Fishing or just Fishy?

I have heard different versions of the idiom “fish or cut bait” for as long as I can remember.  If someone is dragging their feet in a situation, fish or cut bait was a way to tell them to get busy or get out of the way.  There are so many times when it’s easier to stay busy or “fish” without really committing to anything.  For some, it’s hard to understand why it’s so difficult. 

Change is hard.  When change is thrust upon me, I have been known to dig in and do my best to stay put.  It’s not always possible to avoid or to predict change.  When my husband died, my brain knew he was gone, but my emotions were in denial for a very long time.  I went through the motions of moving forward.  I put on a good show.  The reality, however, was that I just chose not to face things that were too difficult.  My house fell apart around me.  I spent money on things I didn’t really need.  I buried myself in my kid’s activities.  I refused to really engage in moving forward with my life.  And, I did a pretty good job of fooling everyone, including myself for almost ten years. That’s when I realized that I wanted to live again.  Love again.  And to do that, I had to commit to pulling my life together.   

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” 

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

The decision to love again was a simple one for me.  The reality of opening up my heart and confronting ALL of my feelings was a lot harder.  I had to admit that I loved Terry with all that I had for a very long time.  I had to face the pain that comes with that kind of love.  I had to sort through the various emotions and process them.  My husband had been gone almost ten years, but allowing my heart to love again felt dishonest, disrespectful.  Again, my brain was very logical about it all.  It was my emotions that were struggling.  I had to make the decision to move forward.  I had to decide where and how I wanted to live my life:  in the past full of memories or in the future adding new memories to my list.  It kind of sounds like a “no brainer” as I type these words, but the struggle to fish or cut bait was very real to me during that time.  I could continue to sit and watch my life as a spectator or I could commit to accept the joys and the pain that come with actively participating in life. 

There are people everywhere that struggle with making similar decisions.  And, unfortunately, many of those people are in an unending cycle of martyrdom.  The need for attention, support and even adoration from others because of their ordeal (real or imagined) is more important than living, changing or progressing.  Have you ever had a friend that keeps reconciling with an ex?  There may be a list a mile long of the problems that come with that particular relationship.  All logic is superseded by the need to have “someone”, even a bad someone in their life.  For a while, things may go well.  Life is great.  But, those bad behaviors resurface.   And, it’s now your responsibility to sympathize with your friend, to encourage her to be strong, to relieve her of any blame.  The cycle will continue, over and over, as long as the game is played.  It’s easier to sit on the bank and pretend you are fishing with a knotted and tangled line than it is to cut the line and move to another spot. 

“One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.

 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in disclosing what is on his mind.”

Proverbs 18:1-2 NEV

Our world is more interested in the sob stories than in the happy endings.  Check out what you watch for entertainment.  I grew up watching Gunsmoke and Bonanza.  There were sad story lines, but the good guy always triumphed in the end.  There was always an upside.  In every episode, decisions were made and life moved forward.  In some of my favorite shows today, it’s sometimes hard to decide who the good guy is.  We root for the anti-hero; the brooding, suffering guy that’s just doing “the wrong thing for the right reason.”   We adore and celebrate the darkness.  And, we seem to need to emulate it. 

I believe that we can grow and mature through our trials and mistakes.  In an attempt to reconcile ourselves with the flaws that come with being human, we too often elevate these very flaws and venerate them as favors.  We become enamored with the cracks that appear in life due to the struggles we endure.  We seek the compassion and tenderness that is provided by our support system rather than strive to advance and perfect our own lives.  It’s not easy to admit mistakes and correct the path forward. 

When we are told to fish or cut bait, it doesn’t mean you have to walk away and start over.  It just means you have to be committed to the path you choose.   Invest fully in life choices.  Stop complaining and looking for sympathy. Embrace your decision and don’t apologize.

So what will it be?  Do you fish where you are; or, do you cut bait and move forward? 

