When God Is Silent

Lonely Man IIWHEN GOD IS SILENT

   I recently talked with a teenager I’ll call Dave who is not only angry at God, but claims not to believe in him at all. In other words, he quit God. This is because when Dave was younger and needed God in a very serious situation, he says God ignored him. He says he prayed and prayed and God refused to help him. Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to say to Dave because, while he didn’t share the situation with me, I sensed it went beyond your usual teenage trauma, and I didn’t want to give some pat answer that might trivialize his situation or pain. Lots of responses popped into my head about “God testing our faith” or “God using this when you’re older,” but I knew he wouldn’t understand. Lots of times as adults, we don’t understand: Why doesn’t God answer us when we need him so desperately and we’re praying our hearts out and yet all we hear is crickets?

Doesn’t God Care?

   This is one of the primary questions we ask when we’re hurting and God seemingly doesn’t answer: If God really cared about me, he’d answer my prayers, he’d deliver me.  

He’d show up.

   And yet, he doesn’t. At least, not in the way we would think. But in the midst of our pain and suffering—or, sometimes worse yet, the pain and suffering of someone we love—we see it that way. All we want is for the pain to stop. It might be physical pain, or illness, or emotional pain, or addiction, or broken relationships, or even perhaps a need for provision and yet we feel left hanging. God has let us down.

   But has he? There are some important principles to consider in those seasons of life that, whether they’re easy principles to accept or not, are true. I know. I’ve been through my share of heartache so I wouldn’t serve up some sorry cliché as an answer but, since the dust has settled, I have found some things to be truth.

Principle #1: God has a plan.

   We all know the scripture where God says, “’My ways are not your ways, and My thoughts not your thoughts,’” and we give it lip service. And we know the scripture that says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘Plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope.’” We nod our heads and exclaim, “We know that!” But when the pink slip comes or the kid goes prodigal or the marriage hits the fan or the diagnosis rocks us to the core, are we really thinking, “God has a plan!” Not probably. The thing is, he does. Still, because his way of thinking is far beyond our capacity to comprehend it, we don’t understand. Sometimes, after the fallout, we can look back and we get it, but in the season, we can feel abandoned and betrayed by the One who says he loves us. Maybe, like Dave, we quit God. After all, that’ll show him. But what’s it really show him? That we truly don’t believe anymore or that we’re trying to get through to him how devastated we are by his apparent tune-out? Sometimes we have a tantrum, much like a kid who yells at a parent, “I hate you.” But they don’t really. They just don’t understand their mom or dad’s thinking in the moment. You know what they say? “The older I get, the smarter my parents get.” Why? Because as we mature, we can see their big-picture reasoning for not giving us what we thought, as children, we had to have.

   Losing a loved one seems like the exception to the rule. “How can you say that God has a plan when my loved one died?” That was God’s plan?? That’s just insane!

   How dare you?

   I dare because I lost my mom before my second son was born. I dare because I watched her suffer terribly from lung and then brain cancer. I dare because I knew the pain and suffering my father endured, and I dare because my sons grew up without knowing their grandma. I dare because when I was going through one of the most painful times in my life, my mother was gone and my whole family had moved out of state.

   I dare because I get it.

   So what was God’s plan there? Sometimes it’s not about the person who died—here comes the cliché—they’re in a better place. Rather, sometimes it’s about us and how that tragedy changes us to change the world. Who knew that when John Walsh’s son was kidnapped and murdered, John would end up helping hundreds, if not thousands, of other children be saved by starting the TV show “America’s Most Wanted?” Who knew that after Abe Lincoln had lost election after election (probably close to a dozen), lost his fiancée and his parents, filed for bankruptcy, and had a nervous breakdown, that he would end up being the president who ended slavery in this nation? Who knew that Abraham and Sarah, after suffering the heartbreak and shame of infertility for decades would one day be the birth of a nation and the father and mother of millions of people who thrive to this day?

   God knew. And he knows his purpose for your tragedy and heartache, too.

Principle #2: God’s View Is Eternal.

   Yes, I know: “We have the mind of Christ.” But that doesn’t mean that every day, in all things, we understand God’s eternal mindset. Our stunted perspective limits our understanding of why trials and tribulations happen. Here’s one thing I do know:

This life on earth is just the beginning of our eternities—our missions and our purposes do not end when we die.

   Therefore, what we endure on this earth will have consequences for others after we die. Sometimes these consequences are evident while we’re alive on earth, sometimes they’re not evident on earth until after we die, and sometimes they’re not ever evident on earth; they affect eternity. Chew on that.

Principle #3: God Loves You!

   You may not feel it now—in fact, you may doubt it now, but nonetheless, it’s true. Our emotions and limited understanding do not shape reality or change the truth that God loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Even if we’ve pitched that fit and called God names and quit him in the midst of our confusion and pain, he still loves us.

   He still loves you.

   How do I know? Because there was a day when God purposefully created you. You weren’t just part of some mass package of human beings that fell off some random assembly line, but there was a moment when God deliberately and uniquely created you because he wanted you. And that’s the truth.

   One day we’ll understand the mysteries of the pain and tears that we suffer now and we’ll even understand the reason for God’s silence on occasion. Sometimes it’s simply so that we’ll dig deeper to know him more and believe it or not, knowing him trumps every other thing on earth.

   In those moments when God is silent, know that he will not forever be. There’ll come a day—even in this lifetime—when we’ll hear him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful one.” And that’s all that will matter.

