He Created Beauty for All of Us

I went on a women’s retreat this weekend with my church. There were ladies of all ages, stages, sizes, and shapes; ladies who are married, ladies who aren’t. There were ladies with babies, with grown children, with no children. There were ladies with great means and ladies with little. The beauty of a group of ladies together for a weekend is that we could celebrate God’s love for us…all of us…and not have to worry about our differences.

The point of the retreat was to reconnect our hearts with the wonder, delight, and awe that God designed us to experience. Folks, to say we live in a delight deprived world would be putting in mildly and I feel that we are standing at a place in the path where we have two choices. We can choose to walk a path of gratitude, openness, creativity, and grace or we can choose to head in the direction we, as a society, seem to be barreling towards – one that is fear driven, over scheduled, tired, discontent, and very, very, very judgmental.

This morning during my prayer time I read the passage from Luke 7 about the woman who cried over Jesus’ feet. Jesus had gone to have dinner with a Pharisee and no sooner had he been seated, a woman came rushing in to be near him. In the presence of Jesus she began to weep, allowing her tears to pour over his feet. She poured precious oil on him as she cried.

The Pharisee was shocked. Surely if Jesus was who he said he was he would know this woman was wrong. She was doing it all wrong. The Pharisee, who knew the law well and had studied the scriptures back and forth, had lived a righteous life, was disgusted that Jesus would allow this sinner to fall at his feet. But Jesus replied,

“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

It’s easy for me to slide, unconsciously into judgement. I hate that about myself. I can look at people who might interpret scripture in a different light than I do, or worship in a different church than I do, or sing different songs and think, right of the bat, “They don’t know the right way.” I pass judgement that if they only knew my way, the right way, that they might live a fuller life.

Dear God, forgive me.

Dear God, forgive us.

I know I’m not alone in this because I see it all over social media. Fellow Christians, we look like complete and total asses when we spout anger and judgement at each other. We look ridiculous when we spout it at the world. When others, especially other Christians, are creating art, becoming leaders in our communities, and taking leaps for God’s Kingdom and we do our very best to shoot them down because it’s not the way we would have done it or said it or painted it we are no better than the Pharisee.

Of course we use the Bible as our guide. Of course we pray for truth to prevail. Of course. Of course. Of course.

But we have to stop the judging. It is not our job.

Our job is to love. Our job is to live in a way that every single thing we do and say brings glory to Jesus.

That’s it.

What if, today, instead of worrying about pointing out each other’s flaws in theology, we took time to notice each other’s gifts? What if we stopped to say, “Wow! It’s so amazing that God gave you a passion for writing!” or film, or painting, or singing, or baking….or whatever gift God has given your friends and neighbors?

What if, this week, instead of rushing to our phones and laptops to argue about books and movies we sat with a friend in a coffee shop and caught up on each other’s lives?

What if, this month, instead of using scripture as a weapon to point out the sins of others we sat down and prayed for God to forgive us our own sins?

What if we all just shut down Facebook and went for a walk? What if we spent some time in our gardens, tilling soil, planting herbs, watching for butterflies?

Yes, friends, we are at a crossroads, you and I. We are so very close to walking a path where we loose sight of God’s love, his mercy, grace, forgiveness, and all the wonderful beauty he has put on this planet. So let’s not go there, okay? Let’s take each other’s hand today and choose to walk a slower path. Let’s walk towards the beauty. Let’s bend down and smell the wild flowers. (They’re blooming particularly early this year. It’s almost like God sent them to calm us down.) Let’s listen to the birds singing and remember that God didn’t create all this beauty for only a few of us…He created it for all of us.

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Whispers of Hope – A Prayer for Lent

I did not grow up with a knowledge or understanding of Lent. Our particular church did not acknowledge it. I had a few Catholic friends and I had a vague awareness of them not eating meat on Friday but I really didn’t have any sort of grasp on the practice, culture, or custom.

In the last 18 years, as Lutheranism has slowly seeped into my DNA, I have, each year, been striving to wrap my brain around the season and what it means for me. I started with a popular decision of giving up sweets. One year I gave up soap operas (and actually never picked them up again). I’ve given up wine, dessert, cakes and cookies specifically, only pie for one season, and emotional eating. I’ve also had years where I picked up a habit. For instance, one year I read a chapter of my bible every day.

I will be the first to admit that for most years, I made it about me.

“Look at what I’m giving up.”

“Look how disciplined I am.”

“See how good I am when I sacrifice for Jesus.”

The reality is, I believe, that my decision to give up cupcakes did not really draw me closer to Jesus. (It totally may be what you need. There is no judgement here. I’m only speaking for self.) In fact, the things I gave up mostly made me sad and feel self pity. When I started equating my giving up pie to Jesus climbing up on the cross, it occurred to me that I might not have a grasp on what sacrifice is.

