I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve said something and then heard my 25-year-old son say, “Filter, Mom!” In truth, remembering to filter what goes on in my head before it comes out of my mouth has always been a struggle for me. I tend to speak much more than I should in some situations and then not say enough in others. Often I’ve missed the blessing of hearing what others are saying in both instances.
However, besides the obvious fact that I miss things, what is the ultimate responsibility I have in my words? Are there consequences far greater than what I may or may not miss? (more…)
I can almost say for certain that there is someone in your life that is abrasive, irritating, competitive, judgemental, controlling, annoying or just plain mean. Yeah, you know the one I’m talking about. You cringe at the thought of just being in their presence.
It might be a colleague, a family member, the parent of a student at your child’s school, maybe someone at the gym or all of the above. Wherever you are, inevitably there they are.
No matter how hard you try to avoid them, you round the corner and THERE THEY ARE! Alarms are going off inside your head! You try desperately to contain your panic, but it’s hard when you instinctively want to turn and run! Instead, you awkwardly manage to expel a series of words that don’t quite sound the same way you thought they would in your head. You feel like a babbling idiot and by the expression on their face they are in agreement.
A sad truth in all of this, is that it isn’t just the colleague, the family member, the parent of a student at your child’s school or even the person at the gym. It’s us… Christian women at church on Sunday morning, at our bible study, in our small group, even at our children’s youth group functions.
Why is this? One reason… Satan! He wants nothing more than for us to focus on his deception and by this creating a division within us; distracting us from the opportunity to see the beauty of Christ in others and in ourselves. Whether we are the cause or the effect of the irritation we focus on the negative in either scenario. We fail to understand the purpose of the irritation and discomfort. If somehow we could just learn to respond in grace, truth, love and total acceptance of one another we would find peace.
As I ponder this, I am reminded of one of God’s amazing creatures the oyster, and the beautiful pearl that He designed for it to create. By definition, pearls form out of the oyster’s natural reaction to protect itself from the irritant. As the sand or parasite works it’s way into the oyster, it’s defense is to coat the irritant with a substance called nacre (the brilliant substance that gives pearls their beauty, luster, strength and resilience). This nacre is deposited layer upon layer as a protective barrier until a lustrous pearl is formed.
It is only in Jesus that we will find this natural beauty within us.
It cannot be cultured or imitated. The process takes time but understanding the value of what it will produce helps us to look to Jesus. Remember that:
In all things the greatest of these is love.
What Satan intends for evil, God intends for good… and it is miraculously happening at the same time. Hold tight to this, believe it and trust in Him.
We have the choice to respond in defense and avoidance of the irritation of others or embrace and accept the opportunity to see the beautiful pearl that can only be produced when we allow the Holy Spirit to be our protective barrier that not only coats and protects us but transforms our irritation into a strong, brilliantly beautiful pearl that is genuine and unique.Complete with the capacity to respond in grace, truth and love; and gives us the ability to find
the peace and acceptance that each of us so badly longs for.
“This is not my life.”
“Those are not my children.”
“That is not my husband.”
Have you ever looked around at your life and thought any of these things? I mean, this isn’t what we signed up for, right? No one told us the day we walked down that isle or the day we graduated from school or the day we heard our child’s first cry that things would one day take us to the brink of despair.
That’s someone else’s life. That’s not mine.
But then one day it is. One day you wake up and all those women whose lives were battered by unfaithful spouses or lost children or sickness or death are suddenly not just remote prayer requests. No longer can you abstractly look at those sad and torn lives and feel sympathy. Now you are smack in the middle of empathy. You’re living it, and the only thing you can do is look around and wonder, “What happened?”
The truth is that if you’ve been an adult woman for longer than three minutes, you will have experienced these emotions, and you’ll experience them more than once. We were never promised a rose garden in this life, and for the most part, we realize that.
But sometimes it’s not just a weed-infested garden that we find ourselves in the middle of. It’s a pool of sticky, slimy toxic waste, and we think, “Nope. This is not my life.”
What are we to do in those moments? What does a Christian woman do when even getting out of bed seems abundantly out of the question?
I have recently experienced yet another of those seasons in my life as a woman, wife, and mother, and I was struck with these thoughts in rapid succession. Huddled in the corner of my bedroom, lights off, and curled up so tightly on the floor that my joints ached, the despair caught me almost off-guard. I wasn’t even crying correctly because I couldn’t breathe well enough to make a sound. I just rocked and gasped for air. And then my thoughts changed from “This is not my life” to “I have to fix this!”
