Pray For Destiny Hope: Part Two

Aside

My post yesterday was the first after my summer break. The response was surprising. It seems my thoughts about Destiny Hope (scroll down to see this if you haven’t already) hit a chord in many hearts.

I’m encouraged!

Why? Because many of you, like me, are aware of the spiritual pride (as one reader defined the sinful attitude we often deal with in relation to “those sinners out there”) that tempts us to view ourselves as better than others because our actions are more outwardly righteous than theirs.

  • “You wouldn’t catch me wearing something like that on national TV…or even at the beach, for goodness sake!”
  • “How in the world could that young woman do those things in front of millions of people???”
  • “Where did she learn to act like that? Who in the world had a filthy enough mind to choreograph those moves?”
  • “What happened to the little girl who went to Sunday School and wore a promise ring?”

I’ll admit it. My first reaction to the teaser clips I saw of Miley’s moves on Fox News wasn’t compassion. They were revolting. Shameful. Disgusting. Shocking. Until I took some moments to look into my own heart.

I was six years old when my friend Linda, the pastor’s daughter, and I were walking around the “dime store” (many of you are too young to know what that means) on a Saturday afternoon. We typically headed straight for the cheap little dolls and their even cheaper little accessories. I don’t remember the details of what I was thinking that day over fifty years ago, but I do remember something important. One of the “magic” baby bottles — where the milk seemed to disappear when turned up to feed the baby — ended up in my pocket when we left. And I didn’t have the 25 cents to pay for it.

It couldn’t have been that bad because it was the pastor’s daughter’s idea! The bottle in her pocket had disappearing orange juice, so between us we could feed our babies juice and milk.

At age six these two young churched girls had already become thieves and liars. And one of them justified her actions because the desire to “go along” with her pastor’s kid gave her just the permission she needed to do what was in her heart to do anyway.

The next time I remember stealing and lying was in fifth grade. I was in the “advanced” reading group and desperately wanted to retain my role as the group leader. This meant I had to read numerous books in a given time period and answer a list of comprehension questions to prove I had actually completed them. I also had the job of checking the other group members’ quizzes and then keep track of their progress in the teacher’s grade book.

Maybe you’re ahead of me. This meant I had authorized access to the answer keys.

I don’t remember if this happened just once, but I remember cheating one afternoon when no one else was in the room. I stole the answers to one (or more?) of the quizzes because my leadership tasks had left me behind in my own reading. My proud heart craved the recognition and respect of being the leader and I wasn’t about to give that up.

There you have it: by age 10 I was already demonstrating my willingness to steal, lie (covering up sin is the same as lying, right?) and rebel against God and my parents/teacher to get what I wanted. This pattern continued into my teen years when I was willing to compromise morally and ethically to keep a boyfriend or be accepted by the “cool” people or get ahead academically.

And I wish all that had stopped when I graduated high school!

appomattoxchurchofchrist.org

appomattoxchurchofchrist.org

You see, a couple of months back I reacted angrily at Benny (my husband) and threw my cell phone at the wall near him. That same attitude of entitlement I had decades ago (didn’t I “deserve” that baby bottle and expedited quiz grades and cute boyfriend?) remains to some degree to this day. When Benny did something that tempted me to react angrily, to his shock I picked up my phone and heaved it toward the wall. Sigh. At least I didn’t throw it right at him. Because I don’t typically express my anger outwardly (even though it’s alive and well in my heart) he and I both realized this was a sign that something was deeply affecting me. The little girl who “deserved” a toy she couldn’t pay for became a wife who “deserves” her husband’s sensitivity, attention or encouragement. I’ve spent some good time with the Lord asking Him to search out the things in my heart that allowed me to act so wrongly toward Benny.

So what does this have to do with Miley?  What if her actions, like mine as a kid and even recently as an adult, are symptoms of heart issues of which she isn’t even aware? Are her actions really the biggest problem? Or is there something deeper and even more serious going on?

The only reason you and I become aware of what is motivating us is because God shows us. I don’t see my sinful anger, greed, self-pity or painful sadness over being sinned against with my own eyes. And neither do you. Perhaps like me, you want to blame things like outbursts of anger on disrespectful kids or incompetent store clerks or gossipy friends or unkind relatives. We see — or are even willing to see — the roots of sin or brokenness or grief in our hearts when the Spirit of God kindly shows them to us. Left to ourselves, like Miley, we would go our own way without thought to how our actions begin in and flow out of our hearts.

Jesus talked about this when He said: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Hmm…sinful actions begin in the heart. Pornography and gossip, adulterous affairs and teens making out in the backseat of cars, lies and murder all begin in the heart before they ever come out — to just one person over lunch or to millions on TV.

Seeing how similar Miley and I alike are helps me to cultivate Christlike compassion rather than pharisaical judgement toward her. We both have a heart problem. I have been declared not guilty of my many sins while she seemingly remains in need of a Savior who is just as able to forgive her as He has me.

P.S. By the way, my conscience got the best of me and I told Mom about the magic baby bottle.  She and the pastor’s wife had a good talkin’ to with LInda and me (well, not just a talkin’ to!) and we both had to return the toys to the store. The manager tried to give them back to us to say thanks for having the courage to return them (what courage??? our Moms made us!) but our moms wisely declined. They paid the 25 cents each for them, but then we all left the store with the man holding them in his hand. Thanks, Mom!

