CAREFUL! THAT’S STILL TENDER.

I know I haven’t posted anything for awhile. I’ve been busy and a bit under the weather, but the greater fact is that I’ve been hovering around a thought and can’t seem to find a place to grab hold of and land with. It’s not so much that I can’t find anything to write about. I have too much! And entire posts are beautifully composed in my head between one o’clock and three o’clock in the morning; by sunrise, it’s nothing but wisps of disconnected words. So it’s time to put something on paper and start…something…anything.

I’ll start here, because it’s where I seem to keep returning to:

A few months ago, I read Lysa TerKeurst’s post, “What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do,” and found a single sentence that I’ve meditated on every day since:

“We have to stop the bleeding from the deepest wound.”

Every. Single. Day! I’ve held this thought in my hand, turning it over, feeling it’s texture, weight and shape with my fingers. I’ve carried it in my pocket so I could just touch it once in a while. I’ve sat it on my desk at work so I could glance at it between emails. I’ve laid it on a shelf at home so I can look at it in a different light during the day. Sometimes, I think I’m looking for something that really isn’t there. Other times, I am certain I’ll find treasure in it.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I saw something! I was struggling with something in my marriage that has come up often enough in the past 22 years to really get on my last nerve. (No naming, no shaming, no details. You can fill in your own blanks!) The important things to know are:

  1. My husband did “his thing.”
  2. I reacted doing “my thing.” (Maybe it was the other way around or simultaneous, I don’t know!)
  3. We survived it.

But somewhere in the middle of it, I had some insight into Lysa’s charge. I realized I was ferociously protecting what may be my deepest wound. Alarms were being triggered and my greatest fears were at full attention, ready to protect that wound:

  1. I am terrified of not having control, especially if it means my only hope is in someone I’m not sure I can trust to be as strong as I need them to be. (This actually includes everyone I know. Because I have some serious trust issues!)
  2. I am terrified of asking for help because it would hurt too much to be denied or it might cost too much to accept help.
  3. I am terrified of finding out that I am, after all, truly alone and insignificant. Even worse, feeling the shame of daring to believe I could be loved.

Now, understand that these fears are always there, just under the surface, ready at a moment’s notice. So they’re nothing new. And any wound I have – from the most superficial scratch to the deepest gaping wound – is always there. But most of the time, I’m so busy trying to stand still  and steady as every feeling, every anxiety storms around me that I simply allow it and wait until it’s over.

I passively let it happen and wait for it to be over. I always have.

I’ve been in therapy off and on since I was 21, and I’m pretty well aware of what my “issues” are. The fact remains that I have felt powerless to do anything about it because at the very core, I have always and only seen myself as inherently unlovable. It’s like having a shirt that is so infused with a stench that no amount of Febreeze, vinegar, tomato juice or harsh chemicals can remove the smell.

you can't go backWhich brings me to today. I’m in my 50’s and have lived my life as a defective mother, wife, employee, friend. Not that I’ve been especially bad at these roles. I just haven’t been as good at them as I’d like to have been. I feel like I’ve cheated those I’ve lived with and myself. So therapy seemed like the appropriate action plan because, you see, I was defective. I was damaged. I didn’t work right. I needed to be fixed.

How did I know? Because shame was the sweater I wore to keep me warm. I spent most of the first 21 years of my life being reminded that I was optional. The person on whom I depended for food, clothes and shelter reminded me regularly that if I didn’t like it, I could leave.

I knew she was mentally “off”. And as I grew older, I came to see just how crazy it was to live in agreement with a woman who was mentally ill. Even crazier was that ultimately I was agreeing with a mentally ill woman who was dead!

What I’m unraveling now is the fact that I thought I had only two options:

  1. Be the person my mentally ill mother said I was, or
  2. Don’t be the person my mentally ill mother said I was, although I had no idea what that looked like.

But now I know that I was missing an option:

3. Be the person God created me to be.

And this option comes with an instruction manual and a love letter!

1df2fa83d020d50c90e390b7d79e1d68Believe me when I say that I do not want to write in the blood from my deepest wound. I want you to know that if you’ve been misused or abused, I know it hurts. But I want more than anything to write from the other side of pain. I desperately want to turn to you and say, “It is possible! You can get here from there. And it’s so much better here where grace abounds and mercy is freely given!”

But here’s the thing: I’m not on the other side yet. I’m writing this journey in “real time.” After all these years, I’m ready to be healthy. I want to be whole. And I don’t care if I have scars…as long as I can stop the bleeding from my deepest wound.

