One-on-one

Most weeks I spend Mondays and Wednesdays with my grandchildren so my daughter can focus on her paid employment. We refer to those days as “Grammie days” and, best I can tell, the children look forward to them as much as I do. Occasionally a holiday falls on a Monday and a whole week passes before I return. Even though I’m tired at the end of Grammie days, I miss the kiddos when my weekly visits are reduced by one.

The new school year brought with it a slightly modified schedule. Every third week, I’ll be helping out on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. All the children go to school on Tuesdays, but I pick 3-year-old Emma up from pre-school at 1 pm and we get to have several hours of one-on-one time before Mary arrives home with 8-year-old Joshua, and 5-year-old Lyla in tow.

2053Those hours allow for some sweet, uninterrupted chats with Miss Emma, something that ranges from difficult to impossible when all of us are there. Never fear, we’re working on the basic building block of conversation etiquette – having one person talk while everyone else listens. However, more often than not, the listeners grow impatient for their turn and before I know it I’m trying to keep track of multiple storylines. I’m only able to catch a word or two from their various tales, resulting in frustration for all of us, frequently accompanied by shouts of “Hey, I wanted to tell Grammie!”

Time to linger over a meal or cup of tea with a friend or relative is such a rare and precious commodity given our fast-paced lives and overflowing to-do lists. I well remember the demands of young adulthood, working for a large corporation and raising my daughters. Thus when those now-adult daughters are intentional about spending focused time with me, I cherish the gift of togetherness.

Just as I value one-on-one time with my children and grandchildren, my heavenly Father wants to spend time with me. My finite human mind can’t fully grasp the enormity of that truth, especially when I contemplate what it cost Him (John 3:16).

The fulfillment of God’s covenant promise – I will be your God, you will be my people and I will dwell among you – would be impossible without us being holy, perfect, sinless for God cannot abide any unclean thing in His presence. The sacrifice of the spotless Lamb made it possible for us to approach the throne of grace, robed in righteousness, fully acceptable and pleasing to God (1 Peter 1:14-21).

It grieves me to think how often I overlook this great privilege. Like the occasional cacophony of my grandchildren around the lunch table, demands and responsibilities splinter my days. Some are so trivial, like the dinging of my phone summoning me to check a text or e-mail or Facebook post. My thoughts scatter as I repeatedly respond to this palm-sized taskmaster. Meanwhile, the Maker and Sustainer of all things beckons me to come to Him for soul rest (Matthew 11:28-30) and everlasting sustenance (John 6:35; John 7:37-38). Infinite and omnipresent, He’s capable of attending to each and every one of His children (Proverbs 15:3). We don’t have to compete for His attention or wait for our turn to speak (Psalm 34:15; Psalm 139:1-12).

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

O, Lord, I know how much I cherish time spent with my beloved family, especially uninterrupted, one-on-one time. I am humbled and amazed to think that You, Lord of lords and King of kings, want to spend time with me (Psalm 8:3-4). Please help me not to take the gift of your presence for granted. By the power of your Spirit, enable me to set aside mundane distractions to partake of the one thing I truly need, time to sit at your feet and learn of You.

Slow to anger

After raising two daughters, some of my grandson’s antics surprise and puzzle me. From the time he could first toddle around, Joshua had to have a stick whenever we went outside. But said treasure wasn’t merely a bit of yard debris. In his hands it quickly became a fishing pole or a sword or a gun. He soon had me enacting parts of his scenarios, be they tracking down bad guys, rounding up cattle or marching into battle. I purchased a copy of James Dobson’s “Bringing up Boys” and conferred with a friend, grandmother to six little boys. Both confirmed Joshua’s behavior was quite normal, part of his God-given design to protect and provide.

As sisters Lyla and Emma joined the family, Joshua incorporated them into his playtime activities. The girls are usually happy to join in. But sometimes one or the other will announce, “I don’t want to play boy stuff”, and return to her craft project or resume twirling around the living room in full princess regalia. Having been rebuffed, Joshua may resort to annoying his would-be playmates – interrupting their girly activity, begging them to reconsider, stealing a favorite stuffed animal which always provokes a chase – anything to get his sisters to engage.

IMG_E0789These and similar interactions between the siblings give me ample opportunities to play referee on Grammie days as we cycle from harmonious play to sob-laced outbursts and back multiple times. As the hours pass, my reserves of patience often diminish. And so it was one recent afternoon when Joshua inadvertently knocked Lyla’s special colored pencils off the kitchen table, scattering all 24 of them on the floor.

