Monthly Archives: March 2014

Things I Learned in March

Seems like I just wrote about what I learned in February. But Emily Freeman @ Chatting at the Sky has asked her readers to again share pieces of life lessons, so here’s my take on life at the moment from random to relevant to reflective …

1. I like alliteration.

2. God speaks, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit is real. I recently felt led to find and send a Bible verse to a friend about “confidence.” While searching, I discovered Jeremiah 17:7 ~ “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” I wasn’t familiar with that verse, but it seemed fitting. After I shared it with my friend, she replied: “Love that verse!  I actually have a necklace based on that verse and wear it often.” God is amazing like that! If He places someone on your heart, do something about it. I am so grateful for friends who have listened to the Holy Spirit and encouraged me with just the right words and timing.

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3. Although I’m part of a congregation that doesn’t formally observe Ash Wednesday, I’m drawn to its significance. This past Ash Wednesday, I shared my recovery story with a class of high school students, and the timing was not lost on me. Everyone bears a mark of sin, frailty, and mortality. It’s good to be reminded that we need a Savior who exchanges our shameful ashes for His beautiful mercy.

4. The best foot warmer is a furry doggie.

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5. Frederick Buechner said so well, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I’m learning that deep gladness arises from those places where I once knew the deepest fear and regret. It is a place touched and transformed by God’s compassion. This junction between my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger isn’t confined to one place. I may find it located within my family circle, down the street, on the other side of my city, and across the world. This place is likely outside of my comfort zone, yet God would not beckon me a place where He is not already present. He’s calling, and that’s all I need to take the first step.

6. Can we just let go of “Let It Go” already? The song from Frozen was everywhere in March.

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As the mom of a preteen, I became concerned with its lyrics; for example, “It’s time to see what I can do; to test the limits and break through; no right; no wrong; no rules for me – I’m free!” Uh oh, red flags. But I eventually considered that the mass appeal of “Let It Go” has less to do with its lyrics and more to do with its compelling tune. We covet (oops, admire) Idina Menzel’s soaring voice. In the context of “Let It Go,” Princess Elsa finally owns up to her long-hidden secret. When she casts off restraint, however, her actions have damaging consequences. Eventually, a plot twist leads to a redemptive act of love. I exercise “parental guidance” over my daughter’s entertainment choices, but if there is a questionable agenda in Frozen, it floated right over her head like a snowflake. One of the challenges of being a preteen parent, I’m finding, is discerning when to step in and when to – uh – let it go.

7. Just because something is attractive on the outside doesn’t mean that all its attributes are beautiful.

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Have you walked under a pear tree lately? Eew – that smell! Reminds me of a birthday cake that my mother purchased for me from an upscale bakery. It was gorgeous, but as my mother lifted the cake out of the box, she sniffed and said, “Something is wrong.” The repulsive mold on the inside became an object lesson that I’ve never forgotten — a rotten interior will eventually be exposed.

8. Thanks to one of the leaders in my grief support group, I’ve learned to think of “comfort” as “common-fortitude.” We are stronger together.

9. I’m learning amazing new things about the intentional foreshadows in the biblical events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Our church commemorated a version of a Jewish seder, the Passover meal that Jesus observed with His disciples on the evening before Calvary. As we passed the elements of the seder, we learned how specifically they point to Jesus, the promised Messiah. Read more here @ the Word of Messiah Ministries Passover page.

Plus, I never knew, until a few days ago, that the name “Gethsemane” originates from a Hebrew term meaning “oil press.” The garden where Jesus went to pray before His crucifixion was a grove of olive trees. The “gethsemane” was a press that crushed the olives until they extracted the highly-valued oil. When we feel hard-pressed on every side, may we remember that the Lord Jesus, who has already withstood the crushing weight of sin and death, invites us to exchange our yoke for His.

10. “Target haze” has been coined to describe the experience of going to Target for a specific something and leaving the store with a cart of goods except for that one item. Apparently, I am not the only person who succumbs to this phenomenon.

11. “Remembering” between generations is something that my husband and I want to prioritize.  Now that one of us has lost a parent, we appreciate even more the opportunities to speak words of honor and gratitude to the generation before us, to cherish past memories, to prioritize occasions to create new ones, and to hold fast to this treasure called legacy. Some may call us the “sandwich generation,” but we choose to see this season as a tremendous privilege to create remembrances with the generation before and behind us.

