Our Struggle with Contradiction

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Most of us like to believe that we are congruent in most areas of our life. We want who we say we are on the inside to match what others see on the outside. We want our faith, values, and priorities to be evident in our choices and behaviors. That’s what pure integrity looks like.

 

Yet Paul clearly knows how easy it is to struggle with that in his letter to the Romans:

 

“I’m a mystery to myself, for I want to do what is right, but end up doing what my moral instincts condemn.”

Romans 7:15 (TPT)

 

chocolate-close-up-food-2424The contradictions show up on little things and big things. We know we need to limit sugar intake and on good days we forego candy or ice cream, but ignore or give ourselves a pass about sweeteners in our coffee or tea. We know we need to keep moving (even if we don’t exercise), but our body stays stuck in a chair for more hours than not.

 

We know we should have a consistent daily time of devotion to keep our spiritual muscles toned, but too often we may only skim a verse or a short devotional and maybe a quick prayer without reflecting on the Lord or listening for his nudges. The Holy Spirit wants to encourage us and hold us accountable in all this, but in many cases we have the mute button depressed.

 

We know that nurturing and nourishing our relationships with spouse, parents, children, adorable-boy-child-1006103friends, and others is important and yet we go through many days without putting much conscious effort into the relationships that mean the most to us. It can be so easy to think we will do better tomorrow or that we will get around to that, but we miss the truth that we never know how much time we may have in this life with that person. We miss the joy we give by cultivating the relationship and forget that it comes right back to us when we love well.

 

Yes, Paul is right about the sin nature that seeks to overtake us. There is also the problem with how often we can be in denial about these very contradictions (or at the very least rationalize them away).

 

For most of us, defense mechanisms are pretty well developed by the time we are not far into adulthood. We act out, project onto others things that we are guilty of, operate in denial, and assorted other things. We use them to avoid or distance ourselves from things we don’t want to see, feel, or own.

 

“Perhaps denial is the mind’s way of protecting the heart from a sucker punch it can’t handle or maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe denial in the face of overwhelming evidence is a mere byproduct of stubbornness,”

Lisa Wingate in The Sea Keepers Daughter

 

alone-angry-anxiety-236151Some of us are old enough to remember the movie “A Few Good Men” that was released in 1992 and the memorable line spoken by Jack Nicholson (Col. Nathan Jessep) as a result of the questioning of Tom Cruise (Lt. Daniel Kaffee): “You can’t handle the truth.”

 

Can we really not handle the truth as a believer granted grace or is it that we would prefer to not look at it within ourselves?

 

Have we forgotten that we are not only saved by grace, but called to live by grace as well?

 

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

Jerry Bridges in The Discipline of Grace

 

Sometimes we also don’t know ourselves as well as we may think we do. It is only when we spend time with the Lord being honest before Him and also asking Him to search our hearts that we can begin to see more clearly. It is then as the prophet Joel says in Joel 2:13 that we will “rend” our hearts and repent of those contradictions we see as well as those He sees that we missed.

 

Spending time with the Lord … the key we must remember is said best by Jerry Bridges:

 

“Duty or guilt may motivate us for awhile, but only a sense of Christ’s love for us will motivate us for a lifetime.”

 

Sensing that love of the Lord is what moves us another step out of contradiction so that we can handle the truth, move in repentance, and feel the freedom of being wrapped in his grace and mercy.

 

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The Trouble with Time

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We never seem to be satisfied with time.

 

We have too little time or too much time on our hands. It is racing or moving at a snail’s pace. It eludes us as well as our hope to control its speed, quantity, or quality.

 

God set time in place at Creation to give us a sense of order and rhythm with day and night, sun, moon, and stars. Seasons help us measure it out as well and give us a sense of where we are in a year of days (especially if we live in an area where we experience all four seasons).

 

A new baby seems to have no sense of time except to know hunger drives each part of his or her day and night. No sense of time? Well, think about how often a baby can be convinced that nighttime is when he or she is to be awake and ready to play instead of the daylight hours we prefer.

 

close-up-color-countdown-39396Milestones start to measure time − rolling over, first word, and first step − that moves on to first day of school and we are rolling along before we realize it. We are ever looking ahead to the next thing we want to be old enough or big enough to do, never noticing sometimes the precious limited gift that time is.

 

When each of us discovers that truth about time, we discover it varies by what course our life takes through time. If we need to be away from or say goodbye to someone we love, we become acutely aware of how precious and limited time is.

 

The trouble with time is that we never know how much we will be allotted to spend.

