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.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

THIS IS US

This Is Us is an American television  series created by Dan Fogleman that premiered on NBC on September 20, 2016. It has gained a huge fan base, including me.  The cast of characters is fascinating and multi-hued. They seem like people I either know or interact with every day, people I see in my office. The series follows siblings Kate, Kevin and Randall who share the same birthday, but not the same parents or race, as Randall was adopted after their natural sibling was stillborn. Their lives intertwine through current events, flashbacks, and not a few tears.

Actually,the tears just keep on coming. Because of some of those flashbacks, I know that Jack, the amazing father to these three, is going to die way too young. I adore this fictional man, and may have to take a bereavement day when that actually happens. :-(  This past week, William, Randall's biological father, died of cancer in his favorite city Memphis. He was on a meaningful road trip with his son, the baby he gave away only to meet again a few months before his death.  During the road trip, we saw flashbacks of William’s early life with his mother, Dorothy, his experiences in the band with his cousin Ricky, and his downward spiral into drugs with girlfriend Laurel. We witnessed the sadness and brokenness that so shaped his life. It was heart-wrenching, and all too real.

But we also saw something awesome. Randall's young life had many challenges as well, even though he was adopted into a loving home. He was undoubtably affected by his pre-birth trauma, and despite the love of his parents, they couldn't shield him from the pains and hurts of being an African-American in a white world. He had asthma, and this highly intelligent young man often went into spasms provoked by anxiety and fear. His loving adoptive father would take his face into his hands and with firm, gentle words affirm him as he looked into his eyes, and said, "Breathe, son, just breathe." The fear would vanish, and life and peace would seep back into Randall's soul.

When Randall's biological father was dying in the hospital, William was fearful and panicked. The incredible love of his adoptive father Jack, long gone at this time, enabled and empowered Randall to be to reach back into his past for just the skill and love his biological d
ad William needed at this moment. Through tears he placed his hand on the sides of his father's face, and said firmly and with anguished love, "Breathe, Dad--breathe. " William's panicked laboring ceased, he absorbed the love of his son pouring through Randall's tender hands and down his tear-stained cheeks.  He began to breathe peacefully and easily, and then he was gone.

Whew. Loving well is so important. It's the best we can ever give our children. When we patiently love in words and deed, letting them KNOW and feel to their core how valued they are, they get the only thing in life worth having besides Jesus--the ability to know and show love in the toughest moments.

I want THIS to be US.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Feeling Like Job? Maybe Not So Much...

Just finished reading the book of Job again. Fascinating dialogue between a man badly misunderstood by his self-righteous friends, and an intimate dialogue with God who knew him best. It's interesting how common culture misuses this story, though. Many people compare themselves with Job when they are suffering...but few of us could even aspire to that, myself included. NONE of Job's trials were brought on himself because of his own poor choices. NONE of his suffering was because he had sinned. In fact, according to Job 1, God himself said about Job, "There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”(v.8) HIS suffering was initiated because Satan believed the only reason Job was obedient and faithful was because he was enjoying God's favor and protection.

God knew Job, and he truly believed in him. He told Satan that he believed Job would stay steady no matter what, so Satan went after Job to prove God wrong. Job suffered far worse attacks than we can imagine---the loss of all of his children and their families in a single accident, the loss of all of his fortune, the loss of his health, the loss of his reputation, and the loss of the support of his wife. She told him to curse God and die. Not exactly the spousal support for which one would hope. When I look at the things I consider to be my worst trials, they are fairly puny compared to what he experienced in a single blow. And, truth be told, it is very, very easy for me to get whiny when I suffer. I have to work hard to not complain to the world. Job took his pain and complaints straight to God. He never blamed God, he never threatened to give up on his faith, In fact, he said, "Even if he kills me, I will always serve him." He said, "I know this--my Redeemer lives. And I know that even if this life ends, I will live with him forever." His strength married to complete humility is awe-inspiring.

WOW. When we say, "She has the patience of Job", we're probably very far off the mark (especially if you are talking about me!). When I say, "I feel like Job"---really? Is Satan actually attacking me because I am so pure and godly? Because my attitude of faith is so unshakeable? Am I able to take the heat and not fold? Can I go through hard times and not feel God is abusing me?

The really great news is that God is with me in my suffering, whether I brought it on myself or not. And he wants to help me get through it triumphantly, and then use it to help other people.

Paul updates the experience of suffering for us when he writes to his Corinthian friends about what he had been through:

"God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 7We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.
 
8We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety." II Corinthians 2

If you are suffering today, know that God wants to be with you. Don't blame him. Learn the lessons of your pain and then share them and comfort others.

And then look forward to God's new work when it's all over. Job 42 records Job saying he only THOUGHT he knew God before. He said, "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have actually seen you." Suffering can be worth it if it takes us there.

God did more than that, too! He restored Job's fortunes, gave him twice as much as he had before, and he had 7 more sons and 3 daughters--"no where in the land were there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters (v15)....The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part." (v.12)

Of course, he still had the same wife. Sigh. Maybe she changed, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Meaning of the Medallion




This materially cheap, otherwise priceless, necklace was given to me by the Sisters of Mercy in Kolkata, India, after my niece Sara Potter and I, had spent a day serving with Mother Teresa's humble crew. They serve the last, the lowest, and the least--the most forgotten of God's creation. I have found myself wearing it most days since early November. We weren't permitted to take pictures, or voice opinions. Everyone who came there to serve had to attend the excruciatingly early prayer service (didn't have to pray, but did have to respectfully attend), for they wanted no serving that did not begin in prayer. After that, everyone had to do behind the scenes, non-feel good, no glory jobs for an undetermined period. Sara and I were assigned to clean a very large space/meeting room with cobbled floors and thousands of crevices in this old building that served them--a building that would have been condemned in the US. I had to mop floors with a handmade mop--rag on a stick. It was difficult and long. When I was finished, the tiny little woman in the white and blue habit didn't even inspect it. She just motioned for me to do it again.
Finally we were permitted to go do the glamor jobs, the ones you tell the world about, the ones that make you feel amazing and compassionate. We spent the day caring for disabled, abused, poor street children who would never be adopted. We fed them as they spit and drooled on us. We changed cloth diapers made from rags on 12 and 14 year old children, praying not to gag. Then we did the first step in the washing process of said diapers, because there is no money for disposables or even real cloth diapers. It was beautiful and awful, wonderful and revolting.
Then they gathered us together after our service, (applauded us---can you imagine???) and gave us our tiny medallions. And then we left, as we do-gooders most often do, and went back to our normal lives. The heroes, the difference makers, were laying down their lives 24/7. They stayed in the pain and the chaos to do the hard work of making it at least a little better for specific individuals with real faces and real pain.
My takeaway: as the Bible says, faith/compassion/opinion without works and sacrifice is dead. I wear my necklace to remind ME that the world as a whole needs my opinions less, and my sacrificial action more. I may not impact the wide world, but I can change the WHOLE world for individuals who are suffering within my sight if I will only go through the world with my lips more often closed and my eyes more often opened. Ecclesiastes 3:7 says there's a time to speak and a time to be silent. May God give me the wisdom to discern. Jesus said the time to serve is always NOW, and that true service means being willing to be last, and laying down my life. Tough stuff. I am praying to be up to it.