Well-Aged With Season

As with last week’s post, I’m going back through a handful of pieces I’ve written in recent years, but never published. I’m amazed sometimes at the things God once taught me but slipped to faint and distant memory. I hope this touches you today. 

“Be careful, parents! One day the little ones whose diapers you’re changing will be changing yours!”

I heard that humorous warning about aging in a sermon once. I don’t recall the rest of the lesson at all. That line was so catchy, I kind of got stuck there. But recently, the gravity and art of aging has intrigued me.

Maybe it’s because my refrigerator is camouflaged in pictures of my nieces and nephews. Kylie, the oldest, isn’t quite three; baby Acelynn hasn’t even had her first birthday. Right alongside images of first steps, yogurt-smeared chins and sparkly, wide eyes, is a photo of my grandmother. She turned 91 this year.

Granddad died a few years ago. Since then, almost spry as ever, she has lived alone a few hours from my parents’ house. The only signs of her age are fading hearing, a tremor when she tries to hold her head perfectly still and she walks a bit slower than she used to.

Or maybe, I’m contemplating these seasons of life because I volunteer doing pet therapy with hospice patients. I heard of a man who recently decided he’d like a visit. It took them months to convince him he would benefit from a few hours with a dog. Stubborn, he kept telling his son and nurses that he wants his own dog, not simply a visitor. He knows what they say is true, that it wouldn’t be fair to the dog. He’s too old and ill to care for it properly. He may not live much longer and then who would take care of his furry best friend? Brave and I will meet Mr. Thurston next week for the first time.

Or maybe it’s because a few weeks ago Brave and I attended a grief camp for children who have lost a loved one in the last two years. However unfair, they were thrust into an unexpected season, one with a stark awareness of death. For many of them, the loss will mean a drastic change in their lifestyle. Who will tuck me in at night?

I might be thinking about birth, aging and dying, youth and the elderly, old and new because a friend just told me that he and his wife are finishing their basement so that his father can move in with them. It’s only been a few short years since they tenderly cared for his mother in her final days.

Whatever the reason, the seasons of life are turning in my head. But it’s much more than a solemn observation of finite lives. It’s more of an interest in how these season change us, not just our appearances and abilities, but change the way we live our lives. Passing years change our lifestyles, our priorities, our waking thoughts and unremembered dreams.

In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

It’s not surprising that Paul includes that sentence in, “The Love Chapter”. The most important way that time changes us, that age matures us, that the end sobers us, is that we fall more in love with the timeless. Time as we know it nears its finale, and our attention is swept up by the eternal. Our love shifts to things of an infinite nature—the promises of our Creator, the surety of seeing His face, the eternal spirits of our loved ones. Our lives necessarily change to accommodate these newly found truths.

Our bodies slow down as God allows age to limit our lifestyle, to force us to take closer, longer looks at what really matters. It is in the slowness, even the stillness, that we know He is God. And in that knowing, we are so much closer to all we’ve ever hoped for–to be fully real, fully known and fully loved.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

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Praying Like a Sinner

[This devotional, first published in ‘Tween Girls and God is intended for youth.]

Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God … “

Trista glanced across the yard as she climbed into the backseat of her family’s minivan one Sunday morning.

“The Carlsons never go to church,” she said to no one in particular. Daddy fastened Trista’s younger sister in her carseat, opened the door for her mother and then climbed in behind the wheel. Slowly, he backed out of the drive. No one replied, so Trista turned it into a question.

“Daddy, why don’t they go to church? I mean, God says we should, I know it’s in the Bible somewhere. Does that mean they don’t believe in Jesus? If they do believe in Jesus, does that mean we are better Christians? Does that mean they are bad people? Does that mean … ”.

“Slow down, Trista,” her mom interrupted. “If you don’t stop asking so many questions, your dad can’t give you an answer. Besides, I think this is a very important conversation. The things you’re saying sound a little prideful.”

“Trista, have you heard the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector?” Daddy asked. “Jesus tells the story in Luke chapter 18.”

