But, I Love Tacos!

“This is how much God loved the world:.
. .”

A deceptively simple statement and it conveys so much hope for each of us.  We love EVERYTHING:  I love my car; I love my dog; I love the color purple; I love tacos.  Because we use the word “love” so often in our everyday life, it’s easy to lose sight of what it means to love or to be loved this deeply and completely.  I love my children and my husband with that deep, soul-crushing love.

“. . . He gave his Son, his one and only
Son. . .”

I would give my life for any of my kids or my husband if they needed it.   And even though I may say I am “dying” for some good Tex-Mex food, I wouldn’t really trade my life for a taco.  I don’t love it that much.  I can hardly bear to hear a negative comment about one of my kids.  I go into Momma Bear mode really quickly to defend them.  I can’t imagine giving one of them up for anyone or anything.  But, God loved me enough to sacrifice His ONLY son.  FOR ME!! 

“. . . And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”


This Salvation is for anyone that believes.  Again, it’s a simple statement.  But, for some it is impossible to believe that God could love them this much.  I still wonder why He loves me so much.  I’m not perfect and in fact can be a little bit bossy and insistent at times.  Yet, He continues to show me His great love in so many ways.  My only requirement is to trust & believe.

Do you understand what it is to love or be loved this completely?   Have you experienced that deep bitter-sweetness that comes with giving yourself heart and soul to another?  This Love is not a disposable emotion that you outgrow or tire of with time.  This Love is a commitment: the deepest commitment you can possibly give or receive.  This Love overrides ego and self-seeking actions.  This Love requires total devotion. 

This Love is the gift we were all given in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  When you accept His Love, you cannot avoid giving the same Love to others.  My needs are not so important when viewed through Love.  My focus becomes Loving others:  my family, my friends, my neighbors and not just “me”.  The more I practice giving Love, the harder is becomes to NOT Love. 

As 2018 draws to a close, I hope that you will examine this gift of Love.  Take it out.  Embrace it. Give it away.  May 2019 be the year when we all decide to Love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 MSG

Church, Why Bother?


In today’s world, there is a lot of discussion about the church, both universal and local congregations.  The universal church is comprised of all Christians of all times and places.  As Christians or Believers, we gather in local congregations for worship, etc.   For purposes of this discussion, the term “church” references the local congregation. 

I grew up in church.   I was on the cradle roll.  I remember my first Sunday School class as a 3 year old with Mrs. Carter.  Church on Sunday was normal and expected.  I never really questioned why we went to church.  It’s what we did. I was an adult before I realized that attending church wasn’t really a requirement and that people around me actually survived without attending church.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist denomination.  We had  Sunday School and a worship service on Sunday morning.  Sunday evenings, we had Training Union and another worship service.  Wednesday night was for another service called Prayer Meeting, but it seemed to me that it was just a smaller Bible study service.  I was part of the youth choir so that meant attending rehearsals.  I grew up as a Sunbeam, a GA and an Acteen, more meetings during the week.  There were special book studies for the various mission emphasis times: Lottie Moon at Christmas, Annie Armstrong at Easter, and Mary Hill Davis in September.  We have revival meetings twice a year that lasted a week and included a noon meeting and and evening service and maybe a special emphasis night for youth.  I attended Vacation Bible School every summer for a week.  (I remember having 2 weeks of VBS, too.)  And, then there was GA camp, Youth camp and other youth events/trips to conferences and music festivals.  I spent a lot of time in church related activities.  I was well versed in what was expected of me and the respect that I needed to give through my attitudes and presentation.

As a college student, I learned the difference in attending church and being a part of worship.  There is a big difference.  I spent most of my life attending church.  Realizing what it meant to truly worship revolutionized my life.  People worship in lots of ways.  Some are very quiet and private with their worship.  Some people raise their hands and lose themselves in the worship experience.  Some believe that speaking in tongues is a requirement to worship.  Some believe you have to worship on your knees.   However you worship is between you and God.  I cannot stress how important it is to just be in the moment and worship openly from the heart.  It is not my right or my responsibility to judge how you worship.  Some of the sweetest worship times for me occurred during music rehearsals for the services and not during the actual worship services.   I served as a worship leader and as such couldn’t really get completely caught up in my own worship experience during the services.  But, rehearsals were different.  I could allow my heart to truly worship my audience of One. 

