Sunday, December 22, 2013

being intolerant

Tolerance.

It seems to be something of a buzz word lately, with everybody demanding tolerance and accusing the opposition--whoever that happens to be at the time--of being intolerant.

My original plan for this post was a call to tolerance for both sides, but as I've been looking into it more deeply I've come to a conclusion some people might find alarming:
Christianity is and must be inherently intolerant.

Now, hopefully you'll stick with me for a bit and hear me out--I know that probably sounds strange, but I promise I'm going somewhere with it.

tolerate: allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference

Society tells Christians (and so do some preachers and teachers in the church) to be tolerant, that we should respect the beliefs of others as being equally valid. Many today try to say that loving others--which is what Christ stressed above all commandments other than loving God--means being fully accepting of everything they do.

People claim that for a Christian to stand against something and come out and call it sin is wrong and even "not the Christian thing to do." We are called judgmental and hateful and bigots and told to keep our opinions to ourselves. We are called out for standing up for our own beliefs by the very people who are demanding we "tolerate" the beliefs of others.

So what are we supposed to do?

Do we go along with what society demands of us?
Do we keep our mouths shut and our eyes closed to what is happening around us?
Do we gloss over what the Bible calls sin because somebody might be offended?
Do we give in and go along with the idea that all religions are equally valid and that as long as someone lives a "good life" nothing else matters?
Do we temper our words in the name of being politically correct?

Or, like Paul, do we say, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10)

We are called "Christians" because we are called to become like Christ--One who was most definitely not concerned with being seen as politically correct. We are told to speak the truth, and to do so in love (Ephesians 4:15)

Do we ignore sin? In Jesus's own words, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him." (Luke 17:3b) We should take our cue from Him, then, and rebuke those who sin.

rebuke: express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions

We can't stop there, though. We are also commanded to forgive those who repent

repent: to experience sorrow for and seek to change wrong behavior

--which is something we all tend to forget about. The rebuking part is necessary, but it is nothing without the forgiveness part.

In the 8th chapter of John, we're given a wonderful example of how to deal with sin. Jesus had just sat down to teach when He was brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. The Pharisees and teachers of the law wanted to be able to trap Jesus. Here was this man who was going around preaching love, so in their eyes that meant He would have to either ignore her sin and go against Scripture or say she should be stoned as the law demanded and therefore contradict (in their eyes) the message He had been preaching.

What was Jesus's answer? He told the woman's accusers that whoever was sinless could throw the first stone, then He scribbled in the dirt.

That wasn't the end, though. After everyone else left, Jesus didn't condemn the woman to death as would have been His right. At the same time, though, He didn't ignore her sin. Instead He told her, "Go now and leave your life of sin." (verse 11)

Like Christ, we should speak in love when addressing sin. And like the men who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, we should realize that none of us is without sin before we catch ourselves throwing the first stone. If God grants us mercy and doesn't give us the punishment our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10), shouldn't we extend that same mercy to others? Especially since it is God who is the judge, the only One with the authority to dispense justice.

And what about the idea that there are many equally valid paths to God? That stands in direct opposition to what Christ Himself said, no matter how loving it may sound. "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" (John 14:6) He also said, "I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the One I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins." (John 8:24)

So speak the truth. Take a stand for your beliefs and refuse to bow before the idol of political correctness. Confront sin, but do so out of love while remembering that we are all just sinners saved by grace.

And when the world rises up against you, take heart. Remember Jesus's words: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (John 15:18&19)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

out in the fields

*Today is a link-up (well, actually Thursday was supposed to be...this whole writing late thing is starting to become a habit it seems!) with the Faith Barista.
 
The question she asked for this week was, "Who in the Christmas story do you identify with most deeply?"
 *****  

Can you imagine what it would have been like?

Put yourself there for a minute: out in the fields one night, everything business as usual. You're watching the sheep, probably half asleep. You're listening for anything out of the ordinary, but really not expecting anything to happen.

Everything's peaceful out in the fields.

I've sat out on the hills many times myself, at Pop and Mom's.
 
Day or night, the pasture is a good place to think. The herd I got to watch was a bit different than the flock the shepherds were watching, but I imagine the peacefulness would have been the same--  

--away from the hustle and noise and general busy-ness of town, just the hills and the animals and the stars 
and the quiet.

Then, out of nowhere, the sky wasn't quiet anymore. The night wasn't dark anymore, because God's glory was shining all around. An ordinary, simple, unassuming night was interrupted by the sudden appearance of an angel.

And like anybody in his right mind would be, the shepherds were terrified!

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the LORD appeared to them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them, and they were terrified."
Luke 2:8&9

Sometimes I feel like that's me: just going about my business in my own quiet, unassuming,ordinary way, then suddenly I'm in just the right spot to see God's plan start to unfold and I'm scared beyond belief.

Like the shepherds, though, despite my initial fears I know there's a next step for me. I listen to the rest of the message when I'm told not to be afraid, and I leave the safety and security of the hills that I know and,
like the shepherds,
I say, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which  the LORD has told us about." (verse 15b) 

Do you see yourself in anyone in the Christmas story? Tell me about it--I would love to hear from you!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

giving myself permission to...

I've stared at that title for a while now, trying to figure out what to write. It's part of a link up with the Faith Barista, so it is actually an assignment of sorts that was "due" Thursday...


 

For some reason, though, I just don't know what to write.

What do I need to give myself permission to do, or to be? It really doesn't seem like it should be such a hard concept. Maybe the problem, then, comes from the fact that I don't really know what I want to be when I grow up.

"Wait, what?" you may ask. "But you're in grad school and you're writing--not to mention you're almost 30! You're kind of already in that 'grown up' part of life, you know."

