Wednesday, February 24, 2016

remembering the truth

In my attempting to be humble opinion, one of the most important parts of knowing someone well is to be able to pick out their weaknesses as well as their strengths.  To know someone is to know all of them and to love someone is to love all of them as well.  As you become familiar with those you are close to and those you are becoming close to, as you learn the ways in which they soar and the ways in which they fall, it enables you to be a more in tune friend, a more supportive spouse, a more encouraging parent, and a better prayer warrior petitioning before their Creator in the ways that are specific to them as individuals.  All of a sudden, the faces, moods, voices, body language and such become more than just clues but become answers to questions you no longer have to ask before you begin to respond.

Each of the loves in my home require these invisible lists in my mind.  My middlest man, my carbon copy, my clone in boy form, forgets everything, well he forgets the tangible and tasky things.  The instructions given to him on where to go, what to do or what to put away are quickly responded to in voice but are very rarely carried out without multiple reminders and, unfortunately on my part, an exasperated sigh at best.  Jackets left on benches, thermoses left on playgrounds, lights left on, packed suitcases from playtime in the fort outside have caused loss of my time and money and sanity more often than can be counted.  However, my frustration can only last so long because not a moment later, I find myself standing downstairs in the middle of another room frozen and staring at the wall desperately trying to remember why I went down there in the first place.

Forgetfulness is firmly planted in my catalogue of weaknesses.  It is, thankfully, somewhat amusing to my friends and family when they are required to send yet another text letting me know the array of things I just left at their homes after a dinner together or having to deal with the water bottle clanking around in their car that was left at the gym or the stack of boxes that my parents set aside to mail back all of our forgotten items after a trip to visit them.  Forgetfulness is most often frustrating and can occassionally be entertaining, but there are times when it can be downright detrimental, especially in cases when the item you are forgetting is Truth.

The Truth of God is in everything, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:6), he is before all things and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17) and even the heavens declare {His} glory (Ps 19:1).  Truth is all around and in everything we see and do, but scattered in are lies specifically placed to throw us off and our Sovereign Father is not the father of those.

In times of trial, in those first moments when I am hit with a new hard or an old one that's come up once again, my greatest desire would be to tell you that the first thing I do is cling to those Truths, those promises of faithfulness that I know oh so well and have experienced time and time again.  But usually just the opposite occurs.  Instead I am like the fearful ant in A Bug's Life whose path was suddenly obstructed and instead of calmly searching out where to go next I am instead in the field screaming "I'm Lost!  Where's the line? It just went away.  What do I do?  We'll be stuck here forever!" 

Oh how I covet the ability of my dear Sherlock to close his eyes and tour his mind palace to find the exact item he is looking for to lean on and share to solve the problem at hand, though the drug cocktail he needs to get there makes it lose it's luster.  I often joke/am completely serious with my friends that if I had the space I would build a room like in A Beautiful Mind.  Though the walls would still reveal a mishmash of words, phrases, and drawings, they would not be covered in the sad proof of a man struggling with mental illness.  Instead, covering every available space, there would lie the quotes, scriptures, stories, diagrams and pictures that remind me of Truth, that will instantly ground me at the feet of the Cross where my eyes and heart and mind are immediately immersed in the faithfulness of my Father, reminded of the sacrifice of my Savior and held by the Spirit He left for me.  This would be welcomed much more than the desperate Where's Waldo search that I often attempt in the midst of panic.  Like those elusive red and white stripes, Truths are hard to find when you allow the world around them to interfere with your view.

While I am still seriously considering implementing my "beautiful mind" wall somewhere in the decorating scheme of our new home, I know in my heart it's not necessary.  The only thing that is necessary is to "be still" (Ps. 46:10) and to "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness." We are promised that "the words that go out from {His} mouth that not return to {Him} empty, but shall accomplish that which {He} purposes, and shall succeed in the thing for which {He} sent it (Isaiah 55:11)"  Truth is out there and Truth has been placed in me and in you by a Spirit that lives and walks and guides us everywhere and in everything.

Remembering can be difficult.  Waiting until the pain subsides before relishing that freak out or searching for a quick fix to allow you to limp on your way is a great temptation.  I would love to place a mandatory 24 hour time out on everyone, my self most definitely included, when times of struggle or hardships occur whether they are traumatic or just slightly frustrating.  24 hours to sit and be still, to think and remember and seek, to wait for the Truths to float up, to let the words that are hidden in our hearts be able to make their impact first so the doubt and lies can't take center stage.

Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

let it all shine

Months ago, while chatting with the one in my life with whom I share my greatest desires, biggest excitements, largest failures, and unfortunately, ugliest attitudes, the subject of the future came up and with it the past as well, because more often than not conversations with one always need to involve the other.  Let me pause here to say, if you have a person, any person, in your life who will ask you what your dream is and listen while you ramble on about its ins and outs you are a lucky one indeed.  If you have a person, any person, who will not only listen but speak truth directly into that dream that simultaneously encourages and challenges than you have been given a blessed gift. Treasure it.

That night ambitions towards sharing, towards writing it down were verbalized.  Fantasies of feeling confident enough in sharing our story and not only how God has radically changed my life, my heart, but how He continually does so because it is continually needed, so very needed, were said out loud. I feel very strongly that the creator of the universe was asking me to say a big fat yes to letting down my guard and being transparent for Him.  I don't remember the complete response given from the mouth of the man who has vowed to be with me forever, but I remember one small sentence of loving advice that has been saved in black and white since that evening rooting itself into my heart and head and trying to make its way through and into each letter placed upon every page, "If you want to be transparent you have to do it when it's not pretty too."

Children raised in church or attending a summer VBS with a friend or even in the gypsy village fields of Romania know a familiar to most of us song about having a light and not hiding it under a bushel.  Oh no, friend let that light shine!  As you get older you hear the words to that childlike song in the verses of Matthew 5:14-16 when you read about "being a light on a hill that cannot be hidden (vs 14)" and "not lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket (vs 15) and "shining your light before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify God. (vs 16)"  It's easy and quite tempting to read those words and decide on your own that only the good stuff can be shared, best foot forward, spit spot, off you go, and so on.

If you've ever interviewed for a job of any kind some well meaning person will make sure to tell you that you can only make one first impression.  You have also probably been told, as I was, that in that interview when you are inevitably asked to name 3 or more of your negative qualities make sure they are actually good qualities in disguise.  When speaking to the wonderful people who became my principal and instructional lead teacher I laced my negatives with words the required positives describing how it was hard for me to disconnect myself from my students, I just cared too much.  While that was technically true the actual thing I wanted to confess was I have no idea how to deal with the parents of my students, I'm not a parent (wasn't at the time) and all the students in my previous experience (Auburn City Schools) were pretty much perfect.  Had I just spit that out instead and asked for help in that specific area I would have avoided a lot of anxiety and a few missteps.

I like making good impressions, I appreciate not falling on my face for all the world to see, I feel accomplished when people think I have it all together, I relish the allusion that I have control.  Anybody feel me?  But behind that, poking and prodding my heart, is the knowledge that I'm hiding just as much light when I'm trying on my own to just shine all the pretty.  Speaking right to the heart of my attempts are more words that are simultaneously encouraging and challenging.  "Am I now trying to win approval of human beings, or of God?  Or am I trying to please people?  If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal. 1:10)"

Our desires to be "good" southerners, to be "good" Christians, to tow the line, to not air our dirty laundry, to never step right or left but only go straight, to be model moms or dads or teachers or decorators or drivers or advice givers or whatever fills in the blank for you, hides part of the light we have been given through the life God has led and will lead us through. "There's no going back, and there's no hiding the information.  So let everyone have it." ~Andrew Kantor

When God uses all things for good (Rom. 8:28) that does not mean only the parts you have shined up and put on a shelf to show off.  It means all the things, the ones you want to hide, the ones you haven't been able to hide, and the ones that haven't happened yet but most assuredly will seeing that we are all sinful people walking on earth.  The good, the bad, and the ugly are redeemed for Him, are there to shine in the midst of the darkness for the good of you, the good of another, and the Glory of our Creator.

"The story of redemption and healing is that Jesus came to exchange my not-good-enough with his better-than-I-could-ever-imagine.  He came to trade my life for His, my weak for His strong, my ashes for His beauty.  He longs for each of us to receive the gift of Himself."  Emily P. Freeman, Grace for the Good Girl.  And what better way to do that than shining all of you and showing that you know your best are rags in His eyes but you also are proof that your worst is beauty for Him as well for in them He works and redeems and shows that you are loved more than you can ever imagine and the eyes around you will know that they are as well.

