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.
I was having lunch with a beautiful young lady the other day, and we were commiserating on our individual inabilities to remember birthdays and holidays. She was telling me of a funny time when her mother had broken a cherished bowl. She found a replacement at the street fair one day in late October and determined herself then that she would buy the bowl and give it to her mother for Christmas. She forgot, decided to give it to her for Mother’s Day, forgot, and subsequently gave it to her mother for Christmas the next year. The problem was that she had placed a note in the gift wrapped box that was dated the year before her mother actually got it! Caught red-handed!
I do that sort of thing all of the time, as I’m sure many of you do too. I buy things or cards and put them away with full intentions of giving them to a special someone for their birthday or a holiday, only to not just forget where I put the gift or card, but to often forget the special day altogether! I forget dates, occasions, calls–you name it, and I’ve forgotten it. My young friend and I laughed together as we named ourselves “Time Capsule Friends”–that is, friends who give gifts late or make calls late so that we serve as a sort of “time capsule event” for the one getting them. We excused our lack of memory as a sort of service instead.
Of course our conversation was all in good fun, but I came face to face with the reality of my behavior while having coffee with another dear friend shortly afterward.
Understand that I am a busy woman. We all are! Kids, work, the house, our spouses, our church: Women are more often than not overworked and over-extended in most areas of their lives. Consequently, my friends and co-workers in ministry are generally very gracious with me when I don’t return calls or occasionally re-schedule or even cancel coffee dates or lunch. Sweetly they will say, “It’s okay, Deb. I know you’re busy.” And I am, just as you are and they are and we all are. However, is that always a good excuse? Do we allow our undeniably busy lives to interfere with ministering to one another as friends and loved ones? Is a busy life an excuse to selfishly ignore the needs of others?
As I alluded to, I had coffee shortly after my lunch with another dear friend. We had talked for a while, and I noticed that she was stammering a little, obviously trying to figure out how to tell me what was really on her mind. Suddenly and without warning, she began to weep right there in the coffee shop.
“I’m sorry, Deb, but I need to see you sometimes. I need time with you, not often, but occasionally.”
I stopped short. You see, this is not the first time I’ve heard this, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard this recently. I get so caught up in my work for the Lord that I had begun to forget the work of the Lord. I write and minister and speak and counsel, and often I think this is the bulk of what I should be doing. Unfortunately, I sometimes also ignore that all of those things are absolutely nothing without relationship, without love and friendship and really ministering into one another’s lives.
Jesus, the one person in all of eternity who truly had an excuse to maybe cancel a few coffees and lunches, never did so. Right after teaching the Sermon on the Mount, He didn’t hesitate to heal the leper or go to the centurion’s house to heal his servant or to heal Peter’s mom or hundreds of others. He was busy. He was about the Lord’s work, but our Savior knew that this work was accomplished in relationship and giving time to individuals.
What excuse have you given for not meeting with a friend or a woman who needs you? Is it your children or your grandchildren or your job or even your ministry? Sisters, please don’t do what I’ve done and think that it’s somehow a service or even adorably quaint to be a “Time Capsule Friend.” It isn’t. God has called us to pour into one another’s lives and live in the love exemplified for us by our Savior.
Needless to say, I’ve made a few long overdue calls lately and paid a few long overdue visits. My work can wait. After all, it’s really meaningless if in it I am not showing the love of Jesus to the people around me.
Do you need to pick up the phone?
“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.
When is the last time you so enjoyed spending time with others that you never looked at your watch, never checked your phone? Michael Hyatt, Don McMinn and Chet Weld taught me these life-changing principles. I dreaded group meetings, dinners and parties. Now I relish them! Here’s what I learned about the art of conversation:
Set the stage. Try to arrange a quiet, welcoming atmosphere where everyone can see and hear each other. Eliminate distractions and greet everyone warmly and personally. An “in the round” conversation space is great. Food is always a good idea! Hopefully, electronic devices can disappear for a little while….
Try the “one conversation rule.” One conversation means that everyone is talking about the same topic at the same time. Pose an engaging question to which everyone can relate. When you establish the one-conversation rule, everybody gets a chance to talk. You draw out the people who are not contributing or not speaking up, and you get a sense of what they have to say as well.
Listen attentively. Don’t rush to respond. Show by your body language that you care about them. Stop trying to formulate your response while they talk. Use feeling words to let them know you are not just responding with your head, but also with your heart. Be comforting. Be connected. Be curious.