 

 

 

 

 

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That Festering Wound

Cracked Doll Face FREE

THAT FESTERING WOUND

   When I was a kid, I had a habit of skinning my knees, after which the same routine would follow: I would cry, mom would wash the wound, smother it in mercurochrome and put a bandage on it. But then somehow the bandage would come off (I have no idea how). From there, you guessed it—I would get the wound dirty and it would get infected and fester.

   Did you know that can happen to our souls?

   If we become wounded and that gash is not properly dealt with, it can become infected and fester, leading to bitterness. And bitterness is a cancer that can lead to the destruction of our souls (mind, will and emotions). But hang on—there is a fix…

Causes of Wounds

   But before we can talk about the remedy for an infection in our souls, we need to define a couple of things. First, what would cause the kinds of wounds that can lead to bitterness? Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, there are many. The following is a list of the most common, but it is by no means comprehensive.

  •  Abuse—mental, physical, and/or emotional. Abuse includes domestic situations, bullying in school or on social media, and chronic fear caused by any number of situations. Wounds caused by abuse of any kind can, of course, run the gamut from occasional and/or relatively mild to frequent and/or severe. Regardless, the primary wound abuse causes is shame, which is huge. Self-doubt/hatred, fear and chronic mistrust are also possible consequences.
  • Betrayal. To be betrayed means that someone we trusted has misused that trust and consequently, relationship has been broken. And whether betrayal occurs between people in a marriage, a family, a friendship, a business, or a church (to name a few), it causes a deep and excruciating pain. This pain includes feelings of grief combined with anger and sadness. Betrayal is a tough pill to swallow because the injured party is often powerless to change the situation or to heal the relationship. That power is all in the hands of the betrayer.
  • Feelings of Inferiority. Notice I said “feelings” of inferiority. Our feelings of not “measuring up” are not the reality; rather they are caused by the expectations we or others impose upon us. If we compare ourselves to others in terms of looks, opportunity, social standing, income, family or any other thing, we’re always going to find those who have it better and that’s where the infection happens. Two of the ten commandments say not to covet your neighbor’s anything—spouse, house, job—you name it. That’s because jealousy, envy, and covetousness all cause feelings of inferiority. “What’s wrong with me that I don’t have that?” And you’d better bet that mindset portends bitterness.  
Symptoms

   There are many symptoms of bitterness but these several are particularly destructive: chronic and/or explosive anger, resentment, chronic complaining, blaming others, refusal to forgive, and an attitude of entitlement. I could take a fair amount of words explaining these but I don’t need to.

Bitterness boils down to two core beliefs: Someone else is responsible for my pain, and I’m entitled to reparations for my pain.

In other words, whether or not you’re responsible for what caused my pain, you’re going to have to make amends, pay damages, or make restitution for it. Bitterness very often expects innocent people to compensate for our hard times and if they don’t, well then, they’re just unfair and insensitive.

   I once heard someone say that their ex-spouse had failed to provide them with something in the previous marriage that they’d had to have. As a result, that person swore that in their next marriage, that deficit would be made up. That declaration left me with two questions: Will their new spouse be expected to compensate for a wound from a previous marriage? And will the new spouse have any say in that demand?

   A dangerous attitude of entitlement sounds like this: What I didn’t get before, someone else owes me now.

The Fix

   So is there a treatment for bitterness? Yes, but it’s probably not a quick fix and I’m not going to lie and say it’ll be easy. But if you’re fed up with the pain of bitterness, then you have two choices: deal with the temporary pain of the healing process or continue to live with the excruciating pain to yourself and others of not dealing with your bitterness. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the truth will set you free. So…

  • You must forgive. If you refuse, then you won’t be free of the fruits of your festering wound: anger, resentment, blame, entitlement, etc. As some wise soul once remarked—refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Won’t happen. However, don’t confuse forgiveness with trust. If a person is not trustworthy, you can disengage and forgive from a distance. Forgiveness does not mean you have to trust them again. It does mean you have to be willing to say to the Lord, “Please don’t punish them on my account.” If you can say that, you’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s an act of the will. Don’t wait for a gooey emotion as proof that your forgiveness was sincere. Just mean what you say to God and you’ve accomplished forgiveness.
  • Stop complaining. Maybe you did get the short end of the stick. Maybe others do have it better than you. However, two things are true: Complaining will never be rewarded by God nor will it get you anything. Thanksgiving will. That’s why gratitude for what you have is so precious to the Lord—especially in the midst of hard times—because you’re focused on what He has already done for you, not what someone else has done to you. That’s why it’s called “a sacrifice of praise”—because it’s hard. Still, God deserves our gratitude, no matter what.
  • Stop criticizing. Sometimes bitterness causes us to have a critical spirit. This means that we don’t see the good that people do but rather we’re always critiquing them for their faults, errors, and misjudgments. We need to stop it. Look for the good in people and if you really can’t see any, pray for them. And pray for yourself, that you will be able to see it.   Everyone suffers wounds but sometimes we play the “my pain is worse than your pain” game. That’s bitterness. What difference does it make? And if we really think our pain is worse than that of others, do we really want other people to experience the suffering that we have? Here’s a fact: That won’t heal your wound.
End Game.

   I said that being healed of a festering wound would not be easy but it’s well worth the work. Who wouldn’t want to be free of bitterness and pain? And once we are, nothing will be able to stand in the way of fulfilling the destiny to which we’ve been called.