 

A NEW THING

I have always had a passion for sharing what I knew and what I thought. Anytime, anywhere. Usually without invitation. And that seemed to be a problem for my teachers. All of my teachers. From First Grade through my senior year of high school. (I don’t think anyone noticed in Kindergarten because none of us had much self-control then.) But I still have the quarterly report cards that pointed out, “LaRonda talks too much in class.” When this came up in a conversation with a college professor, she said, “Well…we don’t have report cards in college.”

The thing is, I was never talking about how ugly I thought Heather’s dress was or how I couldn’t decide if I wanted to marry Shaun Cassidy or Leif Garret. I was almost always making comments on the lesson the teacher was teaching us – at that precise moment, unfortunately.

Equally unfortunate is the fact that the teachers never seemed to understand that. They seem to have thought I was talking about silly girl things and simply being a distracting nuisance when, in fact, I was only being a distracting nuisance. I’m realizing now that it was my way of learning and actually actively engaging in my education. It was how I learned best, and I had the grades to prove it. I just didn’t realize that no one else in the room worked that way, and I was making education and educating harder for them.

But because everyone believed the problem was that I talked too much in class, that became a source of shame and insecurity for me. To this day, my husband and I will go home after a Bible study, and I’ll say to him, “I talked too much again, didn’t I?” Sometimes I feel enough shame that tears come to my eyes (just as they are now by simply mentioning it).

What I’m getting at is this: I have an inherent passion to share my thoughts, and back in 2011 I thought blogging would be a great way to do that. If no one cared to know what I thought, they simply didn’t need to read what I wrote. But I had no direction, no substantial focus, so I quit.

Then in 2018, Maggie thought it would be fun to do a dual blog in which we would follow up each Bible study with her take on it as a daughter/teen, and I would share my thoughts as a mother/”mature” woman. I thought that sounded exciting, so the next Sunday night I blew off the dust on my old blog site and wrote down my thoughts on the Bible study. I kept waiting for Maggie to join me as I continued to find things to write about. I’m still waiting.

Eventually, I decided to change the name of my blog since I was obviously going to write about what I was learning about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. I’d finally found a direction, a substantial focus. However, I have recently felt “committed” to “righteous writing”, and I’m no preacher. I’ve also learned that I absolutely treasure feedback because that’s when a conversation can begin. (I’m not foolish enough to suggest that there’s no emotional satisfaction, too. I enjoy encouraging comments, and I’m grateful I don’t have enough followers to say mean things. And I doubt there are many who don’t feel the same need for acceptance and fear of rejection.) One day, I hope I can genuinely say, “All glory goes to he who gave me this gift. None of it is me.”

Which brings me to this post. I have a story to tell. We all do. I’ve long thought that my story was about the pain I felt growing up with a mentally ill mother who was often quite cruel; the difficulty I had in my 20’s trying to meet so many unmet needs in a healthy way – and failing miserably; the challenge of acting “normal” in a world that had no idea that I only understood over-achievement to avoid being punished, all the while feeling inherently defective and unlovable; and taking 16 years to believe that my husband and children loved me “just because” and weren’t going to suddenly tell me they were just trying to be nice all these years, but the truth is they never loved me.

Most important, it took me this long to learn that my Father is nothing like my mother. And that is what I believe my story is. My story is God’s story; I’m simply a character in a story that reveals his nature.

I’m equally aware that I’m not the only one out here who has been abused, misused and lied to about who they are. Even the best-intentioned parents will manage to smudge God’s picture of who his children are. I also know there are others who have survived against the odds – literally. Some of us have experienced things that most of us couldn’t conceive or process even if we knew the story; and we’ll seldom hear the story. In fact, you’d be surprised at who you work with who’s grown up in truly damaging homes. Some of them may even be the friends you think you know. Chances are, they work very hard to make sure you never discover their secret.

d1ba7bbea3209253914a4f0f9a386b2c

But the only story I can tell is my own. And perhaps someone can see that they’re not alone, their abuse and misuse was not their fault, their Father loves them very much, they are enough and they are lovable. I’m not talking Stuart Smalley stuff. (Yes. Yes, that is former Minnesota Senator, Al Franken, on Saturday Night Live. My state also elected Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura as governor, so…). No, I’m talking about discovering who we were born to be and finally living like the child of God that we are, rather than the child of                      _     we were told we were.

bloomingTo be honest, it’s scary for me to consider being vulnerable; but for the most part, those readers – who are fortunately small in number right now – will either not read what I write or will likely be very gracious. Those readers who are part of my church family and only think they know me, well…I don’t know what to tell ya! 🙂 Those readers who I know peripherally, I guess a more intimate introduction is imminent, huh? (I love a good alliteration!) Just understand that this has nothing to do with getting pity. Although there’s still some pain when someone accidentally and unknowingly bumps into an old wound that hasn’t quite healed or has very recently been re-injured, I know I’m loved and safe now. This is intended to be a story of healing – how and from what God is healing me.

