Tuesday’s Truth

Well now. Yes, I do still exist. I even think of things to put on here occasionally. Somewhere in between the holidays and the rest of life, I lost some of my passion, but I’ve felt recently that I need to get back at it. The truth is, I think I felt that it was only worth posting if I had something big and profound to share. But then I realized I was missing out on chances to share the things that God is showing and teaching me. So here I am, back again. To encourage myself to really keep at it, I’ve decided to get in on the weekly themed post trend. I’ve seen a lot of Wednesday and Thursday variations, but Tuesday seems pretty open, so I’m going to attempt to share some truth with you each Tuesday. Not truths that I make up, but truths based on God’s word.

Just recently I was chatting with some friends about spiritual development, and we got around to the fact that we tell ourselves and believe so many lies about life and about ourselves. What is the solution? One of the gals said it perfectly – replace the lies with the truth. When you are getting down on yourself, force yourself to think about the truth about yourself. (Or get someone to help you – it can be really hard!) When you’re starting to believe lies about life, replace those lies with the truth of God.

One area where this works so well is the realm of fear and anxiety. Most of you (the 98% of readers who are also FB friends) know that I am just over 4 months pregnant with our first baby. I don’t know about all you other moms out there, but from the moment I saw the positive test, I began to worry about all the things that could go wrong. I’m a worrier by trade, but this just kicked my fears into high gear. Then I found a collection of scriptures talking about God’s protection and peace, and I copied them and posted them all around so that I would constantly be filling my mind with the truth of God. Within a day or two of saturating my mind and spirit with the Word, I found that my fears were completely gone. It didn’t change the possibility of something going wrong with my pregnancy or our baby, but It reinforced to me that I could trust God no matter what happened down the road.

Next week we’ll look at a more specific truth, but for this week, just keep in mind that the best way to combat the lies of life is the truth of God.

Advertisements

When Your Heart Doesn’t Feel Glad

The focus of this blog is joy, gladness and thankfulness. The background is cheerful, the topics are often meant to leave you feeling a little bit better than when you started reading. But the fact is, sometimes life hurts. To be human is to experience pain. I see this everywhere, it seems. The sweet little baby suffering from an incurable, painful immune disease; the vibrant, lively school boy who is now in a rehab hospital recovering from being hit by a car while biking with friends; the young daughter of missionaries suddenly struck with a life-threatening disease that has caused her organs to shut down; the mother with painful joints that refuse to heal; the marriages that are barely hanging by a thread;  the newborn who underwent open heart surgery to repair a congenital defect at just 6 days old – my heart breaks for them. Why is there so much pain? Why are these good people suffering so much?

I find that I am wholly unsatisfied with the answer, “Because we live in a fallen world of sin.” My niece was not born with a heart condition because of sin. My friends did not lose their first child because of sin. Children don’t get hit by cars because the world is fallen. Fathers don’t lose their jobs because people are sinful. Don’t get me wrong – sin does cause pain. Always. But it is nonsense to say that all pain is simply the result of the fall of man. It’s just too simplistic. And it makes it cruel and meaningless. When we give sin in general as the cause of our common pain, we make God out to be unjust and unloving if he allows us to suffer simply because someone else made bad choices. Sin is cause, but it is not the cause.

Why, then, does God allow us to suffer? Even more, why does He sometimes seem to cause our suffering? Years ago in college I took a course on C. S. Lewis. While his Mere Christianity and Chronicles of Narnia are perennial favorites, I often come back to one of his less-beloved works, The Problem of Pain.  I appreciate the way Lewis seems to think of every argument I’m going to raise, and addresses it before I can protest. While the book covers a lot of theological and philosophical ground, I find myself drawn to two specific sections, one on the goodness of God, and one on the problem of human suffering. While Lewis’ discussions on these topics can’t answer the specific why’s of each individual situation, they do provide a framework in which we can begin to answer the questions of our own pain. I want to share with you a selection of excerpts from The Problem of Pain, and offer a few of my own thoughts on them.

(All quotations taken from: Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain (2001). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.)

The Goodness of God

“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by love, in this context, most of us mean kindness – the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people would formulate a theology in precisely those terms; but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds.” 

Do we not often find ourselves guilty of such thinking? Don’t we feel that if God loved us more, we would suffer less? The twin lie to this is that God gives greater blessings to those He loves more. I can’t think of anyone God loved more than Jesus Christ, but I also cannot think of anyone who suffered more pain than Christ.

