Friday, July 29, 2016

born to fly

I've written before about how different songs have had an impact on different phases on my life. Music has always been a huge part of my life, starting with the songs my mom and her mom taught me when I was little—The B-I-B-L-E, He's Still Working on Me, Mares-e-dotes, Sunbeam, Jesus Loves Me...the list could go on for a while. In school, my first heartbreak came when I didn't make the elementary choir in 5th grade and one of my proudest moments came when my high school choir teacher looked at me in shock during my audition one year and asked, “Where did that come from?”

Music has a way of reaching all the way to my heart. I've fallen to my knees listening to a worship song that broke me, I've been lifted high by another that made my heart soar. I've had songs of all genres made a difference in my life. My now husband but then boyfriend told me how he felt about me with Coldplay's Yellow. I've sung along with songs that said what I couldn't—or didn't dare—say. I have lyrics from a song written in the scrapbook I made after Michael was killed. There are lyrics from another song that I hope to paint on the wall of my house some day when we finally have a house of our own instead of a place we're renting.

And today, when I was feeling overwhelmed, I was reminded of another song that's meant a lot to me since high school. It's by Sara Evans, and the chorus says:

How do you wait for heaven?
And who has that much time?
And how to you keep your feet on the ground
when you know you were born to fly?”

I was searching through some of the blogs I read faithfully, looking for something that would speak to what I've been feeling lately. One wrote of being overwhelmed and overlooked, but she was talking about being overlooked by the world and handpicked by God. There is great truth in her words, but what about when you're feeling overlooked by God? I read another that was about having the wrong girl, about feeling like you've been called to do more than you're capable of doing, of being asked to run when you barely feel able to walk. Again, while I understand the sentiment, what about when you feel like you're standing still, growing stagnant? Yet another wrote about what happens when God calls you to do something hard. But what if you're trying to figure out what He's called you to?

What about when you feel like you were meant to do something, and you just can't figure out what that's supposed to be? How do you come to terms with feeling like you were meant to fly, but instead you're sinking below the waves?

I have a really hard time with the mundane. I joke that I must have gypsy blood in my background or something, because I find it really hard to sit still and simply walk through the everyday life I find myself in. Don't get me wrong--I know I'm blessed. I have a husband who supports every crazy whim, kids I would give my last breath for, and an amazing family most people can't even imagine. I teach a great bunch of kids in one of the most beautiful places around. There is a roof over my head, food on my table, and a gorgeous view outside my front door.

I've been blessed with way more than I deserve, and I know that.

But there's part of me that is still searching, still desperate, still longing. There's a part of me that wants to be used for something bigger than myself, something...more.

I'm sure it comes down to a trust issue with me; it usually does. I know that God is in control, and I know that He has a plan for my life. The thing is, I want to know right now what exactly that plan is. I fret and I worry and I stress, and I lose sight of the fact that all my worry is doing is telling God that I don't trust Him to work everything out in His timing.

Because, as hard as it is for me to admit, His timing is perfect. Looking back, had I been able to see what all God would lead me through I'm pretty sure I would have said Thanks but no thanks. Maybe, then, the waiting is all part of God preparing me for whatever He wants me to do. Maybe, before I can do something more, I have to learn to be content--to be faithful--in what I see as the mundane.

Let me tell you, that's a hard lesson for me to learn.

Friday, July 15, 2016

I'm tired...

I'm so tired of all this mess.
from wonderopolis.org

I'm tired of hatred being spewed in the name of “progress.” I've tried to simply ignore it, taking the ostrich approach of sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will all just blow over. Surely, we're better than this—smarter than this. Surely, people will get tired of the fear-mongering and race baiting and police blaming. Surely we'll look at those who stand up and rant about how we can't "discredit one person's experience" (though it is perfectly fine to discredit the experiences of millions of others) and see them for what they are—pitiful, insecure, lost people.

