Redefining Our Good

I can hardly believe that I get to be among the women participating in 30 Days of Story at Sarah Farish’s blog. I have read some amazing stories of trial and triumph, all with God at the center of them, writing and rewriting the stories Himself.

I have to admit, this is very, very scary for me. Partially because I’m telling about some of the most messed-up times in my life. And partially because I sorta feel like I’m going through another mess right now. I haven’t felt worthy to be sharing my story. I’ve been hearing that voice again that says I’m nothing; no one wants to hear about my junk. Nothing I say can help anyone. I’m so screwed up, so how is anyone ever going to see God through me?

But that’s precisely why I think it’s important — no, imperative– that we share our stories. If we go through things and come out on the other side, then the whole thing is over. Great. But what did we learn from it? What could someone else learn? How might hearing how God brought us through our mess actually help someone else look at their circumstances differently?

That’s God’s recycling plan. He uses broken bits of our stories to piece together something beautiful. He’s rewritten my story and redefined my good so many times. It’s just what He does.

Here’s part of my story that I shared on Sarah’s blog, and a glimpse into how God has rewritten it.

Life, death, and in between

Today is the day. I am finishing a pedicure and Todd is making his famous pancakes for breakfast. We’ve had this trip planned for more than 6 months, and now here we are…getting ready to leave for India. It still doesn’t even seem real somehow, even though our bags are packed and we’re getting picked up in a couple of hours, I’m still asking myself…are we really doing this?

About a month ago, our pastor sent us a list of scriptures. With his experience visiting India many times and the objectives of the trip, he suggested they may be good ones to meditate on before we leave. I looked them over and recognized many of them as familiar text, so I decided to go online and print them off in a couple of different translations in the hopes that I could get a fresh perspective on the message the words carried.

I had read the verses that follow a million times from Matthew 8 and was always surprised by the harshness of them. Different people who were wannabe followers of Jesus were coming up to him and proclaiming their loyalty. Immediately he questioned their commitment.

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

21Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Jesus, what’s up with that second dude? I can see you rebuking the teacher of the law because he was used to staying in fancy joints and you knew he couldn’t handle the way you roll. But that second guy just wanted to lay his parent to rest. Wasn’t that a little much? But then I read the same words in the Message translation, and it stood out to me like a bright light among all the other verses that had been recommended.

When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

20Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

21Another follower said, “Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father’s funeral to take care of.”

22Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.”

Wow. That last section kicked me in the stomach for some reason, although I wouldn’t know for a long time what it might really mean to me. First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life. That’s Jesus talking…and you don’t really ignore Him.

So I started thinking what that could mean for me in my everyday life. What does life and death look like when you’re not necessarily dealing in matters of life-and-death? I started thinking in terms of death-by-a-thousand-cuts over a lifetime. Like how you can look at a middle-aged person who is broken and messed up and hates the world and has zero joy, and you just know that a million little things have happened to them over the long period of their life to make them that way. I started looking at my students, just 7 and 8 years old, who already have scars from some of their thousand cuts. I started thinking…that’s how I bring life instead of death…I try not to be one of those cuts. So I really began paying attention to how I was speaking to them and to others…thinking…is what I’m saying right now bringing life or bringing a little bit of death? You know just what I mean…the way you say something can bring death. Like when you give a backhanded compliment. Death. Or when you say something in a certain way only because you know it will force someone to have to give you a pathetic compliment. Death. When someone is talking to you but you’re not really listening..and for one split second they notice your eyes glazing over. You just made them feel unimportant. Death. Or when you walk by someone and you could look them in the eye, smile, and say hello. But you choose not to. Death.

So not knowing at all what else those verses would mean, I simply went along trying to be about the business of life, not death. Pursuing Jesus and the things He represents are pure life. Anything else is death. Not bad, right?

Then a few weeks ago my son overdosed on a combination of drugs. He was in the hospital for nearly 2 weeks. No one knew if he would recover or if he would be normal again after he did. Arguments ensued over the outcome of his care. Lies were told. Commitments were broken. False accusations flew. Death, death, death. Every little thing started to go awry in our world, from the big and important to the smallest detail. Confusion, dissension, anger, brokenness. Death, death, death.

