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Gray Dots and Gold Stars

 

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Max Lucado tells a powerful story about wooden people who spend their time putting stickers on each other and the impact that has on them. Those who are not performing at their best or are not so lovely get gray dots, but those who are able to do great things or appear perfect are given gold stars.

 

Gray dots and gold stars. 

 

We are so often plagued by what other people say about us or think about us.  The words or lack of them, the actions or lack of them, all seem to burrow down inside of our souls and leave us unsure of whether we are lovable or valuable.

 

The pesky gray dots are not unlike termites gnawing away under the surface destroying as they go.

 

As in the story, our solution to the problem propels us to try to do something amazing, to bright-close-up-colors-827060do things “just right”, to lose weight, get a new hairdo, buy a more current outfit, or learn to play tennis. We hope that in the process we will get gold stars that will somehow cover the gray dots so we will be seen as more lovable and worthwhile, gold stars that will also help us believe in ourselves more than we do.

 

We care so much about what others think of us!

 

Some of us say we do not, but I wonder how much truth there is in such a statement.  At our core, we all want to feel lovable, appreciated, accepted, and desired. We spend time trying to earn or attain that from others and to help us cancel our own negative self-perceptions.

 

Sadly, none of the efforts are very effective and even if they seem to help for the moment, they do not last.  We continue to be haunted by whispers of doubt we carry inside. The whispers come from words carelessly spoken to us or about us from childhood onward as well as from the enemy whose skill at creating doubt was first demonstrated in Eden.

 

There is only One who knows us completely and loves us perfectly.  aerial-aerial-view-airphoto-681381

 

There is only One who offers grace, forgiveness, and forgetfulness for every failure.

 

Yet, we seldom ask Him what He sees or believes about us and His Word on the subject too often stays in the chair where we read it that morning rather than being etched in our hearts.

 

When He reminds me that He loves me everlastingly, I am awed and humbled.

 

How could He? He knows everything about me! 

 

Yet, somehow, when I listen to Him more than those who are eager to hand out gray dots or gold stars, I gain an inner knowing that I am loved, valuable, and precious by the One who created me.

 

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What Guides Your Choice?

 

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Every day we make countless choices…many without realizing them. The first is often to simply decide to get out of bed when the alarm goes off, the sun comes streaming through the window, or someone nudges you awake.

 

Sounds simple, right? Yes, but that choice will impact each choice for the rest of the day (especially if you choose not to get up at all or get up late for work).

 

Throughout the day each of us will make choices about what and when we eat, whether quote-if-our-identity-is-in-our-work-rather-than-christ-success-will-go-to-our-heads-and-failure-timothy-keller-84-95-25we exercise, whether we follow through on something we have committed to, how we respond to people who call or speak with us, and what our focus will be.

 

Choices (when added up) shape the identity that is ours little by little over time even when many of the choices seem inconsequential.

 

Our choices are influenced by a variety of sources. These include: how much the opinions of others matter, how much we want to “fit in”, what we believe about almost everything, who we listen to, what we read, the people we hang out with, what has wounded us, what we feel about ourselves, and what we believe about God. And that list can be even longer.

 

In many of these categories we are often swayed by opinions and subjective views more than truth. That is not our intent many times, but unless our pursuit of the truth is diligent across the expanse of influences in our lives we may well be deceived.

 

One of the strong influencers is our culture to one degree or another. Before you dismiss that idea, pause to consider what clothes hang in your closet now and what clothes were there five or ten years ago. What music stations are cued in on your car radio or iPod? It is likely there has been change there as well even if you still groove on the 40’s, 60’s, 80’s, or 90’s channels.

 

Culture has changed the words we use, what they mean, and how we use them. It has determined the shows on television and the movies in the theaters. Language and topics that were unthinkable even ten years ago are common now.

 

Little-by-little culture has cleverly led us to accept the norms that govern the society in which we live. Culture has sometimes been so subtle that it has invaded some of our churches as well before we have recognized that it is backwards…the church is to be influencing the culture not vice versa.

