When Words Fail


“Success builds character, failure reveals it” ~ Dave Checkett

So, ok, maybe things didn’t quite go as planned. Maybe everyone knows it. Maybe no one knows it but you.

This past February I turned 40. Something I am learning over and over is that as we age, and hopefully mature, we tend to do more thinking and less reacting. Sure, I definitely still have more than my share of flying off the handle, knee-jerk reactions, and so forth, but I’m getting better….I think… I hope.

Naturally, when we think we’ve got one aspect of life under control, like being careful which friends you share your deep personal stuff with, or where to buy the good burgers, or which checker is efficient and friendly and won’t talk your ear off about their personal life drama…Just when you think Ok, I’ve got this, here comes a curve ball that shatters your world and makes you question what you thought you knew for sure, like the love of God and his plan for your life.

For me, a wrenching reminder came about seven weeks ago. You see, I was pregnant.

I had kept it a secret from nosy people with their opinions of how many children each couple should have. Like a treasure, I had hidden my secret away during difficult times my family has been going through. I mean, come on, opinions would be coming fast and furious. I’m 40? And I have HOW MANY KIDS ALREADY? Right. Well, this blessing in disguise was OUR blessing, a precious gift in the middle of trying times.

So, when I was finally ready I went to the doctor and had my pregnancy confirmed. I saw the ultrasound. The little coming attraction was bouncing around with a steady heartbeat. About 2 weeks later, a blood test came back telling us there were no chromosome defects, and we were having a little girl. My husband groaned. Another girl? Yet we were both relieved that the baby was fine.

One week later, something was wrong and I made a visit to the emergency room where another ultrasound showed no movement OR heartbeat. So, I returned to the semi-private, curtain partitioned room and cried my heart out. Alone. I was almost 4 months along. The man on the other side of the curtain who had pulled a muscle lifting weights was very, very quiet as I tried to make my unreal grief more socially acceptable.

A dear friend, who had left work, and my dad came to the hospital. They were two of the few people who knew I had been expecting. They shared my grief, but what can you say when there are no words?

When I was discharged and handed a pamphlet on miscarriage, I still had the long drive home and facing my husband with the news. He wasn’t aware that I had gone to the emergency room, or any of the things that had happened. Service is spotty in the hospital, and my husband works nights. What a horrible way to wake someone up.

Many parents have struggled with the pain that comes from losing a child, whether from death, custody battles, rebellion, or estrangement. Like me, they may feel confused, anxious, full of grief, and on the verge of giving up. This was a situation I didn’t understand. It felt so very unfair. God seemed far away when I needed his comfort. He seemed silent when I needed his advice. The pain was so great that I felt like I was being crushed physically. It’s a scary place to be when we see just how little control we actually have over our lives. It feels like there is nothing you can trust.

Time and time again, people would offer ridiculous “smiley-face” bits of advice like, “This too shall pass”. I didn’t want it to pass. I wanted it to disappear. The passing felt like being dragged behind a horse.

I have seldom felt anything to compare with the pain of a child being lost or struggling in some way. I became very bitter and shut people out. I hid from people. Why would anyone want to hear the same old complaints? Why bring people down? Our struggles can be embarrassing. We can feel ashamed.

It seems odd, but the thing that has been the most powerful and actually healing thing to me in my most gut-wrenching pain has been the Cross of Christ. His suffering didn’t just lead to death, and, poof– end of story. Jesus’ ticket to the grave was for a round trip.

His suffering and anguish were public and humiliating. His grief was made more difficult to bear because of his loneliness and being misunderstood. He was blamed although he was blameless!

BUT! The incomparable suffering of Christ was only a comma in a sentence that ended with death itself up-ended and turned on its ear in Jesus’ absolute victory! What this means for you and me in our times of suffering is that we can trust his competence and compassion as we face our most formidable challenges. Even death has lost its sting!

The Resurrection means more than I used to think. See, this is how we carry our hope: we realize that the shadow of the Cross actually covers everything like a big “Paid in Full” stamp. Even more amazing, however, than the fact of its being paid is what was purchased once and for all, and FOR US ALL! Amazing! (Ephesians 2:1-22)

So, if you are reading this post and have some heart breaking thing that you are currently facing in your life, I want to encourage you. It is difficult, but sharing our pain leads to sharing the joy that our victories bring. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before.

Without the Cross, Jesus being alive is just regular, business as usual. There’s no amazement. No miracle. No power. When you and I are able to humble ourselves and share the Goliath, the tiny stone becomes enormous. In a similar way, the light doesn’t mean as much without the tunnel. When we are willing to share our own struggles and pain, we can see the relief and hope it creates in other people. I have felt the same when others share with me.

