- Love God with your whole being; show it by loving others as you love yourself.
- Stop talking about yourself all the time. It’s boring.
- The best gift you can give anyone- child, elder, friend, or colleague- is your time and attention.
- Train up your children in the way they should go, not in the way you wished you went.
- Develop the habit of positivity; nobody wants to listen to you grumble and complain all day.
- The key to success is to find what you love to do and do it. If you can’t make a living from it, then get a job that pays the bills while still affording time to do what you love.
- The key to the good life isn’t working longer and harder to make more money; the key is to downsize your lifestyle.
- It really does take two to tango. Apply this to your relationships.
- Goals are good, but they’re not your whole life. Live fully where you’re at now.
- Maturity takes a lifetime; perfection is defined by God.
- As far as it depends on you, get rid of the stress in your life. Really.
- Drive the speed limit; it is so much less stressful and certainly far less dangerous. Do you really want to live the rest of your life knowing you killed somebody’s kid because you couldn’t be bothered to follow traffic laws?
- Very few people are really excellent drivers; it is highly unlikely that you’re one of them. Drive more carefully.
- There are no limits in forgiveness. Just do it, again and again, as often as needs be.
- There is only one person you can change and that is you. There is only one person who can effect this change and that is God.
- Your entire life and, indeed, your very being, was designed to worship God. Don’t waste yourself on anything less.
- Life does not begin with getting married and having kids. Don’t make an idol out of it.
- Develop contentment by choosing to ‘bloom where you’re planted’.
- Even when all else actually does fail, God is still there.
- People are in your life but for a season; enjoy them, but hold on loosely.
- Live your life according to what will mean the most to you on your deathbed. Hint: It won’t be a clean house or a sports car.
Jam it, jerk it, slam it, ram it.
It a small thing in the grand scheme, no doubt. The door sticks, the keys are missing, the car won’t start, my mom won’t take her pills. Whatever it is and however small, it just needs to work, and when it doesn’t, we reflexively respond by trying harder and harder until we either break the thing or give up and walk away in sheer frustration.
Scene: My kitchen table, this morning.
“Here’s your pills, Ma. Put them in your mouth. Now take a drink of water and swallow them. Swallow the pills, Ma. SWALLOW them. Drink a little more water and swallow them. Swallow them! Swallow the pills! No, don’t spit them out! Swallow them! Swallow the pills, please. Swallow! Just swallow the pills. Swallow. Please swallow. Swallow. SWALLOW THE BLASTED PILLS!”
Result: Ma 2, Diane 0. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her take her pills.
It’s frustrating, mostly because I want to sit down and eat, but I usually do so only after Ma has taken her pills and is caught up in the glories of oatmeal. Getting those pills down is just one little step on my way to breakfast.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1).
My goal this morning was my own satisfaction, not what was best at that point for my mom. She takes her pills without fuss most mornings and balks at it only every so often. Letting her missing a dose of her Alzheimer’s pills now and then makes little difference in her behavior. Had I taken a step back instead of striving full speed ahead, had I put her needs above my wants, I might have made better use of an opportunity to minister grace to my mom.
And really, this kind of quarrel merely signals that it’s time to find a new approach. Time to deploy the old applesauce cloaking device, known by nurses the world over: Crush her pills and put them in
applesauce her oatmeal.
That was easy.
It’s been said before: No matter where you go, there you are. Grin.
No matter where I go, there I am. And there she is too, sticking to me like tar on a roof.
Wherever I go, she’s there, that self-centered, broken-down, worn-out, noisy, disreputable, egotistical, judgmental, foul-mouthed, tear-stained, thorny sin nature of mine. Every day the old bag follows me no matter how many times I try to coax her into staying home.
I tell her all the time, “Be quiet. Wait your turn. Be nice. Let it go. Stop griping. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but she doesn’t listen! Instead she hurls the meanest words at those closest to her, opening her big mouth when she ought to keep it shut. She lets harsh words fly instead of speaking gently. She is petty when she should be patient, and self-righteous when she ought to be compassionate. What a shrew!
She always thinks she’s right and she always has to have the last word! Have you any idea of what it’s like to have to listen to her argue endlessly with my mom over who’s right? It’s like the demented leading the demented. I tell her to let things go, but she just has to be the Queen Bee. At these times, I can quote Scripture until I’m blue in the face and still she insists on doing everything her way. It’s maddening. I get tired of trying to keep her behavior in check.
