Lessons from a Smart Phone

I was so excited when I found out that I could speak into my phone and have it type for me!      What an amazing convenience!

I quickly learned, though, that my phone isn’t all that “smart.” How in the world could it think I would actually send someone a text that said, “I’m hey you to pick her up so reassure key lock is hopping for me” when I told it to type, “I’m heading out to pick her up so can you make sure Kayla is looking out for me?”

The hilarious thing is that I pushed send before I read the text. When Jaime sent a return “huh???” text I was confused.

Until I read what my silly phone heard me say!

Relationships are kinda like using a smart phone. Sometimes what we clearly communicated was heard quite differently by our listener.

  • We attempt to encourage a friend for growth in an area and she interprets our words as a back door opportunity to communicate, “Wow, you were really weak in this area and thank God you’re making progress!”
  • A marital conflict escalates — neither of us realize until later that it started because one of us completely misunderstood something that was said early in the conversation. (This happened a few days ago with Benny and me!)
  • A young teen reacts angrily because he or she heard Mom or Dad’s “No, you can’t go” as “Stop trying to grow up…and don’t think you’re gonna start running around everywhere like some of your friends do!”
  • Emotion-laced words are shared through email or text that should be communicated in person. Hiding behind a phone or computer is an understandable temptation when the heat rises in a relationship…but a dicey misunderstanding is pretty much a given.

There’s no way to avoid our words being misinterpreted. We live in a fallen world. We’re not perfect communicators and neither is anyone we know. We all hear things with a trail of experiences, struggles, former relational conflicts and “there they go again”‘s behind us. It’s just plain hard to talk to people and not be misunderstood — especially when heart issues are involved.

And when a relationship is already tense or there’s a growing history of hearing things wrongly (on our part or theirs), it makes communication all the more tangled.

I would be surprised if you aren’t experiencing struggles in communication with at least one person right now. Just typing that sentence brought three people I love to mind as those I get anxious about talking to these days. Even if I carefully choose my words, will I still be misunderstood (again)? Is a big part of the problem in our relationship my own inability to listen without bringing past hurts or conflicts into mind? Can we have a meaningful conversation without one or both of us feeling judged, belittled or frustrated (even if we don’t show it)?

Ugh. It’s just easier to keep conversations light and superficial something, isn’t it? And there are times perhaps we should avoid potentially thorny topics with someone because the relationship just can’t handle it right now. But we can’t give up. If we do, we’ll drift into the bitterness, withdrawal and fear that characterizes people who are unwilling to take the risk of being hurt again when what we say isn’t heard the way we meant it.

Off to text Jaime to see when Kayla is coming to do Thursday morning schoolwork with Granma. Hopefully “eta?” will come out right.

Leopold and the Apostle Paul

He couldn’t believe it. Not only had she broken off their engagement, but she did so with a text! Yes, his fiance told him the wedding was off by sending him a text message.

I love technology. My oldest son owns an IT company and I work for him from home. I enjoy learning about new gadgets and…shhh…I’m better at Angry Birds than my grandchildren. Sending out a quick email to the ladies in my church about what to bring to a baby shower is way better than making lots of phone calls. And I just ordered some Ram for my Mac online that will be here in two days. Sweet!

But I’m concerned about our technology-saturated culture producing people who can’t look each other in the eyes and communicate heart-to-heart.  I’ve blogged about this before but even since then my concerns have increased. Anyone who breaks an engagement with a text has a problem far deeper than being technology dependent.

Did you see Kate and Leopold? It’s the romantic time-travel comedy about Leopold coming into the 21st century from the 1870’s. He meets Kate and her younger brother, Charlie, an aspiring actor who thinks Leopold is also an actor. Charlie invites Leopold out with him and some friends for drinks only to notice that a girl he wants to ask out on a date seems to take a liking to Leopold. Who wouldn’t? He’s handsome, chivalrous and looks people in the eyes when they talk. Leopold ends up coaching Charlie through the process of approaching his would-be date…

Leopold was unhappy enough about Charlie calling her to ask her out over the phone. I can only imagine how he would have reacted if Charlie had wanted to email or text her!

I refused to get texting on my phone. Flatly refused. I didn’t want to join a timid and cell phone obsessed culture. Period. Hmmm. Last month I sent and received over 500 texts. I text my kids to ask questions; text Benny the list of stuff I need him to pick up at the store; text friends to say I’m praying for them; and text my boss/son to remind him to answer my emails. And, oh dear, one day I almost texted one of my kids to mention a comment they made had been hurtful to another family member.

