I DON’T HAVE TO . . . I GET TO

ToiletYears ago, Scott and I attended a concert at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga. I don’t remember now which groups performed, but the lyrics from an old Gospel song stuck with me for a long time. The refrain was “I don’t have to . . . I get to.”

Here’s a sample from my own list:

  • I don’t have to cook meals for my family . . . I get to.
  • I don’t have to pray for people . . . I get to.
  • I don’t have to clean the toilets . . . I get to.
  • I don’t have to love my enemies . . . I get to.

Another good phrase to use is:  Isn’t it great that . . . ?

  • Isn’t it great that we have dirty dishes? It means we have food to eat.
  • Isn’t it great that my hair is frizzy today? It means I have hair!
  • Isn’t it great that it’s raining today? It means that the flowers are drinking.
  • Isn’t it great that I have a toilet to clean? It means I don’t have to squat over a hole in the ground (seriously)!

Now your turn . . . 

VISION, LIMITS, AND OBITS

IMG_4641 (2)From my 2011 Journal. We’re teaching the life of Elisha in Momentum (Sunday school for grades 4-6), and our leader Lori challenged us to ask ourselves 3 sets of questions.

#1 Write down a sentence that describes the vision you have for your life.

That’s a tall order! I’m sure it’s changed over the years [and perhaps has changed since I wrote this 8 years ago]. At first I thought of the word “prayer” and then “service,” but I think even more than that, the word “obedience.” I’m more of a rule-follower than a leader. Another word that comes to mind is “peace.” All these words have been my pursuit since childhood. Can they be melded into one sentence?

My Vision Statement:  I will prayerfully pursue inner peace while living a life of obedience in His service.

#2 Where do you limit yourself? and Where do you limit God?

Unlike my youngest daughter, I don’t like change. I’m not inherently adventuresome. I limit myself physically. I don’t get outside as much as I’d like to enjoy nature. I’m content to stay inside where it’s sterile and comfortable. [I’ve since then deliberately made that change.] I limit myself when I doubt that God is working in another person’s life. I limit God when I cannot see the big picture or when I don’t ask for big things. I’m Elisha behind a plow, plodding along. I have no imagination that God has a much greater work for me to do. [Again, thankfully God has grown me in these areas.]

#3 Write out your own obituary.

Besides the stats of where I’ve lived and what I’ve done and who my surviving relatives are—I suppose Lori means for what character traits will people remember me. The truth? Or what I hope they remember me for? Okay, here goes. . . .

She liked things done her way. She liked simplicity and minimalism. She neglected exercise. And she had a terrible memory. She loved spicy food and anything African. She accepted people at face value and tried to learn something from everyone. She was hardest on her husband and expected more from him than from others—but she eventually relaxed on that one and decided to let God be his Holy Spirit.

She loved prayer, but never felt like she mastered it. She had a driving passion for purity, obedience to God, mind renewal, helping others come to emotional healing. She enjoyed writing—for herself—and used to crochet and cross-stitch. Mostly she enjoyed reading, and when younger, climbing trees. She adored her family. She enjoyed baking, but not cooking on a routine basis—especially for picky eaters. Using her resources for God was extremely important to her. She loved monkeys but not dogs, and she tolerated cats. Sunsets, rainbows, a full moon, cloud formations, and the African sky. She liked to work on the computer—especially when creating words on a page, and even data entry. But most of all, above all else, she LOVED GOD.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your responses to these thought-provoking questions.

Who’s in Your Driver’s Seat?

