Friday, March 26, 2010

Like a child

I was sitting on the couch trying to soothe Corban to sleep when Isabelle crawled up next to us, laid down on her stomach, looked me in the eye and said, "I'm my meeting. I'm praying." Then she put her head down and said something that sounded like, "Dear God, you love you." Recently, she's been dancing around the house singing her version of a song that has the word "Hallelujah" in it. And just about every time we leave the house, she thinks we're going to church or Sunday school.

This humbles me. Having not been raised in this way, I'm continually amazed by her absorption of our faith practices, and I'm thankful that in some way, I must be doing something right. On those days when I don't feel like a very good Christian (whatever that's supposed to mean), the whispered prayers of a 2-year-old encourage me.

I thought about how Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me," and how He didn't have to coerce, bribe or in any way entice the children to come to Him. They were on their way. It was the adults who hesitated. It's still us adults who take our time coming to Jesus, whether it's for the first time for salvation or with our everyday troubles or for whatever reason. I see how easily Isabelle accepts Jesus as part of her life and I wonder, "Why is it so hard for me?"

"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven," Jesus told a group of disciples when they wanted to know who was the greatest.

Some days, I ask the same question.

A friend recently shared that her 4-year-old daughter disappeared upstairs for a while, and when she came back down, told her mother that she'd been praying to Jesus.

The kingdom belongs to such as these. Amen and amen.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Specks and logs

I'm mildly obsessive about my teeth, at least when it comes to food particles being stuck between them. Usually, I'll smile wide at Phil and ask him if there's anything between my teeth after a meal, especially if I know I'm going to be meeting new people or talking in a group or seeing anyone who isn't a family member. If he's not there to tell me, I make a beeline for a mirror. Sometimes he tells me when I don't ask, and while that's not always easy to take, I know he's telling me out of love.

Last week, while talking with a woman I didn't know well after a meal, I noticed some food remnants in her teeth. I quickly averted my eyes and pretended I hadn't seen them. When our conversation was over and she had left, I mentally kicked myself for not saying something. I imagined the embarrassment she might face if she was headed to class and talked to others with noticeable black spots between her teeth. Would it have been awkward to tell her? Yes, but I know I'd want someone to tell me.

We had a similar opportunity spiritually this week. Phil and I were confronted with someone who behaves according to the world's standards while proclaiming to be a Christian. Neither of us said anything in the moment, but we were both burdened by the situation afterwards. We have yet to come up with a loving way to broach the subject. For the benefit of this person, whom we love dearly, we know it's like the food-in-teeth issue -- it might be awkward, even perceived as offensive, at the time, but in the long run, it's for this person's benefit.

I think about Jesus' words -- "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3) -- and I wonder if I'm seeing a speck without noticing a log in my own life. I know Scripture supports lovingly confronting people about sin, but I don't know how to do it, and most of the time, I even wonder if I should.

Any insights out there to help me along? I'd love to hear any experiences you've had with this issue.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What's inside

I'm a colossal failure at hard-boiled eggs. While I'm no gourmet chef, I'm certainly not worthy of being on "Worst Cooks in America," so admitting I'm so terrible at something seemingly so simple is not easy.

We had a potluck at church today. I hadn't been to the grocery store all week, so I was trying to pick something to make from ingredients I already had in the house. I came across a deviled egg recipe that sounded good, so I boiled my eggs. Knowing I have trouble with this task, I consulted a cookbook and followed the instructions for boiling eggs to a "T." After they cooled and I began the peeling process, I discovered the usual soft, runny white underneath the shell surrounding a cooked yoke. As I threw egg white after egg white into the trash, I became frustrated at the realization that deviled eggs was not going to be on the menu at church.

Later, I prepared another dish as my plan B, but the hard-boiled egg failures still irk me. I wish there was a way to tell before I start peeling them whether they're cooked well or not. It's an act of faith, in a way, not unlike our own spiritual development.

Do you ever wonder what you look like on the inside to God? Are we soft, runny and underdone, not worth much toward our intended purpose? Are we overdone, hard and tainted, still good for that which we're meant but not too appealing to look at? Or are we perfectly prepared for what God has in mind? God only knows.

Nobody likes to go through unpleasant circumstances, but like the eggs have to be boiled to be of use when I intend to serve them as deviled eggs, God uses the tough times, the "hot water" of life to prepare us for what's ahead. If we seek to get out of it too soon, we become useless. If we're in too long, sometimes we can become bitter.

James says this: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (verses 2-4)

Are you facing trials of many kinds? Know that God sees the growth happening inside and will bring you to maturity because of it.