I hear you, I promise. But you see, there's still this nagging feeling inside that I really don't know what to do with the rest of my life. I think it's an inheritable trait--I got it from Pop (that's my dad, for those of you who may not know). He was told just a few years ago that he needed to decide what he wanted to be when he grew up and stick with it, and he's got 27 years on me!

That's a strange thing for me, the not knowing. I've always been a planner--I probably had a 5 Year Plan laid out in kindergarten (I'm exaggerating, but not much). Growing up, for the most part things even went according to plan.

And then I got married, and suddenly things changed on me. I'm not going to go into all that right now, but if you're interested you can read that story over here and get all the details. Long story short, suddenly my tendency to have everything planned out just didn't matter anymore.

Life was out of my control.

Of course I know it was never really in my control, but for the first 20 years of my life I guess I was lulled into a false sense of security. There will little things that didn't work out back then, but really all the big stuff seemed to fit into my plans nicely.

Over the past 10 years my view has changed. Now, even the things that most people would count on as absolutes--grad school, for one, and the career that entails--are things I hesitate to make plans around.

So I guess that's what I'm giving myself permission for: permission to not know. Permission to stop planning and instead rely on God's plans.

Permission to "Trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct my paths." Proverbs 3:5&6 (with a slight change in pronouns there).

What are you giving yourself permission for?

Monday, December 2, 2013

for friday...

I saw a welcome home sign this morning on my drive in to class, and I almost started crying.

It's strange to me that even now, close to 10 years since I last saw my brother, little things can get to me. This morning it was the banner in a front yard welcoming home a Marine. A couple days ago it was a picture I found tucked away of Michael in Iraq--made even harder when Raiden walked in and saw it in my hands. She said, "Uncle Michael," then went on to say, "I'm really sorry for you, Mommy."

Friday is Michael's birthday, when he would have turned 33. Sometimes, I'm overwhelmed by the thought of how young 23 really was and how much life he has missed out on.

I know they say it isn't the years in someone's life that matters, but the life in someone's years.

To be honest, though, sometimes I wish "they" would just keep quiet.

I'll be 30 next summer, and I can't imagine anyone who would have teased me more about that fact than my big brother--even though he would have reached that milestone 4 years ahead of me.

I'm incredibly happy for that family who is getting to welcome their Marine home, just as I am happy for all Michael's guys who made it back. Today though, so close to a birthday that will never be the same, it was hard to see.

If you get a spare moment on Friday, I hope you'll think about Michael--and our family--on his birthday. Maybe have a slice of cherry cheesecake...or some barbeque little smokies...or a game of Risk if you have more than a moment.

Take a minute to say a couple of prayers in his memory: a prayer of thanksgiving for all those who made it home, a prayer for safety for all those in harm's way, and a prayer of remembrance for those who are missing out on birthdays way too soon.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

God in science...and science in God

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

Those are bold words, spoken by a man who wasn't afraid to stir things up a bit--Albert Einstein. And though it may go against my better judgment (or maybe it just makes me nervous) I'm going to take a chance at stirring things up a bit myself...

I still find it hard to believe at times, but I'm in the world of science. I still hesitate to call myself a scientist and don't know if I'll ever really feel like I can call myself a physicist, but after all life's twists and turns I've found myself right in the middle of a world that somehow seems both disconnected and intricately blended with the world of faith in which I grew up.

Some people, it seems, think those two worlds--one of science and one of faith--should never collide. I'm not sure what chaos they think might come about as a result, but surely it would be something terrifying and life shattering.

You know what?
I think that's a tragedy.

I have never been one who was content with the answer I was given just because somebody told me it was true. I've always wanted to find things out for myself, to test what people tell me. I'm a questioner.

There's a sad tendency in Christianity for questions to be discouraged. So many people are taught that having faith means believing blindly, just going along with whatever is preached from the pulpit. Being a good Christian means never wondering or digging or probing--
--almost as if people are afraid that if they dig too deep, they might uncover something they don't want to find.

It frustrates me to see how some Christians react to advances in science. They attack without first studying, and in doing so they seem almost afraid of science. It is as if the words "scientific advancement" are synonymous with "anti-God" in their minds.

Because surely anything that comes from the world of science is heretical and shouldn't be trusted.

On the other side of the battlefield, there are many in science who think all Christians are unintelligent, uneducated, naive people who believe a fairytale mainly because they haven't gotten the chance to see how the real world works.

They look at the power man has gotten through science--
the power to kill or heal
to harness the energy of subatomic particles and use them for our own purposes
and now even the power to control life to an unbelievable degree--
and come to the conclusion that there is no need for God, therefore He doesn't exist.

They dismiss those of faith without hardly even a second glance. They seem to see themselves as too intelligent to be misled by myths.
 Here's another radical thinker: Galileo Galilei. He said, "I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reasons, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."

Everything should be scrutinized. It should be studied and tested and double checked. If something can't stand up to the scrutiny, it should be disregarded and thrown out. In science, that's part of the scientific process. If you ask me, it's a great process.

That thought makes some Christians nervous, but you know what?

Not me.

You see, I believe in a God who is strong enough to stand up under the pressure. He can be 
scrutinized 
poked and prodded
or examined
and what will be revealed is
ultimate creative power
the One who glues protons together in a nucleus
and wisdom beyond compare.

In Job we are told, "To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are His." (12:13)

Jeremiah 10:12 says, "But God made the earth by His power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding."

In Colossians, Paul tells us that he wants everyone to "know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (2:2-3)

One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 11:3 that says, "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible."

