day.  (OK there was a Krispy Kreme doughnut this morning. . . .)


That's what popped in my mind.  And I was right; I needed to stop talking trash to myself as if I were some sort of horrible person.  It was a big, busy week; I had survived it and even enjoyed huge portions of it.  At that moment, I realized the first, and most important, part of having a "tidy, uncluttered mind".  I must quit dumping garbage in my heart and mind.  I must stop listening to the people who never encourage me, but seem to have no difficulty letting me know what my problems are and what I'm doing wrong--including me.  I need to recognize that only the Holy Spirit has any business telling me what I need to change.  Oh, He might use some of the people in my life, and I'm cool with that.  But, if the only thing you have to tell me is what I'm doing wrong, then clearly you don't know me very well, and you're the last person I need to be listening to right now.  I'm starting with myself--no more trash talking to Sandi.

Now, I guess I need to add one more thing to my list of goals:
  • tidy, uncluttered conversations/relationships

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Her Children Call Her Blessed

"Her children rise up and call her blessed"--this excerpt from Proverbs 31 is the thought that keeps popping into my mind as I consider a list of my blessings.  It's such an active description--"her children rise up and call her blessed"--they don't just notice what's going on in her life and move on to the next random thought or activity.  Her blessings provoke them to action and to proclamation; a testimony to those with whom they have contact.  What do they notice; what captures their attention; what instructs them in a life lived well?  These are all worthy questions in considering our blessings. 

In my life, I must ask not only "What are my blessings?", but also "Do my children, my husband, the people in every area of my life, know what I consider them to be?"  If I am honest with myself, I'm certain they could easily compile a list of my pet peeves and household rules.  But, can they enumerate my blessings?  I can hope that I have lived my blessings out-loud for them--but have I?  One thing is certain, in order for others to be aware of the blessings that touch my life, I must first be aware of them and honor each blessing by acknowledging its role in shaping who I am. 

This famous Emerson quote has long been a favorite of mine.  I have it on the bulletin board above my desk at work where I see it each day.  It may be that I have read it too many times; perhaps I have stopped considering what it truly means.  In order to live as a blessed person, I must be ever mindful of my blessings!  There is no other way for others to be aware of my blessings--I must audibly acknowledge them; I must be on the look-out for each blessing that comes my way, each and every day.  To that end, my list would begin like this:

  • I was raised by in a Godly household; influenced by a mother who lived her faith in her daily decisions, both large and small.  She remains, to this day, one of the most passionate advocates for Jesus that I have ever met.  My childhood and adolescence were, through her deliberate choice, filled with education, activities, and church responsibilities that tied me to God and to His church in ways that have lasted all my life.
  • My husband loves me unconditionally.  It is a rare man who knows how to love his wife as Christ loves the church.  I'm not saying he's perfect, but I am saying that in 29 years, I have never once doubted his passion and fidelity.  I wonder each day how we could come to love each other more and then wake up the next day to find that we do.
  • My children are my favorite companions, next to my hubby, and I could not possibly be more proud of the young adults they have become.  Each time I look down the pew at church and see them there with me--of their own volition, not my insistence--I praise God for them and pray for His continued work in their lives.
  • I have an extended family that loves me, supports me, prays for me, and accepts me.  Not just my relatives--but my husband's family, also.  How many women can say that their mother-in-law is one of their dearest friends?  I can!
  • My co-workers are a family away from home and I am able to work in an environment where it is easy to speak about my faith and to receive the encouragement of others who love the Lord.  We have celebrated together and we have grieved together and I look forward to seeing them each day.

Clearly, my blessings are enormous and touch every facet of my life.  I could go on for pages about the ways that God has filled my life with security, peace, and joy.  He has also used some tragic events I have experienced to point out these blessings and to teach me to treasure each one.

And so the choice is clear:  think and speak about my peeves and annoyances OR think and speak about my blessings.  I choose the latter, in hopes that my children will be able to rise up and call me blessed.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Written Just for Me

Every day we encounter written information or warnings and we ignore them, assuming that it doesn't apply to us.  During the years I worked in the hospital, I encountered many a well-meaning friend or family member who assumed that the "No Visitors" sign on the door couldn't possibly include them.  Our office has signs posted reminding patients and family members to turn off their cell phones once they head into the exam room areas--but every day I encounter patients who ignore this request and will even keep talking on their phones when we enter the room to speak with them or provide care.  And, even though we like to laugh at the need for warnings on take-out coffee cups that the beverage it contains is, indeed, quite hot--people still arrive at the ER with burns on their legs due to placing the cup between their legs while driving.  Yep--we are a society willing to ignore just about any warning we encounter.  It seems we must learn every lesson the hard way!

