Wednesday, May 24, 2017

YOU SAID WHAT???



At least 1 million words are in our dictionary. One study has found that the average 20-year-old American knows as many as 42,000 words. But 42,000 is just a fraction of the words we could use.  We reduce our vocabulary even more by using significantly fewer of those words when we verbally communicate with each other. Our reduced vocabulary puts limits on our ability to communicate. Regrettably, we have even more problems with words!
  
Words often mean different things to different people. Words have different emotional impact. To say, “That really makes me mad” may signify to one person that you are irritated, and to another it may be a frightening warning of  a volatile  explosion soon to come.  People often are more focused on their feelings than they are the words we say, and therefore care more about how we make them feel than anything else. 

Then, of course, we tend to comment on things that are either none of our business or things we know nothing little to nothing about, so our words are not always factual. Words often have less than precise meanings, so when we step away from “yes” and “no”,  it can get quite confusing.  

We also often make mistakes at times when we speak. Most of us have misspoken at one time or another and said something  stupid or cruel. Do we always really mean it? No. We often say things under the influence of our fleeting emotions.
I could go on and on. Wouldn’t it be handy to simply have a way to transfer information and feelings from one person’s mind to another? Actually, that in itself would really cause problems unless we had a way to be very selective. I remember Mel Gibson in WHAT WOMEN WANT was in trouble all the time because he was picking up the exact thoughts and feelings of the women around him!

All of these thoughts remind me that words can be very difficult because they really matter. We should work hard on ourselves to be as kind and precise and careful as we can with our communication. But, because we know words are difficult, we should cut each other a little slack from time to time with how we feel about someone who has violated us with words. We need to realize that neither we nor our language is perfect. Responding with kindness and asking for more information has a better chance of improving communication  than responding with words of our own that may multiply problems.  
Perhaps we should just pray this prayer:
            “Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff, and nudge me when I’ve said enough.”

Or, David said it more eloquently:
            “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Mother's Day Tradition

In 2009, the May after my mother went to heaven, my personal Mother's Day tradition began. I leave immediately after the last service to visit the cemetery where my mom's beautiful but worn out earthly glove is buried. It's not sad for me –  it's a reflective, wonderful time of thanking God for her and doing little things to take care of this spot where her earthly remains were placed.  I know she is not there – she is risen! Just as he said! Two years ago I planted a rosebush. It was good today to see it springing back to life again after the winter.  My sister Jeannie helped me take care of that rosebush. We would take turns stopping by the grave as we visited Dad, bringing jugs of water to make sure the little rosebush made it.

This year, in a surprising twist of life I did not anticipate and did not want, I found myself tenderly tending and showing devotion in this sacred place to the two tallest women in my life. Jeannie's glove now lies beside my mother's.  I came today expressing love and appreciation in humble and very humanly limited ways to my gracious and loving mother and sister, both of them wonderful mothers.

Charlie and I used to occasionally go to cemeteries on dates,  and even take our children there on walks from time to time. I know -- we're kinda strange.😉 But we found it interesting to look at the gravestones, to find the oldest one there, and to see what things might have been stated on the gravestone that told about lives lived. When ever I was there, I had a sort of curiosity about the assortment of things, small trinkets and decorations,  I would find around some of the cemetery plots. There was a tombstone – a flower or two. Wasn't that enough? 

Now that two of the dearest people in my world have gone ahead of me to heaven, I understand. Today the rosebush is coming to life, but it's not there yet. Jeannie's husband and girls are having her stone set soon, and there's no way to plant something alive and real until that happens.   Though Mom and Jeannie need no gifts for me, I need a tangible way to say for myself again,  "Thank you. Thank you for the incredible investment you made in my life. Thank you for making heaven closer and dearer.I am doing everything I know how to honor Jesus and you. Until I see you again, I will honor you with your favorite things, with a break in my day of celebration, to remember, to laugh, to express my covenant with you and God one more time to live honorably and generously until I join you at the table for that great celebration feast in our heavenly home."

What wonderful mothers you have been! What a legacy you have given to me and to the whole family! I am more grateful than words can say.

And now, it's time to get on with the life I now live. The kids and grandkids are coming over to celebrate me. The table is spread here today, we're having a feast-- I don't even have to fix it! My job today is just to sit back and enjoy, to gratefully treasure the life I have been given, and work on my own legacy. It's a good day, a blessed day.

Happy Mother's Day, indeed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

BACK TO THE FUTURE


During the last years, God has gifted me with an often painful gift, but it is so good for my future. I'm giving this gift to you right now. Most of you are much younger than I am and your tendency will be to barely give this a notice. But I pray for your good you will take it to heart.

Being a pastor/counselor to so many elderly people including my own precious father has made me excruciatingly aware that our memories have a very long lifespan. They outlive many of our other abilities. Things that happened yesterday we may not be able to remember, but things that happened years ago we can remember in great detail, even when we don't want to. Sins that are long past forgiven, things that perhaps no one but you and God knows, resurface in the many hours you spend alone and inside your head. The elderly people I speak with so regularly are not nearly as frightened by fears of the future as they are tortured by memories of the past.

