Changing Perspectives (Part 1 of 3)

A month ago, my team at work moved to a new building. The University of Washington is a sprawling, urban campus, and my old building was on the far edge with close proximity to the freeway. I’d drive in on the freeway, quickly enter my building, perhaps emerge for meetings throughout the day, and leave the same way.

My new building is simply two blocks east of where we were previously housed. Instead of being in a huge tower complex that generally blocks out the non-work sounds and “interruptions,” I’m in place that has impacted all my senses.

As I’m writing this, it’s not even 7 a.m., and yet the loud, intrusive sirens of the local firehouse have come blaring by my open window. I hear them several times a day (hearing is an understatement, as literally no other sound can be heard in my office as they pass). I hear the constant noise that being on the corner of a busy bus route brings. I know the barking dog, whose owner must leave every day about 1:50 p.m. And my student graphic designer and I laugh daily about the myriad honks of drivers irritated at others, and how some of their horns are so wimpy.Image from office window

The view is quite different than the windowless cubicle farm from which I came. I have my own office with a window that overlooks a campus museum and green space. If I stand up from my desk and move to the window,  the urban environment catches my eye. It’s a great place to watch people. More than the view from my office, I take in the view as I walk from the parking garage at my old building to my new location each day. In the mornings, I leave the tower and encounter different university personnel than I did before. One man has the lovely task of picking up garbage that others leave behind during the court of the night. There is the local deli on the corner, where the proprietor always smiles and waves at me as I pass by. And then there are realities of life that confront me. The homeless, who sleep in the covered entry way to keep out of the rain. The young people, who may or may not be university students, who stand in groups smoking pot with their hippie attire and numerous piercings. The garbage that is dumped on the ground just feet from the garbage can. The insane drivers trying to make it through the intersection on red lights without getting caught. The graffiti that invades random corners, window sills, and roof tops. And bars on the windows reminding us of the life that emerges long after commuters are gone.

The Neptune Theatre at night

The smells are generally jaw-dropping. In the tower where I worked before, I could smell the coffee shop on the 4th floor and the chemicals that were used by custodians. In my new reality, I’m overwhelmed with the smells of different kind of smoke, body odors of those with no place to bathe, the putrid smells that emerge from the alley behind our building, and the general odors of a busy city, such as vehicle exhaust and the intertwined smells from local restaurants.

Taste is a little harder to describe. I’m a block off “The Ave” — a major avenue by campus that is characterized by its slew of international restaurants. But it’s amazing how a different building can change which businesses now capture my eye. I typically bring my own lunch, but there are new taste options should I venture out.Image of The Ave

The final sense — touch. You may be thinking of this in terms of physical touch. But I’m thinking of the touch to my heart and my emotions that I’ve experienced being in this new place. My heart aches for the homeless — for those who are here of their own volition as much as for those who have no place to go. I am so aware of how different people are, yet how similar they are as they shop, wait for the bus, or hang out. I’ve witnessed the goodness of some, the hope of others, and the utter desolation in spirit of others.

Yes, if anything, moving two block east has reopened my eyes to the need all these people have to know unconditional love. Love that accepts them where they’re at. Love that covers them in the darkest hour of their night, in the gentle light of the morning, or as the heat of the day or the rain of life unfolds.

It brings to mind the words of a song from my youth by Joel Weldon:

I want to be a candle in the dark, a flame that’s in the night. And I want my friends to know that Jesus saves. Don’t want to be afraid to say his name or stand up for what is right. Help me, Jesus, to be bold and to be brave.Image of a candle in the dark

It’s hard to be that candle in the dark. Many forces want to extinguish it and dampen the wick. So we often retreat to places of comfort — places where we don’t have to face the realities of a spiritually dark world.

We were told by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 to go into all the world. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” But as we do so, we need to go in with eyes wide open. Consider the story of Paul in Athens. He didn’t just go on a corner and start preaching — he looked around, sought to understand, and brought Jesus to the world as they knew it.

In the same way, I encourage you to go. Shake it up. Get a new perspective on the world. Take a different path on your walk. Eat lunch on a different bench. Look in the faces of the people you pass by. Meet them where they’re at. Then, and only then, can you truly share God’s love in an impactful way.

In My Natural Element

I spent much of Saturday working in my garden. I should disclose that “my” garden includes large gardens in front of the church at which we live, as well as my personal gardens in front of the parsonage. I enjoy watching bulbs peek out of the ground throughout spring and summer, then burst into color at the right time. Over the years, as I humbly tend the dirt and pray to see beauty spring forth, I feel especially close to God.

photo

God seems to have a special fondness for gardens; we hear about them throughout the Bible. After creating the world in seven days, Genesis tells us that God planted a garden in Eden. It had trees pleasing to the eye. Many examples throughout the Bible relate to gardens: plants in sunshine spreading shoots over the garden; fragrance spreading abroad; choice fruits; sowing seeds for garden. When promising redemption for a destroyed Zion, God promises to make her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. With his disciples, Jesus spent numerous hours in gardens. And he prayed strenuously in the Garden of Gethsemane before his death.

