Like a Two-Year Old Mastermind

During my precious morning time with God today, I couldn’t help but recall grocery shopping with my son when he was a precocious two years of age. Why? You’ll see. But first let me start with those dear recollections…

At two years of age, my son could carry on a full conversation and liked to offer his opinions about purchases on our shopping expeditions. In addition, he also liked to escape the confines of the cart and help push. Oh, he was mommy’s little helper for sure! Therefore, when I recounted my activities of the day to my handsome husband, I certainly described how Josh and I shopped together!

Together. He and I made a team.

Granted, at two he didn’t exactly have much to offer. Yet it was my joy to accept his help…and to tell his dad all about how he and I shopped together. As a unit. One fantastic grocery-shopping team!

Sweet, sweet memories.

Yet what if my son–at the advanced age of two–had decided that he was the mastermind behind the grocery shopping adventure. That he determined when we would shop. That he had the final say on purchases. That he, essentially, exercised ultimate control over when and how he shopped.

Oh…definitely more interesting…and not so sweet to recall.

I couldn’t help but ponder a bit over those thoughts when I read in Isaiah 5:21, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” Woe to those who think their own brains possess such skill in judgement and discernment simply because they are so incredibly smart and gifted. All by themselves. Just good at it. Comes naturally, you might say.

[Total humility coming right about now.]

I also recollected how as I began to grow in my knowledge of God’s word, comprehension came easy to me. My mind could quickly understand a verse and then mentally pull up other verses that correlated for a fuller picture. If I had learned a verse, it stayed in my mind ready for immediate access. My women’s bible study lessons grew filled with side-notes of parallel verses and additional concepts that rounded out a fuller image and meaning in my mind. And although I never insisted on sharing those thoughts at our discussion table unless called upon (and thus thought of myself as humble), I in time grew proud.

“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!”

I had become a two-year old mastermind of a shopping expedition.

Thankfully, God allowed me to get a huge dose of humbling. It came in the form of ME/CFS, which can make it quite difficult to string together a sentence, let alone deeper understanding of Scripture. God has so graciously taught me that HE is the source of any and all wisdom and discernment I possess or gain.

He made my brain. He wrote the Scripture I study. He causes the connections to form. He. His Spirit speaking into my spirit. The Great I AM breathing into His creation words of Life.

And then, like a gracious Father, He so often says, “Look what we did together.”

But I know the truth.

He did it all.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

A Wondrous Life

Ever have a morning when you wake up in a funk and, frankly, you don’t care if you snap out of it or not? Your pitiful thoughts resonate with discord and strife, generally fueled by exhaustion. And while your broodings may never quite lead you to wish you had never been born (aka George Bailey on a bridge), you can’t picture things improving…ever…and on that day, you really don’t care if they do.

It is what it is. Give me another cup of coffee or send me back to bed…or both.

Welcome to my day.

I generally don’t feel like this–especially around Christmas. I love preparing for Christmas! I love contemplating how to bless my family through my gifts and cooking, or how to bless others by opening my heart and home on Christmas Day. I love the activity of baking with my daughter or shopping with my husband or son. The concept of celebrating through sharing sweetly nudges me into action like no other. I love that we get to set aside this season to honor Jesus by not just His birth, but His lifestyle. Yay!!

The days preceding Christmas this year, however, find themselves stacked with–not Christmas preparation–but home renovation. While we have our tree up, our decorations are still in boxes, we have no lights on our home, and my thoughts drift to mandatory organization of our kitchen rather than my usual joyful organization of Christmas delights. In addition, the renovation has taken its toll on my ME/CFS, and the exhaustion, which had seemed to be waning previous to reno, has reasserted itself in a bossy, hey-look-at-me kind of way. [Not to mention perimenopause, which sort of makes my life feel like crossing the street and getting hit by TWO monster trucks instead of just the one.]