I look around me and I see amazing details and unbridled creativity that can be explained in no other way than is laid out in Genesis 1:1. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

I see natural phenomena like lightning that physicists are still trying to model with equations (I've played around with some of those equations--believe me, they are a bit overwhelming) and am nothing short of in awe of the One who "sends lightning with the rain" (Jeremiah 10:13).

I am saddened by the fact that so few seem to be willing to mix science and faith mainly because I see so much beauty in how the two fit together. 

I see the physics hidden not so subtly in verses like the one in Hebrews which tells us that everything is made of subatomic particles (come on--you see it, right?). 

Even less subtly, I see God in the amazing design that went into our DNA and how it is replicated and repaired.

I would love to see what could happen if both sides of the argument would take off their blinders for a bit and look around, maybe take a chance and talk to one another. It would be amazing to see the great things that could be accomplished.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

ever lost yourself?

There's a Faith Hill song called, "Someone Else's Dream."

The chorus says this:
She was daddy's little girl
Momma's little angel
Teacher's pet, pageant queen
She said "All my life I've been pleasin' everyone but me,
Waking up in someone else's dream"


Have you ever felt that way?
Have you ever looked around and realized that you were living the life other people expected you to live, but you really don't know how it happened?

Or am I the only one who has ever felt that way?

On the off chance that I'm not alone, I'm going to keep writing.

Gulp.

Believe me, I would rather just let this particular subject slip quietly away. It hits a bit close to home and reveals a bit more than I would willingly show people. However, way back in January I chose the word "follow" for 2013, and right now that's what I'm doing.

Following. Dragging my feet a bit to be honest, but still following.

So, in the spirit of following where I think God is leading and being transparent and truthful here with all of you...here goes nothing!

All my life, I've been concerned with making sure I live up to other people's expectations. I've always been a bit of a perfectionist and a people pleaser, and I've never really been one to rock the boat.

I worked hard to be the best I could be at just about everything I did (cleaning isn't one of the things on that list, just in case you were wondering!). 
I worked hard in school K through 12 and was always at the top of my class. 
I strove to be the best cheerleader I could be and ended up with a state championship ring and my name on a banner in the gym. 
I held it all together when my brother died because that was what was expected of me. 
I try my best to make sure my kids grow up right, that they're respectful and honest and trustworthy. 
I went into physics in college mostly because other people told me I could do it, and ended up a senior fellow in the department before I graduated. 
I went off to grad school with a plan all laid out.

I am a
daughter
sister
wife
mother
friend
student.

I answer to titles and fill roles
...but somewhere along the way, I lost who I am.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change the titles (except maybe student. I've had that one just about long enough and am more than ready to get rid of it). They are all very much a part of who I am.

The thing is, there's also a dreamer and a world-changer who have faded into the background. There's a writer who has slowly struggled and fought to reach the surface and gets to step out every once in a while, but not often enough.

More importantly than all of those, though, is the daughter of the King who has somehow forgotten she holds that title.

She used to carry herself with grace and poise because she knew who her Father was and she had daily conversations with Him. She would sit at His feet and revel in hearing His words, in getting to know more about Him--in just being with Him.

She could shrug off hurts and fears because she knew they didn't matter in the view of eternity. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, she could laugh at the days to come.

She was joyful and bright and giving and optimistic--maybe a bit of a Pollyanna.

Somewhere, she got a bit lost. She became a bit of a pessimist and lost some of her shine. Her grace and poise became unsure timidity. She started counting up all the ways things could possibly go wrong in the future, to say nothing of the present. She started questioning herself, making decisions based on what other people would think.

And it all started because she stopped spending time at her Father's feet.

She got busy filling all the other roles in her life, so her times with Him got shorter.

At first she would stop by for a quick chat each day...
then most days...
then she would pop her head in every once in a while to say, "I'm sorry I don't have time to talk today. I'll come see You when I have the time"...
then, eventually, even those stolen seconds disappeared.

And in the chaos that was life, she didn't even notice.
I didn't even notice.

Not until I was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that I didn't--don't--have any idea who I am anymore. That I've spent so much time worrying and fussing and trying to fit that I've lost what's really important.

So now I find myself falling humbly before my Father, asking Him why in the world He stuck around so patiently, why He waited for His wayward daughter to finally realize that she had lost herself.

I beg His forgiveness for ignoring Him, tears streaming down my face. I admit that I have fallen apart, that I've spent too much time trying to be who I'm expected to be to know who I'm supposed to be.

And my Father, my King, lifts my face and wipes my tears. He tells me that He knows, that He's been waiting patiently for me to come to my senses and come back to Him. He whispers that He has plans for me, that He knows just who I am supposed to be--even though I don't have a clue. He tells me to stay close to Him, to sit once again at His feet, to listen so He can tell me who I am--
               by revealing who He is in me.

Maybe you're like me. Maybe you've gotten so caught up in the busy-ness of life that you've stopped spending time at your Father's feet and as a result have forgotten who you are--a child of the King, one chosen for a purpose. 

And He has a dream for you.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

the self-pity slide

Sometimes life gets to be too much.

Maybe I'm the only one to ever feel this way, but some days it is all too easy to get overwhelmed.

Surely I'm not alone in this, right?

I'm not talking about the big, important, life-changing events here. No, I mean the incredibly unimportant, miniscule things that shouldn't have any sort of real impact on your day.

Yesterday was one of those days for me. Well, I guess technically it started the night before. Nathan and I watched a movie after the kids went to bed and I fell asleep part way through. That's a pretty common occurrence in our house...and by "pretty common" I actually mean "pretty much every night."

So for some reason, I woke up at 11 pm cranky. No real reason, just plain not happy. I was ready to go to bed, but Conan had spilled something on my phone yesterday morning (again) and so my phone was in pieces drying out (again). That left me without an alarm.