Our church’s Generations Ministry equips parents to commemorate milestones with our children as they mature in Christ, and at this weekend’s Blessing Retreat my husband and I had an opportunity to intentionally speak words of affirmation and blessing over our 12-year-old daughter. As John and I wrote letters of blessing to her, he wanted to write about “remembering.” His written words encourage our young lady to remember for years to come that her identity, worth, and purpose are established in the love of Christ.

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After the Lord and Israel won a victory over the Philistines, the prophet Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer or “stone of help” for “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). Whenever the Israelites would pass by the stone, they would remember what the Lord accomplished on their behalf.

Now, an “Ebenezer” (as in “here I raise my Ebenezer“…) refers to the remembrance of a spiritual principle or an important life event.  This weekend, we gave gifts to our daughter to help her remember our words of blessing. We hope and pray that she will commit to memory this occasion as a marker of maturity, developmentally and spiritually. And for us as parents, we will remember this milestone event as a “stone of help.” While it’s probably normal to be a little nervous about the years ahead, we’re reassured by God’s guidance and the wise people who walk before and beside us along this journey of milestones.

12. This year, “March Madness” could refer to the weather as much as basketball. Equally unpredictable, both have thwarted our best efforts to nail them down. Maybe a little perspective can be gained here; life usually doesn’t go as forecast.  So we’ll roll with the messy days, but we’ll take every warm & sunny day we get here in North Carolina as an opportunity to stock up on the allergy meds, open the windows, and enjoy the ride!

Happy Spring!

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It’s Okay to Choose Starburst in a Hershey’s World – A letter to my daughter

Dear C,

So you don’t like chocolate. Big deal, right? You’ve been a pretty good sport when faced with a lot of light-hearted teasing about this; and true, some of it has come from your own mother.

– I mean, how is it that we share DNA?

But seriously, honey, I really am sorry. For a long time, I thought that you didn’t like chocolate the same way that people refuse Brussels sprouts (having never actually tasted Brussels sprouts). And I thought when you eventually realized the error of your ways that, along with chocolate, a whole new world of green beans, spinach, and cauliflower would open up to you.

Yeah. Right.

But as you’re growing up, I’m starting to realize that your dislike of chocolate has become something that makes you, you. Perhaps, you’re learning, in a small way, that your choices become a part of who you are, and it’s okay to own your differences. Sometimes your choices are based on your preferences (like Starburst instead of Hershey’s kisses), and that’s fine, but as you grow up, you’ll find that the most important choices are based upon your convictions and your standards. In a world that follows the masses, these choices might be the ones that single you out.

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It’s one thing to know what you like in a dessert and another thing to know what you like in a friend.

Choose well, honey.

There are few decisions in life that will influence you as much as your choice of friends. The preteen years, especially for girls, are known for all sorts of relational drama, and you can choose to play the parts or not.

As you’re growing up, you’re making more of your own choices, and that’s the way it should be. But for now, your Dad and I are going to keep a close watch on your choice of friends. It’s our God-given authority and responsibility as your parents to steer you in the direction of positive peer pressure.

So you’re probably wondering what’s positive about peer pressure. Am I right? It’s okay, if I am :)

Peer pressure is basically the desire to fit in with others, which is not necessarily a bad thing. God designed us to be in relationships and community with people. Kids, teens, and adults learn interpersonal skills in order to navigate the world of relationships. We learn how and why to be polite and conform to basic societal norms; for example, people wear regular clothes (not pajamas) and cover up their underwear when they go to the store. Because we are living in an anything-goes culture, however, such societal norms are breaking down as people communicate a lack of respect for community in general. (Oh, pardon me – I’ve stumbled upon a soapbox, haven’t I?)

Anyway, Daddy and I want you to be a friend and to have friends who positively influence one another. Healthy peer pressure motivates a person to engage other people in respectful and meaningful ways. It can bring out the best in yourself and your friends. Positive friendships are established through authenticity, acceptance, and intention.

What does this mean? It means that you be yourself and spend enough face-to-face time with your friends to know and value them for who they truly are. Face-to-face time means looking at each other instead of just being together and looking at your tech gadgets. In positive friendships, you commit to also looking out for one another. You actively look for ways to support and cheer for each other. There’s no competition or jealousy or pressure to conform to any behavior or standard that goes against the truths and values that each of you stand for.

