Monday, January 24, 2011


Relax and be yourself... We've all heard the advice given, usually during those angst filled teen years. Isn't it ironic that we usually hear those words when the last thing we want to be is ourselves?

It is such a tricky thing to be ourselves, isn't it? And dangerous... What if who we are is not acceptable? What if we are ourselves and the people we so desperately want to impress are not, well - impressed? What if they are very loudly and vocally unimpressed with us and we are in turn very embarrassed? Being myself in those situations can be an exercise in humility and courage that I am not usually in possession of.

There have been times in my quest for maturity that I have attempted to not be me. I have tried on personas that just don't fit. I have come to realize I am not the demure quiet type, I am not a gourmet cook and I struggle to remain ensconced in serious endeavors for too long. I have learned valuable lessons each time I tried to be something other than myself, but the most striking lesson has to be that it is utterly exhausting to be something I am not.

I am often surprised that there are people in my life who love me for the very things that make me the fallible and irritatingly self absorbed person that I am. Hard to believe isn't it? All that stuff you try so hard to squash when you are "on your best behavior" is the stuff that makes you relatable to the friends who seek you out. Because of my mistakes, I am approachable. Because of my humor, I am a good companion. Because of my loudness, I am sought by those who seek to have a voice.

The thing about being out there and who you really are without apologies is frightening because it opens you to criticism from those who don't know you or never really knew you. It leaves you out in the open and hits you where you live... Appropriate for a Christian woman, I must admit.

Jesus, our eternal example, was exactly who He was, all day, every day. Granted, He didn't make mistakes and was completely without sin. That didn't stop Him from being EXACTLY who He was, though. It didn't keep Him from telling folks He was the son of God, even though it threatened His life. It didn't stop Him from making a scene in the temple turning over money lender tables and causing quite a raucous. It never kept Him from eating and hanging with the "wrong crowd," though it caused merciless gossip and speculation about His very person. Jesus was widely criticized, disliked by those in power and generally misunderstood by all but the "fringe kooks." He was not without a very loyal group of friends, however. His friends were drawn to Him for His honesty about who He was, even when they didn't fully understand what that all meant. If Christ can endure what He did with the grace that He did, so that I can be His, I can surely persevere through my meager trials which pale in comparison.

I count myself very lucky that I have at least two people in my life that know who I am, and still love me for it. One is my husband. He knows when to carry me away on quiet feet to a stow-away lunch and a stolen movie in the middle of the day to raise my spirits. He knows when I need a swift kick in the rear to get my focus pointed back... He knows me, and he still loves me. The other is my friend. She too has a way of letting me know she sees me... ALL of me. It is comforting and confidence inspiring. It is a wonderful thing to be safe in who you are and these people let me do just that.

I struggle with this blog at times. Who am I to write to anyone about what God may or may not be telling them? I have mistakes galore and still more to come, notched in my belt. I am not the picture of Christianity and have many, many - ahem - MANY faults that make me cringe when I think about putting my face out there. But the fact is, there was only one human-ish dude that had it all together without sin and with the right to preach without pause. He is thankfully, my Savior. I am not Him, nor do I pretend to be. But I can still be used. I can still have a voice and I can still impart truths that I have learned to others.

My hope has always been not that you would see me in this blog but that you would see whatever God wants you to see. I hope that what He wants you to see today is you and I hope that that seeing is uncluttered and glorious. That is how God sees you.... Take a look. He loves you just the way you are for exactly who you are

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Choosey folks choose....God!

I love choice...Want a new cell phone? There are lots to choose from. Hungry? What for? Each restaurant, grocery and fast food joint is filled with choices. In the market for a new car? Better do your research - there's thousands of models and makes to entice you! Choice is part of our every day life. We choose our food, our route to work, who we say hello to as we pass each other on the street... Every moment of every day we choose something.