“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit…is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes.”

If you have been an artist, or a pet-owner, or a parent, or a spouse, you can begin to understand each of these kinds of love, perhaps even several. But you will never be able to understand what it is to have every one of those kinds of love directed toward the same object. God’s love for us is wholly incomprehensible.

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial menaing to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’ [Revelation 4:11] We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. 

It is always good to be reminded that we are not the center of the universe, but how sweet a thought that we were created not just for God’s pleasure but so that He could love us. You and I were made to be loved. How amazing!

“But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces…Yet the call is not only to prostration and awe; it is to a reflection of the Divine life, a creaturely participation in the Divine attributes which is far beyond our present desires. We are bidden to ‘put on Christ’, to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want.”

God is not Santa, not a fairy-godfather, responsible for meeting our demands. His every action in our lives is enacted with the sole purpose of making us more like Him, more as He created us to be.

Human Pain

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” 

God doesn’t enjoy our pain, but He is well aware of its effectiveness in getting our attention.

“If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St. Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’ ” 

This was made clearest to me when my dear friends lost their infant daughter. Though their pain was extensive and excruciating, from the moment they knew she was at risk they had held her with open hands and had kept their hands open once she was taken, fully trusting that God had something to give them and with which to bless them. You can read more about their story here.

“God, who has made us, knows what we are, and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us and take away the plausible source of false happiness. It is just here, where God’s providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise.”

“What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.”

I have been truly amazed by the wonderful ways I have seen people, especially believers, rise to the occasion and support the suffering. Meals, transportation, listening, mourning with those who mourn, financial provision, childcare, taking over details, helping with daily living – so many go out of their way to ease others’ pain. God works to make us more like Him not only in our own pain, but in the pain of those around us.

“The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God…Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” 

Oh, how we need this reminder that we are not home yet, that we have more waiting for us. Our present sufferings are nothing compared with the joy we will receive one day (Romans 8:18). I love what Lewis points out here: that though we have troubles now – real and painful trials – they are not the whole of our experience. God is so merciful to us, every moment of every day. Each flower blooming in spring, each leaf with its own autumn color, every kind word from friend or stranger, each moment of rest…They are like springs of water to our dry, weary souls.

Why Me?

I don’t know what your pain is right now. I don’t know exactly what it is that God wants to say to you or give to you. I have a hard enough time understanding what He is doing in my own trials and sufferings. But I am sure of this, friends, that every trial, every pain is purposed to make you more Christ-like, more obedient, and more sure of God’s love for you. It is not calculated destroy you, or to separate you from your Heavenly Father. Even though He may be allowing or even causing your suffering (for His own perfect and good purposes in you) He is ready and waiting to comfort you, to reassure you of His unwavering love for you. Even in your deepest sorrow or most searing pain, you are not alone or abandoned.

How has God used pain to get your attention? How has He blessed you in your suffering? Feel free to make this a place to share your sorrows and your joys!

 

Real Hearts, Real Joy #1

         Welcome back, friends! I am excited to introduce the first in a series on how God is working in the real lives of real people. Over the next several months, I will have the privilege of introducing you to people who have found God to be faithful in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. Their situations may echo something in your own life, or they may not, but in either case, I hope that you will hear what they have to share and be encouraged.

Today we will be hearing from Sarah, who has recently had the opportunity to prove God’s faithfulness. In February 2011, Sarah and her husband found out that they were expecting their first child, a little girl, whom they named Elliana, meaning “God has heard”. Certainly it seemed that God had heard their prayers for an addition to their family. Sadly, at 26 weeks into Sarah’s pregnancy, they discovered that Elliana had a very serious heart condition. Elliana was born on October 22, 2011, and underwent surgery to begin repairing her heart within a few days. After 7 weeks, it became apparent that though Elliana’s spirit was very strong, her heart simply could not keep up. After a couple of very difficult days, she passed away on December 13. In the midst of all these struggles, the question on many minds was, Where is God in this? We all wanted to find some reason why God would take such a beautiful little girl away after such a short time with her family. Colt, Sarah’s husband, answered the question very well when he said that the answer was not to be found in Elliana’s healing or death, but in the way that God sustained them through all of the ups and downs of her short life. I can attest to the fact that though she was with us for such a short time, Elliana made a big impact on my life, and the lives of many others. It is Sarah’s hope, as well as mine, that by sharing the things learned through this difficult time, others will be encourage to look for and find God’s faithfulness to them, no matter what the circumstances.