“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” 

James 3:17-18 MSG

WHO NEEDS PEOPLE?

“People,

People who need people,

Are the luckiest people in the world”

“People”
Jule Styne (music)
Bob Merrill (lyrics)

There words are from the 1964 song by Barbra Streisand.  I have come to a greater understanding of the meaning during the past weeks.  While I have been very grateful to keep in touch with my small group, my prayer team and my church family through Zoom, WebEx, Email and Streaming platforms, I have missed the physical connection.  I miss the greetings and interaction with Billy and Carol every Sunday in “our” seats at Regal.  I miss the hugs, laughter and discussion time with Otto, Sharon, Richard and others in our small group time on Wednesday.  I miss sharing the joys and concerns of others during prayer time every Sunday with Dawid, Jane, Robert, et al.  I miss hearing all of the voices together with the worship team in corporate worship time.  I crave the actual physical interaction that comes with each of these groups.  Hebrew 10:25 states:

 “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:25 TLB

Attending church services has been a part of my life for years.  But, I now realize how very precious that time together truly is. 

The Pandemic has also highlighted a few other things in our lives (some good and some not so good.) We have seen firsthand how self-serving actions can cause others to suffer with the toilet paper shortage. Panic came to the forefront and hoarding was the name of the game.  I’ve lived through a few hurricanes and floods that caused Houston to shut down.  But, I don’t think I’ve ever see things quite as bad, especially when there were no real shortages.  There were people out to make a buck through stockpiling, but there were also people that were willing to give.  One example is “Katy Neighbors Helping Neighbors”, a Facebook page started to share needs.  If someone need baby wipes, or formula, or cleaning supplies or anything else, they could post their need.  Usually, someone would offer to share or knew a store that had it in stock.  I saw LOTS of sharing and meeting needs on that site. Food pantries were stretched to the extreme, and people stepped up to help and meet the needs. 

Families have been forced to be together.  Kids are doing school on line from home.  Parents may be working from home.  There’s no escaping with restaurants only serving take-out and malls and movie theaters closed.  I’ve seen parents step up and get involved with their kids school time.  Game nights (or afternoons) have come back into style.  This has been an opportunity to learn something new through on-line classes.  I’ve heard of some grandmothers that have done sewing and/or cooking lessons with their grandchildren via facetime or other apps. There has been time for family walks or bike rides, family meals, or just family time. 

How wonderful and pleasant it is
    when brothers live together in harmony! 

Psalm 133:1 TLB

As we begin the process of reopening Texas and the rest of these United States, I hear mixed messages.  There is frustration that things are not moving faster.  And, there is the fear that we are moving too fast.  I hear about the need to return to work as well as the complaints from those who receive more on unemployment than they do at their job.  I see the excitement for the return of socializing mixed with concern over the continued social distancing guidelines.  It’s easy to fall prey to fear and depression that accompanies the seemingly overwhelming task ahead of us.  We are approaching a “new” normal.  Masks will continue to be the accessory of choice for many.  Hand-washing has moved up in priority (where it should have been all along.)  I’ve joined the ranks of actually USING the hand-sanitizer I carry with me.  Fist bumps will replace handshakes.  Air hugs and kisses may be the “thing” for a while.  We will survive this time.  We will adjust.  I refuse to give into fear mongering. 

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. 

Matthew 6:34 TLB

What has your experience during the Covid-19 pandemic been?  Have you found meaning in some of the “norms” that you took for granted.  Have you spent time with your family and strengthened those ties?  Are you ready to step back into the reopened world? 

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.

     He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.

 Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.

 You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.

 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23 TLB

Is Chaos a Choice?

