"A" Is For Alibi

Like always, I'm coming in late to the game. Thanks to Peej for suggesting this exercise in getting our creative blog juices flowing!! :) Her suggestion was to take one letter from the alphabet for each blog and create your post around it.

Not quite content to simply post an alphabet letter (because I'm not sure how creative I could be!), I decided to see what I could do with Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone alphabet series titles. We'll see how far I make this go...

And now, "A" is for Alibi... and it made me think of how often I make excuses for myself instead of just owning up to the fact that maybe I just messed up, maybe there's no excuse for a behavior or attitude, and maybe I need to seek forgiveness instead of justification.

For instance, I'll get angry at a driver talking on his cell phone and delaying me a little, so I revert to my pre-Christian days and let loose with an angry tirade which includes all sorts of comments about the driver's intelligence and fantasies of jumping out of my car at the next red light, walking up to his window, and snatching the phone out of his hand, stomping it into little pieces right there before his eyes.

Of course, my prideful rant doesn't take into consideration that just the day before I caused a similar situation while talking on the phone with my daughter while driving to town for groceries.

It's so easy to see the beam in someone else's eye, isn't it?

An alibi is a plausible excuse for some kind of failure or negligence, but in the end, it's just an excuse all the same. It's a means to avoid confronting a sin or heart attitude. My prayer for today is that God will open my eyes and my heart to all the excuses and alibis that I try to incorporate into my daily life, and instead, give me clear vision and a repentant heart.

Why do you see the splinter in your brother's eye but not notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the splinter out of your eye," when you have the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother's eye!  (Matthew 7:3-5  Complete Jewish Bible)
Somehow I think that I'm going to be so busy with my own log, I won't have time for someone else's splinter...

Convergences...

I have had the most amazing journey over the last month or so. I've been so busy that I haven't had time to post anything to this blog, but I've come to a point that I felt I wanted to share the blessings that God has brought my way these past six or so weeks, and the thoughts that have accompanied these events. 

I have stated several times over the course of my posts that we need to be more concerned about the journey than the destination, that we need to make sure that we're not so heavenly minded that we're no earthly good.  Micah 6:8 sums it up rather nicely: "Human being, you have already been told what is good, what Adonai demands of you - no more than to act justly, love grace, and walk in purity with your God." (Complete Jewish Bible)

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves, that all the rest of the commandments hinged on these. When asked who was our neighbor, we got the story of the Good Samaritan. To the Jewish community of the day, the Samaritans were "...regarded as racially inferior interlopers, and their religion as a spurious counterfeit." They were outside the mainstream of Jewish society, and they did not think or act or believe like the rest of the Jewish culture. For Jesus to put one in the "good guy" role of his story was his way of getting his people to cast aside preconceived notions about race and religion and love folks the way God does.

I think that God brings people into our lives for many different reasons. They may be assigned to us for a day, a season or a lifetime. Whatever the length of time they are here though, we should strive to learn from them, bless them, and love them the way God loves us. Over the course of the past few weeks, I've had the opportunity to meet several people that I find myself blessed by, just to know them.

The first one is my new friend Sarita. We met through a freelance website and we are as different as night and day. I'm a conservative Christian. She is a liberal, "new age" type of girl. We come from backgrounds that are as diverse as one can imagine. Our life experiences are nothing alike. Yet...we shared a connection right from the start. We respected our differences and concentrated on those things that we had in common. On the surface that commonality didn't seem to exist.

But...

Aren't we both human beings, with dreams and aspirations and cares and worries and loves and friendships? Aren't we just trying to make it through one day at a time the best way we can? As writers, don't we both understand and feel the joy and struggle of putting pen to paper, so to speak? Aren't we both women with the shared feelings and quirks that accompany our gender? As I took that closer look, I began to see how much united us.

She has blessed me with her encouragement and made me laugh with her irreverent take on things. She has been a friend that has checked in on me and asked how I was doing. I will probably never meet her face-to-face in this life. However, I'm thankful that God has allowed this convergence of our separate paths during this time in my journey, and whether it's for a season or longer, I am richer for knowing her.

Another is my new friend Brian. His outlook on life can be summed up in one sentence - be thankful for everything. He's just happy to be here. His beliefs can be called a blend of many different faiths, all pointing to what he terms "the Divinity." Are we different? Oh yes! But he makes me laugh, he makes me think, and he makes me remember that everything is a gift - whether it's the house I live in, the rustle of leaves in the wind, the quiet of the early morning hours as I type this blog post, or the cup of coffee I enjoy in the morning time. He has helped me to remember that thankfulness is an attitude and not just a spoken word of appreciation. He has reminded me that time is fleeting and that we are not promised any more than this moment and that we should make the most of the moment.

