Change of Plans


When I got married the second time around, I had a job. I rather liked it. It required definite use of brain cells. Being a mom, much of the job is menial, tedious, mind-numbing work. It doesn’t take a genius to wash clothes and wipe booties.

Well, six months later I was laid off. A second baby was well on the way. Did I ever picture that as my life? Of course not! I had big dreams, like most people. As a teenager, I read The Lost City.  Never again did I want to be an ordinary journalist. I wanted to some day work at a foreign news desk. For The Washington Post!  I never made it out of middle-sized small town papers. Thank God. I would have sucked at being a reporter at a bigger place. I just wasn’t meant to do it, I guess.

So not one of those big dreams came true. Because it’s just not what my life is supposed to be, and you know what? I’m ok with that. Because my big dreams are different now. Maybe not as exciting in the world’s eyes, but they’re pretty major to me.

I’m reading Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer. Today’s quote that sent me hurrying to blog is this: “If we don’t prepare to modify our plans, we will end up more and frustrated and overwhelmed.”

As women who marry and intend to – one day – have children, inevitably, we are surprised when they come. We aren’t just “not ready” – we don’t always want one right then. We have jobs. A social life. Spontaneity. And then we rearrange our lives for a period of time – forever or just six weeks or so – and change course. That’s our new direction.

Maybe we want a second child – in theory. I did. Guess what day I decided maybe I didn’t? Yep. The same day I found out I was pregnant with said second child. I am not kidding. It was probably an hour before I took the pregnancy test.

Wowza. Change course again. New life begins. Life gets more complicated.

I admit I have been adrift for years. It’s very unpleasant. It’s only been about six months since things really began to look up. Prior to that, I did not know what the plan was, so I kept doing what I was doing. Being a wife and mom. A writer. A nose-wiper. A daughter, friend, and neighbor.

It isn’t that now I see some deep plan unfolding in a vision. It’s an energy I feel. I know something different is on the way!

If your life is stuck, pray. If your life is moving forward and you aren’t sure exactly where God is taking it, pray! He might not reveal all just yet. But Shirer is right – you don’t want to be frustrated and overwhelmed when you suddenly wake up and realize your entire life plan has changed and you somehow forgot!

Jesus & The Samaritan Dogs


Many of you are familiar with the story of The Good Samaritan. You can read it here. What you might not know is that to the Jews of Jesus’ day, they considered Samaritans dogs. This takes on new meaning with more than simply the Good Samaritan character.

It is my opinion that Jesus was looked down upon by some of His own followers for stopping to talk and share the Gospel with The Woman at the WellAt the very least, it was considered terribly odd that He chose her.

The point is, considering how much Jews hated Samaritans, the choice of two important parables containing Samaritan heroes was an interesting one for Jesus. He certainly wanted his audience to pay attention.

If He were to come back at this moment – when you’re reading this blog – and two Muslim men were with Him, and He used them as heroes in two stories – well, you get the drift.

The thing is, the heroes of these stories – regardless of racial and geographical background – did wonderful things. In fact, in the story of The Good Samaritan, he surpassed a church elder and a priest in how he helped the poor soul beaten by robbers and left for dead.

Can you picture your pastor? And your favorite deacon or church leader? Now imagine one of those Muslim men walking by this beaten man, after your pastor and church leader left him for dead, and stopping to lend a hand?

Jesus wanted to make sure that the Jews knew He did not discriminate, and He did so by using their enemy in these two parables. They viewed Samaritans as only good enough to eat the scraps left by their feet at table.

Who do we leave sitting by the side of the road, so to speak, in our lives?

  1. Our husbands and children when we’re mad at them?
  2. Our boss when he/she treats us poorly?
  3. Our parents, when we’ve had all we can take, despite our caretaking of them in the aging process?
  4. Our friends, when they disagree out of love and care?
  5. GOD, when He doesn’t do what we want Him to?

The list includes some excellent scenarios, but maybe you have your own that you’re struggling with. Well, what did Jesus tell us to do?

Not only does our neighbor – anyone we come in contact with – need our help, but so do the rest of the people in our lives. Those pesky-people. Those who want more than we can give. What is the answer here? To erect boundaries that are healthy, or to cut those people dead when we see them so they never speak to us again?