I like routines.  I survive with the illusion of being in control.  I do not accept change well.  My first defense is just to ignore what’s swirling around me and wait for the dust to settle.  But, the dust isn’t settling very quickly this time.  The world is caught up in the chaos for disease and failing economies.  I track the oil prices on my phone; not a comforting activity right now.  Social media has been both a help and a hindrance recently.  There are lots of resources being offered up, but the panic buying (hoarding) has also been fueled by some of the posts.  The news media seems to be more intent on scaring up a story than providing facts and information in a calm and helpful manner.   It’s hard to know what is real and what is just hype.

We are encouraged to practice social distancing.  Schools are on extended breaks.  Universities are moving to online classes only.  Some businesses are instituting remote work.  Other are beginning the furlough process (Unpaid Corona Vacations) for employees.  Restaurants have shifted takeout only.  Churches are using the internet to meet.  Stores are closing or cutting hours.  Groceries are scarce at times.  And, Toilet Paper has become the prime indicator of how well we are doing.  When it rains, it pours!  What are we supposed to do?

Chaos is defined as “a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.”  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m living the definition of chaos.  Over the past few months, there have been several very unsettling events that have thrown my life a little off-balance.  They didn’t happen to me directly, but they have affected me just the same.  These events brought change to MY normal and I reacted emotionally and spiritually.   As I have been trying to recover my balance, the stock market crashed, oil prices tanked, and the Coronavirus pandemic took center stage.  Although, I continue to go to work each day and I may seem to be in control, my mind is reeling as my world seemingly spins out of control.  I have to fight the urge to go into “Fix it” mode. 

My morning devotion was in Psalm 37.  One verse in particular (a very familiar one) answered the question “What am I supposed to do?)  Here are several versions of the 7th verse of Psalm 37:

“Quiet down before God, be prayerful before him.  Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top.” 

the Message

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” 

New International

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” 

King James

“Be still before the Lord; wait patiently for Him and entrust yourself to Him; Do not fret (whine, agonize) because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.”

Amplified

Be still.  Right.  Easier said than done.  I do not WANT to be still and wait.  I want things back to normal.  But, right now, being still is the best thing that I can do.  I can be still in my home, away from the rush.  Families will have the time to eat meals together, to play games together, and to just BE together.  There are no extracurricular activities that require our attendance or attention.  We can choose to use this time to connect deeply with our spouse and/or children or we can waste the time fretting and binge watching on the internet.   We can moan about having to eat at home or enjoy the creativity of prepping meals together, even if that means helping to unpack the take-out.  We can worry about where the economy is headed or take advantage of opportunities to save money during this distancing period.  We can allow the chaos to eat us alive, or we can turn to God and allow Him to speak to each of us in the quiet.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to spend more time in the quiet.  I’ll practice being still before God.  I will spend time in His word.  I will once again spend time drawing, journaling and creating in order to connect with my refuge and my strength. 

I choose to see this chaotic time as an opportunity to reconnect, to return to my roots, to grow in my faith. I will be still.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.’

Psalm 46: 1-10 NIV

Huffing and Puffing

Straw, Sticks or Brick?

We’ve all heard the story of “The Three Little Pigs’.  The first little pig built his house out of straw.  The second little pig used sticks.  The third pig used bricks.  The wolf was able to “huff and puff” and blow down the first and second houses, but the brick house withstood his efforts.  As a child in VBS, I also remember singing the song about the foolish man and the wise man:

The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rains came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the rock stood firm

The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
And the rains came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the sand went smash.

So, how many of us truly heed the warnings of these two children’s stories?

We live in a “microwave” world.  We have no patience to wait for anything.  We eat fast food, drink coffee from pods, use credit to the extreme, treat sex as a dating option, and seek “happiness” above all else.  We’ve lost the need or the desire to plan, wait and/or build something of value.  We struggle and come apart over the “stuff”.  We live in a culture that confuses wants with needs.  I NEED a bigger house.  I NEED a new car.   I NEED the new phone.  I NEED to be happy.  I NEED to have the BEST. 

