Raise the White Flag

At my son’s Upward game last weekend the ball went rolling across the gym floor.  My child and his teammate both went to get it, eager to make a play.  They wound up rolling around on the floor with each other, fighting over the ball.   I heard the coach shout, “Boys!  What are you doing?  You are on the SAME TEAM!!”   Under my breath I muttered a quiet, “that’ll preach.” but didn’t think much else of it until the next day.  The Lord sent those words back into my heart as I wrestled with him over some things that are going on in my life.   The question from the Lord kind of caught me off guard.  I wanted to shout, “Lord!  I love you!  Of course I am on your team!!” but somehow the words evaded me as I examined my own heart.

Over the next several days I wrestled, and I mean wrestled, with the Lord.  Finally, my husband looked at me and said, “I love you but you are wrong, Christy.  You aren’t supposed to wrestle with the Lord.  You are supposed to surrender to the Lord and obey.”  Ouch.  After I got finished nursing my ego after the hard blow from my hubby, I sobbed in frustration.  The truth is, I don’t allow the Lord to be the captain of my ‘team’.  I crave control in every situation of my life.  I spend days calculating, planning and overthinking decisions so that the risk of failure is minimal and so that I am as comfortable as possible in the process.

I know everyone could tell a sad story about their childhood so I will spare you any details but in the early years of my life, my parents divorced unexpectedly, my mother lost most of her vision soon after and we had to move in with a grandparent in a one bedroom apartment.  With the divorce came a new school, new friends and a new normal.  Somewhere in the process I made up my mind that I would control everything in my life so that I never felt such hurt, shame and confusion again.  At first glance, I guess that might seem like a great quality to have.  Most things I have set out to do, I have accomplished.  But under the surface, I have spent years of my life wanting perceived control of everything and everyone and it has left me a miserable mess.  I say perceived because obviously I am not powerful enough to control what happens to others and what decisions they ultimately make but it isn’t for lack of trying.  It’s exhausting, almost debilitating.  And it really comes to a head when I try to grow closer to the Lord.  As long as things are going well in my life and the blessings flow, it is easy for me to have perceived faith.  I say all the right things, I know the scriptures and I will quote them often but in reality, since things are going the way I want them to, I secretly feel in control.  Like I am the captain of my own team.

Recently, a series of events have made it blatantly clear that I have zero control over what is going on in my life or the life of those I love.  And boy, have I been a huge brat about it.  I have been wallowing in a puddle of anger, resentment, questions and tears.  Hence my “wrestling” with God.  Do you know what it made me?  Exhausted.  All of the arguing with God, all of the questions and fear, none of it has changed his sovereign power over my life and his plan for me.

I was praying about my wayward heart this morning and I begin thinking about soldiers in battle.  Soldiers in the same army are fighting a common enemy, a common cause but each side fights with all they have until the point of utter exhaustion.  I think that the moment of surrender in battle has to be relieve both sides.  Yes, the surrendering side might be giving over control but they are also ending the fight. The winning side is probably weary from the battle as well but relieved that the fighting will stop and everyone makes it out with their life.  Yes, I know that in actual war it is much more complex than this but stay with me here.   The waving of the white flag brings peace to the battle.  And at some point, if you want to grow in your walk with Jesus, you have to come to a point of surrender.  Waving the flag and showing Jesus that you are just to weary to fight for the areas in your life that are hindering you from advancing.  I am sure Heaven’s army rejoices when they see your white flag waved high in surrender.

Maybe you are like me and have trouble giving up control and putting your trust in the Lord.  Maybe you have been hurt by people or events and the wounds are so fresh that you, too, protect them deeply.  Perhaps you need to surrender other things in your life that are keeping you from developing your relationship with the Lord.  Ask the Lord to reveal to you what it is you need to lay down and surrender and then pray that God will give you the strength to do it.  As for me, I was weary from battle and I decided to give it all to the Lord.  I am thankful he loves me enough to walk with me through my hardest valleys just so I will know he is always there.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”  Philippians 4:6surrender flag 

Woman, Reclaimed.

Today I heard someone say, “you’ll find what you’re looking for when you finally get to the end of yourself.”  She wasn’t talking to me, or to anyone I know, it was just happenstance that I heard them at all yet they’ve lingered in my mind all day.  Of all the things I’ve pondered today, I can’t get away from the question that has begged my spirit for a response: what does it look like when you get to the end of yourself?

I’ve been tempted to settle for a superficial answer to appease my spirit and temporarily quiet the voice that has been nagging me all day.  But somehow, at this particular time in my life, a superficial response just won’t do.  I’ve decided that getting to the end of yourself looks a little like the silent sadness that can sweep over you when you’ve sacrificed bits of yourself doing the same mundane things day after day.  The end of yourself is the place you find when the demands of work and home feel like a heavy weight that you just can’t escape.  When the stresses and worries of uncertainty and doubt begin to turn your dark hair shades of silver that can be visibly seen by the world, when the once beautiful smile you’ve worn for so long is replaced by fine lines that show both age and experience, that’s where the end of yourself is found.  When you are praying for the world and sometimes wonder “oh Lord, but who is praying for me?” Yes, the “end” of yourself is the most desperate place to be.  It’s looking up and seeing yourself surrounded by mountains that seem so overwhelmingly large you know you’ll never make it to the top again on your own.  The end of yourself looks just like it sounds.  Maybe not the end as in actual death but something even more dangerous: a weary woman not walking in the safety, goodness and favor of the Lord.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that coming to the end of yourself, as excruciating as it may be, is necessary to walk in the fullness of the Lord.  In a valley, surrounded on every side by immovable, impassable mountains, a woman has two choices.  She can sit down in her valley, stare at the mountains and cry herself to sleep or she can kneel down in her valley, turn her gaze to the sky and raise her hands to the Heavens like a warrior going into battle!  She can’t climb the mountain on her own and she isn’t strong enough to pick  herself up to even take the first step BUT if she will change her focus from the mountain to the mover, suddenly escape is within reach.