This is a problem I have struggled with at times, in reading my Bible and experiencing what it means for me in the 21st century.  Sure--those words of warning, encouragement, and direction were appropriate for the B.C. era and the First and Second centuries--but, how do they apply to me?  Today.  In my fast-paced, technology-infused, and ego-driven society.  

Here is a beautiful promise from God:

  "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and He saved them from their distress.
He sent out His word and healed them;
He rescued them from the grave. 
Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for mankind."
Psalm 107:19-21 NIV

I'm learning the value of taking something from God's word and re-writing it with my own name in it.  At first blush, it may seem like theology mixed with a healthy dose of psycho-babble; that's certainly the presumption I made before trying it out for the first time!  My experience was anything but trite and shallow.

Sandi cried to the Lord in her trouble,
and He saved her from her distress.
He sent out His word and healed Sandi;
He rescued her from the grave.
Let Sandi give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for her and for all mankind.

It's truly powerful stuff!  As I reconsider this passage from Scripture, it strikes me that God promises to save me in my distress and then, immediately after that, says He sent His word and healed me.  Too often I interpret "save me in my distress" as "remove me from this bad situation" or "make this bad thing stop".  But, that is not what He promises!  He promises to save me and to heal me and to rescue me from the grave.  The bad stuff is still going to happen--but it doesn't own me; it doesn't define me; it doesn't predestine me.  God is my Master, my Savior, and my Companion in all things and across all time.  He has paid my debt; He is transforming my heart; He is making me fit for a home in Heaven.  That is what it means to be rescued from the grave--from the eternal death my sin has earned--and given the eternal life He has redeemed me for.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Serenity or Stress

I can remember it hanging on the wall of my Grandparent's house--a small piece of wall decor with the Serenity Prayer on it.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
Courage to change the things I can;
and Wisdom to know the difference. --Reinhold Niebuhr

That was the first place I encountered this ages-old piece of advice.  I probably read it a hundred times, and familiarity with this saying diluted its meaning for me over time.  This week, while reading "Stressed Less Living" by Tracie Miles, I ran across it again.  Literally.  I just ran right past it; read right through it; paid it no attention at all.  Wisely, Tracie had included a couple of other versions of this prayer, which she shared in the next couple of pages.  At the unfamiliar wording, my brain slowed down just enough to absorb an old truth that I needed to embrace. 

God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change;
Courage to change the only person I can;
and Wisdom to know that person is me.  --Author Unknown

How many times, in this activity-stuffed, sensory overload world that I live in, do I blame my stress on my circumstances?  I feel the pressure building in my life; I feel the turmoil in my gut as each event goes by; I toss and turn in bed, ruminating over the day's events--and the "If" list begins to form.  I don't count sheep as I lie awake wishing for sleep.  I count the "ifs" in my life--IF:

I had more money 
I had more time
I hadn't said that at work
I hadn't agreed to participate in that project
That person hadn't spoken to me that way
I hadn't eaten that dessert
My commute wasn't so long
They had returned my telephone call
I hadn't spent two hours on Facebook
My boss understood how much pressure I am under
My family was easier to get along with
And, the list goes on and on. . . .I'm sure that almost everyone has a list like this! Some of my "ifs" involve choices I make, but so many involve things that others do; many times it is the things I believe others do to me that create the most stress.  In the self-centered part of my psyche, I may want to believe people actually do hurtful things intentionally, but I know the truth--they just didn't realize they were upsetting me or making the situation difficult.

But, the stress is real.  The pressure is always there.  The feeling like the world is about to spin out of control is overwhelming, at times.  And I lash out in frustration and pain and fear.  At whatever or whoever is closest at the time.

My mother-in-law uses a pressure cooker to prepare potatoes sometimes.  Maybe you've used one or perhaps you've never seen one.  It is a large pot with a lid that has a rubber gasket around the edges; you place the lid on the pot and lock it into place.  On the top is a tiny stem valve with a "rocker" that sits on top of it.  It doesn't take much liquid to prepare vegetables in a pressure cooker--the steam created does much of the work.  Not long after placing the pot on the heat source, the temperature rises to the point where the rocker begins to swing back and forth on the valve, releasing only enough pressure to keep things under control inside the pot.  As the heat rises, the rocker swings more and more violently on the valve--it is the only source of relief the pot has.  Once the cooking time has passed, the pot is removed from the stove, but you cannot open the lid immediately--if the pot were opened before cooling, the results would be painful.  The lid wouldn't smoothly release--with the slightest movement of the lid from the "locked" position, it would explode off of the pan, and quite probably injure the cook. Instead, you must place the pot in the sink and run cold water over the edge of it to cool it and lower the internal pressure.   It doesn't take long to cook potatoes in a pressure cooker, and if you remove the pot from the stove after the correct amount of time, you have unbelievably tender potatoes.  But, if you leave them under pressure for too long, they explode and scorch.

