The mercy of not knowing the future

Turning into the parking lot at the strip mall, I noticed a woman holding the hand of a young man, walking towards an area where they were about to cross. I could have driven through before they reached the edge, but I decided to stop and let them cross first.

As I watched them cross, I noticed the young man was developmentally disabled. Assuming the woman with him was his mom, my eyes immediately welled up with tears. I think about how she must spend her days, how she mothers a son who is different and dependent, even in his adulthood. I think about how it must have been to receive the unexpected news that her baby boy was not healthy. I think about how tired she must be, and how her days are filled with constant watchfulness.

No one ever told me how painful motherhood would be. How all the unreal expectations I had for myself would crumble down in a moment of sleep-deprived rage. How my heart could hurt in deep places I didn’t even know existed as I watched my children learn hard lessons. How I would learn patience, and then learn it some more. Even with a healthy child, it’s the hardest, but most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

I wonder, if I knew, would I still have chosen to be a mom?
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If she knew, would she still have chosen to be a mom?

As I watch the woman and her son, I think about how Mary the mother of Jesus had expectations too.

Her son, he was the expected one, the Messiah. He was the One who would save the Jews from their enemies. As she watched him grow into a man, did she expect him to be a ruler, leading her people into political and economic freedom?

If she knew how his life would would end, if she knew the pain she would endure watching her precious son be tortured, spit on, beaten and hung on a cross, would she have said, “May it be unto me as you have said?”

It’s a merciful thing, to not know the future. To accept our daily bread instead of knowing in advance how a lifetime of daily bread will be provided. And perhaps that’s why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread…”
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I said “Yes” to motherhood over 23 years ago, by adopting a precious baby boy. He’s now a man preparing to be a father to his little boy that will be born early next year. He has hopes and dreams for his son. I have hopes and dreams for my grandson too. I pray he will be healthy. I pray he will grow up loving Jesus. I pray he will know love beyond measure by all of us who are his family. But most of all, I pray that he, and his mommy and daddy will have the precious assurance that whatever comes, in happy times and hard times,

Jesus is with them,
Jesus is for them,
Jesus is able when we think we are not.
img_1126-1If you’re a parent, struggling with responsibility, disappointment or discouragement, I pray you’ll know the assurance of receiving what you need for today. I pray that in the hard and messy, you’ll know the peace and assurance that Jesus is with you and Jesus is for you.

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Heaven = Shame : At least that’s what I thought

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:18

When I was a kid, I remember being very worried one day while enjoying a chocolate bar. I was worrying that Jesus might come back that very minute, and I’d have to leave my yummy chocolate treat behind.

That was a very real concern for a child like me.img_3165In my youth, among many wonderful things I learned about God, I also learned that he was a harsh judge. That screwing up, however minor that might be, would result in having my many sins scroll across the large screen of heaven for all the inhabitants to see.

Heaven = Shame

That wasn’t an accurate depiction of God, that was fear. It was manipulation. It was misguided and a means to control behavior.

As I’ve matured in my faith and knowledge of God, I have become acutely more aware of the love of God and how that love can drive out those childish fears I had. Yet, I see the use of fear in the church still to this day, and I wonder why we have gone on so long believing that the message of fear will literally scare the hell out of people.

It all boils down to shame. We perceive that if we can make people feel ashamed enough about their actions, attitudes and behaviors, we might just “get them saved.” The longstanding perception is that if we give people too much freedom, they will use their “salvation” as a license to sin.

I disagree.

In 1st John chapter 4, John writes about the gift of God’s love for us, a love so amazing that he sent his son to atone for our sins. A love so incredible that if we would only love him back, we would know him. And all he asks in return is that we love others.img_3142

“For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” v. 20

Jesus himself commanded us to love God and love others. (Matthew 22) Those were the two greatest commands, and he expects us to live them. But according to John, we cannot truly, authentically love God if we are not loving others. That’s radical love. That’s the calling of Jesus on our lives.

We tend to think that spiritual maturity is all wrapped up in how well we have learned the Bible, how much we know about God and how well we defend our faith. I think we’ve been misguided. Spiritual maturity is evidenced by how well we love.

If we’re not loving others we are not spiritually mature.

And isn’t that the point, the issue, the heart? We have tried and failed to “win souls for Jesus” by talking and pontificating and judging and pointing out sin and making people feel shame for all the terrible things they have done. We fail to see the point of Jesus’ message and John’s message.

Perfect love drives out fear!