I guess we’ll see what happens! By the way, the other thing my mother read on every single report card was “She is not living up to her potential.” Perhaps I can do something about that. I may be over 50, but some of my teachers also said I was just a late bloomer.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

OK…FALSE ALARM!

OK. You know what? I think I just needed a nap, a hug, and some good friends!

norman rockwellOnce again, God gave me a crash course in assurance. Most of my lessons are like this because I think God has this tiny window of opportunity before I change my mind. Seriously, I’m like that kid – you know the one – who gets to the edge of the diving board and is too scared to jump but they can’t really go back to the stairs either so they just stand there hoping the world will open up and swallow them whole but it doesn’t so they go ahead and jump with the conviction that they’re about to drown to death but when they don’t die they figure death would have been better than being embarrassed. Yeah, I’m like that kid.

Shortly after I called the wahh-mbulance the other day, I opened an email from Morgan Harper Nichols. Unlike most of the subscriptions I get emails from, she’s gone to the trouble of personalizing her emails with the recipient’s first name. And that means I saw this as the subject line before I even opened the email: You’re not alone LaRonda.

I know. Right?

Of course, as nice as it was, all I could think was, ‘Maybe you’re not alone, but I’m pretty sure I am.’

I was wrong. So very wrong. Because I’m lazy, I’ve cut  and pasted the rest of Morgan’s message:

When you find yourself in a new place, and you are trying find your footing, may you never feel that you have to navigate it alone. Consider it a blessing that there are other people in this world that you can learn from, even if you are not able to speak to them directly.

You may not be able to be as open to your boss or a colleague as you would like to, or you may not be able to seek wise counsel from family members like you wish you could, but that does not mean you have reached the limit on who you can look to or reach out to.

And it’s okay if “reaching out” takes you out of comfort zone. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. The moment you take the step to ask a question or express a need that you have is a bold rejection of the lie that you were meant to do this alone. It does not make you needy. It does not make you weak.

So don’t be so hard on yourself. If you feel that reaching out makes you vulnerable, it does…and it has also made you strong. You were never meant to be in this alone. And the more you begin taking steps to live out this truth, the more you will begin to see just how much it makes a difference in you.

May this be the week you begin to practice stepping out of your comfort zone just a little bit more. May you begin to open your heart to possibility that vulnerability takes courage and the willingness to accept that you have no idea what is going to happen. Be honest about what you are thinking and feeling this week. Be honest with yourself. Be mindful of the moments where you feel tempted to shut down or withdraw or give up. And it’s okay to have these moments and being able to acknowledge them is a huge step in working through them.

Sincerely,
Morgan Harper Nichols

Yesterday, I went to church and was surrounded by amazing people who had not only had their faith tested and strengthened, but are in the midst of a trial right now. It’s foolishness to think your problems are more insurmountable than someone else’s. I don’t think I’m struggling with how bad I think things are. I know there are painful things that I can’t imagine having to go through, and my heart breaks for anyone carrying such a load.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about painful things that can never change until we’re Home. Two people in our church family have lost their spouse this year. Another woman had her leg amputated. A young woman I once worked with lost her five-month old boy to SIDS. People don’t return to life. A limb isn’t going to grow back. I can eventually pay off debt or purchase another car. I can even arrange things to compensate for the changes in me since my open-heart surgery. And I’ll eventually learn how to work with one good arm and one permanently dislocated arm. It won’t always be easy, but it can be done.

However, some things do not change. There are some things that I can’t fix, and that makes me feel powerless and vulnerable. (That was harder to say than you might think.)

I’ve spent most of my life garnering as much control as I could because I was the only person I could count on to not hurt me. (And, honestly, I’ve probably been crueler to myself than anyone else has ever been.)

So right now, I need help to carry things, to cook, to do my job. I have to ask for help when I need it. Here’s what can happen:

  • Someone will gladly help me.
  • Someone will help me but not exactly the way I would have done it – which, of course, is the right way.
  • Someone will help me and then hold it over me when they need to leverage it for guilt.
  • Someone will say ‘No.’

