Thursday, April 13, 2017

Deeply Rooted


I've not spent a tremendous amount of time gardening. It's too messy for my liking. I prefer indoor work to yard work. I have given in to the idea of growing my own organic food and eating fresh from the garden but I also like the idea of driving to a local farmer's market and purchasing from someone else who has done the work. I'm not afraid to admit I don't enjoy working in the dirt, it messes with my fingernails. Buying local is much more attractive to me, and hey, my purchase helps support the local economy and we know that's very 2017.

The time I have spent doing the dirty work has left me with some thoughts. Anyone who's spent time in a garden knows that a majority of the time is spent pulling weeds. Some have roots that grow deep and can't be pulled without the use of a spade or other gardening tool while others can be easily plucked from the earth. I've seen the same with trees in our yard. We moved into an overgrown plot of land and have spent the past six years removing trees and brush. I watched the lot next door be prepared for new construction and was amazed that the pine trees could be knocked down with a tractor. They toppled right over because their roots weren't as deep or as strong as some of the others. The hickory trees in our yard had to be cut down a little at a time and then the trunks left to sit for a couple years until they could be easily removed. The wood was too hard and the roots too deep.

Our relationships are the same way. We get out of them what we put into them. In order for a friendship to grow we need to nourish it. If we want a strong marriage we need to grow deep roots. If our life with Christ isn't deeply rooted we will topple like the pine trees when life pushes us.

I've had friendships die. Friendships I thought were solid relationships because of the decades of their existence. One small push from the outside and down they went. The root system never went deep enough to be able to sustain the wind from the storms. Time does not equal strength. 

The marriage relationship is likely the most important physical relationship we can have. In order to keep it healthy we need to grow deep roots together. A family tree does not allow for members outside the family to live in its branches, and so our marriage should not flirt with the idea of entertaining outsiders. A strong marriage has grown deep roots over time through feeding it. Regular time spent together is important. Putting the needs of your spouse before your own is important. I've said it before, you cannot have a healthy marriage if you're selfish. Caring for each other is an essential part of marriage, especially if you want to finish, 'til death do us part. Your family tree begins with you and your spouse, not with your parents or his parents. Your spouse needs to be the most important person in your life for your marriage to be deeply rooted. There will be storms and you can survive. Grow together.

The most important relationship of all is the one with your creator. If you neglect to nourish your spiritual relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit then you will find yourself easily influenced by outside forces. The deepest ache in my heart I've felt in ministry over the past twenty-five years has been seeing the church filled with baby Christians who have been saved longer than I've been alive. They think they're deeply rooted but there is no fruit in their lives. Their roots don't extend deep enough to gain the strength to flourish. You've seen the trees in the woods, the ones that have no life left in them and they've fallen. Branches bare, limbs breaking off, rotten roots exposed. Unlike the lifeless tree there is still time for these lives to change. There is always time for a new start. Nourish your walk with the Lord. Let Him change you from what you think is the right way to live to the way He wants you to live. Your life may depend on it.

Start deepening your roots today. Call (or text...) that friend you cherish but haven't talked to lately. Make a date with your spouse. Spend some time with the Lord. Open your Bible, pray, sing. These things will make you stronger.



Monday, April 3, 2017

Less Than




I could feel their eyes on me and as they huddled together I knew the sheepish glances my way included conversation. I tried to fill my mind with other things and not the assumptions that were multiplying and emptying me of any self worth I'd woken up with. 

I felt less than.

Dawn spent time with some close friends and as they tucked themselves into their hotel room she turned the lock on her own door. Alone. Wanting to be part of a couple. Knowing she'd been forgiven of two failed marriages yet letting the loneliness creep into her heart again. "My flesh haunts me. I feel like I've worked through it but sometimes, because I'm not married, I feel less than."

Jennifer compares herself to other people and even to past versions of herself. The comparison game makes her feel less than

Jess married a little later than society expects and felt out of sorts over it. Even now, married just a few years and enjoying time with her spouse without having children makes her feel less than in the eyes of others.

Sharon feels the sting of less than when people in her congregation tell her she will never be like the pastor's wife that was at their church before her. 

