My One Word

There’s a new New Year’s practice that is becoming popular, perhaps in many circles, but especially in writer circles. The protocol (from myoneword.org) is as follows:

The challenge is simple: lose the long list of changes you want to make this year and instead pick ONE WORD.

This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future. 

Choosing one word isn’t a guarantee your life will change. But as the website says, it can serve as a tool to help you focus. For instance, if you find your biggest character flaw to be an ungrateful heart, perhaps “thanksgiving” should be the word you focus on in 2015, because thanksgiving is the antidote to an ungrateful heart. If you find yourself with a severe inability to abstain from consuming an entire tub of chocolate ice cream every night, perhaps the word to focus on is “Bread of Life” (I know! More than one word!), because only Christ can satiate an empty soul.

Did you catch the positive spin on this idea of choosing a word? Instead of saying “I’m a Scrooge” and starting out with negative thoughts about yourself and your scroungy habits every morning, it allows you to positively think, “What’s my word? Thanksgiving. Ahhh, yes! There’s always something to be thankful for. What will it be this morning?” It’s like a healthy, spiritual scavenger hunt rather than a condescending, supposedly motivational whipping to get yourself in order by calling yourself a dirty rotten scoundrel. Or Scrooge, as the case may be.

If you’re like me, negativity begets negativity. If I allow myself to focus on my downfalls before I’ve cleared the sleep from my eyes, I’m automatically thinking in a back and forth, ping-pong match of self-belittling and worthless thoughts, rather than fixing my thoughts on whatever is true, noble, right, lovely, admirable.

Oh, the power of positive thinking … 

In case you’re a little fuzzy on how it works, I’ll tell you how choosing a word will work for me this year. There are many words I could choose, because I have a lot of character flaws. But if there’s one area that constantly pricks my conscience, it’s my prayer life – or lack thereof. So, for 2015, I’ve chosen the word ASK. It was tempting to choose FRET, because come 2016, I would have a guarantee of success! But remember, I’m trying to be positive. So I’ll stick to the antitdote to fret, in the hopes that I will make more of a habit of asking my Heavenly Father to carry my burdens, bear my load, show me how to change, empower me to change, convict my loved ones to change, heal my friends of their infirmities, and many other requests, I’m sure. The point is to “put off” fretting and “put on” asking. Not by focusing on the problem, but on the solution.

Sunday night, the Coats’/Wilkenson’s were eating dinner, and Jack wanted dismissed from the table early. He was granted that request, but as usual, he eventually wandered back to sit in a big person chair. He scooched said chair out, while Ashlee and I continued to converse. Soon, he was grunting and wiggling and fussing, and when it became obvious that both Mom and Marmee were completely oblivious to his struggle, he poked his head over the table and bellowed, “Help!”

His loud request snapped us back to reality, and in no time, I had him firmly positioned in his seat … simply because he was humble enough (and smart enough!) to ask.

God isn’t like me and Ashlee ~ engrossed, not paying attention, unaware of needs. He’s fully omniscient, but rather than simply reaching down and granting us our heart’s desire, He wants us to stop struggling, peek over our obstacles, and voice the need for His help.

He wants us to ASK

All things by prayer and supplication. 

I don’t know if that’s so difficult because of pride, or because we get too busy to ask for assistance. But either way, it’s a nasty habit. So this year, I resolve to ask more. Not for more, necessarily. But more often, necessarily. I want to be more mindful that the friend I have in Jesus can aid me in temptation, has paved the way for me to come boldly to His throne, and is eager to hear my needs, hopes, dreams, and concerns. It’s my job to not ask amiss, and sometimes I don’t know how to do that. But it’s in the asking that the skill of learning what to ask for is perfected – not in avoiding the privilege of asking in the first place. 

While I’m eager to do better in 2015, I’m also honest. Fact is, I’m going to fail … and that’s okay. I’m not shooting for perfection. Just direction. And I know full well that if I succeed, it will be by obediently acting on one, small, three-letter word … and trusting one very big, competent God.

Praise through Suffering (at Christmas Time)

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I wrote the following words on Monday. Hope you enjoy, even though it’s tardy and outdated. Thank you for praying for us this week during Ashlee’s difficult illness and the birth of August Fynn!

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As most of you probably know, Shaun and I are expecting our third grandbaby this Christmas season. Baby Wilkenson’s official due date isn’t until January 1, but we all know babies come when babies are good and ready, right? So it’s crossed our minds that the newest addition to the family could choose to show on Christmas.