When we confess and are forgiven, God forgives our sins and, as he said, he throws them away into the sea of forgetfulness. But HE forgets – we may not.

I am bringing you a message from your future self today. Live as cleanly, as kindly, as purely as you can. That little old man, that little old lady in your future will thank you.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I AM WOMAN...HEAR ME....

Yesterday was International Women's Day. This woman wants to say something. :-)  One of my tendencies God has had to address with me is being a people-pleaser,  with a fear of being misunderstood. Unfortunately, too often, those are twin traits that are valued in women, although we lose ourselves and our best contributions when we have them. God has been faithful to love me patiently into exposing my authentic self, and it has been a wonderful journey. I am thankful to be HIS woman, THIS woman today.

I am a strong woman, a strong-willed woman. Not the "hear me roar" woman, but the "hear me" woman. Being a strong-willed woman is not a negative trait. (Little girl leaders are not "bossy" any more than a little boy leader is "bossy". Unfortunately, too often we think HE does it like a boss, SHE is bossy.) I am not a man-hater. Most of my great mentors have been male, and they are my colleagues, my friends. The men in my personal life are among my greatest encouragers and supporters.

I have never been rebellious, and I am fully capable of being quiet and compliant appropriately. I have a tight grip on submission, first to my Lord, and then mutual submission in relationships. I am willing to go first in the submission challenge. I can take orders very well, and when I work for someone, I will be their loyal employee.

I am not a pushover. I will never allow you to force my will. But you will be surprised at how easy it is to get along with me. I give my will freely. I have surrendered my free will to the One who gave it to me, and like him, no one takes my life from me. I have the authority to choose to lay my life down or pick it up again, and I work to choose in his wisdom. (John 10:17-18)

I have a deep desire to make a difference and I am willing to make the tremendous sacrifices to make sure my corner of the world is never the same again.

I love fiercely and loyally. I will never betray you, and will be cut to core when I suffer it from others.

Neutral is my least favorite gear, and I cannot coast for long. I need to be involved, doing. Waiting on the Lord is my greatest challenge.

I am almost impossible to ignore, not because I am in your face, but because unless God says a big NO, I rarely ever give up. Whatever I choose to do, I do with my whole heart. I have a compelling desire to do what is right and just, and it empowers me to overcome my fear of being misunderstood. I am able to admit that I am wrong, I am capable of sincere and deep repentance, and am usually the first to apologize and take responsibility in a conflict.

People think I am extraordinarily gifted, lucky, charmed. I AM blessed and anointed by God, but I am fairly ordinary, rarely lucky, and definitely not charmed. My life has had plenty of struggle and hard times, but as I focus on my Father, I recognize he has always had me. I am grateful for the head start my incredible family gave me, but I know it can be trashed and burned by one or two poor choices on my part, or by simply taking it for granted. People who think my life comes easy have no understanding or realization of the daily hard, hard work and perseverance and the depth of sacrifice that adds up to what they see.

I am a cork. I get hit with crisis and discouragement and initially it feels like it will overwhelm me. But before long, I pop back up to the surface and am ready to give it another go.
I am a crocus. I am generally among the first to take a risk and stick my neck out on the bleak landscape where nothing seems alive.

I draw my strength, my strong will from my best friend, my example, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Every morning I wake with this confidence: "God is within her; she will not fall. God will be with her at break of day." Psalm 46:5

I am a bold, strong woman, in love with a bold, strong Savior. To all the many women who are like me, who read this and felt, "She is talking about me!", be encouraged! God created us this way for his great purpose. To all the men who love and encourage us and don't try to "tame" us, you are princes and kings, and I honor you. To all those who wish we would sit down, slow down, shut up, and shape up, don't hold your breath. We love you are and we ARE listening--just to a wiser Voice than your's.

"So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them....and he saw that it was very good." Genesis 1:27,31

Friday, March 3, 2017

Not Easy, but Worth It

Have you acknowledged to yourself that, despite your best efforts and optimistic overlook,  there are seasons that are astonishingly hard? Despite the happy face we deliberately choose to encourage other people, or even the perhaps less well-intentioned social media posts presenting the highlight reels of our lives, there are days, episodes, even entire seasons when we live anywhere but Easy Street.

This week my daughter  Rachel Carpenter and I were texting about the winter of the soul we both had experienced in the last year, made bleaker by the significant struggles and hurts of those we care about so deeply. Her texts were so...well, I can't describe them. But they were mightily on point, and I asked her if she would type them up and let me share. She agreed. Here they are. I'm going to reflect a moment at the end. Please know these come from a very difficult head and heart space, but not a depressed one.



There are people in my life, people very close and dear to me, experiencing repeated struggles, losses, and disappointments.
I feel it with them.
I hate when people I love struggle.
It's a pit in my stomach and a weight on my chest.
Both have just seemed to get bigger and heavier the last few years. 

