Getting Along with People

I tend to leaf through the pages of my writing prompt book after I’ve read a particular day’s entry. I use my wandering to get ideas  for the day’s writing, blog topics, or even things God might be leading me to as I live in the now and not yet of God’s Kingdom. I found one today that pierced my heart, and knew I had to write about it. Here’s the prompt. “I just can’t seem to get along with anyone…”

I’ve felt like this a lot recently, and the words written with the prompt say this is a common thing for writers. I was somewhat reassured by that, but even though it’s a common thing, I still have the longing for deep relationships. It’s a longing God gives all of us. It seems though that some of us are better at it than others with me being at the not so good end. I decided to write about this and what we can all do to help today because there have to be more people who experience this problem than just me.

First, have we listened, truly listened, to a person who is trying to talk to us? I have had many conversations in my life with people who are looking at everyone else, but me during the conversation. It’s made me wonder if I’m really that bad to talk with.  I’ve also had people who can’t wait to get their own words out when we’re talking. It’s made me wonder if my own words even matter. It’s also made me more likely to write my words down than to say them because the written word helps me remember how I felt about something and helps me to be honest. I found a meme yesterday with this quote that I wanted to share. “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters.” It makes one think, doesn’t it? 🙂

Then, there’s walking up to a conversation that stops while I’m there and almost immediately starts back up when I leave. It’s made me wonder if I’m the one being talked or gossiped about. This is especially true if I know the people involved are part of a clique who I’m not well-acquainted with.

Funny story with the statement in the last paragraph. The other day I saw a cartoon with someone in the bed about to mentally go over every conversation they had that day and wonder about all the things they should have said. Because, I do that. Every single night. I give myself mental pats on the back if something went well, and I castigate myself if it didn’t. I shared the cartoon on my Facebook page, and others told me they did the same thing. It was a small comfort.

Finally, there’s walking into a room full of people and wondering how I’m going to fit in. It is something that terrifies me enough that I’ve almost quit doing it. I’ll get somewhere early so I can be the first one there. I’ll decide not to go somewhere at all to avoid it. Or I’ll just stand on the outside looking in. It’s not a place where I want to be. It’s just the place where I am right now.

I write all this because not only has it been done to me; I’ve done it to others. We all have. Listen, I know I’m hard to get along with. I know I’m prickly, and I find it hard to talk to people. It’s why today’s prompt spoke to me. We have all found multiple ways to sin–towards God and each other. I get tired of hearing all the ways this world has turned on itself and ask Jesus if He could go ahead and come now. I don’t want to deal with all the rotten stuff and feeling like I’m alone, unwanted, unneeded, and unloved because I do. (By other people. I know my Lord and Savior loves me.) I’ve spoken before of how my husband has more of an impact with his life than I do. He is wanted and needed at our church whereas I’m not. But, I digress. We can’t get along with others under our own power. We just can’t. Jesus needs to be in our hearts, and we need to give each other grace. It’s as simple as that.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Word of God Speak

The words of today’s title are also the title of a song by Mercy Me. I plan on quoting the song later, but I wanted to talk first about how we should be saying these words every day when we wake up. We should want to know how God wants to speak into our day. We should want to communicate with God.

How does God communicate with us, by the way? He communicates with us as we spend time with Him in prayer, as we read Scripture, and as we allow other people to speak into our lives. He gives us wisdom and discernment as we ask for it. We see this in I Kings 3:5-9. “At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’ Solomon answered, ‘You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, Lord, my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?'”

As we know, God was pleased with this answer. Solomon had asked for wisdom and discernment instead of wealth and long life. He had asked for things that would benefit others before he had asked for things that would benefit himself. Solomon ended up with all four, but that wasn’t the point. God knew Solomon’s heart and knew he was a man who followed him with all his heart.