Adessa feels it when she looks inside. The good, the bad, and the ugly taunt her and tell her she is less than

Shelli feels less than when in conversation with someone and they focus elsewhere unless she is sharing her deep secrets. 

Jodi feels less than in almost every area of her life. She sees herself as average. Nothing awful and nothing great. 


What makes me feel less than?

My interpretation of the way someone is looking at me.
Illusions of what I see as truth.
Whispers and glances.
A snub from a friend.
A sneer.
The numbers on the scale.

Why do I let what others think of me matter instead of listening to the voice of the one that truly matters? Time will pass and people will think of me what they want to. God's opinion of me is never changing.

"How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered. I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me." 

Psalm 139:17-18 (NLT)

God is thinking precious thoughts about me. So many of them. I can't even count them.

I can't even. (And people say the Bible isn't relevant...)

What we're doing when we allow the less than to creep into our hearts is nothing more than falling victim to the lies of the enemy. The eternal enemy of our souls is daily creeping around looking for ways to attack. He knows where to hit hardest. He has been studying us our entire lives and knows what will cause us to take a step backwards. 

The quickest way to put a halt to this is to call him what he is. A liar. A cheat. A thief. A coward.

The enemy runs at the very name of Jesus. Do not be afraid to use this power that is inside of you. The moment you allow the Lord into your life you are in a battle. When the enemy sees you moving in ways that will hinder his work he attacks. 

When he sees me gain momentum he reminds me of things I've done or not done. He tries to fill my mind with shame to get me to a place of complacency. To a place where I'm frozen and unable to do what God has asked me to do. His plans to destroy me are broken when I stand up to him with the power God has given me. 

I had it out with him in my kitchen recently. "Devil, you are a liar and I will not listen to your lies. You cannot have control of my mind," I yelled. "In the name of Jesus, leave. Me. Alone."

That thirty second prayer took care of hours of attacks. He left. He had to. There is power in the name of Jesus, yet many of us neglect to use it.

The next time he is filling your mind with the lies of less than remember to use the weapons in your arsenal.










Tuesday, March 28, 2017

disillusioned

"You look so much like a girl in a movie I just watched," he said to me. He repeated it often enough during the week that I was curious as to what movie he was talking about. "Mystic Pizza," he replied when I asked him. "You look like Annabeth Gish."

At nineteen I hadn't heard of Annabeth Gish nor had I heard of Mystic Pizza. Several years later I saw it in a video rental store and read about it. I didn't rent it because it was R-rated and I knew I didn't need to see it. I did see it edited for television some time later.

And was appalled.

This man, this pastor, thought I looked like this actress. Fine.
In a movie with a questionable rating. Meh.
Playing the part of a girl who has an affair with a married man. Not fine.

This is the first time I remember being disillusioned. I wondered why this was an acceptable form of entertainment for this married man, this pastor, this leader. And why he felt the need to tell me. Repeatedly. It left me with that icky feeling in my stomach. Honestly, I've tried to avoid him since.

I've been disillusioned many times since.

I asked a friend where a certain business was and they refused to tell me, "You're not going there."
"I don't want to go there, I just want to know where it is," I had no intention of visiting. But why was it okay for them to go there and  not me?

I asked another friend about the Cards Against Humanity game she'd been playing. "You don't want to play that," she said.

Time and again I wondered why it was okay for them but they thought it was not okay for me.

We all profess to believe the same. We all serve the same God.

I've witnessed many things since and have had my share of disappointment in people. People who preach, entertain, teach, from a Biblical perspective. Perhaps I observe too much about people. Perhaps I have higher expectations of those who claim God owns their hearts.

I've seen a lot.

But one thing that's always remained the same is God. He has never let me down. He has never caused me disappointment. He has never created a sense of disillusion in me.

When we look at people, even His people, we will be disappointed because we all mess up. None of us get it right, even on our best days. But God is the author of perfection. He will not let you down. He is the one we need to keep our focus on. He is the one we need to listen to. He sets the standard.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ambushed




I knew enough to know I didn't want to be there.

My husband and I spent some time in Florida recently and took a drive down Route 1. We saw a myriad of red and blue flashing lights ahead of us as traffic slowed. We were stopped in a line of traffic as we craned our necks trying to catch a glimpse. Traffic started moving so we resigned ourselves to not knowing.

