Posted in Faith, Hope, and Love, Family, Freedom, God, Hope, hypocrisy, lessons, life, life lessons, Love, marriage, Marriage and Family, mission, Neighbors, Obstacles, Pain, Passion, soul surgery, Spiritual disciplines, Transparency, Uncategorized, Vanity, Winning, Writing

In which the “gospel” sounds a lot like me…

I’ve been sitting on this post for about a month now for various reasons. I’d thought about writing it from the first conversation I had about the subject, but held off for a time. I was sick and in my first trimester, not a good combination for forming coherent, cohesive blog posts, if I’m honest. Then it took me a while to realize there was an overarching theme to various conversations I had over the month and I wanted to formulate a good, solid post connecting the dots. For myself and for my readers.

My first conversation was about marriage. My second about parenting. The third was about modesty. The fourth about homosexuality. And the fifth dealt with heaven, hell, and atheism.

Yeah. I know. Broad topics and really? I’m going to somehow find a connection between all of them?

That’s the beauty of the particular worldview I adhere to, rather imperfectly though hopefully on a solid growth curve. The one that says God is in charge, I am not, and if I want to see fulfillment and joy in this life and the next, it’s not MY will I want to be following. It’s His.

So I’m not going to go through EVERY specific conversation and it’s conclusion. That would take me too long. I’ll focus on two of them, because at the time, they hit me hardest and were the first two I managed to connect together.

Marriage. In the last two years, I’ve seen roughly half of my friends and a few family members end theirs in divorce. A couple of those friends hadn’t even signed the papers before they were already “choosing their own happiness” with another person. I’ve seen another solid number of them struggling to stay afloat in the midst of infidelity, pornography, depression, miscommunication (or the lack of it all together), dishonesty, and the worst one, apathy. I’ve been an active part of marriage mentoring and multiple conversations with couples I know who just want to throw in the towel and are looking for the first, “Biblical” excuse to do so. Marriage, when done on our own terms, ends in disaster as the world seems to prove more and more every year. The sad thing for me is that Christian marriages, where we have an even greater reason to thrive and find blessing and joy on our journey together, seem to struggle worse than the secular unions. We could blame it on the Devil and his desire to destroy anything God creates and calls beautiful, but we’d only be partially correct. In the end, Christian marriages crash and burn for the same reason the world’s version does. We make a mockery of the sacredness and symbolism of marriage (Christ and His Bride) when we choose to pursue our own happiness at the cost of all else. The world might have an excuse. Christ Followers don’t.

Modesty. I had a couple of these conversations with people I love and this is a difficult one. On the one hand, I talked to a fellow parent who is struggling with her almost adult daughter and the lack of modesty, even in her own home. Her own brother had to get up and walk away from the dinner table because her dress style is closer to hooker than wholesome. In her eyes, it’s her brother’s fault for looking in the first place. Men are perverted and disgusting pigs, and she should be free to wear what she wants, when she wants it. So how does she explain my six year old son who sees a pretty girl and gets a physical reaction that terrifies him and makes him think something’s wrong with him? Is he a perverted, disgusting pig because his body’s been biologically wired to respond to a sensual visual?

I talked  to another fellow mom who thinks more like that daughter does. Her own seven year old daughter is wearing bikinis and she thinks nothing of it. It’s for the guys to turn away from lust and sin. Confronting a girl for wearing less than modest clothing is considered shaming and degrading.

It’s getting more and more difficult for me to find appropriate clothing for my eight year (going on pre-teen) daughter. If it’s not midriffs, butt-baring shorts, and sexy little polka dot bikinis, it’s advertising for the latest fads and unrealistic body image expectations. I’ve contemplated making her clothes myself, but even patterns nowadays are either Puritan in nature, or would need some major modification for an 8 year old with a 12 year old body.

I remember those growing up years. Nothing fit and everything pretty and decent went to my sister who’s growing form seemed to fit the typical female body type. I’d end up with baggy overalls and too-big shirts because anything in my size wouldn’t accommodate the fast-developing lumps on my chest. It was frankly humiliating and led to years of self-esteem issues. The first time I wore a (modest) cleavage baring dress, I wilted with embarrassment and swore it would never happen again. But it didn’t matter really. Even in sweatshirts two sizes too big and cargo-style jeans, I still got wolf-whistles and dirty jokes. It doesn’t take much to imagine what’s under my clothing, because I’ve got a lot of it. I ate junk food to compensate, and filled out my belly too, thinking if I was fat all around, guys would stop looking. Of course, my health suffered and it took me years to lose the weight.

