Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Who Is YOUR Neighbor?

I know my blog only reaches a few people each week, yet I take the words I write very seriously.  I believe God wants to use my own life to speak hope into the hearts of those who need it.  Not because of who I am - I'm no expert and don't have any official credentials.  I just have past experience and my own journey, but most importantly I have God.  His inspiration is really what I rely on with the words I write.  I pray I never misrepresent him in the way I share with each of you.  

So this morning as I woke up knowing this computer screen would be on my to-do list today, I asked God for inspiration.  In response, these words came to me: 

"Who is my neighbor?"  

These are very poignant words for us today.   Jesus wasn't well-received by the religious leaders of his day.  The words he spoke and the way he lived stood in opposition to their own life's work.  They always sought out to trap him.  When they asked this question, Jesus answered with a story (because Jesus was the bomb when it came to wise responses).  

He told the story of the Good Samaritan.  The Samaritan to the Jews was something a kin to an African American being the hero in a story told to KKK members.  

Jesus' point was clear - the hero is the one who walks the heart of God.   

Maybe you struggle with racism on a level that someone of color being a hero is offensive to you, but most of us aren't that extreme.  The point is still there for all of us - the outward appearance, social standing, or even political leaning isn't what God sees, its the heart of someone and how they care for others.   

We get so busy with our lives and forget there is a world out there in need.  We are often unavailable to be used of God because we only see the things on our list, and miss the person God placed on our path with purpose. 

But guess what?  Your to-do list doesn't go with you when you leave this earth.  God has plans for us beyond the grind of work, chores of home and errands we must run.  God's plans include us connecting with all of his children.  

What does that look like for you?  That depends on your life and your circumstances.  I am also not advocating doing it all, because you aren't responsible for it all, just what God places on your path.  

It might mean keeping non-perishable sack lunches in your car to pass out as you see people along the road, or even giving away your own lunch to feed another.  It might mean using your vacation days to serve a community here or abroad instead of relaxing on a beach.  It might mean sacrificing your tv or book time to lend a listening ear to that person who drives you nuts but really needs a friend,  or it might mean being present in the moment and seeking God and seeing what he's placed in front of you. The key is inconvenience, loving others often means putting someone else's needs in front of our own.  

What do you need to sacrifice for the benefit of someone else, including those who might seem below you?  Below you could be different ethnicities, but it can also be homeless, or even someone on the other side of the political spectrum.  

That is where we need the most sacrifice today - loving someone in a sacrificial way who's life views seem counter to our own.  I watch my social media feed as both my conservative and liberal friends trash each other, but I don't have to agree with your views to care for you.  

Can we live above the standard that just keeps dropping with each year?  Doing so will change the world.  When loving our neighbor comes second to the top priority of loving God, we know its important to the way God wants our world to work.  What are you waiting for?  Get at it.  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Two Ways To Overcome the Weird In Your Head

I don’t think I’m an ugly woman, but I often think if people could see the mess of junk going on inside my head - they might see a different woman than what’s depicted through the physical body before you.  

Its like that episode of Gilmore Girls where Lorelai is trying to write a letter but the words just don’t come.  Her rant ends in the conclusive line, “its a big bag of weird in there.” This.  This is exactly how I feel.   Sure I am a nice, kind-hearted person and that is beautiful, but there are other sides of me that aren’t so pretty. 

One of those uglies lurking inside is a struggle with anger.  Years of counseling lead me the epicenter of my angry outbursts - anxiety.  

 A little over a month ago, my son had surgery.  He had his tonsils and adenoids removed.  

We got up early and took my daughter to my parents’ house.  
We then made the almost hour drive to the surgery center in Fresno.  
After we got my son checked in and he was wheeled into surgery, my husband and I took our seats in the waiting room.  

That morning had been hard on my anxiety levels, so I decided it was a good idea to get out my binder and start on a worksheet that has been a part of a book I’ve been working through utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Techniques to overcome anxiety. 

