Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Testing, testing...

So. All morning I've been thinking about the lesson taught during our midweek service at church the other night. It was a deeply convicting message to the ladies by our Women's Ministry leader about having the heart of Christ when it comes to having compassion for the lost.

I woke up, spent time with God and began to write about my convictions as a spiritually single woman. I had a lot of stuff written down...I closed my fancy little iPad on which I was scribbling down my thoughts and got ready for work with the intention to finish writing during my lunch hour. At the lunch break, I walked to the store, picked up a salad and some fruit (and a huge slice of cheesecake, as well as a bag of chocolate chip cookies stuffed with brownies), placed myself comfortably in the lunch room, opened up my iPad and picked up where I left off. Ahhhhh....I was smiling with each word as I recalled Cheryl's lesson. Deep into my thoughts, I clicked out of the app I was using to find a scripture in my bible app. I came back to the app I was using to write....and found a blank screen. Everything I had written was gone. Nowhere to be found. Gone.

I first wanted to cry. I kept whispering, "no! No! Where is it?" That didn't help me to find it. Then, on comes the anger. I could feel my face getting red, now I was going to cry out of anger. "Ugh! Stupid gadget!" That still didn't help. My work was still missing. 

I sat there, staring at the blank screen. I opened it up, trying to see where it went...when I notice a tiny 'save' button at the top right corner of the screen. Yep. Don't remember touching that little rectangular button before I clicked out of the app (by the way, Blogger, how about prompting the writer to save their work before exiting out of the app? Just an idea for lame-o's like me). 

Ugh, what a let down. And wow, how quickly I was to jump to anger! The moment of shocked disappointment lasted only a second because then I realized it was the gadget's fault. How dare it erase my work! Didn't it know I wasn't done?? Stupid technology. Smart phones, smart aren't so smart after all, are ya?

I'm pretty sure you read that last paragraph and thought to yourself, "'re the one who forgot to press 'save..." So what right do I have to get angry with the iPad? I don't. As much as I want to blame the app and the iPad, I can't. It's ultimately my fault. I didn't press 'save.' 

Don't we do that a lot? Something goes wrong and we want to shift the blame onto something or someone else. I do that a lot in my marriage and I am very good at manipulating a conversation to take the focus and the blame off of me. It's not something I'm proud of, but it's definitely something I'm guilty of doing and I quite frequently have to apologize for my manipulation. 

But I'm also guilty of blame shifting when it comes to my husband...and church. So often I'll blame him for my lack of heart. There used to be a time when I would really struggle to come to church on Sunday mornings. I would tell my girlfriends, "oh, I won't be there this morning, my husband is giving me a hard time about going, I don't want the argument." And I wouldn't go. Now, my husband may have been giving me a hard time, but he definitely wasn't holding me back from going to church. That was my own lack of heart. Or I would miss several events that were outside of church "because of my husband." Poor guy, I was blaming him for everything, when in reality it was my own fault.

Sometimes as spiritually single women, it's easier for us to lose our heart to simply attend church. Why? Because it can be hard just to walk out the door as we're listening to snarky comments as we leave. We want to throw up our hands and say, "forget it. It's not worth it." And then we want to blame our iPad, I mean, our husbands. Yes, there are some of us who have husbands who love to make comments about our love for God (I was writing all about in my piece that went missing). My husband is one of them. And many, many years ago, his snarky comments were downright intentionally hurtful.  He would persecute me in front of his entire family. He would call me names like "bible thumper," and "Jesus freak." Every Sunday morning as I would get ready for church, he would spill hurtful words from his mouth. And then, I quit. I quit on God. It wasn't abrupt, I didn't wake up on Sunday morning and decide to never return to church. It happened over time. I'd miss a Sunday because I was running late, or because the family had something planned, or because I wasn't feeling well, or because my husband wasn't feeling well. I blamed my situation for my lack of heart. I blamed my situation for losing faith. I blamed my situation for losing my trust in God.

Jesus reminds us that we will be persecuted and we should expect it.

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: 'a servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecute me, they will persecute you also." John 15:18-20

A couple things here: first, I love knowing that Jesus chose me. He chose you. He plucked us right of the world and said, "sorry, you don't get to keep this one, she's with me." Did that not just fill your heart with love bubbles? Second, the reminder that the world will hate and persecute us for following Him. But, don't miss out on his encouragement about it. "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If they persecute me, they will persecute you." In other words: if you're getting flack about being a follower of Christ, take it as a compliment, because he received flack for being the Christ. That means, you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. 

