Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The "Bulldozer"

If you've read some of my previous posts, you've probably caught on to the fact that my youngest child, Juliette, is Little Miss Aggressive times ten. She takes what she wants and if she can't, she'll make our lives miserable until either we give it to her or she moves on to something else. She’s quite forceful in her attempts and will run anyone of us over to get at whatever it is that her little heart desires. I've seen her shove my three-year-old on the floor in her determination to take what she wants --and it doesn’t even phase her that he’s hurt. As I observe this personality trait she’s exhibiting, I realize that I am the exact same way. It must really frustrate those around me at times.

Isn’t it amazing how our kids can work like a mirror to us? They help expose parts of us that we wouldn’t otherwise notice. Seeing a character trait in someone who isn’t related to us is easy to brush-off and judge, but seeing it through our own flesh and blood presents us with a pretty good mirror into who we are. God uses our children and other family members to reveal the good, the bad and the ugly. What we do with it depends on whether we really want to grow or not.

When I want to know something, I can be quite aggressive in finding out the answer. I hate to be told that I don’t need to know something. The mere idea that someone should decide for me what I am entitled to understand gets under my skin like a bad pimple. Now, I justify my pursuit of knowledge, overlooking everyone else, by focusing on Bible verses that encourage understanding. But if we’re being frank here, I think I go way past the Biblical idea of understanding more often that I want to admit. Ultimately, He just wants me to sit back and give Him control of my life.

Like a bulldozer, I flatten out anything and everything that stands in my in order to wrap my mind around something. And I feel the need to constantly reiterate that my motives are pure and that I just need to make sense of things in my head, and perhaps they are for the most part. But I’m beginning to see that there are times where the Lord wants me to allow Him to bring those things to me. Retraining my mind to wait when I know I don’t HAVE to presents a huge challenge for me, but it’s becoming more and more obvious that I have to learn to do so. It’s just another area of my life where a better sense of balance is needed.

Lately, I've searched for answers surrounding my husband's "misperception" of me in my need to understand. As I begin to put the pieces together, everything seems to point back to my aggressive nature. Instead of taking the gentle approach necessary with understanding, I reach out and take it. I, like Juliette, shove him over (figuratively) and take what I want to know. And if my viewpoint is different, I throw it at him in a way that it lands on him and squashes him flat like something out of a cartoon.

I read an article several weeks ago about how we often take what we want instead of waiting on God to bless us, as He truly wants to. We often think that we’re entitled and based purely on our determination, and we go get it. We don’t ask Him what he wants and we don’t wait on Him to bless us. We fail to consult Him about His will, nor do we typically wait on Him to carry out His will. That amounts to nothing more than a lack of faith.

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with pursuit and understanding, but if it means being forceful and overbearing to those we love we miss the whole point. If it means we aren’t developing a greater faith and dying to self by learning patience, we’re missing an opportunity for spiritual growth.

Another thing I’ve come to learn is that if someone doesn’t want to help us understand, they are struggling with their own issues—so we have to give them room to get over themselves while we get over our own. Offering a little patience is one of the best ways to keep the peace although we can gently push for better understanding at the same time. I’ve recently come to understand that I make someone else’s issue become mine when I stress and over think their issues despite their failure to be more open and honest with me. It’s not worth a second thought if you have to “assume”. Assuming never took anyone to any great places, nor did over-thinking.

As we try to put ourselves aside for His sake, we battle the flesh even more so than non believers. The point is…we battle, we struggle, and we aim to serve Him even when we fall flat on our faces. And I fall flat on mine regularly. But just like any other relationship, perseverance is the ultimate proof of love. Perseverance IS dedication.

I’m convicted about my aggression, although a worldly view would praise it. Learning to put my aggression aside and wait on Him to provide what I need isn’t easy, but it’s critical to my spiritual growth. Do you struggle with aggression? How does it hinder you from becoming more in Him who seeks to bless you?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Emotional Management

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;  and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)
I've been avoiding this topic for weeks. Emotions are so complicated, even for those of us who are more in tune to our own. Negative emotions are, by far, my biggest struggle. Anger, frustration, resentment, jealousy, pride and stubbornness can lead me in the worst of places. These things can sneak in on me just when I think I have it under control. It never ends well because they always wind up causing trouble.

I've been reading a book about the struggles of the women in the Bible and they all have one thing in common, negative emotions. Each of them have their own struggles, and I find myself relating to each one in some way. As I read more, the message becomes louder and clearer: get your emotions under control.

This morning, what should have been an easy conversation with my husband turned ugly fast. It was all due to my lack of emotional management. If we can't take whatever hits us, whether it be out of criticism or love,  and handle it without short circuiting then we have some growing to do--and that is the conclusion I draw for myself.