Yes, there was probably an actual clock somewhere in our house that had an alarm, but I wasn't about to go looking for it. Instead I was just going to use Nathan's phone. The problem was, his phone needed to be charged. Not a problem really, though, because my sweet husband told me he would charge it and bring it to me when he came to bed after the movie. I think I muttered something along the lines of, "Fine. Night," and stumbled to bed.

So then I woke up at 2 am with the tv still on in the living room and lights still on elsewhere in the house. I clawed my way out of the bed and went to ask Nathan ever-so-sweetly if he was going to come to bed. Or at least as the loving, considerate wife I am when I wake up at 2 in the morning I meant to ask him sweetly. Pretty sure it came out as more of a mix between a whine and a growl, though.

See, there's this thing about when you let little things get to you. They start you down this path of feeling bad for yourself where every little thing that happens makes you start saying, "poor me!" That path, though, isn't very easy to get off of--it's a bit like that best slide you ever went on as a kid. In my case that would be the giant red bumpy slide on the playground for the lower elementary that everybody waited in line for, even if you had to spend half your recess standing and waiting.

So, back to my bad mood. If I hadn't been half asleep when I got up at 2 I would have been able to see myself getting closer to the edge of that slide...

Fast forward a few hours, past the strange dreams of everybody I know turning into werewolves. The alarm went off like it should have, but I hit snooze too many times and woke up late, leading to me getting Raiden out of bed late.

I was inching closer to the slide...

Both kids ask for cereal, but I'm a terrible mother and can't even keep clean bowls in my house and I have to wash bowls for both of them and find spoons...because somehow we have a bazillion forks out of the sets we got when we got married but are down to only 3 spoons (which I did manage to fix, so now we have spoons, they just don't match!) and wash those, too.
 
Now skip forward a bit more to 8:00. Raiden ate breakfast super slow, so she still needed to brush her teeth, put on shoes and socks, and brush her hair before the bus came at 8:13. That should be plenty of time for a 6 year old, but it wasn't. 2 minutes before the bus came she was sitting on the couch putting her shoes on. The problem was, she was too busy telling her brother he couldn't color on the cardboard box to get her shoes actually on her feet. So now I'm yelling, telling her to get her shoes on her feet while I'm trying to brush her hair and at the same time telling her that Conan has just as much right to color on the box they were (both) playing with the day before.

...feet are right on the edge of that slide now...

She doesn't know where her backpack is, so while she's putting on her other shoe I run up to her bedroom because I remember telling her to get her backpack off of the middle of the stairs over the weekend and I get down with the missing bag and she doesn't know where her coat is and she's still telling Conan not to color anything like pictures on the box and I find the missing coat and put it on her as I'm pushing her out the door and trying to explain again that Conan can color on the cardboard box because we have lots and the bus is coming...

...and I'm sitting at the top of the slide now...
...not the self-pity slide...

And then Nathan gets up and asks me if I'm having a good morning.

That was it, the last nudge I needed to send me down that slide. It didn't help to get to class and find out I got a 77% on my first dosimetry test and then listen that afternoon to my professor for the physics of radiation course talk about how disappointed he was in some of our tests and that some of us may want to consider whether or not we really want to be in the field of medical physics...especially since I knew going in that I wasn't really prepared for the test.

not that same slide...and Conan is much happier!
And that self-pity one? It's definitely a good slide in that sense.

Yesterday was one of those days where I questioned just about every decision I've ever made and came to the conclusion that I'd chosen wrong pretty much every time. Funny how a bad mood can color your whole outlook like that, huh?

When I was little, I sometimes resented having to memorize Bible verses. I didn't see the purpose, to tell you the truth. I had spent so much time learning how to find any verse I wanted to, so why in the world would I need to memorize stuff?

Apparently, my parents knew what they were talking about (they have the annoying tendency to do that--the whole "being right" thing). Memorizing verses lets them pop into your head at just the right time.

Like this one:
"But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.'" (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Days like yesterday show me just how weak I really am. I can't keep a spotless house or get my kids to put their coats in the coat closet. I let my temper fly for dumb things. I let the first half of the semester get away from me and didn't do well on my first exams in medical physics. I write whole pages I don't like.

But you know what? That's okay.

"For when I am weak,
then I am strong."
(v. 10)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

butterflies and daisies

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose...What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:28 & 31)

These two verses seem to be favorites for a lot of people, and understandably so. Taken together, it seems people take these two verses to mean that everything will go smoothly for Christians. The flip side of that, then, is that if life is hard--
if things are going wrong
or falling apart
or disintegrating right before their eyes--
for someone who claims to be a Christian, then there must be something wrong in that person's spiritual life. After all, here in Romans we're told that God works things out for those who love Him, and that nobody can go against us if God is for us.

Right?

It would be really great if that were the case. I imagine it would be pretty easy to persuade others to become Christians then, too. If God's whole goal were to make us happy, to make sure everything rolled along splendidly for the people who love Him, and to stop anyone who dared oppose us, who wouldn't want to be a Christian?

To be honest, I wouldn't mind if Paul's letter to "all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints" (verse 1:7) had been made up entirely of those two verses. You know, he could have signed off with something along the lines of, "Love God and everything in life will fall nicely into place. You will be happy and healthy and never have to worry about a thing!"

It seems like that is the message many in the US hear preached from the pulpit each Sunday: God's whole purpose is to see us rich and comfortable. If we will do this whole "Christian" thing right, we will get everything we've ever dreamed of and all will be right with the world.

The truth is, though, that's now what we're promised. Even in that chapter in Romans, that isn't where Paul stopped. In fact, here's the note I have written in on that same page in my Bible, just a few verses down:


That note is next to verse 36, a quote from Psalm 44:22.
"For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

Huh.