What is the answer to the family members that plague us from time to time? To shut down, withdraw, and nurse hurt and anger? Or to pray and press on? Y’all, it doesn’t get more simple than that. Complicating it is just a way out of doing what we need to do.

 

How To Follow Romans & Renew Your Mind


There’s this wonderful verse in Romans 12. It says, “Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.” (v. 2, THE VOICE version from BibleGateway.com).

The wording inspires me. To be transformed – well, we women know transforming ourselves is an innate quality. We desire it before we become Christians. We are born knowing change is part of our makeup.

To renew my mind – wow – if you’ve never felt it going a million miles an hour, you won’t get it. If you don’t desperately want your mind to be “normal” then this might not jump out a you.

To be good, pleasing, and complete – for God – how beautiful!

Yes, wonderful. But the more I try to change my mind – to renew and – oh yeah! – be TRANSFORMED into that good, pleasing, and complete person? The more I fail. Epic fail. Eternal fail. Stick-a-fork-in-my-eye fail.

Thank you Jesus for Matthew Henry’s Commentary! (Also found on BibleGateway.com). Here’s what it has to say on this verse:

” The mind must be renewed for him. This is pressed (Rom. 12:2): “Be you transformed by the renewing of your mind; see to it that there be a saving change wrought in you, and that it be carried on.” Conversion and sanctification are the renewing of the mind, a change not of the substance, but of the qualities of the soul. It is the same with making a new heart and a new spirit—new dispositions and inclinations, new sympathies and antipathies; the understanding enlightened, the conscience softened, the thoughts rectified; the will bowed to the will of God, and the affections made spiritual and heavenly: so that the man is not what he was—old things are passed away, all things are become new; he acts from new principles, by new rules, with new designs. The mind is the acting ruling part of us; so that the renewing of the mind is the renewing of the whole man, for out of it are the issues of life, Prov. 4:23.”

What I believe Matthew Henry meant – and what God means – is that transformation and renewal are not acts WE complete. They are done by the Spirit, y’all! What a huge relief. Sure, my behavior has to change – and it has, over time. But sanctification can ONLY be done by God, so I can relinquish control here.

The commentary goes on to say: “What is the great enemy to this renewing, which we must avoid; and that is, conformity to this world: Be not conformed to this world. All the disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus must be nonconformists to this world. Me syschematizestheDo not fashion yourselves according to the world. We must not conform to the things of the world; they are mutable, and the fashion of them is passing away.”

Y’all, this is GOOD NEWS! This is amazing! When we just decide that enough is enough – what we’re doing isn’t working – and we give the control of betterment to the only One who can actually do it right – we are refreshed, renewed, and transformed! And while that last commentary reference might sound a little – ah – boring – it’s really not. The things of this world will become things – and I swear it because I’ve felt it – we don’t want after all. They will seem trivial and trite and petty and uninteresting.

Blessings today, y’all.

 

 

 

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!

Sarcasm = Anger?


As I was scrolling through Facebook a few days ago, a thought hit me: the people in my newsfeed employ sarcasm on a regular basis. Usually I find it funny, but lately I’ve been offended. Sometime I even agree with what’s said, but I don’t think it’s the right “place” to say it.

We’re sarcastic about politics, religion, how people treat us, how people treat our perfect little angels, how much we love our jobs – the list is endless. But sarcasm is just another way to express anger, and therefore I propound a theory: we express anger through sarcasm – a lot. Being a rather sarcastic person myself, I feel authorized to propose this theory. I know when I use sarcasm, although I prefer to think of it as “biting wit,” I am definitely angry or frustrated. But where does all this anger come from? For me, personally – well, that’s none of your beeswax, if you please! But it comes from somewhere. And  I am not the only one going about my day feeding caustic statements into the minds of others.

You know what else? It’s not attractive at all when it’s made in poor taste, at an inappropriate time, and to the wrong audience. Unfortunately, when sarcasm is used it’s usually done so with all three of those parameters in place. I mean, are we really “friends” with all our friends on Facebook, for example? No! They’re mostly acquaintances. Most of them may know me my whole life, but knowing what someone was like in grade school and who they grew up two be are often to totally different things.