Then, death really came along. On December 22nd I got a call that my mom was being taken to the hospital after collapsing at home. I was on my way there to be with her and figure out what was happening when I got the second call that her heart had stopped and she was gone. GONE. Death.

Your business is life, not death.

It was my momma’s 76th birthday, and she died suddenly. A few days before Christmas, a few days before we were to leave for India. How would we get all the arrangements made before I had to leave the country? Would I actually miss my own mom’s funeral? Or should I try to rearrange my trip to stay here?? None of the options seemed good. Death. Right in the midst of planning her funeral, we found out that Todd’s mom was also now in the hospital and may need surgery. No, Lord, not more death…please.

It took me a day or so to get it, but eventually I could really see what Jesus meant by saying that my business was life, not death. Even in the middle of everything going on around me, including a thousand other things I haven’t even mentioned, I was still somehow concentrating on trying to bring life to the thing. And it definitely wasn’t because of my well-grounded abilities… God was keeping my focus for me. How else does someone’s family go through so much in such a short period of time and still come out halfway sane? Life. Prayers were answered (and continue to be) in ways I never would have imagined before. Life. Every little detail of my mom’s funeral was taken care of with relative ease, all in time for us to hold the service yesterday… Before we were to leave for India today. We put her to rest in a funny and perfect way that matches her personality. Thank you, God. I prayed for healing of my ear, which the doctor told me held so much fluid that it would likely burst if I flew. It has improved dramatically and I am no longer congested, but breathing normally. Life. My son has recovered and not only is out of the hospital, but he asked to come home and stay with us…. Words we’ve hoped to hear for a long, long time. Life. He has given his life to Jesus, and I’m already seeing the new creation God is making him in to. Life!! There is peace in our home and all around us even with some things still up in the air. There is peace all around us. Life, life, life.

I can’t wait to look into the beautiful brown faces of the little girls at the children’s home in India, and smile and show them life. I cant wait to hug the 300+ lovely people who live at the leper colony, praying they can understand that they, too are made in the image of God. I can’t wait to pray for healing and rest and peace for our friends and soon-to-be-friends on the other side of this world we share. And with all I hope we’ll accomplish there, I have a feeling that I will receive much, much more life than I could ever possibly dream of giving out.

“First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.” -Jesus.

Taking Requests

I’ve been waiting to write until something big jumps out at me, and it just hasn’t been happening. I don’t know if this is what you’d call writer’s block, because I have lots and lots of ideas. I’ve been writing things down in hopes of developing them into a coherent piece at some point when I have enough time to pound the keys for a while. I’ve had some time, I just didn’t feel like any of the ideas were quite ready to be spit out yet. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. But I’m not really getting the go-ahead for any of the things I’ve written down. So, here’s an idea…would you take a minute and tell me which of these topics you’d be interested inseeing me writing about next? I figure it’s possible that the 3 folks who have read this little blog once or twice might be thinking “I wonder what she’d have to say about _______?” So here’s a chance. Take a look at these topics (some have already been swirling around in my mind for a while and pick 2 or 3 that you’d most like to see me write about over the next several weeks. If there’s something you’re interested in that you don’t see here, just type it in the comment box. I’ll take a look at the results and start writing on the most popular one in a day or two. I’m excited (and a little scared!) to see what you’ll have in mind…I have to say this is a bit weird, putting myself out there like this with the possiblity of this idea being rejected altogether. But then again, I have a feeling that y’all will come through with at least a few things for me to think about. Thank you in advance!

Moments, Day 24: I Just Don’t Believe That…

Recently we were talking with a couple who is engaged and wanting some help smoothing out some relationship bumps before tying the knot. They are both Christians and want to start their marriage out with God at the center. They’ve also been living together for quite some time.

So in addition to the normal how-to-have-a-rockin’-marriage advice, we had to address that one teensy little detail about them shacking up. So…we suggested that if there was no way that they could physically live at separate addresses, they should at least transition to two different bedrooms and commit to abstain from all physical intimacy until they were married.

That didn’t go over so well. Even though these folks said they wanted to put God first in their marriage, they went on to tell us that they “just didn’t believe in that” and even though the bible said that they should be waiting on that part of their relationship, they felt that it wasn’t something they could change.

