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cross

“I’ve been a victim of a selfish kind of love…” ~Michael Jackson

Have you ever wondered if you are part of the problem?  I have.  I was.  Listen carefully.

Fayette County.  What do you think of when you hear those words?

Fascinating history; purple mountains capped with snow in the winter, every hue in autumn, unique wildlife, and beautiful greenery in the spring and summer; opportunities to serve the less fortunate; faces who need my encouragement; great talent; natural wonders; friends; beautiful people.

I could go on.  I bet you could, too.  I know you could, in fact, because I see you shake your head.  I hear you almost everywhere I go.  You say other things, though – the things I used to say.

Obesity; welfare; ignorance; entitlement; drugs; crime; ugliness; deceit; poverty; teen pregnancy; domestic abuse; violence; fatherless children; deadbeat dads; strife; junkies; homelessness; discontentment; complaining; child abuse; hopelessness; despair; depression; wastefulness; trash; lazy people; unworthiness; bitterness; resentment.

Is there more to the story than we see?  Why, of all the places on this vast universe Our Creator could have put us, did he chose this one?  There is a reason, readers, and it is not to give us a superiority or and inferiority complex.

“Who am I to be blind pretending not to see their need?” ~Michael Jackson

In my opinion, there is exactly one problem in Fayette County.  One.  Yes, this one trumps them all.  It knows no color or class.  It infiltrates them all.  It is a problem I have had my entire life.  I am a native, after all.  That problem is properly termed “entitlement.”

Entitle: verb 1. to give (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something; furnish with grounds for laying claim.

Claim: verb 1. to demand by or as by virtue of a right; demand as a right or as due: to claim an estate by inheritance. 2. to assert and demand the recognition of (a right, title, possession, etc.); assert one’s right to: to claim payment for services. 3. to assert or maintain as a fact. 4. to require as due or fitting.

When a person believes she deserves more, better, faster, newer, nicer, than what she has already been so graciously given, she stalls out.   Whether that already is a dry crust of bread or a meal fit for a king, it really makes no difference.  One who cannot be content with little will scarcely ever be content with much.  Her attitude shifts with every whim.  There can be no gratitude.  No thanks can be given in exchange for good things.  That person is ever discontent.  Her glass is always half empty.  She never stops to think that she is the one who drank the other half and failed to appreciate it.  She never sees the amazing gifts that have been placed in her hands.  She is greedy.  She is spoiled.  She sees blessings as burdens.  She sees opportunities as intruders.

Oh!  How dark our lives become when we fail to look for what’s right in the world!  We cannot deny what is wrong, but we can use our positivity to help change it.  Or, we can complain.  We can grumble.  We can blameshift.  We can look down upon.  We can shake our heads and we can hate.

Fayette County, it is a choice.  No one and nothing can make you bitter, unhappy, dissatisfied, or disgusted.  Those attitudes are choices.  I know because I had them all.  They belong to the entitled.

I don’t know about you, but I want to play for the other team – the one known as “Thankful.”

Thankful.  Thankful to whom?  God.  The gospel.  Restoration.  Redemption.  Yes, redemption.  Even for a county the whole world hates.  Even for a girl who hated the whole world.

Then sings my soul! My Savior, God, to Thee!  How great Thou art!

Are you part of the problem?  I was.  And I am here to say I am so, so sorry.  I need to ask your forgiveness.  I live in a beautiful place with beautiful people who need exactly what God, in his infinite grace, just so happened to give specifically to me – a beautiful smile.  I’m never going to stop using it, Fayette County, because I love you and I love your people.  I pray the Lord will use me to give you and your children hope.

Please don’t shake your head at me.  Remember that once upon a time the God of the Universe lived in a throw away town that everyone loved to hate, too.

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. ~John 1:44-46

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iW8UsJvC4rM

berries

I examine the underside of my forearm post berry-picking.  Ragged.

Even with long sleeves and snake boots, the brambles always seem to get the best of me.

Black raspberries sprawl out among the weeds for as far as I can see.  A grateful host to this favored member of the rose family, my backyard delicately draws me day after day.

I consider the thorns.  Moreover, I consider the consistent nature of my treasures.  I must trespass through the timber to track them, but they always turn up right on time.  I pluck the bushes bare of black ones only to find today’s unready reds respectfully ripe tomorrow.