Who knows?

That’s the exciting news in our brood. The not so exciting news is that all but one member of the Coats/Wilkenson families have recently been laid flat, sick with a bug that settles in our lungs, spikes a raging fever, and leaves no doubt in our minds that some thug has beaten every inch of our bodies with a baseball bat. Maybe a crowbar. For me personally, the aches and pains have settled in problematic areas that my physical therapist has been working on for the past month. In the early mornings, when the pain is at it’s highest, I have found myself asking  …

Who will deliver me from this body of death?  And praying …

Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

The combination of expecting a grandbaby and being so ill has helped me hone in on the real Reason for the season: baby Jesus, who came to put an end to suffering.That’s not to say I will ditch traditional activities. I will still give gifts, receive gifts, make cookies with Jack Jack, and together, our families will attend a few Christmas festivities. Not much will change on the outside. It’s just to say that my mind and heart are being a little more fine tuned to the long expected One of long ago who will someday deliver me from a body of death, either by death itself or by His return.

Not only is there an end to sickness, but to sorrow that comes with the death of loved ones, emotional turmoil, and every type of suffering one could possibly endure here on earth. All because Christ thought it not robbery to lower Himself and come to earth as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, and ultimately die to wipe away our sin and suffering, and give us every spiritually blessing. All for the asking.

I don’t know what kind of response that evokes in you, but the first thought that pops into my mind is pretty simple and heartfelt:

Praise the Lord and pass the prescription strength Motrin! 

Not overly eloquent, I know. But thankfully, Saeed Abidini, an American citizen who has been imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith, has voiced his praise much more eloquently than I ever could in a letter he wrote to his family this past week (copied and posted below). May it bless you as it has me. And no matter the severity of our sufferings, help us, Lord, to lift our gaze upward and “soak in the lava love of Jesus” this Christmas season! 

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Rajai Shahr Prison 2014

Merry Christmas!

These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.

These cold and brittle conditions have made me wonder why God chose the hardest time of the year to become flesh and why He came to the earth in the weakest human condition (as a baby). Why did God choose the hardest place to be born in the cold weather? Why did God choose to be born in a manger in a stable, which is very cold, filthy and unsanitary with an unpleasant smell? Why did the birth have to be in such a way that it was not only hard physically, but also socially? It must have brought such shame for Mary and her fiancé that she was pregnant before marriage in the religious society of that time.

Dear sisters and brothers, the fact of the Gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus. Today we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the Word of Life and Salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection. We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God. We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world. Then we are able to give the fiery love of Christ to the cold wintery manger of those who are spiritually dead. It might be necessary to come out of the comfort of our lives and leave the loving embrace of our family to enter the manger of the lives of others, such as it has been for me for the third consecutive Christmas. It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas means that God came so that He would enter your hearts today and transform your lives and to replace your pain with indescribable joy.

Christmas is the manifestation of the radiant brightness of the Glory of God in the birth of a child named Emmanuel, which means God is with us.

Christmas is the day that the heat of the life-giving fire of God’s love shone in the dark cold wintry frozen hearts and burst forth in this deadly wicked world.

The same way that the heat from the earth’s core melts the hard stones in itself and produces lava, the fiery love of God, Jesus Christ, through the virgin Mary’s womb came to earth on Christmas to melt the hard heart of sin and wickedness of the world and removes them from our life. In the same process, the work of the Holy Spirit is a fiery rain of God’s Holiness and Mercy that flows into our body, soul and spirit and brings the light of Christ into us and through us making this dark, cold, wintry world into radiant burning brightness. He is turning our world into a world full of peace, joy, and love that is so different than the dark, cold, and wintry world that we used to live in. Hallelujah!

So this Christmas let the lava-like love of Christ enter into the depth of your heart and make you fiery, ready to pay any cost in order to bring the same lava love to the cold world around you, transforming them with the true message of Christmas.

Pastor Saeed Abedini

Soaking in the lava love of Christ

The Gift and the Giver

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I’m reading a book entitled Women of the Word, by Jen Wilkins. It’s an insightful, instructional read on how to approach the Bible with both brains and emotions in gear. Wilkins advocates coming to Bible study seeking to know who God is, rather than seeking an emotional fix or high. Not that fixes and highs don’t ever come through Bible study, it’s just to say that they shouldn’t be the main objective.