“No. I don’t think so,” Trista said.

“Well, Jesus was talking to some people who were pretty sure they were really good people. They believed that they were doing a good job of keeping all of God’s commandments and that God must be pretty pleased with them.”

Daddy, continued, “So the story is that there were two men who went to pray. One was a very important religious leader and the other was a tax collector. In those days, tax collectors were considered to be bad people. Sometimes they cheated people out of their money.

“The religious leader stood off to the side, far away from the tax collector. Then he started to pray out loud, ‘God, I’m so glad that you didn’t make me like that tax collector over there. I’m a really good person. I do everything you say to do.’

“But the tax collector stood off to the side and looked sadly down at the ground. He cried, ‘God, I’m so sorry for the bad things I’ve done. Please have mercy on me.’

“Jesus finished the story by saying, ‘I promise you, the humble tax collector went home forgiven, not the prideful religious man.’”

Now it was Trista’s turn to hang her head. “I think I understand, Daddy,” she said in a small voice. “God isn’t happy when I am proud of myself and think that the good things I do make Him happy with me.”

“That’s right, sweetheart,” Mom spoke up. “Jesus died for our sins—for everyone in the whole world. You and I are only saved because we believe in Him, not because we go to church or do anything good at all. Also, it is not our place to judge other people. Actually, I know Mrs. Carlson from the bank. Their family goes to a different church and they worship on Saturday nights.”

Trista turned to look out the window and watched the other cars streak past. She wondered where they were going. Quietly, she whispered a prayer:

“Jesus, thank you for forgiving me when I am prideful and when I do bad things or don’t do the things you want me to do. Thank you for parents who teach me to believe in you and to understand the Bible. Help me to be humble and to remember that I am saved because of your grace, not by anything I do.”

What’s Your Name?

sunrise-invitation-1431868-mAlmost every Christian on the planet can rattle off, “I’m saved by grace through faith.”

Almost every Christian on the planet gets up each day with fresh resolutions—and a better arsenal of excuses.

A familiar Old Testament character can empathize with you. He was full of excuses, little white lies and a few big, old whoppers. Ashamed of who he was, Jacob tried to make himself sound better, feel better, look better than he actually was. Follow his story with me:

Jacob had tried to come out first. As Rachel gave her last anguished push, he thrust forward his tiny pink hand. But just before he could claim the birthright, Esau, big and red, shouldered his way out first. Jacob was shortly behind him, gripping Esau’s heel with all his might.

Their young years were rife with tension. Sure, there were good days when the boys enjoyed camaraderie, but their parents’ divided loyalties kept them both on edge. Ruddy Esau was Isaac’s choice, but Rachel favored Jacob. Maybe she felt sorry for him, the underdog, the sweet little boy who wanted desperately to make his mark on the world.

At birth, Jacob had been labeled, “deceiver,” or, “crafty one,” (the meaning of his Hebrew name) in recollection of his attempt to claim the honor of first born. Living up to his name, twice the Bible tells specific stories of him deceiving his family members in order to claim blessings that were not his. Then, one final, colossal mistake left him running for his life—Jacob lied about his name.

He told his blind father, Isaac, that he was Esau. He convinced Isaac to bless him with the honors of a firstborn. “I am Esau.” Three little words.

There is oh, so much more to the story! But let’s move forward, the privilege of a Bible scholar, to survey the entire landscape of Scripture and consider each story in context and in its minutia.

Years later, Jacob lay restless on the ground trying to sleep. For days, his family had been traveling, a monster caravan of livestock, servants, women and children. As they neared their destination, Jacob’s home in Canaan, word came that Esau had learned of their arrival and was coming to meet them. In fear, Jacob sent gifts ahead of him to pacify his brother. That night, in a fitful sleep, he had a visitor.

Initially, the Bible only tells us that a man wrestled with Jacob all night long. Later, we come to understand that this was a pre-incarnate Christ, a theophany. As day broke, Jacob lost the match but still clung fiercely to the stranger. “I will not let you go until you bless me!” he said.

