You Made Your Own Bed . . .

From my 2009 Journal. A few years ago, I had a friend (A) who adopted two girls from another country. One day my friend injured her leg and she struggled to take care of them. Another friend (B) dismissed it with the attitude “Well, she asked for it.” (i.e. she had no business adopting if she couldn’t afford them.) I was shocked and surprised at B’s attitude. Yes, Friend A had made that choice, and yes, she has to live with her choices, but it wasn’t A’s fault that she injured her leg and needed compassionate help.

Perhaps I should examine my own heart, however. A smoker I know is struggling with emphysema, and I don’t feel like giving him any sympathy. Of course I would never withhold getting an oxygen tank to him if he ran out, but I’d still roll my eyes and think he made his own bed and must lie in it! I guess I’m no better than Friend B and her judgment.

Or I think of someone who struggles with physical challenges because she is obese. Do I withhold compassion and mercy when she has a stroke? In a way, you could say she asked for it, but I don’t think that’s the right response. Instead, I need God’s compassion for her in her debilitating state. In the same way, I need God’s pity and mercy for my own struggles that keep me bound and powerless to change.

The thing is, I can readily see the solution to everyone else’s problem, but find it harder to deal with my own. Quit smoking! Lose weight! Turn to Christ! Let go of your anger! Forgive that person who hurt you! But when I look inward at my own issues, I find I can easily make excuses for my own actions and attitudes.

You may have made your own bed and must lie in it, but I can choose to help you change your sheets.

monkeys in bed 2

Relationship with Adult Children

From my 2009 Journal. I’m still learning what is appropriate and what isn’t in relationship with a newly-adult child under our roof. Is it reasonable to expect our daughter to pick up after herself in family living areas? To help with the dishes? With cooking? With cleaning the house? And if she chooses not to, when is it permissible to speak to her about it? I realize communication at this point can be tricky. My expectations and desires for a neat and tidy house must be subservient to maintaining relationship. Therefore, I am far more tolerant of mess than I would be if I were still trying to train her.

Living in a dorm situation she discovered firsthand what it feels like to have a roommate who never assists in the kitchen. So when she came home from college, I was delighted to hear of her intentions to help out more in the kitchen. But if she’s too tired to help out for a couple days, why do I hold her to her good intentions? Why do I feel resentful when I return home to find breakfast dishes still in the sink? So she slept late that day, worked the entire day, and ran out of energy before the work was done after supper . . . I do not fault her, but I do have to figure out why I feel what I do and what is an appropriate response.

VISUAL: As a young mom, I had three girls in a wagon, and I was pulling with all my strength, trying to get them to follow me. If I tried to get them out of the wagon to assist or to walk on their own, they whined and cried “We’re too tired!” and then they pushed and shoved and fought each other. What am I doing wrong?

How did a friend of mine get her children out of the wagon and behind the thing or in front to help? I don’t know. I just know that I have to quit pulling. It’s time I drop the wagon handle and walk away. There’s work to be done. The trick now is not to become resentful or nagging or whining myself.

The trouble is when people in the wagon get comfortable there, they begin to expect you to bring their food to them and clean the playpen for them. But now they’re old enough to clean their own area . . . and they don’t, and I trip over the toys and have to clean around them. It’s a perpetual issue with a husband too (sorry Scott). Relationships are messy!

I feel so many times like a Martha. Lord have mercy, and God forgive me!

So . . . I can “whistle while I work.” Praise God that I have two arms and two hands. Praise Him that I’m not in a wheelchair and unable to stand at the sink. Change my attitude and enjoy the brief time I have with my daughter. What’s a little mess matter when I can have her company. She’ll soon be gone and I’ll miss her.

God’s Extravagance

From my 2009 Journal. Scott and I are out of town visiting our middle daughter who is pregnant with our first grand-baby. We needed some milk and a vegetable for dinner, so we sent Scott to the grocery store for these two items. Ladies, you can already predict what happened . . . He returned with three bags of newborn diapers (not needed for another five months), a box of cereal, some salad dressing (both of which we already had on hand but he didn’t know it), three bags of cookies, the milk, the requested veggie, and some tea.