My voice taut, I asked Joshua to step away. “We’ve got too many people crowded around to be able to do anything!”

Sensing that the pencils clattering to the ground may just have been the tipping point of yet another rainy day that had kept us cooped up like our neighbors’ chickens, Joshua obeyed immediately.

But, thankfully, before I could utter another word, Lyla started comforting her brother who’d hunkered down in a corner. “It’s ok, Joshua. I know you didn’t mean to. It was an accident. Really, it’s ok.”

And she was right. Even though her brother had engaged in his usual boyish, sister-baiting tactics throughout the day, he hadn’t intentionally caused her precious pencils to fall. 5-year-old Lyla’s kindness both silenced and convicted me. I’ve reflected on her response several times since, such a beautiful example of bearing with one another, being slow to anger and quick to forgive.

It’s so easy to feel slighted, isn’t it? Too often we think the worst or take offense where none was intended. Each of us is a unique bundle of experiences and emotions which in turn influence our actions and reactions. We interpret the behavior of others through those filters, as they interpret ours through theirs, sometimes leading to misunderstandings.

For example, consider my compulsion to begin almost all communications, including those intended to be brief, i.e. text messages, with a personal greeting so as not to appear rude. I’m guessing plenty of the recipients of my communiqués would prefer “just the facts, ma’am” since we’re all bombarded with more than we can possibly read or reply to. Nonetheless, most good-naturedly accept it as part of who I am. And, in the spirit of considering others, I’m trying to be more concise, while not equating their brevity with curtness. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Scripture repeatedly describes God as merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.[1] Psalm 103:13-14 portrays Him as a compassionate Father who remembers His children are dust. As those dearly-loved children, we are to do likewise:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)

O, Lord, please grant us discernment so we, like Lyla, might rightly determine when one of our fellow dusty sojourners hasn’t meant to hurt or offend us. May we be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:18), forgiving others as You’ve so graciously forgiven us. (Luke 6:37)

[1] See, for example, Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:15, 103:8 and 145:8

Considering Others

IMG_5752Almost-3-year-old granddaughter Emma was napping peacefully when my daughter Mary arrived home with 7-year-old Joshua in tow. As he headed upstairs to change out of his school clothes, Mary and I both admonished him to be quiet so he wouldn’t wake his sleeping sister. Joshua clumped up the stairs and Mary followed up with a sternly whispered, “Joshua! Quiet!!” But, after a long day at school, Joshua was ready for some sibling interaction. By the time he reached the second floor, he was singing and then, right outside Emma’s door, he let out a spirited whoop. Mary and I barely had time to groan before he called out, “Emma’s awake!” (Really?!)

Attempting to find some humor in the situation, I quipped, “If she’d slept through all of that, one of us would have to go up and check her pulse.” Mary was not amused.

IMG_6716From his earliest days, Joshua has enjoyed company and his philosophy is if he’s awake, someone else should be awake to talk to or play with. Unfortunately, there are times when the person on the receiving end of his cheerful, “Wakey, wakey!”, isn’t ready to wake up, much less engage in a conversation. For now, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that he’s not being malicious, just thoughtless. But I hope he’ll soon learn to be more considerate and put his sisters’[1] need for sleep ahead of his longing for a playmate.

Soon after the events described above, several of my own actions caused me to think back to that afternoon and reflect on how easy it is for us to make decisions based on our own desires, regardless of our age. In fact, thinking of ourselves and our well-being comes naturally. Sometimes no one is inconvenienced or bothered. Then again, our acts may puzzle, annoy or even hurt others, as we tread all over their feelings and wishes, whether carelessly or deliberately.

Each time God pricked my conscience about my innocent-to-me, yet self-focused choices, the Spirit quickly reminded me of Paul’s teaching in Philippians 2:3-8:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

As children of the King (Romans 8:16-17), we’re called to a higher standard than simply not harming others on purpose. We’re to consider their interests, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40), to serve as Jesus served (Mark 10:42-45), and, ultimately, to die more and more to self so the image of our Savior becomes increasingly apparent in us. (Luke 9:23-24)

I recently came across a story from the life of Helen Roseveare, a missionary doctor who went to Africa in 1953. After watching her lose her temper with a patient, her spiritual mentor, Pastor Ndugu, pointed out, “I, the capital I in our lives, Self, is the great enemy . . . the trouble with you is that we can see so much Helen that we cannot see Jesus.”[2]

Ouch! I know there are many times when people see way too much Patsy and not enough Jesus, times when I’m self-absorbed and oblivious of others. But I’m so thankful my Father always sees Jesus when He looks at me (Romans 5:17-18) and is patiently transforming me until the day when my robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10a) will be a perfect fit. Indeed, He faithfully uses everything, from the antics of my boisterous and dearly-loved grandson to the depth and riches of his everlasting Word (Isaiah 40:8) to complete the good work He began in me. (Philippians 1:6)

 

[1] 5-year-old Lyla is another favorite target of Joshua’s wake-up tactics.

