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Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category

Give up, Mr. Lincoln!

I entered a writing contest of sorts. I won’t say that I poured my sweat and blood into it, but I did give it my best, and I was pretty sure when I hit “submit” that I would be receiving a congratulatory email and the accolades of my soon-to-be peers in the writing industry. Although I am not normally one to give in to false hopes and back-patting, I could almost hear the judges hinting at a book deal. (It was a total Ralphie moment.)

Then it came, the awaited email.

It read LOSER!

I do not typically waste much effort on either self-deprecation or feeding my ego, equally selfish pursuits in my view. A bit of confidence, however, would serve me well. Unfortunately, that confidence often eludes me, leaving me easily discouraged, if not defeated.

I decided then and there to quit…everything. I wasn’t good enough. The judges had stamped “Loser” on my forehead, and nobody would read past that ever again. I resigned myself to a writing career climaxing in grocery lists and belated birthday cards, if I could find a willing audience even for those. I imagined my mailbox filled with unopened birthday cards stamped “Return to Sender.” (Yup, I can get pretty dramatic.)

At times when my husband is anchored by discouragement, I remind him of the great Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln’s pre-presidency failures would have sent most men to the unemployment office with defeat written across their faces, but not Abe! He persisted, struggled, had a nervous breakdown, and kept going until finally, WOW! President of the United States! Healer of the Great Rift (sort of)! Emancipator of Many! Does it get any better? This is what I tell my husband.

When it was my turn to feel defeated, I again referenced the life story of Abraham Lincoln. You do realize, I argued to my husband in a strange twist of perspectives, that if Abraham Lincoln had just given up, he probably would have lived a lot longer. If he had pursued a medical career instead of law and politics, he could have become a small country doctor, saved his sweetheart from early death, avoided the nervous breakdown entirely, and lived a long and happy life quietly tending to the needs of his grateful and affectionate patients in the backwoods of Illinois with a doting bride at his side and a passel of healthy children growing strong under their parent’s gentle tutelage. (While I’ve heard of a place called Reality, my dramatics only skirt its edges.)

Look how much happier Mr. Lincoln could have been had he thrown in the towel early on. Never mind the huge ramifications this scenario would have had on our country…and on the look of our monetary system and national monuments, come to think of it. Weren’t the nervous breakdown and the defeat upon defeat signs from God? Get a clue man! Just give up!

Get a clue lady! Just give up!

Sometimes all it takes to set me back on my Lincolnesque course is a little encouragement from someone who neither birthed me nor benefits in any way from my continued happiness. Alas, no such bolstering of the spirits was available, so I threw in the pencil and let the weight of yet another broken dream drag me down. (Can you say “mountain out of a molehill?”)

That’s when it came to me. The still small voice.

Be what you need.

Be to others that which you yourself need. Be the encouragement. Be the smile. Be the woman who spits on her thumb and rubs a few layers of skin and the Loser label off the forehead of the downtrodden. Do it with sincerity and honesty, not with empty flattery or a lying tongue. But most of all, just do it!

Hey, I can do that! I’m a great spit rubber!

I started in on the nearest and smallest. “I like your outfit. It’s clean-ish.” It was weak, but it was a start. “Hey, nice job setting the table.” I moved on to bigger and better. “You did a great job on your speech last week. Keep it up!” Caught in the act. “You’re a sweet big sister to the baby. I can tell she really loves you, and so do I.” The unexpected. “Thank you, Honey, for giving up your whole weekend to work on the taxes. If it helps any, I could have another half dozen children and hike up our child tax credit.” The everyday. “We always pick your checkout line because you are friendly and helpful, even when you’re swamped. Thank you.” The lifting up. “Yes, you misspelled a lot of words, but I see a lot of improvement since you started working at this. Keep trying, because YOU CAN DO THIS!” The moment of quiet thoughtfulness. “You know that horse book you want to write. I think you can do it. It’ll be hard work, but you’ve got what it takes…and I’ll help you.” And every once in a while, a stretch: “That is the wildest bedhead EVER! You ROCK Little Dude!”