For understandable reasons, especially in a country like the US where we have been spoiled and don't have to worry about true persecution, verses like this tend to be ignored. I'll admit it doesn't seem like the most comforting of verses. The thing is, being a follower of Christ was never meant to be a comfortable thing.

"I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world" (John 17:14)

"For there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again." (Matthew 24:21)

"If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24)

"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me." (Matthew 24:9)

"The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." (Acts 5:41)

Stephen was stoned to death, Paul was imprisoned and tortured (among other things), James was killed by Herod Agrippa. According to historians, the apostles suffered horribly for their faith.

Followers of the Way have, through the years, 
been crucified 
flayed 
fed to animals
beheaded
tortured.

Today, those who follow Christ around the world are killed instead by bombs and bullets. Though not talked about by the US media, the attack in Kenya and the atrocities carried out on an almost daily basis in Egypt are aimed at Christians.

We were never promised that life would be easy, despite what is popularly preached here in the US. Actually, we are told pointblank that life will be hard and that we will be hated by the world.

The amazing thing, though?

"I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! 
I have overcome the world."  
(John 16:33)

So jumping back to what Paul said in Romans:

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? 
Shall trouble 
or hardship 
or persecution 
or famine 
or nakedness 
or danger 
or sword? 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 
For I am convinced 
that neither death nor life, 
neither angels nor demons, 
neither the present nor the future, 
nor any powers, 
neither height nor depth, 
nor anything else in all creation
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35, 37-39)

No, life isn't all butterflies and daisies.

But we serve a God who is powerful enough to hold onto us through everything, One who gives us the strength to be conquerors--no, more than conquerors--in the midst of unimaginable hardships.

And I think that's pretty awesome.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

what would you say to the childhood you?

September is blog month for Compassion, and in "true Mandy fashion" I've procrastinated. Despite me putting it off, though, I hope you can still see the importance of hopping over to the Compassion website. Their goal this month is to see 3,160 kids sponsored, but that's not all they do. I hope you'll take a minute to check out what they do and see how you can be involved in changing someone's life. Who knows--you might even change yours in the process!

That said, the first assignment for blog month was to write a letter to my childhood self. I was challenged to do something similar to this a while back, except it was to the teenaged me. If you want to check that one out you can read it over here. Okay, so I've stalled long enough...

***
To the little girl who has so much going for her, yet is still terribly unsure of herself--

First of all, I'm not going to tell you who this is from because you would never believe me. You're way too grounded in reality for that, even sometimes when you should be chasing dreams. So let's just say I'm someone with a vested interest in you and a decent idea of the kind of person you'll grow up to be. For that matter, though, anyone who knows your parents could figure that one out--you're a pretty decent mix of the two of them, and if you turn out half as caring as either of them you'll be doing pretty good.

I know you're not big on taking advice from people, especially from someone who hasn't proven herself to you, but I hope this will be one of those rare times when you'll listen anyways. Or at least humor me and give the impression that you're paying attention. You're pretty good at that.

Do you realize just how amazing your family is? No, really--think about it for a minute. You have parents you can admire, parents who have stuck together through everything and will stay together through times that would split other people apart. They love God and love you, and that's a pretty incredible blessing. They have always sacrificed willingly so you could have and do just about anything you've ever wanted, and they always will--even when you're grown. I know you want to think you can do everything on your own, but the truth is sometimes you can't. How incredible is it to have parents who are always there to help you, even when you let your stubborn pride get in the way of asking for help?

And you know that brother of yours? He's one of a rare breed--an older brother who actually enjoys spending time with his little sister, who isn't embarassed by talking to her in front of his friends, and who even invites her to come along. I know this sounds crazy, but enjoy him picking on you. Believe it or not, there will come a time when you'll miss it. Pay attention when he teaches you to throw--and take--a punch, and believe him when he says it's his job to toughen you up. He's gonna teach you a lot of lessons in life, and some of them will be painful, but you should pay attention.

Then there's your little sister, you know, the one you prayed for like your mom is quick to remind you. I know she gets on your nerves and in your space some times, and she seems to make it her goal to drive you crazy. I promise, though, you'll both outgrow it and even become friends. There's nothing like a sister. She'll know you background, your weaknesses, your idiosyncrasies--and love you anyways. Revel in watching her blossom, and try not to laugh too hard when she wants to be a cheerleader.

Speaking of cheerleading, you're probably imagining all the wonderful things that will come from being a cheerleader. It really will be great for you, but it won't be without its share of heartbreaks--nothing in life is. Have fun with it, but know it isn't everything. Maybe focus a bit more on just enjoying every aspect of school. It would be wonderful if you could take the time to learn how to study, too. It really would come in handy.

I know you feel a bit out of place in life, like you can't really find your niche. You want to do big things, world-changing things, but you don't really know how. Hang in there, and you'll eventually find your spot. It will take a lot longer than you would ever imagine and you'll be in and out of lots of different spots along the way, but you'll get there.

Most of all, though, hold on to your faith. You have been given a firm foundation, and it is more important than you can imagine. Everything else in your life may get shaken, but you'll be able to face it as long as your faith stays firm. Actually take the time to memorize those verses and passages because it's pretty great when they can pop into your head just when you need them.

Life is hard and crazy and painful and beautiful. Enjoy all of it. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

when you're not making progress

Follow. Back in January, I wrote about how that was my "one word" for 2013.

I have to admit, there are certain connotations to the word follow, not the least of which is the idea that if you are going to be following someone you're going somewhere. You're moving forward, making progress--
   or at least just plain moving.

What happens, though, when you are standing still? Or more than that, how do you follow when you've been knocked flat on your face?

