Quoted: Day One

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its
whole life believing that it is stupid.”

This quote has been, perhaps erroneously, contributed to Albert Einstein although it is possible that he was paraphrasing the work of Dolbear. This article shows the many versions of the quote and other fables that are similar. An interesting read if you are so inclined. 
I am not a fan of the word stupid since I have had to insure that it not be used out of context. It used to really mean something – had an IQ score attached and everything. But now it typically means a child is judging another child on his or her ability to do something that said child was not necessarily designed to do. 

The above quote was originally brought to my attention by a former student. (GR you know I’m talking about you.) She typically felt that her own immense creativity was played down as it was compared to her older sister’s. They were both smart girls and very creative – though in completely different ways. It isn’t often that technical writers are compared to Shakespeare or vice versa. And that’s the way it should be. Both write, both are needed in the world, but they are different creatures – not designed or gifted to do exactly the same things. 

I ran into another stupidity quote yesterday. One of our pastors used a John Wayne quote in his sermon yesterday that went something like this, “Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.” The pastor explained that to him, stupid meant that a person tries to live life out of his own ideas, Biblically based though they may be, rather than living life out of God’s leading. So, God created you as a fish but you are trying to climb trees because you think you are supposed to because the other Christians you know all climb trees. (That’s my combination of the two quotes not his.)

Another leader in our church welcomed us yesterday by sharing his love of the following verses, 

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (‭Philippians‬ ‭4‬:‭4-9‬ NIV)

At first glance these may seem to be unrelated thoughts, but here comes the connection.

Yes, we are to put into practice what we have learned – but what we learn is sometimes not what the lesson was intended to teach – we learn that good Christians climb trees (only if they are Zacchaeus), so we try to climb trees. But what the lesson was supposed to be was not about climbing trees, but about putting ourselves in a place to see Jesus with no one hindering our view. So we were not supposed to emulate Zacchaeus’s tree climbing, but his wholehearted desire to meet his savior and Lord. 

We get so caught up in the comparison, that we forget the part about focusing on what is admirable, lovely, pure, etc. It wasn’t the act of climbing the tree that was so admirable, pure, and lovely (he probably flashed a few people on his way up the tree and offended them and their sense of propriety by doing it – surely Jesus didn’t want him to expose himself like that) – it was his pure desire to see Jesus that was lovely and admirable. 

Just like a child being able to explain E=Mc2 (where IS superscript?) appropriately isn’t what other children should try to emulate and teachers should try to duplicate in every other child – it is that child’s desire to learn, and to explain what he learned, and his excitement in learning it that should be emulated and duplicated. 

We have to see what the pure and lovely and admirable things are through God’s eyes in order to know whether we were meant to climb or swim or fly. And how can we be sure to know what God sees? 

Philippians said it all – to rejoice, to be gentle in our manner, and to know that He is near. Our gentleness allows Him to speak to and through us so that we can see the best in every person He created (which is everyone) so that we know how to point them (and ourselves) in the right direction without comparisons that just don’t make sense. 

It is about our IDENTITY – that gift that God gave us that is who we are. 

God, I ask today that you speak gently to my heart and to the hearts of any others who may read this. Show us the loveliness we may have missed in ourselves or in someone else. Help us to be gentle in our dealings with all. Let your eyes guide us to see the best in all. Free us from the comparison to anything or anyone, even if it is Biblically based, if it doesn’t come from you. Thank you, Lord, for your words spoken into my heart and for the time you take each day to meet with me and to remind me who I am.

*Most of my posts don’t require an acknowledgments section, but this time it’s necessary. First, thank you, Greg, for inviting me to join the three day quote challenge. (I may be bending the rules a bit, but I’ll challenge some others in the next day or two.) 

Second, I must thank some of the leaders at my church: Pastor Mike for the illustration of Zacchaeus’s mad climbing skills, Daron for yesterday’s sermon on freedom (and the John Wayne quote), and Breck for the focus on Phillipians.  If you need an encouraging word, please visit the sermon archives – they are great! 

Next, GR for her diligent quest to find her own identity beyond expectations of family, friends, and other naysayers.

And finally, Proverbs 31 Ministries for the challenge to write a prayer describing our need to hear God’s voice.

Oh, Precious . . . 

Each tail of the whip whistled a slightly different pitch as it sliced through the air. The susurration ending dully with a drumroll as each barbed end bit into waiting flesh – a spray of blood fanning out to land on the faces and feet of the onlookers each time the lictor drew back for another blow.

