DO YOU LIKE ME? CHECK YES OR NO

Hand-written notes have been replaced by text messages. Still, there is one question we want an answer to, something held deeply in our hearts that we want clarified with a single word either YES or NO.

But whether the note was secretly passed in class or texted, the anxiety of waiting for an answer from the guy you were crushing on this week was dreadful!

yes or no.jpg

You’ve just exposed yourself. You put your heart out there and you’re vulnerable.

What if you get a NO?

What if the suspicions you’ve held onto every day to this day are confirmed?

What if you learn that you are, after all, quite ordinary, unlovable and absolutely not important?

One morning, I was dealing with some serious feelings of unworthiness. I worried I may not have any value in this world after all.

Yeah, I know the word of God tells me I’m precious and loved and important, but it’s hard to feel that deep in your gut sometimes, isn’t it?

Later that morning, I saw a tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda that made me feel so much better. Trust me, the irony or misplaced appreciation was not lost on me. Lin-Manuel Miranda I trust; God, not so much.

linLet Lin-Manuel Miranda – someone I’ve never met nor corresponded with – tell me I’m important and I’m ready to share it on Facebook with enthusiasm. (Which I did.)

(Look at this! Isn’t it inspiring?! No, he doesn’t know me, but….)

Have God reassure me that he loves me because He created me with a purpose in mind and sacrificed His son in order to have a relationship with him….not so enthusiastic.

So often, I’ve wanted a sign or a handwritten note that shows me He’s there and that he loves me. I want something tangible that I can look at when I’m insecure and need reassurance. I want something I can keep in a secret place only I know about, a place where I can go when I want to be alone with the comfort of the words written by someone who thinks I’m important when when I think no one does.

Then I realize that my Father – the one who loves me always and anyway – not only left me a love note; he wrote a whole book about his love for me. And He thinks you’re pretty special, too!xoxo god

 

OH, IT MATTERS!

twain whyRecently, I’ve  been a little discouraged because I’ve been focusing so very much on the things I can’t do instead of the things I can do. And I think it’s natural for the things you can no longer do to become magnified in importance and value. It’s like when you’re told to not think about purple-spotted elephants, and all you can think about are purple-spotted elephants. To be fair, though, I think there’s a certain amount of grieving we all go through when we start seeing limitations – whether they’re a result of one specific event or the natural process of aging.

Our lives can change in a moment, and not all changes are welcome. Some come along completely without our permission and challenge everything we thought we understood about ourselves and the world. It’s times like this that I think it’s natural to re-evaluate who we are and what our purpose is – especially if what we do is such an integral part of who we are.

This deep contemplation of life is how I started my morning today. What followed is my personal adaptation of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, otherwise known as If You Give LaRonda a Random Thought. And it’s going to take longer for me to tell the story than the whole thing took to unfold – all before 7:30 am.

First I read a post from a blog I follow – The Godly Chick Diaries. After some great thoughts on heading into the new year with purpose, she ended her post by inviting her readers to contribute to the Hope for Humanity Foundation, which is dedicated to “empowering children and youth to shape their own future through the use of education.”

Then I checked out a devotion a friend texted me about a young boy who had no plan for his day but to see what the excitement in town was. Not knowing how long he’d be gone, he packed a lunch for himself. Had he planned to feed 5,000 men and their families, he probably would have packed a little extra. Who would have expected there would be more food left over than what he’d brought in the first place? See, he mattered!

Then I thought of a quote I’d read about doing small things greatly. (I love, love, love quotes!) I couldn’t remember it, so I Googled “small things done greatly.” I wasn’t disappointed!

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” – Helen Keller

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

napoleon hill    Take your pick!

mlk

Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Theresa have each created a legacy that has left a permanent impression in history. I doubt that any of them started their lives with a plan to change the world. Napoleon Hill is the guy who literally wrote the book on changing the world and is one of the most widely read authors to date on making the most of your life. They each mattered!

Then I remembered a speaker I’d heard at a Women of Faith conference who radically illustrated the point that the smallest things we do can have an exponential effect on the world, in ways we may never realize. Andy Andrews gave a magnificent, inspiring example of The Butterfly Effect. If you haven’t seen this, please take the 9 minutes and 48 seconds it takes to watch this video. I’m confident that you’ll never forget it or regret it.  And if you’ve heard it before, I encourage you to watch it again. It’s about a single thread of people who each mattered.

The birth of this talk particularly struck me this morning, having spent the past few days deliberating over just how much I have to offer my family, my employer, my church and my friends, much less the world. In short, do I matter? It wasn’t until I searched for the video that I knew how it originated.

Andrews wrote, “Working with the United States Air Force at the time, I was charged with finding ‘proof of the value of an individual life’.  At that time, the military as a whole was just discovering that suicide had become more prevalent within their ranks than with the civilian population as a whole.”