The thing is, that's not happening. While I'm trying to ignore the chaos and hatred, it's tearing everything down around me. It's taking this country that I have always loved, the country that my brother fought and died to defend, and it is twisting it into something dark and scary that I don't want my babies growing up in.

We live in what has, from its very conception, always been one of the greatest nations on earth. Through a commitment to God and each other, we have lived a blessed life. We haven't been perfect—because we're human, something people have somehow forgotten—but together we've moved forward. We've pushed past the pain because that's what it takes to make things better.

But now? We've stopped moving forward. So called “leaders” are using their positions to create division by preying on the fears and emotions of the very people they claim to help. The President uses a memorial service for 5 slain police officers as a platform to promote himself, to malign the men and women who put on a uniform each day to step between the good and the bad, and to tell us that we are racist and bigoted.

We are told that it is racist to say all lives matter. We are told that being white makes us racist—and if we don't agree, it's just that we don't realize how biased we are.

We have always poked fun at the “Monday morning quarterback,” the one who sits on the outside looking in and talks about how he would have won the football game if he had been in the quarterback's place. Why, then, do we take it as gospel when people start talking about what a police officer should or shouldn't have done in a life-threatening situation? Someone like me—someone who has never worn a badge and has never put myself in harm's way, someone who hasn't been trained as a law enforcement officer—shouldn't watch a youtube video or a facebook video and decide that I have suddenly become an expert in self-defense tactics and in the instant assessment of threat that our police officers are tasked with on an almost daily basis.

Lies are spewed from pulpits, news desks, and stages. And the sad thing is, even though the lies are wrapped up in undisguised hatred and anger, people are swallowing the lies and feeding them to their children.

Racism and hatred are taught. Our kids are born without it. The first time my daughter noticed a black girl (not the first time she had seen someone of a different race, but the first time she pointed someone out as different), she told me, “That girl has beautiful skin.” Fast forward a couple years to Raiden in kindergarten in a Toledo public school. She came home crying the first week because the girls in her class wouldn't play with her because she had “ugly white girl hair.”

Racism is ugly. And yet right now it is being held up as something good, a cause to be championed by Black Lives Matter.

What happened to “love your neighbor as yourself”? What happened to “be kind one to another”? What happened to living a life worthy of respect instead of demanding that those around you don't “disrespect” you? Why have we fallen victim to the race baiters who want nothing more than to drive us apart and stir up fear?

We should be better than this. You know what's pitiful? There are people who call themselves Christians who are standing on both sides of the “protest” lines, hurling insults and hurtful words at each other. As followers of Christ, we are called to be different. We are called to be salt and light in a fallen world. And right now, when our country has been so suddenly plunged into darkness by our “leaders”—now is when our light should shine the brightest.

"Remember His call, and live by the royal law found in Scripture:
love others as you love yourself."
~James 2:8a
Stop blaming.
Stop hating.
Stop using your words to cause division and fear.

"The tongue is a blazing fire seeking to ignite an entire world of vices.
The tongue is unique among all parts of the body
because it is capable of corrupting the whld body.
If that were not enough,
it ignites and consumes the course of creation
with a fuel that originates in hell itself.
Humanity is capable of taming every bird and beast in existence,
even reptiles and sea creatures great and small.
But no man has ever demonstrated the ability to tame his own tongue!
It is a spring of restless evil,
brimming with toxic poisons.
Ironically this same tongue can be both
an instrument of blessing to our Lord and Father
and a weapon that hurls curses
upon others who are created in God's own image."
~James 3:6-9

Start loving.
Start reaching out.
Start helping each other, because it's awfully hard and lonely to navigate this fallen world on your own.