A king? They would not condone such mockery of their precious state. Again and again the flagrum found its mark, not stopping, as the law prescribed, at 39, but continuing. On and on.

Opening the skin until it hung like fringe, exposing muscle beneath. Muscle that was so recently used to lift the bread and the cup. Muscle that once lifted arms to gesture to the waves – calming them as a frightened child. Muscle that once opened the scroll to announce its fulfillment.  Muscle now letting go of its life, pouring it out upon the stones.

A reprieve made only of a scratchy cloth draped over open wounds – soaking in the life, sticking to the flesh. Thorns piercing the scalp and sending more blood running, matting hair and stinging eyes. Blows inflicted by a makeshift, eagle-less standard that no one would search for when it was lost. The cloth torn away again as the taunting continued – releasing more of the precious liquid. The legionaries’ hands covered in thick redness as they fought and then gambled for the cloth, fully unaware of the utter pricelessness of the staining liquid.

The heavy tree forced atop fleshless back, splinters like needles bringing more blood. Step by tortured step it seeped into the ground, drop after drop imprinted on the soles of feet that followed behind.

Knees scraped open as they hit the stones below leaving more blood behind on the road. The Cyrene called in to carry the tree when it’s bearer could no longer stand. The blood dripped down over his shoulders, transferring strength and new life.

The climb making His heart pound with increased elevation, blood pouring through every wound.

Arteries straining as nails carved their way into wood below.

Running, pouring down the tree; rivulets pooling and pushing through the dusty ground to find more recipients kneeling or standing there below.

Final rush as pilum is thrust. Water and blood spilling to earth pushing the rivulets further, wider, faster down The Skull.

Reaching into eternity; I am plunged beneath the fount. Cleansed, saved, adopted, redeemed.

Written in response to The Literary Lion’s weekly flash fiction challenge word: bleeding. Obviously this is NOT based in fiction but on the truth of God’s Word.  However, it is my imagination of the sounds, sights, and feelings that would have occurred based on the Biblical depiction of Jesus’s last hours. So to write about something so precious to me and try to make it succinct enough to fit into 400 words or less – I had to try.

Warning: the video below is extremely graphic – it contains scenes from The Passion put to Hillsong’s Oh, Precious is the Flow.  I promise, I didn’t see it before I wrote.  After I finished writing, I was only looking for the song that inspired my title to include here, but when I saw the song put with images so very similar to what I was seeing in my mind, I just had to use it. Some of the scripture is in Spanish (I think), which I can’t read, but I am trusting that whoever wrote the scripture in did it correctly for those of you who can read it.  (Please feel free to correct me on my amateur language identification if necessary – I would appreciate it.)

Remember Who You Are

My mom never let me leave the house during my teenage years without calling out to me, “remember who you are!”

It’s a great reminder – if you know who you are to begin with. 

Sometimes during those years, I resented her saying those words to me. Mainly because I felt like I didn’t know who I really was and not knowing for myself meant that I could only remember who she expected me to be. 

I have spent many years, even after I decided to give my heart to Jesus, trying to live up to the expectations of other people. You may already notice how contradictory that is, but if you don’t, I’ll take a moment to explain. 

When I gave my heart to Jesus, I was only looking for a savior – someone to fix the problems I had created or otherwise gotten myself into – but not someone who would show me how to not get into trouble again. I wanted Him to come along, make it all better, kiss my ouchies, and let me run off to play again.  In short, He was welcome to my heart if He could make my feelings better, but I didn’t want Him in my head messing up the way I thought things worked. 

For years, I proclaimed His place in my life without really giving Him a place in my life. I am so grateful that He is so patient. 

I’m not sure when the real change began in my mind, but I am very aware of when it actually began to make my life different. And it was not beauty and roses and lollipops. There was beauty in it later, but at first it hurt. 

What did it hurt? My pride. My absolute certainty that I was always right began to take some pretty powerful hits. The whole of the Trinity was after me – my Abba God, my brother Jesus, and the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear – they were relentless. 

When my redheaded temper began to flair – they let it – and then showed me all the ways that I had done more damage than good with my tantrums. 

When my indignation at an offense rose up – they asked me to take another look. 

When I felt rejected by someone that was important to me because my best efforts to meet their expectations were just not good enough – they were there – asking me to really look at why I was even doing things in the first place – to please someone and gain that person’s approval, or to bless that person with my efforts?

I am certainly not finished with this process, but I can happily tell you that my temper doesn’t find nearly as many reasons to show its ugliness, and I don’t find myself pouting as often when I’ve been rejected instead of receiving another human’s stamp of approval. 

