Thursday, May 26, 2016

12 Memorial Days...

Memorial Day #12.

It's a day I never could have imagined becoming a reality. And honestly, it's a day I still struggle to come to terms with each year. Sometimes, it feels like there have been 1,000 Memorial Days since my brother was killed. Other times, it feels like each Memorial Day is the first one.

And sometimes, my mind and heart go back and forth between the two.

So how do you come up with words to explain what this day means? How do you come to terms with a day like Memorial Day when it means something totally different to you than it does to most people? How do you put words to thoughts and feelings you can't even get straight in your head, let alone on paper (or a computer screen, as the case may be)?

How do you tell other people something that you can't even really explain to yourself?
How do you explain what it means to have a specific day set aside to remember your brother--as if you're being told that you shouldn't be remembering him on other days? How do I explain that even now, almost 12 years after my brother was killed, there are still days when I remember all at once that my brother is gone?

How do I explain that almost a dozen years later, sometimes the grief still hits hard enough to take my breath away, and that the tears still fill my eyes unbidden at the most inopportune times?

This weekend is the start of summer. It is a weekend of joy for so many, a time spent with family and friends cooking out and enjoying all the freedoms this country offers. For a group of us, though, Memorial Day is something different. While it is still a weekend of joy, family, and friends, it is also a day of knowing that there is someone missing out on all of that. There is someone that at times it seems like the rest of the world has forgotten--except as a slight background thought once a year.

 

So this Memorial Day, celebrate with those you love. Enjoy all the freedoms that still come with being a citizen of the United States (freedoms that are being threatened, but that's a post for another time). Cook out, laugh loudly, hug the people you love--and maybe set an extra place at the table in remembrance of all those who aren't enjoying this weekend because they gave their lives to ensure our freedoms.

Remember that they aren't just numbers. They are brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, cousins, nephews, nieces, grandsons, granddaughters, and friends.

They are loved.
And they are remembered every day, not just on Memorial Day.      

Sunday, May 22, 2016

useless religion

"Your mouth exposes your heart,
and your religion is useless."
~James 1:26b

In 2 Samuel, there's a story about a man named Shimei. There was a rebellion, and David was leaving Israel. Shimei was cursing David as he left, calling him worthless and saying that he was getting what he deserved by being driven out. Yet when David came back (just a couple of chapters later, though I'm not sure how much time had passed), Shimei was the first to welcome him back. He was even bowing at David's feet when he crossed the Jordan, asking David to forget everything that had been said.

How often are we that way? Do our convictions change as quickly and easily as Shemei's? When it seems like our King is leaving, do we turn away from him to swear allegiance to whoever comes next, whoever seems to be in control?

The human heart is fickle. We waver between our "convictions" like we're being tossed around by the waves. We get caught up in the circumstances and worldly issues, and our commitment to God falters in light of what's happening around us.

Life hits hard sometimes. It can seem like God isn't in control; the circumstances can make it look like He's been driven out. It's in those moments that your true heart is revealed. Either your outlook depends on what's happening in the world around you, making you someone who has no true foundation. Or you're someone who knows that, no matter what happens, the King is still on the throne, and your faith is built on the Foundation that can never be shaken.

James 1:2-4 & 12 says, "Don't run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line--mature, complete, and wanting nothing. Happy is the person who can hold up under the trials of life. At the right time, he'll know God's sweet approval and will be crowned with life."

Don't let your allegiance depend on who appears to be in control. God is, always has been, and always will be the King, no matter what seems to be happening in the world. Do your best to make your heart and your words match; when hard times come (and they will--that's a promise), make every effort to ensure that your faith is what shines through, so that others can see that, although religion may be useless, faith is precious. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

a letter to the seniors of 2016...

Dear Senior of 2016,

Well, you've made it--"finally" is usually the word that follows that statement, breathed out in a sigh. And now, you face the question that everybody and their brother seems to be asking:

What are you going to do with your life?
from venturebeat.com


You may have something planned. You might be like me, and have a plan all laid out for the next 5 or 10 years.
Or maybe not.

You might not know what you're doing this summer, let alone next fall or 5 years from now.
Either way, I would like to share a few things with you that I wish I had realized 14 years ago when I graduated (wow--that sure seems a lot longer when I see it written down). People may have told me all of the stuff I'm going to tell you, but if they did I was too busy being sure that I was a grown up and knew what I was doing to truly listen to them. Be smarter than I was.