"Who in your community is understanding and wise?
Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness,
blaze a trail for others.
[...]
Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition,
you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule.
Heavenly wisdom centers on
purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy,
and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy.
The seed that flowers into righteousness
will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.
Where do you think your fighting and endless conflict come from?
Don't you think that they originate in the constant pursuit of gratification
that rages inside each of you like an uncontrolled militia?
You crave something that you do not possess,
so you murder to get it.
You desire the things you cannot earn,
so you sue others and fight for what you want.
You do not have because you have chosen not to ask.
And when you do ask, you still do not get what you want
because your motives are all wrong--
because you continually focus on self-indulgence."
~James 3:13, 15-18 through James 4:3 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

equally wise, equally foolish

From the very beginning, Satan's best trick and favorite method seems to be to tell us, "Sure, God said this, but you're smart enough to know that what He really meant was..."

We get ourselves into the most trouble when we start thinking that we are somehow smarter than God, that we know better than He does. We chase after our own plans as if somehow what we have in mind for ourselves is better than what God has had planned since before time began.

We take what God has said, and we twist His words to fit our own purposes. We take what He has spoken out against--greed, envy, lies, sexual immorality, hatred, anger--and we try to say that He isn't really against those things. We say that His words were meant for a different time, and that they don't apply today.

What makes us think we're smarter than God?

Why do we think we need to interpret His words, that somehow we've "evolved" to be above what the Scriptures tell us?

Jeremiah 10:6&7, 12-14a tells us
"O Eternal One, there is no comparison:
You are great; even Your name is powerful.
Who wouldn't worship You?
It is only right; You are the King of all kingdoms.
The wise and powerful men of all nations in their realms
are still nothing compared to You. [...]
Know whom You are dealing with!
God alone is powerful enough to create the earth.
He alone is wise enough to put the world together.
He alone understands enough to stretch out the heavens.
His voice thunders through the heavens,
and the waters gush from the sky;
He summons the clouds to build up over the earth.
As the rain falls, the lightning flashes at His command;
the wind rushes in from where He alone can store it.
All of humanity is stupid and bankrupt of knowledge."

There is a quote from Einstein that says, "Before God we are all equally wise--and equally foolish." To God, our knowledge is nothing. We take our stands, fighting over human knowledge and what we say is right and wrong, and I think sometimes God just shakes His head.
Proverbs 3:5-7 tells us,
"Place your trust in the Eternal,
rely on Him completely,
never depend upon your own ideas and inventions.
Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish,
and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.
And don't think you can decide on your own
what is right and what is wrong.

God has told us what is right and what is wrong. He didn't disguise His words. He didn't make them hard to understand, or something that needed our interpretation.
Because, to be honest, He knows that we can't figure that stuff out on our own.

Our country is spiraling out of control. And really, it boils down to the fact that we seem to have decided that we're smarter than God. We tell ourselves that we know what's best. We get outraged over what we see as social injustices, but we are blind to God's declaration that those things we are standing up in support of are wrong.

When we set ourselves up to judge what we deem right and wrong, we are setting ourselves up to fall.

And when we fall, we are going to hit hard at the bottom.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Declaration of Dependence

I've got a treat for you today—instead of my words, I've asked my dad to share his thoughts on Independence Day. So without any other introduction (because his words speak pretty clearly for themselves), here are Pop's thoughts.

***
picture from history.com

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Someone has called this sentence the most consequential statement in the history of human politics.

As we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence—the declaration that we are free from the king of England and the beginning of our national history—a careful reading reveals a clear implication that the Founding Fathers included in the document another declaration: a Declaration of Dependence upon the Sovereign God that, as Benjamin Franklin said, “guides the course of human affairs.”

Four times the Declaration refers to God, twice when the opening argument for Independence is presented and then, after a listing of specific grievances, twice more in the concluding paragraph. In each instance, there is a direct and clear declaration that their action and its success is dependent upon God and His blessing.

~ “...the equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.” The justification for their rebellion is not their own self-interest or quest for political power. It is rooted in that which God entitles them to.

~ “...that they are endowed by their Creator...” The rights they claim are endowed by, or a gift of, the Creator. These rights are solely dependent on His grace and love, not the actions of any human government, and these rights do not exist independent of Him.

