"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Are You Looking?

While driving in the mornings, I pray aloud in the car until I get to my first destination point. This gives me at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted quiet time.  I’ve tried praying in my head, but my mind wanders too much. I’d rather endure the quizzical looks from passersby who see my mouth moving than silently pray and end up formulating my grocery list because of my lack of focus. Last week, I went through my usual routine praying for each family member only this time I prayed that I would be an encouragement to someone that day.
My day was jam packed with appointments, important things like getting my nails done and going to the dentist—in that order! I don’t particularly enjoy going to the dentist office for the six month cleaning; in fact, I’ve convinced myself I’d much rather give birth.  The smell, the sound of drills whirring, the swishing of fluoride causes me to start whining like my dog when she realizes the vacuum cleaner is coming out of the closet!
When the hygienist called me back to the dreaded room, I had been reading a book, The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. Any place that has a waiting room is an opportunity for reading even if it’s only five minutes. Consequently, I always have a book with me. I shoved the book in my purse and followed her back. She was curious and asked about the book. As I explained the topic, she opened up and shared a book she was reading about family. I hoped to keep her talking to avoid the inevitable scraping and polishing, but it turns out that dental hygienists are good multi-taskers. They can talk to you about deep subjects while they are hurting you and expect an answer, even if it sounds like gobbledy-gook.
“I’ve been married for a year and a half, and it’s been a rough couple of months. How long have you been married?” she asked.
In between scrapes, I say, “Eleven years.”
“Oh, well do you have any advice for me?” she asks.
I’d laugh at the humorousness of this entire spectacle except for the seriousness of her question. Me, with my mouth open, eeking out one or two word responses up to this point. I’ve never understood why dentists insist on carrying on a conversation when they are working on the vessel you need to actually use in order to participate. Never has made sense to me. She lets me off the hook for a minute. “I know that’s a big question. I’ll let you think about it.”
Great. I’m laid back in a chair attempting to formulate an answer to a not so simple question with my mouth full of saliva and polish. She talks some more about other things. “You went on a vacation to Kauai this summer, right? How was it?”
“Goob,” is all that comes out of my open mouth.  I’m thinking that dentists should start scheduling before and after the appointment time if they actually want to talk to their patients. I bet they all have a good laugh at the end of the day when they retell stories of how ridiculous their patients sound when they attempt to converse.
Finally, I squeeze in an answer to her question. “My advice would be to pick your battles and don’t take yourself too seriously. I tend to make mountains out of mole hills and need to chill out sometimes. I’m not very flexible and need to realize that there are other ways to do things. Some things just shouldn’t be made a big deal.” (Gee, I ought to heed my own advice.) I add, “Oh, and another great book to read is Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. It transformed my view of marriage…how it’s not about my happiness but my holiness.”  It’s amazing how fast you can talk in between the cleaning process.
This young girl appeared appreciative of my on-the-spot advice and wrote down the book title. For once, that teeth cleaning seemed faster than ordering a coffee at a drive-thru Starbucks. As I grabbed my coat, purse and goody bag, it donned on me…this was my God-appointment today. He opened a door for me to encourage someone, and I actually stepped out of my comfort zone, took a chance and spoke with courage amid the barrier of swishing, swirling and sucking.
She was looking for encouragement, and I was looking for a God-ordained opportunity.  I am looking, are you?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Lasting Legacy