I started to grouse about his over-kill when the Lord struck me with this thought: “This is like Me—an over-abundant, extravagant, generous, over-flowing, more-than-you-need kind of God. Do not spurn generosity.”

Thank You, Lord, for Your extravagant gifts and for my generous husband.

Groceries

On Losing Weight

From my 2009 Journal. This Sunday I watched a particularly well-padded lady at church who loves to move to the music. I’m fascinated to watch human flesh respond this way in motion. Why does this mesmerize me? I feel sorry for the lady, but in truth I feel sorry for me. Here she is, obviously enjoying the joy of the Lord and (seemingly) oblivious to the fact that the people around her are watching. I feel like slapping myself for my rudeness in staring.

Here’s what I’m thinking: “If she only knew what she looked like . . .” Is that what people say when they watch me? If I don’t like what I see in the mirror, why should others?

I confess my fascination, my rudeness. Why am I not very tolerant of obesity? Why so critical? Is this self-righteousness? There’s always someone who is heavier than I am, and I’m envious of those who are thinner. I don’t like the numbers I read on the scale. I want to lose some weight, but why? To fit my clothes better? To feel better physically? To feel better about my looks?

The one I want to explore is Reason #3. Is this vanity? Where am I getting the belief that thin is beautiful, that I’ll look better in the eyes of others if my underarms don’t jiggle or my stomach is flat?

Though I’d not say I am obese, I do know I’m not at an ideal weight at the moment. What would motivate me to give up one thing in order to gain something else? My strongest drive, and the only one I think, that would work to help me lose weight, is to believe that it would please my Savior. But is that true? He loves me no more, no less, if I’m fat or thin.

What I do know is that obesity is often a symptom of a heart need. It’s just that an obese person’s issues are visible, whereas the issues of a thin person may not be. When I’m judgmental of people who are overweight, I fail to address my own hidden hurts.

Ok, now that the issue is out on the table, what do I do with it?

I’m currently reading Bill Thrasher’s book A Journey Into Victorious Praying. He states, “God wins His greatest victories in the midst of apparent defeat” and “God uses the needy moments in life to prepare us for His work.” And when anticipating temptation, “think ahead and ask God to give you a prayer burden to pray each time you are tempted to go back to your previous lifestyle . . . Make it a prayer that will damage Satan’s kingdom as God answers it” (pp. 33-35).

Suddenly I realize that I haven’t talked to God yet about my desire to lose weight. Oops.

As I pray, I hear Jesus say, “Step into the light. The mirror and the camera don’t lie.” First I have to come out of denial, acknowledge the truth, and confess my vanity. And then I ask God to reveal to me what’s really in my heart. I am willing to stop filling the empty place with food and I ask Him to fill it with something of Himself instead.

I can now see the church lady in all her beauty, loving God in full abandon. God knows her heart. It’s no longer about me.

Chocolate

On Growing Older

From My 2009 Journal. I asked my mom one day what it’s like to grow old. “Growing old happens so slowly you don’t notice it” she said. But when you look back through photos or the pages of a diary, it’s startling to see the contrast. You expect to look young in your school yearbook photos. You’re supposed to look like a child or teen. The change from child to adult is drastic.

From ages 25-50+, however, I felt no different. Adult is adult. But now when I look at those early adult photos, I realize how young I really was. Enough time has passed that I can see the huge changes that have taken place in my body, and suddenly I feel dissatisfied. Age has never bothered me before. Why now? What am I seeing? I see the squareness of my face and the wrinkles in the neck, and the post-pregnancies stomach.