I still struggle to this day with the issue of modesty. I mean, is it really MY fault that guys look at my chest? Who cares if I wear a shirt that sells my assets rather than hides them? Where’s the middle ground? What IS modesty anyway?

Seeing a connection yet?

No?

Okay. Here it is.

The Christian life is about centering OUR lives around GOD’S good and perfect Will. The two greatest commandments: Love God and Love our Neighbor as ourselves prove this. It’s about surrendering OUR will and fully giving ourselves over to be used by and up for God. It’s about Christ filling us with HIMSELF so fully, that there’s no room anymore for our selfishness and our sin and our will. It’s about spending ourselves for the sake of Christ and His gospel and taking our eyes OFF of our own petty, human wants and desires.

The gospel I see played out in my life and the lives around me doesn’t look a bit like Christ, but it looks a hell of a lot like us.

Marriage is a symbol of Christ and His mystical union with us, His Bride. The Body of Christ joined with the Son of God to form a union so beautiful and so absolutely pure. Not on any merit of ours, but through the blood of Christ shed for us and covering us in HIS righteousness. It’s ALL His work. While we were His enemy, He offered us salvation and called us by HIS name. Made us in His image, but we are NOT God. Our marriages, if they are to reflect that beautiful, wonderful, terrible story, MUST include us dying to ourselves, daily, hourly, sometimes moment by moment.

Given this Truth, it should be in the moment of our greatest woundings (at our spouse’s all-too human hands) that we demonstrate best the agape love of Christ. If Christ can forgive us, who made ourselves His worst enemy by rejecting Him over and over again, is there ANYTHING we cannot forgive our spouse, who was created in the image of God and is a co-heir with us in His kingdom?

Does this negate the terrible wounds we can inflict on one another? By no means! Physical abuse, sexual infidelity, pornography, deceit…the list goes on. None of these are light offenses and sometimes DO require us to walk away (at least for a time) until God can get ahold of the wretched sinner and change him or her. Many of these issues require counseling and mentors who can walk alongside and pray for and with you as you struggle to love and honor and remain faithful to the vows you made before God. My husband and I went to a godly counselor in our first couple years of marriage because of sin issues that we both struggled with and it was the BEST thing that could have happened to us. There is NO shame in bringing sin to light and letting others walk with you through the journey. The shame is when you hide it or hope you can deal with it on your own…or in the worst case scenario, you just give up and walk away.

What kind of a God do we represent when His first human institution, marriage, becomes a joke. What are we telling our children when we file for divorce and break up our family because we’re no longer happy or we’ve fallen out of love or our spouse has done something unforgiveable? Aren’t we telling them that God drops THEM like a rock when they make Him unhappy or when they commit what they believe is an unforgiveable offense? Do we not demonstrate that God gives up on us when we screw up and are all too human?

The hardest lie I see nowadays is when someone tells me they prayed and feel like God is releasing them from their marriage vows. Really? The God who HATES divorce told you that you’re an exception to the rule? I’ve seen friends reach ROCK BOTTOM in their marriage with NO HOPE left that their spouse will EVER repent and turn back to God. They broke their hearts weeping and praying for reconciliation, sometimes for YEARS. And their faithfulness was rewarded at long last when their spouse finally came back. Did that make all those terrible months or years go away? No. Did they have to build up trust again and fight to love the person who wounded them so bitterly? Of course. But they also found out what exactly Christ meant by the mystical union, because through Him, they found restoration and redemption in a situation that the world (and many “Christians) would have written off as hopeless, unresolvable.

Who’s Will is being done here on earth as it is in Heaven?

Modesty has the same roots, although it might not seem that way on the surface. I mean, really. Who are we hurting by wearing sexy clothes and dressing to please ourselves? And there’s such a wide range of definitions when it comes to modesty, right? This culture is open for interpretation, so we should have the freedom to express ourselves and find our own happiness, regardless of what the opposite sex thinks or how they act.

Love God and Love Others. I don’t see that in our culture today regarding modesty, marriage, or anything else, to be honest. And Christians are just as bad as the world on this issue. Because it doesn’t REALLY come down to what we’re wearing on the outside. Or how unhappy we are in our marriages. Those are surface symptoms of a deeper, and far more dangerous, root issue.

What I see more and more is us saying to God, “Not YOUR Will, but MINE be done.”

