Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How Did I Get Here?

Has life ever turned into an avalanche for you?

Sometimes events just seem to snowball, tumbling and turning and growing - bigger and bigger. And at times, we realize it's happening, other times, we haven't the faintest idea until it's too late and you're crushed under the debris.

This last month has definitely been a season of challenge and learning for me. Enlightenment, almost. Like someone turned on a lamp and turned it back on everything that's behind me. And I saw things I didn't ever know were there. Normally, I have a pretty good memory, but some things missed my sight as I walked by them.

Now everything seems to make sense, and that's not necessarily a happy thing.

Actually, it's heartbreaking.

I never even knew.

And now, I can't take back past events, I can only try to move forward.

Have you ever tired to move forward when you're heartbroken? It's probably one of the most difficult things I've ever attempted to do. Sometimes I get stuck, going in circles, wallowing in grief and preoccupied with disappointment.

Not a great place to be.

But moving forward doesn't mean leaving past events to the past - letting bygones be bygones. Certainly forgiving oneself and others is important. But I would also like to think that moving forward means making an attempt to right what went wrong.

Sometimes all we can do is apologize. And then there are times when we can actually, physically do or say something.

I've been thinking a lot about what it takes to make amends lately. Not so easy as it sounds, depending on what exactly the offense was. In my case, it was good intentions gone wrong. The desired effect only worked halfway, the other half, was a disaster. Without even knowing, I tossed a straw that broke the camel's back.

One of the things Jesus does when he enters our lives, is he gives us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). It's a soft heart that recognizes sin and wrongdoing. It can be broken and grieved. Stone hearts tend to be oblivious to sin. They don't recognize their faults - even the unintentional ones. So praise God that we can recognize our sin.

I read this verse in a favorite novel of mine. It was in Lori Wick's, "Who Brings Forth the Wind."
"yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance" (2 Cor. 7:9). 
Sorry to repentance.

It's one thing to say I'm sorry... it's another thing to have our sorrow lead us to repentance.

Repentance means to turn away from sin. To head in a new direction.

I don't know where you are at today. But as a Christian, as a person, no one is perfect. No one is righteous. And your sins may not look like someone elses. You may not have done something punishable by law. But you have likely hurt someone in your past - or hurt yourself, or even God. Don't be afraid to be self-reflective. Ask God to show you where you've gone wrong. Sometimes we directly go against God's will, other times we do something entirely by accident. In our humanity, we're feeble, and we snap at times.

But once you recognize where you've gone wrong, it's time to be repentant. And I know, for me personally, that's a big step towards humility, which, by definition, is humbling. It's a strike at our pride. But who ever said Christians were supposed to be proud of themselves? We've nothing to be proud of. Only a creator to praise.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Why Should I Change?

According to Dictionary.com

PERSONALITY [pursuh-nal-i-tee] n.
1. the visible aspect of one's character as it impresses others: He has a pleasing personality. 
2. a person as an embodiment of a collection of qualities: He is a curious personality.
3. Psychology. 

  • the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual. 
  • the organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of the individual.
4. the quality of being a person; existence as a conscious human being; personal identity.
5. the essential character of a person.

CHARACTER [kar-ik-ter] n.
1. the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.
2. one such feature or trait; characteristic.
3. moral or ethical quality: a man of fine, honorable character.
4. qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity: It takes character to face up to a bully.
5. reputation: a stain on one's character. 
6. good repute
7. an account of the qualities or peculiarities of a person or thing.

CONVICTION [ kuh n-vik-shuh n] n.
1. a fixed or firm belief: no clever argument, no persuasive fact or theory could make a dent in his conviction in the rightness of his position. 
2. the act of convicting someone, as in a court of law; a declaration that a person is guilty of an offense.
3. the state of being convicted.
4. the act of convincing a person by argument or evidence.
5. the state of being convinced.

Lately, there's been something pulling at me. And I think it's important, to us as people, to really give ourselves a good look in the mirror at times. After all, as it says in Philippians 1:27, "Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." And this verse, in light of Ecclesiastes 7:20, "Indeed, there is no one who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins," we ought to be self-reflective.

Actually, put those two verses next to one another, and our task as Christians seems nigh unto impossible - and most of the time, it is - at least, without Christ it is.

But that's not the entire focus of what's been on my mind lately.

We like to use the phrases, "you do you," and "don't try to change me," rather often. It's the idea that, "I am who I am and I shouldn't have to change for anybody."

But as Christians, I think we have to be careful how we approach this.

In Psalms 139:13-18, it says:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand
    when I awake, I am still with you.

