Peace In Letting Go

It seems like so long since I have been in touch with you all, but hopefully this will bring us all back together because, quite frankly, I’ve missed you.

shutterstock_213079855We all have reasons and circumstances in life that cause us to retreat.  It doesn’t matter the source, because the reactions are much the same.  For me, it has been several years (especially the past year) of dealing with a loved one who has Dementia and struggling to leave a church I’d been part of for over 20 years.  Then my husband’s parents died just four days apart.  Within a matter of weeks, things substantially declined with my dad and he ended up moving into a memory care facility which resulted in my mom (whom I love beyond words) has moved in with my husband and me.  To say it has made my heart wander and wonder would be an understatement, yet here I am doing it more than I could have ever dreamed.

Life is hard, and sometimes it seems we get beat up every time we turn around.  On top of that, people can also be mean, unkind, selfish and even narcissistic, including ourselves at times, which is why it’s so important to be able to reflect and take a look inward to see how we are contributing to the situations in which we find ourselves.  I am learning (more slowly than I’d like) there are times when you just have to step away.  When reality slaps us in the face, sometimes we have to be willing to let go of expectation.  That’s something I’ve never been able to do very well because I am not a good “leaver” no matter the situation.  When I was younger, I couldn’t have anticipated how much pain that trait would cause me over the course of my life.  There is a fine line between believing or hoping for the best in someone and subjecting yourself to continual heartache, bullying or abuse.

When you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel as though you are on the outside of something, whether it is a job, relationships, church or anything else, there are always things you can do to try and regain your footing.  The struggle that comes with finding your footing is that sometimes it may require you to step somewhere else.  shutterstock_1492027019THAT is something with which many of us are not comfortable.  Stepping out of what we want into the reality that exists means we have to let go, give up, and be willing to experience the loss and grief that comes with doing so.  Peace doesn’t come easy in these kinds of seasons in life.  When you are between a rock and a hard place, even if only by perception, it is painful no matter which way you turn.  But it’s also in that terribly lonely place that you are forced to look at what you are willing to do to be free.

As a person of faith, I have struggled with what to do or where to be.  I believe God has a plan for each of our lives, for my life, and yet I get discouraged or feel like giving up just like many of you.  Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t experience times of discouragement, rejection or even utter despair at times.  It doesn’t mean we won’t get tired or feel lonely.  Jesus himself experienced these same things when He was walking on this earth.  Our emotions aren’t sinful; they are human, but it’s what we do with our emotions that’s important.

They say confession is good for the soul, so I have to tell you that as I was writing this post, I was interrupted by a song I’d never heard before.  It was validating, comforting, and convicting all at the same time.  The song is called “Ordinary Love” by the Jim Brady Trio, and the words of the chorus have been echoing in my mind over and over.  “Ordinary love, a love that winds its way through common conversations and simple acts of grace, ‘cause no one needs a superstar and no one need a saint.  We need someone to just show up with ordinary love.”  As I sat here listening to the song over and over, I first nodded in validation we all need that kind of love, yet I’ve been fighting the oppressive sadness of feeling left out, unimportant, and insignificant.  My world has been feeling increasingly small and lonely until it finally takes too much effort to even say anything anymore.  Then as I continued to listen, I felt the tears streaming down my face at the comfort those lyrics were bringing, because no matter how I am struggling or how silent it feels, I am so grateful for the few people who show up every single day in my life with “ordinary love.”  They put legs on their intentions without prodding or having to ask for it. Then as I continued to hear those lyrics over and over, my heart began to be convicted about how important it is for me to just keep on walking where God has called me and to love people the way I always have…with all my heart…in the little ways that matter.

shutterstock_229454029When life gets so overwhelming and you can’t breathe, sometimes it is the smallest acts of grace and kindness that get you from one day to another or from one breath to the next.  Yes, there are things we must let go of to move on, and sometimes those things are deeply painful and even wounding to our hearts and spirits.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let go of things, people or even our expectations; it just means it’s going to take some time to heal as a result of doing so.  We simply need to step back and listen to that still, small voice inside, and then walk on as peaceably as possible down the path ahead, even if the ground is stained with our tears as we move along.

If you are in a season of your life filled with feelings of isolation, insignificance discouragement or despair, you’re not alone.  Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it may be time for big changes within your heart that lead to changes elsewhere.  Just remember, that even as you are trudging through each step right now, be kind in your silence.  Be strong in your fatigue.  Be gentle in your frustration and disappointment, and choose to still fill the world around you with ordinary love.

Blessings!

Mothering Is More Than You Think

shutterstock_600936479Mother’s Day is once again upon us, and with it comes all sorts of emotions for all kinds of people.  Some are celebrating their wonderful moms, while others are mourning the loss of their mother, and still others may be cringing at the memory of a mother who wasn’t there for them.  Some women are relishing their own role as a mother, while others are just trying to make it through a day that reminds them only of the void that comes with never having been able to have children of their own, or worse, having lost one to miscarriages or other tragedies.  My point is this day can be beautiful and wonderful, or it could bring heartache and pain, and no matter where you or I fall on that spectrum, we all have to walk through this day somehow.