Drivers seat

Baby Benjamin and big brother Jackson

I have heard people use the metaphor that God should be in the driver seat of our lives—that God is in charge, and I can trust Him to drive this vessel anywhere He wants. But I’m not sure that’s accurate. If I were the passenger, I would have no say in where I go and what I do. He has given human beings a choice. I am actually behind the steering wheel. And so, though I am driving, His hands are on the wheel with me because He is inside me. When I fight against His direction, we begin to swerve and hit potholes and run off the road and wreck, but when I yield to His gentle pressure, He keeps me on the right path, going in the right direction. He can see up ahead where the detour signs are, where the roadblocks are. So I can trust Him when He suggests we take a break, find another route, or stop to help a fellow traveler. I cannot drive another person’s vessel for him/her (sometimes I wish I could!), but I can lend a hand with a flat tire or offer a snack or a drink of cool water to ease his/her discomfort.

Where do you see Jesus in your picture?

Small Bites

 

As I read the Scriptures, I find I can only chew on one small portion at a time. When I’m studying faith in Hebrews 11, it’s hard to focus on I Corinthians 13 and love. When I’m reading the Psalms, I’m focused on praise and thanksgiving. I have to trust that whatever bite I’m chewing on at the time is what my soul needs.

Sometimes my soul needs water because I’m thirsty (“as the deer panteth for the water”). Sometimes it enjoys dessert (the mountaintop experiences in life). But other times, a sip of bitter coffee (admitting I’m wrong) offsets the sweetness of forgiveness. Meat and starch for energy. I need it all . . . but I can only take (and enjoy) one bite at a time.

And so I lay aside the guilt that says I’m not praising enough, or I’m lingering too long over the coffee. I need balance. And I can trust God to bring into my life whatever He has planned for me to help me grow in my walk with Him.

What are you chewing on today?

Small bites 2

Shame and Shoulds

From my 2011 Journal. There are certain words, facial expressions, and people’s attitudes that shut me down. One of them is “You should or shouldn’t . . .” My instant response is to go on the defense: “Why should I?” or “Why shouldn’t I?” That self-protective defiant attitude covers timidity to be who I was created to be.

shameI may refuse to listen to your words because they heap shame on me, but I find it’s an uphill battle to sever the ties with them. I am determined to climb this mountain even if I have to do it alone, but the weariness of the battle gets to me.

Jesus says, “Level ground would have been easier, but mountain climbing shows what you’re made of and tests your endurance and strengthens your muscles and heart. Not a bad thing. Keep climbing!” And eventually I am able to see your words for what they are—your belief system, not mine.

I’m reading Unlocking Your Family Patterns by Cloud, Townsend, Carter, and Henslin. I identify with the chapter “Learning to Achieve Adulthood.” The premise is that as children, we always feel “one-down” to adults. Growing up means coming to the place in life where we feel “equal” or “even.” My own shoulds and shaming words or posture are my attempt to feel “one-up.”

Whether your words or mine, I can turn those “shoulds” to “coulds.”

  • I should be praying more = I could be praying more.
  • I should be more available = I could be more available.
  • I should clean my house today = I could clean house today (or not!).

I’m ready to get rid of these echoes in my mind and heart. No longer will I hide my true self to protect me from your words or deeds. I can graciously and lovingly place them back on you and stand firm in what God created me to be—free of shame and life-sucking rules.

What shame messages are you battling to erase?

 

Food—It Does a Body Good

I know someone who analyzes every bite that goes into her mouth. She obsesses over fat and sugar and red meat and raw vegetables. I wonder if she’ll live any longer or have a better quality of life as a result? I doubt it. She’s riddled with fears and physical and emotional pain.

I remember my mother commenting on the food fads in American each time we came home on furlough: one year it was sugar-free, then fat-free, and now it’s gluten-free. One year we were informed that we should eat potato skins to get the most nutrients, and the next time we were admonished to pitch them because of all the toxins. At one time egg yolks were verboten, and now it’s acceptable. Will someone please make up their mind!

My mother taught me to have moderation and balance in all things. It doesn’t mean I’m totally and perfectly moderate in my eating habits. I just don’t worry too much if I eat a piece of sugar occasionally or enjoy a steak now and then. God gave us food to enjoy, and as long as we don’t make food our god, I think we can relax and live with an eye to the eternal.

