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Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

You haven’t noticed her at church before.  She must be new.  She seems awfully young (a teen!) to have a babe on her hip.  And, what’s this?  She’s pregnant, too?  She slumps in the pew as if to make herself smaller, almost invisible. 

She’s sitting with a woman you recognize as a long-time member.  The people who have offered the young woman welcome inquire as to the whereabouts of her husband.  The two women are vague on this point.  Rumor has it that the babe on her hip and the babe in her belly have different fathers. 

Should you greet her?  Welcome her? Invite her to brunch?  Maybe it’s better to keep your distance.  Obviously, this gal hasn’t been brought up right.

If this was your response, you would have rejected my great-grandmother.

Yes, the young woman in this story was real.  The babe in her belly was my grandfather.

We all make judgments based on the limited information that we have.  The trouble is that we don’t have the whole story.  Only God does.

God sees our whole truth – the reasons we behave the way we do, the circumstances surrounding our actions, our baggage, our history, everything.  While He doesn’t excuse away our bad behavior, He does have infinite compassion for us. 

God has tasked us in return to love others without judgment, to choke back our pride long enough to realize that we don’t know everything about every person we meet.  Isn’t this what we would want from others?

Now, here’s what you didn’t know about the young woman in the story:

My great-grandmother married at the age of sixteen.  Her husband was an Englishman who swept her off her feet.  But he was a terrible drunk who beat her.  At nineteen, she took their two-year-old son and fled for her life to her mother’s house.  In that town, she fell into the arms of a man who promised her the moon – and got her pregnant.   The boy born to her (my grandfather) was treated by society as rubbish because he was a “bastard child.” He carried the shame of this label his whole life. 

Later, my great-grandmother married a good man who took them all in and raised the boys as his own.  My grandfather grew into an upright, wise man of exceptional character, who in turn mentored other fatherless boys.

I have been guilty of judging people without knowing their story.  I have judged people who seem just a liiiiiitle less “good” than me.  Unless you and Jesus are twins, you have done it, too.

For just one day, remember that each person you meet has a story. 

Remember that God is the only one who knows it. 

And leave the judging up to Him, who loves us all.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  (Matthew 23:27-28, NIV)

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If you happen to be taking a stroll through my neighborhood on any given summer morning, you will probably see me working in the garden.  (This Montana-grown, transplanted-to-the-south gal has to have her hands in the dirt!)  While I’m working, God often takes the opportunity to teach me.  This summer, I thought it might be fun to pass on some of what I’m learning, à la mini-Bible study, from the garden.  Grab a shovel or a cup of coffee and join me in my garden!

 ____________________________________________________

 

Ladies and gentlemen, let the record reflect that I am mean with a cultivator.  It’s a good thing, too, because besides being a rigorous tricep workout, cultivating is one of the most important tasks in the garden.  I am by no means a gardening expert, but here are the two main benefits, as far as I can tell:

  1. It keeps weeds and grass (which rob plants of water and nutrients) out of the garden bed.  Clawing at the dirt with a cultivator will reveal weeds and grass that you didn’t even know were growing.  By the time a blade of Bermuda grass shows above ground, its root system is already established.  For a healthy garden, cultivate frequently so that weeds and grass don’t get a foothold.
  2. It aerates the soil.  I like to keep my garden soil fluffy.  Cultivating keeps the ground from getting packed.  Fluffy soil can accept water and fertilizer, and the plant roots don’t have to work so hard to push through the dirt.

One morning as I was whacking away at the dirt, God was showing me a parallel between cultivating a garden and cultivating a life.

I don’t know about yours, but my life is fertile ground for weeds and grass.  Resentments, grudges, irritations, pride – all of these rob me of the abundant life I am meant to have in Christ. They threaten the health of my relationships.  They rob me of joy.    

I need to be vigilant so that these crummy weeds don’t get a foothold.  If I neglect to uproot them, they will get bigger and suffocate my growth.

Metaphorically speaking, frequently cultivating my life also keeps me from becoming so hardened that I cannot accept the watering and fertilizing – the good things – with which God might bless me.

What about you?  What are the weeds in your life?  Is there something you need to release?  What is robbing you of joy?

Digging deeper:  Locate your Bible.  Blow off any dust which may have accumulated there.  Go to where there are things growing in some dirt, either in your yard, or in a pot on the windowsill.  Read Matthew 13:1-23.  Now reflect for as long as you like upon the soil of your life.  What is growing there?  Are you satisfied with this?

Let’s pray:  Dear God, there are so many weeds in my life!  I name them silently now…  Help me to uproot them so that nothing will hinder my walk with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

garden

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Shortly after we were married, the company my husband was working for folded under mysterious circumstances, and its owner disappeared into the night.  For the next eleven months, my husband was without full-time work.  We were broke. 

We weren’t exactly rolling in the dough before he lost his job.  We were young and just beginning our careers, so this was quite a blow.

We took work anywhere we could get it.  I had a few piano students, took singing gigs wherever I could and decorated ice cream cakes at his mother’s store.  He worked for a neighbor who had a landscaping business and took odd jobs from anyone who offered.

