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When We Focus on the Wrong Thing

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Sometimes we start life with a set of lenses that look at differences first of all. The challenge that can occur as a result is whether or not we are wise enough to discern what we hold as the standard of comparison.

 

Too often whether we acknowledge it or not, we are holding who we are, where we came from, what we believe, what we look like, and more, as the benchmark. It’s easy from there to slip into categorizing people into groups rather than seeing them as individuals.

 

Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy’s recent book, Unified, includes a statement that we all need to keep in mind:

 

“When you begin to look at people as individuals, when you listen to what they say and seek to understand where they’re coming from, you begin to realize we’re all different from the rest.”

 

When any of us fails to do that, we fall prey to creating stereotypes and biases that become tools of the enemy to divide us into classes, hierarchies, and subtypes. From there it is easy to begin erecting walls to both protect us and keep others out.

 

That adds to the problem since we don’t really know the person or persons on the other side of the wall so we both fear them and attribute things to them that are often not true.

 

IMG_3407As I was growing up on a small farm in northeastern Ohio, it would have been easy to see the world using that regional lens. There was one significant reason why I don’t think that happened. Almost four years after I was born, my brother was born. Even though my parents were unsure of what made it so, he appeared to be different from the outset long before a diagnosis was given.

 

He reached all those benchmarks of when you roll over, sit up, or start to talk a bit later than the norm. Because two other baby boys at our church had been born around the same time, it was easy for anyone and everyone to compare the “three boy blues” as they were called. It was easy to feel “less than” as a result of the awkwardness that filled up the space when everyone was talking about these little boys and my brother who didn’t line up with the two others.

 

It would be several years before the diagnosis of cerebral palsy and development delay (then called mental retardation) would become a part of our understanding.

 

For all that was challenging about this and how differently it evolved in the late 1940’s compared to now, God used it to cause my parents to teach me to first see the person, to discover who he or she was, to look at things I could learn and enjoy about them, and not to focus on how they “didn’t fit” into my experience, my life, or my perspective. I didn’t realize it was not a lesson other parents taught their children until much later in life.

 

The lessons were far-reaching and extended beyond how I viewed disabilities of all types to how I viewed persons from different cultures and ethnicities and persons from different educational or socio-economic levels. Yes, I was aware of the differences, but I was challenged to not make that my main focus. If I did, I would never risk getting to know the person.

 

Beyond how seldom our family had other families with whom we fellowshipped, I noticed not long after I started school that other little girls had dresses of materials and design quite unlike mine. My mother had always been a skilled seamstress and made all of my clothes from the very beginning, but often in earlier childhood the dress I was wearing would be made from a print feedsack that my dad had brought home from when our grain was harvested. No one else at school had a dress like mine. Subtle responses to what I was wearing began to erode my view of myself as comparisons crept in.

 

In the 1950’s there were no persons whose skin color was different than mine living or worshipping with my family or me. My mother chose to invite a missionary from Africa to stay with us while she was ministering at our church in order to open our hearts to the truth of how hearts can connect even when ethnic and cultural backgrounds and countries from half a world away were involved.

 

Learning to celebrate others was also a lesson my parents taught. Learning to care about others made it possible to be (as Trey Gowdy writes) “happy when something good accomplishment-ceremony-college-267885happens to someone you care about as you would be if that something had happened to you.”

 

My awareness of differences grew more when I was transported by bus to a junior high and then high school in the city nearest us. I was in the minority living on a small farm and there were more than one or two students who were not like me in other ways as well, but those early precepts my parents had taught and modeled caused me to see the person first rather than what made us dissimilar.

 

I think lyricist Richard Rogers was right when he wrote the words to “You’ve Got to Be Taught” for the musical South Pacific:

 

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

 You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade

You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught”

 

We learn those crucial lessons early in life. Some are consciously and deliberately taught. Children listening and watching their parents and the other adults also catch what those adults believe, feel, and value.

 

If we are going to grow beyond the true differences that have become the dominant theme of lenses we use and hear from any and all news sources, I think we need to first see the person and intentionally get to know the person before we attribute certain things to him or her.

 

After all, we could be wrong…very wrong…and miss out on someone very special God desires us to know as a result of discovering his or her heart first. Of course, that means we need to listen carefully without filters.

 

It also means we move beyond lip service to the Christian principles we espouse and become more like the One whose name we bear. Then we can have hope to bridge the divide that is quickly becoming so large that it seems uncrossable.

 

“Love is always stronger than hate, and God’s love is stronger than anything. If we want to move forward, we must anchor ourselves in the powerful, transformative, and genuine love of God.”  Tim Scott, in Unified.