Family is such an important part of our society.  Our families shape us and often mold us into the adults we become.  If we are blessed to have been raised in a family where love and faith were a continual thread, it is easy to forget that there are those who have not shared our same experiences.  While we might have great memories upon which to reflect, there are others who are doing everything they can to not remember their own.   Such is the complicated nature of family relationships, and such is the complicated nature for so many women when it comes to motherhood.

Most of you know that my husband, and I were not able to have children of our own.  We looked into all the other possibilities, but none of them worked out for us.   Over time, the grief of our situation shifted and morphed, as it does with any other type of grief.  Not only that, but this year is the first Mother’s Day my husband and I have shared where one of our mother’s is no longer with us.  My mother-in-law was an amazing woman who never met a stranger or gave up on anyone.  She loved unconditionally and losing her has changed the palette of feelings that we share individually and as a family at this time of year.

IMG_0469This year, in spite of all of life’s challenges and the complications that can come with this day for so many women (and men), there is something different on my heart and mind. This year, I am thanking God not only for my own godly mother who raised me in deep love and faith, or the children in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to influence in one way or another, but I am also thanking God for the three children my husband and I sponsor through Compassion International.  It’s been a number of years now, and although it took a while to become comfortable with our communications back and forth, we have settled into beautiful relationships with three children who live across the world from us.  We have watched them grow, and have been blessed to be able to support, encourage and be connected to these kids and their families, and I am unspeakably grateful as I reflect on it today.

Mother’s Day is a day that we set aside to honor first our own mothers, and then all mothers.  As Prince Harry recently said after the birth of his first child, “How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension!”   What women go through to bring new human beings into this world really IS beyond comprehension to those of us who have not experienced it, male or female!  That being said, it takes far more to make a true “mother” than just giving birth.  It involves a deep and lasting love, a sacrificial love that seeks the well-being of her children first, even when it demands more than she thinks she can give.  It is about understanding the responsibility you have to raise and nurture the human beings God has entrusted to your care.  It is about being there.  It’s putting your phone down and listening to them.  It involves so much more, but you get my point.

shutterstock_723877837When you consider what it truly means to “mother” another human being, you are able to step back and see a broader group of women than you might have before.  All the characteristics, traits and actions that make a woman a true mother, are the same ones that make us all mothers to the world around us.  I’m not discounting mothers in any way, in fact, I am doing the exact opposite.  I am elevating the aspects of mothers that we all celebrate on this day each year.  We celebrate the love and care.  We celebrate the sacrifices.  We celebrate these amazing women who took their jobs seriously and refused to give up even when their children may have disappointed them or caused them pain.  These are the things we celebrate, and as people of faith, THIS is how we are supposed to love the world!

I mentioned earlier about the children my husband and I have sponsored for a number of years.  Although I did not give birth to them, nor are we raising them, I love them with all my heart and feel a great responsibility toward them.  My heart desires the very best for them.   I cheer their accomplishments and share in their difficulties and sorrows.  I worry when I hear of events going on in their countries, cities or villages.  They are embedded into my heart, and I am so grateful to have yet another area to channel that mothering gene God put in my heart.   I have found Compassion International to be an incredible organization with which to partner, and I could not be more blessed to have three beautiful children to love and care for as a result of their efforts.

shutterstock_1257354151So on this Mother’s Day, by all means, honor your mother and the other women in your lives that are worthy of that honor.  Thank God for all the women who mothered you throughout the course of your life.  Honor them by doing the same for others around you.  Don’t reserve your nurturing just for your children, but also for those children without mothers, and for adults who are wounded and hurting.  Over and over again, Jesus tells us to love one another.  He tells us that everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).  He tells us to go the extra mile when we don’t have to do so (Matt 5:41).  He tells us to love our enemies (Matt 4:43-48).  Jesus made it perfectly clear that we are commanded to love!  He told us,“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:34-35)

Reach out to this world full of struggling people.  Nurture them, love them, and never be afraid of getting your hands dirty.  After all, isn’t that what mothering is all about?

Happy Mother’s Day and blessings to you all!

Compassion International – Sponsor a child

A C(h)ain Reaction

Most of us are very familiar with the term “chain reaction,” where one thing leads to another and then on to another.  Well, this past week I experienced something I am now calling “the Cain reaction.”  No that is not a typo, and yes I will explain!  I didn’t see it coming, but it totally changed my perspective, and I just had to share it with you!

Most people of faith (and some who are not) have heard the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4, and if you ask them about it, you’ll probably hear a synopsis that goes something like this:  Well, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel.  They both offered sacrifices to God, and God accepted Abel’s but rejected Cain’s.  So, Cain got angry and took his brother out to a field to murder him.  When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain asked that famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  It’s not a story we often talk about, but this past week, there was a chain reaction that led me ultimately back to this story, and everything about it changed for me.

