Weight and Other Creeping Things-

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us~ Hebrews 12:1

 2015 will go down in history as the year that refused to go away quietly. In our family it ended with a rather brutal case of the flu. I got hit the hardest and because I have been blessed with a husband who worries too much, I spent the better part of an afternoon at urgent care.

 I am not a fan of urgent care clinics. Waiting is not my thing and urgent care is all about waiting. It’s just what you do. First you wait to speak with the receptionist. Then you are moved to a reception area to wait some more. Then the medical assistant escorts you to a sad little cubicle with no windows, At that point the waiting begins in earnest. Then they make you wait to leave.

 The waiting aside, the thing I find most troublesome about urgent care is being packed into a room teeming with sick people. I have nothing against sick people per se, but there is something about being confined in an enclosed space with a dozen or more sneezey strangers harboring who-knows-what kind of strange sickness that I find truly unsettling.

 I was waiting in the reception area, attempting to distract myself from thinking about the number of viruses that could potentially be mutating into the next outbreak, when the medical assistant called my name. I was ushered into the back room, where she pointed at a scale and informed me that that I needed to be weighed before I could see a doctor.

 I attempted to resist.

I hate being weighed even more than I hate waiting. I don’t own a scale. I have always thought that voluntarily being weighed is a bit like begging for bad news.  I like to think I’m smarter than that. However, good manners eventually won out over my dread and I eventually stepped onto the scale, but only after removing my shoes and coat. A few minutes later I found myself sincerely wishing that I could have taken off more than just my shoes and coat.

 I will not tell you how much I weighed. In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that it was a large number, one I haven’t seen on a scale since my pregnancy years. After the disturbing weigh-in I was escorted to the cubicle where I had plenty of time to think while I waited for the doctor.

 I was shocked and horrified by the number on the scale. One of the reasons I hate scales is because they don’t lie and they have no way of softening the bad news. But it wasn’t the number that bothered me the most. It was the fact that I didn’t even notice the pounds sneaking on that really bothered me. It’s the sort of thing you would think one would notice.

 Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: weight is not the most dangerous thing we can miss sneaking up on us. Spiritual health is far more important to the big picture and even easier to neglect.

 One of the reasons spiritual health is so easy to neglect is because it cannot be measured by looking at a person or the number of spiritual activities we participate in. Spiritual health can be faked, at least on the surface. A person can look good on the outside, say all the right things, be in church every time the doors are open and even read the Bible daily and still have a sin-sick soul.

 Spiritual health is measured in attitudes and actions, rather than by appearances. One sure sign of good soul health is when we can see and celebrate the hand of God in more than just the times of ease and plenty. Our spirits are healthy when we see people the way God sees them. When we understand that people are, the end, never simply the means to an end. Our spirits are healthy when we are engaged in activities and relationships where God is at the center.

 We know our spirits are healthy when we are content with what we have but are still seeking to grow in whatever calling God has given us. The key to staying spiritually healthy is to stay close to God, to keep Him at the center of every question we have, every concern that comes our way, and every celebratory moment we are privileged to experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Why of Trials-

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed~ 1st Peter 1:6-7

At the end of every year I spend a little time mentally recapping the events of that year. I spend some time deliberately praising God for the good and then I ask for the wisdom to make the bad stuff better in the coming year.

 As my mind meandered through the events of the past year, it did not take me long to conclude that this past year will not go on record as one of the better years in Price family history. It was, in fact, legitimately quite awful. Everything was a struggle. Nothing worked out the way we hoped it would, or in a way that made any sense at all to any of us. There have certainly been blessings, but for the most part even the blessings this year were born out of enormous difficulty and came as result of some hard-fought battles.

 Don’t get me wrong:

I believe with all of my heart God is firmly in control of all of the events of our lives, even the crummy ones. I also believe our happy ending will be arriving at some point in the (hopefully) near future but we sure haven’t experienced it as of this writing.

 I am sharing our story not because I want to bum you out with a laundry list of disappointments and difficulties. I am sharing because I believe it’s imperative Christians are truthful about their struggles. If we always put on a happy face and pretend not to have have any problems or stress or, in my case, an unbelievably crummy year, we will never really understand the reason God allows struggles and heartache in the lives of His people.