One of the most mind numbing things about being human is the fact that God created us with free will and the ability to choose... It was the most important quality God imbued us with. He could have made us automatons... We could have been created to simply sing His praise every moment of every day, no thought involved, no sin and no poor choices. God wanted something entirely more valuable. He wanted us to CHOOSE Him. He wanted our choice for Him to have value.

You need only to lose the ability to choose to realize how valuable choice really is. I suppose that is exactly why God gave it to us. There is nothing more incredible or flattering than to have someone choose you. When someone chooses you, it is heady stuff, that's how valuable choice is.

Choosing God is one thing, making that choice is not a one time affair, however. It is ongoing. When you choose God as your master, you tell Him (and the world) that you will continue to choose Him. You will choose to let grudges go, you will choose not to be offended, you will choose to turn into the refining God has for you, not away from it.

Choices matter in this life and God wants us choosing Him on a daily basis, without reservation. But that isn't how it goes, is it? We don't always remember to choose God. In fact, often we find ourselves mired in choices that probably are the farthest thing from our choice to be with God. It happens, don't despair. We are human and choices, even bad ones, are what makes us attractive to our creator. Its important to remember that no matter what choices you've made at the time, or how mired in the consequences of your choices you are, you can always turn 180 degrees and choose God again. He LOVES it when we do that! He isn't waiting to punish as much as He's waiting to welcome us back.

Still wondering how to practically make smart choices? Jesus summed it up in Mt 22:36-40. He is asked what the greatest commandment is and His reply is two-fold. First, He says, love God. Part two is so much more telling... "And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" You want to make great choices? Choices God would be proud of? Treat everyone as if it was yourself you were ministering to! Choose to forgive, and you will be forgiven. Choose to be generous and others will be generous to you. Choose to listen when another's heart is breaking and when you need it most, someone will be there to hear your cries as well.

What will you choose today?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gentlemen, start your engines...

You are never prepared. You are never ready when they let you know your IQ points have plummeted by half and suddenly you go from friend to foe. Being a parent of teens is the hardest, most meaningful, terrifying thing I have ever done in my life. It brings up all the mistakes I made, all the things I wish I could have taken back.... It reminds me exactly how ill equipped I am to do this alone.

I am reminded that I never was prepared for any of it. I was not prepared for the late nights of sheer, terrifying exhaustion when they were sick. I wasn't prepared for the tears on the first day of pre-school, tears that were mine, not theirs. I wasn't prepared for all the resurrected hopes and dreams, the tutus and dance shoes, the frogs and garter snakes. Tricycles in the yard and toys scattered in the living room were suddenly the easiest part of parenting, looking back.

Truer words could not have been spoken when I was told through knowing grins that if you wait until your are "ready," you will never have children. We are simply never prepared for the incredible, amazing, scary and frustrating task parenting is. Like ambitious teens we simply nod and smile, thinking silently that no one truly "gets it" and we will somehow make history with the flawless way we bring our children into this crazy life. There is no preparation for what is coming to us wrapped in soft blankets and tiny socks. We can, however, be prepared to turn to the One who makes all things possible, and hope we can listen over the din of our own fears and frustrations.

Just starting into this new stretch of the parenting race, I have to be completely honest. I am not prepared. I too thought I was going to be that parent that escaped the torturous emotional outbursts. I was going to dodge the bullets of being the stupidest parent alive, the imbecile, the dork...
Alas, I will not remain in that dreamland. I have been thrust into the reality that this is what will grow my children into the adults they will become. They will test and experiment, they will rebel and explore. Much like they did when they were two, this will form who they become for the rest of their lives.

I can choose to close my eyes and ignore the unpleasantries, I can clutch and cinch down in fear, or I can fall into submission on my knees before God and begin praying for the choices my children make to be guided ones. Guided by the faith that they have been shown and taught. That is how I will be prepared.