So, here are a few things I would tell you if we were sitting across from each other having a cup of coffee (because that's what grown ups do, right?):

Dream big, but don't get hung up on your dreams.
You should dream, and you should make those dreams big, spectacular things. Dreams are what push us to be more than we think we can be, to do things to change the world. The thing is, though--dreams don't always come true. I know that's something you don't want to hear. You want people to tell you "If you can dream it, you can achieve it" but that's just not true. Not all your dreams will come true, because that's just the truth of life. That doesn't mean you should stop dreaming, though. It just means that your dreams shouldn't begin to define you.
Life doesn't go according to your plan.
I'm a planner, and if you're anything like me this is a hard one to swallow. I've always had my plans, and I would very much prefer things to just fall into line and go the way I have planned. But they don't. And you know what? Sometimes, that's for the best. If my life had gone the way I had planned since I graduated high school, I wouldn't be where I am today.
Invest in people.
So many things are vying for your attention--school, jobs, careers, financial decisions (start paying attention to those now, by the way), and everything else this world shoves at you. Despite what the world tells you, though, those things aren't what's important. What matters are the people around you, the people you are journeying through this life with, the people who will be there for you when everything else falls apart. If you spend all your time and energy on things instead of people, you find one day that you've lost everything that matters--no matter how much stuff you have. Pour yourself into people.
Choose the good.
Bad things are going to happen in life. That's a given, no matter how much you try to protect yourself from anything bad that could happen. You're going to get hurt. Your heart is going to break. Your world is going to seem like it's crashing down around you. In those moments, you're going to have a choice to make. You can choose to focus on everything that's going wrong, to let yourself get pulled down into a spiral of despair--or you can choose to look for the good. You can focus on the people who are there for you in the bad times, on the lessons that you learn (because yes, there are lessons to learn in the hard times), and the God who gives you His strength to face everything that happens.
Take a risk.
Sometimes, the easy choice isn't the best choice. It's hard to choose the hard thing, though. It means being brave, being willing to risk the good to get something better. Don't always play it safe just so that you don't have to face failure. Because you see, sometimes the things you see as your biggest failures set the foundation upon which you will build your greatest masterpiece.
Be strong and courageous.
Joshua 1:9 says, "This is My command: be strong and courageous. Never be afraid or discouraged because I am your God, the Eternal One, and I will remain with you wherever you go." I'll say it again--you're going to face some hard times in life. You're going to want to quit. You're going to think you've been abandoned. You're going to be scared out of your mind. But God--He has told you to have courage. Courage isn't a lack of fear; courage is simply being scared and doing what has to be done despite your fears. And no matter what happens, you have God's promise to stay with you.
Don't let others determine your worth.
God has created you as His masterpiece, and He has plans for your life. They may look drastically different than the plans you have for yourself, but you can rest assured that His plans for you are a perfect fit. God created you with a purpose. He thinks you are worth so much that He gave His own Son in your place. Your worth is not determined by the school you go to, the career you choose, the car you drive, or the house you buy. Your worth has already been determined, and the price has already been paid. You are worth so much more than anything on this earth. Don't let anyone tell you anything else.
You have the entire future ahead of you. Take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. Work hard, but love more.

Monday, April 25, 2016

focus on the grace...

I like a good debate. A good debate gets people thinking. It makes them dig deep and really focus on what they think about a topic and why they think that way. It gets you to truly listen to someone who is one a different side of the issue and lets you hear their point of view. To have a good debate, you have to understand your opponent. You have to be able to see where they are coming from so that you can present logical, well thought out arguments in the hopes of getting the other person to start seeing your side of the issue just a little bit more. A good debate challenges those involved, both the people actually debating and those who are simply observing the debate.

The problem is, right now we aren't seeing good debates.

Instead, our world is full of people whose idea of debate is pointing fingers, slinging insults, and pouring hatred into already tense situations. People get on facebook to "debate" an issue with people they know nothing about, yet it seems like those "debates" always turn into insult competitions. We are presented with the new fad in the online world: open letters. These open letters are typically nothing more than a way to bash someone, usually someone who did nothing other than hold a different opinion than the person writing the letter.

Stop using hatred as an excuse for more hatred.

Stop pouring gasoline on the fire, or we're going to watch our entire Republic burn to the ground.

You will never be able to change someone's opinion by telling them how stupid, hateful, uninformed, illogical, bigoted, old-fashioned, immoral--or whatever other word you want to put in there--that their thoughts are. You won't draw someone to your side by arguing against their character. You won't convince someone that you're right and they are wrong by making your entire argument a personal attack against their integrity, beliefs, or choices.