We were confused.

Yes, it’s tough. Especially if you’ve been used to doing something a certain way and then you have to do it a different way, maybe even do something (or do without something) that makes the overall dynamic of your life look and feel very different. But if you want to line up with the abundant life that God has already put in place for you, there are always going to be some things that have to change.

As I thought about this, I came to the conclusion that there’s a whole lot more going on than just a couple of young horny folks who say they can’t control themselves. That’s nothing new in this world. The problem here was that they had tried to justify their actions by re-stating their “belief system” to allow for the provision of whatever they want in that particular arena. It’s the old “I believe in God, but…” argument.

But what’s really going on here is that this young man and woman (and all of us from time to time) have a wrong view of God. Instead of understanding that He is all-knowing, perfectly-loving, and vastly generous, and therefore would only give us those things that are the very best for us, we decide to believe that there’s something really awesome out there that God is just trying to keep us from. He never lets us have any fun, dang it. When it comes right down to it, it’s a trust issue.

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

 2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. 3“It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

 4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

 6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it.

Just like our sister Eve, we’ve been tricked into feeling like we can’t trust God for the very best. She and Adam had everything. EVERYTHING. Their life literally was perfection, and they enjoyed the constant intimate connection with God that we all long for today. It was already there for them. God had made everything and had given them everything for their pleasure. There was one thing He asked them to avoid. That’s it. Just one thing. What did the Deceiver focus on? That one thing. He actually twisted God’s words into making it sound like a totally different situation. He made it sound like God was mean, and that He was trying to keep something from us.  God was trying to keep us from something, alright, but it wasn’t something good. It was something destructive. It was the knowledge and experience of sin in our lives.

Now we know a whole lot about that, don’t we? Sin is a regular part of our everyday lives that we have to work against. And we have that distrusting view of God…like He’s some grumpy old grandpa who is irritated at the slightest thought of us having any fun. But when you’ve reached that point of having a right view of God’s incredible love for you, you’ll realize that He really does know the plans He has for you, and that in asking for our obedience,  He is not keeping something good from us, but rather keeping the best of the best for us.

How about you? When was a time in your life that you sacrificed the best in your life for something that you just thought was good? Or did you have the opportunity to put aside something that seemed good at the time in order to wait for God’s very best?

Cold Turkey Detox Day

I’ve been dying to get to this keyboard and write for the past week, but I’ve been working about 6 million hours a day so that hasn’t left much room for me to actually have a life. As usual. But that’s about to change.

Today marks an important day for me. One that my husband and I have planned and discussed for quite some time. Earlier this year, we had [yet another] conversation about my severe workaholism that turns on with each new school year. Ever since I’ve been a teacher, I’ve had this problem of working way many hours, to the point of excluding and neglecting  much of everything else in my life including my husband, my health, my home, my family, my friends, my hobbies, and worst of all, my relationship with God. I worked so hard to become a teacher because I wanted a career that I loved as much as the rest of my life. I thought I’d attained that. But in truth, what I’ve actually done is become nothing but a teacher. My whole personality (and even maybe my identity–I’m still figuring that one out) has become wrapped up in my career.

I’ve tried many different ways of making this more bearable over the years, but nothing worked because I never just decided I wasn’t going to be this way and did something serious about it. Until now. My husband is 100% hard-core about something when he makes a decision. JUST DO IT is definitely a motto he rolls with. So, I’m taking his guidance and I’m quitting cold-turkey. ( Not teaching, you goofs!) I’m quitting my workaholism. Cold. Turkey. TODAY.

We set the date of October 1st to start my detox from working like crazy…after which I will no longer allow myself to voluntarily stay at school past 5pm (with the exception of one “late night” each week which will be the same night Todd has another committment until 8pm) and I won’t be bringing home any work in the evening or on weekends.

GULP…

So, even though I’m excited about it, because I will actually have a life (!) I am also very very nervous. I have lived so out of balance in this way for so long, I’m not sure what to do to make it go well. I’ve thought about it, talked about it, prayed about it, and I still just seriously cannot see how I’ll physically be able to be the teacher I want to be without at the same time working at least as much as I already do right now. Which is probably why I just need to stop allowing myself to be out of balance, and just figure out how to cope with the fallout later. I know that there is a way to make it happen, I just can’t see it yet. Lord, help me!

