Come Up Higher!


“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The world we live in today is an angry world, not just a little miffed, but seething, boiling-over, raging ANGRY. It is, of course, perfectly natural to feel this way. Facebook, life’s microcosm, has seen many “Me Too” posts recently. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a movement to bring awareness to the threat of gender-based violence and intimidation faced by the women and girls of the world in general, and to remind us that all around us, every day, there are women who feel unsafe. There is a global epidemic of forced labor and sex trafficking, for adults and children. What else are we faced with socially and personally on a daily basis but domestic violence, rising healthcare costs, greedy corporations, unethical treatment of employees, thieves, liars, cheaters, swindlers, pretenders, violence, hatred, anger, anger, anger!

I was angry as well when I started writing this post. Some things, after all, are just WRONG. However, “Me Too” should be the beginning of a discussion, not just an angry, raised fist.

An old Newsboys song says, “Everybody needs somebody to rely on….are you gonna lend a hand and assist? Everybody needs somebody’s shoulder to cry on…..are you gonna lend a hand, or a fist?” 

The real struggle, after all, is not men against women, black against white, rich against poor, cat people against dog people, left against right, not really. We all have much more in common than we sometimes care to remember. The ultimate puppet master and behind-the-scenes enemy of all of us is evil incarnate, or the devil, Satan, whatever you call him. He is a master manipulator and gold-star pot-stirrer, and we all fall for his games from time to time. For instance, when I’m angry after reading of a family devastated, or a crime committed, I am usually angry with people. This encourages me to have an “us versus them” or even “me versus everybody else” mentality. That kind of thinking is what feeds the mafia, gang warfare, and a Hatfield’s vs. McCoy’s ideology. When both sides are bleeding and wounded, who really wins? When the smoke clears, you may find yourself looking, not at an enemy, but at a mirror instead. We all get hurt, but we do not have to be the ones doing the hurting.

So, me too, I have been hurt by others, AND I have hurt others. The only hands I can control are on the end of my own arms. The words I have come out of my own mouth. SO, I can be angry with “them” or you, but if I look at MYSELF, I can make the changes that the world needs to be a better place, for “them”, you, and me too.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:13-20 NIV
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Come Undone


“Hey you, out there in the cold

Getting lonely, getting old

Can you feel me?

Hey you, standing in the aisles

With itchy feet and fading smiles

Can you feel me?

Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light

Don’t give in without a fight.” ~ Pink Floyd

Sometimes, after the pep talks end and the encouragement fades away, we are left alone in the dark; brittle, empty, and afraid. Sometimes we come to the end of ourselves and realize that our painful  situation is still going strong and we have nothing left to give. Sometimes, we find that we are not enough. What then? When reality smacks you in the face like a giant tidal wave, no amount of self-help, Oprah’s book club, pop-psychology will save you.

To borrow a quote from the movie Speed, “Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?” (Oh the irony of using a movie quote when I’m talking about facing reality, right? Seriously, sometimes you just have to poke a little fun at yourself.)

OK, so maybe not every situation is as life-and-death as that….but yours may be. Your situation could have you sweating bullets, or sweating because of literal bullets. We live in a very angry world. It seems no one can even state an opinion these days without bringing down a firestorm on their heads. You’d better not say something that someone else doesn’t like. You’d better never make a mistake. Further, you’d better never even suggest that there might be only ONE truth and that it is a Person named Jesus and that he died to save every one of us angry, opinionated, offended, fault-finding, hypocrites. I have realized as I go through life that it is the easiest thing in the world to say one thing and then do another when we come down to the sticking place. But I’m getting off track now talking about Jesus…..Oh wait, no I’m not.

So anyway, Jesus……because he is really what will help us all out here (as in our lives in this world), not more of our own opinions…… Jesus…Name above all names, beautiful Savior, glorious Lord, Emmanuel, God is with us, Blessed Redeemer, Living Word…….In the midst of very personal and painful trials with my own family, my loved-best-in-the-world, my children, my parents, my siblings, my spouse, my dearest of dear friends…I have had to camp out at the feet of Jesus and just weep on more than one occasion.

The funny thing is that from the outside, people have many opinions about the reasons we all hurt, the reasons someone else hurts, or you, or me (SOOO many opinions!!); but we’re all kind-of just winging it as we go. I mean, no offense to you planning, careful types. I know you’ve worked hard and you know where you want to go. Good for you! 🙂

But, let me just say, as a non careful-planning-type someone who knows, that plans unravel and stitches come out, threads holding you to other people fray and tear, buttons get lost and zippers break. Sometimes, many times, our best laid plans are just not enough. Sometimes we get the thing we’ve wanted, and sometimes we don’t. Quite often, in fact, we don’t get the things we want. Many times we get the thing(s) we never wanted instead. It quite honestly seems to be horribly, cruelly unfair.

So, there you are, sitting in front of the blank wall of disappointment, where all your hopes and dreams have been crushed by a giant, undeniable “NO”. And yet, failure teaches us. Pain molds us. Disappointment tests us. We cannot grow without it, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Without “NO”, there is no reason to change or improve. “No” hurts us deeply. However, “No” is not the final word written in our story.

“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’ For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  2 Corinthians 1:19-22 Amplified

In our own lives, it will take each of us a good deal of time and thought and study to learn about the promises of God. We all have our own dreams and plans. Since we can’t honestly say that the purposes and motivations behind those plans and dreams are 100% godly, it behooves each of us to find out what God’s plans are for our lives and how they differ from our own often-frustrated plans….and how much God’s plans surpass ours in every way. 

Of course, a lot of us will say our own “No” here. We don’t believe it, and we don’t trust it…..but since we’re chatting as friends here, let’s call it truthfully what it is, this big “No” of ours:

We don’t believe GOD; and we don’t trust GOD.

There. I typed it out. You read it. No lightning has struck us. It’s not like it was a big secret anyway. 😉 A big part of the reason why we don’t see the fulfillment to the many promises of God is that we give less credence to the power, integrity, and intentions of the Maker of the Promises than we do to Starbuck’s when we order a drink at the drive-thru. In order to get past this stuff (and move on up, to the east-side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky as it were….you were singing along too, weren’t you?)….In order to set foot on the Promised Land instead of only hearing about it or seeing it from very far off, you and I have to grow up. (This post is taking me literally months as I stop and think about each new thought and walk some things out in my own life.)