After only a few minutes of being what I needed, I no longer needed what I had become. The power of encouragement directed outward not only took the focus off my personal woes, but, when a quiet moment allowed some retrospection, I realized that my own Loser label had faded as I set about building others up in truth and love.

Not a bad lesson, one I never would have learned had I not first failed. Lincoln would likely have agreed.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

~1 Thessalonians 5:11

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Behind the Clouds

    The desert can be a beautiful place. Can be. Unfortunately for my beauty-thirsty eyes, our little corner of it is not.

      Our desert valley was once an agricultural center. Crops were grown, soil was depleted, our valley was left in dry desolation. Most areas can recover from unwise land use. The desert cannot.

      Our valley is u-g-l-y, ugly…if you don’t look up.

      We are surrounded by mountains. When I say surrounded, I mean that to leave our valley on one side, we have to climb several hundred feet through a mountain pass. To leave on the lower end, we skirt the mountains.

      Surrounded.

      They are pretty all year, but in the winter, they are beautiful. Ah, what a paltry description.

      In the winter the mountains are awe-inspiring!

      Truly breath-taking.

      Beyond words.

      Sometimes, in our valley, God covers the mountains, and all we can see is the ugliness that is our barren, over-worked desert. Clouds hang low, covering the splendor that we westerners love.

      But then he reveals his purpose. The clouds part.

      And God’s work is displayed anew.

      Our beautiful mountains are made even more inspiring with their crowning snow-capped glory, God’s work behind the clouds.

      Such is the walk of life. When God covers the mountains of life and all we can see is the tired, barren, over-worked desert, the beauty is not gone. It’s just hidden while God is at work. The clouds will be parted. The crowning splendor will be revealed. Maybe not today. Maybe not soon. Maybe not while we still have the power of breath. But in His time, in His way, in His eternity and through Christ, we will see the mountains of God behind the clouds.

      Get on your knees and look up.

      You absolutely must click on this photo.  You won’t receive three wishes or have your wildest dreams realized, but you will certainly gain a greater appreciation for the beauties of Creation and the power of an Almighty God.  Be honest: you probably would have blown those three wishes anyway.

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      Christian Martyrs

          Voice of the Martyrs estimates that 176,000 Christians passed into Christ’s arms in the past year through martyrdom.

          Read that again.

          Approximately 176,000 people like you, like my man, like my children, like my grandparents, mother, brothers, were tortured, imprisoned, murdered.

          Not in the Dark Ages. Not in a century gone by.

          Last year!

          Why?

          What was their crime?

          They trusted Christ as their Savior.

          When told to renounce their faith, to recant as it were, they did not.

          Here I stand. I can do no other.

          I wonder…

          …were I so squeezed, what would I do?

          My faith, my conviction, my heart tells me I would stand tall for my Lord, for not just the name but the person, the deity, the saving reality that is Christ.

          I know the truth, that the only people who need fear are those who walk without Christ.

          Yet, am I audacious enough to think that I could stand strong?

          The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

          And then I remember.

          It is His strength, not mine, that carries me safely to His arms.

          Run the race and trust Him to catch you at the finish line.

          Lord, hold us up. Teach us to entwine our lives so fully in You that when we are squeezed–and we will be squeezed–our lives are a reflection of your love. Strengthen us with your divine strength. Remind us, as you do, that the powers of Satan, the world, even death are nothing next to you. Uphold those who are persecuted in your name, and teach them and us patient endurance. Show us your will.

          Gentle reader, you must know that the estimated number of Christians persecuted each year is growing in unbelievable numbers. Please, please pray, and teach your children to pray. This is a reality hard to imagine in our modern world, especially in the Americas, but it knocks, no, pounds at our door as well. Pray, pray, stand firm, and pray.

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          Letter from Christ

          Gleaning insight from Howard E. Butt, Jr.  this morning, I was surprised to read something I had failed to notice before…ever.  I was so surprised that I had missed this analogy, that I looked it up to verify that it even existed.

          II Corinthians 3:3 …you are a letter from Christ….

