Spiritual Legacy: He Provides

I’ve never had a full-time job. As in, NEVER.

I guess that’s what happens when you marry an “established” man before you graduate college. Elian had a great job that met our needs. I finished my degree a year after we said, “I do,” working part-time along the way.

Once I graduated, our plan was to have children with whom I would stay home relatively soon. So hunting for a full-time gig was neither necessary nor wise at that point. I continued part-time work for a couple of years until I was 8.5 months pregnant with our first child. I took the last month of the pregnancy off and birthed an amazing little person in April, 2007, fully intending to stay home with her.

Lexi Baby

The more we thought about it, Elian and I came to the conclusion that my paltry part-time paycheck wasn’t so dispensable after all. I mean, we could make it, but it would be jeggings tight.

So we decided right after Lexi was born I would look for something part-time to give us some wiggle room. It helped both first-time grandmothers wanted nothing more than to babysit their little darling while I worked.

Summer started, and I had no idea what kind of work to look for. And, frankly, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to tackle a job search. Don’t get me wrong – my heart delighted in the gift of my precious daughter. I was completely and utterly in love with her.

But.

She wasn’t much of a sleeper and thought nursing was something she should do EVERY TWO HOURS FOR THREE MONTHS STRAIGHT. And, as any woman who has nursed a child will tell you, that equates to approximately 8 minutes of sleep each day for mommy. And that is a generous estimate. Add to that the mystery “colic” she had, which really means she was inconsolable for no apparent reason, and I was moments away from being committed.

Throw in a job search with the interviews and the “showering” and the whatnot, and all I could do was imagine my sarcastic response to a potential employer’s question like what are my “strengths” … I AM ALIVE AND SO IS MY CHILD. WINNING.

So, you see, I wasn’t feeling the whole work thing. I just wasn’t there physically or emotionally, and every time I looked at that little baby – 4 weeks old, then 6 weeks old, then 8 weeks old – I thought the same thing: she’s too little for me to leave her for work.

And yet. The financial wiggle room. It wasn’t there.

The days went on, and we continued to float along, wondering what we should do.

Then, mid-summerish, some friends came to visit us. At the time, they were our daughter’s appointed guardians if something were to happen to me and Elian. So they came into town to meet their possible future new addition. We visited a good long while, had some lunch, watched the baby’s every fascinating move.

Then they handed us an envelope. Obviously, I knew what it was – a congratulations-on-the-new-baby card. But it felt different in my hands.

It felt… thick.

It probably has a folded, hand-written note in it, I thought.

I pulled the card out and read the front. I don’t recall what it said, but I remember what happened next.

As I opened the card, $20 bills came falling out. More bills than I could count. My eyes filled with tears as the realization set in that many hundreds of dollars were sitting in front of me.

Overwhelmed, I searched our friends’ faces for an explanation. It went something like this, “We hope this small gift will help you be able to stay home just a little longer with Lexi.”

The Lord… through His people… I’m telling you… He provides.

I did stay home, worry-free, for several more months. As is the case with most colicky babies, once she turned three months old, all was right in the world. No more countless hours of crying. She slowed her roll and learned how to give me 3-4 hours between feedings, which meant my 8 minutes of sleep/day DOUBLED. I started to feel more human again. A part-time job fell in my lap. And I didn’t kill anyone.

The Lord… through His people… I’m telling you… He provides. 

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)

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How to Love People Better

You know how sometimes God puts together cute little lessons for us that all revolve around a central theme? (He could be a party planner that way. He could be on Pinterest.) Well, the lessons of the month for me are all about learning to love better.

God is showing me I’ve previously approached relationships with a pretty self-centered perspective.

Sometimes I blatantly, yet subconsciously, use relationships to meet my needs. In other words, I maintain relationships because they benefit me in someway.

Other times I am more covert. I focus on meeting other people’s needs in relationships because it makes me feel good to know other people benefit from being friends with me. It’s a little more pleasing to the eye, but it’s still rooted in selfishness.

If a relationship doesn’t meet my needs or make me feel good by allowing me to meet others’ needs, I usually don’t put any effort into that relationship. If there’s nothing in it for me, what’s the point?

What's in it for me?
image via empowernetwork.com

Sounds pretty godly, right?

Negative, which is why God has been creating all kinds of “opportunities” for me to grow up. And, dare I say, I’m finally starting to make some headway.

I’ll just go ahead and tell you my recent growth hasn’t happened because some well-meaning Christian quoted 1 Corinthians 13 to me and told me I ought to love like that. It’s true, I should love like that, but sometimes when I read verses 4 through 8, all I hear is a list of standards I can’t keep. I get discouraged. To love as perfectly as Paul describes feels like spinning plates, trying to make sure they all stay atop their poles before the whole show comes crashing to a halt.

No, that intimidating passage was not the catalyst for my recent improvement. Actually, the difference-maker for me was a friend taking time to share his view of what it means to love others well. And because he has a great track record of loving me well, I listened to him. He said when he interacts with someone, he asks himself, “What is in the other person’s best interest?”