CL: Thank you for being willing to share with us, Sarah. To start off, can you tell us, in just a few words, your understanding of who God is?

Sarah: God to me is someone that wants to be involved in every aspect of my life, whether large or small.  I believe that He is worthy of our praise, affection, love, and devotion.  I believe that who He is should always be at the very center of who I am.

 CL: You have recently experienced some significant trials in your life. Prior to entering this time, how would you have described your trust in God?

Sarah: I trusted God to do what He saw fit in my life, but I never expected it to bring pain.  So, in a way I trusted Him to bring blessing because I was serving Him.  I knew it wasn’t Biblical, but it was easy to think that if I just lived my life the right way, only good would come.

CL: You found out midway through your pregnancy that your daughter, Elliana, would be born with a serious heart condition. What were your first thoughts?

Sarah:  My first thoughts were, “There is no way”, “They must have made some mistake” and “How could this be happening to us?” You hear about other peoples’ stories of difficulty, but you never think it will happen to you.

CL: How did God sustain you during your months of waiting?

Sarah: The first few weeks were by far the hardest.  My world seemed tossed into turmoil with trying to not fear, thinking maybe I had done something wrong, and trying to find some sort of normalcy.  God worked on me a lot during that time, challenging me with His word and beginning to show me what it meant to cling to His truth and believe it for myself.  Up until this point I had believed the Bible, but I had never had a situation like this in which I had to cling to His promises with every ounce of my being. 

CL: Was it difficult to make the choice to open your heart to your daughter even though her future was so uncertain?

Sarah: Truthfully, that was not hard for me.  From the beginning I loved our baby.  By the time we found out about her heart I had already enjoyed almost 2 months of feeling her kick, and each movement allowed me to dream about what she was like.  Her uncertain future brought fear, yes, but it never remotely changed how much I cherished her.

I think when we first realized she would have a difficult start I looked at Colt and there was this kind of knowing that this changed nothing.  We knew that no matter what it took, we would be with her every step of the way.  I wholeheartedly believe that if she were still with us, we would be doing that now.  It never would have stopped. 

We both also loved her from the moment we heard a baby was coming.  None of that ever changed just because her heart didn’t form the way most do.  Through the course of her life, God granted us the ability to see, even for a short season, all the unique attributes that were clearly hers.  I look back and see every moment we cherished with her as an absolute gift. 

 CL: What were some ways that God made your heart glad during Elliana’s time with you?

Sarah: There really were many times God brought joy in our weeks with Elliana, and even before she was born. It had been a couple months that we had known about her heart condition, the three surgeries that would be required, and the extra care that would be needed, and the bigger she got the more I looked forward to meeting her, no matter what the days ahead entailed.  I will never forget the joy and yet nervousness I felt about what lay before us when I went into labor and Colt rushed me to the hospital (an hour away).  Ten hours after we got to the hospital she was born, and I cannot express the indescribable joy and pride that I felt looking at our daughter and hearing her first cry.  When I got to hold her for 2 minutes before they had to whisk her away, it was incredible.  It was in that moment that I knew I had been created to be her mother.  This was what I was made for.  She just stared back at me content and curious. I will never forget that moment, filled with awe, joy, and a peace that no matter what would come, God would be with us and we would get through it.   

Elliana holding Sarah’s hand in the NICU

CL: Did Elliana’s life teach you anything new about God?

Sarah: Her life taught me that no matter what you face, God will be there.  I had an idea of this concept before, but more than ever I cherish my walk with God.  He is my delight and my joy. Even though I hope and pray there is not further pain in the days ahead, such as we have gone through, I know without a doubt that God will get me through. 

            Her life also taught me more clearly that His ways are not necessarily our ways.  Though I would love to tell a success story of how she got better and is alive today, she isn’t.  God sometimes doesn’t do what we want Him to do and it doesn’t mean that He isn’t just as good and just as faithful.  I have learned that God sometimes uses our pain and our weakness to show His power.  Though the pain we have walked through has been unimaginable, He still brings hope.  How is that? you may ask. The God who can perform miracles, yet sometimes chooses not to, still decided to perform a miracle in the healing of my heart.  So even though God didn’t give me what I asked for, and chose to ask us to give up our only child, I am honored that He felt that with Him, we could make it through this.  Even though He said no to what we asked, He did say that His grace is sufficient.  It truly has been. Though I hope and pray no one goes through anything like what we have been through, I do hope others will see that through our pain and weakness He will be strong and give us His grace if only we will let Him.

CL: Elliana passed away after just seven weeks with you. Do you feel that your trust in God has changed since then?

Sarah: Yes, trust to me is not trusting God to do what I want or even what I prefer.  Trust is literally giving up the reins and saying “God, have your way, even if I don’t understand it.”  I don’t think that kind of trust comes from living life when everything goes the way you hope.  It is a different way of living life and a different way of seeing that which He has given you. Even now, choosing to trust God is a choice I have to make daily.  My faith isn’t something I “feel,” at least not very frequently; it has become what I must have each day to make it through.   He has to be my source, or I fall apart.

CL: In what ways does God make your heart glad now, even as you are still grieving for your daughter?

Sarah: Probably the biggest way has been through our joy in expecting our second child.  Just 2 ½ months after Elliana passed away we found out we were pregnant again.  Now, 27 weeks along, we recently found out we are expecting a little boy and that he is healthy and strong!  What joyful news for us! We have found that after all we have walked through, we cannot take a day for granted.  Expecting and giving birth to a healthy child is a huge gift that many parents take for granted, and I can say for us it is one of the biggest blessings we will ever be given.  I still struggle with trusting our child’s life into God’s hands, knowing that only He knows the future of this little one. and of all our lives as well.  But, His grace truly is sufficient for each and every day.  So, no matter what comes, He is faithful and full of goodness.

            Another way that God has made my heart glad is in memories of Elliana. It may sound odd, but God has helped me remember her with joy and hope.  I loved being her mother and it was one of the greatest joys of my life.  I can look back, and even though she died, I would never change any of it.  Yes, I wish she were here, but even knowing what would happen in advance, I would go through it all again because of the joys of loving her.

        Another huge blessing God has given that I am able to rejoice in is my husband.  God has brought us together in ways I never thought He could do through the grief of losing our child.  Because of the pain we have faced together, we can look at life and be thankful for all we have been given.  Even in the midst of the pain, God has given us times of such deep joy, laughter, and a love for life that I can only attribute to Him. 

 CL: Is there any advice you can offer to those of us who want to help a friend or family member through a difficult loss?

Sarah: The biggest blessing for me has been those people who are willing to sit and listen.  They don’t try and solve the problem or the pain of grief; they simply are there with me to hear whatever I have currently been working through.  A mother who lost her 18 year old son shared with me the most helpful, compassionate words she heard in her process of grieving, given by a friend: “I will never tire of hearing stories about him.  Even if they’re the same ones over and over again.  I’ll always be here to listen.”  That to me is one of the greatest things a person can do.  No matter if the day is full of joy or sorrow; they are there to help by simply being there. 

              Our pastor also said something to us that has been so true for my husband and I.   He explained that in the body of Christ our sorrows are halved and our joys are doubled.  I believe that is what the body of Christ is meant to be, caring and loving even in the midst of hurt that is unspeakable. 

CL: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Sarah: Sometimes we strive to live a life of comfort and ease without pain.  However, I am reminded that if pain is not in our life at all, we really aren’t living.  We live in a fallen world, and to experience no pain is really not possible.  It is through our pain that God can pour indescribable joy into us, and a hope unlike any other.  Still, God leaves the choice to us, will we let trials create distance between us and our relationship with Him, or will we cling to Him, allowing Him to transform us and make us more like Him?  Somehow through the pain of losing a child, God has brought an even greater understanding of who He is and through this heartache; I have learned even more clearly how good He is.  How awesome that we serve a God who is not only faithful, but brings hope in the midst of despair, joy for sorrow and complete restoration to our hurting hearts.

If something in Sarah’s story connected with you, we would love to hear about it.  Are you struggling with a loss right now? Let us know so we can be there with you.

As always, may your heart be glad!

Dead or Alive?

Welcome!

I have something important to share with you today. Just keep in mind that I said “important,” not “fun.” You’ve noticed that I’ve been digging into the New Testament book of James lately. Of all the New Testament books, it is the one I find most challenging and practical. I want you know that any time I share a challenge like what I’m about to share, it is something I am working through as well. I’m right there with you, not up on a mountaintop shouting down at you.