All these varying components converged upon my thoughts and led me to start a conversation with my handsome husband lamenting how un-Christmas-like everything felt (not that I could physically do anything about it)–all while the dear man tried to frame-out and seal the inside of our windows so we can have a cozy Christmas. [Note: men’s priorities v. women’s priorities–totally different!] Then, our wonderful painter, Gino, showed up, and I exiled myself to our bedroom, where I found myself firmly ensconced in Psalm 105.

This beautiful ode commemorates the history of Israel from God’s covenant with Abraham until He gave the land of promise to ole Abe’s descendants over 400 years later. While the psalm ends with joy and singing, the history itself has penetrating ruptures of deep pain and agony.

Yes, God made a covenant of promise to Abraham and, yes, the psalm shares many accounts of God’s presence and provision, yet we can also find times when I’m certain His people must have felt that their season was very un-Covenant-like. Frankly, I like the commonplaceness of this verse: “He had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave” (v. 17). During his season of fetters binding his feet with his neck in a “collar of iron,” Joseph doubtless wondered where the true meaning of Covenant had gone. Or how about this little ditty: “He turned [the Egyptians’] hearts to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants” (v. 25). Can’t you hear them singing their lonely hearts out with “I’ll be home for Covenant…if only in my dreams”?

Dreams. The ideals we build up in our hearts and minds this time of the year that frequently let us down. The hopes and emotions that don’t always align with a full scope of reality, which cause our hearts to fill with pain or at least the feeling of disconnection.

As children of God, we each get to live our lives as a journey to God’s promise–which He will fulfill, make no doubt about that. Despite the full scope of God’s entire plan working itself out in our lives, we may find ourselves with a season of fetters or people’s hearts turned against us; we may find ourselves in a very un-Christmas-like season. Like Joseph, though, can we embrace what we do have rather than lamenting what we don’t have? Can we avoid jumping off emotional bridges and focus on the wondrous works of God in our lives?

My reality: my decorations do remain in boxes; my baking has yet to commence (or even formulate!); and, my invitations have yet to get issued, Thus, my house “feels” very un-Christmas-like. In the whole scope of my life, however, this season will be a very small blip. A hardly worth mentioning type of thing. For overall, I do see the wondrous works of God in my life. I see the touch of His hand overspilling His wonders across each nook and cranny of my existence. I see a great and loving God writing a history spelling out His presence and provision and only lightly speckled with minute ruptures of pain. He has, indeed, given me a very wondrous life.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the people! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all His wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works he has done” (Psalm 105:1-5a).

Puttin’ On Some Attitude

I’m just going to come out and state it boldly: I can’t choose my health, but I CAN choose my attitude!

Now, I know people who are going to say, “Oh, yes, you can choose your health!” (I can hear you already!) So let me clarify: I can make choices about my health, but ultimately I cannot make myself well. If praying for God to heal my ME/CFS and making lifestyle choices would do it, I would have this thing nailed! I haven’t been able to accomplish this feat because God is the one who maintains ultimate control of this tool He is using to mold and modify my life and heart.

My attitude, however, is another story altogether! I can choose gratitude. I can choose love. I can choose joy. I can choose all kinds of wonderful things. I get that choice! On the other hand–should I prefer, I could choose entitlement, unforgiving, crankiness, or a whole host of not so pleasant attitudes. I still get that choice.

A tactic that the enemy of our souls likes to employ is to strip us of our choices. If he can rob us of our understanding of this, he can keep us spiritually depleted. If he can keep us depleted, he can keep us defeated. We will cease to walk in all who God is creating us to become…which He intends, by the way, to far surpass any current situation.

In light of this, what attitudes do I want to choose to put on then? While the ugly ones have a pesky way of sneaking into my life, I much prefer the attitudes that make me look like Jesus, of course!

“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 3:12-15).

