To Trust or Not to Trust


Words bombard us. They also can have a great deal of power in our lives. They can encourage us, but they can also disappoint us when they are not affirming or absent when we long for affirmation. They can challenge us to try new things, to consider new ideas or thoughts, and discover possibilities, but they can also bore us to tears when we hope for a new or broader vision.


I have always loved words. I love what I learn or discover through reading a book, listening to the lyrics of a song, hearing the dialogue in a movie or play, or discovering more about the person I am listening to.


And for those of you familiar with Gary Chapman’s book on “love languages”, yes, affirming words is one of my primary love languages along with quality time. But I am not primarily interested in the words themselves, but rather the heart and soul of the one who has written or spoken them.


We must spend a great deal of time listening to the words spoken by or written by another person to become acquainted with the depths of their heart.


When we do that, we also begin to learn whether or not the person is trustworthy, if we can count on them, if they are a safe person with whom we can share our own heart and intimate thoughts.


The trick is that many people are very skilled at words. Words seem to come easily for them and as they openly share, we can be tempted to quickly believe and trust them. Sometimes that proves to be true, but not always. Sometimes we are eager to believe them because they are saying what we hope, want, or need to hear. Sometimes they sound so self-assured and confident that we are certain they know far more than we do, so we give them our trust more easily than we always should.


Some of us can be skeptical about words because we have been tricked by them. Some of us tune out because we are bombarded by them from every direction. Ads and commercials reach out to us from every form of media wanting us to buy this or try that, choose this candidate or choose that one, go to this destination or that one.


I get that.


There are times I love sitting in my house when I am home alone with no music or sound at all just enjoying the quiet, resting my ears, heart, mind, and spirit even when I am not specifically spending time with the Lord in His Word or journaling.


The key thing I have learned about whether or not to trust the words I am hearing is one basic truth.


If the words of the person do not match the behavior of the person, the behavior tells me more about their heart than their words.


Words can be said quickly or over time. They can be used to persuade, challenge, rebuke, or encourage us, but they can also seduce us to believe without question what we hear.


The decision to trust or not to trust is an important one that we face every moment of every day.


Words and actions need to match if we are to risk trusting them. We should be cautious and discerning, but not suspicious and closed. We cannot fall prey to closing off our hearts and hardening them.


As we listen, observe, and seek the Lord’s counsel over time, we grow in our ability to trust or not to trust.


The best example of trustworthiness where words and actions match is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ and He is 100 percent trustworthy.



What Will Your Legacy Be?


Legacy Builders

As we wind our way through the Thanksgiving holiday  weekend, I am reminded of how often I hear someone speak of the lack of gratitude or appreciation they see in so many people and especially younger people.

As I consider this today, I think perhaps each of us needs to pause and consider that none of us come into this world with a gratefulness or thankfulness DNA genetic code built in. As a whole, each of us arrives focused on getting our needs met and from the very beginning we find some amazing ways to accomplish that.

If nothing interrupts that process, it continues and can become more and more ugly.


The truth is that gratefulness is learned. It doesn’t just happen.


The first place of learning for you as well as me was at home. It was there I was taught to say “please” and “thank you”. But beyond what I was taught, I was blessed to observe parents who modeled that daily in their own lives.

Neither of my parents was born into wealthy families. They both grew up on farms where hard work was needed and expected. Each of them experienced significant loss early in their lives. My father’s dad died when he was only five years old so he never grew up knowing him. A fire destroyed my mother’s home when she was a freshman in high school and her family spent a year living separately in different homes while a new home was built.

Perhaps those very difficulties were used by the Lord to nurture gratefulness versus bitterness and self-pity. Each of their families pulled together during those hard times instead of breaking apart as a result of their faith that was not dependent on circumstances or everything going well.

I was born into that legacy. Along with the model of gratefulness and thankfulness came another. They were generous with time, love, service, and limited income.

Each of my parents served in PTA, Sunday School, and a long list of other opportunities that church, school, and community provided. But there were other things I saw which were not visible to everyone.

One example that I watched was how they worked and tended a huge garden for the whole of their lives. They probably could have sold produce that we did not need to add to their income, but instead they offered what they did not need to others in the neighborhood or at church who had less. Their garden bore fruit beyond the produce they shared with others.

Our Thanksgiving table always included a patchwork of people who had no one to share the day. Sometimes these were widowed sisters or other relatives or people from our church who were alone. Anyone was welcome at their table. That included my friends and later friends of our children and even the families of friends.

Gratefulness was a way of life that was evident every day, not just on Thanksgiving.

My parents sowed seed not only in me, but also in our son and daughter, their grandchildren. Each of them is now married with children of their own. I see in them the fruit that began many years ago and I see it in their children, my grandchildren, their great grandchildren, as well.

My parents have been at home with the Lord for twenty years and no other celebration brings a greater sense of them than Thanksgiving. I am reminded again this year of what each of us can pass on to others, to the next generation. Two key principles stand out: 

Gratefulness is learned. It doesn’t just happen.

Gratefulness should be a way of life every day.