 Not understanding the why of the tough, bothersome, tedious junk of life is spiritually confusing. Living in a state of spiritual confusion tends to make us hard, bitter and resentful and can cause us to leave the life of faith altogether.

 There are all kinds of reasons why God allows us to struggle or suffer through stuff that FEELS completely unnecessary. Sometimes struggles come because there are things we need to learn about ourselves. There is nothing like a little stress to show us all the attitudes and knee-jerk responses to pressure that are not exactly what Jesus would do in the same situation. We can never change what we don’t see, so it could even be argued trials are a necessary evil that help us see what areas of our lives still need work.

 Trials also prove our faith. Not to God. God knows exactly how much or little faith we all have already. Persisting through a trial with our faith firmly intact proves to you and me and all people around us that we are not just flocking to God for what He can provide. Perseverance proves our love for God and is the surest sign of salvation that there is.

 Last week I was given a reminder of perhaps the most critical reason of all that God allows us to experience trials and difficulties. I had the privilege of looking someone I care deeply about in the eye and telling them in all honesty that I completely understood the weird, crazy, absurd situation they were dealing with. I could do that because I had been through something very similar just a few years before. I could assure this person that they too would survive their shock just as I had survived mine. The Apostle Paul gives us an image of how the cycle of trial and comfort works in the life of a Christian in 2nd Corinthians 1:3-5:

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

 My prayer for all of us  is that God will comfort us in a way that we can feel tangibly as we go through the trials that are sure to come our way. I also pray that He will give us all many opportunities to be the hands, feet and source of comfort our hurting world will undoubtedly need in the coming year.

Trust me-God’s Got This one

 

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze~ Isaiah 43: 1-2

As a rule I am not much of a worrier. Nor am I super laid-back. I am definitely not someone who has conquered worry through spiritual efforts. Rather, my inclination to avoid excessive worry is strictly practical. I have learned the hard way that worry wastes time, squanders energy and has the power to change precisely nothing. I am an outcome-oriented person cursed with a bit of a lazy streak. Consequently, I typically avoid any activity that does not ordinarily result in some sort of payoff. Worry does not achieve any sort of tangible outcome. As a result, I typically don’t worry about all that much.

 Until recently.

 Over the last few weeks I have found myself worrying about all sorts of strange issues at the oddest times of the day and night. From a strictly commonsense perspective, some of these worries actually make sense.

 When we put our house up for sale almost five months ago, the market was solid and houses in our area were selling at a steady pace. Within what felt like minutes of putting OUR house on the market, it dried up. Only a handful of properties have sold in our area since August. My husband and I have been living apart for months and the arrangement is expensive.

I worry the house will never sell.

 My husband has been subsisting on microwaved popcorn and cold cereal for months now. I worry he will develop scurvy or beriberi or some other rare nutritional deficiency. My handyman skills are rudimentary (to say the least) and so all the chores my husband normally does are not getting done or they’re not getting done poorly. I worry the house will fall down on us while we are sleeping. Our eleven–year-old has began to revert back to some old behaviors recently. I worry about how all this is affecting her. I worry about moving in the middle of winter, I worry we won’t move until spring or summer or that we will never move. God has provided through this whole stupid mess but that hasn’t stopped me from worrying my head off about money.

 And those are just the worries that actually make some level of sense. The really weird stuff hits me hardest around three in the morning. That’s when I worry about how the dogs will adjust to the move, global politics, scary viruses becoming airborne, fiber and if we are getting enough of it and whether or not I remembered to shut the garage door. Once I exhaust those worries I move on to questioning every choice I’ve ever made and then I wonder if painting the entire house a different color will make it sell faster.

 The other day I came across some much-needed encouragement from an unexpected source. The seventh and eighth chapters of Daniel recount some rather peculiar dreams that foretell some unsettling future events. The implications of the dreams are at best a bit creepy and the content is so strange that it has kept scholars and theologians debating the deeper meaning of the text for centuries.

 It was not the content I found helpful. It was the context. Daniel recorded his dreams at a point in history that was both personally and politically chaotic. He was a slave who had served as an adviser to one king (Nebuchadnezzar) for all of his adult life. Nebuchadnezzar was not a great guy. He was a brutal narcissist with a capricious streak. That said, he was also a capable leader, teachable and had over time he had developed a healthy fear of Daniel’s God. Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar had proven himself to be an even more erratic and cruel leader than his granddad without the leadership abilities, teachable spirit or fear of God.