Are you hearing what I am saying, friend?  We let ourselves become self-sacrificial offerings to the vultures of this world.  Leaving a piece of ourselves everywhere we go, we don’t leave much hope for our weary minds to rest.  I am the worst for this.  My internal hard drive wants to talk about worst-case scenario all the time.  I don’t expect goodness to follow me, I’ve trained myself for disaster.  Some people, including myself, call this being a realist.  The truth is I have yet to remove the baggage I have carried for so long and step into the fullness of the Lord.  I have not walked as a daughter of the King, worthy of goodness and mercy, favor and victory.  No, I have allowed myself to be dictated by the circumstances I can see instead of shifting my focus to the one who can see what I cannot.  It’s time that the Godly women of this world realize the goodness that the Lord has in store for them.  Ladies, if you have come to the end of yourself, pick up your crown, steady your gaze on the Heavens and walk into the joy and fullness of the Lord that was bought for you on Calvary so long ago.  You were a weary woman but shifting your eyes on God can make you a woman, reclaimed.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flames shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.  Isaiah 43:1-3

The Tale of Two Sorry’s

My kids.  Lord, they can drive me crazy.  They almost never pick up after themselves, they usually protest loudly before they eat anything I cook and they definitely don’t have an “inside voice (to be fair, I’m not sure that last one even exists).  I guess that’s why I always find it amusing when God uses them to get my attention and reveal himself to me.  And he almost always uses them to get me to listen.  And so begins the tale of two sorry’s.

Yesterday, my daughter got in the car and began emptying out the contents of her folder.  She happily chirped about this and that; who did what at recess, who said what during lunch.  She casually comes across a quiz that she had gotten a D on.  She pulled it out quickly, made a yucky face and rolled those pretty brown eyes.  “ugh.  I’m sorry, mom.   quiz

I got a D on this.”  She had even written me a little note on the side expressing her sorrow.  We talked about what she could have done better and what we needed to study and that was it.  Any anxiety she had carried over telling me, her math teacher mom, vanished.

Later that night, Luke was kind of sulking around the kitchen while I was cooking dinner.  He kept looking at his skates, which he loves, like he wanted to use them.  He had parked them in front of the wall in the foyer a few weeks ago.  He propped them up really cute and told me he liked them there against the wall so I agreed to let them stay there until he wanted to skate again.  Finally, he asked me to come into the foyer with him. As we walked in, he took a deep breath in and with his exhale, confessed his crime.  He explained that he had been skating a few weeks ago and put a dent in the wall.  He was so afraid to tell me that he hid the dent with his skates.  I could tell that this confession took all his strength and courage.  He looked up at me with those little blue eyes and said, “I hope you aren’t mad.  I feel so much better already now that you know.  It was hard to keep that secret.”  I hugged him up tight and thanked him for such a courageous confession.  He couldn’t believe that was all he was going to get but he grinned really big and laced up those skates.  He has talked about how much better he feels now that I know what he had been hiding all this time.

skate

I got to thinking about those two “I’m sorry’s” tonight.  I was wondering why Ava had such an easy time asking forgiveness and was able to move on quickly while Luke struggled with confessing and asking forgiveness.  His inability to confess quickly caused him to carry around unnecessary grief and anxiety inside and it also caused him not to do the thing he loves the most-skating.  I settled on one profound truth.  Ava is used to discussing grades with me.  As a teacher, grades and education have always been a central part of our nightly discussions.  She knew, with certainty, how I was going to respond.  She could predict how I would react, what I would say and that she would quickly be forgiven.  Isn’t that how it is with the Lord?  We get used to our own behaviors and faults and we get fluent in saying, “I’m sorry” for those.  Now, I’m not saying that we continue to repeat the same mistake and carelessly ask forgiveness but I am saying that we know the areas where our flesh finds trouble and, because of our familiarity, we think we know how God, and others,  will react.  He will be quick to forgive and we can move on in righteousness.

Luke, on the other hand, didn’t know how I would react to a dent in the wall.   As far as he knew, he was the first one to do something like this in our house and because of that, it brought uncertainty and fear.  Out of fear, he hid his mistake and chose to carry around the consequences of hiding it.  He felt nervous, probably unhappy because he could no longer do something he loves, and he felt shame for denting the wall.  I think his situation is parallel to many of our own reactions to sin in our lives.  We find ourselves in a funk or overwhelming situation and instead of reaching to Jesus, we look for sin.  We always find it but it usually the sins that we aren’t familiar with.  Maybe you take up an unhealthy addiction you shouldn’t, perhaps you begin to carry the burden of unforgiveness and hate toward another or maybe you develop an attitude of unthankfulness and contempt for the blessings you do have.  It doesn’t matter the sin, it’s the response that is crucial.  When we walk outside our what we consider “normal” sins, we began to fear God’s response.  We don’t know how we will react so rather than confess and ask forgiveness, we hide it and bury it down deep.  We move it around inside ourselves, we ignore it and we try to rationalize it.  What we don’t do is address it head on.  These are often the sins that we fear will bring the greatest disappointment to  not only God but others around us.  It’s a lie that the enemy gets us to believe because he wants us to feel just like Luke did.  Shameful.  Full of anxiety.  Not enjoying our life.  Unhappy.

I had actually been feeling a little like Luke lately.  I had been hiding some shames down in my heart that I needed to forgive myself for and allow in to forgive me for.  I was reminded by my husband that there is no condemnation in Christ.  None.  It doesn’t matter the sin, confess it quickly, ask forgiveness and strive to do better.  Don’t be like Luke and hide it for another month.  Don’t even hide it one more day.  Let me say it again, there is NO CONDEMNATION IN CHRIST.  Allow yourself to feel the joy and relief that comes from knowing that the God of the Universe is waiting for you to just confess and ask forgiveness so he can set you free. Free from shame, unhappiness and anxiety.