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Lost and Scared: And No GPS

It was after midnight and I was lost. There was nothing in sight — and this was before cell phones or even pagers. I was on my way to a church youth retreat in rural Maryland with three teens. When I saw the Welcome to Pennsylvania sign I wanted to cry. Where was I and how in the world was I going to find an out-of-the-way retreat center that wasn’t even visible from the dark, country road leading to it? How did I get all the way to Pennsylvania from Virginia on my way to Maryland? And why hadn’t I packed some snacks for always-hungry teenagers?

It’s funny. I don’t even remember how I found it. I just remember my husband, Benny, pacing outdoors after 1 AM when I finally drove up. He’d been trying to find a way to call the police but the office was locked and he didn’t know how to locate the onsite tenant. The look on his face as he searched the darkness with my car headlights blinding him made me realize how frightened he had been.

Thank God for whoever invented GPS’s.

As a mother I have felt lost more times than I can count. Whether you are carrying your first child or have seven young adult children (like me) the desperation of motherhood has likely visited you on numerous occasions. Feeling lost is scary when you’re trying to find a retreat center in the dark, but not nearly as fretful as wondering if your kids are getting all they need to feel loved and well prepared to take their place in a sometimes dark world when they’re big.

I wasn’t supposed to get lost that night with three teens in my car. I should have made sure I was paying better attention as I searched for State Road whatever it was. And when the first stirrings of uncertainty bubbled into my mind I should have stopped to ask for help. Well, that is, if I could have found a gas station or a house that didn’t look haunted.

Likewise, aren’t mothers supposed to do what’s right every time? Aren’t we supposed to know what to do and when to do it? Good mothers don’t get distracted and lose their way, right? They think things through and prepare for the unexpected and don’t take wrong turns and always have a backup plan.

Typing that sounds as foolish to me as it probably does to you. When we’re sitting on the couch thinking rationally every mother knows she has and will make mistakes. Just like her mother and her mother before her. But when desperate motherhood strikes and life smacks us in the face in the form of a seriously ill or chronically moody or immoral or withdrawn child we too often rush to, “What did I miss and how did we get here?”

We do miss things. And sometimes negative patterns in our children point us to areas in which we need to change by providing more effective or focused encouragement, training, affection, discipline or instruction. I’ve had those times when God has used a child’s repeated misbehavior or failure to teach me about mothering deficiencies. But if having flawed children who make foolish, sinful or sometimes dangerous choices automatically points to mothering failures, then when a kid remains basically compliant, cooperative and respectful all the way to adulthood then do we also get to give ourselves self-congratulatory pats on the back?

Wise mothers don’t take the blame or the credit.

Yes, what we do matters. We are responsible to the God who loaned us our children to raise for His glory in desperate hope that they will take what they learned into the next generation. Our flaws — especially in the form of consistent anger, neglect or lack of biblical love — will likely leave our kids with adult issues to face in the future. Yet the One who is most responsible for and capable of making our kids who we long for them to be is the God who gave them to us in the first place.

And unlike Benny all those years ago, He’s not pacing and wondering if we’re okay. Rather, He “neither slumbers or sleeps” as He wisely, faithfully and tenderly watches and guides and protects us and our children from anything — even hard stuff — that won’t be used for good in our lives and theirs.

No mother is perfect. But because “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” to die for us (John 3:16) we have hope that if the death of the innocent Christ was used for the greatest good ever, making a way for us to be reconciled to God, then He can be trusted to use all for good for kids who grow up with imperfect mothers.

One of the coolest and most helpful things that happened to me some years ago was admitting when I got lost as a mom. Doing so made moms around me feel safe admitting they missed a turn or two as well. And some of us soon felt understood enough to start admitting that what scared us most was not stuff with our kids but our own recurring anger and impatience. Selfishness and laziness. Putting on a good face when others were around and being the “real” us behind the closed doors of our homes. Harshness. Jealousy of other mothers. Desires to impress rather than commitment to keep it real. Feelings of failure. Exhaustion. Favoring the easy child over the challenging one.

Being lost in the hopelessness that we’re stuck in our own unhealthy patterns is the worst kind of lostness of all.

Have you felt lost as a mother? Are there times when mental hand wringing leaves you feeling desperate and inadequate? Do you sometimes look at your kids and wish there was someone who could help you figure out how to do this motherhood thing better?

I have good news.

There is Someone. He has helped me more times than I can count. And He has used every single mistake and missed turn on my part for good in my kid’s lives. He’s not a far off God but is named Emmanuel — God with us.

Being lost is scary, I know. But those times make the times when things are bright and the path seems clear really special.

More on that tomorrow.

Day Two

Day Two

When Friends Become Enemies

Rich and Seth were best friends growing up. They did all the normal stuff together: sports, youth group and girlfriend switching. No one was surprised when they decided to attend the same out-of-state college.

Nearly twenty years later, however, Seth and Rich rarely see each other.  They talk a few times a year by phone and send each other Christmas gifts with a family photo. As 40-somethings, they’re busy with kids and careers…and they have the perfunctory “we gotta do that hunting trip” exchange at least once a year. But they both know that trip is unlikely to happen….

What do you think of their relationship? Did they, like most childhood friends, just drift apart? Does it seem superficial and perhaps dutiful? Or would you define it as healthy and warm, especially for guys who haven’t lived near each other in years?