We ate rice and beans.  We went to the public library for dates.  We bought our clothing at thrift stores.  And when it all got to be too much, we volunteered at a soup kitchen to remind us that there were others who had it far worse.

We couldn’t give up, though.  We had freshly promised before God and many witnesses to stick with each other “in plenty and in want.”  With some age and perspective on me now, I can see that God gave us that time of want as a wedding gift.

We were dependent upon each other for survival, so we learned trust.

We worked on our situation together, so we learned teamwork.

We had very little, so we learned the benefits of simplicity.

We couldn’t afford everything we needed, so we learned to set priorities.

We were desperate with worry, so we learned to depend on God.

I have heard it said that the purpose of marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy.  This weekend, my man and I will celebrate eighteen years of holy-making: sickness, health, plenty, want, better and worse.  (With all we’ve been through in the last eighteen years, we ought to be pretty “holy-fied” by now.  God is still working on us…)

Funny, it’s those early days I miss – days before kids and schedules and mortgages and careers.  Life was simpler then.

I have a feeling that our life will return to simplicity once again.  But by that time, the girl in the marshmallow wedding dress and the guy with the inappropriate moustache will be silver-haired and wrinkly.

And we will thank God for our most unusual wedding gift – a disguised blessing.

 wedding

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  (James 1:2-3, NIV)

P.S. This post was published at a coffee shop.  (Landscapers have seen to it that I have no internet.)  Your comment may not appear until tomorrow, when certain cut cables should be repaired.  :/  Thanks for your patience.  – wwh

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Her shoulders hunched, she slinks down the hall, clutching her books to her underdeveloped chest.  She does her best to be invisible.  Maybe today they won’t notice her.  Maybe today they will just leave her alone.

She catches a glimpse of her reflection in a classroom window.  “Oh, God,” she thinks, “am I that ugly?”

Maybe if she were thinner…

“Hey, Freak!”

The familiar shrill breaks her train of thought.

“Hey, Freak Show, we’ve got a question for you.”

They circle her.  They are the predators; she, the prey.

“Yeah, we were just wondering – are you a boy or a girl?  We can’t tell.”

“I think she’s a lesbo.”

“Totally.  Or a dog.”

“Well, a female dog!  You know what they call female dogs, don’t you?”

She hurries past them, through the chorus of laughter, barking noises and obscenities.  And she promises herself that today, she will not eat lunch.

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Conflict-avoidant person that I am, I write in shades of vanilla.  I never want to offend anyone, or take too strong a stand on any issue.  But there are times that silence is wrong, and vanilla tastes foul.  This is one of those times.

As a mother of two daughters, I am keenly aware of the insane amount of pressure on young girls to be something they are not.  If they don’t wear pounds of make-up, then they are ugly.  If they are not waifs, then they are fat.  If they don’t look like barely-covered/air-brushed/computer-enhanced models, then they are nothing.

To adults, the requirements for fitting in seem ridiculous, even unbelievable.  But to a girl in her tween and teen years, the Rules of Acceptance are very real indeed.

The world shouts at them that they aren’t good enough.

Their friends turn on them in an instant, if it keeps them from being odd girl out.

They feel utterly alone in their misery – though sadly, they are not.

And then there is the bullying…

Someone needs to make war on this bacteria-infested petri dish of a culture in which girls must fight for survival.  Right now, that someone is me. 

I am beginning a ministry.

While even typing those words sends a quiver of fear through me, I am more afraid of what will happen if I stand silent and do nothing.  Who will tell the girls that the messages they are hearing as truth are, in fact, lies?  Who will tell them who they really are?  Who will say to them, “You matter.  You are chosen.  You are loved beyond measure, and more beautiful than you know.”? 

We will.

Here is my first step (and I hope you’ll join me):

 www.4thegrlz.com

It is a Christian site by and for girls.  It is hope and encouragement for girls in the torrential sea that is adolescence. 

I invite you to take a look.  Then, tell your friends who have daughters about it.  Tweet about it.  Share it on Facebook.  Pass it on by e-mail.  Encourage your own daughters to sign up, comment and guest blog for it(I am not the blog author, but a blog author.)

If God is willing, this site is only the beginning.  Last year, I finished writing a book for girls.  It has not seen the light of day, but when God gives the “all clear”, I will shoot that book like an arrow out to wherever God wills it to go.

I am doing battle.

Somebody has to.

oddgirlout

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My grandfather had no use for churches, but he paraphrased Jesus all the time, whether he knew it or not.  One of his favorite sayings was, “When you point your finger at someone, just remember that there are three fingers pointing back at yourself.” 

Jesus said that, too.  Not exactly like that, but He said it.

There has been a lot of finger-pointing going on at my house this week by all four members of my family.   (Is there a full moon?)  At our dinner table, fingers are pointing north, south, east and west.

And I think I might just go bananas over it.