There is now no condemnation in Christ, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” Romans 8:1

Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride…

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.  That’s what I heard myself repeating over and over again last week to anyone who seemed interested enough to listen.  I had faced a tough disappointment over something I had really, really wanted, something I had prayed hard about and asked God to give me.  I had even thrown in the “if it’s in your will, Lord, let me get this thing that I want” and quite frankly, I didn’t want his will to be different than mine.  I expected that with my natural ability with this particular thing, coupled with favor from God that there was no way I wasn’t going to get what I desperately thought would somehow make my life more fulfilled.  It turns out that God actually had a different plan for me and the answer was a closed door smacked right in my face.  Ouch.  I mean, I realize I did ask him for his will to be done but there is nothing like not getting what you want to make the really immature, spoiled side of you come out.  First I handled it like a champ, then I cried hysterically until I looked as if I had been on the losing end of a fist fight and then I just got incredibly, irrationally angry.  So angry that when i got in the car I purposefully turned the station off of K-Love to another one.  Honestly, you all, I must be so exhausting to the Lord when I let my flesh rise up in me so recklessly like that.  To say I had a full blown hissy fit that afternoon would be a grave understatement.  I grumbled and argued with the Lord for hours that night and was downright hateful to my entire family and strangers alike.  NOT MY FINEST HOURS, for sure.  When the dust settled from my cyclone of a tantrum, I sat alone in my bathroom floor and pleaded with the Lord.  “Why Lord?  Why do I have to always be the bridesmaid and never the bride?? Why couldn’t you give me this one thing that I really wanted just because…?”  Something about the way the sentence rolled out of my mouth and into the air caused the air to seem stiff and uncertain, like the words didn’t belong out there in the atmosphere.  But alas, I am a slow learner and quite stubborn when I am walking in the flesh, so I repeated that one phrase several times over the next couple of days when referencing the disappointment I had experienced.  Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.  Each time I said it, it stiffened the air around me just like it had in the solitude of my bathroom floor days earlier.

I will admit that the sting of rejection and disappointment almost took me under.  My enemy-your enemy- would whisper words of self-hate and insecurities in my heart when the world was still and I was all alone.  I was beginning to feel myself being swallowed up by the encompassing darkness that Satan can surround us with and I would become terrified that I would die in this condition.  But one day, all of a sudden, and right on time, the Holy Spirit spoke directly to my heart.  I was vacuuming my bedroom and I heard him almost audibly say, “Have you forgotten who you are?  Have you forgotten whose you are??  You are a child of the King.  I have given you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the powers of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19)  It was a spiritual pep talk and just what I needed to remind myself of my worth.   I have had a rather turbulent year and all of my grief has been within my own soul.  Questioning my worth, devaluing myself and my God given talents, identifying with worldly possessions and titles rather than focusing on Heavenly gains.  It has been a year of misery.  I was suffering from what I like to call spiritual amnesia.  I was walking around everyday, everything appeared to be okay on the outside but inside, I didn’t remember who I was….or whose I was.  Most days I felt like something was missing, as I am sure people with amnesia do, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I needed to feel whole again.  Thankfully, Jesus left the 99 to come rescue this one lost sheep and made me whole yet again.

I have been reflecting and praying with my whole heart this break and I have finally figured out why saying, “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” just didn’t feel right.  At church this morning I heard the pastor reference what I have heard all my life.  He said that the time was right and that one day soon Jesus would be back for his “bride”.  We, the church, are his bride!  Everyday with Jesus makes me a BRIDE!  On the amazing days when things are going my way and especially on the days when God gives me answers that I don’t like!  I realize that I prayed for God to do what was best for me, his beloved bride, and fully trusting the Lord means accepting “no” without fully understanding why.  If I were him, I would have left my crazy, stubborn self years ago and wouldn’t have looked back but because of his great mercy and loving kindness he never, ever gives up on his bride.

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

 

 

I Am a Sinner. How About You?

Christian.  Failure.  Fake.  Which one of these words doesn’t belong?  That’s a trick question, if you ask me.  Someone, somewhere, one day decided that the word Christian was synonymous with the word perfect and it appears the whole world has bought into this idea.  I’ve never been accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed but this is horrible for a couple of obvious reasons.  First, no one on this Earth has ever been perfect except the Son of God.  Second, even it it were possible to attain perfection, the definition of what that looks like is a moving target.  It’s like you tell people you are a Christian and people immediately place unrealistic standards on your behavior that set you up for eventual failure.  Now here my out when I say that I absolutely think Christians are held to a higher ethical and moral standard and people should see us as ‘different’.  What I am talking about here are the unrealistic standards of perfection people seem to hold you to when you mess up and are *gasp* human.  And what’s worse, we Christians do it to other Christians all.the.time.  They look something like this:

  • You are a Christian but you lose your temper and post something on social media out of anger/hurt/betrayal.  *Let the stone throwing commence.
  • You say you are a Christian but you are in a bad mood (because we do occasionally get in those), you’ve been waiting in the check out line at Walmart for thirty blessed minutes and your hormones are all out of whack because you messed up your birth control (again).  You lose it on your kids in the check out line when they ask you for a Skylander/Shopkins mystery box for the fifty ninth time in three minutes.  *Elderly couple from your church standing in the next line whisper about how you need to “get yourself to the alter next Sunday” because surely you are a backslider with a temper like that.*
  • You are a Christian and you stand your ground and tell people when they are participating in sin or refuse to buy into the idea that if the world accepts something, we should too.  Even at the cost of going against our own biblical standard.  *You are a judgmental, hypocrite and need to get off your “high horse” and recognize your own sin*
  • You are a Christian but you stand up for yourself when someone wrongs you and cause a disagreement.  *You must not be a Christian at all because no Christian would ever cause a disagreement or speak up for themselves*.