Different Does Not Mean Wrong

Don’t you love how sometimes God will push the recall button of an old memory to teach a new lesson? Of course, then I have that whole “Hey, wait a second…” moment as I realize that obviously He has walked me down this path before. On the other hand, sometimes those wonderful old lessons can yield a brand new crop of results.

Scenario #1: Shortly after marrying my perfect dreamboat of a man, I slowly began to comprehend that he had some slight, hardly worth mentioning…um, flaws. From toothpaste tubes to toilet paper, from dirty socks to dirty dishes, would you believe he handled all those things incorrectly? Surely he must have noticed that each time he picked up the toothpaste it had (yet again) been left neatly and perfectly squeezed from the bottom! TP flap: over the top. Socks: right side out and NOT in balls. Dishes: rinsed as a minimum standard.

Ahhh. *sigh* The sweet saga of that first year of marriage.

As the weeks and months went on, he grasped the “proper” way of tackling all these little odds and ends correctly. (And, much to my delight, my bare bottom never touched cold ceramic in the middle of the night again!) In the due course of time our little married life became a family life; and as much as I would have contented myself with “correcting” any and all little shortcomings, I found my hands filled to the brim with a newborn who thought sleep was overrated. Thus, this groggy woman gratefully accepted any small assistance my wonderful soulmate offered.

One sunny morning, as I emptied the dishwasher, I happened to notice that–in spite of getting loaded “incorrectly”–all of the dishes came out…clean!!! Each one just as clean as the next, and all just as clean as if I had loaded and ran the dishwasher myself!

At that moment, God’s truth shot across my mind and my heart: different does not mean wrong.

Uh oh. My mind suddenly raced hither and thither gathering up all the details and instances of judging my husband through the lens of right v. wrong instead of allowing him the respect of simply doing something differently. And the repentance of my heart transformed into a new freedom in my marriage as my happy soul sang out, “The love of my life isn’t wrong–he’s different!!!” Of course, once I truly, whole-heartedly embraced that fact, I began to appreciate his differences in the most delightful of ways. (Although–and I gotta hang on to this–leaving dirty socks inside-out and in a little ball can never be right!)

Scenario #2: As many a parent before me has noted, the years flew by. The baby boy I once cherished in my arms has transformed into a man leaving for college. The lessons I spent years teaching him have taken hold in his heart. He no longer throws rocks in the pool just to watch the splash, nor does he ride his roller blades down the hall. No Legos litter the floors of our home, nor does he simply out-n-out disobey my words. He treasures me. He honors me. He frustrates me.

While praying for my two children this morning, my mind stumbled over a disparity within my heart as I prayed that they would each cherish God’s wisdom as they chose and set priorities for their lives. My prayer for my daughter came easy as I imagined her sticking to her guns and walking in discipline in all that God called her to do. My prayer for my son, however, seemed to stick a little. Why was that? What caused this inconsistency within my heart over two young people who each love and long to serve the Lord Jesus Christ?

Well, like any smart person should do, I asked the One who created me. And guess what? An old, beautiful refrain came leaping across my mind: different does not mean wrong!

My darling daughter, who seems to prioritize in a way which is comfortable and easy for me to understand–for it aligns familiarly to my own, makes praying for her regarding her choices and preferences come more naturally. (That’s not to say she’s not unique; her style’s just more…well, similar.) My son, on the other hand, zooms through life with his own methods and priorities, which varies so distinctly from anything I could dream up. (This probably makes him very much like that guy I married!) Because his actions and agendas leave me puzzled, however, does not make his wrong and mine right: it merely makes them different from each other.

What do you know? God made my son unique!

I tell you this in faith that the same Lord who taught me to appreciate the beautiful differences in my husband–which transformed my marriage!–will employ His Spirit to work His sweet changes in how I respect, pray for, and cherish that singular persona known as my son. May God alone continue to mold him and shape him in HIS image. And I’ll stand in the background and pray with the love only his mother can have…a love that already knows that God’s molding comes with pain, but a love that he can trust will forever hold a soothing balm.