“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1
The young couple met in high school and began a cycle of dating and break ups.  I’ve lost track how many.  He was a grade ahead than she and graduated from Breo-Olinda High School in 1959.  They finally stopped breaking up and tied the knot March 24, 1961.  Their old high school has since been torn down and rebuilt elsewhere in the town of Brea paving the way for city expansion on that hallowed ground where they first met. And, while the old B-O gymnasium where she watched him play basketball is history, their marriage of 50 years is still standing.
It’s a miracle, really. I’m sure they’d both admit it. Dad’s parents died when he was a young boy, leaving him an orphan bouncing between relatives. Aside from his older brother by 10 years, he had no significant father figure in his life to show him how to be a man, a strong family leader. Mom’s family was dysfunctional. With an alcoholic father and a mom who managed to hold the family together, she also didn’t have a great picture of family life. And, while both families had respect for God, they didn’t claim to live for Him. So, with a shaky foundation, they began their life together…young and in love.
They could’ve been a divorce statistic, but they’re not. A few years and a couple of kids into their married life, mom was introduced to Jesus and decided He was worth following. Dad saw Billy Graham on television one night and made the same decision. They began a legacy like Ruth did turning her back on her Moab roots and following Naomi’s God. Dad and mom moved out of California to the foreign land of Oregon to raise their family. They never looked back, and it’s made all the difference in their marriage, their kids and their grandchildren.
I’m not saying they didn’t struggle. They fussed and fought, bickered and battled. Months and sometimes years of striving ensued. I would hear their fighting from my downstairs bedroom and fear divorce. I know I didn’t understand all that was occurring. Perhaps financial strain and my dad’s traveling a lot at the time contributed to the tension. Other times stand out in my memory as desperate attacks from the enemy to destroy my parent’s marriage.  In spite of all the torment during those horrible times, my parent’s stuck together like glue. They arose from that period of time like David after killing Goliath.  Through those challenging times, their marriage became unshakeable, impenetrable, indestructible.
Lest you form a picture in your mind of all war and no peace, that is not the case. I simply do not desire to deceive you with 50 years of wedded bliss. Foremost in my growing up years, however, are portraits of my parent’s love and affection for each other. They hugged and kissed each other everyday, much to my chagrin. “Oooh, gross,” the three of us would say. Those three little words, ‘I love you,’ were shared between them each day. They were nuts about each other and made sure we knew it. Their relationship was always first. Commitment to staying married through the ebbs and flows of love became their goal. With their unstable family history, they placed preeminence on building a Godly foundation in their marriage. No examples from the past to follow, they began a legacy of Christian values for their family. Like the pioneers who traversed the west conquering winter elements, gigantic mountains and fierce enemies, they persevered paving the way for those of us who follow them.
How grateful I am for this shining example in my life. In a world that dumps marriage as easily as dinner leftovers, my parent’s marriage stands as a beacon of hope for those who persist despite the odds. I, too, want to be counted in that esteemed group who love, cherish and honor their spouse through thick and thin, babies and teens, gray and bald. You go, mom and dad, we’re right behind you, following in your footsteps!
“May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Proverbs 5:18

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Feed Your Crave

Driving down the highway last week, I saw a White Castle billboard blaring “Feed Your Crave.” 
I can proudly claim that I’ve never eaten at White Castle. Never even heard of it before 10 years ago when I first moved to the Midwest from the West Coast. Frankly, the burgers pictured don’t look appetizing. I’d sooner eat a taco consisting of low grade meat from Taco Bell than consume a White Castle slider. Just seems like something might slide up the way it went down.
Still, what kind of advertising suggests I heed my carnal cravings? Sounds like these guys are giving me permission to eat the entire bag of dark chocolate Cadbury mini eggs, right? I mean, a serving size of 12 small eggs is simply not enough. I want more! And, I’d really like more than one bowl of Turkey Hill chocolate pretzel ice cream at night, too. My husband can indulge in the entire bag of Dorito spicy sweet chili chips now that he has White Castle’s consent. Who cares if these foods are loaded with unhealthy ingredients. I need to feed my crave, right?! It would be different if I craved foods such as legumes or fruit. Instead, I’ve been cursed with the chocolate crave.  In fact, most of us probably crave foods that are unhealthy, energy depleting or fat producing. 
Forget about food, what about my other cravings? My longings to be accepted, liked, loved? Should I feed those at any expense? Should I do whatever it takes to keep a friend, climb the corporate ladder or social status? Does my desire to be liked cause me to be a chameleon, adapting to whatever setting in which I find myself? Worse yet, do I compromise my faith as I stuff myself with unhealthy desires? Do I realize that all of my cravings only bring emptiness, dissatisfaction and a guilty conscience?
In the Old Testament the Israelites grumbled and complained until they received what they thought they wanted only to decide they wanted something different. Psalm 78:29-31 says, “They ate till they were gorged— he had given them what they craved. But before they turned from what they craved, even while the food was still in their mouths, God’s anger rose against them; he put to death the sturdiest among them, cutting down the young men of Israel.  Earlier in Psalm 78, the writer says that they put God to the test by demanding their cravings. The Hebrews pined for tangible, immediate gratification rather than relying and trusting in God for the ultimate satisfaction of their longings. How like us to settle for White Castle when we could dine on the gourmet food God provides. 
None of us should buy into White Castle’s advice. Our cravings lead us down paths replete with selfishness, self-absorption and sin. This is exactly what happened to the Israelites. They whined and pleaded like a 3 year old begs for candy at the grocery store check-out counter. Then, when God gave them what they determined would satisfy them, they grumbled for something else. They just couldn’t seem to grasp that they needed more of God, not more of what He could do for them. We do the same thing, don’t we? We crave the next shopping purchase, the next exciting event, the next lunch with a friend, the next whatever thinking “it” will complete us, but it won’t.  We’ll be left with wanting more, and more, and more.
1 Peter 2:1-3 says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.  Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Newborns don’t seem to need anything but their mother’s milk, do they? A mother would be crazy to feed her baby a carrot or a candy bar. The only nutrition they need comes in a breast or bottle. Mothers give their babies the best food for healthy growth, and babies don’t cry out for something other than what mommy provides.  God assures us that we mature spiritually in the same way that babies mature physically. Craving fulfillment through outside sources may bring momentary happiness like my 10 year old enjoying her nightly ice cream. Once she has finished her tasty treat, however, she sneaks a bit of candy because it wasn’t quite enough. When we feast on Him, we taste that He is good and that He is all we need.
We can feed our crave…if we crave Him!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sometimes Silence is a Good Thing

