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).

Facebook, Cookies, and Eternity

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Did you know that God can take what we think are the most ordinary of things and turn them into instruments of His grace, tools that take people from far away into a meaningful relationship with Him?  This is my favorite story about when God did just that!

Facebook—a time waster, argument starter, face to face connection stealer.  Years into this social media craze I get it, Facebook can be damaging.  However, the popular site also has some benefits—making long distance relationships seem a little closer, providing a place to get information out to many people at once, forming communities of like-minded people that would otherwise never come to be, connecting people with those they long ago lost contact with.  Today, I want to share my favorite Facebook memory, how this thing that many roll their eyes at became a life-changing tool.

Ping! While going about my regular business one day, I heard the sound of a chat window opening.  The was before everybody used their phones to connect Facebook and messenger was not a separate app. “This is your Uncle Rick. Tell me about yourself.”

“Well,” I said, “I am married. We live in Westland and have three kids. Brianna is almost four. Ben is two and a half and Jeremiah is seven months old.”

Uncle Rick wasn’t satisfied. “Tell me more. I want to know everything.” This short conversation was the start of a wonderful relationship. Over time my uncle became more than a family member, but a wonderful  friend. This friendship is something that has become a significant part of my life, and I am convinced that this friendship was a tool that changed my uncle’s life for eternity.

Over seven months’ time my uncle and I had many conversations. Sometimes we would talk for just a few minutes, and sometimes for hours. Many times my attention was divided between talking with him and other responsibilities—kids, housework, church business, and the like. Other times I was able to give my uncle my undivided attention. One such time we talked for several hours. My husband had taken the children away for the day and I was supposed to be getting ready for a garage sale. I noticed that my uncle was signed onto Facebook;  I chose to start chatting. I didn’t end up getting very much done. In fact, we talked for so long that Facebook informed me that I was close to exceeding my chat limit. I didn’t even know that was a thing! Not more than a couple minutes after I told Uncle Rick that Facebook was cutting us off, the phone rang. It was him. We talked for a couple of more hours. We laughed on more than one occasion about how we were too long winded for Facebook.

Uncle Rick taught me many things. He knew how much I enjoyed my children and that I loved doing special things with them. He was constantly giving me ideas about new things I could do with them. He was at fault for more than one mess made.

One day I was looking for something to do with the kids, a project or a craft of some sort. I could almost see the grin on his face when he said, “How about making something from paper maché?” We ended up making a bowl to hold candy at Christmas. Doing paper maché with a three and four year old was quite an adventure. There was flour paste and pieces of newspaper stuck all over my kitchen, and I could almost see the sparkle in Uncle Rick’s eye as I told him about the mess. Uncle Rick also taught me how to grow beans in a jar and make several kinds of Christmas ornaments.

Talent was something that I found out Uncle Rick did not run short on. His woodwork was gorgeous. He sent me pictures of some of the things he made. I remember in particular a desk he made for his grandson. It was unique, painted in bright colors, and perfect for a little boy who liked to be creative. Many of our conversations included what project he was working on. He was also quite the handyman. He was especially good with electrical work. I remember talking to him about some work he was doing on electric eyes for some trains he had. I asked him several questions about work that needed to be done in my own house and he always had an answer, and the right one at that. Uncle Rick could fix anything on a car, too. He often gave me advice on mine and once even saved me some money when a dishonest mechanic was going to charge me to fix something that was not actually broken. He enjoyed working on the restoration of an old Bonneville.

Though his ideas and talents never ceased to amaze me, I was most impressed by my uncle’s warm and caring heart. Uncle Rick loved his wife, Nancy, so much. He wanted nothing more than to be her hero. He had three children of his own, Richard, Laura, and Nicholas, as well as three step-children. The average person would just know that he had six children. His step-daughters were no less his children than his own were. He adored all of them and talked about his pride in them often. He also had five grandchildren that he couldn’t get enough of. He spent a lot of time bragging about them. He loved me too. He always made sure that he told me. He also talked about how much he looked forward to our chats.

During one chat I told him that we were missing out on camping. A lot of our equipment had been ruined earlier in the summer. We couldn’t afford to buy anything new. At the last minute someone offered their camper to us, but not having planned ahead, we didn’t have enough money to buy food for the weekend or pay the campsite fee. My uncle loved to camp and would not let us miss out on a fun weekend as a family. He sent me a check to cover the weekend. I was so grateful, and was even more so when I learned how little money he had. It was truly a sacrifice that I will always remember and appreciate.