I am able, most of the time, to actually listen to someone instead of assuming that I understand. 

I have found more quietness in my heart and can therefore respond to people with a quiet answer instead of my old tirades. 

I am finally allowing Jesus to tell me who I am – who He created me to be – instead of trying to make myself be something I think everyone will like. 

There is so much more peace, so much more joy, and there is beginning to be a sense of direction that I’ve never had before. 

I encourage you today – stop, be still, feel the pain as your pride begins to fall, and let Him tell you who you are. Let Him be the one that says to you each day, “remember who you are.”

Here are some verses, passages really, that God is using to help me to understand these things. I pray that they will help you too.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (‭Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭2‬ NIV)

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them. ”
After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (‭Mark‬ ‭7‬:‭14-15, 17-23‬ NIV)

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (‭James‬ ‭1‬:‭23-25‬ NIV)

You Light up My Life

Yet again, I must thank the FCA for inspiring today’s post. 

While I sit here on my steps with my coffee, I am already beginning to notice the change from springtime light to summertime light – it’s a small shift in the angle of the sun (well technically it is the earth) that places the light a little more behind the neighbor’s pine tree, a little more behind the edge of my roof and my crepe myrtle instead of coming directly in over our open yards. It actually keeps my steps a little cooler a little longer – oh but when it is directly overhead – watch out! Burn notice for my red headed, freckled skin!

It reminds me of recent experiences with my son and my husband. 

My son had an opportunity, just before he graduated from high school, to work with a polymer chemist  as she conducted experiments for her dissertation. An arrangement between a university that’s not too far from his school and either the school district or the state (not sure on that) allows doctoral students in STEM areas to co-teach certain classes. 

If you are a chemist, you might understand the words that my son uses to describe the work they did – I don’t. I do know that the idea was to use a powerful dye within some kind of polymer structure to be used in a coating. The dye, if it is able to be contained properly, absorbs light in such a way that it helps the light to kill microbes on the surface of whatever the coating will be placed on. 

The work they did showed that the dye worked better in certain types of light, but the chemist and her team are still working on the containment issues. All of which is at the molecular level as far as I can understand. I’m probably saying it all wrong and if you are a chemist you are guffawing at my ignorance right now. That’s okay – I never claimed to be a scientific genius.  I laugh at myself too. 

The experience with my husband is not necessarily recent nor is it a one time thing. He is excellent at pointing out what is yet to be done – those little, oft-overlooked tasks that you let go by without realizing how much they could contribute to a more functional day. Things like cleaning out cabinets and drawers that you don’t use that often, but that really need to have order so that you can find something in them when you do. (Instead of looking all over the house and garage for whatever it was because it was hidden behind something else in the cabinet. Talk about a wasted afternoon!)

Truth be told, I’m not a great housekeeper. I don’t even delegate housekeeping tasks to others very well. I am the proverbial absent minded professor – if I don’t trip over it, I don’t notice it. My mind is just often focused on theoretical ideas rather than the concrete spaces I live in. Well, it isn’t only the concrete spaces I ignore, but I sometimes ignore myself; my own habits and quirky behaviors that I don’t realize can be annoying to others. 

Which actually makes my husband and I a pretty good match. He has such laser focus that it makes up for my lack of focus. Most of the time. Meaning that sometimes I don’t want to hear how my propensity to procrastinate made someone else have to wait on me, or that my forgetting to go to the store, like I promised to do, meant we didn’t have a tool that was necessary to fix something that really needed fixing. 

You all know me by now – there is a connection.

The verses that the FCA used in the devotional were these: 

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (‭1 John‬ ‭1‬:‭5-7‬ NIV)

When I read this, I realized that Jesus is the light that comes to purify us (clean out and kill the bad microbes), and that my husband’s habit of noticing small things is similar to the dye in my son’s experiments (focusing the light where it is needed). But there is still that containment issue. 

And that is where God started tugging at my heart – that containment issue? – that’s all on me. How, you ask? Because it is my attitude, my willingness to hear, that allows me to benefit (or reject the benefit) of what is being said. 

My attitude is like the polymer matrix that is necessary to hold the dye and filter the light in order to drive out the big (umm little) bad microbes. 

Now, Jesus can certainly do his job without any help from my husband, but that isn’t how he wants to do it. The Bible clearly shows us how he wants to use husbands to help their wives: 

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (‭Ephesians‬ ‭5‬:‭25-27‬ NIV)

The word radiant in that verse means two things (both of which describe the kind of woman I’d  like to be):

  1. Emitting rays of light, shining bright
  2. Bright with joy, hope, etc.

So if I allow my attitude to be open, I can walk in fellowship with my husband – just like the verses from 1 John say I can. 