From that charge, Andrews developed this talk and wrote The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters for adults and the pint-size version for kids called The Kid Who Changed the World. The long story is that everything we do has an effect on not only our immediate surroundings, but everything.

It’s hard to leave the house feeling small, unnecessary, and insignificant after a morning like that. And I thank God that he took the time to remind me of this truth:

plans i have for you

Never doubt that God has a very specific plan for your life. He has already gone before you, made the way straight and prepared all the key characters. Because you matter.

If God can take an attractive young Jewish woman from obscurity and place her in a king’s palace, giving her great favor with all the right people – people who also had no idea how God had planned to use them – he can do something significant with your life.

Esther had no lofty goals of saving her people. In fact, she had no clue why she was where she was. Someone had to point it out to her: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NIV) Two things are made clear here: What God plans will come to pass with or without you, and it’s really not about you. God didn’t put Esther in the palace so she could be a pretty queen. She mattered.

Chances are you’ll never be positioned to save a people from genocide. (No pressure there!) But you can make a small contribution to a valuable organization. You can pack a lunch for yourself and be prepared to share. You can open the door for someone. You can be kind to the customer service rep who is trying really hard to solve your problem. You can give a ride to someone who totaled her car and needs to get to work. 😉

Our days are absolutely full of opportunities to do small things in a great way. And you never know which one will change the course of history. (You know, just in case you are positioned to save a people from genocide.)

You are a child of God. You’re beautiful and significant to the One who created you. And the world is waiting for you to flap your wings because you matter!

(By the way…the name of the post that started this trip down the rabbit hole? “Thank you for Giving Me Wings!” God can be so clever. :D)

EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT

God speaks to me in some cool ways, but my favorite is when I awaken with the line of a song in my head. Today I got a really nice line from Loggins & Messina’s “Danny’s Song.” God’s message is seldom the entire song; just one or two lines that repeat constantly in my head.

Today, I heard:

And in the morning when I rise
Bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything’s gonna be all right

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV) assures us that “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

I think we can all use a reassurance from time to time.

Too often, we desperately try to control things in our lives. For as exhausting as it can be, we find some comfort in the illusion that we have some measure of control over things. Anyone who has sat in the driver’s seat with an experienced driver behind the wheel knows just what I mean.

to trust god in the darkIt can be hard to trust that anyone else would, will, or even can take care of things that we’re worried about. There’s a sense of apprehension, the possibility that whispers, “What if….” It’s the same feeling we get when we reach for the light switch in a dark room. We know there’s nothing in the room while it’s dark that isn’t in the room when the light’s on. We know our reach won’t be interrupted by a cold boney hand. But what if…?

God is able and willing to lighten our burdens. And if he doesn’t make the matter go away, he can give us the grace and peace to get through it. He will be by our side through deep waters and dark valleys. And he is willing to carry our burdens.

God already knows what’s ahead of us. Absolutely nothing surprises him, and he promises that he will make a way where there seems to be no way.

god's perspectiveWe need to look at things from his vantage point and not from our own. Too often, we believe things are so much bigger than they really are. Remember the first time you revisited your elementary school after years of being away? It’s hard to believe you ever thought it was so big.

So while I may worry about how I’m going to pay this bill or replace that car, God already has a plan. I’m not meant to solve all my own problems. My worry serves no good purpose.

God’s greatest desire is for us to trust him. Our trust in him is the foundation for our relationship with him.

He love us and he’s got this! If you’re still for just a moment, you can hear him whisper, “Everything’s gonna be alright.”

YOU HAVE AMAZING THINGS TO DO!

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

~Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

I’ve always liked that passage. At the very least, it’s encouraging. At the very most, it’s permission.

I know it sounds strange that grown, mature adults would need permission, doesn’t it? But consider what the opposite of permission looks like? I’ll show you.

Picture this: A college freshman is at a car dealership, narrowing down her choices first by price range, then by the only thing a college freshman would think was important – the cuteness factor. The only choices left are an adorable little sunshine-yellow sports car or an imposing Chrysler Newport. The budding relationship between girl and auto was rudely interrupted by her mother.

“We’re big people. We need a big car.” said the woman who’d never owned or driven a car in her life. Or been a college freshman!

Apparently, Lesson 1 in Auto Shopping 101 was: Make sure everyone can shove their big butts into it.

That was a very (very) long time ago, but I don’t think I’ve made a single decision since then that didn’t account for the size of my body. To this day, I am uncomfortable anywhere small-ish. I’ve often defined myself and limited my ambitions by my size.

We all have at least a bit of that in us.  It may not be your size. It might be your height, you academic aptitude, finances, your gender, the color of your skin.

I’ve participated in workshops where the speaker asks, “If money was no object and success was guaranteed, what would you do with your life?” And the thing is that I still see myself trying to squeeze into a cute little sports car. I just can’t imagine myself without limits.

