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Sweet Surprise

secret_surprise_2For my 30th birthday, my husband threw me a surprise party. We went out to dinner and were just planning on going home and hanging out. This was before we had kids, just 9 months after we had gotten married and 4 months after we had moved to Florida from my home state of California. Needless to say, my stress level was very high, even though some of those events were good ones. Like the getting married part.

When we got to our apartment, I was met with a sweet group of friends all gathered to celebrate my day. It was truly a surprise, which is often hard to pull off, and a lovely reminder of how much I am loved.

Those kinds of surprises are great. Others, not so much. Like when your favored team loses to a major underdog in the surprise performance of the century (looking at you Virginia). I don’t like those kinds of surprises.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book back in 1955 titled Surprised by Joy, which tells the story of his conversion to Christianity. Although he says it’s much less a chronology of events than it is a look at his life as only C.S. Lewis can tell it.

Surprise. Something unexpected.

I remember when my kids were little and I wanted them to keep a secret about secretsomething, like a gift for someone, I would tell them it was going to be a surprise rather than a secret, because I wanted to ensure that they didn’t keep secrets. I knew the stories of abuse that have happened with a relative who would tell a vulnerable child that this behavior would be their secret. They weren’t ever to keep secrets from us.

But surprises are meant to be fun. I like to think of them as good. I think that’s what Lewis found as he came up with the name for his book. He was an atheist. He didn’t know what he would find when he turned back to God. Joy was unexpected.

In some cases, we may wonder why we are surprised at the things God does. We ask Him joyto provide, and He does it. Sometimes it’s not in the way we expect, so we can call that a surprise, but not the fact that He does it.

It’s not the same as being startled.

It’s different than being shocked.

Some people don’t like surprises, and if I had to guess, I would say that it’s because it takes a modicum of control away from them. Just tell me what’s going to happen already. I want to know what to expect.

But that’s where trust comes in.

I’m not in charge, and if I allow myself to be surprised, I might just be blessed by a God who wants to give me all good things.

Like C.S. Lewis and joy.

 

images from tonnerdoll.com; nameberry.com; crosswalk.com

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Most people—and I’m guessing given how things are in the world—think respect has to be earned. You don’t like your boss because he’s a bad leader, so you don’t respect him. Which then leads you to bad mouth him to others.

Maybe you had horrible parents who had no idea what they were doing and didn’t care to learn. You didn’t respect them. They did nothing to earn your respect. So you lashed out at every opportunity.

Perhaps you have a husband who really doesn’t seem to care about your needs. He doesn’t show you love. You don’t respect him at all, and he pretty much knows it.

IMG_5810The truth is, though, that we are called to give people respect whether they deserve it or not. Not matter who they are, no matter what they have or haven’t done, no matter if they agree with us or not.

People are image bearers of God, and we are to be respectful of them.

What does respectful behavior look like?

It looks like listening and finding out people’s stories before drawing a conclusion about them.

It looks like looking people in the eye when you pass them on the street or encounter them anywhere you happen to be.

It looks like remembering someone’s name because it shows you see them.

There has been a lot of hullaballoo about respect in light of the NFL players protest during the National Anthem. Many have said that’s disrespectful. In fact, some have been absolutely vitriolic in their condemnation of such actions.

But those who have taken the time to listen to some of the stories can understand the some-nfl-players-continue-to-kneel-during-anthem-2-22805-1506885762-7_dblbigfrustration that is felt by some of these men.

And really, if you’re not in the military, you can’t speak for those who are. I have a friend whose husband is in the military, and he didn’t feel disrespected by those actions. Others have.

I remember an incident that happened several years ago at the school where I worked. I was encouraging the daughter of a friend to tease her dad about making her late for school because of his struggle getting out the door on time. In my household, that would have been OK. But her mom called me later and told me that in their household, her daughter speaking to her father in that manner would be considered disrespectful. I got that. And I apologized. I can’t expect every family to interact the way my family does.

IMG_6772In the same way, not everyone would find certain actions disrespectful. Some would feel any variance from the strict code regarding the flag would be disrespectful. You don’t wear the flag as clothing. You don’t let it touch the ground, and so on. But they would understand that some people have been disrespected by the authorities in their country, and though they love their country, they want things to change.

You don’t slam another person’s religion.

You don’t criticize how another person raises their kids.

You don’t presume that every homeless person is an addict.

Being respectful means being mindful that every person deserves dignity just because they’re a person.

And people come before institutions.

Anonymous No More

I’m a fan of the new TV show “This is Us.” Week after week I watch this family make choices, both good and bad, and love each other through it all.

kevinIf you’re a fan but are behind on watching, I’ll warn you right now that there is a mini spoiler in here. I’ll give you time to look away.