Isn’t that the way we are? That’s how God created us women. We manage things. Paul referred to women as the “managers of the house” in Titus 2:5, and managers manage things. Consequently, our first instincts are to manage our situations.
It only took me a few minutes, however, to realize that I couldn’t manage anyone out of anything this time, and instead of moving from that realization toward Christian resolution, I moved toward anger with God.
“I know You think I’m this strong. I know You think I can handle this, and I know You said I wouldn’t be given anything more than I could handle, but I’m not this strong! This is too much!”
Of course, I didn’t actually yell these things out loud, although I have before. No, this time I screamed with boldness in my head. I really was confounded by God’s apparent misidentification of my supposed strength. I needed Him to reconsider.
Have you ever felt this way? Are you feeling it now?
I am ever amazed at our Father’s grace. I’m in awe of His constant and abiding love and patience toward us. He could have yelled back at me right then. He could have struck me down completely for my irreverence. That would have been warranted.
However, what He gently did was fill my head with these words:
Debbie, I do not ordain these things in your life to point you to your own strength. I ordain them to move you toward Mine.
You see, it will forever be our propensity to try and make things about us. It’s my knee-jerk reaction to bolster my own fortitude and figure things out, and then to be angry when I’m just not strong enough or smart enough or tolerant enough or when I feel forced to do things on my own. This is unfortunately an anger that when harbored will quickly turn into bitterness.
Indeed there are a lot of bitter women out there, and among them is no small number of bitter Christian women. Why? Because we simply aren’t strong enough, and truthfully, that was never God’s point.
Everything is about Him, and these times are meant to bring attention to Him, to His strength, His love, His mercy, His care, His tolerance, His grace, and His perfect plan.
What do we do as Christian women in moments of such complete despair that we can’t even breathe?
I was pouring out to a dear friend in the middle of this—which, by the way, I highly encourage you to do—and she reminded me of exactly what we are to do when we look at the life we now live and wonder how it all went so wrong so quickly. She reminded me of Psalm 121,
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
When you are on your bedroom floor and the pain is beyond your ability to bear, you do the only thing you can do, you do the only thing you should do, and you lift up your eyes.
Jesus told us in Matthew 11:28-30,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
There are going to be moments in these lives as pilgrims in this foreign land when we are nothing less than confused by the things that happen. We can become downcast in our souls over the heartache inflicted on us by the ones we love the most, and we will gaze at our circumstances with a sadness that feels insurmountable.
What do we do?
We lift our tired, tear dimmed eyes toward heaven and unto our Father. We rest in His divine and loving purposes. After all, we have a hope that the world does not share, a hope and an assurance that we do not serve a God who is an “absentee Father.” Our Lord is fully involved in the lives of His children, and He has promised us that He has a plan, a plan that will not harm us but will bring us a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) He has promised us that all of our lives are purposed for our good and His glory. (Romans 8:28)
So, my sisters, lift up your eyes to the hills. From where does your help come? Your help comes from the Lord, the very Maker of the heavens and the earth.
This morning I was reading the Book of Joshua, one of my favorite books in the Bible. I love the character of Joshua and how he handled such a difficult situation with grace and dignity. More than share about an idea I squeezed out of the text, I want to invite you into this story with me. It may seem silly, but that’s okay. For the next few moments, let your imagination run with it, in fact, let your imagination run wild. Imagine yourself in the story, see the plot through the lens of different characters. Maybe begin by reading through a passage as Joshua and then go back to see it from the perspective of those living in Jericho. Open yourself up to see this story from a new perspective and allow your eyes to see something that you hadn’t noticed before.
Are you ready? Okay, let’s begin.
Before we even begin to read the text, I want you to remember what you know about the people of Israel. They, as a people group, went from being slaves to being wanderers. For 40 years these people marched around the desert; they had to wait for the old generation to die off before entering into promise. How do you think these people felt? Maybe they were small children or teenagers when they came out of Egypt. They had heard all their lives about the signs and wonders of God and seen him perform miracles as he provided for them in the desert. Now was their time: they were entering into the promised land.
Imagine the excitement that flooded their hearts and minds. I probably would’ve felt scared or some trepidation because the thing so long awaited was finally here! I wonder if they continued to complain or if they exuded worship. Moses, their leader who they had been following their entire lives, had died and his apprentice was appointed their new leader. With excitement and determination the entire nation agreed to follow him in the same manner they had followed Moses. They exuberantly expressed their determination to follow God and all his precepts. They steadfastly promised to not depart from God or his law.
