PUT. ON. LOvE.

The Creator created.  A living organism so complex and intricate that it works with twists of nerves and the beat-beat-beat of a heart and a neck that turns a head pregnant with brilliance and glorious emotion any way it wants.  A myriad of colors doesn’t splash across our wings like a humming bird in flight, but it formed together in our mother’s womb, stringing together DNA to gaze across from us in the form of violet or topaz eyes, or maybe eyes the nondescript reflection of a cloudy ocean.  Yes, the human body almost taunts us with its miraculousness (is that a word?).

The body of Christ was meant to function in comparison.

“From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  Ephesians 4:16

I confess that the body of Christ drew me to Christianity.  The joy, the love, the peace that bonded the lives of the college students I knew who embraced this thing called a relationship with Jesus left me wanting more.  Finally, a place to be accepted for who I was, a place where honesty replaced pretense and grace trumped the need to succeed.  The body of Christ must be a strange term to those who look from the outside in. The body of Christ was meant to shine like a city on a hill, its mystery is in the love that those people who are the head and hands and feet and mouth of Jesus all give to each other and then in turn encourage the Godfidence to pour it out to a hurting world.

But just like the human body sometimes turns on itself with mutated cells or fights the invasion of foreign bodies that sicken it, I learned the hard way that the body of Christ is no different.  Perhaps a part of the body of Christ blocked your heart like so many constrictions or a wounded person in turn wounded you.  Perhaps you limp along because you have been blindsided by the sometimes sickness of these humans.  After all, the Apostle Paul wrote with that infuriating thing called a conjunction -”when.”  When means ” during the time that” so Paul added a condition to the body growing and building itself up in love.  During the time that each part is working properly, the body will grow and build itself up in love.

What do you do when the body of Christ, made up of miraculous creations who profess a relationship with the Son of God called Jesus, does not work properly?  I search my own heart,  asking God to change me.  Change me.  Protect me from bringing harm.  Enable me to be a part of healing in the name of Love- that God man who forgave on the cross and from the cross.  That God man who cried at the death of his friend, even though He knew- HE KNEW- that death was only temporary.  He still knows.

I see more lack of love in the body than at any time in my 35 years of relationship with Christ.  I read unkind and hateful comments on social media, written from “Anonymous” sources.  Church members become judge and jury, accusing each other and arguing over trivial concerns that take away from sharing the good news of the Gospel.  Rather than helping the wounded, we condemn and bury them.  Arguments erupt over worship style, leadership style.  Maturity is not “in.”  Required for upcoming church leaders: Facial hair and hipster glasses, acid washed jeans and shirt tails untucked.  Is LOVE required?

Am I part of the problem?

WE.  MUST.  STOP.

STOP what you are doing.  DROP to your knees.  and PRAY.

Jesus did.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and PRAY for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers,iwhat more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”   Matthew 5:43-47

We think love binds like so many strands of thread bind together to make a beautiful garment.   Love also separates.  It separates us from hatred.  It separates us from vengeance.  It separates us from envy.  It separates us from self-seeking.  When we are too consumed being about the business of loving, we are too busy to hate or judge, accuse or envy.

Put on love.  Adorn yourself in your finest.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Colossians 3:12-17

When Yes to God Means No

“Be on guard.  Stand firm in the faith.  Be courageous.  Be strong.  And do everything in love.”  I Corinthians 16:13-14

Kicking and screaming in 2007.  Like a disobedient and overwhelmed toddler drama queen, that’s how my heart responded to the circumstances I found myself in.  And no choice.  No way out.  Really God?  I mean, hadn’t He given me enough in the past year?  A husband deployed to Iraq for a year, a senior in high school applying to colleges, a daughter getting married in the summer, a junior higher with a bad case of mono and a cancerous lesion on her shoulder needing surgery?  And now I was supposed to move to Germany?  Leave two daughters and aging parents an ocean away?  We were to ship our car and household goods, saunter back and forth across the entire country for the wedding, drop our daughter off at the college dorm curb and move to Europe.  All within 2 weeks.  I felt abandoned.  I didn’t know how to physically do it, much less emotionally readjust to a husband who had spent the last year in a war zone and say goodbye to two daughters at once.  I wrung my heart out to God, “Why have you abandoned me?”