Instead of being content with what we can afford, we buy and sell and trade.  We save for the temporary things that we will tire of when the next newest thing is unveiled.  But, we forget about investing in the things that matter.  We are so intent in our pursuit of happiness, that people and relationships become secondary.  We don’t take the time to repair and/or build our marriages or relationships.  We treat relationships that should be the most precious with less regard than the latest IPhone. 

As we build relationships, we establish a solid footing for marriage.  We build the brick house for ourselves.  When sex becomes the basis for my happiness, I build a house of straw or sticks without a foundation.    A challenge or problem within the fragile walls will knock it down.  I know that I’m old school.  I do believe in the marriage vows “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”  Unfortunately, the truth of many a marriage is this:  “to have and to hold today, (unless you disappoint me or become a bigger liability than an asset to my happiness) or until something better comes along.”

I do believe that we have to return to our strong belief in family values.  I do not advocate the “Leave it to Beaver” life, but I do believe that marriage and family have to come first.  My children were always important to me.  I was the typical Momma Bear and they knew they could depend on me to stand up for them.  However, my husband came first.  If I did not focus on building a strong marriage, my kids wouldn’t have the family that they needed.  These are the “bricks” that I have found critical to a successful life/marriage:   

  1. My Relationship with God
  2. My Relationship with my spouse
  3. Taking care of my children

I met both of my husbands through church.  Faith has been a huge part of each of my marriages.  Without God, I could not have survived some of the things I have endured.  We believe that God is in control.  We have to trust in Him for all our needs. My kids were also raised in the church.  I would make a pallet on the floor of the gym where we had services and lay my baby on it while I practiced the hymns and/or offertories on the piano.  Gracie learned hymns in the womb with I practiced.  The church was a 2nd home to my children.  Sunday’s were not optional.  We would be in church that day.  Never a question.

Date nights every month away from our kids are important.  When my children were small and money was tight, we were known to drop them off with a sitter and go home to watch TV alone.  It was what we did as much as just building time together, alone.  It’s important to spend time growing together.  It’s so easy to get pushed apart with children in the house.  There’s so much to do.  Sleep is often at a premium.  It’s work to remain a couple and not just co-parents.

I’ve spent my life being a working a mom.  I went to the office and sometimes traveled for work.  I don’t think my children ever felt slighted.  In fact, after being laid off and home for 9 months, they were ECSTATIC when I returned to the work force. 

There are many, many options in life.  I would challenge myself as well as others to decide which battles in which you engage.  Is the fight for newest or the best “thing” critical to your life? Or, will it just bring a moment of happiness and feed the “NEXT” wolf? Will my house stand against the huffing and puffing?

Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Matthew 7:21-27 MSG

When Faith Fails

Webster’s dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”.   In Hebrews 11:1, we find the Biblical definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”   Several times through the years, I’ve heard speakers use a chair as a tangible example of faith.  You see the chair.  You believe the chair will support you.  You have faith in the chair even though you have not proven that it is strong enough.  So, what happens when you step out “on faith” and sit on the chair, only to have it collapse beneath you?  Was it your faith that failed or was it the chair? 

Most of us would agree it was the chair that was at fault.  We will look for a reason to blame the failure.  Maybe the chair was designed for a child and you were just too big for it.  Possibly, the chair was cheaply constructed and the connections just “let go”.  Or, maybe the chair was just old and brittle and was no longer safe for use when you sat in it. Folding chairs are often have a weight limit.  It doesn’t matter how much faith you exhibit, if you choose a chair that is undersized, defective or unsafe, you will have to face failure.  But, I doubt you will swear of chairs for life.  You will choose to sit in other chairs.  You will just be more discerning about your selection of seating. 

So, when we perceive that our faith in God has failed, what’s the issue?  Did God really fail, or did we put our faith in the wrong things?  Too often, I approach God with my list of wants.  I want Him to fix a relationship or a situation.  I want responsibility for which I’m not really prepared.  I want things to stay the same and never change.  I want “stuff” and “things” that I think will bring happiness into my life.  When I treat God like a Genie in a bottle or a kind of Santa Claus, there are more failures than successes in my life. 

