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.

I THINK I’M DONE

When I started this blog a little over a year ago I felt pretty strong, pretty confident, and I had fantasies of writing something that would, in some small way, touch someone. My greater goal was to help people who felt unlovable to realize that they were lovable and loved by a God who treasures them, quirks and all. The only way I felt that was possible was from the other side of my own doubts. And to be honest, I lasted longer than I thought I would.

I don’t think I can do that right now. I have no doubt that one day I’ll start writing again, but it’ll definitely take more than I’ve got right now.

A few weeks ago, I posted Are We There Yet? I think that’s a fair enough question.

Most of the trouble is that I’ve always tried to be a good girl and never ask for much. I tried o be a good student, a good employee, a good Christian. I learned at a very young age that I was not much more than an option.

I don’t recall what I did wrong, but my mother told me she’d made a call to the orphanage. The only thing I understood about the orphanage (which we actually had in our city) was that it was where children went when they didn’t have parents. She told me someone would be by later to get me. They’d put me in a dark room and feed me when they felt like it.

I waited quietly until it was dark enough to know grown-ups weren’t at work anymore, which also meant someone hadn’t come to take me to the orphanage. I asked my mother if they were still coming to get me. She simply said, “They must have forgotten about you. They’ll probably come tomorrow.”

i never went to the orphanage. I continue to live with my mother, which was probably worse than the alternative.

I’ve spent most of my life convinced that I was unlovable and insignificant enough to be easily forgotten. At best, I was tolerated. But that tolerance was very conditional, and I was constantly reminded with, “If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

I didn’t like it, but I had no where to go so I couldn’t leave. And I didn’t leave until the day before my 21st birthday.

My point is this: When you grow up without grace  or mercy, there’s no way you can recognize it when you see it. Even if you could, you can not accept it when you’ve believed that you’re something to be tolerated.

I thought I had made progress, that I had more confidence in God’s word. But I know now that I haven’t. I was starting to come to terms with the limitations after my open-heart surgery. I kept looking for the good after I wrecked the car in January. I trusted God to provide when we had to replace a new furnace in February. I even tried to remain optimistic when I wrecked my shoulder at the end of March. And somehow, we’ll find a way to pay the taxes we owe to the state.

But if God knows me so well, doesn’t he know that I am not that strong? My body had already betrayed me enough, but to have to live the rest of my life with the pain and limitations of a permanently dislocated shoulder? How does that glorify God? To be so perpetually broke that the kindness of really generous friends and my husband’s family barely scratches the surface of our debt because more debt is piled on than we can dig out…how does that glorify God?

So I’m angry and confused. I feel foolish for trusting God because there are plenty of people who are looking at me and wondering why they should trust him if this is what a Christian life looks like.

So here’s the deal: I can not write anything encouraging or motivational right now. This post is concrete evidence of that. So I shall keep all of my thoughts inside my pretty little head until I can be nice again. Besides…if I don’t like it, i can always leave, right?

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?

 

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was wrong. So very wrong.

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

But wait! There’s more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suppose so.

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

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

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

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

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

So do I trust him?

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

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

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.

 

 

 

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!

 

EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT

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

Today, I heard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU HAVE AMAZING THINGS TO DO!

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

~Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are three take-away’s from this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

child

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

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

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

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

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

Go ahead! What are you waiting for?