I find gardens interesting. More than that, a place of peace and beauty.

Perhaps you’re one of those garden spies, like me, that slowly cruises neighborhoods to peek at the gardens? Some well-established gardens are full of vibrant color, showcasing gentle roses, mums, lavender, marigolds, and variety of seasonal perennials and annuals. It’s obvious a caretaker has spent hours pruning carefully, fertilizing, pulling weeds and planting the delights “just so” to maximize curb appeal.

With other gardens, unfortunately often like mine, you’d never guess that hours have been poured into them. Flowers don’t bloom, mysterious plants appear that weren’t there last year. And of course, the flowers we did have now have no petals on them because the kids have eagerly plucked them because they were the only lovely things visible.

In the botanical world, the seeds, flowers and other items we plant are at our mercy for watering, feeding and general care. And it’s obvious some of us (especially me!) have some lessons yet to learn!

In the spiritual world, it is the Lord who plants and never forgets to take care of us. He provides spiritual water when we’re parched. He gave us the Son as the light for which we strain and reach as we grow. And He prunes sin in our lives – sometimes painfully at the time – to allow us to shoot forth bigger and stronger.

However, we are responsible for the “mystery” factors that don’t allow us to showcase the caretaker’s efforts. We slack off or quit reading the Bible. We neglect to pray. We decide to be in charge of our own lives, sure that who we are or become is from our own efforts.

Gardens don’t just happen, and growing spiritually doesn’t just happen. To grow spiritually, we each need to do our part. We do that by reading his word, hearing his word, allowing it to teach us and produce spiritual growth in us.

SpringGarden

While I’m a gardener-in-training, there are a few things I do know about it. If you plant an apple tree, you’re not going to get plums. If you sow wheat, you’re not going to reap barley. The type of seed determines the fruit, and the same principle holds true in our spiritual lives.

Matthew 7:18 says that “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”

The fruit is the evidence that the tree actually is doing what it is supposed to do. Good intentions are not fruit. (Remember, you may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard-boiled egg.) Excellent excuses are not fruit. Blaming others is not fruit. Fruit is what you actually produce for God day by day. Fruit is the immeasurable influence for God that you have in the lives of others. Fruit is the impact that your faith, way of life and spirit of living has on others.

John 15:8 says “This is my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit.”

As seeds are cultivated from plants to allow other plants and flowers to grow, we need to take the seeds that come from “the spiritual crop” and plant those in others so that spiritual gardens continue to grow.

It’s a botanical truth that some plants only will produce their fruit for a season, and then they wither and die. No more fruit; it’s over. Those plants are annuals. They were created for a specific, one-time burst of life. To see that burst of life again, we have to start the process all over again each spring. Then there are perennials. In the plant world, those are the plants that come back after a dormant, winter season. Often, they come back stronger, grow taller and produce even more and better-quality fruit.

JoniGarden

God really isn’t in the annual business. He wants perennial Christians – the kind who weather the storm, stand the test, dig deeper into his word and produce lasting, ongoing results.

As Jesus said in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” What kind of Christian are you? Are you one who is tossed around by every temptation or rough spot on the journey? Or do you allow the master’s pruning shears to shape you and refine you into something magnificent?

Jesus reminds us in John 15:5 that “no branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

Latch onto God’s abundant supply of grace, mercy and love, and in doing so, produce lasting fruit.

Shifting Sands

I love the song, “19-something” by Mark Willis. It brings back a flood of memories from my youth. Times that were carefree and innocent, long before college, marriage, kids, a mortgage and more.  When we were young and lived in the moment. We accepted change, just as smoothly as the clothing styles change from season to season and year to year. Yes, we “progressed.”

Modern-FamilyI look at the world my kids live in now. In some communities, like the one we live in, it is generally safe for them to walk to school. But that’s not always the case. We worry about the increasing prevalence of drug use, and how such behavior will touch our kids. We have to lock our vehicle doors. People steal stuff off front porches. There is a pressing need for families to have two bread winners, which means kids are often left alone or in the care of others for much of their waking hours. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of broken families.

We were discussing “The Simpsons” the other day, and my son asked why we thought it was inappropriate. As we discussed, back in the ’80s, it was a big deal when Bart Simpson came on the scene. He was rude, disobedient, and a rebel. His dad certainly didn’t provide a great role model for other dads. His sister was sassy. And the preacher was just insane. Yes, parents balked at letting their children watch that filth. Fast forward 24 years, and “The Simpsons” are tame. Now, we have shows where endless violence and foul language are the norm. We’ve “progressed” from a society afraid to see a woman’s shoulders and thighs to one where clothing is optional. We laud shows that feature openly promiscuous lifestyles and promote family units as two moms and their kids. What was shockingly immoral when I was a child has become the accepted norm. Does that mean we should now accept things that were not acceptable back then?

It’s natural for each generation to bemoan the following generations. Things change. But what should our perspective be as Christians?