What about that relationship?  Are you asking God to fix the other person?  Are there issues that are incompatible with your goals and dreams?  What if you focused on growing yourself and becoming the better person?  Faith is NOT “a magic wand” that will make all of the issues disappear.  Just like a chair, you need to be aware of the things the other person may bring into your relationship: bad temper, sexual promiscuity, control issues, poor spending habits, stinginess, ego are just a few.  The other person may need to be “fixed”, but it’s not your place to decide that.  You are only responsible for repairing the areas of your own life.  I believe in marriage.  I also know that marriage is hard.  Really hard at times. It’s even harder when you refuse to see the danger signals in a relationship.  

How do we define success?  In our society, success is often measured by the car that you drive, the diamond that you wear, the house you buy and the admiration that others heap upon your accomplishments.  I work near the River Oaks area.  I drive through neighborhoods with large beautiful houses.  While there’s a part of me that would love one of these homes, the practical side of me can only see the bills that would have to be paid to maintain such a home and the hours of cleaning that would be needed.  Too many people saddle themselves with debt in order to be seen as a success.  When a young couple is just starting out, there are enough stresses in a new marriage without adding extraordinary debts.  An extravagant wedding (that is over far too quickly) is too often the focus instead of the marriage that is to last a lifetime.  The first home doesn’t have to be a show place.  It doesn’t even have to be your “dream” house.  Work up to that.  Give yourself time and room to grow.  Concentrate on who you are, on what kind of family you want, before you commit to a huge mortgage and car payment. I have faith that all my needs will be met.  But, all the faith in the world will not erase extravagant decisions and the resulting debt that I choose to make. 

No relationship, job, success or amount of money will “make” you happy.  Only you can choose to find happiness in a situation.  Faith may not make you warm and fuzzy.  Faith is not about “ME” and my happiness.   Anytime, I place the responsibility of my happiness or (the blame for my unhappiness) on another person’s shoulders, there will be failure.  Being happy is a choice that ONLY you can make.  Nothing will make you feel happy. 

When hardships come (and they will) and nothing seems to be going my way, does it mean that my faith has failed?  Does it mean that God has failed and I should just write him off?  After struggling with these questions after the death of my husband, I have to answer “no” to both questions.  Because my faith says that God will meet my needs, I am reassured.   Because my faith says that God loves me as a Father loves his child, I am comforted beyond measure.  Because my faith does not depend upon “happy endings” and smiley faces, I stand confident that no matter what, God is still in control.  My faith has changed through the years.  It’s not as me-centric.  My faith is stronger because of the rotten things that have happened.  My faith stands even when the miracles I beg for do not occur, because I know there is a reason.  Ultimately, my faith tells me that I’m not promised this world. What I am promised is an eternity with my God.  That is my hope.  That is why my Faith never fails. 

Flexible or Counterfeit?

We operate in a world that preaches tolerance, flexibility and understanding.  Not bad ideals to practice, in most cases.  I, however, have grown tired of being schooled on the “politically correct” response to every situation regardless of my own beliefs and emotions.  I understand that not everyone embraces my upbringing, my history or my moral compass and I have no intention of forcing my views onto anyone.  But, at what point do my actions stop being signs of flexible tolerance and become indications of an untrue and even counterfeit life?   Is there a line where I am expected to stand up and voice my standards and beliefs even if those very beliefs offend the social norm of today?