The list could literally go on forever.  Maybe you’ve been in one of these situations I’ve mentioned above.  People love to use the word hypocrite, judgmental and self-righteous; just to name a few.  But here’s a news flash for all you folks reading this blog.  A Christian is a sinner SAVED by grace.  That’s it.  And you know what grace means?  It means “the free and unmerited favor of God”.  So basically, we get the favor of God, even though we don’t deserve it.  Even though we sometimes do things we shouldn’t.  Even though we sometimes say things we wish we hadn’t.  Once we accept Jesus into our spirit, he resides there.  Our spirit then, by default, is perfect because Jesus is living there and he makes it new.  It’s our flesh that we wrestle with daily.   We sin, we fall short, we are undeserving.  It seems like this grace would be easy enough to accept and also give but we’ve placed these unrealistic expectations on each other and our enemy uses them like a deadly arrow, piercing us right through the heart.

I often think of my walk with Christ more like a run in a race.  I imagine myself running along, the sun shining on me, the wind blowing my face like a cool breeze, I can see the finish line and I am feeling great but then out of no where, and I trip and fall over a giant rock right in my path.  It’s not just a graceful fall either, it’s a dramatic, somersault, broken bone, bloody shins kind of fall.  I almost got to the finish line but got the wind knocked out of my sails and didn’t make it.  Can anyone relate?  Those rocks in our path as we are running our race with Christ can be the lies the enemy tells us when others place unrealistic expectations of our Christianity on us.  He takes what that elderly couple whispered behind your back in the check out line and he manifests it until it takes up so much room in your thoughts that you believe you are a fake, a failure in your walk with Jesus.  Pretty soon you aren’t focusing on the task the Lord has for you on this Earth, or the talents he has given you.  You are focusing on other lies that the enemy is feeding you through this measure of perfection that we hold each other to.

Maybe nobody has told you this today but I’m here to tell you that the devil is a LIAR and the father of it.  As a matter of fact, the bible says there is no truth in him.  Let me say that again.  There is no truth in him.   So that means that all those lies you believe about yourself, all those measures of perfection and criticism that we hold each other to, they are all lies.  The bible tells me Satan is literally incapable of telling the truth.  Any negative emotion or feeling you have about yourself is an untruth from the pit of Hell. You feel worthless because Satan is using others to convince you that it’s true?  Well, sister, let me tell you, you are worth far more than rubies in the eyes of the Lord.

I have felt like a failure in my own walk with the Lord recently.  I have been made to feel like I am a fake.  And it has been a terrible struggle of spirit and flesh ever since.  I questioned who I was in Christ.  I pondered my walk with him and reflected on my words and actions to see if I had veered off the path of righteousness.  This morning, I was even contemplating going to church at all.  I was having a pity party in the largest fashion.  But as I was talking with God, he reminded me of Peter.  Peter was a disciple of Jesus and his list of accomplishments was great.  He was one of Jesus’ inner group of three.  He wrote two books in the bible.  By all means, he was a true follower of Christ.  But you know what else Peter did?  He also often spoke without thinking and was impulsive.  He DENIED Jesus three times, even after Jesus told him he would do this.  What a failure and fake he must have felt like denying Jesus as he was being nailed to the cross!  Peter was a human and by all standards, humans are subject to the attack of the enemy.  I can’t be sure but I can bet that the devil had a hay day playing with Peter’s heart and mind over the denial of Christ.  If he would have believed the lies of the enemy and given up on his walk with Christ, he would not have been able to go on and preach the gospel after Jesus’ ascension into Heaven.  And what a shame that would have been.

I am a sinner.  Through and through.  I’ve never claimed to be perfect or to know it all. I will mess up again probably before I post this blog.  BUT I am also saved by grace.  I have a God who gives me forgiveness and mercy especially when I don’t deserve it.  You are a sinner too.  You can also be saved by grace, if you aren’t already.  But let’s agree on something, ok?  Tomorrow let’s wake up and begin truly seeing others through the lens that God uses.  He knows we are sinners.  He loves us anyway.  He knows we are sinners.  He gives us grace we don’t deserve.  He knows we are sinners.  He forgives us even when we don’t deserve it.   My study bible describes Peter and sums his life lesson up like this: It is better to be a follower who sometimes fails than one who fails to follow.

John 8: 44 ” He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for their is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for his a liar and the father of lies.  

 

Love, Actually.

Ah, love.  It’s perhaps the most overused and misunderstood word in the English language.  Between hearing it commercialized in songs, movies, books and TV shows and then out of the mouths of people in our lives, I think we are almost becoming desensitized to it.   Don’t get me wrong, a new baby wrapped up in a tiny receiving blanket, or my children’s chubby hands wrapped around mine as we walk together definitely gives me the feels.  But overall, I think we just don’t think about what it means to love anymore.  And if we do, its some weird sensationalized version of what society has convinced us that it looks like.  Certainly not a biblical love.  But who really cares what society says love is?   I mean, its most recently given us jumpers for men, so ‘society’ has questionable judgment, at best.  What I really care about is what my Creator, the God of the universe, says love is.  His definition is how I want to love.  So I turned off my TV and silenced my phone, locked my kids in the basement (just kidding.  I don’t even have a basement) and reached for my bible.  I read scriptures on love and waited for the Holy Spirit to speak.  Here’s the verse that stuck out to me the most this week:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  1 Peter 4:8

I’ll admit, the Holy Spirit stepped on my toes all week long as I sought out the truth in this verse.  At first glance, its kind of like, “yeah, yeah we gotta love each other real hard.  I get it.” But its so much more than that.  To cover over something means to cover something so that it cannot be seen.  It’s not saying to make an excuse for a sinful behavior or to sweep our sins under the rug but to cover them completely out of sight of anyone but God.  So wives, when you husband offends you or is involved in a sinful behavior what do you do?  Do you analyze his comments or behaviors with your girlfriends over coffee?  Or do you take it to God in prayer?  To be in line with the word and love our spouse the way God wants us to love, we need to completely cover our spouse’s sin and take it to the Lord in prayer.  No one hates to hear this more than me because I, A. analyze everything to death and B. talk to my sister on the phone every morning.  Sometimes it is just so nice to complain to someone who always takes my side. But if I want to align myself to the word and show love to my husband, I shouldn’t point out his sin to anyone but God.  God doesn’t need us or our girlfriends/sisters to convict our husband.  How’s that for a #truthbomb?