The next Sunday, I took my angry heart to our military chapel with our two youngest daughters.  Another well-meaning military wife had just encouraged me, “Oh, you’ll love Germany!”  I didn’t want to hear it again.  Not one more time. How could they understand?  And why was I attending a place of worship?  I sat during the singing, arms folded tightly.  Don’t. talk. to. me.  The  chaplain took his place in front of the congregation.  What he said next I’ll never forget.

“I had a sermon all prepared, and last night, God told me to change it.  There’s someone or maybe several people in here who feel like God has abandoned them.  And so, today, my message for you is: God has not abandoned you.”

I’d like to say that after that glimpse- into- eternity encounter, my heart changed completely.  It didn’t.  Yet this God of grace took the screaming toddler inside of me and held me close.  He did not condemn. He held my hand across the country and back, at the wedding, and on the dorm curb.  He took it again as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean.  I learned that saying yes to God means saying no to me.

I have met many women who live out extraordinary circumstances in what may appear to some as mundane existence.   Some reside in small towns where they were born and will probably live out the rest of their lives.  Some don’t know where to call home because the military has moved them so much. Others press on in ministry, whether it be in rural churches or urban soup kitchens. Women who have turned their palms up and said, “Yes, God!” with bowed hearts to the Creator, even though they may not understand His ways.  Women who may never be well-known by the world’s definition of fame, but by exemplifying strong faith inspire others to follow Christ with abandon.

The beautiful, energetic Army wife whose second son was born with Downs Syndrome.  She and her husband named him William for William the Conqueror.  And he conquers milestones.  His optimistic, hilarious mother handles her life with grace, humor and thanksgiving.  She said “no” to self-pity. Yes, God.

The mother of 2 young children and a husband who is gone literally half the year who stays home to give her family stability.  She and her husband have an intentionality about their marriage than I don’t see in relationships where both people are home 24/7.  She said “no” to the pressure of needing more. Yes, God.

A woman who works as a children’s speech pathologist, mostly with at risk families in poverty.  She considers her position a calling, regularly praying over her patients and asking for intercession- that God would intervene in their lives and that she can be the hands and feet of Jesus.  She said “no” to doubt.   Yes, God.

The church planter’s wife with a passion for Jesus and His Word who wonders every day, “Who will you put in my path to introduce Jesus to? When will You establish this church?”  She homeschools 3 kids, clings to God’s promises with her husband, stands firm and shows courage.  She said “no” to things seen, believing in the things hoped for. Yes, God.

A young teenage girl over 2000 years ago who met an angel and was told she would bear Emmanuel, Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Literally, breath.  God chose her because she was an ordinary girl-woman whom He knew would say yes.  She said “no” to needing all the immediate answers.  Yes, God.

Ordinary women.  Extraordinary faith.  What can we learn from those that God has called to say no to say YES to Him?







How Not to Be THAT Relative During the Holidays

Each year, dozens of articles appear on the web and social media about how to handle the holidays, especially difficult relatives.  But what if (gasp) you are one of those difficult people?  I know, I know, I’m not one of them either.  Let’s just say, hypothetically, that I am at times an annoying know-it-all, grammar corrector, and feelings reader.  Not that at any time my family has approached me or you about character flaws, but let’s pretend.  How do we make sure we aren’t the ones ruining the family get together?

My husband and I have been in-laws now for over 8 years.  Our two oldest daughters are married.  We love our son-in-laws.  We want them to love us.  Because they live rather far away and happen to be the parents of our adorable grandchildren who we miss immensely, we all have to make time to visit.  Sometimes months separate those visits.

Here is what we have learned.

1) Don’t overstay your visit.  My dear uncle, who visited us several times a year, even at the age of 85 when we were stationed overseas in the military, had a favorite Ben Franklin quote: “Fish and company have something in common.  They both start to stink after 3 days.”  I can’t remember him ever staying longer than 5 days.  You know what?  It worked!  We were always sad to see him go and couldn’t wait for him to return.  If you stay just long enough to enjoy time together, there is more anticipation of the next time.