 I believe God gave Daniel a peek into a future he would never live to see, in the midst of what had to have been of the scariest times of his life, to remind him and, by extension, all of us. That God has this. Whatever it is, God has it. God has our future tightly in His grasp. Nothing surprises Him. He has whatever is keeping you up at night too. Whether it’s a house that won’t sell or a health problem or a job loss, or a kid that has gone off the rails, or something even worse.

 God’s got it and He has you too.

How to Hear the Voice of God-

You said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives~ Deuteronomy 5:24 NASB

 Most conversations about hearing the voice of God go in one of two directions. Some confidently claim that they hear from God all the time about every minute detail of their life. God speaks to them audibly on every topic imaginable, from the serious to the mundane.

 These lucky people do not weigh the pros or cons of any decision. They don’t agonize over which job they ought to take or whom they should marry. They don’t even worry about where they should go for dinner. They have all the answers because God tells them exactly what to do all the time.

 On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who awkwardly confess that they have never heard God speak. They read their Bibles and pray on a regular basis but they admit that they have never actually heard from God. These folks typically feel like second-class citizens when compared to the first group. In their most honest and raw moments they wonder if God really loves them or if they are even Christians.

 I believe that God speaks to all of His people at least some of the time.

I also believe that there are situations when we don’t hear God’s voice because we have preconceived notions about how we think God should speak. Those biases can interfere with our ability to hear what God is saying. We want (and sometimes even demand) an audible voice when He is intent on using another, more subtle approach to speak into our lives. Following are the most common methods God uses when He has something to say.

 The Bible- Psalm 119:105, 2nd Timothy 3:16

 Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is still God’s preferred means of communication with people. God will never tell anyone to do anything that directly contradicts biblical teaching. If you want to hear God speak to you, begin with the Bible. Pick a book, before you begin reading ask God to open the eyes of your heart so you will hear what He wants to communicate to you through His word (Ephesians 1:18). Continue to pray as you read, if a verse sticks ask yourself how that verse applies to your situation. 

 People- 1st Samuel 25, Acts 17:16-33, 2nd Samuel 12, Judges 1:8-9

 When God wanted David to understand that his craving for vengeance would lead to his destruction, God chose to speak His words through the quiet wisdom of a young woman named Abigail. When God wanted to proclaim the reality of His existence to the people of Athens, He used the words of Paul to communicate that truth. God still uses men and women to communicate truth to one another. For that reason, it is critical that we prayerfully evaluate the encouraging as well as the not-so-encouraging words of our friends, family members, pastors and even the people we don’t really care for. Sometimes when people speak it’s not them speaking, but God speaking through them. We will do well to listen.

 Strong impressions and still small voices- 1st Kings 19: 11-18, Acts 15:28-29, Acts 16:6

 In my experience, God seldom says, “Do this” or “don’t do that.” But he does speak to His people through impressions or a strong sense that we should or should not do something. The only time we should ignore those impressions is when the activity or course of action we are considering violates principals of wisdom or clear biblical instruction.

 Circumstances- Exodus 2:5-8, Acts 8:1-8

 Little in life is more frustrating than feeling we are being forced into a course of action by circumstances outside of our control. Thankfully these situations are not always the tragedies they seem to be at the time. Sometimes seemingly adverse circumstances are really the just the hand of God guiding us towards His will for our lives.

 I honestly do not know if God talks to some folks more than others. It’s certainly possible; God deals with people as individuals and He is free to do whatever He pleases. I do know that God is good and that He never leaves us alone. I also know that if we need direction He will give it to us, but that direction may not come in the form we are expecting. It is our spiritual responsibility to keep our hearts and spirits open to God’s will in whatever way He chooses to reveal it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Things Look Bad

We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. ~ Isaiah 59:9b-10a

 Yesterday was a truly terrible day.

I lost a battle with discouragement over a bunch of unresolved and ugly issues that have left me feeling anxious, uncertain and more than a little cranky in recent weeks.

 Monday we discovered the security at our health insurance company was breached and every member of our family has had their personal information stolen. Therefore, it is possible that at this very moment some punk thief is enjoying the European vacation I have always dreamed of, and we are footing the bill for it.