I wonder how much I am like that pressure cooker sometimes.  Each of the "ifs", the circumstances, in my life are like the another degree the temperature rises.  At first, the heat is low and the need for the release valve is slight.  If I keep the temperature on low, keep the release valve open, and remove the heat source when appropriate, the result is excellent.  Stress is used in a healthy way to transform my hard heart into a tender one, just like those potatoes.  But, if I let the temperature get too high, if I don't keep the release valve clear of debris, if I allow the pressure to build, I am no longer tender of heart--I am ruined.  And if someone in my life comes along, like an unsuspecting cook removing the lid of the pressure cooker too soon, they are injured by the explosion of my stress all over them.

And, more likely than not, it is the people I live with that get to experience this.  I let life goad me all day long, and then take it out on the first person who crosses me at home.  Maybe they are doing something irritating, maybe they are doing something I have asked them not to do so many times that I have lost track of the number, maybe they even said something unkind.  But, I'm pretty sure they don't deserve the injury that occurs when they lift the lid off of the pressure cooker that has been my day.

It's not what they do and changing them won't bring the serenity I so desperately need.  The only change I can effect is the one in me.  I need to read the owner's manual on my own pressure cooker life and let Divine intervention clear the release valve in my soul.  I need the courage to change the only person I can, and the wisdom to know that person is me. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I Don't Think We've Met Yet

You know that person at work, or maybe someone in your family, that has an opinion about everything?  That person who always has to tell a story just a little bit better than yours; who ends up dominating every conversation with interesting (NOT) tidbits about themselves, their children, or their job?  That person who weighs in on conversations they are not a part of because what they know about the situation must be shared with you?

I'm embarrassed to say that, often, that person is me.  I wish that wasn't true, but it is.  I have caught myself doing all of the above so many times; embarrassed, again and again, by my overstepping behaviors.  I crave the attention and approval of others, and often say and do stupid things in order to obtain it. 

It is one thing to recognize a problem exists; it is quite another thing to understand the genesis of the problem.  I suppose there are many contributing factors--I am female, an oldest child, and am naturally out-going.  However, I believe that a major component of my childhood and adolescence really helped to feed the beast of dominance and control in my personality.

When I was younger, we moved a lot.  My father worked as an owner-operator truck driver, primarily on long-distance routes, and we moved to wherever the work was best.  To put this in perspective, before I was 20, I had moved at least 10 times (that doesn't include a few moves to different houses within the same area), and from Fourth grade through Tenth grade, I changed schools every year.  I lived in Washington, California, Texas, Kansas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; I've truly covered a lot of ground!

Looking back, I'm so glad I had the opportunity to live in so many different places, experience the culture of various parts of our country, and make friends everywhere we went.  But, it is a challenge to be the new kid in school every single year!  I had a choice each year between diving in and finding my way through the existing social strata, or watching from the outside--never fitting in.  I learned quickly that you have to be fearless, friendly, and fast to come up with something to talk about. So, I did.  I became the Trivia Queen--change the subject and I can follow you and even have something to add to the conversation.

That's a great skill for an awkward 14-year old trying to fit in at a new school.  It gets really old in a 49-year old chatting in the office lunchroom.  I get that--I really do.  I just want you to like me and include me in what you are doing.  I go too far sometimes, and end up with my foot in my mouth, because I just couldn't mind my own business, or because I just couldn't let someone else have the spotlight for a little while.  I have made an idol of my own opinion and let that get in the way of seeing that you are right and I am wrong. 