Describe your relationship with food.potatoes

Sing with Me

Singing

From my 2008 Journal. You know what I miss? The focus of music in some churches has shifted from the sound of the congregation’s voices blending in harmony under the leadership of a song leader or musician—to a group of performers on stage. Now I know they’re not called “performers” and I know that’s not their intention, but . . . I personally find it a little distracting to watch what’s happening on stage. Critiquing performance is my natural tendency instead of focusing inward and upward. I know that my focus needs to be on God, and I know that I can become distracted by any number of things—so sometimes I just have to shut my eyes during worship.

I also acknowledge that the temptation with singing old familiar hymns led by a choir director is to sing with the lips and not from the heart. I get that. I know it’s not what’s happening on the stage that counts, but what’s in my heart. But certain environments are just more conducive to worship for me than others. We recently visited a liturgical church where the organist, hidden out of sight, led the congregational singing. I could hear my own voice blending in harmony with the voices around me. I found the experience quite refreshing.

Okay, I’ve said my piece. Now let’s sing!

The People’s Choice Award

KingLike a child begging a parent for candy before dinner, I wonder if there are times when we beg too hard for what we want, and God gives it to us—but it’s not for our best. Better to examine our hearts, motives and emotions to discover why we’re begging for something. Better to ask, “according to God’s will” and from a heart of peace that is aligned with what God has predetermined is best for us or our loved one.

Once more, just before the public declaration of God’s choosing, the prophet Samuel warned the people of their folly in desiring a king (I Samuel 12). It’s like the Israelites begging for meat in the wilderness: God answered their prayers, but then they suffered the consequences.

So why did the people want a king? “To be like the other nations” it says in one place. But verse 12 gives us more insight:

But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me [Sam], “No, we want a king to rule over us”—even though the Lord your God was your king (NIV).

Their folly began with bending to the culture, followed by fear of the enemy, which led to stubbornness and rebellion against God.

What gives me hope is that even after God granted their request for a king, He still gave them a second chance to do right.

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! (v. 14). [But IF the opposite is true, watch out!]

Even when we sin and foolishly ask for something that’s not good for us, God can still redeem the situation—IF we repent.

Please Come to My Funeral

He passed away, to no one’s regret (II Chronicles 21:20 NIV).

This verse, to me, is one of the saddest statements in the Bible. Jehoram was a bad, bad king who killed all his brothers, put back all the idols that his father had removed, and forsook God. His punishment? His whole family gets wiped out, his possessions captured, and he dies a horrible death of an intestinal disease. And the sad end of his life? His people made no funeral fire in his honor, as they had for his predecessors (v. 19). No funeral memorial for him! Ouch!

What makes a man choose a good or godly heart? It’s more than just his parents’ example. Jehoram had a good father. But maybe he had an absent father. Perhaps something burned him as a child. Was he arrogant because he was the first-born and spoiled? Was he picked on by his brothers? Did his lustful appetites draw him into sin, and he followed after forbidden fruit? What need of his heart went unmet that he would deliberately close his eyes to the victories he witnessed in his father’s time?

Memorial services tend to focus on the positives of a person’s accomplishments or character. We say we don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but how awful to have lived so poorly that no one shows up at all!

rachel (white) berryI want to go to my grave with no unfinished business. I don’t even want to go through today with unfinished business of the heart. I’m so thankful for my godly heritage. I want to learn my lessons from my parents—follow their godly choices, reject any inconsistencies, love everyone—to the end. You all are invited to my funeral!

Whom do you want to come to your funeral?

So Fix It Already!

When you try to fix people, things only get broken. (Eric Swann, Believers’ Chapel)

From my 2011 journal. Two incidents happened this week that held a mirror up to my face, and I didn’t like what I saw. I like to be kind and gentle—but I can also be bossy and take charge and can step on people’s toes, albeit unintentionally. I tend to push my way in where I’m not invited. This week I butted in where I should not have. I stuck my nose in someone else’s business and got kindly and gently rebuffed.