This feeling that we are not alone is very comforting, even more so that there is hope and victory through Christ. Talk about JOY unspeakable! It will build your faith as you share with others, just as God intended.

“Therefore, believers, since we have confidence and full freedom to enter the Holy Place [the place where God dwells] by [means of] the blood of Jesus, by this new and living way which He initiated and opened for us through the veil [as in the Holy of Holies], that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great and wonderful Priest [Who rules] over the house of God, let us approach [God] with a true and sincere heart in unqualified assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word]…” Hebrews 10:19-23 AMP

 

A Tough Nut to Crack


“The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

 

It’s so simple. Buying gifts shows people how much much we love and appreciate them, right? Buying just the right gift, on the other hand, is personal, loving, and shows that not only are we generous but intuitive and thoughtful. We spend a lot of time on this particular aspect of the Christmas season. So what if it’s a lot of work?

Only, maybe we weren’t very generous when we schlepped out to the store again for another bottle of sparkling cider and the gluten-free stuffing mix, were we? Maybe we were even less than thoughtful when we shouldered our way through that family who was taking a little more time than we thought necessary and cut in front of the single mom trying to wrangle her kids as well as her meager cart. We weren’t being particularly generous when we dug out the dregs from the back of our cupboard for the canned food drive were we? Yes, I’ve been there too, Scrooging away the entire Christmas season, missing out on the meaning, the memories, and the Message.

We just get so wrapped up in the festivities and the supposed “have to’s”. We want to practice the carols for the choir sing along and the Christmas pageant has to be just right, but we forget to hear the music. We miss the fact that the Christ child came to be more than the centerpiece of our Precious Moments Nativity scene. We forget He came to seek and save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)

Today I wrote a letter to someone I had offended, and refused to make up with, months and months ago. That’s never pleasant, is it, to admit that maybe you’ve been the Scrooge instead of the Bob Cratchit. Ahem. Now, I don’t know how it will be received; and really, I’m sure there are more of these letters I should be writing, baby steps, right? Of course, it would be alot easier to avoid having to write these difficult letters at all if I could just admit right away when I’m hurt and offended, or hurtful and offensive, and get the relationship dealt with right away. But alas, I seem to be rebellious to the last. Naturally, it all comes down to a problem I have with pride and disobedience. Sigh, at almost 40 years old, no less, that’s the real issue here. How ironic that we should be so stubborn about taking a back seat during the time of year when we are supposedly celebrating the One who had every reason to expect special treatment and permanent cuts in line…..and who served, and toiled, and bled, and died……instead. There are definitely times when what I’m actually celebrating is Jessiemas, instead of Christmas. (What a lame name for a holiday, right?)

Maybe the gift we should focus on most this season is one that is free, yet the most difficult, to give: Christ-likeness.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” ~ John 1:1-14 (King James Version)

Seasoning the Seasons


“Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and someday, you will be a real boy.” ~ The Blue Fairy ( IMDB, Disney’s Pinocchio, 1940)

 

It’s a strange thing, an awkward, how-can-it-be thing, when the holidays which are supposed to inspire feelings of benevolence, charity, patience, and generosity inside of us (no matter how we choose to observe them) are often rather commercial spectacles of excess, envy, self-indulgence, and competition. It is a wonderful thing to enjoy the blessings and fruits of hard work and God’s favor, don’t get me wrong; but when the decorations, food, and traditions become overly important, it’s difficult to actually enjoy these holidays. Worst of all, the people we are supposed to be teaching and sharing the deeper meaning of the seasons with get in the way of our dreams of “perfect”, things can get a little bit ugly, and by things I mean me. (Do you do this too?) Ugh. Embarrassing.

Of course it is so so easy to get wrapped up in the wrong things at this time of year (little pre-Christmas pun there). There are holiday specials to watch, and blogs to read (ahem), and recipes to try, and gifts to buy, and crafts to make, and bows to tie, and cinnamon-scented this and that, and Grandma Bobo’s Christmas tree skirt, and carols to sing, and bells to ring (hey I will rhyme most anything), and plays to watch, and Grandpa’s Scotch, and crab dip made from imitation, and Clark W’s Christmas Vacation………….So, it may be a good idea to stop, rewind, and remember why we have these often maddening special times. Maybe should recall the seasonings (or as it is also called, fruit) which make the Holidays truly bright…

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” ~ Galatians 5:22-26

How to Befriend Your Spouse


“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” ~ Mother Teresa

First of all, yes, those cookies ARE quite adorable. You can find the recipe and many more stunning ideas at Make Me Cake Me. What a talent to appreciate, especially for those of us with a lack of talent in that particular direction. I can cook and bake, but my creations lack that cuteness factor. Sigh.

Now then, back to our show…

Many of you might think a blog post about befriending someone you live with, seeing day in and day out, sharing everything with from money to a toilet seat, is kind-of ridiculous. Now, hold on there, not so fast. Being married is unfortunately NOT always the same thing as being friends. Who has time for friends anyway? It’s a rough world. We’re all just holding on my our fingernails here. Who has time for friendship with their spouse, let alone anything as far-fetched as romance.

There, there, no one is here to judge. We’re all walking in the same forest here. Sometimes all of us get a little lost. No biggie. There is always Someone who not only has a map, but IS the map. God is always waiting for us to turn to him when we feel like we’re stuck in molasses swamp, or worse, headed for a cliff. All of us can get out of whack when it comes to the way we relate to those around us. Nowhere is this more painfully apparent that in our close relationships. When we get out of whack, or spouses feel it the strongest. Sometimes, as we drift away from relationships, stressed beyond comfortable by our own choices (ahem), our spouses may seem like strangers invading our space instead of trusted friends and lovers as they are meant to be.

To tell you the truth, sometimes, it’s just not happening. Sometimes, we see the slack-jawed, drooling, morning breath having face next to us by the harsh grey light of morning as we are serenaded by our alarm clock buzzer and think “Ugh not you again! ”  He snores, or she does. (I actually do the loudest snoring in my house. Groan) He leaves the seat up. She never fixes what I like for dinner. Why does he always hang out with that friend? Why is she so messy? On it goes. The quirks become bones of contention that choke the life right out of our marriages.

What, then, is the answer? How do we get ourselves back on track so we can enjoy the kind of home life that’s better than any romance movie can offer? We need LOVE, in steady, un-relenting, persevering, forgiving, gracious, my-cup-runneth-over doses. How do we do this realistically when there are soooo many sources of bad advice in book, internet, and real live person form? Advice can run from the manipulative, where we figure out how to trick our spouse into giving us what we think we want; to the doormat approach, where we let them do as they please, never confronting in love or expecting to be treated with respect; to the bullying our spouse into doing as WE please; to the two separate lives in one house approach. All of these methods will lead us down the path to a fulfilling alienation, separation, and death of our marriages, whether or not it actually ends in divorce.

The answer for this lack of ability to achieve a thrilling, fulfilling, lasting love that all of us long for is to turn our attention back to the One who created our hearts in this shape in the first place. God is Love. 1 Corinthians 13, tells us what, exactly this means.

“IF I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody).
Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food, and if I surrender my body to be burned or in order that I may glory, but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing.
Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily.
It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way,for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].
It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.
Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].
Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end]. As for prophecy (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), it will be fulfilled and pass away; as for tongues, they will be destroyed and cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away [it will lose its value and be superseded by truth].
For our knowledge is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect), and our prophecy (our teaching) is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect).
But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded).
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.
For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God]. And so faith, hope, love abide [faith–conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope–joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love–true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13 (entire chapter) Amplified
So, for those of us who missed it the first hundred thousand or so times you’ve heard this often misquoted passage quoted or seen it, embroidered on pillows, printed on posters, etc, etc, this passage tells us about God. I recently learned this for the first time myself. Think about that for a moment. Who wouldn’t do just about anything for someone who treated them this way, right? WOW! For my part, I felt very silly for not realizing this passage was about God all along. I thought it was like that infamous Proverbs 31 woman, who’s list of amazing and unimpeachable qualities has been used improperly to beat women over the head for a long time. (It’s not about that at all though, but that’s a topic for another blog post. 🙂 )
I hope one day, when I walk those golden streets in heaven I will finally be able to grasp the amazing scope of the tapestry of the Bible and how it all ties together and points to God, even in its most inscrutable (to me) passages.  Here’s another passage which, surprisingly to me, ties in with 1 Corinthians 13 perfectly. (You can read the entire chapter here.)
“Now the doings (practices) of the flesh are clear (obvious): they are immorality, impurity, indecency,
Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper), selfishness, divisions (dissensions), party spirit (factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies),
Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit [the work which His presence within accomplishes] is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness,
Gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge].
And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.
If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking in line, our conduct controlled by the Spirit.]
Let us not become vainglorious and self-conceited, competitive and challenging and provoking and irritating to one another, envying and being jealous of one another.” ~ Galatians 5:19-26
Originally, as this post was coming together, I had only thought as far as the “fruits of the spirit” bit of that passage. Just now as I was looking at it though, it occurs to me that that long list of nastiness before and after the “fruity” part is, unfortunately, what many of us bring to the banqueting table, instead. How many of us, from time to time, have felt our spouse was our enemy or rival instead of best friend and ally? The bad news is that we all have a past full of misinformation, bias, prejudice, hidden agendas, scheming, hurt, betrayal, and on it goes. We didn’t have the extreme advantage of Adam and Eve in the garden: fresh, clean-states, fully able to love with no past or guilt to get in the way. Fast-forward to now, we are further from God’s original design in our hearts than we are from our first ancestors in time. Look again at that passage! Therein lies the answer and help we all so desperately need.
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.
If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking in line, our conduct controlled by the Spirit.]” ~ Galatians 5:24-25 Amplified
The answer for all of us is Jesus Christ himself! God made us, and He made us to be with other people. He made us to be in pairs, families, communities. God made us for relationships. Jesus Christ came to redeem not only our souls, but also reconcile us to God and one another.
“There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!
 
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:8-12 NIV

A Far, Far Better Thing…


It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. – Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)

Once upon a time there was a jerk, a grinch, a curmudgeon, a tightwad, a wet blanket, a gossip, a liar, a thief, a sleaze, a butt-kisser, a braggart, a cheater, an abuser, a slanderer………This person was on a trip, blissfully going about their business, when they were attacked and mugged (not only mugged but carjacked). Beaten severely and left for dead, this unlovely does-not-play-well-with-others individual lay in a gutter, wounded, humiliated, forgotten. Who do the unwanted call to say they are on this or that road and leaving at such-and-such time? This was a tight spot, for sure.

Eventually, someone did pass by who could help. A doctor, returning from his long day at the office, listening to a book on tape, something by Michael Crichton, a gift from his wife, eagerly awaiting a hot dinner and the chance to put his feet up and forget about everyone else’s issues and complaints for a time. He sees a body lying next to the road. He stops, dreading the obligatory call to the coroner and sheriff’s office for what was surely a poor departed soul. The doctor wearily pulls to a stop and gets out of his car to take a closer look. With much relief, he sees that this person lying near the road is not dead, but severely wounded. As he bends to examine the person’s face, the wounded person turns and the doctor recognizes them with a shock! This is someone who has been responsible for much pain and sorrow in the doctor’s life. He CANNOT help this person! He WILL NOT help! With renewed vigor, the doctor jumps to his feet, scrambles for the car, and without a backward glance, drives off down the road.

The wounded person cannot believe what has just happened to them!  Groaning, they try, unsuccessfully to rise. Lacking the strength, they rest their head back upon the ground, just as the sound of another car draws near. This time, the car belongs to a town counsel member, who also happens to lead a ladies’ Bible study at her church. Surely this woman will have compassion and help. Like before, the car slows to a stop. Like before the wounded person hears the crunching of gravel as the upstanding and concerned MAAD member and PTA attender who recycles all her cans and bottles and bundles of newspaper crosses the space toward the person lying in the dirt.  And yet, like before, as the woman leans over to look into the face of this wretched individual left in the dirt, there is a flash of recognition and her lip curls in disgust. This is a woman who wants to make a difference in the world! How could she maintain her reputation not to mention her precious schedule and plans for the evening, a dinner date with her husband for their 26th anniversary, if she gets involved with this person who has made the most irresponsible, immoral choices for years?? It’s no wonder they have come to be in a situation like this! They’re just getting what they deserve. Karma, and all that. The woman stands up, dusts off her dry-clean-only pants, hurries back to her car, and quickly drives away.

The light is fading from the sky. The person in the dirt can feel the cool damp of dew and the chill of evening settling on their body. Feeling desperate, they wonder what is to become of them. Head still spinning from the rejection of two people who had every means at their disposal to help. What would it cost them in the long run? How could it possibly harm them to help? Was their life so without value that the thought of helping them out of a bad situation was seen as a weak and foolish waste of time and trouble, an inconvenience rather than a sign of compassion and mercy?

A low motor rumble approaches and a beat-up ice cream truck comes into view. The headlights show the injured person and the brakes screech as the truck comes to a halt. An pimply, gawky teenager approaches the helpless individual laying beside the road. This time, it is the one on the ground who is shocked by recognition. For here is someone who is alarmingly unpopular and painfully awkward in school and out. No one has time for this kid, or much compassion. This teen is humiliated and teased on a regular basis, the target of bullies, and insensitive adults alike. Yet, this time, there is no raised eyebrow and hurrying away. There is no spray of gravel as the scene of the crime is left as-is, victim and all. This time there is a brow furrowed in concern. The teen’s jacket is removed and placed under the wounded person’s head. Questions are asked: Who? When? Why? How? How long? Followed by a more painful: Has no one seen you all this time? Why has no one helped you? The giant ice cream cone rotates on the top of the truck as slowly, painfully, the teen struggles to help the wounded person into the truck which then carries this pair to help and comfort and safety.

Who, in this story, is really unlovely? Who is an ideal citizen, a contributor? Who makes a change for the better? Who is a hero? Who is a villain? This obvious spin-off of the Good Samaritan is orchestrated to be vague on purpose. Who do we view as upstanding citizens? Who do we view as not worth our time? Luke 10:25-37 gives us the conversation Jesus has with one of his many challengers. His challenger on this occasion: an “expert in the law”. Funny how in the parable, Jesus uses two different examples of so-called “experts in the law” who followed the letter of the law, but not it’s spirit. These were fine, upstanding citizens, who wouldn’t stand up for anything or anyone unless it personally benefited them. How sad that we find ourselves surrounded by the self-same “do-gooders” who rarely, if ever, do anyone any good. Instead of being “important” or “popular”, perhaps we should all strive to be compassionate, merciful, forgiving, humble, kind, and unselfish. How can we behave this way in a world where every other person seems out to get us? There is only one thing that can motivate and save us. Only one thing can make us the kind of people that other people want to know. One thing, alone, can save the lost and heal our hurts: LOVE.

“IF I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody). Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food, and if I surrender my body to be burned or in order that I may glory, but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing. Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong]. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]. Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end]. As for prophecy (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), it will be fulfilled and pass away; as for tongues, they will be destroyed and cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away [it will lose its value and be superseded by truth]. For our knowledge is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect), and our prophecy (our teaching) is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect). But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded). When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside. For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God]. And so faith, hope, love abide [faith–conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope–joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love–true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13 (Amplified Version)

The Trap of Offense


The fox condemns the trap, not himself.   William Blake

If you happen to look up the online Merriam-Webster definition of the word “offense” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/offense), you will have quite a lot to chew on. An offense is more than just a feeling of outrage, anger, insult, etc. An occasion for offense is an invitation to step into a trap. Offense, like unforgiveness, is something we hold on the inside of us to our own detriment.

We always, of course, have perfectly good reasons (read excuses) for the things we might or might not do, which offend others. People should understand that we have extenuating circumstances. Why is he/she so touchy?? What’s their problem? Others, naturally, do not receive such largesse. They have no excuse. They should have known. They should know better. Who do they think they are? We don’t have to put up with that!

Additionally, when we are offended by someone, a business, government, church, etc., we tend to want to tell other people all about it. Offense is catching. Now the offense has grown. Don’t try to kid yourself. you haven’t done the newly offended party any favors. Offense is a stumbling block that keeps people angry and closed off from others. When we are offended our relationships suffer, all of them. We turn a critical eye on everyone and everything. We even shut out God, the Lover of our souls. It only makes sense that the newly offended are also keeping God and other people shut out. Then they share their offense with someone else, and so it spreads, like a cancer, like gossip….the only truly appropriate medium for so much badness.

The Bible says in Proverbs 6:16-19 “These six things the Lord hates, indeed, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look [the spirit that makes one overestimate himself and underestimate others], a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, [Psalm 120:2, 3.] A heart that manufactures wicked thoughts and plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who breathes out lies [even under oath], and he who sows discord among his brethren.”

When we give in to our offended, hurt feelings instead of reserving judgement, being merciful, and trying to see things from the other party’s point of view, and moreover share these hurt feelings with others, we become proud, deceitful, violent, scheming, and evil in our hearts, the place where God looks. (1Samuel 16:7) Now wait, don’t throw out what I’m saying, aka, don’t be offended. 😉 Pride tells us that we are capable to decide what is in another person’s heart and mind AND we are perfectly within our rights to be upset because WE are much too important (them, not so much). We lie to ourselves (or listen to the enemy’s lies) and convince ourselves that we have been wronged, so much that we hold it against the other party, like a weapon behind the door. We might possibly forgive but we will never forget. (Ouch, that one hurt a little; it’s OK, me too.) All of this holding on to offense tends to make us stew or mull the situation over and over in our minds. We hold a grudge. We come to the conclusion that other people should know about it so they too can hold their secret weapons. We cause trouble between other people. The reason we are separated from God is because when He looks in our hearts to see who we really are, He sees a festering, stinking mess. Remember the Golden Rule and that whole thing about being forgiven as we forgive others? Yeah, He actually meant it. (Ouch some more.)

It’s not all about finger pointing and bad boy this and bad girl that, though. God truly wants our hearts to be healed and our spirits free from the traps we enter of our own volition. Unlike us so many times, God understands the naturally mucky tendencies we all have: and He wants to help. (Psalm 103:14)

First, He gives us instructions: “If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action].” 1 John 1:9

Second, He gives us salvation: “And He raised us up together with Him and made us sit down together [giving us joint seating with Him] in the heavenly sphere [by virtue of our being] in Christ Jesus (the Messiah, the Anointed One). He did this that He might clearly demonstrate through the ages to come the immeasurable (limitless, surpassing) riches of His free grace (His unmerited favor) in [His] kindness and goodness of heart toward us in Christ Jesus. For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.] For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].” Ephesians 2:6-10

Third, He gives us Himself: ” But this I recall and therefore have I hope and expectation: It is because of the Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness that we are not consumed, because His [tender] compassions fail not. [Mal. 3:6.] They are new every morning; great and abundant is Your stability and faithfulness. [Isa. 33:2.] The Lord is my portion or share, says my living being (my inner self); therefore will I hope in Him and wait expectantly for Him. [Num. 18:20.] The Lord is good to those who wait hopefully and expectantly for Him, to those who seek Him [inquire of and for Him and require Him by right of necessity and on the authority of God’s word]. It is good that one should hope in and wait quietly for the salvation (the safety and ease) of the Lord.” Lamentations 3:21-26

For these reasons, we need to revise the previous statements: [People should understand that we have extenuating circumstances. Why is he/she so touchy?? What’s their problem? They have no excuse. They should have known. They should know better. Who do they think they are? We don’t have to put up with that!]… The attitude that these statements, and similar ones, display is unseemly for a child of the Living-Giving-Loving God. Instead, we should change things up a bit.

I should understand that they have extenuating circumstances. Why am I so touchy?? What’s my problem? I have no excuse. I should have known. I should know better. Who do I think I am? They don’t have to put up with that! See the difference that makes? Now, maybe other people will see us the way we would like them to see us. All of this, truthfully, is difficult. Sometimes there are definite trespasses it’s hard to get past. That is where the amazing and free grace of God kicks in. (Amen!)

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy and loving-kindness. [James 5:11.] He will not always chide or be contending, neither will He keep His anger forever or hold a grudge. He has not dealt with us after our sins nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great are His mercy and loving-kindness toward those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father loves and pities his children, so the Lord loves and pities those who fear Him [with reverence, worship, and awe]. For He knows our frame, He [earnestly] remembers and imprints [on His heart] that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place shall know it no more. But the mercy and loving-kindness of the Lord are from everlasting to everlasting upon those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him, and His righteousness is to children’s children–[Deut. 10:12.]” Psalm 103:8-17

The Velveteen Equation (Part 1)


“If we treated everyone we meet with the same affection we bestow upon our favorite cat, they, too, would purr.” Martin Delany

Can you remember the story of the Velveteen Rabbit? If not, let me sum it up for you: Once upon a time, there was a lonely little stuffed bunny who belongs to a little boy, who loved him very much. The bunny is the little boy’s constant companion, until one day when the little boy is stricken with scarlet fever and the bunny as well as the rest of the boy’s belongings are put in a big pile to be burned to stop any further spreading of the disease. The little bunny is rescued by a fairy who has watched his love and faithfulness for many years and at last, the little bunny is granted his fondest wish: to be “real” and hop around with the other rabbits and live out his life. (OK, the original story is much more charming, but that is the jist.)

As some people know, and many others do not, I was adopted. However, I did not begin life as an unwanted child. More to the point, I was a surprise! My birth parents were older when I was born, my mother 42 and my father had reached the ripe old age of 71 when I appeared on the scene. (The many implications of this particular age difference and the fact of my birth were things I had to come to terms with as a preteen in typical “eww-gross” fashion; but I digress, the fact is that I owe my existence to unusual circumstances.) As I grew, their years advanced until a chance meeting with a logging truck and the car my father was driving when I was seven. Fatherless, I continued living with my mother until the age of sixteen, when I received a call while in Denmark as an exchange student. Cancer. Terminal. I chose to return home. My mother appeared diminished and grey, dark circles under her eyes when I saw her at last. Less than a month full of anguish and sleepless night trying vainly to nurse her back to semi-health as she slipped away from me and her body gave in to advanced kidney failure, she died. I was all alone.

Others who have faced the prospects and unique challenges of being orphaned, will understand the many times I felt isolated, misunderstood, and strange, among other things. It is bad enough to be alone as an adult. As a child, especially an extremely sheltered and backward child such as I was, it is devastating in the utmost. It is difficult to take in a child whose been broken. I have friends who have recently adopted a child from China, and they have learned about many of these issues already. “Difficult” is a nice word for the way I behaved that year as I lived with the kind family friends who became my guardians.

I began to daydream about belonging to the family of a friend of mine.  Little did I know, at the same time that I was daydreaming, my guardian was praying about whether it would be better for everyone if I lived with this other family and the “daydream family” was thinking the same thing about me! I remember the day they came to pick me up. There were tears in our eyes as we hugged on the doorstep. It was the beginning of a brand new adventure.

Adventures do not always take the turns we anticipate. Part of the journey involves taking what you’re faced with and learning to adapt, accommodate, and worth through it. Joining a complete family, especially as a needy, spoiled teen has many pitfalls and challenges. It would be difficult to say who has a more difficult time of it, actually, the adopters or the adoptee.

It has been a long journey. The love of my adoptive family has seen me through the recovery of a divorce following a terrible marriage, single motherhood, remarriage, and the births of my 5th and 6th children. Their love has at times confused me, as I pulled away, and felt isolated for my efforts. I am now well into my adult years and still occasionally struggle with what it means to be part of a family, included in something I didn’t begin. The bottom line is that love makes us real. Love makes us belong.

“NOW WHAT I mean is that as long as the inheritor (heir) is a child and under age, he does not differ from a slave, although he is the master of all the estate; but he is under guardians and administrators or trustees until the date fixed by his father. So we [Jewish Christians] also, when we were minors, were kept like slaves under [the rules of the Hebrew ritual and subject to] the elementary teachings of a system of external observations and regulations. But when the proper time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born subject to [the regulations of] the Law, to purchase the freedom of (to ransom, to redeem, to atone for) those who were subject to the Law, that we might be adopted and have sonship conferred upon us [and be recognized as God’s sons].” Galatians 4: 1-5 AMP

(To Be Continued…)

A Candle in the Wind


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night. Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night, Dylan Thomas

There are a lot of things which can snuff out the light in our lives. One of the most destructive is guilt. We become manipulated into doing and saying things we’d rather not. We lie to others to make them see us a certain way. We even lie to ourselves. “I’m not worthy.” “It’s no big deal.” “They didn’t mean to hurt me.” “They’re only trying to help.” “I owe them.” Relationships are difficult enough without the bitterness of guilt poisoning things. We sometimes just need to be brave enough to be honest with ourselves and others. Head games are for chumps.

So, how does avoiding guilt tie in with all this talk of light and candles, etc? The joy we bring to the journey is our light. It is very difficult to get light from a snuffed candle. Anything we allow in our lives that makes us continually unhappy will logically make it very difficult for us to be a blessing to anyone around us. A candle doesn’t just spontaneously light itself! As tenuous as our feelings of happiness and cheerfulness can be (and we cannot just chase warm fuzzies all the time), we have to take concrete steps to eliminate those nasty candle snuffers as much as possible. The whiny friend, the complaining relative, the gossiping neighbor, the manipulative co-worker; these are all relationships that will snuff out our joy and make us ineffective as lights in this already-dark-enough world.

Be careful with you. You’re the best you that you’ve got!

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15-16

Marvelous Pigs in Satin


James: It’s like he said: Marvelous things will happen.

Glowworm: Did he say, “Marvelous pigs in satin”?

Grasshopper: No, dear lady.

[He takes out a megaphone and speaks through it]

Grasshopper: Marvelous things will happen!

(James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl)

As we travel down life’s road, we encounter situations that are many and varied. There is a lot of work involved. Sometimes the path is hot and dusty. Other times it is cold and windy. There are dark times, difficult times, long stretches where everything looks the same and it seems like we’re not making any progress. We wait, and wonder what the point is and why we’re here. We feel frustrated and lost and helpless…

However, that is not the entire book from cover to cover. There are other times, bright times, heartwarming, encouraging, sunny and marvelous. We have wide open spaces that appear along our path, glorious, roomy, and full of freshness. We can take in great breaths of air, take off our worn boots, wiggle our toes in the grass, squish them in the cool mud, and even bury them in hot sand. You can take off your weary pack, stretch your weary shoulders, fling wide your arms and draw the beautiful day into a soul embrace! Long have been the days of your travels, and toilsome. Your heart has been heavy, your mind confused. Bankrupt of all goodwill and generosity, you have shriveled in your heart, folded in upon yourself. Miserly have been your thoughts toward your fellow man. You were not made for this. Your heart was not fashioned for selfishness. Your mind was not created to only hold thoughts of self. For this reason, it is important to make full use of these times and allow your inner self to unfurl. Remember the caress of the soft breezes and the gentle whispers of love and value and ultimate endearment from the One who thought you worth the ultimate price, and paid it, and would again, and again in an instant. It is sufficient, however, that it was paid once and for all.

Now, as your wings unfurl, remember who you are, not a grasping, creeping thing, but a majestic, otherworldly being, with a resplendent soul. You have been washed, healed, and redeemed. You are in possession of knowledge so great that it can change a person from the inside out! Who are you, redeemed and beloved? What is your purpose? What will you do with this excellent and impossible love? Do you bury it? Do you keep it only for yourself? Why not instead open your heart to those struggling, creeping, suffering, despondent souls around you? Hold up the light for them so they, too, can exit that dark place to which you also once belonged. In this way, you carry the joy of the open spaces into the dungeons and shadows and cemeteries of life. You hold the power to free countless individuals, locked in the dark within their own souls. Knowing that such light and goodness exists, how can you not pass it along and extend a hand to a fellow traveler? The dark places of this world are made up of dark individuals and their dark deeds. Be a beacon that shows the way to the paths of peace.

“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested and put in prison, He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the country of Zebulun and Naphtali– That what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be brought to pass: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, in the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles [of the peoples who are not of Israel]– The people who sat (dwelt enveloped) in darkness have seen a great Light, and for those who sat in the land and shadow of death Light has dawned. From that time Jesus began to preach, crying out, Repent (change your mind for the better, heartily amend your ways, with abhorrence of your past sins), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17

The Sunshine of My Life


You are the sunshine of my life
That’s why I’ll always be around
You are the apple of my eye
Forever you’ll stay in my heart

I feel like this is the beginning
Though I’ve loved you for a million years
And if I thought our love was ending
I’d find myself drowning in my own tears

You are the sunshine of my life
That’s why I’ll always stay around
You are the apple of my eye
Forever you’ll stay in my heart

You must have known that I was lonely
Because you came to my rescue
And I know that this must be Heaven
How could so much love be inside of you?

You are the sunshine of my life, yeah
That’s why I’ll always stay around
You are the apple of my eye
Forever you’ll stay in my soul

You are the sunshine of my life, baby
That’s why I’ll always stay around
Can’t stop living You are the apple of my eye

Stevie Wonder

The things that bring us joy in life are many and varied. What makes one person happy is as unique as that person is themselves. It is February, just after Valentine’s Day, and yet in my neck of the woods (I am surrounded by Plumas National Forest), folks are starting the first of their flower and vegetable seeds indoors, airing out their houses, wearing shirt sleeves while the weather holds, and taking full advantage of the unseasonably warm weather until the next storm hits. (We are expecting snow on Tuesday.) Gardening, listening to birds sing, cooking, puppy breath, the smell of Fall, the faces of my children, the love of my husband…these are some of the things that make my heart sing, and wrap around me like a warm security blanket. My list is unique to me, although many people would say similar things also make them happy. The love of my particular husband named Adam, the faces of my exact children, and the reasons and memories which are the basis for my list of favorite things are even more specific to me. These things inspire and encourage me when I am feeling discouraged or depressed. When I feel like giving up, they help me go on, and on, and on…

Many studies, such as published on the website of the University of Kansas (Happiness = Health), have shown a strong link between health and happiness. It follows that the happier we are throughout our lives, the healthier we will be as well. A positive attitude and well-developed sense of humor cannot stave of any and all effects of living, naturally; but the road we follow can have a lot less bumps and a lot more scenic vistas. It all depends on our method of travel and our point of view. In other words, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12 NIV

We all of us need our “heart song” lists. Life is often hard and full of challenges in all shapes, sizes, and durations. If we do not have things to buoy us up, we will surely sink. Perhaps, therefore, it would be wise to focus on not just a happy place, but happy people, place(s), and things. Carry the loves of your life in your heart. Take them with you wherever you go; and never leave home without them. Better than any credit card you might carry, the joy of your heart will help you up like a kind hand extended. With a happy heart, it is much more likely that we will be able to rise again after crushing disappointment. Happiness comes out of us. It is not dependent on our situations. Therefore we must carry it inside of us. What do you carry inside of you day after day? Is it a burden that drags you down, or a boon to uplift your spirit and the spirits of those around you? The greatest source of joy which I have found is the truth of Christ, and Him crucified. After discovering something so rare and excellent, what reason do I have to stay downcast?

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. – Psalm 42:5