Wednesday, July 25, 2018

I am a bad Christian...

I wonder how many people read the title of this and wondered what I have done that I shouldn't have done. Actually, this is a thought that came to mind this past Sunday as I was getting ready for church. 

First of all, I'd sat sipping my coffee too long and I was going to be late to church. I knew I could sit at home in my pj's and watch online, but I decided I really needed to go in person so I could listen to the message undistracted. (Online is fine when I can't make it, but I'm far to ADD to pay attention to the screen most days.) As I was hurriedly getting dressed, I thought about the fact that I was going to miss most of praise and worship - what a "bad Christian" I was being. That, of course, set my ping pong brain onto another course of my bad Christian self. I started thinking about my neighbor's visiting parents and how I had not invited them over for a meal. (Let's be honest - I never invite anyone over for a meal, but that's beside the point!) See, I have this weird thing about my house never being "enough" to invite others in. It's never clean enough, nice enough, whatever enough. I know, it's not about the house - in my head. But it's very difficult to budge a mindset that has developed over the past 59 years. I can't even offer good food because I hate to cook. That is not an overstatement...I truly hate to cook. (Maybe that's why my food doesn't taste very good!) And in my mind, "good Christians" have the gift of hospitality and can cook like some of my precious friends. They love to get together for meals and to go out to "fellowship", but honestly, I don't enjoy doing that. My goodness, my bad Christian self is really showing its ugly head!

Don't get me wrong, I love people! I love to visit at the mailbox, chat in the store, laugh together at work, sit together at games...those are my "living rooms" where I feel most comfortable. Put me in a crowd of strangers and I promise you I'll leave with interesting life stories and new "friends". I am a strange combination of introvert and extrovert in the same body. But that's not the definition of a "good Christian". 

I'm not a "good Christian" in other ways either. I don't stop and talk to every homeless person (though I do stop at times.) I don't support multiple ministries on a regular basis (though I do support some.) I don't live a life of minimalism in order to sponsor missions or give all I have to the poor, (though I do try to sponsor missions and give...) There's just a lot of things that "good Christians" do that I don't. I guess I could be called one of those hypocrites that so many people cite as the reason they don't go to church. I really am sorry for that. 

But as I said - these thoughts were running through my head as I was getting ready for church (my mind works VERY quickly!) Over and over, I thought of ways I was not a "good Christian." 

I was late, yet when I arrived at church, there was time for one more song and the words answered every question I had about not being a "good Christian." The words were "You are good, good, You're never gonna let me down...Worthy of every song we could ever sing...we live for you! Holy, there is no one like You, fill me with your heart and lead me in Your love to those around me." (Okay, maybe it was two songs.) Are you spotting the answer yet?

Then we had a guest speaker that surprisingly I don't think I've ever heard before. (I think I've been upstairs with the kids every time he's visited.) He spoke about the power of testimony - your story. He said that a testimony is the Word of God being illustrated in someone's life and it should be shared because someone needs to hear it. It lets them know that if God did something for you, that He'll do it for them too! At one point he told of a young woman who was newly saved that listened to God and reached out to him...she had no idea he had planned to take his life that day, but God did. Instead of taking his own life, he gave it to the Lord and found life he had never known. Isn't that just like God? 

Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that young girl hadn't had time to become a "good Christian" yet. She was a baby herself! But God used her.

That's the whole point. It's not about whether or not I'm good - He is. If I could brag on God because of the good things I have done, then it's not really God I'm bragging on. Instead, I testify of how much He loves me in spite of me! He is good, good, and He's never gonna let me down. I am a bad Christian...but I am loved by a good, good God. That is news worth sharing no matter where your "living room" is at. 

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

I could never be...

My son and daughter are in college and at the point of deciding what they want to do with the rest of their lives. My daughter is looking for her passion, and my son is looking for a career that makes MONEY! The rest of their lives lies before them, and they are looking at all the paths, trying to figure out which road to travel.

I remember those days. I also remember saying that the one thing I could never be was a teacher. Pretty sure those were my words when I was deciding on a career. Actually, it was more like "I will NEVER be a teacher!" Famous last words. Now, I am not only a teacher, but I love what I do!