OK, so Kevin is in rehab and it’s family day. Everyone gathers and they sit together in a room with the therapist and Kevin starts talking.

One thing that struck me that he said was “We’re a family of addicts.” Which of course didn’t go over well with his family. Much more was said in that room that wasn’t very pretty, but Kevin was right. Only no one wanted to face it.

An addiction is defined by dictionary.com as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit forming.” To end an addiction is traumatizing. Some would say “once an addict, always an addict.” You can never be completely free. But you can overcome it.

Baseball player Josh Hamilton battled drug and alcohol addiction and it almost ruined his career, not to mention his life. He got clean and sober and went back to baseball and was successful. Several years later, he confessed to having relapsed into cocaine and alcohol use. He was disappointed in himself, but he was aware that this would always be a struggle for him.

That’s the thing about addictions, especially when they involve chemical substances thatalcohol affect your brain. You can’t overcome them on your own.

My father was an alcoholic. It’s not something we ever talked about in our home. But when he fell down the stairs and suffered a cracked skull, he started going through withdrawal that at first the doctors didn’t diagnose. They thought he might be having a seizure or something else. When it became clear that it was alcohol withdrawal, we couldn’t really deny it anymore.

But still we don’t talk about it. Even when he almost turned into oncoming traffic on a busy thoroughfare just days before my wedding. I made him pull over and let me drive so I wouldn’t die before I got married.

My dad went to a couple of AA meetings, but then he decided he could beat his problem on his own. It didn’t work. He died of a heart attack 11 years ago, undoubtedly related to the strain he had put on his body for all those years.

The actions of addicts affect everyone around them. Be it alcohol, drugs, sex, or technology, addictions break relationships. An addict needs the help of others to overcome their addictions.

I watched a bizarre documentary recently about animal addictions in Great Britain. (Watch “41 Dogs in My Home” on Netflix.) To a person, none of them would admit they dog hoardingmight have a problem. One woman had 41 dogs. 41! Another man had 60 exotic animals. A woman had cats that couldn’t even be counted. Each one of them said they just loved the animals and couldn’t ever contemplate giving any of them away.

Relationships were lost (the man with the 60 exotic animals had been married at least twice) or severely strained. Finances were always a concern. Houses were a mess.

Yet they couldn’t see it.

We know a man who recently confessed to years and years of a well-hidden addiction. We were shocked. We had no idea. The effort it took to put on that façade must have been exhausting. He and his wife are now separated and he is absent from important family events. I’m praying restoration can happen. It’s heartbreaking. But he’s certainly not alone.

In “This is Us,” Kevin is going to need his family to listen to him, to support him and to help him beat this thing. I hope they’re willing to listen and to talk about it.

It’s not just a cliché; it really does first take admitting that you have a problem, not just being found out. If your heart doesn’t change, neither will your actions.

 

 

images from: usmagazine.com; bradfordhealth.com; viralnova.com

Wait For It

I tried an exercise recently that involved writing every day on a random subject for 12 minutes. I called it my Daily Dozen. I asked my Facebook friends to give me a one-word prompt that I would use, in the order I received them. I was overwhelmed with 88 responses.

IMG_5878So I spent nearly 3 months writing every day. I loved the process as it really stretched me to talk about words as diverse as “abide” and “zombies,” from “chihuahuas” to “cats.” It was amazing to me how often the word for the day aligned with the calendar. As my 3 months of daily posts came to an end at the beginning of January, it was very appropriate that the word would be “waiting.”

We had been waiting for our first grandchild to be born. And wouldn’t you know it, he was a week late.

We don’t like waiting for things.

Waiting to hear news of whether our kid got into the college of their choice.

Waiting for tests results from a biopsy.

Waiting for a job.

Waiting for God to provide a spouse.

Waiting can cause unease and anxiety. Especially when we’re not sure what the outcome will be. Our minds usually go to the worst-case scenario. It’s easy for us to jump to conclusions and then let worry take over.

But worry gets us nowhere.

“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint” (Is. 40:31).

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:14).

It seems that if the Bible encourages us to wait, then maybe it’s not such a bad thing. We’re not used to delayed gratification. We have microwaves and Instapots and Amazon Now. We want things when we want them.

But God doesn’t work that way.

Micah 7:7 says, “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my FullSizeRender 2salvation; my God will hear me.”

I haven’t come across any Scripture that encourages us to be impatient. In fact, the fruit of the Spirit includes patience.

Whaaat?

Amazing, isn’t it?

There must be something to that. God would not promote it if He didn’t consider it a good thing.

