Have I Become the Person I Always Wanted to Be?

We’ve had a long journey to where we are now, in many ways.  My husband and I were married in 2008.  He moved into the condo I bought before I met him.  Fifteen months later, we bought some property out in the country.  About a week after that, we had our first child.

We were both 36 when we got married.  So, we had duplicates of a lot of stuff.  My husband never really fully unpacked there.  Some of his furniture remained in the garage.  When we bought the property, while we didn’t know when we would build on it, we began packing away unnecessary items.  The garage became full of boxes stacked on top of one another.

In early 2012, I became pregnant with our second child.  I finally finished my wedding scrapbooks that year – I filled two scrapbooks!  It only took four years!  But, I figured that was better than never finishing them at all.  We broke ground on our new home that summer.

We had our daughter in the Fall, and we moved into our new home in January of 2013.  It is a ranch-style home, with a basement.  We didn’t finish the basement immediately, but we had plans to.  More time for stuff to stay in boxes.

We finally began finishing it in 2015.  We did quite a bit of the work ourselves (my husband did most of it), and so it took a while.  We just had carpet installed about a month ago.  I now have a jetted tub, and an office/scrapbooking room.  It is glorious.

And now, the unpacking of forgotten items begins.  A couple of years ago, we had a pump go haywire in the basement.  It would occasionally spray a bunch of water everywhere.  It took us a while to pinpoint the problem.  It was an easy fix, with the help of a professional.  Unfortunately, in the meantime, some of my scrapbooking items were ruined.  In the clean-up, one of the wedding scrapbooks was knocked from a table and damaged.  It was set aside to be repaired or replaced later.

Now that I have my own scrapbooking room, I finally got around to transferring the pages to a new album.  It’s given me the opportunity to look at it for the first time in quite a while.

In it, I had printed the prayer I had asked my nephew to read at our wedding.  I believe I found it in a wedding planning book that offered reading and prayer options.  I’m not sure of the copyright issues, so I won’t include all of it here.

While I believed in God at that time, sadly, I can’t say for certain if I was really expecting God to hear this prayer, or if I just thought they were nice words for the ceremony.  What was amazing to me when I read it, nearly nine years later, is that God has blessed us in all of the requests included in the prayer.

One of the areas that struck me, was the ending, which stated (paraphrasing) . . . and many years from now, may I look at you and think, because of you I am the person I always wanted to be.

It made me think about how much I have changed since we were married.  While my husband has been incredibly supportive in my career choices, especially some that were potentially risky to our financial situation, we have had our share of problems.  Marriage is hard.  These days, people are encouraged to wait until they’re older to get married.  We were on the older end, even these days.  Frankly, I think getting married older, when you’re set in your ways, is actually harder.  I think there is something to be said for marrying young, experiencing firsts, and growing up together.

What I realized, was that it has been the trials in our marriage that have made me closer to the person I want to be.  When I said my vows, I didn’t know who that was.  You don’t know what you don’t know.  While it’s easy to point fingers and blame the other person when things aren’t going smoothly, ultimately, we can only change ourselves.  Marriage has forced me to look at my own immaturity, and I finally had to grow up, big time.

Through trials, my relationship with God and my marriage have been strengthened.  From the English Standard Version, James 1:2-5

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

I was lacking wisdom.  I was so unwise, I thought I was wise.  When we’re going through trials, we just want smooth sailing.  But, it’s through those challenges, we experience true growth and learning.  I’m praying that nine years down the road, I’ll be even closer to the person I want to be.

 

 

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My Hope is You Alone

If you’ve followed my blog, you may know that I often have a contemporary Christian song running through my mind.  Right now, it’s “Even If” by Mercy Me.  Here’s a link to the video.  If you’re going through a hard time, I warn you, this song may make you ball like a baby.  But, sometimes that’s okay.  Sometimes, that’s what we need.  Normally, I may post an excerpt from a song, but this one doesn’t repeat the chorus much, so I’m listing all of the lyrics (in case you have limited data, or don’t care to watch a video).  Below, I’ll talk about why this song is resonating with me so profoundly.

They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now, right now I’m losing bad
I’ve stood on this stage night after night
Reminding the broken it’ll be alright
But right now, oh right now I just can’t

It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

You’ve been faithful, You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

If you have suffered a significant loss, or are having a hard time, sometimes it’s hard . . . no . . . impossible, to understand why God is allowing it, especially if you’ve had faith that He would give you that miracle you have been pleading for.