I will prepare each morning and each evening by kneeling in humility before God, begging Him to show me the path for my next step. I will ask that God show me the differences between me and my kids so that I can recognize and celebrate the fact that they are not me. They may make some of the same mistakes, but they are not me, and I can rejoice in that. I will gird myself with verse and try desperately to trust in God with all of my hopes and fears and I will fight the instinct to lock down their freedoms in response to avoiding that bad choice. After all, who would I be if I hadn't made the mistakes I did? My mistakes created who i am, but they don't define me now. I will prepare by praying for the strength to allow them to be wrong, to reap the consequences and to learn to move on.

You are never prepared for the heart wrenching experience of parenting, and that is probably a very good thing. If I had known, I am not sure I could have been brave enough to do it anyway. I am prepared to spend a lot of time on my knees in prayer until that time that my intelligence returns and I am once again a wealth of information. Hopefully I can get there before they have their own kids!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Peeling your onion

There's a line from a movie, a popular, not so Christian movie, in which a fable character describes himself as an onion. He has layers, you see. He isn't one dimensional or particularly easy to peg... He is like an onion, he has layers. My friends and I have adopted this theory, with just a little twist.

See, we believe that we too have layers - layers of sin and selfishness that God often finds Himself peeling away in order to get to anything remotely workable for His purposes. And peel He does! He peels our onions until He gets to that more perfectly white, shiny, clean part that is much more appealing and easy to work with.

That peeling gets pretty painful at times. The refining work of God is often a painful process. I know in my heart that it is a necessary
pain, but any time God grabs ahold of my papery outer layer and begins removing chunks, I grimace and wince and fight it. It is human nature to fight discipline and refining. It's hard, which is human nature to avoid and we are taught from an early age to shy away from pain. When we try to avoid the refining work of God, however, it gets more painful, not less, because there is no running from God.

You see, God has this grand plan to grow us... I know, I know! You didn't ask to grow. Neither did I - or so I thought. But the fact is, when we asked Jesus into our hearts and accepted the free gift of salvation, God interpreted that as an opportunity to grow us into the image of His amazing son! And if there is one truth that I know, it is that God will have His way... NO MATTER WHAT! No amount of us thinking we can run from God will deter Him from doing what He has planned.

First, let me say this. In all earnestness, all jokes and levity aside, when God refines us on matters that are terribly close to our hearts it is excruciating and bewildering. When God takes people and comforts away from us it is tempting to become very angry with Him, especially when we feel like it is unfair. I do not pretend to know or practice everything I am about to tell you here. I am writing from a perspective that can only be called "inspired."

God peels our onions to bring us closer to Him, at the very core of all matters. That is God's goal. Remember that the first man and woman lived in a garden that God visited daily. He didn't come to be served fruits and have sacrifices laid out to Him (yet)... He came to walk in the garden with his creation and fellowship with them! God wants to bring us back to that model. He wants to walk with us again. Sometimes we allow other things to take the place of that sweet fellowship with the Father. We replace him with spouses, family members, money, things, jobs - you name it! We find ourselves chasing after those things and running from God in the garden.

And thus begins the peeling... He begins with that outer layer, hoping, I'm sure, that we will be obedient and turn toward that refining. If we don't listen, God peels another layer... And another... And another. Wondering what that peeling looks like in practicality? A friend of mine has described it in light of her own experience. She began experiencing difficulties in some relationships she had. God stripped her of those distractions. He then began to strip closer friends, activities that were distracting, and more until she felt that she was utterly alone - just her, her husband and God. Right where He wanted her - with Him! Only then did God have her attention to complete the work He wanted to do in my friend. It was painful, hurtful and left some wounds that are still struggling to heal, but she knows He did it for her own benefit. It is a lesson she reminds herself of often when she feels that peeling start again.

Are you experiencing a painful time right now? Something that you really don't understand or feel is fair? Maybe instead of running from the pain, it is time to stop, turn around and head into it. God will not ask more of you than He is willing to walk you through Himself. I am not saying it will not hurt. I am not saying that I myself haven't spent lots of time running from the pain. I am saying that God is asking us to be completely and wholly His and that requires that we follow Him, trust Him, and allow Him to work in us.