Wisdom was also spoken of in the New Testament. Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Paul writes in many of his letters about God gives us wisdom through Jesus. Here are a few examples. From I Corinthians 1:30: “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Also from Ephesians 1:17 where Paul prays for us all to receive wisdom from God. “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”

So, from this, you can see there are many examples of wisdom in Scripture–people receiving it and words saying we can ask for it. Why don’t we ask for it in the twenty-first century church? Are we selfish? Do we believe God doesn’t give people the things they ask for anymore? Do we just not care? I think it’s a combination of all three. We don’t talk with God enough to know He is only waiting for us to come and ask for such things as wisdom. We don’t come to God with an expectation that He wants to talk to us at all; we just pray for the things we want, and that is the end of our prayer. We are lacking in knowledge of what prayer and reading Scripture is truly supposed to be, a form of communication with God.

I speak of this because communication–good and bad–has seemed to be the theme of my life recently. There are people who think I am unable to communicate effectively, and I’ve lost opportunities because of it. I’ve been sure I’ve used the written word effectively, but I’ve ended up being condemned for it. One-on-one seems to be the best way I can communicate, but I sometimes leave encounters wondering if I’ve done the best job with my communication skills.

All of this has made me decide to pray without ceasing for wisdom and discernment from my Lord and Savior. If I’m not communicating clearly, I must be doing something wrong, and I want to know what it is. I want to know how God wants me to serve and how He wants me to write in order to best glorify Him. I want to hear Him in the midst of the noise, and I think this is where quoting the song Word of God speak comes in. I end today’s post with this song. May our heart’s desire be to hear the Word of God speak to us!

“Word of God Speak” (Mercy Me)

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say
Word of God speak
Would you pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That you’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In your holiness
Word of God speak
I’m finding myself in the midst of You
Beyond the music, beyond the noise
All that I need is to be with You
And in the quiet hear Your voice
I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay
I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay

Invisible

I said last week I was going to be honest when I was in a dark time or a dark place again. Yesterday, I was in one of those places. With a dark heart and dark emotions. I was blocked from something I felt called to…again, and it’s made me wonder why I’m even here. My husband is valued for what he does. My children are valued for what they do. But, me, I’m the back-fill. I’m invisible unless no one else is available. And, if someone else is, too bad for me. I don’t know if that’s ever happened to you, but every time it’s happened to me, it has hurt down to my core.

I don’t even feel like I have anyone I can call when I struggle with faith questions or with service questions. I’ve yet to find anyone who truly understands or is even willing to listen to my hurting heart because it’s hard to understand my hurt.

I know I am valuable to God, and I know He is always there. I know that for a fact. If I didn’t, I could refer to John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God gave His Son for me. Jesus died on the cross for me. I believe that and accept it.

I believe in God’s grace too. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

My Lord and Savior. I let regular people drive me away from Him once. I won’t ever do it again. But, then that begs the question. What about regular people? My son has a thing he likes to do when he drives somewhere. He parks at the furthest place he can park because he says he “hates people”. Now, what he hates is the way they drive, but it got me thinking. What if we all hated each other? Would anything ever get done for God? Would be willing to share about Jesus’ love? My guess is we wouldn’t be. Why would we want to if we hated each other?

God had something to say about that very topic too. I Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Then, there’s I John 4:8. “Whoever does not love God does not know God, because God is love.” Jesus says this in John 15:12. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” And, finally, there’s Romans 12:10. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

So, we’re supposed to love each other as well as love God? Yes, we are. But, can we do it on our own? I think I’ve demonstrated we can’t. We can’t unless we have Jesus in our hearts. He is the only one who can make it possible to love the people we might naturally hate.

But, what about the people who wound us, especially those who are in the church. I’ve been thinking about that recently. About people who have wounded me and my family in the past and people who have wounded me recently. The hurt can be overwhelming. It seems that once I’ve forgiven someone, another person steps in to take their place. And we’re supposed to forgive them over and over like it says in Matthew 18:21-22. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” That’s biblical language for forgiving over and over. 🙂

Being wounded can hurt though. It can hurt a lot. And it can help us know how Jesus must have felt on His way to the cross. He was carrying the sins of everyone in the world. I felt a knife slicing into me yesterday as I thought of how much it must have hurt Him. All of those hurts piled on top of mine. And those were just the ones I could imagine. Jesus had so much more.

