Clinging to the Cross

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I love being a parent.  Sure, there are plenty of hard and thankless things, and I certainly won’t admit to not experiencing frustration, worry, and weariness plenty of times.  I still love it though.  I welcome the excuse to color, play with Play-doh, build with Legos, and ride bikes.  I enjoy watching my kids grow, learn, and discover.  Watching each of their personalities and passions emerge is amazing, from the girl who loves justice, to the boy that gets great joy in making others laugh, to the other boy that sees the amazing amidst the mundane, it is just fascinating.  I think my absolute favorite thing about being a parent is watching these kids work out their spiritual lives.  They have simple, yet profound faith.  They wrestle with tough questions, yet have deep understanding.   They enjoy security, but are willing to sacrifice.  My heart swells when:

  • I find them praying when they think no one is watching or listening
  • I see them reading the Bible just because they want to
  • They lead the way in loving others and standing for justice, caring for the “least of these” by selling their toys to buy uniforms so that children overseas don’t miss out on an education, giving up their favorite treats so as not to support human trafficking, or using all of their birthday money to purchase food for those who have little
  • I overhear one teaching another tough theology, like a couple of weeks ago when Ben was helping Jeremiah through some questions about the Trinity
  • One takes over explaining something to another, and does a better job than me like when Brianna explained to the boys, after they questioned a song on the radio, why you would want your church to be on fire…”In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is often represented by fire. A church on fire would be one filled with the Holy Spirit.”
  • They make statements or ask questions that reveal they’re working through something without my leading, that they’ve been pondering all on their own

One of these heart swelling moments happened last night as we made our way to church.  Brianna was reading; Ben and Jeremiah were playing (we have a long ride).  I had a CD playing, but wasn’t paying much attention until I heard a voice pipe up from the back seat, “I never do that!”  When it became apparent that Jeremiah was speaking to me, I probed.  “What will you never do?”  “Exchange cross for crown.  I not let go the cross!”  You see, coming through the speakers was the song The Old Rugged Cross (In case I have previously failed to mention it, I love hymns!), with the chorus that goes like this:

“So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,

Till my trophies at last I lay down;

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

And exchange it someday for a crown” (Bennard, 1913).

I took some time to explain what the crown means, the glory we get to share with Jesus someday, but he remained adamant that he not let go of the cross.  Always the teacher, my first instinct was to keep explaining until he understood, looking forward to the crown, but when I stepped back to see through his eyes and his heart, I realized that he was doing something so many fail to do, sitting in an uncomfortable spot, at the foot of the cross, instead of bypassing it, looking straight ahead to the crown, the reward, heaven.  He was and is clinging to the cross instead of overlooking it.  He understands, he sees, even as young as he is, the depth of love for him at the cross.  Oh to be like him!

I have never shied away from teaching my kids the hard things about the cross.  Some may disagree with me, thinking I should have sheltered them a little longer, telling them no more than “Jesus died on the cross for your sins,” but right or wrong, that’s not what I have done.  From a young age, they started to hear what dying on a cross meant.   I’ve told them about the humiliation.  I’ve told them about the crown of thorns, not gently placed on His head, but shoved, thorns sticking into His brow.  I’ve told them what it meant to be flogged and had them think about how much it would hurt to have a robe put onto fresh wounds, and then being pulled off to be hung naked, like yanking gauze off a wound after failing to use ointment.  I’ve told them about carrying a splintered wooden beam on a back that had been beaten.  I’ve told them about the nails.  I’ve told them about the struggle to breath.   Then, last year at just ages 7, 9, and 10, they watched for the first time The Passion of the Christ, seeing the very things they had heard.

I say this to explain that when my boy says he is not going to let go of the cross, he isn’t simply thinking of a piece of jewelry or a pretty wall hanging.  He is thinking of the images he has seen, the explanations he has heard of the one who endured so very much to take away his sin, to make a relationship with God possible for him.  How humble his heart, that he would choose to cling to that, to sit with that, instead of looking straight to the reward that awaits him someday.

The crucifixion didn’t last forever.  The resurrection came.  Soon enough, our celebration of that day will come too, when we will remember Jesus conquering death with life, when we look forward to our own resurrection (Praise the Lord!), when we will think of the hope that is sharing the glory of Christ.  Until then though, in this season of Lent that precedes it, maybe it would do us all good to sit in the uncomfortable spot that is the cross, to remember the suffering, the shame, the sacrifice, to recognize the gravity of our sin, to know the depth of love displayed,  to say with Jeremiah, “I not let go the cross!”