So would you please pray for me? Even though I am having a mini freak-out realizing what a big deal this will be for me, I know in reality that my priorities really are out of whack, and that speaks more about me than just saying I’m a little bit of a workaholic. My life is made up of so much more than just my career–even as important as it is–and I need to remember what those so much more parts actually are. I’m praying for wisdom, for God to show me what’s on my plate that needs to be moved, changed, reduced, or kicked off completely. Interestingly enough, I’ve already had 2 different but very obvious attacks on this new goal that have come up in the past 2 days… I was giddy when I realized it, because that means I’m right on track with making this change. 🙂

I’ll be writing about how things are going along the way (duh) whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. Thank you in advance for your prayers and for kicking me in the boo-tay whenever I need it. Keep reminding me of what’s most important.

I’m looking forward to getting my eyes back on the One who matters.

Good advice

I’m always amazed at how incredibly gracious God is to us messed up ragamuffins, especially to me. . You poor folks who actually read this thing…I didn’t mean to worry you too much. I know how squirmy you people who love me can get when I have a little huge freak-out and start writing posts like this and I’m not my perky self. I understand how you worry about me because my moods swing from one end of crazy to the other, and with serious quickness. It’s really happened too many times this year. I’m chalking it up to my terribly short memory. You know, the one that always seems to forget somehow that God is completely in control of my everything and that usually when I’m freaked out it’s because I haven’t spent enough time with Him and my eyes are looking in another direction. Yeah, that short memory.

I want to thank you for your prayers…many of you mentioned that you had been praying for me, and I certainly did need it. Several of you sent me messages with encouraging words, telling me what you have experienced in times similar to this, when everything just seemed too…well, too everything. Like things were spinning out of control and you felt imbalanced and unsure of the next step. Thank you for all of that encouragement. What did I ever do to deserve friends like the ones I have? *sigh*

So as you know, all this craziness has been brought on by my workaholic personality. I’ve known about it for a long time, but in the last couple of years I’ve really been thinking about how to make it better. I haven’t exactly figured out the root cause, but it seems as if it is likely several things all together. God’s still showing me all that. But this week, Todd asked me to read a part of a book he’s reading (The Christian Atheist-I read the first few chapters then he hijacked it and I hadn’t finished yet!) because he said that it reminded him of me and my current situation. The author relates his own struggle with being a workaholic, and the process he went through to change. But this part was at the beginning of his real journey, about him basically telling his counselor, after much probing and prodding,  that he didn’t feel like he would change because this was just who he was. The counselor leaned over to him and said something like “So, basically, you’re saying that our God isn’t big enough to change you?”

THAT was his turning point. When he admitted that he really was telling God “You can’t handle this job,” that made a world of difference for him. I mean, who says that to God? Who ever could? Obviously He can handle anything.

Okay, that’s great…but I didn’t think that really related to me specifically because I wasn’t telling God that I couldn’t change. I have been telling Him for a long time that I needed Him to show me what the deal was so I could figure out how to fix it. Right there was my first hint,  but I didn’t really get it until later in the weekend.

Fast-forward to Saturday morning. I woke up, so happy that I could just reach over and grab a book and read in bed for a while before ever having to get up to do anything. I grabbed a couple of books (nerd alert!) and my bible.  I started praying and thanking God for an awesome morning, and asking Him to speak to me. I did that thing that I do sometimes where I ask God to speak to me through His word and I just let my bible fall open, then I read whatever catches my eye on that page. It’s not rocket science, I know. Maybe you have a better way, but I know He has been faithful to speak to me many times like that. I may be random, but He isn’t.