I’ve mentioned before that I once heard a Pastor say that God answers all prayers.  Sometimes the answer is “Yes”, sometimes it’s “No”, and sometimes it’s “Wait a while”.

I’ve heard it said a couple of times now that even though we know God will come through, even if He doesn’t, we’ll still have faith.  It isn’t a matter of God coming through.  Even for those who are saved, and do their best to follow Christ, devastation can happen.  It rocks your world.  It tests your faith.  It may make you question everything you thought was true.

In the sermon we heard this past Sunday, the Pastor talked about times of trial and how, while difficult, they can lead to the greatest spiritual growth.  I have found that to be true of run-of-the-mill trials – job loss, financial uncertainty, conflict in relationships, etc.  But, when the devastation involves the suffering of someone else, it seems self-centered to think about how this event is helping me to grow spiritually.

So, what do you do with it?  How do you go on in faith in a God who has “let you down” so significantly?

I have learned to remind myself of, and lean on His promises.  He knows the future, extending beyond my life on this planet.  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 – English Standard Version).  How is He going to do this?  I have no idea.  That’s why He’s God, and I am not.

That’s one of many verses that I draw on.  I always thought this verse meant things would work out okay in this life:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28 English Standard Version).  I now know that isn’t always the case.  God isn’t only concerned about our happiness while we’re on Earth.  He is more concerned about our eternity.  And, so, I must lean on these promises and expect that His plan extends beyond what I can know or understand on this finite side of the infinite.

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My Unglamorous Life

This is something I wrote a couple of years ago.  I’ve suffered loss and additional struggles since then – my own and those of people I care about.  The challenge to be happy in all circumstances has become more difficult.  Thank you to a friend who reminded me of Philippians 4:11:  “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  KJV

I watched Revolutionary Road the other night. I was enjoying the movie in the beginning. Good performances, and the couple’s last name was Wheeler (my maiden name). . . Toward the end, the movie started to make me mad. Kate Winslet’s character, April, had a pretty nice life. Two beautiful children and a nice home. She didn’t have a great marriage, but it was salvageable. But, she was deeply unhappy because she didn’t get to move to Paris. She thought she and her husband were special, and they didn’t belong in this suburban lifestyle. She wanted more.

I looked at my own life and thought how much April Wheeler would hate it. I live outside of a small town and work at a dirty old steel mill in another small town. It doesn’t get much more unglamorous than that. But, I am happy. I have my moments of grumbling, but overall, I am happy. I am extremely grateful for my children. I am grateful for the moral support and companionship I get from my husband and other friends and family. I am grateful to have a job where I work with nice people, generally feel appreciated and have the flexibility to attend my son’s school events. I am grateful for my country drive everyday. I think the cornfields, hay bales, old farmhouses and country churches I pass everyday are beautiful.

I couldn’t help but think that if April Wheeler could not be happy where she was, eventually she would be unhappy in Paris too. I’m not saying it’s wrong to have goals or want something different. But if your focus is on what you don’t have, instead of the blessings you do, you can never be happy.

Make the Effort to Notice

I’ve mentioned before, I try to read the Bible every morning.  Lately, I have been reading 2 Kings.  Sometimes, I find it really fascinating.  Sometimes, I find it rather boring.  The history of the kings of Israel starts in 1 Samuel, with Saul.  I’ve continued to read these books in order, because I have become interested in this chronology.

I’m no Bible scholar.  I’m sure I miss some important information.  The names of some of these kings are very hard to pronounce, even in my head.  There were many ungodly kings, who caused Israel to sin.  Many of them were killed – sometimes by their own sons.  That usually gets my attention.

Hezekiah, one of the kings of Judah, stands out.  He did what was right, in the eyes of the Lord.  Later in his life, Hezekiah became ill and was dying.  2 Kings 20:2-6 (New American Standard Bible)  Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, “Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterlyBefore Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD.  “I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.”‘”

This passage stuck with me.  I mean, that’s pretty significant – God sending a message to Hezekiah, through the prophet Isaiah, and extending his life for 15 years.  I read it a couple of times over two days, because when I returned to it, as often happens when I’m finding where I left off the previous day, I re-read a paragraph or two.