Suck it Up, Buttercup!

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Suck it up, buttercup!

For much of my life, I have lived by this motto.  Suffering isn’t something I embraced.  Instead, I have ignored, stuffed, moved on, etc.  I have done this in various aspects of my life.

Physical ailments, I rarely mention, and if I do it is really bad.  If I SAY I have a headache, it isn’t your average headache, it’s debilitating and I am probably minutes away from tossing my cookies.  If I SAY I have a sore throat, you better advise me to go to the emergency room because my throat is near swollen shut and it is time for steroids.  If I have a cold, you will only know by the sound of my voice made different by my stuffy nose or first-hand witnessing my nasty cough, not because I actually SAID anything about it.   I have asthma and it has proved helpful to have a nurse along on bike rides because I don’t know when to stop, wheezing up a hill until I am told to get off or an ambulance is going to be called.

Emotional suffering I have handled the same way, tucking it deep inside, not speaking of the events that have caused me hurt, anger, anxiety, depression, etc.  Rarely did I let a tear slip down my cheek or pound my fists in anger (I did do other damaging things, things nobody saw, but in an effort to escape not embrace).  I sucked it up, moved on, pretending there was no suffering at all.  In fact, I have so hidden from suffering that until recently I didn’t even believe I had ever actually experienced any suffering.  It has taken affirmation from others, people telling me “Yes that is/was bad” for me to see the truth, and yes, it is the truth, I have suffered.  We all do.  There’s no escaping trouble in this world (John 16:33).

Early last year, it seems that this way of life caught up with me.  It was as if there was no room left to stuff and so things started to overflow.  I cried often (still in private…as often as I escaped to the bathroom it is a wonder nobody told me to get checked for IBS) and I got sick—headaches, dizziness, constant shaking, extreme weight loss (10 pounds in one week, I didn’t mind that…too bad I found it again), hair loss, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, etc.  During that time, I had some wonderful people come along side me and encourage me to suffer.  That’s right; they not only let me suffer, but encouraged it.

During this Lenten season, where thoughts are turned to the final days of Jesus, I believe that this embrace of suffering is not only healthy (much of what I was experiencing last year has subsided), but in line with following the model of Christ.  As I explore His interactions with people throughout His public ministry, I never hear “Suck it up, buttercup!” but see a man filled with compassion.  As I look at the way Jesus spent His last three years, I don’t see that he stuffed His own emotion either.  He cried (John 11:35). He turned tables (Matthew 21:12).  Certainly in His final days, He did not run away from suffering, but endured much in our place.

He was betrayed and beaten.  He was denied, disgraced, demeaned, and disregarded.  He was taunted and tried. He was condemned and crucified. The weight of His suffering can be seen in His anticipation of it as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest.

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me’” (Matthew 26:36-38).

“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground “(Luke 22:44).

Christ didn’t just redeem us in His suffering, He identified with us, and when we suffer we also identify with Him (1 Peter 4:13, Romans 8:17).

In addition to identifying with Jesus, suffering is a place where God grows us immensely.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, speaks of this kind of suffering, the suffering that produces such things as perseverance, maturity, character, and hope.

“There is such a thing as consecrated griefs, sorrows that may be common to everyone but which take on a special character for the Christian when accepted intelligibly and offered to God in loving submission. We should be watchful lest we lose any blessing which such suffering may bring” (From the Grave, p. 23).

I absolutely love this thought—consecrated suffering!  To consecrate is to set apart, to declare sacred, to make holy.  When we accept our suffering, embrace it, rather that ignoring it, and when we offer it to God, He does something amazing, takes something caused by a world wrought with sin and sets it apart for His own purpose, redeeming it by using it to grow us into people closer to and more like Him.

I can certainly attest to this.  As I have embraced my suffering, God has done and continues to do an amazing work.  I have learned what it means to rely on the strength of God instead of my own.  I have experienced what it means to truly persevere through hard things instead of running and hiding from them.  I have come to better know the character of God.  I have enjoyed the presence of Jesus as He comes alongside and walks through the suffering with me, bringing deep healing.

