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Archive for June, 2016

heartrock

I always look for heart shaped shells at the ocean.  I remember God’s love when I find them.  When my husband and I went away for our anniversary a few weeks ago, he found a heart-shaped rock laying in the sand at the lake and gave it to me.  “He knows me,” I thought.  There is just something about being deeply known and loved anyway that is amazing.

We are not perfect.  For perfectionists and idealists like me, the weight of that reality can be exceedingly heavy on the daily.  We want things to be “right.”  We want people to be “right.”  We, for the love of God, just want to be “right.”

Right how?  Right in every way possible.  From thoughts to work to clothing to diet to beliefs, every single piece of life has to have order; reason; rightness.

Unfortunately, we live in a world full of the fall.  Things are wrong.  People are wrong.  We, too, are so often wrong.  In thought, in word, and in deed, we fail.  We strive to grow and change and sometimes we do.  But we fail in so doing.  We fail in the preparation.  We fail in the process.  We fail in ways we did not even think possible.  We get where we are going and we fail some more in new, more mature and modified ways.

I am not perfect.  You are not perfect.  The world is not perfect.  I know I am not the only one who is often overwhelmed with the weight of that reality most days.  Humanity is not “flawless” and anyone who wears that trending label is either insecure or in denial.  Be it pride or presumption, put that thought away.  Flawless will never,ever be a describing word for humans.

My biggest struggle – the strength and the weakness I go to battle with every single day – is a derivative of a perfectionist mindset.  How can I strive to be better while learning to be content where I am – where God has mercifully brought me for today?  How can I maintain motivation to be the very best I can while still remembering with great assurance that I really am ok with where I have come; where I am right this very moment?  How do I learn to accept myself without being prideful and where is the fountain I can drink from whose fuel feeds the hope that one day in my future life I will for even just one moment not feel so much like a failure?

Spoiler alert.

Disney answers with a fish.  “Finding Dory” lures us in with a fish who forever feels like a failure – a fish who feels anything but flawless.  Enter: Dory.  Enter: Lori.  They are one in the same.  Funny, the flawed fish is the figure who reels us in.  The forgetful fish is the kind of friend we all want to find.

The sequel to 2003’s “Finding Nemo” takes viewers from theater to theology.  For me, “Finding Dory” was the most thought provoking movie I have seen in some time.

Dory always forgets…everything.  From her direction to her dinner, Dory just cannot get it together and she knows it.  She perpetually apologizes because she knows it so much. Dory’s humility makes her dear but her deepness often also defeats her. The one thing this fish dreams of doing – the one thing she is trying so hard to keep remembering – is finding her daddy.  Dory lost her parents early in life and has made it her great ambition to find them.  Her fateful flaw keeps her forgetting (and, consequently, makes it her fault) but her tenacious love and dire determination given to her from her parents’ great example drive her to stop at nothing to dive in to her destiny.

After almost two hours of discovering and rediscovering herself, Dory does it.  She does not give up.  In the end, no failure or friendlessness or flaw keeps Dory from finding her fate.  When she finally finds her father and mother, she finds what most of us flawed failure fish flop around faithlessly forgetting.  Dory finds that despite all her flaws and failures, she is not forgotten.  Dory is deeply loved by her father and mother.  Because she does not forget them, she finds them.  Moreover, every single day since she left they have been waiting for her, laying our her favorite shells as a path to help her find home.  In them, Dory realizes that it is ok to forgive herself – to be herself – because being perfect is not paramount.  Dory does not have to obsessively say that she is sorry anymore.  Her worth is not based upon her performance.  Dory is loved because her parents love her and that is all.

Lori is loved because her heavenly Father loves her.  He is waiting for her to stop faithlessly forgetting and remember again.  You are loved because Christ loves you.  He is waiting for you to stop faithlessly forgetting and remember again.  Follow the path he has laid out.  Surely you will find him waiting.

We are not perfect.  There is just something about being deeply known and loved anyway that is amazing.

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Quiet.  It is just after one in the afternoon and only the sound of a ticking clock is heard in my home.  Quiet here is rare, but three kids are at camp and one is sleeping.

Time.  It is just after one in the afternoon and no tasks are pressing on my list.  Time here is short, but three kids are at camp, one is sleeping, and my house is decent.

Quiet.  Time.  Quiet time.  So scarce that I have usually to wake before dawn to enjoy it.  So necessary that I want to wake before dawn to get it.