When I was younger, I was certain I was called to preach, despite the fact that in my denomination women weren't allowed to preach. I figured it meant I'd become a missionary or something. But teaching - that was something I was certain I would not do. By college, I'd fallen into picking a career I thought would use my talents and provide an income - advertising. (Honestly, I do still use what I learned in advertising. I am constantly convincing my students they want something they have no interest in - education.)

The idea that I am trying to get at is that at some point I quit looking for what I thought I'd do and started looking at what God had planned. Slowly I started to trust that God would open the right doors for me to walk through, I just needed to listen as I walked along. I also learned that what I dreamed of doing as a child and what I am now doing weren't all that different.

I am kind of a missionary. My mission field is in middle schools, one of the most frightening mission fields on earth! Of course, I'm kidding, but still, it is a mission field. While I don't "preach" per say, I do have a group that I guide and mentor each year as they navigate the treacherous path of puberty. All this and I still get to enjoy all the comforts of home! 

Maybe we need to stop looking at our jobs by what the world says they are and started looking at them for what God intends for them to be. 

I recently heard a comedian joke with a man who managed a university copy center. He asked him if he'd dreamed of doing this when he was a kid. Of course, no one dreams of growing up to work at a copy place, but then he asked the man what he liked about his job. The man responded that he loved working with the kids. See - there it is. It's not the job, it's what God has us doing while we are there.

What has God called you to? Maybe you'll be a doctor, or lawyer, or Indian chief...or a teacher, or a copy center manager. No matter what the world says you are, ask God what He says you are. You might just be surprised to find it's what you've always dreamed you'd be.

Jeremiah 29:11 (MSG)
I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

What's in a name?

This is kind of part two to my last blog, but I stumbled on it while I was studying for my lesson for Children's church. 

Our lesson was on Luke 5:17-26, the story of the men who brought the lame friend to Jesus. But that's not what caught my attention. It was the "heading" above the next section, "Jesus calls Levi and eats with sinners."

Most of my readers already know my son's name is Levi, and the remarkable way he got his name. What many don't know, and honestly I had forgotten, was something else that makes his name a gift from God.

Quick background for those who don't know. Years before we adopted Samantha and Levi, we'd adopted a baby boy and named him Matthew, gift of God. After over seven months, the adoption fell through and Matthew went back to his birth mother...and our lives changed forever. It was a time when I questioned God and His love for me. I literally shook my fist at God at one point and said, "if this is who You are, I choose not to serve You." Yeah, I know. I should have been struck dead at that point, but as I've often mentioned, God loves despite our stupidity and rebellious nature. Instead of striking me dead, He poured out His love and showed me that I had no clue Who He is, or how much He loves me. (Kind of felt like Job at this point, with God asking him was he around when the world was created?)

Anyway, fast forward a lot of years. God had not only blessed us with a beautiful baby girl but now with a baby boy that we named Levi. We didn't know that Levi meant "unity" when we chose that name, but he really has lived up to his name. He brings people together wherever he goes! He carries the name of my grandfather, even though I had no idea of that when we named him. It was a name that "fit".

Then, one day at church, a friend said something that stopped me in my tracks. He said something about how cool it was about Levi's name. I thought he meant any one of the many stories I've already shared, but then he said, "you know, Matthew...Levi." That's when, for the first time, I realized that in the Bible, Matthew and Levi were one and the same. 

God had truly brought us full circle from losing Matthew, to finding Levi. 

That brings me back to the section in Luke that I stumbled on while studying. Luke 5:27-28,
"After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him." There it was...a promise and a reassurance that God has it all under control. 

Even though my son sometimes acts like, well, a typical son, God's not finished with him yet. The call over his life may not be clear to him yet, but it's still there. I just need to let go and trust that. 

For those who wonder if my son will read this - are you kidding? Of course, he won't! I'm sharing because I know the things I go through are not that unique. Somewhere out there is another mom who is looking at her grown-up baby and wondering what happened. When did they quit believing we'd hung the moon and could fix any problem? When did they decide that we actually didn't know anything? Will they ever look at us the same again? Well, no...probably not. But we can trust God's Word when it says "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6 Even the knuckleheads...