 

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What Would You Choose?

 

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One of my favorite activities growing up was coloring in a coloring book. I was always a lousy artist, but this was my substitute back in the days before iPods, iPads, and an assortment of electronics that captivate children today. There are several adults in our family who still enjoy coloring in those wonderful new intricately designed books that are popular now. Sometimes I join them.

 

The one disappointment for me in childhood was never having the bigbox that gave me every shade I might want to consider as I colored in my pages. In most areas of my life I enjoy a lot of variety. It shows up with that desire for more different crayons and in the wide variety of music that I enjoy as well.

 

It doesn’t stop there.

 

I love getting to know different people, learning about their stories, hearing about the paths where the Lord has led them, finding out what excites them and fuels their art-art-materials-color-261687passions, and how the harder times in their lives were used by the Lord. Yes, I am an extrovert, but I really most prefer sitting with one person while we share a great latte or cup of tea for an unrushed time of relating.

 

Taking time to listen, share stories, and getting to know someone beyond the quick greeting on a shopping trip or even at church is an investment well worth the time. That kind of relating not only allows us to know someone else better, we also see glimpses of the Lord and often learn something about ourselves in the process if we are listening well.

 

Most of us would say we are “busy”, but busy and urgent should never take the place of better and important.

 

I love and so much agree with this quote by Barbara Bush:

 

“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”

 

 Sometimes we get in the way of opportunities relationally because of our own perspective about others or ourselves. We may believe we have nothing to offer the other person. We may believe that we have nothing in common.

 

And we may be wrong.

 

As I finished reading Unified by Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy, I was reminded of the blessings that can come from unlikely friendships where we set aside our misperceptions. Listen to one of the things Trey writes in the book:

 

 “I don’t care how great things appear to be going in someone else’s life; we all need somebody we can trust, that we can be fully candid with, and who will give us the best advice for us and not just for them.”

 

A few paragraphs later he adds:

 

“Relationships where people put the other person first and remain committed to giving their best counsel for the benefit of the other person are few and far between……Once you know someone will keep a confidence, give you sound counsel, and genuinely have your best interest at heart, there is no limit to what you can share, and there is no limit to what can be gained.”

 

One of the things that stands out to me is how often Jesus took time to relate to people. Yes, He spoke and taught huge crowds at various points, but the gospels give us many glimpses of how He noticed someone that others bypassed. He took time for art-art-materials-artistic-256484conversations with some that his earthly heritage and religious teaching would have told Him to avoid.

 

Jesus never compromised who He was in the process of valuing someone else enough to take time to listen and engage with him or her.

 

Polarization and divisiveness is so commonplace today that we can be tempted to think our differences are too great to have any common ground. But what would happen if we had a real desire to get to know someone beyond the differences? What if we utilized that knowledge and those different perspectives to make each other better?  What if we were to look for common ground at a heart level first of all?

 

I think we learn far less if we stick with only those who look like us, think like us, come from our side of town, or have the same educational background.

 

Consider the unlikely friendship between David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel of the Old Testament. David was a shepherd boy who knew how to sing and initially brought peace to the troubled heart of Jonathan’s father, King Saul. Jonathan was of royal blood and privilege. These two would not have typically developed a friendship much less one of a covenantal depth. They would have been from opposite sides of town in those days, but spending time together allowed them to know each other’s hearts until they were knit in an exceptional bond of friendship that caused Jonathan to risk his father’s rejection rather than betray David.

 

When we look for a solution to our divided culture, our search seems to be in the wrong place. It won’t come from a program or any number of other forums. I think Tim Scott describes a better way in Unified:

 

 “Politics is not going to change the nation. We will change the nation only by changing the condition of the human heart. And that can only happen through love. True friendship is born out of acceptance and unconditional love – a love that is consistent and intentional.”

 

The Lord’s challenge to us is always about love. Our challenge is to remember He is the source of love within us and we need to model love as He did.

 

The love of Jesus was and is always consistent and intentional.

 

That is where we start.

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Unified

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At a time when every aspect of our lives on every day highlights differences and division, Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy have written a powerful book, Unified, which I think is a “must read” for all of us. These two South Carolinians provide an intimate glimpse into their unlikely friendship that transcends differences and points to a better framework upon which to build as individuals and a nation. Their good sense, wisdom, and discernment look at the fundamentals of relationship as the source of hope and strength for understanding and reconciliation.

 

They both arrived as freshmen Congressmen from South Carolina in the chaotic and conflicted swirl of Washington DC. They each had a learning curve ahead in their new roles and began to have dinner together with several others as a way to navigate this journey. As demands impacted the group, it soon became only Tim and Trey meeting for dinner.