As a young, newly married adult, I served with my husband in several churches across the area.   One in particular comes to mind.  It was a small church in a changing area of the city.  No longer a middle class neighborhood, they struggled to survive.  It was a traditional Southern Baptist Church.  We sang hymns, had a choir and used both a piano and organ for the music.  I sat through service after service and starved spiritually.  This was a church that refused to adjust to the changes around them.  Reaching the local people was not really on the agenda.  The church was there to provide a food bank but we didn’t really want “those” people inside the church.  We were eventually asked to resign because my husband was getting too involved with the local troubled kids.  I have never been as wounded by a group of people in my life.  It took a long time for me to trust the local church, again.

As an adult, I am very involved with my church.  Things have changed.  I have realized that in order to have church you do not have to have a church building.  My church meets in a movie theater.  There are numerous churches in this area that rent space in the local schools.  Portable churches are an accepted and even exciting way to do church in today’s world.  People that are hesitant about the formal church are more open about attending in a non-typical arena.  We see it every Sunday at the Bridge.  It’s a sad truth that many churches thrive and grow until they finance and build a building.  Then, the excitement is cooled as the need to support the building and it’s upkeep comes front and center. 

I have come to understand and support Life Groups as the core of the church.  While Sunday School had it’s place in my life, I have grown more through Life Groups.  They provide a casual and far more personal way to engage in spiritual growth.  Life Groups provide a more relatable group in  which to learn  and to grow.  It’s much easier to be open in a group of ten to twelve than in a huge group.  Life groups create a feeling of family and acceptance.  They get down to the day to day needs in our lives and enable us to fully worship when the time is offered. 

Music has definitely morphed through the years.  We have the old hymns, we have the older contemporary music and we have the new worship music.  I learned to play the piano using the Baptist Hymnal.  It was blue.  When that hymnal was updated, it caused a lot of excitement.  There were “contemporary” songs included like “He’s Everything to Me”, “Pass It On”, and “Because He Lived”.  People that never really cared about music suddenly preferred the “old hymnal”.  (I was pianist at one church in the 80’s that still used the old Broadman Hymnal because “it was just better.”)  I still have copies of all three hymnals and enjoy the music contained in them.  But, I also love the “new” stuff. Of all the things people use as an excuse to avoid church involvement, music and the use of other creative arts seem to top the list.  No matter what is provided, someone is not happy. 

Recently, I’ve seen a few posts on social media that were critical of using the church services for “entertainment”.  I suspect that the church I attend would fall in that category to the outside observer.   This generation is known for being global, social, visual and technological.  In the last decade, the cell phone has revolutionized the way we collect and perceive information.  Instead of carrying a Bible in book form, the Bible App has become a mainstay for many.   Hymnals have been replaced with projection systems.  Church Bulletins are more reminders to go to the church website for information than actual information. 

While we tend to focus on the musical influences in church services, there are a multitude of creative arts that can and are used to promote worship. No longer is the primary instrument in a church the organ and/or piano.  A full band is now expected.  In the past, we all took piano lessons and would be expected to play at church.  Now, its guitar or drum lessons.  Praise Dancers are not a new concept, but they are more widely accepted across denominations now.  My late husband was a creative soul and loved to write and perform skits for the worship services.  He was also a proponent of building backgrounds to enable all of the senses to be engaged in worship.  Lighting, sound and (for lack of a better word) theatrics have taken their place in the worship services.  We want our services to be on point, on time and worth remembering. 

With all of the opinions on the type of service, where the services are held, the target audience, what to wear and what music to use, we often lose sight of the reason we are there: TO WORSHIP.  It hurts this believer’s heart when factions within the local church start bickering and criticizing each other and/or other churches/denominations.  How can we expect to present ourselves as the Body of Christ when we continue to pick at each other?  How do you know that the brilliantly staged service doesn’t open the hearts of the congregation to worship?  Just because it doesn’t fit into “MY” model, does that make it wrong?  Maybe we need to take heed of the message in the book of Ephesians: 

“But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”  Ephesians 4:7-13 MSG


Twice Blessed

Today is a day of remembrance for me. Thirty-one years ago, I married my first husband, Terry Benson. The memories of that day are happy if a little bittersweet. In sixteen days, we will note the 13th anniversary of Terry’s death.