Take heart fellow moms. What's in a name? A whole lot, especially when it's called by Jesus.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Friday, June 22, 2018

When God won't back you up...

I know, I know. God is always there for me. I have no doubt about that; however, sometimes God just won't back me up!

This week has been a hodgepodge of ups and downs...mostly ups. I was feeling pretty good about life in general! Then I went to see my son four hours away and got a less than excited reception. He was in a mood and as usual, since I'm a safe place to vent, I caught the storm cloud. I'd love to say I was a mature person and just let it slide, but to be honest, I was hurt. I guess I was looking for one of those made for movie welcomes where the son gets tearful and hugs his mom like he's actually glad to see her. Instead, my son was asleep and when I woke him, it was like he'd forgotten he'd asked me to come. I was there to help with some paperwork that couldn't be done over the phone. Anyway - the particulars aren't what this blog is about. 

I left from my visit hurt. I had planned on taking him out to lunch but after my reception and the subsequent trip to the college, I decided to just sign the papers and make the four-hour drive home. He could figure out lunch on his own. 

This morning, I decided to look up verses on what to do when someone you love hurts you. 

Matthew 5:44-47
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

Well, that wasn't what I was looking for. I mean, after all - my son isn't exactly my enemy! Try again.

Romans 12:1-2
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

God, you are not backing me up, here!

Luke 6:27
“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. 
Luke 6:37
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Come on, God! You're not playing fair! He's my child and yet he acts like I'm his enemy! You don't understand...oh, wait. I guess You do understand.

How many times have I gotten angry at God for my own failures? How many times have I blamed Him for the way life was treating me, (when actually, I had pretty much been found sleeping when I should have been up and about His business?) How many times have I gotten mad because MY plans weren't playing out the way I thought they should? How many times have I responded to His gifts by looking at what others have and practicing envy instead of gratitude?

Yet never once has He turned His back on me. Never once has He washed His hands and said, "Enough!" I can always come back as a His child, knowing that my Father loves me and will care for all my needs.

It's hard to admit that a child acts like, well, a child sometimes. It's hard to watch as they do things that hurt themselves and those around them. It's hard to take the brunt of their frustrations - but parents often do, (no matter what age their child happens to be.) Why? Because no matter what, that parent will love. That's what God did for us. 

I guess I should have taken my son out to lunch after all.

Photo by Atlas Green on Unsplash

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Who I am...

I haven't written in a LONG time - mostly because I figure I have nothing to say of any weight. Today, however, I read an article that caused the random thoughts to start turning. It was an article about famous people who "came out of the closet." No, this isn't going to be a blog about that - but something a lot of them said struck a nerve. In the article, a lot of them said they had been spending time discovering "who they are." That of course, started me thinking about all the DNA/ancestry sites that are springing up so that people can discover "who they are." From this, comes today's random thoughts.

Now, I've seen all the commercials and thought that I'd like to know my ancestry. It sounds so cool to know where you're from! The father's day commercials made me want to buy a kit for my husband. Since both of my children are adopted, I've thought about purchasing a kit for them. My son's should REALLY be interesting - he's such a delightful mix of nationalities. But that's where it stops, with a thought. For one, I'm cheap and for two, I don't really trust the accuracy of these test, and for three, I'm not sure I want to share EVERYTHING with some company I don't know. But there's a greater reason. I already know who I am, and who they are. Each of us is a child of God.

My "past" is probably interesting, but it's just that - past. Maybe I'll discover I have a hero in my past - I can't claim anything from that. I didn't do it. Maybe I'll have a villain - again, not me.  Maybe I'll find out some pertinent medical history - but I am just too old to care. Besides, God tells me that "by His stripes" I am healed. That's medical history enough for me. 

As for discovering "who I am," - why? I'm but a blip on the screen of life, here today and gone tomorrow. I'm more concerned about discovering what God says about me and what He has for me to do while I'm here. There is value in understanding the past, but I cannot change it. All I have at my fingertips is today. What will I do with this day?