Through my study of Karen Ehman's book "Let. It. Go.", I have come to realize how I allowed my conversational skills to morph into controlling behaviors that have been directed at my husband, children, extended family, church family, and co-workers.  As I have read through this book, I have felt the Holy Spirit administer quite a few "Gibbs-slaps" to the back of my head (but gently, because that's how the Spirit rolls).  This week, my soul has been directed to a powerful reminder of God's agenda found in Galatians 5:22-26

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things, there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."  (emphasis supplied)

As I read this, I realized that Satan has used my natural desire as a young girl to have friends and to be liked, as a tool to shape my personality and my character.  His influence has been so subtle and gradual that I didn't realize who the serpent was, as he whispered in my ear how important it was to be noticed and to be liked and, eventually, to be right.  Conceit and envy are the fruit of that spirit; she who is always noticed and always right, will seldom be liked--and so the lie that Satan tells bears its fruit in controlling behaviors and envy of others, eventually ruining the relationships that were its goal all along.  

How depressing it would be if that were the end of the story!  I can praise God that it is not, and that Satan's lies are exposed by the presence of the glory of God.  As I am reminded of, and prayerfully consider, His promise to cover my foul sins with His robe of righteousness, I am set free!  I don't have to try to find something to talk to God about to get Him to notice me or make Him like me--He already loves me more than I can even comprehend.  

Realizing that God's love can never be earned; understanding that He will always be there to listen and accept me where I am at--that is a transforming experience.  Love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are the end result. 

I don't have to worry about where I fit it in among the many people I interact with each day.  I can talk to God about anything and He will always listen. 

And, sometimes, He even gets me to just sit still, shut up, and listen.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Anti-Way

I have a little decorating sign that my sister, Barb, gave me a few years ago which reads:

                                      Mirror, mirror on the wall
                                               I am my mother after all.

Yes, I know--it's very funny--and many of you may have experienced this when you look in the mirror.  It can be a beautiful thing, to see the ways you are just like the woman who raised you.  Even though your life-paths are different, there are so many things that will end up the same on this walk through time.  For years after Barb and I each married, our husbands would refer refer to our Mom as "The Mother Goddess"--always in good humor, I'm sure!  This was due to the fact that every time one of them would ask us why we did a certain task the way we were doing it (folding clothes, putting away groceries, organizing a kitchen, etc.), we would reply that this was the way our Mom had done it, so it must be the best way.  When you see your relationship with your mother through the eyes of your spouse, it can be very illuminating.  There are many ways my mother and I are like one another, but none are as interesting to me as the way we "mark" our territory and the ways we organize our households.

My awareness of women's tendency to be territorial about their homes came when I was about 15 or 16 years old.  I was taking Home Economics in High School and we had learned about the proper order in which to wash the dishes (glasses, silverware, plates/bowls, serving dishes, then pots and pans).  I am an oldest child, and with that comes a natural tendency to like rules and patterns and order, so discovering that there was a RIGHT way to wash dishes was fascinating to me.  I was so excited that I wanted to share my revelation with my Mom--which I did--while we were doing the dishes one evening.  My Mom had a slightly different way of doing dishes and I pointed this out to her, the way only a 16 year old can.  The dishwater may have been hot, but the air in the kitchen became decidedly chilly.  She quietly (quiet is so much more impressive than yelling) pointed out to me that she had been doing dishes for about 20 years longer than I had, and she was pretty sure she knew what she was doing.  

I was stunned.  And a little hurt.  I was sure she would find this news as interesting as I did.  Apparently, my RIGHT way was not her RIGHT way.

Several years later, after my sister and I had each married, my Mom came across a "Cathy" cartoon depicting Cathy and her mother clashing over the details of preparing a Holiday dinner.  When Cathy asks why they can't do things her way, her mother points out that what Cathy is doing is not The Way, it is The Anti-Way.  We have all laughed over this joke many times, because the best comedy always points out shared truth.

At some point, we separate our territory from our mother's and, while we remain heavily influenced by what she taught us about how to manage a home, we find our own ways to do things and we develop the rules for our own domestic domain.  It's often a subtle experience that occurs over months and years as we develop a household routine.  Because of that gradual process, we may expect that the entire household has internalized the "rules" and "right way to do things" in the way that we have.

In my home, everyone knows not to stack the dishwasher.  One of my children has referred to this chore as "Tetris for Grown-ups", and they are right--I derive no end of pleasure from seeing just how much I can fit in there!  I know just how to place every type of dish we own in order to maximize the use of the space.  But, Heaven forbid that I open it up to find someone else has started loading it!  Immediately I notice that everything has been put in the wrong place, and the compulsion to rearrange the dishes is irresistible.  I'm embarrassed to think of the many times I have done this right after my husband or one of my children has just helped me out in this way--sometimes right in front of them!  What a source of discouragement that must have been!