I grew up in North Texas in what is often called Tornado Alley.  Like many homes in that part of the world, we had a storm cellar in our back yard.  It had been built by my grandparents, and the door was covered in sheet metal and made a wonder slide for play time.  One day, I discovered that I could walk up the door if I rubbed gasoline (from the 5 gallon container for the lawn mower) on the bottoms of my rubber flip-flops.  I thought it was really neat.  That is until my mother discovered what we were doing.  I was told it was dangerous to play with gasoline.  I wasn’t sure I understood the danger, but I knew not to try it again.  Fast forward 30 years, when I met a friend who had been playing with gasoline and had been badly burned as a result.  Now, I understood the dangers of the highly combustible fuel as well as how fast fires can and will follow not only the liquid but the fumes.  My mother was not flexible in allowing me to have fun and play.  She knew I was playing with fire and did her best to protect me. 

You may be thinking, “Of course she would stop you.  So what?” This example is pretty cut and dried.  The danger was obvious.  The actions were expected.  So I ask:  How many times to we allow others (friends, children, family) to play with “fire” in their lives rather than offend/anger them?  There are so very many moral chasms that we allow others to delve into without saying anything.  After all, we live in a world where sex is casual, attaining personal desire is the #1 goal and faith is only discussed as the punchline of a joke.  We speak of religion without conviction and yet bristle when called religious.  Christianity has become a social tag and the Church a place to go on Sunday mornings IF I decide to get out of bed AND it will benefit me in some way. 

My husband uses the term “American Christianity” to describe today’s social/religious Christian tag.  American Christianity tends to focus on:

  • The importance of the individual not the corporate vision or destiny of “the Church”. 
  • Individual prosperity instead of stewardship; using faith to attain stability and comfort versus encouraging taking risks to advance the Kingdom.
  • Self-fulfillment and happiness rather than glorifying God and serving humanity.
  • Promoting a consumerist mentality with regard to the home church and not the equipping for ministry; A culture of entertainment that replaces the pursuit of God.
  • The church as a building instead of a body that exemplifies a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following.
  • Efficiency of worship but not the effectiveness.

While each individual believer is responsible for applying the Word of God to his/her own life, scripture was given to the Church.  When you read the Old Testament, references are made about the Nation of Israel.  In the New Testament, the community of faith (the Church) was the focus of scripture.  As believers, we are to be a PART of the Body or The Church.  We are not ‘stand-alone’ in our beliefs. 

Only in the United States do we believe we are “owed” prosperity.  Rather than being grateful for all that we have in our country, we pray for greater things:  bigger houses, nicer cars, better paychecks.  It would never occur to most American Christians to sacrifice in order to provide for the community around us.  At most, we give a tithe and expect a big return as a result.

If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy”, I will scream!  No one ‘deserves’ to be happy.  Did you read that correctly?  NO ONE DESERVES TO BE HAPPY.  An individual can CHOOSE to be happy in any situation.  When MY happiness becomes my prime focus, I cannot focus on God.  And just to close any gap that may exist:  God will NEVER use sin to bring you happiness.  An adulterous affair may add a level of excitement and fun to your life, but is it worth the sacrifice of your reputation and trustworthiness? 

I struggle with entertainment value attached to our American church services.  I struggle as a worship leader and as a participant.  I know the danger of getting caught up in “performing” on any given Sunday. The need to be part of the worship with the body fades if I’m not on stage.  The accolades from others become my “worship” and I no longer look for ways to grow in my own spiritual life.

I believe we need to attract people to our church services.  But, more important, I believe we need to be examples of a lifestyle of Christ following.  When we show that worship is more than filling space in a church building once a week, we influence the community is a greater way.  We make effective our worship and our lifestyle.  People are attracted to the genuine.  Worship as entertainment will lose its appeal if there is no depth to it.  That’s why we are seeing an upswing in small group/family life worship.  My pastor has said “The Row doesn’t know what you need, but the Circle does.”  The Row represents where you sit in a church service.  The people on either side of you have no idea what’s really going on with you.  The Circle, however, represents the family life group.  That’s the small group that hears you share on a weekly basis.  That may not be efficient, but it’s definitely effective in growing your spiritual side.   