 Lately, it feels like life has been knocking me down and then kicking me while I’m down there. I keep getting back up, but it’s exhausting doing it over and over. I am positive some of you can relate!  As person of faith, you’d think that I’d be stronger when the rough seasons of life hit, but being a believer does not prevent me from sometimes crumbling under the weight of this world.  Just because we are children of God, doesn’t mean we are immune to anger, depression, sadness or frustration.  Just because we know we CAN have peace and strength in the midst of difficult times, doesn’t mean we actually lean on it.  Just because the Bible tells us “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” doesn’t mean we won’t have times where we cave and say, “I just can’t handle anymore!”  That’s what happened to me last week.  Then a series of events took place that I need to share with you.

shutterstock_566571199It all started when someone, who knows what I’ve been going through in recent months, unexpectedly came to me and said she had been reading a devotional and a verse jumped out at her that she felt needed to be shared with me.  The verse was John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  As a result, this friend made me a pendant on which she stamped “John 16:33.”  Because I was so touched by the gesture, I read that verse over and over.  It is a familiar verse, but all my life, I’ve focused on the last part of it, the part where Jesus says we will have trouble but that He has overcome it.  THIS time, I couldn’t get past the first comment, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” I just kept thinking about the fact that Jesus thought it was so important to remind His followers of why He had continually shared all He did with them.  It’s like He was saying to ME, “Look, there’s a reason I’ve told you all I have about life, it’s troubles and how to navigate it.”   That thought pushed the chain reaction into full swing, because it prompted me to pick up my Bible so I could remember the things He had “told me” in His word.  This time though, instead of turning to the many familiar passages of encouragement and promises, I returned to something I hadn’t finished reading almost three months ago – Genesis chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel.

I don’t think anything happens by accident; I never have, but sometimes I am totally amazed to look back on my path and see all the things that had to come together in order for me to experience something or have a change in my perspective.  I think we have become so cynical and/or oblivious that we no longer take the time to pause and see the interconnectedness of events in our lives.  I’m not talking about major steps, though sometimes it can be, but rather the little things that go unnoticed that end up leading us to a conclusion or decision that has an impact on us.

shutterstock_152320880So what was this epiphany I had when I read the verses telling the story of Cain and Abel?  Well, I used to think of Cain as just a terrible person, an evil man who got jealous of his brother and killed him in cold blood.  Not only that, but then he had the audacity to make a smart-a** comment to God Himself (Gen 4:9)!  I’m not excusing anything Cain did, but I want to share a different perspective.   Here were two brothers, one was a shepherd and the other was a farmer.  When it came time to give an offering to God, it was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb.  So, Abel provided an offering according to what God had requested, but Cain decided he would give something different.  Cain decided it would be better if he sacrificed the best that HE had to God.  It’s most likely that his intent was honorable, and that he thought surely it would touch God more if he sacrificed the best of his crops instead of asking his brother for a lamb to sacrifice, while giving up nothing himself.  It wasn’t that he was being a disobedient jerk, but rather that he felt like God would be more pleased if he gave Him the absolute best of all he had.  He was trying to honor God his way instead of simply doing what God asked.  Unfortunately, he was wrong, and when God accepted Abel’s offering, but had no regard for Cain’s, it made him angry, depressed and dejected.  Wouldn’t YOU be?

How many times have I done exactly what Cain did, and tried to serve God my way instead of His?  How many times have I given up things that He never asked of me?  It’s great when our heart is in the right place, and our motives are good, but we’ve all had situations in life where the end result still went sideways!  At times, the same thing happens when it comes to our service to our Heavenly Father.  We offer up what we think will make Him happy, instead of doing what He has already told us will make Him rejoice.  Modern religion and churches are filled with people with good intentions, trying to serve God in ways they have reasoned will be pleasing to Him, but ultimately missing the mark completely.  Many of us have become so self-focused on what we are doing for God that we can no longer hear how He asked us to do it.

shutterstock_137269457Ok, so back to Cain…  In my memory of this story, I somehow forgot that God actually talked to him twice, the first was BEFORE he killed his brother.  Gen 4:6-7: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  God loved Cain and knew he was upset, so He took a moment to remind him of something really important:  We have an enemy and it isn’t our families, friends, coworkers, church members or anyone else; it is something bigger.  Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the power of darkness.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober-minded because our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.   Cain’s emotions got the best of him and God knew it, so He basically said, “Look, if you simply do what I ask instead of what you think I want, you’ll have joy.  But if you lose focus and start trying to do things your way, sin is crouching down waiting to pounce on you.  It wants to take you down! It wants you!  If you let your anger and sadness take over, it is going to lead you down a path that will destroy you. You’ve got to learn how to let it go.”  God stepped in when He saw Cain upset and tried to help him regain his focus.

