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Monday, December 30, 2013

Grief


"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable; if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things." Philippians 4:8

I'm writing this post for my beloved sister Jane, who doesn't know it, but kept me from hiding under the covers today.

I've been in a bad place for a few days now. It started when I learned of the untimely death of a friend's young husband just two days before her birthday. The day before, a woman at church lost her husband suddenly. To top it all off, another friend just buried his sister after a murder-suicide. This is the THIRD family I know personally who have lost loved ones to violent crime - all within two years.

I'm beginning to think I'm a lightning rod for foul play.

In addition, my precious nephew Josh is on his way to Fort Benning to begin a three-year hitch in the military. It's essentially the beginning of his adulthood, the fulfillment of a dream he's had since he could talk. I'm not even his mother, but having a hard time of it. Feeling the empty nest syndrome, just as I did many years ago when his oldest sister left for college. When my son and visiting sister both went out last night, I could hardly stand the emptiness in the house (something I often cherish). 

So I tried to remove my mind from sorrowful thoughts through entertainment. I viewed two fact-based movies, both of which contained bittersweet elements. In my current state of mind, I'm dwelling on the heartbreak the characters experienced, rather than their joys. 

There is a healthy middle ground between empathizing with others' losses and wallowing in their misery. As a young girl, I found myself almost going through grief when friends did. When the mother of a high school friend died suddenly, I felt very bereft for some time. This might have been understandable if I had enjoyed a deep relationship with the woman, but I only knew her peripherally. My friendship was with her daughter, whose pain should not have overwhelmed me as it did. To counter this tendency, I learned to steel myself against heartbreak that was not my own; I could almost turn off the sadness of others, go beyond it back into my own life. Perhaps it's a positive sign that I'm returning to a more compassionate state of being, but I dare not let the sufferings of others engulf me as they once did. That is neither healthy nor productive.

I recall years ago when my own life was in a shambles and I had been trying in vain to find comfort. I made phone call after phone call, seeking consolation from every strong shoulder that came to mind. Exhausted, I wondered why my hours of yammering hadn't netted the relief I had prayed for. A voice spoke to me in my anguish, suggesting I call someone whose weak shoulders I might be able to shore up. As I obeyed, some of my own heartache began - ever so slightly - to ease.

All of which leads me back to my dear sister's entrance into my room this morning. I was frankly using the covers like a bomb shelter, trying vainly to deflect agony and pretending I would feel better if I allowed my mind to dissolve into unneeded sleep (which experience has taught me usually has quite the opposite effect). Jane interrupted my contemplated cop-out to ask me to pray for something that's been troubling her, and as we raised our worries to heaven, Philippians 4:8 began to take shape. We surely can't avoid pain, our own or others'. It finds us, as evidenced by my fruitless attempts yesterday to escape it. Yet, we can do something with the pain, rather than running from it.

Sure enough, as I was typing that last paragraph, the phone rang with a call from another dear soul who's also hurting on behalf of others. Together we laid our burdens before the great healer, who alone can bring solace both to those who grieve, and to those whose task is to help others grieve.

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Grief 2

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Clipped Wings Part 2

Upon reading my post from December 8, my friend Rene` offered the following feedback:

Rene` claims the reason for clipping a bird's wings is to restrict its natural tendency to fly away. The goal is to protect rather than confine the creature, and this necessitates restraining its wayward impulses. Wing-clipping also serves to bond the pet to its owner, on whom it is dependent due to its decreased flight ability.

My friend's insights are borne out by the above-referenced link from Winged Wisdom Pet Bird Magazine. According to this source, wings can be clipped in such a way as to allow the bird a bit of lift to remain "bird-like," but not so much as to afford an indoor pet access to dangers such as hot stoves or ceiling fans. The creature is born with the ability to fly and the tendency to explore, but at times these two instincts can work against each other, resulting in disaster.

These concepts shed light on why our heavenly Father may find it necessary to constrain His children, whose doings are often as unpredictable and foolhardy as any fowl's. While we have many inborn abilities, our judgment is sin-skewed, rendering us vulnerable to myriad unforeseen perils. However, when we accept the limits our loving Owner places on us, we can reach heights hitherto unimaginable.

"But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31


For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Clipped Wings

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Clipped Wings

I am "grounded" today. Snow is keeping me from carrying out the plans on my agenda, so here I sit.

The Lord has used weather to "clip my wings," for today at least.

I'm feeling grumpy and grouchy, mostly because of control issues that I refuse to release. Saying the serenity prayer, catching up on Scripture reading, resting in God (and in bed) will all help to alleviate the stress.

It's just possible that God has grounded me in order to ground me.

"The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore."  Psalm 121:8




For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Clipped Wings Part 2

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Road from Damascus

My father-in-law, Harry Williams, was a strong man of faith. He loved the Lord with all his heart, soul and strength. A good day for him included hours of paging through Scripture and marking up phrases that really spoke to him.