First, what are we to think? It’s such a simple concept, but so very hard to put into action: don’t judge. STOP! Read that again, then pause and think about it. Yes, it is terribly hard to do! Those of us who adhere to Biblical truth balk at this. It’s pretty clear in the Bible that our society is on a path that’s completely opposite of God’s desire. It makes us feel better to vocalize how people have strayed from that truth. We make ourselves out to be better than others because we aren’t obviously doing such things. Go back and click on that link you just skipped over, and read what Jesus said very directly as part of his sermon on the mount. Why aren’t we to judge? Because in the way we judge others, we ourselves will be judged by God. That doesn’t just mean the things we vocalize — it also means those thoughts that form in our heads. Thoughts can be just as dangerous as actions. They can embitter the soul. Check out this verse and see how we will be judged. Oh, God save us from ourselves!

So how then are we to live? Are we to accept — or even embrace — the changing societal norms? You decide, using this blueprint. Did you read it? Open it — take a peek! Do realize how many times in the Bible we are told to be holy because God is holy. We are to be his imitators. What does holy living look like? It’s spelled out very carefully for us in Ephesians 4:17-32:

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Furthermore, we are called to be holy as a witness to others. Let your light so shine!

I know it’s hard to not judge while trying to be holy. God isn’t asking you to encourage other peoples’ non-holy behavior, but rather to love them and let him shine through you so that they are drawn to what is good and holy. Think about Jesus at the well with a Samaritan woman, who’d had seven husbands. Think of him at the site where they wanted to stone an adulterous woman. Think of him addressing the scandalous tax collector. He didn’t judge. He wasn’t rude. He wasn’t using the Torah to bash them. He loved on them. He forgave them. He drew them to him in such a way that all they wanted was more love and more healing.

It makes me think back to my kids. Many times over the years, they have been deserving of punishment. And many times, instead of dishing out what they deserve, I just hold onto them and hug them and love them. I think that grace and mercy go a lot further than dishing out punishment. Isn’t that what God did for us? We are so undeserving, yet before we had done anything good, he loved on us enough to die and take away our sins. It’s the ultimate message of love. And my friends, that’s what we’re to convey to others. Not what they deserve (and why they so desperately deserve it), but how loved they are.

Yes, the sands of time are shifting. We will encounter many things that are contrary to the life God has called us to live. But remember to build your foundation on the rock and you won’t be lost in those shifting sands.

AGAPE

Who You Are

“It’s your life. What you gonna do? The world is watching you. Every day the choices you make say what you are and who your heart beats for. It’s an open door. It’s your life.”

The lyrics above from Francesca Battistelli beg the question: What is it that you live for? That’s the question that’s been going round in round in my head as I look at the world around me and consider the people I know and interact with regularly.

I looked at my Twitter profile today, which forces you to give your bio in 160 characters or less. Here is what I wrote: “Mom of three, lucky wife. Christ follower. Pastor’s wife. Communications professional at the University of Washington. Adventure seeker.” That is how I’ve summed up my life for people.

How do you sum up your life? Some of my friends (from what I can tell!) define themselves in these ways: Housewife, Artist, Gay, Christian, Atheist, Political wonk, Techies, PR geeks, Students, Liberal, Conservative, Athlete.

By define, I mean we live our lives in ways that actively promote those definitions. And before I go further, because I’m 100% someone is going to take offense at my words, I want to be clear: my friends are my friends in spite of our differences. I try to look at people’s hearts and learn more about what makes them tick. I try to understand what drives them to act in certain ways. And I sure hope the following explains why some of you may think I’m a little out of tune with society.

In my life, first and foremost, I am guided by my faith in and relationship with Jesus Christ. I believe all mankind are sinners and are by our sinful nature condemned to die. However, I also believe Jesus Christ is the Savior, the long-promised Messiah – and through him I have forgiveness from my sins. We all have that gift of forgiveness; however, many people feel that the gift has too high of a price (obedience to God) or reject it as a fairy tale. I can’t control what you think. But I do believe in God’s word as the guide for my life.

I know I’m far from perfect – not even close to it. But I strive to be an imitator of Christ (and that is a really hard thing to do). But I try. Based on this, where I (and my husband) go, where we work, how we raise our kids, where we spend the majority of our non-work hours (okay – officially some are now “work” hours since Ian is a pastor!), and the lifestyle we live is focused on following God’s direction. It may not always be an easy path to follow, but we strive to follow regardless of the cost. We have so many examples of following when the path isn’t clear only to have the pieces come together in mind-blowing ways.

So what is the cost of my obedience to God? Being called intolerant, racist, and other terms that make it clear we are the antithesis of societal norms, etc. Losing friends – and it’s happened – because the choices we make or support align with our understanding of God’s word. Not fitting in with society. Watching all we hold sacred be cast aside for things we deem morally wrong. The list goes on.