When I begin to notice one of our children lying or cheating, or being repeatedly mean to their siblings the first thing I want to do is ask my mom why she thinks they are acting up.  Then I want her to go to her “How to fix kids” manual and tell me what to do!  True, my mom might have more experience than me and it’s certainly ok to request that she pray for my children, but if I want to show the love of God to my children, his manual is the only one I need.  My mama can’t change the sin in my children’s hearts, only God can.  A mama blog can’t give you some magic advice that washes sin away and no psychologist can cure the sinful nature we are all born with.  If you want to show biblical love to your children, take them to God in prayer.

What about that sassy little broad at work that is having an affair with the boss and has a snarly comment for every little thing you say?  Surely you can just show her some fake, “bless your heart” kind of love and get by with that, right?  I mean there has to be some kind of clause that exempts us from having to bite our tongue when it comes to people like her. I  have had co-workers who have literally made my skin crawl  and I’ve been sooo guilty of shamefully putting on a fake front and playing nice.  One thing society has taught us to do very well is to show this vomit-inducing fake love to people.  We gloss over our eyes, and hearts, with the expertise of an Oscar winning actress and pretend to be a loving friend when in reality we are gossiping about her (or him) the first chance we get.  I got news for you, and me, sister.  We might be fooling the whole world with our fake love, but God sees right through us.  And he doesn’t like it.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want to make God mad!  If we really want to practice what we preach and show the love of Jesus, we must choose to not gossip (no matter how despicable the person) and take it to God in prayer.  Ouch.

The last part of the verse says we are to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Hospitality is another one of those words that has gotten totally twisted.  And thanks to my arch enemy Pinterest, it’s managed to get even worse.  I mean, who has time to hand paint tiny little turkeys on cupcakes for Thanksgiving, anyway?  Who are these people and when do they sleep??  But hospitality actually puts focus on the guest and *gasp* NOT THE HOSTESS.  This knowledge in and of itself is actually thrilling news to me.  I am so relieved to know that God doesn’t care one ounce if my floors are spotless or if I’ve polished my silverware until I can see my reflection.  He doesn’t care how staged my house is with throw pillows, rugs and fancy lamps.  The pressure is off, ladies.  At least in the “all about me” department.  Focusing on others might require that we sit and listen without interruption, that we pray with a friend, that we have clean sheets and a comfy couch but it will never require a trip to Hobby Lobby for more throw pillows.  Can I get an Amen?  Or maybe even a Hallelujah?

All of these things lead me to one truth: to love deeply and offer hospitality we must crucify the flesh daily and resist the urge to expose the sins of another.  Instead, we have to take it to God in prayer.  Let’s work hard to redefine love based on God’s definitions and not what society tells us it should be.

Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.  Proverbs 17:9

spiritual-battle

Im so ashamed to say this. But, in the spirit of honesty, here goes.  The only time I’ve ventured behind this glaring screen in the past couple months has been to saturate my mind and emotions with articles from Fox News and CNN.  I think I’ve aged four years this election season.  I had glorious hopes for 2016.  I really did.  I think I even posted some awe-inspiring meme way back in January that went like this, “2016 is going to be ridiculously amazing.”  bwahahaha.  I think we can all agree 2016 really stuck it to us.  Or maybe it was just me.  Clearly I’m not a good judge of stuff (refer to lofty goals I set for 2016).  My disappointment in 2016 was always affirmed  when I scrolled through my face book feed.  It got so depressing that I actually longed for the days of the “like and share if you love Jesus” and the “can-I-get-10,000-likes so Mark Zuckerburg-will-give-us-all-a zillion-dollars” posts.  Finally, I had to decide to break up with my beloved face book or check myself into a rehab facility for mental health.  Because you know, people who allow life-sucking things to continue to suck the life out of them must be mentally unstable gluttons for punishment.  I actually learned a few little things when I put down my phone and looked up.  And if you are still reading this after five or six sentences of largely unfunny humor, I’m going to share a few little things I’ve noticed.

Days 1 and 2 of no facebook left me eating my own words.  My husband, whom I will lovingly say is almost never right,  tells me that I could do so much in the time I spend on social media.  I usually get defensive and want to throat punch him really hard right out of the gates.  I mean, facebook is like a cult for the 30 somethings.  I would defend my use of it as if it had been my loyal companion since day 1 on earth.  But as it turns out, he was way right.  On the first day of social media detox, I spent the time I usually reserved for coffee and social media on my knees in prayer.  The Lord brought people to mind who I later found out needed the prayer (I love when he does that <3) and I immediately felt closer to God.  I found myself talking to him more throughout that day and wanting to spread his love.  I messaged a few people just to lift them up and love on them.  I’d call day 1 a success.

On the 2nd day I had to have lunch with both my little cuties at their elementary school.  I had an hour in between their lunches and since I wasn’t on facebook, I had no choice but to look up and notice others who were also waiting.  I had not one, but two, meaningful, emotional conversations with women about Jesus.  I left that school with my cup almost filled to the brim just by looking up and talking to strangers.  I had an extra pep in my step and felt way better than I ever did by sharing an e-card with a scripture on it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to read scriptures on social media but I really love to interact with people and see the beauty that lies within spontaneous, raw emotion.  And let’s face it.  Jesus didn’t have a social media platform and he saved the entire world so I most likely don’t need it either.

The days that followed have been much like day 1 and day 2.  Except I began to notice through conversation that the people around me- in my family, church and community-have been feeling spiritually attacked.  Drained and empty.  Like they have nothing to give and are useless in the kingdom of God.  I realized one of my one children was going through a spiritual attack.  Now if you know me at all, it will come as no huge surprise to hear that I occasionally like to put on my sassy pants.  Sometimes I get fired up and say things before praying.  I almost always regret those things.  I’m kidding. I always regret those things.  I think.  But other times, when I’ve been doing my part to draw close to the Lord (because we know it is never him that needs to draw close, it is ALWAYS our carnal hearts) and have saturated myself in the word, I trade in my sassy pants for my spiritual armor.  Now that I am seeing the real, live, flawed and spiritually drained people around me rather than the always perfect, see-only-a-snapshot-of-my-life people on social media, I have been jolted into alertness.  People all around me are hurting, sick and in need.  They need a warrior standing in the gap and calling out their needs to Christ!  Where all are the warriors?