One of his unfulfilled bucket dreams was to write a book titled The Road from Damascus. He always thought too much emphasis was placed on the road to Damascus, which hosted the apostle Saul/Paul's conversion, rather than the events which sprang from it. I am neither a Bible scholar nor a great thinker. Nevertheless, the following is my clumsy attempt to highlight some of Saul/Paul's post-conversion activities as a posthumous gift to Pop, and perhaps bring a smile (and maybe a tear) to the faces of his progeny, who remember him as a man whose dearest possession was his salvation.

One of the things I find most interesting about Saul/Paul is that, after he became a believer, he spent three years getting to know God. My assumption is he realized he would have less than a warm reception by the early Christians, whom he had spent huge amounts of time persecuting prior to his conversion. This thinking is validated by the reaction of the Jews he preached to immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit: "'Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?'" (Acts 9:21). They were quite understandably afraid and suspicious of Saul/Paul's motives. During this time of "lone wolfing" evangelism, God must have enhanced his early education as a Pharisee, and spoken His truth to him in prayer. Only after three years did he dare approach the core church in Jerusalem, and even then it took the sponsorship of Barnabas to gain him an audience with the disciples.

Another thing that resonates with me about Paul (I'll refer to him henceforth by the name he adopted after his encounter with Christ, thus distancing himself from his former life as the murderous Saul) is that he had a temper. Acts 15 records that he and Barnabas had a falling out over whether or not to take the latter's cousin, John Mark, with them on a missionary journey after being previously deserted by him. Paul chose to proceed instead with Silas, while Barnabas remained loyal to his cousin. Interestingly, Paul reconsidered his hasty decision later, as shown by his statement in 2 Timothy 4:11: "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry." Perhaps the older Paul realized he was not so very different from Mark, in that both had to prove themselves to their brethren after committing some arguably unforgivable actions.

In Galatians 2:11, Paul recounts another heated confrontation, this time with the apostle Peter. Clearly, Paul struggled in the area of patience, especially as it concerned the gospel. Ironically, though, he labels himself "the chief sinner" in 1 Timothy 1:15. In Acts 22, he holds nothing back in describing his pre-conversion activities: "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,  as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished... So I said, 'Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'" (Acts 22:4-5, 19-20; see also Acts 26: 9-11). Paul's personality seemed to contain a hearty dose of self-assurance, tempered by a large helping of remorse. This combination could benefit many modern-day believers, whose recollections of their unregenerate sinfulness too often seem overshadowed by post-conversion self-righteousness.

The aspect of Paul's ministry with which I most identify is his way of witnessing. Rather than tracing Biblical history and quoting heavily from Scripture as Stephen and Peter did in their notable sermons, Paul often relied on his personal testimony to sway his audience. This method is encouraging to timid witnesses like me, who sometimes fear we have to be seminary graduates before we can adequately deliver the gospel. Paul, who was well-trained in Biblical studies, chose rather to personalize what God had done in his life, not only when training young believers like the Corinthians, but also when going up against "big guns" like Roman Governor Felix and Jewish King Agrippa.  While Paul's vast knowledge of Scripture comes through loud and clear in his epistles, he also understood the power of simple, heartfelt declaration of God's work in his life.

I think Pop was right. In researching these few brief points about Paul's life and ministry, I see how easy it would be to fill tomes on this apostle's contributions following his encounter with Christ. Thank you, Harry Williams, for providing the inspiration for this article.

 
Harry Williams holding his oldest grandchild, Kendra, with his wife, Betty, by his side.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Mom Thing

Oh, the joys that come with obedience. My son "rose up and called me blessed" last night ... and oh, how I needed that.

It's been a tough few months. Trials with parenting and home ownership have been demanding and costly. As a result, I've felt my energy flagging, and have been giving in far too often to the lure of "my drugs," AKA, my escape idols - food, sleep and TV.

Last night, after a particularly grueling day, I felt legitimately entitled to zone out. I tucked in early and pondered my options. Halloween candy was calling from my son's attic room, where I had hidden it from myself. The square box siren began its trilling thusly: "You know you deserve a good movie. Even a questionable one. You're a grownup. You can handle it. At least a sitcom. One of your favorites is probably on, and maybe the language and plot line won't be too crude this time. C'mon! What're you waiting for?!"

For those who may be new to my blog, I've explained before that food and entertainment are for me snares that lead to over-consumption and lingering, hangover-like symptoms that sometimes last for days. This may seem legalistic to some, but these things are traps for me, and I know it. Romans 14 does an excellent job of explaining that what one believer finds just a tasty morsel, his brother may encounter as a gluttonous, ferocious task-master.

Ah hem. Getting back to the point. I chose to ignore the seduction of the sweets, and tune in to a Charles Stanley message rather than whatever garbage was on TV. I got maybe 20 minutes into his "Fight Your Battles on Your Knees" when the phone rang. It was my older son, Aaron, calling for the second time in one day. He's been somewhat AWOL lately, so I was thrilled with this sudden burst of attention. Get this: he was calling to thank me for the faith-filled upbringing I had given him - not over-the-top, he stated, like the religious fanatics portrayed by Hollywood, but just a strong, Biblically grounded core - and added that, despite the many stressors he's encountering, he's been counting his blessings (another principle I tried hard to instill in both my kids).

