Why Are You So Offended?

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The other day I was shopping for groceries right around lunchtime. Spotting the beautiful salad bar in the store, I decided to buy a salad for lunch. Choosing one of the containers that has three different sections, I filled it up and then carefully set it in my cart. There it lay, with salad ingredients in one half and some beautiful fruit in the corner. Perfectly separated.

I managed to get it to the check out counter without mixing the items all together and there I lifted it out of the cart, holding it in such a way that the salad would not get mixed with the fruit, and rested it behind the rest of my items on the conveyor belt.

But all that care ended up being in naught as I watched the store clerk lift up the salad and recklessly turn it to and fro looking for a bar to scan. Finally, she sighed and asked the clerk beside her how to check out a salad.

Upon receiving the necessary information, she checked out my now thoroughly mixed salad and put it in a bag.

Now, in my earlier life I may have grown a bit frustrated over this all. Yes, it’s just a salad but she had undone everything I had so carefully tried to avoid in just a few seconds. Literally. She had carelessly lifted it up and mixed it all together, with no thought given to how I might feel about that.

But here’s the thing– she had no idea whatsoever that she was frustrating me. None at all. Her only thought was that here was something she didn’t know how to check out and she knew she had to figure out how to check it out and she had to do that quickly.

So often we get so offended with people who have no idea they are even offending us. They are just living their life from their perspective without a care for anybody else’s and their agenda collides with ours. In this case, my agenda was to keep the container flat so that my food wouldn’t get all mixed together. The clerk’s agenda was to find a price for that salad. When these agendas clashed, I knew a moment of irritation.

So why in the world am I talking about something so unimportant? Because– let’s face it– a salad that gets all mixed together is about the most minuscule thing in life you can imagine.  I share this because I think there is a much deeper lesson to be learned.

Well, two lessons, actually.

First, we get offended about the wrong things. I mean who cares about a salad? Or the car that cut in front of us on the highway? Why do we care so much about the co-worker who got the credit we deserved or when our spouse shares something that they would like us to change? We care because we care so very much about ourselves.

In contrast, think about the last time you got offended when you heard God’s name taken in vain or heard someone take a Bible passage out of context or make some heretical statement. Did this offend you? Did it fill you with the same irritation that it would have if they had taken your words out of context or used your name as a swear word?

My guess is no. And this is a great test about who we love most, isn’t it? Just when I think I am making some headway, God will show me that I still love me most. It’s a discouraging, disheartening thought. Until I remember how far I’ve come. I am still struggling, but I love God now in a much deeper and fuller way than I even dreamed possible when I was a teenager. Filling my mind with His Word is how this came about. There is no shortcut full of special experiences and feelings (but that’s a really, really long bunny trail and a post for another day).

So are we getting offended about the right things? This is a question we must ask ourselves.

The second lesson to be learned from the salad incident is that, whether we are personally offended or offended for the sake of God and His Word, how we react says a lot about us. Do we grow angry and defensive? Do we speak unkind words or give someone the silent treatment? This says we love ourselves so much more than we love God.

But if we overlook small, inconsequential offenses we show a desire to be like Christ. If we address worthwhile offenses with love and kindness, using God’s Word as our guide, we show that our love for that person is far greater than our desire to “be right”. If we practice patience and joy when someone is frustrating us, we show that we have eternal perspective.

Now let’s think about this practically for a moment. What would these reactions show to a world overflowing with self-absorbed, easily-offended people? It would be a welcome and wonderful change for store and hotel clerks, for co-workers, and for churches, too. It may even give us an opportunity to talk about the Gospel. At the very least, it will be evidence of the light of Christ that is within us.

We are never going to change anybody else. But we can change ourselves. We can choose to overlook a slight offense. We can show love and grace when confrontation is necessary. And we can choose to challenge people on the stuff that really matters–the things that offend our loving, heavenly Father. And, in doing these things, we are shining witnesses for Jesus Christ and also help to make the world a gentler, kinder place.

It begins with us.

 

 

The Birthday Party (or Self-Obsession: Part 2)

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After I published my last post, a couple of my friends contacted me to make sure they hadn’t been the ones to offend me with their words. I am so glad they did! First, so I could tell them they certainly had not and that my post had nothing to do with them, but also because they made me realize that I had neglected to say something when I wrote my post yesterday. (First, let me add here that I am fairly certain that the people I referred to in that post never read Growing4Life. If I thought they did, I would not have written it.)