I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about where my life is right now. I’ve been processing the incredible rate of speed my kids are growing, how this changes my marriage and our family. I’ve been staring down the barrel of 40 and what that means. What have I accomplished? How have I grown? Shouldn’t I be have my life together by now?

The whisper in my soul that has been growing increasingly louder and more persistent is saying, “Pray.”

My prayer life is what I like to call “on the go.” I wake up praying; thanking God for breath and asking him to give me strength for the day. I pray in the shower for specifics that come to mind. I pray as I’m walking up the stairs to wake my kids, “God, give them health today” and as I drop them at school, “God, protect them.”

As the day rolls on I’m in constant prayer.

“Thank you for the beauty in the blooming azaleas.”

“Please take away this cough.”

“Help me to be wise.”

“Help me to be kind.”

They come as easily as breath and I breathe them in and out all day. But I’ve craving a slow down. I’m desiring a friendship with Jesus that looks like morning coffee instead of a quick text message.

So I bought this book by Beth Moore (Whispers of Hope) and I’ve decided it will be my spring board for Lent this year. If Lent is supposed to be a time of purification and drawing closer to Christ, I want to spend time, every morning, in bible devotion and guided prayer. I want to make a focused effort to be less of me and more of Jesus.

Right now I know some of you are saying, “You aren’t supposed to tell people what you’re doing for Lent because that makes you look prideful.” Folks, there is zero pride in me saying I’ve made my life too busy to sit down with Jesus. I want no accolades for that. I share because I think it’s possible there are a few moms (or dads) that might be like me and know that the days they spend with Jesus make them better parents. I share because I have a hunch there are some women who, like me, feel a bit of pressure to carry heavy loads and could use some strength from God.

This book is simply a tool with three features. Every day offers a devotional with a scripture passage and a few thoughts. There is a prayer guide that uses the PRAISE approach (I’ll share what that means in a minute.) And there is also an answer log so I can record answered prayers.

So PRAISE is an easy format to help me organize my prayer thoughts and it works like this:

Praise – I will start each prayer by opening my heart and telling God how awesome I think he is. I might write a line from the Psalms or even a chorus from a song. The point is God already knows who he is. This is me, letting him know that I know, too.

Repentance – This is where I admit the things. All the things. Jealousy? Write it down. Anger? Yes. Gluttony? Yep. Lust? Even good girls do it. No matter what it is, I’ll record it and ask God to help me turn away from it. There is no shame…in fact, it frees me of shame. Holding on to sin is pointless because God already sees it. He knows I’ve done it. This is me, stating the obvious, so I can stop.

Acknowledge – This is where I admit that I trust him (or don’t) and that I want him to be the ruler of my life.

Intercession – I can list all the needs on my heart that belong to other people. The friend’s premature baby I’ve been praying for. The friend who is suffering anxiety. My sick family member. The friend who doesn’t know Jesus. I can list any and all and God hears them. He sees them.

Self – What do I need? What are my hurts? Where are my weaknesses? I can pour my heart out to God because he is my refuge and strength. He opens his arms and pulls me in safely. This is the time to share my whole heart with him.

Equipping – I want to serve God, not just go to him with needs. When I ask to be filled with his Spirit he empowers me to be a blessing to others.

They say it takes 21 days to make a habit and I’m hoping that this becomes a habit that sticks. I want my relationship with Jesus to grow stronger. I desire to know him more. I know there is power in his Word and I know he hears my prayers.

What are some tools you have used during Lent (or any other time) to focus your mind and heart on Jesus?

 

 

 

*I make zero dollars on the sale of Beth’s book and I have no affiliation with Amazon. I placed a link in case you, like me, think this book might be helpful to your prayer life.

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Newspaper Salesmen, Bike Riders, and People Who Carry Sledgehammers

When I drive to church on Sunday I like to take notice of all the people I see. I’m usually by myself because I have to be to church much earlier than the rest of my family. Call it distracted driving or simply taking it all in but I like to think about the people I see. The man selling newspapers, the woman pulling a wagon with a dog riding along, the group of men biking in their multi-colored spandex suits…I like to imagine what their day will hold. I wonder if they will go to church today, if they will share a meal with family, or if they’ll be alone.

Of course I’ll probably never know for certain but it’s just a fun little thing I do. I make up stories.

This morning, as I was about to pull into the church parking lot I noticed a woman walking by herself. She appeared, at first, to be carrying a large stick of some sort. As I got a little closer I realized she was carrying a sledgehammer. It’s long wooden handle was held tight in her grip and the large mallet was swinging near the side walk.

I instantly started wondering what her story was.

Maybe she was recently attacked by a ferocious dog wall minding her own business on her morning walk. She is probably afraid of seeing the dog ( or any dog ) again and she wants to carry protection.