Talk about over the top! I felt like I was on a mountaintop! How would my reaction have been different, I wondered, if this call had come in the middle of a food-fest hosted by moi, attended by Tinseltown's finest. One, I wouldn't have wanted to pick up the phone, since it would have interfered with my idol worship, and I never like to be interrupted during a worship service. Two, guilt would have intermingled with the joy that this news produced. Instead, I drifted off to satiating sleep after an hour-long, praise-filled, edifying dialogue with my son.

The mom thing? With God, I think I can do this!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mice in the Kitchen

I spent most of this past summer upgrading my kitchen. It was a labor of love ... and money. Lots of it. Not that I begrudge the outflow of cash; it needed to be done and, frankly, the room deserved the attention. It has played host to many a holiday meal and gathering, and sucked up (literally) a myriad of spills, oven disasters, even the horrid pungency of microwave-burnt popcorn that I'm pretty sure was the latest form of torture adopted at Guantanamo Bay.

So you can understand how aggrieved I felt when I detected evidence of the pitter patter of little rodent feet on my spanking clean counter tops. I mean, how rude! Don't these creatures realize how much research and shopping time went into the selection of those solid surfaces? And how dare they infiltrate my custom-built pantry, with its pristine shelves and varnished edge work? Did they really think their midnight romps through my galley would go unnoticed and ignored?

Towards the end, they became very blatant in their intrusiveness. My son reported daytime sightings of scampering paws and flying tails doing 60 mph into the dining room closet to get at the unchosen Butterfingers from last Halloween. It was then that I realized they were mocking my appeasement strategy, and I would have to get tough or be bested by vermin weighing less than an ounce and boasting the intelligence of a spatula.

I took myself over to Ace Hardware and invested in warfare equipment. I caulked up whatever holes I could find in our not-so-impenetrable fortress and put out some bait that I expect gave the critters a rude awakening (well, actually the opposite). In short, I took the measures - arguably cruel, but in my mind necessary - that seem to have solved the problem. For now.

This is an important distinction. I hold no illusions that these steps are a permanent fix. I've been unpleasantly surprised too many times before to let these trespassers hoodwink me now. What I do put stock in, though, is that what has worked in the past will continue to work in the future.

Just as diminutive beasts at times invade my physical dwelling, tiny chinks periodically make their way into my spiritual armor. My helmet of salvation slips back, leaving my mind and vision vulnerable to Satan's temptations. I forget to don the breastplate of righteousness and take up the shield of faith, rendering me heartless and gutless when the battle intensifies. My belt of truth and sandals of peace unbuckle, causing me humiliation and immobility. Worst of all, probably, I leave my sword at home; I am thus unable to fight back against Satan's assault weapons, which he invariably selects with great care to target my most disadvantaged parts. In short, my game is perilously off, and I'm an arrow away from annihilation.

The tools, though, are at my disposal. I need only to utilize them. And the best part is, I don't even have to go to the hardware store.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Mistake or Miracle?



President Obama is on record saying he would not want his daughters "punished with a baby," should they "make a mistake." In a later interview, he referred to said daughters as "miracles"  (http://blogs.cbn.com/thebrodyfile/archive/2008/03/31/obama-says-he-doesnt-want-his-daughters-punished-with-a.aspx). Why do the words talking out of both sides of his mouth come to mind?

Yesterday I had the honor of giving a gift to friends who just adopted a baby. This was their second successful adoption. I use the word "successful" because they were disappointed twice in the interim. They played by the rules of the agency they signed on with, meaning they paid all the expenses, down to the maternity clothes, of the expectant mothers, only to have two of them change their minds in the end. Their refund for this breach of contract? Heartache alone.

As often as we can, a friend and I attend prayer vigils in front of various Planned Parenthood and hospital locations. We make time for this because it's a concrete way we can oppose the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in this country yearly. By its own admission, Planned Parenthood aborted 333,964 babies in 2010 alone (http://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/PPFA/PP_Services.pdf). We have been treated to an array of expletives and obscene gestures during the three years we have participated in this peaceful and legal activity. One prominent memory I have involves a couple departing from a fertility clinic attached to one of the abortion-providing hospitals in front of which we were praying. I can still hear the barrage of vitriol they spewed as my adolescent son looked on, wondering what his mother had gotten him into. Their stated source of outrage? They were unable to conceive a baby on their own. Why, we wondered, were they targeting their hatred toward our group, which is all about protecting the unborn? They seemed to be blaming us for their inability to reproduce. The only plausible explanation we could come up with was perhaps we had stirred the memory of a past abortion of an unwanted child, which was making more bitter their inability to conceive now that they did want a baby.

What do all these threads have in common? They highlight the double standard we have in this country. When it's "convenient" and fits into our lives, a baby is considered a blessing. Some, like my adoptive friends, deem children such a treasure that they are willing to spend thousands of dollars and shed countless tears to earn the privilege of raising one - even when they don't know whether the experience will bring them the joy they hope for or agony and pain. In far too many other cases, we label  new life a clump of tissue and extinguish it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a "sexual and reproductive health and rights" think tank affiliated with the World Health Organization, nearly one quarter of all pregnancies in the Unites States end in abortion. Staggeringly, as of 2008, this country was host to roughly 50 million legal abortions in the 35 years since Roe v. Wade was enacted (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html).