I kept Wilkins’ suggestion in mind as I focused on Ephesians 1 throughout Thanksgiving. The main objective of Thanksgiving, of course, is to count our blessings. There’s nothing wrong (and everything right) about that, and Ephesians 1 serves to guide a soul that errs toward seeing the bad in everything to repent and see things in an eternal light. But the danger is this:

The tendency to focus on the gift, rather than the Giver. 

Ephesians 1 makes a tidy, impressive list of all we’ve been given:

We are blessed with every spiritual blessing. (vs. 3)

We were chosen before the foundation of the world. (vs. 4)

We are adopted. (vs. 5)

We are accepted. (vs. 6)

We are redeemed. vs. 7)

We are forgiven. (vs 7)

We can know the mystery of His will. (vs. 9)

We have a rich inheritance. (vs. 11)

We are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. (vs. 13).

Pretty cool, huh? Especially when you consider how unworthy we are to receive anything but condemnation, and how day after day, that “should-be-condemnation” stares us down when we snap at our neighbor, gaze longingly at our neighbor’s wife, commit road rage, or … whatever. Our failures prompt us to ask why, why, why? For what purpose were all of these gifts given to my weak, habitually unrighteous self?

Deep down, we know we have not been gifted because of our own intrinsic ability to do right. We also know that God was not obligated to provide us a Savior, or any eternal bennies. But if we take Jen Wilkins’ advice, and come to the Word looking for a deeper knowledge of God, we can know why He has chosen to bless us.

So let’s go back and read Ephesians 1 with the objective of focusing on God. It says:

We’ve been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ . (vs. 3)

We are chosen by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. (vs. 5 and 6)

We are redeemed through His blood, according to the riches of His grace. (vs. 7)

We can know the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.

Everything we have, we have in Christ.

We are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, because we trust and believe in Him.

We are given all of this to the praise of His glory. (vs. 14)

See the trend? It always goes back to Him. This passage reminds us that yes, we have stuff, but all we possess is in Him. Because of Him. For His glory. Isaiah 43:25 goes so far as to say our sins are blotted out for His own sake. So, painful news flash. It’s not really all about us. Yes we are given much, and those gifts should never be minimized. But when when we meditate on what we’ve been given, we should always be brought back to the bigger fact that the Giver is to be more magnified than the gift.

I want to remember that in my studies, but also as we drift from Thanksgiving to Christmas. As always, there will be much giving and getting, hustling and bustling in the Coats family. But in the midst of all the hubbub, I want to first and foremost focus on the Giver … for His glory.

Leaning into Pain

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the sexual abuse I endured when I was younger. I’ve received counseling for these issues before, but old wounds have a way of periodically resurfacing, whether of my own volition or not. And so, I’ve learned to keep dealing with them as the Lord sees fit to bring them to my mind.

The underlying, often unspoken questions of my heart during these times usually center around God’s character. I ask, If He is omnipresent, and if He is so powerful, loving, and caring, why He didn’t stop the abuse?

Finding the answer requires me to think painfully about painful things. Or said another way, it requires me to think God’s way about my pain.

So what is the answer? Where was God in my darkest hour? Why was the Enemy seemingly more powerful than the God of the universe in those moments of abuse? Well, the Bible says nothing can separate me from His love, so it’s only logical to conclude that He was right there with me, close to my heart, able, and yet unwilling to put a halt to it.

Would you throw a rotten tomato at me if I said that He even ordained the event? The Christian-y thing to say is that God allowed the abuse. The Biblical thing to say is that God ordains the events of our lives, even when they are difficult, unwelcome, and pain-filled.

I’ve certainly thrown mental rotten tomatoes at people throughout the years who taught that God is simultaneously sovereign and loving. It’s a difficult concept. But the Bible says that nothing (nada, zip, zilch!) can separate me from His love (Rom. 8:38-39). It also says that all things, even abuse, work together for my good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). So how do I reconcile the two? I can’t say God is sovereign, but unloving. Nor can I say He’s loving and not sovereign. Somehow, He’s both, at the same time. Not because I feel like He is, but because His Word says He is, period. And quite frankly, I don’t have to wrap my finite mind around it. That’s what faith is ~ believing something that doesn’t necessarily compute.

