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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

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!

 

DO YOU LIKE ME? CHECK YES OR NO

Hand-written notes have been replaced by text messages.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

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

yes or no.jpg

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

What if you get a NO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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!

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?

It’s Christmas time, and like most people, I’ve been reflecting on the birth of Christ. As I look at the nativity sets sprinkled around town, my thoughts go to the girl on the donkey with the round belly.

fc1dc23cda80252b3976a8067df956beCan you picture it? Mary is full-term and ready to deliver. She and Joseph get into town only to find that there are no vacancies. She’s ridden on the back of a donkey for over 90 miles. Her baby is kicking inside her. Contractions have taken her breath a few times. And her water may have broken while Joseph was trying to find a place to stay.

This was probably the most physically and emotionally draining thing she’d ever done in her short life. Son of God or not, Mary was not exempt from labor pains. Mary still had to puuuuush to get the King of Kings into the world. His divinity did nothing to make this delivery any easier than her future deliveries. (And little did Mary know it, but a little boy was going to stop by and play on a drum for the baby; most likely right after she got Jesus to sleep.)

Delivering Immanuel was probably a great relief to this girl.

The night Christ was born, God reached down to relieve the rest of the world as well.

“Let me get that for you,” He said. Although it didn’t come in a thunderous voice from Heaven; it came as a healthy cry Christ would let out as He filled His human lungs with air for the first time. With the birth of Jesus, God offered to relieve all of humanity from the weight of sin and he offered to take the weight of our yoke and bear it Himself in return for His yoke, which is light.

The wait was over. God was with us.

This is the place where I usually stop. The pregnancy is over! God did the miraculous. In a few days, Christmas will be finished and 2018 will come to an end.

But this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning! The beginning of the end.

battle is not yours

Jesus didn’t come to us so our kids could wear sheep and shepherd costumes for Christmas pageants. His birth was the beginning of the endgame in the spiritual battle against Satan.

The baby Mary held in her arms was the revelation of God Himself.

He would be our High Priest, who would sympathize with all the weaknesses of our humanity.

He would be our Intercessor and our Deliverer.

He would be the only perfect sacrifice God could accept.

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17, NIV)

We can’t look upon the baby king without seeing His sacrifice on the cross.

5e70aa695fcff25dbb8ce06c3b6cf1241 John 3:8 tells us, “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

Satan didn’t underestimate the significance of Christ’s birth. He didn’t see a tiny, vulnerable baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. He saw the fulfillment of countless prophesies. He recognized the divinity of Christ and the fruition of God’s infallible word. Satan and his legion can be regarded in many ways, but they weren’t stupid. They’d had free rein for a long time, but their time was up and they knew better than anyone what came next. Jesus’s first cry that night was a battle cry.

Do you hear what I hear?