~ “...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions...” The moral righteousness of their rebellion was not based on the opinion, reason, or logic of their fellow man. The Rightness of their Cause was dependent upon the verdict of the Holy Judge who knows the heart of man.

~ “...with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence...” If the Supreme Judge should rule their cause just, then only be dependence on His diving intervention could they hope to defeat the greatest military power on the earth. The final conclusion rested solely in the hands of God.

The Declaration of Dependence was a foundation of our great nation. But now we live in a time when we, as individuals and as a nation, want to declare our independence from our Creator.

But independence from the Supreme Judge leaves us dependent on the faulty logic, reason, and appeal to the emotions of fallen man.

The result? We can no longer depend on His divine protection.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

what's it like to lose your brother?

So, I did something hard yesterday--I visited the Pea Ridge Battlefield.
from encyclopediaofarkansas.net

That may not sound hard to you, but for me it made my heart ache. Not just for the soldiers who fought and died on those grounds, though that in itself was enough to make my heart hurt.

No, it was hard for a whole other reason.
You see, my brother was a Civil War scholar. He studied the Civil War--reading books, taking part in reenactments, watching movies--basically anything he could get his hands on. I remember going to the Pea Ridge Battlefield when we were little. I remember going to reenactments, where Michael was adamant that his hardtack be authentic, where his haversack was hand-sewn, and where everyone was thrilled when someone mashed a finger in the cannon because that meant they could have real blood on their bandages.

Yeah, I know. Craziness.

I'm in Bentonville right now, wrapping up the last of my 3 weeks of teacher training. I spent the first 2 weeks in Pop & Mom's trailer, but this week I'm going all out and staying in our tent. And let met tell you, northwest Arkansas is hot right now. As a result, I'm taking some time after class gets out to go to antique stores in the area--I'm big on searching for treasures amidst all the junk! Yesterday, though, after I picked up 6 skeins of yarn for $4, I decided to do something else before I headed back to the tent. I decided to take my notebook and go sit at the battlefield and write.

The theory was, sitting at a battlefield while I wrote would help my mind operate in a different way. I'm working on The Darkness: Book 2 of the Sons of Tundyel. It's a sequel to The Prophecy, and this entire book is based around a battle with the Shadows and the Darkness.

As is common in my life, though, what sounded good in theory isn't what happened.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I was overwhelmed. That wasn't something I had expected. I took my notebook and pen and found a place to sit along the edge of the battlefield, at the treeline next to a split log fence. I pulled out my notebook, intent on shaking off the heaviness that was weighing down on me. I even opened my notebook and put my pen on the paper.

But I couldn't write.

My mind couldn't focus on what I wanted to write. Instead, I had a lump in my throat and couldn't get my mind off of my brother.

I could see him--us--little, visiting that battlefield. I could see him in his reenactment uniform, proud to be part of the unsullied Gray.

And I flipped my notebook open to the last page, one I'm pretty sure I won't get to with my story because I think there are 450 pages in this notebook.

And I poured my heart out onto the paper.

***
What's it like to lose your brother?
It's like having a piece of your soul cut out,
     only to have people say, "That's alright--you'll live without it."
Sometimes it's like your lungs forget how to breathe,
     or maybe it's just that they don't want to remember.
It's having people ask, "How are your parents?
     This must be really hard on them," and wanting to scream,
     "They aren't alone--I lost someone, too!
Someone who was part of the definition of what it meant to be me:
     Oldest daughter, but middle child; 'Little Mike' at school.
Someone who taught me to throw a punch--and take one,
     but who gave his little sister a valentine with the words
     'Sometimes I may pick on you (just a little)
But you should know I still love you.'"