Where complete love is, fear cannot exist.
img_3116I know we want to believe that if we love people and don’t give them boundaries, they will use their freedom in Christ to sin. But perhaps we need to rethink that. Maybe, perfect love, complete in Christ, inspires us to love God and love others. And if someone is doing that, there’s little worry that they will use their freedom as a license to sin. Instead, let’s encourage each other to do good things because we are loved, not because we are trying to be loved.

Do you live in fear that every infraction you commit will somehow be thrown in your face when you get to heaven someday? Does your behavior come from a heart of fear or a heart that loves God and loves others? Think about that this week, and start living in the freedom of knowing that your sins have been forgotten, never to be brought up again. You are loved. You are forgiven. Don’t let fear keep you from living in that hope.
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How my garden grows : Lessons in patience

When we moved into our home a year and a half ago, the two raised planters in the backyard had various herbs and vegetables growing in it. Through the first few months, as we were settling in, we watched the Southern California sun slowly encourage the plants to grow leaves of all shades of green. Then blossoms arrived, bursting with small buds of hopeful growth. Eventually, we could see small glimmers of hope that actual food would be growing on those plants, even though we couldn’t see the full beauty of it yet.

Our tomato plant was especially large and prolific. For months, it continued to blossom and grow small tomatoes and we would be so excited as we plucked them from the heavy vines. Even as the fall and winter months set in, our big tomato plant was still growing strong.

Close up of a bunch of growing tomatoes

Eventually, we plucked it out, cleaned out the planter and started again with a new tomato plant, adding peppers of all sorts and lovingly calling this spot in the yard our Salsa Garden.

We don’t even like tomatoes, but there is something so satisfying watching a small little plant struggle to push up toward the sun and then bear beautiful, red fruit, that we grow the tomatoes just so we can make fresh salsa and share the bounty with friends and family.

This year, our little urban garden is doing especially well, and despite our limited knowledge of how to make things grow, we are being rewarded with enough of its goodness to feel like we have accomplished something.

A few weeks ago, our Big Bertha Red Bell Pepper plant had a huge pepper on it. It was the only one on the plant and was at least 10 inches long and 5 inches wide. It was green as green could be, with no hint of turning red. One week, as we endured 100+ temperatures for days, the hot sun burned the top of the pepper and it started to wither. My husband cut Big Bertha from the vine to save what he could and we set it on the counter for a day or two to see if she might ripen.
imagesA few days later, I cut Big Bertha in half, cut off the burned portion, filled her with meat and rice and put her in the oven. The result? A tasteless pepper with some really tasty meat inside. We were sad. She was picked too soon.

The other day, feeling certain we had many tomatoes ready for picking, I grabbed the shears and started cutting away. When I brought my bounty in the house and inspected the loot, I found that I had plucked some from their vine a day or two early. They were not yet fully ripe, and I knew I had robbed them of some precious time of growing.

If I had been patient, I would have been rewarded with much better tomatoes. They needed nothing but time. They didn’t need extra water or fertilizer or sweet lullabies sung to them. They needed the gift of time which cost nothing, but I was too impatient to give it.

The fruit of the Spirit is… Patience. Galatians 5:22

The garden is a wonderful teacher. Things grow when we bury the seeds down in the earth, add water, warm sunshine and give them time. Yes, it’s much easier to go to the grocery store, buy a tomato and a pepper and whip them up into a tasty meal. But the reward of watching seeds sprout into tiny plants, grow tall and thick and start blossoming with hope of good things, that is just a different thing all together.

The garden teaches us that good things can’t be hurried along. Standing by and watching, tapping our foot in impatient hurry won’t make the tomato plant suddenly burst with fruit or make the green pepper turn red.
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So it is with so many things in life, and so it is that Jesus is patiently teaching me to wait, something I am really terrible at.

Take the long way home, I hear him say.
But no! It takes too long, I reason.
And I jump on the freeway, speeding along toward home where there’s no real reason to hurry.

Wait. Be patient. It will all reveal itself in time, I hear him say.
No! I want to know now. What happens tomorrow? Next month? Next year? When will I see progress? I scream impatiently in my head.
And I start pushing and pulling and whining and complaining and trying to make things happen on my timetable, not His.
IMG_2079Plant a seed and watch it grow. Trust that I’m working in her. You can’t see it, but things are happening, I hear him say.
If I just keep talking, keep watching, keep watering, keep filling empty spaces of time with words, then I’ll feel like I’m doing something, I think.

I try to pluck the fruit too early, and the result is tasteless.
I keep tilling and watering and watching and impede the growth in my effort to help. 

I’m working on waiting. It isn’t easy for me. Patience is not my strong-suit. I do much better with hurry.

But Jesus is a patient gardener, and he doesn’t rush my growth. He won’t be hurried into plucking fruit too soon. He knows exactly how long I need to sit. And, he is doing the same thing for you.

