God’s not waiting with open arms

We’ve been lied to.  I know that sounds harsh, and I don’t think it was ever intentional, but here it is.  All these years I’ve believed a lie.

Just a brief history: When I was fifteen I became a Christian.  That is, I entered into a real, personal relationship with Jesus.  I fell head over heels in love with the Lord.  And in the few years since – okay, so it’s been almost half a century, but time flies, right? – I’ve continued to love Him.  But I’ve had ups and downs like most people – times when I’ve been so close to God I felt like I could reach out and touch Him, and times when I’ve been so distantly separated that I thought I would never find my way back.

And that’s where the lie came in.

So many times when I was struggling, good, sincere, loving Christian friends – even pastors – counseled me to just turn to God, because He was there  waiting for me to come back to Him.  He was waiting with open arms!  He hadn’t turned away from me; I had turned away from Him.  All I had to do was run back into His arms, and I’d be safe and warm again.

But it turns out that’s a lie.

Oh, not the part about who turned away from whom.  That’s true.  Always.  Every time.  God never turns away from one of His children.  It’s that other part, about running back into his arms.  That’s the falsehood.

Now let me digress just a minute before I explain.

If you’re at all familiar with the Bible you know something about the Psalms.  The Psalms and I have always had a little bit of a loose relationship.  I love the Psalms – or at least some of them.  The praisey, worshippy, lift-me-up-and-make-me-smile Psalms.  I can sing of your love forever … Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul … The everlasting love of the Lord never fails …  But those Psalms of David where he’s running from his enemies and hiding in caves and dodging all the arrows and all that?  Meh.

But recently my Bible study group started a study called Redeemed by Angela Thomas REDEEMED2Pharr. As part of the study, we are reading through the Psalms, roughly three Psalms a day, which necessitates my reading all the cave hiding, arrow dodging ones along with the happy happy happy ones.

And it was in reading one of those Psalms that I discovered I had believed a lie lo these many years.  (Some might say many many many many years but I think that is borderline rude.)

Here is the first thing I learned:  I may not have enemies like David had enemies, dudes with fire-tipped arrows hunting me through the wilderness, but I have enemies.  My enemies are Satan and his minions, and their arrows are temptation that leads to sin, confusion, busyness, stress, worry, anxiety, uncertainty, envy, frustration, discontent – any of the gazillion things that separate me from God.  Any of the things that keep me from an intimate communion with the Lord.  And here’s the other thing I learned.

Are you ready for the biggie?

When I’m stuck in the cave, bogged down by these arrows being slung at me, trying to fend off my enemies, separated from God by whatever it might be at that moment, I do not need to turn and run back into His arms.

Listen to this.  Read it carefully.  Read it out loud.  It’s a little long, but my friend, I promise it is worth it.

“The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice, my cry came before him, into his ears.

{Get ready; this is where it gets really really really good.}

“The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. {Not angry at you; angry at your enemies!}                Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it.  He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet.  He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind.  He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him – the dark rain of the sky.  Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning.

“The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.  He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them.  The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.  He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.  They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”  (Psalm 18:4-19)

If you don’t have chills  you need to read that again.

I could go on and on about this, and actually I already have to anyone who would listen, but just know this:

You never have to make your way back to God.  Whenever you find yourself separated from Him, no matter the reason, if you want to be back in His arms, the only thing you have to do is cry out to Him.  That’s it.

This should be the thing we learn right after we learn John 3:16 – For I, God, so loved the world that I gave My only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  And whenever any of you whosoevers is in trouble and cries out to Me – you don’t have to turn to Me, you don’t have to look for Me, you don’t have to run to Me, you just have to cry out to Me – I’m going to part the heavens and come after you breathing fire, making the mountains tremble, scattering your enemies – those oh-so-powerful enemies that can’t hold a candle to Me – and I’m going to reach down from on high and take hold of you, and bring you into a spacious place, into My presence.

And I’m going to do it because I delight in you.

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Lessons from a Two Year Old

{Disclaimer: I stumbled across this post in my drafts folder the other day and realized I’d never published it.  These three grandchildren are now ten, three, and one-and-a-half. But the lessons learned on this occasion are important enough to still share.}

I babysat my younger son’s three children last night, Da privilege and a challenge all rolled into one big bundle of woohoo!  His elder daughter, nine, is really self-sufficient and in fact a huge help with the littles, a two year old boy and a seven month old girl.  But she has her own interests, and I don’t think it’s her job, at nine, to be a mini-mom to the others, so I try to impose on her as seldom as possible.  (However, when baby Emily is screeching and Jay has to pee NOW, there’s no help for it – Calie to the rescue.)

