6.25.2013

I have to be willing to do the same.

It is hard being left behind.  Excluded.  Left out.  It hurts to see a photo of an event on facebook, or a blog, and know that you were the only one not invited.  Discovering one of your close friends spending time with someone else when she never seems to have time for you can leave a painful sting.  Important events forgotten, personal trials ignored, hurt feelings overlooked.  No one desires these things, but they are a part of life.

Knowing the reality that we will be overlooked and forgotten is one thing.
Responding to that reality with godliness and maturity is quite another.

When do we overlook an offense, taking it only to the Lord?
When do we confront our brother or sister, expressing our hurt and need for him/her to be more attentive and thoughtful?
When do we take a hard look inside to examine our expectations to make sure they are realistic and attainable?
And when do we simply say, "Lord, this hurts, but it is not a sin issue, it was not malicious, and I just need to let it go and trust You to heal my hurt."?

Emotions are fickle things.
Unstable.
Ever-changing.
And they usually ignore logic and truth.

Yet we let them take over.  We let them control us.  And worst of all, we let them lead us into sin.

It doesn't matter why we are left off of the invitation list, why we are not included in a last-minute get together, or why we are not desired at a dinner party.  Short of screaming at us, spewing hateful words, or defaming our character, every single person on this planet is allowed to live their lives without ever including us in anything they do.  They are not in sin because they do not want us at their graduation party.  While we might FEEL left out or sad, that does not mean they maliciously sought to reject us.  And even if they did, we must remember that our identity is in CHRIST - not in how many wedding and birthday invitations we have hanging on our refrigerator door.

It is hard to be left behind.
It hurts to be overlooked.
It stings to be ignored and forgotten.

But our response has.to.be.better than fickle emotions - it has to be based on TRUTH.  The "why" of the rejection does not always need to be known.  Or understood.

"Trust the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight."  Proverbs 3:5,6

Our own understanding is always going to look through the lens of emotion, past hurts, and assumptions based on our personal expectations.  But the Lord sees everything AS IT IS, and when we seek His wisdom, His knowledge, and His truth, all things will become clear.  They may not change, and the rejection may continue, but our perspective will be accurate - and our thinking will be managed by logic and truth rather than hurt feelings and dramatic, emotional responses.

Be ye holy as I am holy, says the Lord.

We sin against God every day, multiple times a day.  We reject Him, ignore Him, deny Him, and disobey Him.  And yet - He shows Himself long-suffering, patient, and compassionate ... even when we give Him absolutely nothing.

If I want to be holy like He is holy, and if I want to look like Christ,

then I have to be willing to do the same. 

6.22.2013

All I have to do - is ask.

Yesterday the Lord confirmed something I have believed for a long time.

Quiet, private people have the same need and desire to be invested in, engaged, and drawn out as those who willingly share all of the thoughts and emotions rolling through them.

Quiet people can easily go unnoticed.  They can disappear.  And sometimes, they are flat out ignored because they quietly observe and listen rather than express every thought that comes into their heads.  The sound of their voices is drowned out by the loud, passionate words and expressions of the extroverts around them.  Quiet people have dreams, desires, goals, concerns, fears, strengths, talents, skills, and insecurities ... and they want to be accepted, loved, affirmed, and encouraged.  Just like the rest of us.

It can be easy to give the customary "Hello" followed by a few questions about work or school, maybe a simple personal question, and when the answers are brief and lack detail and expansion, we politely smile and move on to find a more expressive person to talk to.  Why??  Because it is easier.  We do not have to be patient.  We do not have to draw them out.  We do not even have to think because the conversation is a continual stream of consciousness that never ends.

But you know what?  When we are willing to give up our own wants, and time, and purposely sit next to a quiet person - man, woman, teen, or child - and ask a few meaningful, well-placed questions, we are almost always guaranteed to be rewarded with a sincere, personal, and grateful response. Usually more than personal and thoughtful than we could have imagined.