[2] Karen Hodge & Susan Hunt, “Transformed, Life-taker to life-giver”, (Ross-shire Scotland, Christian Focus Publications, 2016), p. 105. Story originally appeared in “Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God” by Noel Piper (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2005), pp. 158-160.

Logs and Specks

img_6403One recent Grammie day[1] found me, 7-year-old Joshua, and almost-three-year-old Emma having a pleasant chat about some kid-friendly subject. Somehow the topic turned to an episode of disobedience on Emma’s part. I watched as my sweet, spunky sprite withered under the weight of her brother’s words. She rounded her shoulders and gazed intently at the floor while Joshua relished telling every detail about the infraction and the ensuing Mom-administered discipline.

Joshua’s words trailed off and Emma cast a cautious glance my way, no doubt wondering if I would compound her embarrassment by adding to Joshua’s diatribe. I calmly confirmed her behavior was objectionable and not to be repeated, but quickly turned my attention to her accuser. Most Grammie days provide at least one opportunity to quote the Golden Rule. (Matthew 7:12) This was such a time.

“Joshua, how would you like it if Emma told me all about your misbehavior and how Mommy disciplined you? Do unto others!”

I followed up with my best effort at an age-appropriate explanation of Jesus’ teaching regarding putting a higher priority on making sure our own behavior honors Him before we start pointing out others’ flaws. As recorded in Matthew 7, Jesus said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, we’ve been hiding and blame-shifting. (Genesis 3:1-13) Burdened with shame, we attempt to take the spotlight off of our own failings by magnifying the short-comings of others. But the One who knows our every thought and action (Psalm 139:1-12) isn’t impressed by our diversionary tactics or our self-righteous attitudes, as recounted in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

(Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Likewise, Jesus refused to allow the woman caught in adultery to be used as a pawn by the sanctimonious religious leaders who were trying to trip Him up, yet again, by presenting Him with what they hoped would be a no-win situation. Instead, Jesus reminded them of their own sinfulness:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:2-11)

Forgiveness instead of condemnation. Isn’t that what we all long for? Praise God, we have a Savior who took our sins upon Himself and bore the penalty we deserved. (Isaiah 53:4-6) Furthermore, when we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

We’ll continue to struggle with sin until we’re called Home, as so eloquently described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. (Romans 7:15-19) Indeed, each one of us has plenty of logs to deal with. Nonetheless, there are times when we must address the sins of others. Speaking truth in love, we are to restore them gently, being watchful lest we too be tempted (Ephesians 4:15; Galatians 6:1), always remembering how much God has forgiven us.

Somewhere in the course of all the reading I do, I came across this sentiment: “Be the kind of woman who can help a sister in Christ straighten her crown without telling anyone else it was crooked.”

Do unto others. Restore gently. Forgive much.

O Lord, if You kept a record of our iniquities, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3) Like sweet Emma and the careless words of her brother, we would wither under the weight of your wrath. But with You there is forgiveness. You are our compassionate Father, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) You know our frames and remember we are but dust. (Psalm 103:13-14) Please help us to do likewise, granting others the same grace we’ve received from You.

 

[1] My grandchildren and I refer to my bi-weekly, day-long stays while daughter Mary is at work as “Grammie days”.

Royalty – epilogue

We try to deny it, but we all know it’s true – our technology spies on us, keeps track of our whereabouts and catalogs our interests. Why else would I suddenly start receiving ads in my newsfeed for the exact products I’d been shopping online for moments before? Or, the example that unnerves me the most, get unsolicited information regarding how long it would take to get to my daughter’s house on the day of the week and around the time I usually head her way?

So, it shouldn’t have surprised me when headlines pertaining to an alleged feud between Kate and Meghan (Duchess of Cambridge and Duchess of Sussex respectively) kept popping up whenever I used Google this past month. After all, I’ve searched for royal updates a time or two or several in the past. However, I was immersed in holiday-related activities and didn’t take time to read the articles associated with the recent headlines. Nonetheless, they fueled a growing sense of angst, as each reminded me that “Royalty” (see Archives, September 2018) was scheduled to appear on our denomination’s enCourage website this month. Would the purported bickering between the royal sisters-in-law negate the premises of my post?