But this is what I forgot to mention yesterday: No one owes me an apology. Anything I perceived to be hurtful is just that: my self-absorbed perception. I truly know that neither of those people meant to hurt me.

Have you ever caught yourself being driven by your perceptions of events rather than actual facts? Or perhaps of taking an off-handed comment and allowing it to take you into a downward spiral, far from the path of truthful thoughts? If you have, then you know what I mean.

So often we allow ourselves to hear something and by the time we are finished thinking about it, we have determined that the person who said it hates us with a deep, abiding passion (or some other similar, depressing, false thought).

If we continue to follow this line of thought, our spirit cries out for our “rights” to be approved and loved (as if they are rights somehow!) and our pride demands confrontation. But this is not usually the best way to deal with something like this.

It reminds me of an incident that happened to me long ago. One of my daughters spent a great deal of time with a group of girls. One day one of the girls handed out invitations to her upcoming birthday party. The only problem was that my daughter did not receive an invitation. Oh, how hurt she was! How hurt I was for her! My gut reaction was to be offended and upset over this. Actually, I was very offended over this. Why does it always hurt us moms at least 20 times more when our kids are hurt than when we are hurt ourselves??

When I shared the incident with a friend, she suggested I “confront” this mother about this in Matthew 18 fashion. But, for whatever reason, I recognized that my offense wasn’t based on biblical doctrine, but instead on my own personal feelings. Young as I was, God gave me the wisdom to not follow that advice and I am so very thankful for that.

That little girl had every right to invite who she wanted to that party. It was none of my business. It also taught my daughter (and me!) a lesson in handling disappointment.

Do you realize that perhaps 80-90% of the things we are offended over are due to our own wrong perceptions, pride, and selfishness? Confronting someone about something that is based on these things is the makings for serious turmoil in our relationships.

I know this because I haven’t always so wisely refrained from confrontation. But I am learning. Slowly learning. And now, I confront less and less. Unless it is a sin issue that can be backed up with scripture, I try to stay quiet. Although, I have to admit here that this is much harder to practice at home than anywhere else! I am also learning that sometimes it is best to offer grace, even when it is a sin issue. Sure, sometimes people say purposeful, mean things or do unkind things to us which are certainly harder to forgive. But, unless it is a regular occurrence by the same person, I am learning to choose grace: To process and forgive and love without making a scene and without holding a grudge, giving the benefit of the doubt and trying to show much grace. This is so much easier to do when I remember just how much grace I need myself–from God, first and foremost, but also from those who know me.

God is so good. He meets us in our desire to forgive the small (and large) offenses that come our way and I can honestly say that He has helped me to forgive both actual and perceived hurts. He can and will do the same for you. If you struggle with this, He will help you. We serve a great God who not only has saved our souls, but who strengthens and sanctifies us in our everyday walk with Him, as well. He has given us His Word for our anchor and guide while we live here on earth and there is much there that is said on this subject of forgiveness. Matthew 6:14-15 is a good place to start.

Well, I promise not to flood your inbox every day, but I did want to do this quick follow-up to yesterday’s post. I hope that it has clarified some things and that it has encouraged your heart. Have a great day!

 

2016 Hospitality Challenge: March

Invite a couple of acquaintances for coffee (and a February recap)

Hospitality Challenge

March has arrived! I am one day late in posting this because, honestly, this time of year is very, very crazy for me. We have a landscape company and my really busy months are January through April, as we work to get new contracts into the hands of our customers and update and change any systems that didn’t work well last season. With that in mind, I have a confession to make:

I didn’t officially do the G4L Game Night Challenge. I planned to. But before I could get it all in place, we were actually invited to an old friend’s house for a…game night! At that point, life was a bit crazy and our weekends were filling up. And so I made the decision that this would just have to have to suffice for the February challenge.

We got together with two couples, not at my house but at my friend’s house.We hadn’t seen the other two couples–at least to chat about life and enjoy each others’ company– for quite some time. It was actually quite awhile before we even broke out a game, as we sat around talking and catching up.

After awhile, they broke out Twisted Farkle. We had never played any variation of Farkle before so this was all new to us, but we had fun! It made me wonder why we don’t do this type of thing more often. We had a great night re-connecting with old friends.

A few weeks later, our Sunday School class had a special Valentine get-together and we played Bunco, another dice game. This one is especially suited to larger groups. We had a great time as we switched tables and got to know each other in a more relaxed atmosphere. Games have a way of doing that–far more than movies do. They are great for family and friends alike, as we spend a few relaxed hours together.

Did anyone else host (or attend wink) a game night? I would love to hear your stories.