My question is, how can children be a blessing and a punishment at the same time?

It is my fervent belief that, until we rewrite the adoption laws in this country to offer adopting couples more equitable contracts, the hideous practice of abortion will continue to flourish in the "the land of the free and the home of the brave." Unless and until these steps are taken, why would potential adopters put themselves through the anguish and uncertainty of the adoptive process in the United States?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Grade School Heroes Part 2

Around this time last year, I blogged about several brave schoolgirls who took risks to befriend me in my youth. As I organize my backpack for a new year, I find myself reminiscing once again about these dear ones. God has brought to mind another young angel who stood up for me during that crucial time in my life; in addition to recounting her efforts, I want to update my musings on Joy, Jean and Lisa, based on their names. What appears in quotation marks is reprinted from Grade School Heroes Part 1. I have highlighted in red the pieces of their names which connect to their good works:

"Joy Waters, a minister's daughter, reached out and refused to join in with the others' harassment of me. She wasn't brave enough, as a second grader, to launch a campaign or anything, but she quietly made it known that she didn't share in the prevailing opinion. She was, quite simply, a Godsend."

Joy, living up to her name, definitely delivered fruit of the Spirit to me during some otherwise joyless years. Through her kindness, she gave my parched spirit a foretaste of Christ's living water.

"Towards the end of those lonely years, God sent Jean News into my life. I later learned she stood up for me one day while I was absent and the kids decided to hold a Thea-bashing session. Jean was socially everything I was not - involved, outgoing, and most importantly, well-liked. Her voice held sway. If I didn't gain in popularity, at least the bullies began to leave me alone."

I'm not sure if Jean understood the good news of the Gospel, but hearing about her defense of me was the best news I had had all year. If I met her today, the first thing I'd do would be to share the good news of salvation so she could be assured of heaven, of which her faithfulness gave me an earthly taste.

"God provided yet another angel, Lisa Sanborn, who candidly admitted she liked me, but simply couldn't take the risk of letting it be known, lest she become the next victim. I grasped her invisible help like a man in quicksand grabs hold of a life preserver... Lisa's whispered words comforted and strengthened my flickering self-esteem. I held on for dear life."

I don't know if Lisa was born again, but her encouragement renewed my flagging spirits and helped me carry on.

In last year's post I neglected to acknowledge another saint whose contribution to my self-worth was immeasurable. Iris Reason spoke up for me when I was being tormented after gym class one day. In one small act of loyalty, she refused to cower before bullies and made me feel protected. Interestingly, the iris provides the color in the eye and prevents the pupil, AKA, the "apple of the eye," from being endangered by too much light. Iris "colored my world with hope" and tried to keep me safe. Her bravery put some sanity into my existence in which I was hated without reason. I'll never forget her.

"So on the eve of a new school year, I offer thanks to these dear souls. Their varying levels of courage did not in any way diminish the gift that each gave me in my darkest hours: the gift of a hand outstretched, however trembling, to one that needed to be held."


For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Grade School Heroes

Morsels for Meditation...: School Bells and Ink Quills

Morsels for Meditation...: Lockers and Notebooks...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Run or Ruin?

We've all probably heard the adage, "There is no 'I' in the word 'team.'"

That may be true, but there is a big capital "I" standing between the words "run" and "ruin."  That "I" belongs to each individual who has the choice of either running or ruining his life. No mother, father, sister or brother can abscond with that "I" and save a person who is bound and determined to ruin his life. Believe me, I've tried. I've watched others try. The best course of action I've found is to ...

Let Go and Let God




Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Old Grudges

... have a way of not going away. Yesterday I conquered one, and felt the wonderful freedom of forgiveness wash over me.

My mother has been gone for over ten years, and I have been holding onto a resentment on her behalf ever since. I confess to being guilty of the same charge I leveled at others in my impassioned post from August 9.

The history in brief is this: as I've shared previously, my family lived with estrangement for many years on my mother's side. The main culprit has never admitted to any wrongdoing, but professes ignorance to this day as to the reasons for the rift. My mother never joined a church, attended a twelve-step program, or read any self-help books that I'm aware of; yet, somehow, she must have been guided by a Spirit that slumbered inside her from a long-ago salvation experience, to take the high road. And so she did. How well I remember the "reunion" at my mother's sick bed (which would soon become her death bed) after a decade or more of not speaking -  the haughty tone taken by the offender, to which my mother (no shrinking violet herself) chose not to react. Instead, she conducted herself like a lady, setting an example of grace and mercy for the sake of the younger generation, who had expressed a desire to end the silence.