Everyone talks about the "Christian walk." I don't know about you, but when I hear that phrase it makes me think of an evening stroll down a well-beaten path. You know, one of those walks where there's plenty of time to look around and soak in the sights and sounds, to feel the gentle breeze against your face as you catch the beauty of a sunset. Maybe even throw in some woodland creatures scampering nearby--you know, Snow White style.
(c) Disney


I've found, though, that that phrase is misleading. Lots of times I find myself not moving at all, standing still instead of making progress. When I am moving, it seems a lot more like a climb up a mountain, somewhere I'm having to use a machete to hack out the trail myself. Sometimes you get to walk easy once you reach the top, but it seems like it's in those times that I stop paying attention to where I'm going and end up walking off a cliff.

I find myself at the bottom then, broken and still, wanting to follow but unable to move forward.
     Have you ever been there?

A friend recently went bouldering (Stick with me here--I know this seems like a major change of topics, but I promise it ties in!). She's started rock climbing, a sport I've always found amazing. How thrilling is it to work your way to the top where you get to stand and look out over the world below, to see Creation in all its glory? I haven't asked her, but I imagine she thinks along those same lines.

The thing is, it takes a lot of strength in muscles we don't usually use for strength to be able to climb safely and effectively. So, one way to train is to go bouldering, where you stay low to the ground and move sideways.

She wasn't incredibly fond of the idea of staying on the same level instead of getting to climb higher. She's an amazingly insightful woman, though, and this is what she had to say (hope you don't mind, Rona!):

" looks and feels like youre not going anywhere. routes are impossible and you keep falling on your butt.

but you land on soft cushions.
and though you cant perceive it, youre getting stronger and making way more progress than on the actual rock wall.

#grace #NewLevels #SometimesItFeelsJustLikeThis"

Being stuck at one level is hard. You want to follow, to climb higher so you can stand at the top of the mountain and look back over all you've accomplished, all you've conquered.

The thing is, sometimes it is best to be stuck
to be broken and unable to climb
to see just how weak you really are
and how little you can really accomplish.

"But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Though it's frustrating and painful to be broken, sometimes we learn the most when we feel stuck, when we don't think we're making progress.

Sometimes, follow means to be content in the still times. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

9 years...and still messy

Nine years ago today, I was in the middle of all this:


I would say it was a typical August day in northwest Arkansas, but according to weather underground it was a much cooler than normal 75-degree day.

Evil doesn't rest, though, and tragedy strikes even in the midst of joy and beauty. Around 7,000 miles away on the other side of the world, my brother was killed. Look over here if you want to read that story, because this one takes a little different turn.

Fast forward a few weeks, to when the shock was starting to wear off. My brother was gone, and I was mad. Not at the war or at the man who killed him--war brings death as part of its natural order, and the man who shot my brother was, to me anyway, like him in the fact that he was a soldier--albeit the enemy--fighting for his beliefs.

I wasn't mad at God, not really. Pop was. He had made a promise that he would never talk to God again if He ever took one of us kids, and for a while that was the case.

I wasn't mad at the government like so many others seemed to be, the people on the outside looking in and trying to place the blame somewhere. Outsiders would talk about how President Bush should never have gotten us involved in Iraq in the first place, but that wasn't how I felt. Michael died fighting for what he believed in, trying to bring freedom to a people who were being oppressed and tortured by the man who called himself their leader.

I was mad at my brother.

I can't tell you exactly what I was mad about, other than the simple fact that he left me. It wasn't like I thought it was his choice or anything, but that didn't change the fact that my protector
my confidant
my self-defense instructor
my defender
my pesterer
my big brother had left.

At 20 years old, a newlywed just 7 months into my marriage, my life had changed forever and the only person I found to blame was my brother. I was mad at him for leaving me, and I was mad at him for making my wedding day almost as sad a memory for me as happy because it was the last time I saw my brother.

Something new would happen in my life, and I would wonder what Michael would think of it. If it was something bad, I knew he would have had words of support and wisdom for me. If it was something good, he would have teased me about getting a big head then pulled me aside later when nobody else was around to tell me he was proud of me.

That's what I missed--and still miss--the most, the teasing. How crazy is that? I miss being annoyed and picked on by my big brother.

I can't tell you how long I was mad at him. There wasn't a sudden enlightening moment that I can pinpoint and say, "Right there. That's when I realized I was being dumb." Instead, over time the anger melted away. I guess it's hard to stay mad at somebody you miss so much.

I would say that nine years ago was the last time my family was whole, but that isn't exactly true. Nine years ago I had my brother, but I didn't have my kids and my little sister didn't have her husband. Nine years ago, a hole was torn in our family that won't be fixed until we all meet again in Heaven, but our family has continued to grow since then.

Because you see, just as tragedy strikes in the midst of joy, beauty shines through despite the pain.

I still miss my brother--I always will. It stings a little when my kids ask about him because I know there's nothing I can say that will ever compare to them having their uncle here to pick on them. When other people are congratulating me for something, like my book, I long to hear Michael teasing me. I miss his crooked grin. When everything seems to be going wrong (as is the case right now, to be honest), I wish I could hear him telling me everything will work out.

Looking back over what I've written, I have to apologize. It's a bit disjointed, something that really isn't usually the case with my writing. I guess it's because even now, 9 years later, I still have trouble processing everything. That's why any time I've written about my brother on here it has come out a bit messy, I guess. I could go back and edit everything, make all the loose ends come together, but somehow that doesn't seem right. Life and emotions and families are messy, so I think that's part of my story.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

when you get too busy...

It's easy to get too busy--believe me, I know!

With a husband and kids and school and laundry and cooking and writing and...everything else, sometimes life is just plain crazy. I look at everything I have to get done, and I know I could never fit a single thing extra into the day. For that matter, not all the stuff that has to get done gets done, either.