So, I’ve been thinking and praying and talking to God about all of this. About how I feel wounded and invisible. About how I’m tired and wishing Jesus would come back. About how I wish I could do this church thing by myself and not have to deal with people. I’ve had the chance to crawl into my Father’s lap, and it has helped so much. It has helped me release my burdens and forgive the people involved. This is a good thing.

But, in case you might think I’ve opened myself up to being invisible again, my talking with God has also done something else. It has helped me realize that I need to be in prayer about everything I do in my life whether it be for the church or anywhere else. I want to be in God’s will and have His leading in my life. Just because someone thinks I should do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what God wants me to do, and that is something I need to remember whether the other person likes it or not.

Isn’t that what it boils down to? We need to care more about what God thinks of us than other people. So, when I feel invisible again, all I need to listen for is God’s voice. “I see you, daughter. I see you and appreciate your willingness to seek my heart in what I have called you to do.”

God’s blessings on you all today!

Slivers of Joy

For the past few months, I’ve been working through issues in my life and how they’ve related to my faith. I’ve blogged through a devotional and learned more about being brave. I’ve gained courage through doing things I wouldn’t have considered before. I’ve gone through the motions as I’ve worshipped, and I’ve been paralyzed as I’ve considered the question of what comes next. I’ve also considered joy and what that means to me as a Christian. But, all the parts of this didn’t coalesce until yesterday, and it makes better sense to me now.

First, I want to define joy. Wikipedia defines joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” with such synonyms as delight, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, glee, exhilaration, elation, and more. Dictionary.com defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.” All of these words I’ve written down are what I grew up with as the expression of joy. Having joy meant I was happy with my life and how it was going.

When I became a Christian as a teenager, I applied this same meaning  to the Bible verses I read about joy. Verses such as John 15:11.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (emphasis mine)

Hebrews 12:1-2 is another example. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (emphasis mine)

Here is an example from the Old Testament. From Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (emphasis mine)

Another one comes from Isaiah 55:12. “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (emphasis mine)

And finally, from Galatians 5:22-23. “But, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

I might have overdone it on the emphases and the examples, :-), but it was hard just picking these five. Scripture is full of examples calling us to joy. Joy in our lives. Joy in our Lord and Savior. Joy in our praise and worship. Because I equated joy with happiness, I thought that having Jesus in my life meant I was supposed to be happy all the time.

But, as we all know, we’re not happy all of the time, and I realized that as I grew into adulthood. I was confused and still am confused, to be honest, with these verses that say we’re supposed to be joyful. How does joy work when I’m not happy? The church doesn’t do a good job in teaching about this either. We come together to worship, and we don’t think we’re allowed to be sad. We think we’re supposed to be happy and reflect it in our worship. So, that’s what we do. We put up our shields, and we act like we’re happy and joyful even when we’re not. We talk about the people who look sad, and we might even admonish them for being sad. I’m guessing the reason we do this is because we equate happiness with joy, and God tells us to be joyful in Scripture.

In my life though, I’ve learned that joy and happiness can’t be the same. They can’t. Too much has happened to me for that to be true anymore. Why? My diagnosis of clinical depression, for starters. For years, my thoughts and feelings from this diagnosis made me feel worthless and think I was a failure at following Jesus. Another reason has been the amount of time I’ve spent in hospitals. Except for when I had my children, I was not in the hospital for happy reasons, and it was hard to be joyful. I made it through, but I’m not sure joy was a part of those times. At least, my definition of joy wasn’t. Then, there’s the grief. So much grief and loss since I became an adult. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, in-laws and other relatives of my husband, good friends, and people I consider to be family. All of which have hurt me down to my core. I’ve grieved during my life. We all have.