 Our family has seen more than its fair share of challenging changes over the course of this past year and it is likely that we have yet another big one coming. It appears that there is yet ANOTHER move on the horizon and we still haven’t finished unpacking from the last one. To complicate things further we really have no clue where we will move or when it will happen. Subsequently, a whole bunch of fairly critical decisions are presently on hold until we know something definite.

 The heat has returned and so have all of the slithery, skittery desert creatures. As a result my (mostly) irrational fear of the backyard has returned in full force. Furthermore, a much-needed new diet and exercise regime has left me feeling achy, irritable and hungry. The payoff for all my hard work and deprivation has been a solid two-pound weight GAIN.

 I am well aware that in the grand scheme of life and eternity none of these issues are the end of the world. There are plenty of people on this planet who would gladly trade my first-world problems for their much more real and pressing troubles.

 That awareness did not keep me from wallowing in some of the most negative feelings imaginable for a few hours last night. I really do know better than to go there. I have learned the hard way that self-indulgent wallowing solves nothing and only leads to greater feelings of discouragement. However, feelings—especially negative feelings—are rarely ruled by logic or good sense.

 My negativity was still going strong and steady at bedtime and as a result I had a hard time getting to sleep. The next morning I was still feeling tired and a bit sorry for myself when I opened my Bible and came across this gentle reminder courtesy of our all-knowing God:

 We live by faith, not by sight~ 2nd Corinthians 5:7

 As I meditated on the verse and how it so readily relates to my own life right now, I was reminded of something I heard our youth Pastor say in a sermon when the two older kids were still in high school.  

 “Feelings are the F-word of Christianity”

 The poor guy took more than a little heat from some irritated parents over that statement. Many felt it was crude and poorly stated. But truth-be-told, he had an excellent point.

 His point was that feelings are capricious things that should have little impact on the way we operate in this world. Feelings can and will trip us up in a million different ways. Feelings, if left unchecked, will lead us into situations Christians have no business being in. Feelings are the root of virtually every kind of heartbreak in this world. Feelings will lead us to doubt even the most obvious of truths. Feelings cause even wise people to do and say things that can never be undone.

 Facts can also trip us up sometimes. Facts can tell us what is true at the moment, but not everything that is true at the moment is immutable. Situations can change and God is ultimately in control of the outcome of every situation.

 God reminded me this week that we are called to live not by our feelings or even by the facts that are right in front of us. Rather, we are called to live by faith. The writer of Hebrews tells us that faith is the evidence or proof of facts and realities that we are unable to see or touch in the here and now.

 Walking in faith does not mean that we ignore reality or dodge responsibility. Living by faith means trusting God to work out the details of what we do see, and remembering that feelings lie and facts change, but our heavenly Father can be trusted even with the most exasperating of circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Exactly Does a Good Christian Become a Useful Idiot?

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour~ 1st Peter 5:8

 Recently I had a conversation with a friend struggling with some fairly serious family drama. My friend has been working overtime to repair some damaged relationships and has been baffled as to why she isn’t making more progress. She recently learned that a “friend” has gotten in the middle of some of her most significant relationships and repeated things said in confidence and exaggerated some things that were said.

 My friend is understandably irritated with the situation. She’s frustrated by her own carelessness and because the third party mixed up in the mess (a professed Christian) appears to be ignorant of the chaos she’s created. As the conversation progressed it became obvious to me that her “friend” is what I like to call one of Satan’s useful idiots.

 “Useful idiot” is a term sometimes used in place of “unwitting accomplice.” An unwitting accomplice is a person who participates in a crime unintentionally—often because a criminal tricked them into the criminal activity. Sometimes the poor fool is duped into believing that they are actually doing a good deed as they help the criminal break the law.

 The book of Job describes the devil as roaming the earth looking for ways to cause trouble, and 1st Peter 5:8 describes Satan as one who prowls around looking for people to destroy. Ephesians 6:11 and John 10:10 tell us that the devil is continually scheming up ways to wreck havoc on the lives of people, especially God’s people. It’s a big job and even Satan needs a little help sometimes, and a useful idiot can come in handy.