Lest We Forget

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History tells us that from ancient times, the Wampanoag Indians of southeastern Massachusetts held ceremonies to give thanks for successful harvests, for the hope of a good growing season in the early spring, and for other good fortune such as the birth of a child.

For those coming to America from England and other parts of Europe, they too had traditionally celebrated with feasting after a successful crop.

Together in 1621, these two cultures celebrated a good harvest after a year of deprivation and sickness. To the Puritans whose strong Christian faith was the centerpiece of their lives and motivation for coming to what would become the United States, this time of celebration was not merely a time of revelry, it was an outpouring of gratitude to God for preserving and providing for them.

At this first time of coming together around a table to give thanks, it was an emotional time of not only celebrating the harvest of crops, but also a celebration of their civil and religious freedom. They feasted for three days. Later Congress asked President George Washington in 1789 to declare a national day of Thanksgiving on November 26 of that year.

Gratefulness for God’s provision continued, but without a formal date or custom until 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to God for the success of the Union Army at Gettysburg in the midst of the Civil War to be held on the last Thursday of November. That first year it was celebrated on November 26, 1863.

During 1939 another time of war and challenges for the nation, the last Thursday of November fell on the last day of the month. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was concerned that this would shorten the Christmas shopping season that was needed for the country’s economic recovery so he moved Thanksgiving to the second to the last Thursday of November. This decision was not received by all the states so 16 states continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November.

Finally in 1941, Congress decided to set a fixed date for this holiday and on December 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed a resolution establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the official national Thanksgiving Day.

Since that time, the date has followed that resolution. Customs around the date have changed and for most Americans food may be a central feature of the day, but football games and early Christmas shopping have also been added.

I am well aware this historical review is probably familiar to all of you, but in the midst of feasting, football, and shopping perhaps we need to remind ourselves of that record. I cannot help but notice when I do review it that I see that gratefulness was expressed for provision when times were difficult and the future uncertain. It was a time of thankfulness not only for harvest and protection, but civil and religious freedom.

Despite the harsh times of the Pilgrims, the uncertainty of this nation’s survival after breaking with England, the severing of this nation’s union during the bloody Civil War, or the perilous times just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, attention was focused on giving thanks and expressing gratitude to God for being there in the midst of the hardship and uncertainty.

As I consider that, I am reminded that no matter what the uncertainty of this current hour may be for our nation or any one of us individually, the founders of our nation believed it was key to set aside a specific day of every year to pause from the routine schedule and daily grind to give thanks.

I look around the table as we gather together again this year and consider how grateful I am for those who are there as well as those who are missing who paved the way for my family, and me but if I stop there I will be remiss.


Thanksgiving is a day for looking up to God for His sustaining grace and provision, for the civil and religious freedom that has been a foundation for this nation.


Yes, times are uncertain once again. Yes, we are still a young nation with many things to still “get right”.


But God is a good God, a faithful God, and so it is necessary for us learn once again to pause and remember.




The Gift of the Best Question


I’m not sure how you feel about questions. When I sat in classrooms, I felt anxiety about being asked a question. I tended to fear I would not know the right answer or say something that sounded foolish. I tried to be small enough in my seat so the teacher might not see me and ask. Of course, that was not very successful.

Later, as a teacher, I got a great view of what I must have looked like to my teachers, as I would see similar behaviors in certain students. I understood their feelings of uncertainty, their lack of confidence, and their insecurity.

I began to look for ways to ask questions of my students that would be a “win” for them, to encourage them and build up their confidence. I looked for ways to respond to their answers so that even if they were not correct, they would still feel valued.

As a professional counselor, developing my understanding of how to ask questions that would encourage the person sitting in my office to share with me moved to another level. I wasn’t asking questions as simply a formality, but to begin to really discover who the person truly was so I could glimpse the gifts, skills, and abilities within them to serve as a foundation to bring them hope in the midst of their situation.

Over the course of my life, I have come to see the gift the best question can be for others as well as for me. You see, the best question allows me to know you.

I have also discovered it is an ability or gift or skill that many do not have.


The best question is one which opens the heart of the person I have asked it of or it opens mine if I was the one asked.


Why is that significant?

It is foundational to a healthy, growing, vibrant relationship that goes beyond the surface and provides me with someone who provokes me to consider what I am thinking and feeling, how I came to those conclusions, and how they line up with what I know about myself or know from the Word.


A question that opens my heart gives me the possibility and gift of being known.


Consequently, any person who asks such a question deposits a gift into my life that I value highly. To be known is risky, but without the risk I have no hope of discovering I can be loved and accepted just as I am at that moment.

I admit to having developed some biases where questions are concerned. I am not a fan of some of the most common ones:

  • How are you?
  • What’s up?
  • How have you been?

These questions are often asked as I bump into someone I haven’t seen for a while and even if the person is sincere, it doesn’t register that with me. Often we are in a store, standing in line for coffee, or in the lobby at church when such questions are asked. I am keenly aware of feeling I cannot really respond to the question because there is neither time nor an environment that allows for a conversation of any depth. I think that happens to most of us. Perhaps that is why the common answer we give is, “I’m fine” even if we are not.