What's it like to lose your brother?
It's being thrust into the role of oldest child
     with no earthly idea of how you're supposed to fill those shoes.
It's constantly living in a shadow others can't see,
     but one that's so real you can feel it in your bones.
It's trying to decide if introductions are worth it
     because people always ask, "How many siblings do you have?"
     and the debate on how to answer isn't worth the effort:
"Do I say two? Because then they'll ask what they do
     and the pity that follows 'He was killed in Iraq' is too much.
Or do I say one, and lie to make things easier?
     Not easier on myself, because I'll be racked with guilt,
     but easier on the person who didn't know where that question leads.
And nobody bargains for the painful silence."

What's it like to lose your brother?
That's a question I can't fully answer,
     and I hope it's one you never have to figure out.
***



~by Mandy
21 June 2016
at Pea Ridge Battlefield

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

He remembers your vows...

"I still remember the way you clung to Me in your youth;
in the early days of our union.
Like a young bride, you loved the vows you made."
~Jeremiah 2:2b

Newlyweds. Everything they find out about each other is exciting and new. They can even be annoying with all the crazy things they point out about each other, the things that would drive any sane person up the wall but that are somehow "so cute" in the early days. They want nothing more than being together--the rest of the world could fade away and they wouldn't mind. In fact, they would just about prefer it if that would happen. All they need is their love for each other.
And then they start spending less time focusing on that love. Life starts getting in the way--the kids, the jobs, the money issues, the dreams they wanted to pursue but aren't realistic now--and, though it happens without conscious thought, they drift apart. It's not that the relationship becomes unimportant--it's just less important.

Our relationship with God often works the same way. When we first get a glimpse of His love for us, it is all consuming. We are desperate for Him; His extravagant love is all that matters. We want nothing more than to spend time with Him, reveling in His glory and grace. Sometimes, we even get so caught up in our amazement that the rest of the world sees us as crazy.

And then, slowly, life gets in the way. We start spending less time with Him. Everything that seemed so amazing--His love, grace, mercy, and power--start to seem commonplace. It's not necessarily a conscious thought, but the busy-ness of life sneaks in and our relationship with God just starts to become less important. We abandon the Love of our youth.

It's easy to fall into a rut with your walk with Christ. It's easy to let the things of this crazy world get in the way of trying to spend time with God. In just the same way that you have to make a conscious decision to make your marriage a priority if you want it to flourish, you have to make a conscious decision to make your relationship with God a priority. Sure, both relationships will be there if you just drift through.

But do you want a marriage where you are just drifting through, or do you want one like this?
One where you still hold hands on a walk, 35 years after you said "I do."

We're told that we should have a regular "date night" when we're married. I want to challenge all of us to take that same idea and apply it to our walk with God. Set aside a time when you can just be with God. Time you protect; time when you step away from the demands of your everyday life and simply spend time getting to know your First Love again.

He's waiting, remembering the vows you made.


Friday, June 17, 2016

but God...

"But Mom..."

How many time have you either said or heard those words? They're usually only partially decipherable, stretched out and masked with a whine. Typically, they come about because the Mom in question didn't give the speaker what he or she wanted, holding her ground about something. If we're honest, it's usually something Mom's right about--though when you're the one asking, that's hard to see and admit.

How often do our prayers sound like that? How often do we plead with God to just do what we want Him to do? We may not use the words, but I wonder if God hears our prayers sometimes start off with "But God..." poured out in a whine?

Of course, the words probably sound different. We tend to fill our prayers with pretty words, as if our choice of words will be the deciding factor in whether or not we talk God into answering our prayers the way we want Him to.

Do you think that sometimes we just sound like little kids trying to use big words?

What if we changed our "But God..." statements?

What if, instead of thinking that God should be doing what we want Him to do, we remember where we would be... but God.

We were lost, buried in our sins.
We were worthless, incapable of being good enough on our own.
We were sinners, every one of us.

"But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us,
united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life--
even though we were buried under mountains of sin--
and saved us by His grace."
~Ephesians 2:4&5

We were lifeless...but God.
We were buried...but God.
We were worthless...but God.