Instead of raising our daughters to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, meekness, patience, and love, we teach them to sell themselves under the guise of “confidence” and “happiness”. Instead of teaching them to be shield-bearers  and warrior maidens for the men in our lives, we teach them to wear the cloak of victimhood and blame the other gender for lack of “equality” and for what we like to call the “rape culture.” We dress to please ourselves and whore our bodies in order to feel beautiful, desired, strong.

Instead of teaching our sons to use the gifts and desires God gives them for the good of others, to bear the Sword of Truth, to defend the weak and powerless, to look after the oppressed, and to stand in the gap for the widows and orphans, we emasculate them. We tell them their biology and make-up is wrong and perverted. We shame them for their natural reactions to the beautiful and pure things in this life and tell them it’s their fault when they can’t take their eyes off the assets we’re so “generously” displaying.

Where is the Gospel of Christ in these and other issues? Where is the dying to self and seeking the good in and for others? Where is the taking up our cross and following after Christ? Where is the sharing in His suffering and the suffering of His people? Where is the Radical Generosity that pours ourselves out until we have NOTHING left to give and then continues to pour out long after that?

When do we FINALLY lay down our own lives at the foot of the Cross and say, “Not MY will, but THINE, Lord Jesus?”

NotMyWill.jpg

Posted in Abundance, and Love, Faith, Hope, and Love, Family, Freedom, God, Gratitude, Healing, Hope, Joy, life lessons, Love, marriage, Marriage and Family, mission, Neighbors, Transparency, Uncategorized, Winning, Writing

In which love MEANS someONE…

I’ve had some less than comforting conversations with certain people in my life lately that leave me with a pit in my stomach and a painful ache in my heart. The words spoken remind me of the devastating effect false representation and the enemy’s lies can have on God’s creation, his human creation most of all.

Ever heard the phrases, “Thanks for picking up the slack” or “If only they had been more responsible” before?

Another phrase I’ve heard a lot lately, “Love always wins.”

Without worrying about pc-friendly terminology, I have to reply to that one, what a crock.

And before I get crucified, let me tell you. I DO believe Love always wins. I DON’T believe a lot of people who say that phrase actually live like they believe it.

Let me explain. We use the word love for a lot of things that actually have nothing whatsoever to do with love. We LOVE our new car. We LOVE our presidential candidate. We LOVE our clothes. We LOVE that new movie. What we really mean is that the car, the clothes, the candidate, the movie, all give us a sensation like pleasure. We FEEL something that makes us happy when we think of that object or person, but LOVE has nothing to do with it.

In other languages, there are different words to describe various levels and forms of what we in English call LOVE. We wrap up shallow, surface sensation within deeper, more abiding context and it’s no wonder we confuse ourselves when it comes to the real deal.

We spout platitudes and tell people we’re “in love” and it leaves us with all the depth of a quick Adrenalin rush after the 100 meter dash. It’s great and it feels good, but it’s over in moments and what’s left? The come-down after a temporary high.

So what IS love?

It’s not a feeling, I can tell you that right now.

Love is:

  • giving generously without reproach
  • forgiving seventy times seven and then forgiving once more
  • laying down your life for another
  • looking after the poor and the widow and those who have been oppressed and beaten down
  • advocating for the ones who have no voice to speak for themselves
  • opening your home to the least of these, clothing them and feeding them and giving them resources to get back on their feet
  • making a vow and remaining faithful through daily, moment by moment choices to overlook the other’s faults and open your heart regardless of whether the other fully understands how vulnerable that makes you
  • making the hard decision because the easy one only leads to long term pain and no lasting gain
  • patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not puffed up with pride
  • it does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs
  • it does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth
  • it ALWAYS protects, ALWAYS trusts, ALWAYS hopes, and ALWAYS perseveres
  • it NEVER fails
  • it is the GREATEST virtue in the entire world and yet it is the LEAST used
  • it’s an action NOT a feeling
  • brings healing, restoration, and redemption

Every one of these definitions I got straight from one source. Can you guess what source?

“Love always wins” gets thrown around when the newest law is handed down from on high. It is spoken when a special interest group “wins” a big legal battle against the “intolerant” and “bigoted” offender. Religious leaders even use it to push their doctrinal agendas.

Love ALWAYS wins because HE already won. It happened on a wooden torture device, on a hill bathed in the blood of both innocent and guilty, when a Savior embodied the greatest example of True Love as He drew his last breath and committed His Spirit into His Father’s hands.

The greatest definition of love in the end isn’t actually a decision or a feeling.