After Mom's passing, I found myself disgusted and angered by the octogenarian offender. While we rarely talked about those years of separation (in fact, we rarely talked at all), on at least one occasion she tried to villify my mother in a charade of make-believe bewilderment about Mom's choice to put distance between them. I hung up the phone livid, and have struggled to feel kindly towards her ever since. It was as if, since Mom couldn't be here to feel furious herself, I had to carry the vitriol for her.

Recent years have brought much heartache and ill health to this family member. Yesterday I saw her for the first time in several years. Her home, once lovely and regal, is crumbling around her. She is quite frail and can barely walk. The family she produced has known much suffering. I decided then and there to let go of the past, tell her I love her, and mean it.

I can think of no better way to honor my mother's memory than to follow the path she opened to reconciliation, even with (perhaps especially with) those who don't know they need it.


Check out Newsboys' Million Pieces

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Lack of Mercy

Morsels for Meditation...: Barbara Anne Horton Whitten Parrish


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Reinforcements

"Satan is gathering his forces," a prayerful mother warned her military son, Lt. Gen. William (Jerry) Boykin, who was preparing to serve in the Army's Delta Force. Alarmed, Boykin cried out to God in prayer, wondering if he had mistaken the call he was sure he had heard from the Lord to serve his country in that capacity. Penetrating his anxiety, an unmistakably almighty voice reassured him, "I know, Son, but so am I."

Like Elijah fleeing from Ahab and Jezebel, I was ready to give up the other day. Daily stresses (which were so fleeting I'm having trouble remembering them already), compounded by the unholy choices of people I care about, were dragging me under the waves and choking the life out of me. I could barely get out of bed, and when I did out of necessity, I had to slog through hours of desperate, disheartened thinking sent by the enemy to discourage me. Like quicksand, despair sucked me down, every movement worsening the state in which I found myself.

Then the Lord sent in His reinforcements.

Just as God promised Elijah He had plenty of people rallied to help with his mission (1 Kings 19:18), nearly 3,000 years later, He conveyed that same message to me.

Last night I received a call from the troubled child of God to whom I referred earlier in this post. He informed me his situation is improving because a believer he barely knows has taken an interest in him and is putting his money where his mouth is. Seems this fellow is allowing himself to be the hands and feet of God in a stranger's life. Remarkably, my floundering friend is willing to accept the help, even under the strict conditions laid out by his benefactor. This, after I had personally exhausted my own resources in trying to bring about change, and finally felt a heavenly nudge to "let go and let God." As soon as I obeyed, cringing at the consequences conjured up by my imagination, He brought in the next phase of the artillery. Jerry Powell, a missionary I once knew, put it this way: "God is never late, but rarely early." I can't get over how He is always right on time.

The outcome isn't certain, and the miracle is far from finished. But help is on the way. Stunned and humbled, I can only rejoice.

Check out Newsboys' Miracle Child

Friday, August 9, 2013

Lack of Mercy

        Saints and Sinners

    When somebody yields to temptation 
        And breaks one of man’s or God’s laws, 
    We look for no good in his make-up, 
        But oh! how we look for the flaws! 
    No one cares about how he was tempted, 
        Nor praises the battles he’s fought; 
    His name becomes food for the jackals -- 
        For us who have never been caught.
           He has sinned!” we shout from the house-tops,
             We forget the good deeds he has done,
          We focus on that one lost battle,
          And forget all the times he has won.
         “Come, gaze at the sinner!” we thunder,
         “And by his example be taught
      That his footsteps lead to destruction!”
          Cry we who have never been caught.

      I’m a sinner, O Lord, and I know it,
          I’m weak, I blunder, I fail.
     I’m tossed on life’s stormy ocean
        Like ships embroiled in a gale.
   I’m willing to trust in Thy mercy,
   To keep the commandments Thou’st taught,
    But deliver me, Lord, from the judgment
Of saints who have never been caught!*

   
Lack of mercy really troubles me.                             

Last night I had the ugly chore of telling a repentant sinner he wasn't welcome in another person's home. It was an unsavory, difficult duty that had to be done because others would get hurt if this person were not excluded. This was a utilitarian task made necessary by someone else's leftover resentments. It's complicated; just trust me. The worst of it is that most of the offenses committed were done to my children and me; they only affected the other person collaterally. In other words, the grudge being held was much more mine to forgive. I fail to see how, if I can let go of wrongs done to me in the distant past, someone else has the right to hold onto them on my behalf.


Long ago, I had the privilege of hearing a sermon by Andy Stanley** regarding good works vs. faith. He made the point that the "thief" on the cross was actually referred to as a "malefactor," which carries the implication of a life of hard-core sinning. I'll loosely paraphrase Andy's main point, since I can't locate the exact sermon:


What kind of bad works did this guy do? Real bad. What opportunity did this guy have to make up for his life of debauchery? No opportunity. Yet, Christ transformed his nugget of faith into a ticket to Paradise. All the ill will, missed opportunities, perversion, disgrace, and yes, horrific sin, turned into a pile of ashes when stacked up against the payment being made for same on the cross his neighbor was affixed to.


In other words, Christ did not withhold forgiveness from the lowest of the low.