That gives me a 50% chance be being hurt. And a 100% chance that I won’t ask for help until I’m desperate.

Fortunately, God has put people in my life who are as persistent as they are kind. Fortunately, God has infinite patience with me as he teaches me that it’s okay to ask for and accept help. And that I can be secure that if I reach out my hand, there will be someone there to hold it.

ec5383b9db4af15f6f4fd41c22f70b80

Sometimes, I just have to be brave enough to jump and trust that there are lifeguards who won’t let me drown. Yeah…pretty sure.

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.

 

ARE WE THERE YET?

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I think that’s possible…eventually. But they don’t talk about the ass-whippin’ that “doesn’t kill you” in the first place, do they? They don’t talk about what it cost you or what it took to recover. They don’t talk about how it changed you or the scars or the collateral damage it left behind. They don’t talk about the humiliation you felt when it kicked you one last time and left you lying there, exhausted.

Right now, I’m angry and confused. For the first time in my life, I’ve taken a few hits and not given up on my faith in a loving God whom I still believe has a good plan for my life. And I think that’s a big part of my anger and confusion. I don’t understand why I seem to keep getting knocked down.

Let me explain myself first. I know that other people have problems.  I know that it could be worse. I don’t ask why me because I know the answer is why not me. What I want you to understand is that what I survived almost six years ago was statistically unlikely to survive. But I did. And recently, I suffered an injury that is statistically unlikely to happen. Both began simply. Both have changed me significantly. And I have no doubt that I’ve been firmly in God’s hands through it all.

cs-lewis-quote-were-not-necessarily-doubting-that-god-will-do-theI guess what I really want to know is, “Are we there yet?”

I’m tired of healing, recovering, being told there are no explanations.

I feel like God’s has been very persistent in making sure the only answer to any of my questions is him and him alone. But what scares me is this: If what I’ve gone through hasn’t gotten me where God wants me to be, how bad does it to be to get me there?

 

SOME CONDITIONS MAY APPLY

Do you ever read the small print? I don’t, and I started to question the wisdom of my nonchalance recently. Probably the area I’m the least cautious is in downloading apps and songs. Do I agree? Well, sure I do! I mean it’s not like I’m agreeing to donate a kidney to the 821st person I’m a match for.

No, really. I’m not agreeing to anything like that am I? Let me find my reading glasses!

signhereI’m not overly worried about what I’m agreeing to, but I’ve learned that I need to pay closer attention to what my expectations are.

Not too long ago, my family decided to go out for half-price apps. I was thrilled that we’d be able to enjoy a treat that would not otherwise be affordable. For once, momma didn’t have to say ‘No.’

Some of you are probably way ahead of me!

Sure enough, not all apps were half-price. And momma ended up paying a lot more than she’d expected.

The Holy Spirit reminded me of this while I was considering what God’s word says about prayer. Mark 11:24 tells us, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Now that sounds like a winning opportunity! Unfortunately, it’s not really how it works, is it? There is literally a limit to how many people can have the same job or the same spouse.

So what’s the catch? Because I know a few people who have been praying hard for the same thing for a couple of decades. They’ve prayed fervently and with unshakable confidence that God will provide, only to feel disappointment and heartache.

The book of John actually has quite a few verses in which Jesus promises his disciples that whatever they asked for in his name would be given so that the Father would be glorified. A sort of letter of righteous reference or holy hall pass. All we need to do is say the magic words – “in Jesus’ name” – and we’re good, right?

appetizersBut I kept thinking about those half-price apps that weren’t half-price after all. Perhaps the way to get what we want is to make sure it’s on “the list.” I knew a guy who couldn’t understand why God didn’t bless him by winning the lottery. Afterall, God knew how he’d use it. (Which is probably the precise reason he never won!)

The point is that in God’s kingdom, many of the things we pray for are so very far off God’s radar. It’s not that he doesn’t love us or want to bless us, because I believe he takes great joy in seeing our smile! And I’ve been blessed by tiny things that happen very quickly but are also very intimate. Something that makes me smile because I know it was from my Father. He thought about me.