Then, God asked Jacob a most ordinary, and ironic question: “What is your name?”

Did God not know? Did the Creator who knit this man together in his mother’ womb, not also know his name? Why do you think God asked?

God wanted Jacob to admit who he really was. Long ago, when Jacob claimed to be Esau, he pretended to be someone he was not. He pretended to be worthy of his father’s blessing; he pretended to be the rightful heir. Jacob believed he need to be better, older, more worthy in his father’s eyes to receive the blessing.

The last time Jacob had been asked to give his name, he lied, “I am Esau.” In other words, “Father, I am who you want me to be.”

Now, God asked Jacob not to redeem himself, not to prove his worth for the blessing, but instead to admit who he was—a liar, a cheat, a deceiver.

Humbled, Jacob told the truth, “I am Deceiver.” And in the wake of his truthfulness, God, Himself, redeemed Jacob.

“Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome’ … Then he blessed him there.”
Genesis 32:28-29b

What do you have to do receive the blessing of Christ’s righteousness, the favor of God for salvation?

God does not ask you to become someone you are not. It is vain to cover your flaws, change your name, mask your scars, hide your weaknesses and sins. Your salvation is in admitting who you are—all failures and mistakes included. In the wake of your confession, when you understand your need for the Savior, God Himself will change you, redeem you, clothe you in righteousness and bless you.

Isaiah 61:10
Isaiah 30:15
Isaiah 43:1

All Things New, Life After Death

I’d given up on that phone call years ago. Subconsciously, I just knew it wasn’t a good idea. I’d ruined my body for having my own babies, why would anyone else trust me with theirs?

But last week, a sister called me. My second sister isn’t much of a talker, so I knew something must have prompted the call. “What’s up?”

“Well, nothing is wrong, don’t worry. In fact, it’s not that big of a deal. Well, it’s a big deal, but…”.

“Now I’m really curious,” I urged her on with a laugh. What on earth could tie her tongue and yet still be so important as to warrant a phone call in the middle of her daughters’ bath time?

“My husband and I have been talking and praying about it. We would like you and Patrick to consider being the ones to take the girls if something were to ever happen to both of us.”

She paused. My heart hit the floor and took wings all at the same time. Giddiness washed over me. Me? They chose me—my husband and me?

Not so many years ago, I would have been a terrible choice to take care of my nieces if something happened to their parents. In the throes of a longterm battle with anorexia, it wasn’t a stretch to wonder if I might not live to see them reach high school. I let my mind follow that line of thinking.

Not so many years ago, my sister and her husband might have feared that living with me would warp their girls’ body image. They might wonder if I’d feed them well, tend to their precious bodies or teach them how to fully embrace all of life outside the numbers by which society measures happiness. Or they might have been concerned that I wasn’t mentally present enough to assume responsibility for their little girls. What if I fell asleep at the wheel driving to gymnastics? What if I was re-admitted to a treatment center—what would happen to the girls then?

My sister still waited on the phone; slowly my mind resurfaced and collected itself. I tried to control the waver in my voice and suggest following the proper protocol. “Of course, I’ll talk to Patrick and we’ll pray about it. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. But I have to ask one question—why did you pick us?

My sister and her husband have done a remarkable job instilling the love of Jesus in the hearts of their little girls. A passion for Christ at the center of all things is the desire of their hearts, the defining trait they want for the home where their children mature.

“We think that you guys embody the way that we want the girls to grow up. We want them to know Jesus as a Person, not simply grow up in a religious home. We want them to feel His presence and learn to walk with Him.” (Not a precise quote, I wasn’t recording my sister.)

Not so many years ago, the mention of my name conjured worries, memories of treatment centers, confusion, deception and fear. I identified myself as anorexic. The dominant thoughts of my wakeful hours, and often even my dreams, were calories, food and exercise. But now…

Oh the joy, the sheer magnificence of a healing God! He healed me and allows me to experience abundant life, unhindered joy, Christ-filling. He redeemed the years, redeemed my reputation, redeemed my identity.