 

We become very conscious of time as parents. We want to get beyond diapers, teething, colic, and more. We want to see what all they can be and do and then look forward to when they don’t need us to drive them everywhere. With that first child we can’t grasp how quickly time will pass. Too soon they will no longer be a part of our daily life. Our home will no longer be their home base. We will plan all the celebrations as they head off to college, the military, or their own place and rejoice for them and with them while our hearts ache to see them go.

 

Aging puts time in sharp relief. We finally see how quickly it has been passing. We are burn-dark-fire-33930referred to as “elderly” when we often feel like the same person we were (not many years) ago despite the silver in our hair or the change of our pace. We long for it to slow down then. We want to see the places we were too busy to see when we were younger. We want to have the energy we expended trying to hurry up time. We come to value what we took for granted and the belief we would do something ‘later’ and recognize ‘later’ never came and now may be too late.

 

I have had sharp reminders about the trouble with time this week as I share in two very different seasons with people who are dear to me.

 

We prepare to attend our oldest grandson’s college graduation and look ahead to the time he will be in medical school many more miles away than college was. He is in another launching season and we could not be more excited for him. (We felt that way when our oldest granddaughter graduated from college two years ago and began her career as a nurse.) But we are wistful as well when we recognize launching into this new season means we will see him less often.

 

How is it that our children are now launching their children?

 

This week I also spent some precious time with my 93-year-old friend who is in her last weeks in this life. I savored the moments as I held her hand whether we were talking or just enjoying looking at each other. We talked about the truly important things − love for each other, thankfulness for our friendship, heaven, spiritual things − and she told me she was “letting go” and as I heard her words I knew it was true. We wasted no words or time in those moments.

 

We have all manner of devices that tell or remind us of what time it is, but they cannot tell us where we are on God’s clock. Scripture admonishes us to be aware of times and seasons. Matthew speaks of the times and seasons we are to attend to in Matthew 24.

 

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Matthew 24: 32-35 (ESV)

 

How well are we observing the times and seasons God has set for the return of Jesus?

 

Does it occur to us?

 

Do we see them clearly as we observe what is happening around us and in the world as a whole?

 

Jesus reminds us as He continues in Matthew 24:44:

 

44 “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Matthew 24:44 (ESV)

 

 We do not know the hour and yet we are called to observe, pay attention, and be ready.

 

Perhaps the trouble with time and how little we comprehend is this:

 

“Time is so invisible, you never see it passing.”

Lisa Wingate

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Words

 

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Words.

 

Words matter.

 

Words comprise language and the knowledge of them equips us to read. Some of us are fascinated by them and study them and their meanings (semantics). Others of us give them little consideration, but words matter. They distinguish us from all other forms of creation.

 

Research published in 2013 suggests that the average woman speaks 20,000 words per day. “Average” woman implies some speak more and some certainly speak less. Even so, just imagine if you are a woman that many words have come out of your mouth from the first word groggily spoken in the morning until the last sleepy word before nodding off to sleep at night.

 

That same research suggests the average man by comparison speaks 7,000 words per day. Such a contrast can already have you scratching your head and considering how much that influences a disconnect that can happen in communication between the genders.

 

God has created us as the psalmist says “fearfully and wonderfully.” The complexity of the brain begins to take in sounds and words while we are still in the womb. We learn the rhythm and tone of our mother’s voice before she ever holds us in her arms. When she does speak to us, she begins to use words and then tell us what they mean.

 

Mothers tell us the names of our body as they play with our toes and tickle our nose. black-and-white-data-definition-267669They tell us the meanings of words that describe feelings. In a very short time before we can speak we come to know and understand a variety of words. Words spoken to us and about us become our first vocabulary, but in a few short years as we begin to learn to read that skill starts to explode our knowledge and use of words. And the amount we read determines how many words we are exposed to and begin to use.

 

If we read more than 20 minutes a day, we will be exposed to 1.8 million words per year. By comparison if we read just less than five minutes a day, that number drops to 282,000 words in a year and if only a minute a day is used to read we are only exposed to 8,000 words per year.

 

You might be surprised to learn that even though we think students in school will compose the group who read the most, survey data of Americans show that those who are 75 years old and older actually read the most.

 

A 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows the average length of time we spend reading is 16.8 minutes per day. Compare that to the average length of time of 166.2 minutes per day spent watching TV. That speaks volumes to the words we choose and use regularly.

 

beach-clouds-dawn-391522There are many reasons why words matter and impact us. Scripture speaks of that powerfully in John 1:1:

 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

 

 

This verse refers us back to Genesis of course and when we go there, we discover that God spoke (used words) to speak creation into existence until He came to creating humanity.