We are all members of one body-the body of Christ.  When something on our fleshly body is hurting or sick, other parts of our bodies kick into overdrive and go to elaborate lengths (thank you very much, white blood cells) to get us well.  As a church body, we are called to do the same!  When we see one of our brothers or sisters in Christ hurting, are we going to elaborate lengths to lift them up?  When we see our potential brothers and sisters in Christ in need (because after all, everyone is designed to love Jesus) are we showing them the love of Jesus in our words and actions?  You might feel weary yourself, my friend, but let me be the first to encourage you to take heart and put on your full armor!  You are not meant to feel defeated or alone.  God did not send his son to die a gruesome death for sinners so that we would feel discouraged, afraid or unsure.  NO!  He wants us to suit up and get to the business of tending the harvest!  You can’t tend the harvest the way you should behind the glare of a screen, I’ve found that out first hand.  You must prepare your heart for battle, open your eyes and look around and then put yourself to work!  Chances are, people you love are engulfed in a battle and they need a warrior to fight for them until they are able to lift themselves up and fight for themselves.  Be the warrior that they need.  Spend less time on things of this world and more time on your knees.  Be the warrior you were created to be.

Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rules of darkness of this world, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows from the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep praying for all the Lord’s people.  Ephesians 6:10-18

 

A Tribute to Children. Because they’re freaking Awesome.

Most of the time you can find me aimlessly wandering around my house, picking up random nerf gun darts, barbie shoes and empty capri suns.  I’ll be mumbling under my breath about how everyone in the house is spoiled and ungrateful.  Occasionally, I’ll go on a psychopathic rage and yell at my darling children because, “why can’t they just pick up their toys already??!”  You might also find me standing in the kitchen, lovingly mixing ingredients together making a dinner that our kids will most likely fake-vomit in their mouths with each bite.  I can be a bit of a busy body and because of said busyness, I rarely get to sit down and just listen to my kids.  And I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that lately.  I mean, the entire reason I loved being a teacher was because I love hearing a kid’s spin on things.  I couldn’t wait for my own babies to begin talking so I could laugh and enjoy all the adorable misuse of words and baby babble.  I’ve decided that kids know exactly how to fix all that is wrong in this Kardashian loving/killing each other because of differences/Trump-and-Hilary-are-seriously-our-candidates world.

Let me go ahead and put this out here first.  My kids are not spouting off philosophical ideology or making a plan for world peace.  They are just ordinary kiddos who happen to have extremely profound ideas about life in the most innocent of circumstances.  (and as a side note, just so there’s no question of if they’re brilliant or anything. No worries. Just last night my youngest saw a glimpse of his back side in the mirror while bending over after getting out of the shower and declared, “MOM!!  There is a hole in my butt!! This is GREAT!” and ran off laughing hysterically.  Naked as a jay bird.)  But seriously,  the events in Dallas, Orlando and countless other places across our once great nation have caused me to pay more attention to my surroundings.  Not to look for the bad, but rather look for the good…the innocent.  I guess since kids are kind of my profession I have an advantage over others. I know that if you want to see goodness in this world, you need only go to your local playground and observe.  So, I’ve been doing just that.  I’ve been listening to my own kids.  I’ve been watching as they play with other, random children at the playground.  And I’ve been deeply moved by their behavior.  I have been thinking about what Jesus said in Matthew 18: 2-4.  “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.” I’v always assumed Jesus was referring to the faith of a child but the longer I live in this world, I’m convinced it could be in all areas of our lives.

Just tonight my own children moved my spirit and touched my hurting heart.  Earlier today I was painting the foyer and my youngest wanted to help.  After arguing about why he couldn’t paint I was irritated and truthfully just wanted him to go upstairs and play.  He, being the five year old he is, wanted to hang out with me though.  He kept saying, “mom, watch this.” and “mom, wanna hear a joke?” I was only about half way paying attention and then he tugged at my heartstrings.  He wanted to climb up the wall (thanks inventor of Spiderman.  I don’t like clean walls anyway.) and then do a flip. I was telling him he couldn’t do that because it was dangerous and he would fall.  Without missing a beat and with all the confidence in the world says, “I can do it mom. I’m awesome. I can do anything.”  Wow buddy.  You know what?  You’re right.  You.are.awesome. I wonder at what point adults lost their ability to believe in themselves.  To believe that we are amazing?  And even more, to believe others are amazing.  Point taken, kid.

Then later in the day, I got an email with news I didn’t really want to hear.  It wasn’t meant to be discouraging but it was.  I have been trying to get a job in my field but outside the classroom and it hasn’t worked out the way I had hoped.  It’s been discouraging and has made me question my own self-worth.  My oldest noticed my mood was kind of glum and asked me what was wrong. At first I told him it was nothing but he insisted that I spill it.  So, because I like awkward words better than awkward silence I told him the truth.  I told him I was disappointed that I hadn’t gotten a job yet.  And then, because I felt the weird need to add to the awkwardness, told him I was a “pretty good teacher” so I didn’t really understand.  He pats my arm and speaks with wisdom far beyond his 10 years.  He said, “mom, I think God wants you to be a stay-at-home mom.  You’ve prayed about it and it’s just not happening.  You are a good teacher but he’s an even better one. (as he points to Heaven).”  Shew.  Cue the orchestra music and grab your hankie.  I still get misty-eyed thinking about that precious boy and the way the Lord used him to speak to me.  Teach me o’Lord and help me to be a good student.