So, how does all of this work with joy? I’ve started first by being honest about my dark times and my dark places. I’ve worked on getting my physical symptoms straightened out, and I’ve spoken or written out words that needed to get out of my head. I’ve also been persistent through illness this year. We’ve not had much of it so far, and though my husband has had to make some lifestyle changes due to his diabetes, we’ve not had any hospital stays in 2018, knock on wood. 🙂 The final thing this year which has helped me to separate the definitions of happiness and joy has been, believe it or not, the grief I spoke of last week. I’ve grieved the loss of my college dad like I expected I would. I know I will see him again. That’s a fact. But, I will still miss him here. I will miss his wisdom and his musical talent. I will be sad he is not present with his family.

But, and this is a big but, I’ve begun to find slivers of joy in my heart in the last few days. This was the key to separating joy and happiness. I’m not happy David is gone or anyone else in my life, for that matter. I’m not happy when I get sick. I’m not happy with living in such a broken world. I do have joy though, and it has nothing to do with being happy. I have joy David is no longer in pain and is with our Lord and Savior. I have joy Jesus is with me even during the dark times. And I have joy God gave us all of our emotions. I think that’s the point about joy. It needs to be rooted deep in our hearts along with the other fruits of the Spirit so we will have a reservoir to draw from when the bad times come. Not to act happy when we’re not, but to know Jesus is our constant companion no matter what happens in our lives!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

 

Grief and Going Back to my Roots

The two things in today’s title wouldn’t seem to be related, but they have been linked in my mind since I received the news last Wednesday night no one wants to receive. My heart aches as I write these words, but I need to get them out. I need to tell this story.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have much in the way of roots. Yes, we would go and visit my grandparents every year. I guess, in a way, those could be called roots. But my family didn’t live in one house very long. We were nomads. There was always a better job that came along or a better opportunity in the computer world, and we moved to where it was. I’ve even coined a term for it. I was a “computer brat” during my childhood. Looking back on it now, I appreciate the opportunity to have seen different places, but I still wish I had roots. It’s confusing, I know.

The closest I came to having roots as a child was the time I spent in South Carolina. Because of that time, I decided to go back there for my college years which turned into staying there for my young single and young married days. I don’t remember exactly when I started thinking this, but there was a point when I told myself that my roots were in South Carolina. Relationships that I treasured. People who I considered to be family. In fact, I tell people today I am from South Carolina though I wasn’t born there. That’s how deep the roots go.

Today, grief connects with my roots in a poignant way. Last week, I received word that my college dad had passed away. In shock, I sat on my bed with tears pouring down my face. I know death is a part of life, and I know we, who are believers, are supposed to look forward to our eternal home with Jesus. But, part of me thought my college parents would be there forever. I guess it’s just the way we think about the people who are closest to us.

As my husband and I waited over the next day to hear when the funeral would be, he told me I needed to go. Knowing that I had been there in person to honor and remember this special person would help my grief in the days and weeks to come. I agreed with him, and that’s when the pieces started falling into place. I had the offer of a place to stay, and my husband rented a car for me since he would need mine to move our son back to college. God had a point and a purpose for me going which I would soon realize.

I headed out Friday morning on the 300+ mile drive. I was sad and still a little overwhelmed as I drove east, but then I started playing Christian music, and God and I started talking. There were no distractions and no people saying I should grieve a certain way. Just me and my Lord and Savior. I cried during that drive, and I laughed and sang at the top of my lungs as I remembered thirty-three years of friendship. I was going back to my roots as I was about to start the next phase of my life, and I knew I needed to think and pray during this alone time with God. I arrived safely that night and spent time catching up with my girlfriend who I hadn’t seen in seven years.

The next day was the service. Before my friend and I went to the church, we took a tour of places from my childhood and saw the church where I was married twenty-four years ago. It was good to see places that were part of my roots and get to take pictures of them. I felt like I had gone back in time.