However you perceive this friendship, what you don’t know is that a few years back something painful happened between them. The details aren’t that important. Some would think their conflict wasn’t all that serious, while others might see the issues as irreparable. Those outside such situations are often quick to judge…until hurt feelings and tension come into our own lives. What is important is that for nearly two years Rich and Seth couldn’t have a amiable conversation so they gave up.

The tension and anger between these two men could have destroyed them. The advice of the few people who knew about their conflict varied widely: everything from “it’s not that big of a deal, move on” to “you’re crazy if you don’t walk away.” These guys and their wives strongly disagreed on some weighty and longstanding issues between them that produced their heated interactions. Yet they agreed on the most important thing; they didn’t want to walk away from a decades-long friendship.

The truth is Rich and Seth’s relationship is healthy. Why? Because they decided to do what Else and JJ did. They humbled themselves and asked forgiveness. It wasn’t easy. Rich was afraid he had disappointed his life long buddy far too deeply. Seth’s resentment tempted him to wonder if he even wanted to try to repair the relationship. One thing we do to each other that isn’t helpful is try to impose our personal preferences on what friendship or care or loyalty should look like rather than allowing the Bible to define that for us.

I am going through a season where I’m battling relational temptations, too. Today I was contacted by a facebook friend who asked me if I ever felt troubled because “Jesus just isn’t enough.” She expressed her discouragement that her emotions and the circumstances of life were crowding in on her, and her relationship with the Lord was being pushed out. I empathized and told her I would pray for her…if she would pray for me.

When circumstances press in, and especially when relational challenges threaten our joy, we have to remember something: Jesus is enough. He was enough for Rich and Seth. Because they value biblical principles more than they prize relief from conflict, they chose to forgive. Their contact isn’t as frequent as some would say is “biblical” and they still work through temptations to be anger and bitter. But they are not allowing others’ “you should be’s” rule. Rather, they understand that the difficulties that took years to develop will likely take years to fully resolve. Forgiveness is the first step to God-gloriying fruit. As author Jerry Bridges says, the process of Christian growth (sanctification) requires “personal, vigorous effort anchored in the grace of God.” Rich and Seth are both learning how to patiently persevere through the Spirit-empowered, vigorous effort that change demands.

These men may never vacation together or invite each other into town for Christmas. The fact that they care about and aren’t bitter toward one another is cause for gratefulness. Being reconciled to someone when sin (yours, theirs or both) has caused a breach in your relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that things have to be “the same” as prior to when things went south.

What does need to remain is the awareness that God is in control even when hopelessness crowds out faith.

If you are either Rich or Seth, I invite you to join me in trusting in gospel-saturated hope that things will get better. “Better” may not mean the person or people with whom you are struggling will change. Believe me, if there was a way to reach in and change a person’s heart I would have figured that out by now! Not only can we not change another’s heart and perspective, we can’t even change our own.

But Someone can. Think about ways in which you are different than you were a year ago…two years ago…ten years ago. You and I aren’t different because we got older or decided to change. We’re different because God promised to complete the work He began at our conversion. He’s doing the changing of us!

I need fresh faith to focus on the needed changes and corresponding promise of grace in my own heart. Because God accepted the atoning death of Jesus Christ as payment for my sin and promises to change me (ever so slowly, it seems) I don’t have to worry about Him changing others. Like Rich and Seth, I can forgive and then let God define what change should look like in those with whom I’m struggling…and provide joy in the struggle.

Over time, friends can become enemies. Husbands and wives may drift apart. Siblings can lose contact. Parents and adult children will offend and hurt each other. Coworkers ask to be transferred to a different department. Sometimes it happens so slowly that it takes a shouting match or bitter tears to expose what’s been hiding in wounded or sinful hearts.

But the good news is there is hope. Even if the other person remains hard-hearted, we can choose grace. The baby in a manger grew up to die so you and I could be forgiven sinners. And then turn and forgive those who sin against us.

God and sinners reconciled. Sinners reconciled with each other. Glory to the newborn King that made this possible.

The Mean Picture Lesson

I happend to catch this candid shot of JJ and Elsie in my backyard last week having a sibling “moment”….

Last week my 5-year-old granddaughter, Elsie, got mad at her brother, JJ. Really mad. No one knows why. But she was so mad she drew a picture of herself and him. Only she drew a diagonal line through him…like those signs you see that warn people not to walk in the grass or cross the street in a certain spot.

Her 7-year-old brother saw his sister’s obvious anger and aloofness, but he hadn’t seen the picture she drew. He just knew she wouldn’t play with him and was snippy when he spoke to her. This had certainly happened numerous times before so he knew what to do. JJ found his mom and told her Elsie was angry and wouldn’t play with him.

That day was like every other one for Rachel — just another sibling skirmish to referee like she had hundreds before. Perhaps the thought came: “How many times am I gonna have to do this?” But what she didn’t know is that this tiff would be different…

In recent months I’ve heard of numerous relational conflicts between people. Folks have gotten really mad at others for varying reasons, some serious and others petty.  Living in a fallen world means promises get broken, feelings get hurt and people get angry. For some reason holiday stress — coupled with the common disappointment when our Christmas season doesn’t closely resemble Hallmark cards and movies — brings relational conflicts to the surface.

As I said on Monday, the holidays can be laced (or it some cases, doused) with disappointment, and one of the big reasons is tension between people who have been or want to be close, but aren’t.

I learned something from JJ and Elsie last week. And their mom. The gospel can shine brightest when people sin.