I want to share something with you, and I don’t share this to get a pat on the back. It’s just to show the disconnect in my perception of myself.

god is already workingI’ve always loved words and spelling came easy to me. When I was in Grades 6 through 8, I competed in spelling bees and did fairly well.

When I was in the 8th Grade, I accidentally discovered that in spite my absolute fear of speaking in front of an audience, I had a real aptitude for it. Who knew? I spent my high school years in competitive speech and debate. I earned the highest level of recognition the National Forensic League offered at that time, lettered in Forensics and competed at the state level three years in four events.

When my first daughter was born, I had the opportunity to go back to school. Instead of returning to college, I opted for the Vo-Tech in town. That’s where I served as the president for our local chapter of Business Professionals of America, the state Vice President and the national Secretary-Treasurer. (Did you spot the trend? Yes, I’d peaked at the local level.)

The night of the ceremonies, I placed 1st in one of my events, 2nd in the other and became the second member from Kansas to be elected to a national office. (It. was. awesome!) I had given my campaign speech in front of an audience of almost 4,000 people. I was the only candidate hadn’t use note cards or the podium. My instructor was later mortified when I told her I’d gone in front of my peers with nothing more than a sketchy outline of a speech in my head.

Ten years ago, Chicken Soup for the Soul bought the only story I’d ever written with the intent of being published. This year, my second. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to get my very own book published. I’d love to be able to turn the broken pieces of my life into a stained glass vision of God’s grace, his favor, and his power. It would be a shame to waste all that trauma and drama, don’t you think? Do I expect myself to get such a book published? Can a fat girl squeeze her butt into a cute little yellow sports car? I have no idea, because I never tried it. I bought the Newport that day. I didn’t even test drive the smaller car.

There are three take-away’s from this.

  • I really don’t know how to say ‘No.’
  • I settle for a big car too often.
  • God has a plan for me whether I’m on board or not.

blown gods planDuring those years, I didn’t even acknowledge God. At the age of 12, I’d accepted Christ as my savior, collected my get-out-of-hell-free card, and went around doing my own thing.

Just remember that God’s going to do what God wants to do. And while he waits for us to surrender ourselves, he keeps busy.

So many of us, though, are the man Jesus met at the healing pool who had been crippled for many years.

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked him.

The beggar never said “Yes.” Jesus healed him anyway because he had compassion. But the beggar had come to identify himself as broken, needy, helpless and dependent. He had no concept of what he would do if money were no object and success was guaranteed.

He simply wasn’t that guy. (You know…that guy.)

God has used so many of his children who couldn’t see themselves the way God saw them. Moses argued that he wasn’t good with words. Abraham and Sarah reminded God that they were beyond fertile years. Jonah? Well, Jonah had his own issues.

How did their stories end? Very simply, God got his way.

disney impossibleWe seldom grasp how the kingdom of God works. God’s all about doing the impossible, using resources that we don’t have access to. He’s about  and what’s on the other side of the wall.

We are his creations, and by limiting ourselves, our potential, and we’re limiting God.

Our lives aren’t about what we can do. They’re about what God can do with us. When God speaks, things happen!

Think about the beggar by the pool. When he was healed, he was suddenly able to walk, to get a job that used his particular talents, to become a valuable part of his community, to meet a woman who would love him and raise children with him.

Or he might have hung out at the market, doing nothing more than telling everyone why he can’t work because he used to be a cripple.

We don’t know what he did, but what a waste it would have been to not do something with the potential that Christ loosed in him with a touch and a word!

Isaiah 55:11 tells us “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

child

This is the same word that created the impossibly intricate detail of our bodies. The way it heals itself, the way blood flows through it, the way it regenerates itself – they’re all on autopilot because God set them in motion with a word.

This is the same word that called this planet into being – all on auto pilot.

This is the same word that called you by name and created you in your mother’s womb, imprinting his purpose in your spirit.

People say children don’t come with an instruction manual. Actually, they do. God has a copy of it, but he doesn’t let us read it because he has seen what happens when we have brilliant ideas and try to help him. Crayon marks, highlighted sentences and corrections in red ink everywhere!

So the big question is this: If money was no object and success was guaranteed, what would you do with your life? Are you willing to at least test drive a cute little yellow sports car?

Go ahead! What are you waiting for?

 

 

WELCOME TO THE PITY PARTY!

hello my name isCome on in! Sign the list with your name and your particular angst. The comfort food is over there. You’ll be hearing songs like “Sad Songs” by Elton John, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle”,  Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, and R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”. Dolly Parton will sing about Joleen while Kenny Rogers cries about Lucille leaving him – with four hungry children and a crop in the field no less! Don’t hear your favorite? The DJ is taking requests. Sinead O’Conner’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”? Sorry, no. Just…no. So grab a box of tissues and we’ll get this party started!