“For we are His workmanship, created for good works in Christ, that He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Of Counting Calories and Tallying Rejections

I have entered a new world of “diet.” It’s called eating right without counting calories. Can I get an “amen”? I can’t even begin to tell you the freedom I feel away from the food scales, the calorie apps, and the nutrition logs. This yeast-free, grain-free diet (Know the Cause Phase 1 Diet) may seem restrictive to some, but I feel absolutely liberated. All I have to do is choose food that is free of grain and yeast (sugar is a grain!), and I can eat whenever I want and (for the most part) how much I want, which has resulted in a loss of 25 pounds in about as many weeks. Ah…the sweet life away from keeping tabs. It’s enough to make a girl smile.

Now while that little bit of info may seem delightful, can I tell you something that has freed me even more? The liberty of not tallying rejections! You cannot even begin to imagine the playground taking place in my heart because I don’t have to foist guilt on others nor tote bitterness around upon my shoulders. I get to be free. Oh yeah…that puts a grin on!

Needless to say, this didn’t happen overnight! By the time I first said my prayer to ask Jesus to be my Savior and King, I had gone through much pain and rejection…all by the ripe old age of 19. Though I didn’t understand it at the time, I had learned to carry an inordinate amount of pain, which meant that until I grasped how to offload my inner torment to God, I experienced a near-extreme breakdown over the smallest signs of rejection. My limit for pain and rejection had reached capacity.

Yesterday I randomly recalled a memory from an event that took place after I had been saved about five years. My husband and I had been asked to host a table at a church dinner…and no one sat with us. Well, one friend, but she was in the choral assembly and only sat with us half of the evening. I remembered the hope I felt each time someone came near and the excruciating disappointment each time they sat someplace else. Try as I might to contain them, those tears determined to flood my eyes.

Reflection has taught me to see that though our table was in the front near the stage, it was completely opposite of the door, which allowed people to inevitably find seating before our table. Also, I’m certain that if those dear coordinators knew what inner griefs tormented me, they would have done everything they could to put me at a table nearer the door. The pain of the evening was not intentional, yet it did happen.

Fast-forward many, many years to another dinner at our church. Yet this time my husband served as an associate pastor. As we wended our way through the tables in search of seating, we get offered seats at the head table, which we declined…mostly because the darling hosts who extended those seats to us would have had to vacate them! No! Not for us. Then our eyes fixed on a table with a cute young couple seated all alone. The sweet young wife carried a hopeful, longing expression that I remembered so well. On the way, friends pulled us aside to tell us that two seats remained at their table, but we knew we had to decline. Our choice had been made. One big table with one sweet couple awaited.

As I sat there, I could not help but wonder at God’s goodness. Had I never known the pain of a lonely table, I would never have looked for the hosts who sat alone. Never. My husband and I would have sat happily surrounded by friends and gone home content, naively ignorant of another couple who may have gone home with broken hearts.

I learned one of my life’s most valuable lessons that evening: a pain yielded to God reaps a bounty of graciousness.

Because I had determined early in my Christian walk that if I was to be God’s, He had to have all of me to do with as He saw fit…including my pain. He had shown me such continual faithfulness and love that I felt safe in laying down any deemed entitlement to pain and rejection. Over several growing years, I learned (repetitively, too, I must say) that because my pain is precious to me–for it often came at a cost–it is precious to Him…and I can trust Him with it.

Since I expect absolute honesty from myself, you need to know why this all came up lately. Plus, I want you know I’m not serving up leftovers here–these inner meditations result from a current struggle with rejection, from which I repented of my feelings of entitlement and pride but this morning. May God strengthen me by His Spirit even now.

In my past two and a half years of, more or less, living a primarily solitary life filled with extreme exhaustion which often precludes me from the simplest tasks, I have received very little encouragement or assistance from those outside my home. I receive invitations to events, but no simple note to cheer my weary soul. I receive tons of “hellos” sent via my family each Sunday, but rarely a quick text or facebook greeting. My heart feels pricked when I know of others who get sick for a couple of weeks or face a time of trial and have help with dinners, while I have received maybe four…about one every seven months.

Now please understand…I’m not complaining…I’m merely attempting to paint a portrait of my circumstances so you can glimpse the surroundings from which my heart must find succor. And know this–the moments of feeling spurned arouse themselves so infrequently that they do hardly make a dent in the overall makings of me. However, I paint them here now because so many experience such pains…and they don’t know how to stop counting them up and then putting them on others.

Please enter the real deal, my highest solution…well, to pretty much anything: I spend each morning with God. Through His word I glean some key truths on which to hang my hopes:

  • My Father sees (“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” 2 Chronicles 16:9a.)
  • My Father understands (“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you understand my thought from afar” Psalm 139:2.)
  • My Father cares (“Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7.)

My Father God has a plan plotted out for me to conform me into the image of His Son, which stands as His purpose regardless of the actions or inactions of others. I get to stand alone before God in my circumstances and inquire of Him what He sees and holds just for me. I don’t have to tally anyone else into the equation. My God + me = freedom from the tyranny of painful rejection and joy in the knowledge that He’s making me like Jesus. Woot-woot, ya’ll!!

So now we come to a second of life’s most valuable lessons (two in one blog–who knew?): we can choose to bind the responsibility of our pain on others or release them and trust God–we cannot do both.

Isn’t it interesting how a healthy diet for one’s body and a healthy diet for one’s soul can run so parallel? In both areas, if we dine on the right stuff we don’t have to keep track of the wrong stuff. And God’s word filled with God’s wisdom is the very best of stuff. In addition, when my soul is hungry, I can eat anything I want from God’s menu to my heart’s content which will result in the transformation of my mind until my inner being looks more and more like my Jesus!

I now find myself at the final of life’s most valuable lessons for the day (That’s three for those who are counting!): Freedom from harboring the pain of rejection allows me to walk through life’s situations with a heart to minister to others rather than wondering who will minister to me.

Stop counting sins (and calories!). Keep reading God’s word. Start serving instead of expecting to get served. And never forget that God’s truth in God’s way brings the most exhilarating freedom…always!

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).

Sweet and Upright Words

I have a confession to make. As a 50-year old woman of two young adult children, I still struggle using the correct words to teach and train. Anybody with me?

Sad, ain’t it?

Despite my head knowledge that my children have arrived at the ripe old ages of 21 and 18, I find ugly words like “Don’t…” and “Stop…” creeping harshly into my disciplinary technique. Rather than exhorting and encouraging them to more thoughtful and adult actions, I find myself correcting them with that nasty ole “mom voice.”

Example of shame: Yesterday morning I noticed my daughter pouring hot water into her teacup with the pot positioned where it could easily dribble into the “xylitol” bowl. However, instead of using words of respect, I found this gem shooting out of my mouth: “Hey! Don’t pour that over the xylitol!” And, of course, said comment was made in front of her younger brother, who happened to simultaneously chuckle, which I’m certain made her feel about six.

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Oh, and don’t even get me started on the ugliness that finds its way into the corrective measures I take with my son! Somedays I simply feel like Paul when he penned, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Though perhaps I should cry out, “Who will set me free from this tongue of death?”

I know that a host of mothers have gone before me in this transition of role; of going from mommy to mom to mother of adults. Many have done this beautifully, I am sure, while others like me have struggled, and others even have sadly failed. Sure, these children still live in our homes, but (and I need to truly understand this deep in my heart and mind!) we will lose relationships with them and respect from them if we cannot grant them the respect of a fellow adult. That does not mean that our teaching and mentoring days are over–they have merely changed shape.

God has granted us age and, hopefully with that, the wisdom of those years. Not only that, but He has freely given us the wisdom of the ages: His solid word. When we spend genuine time daily in the Bible, we find that it transforms our hearts and minds. Ultimately, then, we will find that since “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34), our words will begin to reflect the word we truly “have hidden in our hearts.”

Proverbs 18:21 states that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” I have watched my words crush my children, but I have also witnessed God use my words to bring life and understanding into their hearts. Interestingly, the words that crushed came in a torrent; the words that brought life settled sweetly and succinctly like a seed well sown.

God used the words of Job to convict me this morning. And from that place of brokenness I pray for those of you who also find your words striking out hurtfully at the precious ones you love: may you spend genuine time before God in His word, may His word challenge and change you, and may He, in turn, use you to speak life into those around you.

“Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray. How forceful are upright words” (Job 6:24-25a).

Walk Boldly in Your Kingdom Role

My darling, precocious daughter.

My darling, precocious daughter.

She was such a little thing–that precocious toddler of ours–but she simply wouldn’t obey me. I told her to do something. She stubbornly refused. The whole scene played out as though I weren’t even uttering a word. Actually, the whole scene played out as though I weren’t even in the room! There she sat, continuing in her own little world of play and ignoring my now repetitive requests.

Frustration!! (Every single parent knows what I mean!) And frankly, though I hate to admit it now, I didn’t know what to do.

An unwavering certainty started settling itself across my heart and mind. Undeniably, a truth arose in my motherly breast: I was the mom here. No other mom was going to magically show up and make my daughter obey me. This was God’s new role for me–and I needed to walk in it.

Rapidly my mind raced to grasp and sort all the gleanings I had gained regarding motherhood. Compassionate nurturer. Kindly supplier. Faithful corrector. Ah…faithful corrector–my missing link. Thusly armed with my new comprehension, I stepped boldly into my full role as mother.

I couldn’t help but recall this scenario when I considered Esther’s plight after Mordecai challenged her to plead for her people before the king. Granted she was the queen, wife of the king, but the Persians had this nasty little law about putting to death anyone who appeared uninvited before the king’s presence–unless he held out his golden scepter toward her, thus extending his favor.

In her time as queen, no doubt, she had grown to understand other aspects of her role. Reign in the women’s quarters. Appear in her finest at state functions. Hasten to the king at his request. But this role? How could she ever walk in such a strong calling? How could she present herself and find that presentation enough?

We all know those feelings. We come supplied with a handy list of our shortcomings. If others can’t figure out why they shouldn’t accept us in our role, we could probably tell them several reasons. But there we vulnerably stand anyway. Heart racing. Doubts pulsing. Fear rising. But we stand. We must. For this is our role.

Each new bride or groom, each new parent, each new employee, each new landlord, each new pastor, each new anything, must understand what their role entails and step boldly in. Will we make mistakes? You betcha! Will our shortcomings show? Undoubtedly! But if God has called us to a new role, we have no other choice but, with eyes fixed on the King of kings, to step undeterred in what He has granted us to do.

Actually, that’s not quite true, is it? Esther had a choice. With great wisdom, however, Mordecai counseled her that God would supply relief and deliverance through another, but the cost to her would be great. You see, we can choose to not walk in the role God has conferred on us, but at what cost?

What if I had chosen to not walk in the full role of mother? What if I had elected to simply love on my children and provide their needs? What if I had decided that disciplining my daughter and son was too much work, or felt that perhaps it might impede my “loving” relationship with them? Would I now have a twenty-one year old blessing of a daughter? Would I have an eighteen year old blessing of a son? Or would the cost to my life and home be grievous? And, since my children must learn discipline, who then would God have raised up to serve as their tool of correction?

I don’t know what new role God may have opened for you. My daughter currently has a new role, and both my son and my daughter have new roles looming before them as God takes them into new arenas. But I do know the same holds true for you that holds true for them–and that has held true for me. God will provide and equip for that to which He has called.

Walk boldly in. He is with you.

“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13b-14).