So here's my own "open letter": As a follower of Christ, you are called to something higher. You are called to step above the fray, to be different. Matthew 5:13-15 says,
"You, beloved, are the salt of the earth.
But if salt becomes bland and loses its saltiness,
can anything make it salty again?
No. It is useless.
It is tossed out, thrown away, or trampled.
And you, beloved, are the light of the world.
A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden.
Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and hide it under a bowl.
When someone lights a lamp,
she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair,
and the light illumines the entire house.
You are like that illuminating light. 
Let your light shine everywhere you go,
that you may illumine creation,
so men and women everywhere may see your good actions,
may see creation at its fullest,
may see your devotion to Me,
and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it."

So stop stooping to the level of those around you. Stop using their hatred as an excuse to be hateful. Instead, be the light that you are called to be in this dark world. Make your actions and words a testament to the One you follow, so that the people around you will start wondering just what it is that makes you different.

And don't think you get away from here without hearing something from Peter:

"So get yourselves ready,
prepare your minds to act,
control yourselves,
and look forward in hope as you focus on the grace
that comes when Jesus the Anointed returns
and is completely revealed to you.
Be like obedient children
as you put aside the desires you used to pursue
when you didn't know better.
Since the One who called you is holy,
be holy in all you do.
For the Scripture says,
'You are to be hold, for I am holy.'
If you call on the Father who judges everyone
without partiality according to their actions,
then you should live in reverence and awe
while you live out the days of your exile."
(I Peter 1:13-17)

Be different. Don't be like those who don't know better. Be more--be what God has called you to be. Be an example of His love to a fallen world.

That's not to say that we shouldn't debate. Jesus had debates on multiple occasions, and He didn't back down. He wasn't afraid to say the hard things that people disagreed with, and He didn't sugar coat things to make them easier to swallow. He did, however, make sure that in all things, He was pointing others to the Father. He made sure that grace was the focus of all He said and did, the kind of crazy grace that God pours out on us--imperfect people--despite everything we do that should drive Him away.

Speak the truth. Don't back down from taking a stand for what God has said is right and wrong. But in doing so, don't forget that you are representing God. Don't forget that when people look at you, they are supposed to be seeing a reflection of Him. Be salt and light--both of which can be overwhelming if not used the right way.

focus on the grace...be holy in all you do...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Your heart's desires...

What you're about to read wasn't written for this blog. It is a prayer, my private attempt to work through my confusion and fears and questions. In the interest of being transparent on this blog, it's presented here just the same way that it's written in my notebook.

I'm putting this here because--just maybe--somebody out there is struggling with the same things. And maybe, when you see my struggles laid out--my heart laid bare before God and now you--you'll at least see that you're not alone.

"When Christ calls a man,
He bids him come and die."
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God, You know my heart. You know my longings and desires better than I do, because You're the One who made me. I dream of doing what I consider "big things" for You, things that I think will matter. I think it's my pride, this crazy thought that somehow I'm supposed to do more, that You've made me to do something more than just exist in this life.

So where is the line between ambition and pride? When do my thoughts about the future cross that line? Is it possible for me to chase my dreams and still be chasing after You? Or in chasing my dreams, am I running the other way? Because the thing is, I'm afraid that chasing my own dreams is putting myself ahead of Your plans for my life.

Or maybe, if I'm honest, it's just that I'm afraid. I'm afraid of failing, because I'm pretty sure it would break my heart. Because I'm afraid of being hurt. I'm afraid of trying something--again--and it not working--of me, failing again.

You said in II Timothy that the spirit of fear doesn't come from You, and yet I find myself floundering in fear so often. I talk about faith, about stepping out of the boat--
but then I see the waves.

I see the storm that just might be blowing in, and I say, "I trust You, but..."

And it doesn't matter what the rest of that sentence is, because anything that follows "but" discredits the "I trust You."

God, I want to trust You. I don't want to just say it, because I know that words don't mean anything until they are put into practice. I want to follow You unquestioningly, not just because I can see where You're leading me--or because You're leading me where I want to go.

I want to learn to be content, but it's so hard to feel like You created me to fly and still be content while I'm standing in what feels like quicksand that's pulling me down.

Please help me. Help me to chase You, so that somehow I find my dreams in the process. Help me to see that thin line between ambition and pride. Help me to fulfill Your will for my life, because it is You who knows the true desires of my heart, it is You who created me, it is Your purpose I am here in this world for, and it is only You who knows how my heart's desire fits into Your purpose.

God, help me to let go. Help me to release the death grip I have on my dreams so that I can open my hands to receive Your plans--and to give back out of Your blessings. Over and over again, You say that You are holding my right hand, but if my my hand is holding tightly to what I'm trying to do, I'll miss out on so much of what You have for me to do.

Help me to trust, because it doesn't come easily to me. Help me to give up my need for control so that I will truly give You control of my life.

Forgive my unbelief.