Last night, Calie was engrossed in math prodigy on the computer and I was hanging out with Emmy and Jay.  I thought I’d take the opportunity to work on teaching Jay some things.  Turned out it was the other way around.

We started with his favorite book, Eight Silly Monkeys.  I’ve read this book to

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him a zillion times, ever since he was a tiny baby, and we have a whole routine that goes with it (including the mandatory voices and tickling).  We (meaning I) always count the monkeys on each page.  He’s getting to where he counts – or attempts to count – along with me.  This night, he wanted to do it himself.

“Okay,” I said.  “Let’s hear you count.”

“Six three one seven two.”  Then he giggled and jumped up, ready to run when I got to the tickling part.

“No, come on, let’s count right.  One, two, three …”

“Eight five six two nine!” Off he ran.

Sigh.  “Jay, come on over here.  Let’s count the monkeys.”

“Gwamma, we counted da monkeys.”  He patted his head.  “Hit his head,” he said, in a perfect imitation of the sing-song I always use for that part.  Then he stood there wiggling back and forth with a grin, waiting for mama to call the doctor and the doctor to say, “No more monkeys jumping on the bed!” at which point I would grab him and tickle him.

“No, let’s count them right.”

Jay stopped wiggling and looked at me, the corners of his mouth drooping.  “I counted dem.”

“Well,” I said.  “One did fall off the bed, and hit his head.”

Jay screeched and started wiggling again, his face alight. And I realized then that there’s more than one way to count monkeys.

A little later, in order to calm a very tired and cranky Emily down, I took her out onto the front deck (she loves being outside).  Jay followed right behind.  “Let’s go look at the Norm lights!” he said.  These are not lights named Norm.  These are little twinkly gnome lights out in my little gnome garden, but to Jay they are Norm lights, and I do not correct this because we have a good friend named Norm and I think it’s too cute.  (I also think it’s cute that he calls a certain sports drink “gwatowade.”)

So I started walking down the deck toward the Norm lights.  About three-quarters of the way down I heard Jay call, “Gwamma!”  I turned and he was stopped.

“What, Jay?  Come on.”

“Slow down.”  He didn’t move.

“Okay, I’ll wait for you.”

He still didn’t move.

“Come on, Jay.  Don’t you want to see the lights?”

“Come here, Gwamma.”

Sigh.  I went back to where he was.  “What, baby?”

Jay pointed back toward the stairs.  “Look at those Norm lights!”

We have half a dozen barrel planters around the yard, and they have solar lights in them that make a pretty pattern at night.  I’m so used to them that I don’t really notice them anymore.  One is by the stairs, and that’s what Jay was pointing to.

“Oh, yes, that’s pretty, isn’t it, Jay?  Look, there are others too,” I said, pointing to the other planters.  Jay was fascinated. As we headed down the deck he said, “Don’t go so fast in case there’s more Norm lights.”

Schooled by a two year old to stop and smell the roses.  Or see the lights.  I think I should put that on a sign in my yard – Don’t go so fast that you miss the Norm lights.

Back inside, as I was cradling Emmy in my arms, and Calie was curled up on the couch watching TV, Jay came over and sat next to me.  He had a sippy cup of juice in one hand and was rubbing a soft blanket with the other; he was a tired little boy.  After a minute he pushed the blanket away and started rubbing my arm instead.  Then he pushed himself up so he was half on my lap; awkward, since I had a lap full of Emmy.

It wasn’t long before he was maneuvering to get completely onto my lap.  I shifted the baby over and pulled him up, and he put his head on my shoulder, never taking the sippy cup out of his mouth.  He taught me that there’s always room on gwamma’s lap for her babies (hey! I heard those smart aleck thoughts).

Calie got off the couch and spread the blanket out on the floor and lay on it, her foot rubbing back and forth on my leg.  This was a perfect moment in grandmahood.  Perfect.

For two seconds, until Emily started screeching and Jay had to pee NOW.

 

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The Power of Prayer … or Not?

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I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed with my morning coffee today – welcome to the 21st century, where scrolling through Facebook with your coffee is much, much more prevalent than reading the morning paper (you know it’s true) – and I came across a link to a page dedicated to prayers for and updates about a sick baby.  You’ve probably seen similar ones on your newsfeed: parents of a sick child create a Facebook page to keep friends and family updated about the child’s progress, and it gets shared and reshared until it ends up going viral, or at least semi-viral.