If I take matters into my own hands, grab at what I want and take it for myself, the tasteless result will be no reward at all.

Despite the hard work of waiting, I am determined to allow Christ to build patience in me.

How about you? Do you hear him saying Wait? Stop today. Sit down on the inside and allow him to grow in your something worth the wait.

 

 

When I want to be anywhere but here

Anywhere but here.

That’s what I said to myself all last week.

After a wonderful vacation, going back to work was assaulting. I was exhausted after arriving home a day later than expected, a cancelled flight robbing me of the one buffer day I had planned before getting back to the grind. Things had piled up that I needed to take care of quickly. People had been waiting for my return to unload their concerns and complaints. It was difficult, to say the least.

Anywhere but here, I kept saying to myself.
IMG_1893The fruit of the Spirit is Self Control, Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians. When I think of self-control, I mostly think of refusing to eat that donut in the kitchen at work, or saying “No” to something that is not good for me so that I can say “Yes” to something better.

But last week, self-control meant self-talk for me. As my emotions reeled from lack of sleep and the demands of work, I desperately wanted to uproot myself from my current situation and run away. I wanted to be anywhere but here.
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“Every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more… In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.” John 15: 2-4 MSG

Every time my emotions screamed at me that I needed to be anywhere but here, my soul whispered stay put, abide in him. It took nearly a week, but the screaming subsided and the whisper drowned it out. I was being pruned by The Gardener of my soul, and just as he has reminded me time after time, he reminded me again that the fruit of his Spirit in me can only grow from well-tended vines, pruned of the dead branches that steal the life source.
IMG_3226For me, this is a season of faithful waiting. My feet that want to take me to greener grass and fruitless vines, need to be firmly planted in the rich soil of the responsibilities I have now. It’s a hard road I’m on, and it’s lined with obstacles that seem insurmountable at times. Still, I know that this is where I am supposed to be, putting one foot in front of the other, faithful to the work that has been placed in my hands. Telling anywhere but here, “No!”

I see the hard road, the one that is less traveled, and I wonder why I have to be the one to take it. I see the roads others are traveling and dream about how much easier it must be. If I just could hop on over there where the grass looks green, things would be so much easier. The truth is, if I asked you about the road you’re on, you might tell me that your road looks barren and mine looks pretty green.

Anywhere but here, you might be saying.

Daily, he reminds me that he is always with me, and that he’s for me. He doesn’t ask me to pretend it isn’t hard or long or arduous or filled with exhaustion and difficulty. He reminds me to speak the truth of that hardness about my current state, and somehow, in the acknowledgement of the hardness of it all, I find peace that surpasses what I can understand. That peace makes a way for me to plant my feet on the path again and keep on journeying despite my questions about where I’m going.
IMG_3216Maybe you, like me, feel that the hard way you’re traveling is just too much. Remember that you do not have to hide your fears, your tears, your frustration, your exhaustion, or your disappointment. Jesus sees it already and longs to hold you up when you can’t do it yourself. He is at work, tending the vines of your life, pruning and shaping, cutting off all the dead branches that keep you from bearing a bounty of good fruit.

It’s sometimes painful, but always worth the waiting. Trust him. Abide in him. Stay.
The fruit of the-9

 

 

A word to start our week : Restraint

Sometimes, the right thing is the hard thing. The road less traveled seems insurmountable, too arduous, unfairly required of us. It would be easier, quicker, less trouble to take the easy road.

Help us to choose the hard thing and the high road anyway.
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Others do it. They take the easy road all of the time. We sometimes feel as though we are the only ones.

Help us to go there anyway.

Our passions and desires, our perceived need for things that don’t fill us and fill others, those are the things we must restrain ourselves from.

Instead, may we release our will to the will of the One who can fill us completely, even to overflowing so that Your Spirit spills out onto others.

When tempers flare, when we’re pushed to our limit, when our patience is tested beyond what we can endure, remind us of your great love for us and that you are with us, even in the heat of the moment.

When we’re tempted to throw in the towel, to give up on the good work you’ve given us to do, remind us of Your truth that all things are working for our good.
IMG_3252The fruit of the Spirit is… self control. (Galations 5:22-23)

 

How to lead with a strong hand and a gentle touch

It’s the strong hand, not the weak one that must learn to be gentle. (Gary Thomas)

I don’t often write about my job here. But for this post, I think it’s important to understand what I do and how gentleness has become a part of how I lead.