After God spoke to Cain, Gen 4:8, simply says that Cain “told his brother.”  What do you think that conversation was like?  I can see Cain venting to Abel about what happened and what God had said to him.  “Abel, I gave God the BEST of what I had and He didn’t even care!  And then do you know what He said to me??”  I can hear Cain going on about it and then Abel responding with something like, “Well, He’s right.  I know you think it was your best, but it’s not what He asked for.”  Cain was probably looking for an ally in his brother, someone to agree with him that God was unfair and mean.  When that didn’t happen, Cain fell into a fit of rage and killed his brother.  Cain didn’t purposely take Abel out to a field to murder him because he was jealous, it simply happened as a crime of passion.  Even the Bible says it just happened, “And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up and killed his brother” (Gen 4:8).

On Wednesday last week, I was so angry at God for not doing things the way it originally LOOKED like He would.  I was distraught and felt like God was dangling carrots in front of me just to yank them back.  I told my dearest friend, “I just feel like I’m trying to do what God wants me to do, and He just keeps kicking me in the teeth!”  It’s so hard to stay focused when it feels like God has let you down.  It’s hard to not get sad and depressed when you thought you could see the path ahead only to find it collapse in front of you.  I wasn’t just angry; I was angry at God for having a different plan and not just accepting the one I had laid out. After all, I was giving up my best!   In that moment, my best friend lovingly reminded me of the truth of God’s word, and I knew she was right, even though my heart was crushed.

shutterstock_134516501As I sat in my chair the next morning, blown away by what God had just revealed to me, I said out loud, “Oh my God, I am CAIN!”   I realized my frustration that God’s plan was not what I thought it should be caused me to allow the enemy to leap from his crouching and pounce all over me.  And then I heard God speak to my heart the same thing he told Cain that day so long ago: “I have a plan, and if you will just trust me and follow it, everything will work out.  But if you let this disappointment you feel, as a result of me not doing things your way, just keep eating at you, it’s going to destroy you.  You’ve got to let it go and trust me.”  Talk about being humbled by something…God’s same words to Cain in his crisis of faith thousands of years ago became the same words He said to me in mine.  And just like Cain, I had a choice to make in how I moved forward, but instead of holding onto my anger as he did, I chose to unclench my hands and let it go.

It is amazing how God works and weaves so many little things together to shift our perspective.  He paints with brushstrokes we often don’t understand in order to create beautiful paintings we couldn’t even imagine.   He promised to work all things out for our ultimate good, but it’s hard for us to understand that when we are looking at a single stroke of His brush.

I guess sometimes we all need is a little “c(h)ain” reaction.

Blessings!

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

I’m sitting here on this “Silent Saturday” evening, reflecting on all that went on the weekend that Jesus went to the cross and died for all humankind.  There is always such focus on Good Friday and even Holy Thursday, but we often just skip over the day that is referred to as “Silent Saturday,” a day that Jesus spent silent in the tomb before rising.  It was a strange day for His followers, and it feels that way again to me today.

shutterstock_177898622Silent Saturday for the followers of Christ was a terrible day.  The previous day, their Savior had been brutally beaten to the point of being unrecognizable and had died a horrible death on the cross.  The people who had believed in Him were crushed, scared, and worried about what the future would hold.  They heard Him promise that He would rise again on the third day, but they doubted it.  The Bible doesn’t come right out and say it, but if they believed His promise with all their hearts, they would have been waiting expectantly at the tomb on Sunday to see it happen.  Instead, they were afraid.  It was extremely silent for them.  Fear hovered over them while darkness hovered in the tomb.  Waiting is always the hardest part.

There is something about silence and darkness that makes most of us uncomfortable.  The disciples were hiding for their lives.  How discouraging it must have been to wonder if everything they had sacrificed for Christ and all they had believed to be true would end like this – huddling together in fear of what would come next.  As I sat here pondering how difficult the silence was for the disciples back then, I realized how hard it is for me over 2000 years later.

shutterstock_675753925All of us have experienced our own personal versions of “Silent Saturday.”  We face times when we have lived from a place of faith in God and His promises, and hold tight to our relationship with Jesus, believing what He has said, even when we sometimes don’t fully understand it.  We follow; we believe; we trust.  We marvel when we see God’s hand working in our lives or the lives of those around us, but then we find ourselves in a Silent Saturday.  We pray for God’s guidance or His help, but it seems He is silent, so we assume He is gone and start to question what will happen to us in His absence.  We feel scared, helpless, and if we are honest, we sometimes feel betrayed, as if everything we have done has been for nothing!  Where is God?!  Why won’t He answer me?  Why won’t He help me?!  The longer the silence, the more scared or disillusioned we become.  Depression sets in and we huddle down and start trying to figure out what we should do next to protect ourselves, because obviously God has let us down.