I’ve never liked the phrase, “Get over it.” I think it’s dismissive and, quite frankly, insensitive. OK, I suppose there are some things you can “get over” – like your McDonald’s fries not being hot enough or having someone take the last doughnut in the break room. Although those can be really disheartening.

But cold fries and an empty doughnut box aren’t the same as losing your job, losing your home, or having a spouse ask for a divorce. Of course, everyone knows that you don’t tell someone who’s suffered losses like that to “get over it,” do they? No.

No, they say kinder things like, “It was God’s will” or “Something better will come along.” Which I believe may seem a smidge more sensitive (especially if you squeeze God into it), but they’re no less dismissive.

silent cryingI think there’s a pretty long list of things we shouldn’t be expected to get over because we need to get through it. The psalm doesn’t say, “Though I take the bridge over the valley of the shadow of death….” It tells us that we can trust in God is as we walk through it.

I have never been much of a hostess because, frankly, it terrifies me to have people in my home. I used to think it was because I thought my housekeeping wasn’t good enough (which it’s not) or that I wouldn’t know what to do with them once they’re actually in my house. I’m beginning to suspect that it was too intimate for me.

For the most part, I’ve kept my home life separate from my life at work or church. Not that people at work or church never knew about my home life. (They wish!) I think I’ve used my home as a sort of dressing room in which I prepare before a performance and in which I can remove the makeup and costume after a performance.

I can tell those of you who don’t know me that I had a painful childhood. I can tell those of you who think you know me that I cried myself to sleep most nights as my mother laughed with my younger brother in her room down the hall, without me. (Yes, I suspect it was unhealthy.) There were nights I laid very still in my bed as I listened to her go down the stairs because her hatred was so palpable that I was prepared for her to return with a knife. I learned to watch for the slightest change in her voice or face to alert me to a change in her mood.

I lived with my own particular brand of unhealthy until the day before my 21st birthday. Now, I’d like to say that I moved in with a friend or another student at college or even a boyfriend, but I didn’t. Until today, the closest I could come to explaining what I did was to say I ran away from home. I took absolutely nothing with me except my purse, my car and the clothes I was wearing; and I didn’t have a plan.

tiredToday, I realize that what I truly did was escape. That was the only way I could have left. Running away would suggest some degree of rebellion or emotion. I was simply tired. Those of you who have been in a similar relationship know what I mean.

The whole thing didn’t turn out as well as I’d have liked, and within a year I spent a couple of weeks in the local state hospital. (Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, really. Looking back on it as a mother and a woman who’s worked full-time for a few decades, I’ve often thought it has the trappings of a nice vacation. Your meals are prepared for you, the dishes are washed by someone else, you get to choose who your visitors are, you get your own room, make crafts, watch TV, get pretty good meds, have a captive audience with whom to share what’s on your mind, and meet the most interesting people. Not altogether bad – with the proper perspective.)

But I digress!

I’ve had an unpleasant life that left its mark, but not all marks are bad. For example, five years ago, I had an emergency open-heart surgery. Against most odds, I survived. The scar down the middle of my chest is a reminder to me of all the things I still get to enjoy – my husband, my daughters, warm showers in the morning and a comfortable bed at night and wonderful, compassionate friends.

Our scars show that we survived something. What I survived may not be anything like what you survived. But we all have scars, if not on our body then in our spirit.

strengthI don’t necessarily believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s far too simplistic. In fact, I think there’s much more to it than that, because honestly, what doesn’t kill you can really beat the hell out of you and leave you for dead sometimes.

But this much I know. I’m a damn sight stronger than I think I am. I’ve had the air knocked out of me often enough, and have wanted to quit often enough. I’ve wanted to stay down for the count plenty of times, but I’ve always gotten back up again…eventually. And I didn’t get back up because of any clever motivational sayings like “Fall seven times, get up eight” either. If it were that easy, any one of my therapists would have just handed me a book full of quotes.

No, I’ve gotten back up – slowly, confused, disoriented and exhausted – because that’s what people do when they choose to not take their own life. They get back up, take a shower, brush their hair, put on some clean clothes and  leave the house again to go to work or get groceries.

I’ve been angry, confused and frustrated a lot lately. There’s plenty to be angry, confused and frustrated about – money, health, a roof that leaks, a car that’s so badly bashed that it probably shouldn’t be driven, yet still takes up room in our driveway. And what I can’t figure out is why? And when does my family get a break?

weakness to godIf what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, my family – and yours – would be a bad-ass team.

You know what I think? I think God uses these trials to bring us closer to him. Do I think He gives us these trials? Sometimes, and I’ll make a case for that another day. But for the most part, I don’t think He has to. There are enough trials as a result of our own poor judgment, from the natural progression of time, from the acts of others or from Satan, that God doesn’t need help.