Your relationships are going to change during these years as you seek out the girls with whom you want to identify. During this time, you need to remember your identity. You are a child of God, set apart, completely loved, and chosen by Him for a beautiful purpose. Daddy and I pray that you will identify with other girls who are grounded in the same identity and that together you will love Jesus and determine to honor Him in every way. Does this sound too spiritual for a group of preteen girls? Not at all! I trust that my Starburst-loving girl has the character and courage to be different and live out the pure and purposeful calling that God has placed on your life.

The enemy wants to distract you from this high calling; he wants you to conform to anything apart from Christ, and one of his favorite strategies is to preoccupy girls with their outward appearance.  It’s becoming increasingly true in our culture that image is everything and integrity is nothing. But remember that God’s purpose in conformity is that you will become (and you will influence others to become) who you are truly created to be – an image bearer of God. His is the only image that truly matters. It is purity and goodness, grace and truth, joy and gentleness, justice and mercy, strength and patience. When girls help one another bind these traits upon the heart, their bonds of friendship don’t break.

And yes, we do want you to have relationships with people aren’t Christ-followers. That’s how you learn to be salt and light in your world. Forming those relationships is the first step to making disciples. But your closest friends will be those girls who share your values, goals, and principles, who sharpen you, who speak truth into your life, and who walk closely alongside in life’s milestones, deepest joys, and darkest moments.

I don’t mean to say that your friends should be exactly like you. Remember that the Bible tells us that differences are good – especially because God has fashioned each one of us uniquely. Our Creator could have made us exactly the same. But a world filled with only Starburst would be too tart and totally boring!

You know that Priscilla Shirer is one of my favorite teachers, so let me share with you some of her wisdom:
Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.

My dream for you, sweet one, is that you will choose friends who are one with you in purpose. Friends who help you grow up to be like Jesus.

It’s cool if they like chocolate. It’s all right if their clothing style is different (as long as it’s modest). It’s okay if they have a different skin color or body type. Maybe you have friends who are on the honor roll and friends who can’t deal with geometry. Or friends who attend a different church. It’s cool to have friends who are into sports and friends who can’t stand P.E. class. It’s good to have friends who have way bigger or way smaller houses. That’s all okay.

What matters, remember, is that your choice of friends is based not on sameness but on godly standards.

If you choose friends based on sameness, it’s pretty likely that you’re going to get caught up in a clique. A clique is a distortion of community; it’s an exclusive place where girls (and guys, but mostly girls) jockey for position and power. This means that there will be gossip, jealousy, competition, and teasing. But – whether in a family, church, or a group of friends – communities as God intends are places of mutual respect, acceptance, humility, honorable accountability, and love. This seems like a really big goal, but sweetheart, you and your friends can live up to it.

And in the inevitable times when you are hurting or lonely, remember that Jesus is truly your best friend. I really mean it – He will never fail you. Your Mom and Dad can’t love you as perfectly as He does, but we will do our best to fill our home with love, support, guidance, discipline (yes), and encouragement.

We are so proud of the lovely young woman that you are becoming. Keep choosing well, honey.

Love,
Mom

It’s Not About Steve Smith

My ambivalence toward professional sports drives me nuts. On the one hand, I grumble about the ridiculous salaries and I sneer at the objectification of women, proliferated through professional cheerleaders and dance teams (yes, I know that sneering is not nice, but come on – the outfits and choreography are cringe-worthy). But despite all my misgivings, I really enjoy the NFL with all its hype (I would say “love” but we know that word is overused). I love (oops) the larger-than-life personalities, the competition, the feel-good community that comes when our team is doing well, and the armchair quarterbacking that happens when they aren’t. Although we seldom go to the games, eating football food, wearing our team’s colors, and watching social media explode after a Cardiac Cats win is just about as fun as it gets for our sports-loving family.