When we read this, often, we like to say, "God made me exactly who I am, the way I am." And I suppose so. But we're also broken, fallen and sometimes, I don't even like myself. To which most respond, "Then you have to learn to like yourself. Be who you are."

But I'd like to suggest a different approach.

I think who I am, is comprised of many parts, some of which are ME, and other parts that are growing and changing. And there's nothing wrong with change.

More often than not, I'm going to be really honest here, when we say, "don't try to change me," we really mean, "I don't want to grow up." And that - that right there is really selfish and won't win you any friends.

I'd like to think that my PERSONALITY - the fact that I'm an introvert, a deep thinker, creative, passionate, convicted and optimistic - that is who I am, who God designed me to be. Those are the traits I think he intends to use. And I wouldn't want to surrender my creativity to anyone. Why would I stop being creative? That seems silly.

On the other hand, I think that my CHARACTER, my integrity and maturity is always going to be growing and changing. Don't you remember when your parents used to say, "it builds character." Character isn't something we have right off the bat, we build it up as we add experience and life to our resumes. Character is grace, humility, generosity, love, work-ethic, honesty, kindness, etc. When I find myself being stubborn, lazy, unkind, self-centered, and unsympathetic - I see a character issue. Why on earth would I say, "Well, that's just the way I am," when I could be growing in kindness, sympathy, and love?

Now CONVICTIONS, I think that conviction is something God places on our hearts. They are things that matter to us, that we hold to the utmost import. And I do think that sometimes they shift. But not in a growth sort of way.

As a child, I valued fairness, the truth and justice more than anything else. I HATED it when I got in trouble for something that wasn't entirely my fault. Or when someone lied, or told a half truth. I wanted to be punished for what I deserved, not what I didn't. And I got very frustrated when others didn't get what they deserved, be it good or bad. And I really didn't like it when something was split unequally - like taking turns. Or when someone was selfish.

And I still think justice is important. There is this "peace" of sorts that I feel when people are treated with fairness.

But in my current stage of life, injustice and unfairness doesn't make me react the same way it used to. Instead, I'm in a place of sorts where sympathy and understanding have been VERY important to me.

When someone fails to see someone else's perspective and treat them with understanding, I find myself jumping in to play mediator. Not so as to compromise right versus wrong, but to facilitate flexibility - a different means to the same end that fits someone's situation.

Let me end by saying this:

God did create you to be beautiful and unique. No one else is quite like you with your unique set of interests and values. He made you that way so that he could USE YOU for his Kingdom. You were perfectly designed for a job only you can do. But in order to do that job, you have to be Christ's representative here on earth. His light out to be shining through you. But honestly, we make for pretty dirty lamps. And the dirt isn't cute.

Someday... you're going to be in a friendship or a relationship that that dirt is going to create some pretty nasty fights or tension because you just want to be you and not the best version of you. The people in our lives need to stop being stifled because they dared to call us out for poor behavior.

So don't be afraid to let someone polish you. To let GOD polish you.

Have you ever seen a victorian kerosene lamp?

I think they're some of the most beautiful household objects. Hand-painted glass illuminated by a flame. They're gorgeous.

Dear Christian!

You are a beautiful, ornate, hand-painted lamp. Perfectly constructed and filled with oil to burn.

But more often than not, lamps like this are stuck in the attic, coated in dust. If you lit one while it was dusty, it just wouldn't give off the same impression. It wouldn't have it's beauty shown off to it's potential.

It has to be cleaned and polished before this amazing lamp can really shine.

Wouldn't it be interesting if we stopped saying, "I'm perfect the way I am," and started saying, "I'm a work in progress, growing to be more Christlike as I let him have control."

Sorry if I just served up some humble pie. I have to eat it myself sometimes.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Don't Save It

Picture this: You're at your friend's graduation ceremony, and of course you can picture the ropes they've earned the right to wear around their necks. Or maybe, it's a scholarship banquet and they've earned an academic letter. Maybe it's a county fair prize. Who knows. You pick the occasion. Maybe even a wedding or engagement party.

Someone you know is being honored and all you want o do is run at them and wish your congratulations. Of course you do, they've done something wonderful and now is the opportunity to tell them. It's not often you hand out a bouquet of compliments. You've saved up all kinds of lovely thoughts in your mind about this person and now is the perfect time to share them.

That's wonderful.

Really, it is. But as wonderful as that sounds, I see a problem with this picture.

Why did you keep quiet for so long? Why didn't you tell them sooner?

Interesting question.

I'm starting to notice a trend in my generation, and even the generations before me: We are a critical generation.