I think of Eden.   Why do we not see paradise when it stretches in front of us?  I think of manna.  How can we desire more; different; better when we’ve been given the very best?  But we do.  We invite the thorns in our self-centered discontent.  We forfeit perfect provision in exchange for poison.

Still, he gives.  He gives the thorns.  Grace.  He gives the wounds in proper portion.  The roses will come, but now they must wait.  He measures out the pound of cure where prevention has not preceded.  He appropriates the pain in order to position the pandering passions of the perpetually imprisioned.

Only a deliberately forgetful father could manage to land a self-consumed exile in a place where both pleasure and pain penetrate in perfected partnership straight to the most permanent places.

The rose family.  How could I have not known?  Everything worth anything is protected; difficult; laborious; risk-bearing.  A wise man once told me I would never obtain a rose without first climbing over the thorns.

Careful.  I must be more careful.  Painful pricks ever remind me.  Regret.  Somehow an armful of scratches seems a small price to pay for a basketful of blackberries.  I think of Eve.  Somehow a body full of brokenness seems just as small a price for an unblemished bride.

Could it be?  Could a world full of the fall’s frailties really be so small a price?  Could the grand schematic really include both the roses and the thorns on purpose?

It could.  And it really is ok.  Funny thing about schematics…I never could read them right.  Daddy was an engineer.  He always knew just what they meant.  Sometimes he even wrote them.  I am assured in my recollections just how true it is that my divine daddy is still the director of this debonair display.

I examine the underside of my forearm post berry-picking.  Ragged.

Even with long sleeves and snake boots, the brambles always seem to get the best of me.  But I heard the pastor say that one cannot carry an old rugged cross withoug winning some sharp splinters in the process.  It really is ok.  I love berries.  They remind me of my daddy and my father.

  Following love always demands sacrifice, but it is so small a price for such a grand reward.  I know there is a barracade of thorns.  Reach for the rose anyway.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcqWyyHlCDA

speeding

Dense fog covers the highway.  Slow down.  I remember yesterday’s warning and I stop speeding.  For the remainder of my trip I think of him.

Grace.  The man in uniform extended grace as unexpected as his presence.  No ticket was issued.  No points were affixed.  Despite my best attempts to let luck run out, life number nine was not the end.

I live speeding.  I’ve been stopped at least half a dozen times in the past year.  I have no excuse.  Generally, I don’t even have a reason.  The tickets don’t faze me.  But today I am changed.  Today I was overcome with gratitude when I turned onto that foggy 25 mph road where I was stopped the day before.

I thought about what I would say if I was stopped again and it grieved me.  Then, a miracle for the girl who married a drag racing mad man.  I slowed down.  I drove 25 mph for the several mile stretch through town.  During what had always felt like a total waste of time, I looked around.  I gave thanks.  I appreciated my surroundings and the laws that seek to protect them.

It was grace that slowed me down.  It was grace that corrected my hellbent rebellion.  It is grace that makes me stop and think about the goodness of the law.  It is grace that grieves me when I find myself breaking it again.

It grieves me.  When the mercy of a man who owes you nothing but a forceful demand for retribution shows up on your doorstep, all that’s left to do is take a good, hard look at your own careless, sneaking rebellion in light of his goodness.  One cannot help but grieve.

But I was let go.  No penalty.  I got away with it, right?  I should be laughing.  But, no.  When forgiveness finds us, forgetfulness about our most famous failures is not an option.  No.  There is only one option – slowing down, grieveing over our misconduct, and living a life filled with newfound appriciation for the grandiose gift we were freely given.

Will I ever break the speed limit again?  Chances are I will, albeit unintentionally, still fail at times.  I do know this, though, there scarce will come a day when I drive 60 mph through that particular 25 mph stretch without slowing down and remembering the goodness of that one man’s grace.  His road is safe with me.

Furthermore, when I am struggling to extend grace to those who have offended me, I will ever think of him.