Romans 8:25 says, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

If we are focused on the Lord, then we have hope rather than fear when we are waiting for something, because we see that the Lord is good. We see that all His ways are good. We see that He does not let us down.

IMG_8908When I was anxious after a late-term ultrasound showed a dilation in our grandson’s bowels, I was not focusing on who the Lord is. I wanted the baby to come quickly so that we could find out what this dilation was. But that wasn’t trusting, that was fearing.

If God is good, and He is, then our waiting will never be in vain.

 

 

I Am Ezer, Hear Me Roar

I began to realize this summer as I had a chance to read some non-fiction books I had never had a chance to read before, that I tend to just accept things that I hear preached or that I read from well-known Christian leaders.

IMG_0708Even though I’ve been told to test things against Scripture, I was lazy. And that’s a dangerous thing to be when it comes to understanding Scripture.

One of the things I didn’t realize was what the word “ezer” really means. In many versions of the Bible it’s translated “helper.” I accepted that. Women are meant to be helpers to men.

Then, I read those books. The Blue Parakeet, The Resignation of Eve, and Half the Church.

Oh, my.

Did you know that “ezer” actually should be translated “power” and “strength”?

Wow. That’s a bit different than the “helper” I’ve been taught to believe.

“Ezer Kenegdo” are the words used in Genesis. According to many scholars, it should more accurately be translated “warrior,” “one who comes to save you.” It was a name used for God.

I am not a biblical scholar. I know I have a lot to learn. But this is big.

There’s a ton being said these days about inappropriate actions of men toward women. IMG_4559We have seen many men of power taken down by the testimony of women with whom they acted inappropriately.

I’m thinking it quite possibly has to do with how women were viewed by men as lower, less than, second-class citizens. Why else would men think they can treat women the way so many have? What has given them the idea that they could get away with that?

The 18-year-old daughter of one of my best friends just told about an incident on a bus where an older man, possibly under chemical influence, made an hour-long bus ride miserable for her as he spoke inappropriately, touched her hair and scared her to the point where she didn’t want to speak up.

Oh, if I had been there, he would have been very sorry.

What made him think that was OK? What tools does she need to never have to be in that position again?

I’ll tell you what I think: society has told them that it’s OK. For years, upon years, upon years women have been used as servants, slaves, “helpers.” Not warriors. Not equals. Not ezers.

But we’re beginning to see the repercussions of that, aren’t we?

I’ve been blessed to have a husband who sees me as an equal. We are partners. He doesn’t expect me to serve him; I do it because I love him. And he serves me, as Christ served the Church.

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I never knew until this summer that there is an organization called “Christians for Biblical Equality.”

I never heard the terms “complementarian” and “egalitarian.” Where in the world was I living? Under a rock?

I’m not talking about radical feminism. I’m talking about equality, which is at the heart of feminism. I’m not talking about taking men down a notch or two, which is what some think feminism really is; I’m talking about lifting women up to their rightful place: having a voice.

I am ezer. Hear me roar.

*I linked the 3 books I mentioned to Amazon, but you can find them also at CBD or Barnes and Noble. I highly recommend them. I borrowed the ones I read, but I’m probably going to buy them myself so I can highlight and make notes and refresh my memory. They’re that good.

Hurricane Irma and the Storms of Life

IrmaIt’s Atlantic hurricane season, in case you didn’t know. We all watched the devastation in Houston. We read the reports, we saw the pictures. What a tragedy!

What I didn’t know until the other day was that this disastrous flooding had been predicted in the Houston area for a very long time. (See this article in the Dallas News about a report that was basically filed away and forgotten about this issue.) But because of politics or ecological concerns or the astronomical cost of fixing things, the harbingers of danger were ignored by the local government.

And now the cost of clean up and rebuilding is likely to exceed that cost by billions of dollars.

Today, we wait for Hurricane Irma to come across our area of Florida. Irma has us in her sights and we are being warned to not ignore the advice of our county and state officials. We’ve known this massive storm has been coming for days. We’ve known we are in the “cone of uncertainty.” We watch, we prepare, we wait. When the storm hits, hopefully we’ll be ready.

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Watching Hurricane Charley in 2004

2017 has been a very stormy year for our family, and they have been storms that we had no idea were coming. We didn’t have emotional doppler radar scanning out weeks and months in advance, warning us that we’re going to be hit. Wouldn’t that be nice? Maybe then we could be ready.

But the fact is, life doesn’t work that way, so we need to be prepared for life’s storms even when things are going well.

Am I anchored on the Word of God? Do I know who God is? Do I trust Him to be good and loving and merciful?

“Through every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” These words were penned by Edward Mote back in the early 1800s. That means we have to have an anchor, number 1, and we have to keep it deployed, number 2. Sometimes I see kids riding bicycles with their helmets hanging from the handlebars. Dude, that helmet won’t do you any good there. An anchor held by a person or a job or money will not save us in a storm.