The past few months in my life have been filled with terrible events and great losses and griefs, and they just keep coming.  It is a strange season of life, and I have said to those closest to me, “If God were merciful,” or “I wish God would just be merciful and…,” and then I would add whatever I felt that would be to the end of that statement. Yesterday I uttered those words again and then it hit me: When I make those kinds of statements, what I am really saying is “God is NOT merciful.” That realization hit me right in the heart.   The same thing happens when I say, “I wish God would be gracious and…,” again, fill in the blanks at the end of that statement with whatever it is you think should happen in a given situation, or with what you want to happen.  I guess I just never thought about the fact that when I start stating what I think would be merciful or gracious, then I have put my knowledge and opinion above that of the One who knows everything and is working everything for my good.

shutterstock_712494409The disciples were already confused and fearful when Jesus was arrested.  They watched Him willingly lay down His life when they knew He had the power to strike back at those who were harming Him.  Surely they felt like their entire world was falling apart and the future was too dark to see.  Jesus was dead and in the tomb; Darkness set in and the silence became deafening.  What I always found interesting was that Jesus had told them multiple times what He was doing and why He was doing it, but they just kept missing it.  (Matthew 16:21 and 20:17-19) The problem wasn’t that they hadn’t been told, but rather that they never fully understood – or didn’t want to understand.  Jesus even told the disciples “I am telling you now before it happens so that when it does happen, you will believe that I am who I am.” (John 13:19) How many times has the same thing happened to me because I was blinded by my own ideas of what should happen, based on an incorrect interpretation of what God has said to me through His word? Just like the disciples, sometimes I can’t get out of my own way to see His.

In times of great trouble, grief, fear and worry, we often search for meaning.  We search for answers and guidance.  We search for shelter and comfort.  We struggle against the silence we are experiencing, and then start doubting everything we ever believed.  The longer we wait, the harder it is to keep the darkness from overtaking us and reducing us to terrified people, hiding and just hoping to survive.  I know it happens, because I am living it myself, right now in 2019.   I am drowning in fear and pain in my heart and soul, and the longer this darkness lasts, the harder it is to not lose faith.  The longer it is quiet, the more tempted I am to believe this is what life is going to be like forever, and that maybe I was wrong in what I believed.  In a nutshell, Silent Saturday stinks!

Most of you have seen the holy week quote that says, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!”  I’ve always looked at that as a reference to the miraculous resurrection that secured my eternal life as a believer, but today it suddenly meant something else.  Sunday isn’t just about my salvation, but about the resurrection of hope and faith in me (and in us).  There is a “Sunday” coming in my life where I will see God move in ways that are impossible for me to understand right now while I am in the midst of silent but excruciating pain.  The marvelous truth about my Silent Saturday is that no matter what I feel, it doesn’t change the fact that God is working things out behind the scenes.  He has made deep and abiding promises to me, and He doesn’t have to keep repeating them in order for them to be true.  On the other hand, sometimes I need to go back and read those promises again, and read that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so that I remember they are true.  I need to remember it so that I can breathe in the silence and still have sight in the darkness.

shutterstock_74847238I am so grateful the original Silent Saturday didn’t last, and on Sunday morning, the grave burst open and Jesus walked out ALIVE!  But this year, I am also grateful to remember that the Silent Saturdays of our lives don’t last either.  I’m not saying these seasons of life are easy, by any stretch, and we are all in different places of faith at different times.  But just as the disciples could have benefited from reminding each other of the truth, and holding each other’s hands in moments when the fear or sadness was too much to bear, we can lean on our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same for us (and us for them) as we trudge through the difficult times in life.

For the disciples, Friday was shocking and devastating, Saturday was silent and incapacitating both in action and in their hearts, but Sunday changed EVERYTHING!  I read a statement that said, “Good Friday was the worst Friday until Sunday.”  There is such truth in that statement, and the same holds true in the challenging times in our lives.  When we experience tragedy or trouble, there isn’t anything good about it in our minds.  We are left in places where the silence is deafening, and we are gutted with incapacitating fear or grief.  We have to wait, and doing so makes us wonder and feel like the silence will never end, but then we finally step into the sun of a new day.  Things start becoming clear and we see the proof that God was working even when we didn’t see it or didn’t understand.  We then rejoice, celebrate and are changed by what we have witnessed.  God has promised us that our trials and testing of our faith is for our good.  James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

“Fridays” beat us down, “Saturdays” leave us reeling, confused, and grieving, but when “Sunday” comes, we can finally see good in our trials and the strengthening of our faith through the silences.  So on this resurrection Sunday, pause and thank God not just for everything He did so that you can live eternally, but also for all He does to constantly resurrect our faith and hope as he works all things for our good.  We can’t see what He has in store, and waiting is definitely the hardest part, but He knows that when the night is over, He is going to knock our socks off!  Joy comes in the morning, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!

Blessings!

Love Or Just Celebrating It?