 My friend’s story demonstrates that Christians sometimes unwittingly do the devils work. Even the best of God’s people can be guilty of helping the enemy steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Christians become useful idiots when:

 They fail to get all the facts~ Proverbs 14:15, Proverbs 18:17

 It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of supposing that all our assumptions concerning people and situations are spot-on. The truth is that things are rarely the way they appear and there are two sides to every story. Wise people look beyond first impressions and go to the source to ask questions when a person’s character is in question. Proverbs 14:15 reminds us that only the simple-minded believe everything they hear and take every story at face value.  

 Involve themselves in situations that are none of their concern~ Proverbs 26:17

 There is nothing wrong with listening to a hurting friend or giving counsel to someone who needs it. We cross a line when we allow ourselves to become intermediaries in disputes that are none of our business. It is never okay to repeat something said in confidence and quarreling parties should always be encouraged to work things out between themselves or with a pastor or counselor. Be wary of any “friend” who is a little too eager to involve themselves in your private family affairs; it’s likely this person is a useful idiot.

 When they refuse to forgive~ Hebrews 12:15

 Refusing to forgive leads to bitterness. When bitterness takes root in our hearts, it colors the way we see the world and becomes a corrupting and defiling influence in our lives that negatively affects everyone we come into contact with.

 They allow pride to take over~ Proverbs 13:10

 The devil has figured out that the simplest way to recruit a useful idiot is to encourage pride. Pride blinds us to reality and is at the root of nearly every other sin. Pride is easy to spot in others but hard to see in ourselves because the nature of pride is self-deceptive (Obadiah 1:3). One sign we may be stuck in a prideful mindset is refusal to admit wrongdoing or when we justify our actions because of what somebody else did or didn’t do.

 Spread dissension~ Proverbs 6:16-19

 Dissension is an ugly thing that is spread by planting seeds of dissatisfaction in someone’s mind about a situation or person. Those who spread dissension point out problems without offering solutions, cast blame and repeat things that were said in confidence. It is our responsibility to be forces of good in our world; God’s people are called to be problem solvers and reconcilers rather than faultfinders and troublemakers.

I am convinced that the key to avoiding the trap of becoming a useful idiot in Satan’s schemes is self-examination and honest appraisal of the dynamics of whatever situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes the most loving and wise thing we can do for everyone involved in a given situation is to graciously remove ourselves from the situation and commit to prayer for all involved.

 

 

A Response to the Guy Who Called My Views on Marriage Naive

 You do well when you obey the Holy Writings which say, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself”~ James 2:8 NLV  

Dear Guy who called my views on marriage naïve (AKA Tim),

 Contrary to how things probably look, I really am not a jerk who has been ignoring you or your comment. It appeared in my inbox late Monday night and, frankly, it was long and I was tired, too tired to read it thoroughly, let alone formulate a lucid response. When I did get around to giving your comment a thorough reading, it didn’t take me long to realize your feelings on the subject of marriage merited more of a forum than a hasty reply would allow.

So here goes.

 Your comment was polite and articulate (a rare thing in the blogosphere). However, it did seem to indicate that you’ve had some unfortunate personal experiences with marriage and for that I am truly sorry. It is not my intention to underplay the power of your personal experience or the experiences of millions of people who have faced the pain of divorce. I have never experienced the trauma of divorce. However, I do have friends and family members who have, and even from the outside looking in, it’s clear that divorce sucks. Everything humanly possible should be done to prevent it.

 All that being said, it’s really not fair to blame marriage when marriages end. Contrary to popular belief, marriage is not an entity or a living being or even an institution. Marriage is a contract—a legal, moral and spiritual contract—and every contract becomes over time a situation involving people. A contract cannot be blamed for the conduct of the parties who signed on to the terms of the deal.  

Responsibility for the death of a relationship has to lie squarely at the feet of the people in the relationship. Admittedly, fault is seldom equally distributed. One party quite often carries the lion’s share of the blame for the demise of the relationship. Marriages struggle and end for many reasons, but at the root of all lay almost always one or two issues.

 The roots of divorce frequently go back to unrealistic expectations long before the “I do’s.” The romantic notion of soul mates has set up millions of couples for failure. The myth of the “right one” is a silly fairytale. No matter how well matched and compatible a couple is in the beginning, no marriage can survive gross mismanagement of the relationship.