I hope that you too may learn to embrace suffering, and as you do that you will see the blessings God has in store for you as you let Him take something hard and make it holy, that you can echo these words found in Romans with much confidence and hope, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (8:28).

Amidst Suffering

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I’m sorry for the late post.  I didn’t know what to write about.  I actually have several pieces completed but not yet shared that I could have put up.  I have a few in the works that I could have finished, but nothing seemed quite right.  As I approached my self-given deadline (posting either Thursday or Friday each week), instinct told me to figure something out quick because I hate the idea of not meeting a deadline, failing to reach a goal, etc. but something kept me from doing so.  I hope that is because what came to me late tonight (waking up after falling to sleep early, holding my littlest guy as we cried and prayed together) is exactly what somebody out there in cyber world needs to read.

Last February, I got a phone call.  A fellow woman in ministry, though farther along in the journey than me, had heard about some of my struggles and was prompted to contact me.  I appreciated the call, but had no idea what a gift would come as a result, a wonderful friendship.  I love my sweet friend so much.  She has been an instrument of God’s healing in my life.  Her words and the tenderness in which she treats me have often been used to mend broken pieces and fill empty places as they are an echo of the words and attitude of Jesus.  She has called out my uniqueness and helped me to feel comfortable with myself as she seems to find joy in knowing me and being in my presence.  She also has no trouble challenging me when that is what I need, desiring that I become all that God has created me to be, knowing that growth happens through pain, so not shielding me from it.  She has taught me many things; either sharing what she has learned or allowing me to learn with her.  She has taken on a love for my family, treating my kids as members of her own.  I could go on, like I haven’t listed the fun we have together or the all the laughs we share, but you get the gist.  She’s something special.  You may even get the privilege of “meeting” her as we have begun to do some writing together.  I hope so.

My sweet friend is in the hospital right now.  She has had increasing problems with what seemed to be asthma at first (she does have that, but this is more, in addition to), but treatment wasn’t keeping it under control.  After changes in medication, shots of steroids, and many breathing treatments, with no letup she was sent to the ER and later admitted.  She still hasn’t improved.  She’s receiving IV steroids and has a breathing treatment every two hours.  As if a struggle to breathe isn’t enough, she’s developed pain in her ribs as a result of deep coughing, so she is being treated for that as well.  As you might imagine, she is exhausted.  I would say she is suffering.  Seeming a part of her very nature though (her new one anyways, see 2 Cor. 5:17), she continues to teach, to point to Jesus even during such a rough road.

Let me tell you a few things my friend has done during this difficult time.

  • Up in the middle of the night, unable to catch her breath, she has prayed for others.
  • Concerned about the message she desperately wanted her ladies to hear, she prepared for Bible Study and planned to lead it until she knew beyond any doubt that she couldn’t (that gave her sub, ME, little time to prepare, but her heart was in the right place and God more than provided).
  • Knowing a struggle I was having with one of my kids, she found resources to help.
  • She checked up on one of my kids who was also sick this week (ear infection) and when she learned about a procedure he will need (ear tube removal) was checking her calendar to see if she could be there with us.
  • Wanting to help me prepare for an upcoming meeting, she was trying to figure out a time to get together even knowing she shouldn’t talk. (If you’re reading this my friend, no worries, I am ready, God provides.)
  • She has replied to my son’s messages to her.  He is her little buddy and she knows he is scared and upset, and has tried to reassure him.
  • Pictured above, sitting in the ER, she didn’t forget about those she is passionate about and an injustice she wants to see end.  She joined the abolition movement by bringing awareness to the problem of human trafficking with a red X on her hand (don’t know what that’s about?  Google it).

And these are just the things I know about!

Do you see what I see?  Amidst her suffering, she hasn’t lost her love or concern for others.    Do you see what I see?  A teachable moment, as she reflects Jesus.  Isn’t this exactly what He did?  In the midst of His suffering, pain we can hardly imagine, others were on His mind.

I thought about explaining the full and gruesome process of Roman crucifixion here, but I don’t think it’s necessary.  If you have never heard what it entails, it won’t be hard to find with a quick internet search.  Suffice it to say, it is horrible.  Nailed to a cross would be excruciating, and then there was a struggle for each breath as the victim had to raise themselves up with nails in the hands and feet (wrists and heals or ankles), to take in any oxygen.  Eventually, they could do so no longer and would die by asphyxiation.   Of course, the suffering for Jesus didn’t start with his hanging on the cross.  First he was beaten and a crown of thorns was pressed against his head.  There must have been emotional trauma too.  He was taunted. He was betrayed and denied and abandoned by those He loved.  He felt forsaken by His Father.    Jesus suffered.