1 Peter 2:11-12 notes this is to be expected. “Beloved, I implore you as aliens and strangers and exiles [in this world] to abstain from the sensual urges (the evil desires, the passions of the flesh, your lower nature) that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves properly (honorably, righteously) among the Gentiles, so that, although they may slander you as evildoers, [yet] they may by witnessing your good deeds [come to] glorify God in the day of inspection.” (Amplified version of the Holy Bible)

But the beauty in living this way is noted in Romans 8:3-6: “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” (New International Version of the Holy Bible)

In a time when it’s by all means getting harder to live as a devoted Christian, I’ve put my faith out here for you – I’ve bared my soul. I have traveled the path of self-discovery to know that this is what my heart beats for. You may disagree, you may be repulsed, or you may be intrigued. If you’re surprised by this, we should certainly talk, because I feel that my life is pretty much an open book. But what I do ask is that you give me what I have given you for your different beliefs – common courtesy.

On that fine note, let me ask you: What are YOU committed to? It’s easy to say we’re committed to something, but how committed are you really? Do you donate your time, money, and resources? Do you stick to your word to do something, even when it’s inconvenient? I know a person who espouses many things, but in real life doesn’t act on any of it. There’s always an excuse not to do, not to get involved, to keep the hands clean. It brings to mind this quote:

“You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard-boiled egg.”

What does that mean? It means unless you actually demonstrate continual commitment – to take a stand for whatever it is – it is just something you “intend” to do. Don’t be a hard-boiled egg!

Finally, in case you wanted to hear the full song from Francesca, here it is for your viewing/listening pleasure. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cavJksxBdOo

 

Failing at the Food Bank

Last night as I sat and chatted with a lady at our church (one who is not so well off and is in need of some local services), she mentioned her volunteer work at the food bank. And then I realized that I, a pastor’s wife and community member, had no idea where the local food bank was located.

Yes, I have some vague concept of direction from my house, and at one point I looked for volunteer opportunities, which aren’t available during my available hours, but I couldn’t have directed somewhere there if they needed it. As I have chewed on this today, I wondered: “Am I bad Christian and pastor’s wife because of this? Am I lousy because I haven’t been there — or the local soup kitchen? Couldn’t I be doing more?”

Part of me says yes. There is an obligation, if you will, for Christians to help the poor, the widows, the fatherless, etc. The book of James (2:17) notes that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” An obligation for those of us with more to help those with less.

But part of me retorted that it was okay not to know, not to take on yet another thing, and not to fill guilty. While it would be helpful to others in need if I could point them to the right spot, I am giving back with my time, money, and resources to help those less fortunate.

As I chewed on this, something came to mind that is part of what my husband and I are teaching to kids in our Children’s Quizzing program. With the young Church, there were so many believers that it was natural to expect that some folks needed a helping hand. Did all the believers drop everything? No! If you want to read the full story, check out Acts 6:1-7. Rather, seven men were selected to oversee distribution of food so that the other believers could focus their attention on prayer and ministry of the word.

This is not saying that we should all bow out of helping the needy. Rather, each of us should use our specific talents where God leads us to use them. This could be in children’s programs, musical gifts, ministry to the elderly, administration, encouragement (I know several people who are SO GOOD at this and it’s quite a blessing!), helping the homeless, listening to folks in a soup kitchen, sewing clothes, giving of money so that people can purchase necessities, and so on. And whatever we do, we are do it heartily (as Colossians 3:23 points out).

As much as this calls for us to give our all in what we do, it doesn’t say to give our all to 10,000 different places. I am a person who is pulled in so many different directions. I have ministry things I do — some visible, some behind the scenes, some for my family, some for my church, some for my community, and some for people around the world — and I’m not sure it would be right to add yet another thing because I can’t give it my all. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to — I’m simply out of capacity.

In reflecting on this, I thought about people around me. Would I want a mechanic to be so distracted with another job or hobby that he didn’t give his all on my vehicle? Think about the folks in our lives who do something and do it well. Would we ask for anything less? Then let’s not create pressure for people to take on so much that they can’t do their best.

There’s the 10:90 rule. It means that 10% of people are doing 90% of the work. And simple math says that’s not right. Try making it 5:95? It doesn’t get better. We shouldn’t expect this of other people, and we shouldn’t expect it of ourselves. My words of wisdom — for myself, as much as for all of you — are this: If you’re giving all you have, accept who you are, and be at peace knowing that it is enough.

A Time to be Silent

In the busyness of life lately, I’ve had time to contemplate silence. It’s interesting to mull over when words can’t or shouldn’t be spoken. As the Bible book of Ecclesiastes shares, there’s definitely a time to be silent.

How often do we practice this? Or are we more inclined to flap our mouths and not listen to others in the process? Sometimes silence abounds because we’re secretly dying for someone to ask us how things are – and then wait for the answer rather than asking a question out of habit.

Years ago, someone wondered aloud to me why we ask people “how’s it going” in passing, but then move on. Worse, if the other person says anything other than “good” or something along those lines, we look at them like they’ve broken a social norm. So I’ve tried to become a more active listener – to ask questions, listen for the answer, and be responsive to someone who has opened their heart to share. I’ve learned over time that you hear more when you’re not the one speaking.