Maybe someone jumped out from the trees and flashed her sometime back. She was listening to headphones, singing a song, and didn’t hear the rustling in the brush and was suddenly confronted by a man in a trench coat showing her his goods. She screamed, he ran, and she couldn’t give the police a good description of his face. He was never found. She’s carrying that sledge hammer just in case.

Or maybe she’s spent too much time on social media that last couple of days. Her friends from bridge club, a few old high school classmates, and that lady from the library (what is her name?) have all been posting articles about the lies of Trump/Obama/Clinton/Huffington Post/Fox News…. They all claim to have the true story. They know our country is doomed. Someone is going to come and take away our insurance and raise out mortgage and call our vaginas ugly names.  Russia is going to bomb us, the Muslims are going to burn our Bibles, and Dear God….WHO IS GOING TO MAKE IT TO THE SUPER BOWL?!?!??!?!? She’s very worked up because of the visceral energy and she’s afraid to comment or post because she doesn’t want to offend or be attacked. She’s completely on edge, not thinking clearly, and her husband told her she needs some fresh air and a break from her phone. She slides on her sneakers, begrudgingly, and heads out for a walk but in her agitated state of mind she picks up a sledgehammer. It totally seemed logical to her in the moment.

I don’t know. It could have been any of those options. Or none. I don’t know.

There are other things I don’t know. Like what’s going to happen tomorrow. My family, my home, my friends, my job, my kids schools….there are uncertainties in all those areas.

Here’s what I do know. Carrying a sledgehammer isn’t going to make any of it better.

If I spend too much time (and right now “too much time” feels like any time) on social media I am going to read things I don’t agree with. I’m going to see people with different points of view. I’m going to see articles posted that may or may not contain facts. I’m going to see friends attacking each other and saying mean and nasty things. And I’m going to get caught up in it all. I’m going to  keep scrolling and keep opening and keep looking for someone to say something that feels kind or good or nice. And frankly, there’s not a lot of that out there right now.

And it’s not Obama’s fault.

And it’s not Trump’s fault.

And it’s not a women’s issue.

And it’s not a men’s issue.

It isn’t an LGBQT issue.

It’s a heart issue. It’s an issue where our hearts are full of sin and hatred that need to be covered by Jesus.

This morning at church we sang one of my favorite songs (This Dust) and I couldn’t help but think about how broken we all are. Every single one of us is flawed and  but we can’t seem to wait to point our fingers and raise our fists and yell at each other, pointing out the nastiness we see. And yet it’s that nastiness that Jesus came to save; it’s the worst in us that he died for.  We don’t have to live in fear and we don’t have to harbor angst because he’s seen the worst. He’s faced it and he’s conquered it. He’s with us. He’s got this.

So maybe we all take a little break. Maybe we turn off Facebook for a day or two. Maybe we shut off our Twitter feed for a few hours and turn off the news. Not forever. Just for a little while.

Let’s all go for a walk by the lake. Let’s rake some leaves. Let’s use our God-given bodies and breathe in the fresh air he has given us.

How about we invites some friends over to watch football and we share a meal?

Whatever we do, let’s all lay down our sledgehammers for a while. They’re awful heavy to carry around and they make us look crazy.

 

 

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Butter Cookies and Waiting on God

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One of my favorite pastimes of the Christmas season is baking. I love to bake cookies and cakes. There are some recipes that are tried and true and I make them every year and then there are some that come and go depending on my mood.

One of the recipes that has made it’s way into my repertoire is a simple buttery shortbread. It has three ingredients…butter, brown sugar, and flour. It’ so simple and so easy that as long as you follow the very few basic steps it’s a total win. The butter must be cold and cut into tiny pieces before blending it with the brown sugar. The flour mustn’t be added in one giant plop but instead slowly and with ease. After you chill the dough you place small, rolled balls on a cookie sheet and then sprinkle your favorite colored sprinkle across the top. Bake, cool, eat. Yum.

I’ve done a little baking here and there this month. A cake to share here. A bread to give there. Some fudge, some cookies…nothing too fancy. Today felt like a good day for my favorite little butter cookies except that the cold front that blew into Houston over the weekend blew out yesterday and my A/C is back on. I’m not sure why I get disappointed by warm fronts over Christmas. This is my 18th Christmas in Houston and, if I really went back with a tally marker, I’d say the A/C years far outweighed the fireplace years. It is what it is. Cookies can’t wait for cold days.

So I pulled my butter and sugar and flour out and started the mixing. And the rolling. And the baking. The smell was wafting through the kitchen as the cookies baked and I cleaned the kitchen. I wiped the counters, loaded the dishwasher, and waited for the timer to buzz.

When I opened the oven, ready to beam with pride and joy over the golden sweet treats, I was mortified to see three cookie sheets of flat, burned, cookie blobs. What could have possibly happened?!?!?!

I didn’t chill the dough. I got in a hurry and I handled the dough too much without chilling it. My warm and harsh hands warmed the butter in the dough and caused it to flatten and burn.