Suffering, Jesus had little concern for Himself.  His words and actions as He hung there reveal this.  Take a look at these passages with me.

Luke 23
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

John 19
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

I see three instances in these verses that show Jesus’ love and concern for others amidst his own suffering.  His death and resurrection alone held the power to save, but these words and acts revealed His character.  First, He asked the Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him.  Second, he had a conversation with the other men on the cross, offering forgiveness to the one who repented.  Third, He made sure His mother was cared for.  Wow!

My first thought as Jesus was brought to my mind by the reflection of Him in my friend was to assess my own response to suffering.  Do I reflect Jesus?  How have I expressed my love and concern for others despite what is going on in my own life?  How can I do better?  Those are fine questions to ask and I am sure the time will come to ask them again.  Feel free to borrow them for yourself.  However, I felt Jesus whisper to my heart that for now He simply wanted me to relish in the fact that as He suffered I was on His mind.  After all, my sins held Him there too.   Love for me drove Him to the ultimate sacrifice.  When He asked the Father to forgive those who crucified Him, there were generations to come that would need the same.  When he forgave the thief on the cross, it was an example of what he does for all who believe and turn away from their sin.  Making sure his mother was provided for was indicative of the care for me.  He provides in so many ways.

It occurs to me that the Lenten season starts this week.  People will eat paczki (Yum! Go for it!), some will go crazy celebrating Mardi Gras, getting drunk and collecting beads.  Some people will give something up ceremoniously, being driven by ritualistic religious traditions.  Others will do so as a remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ and as a means of drawing closer to Him.  However you observe this season, my hope and prayer is that you will take some time to savor the fact that while Jesus was on the cross, the event to which this season commemorates, you were on His mind.  His love for you drove Him to the greatest of suffering and sacrifice and He didn’t forget you while He was enduring it.  Let that love envelope you and give thanks.

P.S. You can totally pray for my friend, I would appreciate it!

Ugly Duckling

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I have three children, and as anyone with more than one child (and probably even those with none) knows, they are all unique.  Each of them comes with their own sets of gifts, abilities, and personality.  They also have their own challenges, and challenge me uniquely too.  My youngest child, 8 year old Jeremiah, is no exception, and in fact seems a little more set apart from others than his older brother and sister.  Jeremiah is adorable and has a heart that knows no bounds.  He has a zest for life and a love for Jesus.  He is affectionate, chivalrous, and bright.  He has also given me the biggest run for my money, especially when he was younger.  The challenges I faced with him left me exhausted at the end of most days,  crying at the end of some, and always wondering just when I would reach the end of my rope.

Early on, Jeremiah failed to grow properly.  He was labeled “failure to thrive” (funny, he now weighs more and is nearly as tall as his 10 year old brother) after countless appointments with specialists that could not figure out his problem.  As he grew, we noticed other things that just did not seem quite right, at least when compared to his siblings.  Jeremiah was delayed in speech and language and his behavior was on many days more than I could bear.  He didn’t play.  He dumped, he dumped everything—bins of cars, buckets of blocks, whole toy boxes—he never played with what was inside, just dumped them all.  He dumped flour and sugar and cereal and pasta.  You may be wondering about child locks.  This kid was brilliant and by age 2 had figured out nearly all child locks and those he didn’t, he just broke right off.  He was an expert climber too.  He climbed curtains, into cupboards, and on top of the refrigerator.  He could get free of anything, earning him the nickname “Houdini” after escaping the house or his car seat more times than I can count or care to admit.  As Jeremiah finally learned to communicate, some of this behavior lessened, but other things continued.  He would throw 30 minute tantrums when the Velcro on his shoes wasn’t aligned perfectly.  He would scream as if in pain if there was a tag in his shirt.  He put everything in his mouth (and still does) long past the age that this was appropriate.  He would be sent through the roof by certain noises, unable to have music playing in the car or eat at loud restaurants.  He would fall apart for no apparent reason after a little time in a store.  I was almost sure he was autistic, but he repeatedly tested not, perhaps because he was so social but I am no expert.  Other than some occupational therapy for a few weeks at a private practice that diagnosed him with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), something not recognized by schools or insurance, Jeremiah has received little help for these issues.  We have learned to help him cope at home.  While he is doing much better in the sensory department (There are still challenges. Does anybody have ideas on how to get him to consistently use silverware?), after six years of speech therapy he continues to struggle with articulation, sentence structure, and pronoun usage.  This sets him apart from his peers, and they are beginning to notice.  He gets teased often, and comes home from school angry and hurt, throwing his backpack on the floor, melting into a pool of tears. He is different.