Think back to our last talk about James. What did he say made our religion or faith “pure and lasting”? Right,  caring for the abandoned and oppressed. Good job! If you were sitting here with me, I’d give you a big gold star 🙂 Let’s move on now, and see how James cautions us against developing a worthless, lifeless faith.

I love James because He always seems to address the very thing I need to work on. If you are familiar with James, you know that he is big on telling us how our words can affect others. If you’re not familiar with him, check out James 3. In James 1:26 he tells us that neglecting to control what we say can make our faith or religion dead and worthless.  James says that everything we say should be governed by the law of love, meaning it does no harm to anyone. That’s pretty hard, isn’t it? I know that I am becoming much more aware of the effect my words have on other. If we don’t control what we say, our faith is worthless. Trash. Burn it up, and throw it away. Put it out on the curb. That’s not the kind of religion I want. You?

Do you have a problem controlling the words that come out of your mouth? Maybe you are really good about not swearing, but do you gossip? You might not use profanities, but do you yell at your children? You may be really good at biting back snarky comments towards your coworkers, but do you constantly criticize your spouse? Governing our words by the law of love means that we control the content and the tone of what we say – to everyone. We say those things that build others up, not tear them down. Yes, you’ll have to correct your children, you’ll disagree with your spouse. It is inevitable, and it is right. But when you do, before you speak, consider how the words and tone you are choosing will affect your target.

There’s another trap waiting here. Are you, like many of us, really good at controlling what comes out of your mouth, but inside you snarl and nag and belittle? If you are, you have probably realized that you can only keep those things inside for so long. You can keep the harsh thoughts about your boss, the frustrations with your relatives, the self-condemning to yourself for a while, but eventually they are going to burst out, and not necessarily at the object of their wrath. You may find yourself yelling at your kids, when really you’re angry about the person in your office who keeps stealing the credit (and the snacks). How to change this? Two things: First, make sure you have a person or two in your life that you can share some of those real frustrations and disappointments with – before they get to the explosive stage. Second, ask God to change your heart. Ask Him to clear away the angry, critical or judgmental nature you have. This is critical, because eventually, whatever is in our hearts comes out of our mouths.

 

Oh, but you say, “I don’t want religion, I just want to have faith.” Okay, let’s look at that. Growing up in Evangelical circles, a common catchphrase was, “I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship [with God].” Well, sure, as a Christian, I am convinced that my belief in Jesus allows me to have a relationship with God that people in other religions do not have. But I still am pretty sure I have a religion. I have a set of beliefs in a specific deity and reality that I am devoted to, and I show my devotion through a common set of traditional actions. Sounds like religion to me.

Outside of Christianity, there are also a vast number of people, especially today, that do not want to be part of “religion”. Can’t say that I blame them all that much. Much of the really awful stuff of the past, well, forever, has been at least sponsored and condoned, if not outright instigated by those who claim to be part of “religion”. I don’t want any part of that either. But just as I don’t want to give up being a human because there are so many evil people in history, I’m not going to give up on real religion just because it has been misused in the past.

I think another reason that I like James is that he is blunt. You never have to say to yourself, I wonder what he really means? So today, James tells us that if we have faith that is not coupled with good deeds or loving actions, then our faith is dead and worthless.  Did you get that? Was he in any way vague? I didn’t think so. If you’re feeling like a little extra-credit work here, go read James 2:14-18. Wow. If you need to read it two or three more times, I can understand.

James doesn’t pull any punches. You have to have faith and good deeds, or else you don’t have either. A lot of people don’t like to go there. It’s too sticky of a question, too difficult of a balancing act between salvation by faith or by works. Well, the great news for us is that James isn’t “other people”. And he definitely “goes there”. The way he says it, he doesn’t seem to think that it is a balancing act at all. It’s like having two feet to walk. If you have a left foot, but not a right, you wouldn’t argue that you can walk just fine. You have to have faith and loving actions, or else you are going to be stumbling around.

I happen to live in a town that has a lot of New Age and Buddhist influences. Nearly every street has houses or shops with Buddhist prayer flag garlands hanging on the porch or in a window. We have more yoga classes per capita that anywhere I’ve ever lived. And yet, what many of these people have is “faith” that somehow, someday if they recite enough mantras or positive thoughts or prayers to a universal spirit, things will all work out. That can be pretty unsatisfying when life hits really hard. It’s okay when you’re stressed about work, but when your child dies, or when your husband leaves you, you need a faith, a religion, that is real and alive, not dead and worthless.

So how do we have that living, breathing, active faith? Well, let’s review. In our previous talk about James, we saw that “pure and lasting” religion means caring for the abandoned and oppressed. Today we saw that worthwhile religion means taking control of how we use our words, letting them be ruled by the law of love, which means that our words can do no harm to others. And finally, we saw that living, active faith is characterized by a life of actions that do good for others. It’s like a big circle, the ultimate recycling symbol. Loving Words -> Loving Actions -> Living Faith. And back around.

 

 

Biker Chick, or If At First You Don’t Succeed, You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

Still a little dark...glad I don't have to leave any earlier

I rode my bike to work this morning. It was lovely. It takes about the same amount of time as driving my car – though the fact that going to work is downhill means I get a nice little workout on my way home- and it allows me to turn my focus more toward appreciating the beauty of God’s creation around me (rather than trying to avoid hitting said creation, especially the meandering “we own the road” deer that seem to outnumber the human residents of this town). If you had known me as a child, this would be a shocking revelation. Me? On a bike? Without needing medical attention? Not possible.

The Bike and I, a play in 3 acts

Who doesn't want handlebar streamers?

You see, I have always had a love-hate relationship with that two-wheeled monster, the bicycle. My first bike was a fantastic creation with purple wheels, neon stickers and colorful handlebar streamers. But it was not the pink bike I had clearly specified on my list for Santa. Eventually we made up, and I learned to like my bike, especially when I discovered that I could leave purple skid marks on the sidewalk. It seemed like the bike and me might be a match made in heaven after all. We did have our little squabbles, like the time I tried to go all Evel Knievel and ride my down the hill from the front yard to the back. The boys next door did it all the time, and it looked so cool. My first grade understanding of physics wasn’t all that great, and I neglected to notice the fact that our side of the hill was signifcantly steeper than the neighbors’. Needless to say, It was a good thing my mom insisted on me wearing my very uncool helmet, because otherwise I would have several nifty scars on my forehead, and probably some serious brain damage. But in general, the bike and I got along well, and I even got to ditch the training wheels. I was well on my way to the Tour de France. Or at least the Tour de Block.

It didn't look exactly like this, but it seemed about this intimidating

A couple of years later, I got a “big-girl” bike. A purple and hot pink mountain bike. It was totally rad, to use a phrase of the times. I rode it a grand total of about 10 times before it tried to kill me. I was trying to steer, really I was, but there was an irresistible magnetic force to the rolls of discarded carpet in the church parking lot where I practiced my fancy riding. I had always dreamed of flying, but that wasn’t quite how I imagined it. Mercifully, the bike was stolen during a move later that year. And there, with my narrow escape from death-by-demon-bike, my riding career was apparently over. Once in a while I would be at a friend’s house, and would end up borrowing their brother’s bike to try to ride to the 7-11 for a slurpee, but I pretty much thought I was going to die each time. I developed a type of sour grapes philosophy about biking, deciding that it was a dumb way to get around, only slightly better than running (both of which I knew should never be done for fun).

Shade is definitely a good thing when riding in the East

Fast forward about 15 years. While living out East, we discovered a beautiful trail through the woods not far from our house. It was great for walking or jogging (for others to jog, not me!). On a trip back to our hometown, we retrieved our bikes from our respective parents, and came home to ride the trail. It seemed like a good way to spend time together and get some much needed exercise as well. My first time on the bike, I managed to get about 100 yards before I realized that I needed about 30 feet to go around other people on the trail, and that trying to ride over the bridge across the river was like trying to ride through a herd of longhorns in a cattle chute. But my sweet husband was encouraging, and I kept practicing. Later that weekend, we decided we would ride our bikes down to the cute little island in the middle of the river. We got about a quarter of the way there when my bike went off the edge of the pavement, and in trying to correct my path, I ended up flipping my bike over and landing in a mangled mess. No permanent damage was done to the bike or to me, but I had a sore ankle and a nice bruise on my knee for several days. And yet, I didn’t give up. It’s sad to say as a grown woman, but I was really excited the first time I made a 5 mile roundtrip without a) falling over or b) having a heart attack.

In Which I Move to Hippie-land and Become a Biker

My beautiful trail

Not too long after that, we decided to move ourselves West, to a beautiful small town that is incredibly bike-friendly. There are trails all over the place, and in spite of being in the mountains, the town is really pretty level. Actually, bike-friendly is an understatement. Every shop downtown has a bike rack out front, it’s not surprising to see several children or small dogs in trailers behind bikes, and even tiny children are seen riding their bikes to school each day. Bike-crazed is a more appropriate term.  I started researching commuting and grocery shopping by bike, and got really, really excited. When we were house-hunting, one of the requirements was that it be close enough to ride our bikes downtown for events and shopping. When we finally found a house, it was not only close enough to downtown to bike everywhere, but it was also only about 100 yards from the entrance to the main bike/hike path through town. It was just over a mile from work, and a mile and a half from the grocery store or the main drag downtown. As they extend the trail system, I’ll also be able to ride my bike to Wal-Mart. I love the idea of the bicycle trifecta – green transportation, money saved on gas, and exercise without adding much time to my schedule.

Pride Goeth Before a Fall…

All ready to go...

And so, just days into the school year, I decided I would ride my bike to work for the very first time. I had my brand new basket on the front holding my lunch and purse so charmingly. I left plenty early so that I would have time to enjoy the scenery. I kissed my sweetie goodbye and pedaled off down the street, so proud of myself. I turned onto the bike trail, reached up to adjust my helmet, and then everything went wrong. Apparently the adorableness of my basket had thrown the balance off, and when I tried to single-hand it, I sent myself skidding off the edge of the trail. As any physicist will tell you, inertia is an absolute bear. The bike went sideways, and I went down and forward. I landed in the gravel and prickly grass at the edge of the trail, immensely thankful that there was no one around to witness my divinely appointed comeuppance.

One of two crash sites

I picked the gravel out of my palms, dusted off my khakis and beige sweater as best I could, and got back on the horse…er, bike.  “I can do this,” I thought, with only the slightest of tears of pain and embarrassment welling in my eyes. I continued on bravely. “Woohoo! I have conquered the bike…yeah!” went through my mind as I turned the corner to the street my school is on, followed shortly by, “Uh-oh…you’ve got to be kidding me!” as the gravel shoulder of the road reduced the coefficient of friction that had been holding my bike upright to nil and I crashed, yet again. I picked myself up quickly, lest a passing motorist (heaven forbid a parent or student) see me in my shame. Now feeling summarily reduced from my normal 5-foot-11 stature to about 3-foot-6, I pedaled very, very carefully the last tenth of a mile to school. Somehow I managed to make it on time and without severely noticeable injuries to my person or my wardrobe.

Safely parked at school

I was left with a healthy fear of the road and a bruise the size of a grapefruit on my leg, which lasted for a good few weeks. My shiny new basket still fit on the front of my bike, but had acquired a peculiar crooked tilt. I also had the pleasure of going back over the entire trail searching for my cell phone which had made a McQueen-esque escape from said basket. In all, though, there was no lasting damage, if you don’t count the basket’s re-alignment.

The Moral of the Story

Lesson learned, I was very cautious as I biked to work over the next several days. I felt quite accomplished when I was able to ride home from Safeway with a full basket and a bag of groceries to boot. My dear and I began making a habit of biking to the farmer’s market each Saturday morning, and quickly realized that we were going to need more baskets and racks if we were going to continue bringing nature’s bounty home each week. Just as I had planned, we were spending time together, getting things done and moving our bodies into a much greater state of health.

Who wouldn't want to ride here?

One day, I realized that I didn’t think biking for fun or for transportation was so dumb, like I had when I was a kid. Not only was it acceptable, it was something I really enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those die-hards that I see here biking up mountain passes in the snow. I still hold on to my vestigial laziness and comfort-seeking behaviors. I’ll ride to work as long as it’s not actively snowing or raining, the temperature is above 20 degrees and the wind is under 30 mph (which can sometimes be an issue here!). I feel stronger and healthier each day that I ride, and I also feel something else – a sense of accomplishment. I had failed and failed, and finally I had succeeded.