This one gave daily updates written from the baby’s point of view.  Today was, I think, day 149 or something like that.  I checked out the link, curious about what actually ailed the child, but I never did quite figure it out.  I think maybe she had been born prematurely; she seemed to have had a number of problems.  In any event, I said a prayer for her and moved on.

But she haunted me a little.  She made me think back to when my first son was born, 11 weeks early and weighing two and a half pounds.  Nowadays that’s almost big compared to some of the premies they can save, but back in 1980 … well, it wasn’t.

Gosh, I thought, wouldn’t it have been something to have had Facebook back then, and to have garnered the prayers of people all over the world?  What a marvelous tool, what a great way to use social media.

And yet, I wondered, what would have been different in the outcome if I’d have had thousands of people praying for my son as opposed to the hundreds that were praying for him, the people from my church and the churches of friends and family?  The people from my work who prayed, and the people on the many prayer chains he was added to?

Because we had a really great outcome.  We had a miracle, in fact, or at least that’s what the doctors told us.  And my son was able to come home after three months in the NICU, and after two years of being watched and checked and followed carefully by the experts, it was determined he was just fine and released from further follow up.

So what would have been different if more people had been praying?

That led me to thinking about prayer in general.  Again.  I confess I go through this on a somewhat regular basis – every few years anyway.

Does prayer ever change the mind of God?

We are admonished, in the Bible, to pray.  Pray continually, pray diligently, pray about everything.  Make our requests known to God.  Give thanks.  Pray for the oppressed, pray for the ill, pray for the heartbroken.

But I so often wonder why.  Are my sorry prayers going to have any effect on God’s will?  Are they going to change the course of someone’s illness, or marital woes, or open a closed womb?  If I didn’t pray for that little baby on Facebook, would God not heal her?  We often pray for comfort for someone who has gone through a loss; if we didn’t pray, would God refuse to comfort the heartbroken?

I confess I can’t give any good answers to these questions.  I do not believe my praying or not praying is going to change the course of God’s will on this earth.  I’m sorry if that offends someone who believes otherwise, but I just don’t think God depends on me that much.  I think He comforts the brokenhearted, and heals the sick, and gives clear minds to test-takers, and heals marriages despite my not praying when I should.  I also think sometimes babies die and sometimes marriages are shattered even when many, many people are praying for a different outcome.

So does that mean I don’t believe in prayer?  No, and I’ll tell you why.

I believe prayer is a mystery.  I believe it is powerful, and purposeful, and required of us by God.  I believe when I fail to pray, I miss out.  I miss out on communion with God; I miss out on a blessing from God.  I miss out on the opportunity to hold a brother or sister in Christ, or a stranger, or even an enemy up to the Lord and petition Him for His magnificent benevolence.  I miss the opportunity to enter into the suffering of my brother or sister in Christ, or that stranger, or even that enemy, and come to the Lord with that suffering.

Maybe, like Frank Peretti proposed in his book, This Present Darkness, our prayers empower the angels of the Lord in their fight against the forces of evil in this world.  Like clapping for Tinkerbell – remember Tinkerbell?  We clapped like mad dogs every time we watched Peter Pan, and cheered and cheered when her little light grew stronger.  Maybe when we pray, the angels’ lights grow stronger.

Whatever it is, this I do know.  God tells us to pray.  There is a reason for it, because God is not a God of chaos.  He doesn’t give instructions just for the heck of it, just to watch us scurry around and do meaningless activities.  There is a real purpose behind prayer.  I don’t have to be able to define it; I don’t have to be able to explain it.  All I have to do is do it, and let God be God.

What’s the point of this whole post?  Just this: Don’t ever be afraid to say “I don’t know.”  Don’t be afraid to tell someone it’s a mystery to you.  People may say, what good are your thoughts and prayers? To those people, just give them love and say, they’re good because God makes them good.  God does things with my prayers that I can’t even begin to imagine.

I pray because God wants me to pray.  In John 14:23, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, He will obey me.”

I pray because I love Jesus.

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A Post about Pot (fillers)

I read an interesting article yesterday written by an Irishman who traveled extensively and had spent a year living in the United States.  I think he was a travel blogger; I would provide his name and a link to the article but it was one of those things from Facebook that I clicked on, read, and now couldn’t possibly find if I tried.  (ETA: Okay, I tried, and it turns out a quick Google search with some key words and there it was:  https://www.fluentin3months.com/usa-clashes/  by Benny Lewis.)