MARCH CHALLENGE

This month, let’s invite a couple of acquaintances from our church or workplace for coffee (or tea). You can meet at a local coffee house or in your own home. Focus on women (or men if you are a man) who may be single, widowed, or divorced–the ones that rarely get invited anywhere because they aren’t a “couple”.

 

2016 Hospitality Challenge: February

Host a game night (and a January recap)

Hospitality Challenge

January is over already! Isn’t that hard to believe? I always think January will drag on forever but it never does. The month was already half way over before I realized that I had never even made plans for the January Challenge. Yes, I am talking about the challenge that I created…

So at that point I realized that I needed to get some plans in place. Here is how it all turned out for me–

First–preparing my home. Well, I started out with great aspirations to get a little more organized. But, alas, it didn’t really happen. Thankfully, my home, with a little tidying, is generally company ready, since I host a Bible Study in my home each week. It’s amazing how much a weekly meeting at your house changes how you keep things cleaned up and organized–at least on the surface! So, while I can’t say I made great strides in this area, I can say that our home is ready for guests.

Second–meeting a couple for dinner. I went out on a limb and called a couple from our church that we don’t know very well. The wife and I had enjoyed talking together at a church camping trip a year or two ago, but other than the tidbits of conversation we would hold in the church foyer occasionally, we had not really talked since then. Her husband owns a business, too, so I knew the men would have plenty to talk about.

I hesitantly picked up the phone and dialed their number. I felt a little bit funny, quite honestly, calling out of the blue like that. I explained the Growing 4 Life Hospitality challenge and then asked her if she and her husband would like to meet us for dinner. She said they would like that and we put set aside Friday night, January 29–only two days before the month’s end. Nothing like cutting it close!

And so this past Friday night found us meeting this couple at our local Ruby Tuesday’s. I know I shouldn’t expect this every time, but the delightful thing about this particular evening was that all four of us hit it off immediately. There were no awkward moments or uncomfortable pauses. We have very different backgrounds and lives, and yet we had so much in common that I think we were all pleasantly surprised. I can definitely say that we left the restaurant that evening with new friends. It was a really rewarding experience for us–and one we would never have had without the Hospitality Challenge pushing me to make that call.

Now it’s your turn. I’d sure love to hear your stories. Do you have any stories about preparing your home for company? Or meeting with a family you desired to know better? Would you share your experiences in the comment section below? Don’t feel that you can only share the good things, but feel free to share your frustrations and challenges, too.

By the way, if you are reading about the challenge for the first time today, you can still join. This is not like the Bible Reading Challenge of last year, where you are hopelessly behind if you start late. The 2016 Growing 4 Life Hospitality Challenge can be joined at any time during the year. Click here for more information.

So are you ready for the next challenge? Here we go…

FEBRUARY CHALLENGE

Now that you have your home ready to go, it’s time to open up your home and practice hospitality. This month the challenge is to invite two or more singles (don’t forget the singles, they are often overlooked!), couples, or families into your home for a game night. Winter is a great time to play games, so this seems to be a great place to start in our desire to become more hospitable.

You can make this as simple or elaborate as you want to. Just remember to keep the focus off of yourself and your home and keep it on your guests and making them feel welcome. Personally, I will probably just serve a few munchies and iced tea and keep it very casual. But you may want to serve dinner or buy some pizza. It’s totally up to you!

NOW, I know that some of you may have a spouse who does not like to play games. If this is the case, then why not ask them if they will do this for you just once OR, if they won’t budge, then think of a different activity that you can do that evening, such as having couples bring their wedding albums or childhood photos. Think outside the box a little. I’d like to add here that I do not recommend any movies or TV for your activity. This discourages conversation and when your company leaves you won’t know much more about them than when they first arrived.

If you are in need of some game ideas, I have listed a few of our family favorites below (FYI: these are NOT affiliate links and I receive zero compensation if you click on these)–

For smaller groups–

Qwirkle–This is a fun game of colorful tiles that need to be lined up in rows according to color or shape. It’s very easy to learn and lots of fun to play.

Play Nine–We have spent hours playing this as a family. It’s a fun card game that you play for nine rounds. Just make sure you sit beside someone nice for this game, as your neighbor can make or break the game for you ;)

Rummikub–This is a new game to our family, but it’s been around for awhile. It has tiles with colored numbers on them and you lay them out on the table, similar to Qwirkle, but not quite the same. It’s a fun game, if you like this kind of thing.