When Rachel brought her children together to talk through their conflict, she expected things to go as usual. Elsie would complain about something her brother had done. JJ would try to explain or defend himself, and perhaps point out something Elsie did that warranted his reaction. Rachel would try to help them see the importance of getting along and ask them to play nicely. Or maybe, depending on whether or not 3-year-old Eleanor was writing on walls with markers or getting into Mommy’s makeup, Rach would take the time to lovingly remind them that Jesus can help them love each other and then pray with them for His help.

But God had other plans.

They really do love each other.

Before Rachel had time to address Elsie’s anger toward her brother she was bringing over her picture to show Mommy. She was crying, not because she was mad at JJ but because she had drawn a mean picture that demonstrated her angry attitude.  Rachel explained that she understood how easy it is to get angry at people, saying she has drawn that same picture over and over in her own heart. Then JJ cozied up to his sister and put his arm around her.

“It’s okay, Elsie. I understand. I get angry, too,” he said.

Rachel then told them that because they are sinners, Jesus provided a way for them to be forgiven. All Elsie needed to do to stop crying and feeling bad about her mean picture and angry attitude toward her brother was to ask Jesus and JJ to forgive her. Once she did that, it was all over and she didn’t have to feel badly anymore. So Elsie asked forgiveness of God and her brother, then began happily playing.

When Rachel told me the story several days later, she wasn’t boasting about what good parents she and Josh are to raise such humble kids. She was genuinely amazed at God’s work in both her children. She knew that Elsie’s sincere sorrow over drawing such a mean picture of her brother, and JJ’s eagerness to empathize with her, were first and foremost evidences of God’s grace in their lives.

And what’s thrilling is this same grace is available to you and me.

Is there someone you’re not looking forward to spending time with this Christmas, or someone you’re glad you won’t be seeing? Over the past year (or more?) have you noticed growing anger or bitterness building in your heart toward anyone? Have you drawn a mental picture of someone and then essentially crossed him or her out of your life?

Perhaps you can prayerfully consider humbling yourself and sharing your “picture” with them. God will show you what this should look like. He might lead you to take the first step of simple (but not easy!) initiative in the form of a quick email to say hello; or maybe prompt you to plunge right into deeper waters by asking forgiveness for your anger or bitterness.

The reality is they may not respond the way JJ did — and things could actually get even more muddy. But God will be watching. He knows all about the costs of bridging the gap between those in conflict. The cross demonstrates to us that if God could reconcile sinful man to His holy self, there is no relationship beyond repair.

P.S.  Repairing relationships doesn’t always mean things have to be like they once were or that wrong patterns of relating will change right away. Relationships typically take a long time to break down…and equally long to repair. Healthy interactions don’t mean you have to have Christmas dinner together. More on that tomorrow.

Experts Agree: Teach Your Kids to Get Along

This series on sibling relationships has been intentionally personal. We have enjoyed sharing our struggles and trials — and making some fun of each other along the way. A couple of my kids will be finishing up the series early next week, but today I want to deviate from family illustrations and stories to collaborated research about sibling relationships.

The reality is that siblings usually have the longest-lasting relationships in a person’s life. For example, my father died when I was 22 and my mother when I was 46. I have been married for 39 years and became a mother 34 years ago. However, I have been a sibling all of my 58 years.

Preparing for and writing this series (along with my kids) prompted me to do some secular research on this topic. Honestly, I didn’t know what I would find. But my research turned up some interesting stuff that has been confirmed in my own family:

  • The influence of parents is certainly weighty; but sibling influence is more significant than researchers anticipated.  Interestingly, also high on the influence list in the life of a young child are the friends of their older siblings. One researcher explained the possible reason for this: siblings and their friends are “closer to the social environments” of kids. Younger siblings, therefore, view older siblings and their buddies as cooler; therefore, they frequently imitate their actions and embrace their values over those of uncool or out of touch parents.
  • Undesirable behaviors are statistically learned more from siblings than from parents or other older adults. Things like smoking, alcohol consumption, criminal acts and sex outside marriage make a greater impression on kids when performed by siblings than by parents. For example, children may react to the negative consequences of parents who smoke or cheat by making a firm decision to avoid this behavior. However, when siblings engage in these things, younger brothers are sisters are far more likely to follow their negative example.
  • Children who grow up with siblings, especially those close in age, “may not need to [spend as much time with peers] because they are already having significant social experiences within the family unit.” This can help dispel the pressure parents feel to socialize their children (especially at young ages) with peers on a weekly or daily basis to be properly socialized.
  • I love this one (especially since two of my kids who have written posts emphasized having to reconcile and ask forgiveness growing up). Research indicates that siblings bicker or “squabble” between 6 and 10 times an hour (see, your family isn’t unusual!). This, experts say, “can help kids make developmental strides in a ‘safe relationship’ and provide good training for interacting with peers….”  In short, sibling arguments and conflicts — when handled properly — can actually be a good thing! This reminds me of Ken Sande’s excellent book, The Peacemaker, which teaches that conflict is inevitable and can actually glorify God. (More on that tomorrow with a resource recommendation we used with our kids.)
  • Children who have close sibling relationships are likely to have healthy adult peer relationships (including with their spouse).
  • Parent-mediated conflict resolution between siblings can help children develop a pattern of appropriate disagreement later in life. There is agreement from a wide range of secular researchers that leaving kids to themselves to resolve conflicts is unwise because kids aren’t good self-teachers. What kid is going to instruct him or her self to say, “Wow. I shouldn’t have smacked you when you wouldn’t give me the toy. Please forgive me. Let’s try that again and I will ask you nicely.” Patient mediation involves instruction and leadership, leading to a proper resolution. Researchers discourage parents from jumping in and manipulating kids to resolve things quickly and robotically, using similar attitudes and behavior (anger, harshness, etc) that mimics the child’s wrong doing.