 Furthermore, marriage will not make an unhappy person happy, nor will marriage solve underlying problems or character issues in the lives of the people getting married. Weddings are not magic bullets we can shoot at loneliness, laziness, poor self-image, meanness, sloppy relationship skills or general discontent. Those problems must be dealt with long before the wedding day or the relationship will be doomed.

 Selfishness is a cancer that kills many marriages. Self-centeredness shows up in big and little ways in marriage. Rudeness, cheating, overspending, laziness, stinginess, dishonesty, withholding sex and lack of attention to the likes and dislikes of the other person all reveal a heart that is unwilling to work on the relationship. Perhaps self-centeredness is epitomized most clearly in a refusal to apologize, acknowledge bad behavior and take responsibility for problems in the relationship.  

Unhealthy patterns of communication are another relationship killer. Giving the silent treatment, name-calling, screaming, criticizing and relentlessly bringing up past misdeeds is a sure-fire way to effectively poison a marriage.  

You called my views on marriage naïve because I listed the established benefits of a stable, happy marriage. The benefits of matrimony include good physical and mental health, financial security, well-adjusted children and a good sex life. It is not naïve to believe in something that has been proven. Naiveté is found in believing that there is somehow a superior, less painful alternative to marriage.  

The alternatives to marriage are limited: cohabitation, serial monogamy and singleness. Singleness is not a realistic alternative for most of us, leaving cohabitation and serial monogamy. Cohabitation and serial monogamy offer none of the benefits to individuals, children and society that marriage does and yet the end of those relationships are every bit as psychologically painful and financially costly as divorce.

 Marriage is not perfect, Tim, because people are not perfect. The solution to the problems in marriages is not to look for a viable alternative to marriage. Nor is the answer to avoid marriage altogether; the world would be a dull and gloomy place indeed without the security and camaraderie of enduring relationships. The answer to the marriage quandary is to educate people, before and after they say “I do,” on how to have the kind of relationships everyone wants to have. The real solution is to gently come alongside those who are struggling in their relationships and show them a better, less painful alternative to divorce.            

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

 One issue every blogger I know struggles with is transparency, or how much personal information to share with their readers. Everyone agrees that some personal sharing is clearly a healthy thing. Sharing allows readers to really know the writer and reminds both the reader the writer that life is a journey that none of us have completely figured out.

 Conversely, everyone ought to avoid the temptation to turn their page into a personal confessional. Assaulting an unsuspecting stranger with awkward private information borders on emotional abuse. Knowing personal details about a person you have “met” only in cyberspace can leave a reader feeling stunned and uncertain about what do with the information given. It’s a little like seeing your Grandmother in her underwear. No matter how innocent the circumstances, it can be difficult to shake the sense that you have somehow done something terribly wrong.

 I struggled mightily to balance all this as I debated where to go with today’s post. My angst has been complicated by my (undeniably prideful) desire to look like I have it all together even when I quite clearly don’t have a clue. The truth is that I am currently in a place where nearly everything in life feels ambiguous and I have more questions than answers about more issues than I care to discuss. Even after doing all the Christianly things I know to do (Bible reading, fasting, prayer, etc.) I still have no tangible answers.

 All that to say that I am not approaching today’s topic as an expert who has everything all figured out. Rather as one who is on a journey of discovery. I am learning that finding peace in the midst of the chaos of not knowing what to do next, by:

 Admitting I don’t know-

 There is something incredibly freeing about admitting to God and everyone else that I don’t know what to do next. Owning my cluelessness has allowed me to be open to possibilities that I would normally never consider. And I am beginning to suspect that God likes it when we come to a place where we have no other option than to trust in Him, rather than our own understanding and worldly wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-6).

 Taking time everyday to be still-

 Not knowing what to do about a valid problem is a nerve-wracking situation. When our nerves are wracked, the inclination is to run headlong into activity. Busy is not a bad thing, but frenzied, chaotic activity just leads to anxiety and a decreased capacity to problem solve. The answer is to get alone with God every day, fill your mind with promises from Scripture and meditate on God’s goodness (Psalm 46:10). It feels counterintuitive to be still when life is uncertain. But stillness recharges our batteries and empowers us to deal with the stuff we don’t understand and increases our ability to see our problems from God’s perspective.  