This time, it fell open to Psalm 107, which starts out: Shout praises to the LORD!   He is good to us, and his love never fails. Everyone the LORD has rescued  from trouble should praise him… Alright. Check. Moving on…

Then it starts explaining all these different types of people and the situations they’ve gotten themselves into, and how when they finally cried out to Him, he rescued them from their circumstances and restored them back to an even better place than when they’d started out. It talked about people who were homeless wanderers, hungry and thirsty, depressed, imprisoned, distressed, foolish, rebellious, enslaved, sinful, physically ill, sailing on high seas, discouraged, etc… Do you see yourself yet? I didn’t. Not until I read the verses again, and in 10-16, I saw my face:

Some of you were prisoners  suffering in deepest darkness  and bound by chains,

    because you had rebelled  against God Most High  and refused his advice.

    You were worn out  from working like slaves,  and no one came to help.

    You were in serious trouble,  but you prayed to the LORD,  and he rescued you.

    He brought you out  of the deepest darkness  and broke your chains.

    You should praise the LORD  for his love  and for the wonderful things  he does for all of us.

    He breaks down bronze gates  and shatters iron locks.

Whoa… that’s me. I’ve been worn out from working like a slave. No one was helping me, or even able to. I was bound by my own self-made chains, suffering  with self-scorn and spiraling into a funky depression. So…all I had to do was pray to God? Well that’s weird because that’s what I have been doing and nothing is getting better.  But then my eyes fell back on to that part about refusing His advice. Then the part about calling on Him and He would rescue me.

You see it?? All this time, here I was thinking that I had called on God, but all I had really been doing was talking at Him. Remember what I said? I had been telling Him to show ME what the problem was so I could figure out how to fix it. Never once had I called on Him to fix it all for me…to swoop in and rescue me from this latest ridiculousness that I’d created for myself. Never once had I just turned it over to Him and said God, unless you come through for me on this and fix it for me, I’m not gonna make it.

So there it is, all back to trust and obedience. I saw Him just sitting back and shaking His head, with a grin on His face that said finally, you’re hearing Me. That was the key all along…not thinking that I was going to figure out a way to fix all this junk, not that I ever could have, but trusting Him to fix it for me, and to become a little more like His Son along the way somehow.

The coolest part was later when I was meditating on these verses and I couldn’t stop thinking about that word advice. That was the part that I was stuck on…okay, God, what specifically is this advice of yours that I haven’t heeded? I really sensed Him tell me that I’d find out soon enough. So I went about my morning, getting ready to just enjoy an entire day doing nothing related to work, but just loving the beautiful weather (this is my favorite time of year!) and visiting with family and spending time with the delicious man that He made for me. I was nearly giddy just thinking about it. While I was brushing my teeth, I decided to go check the Bible Gateway verse of the day on my phone, which I frequently do as a way to kick-off my day. It said simply:

Do as God does. After all, you are his dear children -Ephesians 5:1

Thank you, Abba. That’s good advice. I AM your child. I don’t need to worry about anything else.

Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.

I hate this question.

I’m in the second week of the James read-along and I literally just had the thought that maybe my current near-nervous-breakdown (don’t freak out on that one…I use that term fairly regularly to describe my ridiculous overly-dramatic reaction to things) might be related to it. It’s going to take a while to piece it all together, but I’ll put that little idea in my back pocket for a sec.

Anyhooooo….moving right along from that ADD moment…Here’s the killer verse this week:

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Flashback to The Help movie, which I just saw a few weeks ago with my book club gals. I keep thinking about how Hilly the Terrible (that’s my personal name for her,  a high-society, self-righteous, racist snob in the 3rd degree)  responded when her maid asked her for an advance in pay in order to be able to send both of her boys to college, rather than choosing which one she would be able to afford to send. Hilly the Terrible responded by saying that she, as a Christian, was going to “help her out,” and you could see the smile faintly crack on the maid’s face. That is, until Hilly the Terrible continued on to explain that “God doesn’t give charity to those who are able” and told the maid that she’d just have to find a way to come up with that money herself.

Nice.