Even those who don’t have a Christian worldview and who don’t adhere to biblical principles for relationship management agree: sibling relationships are really important.

Warmth and closeness between kids — along with wisely mediated conflict resolution by parents — can not only create a gospel-saturated culture in our own homes but can also prepare our children for the harsh realities of navigating life in a sin-saturated world.

When your child bonks his brother on the head and says, “If you don’t gimme that I’ll never play with you again!” or your teen reacts to her sister with eye-rolling arrogance and slams the door in her face, we parents can react in several different ways. If you’re like me, the first impulse probably isn’t the best one. Reacting in anger, frustration, exasperation or resorting to lecturing isn’t going to help. After all, “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires” (James 1:20).

I love how my daughter, Jaime, responded to my granddaughters recently when biting and hair pulling happened between them. In describing her own relationship with her sister, Janelle, Jaime told Annie and Danae, “When I was your age I didn’t like Nelly. She drove Mama crazy and I wanted to bite her and pull her hair.” Rather than fuss or lecture (which Jaime would be the first to admit is sometimes her response) she decided to demonstrate the gospel to her girls. (You can read the full story here.)

The gospel says we are more like our kids than we are different than them. We sin. We get angry, frustrated, irritable and selfish. We bite with words instead of teeth. And when we were young we did all kinds of mean things to our siblings — in our hearts and probably through our behavior. Empathizing with our children’s temptations and struggles opens the door to grace. If Jaime had launched in to a self-righteous lecture, Annie and Danae would have politely listened and maybe even mechanically apologized to each other to end Mom’s tirade about them needing to be nice to each other. But learning that Mommy, too, wanted to bite and pull her sister’s hair “qualified” Jaime to patiently instruct and correct them.

So let’s rewind the tape of Annie and Danae’s angry interaction. Jaime walks into the room to hear what happened and explains that she, too, wanted to do the same things to Nellie. The rest of the conversation might go something like this:

“Girls, Mommy knows how hard it is to love your sister. Nellie and Mommy were mean to each other. We argued and said mean things. Nellie messed up my stuff and Mommy made Nellie believe I didn’t love her. But now we are best friends because Jesus helped us. You can only really love one another and not bite and pull each other’s hair with His help. Jesus died on the cross so He could forgive you of what you did to each other just now, and so He could help you to forgive your sister.”

I don’t know what Jaime did after she talked to Annie and Danae. Perhaps she took them aside, corrected them and then brought them back to the very place where the biting and hair pulling happened. Maybe she “recreated” the scene and walked them through a better way to respond when your sister won’t give you what you want — patiently asking for it then coming to ask Mommy for help if things don’t go well. Kids don’t just need to be corrected for wrong doing; they need to be shown how to do things right. (It’s that put off/put on principle in scripture.) And then encouraged every time they choose to respond patiently rather than react angrily.

But whatever she did was humble. Empathetic. Gospel-driven. Why? Because the gospel says we and our children are sinful, flawed, weak creatures in need of a Savior to help us treat each other the way He treats us. But we and they are also loved, cherished and empowered to do this because He died to make it possible.

(I’ve done too much research to cite everything here and I purposefully chose well-documented, secular studies of which these are a few: “Early Sibling Relationships Influence Adult Behavior” http://www.psychcentral.com; “US News and World Report Health”, July 31, 2009; “Positive Indicators of Sibling Relationship Quality”, University of Michigan, June 2003).

Kristin’s Story

On Friday I mentioned I had a story for you. It’s a story about what “speaking [gospel] truth in love” (Eph 4:15-16) can look like in real life.

Last Thursday we had Community Group (our church’s small group ministry) in our home. This is not the group we typically attend. In fact, it was our first time with them since our new church started them two months ago. Benny opened the meeting by reviewing the purpose of our groups: to grow in biblical fellowship by learning how to incarnate the love and hope of Christ to one another. After some brief comments he asked if anyone in the group had anything happening in their lives for which they wanted help.

After a brief pause, Kristin (not her real name) spoke up. Because she is new to both Christianity and to the group, I was impressed by her humility and the obvious grace she had witnessed in the group the prior time she had attended. Who would so easily open up their life to a group of people she doesn’t know well — unless she had witnessed the compassionate care she now desired to personally experience?

Kristin humbly shared concerns and disappointments about her marriage to Scott (who wasn’t present) but did so without putting him in a bad light. She started by communicating her eagerness to focus on her own weaknesses because she understands the only person she has any control over changing is herself. I didn’t know this young woman, but I was already inspired.

As she described weaknesses in how she and Scott communicate, my heart was warmed when Benny and other men in the room identified with Scott. This prevented Scott from being “the bad guy” as several husbands empathized with his responses and thinking, and wives admitted they struggled similarly to Kristin. What grace.

Group members also asked helpful, compassionate questions about her struggles. She responded to each with gut-level honesty. As a young woman expecting her second child in less than two years, it became apparent that she is in a tough season. Martial strife and anger, pregnancy nausea, fatigue, and financial stress are taking their toll on this new Christian.

“Sometimes I get so upset I just have to leave. So I go outside, sit in my car and read my Bible. And God leads me to something that helps me to know what needs to be fixed in me. I can’t fix my husband but I know God can fix me.”

How inspiring that such a young Christian facing weighty challenges could be so open and have such a healthy dose of self-suspicion! She is also running to God, rather than becoming bitter that becoming a Christian didn’t solve all her problems. Amazing. Individuals in the room communicated how inspired they were by her humility. Even her honesty wasn’t without an understanding disposition toward a husband toward whom she regularly struggles with disappointment and anger.

Then someone asked Kristin if she felt God’s biggest priority was to “fix” her.

You see, Kristin grew up in a religious system where doing or praying the “right” thing was a focus. That night she wanted to know what she needed to do to change. Her desire to focus on herself rather than her husband is impressive, but the fact is their marriage is hard. They are both suffering from patterns of sin in themselves and their spouse. They’re weary. Frustrated. Angry. Disappointed. Financially strapped. Young and inexperienced. And another baby is coming soon.

When someone asked Kristen what one thing she most wanted to see change in her marriage she said, “Our communication. Even when we’re sitting together on the couch watching TV I feel alone. I just want him to listen to me. To care about what I’m saying. To understand what I’m going through. But my overreactions and anger aren’t helping. I understand why he doesn’t want to talk to me sometimes because our conversations start with me being angry.”

A woman in the room went back to Kristin saying she needed to be “fixed” by God.

“Kristin,” she began, “You obviously see that your angry outbursts and over reactions to situations are hurting yourself and your marriage. And you’re right. But God is helping you to see this and it’s an evidence of His grace that you have eyes to see the affects your sin patterns are having. Yet I’m not sure God’s priority right now is to fix you. I think what might be most important to Him is for you to know He loves you.”

Kristin needed to hear that what she is looking for — attention, affection, a listening ear, comfort, companionship — will never ultimately come from Scott. Yes, Scott needs to grow. By God’s grace, he will learn how to more tenderly care for his wife. But chances are that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Two of the ladies (representing me, too!) were able to share how common her and Scott’s struggles are by admitting similar temptations to anger and criticalness.

And even if Scott changes, God is the only One who will always love her; always be available to listen to her; always care about what she says; always accept her. Because of His death on the cross, she is forever loved and cherished, even though she gets angry and has become bitter toward her husband.

As these thoughts were shared, Kristin began to cry.

“I came tonight hoping I could get help. I thought that people would tell me I need to stop nagging and being so angry at Scott, which is true. But God is saying He loves me even though I’m sinning so much? That just makes me love Him more.”

Oh, the hope that gospel truth brings.

Speaking the truth in love to Kristin means telling her the whole truth. The gospel truth. It’s true that her pattern of sinful anger and bitterness is eating away at her love for Scott (like his sins are equally hurting their marriage). It’s true that she needs to change. But it’s also true that God loves her. He looks on her with favor, acceptance and tender care. He is never angry or frustrated or wearied by her talking or impatient or selfish. And His power is at work in her to help her to go from seeing her sin to experiencing real and lasting change.

Scott will never be God to her. There is only One who is capable of loving her endlessly and perfectly.

As peace settled onto Kristin, one of the guys spoke up. He shared that unlike Scott (and other husbands in the room…smile) God always wants to hear her talk and that she didn’t need special prayers to communicate with Him. “Just talk to Him like you did to us. Pour out your heart to Him and He will always listen. Don’t feel you have to say it the ‘right’ way.”

“How did you know what I was thinking?!?!?” she exclaimed. “I was just going to ask for prayers I can pray to have this kind of relationship with God.”

Oh, how I love the active presence of the Spirit of God when His people gather.

I know this post has been long. Thank you for your patience. But it’s not enough to read about “speaking the truth in love.” Kristin’s story shows us what speaking gospel truth to one another can look like in a real person’s real life circumstances.

As Tim Keller says, “The gospel is that you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

Yes. That’s the gospel. And I saw it in action last Thursday night.

Is Kristin’s story your story?

Heart Roaches…yuk!

Mom had a great sense of humor and she hated bugs. Especially cock roaches. She refused to admit God created them. Rather, she said, they “crawl right of of hell.”

I inherited her hatred of these nasty critters. In fact, when Benny mentioned our possible move to Orlando 13 years ago my first response was, “Hmmmm…only if you promise we’ll have a monthly bug killing service.”  I heard the roaches in Florida could carry off small children, and wanted nothing to do with them! (Interestingly enough, I saw far more roaches in Virginia than in Florida. Whew.)

So when I walked into the garage last Thursday to find one of these child-snatching beasts scurrying around, I screamed for Benny. Mom convinced we that if you could see one, “all his relatives were hiding behind the walls.” I was imagining an army of just-crawled-out-of-hell creatures infesting my home.

It’s kinda the same way with sin. What is obvious and visible can be just the tip of the iceberg. My recent angry outburst at my husband was fueled by a family of subtle and “hidden” sins of self-pity, discontentment and self-righteousness. Behind the “walls” of my heart were the relatives of the anger scurrying around our bedroom that night.

Indwelling sin is the enemy of our souls. As believers, we are forgiven of every past, present and future sin…thank God! We have been declared not guilty and will never have to pay for our sins. But as long as we live, sin will crouch at the door of our hearts. And the only way to get rid of it is to put it to death like Benny took care of that cockroach!