Here’s where things get weird.  A couple of weeks ago, I began helping to cover for someone in another department, who was on vacation.  I sat at a desk that was shared by a few different people.  On the first day, when I was training, I didn’t notice a plastic cup that was holding some pens.  I noticed it the second day, and I saw that it had a cross on it, which I thought was nice.  The third day, I noticed it had tiny lettering below the cross, and realized it was a Bible verse.  I took a closer look.  It was part of the verse 2 Kings 20:5.  I think it was from the NIV:  “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.”  This bothers me a little.  It’s taken out of context.  God was making this promise to a particular individual, in a particular circumstance, which is not how it’s presented here.

But, that’s not what I want to focus on.  I was floored when I saw this, because that very morning was when I read that verse for the second time.  If it had been Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (KJV) or Romans 8:28  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”, I wouldn’t have thought too much of it.  I see these verses pretty often, and I draw on them often.  But 2 Kings 20:5?  That is not one that is quoted often, and to see it after just reading it two days in a row, when it stuck with me for the first time?  That is odd.

I don’t believe in coincidences.  I pray most mornings for God to let me feel His presence.  We have to look for those things.  I learned a long time ago, that I have to quit talking so much and keep my eyes and ears open to see and hear His presence.  When I witness something like this, I can’t ignore it.  If this is God, allowing me to feel His presence, how does He orchestrate such a thing?  Like so many things with God, it is beyond my understanding.  But, that doesn’t make it any less real.

We live on a nearly empty road in the country.  It’s part of a development, that hasn’t really developed.  But, we do have street lights.  When it’s dark, the screens in our windows make the lights look like a row of crosses.  Depending on how clear it is, the moisture in the air, who knows what else, they can look extremely brilliant at times.  I’ve tried a few times to capture this on film, but I haven’t had much success.  This is the best I’ve been able to do.

It’s more powerful in person.  As distorted as this is, hopefully you still get the idea.

God does speak to us in all kind of ways . . . through His word, song, images, events . . . if only we make the effort to notice.

 

 

 

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Have You Forgotten Your New Years Resolutions Yet?

A month ago, people were talking about setting goals and not setting goals.  I admit, I was thinking about it too. There is something about a new year that makes you feel you can accomplish anything.  That little sign on my way to work that I described in my previous post, Humility Prevent Humiliation,  says on one side, “New Year.  New Beginnings.”

The one that is top of mind for me and many others is losing weight.  The goal should be, eating healthier and getting in better shape.  I want to do that too, but it’s mostly vanity.  I have some things working against me.  I broke my back when I was younger.  The hardware in my back makes it almost impossible to develop any muscles in that area of my back, and that makes it tough to strengthen my core.  I used to do crunches, but they made my back hurt and frankly probably aren’t good for me anyway.  Planks, yoga, or squats while holding some weights are probably the best way to go.  Here, I have no excuse.  I’m lazy.

Having two kids at an “advanced maternal age” is not helping my stomach.  On top of that, I have an umbilical hernia that I have yet to have surgically corrected.  My days of bikinis are long behind me.  But, if I lost 20 lbs., that would surely make me feel better about my stomach.

But, it’s so daunting.  I know, I know.  I should make a lifestyle change.  Not just diet to lose weight.  But, I like pizza and tacos and cake and potato chips.  Let’s not forget chocolate, french fries and Chinese food.

I like diets that tell me exactly what to eat so I don’t have to track carbs, calories or points.  Have you ever tried a low-carb diet?  Talk about misery.  I love meat, but I need bread or crackers or something to feel full.  Between feeling hungry, tracking carbs and depriving myself of much of the food I really like, I focus on the diet ALL THE TIME.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been doing diets that specify what my meals are and allow me days when I can eat whatever I want.  My problem is consistency.  Whatever excuse I can come up with (some legitimate, some not so much) to take a couple weeks off, I will use it.

Okay – all of that said, I’m going to give myself a break.  I am still 8 lbs. down from where I was at my heaviest (other than pregnancy or the months following having a baby) two years ago.  That’s certainly better than gaining it back, or gaining it back and then some.  While that sense of renewed energy I, and many others, had at the new year has worn off, each day is a new day, so I won’t give up.