So what does that have to do with the book of James? Specifically that chunk above? Well it has a lot to do with me, a high-society (aka richer than 99.9% of the rest of the peeps on this planet,) self-righteous, (albeit non-racist) snob in the 10th degree. You know why? Because even though I have my moments where I feel that double-edged sword cut through me and divide my self from my spirit and I truly feel love for someone else to the point where I would just meet their needs (like Danny, for example) …the other side of that coin is that most of the time I catch myself thinking: How far does that verse really go? I mean, if I have the means to do anything I can to meet the needs of a fellow human being, how detailed do we get here? Does that mean in the big stuff that comes my way, like sponsoring a child in a faraway land? Because I have that box checked, twice (yay, look at me, right!?) But does it even “count” if there’s no sacrifice involved for me? I mean, I can provide education, clothing, food, shelter, medical care, stability, and spiritual growth for  a child for less than it costs to fill up my gas tank 1 and 1/2 times. So….what did I really do that cost me anything?

And even if that stuff counts, then how much am I expected to give, really? Giving (money, anyway) is not really an area where my husband and I struggle. Now I’m not saying that to sound all awesome, because believe me, there are a million other areas where we do struggle that others just plain have it goin’ on in, you know? But that’s one we’ve always been on the same page with since we’ve met, and I believe God has given us a great measure of grace regarding that area because He led us to begin teaching others about financial responsibility and giving. Makes sense, right? But if I think I’m doing just fine and then I’m holding a $6 Starbucks, did I really show my faith? That $6 could go a long way in India, my friends. The other night I was at a party where goods were being sold from a catalog.  Accessories, not necessities. (UUUGGHHH I can’t believe I’m telling this story….) When it was over, the total sales were tallied up and they amounted to several hundred dollars. HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS. Enough to sponsor another girl for an entire year. I pushed down the little twinge of guilt I felt when I heard the total because I wasn’t sure if it was real conviction or a piece of equipment on the devil’s playground, so I pushed it away and decided I’d deal with it later, that I’d ask God to clear all that up for me. This is the first time I’m revealing it at all. In fact, I kinda forgot about it until just now.

So did I, in effect,  silently say, “go, be well and have a good day” to an orphan somewhere overseas because I pushed away that feeling, that thought of Oh, my goodness, a room full of people just spent enough money to take care of an orphan for the next year without saying anything or doing anything differently? I mean, I did want my new purse, after all. And plus, mentioning that after everyone has purchased their items isn’t exactly the best way to keep a party going, now is it? [Here comes Debbie Downer!]

Now, I am certainly not against Starbucks or pretty purses or any of the people who buy them. But those are good examples of the things that race through my mind when I hear this whole “faith without works” verse. HOW MUCH is really expected of us? I know we are allowed to enjoy some pleasures here on earth, but at what point is it just too much excess? Is it wrong for me to enjoy something even though I know choosing not to enjoying it could benefit someone else? In my mind I think well, it’s not like I’m directly hurting anyone or taking something away from someone who needs it. Or…am I?

The fact that I am even thinking so much about the details involved with how much good I have to do is disturbing to me. Since when did my faith become that I-still-want-to-get-away-with-enjoying-as-much-as-I-can-for-myself-while-still-meeting-my-Jesus-quota kind of thing? While I don’t consciously think that whenever I’m going through my daily life, this digging through the book of James business is making me want to get to the bottom of this It’s  like digging out a splinter. Ouch.

Lord, help please dig out this splinter before a full-blown infection takes its place.

What about you? Is this a valid concern or more false guilt? If faith without works is dead (and it is, because, um…the Bible already told us so) then how are you doing? Thoughts, please.

I am being torn up.

The DO-ing part: phase 1

During the first week of our read-along of the book of James, we’ve been challenged not only to read the words of the scripture, but to actually do what James says to do: DO WHAT IT SAYS.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (v.22)

There are many instructions for us to follow throughout scripture, some of which are not explicitly clear or can be applied different ways. But this one is pretty clear…no matter the command, James reminds us to DO what it says! Seems overly simple, but although I have read the bible and have a fairly good understanding of it, I admit that I still find myself daily failing at that tiny little detail of doing what it says. There’s that darn obedience thing again, right?

In fact, James pretty much tells us we’d be idiots not to do what the Word says. He says that a person who just listens to the Word of God but doesn’t do what it says is like a person who looks at his face in the mirror then walks away and forgets what he looks like. (v. 23-24.) I don’t know about you, but a person like that would seem pretty daft to me.