People will oppose you because you are not part of their world (side note: I almost started singing that song from "The Little Mermaid" when I read that...did you?). And believe it or not, that is a good thing. If the world is applauding you, you may want to recheck your heart. Now, that doesn't mean the world can't admire you or applaud you at all. You have worldly people watching you and wondering how to be like you, those are the hearts you need to find and lead to God...that is, after all, our purpose. But, if you never receive some kind of flack for being a Christian....are you exuding Christ-like qualities in your daily living? 

Take the persecution as a compliment. Sounds weird, I know. But it's true. My husband was opposing the changes I had made in my life and he didn't like it. So he persecuted me, almost daily, and often in front of people. Take it as a compliment. Don't let your heart harden towards God or His church because of the persecution you receive....Jesus told you that it was going to happen. So, when we decide to walk away from God because it's too hard to follow him or we don't want to deal with the arguments anymore, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. That is our own heart losing faith. We're saying that we don't believe God will deliver us.  We lose trust that God will protect our hearts. So we blame our husbands. We blame our situations. We blame our lack of heart and faith on others around us. But in reality, it's our own fault. 

Don't be like me. Don't blame the iPad because you forgot to hit 'save.' Don't be a blame shifter. Don't blame your husband for your lack of heart. It all comes down to us. Our decisions. Our hearts. Yes, there are still days when the persecution feels intense, often unfair, and frequently unprovoked. But when those times come (because Jesus said they will), I stand firm and say to myself, "thank you, I'll take that as a compliment, because that means you see Christ in me."

Smile through the persecution and through the testing, let it strengthen your heart, not weaken it. When you do, Jesus looks at you and says, "she's just like me!"


Friday, September 12, 2014

Piles of dirt

My husband has been working really hard on the front yard landscape of our home. We bought our house a little over two years ago and the previous owners had not done much to beautify the front of the house. And our house has such potential to be gorgeous! Cute front porch, lovely hillside, and it rests on top of a hill. Our entire neighborhood is filled with homes that are beautifully landscaped. You drive up a street that is lined with beautiful trees, green grass and a variety of flowers and plants, then you turn the corner onto our street and there stood our house: bleh.

For months, we had talked about just what to do with the front of our home. We drove the neighborhood over and over again looking at everyone's front yard, trying to gather ideas for our own yard. Once we figured out what we'd like to do, then comes the issue of cost. Ugh. Buy one plant at a time, then buy a tree or two, then add some lights, oh and by the way, redo all the electrical and the entire sprinkler system because it was previously done incorrectly. Our home is only 11 years old, but everything from the inside out was as though it had just been purchased. Before we knew it, we became quite jealous of all the neighbors whose yards were already done and no longer required work. Looking at their homes, we definitely could see that the grass was greener over there. And we wanted what they had. And we were irritated that we didn't have the money when we needed it. We were frustrated that we had to wait until each pay period to buy a couple things. For months our front yard was a mess: dirt piles, plants unearthed, the EZ-Up serving as shade for my husband, and plants that were on their way to the big nursery in the sky. It looked like it was never going to be the beautiful yard we had imagined.

And then, while my husband was outside watering the grass, a neighbor was walking by the house when she stopped to talk with my husband. She complimented him on his work, she told him that each day she'd pass by our home on her walk and she could see that he was working hard to turn it into something pretty. She told him that his hard work greatly improved the outside of the home and she just felt the need to tell him. He worked hard to transform our yard from unattractive to eye catching and it was noticed by a passerby. Let me tell you something, my husband was beaming with pride. And our yard is even more beautiful because of the hard work and sacrifice he put into it.

Sometimes our marriages can be like my front yard. Unattractive, a lot fixing and redoing, and seemingly endless work. But when we put in the hard work, it can become something beautiful.