Many times the tone of our conversing was light hearted. We talked about everyday things. We told jokes. We complained about the little annoyances of life. There were several other conversations, however, that were much more serious. You see, at the time I started reconnecting with Uncle Rick, he had lung cancer. He thought about different things than many people think about on a day to day basis. He thought about death. He worried about leaving his family with nothing. He was scared of the pain that he knew would come near the end of his life. He also had many questions about what happened after death. Would there just be nothingness? If there was a heaven would his family be there? There certainly was a God; creation proved it, but was He a personal God? How did one secure a seat in Heaven if it was a real place?

Discussing the answers to these questions, and more, became a regular part of our online chats. I had decided when we first found each other on Facebook that he would be my project. I was bound and determined to lead my uncle to Christ. I would not let him leave this earth without knowing Jesus Christ as his personal savior, with the assurance of a life in Heaven with Him. During our early conversations I realized that Uncle Rick knew some of the basics of Christianity. With this in mind, I thought that the decision to follow Christ would come quite quickly. I figured that he would make his peace with God and I would go about my business. The decision didn’t come right away though. Instead, I was caught off guard when my uncle became more than my project. He became someone that I deeply loved. This made the issue more urgent, but also gave me more grace in answering his questions.

Uncle Rick had some background with the Bible. He even quoted verses to me on occasion. Unfortunately, he didn’t know if it was truly the word of God. Without this conviction it was hard to move forward to Christ’s atonement for his sin. Some of his reservations about the Bible were about translating. I was able to talk to him thoroughly about the accuracy proved by the hundreds of eyewitnesses. When he expressed interest in learning more I sent him a book by Lee Strobel that gave historic and scientific evidence for both the Bible, and even more specifically, Jesus. I only visited my uncle a few times. Once when I was there I saw the book sitting on a table with a bookmark holding a place nearly a third of the way through. I was so encouraged that he was reading it, knowing it would bring him one step closer to that decision I so badly wanted him to make.

Eventually the questions about the validity of the Bible stopped. We moved toward the more personal issues. My uncle admitted that he believed that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. The problem came with him accepting the forgiveness offered to him. He just didn’t understand. Uncle Rick told me several times that I was going into the right profession, ministry, because I had the ability to turn the simplest things into spiritual illustrations. I’m not sure this comes naturally to me. I am more convinced that the Holy Spirit gives me the exact words to say. The great love I had for my uncle and my passion to lead him to Christ prompted me to listen to the Holy Spirit and to speak, or type, the words He had given me. I recall one such conversation very clearly.

“Did you like those chocolate chip cookies that I made for you”? There was no question in my mind about the answer to that question. My uncle definitely had a sweet tooth.

“Of course. They were delicious. They’re already gone.” I was right, he couldn’t deny liking them.

“Did I have to make those cookies or did I have a choice? I had a choice. Nothing was making me bake them. I did it because I love you and wanted to give you a gift. Did you have to accept my gift?”

“Well, yeah, I had to. I would never pass up cookies.”

“Nope, you’re wrong. As much as you like cookies you didn’t actually have to take them. You could have thrown them right back at me and said you didn’t want them, an unlikely possibility, but a possibility nonetheless.”

“Okay…” I could tell he wondered just where I was going with this crazy cookie illustration.

“It’s the same way with forgiveness. Jesus loves you. He chose to die for you, to take away your sins. He wants to forgive you just like I wanted to bake you those cookies. Now it’s your choice to either accept that gift of forgiveness or to walk away from it.” He finally understood, but still wasn’t ready to accept the gift of salvation.

About a month after comparing chocolate chip cookies to forgiveness and salvation came a day I will never forget. My uncle and I were chatting like we had so many times before. The conversation started out light-hearted, but soon turned to more important matters. He knew that there was not much hope left for his cancer to be slowed down or cured. We talked about his fear of dying. I understood his fear of the pain, but wanted to make sure he had no fears about what would happen once he died, that he knew he would go to Heaven for eternity. I, like I had before, told him about Jesus’ sacrifice for his sins and his free offer of forgiveness. This time my uncle was ready. I led him in the prayer of salvation right over Facebook.

I am by no means a dancer. I rarely feel inclined to do a jig, but it seemed that since the angels were celebrating in Heaven over a lost soul found, that I should do something, too. I did a happy dance. All the while, the muffins I was making for dinner were burning in the oven. Those were the best burnt muffins I’ve ever had though, because they were burnt while my uncle made the most important decision of his life. He chose to become a follower of Christ.

On January 23, 2010, I got the phone call that I was dreading. My uncle had passed away. I had experienced death before, but this was the first time I had truly experienced loss. While I miss Uncle Rick more than words can express, I am forever grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins and the decision my uncle made to accept that. He didn’t die. He just went home and I’ll see him again someday, and in the light of eternity, that someday will be very soon.