While throwing three cookie sheets of cookies out is very frustrating, it served as a reminder to my co-dependent self of a character flaw I always have to keep in check…especially during the holidays. A lack of patience and a need to mold situations to my liking often gets me in trouble.

This is the time of year when expectations are high and my need to make things “right” often gets me in trouble. My mind races, I plan too far ahead, and I fail to be present in the moment. I skip steps, overstep bounds, and by-pass feelings in order to mold things into how I believe they should be. And while this is disastrous for cookies, it’s even worse for relationships. The lack of time to chill and the need to fill every moment with busy leads to a flat, burned out mom.

I read a short devotional thought a few days ago that included a reminder that God rarely shows us the whole picture up front. Sometimes he lets us walk around in the mess before he explains why we’re in it. When the angel visited Mary she was front-loaded with what was to come. Joseph, however, was tossed around in the wash before the angel visited him to clue him in. Everything looked messy and confusing and he could have dropped Mary, his pregnant girlfriend and ran to the hills but he didn’t. He waited. And when God’s plan was revealed to him he took each next step just as he was directed. How different might have the story turned out had Joseph jumped the gun? What if he’d skipped some steps and tried to roll the situation up in a perfect ball? What if he hadn’t taken the time to chill?

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). -Matthew 1:22-23

I want to be more like Joseph. I want to trust that God is working in all situations and have the patience to wait it out. I want to believe that God’s plans for me (or for my kids or for my friends) are well thought out and have purpose and don’t need to be handled by me. I want to be faithful and follow each step as God reveals it. I want to remember that it’s not my job to make all things “right” and that when I skip steps it almost always leads to disaster. Or burnt cookies.

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Unexpected Joy

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I love to decorate for Christmas. It’s my absolute favorite time of year. I love the glitter, the lights, the candles….all of it. But this is our first Christmas in this house and I found decorating to be a little troublesome.
You see, we spent 11 Christmas’s in our last house. I had sort of built a pattern for where things went. Every bauble had a place. I knew where my gingerbread men stood and where my elves sat. I always hung the big glass Santa in the middle of the tree and placed an antique camel with no hook near the top. My puffy fleece countdown tree always hung on my pantry door and the red and green glittered cones had a special order on the mantel.
This house, while lovely and exactly where I want to be, is different. Our Christmas tree didn’t fit in this living room. We had a twelve foot artificial tree at the old house. We have nine foot ceilings in this house. There are shelves I didn’t have before which are begging to be filled but with what I’m not sure.
I know, these are completely first world problems. I am fully aware that the starving children in Bi-Africa don’t care about my gingerbread men not fitting in. (I’m not even sure Bi-Africa is a place but my friend, Denise, says there are starving children there and I’m certain they have bigger problems than me.) But I needed to figure it out. My heart has been crying for simplicity for quite a while in every area of life and as I started to pull out the boxes and boxes  of decorations, some of them didn’t feel right anymore. It all felt frivolous and too much. There were quite a few items that I had no desire to even pull out.
And yet I still wanted to decorate. Decorations have always helped my heart warm to the season of Christmas. This year, however, I was turning away from the pieces that were just about the pretty and was drawn towards the pieces that had a story; had meaning.
There was one ornament that was a gift from a friend after our first trip to the Nutcracker market together.
Then there were the sport ornaments I’ve purchased over the years for my husband. Some of them were his heroes growing up and some of them reminded me of special games or seasons we celebrated together.
I have 9 or 10 “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments from the year my daughter was born. She was an October Baby so it was a popular gift. I didn’t pull them all out this year but instead hung the one my in-laws brought her from a trip they made to Germany to visit my husband’s brother. It wasn’t like the rest. It was hand carved and painted and felt like it had love all over it.
I have a million hand made ornaments from the kids preschool and early elementary days but there were two that almost called out to me as I sifted through the box. They both had the same teacher in 1st grade. She’s an amazing lady who seems to have been born to teach 1st grade. She dipped their hands in white paint and wrapped them around a glass bulb and wrote their names on it in silver. So simple and yet so precious. I hung them side by side on the tree this year.
And then I found the Santa ornament. Listen, Santa is my jam and I have LOTS of Santa ornaments. But there’s one that is more special than the rest.
When my parents got married in 1967 they were very young and, from what I understand, didn’t have two nickels to rub together. But my dad bought a little tree and my mom hand made ornaments that year. She took Styrofoam balls and pinned sequins and ribbons to each one. She made one by gluing a Hallmark napkin with a jolly Santa to a ball and wrapping ribbon around it.
A few years before my parents split up she threw out all of those hand made ornaments. She said they were old and ratty. She replaced all the decorations with shiny blue and ivory ornaments. She put blue lights on the tree and in the yard. All of the hand-made, multi-colored Christmas pieces were gone.
The Christmas after her suicide in 1997 I got all of her decorations out. It made me so sad that the boxes were full of bulbs and balls and lacy pieces that had no meaning. But at the bottom of one of the boxes was the Santa ornament made from the napkin. I sobbed with sorrow and with gratitude. I have no idea how that one ornament made the cut. I don’t know if it was special or if it was an accident but it’s the only handmade ornament I have of hers. I’ll treasure it forever.
We can gather joy and delight from the most unexpected of places. My mom had no idea how precious that napkin glued ornament would be to me almost 50 years after she made it.
When my kid’s first grade teacher dipped their little hands in white paint she probably didn’t know it would bring tears to my eyes this far down the road.
I suppose that’s what Christmas is though, right? Christmas is about unexpected joy. The people of God waited for hundreds of years in darkness for a Savior. They expected a mighty king or a swift warrior – not a baby- and certainly not a baby in a barn!  It’s the unexpectedness that I cling to these days. The hope of when life feels dark and I don’t know what to do or where to go that God has a plan. It rarely looks like what I expect or could design on my own. No, God’s plan is always unexpectedly marvelous and always just in time.
So if your heart isn’t feeling it this year and you’re struggling to make sense of why any of the glittered poinsettias matter, know that you aren’t alone. Know that the God of the Universe cared about your story so much that he sent his one and only Son to a dark and lonely world. He sent him to bring light. He sent him to be light. He sent him to be the light. And if asking him to light your whole season seems unrealistic, ask him to light up your week. And if a week feels too big then ask him to light up your day. And if today feels like too much you can ask him to light up the next moment. He will. His love for you is so rich and deep and good and joy will show up in the most unexpected of places.