Further examples of wanton grace include Christ's dealings with Matthew and Zacchaeus, both tax collectors, whose presence was about as welcome as an inflamed boil; the woman at the well, whose low status as a female Samaritan was compounded by a life of sin; and the woman taken in adultery (I've always been disturbed by the absence of her male counterpart, as if her lack of a Y chromosome somehow made her more guilty of an act which required complicity). The common thread in all these scenarios is societal rejection due to "unpardonable" offense. Astoundingly, Jesus, holy God in bodily form, embraced and welcomed these transgressors when their unholy peers would not.

So, someone explain to me please how we as flawed humans (and professing Christians, no less) can pick and choose who is worthy of forgiveness, when God incarnate took no such stance.
I realize forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things, and I'm not suggesting we pronounce BFF status after years of estrangement and hurt. What I am asking for is a bit of compassion and recognition that "there but for the grace of God go I."

The Savior did no less.




* PoemHunter.com attributes Saints and Sinners to Zambia's Changu Chilwesa, written in 2009. However, I seem to remember hearing it much before then. Contacted Ms. Chilwesa to clarify.

** Contacted In Touch Ministries for link to paraphrased Andy Stanley sermon.

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Old Grudges

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Scratching at the Door

Today I noticed claw marks on the outside of my bathroom door. Since my kids' reach is much higher than these were positioned, I can only assume the scars were created by one of the four-legged visitors we sometimes entertain, who apparently have no respect for a lady's privacy.

I hastily open the door whenever I hear scratching on the other side. My concern is less for the damage being done than for the poignant plight of a lonesome creature in my care. Since it is readily in my power to alleviate his suffering, I do so immediately.

The persistent widow knew the effectiveness of continuous supplication. Unlike the animals I care for, she did not receive an immediate answer. However, she kept "scratching at the door" of the judge's chambers until her needs were met. A good example for all God's children to follow.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." ~ Matthew 7:7-8 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Caterpillar

Yesterday after stepping on the scale, I decided it would be a good idea for me to walk to church. I never regret doing this, as most of the time God has some wonderful surprises laid out for me when I simply obey.

"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." 
Psalm 27:13

This time, He placed a gorgeous caterpillar on my route. Let it be known that I am not a bug person. I shriek at spiders and anything with more (or skinnier) legs than I have. Having said that, I don't know why this fellow didn't repel me, but, in fact, I had quite the opposite reaction: I just had to pick him up.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?" Psalm 27:1

This tiny creature had yellow-green fur, with a half dozen black, antenna-like projections emerging from various parts of his body. At first he resisted being lifted from his place on the grass, but when he saw I meant no harm, he acquiesced. Once in my hand, he immediately made a beeline (er, caterpillar line?) to my arm. This would never do. Having something crawling up my arm - well, that's just too bug-like. I gently restricted his path to my two open hands, at times making a slight "mountain" with one atop the other. When you consider the size of a caterpillar, my two overlapped hands must have seemed a big hurdle for the fuzzy little guy to overcome; yet he never shrank from the challenge, but calmly overcame the obstacles before him.

"For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me high upon a rock." Psalm 27:5

One thing in particular fascinated me. Having arrived at my destination, I tried to free his grasp and lower him into the church garden. While at first he balked at being examined by a stranger, now he clung to me for dear life. It was as if, once over the initial strangeness of being placed into another's care, he now realized the safety my hands afforded and had no desire to go back out on his own.

"One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple." Psalm 27:4

In retrospect, perhaps the reason I so readily handled this many-legged Lepidoptera was that I realized the potential he had for becoming a beautiful butterfly. Once affixed with wings, this critter would not consent to being held. I had one chance and one chance only to mingle my life with his, and I was not going to miss that opportunity.

"Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me." Psalm 27:6

When it comes to likenesses, I probably more closely resemble the moth than the butterfly. I too often overeat, ruin clothing, and generally make a pest of myself. However, if I yield to Him and consent to rest in the palm of His hand, might He not transform me into a magnificent, soaring butterfly instead?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Bereft or Blessed?

Those are the emotions I'm swinging between now.

Our canine house guest, Tripp, just departed. Gone are the comfy pillows he snuggled on while I typed and he napped. Gone is the baby gate that was supposed to keep him out of the construction area of my house (it worked 75% of the time, but that story will have to wait for another post). Gone are his food bowls and the pleading look that materialized whenever they were empty.

I know I need to count my blessings when I get into a funk like this, and there are plenty of them. Opening a prayer guide packet this morning, I came upon Luke 6:38: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Ephesians 3:20, one of my all-time favorites, followed: "Now [God] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us..." Finally, Philippians 4:19 leaped out at me: "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus."

Still, I feel bereft.

I gave a talk at my Al Anon meeting last night about the ways God has provided for me over the years. I recalled the anonymous monetary gifts my husband and I received when he was in medical school. I described taking a blind leap of faith by leaving a job without having a new one lined up. My then-toddler son was accompanying me to my part-time job at a day care center, which helped with expenses while Mike was earning his medical degree. My little boy began acting out in order to divert my attention from the other dozen kids I had to manage. When my request for him to be placed in a separate class was denied, I regretfully left the position. A week later, the director begged me to return in a substitute capacity, where I was given more hours and, lo and behold, a separate class for my son!