 

Scripture has more than one or two verses to remind us of the power of our words and how we should take care to use them. Many of them appear in the book of Proverbs. Here are just a few:

 

Proverbs 11:9 “Evil words destroy one’s friends; wise discernment rescues the godly.”

 

 Proverbs 11:12 “It is foolish to belittle a neighbor; a person with good sense remains silent.”

 

 Proverbs 11:17 “Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel.”

 

 Proverbs 15: 1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but hard words stir up anger.”

 

 

Our words have the capacity to wound or heal, tear down or build up, erode or accusation-anger-angry-984950nourish relationship.

 

Our words are distinct from us and yet they are also the manifestation of our minds and hearts. Things and the words that describe them are what our thoughts are made up of. They come from what we take in through reading, conversation, and every form of media. The attachments we develop from them help inform our hearts and affection.

 

Despite being distinct from us, the words we speak tell those who hear those words a great deal about us whether they are spoken casually or with consideration.

 

Scripture teaches us our words can speak life or death.

 

These things remind me that I have a great deal of responsibility for the words I speak or write. They also remind me that I need to consider carefully the sources of words I am subjected to daily.

 

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Luke 6:45 (NIV) 

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Running Isn’t Always The Answer

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Sometimes I think I would like to be a runner and then as I consider it, I set it aside for walking.  Nonetheless, I respect and admire the diligent runners I see cranking out the miles on local trails, 5K’s, 10 milers, and marathons. The consistent discipline to build up their endurance and strength is something to be respected.

 

I recall when our daughter was homeschooling her oldest child and the educational requirement in their locale was to be able to run a mile. Despite never being an athlete, she decided she would teach and train herself at the same time she did so with her son. She discovered some of the benefits of running and continued to press on running 5K’s, a 10 miler, and a half marathon.

 

Running when trained to do so in healthy ways can offer health benefits for many when it is practiced consistently and safely.

 

For many of us, running is not our first choice for exercise or sport, but we all have a pexels-photoseemingly innate instinct to run when danger is present in any form. (We only hope our legs will carry us fast enough and far enough to avoid the impending danger.)

 

Sometimes we try to run from our past. We want to leave it behind us never to recall or experience any aspect of it again. Maybe it was because we were insecure and didn’t achieve. Maybe it was because we lived on ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’  Maybe it was because our family was a mess and everyone in the neighborhood knew it or maybe we had lived a life of abuse and trauma.

 

The problem is that we can’t really run from our past no matter how far or fast we try to run.

 

“You have to take it for what it is and realize it’s a part of you.”

Lisa Wingate

 

alone-autumn-beautiful-267039That doesn’t mean it needs to define who you are now or keep you from moving forward. Because of the cross and the Lord’s abundant grace and mercy, you can experience wholeness and become a vessel of beauty and love if you will stop running.

 

So often we run in multiple directions until we feel more lost than ever. Some of us try to do that even after we have become a Christian due to lack of a true understanding of the grace, forgiveness, and healing we are granted. The enemy can tempt us to believe that we are the exception to what we hear about grace and mercy because we are too bad, too messed up, or have failed too many times.

 

Those are all lies from the liar himself…Satan.

 

When we become a Christian and the light of Jesus then resides in us, it can be hard for others to see that light if we allow the past to continue to define us and try to keep on running.

 

The trouble with drowning in the mess of your own life is that you’re not in any shape to save anyone else. You can’t be a lighthouse when you’re underwater yourself.”

Lisa Wingate

 

When we know we need to stop running or cease drowning, acknowledging it is the first clouds-country-countryside-461797big step. The second is to tell the Lord that we know that is true. Of course He has known it all along, but saying it to Him has more power than you may think. It’s when you start a conversation with Him (that means you listen to Him too) that He begins to set your feet in the foundation of the truth of who He has created you to be. It is then that the transformation officially gets underway.

 

Can it be scary?

 

Yes, but not nearly so scary as the futile path you have been on. He will be with you each step of the way and He can also help you find someone who has made the journey before you to walk some of the path with you.

 

There is no question that life can be wonderful, amazing, beautiful, fun, and exciting, but it can also be treacherous, lonely, scary, and dangerous. God knew that after the fall in the Garden of Eden. It’s why He planned for the cross and the story of grace and mercy. It’s why Jesus said He would send the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) to help us.

 

It can be easy for us to prefer to stay in safe places and take no risks, but in Lisa Wingate’s book, The Prayer Box, she reminds us again of who God is:

 

“You are not a God of endless harbors. Harbors are for stagnant sails and barnacled wood, but for the sea…the sea is fresh rain and cleansing breeze and sleek sails. You are a God of winds and tides. Of journeys and storms and navigation by stars and faith.”