“She drives me crazy
like no one else.
She drives me crazy,
I can’t help myself.
- She Drives Me Crazy, Fine Young Cannibals, 1989
I’ll give her this: She usually confesses these sins to God and those whom she has hurt. But like I always say, “It would be ever so much better if you would just behave yourself. It’s better to behave than to say “sorry” all the time.
I have to keep a strict eye on her, making her rest when she’s tired because if I don’t she gets picky and irritable, then lets her emotions fly off the handle. Before I know it, she’s making statements like, “It’s my way or the highway!” or “What have you done for me lately?” I especially hate it when she’s bossy and unkind to those in my care.
Sometimes she sleeps for the longest time, but then something happens to wake her up and BOOM! She’s back to being Little Miss Nasty Pants, perpetually up on the wrong side of the bed.
I wish she’d get it together, but Father says she won’t. He says she has terminal Peter Pan syndrome. ”But the good news,” he says, “is that in Me, you have all the strength you need to gain the upper hand. The key is Me. I will help you conquer Little Miss Nasty Pants. Abide in Me and I will take care of the rest.”
Yes, Lord. Just knowing Father is on my side makes all the difference. And it is true that I get the better of the Queen Bee a lot more than I used to do. Best of all, Father says he’ll never leave me nor forsake me. Now I’m sure of what I hope for and certain of what I do not see yet:
Everything will be ok. No matter where I go. No matter where you go, too. You know it.
*Photo Credit: http://dreamstime.com
I eat well during the day. When I’m hungry, my desire is for good, healthy food, not munchies, not junk food, and never too much of anything. During the day, I’m a wise eater, managing portion size and food choices with the greatest of ease. I don’t want anything sweeter than a Fuji apple and usually pick something savory. But then comes the evening, then comes the night.
Pretty much the only time I crave chocolate or something salty and crunchy is after dinner when I’m relaxing in front of the tube, playing computer games and messing around on Facebook. That’s when the cravings come. At these times, I’m neither hungry nor bored. I just want to munch.
Even though I sip decaf coffee and occupy my hands with computer games, I still want to stuff myself. I’ll munch on apples and carrots, even celery, but these do not satisfy like chocolate or tortilla chips smothered in shredded cheese melted in the microwave. Yet for all the pleasure that comes from consuming bowlfuls of cereal, popcorn, or tangy carolina barbecue chips, munchies really don’t satisfy. At these times, I don’t know what I want.
Thou shalt not stuff thyself.
I suspect it’s a reflection of chronic anxiety even though I don’t feel nervous or excited. When there’s no food at hand, I bite my nails. When I think about it, when I wonder what hollow I’m trying to fill, I get that funny feeling in my stomach, like there is something straining to get out and instinctively I know it’s better to keep it down than have to go through feeling miserable about something I can do nothing about. It’s the past trying to blast its way through carefully constructed barriers into the here and now and frankly, I don’t want to bother with that all over again. I’ve been through years of prayer and therapy. I know what’s down there. Why should I take it out and look at it again? Looking at something and labeling it does not cure it. Only God can cure it. Taking it out again only makes me feel miserable and makes me more self-focused than is good for anyone. Worst of all, it brings out that embarrassing rage that is unacceptable in all circles.
Why didn’t my mom help me when I needed help the most? Why didn’t she protect me? Why did she choose to ignore it, protecting herself at my expense? I’ll tell you why. Because she didn’t love me enough to place my needs above her own. Same with the rest of my family. Almost every one of my siblings, when they found out years later, said, ‘Well, I’m not going to hate him for this.” As if I ever asked anyone to do so! I never wanted anyone to hate him, I just wanted to know that my pain mattered. I wanted them to hug me and hold me and tell me they were sorry it happened to me and that my feelings mattered. My oldest brother was the only one who ever said so.
See! Now I’m miserable. There’s that stupid lump in my throat and fluid burning behind my eyes. But there’s nothing I can do to fix it. I can’t heal myself. I hate these feelings!
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not as though I’ve never dealt with these issues. I’ve been through years of good, helpful therapy. I’ve prayed, read books, shared my burden, received prayer, and it’s absolutely true that God has healed me mightily. I would not be where I am today if He had not worked so much healing in my life. So what is wrong?