IMG_6265Now that I’ve finally resurfaced, I’ve skimmed some of the articles and reviewed “Royalty” in light of them. Fortunately, the analogy in my previous post remains pertinent. In fact, coverage of the duchesses’ squabbles amplified one of my key points: people are always watching, evaluating, commenting. Sadly, some prefer drama over harmony. Some may even be looking for a reason to criticize or reject.

Such was the case with Jesus. The religious leaders were constantly trying to catch Him in compromising situations or bait Him into contradicting Himself, all to no avail.[1] Likewise, there are those who would like to see His followers fail. They’re ever-vigilant for unbecoming behavior or attitudes so they can discount our perfect Savior along with us, His not-so-perfect followers. It’s important to be concerned about our personal reputations, but even more so to walk worthy of our calling and thereby honor the reputation of the One whose Name we bear. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Interestingly, the supposed feud was brought to an end by Queen Elizabeth who’d reportedly “had enough” of the arguing and its attendant negative press. We’ll never know how much the media embellished the situation to make it appear more dire. And so it is with disagreements between ordinary folk – only those directly involved (and God) know all the details and, even then, they may well perceive the situation differently. After all, each of us is a unique bundle of opinions, strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, we’ll continue to struggle with sin until we’re called Home. (Romans 7:15-20) But God has given His children clear instructions on how to relate to each other:

  • (Jesus said), “A new command I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
  • So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
  • Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)
  • 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32)
  • Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:9-18)

Misunderstandings and disagreements are an inevitable part of life. Nonetheless, when conflicts arise, we are to deal with them in a way that honors God. We are called to act and think differently, to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ so that the family resemblance is unmistakable. (Romans 8:29; Romans 12:2)

Lord, please help us to live and love in such a way that those watching will take note (Acts 4:13) and inquire about the difference. May we always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us, gently and with respect, remembering that it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be Your will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:15-17)

 

[1] See, for example, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 14:1-6 (healing on the Sabbath); Matthew 9:2-7 (forgiving sins); Matthew 12:1-8 (Lord of the Sabbath); Matthew 26:59-60 (false witnesses)

Royalty

I’m captivated by British history, probably because it’s part of my history. The lineage of all four of my grandparents can be traced back to the isles across the Atlantic, at least in part. And who doesn’t enjoy a fairy tale romance? Thus, like millions of others around the globe, I delightedly followed the updates surrounding the engagement and nuptials of Prince Harry and his American sweetheart, Meghan Markle, earlier this year. So many traditions, so much pomp, as a real-life princess wed her prince charming.

Of the many details to savor and contemplate, one has continued to resonate with me. Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gift to Meghan was a new title, signifying her acceptance into the royal family. In historical parlance, Meghan is a commoner, without the usual pedigree that accompanies, and in the past was required of, royal brides. Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Sussex, will now receive the honor due her new role, not because of her worthiness, but due to her relationship to the reigning monarch and the dignity pertaining to the position. The queen’s approval supersedes Meghan’s past and serves to silence the nay-sayers.

And so it is for those of us who’ve been chosen by the King. Scripture is clear that we’re commoners, unable to gain access to the throne on our own merits. (Ephesians 2:1-9) In fact, left to ourselves, we wouldn’t even seek an audience with the Lord. (Isaiah 64:6-7b) But, wonder of wonders, He chose us before the foundation of the world to be adopted into His family, because He loves us! (Ephesians 1:3-8a) Not only does God see us a chosen race, a royal priesthood and a people for His own possession (1 Peter 2:9), He calls us His children (Romans 8:15-17; 1 John 3:1) Furthermore, because of our Elder Brother’s atoning sacrifice, we now have access to the throne of grace. (Matthew 27:50-51; Hebrews 4:14-16)

Just as there was much discussion regarding Meghan’s non-aristocratic lineage and the fact she’d been married before, the tiniest details of her behavior have been scrutinized. From posture to if or how she crosses her legs while seated to her facial expressions while chatting with Queen Elizabeth – everything has been evaluated versus standards expected of members of the royal family. Meghan’s actions will provide evidence of her understanding and respect of the position bestowed upon her. Her conduct may enhance or tarnish the reputation of the monarch who welcomed her.