Hopefully our paths will converge long enough to have some interesting discussions on faith, politics, and life in general. If not, I want him to know I'm thankful we met, and I'm glad for the reminder to be in awe of God's creation and appreciative of my life. 

Life is a gift. Friendships and family are gifts. Feeling the coolness of the floor in the morning beneath feet that have just crawled out from a warm bed is a gift. The laughter of a child or the happy bark of a dog is a gift. Trust and loyalty given us are bountiful treasures. We have so much, but do we really see it? 

I would like to encourage you as I've been encouraged these last weeks. Be a blessing to those around you. Speak words of life and encouragement to family, friends, even the stranger on the street. Cultivate thankfulness as a heart attitude and not a word to be tossed around. Stop, get off the hamster wheel and enjoy the life that God has given you. Take pleasure in the small things. Build memories in the moments.

Above all, take the time to build a relationship with the God that gifted you with all this in the first place. He delights in you. He loves you. He calls to you.

Take the time to heed the call.

Smoke, Fun-House Mirrors, and Perception...

"For now we see obscurely in a mirror, but then it will be face to face. Now I know partly; then I will know fully, just as God has fully known me."  (I Corinthians 13:12)

There's a cute little Facebook flair button that I have that says: "I DO know it all...I just can't remember it all at once!" Well, I'm here to make a sordid confession...

...I don't know it all. In fact, I don't know anything. I'm being bombarded with challenges to my talents and abilities, challenges to perceptions that I've held for most of my life, and challenges to why I react and do the things I do. I'm being challenged on my list of priorities and what matters most in this life. For someone who is wrapping up the 40th decade of her life, I'm horribly deficient on answers.

I find myself back at square one wondering if I'm ever going to get to pass "Go". It seems I make it half-way round the Monopoly board of life when I mess up once again and roll doubles three times in a row. It's off to jail and I don't even have a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card. But you know what? I found out that I'm not destined to stay here. I'm not destined to be mired down in this struggle between my "old man" and my new flesh.

In their book Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain, the authors Paul Meier and David L. Henderson tell about the birth of rejection. They talk about how God created Adam and Eve to have a completly transparent relationship with Him. They were exposed physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually to Him and each other. There was no fear in that relationship...

...until disobedience and sin entered in. Then the lies started - to themselves, each other, and especially to God. They were suddenly ashamed and felt vulnerable and defenseless. They tried to cover their nakedness by hiding. Not only did their sin weaken their relationship with God, it weakened it with each other. As the authors explain, "the seeds of rejection had been planted."

I had always looked at the end of the Eden story as God's rejection of Adam and Eve. I thought He had driven them out of Eden because they had been disobedient and had to bear the consequences of their actions. I had always looked at it as a punishment for their sin.

I think I've been wrong about my whole take on that.

I'm now wondering if it wasn't an act of tough love, but love nonetheless. What if it was all a part of God's plan to restore that relationship that was lost? God didn't hide Adam and Eve's nakedness - He covered it. He doesn't want us to hide our shame. He wants to expose it to the Light of Truth so that He can cover it with His mercy and grace.

His use of animal skins was a prelude to the sacrifice of Christ that would be made at Calvary to completely cover our sins and shame.

And His final act of love? Driving humanity out of the Garden. "Whoa! Wait a minute!" Yes, you heard me right. His final act of love on that fateful day was driving us out of the Garden of Eden. You see, had Adam and Eve eaten from the Tree of Life, they would have condemned all of humanity to living with the consequences of their rebellion. By banishing us from Eden, He protected our futures. He gave us the chance and hope of restoration.

When I look at the Garden of Eden story from that perspective, I realize that God knows me far better than I know myself. My view of things is woefully distorted and doesn't even begin to approximate reality. Therefore, I have to rethink my reaction to what's going on in my life.

Have I sinned? Most definitely. I do something stupid every day. Are the things I'm facing and the situations I'm dealing with the result of God punishing me for those sins? Yesterday I would have said probably.

Today I'm not so sure. I'm beginning to see these trials as my banishment from the "Garden" so to speak. I think God is rocking my world upside down so that He can make it the way it ought to be. I think He's challenging me in all these areas because I've gotten a little lax of late and I need to not only excercise some spiritual muscles, but I've got to start growing if I don't want to become stunted.