If, however, my attitude is, well – attitudinal, then I miss the fellowship that is supposed to exist in my marriage, deprive my husband of his place in my life, and keep walking in the dark. Which then means I am allowing myself to be a liar. That is really what it says, folks. Choosing to walk in the darkness when the light is available and you know it, makes you a liar. 

God didn’t create us to be liars – it isn’t part of our true identity. So why would we hold onto things, even abstract things like our attitudes, that aren’t part of our God-breathed identity?

It is amazing how God creates the real world in tandem with the theoretical one, isn’t it? Don’t know what I mean? – I challenge you today to find a nice sunny spot, soak up some lovely vitamin D in the form of sunshine, and let it infiltrate your brain with all that great serotonin that helps you maintain a good attitude. And if it’s raining where you are they actually bottle the stuff. Boost your attitude so that you can let the light of your relationships shine on your heart today. It is so worth it!

Conspiracy? Or Call to Prayer?

The blogging world is conspiring this morning – but whether it is for or against me I have yet to determine.

One of the devotional blogs I read today discussed how to give our anxiety to God, another discussed the idea of being a living sacrifice, yet a third opened with an image of crime scene tape and encouraged readers to get rid of overflowing problems before something worse could occur.

All of them are applicable in so many ways, but at this point my mind turns to one particular topic: the sabbatical and its continuation or its transformation.

After a year of finding very few opportunities to transition back to the working world, several have appeared like an old newspaper, on my doorstep – covered in day old trimmings and potato peels, but still showing opportunities that do exist.

And I am faced now, with questions:

  1. Why are these the available opportunities?
  2. If I accept these am I settling for less than I wanted, or does God want to teach me something? (Humility, a new perspective, an unseen connection to what I already enjoy?)
  3. Should I redirect those people who have been praying for me so that their prayers are more specific – or is that a rejection?
  4. Do I want to take the step backward that some of these seem to be – is it worth it to face again the stressors that I so flatly rejected when I began this journey – or am I just being intimidated by the memory of them instead of trusting God?

Some opportunities place me squarely back where I came from – which does not seem a good decision for so many reasons – the income is adequate, but I stayed there too long once before, trying to convince myself that I was stronger than the negative, make that toxic, atmosphere.

Others challenge my ideas about where I belong in my field. Really, God, that might be where you want me to be?  (Said with crinkled nose as I pull a smelly potato peel away from the paper.)

Yet others provide opportunities to minister in ways that I could connect to as a woman, a mother, a writer, and a friend, that would allow some flexibility of scheduling, but that would not necessarily have the income level that I was looking for.

Others could provide income, and a modicum of flexibility, but it’s uncertain how much of either.

I can see all of them as beneficial in one way or another, and as detrimental in one way or another.

I know I need to ask more questions about some of these opportunities.

Honestly – I feel like Honi, a Jewish profit whose life is described in the book, The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson.  I look at the opportunities, and see that they are sort of what I’ve asked for, but I have to say , “not for this kind of rain have I prayed.”

Honi prayed for rain during an extreme drought. He spoke those words when the drizzle came, when the nice shower came, and even when the downpour came. He continued praying for rain, and letting God know that he wasn’t accepting less than a deluge – and that not just of water, but of God’s own presence as it flooded the land and the hearts of the people.

Life’s circumstances often make it seem important to do something now. But we can forget that praying fervently is something – that crying out to God for his provision and blessing is something more – and drawing our circles in the parched earth demanding the certainty of God’s blessing is something entirely different.

So my bench is shaking today – mainly because I’m bouncing my feet with a nervous kind of tension and excitement.  Can I be like Honi, or am just the little man in the old joke. The one where the floods come and he refuses human help three times because he is certain that God will help. When he drowns and gets to Heaven, he asks God why he didn’t come. God says, I sent a man in a rowboat, the coastguard, and a helicopter pilot  – what more did you want?

I know that God will guide my decisions – and redirect them if necessary. So the biggest decision – is simply to continue to follow Him – no matter where He may lead.