In the pretechnology era of church-going when transparency was not just a sharing of your whole self but an actual clear sheet reflecting words on a wall, this girl took her Sunday turns uncovering the next lines that let those in a building know the words to sing next.  Like the loving nudge I would get when my mind wandered, here is my nudge for you.  Try transparency and let your dirt shine.

Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.

more encouraging words at #tellhisstory

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

its not just semantics

It's been said that the words you use when you speak to your dog mean very little.  As long as your words are said in a joyful, sing song tone your canine friend will jump in your lap, cuddle up, attempt to cover you with kisses and think they are loved beyond all reason.  For example, if you say, "hey you stupid thing you're so gross and hairy and annoying, yes you are!" in that lovable way that even the toughest of tough can conjure up with their furry friends then you are giving them words of complete affirmation because the sound they hear is full of love and appreciation.  My late golden retriever daughter Daisy was often on the other side of less than loving words dripping with affection.

It's not that easy with the human kind.  Yes, the tone of our words absolutely does matter and that is a lesson we all learn and usually the hard way as we get hurt or hurt others with a sharper tongue than anticipated or with one that was sharpened just for the occasion.  Yes, it's true that you will catch more bees with honey and no one is better at that than the truly southern lady or the British aristocracy, both having the uncanny ability to put you in your place without losing their polished sense of decorum.

Beyond the way our voice tumbles forth, beyond the sing song and the sugars and the bless your hearts, are the phrases we put together to share our thoughts or advice or commands.  The sounds of my voice can not cover up the heart behind my words and so it goes with everyone else as well.  Out of the mouth your heart speaks (Matt 15:18) and no amount of honey can sweeten words that come from a heart not abiding in the love of Christ and desiring to carry that forward.

What feels like ages ago, and actually was if I'm being honest with myself, was a young twenty something girl attempting to mold young second grade minds.  It took about a week before a verse was printed out in color and BOLD print and taped to a desk never to be removed even when that job was abandoned for a life at home with a blond baby boy.  There for me to look at every time I needed it, which was every second of the day, was Ephesians 4:29, Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

This was not a banner for my Christian holiness but a necessary and sometimes desperate attempt to keep myself in line with the Spirit and not give into my flesh when children act how they will in fact act, when parents doubt your abilities, and when you are tempted to be sucked in to the other adults around you whose desire to vent is way too tempting.

That verse has stuck with me.  It lives inside my head and appears quite frequently, mostly when I'm begging for the reminder and occasionally when I'd rather it leave me alone so the words welling within me can erupt and give me that brief bit of satisfaction before the after effects set in.  It encourages me when I'd rather hide from conversation than confront it.  It aids me as I search for words to to help and build. It allows me to be silent and listen instead as other's are carrying out it's commands in my life.

It's a daily ritual for me to ask my boys, after they have said something, to try again, to rephrase whatever words they shared in a better way to get the outcome they really desire.  Even in those marital discussions that we like to pretend aren't really arguments, I have been known to respond with "...but if you had just said it in this way I wouldn't have gotten so upset."  Most often though it's me looking back at my words, at my responses, at the ways I could have rephrased to be a help instead of part of the problem, to build up and not be unwholesome.

Our words carry weight.  Our words have the ability to harm and to heal.  And if given without thought, without prayer, without purpose, they will explode into the air missing important targets and leaving shrapnel in places that might take years to discover, no matter the voice that accompanied them.  

The world may call this semantics, changing our words for greater appeal.  I think God calls it speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15).  Truth doesn't mean blunt honesty with no thought of another's feelings.  Just as love does not mean avoiding a topic because of affection or saying only what people want to hear.  The two must go together as you love someone enough to bring them honesty in a caring way, the honest words they need and you need to grow into a closer relationship with each other and in a closer relationship with Christ.

Believe me when I say you do not want to speak love without truth because consequences come as you try to please and appease instead of confidently standing up for yourself or instead of confronting another in their sin for fear that anger and defensiveness could be the result.  I am an example in more situations than one, a recovering people pleaser with plenty of scars to show for my efforts.  Just as important, is to not spew words of truth because you know it's truth without allowing The Spirit to soften them first.  Cuts of criticism do not heal quickly when the soothing act of love is not alongside to assist.

