Opening Your Heart Through Time

Years ago I spent a season of my life riding the train and bus to work and came to a realization: people, for some reason, feel very comfortable telling me (a perfect stranger) their life stories. I thought it was strange and that I was totally weird – that there was something about me that prompted them to unburden themselves.

Why would that make me weird? Truth is, I thought that they felt comfortable invading my personal space because I was uncool like they were. But that was stupid, because it wasn’t like the unemployed single mom probably on drugs was the only type of person to approach me, and it wasn’t just on my way to work; it happened at the bank, the grocery store, on the street! People I didn’t know well at work – any time, anywhere.

To many, it would probably be flattering. But here’s the disconnect – when other people unload on me, I then become responsible for fixing and/or seeing them through their troubles. So here are all these people I will never meet again, placing their problems on my heart, and there is nothing I can do but listen and offer advice on the spot! It made me feel absolutely horrible and emotionally drained.

The reason that I feel irrational and unnecessary responsibility for other people (who have nothing to do with me) and their problems? A story for another day, perhaps. But being available to  others is always a timely subject. I know now that for that season in my life, God didn’t need me to be in the lives of those people day in and day out – He needed me to just be open with my heart to them. I was reminded of what a blessing it was through Pastor Susan’s post about the same topic.

Whether it’s a long-time friend or someone you just met and will never see again, open your heart, your mind, and your time and let that person have a bit of it. We all face things that we just can’t figure out on our own. I would urge you, however, to turn to the Word during these conversations, and to nudge the other person there as well. As many good answers I was able to provide through experience, none of them work without the Lord.


Living a Holy Life – in the Real World

So, you tried this Christian, thing, and it didn’t work out? You couldn’t give up partying, or living with your girlfriend, or a thousand little “unethical” things you might do every day, or facing an unforgiving church with that big ole chip on your shoulder? If you feel that way, welcome to the club I was a member of for about two decades! I attended church, but I did not “fit in” in my opinion.

Charles Spurgeon said, “We can never be happy, restful, or spiritually healthy till we become holy.”

Huh. Maybe, like me, you wonder: how can I be holy when I just can’t stop doing [insert sins here?]

I was saved when I was nine years old, and not because a sibling or friend did it, or because I would finally get to partake in the Lord’s Supper (also called communion). I was saved because God literally pulled me down that aisle. So, as you can imagine, I had not a clue what being a Christian is all about. I was really happy for a little while, and then things went back to normal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rededicated my life to Him. Not that it’s a bad idea, and not that I won’t ever do it again – it’s just that there were no lasting results.

I never felt pure or holy. Therefore, I felt like God’s love wasn’t for me. That I was the one exception to His rule of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and boundless love. What a flippin’ idiot I was.

Charles Spurgeon also said, “The old nature is very strong, and they have tried to curb and tame it; but it will not be subdued, and they find themselves, though anxious to be better, if anything growing worse than before.”

Amen, Mr. Spurgeon! A Southern lady is taught to be gentle, well-dressed, and well-spoken, with a quiet demeanor –  especially in front of her man and other men. A Southern lady, by those definitions, I will pretty much never be unless God gives me some sort of personality lobotomy.

So, I tried to be quiet. Which, for me, meant literally not talking. That was the only way, I could see, that I wouldn’t put my over-opinionated, too-passionate big foot in my big fat mouth. And guess what happened? I got so stinkin angry! It wasn’t in my God-given nature to sit quietly and not contribute to the conversations around me.

Should I become more gentle and less mouthy? Sure! Hey, I want that as well. But I am not meant to be a Melanie. I’m more like Scarlett, unfortunately. (That’s a Gone with the Wind reference for all you non-Southerners).

And then, one day, God turned the tables on my whining and said to me, “Well? So what if you are too much like Scarlett? That’s how you’ve survived to this point in your life! And besides, Scarlett got things done!”

Huh. Point taken Mr. Big Man!

So that leads me to: what happens now? Charles Spurgeon, bless him, has an answer for that! “Justification without sanctification would be no salvation at all.” I believe the Bible describes sanctification as separation from sin. But, I gave my heart and soul to Christ, and yet I’m a big ole sinner! So what does that mean about my salvation? That it didn’t count?

I’ve heard lots of people say they don’t want to go to church because they don’t want to be judged. What a big, fat, whopping load of bull shiznit that is! You don’t want to go because you fear the conviction of God which you’ve already experienced, and it made you feel bad about yourself! Well, that’s kinda the point – conviction is meant to stir you to confession and repentance, where you then drop guilt and shame over your sinful life.

Why is it a newsflash that churches are full of sinful people? It was for me. It happened about three years ago, maybe, when I realized the other couples in our small-group didn’t have perfect marriages either, and I wasn’t the only wife who felt frustrated and sad and lonely and angry! Or that my husband wasn’t the only one who didn’t completely, at all times, in all situations, adore his perfect wife!

