A few months back, at a Women’s Ministry Council meeting, one of the speakers shared something that I can’t stop thinking about. I’ve mentioned it before… but it is on my mind today. So, I’m guessing either I need to be reminded about it or someone needs to hear it.
This past weekend, the family drove down to one of the biggest malls in our state. We spent the day shopping, met up with some new friends, and had an amazing lunch. Each family member came home with decent haul of goodies, my absolute favorite take home was from the candy store. I was able to fill up a ziplock style bag with my own custom blend of Jelly Belly jelly beans. Why is this such a big deal?
- I hate all jelly beans other than Jelly Belly.
- Within the Jelly Belly menu, I have just a few that actually like.
- When I buy a bag of Jelly Belly jelly beans, I end up eating like 10 beans and giving the rest to the kids.
Being able to fill up a bag full of my favorite, hard to find, flavors brought me joy. I didn’t even care how much it was going to cost. FILL HER UP! I should also confess that thanks to this insane election day, I pretty much finished off the bag already. Sigh.
Many years ago, I think my husband would have had a fit about me spending so much on “jelly beans”. I’m sure there would have been a few Dave Ramsey quotes thrown at me. No, I don’t NEED a custom filled bag of jelly beans in the flavor of buttered popcorn. However, we have also learned over the years that my husband doesn’t NEED to understand why I desire something. He just needs to respect the fact that I do want it. Just like I don’t NEED to understand why he likes certain television shows that I don’t enjoy.
We are different people, God didn’t make us a duplicates of each other in different gender form. We are very, VERY, different. Yet, we always find ways to connect with one another. We recognized that it was important for us as a couple to find things we enjoyed mutually. This gave us something to talk about, to connect over. It is very easy when you have kids to connect over parenting, but one day those children move out. When that happens, then what? What will you talk about? What will you do together, when your lives no longer center on your children and their activities and events?
It is imperative that as a couple we stay connected, and we were created for connection. This is why God states from the beginning that it was not good for man to be alone, and so from his rib a woman was fashioned to be his helpmeet. God gave man a companion in woman, and they did life together. They connected over their responsibilities, they connected in emotional relationship, and they connected physically. Connection is important, and when we can recognize that connection is important between US… we also see how important it is that we ware connected to God.
Once, I was scrolling through my husband’s notes app on his phone. He was in need of information from one of his task lists. I happened upon a list that my husband was keeping in his phone on ways he could be a better husband. Unbeknownst to my husband, around this same time I working through a women’s study on how I could better meet his needs. Our connection is so important to the both of us, we are seeking it out independently as well as together.
This all brings me to the book, “Created for Connection” by Dr. Sue Johnson. What I really enjoy about this book is that it isn’t passive. Sometimes, you pick up a book on marriage… read (or speed read) you way through it. You feel a bit better or more hopeful, or a sting of conviction that you could do a better job… but life moves on at it’s normal pace. Dr. Johnson makes you stop and actually participate in the process. Taking inventory and putting principles in to practice as you move along, brings an active element toward making real change in your relationship (or taking a great relationship and making it even greater!).
You can read the book and do the work on your own, or go through it as a couple (I recommend the latter). Dr. Johnson uses her experience as a couples therapist as well as the Scriptures to walk us through what she calls the “seven conversations” that will lead to a lifetime of love. This is a take your time book, that will pay off in dividends if you are genuine about connect on a deeper level with your spouse … and then ultimately God.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. “
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.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting through our weekly small group meeting. We took a bold step and decided to tackle Authentic Intimacy’s Passion Pursuit. Dr. Juli Slattery began to discuss the importance of forgiveness in healing and improving our marriages. She also delved into the need to forgive past hurts in order to move forward. Something she said jumped out at me:
The acknowledgement that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.
As she waded through the waters of forgiveness, the words FREEDOM were key. Forgiveness leads to freedom because what ever that wrong was, it no longer holds on to us. However, reconciliation may not be possible. Perhaps the other person hasn’t apologized, hasn’t repented because they do not believe they were wrong. Or, perhaps they took ownership of their wrong doing but for your own safety you can not resume a reconciled relationship with the person. In some instances the person may have died, moved away, etc and there isn’t a way to even reach out and start a reconciliation process. However, we can still forgive them and more forward. This forgiveness does not free them from the CONSEQUENCES of their actions, it does however free us from being held captive by that person or situation any longer.
I walked away that evening reflecting on several situations through the years that cause me distress. I thought of the scriptures that call us to forgive and reconcile. I felt like a failure in many ways because even despite my willingness to forgive, there were relationships that were not reconciled. I had sold myself to believe that I couldn’t more forward until reconciliation had happened. I resolved that those relationships wouldn’t necessarily reconcile to what they once were, but that to at least be on “civil terms” would be enough. When that couldn’t happen, I felt like I failed.
Now, that burden was lifted. I had permission to walk in that freedom of forgiveness, even I was walking alone and the other parties were not ready to join up yet. Today, I watched a video from The Gospel Coalition on forgiveness without repentance. One of the things I took away from the video is:
Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness from both sides.
It can’t be both sides saying they are sorry, and no one changes.
It can’t be a change of behavior by both sides, without anyone actually apologizing.
It can’t be an exchange of apologies, modified behaviors, when one or both don’t truly forgive.
Forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation may not come in that exact order & not all at one time. It may be a process that can span days, months, or even years to complete. Reconciliation may not even come this side of heaven.
If we have chosen to forgive, and if we have identified our own mistakes and repented… we may have to be okay with reconciliation’s slow arrival. If it even comes at all.
For each of us lies the responsibility of our own actions. Have we come to God and asked Him to reveal if we are part of the problem? Is there more to this than being sinned against? Are we too guilty of sinning against the other person? If you have a trusted mentor, have you shared the situation with them and sought their counsel and guidance?
Once you have taken an honest look at yourself, if there is a need for you to apologize then you are responsible for taking the step of repentance and seeking forgiveness. Then you can also extend your forgiveness to the other person and work toward reconciliation, should both parties agree. However, if you are truly the only one who was sinned against and the other person is unwilling to repent and ask for forgiveness… you can still choose to forgive as Christ has forgiven.
All of our sins are against a perfect God, who has done nothing wrong to us. Yet He is able to forgive our sins and cast them to the oceans depths. If the Lord can forgive me, how can I not forgive those who sin against me? Reconciliation may not happen, but that doesn’t mean that forgiveness is impossible.
The scriptures state that as much as it is possible, and is up to me, to live at peace with everyone. Reconciliation isn’t entirely up to me, it takes both parties to happen. But forgiveness is a choice I can make to bring peace into my heart, life, and relationships. Then we can lean into trusting the Lord to do the work in the other person, and if reconciliation is possible it will happen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
When we forgive, we can live in the freedom of Peace. I choose Peace.