In my little part of the world, basketball is king, especially in March, but this week– even as the tourneys begin – all eyes are on our favorite NFL player, Steve Smith. The Carolina Panthers, by preparing to cut ties, are losing their head and heart. The fans love (well, yes, we do) this man. He is fiery and relentless and electric. Steve Smith plays with the heart and spirit that we want in every player. His presence ignites his teammates, competitors, and fan base. And at 34 years old, he’s not ready to give up. Smith has been doggedly rehabbing a knee injury with the intention of returning (and eventually retiring) as a Panther. But the administration is ready to say goodbye, except that this news was new to Smith when it was made public to everyone else. It’s all business, you know. But in our hearts, fans believe that Steve Smith has shown enough fight, investment, dedication, and leadership to this team to be allowed to leave on his own terms and in his time.

And so, we’re furious. We cry that it’s not fair. He hasn’t been treated properly. Steve Smith has always been a Panther. How can a team be so vague about his future while quietly removing his jersey from the team store? Fans are angry about the seeming lack of communication and respect. How can we see bear to see Smitty in colors other than black, silver, and blue? Ugh, it makes me so mad.

Obviously, I have thought more about Steve Smith in the past few days than I’ve thought about a lot of other things.

And that’s where it gets convicting. Ouch.

My daughter copies what she sees. So she moans and groans about how unfair all of this is. And although my standard reply to “It’s not fair!” is “Fair ended in the Garden of Eden,” this time I don’t have a response.

And this afternoon, I didn’t have an answer for the question that came very quietly but clearly to my spirit:

“Do you care about the slave?”

“What about the orphan? The refugee? The outcast?”

Ouch, ouch, ouch.

There is a public outcry in Panther Nation about what we perceive as mistreatment toward one of our favorites.

There are less-known people who are mistreated every single day and have no one to speak for them. And they are not millionaires. They are poor, abused, sold, and alone.

This is where it gets uncomfortable, I know. But this is my blog and my conviction and my confession. It doesn’t have to be yours.

In the past 2 days, I have been more concerned with the fate of a very wealthy, famous, and successful man than I have cared about someone – anyone – who is pushed to the farthest margin of society.

Ugh.

This is nothing against Steve Smith. Many fans remember his less-than-sportsman moments. Like any one of us, he’s not a perfect person. But I believe him to be decent and caring and generous. He has loyally supported his community, his church, his wife, and his kids’ and their school. After every game, Steve Smith walks barefoot off the field to remind us that there are people in our community and in our world who have no shoes. Smith and his family have washed the feet of impoverished families in Tampa Bay, Lima, Peru, Charlotte, New Orleans, Memphis and Atlanta. This is a person who is doing his part to make a difference.

So this isn’t about Steve Smith. It’s about me. What have I done today to speak up and show support, not only for a professional athlete, but for someone who has a coerced profession in unspeakable things that no person should be forced into?

Did you know that there are 27 million people around the world (that includes the US) trapped in slavery today?

Who is lighting up social media with anger about this? I haven’t. Until now.

There are women going to abortion clinics because they think that no one has truly loved them; so they ask themselves – how can they love a child? I know that they ask this question because I once sat and looked in the eyes and talked to women like them. That was before I got so busy. Because I think my time is so important like that.

And perhaps Steve Smith himself would rather that I be more concerned with the millions of people around the world who have no closets filled with shoes. They have no closets. And they don’t fight the crowd at the grocery store before the big game to stockpile on wings and burgers and beverage (soda, of course). Because their decision is not between mild or spicy salsa. They are deciding between clothes or food. Or medicine.

Yes, “fair” ended in the Garden. But unfairness is so much more than the minor things that I whine about. The world is fallen through and through, but how is it that I live under a solid roof with a trash can full of food and bags of clothes that don’t fit anymore? I have a responsibility. I’m haunted by the words of Christian activist William Wilberforce: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.

So, I admit that I am torn. So torn. While I bemoan our greedy, celebrity-driven culture, I also buy into it. I can’t answer for all the contradictions in my spirit. This Steve Smith deal and this simple little question in my spirit raise far more questions than I can address with these inadequate words. I’m not telling myself and my family to never purchase a jersey or to feel guilty for enjoying burgers at the game.

I am just trying to learn how to live as a Christ-follower who has a little perspective for things that really matter in the end.

What riles my spirit? What makes me mad? What am I doing with the real injustice in the world?

Yes, I’m going to look at social media feeds to see what happens to Steve Smith.

But more importantly, in response to that question in my spirit, I’m not going to look the other way.