I shouldn’t bash Facebook so much; if I’m seeing it all over my newsfeed I am positive the people using it are doing so at work as well. Not everyone at work is your friend; many of them will find it immature and obnoxious, not to mention unprofessional.

One of my idols growing up was Julia Sugarbaker. She was amazing. Smart, successful, beautiful, and just one of those women who champions the underdog, even when it’s her shallow and slightly stupid sister. The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, anyone? Dadgum. Now that is an appropriate use of sarcasm! If you listened to that video, you would hear no curse words; you would hear no threats to poor Marjorie, no epithets on her intelligence or opinions. But Julia put her in her place, and rightly so.

Yes, Julia was the best at employing wit and sarcasm to get her point across. Those of you raised on Designing Women would know that she did it often, and it was more than entertaining; it made you stop and think. About race; about culture; about family; about loyalty; about them damn Yankees. Ah. I miss you so, dear Mrs.  Sugarbaker. But if you were a racist white person, a human being unfortunate enough to be raised above the Mason Dixon, or just a plain old uppity you-know-what…you would find her sarcasm offensive and I wouldn’t blame you. Designing Women wasn’t written for Yankees! They knew who their audience was.

Why don’t we just stop being so sarcastic to begin with? Why don’t we try to listen more and talk less, to be kinder even when we don’t feel like it, to stop automatically assuming we are so much smarter than everyone else, and to think before we speak?

Life in Mayberry: The Slow Lane


Technology was supposed to be the answer. Computers and cell phones were designed to save time and cut labor costs. I’m reminded of an episode of Lark Rise to Candleford when an invention was created to cut the time and manual labor of men in the fields. The residents of Lark Rise and Candleford had mixed emotions. On the one hand, it was amazing and efficient. Yet, it would cost countless jobs of poor men who had no other skills and no way to earn them.

All the things that man has made to save time or money, such as cars or computers or plastic – have done their jobs, but in return we get pollution, non-biodegradable landfill fillers, and people sitting in a chair staring at a screen that hurts their eyes, keeps them from sleeping because they’re all over our homes, and the use of the mouse causes carpel tunnel. There are consequences to everything.

I heard a sermon Sunday about hurrying up in this fast-paced world, and how technology has created more hurry, not less. How many times have you been stuck waiting somewhere and have been madly typing a Facebook update when something malfunctioned for a moment on your smartphone and you went absolutely berserk? The same is true during your day at the office. E-mails have replaced lovely letters. No one north of the Mason-Dixon cares much about thank-y0u notes, and even this time-honored Southern tradition is fading. I’ve actually been told not to write these notes.  Why? Because we don’t want to take the time to read them, or because the reader assumes we don’t want to take the time to write them? Since when did expressing thanks take up too much of our time?

According to Dr. Mike Long, head pastor at RUMC, here is what hurrying up in a hurry-up world has done to us:

  • We don’t see clearly. Our days are full of things that are really not that important, but even if we are doing godly work, we don’t even pay true attention to it.
  • We don’t listen carefully. That’s for you people out there who carry your cell phones to the dinner table. We can’t even eat, much less listen to those around us. Whether it’s status updates, e-mails, or television, we don’t take the time to listen to others.
  • We don’t think deeply. We don’t reflect. For some reason, we assume that we don’t have time to do it. Here’s my thought on this, not Dr. Mike’s: it’s not that we don’t have the time. It’s that our priorities are totally out of whack. I hate it when Christians say that we can even learn about the word of God in just a few minutes. Just read one chapter a day! When we were in college, did we just study and read for a few minutes a day, expecting to get a reward for that? Then why do we relegate the word of God to a few minutes a day or only on Sundays? Isn’t the Word much more important than anything else? This principle of thinking deeply applies to other areas of our lives, as well. We need to think more deeply about the people and situations going on around us, and not lead shallow lives.
  • We don’t take time to celebrate! We don’t savor life fully and take time for fun, laughter, and friends.