Although many years have passed, I well-remember a colleague’s comment that he wouldn’t put a fish sticker on the back bumper of his car because there were times his driving habits didn’t befit a Christ-follower. Those of us listening chuckled, but shifted uneasily in our seats, recognizing ourselves in his statement. As members of God’s family, we are also His representatives. In fact, the third commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God”, whose interpretation is too-often limited to not using God’s name in a profane way, addresses God’s concern about how He’s represented by those who bear His name.[1]

We are called to honor our Father and His name by:

  • Bearing an ever-increasing resemblance to Jesus. (Romans 8:29)
  • Loving each other so well that our love becomes a family hallmark. (John 13:34-35)
  • Obeying Him to show our love for Him and our gratitude for His undeserved favor. (John 14:23-24; 1 John 2:4-6)

Putting off our old ways and becoming transformed to fit our new personas is challenging. (Romans 7:21-25; Romans 12:2) Fortunately for Meghan, she has a sister-in-law who’s already been in the royal spotlight for several years and appears willing to teach her the finer points of being a duchess. In his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul made it clear that women who are further along in their spiritual journeys are to do the same for their younger sisters in the faith, instructing them through reverent behavior and sound teaching. (Titus 2:3-5)

As I was double-checking Meghan’s official title, I came across an interesting factoid. Only women born into the royal family may use “princess” before their names.[2] Not so in God’s family. There are no divisions or distinctions among Abraham’s spiritual offspring. (Romans 10:11-13; Galatians 3:27-29)

IMG_6265I enjoy coloring with my young granddaughters. A recent art session found me recreating myself and my daughters on the page. When I saw the title of the book the page was pulled from, I smiled. “Picture me a Princess”. Why, yes, I will! Because God calls me His child, I am a princess, a daughter of the King!

Sisters, may we recognize and embrace our identity in Christ and may we spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:23-25) that we might represent Him well before a watching world.

 

[1] Sermon, Pastor Ben Duncan, “Loving the Lord with All Your Might: The First Table of the Law”, June 17, 2018.

[2] I suppose popular culture overrode that mandate when it came to “Princess Di”.

You have not

I enjoy volunteering at a small botanical garden near my home. Occasionally, volunteers are treated to horticulture-related field trips in appreciation for our service. Most of these excursions occur on Mondays since the garden is closed that day. Unfortunately, this timing coincides with Grammie Mondays – what my grandchildren have come to call one of the two days a week I stay with them while my daughter, Mary, goes into her employer’s office to work.

Mary’s been extra-busy the past few weeks, covering her usual assignments, getting three little ones back to school. and picking up some of a co-worker’s responsibilities while she’s on maternity leave. Thus, when I received an e-mail invitation to a behind-the-scenes, Monday tour of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, I didn’t even ask Mary if she could spare me for a few hours. Instead, I showed up for Grammie duty as usual, not begrudgingly, but still somewhat disappointed not to be with my fellow volunteers, oohing and aahing over floral displays and beautifully-landscaped vistas.

When I arrived, Mary told me she was planning to work from home so she could take 2-year-old Emma to an afternoon doctor’s appointment. Wow! I should have asked!! Not that having an extra adult around isn’t always helpful, but I could have gone to ABG and returned to pick 4-year-old Lyla up from pre-school and still been back to Mary’s in plenty of time to stay with Lyla and 7-year-old Joshua while Mary took Emma to get her immunizations.

But I didn’t ask. I assumed. And because I didn’t want to bother Mary or add to her stress, I made the decision unilaterally. However, by not asking, I also didn’t give her a chance to answer, to say yes, to bless me by giving me the opportunity to do something special.

As those of you who’ve read my posts for any length of time know, I’m a ponderer. And so I’ve been mulling over this turn of events, wondering how many other things I’ve missed out on simply because I didn’t ask. Help from willing friends? I don’t want to impose. Encouraging conversation with a spiritual sister over a meal? I bet she’s busy with her family responsibilities. If I spent a little time, this list could no doubt be extensive.