 

Those dinners together soon became an intentional regular part of most days for them. It was a time of purposefully getting to know each other beyond their differences, to utilize that knowledge to broaden each other’s perspectives, and to each become better as a result. They started with intentionally looking for common ground between them. How rare it is for that to happen when in the 24/7 news cycle we are continually bombarded with, we have no common ground from which to start.

 

Forged out of that relational building come many powerful truths expressed in their book from which everyone can grow and benefit.

 

“…politics is not going to change the nation. We will change the nation only by changing the condition of the human heart. And that can only happen through love. True friendship is born out of acceptance and unconditional love – a love that is consistent and intentional.”

 

 “Unusual friendships are born of many differences: class, religion, background, education, or any number of other things. Trey and I started with a lot in common, as two introverted South Carolinians with a passion for justice, shared political views, a spiritual prism to inform our conduct, and a love for both the Cowboys and the Gamecocks. Unlikely friendships are easy when things are going well. But eventually you will be tested by some sort of conflict that strikes the fault line of your differences – the part of your friendship that makes it unlikely.”

 

One of the core principles that guided Tim and Trey’s growing relationship came from putting into practice a core principle from Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

 

 “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

 

The passion of the two authors became a common purpose of reconciliation that requires relationship, fairness, and self-awareness. In synthesizing their understanding one of the things that became clear was this:

 

“When you begin to look at people as individuals, when you listen to what they say and seek to understand where they’re coming from, you begin to realize we’re all different from the rest.”

 

 Their passion and purpose extend beyond words into various forums and programs to invite others into what they have discovered.

 

At the close of the book the reader can join the challenge by participating in a program entitled The Friendship Challenge that includes videos and a six-week plan for cultivating reconciliation in your own community.

 

To comply with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for Fingerprints

 

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Our weeks are often a mixture of assorted tasks and projects sprinkled with time with family and friends and seasoned with God’s grace. In the midst of the week, we may often not sense a clear revelation of God’s plan or purpose as we go about doing those things right in front of us.

 

Sometimes we miss it because we are not looking for it.

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Sometimes we miss it because it is right in front of us and our eyes skip right over it.

 

Sometimes we miss it because the internal chatter that goes on nearly continuously has distracted us from subtle ways He is speaking or moving.

 

Sometimes we miss it because it is not the message or response we desire.

 

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Other times we see the Lord’s hand so clearly, it is like rays of sun piercing through the clouds and grabbing our attention and awe. We are clear on His purpose and His intervention with us is as obvious as the HOLLYWOOD sign on the California hillside that most of us would recognize.

 

Recently I had a mishmash week where different parts of my life and world seemed to collide and left me feeling less steady without any particular reason. I could chalk it up to several nights of restless sleep or travel in a car for ten hours. If I wanted to go down rabbit trails looking for reasons, I could do that but it would still not change the sense of being less oriented.

 

Perhaps it was just the reality of life, a life far from Eden where I was intended to live.

 

If I turn my reflections to the many trips to the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Alberta, Canada, the scene changes. These are places I love because I seem to sense the Lord’s presence in the midst of His creation so very clearly.

 

In those places the magnificence of the mountain ranges, peak upon peak frosted with PPP 044snow, the gurgling sound of streams racing over rocks, and the stunning teal shades of glacial lakes cannot help but humble me as I view what surrounds me. The rocky trails through cedars, aspens, fir, spruce, and narrow leaf cottonwood arouse my senses with fragrance and symmetry that I somehow miss as I walk in my neighborhood or gaze at the trees in my backyard. All of these things are giving me the BIG HD picture and surround sound experience.

 

These trips have also illuminated something else. As I have looked through the lens of my camera, I have discovered small splashes of color tucked into sandy arid soil and mountain crevasses. These varying hues from small flowers of assorted shades and types are not always noticed or seen when so many large things capture my attention.

 

Yet, these are the very things that bring a smile to my face as they show the paradox of creation in the midst of the granite peaks surrounding me. They remind me to watch for small things, small surprises and delights planted throughout this world.

 

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My children used to tease me about stopping so often to take yet another flower picture, trying to capture something of the wonder I felt as I discovered it. I seemed to be the catalyst for slowing the pace on the trail, as I would glimpse a columbine, wild strawberry, lupine or berry that I could not recognize.

 

Barbara Brown Taylor brought these reflections into sharper focus as she wrote these words in Gospel Medicine,

 

 “Sometimes the work of God’s hand is so evident that you can see it a mile away and sometimes you have to dust for fingerprints.”

 

Be looking for Him this week.  He’s there.  He’s here.