What in the world was I thinking? In a couple of short years I’ve gone from saying I would never, ever text anyone about anything to almost suggesting one of my kids was insensitive in a text message. It would have been so easy to just shoot off a text rather than talk to my kid. Or, better yet, let the kid who was hurt (or were they?) talk to their sibling all by their self.

It’s not just about texting. It’s about communicating weighty heart issues over email and making comments or status updates on Facebook that are nothing more than gossip.

I have someone I need to talk to about something. It’s not a huge deal but it’s important, at least to me. I admit it…I would rather type than talk. Typing is safe. I can backspace, edit, walk away and think before I type more — or even delete it all and start completely over. I can choose my words carefully and linger over how I want to say what I’m thinking. I’ll get to communicate uninterrupted and not have to adjust my words because my friend looks confused, upset or disinterested.

After all, people for centuries communicated in writing! We wouldn’t have much of the New Testament if Paul had waited to communicate everything to the churches in person. Even Leopold shared his heart with Kate in a romantic letter written with beautiful calligraphy style handwriting that produced wonderful results — so obviously talking face to face isn’t always necessary. (Wait…did I just put the Apostle Paul and Hugh Jackman’s writings in the same paragraph?)

The question for me is this: will our children and grandchildren know how to talk to people? Open up about heart issues? Share openly about their struggles, temptations and joys?

Recently my 11-year-old granddaughter got a text on her iPod from a friend asking who she “likes.” (When did iPods go from music to texting and being used as a phone???) I smiled. Jaime and her friends giggled over which boys were cute and who they were going to marry while we parents drank coffee in another room talking about how relieved we were that our homeschooled kids weren’t going to be foolish teens who had crushes and were boy/girl crazy like we were at their age. (We found out soon enough that we parents were the foolish ones.) At least Jaime and her friend saw the text exchange between their daughters and could wisely and carefully discuss it with them. So maybe texting isn’t such a bad thing after all. I’m starting to sound schizophrenic.

Technology isn’t the issue — the heart is. Cell phones aren’t the devil, as much as I’ve been tempted to think so. Smile. I’m sure the Apostle would have benefited from having his scribe type letters to send via email to the churches rather than having to meticulously hand write and deliver each one.

But using a text message to break an engagement or suggest to your adult child that he was mean just isn’t right in my book, especially since there’s no calligraphy font to use.

Lessons from a Birthday Boy

Yesterday I took my grandson, Issac, out shopping for his 5th birthday. I love to hear Issac talk — he says hilarious things — so I was prepared to ask him several questions.

“Issac,” I began, “tell me about your friends.”

“What do you mean? I don’t know what you’re asking me,” he responded. (I love the honesty of children!)

“Well, just start by telling me their names.”

“Their names are Daddy, Mommy, Samuel and Josiah. Josiah is my cute little baby,” he responded. Glad he introduced Granma to his little brother! (Note: Josiah is not a baby at age two, but compared to Issac, who is quite tall for his age and estimated to grow to about 6’10”, he probably seems like a baby.)

My heart warmed that he so quickly named his family as his friends. Yet I quickly remembered our recent family vacation….

Sam (6) and Danae (their 4-year-old cousin) were playing with Issac in a bedroom near the beach house family room. Suddenly we heard loud screams followed by Sam and Issac tumbling from the bedroom in a fight. Just feet from a group of aunts, uncles and grandparents Issac body slammed his older (but smaller) brother onto the carpet to Sam’s screaming protests.  It took three adults to break up the fight and restrain Issac.

How is it that a little boy who just weeks earlier had erupted in anger toward his brother was now listing him as one of his four best friends? I think Issac knows something grown ups like me need to better understand: love covers a multitude of sin.

Last Sunday Issac’s dad, Jesse, preached at Redeemer Church on becoming a Community of Courage. Using the Hebrews 10:19-25 passage about the importance of encouragement (you can listen to the message here) he made the point that while it’s important that we know that God is for us, others also need to know that we are for them. 

“Nobody is too sinful or immature to handle your faith for them,” Jesse said. These words have been churning around in my mind since Sunday morning.

Issac understands that just because he beats up his brother for hitting him on the head with a wooden spoon, it doesn’t mean they’re not friends. In his young heart he knows that being brothers means that even if the fighting gets ugly you’ll still love each other. Sam hit his brother because Issac pushed their cousin, Danae. While hitting Issac wasn’t the answer, Jesse rightly commended his son for sticking up for a little girl.