IMG_1539Yet the most sobering examples are times when I haven’t asked God. Years ago, I realized I was praying to God about BIG things, but I didn’t want to bother Him with matters I thought were too trivial. After all, He’s a BIG God, Sovereign over everything. He spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1:1-25), makes the sun rise and set (Jeremiah 31:35), and sustains all of creation. (Matthew 6:25-34)

Thankfully, the infinite, Almighty God has shown me He is also our loving Heavenly Father, who delights in giving good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:9-11) In fact, He made it possible for us to have a relationship with Him by giving us the most costly gift imaginable, His precious Son. (John 3:16) Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God, interceding for us (Romans 8:34) so we may approach the throne of grace confidently, to receive mercy and find grace in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

One verse in particular underscored my reflections this week and inspired the title of this post: “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2b) Lest you think James was espousing what’s come to be known as the “prosperity gospel” or “name it and claim it”, he goes on to say, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3) God isn’t Santa Claus or a benevolent Grandfather. When we ask, we are to ask in accordance with His will, not our own and accept His response. (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 26:39, 42, 44)[1]

The beauty of our promised sanctification is that we are being conformed more and more to the likeness of Jesus. (Romans 8:29) As our minds are renewed we are increasingly able to discern God’s will, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Had I asked, Mary may have said no. Sometimes God says no. Nevertheless, He bids us to bring our petitions to Him in faith. (John 15:7; Philippians 4:6; 1 John 5:14) May we not be found lacking because we fail to do so.

O Lord, we stand amazed that You who set the moon and stars in their places would deign to notice us. (Psalm 8:3-4)) Yet You’ve adopted us into your family and call us beloved children. (Romans 8:16-17; 1 John 3:1) May we continuously raise our prayers to You, (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) knowing that You didn’t spare your precious Son and will, along with Him, graciously give us all we need for our Homeward journey. (Romans 8:32)

[1] Jesus taught this principle in both His words and His actions.

A proper diagnosis

Even though I’ve faithfully stretched and exercised throughout my adult years, I have stiff muscles. Various stressors, both physical and emotional, have no doubt contributed to my tightly-wound state. The tension increases and decreases, often without a clearly-discernible cause and effect, but it never disappears completely.

Earlier this year, a prolonged period of tender-to-the-touch joints and knotty muscles left me feeling dejected. Thankful a series of medical tests ruled out several serious possibilities, but being no closer to a solution, I procured a referral for physical therapy.

When I went for the initial evaluation, I told the therapist she was my last hope. She maintained a professional demeanor, but I’m almost certain she thought, “Just great! How did this woman end up on my schedule?” Nonetheless, she proceeded with the assessment, asking questions and directing me to bend first one way, then another.

In summarizing her findings, she stated, “Your overall strength is good and your range of motion is somewhat greater than normal. Your joints are loose.”

Attempting to interject some humor, I replied, “Then I guess it’s a good thing my muscles are tight so they can hold me together.”

The therapist didn’t laugh. Instead, she provided the missing piece that allowed me to solve the years-long mystery: “Oh, your muscles really are working over-time to provide the stability your joints and ligaments would normally provide.”

And what did I do with this critical bit of information? I turned to Google, of course! A search of “loose joints, tight muscles” yielded a name for my condition: joint hypermobility syndrome. As I read article after article, years of confounding experiences began to make sense. In trying to help myself, I’d unknowingly inflicted more harm, specifically by over-stretching and requesting too much pressure during my periodic massage therapy sessions. Sadly, my body interpreted these efforts as an assault on the alternative stabilization method it had established. The outcome: more tightness, more trigger points, more tenderness around my joints.

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Physical and spiritual training require the proper equipment.

The relief of finally understanding what I’d been battling for so long mingled with deep disappointment at the realization I can’t fix it. It’s the way I’m put together. At best, I can learn how to manage it. Now enlightened, I’m focusing on strength and balance, paying more attention to posture, and being vigilant when it comes to adding pressure (physical and emotional) to an already-stressed system. I’m hopeful consistent implementation of these changes over time will be beneficial. Even so, I’m finding it difficult to be patient while my body adjusts to this new approach.

The spiritual parallels are hard to ignore. Before God calls us to himself, we lack a proper diagnosis. We sense something’s awry, something’s missing. Our attempts to feel better frequently result in the opposite or are short-lived. Because we’re created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), made to glorify Him (Psalm 86:8-10) and enjoy fellowship with Him, nothing else can satisfy our souls’ deepest longings.*

At the appointed time, He replaces our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26) We begin to understand our condition and the sin that separates us from our Father. There’s nothing we can do to repair our brokenness. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Fortunately, He doesn’t leave us in our helpless state. He sent his only begotten Son to heal our souls and restore the family bonds broken at the fall. (Genesis 3; John 3:16) Jesus, the Great Physician, took our infirmities on himself and bore our iniquities. His wounds brought about our healing. (Isaiah 53:4-5) His righteousness, graciously granted to we who were once lost, ensures our eternal inheritance. (1Peter 1:3-5)