 Tackling the obvious-

 Not knowing what to do about a particular situation does not mean we should sit back and do nothing about everything. Make a plan and then prayerfully tackle the obvious stuff that you can do something about. If you are concerned about future job security or finances cut back on spending and polish up your resume, or take on a second job. If it’s your kids or your marriage that have you flummoxed, read a book or take a class and improve your skills. Choosing to be proactive will not provide magic solutions for every problem, but it will help you stay positive and it may prevent new problems from cropping up.

 Keep on keeping on-

 1st Corinthians 13:12 tells us that every Christian will experience times when direction is unclear. It’s just another one of the trials Christians are promised in 1st Thessalonians 3:3. The good news is that these periods of uncertainty can become the very thing that makes us stronger, wiser, and better able to minister to others. The key to becoming better, not bitter, in the face of a trial is to cling tenaciously to the belief that God is good and that He has your best interests at heart. Especially when circumstances are saying something entirely different.

 I have not enjoyed this period of my life. I’m a bit of a control freak and I like at least looking like I have all the answers. But even I have to admit that this period of my life has been instructive. Through it all I am slowly learning that faith is not about having all the answers. Faith is a journey of discovering, learning to trust and understand the one who does.

 

 

The Little Girl

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live~ Deuteronomy 30:19

 Recently Pope Francis shed his image as the hip, happening Pope when he came out with a bold, rabble-rousing declaration condemning recreational drug legalization. Pope Francis could not have been more unequivocal in his condemnation of drug legalization. His message stated in part…

 “The problem of drug use is not solved with more drugs.”

 He went on to clarify…

 “Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise. To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem.”

 The blogosphere went wild with disapproval over the Pope’s archaic notions. The haters were out in full force, overjoyed to have an occasion to bash the Pope, organized religion, and anyone ridiculous enough to believe in God. There were some weary attempts at defending the use of marijuana made by pointing out that alcohol is legal and widely used (I, for one fail to see how one is connected to the other).

 Then there were the gloomy souls who seemed sincerely baffled that a Christian leader who appears to be as left-leaning and cool as Pope Francis could be opposed to recreational drug use. But by far the most common sentiment asserted by those who hope to legalize drugs was the tired line that has rapidly become the rallying cry of a civilization that is rotting from within:

 “People should be able to do whatever they want with their own bodies!”

 As I read page after page of comments extolling the virtues of personal sovereignty and unlimited freedom, I couldn’t help but think of the little girl who lives upstairs in the room that used to be my office.

 She’s a precious little thing.

 She has long, dark blonde hair, wonderfully expressive hazel eyes, and a mischievous smile. She adores animals and is currently campaigning hard for a hamster that she intends to name Sir Edward Fluff Ball. She loves to swim in our pool and likes craft projects. Her favorite color changes almost daily.

 She is the daughter of a relative, the offspring of two people who sincerely believed that they had the right to do whatever they wanted with their own bodies. A few years ago her Mother died from choices she made with her own body. 

 Moving in with us was tough on her in the beginning, but she is becoming a bit more comfortable in our home all the time. Although they are much older, she enjoys hanging out with our kids. She and my husband share a love of the silly and absurd that is bringing them together. She and I have connected over decorating her room and a mutual love of stories. Her growing bond with our family does not keep her from crying sometimes because she misses her Mom and yearns to live with her Dad.

 She is a bright and imaginative girl.

She reads above grade level and performs well in school. Unfortunately, she struggles more than most kids her age with impulse-control issues, remembering things and telling time. On nights when sleep evades me I worry that her problems are more than childish immaturity. My gut tells me her issues may very well be the outcome of choices her Mother made with her own body while she was pregnant.

 Her story is far from unique.

There are millions of little girls and boys just like her. Children who are the human fallout of arrogant and foolish choices their parents have made with their own bodies. Children who are plagued by nightmares, children who struggle to connect with their peers, children who long for an ordinary life with their biological parents.

Children who cry themselves to sleep at night.

 The vast majority of those children do not have the advantages she has. Most are not as naturally bright as she is. Nor do they have extended families that are able and willing to pick up the slack for parents who are busy making choices that prevent them from parenting their children properly.