 

Discover Him.  He wants you to know Him.

 

You may find Him in places you would never expect.

 

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No Matter What Vocation

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What’s your vocation?

There was a time when it was common for someone to study, train, or apprentice to follow a line of work and continue in that same vocation for the rest of his or her life. That still exists, but it has become less unusual that a person may have various vocations throughout his or her lifetime than it once was.

I have been blessed to be one of those with more than one vocation in the course of my adult-audience-broadcast-159400life. It wasn’t my long-term plan or goal, but it developed over time as I grew, came to know myself better, expanded my interests and education, and walked through doors the Lord opened for me.

I think now that I might have been bored if I had always done the same thing. I tend to give all I am to whatever I pursue including all the creativity that fuels my personality. Once I master one set of challenges, I seem to be open to learn or explore something new.

Each thing I have done was something the Lord used to awaken more of His design for me. He also used one thing to build upon and prepare for the next. And He still isn’t really done even though I officially retired almost four years ago.

armed-army-battle-894655Adult life began with me as a U.S. Marine Corps officer’s wife and then a stay-at-home mom. While I was doing those things, I wrote some articles for our small country church newsletter. That led to a woman at our church opening the door for me to work as a “stringer” for a local newspaper in a neighboring county writing news items and feature stories from the comfort of my own home. I loved it!

My spiritual life was growing during that time as well and that opened a path to serve in leadership of a Christian women’s ministry for several years. Those years exposed me to high mountaintops and major challenges of what it means to be heavily involved in ministry with a lot of other flawed humans like me.

The next stop on my timeline was with our local public school system that called me and asked me about a tutoring position that would match my children’s school schedules. (My college degrees were in the area of education.) This was quite a shift from heavy adult-auto-automobile-401796ministry responsibilities, but how God used it  for two years was a great adventure. It opened a path to 13 years as a junior high special education teacher and that was the lastthing I had planned to do even though I was educated to do just that.

While all these transitions were happening, transitions in the spiritual life of both my husband and me were changing and evolving. Together we were actively working with National Marriage Encounter and becoming lay counselors at our church. These areas were ones where my heart burned with a desire to know more. As I considered some of the persons I was meeting as a lay counselor, I knew I needed far more equipping than lay counselor training. That led to entrance into graduate school on a part-time basis during the time I was teaching full-time.

Yikes!!  Did I mention I was still a wife and mother?

When you have tenure as a teacher, you don’t usually walk away from that position stock-photo-danger-flame-fire-occupation-female-worker-hot-flames-firefighter-f2b997c1-dc56-4a03-b6f6-23ca2cadfb15(especially when you live just 3 miles from where you teach). But that is what I did!  In mid-life I became a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Independent Marriage and Family Therapist and entered a Christian private practice. Yes, there was a pay cut and all those nice retirement and insurance benefits went away also, but I felt the Lord continuing to draw me forward.

How did I know? One reason was that from the very beginning of my adult life I never applied for any of these positions or opportunities; someone saw some interest, ability, or passion in me and asked me. That is how He happened to lead me. I guess He saw how hard it was for me to believe in myself or what I could do through Him.

After ten years in private practice, I was asked to join our church staff to offer clinical bar-barista-business-887827counseling services and to develop an array of ministries to equip and help laymen develop and grow. I was blessed to do that for another 13 years and when I retired I thought that was the last stop. But the Lord had more in mind. Sounds just like Him, right?

That love of writing that had been with me since childhood was not forgotten by the Lord and three years ago He led me to begin my website and start writing and sharing my photography.

It can be easy to compare vocations. As believers we can have a distorted view of what ministry is and isn’t because we miss how the Lord views this. We also miss how He uses each thing He gives us to do to equip us for what’s next.

arms-care-check-905874A brief look at the disciples Jesus gathered around Him shows us He chose men from more than one vocation even though most of them were fishermen.

As I was reading in John 21, I noticed the story of Peter and some of the other disciples going to fish after Jesus had been resurrected and told them to meet Him in Galilee. Sometimes they get a lot of criticism for that (fishing again), but perhaps we are shortsighted based on the note on this I read in my study Bible:

“Whatever our vocation, Jesus meets us there, but He doesn’t leave what we do untouched. Fishers of fish are also called to be fishers of men, and both require Jesus. Peter hauled 153 fish ashore only because Jesus filled the nets. Peter would see 3,000 conversions on the day of Pentecost only because Jesus is filling his church.”

 

Each of us may choose a vocation or have one chosen for us because it seems to fit for us, but we must never underestimate what the Lord has in mind in that choice or the ones He will open after that first one.

He just wants us to follow Him!

 

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