Do I need to go back to my Bill Gothard notes and stand in front of a mirror and admit I don’t like the way the Lord made me? The funny thing is, when I look in the mirror, I don’t actually see it. It’s when I look at those early pictures that I notice the contrast. Why do I suddenly feel ugly? Why so obsessed with the physical,  the outward appearance? I know our bodies are wasting away, but what of the soul? Am I growing more beautiful on the inside? Or uglier? How can one tell? It’s intangible, hidden. I think I’m growing. . . .

Okay, here’s the visual of what I’m feeling. Age is like a rose. The unopened bud is childhood and the full bloom is middle age. But now I’m at the stage where the petals are starting to droop and wither. It’s the second half of the life cycle. Soon the petals will begin to detach and flutter to the earth. How do I feel about that?

I see the tree in our front yard, heavy laden with pink blossoms till a storm comes and shakes them all to the ground. And it literally rains petals. It’s breath-taking, beautiful, soul-filling. They’re pretty on the tree, yes, but it’s an emotionally moving experience watching them flutter to the earth. My soul and spirit can soar even if my body can’t. Age has its own beauty, and I am content.

 

Pink flowers 2

Green Bananas in the Classroom

From my May 9, 2009, 9:09 am (for real!) Journal. I feel sorry for students who have to live through a teacher’s first year in the classroom. I’d like to apologize to any of my 1977 Berean Academy students reading this blog.

One of my students read on my Facebook page that I’d be visiting her city this week. She wrote back to say, “I only live half an hour away!” So I invited her to visit my hotel room for the afternoon. While reminiscing about those years in the classroom, I made the statement that I was a bad teacher. “That’s a lie,” she declared. “Maybe you were inexperienced and uninformed but not bad.” I appreciated the affirmation, but it still felt true in my heart.

After we parted, I thought back to my teaching experiences at Berean and at two community colleges and decided to list all the good and bad memories that were stuck in my brain from those years. I suppose I could go to each of these memories and issues and deal with them one by one, but I think I need to start with the big picture—my view of myself. I felt tall and rigid on the inside, trying to appear bigger and older than I was in order to stay in control of my classroom so the students wouldn’t run all over me.

I felt like a shepherdess trying to herd her sheep or goats that were running in all directions, and I didn’t know how to corral them. I wanted to be like my teachers who had good classroom discipline and not like others who let the students run the show. I hear myself saying a lot of words to these sheep, but not all of them are paying attention. I’m trying to teach, but they’re self-absorbed, busy eating, or wandering off.

In those days wasting time, in my opinion, was about the biggest sin one could commit. I was a master at planning, organizing, and accomplishing, and I expected my students to follow suit. One day I remember making a false accusation to one of my students about the use of his time, and his retort had stung. What did I conclude about myself at this point? That I’m just an ignorant teacher? That I don’t really know my students? I felt shame and embarrassment, and his words left me feeling like he’d snared me in a steel trap.

Because the teeth only caught my clothes, in my mind I can shed that article of clothing and wriggle free—but that doesn’t take away the emotions. I need to apologize: “You’re right; I accused you falsely. I don’t know what you do with your time outside of class.” The teeth unclench, but the student is still wary. He doesn’t know if he can trust me. And so I have to be wary around him now. I don’t like this feeling.

I see Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves trying to woo the wolf. He’s gentle as he coaxes and encourages. I could have done that with this student. Instead, I clammed up and clamped down to protect my ego.

My picture of the shepherdess with her sheep now changes. I can woo and call and encourage instead of chase and run after and herd. And how do I feel now about myself as a teacher? I’m no longer hiding behind a teacher’s desk. I’m sitting beside the students, encouraging and mentoring them.

Was I indeed a bad teacher? No. Just a girl trying to find her own way. I’m sad that I didn’t know then what I know now. Life is such a learning process, and we sometimes leave damage in our wake of inexperience. But each of us must process our lies and wounds from our childhoods. I pray my students will have the grace to forgive me when God brings to light any pain I’ve caused them.