Then, we went back to her place and got ready for the service. We went to the church early so I could see and talk with my college mom and other members of the family. It was so good to see everyone, share memories, and love on each other. It had been seven years since I had seen most of them. I also saw people who I hadn’t seen in twenty-seven years. It was cool to see them look at me, see the light of recognition dawn in their eyes, and remember who I was. I saw I was remembered, and that touched my heart so much.

It was a good service too. I laughed as much as I cried. His sons, nephews, and others sang; we sang; and they told stories. It represented him perfectly–his love for music, family and friends, and his Lord and Savior. So many memories–singing in Christmas and Easter productions when I was in college (He was the part-time music director of our church), Sunday lunches and dinners with the family, Sunday evening services at the lake in the summer, birthday parties, weddings. The life of a family, and I was part of it. His life was a life well-lived for our Lord and Savior.

I came back home yesterday because–life does go on. My heart was heavy with grief, but it was full of reassurance too. David shared my faith, and I know I will see him again. I know where he is now. He will be missed by all who knew and loved him, but he will also live on in all of us. We will grieve, but many people will not understand after the first couple of weeks. In those moments, I hope we will all remember Matthew 5:4. “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”

I want to finish with this quote by C.S. Lewis. “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same.” This is how I feel about everyone in my second family. I am different for having known David and for knowing all of them.

Thank you for letting me share about a wonderful man as I took a journey back to my roots.

God bless you!

In Memory of David Anthony Mitchell, Sr.

What Comes Next – Faith

One more week. One more week until my older son is back at his college and my younger son starts classes at his college in our community. We’ve been enjoying the last days of summer, but I’ve also been setting up a schedule of sorts. There are things I want to accomplish in this next stage of life, but if I don’t know when I’m going to do them, they will have a tendency not to get done. One of those things is the way I practice my faith.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have been practicing my faith. I pray. I talk to God during the day. I read my Bible. I go to church and participate in the life of my faith community. But, there are things I can do differently with my faith now that I will have more time during the day. I’m actually looking forward to making some changes. I can’t see anything wrong with more time with God. Can you?

One of the things I’m planning to do is be more consistent with a focused prayer time where I’m sitting still with my Lord and Savior. I’m good at praying on the run. I’m consistent with praying at meal-time. I’ve even tried praying with someone in the moment when they ask for prayer. But, my focused prayer time has been hit or miss. Why, I ask myself? This is where it’s time for confession. Laziness, busyness, letting a task dominate the relationship, fatigue, and just plain sin. All of them interfere with staying focused on God and the things He wants to tell me. I want to be better with that going forward so I’m going to plan for it. Plan for my focused prayer times with God as I begin my days, I’m looking forward to hearing what He wants to tell me and growing in my faith in this next phase.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is having more time to serve others. I’m not talking about just at church either though having flexibility there will be nice. No, I’m talking about getting the chance to know my neighbors and showing them the love of Jesus. I’m talking about going out into my community and doing things outside of my comfort zone. I’m talking about demonstrating what it says in John 15:12-13. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Or how about in I Peter 4:8? “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” And, finally, from I John 4:7. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” It’s all about love, isn’t it, as we serve, and that is why I’m looking forward to the chance to widen my circle.

Finally, I’m excited about the chance to learn more about my faith through the reading and studying I plan to do. I want to have different topics to write about for this blog and to share what I learn. This next season will be different for all the parts of my life including my faith, and I want to reflect that in what I say and do.

Praying for us all to have the chance to be still before our Lord and Savior today and to know His best for us! God bless you!

What Comes Next–Flexibility and Discipline

This summer I’ve been trying to develop some sense of a schedule I can take into the fall with me so the transition won’t be so abrupt on the first day I’m no longer homeschooling (two weeks from today). I haven’t been as successful at it as I thought I would be so I thought I would talk about how flexibility and discipline are going to be a big part of the next phase of my life.