Until a car marked Sheriff drove towards us and then pulled across in front of us and parked. A uniformed officer climbed out and readied an assault rifle, pointing it towards a parking lot on the other side of the street. A parking lot next to the beach.

I just wanted to see the beach. Maybe catch a glimpse of a dolphin slicing through the water. Maybe see a sailboat pass. Instead I witnessed numerous cars and officers doing the same as our new friend. 

I am not an assault rifle girl. I'm a nail polish and cotton candy girl. As I watched the scene unfold I did what any girl-who-shouldn't-be-there would do. I ducked under the dash figuring if there was going to be crossfire I wasn't going to be in it.

In the parking lot were numerous officers, some with assault rifles aimed towards the red car and others with big dogs heading towards the red car. As they stormed the red car the officer in front of us jumped back in his car and moved to the parking lot. I barked orders to my husband, "Get me out of here!" He complied, though later admitting to wanting to stay and watch.

I recovered quicker than I thought I would. I've not seen anything like this in person before and was more unnerved by the fact that I've become de-sensitized than I was at what I witnessed.

We see things like this every time we turn on the television for entertainment or news. It's commonplace but it shouldn't be.

We shouldn't be able to simply brush off the bad. It should unnerve us. It should spur us to do good. Instead it's easily forgotten.

I'm glad we left when we did. They later caught the man they were seeking. I'm glad I didn't have to view it through the screen of my windshield. I'm already pretty picky about what I watch on television but you can believe I'm going to be even more so. I don't want to be desensitized. I want the reality of life to shake me. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Worthless

I woke feeling worthless today. It's likely the perfect storm of wintery weather, hormones, a dichotomy on the scale, and the nagging cold that won't let go.

I explained it to my friend this way, "I feel like a coin in a tin can. Rattling around and making a lot of noise but not doing anything worthwhile."

All this a couple days after someone fussed over me, "Oh Suzanne, you're so awesome," she said excitedly.

I don't like being fussed over. My close friends and family know this. It makes me very uncomfortable and gives me time to think about how un-awesome I am because I know myself better than anyone else does.

I see my faults and failures. I see the ugly hiding in my heart. I see the attitude that needs changed. I see the unmet expectations and the quiet harbor I find in closing myself in a shell.

Today has been full of cold wind, unending housework, and loads of self-doubt.

I wore my inflatable crown while I ironed my husband's shirts. After all, today is the type of day I bought it for. The type of day when I need to be reminded of my worth.

My worth comes in nothing of myself. There is nothing I can do or not do that makes me worth anything. My worth only comes in knowing I am unconditionally loved by my Creator. The simple fact that Jesus loves me without reason makes me want to peek out from my self-built harbor and embrace the day, no matter what it holds. When I'm tired and weary I need only reach my hand to Him. He will meet me and hold me. He will fill me with strength to complete the day. When I take my eyes off of me and what I see as worthless and allow Him to be my focus He changes the direction of my thoughts and shows me who I am.

I am loved - Psalm 103:11
I am beautiful - 1 Peter 3:3-4
I am wonderful - Psalms 139:14
I am worth dying for  - John 3:16
I am valuable - Luke 12:7

Emotions rise and fall and feelings can be deceitful. The truth outlasts the lie.







Monday, February 6, 2017

The Miracle of (My) Life

You are a miracle. You didn't arrive here by chance. It took centuries of decisions and roads traveled or not traveled to lead to your creation. We are made unique with our own stories. Here's mine:

In the year 1620 the Mayflower sailed from England to the New World. John Howland was a passenger hoping for a new life, a dream almost cut short when he fell overboard. He was pulled from the sea and I am a direct descendant of his.

My maternal grandfather was born in Italy and lived there until he was twelve, when, in 1920, he crossed the Atlantic with the same dreams as John Howland. He entered the New York Harbor and went through Ellis Island with thousands of other immigrants. He traveled from there to the Pittsburgh area where he met with family in Washington County.