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Strong Enough to Bend

We all woke up this morning in a new reality. Some of us were ecstatic about the President-Elect. Some of us were devastated by the election results. But I think the majority us felt some sort of odd feeling somewhere in between. This has been an angry election year, there’s no doubt. But my hope was that today we  could all be on the same page of at least one topic…kindness.

I felt certain we would wake up knowing that what’s done is done and that God is still on his throne. I assumed we would all see that the sun still rose in the sky and know that tonight, we shall see the moon. The world will keep turning.

That is so far from what I have seen. Social media is filled with anger and wrath and finger pointing…from both sides. Name calling has been rampant all day, names flying around like dignity and manners don’t even exist. Self-righteous boasting and haughty proclamations are at a nauseatingly all-time high.

So when I opened my gratitude calendar and saw that today’s prompting was “trees” I thought, “What the heck am I supposed to do with that on a day like today?”

And suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, a song popped into my head. An old song.

very, very old song.

Does anyone remember Tanya Tucker? The country singer? She sang a song called,”Strong Enough to Bend” that came out in the 80’s.

 

“There’s a tree out in the backyard
That never has been broken by the wind
And the reason its still standing
It was strong enough to bend

For years, we have stayed ogether
As lovers and as friends
What we have will last forever
If we’re strong enough to bend

When you say something that you can’t take back
Big wind blows and you hear a little crack
When you say “Hey well I might be wrong”
You can sway with the wind till the storm is gone
Sway with the wind till the storm is gone

Like a tree out in the backyard
That never has been broken by the wind
Our love will last forever
If we’re strong enough to bend

When you start thinkin’ that you know it all
Big wind blows and a branch will fall
When you say “Hey this job takes two”
We can sway with the wind till the skies turn blue
Sway with the wind till the skies turn blue

Like a tree out in the backyard
That never has been broken by the wind
Our love will last forever if we’re strong enough to bend.”

I had to look up the words because I couldn’t remember them all but I actually laughed a little when I read them. Yes, it’s a little corny. I’ll give you that. But just imagine, for a minute, if we started swaying with the wind instead of bowing up like we know it all. What would happen if we put down the weapons of anger we have been flinging for months and worked together to be kind and helpful?

I imagine our country like a strong and mighty oak. It’s roots run deep. We can continue with the in-fighting, the hatred of our own people, the meanness, the lack of love and acceptance. But if we do we just might snap right down the middle. We might break. And we might die.

Or we, as a strong and might oak of a country, can make a choice that leans toward love; to sway in the wind. We can pray for days with blue skies but we can take action today. We can bend a little. And it’s in the bending, my friends, that a tree withstands a storm.

So I pray today for you, dear friend, and I pray for me. I pray for our country, for our leaders, and the choices they make. I pray that we remember we are the way love and goodness spread across this land. We are the ones who feed the sick and lonely and dejected. We are the ones to clothe the fearful and the cold. We are the people. We are God’s people. Regardless of who is in charge of this country, we can choose to bend.

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Anger at the Wal-Mart

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I’m not exactly sure when it happened. I’d like to point a finger somewhere or at someone, because blaming would make me feel better. Blaming would allow me to tell myself that it’s not a part of me or that I don’t have a part in it. Something has changed in America though and it’s ugly. We’ve become a nation of mad, angry, self-righteous people. We yell. We scream. We type in all caps. We wave our arms and hands at drivers and we rage out on our “friends” on social media. I know some would like to blame this election season but y’all, this has been brewing for a while. We would not be allowing this election year to be so nasty if the subculture of rage hadn’t already crawled into our being.