We have relationships at many levels, but what I most value are a few deeper relationships where someone has sought and desired to know my heart. Those are the gifts that develop intimate connection.


No one asks better questions than Jesus. There is not a thing about his questions that are superficial.


Each question is asked with purpose. Page after page of the gospels give us one example after another. Here are just a few:

  • Do you want to be well?
  • Who is it you’re looking for?
  • What do you think?
  • What do you want me to do for you?
  • Why are you so afraid?
  • Why did you doubt?
  • Why are you bothering this woman?

He seems to ask questions that should be obvious and yet have a power that unlocks the person’s heart, pulls them out of their hopelessness, lifts the cloud from their eyes, and puts them in touch with their heart and the desire that has died.

His questions break through the hard shell we have developed from too much disappointment, too much hopelessness, and too much pain.

His questions expose the truth that when our hope was deferred we not only became sick, but also desire died within us.


Jesus comes into our lives by awakening a desire for Him, a desire for what we lost in Eden or in the laws we tried to keep to find Him.


Those questions that awaken desire bring us fully alive spiritually. They shake us out of our lifeless routines, our religion of duties and obligations. They give us the gift by being the best questions.







Shame: The Enemy of Grace

IMG_3281Few things weigh us down so much as the feeling of shame. It can make us want to curl up in a ball in a corner somewhere hoping that no one, absolutely no one, notices us.


The feeling of shame causes us to believe that we don’t measure up somehow.


We may feel we don’t measure up to what others expect or need, what we feel we need to be or accomplish to be accepted or succeed, or that we don’t measure up to what we believe the Lord expects of us.

All of these or even one of them distorts our view of ourselves as well. We turn on ourselves and our heart closes off from anyone or anything. The worst part of that is that we close ourselves off from the Lord’s love, mercy, and grace.

At some time in our life, we have all felt the crushing weight of shame. Not only are our hearts weighed down, but we also have spirits stripped of joy or hope. We may feel depressed, sad, or even despairing.

The sticky truth about shame is this:


The feeling of shame is not about something we did as much as it is about who we are.


 The results include a feeling or sense of unworthiness that cause us to hide from the Lord instead of run to Him. It’s what we saw in Adam and Eve when they tried to hide from the Lord after disobeying Him.

So shame becomes a snare to us, and the enemy uses it to twist our mindset and feelings about guilt, grace, mercy, love, and hope. We start to confuse guilt with shame.


We feel guilty about something we do. We feel shame about who or what we are.


The challenge increases because often these two things overlap. We may do something or fail to do something for which we feel guilt, but then old tapes or the “accuser of the brethren” adds to that with whispers about what we are or are not, who we are not versus who we were supposed to be. We move into a depressed state.

We are more likely to fall prey to this if we tend to be all or nothing thinkers. In other words, because I made a mistake in one area or on one thing then I am not good period.

We are also more prone to challenges with this if we tend to be overly responsible, need approval to feel accepted, be prone to compare ourselves with others, or replay old tapes about things that were said to or about us in the past.

When all of these start swirling in our mind, heart, and spirit, we view ourselves through filters that distort the truth. Additionally, we can tend to believe others see us through those same filters and know how flawed we are.

Some of us, possibly many of us, have reached out to someone at some point when the feelings became unbearable. What we were in desperate need of was grace, but sometimes if grace was offered to us ungraciously the shame only deepened and no healing was gained.

The enemy pushes us down again and the grace we need to bring healing is postponed. We fail to see the Lord is reaching out to us when we are agreeing with the enemy’s accusations about us.


What we most need is grace, graciously given.


Sixteen years ago when I was grappling with this issue, someone recommended a book, Shame and Grace, by Lewis Smedes. Page by page, the truths written there began to untangle the web I could not seem to escape from.

At one point in the book, an illustration is used to give a sense of what grace that heals looks like. It is so powerful that it is worth quoting here:


“On Palm Sunday morning, April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee put on his finest dress uniform, mounted Traveller, and rode away from his tired and tattered troops to Appomattox, where he would surrender his beaten army to General Ulysses S. Grant. As Lee rode to meet his conqueror, he fully expected that his men would be herded like cattle into railroad cars and taken to a Union prison and that he, as their general, would be tried and executed as a disgraced traitor.

 In the tidy living room of the home where the vanquished and the victor met, Lee asked Grant what his terms of surrender were to be. Grant told Lee that his men were free to take their horses with them and go back to their little farms and that Lee too was free to go home and create a new life. Lee offered Grant his sword; Grant refused it. Lee heaved a sigh; he came expecting to be humiliated, and he left with dignity and honor. As he watched General Lee mount Traveller and ride back to his troops, Grant took off his hat and saluted his defeated enemy. It was a gracious grace. And it deeply affected the defeated general: as long as he lived, Lee allowed no critical word of Grant to be spoken in his presence.” (Shame and Grace)

 So, what is the truth? Where is the hope?


“Grace graciously given honors our worth as it overlooks our undeserving.” (From Shame and Grace by Lewis Smedes)


Such a grace defeats and heals the shame that can cling to our heart, mind, and spirit like barnacles.