The article (or blog post, I guess) was about the things that annoyed him most about Americans.  I know that sounds supremely offensive, but in fact it wasn’t, at least to me, for a few reasons.

First, I don’t offend easily.  I think letting ourselves be offended by other people’s opinions, or words, or clothes, or hairstyles, or body art, or choice of music, or choice of toothpaste has tied this country up in so many knots that we spend all our time knot getting anything done (haha see what I did there?).

Second, I had the great privilege of going to Europe (Italy, to be specific) a few years ago, and that exposed me to a culture other than my own.  While European culture isn’t as vastly different as, say, Asian or Sentinelese, it’s different enough to have made me appreciate some of what this blogger was saying.

Because, lastly, he actually nailed it in many respects.  I didn’t agree with everything he said (I’m a big fan of smiling; I don’t think you can smile too much), but some of it was pretty dead on.

And the one thing that really stuck out to me, personally, was #7 – Wasteful Consumerism.

Yes.  Yesyesyesyesyes.  Again I say, yes.

And I am saying that to me, not to you.  I am so guilty of this.  It struck me yesterday full force, while I was in the kitchen (my happy place), filling my stockpot by the kitchen Pot-filler-faucet-ideassink.  I thought, gosh, how nice would it be to have a pot-filler by my cooktop so I wouldn’t have to carry this big, heavy pot all the way from the sink to the stove?

Carry it all of three (3 – T.H.R.E.E.) steps from the sink to the stove.

Yes, let’s replumb the kitchen, tear out the (perfectly good) tile backsplash, install a pot-filler, and repair the backsplash (OH!!! or better yet, put in a whole NEW backsplash.  And maybe new countertops, too!), so that I can spare myself three steps in order to put water in a pot.

There’s a great use for all that extra cash we (don’t) have hanging out in the bank account.

And what about that sink?  I have a stainless double sink that’s been in the kitchen since the kitchen was built.  For the past maybe three years or so, every time we’ve gone to Costco, we’ve paused and looked at this beautiful stainless sink they have there.  It’s a little deeper than mine, with a little bit different configuration, and it’s a little heavier duty.  It’s a nice sink.  We keep toying with the idea of replacing my sink with that one.  I’m kind of surprised we haven’t done it already because, you know, consumerism.

Right.  So instead of my current stainless double sink, I will spend close to $300 on a new stainless double sink.  It’ll be a little shinier, at least for a while.  My biggest pot will fit in it just a tad better.  The one I use twice a year, so that’s really important.  If it actually washed my dishes for me, maybe it would be worth it.  Oh, no, wait.  I have a dishwasher for that.

I don’t need more stuff.  I don’t need different stuff.  I don’t need better stuff.  I actually need less stuff.

I’m one of those people who claims not to be a fan of New Year’s resolutions but who always follows that statement by saying, “but this year I’m {going to} {not going to} do such and such.”

So, I don’t really like New Year’s resolutions, but this year I’m going to try to quit being a wasteful consumer.  I’m going to try to pay off debt instead of incur more. I’m going to try to give more and take less.

I’m going to try to recognize the incredible abundance I have and not let the 24-hour informercial that is HGTV convince me that three steps is too far to carry a pot of water.

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I’m okay with gender roles

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This may be an unpopular position these days, but I’m really okay with gender roles in a marriage.  I’m at an age where I don’t have to adopt the prevailing position anymore.  I can say unpopular things and people just look at me and nod in that “well, she’s olhousehusbandd” kind of way.

I read a thing on Facebook today (amazing how many conversations start with those words these days, isn’t it?) about a guy who did the dishes and then patiently explained to his friend why that is not “helping his wife.”  Why doing laundry, and cooking, and cleaning the house is not “helping his wife.”  Because he lives there too. He eats too, and dirties dishes, and dirties clothes.  So doing all those things is just a natural part of living in the household.  It’s called “being a partner.”

Yes!  I thought, as I read it.  Yes.  Absolutely.  That’s right.  Why is taking care of your kids “babysitting” instead of fathering? (This has been a pet peeve of mine for years.)  When a mom takes care of her kids it is never babysitting.  Why do dads call it babysitting when they “have” to take care of the kids?  Same with household chores.  It’s their house too, right?  Wifey isn’t the only one who drops crumbs from the tortilla chips on the carpet, dude.  For sure.