When we got home my daughter and niece were playing upstairs and I could hear them debating over whether or not to go into the playroom.  My niece was afraid because she heard a noise and my daughter (who, mind you, is usually the one peeing her pants over every little noise) said to her, “Abby.  We don’t have to be afraid to go in there.  Jesus is with us and he won’t let anything bad happen to us. You know that.”  My niece simply says, “oh yea.  That’s right.”  and they go about their business.  What the whaaat??  Just imagine if us silly old adults would remember that there is no need to be afraid.  We can go after our heart’s desire because God is right there with us, we need only believe.

I can’t let this blog go without talking about some of my children who didn’t actually live in my womb.  With all the current events, I’ve been thinking alot about my first two years of teaching and the students who were my “babies” before I had babies of my own. I taught in an inner city school in Alabama.  My teaching partner and I were the minority in the building and we learned more about life in those two years than I suspect most people with “normal” jobs ever learn.  The children were from home situations that would make grown men cry.  They came to school not to learn but to be loved.  My friend Dede and I would drive after school into horrible parts of town and pick up our beloved babies to take them to church..or skating..or McDonald’s.  It didn’t matter where we took them, they wanted to be with us and we wanted to love and protect them.  They never saw the color of our skin.  They saw a lap to sit in, an adult who loved them and a shoulder to cry on.  We never saw the color of their skin.  We saw children who were wildly funny, brilliantly creative and in dire need of love and affection.  You could say it was a match made in Heaven.  One child in particular was close to our hearts.  Her name was Shaniya.  One day she stayed after school with Dede and I and she took notice of our skin color.  She asked if we were sisters and we told her no.  She said, “but you are both white so I thought you must be sisters.”  We laughed because it was adorable and told her that we weren’t sisters.  After studying us a minute (which is a big deal when you are in kindergarten) she finally says, “Yep, you aren’t sisters.  Mrs. McCluey you are light white and Mrs. Rose you are dark white.”  She takes a big breath and says, “I still want you guys to be in my Princess Club because you love me and I love you guys.”  Her little five year old heart had embraced what some callus adults have forgotten.  It’s not the color of the skin but the contents of the heart that matter.

God bless the little children and God bless America.  And Lord, help us to just stop and take notes every now and then.

 

Cheater, Cheater Pumpkin Eater

Lately I’ve been spiritually spoiled.  I’m not really sure if that’s even a ‘thing’ but if not, I think it should be.  The past two weeks have been really rough for me and over the course of a couple unfortunate events, I have realized that I am, in fact, spoiled.  My kids are healthy, my husband is awesome (like 2/3 of the time), our financial needs are met (because eating ramen noodles is delicious and cheap), no one that I love is suffering through illness.  I’ve got it extremely good right now.  Of course, this hasn’t always been the case.  There have been loads of times where any of the above statements haven’t been true and I’ve had to cling to God and weather the storm.  Recently though, I’ve been spiritually spoiled.  I thought my relationship with God, and the condition of my heart, was fantastic.  I pray, I read my bible and I go to church.  What I wasn’t taking into consideration (because I had temporarily forgotten) is how easy it is to praise God and smile joyfully whilst sitting on top of the mountain.

I have been praying about a couple things in my life for the better part of the year.  I naturally assumed that since I had taken it to God in prayer, he would open the doors that needed to be opened and I would receive his favor.  So it goes without saying that I was totally taken aback when God slammed the doors shut so hard that I literally felt the wind in my hair.  I would go into detail about what doors were shut but truthfully, it doesn’t matter.  It could have been any number of things: a relationship, a job, financial situation, or a struggle with health.  The big take-away here is that I thought that God would grant me my requests and I would continue basking in the sun from atop the mountain.  But he didn’t.  And I acted a fool.  I mean I cried, I acted selfish and proud, I composed hateful speeches (in my head, of course) to all the people who I thought needed a piece of my mind.  I was grouchy to my husband and children.  I even did the thing that is so terribly human: I questioned God and his will for me life.  So basically, I acted like what I am: a totally flawed human.  I spent a full week running through a course of emotional meltdowns before I hit my stubborn knees to pray and repent.

When the prayer and reflection began I had to come to terms that I had basically failed God’s test of faith.  When presented with answers that I did not like or understand I did not ‘practice what I preach’ very well.  At least not at first.  I read scriptures and devotionals, I even stopped scrolling long enough on facebook to read all the religious stuff people over-share (I’m not talking about you, of course.  Your posts are all awesome.)  But the fact of the matter is I was still just plain ole mad.  God shut those doors for my benefit, of that I am sure, but at the time it felt like rejection.  And I have deep, dark issues with rejection.  I want people to like me, I want to say and do the right things to keep everyone happy.  If people don’t like me or I’m faced with confrontation, an emotional warfare is waged on the inside and I dwell on it for days.  It causes anxiety that I can’t even begin to explain.  So when I am faced with rejection I basically crumble into a heap of emotionally damaged, blubbering rubble.  My husband reminded me mid-meltdown last week that when we have sought God’s will then it is not rejection but divine intervention.  This gave me pause for thought.  Pause because I knew it was true but also because it served as a blatant reminder that I was acting ridiculous when I knew full well God knows what he is doing.  In hindsight, I put off praying longer than I should have because I knew that I had failed miserably at putting my faith into action.  And Satan just loves to torment us with that kind of ammunition.  He had been whispering quietly in my head that I was not a real Christian and hadn’t matured spiritually at all.  “Real Christians trust God and move on.  They don’t throw little fits like you have.  You aren’t saved at all,” I heard him whisper in my head.  Forgive me for being frank but Satan is such a turd like that.  He always kicks us when we are down.  And sadly, I laid in a spiritual fetal position ready to quit life for a week.  I’m painting a horrible picture, I know.  But behind the scenes I had people intervening on my behalf, praying for me and lifting my name up to the Lord.  He never left me, let me just go ahead and say that.  It was my stubborn hind end that had decided to lay down and quit.  I knew where my life line was, I just wasn’t ready to tug on it for help.