Terry and I loved each other very much. We laughed, cried, fought and loved a lot over the 18 years we had together. We watched our kids grow into teens and enjoyed their activities both together and separately. I loved him so much that I struggled with how to let him go

If you have never experienced widowhood, it’s hard to explain the emotions that go with it. There’s the obvious loss of the person. But, there is also a loss of identity. I had been part of a couple for so long and it was hard to be “just me” again. I was not longer Terry’s wife. So, I took refuge in being Zac and Gracie’s mom. I missed all of the things that I had come to take for granted. No longer would Terry drive me to work and drop me off at the front door. He was no longer there to pack my lunch. When I got really irritated at work, I couldn’t call and hear him tell me it would be okay. When the kids activities conflicted, I had to choose which one would have to go it alone or figure out how to be two places at once. When the car broke down or had a flat, I now had to deal with it. I had to figure out what bills had to be paid and when. And, I had to figure out how to sleep at night without the sound of his breathing.

I managed the life of a widow for almost 10 years. I thought I was pretty well adjusted and capable as a single adult. I had even learned to enjoy life again. And then love came knocking. Love in my fifties was a bit different that in my twenties. We both had a history and the baggage that goes with that. We had different experiences from our previous marriages and quite honestly, different expectations because of that. And, we had five children who all had an opinion.

As I admitted my love for Tim, my new husband, I had to question how I could love both men so deeply. I struggled with feeling like I was cheating on Terry. Even though he had been dead for almost a decade, my heart still ached to hear his voice. I had promised to love him until “death do us part” and I had yet to release my heart from that promise. As well as I thought I had handled my grief, there were lots of things that I had never addressed. I had buried my depression with activity. I was so accustomed to “putting on a brave face” that I almost forgot what it was to be honest about my feelings. So, ten years later, I was in counseling trying to sift through all of these emotions.

I am still amazed at how deeply I love now. Tim is very gracious and we share many sweet memories of Terry together. I am so grateful that he is not threatened by my memories. God allowed me the double blessing of loving completely not once, but twice. I will never forget the life that Terry and I shared. I will tell our grandson, Joshua Terry about his Papa Terry when he’s older. And I will continue to be grateful for both of my husbands. God has truly blessed me in so many ways

 

20140214-070338.jpgwedding2015
“But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

And Now I See. . .

In 2005, my husband died. It was unexpected and it was devastating to me. Many well-meaning people shared scripture that were meant to be comforting. But, at the time, I didn’t find much comfort or even any semblance of truth in many of the verses shared.

“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,” Joel 2:25a 

“then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.” Deuteronomy 30:3 

“God blessed Job’s later life even more than his earlier life. He ended up with fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand teams of oxen, and one thousand donkeys.  He also had seven sons and three daughters.” Job 42:12-13 

I didn’t understand how some unknown thing in the future would ever replace what I had lost when my husband died. How could the years we lost together be restored? My husband was dead. Nothing could ever replace him in my heart. Nothing new would replace what I had lost. I couldn’t accept that any of these promises was meant for me, personally.  I was in pain. I grieved the loss of my life as I knew it and as I had dreamed that it would be.

But now, I see. I have a new marriage and with it a new extended family. My new husband is not a replacement for the one I lost. I will always grieve that death in some way. One doesn’t love completely and then forget that relationship. But, this new marriage has taught me that I can love again, that my life did not end. I have been given a chance to experience a deeply passionate love, once again.

This marriage is different from the one I began in my twenties. This marriage is founded on a long-standing friendship and maturity that I lacked 30 years ago. I can love more completely because I understand the fragility of life and relationships. I have learned to give all now, because I do not know what tomorrow holds in this life. I try not to miss a chance to say “I Love you” for I have determined to never again regret words not spoken. I cherish the quiet breaks, the silly moments, the busy times and even the heated, uncomfortable times; for they represent all the things that form a lasting and loving relationship. I vow to speak positively about my husband and to honor him in my words and actions. I am aware how important it is for my all of my children (both through birth and marriage) to have a model of stability to use as a pattern in their own lives.

