I JUST DON’T KNOW!

You know that feeling you get when you you open the refrigerator door, hoping to find something…anything…that might taste good? And nothing sounds good.

How about this: Nothing sounds good, so you go to the grocery store. After walking aimlessly around for about 15 minutes, you stop in the middle of an aisle and have a total melt-down because you’re surrounded on every side by plenty of things to consume, but none of it appeals to you at all.

Or how about this: Back home is one husband and three or four kids. (Who knows? They start to look like tiny gang members at some point. And you’re beginning to suspect what’s-his-name is not one of your tax deductions, but his actual parents aren’t looking for him – and you understand why.) Regardless of the body count, everyone wants to know what’s for dinner.

And you don’t know!!

There’s just this overwhelming sense of too much and not enough at the same time. You know that there should be an answer, there usually is an answer, but you couldn’t even pick one out from a multiple choice question right now.

It’s a little like the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb:

Relax
I’ll need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?

And the answer is NO. No, you can’t show where it hurts. You don’t know where it hurts.

All you know for certain is that you don’t know how you got here. It’s dark and cold. You hear soft but unfamiliar sounds. You sob silently because you want someone to hear you, to come help you find your way out, but you don’t want to feel the vulnerability of needing help. In fact, you’re not even sure of what ‘help’ would look like.

That’s when the God of suddenlies reaches down to touch his child and you’re flooded with assurance, peace and hope. Your Father heard your quiet cry and found you. He knows you. He sees you. He loves you.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

Psalm 40:1-3 New International Version (NIV)

 

We don’t always wait patiently. OK…we seldom wait patiently, do we? But we should wait patiently, shouldn’t we? We make a list of all the ways God can help us, even though experience tells us the he’s been there for us before.  He’s never left us in the slimy pit, the mud or the mire, has he?

6884915f0952ef38160ee791a080dd18He’s even there in the grocery store, where you’re standing, virtually paralyzed in Aisle 3 and you’re holding back the tears. He’s there every time we cry, “I don’t know…I just don’t know.” In fact, it’s in those moments that we give up that you can almost hear a relieved sigh right before you hear God say, “Finally! Now we can get to work. Follow me. I know a way out.”

No matter where you are or what you’ve done, never forget that you are so loved by the very God who created you!

 

 

RISE AND SHINE!

The other morning, I turned off my alarm and laid under the covers wondering why my alarm had the audacity to go off so early in the morning. Then I remembered. I had a job to go to. I needed to shower, dress, and eat breakfast.

I did a quick mental inventory of what was in the fridge that I could eat. That’s when I remembered…

There was a large diet Coke from McDonald’s waiting for me in the fridge!

That alone was enough to motivate me into a vertical position, feet planted firmly beneath me. My morning leveled up just a bit more as Sheryl Crow’s voice wandered aimlessly through my mental fog…

All I wanna do is have some fun. I’ve got a feelin’ I’m not the only one.

No, Sheryl, you are not the only one. But we can’t all run around singing all day, can we? Fun would have to wait because I had work to do.

Then I remembered the countless times my husband would drop me off at work. He’d tell me to be good and have fun. And each time, I would smile at him and shoot back, “You’re going to have to choose one or the other, because I can’t do both.”

Not every day is sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. But if you can find one thing to smile about, it can make a difference. Even if it’s only the promise of a large diet Coke from McDonald’s.

 

 

BUT WHY?

Very little is more frustrating than doing something simply for the sake of doing it. Many years ago, I attended a friend’s baby shower. I took my gift to the gift table and handed it to the gift table manager. She was quick to point out that the accompanying card didn’t have my friend’s name on it and suggest that I do that. Since there was only one mother-to-be at the shower, I hadn’t expected this social construct to be important. But in order for the gift table manager to have a fulfilling purpose beyond receiving and strategically stacking gifts, checking envelopes for names to add some value to an otherwise so-so responsibility. Or maybe she just really, really believed names should be on envelopes!

Sometimes, traditions get passed from one generation to the next. You know the story of the young mother asking her mother why she was always sure to cut off each end of the ham for dinner. Her mother didn’t really know why, so she asked her grandmother, who settled the matter saying, “Because none of my pans were big enough to hold a full ham.”

Simon Sinek examines this kind of thinking in this 5-minute short-cut version of Start With Why. And, yes, he focuses on business training, but when he says:

SINEK - WHY

When we look at it this way, our church families are challenged to determine why we do what we do.