 

Why is it important to be clear on what informs and shapes our identity?

 

 A simple answer: it matters to God.

 

Jesus Christ Quotes -Brennan Manning Quote ?Our identity rests in God s relentless

Kenny Luck clarifies it this way:

 

“The question of identity is issue number one to God because whatever commands your identity will, by default, command your energy – either toward or away from God’s dangerous good agenda for your life.”

 

 My lived experience confirms the truth of that statement and it also sobers me.

 

Is my identity in Christ and the truth of His Word holding a steady course in the waves of the culture buffeting against me?

 

Do I stand steadily for the principles I want  to guide my life or do they waver under pressure from the culture of everyone and everything that I am exposed to each day?

 

My answers to these questions will help me understand what guides my choices and how those choices reveal the truth of my identity to those around me and to the Lord.

 

It also draws me back to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1 (NIV):

 

 “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

 

 What would we look like if that were our choice daily?

 

What would the world look like?

 

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What Remains As We Near the Finish Line?

 

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In 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT) Paul writes to remind us of what will last forever:

 

 “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

 

Most of us who are believers know that verse in one translation or another, but have you ever considered what that looks like or how those foundation stones are built or develop?

 

To gain a better understanding of the materials that go into building that foundation 1 Peter 1:25 (ESV) gives a significant clue:

 

abstract-brick-bricks-207204 “but the word of the Lord remains forever,  And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”

 

 

So does Isaiah 40:8 (ESV)   “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

 

Certainly faith, hope, and love are built in more than one way, from more than one source or experience, but undoubtedly God’s Word does more to point to, teach about, and show us these three attributes consistently than anything else. Perhaps that is because they are God’s reminders and lay a foundation from which our lives can build and grow.

 

If we neglect our physical bodies and fail to eat regularly and healthily, we grow weak and may become sick. If we neglect to ingest scripture regularly, the same happens in our building-building-site-cement-2469spiritual lives. No matter how many great sermons we hear, no matter how grand our worship may be, and no matter how inspired our relationships aid us, I think what will last the longest will be the foundation of the Word.

 

That isn’t new news to most of us, but I was reminded of that this week when I visited a friend of nearly 45 years. She is 92 and lives in an assisted living facility. Her husband died eight years ago and her four grown children and their families are scattered across several states. She was formerly an elementary school teacher and also a Sunday School teacher.

 

She was waiting for me at the door when I arrived and kept a snappy pace with her walker as we went to her own apartment. Less than two years ago she had a hip replacement at an age most people could not have done one, but her health was good enough and the pain great enough that she chose to do so. She told me again on this visit how delighted she was to have made the choice because she has no pain now.

 

Before we even arrived at her apartment door, she looked at me and said, “I’m regressing.”  She was talking about her memory and how often she now forgets things or cannot recall some things. She said it saddens her, but I reminded her that when I called to plan the visit she recognized my voice before I ever said my name.

 

As we visited and shared about how each of us is doing, a bit about children and grandchildren, there were times when she could not recall a name or some other piece of information. But throughout that conversation she often quoted scripture that fit the topic we were discussing. It flowed out of her without hesitation even though she did not always add the chapter or verse.

 

It was a powerful reminder to me of the foundation laid down in her life when she was a young girl. Scripture was something her parents had taught her and then encouraged her to pursue on her own as she learned to read and study. With the psalmist (Psalm 34:8) she had tasted and seen the Lord was good. Now, so many years later, she still holds to that truth. It has sustained her through each season of her life. The foundation was laid early and from it grew strong roots of faith, hope, and love.

 

Instrumental music of hymns and worship music surround her throughout her day from a playlist one of her sons has set up. Even that immerses her and brings to mind many favorite scriptures of hers.

 

ancient-architecture-buildings-323311It might be easy to say she is unique and of course she is, even as each of us is. But I believe what remains in us as age advances and health begins to fail is the spiritual foundation upon which our lives have been built.