Life is crazy and overwhelming at times (or if you're like me, maybe you feel more like it is only calm and peaceful at times and crazy the rest of the time!). It's easy to get distracted by all the stuff going on, and wander away from what's really important:

"After the Feast was over, while His parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking He was in their company, they traveled on for a day." (Luke 2:43 & 44a)

Just like Mary and Joseph, we very easily find ourselves walking off and leaving the Savior behind. And also like them, a lot of the time we don't even realize we've done it.

That has been the case for me lately. First I was wrapped up in releasing the story I've written, then in watching the numbers of sales. Then we were searching for a new place to live, hoping to get away from our current housemate and away from the big city. Then it was vacation time in Arkansas, where plans were interrupted by a farming accident that put Nathan's dad in the hospital with a broken back (For those of you who know Scott, he's home recovering and moving around a lot better than I would have expected, though he's definitely still in a lot of pain and has a lot of recovery time ahead of him). Now we're back in Toledo packing for our move, trying to get the house presentable in the meantime so our landlords can show it to prospective renters. Thankfully the kids have stayed with my parents, who have graciously agreed to be run ragged for the next couple of weeks before driving all the way up here to deliver the kids and see the new house.

All that said, I read Joyce Meyer's devotional this morning (something I haven't done in an ashamedly long time) and realized something:

I all the hustle and bustle and mess, I've left the Savior behind.

And I have to admit, this isn't the first time it has happened. I can look back at quite a few times in my life when I've looked around and realized that I wasn't standing next to Him anymore.

For Jesus's parents, after they realized Jesus wasn't with them they searched for Him for 3 days. When they finally found Him, Mary asked, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." (Luke 2:48b)

Normally, I don't know that I would see anything inherently good about parents having to search for their son for 3 days. I mean, can you imagine that? Talk about being frantic and terrified! This time, though, I'm glad Jesus's parents had to search for Him.

Because you see, they searched so that we don't have to.

When Mary asked her son why in the world he would make them crazy with worry, His answer was, "Why were you searching for Me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (vs. 49)

Thanks to Mary's desperate search for her son, when I looked around and saw that Jesus wasn't right there next to me like I had expected, I knew just where to look.

See, the Savior was right where I had left Him, with the Father. I may have wandered off to do my own thing, but He hadn't gone anywhere.

So if it's been a while, pull out that Bible that sometimes gets forgotten. Like the teachers in the temple courts, sit with Jesus for a little while and marvel at all He has to say. Be amazed by Him again.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"I have prayed for you..."

"But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:32)

So often, we are given the impression that a true Christian has a faith that is never shaken. To be a true believer, someone God can use for great things, you have to be someone who is walking forward on the right path at all times, never distracted or sidetracked or a bit lost.

It seems tied in to the same train of thought that says a Christian should never question God, something I've come to disagree with (you can read my thoughts on that over here).

There's this guy in the Bible, though, who seems to go against just about every description of a Christian that we cling to so faithfully. In the Scriptures he comes across as impulsive, hotheaded, and a bit short-fused. At the end of the Last Supper, we see him arguing with Jesus. In the garden, he cuts a guy's ear off. While Jesus us being questioned by Caiaphas, this guy is down in the courtyard denying he ever even knew Jesus.

Yeah, I'm talking about Simon Peter again, that guy who stepped out of the boat only to start sinking.

The guy who answered Jesus's question of "Who do you say I am?" with, "You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

The guy Jesus named Peter, the rock.

Even then, when He said that Peter would become the foundation upon which He would build the church, Jesus knew what was in store for Peter. He knew Peter would deny even so much as knowing Him, and I'm sure it cut Him deeply:
not just the fact that He would be hurt by Peter's denial, but the knowledge that Peter would be hurt, too.

Just like He knows what each of us will face, He knew what lay ahead for Peter. He knew he would turn away--and He prayed for him.

Isn't that an amazing thought, the Messiah praying personally for someone?
What makes it even more incredible is the knowledge that He prayed for all believers.

And I don't think it was a quick, all encompassing prayer like we see in John 17, where the red letters spell out Jesus's prayer in the garden the night He was betrayed and arrested. Though that prayer definitely isn't short, it wouldn't last hours into the night and be something the disciples had time to repeatedly fall asleep during. I can't say this is true, but I like to think He saw each and every one of us flash across His mind that night as He prayed for "those who will believe."

That's more than enough, but it isn't all that stands out to me about what Jesus tells Peter here.

When someone turns away for a moment, it is easy for other Christians to say that person's faith has failed. But here is Jesus, saying that Peter would turn back to Him. He also prayed that Peter's faith wouldn't fail, so I believe that can only mean that Peter's faith held its ground despite his denial. You can't turn back without first turning away, so I would say that tells us that we can turn away for a time without it meaning our faith has failed.

So if you find yourself in that place, the dark night during which you have turned your back on the One who went to the cross for you, remember that He prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. It may be shaken, but it is on a foundation firm enough that all of creation was built on it.

And when you turn back, use your story to strengthen others.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

a man of value

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value." ~Albert Einstein

One of the definitions of success is, "the gaining of fame or prosperity." Value has a lot of definitions, but there are 2 that stand out to me:
1~ "utility or merit"
2~ "a principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable"

The world, it seems, holds success high above value. Too often people--and probably men especially--are judged on how famous they are or how much money they have managed to accumulate. By those standards, Pop wouldn't rate very highly. His name isn't known around the world; there aren't thousands of people who would recognize his picture. His bank account has never been one of those at risk o not being covered by the FDIC--the paycheck flows back out to pay the bills pretty quickly. By the world's standards, he probably wouldn't be considered a success.