God,  I pray today, not only for an amazing solution, but for your presence, the wisdom that comes only from hearing your voice, and the peace that only you can give. You know who you created me to be, the lessons I have yet to learn, and the plans that you have for my life. Help me to see with your eyes today, God.  Help me to know that you are with me, able to direct (and redirect) my steps as many times as it takes.   Hold me close to you and help me to listen to your heart that is so full of love for your people. You heart that encompasses the world and everything in it, that knows every need great or small, and from which the promise is made in your word that you work all things together for the good of those who love you. God, you give us the love with which we can love you – our place under your wings is secure and warm. Your presence fills the throne room and we stand in awe of you. Thank you, Lord, thank you for your presence.

Coffee Cups and GCS

Do you have a favorite coffee cup? Do you know why it is your favorite?  

I do. And it is my favorite because it is big enough to hold all the coffee I need (not necessarily want) for the day, it’s light-weight, the handle fits my hand smoothly, and the lip is perfectly designed to be thin enough that it doesn’t feel like I really have much on my lip and curved at just the right angle so that it doesn’t dribble on my lip or on itself. 

  
But – it is mine only because I claimed it from a cabinet full of forgotten cups and mugs at the school where I used to work. In fact I have at least three mugs that weren’t originally mine. They were left behind by great teachers who had determined that life held other things for them. 

Some left because teaching wasn’t their real calling, but a holding place until their real dreams came into view. 

Some left because they were spent  – had given all they could and there was no more to give. 

Some of my cups were passed down from other teachers who retired before being left behind by someone else. 

I didn’t start my collection knowingly for the purpose of collecting cups from great teachers – or even some that were not as great (still good at least). It started because every now and then, I would forget my own cup. I checked out the cabinet, recognized a mug as having belonged to someone that no longer worked there, knew it wouldn’t be missed, and rinsed it out for my own use on that particular day.  

I would wind up bringing each new member of my collection home to wash, and never remember to grab it in the morning to take it back. 

I know who the previous owner was for a couple of them, and remember them, fondly yet briefly, each time I use their cup. But I don’t know who used to own my favorite one. So, if you recognize your cup and want it back, let me know so I can give it back. (I would give it back, but then again if you loved it like I do you probably wouldn’t have abandoned it – or maybe you intended to share its greatness with others and I’ve ruined that. Who knows?)

Where am I going with this? (Other than confessing my cup thievery?)

Somehow these cups remind me that each of us has a different (even though related) gift. God gave us our personalities, our abilities, our likes, dislikes, and even the smallest parts of our physical being that make one cup feel better to us than another.

But sometimes we miss just how unique our gifts are because they are similar to someone else’s. 

Having worked with gifted children for so long, I became aware of something I thought of as GCS -Gifted Child Syndrome. Now this is not a real thing as far as syndromes go – it’s just something I noticed. GCS is my mental notation that a gifted child tends to have a very difficult time understanding that others do not share his or her particular combination of gifts and abilities.  

It is real enough that we train teachers to be aware of it, but as far as I know I’m the only one who lovingly refers to it as GCS. 

It follows some of us throughout life into adulthood. It is what makes it difficult to understand why we have to explain a particular process that we do naturally to others because – (we believe) everyone can (and therefore should) see it that way. It is what makes it difficult to take a sincere compliment regarding our abilities because we can’t imagine that it is sincere. (Why would they compliment that – can’t they do it too? Aren’t they just being lazy to not do it themselves?)

GCS can be a good thing – it keeps us humble because we don’t even recognize our own uniqueness and cannot therefore exalt ourselves in inappropriate ways. But it can also be a bad thing – because we don’t recognize an ability as a gift and cannot express our gratefulness for its existence, and because we cannot realize that it makes us uniquely valuable to those around us. We can’t see how much we are needed. 

Each time I have my coffee in one of my reclaimed cups, I do think about the best each previous owner had to offer to the school in general and to the individual students in their care. I am grateful that all teachers are not alike, that all people are not alike, and that even though the differences are subtle, God created each of us uniquely to deal with the people that we encounter and the tasks that we face each day.

So, if someone pays you a compliment today, and you wonder why they even did, maybe you are experiencing GCS. Notice what it is that makes you special to that person, and be grateful that God allowed you to fill a small need in their life. More than that, be grateful that God made you as the only you there will ever be. He loved you enough to make you from scratch (as we say in baking) instead of from a mold (which is better left for jello or plaster – and maybe even coffee mugs). 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (‭Psalm‬ ‭139‬:‭13‬ NIV)

Thank you, God, for taking the time to make me unique. Help me see today,  what it is that I can specifically do to show your love to those around me in ways that would be missing if I don’t step up to the challenge. Help me be grateful that I am exactly who and what you created me to be. Don’t let me miss the beauty that is already here inside me – keep me from the temptation to be like someone else, or to make myself into anything that you did not create. Help me to remember that if I do, I am robbing myself and those around me of the uniqueness that you intended to be most helpful in our day to day lives. You are glorious, God. Your plans and your ways are so much higher than ours. Your creation is beautiful. I worship you today, God; show me how to live and to love like you. 