First, flexibility. Dictionary.com defines it as “susceptible of modification or adaptation; adaptable.” Once my sons both start college classes, my schedule will be flexible, and I will have the ability to accomplish more during the day. In other words, I’ll be able to write. I’m so grateful to have this opportunity and to not be locked into a schedule that’s not my own.

But, at the same time, there’s a price that comes with flexibility, and I need to make sure I’m not paying too much as I try to accomplish the goals I want to accomplish. What’s the price? A flexible schedule can be used to accomplish other things. Household tasks, exercise, time with friends, time with family, church activities, helping someone out, being the hands and feet of Jesus–all the things that make up my life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad all these things are in my life, and I’m glad my schedule will be more flexible.

It will just be necessary to bring another element in and use one of my spiritual gifts as I start the next phase of my life. The element is discipline, and the gift I’ll be using is administration. A funny story happened recently with that particular gift. I’ve been told many times that I have the ability to remember little details and put them into a bigger whole. I’ve never thought a lot about it. It’s just the way my brain works. Anyway, last week, I was sitting on the back row at my church crocheting while my son was working. There were a few other people working too, and one of them had to take a phone call. I was listening with one ear while crocheting because I get writing material when I observe and listen. I heard him repeat a phone number and finish the phone call. In the next instant, I heard him say he had lost it. I repeated it automatically, and he stared at me. I think they had forgotten I was back there. He asked me to repeat it again, and I did. Remembering small details like the number has always been something I could do. Not a big deal. Just a part of who I am. He thanked me, and they proceeded to finish their work.

Funny story aside though, discipline will also be important as I start the next phase of my life. Merriam-Webster.com has this as the definition I want to use. Discipline is an “orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior.” I need to plan my writing times. I need to plan my reading times so I get better with my writing. I need to be disciplined within my flexibility so I can accomplish what God wants me to do. I think this is the hardest kind of discipline because it is not imposed by someone else. I’m not going to a job that requires a certain amount of tasks and a certain period of time. No, I’m accomplishing my “job” for God by writing down my words and sharing them with y’all while sitting at my writing desk. A big job and a big responsibility while using the gift of creativity God gave me.

So, that’s where I am with flexibility and discipline. Stay tuned for the next episode of What Comes Next!

May God bless you all today!

Transparency

This word has different definitions and different contexts in which it can be used. There is a TV show I like to watch where the main character has traveled from the future. I always get a kick out of watching the episode where she thinks the future technology of transparency has already been developed, but the other character is using the word in the context of honest business practices. It shows the need for us to be careful in our word usage and to make sure the other person knows what we mean when we’re speaking.

With that being said, I want to define the word before I go any further. The first definition is the more scientific of the two. From Merriam-Webster.com, transparency means “having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly or sheer enough to be seen through.” It doesn’t really apply to my topic, but I wanted you to know the difference. Here is the second definition from the same website. Transparent means to be “free from pretense or deceit; easily detected or seen through; readily understood or characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.”

The second definition is the one I want to discuss today. To be “free from pretense or deceit.” I’m pretty sure that’s how God wants us to act in our churches. If I didn’t know for sure,  I would refer to Leviticus 19:11. “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” I would also refer to Colossians 3:9-10. “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

These verses seal the deal for me. We should be honest with our Christian brothers and sisters. We should be free of pretense. But, we’re not. For two reasons. One, we’re all sinners, and two, we’re uncomfortable with the hard emotions. It’s fine and dandy when someone is happy and joyful, but when someone is sad or angry, we try to avoid the emotion as much as possible even though those emotions are just as valid as the first two are. We are uncomfortable around hard emotions and don’t want to deal with them. Yes, there are some people who are compassionate, but I think the same philosophy applies. We aren’t sure how to sit with people in the hard emotions and hold them up like I think God commands us to.