It’s so tempting to look at mega churches and feel a twinge of jealousy when our own small parking lot and pew seats remain sparsely filled. What do we do when popular churches offer spectacles more electrifying than Hamilton and all the members are on their feet in a deafening praise, while we have a generation of grandparents and great-grandparents, a smattering of young families, and teens with a very short attention span?

The harvest Jesus talked about is still out there, always out there, until God gives the nod to Jesus that it’s end-game time. So…

whay-church-should-be-e1561400496199.jpgWhy do we have church? Why do we open the doors, call for volunteers and pay for building maintenance? Why do we have coffee and doughnuts available? Why do we congregate and sing together? Why do our pastors prepare a new sermon every week and our boards get together to plan?

Why? We aren’t a business. The offering isn’t a cover charge.

Why did the field workers who got hired late in the day get paid as much as the workers who put in a full, grueling day? Because there was still work to be done. It absolutely must be done because we’re running out of time!

People are finding comfort from the wrong things. People are living one day after another without knowing how very loved they are by the one Father that will never leave them or forsake them. People are dying without salvation.

Certainly, there is plenty of work to be done before the sun sets. There are people who need to be loved into salvation.

WHAT IF CHURCH

What if all we ever have are the members of our small church to be the hands and feet of God? Here’s what I see in my church family:

  • A generation with years of faith-building trials, heartache, blessings and wisdom that can only come from a long life. A generation that will not be here forever. Their hearts are soft enough to be pierced by the word of God; but their confidence in a good God is heard in their fervent prayers and felt by their gentle hands.
  • A generation of young parents who have chosen to raise their children to trust God, appreciate Jesus, listen to the Holy Spirit, and love others. Their young ones won’t be young as long as we think they’ll be. Soon, they’ll be…
  • Our youth, the ones who will elect the people who will determine the legislation that affect all of us. They’ll create and run business that will set standards of trust and transparency. They will be the thermostat for their community, their state, their country. They are the ones to whom we will entrust the harvest we don’t have the time to finish.

I think we need to know why we do church. I think we need to determine if we need to keep putting a name on a card when it can only go to one person. Maybe we need to figure out why we keep cutting the ends off our hams. There are far too many souls out there waiting to be loved into the kingdom of God for us to be wasting our resources on anything that doesn’t help get them there.

COME HOME

I ended my last post with “You are so loved!” I tell my family that often. They give me so much joy that I could never not love them. But this morning, after I’d texted my teenage daughter that she was ‘so loved’, Holy Spirit nudged me and said, “So are you. You and the rest of the world are so loved that God gave his only son, that whoever believes in the son will not perish but will have everlasting life. We are all so loved by our Father. He wants everyone to just come home where they belong! He already has a place at the table with our name on it.

That’s a pretty decent WHY!

Let’s pray that as fishers of men, we are as able to pull in a net bulging to the point of breaking as we are to trust Christ to tell us where to throw the net out and that we’re willing to throw it out at his word no matter how many times we’ve already tried or how tired we are.

And remember…you are so loved!

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

I had intended this post to follow another one I’d posted, but I couldn’t choose between But Wait! There’s More (since I’d neglected to tell you what my Crap of the Month for April was and it’s now May) or Maybe He’s Just Moving the Pieces (since I’m pretty sure God’s quite done with me yet).

I think challenges can run a continuum from an eye-rolling UGH! to an agonizing, life-or-death matter for which there are no words, only tears. So whey say things like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “Fall seven times, get up eight”, it’s important to remember that challenges are relative, and you are allowed to rise on your own schedule, at your own pace. You can cover yourself in bubble wrap, with mascara running down your face, or you can put on a suit and tie looking like nothing ever happened. You can share your story with anyone you know (or even not know!) on social media or you can choose to never share it. However you do it, it may be awhile before you’re able to get up again, and even longer before you are as strong as you were, much less stronger. And “new normal” is baloney! (Just sayin’.)

The bottom line is this:

  • It’s your challenge, and no one has the right to say when you should be “over it”.
  • It’s your challenge, and no one as the right to tell you how much it should hurt.
  • It’s your challenge, and you are not required to minimize it because someone “has it worse” than you.

