Sunday, November 29, 2009

Order in the House

When I was a kid, my mom tried everything to motivate me to keep my room clean. My sister was—and still is for the most part—an impeccable neatnic. Suffice it to say, I am not. Although my organizational skills have improved drastically since my elementary school days, I lack the innate gift for order. I love order. I just don’t like the work it takes to make it happen.

One of the stories my sister and I love to tell is that of the infamous “Clean Room Awards.” Exhausted with every other attempt at making me keep my room clean, my mom came up with the creative idea to give my sister and me certificates for each day we kept our rooms clean. When we earned ten awards, we could trade them in for a trip to Dairy Queen. My sister earned hers in ten days flat. I don’t remember how long it took me to earn mine. I do, however, remember the momentous day when I was able to trade my awards for a peanut buster parfait.

Something happened, though, between the last bite of ice cream and the next morning. When over the course of the next few days, my mom saw my room deteriorating to its previous state, she reminded me to clean my room so I could earn another award. As the story goes, I told her she could keep her clean room awards because I’d rather have a messy room. Perhaps I sensed the unfair advantage my sister had over me and the stealth attempt to modify my behavior, or maybe I was holding out for the creative right to have my room the way I wanted it. Either way, the saga of the “Clean Room Awards” ended with my refusal to participate in the program. (Thinking back on it, I realize how many DQ trips my sister lost out on because of my boycott. Sorry, Renee. You might want to take that one up with Mom).

Although my mother could never convince me how my messy room affected anyone other than me, as I’ve grown older, I better understand the concept of how my choices affect others. I can’t just claim the creative right to have things the way I want them or excuse a lack of order as part of my personality.

However, this knowledge that our actions affect others can sometimes turn in on us. Instead of making sure my actions do not bring unnecessary hurt to anyone else, I can become acutely aware of how others’ choices are affecting me. In doing so, we I become bogged down in watching the decisions others make. Order becomes less about what God is calling me to do and more about comparing my life to someone else’s.

I’ll be the first to say that my flesh is much more comfortable identifying the places where others lack order rather than dealing with the places of disorder in my own life. It’s the sin of justification. It becomes especially easy when someone else’s choices are creating ripple effects in my life. It’s a self-centeredness that’s hard to recognize because it involves a significant focus on someone else’s actions.

But it’s still destructive, and it keeps me from seeing the places in my life where God is calling me to get it right. It’s a measurement of “relative” order. Compared to my sister’s room, my room was a disaster zone. Put it up against a pig sty, and it wasn’t that bad. To keep me from dealing with my own junk, the only thing the enemy needs to do is make someone else’s faults seem more egregious. If I buy into his lies, I will eventually push away from those who are walking in victory in areas where I am struggling because I won’t like the discomfort that comes with the call to change. I’d rather spend my time belaboring what other people need to do differently.

I’m deeply passionate for order in the body of Christ. As believers, we of all people should take seriously the commandment to “walk in a manner worthy” (Ephesians 4:1). Even greater is the call upon the life of a leader. How easily, though, I can hold fast to that verse when assessing the lives those around me and miss the verses that follow. Any call to order should be given “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Accountability is real—and essential—in the body of Christ. However, order must begin at home—and not just in the areas where we see others failing, but in the very areas God is addressing with us. God isn’t going to ask me how well I kept my life in order compared to others. He’s going to ask me how well I lived my life according to His Word.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Feeling Competitive

When I was a little girl, I loved to play Aggravation, a game which involved moving marble pieces around a playing board in an attempt to bring them from the start box to home base. Somewhat akin to Sorry, it involves both chance and strategy. My mom would be quick to point out that my strategy was usually dancing around the table until everyone got so distracted they couldn’t remember whether they were coming or going. My mom still has our gameboard, complete with drag marks from moving my marble across the surface with great determination.