To be known as one whose mind, heart and home is consumed with Christ, is a greater honor than I can explain. To know that the old is so far gone, so far has He removed my sin from me, and the new has come—there are no sufficient words.

Of course, you’re likely wondering if I ever consulted my husband, who would share the responsibility of raising our nieces and what he said. He said, “Yes!”

Please don’t be put off or allow this to be seen as a morbid story, considering the loss of my sister and her husband. Rather, I believe her call, their question was meant first and foremost as God’s testimony to me, of me, that He makes all things new.

 

The Long Awaited…A Review of “Who Am I?”

My dearest friends and readers, allow me to introduce to you one of the most amazing women I have had the privilege of meeting virtually.

Megan Cyruleski was one of the first to review my book. She also interviewed me here, and then honored me with the favor of her presence here on Predatory Lies. You can read my interview with Megan here. 

And finally, what we’ve all been waiting for (me more than others–on pins and needles to read the Advance Review Copy of her book) a review of Megan’s soon to debut book, Who Am I?

So, without further adieu…

There are two things that make a book mesmerizing: either I find myself in the story or, I am captured by a narrative so far from my own reality that it’s simply hard to believe.

The second phenomena is something like being a deer caught in the headlights. Life demands that I get up and do something “productive”, (or finally put the book down and go to sleep as the case may be). Reason insists that the book will be there later but I am somewhat in a stupor, living in someone else’s world, stunned into staring at pages as the words get blurry and my eyelids droop.

Megan Cyrulewski’s book, Who Am I?, falls in the second category, and let me be clear—few books ever land in that category for me.

Megan’s story is truly her own, though at times it seems an impossibly difficult story. From the first line of the preface, it occurs to the reader that Megan’s life is not an enviable one. Tearful, in bed, crushed beneath the weight of postpartum depression, her mental mantra is, “Madelyn deserves better than me. I want to die.”

Megan then unfolds an ever more complicated drama. From rising out of the ashes of PPD, to protecting her daughter from her narcissistic ex-husband, to surviving domestic violence, Megan guides the reader with absolute precision. She provides dates, full text letters between attorneys and text messages between herself and Madelyn’s father. Megan’s wit carries the story with small doses of humor lifting the reader’s spirit and restoring optimism at just the right times.

I’ve fought my own battles, but none like those Megan faced. However, I believe that an untold number of women face similar issues. In Megan’s story they will find a seasoned companion. Megan’s story provides insight in a “been there-done that” format. Her humor will brighten the darkest days and allow them to search again for the light at the end of the tunnel. And perhaps, most importantly, as it concludes with resounding hope, Who Am I?, will allow many to see “themselves in Megan’s story and give them courage to reach out for help and find healing.

Dying to read it? Here’s the pre-buy link to Who Am I? 
Get it first!

2 Things I Would Never Tell Your Child

I’m sorry, today is supposed to be your day “off” from my ramblings, but my dear husband heard this on the radio and actually took the time to call me about it on his way to work. He knows that this is the kind of thing that raises my ire, and that I would want to talk to you about it. 

Just last week I read about the Facebook snafu, the “Hot Mom” who posted a “selfie” (I hate that word) and threw down the gauntlet to all women to reclaim (or establish) their “ideal” physique nearly instantly after pregnancy. 

(Even as I write this, I notice that I’m using an inordinate number of quotation marks, which indicates to me the irony of this conversation.) 

Here’s the second article about , “Mom Under Fire” for the haughty flaunt of her “perfect” post-baby body. Again, practically a challenge to all women, “I bet you can’t do this!”

It reminds me of the playground, “My body is better than your body!” “Anything you can do I can do better!”.

Just last night, I picked up a very interesting book called, The Religion of Thinness. The author makes a solid case for defining our commitment to, obsession with and sacrifices for thinness, as a religion. These articles back up her thesis. 

We’ve all heard new parents says something like, “Now that we have kids we’re going to start going to church and praying over meals. I want our kids to grow up in a religious home.”