Rook–My first memory of this game is with my aunts and uncles when I was around twelve. I have such fond memories of everyone sitting around a table, laughing and forgetting the rest of life for just a few moments as we played. The deck of cards says that only six people can play, but I think we can play with more if you buy an extra deck of cards. It’s an easy, inexpensive, and enjoyable card game. This can be played as individuals or in teams.

For larger groups–

What?–I just bought this one at Christmas and we had lots of fun playing it over the holiday season. It is extremely easy to play and actually helps you to get to know one another a bit. I highly recommend this one.

CatchPhrase–This is a wonderful game for big groups and we play it regularly if we have a crowd at our house. The game is actually a small electronic box that you pass, so no table is needed. It’s easy, fun, and is always played with a lot of laughter!

Scattergories–We have enjoyed this game since the kids were little. It’s an old game, but still a good one. As long as you can write, you can play this game.

Balderdash–This is a fun game of creative thinking. Coming up with definitions of unknown words and plots of unheard of movies (plus a few other categories) and then trying to guess which is the right one is what this game is about.

For families with children–

Cranium Family Fun–Oh, we love this game! If you have kids coming to your party, this one is well worth the money. I am not sure how many can play it, but it is really fun for both adults and kids.

Charades–No link is needed for this one. Simply write some things to act out on pieces of paper, throw them in a paper bag, and make your own game up. Everyone can play and have fun with this one, no matter what age.

Do you have any other game suggestions? I always love hearing about new games–especially ones for a larger group, as it is rather hard to find fun and clean games for adults.

 

So are you ready for this new challenge? Ready…Set…

GO!

 

2016 Hospitality Challenge: January

Make plans to meet someone for dinner & prepare your home

Hospitality Challenge

The Growing4Life Hospitality Challenge officially begins today! I will present a new challenge on the first Monday of each month during this coming year. I hope you will read these challenge posts, even if you have decided not to participate, because I do think you will find some helpful ideas and tips.

There are actually two parts to this first challenge.

But, first, let me share a passage of the book *Hospitality Commands by Alexander Strauch—

I don’t think most Christians today understand how essential hospitality is to fanning the flames of love and strengthening the Christian family. Hospitality fleshes out love in a uniquely personal and sacrificial way. Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions. We share our family, home, finances, food, privacy, and time. Indeed, we share our very lives. So, hospitality is always costly. Through the ministry of hospitality, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort, and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand. Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is only a theory.

So, this idea of hospitality isn’t just a nice idea. It is going to cost us something. Are you ready to obey, anyway? I truly believe that our hearts will rejoice as we obey the Lord in this area.

So here we go!

JANUARY CHALLENGE

PART 1

Think of a Christian single person, a couple, or a family at your church that you would like to get to know better. If you are not attending a **church regularly right now then move to your other circles–perhaps work or school. Can you think of someone?

Now, call them up and arrange to get together for dinner. Or if funds are tight, then just arrange a time for dessert and coffee. But get a date on the calendar for the month of January.

PART 2

Before I share part 2, I want to tell you a little story. Years ago, we served under a pastor who would just pop in on people without calling them. One evening, as I sat in my family room surrounded by laundry on every surface, the doorbell rang. My dishes weren’t done. My husband wasn’t home. And things were really crazy. Keep in mind that I was homeschooling our four kids at the time. I was not prepared for company. As I opened the door, I saw my smiling pastor standing there. Now, to his credit, he stepped his way through the laundry, took a seat, and enjoyed a visit with the kids and me and never once did I feel judged. But, I still felt soooo uncomfortable. The whole time. It was awful. I kept furtively glancing at my messy house and just wanted to melt into the floor. My house was not normally in such a terrible state, but, of course, the one evening I had let it go was the evening the pastor chose to call.

All these years later, I realize that I learned a little something from that visit. And now I try to generally have my house in order at all times. Oh, it still gets the best of me sometimes– especially during the holidays (anyone else ready to get back to their routine??) but, as a rule, I try to tidy up first thing in the morning. Of course, this is so much easier now that I only have one child at home. I fully empathize with you moms. Especially if you home school. That felt like a losing battle.

So why am I telling you all this? Because, while I don’t believe a spotless house is necessary to entertain, I do believe that you need to feel like your house is ready to entertain. One of my readers mentioned that she would like to do the challenge, after she completes a few home projects and gets it ready.  I got to thinking about that– perhaps we could all use a month to prepare our homes. Especially if we haven’t entertained in a very long time.

So here is Part 2 of the challenge–

Prepare your home for company.