Here we are on Valentine’s Day 2019, a day on which many people celebrate love, but what exactly does that mean?  Is it a day where people truly step back and think about what love is, or is the focus on what they get or what kind of display of affection their significant others do for them?  I remember working for a company that announced over the loudspeaker the names of everyone who had received a delivery during the previous 30 minutes.  It went on all day long!  Over the years it began to feel almost like a contest of how many times your name would be announced, as if it was some indicator of how much you were loved by others.  What started as an easy way to organize deliveries for a people within a large company became a source of pain for so many people whose names weren’t called multiple times or maybe not called at all.  My point is, what should we celebrate when we think of love?  We should celebrate the traits of what it means to truly love others.  1 Corinthians 13 tell us the true nature of love:

img_6962“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

We like to quote those verses or turn them into wall hangings, but so often they become exactly what they shouldn’t – decoration.  The more we look at things, the easier it is to stop seeing them.  It is easy to get caught up in the trap of saying the right things, but not living them.  It’s easy to get lost in our own desires or how others aren’t acting or reacting like we think they should.  Once we start down that road, it leads nowhere positive.  Look at the beginning of that same passage of scripture:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

 We like to jump to the section that so beautifully describes the nature of love, but skip over the first few verses that tell us we can be the most eloquent, gifted, generous person on the planet, but if we do not have love, then we are NOTHING!  Let that sink in for a moment.  (I’ll wait…)  It’s quite a statement of what happens when we get so focused on ourselves and start thinking everyone else is wrong or are doing things wrong.  We start expecting things and then get upset when we don’t get them.  It is one of the many reasons why Valentine’s Day has become such a commercialized day of supposed romance.  Society keeps trying to define for us what love looks like, and we just keep absorbing that view.  We need to stop.  We need to get back to truly loving each other, and we need to do it every day, not just on Valentine’s Day.

shutterstock_65540413In a time when we are more divided than ever in so many realms, it is good to remember what Jesus tells us in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.”  We should look different, act different and BE different.  That doesn’t seem so tough when you think about loving those who love you and treat you well, but when you consider loving the people who have mistreated you, judged or slandered you or a host of other things, it can be a daunting thing to undertake.  It isn’t easy to love the unlovable or those who mistreat us, but I just keep thinking about how much Jesus loved us – even while we were (or are) unlovable.  Philippians 2:5, it tells us, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”  Yeah, there is a LOT that could be said about that, but when it comes to love, we are to view love the way He viewed love.  And yes, we are to love even those who mistreat us.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be mature and complete, as your heavenly Father is mature and complete. (Matthew 5:43-48)  Being mature or complete is a tall order, but if we are to follow in the steps of our Father, we have to be willing to set aside our pride and love genuinely.

shutterstock_114296290So on this day of love, I will leave you with this: Let us go out into this world with love and kindness.  Let us stop being so quick to judge each other and instead pray for each other and lift up those around us.  Don’t try to pull the weeds in someone else’s garden, but rather cultivate what you want to grow in yours.  Love in ways that far exceed your words, even if those around you do not do the same.  Love in spite of your expectations.  Love in the midst of pain.  Love when you are on top of the world, or when it is crashing down around you.  Love completely, not for what you get but for what you can give.  We did nothing to deserve God’s incredible love and He did not reserve it for only the “worthy.”  He loved every single one of us in spite of ourselves.  Love because you have been loved.  Bless because you have been blessed.  Forgive because you have been forgiven.  And remember just because God made it that simple; He never said it would be easy.

Blessings and love to you and yours!

Sacred Prejudice

shutterstock_790179607A few years ago, I had an experience at a church association meeting that was so egregious that I was compelled to write about it.  If you haven’t read that post, it’s worth the read.  (The Ignorant Battle Cry of Christians).  There is something about the ignorance of some people that continues to amaze me.  A preacher I spoke with recently said the greatest thing I’d heard in a while, “In my experience I have found that ignorance coupled with arrogance, is a dangerous combination.”  It was one of the most refreshing things I’d heard in a while, because he was right.  There are so many churches out there dying because of that very destructive combination.  It’s sad, but it’s also true.

I’ve been in church my entire life, and in those 52 years, I have seen and experienced a lot of things.  There have been things I’ve disagreed with along the way, but nothing that has been a deal-breaker in my faith.  It may be a personal choice of music or teaching styles, or it may be the preference of one program or another, but those struggles are going to happen no matter if you are in a church or some other kind of volunteer group.  It’s just part of the journey.  I even had a pastor who was so totally against women wearing pants to church (which was nothing but a preference), that I wore dresses the entire time I served in the church with him.  If you know me at all, you know how much I HATE dresses!  My point is that there are a lot of preferential things that can be worked around if you have a willing heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately and have wondered why so many people are running from older, conservative churches, even though some of them are teaching the truth of God’s word.  Some observers would say it’s because people want a more entertaining experience, or a less convicting one.  Some would suppose it’s because people want to have less accountability. Others would claim it’s because no one wants to be humble and submit to God’s way of thinking.  Any or all of those could be true, but I believe the reason people are leaving is the product of ignorance coupled with arrogance.  Honestly, so many churches have become better Pharisees than the Pharisees of Bible times.  I can’t help but think of how Jesus viewed (and continually rebuked) the views and practices of the Pharisees.  They were judgmental, arrogant and hypocritical.  They were so caught up in their “righteousness,” that they totally missed who Jesus is and what He taught.