Over the years, my family and I have found our groove on this issue.  I never rearrange the dishes in front of anyone; I thank them for helping to tidy up the kitchen.  These days, I load the dishwasher and my daughter unloads it (a chore that I loathe) and all is peaceful on the dishwasher front.  My husband and sons help out occasionally, but--as Katie and I have often remarked on--they can't remember where anything goes to put it away correctly.

As I look back, I wish I had made different choices in how I handled some chores in my home when my children were little.  I wish I would have empowered them more in some areas.  Not everything was as messed up as the dishwasher situation, and my kids are amazingly self-sufficient today (at ages 19,21, and 24).  They can launder their own clothes, make their own meals, and generally take care of themselves.

I know my daughter will set up her own home in the next few years, and I really look forward to seeing her create her own nest and establish her own way of doing things.

Of course, there's a good chance some choices she makes may be The Anti-Way.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Learning to Dance

I wish I could dance.  Really dance; like the professionals you see in ballroom dancing competitions.  I love going to weddings, and I think that if I knew how to dance, you wouldn't be able to keep me off the dance floor at the reception!  Instead, I sit watching the fluid symmetry of motion displayed by those who really know what they are doing and I tell myself that I AM going to learn to do that someday.  I'm not hopeless--I can fake my way through a slow song and I can do the Electric Slide--but, I long to really dance.

Maybe you were taught to dance when you were a child, but I was raised in a home where that was frowned on as inappropriate behavior; thus my ignorance of this art form.  I don't know the footwork or the way to hold my arms or how to let someone lead or any of the essential aspects of dancing.  However, that doesn't mean I can't learn.

I was also raised in a home where a healthy marital relationship, a Biblical example of  what Paul describes in Colossians and Ephesians, was not really visible.  My parents' marriage was dysfunctional and ended in divorce when I was 14 years old.  I didn't really learn good communication skills or "how to let someone lead" like I might have from observing a successful marriage.  When I was a young teen, I was afraid marriage.  I wasn't afraid of relationships; I enjoyed dating and had a couple of serious boyfriends.  However, I was truly afraid of marriage.  To be honest, I was afraid of failing at marriage.  Shortly after my parents split, I had read a statistic somewhere about children of divorce and how much more likely they were to be divorced themselves.  I had convinced myself that, in the arena of marriage, I was pretty much doomed to failure.  It's a good thing I kept reading, because a couple of years later I read an article on this same subject and this time what I read gave me hope.  According to the author, some new research indicated that children raised by divorced parents could reduce their risk of going down the same road by educating themselves about relationships and by learning appropriate communication skills.  It was like a light at the end of a dark tunnel for me!  Of course, the tunnel was long and the light was just a small flicker, but I had some hope.  I took every class on Marriage and Family, Communication, and Biblical relationships that my high school and college offered.  I absorbed every nugget of advice I could find.  I was determined to learn how to be successful in relationships and improve my odds.

The summer I fell in love with my husband was the summer my panic and fear returned.  I knew I loved him, but I held him at arms length because I was afraid to love someone that much and lose them.  He came from this wonderful family that was intact and loving and everything I ever wanted.  As I witnessed the incredibly respectful and tender relationship his parents shared, I saw what I wanted most in life. As I panicked, I realized that I loved him so much that I didn't want to inflict my relational baggage on him.  I told him every horrible mistake I had ever made.  I warned him about the risk of loving me.  I tried my best to protect him from my worst fears.

That was the beginning of learning this dance called marriage.  It began long before I proposed to him (yes, I did--but that's another story) and before we said "I do".  It began when he looked me in the eyes and told me I was perfect for him and my past was just that--my past.  He listened to all the reasons he should run away and then he held me close and told me he wasn't going anywhere.  I followed his lead then, and it was the best choice I have ever made! 

I should have known how good my husband would be at this dance.  He was raised in the home of master dancers and watched every step they took.  He saw the tender way his father treated his mother; he observed the respect and admiration his mother had for his father.  He learned the steps to this dance called marriage by observing the masters and doing what they had done.  I wish I could say I that I have never stepped on his toes or tried to lead, but I would be lying.  When I did, the dance just wasn't a smooth or beautiful, and I would realize that he knew what he was doing.  Twenty-eight years later, we know the steps and the twirls and even the dips and it's an even more incredible experience that I imagined when I watched from the outside.

In the next decade, we will probably watch all three of our children get married.  We will go to the reception and celebrate the love that each of them have found.  And, I promise, you won't be able to keep me off of that dance floor.