So April’s Crap of the Month: on the last Wednesday of March I fell, fractured the glenoid fossa – pretty much the cupped socket into which the the top of the shoulder rests. (And the irony is that I fell just as I was calculating the odds of falling a second time at this very convenience store! Yes. I had fallen here about two years earlier.)

At first, it was so painful that the kind men who had come to help me may have wondered if my vocabulary was limited to only four-letter words that began with the letter F – one was “fine”, the other was not. By Friday, it felt better. It hurt, but it wasn’t horrible. At least not until 4:00 am on the following Monday. That’s when I got out of bed to pick up something I’d knocked off my night stand and dislocated my shoulder. Now it hurt!

A follow-up x-ray was enough to warrant a referral to a specialist. I really didn’t understand why no one in town could handle a painful shoulder. Even if it required surgery, I thought surely it should have been managed locally.

Nine days later, the specialist explained the problem. The fracture I had wasn’t very common and surgery wouldn’t guarantee that my shoulder wouldn’t dislocate again. Furthermore, based on my medical history, I wouldn’t survive the operation. The treatment plan, then? We do nothing.

Seriously? Nothing?

Apparently so. Of all the glenoid fractures I could have had, there was only a 0.1% chance that it would be the type I had. Which explained the referral to the specialist. It also meant that my shoulder will remain dislocated while it wears away a new area in which to settle. The pain should lessen, but it will continue to be limited in its mobility, reach and strength.

OK. That explained why surgery wouldn’t help, but I didn’t understand how it could be dangerous. So bear with me as I tell you a bit about my “medical history” that eliminated that option.

On July 26, 2013, I was flown to Abbott Northwestern for an emergency open-heart surgery, during which my body temperature was significantly lowered and I was on heart-lung bypass for nearly 9 hours. I’d had an ascending aortic dissection, which is what actor John Ritter died of during the filming of the TV show “8 Simple Rules”. The simplest way I can explain it is this: the aorta is how blood gets where it needs to go in your heart. It has three layers. When you have an aneurysm (which I apparently had), the wall of the aorta is weakened. On the particular evening, my aorta was weakened and I blew a hole through all three walls. That’s when the blood that should have been going into my heart went wherever it wanted to go.

The incidence of any aortic dissection occurs once per 10,000 patients admitted to the hospital; approximately 2,000 new cases are reported each year in the United States. Now, there are different types of aortic dissection. Approximately 65% are in the ascending aorta, like mine was. Of those, patients who undergo surgical treatment – like I was fortunate to receive – have a 30% mortality rate.  Of those 70% who survive, the quality of life differs greatly, ranging from getting back to the gym to dealing with chronic issues.

I’m one of those left with chronic issues, including slurred speech, short-term memory retention, labored handwriting that was no longer “mine”, an awkward gait, poor dexterity, poor balance, and compromised driving skills – none of which can be explained by neurologists, most of which have not been bad enough to make working a 40-hour work week impossible, all of which have really pissed me off for over five years because it’s frustrating and I look and sound like I’m drunk. There hasn’t been one single day since July 26, 2013, that I haven’t experienced pain of some sort.

So…I have a tendency to fall backward. And although I’ve had a few bumps and bruises, none of those falls had been a real issue until the one I had in March.

497e9528820d0a5a025c2c83fc8d4a82My medical history reminds me of the theme song from the Laverne and Shirley show:

Give us any chance, we’ll take it
Read us any rule, we’ll break it

But not always in a good way. I have a fair record of experiencing the statistically unlikely. So while most people listen to the first half of the warnings in a medication commercial, I listen through to the very end – because that is where I’ll be.

I blame my mother. She’s the one who gave me a name that wouldn’t be found on anything you could buy in a store. Even today, no one can have a Coke with LaRonda!

Here’s the thing, though: God’s specialty is in limited probabilities and impossibilities. The aortic dissection I survived is normally discovered during an autopsy. The fracture?There is apparently no protocol for treatment because there haven’t been enough to gather information from.

I’m not enjoying any of this. I miss doing community theater. I miss spending the day shopping. I miss driving over 20 miles an hour and leaving the city limits behind the wheel. And right now, I really, really miss being able to type with two hands. But as they say here in Minnesota, it could be worse!

I haven’t shared this for pity. I’ve shared it as a sort of introduction to me. I’ve shared it so there’s some context when you read my posts. I’ve shared it so you can understand the ashes God leaves behind when He makes something beautiful from the things that happened against the odds. I have to believe God will use this.