While those weight related goals are not bad to have, maybe there are some more important goals to set.  Goals that are good for our well-being and our souls.  Some can be immediately met.  Give to that charity you’ve been thinking about forever.  Go to church this Sunday.  Start reading that spiritual or positive book that’s been collecting dust.  Others take a longer commitment, maybe even a lifetime commitment.  Stop gossiping. Stop lying.  Read the Bible every day.  Make an ongoing effort to make my spouse feel loved.

I’ll focus on gossip for a bit.  In the past, I had no shame in talking about people behind their back, as long as I didn’t get caught.  As I’ve matured, I’ve realized how damaging gossip is.  Besides hurting your relationship with the object of gossip, it potentially hurts their relationship with others, and it damages your reputation more than you realize.  Scripture has a lot to say about gossip.  Here’s a harsh one.  Matthew 12:36 (ESV)  “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,”  This one is a little gentler:  Proverbs 21:23 “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. ”

I bite my tongue a lot.  But not always.  Sometimes I’ll find an excuse to gossip.  “I have to work out this problem with this person by talking about it to someone else.”  Another excuse might be that this someone needs to know what this person is really like.  But, do I need to be the one to tell them?  What if I gave the person the benefit of the doubt, and gave them the chance to be at their best?

But, over the long-haul I’ve been improving.  As happens so often, the lyrics of a song keep running through my mind.  This time, it’s Matthew West’s Day One.  (We saw him in concert in December.  He was fantastic.  If you get the chance, don’t pass it up).  Here are some of the lyrics:

Well, I wish I had a short term memory
Wish the only thing my eyes could see
Was the future burning bright right in front of me
But I can’t stop looking back

Yeah, I wish I was a perfect picture of
Somebody who’s never not good enough
I try to measure up but I mess it up
And I wish I wasn’t like that

Every morning, every morning
Every morning, mercy’s new
Every morning, every morning
I will fix my eyes on You
Every morning, every morning
Every morning, mercy’s new
Every morning, every morning
Sun’s coming up, the beginning has begun, yeah

I improve.  I stumble.  I think I’m on a trajectory of cutting this destructive behavior out of my life altogether.  While I have the attitude of taking this change seriously, and not giving myself a pass for bad behavior, each new day brings new hope that I will be better than the day before.

 

 

 

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The Little Pamphlet that Changed my Life

I’ve mentioned before that we have been terrible church-hoppers.  But, I believe God puts us where He wants us at any given time.  Hopefully, that will be in our permanent church home soon!

During our struggle with our search, we have attended some churches for extended periods of time – months or even years.  When we first moved to our current home, we attended a church in the nearest small city, about 10 miles away.  While we ultimately decided this church was not the one for us, during our time there, the Pastor presented a pamphlet that changed my life.

The pamphlet is called:  Seven Minutes with God:  How to Plan a Daily Quiet Time.  I find it easy to set goals, and while I usually don’t have a hard time getting started, sticking with real change is a challenge for me.  I had previously read the entire Bible.  It took years.  I would say I was still seeking then, and I didn’t retain much.  I wanted to continue to strengthen my relationship with God, but always felt pressure to read a lot at a time to feel like I was accomplishing something.  It became a daunting task.

This pamphlet opened my eyes.  In using this technique, I learned that sometimes its more valuable to read just a chapter, or even a paragraph and meditate on it, than to read several pages at a time.  By the way, if you’re interested in buying this pamphlet, it’s available from several places online.  Here you can buy a pack of 25 for $10.99:  christanbook.com.  Share it with your friends!  I am receiving no compensation for this – just wanted to let you know where you can get it, if you’re interested.

It was about four years ago that I read this pamphlet.  I don’t need to refer to it anymore.  I found it recently, but, of course now that I want to use it as a reference, I can’t locate it.  But, that’s okay.  I can still share what I have learned and retained from it after all of this time.

This is my memory of what was in the pamphlet, and it may not be 100% accurate.  I don’t worry too much about how much time is to be devoted to each area.  This is how my prayer time started, and some areas where it has grown, based on using the pamphlet as a guide.

Before I read the Bible, I pray for God to reveal His word to me.  I read for several minutes.  While I may only read a short passage at a time, I stick with one book, from beginning to end, so I can understand the whole context.  Sometimes it takes me several weeks to read a book this way, but that’s okay.  The structure of prayer that follows is:  Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (petition or requests).