Even our wonderful, magnanimous gestures of concern come out critical. "Don't do that, you'll hurt yourself." Funny... though the intent is good, there's a bit of a twist.

We are really good at over-analyzing our world and making decisions about that world. It's good. It's bad. It has room for improvement.


But I don't think judgement calls are what this world is in need of at the moment.

All around me, I see broken people. Really broken, hurting people who need some genuine love in their lives.

Most of us are very aware of our shortcomings. We berate ourselves when we mess up and we live for the next moment of success - you know why? Because the next time we succeed is when we'll get love again.

The next time we succeed, people will remember to tell us we have value.

Which is so strange - you know why? Because that's the opposite of Biblical.

You know what the Bible says:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
While we were a MESS God loved us. And demonstrated his love for us.

We are SO GOOD at loving on people when they deserve it. We tell them how great they are when they succeed. But what I find, is that when I succeed, I don't need encouragement. I already feel confident. But when I'm a mess, I really REALLY need to know that my friends and family still see my potential.

Most of us don't need to hear, "You're better than this."

Most of us don't need to hear, "This isn't you."

Most of us need to hear: "I love you."

"You're an amazing ________."

"You're kind."

"You're helpful."

"I'm so glad to have you in my life."

Why do we insist on giving backwards compliments and placing emphasis on our downfalls. That is so far from what God does. God has exemplified grace so that we might follow him in it.

We already know we're screw-ups. But we don't always remember that we have value. God has placed value on us. We were bought and reconciled to him, even when we didn't deserve it.

So PLEASE. I beg of you...

Don't save your compliments for the "right moments." 

Spread them wide and far and frequently.

Make sure those in your life know their worth ALL THE TIME.

No backwards compliments.

Less criticism (Not to say that criticism doesn't have it's place, but it shouldn't be "commonplace")

More encouragement.

I think we could change lives just by seeing the glass half full.
"encourage one another and build each other up" (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Dollhouse

Sometimes, when I think about who I was as a little girl, I smile, because I don't think I've changed. Of course, that's an oversimplification of the subject, but it's the idea.

We all grow, mature, and learn as we age, but I think there must be something rooted in our personalities that linger - either driving us mad (because we don't like it) or offer an edge. And I'm sure there is plenty to be said in between.

When I was around four or five years old, my mom made me a dollhouse for christmas. I remember it as one of my favorite gifts. She used to work on it in the kitchen, and I would always wonder what it was. If I asked, she would say it was a bookshelf - which it was, or could be. The design was very simple. No slanted roof, just flat. And other than the rocks she glued to one wall to form a fireplace and the fabric decoupage wallpaper, it made a very nice bookshelf when I was older.

But you have to understand what I HAD BEEN doing up until this point. I didn't always have a dollhouse.

I used to make giant messes out of our living room.

If I wanted to play with my dolls, I would go into my room and pull out every picture book we owned. Then, I would raid the house for toilet paper and kleenex. Finally, I would sit down on the living room floor and pull out a few choice VHS cases (I hope you know what those are - I'm a 90's kid).

The books became walls. The cases became beds and couches. And of course, the TP and Kleenex became the pillows and blankets. We also used to have these coasters that looked like little rugs (so I would use them as such).

It made the perfect dollhouse.

Nothing was really as it seemed when I was young.

A pile of branches left out after Dad finished pruning trees became a den for teddy bears.

A water ski handle became a swing in one of our apricot trees.

The sink became a swimming pool.

And then there's the classic - refrigerator box turned cardboard house.

If I didn't have something, I would improvise. I could make something out of anything else. A willow tree branch and some yarn used to make the perfect bow and arrow. And you would not believe how many things you can do with a ziplock bag.

That's just how I saw the world. I suppose I still see it that way.

Have you ever thought about the way you approach an assignment? Be it work or school?

When I receive an assignment from someone. I like to know exactly what all the specifications are. It's nice to begin with a very black and white picture of what is expected. But then... once I have a picture in my mind, I get all kinds of ideas (don't hold me to my ideas until the last minute, I promise, they will keep morphing). That black and white picture becomes purple, green, blue, orange and yellow. And It may look like a glass, but if you shift your focus, it will become two men facing one another.

But of course. I suppose that's just the way my mind works - a strange dichotomy between grounded and flexible.

Maybe someone else sees the world that way.

Sometimes it's difficult to explain - I often wonder if life would be easier if I would either live completely by the book, or in entirely original creativity.

It's a struggle, certainly.

But God made me somebody special.

He made your somebody special. Created for a specific task.

You don't fit inside a mold, and often, you may have to adapt.

But your differences aren't meaningless, or without purpose.

Don't forget that.