 

My younger brother was mentally and physically handicapped as well as suffering from mental health issues before he died 17 years ago. He was difficult to care for a great deal of the time, but even then he could easily start singing verses of a hymn he recalled from childhood or finish a scripture that someone else might start to quote. He was quick to ask visitors to pray for him. Even in this vessel, the scriptural foundation was present when all else was crumbling.

 

Most parents will never see the mature fruit of this foundation they have the opportunity to build.

 

My friend’s parents have been gone for many years and mine died before my brother, but it is abundantly clear that what young parents invest results in a rich harvest.

 

The wisdom of Solomon is right:

 

  “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

 

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Time in the Times

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J.R.R. Tolkien left us with many thought-provoking words in his literature. Many of them are quotes that we recall long after we have read the book or watched his series The Lord of the Rings in movie form.

 

One of those that come back to my mind often is from The Fellowship of the Ring. It is a conversation between Frodo and Gandalf. Some of you may recall it as well. Frodo is wishing the thing that had fallen to him to do had not happened during his lifetime. Listen to the words Tolkien uses to provoke each of us:

 

 “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

 

IMG_2709The time that’s given us…none of us know how much that may be, but it is one that we consider more often when we step into the season of retirement. Whether we enter this season eagerly or reluctantly, one thing is certain: we know we have less time ahead than what we see in the rearview mirror.

 

The consequences of that truth influence us to be clearer on what we choose to occupy the time in this new season. Most of us are more doggedly determined to spend it on what we value most. We can also be highly resistant to anyone else to direct how to use it or invade it with his or her own priorities for us.

 

A favorite book that my husband and I have appreciated is The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister. If you are in this season (no matter what age) and have not read this book, I would encourage you to read it. But don’t read it too quickly, each chapter brings you things that cause you to smile, reflect, and evaluate.

 

Listen to how she writes about this time:

 

“The beauty of the later years, in other words, is that if we have learned through life to trust our own insights at least as much as we trust the insights we have been taught, we find ourselves at the end of a very long life with a very young soul.

 

Time has done for us what needs to be done. We have deepened as people. We have broadened as personalities. We have softened as thinkers. We have abandoned arrogance and authoritarianism for reflection on new ideas and respect for others. We now see newly, clearly, what in some ways we have never seen before.”

 

And so we often arrive at this season somewhat surprised we have gotten here so IMG_3887quickly. Others around us may see us as older or even limited while we may still feel very young and alive inside, filled with a sense of freedom to do and be what we have finally understood we desire if only time, health, and finances will allow.

 

We have handled the responsibilities of education, parenting, caring for our own parents perhaps, left our occupation or profession, and now we understand that beyond our relationship with the Lord, time is the most precious gift. It becomes clearer than ever that we do not want to waste it for it is the stuff life is made of.

 

It is a paradox that time stays at a steady rhythm throughout our lifetime from birth to our death, but when we are children it seems to be moving slowly because we are rushing about eager for the next thing. We look forward to getting older and what we believe the privileges that age will bring us. But each decade beyond childhood unexpectedly feels as if it is picking up speed.

 

One thing that often reminds us of that is when we have a son or daughter who turns 30, 40, or even 50. We scratch our heads and think, “Didn’t I just turn…” (Fill in whatever age that child turned).

 

We do not race ahead now saying things like, “I can’t wait to turn 70, 75, or 80.”  Now IMG_6534time is precious and we discover there are often many things we very much want to do or be. Unencumbered by the demands of the clock and the calendar, we delight in the gift of freedom to explore, discover, reflect, and linger with things or people that matter most to us.

 

It is not about reluctance to “go home to be with the Lord”, but more about understanding the gift of living life that He first gave us and more about noticing how amazing His creation that He set us in has always been now that we are not rushing through it.

 

However the times may be in this time, we are given the decision of what to do with it as Gandalf explains to young Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring.

 

What will you do with the time that’s been given to you?