One of my many struggles is that of envy. You know that saying, "the grass is greener on the other side?" I have to remind myself of that almost daily. And it's not just limited to other couples or marriages, it includes the envy of a nicer car, a better body, prettier hair, wealthier living, even seemingly perfectly behaved children. I remember having a conversation with a coworker about how much we admired a particular family that would come into our office. The mom was pretty and fit, the dad was good looking and funny, their kids were adorable, and you could see they had money to spend. As time went on, the mom was becoming even more thin, which we food lovers envied. "She obviously watches what she eats and works out, it's nice that her husband works so she can stay home." Her husband would come in occasionally, and he was always so friendly to each of us. "What a great guy, she's so lucky. My husband doesn't have his sense of humor." What it lead us to believe: their life is perfect, the grass is definitely green over there. Fast forward some months later, the wife came in, looking unlike herself. When asked how things were, she broke down in tears. They were getting a divorce. Things had been bad for years. They each sought another outside of their marriage. The cost of lawyer fees drained their accounts. She was becoming so thin because she was depressed. What happened to such a seemingly perfect family? They didn't water their own grass, they didn't work hard on their yard...they fell for the enticing greener pastures. And the realization of what we saw: things aren't always what they seem.

The want of what we can't have has been an ongoing internal battle for human beings since the beginning of time. Look at Eve, she wanted that forbidden fruit because the enemy enticed her with its beauty and its promise to give her wisdom. She was drawn to what she couldn't have...and why? Because it sounded so good. She couldn't see the wrong in taking just one bite. That fruit wasn't what it seemed to be...and the enemy made sure of that, much like he does with all the things we desire but don't possess. God knew that the want of what we can't have would be a struggle for humans for the remainder of all he used Moses to lay down the law:

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male or female servant, his ox or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:17

Covet? If you're like me, when I first heard the word covet, I had not a clue what that meant. Covet means to desire, to crave or to yearn for something that belongs to another. I would say that God chose the perfect word for that commandment. He didn't use the word "want," and he didn't use the word "like." Nope. He chose "covet." For a very specific reason. I also love how he starts listing things not to covet, your neighbor's house (I'm pretty sure that includes the front yards my husband and I were coveting), your neighbor's spouse (uh, I've been there before), your neighbor's servants (do kids count as servants?), then God started listing things like the ox and the donkey, and I think at that point He was like, "ya know what, if it ain't yours, leave it alone."

Now, you may be looking around your neighborhood and thinking, "nothing to worry about here. I don't desire my aging next door neighbor and I don't envy the parents of those brats across the street." But, the word "neighbor" isn't restricted to those living within walking distance of you. In Luke 10, an expert of the law wanted to test Jesus and asked Him how he can inherit eternal life; Jesus was like,"bro, you tell me what's written in the law, how do you interpret it?" The expert recited: "love The Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27). But the expert had one more question..."who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29). Jesus went on to share a parable about the Good Samaritan who helped a man that had been attacked, beaten, stripped and robbed. Others walked past the man and intentionally avoided him. But the Samaritan took pity on him, bandaged him, took him to an Inn and paid for his stay. At the end of the parable, Jesus asks the expert, "which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" To which the expert replied, "the one who had mercy on him." (Luke 10:37-37). What was Jesus saying? Who is our neighbor? Anyone and everyone. That means your coworker, your best friend, your kids' teachers, your postal carrier...everyone you come in contact with is considered your neighbor.

Uh that we know whom God considers to be our neighbors, maybe we should re-evaluate that commandment. You may not covet your aging next door neighbor, but what about the husband of your friend? You may not covet the beat up Buick in the driveway a couple doors down, but what about the brand new Mercedes the mom of your daughter's friend is driving? Now the game has changed. And if you're like me, you can write a list of things you want but can't or don't have that others possess.

For years, our marriage was my ugly front yard. It appeared to be doomed and it was on the road to dissolution. I envied everybody around me. I coveted their marriages. I coveted their men. I coveted their lives. I desperately sought greener grass, I completely ignored my own yard. During the time my husband and I were separated, I began a relationship with another man. He met every need that my husband couldn't. I quit on my husband. I turned off the water and let the grass die. He was going to have to reseed somewhere else. We were that couple that came into my office. Nobody knew we had such problems in our marriage and then one day, our whole life was exposed and everyone was shocked. Things weren't what they seemed.  I later found out that others had been coveting our marriage, well, the fake marriage that they saw from the outside.  They didn't know the truth of what was going on behind closed doors.  They wanted what they saw: high school sweethearts, firefighter husband, part-time working mom, two adorable cherubs for kids, (ok, that last part may be a biased comment), a house and nice cars. To them, our grass was so green it was being confused for Astroturf. I can promise you they were no longer coveting our marriage once it was exposed.