I want to be flexible with people.  I want to be that person that loves regardless and sometimes in spite of the situation.  I need to be a part of weekly worship and daily growth in order to be my best self.  I cannot pretend to be something other than who I am.  I will not be a counterfeit in this world that promotes individuality but demands conformity. 

“Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” 

James 1:26-27 MSG

Shredded Tires, a Pillar of Salt and Life

We’ve all seen the sign that warns of tire damage if you backup. You can move forward and the spikes lay flat. But, backup or go the wrong direct, and your tires are shredded. There’s no turning back when you see this sign. You are forced to “go with the flow” and drive forward.

How many times have I wanted a “do over” during my lifetime? This is especially true after I’ve made a decision and things haven’t gone exactly as planned. My mind goes into overdrive with “what if” and “if only” thoughts. I’m plagued with plans on how to “go back” and “fix it;.” But, truthfully, that’s not an option. Any time spent trying to go back will be wasted and will come at a cost to myself and may to those around me.

“ But Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.”

Genesis 19:26 MSG

Lot and his family were living Sodom and Gomorrah.  Angels visited and instructed Lot to take his family and “run for your life! Don’t look back! Don’t stop anywhere on the plain—run for the hills or you’ll be swept away.”  God was saving them from the destruction that was coming.  Lot had seen the debauchery.  He and his family trusted the Angels and started on their way.  But, what if the city wasn’t so bad after all?   If only there was one more chance.  Lot’s wife couldn’t move forward.  She was too caught up in what she was leaving behind.  She turned back and the entire family was affected by her decision.  

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” 

Philippians 3:12-14 MSG

As a young mother, I remember being overwhelmed.  I worked a full time demanding job.  We had two young children.  My husband and I always seemed to have more month than money.  It was easy to wonder:  “What if I was single and going out with my co-workers?  If only I didn’t have all these responsibilities.  Don’t I deserve to be happy and have fun?”  It was a tough time in our marriage.  Ultimately, I realized that I couldn’t go back and could only move forward with the decisions I had made about my life.  And, I’m so glad that I did.

In our world, choosing ME over anything is what we are told to do.  I need to find MY happiness.  I am the most important person in my life.  God wants ME to be happy or He wouldn’t have brought (fill in the blank) into MY life.  It’s too easy to find an excuse to abandon what I have for something that “might be”.  I become my own worst enemy.  I plot and scheme to make God fit into the itinerary I have made for my life.  And when that doesn’t work, my first thought is to try again.  I’m certain I know best.  Sound familiar?

I’ve watched so many families/marriages implode because reality has overtaken the fairy tale.  Things aren’t as perfect as we want.  Prince Charming’s armor is a little dented & tarnished and those glass slippers really pinch your toes.   You begin to look back, to wonder:  “Maybe I married too quickly.  What if I had waited for the Jack of Hearts to take and interest.  He’s really cute.”  And before you even recognize what has happened, you’re a pillar of salt.  Stuck in the wilderness you thought you wanted.  You’ve destroyed your future.  You’ve destroyed your family.  In an effort to recapture what might have been, you have chosen to backup and have suffered severe “damage your tires.”

What can we learn from this?  Is there any hope?  I believe there is.  While I don’t think any of us “deserve” to be happy, I know that I can “choose” to be happy and content in any circumstance.  You see, when I stopped looking at all of the fun that my single friends were having all those years ago, I realized something.  They were looking for a life JUST LIKE MINE!  Every one of them wanted a home and a family. I must had to stop day-dreaming about what might have been and embrace what really WAS.  My reality was a husband that loved me as much as he irritated me.  My reality was a son and a daughter that just wanted to spend time with me: quantity over quality.  My reality was God always provided for all of our needs.  I made the decision to invest in my less than perfect marriage.  I began to focus on what I could DO to bring joy to my husband and my children instead of what I thought I was missing.  And you know what?   The best years of my marriage started right then!