Our homes and our heads are always so loud.  Our schedules are always full.  Could purposeful busyness be an idol keeping us from God?  Could busy family life be the idol keeping us from being a family?  In our homes; in our churches?

Those are questions worth considering.

Sitting under the shade of a tree I look up and see all that I have been missing.  I stare up at the sun peeking through leaves and recollections of childhood flood in.  How oft I would wonder.  I would swing on the swing set looking up through the trees and wonder.  I would lay in bed and stare out at the stars night after night wondering.  I would admire the beauty of creation for the sheer joy of admiring the beauty of creation.  I would wonder for the sheer joy of wondering.  I love nature’s wonder and I love to wonder about it.  Wondering is one of life’s greatest gifts.  But who has time to sit still and wonder?  Who has peace enough to sit still and wonder?  We have an abundance of worry, interruption, deadlines, and drama.  Taking the time to wonder is last on our list most days.

Could it be that we are missing the most beautiful things because we are failing to look up?  Always, everywhere people can be found looking down – consumed with the created.  Little wonder why that half eaten apple is applied on that which we and our children waste our lives consuming.  We are choosing the lesser over the greater day in and day out.

 When was the last time you looked upward?

After three days without her ipod, my seven year-old finally looked up yesterday.  She said something like I have not heard her say since she started looking down all the time.

 “God painted the clouds, Mommy.”

That is an observation worth making.

She and her sisters played cards together.  They played dinosaurs and Barbie dolls.  She brought me a storybook to read to her.  We went to the lake and they swam with Daddy.  I watched a man who is often consumed with looking down at his work look for struggling, wet locusts and begin turning them over. “What are you doing,” I asked.  “I’m turning them over so their wings will dry out; so they have a chance.”  He pulled live ones out of the water and set them right side up on the beach; on the boat.”

I marveled at his kindness, even for bugs.  Then, at God’s kindness, even for me.  I soaked in the wonder of creation and I remembered why these times and places are life’s true wonderland.  We cannot allow purposeful busyness to crowd them out or we will be missing out; our children will be missing out.

Quiet.  Time.  Quiet time.  Don’t let busyness crowd out wonder in your life.  Sit under the stars.  Stand in the rain.  Swim in the lake.  Walk through the trees.  Play dinosaurs with the kids.  Pray.  Ask.  Thank.  Trust.  Smile.  Wonder.  Rest.  Live.

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Father of the Bride

When I was a little girl it didn’t take me too long to realize that finding the right words was extremely important.  I would always try to use the phone book and it would constantly redirect me to another word.  I would look up beauty shop and it would tell me to see “salon.”  I would look up tires and it would tell me to see “automotive.”  I guess I have become a bit of an all-around word nerd since then.  I feel that same exasperation when trying to find out how and where God is taking me, what He is saying, and how I am to say His words.

There are times in life when the stars  align just right and the heavenlies touch the earth.  Because of the rarity of such times, the level of grand amazement in these experiences is quite overwhelming and sincerely humbling.

Of course God is always speaking; always teaching; always calling.  Yet, sometimes, for reasons unknown he chooses to do so in substantially more personal, more intimate, and more direct ways.  Therefore, while I would stress the caution needed in recognizing every single seeming coincidence as God’s unmistakable, Almighty voice, I must share the absolute certainty I have in the fact that he can and does speak in all sorts of unorthodox, nontraditional ways when he has something specific to say.

Cue crazy story of incidentals told by wild-eyed little girl.

Last week I went to a new medical doctor.  To my surprise, he listened intently to my symptoms and concerns and then asked if could pray for me before further diagnosis or treatment.  He told me he has a gift given by the Holy Spirit both to sense and to heal those whom God has chosen for a particular healing.  He told me he felt that anointing come over him as soon as I walked into his office.

Um.  Oooook.  I am a textbook Christian.  As much as I would like to be able to say it, by that I do not mean I do everything by the book without error.  What I mean to say is that I adhere very closely to the Bible’s text and that, generally, I am not one to believe in faith-healers or anyone who proclaims themselves so.  When I think of faith healers, I think of heresy.  I think of a false gospel.  I think of heretics and con-artists.  I do not think of genuine Christians who seek to live out their calling faithfully within the sphere of their everyday job.  I do not think of people like, say, doctors, who pray for patients they have never met before as they offer to hold babies just because, by the way.

Still, the Bible itself does not disallow God to heal us through the earnest prayer and the laying on of hands by another fellow Christian.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  The Bible actually does teach that we are to both do and believe in these methods when afflicted.