Actually, I think prayer has more to do with God’s thoughts being higher than our thoughts, his ways being higher than our ways. Face it, God has a few more years of experience than we do, and he has a much better view of the horizon. Quite frankly, he’s probably a little more concerned about the spiritual battle that’s claiming souls than he is about who wins the Super Bowl. (Just sayin’.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been praying that I can see others the way God sees them – including myself. I’m praying that I can love others with the love, grace and mercy with which God loves them – and me. I’m pretty sure those are good things to want from my Father. And if I can see others the way God does, I suspect I’ll have a better idea of what’s on “the list.”

Found my reading glasses! And now I’m hungry.

 

READ ANY GOOD BOOKS LATELY?

As far back as I can recall – at least as soon as we were required to do book reports in school – I discovered there was one thing I could do to minimize my effort and maximize my grade. I most clearly recall using this technique when I had a book report due on one of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. [Fair warning: If you’re a teacher, this may make you cringe.]

I don’t remember if it was because I hadn’t allowed myself the time to read or if I’d preferred to not read, but I had a book report due and little time left in which to do it. I think it was my mother who suggested it first. I read the summary on the back of the book, chewed it up a bit, and regurgitated it in a form that my teacher actually liked well enough to give me an A.

I became so skilled at synthesizing information, that I did it all the way through college. Although, in college, I probably spent more time researching commentaries, reviews and critiques on the assigned reading than I would have if I’d actually read it.

This might not seem like a particularly egregious habit – unless I confess that I was an English major who aspired to teach children the wonders of literature. (I know.) To be fair, if a degree had been available in researching literature, I’d have gotten a doctorate in it and been a very happy camper!

I did know better!  When I actually read the material, I fell in love with the words, the subtle nuances and rhythm of a sentence, the symbolism, the art with which a character was unfolded. It could be beautiful…but it was time consuming.

I’ve done the same thing with the word of God. I didn’t see a problem with it, though. After all, isn’t that what church is all about – listening to a preacher tell you about God, sharing the big stories in the Bible. Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the big fish, David and Goliath – they’re lessons that teach you that God is big and in charge, and you should be obedient to him and kind to others.

I had no idea what I was missing.

Fun fact about LaRonda: When I was younger, I fantasized about reckless passion. I imagined reading a beautiful love letter in which someone described how very much they loved me, that they yearned to be with me every chance they had, that they would die for me, built a home for me and, (this was added as I got older and learned about expenses) once they’d finished the construction and paid the mortgage off, would come back to get me so I could live there with him forever. What a romantic fantasy!

However, instead of actually reading the letter, I left it in the envelope on a table where I could see it, taking comfort in the fact that I knew it was a love letter. When friends came to visit and would invariably ask about the envelope, I’d say, “That? Oh, that’s my love letter. Yes…. Isn’t it wonderful?” Naturally, I’d say it in a soft, whimsical way, trailing off to insinuate an intimate mystery that only I and the one who loved me could understand.

But this isn’t simply the fantasy of a silly girl. This is the Gospel. It’s the greatest love letter ever written. It’s about a reckless and passionate relationship that God wants to have with us. I had been content with hearing about God. I had not been hearing from God, and God had a lot to say…to me.

During his ministry, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. He asked them who others said he was. There was a variety of answers, but the one he was longing to hear was that he was Immanuel – God with us. If we knew the Son, we knew the Father. He was the part of the trinity who agreed to a back-up plan for our reconciliation with our Creator before we were created.

669a0d1e281b953b71df9ab0cf423f5cWhich begs the question of Immanuel, “So who do you say I am?”

I know the answer I hope to hear, but I can have a pretty ugly heart and a fairly judgmental spirit. I also have have a great fear of rejection, so I prepare myself for the worst. I know, though, that if I believe he loves me, then he loves all of his creation and expects me to, as well.

So, I’ve been asking God to help me see people as he sees them, so I can love them the way he loves them because I don’t have a natural inclination toward grace and mercy.

To be fair, though, I don’t like myself all that much either. In fact, from the first time I heard that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, I was convinced of one thing. My neighbors were screwed.

So I was surprised to realize recently that the first person I would see with grace and mercy would be me. As a child of God. I am lovedanyway and always. And I am lovable. There is nothing in this person whom God created that disqualifies me from being cherished and beloved; if by no one else, then by God himself. And that understanding shows me what it feels like to be flawed and loved again and again. And that feeling helps me understand why it’s so vital for me to treat others with the grace and mercy that helps them stop feeling “less than.” And that understanding largely comes from reading the ultimate love letter to the world from the greatest Lover we’ll ever know.

Hmmm…Maybe there’s hope for my neighbors, after all.

 

 

 

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.