Maybe this is about forgiving my mom. I thought I had. Maybe it’s just another layer of the proverbial onion. My intellect knows that she did the best she could raising us. My mind whispers that she loves me. It’s just this stupid, wounded heart that won’t let go, that screams for justice and sometimes revenge even as my spirit cries for mercy and forgiveness. It’s a divided heart, partly of faith and partly of doubt, impotent to bridge the gap.
That’s the place where grace resides. Perhaps it is a thorn in my side, that God intends to leave in me so I will cling to Him. He knows that, despite my rebellious heart, I desire Him above all else and need to wallow in his grace. I know He wants me to fill myself with HIm rather than food. Most of all, He knows that when when I am weak, then I am strong, because His power is made perfect in my weakness.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ).
Amen! Thou shalt stuff thyself with the Lord. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Author’s Note: Bree is a woman I know who asked me to tell her story in my own words. For more of Bree’s Story, check under Categories in the right hand column of my home page.
**images via dreamstime.com
Thank you, Robin Prater, for the privilege of guest posting on your beautiful blog!
Please contact Robin for image credit.
You and I are a lot alike. We all want to live a life that matters. My guess is that you’ve been busy, like me, jotting down goals for the coming year. We write and rewrite, searching for perfect prose to succinctly communicate an ideal life. We create goals that both challenge and comfort us as we seek to become the best we can be. We make resolutions because, when it’s all said and done, we want our lives to count.
If you are anything like me, and you are, there are certain aspects of life in which you perpetually hope to get better, like self-control and discipline, whether it be following a budget, controlling your eating, reading the Bible in a year, or getting enough exercise. Every year you say, “This is the year when it will all come together. This is the year when I’ll finally __________ (fill in the blank). And twelve months later, at the close of that same year, you realize you haven’t moved all that far from where you started. Me too. We’re a lot alike.
I’ve tried to make the process easier. First, I exchanged the term ‘resolution’ for ‘goal’, hoping to make them something to anticipate instead of something painful to perform. A good hypothesis, but unsupported by the evidence. Frankly, I didn’t reach goals any more than I had resolved resolutions. I needed a new format.
The next thing I tried was to revise the nature of these goals from something I might reach to something I’d be hard-pressed to miss. If weight loss was too difficult, I’d set a goal to at least not gain weight. Simple. Too simple. Self-defeating, in fact, because not only did I fail to take measures to lose weight, but I gained it instead. Back to the drawing board.
This time I chose to set miniature goals, baby steps, if you will. Little by little, I’d raise the bar. No undue stress, self-nagging, badgering, or arm-twisting. I liked that. It’s a lot easier to reach a goal bit by bit than all at once. I set mini goals to boost my entire lifestyle, from eating and exercising to writing, reading, and following a budget. It felt great and looked good on paper, but as it turned out, I still failed to meet them. Too many goals, not enough gumption. Where does the fault lie- with the goals or the girl?
There’s a rather embarrassingly immense gap between the person whom I ought to be and the one I actually am, between the real and the ideal. Setting new year goals every year makes this glaringly obvious. I am far from perfect and I suspect the same is true of you. Why do we seek perfection in our lives? It’s impossible, and we know it. Yet on and on we labor, trying to capture the ideal and make it ours. I think we do so because of a backward equation in our faulty thinking:
Perfection = Acceptance + Worth
You and I strive for perfection, believing deep down that if we are perfect, then others, including God, will fully love and accept us and no one would doubt that we belong. If we were perfect, if we lacked nothing, we would be, as the serpent suggested in the garden of old, like God. There would be no need for humbling grace and mercy. No one could question our significance.
That’s a lie, a bald-faced, black-hearted lie right out of the pit of muck and mire, and we know it. Behind the striving for perfection is the force of our sin nature threatening to churn up a frothy lather of pride and pain within us. It is a battle that rages, that age-old war between the flesh and the spirit, and we must look to God for deliverance. The battle belongs to the Lord (1 Samuel 17:47).
I want to look to God, not myself, to perfect me. He knows exactly what I need at every moment and has promised to continue my transformation until Christ returns. And I have His guarantee, the Holy Spirit, within me. What I want for 2012 is to simply fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and, dare I say, perfecter of my faith.