So, my daftness aside, I’ve come to a realization. I am the queen of trying to be an overachiever. (Lord help me with those “mmmm-hmmms” that I’m getting right now just from admitting this publicly!) I have a hard time just saying no to people.  I have a tendency to jump head-first into something without a lot of prayer, then I realize I’ve bit off more than I should have, then I can’t do my best at whatever it is, then I get grumpy and run-down, then I’m all bitter for having ever done the thing in the first place. What is that about!? For some reason I always feel like I have to do the biggest and best thing, and I end up ignoring all the little things along the way that really make up the person I am supposed to be. (You have no idea how hard this is for me to be confessing right now….ugh) So the whole big-shebang is not the point. The big events aren’t what make me who I am.  I’m starting to see that the little, everyday moments– the everyday choices that I make– are the actual threads that make up the fabric of my life. So I can sew a big flashy decoration on it if I want, but if the fabric is bad, nothing pretty and shiny will hold anyway.

So, of course when I read the challenge to share what I plan to do to become a DOer, and not just a HEARer of the word, my mind went to all this big stuff about studying for hours every day and starting a big prayer thing and all this other business. But God was so gracious to shut off that line of thinking for just a second and make me breathe. He’s nudging me in the direction of this to-do list instead:

  • Ask God for a bit of wisdom each day before I do something, instead of wondering later if I should have done it
  • Be slower to speak (that’s going to be a tough one!) and more eager to listen (equally tough for me!)   
  • Write letters to both of our sponsored girls this week, Zoila in Guatemala and Donna in India  
  • Spend some time with my mom, without any other reason to visit.
  • Keep a tighter rein on my tongue, by not participating in gossip or other negative talk when the opportunity presents itself (I’m pretty sure I already blew it this one, but I’m hitting the reset button)

What are you planning to do to become a DOer?

Can you hear me now?

So, I finally took some time tonight to catch up on an amazing little blog that I can’t even recall how I discovered, written by a local author by the name of Marla Taviano, who seems pretty darn amazing herself. I’ve been reading one of her books lately, entitled Is That All He Thinks About?: How to Enjoy Great Sex With Your Husband (way more on that later!) and I must say, I am enjoying the way that through her writing, this lady just brings it —the truth, that is— in a way that is  gentle but also a little bit in-yo’-face when it needs to be. Now I don’t know her personally, but she just seems very….real.  That’s my kinda gal.

Anyway, she’s decided to invite folks to do a read-along of the book of James, starting this week. Now, I mentioned to her once through a comment on her blog that I was a little freaked out by how timely some of her posts have been for me recently. You know that weird feeling when you’ve been thinking of something for a while and all of a sudden the whole universe  seems to confirm your thoughts and point you in the direction you need to go? Well that’s happened a few times recently through this little lady’s blog, among other things, and seeing this invitation to read through the book of James, it’s happening again.

I’ve been pondering what to read next in just about every way.  I’ve been shuffling back and forth through the pages of my bible lately, not really giving myself to one particular book or topic. I have several professional books that I’ve recently purchased and I’m trying to figure out which one will give me the most bang for my buck, since my personal reading time just got slashed by about a million percent when school began a couple of weeks ago. (FYI: A workaholism post will be following soon…maybe.) My book club just finished up an awesome novel and we’re looking for a new book to read…should we do another novel or try another book that is more life-application-ish?? The decisions…

Well, at least one of those decisions has been made for me. Whether or not this will be a book club pick or not, I know I’ve got to do this read-along. Because all these little road signs and nudges have been pointing to something to do with this verse, what I like to call the second scariest verse in the bible:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Guess where it hails from? The book of James. Mmmmm-hmmmmm. Anyone joining me?? If so, check out the details and introduce yourself over at Marla’s blog here.  

I know I’m not good at it, God, but You’ve got me listening, and that’s a start, right?  I am listening.

Obedience: I’m in love, again.

I met a new friend today. His name is Danny. I’m in love.

It’s okay, you can tell my husband. I plan to.

It started when I saw him this afternoon, while I was out and about going several different places across the city in a [failed] attempt to buy some new clothes. Not because I’m running around threadbare or naked. Not even close. (You’re welcome.) I just like to buy a couple of new things each year when school starts. You know, new school clothes.