I was so green back then, like an unripe banana. Why do we allow green bananas in the classroom? I know everyone has to start somewhere, but we don’t ripen till we go through the process. God is ripening me little by little and, hopefully, I’m becoming sweeter as I stay closely attached to the tree stem. Eventually, hopefully, I’ll be mature enough to be plucked; and should I become overripe, there’s always banana bread!

bananas

Live Long and Prosper

From my 2009 Journal. Why do we hold so hard onto life here on earth? Suicide, euthanasia, and murder are odious to us. Is staying alive a God-given survival instinct? What if we knew the date of our death? Would we accept it or bargain for more days?

In her last days, my mom observed, “The will to live is pretty strong,” and she fought hard till the end to stay here on earth. Shortly after she passed away, I read Isaiah 38, the record of King Hezekiah’s demise. God said to him: Set your house in order; you’re going to die.

Hezekiah wasn’t too happy about that announcement and he wept bitterly. Remember my good works and service to You,” he replied. And later, “I must depart . . . deprived of the remainder of my years . . . my sleep has fled, because of the bitterness of my soul . . . Give me back my health and make me live.

I cannot judge Hezekiah for his response. We do this all the time. The minute someone gets ill, we pray for their recovery. I don’t think that’s wrong—but I think it needs the condition “if it’s Your will.” What would happen if, when someone fell ill, we also prayed for their spiritual growth or acceptance of their plight?

We do not always know the mind of God. We think all affliction is bad, but sometimes it fulfills God’s purpose. In Hezekiah’s case, God told him directly that His will was that it was time for him to leave this earth. When we do know His will, why do we fight against God’s directions? Do we really think we know better? He knows our heart. Do we know His? Do we know the whole picture? The whole truth? (See Job).

Surprisingly, God responded to Hezekiah’s plea: I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. I’ll add 15 years to your life. And I’ll deliver Jerusalem from Assyria.

It is a comfort to me that the God of the Universe has an ear to His creation. He has compassion on our tears and He responds with abundance. Not only did He spare Hezekiah’s life, but He offered safety from his enemies. He answered Hezekiah’s prayer, but at what cost? During the remainder of his life, pride and arrogance took over his heart. Was 15 years on earth really better than 15 years he could have lived in heaven? I can picture Hezekiah arriving at the pearly gates, realizing the ignorance of his request, hitting his forehead with his the palm of his hand, and saying, “What was I thinking!?”

The Scriptures talk about long life being a blessing. We always assume a person’s life is cut short if he dies young. Somehow it seems easier to grieve an elderly person’s passing than a younger one. But from heaven’s perspective, the younger one has been spared an awful lot of heartache. If God’s best is for a person to live 5, 15, or 50 years, then he has lived for his full quota.

When God speaks, when He reveals His will, it is best to keep silent. I don’t think it’s wrong to struggle and work through our emotions—even Jesus struggled to accept the Father’s will—but our conclusion, in the end, must be, “God’s will be done.” I don’t want someone praying for me if they’re not praying the Father’s will!

I’m not near death’s door. When my time comes, will I, too, scramble for a foothold in order to stay bound to earth?

WORD FOR THE YEAR 2019 – REST

The problem is when labor becomes the only thing that defines who we are. When we come to see things like rest as a negative space defined by the absence of work. When we fail to recognize the value of rest for building our sense of self.

(Alex Pang WordPress Hurry Slowly)

All of my life I’ve set goals for the year, for the month, for the day. I’m a task-oriented person driven to make to-do lists. In college, my schedule was so tight I kept a minute-by-minute chart (no kidding!) for each day’s goals and activities. The advantage of this discipline is great productivity; the disadvantage is that flexibility cannot dwell in your vocabulary.

Marriage, and especially children, tended to upset my neat calendar rows, and I began to relinquish my grip on defining productivity as success. Some days just keeping a child fed, dry and safe was my goal for the day.