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:10-14).
My New Year’s goal, my mantra, the everlasting goal of goals is this:
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I press on toward the goal to win the prize.
I want God to create in me a life that counts. So do you. We’re a lot alike.
When you were the youngest of four children, you didn’t have much power in the grand scheme of childhood things. When everyone got together to play softball, kickball, ice hockey, or any number of team sports of which you weren’t very fond, you had to play whether you liked it or not. When decisions were made about what to watch on television or what to do that day, you pretty much had to go along with everybody else because your opinion didn’t matter. You were just the baby, even if you were old enough to stay up as late as than everybody else.
Whether to avoid those things I didn’t like, such as chores or team sports, or to simply be alone to play as I liked, sometimes I gathered up my Barbie dolls and headed out to the barn, to its haymow made warm by the afternoon sun, where I’d sit cross-legged, my dolls spread about in the glory of pretty clothes and plastic shoes. There was Midge, a hand-me-down from my sister. She was the oldest, with coppery hair frizzled like a Brillo pad, and to whom I usually assigned the oldest and ugliest clothes. Then there was Madge, with curly hair cut just above her chin, who reminded me of the lady in the Palmolive commercial, and Marta, a dirty blonde whose legs could bend. Finally, there was my favorite: Mari, a real Malibu Barbie, who came with her own blue swimsuit and matching towel. She had straight, shiny, sun-kissed hair and a sweet tan. Mari had been my birthday present that year. I also had a couple of Ken dolls, but up to that point I hadn’t much use for them and usually sent them off to work each day. They just weren’t all that interesting.
Malibu Barbie was the leader of the flock. She told the others what to do and led them on all kinds of crazy adventures. They were housewives and explorers, scientists and cattle rangers. They lived in field and forest, mansion and mountain, digging up dinosaur bones for posterity in their spare time. Wherever they were, they dressed well and kept house beautifully.
One day, as I was wont to do on a warm summer afternoon, I gathered my dolls and escaped to the quiet solitude of the haymow. Sunlight poured in through the open door and I sat in its genial warmth. Like the baby in Hi and Lois, I loved to sit wherever sunbeams poured their soft, warm light over dust motes, heating up cold, wood floors in the house and barn. Our barn was not really a barn, per se, but an old carriage house with a haymow overhead. In the winter, we stored innumerable bales of hay, which we used as building blocks for mazes and forts, but in the spring and summer, before the harvest, it served as a refuge for those of us who “vant to be alone”. I liked to play there with my dolls.
There I sat in that great beam of light, lost in my own little world of dolls and adventure, working things out in my head, what this doll should say and that one do, when a sudden creak in the floor boards pulled me from my reverie. It was him. I knew it like I knew my shadow. I froze, hoping he didn’t know I was there, but too late. With the suddenness of a flock of birds taking flight, there he stood, looming in the open doorway, blocking the light. He must have snuck up the ladder.
Furiously, I evaluated escape options. There were only two: a) throw myself out the open door to the ground outside, or b) jump down the ladder to the stable below. Just as I decided to go for the ladder, my eyes flickering toward it, he moved in, blocking my exit. I was trapped. He unzipped and pulled down his pants. Not again, I thought.
And then suddenly, with crystal clarity, I saw a chance. I’d run like crazy, heading straight for the main ladder. He would have to pause to pull up his pants or risk being seen by our blessedly nosy neighbors since the back of the barn faced their house directly. It was the only chance for escape and I took it, leaping up and running like I’d never run before. He grabbed, but missed me as I streaked by, dolls forgotten. I raced across the haymow, ducking under the metal bars that anchor its walls, and hurtling myself out of its huge open hay-door, grabbing the rungs of that old wooden ladder, swinging myself around and flying down the rungs. He was older, bigger, stronger, and faster, but that moment he took to pull up his pants cost him the upper hand. On the ground below, I raced around the corner and headed toward the house. At the last moment, just before he turned the corner and saw me, I ducked into an old, broken-down chicken coop and ran to its end, falling to my knees and trying to hide myself behind some metal bars. I could hear him running toward me. The chicken coop became a trap, its walls collapsed on the far end so there was no other way out. Panicking, I covered my head with my hands and squeezed my eyes shut, hoping that if I couldn’t see him, maybe he wouldn’t see me. I tried to not breathe.