You send the ships forth to serve their purpose, but you do not send them forth alone, for the sea is yours, as well.”

Lisa Wingate

 

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Photo by Josh Sorenson

Before She Was Your Mother

 

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Before she was your mother, she was a little girl playing peekaboo, making castles in a sandbox, standing in the middle of the room twirling in a circle and giggling as her skirt swished back and forth. She was learning to ride a bike, falling, and scraping her knees. She was chasing after fireflies on a summer night.

 

She was learning about how to be in the world from her dad and how to be a girl from her mother. She was learning what each expected of her and how to get her way with each of them (especially her daddy).

 

Before she was your mother, she was dreaming of princes and castles, singing Disney melodies, and asking others to read her another story before bed. She was curious and loved helping her mother or dad do most anything, especially licking the spoon if someone was making cookies.

 

carefree-cheerful-child-459949She learned that it was Grandma who let her do things her mother and dad would usually not. Grandma didn’t mind if flour got spread around when cookies were being made. Grandma always had time for another story and you could count on her to have your favorite snacks on hand when you went to visit.

 

Before she was your mother, she developed a fair number of expectations of what her mother should be like and by her teenage years they might bump heads more than a few times about her messy room, her makeup, the length of her skirt, and how late she could stay out at night. (There would be a long list of other things if you were her son, but smelly tennis shoes and socks would be on the list.)

 

She saw her own mother as not being ‘in the know’ and tended to set aside some of the wisdom she was offering. She saw her mother as older than she was and couldn’t imagine she had any dreams of her own that sometimes sat on a shelf to be her mom. She couldn’t understand why her mother got upset or angry with her. She seemed old-fashioned or like she was trying to compete with her in the latest fashion trends.

 

Before she was your mother, she may have been abused or neglected and felt unimportant to most everyone. Her dad may have left the home before she even knew him or divorced her mom and married another woman that made no sense at all.

 

She may have been a great student or never seemed to be able to get the grades her parents expected. She may have been a tomboy or a ‘girlie girl.’ Perhaps she kept all her feelings inside or maybe she wore her feelings on her sleeve.

 

adult-chair-concert-1293551Before she was your mother, she was a little girl growing up into a teenager and then a young woman. She had interests, skills, abilities, passions, hopes, and dreams. She decided if she became a mom one day, she would do it differently than her mom or do it better somehow.

 

Then she did become a mother. Sometimes it happened right on schedule. Other times it interrupted the direction her life was going.

 

When she held you in her arms, she was changed forever.

 

Suddenly she was a “mother” and began to discover what that meant. She guessed about a lot of things that first time she became a mom and she also learned that her mother knew more than she understood before.

 

But you didn’t know her during all that time before she was your mother so you only looked at her through that lens called “mom.” When she chose to do something that was meaningful to her whether it was coffee with friends, learning to play golf, or taking an online course, it may have frustrated you if you wanted her to do something for you or just to ‘be there’ in case you called or needed something at the last minute.

 

At this time of year many laud and applaud the woman who is called “mother.” Most often she is celebrated, but sometimes she is set aside because she disappointed you at some point along the line even if she was not an abuser.

 

Sometimes those judgments come because we never knew her before she was our mother.

 

beautiful-boardwalk-dawn-247314When I was a girl growing up and then a teenager, I saw my mother as anxious and depressed. She was quick to tears and didn’t offer a lot of encouragement. Those things were, in fact, true of her; but what I didn’t learn for a while was who she was before she was my mother.

 

I didn’t grasp until later what it was like for her to find her own mother often angry and depressed or to have her home burn to the ground and lose all the family possessions when she was a freshman in high school. I could not have understood what it must have felt like to have she and her two sisters and her parents all living with other people, separated from each other for many months until a new home was built.

 

I couldn’t recognize how her emotional losses deepened when her first baby died 24 hours after he was born or that she was not doing well and could not help make arrangements for nor attend his funeral or burial.

 

When I think of how we pause to think about and honor our mother on Mother’s Day, I sometimes think one of the gifts that might bless her most would be if we put on another set of lenses and saw her before the role she has played in our lives.

 

If we could do that, I think most of us would offer more grace, set aside more of our disappointments, and value her a bit more despite her imperfections. We would also hope if we are a mother now that our children would do that for us as well.

 

Before she was your mother, she was God’s creation designed to hold a special place in his Kingdom. She was a treasure chest of possibilities and you have the blessing of knowing her when she isn’t wearing makeup, when she isn’t at her best, and when she keeps trying and loves you even when you don’t think she is doing it right or you can’t love her back.

 

Before she was your mother, she was God’s daughter.

 

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