And if anyone knows how to make a perfect hard-boiled egg, I'm all ears.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The only thing to fear

I quit watching horror movies sometime in the last 10-15 years. I'm not sure of the exact reason. I once thought it was because I became a Christian, but I think it had more to do with growing up and realizing that I have enough realistic fears that I don't need to add fictitious ones to the mix.

Some of the things I fear:

getting pregnant again too soon

discovering a major health issue when I don't have medical insurance

stifling my daughter's outgoing personality and wild, creative behavior because I'm tired or impatient or more reserved, myself

obeying God's call on my life

This last one is the one that has been most on my mind lately. God's specific call for my life includes writing. I have lots of ideas, some information, and hardly anything actually written, yet I can't deny that God wants me to write. I can't NOT write, even if I'm just making a grocery list or jotting a note to a friend. It lifts my spirits, gives me hope and spurs me on. My heart races when I do it, and I feel full when I've let my thoughts flow on paper or screen.

And I find myself jealous (usually), critical (sometimes) and challenged (always) when I hear about someone else's writing success. Mostly I just want the time and motivation to do what I know needs to be done.

So I ask myself how much I want it. Because if I really wanted it, I'd do it.

I think I'm afraid. Not of rejection because I know it will happen; it happens to all writers, even good ones. I think I'm afraid that if I write, I'll discover that God didn't call me to that after all, and then I won't know what my calling is.

Wow. That seems a little silly when I see it written before my eyes. Still ...

I read this in Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost for His Highest" today. Speaks to me where I'm at. He says, "tenacity is more than endurance, it is endurance combined with the absolute certainty that what we are looking for is going to transpire. Tenacity is more than hanging on, which may be but the weakness of being too afraid to fall off. ... Then comes the call to spiritual tenacity, not to hang on and do nothing, but to work deliberately on the certainty that God is not going to be worsted."

Then I read these words from the psalmist's pen: "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear ..." (Psalm 46:1-2a, NIV)

God is my strength, whether in trouble or not. Therefore, I have nothing to fear. "Tenacious" is not a word I would use to describe myself, and I haven't always thought of it as a good thing, but after today, I think it's a necessary attribute for the Christian life.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." From the Christian standpoint, the only person we have to fear is God Himself, not because he's horror-movie scary but because of something else I read today: "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." (Psalm 24:1)

Everything is His. Everyone is His. If that's true, then I don't have to live in fear of any of the above-mentioned circumstances because God is in control. I don't have to acknowledge that He is for that to be true. I don't even have to FEEL like He's in control for it to be true. Because He is in control, all I have to fear is how I live my life in relation to Him -- in obedience or disobedience. One brings life; the other death. I can tenaciously pursue obedience to God and trust Him whatever the outcome or I can live disobediently and find myself merely hanging on, afraid to fall.

The first step is always the hardest.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Out of the tube

Isabelle, our almost-2-year-old, has been saying "Dang it" occasionally. I don't know what bothers me more -- that she uses the phrase in appropriate situations so she already knows what it means or that I know she learned it by listening to my husband and me.

When she says it, we tell her not to use those words, and sometimes she'll say "Oopsie" right after it because we've tried to substitute that phrase for the other one in our own speech. Still, the "dang" cat is out of the bag, and I'm reminded, convicted really, how much harm we do with our words and how permanent their place once they are voiced.

I remember a children's sermon about this, using a tube of toothpaste as an illustration. The teacher squeezed all the toothpaste out and offered $5 to any child who could put the toothpaste back in the tube. Try as they might, not one of those kids could put an ounce of toothpaste back in the tube. The teacher went on to tell the children that this is what it's like with our words. Once they're out, they can never go back in.

One time while working for the college newspaper, I had an issue with one of the editors and said some things about her to other staffers. Of course, those comments got back to her and she confronted me about it. I was embarrassed that she heard what I'd said about her, and I'd like to say it's a lesson I learned, but I know far too often I still speak without thinking or considering whether I'd want the person I'm talking about to hear what I've said.

Recently I've been reading through Proverbs, and the Lord has convicted me through a string of verses that I must be more discerning about what I say. Consider these thoughts:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. (10:11)

Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning ... the mouth of a fool invites ruin. (10:13, 14)

Whoever spreads slander is a fool. (10:18)

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. (10:19)

The tongue of the righteous is choice silver ... the lips of the righteous nourish many. (10:20, 21)

"Loose lips sink ships" is how the old military saying goes. The same is true of the Church. Our "casual" commentary on each other will slowly destroy any chance we have at unity and witness to the world.

And, it starts with me.

"Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips." (Psalm 141:3)