One of the many exercises involves writing down all negative thoughts associated with a particular anxiety incident.  Usually, I have a variety of related emotions, but this time they were pretty well concentrated in the fear section of the emotional scale.  

My husband was curious as to what I was doing so I read him my list of negative thoughts associated with this particular day.  When i finished reading my list, my husband, in shock, replied, “I would have never even thought of half of those.”  I wasn’t just worrying about more than he did, I actually had thoughts about particular aspects of the day that didn’t even occur to him! 

This struggle has been so crucial to me because it is incongruous with my religious beliefs.  God tells me to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4;6).  Its easy to see ways in which our every day life is out of touch with what the Bible calls us to be.  

So what do you do? 

1. Do Your Part
  Instead of beating up on yourself, something I often do, for missing the mark, identify the root.  Take inventory of your thoughts and feelings so you can begin to weed out what doesn’t belong.  You can’t replace the crap until you know its there! 

One of the next steps in the exercise I was doing on the day of my son’s surgery was to write out a positive thought for each of the negative thoughts on which my brain fixated. Its replacing the lie with the truth.  This process, while laborious, is necessary to make sure, how I live and what I believe, stand side by side. 

2. Let God Do The Rest 
I have heard one story where a surgeon performed a ground-breaking operation on himself, but typically a surgeon performs the surgery and the patient lays still, usually unconscious. This is a great picture of our spiritual life.  God does the work in us, sure we may prepare the way for the work with everything I discussed above, like a patient may fast or take certain medications prior to a surgical procedure.  But the rest is God's job.  I can tell you the most meaningful change is when God took my faithfulness and transformed me in the midst of a challenge.   

The encouragement is - God is always working.  Even when we get stuck in a holding pattern and feel like we aren’t getting very far with our goals, God stays the same.  He's always there, using our lives to direct us into the people he created.  He wants to be close to us, and wants to see us reach the stars he designed for us to grab.   

So go do the work you have to do to prepare for the work God is already doing!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The One Thing I Want For My Kids

Last week I had one of the best days ever!  My son and I went into his room, closed the door, turned off the lights and turned on this colorful strobe bulb he won as a prize a few years ago and we cranked up the music for our very own dance party.  I love music and love to dance so adding my son to this equation was just all of the amazings there ever was!  (Yes, I recognize that last sentence isn't exactly grammatically correct, but sometimes you just have to say it how it comes out). 

When it was time for a break we sat on his bed.  He excitedly asked to show me a few songs he loved.  I searched YouTube for the videos he described and discovered several worship songs he sings in school chapel that made him light up the room brighter than any color coming from that strobe bulb.  The joy began to gush from my heart. 

This morning on the way to school we had a worship dance session as I blared one of those songs in the car along the drive. 

I was reminded of a thought that circumstances in life have been bringing me back to a lot lately.

Let me first say, I am great mom, sometimes.  Sometimes, I am the worst mom.  Yes, I know I am hard on myself, but I think that sentence is empirically accurate.  My own fears, anxiety and anger can take over and can destroy my ability to impart greatness to my kids, and that is definitely a regret as I walk this mom path. 

I strive to better myself and dwell on the moments I rock as a mom so I don't solely focus on my failures. As I evaluate the fruit of my overall parenting, I have concluded there is only one thing I want for my kids when it is all said and done! 

I am going to screw stuff up and my kids will have areas of life to sort as they grow into adulthood, but if I can make the way for them to have this one thing, I will be content with the job I have done and continue to do.  

Can you guess what that one thing is? 

It isn't that they will be responsible, have good grades, have a ton of friends, be polite or anything else along those lines. Don't get me wrong, I want my kids to be those things, but another item rises to the top of the list for me - every time.  What is it? 

I want my kids to love God and have a strong, solid relationship with Jesus!  That is it.  If that foundation is solid, they will inevitably have everything else that goes along with it because God calls us to love others and to be doers of his word.  That includes some of the items above and so much more, but the key is this. 