Next, I recounted the financial terror I felt when leaving my husband, then finding just enough money in our joint savings account to pay my son's school tuition in advance. I looked back on my first job after becoming a single parent: how God used my sister to find the perfect work-at-home position that would allow me to care for my children; how I really shouldn't have gotten it because, in despair over my marital situation, I had to cancel the interview, thinking I'd never hear from the employer again. Miraculously, he still wanted to hire me, and we worked together for five years, just long enough for me to get my younger son into school so I could begin a full-time position with benefits. I recalled having a flexible weekend job drop into my lap, providing just enough money for the orthodontia my older son badly needed. I related God's most recent resourcefulness in having me stumble across a cache of jewelry and coins left over from my parents' estate, which has brought in much needed funds for an essential home renovation project.

And these are just the highlights! I've shared in the past how my parents and sisters have been an incredible source of blessing and support to my children and me. I might not even have a decent place to live or the wherewithal to fix it up, were it not for the exorbitant generosity of my family of origin.

Yet, somehow my mind keeps getting trapped in anxiety. As the bills for the kitchen project come due, my savings are taking a hit (the second major one after I had to replace my car two years ago). I'm questioning some past monetary decisions which I hoped would please the Lord, yet seem to have come back to bite me.

I don't want to go backwards. When I opened my talk last night, I remembered being driven by great financial worry as a young adult. For example, I used to buy huge quantities of sale items at the grocery store. Only later did I realize my behavior was rooted in the irrational fear that those things might never be on sale again. I didn't want to miss out or be caught short! I fretted over recreational spending in the same way I fretted over recreation itself when I was in college; somehow I must have thought every dime and every minute needed to be reserved for life's necessities, as opposed to its niceties. Balance lost out to business every time.

I don't want to go backwards. If I'm to avoid it, I must focus on the fact that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and (as evidenced by the steaks in my refrigerator), He's only too happy to share them with me.

"Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." ~ Psalm 42:11

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Yeah, But..." Part 2

I've figured out why I want to grab for the brass ring in front of me - no matter how clearly phony it may be - rather than wait for the real thing to come along.


The answer is in the sentence I just typed: because it's right there for the taking. There's no waiting period. No painful self-deprivation. All I have to do is reach out and snatch it, get instant gratification, followed by regrets the next day (or the next hour, depending on how quickly reality sets in).

For me this phenomenon most frequently occurs with food. I want it NOW!  Whatever is going on around me isn't enough to keep me satisfied or stimulated, but this brownie over here, well, that looks interesting. Sitting quietly with my thoughts, trying to find another outlet for my mind or emotions, doing a task that's mundane but necessary - all these are alternatives, but not necessarily pleasant ones.

I did this with my marriage. How many people do you know who went through with a shaky wedding just because the marriage certificate was about to expire? I must have been afraid I'd lose him if I waited (and who wants to pay that fee again?), so let's act now and work out the details of harmonious living later.

I'm at a point in my life where I've had to decide between immediate enjoyment and perhaps indefinitely delayed fulfillment. I can tell I've made progress because I didn't share my excitement about the possibilities with everyone I know (just a select few who offered Godly caution and wise counsel). I kept my expectations reasonable (as best I could, given my flyaway personality).

And I prayed. I asked God what to do; He took His time, but eventually showed me in no uncertain terms that this was not right for me.

So now I'm living with, "Yeah, but."

"Yeah, but there's no other viable alternative that I can see. I've got a plate full of nothing if I don't chow down on these questionable offerings."

The answer needs to be, "So what?"

So what if I have to go hungry for a little while? What's the worst that can happen? I'll lose weight! So what if this man isn't interested or good relationship material? I'll remain single, as I have for 16 years, and God's provided "exceeding abundantly above all I could ask or think."

SO WHAT???

 "But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." 1 Timothy 6:6-8

 For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: "Yeah, But..."

Wrestling



I wrestled with God - and lost.

Like the patriarch Jacob, I met God on the wrestling mat, asking Him for something I hoped was His will for me. I prayed and hoped and hoped and prayed. I consulted with other believers and prayed some more. I rationalized and tried to reason with God. I provided good, Godly explanations for how this might benefit His kingdom (in case He hadn't thought of them on His own).

Yesterday He answered, clear and unmistakable:

"NO!"

The good news is, I'm less upset than I thought I would be. In the past, letdowns like this have left me bereft. I guess I'm making progress since what I feel is more like, "Onto the next challenge. I'm disappointed and a bit annoyed, but my life didn't depend on it, so neither does my joy."

I've been reading of late about how the Israelite kings wavered between trusting God and worshiping idols. At times it seemed like faithful rulers balanced out adulterous ones. Gradually, though, the curve shifted to the point where idolatry and disobedience became the order of the day, with only occasional glimpses toward the one true God. The results were disastrous, with grown children following the patterns of their wayward parents, and the entire Jewish nation ultimately being uprooted into captivity.