No amount of punishment changes a heart as stubborn as mine.  That’s why Jesus came extending lavish grace.  He knows tickets don’t really faze us.  Bit and bridle may change behavior, but only grace and mercy bind the heart to blithe obedience.  That, my dear readers, is why the gospel works and prisons do not.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyoVJfADlwo

maleficent


Surprising as it was creative, Angelina Jolie’s new movie Maleficent captured my heart. Expecting a dark story line about a sinister witch, I came out reminding myself never to jump to hasty conclusions about either sketchy or squeaky clean characters until the whole story is told.

Disney hit the mark once again successfully finding a way to make identifying with their main character effortless and natural.  Let’s face it, unless you’re under 16 and going through a Gothic phase, Maleficent is an unlikely role model at first glance.  As a Christian, home schooling mom of three young girls who has never once been tempted to paint my fingernails with jet black polish, making Maleficent my mentor is no small feat.  Nevertheless, Disney managed to do just that.  *Spoiler alert* Here’s how:

Maleficent did do something terribly selfish and wrong as we were schooled by the original Sleeping Beauty  – this much is true.  It is what was done to her before that act that changes one’s heart about who she really is underneath.  An unimaginable evil had been done to her by the only man she’d ever trusted – by the only man she’d ever loved.  He had all of her and he stole the part of herself she held most dear for his own greed.

Maleficent took revenge.  She made sure the pain she had experienced did not pale in comparison to the pain she inflicted.  Still, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Maleficent learns as much after the fact.

When Maleficent was maimed by the one she loved, she was still very strong and powerful, but, she was no longer free.  She allowed the immense pain felt in her heart and the entrapment of her circumstances to turn her whole world black, color her decisions dark, and drive her to do evil.  She was no longer happy or kind or full of joy as she had always been before.  Because of the magnitude of what she suffered, she forgot how to be who she really was – the leader who protected others from evil.

That is the crux of the story.  That is how Disney wins.  Everyone wants to believe they are a good person who, once in a while, does bad things when seriously provoked.  No one wants to believe they are a bad person who is acting out their true character when evil emerges from within.  Unless, of course, they are innately evil in which case they may identify more with the king in this film.

It got me to thinking…are there really good people and bad people?  Is it really that simple?  Many will say, “Yes.”  I believe the answer is, “No.”  There are only changed people and unchanged people.  By the end of the movie, Maleficent was among the changed.  She was as beautiful as she had ever been inside and out, only now she was mature in her beauty and her character.  I guess she had to be an ugly duckling for a moment in time in order to get there.  I guess we all do on our way to forgiveness, grace, and maturity.  One cannot grow in grace if she need never find a reason to extend it.  She cannot learn to forgive if she is not first grievously offended.  One cannot learn selflessness without having to sacrifice.  She cannot fully mature if she is not tested and proven through a whole life of trials, failures, successes, blessing and adversity.  Even Jesus Christ in all his perfection was not fully mature in obedience until he walked through his suffering.

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” ~Hebrews 5:8-9

Maleficent’s anger and and revenge only lasted a moment.  She was not the monster we all thought she was all these years.  She was simply hurt.  As the old adage goes, hurt people hurt people.  But she learned how to love truly through forgiveness, grace, and mercy…just like non-Gothic stay at home moms who love Jesus and are afraid of witches.  Matter of fact, I believe that is the only way it has ever been done.

Bravo, Disney.  Maleficent was magnificent!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBcqria2wmg

Image

Standing on the precipice of summer reminds me why there’s no shame in buying a few band-aids here and there.  Truth be told, I’m not much of a band-aid believer.  When it comes to bumps and bruises, I’m more of a pretend I didn’t see, wait a few minutes, and hope my babies get over it on their own.  I visit doctors as rarely as humanly possible and I will err on the side of sorry nine out of every ten times other mommies err on the side of safe.  I have three little girls 9, 6, and 5, and we’ve been the ER exactly once since they’ve existed.  

Perhaps it’s because there’s not a nurturing bone in my body.  Or maybe my kids are just careful.  But I like to think it’s because I refuse to get worked up over the small stuff.  My goal is to raise strong, independent, drama-free children.  I usually don’t carry band-aids commando style on my person – or even in my purse.  As strange as it may seem to, well, every other mom other there, I scarcely bat an eye when my babies get a little banged up.  

Right now, if you’re contemplating adoption and how you might go about obtaining custody of these three poor little orphans, you can stop reading now.  You already get what I’m about to say.  For those of you who think like me, though, please read on.  