My family’s favorite Aggravation story involves telling of the times I would play by myself when no one dared take me on. I would set up two players, decide which one was the real me and roll for both. When I didn’t like the roll I got, I would give it to the other imaginary player. Little surprise, I usually won. As my Aggravation days prove, I can be pretty competitive. Just ask my husband about the first time I played Risk.

While I’ve learned how to lose gracefully at board games, I still deal with some less than desirable feelings when challenged with the notion that I just might be wrong about something.

Like most people, I love to be right. Lately, though, I’m beginning to understand that more important than being right is being right before the Lord. In His gentle way, the Lord’s been teaching me that fear lives at the root of any need to be proven right. There’s nothing wrong with striving for excellence—we’re called to excellence in the body of Christ. But pursuing excellence doesn’t mean we always get it right. Sometimes it means learning from the places where we’ve been wrong. I’m also learning that just because we’ve done what the Lord has asked of us doesn’t mean other people will realize we’ve made the right decision.

When it comes to our relationships with others, Hebrews 10:24 gives good counsel: “[A]nd let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” In all things, the Word should be our standard, and in our relationships with others, all things should be based on love. If I feel I’m right about something, I need to surrender it to the Lord. Any good we do belongs to Him anyways. At the point at which I feel the need to be right, however, I need to ask the Holy Spirit to search my heart. While a competitive spirit can motivate us to push past our fears and seeming inadequacies, the need to be right will lead us only toward destruction.

Proverbs 29:23—A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

These Shoes Were Made For . . .


I’ve never been much of a shoe girl. It’s not that I don’t like them. I’ve always loved getting a new pair of shoes. When it comes to adding to my collection, though, my pragmatism tends to win out. Far from flashy, my shoe rack has been stocked around the principle if they aren’t multi-functional, I don’t need them. Tennis shoes, brown boots, black boots, black heels (three pairs to be exact), more black in my sandals with one brown pair thrown in, a pair of black flip-flops someone left in my van and never claimed, along with a few other variations. I even have a pair of mid-90’s snow boots left over from my days in Minnesota and Massachusetts. As if it will ever snow enough for boots in Augusta! If it does, just look for the fashion faux pas and you’ll find me.

Because of my inner bent toward the practical, stilettos were never high on my shoe shopping radar. I like to be able to take stairs and run down hallways without fear of hurting myself. Recently, though, I’ve discovered that stilettos were made for much more than walking.

One Monday morning in mid-March, I was sitting in the Walmart parking lot texting one of the girls in my small group about an event we were planning. In the midst of thinking through the details of the coming day, I couldn’t shake the discouragement that wrapped itself so easily around my heart. My heaviness of heart had nothing to do with anything having gone wrong that day or anything I was anticipating. Rather, I had been asking God some big questions all weekend—questions about purpose and calling. I needed His reassurance. I could tell this wasn’t just a mood. I knew I was in a spiritual wrestling match with my thoughts and emotions. I simply had to press through and make a choice to trust. Finishing our conversation about the event details, I closed out by asking her to keep me in prayer.

I was asking for prayer, but God was doing so much more.

Later that day, when I arrived home after picking up the kids from school, my husband told me he had found a box on the front steps. Pointing to it on the floor, he asked me what it was. I was as clueless as he was . . . until I opened the box.

There lay a pair of black stilettos with three scriptures written on a piece of paper.

Look upon Zion, the city of our festivals; your eyes will see Jerusalem, a peaceful abode, a tent that
will not be moved; its stakes will never be pulled up or any of its ropes broken. Isaiah 33:20

Moses answered the people “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. Exodus 14:13

You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you. 2 Chronicles 20:17

As I read the scriptures and saw the shoes, I started to cry. My husband, of course, was appropriately confused.

Though the shoes nor the scriptures carried any name of the giver, I figured out the messenger was the one I had texted earlier in the day asking for prayer. But without a doubt, I knew the message had been from the Lord. And I knew exactly what He was telling me. He had not forgotten; He had not changed His mind.