God, make Your desires take the place of mine. Show me this world through Your eyes so that I can start to see my place in it. Replace my heart with Yours, so that when I follow the desires of my heart, I'm actually following You.
 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

risk it all...

OneWordCoffee Linkup
I was over at Bonnie Gray's blog today, checking out the collection of posts that have been linked there. She mentioned risk, and it reminded me of a verse I read earlier this week.

By the way, if you're like me and you have a daily planner lying around that you don't use because you're incredibly disorganized...or something like that, because of course you're not disorganized, right? I've found a great use for one. I got a beautiful planner from Fair Trade Friday in one of my monthly packages, and I'm using it as a place to write daily verses. I'm not 100% on top of things so I've got a few blank days, but for the most part I have to tell you--it's a wonderful use of a beautiful product.
Picture from https://www.facebook.com/fairtradefriday/

So, now that that little side trip is done, back to what I was talking about.

Here are the verses I wrote in my planner-turned-scripture journal yesterday:

"If any of you want to walk My path, you're going to have to deny yourself. You'll have to take up your cross every day and follow Me. If you try to avoid danger and risk, then you'll lose everything. If you let go of your life and risk all for My sake, then your life will be rescued, healed, made whole and full. Listen, what good does it do you if you gain everything--if the whole world is in your pocket--but then your own life slips through your fingers and is lost to you?"
~Luke 9:23-25 (VOICE)

Our Christian walk isn't meant to be easy. It's a risky thing to follow Jesus. It requires denying yourself on a daily basis--turning away from your own desires, your own wants, and your own ego. It means risking everything for the sake of gaining eternity.

It means turning away from what the world sees as important and running after God.

That looks different for each person, because we all have a different walk with Christ. For some of us, risk might mean selling everything and setting off to somewhere on the other side of the earth. For others, it may mean taking that new job that would be fulfilling God's purpose but isn't quite as comfortable as the current job. For someone else, that risk could be taking the time to listen to a toddler chat about his day instead of getting that sink of dirty dishes washed.

Whatever the risk, if God is calling you to do something, you need to take that first step of faith out of the boat--even if it means stepping out of safety and into the waves.

Taking the risk will be worth it, because losing yourself for His sake guarantees that your life will be saved, because it will belong to Him.

Take a risk. Move your focus from yourself and your own plans to God and His plans. Stop thinking about what the world sees as successful and important, and turn your attention to what God sees as important.

Take a leap of faith.
The risk will be worth it.

Friday, April 8, 2016

are you a failure?

We live in a world that is constantly pointing out all of our failures, telling us, like Ghandi said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." When we're being reminded of how we fall short, how we don't measure up, it's easy to start feeling ashamed and guilty.

It's easy to look in the mirror and see all your flaws, just like it's easy to look at how the world sees you and start seeing only the negative.

Look closer, though, and you'll see something amazing.

You'll see someone who is imperfect, yes, someone who fails God on a daily basis. But more importantly than that, you'll see someone whose every flaw--every sin--has been covered by grace. You'll see someone who can stand before God not in their own right, but in the redemptive light of the Son of God.

You'll see someone who fails God on a daily, but you'll also see someone who tries on a daily basis. You'll see someone who is weak, because it is in your weakness that God's perfect strength is made the most visible.

You'll see someone who has stepped from darkness into light, someone who doesn't have to hide and cower and beg because you are the child of the King. You'll see someone who the world condemns, maybe--but you'll see someone who has been redeemed.

"Therefore, now no condemnation awaits those
who are living in Jesus the Anointed,
the Liberating King,
because when you live in the Anointed, Jesus,
a new law takes effect.
The law of the Spirit of life breathes into you and
liberates you from the law of sin and death."
~Romans 8:1-2 (VOICE)

It doesn't matter how the world sees you. Let them see you as a failure, as someone who simply never measures up, as less.

We're promised that the world will despise us. Jesus said, "If you find that the world despises you, remember that before it despised you, it first despised Me. If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, ad it despises you for that very reason." (John 15:18-19, VOICE)

How the world sees you? That's nothing compared to how God sees you. Strive to live for Him, to love like He loved, and to follow in His footsteps. If the world tells you that you keep falling short, go ahead and do something that surprises them--agree. Yes, I fall short, because I'm nothing more than a sinner saved by grace.

Because you know what's the most important, amazing part of that admission?  

...saved by grace.

"There is a sure way for us to know that we belong to the truth.
Even though our inner thoughts may condemn us
with storms of guilt and constant reminders of our failures,
we can know in our hearts that in His presence
God Himself is greater than any accusation.
He knows all things."
~I John 3:19 (VOICE)