This week as part of his homework, Jeremiah had to read “The Ugly Duckling,” a familiar fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.  Let me paraphrase:

There was a mother duck who had been sitting on her eggs when they began to hatch.  Out came beautiful ducklings, covered in soft yellow feathers.  One egg did not hatch with the rest.  The egg was larger and different looking than the rest.  Still, the mother duck sat.  Eventually this last egg hatched and what came out was a bird that looked different from the rest.  Instead of the soft yellow down, this baby was dull and gray.  He was bigger too and had a sound different than the usual “quack.”  It didn’t take long for the other ducklings to notice he was different and they started making fun of him.  Soon, hurt by all the teasing, the duckling ran away.  On his travels he saw some beautiful white birds, majestic with their beautiful pure white feathers and long necks. He admired these gorgeous creatures and wished he could be just like them.  One day, he caught his reflection in the water, and what he saw astounded him, he had become a swan!  He proudly joined other swans, finding a new family where he belonged.

As Jeremiah and I read this story together, a story I had heard and read many times, I was caught by something new, a thought I had never had before.  The change didn’t happen to the duckling when he became a swan as so often thought and taught.  After all, he had always been a swan.  The change happened, the confidence came, when he REALIZED he was a swan.  As the story ended, Jeremiah told me that he felt like the ugly duckling. I asked him why. He said, “You know!” and I did, his speech.  It makes him feel different, badly about himself.  Powerful moments followed as I was able to explain to him that he doesn’t have to wait to become something amazing, he only needs to realize that he is.  He is a precious boy, created in the image of the Almighty God, displaying Him in his numerous good qualities, sharing Him with his sweet sprit and warm hugs.

Reader, you need not wait to become something amazing either.  You already are!  You just need to realize it, to take hold of it, to believe it.  You are made in the image of God too, uniquely and dearly loved by the Creator of the Universe, gifted to do wonderful things.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).

I am praying for you, that you will come to know in the very depths of your being that you are not an ugly duckling, but a beautiful swan.

Lesson in a Happy Meal

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This week I made Happy Meals for supper.  That’s right, I said I MADE Happy Meals.  I’m not perfect when it comes to food.   Occasionally we pick up fast food, and I’ve been known to throw a frozen pizza in the oven on a weekend, but for the most part, even on busy days, I make it a priority to make home cooked meals, and a favorite for the kids is homemade Happy Meals.  I make homemade chicken nuggets and french-fries, individually wrap them in single portioned amounts and put them in a bag decorated with my mad Sharpie skills.  It is served with the very special, because it is not often provided, chocolate milk.  They enjoy the food, but I think the novelty is what makes it most fun.  They love seeing how I have decorated their bag uniquely for each of them and pulling out their little packages of food, just like they would if we were sitting in the dining room of McDonald’s.  Most of all, they are excited to pull out the surprise they know is inside.  They have found their favorite candy, trinkets from the dollar store, small projects from the craft store, etc.  This week though, I did something different.  At the bottom of each bag laid a dollar bill.  To my great surprise, they did not like this treat.

One might think I was disappointed by their ungratefulness, but I was actually quite touched by their disappointment.  It wasn’t that they weren’t grateful for their dollar.  They were.  They don’t often get money of their own.  We don’t give them an allowance and they generally don’t receive money for birthdays and Christmas.  That leaves what they receive doing odd jobs for the neighbor, what they get for lost teeth, and the quarter they retrieve if they’re lucky enough to be the one to return the cart at Aldi.  They were disappointed because they take pleasure in pulling out something that was chosen just for them.  I loved that they were still at a stage when they treasured the gifts I gave rather than wanting to choose for themselves.   It got me to thinking, how often have I wanted to choose my own gifts rather than finding joy in unwrapping or discovering something God picked just for me?

Here are a couple (there are more) places the Bible that speak of the gifts God gives to His children .
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your  faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8, NIV).