This was appealing to me, because I didn’t really know how to pray.  Often we just ask for things.  Adding all of these other aspects has really enriched my spiritual life.  I came up with an easy acronym – ACTS.  After using this for a while, I decided that I really needed to pray and meditate on the scripture I just read, so I changed the acronym to SACTS:  Scripture, Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.

When I pray about scripture, sometimes I pray for clarity.  Sometimes I thank God for caring about us enough to give us His word.  Sometimes I thank Him for the better understanding of Him that I’ve gained from a particular passage.

This has gotten me into a good routine of reading the Bible.  There are days that I’m running very late, or I think I’ll have more time later, so I put it off, and then forget altogether.  But, I would say I read the Bible 9 out of 10 days.  I used to attend a Business Women of Faith group, and one of the speakers, Amanda Hodge, talked about the importance of reading the Bible regularly.  Among other things, how are you going to know God is speaking to you if you don’t know His voice?  Reading His word is the only way to gain that familiarity.

When I was going through a really tough time, I began getting down on my knees.  When my prayers became less desperate, I decided to continue getting on my knees because I couldn’t think of a good reason not to.  It seemed like the most appropriate position for full surrender.

Occasionally, I’ll abandon this structure altogether, when I feel that it’s becoming too routine, and my time with God has stopped coming from the heart.  I think of Romans 8:26 – Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (American King James version)

I admit to God that I don’t always know what to pray for, but that I will trust in His plan.  I trust that the Holy Spirit will intercede with what I really need, not what I think I want.

If you want a closer relationship with God, but don’t know where to begin, I recommend following the structure outlined in this pamphlet.  Surely your spiritual life will grow from there, but this is a great starting point.

 

 

 

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Picture Perfect. In Whose Eyes?

frameI was going to include our most recent family photo, but then I realized it was taken at a studio, so there could be some legal issues with including it.  I will attempt to paint a word picture for you.  We were all in neutral shades, with blue being the accent color.  The kids had on different, but complementing patterns.  We were coordinated, but not too coordinated.  My husband was on a stool, slightly higher than my stool in front of him.  My then 3-year-old daughter was on my lap.  My 6-year-old son was standing next to me, in front of my husband.  Everyone was smiling.

It was a perfect family photo.  A picture of how we want to look to the world.

My husband and I take our faith seriously.  We want to be pleasing representatives for Jesus.  But, we fall woefully short on a daily basis.  We can look the part at our best.  At our worst, we are nit-picking, bickering, sometimes yelling, grumbling hypocrites.  But we try.  Hopefully we are on a trajectory of being better servants every day.

A couple of weeks ago we had the honor of witnessing two baptisms.  It was a young, engaged couple being baptized.  Both had amazing stories, but the young man’s keeps coming to my mind.  He was thin, quiet, with gauges in his ears.  He also wore an ankle monitor.  He had served two six month stints in prison.  The Pastor joked that he had never done this before, and would he be zapped when he got in the water?  The young man assured him that he would not.

This young man had begun seeking a relationship with God while in prison.  His baptism was a public declaration of his faith in Jesus Christ.

It was very moving.  Perhaps more so, because it wasn’t your every day story.  If you compare three images, our “picture perfect” family photo, who we really are, and this young man wearing the ankle monitor, who is the better representative for Jesus?  Well, this is a hypothetical question, because we should not compare ourselves to others.  It’s more to demonstrate how very powerful this man’s testimony is.  There are some passages that come to my mind when I think of the gentleman who was baptized.  I think I’ll stick with just this one, because it demonstrates my point so well.

From Luke 7, verses 36 – 50, the New American Standard Bible

36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”

40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Am I saying this person’s sins are worse than mine?  No.  While I’ve not been to prison, I have sinned plenty.  When I was younger, I certainly was not living a righteous lifestyle.  As far as my sinful thoughts, they have been pretty shameful.  Thoughts can’t be judged by man’s law, but God knows them.

His sins are more apparent to an outsider.  Some sins are worn on the person’s sleeve.  In this case, on his ankle.  But, there are plenty of people from my past who could tell you about many of my sins.  I would be embarrassed.  But, I am generally able to keep them hidden.  Is that a better representation of Christ?  I don’t think so.