I went to Wal-Mart today. I know. Why would I chose to do such a thing on a school holiday? I’ll tell you why. Toilet bowl cleaner. I’ve got six toilets in this house and they all get used. Mama needs her some deals when it comes to cleaning supplies. Anyway, the kids and I managed to make it through the store fairly quickly, stocking our cart with cleaners and dusters and an Iron Man t-shirt because, well, Iron Man. We got to the check out and shockingly enough, there were only three lanes open. I know this surprises you because Wal-Mart and Target always have enough checkers for the shoppers in the store. (Make sure your computer reads the sarcasm font there.)

There was an older couple in line ahead of us. My friend Denise would say, “Old like me?” and I would say, “No. Old like for real.” They were old. Gray. Shriveled. And super cute. The woman had placed her purse on the conveyor belt, I’m assuming to mark the stopping point of items for the person in front of her and the starting point of her own things. I don’t know where the little belt marker was but it wasn’t there. So she used her purse. The checker, scanning items mindlessly and fast, scanned the last item of the person ahead and grabbed the woman’s purse and attempted to scan it.

The old lady ahead of me grabbed her purse back and said, “Oh, no. That’s mine.”

To which, I kid you not, the checker said, “No. It’s hers. If you want a purse you’ll need to go get one.”

What?

My daughter, watching the  whole thing unfold, looked at me as if to say,”What just happened?”

And then…

The old lady ahead of me starts yelling, “That’s my purse! It’s got my stuff inside! Give it back!”

And the checker says, (I swear I can’t make this up),”Prove it!”

So the woman opens her purse and shows that it is truly, in fact, her purse.

And her old man husband never flinched.

When we got to the truck my son asked what the people were fighting about and I just sighed. I told him I think some people have so much anger in their hearts that they don’t know what to do but let it spill out on other people.

I think there’s more of us with that issue than we’d like to acknowledge.

Once upon a time, when my kids were really little, they were having some anger issues with each other. There was lots of fighting, lots of name calling. and dear Jesus, so much tattling. I decided one day to sit them down and make a list of all the things that are worthy of our anger; things where if we were to witness them happening, we should yell or scream or throw a fit.

Our list included things like:

  • Kicking puppies
  • Picking other peoples boogers
  • Stealing toys or houses
  • Cutting someone else’s  artwork out

You know, things that make little kids mad. I can’t help but think that maybe it’s time for America to sit down and make a list. Be real about it. Make a list of the injustices that honestly and truly mean something. And then, instead of throwing a fit, say a prayer and ask God how He would have us react. I suspect that He will rarely answer with, “Go to your Facebook page and type in all caps with lots of exclamation points.” I’m pretty sure He won’t say,”Yell out your window in car line at the school and shake your fist at the other moms.”

He might. I don’t claim to know the mind and heart of God to the fullest.

I feel like He will suggest things like, “Give more hugs” and “Share more food” and “Turn the other cheek” because God tends to lean more towards the loving side and less towards the “let’s have a scream out in the check out lane at Wal-Mart” type.

A few years ago I had to come face to face with my own anger issues. I’m not claiming to have them all under control but I have taken HUGE strides towards being a gentler person. I rarely yell anymore. I work hard at letting the small things go; the battles that aren’t worth fighting. I don’t hold on to things that are completely out of my control…okay, I’m still working on some big things but the little things that are out of my control – easy. The big questions I ask myself daily, when deciding to engage rage or not are:

  1. Is the energy I spend on this anger issue worth it? If I’m going to be short on energy for my family later today because I spent energy on this angry thing, will I look back and approve?
  2. Is my anger going to make a difference in the situation? If I say something, yell something, type something in all caps, will I make a difference for the better in the world? Will my anger bring safety or bring justice?

If I can answer “yes” to those questions then I can let the rage fly. But even with that, I’m learning to temper my rage in a way that makes it more receivable. Can my anger be displayed calmly and rationally? Because it’s more palatable that way and generally brings change faster.

Here’s what I know for sure. Kindness almost always wins. Showing love, even when it’s not earned and especially when it’s not deserved, is always the best way. These things have nothing to do with being a door mat and everything to do with being a better person. Gentleness is better received than rage and a soft word is taken in and heard far more often than a snarky response.

So maybe this evening we all turn off the news and shut down the social media and take a walk. Maybe we wave at our neighbors – even the ones with the political signs in their yards for the candidate we despise. Perhaps we bake a loaf of bread and share it with a friend or pour a glass of hearty red wine for our spouse. Let’s all take a breath. Let’s inhale peace and exhale the nasty. And let’s all agree that Wal-Mart needs more open lanes.