The doctor told me he had sensed very strongly that I not only needed healing, but that God indeed wanted to heal me that very day, as well as progressively in the coming days of the near future.  Right.  Now I am thinking, “Of course I need healing.  Isn’t that why I am at the doctor?”  To believe him was somewhat difficult, even though I am a Christian who wholeheartedly believes in prayer as well as other-worldly healing, however, the authenticity of his conversation caused me much personal conflict regarding my doubts and disbelief.  I discerned that the things he was saying were both true and of God but I was afraid to believe them.

 I do need healing.  I do not always live in God’s peace.  I do have difficulty trusting God.  I stand in need of more grace for others.  There are people I continue to struggle to forgive.

All of these things he knew without me confessing.  Still, perhaps most people have these same struggles, right?  Lucky guesser?  Perhaps.

For two nights I puzzled.  I made lists labeled “real” and “fake.”  I drank more than my share of wine.  I looked up scriptures.  I sat in silence looking at the stars and I wondered.  I ran many miles.  I prayed for clarity.  I sought counsel.  I doubted and feared the reality of God’s literal voice saying audible words through a person I did not know when I was least expecting.  The first thing his healing prayers did was turn my very organized, intellectual theology and systematic mind into an unsolved Rubik’s cube of chaos.  I simply could not figure out what I was supposed to make of this unusual event.  When theology becomes reality it can be quite unsettling.

My husband and I left on vacation two days later.  As I sit on a rock writing this and gazing out at a beautiful lake on a beautiful day, I struggle to find words that could possibly express how good my God is to me.  Word nerd or not, I cannot find them though they are many.  The things he has done in just three days time have proven to me beyond any doubt that he not only indeed has something serious to say, but that he wants me to listen close.

Everything the doctor told me was simple, yet profound.  Simple because I had heard it all before and knew it to be true.  Profound because I did not hear it the 3,000 times before when God and others had said it.  Like the gospel.  We hear it and hear it and hear it, but until God makes us hear it, we are utterly deaf.

He told me God wants my trust.  This is something a father figure used to tell me often.  How did he know whether I was trusting God or not?  He did not.  God knew.  He said God wants to heal me.  That He will give me more grace to be kind and gentle.  How did he know those were the two fruits of the Spirit I struggle most with?  He did not.  God knows.

The first sign I saw on our anniversary trip said, “Smile.  Pray.  Be kind.”  Of course it did.  That is what the doctor said.  Simple, yet profound.  Coincidence?  Maybe.

We were seated outside for the first meal we shared.  We heard church bells ringing loudly nearby.   They were playing the tune of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” which is my favorite hymn from childhood.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but I don’t think.  God had my attention.

I looked up the history of the meaning of church bells at noon and it was decreed by a Pope in the 15th century.  The ringing served as an encouragement to fighting soldiers at war as well as a reminder for Christians to pray for those soldiers.  God was encouraging me.  He was reminding me that he wants me to pray, always – just like the doctor said.

After we ate we bought a magazine and went out on the lake to sit in the sun.  It was “Mad Magazine.”   I have never ever bought myself a Mad Magazine.  I only picked it up because the cover was imitating adult coloring books and my oldest daughter likes those.  We thought it looked funny so we bought it.  Inside was a limited time offer for a sketch of Alfred standing in the rain with an umbrella made to look like the Morton salt girl.

When I had been waiting in the doctor’s exam room I noticed a glass with the Morton salt girl painted on it.  I sat and thought on the glass for quite a few minutes before he came in.  When is the last time you thought about the little umbrella girl on the salt?  Never?  Exactly.  Coincidence?  Not a chance.

Mad Magazine was my daddy’s favorite.  I remember him reading it when I was a little girl.  My heavenly father knew.  He was confirming what he used that doctor to tell me.