In my line of work, I do a lot of writing – and by default, a lot of listening. I hear the stories and news people share and translate their musings into something for others to read. I’ve learned how to listen for what’s not spoken, and use the silence to form questions that sometimes uncover a more complete story.

It makes me think of my dad. When I would come to him for advice, he’d listen attentively, ask clarifying questions, and make me answer my own questions. It drove me nuts for a long time, but then I realized that sometimes we put a lot of pressure on others to make decisions or put things into words for us. We ask them what they think, follow a course of action, and sometimes have the gall to be angry with the individual when it didn’t turn out as planned. My dad’s approach, however, causes me to make decisions based on complete information. Yes, his “silence” is a blessing.

Do you think of silence as a blessing, or as a curse? Consider what happens when no one is asking you to share your heart. No one asks you how you’re doing or if you need help. They assume all is well because you’re silent. Is the onus on you to speak up? Sometimes it is. There are people who let their emotions fester because no one has asked after them, so when someone does, it’s filled with anger and resentment. Sometimes you feel better sharing – to get things off your chest. (Though I do know so very well that sometimes there are just things you can’t share.)

Sometimes, the “sharing” can be more indirect. My Bible studies lately have focused on Job. He lost his kids, his animals, his livelihood, and then his health. His wife went a little psycho on him, too. He sat down among the ashes and used a broken piece of pottery to scrape his painful sores. You get the visual, and you can see the man suffering. Though pretty silent, Job wasn’t keeping his pain sheltered inside where it would do him harm.

His friends got the picture. While his friends turn out to be kind of lame in the end, they do start off on the right foot. After all this stuff happens to Job, they came to visit. They saw how bad it was, and “so they sat down with Job on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and none spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief and pain were very great.” (Job 2:13)

Sometimes we just need to know someone will be there with us, help us stand, hold onto us while we stumble, and support us under the weight of the unbearable. In silence. In fact, once Job’s friends start to speak, their support seems to cave in. Same with us – when we open our mouths, are the things we’re saying in a friend’s time of need the right thing? Or do we dig a hole, make it worse, and jeopardize the friendship?

A couple years ago, I was battling a strange health anomaly. Symptoms came and went, doctors were baffled, and I underwent many invasive tests. At one point, I was diagnosed with a disease that’s incurable (fortunately, it later turned out not to be the case!). But in my church, when asked what was going on and I revealed the diagnosis, a well-meaning friend clapped me on the back and told me at least I wasn’t going to die. Well great! That sure made it better! No – it didn’t. This person was trying to make me feel better about the outcome, while I was struggling with the prospect of a life with endless medical procedures and surgeries. Rather than feel uplifted, I felt judged for my struggles and that I had no support. That person would have done much more good for my soul by simply giving me a hug and implying their support of me even though the circumstances were less than desirable. Yes, silence is golden.

In other instances, we need to learn to shut our mouths and accept what has been doled out to us without telling the world about our sorrows. Why? Because when we open our mouths, we are prone to say things that may be just wrong.

Look again at Job. He’d gone through terrible times, then had to sit and listen to his friends dump coals on his head. Did he sit there and take it? No – he let loose, and in the process, he essentially asked God to explain himself. Not simply, not in humbleness, not seeking to see the big picture – it was a flat out pity party. God’s response, as outlined in Job 40-41, gives me the tingles. Job got the picture. In Job 40:4, he looks kind of puny. “Behold, I am of small account and vile. What shall I answer you? I lay my hand upon my mouth.” He finally recognized that now was the time to be silent.

My big take-away from all this is that while there is a time to speak, there certainly is a time for silence. Time for silent reflection and listening. Time to absorb what is going on around you. Look beyond what has been said  to truly understand a heart.

Some great quotes for your reflection of this topic:

 “He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words.”
Elbert Hubbard

“If you can sit in silence with a person for half an hour and yet be entirely comfortable, you and that person can be friends. If you cannot, friends you’ll never be and you need not waste time in trying.”
L.M. Montgomery

“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.”
William S. Burroughs

“Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.”
George Eliot

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”
Norton Juster

“Silence is pure and holy. It draws people together because only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking.”
Nicholas Sparks

 

Bringing Light to the Darkness

This has been an interesting week. Many of you have seen a new depth and breadth to the emotions splashed across my Facebook page, or heard first-hand about the darkness my family has experienced this week.

For years, I’ve hidden the pain and sorrow of something terrible — and that’s often the nature of domestic violence. Before you think otherwise, let me assure you that it’s not at the hand of my husband. Rather, this unfortunate affliction came at the hand and words of my mother. And like many victims (yes, I’m coming to terms with that word), my sisters and I kept quiet. But this week, after another traumatic incident in our lives, I’m done being quiet and bound by chains. I’m finally doing something I should have done years ago. I’m speaking out.

People often don’t know what to say about the things that victims of physical and emotional/psychological abuse go through. It’s an intense issue that strikes so deeply: how could another person inflict such distress on another? Let alone, a mother on her children? People who inflict abuse often appear to others to be angelic, charming, friendly — and certainly not any of the vile things that you would associate with an abuser. And to our friends and many observers of our family, that’s exactly how my mother came across. Even close confidants, who knew the poignant details of the abuse, would meet her for the first time and suddenly change their tune. “You’ve got to be kidding me — she couldn’t do any of that to you, she’s soooooo nice.” That’s literally what one person told me.