 

 

 

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He’s Calling Me From My Grave

“Take me to the shouting grounds…

a prodigal lost was found…

I should be dead right now

but I am alive.

I just wanna see your face

You’re calling me from my grave

Take me to the shouting grounds…

it’s gonna get loud.”

To say the last few months have been hard would be an understatement.

Hard doesn’t begin.

If I told you the weight on my chest feels like a constipated elephant you might think I’m joking.

I am not.

When I say that Satan is an asshat I’m not just throwing around profanity.

He is.

I could give you a hundred reasons why my life has been stressful but I won’t because, dear friend, I know your list is probably longer. I know that you might look at my life and think I’ve got it dreamy. It’s all about perspective, I suppose.

I could talk of unfairness in life but that would imply I ever believed fairness was due.

I have never believed such nonsense. I’ve seen too much unfairness to too many who deserved way more fair than I.

Last week Crowder’s new album “American Prodigal” was released and my ears and my heart have latched on as if it was written just for me. It’s like David Crowder called someone up and said,”I’d really like to lay down some swamp rock with lyrics that punch Tam in the gut,” and a whole team of musicians joined in whole-heartedly.

The lyrics at the top of this page are from the song “Shouting Grounds” and I’ve had it on repeat all day. In between meetings and chapel and list making for the week I’ve hit REPEAT twenty times. At least.

I suppose I’m feeling the feels for it so deeply because I know that this is just a season. It’s a hard season but a season no less. I’ve spent 18 years in Houston so I’m grown accustomed to only two seasons, Summer and Not-Summer. When I season I’m not familiar with sneaks in I am lost in picking a wardrobe.

Lately my wardrobe has consisted of a plastic smile backed by a black heart.

But God is calling me out of this season. I am clinging to the faith that he won’t leave me here and that he wants me to pack my bags.

He doesn’t mind the black for a while but it’s not the color I was born to wear.

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So I’m checking out of the office a little early today and going for a walk. It’s time to shout it out. It’s time to throw a few rocks and maybe a coffee mug. It’s time to smash some things, cry some tears, and give it to God. The world and all of it’s ways could knock you and I down a thousand times over, throw some dirt on our heads, and leave us for dead. That’s not our purpose. He’s calling us out. And “out” – wherever that is and whatever it looks like – will probably be different for you than it is for me but it’s where we need to be.

I’ve allowed fear and worry and doubt to fill my bones with an immense weight and I’ve decided that I’m tired. And done. So I’m giving it to God. It’s something I should’ve done months ago.

I type it like it’s an easy task and that when I’m done I’ll do some sort of dance with scarves. I wish that were true. I’ll hand it over and, if my life time pattern rings true again, I’ll wrestle long and hard to take it back. But the joy and peace come from knowing that God loves a prodigal son like me so much that he’ll engage me in the wrestling.

What are you wrestling today? Are you as tired as I am? Join me in the giving up process and we’ll get our scarves out and dance together.

 

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A Self Portrait

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This morning was a hard one. A harsh one. I had to go to the doctor. It was a follow up visit from a check up last month where fasting blood work was ordered. This is not out of the ordinary and, in fact, it happens several times a year. I have a bum liver, a mediocre thyroid, and diabetes. These are things that must be looked after.

So as I drove to the doctor office this morning I was fully preparing myself for the shaming. When I was first diagnosed with all the things I did a bang up job of getting in gear. I knew that my life had fallen out of control and my health was a perfect picture at the time of the way I was handling things. Which was not well.  But I got it together, got my butt in gear, lost weight, starting taking my meds regularly, yada, yada, yada.  Within six months I had lost 25 pounds, got my A1C under control, my liver was functioning well, thyroid started working…I was jamming.

Then I wasn’t. I could sit down right now and make a very quick list of all the ways my life derailed this year but at the same time, I could make an even longer list of all the good things. It’s just been a big year. There have been big feelings, big changes, big decisions, big heartache, big joy. Big. There’s been  a lot of big. And my weight followed.

I felt certain, as I waited for the doctor to come into the exam room today, that he was going to share horrible news. I steeled myself for the off-the-chart-numbers he would read. I told myself that I would not cry. I had made these choices, no one forced me to be in this position.

“Mrs. Lexow, your numbers have never looked better. You A1C looks great, thyroid is super, liver is working…..”

He continued down the list and I felt like this strange feeling inside like maybe he had the wrong test results. Surely this was not right. And then he leaned in towards me and looked me straight in the eye.

“Mrs. Lexow, you are really healthy today. You’ve made great strides with your health and I’m really proud of you. But your weight is higher than it’s been in a long time and I’m thinking that it’s no longer a health issue, but a heart issue. What are you going to do to love yourself enough to lose the weight? What are you hiding from?”

Damn it.