   Don’t let a festering wound end your game. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Orphan Spirit Mask

Mask IV

THE ORPHAN SPIRIT MASK

   I used to work with a woman I’ll call Shana. She was one of those teachers who loved  kids and would slave over lesson plans to educate them to the best of her ability. She was a truly fabulous teacher. The tragedy was, she didn’t believe that. Not when she received stellar evaluations, not when she got rave reviews from students and parents, not even when her students did well on standardized state tests—which is no small feat. But still, she doubted herself. And why? Because Hannah exhibited many of the symptoms of an “orphan spirit.”

What’s an “Orphan Spirit”?

   An orphan, by simple definition, is someone who is parentless. Therefore, anyone—man or woman—with an orphan spirit is a person who, though they might have parents, was never properly nurtured by a father (or a mother, although an absent or uninvolved father is more common). And while it’s often possible for one parent to offer the nurture and encouragement necessary to fill that gap, other times it’s not enough. (I say this as a single mom so I’m not disrespecting single parents.) But a missing or emotionally-absent parent is not the only situation which can result in an orphan spirit; it’s possible to grow up in a family with a mom and a dad and still have an orphan spirit.

   How is that possible?

   An orphan spirit is caused by a lack of intimacy with a father figure (or mother). However, we often discuss an orphan spirit in terms of a missing or distant father because that scenario is, sadly, too common in our society. For the sake of simplicity in this article, I’ll refer primarily to fathers but these circumstances would also apply to mothers. I’ve seen people whose mother was not functioning as a nurturer so they feel like orphans as well.

   So how does a person know whether they’re suffering from an orphan spirit? There are many symptoms and while it’s possible to exhibit any one of these and not have an orphan spirit, a majority of symptoms might invite a closer look…

Symptom #1: Relating to Dad

   Since the root cause is a lack of real intimacy with a dad, one of the indicators of that  would be an inability or lack of desire to address or refer to one’s father in intimate terms like “dad,” “daddy” or “papa.” “Father,” which is less intimate, might be the only acknowledgement or reference it feels appropriate to make—or even that one can bring themselves to say. This inability to really feel as though a father is a “dad” or “daddy” might then make it very difficult for a person with an orphan spirit to address God as “Abba.” If a person feels distant from their own father, it might be that they feel a distance between themselves and God as well.

   This is a problem if an orphan spirit can only feel a limited level of intimacy with God and everyone else they know is talking about their wonderful, amazing, fulfilling relationship with Him. This discrepancy can make that person feel as though God is rejecting them because they’re just “not feeling” it. And this can lead to all kinds of problems, including a deep-seated fear of condemnation. One with an orphan spirit may even need constant reassurance that he or she is really “saved.” Because they can’t “get there” in terms of intimacy with God, they may feel like they’re lost.

   If that’s you, you are not lost and God loves you—whether you can feel it or not.

   The first step in healing this symptom is simply to say to God, “I believe you love me whether I can feel it or not, and I’m trusting you to help me get there.” Recognize that God understands that one with an orphan spirit has been hurt by someone else—and that may well be a generational thing—so be assured: it’s not your fault and The Lord is not going to punish you for it.

Symptom #2: A Continuous Need for Reassurance

   People with an orphan spirit who did not receive encouragement from a parent will feel a need to find it elsewhere. We all need encouragement. But because a person with that spirit never received it and therefore lacks confidence, they may feel that they don’t measure up and so they need someone to reassure them that they do.

   Let’s be clear: People with orphan spirits inhabit all walks of life, including the very successful. It’s not that people with these insecurities never achieve; they often do. But it’s because they’re often driven to succeed, hoping that success will make them finally feel whole. By “whole,” I mean accepted and “normal.”

   Feeling “normal” is a struggle for folks with an orphan spirit. Especially in churches where often families are intact and the constant message is that a nuclear family is the only “normal” kind of family. So let’s be clear about something else: while a nuclear family is optimal for all of the reasons we’re discussing, one is not abnormal because they didn’t grow up in one, big, happy family. Period.

Symptom #3: Shyness or Isolation?

   Another painful symptom of an orphan spirit is shyness. This usually occurs because orphan spirits, often unconsciously, simply do not believe that people will like or accept them. As a result, they can feel that they don’t belong and they wait for others to reach out and prove to them that they do. The problem is that sometimes (many times?) others simply don’t realize that the person is suffering from a feeling of “not belonging” because those longing for relationship never reach out to be included in various activities.

   I remember once having a conversation with one of my sons who is very outgoing and makes friends easily and that day it hit me why. I said to him, “You just expect that people are going to like you, don’t you?” He looked at me like I had two heads and said, “Well, yeah.”

   Now, I’m not saying that everyone who’s shy has an orphan spirit but it is a symptom for those who do. As someone who is somewhat reticent by nature, it was a real revelation to me that it was okay to have the viewpoint that my son has. It’s okay to reach out to others and seek to be included. In fact, that’s the key to removing the orphan spirit mask.

Is There Hope?

   There’s always hope. And for those with an orphan spirit, sometimes it simply helps to diagnose the problem and know that you’re “normal” and that you’re “feelings” are not the reality of the situation. People do want to get to know you and you do have gifts and talents, whether others recognize you for them or not. And the most important thing is this: it doesn’t matter how you “feel.”

   You are loved.

What’s In the Box?

Christmas Present Wrapped in Gold and Silver

WHAT’S IN THE BOX??