The sound of screaming outside caught me in mid-sweep inside the kitchen.  My Maylee, 5, screams more than a Steeler fan at the Superbowl.  Just ask the neighbors.  But this was not that.  I could hear her pain from inside the house.  I ran out to check on her and found her trying to get up from the concrete she’d just tripped on.  She had fallen and caught the corner of a stone on her knee.  Shake-it-off-and-drive-on-soldier mommy uncharacteristically picked up up and carried her inside.  I laid her on my bed and held her while she cried.

The very next day, just after I left for work, Maylee decided she would find the biggest knife in the kitchen and cut a whole watermelon by herself.  By the time her oldest sister got a hold of me and I made my way back, I found her crying and bleeding once again – only this time she was sure of certain impending death.  

“I don’t want to die!  I’m sorry mommy!  I’m not ready to go to heaven!” she repeated over and over.

I held her in my arms and tried not to chuckle.  She was calm in just a very few minutes.  No stitches needed.  A week later she’s all healed up.

After considering these two painful little episodes, I considered myself and my own pain for a moment.  Just like with my kids, I generally never even acknowledge pain unless it’s past a certain level of intensity.  I tend to think I have a pretty high pain threshold.  But, sometimes, I must cry for help.  Now, this is where it gets complicated…

In those times, a little girl needs a…comforter.  She doesn’t need a lecture on why she’s too young and inexperienced to cut a watermelon.  She has assuredly already figured out how foolish she was.  She’s already very sorry.  She does not need a few more rules designed to keep her from skipping rocks in flip flops.  Skipping rocks is what little girls were made to do.  She found out the hard way what kind of shoes she needs to wear.  She knows better than anyone else her age why she wants to be careful next time.  

She does not need a lecture.  She does not need more rules.  She does not need more advice.  She is not fit for being shamed or punished.  Hurting people need comfort.  Comfort.  

Church, please listen to me.  Hurting people need comfort.  Whether pain is extrinsic or self-inflicted, we have to start with comfort.  We cannot help a hurting world when we begin with lectures.  We cannot help a hurting world when we begin with rules.  We cannot help a hurting world when we begin with punishment.  We cannot help a hurting world when we begin with shame.  We cannot help a hurting world when we begin with unsolicited advice.  Hurting people need comfort.  

My hero – my husband – was worshiping with the kids yesterday and he put a silly song on for them to sing.  It’s called, “What if Cartoons Got Saved” by Chris Rice. It’s a cute kids song and it talks about all their favorite characters singing praise to God in their respective cartoon songs.  Scooby Doo, the Smurfs, Elmer Fudd, and the Flinstones just to name a few made the cut.  The singer got to Beavis and Butthead and stopped.  Their picture was X’ed out and he said, “Nah.”  

As silly as that song is, my heart sank when I saw that part.  Then, I got mad.  Stop excluding screw-ups, church!  News flash…you’re one of ‘em!  Stop using band-aids on the babies you’re overprotecting and learn how to wrap your arms around the “really bad” wrongdoers.  Teach your children to do the same.  Your Savior is our only hope.   Hurting people need comfort.  Then, after the pain subsides, perhaps we could trust you enough to take your good advice.  

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ~John 3:17

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfshhyOpYsQ

et

There are precious few things that my six year old loves more than yard sales.  She waits for the neighbors’ annual yard sale all year asking periodically, “When is their store going to be open again?”  She is my baby doll motherin’, animal lovin’, bargain shoppin’ homebody.  When people ask her what she wants to be when she grows up she replies, “A mommy; a grocery shopper; a veterinarian.” Needless to say, I knew Pike Days would be a wonderland for my little homemaking gatherer.

“Guess what we’re doing today, Addie?”

“What?”

“We’re going to a place where there are yard sales everywhere and…horses.”

“No.  You’re just joking.  Really??!!”

“Yep.  It’s true.”

With eyes wide she hurries to get dressed.

As we pillage through what she is certain is lying just above buried treasure, I find a childhood treasure of my own: the movie E.T.