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Bent but not broken. A pine tree in a nearby neighborhood after Hurricane Charley came through in 2004

If our anchor is not held by our strong and mighty God, we will be tossed by those stormy gales.

In preparation for Hurricane Irma, we are taking down loose fence panels, trimming dead wood from nearby trees, picking up everything that is not tied down in our yard. What’s not anchored becomes a potential projectile.

It’s easy to find those fly-away objects in a yard; it’s not so easy in a life. What might look stable could end up being the very thing that overwhelms you.

We are also filling containers with water and eating any perishable foods that might not survive an extended power outage. These are all normal preparations when you know a storm is coming.

Feeding from God’s Word, drinking from the Living Water on a daily basis helps prepare our hearts for whatever storms might come.

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Morgan and Sunny stand by the only loss our home suffered from Hurricane Charley in 2004.

So, do we just live in constant fear of future upheaval? No, that doesn’t show faith. But being prepared for the inevitable helps.

Ground yourself in God’s Word.

Listen to wise counsel.

Ask for help when you need it.

Ride out the storm in community. In other words, make sure you have good friends praying for you.

When Irma rushes by us in all her fury this weekend, we will rest in the assurance that we have done all we can to prepare. And then we trust in Jesus, that beautiful, solid Rock, for the results.

Enjoy this old Benny Hester version of the hymn containing the words mentioned above.

 

A Neat and Orderly Life

I’m a list maker. I love having things written out clearly so that I can follow guidelines and get things done. It makes me happy to check things off. Lists are lifesavers sometimes when there’s a lot to do and remember.

Too bad life isn’t like that.

I’d love to have the checklist for a good marriage, happy and successful children who are following Jesus, a personal ministry that encourages people to walk with God in truth and grace.

IMG_4473Fact of the matter is, life is messy and grace is a big, borderless blob that ebbs and flows and doesn’t look the same for any two people.

One married couple might find the key to a happy marriage is weekly date nights and nightly prayer. Another might work split shifts and barely get to see each other, but love and support and cheer each other on in a rocky season. Is one marriage more successful or godly than the other?

One family may put their children in the best private schools money can buy, serve only organic, non-gmo, whole foods and have weekly family game nights to build a happy, healthy family. A single parent might struggle to get the kids out the door to public school every morning with a couple of bucks for cafeteria food. Game nights? That’s a joke. Unless sleeping on the couch while the kids play video games counts. Are the first family’s kids guaranteed to be following Jesus and the other’s guaranteed to fail?

It’s not that easy. A popular evangelistic booklet has illustrations of what life looks like with Jesus on the outside of a person’s life and then with Jesus inside a person’s life.

4 laws self directed4 laws spirit directed

 

 

 

 

I can understand the concept, I really can. But the reality is that, even with Jesus directing our life, even when we are completely submitted to Him, all our little circles aren’t going to be neatly lined up and orderly.

Life will still be messy.IMG_4361

The difference is that we don’t have to figure it out for ourselves. We have a Savior who knows our suffering and invites us to lean into Him and let Him carry our burdens. Our sight isn’t short, looking only at the problems that confront us. We keep our gaze fixed on the face of Jesus. We see the love and compassion in His eyes. We know we’re not alone.

There’s much talk these days about being authentic and real and transparent. That scares me a little bit, thinking that people will spill details of family troubles that rightly should be shared with only a few safe people they know will pray for them and support and encourage them in the process. That doesn’t mean you paste on a smile and say everything is hunky dory, but a simple, “It is well with my soul,” can speak to waves crashing over us and leaving us broken, but hopeful.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9, NIV).

IMG_3902We don’t do any good for anybody if we put on a mask and tell everyone that we’re doing great if we’re not doing great. Our trials aren’t just for us. Chances are, something we’re going through will be experienced by someone else down the road, and they will be encouraged to know that they are not alone, and that someone actually survived the trial and found themselves closer to Jesus because of it.

And another thing. This may come as a surprise to some people. Ready?

Everyone sins. That’s right. Everybody. Jesus was the only person who never sinned. We are all in need of that wonderful, gooey grace that has no borders and no rules. So why pretend like we don’t suffer or have hard times or messy lives?

The next person who says to me, “I’m doing great!” in response to my question, “How are you?” I’m going to look them in the eye and say, “Really? Nothing you need prayer for? Nothing that’s worrying you or stressing you out or causing you to lose sleep?”

I don’t expect strangers to reveal all their deep dark secrets, but darn it, my friends better be honest with me when I ask them.

Because I know better. I know they’re human.

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