The nation moves closer to their promise. I wonder if, as they grew closer, selfishness began to make itself known. I wonder if people began to grow more concerned about getting enough for themselves and less about the good of nation. How would you have felt crossing the river and seeing different scenery than you had before? I wonder if anyone swooned or cried upon seeing the land flowing with milk and honey. Did anyone have a heart attack upon seeing the beauty of the land or the size of the inhabitants?
I wonder if their countenance fell when they saw the size of Jericho. Or did they remain full of faith and hope? Jericho was essentially a fortress, it was impregnable. If the people living there didn’t want you inside, there was no way you were getting in. I think that’s probably why the Lord picked Jericho first. Have you ever thought about the fact that the Lord could’ve directed them to start taking over the land in a different area? God could’ve eased them into this idea, defeating the smaller towns first, to build up their confidence, but he didn’t. God wanted to show himself strong when the people of Israel could do nothing to assist him.
So, the Lord speaks to Joshua and downloads what’s arguably the most absurd battle plan ever: walk silently. In my mind, I always pictured a group of 100-200 people marching around this rather large wall, but in reality that number was in the thousands. Joshua 4:13 says “About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the pains of Jericho”. Can you even imagine what it would be like to walk around a wall silently with a group of 40,000 people? Imagine how loud their footsteps would be! They would be a thundering herd who never spoke a word. I wonder how the people living inside the wall felt, did they think it was an earthquake? Or did they look outside and taunt the Israelites for their foolishness?
The Israelites obeyed and stayed silent. I wonder if they prayed quietly to themselves as they walked. Did they come up with creative hand signals to communicate with each other or were they on-task? I know I would’ve had a hard time keeping my trap shut, but I suppose there was great motivation to obey.
For 6 days they repeated this long walk. The city of Jericho itself was about 6 acres, not including the large wall and moat that surrounded it. These people were getting their workout! I wonder if feelings of uselessness or frustration began to grow in them as the days marched on. After all, they had just been wandering aimlessly in the desert for 40 years.
But then the 7th day came. I’m sure the excitement was palpable. I’m surprised they were able to hold it together for that long! I wonder if the walk that day was at a quicker pace than normal; were they almost sprinting there at the end of their 7th lap? I would imagine, though their bodies probably ached from the distance they had walked, their spirits were lifted and adrenaline was pumping, fueling them to continue forward.
Then, the moment they had been waiting for came: it came time to shout.
Imagine that sound! 40,000 people with trumpets and pent up noise within them, shouting for victory. For 40 years they had been aimless, without victory, without a home, without anything other than the provision of God, and they were about to claim the first of many promises. I like to imagine that God was smiling from ear to ear, proud of his precious people for their obedience and faith. Then the walls came down. I wonder if, because of their noise, they didn’t realize that it was happening right away. I wonder if someone in the crowd excitedly began to point as a section of the wall began to crumble right before their eyes. Then, I imagine, the shout from the crowd grew louder as they saw God come through on his promise.
One of the most beautiful things about this story is the faithfulness of God. Rahab was a prostitute living in the wall of Jericho and her whole family was spared because God had honored his promise. She ended up living with the nation of Israel for the rest of her days and is an important figure in the lineage of Jesus.
God is faithful and his promises are true. This questioning and imagining that we just went through isn’t just limited to Bible stories, but can be used in our everyday lives. When someone’s telling you a story about their lives, ask questions, and put yourself into their shoes. Insert yourself into their story and try to see things the way they do. I believe God is honored when we take a little extra time to look deeper than the surface.
Thank you for imagining with me today!
Don’t laugh. If you live in America, then at one time or another you have walked through a Walmart near you and thought, “Who are these people?” I laughingly admitted to my husband and son the other night that I have to repent every single time I leave Walmart for the unkind and sinful thoughts that run rampant through my mind as I walk through the aisles. I truthfully don’t want to admit what these thoughts are, but the subject matter ranges from cart driving ability to attire choice while shopping for groceries.
The problem is that these thoughts often lead to anger, and just as often I leave my neighborhood Walmart having to deal with that anger. Not long ago, my son and I were shopping there and as we left I proclaimed, “I am not shopping here anymore! These people are Walmartians!!”
Consequently, the next week we went to what I thought was a less aggravating and more posh grocery store. My son and I were wandering through the aisles of this food paradise “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” over every little thing when we found ourselves standing in front of a vast array of different types of teas. After a few minutes of talking excitedly about all the many sorts of teas we saw, my son looked around him and saw other shoppers looking at us with the same kinds of looks I usually gave out while shopping at that “other place.” That’s when he pulled me aside and whispered, “Mom, we have to go. I think we are Walmartians!”