Even if my kids are responsible adults with a good job and stable income, well-loved by others and polite to all they meet and DON'T have a relationship with God, I won't be satisfied.  I will see my job as not yet completed and will continue to pray for that one thing. 

Knowing this aim helps me to adjust how I parent.  It lets me test what I am emphasizing and filling their time with to evaluate if it accomplishes that one thing.  It also challenges me to keep my relationship with God at the forefront of all else both for my own personal goals, but also as an example to my children. 

Whether you are a parent or not, this reflective thought has value for your life.  What is your one thing?  What do you prize above all else in the person you are, and if you are a parent, in what you ultimately want for your kids?  Are you on track or do you need to adjust?  Find your internal compass and change direction where needed, or encourage yourself if you are on course. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

When the Timeline Doesn't Make Sense

This past Saturday, my son was watching a cartoon, Bible story.  He was glued to the screen in the accounting of the story of Joseph.  I was busy in the kitchen but heard sections of the dialogue as I worked.  I was impressed with this version of the story because of the raw emotion Joseph shared throughout each journey of his life. 

This Bible story always causes me to take pause - a boy sold into slavery by his brothers, taken to a foreign land, sent to prison after being falsely accused of a crime he did not commit.  At this point in the story, it doesn't sound like God is caring for this young man.  He seems in all accounts - forgotten!

Finally, he is called upon to interpret the Pharaoh's dream and because of what he has interpreted he is put second in command to Pharaoh to help save people from the coming famine.  It isn't until this point in Joseph's life that is all makes sense.  God has purpose in positioning Joseph at each step along the way.  God had the end game in view when all Joseph could see was the now portion of his life.

I too often look to my circumstances as the indicator of how my life is going.  One can always ask where God is in the midst of challenges and yet God is always working even when we don't see it or feel a void of his presence in painful seasons. 

God continued to speak to me through this story in the communion meditation at church the following day.  Nancy shared a story and challenged us to remember God is always in control. 

I then went to youth group where we are working through a lesson series on Eternity and was reminded by Francis Chan that our years on earth are just a tiny section of our life when compared with the eternity we will share with Jesus. 

As I prayed over this apparent lesson God was throwing in my lap, I suddenly had this picture in my head. 

I love to organize and purge and let me tell you my house definitely needs it!  I never finished being able to Konmari my house as my toddler would take off with my piles and it seemed this was not the season to do such a decluttering, but my own declutter story is not the point of this blog so let me continue with the visual. 

When I want to organize a cabinet or my closet, I first have to empty its contents.  Then I can clean out the area and begin to separate my piles: trash, donate, keep.  Once I have finished this I can sort what remains and place it properly in its new home.  The process necessitates some temporary disorder to bring about the desired outcome.  If you stop and look at my work when everything has been thrown about a room in chaos, you would question my methods, but if you wait, you will see the order behind the apparent mess. 

This picture found an instant connection to the life of Joseph and my own.  Joseph's life had purpose from day one and it never changed even when the security of his surroundings did.  God was at work at every stage in the process.  It was a bit disruptive in the middle, but it was with purpose.  There was some organizing that God was doing with his people and it meant temporary chaos.  True Joseph is more than the sweater thrown on my bed while I sort out the piles, but the principle still applies.

When we look in a particular moment we can miss the big picture, because a moment does not define our life's work.  We know the beauty of Joseph's story because we read it from beginning to end, but for Joseph he had to trust God even when it downright sucked to do so. 

This isn't the first time I've blogged about Joseph or even this lesson, but I am still in process with it so it continues to resonate with me. I think this is a timely word for this world.  Our country and our world are a mess, but I believe God is positioning and preparing us for the eternity we will spend with him!  It doesn't discount the impact of the tragedies we encounter, but we still have to trust and have faith - God is in control!