Allow God to strip away the old, dead, papery thin parts of you in order to reveal that lovely, white, soft usable heart. It will not only ease your pain somewhere down the road, it will produce a fruit in you that will please God. And, after all, isn't that what it's all about?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Living the offended life...

When did we become so easily offended? At what age did we decide that people owe us their respect and their understanding? I'm not sure when it happened with me, but I do know it happened. I get offended and I get offended often.

What part of me thinks that it is a correct response to any situation? Am I so often surrounded by people that would actually mean to offend me that I find it my right to demand their understanding and respect? No one owes me anything, truth be told. In fact, Jesus promises in the Bible that "In this world (I) will have trouble." Not a maybe or a consequence of bad behavior but a guarantee that because I am human and because I am alive, I better expect to meet trouble head on, because it is coming.

So what should my response be to the troubles of my life? Facts belie that I am a fairly sheltered individual and that most of my interactions are with people I know well. So why then am I so often battling the emotions that go along with feeling misunderstood, abused, or mistreated? Simple answer: my sin nature.

It is intrinsic in us that we should walk this earth expecting and demanding to have our needs met. From the time we are babies, resting at our mother's breasts, we begin to view the world around us in the light of what it can do for us. Hopefully, at some point, we grow out of the demanding attitudes of a toddler and become more willing to accept that the world does not revolve around us. Regretfully, this doesn't mean that that attitude leaves us forever.

It isn't until recently that I have begun to recognize being offended as a burden. If I don't take the initiative right away to confront the offense, I risk it growing into bitterness. (I delved into that pitfall earlier.) However, confrontation is not something I excel at.

When we talk about confrontation it can have vast negative connotations. I am not speaking of the all-out, screaming negativity that comes easily to mind. I am talking about confronting mostly myself. Yup, me. I tend to be the biggest offender. I have to honestly take a good look at what I think I need to be so terribly offended about and discern if I even have a case.

If I do feel like there has been an offense, I endeavor to pray about it. I ask God to help me decide if the offense is likely to become a burden to me and a seed of bitterness that would grow into a hedge that will separate me from the love I desperately need from the Father. If I fear that this is indeed the case, it is time for confrontation.

When someone says something or does something that hurts or offends me, remembering who they are, not the actual offense, is so incredibly helpful. After all, I don't tend to keep company with folks who intentionally say or do hurtful things just for the pleasure of it. I attempt with all my heart to approach the situation with this in mind.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in counseling with my husband was to assume that he didn't intend to offend or hurt me. The second thing I learned that was equally invaluable was to ask at least one question and to be specific. No one wants to be assailed with a vague description or accusation. If we want specific results, we should be specific in our descriptions.

If someone has said something that I can't seem to let go of I approach them with, "When we were talking, you said 'this' to me... It hurt my feelings and/or offended me. I took your meaning to be 'this'... Did you mean to hurt me? or mean what I thought you meant?" That confrontation with your offender can be scary and heart pounding. But if they are who you think they are, they will likely not only be mortified that you have been hurt, but also may be quite shocked that their comment was taken in that context. Until you give them the opportunity to right the matter and clarify their meaning, only you stand to remain hurt over the situation. They likely have no clue that there is a situation that needs rectified and punishing them for something they don't have any idea they've done is far from fair.

Being offended takes so much energy and can frankly wear a sister out! It isn't any fun to be around either. I am sure all of us have a friend that is easily offended that we tip toe around on eggshells. It is exhausting! You never know when the conversation will suddenly become stilted and quiet and that will lead you to avoid them. Likewise, being the offended one is no pic-nic either! Carrying all those grudges and offenses is a heavy, heavy job! In the oft-quoted words of one Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along???"

Take a moment the next time you feel the sting of someones words that threaten to take up root in your heart. How well do you know them? Would they normally mean to hurt you? If not, pray quietly for God to remove the wound. If your prayer seems to go unanswered, consider prayerfully to confront in love that person who left you stinging. It may just lead to a deepening of your relationship and a healing of your heart. I know it will lead to a closer relationship with God when it is done in prayer.