You have all month to do this. For some of us, our home is already in pretty decent shape. We keep things neat and tidy, for the most part, and this challenge will be easy for us. BUT, for others of us, clutter and busyness have overtaken our lives and we have neglected our homes.

This is the month to change that. Let’s do a basic house cleaning and clutter removal, so that we can entertain guests with confidence. Here are the basic things to do to prepare for guests–

Clear clutter off surfaces
Dust furniture
Wipe down counters
Vacuum
Mop floors
Tidy bathrooms

If you would like to do more or are looking for some resources in this area of cleaning, you may find these helpful–

http://www.flylady.net/d/zones/

I first became acquainted with Flylady when I was homeschooling. She breaks caring for our homes into manageable zones. I think you will find this website very helpful. (disclaimer: I am not sure if she is a believer or what her beliefs are. I did notice that she condones an unbiblical form of meditation, so be very careful if you choose to follow her “spiritual” advice.)

http://christianhomekeeper.org/be-clutter-free/

Here are a few suggestions for ways to keep our homes clutter free. This author had some other good posts, as well, about this area of keeping our homes, so take a little time to look around the blog.

http://www.imperfecthomemaker.com/2013/07/how-to-declutter.html

Another article on de-cluttering. This article gives seven easy steps!

My Home Routines

I am going to try to use this helpful app during this year. It makes caring for our homes more manageable and can even be used in conjunction with Flylady. Here’s a helpful web page to show you how–

http://www.homeroutines.com/resources/choose-a-housework-expert/flylady/using-homeroutines-to-follow-flylady/

Again, let’s remember– our homes don’t need to be perfect. There are no spotchecks and no one cares if you didn’t dust the light fixture or missed that cobweb in the corner of the family room ceiling. But, we can do our best to do a basic de-clutter and clean-up of our homes.

I will touch base at the end of the month to hear how it went! I can’t wait to hear your stories about this first challenge.

Okay, so…are you ready?? Here we go!

 

*To go along with this challenge, I am reading the book The Hospitality Commands: Building Loving Christian Community: Building Bridges to Friends and Neighbors by Alexander Strauch. If you’d like to read along, you can find the book here on Amazon.

**If you are not in a solid, biblical church, then I would like to suggest you find one. It is so very important for both you and your family to be in fellowship with a body of believers (Hebrews 10:25).

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

And a Merry Christmas Message

Christmas Dinner

So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

What We Don’t Regret

baby

Yesterday we celebrated our oldest daughter’s 25th birthday. That means that my husband and I have been parents for a quarter of a century now– which is almost half of our lives. Now that our kids are grown (or almost grown), we can look back on our parenting with much clearer vision. Hindsight is always 20/20, after all.

And we find that there are a few choices and decisions we made that we would make all over again. Here is a list of eleven things we don’t regret doing with our kids–

      1.    We don’t regret the hours that we chose to spend playing games or reading stories, turning our backs on those incessant daily tasks sometimes.
      2.    We don’t regret standing firm about what the kids were allowed to watch, wear, listen to, read, and play. This was especially hard and was done amidst many cries of “but my friends are allowed to…”
      3.    We don’t regret the many conversations around the dinner table talking about God, His Word, and what being a Christian really means.
      4.    We don’t regret the time our kids spent with their grandparents. They have provided incredible support to our family and the relationships that were built with our kids are priceless.
      5.    We don’t regret being flexible with bedtimes and mealtimes. This not only taught our kids to be flexible, but provided evening hours to snuggle and play games with Daddy during those long years when he was building a business.
      6.    We don’t regret having Daddy lead bedtime devotions. This gave me a much needed break after a long day and Daddy precious time with his children.
      7.    We don’t regret pulling our kids from travel soccer and other sports when they threatened to take over our priority of going to church on Sundays.
      8.    We don’t regret homeschooling. In fact, that is probably the one thing I miss the most– homeschooling my elementary children. Even now, I can get a little misty-eyed about it. What an incredible joy and privilege that was.
      9.    We don’t regret taking our kids to the Bible for any and all issues they faced. This taught them to live by God’s Word and not by what we said. It taught them that they are accountable to God for their choices.
      10.    We don’t regret hugging our kids–even our teenagers– when they were really angry with us. While we are the kind of family that hugs a lot, we found out that teenagers can be awkward to hug. But we kept right on hugging through all of the turmoil and hard times. Some days it was quite difficult but we are sure glad we did it anyway.
      11.    We don’t regret the evenings and weekends away that were spent building our marriage. Sometimes it was just thirty minutes of conversation snatched after the kids were in bed as we tried to stay in touch in some of those very busy years. Our children needed unified parents and we needed to keep our marriage relationship strong during the hectic years of growing a family.