He entered the coop, breath ragged from running, and stopped. I knew in my heart there was no way he couldn’t see me. There hadn’t been anything to hide behind. Like a deer when it gets a whiff of an enemy, I started to jump to my feet, but something stopped me and I waited, squeezed my eyes tighter, and prayed for invisibility.
Suddenly, a strange sound came to my ears. It was the sound of running. More to the point, it was the sound of feet running away from me. It was the sound of feet running along the outside of the coop, toward the house. He yelled, “I’m going to get you! I saw you run into the house!” I opened my eyes. He hadn’t seen me! He hadn’t known I was there! Slowly I stood up, gathering my wits. He hadn’t seen me.
I had to get out of there. It wouldn’t be long before he’d realize his mistake and come back. Quietly, gingerly, I tiptoed to the doorway and looked carefully around, just in case it was a trick. But no, he really had left. I took off, running as fast as my feet could fly, straight through the barnyard and across the field to the safety in numbers of my neighbor’s house. There I stayed until my mom returned home. Funny. She had always warned us to stay out of the neighbors’ barns for safety’s sake. Funny that the real danger lay in our own barn.
Fast forward 20+ years.
As a young Christian, one of my greatest struggles was believing that God loved me personally, me, Bree B.W., pretty, but not beautiful, smart, but not very intelligent, talented, but not particularly so. I was average, mundane, commonplace, a solid C. And no matter what people say, there isn’t any single Scripture that says if I were the only person on earth Christ would still have come and died for me. It felt like I’d gotten in on a technicality. I had confessed and prayed the prayer, therefore God was forced to receive me. Yeah, I had a way to go in my faith.
There were times that I felt kind of like a blade of glass, winking and blinking in the morning dew, trying my best to get God’s attention like every other blade of grass in the great lawn of life. God gave me a picture of myself once, in which I saw myself dancing a beautiful ballet before his throne, dancing to the best of my ability. At the dance’s end, I looked up to see my Father’s expression of joy only to find his attention had wandered to other girls who were more interesting than I. I had not been able to hold His attention. God had showed me how I saw myself.
Oh, I longed to hold His attention, to be special to Him.
One day, I decided to take a leap of faith and prayed, asking God to show me that I was, after all, special to Him. His response was immediate.
I saw myself all those years ago, crouched down at the back of the chicken coop, eyes shut tightly, praying. In that moment, as I looked back on myself, God revealed what really happened, why my abuser had not seen me, even though there’d been little to nothing in that chicken coop to hide behind.
I looked and I saw Jesus standing before me, facing my abuser. He had stood firmly between us, like He forever stands between eternal night and day, and had taken the hem of his garment between his fingers and lifted it up, hiding me from sight. Jesus himself had protected me that day. That was why my abuser never saw me even though I crouched in plain sight.
I cannot tell you how deeply this knowledge affected me. I cried rivers of joy. Jesus had not sent an angel to do the task, but had come, He-himself, to save me. Never again would I need to question whether I was special to the Lord, for the Lord Himself had shown me and there could be no more doubt. I believed, and a deep wound healed that day.
Oh, there is safety in numbers, friends, but never more so than when those numbers begin with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, three-in-one. I hope my tale encourages you, when pain threatens to engulf you, to seek God, for He alone heals the wounded heart.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
PS: Bree is a pseudonym for someone I know, who allowed me to tell her story in the first person. Details have been changed to protect her privacy.
Author’s note: Bree’s Story is a collection of narrative pieces for a book I am writing. The stories are true, but names and details have been changed to protect those directly or indirectly affected. It is written in the first person because, as a writer, that is my modus operandi. This post is the first of many pieces of Bree’s Story.
My name is Bree and I’ve a story to tell. It starts with a bath, a long soak in warm, silky, foamy, fragrant bath water.
I once read a book about a little girl who was taught cleanliness by little fairies who flitted around her like happy butterflies. I wanted to be like her, pure and clean, with shining hair and breath sweet as apples. I longed to wear pastel party dresses and have my hair tied up with ribbons to match, with white socks and patent Mary Janes. A bath was the best place I knew to dream about being a beloved, pretty little girl.