Last night was a breaking point for me.  I hit my knees and hit them hard!  My attitude was bleeding over onto every single member of my family and I knew I needed divine intervention.  I cried and prayed and asked God to forgive my stubborn heart.  I confessed that his plan is always the right one and I am nothing without him.  I asked for help with my issues with rejection.  I prayed that I would care what God thinks about me and not what man thinks about me.  Most of all, I prayed that God would forgive me for failing the test of faith.  WHAT I AM ABOUT TO TELL YOU NOW MIGHT MAKE YOU WANT TO SHOUT. God impressed upon my heart that it’s an open book test!!  As long as I’m still breathing I can change my answers!!  Incredible!  I don’t have to settle for how I acted last week-it was a valley and I didn’t respond like I should have at first but praise God, it’s an open book test!!!  God knows how very human we are and he has equipped us with all we need to follow him: his holy word.  Rest assured that no matter how ridiculous you act or how far you stray, because of God’s grace and mercy we are free to go back and change our answers.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11

Dear Christian Friend, A Heartfelt Letter to You

Dear Christian Friend,

It seems like every time I turn around I see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  I see them on magazine covers and all kinds of social media.  The whole world is paying attention to what the royal family is doing.  Why do you think that is?  Well, quite frankly, it’s because their blood line is, well, (I hate to be redundant here but…) royal.  They are set apart from the basic commoners and held to a higher standard.  People have fantastic expectations of how they should dress, how they should conduct themselves and the company they should carry.  It’s really quite impressive that the family can keep it all together and stay out of the headlines for some scandalous behavior unbecoming of the royal family.

I can’t help but think how much Christians and the royal family have in common.  Just like the whole world is watching England’s royal family, the whole world is also watching you my Christian friend.  When we wear our Christ-loving propaganda/flaunt our cell-phone cover crosses/drive our vans with bumper stickers professing our love for Jesus/update our face book status with scriptural quotes, when we do any of that, the world is watching.  They want to see how you, a member of the one true King’s royal family, is going to act. And oh!  What expectations the world has of us!!  The world has a beautiful vision of how we should look, how we should act and how we should respond to situations.  The world desires to see something different in us, something not-so-common.  Supernatural behavior, if you will.  We are, after all, covered by royal blood and a direct heir to Heaven and all it’s treasures!  The world, especially those that are not saved yet, wants to know what all the fuss is about.  If God changes you from the inside out then surely they should see something different from you, child of God!  We’ve got a great responsibility Christian friend; the world is looking to us for an example.  Are we showing them behavior worthy of that old rugged cross or are we turning them away?

If we are being honest, friend, I’m troubled by what I’ve seen of you lately.  There are a lot of troubling events taking place in our lifetime, right in this very day.  I know that full well.  I’m troubled by it all, too.  But what troubles me deeply is the way I see you responding.  I see you lash out on social media.  I see you argue and bicker with our non-saved friends.  I see you resort to hateful one-liners and ugly re-posts on hot button topics.  I know you feel passionately about what’s going on because I feel passionately, too.  But let me tell you this.  You are not winning the hearts and minds of others on social media when you engage in arguments that are fueled by feelings and masked by a screen.  You are only working to further DIVIDE us as a body of Christ.  Share your feelings!  I know you have studied the bible and are informed, full of God’s love but let me ask this of you:  share them face to face while you are working the harvest so that others can see the love and expression you have when you talk about our king!  Win their hearts and minds not by challenging their deeply held convictions, igniting anger and confrontation but by showing them what true, unadulterated love looks and feels like in the flesh!  Let them see God in you!!

I see you Christian friend.  I see you when you are ordering your coffee and the tattooed, pierced barista is waiting on you.  She sees you too and she wonders why you are looking at her in secretive judgment.  She takes one look at your WWJD bracelet and makes up her mind that if Jesus acts that way, she doesn’t want any part.  The woman sitting beside you at the beauty shop that’s just had an abortion sees you too.  She hears every last ugly word you said while you railed against the filthy, horrible women who vote pro-abortion.  She heard you say those terrible things while wearing your “I am a child of God” shirt and she furthered her resolve to never follow Christ.  The Muslim teenage boy sitting two rows back from you on the plane saw you when you boarded.  He picked you out right away because he is thinking of giving his life to Christ and he saw your necklace that had a scripture written on it.  He is watching you in hopeful anticipation that he may see this Christ that he has been reading about in you.  His heart sank when he heard you make inappropriate and racist jokes about terrorists on the plane.

I’m not judging you, friend.  Truly I am not.  I have a burden for you…for me…for all of us.  I know things are messed up and that our world is in need of Christ.  We are living in times that are unprecedented and frightening.  I get where you are coming from when you make your social media posts because I have done it too.  But I think as Christians, we are missing the point.  I revisited the book of John tonight and was reminded exactly how Jesus wants us to behave.  Before Jesus died on the cross, for our sins no less, he washed his disciples feet.  Even more than that, he placed his garments around his waist like a lowly servant to wash their feet.  He knew that one would betray him, one would disown him and that they would all abandon him out of fear and he loved them anyway.  If fact, scripture says: “Having loved his own who were in this world, he loved them to the end. John 13:1.  Even after they disowned, betrayed and left him he loved them to the end.  Are we loving people like that, Christian friend?  Shortly after that verse Jesus tells  his disciples this: “A new command I give you: love one another.  As I have loved you so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples  if you love one another.” John 13:34  Jesus charges us to love each other like he loves us.  He loved his disciples even though they were not deserving of his love to the end.  He loves us even though we are flawed and undeserving.  That woman in the beauty shop that has just had an abortion doesn’t need to hear your political views, she needs to feel and hear the love of Jesus!!  She is flawed and made a horrible mistake, yes!  But so are you my dear Christian friend!  She needs to hear that there is a Jesus who loves!  She needs to see the love of Jesus in you!!   The harvest is ready, friend!  Are you working it like you should?

I’ll leave you with this final word from Jesus.  Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.  The one who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.  John 14: 21

Show yourself to me, oh Lord.

With Christ’s Love,

Your flawed but forgiven friend