I look at the abuse this way (which happens to be God’s way): predators mean a lot of things for evil, but God means a lot of things for good.

In other words, another human can hurt me, but God has chosen to use that hurt for good. Namely, the good of drawing me to Himself. Namely, the good of enabling me to comfort others who have suffered the same fate. Namely, the good of conforming me to Christ’s image. Namely, the good of increasing my faith by prodding me to think about the past through the lens of His Word.

I could go on all day about the good that can come from someone else’s evil deeds and intentions. The point is, only God knows what it will take to draw someone to Himself. And I can say with certainty that had I not been afflicted with abuse (and many other things), that my heart never would have sought Him with the same fervency. Pain and heartache have a way of making a gal search wholeheartedly, as the deer who pants for the water brooks (Ps. 42:1).

We are promised that when we search for Him with all our heart, we will find Him. So if you are searching as if He’s afar, unreachable, or evasive, please quit. Don’t think that way. He’s near. Completely accessible at all times, and nothing ~ not persecution, not predators, not anything in or out of this world ~ can separate you from His love. He’s omnipresent, meaning, even if you tried, you wouldn’t be able to escape His presence. He loves with an everlasting love, meaning He hurts when you hurt. And He is sovereign, meaning He’s orchestrating life events as a tool to direct your gaze in His direction.

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “lean into the pain.” Sounds kinda hokey, or new age, or maybe even unbiblical. But I think there’s some wisdom in it. Running from pain simply causes more pain. You can’t sprain an ankle, deny the hurt, and continue sprinting. You have to stop, assess (and accept) the hurt, find a physician, follow the physician’s orders, rest, heal, regain strength, and then put the Nikes back on.

It’s the same spiritually. So if you’re hurting, schedule lots of appointments with the Great Physician, and lean into your pain. It’s in the leaning that you will come to resonate with Paul’s words: when I am weak, then I am strong.

Christ in My Closet

Shaun and I often go through this routine on Saturday nights: I ask him what the weather forecast is for the next morning, he whips out his handy dandy weather app as I stare mindlessly into my closet, and once he announces the forecast, I choose something appropriate to wear to church.

We do this because I’m a terrible decision maker, and I don’t want any stewing about outward appearances come Sunday morning. Deciding on clothing the night before helps me focus on the main thing. That is, Christ.

It’s easy to think that those who aren’t gifted with a sense of fashion don’t have the temptation to stew about it. Not true. Those who aren’t gifted just happen to obsess because they are clueless rather than because they are enjoying themselves.

Go ahead and laugh. It’s funny it a pathetic way.

The question is: should anyone ever obsess about what to wear?

The answer is twofold: no and yes. We shouldn’t obsess about what to put on, in the material sense. But we should obsess about what (or rather, Who) to put on, in the spiritual sense.

We can head in this direction by not treating fashion like it’s the most important decision we’ll ever make (it’s important, but not that important), by choosing garments that cover up parts that need to be covered, making sure said parts aren’t revealed when we stoop to help a child lace a shoestring, and dressing with the understanding that visual stimulation arouses a man just as a man’s touch arouses a woman. Selah.

Most importantly, we need to invite Christ into our closet, and don the fruits of His Spirit found in Galatians 5. This keeps us from fulfilling the lusts of the flesh or tempting someone else to fulfill theirs. We need to grab onto the truth that He’s clothed us with His righteousness, and whatever we put on our body can’t erase that – or make us more righteous. Therefore, we should choose what to wear as if He’s watching, exhorting, and guiding us to dress in a way that honors Him, because He is. It’s just a matter of listening and heeding His voice.

Below are some some practical steps I’ve taken to try and minimize fashion and beauty obsession. As you read, keep in mind that my situation is unique, so God’s specific plan of adorning and keeping myself from temptation is unique. Implement the steps if they are helpful, but feel free to tweak them to your situation.

First, I set a timer. I allow 45 minutes to get ready for the day. That means I have to get clean, choose clothing, put my face on, choose jewelry, and deal with my ridiculous bee hive hair in less than an hour. It’s adequate time to get the job done, but doesn’t leave time to obsess.

Second, I try not to shop unless I need a specific item. I don’t wander stores for the sheer joy of it. Partly because there isn’t any joy in it for me (way too many choices!), and partly because hobby shopping is not conducive to the family budget. Frugality is a fruit of the Spirit, I’m sure of it. Especially if you’re married to a Scotsman.