Sam (left) and Issac a few months ago.

Even Sam attacking his brother  — resulting in Issac body slamming him in return — didn’t destroy their brotherly love.

Is there a cherished relationship in your life where fighting, hurtful words,  or anger has tempted you to lack faith that God can repair the damage? Do you find yourself wanting to sin back to protect yourself from the painful attacks of someone you love? Have your own anger and bitterness  caused what you think may be irreparable damage to a relationship you’ve worked hard to build? Have you taken up an offense because someone hurt another person you love?

It’s true. No person is too sinful or immature to handle your faith for them. Why? Because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus didn’t wait until we got cleaned up to die for us. Rather, He demonstrated His love and faith for us while we were dead in sin; unable to love Him back; ungodly and without hope that we could ever have a relationship with holiness.

We weren’t too sinful or immature to be loved by Him.

Rather than retaliate, He loved. Instead of hitting back, He took strike after blood-producing strike so we wouldn’t have to. His own body was slammed onto the cross so we would never be afraid of His vengeful retaliation.

And because He forever made the way for a holy God and sinful people like you and me to have a loving relationship, we can trust Him to do the lesser thing of helping us have faith for even the most sinful, immature people in our lives.

Perhaps the person you’re thinking of right now has hurt you badly. Reconciliation doesn’t always mean restoration. Sometimes sins can be so heinous that the relationship can’t and shouldn’t ever be the same. But for most of us, that’s not the case. Most of my relational challenges are more like Sam and Issac’s. Normal, every day life happens and hurtful words or actions on my part on someone else’s makes us want to lash back.

Issac and his friends

I was challenged by Issac’s words yesterday. You see, I saw the fight. I sat with Issac back in the bedroom talking him through his angry reaction at his brother until Dad and Mom got back to resolve everything.

I want to help create a community of courage where faith and encouragement flow freely to even the most sinful and immature. After all, that’s what God did for me.

Thanks for your example, Issac. And happy birthday!

The Power of a Signature

What is your signature? It’s your name written in your own characteristic way. A “Signature Collection” is a creation that has the name of the person who endorsed or made it, like a signature dish created by a famous chef or a signature clothing line to which a celebrity adds their name.

Think about it. When you sign something you’re communicating something pretty important. Perhaps you’re saying, “I’ll pay for this; marry this person; perform this service; abide by this contract; purchase this item; loan this money; endorse this product; agree to these terms; name this baby.” A signature is a powerful thing.

About ten years ago I had an interesting dream about signatures. I was lying on my bed in white clothing that was covered with black writing. Somehow in my dream I knew the writing was numerous signatures of people God has brought into my life. Each person had left their unique and characteristic mark on me. And I’m sure I have yet to meet some of them!

I rarely remember my dreams so when I do I reflect on them. Sometimes they mean nothing. But that dream meant something…special. I believe God was reminding me that night that I am the product of the love, example and influence of many people. Nothing I’ve done or accomplished has been the result of mere self-effort. More importantly, who I am is in large part due to the people He has brought into my life. From others I have learned everything I know how to do and lots about who to be.

Daddy taught me to love good music, serve in the church and that being his Princess made me one special little girl. Mom taught me to cook comfort food, laugh, love having people in my home and trust God through the worst of trials.  A second grade teacher gave me a love for reading and my twelfth grade Creative Writing teacher encouraged me to pursue writing. Benny continues to teach me countless important things including to love Bible doctrines I didn’t think I could ever understand and how to patiently love a flawed spouse with consistently gospel-saturated grace. My kids taught me that nothing in the whole world I could have done with the past 35 years of my life could have been more fulfilling than being Mom to seven J’s. My grandchildren are teaching me that leaving a godly legacy for future generations is pretty much the best thing I can do with my senior years. And person after person God has brought into my life has taught me to serve; comfort; teach; encourage; listen intently (or try to!); forgive; care for my home; and endure suffering. 

The older I get the more I realize that truth that God really does “cause all things to work together for good” (Roman 8:28). You see, every signature on my life has been left by a flawed and sinful person like me. Yet even the hardest and most painful things I’ve walked through, some due to the sins of others, have been used by Him to continue the often trying process of making me more like the One whose image I bear. So I can be thankful even for the signatures I would have prevented if I could.