While we don’t regret these eleven things, there are so very many things we do regret. We failed in so many ways and often we can see the fruits of those failures in the struggles of our kids. We will often notice one or two of the kids following my bad example in one way and others following my husband’s bad example. We were (and still are) so far from perfect and find ourselves acutely aware of it.

And yet, most days I stand back in absolute amazement at the faithfulness of God to our family. How incredibly gracious and kind of Him to fill in the gaps of our weaknesses and watch over the hearts of our kids so that each one has chosen to follow Him. We feel incredibly blessed.

And then to be doubly-blessed, He brought new sons and a daughter into our family through marriage that also love Him.

And, now, life brings a triple blessing. For we are going to be grandparents! Our oldest daughter and her husband are expecting in the spring. Eric and I are so very excited about having little ones around again. We have both loved parenting — all of it. We have loved the baby and toddler years, the elementary years, and the teen-aged years. Okay– we didn’t love the middle school years, but it wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be. And we are loving this time, as well, as we learn to know our kids as adults and are finally able to develop friendships with them. And now to welcome a grandchild into our family and to start that phase of life where our kids experience the wonder of being parents– oh, what joy it will be!

I know I have said it before, but I just have to say it again– if you are a young parent, please treasure every moment that you can. Focus on the eternal and on the stuff that matters. Life is just so short and before you know it, you will be exactly where I am — expecting a first grandchild!

 

Face Value

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I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. It was so unexpected. I was with a fellow Christian that I had known for a long time. We were different ages and in different circles but ended up working together fairly frequently. I had always assumed that we had the same respect and admiration for each other and that our occasional disagreements and debates were viewed as a healthy part of a relationship.

But, on that particular day, I found out that I was quite wrong.

This person did not have the same feelings toward me as I had towards them. In fact, that conversation showed me that they viewed me as a particularly irritating part of their life. There was no confession and no closure. Just a statement that needed no further elaboration. I didn’t really know them well enough to follow up the conversation any further and so I walked away that day with a shocking and hurtful realization:

People can act like they like you when they really don’t.

For many years after that, I found myself just assuming that most people did not like me. I assumed that I was irritating and that most people did not enjoy my company. Even if someone was really nice to me and I thought I had found a friend, I would hear a voice in the back of my head saying: They don’t really like you. They are only pretending. Just like _________.

It would take a long time for me to trust someone and believe that they actually did enjoy my company. After all, a fellow Christian had pretended to be my friend and it had never been true.

Isn’t it amazing how one conversation can change your life?

By my very nature, I am quite outgoing and outspoken (I can almost hear the “amens” even as I write this from those of you who know me!) It is so hard for me to just sit in a room quietly without speaking. I suppose my parents knew they had a problem on their hands when, as a young child, I spoke my unfiltered thoughts about the fat lady walking towards us on the street.

I’ve had a lifetime of trying to curtail my mouth. To learn to think before I speak. To honor God with the right tone, looks, and body language.

And I do think I have made progress, in large part due to God’s amazing grace and the Holy Spirit working in my life. I am not the same person I was. But I do still mess up sometimes. I still–quite unintentionally–make enemies. And I still worry about that. Especially when people are so good at covering their true feelings.

But, recently, I believe that God has been teaching me to take people at “Face Value”. I cannot know anything about a person that they do not choose to share with me. I cannot be responsible for their grudges and unforgiving hearts if they do not choose to come to me with their issues. If someone treats me like they like me, then I should assume that they do. If they are pretending, that is not my concern. That is between them and God. I can’t spend my time worrying about it and I can’t make assumptions that may not be true.

And since that first conversation, I have learned a few things. First, sometimes people are just really shy. It doesn’t mean they don’t like me. It just means they don’t know me. And, second, I’ve learned that moods often determine how people interact with me. Some people just aren’t friendly if they have had a rough day. It doesn’t mean that they have some deep, abiding hatred of me.

Instead of focusing on the reactions and thoughts of others (which are completely outside my control), my concern is to treat people with love and kindness. If there is a truth that needs communicated, then it is to be covered with prayer and spoken with much thought and tremendous grace. If I do these things, then I must let the rest up to God.

It’s been a long journey that I am still on, but I keep learning that I need to get the focus off of me and my feelings and keep it where it belongs– on God and His Word.