Ouch!

I’m not sure why, but my beloved steps have been overrun by biting gnats this morning. Trying to swat them only scares away the rabbit that is calmly nibbling my grass.  Watching him jump away from an unknown foe yesterday is what made me think of the differences in taming rabbits, lions, and people – which is what gave me the idea for yesterday’s post. Now I completely understand his jumping fit – it must have been these gnats.

So, I cannot sit outside this morning.

It’s amazing how small annoyances can completely derail our focus and even our attitude. Gnats pushing me off my steps, my husband’s tinnitus making conversation difficult, misunderstandings about who is responsible for a particular task, misunderstanding the task itself, not having time to thoughtfully prepare for writing the next part of the gifts theme. My list of annoyances could go on and on.

Some of these things are just part of life. Little things that just happen. Some people will tell you that our enemy is behind it all. I’m not sure that he orchestrated all of those things happening all at once this morning – I don’t want to give him that much credit.  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But what I do know is that he loves it when I allow myself the luxury of getting bent completely out of shape, of feeling offended, and of retaliating against people who are just trying to do life the best they can (just like I am).

The Bible says that he prowls around looking for those he can devour. How does he know we can be devoured? He watches our reactions, waits for us to become overwhelmed in our own weaknesses, and pounces when we are distracted by the little annoyances of life.  But this morning,  I’m trying to see him out there – waiting in the grass – and turn it over to the “big guns” – meaning I’m running for my daddy, my Father in Heaven. He has the power to make the big bad enemy go away, the power to heal my bug bites, and the power to heal the relationships that seem a little off kilter this morning (okay – a lot off kilter).

Heavenly Father,

I thank you today for standing against the foe, for granting me a glimpse of the problems through your eyes, and for gently guiding me back to your peace and your presence.

Help me to stay close to you today so that my weaknesses will be recognized and immediately filled with your strengths, so that my fears can be wiped away, and so that your voice is the only one I hear.

I praise you, Lord, you are mighty, and you bring peace where there was no peace, pateince where there was only frustration, and joy where there was only sorrow. In your name, I rebuke the spirits of oppression, fear, and intimidation that have tried to invade my home. I command them to leave; they have no place in the hearts of your people.

I declare it today, and I worship you, God, for your amazing love. You are love, and you are life. May we all find our place in your heart today, Lord. Thank you for your grace and goodness and mercy. Your name is above all names, your kingdom shall reign forever.

Gift Ideas

Running around
inside my head

thoughts of gifts you’ve given
that I thought I had received

but now I see
the depth of your gift
a whole new world for me

you gave so much more
A gift – disguised as a chore 
and I struggled and resented and strained

until you said, “I gave
 you me”
did I begin to understand

I still don’t know how to open your gift
But I know that it holds your heart

I have too much to say today and I’m having to pare it down so that I can share. Please accept this poem as a clue for things to come.

I am Written

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Tattoo….You?.”

This prompt from the Daily Post, caught my attention today – it says so much about our identity – how we label ourselves and whether we should.  Some of you may already know where I’m headed, but before I get to the point – I need to give you some background information – just so you know where I’m coming from (literally and figuratively).

My grandmother’s brother had tattoos – lots of tattoos – apparently from time he spend in the Navy during WWII(?). My mother may have to correct me on that.   I never could remember his name (she had two brothers that I never saw at the same time, and I couldn’t quite get it right), so I just referred to him as Uncle Tattooed Man. The family knew who I meant and considered it cute rather than disrespectful, so . . .it stuck. I’m sure his tattoos were wonderful souvenirs for him, but by the time I knew him (when I was three), they had faded to bluish-gray blobs that, to my childish eyes, made him look like he was some kind of plague survivor.  And because of that – I was always somewhat disgusted by tattoos.

During the ensuing years, I had a variety of experiences that piled on my impression of tattoos and other types of self-labeling that people are prone to do. Having lived in various places, I witnessed all kinds of prejudices in action.