In the end, though,  I will fall short more often than not, but can rest in the Hope I have that I am loved and I am forgiven and that my best efforts and my most massive mistakes can be redeemed by my Creator and used to bring Him glory.

*If you would like to read more in this not so planned series about words please check out these thoughts on words and asking the right questions.  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

nothing is wasted

I have always been quite skilled at learning from others, at gaining wisdom from observing the actions and decisions made by those close to me whether that be emotionally or just in close proximity.  The goody goody part of me formed lists in my mind of others' missteps so I would most assuredly not do those things.  The rebel inside of me, though quite short lived, made a list of its own of what I could quite possibly get away with without going too far over the line.  The line, I may add, that I created all on my own.  It could be quite entertaining/humiliating for me to share specifics, but even though I am a grown woman of almost mid 30, my mother will be reading and outing myself, or my siblings who I learned much from that applies to both lists, is something I'm not planning to do.  Maybe in a decade or two.  Until then I'm an open book in private conversations so let's grab some tea and chat away!

Growing older brings more experience and wisdom and my observation skills are now used less for the legalism I heaped upon myself and more for grown up type things.  When I'm not in denial that I actually AM a grown up.  Reading articles, blogs, books and magazines hone skills from decorating and cooking to parenting and loving my neighbor but always at the top of my to learn list will come from watching those around me and gleaning from the field in which I'm planted at the time.  You can learn a great deal about how to live or not live life by being present in each place you find yourself.  Learning from your own failures and successes as well as others just provides more information to process and place in the appropriate file folders of your mind to be pulled when needed.

One such positive thing I have gleaned from my years of listening and observing is to pray with my boys on the way to school each day.  A friend shared many years ago that the way they spent their travel time to school was to take turns praying about the day.  As she put it you're already together and have nothing else to do but talk so why not start the day talking to God.  At the time she shared her story her kids were in middle school so their conversations with our creator were somewhat different than ours.  As praying aloud is still a difficult thing for some young ones, and can often take on a three wishes to the genie persona, guidelines were set in place so that they do three things in the midst of their chat.  The first is to thank God for something, then to ask God for something and finally to pray for someone else.  As much as I encourage thinking before speaking they inevitably get in a rut so that almost every morning each child's words sound very similar to the day before and quite similar to the one who just spoke ahead of him.  Sigh.  But there are moments when clouds part, angels sing, and brief words of true thought, compassion, and kindness emerge and I know that their hearts really are growing.

It was this child-like, wishes to be granted take on prayer that popped into my mind this past Sunday when reading and discussing John 14 with my loving community group.  Jesus told his disciples And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it (John 14:13).  I can't help but stop when I read verses like this, verses that when taken just in a sentence seem very akin to the list of wants that are always running in my head.  The things I "need" to have a better life or so I determine.  It's hard not to want to apply it to those worldly desires.  I promise Lord they're the desires of my heart, no really!

 I am not a theologian.  I have zero knowledge of what words in the original greek or hebrew were translated to create this sentence.  But I know what finally made sense in my mind as conversation continued.  As Jesus spoke to his beloveds, the ones closest to him both in proximity and emotionally, He was giving them a charge.  A promise.  You've watched what I've done, you've observed me with the people around us, and now when I'm gone, when I'm with my father, you will do these things.  You will be my hands and feet.  And whatever you ask in my name I will do for you because through that Kingdom work He will be glorified.

I am not a failure, but I'm also not a stranger to failing.  There is a semi constant struggle in my heart of how I can be more, how I can do more, and how I'm always falling short.  A few moments with many others has led me to know I am not alone in that inner turmoil.  However I have been reminded, I know again, that the beautiful words sung by Jason Gray nothing is wasted, in the hands of our redeemer, nothing is wasted are truth beyond a shadow.  In the midst of each of our current battles, current pains, current heartbreaks, current doubts, current feelings of wanting and needing to be more, we have a promise that as we have our being anything we ask in His name, anything we lift to Him as our Kingdom work, no matter how much we excel at it or how badly we feel as if we've screwed it up, none of it, in His hands is wasted.  He redeems it all.