If someone doesn’t like me because of my stand for God, then I am okay with that. If they don’t like me because I’ve sinned against them, then, unless they tell me, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. If they do confront me, it is my job to be humble and willing to receive the criticism with an open mind.

Relationships can be so tough. We can make assumptions and we have expectations. When we are disappointed or devastated in a relationship, it can really make a difference in how we treat others for the rest of our lives. But God’s Word shows us how to have healthy relationships. And the first step is almost always putting aside our own desires and thinking of what’s best for the other person. (Philippians 2:2-3). It’s painful. It’s so hard. But it works.

 

Practicing Joy When It’s Hard

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Sometimes the world around us seems so hopeless. We watch the news on TV, we age and our bodies grow weaker, and we hear so many stories of brokenness and tragedy. We come face to face over and over again with the hard reality that we live in a fallen world in a body headed for death.

These tough truths also come to light in the books of the Old Testament Prophets. These men of God predict the sword, famine, and pestilence on God’s chosen people. They have turned their hearts to idols and God has decided enough is enough. How would it have felt to be in Israel during that time? What would it have been like to live with the knowledge that the wrath of God was coming?

Could it be a little like right now? Oh, I know we aren’t Israel. And I know that the wrath of God fell hard on them in a way that will probably not be repeated until the Tribulation. But don’t you sometimes wonder how long the wrath of God will tarry for a nation that kills its babies at a rate of 2000+ per day? Or a nation that has declared God to be null and void and prefers to give credit to the ludicrous and illogical theory of evolution? How long can a nation last that lives like there are no moral absolutes? What can we expect when we turn our back on God’s chosen people, Israel? (Genesis 12:3)

I don’t tend to get dragged down too often by the state of this nation, but every once in awhile it just hits me. This is not the same nation it was. It is changing so fast it sometimes feels like it’s hard to catch your breath. And in the back of my mind is always this question: what will it mean for the faithful? What is ahead for us in a country that is becoming increasingly hostile towards anyone who follows the Jesus of the Bible?

This week, while I was thinking a bit about this, the Lord brought to mind my dear friend, Bea. It’s not often that you are good friends with someone who is 35 years older than you are, but we are a glorious exception. God has blessed our family tremendously by knowing her. She has functioned for many years as my kids’ third grandmother and as a source of godly wisdom for me.

I decided that I would ask her her thoughts on finding joy when things are looking dark. She has a lot she could be discouraged about. Her health is starting to fail and life is very different than it was even ten years ago. Looking to the future doesn’t bring much hope, as her body will probably continue to grow weaker. And yet when I stop in she always has a genuine smile on her face. A smile that comes from her heart. I asked her how she finds joy in the midst of discouraging days.

She had some great thoughts and I know that you will benefit from them as much as me. As always, her practical wisdom is so helpful. When I asked her how she fosters joy in her life, she gave the following thoughts–

1. Count Your Blessings.

She went on to share just how good God has been to her through the years. She prayed for her husband’s salvation for 32 long years and God answered that prayer. And now this husband treats her like a princess, loving on her in a way that wasn’t possible in their busy, younger days. She enjoys the more relaxed, living-in-the-moment that they are able to do now. And she looks for even small improvements in her health or other situations. She says there are always plenty of blessings to be remembered.

2. Talk to God a Lot.

She elaborated here and told me she talks to Him all the time. She asks for strength to get through the day. And to help her find a lost earring. She talks to Him about her feelings of discouragement. And she prays for others. Instead of just (or perhaps along with) one designated prayer time for the day, she keeps a running conversation going with God all day.

3. Choose to be thankful.

This kind of goes with the first one, but it is a bit more intentional. She thanks God for her good days. And for the healing that is taking place despite her aging body. She thanks God for the blessings that are in her life. Even the smallest blessing is worthy of gratitude.

4. Press on through the discouragement.

When I asked if she had anything more, she added this final thing. And perhaps this may be the most important of all. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, continuing in the service God has for us, no matter what the task. Bea’s tasks have changed considerably over the years and she now finds herself in a place where she can’t do that much physically. But she can still pray and she can still encourage others. She can still cook and do some things around the house. And she can still love her husband and her family. When we are tempted to stop walking in our difficult places, our focus turns inward and we withdraw from life if we aren’t careful. We often end up in a fog of depression and misery, oftentimes curled up in a ball in our beds or zoned out in front of the TV. Self pity doesn’t make things better. It makes things much worse.