“To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues “      (1 Corinthians 12:8-10, NIV).

A decent list of gifts can be made from just these two passages.

    • Prophecy
    • Serving
    • Teaching
    • Encouragement
    • Giving (generosity)
    • Leadership
    • Mercy
    • Wisdom
    • Knowledge
    • Faith
    • Healing
    • Miraculous power
    • Distinguishing between spirits (often called discernment)
    • Speaking in tongues
    • Interpretation of tongues

That’s a pretty sweet list and I don’t know about you, but there are totally some gifts there I would like to pick out for myself.

Serving—sure I have done it before.  I take care of my elderly neighbor and when I was on church staff was known to shovel the parking lot, clean urinals, and take care of vomit.  But that’s not really my thing and when I look at those to whom it comes naturally, I think, “Wow, if only I was a servant like them.”   I’m lucky to remember to ask somebody if they want a drink when they come to my house.

Generosity—How cool would it be to have the means to give so much away?  I would be buying wells, sponsoring multiple children (and probably adopting a few too), being the one to always buy my friends lunch, giving gifts, etc.  Let’s face it though, my kids get excited about their Aldi quarter, generosity is not my thing either.

Encouragement—I am in awe of those who have this gift.  Sure, I have encouraged somebody before, but I have to think about it, and even then, I stumble for the words and fumble my efforts to show that I care.  Sending cards isn’t something I’ve thought about since… well until just now, when I sat down here thinking about encouragers.   I see what encouragers do though; I feel what they do when the gift is directed toward me.  They have the ability to turn a frown upside down and push in the right direction with their amazing cheerleading skills. Yep, I would like that gift.

In addition to these spiritual gifts, each of us is created with certain talents, and I would love to pick a few of those too.  I could go for being more athletic, to have an inclination toward music (I’ve always wanted to plunk out hymns on the piano…I have an old soul), or to be able to do math without my fingers or touchpoints (does anybody remember those?).

I could keep on going, but I won’t, because when I saw my kids long for a gift chosen by me, I was reminded to be thankful for the gifts my Father has given me, and to find joy in discovering them.
I am a leader.  From a young age, I was always able to rally the troops around a vision.  I have created large programs and successfully passed them off to others by raising them up to do the job.   I am wise, or so I have been told.  I am a teacher and have even started to discover my ability to be a preacher.  The most recent gift I have been unwrapping is writing.  I get giddy when I work on my most current story and was incredibly excited to realize that my work was good enough to get published when that happened for the first time just a few months ago.  Why then, would I still want to choose my own gifts?  Perhaps it is because my human condition draws me to comparison.  I see one gift as better than or more useful than another. God knew this though, and He provides an answer.

Following the 1 Corinthians 12 list of gifts, Paul, who wrote this letter to the church in Corinth, explains that all of these gifts came the same Spirit, are a part of one body, and addresses the issue of comparison or significance of the gifts.

“You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.

“I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-18, the Message).

There is no need for comparison.  God has gifted us each uniquely, making us each a significant part of a greater body designed to fulfill His purposes.  There’s also no need to choose, to take our Happy Meal dollar and go shopping.  He has chosen for us and His choice is an act of love, just like I show love for my children when I pick out a special surprise for them.  We can find joy in discovering what He has chosen and gifted us.

Pickles…and the Cross?

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I have a love-hate relationship with pickles.

I love pickles!  Mmm, mmm, mmm!  Salty, sour, dilly, garlicy, pickles are just a treat for the taste buds!   Of course the traditional pickle, a pickled cucumber that comes from a large barrel at an old country store is the best, but other pickled things are amazing too—green beans, garlic, carrots, jalapeños!  My mouth is totally watering just thinking about it.  In fact, I don’t just love pickles; I like pickled flavored things too.  Do you know what my weakness is, the sure way to capture my heart?  Gift me with pickle flavored popcorn.  Yes, that is totally a thing, and if you give me some, you will have won a friend for life!