Bath time was fantasy time. Soaking in comfortably hot bath water, washing my hair, and playing with the shampoo bubbles enabled a happy visit to my own little world of imagination. I liked submerging empty bottles and watching them spring up to the surface (we didn’t own bath toys, per se) and turning the water on and off with my toes. I loved to soak in the tub until my skin shined and my fingers resembled prunes. The smell of soap on my skin and the fragrance of newly washed hair created a cloud of cleanliness that had to be next to godliness.
There was only one bathroom in our house, so it was not uncommon for somebody to interrupt bath-time reverie with pleas for permission to come in and use the toilet. There was an old latch on the door that could be lifted with the judicious application of a butter knife and we were all used to it. In these cases, we just pulled the shower curtain closed and waited while he or she got in and out. In a house of four rambunctious kids, nobody thought much about it. I know I never did, that is, until the day everything changed.
It was evening and my turn in the tub. He asked to come in and I pulled the curtain closed as usual. Only this time, instead of going straight to the toilet, he stood by the tub and pulled back the curtain. And stood there staring. I’ll never forget that look in his eyes, so strange and a little terrifying. It was not like his eyes grew large or the whites of his eyes more visible. He didn’t raise his brows. He didn’t blink. He just … looked. I had no idea what it meant, but I felt acutely embarrassed and vulnerable. I wanted to cover up, but there was nothing available. The towel was out of reach. “Ma, he’s looking at me!” I tattled. My mother’s harried voice came out of the kitchen nearby, where she was busy preparing supper. “What are you doing? Get out of there and leave her alone.” Without a word, he left and I locked the door behind him. The bliss of bath time was over. I dried myself off and got dressed. That was the first and last time my mother intervened. The next time I hollered out that he was looking at me in the tub, she replied, “I’m too busy. Tell him yourself.”
Being the intelligent, bright-eyed child that I was, I clearly understood in that moment that was up to me to protect myself. There wasn’t anyone on whom I could rely. Mom was simply too busy to share in my concern and there wasn’t any other adult. My father had traded us in for a better family that same year. I was 8 or 9 years old when he left, another person not to be trusted.
From that point on, staying safe and sound was up to me. Unfortunately, I soon proved a rookie in this matter. He was older, stronger, faster, and far more devious than me. My only real protection was safety in numbers, a difficult feat when you’re too young to hang around your sister, you prefer to play alone, you don’t share a room anymore, and your mother works during the day. Deep down in my heart, hidden away even from me, grew a certainty that at some point some dirty part of me was responsible for his bad behavior. I longed to be clean and pure and pretty.
The lessons learned in childhood are the lessons we never forget. I learned to trust others only so far and to remain ever alert for the signs that things were about to go south. It could be as simple as the sudden quiet, a gesture, or a look, but mostly it was my own subconscious hypervigilance that kept me out of harm’s reach. These lessons served well in those days, helping me to avoid the long line of predatory men in my life, like the fathers and brothers of my friends, my sister’s two husbands, and a few boys in the neighborhood. As far as I could see, the whole male world was queer, which is how I thought of it.
The abuse progressively worsened and went on and on until I grew strong enough at sixteen to put an end to it. By this time my heart was so ashamed and fearful I simply wasn’t capable of receiving the kind of love for which I hungered with all the humor of a starving dog. It’s fragrance surrounded me like the smell of fresh, baked bread, drawing me to its bakery window where I’d stand, mouth-watering and hungry beyond belief, nose was pressed against the glass, hands stuffed inside empty pockets, hoping against hope that this time, there’d might be a coin or two to trade for a slice.
In growing up, we are to put away childish things, but this pain, this fear, this habit of suffering through an awkward version of love-from-a-distance proved impossible to put away. I didn’t know how to fix it; I didn’t even know what was wrong. All I knew was that I wanted love, but couldn’t find it. Somewhere between my first Harlequin romance and the whispered secrets of girls at school, the longing for love became totally enmeshed with the notion of some nameless, faceless, dread champion riding in on his white horse to save me from myself. I figured I could live off his splendor. His love for me would prove beyond all doubt that I was pure and beautiful, kind, and wonderful, all the ideals I wished I were. Nobody seemed to think these things were true of me, but if a handsome prince came along, they would have to believe. They would have to acknowledge that I was worthy.