"Let this not be said of me," I keep writing in the margins of my Bible.

A dear friend who taught me much of what I know of God's dealings with His children once postulated that God teaches believers a concept, then gives them a test to prove their understanding, like a classroom professor would do. In light of God's refusal to grant my request, combined with what I've been learning about Israel's kings, I'm thinking this may be one of those situations. Dare I hope I passed His test?



This morning a Christian sister called to thank me for a small gesture of friendship. As we hung up, I sensed she had more to say, but couldn't get the words out before the call ended. A few minutes later she called back to finish.

"You had once [read, a year ago] asked me to pray about __________________ that's been on your heart," she began. "I felt the Lord's leading to offer to pray for you now about that subject, if that's alright."

Was it ever alright! Little did she realize her prayers addressed the very issue I was now grappling with. I bowed my head with this obedient saint who had no idea she was engaging in divine warfare just by dialing a phone number. And marveled at the God who is never late but rarely early, who is able to hand a victory to His children, even when they wrestle with Him - and lose.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Brothers

I just got off the phone with my brother-in-law, Scott. No, let me rephrase that. I just got off the phone with my brother.

All my life, I wished I had an older brother. Someone to guide me about men, so I could be more comfortable with the opposite sex. God in His wisdom blessed me with three marvelous, incredible sisters instead. I had a wonderful, good father, but somehow we just didn't talk about those things. Little did I know that a prayer I had never articulated, even to God, would be answered years later when two of my sisters said, "I do."

I shared some good news with Scott during our phone conversation, and also a major prayer concern. Scott, a loving man of few words, uncharacteristically launched into prayer over the phone lines from 3,000 miles away in a hotel room. In the spirit of Steven Curtis Chapman's Let Us Pray, he took the opportunity then and there, rather than promising to intercede later. His gentle, heartfelt words, born from bitter experience of his own, touched and soothed my fearful heart.

My other brother-in-law - no, brother - Tom, has been just as much of a Godsend at different times. Both he and Scott sat alongside me during an excruciating school meeting years ago, lending moral support and testosterone to a situation that needed both. Tom has also shown wisdom and good judgment during a variety of family issues.

My friend Anita would say they are mensches. And she would be right.

"Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear." Isaiah 65:24

Monday, June 24, 2013

Restoration

Last year I had a falling out of sorts with a fellow believer.

It was a falling out of sorts because the whole thing was unspoken. Neither of us ever lashed out at the other. There was no grand parting of the ways. There were very simply, miscommunications, mistakes, and misunderstandings that gave rise to a certain degree of misery.

I carried around my half of the angst for a number of months. I griped some, prayed some, and finally arrived at a mental stalemate that consisted of distance and letting go. Live and learn, I told myself, but don't fall into the same trap again. Accordingly, I remained cordial yet aloof with this person, having decided I had invested enough emotional energy in the relationship. To be blunt, I simply backed off.

Recently, though, my sister in Christ decided to clear the invisible cloud between us. She started out by bringing me flowers! One day she just appeared at my door with a beautiful bouquet that graced my dining room table for a week and a half. She said it was for no special reason, but we both knew it was for a very special reason.

Next, she stole an opportunity to apologize in a short, sweet way for anything she might have ever done to offend me. How could I argue with that? Sensing she would feel uncomfortable hashing out details, I simply murmured my acceptance of her gesture, and resolved to mean it.

Last night, my friend - and I do mean friend - put the lid on the matter once and for all. She sent Satan packing. The Lord arranged an impromptu meeting for us, without any third parties around for a change. My friend at first begged off as it was bedtime, then decided to keep me company while I went about my business. In her roundabout way, she began talking about spiritual truths in general, then zeroed in on our difficulties.

"Do you think?" she wondered aloud, "Satan has ever put any obstacles between us?"

Not being prepared for this discussion at 11 PM, I tried to turn the question back on her.

"What do you think?" I responded, wondering how deeply she wanted to wade into these murky waters.

She was having none of it. She gently pressed me for an answer while I gathered my courage and heavenly armor. So cautiously, I spoke the truth in love. I told her yes, we had had some difficulties, but that I felt God had put them behind us. I hearkened back to her gestures of amends making, and told her I saw them for what they were. She didn't ask for details and I didn't supply any. I felt God guiding me to withhold the why's and wherefore's, realizing the gumption it had taken for her to broach the subject in the first place.

What a wonderful way to start off the week.

Check out Newsboys' Let It Go

Boxes

At the risk of over-spiritualizing the mundane, I have to state that I'm happily flabbergasted at the way God has simplified a potentially overwhelming task.

My family is in the throes of a major house renovation, and boxes of all shapes and sizes were needed to pack up two rooms. Normally, I would have had to prowl around in super markets and liquor stores to avoid tossing my belongings into trash bags at the last minute. This time, though, I felt the Almighty smiling on my predicament, as He strategically steered me to hallways, grocery store aisles and even trash sites to stumble across a veritable cornucopia of cardboard. My newly employed son even called from work with an offer to stash rather than trash a large array of cartons.

God, not the Devil, really is in the details.