But in the back of my mind a thought kept floating around, just out of reach, so I sat down and shushed all the little crazies that were jumping up and down and doing fist pumps because someone – some guy – had finally recognized that he shouldn’t necessarily expect high praise from wifey every time he vacuumed the living room.  And that little floaty thought came into focus.

Whenever I weed whack the yard, or mow, or trim, I kinda wait expectantly for a little of that high praise to come my way.

Whenever I wash my car (my own car, not his truck, because I never wash his truck), I kinda hope he’ll notice and thank me for sparing him that chore (the chore of washing my car).

I never pay attention to when my car might need servicing.  He takes care of that.

I never trim the trees that constitute the jungle growing up the driveway so that they don’t scratch – again – my car as I drive up and down every day.

I never take the tractor out and work for hours in the heat and humidity leveling the quarter mile road that is our driveway to fill in the gullies the latest thunderstorm made.

And I never – or at least very rarely – heap lavish praise on him for doing All. Those. Things.  And all the other things he does to keep our home up and running.

So you know what?  I’m okay with our gender roles.  I’m okay with doing most of the housework (although he does pitch in sometimes, and I do appreciate it when he does).  I’m okay doing the cooking.  I’m okay doing most of the grocery shopping and laundry and etc. etc. etc.  (I’m especially okay taking care of the kids, since, you know, they’re both in their 30’s, married, and out of the house.  Can you say low maintenance?  At least for me.  I can’t speak for their wives.)

To the guy who wrote the FB post about not “helping” his wife but being her partner:  I think you’re awesome.  I do.  I love what you wrote.  But in my particular marriage, being a partner means I (mostly) do a certain set of chores, and he (mostly) does a different set of chores, because those chores are the ones we are best equipped to do well.  I’m a better cook than he is (except he does make a mean frozen piztoolsza).  He’s a waaaaaay better mechanic than I am (case in point: he asked me to bring him wire snippers yesterday, and I came back with three different things because, really, what????).  I have my gifts, he has his.  Together we make an awesome team.  And everything gets done.  Most of the time.

But it’s still not babysitting when dad watches the kids.

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The “C” Word(s)

I am 60 years old.  I have been retired for three years, living in a small town in the middle of nowhere, smack dab on a river, 14 acres of my own personal paradise.  I garden (kind of), I plant flowers (till they die from lack of attention), I can up the amazing vegetables that I *don’t* grow but do purchase in bulk at the nearby Amish Produce Auction.  Hubby and I take frequent camping trips – if you can call hanging out in a 40′ motorhome complete with microwave, satellite TV, and pretty much every comfort of home “camping” – and I get to play with at least some of my grandbabies very nearly every day. I wish the other half of my family were closer, but hey – motorhome!  Road trips!

Pretty perfect life, huh?  Except … it’s not.  It’s lacking one vital element.

I’m not serving God.

I go to Bible study every week.  We go to church … sometimes.  I pray, but not often enough and usually when I want God to do something for me or someone I care about.  When was the last time I asked God what I could do for Him?  I’d really rather not say, thanks.

I was talking about this with a girlfriend recently, about my lack of service and my growing conviction about it.  “When I get home, to heaven,” I said, “I so want to hear those words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.'”

And that’s when my friend said something that brought me up short, and made me really think.  And led to this post.

She said, her voice not so much sad as resigned, “I passed up my chance to hear those words years ago.”

Say whaaattt??

Let me tell you just a little about this friend.  First and foremost, she loves the Lord, truly and deeply.  She is smart, and kind, and gentle.  She is and has been, as long as I’ve known her, very active in her church – choir, teaching Sunday School, active in all kinds of Bible studies and small groups and ministries.  And not because that’s what “church people” are supposed to do, but because she loves doing those things.  Loves it.

And she has been Jesus to me more times than I can count.

But many years ago, even as a Christian, she struggled with an addiction that she found pleasurable and tormenting all at the same time, and it ensnared her for far too long.  There were also times, years ago, when she refused God’s calling, refused to use the gifts He had so clearly bestowed on her for His purposes, either from fear or laziness or just an unwilling heart.  So she said no to God and pursued her own path, not His.

She wasted so much of what God gave her, she said to me.  She wasted so much time.  Yes, she confessed those sins; yes, she repented of them.  Yes, she’s serving Him now, at church, but her time to win a “well done,” she said, has come and gone.  She’s too old, and it’s too late.