When I began blogging a year ago, my initial plan was to help people who struggled with the idea that they were loved always and anyway by a God who was nothing like any of the people in their life who’d made them believe they were unlovable. If I choose to believe that the universe is out to screw me, then I have no hope.

What I am choosing to believe is that a very loving God is showing me that there is nothing so statistically unlikely that He cannot manage, and that whatever happens, I can be 100% certain that He’s absolutely got this. He knows He will never leave me nor forsake me.  I’m the one who needs no know it.

 

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE.

In Disney’s Aladdin, just before jumping off the side of the building in the marketplace, Aladdin reaches out to Jasmine and asks her, “Do you trust me?”

In National Treasure, Nicolas Cage’s character asks Diane Kruger’s character, “Do you trust me?”

Good question. And it seems that God has been asking me that a lot lately. I thought last year was a “challenge.” (A word here which means it stinks and I do not want to go through it, but I don’t want to sound like a whiney Christian who thinks she’s the only one who has problems.)  I was optimistic that this year had to be better. It was time for God to give me and my family a break.

Instead of a break, it seems more likely that I’m about to get a breakthrough. I know that sounds like a clever line from a televangelist, but I’m actually hoping that this year’s challenges will produce something really good – not like getting a star next to my name for getting an A on my spelling test in the second grade kind of good. A glory to glory kind of good. Let me explain.

We started 2019 waiting for our car guy to get back to us with an estimate to replace the driver’s side mirror I’d managed to destroy. The morning of January 4th, I caught a patch of ice and completely lost control of the car, which was obviously a total loss. I called my repairman to let him know that the mirror was the least of our concerns now. That second car had made things so much easier for us, and now it isn’t worth more than $200 – even with front tires that are less than a month old.

In February, in the middle of a cold, cold Minnesota winter, John woke me before he went to work to tell me the furnace wasn’t working. He’d left a message with a local plumbing and heating company to call me so i could be home when they were available. We had the choice to repair the furnace for “a lottle” (that’s a little, but more), but there was no guarantee it would last long. Or we could replace it for about $4,000. Note that if we had $4,000, we probably would have already spent it on a used car.

Early in March, a friend teased that I must have made someone mad and they’d signed me up for the Problem of the Month Club – kinda like the oh-so-popular Fruit of the Month Club, only more expensive and a lot crappier. And now it seems as though there’s a new sort of bonus round called “But wait! There’s more.”

So…new furnace…no problem! We’d just refinance our mortgage and pay that bad boy off. Now, I’m all for finding the humor in any situation, so I granted that for March, the stress of refinancing our home so we could pay off the new furnace would count as our “Problem of the Month”.

I was wrong. So very wrong.

Now, March isn’t over yet, and today I am typing with only my right hand. Last week, I stopped by a convenience store to get a fountain drink for $1.07 before work. I stepped outside and was seriously calculating the risk of stepping off the curb because, fun fact, I’d fallen at this store about three years earlier. And just that easily, I lost my balance, failed to find anything to hold onto and the full weight of my body pinned my shoulder against the door. I appreciated the very nice men who came to help me up and make sure I was OK. I also apologize to them for using the only four-letter “F” word that came to mind – and word of the hour was not “Fine”. The good news is that nothing was broken, I didn’t need surgery and as of March 1st we’ve had medical insurance.

But wait! There’s more.

I’d already made an appointment with our new orthopedic doctor to examine my right shoulder, which was convenient because it meant I wouldn’t have to wait so long to see her. This was especially fortuitous when that morning, around 4 am, I bent over to pick up something and felt pain that took my breath away. That’s when my shoulder dislocated. So we’ll start April with a visit to a specialist.

But here’s what excites me the most: Over the past couple of weeks, my prayer has changed. I had started out with the usual plea for God to help ease my pain and give me a good report from the doctors. Give me the strength and encouragement i needed to get through this.Then I thought, Wait. Why am I asking for the things God has already promised? Unlike me, He already knows how this is going to play out. I and the medical staff were the only ones who didn’t know.