What is the solution to all this hurrying up? It’s amazing how we think this fast-paced stuff is only part of the world we know, but even back in the day,  God knew He needed to give us an out. As a matter of fact, read your Genesis. God Himself needed an out! That’s what the Sabbath was for! As Dr. Mike told us, it’s there for us to use to recharge and renew ourselves. I love those words. They sound so peaceful to me, but they may be energizing to you. We also need the Sabbath to worship! We Christians have moved it to Sundays, but all that matters is that you pick a day where you do no work (try minimal at first!) and rest in the arms of the Lord. It sounds divine to me! It will likely take some practice and work for those of you who are thinking, “I would go BONKERS!”

 

The Sabbath gives us rhythm. If I don’t go to church on Sunday, I feel off at the start of my week. Worship gives me a very comforting sense of peace. If I don’t do my quiet time with God every day, I feel off as well. My rhythm is gone. It’s important, also, to remember that we may think we are indispensable, but we are not! We try so super hard to do that at work. We do not want to lose our jobs. We try that as mothers and wives. But the truth is, the world will keep turning for most people on this Earth if we are down for the count. Remember that we are allowed to rest, and that if we do not, we are not performing at peak capacity.

What does the Sabbath look like? Is it sitting in a corner reading a book all day? Sure. For you. For someone else it could mowing the yard, taking a walk, singing, a trip. What relaxes and refreshes one person does not work for another, so you need to make sure your motives for doing whatever it is are purely about Sabbath rest. Spend your day in reflection. You may have already set goals and resolutions for the year, Dr. Mike said. But will they add to your hurry or take it away? Adam Hamilton said, and I’m paraphrasing, that we should look for one or two things to stop doing to get out of hurrying up.

Find something that energizes you. That excites you about your walk with Christ. You will have to work at it. Anything that becomes a habit takes a conscientious  decision and work. But oh, how God will bless that day! When you make Sabbath a habit, it becomes more than restful and restorative – it becomes holy!

When Running from the Rules is a Bad Idea


We all love stories of inspiration. Despite the bad news we see every day, there is at least one story of amazing resourcefulness on just about any morning television show. Bev Kearney, coach at the University of Texas, was a great inspiration to many. She isn’t anymore.

Apparently, she suffered a horrific car crash that left her paralyzed and unable to walk. She later made it into the Hall of Fame. And, due to an inappropriate affair with a former student, she is being asked to leave the school.

The salacious details (of which there are none in the linked article) don’t interest me. What interests me is the lengths we will go to in order to protect the sins or mistakes of those we love. Kearney was a great coach, and a strong person to have survived and then thrived after her troubles. Some would say she deserves to catch a break for this one. And it’s easy to see why.

Why is it that we make excuses or flat-out deny the wrongdoings of those we love? I think it’s because there are some things that only we know; these are the things that we have done, said, or thought about, and no one else in the whole words knows about it. We feel shame and guilt over these things, and so when someone we love or admire does something awful, we tend to shift the blame and responsibility off that person.

Kearney shouldn’t be given a free pass because she caught some tough breaks. In fact, the tough breaks should have made her even more thankful for what she had before she ruined it with someone she’s not even with anymore. But that isn’t how we work, is it? Whether it’s our spouse, our parent, our friend, or our kid, we tend to excuse, at least publicly, the foibles of others.

What is the harm in that? Well, we learn just about everything outside the classroom by example. I applaud the university for publicly stating and recognizing how wonderful a coach she was, because this mistake does not entirely define her or her career. But it does define who she is, in part, and it definitely defines how the school handles those who break the rules.

And before you go sympathizing too much with her, because it would be easy, let’s all think back to revered coach Paterno. His tendency to overlook sins created problems that generations of families will have to deal with.

What is the right way to handle a situation in which someone we love has made a terrible mistake? Well, who says we can’t treat that person with the same love we always have? Even if we were hurt by what the person said or did, eventually that passes, and we tend to forgive. That is exactly what we should do. But how do we cope with the immediate problem, which is handling what was said or done the way God would want us to? The answer isn’t anything that will make you jump out of your chair in surprise as you read this. You already know. Stop making excuses for the people in your life who do the wrong thing and either don’t take accountability for it, or don’t take responsibility for it with you.