I often face the fact that I haven't felt "light" in longer than I can remember.
Just today I was contemplating it -
because I believe I am stronger with and closer to Jesus than ever in my whole life; but I'm failing all the time to experience joy the way I used to.

So I was questioning whether that's a symptom of the world in me -
or a side effect that the more like Jesus I become…
the closer my spirit gets to true heaven...
the more heavy and out of place I feel anywhere but there.

I've realized, in continuing evolutions, that I am grossly ill-equipped to make life for myself
or others exactly as I want it to be.
And maybe that isn't even best anyway.
Maybe the best comes packaged really hard most of the time. 

If I think about that too long, though, it becomes difficult to breathe.
You see, I hope to live a long life, but I can't imagine living 50 more years where everyday sort of feels as though I’m trying to skip like I used to - but now my shoes are cinder blocks.
And speaking of shoes…
all the while, waiting for the other shoe to drop on the next loss/disappointing circumstance/heartache/cinder block I will need to carry for a lifetime.

Like the "lasts”.
There are so many lasts in this life,
and so often I am woefully unaware that it's the last.

Like the last time I felt light-hearted about life and just joy in a normal day with sunshine and no cares. I don't know when the last time was. I didn't know to hold on to it and cherish it.

Like the last time it was just me, my parents, and my brothers.
On vacation. Or some other family memory-making.
I couldn't tell you what the last one was.
Because I didn't know it was the last.
I didn't know how to treasure it.
And now I miss it.

There’s a wonderful family friend that places prominently throughout my growing up years.
He's in such a struggling place.
My heart hurts because I know the man from my childhood is gone.
This life is short,
and there is no time or ability for him to go back to being that person
with those opportunities.

I'm desperate to have as few pains and regrets as possible in this way with my boys.
But I fear, no matter how good a mom I manage to be, it's inevitable to have heartfuls of aching when I realize I already experienced the last time they will crawl in my lap, ask to snuggle, hold my hand, want me most…
And I didn't know it was the last.

My multi-layered thoughts can be overwhelming.
Especially the fact that they don't come with any answers, really.

Maybe I just keep pursuing Jesus.
When I'm hit with circumstances and realities that knock me to the floor,
I'm figuring out ways to go to him with it.
Let his truth trump my reality.
Get grace and strength just for that day.
To just take the next best step…
Confident God is with me.

I mean maybe the truth that I have to leave people with is that it is all just going to be really hard. And somehow try to convince them that the really hard is still
PROFOUNDLY WORTH IT.

Whew. If that didn't hit you where you live, maybe you aren't grown up yet. I feel every aching, stretching line of that to my core. But since I am Rachel's Mom, with several more decades of walking with Jesus, I can add this. 

Happiness masquerades as joy for moments, but they are fleeting. You will find as life moves on that you ENJOY happiness, but rely on JOY. Joy is when "his truth trump(s)my reality." I "get grace and strength just for that day. To just take the next best step...Confident God is with me." Every season like this you pass through with Jesus, every time you are knocked to the floor and there is no answer for it, but you pursue Jesus through it, you discover more and more that answers are overrated, but the Presence is irreplaceable. 

Yes, my darling, it is absolutely true. The closer my spirit gets to true heaven,  the more heavy and out of place I feel anywhere but there. You will never experience the happiness you felt at one time in the same way you once did. It is impossible to hold on to that forever. The first time you live through unutterable loss, suffer the unmerited and cutting wind of betrayal swooping in out of nowhere, you lose your innocence. You realize that harsh, bad, evil, uncontrollable things happen, and they happen to you, too. No amount of goodness can opt you out. We have an Enemy who comes to steal and destroy. He succeeds too much of the time. You were created for heaven, not for here. One of our dear elderly friends whose heart has been exactly where you are so many times wrote today, "Please Jesus, take me home where I belong as soon as possible, please."

But in the midst of being here, we discover he can never steal forever the precious treasures we put in God's hands. Our God is a Sustainer and Restorer. There will be a day. A day when every God-inspired hope and dream will find perfect fulfillment.

Until then. Until then, we have some, even many, glorious days when sunshine sparkles and for a moment the battle stops. Until then, we have some days when the losses take us to our knees, when the injustice and pain of life is suffocating. But always we have Jesus. He said, "In this world you will have trouble, but don't be afraid, I have overcome the world." 

And because we have Jesus, we do have irrepressible joy. You KNOW that he is with you. You know the things given to him can never be destroyed. And so, this season will slowly and almost unannounced, come to an end. You will wake up some morning and you will know everything you know now, but you will also feel the "happy" stealing slowly over you like sunshine streaming through your window warming you to wake up on a June morning. Anticipation of what is ahead will fill your heart again. Not reckless, naive excitement, but hope and satisfaction. You will recognize the happiness...she will look a lot like her mother, JOY. And you know her very well. She never goes away. I can hear her softly singing right now. 

It will be really hard. Really wonderful. Really worth it. 

Profoundly worth it.