 

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What Are You Going to Do Now?

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For those about to retire or very newly retired, this question (What Are You Going to Do Now?is one that is asked of us over and over again. The answer – if we have one – is as varied as the life that has been lived before this new season begins. It can also be a frustrating question despite the intent of the one asking because we are just arriving in this new season and it (like other previous seasons) is a path we only see a small glimpse of.

 

The question comes to those who have been employed somewhere doing something. It conjures up a number of implications to the person of whom it is asked. These include but are not limited to things like: 1) Do you think I am only what I have been doing all these years? Or 2) Have you only defined me by my occupation or profession?

 

He is the north on our compass Anne Graham Lotz daniel bookThe new season of retirement will be impacted by our health, our finances, our relationships, our interests, our passions, our dreams, our faith walk, and what the Lord has set for us on the path ahead.

 

Retirement also is impacted by the variety of ages from which we start the season. Retirement can start for some in their 50’s and for others not until their 70’s. There are also those who retire and then later start a new job for pleasure, interest, or finances. Some may have a plan for this season and others may not.

 

It is likely not the best question to ask because we may not know what we want to “do” or “be” until we actually have gotten started on the retirement path. Some of us become aware that our demanding schedules and professions have left us more tired and depleted than we knew until the adrenaline stops and we can really step aside.

 

That depletion may be more wearing for those in “helping occupations or professions” where emotional energy was expended continuously for a long period of time. And because of the demands of some schedules and professions or occupations, there was no time to pursue a hobby or interest and now we feel “at sea” with no time constraints.

 

There is a period of “letting go” of the responsibility and the identity that was connected with our life’s work. For some of us whose work was less an outgrowth of who we are, that can be more challenging as we start sorting out who we are now.

 

Some retirees make a move to a warmer, sunnier climate and a smaller house near water 87eb8776f0cbf9dca7cedc1bd76d99c2--powerful-quotes-godly-quotesor a golf course. Others have made some shifts in location and housing prior to their arrival at retirement. It’s okay that each path and choice is different. We are each unique at any age.

 

The exciting thing for us as believers is the assurance that we arrive at this season without surprising the Lord and in fact, it is He who has often determined the timing of it. Beyond that He has a design that fits us perfectly for what that looks like for each of us and as we wait on Him for direction, we can rest in the assurance that He will lead in this one just as certainly as He was with us every step before now.

 

I was one of those who didn’t know the answer to the question when I was asked four years ago as I was preparing to retire. I knew we would visit our out-of-state children and grandchildren more often and easily, but I wasn’t involved in activities or sports that met regularly or provided a schedule for what my days and weeks might look like. I didn’t enjoy the question…especially after the tenth time it was asked.

 

8588e604d1c7325f45ee6ac10172b356What I discovered was that the Lord continued to lead and open doors for His purposes just as He had always done. I discovered He knew me well and had never forgotten childhood and adolescent dreams I had set aside when we were raising our children, making a living, and establishing our professional lives. His open doors and nudges led me to begin working on those dreams and possibilities. They actually matched who I was and the things I had worked in for the whole of my life, but in new ways that I found delicious. It was as if He had saved this season for dessert that refreshed and energized my passions and creativity.

 

Retirement is about trusting Him in this new season and looking to Him for how we might spend it.

 

It’s about trusting Him with our finances, our health questions, what we will do…the whole of our future. It’s key not to compare ourselves. It’s okay if some of us spend our days golfing or fishing while others volunteer in a vast array of options. It’s okay that some of us take up new things, go exploring in libraries or travel brochures. It’s okay that some of us lay down ministry that we have done in formalized settings and discover the serendipitous ways the Lord allows new opportunities for ministry as we get acquainted with neighbors or have time to engage the clerk, waitress, and others who cross our path. Before now we were in such a rush, we barely noticed them or paid attention to how they might appear or how we might bless them.

 

There are others who can help or journey with us in this new season, but our path will still be unique.

 

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