Huh.

I’d never thought of that.

Probably because, at first glance, it has nothing to do with my best interest.

As I pondered my friend’s perspective, it reminded me of servant love. It reminded me of Jesus washing gross feet because the disciples needed to be clean before they ate (John 13:3-12). It reminded me of Paul enduring beatings because it was in the Gentiles best interest to hear the Gospel (Acts 16:23-33). And, of course, it reminded me of Jesus dying on the cross because we needed rescuing in the worst kind of way (Luke 9:22).

All that to say, I decided my friend might be onto something. So the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asking the Lord to help me intentionally ask myself, “What is in my friend’s best interest right now, and how can I help promote that interest?”

I’m asking this question before I give well-meaning advice, while I’m having conversations with people, when I’m leading women in Bible study, when my husband gets home from work, when my kids are being challenging. And I’m finding it to be quite clarifying.

Too often I discover what I was considering doing or saying would have made me feel good, but it would not have been what the other person really needed most at the moment. Then I have a choice.

Do I say/do what I want anyway, or do I stop in my tracks, exercise self-discipline, and choose to love the person how they need to be loved?

It’s hard. Dying to self is always hard. But it’s also gratifying. Knowing I am loving people better than I used to motivates me to keep going in this direction.

And, just so you know, I fail a lot. Sometimes I revert to self-centered “loving”. Conviction sets in, and I have to repent to the Lord. But I’m always met with grace. He sees my heart. He knows I am trying. He knows growing is a process. And He delights over me because I am His.

He feels the same way about you.

Anyway, give this technique a whirl, and let me know if it helps you.

When to Confront Someone

Last week I had an issue with a friend. I felt wronged and disrespected. I felt unloved and unvalued. And, for some reason, I felt like that person ought to know how I felt.

Why do we do that? Why do we feel we have to tell someone when they hurt our feelings? What’s really behind that line of thinking?

Maybe it stems from our sense of justice. If that person remains ignorant to the fact they hurt us, they will never feel guilty. And they should feel guilty. After all, THEY HURT US. It is only justice they should feel bad for doing so.

Or maybe we feel we have to tell them they hurt us out of pride – we won’t stand for it! We don’t deserve to be treated poorly, and they need to know they aren’t going to get away with it. We may not exact revenge, but we will cut off that relationship or alter it in some way to make it impossible for them to hurt us that same way again.

In either case, there is one thing behind this compulsion to give offenders pieces of our minds: selfishness. Me, me, me – it’s all about me and my feelings.

Is it biblical to confront people for these self-centered reasons? to take justice into our own hands or to defend our own honor?

Let’s see…

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:17-19)

So, how do we live at peace and leave revenge/justice/our defense up to God when someone has hurt us? We feel angry and bitter, there is no denying it. What do we do with those emotions so we can live in agreement with this Romans passage?

I asked a wise friend this question, and he gave me an incredible answer. Don’t confront someone unless your heart is for them.

In other words, if it isn’t in their best interest to be confronted, keep your feelings to yourself. Until your heart is more concerned with their benefit than with your “need” to express your feelings, keep your mouth shut and your heart in prayer.

Needless to say, this piece of advice isn’t natural. But it’s biblical.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

I sat on this idea for a couple of days, questioning if my heart really was for my friend who had inadvertently hurt me. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about him at all in the beginning. I was thinking about me and what would make me feel better. The more I thought about it, though, I don’t think going off on my friend really would have made me feel much better. It would have angered my friend, hurt my friend, and I doubt it would have tempered my anger and bitterness much at all.

My friend had already hurt me – there was no undoing that. But I had a choice in how to respond. I could hurt him back, or I could help him see how he hurt me so he wouldn’t make the mistake of hurting anyone else again. I could root for him in my soul to become better than how he had acted toward me. I could believe that he hadn’t intended to hurt me, and I could believe, through Christ, my friend had the ability to grow. I could long for him to grow and make that the reason for my confronting him.

I believe this is one way to apply Paul’s instruction to live in peace with one another and consider others better than ourselves.

I’m happy to report approaching my friend with this mindset – what’s best for him in this situation – worked out pretty well.

Although the rule of thumb is counter-intuitive to us self-centered humans, I think we’d do well to live by it. Don’t confront anyone until your heart is for them.

 

Feel Good Article of the Year

One thing I haven’t come to grips with yet about this life is that friendships don’t last forever.

In fact, all relationships are fluid. People move in and out of our lives as time goes on. It’s just a fact of life.

A fact of life I despise.

Whether it’s circumstances, choices, disagreements or death, everyone we hold dear will eventually leave us. And, of course, we will also eventually leave them.

Even our familial relationships will end. We may live in the same city for 60 years with our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our children… we may have great emotional intimacy with them, picture perfect (yeah, right) relationships, but, if nothing else does, death will prevail.

Circumstances separate us. Our best friends we grow up with move away for college or for a job or for a significant other. We get absorbed into creating our new families, pursuing our new careers and exploring our callings. We keep in touch as best we can, but time and distance defeat our resolve.