But a man of value? That's a very different story.

The first definition of "value" was "utility." That, in turn, is defined as being "designed for use." And if that definition can be applied to anyone, it's Pop. He's had quite a few purposes in my lifetime, and he was designed for each and every one of them.

Pop and Sarh--father and daughter,
coach and athlete
 As a coach, he had the ability to push people to do their best. He was hard on the girls who played basketball for him, but judging by the former players who have asked him to perform a wedding or who have brought their kids to meet him, his players thought the world of him and wanted to play for him.

As a pastor, he can step on toes when needed and offer a pat on the back when deserved, even if nobody else notices. He preaches on everything from "Flying in the Chicken Coop" to "Granny's Chocolate Pie," making even obscure biblical truths easy to understand. He lives his faith and isn't too proud to hold up his own weaknesses as examples. He can carry on a deep conversation about God with either a 4 year old or a scholar, knowing he has something to teach to and to learn from each one. He doesn't avoid the hard questions by throwing out something like, "God works in mysterious ways."
picture by Sarah :0)

As a farmer, he wakes before the sun. His hands and arms are strong enough to drive fence posts and string barbed wire, yet gentle enough to scoop up a baby chick out of the mess of a leak in the chicken house. When something goes wrong, he can figure out a way to make it work just long enough, even when he only seems to have MacGyver-type supplies. He can shrug off banged up hands, even when they're bleeding, and say it was nothing. He worlds long hours all year long, in the dog-days of summer and the dead of winter, and most of the time those hours don't start until he finishes his school bus route. He hauls hay and bottle feeds orphaned calves and picks up dead chickens without complaint.

As a teacher, he shows kids every day that they are capable of so much more than they thought. He teaches math, a subject most say they either don't like or can't understand. He's given some students their first A in math and others their only B of their high school career because he believes in pushing all of them. Though he doesn't coach anymore, a lot of his kids still call him "Coach Goins." He holds his students to a higher standard, and they rise to the challenge because they know he believes in them. His methods are a bit unconventional, but they work amazingly. He's talked a time or two about not teaching anymore, but there's always some student who needs him, some kid he wants to see make it through, and he stays.

He has other roles, other uses he is designed for like Popeye (named by his granddaughter), husband, son, and brother. If you ask me, though, above all else he was designed to be Pop. In the midst of all the rest of his responsibilities, he took the time to support all three of us kids. He taught (and teaches) us the importance of God, family, and hard work. He supports us and pushes us, telling us we are made for great things and that God has big plans for us. He was quick to correct us when we needed it, but he has always understood that sometimes we learn best from mistakes.

I've been told I think like Pop, that we operate on the same wavelength. There must be some truth to that since I'm one of the only ones who can work cows with him, but otherwise I can only hope it's true. What I know, though, is that I'm proud to be called his daughter.

Love you, Popa!

  "Righteousness guards the man of integrity..." Proverbs 13:6a

Thursday, June 6, 2013

keep on...

I haven't written here in a while, and for that I have to say sorry. I've gotten wrapped up in other things the past couple of weeks, namely the release of a book that has been a long time in coming and which now sits on my shelf--an actual book, in print, with my name on the cover.

I am beyond excited to see it, though to be honest it still doesn't really seem true even when I look up at the bookshelf across the room from my chair in the living room. It fits with the other paperbacks there, but at the same time it doesn't.

Because inside is me.

It's fiction, a fantasy, but it is me just as much as if I had been telling my life story in its pages. Other people may not see it, but every word has a little piece of me hidden inside. Every line is a glimpse into my soul. I'm on every page, my strengths, weaknesses, flaws, and beliefs there for everybody to see.

There's a quote from E.L. Doctorow that says, "Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake." Though I don't have much experience with it yet, so far I completely agree.

I'm excited to see my book in print, but I'm also more terrified and nervous than I would have thought possible. 

~What if people don't like what they read?
~What if nobody wants it?
~What if I don't finish anything else?
~Maybe I shouldn't have released it--will other people see how immature the writing was in the beginning, despite the changes I made?
~Are the people who know me going to think differently of me now?
~Am I just plain crazy for writing a fantasy, a story with magic and sword fights and a Healer and and escaped prisoner and a crazy old hermit and...?

The list goes on, but I'm definitely not going to bore you with all the questions that roll through my head on a daily basis now and which regularly keep me up at night, my brain refusing to shut off.

I worry about what people will think of my writing because I worry what they will think of me because of it.

The thing is, I didn't start writing The Prophecy so that people would think of me a certain way. When I first started writing it, I never even imagined putting it out there for people to read.

I wrote it because I couldn't not write it, because God has wired me in such a way that writing is as much a part of who I am as my eye color, shoe size, or name. I wrote it because God gave me a passion for writing, and even if I'm not 100% sure of His purpose for my writing (or even 10% sure, for that matter), I am sure that if He gave me a passion and a love for writing, He expects me to use it.

One of my favorite authors, Dean Koontz, wrote in The Taking, "Pages crystallizing into chapters, chapters accreting into books: The story-painting, spell-casting, truth-telling work of a novelist had seemed to be a lifelong purpose. Her mother had taught her that talent is a gift from God, that a writer has a sacred obligation to her Creator to explore the gift with energy and diligence, to polish it, to use it to brighten the landscape of her readers' hearts."

So, I'll work on silencing the questions so I can start listening to the One Voice that matters.
I'll strive to understand how this crazy dream fits into His ultimate plan for my life.
I'll explore the gift I've been given in hopes of helping just one person step out of the harsh reality he finds himself in, even if it's just for a moment.

And I'll keep writing, because I don't know how not to.