As for those trying to discover "who they are," I'm afraid many are looking in the wrong places. People will delight in telling you who you are, but very few have your best interest at heart. Their opinion changes according to how they feel about who THEY are! Nope, there's only One who is unchanging and that I trust to help me discover who I am and that is the one who made me. 

Perhaps you don't believe in the Creator (which makes me wonder how you stumbled across my blog since that's all I write about!) In any case, if you've read this far I'm going to add in a few verses about who God says we are. 

Genesis 1:27 (NIV)
So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

1 Peter 2:9-10 (MSG)
9-10 But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

1 John 3:1-2 (NIV)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Ephesians 1:4 (MSG)
Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. 
And this one is my favorite!
Colossians 2:8-10
Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.
I could probably spend all day adding verses, but you get the idea. (You can even do a search on your own about all that God has to say about who you are!) The point is, it's not our past that tells us who we are - either distant past of ancestors or recent past of our own mistakes. It is in who God says we are that we will find our peace. 
I'm thankful for all who have gone before me. I am proud to be called the daughter of Howell and Victoria, but now it's up to me. What will I do with the time I have here? I am Donna, just Donna; and my past does not determine my future in Christ. No one will look back and say, "Wow, my ancestor was Donna!" That won't matter, but each day I spend encouraging others and pointing them to Christ, THAT will make a difference. 
I know I love and accept my own children for who they are, even when they make me crazy! If I, being a flawed human can love them, how much more can my heavenly Father love me? So who am I? Perhaps a better question would be "WHOSE am I?" Just a child of the King who is loved for who I am, faults and all. And that is enough.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Wait a minute...

Ever have one of those "thoughts" that make you go "Heyyyyyy, wait a minute"? Yep, had one of those today. (Repost from a few years back...)

This morning in one of my email devotionals, I read about Josiah. I've always loved the story of Josiah. He became king at the age of 8, tore down all the idols of foreign gods at age 16 (sounds just like the radical move of a 16-year-old!) and was known during his 31-year reign as one of Judah's greatest kings. He did everything he could to bring Judah back to God and His Word....but when he died, things went back to bad - worse even!

I did a little more reading and discovered that when Josiah died, his sons took over the throne. One only ruled 3 months before an Egyptian king overthrew him and put another of Josiah's sons on the throne instead. From what I could tell, that son was little more than a puppet king. Judah pretty much went back to its "pre-Josiah" days and started back up with the idols and pagan practices. 

All this got me to thinking about Josiah's sons. Why didn't they have the same strength of character and purpose that Josiah had? Why were they so easily overthrown and used by the enemy? Could it be because they did not have the same personal relationship with God that Josiah had?

That's when my thoughts, of course, traveled to my own two children. I want so much for them, but mostly I want them to know and love the Lord. I want their faith to be stronger than my own...that's when I could almost hear the Lord start talking to my heart.

"How did your faith become strong?"
"Through trials, Lord. You've carried us through so much."

Okay, by now you're probably already ahead of me here. Just a two-line conversation with God, but through it, I learned so much. 

I want so much for my children to have a faith that can stand....but I also want so much to protect them from pain, heartache, difficulty, you name it. But those very things are what can cause their faith to grow. I want them to hold on to God for all they are worth, yet I want to hand them so much they have no need of anything else. 

As a parent, it's natural to try and save your child from hurt. I ran alongside their bicycle as they learned to ride so that they wouldn't fall....they eventually fell anyway. I helped them study for tests...which they sometimes failed anyway. I warned them of friends that might do them harm or of the dangers of lying - yep, you guessed it. It seemed they had to learn the hard way.

I think what I need is a new mindset. While my heart breaks watching my daughter sit at home on a Friday night with seemingly no friends to hang out with, instead I should see it as a time when she has to rely on God as her friend and comfort. When I see my son struggle with rejection or failure, instead of trying to rescue him I need to see it as God showing Him that only through His strength can he truly become great. Those trials - let's call them what they often are, huge mistakes that my children often make, are something God is allowing in answer to prayer...the prayer that their faith might be greater than my own. I wish they would learn from my mistakes...but my mistakes are what made my faith grow. 