   Ever watch a kid take a shiny new toy out of a box, toss it aside and then proceed to play with the box? We laugh hysterically and then try to convince the kidlet to play with the toy instead. Why? Because we know that the toy really is so much better than the box—especially if we’ve spent precious time and hard-earned money to make that toy happen. So why can’t the kid simply see that the toy is much more valuable than a lump of cardboard that eventually rips, tears, and wears out?

   Why can’t we see that?

The Hard Truth

   We “play with the box” all the time. We would never admit it but we often don’t see what’s on the inside of a person—their heart—but rather we focus on the shiny box that the person comes in. For example, who would make the better pastor? The slick, well-educated, well-dressed guy who knows all the big vocab words and can preach in fluent Greek? Or the unassuming guy who’s never been to Bible college, prefers Levis to Ralph Lauren, and occasionally even splits an infinitive or two while preaching? It could be either one because here’s the issue—it’s the heart, not the packaging, that matters.

   BoxDisclaimer: Now I am not, not, NOT saying that the well-dressed, put-together person doesn’t have a heart of gold or that he average, not-outwardly-sparkly person automatically has a heart like David. The fact is, God has nothing against nice packaging; David was a pretty good-looking guy if I’m reading the right translation. What I am saying is that the heart is the crux of the matter, and the “box” doesn’t always tell the whole story—one way or the other.

Want Proof?

   Take Einstein, for example. We’ve all seen pics of him. So who would think, at first glance, that the guy with the wild, unkempt hair, rumpled clothes, and messy office would turn out to be one of the most brilliant minds in all of human history? (And no, despite what Ancient Aliens’ scientists say, Einstein was not an extraterrestrial from another planet.)

   But go back even further. When Einstein was just a kid in grammar school, the package wasn’t looking so good then, either. In school, his teachers didn’t think he’d ever amount to anything other than a failure. He couldn’t do simple math nor could he even make change from a dollar bill. But it turns out that what was “in the box” was so much more intelligent than the average humanoid that Einstein couldn’t comprehend our infant math.

   Who knew?

Those who took the time to look inside the box. They knew.

Other Boxes…

   So… how else do we honor the “box” more than its contents? Let us count the ways…   Assuming both candidates are equally qualified, who gets the job after the interview? Is it the smiley person with the most polished briefcase or the shy one with the biggest heart? Given that it takes a little more time than an interview to discern an inward thing like a heart, the outward package might win the day.

   Or which politicians get the vote? I’d love to be able to say that everyone educates themselves on candidates’ positions, but I’d be lying. There’s a reason politicians get stylists and makeovers and public-speaking coaches—because so many people vote for the “box”—the appearance of the candidate—rather than the character and ideas inside the box.

   Who gets the date? Enough said.

   Who gets the picture? The point is that the next time we judge the character or the capability of a person by focusing solely on the box he or she comes in, we should back up and take another run at it. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a cliché that makes the point entirely: without a shiny cover, no one even picks up the book anymore. But what are they missing?

   Boxes wear out eventually. What’s in them only grows more precious with time.

Gold—Or Dust?

Gold Glitter

GOLD—OR DUST?  

    In 2014, Paige, a single mom of three in Colorado, fought to keep the upscale house and six acres she’d been awarded after a divorce but it wasn’t easy for her. Most times Paige worked two and three jobs to make ends meet. Still, those didn’t generate enough cash to pay the pricy $6000-per-month mortgage so she tried several small businesses from home, including a daycare center. Even so—you guessed it—still not enough $.

   Finally, Paige decided she had to do something different to make the money she needed and so, quietly, without confiding in family or friends, she adopted the name “Carrie” and opened an escort agency featuring services like dancing and stripping. In college, Carrie had earned over $400,000 a year while “dancing” so she knew there was a lucrative market for an escort service. And lucrative it was because at last Carrie was able to earn the kind of money she needed in order to maintain the home and lifestyle she and her children wanted to have. Sadly, however, after about a year of living this double life, Carrie disappeared without a trace.

   The night Carrie didn’t return home, her nanny assumed that she had been working late again as she so often did, but when she didn’t return at all, police were notified and a search begun. Eventually, Carrie’s abandoned vehicle was found but she was not—for five years. But in the course of the investigation into her disappearance, her computer revealed the secret which Carrie had taken such pains to conceal: When police began to track the large sums of money she was suddenly earning, they discovered Carrie’s escort agency.

   Carrie had found a way to make money—lots of money—but the pursuit of it had cost her everything—even her life.

Chasing the Dream

   Every day, myriads of people pursue their dream of making money, lots of money. And they do. They become rich and successful—which is not a bad thing—unless there is no end game in sight. In other words, at what point is the money goal realized? How much money is enough? Enough to pay the bills? To retire comfortably? More? A million? Ten? A hundred? More?

   Then what?

   That’s the question we all come to: After fulfilling our monetary goals, then what do we do? Chase more? And for what purpose? To make even more?

   Why?

   Is amassing money with no end in sight a goal in itself? If so, is there a point to that? The Bible warns that we “‘cannot serve God and money at the same time’” (emphasis mine).

   Often we think that we control our money but the hard fact of the matter is that money can control us. And that means that we literally become servants to our money.

   We think we “rule” over money but the Bible says that if we choose money over God, we “serve” money—which means money is our master, it is not our servant. And if that’s the case, then money calls the shots and we will do whatever money requires us to do. As did Carrie.