On this paper, in black and white, that might look a little ridiculous to us.  It’s never too late, we say.  And we’re right.  But … way down in the deepest places in our souls, what are we hearing?  Are we hearing a tiny voice saying, yeah, I kinda think it’s too late for me, too.  I wasted too much time, too.  I’m too old, too.  I had my chance, and I blew it, too.  I can serve God now, but that doesn’t make up for the times I chose not to.

That, my friends, is the voice of condemnation.  That is the voice of your fiercestdevil-whisper-in-ear enemy seeking to paralyze you.  That is the voice of the one who is terrified that you might actually get up and do something for God, that you might get out there and be a light in the darkness that is this world, so he’s whispering to you (because admit it, don’t we all lean in to hear a whisper? Sometimes when someone shouts we just cover our ears, but a whisper?  That’s so enticing ….), “Psst, listen, there’s no point doing all that God stuff now, it’s too late, remember when you said no to God?  Remember when you did that really bad thing? You might be forgiven, but do you really think God forgets? So … you’re not gonna be able to make up that ground.  Let’s go get a frozen yogurt instead.”

I’m not talking about the voice of conviction.  The voice of conviction comes from the Holy Spirit.  How do we know the difference?  You probably already know the answer to that.

Conviction comes when we’ve got an unconfessed, unrepented sin hanging out there, messing up our relationship with God.   I can tell you from personal experience, the Holy Spirit is unrelenting.  It’s like a woodpecker on the side of the house.  Tap-tap-tap.  TAP- tap-tap.  TAP-TAP-tap.  TAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAP… you get the picture.

But the Holy Spirit has never once said to me, “You might as well throw in the towel, chickie, because that was a really bad thing and you’re way old anyway, so what’s the point? Frozennnnnn Yoooogurt time!”

The Holy Spirit pecks on the side of my hard head for as long as it takes to get my attention so He can tell me, “Hey, see that wall right there?  That’s the one you built by {{whatever sin it was on that day; very often with me it is uncharitable thoughts about others}} that’s keeping you from hanging out with God.  You know that kind of empty feeling you have?  That kind of lonely thing?  You can fix that if you’ll just tear down that wall.  You have the tools – repentance and confession.  Use them, you idiot.”  Okay, the Holy Spirit doesn’t call me an idiot.  By this point in the conversation I’m calling myself an idiot for waiting so long to listen.

We need to stop confusing the voices of condemnation and conviction.  (There may be other voices in your head too, and if so, possibly you should seek professional help.)

The voice of condemnation is from the enemy of your soul.  It leaves you feeling hopeless, helpless, a failure.  It takes your past and smears it all over your present.  Its primary purpose is to keep you as far away from Christ as possible.

The voice of conviction is from the lover of your soul.  It points to your only hope.  It says, I will help you.  It urges you to have victory over your failures.  It is not concerned with the past; what has been forgiven is washed forever clean.  It is concerned with the present.  Its primary purpose is to draw you as close to Christ as possible.

Condemnation immobilizes you.  It paralyzes you.  It bogs you down in a pit so deep your light cannot be seen.  Conviction mobilizes you.  It propels you to your knees.  It helps you throw off the chains that bind you so that your light can shine in the darkest of worlds.

Never confuse the two.

And go ahead and have a frozen yogurt; there’s really nothing inherently wrong with that.  In moderation.  So long as you’re not lactose intolerant.

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We had a plan

Today I’m linking up for Five Minute Friday.  FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on her blog Heading Home. Today’s prompt is “rest.”

 

We had a plan. We had the rest of our lives pretty well mapped out. We’d both worked hard for many years, raised a couple of great kids who were now raising their own kids. We’d suffered through a physical – not marital – separation of seven years, seeing each other a half dozen times a year while he worked 1600 miles away from me and I stayed in California to be close to my elderly and ailing mother and build up a decent retirement.

Now, though, it was time to put our plan into action. My mom had passed away, I had enough time in to get the retirement I needed, and I had joined my husband in Missouri.  He had sold his business to our younger son and, after a two-year transition, was finally sorta kinda almost not working there anymore.

Time to begin the rest of our lives.  Time to start traveling a little.  See the ciceberg_lakemichiganountry.  Spend more time with our other son and his family back in California.  Visit the states we’d never seen before.  New England in the fall, the deep south, the Pacific Northwest to see my family.  On my bucket list was a desire to see Lake Michigan in the dead of winter, when it’s frozen.  (I know; I’m just weird that way.)

That was our plan.

Then God whispered – or maybe shouted is a better word – “I’ve got a different plan for you.”

We got The Diagnosis.