In one town, 85% Hispanic, which I was not, I became something of an oddity because of my red hair – that many of the other children had never seen. I remember feeling like crawling under a rock on the first day of school when they pointed at me and spoke about me to each other in a language I didn’t know. I remember one girl telling the other students in our advanced class that I was faking a southern accent and had dyed my hair because I didn’t want people to know that I was only pretending to be smart enough to be in “their” class. (Really?) How did she account for my extra-pale skin and green eyes? I also remember a child in my sister’s kindergarten class whose parents had named their bi-racial child Angel (accent on the end) and had moved to that town so that she could pass for Hispanic. I remember meeting the first “real” Jewish person I had ever known in that same town, and how he brought pictures of his grandmother’s arm – tattooed with a number at Auschwitz (or Out-with, if you like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) so that we could understand what we were learning about in history.

Moving back home to the deep south, I remember learning about the Civil War, and learning that some slaves had been branded on their faces so that if they ran away, they wouldn’t be able to hide.  I remember learning about the civil rights movement and how prominently, and negatively, our state’s reputation had grown because of the acts of certain individuals who had committed atrocities against some of the college students who were involved in the movement.  Wondering, in middle school, why people had ever felt that way – some of my best friends in middle school looked very different that I did and I didn’t even think much about it.

Moving again to a town in a “border” state (if by border you mean the Mason-Dixon line), that had supposedly been a Union state – but in which there was a definite monochromatic color scheme, I encountered another type of prejudice. The prejudice that told (some of) these people I would agree with them because of where I was from.  They were so wrong – they never had the opportunity to meet anyone that was significantly different and had such horribly strange ideas about anyone that was different.  I remember taking Civics as a senior and facing down our teacher in front of all the other students as he tried to spread more hatred toward my home state. He, a short white man with a Hitler mustache, was telling the class that the “south” still had segregated bathrooms and water fountains – still required students to attend different schools. Several of us in the class were transplants to that town and were trying to tell him that he was wrong.  He asked one girl, who had been just as appalled as I was, where she was from and when she said, “Virginia” he said, “Well, I’m talking about the DEEP South.” At which statement, I stood up and said, “I’m from south Miss-iss-ippi! How much further south do you want to go?!?!?!” He sat down and didn’t say another word for the next week – just handed out worksheets for us to finish every day.

Now – what has that got to do with tattoos? I saw a picture of a young woman the other day with the word “Loyalty” tattooed across her very dark-skinned cheek.  And I thought of how I defended my state against that teacher, trying to let everyone in that class know how “my south” didn’t do horrible things anymore. I thought about the lessons regarding branding slaves faces. I thought about my friend’s grandmother’s arm. And I wondered – does that girl even know? Now, if you want to tattoo a great huge word across your face – that’s your business, but it made me wonder if she knew how much her face resembled the pictures I had seen of horribly disfigured people from the Civil War era?  What would they say when looking at her? Would they wonder why they fought so hard to escape oppression only to have their descendants choose to bear a mark so similar to the ones that were meant to label them forever as a piece of property?  Surely, this young woman has never seen those pictures.  I can’t imagine having seen those and choosing to label yourself in such a way.

But all of it – all of the pictures and the experiences – started to come together in my mind as I realized that we often label ourselves with words that were never meant to belong to us. We just don’t necessarily write those words in huge script across our faces.  We take on the words that are given by the negative people in our lives.  Words like useless, disappointment, mistake, loser, failure.

We tell ourselves that we aren’t worth anyone’s attention or time.  We tell ourselves that it’s all our fault (and sometimes it really is – and we must take responsibility in those times). We tell ourselves that we will never get any better.  We are our problem, we are our disease, we are our – whatever.

But what we tell ourselves – may have NOTHING to do with what we really are. With what God created us to be.

Part of my aversion to actual tattoos comes from some idea I got in childhood about not wanting to ever change my body in any way because that isn’t the body that God gave me. (My husband points out my pierced ears when that feeling pops up – and I have no real answer except that I wanted to fit in when I was eleven – and even though I have left my ears vacant to see if they would grow back together – they don’t, so I keep wearing my earrings rather than sport a naked hole there.)