God works in amazing ways...that relationship I had with the other man fell apart. It gave me the chance to revisit my marriage. I made my way back to God. I started paying attention to the man I married. We worked on it. We fixed and rebuilt. We watered the grass we planted years ago. With hard work, sweat, tears and long days, our marriage went from being that ugly, torn up front yard into something beautiful for others to see.  Our hard work is obvious, especially to those who walked through it with us.  But that's the point.  Without that hard work, it could have never grown into something that could be admired by others. And, like any garden, it takes continuous work. Continually watering, replanting, and caring for it.

Ultimately, we don't know what it took for our neighbors to transform their front yards into the landscaping we admired. They may have gone through the same thing: dirt piles, frustration, shortage of money and feeling like it would never be right. All we saw was the finished product and we wanted it. We coveted it. We couldn't stop thinking about. We wouldn't be happy until we had it. We felt inferior because we didn't have what they did. But we worked at it. And when that woman complimented my husband on his hard work to transform it, he knew that the work was worth it.

We don't always know what goes on in the marriages of other people. We see one thing, it looks desirable and suddenly we can't stop thinking about it. We look at our own marriages and think, "I'll never have that as long as I stay married to this guy." You know what? Someone is saying that about you. Someone out there is admiring what you have. Someone out there thinks your grass is greener than theirs. We're all so busy thinking about what we don't have, that we're neglecting what we do have.

There's a reason God tells us not to covet what doesn't belong to us. He made sure it was one of the 10 commandments! It can ultimately destroy what He has so carefully planted in our lives. Pay attention to what you have growing in front of you. It's true: the grass will always appear to be greener on the other side....but remember that the enemy is over there fertilizing that grass with a bunch of, you guessed it, poop. He will do anything to make your eyes wander, make your heart lust and make your cravings burn. Keep your eyes focused on the garden God has planted at your feet. It may take time and work, a little bit of sweat and some elbow grease, but you have the chance to water your own grass and make it flourish.

The dirt piles aren't forever. One day, the dirt will fill all the holes and all you'll see is the beauty of your hard work and perseverance. Put on your garden gloves, it's time to do a little work.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What'd He Say?

Happy Wednesday!! I came across this little pearl of wisdom and wanted to share it with all of my friends. I absolutely fell in love with this and it was exactly what I needed to plug into my heart.

So often I hear the argument that the bible is "so old, it's not relevant in today's world" or, my personal favorite, "it's just fiction." Nothing could be further from the truth. There is an answer for everything in God's word. 

I work 4 days a week and on my one weekday away from the office, I don't usually watch television. I'm either running errands or trying to clean or, on a lucky day, having coffee or lunch with a girlfriend. But there was a day, a long time ago, when I actually was able to sit and watch some daytime television. After indulging in my guilty pleasure of a soap opera I remember my grandmother watching during the summer days I would spend at her home, I caught a daytime talk show. Dr. Phil. Now, don't get judgmental, I know some people love him and some people can't stand him. I'm neither. But the one thing I do remember about the advice he was giving was that it was actually biblical. I don't know much about Dr. Phil; I don't know about his religious beliefs or his background. Part of me thinks, "hmmm, I don't think he realizes this is biblical advice," but then part of me wants to think, "he must know scripture!" I have no idea. Maybe you do. But either way, he gave that particular piece of advice to this couple because he knew it would work. Why is that? Because it was actually advice given by God, whether Dr. Phil knew that or not. And any advice given to us by God will work. Hello, book of Proverbs. An entire book with little nuggets of advice. Go ahead, take some time and read through Proverbs. Start with chapter 1, verses 1-7. There is a specific purpose for the book of Proverbs:

"...for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair."

And you know what's amazing? Everything in there still holds true today. I'm pretty sure that living in a desert is a better option than living with a quarrelsome and nagging wife (Proverbs 21:19) and I'm convinced that a gentle answer is better than harsh words, which bring up anger (Proverbs 15:1). How about that. Biblical advice is still relevant. Because guess what?? All the problems, attitudes, difficulties and annoyances then are the same as today's. Why? Because we're human. 

God's word is alive. It's meant to be used. In every area of your life. So when you say you can't, God says you can. When you don't feel loved, God says you are. Dig into that awesome, incredible and perfect book. He wrote it for you.

This entry was posted in