In essence, these recent articles are saying, “Now that we have kids, I want the first thing they think about, the highest value of their lives to be creating and maintaining the perfect body.”

Do we really want to send that message to our kids?

Love Isn’t What You Thought it Was

Love is NOT an action. Love is NOT a verb.

Maybe I’m taking it too far. After all, it is the well-meaning marriage counselor staring across her office at the young couple engaged in an only slightly contained version of offensive PDA, who says it. She wants to warn them that the honeymoon phase won’t last forever.

Or, it’s the aged and experienced pastor, reminding his flock that love endures all things, it doesn’t give up as soon as the circumstances no longer feel good.

That’s what we mean, right? We’re trying to say that love doesn’t always evoke warm fuzzies. It isn’t always carrying a long-stemmed rose. Love doesn’t necessarily pal around with happiness. Love has guts. Love digs in, hangs on, fights through and comes out on the other side. 

So I agree, love is not a feeling. But I stand by the truth that love is not an action either.

First Corinthians 13 is the “Love Chapter”, known by Christians and unbelievers alike as the quintessential description of the highest, most unattainable, unhuman-like love. It’s what we strive for and then console ourselves when we fail saying, “we’re only human”.

When I read that long definition of LOVE, I’m am struck more by what Love is not and what it does not do than what it is or does.

“…love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing…Love never ends.”

To me, this says that for those of us who are learning Love from the Savior who IS Love,  we will need to exercise more restraint from what comes naturally, than effort to perform a list of lovely actions.

The Bible doesn’t say Love is an activist. It doesn’t say Love sets out to change the world. In fact, some things in this list suggest that such actions are often attempted without love. Frequently, our intent to change the world looks like we’re fighting for our own way, behaving rudely or being resentful.

Love doesn’t constantly offer advice. (This includes counseling, nagging and reprimanding our husbands, kids or friends.)

People with Down Syndrome are known for their ability to love far beyond what we deem normal, even without the full capacity to do many things. We admire the limitless love of our pets, referring to their unconditional love, even as they cannot verbalize their emotions.

How well do we feel loved by a bed-ridden grandma who really can’t do anything for us anymore? Or do we experience love through the prayers of a church body we’ve never seen? Or do we admire the love and joy emanating from an impoverished African child, who has little ability to do much for anyone?

Love isn’t an action.
Love isn’t a feeling.
Love is a person, and those who know Him best ought to be those who radiate it most brightly. Just as those standing closest to a candle will be most illuminated. Love is a Being, not a doing. A Being who always IS with us and doesn’t run from our unloveliness.

It’s Elementary, My Dear…

“All of Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting and training in righteousness.” 2 Tim. 3:16

That’s why I get almost giddy when the Holy Spirit illuminates two or three passages, sometimes from opposite ends of the Bible and ties them together. It makes God’s Word seem so personal, as if I had a private tutor patiently explaining a text I’ve over-thought and can’t quite understand on my own.

This morning, I was reading in Matthew 18. There, Jesus admonished His disciples to be humble, even as little children. Jesus’ most intimate friends might reasonably have expected to receive special status in Heaven. Even in modern churches, we assign the apostles an extra measure of honor. I mean, they saw Jesus! He chose them individually!

(As a side-note, I ask you to look closely into the Biblical truth that all who believe on Jesus were individually chosen – even you and me! Start with Ephesians 1:4)

But I digress. Theologians have dissected this passage in Matthew, mining dozens of applicable lessons from Jesus’ instructions to be childlike: Children are humble, unassuming, reliant on their fathers (as we should be on God), trusting, joyful, still learning and willing to be taught…

Can I draw one more possible connection?

Just a bit ago, I was listening to a sermon taken from 1 Corinthians. The teacher pointed out that in 1 Corinthians 3:2, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are still like children. He cannot teach them the deep things of God for they are barely able to comprehend the simple elements of the Gospel.

So, the Apostle Paul is speaking on an elementary level, the truths He pens in this foundational book of the Bible are basic principles, things that even the newest of believers should understand and apply.