That doesn’t mean he he’s not interested in taking advantage of the opportunity those trials create. I think God uses those times in our lives for two primary purposes: to invite us to let him tend to our wounds, heal us, comfort us. He wants to be the one to restore us to the person he intended for us to be when he knit us together in our albeit mentally unhealthy, broken mother’s womb. In doing so, he demonstrates his sovereign power to the world.

God doesn’t give us trials because he knows how strong we are. There is no carnival game in Heaven in which we sling a huge hammer and try to ring a bell to test our strength just so God can determine how much crap we get in life. You’re not like the teacher my oldest daughter had who was so good with challenging children that he ended up with six in his class one year.

I am not that strong! I just don’t have anything better to do but to keep getting up every morning and doing my thing. But I’ve wallowed long enough, I think. You know what they say about sitting in a dirty diaper. It might stink, but it’s warm and it’s yours.

surrenderSitting in a dirty diaper is not fitting behavior for anyone, much less a child of God. His word says that it’s in our weakness that his strength is demonstrated. I’m not entirely clear about how that happens, but I think it’s time try to give God my weakness and quit carrying it around like a worn out, tear-stained teddy bear that’s served its purpose.

Your trials  – whatever the source – should serve to allow God to show the world how strong he is. If he allows more than we can carry, it’s so we can ask him to carry it for us, because his yoke is light.

So feel free to linger at the pity party a bit longer if you like. The food is really good and the DJ gets paid no matter how long he’s here! But when you leave, put your nametag in the trash – you know, the one that says “Hello, my name is defeat” and be sure to take one that says “I am a child of the one true King!”

C’mon! It’s time to get moving along!

 

WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT

watercolor snowmanAh, winter! Mugs of hot cocoa, long walks along snow-kissed streets. And snowflakes! Winter’s butterflies. Did you know that we are like snowflakes? Yes, each one of us unique. And, like snowflakes, alone we can do little but together we can do so much.

Like create avalanches.

When I wrote about the value, nay beauty, of seasons, I was apparently only really appreciating Fall. A close second would be spring, with Summer and Winter coming in last in a close tie.

Fall is the season I enjoy most. But right now there’s winter. Still.

Sure the first snowfall is beautiful, but eventually the pure, untouched blanket of snow get scarred with the soles of boots, tire tracks, and shovels. Snowmen melt, but not until they look like dirty vagrants stalking our neighborhoods. Sometimes the snow doesn’t have a chance to melt before another snow comes along and then you just have a lot of snow. Ice and freezing temperatures become hazards. There is no color and everything looks dead. The streets narrow, you have a hard time fitting you and your winter coat behind the steering wheel, the cold forces you indoors, and it never seems to end.

winter bucket listAt times like this, it’s hard to remember that nature has a way of using winter. Nature has a plan for winter. So do merchants.

I don’t.

And lists like this one? They eventually give way to more practical things like paying the bills and buying a car to replace the one I wrecked when I spun out on ICE!

Don’t get me wrong! I hate summer as much as I do winter, so I’m a equal opportunity season bigot. I just prefer seasons that have color and allow for some movement. I like seasons that appear to be doing something, and winter doesn’t appear to be doing anything.

And I wonder when this season will end. Where I live, the snow is actually melting away without being replenished on a steady basis. You’d think that would warm my stone-cold heart, right? Not so much, because what is there when the snow melts but layers of dead leaves that we weren’t able to get raked up before the snow came to stay this year; the same leaves that will be there to deal with in the spring.

When I wonder when the frustrations in my life will end, I see the unfinished work that’s still there to do and see the constancy of things in my life that seem to accumulate exponentially – the bills, the aches and pains, the debt, the house repairs – and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Like my yard, I could remove a layer of snow, but there’s still a blanket of leaves beneath it. And beneath that blanket is an uneven yard that will grow crabgrass because it hasn’t been properly cared for.

joy in the morningBut God has a promise.

But I feel as though I’ve been waiting a lifetime to see the incomparable joy that He promises. And it seems like just when I think things are going to improve, something else sets me back.

I know that God has a purpose in our pain and that He never promised that we’d see His joy during the time we inhabit our bodies on Earth. I even realize that when the next blessing comes along, I will sheepishly admit that God is faithful – always.

Still, it would be nice to have more than one thing be counted joy at the same time. Too often, I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of negotiation and compromise, getting one thing only to have something taken away – everything kept in balance so that I can be neither “ahead” or “behind.”

347d9a1bbc9d1d09543b4f8d1a5cd490I’m also aware that if I measure my joy by how many operable cars I have or how many bills I can pay off, then I’m using the wrong measuring stick and assuming that God doesn’t care for me when He really does.

Still, it would be nice to just relax in a soft over-sized chair with some warm socks, a fire, a hot cup of cocoa and a good book as it sit by a window and watch the snow gently fall.

For a while, anyway.

Perhaps it will be in that quiet that I will hear whispered, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

WHAT IS TRUTH?

img_4770This morning, I  turned on my phone and found this amazing photo. I love the colors and the way the light seems to emanate from its center! And the best part was the caption: In the heart of Maui’s forest. (Or something like that. Honestly, I absolutely cannot remember where I found it now and can’t confirm it’s full title and cannot remember what app it was in. If it’s yours, let me know and I will make amends. Really!)

After taking in its beauty and appreciating the fact that this photo was taken somewhere exotic, I thought, with some disappointment, that it was very likely Photoshopped.

Not to worry! When I was in school, I learned about a little something called “suspension of disbelief.” This allowed me to accept that this may not be an authentic representation of the sun burning through a tree in the heart of a forest in Maui.

Furthermore, I realized that the photo could have been of the sun burning through a tree in a field in Idaho, and I couldn’t prove otherwise. And that was fine with me because I enjoyed the photo so much that I was willing to accept that I’d been misinformed. After all, a photo of a tree in Idaho wasn’t much to get excited about, and who would really expect that such a wonder could be found in Idaho anyway.

So what it came down to was this: I had a picture that I liked and truly could enjoy it independent of it’s actual setting. And there was absolutely no harm in that. If I show it to people, they’ll get the same story you just got. I don’t really know and I don’t really care; I like it anyway.

But where does that suspension of disbelief stop being not only appropriate, but also irresponsible and unacceptable? I thought back a few months to a photo I saw on Twitter of a child crying behind a fence, apparently another victim of the current administration. The caption below it referred to a specific event. One reader shared her indignation over the situation, probably securing it as a truth that she would share at the water cooler at work the next day. The next reader, however, pointed out that the caption to the photo was incorrect. The photo actually was from a similar event under a Democratic administration.

Personally, if I were as educated about politics as I probably should be, and if I wanted to debate the issue (which I don’t!), this would be a significant determination to make. Very simply, it doesn’t matter enough to me to go to Snopes and verify it. (That is, if Snopes can still be trusted to be accurate.) What I found interesting, though, was the next reader’s comment to the naysayer: “It doesn’t matter.”

It didn’t matter to that reader that the photo and caption didn’t go together. He was so  incensed by the current administration that he was willing to accept and support this post as true – in spite of facts that proved it was false. Nor did he seem inclined to offer anything to confirm his position. Suspension of disbelieve was apparently effective for him in political matters, as well.

I think this is where suspension of disbelief needs to reach its limit.

We have an unbelievable amount of information available to us in a moment! Want to prove that Mary Ann and the professor were not mentioned in the original theme song for Gilligan’s Island? Just go to your phone while you wait for your appetizers at Applebee’s. (By the way, they weren’t.)

When I was in school, the access to information was limited and it took a weekend at the library to just get your sources for a paper. But at least there seemed to be some agreement in our sources. It made high school debate far easier than I imagine it would be today. Today, competitive debate must be a frustrating matter of validating the authenticity of a source and its authority on a matter as much as actually convincing the judge that your point is valid.

We can no longer accept that something is true just because it’s been written or said. Nor can we accept that the source is valid and qualified. Imagine Kim Kardashian telling everyone on Twitter that eating too much yogurt was bad for your health. Now, if she wanted to convince everyone of the advantages and disadvantages of bubble butts and having children with a rap star, I’d be willing to listen – if I were interested.

I believe we have a great burden to be discerning about the information we accept as truth and at least determine the value we give it. We also have a responsibility when we choose to share this information as truth. Are you sharing a pretty photo with honest disqualification or are you sharing a photo with an incorrect caption of crying children with everyone you know and suggesting that the current administration is just like the government who designed and carried out a massive genocide?

The Twitter commentator was wrong. It does matter.

1df3c18682ea9f107605b56d7bd2b703At the trial of Christ, Pilate said, “What is truth?” To a child of God, truth becomes infinitely more important. Suspend your disbelief to enjoy a pretty picture or enjoy a science fiction movie. Choose to believe unqualified and unsubstantiated political facts if you want. But for the Christian, truth is clear and non-negotiable. It cannot be bent or compromised.

And this is a scary place to be. Religion is rife with misunderstanding, poor translations, socially misused quotes. We’ve grown up hearing that money is the root of all evil, which is ironic because Jesus talked about money quite a bit in the New Testament, advising us to be wise in the use of money and means to prosperity – enough so that some preachers have made a lot of money selling books on how to claim your own prosperity in the name of Jesus. In fact, the Word tells us in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” The bottom line: Money is fine. Making money is fine. Using money is fine. Just be careful about how you feel about having money.

right and almost rightChrist was was very clear about truth. In John 14:6  Jesus declared,“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The way is narrow, the price of entry was high but paid in full by Christ. And entry is difficult: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25 NIV. And, no, this doesn’t negate the point I made about money earlier. It’s simply that someone will not enter the kingdom of God with wealth – unless he believes that Christ is who he says he is – the Son of God. And God has a lot to say about what we meditate on, how we’re to live and what we should believe.

In keeping with the topic of ambiguity, I offer this:

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Ironically, there’s a great deal of debate as to who said this. It’s up to us to be discerning. Do the research, check your sources, question everything if necessary.

And if you want to enjoy a picture whether or not it’s altered and if you want to embrace a political opinion regardless of documentation, go ahead! That’s on you. Just be cautious when it comes to the things you believe and embrace when it comes to the kingdom of God because the truth matters.

 

 

All I Need Is…

jerkOK, so I’m not crazy about The Jerk with Steve Martin, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate this iconic scene in which the main character does his best to make a grand exit but fails to truly capture the drama.

I’m not so different some days. Once in a while I feel like Super Christian and my faith will not fail. I know that I know that I know that I am in the hands of a Lord who loves me!

All I need is God, Christ and the Holy Spirit!

Then I hit a speed bump and begin to think all I need is God, Christ and the Holy Spirit and more money.

Then my husband needs a new job and all I need is God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, more money and a job for my husband. And that’s all!

779537d71ba6ccf13d2493c639235fd3Then my husband gets a full-time job but I completely wreck our second car and all need is God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, more money, a job for my husband, another car. And that’s all!

Oh, I could do this all night, but you get the point. Always, I end up overwhelmed and discouraged and cry out, ‘I can’t do this, Lord! Help me!’ I can almost hear Him sigh, ‘Oh, poor LaRonda. All she has is Me. Whatever will she do?’ Sometimes it’s just a sigh that says, ‘It’s about time!’ (My God is a bit of a smarty pants.)

I wish I didn’t look at the storm around me when I step out of the boat or take in the vastness of what seems like a dead-end as I stand at my own Red Sea. I really wish I could trust and rest in Him like he tells me to.

But I don’t.

When I started the new year with the word ‘accepting’, then added the phrase ‘letting go’ I thought I was really onto something. But in light of all the frustrations and disappointments I’ve had in the past two weeks alone, and with the baggage I have yet to unpack from 2018, I’m starting to wonder if ‘surrender’ might not be what I really need help with.

I don’t like surprises (even if they are good ones) and I don’t care to be vulnerable. But if God actually does His best work in us and through us when we’re weak, then sign me up! Because I’m weak.

And I know that God has a plan for me, but lately I’ve begun to suspect that there is one of three things going on:

  • God has something pretty darn awesome waiting for me, which I kinda hope to enjoy before I die. Or at least be able to enjoy for a while without something else being taken away.
  • I simply don’t understand what ‘good things’ are and I need to learn how to be content by comparing my life to someone’s in a third-world country. I guess I just don’t see how having a second car after several years of altering schedules to get everyone where they needed to be was way too much to ask for, but maybe it is – for us anyway. And don’t tell me that at least I have my health because I’ve gone over five years without a single day without pain.
  • God’s doing this to draw me closer to Him, which really has the potential to backfire because I’m tired. Really, really tired.

Right now, as many other times in the past, I know God can. I just wonder if He will.

So I’ll start over again.

All I need is God, Christ and the Holy Spirit! And maybe some reassurance that He sees me, He knows me, and He loves me. Because His grace is sufficient. Right?

Don’t get me wrong. I love God. But right now it’s like how your child has just absolutely disappointed you or irritated you. Yes, you love them in the big sense and you know that eventually you’ll enjoy their company again, but right now…not so much.

discouragement

So, any time now would be great.

Did the Grinch Steal Your Christmas?

I usually start out the holiday season (the no-I’m-not trying-to-be-politically-correct – from-Thanksgiving-to-New Year “holiday season”) like this:

elfI want the house to look festive. I want to bake cookies and make candy. I want to watch all the classic Christmas movies from A Christmas Story to Die Hard while I’m curled up on the couch with my family, a warm blanket and a big bowl of popcorn. I want to play Christmas music from Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter to the Muppet’s’ unique take on The Twelve Days of Christmas or (my personal favorite) Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey. I want to write the coolest Christmas letter to our family and friends, and get it mailed early!

But my Christmas letter turns into a New Year letter. If I hear Harry Belafonte sing Twelve Days of Christmas one more time, I’ll scream. (Actually, If I have to hear anyone stretch out “five go-old rings” through seven verses, I’ll scream!) My husband and I are too tired to stay up for a movie, and I’ve barely seen my daughter since the beginning of school break. The cookies and candy? Well…I’ve got the ingredients but got lost on Pinterest looking for the right recipe. And the house? Not bad, but the spare room is full of boxes – at least the ones that got into the room. One of the cats is using a partially-emptied tote for a bed and an unfinished wreath rests against the table by my chair. The cats seem to enjoy the way the fake needles massage their coats as they walk through the middle of it.