Our sin nature taints everything, even our commitment to provide a warm, hospitable home for our family and friends. Our homemaking responsibilities – including cooking, cleaning, organizing, beautifying and managing – are affected by our sins of selfishness, laziness, self-pity, procrastination, anger, greed or other hidden sins of the heart.

Take it from me: Sin doesn’t “go away” as we get older; rather, it grows and becomes more ingrained and insidious.  (Consider the mold in your shower; what would happen if you just hoped it would go away?) My battles with procrastination and selfishness have not disappeared, even though my family is smaller and I have more discretionary time on my hands!

Sure wish there was a SINcesticide to apply to my heart!

Our commitment must be to embrace God’s will no matter what the cost. And the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ includes humbly inviting Him to search our hearts for patterns that hinder us from making progress as faithful and diligent homemakers.

God’s will is the ultimate joy and fulfillment of our lives. There is peace in knowing “I am in the middle of God’s will! In the case of our roles in the home, the Bible is not unclear.  It is clearly His will for us to be homemakers. What security!

I’ve been reminding myself that any sacrifice to obey the clear commands of scripture will be met with grace. When my sin results in not being responsible in my home, God is eager to forgive and help me. Whether it’s been days or years of sinful attitudes or actions our part, God is ready to forgive and grant fresh vision for our homemaking role.

Is the Holy Spirit lovingly exposing any sinful hindrances in your heart to being an effective homemaker? Me, too! I am loving having a clean conscience, the wonderful fruit of confession and repentance.

Next week I will be chatting about some practical steps to change. On a foundation of knowing the love and acceptance of God — and that our identity is not in what we do but in who we are as His beloved children — we can start the fun process of investigating helpful ideas to growing as homemakers.

That is, after an update from my weekend. My youngest graduates high school tomorrow!

Hill Climbing is Good for the Heart

In my devotions this morning I read this quote:

‎”The land is full of hills and valleys. It is not all smooth nor all downhill. The hills collect the rain for a hundred fruitful valleys. Ah, so it is with us! It is the hill difficulty that drives us to the throne of grace and brings down the showers of blessing.” (N.L. Zindendorf)

After posting this on my facebook, a friend from up north mentioned there being no hills or valleys in Florida. Smile. But the ups and downs are alive and well in my heart!

Over the months I’ve definitely felt like I’ve been doing some serious hill climbing. The combination of health issues, family happenings (both fun and challenging) and changing circumstances (including starting a new church and anticipating our second move in 18 months) have found my mind and heart swirling. Throw my sin into the mix and…well…the hills and valleys have been on display!

In the midst of my ups and downs — which can swing back and forth from day to day — I have found the unchanging truths of God’s word and His uninterrupted nearness to be my strength.

Life changes.

Jobs get lost or transfers come.

Unplanned things that cost money happen.

Sin erupts.

Hormones fluctuate.

Kids make messes…in your home and in your heart.

Sickness strikes.

Friends disappoint.

Fears stalk.

Children grow up and leave home.

Sleep evades.

In the midst of all the changes, fluctuations, drift, eruptions, disappointments, unplanned happenings and disorienting shifts of life there is One who never changes. He who is the same “yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8) is sitting down on His throne.  He is not pacing; fretful; concerned. He is still. In control. At peace. Ever watchful yet unruffled.

Yesterday I slipped from my hill climbing into a valley of worry and anger. Today the truth about Who God is — His unchanging character and sovereign control — is lifting me back onto the path.

I hate climbing hills. When I use the treadmill I keep the levels flat. I know it’s not as good for my heart as the incline upward, but I congratulate myself that I’m at least on it. Plus, I know I’m out of shape so I figure I’ll work up to a more vigorous routine.

In some areas I’m also out of spiritual shape. We are all a work in progress. We are weak. Needy. Frail. But God is strong and mighty to save. The ups and downs of life tempt me to be discouraged and weary. But remembering God’s unchanging, always faithful, forever present, unmoving strength governs my changing heart and life.

I hope these verses encourage you today as they have me:

“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,and rthe heavens are the work of your hands.They will perish, but tyou will remain;they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Ps 102:25-27).

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

He is the same. He does not change. He never varies.

When “all other ground is sinking sand” it’s comforting to know He is the solid rock on which we stand.

Is There a Godliness Pill?

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that when ongoing battles with fatigue, discouragement, lack of motivation or depression occur, it’s important to see your doctor. Factors beyond our control can sometimes play a part in our battles with these weighty challenges.

This was certainly the case with me. A combination of thyroid and hormonal imbalances — along with high cortisol levels, and low B12 and vitamin D — were significantly contributing to the malaise and darkness I’ve been experiencing over the months.

This information alone brought me a noticeable level of comfort. Knowing there were medical contributors to what I’ve been walking through brought peace and hope. Just knowing I wouldn’t “stay this way” was encouraging to me and to Benny.  🙂 My doctor changed my thyroid meds; gave me options about some hormone treatments; reminded me of the importance of going back to diet changes I had made in the past that had improved my energy level and ability to concentrate; and told me the supplements I needed to help with adrenal function and deal with vitamin deficiencies.

By God’s grace, after about 10 days I’m already starting to experience the benefits.

I’m sharing this in hopes that that those of you who were empathizing with my struggles with drifting and discouragement will prayerfully consider setting up a physical with your own doctor. Please educate yourself and go into the appointment with enough knowledge to ask good questions and to provide a thorough list of your symptoms and struggles. If you don’t have a doctor who has a “whole person” approach to diagnosis and treatment, perhaps you can ask around and see if friends or family could make a recommendation.