I have never shied away from quiet people, and am even secretly challenged to be the one to break the silence and find out the secrets of their hearts.  But I have been guilty of assuming they do not want to talk, are annoyed with my questions, or would much rather be left alone to engage with their own thoughts instead of mine.  Sometimes I boldly approach them anyway, but sometimes I do avoid them ... and have often wondered - how much did I miss?!?

Yesterday I had this choice to make with my nephew.  He is a gentle and sweet young man, with a face ready to smile at the slightest provocation.  He and Dennis have enjoyed a bond since the day he was born, and Dennis plows into his mind and heart without the slightest bit of hesitation.  And our nephew always responds.  I have never been as bold, but yesterday the Lord wanted me to be, so I obeyed.  And do you know - we spent over an hour discussing friendships, politics, Scripture, end times, and the scary truth that many people who think themselves Christians will not get into heaven. A 22-year-old sat with his middle-aged aunt and willingly engaged in conversation with me!  And while I was not surprised by his kindness or respect, I was amazed at how much he was willing to share - simply because I ASKED.

And then in the evening, the Lord drove His point home even further.  We had just finished a wonderful dinner, met our sister's birth family, and enjoyed an old friend, when our nephew and his friend joined us.  We engaged in adult conversation for a bit, and then the Lord challenged me to ask him another question:  What is the greatest accomplishment in your life?  If you died today, and those who knew you well stood up to testify about your life, what would they say?
His answer contained three words.  But they were the most revealing three words he could have uttered.  And at that moment, everyone at the table was given a glimpse into the heart of our nephew, and now ... we are accountable to pray for him, encourage him, support him, and follow up with him.  Because he needs us.

I thought about him, and our conversations, all night long.  I feel asleep praying for him.  I woke up thinking about him.  What if I had let him slip into obscurity just because he is quiet?  What if I refused to draw out the depths of his thoughts and mind simply because of fear or lack of motivation?  What if I had served myself because it was easy, instead of caring about the heart of my nephew?  I know the Lord is sovereign and can accomplish His will in a thousand different ways that do not involve me.  But yesterday He chose to use me - and I needed to obey.

And it made me wonder ... how many times have I missed an opportunity to pull out the wonderful, beautiful pieces of the heart of another because they sat quietly in a corner, observing, content to keep their thoughts and dreams to themselves ... when all I had to do,

was ASK.

6.18.2013

A encouraging quote on death.


 “He whose head is in heaven need not fear to put his feet into the grave.” ~ Matthew Henry

6.12.2013

I hope I get an "A!"

Some of you will crack up at this, some will roll their eyes, and some will totally get it.

I am married to a teacher.  His whole life revolves around research, information, study, tests, and responses.  That is how his brain works, and it is how the Lord gifted him.  So when it comes to our marriage, he pretty much attacks it in the same manner.

Since I appreciate logic, planning, information, and responses (even though I like mine from humans rather than data and facts) Dennis and I work together - very well.  Neither of us are emotional or sappy, and neither of us need coddling or extreme gentleness when being corrected or challenged - as individuals or as a couple.

So when I received this e-mail from him today, I smiled, and started planning when I could have some quiet moments to myself to respond.  It may not seem romantic to some, it might seem ludicrous or "cold" to others, but for this wife, it is a welcome and appreciated gesture - because I know it comes from his heart.

It took us a few years to learn how to be married ... how to think of each other above ourselves ... how to give up our own wants to meet the needs of the other ... and the biggest take away Dennis ever got from all of the men's retreats, marriage seminars, and marital books he absorbed was this one simple thing:  Be a student of your wife.  What makes her smile?  Does she like gifts or time? What is her least favorite chore?  When is she most stressed?  Who are her closest friends?  What is her greatest fear?  Where does she struggle in her walk with the Lord?  What is her favorite snack?  Does she like surprises or detailed information?

For a very long time Dennis could not have answered any of these questions.  Then one day the Lord convicted him to take this challenge seriously - and he did!  He treated it like a research paper.  He had a fresh notebook, pen, a list of questions - and every time I answered one he would write it down.  If I mentioned in passing that I would like something (present or future) he would write it down.  And after a few months it became a habit.  He started paying attention, not because he had to remember the answer as if there would be a test, but because he WANTED to know.  He wanted to buy a gift for my birthday without asking what I wanted.  He desired to take a burden off of me by doing one of my least favorite chores once in a while.  He wanted to know how to pray for me - how to encourage me.

And our marriage has been completely different ever since.  Nothing magical.  No intervention.
Nothing we could package and sell for $199.99.  Just a simple thing - attentiveness.  (Note: I am also a student of my husband.  It looks a little different for me, but the results, and the rewards, are the same.)  Pay attention.  Not just to your spouse, but your children, your friends, your family, your boss, your pastor.  What makes them tick?  What are their greatest needs?  How are they encouraged most?  It takes time and effort - but you will never be sorry you did it!

This is the note I received from my groom of almost 20 years.  He has been doing research on 'legacy' as he prepares a two-part lesson for a Bible study he was asked to lead, and he came across questions that caught his attention, changed the wording a bit, and sent them to me with enthusiasm and anticipation.

Let's hope my answers get an "A" when I turn them in!

Greetings, My Queen,
As our anniversary approaches I would like to take a moment to ask you to provide candid and altogether un-filtered responses to the following questions:
  1. Do you feel I properly understand the goals that God has placed in your heart? How can I help you achieve them?
  2. What are some things I can do to regularly show you just how satisfied I am with you as your husband and the leader of our home?
  3. Is there anything I am doing or failing to do that seems to send a signal that I do not honor you or your important role in our home?
  4. Is there anything I can change to make our home a place where you feel more satisfied and comfortable?
  5. Are there any big dreams in your heart that you have been hesitant to share with me? How can I help you fulfill them?
  6. How do you feel we can begin communicating better than we already are?
  7. Do you feel that there is anything keeping either one or both of us from God's best in our lives? What should be my part in freeing us from those restraints?
  8. Are we where you wanted us to be at this stage in life? 
  9. How do you envision our future together? What can we do together to achieve that goal?
  10. What can I do to show you how much I need and trust you?
Thank you for your honest responses as they will ultimately assist me in becoming a more informed, and hopefully effective, husband.  Dennis

Aren't these GREAT?  I can hardly wait to get pen on paper and answer them!  These will provide hours of fantastic and thought-provoking conversation over the coming weeks. 

Dennis, thank you for always seeking to improve our marriage - and your role as a husband.  I do not take it for granted because I never want to forget how far we've come, and how the Lord restored the years the locusts had eaten after our foolishness and selfishness in our early years.  You are a good man, a wonderful father, and a loving husband.
I certainly do not deserve you - but oh, how thankful I am that you are mine!  Michelle

6.05.2013

TOGETHER.

I had the joy of spending an afternoon with our young adult group as we witnessed the union of a dear friend with her long-awaited groom.  

It was such a lovely and Christ-honoring day.  The couple shared their first kiss at the wedding, and gave hope to their peers ... no matter how long God asks you to wait for your spouse, you never have to lower your standards ... and, it is absolutely possible to remain pure in a biblical dating relationship ... both of which bring the couple to the alter with great joy, anticipation, and obedience as they begin their life together as husband and wife.  I must have stopped to look around and take it all in at least three or four times as I reflected on the wonder of how richly God blesses those who walk in obedience to Him and willingly give up their own so that He might be glorified through them.  It is a beautiful thing to behold.

Once the service was over and everyone screamed and cheered over their first kiss, we spent the next few hours at the reception.  Young and old, saved and unsaved, married and single, new to salvation and mature in Christ ... a complete mix of different people, all enjoying one another as we shared a common focus:  a wedding of someone we love.

As I watched and listened to everyone around me, it struck me that this is exactly what the Lord intended for His children.  We are not called to walk through life alone, battling, growing, suffering, rejoicing ... we are called to do it together!  Funerals, graduations, weddings, the birth of a baby, new jobs, loss of jobs, surgeries, marriage crisis, wayward children, restoration - we need each other for all of them!

I would almost guarantee that half of the wedding guests had very little in common.  But you know what?  It didn't matter!  We had a common purpose for that moment in time, and status, age, interests, and convictions were not up for debate.  We just enjoyed one another!  There were silly conversations, deep discussions, someone witnessed to an unsaved guest, kids were running everywhere, people were laughing and smiling, and when it was time - they were able to reach into their hearts to share important words of wisdom and encouragement for the bride and groom.  No one cared about our differences in those moments - we were just one community, one body, joined together to celebrate two lives.  And we will come together again for another purpose - maybe joyful, maybe sad - but we will still be together, interacting and loving one another.  Just as God intended.

By the time the bride and groom were sealed shut into their car to drive away for the long-awaited honeymoon, there were just a few guests left.  The family, of course, the wedding party, some young adults, and me!  We were outside talking and laughing when I noticed one of the girls snapping photos, so I yelled, "Camera!  Pose!" (I loathe candid shots when someone captures you with a piece of chicken bulging from your cheek or your face is all screwed up in a sneeze.  Lovely.)  All of the girls linked arms and posed, or so I thought.  As soon as she took the photo I turned around and saw that the guys had hopped in the photo with us.  And that is when it struck me once again.

Do you remember the song "One of these things?" 
Which of these things is not like the other one,
which one of these doesn't belong?

That is how I felt when I saw the picture on her camera.  Here I am in the center of the group - the 41-year-old married mother of six - surrounded by young, fresh, have-their-whole-lives-ahead-of-them young adults.  At first it looked strange - but when I left the camera and looked into the faces of my brothers and sisters - it felt RIGHT.  I was the same Michelle with them that afternoon as I am with my own peers, or when I spend a morning being discipled by an older woman.

The Lord did not intend for the body of Christ to be divided into age and stage, never to cross paths again.  There is a time for both - to be with those who understand where you are and what you need so you can encourage one another to press on.  But Scripture is very clear that the older are to invest in the younger, and pour into them so that they might gain wisdom and understanding from those who have walked before.  20 somethings needs to spend an afternoon talking to a retired senior. Singles need to sit at the dinner table of a young family and watch their marriage and parenting relationships.  Middle-aged couples need to open their home to teens and young adults and enjoy their energy and enthusiasm while challenging them to be purposeful in their growth and maturity in Christ.  And sometimes a 12-year-old boys needs to sit on the floor and build Lego's with a 3-year-old.

God's family looks just like our own families - a mix of personalities and age, maturity and innocence. We do not send the children into another room to open presents on Christmas morning - everyone is together!  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and spouses ... FAMILY.

Last Saturday was a wonderful day.  Not only did I enjoy the beauty of hearing marriage vows and watching the face of the groom when he saw his bride coming toward him, I also enjoyed the grace of a God who gave me a glimpse of what He intended, and desires, for His children.  Community. Interaction.  Enjoyment.  Celebration.  Encouragement.  Comfort.  Rejoicing.  Mourning.

TOGETHER.
Be at peace with one another – Mark 9:50
Love one another – 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12
Build up one another – Romans 14:19Ephesians 4:12
Be of the same mind toward one another – Romans 12:16
Give preference to one another – Romans 12:10
Greet one another – Romans 16:16
Serve one another – Galatians 5:13
Receive one another – Romans 15:7
Be devoted to one another – Romans 12:10
Rejoice or weep with one another – Romans 12:15
Admonish one another – Romans 15:14Colossians 3:16
Care for one another – 1 Corinthians 12:25
Show tolerance toward one another – Romans 15:1-5Ephesians 4:2
Be kind and forgiving to one another – Ephesians 4:32Colossians 3:13
Submit to one another – Romans 12:10Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5
Comfort one another – 1 Thessalonians 4:18
Encourage one another – 1 Thessalonians 5:11Hebrews 3:13
Be compassionate with one another – 1 Peter 3:8
Pray for one another – James 5:16
Confess your faults to one another – James 5:16
Accept one another – Romans 14:1; 15:7