Even though Jesus’ perfect obedience has been credited to our accounts, fully paying the debt we owe our Holy God, we will struggle with the effects of sin, ours and others’, as long as we’re in the this world. Like my impatience with my physical progress, there are times when, with the Apostle Paul, I bewail my inability to consistently obey my Father. (Romans 7:18-20) Nevertheless, with the help of the Spirit, we’re being conformed more and more to the likeness of our elder Brother. (Romans 8:29) Bit by bit, we shed the old and put on the new. (Romans 12:2)The transformation will continue until Jesus’ promised return, when all will be made new and perfect – no more sickness, no more sin, no more tears. (Revelation 21:4)

Until then, may we abide in the One who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power at work within us. (Ephesians 3:20)

 

* Several well-known quotes alluding to our “God-shaped void”:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 1692

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” St. Augustine, Confessions, c. AD 400.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952.

 

Through the storm

Unlike tornados that pop up with little advance notice, potential hurricanes can be tracked from their inception as tropical waves off the coast of Africa. Meteorologists keep watch, naming, categorizing and modeling them. And, when conditions merit it, they issue warnings so people in their paths can prepare.

Such was the case last week. As Irma plowed her way through the Caribbean, it became evident her interaction with the tiny islands wouldn’t slow her down. Not only was Irma expected to wreak havoc in Florida, but she was big enough and strong enough to elicit a tropical storm warning for metro Atlanta, several hundred miles north of the point of initial landfall. My Friday-night grocery trek proved more challenging than usual. Lines snaked around the gas pumps outside; inside, the aisles teemed with apprehensive shoppers. Nonetheless, I was able to get all the essentials on my list – except bottled water – and headed home to hunker down.

Like a moth drawn to a flame, I checked the forecast frequently over the weekend, fretfully wondering when we’d feel the brunt of the storm. Finally the models zeroed in on late-afternoon Monday. Sunday evening found me bringing potted plants into the garage, securing outdoor furniture and pondering how many of the trees on my property might still be standing Tuesday. Even though I trust God to work all things together for good[1], I couldn’t completely rid myself of an undercurrent of anxiety. I went to sleep praying for protection for all in the storm’s path.

I awoke Monday, still praying, something I would continue throughout the day.[2] A gentle rain pattered on the roof. An occasional breeze-nudged branch tapped the house. And then I heard them. My bird friends arrived for breakfast as usual. A quick glance at the weather prognostications – no high winds predicted until later in the day – gave me confidence to hang the larger of the two feeders for a few hours. I barely closed the door to the deck before my feathered companions flocked to their meal. Soon I perceived the characteristic call of the woodpecker and returned the suet, his favorite treat, to its hanger.

All day the rain fell, steady showers repeatedly giving way to insistent downpours, as Irma’s blustery remains coursed through our area. In spite of the less-than-favorable conditions, the birds continued to flit from branch to feeder to tree trunk, seemingly oblivious to the circumstances.

I returned repeatedly to the window that overlooks my woods. I suppose I was hoping to somehow will the trees to keep standing with my frequent and fervent gazes, all the while petitioning the only One with the power to keep them upright. As I watched the green canopy sway in the ever-increasing gusts and beheld the unperturbed behavior of the birds, calm pervaded my spirit. The scene before me embodied one of Jesus’ most precious lessons: our Father, who cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, will surely sustain his children. Those who trust in Him need not worry about tomorrow.[3]

Many of the storms in our lives aren’t meteorological in nature. They have nothing to do with barometric pressure or wind speed. Broken relationships, unexpected health issues, the death of a loved one. These and other tempests enter our lives, often unexpectedly. Yet nothing ever catches God by surprise and his promise to never leave us or forsake us[4] is certain regardless of the source of the upheaval.

Notwithstanding his assurances, there are times when we concentrate on the storm instead of the One who the wind and rain obey.[5] We’re in good company. Jesus’ disciples feared for their lives when a fierce windstorm descended on the lake they were crossing, even though their Master was asleep in the boat with them.[6] Likewise, Peter’s confident water-walk turned into fearful flailing as his focus shifted from his steadfast Lord to his tenuous circumstances.[7] On both occasions Jesus chided their lack of faith, but He didn’t hesitate to calm the storm-tossed lake or to rescue Peter with an outstretched hand.

IMG_4319The Lord deals with us in much the same way, remembering we are dust, frail creatures who sometimes lose sight of Him amidst our storms. As our compassionate Father, He often sends personally-prepared reassurances of his watchful care. On the day Irma blew through, my reminder came via the unruffled presence of the birds as they fed contentedly. When I strolled my woods several days later, I discovered another special gift. Nestled safely at the base of a towering oak bloomed a tiny cyclamen, unfazed by events earlier in the week.