Look at this man.  Look at this family.  At first appearances, the family may seem to be what one thinks of as the better Christians.  In reality, this man’s devotion may be stronger because of his perception that his sins are worse, even though, in reality, they likely are not.  Is he better?  I don’t know, but he’s certainly just as good.  Jesus loves us enough to feel we’re all worth dying for.  Because we have accepted His gift of salvation, we are all looked upon as sinless in the eyes of God.  Our stories are very different, but God can use them all for his higher purpose.

 

 

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Words

yada-yada-1430679_1920The sermon we heard on Sunday was about the power of words.  This passage from James, is from the New American Standard Bible:

 1Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

I know, this is a rather long passage for a blog post.  But, it’s all so good, I just couldn’t leave any of it out.  It paints such a picture of the power of our tongues.

Do you ever sit in church and think, I hope he (or she) is getting this?  He (the person sitting next to me) should really feel convicted.  I have this thought more than I should admit.  But as the old saying goes, whenever you point a finger at someone, you have three pointing back at you.  I felt convicted.

A year or two ago, I was pretty good about extending grace, not participating in gossip, and practicing self-control.  Since my brother died, my relationship with God is not what it was.  My trust in Him is not what it was.  I felt convicted because, lately, when someone irritates me, I too often respond in kind, even feeling pride because of the cleverness of my barbs.

This is not who I am supposed to be.  It’s not who I want to be.

We have been terrible “church-hoppers” over the last few years.  Some of it has been for good reason, as we sought a Biblical church.  Most recently, we have been attending the same church for about a year.  I would say it is Biblical – no church is perfect.  But, over the last several weeks, I have dreaded going.  Maybe there are just too many choices.  I don’t feel it’s right to leave a church for no good reason.  Going to church is not supposed to be for my inspiration, but to worship God.  But still, I shouldn’t dread going either, should I?  Maybe I’ll get into the reasons in another post.  For now, I’ll just say that we decided to try a different church the last couple of Sundays.

Will this be our church home?  I don’t know.  We need to learn more about it before making the decision.  But, I will say, this last Sunday was the first time in a long time that I felt the Holy Spirit so strongly that I had tears in my eyes a few times.

I realized later in the day that a prayer had been answered.  I have been praying every day for my faith and trust to be restored.  I ask God to please let me feel His presence in my life again.  I have been going through the motions, reading the Bible every morning, praying, listening to Christian music.  But, the joy has not been what it once was.  And, it hurts.  I miss it.

While it’s usually not fun to feel convicted, I am joyous about it.  I want to go back to being who I am supposed to be in Christ, and to continue to grow more.  This blogpost by Keith Haney, How to Develop a Circle of Trust, has also had me thinking about how I have been handling my relationships.

Something at work has been bothering me.  For weeks, rather than go to the person, I have been letting it anger and eat at me, even gossiping about it.  Finally, today, I went to the person and talked to her about it.  As it so often is, it was a misunderstanding.  Isn’t it honoring the relationship more by talking to the person, in a respectful way, than to try to ignore it, while it makes you more bitter?  I feel so unwise and immature about my initial handling of it now.

This song has been playing over in my mind almost constantly over the last couple of days.  Words by Hawk Nelson.

If you don’t want to watch the video, I’ll close with some of the lyrics.  May you feel God’s presence in your life today.

They’ve made me feel like a prisoner
They’ve made me feel set free
They’ve made me feel like a criminal
Made me feel like a king

They’ve lifted my heart
To places I’d never been
And they’ve dragged me down
Back to where I began

Words can build you up
Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or
Put it out

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

You can heal the heartache
Speak over the fear
God, Your voice is the only thing
We need to hear

Let the words I say
Be the sound of Your grace
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

I wanna speak Your love
Not just another noise
Oh, I wanna be Your light
I wanna be Your voice

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

 

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Is the Cross a Symbol of Death?

graves-copyThis may seem like a strange question.  I had a strange experience the other day.  I left work during the middle of the day to attend an HR luncheon.  On my way back, I drove down a road I don’t normally travel.  On the right side of the road, I saw a strange spectacle . . . small-scale ferris wheels and some other items I couldn’t make out.  What on earth?  Then I saw the sign – CARNEVIL.  A Halloween display.  I wondered who would want a sign that contained “evil’ posted in their yard.  The usual skeletons and stuffed zombie-like creatures littered the yard.  Then, I saw something that jarred me, even offended me a bit.  A black cross.  How did this fit into the ghoulish display?  I looked closer.  It was on top of a grave.  All made of cardboard, it appeared, painted black.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I am not offended by the cross.  I was bothered by it being used in this setting.  But, I realize, a cross does sometimes mark a grave.  I’m sure you have also seen them on the side of the road, where someone has passed away in an accident in that place.  When placed in those settings, I hope they aren’t intended to represent death, but the passing of a believer who is now in a better place because of the sacrifice and suffering Jesus endured for us.