I wonder if Josiah protected his children like I WANT to protect my own. The difference is, Josiah was a man of wealth and power. He could MAKE things happen. I often feel like all I can do is sit and WATCH things happen. That's not true...I can watch and PRAY when things happen so that my children can grow strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 

I always thought I wanted to be like Josiah; instead, now I think I'd rather be like Timothy's mother and grandmother. Yep, my kids may have a rocky road ahead, but I have confidence that He who began a good work in them will be faithful to complete matter what trials lie ahead. 

Wow...God can show you a lot in a minute! 

2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

Romans 5 (Message)

 1-2By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

 3-5There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience, in turn, forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Photo by Mikito Tateisi on Unsplash

Monday, January 15, 2018

Learning to walk...

Every day you can find videos of babies learning to take their first steps. They, of course, make you smile. To see those precious chubby legs stagger forward evokes memories of our own children taking those first steps that eventually became long walks...walks away from home and into their own lives. Okay - so now the smiles are getting a bit misty. Those first steps were usually TOWARD you. As they get older, their steps seem to carry them away, and let's be honest - that can be hard.

Just as difficult as watching them walk away, can be watching them fall

When they are tiny, we might help lift them to their feet, but we also encourage them to try again. What we don't usually do is pick them up and tell them it's okay - that they don't have to walk if they don't want to. No, we help them up and cheer as they stumble forward...because that is love.

Sometimes, a child might need extra support because their legs don't work the way they should. In those times it can be even more painful to watch them struggle with the pain of learning to walk - and more rewarding when they finally overcome. 

So what's all this "walk talk"? 

I am currently learning to watch my own children walk. Those who know me realize I'm NOT talking about toddlers. My children are young adults. And I'm watching them learn to really walk on their own.

To be honest, it can be difficult at times. As they take their first steps, those steps usually carry them away from home...and sometimes they stumble and fall. As a parent, it can be tempting to reach out and grab them so they don't hit the ground, but as many of my friends tell me, you have to let them fall. I've heard so often, "Don't bail them out of the situation." No, my children haven't wound up in jail, but we often bail them out of the problems of life. We hate to see them suffer, but let's be honest, most of us can't afford to "pay the bail" for everything they can find to get into! We want to protect them, but how do you put a bumper pad on life?

I'm also learning another hard lesson. When they fall, it's not necessarily ME that needs to help them up. I'm learning to let them fall and let God catch them instead of trying to do it myself. I can hug and love and definitely pray, but ultimately it is God who will help them back on their feet. 

I keep thinking of something that happened years ago when my son was about 3 or 4 years old, and we went to Walmart to pick up few things. He was probably chattering on about the latest Power Ranger he hoped I'd buy for him. We entered the foyer where they keep the buggies (shopping carts for those up north) and I stepped over to grab a cart. Levi was right behind me and with one hand I pulled the cart which came immediately, not hanging up at all! Miracle! We took a few steps toward the store and I heard a roar, turning just in time to see a van drive through the double doors and slam into the wall next to me. My thoughts went to my son as I whipped around. Where was he? I screamed out his name and frantically looked for him. Somehow, (with an angel's help?) he had wound up past me and inside the entryway of the store. He was safe...and I had NOTHING to do with it. I was RIGHT THERE, but there was nothing I could have done to keep him safe - but God could.

As a parent, it can be hard to realize that as much as you love your child, God loves them more. They are His. He will help them walk...and run the race He has set before them.

I won't claim I have learned this lesson completely. I sit here trying to figure out the best way to help my son deal with his first steps away from home. I watch him stumble and my natural instincts are to reach out and grab him before he hits the ground...but a random thought comes to mind. Babies are built low to the ground. When they fall, they aren't going to fall all that far. What if they didn't start to walk until they were 6 feet tall? That fall will hurt a lot more. In the same way, allowing our children to falter now will be far less painful than having them wait until they are my age. 

My parents have been gone for a long time now, but I guess in lots of ways I'm still learning to walk on my own. No fear - my Father God will lift me up when I fall.

Psalm 37:23-25
The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand. I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread.… 

Psalm 94:18
The minute I said, “I’m slipping, I’m falling,”
    your love, God, took hold and held me fast.