The Cost

   And that’s not all. Service to anyone or thing requires a cost, and that means that whatever we’re serving, we’re sacrificing for. We all know that serving God requires sacrifice; God is straight up about that and tells us to count the cost. However, serving $ requires sacrifice as well—and who thinks to count the cost of that? Did Carrie? I daresay she did not. Or maybe she did. Maybe she considered the possibility that running an escort service might entail a risk, but evidently she calculated it a risk worth taking. Still, danger wasn’t her only gamble. Carrie made other sacrifices for money as well. And so do we.

   What else are we willing to sacrifice for the love of money? Our time? The pursuit of bucks will cost us that. Our families and relationships? That’s an old story. We all know it happens—to other people. And that’s the big lie that we tell ourselves: “Those things won’t happen to me; I’m smarter than that.” What that really means is that we think we’re too intelligent to “allow” the love and pursuit of $ to suck us dry. We’re aware of the risks but we’ll avoid them. Really? How do we do that? Do we set limits on how long we’ll spend pursuing money—or does time evaporate and before we know it, decades have slipped into oblivion? Do we set limits on the amount of money we’re chasing—or does every new tax bracket require more dollars to keep up the lifestyle required to earn the next tax bracket? Expanding the business, the house, the car? How much money fulfills the dream?

   And then what?

The End Game

   After half a lifetime of watching folks on the hamster wheel chasing the dollars day after day, year after year, I have one question: Are we chasing money for eternal purposes—or just chasing it?

   The older I get, the more aware I am of one thing: Some future day we all will stand before God, each one of us, and offer to him whatever “crown” we’ve managed to achieve, accomplish or amass—and what will it be? Will it be something of eternal value, of “gold” and “precious stone”? Souls won, misery relieved, the Gospel financed? Or will it be what the Bible calls “stubble” and “rust”? Maybe billions of dollars, sitting in the bank, waiting to be used—for what? To build theme parks or office buildings or restaurants? Or perhaps we achieve fame and a worldwide platform to proclaim—what? The latest fashion trend or blockbuster movie or money-making scheme?

   When it’s all said and done, what will be our crown? A crumbling roller coaster on a rotting boardwalk or a thousand souls fed and then won because they were fed? Where are we investing the treasure we’ve been given? Or are we?

   “‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.” Where is our treasure? Where is our heart?

   Whatever has our heart, has us.

To Finish—or Not to Finish…?

Start-Finish

TO FINISH—OR NOT TO FINISH…?

   Hailey was a writer. I say was because she wrote but she never quite finished anything she wrote. She’d begun three different books: two were novels and one was a non-fiction book on eating healthy (when you can’t afford “healthy” food). However, if you asked her, she didn’t quit—she just postponed finishing. She would finish when the time was more convenient.  

SOMEDAY…

   On the road to our destiny, the concept of “someday” is a pothole the size of Montana. Basically, it’s the excuse we give ourselves to procrastinate. And why do we do that? Fear. We’re afraid that either we can’t finish that book or business proposal or degree or—fill-in-the-blank—or we’re afraid that if we do, somehow our work will fail or be rejected. The concept of “just not good enough” haunts our dreams and shipwrecks our destinies. However, there are some things we can do to help us to get unstuck.

REMEMBER WHO IS CHOSEN.

   God has this sometimes disturbing habit of choosing those who feel least equipped to do the job. That right there can be a stumbling block to many of us because when we struggle to accomplish that assignment, we feel inadequate and unworthy. Then we convince ourselves that we can never succeed and so we “postpone”. But the truth is, we really quit. We would never admit that because we know that quitting is evil but we never quite get back to it. However, we’re forgetting one thing: God is with us.

   Remember Moses? We think of him as the greatest prophet in the Bible—and he was—but the truth is, but when the Lord called him, he was a murderer and a fugitive. But still, God chose him to be the deliverer of Israel. However, what was Moses’ response when God first had that little chat with him? “I can’t. No one would listen to me. And if they did listen, who would believe me? Besides, I can’t speak.” As the story goes, God refuted each of these arguments but Moses was still scared. Finally, he said to God, “’I’ll go if you go with me.’” The Lord’s response? “’I will go with you.’”

ASSIGNMENTS

   God will go with us, too. In fact, he never expects us to do our assignments alone. That’s why he often picks those least likely to succeed; it’s specifically because he wants to partner with us to do that thing he’s assigned to us.

And make no mistake: that’s exactly what it means when God calls us—it’s an “assignment”. It’s not a hobby, it’s not a pastime, it’s not a toy. It’s a destiny for a specific purpose—and that’s to change the world.

   DO NOT underestimate your calling, your assignment, your destiny. It’s crucial to the kingdom of God. And what’s more, it’s possible.

WILL IT BE HARD?

   Of course it will be hard. There’s always a learning curve and much of what God expects us to do initially after he calls us is to train. That’s right—after he calls us. He doesn’t expect us to perform perfectly from the start. And there’s an encouragement.

   When I first began writing fiction, I thought I knew how. Little did I know, I knew almost nothing. The last few years have been a combination of learning and crying. Just when I think I know enough to be good enough, I find out I have something else to learn. Eventually, I’ll know enough and have practiced enough that I’ll be “good enough,” but does that mean I won’t have anything else to learn? Absolutely not. And neither will you. If you’re not confident that you can succeed, educate yourself and practice until you can. But here’s the truth: “Hard” is not, not, NOT an indicator of whether you should be doing that thing. The only thing that is an indicator is whether or not God has called you to do it. Period. The end.

THE “S” WORD.

   Don’t be scared. Okay, be scared but don’t quit. As Joyce Meyer always says, “’Do it afraid.’” Fear is not a sign that you should quit because since when are emotions a reliable indicator? Nor is fear a good excuse to quit. What’s more, fear is not permission to procrastinate or to postpone your assignment. So the next time you’re tempted to lay down the assignment “for a while,” there might be one thing you’re forgetting.

   “Someday” never comes.

 

Life’s Little “Pop Quizzes”

Epic Fail

POP QUIZ

   Last week I had “a day”. And we all know what that means: a day full of annoyances, conflict, disappointment, headaches and things breaking down—and mental breakdowns are not unheard of. It’s a day where all kinds of fun things happen. For example, you’re running late—and the snail-on-wheels in front of you doesn’t quite seem to grasp that. And of course something has to break—and it has to be the coffeemaker. Or (my personal favorite) your kids decide your life isn’t exciting enough and needs a little drama—and they’re happy to fix that for you. They’re so helpful that way. Or you forget your lunch so you roll through the drive-through only to discover you don’t have your wallet. But no worries—you know where it is. It’s sitting on the kitchen counter—right next to your lunch and the broken coffee maker. And to top it all off, you get to work (late) and pull up the document you’d worked on for a week and saved—or thought you saved…

   All you can do at that point is to look up at the sky and inquire, “Is there a point here??”

Those Little Tests…

   Well, yes, actually there is. It’s one of life’s little “pop quizzes”, the let’s-see-how-much-you’ve-learned-character test that God loves to spring on us from time to time. And while I’d much prefer the paper and pencil version of that particular test (it’s easier), God seems to prefer the more “show, don’t tell” type of test. That’s the test that seems to go something like this:

   Did you flash a friendly smile at the guy in the snail-mobile or flash him something else?

   Did you sit your kid down and patiently explain why it’s rude to use “that” language—or did you ground them until they’re 45? Not that there’s anything wrong with a good, long grounding—as long as you smile sweetly and keep the decree under ten decibels.

   Did you thank the nice lady at the drive through and politely explain that the wallet is on the counter next to the lunch and the broken coffee maker? Or did you yell at the nice lady that they took too long with your order so you don’t want it now and then roar off, squealing your tires?

It Gets Personal

   For me, as a teacher, my tests often involve high school students who never got the memo that there are just certain things guaranteed to spoil your classroom experience. Like pitching a full-fledged fit when the teacher has the gall to tell you that naptime is over and to get your head up off the desk or to turn around and stop talking to your neighbor or to stop throwing pencils or to stop texting in class—and forget telling me it’s your mother. True story. Last week. All in one 42-minute period. Did I pass the test? Probably not. Which is why later I was near tears when, out of the blue, my sister called.

   “What’s wrong??”

   “Nothing.”

   “You’re lying.”

   “Okay.”

   “What happened?”

   So I told her what happened. What happened was I failed the test. I sort of let the little cherubs know I was not happy. Loudly. And I knew that it didn’t matter what they had done; I’d failed. Know what my sister said?

   “‘To whom much is given, much is required.’”

   Great. I would’ve preferred, “This too shall pass.”

   The thing about these little pop quizzes is that God tailor-makes them all. For some it’s the patience test; for some it’s the “love the least of these” test; for some it’s the giving-money test; for some it’s the scrub-the-toilet-servant test; for some it’s the gossip test—et cetera. And guess what else? God doesn’t do social promotions. It doesn’t matter to God how long it takes us to pass our ICE’s (Individualized Character Tests) —God has all eternity.

Rule #1

   So—first thing: if you fail the test, admit it. We all have to do that. Or we get to take the truthfulness test again. And once we pass that test and admit what we’ve done, then we get to start all over with the original character test that we wouldn’t admit we’d failed. Ever hear of “life-long learning”? Well, now you have.

   Point?

Don’t get discouraged when you get a failing grade on your pop character quiz. It means God’s working.

   Honestly? That was the one thing that made me feel better—the idea that the difficult circumstances were for a purpose. I know I learned something—for me it wasn’t about what I said because it wasn’t unreasonable. The point is how I said it. I learned that there’s a wrong way to say the right thing.  

   Will I have to take this little quiz again? I hope not—but, yes. Then I can move onto the next grade. More lessons, more quizzes. Do I like that? Not really. But then I consider the alternative: no more lessons—and no more transformation. And never again being entrusted with more. Of course, God is a gentleman; He won’t teach us anything without our permission. So what’s our answer?

   If we want to be entrusted with the bigger things that lead to fulfilling our destinies, then there can only be one answer.

   What was your pop quiz?

 

 

To Forge A Heart

Heart Ruby

TO FORGE A HEART

   “Who could refrain that had a heart to love and in that heart, courage to make love known?” (Shakespeare)

   Hearts. This  week has been all about them: red hearts, pink hearts, gold and silver hearts, candy hearts, balloon hearts, card hearts, flower hearts, chocolate cake hearts. Hearts as far as the eye can see.

   But what makes a heart?

   Is it the red paper, the white lace, the scissors and glue? Is it the once-a-year words written with ink that fades as the months go by? Is it the glitter, the sparkle, the shine?

   Or—is it more?

   Is it the heart leap you feel the day he says, “Will you?” or the day she says, “Yes!”? Is it the chest-racking sobs the night your door slams shut for the last time and taillights disappear down the road and fade to black?

   Is it the single tear trickling down your cheek when you stand helplessly by as the quiet beep-beep-beep of the heart monitor withers to silence? Is it the choking loss for words that comes when the doctor looks you in the eye and says, “benign”?

   Is it the moment you meet your newborn, ten tiny fingers, ten tiny toes, a vulnerable heartbeat ticking against your pounding chest? Is it the swelling in your throat as you walk your baby down the aisle and place her hand into the hand of her future happiness?

   Is it the squish of wet sand between your toes on a solitary beach or the giggling swish of arms and legs in the fresh, cold white at the birth of a snow angel? Is it the deep crimson roses delivered to your door on your birthday, your anniversary? Or not delivered…?

Is it the day you collapse hard onto your knees with no words, slow tears pleading for someone to hear your heart splintering? Or is it the slow, red dawn that speaks that the bleak winter of your wandering has finally come to an end?

  What makes a heart?

   Is it the day you cut the bright ribbon and open the doors of your dream? Is it a piece of paper saying “Mr. and Mrs.” or “Class of 2019” or “I was thinking of you.”?

   Is it the pink rage on your cheeks the day your child gets off the bus, head bowed low, and whispers a word you prayed he’d never have to hear? Is it the green haze that clouds your eyes and pollutes your soul when she walks by, owning his hand instead of you?

   Is it the smile you give to a stranger, the last dollars in your pocket  you give to a penniless man, or the time you give to read that same storybook, out loud, over and over,  for the forty-third time?

   Is it the extra job you work at night so you’ll see those shining eyes on Christmas morning, or so you’ll finally climb high into the clouds of that mountain you’ve dreamed of conquering since you were ten, or so you’ll watch that one walk across the stage who could never have walked there alone?

   What makes a heart?

   Not shiny black cars or shimmering diamonds or crisp hundred dollar bills but loud laughter and quiet tears, hidden sorrows and public joys, endless mornings of hope-filled prayers and as many nights of sleepless fears. It’s gratitude too deep ever to repay and forever friendship—pinky sworn; it’s empty caverns of the soul carved by loss, and it’s mama-bear love.

   Life makes a heart. And life breaks a heart.

   But without all of life, there can never truly be a heart.

 

 

We Have Standards?

Woman Crying II

WE HAVE STANDARDS?

   Toni Morrison once said, “People will forget what you say and do, but they will always remember the way you made them feel.” No doubt that statement is true, but what’s the deal behind it? Is it to remind people to be kind—even when expressing a hard truth? Or is it to say that we should avoid any mention of life’s hard truths because they might make someone feel badly? Knowing Morrison’s work, I believe her intent is to remind us to be kind because in her writing, she takes on some hard truths. I seriously doubt she was telling us to avoid them.

   Nevertheless, this sentiment that feelings are now the new standard by which we judge truth has become the mantra of a generation:

If the message makes me feel good, it must be truth and the people speaking it are moral. If it makes me feel bad, then it must be lies, and the people speaking it are evil.

   Am I exaggerating? I wish.

   The problem with that kind of thinking is that it puts countless numbers of people and concepts into the “evil” category because what they say or symbolize can make us feel, well, “bad”. The fact is that sometimes the truth can hurt—which is what motivates us to change. So what would happen if we did away with conventional standards of truth and went with the “feel-good” variety? And what if this thinking were to become the new standard of behavior and morality instead of, say, the Ten Commandments or the Constitution? How would our thinking shift? Let’s explore a few pages in the (entirely theoretical) New Standards Handbook, shall we?

Conscience.

   My conscience must be evil because it makes me feel bad about myself on a regular basis. Every dang time I try to do something I like, I get this little ping in my head which means, “Don’t do that. It’s bad.” I don’t like that ping. I should just ignore it. That way I would never feel sad about anything ever again. In fact, I think we should all just ignore our consciences. They’re outdated anyway—we’ve evolved enough as human beings that we don’t even need them anymore. And I’m sure God would agree. Oh, and about God…

God.

   God is good and all—don’t get me wrong. But he can make you feel pretty horrible sometimes. All of that “Thou shalt not” stuff—it’s not fun. And that “hell” thing? Why does he have to bring that up? It’s scary. And it makes me want to cry. Not that I would ever go there, mind you, but what about all of those evil people who say all those things that just make you feel so rotten? They could end up there and it makes me feel horrible just thinking about it. So let’s not think about it—or talk about it, either. In fact, we should forbid people to talk about it. That way no one will ever have to feel bad. Ever.

Parents.

   They tell me I had great parents but now I’m not so certain. After all, they made me feel bad lots of times. Lots of times. And it wasn’t always just my feelings that got hurt—sometimes other body parts ended up hurting, too. That’s evil. It must be. Sure, I grew up, went to college—even graduated. And granted, I’ve been able to get a good job and keep it—and I haven’t ever committed a felony or anything or even been to jail (other than to visit a relative whose parents weren’t as mean). But still, when dad told me after college that I couldn’t be in a band and that I had to get a real job—do you have any idea how that made me feel?? And when I told my father what I thought of his totally unsupportive attitude, my mother called me disrespectful! That’s name-calling. That is so rude!

The Constitution.