As a woman, I am at a disadvantage in the eyes of some churches and pastors.  It doesn’t put me at a disadvantage with God, but there are still pastors and churches out there that see women as less than equal to men.  The Bible shows over and over God does not hold that opinion of women, but rather He has honored and used women in all kinds of important roles over the course of time.  I do believe that God made men and women differently and created us with certain skills and abilities that are fitting for the roles we often fill.  We are different creatures, but that doesn’t make women less intelligent or valuable than our male counterparts. shutterstock_737645134 I once had a pastor tell me that the reason Eve was deceived instead of Adam was because the serpent knew that women were totally susceptible to believing a lie.  Basically, that she was an easy mark, so-to-speak, which is why she was deceived and Adam was not.  In so many words, he said that Satan figured he had a better chance with her because she was a woman, and the fact he was successful in deceiving her proved his point was true.  This pastor went on to say that the reason women “as a class of humanity” are more susceptible to deception than men, is because it is part of our “innate female psyche.”  By nature, Eve was not equipped to make the kind of decisions that the serpent presented to her, because she was not capable of weighing objective facts and coming to an appropriate decision.   Although this pastor did state that there were exceptions to the fact that women make decisions based on a value system rather than on objective facts, he also stated these stereotypes are backed up by scripture AND scientific data (like the Meyers Briggs test).  Whether you are a man or a woman, I imagine you are scratching your head right about now.  Trust me, it didn’t sit well with me at the time either, but I later realized no amount of discussion or rebuttal could ever change the heart of that pastor.  Only God can do that, and it is for God alone to handle.

My point in sharing this particular experience with you is to illustrate, in leaps and bounds, the principle I mentioned in the beginning of this post regarding ignorance and arrogance.   Mankind has a way of taking God’s principles and perverting them.  Churches love to pick and choose when a verse should be interpreted literally versus when its cultural significance needs to be taken into account (practices and customs that cause certain passages to be read differently today).  As human beings, we are selfish by nature, which means we often develop our own opinions and then try to use God’s word to justify our perspectives.  Let’s be honest, if you want to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, sexist or bigoted, you can absolutely pull single verses out of context in the Bible to substantiate or even support your position.  You can write paper after paper or present arguments in favor of your positions, but in the process, you leave out the very most important thing God commands us to do: Love.

shutterstock_305140991The Bible tells us that in Christ, we are all the same (Galatians 3:28).  Of course, we all fulfill different roles in life, and God calls us all to individual places of service for which He also equips us.  Having different traits, backgrounds, or abilities should not divide us.  God sees us the same, even though we are each unique in so many ways.  Different is not worse.  Different is not less.  Different does not give us license, as people of faith, to look down on anyone or consider them to be less than we are.  Yes, there are many things God tells us to refrain from or be mindful of, but He reveals to us in Proverbs 6:16-19 the seven things He actually hates:

These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.

Take another look at that list and tell me what you see.  There is a pattern revealed of what bothers God so much that He actually “hates” it.  It is the selfish, arrogant, mean-spirited, aggressive, deceitful nature of people.  He commands us, as HIS representatives, to reflect His nature.  He commands us to love as He loves.  In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus tells us exactly what He expects from us.  The religious elite had been trying to debate Him or trip Him up on what He was teaching.  One sect (the Sadducees) had already failed in their attempt, so another sect (the Pharisees) took a shot at it also.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”   

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”    

shutterstock_1020186199What a contrast to what so many churches and leaders have become these days.  Jesus doesn’t say to love your neighbors unless he/she is of a different race or religion.  He doesn’t say to love your neighbor as long as he/she isn’t a homosexual or because he/she gossips, drinks or acts in other ways that seem contrary to God’s word.  He doesn’t give us permission to not love anyone, because He didn’t exclude anyone from His love.  He so deeply loved every single person, even those who hated and abused Him, that He was willing to die for them…for us.  Yes, there are many behaviors and activities in which He doesn’t want us to engage, but I find it interesting that what God chose to list, through His inspired word, as things He truly hates are those behaviors that reveal our pride, arrogance, and ignorance.  He is concerned with our hearts and our character.  We are all sinners, and if we try to hide behind our church buildings or cover up our prejudiced opinions of others being beneath us, then we have not only failed in the two commandments that Jesus declared hold up every other directive, but we have displayed the very behaviors that God hates.   After all, the only antidote for prejudice is humility.

So, I’ll close with the question I was pondering earlier:  Why are so many people leaving Bible-teaching churches?   Because it doesn’t matter how true your teaching is to God’s word if you aren’t willing to actually live it.   There are amazing groups of people out there who are truly focused on serving God by loving, forgiving, caring and teaching as He did.  Find them, join them and be open to what God is doing in your life.  Love the unlovable, forgive freely, but be wary of those who refuse to see their ignorance because of their arrogance.  Bitterness is sure to follow.

Blessings.