I giggled, then agreed, and then rather hurriedly left and went to Walmart.
Now, I could go to a lot of lessons from this terrible reflection into my heart, but as we round the corner on Thanksgiving, I can’t help thinking of my beautiful African friends in Malawi and Zimbabwe and Liberia and Kenya. They have no Walmart. The truth is, they often don’t have food at all. Mothers wander around villages that have been decimated by drought and floods and disease trying desperately to find food, any food, but they can’t. There are no food kitchens or welfare programs or even trash cans from which they can scavenge food for their little ones. There is no food. Period.
Priscilla Mgala, my precious friend from Malawi, tells the story of two widows in the village near her who were trying desperately to find food for their children. They went into the bush to try and find something they could cook. They found some roots that looked very much like cassava roots, so they pulled them out of the ground and took them back to the village. There they cooked these roots and served them to their children. Two of the little ones died before morning. Can you imagine the desperation it takes to give your children something that you don’t even recognize simply because you want to fill their sweet, hungry bellies? And then can you imagine the utter terror when you find them dead the next morning because of what you fed them?
When I think of the plight of women just like me, women whose only difference from me is that they were born in a poor country in Africa instead of this great land we call home, I cringe at my silly American attitude when I don’t like the kinds of people I see at Walmart. I’m ashamed that I think I have any right to be picky, especially when I am faced with the tremendous blessing God has given me of being born in America where food is literally everywhere.
And then, my friends, I am struck with what real thankfulness should be. Real thankfulness is looking beyond my over-privileged lifestyle and looking toward others who need what I take for granted. A real perspective on thankfulness is not disparaging this country because some of its leaders don’t lead exactly how I think they should. Real thankfulness doesn’t spit on our flag or protest in our streets or threaten to leave simply because I disagree with an election.
Real thankfulness looks upward, not outward, and says, “Thank you, Lord, for letting me be born in a country where I can go to Walmart. Thank you, Father, that I get to be a Walmartian.”
Finally, real thankfulness is exemplified in those who don’t scoff at the tremendous blessings they have received simply because God allowed them to be born in America. Real thankfulness is instead found in those who willingly and without measure share with those who weren’t so fortunate in the place of their birth. So, I urge you, sisters and brothers, look outside of your walls and even outside of your country and be thankful this year…truly thankful. Find somewhere to give to another. Stop lamenting about the people you don’t like here and thank God that He let you be born here!
This year, let Thanksgiving be about giving, not complaining.
And if you are a Walmartian, I’ll see you in the aisles!
***If you would like to give to women in need this year, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, please consider contributing to the Reap What You Sew Project, a tailoring school we at Love Everlasting Ministires are launching in Malawi, Africa in April of 2017. The school will give the training necessary so that widows and destitute women in that country can run their own businesses and finally be able to feed themselves and their children. To donate, visit LoveEverlastingMinistries.com now. We appreciate any support you can give. God bless you.
Back in the year 2000, a movie came out staring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg called The Perfect Storm. It was an adaptation of a book written in the late 90’s, about a crew of fishermen who went from not catching any fish, to catching way more than they bargained for. Spoiler alert: it didn’t end well for the captain and his crew. The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed, if not for the courage of the fearless crew… Hang on, different story entirely – but did you sing that last bit? You’re welcome. The theme song from Gilligan’s Island will likely be stuck on mental repeat for the rest of the day. As soon as you think it’s gone, I’m betting you’ll start wondering how it was that Ginger always remained so well put together. I mean really, her make-up was flawless and her hair was seemingly immune to humidity. When I think back to how I looked on the last camping trip with my husband, I gotta tell you, there’s a reason this girl’s no movie star. Let’s get back on point: fisherman, boat, hurricane…the perfect storm.
While I’m not an avid fisherwoman, lately my life has mirrored that movie a bit more than I would like. As 2015 came to a close, my husband got promoted at work and I took a new job which promised to be great. While in the midst of us both learning our new roles professionally, we rang in the new year. Yippee. Cue the streamers. Shortly after tossing out the old calendar and finally remembering to type 2016, I got a call from my husband that he and my 16-year-old son had been in a car accident. Arriving at the scene and seeing all the emergency lights flashing was surreal and more than a little scary. Thankfully they were okay, but our car was totaled. But the hits just kept coming – like they literally kept coming – as in a total of four car accidents in a three-month period. How is that even possible? I have no idea. A better question might be: how are we still insured?