And yet, it happens. I’ll spare you many of the details. But my siblings and I were severely beaten throughout our childhoods. We were called unimaginable things. We were threatened with more pain and suffering beyond what was actually inflicted.  My mother threatened to kill all of us on multiple occasions. When we’d try to seek out our father to live with him, it only made things worse. I’ll share three incidents with you that I had to dredge up this week as I sought a protection order against my mother.

When I was about four or five, we were out with our mother late at night. I don’t know what set her off (it literally is the blink of an eye that can set an abuser off), but she stopped on the side of the road in the middle of Weld County, Colorado. She made me, my brother and my older sister get out of the vehicle, and she drove off and left us standing there. I don’t know how long it was before she eventually came back and got us. But the three of us young children, in the dark of night, were at a loss. To this day — some 30 years later — I can remember the shelter I envisioned building with my siblings.

Another time, when I was 11, I was home during the day, as I was homeschooled that year. My mother took off with a friend skiing, and I was bored. So I picked up the phone and called my grandmother. Yes, it was long distance. But I had no concept of phone rates. My grandmother later called my mother, irritated that she’d left her kids home alone. My mother became enraged. She said it was because of the cost of the call. But perhaps it’s because she was called out for her behavior. I was severely beaten. My head was used to break my closet door, if that helps you understand it further. I was locked in my room for three days, only allowed to leave to use the bathroom. I was given water and wheat rolls for sustenance (to this day, I hate those rolls). And after three days, I was forced to come up with a list of reasons why I should be allowed to remain a part of the family. Because I made a long-distance phone call during the day.

The third one isn’t so much about me, as it is about my kids. My mother was watching our children one night when they were young. Ian and I were out for an evening, and were going to come back to her house to spend the night before driving back to Moscow. We thought everything had gone smoothly until we were driving home the next morning. I still remember the exact place we were when Noah, almost 3, managed to blurt out, “Grandma choke me.” He then showed us how my mother had grabbed him by the throat. Eli, age 5, then revealed that they had not picked up the toys they were playing with and Grandma had become enraged — to the point where Zoe, not quite 3, went and hid under a table, where “Grandma couldn’t reach her.” Eli said Grandma had spanked him several times. They all began to cry, and she had given them a bath to calm them down. (This was right after some news of a mother drowning her own children, which totally freaked Ian and me out.) We vowed never again to leave our children unattended with her and have not done so to this day.

These may not seem significant to you. But imagine living this life day in, day out for years. Even as a young adult, the physical abuse remained until Ian and I began a relationship. I was put in counseling (by my mother, of course) when I was a young girl. But when I told the counselor I wanted to see more of my dad, she relayed this to my mom, who beat me for it. I haven’t trusted a counselor since. The emotional/psychological abuse continued until about two years ago, when my sisters and I sent a “do not contact us or our families” note to my mother. So we thought we were good, and finally began putting the pieces of our lives back together.

Until this week, when my mother showed up 2,600 miles from home in my sister’s church. My sister had moved several states away from the last-known (or so we thought) location that my mother had for her. Not only did she show up in her town, but my mother was in her church! This is extreme stalking behavior, and unfortunately all too common. My mom knew of so many things she hadn’t been told, even well into our 20s and 30s. Obviously, she hasn’t stopped.

So earlier this week, I attempted to file a domestic violence protection order. With her showing up in what had been assumed as a place she had no knowledge of, it once again brought back all the pain and trauma we’d been subjected to. In one instant, I went from a strong woman, to a torn-apart and fragile little girl.

I was shocked yesterday when the court informed me that while they could grant me a temporary restraining order, when we would have a full hearing in two weeks, I wouldn’t stand a chance of getting a protection order because this latest incident hadn’t been against me.  Yet, undoubtedly, my mother knows exactly what she’s done to my sisters and me and our families. The judge was extremely sympathetic as she acknowledged we were playing right into my mother’s hands.

An abuser wants the victim to fear, to be in dread. An abuser exerts control over victims in a sick and twisted manner. An abuser, who senses that she may lose her victims, stalks and creates an inescapable presence. When the stalker/abuser is your mother, she also has access to all kinds of information about you because she has your DOB, your mother’s maiden name, your social security number, your last addresses, etc. All those security questions are easily answered. There is no end to the madness.

So imagine, after all of this and finally getting the nerve to seek legal protection, being told that you can’t have it. That you have to sit and wait for her to act against you in order to protect yourself or your family. I was devastated. I can’t recall the last time I had such a reaction to anything. But in the following hours, that emotion became anger. Perhaps a righteous anger? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you, I’m ready. Let her stalk me — let her do anything. Because the next time anything happens, she’s done.

Why did I bring this up today? For several reasons.