If I view it from that perspective, then not only is God not mad, upset, and disgusted with me, He's out there with the team colors on, rooting for my success! I feel like Helen Keller when she finally realized that Anne Sullivan was trying to teach her to communicate, not punish her and make her miserable. Once Helen realized what was going on, she became insatiable in her quest for knowledge.

I want knowledge...of God. I want to know Him, I want to love Him, I want to communicate with Him. I want to understand what He wants to teach me, and I want to become insatiable in my desire for His presence.

It's true freedom, and it's liberating.

"I don't want your sacrifices--I want your love. I don't want your offerings--I want you to know me." (Hosea 6:6 paraphrased)

I think it's all about potato chips...

I remember an incident when my son was 16 years old. He had gotten to that age where he was really cocky...I mean REALLY cocky. He was a young, tough, swaggering teen who thought it was about time to take on the old man, time to see what his ol' dad had to offer.

It started with a bag of Ruffles potato chips. It ended with those same chips stuffed down his drawers while his daddy had him in a scissorslock on the floor. See, he had reached into that bag of chips just about the time his daddy did. His daddy swatted his hand away and told him to stay away from his chips. The brain-dead boy-child puffed up, grinned and said, "Make me."

That's all she wrote. It was over with. Time to get it on. No furniture was broken, but my son poofed baby powder with every step he took for the next several days, and he was real careful not to break a sweat.

When you think about it, we're really lucky, the human race. We only have to put up with teenage rebellion and adolescence for a specific time span of several years. God, on the other hand, has been putting up with rebellion ever since Adam started backpeddling in the Garden of Eden and tried to blame Him for the whole apple fiasco..."It was that woman YOU gave me..."

Of course, we women aren't any better (although I will say that we were a little smarter...at least we didn't try to blame God, just a stupid little snake). Yeah, that snake had us in a headlock and wouldn't let us go until we cried "Uncle!" and took a bite...

My point is that nothing has changed since the beginning of time and the entrance of sin into the world. We still blame God and others for things we should take responsibility for, and we still swagger across the stage of life and think we have the world by the tail. We're still a rebellious, stiff-necked people who think we rule the day and God can just step aside and let the "younger" generation take over, thank you very much.

We're still ruled by that tendency to think just too highly of ourselves.

And that's when I think God has to get the potato chips out.

My Bible studies have been talking a lot about attitude lately, and I'm beginning to have a sneaking suspicion that God is trying to tell me something. I think He's trying to be non-confrontational right now - you know, just bopping me upside the head with scripture instead of letting circumstances and situations plow right over me. However, I have no doubt that, if I don't get this lesson, He'll drag the big guns out.

And knowing me, I probably won't quite listen. I'm as stiff-necked and rebellious as the next person. I'm just as prone to pooch my lip out and say, "I don't wanna..." I've even been known a time or two to wrinkle my forehead up and say, "No, and You can't make me..."

I really hate a chafed behind. If I wasn't so stubborn, I wouldn't have to worry about it. As it is, maybe I better buy stock in talcum powder...

"The fear of Adonai is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." (Proverbs 1:7 Complete Jewish Bible)

Spitting Out Dry Dust

I don't know how things are faring in your spiritual house right now, but here on this side of the Mississippi things are kind of dry. There's a parched feel to the land, like all the moisture has been sucked from the dirt and no matter how deep I dig, it still comes up dry sand.

There's really no need for this. So many things are going right. I have writing and editing jobs stacked up. Financially we're doing okay right now. Things are getting paid off and we're putting a little up into savings.

My kids are healthy and happy, and they all have jobs and a home. The cats are doing fine, the horse is still as rambunctious as ever, Mick (our Aussie/Border Collie cross) thinks life is a game, and my hummingbirds are finally starting to appear after their winter hiatus. The poodle is a little slower, totally deaf, and partially blind, but she still grabs her rabbit every morning and whoops the stuffing out of him.

I can't tell you why I have this disquiet in my spirit, or this apathy about everything. Perhaps it's a physcial thing. (Fibro is so weird and affects so many systems of the body). Or it could be that I'm a woman who's had a full-blown hysterectomy and this is one of my hormonal "off" times. It would be so convenient to blame it on these things and avoid the need to take responsibility for my state of mind.

Because I do think it's my fault. You see, I have so much going on and am pulled in so many different directions, that I find it easier to neglect the one relationship that should mean the most to me.

The one between me and God.