Now, hold that moment. Don’t be afraid of silence. When you treasure what they say, you affirm who they are. You impart acceptance and value to them.
Empathize. A hurting person needs sympathy and comfort. Every person needs empathy. Webster defines empathy as “an understanding, awareness or sensitivity to someone else; even to vicariously experience those feelings with them.”
Often your presence is more powerful than your words.
Be aware of how much you are talking. Draw the introverts out. Good conversation is like tennis. Serve, return, serve, return. Every good conversation is a dialogue. Allow others to respond. If someone is overlooked, try to include them and kindly respond to their comments.
Ask follow-up questions. Be sure they are open-ended. This is not a book report! Open-ended questions prove that you’re engaged with your heart and your mind. “How did that make you feel?” “What have you learned?” “How has that circumstance or event changed you?”
Provide positive feedback. It lets the other person know that, yes, you’re engaged, but it also communicates a sense of safety. They can continue to talk and dialogue with you. Thank them for their contribution.
Conversation is an art. I want to be an artist, don’t you?
-And He is perfect. He perfectly lived and perfectly gave Himself as a sacrifice so that we might live forever. (Romans 3:21-26)
-Mary and Joseph believed the angel when he told them of what this pregnancy would mean. Aren’t you grateful that their faith began our path? (Matthew 2:18-25; Luke 1:26-38)
-What an amazing gift to be given so many witnesses of our Savior’s birth, even to three men who were also told about the coming of the great Messiah. (Matthew 2:1-12)
-When Jesus died, the soldiers divided His belongings up among themselves, one for each of the four soldiers. God used these Roman soldiers, who were unaware of Holy Scripture, to fulfill the prophecy in Psalm 22:18. (John 19:23-24)
-Jesus fed 5000 men, not counting women and children, with only five barley loaves and two fish. How much more can He do in our lives with what we may see as only a little? (John 6:1-13)
-Our Savior’s first miracle began with six jugs of water at a wedding feast. Jesus turned that water into wine, and this was His first recorded miracle, miracles that continue with our salvation today. (John 2:1-11)
7 On the seventh day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-Jesus gave us the perfect example of forgiveness, but He also gave us practical advice. When Peter asked how many times we should forgive someone who wrongs us, Jesus said not only seven times, but seventy times seven. In other words, always. And do you know what is most wonderful about that? We all need unlimited forgiveness, and Jesus promises that we will get it! (Matthew 18:21-22)
8 On the eighth day of Christmas, my True Love gave tome, eight days to naming, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-Jesus kept the Law perfectly on our behalf, even in that he wasn’t officially named “Jesus” until eight days after His earthly birth, the time of purification according to the Law of Moses. He did for us what we could never do, and in that substitutionary sacrifice, we are now made perfect in Him. (Luke 2:22)
9 On the ninth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, ninety-nine left wandering, eight days to naming, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus explains that just as the shepherd will leave the ninety-nine safe sheep and go after the one that is lost, so He will continually seek those of us who have lost our way. What a Savior!! (Matthew 18:10-14)
10 On the tenth day of Christmas, my True Love Gave to me, ten times the inheritance, ninety-nine left wondering, eight days to naming, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-Likewise, in the Parable of the Ten Minas, Jesus explains that those of us who use our gifts wisely to the advancement of His kingdom will receive ten times our inheritance. Though an earthly example, Jesus was assuring us that He will reward us in the hereafter, and His promises are sure! (Luke 19:11-18)
11 On the eleventh day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, eleven apostles sent, ten times the inheritance, ninety-nine left wondering, eight days to naming, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-After rebuking their unbelief that He had indeed been resurrected, Jesus sent the eleven rejoicing apostles out into the world, telling them to proclaim the Gospel to every living person. Because of this commission, all of us who accept Him as our loving Savior will live in eternity with Him. Hallelujah! (Mark 16:14-16)
12 On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, twelve obedient men, eleven apostles sent, ten times the inheritance, ninety-nine left wondering, eight days to naming, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-Jesus started with these twelve men, men of low standing and often even low character, men who would never have been chosen by human standards. But He chose them, just as He has chosen us, to be His and to work in His kingdom. Jesus began with these twelve men, and 2000+ years later, millions now join them. (Matthew 10:2)
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Twelve obedient men,
Eleven apostles sent,
Ten times the inheritance,
Ninety-nine left wondering,
Eight days to naming,
Seventy times seven,
Six jugs of water,
Five thousand men,
Four pieces of clothing,
Three wise men,
Two trusted servants,
And One Perfect Loving Savior!!