  1. If you suspect someone has something whacko going on in life, ask! No one ever asked me if I was okay, even when I was sent to school with a black eye. And help them. Be adamant. Reassure that you care.
  2. Protect the people around you. Remember that the worst people in life can be the sweetest folks on the surface. Don’t give out information that isn’t yours to give, even if it’s confirming a co-worker’s office location. Ask the person to have a seat while you call and find out if it’s okay.
  3. Know that even the strongest people can fall apart when facing severe psychological distress. They may not want to talk, as I didn’t yesterday, but reaffirming your support and care is priceless. (Thanks to my dear co-workers yesterday, who — even though it brought more tears when talking about it — let me know I wasn’t crazy.)
  4. Even strong Christians, who definitely trust that God will deliver them, need continual reminders. I never once this week doubted God. But the enemy is so strong and powerful that it’s easy to become overwhelmed and stuck in a cycle of fear. Pray for people who are facing this. It’s amazing what the power of prayer can do.

Yep, this is a dark topic — but one that I’m bringing to light. To know more about domestic abuse, I encourage you to read a book by Danielle Steele called “The Long Road Home.” It will give you some insight into the kind of person I have dealt with my entire life. The person who is careful to hit in places that aren’t seen by other eyes. Who paralyzes with fear. Who leaves you devastated.

Finally, in closing for today, know that I still have a long road in front of me. We don’t know where my mother is right now. For all I know, she has access to this blog post and is convinced I’m telling lies (abusers are good about creating their own stories, which become their realities). I may go through a lot more fire, and resulting tears and pain. But know that I have the almighty Savior on my side, and will fight this to the end.

If you can, listen to the words of this song by the Newsboys.

 

Peace with No Guilt

Life is a little strange right now. It’s like in sitting in a big green valley, surrounded on every side by mountains with a river meandering down the middle of it. The sky is blue, and I have time to breathe and smell the flowers.

Only, that’s not figurative. That’s literal. That valley I just described is home to Snohomish, where we’ll be moving at the end of June. And that time to breathe and smell the flowers is true — I really do have that time right. I just finished my degree. I have an excellent job that really exemplifies that “work/life balance” truly is about. I’m at peace, and it’s quite lovely.

But strangely, I don’t think I fully accept this peace. I was caught remarking to a friend that I just didn’t know when it would end, and it had me on edge. Her response was: “What if it lasts a decade?”

What a reality check! Instead of thoroughly enjoying this peace, I’m bringing an unsettled nature on myself as if I don’t deserve this peace and it will be short-lived. As a result, my life isn’t fully at peace. It got me to thinking about how we go through trials and deep waters of life. When we get to the other side, do we want to turn around and jump back into the turbulence? No. So why do we live like we’re going to?

It’s very clear what God has in mind for those who follow Him:

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” ~ Psalm 38:3-4

“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. ” ~ Psalm 29:11

So why, when we’ve committed our way to the Lord, is it so easy to not accept the blessings He pours out on us? Perhaps it’s simply that we need to quiet our hearts. To “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). More than that, however, by not allowing ourselves to have full peace, we’re telling God that He’s not good enough. Check out this verse:

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” ~ Isaiah 26:3

It’s humbling. Therefore, I’m resolved to get over myself and to allow myself to fully trust in God and accept the good things He has bestowed on me and my family — for as long as it should last and without worry about what the future holds.

And, it’s only fitting that I close with this much-quoted verse from Numbers 6:24-26:

 “The Lord bless you
and keep you;
      the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
      the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace. ”

 

Flash Flooding

In the southwestern U.S., there are many places in dry canyons that look ideal for camping. They’re close — but not too close — to a small river, there’s hiking and sunshine, and protection/shade from the great cliffs. Yet, there are signs that warn about flash flooding.

In desert or particularly dry areas, flash floods can be particularly deadly for several reasons. First, storms in arid regions are infrequent, but they can deliver an enormous amount of water in a very short time. Second, these rains often fall on poorly-absorbent and often clay-like soil, which greatly increase the amount of runoff that rivers and other water channels have to handle.  The runoff collects in low-lying areas and rapidly flows downhill.

You will not always have a warning that these deadly, sudden floods are coming. But if you are in the pathway of such a flood, you’ll be scrambling for your life.

Such is true in life. We may have a time where all is calm and beautiful. Things are going smoothly, and we’re content. Then, out of nowhere, a flash flood threatens to drown us. Undoubtedly, this is a fight for your life — where you fight to hang on or you could lose everything.

In areas prone to flash floods, there are many signs warning of the danger. In our lives, particularly in our spiritual lives, a feeling of being really comfortable should be a warning sign that’s flashing at us saying, “watch out — the big one is coming!”

Some people disregard the signs warning about the potential for a flash flood, and many people lose their lives each year. The same is true figuratively. By not being prepared, we can easily be swept away by the floods that try to quench our spirits. It could be related to home life, work, friendships, or even issues within your own soul, such as depression, anxiety or you name it.