When I think of being a little girl, I think good thoughts.  That is why all the books I have written on theology are titled, “One Little Girl’s Journey Through…” Many things this weekend reminded me that I am my Father’s daughter.  I am his little salt girl.  I am the apple of his eye.  I am special to him.  All the things I struggle to believe with any amount of certainly every single day.  Here are a few…

There was a beach called “Bundy.”  Daddy loved Al Bundy in the sitcom “Married with Children.”  There was a man playing acoustic guitar outside – just like Daddy always did.  The song he sang was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”  The lyrics say the man lived on the south side of Chicago – where Daddy lived when that song was popular.  We rented a kayak and capsized twice.  We talked about what to name our new stuffed pet frog and settled on “Overboard” – Daddy’s favorite movie. When Tim was towing me back to shore, (because every time I tried to re-enter the kayak, it capsized again) I told him I was a mermaid.  The restaurant we went to after our unexpected swim had a drink called “Tiny Tim’s Mermaid Delight.”   We smelled a skunk which always makes me happy and reminds me of being a little girl.  The church we attended on Sunday was located on Saltsman Road and Station Street.  Salt, reminding me of the little salt girl and station, reminding me of the street I spent the first 20 years of my life growing up on.  The sermon referenced Luke 8:16-25 whose parallel is Matthew 5:13-16 which includes the reference that we are to be the salt of the earth.  The message’s main points were that God has obligated himself to us through unbreakable promises, that we have a father who is determined to do us good,  we must relax and entrust ourselves to him and he will give us his peace.  The woman playing the piano was the spitting image of the older Ally who played the piano in the movie “The Notebook.”  I always tell Tim he is my Noah.

I always refer to myself as the little girl.  God wants me to be the little salt girl, though.  Even in the rain, she will be the salt of the earth.  He is my Father.  The whole weekend He was saying, “Here’s Daddy.  Here’s Daddy.  Here’s Daddy.  I love you.  You are loved.  I know you.  I love you.”

I thought my anniversary was just about my earthly marriage.  I came to find out that it is just as much about my heavenly one.  I am so amazed.

God spoke clearly so many time directly to me over the past three days.  Everything was absolutely perfect.  How could I not trust him?  How can I deny his love for me?  How can I not extend kindness and gentleness and grace when I have been given so much of each?

I cannot.  I am smitten.  So in love.  Thank you, Lord for renewing, restoring, and redeeming me, our marriage, and my faith.  Amen.

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Mirrors

mirror

“I didn’t even look at myself today.”

This is the last thought that passed through my racing mind before I stepped into the church.  It was the outside – hair, make-up, clothing – that I was contemplating.  Being the spinning top that I am, it is actually surprising that I remembered at all.  But I realized I had not even looked in the mirror before leaving the house.

Some days my life is so busy that I barely have time to breathe.  Considering the fact that scheduling a lunch or dinner date with others is now in the running for becoming an Olympic event, I hardly think I am alone.

Sometimes we forget to look at ourselves.  Sometimes we look at ourselves too much.  Whether it is our hair or our heart, it is not the mirror that needs a makeover.

When I forget to take an honest look at myself spiritually, the door for self-righteousness, pride, self-sufficiency, self-pity, and, ultimately, conflict swings wide open.  When I look at myself too long, the same is true.  When we err on either side, we fail to move forward spiritually – especially in the context of community.  I would venture to say that most of us are guilty on both counts at different points in our lives.

When I refuse to look at myself, it proves I am not willing to allow God into many areas of my life.  If I choose to stay in this season, the distance between He, I, and others becomes greater and greater.  I do not seek God’s guidance or instruction before I do things in His name.  I fail to ask how the Lord wants me to work out the details of these plans because I do not even know for sure that they are His plans.  It is more likely they are my plans.  Any time I have a list of people or plans or preferences that are off-limits to God’s instruction or correction, I am in a bad place.  I have compartmentalized my faith and made an idol of those plans, or that person, or that thing associated with such.  Don’t touch me there, God.  I’m good.  I will stay right here and be content to not grow spiritually, to not be used in the spiritual growth of those around me, and I will hinder the growth of my church as a whole because I am not willing to obey anything other than my own voice.

Likewise, when I look at myself too long, it proves I am not willing to allow God into many areas of my life.  If I choose to stay in this season, the distance between He, I, and others becomes greater and greater.  I do not seek God’s guidance or instruction before I do things in His name.  I fail to ask how the Lord wants me to work out the details of these plans because I do not even know for sure that they are His plans.  It is more likely they are my plans.  Any time I begin to insist that everything is all about me, my people, my preferences, and my plans, I am in a bad place.  I have compartmentalized my faith and made myself an idol over God.  Don’t touch me there, God.  I’m good.   I will stay right here and be content to not grow spiritually, to not be used in the spiritual growth of those around me, and I will hinder the growth of my church as a whole because I am not willing to obey anything other than my own voice.

I believe there is a solution to this self-awareness struggle.  When I feel stagnant in my spiritual growth, I go back to the basics.  I put away all the specifics, all the circumstances, all the details, and all the doing and I get real simple.  I begin to ask God three very small questions every day.