Third, I don’t spend much time perusing Pinterest and magazines that can easily tempt me to covet material things or be jealous of the bodies of beautiful models. This helps me stay content and thankful for the belongings and body God has given me.

Fourth, I consider my husband. For example, there are a few styles of blouses that I think are super cute, but Shaun feels they are too revealing. Not because the amount of skin they reveal, but because of the fit. They’re either too clingy or suggestive in his assessment. So although we sometimes disagree, I honor his wishes, because our relationship is more important than blouses.

Fifth, I work to set my affections on things above. I can’t make Christ and Heaven my focus if I’m constantly fretting about whether I fit into current fashion trends.

Last, I work to stay centered, because that’s the temptation ~ to swing right or left. So when I find myself wearing moo moos over dirty sweat pants, and curlers in my hair for six days straight, then I know I’m guilty of swinging from obsession to slothfulness.

Okay, I confess I do not own a moo moo. But we’ve all known or been the woman who “let herself go” because “she’s married now. She’s caught her fish, so why bother?”

The Bible has plenty to say about slothfulness too, right? While there’s no need to imitate June Cleaver by perfecting housewifery in pearls and high heels, there’s every reason to live as though we care about the Holy Spirit’s temple, and to be considerate of those around us.

In closing, when we work overtime to appear magazine cover worthy, we are usually working for the approval of others, and that’s always a dead end road. But when we work hard to develop a gentle and quiet spirit and other fruitfulness, we work to live up to who we already are: perfectly righteous before God, because of what Christ has done for us. That may be the narrow road, but it’s also the road that leads to life and godliness … and that’s always a win win.

Proverbs Are Principles, Not Promises

I love the wisdom found in every book of the Bible, but especially Proverbs. It’s a book packed with principles that serve to guide us through the difficulties of life. Unfortunately, I think we can take those principles, and mistake them for promises.

I remember a time when I was raising teenagers, and you know how it is … teens don’t always listen to your wisdom. But I knew well the verse in Proverbs 22:6 that says train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

My first wrong thought was that 14, 15, 16, and anything teen was “old.” My second wrong thought was that Proverbs were promises.

Last week, I was in a conversation that caused me to glean from the book of Proverbs once more. Chapter 15, verse 1 says that a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. My first wrong thought in this case was that “a” soft answer equals “one” soft answer. But what I learned is that sometimes, it takes many soft answers, and sometimes, a soft answer could be no answer at all. Still, from tough conversations throughout the years, I’ve learned that Proverbs 15:1 doesn’t always magically pan out.

The hope is that a soft answer will turn away wrath, and we should always act as if it will. And the hope is that when your child is old, if you have raised him in the way he should go, he will not depart from it. So always train as if the principle will pan out. But also ask yourself, “How old is old?” And realize that, no matter what you do, the results of godly child rearing, soft answers, and many other wise ways of living life are ultimately up to a sovereign God. People may remain angry no matter what you say or how you say it. And kids will live a life according to the way God chooses to turn their hearts. We are merely His instruments of grace.

Is it a bummer that the above Proverbs are principles, not promises? Perhaps in some way. But take heart. When dealing with difficult relationships, as long as there is breath, there is hope.

A Time for Rest

Recently, I’ve been asked by several people how my writing is coming along (and by “several”, I mean a whopping five – hehee), so here’s a quick update:

I’m taking a hiatus.

Well, I take that back. I am writing, but mostly in my private journals and in my head.

I’ve ceased all regular blog and book writing until after my second and third grandbabies are born (one down, one to go!). See?

Todd1

My Lil Ol’ Todd

Ecclesiastes says there’s a time for everything. I believe rest is included in that. And rest for me right now looks like spending time with my kids and their kids. To enjoy life as it comes. To breathe deep and make a few important life decisions with Shaun that are hanging over our heads.

One way I am resting is by picking up the pace on my reading. I’m sponging up everything from Ernest Hemingway and (gasp!) Stephen King on writing, to Matthew Henry on the art of keeping a meek and quiet spirit and other spiritual help books.

In other words, I am taking in more than I am putting out. Writing is akin to being a faucet. It’s output. And if there isn’t an adequate amount of input to restore the output, then mental, spiritual, emotional, and even physical exhaustion can creep in. That’s not to say that writing has been the only thing that has zapped me of energy, but it is to say that it’s one of several culprits.