Life is strange, it moves too fast or too slow, and it sometimes just does not make sense. I always say that Christ doesn’t promise us a perfect life; He promises us a perfect life in Him. That doesn’t mean that once you give your heart to Him, all your problems would diminish and eventually disappear; instead, it means that He will help you through them.

Some more Spurgeon: “The Lord knows right well that you cannot change your own heart, and cannot cleanse your own nature.” Figured that out already, did you? Lost hope and faith, did you? Well, keep that chin up and get right with the Lord again! “But He also knows He can do both. It is well worthy of consideration that when the Lord takes away the stony heart, that deed is done; and when that deed is done, no known power can ever take away that new heart which He gives, and that right spirit which He puts within us.”

So, what does that really mean? It means that what seems impossible is true: I’ve had a pure heart since I was nine years old, even when my faith was hanging by a thread, when I had turned away from the Lord – no matter how far I roamed, that pure, holy, clean heart was still beating, though its sound was faint. That means that yours is too, if you have accepted Christ into your heart and life.

What is faith, anyway, but the belief in something we cannot see? That doesn’t just apply to Christ; that applies to what we can’t see in our own lives! I can’t see much Melanie but I can sure see plenty of Scarlett. I can’t see much patience, but I can sure see a lot of selfishness. Does that mean I will never become the godly woman God wants me to be? No! It means I’m just not her yet. That’s all. You’re not who you’re meant to be yet, either. But Christians, of all people in the world, can’t be quitters. Yet another reason to be thankful for my Scarlett-esque tendencies: that woman was built on stubborn determination, and if ever there was a time for that, it is now!

But I Didn’t Hear the Call of Parenting!

Little girls play wedding with their Barbie dolls, and as they grow up, for many of them, that desire becomes real. And if those dreams are finalized, a new wish is planted deep within their souls – the yearning for a child to complete the picture. Boys, on the other hand, do not dream of one day changing diapers or picking out blue or pink clothes. But as men, the need to spread their humanity to future generations is encouraged by the joy they feel when told they are pregnant.

But what about the rest of the world? What about those who never touched Barbie dolls or felt the need to permanently couple before the eyes of God and man, and then to further complicate their lives with children? For heaven’s sake, a dog or cat are hard enough to deal with!

What about those of you who feel so totally inept at parenthood to even consider having children, married or not? These are the three types of possible parents born every day into this world, who grow up to be adults from a myriad of backgrounds, socioeconomic families, Christian or not.

Even for those people who never wanted kids, finding out they are going to have one turns out to be pure satisfaction – in most cases I would say. I believe this. A child has a disarming factor that you can’t understand until you hold the one you birthed or created.

I’m sure that’s how Eli felt when he first set his eyes upon Hophni and Phinehas, his two sons who grew to be Levitical priests like himself. And then he realized something about his children that should have (and maybe even did) stopped him in his tracks: they were inciting anger in the Lord by the sins they committed against His people.

Can you relate to this? Are you so different from Eli?

*You berate your child’s teacher for punishing him or her despite knowing your child deserved it.

*You spend money you don’t have, on things you don’t need, to make sure your child is keeping up with the Joneses.

*You know you don’t discipline your children when they need it but you can’t stand to “hurt” them by erecting boundaries and enacting appropriate punishment.

*You would rather enjoy the church service than deal with a bored child causing disruption, and having to teach that child to sit still and be quiet during the sermon.

*You want your home to be neat and tidy and don’t want to spend the time it would take teaching your children to clean it, because you know they won’t do it right until they are taught to, over and over – ad nauseum.

These are just a few common problems parents face. Maybe you don’t take your kids to church, although you believe, because you spend the week and weekends carting them around and working and come Sunday, you just are too tired to face getting them ready and taking them to church.

What did God have to say about this? Tons, of course! But what I read today reminded me of my own failures at godly parenting. 1 Samuel 2: 27-36 says, in part, “Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat (emphasis mine) with the best of the offerings of Israel My people?…But now the Lord says, ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed…Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.”

So, that’s pretty clear. Now let’s get back to my original statement: what if you never had the desire for children but ended up having them anyway? What does God want you to do? He wants your daily, loving, affirming commitment to those kids. Here’s what I think happens when you give that to them: your heart is opened wide, and a love you have never known – for there is nothing that compares to the fierce love you have for your kids – is available to you. It’s that simple and that complicated.

Now what? What if you did want your kids, and you already know that powerful love? Are you still guilty of honoring your children more than God? For 99% of us, I’d say yes! Yes, I am guilty of it. I urge all us parents to get into the Word and find out what it says about godly parenting. This is not a comprehensive list, but it’ll get you started! One of my pastors also recommended 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid: Leading Your Kids to Succeed in Life by Tim Elmore. I haven’t tried it yet but it’s on my list!