My grandfather married a woman who spent most of her life in the hills of West Virginia. They had a baby girl in 1931 and over the next ten years suffered the loss of a stillborn boy and the death of another daughter. A final pregnancy resulted in the birth of my mother, born in 1941.

My dad was born in 1940 in Providence, Rhode Island. He had a happy childhood until his parents divorced and, in trying to take care of him, he was sent to boarding school in Massachusetts. Left alone with feelings he didn't know what to do with he pondered the meaning of life (for more on this click here) and wondered if there was more to it all.

Dad graduated from the University of Rhode Island and enlisted in the army. He was sent overseas and was stationed in Munich, Germany.

My mother graduated from business school and accepted a secretarial job with the CIA in Washington, DC. She had the opportunity to transfer to Europe and took the position which moved her to Munich.

These two were introduced by mutual friends and after dating and breaking up and dating again (on both sides of the ocean) they married in 1966 and settled in Rhode Island.

Having grown up by the shore my dad was an avid fisherman. He scheduled a fishing trip in October of 1968 but my mom talked him out of going and I entered the world nine months later, two days after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

If any of the above hadn't happened I wouldn't be here. If John Howland had been lost at sea there would have been no me. If my grandfather had stayed in Italy I wouldn't be here. If my parents hadn't moved to Germany I would not exist. If my dad had gone fishing that night I would not have been created. These are the few twists I know about, imagine how many others are unknown. Your story is the same. It took a lot to make you. Time and distance worked together. God had your life planned from the beginning. He knew you unformed. He knows your days. You were not a mistake or an accident.

Your future is unwritten. Your story hasn't been fully told. What mark will you leave on the world? What is it only you can do?

All of us can show kindness. We can give hope. We can carry peace.

Use your life for good. Let your light shine.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Praying for Miracles - What is our Part?

Prayer requests.
In ministry we've heard them all.
"Pray for my gas," was one that shut down open prayer request time at one church we served in.
"Pray for my hangnail," was one another pastor heard.
"Pray for my son to get a new job where he can make more money," is one a mother said to me on a Sunday morning.

Some I've prayed include:
"Please help us get out of debt."
"Please take this illness away."

What part do we play in having our needs met?

The pastor who was asked to pray for the hangnail told the man, "Go home and cut it off."

The answer to my prayer about getting out of debt took several years of hard work on our part. The miracle was finding a book about being debt free.

The answer to my prayer about taking my illness away lied in finding a four month detox cleanse diet that cured me of my ailment.

My mother-in-law was able to avoid taking medicine for a diabetes diagnosis by simply changing her diet and adding in some exercise.

Sometimes the answer to the words we pray is within our reach, all we have to do is move. Sometimes we have to do something.

Is it easier to pray and hope for a miracle? Sure, but when you're able to use wisdom and the Lord's guidance to receive the answer it means so much more.

Knowing how hard we worked at getting out of debt after learning how to do it gave us a sense of pride in our accomplishment and is a testimony to others that it can be done. We also willingly allow our mistakes to serve as examples of how not to spend.

Joel VanBriggle is a friend I've known since he was born. He's currently serving as a Missionary in Belgium and has been in ministry for several decades. He recently started a conversation on Facebook by asking this question:

"Is it possible that our practice of praying for miracles is just an excuse for doing nothing?"

He received some opposition to his statement, because what's social media without someone being offended? He further explained by saying,

"By definition I would say that miracles are those things which only God can do. Too often I have seen people pray for miracles for things that people can and should do. I was reading in Acts 2:42-47 where the early church sold property and possessions to give to those in need. They were devoted to each other and made sacrifices. I have prayed and have heard prayers, "God, would you provide for Frank's college tuition," or "Lord, please provide Sally with a reliable car." These are situations where we can be part of the answer, but unfortunately instead of being part of the answer we pray an easier prayer, asking God to do a miracle. We do need to pray and believe for miracles, yet when possible we should do everything we can and let God handle what we can't."

Sometimes the answer to prayer is in our hands. God wants to use us in many different ways. You might hold the answer to someone's prayer.

Maybe we should begin to pray more for wisdom and guidance so we can meet the needs of those around us.

"Lord, open our eyes and help us to do what we are able. Let your light shine through us to change lives."