But earrings aside, that feeling is how we are supposed to feel. We are not supposed to accept things in our life that He didn’t put there.  We are supposed to rely on Him, not just for that great one-day-I’ll-fly-away feeling that we can get, but for every moment of every day.  We are supposed to want His opinion to be the only one that matters. (I am not trying to dissuade anyone from getting a tattoo, or dying their hair, or wearing trendy clothes, or even getting cosmetic surgery here – I am speaking spiritually). There is not supposed to be anything in our spirit that wasn’t placed there for our good – and if we have allowed something to be there – then we have to turn to Him for our spiritual tattoo removal surgery.  We shouldn’t label ourselves because of what the world tells us about ourselves – as believers, we have to let God label us according to our secret name that he will reveal to us in Heaven.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. Rev. 2:17
Further, if you want something written on your face – check out this verse:
They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Rev. 22:4
Not only do you get a new name – His name will be written on you – and you know what is even better – He has your name written on Himself!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; Isa. 49:16
So – if you just can’t find the pattern for the tattoo that tells the world who you are – just wait!  The best tattoo in the universe can be yours – and it will be designed by the best artist!  Ask Him who you are today – he will begin to reveal your true self. He will begin to tell you about His plans for your life – and you are so much more than you have ever imagined.

Coin Toss

It has been said that every story has two sides. At least.

That was certainly true for the story that I’ve been telling you this week, and it is true for the way we often see the gift we are given in our identity.  Remember when I asked you to think about what your definition of a gift would be? Well, pull out your definition and see if any of this might fit. 

I’ve always been good at seeing things from both sides, understanding the emotions and desires on opposite ends of whatever spectrum chose to present itself on any given day. I’ve always considered that a gift.

My mother, on the other hand, called me a collector of lost causes and bemoaned some of my friendships because of the “bad influence” they presented. All I could see was people that needed a friend. 

My own transition into motherhood helped me redefine that gift of seeing both sides. I encourage my children to be a friend to those in need of one, and even try to help them understand how differently some people live so that they will not judge and ridicule. But there are times when I just have to be an old grump. Those are the times when they are being more than empathetic – they are being influenced. 

We have raised our children to have some absolutes in in their lives. They absolutely know they are loved for who they are – not what they do or how well they perform. They absolutely know that they were born for a specific purpose. They absolutely know that problems cannot be solved without honesty. 

So in those moments when they are being influenced – all we have to do is ask – How does that honor your identity? (It isn’t always stated in those exact words, but pretty close.) That is all it takes – their whole expression changes, brightens, relaxes. Then come their concerns. They open up, share their thoughts. And we have an amazingly mature conversation about the friend or the situation. They then have the responsibility for making whatever adjustments need to be made. 

I’m not blind – I’m not that mom who thinks her children do no wrong when the rest of the town knows their every misdeed. But I’m also not the one who thinks her children are failures when they are actually really cool kids. I’m realistic about who they are.

 I can be because I pray for them – and no, I don’t pray for them to be something they are not just to make me happy. I pray that God would reveal to them each day the path that He would have them take. I thank Him for allowing me the honor of being their mother. I ask Him for forgiveness when I have failed them and to let me be humble in my responses to them, so that through that they might see true love. I ask Him to bless them and keep them from harm. 

So what does this have to do with  seeing both sides? 

The point is that most of us – even those who grew up “in church” – don’t have those absolutes in our lives. We see ourselves being tossed in the air, flipped over and over by circumstances in our lives, desperately hoping to land heads-up, rather than with our face in the mud and our backside exposed.

I believe that choosing to parent our children this way has been the best gift we could have given them. The most useful possession they can have is a strong sense of who they are – who they were born to be. 

I have so much to be thankful for in my children, and I could become the biggest jerk in the world if I were to start listing all their accomplishments and activities and awards. But none of those things matter to me. What matters is how my children have carried themselves through each opportunity, how humbly they have received any recognition.  

I didn’t always value this way of thinking – the desire to receive recognition from other people was tremendously strong in me. The story about the jacket, and being able to change my outward personality each time my family moved, is a testament to how I used to receive other people’s acceptance as validation for my relativistic identity. I thought that who I was only mattered if other people liked me, or I could meet their expectations of me.

That didn’t necessarily change when I had my children, and I didn’t always support my husband in the efforts he put forth to give my children something better. But God allowed me to get myself into a place, so tremendously and specifically relative to my desperate need to see it differently, that the coin was flipped and I can now truly understand the value in having an absolute, objective identity.  (In fact that is part of the whole reason for this sabbatical in the first place.)

 I was so moved one day recently as I read the way in which Jesus responded to this issue. Amazed that I had never seen it before, even though I had read the verses many times. That is why we say it is the living Word.

“I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (‭John‬ ‭5‬:‭41-44‬ NIV)

Is the gift of your identity wrapped up in accepting glory from someone or something else? Or have you asked Him to show you who you were created to be?  His answers will amaze you. 

Until next time, I am waiting here on my bench. Hoping to hear your thoughts – even if you disagree.