Oh how I have been there. And crazy as it may sound, the floods are pretty predictable. They’ve come when I’m content and comfortable — where I’ve dug out my little rut in life and think I could stay in a particular place forever. When I feel untouchable. When I feel confident in my abilities and plans, and everything seems to be in place. The floods have always come. Some have really knocked me for a loop, and it was all I could do to keep my head above water.

One major flood for Ian and me, believe it or not, was when we found out we were having twins. Everyone was so happy for us, but we were just drowning. Financially, we were in trouble. We had a tiny car that would not hold us and three kids. We had a teeny apartment — same issue. We would have to triple our daycare payment. And baby items? HAH — thinking we were good with one set of everything for our “baby” suddenly turned to panic as we realized we’d need two high chairs, two car seats, two cribs, double the diapers. We had one huge roller coaster of events relating to the birth of our twins, including a move, unemployment, financial struggles, aloneness — it went on and on. And the only thing we had to cling to was our hope in God. Boy — did we ever cling! We came through that time period with God’s grace, but that was an adventure I never want to repeat.

If you feel that all is going smoothly, perhaps that’s your warning that you should be prepared. Build the safeguards. As Christians, we’ve been taught to put on the full armor of God to help you stand against those battles. Even if you’re missing a piece of this armor, you put yourself at risk. Be fully prepared.

God didn’t promise that we’ll escape the turbulent waters of life, but He does promise to never leave nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6). More than that, He has promised to be with us when we are stuck in the waters.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.” – Isaiah 43:2

I don’t necessarily have the answers to the things that will threaten to bring you down, but let me reiterate the two things I do know:

  1. Be prepared. When all is going smoothly, you should expect the current to pick up.
  2. Have your flotation device. My hope is in the Lord, and I know He is able to save — not just me, but you — during smooth sailing and the storms of life. He is the lifter of our heads, and is able to help us when we feel we’re about to drown.

Take shelter from the storm in the arms of the only one who can calm it.

(For an added bonus, I found this song: “Let the Waters Rise“)

 

 

Before the Morning

We’ve all been there. Something in life that hurts so bad and is beyond our comprehension.

The loss of a loved one from a terrible disease or an accident. A terrible situation we have to navigate and literally hope to survive with our life intact. Physical or emotional pain caused by another. A dark time, when we don’t know how long it will last or what’s on the other side, but we just know we can’t stay in this place forever. I’m sure you have your own examples.

What do we do in these times? And in particular, how do these times impact your relationship with God?

Folks respond in different ways to life’s trials. Some curl up in a ball and change nothing, holding on to their sorrow and pain like a blanket. Others get angry — and angry with God for inflicting them with this situation. Some spiral deep into despair and depression, barely clinging on to the fragile hem of life. Others take the bull by the horns and try to change the direction of the storm; they try to black out the pain or focus on something else to distract them (often only to find that they can’t let go of the thing that haunts them). And others are anchored in hope and trust — relying on God to guide them through this time.

Folks, I can’t take your hurt away. But I can tell you what has worked for me. There is no way I would have made it through the things in life without the hope I have in Christ Jesus. He is able to carry us (and our burdens) through the trouble times and the good times. He is my leaning post, and He’s never let me down. It may take a while to sort through things, but He’s been there each step of the way.

A friend recently confided in me that her teenage daughter is angry with God because her cousin died. Angry enough to turn her back on the God she’s known her entire life. She wonders how God could cause such pain. This immediately makes me think of the verse from the book of Job in the Bible:

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” ~ Job 2:10

I think that simple phrase sums up a lot about how people feel. They only want blessings from God, but aren’t willing to go through the tough times. But in tough times, do we really think we have the whole picture? We simply don’t. We have no idea why some things happen. Are we allowed to be upset and angry — to question God? Yes. (In a way that pours out the heart, but does not sin against God.)

Back to the book of Job, if you’ve ever read it, it comes across as depressing. But I encourage you to really read it. Look at this man who had everything taken from him and cries out to God from the depths of his soul. He cries out to God, and God answers. (Read chapters 38 – 42) God’s ultimate answer, “Everything under the heavens is Mine; therefore, who can have a claim against God?” Sounds harsh, but think about it. Read these chapters and you may comprehend. Believe it or not, I really love this book.

Anyway, this blog post may not help you sort through the trials you have before you. But I have some thoughts to leave with you to help you ponder. The links lead to the full songs.

Before the Morning ~ by Josh Wilson

Do you wonder why you have to,
feel the things that hurt you,
if there’s a God who loves you,
where is He now?

Maybe, there are things you can’t see
and all those things are happening
to bring a better ending
some day, some how, you’ll see, you’ll see

Would dare you, would you dare, to believe,
that you still have a reason to sing,
’cause the pain you’ve been feeling,
can’t compare to the joy that’s coming

so hold on, you got to wait for the light
press on, just fight the good fight
because the pain you’ve been feeling,
it’s just the dark before the morning

Blessings ~ Laura Story

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

 

My friends, dare to believe that God does love you — more than you can possibly understand. He cares about you and has a plan for your life. When there appears to be no hope — when you’re in the deepest, darkest part of life — He is there with His unfailing love. May you rest in this hope and knowledge.