That’s when my prayer became a prayer of genuine gratitude as I recognized God for who He is. He’s loving, compassionate, faithful and absolutely sovereign.And for the past few days, I’ve had only the lyrics of Mercy Me’s “Even If” on a perpetual loop in my head, my spirit taking constant encouragement from The Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

85a3bbd960542bc7687561576708b29eMy trust in God precedes an infilling of joy and peace that, in turn, allows me to overflow with hope. And the best part is that it’s not dependent on my power, which is usually somewhere between Go Team God! and a poor imitation of Lucy crying because Ricky won’t let her be in the show. Again!

No, it’s the power of the Holy Spirit that will give me hope. All I have to do is trust.

However, trusting isn’t easy for me. In fact, I have a really hard time trusting, and God is fully aware of every reason why. He’s been incredibly gentle and patient with me. He may lead me to conviction, but never to shame.

ba81239008fe119c47efbadd069e220aRight now, it’s been a day since I wrote the paragraphs before this. I’m not as gung-ho and positive as I was yesterday. I’m frustrated and discouraged about a few things. But my prayer is still that I would have the eyes to see my circumstances as my Lord sees them; a heart to love those who currently are getting on my last nerve; and the grace to to understand that all the things that I see as trials are actually opportunities to strengthen my faith and help me move from glory to glory instead of laying down in aisle nine and having a hissy fit – if for no other reason than the fact that it gets harder every day to get back up!

I’m quite tired of feeling sorry for myself and being disappointed with other people. I’m tired of feeling hopeless and defeated. And I’m tired of shying away from God’s hand when he asks, “Do you trust me?”

I truly sense that God is “relieving” us of the things that we’ve had blind confidence in. In three short months, He’s “relieved” us of a car, a working furnace and the little physical comfort I did have. None of these things have been anywhere near affordable for us. In fact, it’s all so much like the Minnesota winter we had this year. It seemed that the snow never melted in between snowfalls. The mounds of snow just seemed to get higher and higher, and we knew it couldn’t last forever – but it certainly seemed possible some days,

After the loss of our car, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you trust me?”

I suppose so.

After we got the bill for the new furnace came, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you still trust me?”

Yeah, but you’re starting to push your luck now.

After I fell and ended up in the ER, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you still trust me?”

Yeah, but can we be done now? I’m kinda tired and broke!

It was then that I began praying to have the eyes and heart of Christ. If I could have that, I know it would be so much easier to trust Him.

So do I trust him?

In John 6:66-69, Christ’s disciples had a choice to make: “…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 

I trusted Him today. I suppose I can trust him tomorrow. Even if!

MAYBE HE’S JUST MOVING THE PIECES

I like quotes and images that can make a philosophy or personal paradigm incredibly succinct. This photo is one such image. Melissa Groo captured this amazing photo. I don’t know her, but if you do please let her know how profoundly this single photo has changed me.

ideous mother duck

When I saw it on Facebook, there was a comment attached: look closely.

This was important because all I saw was a hideous…something. I couldn’t imagine what this ugly thing was. It was something you would expect to see on the front of The National Inquirer, and I suspected it was photo-shopped. But I continued to look closely to see what the “punchline”was. I didn’t get it!

It wasn’t until I read through the comments that I realized it was a mother keeping her babies safely under her wings.

How adorable is that?! I thought about the amazing love, security and care that comes so instinctively to an animal. It was so touching. Then one reader made a connection to Psalm 91, so I checked it out. It begins:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

he will
Art.com “He Will” Framed Art Print by Bob Henley

 

I had one of those rare moments when my head and my heart were on the same page. This really doesn’t happen very often. I’ve spent most of my life feeling a great divide between what my head knows and what my heart feels – especially when it came to my perception of myself. And all too often, my feelings are very good at convincing my head that it was so very, very mistaken.

 

But not that day.

I finished reading Psalm 91:

Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

And I heard a still, small voice speak to the very core of my spirit: That’s how I love you. 

I have been thinking about this photo for a solid week now. I’ve also been thinking about the way I label the experiences I have in life – you know, this is good, this is bad. And my thoughts kept going back to this photo. I had to reconcile God’s love for me vs. my nearly constant anxiety over how things would work out (aka What am I going to do?!) I knew that my anxiety didn’t leave room for faith in my heavenly Father, but I just didn’t “get” it.

hemaytellyou know because he has a better yesI had been deciding what was “good” and what was “bad” according to my idea of what was good or bad. (I’ll be honest. My track record for good decisions isn’t very good.)

I was like the friends of of the man who’d won a great deal of money. Everyone told him how fortunate he was.

With that money, he bought one of the fastest sports cars available. As he was navigating this sweet ride around a mountain, he miscalculated a turn and crashed his car and suffered more than a few broken bones. His friends went to see him, took one look at the body cast and told him how unfortunate it was that he’d wrecked his car and now had a long hospital stay ahead of him.

Not long after he was hospitalized, his friends called to share the news that there had been a horrible tornado go through his hometown. If he’d been at home when it happened, he most certainly would have been among those who died. How fortunate for him that he’d been in the hospital at the time.

justmovingthepiecesWhat could happen if I trusted that my Father loves me, protects me and has a good plan for my life? What could happen if I gave up assigning labels to everything that happens based on whether its pleasant or unpleasant for me? What could happen if I stopped trying to figure out what God’s doing in my life and simply relax while he moves the pieces round – with his vision, his omniscience, his resources, his infinite timeline?

All too often, those moments in which I’ve thrown up my hands and cried, “I give up!” I’ve heard that same still, small voice respond, “It’s about time.” It’s not condemning or condescending or irritated. It’s gracious and patient. And so very loving.

God’s got me covered, but I’m sure it would be easier for both of us if I would just stop squirming.

 

 

MORE MUSHROOMS AND OTHER THINGS I DON’T LIKE

In my previous post, we looked at how we can handle those things – and people – we don’t like. You can catch up here if you haven’t read it yet.

So what does social media have to do with books and recipes with mushrooms?

Inclusion and Exclusion.

It would be easy enough to discuss being kind to others. As Christians, we can take a cue from Christ and be kind to others. Heck, there are plenty of people who aren’t Christians who are kind to others! But there’s another side to the equation to that. (Don’t worry! This isn’t a math problem. I’m not nearly that clever or cruel.)

I think we can take kindness a step further. Very simply, we don’t have to share every thought we have! Or as George Washington advised Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton:

talk less smile more

I can be incredibly insecure at times. I feel especially anxious when someone avoids me or doesn’t speak to me, because one of my “punishments” growing up was to not be acknowledged or spoken to for up to three days at a time. (I was talked about, but not to.) But that’s not something anyone but my family – and now you – know enough about to be sensitive to it. And even if someone knew enough to be sensitive to it, there are those who would exploit it because they have the right to say whatever they want – whether I like it or not.

I am also really self-conscious about my thick waistline and thin hair. I absolutely hate being in photos – so much so that I cried for most of the day after seeing myself in all my monstrosity in a company photo. Words like disgusting, fat, stupid, and unacceptable were on a continuous loop in my head. I would imagine some of you have felt at least a bit of embarrassment, rejection or shame in your life, so I know I’m not alone.

you don't get to decide.jpgVulnerability can be so painful.

But it’s so easy to forget that others can feel embarrassment, rejection or shame, too. We forget how much better compassion can feel. And yet, some of us subscribe to the “misery loves company” philosophy and figure if they’re going down, they’re taking someone with them. They manage to compound someone else’s shame by excluding them from their customized paradigm by making them “less than”.

Christ didn’t come to us to save those of us who don’t sin as badly as “those people” sin. In fact, the offer of salvation is still available, albeit for a limited time. We all want compassion, mercy and grace. We don’t deserve it, but we want it

thumper

We’ve heard John 3:16 often enough that even a non-Christian  – especially if they’re a fan of Tim Tebow – would know it: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

How wonderful to know that we have hope, that we are set apart. But John 3:17 reminds us that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” 

It’s simple enough for a child to understand, really. What we don’t do is every bit as important as what we do. What we don’t say can more than what we do say. Maybe we could be quiet sometimes.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be discerning. But embarrassing an overweight passenger isn’t discerning. It’s shaming, and it’s not necessary. I doubt this passenger wasn’t hearing anything she hadn’t already told herself! And there were probably a fair number of passengers who were relieved that they hadn’t been seated next to her. In fact, the only difference between them and the vocal passenger may have been small and simple: they didn’t humiliate a fellow human being and she did.

Be Kind, inspirational scripture art, hand lettering, from StudioJRU
Be Kind, inspirational scripture art, hand lettering, from StudioJRU

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV). The flip side is this: Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want someone to do to you. This isn’t “spiritual”; it’s kind and decent.

Now, I’m still not willing to make recipes that include mushrooms or read a book I don’t find interesting. I suppose I can at least try read the rest of a devotional that calls me to do what I don’t really want to do. But if God loves someone as much as He loves me, it seems only right that I try to love them, too. And if I can’t love them, I can at least I can be quiet.

MUSHROOMS AND OTHER THINGS I DON’T LIKE

I have a couple of things that I need to confess:

  • I ignore any recipe that requires mushrooms.
  • When I don’t like the first few pages of a book, I simply won’t read it.
  • I don’t care how sick I am, I will not take Alka Seltzer if it goes in a glass of water.
  • I take a pass on any devotionals that even hint at something I really don’t want to do. (You know the ones, right?)

im not arguingFor the most part, this list is pretty harmless, right?

Right?

Recently, I heard a story that is all too common today. Apparently, a passenger on a flight didn’t care to be seated next to a fat person, a fact she made abundantly clear to anyone near her. She had a belief paradigm in which fat people on a plane didn’t fit.

I came across another story along the same lines. (They’re not hard to find, folks!) This was a pretty transparent, well-articulated letter that highlighted the shame felt by most people who have ever been singled out and treated as “less than”.

It broke my heart. Not because it was written by an obese person or the fact that I understood all too well what it felt like to believe you were literally taking up more space than you should. It broke my heart because the treatment of the writer was both unkind and unnecessary.

As a person who likes to share every thought that pops into my head – and a few that take the express lane past the Does That Really Need to be Said? pit stop – I know how satisfying it can be to say whatever you think and how very hard it can be to hold your tongue. Just as every single teacher I had from Kindergarten through high school.

In fact, just last night, I was in a pretty foul mood after work, and my husband and daughter heard all about it when I got home.  When I decided it was time to stop ranting, some anger still sputtered out, much like the coffee machine does after it dispenses coffee. I grumbled, “I need to calm down. I want to write about kindness!” (I know! Right?)

they'd all be right
I’ve had this on my fridge for a long time! Guess which one is me.

Most of that post was ditched this morning when I began to consider that maybe what we don’t do is as important as what we do.

God is all about balance. Christ demonstrated that. Every time he healed someone, it was every bit as much about asking the religious leaders why He shouldn’t heal someone as the fact that someone’s mind and body should be restored. I have no doubt that some of them were what their culture would call ‘undeserving.’

If there’d been a show of hands for who in the crowd of 5,000 men (plus their wives and children) should be healed, “those people” wouldn’t have been healed. Jonah had a really hard time offering God’s compassion to “those people” in Ninevah. Today, we have a hard time offering God’s compassion to “those people” in our lives, don’t we?

And doesn’t it seem like there are a lot of “those people” in our lives? Our coworkers, the government, the customers at the grocery store, the drivers on the highway, the people we are connected to through social media…They’re everywhere, and they get on our last nerve!

What gives any of them the right to be treated kindly? To be shown compassion? To be forgiven?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Except God’s grace. The same grace that we are afforded. And before you think, “Well, I know I’m not perfect, but…”, think about all the times you’ve seen yourself get ugly about someone else. Yes, some times it is a righteous anger. But more often than not, it’s more about feeling justified.

We want what we want! We’ve grew up with the conveniences of refrigeration and automobiles – just two of the things that gave our families free time. Then we got fast food, and we got what we wanted right now. And then Burger King told us that we could have it our way. Today, social media allows us to create our very own truth bubble by subscribing to what we believe and blocking anything that doesn’t agree with our truth.

We are able to communicate with millions of people around the world and to access a ridiculous amounts of information, which we can customize to our liking. But instead of creating a sense of community with a variety of cultures by identifying the things we have in common, I think it creates a very egocentric mindset. If there’s something that doesn’t fit into our customized truth, we reject it. That doesn’t make us bad, though.

However, I suspect – and I could be wrong – that this customization lays the foundation for creating the culture of offense we have today. When I think my thoughts are better founded and my comforts are more important than someone else’s or my rights are superior to someone else’s, I can simply take offense. I become self-righteous. I begin to pick and choose who I will love, tolerate, affirm and forgive. That means that there are some of “those people” who won’t show up on my radar – because I eliminate them. It’s not something new, but now we’re able to dislike and disagree with people whom our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t have access to.

So what does this have to do with recipes with mushrooms and books? I’ll tell you tomorrow. Feel free to type your guess in the comments below!