So, what that means is, people who experience hard emotions aren’t willing to be vulnerable around others because they know people are uncomfortable with their sadness. It’s why people put up shields at church and pretend that everything is ok when it’s not. We don’t know how to handle sadness, conflict, or anger. I saw a wonderful quote by Brennan Manning (Thank you, Encounter Ministries for posting it.) which talks about this. “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

I don’t do that naturally though because I know it makes people feel awkward. It’s more like I’m driven to it through things which are happening in my life, and even then, I don’t know how to reply to the person who comes to me in my tears. The Christian books I read don’t help either. For the most part, they say we are to be strong in the Lord and to show His joy. While I don’t disagree with this, what happens when there are tears or hard emotions? When or how are we supposed to show them?

I think the answers lie in the words I quoted earlier and in several places in Scripture. I won’t quote them all because there are way too many, but, in summary, God wants us to be transparent before Him. That makes tears just as appropriate as joy. In fact, if we didn’t cry, there would be no tears to wipe away as it says in Isaiah 25:8. “he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.” It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to when I get to heaven — to know for sure that my sorrows were just as valid to Jesus as my joys were.

I want to be transparent before my Lord and Savior now though. I want to be the person who doesn’t wear a false face and who doesn’t pretend. I believe that’s what God has called us to–all of us, and I want to reflect that in my walk with Him.  Praying we can all be transparent with our Lord and Savior!

May God bless you all today!

What Comes Next – Friendship

The summer is rapidly passing, and soon, I will be directly facing the next phase of my life. In less than a month, my older son will be back at college starting his senior year while my younger son will be starting his first year of college. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this topic as shown by my blog posts of the last few months. Today, I thought I’d start talking about different parts of my life, and the choices I’ve made as I’ve stood at the crossroads.

First up, friendship. A few weeks ago I spoke of how I felt inadequate in my friendships because I depended on seeing people in a certain place. I also talked about how I felt some friendships fragmented after too long of not seeing each other. Yes, some friendships can pick up right where they left off after a long period of not seeing each other, but what has happened to truly putting effort into a friendship? Are we, as a society, that selfish? Are we too overcome by inertia? Are we too busy looking at our phones or working for the almighty dollar? I thought of this while standing at the crossroads, and I was ashamed because I’m just as guilty as anyone else. I also thought my lack of putting effort into my friendships might have something to do with my loneliness as I feel I’ve not fit in anywhere for a while.

So, I decided to do something about it. I contacted a friend who gets me, who gets me in a way not a lot of people do. I see her more during the summer as she teaches during the year. We talked and laughed. Had a great time as usual. I told her about my idea, and she was all for it. We committed to getting together once a month during the school year. We decided to add another friend too. It did my spirit good to know we were all committed to our friendship, and the burden in my heart eased. I don’t have to depend on seeing them in a certain place to maintain the friendship.

As I thought about how God had worked, I realized two other people have shown me the way with this over the past few weeks. Last week, or the week before, a friend invited me to a Pampered Chef party she was hosting for a friend. I hesitated about going because our finances have been tight this summer. I didn’t want to be the only person who didn’t buy something. But, the text said I didn’t have to buy anything, and I decided to trust it.  I had so much fun! The food was good, and the conversations were even better. No one knew who was ordering and who wasn’t, and I didn’t feel awkward at all. At the end, she told me she had hosted the party to help the other lady out and for the fellowship. I was so grateful because it eased the loneliness in my heart a little more.

Finally, another friend noticed I was having difficulty last weekend. The uncertainty of what’s next and the broken trust issues I’ve been having just hit me. I didn’t want to go into details, and she was fine with that–just gave me acceptance and love. We decided to send each other messages of encouragement during the week, and it has meant so much. The words I needed came at just the right time. It was a God thing.

The encouragement of these friends helped me know I haven’t done as bad a job with friendship as I thought I had done. They made me feel like this quote from L.R. Knost might possibly be coming true for me.