You and I have got to quit playing at being followers of Christ, and actually take HIS lead and follow. Long ago, before Twitter or Facebook or any other ironically-named “social” networking site, there was such a thing as being a follower of Christ. The men and women who followed Jesus Christ were just like you and I. They had their own plans and hopes and dreams and families and heartaches and jealousies and livelihoods, etc…etc… Yet, each and every one of them was told to lay down his or her cares, take up their cross, and follow Christ.

When I was little and I would hear those stories with a child’s understanding, I thought they were basically left with the clothes on their backs. In my mind I saw this odd group of people trailing along in the desert wearing different colors of tunics and some sort of head coverings, like the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Their families were left behind. Their responsibilities were left behind. Basically, I thought Jesus asked them to beggar themselves and become outcasts. In my mind all I could picture was the loneliness, sacrifice and going without and being in want. I’ve heard it preached this way many times. Usually the follow-up example would be the rich young ruler, then riches were labelled a bad thing we all had to give up, and the collection plate would be passed.

Of course this kind of reasoning flies in the face of verses (from the NIV) like:

Psalm 23:1 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”  

Matthew 11:28-30 ~ “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

John 16:33 ~ “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

OK, calm down. I’m not spouting heresy here. Just be patient with me. 🙂 Some people are called to leave everything behind and follow Christ into a deep jungle, or a burning desert, or the urban inner city, etc. Not everyone is called to do that, however. In the Bible, Jesus had 12 disciples and there were many others who followed along at different times. They eagerly listened to the challenging and beautiful words of the Carpenter from Nazareth and then brought those words back to their lives and families. They returned to their responsibilities and loved-ones and God-ordained places. They reached out to the people around them every day, their neighbors, friends, and family. They gave their possessions and time and talents and even wealth to the cause of Christ. Spiritually, we are ALL called to set as priority one: Jesus Christ.

No, Christ doesn’t need our money. Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1) The people we share the world with, on the other hand, have just as many physical needs as we do ourselves. Therefore, we are presented with a very practical, no nonsense way of showing the love of Christ to the people we encounter every day. People need bus fare, rides to work, babysitters, help around the house, a hand to hold, a meal, a few bags of groceries, a shoulder to cry on, our knowledge, our skills, our time. As indicated by the verses above, our recompense isn’t only waiting for us on the other side of the grave. How does all of this fit in with the concept of coming undone and trusting God to fill in where we’ve fallen apart? I’m glad you asked. 🙂

 

“And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth. [Isa. 40:5.]” ~ John 1:14 AMP

We, being so spiritually needy and helpless, needed someone to show us how we were supposed to put the laws and principles into living, breathing action. Much in the way a kindergarten teacher has to show their students how to hold a crayon or pencil, even to the point of physically molding the child’s fingers around the instrument, we all need to be shown how to do new things by someone who has already mastered them. Jesus came to show us the practical application of the Word of God, himself being the Word in the flesh.

Jesus came to walk it out for us. He came to show us what love actually looks like in human form. He became 1 Corinthians 13. He gave up everything to come down here in the mud where we live. He protected and taught. He served and healed. He befriended. He forgave. He took us by our sin-stained hands and raised us up. He gave us hope and a chance for a new beginning. Jesus invested himself in us. Now that is someone you can trust. Let’s look at a snippet from one of the verses above again.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. [Jer. 6:16.]” ~ Matthew 11:29 Amplified

When you’re feeling broken, you need someone to be gentle. When you’re grieving, you want tenderness, not a lecture. While I was figuring out how to say what I was figuring out for myself these past few months, I stumbled upon a Bible study about Jesus (which you can find here)In this study, a lot of emphasis was placed on Jesus’ character. The attribute I want to especially look at here is his gentleness.

“Behold, My Servant Whom I have chosen, My Beloved in and with Whom My soul is well pleased and has found its delight. I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim and show forth justice to the nations. He will not strive or wrangle or cry out loudly; nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets; A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering (dimly burning) wick He will not quench, till He brings justice and a just cause to victory. And in and on His name will the Gentiles (the peoples outside of Israel) set their hopes. [Isa. 42:1-4.] Then a blind and dumb man under the power of a demon was brought to Jesus, and He cured him, so that the blind and dumb man both spoke and saw.” ~ Matthew 12:18-22
In the previous chapter, Jesus bids us to learn from him and tells us that he is gentle. In the next chapter, we have the two pictures of the bruised reed and the smoldering wick. Then immediately after this there is an extremely bruised and smoldering individual who is brought to Jesus. So we can watch him. We can see if he will do what he says he will do. Jesus healed and restored him. Once again, Jesus shows us with his own actions all the things that God’s word has been telling us. He is his own proof.
So, maybe today you are feeling bruised, mistreated, and misunderstood. Maybe, like a smoldering wick, you feel that your own abilities, patience, strength, and importance are used up. Perhaps you feel forgotten. Perhaps you feel like the world has thrown you away. I want to tell you that God sees you. Jesus died for YOU. You are not an accident. You are not a mistake. God has not forgotten you! The breaths you take right now as you read this are no mistake, like someone somewhere just left the TV on and you happened to be in the room.
This life of yours has meaning; YOU HAVE MEANING.
If you are hurting, let me just tell you as someone who has hurt as well, deeply, and come out on the other side, the other side of hurt does come. In the meantime while you are still in the valley, still taking shallow breaths and gritting your teeth against the pain, taking one day at a time, hoping against hope..Remember there is a gentle Savior who walks right along with you. He will sustain you, and he will lead you eventually out on the other side. Keep your eyes on this gentle Jesus. He is our best hope and comfort in this life. He is true to his word. He is able to lead you through and out of any valley you may be facing. One day, Jesus will lead us gently out of the final valley, and we will be home.