Identity Theft

identity theft

Today, my daughter and I visited the Michigan Holocaust Museum.  Brianna developed a love for history at an early age and a passion for social justice was not far behind.  She has often led the way for our family to participate in things that will improve the lives of those who do not have the ability to do that for themselves.  So, it would make sense that the Holocaust would be both interesting and heart wrenching for her.  This was confirmed earlier in the year when she and I read Corrie Ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place” together.  I wanted to follow up that experience with a meaningful field trip.  Sure enough, the results were the same, a strong drive to take it all in, but tension building until her neck and shoulders hurt as she experienced the emotions that were conjured up by real images of the things she has only read about thus far.

I do not think either Brianna or I will soon forget the stories we heard, the images we saw, but what most impacted me were a few words I heard over and over, “They took their identity.”  We were expecting to go through the museum alone, but when we arrived there was a tour that had just begun and so we joined the group, benefiting from the knowledge and explanation of our guide.  She emphasized the ways individual identity was stolen from the Jews.  All German Jews were given the same middle name, Israel for males and Sarah for females, stripping them of something that identified them as an individual.  That was early on.  Then of course, there was the treatment in the camps and ghettos, possessions taken away that personalized people, clothing replaced with uniforms that were more like a thin pair of pajamas that matched everyone else.  Their hair was shaved, men and women alike.  No longer could you see unique features of people, the color or texture of their hair.   They were never referred to by name, but by a number issued them and tattooed on their arm. In death, measures were taken to not make execution too personal, nothing that required the Nazis to look into the faces of the Jews. “Their identity was taken.” The guide explained why this was so intentional.  Two things happened with the stripping of identity.  First, it made it easier for the enemy to do the job, to annihilate a whole people group because as identity was taken they no longer saw humans.  Second, as the Jews stopped seeing their own identity, their own humanness, their will to fight diminished.  What an amazing, in the worst sense of the word, tactic of the enemy!

As these things rolled around in my head throughout the day, as I continued to hear those words, “They took their identity,” and understood what happened as a result, I began to think of another enemy that does the very same thing.  As children of God, His through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have an awesome identity.

We are accepted in Christ!

  • John 1:12             God’s children
  • John 15:15           Christ’s friends
  • Romans 5:1         Justified
  • ! Cor. 6:17            United with the Lord and one with Him in spirit
  • 1 Cor 6:20            Bought with a price, belonging to God
  • 1 Cor 12:27          Members of Christ’s body
  • Ephesians 1:1     Saints
  • Ephesians 1:5     Adopted as God’s children
  • Ephesians 2:18  Have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit
  • Colossians 1:14  Redeemed and forgiven of all our sins
  • Colossians 2:10  Complete in Christ

We are secure in Christ!

  • Romans 8:1-2     Free forever from condemnation
  • Romans 8:28      Assured that all things work together for good
  • Rom 8:33-34       Free from any condemning charges against us
  • Romans 8:35      Unable to  be separated from the love of God
  • 2 Cor 1:21            Established, anointed, and sealed by God
  • Colossians  3:3    Hidden with Christ in God
  • Philippians 1:6   Confident that the good work God has begun in us will be perfected
  • Phil 3:20               Citizens of heaven
  • 2 Timothy 1:7     Not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind
  • Hebrews 4:16    Able to find grace and mercy in time of need
  • 1 John 5:18          Born of God and the evil one cannot touch us

We are significant in Christ!

  • Matt 5:13-14       The salt and light of the earth
  • John 15:1,5         Branches of the true vine, channels of His life
  • John 15:16           Chosen and appointed to bear fruit
  • Acts 1:8                 Personal witnesses of Christ’s
  • 1 Cor 3:16            God’s temple
  • 2 Cor 5:17-20      Ministers of reconciliation
  • 2 Cor 6:1               God’s co-workers
  • Ephesians 2:6     Seated with Christ in the heavenly realm
  • Ephesians 2:10  God’s workmanship
  • Ephesians 3:12  Able to approach God with freedom and confidence
  • Philippians 4:13 Able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us

Wow!  The trouble is, we have an enemy, one that prowls around seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8) and one of his most successful ways of doing that is to take our identity.  Now, he cannot actually do that, just like the Nazis did not really take away the humanity of the Jews, but he can convince us that he has.  Life is hard, and in a world full of sin, messages get thrown our way by word or event.  People grow up in homes wrought with discouragement.  Kids are mean and words and actions fly that tear others down.  The powerful prey on the weak, violating in ways that make our stomachs turn.   Before we know it, our identities are replaced with lies.