Funny how two words can change the rest of your life.

Now instead of planning trips to New England and California, we are planning trips to the cancer center for chemo.  Instead of checking out campgrounds near Lake Michigan, we are looking for one near the hospital where my husband will have his surgery in the fall, where we will need to stay for five or six weeks.

But this we know is true: We might have been blindsided, but none of this was a surprise to God.  He knew from before the beginning of time what our path would be.  He provided me with a job that provided me with a retirement that included lifetime medical insurance.

This is not what we had planned, but it’s what God had planned, and there’s a reason.  Maybe it’s just a detour; maybe it’s a complete change of direction.  Maybe God will place our feet on a whole new path.

We don’t know how this will come out.  But my husband is strong and determined, and he will not go gentle into that good night.  We will fight, and whatever the outcome, we will win, because of this one fact: God has the rest of our lives, whatever they may be, in His good hands.

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I don’t want that new bathroom anymore

Today I’m linking up for Five Minute Friday.  FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on her blog Heading Home. Today’s prompt is “want.”   {I missed Friday this week so for me it’s Five Minute Saturday}

Just over a month ago, if you’d asked me what I wanted, I wouldn’t have skipped a beat:  To5200 redecorate my bathroom.  I’d looked up all the ideas on Pinterest already and knew exactly what I was going to do, from a beautiful new tiled shower to the lovely new vanity and cabinets, new floor, cute cubbies for nice white towels folded just so, a vase with a few sprigs of some pretty {fake} flowers, all showing off the very cool jetted tub in middle.  And a neat chandelier hanging over the top a dimmer switch and candles on the side for ambience.  I talked about this bathroom incessantly, even though the bathroom we have is already pretty wonderful, and hubbie always just smiled and said, whatever you want, dear.

And then we could tackle the kitchen.  There was this incredible kitchen island I saw somewhere that would be perfect with the new pantry we’d recently had built and the awesome double ovens my hubbie got me for Christmas last year.

If you ask me now what I want, this is what I will say:  I want to be sure we have the very best doctor, the right doctor.  I want to be sure we make the best decisions for the road ahead.  I want to be sure that this man who loves me and indulges me and has cared for me for the past 38 years gets the best possible care.  I want to make him comfortable.  I want to take all the nausea and pain of chemotherapy away from him.  I want it to be me instead of him.  I want him to be with me for 38 more years.

Our faith is strong, and we don’t fear leaving this life.  We both know that God loves us dearly and works everything – everything – for good, so no matter what, it will be well with our souls.

But if you ask me what I want, I will say I want to make it go away.

 

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It Changes Nothing and Everything

My younger son became a father today.  Really he’s been her father for over three years now, for nearly half of her life.  Ever since he married her mom.  When their own son was born a year and a half after that, his first thought was, how lucky am I to have a son and a daughter?

So this piece of paper they are getting today isn’t going to change that much.  It won’t change how he feels about her; he has loved her deeply, completely, from the very first day.  It won’t change his commitment to her; she has been his daughter to take care of and provide for, to love and to teach and to comfort, from the very first day.  It won’t really change anything but her name.

Except…it will.  And I know this because I’m her grandma, and even though I have been her grandma from day one, and I love her with my whole heart, just as I love my grandson and my other two granddaughters, I know that after today, when the judge decreed that my son was her legal father forevermore, it will be different.

She is ours.  She is irrevocably, undeniably, now and forever and ever ours.  She has all the rights of a child born into this family.  She isn’t a stepchild.  She isn’t a step-grandchild.  She is ours.  Even though she has always been ours … she is ours.

And I have to imagine that at some point in her life, the fact that the man who chose to marry her mom also chose her, chose to become her father as well as her daddy, will make a difference to her.  Today all it means is that she gets to have the same last name as all the rest of us, and probably will get to go out for ice cream after the court hearing.  And she will get a pretty necklace from grandma and grandpa with her new name engraved on it.  And she will get a special present from her mom and dad.  And today will be like having another whole birthday.  Woo hoo!  What eight year old wouldn’t like that?

But at some point in her life, when her hormones are all whackadoodle and the mean girls at school have decided to target her that week, and she and her mom are doing what teenage girls and their moms do best (fight), and she’s crying in her room, she’s going to feel sad and lonely.  She going to think she doesn’t belong anywhere, that she doesn’t fit in anywhere, that she has no place in the world.