Replenishment Over Resolutions

shutterstock_1148041004Happy New Year’s Eve!  Every new year brings with it the hope for positive changes and experiences ahead for us.  We reflect on the past year and consider what didn’t go as we expected or how we didn’t do the things we originally planned.  Maybe your year has been filled with more successes and joy than you even imagined, or maybe it was filled with changes that brought loss and pain to your heart.  Either way, we still seem to have this innate sense of reflection when a new year is about to begin, but why?  There is something so refreshing about newness in life.  It is why so many people love the season of spring so much, there is new life blooming all around us.   New life is exciting and reminds us that even when the ground is dark and cold, there is life beneath it just waiting to explode into view.  I guess it’s much the same sensation as we approach a new year.  Winter is raging, but it feels as though a newness of life is growing, waiting to burst forth into view.  New life represents a replenishment of hope.  It’s a burst of energy.  It’s a new focus or new commitment.  But mostly it is a new perspective or a new vision of what lies ahead.

For those who live by faith, we know that God promises us new life not just at the dawning of a new year, but in every moment and every breath.  We know we can start again and make positive changes in life, and if we fail, we can still get back up and keep going.  What I find interesting is how often we make our plans and then ask for God’s help in executing those plans.  We use our reasoning to determine the best course of action in our lives.  We reflect, refocus and set goals we believe will bring the positive changes we so desire.  It all seems so godly until we step back and look at things more objectively in the light of truth.  Things start to shift when we get out of religion and into Christ.  Suddenly our plans get shaken up, and, if we aren’t careful, we can start thinking that everything is going wrong when maybe it’s finally going right.  And as I say that, I just keep thinking about the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.”

shutterstock_134516501Sometimes God replenishes us and refreshes us through the difficult processes of letting go.  I recently took several months off from my official responsibilities at church, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I prayed about it over and over, as it is not my nature to take a break of any kind.  I always scheduled vacations and business trips around being able to be in my place of service, so to know God was leading me to take a break from what I’ve felt I needed to do really rattled my brain!  The key phrase to that last sentence is “what I’ve felt.”  When we insist on operating under what we feel instead of what God is asking of us, it creates the most challenging disjoints.  For one thing, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).  If God wants us to walk by faith and not in what we can see with our own eyes, I’m certain He doesn’t want us walking by what we feel either!  Our emotions can wreak havoc on the direction God is leading us in any situation, because we want to feel like what we are doing makes sense.  I’ll speak for myself here:  I don’t want to feel like what I’m doing is stupid or that others may see me as making decisions that appear to be rash or thoughtless.  I don’t want to appear irresponsible or flaky.  I don’t want to follow God’s leading only to have others judging me to be things I am not.  Since it is the holiday season, it reminds me of how Joseph probably had many of those same thoughts when he realized that none of his friends or family were going to believe (or be privy to) all the details of his pregnant fiancee or why he didn’t “put her away.”  He knew how people would look at him or talk about him, but he walked the path God laid out for him and let God take care of the details.

So where is this going?  It is going to the heart of how you or I want to start this new year or live the rest of our lives.  Do we want to constantly be striving for all the things we think will make our lives better, or do we really want to walk where God is leading us?   Are we willing to lay back into His arms and (His will) and let Him refresh and replenish us, or are we determined to spin our wheels attempting to replenish ourselves through the execution of our well-thought out goals and plans?

shutterstock_699640600.jpgWe really need to remember that each new year doesn’t just begin on January 1st.  Every breath is the beginning of a new year.  Every heartbeat is the beginning of what our lives will become.  Living with that kind of refreshed perspective brings hope for a better future, but whether or not anything changes depends on how we view ourselves in comparison to our Savior.  Do I really think I’m smarter than Him or have more resources?  Do I really think I’m more enlightened or understand more?  He knows and sees what I am unable to, and He has already planned ways around or through the maze of my life.  I need to remember He is working things for my ultimate good.  I need to stop trying to cut openings in the dead ends just because I think I’m smart enough to see a better way and strong enough to create it.  I need to remember that I am replenished when I step back, breathe, and follow wherever He leads no matter how it appears to others.  I need to remember the depth of my Father’s love for me, and that everything He does or allows is is bathed in that pure and perfect love.

I read a great meme the other day that said, “Sometimes faith will make you look stupid until it starts to rain.  – Noah.”   New life most often springs from the most challenging circumstances IF we are willing to follow where our Father leads.  It may not always coincide with the way we would do things, and it may even look to some as though we have lost all sense of reasoning, but that’s the point!  If God is leading you to do (or not do) something, then follow that leading no matter how it looks to the rest of the world.  We tell each other things like, “Don’t let anyone distract you from your goals,” but the greatest danger or true distraction to achieving our goals is the manner in which we set them in the first place.

shutterstock_670208887If you are like me, we need to let go of what we think is best for us, or the worry and fear that comes with what others might think of us, and trust what our Father says to us in His word:  “For I know the plans I have for you,”says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)   His plans for our successes far exceed our ability to create our own, and His replenishment trumps our “resolutions.” Every. Single. Time.

Blessings!