What, God? How, God?  When, God?

What do you want me to do, God?  How do you want me to do it?  When should I start?

I find that these three questions eliminate being myopic.  They keep me balanced.  They help me avoid presuming upon God to do new things as well as continuing in things I am no longer called to do.  More importantly, they help me avoid self-sufficiency, self-pity, and self-righteousness – self, self, self, self.  They help me avoid the ever-looming temptation to make an idol out of myself, my ideas, my people, and my plans.

Resolving to ask these few simple questions with an honest heart on a daily basis helps me know where I am refusing God’s instruction, wisdom, and correction.  They teach me where He is calling me to work together with others as well as where I must walk alone.  It takes the reliance and trust out of self and places it back in Him.  They help me recognize that God has complete control over my life and they show me how foolish it is to attempt to think and plan otherwise.

Therefore, if you get to church and realize you have not looked at yourself or that you have looked too long, stop and ask God what He is giving to you and what He is trying to take away.  Ask what He wants from you and how He wants you to do it.  Then, wait upon the when.  Amen.

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world

It takes all kinds to make a world.  That’s what Mama always told me.  What I have found is that there are only two problems with this fact: 1. We do not believe that people are different than we are.  2.  We believe that people are different than we are.

Let’s start with misconception #1:  We do not believe that people are different than we are.

 When we assume that others think the very same way we do, we set ourselves up for frustration and disappointment in the arena of interpersonal relationships.  When we fail to recognize our differences, we end up expecting others to think, act, and react the exact same way we do or would.  We perpetually presume that others’ underlying reasons and motives are always and only what they would be if we had acted in the way they have.  This is bad.  It is really, really bad.  This is the breeding ground where false accusation and misrepresentation are conceived.

When we begin every misunderstanding by evaluating all the possible reasons we would have said or done what has been said or done by another, we are headed down a dead-end path.  This kind of reasoning is unhelpful.  It fails to recognize that different people may do the very same things for very different reasons.  It fails to acknowledge the preferential, circumstantial, historical, behavioral, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and philosophical differences we have with others.  That’s how we end up with rants about the lion-hunting dentists and gorilla-killing mothers whom we do not even know from Adam.  I’m not pointing any fingers here, but if I had one guess what those rants are rooted in I would bet the farm that it is pride, presumption, and blatant ignorance.

The only remedy for such conflict is honest communication.  Because we do not know these particular people personally, we would do well to stop assuming, presuming, and judging them.  On another level, when the misunderstanding is with someone we do know personally, the remedy is the same: Honest communication and a willingness to stop assuming, presuming, judging, and avoiding those particular people in our lives.

Moving on to misconception #2: We believe that people are different than we are.

We are right.  People are different than we are.  The problem arises when we start to believe that others are so different from us that we choose to avoid them because we do not expect them to think, act, or react the exact same way we would.  We perpetually presume that others’ underlying reasons and motives are always and only inappropriate or wrong simply because they often think, act, and react so differently than we do in similar or identical situations.  This is bad.  It is really, really bad.  This is the breeding ground where stereotyping, partiality, and favoritism are conceived.

When we begin every misunderstanding faulting the other person involved, condescending their personal preferences and counting up quirks that are contrary to our own, we are headed down a dead-end path.  This kind of profiling is unhelpful and unfair.  It fails to recognize that different types of people may do different types of things for the very same reasons.  It fails to appreciate the preferential, circumstantial, historical, behavioral, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and philosophical differences in others as unique and beautiful.  Instead it sees them only as reasons to separate.  We end up faulting one another, not for our imperfections, but for our God-given distinctions.  We begin to to treat those with different personality types differently than we do others.  Being the politically correct people we are, we will never say the words, “I reject you” out loud, but we say it in a thousand other ways.  We fail to see that the differences between us are really meant to stretch us into more balanced individuals.  That’s how we end up with a severely segregated church within an incredibly diversified country.  I’m not pointing any fingers here, but if I had one guess why this unfortunate reality still exists, I would bet the farm that it is rooted in pride, presumption, ignorance, and fear.

The only remedy for such a conflict is honest communication.  We must stop assuming, presuming, judging, and avoiding one another based on external differences and become sincerely vested in gaining a greater willingness to learn how to know and love well those most unlike ourselves.

It takes all kinds to make a world.  That’s what Mama always told me anyway.  Be humble.  Give grace.  Don’t be afraid.  God made us different for good reason!

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