What a tremendously inconvenient and crazy stretch! After the second accident, I found myself thinking, “Wow. Surely this is the end of it.” After the next one, a friend reminded me that bad things come in three’s, so our luck should be turning. Yeah…I’m here to tell you that as well-meaning as she may have been, the old wife that told that tale wasn’t being entirely honest. After the fourth accident, my husband and I just looked at each other speechless. Ever a fan of silver linings, I had definitely been on the lookout for something shiny that wasn’t car parts and broken glass strewn across the street. Sure enough, there was a bright side to be found! Along with my new job came a pay increase. Boom – silver lining. We had a little more income to help offset the expenses and the addition of a car payment…not to mention our new and improved insurance premium. Sigh of relief: the storm was finally calming.
If you are an avid reader like me, or you enjoy watching movies, you will likely agree that any good story has its fair share of twists and turns. Let’s be honest, in real life things would be a bit boring if entirely predictable. However, there can come a point where one waves the white flag of surrender. That moment came for me when I received word that my company lost a big account and that I was being laid off. You know when it’s really hot out and you can see what looks like a shimmering stream of water running across the road ahead? Yeah, it was like that: my silver lining turned out to be a mirage.
Are you beginning to wonder if I was clear about how things normally go, in that guest bloggers are generally expected to write something encouraging? Believe me, I am on the same page. In the midst of a world turned upside down, I debated bowing out and waiting for a time when life was moving more smoothly, making it easier to write something lighthearted and fun. But you know what? Sometimes life isn’t fun. The truth is that life is often messy and at times can be downright frustrating! So why is it that I felt I had to put off writing for another day? Probably for the same reason so many of us feel like we have to smile and give the standard, “I’m great!” during times when our insides are in knots, our hearts are broken, and the smile on our faces is painfully forced.
There’s a line in a song that says, “Everybody hurts sometimes.” I find that simple, yet profound and oh, so very true! In the Christian world, I think many of us feel that we are not allowed to have a bad day. In the midst of that rough day (or week) that something is horribly wrong if we find ourselves feeling like we can’t take one more thing; if the storm appears to be getting the better of us. If it’s true that we all hurt, as R.E.M. so eloquently proposed, then why are so many of us under the impression that we must keep our masks firmly in place? Psalm 103:14 assures us that the Lord knows our frame, that we are but dust. That tells me that while we may be able to fool our classmates or that gal at the office, the One who knows us best isn’t buying it. He knew that we were going to have struggles and that this life would bring troubled waters and during those times, His expectation isn’t for us to pretend all is well. Frankly, it’s exhausting. Furthermore, when we attempt to keep up that charade, I believe that we rob ourselves of something far greater. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we walk around dejected, bemoaning every challenge that comes our way, but rather that we reach out to others and lean on one another when we are overwhelmed.
The Bible is full of examples of how people deal with the storms that crash in on them. When Jonah disobeys, hops a boat to Tarshish and eventually winds up getting tossed overboard to calm the tempestuous sea, God saves him via the belly of the whale. When the disciples are caught in a storm with waves threatening to capsize their boat and they are overcome with fear, the Lord spoke and caused the winds to die down and the sea to calm. Jonah definitely got the messier deal there, but in both instances the Lord rescued his people when they called out to him. But what happens when we don’t get the miraculous solution to life’s dilemmas?
In Exodus, we watch Moses grow into a remarkable leader. I mean seriously, that guy did everything from receiving the ten commandments to dealing with a rather testy Pharaoh who was none too happy with what had become a substandard water supply, along with an infestation of unsightly critters, skin conditions…those plagues were no joke. Fast forward past manna from heaven and a rock springing forth with enough water to quench everyone’s thirst, and we find the people of Israel facing off against one of their greatest enemies, the Amalekites. Moses sends Joshua and his men off to battle while he stands on a hill holding the staff of God. When he held it high, the Israelites prevailed, but when he lowered his hands, the tables turned. Sheesh, no pressure there. If you’ve ever had to hold a position for any length of time, then you can imagine the feeling as the weariness set in. Did Moses pretend he was fine and just push through alone? Nope. A sage guy like Moses knew he needed to rely on the Lord and on others. Aaron and Hur got him a rock to sit on and they each took a side and held his arms up, sharing the burden until sunset.
It would be fantastic if as you read this today you find yourself perplexed, thinking: wow, I have no idea what she’s talking about – my life is an amazing anxiety-free utopia. However, in the event that you find yourself in the midst of a gale, I implore you to let your guard down and allow someone else to help shoulder the load. I’ll leave you with this: “Two are better than one…for if they fall, one will lift up his companion: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has no one to help him up…a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12