This marriage of almost 3 years will never replace the 18 years of my first marriage. This marriage is new.  This marriage is a blessing of restoration and joy. I can truly say the God has blessed my later life even more than my earlier life. He has restored my joy.

wedding2015

“You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn
through the sleepless nights,
Each tear entered in your ledger,
each ache written in your book.

God, you did everything you promised,
and I’m thanking you with all my heart.
You pulled me from the brink of death,
my feet from the cliff-edge of doom.
Now I stroll at leisure with God
in the sunlit fields of life.”

Psalm 56:8, 12-13 MSG

 

 

 

 

 

Purple Eye Shadow

Today, I decided to wear purple eye shadow. As I was applying it, I thought about my first purple eye shadow.  I was in Junior High School.  My normal go-to make-up was pretty simple:  Avon cream shadow (usually in frosted shades) and mascara.  I was just beginning my forays into the world of Maybelline and powdered eye shadows.  My mother received a box of samples and included in that box was a Charles of the Ritz eye shadow in a dazzling shade or purple.  She gave it to me and I was thrilled.  It became my favorite shadow.  There was one small issue, however.  When I wore it, my eye-lids would swell.  But, it was such a pretty color, I just HAD to wear it, puffy eyes or not.  Eventually, I did have to stop using it and that was a sad day for me.  I kept that little sample, and looked at it on occasion. purple

I wondered if I would ever find a purple eye shadow in such lovely shade ever again. What if all purple shadows caused the same problem? Should I stop searching for purple eye shadow and just stick with the normal beige and taupe colors?  Obviously, I didn’t eliminate all purple eye-shadows from my makeup selection.  I have several of them in various shades, both cream and powder.  I have purple eye-liners and lipstick and I’ve even used purple mascara.  The only allergic reaction I’ve ever had was to that Charles of the Ritz purple eye shadow.  I’m glad I didn’t write off all purple shadows because of one failure.

How many times, do we dismiss all possibilities because of one failure, one miss-step? None of us enjoy failing.  I go out of my way to avoid failure or even looking silly.  But, what have I missed because I didn’t give something or someone a 2nd or even a 3rd shot?  It took many, many attempts before I learned to appreciate the taste of coffee.  I didn’t think I would ever try sushi, much less like it.  I didn’t give up driving after my first wreck, and I didn’t quit school the first time I scored less than a perfect grade.  I’ve discovered that much of life’s great joys are found after trying and failing and trying again.

I love Habakkuk 3:19: “The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.” I fell in love with this verse after I read Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard.  It was through reading this book that I learned that I’m not expected to be perfect.  I will fail.  I will stumble.  But, I must continue the journey.  My strength comes from my Lord God as I MOVE forward.  He will help and guide me.  And, He will love me even when I fail, even when I whine, even when I give up.

We live in a society that doesn’t forgive. Our world is the first to stand up and point fingers at any failure whether it is real or perceived.  The penalties for a lapse in judgment or a moment of weakness can be extremely harsh. The failure becomes a cancer that grows and outweighs anything else in a person’s life story.  Nothing else can be seen.  Only the ugly is magnified and discussed at length.  Any attempt to bring balance to the situation is viewed as out-and-out disagreement and the mob mentality widens the target to attack anyone that does not “toe the line”.

Sometimes, I just have to laugh. What other option is there?  People living in the big extravagant homes, driving the gas guzzling vehicles are often the very ones talking about waste and over-spending.  The first ones to complain about lack of leadership are the last to volunteer to pick up the slack unless they can pick where and how they get to so.  I’ve come to realize that the loudest voice usually has the least effect on positive change these days.  Too often the “activist” is just the passive/aggressive bully that gets everyone else to do the work and only wants the credit.

So, I will do my best. I will attempt new things and retry some old things.  I will continue the journey, treat others in the manner in which I would like to treated and trust that God will lead me to my destination.  All while wearing the perfect shade of purple eye shadow.

 

An Unwelcome, Unwanted Gift

Charlie Brown was known for saying “Good grief!” when he was frustrated. There a very few of us that would consider grief “Good”. But, I’ve learned that grief is a gift.

My first months after my husband’s death were dark. I remember functioning on some level. The pain of grief was numbing. The colors weren’t there. The sun seemed to have disappeared. I felt as if I was trying to swim through mud: exhausted but getting no where. I spent hours in the darkness of night walking in circles and asking God “WHY?”