My grandfather wasn’t much of a talker.  He preferred to listen.  Unsnapping the pocket of his western shirt to dig out a cigarette, he’d light up, then, elbows on the table and calloused hands clasped, listen to the conversation going on around him.  Occasionally, he would come out with a well-timed joke, but he didn’t give his opinion much, even if you asked for it.

There are plenty of opinions expressed at our table, and sharply at that.

To my knowledge, my grandparents never locked their front door.  The protocol was to knock on your way in, and shout, “Helloooo?  Anybody home?”

“None but us chickens,” came the reply, and the greetings, and the joviality, and the eating of Sunday morning pancakes would commence.

Our door opens by appointment.

How can I change all this – the finger-pointing, opinion-bellowing and guarded welcoming?

Oh, yeah.  Three fingers pointed back at me…

Great.  That means I need to look at my behavior at least three times before I look at someone else’s.  That means I need to remove that two-by-four sticking out of my eye before I can see well enough to remove the fleck of sawdust from another person’s eye.  That means I need to listen to other people’s opinions rather than being intent on defending my own.

And it means my door should be open, just in case Jesus drops by for pancakes.

 My grandparents

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  (Luke 6:42, NIV)

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Sometimes a holiday break can be one day too long.  Such was the case at our house this Thanksgiving weekend.  One daughter had a bad day.  The other daughter provoked her.  The wronged daughter decided to show her displeasure by defacing a piece of our property.  A valuable piece of property.

My husband got “that look.”  His jaw was set about two inches farther outward than usual, his eyes narrowed, and his breath shortened.  I suggested that he take a moment to compose himself before responding.

Through clenched jaw and gritted teeth, he replied, “You handle this.”

Well, we handled it together.  After a coarse tongue-lashing, the offender was sent to her room so that we could discuss her sentence.

Once we had vented, we mulled our options.  There was so much damage done to the property that even if we held back her allowance for an entire year, it wouldn’t be enough money to fix it.  Oh there would be consequences, but we realized that this is one debt she cannot re-pay.  It is too big.

We went to her room to deliver said consequences.  She was utterly torn up with guilt and shame.  I was stomach-sick for her.  I know how it feels to wish with all your heart that you could take back something that you did or said.  We still had to discipline her, but we also told her that we love her, and nothing she could do would ever take that away. There was a tearful apology, forgiveness was extended and hugs exchanged.

So this is what it must feel like to God, I thought.  Maybe like me with my daughter, He is stomach-sick over what we’ve done and the pain we’ve caused ourselves.  We’ve done so much damage that there is no way for us to re-pay the debt.   It is too big.

This is it.  This is the reason for Jesus.  This is the reason He came. 

He comes now to blot out our mess.  He comes to make us right once again, to wipe our tears, to give us comfort and to extend forgiveness.  He has paid our overwhelming debt. 

Remember His gift as you enter Advent, and prepare with a grateful heart.

Remember to extend grace, love and forgiveness to all.

And if you are suffocating under a blanket of shame, throw it off.  The debt has been paid. 

Remember?

paid in full

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”  (Romans 13:8, NIV)

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I did it.  I completed my first 5K.  It was so cold that my feet were numb for the whole first mile.  Even though my nose dripped, my stomach was jittery and my gloved hands were not faring much better than my feet, I was content – thanks to adrenaline and an unexpected gift.

I won’t kid you.  I hate to run.  I’m not good at it either.  In karate class, I may aspire to be ninja-like, but running, I resemble something more like a shuffling geisha.

This race was a family affair.  My daughters had partnered with friends, and my husband, an experienced runner, wanted to run for time, so I was on my own.

Shuffle, shuffle…

I ran in my own little world, just taking in the experience.  Then I became aware of something going on, everywhere I looked.  Encouragement.

Runners who had already made the turn were high-fiving those heading to it.

A race volunteer yelled, “You’re almost halfway!  Water station up ahead!  Woo hoo!”

Spectators held a sign which read, “Go Katie J.!”

Runners spoke words of encouragement to one another: “C’mon!  Don’t stop!  You can do it!  Let’s go!”

My husband, who finished well before me, tracked back and ran with me.  “You’re doing great, Honey!  You’re almost there.  Do you hear that cheering?  That’s the finish line.  Do you have some speed in you?”

Apparently I did.  I ran.  Fast.  Faster than I thought I could.  I sprinted past the finish line, while people who didn’t even know me cheered wildly, just because I was one of the people running.

The Apostle Paul often compared living the Christian life to running a race.  Now that I have run one, I totally get that.  And I can see how terribly important it is for us to encourage each other. 

Encouragement can bring a fallen runner to his feet.  Cheers can give a runner speed she didn’t know she had.  Running alongside someone can be the wind in their back.

I am shuffling along in my life race.  At times, I can almost hear the cheers from those who have finished before me.  I am grateful for those who run beside me.  And one day, they will say, “Do you hear the cheering?  That’s the finish line.  Do you have some speed in you?”

And I will run my hardest, straight into my Father’s arms.

 Run the race!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders… And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)

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