It’s a tricky thing—when to step in and be helpful and when to keep my mouth shut. I like to solve problems and find solutions—if I know the answer. But if the person doesn’t need or want my help, then I can be a hindrance.

black-and-white-close-up-equipment-210881I see a problem. It needs fixing. Then fix it already! What is that inner drive? Is it temperament? Genetics? Wounding? This drive can accomplish good things, or it can be a catalyst for ill. The thing is, when I see it in myself, I try to fix it. When I see it in others, I want to fix it myself or encourage them to fix it. I wonder: Why would anyone want to continue to wallow in the mire when there’s an answer for their pain?

So how does it feel when things aren’t right and in their proper order? My brain likes things orderly. Words should be spelled correctly. Punctuation in its place. Pictures straight. No clutter on the table. Other people are wired to enjoy and thrive in clutter and mess and chaos. Why can’t I be more tolerant of other people’s messes?

The key? I am not the solution to everyone’s problems. Imagine that! We were taught in evangelism class to be aggressive, to push forward, to get people to make decisions and “draw the net.” Unfortunately, those tactics can actually cause more harm than good and can drive people away.

I want to be honey that attracts, not vinegar that sets people’s teeth on edge. I want to learn to be content with people’s messes, but not content with my own. I can only fix ME.

Later. So now that I’m tuned into it, I caught myself once again giving unsolicited advice. It was unappreciated and inappropriate. How do I break myself of this habit?

This second incident occurred when a visitor came to drop off his two girls at my Grade 5 Sunday school class. When I discovered that one of the children actually belonged in Grade 2, I ran after the parent to inform him of his mistake.

“But the sign said her class was here!” His tone was angry and insistent.

My first response? Fix it, of course! I wanted to prove he’d read the sign wrong. I wanted to walk him to the next wing and show him how to find his daughter’s classroom (but I couldn’t leave my 5th graders alone).

This same emotion shoots me back to a memory when I used to work in a dime store where I was assigned, happily, to the fabric department. I was fresh off the mission field and had never worked retail before. I didn’t even know how to count out change in American money. One day a lady came in with a bag of material and dumped it angrily on the cutting table. She claimed it had been measured incorrectly. Well, my grandpa, who had owned a hardware store in Des Moines, Iowa, had taught me that “the customer is always right.” So, without re-measuring or checking it against the receipt, I pulled out the bolt of cloth and proceeded to cut another length as she specified and exchanged it.

That’s the day I learned the rule that when there’s a problem, you’re supposed to defer it to your supervisor. Oops! My boss was kind about it, but I knew I’d messed up.

So . . . what was I feeling when this lady stormed into my section of the store? I felt for her. How annoying to be sold the wrong length of cloth! I’d been there myself—trying to make a garment when I’m short of material. It’s like I could feel her dashing water all over me.  In my visual, I can see her tripping over a log or something and losing her pail of water. I feel bad for her. I’m more concerned that she’s okay than that I got wet. “Are you okay? Did you get hurt? Can I help you draw more water?” I ask. That’s how I respond. Fix the problem.

Psychologically, I know I’m not capable of taking another person’s emotions or pain for them. I can only feel what I feel. So . . . I mentally climb into this lady’s shoes and feel what it feels like to trip and lose my balance and lose all my water. But as I do that, I begin to laugh—amused at myself for not seeing the log in time.

For some reason that helps. Now in the memory, when the lady walks in with her material, I can say, “Oh how disappointing it must have felt to start a sewing project and become stymied.” And I can look at the Sunday school parent and say, “It must be annoying to find you’re in the wrong spot and you still have to drop off another child before you head to the worship service.” No more emotional response; no need to fix the situation. It is what it is. Just acknowledge it and move on.

Who are you trying to fix so that you can feel better?