I can't see God. He's not here asking me what's for breakfast. He's not on the phone asking me where a manuscript is. He's not online asking me to make one more change in a book layout. He doesn't expect me to do His laundry, or help wash the truck. He doesn't demand interaction, only silently requests it.

And His is the easiest Voice to ignore.

What makes me do this? Is it willful intent to ignore God? Is it that I no longer have a desire to serve Him or to be His child? What is the source of this apathy toward Him, yet constant need to prove myself to others that I'm capable, that I'm loving, that I have a servant's heart, that perhaps I'm even somewhat of a doormat and won't you please wipe your feet on me so I can feed that martyr complex that lurks just below the surface?

And then I come across a quote from Beth Moore's new book So Long Insecurity. "Sometimes trusting God means taking no further action (Psalm 46:10). Other times trusting God means regrouping with Him until the fog clears so we know how to take the next step. Nothing can mislead us or make us jump the gun faster than fear."

And that's when I realize that I've been blindsided by the very thing that has dogged my steps my whole life - namely FEAR. I'm afraid that if I say no, if I don't do and perform, if I'm not the perfect wife, mother, writer, editor...(oh just put a designation here, you know what I mean) that I'm not worth two cents and no one will love me or even put up with me.

Do you see how destructive this is? Can you see how fear takes your life, twists it into knots, and then drops the wad at your feet and laughs maniacally, daring you to try to put things together and right? And as you scramble furiously to do so, it becomes ever more apparent that you can't, and your despair is just that much greater as you struggle that much harder.  

This is the time I need to drop to my knees even quicker, pouring out my mess and my sin to my loving Father, asking Him to please help me overcome.

II Chronicles 20:9-12 talks about the time the armies of God's enemies came against the people of Israel. Here is what the people say to God: "If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us. But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."

And therein lies my answer. I will stand in the temple of my God, I will come to where He dwells and cry out to Him. I acknowledge I have no power over this enemy of fear that comes against me and that I don't know what to do. However, I will continue to keep my eyes on the Lord. I will fill my days and my nights with Him. I will stand in His presence until He sees me.

I refuse to let Him go, I will not stand back.

I will touch His robe, and He will heal me.

He is my God, and His love endures forever.

As my good friend Rudi London says, "Faith is like a flashlight; it will lead you through the darkness."

Amen, Rudi. Amen.

Are You a Glutton for God?

I don't know about you, but I've been on more diets than Carter has little pills. (Do they even make Carter's Little Pills anymore? And if you know what I'm referring to, I won't talk about how old we are if you won't!)

My problem is that I LOVE food! I can't stay away from it! I think about food constantly - a dessert recipe I want to try, a new dish I want to cook, and what to plant in my garden and what kind of meals I can prepare with the harvest. (By the way, is there anything you can do with radishes besides slice them up in a salad? I'm desperate here! I think I'm going to be overrun with radishes from the garden!)

Gluttony can be defined as an insatiable appetite for food, liquor, or anything else that consumes our minds and daily activities. It's a perversion of natural appetites that God has given us. And yet, when it comes to partaking of spiritual food, we can be downright anorexic.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:6, "How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness! For they will be filled."  The psalmist declares in Psalms 42:1-2, "Just as the deer longs for running streams, God, I long for you. I am thirsty for God, for the living God!" And David tells us in Psalms 19 that the Word of God is sweeter than honey from the honeycomb.

Unlike the food we eat to fuel our bodies, we can never overindulge on the Word of God. We can never get fat and drowsy by meditating on God's instruction book for life. Consider Psalm 119, in particular verses 97-104: "How I love your Torah! I meditate on it all day. I am wiser than my foes, because your mitzvot [commandments] are mine forever....From your precepts I gain understanding."  Or verse 114 of the same chapter: "I put my hope in your word."

While we can cultivate attitudes and actions that can make us so heavenly minded that we're no earthly good, reading and feeding on the Word of God is not one of them! Psalm 119:165 says, "Those who love your Torah have great peace; nothing makes them stumble." God's Word is our anchor in this tumultuous sea we call "life," for without it we're simply tossed back and forth by the capricous winds of the enemy. We are to "rise before dawn and cry for help..." because, as David states in the latter part of the verse, "I put my hope in your word." (Psalm 119:147)

The Bible isn't some little book of sayings that, if and when we have time, we should glance through. It is the very meat and nourishment of our faith, without which we have not a glimmer of hope. How can we know what is right or true, or make sound judgements about any aspect of our lives, if we don't know what God has to say about it? Sometimes we're more disciplined about reading the instruction manual for the television's remote control than we are about reading the "instruction manual" for living our faith!

I am the worst of offenders, and I admit it. But I can tell when I've been lax in reading my Bible and praying. My life gets out of kilter, I feel depleted and washed out, I can't concentrate on what is truly important, and I stumble and fall regularly as a result of bad attitudes and stupid actions. Why shouldn't I suffer all these things? I'm literally starving myself when I ignore my time with God! My spiritual body cannot maintain its strength and viability if I refuse to feed it.

Let's commit to becoming gluttons for God. Let's get into His word and stuff ourselves full and then continue eating. Let's become obsessed with His laws and wishes for our lives. Let's stand on the cliff and jump headfirst into the Living Waters.

I pray that I never become full or satiated with His Word. I pray that I am always hungry and thirsty for His righteousness. I will remember that His compassions are new every morning and His faithfulness is great. "I say to myself, 'The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'" (Lamentations 3:24)

Enjoy the feast!

When You Want to Soar Like an Eagle...but your wings have been clipped

Let's face it, there's just some days that we feel like that piece of bubble gum stuck underneath the seat in God's movie theatre. We've been chewed up, sapped of our flavor, smashed to the underside of a seat and forgotten. The someone comes by, scrapes us off and tosses us in the garbage.

Used up, washed out, discarded and tossed. Do you ever feel that way about your life and your offerings to God? Do you feel that your contributions to the Kingdom sure don't seem to amount to much, and seriously wonder if the crown you get for your works on that final day will come from a Cracker Jack box?

Well, I don't know about you, but I've certainly been in that boat - and still am. Health issues have kept me from getting out and about the way that I really want to. Life intrudes on a daily basis, causing changes to schedules, tasks planned, and dreams that go unrealized. Attitudes can make you wonder what spirit you really have inside you. Pain that you may have caused other people can leave you feeling unable to connect to God at all.

A day finally comes where you sit back and look at your life up to this point and wonder what in the world you've accomplished.

God is so good, isn't he? Even when you don't vocalize those thoughts to Him in prayer, He still looks at your doubts and insecurities and gives you the answers you need. We need to be open to Him, His word, and what He's saying to us. First, He tells us what to do with those sins and attitudes...seek forgiveness of the wronged party and then bring our confessions and repentence to Him.

Then it is through reading the Bible, the Word of God, that you gain insight into what God thinks of whatever offerings of time, money, or service you've made.

I think all believers want to do that BIG thing for God - whether it's leading a Bible study, witnessing to a myriad of folks, or maybe even going away on a mission trip. The thing is, some of us are called to bring in the gold and silver and some of us are called to spin the goat hair.

I can hear you now...what did she say? Spin the goat hair? Has she lost it? Not at all! Let me take you to Exodus 35 where Moses is assembling the people together, telling them what God has asked of them, and encouraging them to give or bring whatever is needed for the construction of the Tablernacle of God, the Tent of Meeting, and all the articles contained within it. These are the verses that stood out to me:

"And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit made him willing, and brought Adonai's offering for the work on the tent of meeting, for the service in it and for the holy garments....Likewise the women whose heart stirred them to use their skill spun the goat's hair....Thus every man and woman of the people of Israel whose heart impelled him to contribute to any of the work Adonai had ordered through Moshe brought it to Adonai as a voluntary offering." (Complete Jewish Bible Exodus 35: 21,26,29)

Do you see the emphasis in the above verses? It's not what we do for God, it's the spirit that we do it in. Each and every offering is important. Each thread of a tapestry, no matter how small, contributes to the result at the end. One thread of bright red, green, or even brown, not used or allowed to ravel, takes away from the beauty of the piece.

Likewise, each act of service that you give to God, whether it's writing a blog that enriches someone, or making a phone call to a friend in need, or just smiling at that overworked clerk in Wal-Mart...each act of kindness and love enriches the tapesty that God is weaving.

And sometimes moms can feel especially vulnerable to the slings of the enemy when they begin to doubt their contributions to the Kingdom. It seems like our days are an endless morass of school, work, lunch, washing clothes, cleaning house...you name it! But...maybe your job is to raise up the children that will be the movers and shakers for God. Maybe you're responsible for laying a foundation that God will use to further His glory throughout the world.

I don't think there is such a thing as used up bubble gum in God's Kingdom. Nothing is thrown away, nothing is wasted, and nothing is useless. You are precious and have purpose. He loves you with everything in His being...and we know that because He came and died to set us free.

What greater love is there than that?