And so … in my reading, resting, and taking life as it comes rather than by the horns, I’m being replenished. Quenched. And refreshed.

Some day, I will hit it hard again. Although I am done with regularly scheduled blog writing, when I pick up my quill once more, I’ll concentrate on other projects that have the potential to capture a bigger audience. I think of it like giving up a good ministry for a potential better, and maybe even best ministry.

Hopefully that explains my solitude as of late. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know that I’m still hanging around, and at times, I post a few elongated thoughts and provocative political posts (ssssiiigh). These FB posts allow me to shorten my “blogs” by 80%, and it saves you the exhaustion that comes from just one. more. click.

*snort

Killer first world problems.

Take care, readers. Before you go, feel free to share with me (here or privately) what you do to rest. What in your life could be identified as output? And what does input look like to you?

The Beauty of Plan B: A Post for Moms

So the plan for this Wednesday was for Ashlee and me to whip up some lasagne in the morning, throw it in the fridge, then toss it in the oven before small group. The recipe called for a pound of Italian sausage and fresh garlic, but when I rummaged through the meat drawer, no sausage. And when I rummaged through the veggie drawer, no garlic.

“We can substitute the sausage with hamburger,” I said.

“What about the garlic?” she asked.

We asked around, and the general consensus was that lasagne without garlic was like a sundae without fudge. So the plan became for me to resume scrubbing burnt, black scum off the bottom of a soup pan, while Ashlee did an about face into the living room to find her keys.

It would nearly be lunch time before she got back from the store. I was sick. Jack was sick, fussy, needy.

Was lasagne worth all the trouble today?

I continued to scrub scum, anxious to get upstairs and recuperate from whatever was causing me to be so lethargic and nauseated. A few borderline delirious thoughts crossed my mind …

Garlic is highly overrated. Sausage, too. Tuna sandwiches are superior to lasagne. I don’t have any desire or oomph to slave away in the kitchen today. Who am I? Martha Stewart? I doubt Jack wants to make a grocery run, even it meant a ride on the mechanical horsie. 

Jack started crying for the umpteenth time. Ashlee tended to him, while I rummaged through the pantry for canned tomatoes, and other items needed to make garlic infested lasagne. When I closed the pantry, Ashlee’s disgruntled face was there behind it, and without missing a beat, she said in her matter-of-fact tone, “I’m not going to the store for garlic. That would just be stupid on this day and I’m not doing it.”

Have you ever had one of those moments where the air is so thick with tension you could cut it with a knife, and then someone says what everyone is thinking, and it’s as if that thick, suffocating air just, poof! Dissipates?

This was one of those moments. Ashlee’s honesty broke the tension, and we both erupted into crazy, belly-aching laughter, because phew! This day just got a lot more doable.

Feet4

It can be a temptation for moms and homemakers to make the next right step more treacherous than need be. We’re pressured to conform ourselves to Martha Stewart and Barefoot Contessa, when Biblically speaking, our only duty is to work in accordance with God in conforming ourselves to the image of Jesus Christ.

Famous women who specialize in how to spice up lasagne and beautify a home are awesome. I revere them. I often tap into their wisdom and strengths and talents. But some days? Making tuna on wheat with a side of sliced cucumbers and a spoonful of mac and cheese is more Christ-like than striving way beyond necessary to make a magazine worthy meal. Recognizing and tending to real, felt needs in those around us creates a simple atmosphere of peace – and doing so should trump our desire to create beauty, have a spic and span home, or make a Pinterest worthy pan of lasagne.

On the flip side, there will be days when meeting real, felt needs will mean we do everything in our power to mimic the aforementioned famous women and the most godly thing we can do will be to crank out a gourmet meal, usher the kids to a friend’s house, and don our husband’s favorite dress and heels in celebration of his birthday.

It just depends.

That’s the challenge of the Christian walk: keeping balanced whilst taking the next right step. And more pointedly, keeping balanced whilst taking the best next right step. There’s a difference. The idea here isn’t to take a step, any step. The idea is to get out of our own heads and hobbies to see the needs and desires of others, while being readily willing to admit that sometimes … the best next right step is plan B. Or C.

Love1

Pastor Mike always says flexibility is a fruit of the Spirit. While we don’t find that exact phrase in Scripture to describe the fruit of the Spirit, we do find it in principle with the words love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Love flexes by joyfully chowing down on tuna when the palate begs for Italian.