I’m a manager of people. I’m the boss. (I always hate that by the way, when introducing myself to a new employee I don’t like pointing out that “I’m The Boss.”) Having a boss should be a safety net. When things are out of control, when an employee is not performing, when a customer is screaming and wants to speak to the boss, it’s my responsibility to swoop in and deal with the situation.

So it is, that I have the opportunity to lead people for a living. Now we all lead someone, even (or especially) if we’re leading our children or others in our family. So for all of us, no matter who we lead, I have some words of wisdom for leading with gentleness that I hope you will find useful.
IMG_0805Leading requires a strong hand. Balance your strong hand with a gentle touch.
People deserve truth. Speak truth, but do it with love and respect. Be mindful that people may not like the truth, but they can and will deal with the truth.
Hold people accountable and allow them to experience consequences for their actions. Rescuing, not confronting, or letting things go too often, will reduce the respect the person has for you as well as exacerbate the behavior.
Approach others’ weaknesses and limitations with compassion. The saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” applies here. Put love first.
Be vulnerable enough to be relatable. When people sense you’re willing to be open and honest about yourself, they will trust you to lead them where they aren’t sure they want to go.
Admit when you’ve made a mistake. Apologies go a long way with people you lead.
Have a little fun. Tell jokes, pull some pranks, celebrate birthdays. People want to know that you’re real and relatable.
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If the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, then let our strong hand with a soft touch be the difference that defines us as we lead others.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. Philippians 4:5

The fruit of the-8

 

 

A word to start our week : Gentleness

This world is anything but gentle.

Political wars are waging. Words spew out hate upon hate. It’s all too much.

Jesus, we know that you too lived in politically charged times. Yet, you were able to be gentle and kind, ignoring the cacophony of voices and expectations.

You lived as an example to us of strength under restraint. You never used your power to shame, insult, show off or disregard.
IMG_0805Help us this week to choose gentleness, humility and love.
When the words are full of hate, remind us to respond with gentleness and kindness.
May we see the struggles and the stories behind the words.
May we build bridges, not barriers.
May we reflect the gentleness your Spirit is growing within us.
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The fruit of the Sprit is… Gentleness.

Boundaries are not the same as barriers – Let’s not build barriers!

 

Faithfulness is the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something and putting that loyalty into consistent practice, regardless of extenuating circumstances. – Wikipedia

The Apostle Paul told the Galatian believers that faithfulness was evidence of a Spirit-led life.

In his list of the fruits of the Spirit, Paul instructed the people how to interact and be in relationship with each other.

Don’t be like everybody else, he cautioned. Be different. Love each other. Be faithful to one another. (See Galatians 5)
DSC_0168“Faithfulness is unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something.” For me this is one of those difficult truths about the Spirit-led life. Relationships are not always easy, so sometimes we choose to be faithful because it’s the right thing to do, not the thing we want to do. Sometimes we have to place a boundary around relationships because it’s the healthy thing to do.

But boundaries are different than barriers. Sadly, in many churches today, we’re seeing a lack of faithfulness toward people. In our search for right living and pleasing God, we build walls around others because we condemn their choices or behavior. We create barriers, not boundaries. Our fear is that remaining in relationship with someone whom we believe to be “in sin,” would give the appearance of condoning what they do. But that does not model the example of Christ. Jesus’ example was one of breaking down walls and barriers, not erecting them to keep himself separate and apart.
IMG_1224Peter, after denying he knew Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ death, wasn’t rejected or shamed by Jesus. He was loved and accepted by him. Jesus affirmed Peter. Jesus tore down the emotional barrier that stood between him and Peter. He gave Peter the gift of restored relationship.

When the woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned, Jesus rose to her defense. He asked those who were about to throw rocks of judgment if they had any sin they might want to confess before condemning her to death. They all walked away. Jesus, the only one in the crowd who was without sin, had the right to stone her. He didn’t.

Neither do I condemn you, he said. (See John 8)
Version 2Now before you go and say that I forgot the second part of the verse that says, “Go and sin no more,” I want you first to ask yourself how that go-and-sin-no-more-thing is working for you. For me, it’s a daily struggle.

And I think that’s the thing. We have focused on the go-and-sin-no-more stuff, and forgotten that we need to focus on the neither-do-I-condemn-you stuff.

What would happen if we just loved people? If we stood at the doors of our churches, our homes and our communities and opened our arms to people without trying to change them? Would our families become stronger? Would our faith become purer? Would people begin to love others in the same way they experience love from us?

More and more people are leaving our churches and leaving faith in Christ. They are doing so because of you and me. In our quest to be faithful to God, we have lost our faithfulness to others. We’ve erected walls that keep people out instead of building bridges that welcome them in.
IMG_1232 (1)Someone once told me that people don’t have to approve of my actions to love and accept me as a person. I’m choosing faithfulness. I’m choosing love. I’m choosing relationships. I’m choosing to accept others, whether I approve of their actions or not.