“When words are many, sin is not absent,
But he who holds his tongue is wise.” Proverbs 10:19
Excuse me if I step on some toes, mine included…but, can we just stop blabbing and gabbing to each other ABOUT each other? As women, we have a particular affinity for taking information and passing it along as carelessly as trash littered along the highway. I have my own experiences getting caught in the web of gossip, filled with shame and remorse at the horrifying things I’ve said whether guised as a prayer request or not. The past few years, I’ve been a leader of a women’s Bible study in which we advocate encouraging and building each other up, speaking strongly against careless words said about anyone.
Recently, I discovered that someone spread vicious words to another about a young friend. I was sickened, disappointed, heartbroken. My friend, hurt and distraught, is fragile, as we all are. Lies and rumors swirl around her through media sources and the old-fashioned telephone game, and she is wounded like she’s just been through a sword fight. She thought Christian women were different. Well, we are supposed to be…aren’t we? Everything I read in the Bible tells me that I am held to a higher standard. Who can I trust if I can't trust a fellow believer?
If I have no problem slaying and fileting my own, what does that say to the community of unbelievers? What does God think about me marring and mutilating His daughter, His creation?  Is there no safe place for me to share my feelings? Should I constantly worry about whether what I say is going to be spewed to another in a different venue?
Is there any hope for us in this potentially toxic area? Even James says, “But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8) Goodness knows, I’ve bitten my tongue dozens of times, yet I’ve also let loose venom and hurt others more often than I care to confess. Haven’t we all felt that nudge not to share some interesting nougat we’ve just discovered? Haven’t we all ignored it? In the situation with my friend, the person who chose to sink ships with her lips didn’t heed the little voice. She jumped right in the muck and mire with both feet as I’ve done plenty of times.
How can we stop this poison? We certainly can’t do it on our own, without God, so let’s start with Him! John 15:5 says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” If we are not stuck to Jesus, fixed to the Rock, we can’t do this.  We can’t do anything, including zipping our lips, without Him. Remaining in Him means being in His word. It’s extremely difficult to reflect His image if we don’t spend time knowing who He is and what we should be putting into practice. 
In addition, we need to pay attention to the gut feelings that say, “Don’t share that nice, juicy tidbit.” Proverbs 13:3 says, “(She) who guards (her) lips guards (her) life, but (she) who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” My mother, a church office assistant for many years, set the bar high in this area. She had plenty of opportunity to share the inside scoop, but she never did. She said that if information ever escaped, she never desired it to be from her. If you keep your mouth closed, your heart won’t condemn you and neither can others.
We also must be aware that our witness is being reflected to unbelievers as well as fellow believers. People are always watching us—our conversation, our attitude and our behavior.  Sadly, we don’t always look all that different from those who don’t know Christ.  We should be asking ourselves if others are attracted to Jesus by what they see in us. If the answer is no, our mouths need a transformation.
Have you ever shared your heart with another person only to hear that she had spread it far and wide? Not only are we hurt, embarrassed, angry, but we also realized that the woman we had confided in was untrustworthy. We learn to distance ourselves from someone like that. Do we want to be women whom others can trust? If we constantly break confidences, other women will not feel comfortable revealing their struggles to us. Once again, Proverbs speaks to this. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy (woman) keeps a secret.” (11:13)
The bottom line is we need to use our words to encourage one another not pass judgment, criticize or tear down. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) Let’s be conscious of the words we speak.
If what we have to share is not beneficial, we must choose to keep our lips sealed.