“Then I heard a mighty voice from the throne and I perceived its distinct words, saying, See! The abode of God is with men, and He will live (encamp, tent) among them; and they shall be His people, and God shall personally be with them and be their God. [Ezek. 37:27.] God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away. [Isa. 25:8; 35:10.] And He Who is seated on the throne said, See! I make all things new. Also He said, Record this, for these sayings are faithful (accurate, incorruptible, and trustworthy) and true (genuine). [Isa. 43:19.] And He [further] said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I [Myself] will give water without price from the fountain (springs) of the water of Life. [Isa. 55:1.] He who is victorious shall inherit all these things, and I will be God to him and he shall be My son.” ~ Revelation 21:3-7

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

It Is Well…


When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul. – It Is Well with My Soul, hymn written by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

 

I feel for you. Maybe your day is going a direction you didn’t plan for, or you are feeling the dull thud of disappointment inside right now. I feel for you. Let me give you a little background… Today started off quite well. It’s my husband’s birthday. He’s sleeping in because he works at night. The older kids are off to school. The 2 little ones and I are enjoying a peaceful morning…but then…

The 4 yr old started calling in that tattle-tale tone “Mooooooommyyyyyyyyy! Look what the baby did!” I look up from my coffee. It’s not pretty. The baby has thrown her breakfast over the floor. Did I mention I fed my kids sweet rice with cinnamon, sugar and milk? Yeah, it’s not pretty.(Did I seriously expect something different? Come on it’s a toddler with a bowl of potential nasty-mess.) We shall be referring to this in the future as Rice-Pocalypse. Then, after I am just getting over my pity party for that, I decide I would treat myself to a bathroom break and getting dressed in daytime clothes before the kids get home from school. I think indulgent thoughts sometimes. I get the occasional wild hair. Well, you can stop shaking your head because I was appropriately humbled and chastened. When I returned to the living room, feeling quite accomplished and ready for whatever the day might bring, my toddler one-upped me yet again. My desk, you see, is a staging area for all kinds of wonderful things. Usually, I will admit, it is a class action MESS! I recently cleaned it. BUT my precious notebook with tenderly scribbled notes for a pet children’s story lay open precariously close to my cup of warmed-over coffee, as did my keyboard, mouse, and speakers.

Sometimes, I like to take a little trip back in time to the moment before something truly terrible happened and live for a blissful moment in the ignorance and innocence of that moment. However, as I faced the sweet, brown puddle that was growing on my desk, seeping into every nook and cranny and POURING out of my keyboard when I turned it at an angle, I came to a hard realization. All the heel-clicking, no-place-like-home wishing, time travel to the time of Morlocks and Eloi, or plugging my ears and saying “lalalalalalala” would help me. I don’t know if it was the coffee in the keyboard or the growing stain of it soaking into my precious story, but something inside of me sprang a leak and it started to trickle out of the corners of my eyes as I tried to sop up the mess. Again, I felt sorry for myself. Again, I grudgingly admitted that this could have been prevented. The crush of disappointment for the day I hoped for was heavy on my chest. I did a stand-up impression of Eeyore for a few minutes. But then, words gradually came into my mind that I have heard a million times at church and funeral services: “It is well, with my soul.” 

It is often ridiculous to me when the “peace that passes all understanding” comes my way in insane situations. While I was cleaning up the soul-sucking coffee spill, my kids were fighting with the door of the movie cabinet and the toddler was asking for food, when her breakfast had only just been distributed across the floor, mind you. All of the above was done at high decibels, I might add. Still, I felt the words “It is well, with my soul.” God really has a quirky sense of humor sometimes I think. Naturally, I tried very hard to remember if I’ve prayed for any kind of personal character growth and maturity for myself lately. I always have a very fuzzy memory when it comes to things I decide to do that will be good for me.

So, in spite of the hurricane that blew through my morning, much of which I could have prevented myself, I find that it IS well with my soul. He’s got my whole mess in His hands. He will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6), even in the middle of a fit. He’s not going anywhere, and he can get me through anything I face, whether it is a serious tragedy or just the day to day million straws that break the camel’s back kind of days. In the words of one of my very favorite preachers, I had to get on with it already. I cleaned up the mess and shut down my computer because my keyboard may be headed for that ever-growing pile of electronics in the sky and wouldn’t work a lick. I also put My-Lady-mess-a-lot down for a blessed, blessed nap. Now I’m typing this on hubby’s computer and enjoying a bit of respite as I am reminded that God’s got this. The world continues to spin and my life with it. Time to put on the big girl panties and be thankful.

God is, nonetheless, very, very good.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.[a]

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

Pie in the Sky, and Why You Should Try


“If you run, you might lose. If you don’t run, you’re guaranteed to lose.” – Happy Birthday to Jesse Jackson (born on October 8, 1941) 

Ahh Fall! I love this time of year! It has always spoken to me of hearth and home, gathering in, and, naturally, being thankful that we have been kept alive all this year. It also makes me think of all the opportunities we have been given. Some opportunities have gone by the wayside, and rightly so; some, however, we should not have let pass us by. Making dinner for a sick friend, making time for our loved ones, making up, making amends…sometimes we can’t see the grand purpose of our lives through the day to day survival and routines. We miss out. We miss opportunities.

I’ve blogged about missed opportunities before (https://freeatlastww.com/2012/06/21/in-the-palm-of-your-hand/ , https://freeatlastww.com/?s=opportunity …), but my main point today is those “pie in the sky” opportunities. If something just seems too good to hope for, many times we settle for something we are worthy of, in our own minds. We think of ourselves as less than, so we accept a life that is less than. I read an article recently that talked about the way our relationships damage us and make us see ourselves as unworthy. This makes us much more likely to tolerate people who mistreat us, because, hey, that’s all we’re worth, right? Why should we hold out for people who respect us, when we don’t respect ourselves? That’s a topic for another blog, perhaps. 🙂

Personally, I have had this burning desire to write books for as long as I can remember. I’ve taken many side roads along the way. There have been times when I felt that I was kidding myself. (I can’t write, I’m wasting my time, etc.) The desire remains inside of me to write and become a published author. I can always improve, naturally; but my love affair with words is going strong. I expect I will always have this dream, because it is part of me. I expect you may also have a “pie in the sky” dream. Are you pursuing it? Are you working on it? Have you given up? No dream is too big. Men have walked on the moon, cured numerous diseases, fed the hungry, improved the quality of life, made fortunes, composed sonnets….on and on it goes. Sometimes, we may be really gifted in a particular area but still have a niggling dream somewhere else too.

A few months back, I had the privilege to stumble upon a video of Sir Anthony Hopkin’s waltz entitled “And The Waltz Goes On” being performed by André Rieu & His Johann Strauss Orchestra. It brought tears to my eyes. To think that this had been composed over 50 years ago, yet remained largely hidden all this time. It’s been quite a while since I saw the movie Mr Holland’s Opus, but I remember feeling the same sort of lifting in my spirit. How beautiful to not only dream your pie in the sky, but to finally be able to take a big bite!

Pursuing your dreams means a lot of work, and tears, and skinned knees, and falling on your face, and praying, and praying, and praying some more. I’ve had times where I realized I’d gotten a little too fixated on the Amazing Jessie, complete with fanfare. I had missed the point of my given dream. There IS, you see, a Dream Giver. He sits on high, high and lifted up, shining in the light of His Glory… God isn’t just some grumpy finger-wagger though we often make Him out to be. He isn’t a genie we can make wishes on, or a magic flute we can play whenever we’re unhappy. God is majestic, benevolent, all-knowing, forgiving, and GIVING. God gives us our gifts to give to others as well as to lead us back to Him. 

For my part, I feel God speaking to me through the motives of my characters, as well as their fears, failings, and triumphs. A musician might hear God in the harmony of notes, the precision and order of a well-played riff or chord. An architect might study the designed alignment of structures and see intent in the weight they can bear, their resistance to fire and earthquake. There is a seed of God in everything. It is sometimes difficult above the tumult of pain and suffering and injustice to see and hear His symphony, yet it is playing for you and me right now. God’s song of love for us has always been playing. 

Maybe when your “impossible Dream” comes to mind, you can remember that this dream was given to you by One who makes ALL THINGS POSSIBLE. Perhaps this dream is the song he sings over YOU. You are not alone. 

Today perhaps you should look again at this Pie in the Sky. Remember the flavor, the spice of it. Remember that aroma as it wafts again your way. God’s love for you is never failing. He is wooing you through the notes of this song, the nuance and specificity of your dream. Nothing can get in between you and His love for you. Nothing can keep you from the fulfillment of God’s gifts in your life. Nothing.

 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

The Wind in Your Sails


“For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh (American writer and aviation pioneer, 1906-2001)

There are times when being a Christian seems to entail a great deal of goal-setting and to-do list making. IF we pray without ceasing; and have faith to move mountains; and love our enemies; and bathe once a day at least; and speak to other Christians with songs, hymns and spiritual songs; and only wear a suit and tie or dress to church; and never swear; and wait until you’re married; and never judge our neighbor;  and on the list goes…..then we can be a good Christian and cross those things off our be-a-good-guy/girl list. Somehow, though, we never seem to remember all the things we are supposed to do, or do them well or often enough. We get bogged down with the serious metaphysical and theological questions of life, and we forget what it’s all about in the first place.

“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 5:22-26 AMP

Yes, we want to work on improving as individuals in general and become more like Christ specifically; but Jesus did not come to die to bind us with rules and regulations that we could beat ourselves (and each other) over the head with when we failed to follow them exactly. Jesus came to free us and to help us along the way as we become sanctified through cooperation with his work in our lives. Jesus came to give us life!

“So Jesus said again, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that I Myself am the Door for the sheep. All others who came [as such] before Me are thieves and robbers, but the [true] sheep did not listen to and obey them. I am the Door; anyone who enters in through Me will be saved (will live). He will come in and he will go out [freely], and will find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd risks and lays down His [own] life for the sheep. [Ps. 23.]” – JOHN 10:7-11 AMP

If we spend too much of our lives weighed down with the supposed rules and regulations of what a Christian is supposed to do, then we miss out on the JOY, which is our strength. (Nehemiah 8:10) Without this strength, our days are flat, dull, and empty of meaning. All the to-do lists in the world cannot make up for the hollowness of our accomplishments. Jesus’ own life was filled with turning aside from his routine, pausing, waiting, reaching out a hand to offer a healing touch, giving a word of comfort, of hope. His goal, you see, was people. You and I, those around us, both friend and foe, celebrities, drugstore clerks, the renowned, the forgotten; we are the goal, the prize Jesus died to win.

“Christ lived his life to bring hope, and died to become the bridge to ultimate love and joy and freedom and fellowship. Our lives can find fulfillment in taking hold of nothing less. So, the next time you find your joy taking a backseat to your ability to measure up, remember it’s not about what you can do, but about what Christ has already done.

But whatever former things I had that might have been gains to me, I have come to consider as [one combined] loss for Christ’s sake. Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One), And that I may [actually] be found and known as in Him, not having any [self-achieved] righteousness that can be called my own, based on my obedience to the Law’s demands (ritualistic uprightness and supposed right standing with God thus acquired), but possessing that [genuine righteousness] which comes through faith in Christ (the Anointed One), the [truly] right standing with God, which comes from God by [saving] faith. [For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope] That if possible I may attain to the [spiritual and moral] resurrection [that lifts me] out from among the dead [even while in the body]. Not that I have now attained [this ideal], or have already been made perfect, but I press on to lay hold of (grasp) and make my own, that for which Christ Jesus (the Messiah) has laid hold of me and made me His own. I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward. So let those [of us] who are spiritually mature and full-grown have this mind and hold these convictions; and if in any respect you have a different attitude of mind, God will make that clear to you also. Only let us hold true to what we have already attained and walk and order our lives by that.” – PHILIPPIANS 3:7-16 AMP

The Potter’s Dirty Little Secret


“The difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘commitment’ is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast: the chicken was ‘involved’ – the pig was ‘committed’.” – Unknown

Remember that famous scene from the movie “Ghost” where Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are getting their hands dirty (briefly) at a pottery wheel? One moment they are sliding their fingers around on wet clay and the next moment they are clean and dry and moving off into another-scene-this-blog-is-not-getting-into, ahem? 😉 For many people the idea of a potter’s wheel is sort-of an iconic symbol that means something different to different people, such as a representation of our individuality, or the fact that we can be re-made even if we have been “marred”, or perhaps it is the basis of pithy yet trite sayings such as “God uses cracked pots”, etc.

Those ideas, if a bit shallow and incomplete, are all well and good, except for the glaring error present in all of these ideas: the focus is on the clay and not the Potter. Naturally, before I go any further, I want to be upfront and just say that in NO WAY do I consider myself an expert on pretty much anything, especially the nature of God; BUT I have been chewing on some new ideas lately and I’d like to share them with you.

Jeremiah 18:1-6 records an epiphany in the spiritual journal of the nation of Israel:

“THE WORD which came to Jeremiah from the Lord:
Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.
Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he was working at the wheel.
And the vessel that he was making from clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he made it over, reworking it into another vessel as it seemed good to the potter to make it.
Then the word of the Lord came to me:
O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does? says the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” – Jeremiah 18:1-6 AMP
There are so many gems we can discover as we delve in the Word of God. I am, embarrassingly, not as regular about this as I should be. Thankfully, God in his mercy manages to sneak me my spiritual veggies in many diverse ways. 🙂 I notice several things from this snippet of Scripture. First of all, God initiates relationships with us, every time, even with the seasoned “spiritual veggie eaters”. He also sometimes wants us to do something, go somewhere, say something, think something, out of the ordinary for us. If God wants to teach us something new, he will oftentimes change things up on us. Sometimes it is inconvenient or uncomfortable. Jeremiah was a prophet, which made it his JOB to have these kinds of encounters with God and be able to relate truth to the nation (in this case Israel) he was sent to reach. What if this was a bad time though? What if he lived in our time-frame and his favorite show had just come on TV, or he wasn’t feeling well, or had just gotten home from a stressful day at work, or had a fight with his spouse? What if Jeremiah had allowed the temporary to supersede the eternal as we so often do? (This is not really meant to be the focus on the post for today. I just want to give you a little extra bit of gristle to chew.)
None of the many distractions of life actually DID win out over God’s instructions this time, however; and we have a wonderful bit of treasure to dig up and examine and take home to our little spiritual hidey-holes. 🙂 Jeremiah obeyed God and went down to the potter’s house, where, lo and behold, the potter was just doing his thing. He was making pots, and urns, and pitchers, and all the various and sundry useful and beautiful things that can be made with clay.
There is a show that I used to watch when I was younger on PBS called, I think, “The Prairie Potter”. I could not find specific information on the show when I looked it up however. I have always been fascinated by the transformation wrought on raw, unattractive materials when a creative person goes to work. What a gift to us all is creativity! Anyway, let me tell you, getting back to my point, that pottery is messy! It involves attention to detail, timing, just the right combination of water and clay, steady pressure on the inside as well as the outside to shape the piece, and naturally is the heating time in the kiln and the glazing and finishing and maybe another firing in the kiln. I am not confident that I got all those steps in the right order, either. 😀 The point is that the potter is invested in the finished work, and the potter always signs his finished pieces. The potter gets his hands dirty. He gives each piece his time and attention. It’s not watching the evening news while he knits an afghan and talks to the dog attention, either. The clay on the wheel is of highest priority. The potter, you see, has a plan. With every piece there is a design in mind. If something happens to the clay, it doesn’t just get thrown out as he moves on to the next hunk of clay. No, the potter keeps working with the clay until it is fit to be used for his intended purpose.
Many people today think that God is like a cosmic toy maker. They suppose that he created the world and then turned the giant key to wind it all up and summarily washed his hands of us all. I do not believe this represents a Biblical viewpoint at all. With such great care that he used as he fashioned Creation, it would be foolish and careless for God, who is LOVE incarnate, to step back from the ones he took such care to create. God is intimately involved with us, from our very first joining of cells until the last earthly breath we take, and beyond. (Matthew 6:25-34) God has time for us. God has ALL the time we could ever need. God is not limited by time as we are and so he will never run out of time.
The picture of the potter’s wheel is a very good way to remember God’s care for us all throughout our lives. As so many things are, this picture is more than it appears to be at first glance; it is an encouragement, but it is also a caution. God is the Potter, and we are in his hands.

“And the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips but remove their hearts and minds far from Me, and their fear and reverence for Me are a commandment of men that is learned by repetition [without any thought as to the meaning], Therefore, behold! I will again do marvelous things with this people, marvelous and astonishing things; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the understanding of their discerning men will vanish or be hidden. Woe to those who [seek to] hide deep from the Lord their counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, Who sees us? Who knows us? [Oh, your perversity!] You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be considered of no more account than the clay? Shall the thing that is made say of its maker, He did not make me; or the thing that is formed say of him who formed it, He has no understanding?” – ISAIAH 29:13-16 AMP

The Drawbacks of Being a Hippo


“Arrogance diminishes wisdom”
Arabian Proverb

When I was very young, my family used to visit a restaurant in San Francisco called The Hippopotamus, or Hippo. It was an amazing place, boasting a large array of hamburgers as well as a lit sparkler in the center of the bun and a whole crew of singing wait staff on your birthday. Awesome, right? Sadly, this restaurant no longer exists. (You can, however, read a bit more about it here: Remembering the Hippo)

As amazing as I thought going to The Hippo was when I was little, being called a hippo is not something I would put on my top ten goals, probably the same can be said of you as well. Why is this? Besides the common Western phobia of fat on the body, is the fact that in spite of cartoons and coloring book pages which suggest otherwise, hippos are really nasty, dangerous, territorial, lazy, gluttonous, and bad-tempered. As much as we might try to deny it, this does actually describe us all from time to time. It’s not anything we should aspire to be of course.

Another “character trait” of hippos I have observed (I am CRAZY over those nature shows) is their tendency toward arrogance. Now, hear me out before you start citing behavioral studies. If you are as big and mean as a hippo, you probably deserve a fairly wide berth. (What’s that joke about the 300 lb gorilla?) A hippo in the wild is large and in charge, no doubt. Not many other animals will tangle with them. Did you ever notice the HUGE mouth on a hippo?!? *CHOMP*

Unfortunately, if we will be brutally honest, many people, Christians at the top of the list a good majority of the time I’m afraid, could be characterized as hippos. Very full of ourselves and our “knowledge” of an un-knowable God and self-important, in spite of our actual status as the sinful, unworthy, ridiculous specks we are. (Don’t get me started on the inane amount of arguing we do among ourselves over silly doctrinal differences, while the world hurts, and suffers, and rages, and weeps all around us.)

Notwithstanding our majesty and wonder as creations of intent and divine purpose, the wonder, majesty, intent, and purpose are not our own. With the limited, imperfect knowledge we have of an infinite, and perfect God, we sure pat ourselves on the back a whole lot. Why is that again? Maybe we are getting a little too big for our britches. Maybe our self-conceit needs to diminish a bit while we remember the reason we celebrate Easter Sunday is NOT so we can parade around like arrogant runway models in our pastel finery. Maybe, while we smile fondly at our amazing offspring as they club one another over the head for eggs, we might pause and reflect.

Jesus Christ came to earth as a squalling infant and grew up in this chaotic place only to die on a cross, horribly; because even in our Easter finery, we are wretched and lost souls in desperate need of sanctification. Pretending we are anything other than that is pointless. My continued walk as a Christian, and yours, depends on the continued realization of our need of Christ, not only for our initial salvation, but for our every day’s grace to think and act like a considerate, loving human beings. A hippo-like, prideful attitude tends to make us believe we are better than other people who are different than us and leads to gossip, exclusivism, cliques, bullying, and so forth; and, yes, I AM still mainly talking to Christians. This type of arrogance has no place in the body (aka the Bride) of Christ.

More than all of these reasons, God himself has warned us repeatedly against such full-of-ourselves attitudes, in His Word. (Proverbs 6:16-19; Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 13:10, etc.) One of the most convicting (and by convicting, I mean reminding, encouraging, and exhorting) of these is the passage below:

“On that day when, as my Gospel proclaims, God by Jesus Christ will judge men in regard to the things which they conceal (their hidden thoughts). [Eccl. 12:14.]
 But if you bear the name of Jew and rely upon the Law and pride yourselves in God and your relationship to Him,
And know and understand His will and discerningly approve the better things and have a sense of what is vital, because you are instructed by the Law;
And if you are confident that you [yourself] are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, and [that
You are] a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the childish, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and truth–
Well then, you who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you teach against stealing, do you steal (take what does not really belong to you)?
You who say not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery [are you unchaste in action or in thought]? You who abhor and loathe idols, do you rob temples [do you appropriate to your own use what is consecrated to God, thus robbing the sanctuary and doing sacrilege]?
You who boast in the Law, do you dishonor God by breaking the Law [by stealthily infringing upon or carelessly neglecting or openly breaking it]?
For, as it is written, The name of God is maligned and blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you! [The words to this effect are from your own Scriptures.] [Isa. 52:5; Ezek. 36:20.]” Romans 2:16-24

Beloved, fellow, imperfect brothers and sisters in Christ, he has so much more in store for us in this life. In order to realize the ultimate goal of his bountiful richness and completeness flowing through us to bless others first, and ourselves as a byproduct, we must take our eyes off of ourselves and put them back on the ultimate prize, which is the fullness and richness and completeness of Christ Jesus himself.

“For God has not called us to impurity but to consecration [to dedicate ourselves to the most thorough purity].
Therefore whoever disregards (sets aside and rejects this) disregards not man but God, Whose [very] Spirit [Whom] He gives to you is holy (chaste, pure).
But concerning brotherly love [for all other Christians], you have no need to have anyone write you, for you yourselves have been [personally] taught by God to love one another.
And indeed you already are [extending and displaying your love] to all the brethren throughout Macedonia. But we beseech and earnestly exhort you, brethren, that you excel [in this matter] more and more,
To make it your ambition and definitely endeavor to live quietly and peacefully, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you,
So that you may bear yourselves becomingly and be correct and honorable and command the respect of the outside world, being dependent on nobody [self-supporting] and having need of nothing.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7-12

Welcome to the Crucible


“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” ~ Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the letters A and U and also by the number 14 (carats, that is). Now think GOLD. The way that gold is refined, or purified is a process with many steps.

First of all, you obviously want to start with gold, if you want refined gold. You can’t start with dirt or tuna fish or koi ponds or strawberry Pop Tarts. Only gold can be used if you want refined gold. That’s Step 1. Step 2: Place in the crucible. The gold has to be in the right place, or environment, in order for the refining to take place. This involves location, materials and timing. Step 3: add heat………serious HEAT. First you will need to add some boric acid. Now heat, more acid, followed by more heat, and so on…Keep doing this until the gold is completely melted, however long that takes. Step 4: the gold will need to be handled very carefully as it is poured into the mold. It’s really hot. It can hurt anyone who gets too close. Step 5: the gold must cool completely before being taken from the mold so that it will hold its shape. (http://www.wikihow.com/Melt-Gold)

I think that in life, pain, like everything else, is all a matter of how you are willing to look at it, the perspective you choose, the lens you use when you consider things and situations and even people that come your way. Let me clarify, we all have a certain bent when it comes to the way we see things. I’m talking about pain, and you will need to use a little extra effort here.

First of all, for the purposes of our discussion, you and I are the gold. In order to be refined, we must first have some intrinsic value already. You can’t clean dirt, or rot. You just get rid of it. Refining is a process that takes time, attention, and care. The goal at the end is to have the thing of value be of even greater value. In order to be refined, there must already be value of some kind, there must be some redeemable qualities in order for something to be redeemed. Redemption comes when we are found, refining happens when we are perfected. It is always unpleasant. We feel unsure, unsteady, unclear why this is happening now, this way, for this length of time. We often feel misused, misunderstood, and we see no end in sight. Sometimes we break down under the strain of what is happening to us…like when we lose our tempers and yell at our kids, our spouses, say things we don’t mean, quit our jobs without notice, give up on the dream, drop out of school, tell someone off….like in traffic, using technicolor language that would make grandma yank our ears.

I often feel that parenting is a kind of crucible. Multiple times a day you are faced with the choice of acting selfishly….or even out of self-preservation, and you are given the choice, me or them, now or the future, pay now or pay later. Sometimes, either way you choose it feels like you lose. There are so many of these knuckle-baring, teeth-gritting moments along the way as we raise our kids it sometimes makes us very poor company for anyone else, like our co-workers, friends, church family, spouses, or basically anyone who doesn’t want to hear the run-down on Little Miss or Misters’s last bowel movement. (I love a good pun, and that sentence had to awful ones. 🙂 )

I have wondered many times over the years about the much debated and hotly refuted portions of the Bible that talk about women, some of them more than others, like the submission to your husband part and the part about childbearing as in the increased pain (thanks a lot Eve), and about how women will be saved through childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15) HUH????? Are you kidding me? This on top of submission? God, you ask too much.

But, wanting to actually understand, I thought about it in the context of what the passage talks about, which was a situation in which families were fragmented and the child rearing was not being carried out by loving parents at home. Similar to today, women and men were sold out to the idea of “finding themselves” and such. As is the case today, as the parents “found themselves” the children got lost in the shuffle. This passage is calling Christian women to lay down their selfish desires and give themselves to their children, their tender little babies, who really needed them. Babies aren’t babies forever, of course. This is not an admonishment for Christian women to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and never learn to read. Kids need their parents. Period. That made sense to me. I do tend to get my back up a little when someone tells me to do something (which, at 37, my mom is still doing). Even when someone tells me to do something sensible or gives good advice, I tend to bristle a little bit. People with knowledge don’t like to be taught, and yet it is against reason as well as wisdom to be this way. So there is a little insight into a long-time struggle for me today. 🙂 Love you Mom. 🙂

Of course as I am now actually in the middle of parenting, another thought occurs to me: childbearing and rearing works out something else in us. I have long held the belief that no one, simply no one, can make me more red haze, can’t-speak-correctly, vein-I-didn’t-know-I-had-pulsing, calling-my-kids-everyone’s-name-but-theirs angry, NO ONE but kids. Thankfully, I love my kids, I mostly love kids in general, it’s just when I get out in specific situations with specific kids…again…that I find my “nice lady” seams tearing a bit. Childrearing holds your feet to the fire. It’s easy enough to say you love children when you have none of your own, and of course know better than all those sleep-deprived, cranky individuals who, unbeknownst to you, are telling their child “no” not for the 5th time as they ask for a treat, but the 56th, in less than 5 minutes, and you just let that comment about “controlling your children” slip only slightly loud enough as you passed their shopping cart containing a car seat, and the entire wardrobe of the child who has been screaming. ALL. THE. WAY. THOUGH. THE.  STORE. That poor soul is just trying to make it to the checkout with a couple of gallons of milk and some semblance of dignity and self-control and is being fought every step of the way. There are the times when the fun money you had set aside is used instead on shoes for Little Miss or Mister who you realized with a guilty pang was wearing shoes 3 sizes too small. No, you will not be buying new shoes for work or lunch with the gang this week. You can kiss that concert goodbye because you had to stay home with a kid (or kids) who all got head lice, so of course you are now a pariah anyway and now you couldn’t afford to go even if the darn little buggers didn’t keep showing up on head after head. (Calgon take me away!) *pause for psychosomatic head itching, sorry*

Another hard thing about parenting these sweet babies is that you have to tell them many many times to do something, or not too. I have had crayon on my walls for years, or pencil or pen, or (GASP) even marker. I have made rules and punished and explained and taken things away, and yelled and screamed and panicked, and yet, I still have crayon, etc. on my walls. Discipline is not a popular thing in our country currently. We do not like to tell ourselves no and we do not like to say it to our kids. It’s uncomfortable to wait or do without, so instead of earning good behavior or a well-deserved reward, we cave to the pressure of a tantrum or whining and find peace for a time…..until the next time, and the next, and the next. Discipline is hard work and you actually have to remember what the point was in the first place. I’m not really a fan of the strict cry it out philosophy of sleep training. However, I have never been a fan of being held hostage in my own bed by a baby, either. Nor am I a fan of Cruella DeVille in my house the next day screeching at my kids and husband. There has to be a balance in everything we do. (1 Peter 5:8)

So, as far as a crucible is concerned, there are times when I think I must be in the fire with the acid being added. Being a parent is an overwhelming undertaking, both for the good, sweet, tender, and joyous moments it brings as well as for all the pain and tears and frustration and heartache. I think, though, that as with anything else, God works in seasons in our lives. There are times when I have been put through life’s ringer whether it be a difficult relationship in my extended family, or drama at work, or health issues I worry about for my loved ones, or the tires that keep going flat on my minivan at the most aggravating and inconvenient times, naturally.

After really difficult seasons, I feel a little worn and tender. I’m a bit more sensitive and easily hurt. I need some time to process and heal. Those times are like the cooling process of gold. I want to come out of these times bearing the form of my Savior. I fail though at other times, and I know that it’s only so long before I am yet again being put through the crucible again.  BUT, as we are to find our balanced stances in life, so God has things well in hand. When we go through these sanctifying seasons, He knows when to ease things and we will never go through alone. 🙂

“PETER, AN apostle (a special messenger) of Jesus Christ, [writing] to the elect exiles of the dispersion scattered (sowed) abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, [aka YOU] Who were chosen and foreknown by God the Father and consecrated (sanctified, made holy) by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ (the Messiah) and to be sprinkled with [His] blood: May grace (spiritual blessing) and peace be given you in increasing abundance [that spiritual peace to be realized in and through Christ, freedom from fears, agitating passions, and moral conflicts]. Praised (honored, blessed) be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah)! By His boundless mercy we have been born again to an ever-living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [Born anew] into an inheritance which is beyond the reach of change and decay [imperishable], unsullied and unfading, reserved in heaven for you, Who are being guarded (garrisoned) by God’s power through [your] faith [till you fully inherit that final] salvation that is ready to be revealed [for you] in the last time. [You should] be exceedingly glad on this account, though now for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations, So that [the genuineness] of your faith may be tested, [your faith] which is infinitely more precious than the perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire. [This proving of your faith is intended] to redound to [your] praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) is revealed. Without having seen Him, you love Him; though you do not [even] now see Him, you believe in Him and exult and thrill with inexpressible and glorious (triumphant, heavenly) joy. [At the same time] you receive the result (outcome, consummation) of your faith, the salvation of your souls. The prophets, who prophesied of the grace (divine blessing) which was intended for you, searched and inquired earnestly about this salvation. They sought [to find out] to whom or when this was to come which the Spirit of Christ working within them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow [them]. It was then disclosed to them that the services they were rendering were not meant for themselves and their period of time, but for you. [It is these very] things which have now already been made known plainly to you by those who preached the good news (the Gospel) to you by the [same] Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Into these things [the very] angels long to look! So brace up your minds; be sober (circumspect, morally alert); set your hope wholly and unchangeably on the grace (divine favor) that is coming to you when Jesus Christ (the Messiah) is revealed. [Live] as children of obedience [to God]; do not conform yourselves to the evil desires [that governed you] in your former ignorance [when you did not know the requirements of the Gospel]. But as the One Who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all your conduct and manner of living. For it is written, You shall be holy, for I am holy. [Lev. 11:44, 45.] And if you call upon Him as [your] Father Who judges each one impartially according to what he does, [then] you should conduct yourselves with true reverence throughout the time of your temporary residence [on the earth, whether long or short]. You must know (recognize) that you were redeemed (ransomed) from the useless (fruitless) way of living inherited by tradition from [your] forefathers, not with corruptible things [such as] silver and gold, But [you were purchased] with the precious blood of Christ (the Messiah), like that of a [sacrificial] lamb without blemish or spot. It is true that He was chosen and foreordained (destined and foreknown for it) before the foundation of the world, but He was brought out to public view (made manifest) in these last days (at the end of the times) for the sake of you. Through Him you believe in (adhere to, rely on) God, Who raised Him up from the dead and gave Him honor and glory, so that your faith and hope are [centered and rest] in God. Since by your obedience to the Truth through the [Holy ] Spirit you have purified your hearts for the sincere affection of the brethren, [see that you] love one another fervently from a pure heart. You have been regenerated (born again), not from a mortal origin (seed, sperm), but from one that is immortal by the ever living and lasting Word of God. For all flesh (mankind) is like grass, and all its glory (honor) like [the] flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower drops off, But the Word of the Lord (divine instruction, the Gospel) endures forever. And this Word is the good news which was preached to you. [Isa. 40:6-9.]” 1Peter 1 Entire Chapter, Amplified

How to NOT Shine Your Light


“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
Charles R. Swindoll

Attitude, attitude, attitude!! You guessed it. It’s ALL about attitude, yours and mine.

So lately I have been dealing (read that NOT dealing) with a terrible attitude myself. Mr. Wonderful now works nights. My mind wants to wait up for him. The 1 yr old has been teething and I am slowly, slooooowly trying to wean her. My school-aged kids wake up early and begin their morning clumping-through-the-house-like-circus-elephants routine. My 3 yr old is very mischievous and can-NOT be left alone. He finds things to nibble, and color with and on, and knock over, etc, etc. I also watch a little boy M-F and he arrives around 7:45 in the morning. I cannot usually sleep in. I cannot usually coordinate nap time so I can nap, although Heaven help me I am trying! Fact: I end up staying up too late to outlast my kids and the baby who needs a quiet room to actually stay asleep, and I have MUCHO interrupted sleep at all times of the night. Laying there fuming is not conducive to sleep as I try to get comfortable sans noise, and yep, when I DO finally start to fall asleep, that’s when the baby wakes up crying, Mr. Wonderful’s truck rumbles into the driveway, the kids get up for school, the 3yr old begins stomping up and down the hallway, there is a knock at the door, yadda-yadda. Fact: all of this adds up to make me a less-than-lovely, un-shiny, desperate, grumpy, snarky, impatient, schnickelfritz. Mr. T. a.k.a. B.A. Baracus. Yep, I AM that man……or woman. Anyway, moving right along. 

When I was looking up a passage on attitude for this post, I found a story about King Solomon. (You know, like the Mines? Kidding. Solomon, as in David and Bathsheba’s second son, Richie Rich in Biblical times, wise as…lots of wives, yeah, that one.) He and God had this agreement that basically went: Solomon honors God ONLY and puts a stop to worshiping other gods which were really leading the population into doing some bad things, like human sacrifice, etc. In return for Solomon’s exclusivity, God would bless him and his lineage and establish his kingdom, like He had promised David. Long story short…..Solomon flubbed it. He decided he was just going to go ahead and do his own thing (back to his insane, polygamous obsession for marrying, and marrying, and marrying…More on the company we keep and how it can ruin our character later.)

“Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. So the Lord said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.’ ” 1 Kings 11:-13

A bad attitude can really ruin a good thing. Solomon should have known better, just like the rest of us when we decide to do it our way and reap the  less-than-lovely, un-shiny, desperate, grumpy, snarky, impatient, schnickelfritz consequences. You can bet your sweet Aunt Bippy that this kind of life is NOT what God intends for any of us, either. When we get an attitude, He wants to give us more of Him, so that the amazingness that is God, fills us up so much that there is no room for the junk that makes us (and everyone around us) so very unhappy. All that is left is Him, and we become the person He intended us to be all along:

“blameless and guileless, innocent and uncontaminated, children of God without blemish (faultless, unrebukable) in the midst of a crooked and wicked generation [spiritually perverted and perverse], among whom you are seen as bright lights (stars or beacons shining out clearly) in the [dark] world.” Philippians 2:15 Amplified

Focusing my mind to actually think about my attitude and the effects of it on those around me, most notably the 3 tiny ones who can’t do anything to stop me and are at my mercy. When my attitude is horrible, they suffer. Then hubby wakes up and he suffers. My kids get home, the phone rings, I get a text from my mom, etc….a bad attitude will lead to consequences that just snowball. It’s time to STOP THE MADNESS already! Here is what God says about our attitude:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 NIV

“For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome. Then you will call upon Me, and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear and heed you. Then you will seek Me, inquire for, and require Me [as a vital necessity] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13 Amplified
“Assuming that you have really heard Him and been taught by Him, as [all] Truth is in Jesus [embodied and personified in Him], Strip yourselves of your former nature [put off and discard your old unrenewed self] which characterized your previous manner of life and becomes corrupt through lusts and desires that spring from delusion; And be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh mental and spiritual attitude], And put on the new nature (the regenerate self) created in God’s image, [Godlike] in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, rejecting all falsity and being done now with it, let everyone express the truth with his neighbor, for we are all parts of one body and members one of another. [Zech. 8:16.] When angry, do not sin; do not ever let your wrath (your exasperation, your fury or indignation) last until the sun goes down. Leave no [such] room or foothold for the devil [give no opportunity to him]. Let the thief steal no more, but rather let him be industrious, making an honest living with his own hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need. Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it.” Ephesians 4:21-29 Amplified
“A scoffer seeks Wisdom in vain [for his very attitude blinds and deafens him to it], but knowledge is easy to him who [being teachable] understands. Go from the presence of a foolish and self-confident man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips. The Wisdom [godly Wisdom, which is comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God] of the prudent is to understand his way, but the folly of [self-confident] fools is to deceive. Fools make a mock of sin and sin mocks the fools [who are its victims; a sin offering made by them only mocks them, bringing them disappointment and disfavor], but among the upright there is the favor of God. [Prov. 10:23.]” Proverbs 4:6-9 Amplified

Keeping your eyes on the prize is essential. Do you want to just wake up one day and find that 50 years have gone by and you are still as lonely, impatient, selfish, touchy, unforgiving, gossipy, and unhappy as you always have been? To make the needful and difficult changes to be a more whole and sound and actually beneficial to others human being, you are going to have to dig in and work for it, and so will I.

If you have read only this post, or even if you are a follower, you will hopefully understand that this is not a “mommy blog”. There is a need and a place for those, definitely; but I hope to relate to you as a human being first. I am flawed and ridiculous and vain and selfish and small. I also know Jesus, who is none of those things, and I need him DESPERATELY to not only bring me out of a funk or make me pleasant to be around; but to help me to reach my ULTIMATE life goal, which is to be like Him and help others to know him. There are enormous obstacles in the way of that, but Jesus Christ is more than enough, for you and for me.

 “IF THEN you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, thus sharing His resurrection from the dead], aim at and seek the [rich, eternal treasures] that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [Ps. 110:1.] And set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things), not on the things that are on the earth. For [as far as this world is concerned] you have died, and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in [the splendor of His] glory.” Colossians 3:1-4