 

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!

JESUS WEPT…TOO

01abaa8689658eaf373af1ec9b42b72cI was listening to MercyMe’s “Even If”, which gives voice to those times when we suspect that God may not be especially interested in helping us out of whatever trial we’re going through. We know He can. We believe that He is able. He just doesn’t seem willing.

This has always been a challenge for me to process. My example of grace and a willingness to help was not especially positive. Here’s an example: Several years ago, my car caught fire around 2:00 am. First, my step-father woke me up to tell me my car was on fire. When I asked him if he’d called the fire department, he said, “I thought you’d want to do that.” (The man didn’t have enough ambition to even register on the passivity scale!)

Over the next week, my mother was quite emphatic that the car needed to get off the street because it was an eyesore and she was worried about what the neighbors would think – which was ironic because it was likely one of the neighbors who set it on fire in the first place, such was the neighborhood. One day, she told me that one of the men I’d contacted had called to say he was actually interested in taking the eyesore off my hands. My delight was short-lived, however, when she refused to give me his phone number so I could call him to make arrangements. (Don’t ask…my brain is still locked up over that one!)

So, you can imagine how I felt about God when I thought he wasn’t willing to put an end to a bad situation or to give me hope when I felt there was none. I knew He could and believed He was able. The only conclusion for me was, naturally, that God didn’t want to help me. And that put a wedge between us, which left me feeling unlovable, which wasn’t fair to God.

I know better now, as I’ve been a parent for 26 years. If I tell one of my daughters “no”, I have sound, loving reasons.

Still, I think there are plenty of times when we say, as in the song, “it is well” with my soul, but with a hint of disappointment and even resentment in our voice. A sort of “Gee, thanks for nothin’, God.” Because it’s not really as well with my soul as I let on!

A little over five years ago, I survived an emergency eight-hour open-heart surgery to save my life from an ascending aortic dissection. My mind and body haven’t been the same since, and no one really knows why, which means no one knows how to “fix” me. Of all the issues I’ve had, chronic pain has been the most life-changing for me. I hurt most of the time, and it’s completely altered the way I do anything outside the house. So for five years, I’ve been at a loss as to why God left me so very different than I was before the surgery. As grateful as I am that I survived, the condition I’m in frustrates me!

In Pain and Providence, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote: “God uses chronic pain and a146a1b41e18c40cad6493ade0abef21 (1)weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependency on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away.” Don’t doubt for a moment that I’d prefer to come to the same end without the chronic pain! But she’s right.

Paul came to the same conclusion when he wrote: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it (the thorn in his side) away from 69628e65940954f9ad4d517b8ca2d026me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NIV)

Here’s the thing, though: I forget that at all times, God loves me and wants what’s best for me. I have to remember and be confident that I am the way I am – and not the way I want to be – because God wants me this way right now. I mistakenly assume that because I don’t like it, it’s “wrong” or “bad” or, worse, “punishment.”

The key, I’m learning, is to get on board with God’s new game plan for me. The best thing I can do is to trust that God loves me and will give me the grace and strength to get through whatever situation He chooses to leave me in. It would help if I could resist the temptation to label my situation as “good” or “bad”. And it would serve me well to to just roll with it and be open to God’s guidance. It’s that surrender, that acquiescence, that God wants.

It’s important for us to remember that Jesus understands this anxiety and frustration f6769b615b03aefe414a06588ec985d5that we often have with a situation we’d like to change. He wept when he felt deep compassion for those who loved Lazarus and had buried him. It pained him to know that it had been necessary for Him to allow for that grief in order that He demonstrate His power by bringing him back to life. And certainly, he cried desperately for God to find another way to redeem humanity that would be so much less painful than crucifixion on the cross and bearing the weight of so many sins. But we know that God did not permit that cup to pass from Him.

0a3740da8ee7b33774b18b574de649de

God knows and Jesus understands. It’s up to us to trust, accept and allow God to use us for His kingdom the way He chooses to.

“The truth is, in this world it’s a 100 percent guarantee that we will suffer. But at the same time, Jesus Christ is 100 percent certain to meet us, encourage us, comfort us, grace us with strength and perseverance, and yes, even restore joy in our lives. Your Savior is 100 percent certain to be with you through every challenge.” 

― Joni Eareckson Tada, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty