Hearts and Words

I’ve always been one of those who has said that I am more patient with my kids than most, that I yell at them less than most. And granted, that has a bit to do with the miracle of modern medicine, but that’s beside the point. It’s beside the point because I’ve come to realize that it’s not enough. It’s not enough to be able to say that I am usually patient or that I’m usually respectful. You see, it has come to my attention that they don’t necessarily hear, remember, or believe what is most frequent.

Instead I believe that they hear, remember, and believe what seems most authentic. And what seems most authentic? It’s what comes out under the greatest pressure. Sadly, that means that what they may be internalizing is what I say that is most negative—when I’m in a bad mood, when they’ve been difficult, when circumstances haven’t panned out as planned. One unkind word, one hard day, one fight—it can cancel out a month of good times.

How do I know this? Because I’m the same way. I don’t believe your fair-weather words and accolades, if they don’t hold when the pressure is on. It doesn’t matter if we’re friends, family, colleagues. What matters to me is what I believe to be authentically you. What do I believe you really think about me? How do I believe you really feel about me? That is what I will believe. The question becomes what to do about it. I think what we do depends on whether we are on the giving or receiving end of others’ words.

As a speaker and actor, the Bible has a lot to say about how WE should treat others:

Psalm 141:3
“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

Proverbs 12:18
“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 15:1
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Proverbs 15:4
“The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”

Luke 6:45
“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Likewise, when it comes to the words that others speak to, about, or over us, the Bible tells us that we should find our worth and value in what GOD declares to, about, and over us.

Exodus 14:14
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Psalm 62:5-6
“Only God gives inward peace, and I depend on Him. God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe, and he is the fortress where I feel secure.”

Psalm 73:26
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

2 Chronicles 20:15
“The battle is not ours, but God’s.”

Ephesians 2:10
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

So, in either case, perhaps the first step is to begin by meditating on HIS words, and by letting those become the inpouring and outpouring of our hearts.

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Skipping Showers

Luke 10:30-35

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

That title might sound strange. What does skipping showers have to do with anything? Well, it so happens that I read a blog a few months ago that listed a bunch of things that we should all do or embrace this summer. One of the recommendations was to let the kids skip showers on pool days. Now, if we did that, the kids wouldn’t get a bath but twice a week. And I simply cannot skip a shower myself. Bangs = greasy hair. But I did feel like I should embrace the spirit of the suggestion.

And what does that look like in my own life? It might look like having coffee with an old friend, or a mojito and a good laugh with a new one. It might look like stopping to visit an elderly neighbor whose health is ailing, and allowing my unofficial therapy dog to cheer her up. It might look like visiting with another student’s grandma during swimming lessons, instead of using that time to catch up on work reading. It might mean setting course prep aside for a spontaneous game of Old Maid with the kids. It might mean going swimming with the kids four or five days a week. There are so many things, actually.

To be honest, you’ll often hear me say, “I really need to get some work done.” But that’s because on so many occasions, I set that work aside to be in the moment that is set before me. I don’t want to miss whatever divine appointments might come my way, so I reason that the work can wait. But what if those unexpected opportunities actually ARE the work, the work that God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)?

It makes me think of the story of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus once shared with a religious leader. I find it hard to believe that this guy was just aimlessly wandering the road to Jericho, with nothing on his agenda for the next two days. And yet, while the other passersby where too frightfully busy to stop, or maybe too skittish at the sight of blood, the Good Samaritan stopped, cared for the stranger, saw to his care in his absence, and returned to check on him later. This is the work to which we are called, and it’s how I want to live my life.

So what about you? How might you be able to figuratively skip a few showers in this season of your life? I pray that you find and take some opportunities to live in the moment, to be present for someone in their time of need, to slow down and take stock. I assure you, it will be worth it.

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Still

Your promise still stands, great is your faithfulness!
I’m still in your hands, this is my confidence—You’ve never failed me yet!

“Do It Again”
( Elevation Worship)

When I hear these lyrics, they seem designed to comfort someone in the throes of the unexpected—cancer, job loss, infertility, divorce….But for me, they bring to mind a more expected but no less daunting future. It’s no secret that one of my greatest fears is that of growing older. Not like, gray hair and wrinkles older. Not 98, but active and full of life older. So, not Betty White, in other words. No, I mean the kind of older where your mind or your body, or both, begin to decline rapidly, leaving you unable to do the things you once loved, or even the basic things that you once could.

This summer, I’ve found myself with a front row seat to witness such decline. My parents’ elderly neighbor is suffering from dementia, and she seems to have lost so much of her memory and her ability to care for herself, even since I saw her last summer. Watching her struggle with the frustrations of not being able to remember things she knows she should remember is heartbreaking. It must be very frightening. My dad also has a dear friend, a woman he’s worked with for years and who has known me all my life, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. When he visits her now, she doesn’t know who he is. I can only imagine how lonely she must feel. And then recently, even my own grandmother has begun to struggle to maintain her independence, after living her entire life as a strong, resourceful, and self-sufficient woman.

In these times, I remind myself that His promise still stands. What is His promise—or what ARE His promises, rather? Here are just a few that come to mind.

  • “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
  • Our Heavenly Father will give good gifts to those who ask! (Matthew 7:11)
  • “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
  • “The LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
  • “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

I know that a time will likely come when I will need to face this fear myself. God, whatever condition I find my body and mind in at that time, I pray that You will allow me to STILL remember these truths: that your promise still stands, that great is your faithfulness, that I’m still in your hands, that this is my confidence, that you’ve never failed me yet. Amen.

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Building Some Church

1 Corinthians 12:25-27

“…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

One day, as some of us moms were watching our kids play on the playground at church, one of them observed some workers, and construction equipment, and some loud noises adjacent the playground. A friend’s son commented that they were “building some church.” Indeed, we are in the process of expanding our physical church campus, but my friend and I laughed at the phrase, joking about how it would make a great hashtag to describe the more figurative process of building and growing in biblical community. The latter a much slower and subtler process, not nearly as easily visible as the physical processes associated with a construction project.

I was recently prompted to reflect on my own experience with biblical community—granted, it was under unfortunate circumstances. A couple of friends and friends’ family members have found themselves in the hospital lately. And there is always an internal debate—Should I go visit? How long should I wait? Do they even want me to visit? Do they want any visitors at all? Would I want visitors if it were me? And WHO would I want to see? That last question got me thinking, and I drifted off to sleep one night composing a mental list of welcome visitors for my own hour of need—from church, from work, from the neighborhood, from school, from the grocery store, and so on. The list turned out to be much longer than I’d expected.

Contrast that with my hospital stay 7 years ago, when Tijge was born. We were new to town, even newer to our church, and hadn’t made a whole lot of friends. I honestly couldn’t think of a single person (other than Chris, of course) I would have wanted to see. That was okay. It was a special time of bonding as a family and getting used to the newness of motherhood. But I would have felt the same way about visitors even if I’d been in the hospital for some other (less joyous) reason.

So, I guess the revelation is this: whatever else I’ve been doing over the past 7+ years—raising kids, working, building a home and a life in perhaps the most unexpected of places—I’ve also been, you guessed it, building some church. And I’m so grateful for the blessing that has been. Thank you to all of you who have been part of this journey!

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Forbidden Fruit

Genesis 3:6

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”

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I have a confession to make. I LOVE pear trees. I love everything about them—the way they look, the way they smell. They calm me. The problem is that I’ve recently become aware of the environmental curse that ornamental pear trees represent. They are weak in structure, they choke the life from native trees, and they cross pollinate with other trees so that they spread like kudzu, according to Durant Ashmore of the Greenville News. Ashmore further adds that they are very difficult to get rid of, as some varieties produce 4-inch thorns. This means that bulldozing them can be the only solution.

So, at this time of year, my sin constantly accosts me. It taunts me at every turn. It is SO hard to look at these trees and see them for the danger they represent. They don’t look dangerous. They’re aesthetically beautiful, pleasing to the eye. And it occurs to me that they are not unlike so many other temptations to sin. I think that we look back on the Garden of Eden, and often villainize Adam and Eve. They were given so much, and were denied only one thing. Why couldn’t they just say no, and walk away? We become very sure that, in their (lack of) shoes, we would have done just that.

But I wouldn’t have—not when I can’t even look away from these “beautiful” pear trees. And come to realize, we even have a couple in our yard (they came with the house). But I don’t know if I could bring myself to tear them down—at least, it isn’t at the top of my priority list. And when I do finally get around to it, it will not be cathartic or freeing or vindicating. Instead, I think it will be a bittersweet day, a sacrifice I’ve made at great personal cost.

We aren’t to hold this attitude toward sin. We aren’t supposed to let it maintain control over us. And we are supposed to be disgusted by it. Proverbs 8:13 says that “the fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.” And Romans 12:9 tells us to abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” There’s no halfway when it comes to sin. We must put our sin to death…not keep it around like a pet. Matthew 18:9 commands, “if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”

Is my love of pear trees my mother of all sins? Of course not. But it seems to me to be the most poignant illustration during spring time in Texas. May it serve as a reminder and conviction to us all.

Beautifully Well

Colossians 4:6

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

A week ago today, I had the opportunity to attend the memorial service for a friend’s mom. It was a very nice service. And while I didn’t actually know my friend’s mom personally, by the end of the morning, I wished that I had. The preacher spoke of her hospitality and generosity, and so many other endearing traits. One thing he kept saying that stuck with me was that she lived her life “beautifully well.” She seemed to radiate God’s love and His character. Not unlike Jesus, people gravitated toward her. They saw Jesus in the things she did, and the things she said, and the way she loved. So when people saw Jesus in her, they turned toward Him.

I thought to myself how that would be a wonderful thing to have someone say upon my passing. I mean, sure, my hope is that I will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Come and share your master’s happiness!” But He might say that even if I show up in Glory by the skin of my teeth, because He knows well the dust that I’m made of. But when our fellow sojourners say things like that, there’s a certain comfort that comes.

So the question becomes, Would they? Would they say that I lived my life in Christ “beautifully well”? Would they say that about you? What would that even look like? There are an endless number of ways, I suppose. But it might look like a smile, a kind word, an extra dash of patience in the grocery store checkout line; it might look like a load of laundry, a load of dishes, or a load of diapers—tended to without complaining. It might look like opening your home to welcome someone in need, taking a meal to an elderly neighbor, or serving in your community. Remember that each person you come across represents a divine opportunity to share God’s love, through your words, actions, and attitudes. It’s like they say, you may be the only Jesus they ever see. So show Him, beautifully well.

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Fathoming Hope

Romans 5:2-5

“…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Today, I encountered a woman whose story painted for me a picture of hopelessness. She was desperate and alone, discontent with just about every aspect of her life, and seemingly helpless to do anything about it. Beyond that, she was haunted by her past experiences and memories. She had become so accustomed to loss and disappointment that she couldn’t imagine any other way.

I myself am no stranger to despair, having struggled with depression for many years. But there was something different about this woman. That something was God. No matter how hopeless I might have felt in any given moment, or even for entire seasons, I never lost sight of God. I knew He loved me. I knew He had a plan for me, and one that would give me hope and a future. I knew that He would work everything I felt and was going through together for good and for His glory. Granted, the hope I had was at times about as big as those mustard seeds of faith Jesus talked about in Matthew 17:20. But as it turns out, hope works kind of like faith—it grows.

But for hope to grow, it has to exist. And then it has to survive some harsh conditions. This woman may have had hope at one time, but hope that was crushed by one too many harsh realities and rude awakenings. Or she may have never had any to begin with. One thing was and is clear to me. She needs the hope of salvation, the hope of redemption, the hope of restoration—in short, she needs Jesus. From the outside looking in, she seems so far from Him. But look at what Luke 15:20 says about the story of the prodigal son:

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

God will run to this woman, too. She needs only to start out in His direction.

Sovereign Lord,

I don’t even know the name of the woman I’m praying for—but you know.
You know her name, her story, her sorrow, her past, and her future.
And you know the plans you have for her, plans to prosper and not to harm her,
plans to give her hope and a future.
The impossible is possible with you, so a mustard seed of hope is something you can do.
I believe you for this hope, and I pray it in the matchless name of Jesus. Amen!

Lenten Blossoms

Hands Free

I’ve spent the last several days disconnected from my smart phone and social media—though not by choice or by design. My phone accidentally fell out of the car at a gas station a couple hours away, and I couldn’t get it until today. Relieved that my phone seemed to be in good shape and in good hands, I decided to make this an experiment of sorts. What would I learn or discover from this hands free weekend?

My observations have probably been different than what you would have expected. Usually, when people unplug and disconnect from their smart devices and social media, they seem to find themselves more connected with the people and the world around them, more richly involved in and keenly aware of their surroundings. The experience seems to them to be a refreshing, recharging one. I, on the other hand, have been keenly aware of what is missing when these technologies are not at my disposal. And I have become even more convinced of the value that smart devices and social media can add, when properly wielded. Here are just some examples:

Making the most of the moments. Every night since misplacing my phone, I’ve checked in on the kids before bed. And every night, I’ve thought, “Oh, that would make such a sweet photo.” But alas, no smart phone. And of course, I have a ‘real’ camera, but it isn’t at my fingertips all day, every day. So, just as I end up missing these sleepy scenes, I will often miss a cute shot of the kids or the dog or the snowfall, or what have you. And, while I try to pause and appreciate the moment, I find it to be much more fleeting when I have no way of capturing it for safe keeping.

Documenting the details. Likewise, my friends can attest that I share a lot of the kids’ comments and conversations on social media—kids say the darndest things, after all. And some are so hilarious that you would think I would remember them months, and even years later. But often, when I go back to comments made six months or a year ago, I find that they’ve slipped my mind. And the older I get, and the older the kids get, and the more there is to remember, the foggier things will get in my memory. So having these keepsakes helps me to treasure these precious memories.

Keeping mommas in the memories. Selfies seem to sometimes get a bad rap. They can come across as vain and self-absorbed. But think about it this way. For many years, moms have been the ones behind the cameras, making sure that those family memories are recorded for posterity. Or, sometimes moms have tried everything to stay out of those photos, for fear that they will come across as too old, too fat, too tired. Our self-esteem and self-image problems have resulted in kids growing up and looking back on the family photo albums, only to wonder, “Where was Mom in all of these photos?” But there’s something about getting IN the photos WITH your kids that changes how you see yourself in the pictures…at least that’s how I feel. I see myself from a different perspective then, and one of greater appreciation.

Sharing in celebration. I love seeing friends’ and family members’ announcements, whether it’s an engagement, marriage, pregnancy, or birth announcement, I like to celebrate with you! And I like being reminded about birthdays, so I can send a greeting. And I like seeing how others celebrate holidays and vacations, and sharing our own celebrations with loved ones. Who knows what kinds of announcements and celebrations I’ve missed over the past few days?!

So, my little experiment gave me a greater appreciation for the connectedness afforded by modern technology. I know that what are blessings to me are curses for others, and I want to be sensitive to those struggles. But for me, fingertip technology falls squarely on the list of things to be grateful for—and you can bet that I won’t be resolving to get offline this year. And I’m glad to be back in touch with all of you once again. Happy New Year!

London

Once a week, I volunteer at London’s school, and Laredo goes along with me to play with the kids her age. I remember the first day we went, when Laredo first met the kids. London saw her, and immediately ran over to her, greeting her with a HUGE hug. It was so sweet, and thus very memorable. So each week, as I work in the school’s donation center—cleaning, folding clothes, straightening shelves—I listen as the two girls play, together and with their other friends.

Then one day, about a month ago, I greeted London with a simple, “Hi London, how are you?” Well, her jaw dropped, and her eyes widened, and she exclaimed, “She knows my name! She knows my name!” You’d have thought I was famous. Mind you, I volunteer in my mismatched, most comfortable, but least trendy clothes; I usually haven’t had a shower; besides which, I am a nearing-40-year old, slightly out-of-shape, mother of two. I’m not cool—not even close. But to London, the fact that I knew her name made her day. It was flattering, but also a bit convicting.

It was convicting because the God of the universe knows each of us by name. In John 10:2-4, Jesus states that “the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” And again, in John 10:14, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…” Our names are graven on His hands, and written on His heart. But how often do we really stand in awe of that fact? Do we really even grasp it? I know I don’t…at least not the way London would. But I want to, don’t you?

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For Such a Time as This

Esther 4:14 (ESV)

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

If you read the last entry on my blog, you will have read my mom’s adoption story, from her perspective and in her words. This week, I’d like to add a bit of my own commentary, having watched her adoption story, even more as an outsider than I realized. I say this because I remember always feeling like it wasn’t fair that my mom was adopted, only to be relegated to housekeeping chores and other responsibilities beyond the purview of a child.

Adoption, in my mind, was supposed to be magical, joyous, and all the rest. But so often, as I looked on, I saw it as a burden for her. Granted, in seeing what was, I was unaware at the time of what might have been—mafia ties and the like, which appears now to have been the alternative.

Over the years, I think my mom found solace in her parents’ need for her, reasoning that their physical and tangible needs were the reason God placed her in their home. But in my view, that’s only part of the story. Ultimately, we all have physical needs, and we find ways of having them met. But I think that watching my mom’s selflessness, day in and day out for 35 years, made a lasting impression. How do I know this?

Just this past summer, I learned of the day when my grandparents were ageing and in failing health, and my mom sent her pastor to visit with them, and to tell them about Jesus. After the visit, the pastor told my mom that both Grandma and Grandpa had accepted God’s forgiveness and were now secure in their eternal salvation. It seems odd that a virtual stranger could walk into their home and find such accepting and receptive hosts.

And yet, in a way, it’s not surprising at all. It’s not surprising because this stranger was sent by someone who had lived out the mission of Christ in their midst for all those years…she had served them sacrificially, loved them unconditionally, forgiven them repeatedly and undeservedly. Just. Like. Jesus. And I believe that with each act of selflessness, each load of laundry, each Sunday visit (and so much more), they were seeing Jesus. And if you ask me, it wasn’t each of those moments that were God’s purpose for placing her there. It was the moment when each of them said yes to God’s offer of salvation. And I believe that God was watching, thinking of my mom, and whispering to her soul, This. I placed you here for such a time as THIS.

And in truth, God continues to use her in times such as these…to serve a neighbor in need, to reach out to a disheartened coworker, to impact a school child in her care, and on and on. I know that the mundane of her day to day isn’t always glamorous, and that she often feels like she’s still waiting for her calling. But I believe she’s living it every day. So many times, God must be whispering to her soul, I placed you here for such a time as this…and this…and this. Oh, that we would all be willing to live our lives as a reflection of Jesus, and to recognize those times when He has divinely placed us here or there, and for such a time as this.

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