So in all my driving around I was downtown near the arena district when I spotted my new love. There he was, in the afternoon sun, wearing what appeared to be the same clothes he’d worn for days. His scraggly beard was fairly long. He was missing several teeth (which I could tell from quite far away) and he was at least 5 inches shorter than me.

PERFECT.

However, it was not exactly love at first sight. It was more like love at first nudge. I was in my car, coming up to a red light and in the middle lane. He was standing on the sidewalk to my right, slowly walking. His sign said “Homeless and very needy. Please help.” I watched him from the corner of my eye for just a couple of seconds. I could see the disappointment and a little speck of disdain on his face as every driver and passenger kept their eyes starkly facing forward as he walked by, refusing to acknowledge what they’d surely already seen.

A person. A man. A man in need of something. In need of something so badly that he resorted to begging anyone –everyone– to help.

That’s when I heard our love song. Cranking in my car at that exact moment was:

Your love, Your love/ the only thing that matters is/ Your love, Your love/it’s all I have to give

Your love/ is enough/ to light up the darkness/ It’s Your love, Your love/ All I ever needed is Your love

I knew then that I was his answer, at least for that day. God wanted to use me to deliver some love and maybe even provide him with the means to eat that day. So I started to reach for my purse, to get some money out. The light turned green. All the cars around me started to move and I needed to get over. No one was even thinking about acquiescing to my turn signal. I was starting to create a line of angry drivers who were behind me since I was inconveniencing them by making a last-minute decision to change lanes. It was annoying, I admit. So I hit the gas pedal and moved forward onto the freeway ramp I was right in line for. I had a moment, just a moment, where I thought well, it wasn’t meant to be since I wasn’t able to get to him quickly enough. I’ll pray for him. Then…

Why worry about someone’s soul but don’t bother to give them a basic need when you know you can?

FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD. (James Ch.2, the kinda-ghetto Krysten version)

I thought about all the other songs I’d listened to that day while I was out and about doing my thing. The lyrics shot through me light lightning bolts, one right after another.

I want more of you, God…

        I’ve found a love greater than life itself….

                     No place I’d rather be/ than here in Your love…

                                         Nothing can tear us from/ the grip of His mighty love…

                                                            He lavishes His love upon us/ He calls us now his sons and daughters…

                                                                        We’ve only glimpsed/ His vast affection/ heard whispers of/His heart and passion…

So I DID pray, but not for the man. I prayed that he would still be there so I could go do what I knew God was asking of me.  (So I guess I was praying for myself?) I got off at the next exit. I turned around. I got back on the freeway. I spotted my man and found a place to park. I walked toward him and was keenly aware of all the confused and frightened scares of the people in the cars when they realized I was talking right up to him.

I tapped him on the shoulder and told him how happy I was that he was still there. (again, was this for me?)

He smiled his toothless smile and hugged me.

I told him I saw him a little earlier but couldn’t get to him, but that I’d turned my car around and came back so I could come give him some money to help him through the day.(Why did I tell him that? What did I expect, a medal!?)

And you know what he said?

He said: “Well, you didn’t have to do that! All you had to do was love me!”

ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS LOVE ME.

He told me his name was Danny. We talked for a while about how the weather was nice even though it was hot, and how his back hurt and how he just sleeps any place he can find, and how he knows the people who owned the building he was standing near but they don’t have anywhere for him to stay in there. He hugged me three times and introduced himself twice in the span of 5 minutes.  He’d been on the streets for 25 years. YEARS.

I told him I would look for him again, and I will. I told him I would be praying for him to stay safe and for his back to heal. And I will. He was so thankful to hear that, of all things.

The whole experience took less than 15 minutes, surely. But he will last forever whether I see him again or not. I’d been wondering lately if I’ve been obedient to God, I mean anytime recently. I’d seen such beautiful pictures painted in several lives around me, of just pure obedience and the lovely results that follow. I couldn’t remember the last time I was obedient to a nudge from the Spirit. I’d asked Him to bring something to mind so I could remember it, but  God was gracious enough to do me one better…. He gave me a new opportunity to be obedient to his voice. It’s almost romantic.

All I had to do was love him, he said.

Done.