I am not Martha Stewart.

I think I love the idea of Christmas; but to be completely honest, Christmas really, really stresses me out! My husband and I have yet to go into the season with any money set aside for gifts, and John and I have gone through 21 Christmases with very different ideas on how much we should spend. And gift-giving of any sort gives me anxiety because I could never buy the right thing for my mother. (It’s okay – I’ve talked to my therapist about it.) I’m confident that most people probably have someone like that in their family; and if they don’t think they do, then they’re probably that person.

One year, I thought I had it nailed! My mother told me she would like one of two books – Roseanne Barr’s Roseanne: My Life as a Woman or the newest book from Robert Schuller. I chose Robert Schuller’s book because I thought it would be inspirational. When she opened it, she was quiet for a bit, then she set it aside without a word.

“Did I get the right one?” I asked.

“It’s fine.”

“You said you wanted that one or the one by Roseanne Barr, right? Is there something wrong with it?”

“Well, I wanted Roseanne’s book.”

No “thank you” at all. I’d failed again. That sort of track record leaves you a little anxious about getting anyone the “perfect” gift.

I am not Santa, either!

grinch and maxAll of the “forced festivity” is enough to turn a girl into a Grinch! You’re buying things for people you wouldn’t ordinarily buy something for – Secret Santa’s, the mail carrier, the paper carrier, the woman who does your hair! How much is enough? How much is too much? If you get it on sale, does the original price count or does the sale price count? Are you re-gifting something  to the person who gave it to you last year? Does it count if it’s handmade? Do the bag and card count as part of the price or not? What happens when you get a “surprise” gift and (naturally) have to find a gift of equal value to reciprocate? What on Earth made anyone actually think you liked ceramic turtles?! (Well, you’re a bona fide collector now, Sweetie! You’re welcome.) Your kids – bless their little hearts – understand that you can’t afford the latest electronic doo-hickey. They’ll just ask Santa for it. Fine! Maybe Santa can pay for the new tires we need for the car, too!

There are three groups of people my shriveled Grinch heart really goes out to:

  • The introverts who are expected to spend all their free time in the foreseeable future in the company of extroverts.
  • The hostesses who end up stuck in the kitchen cleaning up after a big family feast that took two days to prepare and 20 minutes to consume!
  • Those who are trying to work their way through the holidays while bearing true substantial loss of a family member. (This is a special group that has a place in my heart like no other and deserves the dignity of being mentioned but not included in an honestly superficial rant like this.)

Is this really what Christmas is all about?

first christmasNo. No, it’s not. We know this going into Christmas, don’t we? Cognitively, we know it’s about the fulfilled promise of God and the baby in the manger. Even the folks who only go to church for Easter, Christmas and the occasional baptism or wedding know what Christmas is really about!

But we fall for the guilt, pressure and commercialism every year, don’t we? No one wants to be left out during a gift exchange, even if we don’t need another thing and probably won’t score anything all that special anyway. Is it any wonder we end up at least a little disappointed when we go into Christmas feeling like Elf and finish feeling like the Grinch. The version of the holidays that we buy into has the potential to rob us of our joy.

For me, the worst part is that I let it happen. I could set a monetary limit and stick to it. I could tell my friends and coworkers that I prefer to not participate in group gift exchanges because I don’t want to take on more debt. I could budget my time the same way by carefully choosing which get-togethers I prefer to attend, then balance them with the time I need to be alone with my family at home. At least my generation is beginning to appreciate the freedom of slow cookers and ready-made dishes that allow us time to spend with the ones we love – or are at least related to. Stressful food preparation no longer defines our womanhood. Much.

Christmas is about God offering “tidings of comfort and joy”, and here I am worn out and bitter. It’s about hope, but I’m freaking out about how much debt we’re accumulating. It’s about peace, and I’m cranky. It’s about liberation, and I feel trapped by social constructs. It’s about pardon, and I feel indebted. It’s about inclusion, and I hear story after story of family strife.

wreath crownChristmas is about eternal matters that cannot be measured or limited, and my focus is on resources that are finite and exhaustible – time, money and energy. I allow these things to take priority in my life while I struggle to keep alive a now, very small corner of my faith.

Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll find some balance that will allow me to enjoy the best of the holidays. Bless all of you who come alive and are in your element during the holidays! Personally, I’m relieved that Christmas only comes once a year. It comes and it goes. But the Kingdom on which the birth of Christ is built is with me all year long.  Now, that is a gift worth keeping!