These thoughts led me to a memory.  When I was still finding my faith, wrestling with the most important questions of life, I wondered about the cross as the sign of Christianity.  An odd choice, it seemed to me.  A torture device intended to kill, used as a symbol of faith.  Morbid.  And then, to decorate this torture device as jewelry, make beautiful stain-glassed windows containing it.  Misguided?

As my faith has grown, my understanding of the cross as a beautiful reminder of what Jesus did has changed.  That the son of God, a part of the trinity of God Himself, loves us so that He endured tremendous suffering to renew a relationship with us, is remarkable.  Yes, the cross was torturous.  It had to be so, for Jesus to take the punishment for all of the sin – past, present, and future.  He did it willingly, out of love.

cross-1719364_1280But, beyond that, Jesus rose on the third day, conquering death, giving us an opportunity for new life.  Eternal life.  While in some ways, yes, the device of the cross represents death – ugly, horrific, painful death – even more powerful, it represents the life we have been given as a gift through great sacrifice.

“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight;” Colossians 1:21-22 NKJV

 

 

 

 

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Dealing with Santa and the Elf – from an Apparently Uptight Christian

elf-copySince I became more serious about my faith a few years ago, I have struggled with Santa and the Elf on the Shelf at Christmas.  Not only do they take the focus away from the birth of Christ, I have a problem with all things “magical”.

If you use the word “magic” in your blog name, your posts, or when describing Christmas-time – don’t be offended by this rant.  I understand, people use the word to mean really special.  But, the word bothers me.  Do you notice how many kids’ shows focus on magic?  It seems 90% of Disney productions are about magic.  The characters often cast spells and have special powers.  Why is this a problem?  In this case, they are calling on something supernatural.  Any time we are calling on the supernatural, and we’re not calling on God, then what are we calling on?  Something to ponder.  Many of these things resemble witchcraft . . . from a Christian perspective, that can’t be good.

At the risk of exposing myself as the hypocrite that I am, I will disclose that the first movie we took my son to was Frozen.  My kids love it, and as you know, Frozen products are everywhere.  Didn’t this movie come out THREE YEARS AGO?!  It seems it will never go away.

There are things I like about this movie.  At least it shows that magic can be dangerous.  I also like that the love that saves the day is one sister’s love for the other – instead of the predictable romantic love we have seen endless times.

But, from my explanation of the issues above, I’m sure you can understand that there are things about this movie that bother me.

adventOkay – back to Christmas.  I know – Jesus was very likely not born in December.  But, it is the time we celebrate his birth, and that’s where I like to keep the focus.  I have started buying only ornaments that focus on Jesus, with two exceptions.  My husband and I bought an ornament during our first Christmas as a couple – we had just gotten engaged.  We buy a new ornament every year, with the year on the ornament.  Some of them are more season-focused than Christ-focused.  We also bought an ornament on our honeymoon.  So, that has also become a tradition.  Whenever we go on a trip as a family, when we’re in the trinket stores we try to find a Christmas ornament.

christmas-ornament

This is a pretty good segue to how I look at such things.  The focus should be on Christ.  I also want my kids to have wonderful memories of the season, and in that way, there is a focus on family and tradition, too.  I loved when my Mom put up the decorations.  They were mostly the same every year . . . in particular I remember some Christmas wind chimes she hung in the doorway in between the dining room and the family room.  Every time I walked through the doorway, I would hit them with my hand.  When I was little, I would have to jump up to hit them.  Eventually, I would have to try to avoid hitting them with my head as I walked from one room to the next.  I look back at my childhood Christmases very fondly.