“Tell your story.
Shout it. Write it.
Whisper it if you have to.
But tell it.
Some won’t understand it.
Some will outright reject it.
But many will
thank you for it.
And then the most
magical thing will happen.
One by one, voices will start
whispering, ‘Me, too.’
And your tribe will gather.
And you will never
feel alone again.”

May God bless you all today!

Ordinary People

I knew I said I was only going to post once a week in this blog, but I have learned that when God gives me words, I need to write them down. Words have always helped me sort out this life of mine, and I don’t expect today’s topic to be any different.

Before I get into the topic, I feel like I need to issue a huge disclaimer. What I’m going to write about today is a composite of the experiences I’ve had over a lifetime and of the experiences friends have had in the church. It is not aimed at any one particular person, place, or thing. I’m writing it down so I can hopefully learn to do a better job of being a church member who lives in community with other believers and so church leaders might be able to get a better picture of those who are members of their churches.

So, what’s with the title? What do I mean when I say ordinary people? In relation to churches, this is what I’m thinking. Ordinary people are the people who teach a Sunday school class or sing in the choir. They might help in the nursery or fix the coffee. They might help with the youth group or pass the offering plate. Or they might be between titles, but faithfully show up every time there’s a meeting at church. Ordinary people are people who are the backbone of our churches, I would think.

I wanted to describe what I was thinking so you would understand the difference when I made my next statement. Ordinary people generally don’t have any decision-making power in the structure of churches or in big decisions that need to be made. Those decisions are generally left to church leadership which, for the purposes of this post, I would define as church staff, deacons, elders, shepherds, and leaders in men’s, women’s, youth, or children’s ministry. Some of these are more important than others in the decision-making process, but I think I’ve made the line definitive enough. There are ordinary people in churches, and there is church leadership.

Now, before I say anything else, let me say that I’ve done my best to pray for and support church leadership in each of the churches I’ve been a part of during my lifetime. It has the tendency to be a thankless job where not much appreciation is expressed. People tend to want to express criticism more than they do positive affirmation, and I know it has to be frustrating at times.

With that being said though, I think there are times church leadership doesn’t think that ordinary people care about their churches or are interested in growing in their faith. I can understand this. Some of us who are ordinary people reinforce that impression. They only come to Sunday morning worship and nothing else. They are not involved at all, and people don’t know who they are. They leave before the worship service is over. You get the idea. Some people just aren’t interested in investing in their church communities.

When church leaders see that attitude, it can give some of them the idea they can do whatever they want in their roles as church leaders. There have been many stories in recent years of a criminal nature where church leaders took advantage of their congregations. There are also churches where church leaders have hammered a decision through even though many people in their church were opposed to it. It wasn’t criminally minded, but it was a decision that divided the church. I’m sure some of these stories are familiar. Hearing them always breaks my heart because, not only has a group of Christians been taken advantage of, our witness to a hurting world has also been damaged.

It is not just those church leaders who might not ever have had Christ in their hearts to begin with who have had difficulties in leading. It is also those who rely on God for counsel and lead their churches through servant leadership. There can still be a divide between those who are leading as God has called them to and ordinary people. In the leaders’ eyes, there are always people who don’t give enough, serve enough, or do enough of whatever, me included. On the other side, there are ordinary people who don’t understand what church leadership wants to do and are too intimidated to ask questions or who are on their very last nerve for volunteering and don’t wish to volunteer for anything else. I believe there is a dance between the two groups with the relationship being good at times and at other times being not so good.

So, as an ordinary person in my church, there are some things I would like to remind church leadership of today. There are ordinary people who care about their churches and who pray for their churches. There are ordinary people who want to be involved in their churches, just not overloaded. And there are ordinary people who are just as sincere at seeking after Jesus as church leaders are. We all have our own stories as ordinary people who don’t need to boiled down to statistics. Praying we all do our part to make this relationship a good one!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!