LINE!

I don’t know how professional stage actors do things, but when I was in high school and community theater, there was one day we feared the most of all rehearsal days. We knew from the very first day of rehearsal that the day would come when we would be “off book”. This was the day our scripts were taken from our sweaty, tight fists and we were no longer allowed their comfort. It was usually a true wake-up call for me.

Too often, I’d be right there in the center of the stage, my fellow actors around me, everyone where they were supposed to be when a horrid silence fell over the auditorium. Someone had forgotten their line. I’d look to see who it was. All the eyes and tired faces looking at me hinted that it was probably me. And it was. So I scrambled for my next line, standing there like Winnie the Pooh with “Think. Think. Think.” running through my mind. Nothing! So I faced my embarrassment and did the only thing I could do.

“Line!” I called out. That was my white flag of surrender to whomever was in charge of prompting me. And I was always prompted and carried on a bit longer.

Lately, I feel as if I could call “Line!” as often as I want and there would be no answer.

I don’t know if I can’t hear the prompt, if it’s my turn to simply improvise for a bit, or if the next part of the script isn’t available yet, although it has been written. In any case, I don’t know what to say or do next. In fact, I feel much like I did when I only had a small walk-on part and waited long stretches of time backstage, waiting for my entrance and quick exit. Just waiting. Killing time. Not especially paying attention.

Psalm 81:10 (NIV) says: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I write longer posts than others. Just imagine how much more I relish the ease and immediacy of talking! I never thought I’d not know what to say. The thing is, I have a lot to say, but I’m learning that not everything needs to be said, or even said by me.

I’m certain I have a story to tell, but the trick now is to tell God’s story in which I am but a character, rather than to simply tell my story. God is doing a great work in me, and sometimes it’s more painful than other times. Currently, I feel like I’m being stripped down to what I am at my core, with God removing all the things he never intended to cover me. It’s a bit scary, this unveiling.

So I wait for my next line. I wait for God’s direction. I wait for him to fill my mouth with his story.

 

 

REALLY, GOD? REALLY?!

In 1989, Tom Hanks was still 5 years away from playing Forrest Gump. He was still in his early comedic element what he starred in The Burbs, in which “an over-stressed suburbanite and his fellow neighbors are convinced that the new family on the block are part of a murderous Satanic cult.” (Stay with me here!)

It was a scene from the end of this movie that came to mind as I listened to 1 Kings 19:1-19 (NIV). (You’re about to learn a lot about how my brain works!)

Long story, short, Ahab told Jezabel about all the trouble Elijah had been stirring up. Jezabel sends a scathing message to Elijah, informing him that he’s as good as dead. So Elijah runs to Beersheba in Judah, where he drops off his servant and sets out for the wilderness another day’s distance away.

It’s here in the wilderness that Elijah plops himself under a broom bush and begs God to take his life. He’s tired! He’s fed up! He’s had enough!

So had Tom Hanks’ character, Ray Peterson. All Ray wanted was a few days of quiet, relaxing restoration at home. In no time at all, his neighbors have pulled him into an unbelievable story. In just under 1 hour and 40 minutes, Ray – like Elijah – has been pushed to the edge of reasonable limits and was fast approaching his breaking point.

No, Elijah is not an over-stressed suburbanite living next to some satanists, but I know a tired man when I see one. I also know a hissy fit when I see one. Elijah had been faithful to God. He squared off against 450 prophets of Baal, demonstrating that there were no other gods than Yahweh. And what does he get for his faithfulness? A death threat from an unstable woman.

What about him?!

Now we get to the source of his troubles. His victory has been rooted in the strength and power of God. His fear is rooted in his focus on himself. To be fair, Elijah needs a break. He needs some care and encouragement. He doesn’t really want to give up or die; he just wants some time for restoration. He is human, after all. His body needs sleep and food. His spirit needs encouragement. And God is gracious enough to meet him where he is. He even sends warm bread for Elijah.

After Elijah had fallen asleep, an angel touched him saying, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank.” (Personally, I would have been tempted to ask God if he hadn’t heard me – I’m done!) But not Elijah. “Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.” (1 Kings 19:6-9 NIV)

And now God has Elijah truly alone. Elijah has had 40 days and 40 nights in which to contemplate God’s question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

There’s so much more to Elijah’s story, but that’s for another post. Today, just be encouraged that even the mightiest of God’s chosen can grow weary. And even when we beg for it to all come to an end, our gracious Father will meet us where we are and give us what we need to keep going.

 

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.

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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.

 

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.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT

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

Like create avalanches.

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

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

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

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

I don’t.

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

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

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

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

joy in the morningBut God has a promise.

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

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

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

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

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

For a while, anyway.

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

WHAT IS TRUTH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Twitter commentator was wrong. It does matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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?