Instead we need to keep pressing on through the pain and the discouragement, remembering the future that is in store for us if we are saved and always prepared, with hope, for the return of our Lord and Savior. Isn’t it just wonderful to contemplate a life without pain and without sorrow? It seems almost beyond the realm of our comprehension. But that is what we have been promised if we are God’s! This life is not the whole picture. It’s just a tiny part of the whole.

I guess you can tell how much I love my dear friend. She has been such an inspiration and godly example for me. And not only has she been a great role model, but she has always been willing to share her struggles and her heart with me. Ladies like this are rare and I consider it a great privilege to have her in my life. I want to keep learning from her as long as possible and continue mining the treasure of her 80+ years of experience.

I hope this post has inspired you to find joy in the hard places! But I also hope it has inspired any of you who are women to find a godly woman whom you can talk to and learn from. One who is willing to be open and honest and who has years of experience and can help you avoid some of the pitfalls we tend to make as wives and mothers.

And, as I write this, I find myself encouraged that perhaps it’s not so hopeless, after all. Sure, the world isn’t going anywhere great, but we can’t quit. We ordinary women can make a difference by building into the lives of others and sharing the things we have learned from God’s Word. Oh, we probably won’t change the world, but we can help the people that God places in front of us. And, according to Titus 2:3-5, perhaps that is what we are supposed to be focused on, anyway.

A Punch in the Gut

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It felt a little like being punched in your stomach and getting the wind knocked out of you.

I had glanced over and had seen someone I knew from a former time in my life. There was that moment of recognition. I started to smile a hello. But the other person turned away.

Like they didn’t even know me.

Only both of us knew that they did know me.

I’d like to say this doesn’t hurt. But it does. I was never best friends with this person, but we had been friends at one time. And then there were choices followed by insidious lies. And somehow we came out on the other side as The Enemy, with never an opportunity to even defend ourselves.

And, yes, it still hurts.

Why do I share this here? It’s embarrassing. It’s painful. It’s not the stuff we like to talk about.

But it is real life.

I can’t imagine that some of you haven’t had similar experiences at one time or another. As much as we would wish it, life is not wrapped up neatly into a little box tied with a beautiful bow. Happy endings are for another world. True forgiveness is a rare treasure and second chances don’t come around often.

It is what it is.

These kinds of moments always make me think of one of my very favorite verses–

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)

What does this mean exactly? I am not going to give the deep theological meaning. I am going to give the very practical, applicable meaning in my life at the moment that the above encounter took place.

It means that I very purposely walked up to the other person, ignoring the pain, the fear of rejection, and the awkwardness, and said a friendly hello. It means I asked them about things in their life, trying to be genuinely gracious and kind as I did so.

I didn’t do this out of spite or manipulation. It wasn’t to say I’m better than anyone else. In fact, I didn’t want to do it at all. At all. So why did I do this?

I did it out of pure obedience. I did it because of this verse.

As believers, we are required to love our enemies. To bless those who curse us. To pray for those who persecute us. To do good to those who hate us. (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27)

Many are the times I have failed in doing this. It is so much easier to just walk away, adding more bricks to the wall already between me and someone else. But this one time, I think I did what would have pleased my Savior.

When I do take that tentative step of obedience, I can walk away knowing that I have done everything I can do to be at peace with that person who doesn’t like me, which brings that wonderful peace between me and my God. And I can honestly say it also helps to change how I feel about the other person. I’m not sure how or why, but it removes some of the bitterness that may be building in my heart, replacing it with grace and love towards the one who has hurt me. As this defies human logic, I have concluded that this must be God working in the obedient heart.

Oh, how I wish I could be so obedient all the time but, alas, I fail so often. There are few things more painful emotionally than rejection or broken, messy relationships, and working our way through them in a way that honors God is so difficult. But when we can make the choice to love our enemies, we grow in our faith and in our capacity to love. It is not a void decision that makes no difference, but instead fills us with love and peace and the knowledge that God is enough. Sure, one conversation doesn’t make that big of a difference, but it is sure a step in the right direction.

I have no idea what you are dealing with today. I don’t know if it’s a relationship within your family or perhaps your spouse’s family that is causing you great pain. Maybe it’s friends (or people you thought were your friends) at work or school or church. Whoever it is, do what’s right before God and “kill them with kindness.” As true soldiers of Christ, let’s commit to showing His love and grace, no matter what the response is from the one who is causing us pain. And in responding in such a surprising way we will not only grow stronger in our own faith but we will shine brightly and offer a choice of hope and love for the hurting, bitter world around us. We will show that Christ does make a difference in the life dedicated to living for Him.