          Other analogies were secure in my mind–yeast, salt of the earth, even this little light of mine–hide it under a bushel? NO!

          How could the letter from Christ escape me? Why, I’m a letter person. I’m a word person. This analogy is so…me!  And it is perfect.

          In an age where a thought is only half formulated before being launched across the cyber-universe, there is no comparison to reading words that someone painstakingly penned for your eyes only. There is nothing like the thrill of unearthing a hand-addressed envelope in the mailbox, the feel of a piece of stationery in the fingers, the few minutes of intimate connection as your own world fades and the words of a loved one far away etch themselves onto your heart. It is, dare I say it, a treasure.

          And we are such treasures.

          You are a letter from Christ. I am a letter from Christ.

          Read me world!

          Wait!

          Read me?

          What does my letter say?

          Does it say patient, loving mother, emulating forgiveness, effusing godly joy, radiating Christ’s grace? Or does it say haggard, distracted master of chaos, bitter, uncertain, lost?

          Does it say I spend my time well, training my children, serving my husband, encouraging God’s family, loving the lost. Or does it spell out that my time, my priorities, are elsewhere?

          Does it tell of a life devoted to Him, or does it tell of a life devoted to self with Him in the background?

          Does it shout forgiven? Or does it shout better-than-thou?

          Does it read grace? Or does it read making my own way?

          I know what my letter could say, if Christ had not written it. I know it would be filled with failure, regrets, bad choices. I know it would tell of bitterness, resentment, lack of forgiveness, lack of trust. I know the positives would be buried beneath the rubble of broken promises, broken dreams, broken relationships.

          But Christ wrote my letter, and it is written in blood…

          His blood.

          It says only one word:

          Forgiven.

          I can walk out into the world, a world that knows my faults, knows my failures, witnesses them anew, and I can hold up my letter, my letter from Christ.

          But with my letter comes responsibility. I must live for the Author of my letter. If my letter is a recommendation, then everything I say or do will reflect on the Recommender. If I shout at my children, dress for the world, disprespect my husband, and bow at the feet of bartenders, what am I saying about the Author?  If I worship Favre over faith, image over others, self over sacrifice, how will my letter stand out?  Who will want to read about how Christ eliminated my filth if they see me reveling in that same filth? 

          The letter is worthy.  If I live the life of the gratefully forgiven, the world will see my letter and know it is the genuine thing.  I must remember who has written my letter.  I must tell my story, share my joy, live the love, be the letter.

          In a world of email, texting, and cyber-scribing, I hold my letter high.  I am a letter from Christ.

          Linked up to Walk with Him Wednesdays at Holy Experience.

            

           

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          Keeping Christmas All Year

          It was a Christmas past, year forgotten, that this small purple envelope took up permanent residence on our mantel, a gift to my children–to all of us–from my grandfather.

          Keep it on your mantel–and in your heart–all year.

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          Should a Christian Declare Bankruptcy?

          Dead TreeLiving in the hardest hit housing market in the country while surviving on a real estate–dependent income is a lamentable combination. I don’t recommend it. We are blessed to have our home, to have our food supplies and to be able to afford fresh groceries. We have two (yes, two) vehicles, and we put gas in them when we need to. But the fact is, things ain’t pretty right now. (You know they’re ugly when I say “ain’t!”) It could (and might) get a lot worse. It could (and will) eventually get better. In the meantime, losing the house is always on the fringe of our thoughts.

          I know others who have it worse, much worse. I know people who have lost their farms, homes, or jobs. I also know people who madly spent themselves into a mire of debt, spent their home equity, and then freely gave up their houses and abandoned their debts without a glance back. We also know companies who have declared bankruptcy and walked away from their financial obligations, money owed not only to corporations but to individuals, to us.

          A few short years ago, we had a lot of sweat and blood (a little too much blood) equity in our house. In between running a business and catering to the needs of a pregnant wife and (then only) four children, my husband worked hard to build this place we call home. Today, although we did not spend it, the equity is gone and we are now floating upside-down. Paying off the enormous void between what we owe and what our charming abode is worth takes a sizeable chunk out of our rapidly shrinking income. If we were to walk away from our house right now, we would be in a situation that could allow us to focus on the music mission. We would also be nearly debt-free. It is a temptation.