I hate pickles!  Pickles scream failure to me.  Early in our marriage, I made tuna salad for the first time, for my husband that is.  I had already learned a fair amount of his picky habits when it came to food, so I thought I could manage this simple dish without too much trouble—Miracle whip not mayonnaise, no onions, no celery, no black pepper, and no cheating with relish (***Note:  He eats black pepper now, not too much, but I no longer have to trick him with white pepper…I guess the secret is out). I opened and drained the tuna, put it into a bowl, mixed in the salad dressing, and got out my then favorite kitchen gadget, my mini chopper (my KitchenAid stand mixer has definitely taken its place as favorite), dropped in a few sweet pickles (no dill for my man), pulsed until they were  finely chopped, and added them in.  Done…success…but I was wrong!  My husband did not like the dish. Fail! The pickles were not the right size.  In fact, he requested that from there on out I chop pickles by hand for any recipe that included them, or he would likely not eat it.  13 years later, I am still chopping pickles.  Fail!  I’ve gotten him to tolerate black pepper but haven’t even attempted finely chopped pickles again.

Yes, silly as it may be, pickles stir up a variety of emotions for me.  There are the positive emotions—excitement, satisfaction, happiness.  Then there are the negatives—worthlessness (I don’t do failure very well, even something as small as tuna salad…I’m learning though…and of course it isn’t failure at all, just a difference in preferences, but sometimes our feelings lie), anger (at myself…Kristyn, just cut the pickles the way you want!), resentment (also my fault, I should have confronted my pickle problem long ago).

Hmmm…it occurs to me, pickles are like the cross.  Yes, you read that right, pickles and the cross have something in common.  Both stir up a variety of emotions.

The cross, blood stained from holding a battered man, is a reminder of what held Him there, not just the nails, but the sin.  My sin.  Being reminded of my sin conjures up all kinds of yucky emotions—pain, guilt, sadness, anger.

The cross, blood stained from holding a battered man, is a reminder of what held Him there, not just the nails, but the love.  His love for me.  Being reminded of his love for me overwhelms me with gratefulness, joy, peace, and hope.

Sometimes my great aversion to chopping up pickles overshadows my love for the delectable delicacy.  Ok, pickles probably aren’t a delicacy, but you know what I mean.  And just like that, sometimes the thoughts of my past, of my sin, of others’ sins against me overshadow the beauty of the cross.   This is not how it should be.

Romans 8:1-2
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

2 Corinthians 5:17
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

I am in Christ!  He is in me! Grace has washed away my sin, given me power over sin, and broken the bondage that others’ sin had on me.  It’s a new day!  It is time for a new way!

Pickles don’t mean failure.  The cross doesn’t mean condemnation.

On this new day, in this new way Buckwheat from the Little Rascals says it best, “I love pickles!  I’m crazy about ‘em!”

On this new day, in this new way the words of the old familiar hymn say it best:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

Refrain:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share. (The Old Rugged Cross, George Bennard, 1913)

Shattered Pieces Restored

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Sometimes my children break something glass, a dropped plate or cup shatters all over the floor.  Ladies and gentlemen, I know what you have been told, but let me be the bearer of the truth:  Corelle breaks!  For some reason their instinct is to start picking up the broken pieces on their own, but I yell at them, not anger but urgency in my voice. “Stop! Get back! Let me do it!” I know better. I know that picking up the broken pieces will only hurt them. Once they are safely sitting down, hands and feet away from the sharp and scattered bits that could harm them, I take care of the mess. I might use my hands to carefully pick up the largest pieces. I use the broom and dust pan to sweep up the rest, using my trained eyes to make sure no piece goes unnoticed to be stepped on by surprise later.

I think we are the same way, broken people–lives, hearts, and souls shattered by failures, addiction, rejection, abuse, discouragement. We try to pick up the mess. As we gather up the pieces, we own them, holding the now sharp pieces in our bare hands.  The lies produced by the events of our lives dig deep.  We feel worthless, shameful, helpless, alone, violated, and hopeless.  We are hurt.  At least we have picked it all up though, or so we think.  We have a handle on things; it is all under control, until we are surprised.  We step on a hidden piece of our brokenness.

There is One though, who does not want us to pick up the mess.  Jesus is telling us, “Stop! Get back! Let me do it!” He can use his carefully trained eyes; eyes that see every corner that’s shadows may hide pieces of our shattered soul. Not only can Jesus clean up the entire mess, He can carefully put it back together, not sweeping us into dust pan and dumping us in the trash, but restoring us to what we were created to be, reestablishing our beauty and our usefulness.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).

Won’t you give Jesus your mess?  Let go of the pieces.  Let yourself heal and watch as you are made new!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV).