Chronicling 40: Day 160-164 of 365

LetThem

My family just returned from a trip to Disney.  Let me set the final scene.

It was freezing cold.  The temps were about 43*.  While my Northern friends may scoff at 43* weather being labeled as “freezing”, you have to understand that when FL gets cold… it’s a different type of cold.  This is due to our humidity level.  We are not a “dry cold” but a “wet cold”.  It was 43* with humidity in the 80% level.

It was dark, we were waiting for the tram to take us back to our car, among many others waiting in the cold.  A man was there, with his wife, his mother in law, and their four children… I’m guessing ages 5 and below.  He was sitting on the concrete wall, drinking hot chocolate.  The 5 year old was pretending to sneeze on him, spraying his arm and face with spit.  The 2 year old kept running and bumping into him, also trying to be funny.  At one point, the two year old knocked into his arm, spilling the Dad’s hot chocolate all over his hand.

I don’t think I have ever witnessed a scenario like this go down and the person remain so calm.  He didn’t say a word.  He wiped down his hand on his pants, tossing the cup into a nearby trash can.  The 5 year old walked behind him as he headed toward his wife.  He handed her the 2 year old, and pointed the 5 year old to stand with her.  He simply said:

“I need a break for a few minutes.”

That was it.  He knew the kids were just being kids, after a long… cold… day.  They were not being bad kids, just kids.  So, there was no scolding.  There wasn’t even a word spoken as hot cocoa covered his bare hand.  He was calm, but recognized he needed a moment to himself.

In this moment, is there any one of us who couldn’t understand what this guy was feeling?

As he walked away from his family, the wife trailed after him asking what was wrong and where he was going.

He calmly repeated his intentions:

“I just need a break for a minutes.”

She couldn’t let it go.  Kept after him, pressing for an answer.

She couldn’t just let him be.  She couldn’t just let him walk.

If there is anything that I have learned in 20 years of marriage, is that sometimes we just need to let the other person be.  We need to let them walk or blow off steam.  We can get our answers afterwards.

I remember one night, I was really upset.  My husband asked what was wrong, I asked to be left alone… and he pressed.  I responded:  “I am upset right now, but I really don’t know if I am overreacting or have the right to be upset.  So just let me be.”

And, he did.

And, in the end, I was overreacting.

There was a speaker I listened to who suggested that when we encounter confrontation with our spouse, that we go at with the mindset of “this is a good willed person”.  If I approach any confrontation with my spouse believing he is a good willed person, not out to harm me… or hurt me… then I know he is for me and not against me.  Knowing this, if he passes the kids over to me & asks for a break… I know that he is doing this from his goodness.  He recognized he was being pushed to his limits, and needs a moment to take a break and regroup.

The same is offered to me.  If he comes home from work, and I let him know that I need to run to the store because I just need a break… he doesn’t question it.  He may ask a few questions about the status of things (like dinner, homework, etc), but otherwise he sends me on my way.

Marriage.  Parenting.  These are not always easy, pinterest worthy, book authoring, seasons.  They are often hard work, emotionally grueling at times, and some times just exhausting.  Extend some grace to your spouse, and when s/he needs a moment to just be, to walk, to find peace…

Let them be.

Let them walk.

The Apology I Didn’t Know That I Needed

TheapologyIdidntknowineededIn my previous two pieces, I shared about my experiences with this year’s Gospel Coalition Conference.  First, I shared my personal retreat reflections which helped me recognize that I had some issues where I was harboring some anger towards people that I needed to forgive.

Then, in the second piece, I shared how my mentoring session with Serge.org showed me other areas where anger had been rearing it’s ugly head in my life.  Anger is a sneaky sin, that can mask itself in many ways.  Some seeming obvious, others much more subtle.  I knew that I needed to address these issues.  There were people I needed to forgive, including myself.  I needed to preach the Gospel to myself every day, reminding myself how the Lord sees me vs. the lies I have been told.

The third reflection was the two moments in which someone who had never wronged me apologized for the wrongs others have committed.

This first time happened during my serge.org mentor session.  As you may recall in the session I shared about my ministry work, obstacles I was facing, and how I felt like a failure in certain aspects of the work.  While my mentor, Hunter, did shift the conversation to a more personal direction… the first thing he did before taking that turn was to apologize.  In fact, perhaps it was my response to the apology that confirmed for him that the personal direction was the path he needed to travel down.

He recognized that the obstacles I was facing were very wrong, and hurtful ones… and he apologized to me for it.  I have never expected an apology over any issue in my life.  Maybe I set my expectations too low, or experience has taught me that apologizes come less often than deserved.  Regardless, I have never expected a person who has never wronged me to apologize on behalf of others.  This apology was spoken directly to me, not in generalities and with complete sincerity.  It ushered in validation that I didn’t know I needed to hear, but clearly I did.  I needed to not only hear the words, but I needed to hear a man speak them.

His apology was still sinking in, when I attended a workshop on Pastors and Women in Ministry.  At the beginning of the session we were given instructions to put questions on cards for the panel and pass them forward.  In the latter half of the workshop, the panel members would try to get to as many questions as possible.  There was no way to get to them all and the moderator did a great job of trying to collate similar questions into one general concept.   One of the questions dealt with Women’s Ministry Leaders who didn’t feel supported by their church, another one came up about women who didn’t feel like their church valued their expertise or ministry skills, a third question about how to disagree with your Pastor respectfully when you are a woman with higher education in the field or expert on a subject, and some women just wanted to be trusted to lead well.

These questions were answered, but you could tell one of the panelists was uncomfortable by the similarities of the questions.  It was his turn to address the next question, but he paused with the need to address the questions of the hurt women in the group.  In a microphone, to a room filled with women and Pastors, at a workshop that would be recorded and listed on TGC’s media page for the conference for the world to hear… Pastor Sandy Willson spoke to the hurt women with a very simple, “I am so sorry.”

It was sweet, tender, and genuine.  It was spoken to the group at large, but in many ways I felt like it was directed right at my heart.  Tears filled my eyes.  Twice in one day, I would hear and receive an apology from a man who never wronged me.  And, twice it would impact me more than I expected and bring in a sense of peace.

In honesty, I suppose there are some people I wish would say they were sorry for treating me a particular way.  But, I believe pride has prevented that.  Which has allowed me to more forward knowing that until they deal with their pride, and apology will never happen.  I didn’t expect that I would need to hear from just anyone that they were sorry for the events that occurred.  I had no way of knowing how their apology could lighten my load and make my steps toward forgiveness come with such peace.

I find myself able to let go of it not only toward the specific people involved in those situations, but also realized that I had been projecting their behaviors on others.  I was lumping all the apples in to the bad pile, allowing one bad apple to spoil my feelings toward an entire group.  Instead of tossing the bad apples aside, and being thankful for the good ones.

And so, I want to pass this gift on to you.  Whomever you are.  I know that at some point someone treated you unfairly, spoke unkind words to you, broke your heart and your trust, and I know that sometimes these wounds are deep.

I am so, so, sorry.  I pray the Lord comforts you, that there will be people He will put in your path that will lift you up, and that you can forgive even those who don’t ask for it.

Peace in Difficult Times

MBA

A few months back, a friend posted on her Facebook page the following question:

Where do you find peace during the difficult times?

Once upon a time when I struggled with things, I internalized them.  Playing the scenario over in my head, dwelling on what I can’t change, angry at the person who was at the root of it.  I knew, even then, that all of this worry or dwelling on things wouldn’t change the outcome.  It was, what it was.  In someways I think I was hoping I would learn something from the replay.  Catch where I made the mistake, or clues that would have alerted me to the person’s un-trustworthiness.  I could learn how to avoid that scenario or personality in the future.  I was relying on my own self to figure out the complexity of relationships and circumstances that were almost always outside of anything I could control.  As habits repeated, I learned an important thing… I couldn’t rely on myself and my own thinking to resolve every situation or deal with every person.  I was human. Flawed.

For a period of time, I tried to seek the counsel of others.  Guess what?  They are human too, flawed as well.  There were definitely occasions where I was given good advice but more often than not it was biased advice.  These were people who loved me, cared about me, and often sided with me.  They might give me a pass for something I should be accountable for.  Or, try to solve the problem for me.  They immediately blamed the other person, because they knew my heart and intentions.  They were on my side.  But not always on the side of truth.  I learned that I couldn’t rely on others to give me the truth I needed to hear.  Not because they were bad people, but because they loved me.

What I know now is that there is someone who loves me more than anyone else.  Someone who sent his Son to die for every sin I would commit.  Someone who took the penalty but at the same time was holding me accountable to truth.  Christ calls me to be honest with myself.  Christ compels me to forgive others, and myself.  Christ beckons me to his shoulder to cry out in my sin, speak truth to that sin, and set me on the path to reconcile with others (and myself).  I’ve learned that when the times are really difficult, I need to turn to Christ for truth.  What is the truth of this difficult time?  What do the scriptures advise me to do now that I know the truth?  What would God have me do in this situation or with this person.  I can rely on God because His Word is unchanging, infallible, and loving.  He loves me so much that I will face Truth and be better for it.

I find peace at the Cross, because there Jesus did exactly what He promised.  Just prior, he told the disciples that He was leaving peace for them so they wouldn’t be troubled.  He didn’t say that there would be no difficult times, but instead left us with the hope that we can persevere (Romans 5:1-5) until He returns.   When difficult times find me, I turn to the Cross for peace, hope, perseverance, and patience as I await the day… the glorious day… that the difficult times are gone.

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

“Come now; let us leave.

John 14:27-31

A friend once told me, during a particularly difficult moment, “I am sorry you are in this, but I am so excited to see what happens when you are on the other side of this”.  Now when I face trials and difficulties, I go to the Cross and deposit them there.  Then I leave with excitement to see what the Lord is going to do with that trial, through me, or through those He will put in my path.  Difficult times become a learning experience where I learn how loving, faithful and true the Lord is.

Trillia Newbell’s book ENJOY!

enjoy

I really love this book.  This is going to be different from my normal blog posts on book reviews (which I did receive an advance readers copy of this book to read for the purpose of reviewing).  It will be different because I really, truly, want to explore this book as I find the content pretty important.

First, because it’s a book that reminds us that we have permission to enjoy the life the Lord has given us. There is freedom in salvation, and that freedom includes enjoyment. Have you ever considered the number of times in the Bible the word “rejoice” is used? Second, because it challenges us to make better choices about how we are going to respond to our lives. I’ve had twinges of conviction, as well as inspiration on how to live each day to His fullest for me (which is far greater than anything I could come up with on my own).

Today, I want to focus on the first chapter, which focuses greatly on contentment. Trillia puts it very succinctly that discontentment will impede joy, reminding us of Philippians 4:11 “for I have learned to be content in whatever situation”.

Yesterday… I was having a moment. I wasn’t very content with something and how it shaping out. It was affecting my mood (aka my attitude) and I had to make a choice. Was I going to give into this discontentment or instead would I rejoice. Could I be content with how things unfolded? I realized I could, and made an active choice to change my attitude. That doesn’t mean throughout the day thoughts didn’t creep in. I had to make the active choice… REPEATEDLY… to be content and move on.

In the book Enjoy, Trillia shares that contentment results in peace. As long as I allowed my thoughts and attitudes to remain in discontent, I was not finding peace. And my responses to everything else were skewed. Once I made the choice to be content, I could take those thoughts captive. I decided to do something I enjoy (painting) and I found peace. The more peaceful I felt, the more enjoyable it was to be around me. It was better for everyone.

Trillia Newbell
It’s a pre-order giveaway! To celebrate the upcoming release of Enjoy by @TrilliaNewbell, she’s written a devotional to help you enjoy this Advent season. http://bit.ly/2eBZ0Cz

Saving the Saved

savingthesaved
I received Saving the Saved by Bryan Loritts for the purpose of reviewing, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.

A couple of years ago, I lamented to a friend that I was a terrible evangelist.  She looked a little surprised, because in all of our encounters I didn’t exactly shy away from talking about the gospel.  She asked me to clarify my statement.  I confessed that I was fine talking about God in certain environments and situations, but heading out in to the unknown and sharing it with strangers was very hard for me.  I was broken over it, feeling like I was not fulfilling The Great Commission very well.

As we continued to talk, and I was admittedly sobbing at this point, I had come to a conclusion about myself. I realized that I had a heart for the lukewarm believer, the people who should know better but don’t.  The big things that mattered to me, were topics like bible literacy and strong prayer lives.  I was undone by what people didn’t know because they didn’t take time to read the scriptures, or when scripture was being twisted to fit agenda.

It was at that point, she giggled just a bit at me.  She told me that I had a heart for discipleship, and that was Great Commission work.  As we continued to talk she pointed out that each of us have our role in The Great Commission.  There are the missionaries and evangelists who bring the gospel to people for the first time.   There are the apologists who defend the faith well, to those who question and doubt.  Then there are disciple makers, who have a heart for studying and teaching the scriptures well.  She freed me from the disappointment in my poor evangelizing by helping me to recognize that wasn’t my gift.

It also helped me pinpoint my role in serving the body, that I loved to teach and equip leaders.  My heart was bent toward knowledge and wisdom from the scriptures, and that i desired to know it well myself in order to make sure I teach it well to others.  Integrity in my teaching was highly important to me.  Just this year, a woman asked me if I would consider being her mentor.  After prayerful consideration, I responded that I didn’t feel right mentoring her.  I still had a lot to learn, and quite often I learn from her.  Ultimately we agreed instead on a mutual relationship, like the disciples had, where we could learn form each other.

There is so much freedom in the scriptures, and I am someone who loves a to do list.  It is very easy for me to find myself looking for clear cut directions, and frustrated with the scripture are vague on a topic.  I want God to tell me in His Word exactly how I am to live every single day of my life.  If I am not careful, I can allow myself to become too legalistic.  At the same time, I must also be careful that I don’t go into the deep end of “everything is permissible” without remembering that doesn’t mean it is beneficial.

I’m already a fan of Bryan Loritts, and I was excited to read this book.  It had everything I loved about sharing the gospel with those who are saved.   The pages speak of mercy, grace, and love.  It tells me to be generous, put my pride in check, and to find peace instead of worries.  It affirms my marriage priority as my first ministry and reminds me that I need to get out of my own way.  Oh… and then it trips me up… when it talks about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard.  Like, REALLY, hard.   And, honestly it doesn’t even matter who I am trying to forgive.  In fact, I often have an easier time forgiving others than my own self.  It can be a real struggle to forgive, because our Christ-like heart says YES and our fleshy mind says NO.  Who hasn’t uttered the words…  “How many times do I forgive {insert person, situation, self}?”

Bryan Loritts takes us right to the truth of it…

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me,

and I forgive him? till seven times?  Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee,

Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. 

Matthew 18:21-22

Ouch.  That many times, Lord?  Really?  Really.  For a moment, let’s take this literally.  If the Lord has set the limit at 490 forgivenesses… I’m in trouble.  I’ve stopped long before that number.  I can’t think of a single person in my life that has wronged me 490 times.

If we take it in concept, that is STILL a lot of times to forgive someone.  UGH!

I know that there are times where I am really hurt, and I don’t want to forgive.  But there are other times when I know that I am being petty, or I know that it’s more about how I perceived the wrongdoing than what was actually done.  One of the most reoccurring themes for me in 2016 has been about forgiveness.  That forgiveness isn’t easy, but necessary.  Forgiveness is a choice, that I sometimes have to make every day despite my flesh.  Forgiveness is not reconciliation but part of that process.  Forgiveness won’t always make sense, and by the worlds terms, they may not deserve my forgiveness.  Forgiveness may cost me something… and yet forgiveness is freeing.

It’s funny to me, the terrible evangelist, that I purchased a book about saving the saved… and it was a book I needed to read.  I continually need to be reminded to forgive.

Seventy times seven times.

Lord, forgive my unforgiveness.  Let grace, mercy, and forgiveness fall from my lips. Amen.

Midfaith Crisis – con’t from Failure blog

MBA

Yesterday’s blog piece on Failure was my attempt to wrap my head around a fellow writers statement that “Jesus failed her”.   As I read through the piece, I just couldn’t get passed it.  I can’t think of a time where things didn’t go my way resulting in my feeling as if Jesus somehow failed me.  Even when I feel discontent with God’s answer or lack of movement in an area, I’ve never blamed Him.  More often than not, I will point the finger at myself assuming that my desires were not in His will or perhaps I have been walking in disobedience.  I may even remind myself that I have to be more patient because things happen in God’s timing not my own, or that His answers will always be infinitely better than my own.

I can remember being pregnant with my second, the doctor alerting me to precancerous cells found in my uterus and cervix.  I listened intently at the options before me, what risks each carried for me and the pregnancy.  I don’t ever remember being angry at God over the risks to my pregnancy.  My husband came upon me in the bedroom crying over it, and he told me “God wouldn’t give you a baby just to take it away”.  His words were sweet, but we all know that sentence isn’t true.  Women lose babies.  I said as much to my husband, and told him that her purpose may simply have been to save my life.  I was trusting that however this was going to play out, it was part of God’s good plan.  That doesn’t mean I stopped crying over it, worrying over it, praying that the Lord would protect her.   Had I lost the pregnancy, I would have grieved.  I just don’t recall ever feeling let down by God.

That is not to say that I haven’t had my moments where I have cried out to the Lord, because I couldn’t understand  what He was doing in my life (or the lives of those I care for).  I think that is an entirely different thing.  I can be confused or concerned, worried or sad, and even angry with a given situation.  I just don’t see an emotional response as being the same as feeling that Jesus let me down.  So, as you can see, this was just a concept I couldn’t understand or agree with.  When I read the piece a second time though, something else caught my attention and then I had my “a-ha moment”.

The author penned the term “midfaith crisis” and suddenly it all began to make sense.  At some point, whether via a movie, television show, or happening right before our eyes, witnessed someone going through a midlife crisis.  Mid LIFE crisis is a term we all know, even if we don’t understand it personally.  Entertainment will portray it heavily, as the guy who cheats on his wife with a younger women… or lightly, the man who comes home from work one day with an ear pierced, a tattoo, and a motorcycle.   A result of an nonacceptance of aging, desperately clinging to their youth, or attempting to accomplish those bucket list items before they are too old to do so.

When someone has a midlife crisis, we can at least have an understanding as to why they are making some crazy choices even if we don’t approve of those choices.

A mid FAITH crisis wasn’t really a term I was familiar with, or even a feeling I could understand.  However, when I consider the totality of my faith walk… well, I joined the party on the late side.  Maybe, I will be spared the midfaith crisis… or it’s just lingering further down the road.

As I spent more time trying to understand the concept of the midfaith crisis, I found myself softening to the author and beginning to grasp how she could feel that Jesus let her down.  Sometimes our immediate knee jerk responses are more about our ownselves and perceptions than they are about the other person.  Being able to apply what I understood about midlife crisis, midfaith crisis was a bit easier to work around.  The more I thought about that, the more sense the whole piece made.

If I had to imagine myself as a person who worked hard all of my life, dedicated to my job and family.  A person who volunteered in the community, was a good steward with my money, living a modest life and helping others.   If I think of these things, and then imagine that all through my life I could never catch a break.   I can see how that would bring me to the brink of crisis when I hit that half way point of my life.  You wonder “will it get better?” and you may even begin to take things into your own hands to control a better outcome.  You believe that you worked hard all of those younger years, full of sacrifices, so that your golden years would be easy and carefree.  You worked hard, you deserved an easy retirement.  Then one thing after another comes along that takes you money, your health, etc. away… and crisis strikes.  You feel let down by life, you wonder why you sacrificed for nothing.

I could understand the author’s point more clearly.  Imagine that all of your life you had been a faithful believer.  You prayed every morning, and each evening with your kids.  You were a faithful wife, who was a perfect helpmeet to your husband.  You taught your children about God, tending to their hearts.  Every week you were at service, never missing a Sunday.  Volunteering in the church, leading studies, tithing above 10%.  You heeded the call to full time ministry service or missionary work, selling your belongings and raising the funds.  You put your hands and feet into kingdom work every single day.  Then crisis knocks down your door.  You cry out to God…. “Have I not been obedient to you?  Have I not gone where you told me to go, served as you told me to serve?  Have I not sacrificed with joy, followed you word, shared the gospel… all that you have asked of me?

Then WHY God… why this?  Why now?

Then I felt it, I could understand.

Part of the reason I couldn’t wrap my head around it from the beginning was because I still feel like I fail at following Him to the fullest.  I know I could sacrifice more, give more, serve more, pray more, follow better.  Which is why I lean toward the belief that I let God down, not the other way around.

But, for those who have… and we all know those people exist (even if the number is few)… that serve God, love God, obey God with every bit of their being?

I could understand that moment (however long it lasts) of being honest with God and saying, Lord… you let me down on this one.

The good news?  Our God is big enough, and loving enough to handle that feeling.  He can handle your midfaith crisis.  He knows our hearts, because He dwells there.  He knows that we love him, serve him willfully, and that sometimes the directions He will take us can be tough.  He understands that we are confused, and can’t see what He is doing.  He understands that we are hurt, and don’t see the good in what has happened (yet).   He loves us through it.

As a parent, I would love to be able to give my children all of the desires of their heart.  However, I also know that all of those desires are not good or healthy options.  My 10 year old would be content with eating cake the rest of her life, my middle schooler would love for me to allow her more freedoms, and my high schooler is entering a time in her life where she teeters between childhood and adulthood.  There are times when our answers to their requests are no, and they will cry or get angry.  No matter the words they hurl in that moment… they know that I love them, and I know they love me.  Despite that crisis mode they are in, or the hurt, or the words.

My eldest recently asked me a question, and she started it with:  “I need to ask you something, and I hope you will say yes…”  I knew it was going to be a weighty question, and probably one I couldn’t answer on the spot.  Yet, even with those words spilling out of her mouth… I could sense hope.  She had her hopes up already, even knowing that my answer would not likely be what she wants to hear.

Just as we know our children, our Father knows us.  He hears the hope in our voices, He knows the desires of our heart.  As I reflect on the blog piece that started the wheels in mind to travel down this road, I realized how raw and honest this woman was being.  But, I was also able to see that despite her feeling that “Jesus had failed” her… she had not given up on loving Him.  Her words were not as dire as I first perceived them.

Perhaps, we could all learn from this exploration to be a bit more patient before we jump to conclusions.  To listen better, to read through things a few times before we jump to judgments.  To take the time to process it and see situations or statements from other perspectives, so that instead of judging someone harshly… we can stop and pray for whatever situation they are dealing with.  Quite often we only have part of the story, or we focus on a small detail and miss the bigger picture.

Had I allowed myself to stay hung up on her statement of being failed by Jesus, I would have missed so much more of what she was attempting to share.  I would have missed her endurance, perseverance, honesty, transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability.  I think we could all do well with a dose of being real and raw, with the world… with ourselves… and with our God.

Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

Understanding is not Condoning

praytogetherRight now, there is a vein of pain in the United States.  Yes, the media (including social media) are quick to paint pictures without all of the facts.  Yes, there are some responses to what is happening in our country that are not RIGHT.   Yes, there are good cops out there who love and are committed to their communities.  Yes, there are people out there under the guise of “protestors” that are just trouble makers.  A predominant question I am seeing a lot of lately is about the protests that have become riots, coupled with looting.  It is a question of not understanding WHY communities are responding in such a radical… and violent way.  

Understanding what brings a group of people to this place is NOT condoning.  Understanding however does bring clarity, sympathy, and empathy.  Understanding can be the catalyst for change as more eyes open to what is happening around us.

I penned this on my Facebook page today:

If you have ever been so mad about something that you slammed a door & a picture fell off the wall and shattered…

If you have ever been so frustrated that you threw whatever was in your hand down hard on the table and it snapped in half…

If you have ever snapped back at a family member or raised your voice before you gave them a chance to speak…

If you have ever punished your child based on the evidence before you without giving them a chance to explain…

You have a FRACTION of the understanding needed to wrap your head around what is happening in Charlotte.

Sometimes it hurts… it hurts deep. It is raw and you just can’t control your actions. Right? No. Real? Yes. There are real people who are hurting right now, and it’s not because of one incident but the culmination of incidents. A boiling point.

Will there be opportunists who take advantage of this situation for their own gain? Who are not truly protesting or broken, but happy to take advantage of an opportunity to create mayhem … knowing with the # of people protesting they most likely won’t get caught? Of course.

We have a media who is happy to tell us about the long wrap sheets of these people who have been killed. Yet celebrates the accomplishments of guilty men who are let off with minimal to no consequence.

But you do have to scratch your head and wonder how in the world NY police took down the bombing suspect during a gun fight with a shot to the leg… and yet an unarmed man, walking away from the officers was such a threat that lethal force was required.

Just as much as scratching my head and wondering why a routine traffic stop has to take the life of one of our officers. Or, how the calculated attack on the Dallas officers occurred.

What this tells us is that there is still work to do. There are still strides to take forward. There is still hurt, pain, and marginalization. Just because we don’t see it here in our own lives or cities doesn’t mean it isn’t existing elsewhere.

As I have been listening to my fellow human beings talk about their experiences with racism… whether they are my grandmother’s generation or young kids… we can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. We can’t ignore it. Because, when we try to pretend or ignore… it impedes our ability to be honest and take the necessary steps to move forward.

We need to be the change.

 

Perhaps in God’s providence he is bringing forth an injustice to people whom he loves greatly that are being mistreated? He is exposing a bitter root that has gone deep and been ignored. Perhaps God is saying to his people STOP … LISTEN… and be my hands and feet. Stand up to injustice of all types. Maybe we are not in chaos and confusion, but instead the Lord is dropping the scales and opening our eyes to hurt, pain, and suffering of a group of people who are created in His image. Perhaps the Lord is calling us to STAND up for what is right, honorable, noble, and good. And in our stubbornness to see the sin before our eyes… we had to be shaken from our stupor.

Lord, I pray for our communities… the people who live in them and those who serve to protect them.  Let there peace and calm that comes, let real conversations happen that lead to healing and growth.  Let us more forward and not backward. Protect us from those who mean us harm.  Open our eyes to injustice.  Let us stand united, every color… civilians and officers… for good.  Amen.

We Need Roots to Grow, To Fruit.

Have you been there?  In the place where the Lord has given you a talent and calling, and yet you don’t ever seem to be able to actually USE it?  It can be a very confusing time, frustrating even.  Perhaps, however, our eyes have been to focused on the finish line that we neglected the process to get there.

I just finished reading Banning Liebscher’s book ROOTED, and I found myself taking my sweet time to get through his message.  Usually, I can finish a book of this size in a weekend.   This time, I would often set the book down for a few days to really think about the points Liebscher was making and looking at my own calling and periods of waiting on the Lord.

rooted

If you have any gardening experience you know the importance of a good root system.   Take a beautifully potted plant and pop it in the ground, and you’ll see the plant go into shock and die.  Why?  You didn’t take the time to tend to the roots before you planted it.  A seed dropped in good, fertile soil will produce strong plants in comparison to seeds careless scattered among the rocks. 

Banning Liebscher takes the time to set the context of his book into the Parable of the Soils, and then walks through the value of having solid roots in order that we may grow, and bear fruit.  Not just some fruit, but a lot of fruit.  Not just any fruit, but GOOD fruit.  Not just a temporary harvest, but a long and lasting life of fruit bearing.  But, in order to do this … we must have GOOD ROOTS.

Often when we are waiting for the Lord to reveal our calling or make a move, we feel like nothing is happening.  Yet, it is during this time when the Lord is working on our roots.  He has fashioned life around us, opportunities, and put people in place to create a fertile soil in which we can grow.  Then, like a good farmer, He tends to those seeds.  Weeds are pulled, water and nutrients are provided, and He carefully watches over for disease and pests.

Then after all of the work of preparing the soil, tending to the seeds, building up the roots, caring for the shoots… suddenly life bursts out of those gardens.  And it produces fruit, a lot of fruit. Good fruit.  If we want to produce a lot of good, long lasting, fruit… we have to start with our roots.  That means we dig into the Word, build our relationship with Christ, allow the Holy Spirit access to our lives to move it and shape it, and trust that the Lord’s plans will always be good.  We just need to trust in Him who we have faith in. 

If you are ready to start working on those roots, Liebscher’s book ROOTED is a great way to prepare the soil of your heart to receive, foster, and bear the fruit of God’s Word and Love.

20140927_111817

gardenpics.jpg

How Deep is Your Faith?

Some of you may recall that back in June I experienced quite a bit of delays trying to fly out to a conference in Indianapolis.  The benefit that came from those delays was the amount of time it gave me to dig into this book without many distractions.  I had no idea how much that reading was going to impact me while in a city far from my own, and would linger since returning home.

amwbook

In the beginning I thought this was going to be a book about deepening my faith.  In many ways I was right.    Exposing shallow faith, where law becomes an idol, and the wake we can leave behind when we are not walking in love and grace.  Recognizing that we have to do more than go through the motions, and that there will be times our faith will take out out of comfort zones into the deep end of the waters.  Pushing ourselves to a deeper understanding of the scriptures and what the Lord expects of us as a response to His Word.

What I didn’t expect to happen was the deeper convictions I was going to feel about how I interacted with this world.  Who was I serving?  How was I serving?  Was it easy, comfortable?  Did it require much of me?

I was great at serving those in my church, but what about the “least of these”?  What real needs have I been engaging?  Was I limiting the Gospel?  Was I limiting my service?  Was I talking a good talk but not walking along with it?  These questions were bouncing through my mind, as I sat in the airport… waiting.

Having a ministry position where I train other leaders, my biggest burden at that point was…

Am I training leaders who are going to go out and serve their people well … or are we just learning how to put on another successful event?  Are we playing ministry or living it?

Had I allowed the Gospel to be too small, was I not seeing the big picture?

This is where the book took me on a new journey about serving, loving, and living the Gospel out in real tangible ways.  Where it becomes more than talk.  Brandon Hatmaker’s words were reeling in my head, as I was walking back to my hotel after the conference let out for the evening.  It was late.  That is when Gregory made eye contact with me.

Gregory walked up to me, tears in his eyes. He was a homeless man, and he was hungry.  I don’t carry cash on me, but directly behind me was a restaurant.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was a better meal than a fast food place.   In Indianapolis, I met a man named Gregory who was from my home state.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath.  I wasn’t sure if I believed his story about being mugged and just needing a few dollars for some food.  It didn’t matter, I knew the man was hungry.

As we walked into the restaurant, Gregory was still crying.  He was sorry for bothering me.  He was sorry for asking. He was sorry for taking our time.  He asked for very little, but I told Gregory to order whatever he wanted.  He first asked for just a sandwich, but I told him to order more.  He gently asked my friend, “Do you think she’d let me have fries too?”.  She smiled and said absolutely, and immediately followed that up with inquiring what he wanted to drink.    In the end we had two sandwiches, french fries, and a large drink for Gregory.   He was grateful, his tears and slurs made him almost inaudible at times.

We prayed over Gregory before we left to return to our hotel.  It sounds like a beautiful moment, doesn’t?

What I neglected to share until this point, was the response of others.  The manager, saw Gregory walk in with us.  She approached us, looked right past my friend and I.  To Gregory, she spoke directly… “Looks like you convinced these nice ladies to buy you a meal.  You can wait here for it, but you can’t eat it outside.  You’ll need to take it and go.”

Her response was as if my friend and I were naive out of towners, taken advantage of by this con-man.  It was insulting to our intelligence and demeaning to Gregory.  He was now a paying customer, and should have been treated as such.  Gregory didn’t leave our thoughts for the rest of the trip, and quite often we prayed for him.  We didn’t see him again before it was time to leave.

Layovers and delays on my return flight home, I kept reading.  Over and over again, I found myself writing in the margins (next to a piece of text)…  Gregory.

From the book:

“It’s true that giving a sandwich to a homeless man on one day is not going to end hunger on the streets of your city.  But it will bless that man today.”

and in another passage:

“You see, after Jesus taught the most significant sermon in the history of time, Jesus didn’t make his way to the next sanctuary to meet  with the religious. He made his way to the next street corner to meet with the outcast. 

By meeting him in his greatest need, Jesus restored more than the man’s health; he restored his dignity. “

Gregory.

A Mile Wide opened my eyes to see so much more than how deep my own faith was, but my willingness to go the distance for my fellow man.  It changed my vision and scope of how ministry was supposed to look, and how I was going to change the way I approached our ministry work of training leaders.  It inspired me to a bigger Gospel.  A global Gospel.  A Gospel that feeds the man on the corner, that restores dignity, fights for justice, helps the Great Commission with feet on the ground.

Lord, I pray for Gregory tonight… where ever he lays his head.  I pray Lord, when I return to Indianapolis next year… I see his face again and we can break bread together.  Keep him safe, bring him to healing, and if I can’t see him again… let it be because he has returned to his family.  I pray for the hardened hearts that have forgotten that Gregory and those who are like him… are human beings made in your image.  Let us treat them as you would.  Amen.