When I looked up and saw his eyes, when I tried to cover myself with bubbly bath water, when I called to my mom for help all those years ago so, I didn’t know that trust had been fractured and would crash and burn my heart so that its wounds would seemingly bleed for a lifetime. I also had no idea that God was right there with me, allowing in my life only what I was able to bear, and using that pain and longing to slowly bring me to Him, the Lord My Healer. Most of all, I had no clue that the prince I longed for, the one to whom I could give my whole heart, who would love me beyond my wildest dreams and save me from myself, would be none other than the Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
This is my story and I’m still living it. Day by day, God reveals tiny pieces of my heart that still cling to the old ways, still learning that perfect love drives out fear. I’m not perfected yet, but day by day, more and more, my heart whispers, sings, and even shouts, “God is good.” God is so good.
These past few days have been tough. My Alzheimama, usually sunny and sweet, has been cranky, combative, and miserable to be around. She has fought me every inch of the way of her care and it’s left me feeling felt disheartened, resentful, and angry.
Despite the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s Disease, my mom is acutely aware of which buttons to push to stir up the worst kind of frustration in me. If I say the cat is black, she insists it’s white and whenever I open my mouth, she argues that I don’t know what I’m talking about and she knows better. Instead of ignoring it or distracting her, I’ve responded in kind, returning rant for rave and snapping back to the point of making myself odious.
I know better. My mom’s brain is damaged by Alzheimer’s Disease; she no longer has the ability to analyze her feelings or thoughts and can’t recall conversations beyond a moment or two. It is my responsibility, not hers, to be self-controlled and act with gentleness, compassion, and kindness. It is my responsibility to pray and be obedient to God’s word within the moment.
I want to blame her. ”If she didn’t do x, I wouldn’t do y.” But this a lie we tell ourselves to avoid facing our own sinfulness.
When I fail, when I trip over my emotions and fall headlong into self-centeredness, things go from bad to worse and I end up exhausted, depressed, and burdened with guilt. I lean back in my chair, chest tight and gut-wrenched, begging forgiveness from my mom and God.
I want God to remove whatever it is that causes this knee-jerk reaction of anger. It’s like a jagged thorn in my side that I can’t get out. I want him to fix me. But he says to me as he said to Paul,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a).
We are called to walk by faith and not by sight. When I see my mom’s face gripped with anger, when I see her fists balled or her nails poised to dig deep, I must choose to see her as the mother I know – sunny-side up. In that split-second, I am faced with a choice of how I will respond, no matter how I feel. This point of determination is actually a place of grace.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness [...] In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:23-27).
Because of Christ’s blood that has cleansed us from all unrighteousness, we are no longer slaves to sin, compelled to act according to the sin nature. We have been freed in Christ to walk according to our new nature, led by the Spirit of God. We begin to walk by faith and not by sight. I want to to speak softly even when my thoughts are raging, to trade my ego for God’s love. Most of all, I want to love my mother as well as I love myself.
Attitude is a choice and actions follow suit.
I have to be the person I want to become, the one who demonstrates true love for God by faithful obedience in the midst of trials.
What compels you to act when you find yourself in tribulation, especially in your relationship with others?
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29-32).
The other person is not the problem. The problem is our own pride that demands others bow down before us. The command is crystal clear. Be angry and sin not. The power to obey can be found in the grace place.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Before I went to bed, before I allowed the sun to go down on my anger, I prayed.
And I called on others for help, asking them to pray for me. Finally, I prayed aloud with my mom.
When I awoke the next morning, that desire to satisfy sinful pride, had been wrapped in the paper of yesterday and taken to the trash. My mom was still cranky and I was tempted, for a moment, to respond in kind. Circumstances had not changed, but as I stood in that grace place, suddenly I realized that a beautiful change had been wrought in me. With the peace of Christ in my heart, I traded irritation for gratefulness.
“Thank you, God, that I have a mother and am able to care for her. Thank you for leading me to this place where the rubber meets the road so that I could experience grace and in turn, extend grace to my mom.”
Here’s the wonderful thing about the grace place: It is always right there in front of you. Lord Jesus, help us to settle our hearts into the grace place that we may obey you moment by moment and day by day. May you receive all the glory. Amen.