The greatest definition of Love is the person of Jesus Christ.

And anything less than what He demonstrated on that cross and in every living, breathing moment of His existence here on earth, is a pale, poor imitation of what Love actually is.

We were made in His image, but don’t for ONE MOMENT think that makes us capable of the kind of Love He pours out on us day in and day out.

When we reach out to a sick friend to lend them a helping hand, that’s a pale demonstration of Christ’s Love. When we offer our services for a hurting family who is broken and desperate for a way out of the mess, it’s just imitation and a pale one at that. When we give our time, money, and selves for a ministry that serves the poor and downtrodden, we are just barely scratching the surface of what Christ’s love looks like.

When we accept that everything we have to give in the name of love is NEVER enough, then we can accept that the only one who can is the One who defines and lives it perfectly.

And when we accept that, then He is free to infuse us with Himself, to love others through us, and to represent His love to a world that is dying without it. Ultimately, that is the greatest form of love.

Loving us enough to give us Himself in our place. When the world sees me, I don’t want them to see my paltry excuse for what I define as love.

I want them to see Love (in the form of Jesus Christ) in all HIS glory.

1 John 4

Posted in benefits of exercise, child, discipline, dreams, exercise, faith, Family, goals, Home, Hope, lessons, life, life lessons, Love, Memory, Neighbors, Random, Writing

In Which a Walk Down Memory Lane Begins with a Phone Call

“Look dad! A big rock. I’ve never seen a big rock before.” My three year old son excitedly chattered about his amazing find on our family walk this evening. He’s dressed in daddy’s shirt and big boy undies and wearing socks with his sandals. It’s an interesting get-up, but it fits him somehow.

In the grand tradition of three year olds everywhere, he’d already forgotten about the pile of “big” rocks he’d found the day before. Those treasures are now sitting in a basket on my dryer while I wait for him to forget about them so I can replenish our gravel street. Thus repeating the cycle of a rock collecting little boy who probably picked up one from two expeditions ago.

My husband and I smile at the antics of our children. The five year old has found her own collection and is attempting to pawn them off on us so she can run on ahead without the extra burden in her hands. She’s also grinning like a mad woman when we decide we’re going to have a swinging session.

Jake and I each grab one hand and on the count of three, we send them soaring right up to the clouds. Or so they say. Then it’s a race to see who gets to steal who’s turn and we set a limit. Three turns each and then switch. We manage it for two rounds before both of us are sweating and laughing too much to continue.

The littlest little is content in his sling on my chest. He chatters and coos once in a while, but mostly vacillates between sucking his thumb while his eyes grow heavy and darting quick glances all around at the dusky landscape.

We hear the crickets chirping and a lawnmower in the distance. The breeze blows through our hair, cooling the summer evening to just the right temperature.

At some point, middle little has discovered a new treasure. “BIG dicks, mom! Look dad. I found some dicks.” For those of you wondering, that’s kidspeak for “sticks”. Get your heads out of the gutter people… 🙂

 

it_takes_a_village

 

My mom and I chatted on the phone earlier today. We were discussing many things, but among the topics was the benefits of exercise and how much harder it is to keep in shape nowadays. I mused on the idea of our lost village mentality. When I was growing up, we had neighbors.

No, I don’t mean the people who live on our street and we see in passing on a family walk or when the neighborhood garage sales start.

I mean neighbors who knew us backwards and forwards and we knew them the same. Neighbors who had cookouts, Sunday morning brunches, and evening walks with our family. We kids would leave the house in the morning after our chores were done and we didn’t reappear until lunchtime. Mom handed us all sandwiches and water bottles and we at on the trampoline for an impromptu picnic. Snack time took place over at the neighbor’s house and somewhere in between, we managed to traverse MOST of the backyards on the entire street. There WAS that one neighbor who had a fence because they didn’t like kids.

We managed to get around it anyway.

I heard recently that we aren’t necessarily living in more dangerous times. We’ve just become more paranoid and thus, less a village and more an island unto ourselves. Each family unit, taking walks on their own, collecting rocks, and having no clue who our neighbors are. It’s sad really.

I love our neighborhood. It’s quiet, out in the country, yet close enough to town for convenience sake.

I don’t love our neighbors. Not because they are horrible people or anything, but because I don’t know them enough to love them. I miss the village.

I think this Christmas, we’re going to bake cookies for the neighbors. We may not get the village back, but I’m determined to at least love our neighbors the best that we can.