I wish I could contact the signer of every one of those names today to say thank you.  If I could I would say:

  • Thank you for loving me. For making every flawed attempt to care for me — most especially when I wasn’t being lovable.
  • Thank you for being patient with me. For persevering through my own sin-tainted attempts to love you back.
  • Thank you for praying for me during hard times.
  • Thank you for teaching me by your words and example to trust and follow Christ, especially when I was too weary to believe I could.
  • Thank you for making me laugh!
  • Thank you for believing in the power of God to change me and for not holding my sins and weaknesses against me.
  • Thank you for reminding me that God is faithful, good and wise when I had trouble remembering.

All this makes me a Signature Collection! A collection of uniquely gifted people have left their mark on me. In fact, many of you who visit this little blog are among them. A very special thanks to you today.

Of course, there is one signature that was made not with ink but with blood. To You whose red-letter signature was left on a little girl’s life back in Greenbelt, Maryland in 1959, I look forward to looking into Your eyes on That Day to express my gratitude in person. But today, please accept my heartfelt thanks again for taking the wrath I deserved by hanging in my place on the cross. You have changed me forever and your signature is the one for which I am the most grateful.

But to those He has used I want to say thanks.  For everything. The collection of your signatures are forever mine. I wouldn’t be who I am today without you. Someday I hope you know how much your life has affected mine.

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?

A Pastoral Surprise

Several years ago my husband, Benny, took a group of small-group leaders from our former church on a marriage retreat. And he had a surprise for us. You see, past retreats like these had been characterized by various couples or individuals getting onto the “hot seat” where marital sin patterns or weaknesses were lovingly discussed. Leading up to these weekends, couples started joking about who would occupy the hot seat this year and wives noticed their husbands being extra nice. Smile.

The hot seat wasn’t horrible. It was great to get helpful input about our marriages. The correction was given with the collective heart to express care and love. But over the years we learned that something was missing.

So this retreat was different.

Benny started by sharing there would be no hot seats this year. The focus of the weekend would be Biblical Fellowship in Marriage, characterized by learning what it really means to speak the truth in love to one another. 

We have been a part of churches that valued truth-telling. My life has been changed by friends who had the love and courage to point out areas in which I was blind to weaknesses or sins in my life. I don’t know who I would be today without them!

But had we “missed something” about what truth telling fully meant?

Ephesians 4: 15-16 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Speak the truth “instead” of what? To find that out we have to look at the preceding verses where Paul exhorted believers to grow in Christian maturity and warned them not to be confused by false doctrines. In the past I learned that “speaking the truth in love” essentially meant “pointing out someone’s sin or weakness with a smile.” But is that really what Paul was talking about?

What will help us grow and protect us from false doctrines isn’t just being nicely confronted by our friends. Loving correction is certainly one aspect of genuine Christian love. But the thing we most need to hear to grow and protect us is the gospel.

It’s the truth of the gospel that we need to speak to one another.

On that retreat, Benny taught us how to speak gospel truth to each other.

How did he do this?

  • By giving husbands and wives the opportunity to draw attention to evidences of God’s grace in one another’s lives.
  • By asking questions that prompted the group to talk about areas in which we had seen growth in one another over the past year.
  • By allowing time to pray for and minister hope to one another in areas of suffering (parents with a child battling anorexia, a couple dealing with challenges with their pre-teen’s regular lies, another couple whose tense conflicts were escalating).
  • And, yes, by giving people an opportunity to confess sins or weaknesses that were hindering their marriages from growing in specific areas for input and accountability.

The truth about us, he explained, is that we are both sinners and saints. We have areas of needed growth and achieved growth. The gospel truth is that we are in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ by His mighty power. Yes, we remain sinners, but growth is occuring because Christ, the hope of glory, lives in us!

Commentator P.T. O’Brien says this about the Ephesians passage above:

“The apostle is not exhorting his readers to truthfulness in general or speaking honestly with one another, as appropriate or important this may be.  Rather, he wants them all to be members of a confessing church, with the content of their testimony to be the ‘word of truth’, the gospel of their salvation.”

What can this kind of gospel speech look like?

I have a story to tell you on Monday.


A Unusual Party Invitation

I’m sure it’s happened to you. Through text, email or in person someone says, “I need to talk to you about something. When can we chat?”

Does your heart sink a little like mine does? Do you assume this means you’re in trouble for something you don’t realize you did?

Yesterday I talked about how our anxious responses to things are sometimes rooted in past experiences that bring back “that feeling” we had. Due to a series of events that happened in our family some years ago, whenever someone initiated a conversation with us, it was typically because we had messed up. This led to me reacting inwardly to anyone even suggesting that we needed to “talk.” The fact was, we were about to learn something else we had done wrong.