The One who provides for the sparrows and the lilies graciously sustains us. He bids us to cast our care on Him that we might not be shaken.[8] In confident obedience, may we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, trusting Him to take care of all our tomorrows.[9]

 

[1] Romans 8:28

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:17

[3] Matthew 6:25-34

[4] Deuteronomy 31:8; Hebrews 13:5

[5] Luke 8:25

[6] Luke 8:22-24

[7] Matthew 14:22-33

[8] Psalm 55:22

[9] Matthew 6:34

The new dress, take 2

I remember the moment even if I can’t recall the exact date . . . the moment when I realized I truly wasn’t good enough.

A number of childhood experiences – an inconsistent relationship with my dad; often being described as “smart”, but rarely “pretty”; enduring a pudgy pre-adolescence during which classmates called me names – planted seeds of doubt deep inside. I was unaware of their presence. Focusing instead on navigating my teen and college years, I attempted to fit in and find acceptance. But by the time I reached young adulthood, the vines had grown into tangled masses, their tendrils wrapped tightly around my heart. I kept people at arm’s length, even those in my inner circle, fearful that if they really knew me they’d reject me.

I was married, a young mother of two precious daughters, when the Master Gardener said, “Enough!” As is often the case, the Lord chose a surprising method to begin my reclamation: a secular self-awareness workshop my then-manager encouraged me to take, paid for by my employer. The psychologist-led sessions were intense. Through the various exercises and discussions I came to recognize the subconscious message underlying my beliefs. In spite of my academic and career accomplishments, my loving family and a group of caring friends, I felt I wasn’t good enough to be loved or accepted.

Just as the restoration of an overgrown garden requires time and tenderness, there were many weeds of doubt to be removed before the seeds of understanding and truth could thrive. I turned to a counselor and pastor for assistance. The weeks passed and progress was made. The moment alluded to above, a bona fide epiphany, occurred as I was driving home from a counseling session. The reality flooded my being: “In myself, I’m not good enough, but in Christ I’m perfect!”

I’d been baptized and professed my faith some 17 years earlier. I trusted Christ alone for my salvation[1] and, with the Spirit’s help, tried to walk in a manner worthy of my calling.[2]  Nonetheless, the gloriously-freeing realization that God sees Jesus’ perfection when He looks at me became heart-not-head knowledge that day and continues to serve as a reliable rebuttal when the old misgivings resurface.

Like seeds that remain dormant until the right conditions are present, concerns regarding my unworthiness reemerge from time to time. I expect they will as long as I’m in the flesh. Like Paul’s thorn, those consternations draw me closer to God, making me ever-dependent on his strength and assurances.[3]

Because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice I am:

  • A child of the King. (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1)
  • A co-heir with Christ. (Romans 8:17)
  • Robed in his righteousness, without spot or blemish. (Colossians 1:22)
  • Forgiven. (Psalm 103:11-14; Isaiah 1:18; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14)
  • Welcomed into my Father’s presence. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
  • Watched over. (Psalm 33:18; Psalm 34:15)
  • Provided for. (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • Promised an eternal dwelling place. (John 14:1-3)
  • Strengthened by the Spirit. (Romans 8:11; Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 2:13)
  • Irrevocably loved and accepted. (John 10:27-29)

By now you may be wondering about the title of this post, but I promise there’s a connection to my last one. As noted therein, my generous daughters gave me a gift card so I could buy an outfit for the Rose Garden Gala. Getting dressed up for a special occasion is an infrequent treat. I felt a bit like a princess as I left my house . . . then, unexpectedly, a joyful thought manifested itself: I am a princess, a beloved daughter of the King! What a contrast to my thought patterns before I attended that workshop and subsequently entered counseling 25 years ago. It’s been a long, sometimes arduous, but most-decidedly-fruitful journey since. The faithful Gardener continues to prune and till, removing pesky vines and noxious weeds before they gain purchase in the soil of my soul. The seeds of truth now flourish and his tender ministrations remind me who I am.

My prayer, fellow believers, is the same as Paul’s desire for the Ephesians: “may (we) have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that (we) may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”[4] For once we have even a glimpse of Jesus’ sacrificial, unconditional, eternal love for us our perspective is forever changed.

We may not look like much in the world’s eyes, but in our Father’s eyes, we’re perfect.

[1] John 14:6

[2] Colossians 1:9-10

[3] 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

[4] Ephesians 3:14-19