2) Communicate, communicate, communicate.  When I was young, we mostly spent Christmas at my maternal grandparents, who lived outside of Topeka, Kansas.  We called it “The Farm” because they leased out several hundred acres for wheat, milo, and cattle.  Their rambling craftsman style home that my grandfather built perched atop a hill (yes, there are hills in eastern Kansas) that overlooked the Kansas River.  Our Christmases were living Christmas cards.  To cut a tree, we rode the old red tractor out to the pasture with Daddy John, who frequently bundled in lumberjack red and black, Bunny the collie running along side or piled in the trailer with us.  We picked out prickly and plump blue spruces, hard to decorate without hurting our hands, but smelling divine.  Floor to ceiling picture windows framed the front end of the house, where we watched with anticipation as trains wrapped around the river, deer wandered onto the property and Christmas Eve snow fell.  We played outside til we couldn’t feel hands and feet, noses red, ready to warm up by the enormous stone fireplace in the living room.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?  It was.  But my grandmother had RULES.  She complimented our grandfather, who was a professional artist.  We couldn’t eat in the living room.  We couldn’t raid the refrigerator, because she planned food and meals down to the last teaspoonful of flour.  Cookies waited under the magic silver cake cover with the pink handle, but we had to ask.  Let’s just say she wasn’t supportive of snacking.  She served every enticing meal on a dressed table with a white tablecloth, and we…are you ready for it?…had to wear shoes, nice clothes and COULD NOT LEAVE UNTIL WE WERE GIVEN PERMISSION.  Oh, Mimi, you taught me so much.  You would be horrified by smart phones.  There would be no place for a smart phone at my grandmother’s table.

Mimi wanted to know what we were doing, when we were doing it, and if we could be counted on for dinner.  She wore herself out feeding her family, her expression of love.  But she was organized.  Looking back, we didn’t respect her space enough.  Our family was punctual, but we kinda did our own thing.  If we decided we wanted to go to a movie at 2 o’clock, we did.  And Mimi’s dinner plans changed.

We should have communicated more.  When you are staying at someone else’s house, communicate more.  Be thoughtful of their time, their space, and their personalities.  Make sure they know your plans.

A word to the wise for grandparents.  If your visit is a short one, try very hard NOT to interfere with your kids’ parenting preferences.  I readily admit that this is difficult at times.  There is a place where grandparents need to be allowed to have those conversations with the grandkids so that they are respected in their own right.  Again, communicate.  Families shouldn’t be relegated to fluffy “How’s your weather?” script. We should all be working and growing together.  Be the guest or family member that is invited back with anticipation.

3) Check expectations at the door.  I think 99.9% of bad holiday visits come about because we go in with expectations of how it should be.  Expectations wrap themselves in all kinds of packages…emotional and practical.  Sometimes we have to decide for emotional, mental and spiritual health what kind of boundaries need to be set. We shouldn’t ask family to do things for us or behave a certain way because they are family.   I am still learning to ASK, not expect.  And think long and hard before I ask for certain things.  A short list would include things like being picked up from an airport (especially if it is far away), being able to use a car, having 24 hour access to grandchildren, being included in all immediate family activities.  If we don’t expect, our feelings are much less likely to be hurt.  Be the guest or family member that is invited back with anticipation.

4) Respect their home and space.  This one should be easy but is often one of the greatest sources of annoyance.  Keeping clutter confined to one room is helpful.  Getting to know how they operate is essential.  Would your daughter-in-law or sister rather have you help chop vegetables or do the dishes after dinner?  We used to clean up the kitchen for Mimi and my other grandmother, Grammy, after large meals.  WHAT FUN it was to wash and dry dishes by hand, splatter each other with suds, and laugh at dumb jokes.  One of our daughters enjoys her own space in the kitchen and appreciates clean up help; the other hands out assignments to put the meal together.   Also, learn to take cues that people may need alone time.  This is essential if you have introverts in the house.