Will you?The fruit of the Spirit-3

 

 

A word to start our week : Faithfulness

Sometimes being loyal and faithful to our work, our relationships and our beliefs, takes patience. We fall out of step, rushing toward our expectations, hurrying toward unknown destinations because we’re tired of being here.
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You promised to lead us and provide for us, but at times the waiting feels long and slow. We are tempted to grab for ourselves what we should patiently wait for.
Help us to wait and trust your timing.

You said that you are always with us, but some days it feels you’re far off and we’ve been abandoned.
Show us glimpses of your presence in the ordinariness of our days.

Our relationships become rocky and we question if it’s worth staying in it.
May we remember that you have been faithful to us and equip us to be faithful to others.
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In the waiting, the longing, the hoping, the dreaming, may we never forget that you showed your faithfulness to us in the form of sacrificial love. 

Help us to be faithful,
In our relationships
In our work
In our homes
In our faith
In our love

The fruit of the spirit… is Faithfulness.

For the not-good-enough parents like me

As I’ve been thinking about goodness this week and what I wanted to write in this space, I keep coming back to my frequent feelings of being a not-good-enough mother. I sense there are many of you who, just like me, fear that all our parenting mistakes have worked against us and our children.

When I adopted my first child over 23 years ago, I was more than ready to be a mom. I was 30 years old. I had longed for and waited for this child. Thirteen months later, when his sister came into our family, I was not prepared for the exhausting challenge of parenting two little humans so close in age. A person who thrives on rest and peace, I was often at my wit’s end, short-tempered and impatient.
IMG_1563The fruit of the Spirit is goodness, Paul writes in Galatians 5. Goodness, for me anyway, seems tied to my very human struggle to be good at something.
IMG_1566Now that my children are fully grown adults of 22 and 23, I have a different perspective on parenting. Had I known the challenges I would face, would I have done this parenting thing at all? Yes, of course yes. But when your little humans grow up to be big humans with minds and hearts and choices of their own, that feeling of I’m-not-good-enough floats back in. Only this time, it says I-wasn’t-good-enough.

So today, I want to encourage moms (and dads too) who feel like some days, some months, some years, our best just isn’t or wasn’t good enough. For those of us who feel that if-we-had-just-done-something-differentlyour-kids-would-have-turned-out-better, remember today, that our good and loving God is with you and has always been with you. Every moment of every day, he has been with you.
IMG_1603When the pregnancy test is negative again
When the baby you carried for a few short weeks is lost
When the diagnosis for your sweet child’s health is devastating
He carries you, grieving with you, comforting you with tender kindness.

When the report card reveals a challenge with learning
When the principal calls you to a meeting again
When all the other kids are graduating, and yours didn’t finish in time 
When the police knock on the door and deliver your teen to you
He holds your disappointment and embraces you with his love.

When he says, “I’m gay”
When she says, “I’m pregnant”
When he slams the door behind him, shutting you off from his life
When she chooses the drink and the drug over her children
He holds you up when you think you will crumble in a heap. He is your strength.

He is with you. He has always been with you. His goodness, his love, his kindness has always been with you.

Though you may look in the mirror and heap the shame of failure on yourself, he is right there, telling you, You’re good enough for me. You were good enough for them.

Though your body may have failed you, his love never fails.

Though your dreams lay in a heap of ashes, he makes beauty from those ashes.

Though the present looks nothing like you thought it would and the children you raised are distant and coldhe pursues them with his everlasting love.
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Goodness is not a reflection of being good at something. Goodness is a reflection of the very Spirit of Christ living in us. It’s an attitude of loving and giving and choosing to do good for others. Parenting is a perfect example of this.

We all hope that our children will reflect the good things we’ve spent years teaching them. For some, the good things are easily seen at a young age. They seem to sail through life, getting good grades, going to college, getting a good job.

But for some of us, it seems that our children have absolutely no reflection of us at all. They stumble and fall. They struggle to find their place in the world. They make destructive choices. And we, sitting on the sidelines watching all of this happen, want to blame ourselves. We just weren’t good enough.

It’s my fault she’s…
If I had only….
Would things be different if…

Your children and mine are on their own journey. We can’t take the journey for them. They will go at their own pace and their own time. And whatever they choose, whatever they do, your job is to do your best and trust that not only is Christ with you, He is with them. You can trust his goodness to be at work in them, just as it is at work in you.

You… are good enough. The fruit of the-7

 

 

 

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