The crazy thing is that those involved in that difficult season of our lives have each asked our forgiveness for the ways things were handled, yet my inward response remains.

I’m having to ask myself if others are tempted to have this same response when I ask to chat with them. Have we gotten to a place as Christians where we’re intentional about talking with others only when there is an “issue” or something we “need” to discuss? Am I one of those people who only reaches out to share my thoughts when there’s a problem?

Imagine what would happen if we started regularly asking to get with people and then showed up with a list of things for which we wanted to thank or encourage them? Or how our relationships would be affected if 9 out of 10 of our comments to or about others were positive?

It reminds me of a party Benny and I threw decades ago. As a young church in the early 80’s, we were attempting to take seriously our biblical mandate to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) to one another.  It was refreshing to enjoy the kind of relationships where we could openly pass along areas of needed growth in our lives. I personally benefitted, for example, from hearing what my disrespect of Benny looked like or how harsh tones with my kids affected people.

Along the way we realized, though, that we had been neglecting another biblical command to encourage one another….daily (Hebrews 3:13)! So we had an “Encouragement Party.” Each person was asked to come prepared with prayerfully considered thoughts about what they respected or appreciated about other party-ers. The party went on for hours with people sharing special memories, thanking others in the room for being there for them during rough times or drawing attention to specific areas of growth in their lives. In the midst of laughs and tears, we all left that night more aware of the ways God was changing us than of remaining areas of needed growth.

Last weekend I had an angry reaction at some of my kids for which I had to ask forgiveness. It was one of those situations where past experiences influenced me and before I knew it my prideful heart resulted in angry words. I quickly experienced the gift of conviction and shared my regret with Benny in the car.

In characteristic grace, Benny seized the opportunity to remind me what real “speaking the truth in love” is. (More on that tomorrow.)

“Honey, you’re right,” he began. “You reacted angrily and that invited others to get angry, too. But you don’t typically respond that way. You also quickly recovered and tried to defuse a very tense situation by calmly communicating the need to talk about things later. God helped you and you did a great job there at the end.”

Ahhhhh the joy of timely, specific encouragement. Someone noticed. And he didn’t just notice but he spoke up. He could have added to my conviction and regret by bringing up times I’ve been angry with him or trying to help me see a pattern of angry reactions born out of bitterness or resentment in his heart toward me. He didn’t trivialize my sinful anger, but also drew attention to God’s grace.

I have an idea. Let’s have an Encouragement Party. Can you think of a few people you can take initiative to encourage? We could even make it really fun and say, “I’ve got some things I’d like to share with you. When can we chat? And I want you to know I think you’ll be really blessed by what is on my heart.” If email or Facebook is your preferred way of communicating, imagine how fun it will be for people to open your messages!

If you decide to do this it would be so fun for us to hear how it goes. (You can share your thoughts in the comment section.) I’m gonna give some thought to who I want to reach out to right now!

My Heart…The Sponge

Earlier this week I found out that something we need is going to cost more than we thought. I’m a planner (well, about some things). So I figured out that we would have enough money to take care of that need, as well as provide something fun for someone else. One thing is a need: the other is a “Granma wants to do this.”

Have you ever noticed that using money for needs isn’t nearly as enjoyable as writing a check for something “extra?”  Finding out the need was more costly than I anticipated exposed something in my heart.  Years ago I heard a sponge-squeezing analogy. When you squeeze a sponge, whatever was in the sponge comes out. Whether it was dirty dishwater or good-smelling cleaning solution, what comes out of the sponge was whatever was already in it. Like sponges, our hearts get squeezed by trials…or unexpected financial news…and whatever is already in there is what comes out.

What came out of my heart was ugly. While I kept it all to myself (until now…smile) grumbles and complaints started forming in my mind.

“Why is this going to cost so much?” I whined to myself. “This means I won’t be able to do that other thing I wanted…. And the reason why we have to spend this money is due to the fault of someone else anyway! If only that hadn’t happened. Oh, Lord. Why must we have to continue to deal with this? Oh, and how am I gonna tell my granddaughter I won’t be able to do that thing for her after all? I don’t like this, Lord. Hmmmph.”

This morning I was reading Exodus 17-18. The people are yet again complaining to Moses. Hey, I can understand. They were in the desert without water! I would have been right there with them, “grumbling against Moses” and probably joining in on those accusing him of bringing them into the desert to die.

Once again, Moses cries out to God — the true source of their help. God provides a creative solution by telling Moses to strike a rock and, out of it, water flowed. God can take any situation and supernaturally provide for those He loves. Amazing.