So I came home, did some chores, started dinner prep for tonight, and sat down to check emails. I found a new writing prompt waiting in my inbox. The blogging challenge I’ve been halfheartedly working on suggested I write a self portrait.

“Be kind to yourself. 

There is so much beauty and life inside you.”

Two voices in one day telling me to love myself. To be kind.

I know how to do this. I know how to do it just like I know how to breathe and to walk. I preach self care, self love, taking care of your mental health all the time. So why then, when I know the answers, do I find it so hard to use them myself? Can I say kind things? Even harder, can I write kind things? Maybe I should. Maybe this is the first step toward looking in the mirror and believing there is beauty.

Well, here it goes…

Tamara, A Self Portrait

I am funny, full of quick wit.

You wouldn’t think so much punch could be contained in such a short frame.

I am full of sparkle, joy, fun….

I am full of a lot.

I love words. I love to write them, to read them, to speak them…

Even if you aren’t listening I will continue to talk.

But I’ll get angry if you don’t hear me.

I need you to hear me.

I am helpful, whether you want me to be or not. I’m sure I have an answer for you.

And if not an answer, I have a joke.

Or a drink.

Or a piece of cake.

I am a survivor. I could tell you I no longer fear abandonment because I’ve survived it so many times.

That would be a lie.

I am stronger but I’m still afraid.

Some people say big hair is hiding something. I think that’s bull.

Big hair is just fun.

I worry less these days about pleasing people.

Some people.

My desire for my family to feel my love is greater than my desire to please the masses.

I no longer think being busy is a jeweled tiara.

It looks like a heavy weight.

I don’t care to impress you with my accomplishments, my committees, my calendar.

I long to know my Creator on a deeper level.

Sometimes I see his reflection when I look in the mirror.

At least I think that’s who I see.

That’s why I want to know Him more.

I want to know for sure.

I am a wife, a mother, a lover, a fighter, a friend, a teacher, a preacher, a talker, a writer.

I am worthy of love.

 

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An Acrostic Poem I Did Not Write

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I’ve been participating in a blogging challenge the past couple of weeks. And by participating, I mean I have been reading the prompts as they’ve arrived in my mailbox and not acting on them. Well, that’s not entirely true…I was challenged to write an August version of a Christmas letter a few days ago but I could not wrap my brain around Christmas when it was a gajillion degrees. I decided on a back to school essay. It’s fine.

There was another challenge to write a poem. I have not been able to get the idea of me writing a poem out of my head. I am not usually a poet, but more of a drop all my words on the page kind of writer. I was intrigued though so I kept rolling it around. I wrote one a few nights ago about the moon. I was outside, waiting on the dog to do his business and I was frustrated. I was frustrated by the heat, by the dog, by life in general. I actually liked what came out but it felt so personal, so vulnerable that I wasn’t able to post it for the world. Maybe one day. I’m in a season of holding things close to the heart, which is strange for me as I generally vomit every word and thought that enters my head. I’m the one who speaks publicly and is often just as surprised as the crowd at what comes out. But lately there has been a call, a need, for stillness and forethought.

So when I friend sent me this passage this morning, seemingly out of the blue, I cried. At the foot of the chapter from Psalm 37 the note read,”This psalm is an acrostic poem, the stanzas of which begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.”

God was speaking to me, yet again, through ancient words. The cry of David fit my life and all the things I’m holding close right now, all the while written in beautiful poetic form.

So if you are a fan of poetry, or of evil-doers perishing as flowers in the field…this is a great read.

Psalm 37

Of David.

Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek will inherit the land
    and enjoy peace and prosperity.

12 The wicked plot against the righteous
    and gnash their teeth at them;
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he knows their day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword
    and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
    to slay those whose ways are upright.
15 But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
    and their bows will be broken.

16 Better the little that the righteous have
    than the wealth of many wicked;
17 for the power of the wicked will be broken,
    but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care,
    and their inheritance will endure forever.
19 In times of disaster they will not wither;
    in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.

20 But the wicked will perish:
    Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field,
    they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.

21 The wicked borrow and do not repay,
    but the righteous give generously;
22 those the Lord blesses will inherit the land,
    but those he curses will be destroyed.

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

25 I was young and now I am old,
    yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
    their children will be a blessing.[b]

27 Turn from evil and do good;
    then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the Lord loves the just
    and will not forsake his faithful ones.

Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed[c];
    the offspring of the wicked will perish.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
    and dwell in it forever.

30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
    and their tongues speak what is just.
31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
    their feet do not slip.

32 The wicked lie in wait for the righteous,
    intent on putting them to death;
33 but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked
    or let them be condemned when brought to trial.

34 Hope in the Lord
    and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
    when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.

35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
    flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,
36 but he soon passed away and was no more;
    though I looked for him, he could not be found.

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
    a future awaits those who seek peace.[d]
38 But all sinners will be destroyed;
    there will be no future[e] for the wicked.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.

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