Now that my physical symptoms are improving, I’m in a much better place to tackle the spiritual roots in my heart. Just as there have been real physical contributions to my challenges, there are also real spiritual ones. An angry outburst directed at Benny some weeks back felt like something I couldn’t control because while I have certainly been tempted with anger through my life, it doesn’t typically express itself in angry tones and words. Yet I knew right away that it was wrong. I had simply allowed the difficulties and strong temptations I had been facing to rush out in biting, harsh words.

I’m still finding comfort in the fact that physical limitations beyond my control have been at work in my life. But I don’t want to leave it there. If I simply breathe a sigh of relief and think, “Whew! I knew I wasn’t really responsible for how gloomy and tired and irritable I’ve been. Thank God I have these meds and supplements to help me stop feeling and acting this way!” then I’m denying my own responsibility. The fact of the matter is this: if you had been in my room that day when I fussed at Benny, I wouldn’t have done it.  🙂  I would have exercised self-control, if only to protect my reputation in your eyes!

Physical treatments are needed and helpful, but no pill will cure the heart.

Ed Welch of CCEF is helping me discern what the Lord is doing with these wise words:

“When you love physical treatments, you will spurn spiritual ones. And Scripture teaches that our spiritual interests actually outweigh our physical ones! Our spiritual health is more important and deserves more attention than our physical health….Be clear—the more you search for and rest in physical treatments for problems that are spiritual—the less you find rich hope and joy in Christ.”

I’m grateful for my doctor and the common grace of medicines and supplements. But I’m more grateful for the hope the gospel provides when life gets tough. The love and nearness of God has become more precious to me through all I’ve been walking through. His patience, tender presence and Fatherly correction is the real source of my hope. Each morning as I take my handful of thyroid meds, fish oil, calcium, vitamin D and the rest of those hard-to-swallow pills, I am full of thanks to God for His help in pill form.

But I know that self-control, patience, faith, joy, vision to serve my dear family, and peace come from my Father, not my pills. And the impatience, unbelief, self-pity, ungratefulness, selfishness and criticalness I’ve been battling springs from my own sinful heart. The physical limitations just made it easier for me to give in to those sins, even quietly and when no one knew.

Now that the physical remedies are kicking in, I have growing faith to tackle the vines of sin in my heart. And the remedy for that is my risen Savior who bids me to come to His throne of grace for help to see, repent of and put my sin to death. Wow. It sure would be easier if there was a pill for that, wouldn’t it? But then I wouldn’t get the joy of depending on and getting to know Him even better.

I’ll take Him any day.

It’s a Really Good Friday

Aside

It’s been good to confess my anger.  Even to strangers. Why? Because there is growth that comes even in the confession. And I’ve been blessed and touched with those who have contacted me to say thanks because they, too, struggle with angry thoughts and actions. Again, there is comfort in knowing we’re not alone in our struggles.

Confession isn’t enough, though, and doesn’t mean change will come. Additionally, just because we know others struggle we can’t become lazy in our participation in the process of change. If I am going to resist the temptations (which will come) to rant again, then I have to prepare my heart now.

17th century church leader and theologian, John Owen, exhorted the Christian with these words:  “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  While outbursts of anger isn’t one of the sins I deal with on a consistent basis, it’s one that has damaging affects on others. I want to think, “Oh, that was my first angry outburst to my husband in a really long time. I was just stressed and overwhelmed. I’m sure it won’t happen again.” But the Bible clearly teaches that sin doesn’t just go away. It has to be killed. (The theological term for this is mortification — the putting to death of sin.) Plus, I’m finding there’s a reason why people talk about aging people being “old and crotchety.” As I age, I’m finding some temptations to increase rather than decrease.

John Owen taught me something years ago that has been helpful in the weakening of certain sins in my life. He suggests that one of the ways we can resist and kill sin is to anticipate it.

After a seafood fest in our mid 20’s, Benny broke out in terrible hives. Because he had eaten several kinds of seafood he didn’t know exactly what had caused the reaction. When we were invited months later to another seafood meal, we anticipated the possibility of him reacting again, so he was careful to only his favorite…crab meat. We had purchased various products “just in case.”  Sure enough, later that night he was miserable.  No more crab meat for my husband.

Anger (or greed, self-pity, lust, bitterness or whatever sin we are battling) can become an “allergen” that causes us to react in wrong ways that make us and others miserable. Owen encourages us to anticipate the circumstances that could likely tempt us to sin, then prepare ourselves to resist and fight our sin. In the past week or so I have been making notes about the topics, situations and “hot spots” in my marriage so I can anticipate becoming angry at Benny again. When I am tempted to react sinfully, I will have armed my mind and heart with “just in case” truths to help me to resist that temptation.

Our part in the process of change is important. But today being Good Friday is a timely opportunity to remind ourselves that while effort on our part to mortify sin and grow in godliness are required of us, the most important contribution to change is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  Because Jesus Christ took our place on the cross — dying for every single sin we will ever commit and then rising again as proof that God accepted His atoning sacrifice — those of us who have repented of our sin and turned to Christ have been made new. We no longer have to sin! But when we do, we can run to a throne of grace and ask God (then others) to forgive us!

I will get angry again. But by the power of the risen Christ I can anticipate my temptations, gird myself with truth to resist them, then run back to the throne of grace for forgiveness again when I sin.

Thank God for (good) Friday!