Joy flexes by finding true identity in Christ, not mad cooking skills.

Peace flexes by fussing over the sick rather than fanciful food.

Longsuffering flexes by eating tuna three nights in a row, if need be.

Kindness flexes by making the best tuna sandwich possible ~ and the best lasagne, as soon as possible.

Goodness flexes by eating to live, rather than living to eat.

Gentleness flexes by accepting God’s agenda for the day.

Self-control flexes by doing all of the above with a smile.

The beauty of plan B’s or C’s is that they often reveal the true beauty that lies within the hidden person of the heart. And if the inner beauty of a meek and quiet spirit is what we’ve been admonished to work on most (I Peter 3:4), then let’s be willing to humble ourselves and admit that simple, convenient, non-flashy steps are often best steps.

The Art of Articulation

Funny. When I sat down to write this morning, I accidentally typed “The Art of Alliteration” in the box where the title belongs. I meant  “articulation” rather than “alliteration”, of course, but my typo just goes to show my point today – that communication is a difficult feat that requires practice, patience, and prayer if it’s going to be effective.

The Broken Quill

In Exodus 25:10-22, the Lord’s instructions for building the Ark of the Testimony were pretty picky. And by picky, I mean precise and articulate …

The Ark shall be made of acacia wood.

Make it two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half tall.

Overlay it with gold, inside and out.

Etcetera, etcetera. It reminds me of Noah and the Ark, and the Lord’s precise instructions on building it before sail away day.

I wonder if God ever needed to repeat the building plans for either the Ark or the Ark of the Testimony. Any misunderstandings would have been the fault of Noah or the people of Israel, as God cannot flub up. But because people are finite, I bet His instructions were mangled several times before everything was built just so, like He wanted.

Maybe the Lord said what I’ve often said to my own kids:

Okay, repeat that back to me, word for word, so I know you understand correctly.

When my kids would repeat me, they’d often do so perfectly, but when it came time to perform their assigned duty, they wouldn’t follow my instructions, because though they could repeat my words, they didn’t understand my words.

Sometimes, though we speak the same language with our fellow Americans, brothers, sisters, friends, spouses, etc., there can be a disconnect and confusion that leaves us feeling like we’ve stepped back in time ~ clear back to the Tower of Babel.

A child says he wants chocolate ice cream, his mom thinks he said chocolate chip.

My friend says to meet on Thursday at 2:00, but I hear my friend say Tuesday at 2:00.

The husband says to pay off bills. The wife thinks he says rack up bills. (Ha!)

These are lighthearted examples, but sometimes, miscommunication can be anything but comical. Like when a patient tells the doctor his pain level is at a ten but the doctor thinks he said a two, when one spouse tries to explain hurt feelings and the other spouse is simply not capable of understanding, or when a teenager can’t get a parent to understand his problems at school.

How is a Christ-like person supposed to respond when, for whatever reason, communicative barriers are raised?

I think the answer is to persist. If you’re the one being misunderstood, keep talking. Articulate. Form your words differently than you have in the past. Maybe use word pictures. In Matthew 13:13, Jesus said He spoke to the people in parables because “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” There’s something powerful in a word picture, so get creative and instead of saying “I didn’t like what was said”, say “their words felt like a two edged knife being thrust into my C-1 vertebrae.” Or whatever. The point is to be patient and persistent, rather than insanely saying the same thing over and over and getting nowhere.

The other point is to pray. Whether we’re struggling with the art of articulation or understanding someone else’s attempt at the art of articulation, we need God’s help. There will be times when frustrations are so high we don’t know what to pray. But thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit, who helps us in our weaknesses and makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. That’s not to say we mumble sloppy prayers. It’s just to say that when we are weak, He is strong. And sometimes, a simple “Jesus, help!” is all that’s needed.

JackHorsies

Sometimes, Jack will come running to Ashlee in a total panic. So Ashlee will say, “Jack, no. Calm down. Stop whining and gasping for air. Use your words.”

At that point, a stream of loud gobbledygook usually comes bursting forth …

Bedeebelawannanannawoomawaloomaloom da horsie!!

Ashlee doesn’t understand everything he says. But she does understand “horsie”, and from there, she can draw a logical conclusion that Jack wants to be taken out to the field to see some four legged creatures.