The Chariot of Victory

Streams in the Desert has been a God-send in my life. I would like to quote a passage from today’s lesson, which is incredibly timely, this, the day before Easter:

“This is the prayer we need to pray for ourselves and one another: Lord, open our eyes so we may see. We are surrounded, just like the prophet Elisha was, by God’s horses and chariots of fire…[E]ven the smallest trial may become an object crushing everything in its path into misery and despair if we allow it. The difference then becomes a choice we make. It all depends not on the events themselves but on how we view them.”

If, today, you are in the right frame of mind – the place – to hear these words; to let these words speak to your heart and your very soul – then they convey a powerful message. It’s a two-pronged offense.

1. We are surrounded by God’s horses and chariots of fire! Forget a sleeping, peaceful angel – we are surrounded by power. There isn’t a sniper in the world who can compare to God’s protection. Even former Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown can’t provide the victory in the place of Christ. Imagine what Satan thinks and feels when he sees a godly person stand his or her ground, surrounded by God’s vengeful horses and chariots blazing.

It’s comforting and peaceful to think lovely thoughts about God. But we don’t need that facet of God when we are facing down Satan; facing down circumstances that threaten to plunge us into deep despair. We need a vengeful, avenging God, and we have it at our disposal every moment.

2. We have a choice. When we can only hit our knees in prayer, we have a choice in how things go forward. The baby we didn’t believe we were prepared to have until we lost it; the wife we took for granted until she left; the husband who was unfaithful and isn’t repentant; the child who broke our heart when she became addicted to drugs in high school; the job we lived for until we were fired; the loss of the parent who was our best friend; the day we can’t stand being beaten another moment; when we watched the Twin Towers fall and knew our wife was trapped inside – the possibilities are absolutely endless.

Not only that – the myriad ways they could play out are mind-blowing. I have figured out that this is one of many instances in life where the advice is simple and practically impossible to follow. At first. We have to choose to lay that baby at Christ’s feet and thank Him for it – and then for days and days and weeks and months we have to do it again and again, and thank Him for the doing of it! We have to choose to face that husband and either accept his leaving or offer forgiveness, day in and day out, for as long as it takes, and thank the Lord for His love and mercy and grace, and remember that time we were tempted to cheat on that man and didn’t – which doesn’t make us better than him – it only makes us understand how he got there in the first place. We have to choose to move forward despite the loss of our livelihood and we have to thank God for giving us the job and have hope that we will gain another just as great or better. And when money gets tight and the nightly glass of wine turns into two or three, or that lonely neighbor starts to pique your interest – in those moments, you have to choose to hit your knees, raise your eyes to heaven, rent your garments – but choose to believe in the hope of Christ.

There truly is nothing new under heaven. Human beings have been facing crises after crises just like these since the beginning of time. It doesn’t even have to be something monumental – it could just be the growing desire to do more with your life that has you down in the dumps. Maybe you’re bored with your spouse, or your job, or your friends, or your church, or just your life in general, and you know you need a change, and you feel so stuck. Maybe that just starts to eat away at you, day by day, until you have totally lost the person you once were. Little things, we know, can snowball awful quick.

It’s the choosing that’s so hard. Because it isn’t one choice – it’s choice after choice after choice, day after day after day, and no one can tell you how long you will have to do it! But if we do not choose to allow God to take us under His wing behind that blazing chariot, and consent to follow His will regardless of what our flesh is positively screaming to have or do, we have no hope.

That’s not true for you, is it? Oh no – because you have implemented control mechanisms into your life so that whenever something falls out of balance or goes sideways, you have something to hold on to. But guess what? That is the very thing God will take away from you if you persist. He will rip it painfully out of your life and leave you with nothing.

Right? Wrong! Oh, so wrong – because you will be in the position I was in, five years ago, as I knelt on the floor of my apartment with my two-year-old sleeping soundly in the next room. I was devastated. I was a single parent, didn’t have a job or way to support my child, and had never felt so alone in my entire life. I had no family there, few friends, and literally did not know what to do. So I made a choice –  to stay there on my knees until I was able to rise with hope and faith to overcome my fear.

It was in that moment that my “nothing” became something greater than I’d ever known – when that sense of nothing became a sense of purpose and peace and calm. Yes, of course – it had become God’s love and hope. That fear is still here, and I fight against it most of the time. Meaning, there are few moments in my life ever since that time when I feel at peace without having to work at it. I am married, have all I need, and have a great life. I have another beautiful child. I have a church home and have been working hard at mending some seriously dinged fences. But that fear surfaces often, and I have been hoping and believing God for a long, long time. It is a choice I make, and every time I have left that decision to choose up to chance, I have experienced extremely painful times of loneliness, despair, and anger.

Gracious, by the Lord picks me right back and up and sets me on those shaky feet! I look so forward to having no suffering, only perfect peace. Right now I have the peace that passes all understanding, and it is more than enough. Blessings to you and your loved ones this Easter season. Sunday’s coming! Be ready!