I am unacceptable. I am worthless. I am ugly. I am stupid.  I am weak. I am shameful. I am dirty.  I am without value.  I am insignificant. I am unlovable. The list could go on until pages were filled.

Our real identities now stripped, Satan can have a field day.  Beaten and battered, abuse continues as we refuse to fight, lies solidified in our minds and hearts instead of the truth prevailing.  There is hope though.  As hard as it is to see pictures and videos of piles of emaciated bodies, those are not the only stories, there are those who survived the atrocities of Nazi occupied Europe.  It took time, but these survivors had their identities returned and the healing began.  We too can have our identities restored as we trust in God and His word, as we declare who we are instead of who we are not.   It may take time, lots of time, but it will be worth it.  On the other side is surviving.  On the other side is VICTORY!!

So, I join with the Apostle Paul in a prayer for you, for me, for those who have believed many lies, for those who have believed a few, for those who feel stripped of their identity, for those who have started the process of healing and see victory ahead, and for those who have come through victorious:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may 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 you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21).

In this love our identity is secure!

 

Tangles and Tantrums

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My daughter hates to comb her hair. A simple question every morning — “Did you brush your hair?” — elicits such response that you might think I asked her to jump off a bridge, poke her eye out with a fork, or enter a swarm of angry bees.

Some days (they are seldom, I pick my battles), when it is important that Brianna look a little better than just barely presentable (she is beautiful but some circumstances require not looking like you have just hopped out of bed, pretty as you may be first thing in the morning), I do her hair for her. Much to her chagrin, I do the necessary things to mold her hair into something attractive rather than its daily look that leaves a person wondering if she rolled through a field of burrs. I wet it down, spray it with detangler and gently move the brush through small areas until all tangles are removed and it rests smoothly and silkily on her head. Occasionally (maybe once a year), I will blow it dry and curl it or straighten it to remove any more imperfections or inconsistencies.

On these occasions when I do my daughter’s hair, I can guarantee one of two reactions and oftentimes both. One, she will move. As she jerks this way and that (and sometimes screams and cries too), or walks away from me, the process is more painful as the tugging of the brush becomes more, or the hot straightener touches her skin by accident. Not only is it more painful, it takes at least twice as long. If she would just stand still, the deed would be done in no time at all. Two, she tries to do it on her own. She is convinced she can get those tangles out as well as I can or without as much pulling. She angrily grabs the brush and goes at it with so much gusto that, like every other morning, she does not get all the way through. She is not doing anything wrong (apart from her attitude) by brushing her hair. She just cannot get it like I can. I have more experience and better perspective. After she is done, I have to take the brush and do it all over. Again, time would have been saved if she would have just trusted me to do the work I do well.

Does this sound familiar? It does to me. It sounds an awful lot like how I respond as the Lord tries to mold me.

I move. Gentle, compassionate and full of grace, Jesus comes to turn my mess into something attractive. He wants to redeem my wounds and make me a beautiful representation of Himself. While He is gently trying to do His work, I fight. Sometimes I might even scream and cry. I argue. I say “but” a lot and hold onto the lies that have become such a part of me. Instead of staying close, I move away. The process of becoming like Jesus hurts more and takes longer.

I take over. I think, “All right, let’s get this done. I can make myself who God wants me to be!” I pour myself into Bible study. I follow rules. I serve. The trouble is that even in all the good things I am doing, I do not see myself from Jesus’ perfect perspective. I do not have the experience that Jesus has at cleaning up hearts and making people holy. I can do some good things, but I am going to miss some spots and Jesus ultimately is going to have to come in and do it over.

I don’t want to be the little girl fighting the brush or trying to do it myself when I cannot do it well. I want to be surrendered to the One who can take my tangles and turn them into a testimony, who can take my snarls and sanctify me, who can change the reflection in the mirror from a mess into a message of love and grace as I look more and more like Him.

In the middle of a hair-inspired meltdown, I often tell Brianna that it would not be so bad if we did this every day, if she took more care or let me take more care regularly. The tangles would not build up over time, but just be those formed by a night of sleep. In the same way, letting Jesus take the proverbial brush in our lives is not just a onetime deal. There is a first-time (big-time) salvation where He does quite a job with us, forgiving our sins and making us new by His shed blood, but we must also be available for regular maintenance. We need to give Him the brush daily. Sometimes without warning we fall into old habits, moving away and fighting or trying to do it all on our own. In those times, do not give up hope. Do not succumb to the feelings of failure. Do not assume the tangles are back to stay. Give back the brush. He is faithful, and His mercies are new.

This article can also be found published online at fmcusa.org/lightandlifemag/tangles-and-tantrums/