Once a small bit of understanding is reached, more understanding usually follows. So we should be like Jack, in that we attempt the art of articulation, unabashedly. But we should also be like Jesus, in that we attempt the art of articulation patiently, precisely, prayerfully, and pictorially, if necessary. Eventually, something’s going to make sense. And when things start making sense, problems get solved, feelings get healed, and relationships get restored.

Yikes! A Blog About Submission!

Car1

Okay so, straight to the point this week with a few questions and thoughts that have been running through my head as a result of last Sunday morning’s sermon entitled Money and God’s Agenda.

I am an unemployed homemaker, writer, wife, mother, and grandma (What!? Sometimes it still shocks me that I’m a grandma). And I’m married to a guy who makes a good living and typically makes the financial decisions, right? Right. I realize not every household works this way, nor are they required to, but I’m writing to those who are in the same or a similar boat.

So … how does the admonition for God’s people to use their money to glorify God apply to someone in my situation?

If the chief end of man (and wife) is to glorify God, and man (and wife) are to glorify God with their finances, but said man has leadership over said wife, then how is said wife expected to glorify God with money she doesn’t have dominion over?

Now, the subject of submission, in either written or lived out form, is not exactly my forte. But give me five minutes to ‘splain what I’ve come up with so far as I’ve thought this through. First, submission is not passive. So while the wife may not have the final say in financial decisions, if her marriage is healthy, her voice will be considered when it comes to who buys what, and when, and how much is spent. The wife may not have dominion over the finances, but she should have an influence in financial decisions.

God has made man to lead his wife and family, but the result of the Fall was that the woman would desire to rule over her husband. Therefore, though consulting the wife is a reasonable and loving thing to do, she should not manipulate her husband in any way when he humbly asks for her opinion. And by manipulation, I mean like, you know … crying when he says she can’t buy curtains or withholding sex until he agrees to at least let her sew the curtains at a lower cost. For example.

There’s godliness in learning to accept no for an answer.

Secondly, there is no secondly. That’s pretty much it. And what I’m finding, is that if the concept of a wife’s opinion being overruled sparks an adrenaline rush the size of the Rogue River in a her heart, then there are likely deeper issues. Not with her husband, per se. Not with the family pocketbook. But with the Lord.

God has orchestrated the family in such a way that the husband is the head, the wife is the helpmeet, and the children are to honor and obey both the husband and the wife. Nobody is of lesser value or importance than the other. This “setup” is simply a way to avoid chaos – similar in theory to the military ranking system. If there were not headship in the military, when it came time to do battle, it would be total mayhem.

And let’s face it … the family is Satan’s battleground.

If you think about it, the Trinity also works in this way. There’s God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are all equal, but they all have different roles. The Father is the head, the Son is submissive to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is submissive to both the Father and the Son.

Otherwise? Chaos.

 

Esch33

I know that some wives are probably thinking, well if you only knew what my husband did in 1966 and is still doing today!

Yeah, I get it. We all struggle with bitterness from having to live with the ramifications of our husband’s decisions, financial or otherwise (unless of course it turns out well!). But here’s the thing:

The husband will answer to God for every financial decision he ever makes. That’s a weighty truth that removes the heaviness of decision making from wives, and thus removes eternal ramifications from wives.

If the wife is under the conviction that her husband has or plans to make a poor decision, and her input is unheeded, I would suggest a few things. One, pray. Two, seek outside help if needed and he is open to it. Three, turn on the Disney song “Let It Go” and rock on. If he decides against her favor, she may, in an earthly sense, become poor. But if she responds to his decision in Biblical submission, she most certainly will, in an eternal sense, become rich.

To conclude, the wife is only responsible for how she responds to the husband’s leadership, not the decisions the husband makes while exercising his leadership.

I think if husbands would live according to these truths, it would make them more responsible, and apt to ask for input. And if wives would live according to these truths, it would make them what truth always makes a person: free! Free to submit, free to give and receive love in spite of disagreements, free to trust that God knows what He’s doing and is lovingly sovereign, in every life situation.

So, that’s it – the gist of my thoughts. If they feel incomplete, they probably are. Who can thoroughly discuss such a complicated matter in 917 words? If you have questions, rebuttals, or a beef with this blog, you’re in good company. I often have a beef with my blogs, too. You are welcome to email me at gloriapatri7@gmail.com to discuss further. Or, as always, feel free to comment.

 

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