I'm sick and tired of living by whatever my emotions tell me to. They aren't The Truth yet I let them rule over me in a way makes them my King. I allow them to bring distance and confusion to otherwise perfectly great and fulfilling times. If I feel it, my knee-jerk reaction is to run with it. The slightest things can cause me to feel rejection, disrespect, humiliation, and most often resentment. I can go from feeling SO close to God and having SUCH loving relationships with those around me to feeling lonely in mere seconds. A simple misunderstanding leaves me feeling defensive and the result is overreaction on my part.

I'm a vocal person, and I find myself having to slow my tongue and wait on the rest of me to catch up. He's been reminding me to slow down and listen. The times when I struggle to hear Him most are those when my emotions scream the loudest. I've often found myself pleading with Him to speak to me about this just to realize later that He has been all along. I choose to let the noise of my emotions get out of control. I treat them as if they were someone else's children running wild in Wal-Mart. I let them go and hope someone else will deal with them before they tear something up. Even if no one else notices, the noise they cause takes over in a way that nothing else can get my attention.

My husband reminds me often that "we can choose our reactions." This is true in more way than one. Not only can we choose how to react outwardly, but we have a choice on what goes on inside us as well. We can calm these "children" of ours before they take over, or we can let them run rampant. We can choose to dwell on them, or we can choose positive thoughts. We are in charge of our own emotions, no matter who we want to blame for their uprising. And we have to be, because no one else can tame them for us. And does it not say more about us if we allow ourselves to be overrun by negative emotions, than it does those whom we blame for causing them?

I read an article this morning, in my effort to understand the role of negative emotions. I come away with this: we have to evaluate our emotions in the light of God's word. This is quite significant although for some of us it's close enough to bite us yet we just can't manage to see it. God's word gives us all we need. He, if we allow it, will show us the morsels contained within. But we have to want it. We have to be sick and tired of doing it our own way.

I've also come to understand that our emotions are a sort of check and balance built within us. They tell us that there is some dysfunction within us, and within our relationships and that we are not what we need to be. They are a reminder of our brokenness and the broken world we live in. They remind us that we are in danger in some way. We wouldn't feel negative thoughts if everything inside and around us was perfect, now would we? Relationship deficiencies cause us the most problems and sometimes cause those emotions to short circuit, leaving us in need of a great electrician --our Creator.

We were made in His image, thus we were made to have a relationship with Him and His people. We were also made to serve others, and until we learn to love others as He loves us, we will all battle negative emotions. We have to learn to set ourselves aside, which in itself is the hardest thing in the world no matter how unselfish you consider yourself to be. We have to learn the right balance in everything we do, because it is quite like juggling with both arms and both legs. But anything worth doing doesn't come easily, right. The value in doing things His way is that we are rewarded with emotional health because we come to expect less and offer more.
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he...Proverbs 23:7
My prayer lately is that I learn to be led by Him and His truths, not by my "feelings". And when I do feel those negative emotions, I'm trying to learn to look to Him. A big part of that for me is learning to quiet those noisy things in order to hear Him. Just as physical pain is meant to cause us to seek medical care, emotional pain is meant to lead us to The Great Physician--Jesus Christ.
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22:44
He doesn't generally remove those things right away, but He teaches us how to deal with them. He sheds light on what's hiding underneath in order to heal us from the inside out and make us clean.

We were made for more than just this. Only He can take something meant to hurt us and make it benefit us. Only He can truly heal us. Only He can make us whole. And He's obviously has a "God at Work" sign hanging on me. This, my friends, is gonna take a while because I have a lot of "dirt". But Thing 1 and Thing 2 must be tamed in the process.

I encourage you to hang in there, fight the good fight and keep believing in Him. Don't quit, you're not clean yet.
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled”.
-Matthew 5:6

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rejection Ejection

Rejection breaks me down faster than anything. It ties my stomach into a million knots. I tear up, fall apart and lose perspective. My heart beat raises and I become defensive in mere fragments of a second. When just a hint of rejection is in the air, my mind spins like that space ride at the fair. It goes around faster and faster-- until something, usually in someone, spills. I literally feel like I'm on that ride when I feel I'm being rejected. It's amazing what silly things take hold of us when we allow lies to grip our minds.

I've stated before, in more ways than one, that I have many insecurities. Insecurities form from lies Satan tells us. Satan knows just how to bypass our security software and sneak his lies through the back end of our mainframes. He's an expert hacker and can spot a hole in our spiritual armor a mile away and he knows exactly what viruses to give us based on each of our experiences. Unfortunately, I've had holes in mine for years and I'm quite sure that I'm barely skimming the top of  "my pile of junk" that accumulated from this exposure.

Rejection started early for me. Rejection from religious people, so-called friends and even rejection in the most basic relationships have left me subconsciously thinking that I'm not acceptable to others in who I really am. I came from a broken home, so I am a statistic by societal standards. Satan's been pointing this out for years. I've always had ambitions but I've always struggled with the lies he's whispered in my ear. He'd say things like, " You're just a statistic, you're bound to fail." and " No one will ever love you when they see how messed up you are on the inside, and they will see it eventually." He'd remind me that I'm not pretty enough or smart enough.

When Chris and I argue, the rejection button throws my emotions into overdrive--and it's bound to get pressed everytime. If my husband so much as walks away or withdraws from the conversation, my rejection alarm goes off. It works in me like a fire alarm that starts screaming at the slightest sign of smoke. The painful high-pitched sound won't stop and you have yank the battery out just to kill the noise. These generally turn out to be false alarms and get us all worked up for nothing. In the same sense, I generally wind up compromising my integrity and then feeling stupid for it later. My emotions never run higher than when I sense rejection. It usually turns out that he never meant to reject me, which makes me all the more aware that although rejection is quite real, it is nothing more than an insecurity. It only has power that we give it.

I've experienced many broken relationships and I've been rejected A LOT. But who hasn't? We all have this invisible "wall" that raises automatically when we feel we are not important to someone who is important to us. It's because Satan lies to us. He wants to make us feel unloved, unimportant, and never quite good enough. But I wonder how many of us have ever asked ourselves why he would care to bother us. Perhaps it is due to the fact that God wants good things for each and every one of us.

I'm having to learn to lean on Him in the midst of my insecurities and believe in His promises. I'm having to train my mind to look to Him when my emotions run high, rather than react out of them. I heard Laura Story say once that she had to determine whether she "really believed what the Bible said" in the midst of her trials. These trying times are meant to be times where we decide to stand more firmly in our faith. No matter who rejects me any day of the week, there are always several people who do not. My children and my husband deeply love me but most importantly, He loves me.
God doesn't reject me. And if anyone has a reason to, He does. He knows the depths of my heart better than anyone. Instead, He reminds me of His love for me using His word, His presence in me and His creation. I can't look up at the sky or at anything He created without knowing He MUST love me to allow me to take part in this.
If you are struggling with rejection, like I do quite often, know that you aren't alone. Most importantly, lean on Him and believe that He can and He will bring you through it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Child-like Trust

My youngest daughter, Juliette, is not quite a year old yet. A few days ago, I grabbed her and threw her up in the air. As she bounced back into my arms, she giggled uncontrollably. She didn't flinch. She didn't show the slightest sign of fear. I couldn't help but notice that I had her complete trust. She had no doubt that I would catch her. My Lord used that instance to show me the meaning of complete and utter trust--the kind He wants me to have for Him.

Now that I look back, there have been many instances my kids have displayed complete trust for me. I take it for granted and perhaps I expect their trust. Since we work to provide a safe and loving home, they have no reason to distrust me. Granted they've had their fair share of pain from mishaps, mistakes and growth, they've "had it" quite well. And they've proven time and time again that they look to me as a type of safe haven.

Isaiah, my only son, asks me each night at bedtime whether he can sleep safe--safe from monsters and whatever else enters his vivid imagination. And each night, he is satisfied simply with my words, "No nothing will get you. Those things are made-up for movies and books. They're not real." He doesn't argue. He is simply satisfied with the reassurance I offer him. Why? Because he trusts me.

When my oldest daughter, Kearney, was little she would cling to me wherever we went. If she felt unsafe, her cling turned into more of a slow strangulation. It used to frustrate me but looking back I see that she clung to the person with whom she felt safest. She trusted me, and she still does although she's grown to think that I know less and less (oh the joy of teen years). As she gets older, she becomes more like me in that she has to see and understand for herself. Kearney wouldn't let me teach her how to swim. The more I persuaded her, the more she insisted in her own way. She eventually had to observe others and try it on her own. She and I aren't a whole lot alike but in that way, we think alike. I've always been guarded. I've always had this need to do my own thinking to the extent that I have to see for myself more times than I care to admit. I've always had trouble giving up control. Trust doesn't come naturally for me and it gets harder with age.

Isn't it just like us to become more distrusting as we grow older? Age doesn't always make us better. In many cases, it makes us more bitter, resentful and cautious. As we "grow" (by the world's standards), experiences take away that innocent trust of a child. Once the damage is done and we realize how important those child-like ways are in our spiritual lives, we spend the rest of our lives trying to revert.

I realize that trust is something we work towards. It doesn't come overnight. It's practiced over and over and over. As I believe, I am to apply that belief in sticky situations--instead of flinching. As with anything else-- the more we apply God's truths, the more natural they become to us. I want to have the trust for God that my kids have for me. Instead of flinching when trials come, I want to be so grounded in Him that my peace is never shaken. I want to hear His word, His reassurance and never doubt. And I pray you do too. We have no reason not to trust him completely. He loves us abundantly.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not-So-Fun House

I have three kids. When just one complains, it's tormenting. But when more than one does it, it feels like planet Jupiter shot out of space and landed directly on my face--I'm baffled, hurt and angry. It discourages me because I conclude that they overlook all the stuff that I do for them. The good things seem to matter no more. In all honesty, I just want them to shut up before I have to resort to drastic measures that prove to them just how good they really do have it. I literally have to contain myself. I think any one who is a parent can relate. One little sign of ungratefulness from our kids leaves us fuming, discouraged and ready to suck them dry of every single ounce of greatness we've worked to give them. I think God must feel that way about us to some extent.

We all have bad days. We carry around a bad attitude and take out every little thing that doesn't go our way on anyone we come in contact with. We feel, and act, like its the end of the world. A bad day now and then isn't so bad, I guess. But it seems to me that most of us complain far more often than we have any right to. We focus on one or two little negatives and overlook all the positives. We walk around in a state of "Woe is me" when the fog of negativity hits us because frankly until we want to, we can't see our way out.

Yes, I said it --Until we want to. We have a choice here.

Think about it. He must see and hear a lot of ungratefulness. Can you imagine the volume--a whole world full of ungrateful brats? Just thinking about it makes my head spin. As a society, we are far more negative than positive. And as good, holy, patient and loving as He really is, it's become clear that our complaining and our ungrateful ways are not honorable to Him. It makes perfect sense that our grumbling, complaining attitudes would only cause us to be blessed even that much less.

I know for a fact that He's blessed me far more abundantly during times when I've been satisfied, content, happy or even outspoken about my blessings. When I carry the whole "life sucks" attitude, I feel like I'm stuck in a fog. I can't see anything clearly and the last thing I think to do is to call for help. That, my dear, is the worst place to be because our lives were meant to be carried out with focus and intent among other things. He didn't leave us and he surely doesn't leave us helpless.

We look at ourselves through fun house mirrors. We lack perspective and insight on the "real" picture. We have these ideas of ourselves that always wind up being way off base. We overrate or underrate the  gifts we've been given to the extent that our view is as distorted as the image we get from the fun house mirror, if not worse. Unless we look at ourselves in His mirror, we fail to see things as they are. We fail to see what we have, who we are and what He wants for us.

Remember, He's given us free will. And He's given us a good mirror--His word. If you are a believer, you haven't been left alone without soldier's gear. Based on my own experiences, it's clear to me that a person has to want change. We have to seek it. Someone can talk you down from that ledge all day long, but if you're determined to jump YOU WILL. If you wait for something to smack you in the skull, eventually it will and you won't like what it is. I promise. It's that way with anything in life. Being ungrateful says something about you, not anyone else and certainly not God.

We just can't afford to wait on something bad to happen to force us to look for good in life. Life's hard enough. here's no such thing a "karma". (We won't even get into how much that word eats at me.) Things are cyclic, of course, but God's at the steering wheel. This world isn't spinning out of control, or running itself. He has it all in His hands, and we have to start believing that whole-heartedly if we label ourselves "Christians". He can shape our outcome and and our circumstances. He wants us to ask. He can step in and become our hero in a moments notice but He doesn't want us to call on Him only when things are bad.

His word promises us good things, but also instructs us to believe it. They go hand in hand. If we believe it, we honor Him. Honoring Him calls for much greater blessings. He takes away our fear, our stress, our uncertainty if we believe Him. He brings a sense of peace that nothing else in this world can compare to. And if we don't, we make life harder on ourselves. It seems we push those blessings out even farther with our negativity.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Perspective Prison

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Psalm 119:73
I think inside my own little box, we all do. I'm guilty of getting stuck inside my own perspectives like a rat in a tall plastic container. I scratch around but can't quite make my way out. I, like many of us, am limited to the way I see things. Far too often, that limited perspective allows room for Satan's mind tricks. Lack of perspective leaves us in the darkness and it's clear to me that the devil loves the dark.

Perspectives are like opinions, everyone has one or two...or fifty thousand. They are unique to each one of us based on our experiences, our hearts and the way we think. Frankly, if we're happy knowing only our own, we leave lots of room for trouble. We isolate ourselves. It's like a house that has been abandoned. Rot sets in very quickly, and subtly. If we abandon the concept of understanding one another, relationships go sour and never quite recuperate.

We see it all too often in families. Someone has a perspective and absolutely refuses to see it any other way. They don't want to know about how anyone else sees things. They're so internally focused on what hurts them and what they feel that they quite obviously could care less about anyone else. They want their point and their point alone to be made. Families grow farther and farther apart and as a lack of understanding takes root, it grows like mold. It slowly takes on new growth and before long, it affects everyone around them. Pretty soon they have few, if anyone, left around them to carry out the rest of their days with.
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. Psalm 82:5
Relationships fall apart every day due to someone's stubbornness. The funny thing about stubbornness is that it has become a good thing by today's standards. But if we put things into God's perspective, stubbornness is merely selfish pride that drives people apart. It is ultimately a lack of perspective and a lack of desire to understand. Stubbornness has never done me any favors. It's held me down, set me back and taken me to depths of loneliness I can only hope I never experience again. It separates us from those we love, including God. We are each too quick to deny Satan's success as it relates to our stubborn ways.

The thing about this free-will that God's given us is that we are free to choose our path. We, as believers, are free to choose whether we'll follow the fleshly desires or struggle against the flow to do what He wants. Of course, it takes each of us putting our own desires and feelings aside. That means we each have to cast out our pride and let go of our limited mindsets. I heard someone say recently, " Perception is reality." Oh how true this is for each of us.

I'm convinced that in my marriage and in my other relationships, He wants me to be open to other perspectives. My relationship with Chris has had it struggles, and let's face it--it still does at times. Most of those struggles are attributed to stubbornness. But as I'm learning to be open to Chris' perspectives, I'm blessed with a whole new level of understanding and knowledge of him. And I love him more for it. It not only brings about greater intimacy but it is also something that I can arm myself with when Satan starts whispering his lies in my ear. If I know Chris' perspective, I can be ready for Satan when he hits me with some web-spun lie that's meant to cause strife. I guard my marriage with thick fortress walls simply because I know where he is coming from, how he sees things and how he feels.

God really started blessing me more when I opened up and started seeking other perspectives. He wants each of us to want to understand the people around us. Understanding is a huge factor in personal and relationship growth. You just can't bypass it as a Christian. Even if you're not a Christian, you'll be terribly lonely as long as you try to live in your own little perspective prison. And that's just what it is, a prison. The only way you can escape the battles in your own mind is to open up and seek the perspective of other's. Don't leave any darkness in your life or in your relationships that Satan can use as a breeding ground. If you do, you'll pay the price for it later.

He calls us to get along and love one another. He calls us to offer mercy, grace and understanding. For people like me, understanding plays a huge factor to the whole idea of eliminating strife and loving others. I can love someone much more fully if I know where they're coming from. If I don't it's like prison to me. I want out of my own box, my own perspectives because the things I think begin to eat me alive. I want out of this dark place where Satan hides. He has left me with more than my fair share of issues to deal with and I don't need a new ones to add to my collection.

I'm convinced that if our relationships and our spiritual lives are important enough--we'll reach out for the other perspectives involved. The greatest way to understand is to ask the Lord for it. Other's can offer understanding of your mind, He can offer it to the depths of your heart. Reaching out to other's leaves everyone feeling better but the circle is never complete without the extent of understanding He can provide.
Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word! Psalm 119:169

Monday, August 8, 2011

Taming the Tongue

I read once, in a Joyce Meyer devotional, that most of our spiritual problems occurs from the shoulders up. Our minds can lead to trouble, but perhaps they may be a mere starting point for the drama and the messes in our lives. I believe that the most common way for the mind's junk to make it's way out is through the tongue. Think about it--the stuff in your head is going to come out, therefore you have to choose the thoughts that occupy the space between your ears more carefully.

My tongue is indeed my biggest problem. Many times, I talk without thinking. I say things that I wish I hadn't and I wind up feeling like a jerk for it. I also say things that cause confusion and hurt. After it's all said and done, I realize that I didn't put enough thought into my words because I was in a big hurry to say what I thought--mostly because getting it off my chest simply makes me feel better. In my own relationships, I realize that I've said some things that haven't been so nice. I'm convicted that this tongue of mine needs a leash.

Even when I am justified (in man's terms) to voice my hurt, and say what's on my mind I wind up saying enough to expose my filthy heart. The bad thing is that you always wind up making a complete fool of yourself when you allow your words too go to far. You either hurt the one's you love or you hand your emotions over on a silver platter to your enemies.

In the Bible, there are many references to the tongue. I've noted a few of the obvious ones below.
 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. Proverbs 15:4
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21
We've all been hurt by someone else's words. I for one, struggle to believe that those who hurt me truly mean well. I find myself doubting that he or she truly meant the apology, if I was offered one. I guard my heart from that person because now there is a trust issue. I also find that I add one more insecurity to my already large collection. It's amazing how a few little words can turn my world and my heart upside down.

As I age, I can't help but relate my own pain to the hurt I've caused others. So much of what we say is spoken in anger, or from some type of carelessness. I've spoken a lot of things out of anger or mere hurry. Perhaps many of us justify our razor sharp words by labeling them as "the truth." Granted that the truth hurts, if we truly seek to honor God, each of us can choose our words and our tone quite carefully. I might challenge you to consider that if you don't hurt right along with the person to whom you're speaking the truth, chances are you didn't need to say it. A person who cares will be far more well received than someone who doesn't. If you attempt to speak the truth without showing compassion, you create distance. That distance just might show up their spiritual lives. Can you live knowing you pushed someone from God?