Suddenly Addie and I are both six years old.  The charm of that little brown alien reminds me of when I was just like her – when I wore the same t-shirt every single day because he was on the front of it; when I threw three t-shirts over top of it hoping she wouldn’t  notice when mom asked me to change it; when I never let my yard sale bought stuffed E.T. out of my sight.

After watching the one dollar honey of a one-owner VHS version of the Extra Terrestrial last night, I remember why I loved him so much.  I reckon it’s why everyone loved him.  E.T. was different.  He wasn’t like Elliott’s mom or his brother or his sister.  He and Elliott understood each other.  So much so, they even felt each other’s pain.

I heard a man questioning the purpose of tattoos yesterday.  “Explain tattoos to me,” he quipped, “I really just don’t get it.”  The very first thought was that same draw which E.T. has on we 80′s kids who now commonly find ourselves covered with body art: we want to be understood.  Understanding often comes through pain.  We believe others will know our joy, our pain, our identity, our love, and our hate if we place some permanent clues in clear view.  There’s mystery in being discovered rather than revealed, but there’s freedom in having the confidence to reveal yourself.  I guess there’s just something comforting about wearing your favorite t-shirt (or ink spot) every single day that says, “This is who I am.  This is what I love.  This is what I’m about.”

 In my world, there’s not much worse than being misunderstood.  The truth is that it does take someone who is other-worldly to wholly understand we human beings.  Dare the theologian in me say that the relationship between E.T. and Elliott reminds me of being a Christian.  Christ is not like our mothers or our fathers or our sisters or our brothers.  Christ knows us through and through.  He felt all that we feel.  He thoroughly understands us all even though we rarely understand one another.

So if you still don’t get me, it’s ok.  I probably don’t get you either.  You probably don’t like yard sales, tattoos, or 80′s movies either.  As for me, I’m going to look for an E.T. t-shirt on eBay.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06zOrHRh-gY

Image

I recently attended two sporting events back to back.  Saturday night I spectated my first live MMA fight and Sunday morning I ran the Pittsburgh (half) marathon.  

As a newbie to the one and a veteran to the other, knowing I have a whole summer full of triathlons, drag races, tumbling with tots, and (hopefully) a whole slew of other sports to spectate stretching in front of me, I couldn’t  help but consider the athlete’s heart for a moment.  

What I’ve found true of athletes of every sport and every caliber is that we all start with the very same thing: drive.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that everything we do in life starts with drive; motivation; desire.  Some are naturally driven and others become inspired by the efforts and accomplishments of others.  I guess it’s usually a little of both.  Sometimes losing drives us to train harder and other times winning drives us to stay in it.  

What happens if losing removes our drive, though?  What if winning gets old and the trophies begin to lose their luster?  What do we do when the ones who inspire us cease to play the game?  Where do we start when drive and motivation are somehow absent?  How do we obtain this central force if we’ve not got it? 

For me, my love of the sport(s) has always been more than enough to motivate me to do any number of ridiculous things at 5 a.m.  When you love the sport, winning and losing makes no difference.  Ok, well, it makes some difference.  But it’s really about playing.  When you love the sport, motivational leaders and people who inspire are just that and nothing more.  Their encouragement and ability can be helpful, but the lack thereof is not detrimental to failure or success.  

Nevertheless, even when you love the sport, there are times when drive disappears, motivation slows, and desire wanes.  Where’s the aisle at Walmart for that?  Right.  

Sometimes we just need a break.  Sometimes we need a change.  Sometimes we find something better.  But sometimes we simply need to recognize our condition and remind ourselves why we want to play.  We need to remember the field we grew up in and take a few deep breaths of the hot summer air.  We’ve got to close our eyes, pretend we’re six years old, and think about what it felt like to catch that first fly ball.  Or, if you’re me, close your eyes, pretend you’re seventeen, and remember when the God of all Creation chose me when he was picking up teams.  

Life is not about winning or losing.  Chances are we’re gonna do a whole lot of both.  It’s not about depending on the efforts of the elite to carry us.  And it’s definitely not about giving up when we fail to find our focus for a few fading moments.  No.  I see life like a passionate, amateur athlete sees her sport.  Win, lose, or draw, it is about the sheer benefit of getting to play – not because I always love the standings in my life, but because I love the Giver of it.   

Put me in coach.  I’m ready to play…today.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDTULKLXGkk

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