Seven months earlier, I had heard a timely message from a guest speaker (Michelle Davenport) at a women’s event at our church. She preached on the enemy’s plan to “devour minds, steal identities, kill dreams and ultimately destroy destinies.” Reminding us of our freedom through the work of the cross, she said, “We have been uniquely assigned by God for an eternal assignment.” Choosing life meant choosing to live free. Then she said something that would become pivotal for me in the coming months. “Sometimes,” she said, “You have to just stick your stilettos in the ground and say ‘I’m not moving from the place God has called me.’”

So when a pair of stilettos showed up on my doorstep seven months later, I knew what God was saying. Stand firm, hold your ground against the enemy, do not be moved.

In His awesomeness, God took the message of the shoes beyond my life when I had an opportunity to teach at a women’s retreat for our church the next weekend. I found out not only was it possible to walk in stilettos, but they make pretty good teaching shoes. Especially when you want to tromp all over the enemy’s territory.

Boring no more, my shoe rack now holds a prized message from the Lord in the form of three and a half inch heels. While these are my first pair, I don’t think they’ll be my last.

After all, there’s a lot of territory to take.

Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses . . . No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it . . . Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:3, 5-9

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Finding Gray

I found seven gray hairs yesterday, and I saw at least three more hiding. I was minding my own business doing my hair, like I do any ordinary morning. Thinking I had a clump of hair wax in my head—don’t get me started on how bizarre it is to put wax in my hair—I reached up to remove the offending smear of white, only to find myself trailing a gray hair to the root. Unbelievable, I thought. My delusions of a freak occurrence were shaken as I removed gray hair number two. Later that day in carline, numbers three through seven made their untimely appearances as I examined my head in my visor mirror. Gray is now my reality.

Earlier in the day, I texted my sister to ask her if finding gray hairs made me wise, old or both. She responded by telling me she had one for every male in her home—a quiet total of three. When I found more than two, I knew there were problems with her theory. Later that day, she thought it funny to ask if I was sure I wasn’t the one who was older between the two of us. Touché. I told her it simply meant I was wiser.

For one fleeting moment, the thought of coloring my hair passed through my mind. I know plenty of women I consider to be godly and humble who color their hair. For me, though it’s not an option, at least not right now. When it comes to valuing the eternal, I have to ask myself if I need another thing to do that is only temporary. Besides, anyone who knows me knows when life gets busy my roots will end up showing. It’s too much work for too little return.

I’m not opposed to hair color. I enjoy watching the girls in my small group change hair color more often than I change my mind (which being a melancholy happens frequently). But the gray hairs vs. hair color debate in my mind has brought me to an interesting place once again. Two books later, I choose everyday to believe God’s standard of beauty trumps the world’s.

As women, we are growing old in a society that does not honor age. I know my body will continue to groan along with all of creation for redemption (Romans 8:22-23). But deep inside me, I want God’s healing in my life to be so sure that no matter what season of my life, my convictions about beauty are unshakeable.

Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, You who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you. --Isaiah 46:3-4 (NASB)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Four Coffee Creamers

When I awoke this Valentine's Day, little did I know the significance the four creamers in my fridge would have. Sure, I knew this Valentine's would be unlike any other. With a weekend full of ministry plans, a candlelight dinner was far from my mind. Anyone who knows my husband or me knows our commitment to marriage. Ministry and even children can become all too consuming, leaving marital collateral damage in the dust. So it wasn't from a lack of heart that roses weren't on the table this Valentine's Day. But coffee creamers? What in the world did they have to do with love?

The day started off busy. So busy, I don't even remember having a cup of coffee, much less what flavor creamer I used. The kids had breakfast, we wrapped a present for a birthday party Micah would attend, and I began preparations for our supper later that day. Scott had left earlier that morning, so not long after my mom came and picked up Micah for his party, Charis and I left to go "under the Bridge" for Project Love. February 14th was no longer about me.