I’m in a lovely season of adulthood right now where I get to choose how I manage my time—no school bells, no appointments unless I make them. I have no imposed time frames from outside sources. If I were not so goal-oriented, I could imagine myself sitting all day long in a comfy chair with a book on my lap. But I don’t—there is work to be done, things I want to accomplish, ministry to attend to, and relationships to maintain.

Growth and maturity and balance, for me, have come from watching people-oriented people. I’ve attempted to embrace the fact that people are more important than schedules and “being with” is just as important as “ministering to.” But I cannot change my basic temperament, and I continue to set goals for accomplishment.

After the previous year’s marathon goal of stretching myself once a month, immediately I knew my word for 2019 would be REST. But what would that look like? Did it mean I would cancel all my prayer ministry clients? Put editing Simroots on hold for a year? Hire a housekeeper? No, it meant I would cease from self-imposed goal-setting for self-improvement. I could relinquish my “have-tos” and begin to relax. Just for a year.

RESTWhen I put the word Rest on my kitchen whiteboard, my friend Cheryl wrote more words vertically under each letter. Pretty clever and spot on I thought. I also came up with the acronym REST G (Releasing Every Situation To God).

What I learned this year: Resting is sometimes harder for me to do than doing! Jesus is my Sabbath rest.

What was your Word for the Year? How did that go?

Click on the links below to see some of my previous years.

Word for the Year 2012 – Adventure

Word for the Year 2013 – Word

Word for the Year 2014 – Food

Word for the Year 2015 – Hike

Word for the Year 2016 – Unplugged

Word for the Year 2017 – Neighborhood

Word for the Year 2018 – Stretch

Heavenly Thoughts

From my 2009 Journal. I’m at the SIM Sebring Retirement Center. These godly old missionary saints in Florida just keep giving and giving. Some give gifts of time, others of service, some of tangible gifts. Some exude gifts of beauty and grace while others serve with gusto.

I think that whatever gifts God gives us here on earth will continue to be used in heaven to serve others. What do I have to offer though? People will have perfect knowledge and won’t need me to sit and listen for hours and pray with them. Maybe I’ll get to organize the angel wardrobes or help check in the new arrivals on the heavenly database list!

What language will we speak? The same as Adam and Eve? Will we get to meet all the people we ministered to unawares? Will we go around apologizing for all the dumb things we did and said to each other here on earth? Will we grow in knowledge? I do know that we will have the full truth that answers the need of our pain. Will we experience emotion in heaven? Will we all be smart? Wear different colors or all be dressed in white?

God’s kingdom as described in Isaiah 11 and 12 sounds perfect, glorious, fair, peaceful, delightful, comfort-filled, right, and true. I long for that kingdom now. But we must wait for it with patience. My daddy longed for it. He set his eyes on heaven in the last years of his life and didn’t want to stay here any longer. Mom, on the other hand, kept her feet firmly planted on earth and refused to look heavenward till it was time. Somewhere there’s a balance. I want to live on both planes at the same time. Yes, I long for heaven, but I must be content where I am now. The Apostle Paul felt this same conflict in his soul: Heaven is far better, but for your sakes I must stay here.

The physical world of the heavenly kingdom sounds glorious. But I can experience a taste of the spiritual realm (grace, mercy, love, peace) now, carried around like a jewel inside my heart. Heaven’s treasures and resources funnel into my heart here on earth, and I can draw on that strength any time I desire or need it.

What will it be like to meet Jesus for the first time? John the Baptist experienced Him on a physical plane—he touched Him, saw Him with his eyes, observed His works, was present for the declaration of the Father’s affirmation “This is My beloved Son; hear ye Him.” John said he wasn’t worthy to unloose Jesus’ shoelaces. We tend to brag about whom we’ve touched—people like a President, the Queen of England, famous actors or singers. What would it be like to revere someone so much that it would be an honor to touch his foot?