Choices and disagreements break our relationships. Our spouses file for divorce. Our children flee in rebellious huffs. We push our friends away out of self-protection.

The list goes on… the point remains the same. No relationship is forever.

We are utterly alone. The only companion we have through it all is ourselves, and we don’t even really like ourselves all that much. Realizing this is hopelessly depressing. We fold our hands and choose to insulate ourselves from this painful reality by retreating from our present relationships. Avoid pain at all costs – this is the human mantra.

But we can’t live like this.

We soon discover the pain of being a hermit equals or surpasses the pain of loving others we know we are going to lose one way or another.

Who will rescue us from this catch 22?

“…the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” (Galatians 1:3-4).

Jesus gives us the solution. He offers us all eternal life so death will no longer separate us from those we love. We may be temporarily separated on earth, but we will be reunited in heaven forever, enjoying sweet and perfect friendship.

What’s the catch?

Both parties must accept Jesus’ solution.

It’s not hard, but it does break down our pride quite a bit to admit we can’t right this ship ourselves. We can’t over come loneliness or the inevitable fact that all our relationships are coming to an end. We’ve already lost so many – proof we can’t control anything.

But there is One who is offering us hope – hope we literally and figuratively cannot live without.

Choose hope.

The Most Powerful Way We Can Help Others

No one enjoys struggling.  But some people enjoy coming alongside those who are struggling and helping them in any way they can.  I think of counselors, pastors, those who serve the community vocationally and/or voluntarily.  Something inside of them takes pleasure in helping those in need.

I wish I was made this way.  But I’m not.  When I take the Spiritual Gifts test, I ALWAYS score lowest on mercy and second lowest on hospitality.  In my own strength, I cannot will myself to be more empathetic.  I’ll get burnt out.  But in the Lord’s strength, I have a fighting chance to be the kind of friend God wants me to be to those who are struggling.

In Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he says, “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me,” (Romans 15:30).

Paul’s struggle is irrelevant for the application of this verse to our lives, but, for the record, unbelievers in Judea were after him (Romans 15:31).  That never turns out well for Paul.  He either winds up in jail, beaten to within an inch of his life, or executed.

So Paul is running for his life, and for the advancement of the Gospel, and he pleads with Roman believers to join him in his struggle by praying for him.

Hmm.

Two thoughts.

First, we need to join each other in our struggles.  This is hard and messy and not fun and time consuming, all things I typically try to avoid.  Because, really, my life doesn’t need any more chaos.  I have enough of my own, I don’t need to take on your struggles too.

Except I do.  Because the Bible tells me so.

And because we simply cannot survive, much less thrive, without prayerful friends.  And our friends can’t know what to pray for us if we aren’t transparent with them.  Which is hard and messy and not fun and time consuming.

Likewise, we can’t know what to pray for our friends unless we take the time to listen and care about them and their lives.  Another word for that is “selflessness”.  If that were on the Spiritual Gifts test, I’d probably score zero in that category.  Negative zero, even.

But the Spirit, He scores infinity in mercy and hospitality and grace and selflessness and love and power.  And it is by His supernatural power in me that I can enter into others’ struggles and help carry them through dark days.

The key to helping them is in my second thought.  Prayer.

Paul seems to understand the most powerful way believers can help each other is to pray to God on each other’s behalf.  And prayer, it turns out, doesn’t cost money or require a psychology degree.  It only costs time and only requires a willing heart.

I may not have mercy in large doses, but I can choose to have time and a willing heart to pray for those who are struggling.  And the Spirit can help us become more faithful pray-ers.

Who do you know who is struggling and needs your prayers today?

Even Better

Lexi and Kelsey - 4 months old

Like most four year olds, my daughter, Lexi, has a best friend.  Her name is Kelsey, and they have been friends their WHOLE LIVES.  I was looking at “old” pictures the other day, and because Kelsey’s mom and I are also friends, these two girls have been together since before they were born.  They were born three weeks apart.  They’ve been in the nursery together at church, the same Sunday School classes, and now they are in preschool together.

I love to think about their future friendship.  Both of our families are pretty rooted in Memphis.  If neither of us move, Lexi and Kelsey could potentially continue to be close friends through adulthood.  How fun would THAT be?!

Kelsey and Lexi Easter 2011

As a military kid, I can’t point back to a lifelong friend.  I had friends for a couple of years, and then I got new friends.  The longest lasting friendships I have are a handful from high school, which I am super thankful for.  I may not have lifelong friends, but I have half-of-a-life long friends.

When I reflect on those friendships, it is easy to see their value.

But there is One who knows me even better than my high school friends.  There is One who knows Lexi and Kelsey even better than they know each other.

God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” Jeremiah 1:5.

Before you and I were conceived, God knew us!  He is the oldest friend of all.  As great as some of our earthly friendships may be, our friendship with God holds far greater potential.  He knows us.  He’s always known us.  There is no closer friend available to us.

We may not know Him as well as we know our best friends, but whose fault is that?

We can know Him more deeply than we know Him now.  Do we want to?