Even the day before had been a little unconventional. Friday afternoon, I had turned down the card aisle at Walmart, only to see a line of people staring methodically at the display. When I picked up card after card that didn't seem to fit, I turned my cart toward the checkout without a card in hand. Scott and I had already decided spending time together was more important than a gift. Besides, a card seemed a little extra since we were spending our Friday evening at the church helping write more than 300 love letters. That night at least 30-40 young people gathered to peel potatoes, bag muffins, and make Valentine's letters for our church's homeless congregation that meets bi-weekly under the 15th street bridge in Augusta.

It was a new look at love.

The sky was misting and the wind was chilly when Charis and I arrived downtown that Saturday. Under the shelter of the bridge, we looked for ways to help, said hello to those we knew from our group, and met those who had far less than we had ever known. I felt the presence of the Lord even before we began. However, the day was not to be without at least one challenge. Amid the buzz of Bridge team members and young people setting up, I faced a serious dilemma. Having finished a large coke from Zaxby's, could I withstand the pressure in my bladder for another two hours or would I brave the port-o-potty standing ready? Two applications of hand-sanitizer later, I was feeling much more comfortable and ready for worship.

I was unprepared, though, for the two large bottles of coffee creamer--one french vanilla and one hazelnut--sitting on a table. As I watched individual after individual come and get a cup of hot coffee with flavored creamer, I wondered when they had last had a warm cup of coffee. When I remembered the four bottles of flavored creamer in the bottom of my fridge at home, I cried. In the simplicity of the moment, I realized how much I take for granted.

In years past, I might have been frustrated at missing out on having time alone with my husband on Valentine's Day. But this year, everything was different. I still would have liked some chocolates, but just because I really like chocolate. Not because I see them as proof of his love for me. I live in plenty, not only in terms of material provision, but in so many other things as well. I know I am loved . . . by my husband, by my children, but most of all by God. What greater gift could there be than a love that gave all? What greater privilege than to be His love to others? When the years and the boxes of chocolate run together, this Valentine's will be one I won't forget.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New

There’s something beautiful about new beginnings. Recently I was reading in Revelation--not something I was doing on a whim; it was a part of our Bible reading plan for the year. While much of the book goes over my head, Revelation 21:5 reached my heart that day. It says, “And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’”

All things new.

In all honesty 2008 has not been without its significant struggles. I think it’s one of those years I will look back as a definitive place in the Refiner’s fire. There are days I have no desire to relive because they were plain old difficult. But the goodness of God is that I can see specific things I believe the Lord allowed me to learn. In no way do I feel I’ve digested all the lessons and am ready to write a book about them—those places will still continue to teach in the years to come. But I am praying that 2008 was a year in which I looted the enemy (as Beth Moore talks about her book Breaking Free). What he set out as a snare, I pray became a starting block.

The overwhelming truth I have come to own is this: if I am experiencing hardship, God has seen fit to allow it because nothing is beyond His control. Getting angry at people has little benefit. Unfortunately, I still get angry, but at least now I recognize it’s an exercise in futility. If I am frustrated with something in my life, the bottom line is that no one has stepped on my toes without His permission. Notice I didn’t say blessing; I said permission. Those are two different things.

I’ve also learned there’s a monumental difference between feeling pain because I’ve fallen down the stairs and feeling pain because I’ve been walking rigorously around my neighborhood. One has happened because my feet have not been in the right place, the other because they have.

While 2009 has already revealed itself as a year of change, I am hopeful. God is indeed making all things new. I’m sure there will be more places of testing. There’s plenty of dross in me to keep the Refiner busy. Already, God has shown me a specific area in my life where I need Him to make new. Strangely enough, this past year has taught me to trust Him more. He has shown Himself faithful and true. In light of that truth, the past year takes on a whole new look.


*Thanks to my husband for his great work in designing the new website. He continues to amaze me with his willingness to take on any challenge. I love you, Scott!