          “What’s a Christian to do when she doesn’t know what’s right and what’s wrong?” I ask myself, out loud…talking to myself…again.

          “Look it up in the Bible,” a child’s voice calls out. Oh to have had such wisdom before the grey hair!

          I obey.

          The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again:
          but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.
          ~Psalm 37:21

          I love the King James, but you, perhaps, may not, so:

          The wicked borrow and do not repay,
          but the righteous give generously.
          ~Psalm 37:21

          That settles it. A Christian should not voluntarily walk away from his debt.

          When faced with economic hardship, a Christian must make every effort to shave off unnecessary expenses. (Satellite television, Starbucks, and even date night are unnecessary expenses, in case you were wondering). Debt settlement is a responsible debt-reduction option that should be pursued before bankruptcy is considered. Having experienced this ourselves, I can assure you it is doable and extremely helpful if you are in a tight place.

          If, after seeking guidance, stripping the budget, and looking into debt settlement, there is no option but to declare bankruptcy, the Christian should still make every attempt to repay the debts as soon as he is able. Generally companies will not accept post-bankruptcy repayment efforts, in which case your debt is forgiven and obligation has ended. I can, however, think of a small business or two that would benefit from the fulfillment of currently abandoned financial obligations.

          My last word: tough economic times can be frightening. You do not need to go it alone.

          But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
          Philippians 4:19 (KJV)

          While I was compensated for this blog entry, it does represent my views at the time of writing. Notable Blogger will never publish anything that conflicts with our views, ethics, or Christian values.

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          Life Lessons

          Life is a harsh teacher. There is no grace period for late papers, no test re-take policy, and very little recess. After about sixth grade, there isn’t even a milk break. The whole life process itself is a learning experience, training and developing each participant into the person he or she is today, preparing for the person he will be tomorrow. The failures, the hurdles, the stumbles in life all have a hand. They all serve a purpose. They are all part of the lesson.

          Picture 305I’ve had some pretty notable life lessons over the past few months. It occurred to me not too long ago, while inspecting the multi-colored underside of my upper cabinets, that there is a reason a blender comes with a lid. Note to self: use it. I’ve also learned and relearned that it is not wise to say “yes” to a small child unless you are absolutely sure what he is asking…and even then it may be unwise. I’ve also learned a lot about making assumptions. One stands out. It is not wise to assume that the window in the nursing mothers’ room at the church you are visiting is one-way glass. Major oops.

          Of all the lessons I’ve learned, the greatest, yet most difficult, is trust. I know the lessons well:

          Trust the Creator with your life on earth and your life in glory through faith in Christ. Trust Him with the small details and the big decisions. Trust His will. Don’t make trust only an issue of the head, but a hope of the heart and an action of the body. Don’t just say, for example, that you trust God to care for you in the economic crisis; believe it by still giving out of your lack. Don’t just say, for example, that you trust God to work beauty into your marriage; believe it by handing the reins to Him through prayer rather than giving your tongue free rein. Don’t just say, for example, that you trust God with your family size; believe it by relinquishing control. Trust.

          I am not good at trusting. I am a failure, in fact. Worse than that, I talk the talk and stumble through the process of putting one foot in front of the other. Anxiety becomes my god and I leave the Father of Trust with His arms held out to me, longing to gather me in. I leave Him for the idol throne of fear where I am annointed with guilt and despair.

          Over and over He calls me back. My Father.

          Come back, my dearling. Stop clinging to fear and cling instead to me. This life was never your problem to begin with, but something meant for you to hand to me. Lift your eyes, child, and look at me.  Stop fighting me.  Stop resisting my peace. Stop. Just…let me…be the God…the Father, I know you need. It is okay, my dearling, to trust me. I am not them. I AM. Trust.

          Trust…

          Lord, grant it.

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