5) MONEY. Especially if you are parents staying with young marrieds, help to buy groceries and pay for expenses.  Water bills, electric bills, gas bills can virtually double depending on how long you stay.  Our daughters always stock the refrigerator and cupboards with our favorite foods, which is incredibly thoughtful.  But we buy them dinner at least once and make sure we aren’t eating them out of house and home, usually purchasing our own snacks.  Depending on what stage of life they are at and how many children they have, young families have budgets.  It is important to pull our weight.  Be the guest or family member that is invited back with anticipation.

6)Find ways to de-stress.  If you stay anywhere longer than a couple of days, more than likely you will hear married couples “discussing,” watch a toddler melt down and cringe as a teenager mouths off.  Holidays and family can be a powder keg for stressful situations.  Instead of sticking your oar in, help de-escalate situations.  Exercise, play games, find ways to laugh.  Our family has a tradition of playing RISK every Christmas we get together.  Oh, my, a more competitive group of people never gathered around a table.  But we always end up laughing.  Yes, there is something therapeutic in trying to take over the world from a grammar-correcting, feelings-reading, know-it-all.  Unless she happens to win one year, and then she is insufferable for every year after.

Merry Christmas to all!  May your gatherings hold treasured memories.

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Cleaning Up the Poop

It was just a wisp at first.  That moment when you smell something that is out of place.  It’s not the cookies in the oven or the cinnamon tart quaintly melting on the counter.  No, this was the smell of poop.  Sewage.  You know, sewage.

Have you ever had one of those weeks?  Months? Years?  Yeah, for us it was the week before Christmas a couple years ago.  I guess we were overdue.  The sewer backed up into our basement.  We found out that there was no access.  So the plumber had to cut our main pipe to clean out the line.  Have you ever seen a main sewage pipe?  It’s almost as big around as a small woman’s waist.

Clogged.  With sewage.  Use your imagination here.  Or maybe not.

It took 4 hours of overtime, 8 pm to midnight, 3 days before Christmas to snake out the system.

When the men left, they dragged their dripping equipment across our basement floor, across our rug, up the basement stairs, and across our kitchen floor.  My husband, my hero, picked up the other end of the hose to carry it across the dining room carpeting.  It still dripped.  What was it dripping?

Black, stinky sewage.  On light tan carpeting.

My husband, my hero, stayed up until almost 2 am to clean the floor in the basement.

The next day, two days before Christmas, he threw the basement wool throw rug into our almost new high tech front load washing machine.

Which promptly clogged up the pump and just about every hose in our almost new high tech front load washing machine with little wool hairs and backed the water up onto the floor.

My pastor husband did not speak very pastorally.  Use your imagination.  Or maybe not.

Most of our family was visiting, which included our two toddler grandchildren.  Have you ever seen the amount of laundry toddlers produce?  Bless the technician’s heart who came out the day after Christmas and didn’t charge us overtime.

That Christmas was supposed to be special.  We had everyone together, except for our one son-in-law, who works an amazingly tough job away from home.  My expectations soared.  But our daughter Emily and her husband and son were moving West to Phoenix.  Our grandson’s world was turned upside down.  Our house filled with tension between the string of events caused by backed up poop and too much commotion.

I blinked and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were gone.

We didn’t get a family picture.  In fact, we got very few pictures with people in them.

We didn’t watch our traditional Christmas Eve movie.

We didn’t play a game.

We didn’t even light our Advent Wreath once.

A surprise present that I planned for my husband’s birthday in January fell terribly flat.

The expenses to fix broken things piled up.

Isn’t that what Jesus came for?

The peace the angel talked about in Luke chapter 2 was not so much a worldly peace where wars would never happen or circumstances would be perfect.  The angel spoke of a supernatural peace available from knowing God through Jesus Christ. Even though our house filled with a different aroma 3 days before Christmas, even though we didn’t take a family picture, watch our Christmas Eve movie, gather round the table for a game, or light our Advent Wreath, Jesus dwelled here.  Because He promises to be Emmanuel, God With Us.

Why do we try to hide the fact that sewage exists?  It exists physically and spiritually and mentally and emotionally.  Rejoice in peace, because our Savior is with us.  As I look back over Christmas 2013, I will find the beautiful moments and know that there is always one eternal moment to hold close in our hearts…Emmanuel God With Us.

Luke, 2:8-14

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

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