I used to think that it is okay to think about things as long as you don't vocalize them. But I've learned that if you let something stay in your head it WILL make it's way out. The stuff in your head will eventually be uncovered and when it is, how will you feel? Will you be embarrassed? Will you feel proud? Will it hurt someone? Or will it expose you by what you really are? If you don't want your thoughts to surface, stop thinking about them!

We can't ever really take our words back. Our tongue's don't have a "Recall" option like email does. If God intended for us to let our tongues run loose, He would have put that "Recall" button someplace with quick and easy access-- like on our foreheads. Sure, we can apologize, but think about how often you've struggled even after someone has offered you an apology. The hurt from words has a lasting consequence to us and those we love. We're all guilty of letting our mouth get the best of us. We've got to remember that words can hurt or words can build someone up.

When you die, would you want people to celebrate you because your words were always encouraging? Or would you rather have people use your funeral as a counseling session due to the pain you've caused?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ministering Without Exclusion

It's become more apparent to me lately that there is a huge population of Christians who say they have a ministry but then seemingly isolate most other people, including other Christians. They seem to be focused on only a small group of people with whom they feel comfortable with.

Before I move on, I want to make it clear that this isn't meant to offend or hurt anyone. I'm not pointing any fingers nor am I judging anyone. I, the chief of sinners, cannot judge anyone else. I'm still trying to get the log out of my own eye in many aspects of my life. But nonetheless, the issue weighs on my heart and warrants some attention.

I've been observing more and more cliquishness in our churches, and among the Christian population in general. I'm convicted to measure myself by the traits I see here that have caused so much hurt both in and out of "the Christian circles". I'm referring to those who claim to love God so much through some type of ministry, yet they isolate others who differ from them. I've been hurt by cliquishness and I think far too many of us have. I'll admit that I can see where it'd be easy adopt the comfort mindset. Anything "uncomfortable" goes against our human nature. Stepping outside of my comfort zone just isn't my specialty.

But when you feel called to show God's love, you have to put aside your own preferences and just obey. Showing God's love in itself isn't something that comes natural to our flesh. It's a struggle. The Christian life, if lived to the fullest extent, isn't at all that comfortable. It's a life of trials and growth, constant humbling, obedience and learning to die to self. And need I dare say, dying to self is the most UNCOMFORTABLE aspect.

I wasn't "raised in church" like many others. I wasn't raised in a "normal" home. I came from a very broken place and from a broken family. I was raised by my mom, for whom nothing ever came easy. We struggled, we hurt--a lot. I have family members, including my mother, who still refuses to go to church on a regular basis. Each of them have the idea that they have to "fit it" and that they never will. The idea came from not one, but several consistent experiences that led them to tuck their tail when the word "church" was mentioned. I, too struggle to fit in at times. I struggle to feel that some of my fellow believers accept me--junk and all.

Personally, I'd like to know who in their right mind thought it'd be okay to assume the role as the manager of God's fan club. Is this what we teach people, that they have to fit in? If so, we're doing our God and His love a great injustice. We, Christians as a whole, have missed His message somehow simply by building the mere perception that that someone has to "fit in". It's bothers me that even with all the "church people" we came in contact with during those years, none of them could set aside their judgmental ideas to see the hurt and the needs of my family. If anyone needed God and His saving grace, we did.

Thankfully after 18 years, someone did take notice of my hurts and my need for Him. Dan McKenney, a local pastor, and I had no common denominators but he kept reminding me of God's love anyway. God used him to get my attention. And I'm so thankful for people like him, who place no boundaries on their willingness to be used by God.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big believer in the need for church and church services. I need to be around people who believe in Jesus Christ and celebrate Him with me. It makes my soul quite happy. But it seems to me that in many of our churches there is at least one person who thinks they've earned the right to determine who is "good enough". Did they miss the real message of Jesus Christ or are they just oblivious that Satan's using them to run his errands?

The idea that you are who you surround yourself with is quite true. If you surround yourself with people who focus on God and godly things, you will too. It's unavoidable. But even Jesus Christ made it a point to reach out to all kinds of people, especially those who are hurting, to serve their needs. And if He is God, as He is indeed, who are we to say we can't do the same?

The only criteria He set for us to become a Christian is to believe on Him from the pits of our being --that He died to save us from death. He didn't set a list of requirements for us to be saved, so then who are we to think we can modify His criteria? Yes, He has instructions for us, but not everyone struggles with the same things. It's not up to any one of us to say whether someone should or should not be loved or even forgiven. He uses our willingness to reach out and love others to shape their paths.

This subject weighs heavily on my heart as it's clear to me that I should evaluate myself consistently to be sure that as I grow I'm not bringing my own preferences into the mix. I didn't make the rules and I don't get to start now. I welcome you to hold me accountable. We need to hold each other accountable to step outside our comfort zone. Our preferences cause hurt to others but God wants for us to love others. We can't reach people by hurting them, we only isolate with that approach.

I'm not just talking about Christians reaching out to the unsaved either. I'm talking about Christians serving to the full extent by reaching out to anyone in need of comfort. We overlook each other more than I care to admit. But if we don't encourage one another, we leave the wounded in our army unattended. And that is simply foolish. When we think we can operate by inserting our own set of rules into His, we've become too big for our britches--which is exactly how Satan got started.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Driving in the Ruts

A friend used the phrase "driving in the ruts" recently during a conversation. I, of course, have never heard it before so I asked him to elaborate. His elaboration goes a little something like this.
You're driving on a dirt road that's old and worn. The inclination is to stay in the existing ruts, the marks where all the other cars have been driving. It's hard, on most of those roads, to make your own path. You generally adapt to the one that's existing, because it's just easier. We do the same thing with our habits. We stick with what's familiar, even when we know better.
I've since thought about that analogy in my own life. I think we're all really like that. It's hard to break old habits. I think the hardest part about being a believer is just that--breaking away from the old ways to cling to the new and better ways. In a sense, we limit our own selves. Many times, we don't want to do the work to dig ourselves out of the mud. We get complacent.

I found myself in a hard spot yesterday. Without going into the specifics, let's just say I found myself driving in my own ruts. I reverted to the path I was on before and while I was driving in those muddy ruts, I couldn't really see Him like I did before. I prayed, I knew He was there but something was different. I felt like I was in a fog and couldn't see my way out. Things were thick in there. In all honesty, it didn't feel like I was in a foreign country, the scenery was familiar. I was quite clearly acquainted with this path because I've been here before.

As I reflect, I realize that I did some things that I've already learned not to do. I've thought and said things that frankly made me wonder if I've ever really learned anything. Going back to our roots, in my opinion, is so easy that it's scary. At I sometimes think we need a warning label on those old ways that read
"Keep out of reach of any living soul--especially the previous owner."
It's true, and we all know it. Our habits are hard to kill. They're like cockroaches, it takes persistence and something really strong to kill them off completely. The persistence is something we have to do, and the strong stuff--well that's God and His word.

It's a good thing we aren't expected to be perfect in this life. But it seems to me that the whole idea here is that we seek Him in order find the path meant for each of us. But we have to stay focused even once we get on it. If we'll stay on the path He takes us to, using His word as our road map and Him as our GPS, we CAN stay out of the ruts--with His help of course.

That just seems too easy, doesn't it? The problem is, we humans lose focus too easily. And we stop paying attention to the path we're on-- especially if it's still relatively new. It doesn't take us long to veer off the road. Driving the right path requires intent, persistence and focus. But it's not any different than any other relationship we have. We have to intentionally set out to do right by someone or we fall flat and the relationship suffers. In a sense it really is that easy, but this mess inside us won't go without a fight--so why not give it one?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I sat at my desk wiping at the constant flow of tears. I just couldn't stop crying. Something inside me, though not physically, just hurt. I couldn't put my finger on it at first and I still can't put my finger on what triggered it--but this type if thing isn't really all that new to me. One minute I'm rejoicing in knowing I have a God who loves me and the next minute, I'm deeply saddened. It all happened so fast that I didn't really think about it until after the fact.

Questions raced in my head as I struggled to get a grip on my emotions.
What is wrong with me and why do I go from one point to the next at such dangerous speeds? How can I be a believer, yet be so unstable at times?
In the midst of all these questions in my head, I asked Him to show me what I'm missing here. Because I'm quite sure there's something. I then put on some worship music and did my best to resume my work.

As I calm down and evaluate the instance, I realize this was one of my battles with loneliness. I've always struggled with loneliness and out of that comes resentment and anger. The loneliness comes quite possibly out of habit but mostly because Satan knows exactly how to throw me off target. During these bouts I have to remind myself that not only do I have my Lord, but I also have a great husband and kids who love me. I'm not alone, and I have to work hard at forcing those thoughts into my head to combat the ones that have taken me hostage. My mind is being invaded and I MUST do something, quick.

Earlier today, I struggled with some ugly feelings. Nothing specific. My thoughts were all over the place. Who doesn't? Fortunately, He's been teaching me to keep my mouth shut in the midst of these battles because voicing my emotions in the midst of frustration never ends well for anyone involved simply because I tend to use blame, which discourages others. As I sat and listened to Him about what I was feeling, He made it clear to me that I needed to guard my fort (my heart and mind) because the enemy has taken notice of me. I was being invaded with ugly thoughts that bombarded my emotions. Satan was definitely trying to use me to run his errands.

That motivation worked for a while, but it didn't take me long to climb right back into my old ways. Again and again I travel in and out, from new ways to the old ones. Old habits die hard--they really do. This idea of keeping watch is obviously something I don't have down pat and I need more practice. Now that I've been so close to Him, I just can't quit. I can't stop half way or allow myself to stay in the ruts for too long because those ruts create distance between He and I. I realize more now than ever that I need Him. My heart is desperate, my soul is thirsty and I need His touch and His presence. I've gotten a taste and now I'm addicted.