Many people would tell me I should be happy that my husband was with God. When the tears would start, they would try to make things better, to encourage me to be strong. I had read 1 Thessalonians 4:13 many times:

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV

Unfortunately, I took this verse to mean that I should not grieve. I felt guilty for grieving. I tried to hide my pain. I struggled with my faith. Was I just not strong enough?

I was blessed to have friends that understood grief. They walked beside me. They allowed my grief to bubble over into their lives. They didn’t try to “fix”me. They just stood with me. They allowed me to learn what a gift grief can be.

Most of us try to avoid pain, to avoid grief. We don’t talk about death. Too often children aren’t exposed to the sorrow of death and funerals. We “protect” them from seeing our own grief. And they are not prepared for tragedy when it occurs.

But death is a reality. Sometimes it comes too early and the questions keep coming. I found myself pointing out people that I didn’t think deserved to be living and asking God why he took my husband and left them. I screamed and begged to have him back or to be taken to be with him.

But one day, I realized that Terry’s death was his reward. He was exactly where he wanted to be. He wasn’t missing a thing. I was grieving for what I had lost. And that was ok. I didn’t have to feel guilty or hide it. I missed my husband. My kids missed their dad and the tears were a symbol of our love for him. I had a new understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14:

“And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 MSG

When one loses a great love, grief is the result. It’s our last connection to that loved one. The grief will not always bring tears. The grief will not always be paralyzing. Grief will not remain acute. As you move through the process, it becomes chronic: enduring and sometimes recurring. You come to accept the dance with grief. It is bittersweet. A gift of love and memories.

“If you can’t say something nice. . .”

We’ve all heard that phrase:  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I’ve said it to my own children when they were busily calling each other names or tattling on each other.  But, I have recently realized, that this phrase has taken on a whole different meaning in my life.

My internal voice tells me that nice people never get angry, so there must be something wrong with me when I get irritated, annoyed or mad.  I avoid situations and interactions with others that have made me angry in the past.  Rather than confront the pain/anger, I’ve become very adept at “not seeing” those persons.  I’ve been told that I don’t “do guilt.”  That’s not at all true.  I’ve just learned to hide all my guilty feelings.  If I don’t see them, I don’t have to feel guilty for the way I feel.

This internal voice also tells me that nice people always agree and swallow their own differences for the sake of being nice and preventing others from being irritated, annoyed or mad.  This has been a hard lesson for me.  When I’m asked for my opinion, I usually give it.  Why would anyone ask me if they didn’t really want to know what I thought?  However, the vast majority that ask don’t really want to hear what I have to say.  They expect agreement and support from me.  I’ve been told that I didn’t know enough to have that opinion.  I’ve been told to work things out within myself and “wrap my head around” an issue (meaning come to see “the right” opinion.)  I’ve been threatened in work situations when I didn’t automatically agree.  So, I’m very careful when it comes to being open with my feelings or opinions.  It’s better to be stoic than honest.

My therapist once asked me what kind of animal I felt represented me.  My answer was a possum.  A possum is useful in getting rid of unwanted pests. A mother possum is a fierce protector of her children and carries them around with her.  But, a possum is ugly.  It slinks around in the dark.  When confronted, it plays dead.  But, I want to be a flamingo.  A flamingo is beautiful.  It spends time in the open, eating and just being beautiful. Flamingos are members of a flock, and raise their babies together.  Everyone loves the flamingo.

I recently read a devotional taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Battlefield of the Mind” that said:  “We should choose our thoughts carefully. We can think about what is wrong with our lives or about what is right with them. We can think about what is wrong with all the people we are in relationship with or we can see the good and meditate on that. The Bible teaches us to always believe the best. When we do that, it makes our own lives happier and more peaceful.”

I am attempting to rewrite my internal messages.  I don’t think anyone should purposely hurt or offend others.  Name calling is a childish behavior and should be avoided.  I do, however, need to be honest.  And being honest about my hurts and my feelings may not feel nice to others.   I may not do some things in order to keep the peace or because it’s the expected thing to do.   I may still avoid situations and interactions with others to avoid unnecessary confrontations.  And, I refuse to feel guilty for putting my husband and children as a priority in my life.  I will live my life to the fullest and stop worrying about the approval of others.

“I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that God, your God, promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 MSG