   The only thing I have to say about that over-rated document is that the things in it only apply to citizens. That is so wrong. How do you think un-citizens feel? They can’t even plead the 5th!  Again—just wrong. And you know what else?  Somewhere in there it says that “free speech” means you can say anything about anyone—even if it’s mean!  That’s also wrong. What we really need is an amendment to end that—people should not be allowed to say mean things. In fact, there should be a list of things people shouldn’t be allowed to say. Or do…

Everything Else.

   People should not be allowed to do things that can make people feel bad. Like employment evaluations or grades: Did you know that every day in America hundreds of thousands of people cry because they’ve received a mean evaluation from a boss or teacher?? That is simply evil. Speeding tickets can also make you feel bad. Oh, and having to show ID should be banned because if you have an ugly picture, well, you just shouldn’t have to show it. That would be mean. The same with doing foul shots in gym class—you shouldn’t have to because what if you can’t? Then you’d feel bad. And also…

The End.

   Of course, none of the above is real. I can’t even imagine how terrified I would feel if any of it were true—it would be like a page from The Dying Days of the Roman Empire. Thankfully, there’s no correlation. At all. I made it all up.

   Still, there are two things that are true, and it would do us well to remember them. First thing: our feelings are not the standard for truth. Second thing: while it’s true that people may attach some emotion to the thought of you, no one can “make” you feel anything. Your feelings are a choice you make.

   Or maybe that’s the first thing.

 

   

 

That Paradox Thing

hamlet1

THAT PARADOX THING  

   Awhile back when the high school English modules were released upon the earth, I found myself most unhappy. Those modules made about as much sense as selling ice in Antarctica. In fact, it seemed that they were written by people who probably believed in hobbits; they simply had no basis in reality. And the modules were just wrong; instructions were numbered 1, 3, 4 (there was no 2); supplemental social studies’ texts were mistakenly inserted as English texts—it just went on and on. And to add insult to injury, the idiotic things were scripted, meaning we had to follow them verbatim, no deviation. At all. And if we didn’t follow them, no doubt the stock market would crash or Planet X would collide with earth or some such evil thing.

   The bottom line? I reached a point where I was done. I told God that—for several months—and sadly, I wasn’t kidding. I simply didn’t understand how to use something that made so little sense. I felt, for the first time in fifteen years of teaching that I couldn’t do the job. However, what God did was totally unexpected and I didn’t necessarily get it at the time.

Life’s Little Paradoxes

   Paradoxes are those things that seem to contradict one another but really don’t. The Bible is full of them like “you must die to live” and “the more you give [away], the more you get.” Things that are easy to understand—just not always for a decade or so. Still, those are fairly common principles so we’re kind of used to them. But there’s another paradox that we may not be quite as familiar with, aka:

The “Take A Dive” Principle

   This principle means that to “go higher,” you must first “go lower.” Now lots of us tend to think of that principle in terms of humbling ourselves.

We rarely think about it when we find ourselves involuntarily brought low through some cruel—and completely unauthorized by us—situation in life.

   And that’s what happened to me; I was sent to the middle school to teach reading to 7th and 8th graders who—you guessed it—couldn’t read.

   Now you’d think that by 7th and 8th grade, kids would be able to read. That’s what I thought. But apparently not. So there I went, to the realm of the “little kids”. But the horror! I’d be teaching some book about somebody’s underpants or something—instead of Shakespeare or Bradbury! Had I done something wrong? Had I gone and ticked somebody off? Had I died and gone, well—you know where…?

   What had God done to me??

   Actually, as I came to find out, he’d bailed me out. No modules. That’s correct—none. In other words, the pressure of trying to teach complete blather was gone. In the end, maybe I wasn’t teaching Hamlet, but it turns out I didn’t have to teach Captain Underpants either. (Evidently, that’s for the 5th grade teachers to enjoy.)

A Prerequisite to Promotion

   All throughout the Word of God, we see this principle in action. For instance, Joseph (Jacob’s son), was brought low in the extreme when he went from being his father’s favorite son to being sold as a slave. And from there it just got worse. In the end, however, he was promoted to second-in-command of Egypt.

   Another example is Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who couldn’t have a baby. Back in that day, an inability to have children was looked upon as a defect in a woman so Sarah suffered that shame for decades until she was long past the age where she could even hope to have a child. And yet what happened? God happened. Sarah not only became a mom in her (very) old age, but she became the mother of nations.

   Just let that sink in.

   Jesus himself was brought low for a greater purpose. He was born under a cloud of dark suspicion; after all, it was whispered that Joseph wasn’t really his father. And trust me, that was a black mark on his name and reputation that would plague him his whole life. Add to that the fact that he didn’t just die, he was executed as a criminal. And he wasn’t just executed, he was hung on a tree. In those days, to be hung was an actual curse reserved for those considered unredeemable. But his humiliation was all part of God’s plan to save us and to exult him to the highest place of honor over all creation—forever.

   Oh, and there was Moses, too—back side of the desert for forty years before being promoted to the greatest prophet in the Bible… You get the pic.

The End Game?

   It might not look good for you right now—you might be in a position where you’ve been lowered, demoted, shunned, and/or humiliated. But instead of feeling like a failure, think about this instead: God often takes people low before lifting them to heights beyond what they could ever have hoped or dreamed. I can tell you. I’m back at the high school part of the day now—and yes, I’m teaching Shakespeare. But there’s not a module in sight.

   It may look like the end of the world and the situation you’re experiencing might feel like an actual death. But in God’s economy, the tomb is only a temporary stop on the way to miracles.

  

 

 

 

DRIVE YOUR VISION.