Soon after, Moses’ father-in-law, whom he hasn’t seen since he left to go back to Egypt, comes to bring Moses’ wife and sons to join him. (So not only had he walked through some serious trials, he had also been without his family. There’s another lesson there for we wives about how the Lord sometimes has to take our husbands through difficulties without us…)

What struck me this morning was this:  Moses was in the same desert experiencing the same thirst as the people. Yet his perspective was different. When he sits down to tell his father-in-law the story of all that happened in Egypt and following, Moses is honest about “all the hardships (18:8) but also about “how the Lord had delivered them.”

The outcome of their conversation was that Jethro “rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel” (vs 9).  And even more stunning is his declaration in verse 11: “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods.” The way Moses communicated about everything resulted in Jethro praising God!

This morning I’m asking myself some hard but necessary questions about how I communicate when I’m going through challenges. The fact is, sometimes life is hard and disappointing. Things end up costing more than we thought. People break our heart. Family members are insensitive or mean. Friends jump to wrong conclusions about us. Children make sinful choices. We get taken advantage of and don’t get the thanks we deserve. We have to say goodbye when we want to stay together.

Here’s what is stirring in my heart today:

  • When I’m going through something hard, does my story focus on the the details of my struggle or on God’s help and nearness?
  • When people walk away from interactions with me about hard stuff, are they more aware of God’s faithfulness or my struggle?
  • Does how I walk through trials cause people to rejoice in how I’m crying out to Him for help? Or do they feel a mild sense of obligation to become my helpers?

Those of you who visit here often know I’m all about being open about the hardships that come from living in a fallen world with fellow sinners. And I’m also a strong advocate of living in Christian community where believers walk out the “one anothers” of scripture together.

But honesty and community can’t be an excuse for complaining and expecting people to be our Provider.

I’m experiencing the tender conviction of the Holy Spirit over my grumbling about money. As I type I’m smiling about how God is using a man long dead to bring hope and comfort through his example. Later in the book of Exodus I’ll read about how his angry rebellion against God cost him dearly. Yes, he’s like me. One day trusting and God-centered, and the next day a self-sufficent, broken failure.

Today I’m asking for God’s forgiveness for my whining and complaining. I want my trials to bring hope to others as I speak of God’s faithfulness, power and help. The honest cries of a needy or hurting believer are needed: but we can’t stop there. God is always near. Always faithful. And always able to bring water from the jagged, craggy, dry rocks in our lives.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Ps 19:14)

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.

What’s In My Heart?

Wednesday night at our Community Group we had a great discussion and ministry time with someone in our group. Prior to that discussion, we read an article by Paul Tripp on how easy it is to apologize — or even ask forgiveness — without stopping to consider the heart issues behind the things we do and say that hurt others.

Some people wrongly assume this kind of thinking is a sin hunt.

As Christians, we need to regularly (daily!) remind ourselves that we are forgiven and declared not guilty of every past, present and future sin because of the sinless life, substitutionary death and glorious resurrection of Jesus. What incredible news! As believers, we will never pay for our sins because He already did. If you are not yet a Christian, I pray you will become one soon because this news is just too wonderful to pass up!

Yet this staggering truth doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to invest what author Jerry Bridges describes as the  “personal, vigorous effort, anchored in the grace of God, that the sanctification [growing in godliness] process requires.”

This means that I can’t simply say to my husband, “I’m sorry I was mean to you. You know I’m really tired and have been struggling with a lot of stuff recently.”  While I certainly appreciate his understanding, the truth is that I’m mean because I choose to be. If my friend or a client or a grandchild was in the room I wouldn’t be harsh with them. No matter how tired I was.

I have been going through a rough time recently. And I’ve been mean to my husband. But this I know: any time I am convicted of wrong or sin, it’s a gift from God. Without Him, I would go on my merry way hurting lots of people in the process — especially those I am closest to and love the most.

Don’t worry about me going on a sin hunt. Trust me, I don’t have to hunt for my sin. It’s typically right out there, unless I’m using self-control because I don’t want just anyone to see it. When God opens my eyes to see it, I’m grateful because conviction of sin is an evidence of God’s mercy and work in my life. He doesn’t just show it to me, but then helps me to identify the root in my heart that allows me to think and act and talk in ways that hurt others and dishonor Him. THEN He gives me the strength and desire to change. Wow.

If you’d like to read Mr. Tripp’s helpful and honest article, you can find it here.

Have a good weekend!