Continuing on from God Is Good, Part 1: During my second year of seminary, I drove every Sunday afternoon from my home near Seattle to the seminary in Portland, Oregon; every Thursday afternoon I drove back to be with my family. And every night in between, I rolled out a self-inflating mattress and sleeping bag on the floor of a closet in the big, old-fashioned house that was the girls’ home. Yes, you read it right – a closet. It was free; it was perfect. God is good.
And then it happened.
I’d been sleeping in the closet four nights a week for several weeks. One Sunday I arrived, books and clothes in hand, to find the closet filled, floor to ceiling, with empty cardboard boxes. Why on earth would they would fill the closet – my closet, as I thought of it – with boxes, leaving no room for me? Why would they do such a thing? The house was huge – they could have stacked their boxes just about anywhere. Why fill up the closet when they all knew I slept and studied there? I felt pretty unwelcome. I don’t think there could have been a more succinct way to communicate rejection. All that week my mind simmered with embarrassment, pain, and anxiety.
First there were excuses like, “We have no place else to store our boxes” or “We don’t want to leave them out – it doesn’t look nice.” I soon discovered, however, that at the heart of this hurtful behavior was sheer resentment on their part that I had been given free accommodation in the same house for which they had each paid a pretty penny.
“Yeah, but I’m sleeping on the floor of a closet” was apparently no excuse. It was still free housing for me versus expensive housing for them. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate their feelings. All I could think of was my own feelings. Their actions hurt me deeply and I responded as I always do when hurt. I got angry. Really angry. Burning, churning, spitting mad.
It was Thursday and I was driving home.
Late fall in the Northwest means dark skies and rain, lots of rain. I drove out of Portland into sheets of rain that continued to crash down on my car for the entire drive home. I could barely see the cars in front of me. Semi’s drove past, soaking my windshield over and over, further reducing visibility. Already tense with anger and anxiety, I started shouting at the truck drivers. Before I knew it, I was shouting at God.
“What am I supposed to do now, God? Where can I stay? They don’t want me and I don’t want them! You can’t possibly ask me to go back there! They treated me badly! I only had the floor of a closet! It’s not like I had a whole room to myself. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to stay in a motel? How will I pay for that? What am I supposed to do, God? What am I supposed to do?
I screamed and yelled and cried all through that long, long drive in the pouring rain. Poor visibility pushed anxiety to the limit. There I was, crying and shouting out to God, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, GOD? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO? WHERE SHOULD I GO? WHAT SHOULD I DO?”
Suddenly a car pulled in front of me. My eyes went straight to the only part of it I could see – its back bumper and license plate. I was screaming and shouting, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, GOD? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?” when I read the car’s license plate:
“FORGIVE“ it said.
I fell silent. God had clearly spoken. I’d like to say I fell prostrate with grief over my bitter anger (well, maybe not prostrate since I was driving). I’d like to say that, but in fact, after only a few seconds, I opened my mouth again.
“Forgive them! Why should I have to be the one to forgive?”
I spent the last hour of the trip home arguing that I didn’t want to forgive and they didn’t deserve it. I complained about it most of that weekend, yet all the time I knew that God had spoken and there was no getting around it. Forgiveness was the only recourse.
I thought a lot about what it means to forgive. It means letting the other person(s) off the hook. No strings attached. It means no longer using the incident as a weapon against them. It means I could not stay angry, fight or ignore them. I must not gossip, especially in the ignoble guise of a pretend prayer request. Forgiveness means choosing to actively do good to that person, no holds barred. This is not mere neutrality, but positively seeking to bless and pray for those involved. It means confession, repentance, forgiveness, and faith. More important, it is doing so without any guarantee, expectation, or demand that others do likewise. It is admitting and accepting the consequences of my part in the conflict. Most of all, it means obedience to God.
I chose to obey God.
When I returned to seminary the following Sunday afternoon, the first person I saw was a girl from the house. She saw me and flinched. Before she could turn tail and run, I walked up, hugged her, and asked for forgiveness, explaining my change of heart. She met me halfway, apologizing for their harsh maneuver. By the end of that day, we – all of us – had worked through confession and repentance, and came out of the conflict through forgiveness and faith. We could appreciate the other’s perspective. Lastly, we came to a mutual agreement on the matter of the boxes. The haze of selfishness disappeared and we saw God clearly in our midst.
God is so good.