Fast forward, there’s a verse that rubs against the grain of all human nature. Even the most seasoned of Christ followers struggle with this teaching.

“The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” 1 Cor. 6:7

As the oldest daughter of four, I recall being told by my parents, “Can’t you just give in? Please, just let it go. Let her have her way. Be the mature one.”

So how does it happen, that when we’re grown, it becomes expected to fight for our rights? To simply surrender is considered weak, unpersuaded, evidence of a lack of conviction.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is not applauding his readers for being childish and weak in their faith, but his comments affirm that the instruction to relinquish our rights is an elementary principle of the Christian faith.

In this, as in Matthew 18, let us be childlike, simple in our reasoning.

Father, teach me not to connive and manipulate to get my own way. Teach me to love as Christ loved me, relinquishing His right to the very throne of God, in order to purchase my freedom from sin. (Phil. 2:6)
Even as I grow in spiritual maturity and move beyond the simple elements of the Gospel into a constant, thriving, fluid relationship and conversation with you through the Holy Spirit, help me to retain an unassuming heart.
Whether it be with my husband, longing for a better marriage, one such as I ‘deserve’, or whether it be covetousness of something I ‘deserve’, or whether it be a legal right of mine that has been trampled…teach me childlike reliance on your sufficiency for me. I have my Father, who is my Savior, who is my Constant Companion, let me have nothing else.

Who Do You Believe In?

Recently, I was at the mall with a friend. We peered down from the second floor at the the Christmas bustle. There was a monstrous tree dangling from the ceiling. Fake snow flounced around life-sized toy trains, comical elves and of course, Jolly Old Saint Nick. I almost pitied the poor guy in costume when I heard them announce that he will be at the mall every single day from 9-6 until Christmas Eve. Especially since I’m sure not all the visiting kiddos made the “nice” list, December is going to be a long month!images

Then, I was running this morning, past decorations and lights, yard-sized nativity scenes and plastic reindeer on roofs. My mind flickered back to the mall, something seemed similar. Do you remember the story in Mark 10:13-16, when crowds of children were brought to see Jesus?

Bunches (the Bible doesn’t say how many) of parents brought their children to see Jesus. And not just to see Him, they wanted Jesus to touch them, to bless them. I imagine moms waiting impatiently in line while their rowdy children pressed forward, oblivious to any sense of order. Doubtless, they had heard about this man. Maybe they thought he was magical – he healed people, walked on water, turned water into wine!

Every single year, in the crowded center of the mall, hundreds of children cluster around a smiling old man, whom they are told is magical and can fill their every wish – if they are good.

Hmmm…that’s not so like Jesus.

Remember the disciples trying to protect Jesus from the crush? I’m sure they were irritated by snotty-nosed youngsters. They probably noted a few who should be on the “naughty” list and decided it was best to keep them out of Jesus’ way. They gently pushed the children backward and told their parents not to bother Jesus.

But Jesus stopped them. 

“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” Mark 10:14

Jesus pulled the children onto His lap, put his hands on them and blessed them. Did you notice what was left out? Jesus didn’t ask them, “Were you a good boy?” Instead, His love was accepting, unconditional and extravagant.

jesus-shares-time-with-the-children-GoodSalt-dmtas0089Now, let me take some literary license. Children are told that in order to get presents, they must believe in Santa Clause and be good. Obviously, if they don’t believe, coal will be their Christmas reward.

We don’t know if these children were of the decision making age, or if even their parents believed or cared that Jesus was the Messiah. But Jesus didn’t question them. He simply opened His arms and blessed them. He explained to the thicker-headed adults that a child-like faith is the key to the kingdom of God. All we must do to inherit eternal life is to believe that: JESUS IS THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD. THAT HE DIED FOR OUR SINS, ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES. THAT HE WAS BURIED AND ROSE AGAIN IN THREE DAYS, ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES. 

I urge you, make some noise about the truth of Christmas this year. There are thousands of adults who don’t believe – in the only hope for their souls. And Jesus invites them.