I feel intimate with Jesus, but on a spiritual plane, not physical. How will I respond when I see Him “in the flesh”? I have no precedent on which to base my future experience. I used to think that the second you died, you were ushered immediately into the presence of Jesus. “Absent from the body; present with the Lord” after all. Now I tend to imagine there’s a process you must go through first.

Here’s how I picture it: the angels who have been assigned to you accompany your spirit to the heavenly realm. There they offer you a drink of Living Water and give you an opportunity to bathe away your earthly impurities before they outfit you in your new pure white robes—just like Joseph had to bathe and receive clean clothes and be prepared before he could see Pharaoh. And then you’re told when your appointment is, and you’re debriefed in protocol for approaching royalty. Perhaps you’re even given a tour of your new quarters and a little view of the royal city. Perhaps you’ve even gotten to spend time with your loved ones who excitedly try to prepare you for what’s to come—your first meeting with your risen Lord. The excitement is running high. You can scarcely contain yourself.

And then the moment I’ve been waiting for—the “welcome home.” And I’m way too overwhelmed and shy to approach Him—I would not dare think of reaching out to touch His royal person. I’m flat on my face like a Nigerian villager before his chief.

But then something happens. He reaches out to me; He lifts me to my feet (“The lifter of our heads”) and embraces me, and I feel His enormous, infinite love and acceptance, and I realize in an instant how many times I failed Him on earth, how many times I responded in anger or unforgiveness or self-righteousness, and lost opportunities to serve Him. And I find myself asking for the privilege of serving Him—in any capacity—just so I get to be near Him and see Him and drink in His beauty. After all, there are millions of us up here, from every tribe and nation, and we all feel the same way—we’re all falling over each other to be near this Presence.

But He asks, “Are you willing to serve Me in the royal kitchen? In the royal nursery? As a chauffeur or greeter for newcomers? As a gardener in the kingdom? As an overseer of the mansion complex? And of course you say yes—anything for You, Jesus, and with pleasure. And the work we’re given to do will be “right down our alley.” I doubt I’ll be gardening, but I might be organizing things!

How do you picture heaven?

Shame Lifter

We all need connection, but the universal thing that keeps us from it is SHAME and FEAR. (The Power of Vulnerability, Ted Talk by Brene Brown)

From my 2009 Journal. I just finished reading Shame Lifter by Marilyn Hontz, my former pastor’s wife. She says shame was the undercurrent for all things she did or felt in life.

I, too, admit to feeling an undercurrent in my heart—the shame of inadequacy—a restlessness in my spirit that I’m hiding. It happens when I feel my mind slipping away from me—when I can no longer remember a name or recall a common word or someone tells me they had dinner at my house and I’m surprised because I’ve forgotten, or I’m asked to speak in front of a group. I feel so out of the culture, out of sync, unintelligent, afraid I’ll say something dumb.

The roots go all the way back to my Grade 6 furlough when I had to ask a friend what a word meant—a common English word that was never used in my boarding school in Africa. And even after her explanation, I misunderstood. Here’s how it went:

Someone had scrawled some words on the blackboard of the teacher next door: “Mr. Hart cut a fart.” I found Billie Bean, an African-American classmate, pulled her aside under the fire escape stairs, and asked her what a fart was.

First, I felt her hesitation and embarrassment at having to explain this bodily function. There were inadequate synonyms in sixth grade to explain, and so she pointed to her derriere and said, “It’s what comes out of there.” Okay, now I got the picture: someone was suggesting that Mr. Hart had taken a knife and cut in half a piece of excrement. Why in the world would Mr. Hart do that? And what would possess a student to scrawl that on the blackboard?

When Billie discovered my misunderstanding of this American idiom, I do not remember how she corrected it, but I believe that’s where the shame of inadequacy became planted. I believed the “should”—I should have understood—but even more I could sense her discomfort and the subject felt dirty.

Jesus is my shame-lifter. Being culturally ignorant was not my fault, and I didn’t have to take on Billie’s embarrassment. Perhaps I became the more intelligent one since I now knew that word in two languages!