She’s going to feel all the dramatic emotions young girl-women feel, and maybe she will think about her dad.  Maybe she will think about how he didn’t have to adopt her, but he did.  How he didn’t have to make it official, but he did.  How he chose to love her with his whole heart, and with his name, and that means that she does belong somewhere.  She does fit in.  She does have a place, and it’s in that home and in this family.

And that will help her through some tough times.  That will help her negotiate the hard years, when nothing makes sense and a girl-woman often feels like nobody loves her.

She is ours.  And we are hers.  And nothing will ever change that.  Forever and ever.  Amen.

 

 

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They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our…Fear?

 

Did you ever have a moment in your life when something happened that just took your feet out from under you?  That changed how you thought about something you had been sure of just the day before?  That left you reeling and a little unsure exactly who you were anymore?

Just over a week ago, I was confident in who I was and what I thought.  In these times of quickly escalating world tensions, with the country divided about whether to admit Syrian refugees or not, I had thought seriously about the question.  I am (mostly) conservative and live in a (mostly) conservative area where the sentiment was (mostly) anti-admission.

But I kept thinking about Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  He didn’t modify it with, “Except Muslims.”

I was settled, in my heart, that we should offer the refugees a place to come, a safe place, and we should love them.  And in doing so we will be showing them the love of Jesus.  It may be the only time any of them ever see Jesus in anyone.  How could we not do that?  Why would we not want to do that?

A week ago my feet go knocked out from under me.

Last week the worst domestic terrorist attack since 9/11 happened in my hometown.  I don’t live in San Bernardino now, but I grew up there, spent the most formative years of my life there, know it like the back of my hand.  I know people who were in that building when it happened; I know people who were among the first responders to the scene.  I know people who lived within minutes of the house where the terrorists had enough ammunition and explosives to destroy many, many more lives than they succeeded in destroying.

And in the week since my mind and my heart have been waging war with each other.  Or waging war together against my soul.  Because guess what?  When it’s up close and personal, when it happens in your own back yard, it is way different than when it happens someplace else.  And until it happens up close and personal, you have no idea how much it will affect you.

I had no idea how much it would affect me.

More than Ft. Hood.  More than Boston.  More than Paris.  Even more than 9/11, strangely enough.  It wasn’t the same magnitude as 9/11, but it was San Bernardino.  My San Bernardino.  Not New York.  Not Boston.  Not D.C.  Just sleepy little San Bernardino, a place no one had ever heard of that was now a name familiar around the world.  My hometown.

I won’t bore you with the details of the war that waged in my head.  Maybe some of you are fighting your own battles in your own heads.  It’s not an easy one, although some people will surely castigate me for saying that.  There are people so quickly and thoroughly convinced on both sides of the question that they lambast anyone who doesn’t immediately agree with them.

More people, though, I think, struggle.  We struggle between our fear and our compassion.

Let me get to the point of this.

A week after my legs got knocked out from under me, I think I’ve finally got my feet on the ground again.  I’ve been praying about this and thinking about it and talking to people I respect very much about it, and I’ve been looking to God’s Word.  So I got up and grabbed my Bible, and it literally fell open to page 2449, which happened to be 1 Peter 3.  And this is the passage:

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  For,

“‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.  He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

That’s it in a nutshell.  We need to do what Jesus would have us do.  We need to do good.  We need to love.  1 John 3:17-18 tells us, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

If we, as Christians, refuse to help those who so desperately need help, who are fleeing from the very extremists we ourselves fear, then do we really have the love of Christ in us?  If we believe Jesus Christ came to save all of mankind, and that He is truly The Way, yet we call for the closing of our borders to all Muslims, how many people are we denying the opportunity to ever see Christ’s love in action?

And there are millions of Muslims already in this country, born and raised here, who are our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends.  They believe in peace, and kindness, and doing good rather than evil.  They’re not crazed radicals, and they’re not going to kill us.  But right now many of them are wondering if we’re going to kill them.  Or burn their mosques.  Or bully their children.  We’re not the only ones living with fear.  What opportunities are we losing to be witnesses for Christ to these good people when we join in the anti-Islam rhetoric?

God has not lost control of this world.  God’s plan has not been derailed.  God will bring to our shores the people He wants on our shores.  How sad, how tragic if we turn our backs on souls that might be saved into eternal life because we are living in fear.  Why should we fear?  Whom should we fear?  Perfect love drives out fear, and God is perfect love.

So, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  We will do as He commands – Love our neighbors as ourselves; do good and not evil; practice hospitality; be kind to one another; and do not fear, because the Lord our God is with us.

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