When we fail at something, especially early on in the process, it is easy to convince ourselves that we just don’t have what it takes. We deceive ourselves and give up because we don’t want to fail again. Isn’t that the worst kind of pride? We can’t bear the thought of being a failure, so we refuse to fail. If only someone could show us all the wonderful things we are missing by not adjusting our methods and trying again. I imagine that seeing those possibilities laid out before us would revolutionize our way of thinking about life. Proverbs 24:16 tells us, “A righteous person falls seven times, and rises again…” If we give up the first time we fall, we are not exploring the full potential that God has created us for. Will the falling still hurt? Well, sure it will. Will we run up against things that are really difficult? Definitely – that’s a part of life. But if God calls us to do something, then nothing can stop us. Please don’t think that this means that anyone can do anything just because he or she wants to. Not everything is good for us, or part of God’s plan for us. Sometimes we will reach a point where we are right to give up and try something else. But that point is never after the first fall. God is reaching out His hand to help you back up. Will you take it, and try again?

May your heart be glad!

A Serious Heart Condition

Welcome back. I hope that you have had a restful (or at least joyful) weekend. We’ve been fighting several dread diseases around here, so it was good to take a break, though I have missed you all.

Alright, I have a bit of a confession to make. My heart was not particularly glad for much of this past week. I could make some excuses: sick students, lack of sleep, lots to do, blah, blah, blah. Or it could be the time of the year. We’re a couple of weeks out from spring break at school, which means we are in a time of meltdowns for everyone, teachers and students alike. It’s like lap 402 at Daytona, week 37 in a pregnancy, or mile 24 of a marathon; you’re bored, tired and ready to be done, but you can’t give up now because it would make all the struggle thus far absolutely worthless. It can be hard to find joy when you’re in one of those seasons. The weariness can cast a shadow over all the great things that are in your life.

If I am honest as I look back on my week, there were several heart-gladdening things – the afternoon bike ride with my husband, the 2 nights of fabulous sleep, the evening spent enjoying the company of friends – and yet, I woke up Friday with clouds forming right over my head. I was like a walking thunderstorm. Husband not paying enough attention to me? Bang! Lightning bolt! A 6-year-old not displaying as much sense and maturity as I would like? Pow! Another bolt! Stubborn student? Crash! The storm is in full force now! One mildly critical comment? Crack! Another day destroyed.

But then, in a completely unexpected way, which I didn’t quite grasp at the moment, God taught me a really important lesson. What was the means of this great teaching moment? A playground merry-go-round and a handful of squealing little kids. Usually, I’m just an observer at recess. Especially on days when I’m not in the best of moods. But for some reason, I decided to give into the kiddos’ pleas for me to push the merry-go-round.  And then, in a real moment of spontaneity, I jumped on and joined them in the dizzy-fest. They were thrilled and giggling, and I laughed like I had not laughed in a long time. it was the silliest thing I had done in weeks. I was also incredibly joyful.

And here is what that ride on a merry-go-round taught me: If you are going to have a glad heart, you simply cannot take yourself too seriously. I realized that those moments when I was the most cranky or downright angry were the moments when I was so sure of my own importance, wrongly believing that I was the most important person in my world, that it was only me who could be counted on to make my students who they need to be, that I was too good to be worthy of any suggestions for improvement. The times over the whole week when I was happiest were when I was focused on others, when I completely abandoned any thought of my own image or importance.

So what about you? Have you been taking yourself too seriously lately? How has it affected the joy level of your spirit? Let me challenge you this week to make a point of taking yourself less seriously. If you want extra credit, here is your assignment: Do something this week that is completely silly and lacking in dignity. If you need some help, I would suggest you find your nearest and dearest 5- or 6-year-old; I am sure they can give you a few good pointers!

May your heart be glad (and just a little silly)

What Makes Your Heart Glad?

What brings joy to your spirit? What makes you truly happy? Not a fleeting sense of amusement or merriment, but a true, deep joy. Can you hold onto that joy when life is anything but joyous? These are questions that we each must ask ourselves. The answer has everything to do with the source of our joy. The bare fact is that if our source of joy is anything that can be imperfect or perishable, then our joy will be likewise. The New Testament book of James instructs us to count or consider our trials joy. At first glance, that is an absolutely ludicrous statement. Pain, suffering, trials – they are the exact opposite of joy.

But James goes on to explain that we can consider even the trials of life as joy because they make us better people. The responsibility falls to us, though. Our suffering can only do the work of refining and perfecting us if we allow them to, or more specifically, if we allow God to use them in that vein. We always have the option of allowing life to crush us instead. What it comes down to is this: we are going to have trials and suffering in our lives. There is no escaping it. So if that is the case, I would rather become a better person, a better Christian, each time I face a trial, rather than letting it beat me down. How about you? The choice is yours.