 Those children are fated to become cogs in the wheel of an apathetic, overburdened public system. A system that lacks the human element necessary to help children mature to adulthood in a healthy way.

A system we all pay for.

 Sadly, societies reap what they sow as surely as individuals do. I fear the harvest we will reap in the coming years with these kids, as we loudly and arrogantly demand the right to do whatever we want with our own bodies.

 In an ideal world, we would not need laws to govern what individuals can and can’t do with their own bodies. In an ideal world, people would make unselfish, rational choices with their bodies. In an ideal world all people would agree that an individual’s right to make choices should end at the place where those choices begin to negatively affect others. In an ideal world, there would not be any children like the little girl who lives upstairs in the room that used to be my office.

The Folly of Forsaking Wisdom

 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it~ Proverbs 8:11 KJV

 I have been tutoring a seven-year-old boy twice a week for a little over a year now. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I help him with his homework and then we work to improve his reading and writing skills. I will not lie-I have a soft spot for Chandler. I think it’s at least partly because he’s a bit eccentric for a second grader. 

 Chandler’s favorite food is Cheez-Its and he dreams of becoming a fighter pilot someday. Chandler knows everything there is to know about airplanes, dolphins and warships. He is convinced that America was the instigator in World War II and is extremely proud of that “fact.” He is unfailingly patriotic, has an offbeat sense of humor, and a uniquely quirky way of viewing the world.

 He also has a tenacious stubborn streak. Because he can be stubborn, motivating him can be a bit of an issue, especially when it comes to handwriting.

 Chandler would rather eat bees than write neatly.

 One afternoon last spring I became desperate. We had ninety minutes and three pages of homework to complete. We also needed to do his reading for the week. Every page of homework was handwriting intensive and Chandler was in no mood to cooperate. I attempted to inspire him with kindness and encouraging words, and he dawdled.  I tried being stern, but that only intensified his level of stubbornness.

 Finally, I made him an offer he would have been a fool to refuse. I offered to give him one piece of candy for every neatly written word. The results were truly miraculous.  The only real downside was that by the time he got half way through the second page he had eaten so much candy I was really scared he would throw-up all over my kitchen table. I gathered my wits enough to have him put the rest of the candy in a bag to eat later. He went home that afternoon with three pages of neatly completed homework and a sandwich baggie stuffed with candy.

 The next week, sweet little Chandler transformed into a greedy overlord. He expected to be rewarded with candy for every single word he wrote. He went home with huge bags of candy after our tutoring sessions. His handwriting improved dramatically, but only when he was with me and only when I paid the little punk off with candy.

 It wasn’t until Chandler suggested that he should get a piece of candy for every properly written letter that I acknowledged my stupidity.  That day I began the painful process of ending the madness. Because I had allowed the insanity to continue for so long, it took almost a month to get things back on track.

 No one would guess from reading this story, but I am not an idiot. I know better than to bribe a child with refined sugar. I know better than to bribe a child with anything. I have better sense than to allow an obstinate, eccentric seven-year-old-boy to run the show. I am well aware of the dangers of allowing bad behavior to persist unchallenged, and yet to my everlasting shame I did all of those things.

Repeatedly.  

 I have decided that this whole silly episode was not really about smart or stupid. It was about wisdom, or in my case an appalling lack of wisdom. My error was in supposing that the problem needed to be solved immediately by any means necessary.

 As I mulled this over, I concluded that many of the missteps we make in life are rooted in the desire to take a short cut to solve a problem or make life easier. Drugs and alcohol are a faster and more comfortable way of dealing with pain than self-examination and change. Bribing a child will get the job done without the effort necessary to build character and self-discipline. Alleviating loneliness with sex does not require the work needed to build healthy lifelong relationships. Cheating takes less effort than learning and yelling is easier than discussing. Casually dismissing God as a myth appears to make life easier and less complicated, but like every short cut it comes with a hefty price-tag.

 The differences between wisdom and reasoning are subtle. Worldly thinking is all about results and so the end always justifies the means. Wisdom understands there is more to a successful outcome than desirable results. Worldly thinking is all about getting the task accomplished. Wisdom is about getting the job done with integrity and in a way that will produce lasting change. Wisdom is the gift that enables us to look down the road and see the consequences of our actions and—if need be—correct our course before we reap an unpleasant harvest.