My emotions are there for a reason but they are not meant to rule me. Not to mention, we underestimate Satan and his use of our emotions to battle all things godly. I am reminded that it's a life, mind and heart change and a soldier doesn't just quit because it gets too hot or because he becomes afraid. He fights through it. And that is what is expected of us, as believers.

Thankfully, my God is stable enough to handle my instabilities, as many as I have. And I hope, though I doubt, that I'm not the only one who finds themselves unstable at times.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Absence of Struggling

I'm a big fan of devotionals, and I have probably subscribed to way more than I can keep up with. But about eight weeks ago, the writer in one of my devotionals expressed the realization that he doesn't have to struggle anymore if he abides in Him. The very idea of the absence of struggle got my attention and I've often pondered on the term "abiding" every since--but not as consistently as I should have. I've occasionally asked God to show me what it is, but never consistently. Truthfully, although I wanted to know more about abiding, I've never been all that serious about seeking it. I guess i didn't want it all that badly until today.

This morning, as I prayed I thought about the things I said, thought and did over the past 24 hours. I grew increasingly frustrated with my ability to make a mess of things. I asked Him to help me to understand "abiding" as I confessed my fear of this destructive nature I possess. I mean, I struggle a LOT. It's a constant struggle for me to NOT make a mess of something. And the more I grow, the more aware I am of the dangers of turning away from Him and doing things my own way. In some sense, I am afraid of myself and the sin I am capable of. Today, more than ever, I need to understand what it means to abide in Him.

Shortly after praying, as I moved on about my daily routine it hit me. I had one of those "Ah ha" moments of a divine nature. I get it! I understand it now. The only regret I have now is not being more serious about this sooner.

In showing the meaning of abiding to me, the Lord took me back about a week ago to a conversation between my husband and me in the van. As we were pulling in the parking lot of my husband's work. I was telling my husband about recent times when the Lord has taken some things I've prayed for help with and handled it. I was excited about the fact that in doing so, I'm not left to figure anything out for myself. As an overthinker, the mere fact that I'm not left to figure something out is huge. It's an absolute miracle. I tend to obsess about the little things to a degree that I'm ashamed to admit.

I hadn't thought anymore about that conversation until this morning. It was like I was right there--back in that conversation again. Abiding is giving it all to Him and not just waiting on Him to tell me how to deal with it. It's all about the battle of my flesh fighting to handle things vs truly giving my issues to Him. I realize that there are times when I ask for His help but I hang on to the thing I need help with, waiting on Him to tell me how. I see now that He can tell me how all day long but He wants me to trust Him enough to hand it over. He wants to make my burdens light.

Those times that I hand things completely to Him in faith have proven to be the most rewarding because He does take it all. He puts the pieces together and makes it all make sense. But when I ask for something and cling to it, thinking I have to fix it by doing what He wants me to do, I struggle. I over think, I guilt myself. I get discouraged and I struggle some more. And those are times where I secretly wonder why He makes it so hard. But He doesn't make it hard-- I do.

To be honest, the times when I get it right are by no act of mine. I truly believe it's His intervention because it's not in my nature to let go of anything. I believe that although He gives us free will, He does intervene sometimes to give us a taste of how things can be. It's up to us to choose, of course.

Many times in the past month or so, my husband has expressed a need to "shut himself up /get himself out of the way". After today, I hear those cries in a whole new light. Our nature is to ask for His help but then try to do it on our own. It goes against the nature of man to ask Him for help and hand it over to Him completely. We just don't realize how much He wants to handle things for us or how often we fight Him on that by refusing to give it up.

It's not that we're no longer being held responsible or that we sit idly and do nothing. It's that we have to change our focus from ourselves to Him and His abilities. It's that we ask, hand it over and then let Him reign in us as we march forward. If we'll get out of our own way, and let Him take over in us we might just be surprised at how little we struggle. I think the hardest part for most of us is letting go of our own predispositions, assumptions and thought processes. Just let go---it seems so easy right? No, it's not, but it's far more rewarding. The process of dying to self is the single hardest part of being a believer because we still live in the flesh, and our flesh gets set in it's ways.
We must be intentional about our focus and about letting go. Our ways are so deeply ingrained that in order for us get any real understanding of Him and His greatness, we must intentionally focus on giving all of ourselves (junk and all) to Him.

Webster's Dictionary defines "Abide":

1. To wait for; to endure without yielding; to bear patiently; to accept without objection. 2. To remain stable or fixed in a state.
It seems I'm not alone in that I must learn to wait for Him, endure His will without yielding to my flesh, bear hard times patiently and accept His way without allowing my flesh to object, even subconsciously. I must learn to remain stable in Him, fixed on Him--and all that He can do in me and with me.