Santa was part of it all, too, although not a huge focus.  On Christmas Eve, we would go to my Great Grandmother’s house when I was very young.  When I was older, and there were concerns about the weight of so many people on the floors of her farm house, we rented a hall.  We would often go to Christmas Eve church service.   It was at 10:00 PM.  So, by the time we drove home, through the Illinois countryside in the winter, it was very dark.  I remember watching the sky for Santa’s sleigh.  Of course, I never saw it.

The gifts under the tree were from my parents, and they appeared during the weeks leading up to Christmas Day.  Gifts from Santa were much smaller, and appeared in the stocking overnight on Christmas Eve.  It was a genius way of doing it for a number of reasons.  My Mom could wrap the gifts as they were purchased, instead of trying to keep them hidden.  She has said they did it that way, partially, so we would know the gifts came from them, instead of giving credit to Santa.  My brothers and I would get up VERY early on Christmas morning.  We were allowed to get the items from our stocking first thing, without supervision.  I remember going into my parents’ bedroom to tell them what Santa had brought (as if they didn’t know).  This bought my parents some time to sleep in a little!  Our need for Christmas to start was temporarily satiated with the stockings.santa

Even as a kid, though, the Santa thing bugged me.  So much of it did not add up.  If Santa was at the North Pole getting ready for Christmas, how was he at the mall?  How could you see more than one Santa at two different places on the same day?  Those are his helpers.  Hmmmm.  Okay.  We don’t have a fireplace.  How does he get in?  At our house, he comes through the door.  I see.  Why does Santa fill our stockings, but at other houses, he provides all of the wrapped presents under the tree?  He does whatever the parents ask him to do.  Wow.  Santa sure has a lot to keep track of!

When I realized, for sure, that there was no Santa (I don’t remember the exact moment – I had suspected for quite a few years), I was somewhat annoyed by the deceptions.

I don’t blame my parents – at all!  There is a tremendous amount of pressure to make your kids believe in Santa, and, like I said, they didn’t focus on it much.

My position on this, and what I told my son when he asked (at age 5), may be unpopular with some.  That’s okay.  I’m not telling anyone what they should do.  I’m telling you what I have done, because it feels like the right thing for my family.  I just can’t knowingly lie, even if it is all in fun.  When my son asked if Santa is real, I told him, “St. Nicholas was a real person who lived a long time ago.  From what I have read, he was a believer in Jesus, so that’s something we can support and appreciate.  But, he doesn’t fly around on Christmas Eve delivering presents to the whole world.  It’s just a fun story that people talk about at Christmas-time.  But, if you want to believe in the story, because it’s fun, you can.  Don’t tell your friends what I told you, because their parents may feel differently, and want them to believe in Santa.”

I could tell he was disappointed.  I said, “You wish I would have just said he’s real, huh?”  He nodded.  I still felt I did the right thing, rather than pile fib upon fib.  Sorry kid.

We also bought an Elf on the Shelf a couple years ago.  In fact, I’ll likely do a post about some of the things we have done with it.  We got it because we thought we would have fun with it, and we have.  Ours is a girl and my son name her “Cookie”.  My daughter was too young to have a clue the first year.  Last year, they both would look for her every morning.  I enjoyed coming up with new ideas and seeing their reactions.

Elf on the ShelfBut, I don’t say Cookie is watching them, that she reports about their behavior to Santa, or she loses her “magic” if they touch her.  I say, she’s a doll, and they shouldn’t touch her because it’s part of the game.  When my son says he thinks I move her at night, I don’t lie.  Sometimes, I shrug.  Sometimes I say “Maybe.”  He says he’s going to stay up and catch me.  I just say, “We’ll see.”  I can see him wondering, and I’ll admit, it is kind of fun to watch his expression when he thinks about it.

There is a part of me that would like to tell you it’s lazy parenting to tell your kids they better behave so Santa doesn’t put them on the naughty list.  But, I threaten to tell Nana and Papa or their teachers about their behavior because they seem to care more what other people think than what I think. It’s no different at all, is it?  So, no, I totally get it.  I just can’t do it.

But, I don’t want us to miss out on the fun and togetherness of the season.  I enjoy buying and wrapping presents, pulling out the ornaments and reminiscing about when we bought them, and I think that’s all okay.  It’s also a wonderful time to give to others, including those in need and each other.  Most importantly, it’s an amazing opportunity to talk about Jesus and what He has done for us.