“But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”  E

Ephesians 4:20-24  MSG

You can never go back.  Whether good or bad, that is the past.  You can only move forward.

“Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms.” 

Luke 17:32-33 MSG

Is Love Worth the Pain?


We grieve because we love.

I learned a lot from grief.  I learned that my identity was as a wife, a mother and a daughter.  When I lost my husband, and later my dad, a lot of what made me feel whole seemed to disappear.  For years, I submerged myself in my role as “mom”.   I needed my kids as much as they needed me.  As they grew up and moved on with their lives, I again lost my touch point, my anchor.  Where did I belong?  How would I make a difference?  It was a struggle.  I forgot what it meant to be just “me”. 

Have you ever felt the effects of too much caffeine?  That jumpy, panicky feeling became normal for me.  Most days, I felt like I need to crawl out of my own skin.   On the days when my kids weren’t around or I didn’t have to work, I stayed in bed.  It was easier to sleep than to face my reality.   I didn’t keep up with my house or my yard.  I avoided being at home as much as I could.  I didn’t know how to ask for help.  I didn’t know if there was any help.  I was overwhelmed.  I was supposed to be strong and I was embarrassed to admit that I was failing in every area.  I just tried to keep my head above water. 

I lived this way for almost 10 years.  I knew I had to get used to my new “normal” and believed that I had dealt with my grief.  I helped with grief recovery groups.  I put on a good face.  I didn’t realize that I was living with depression.  All the things that had given my life meaning seemed to be disappearing.  My son and daughter didn’t need a hands-on mom.  I had accepted that I would live out the rest of my life alone.   It had been long enough.  I had to get over it all.  I had to close the door on the part of my life that wanted to be loved and accepted.

But, I had a friend that listened to me.  A friend heard what I said and what I didn’t really want heard.  He asked questions I didn’t want to answer.  He probed into areas that were off-limits.  He recommended counseling.  He encouraged me to trust again.  He challenged me to open the doors that I had closed and sort through those emotions and dreams.  He waited patiently to be allowed into all areas of my life. 

There are many that question the choices I’ve made over the last four years.   And, there are those that frankly, just disapprove of the life I now have.  I’ve heard the whispers and I’ve seen the looks.   I don’t have any doubts that I am exactly where I need to be.  I married my dearest friend.  I have never felt safer or more secure.  I am loved deeply and completely.  Our life is not without its challenges and frustrations, but we face them together. 

I have learned that grief is love turned upside down.  I will never give up the opportunity to experience a deep and passionate love in order to avoid the pain of grief.  Love is worth EVERYTHING!

Decisions = Consequences

Decisions are an everyday part of life. And every decision results in a consequence of some kind, good or bad.  If I decide to turn off my alarm and sleep an extra 30 minutes, the consequences are rushing to get ready for my day and leaving the house a later than usual.  For every 5 minutes later that I enter the freeway, I reap an additional 10 minutes in Houston traffic.  Was that extra sleep really worth the added stress to my day and drive?  Honestly, it depends on the day.  But, usually, I regret that decision to stay in bed.  And yet, I have this conversation with myself every single morning.

We all make decisions. We decide to do the dishes tonight or wait until later.  In school, it was when (or maybe if) I would study for a test or do my homework.  Every interaction with others begs a decision:  will I be kind and respectful, distant and unattached, or pushy and rude? Sometimes a decision to NOT decide becomes your decision by forcing another to make the call.  At least that way, I have plausible deniability, right? It’s not really my responsibility, because YOU decided this one.  Why is making a decision so daunting at times?  Even when it’s a “good” decision, we seem to fear the consequences of our very actions.  Why?

Maybe this is what we fear: ME.  My “personal preference meter” isn’t a very reliable source for making decisions.  When MY happiness, MY comfort becomes more important than how it affects the ones that depend upon and trust me, the consequences may be difficult to live with on a long term basis.  Our society has become more and more focused on doing what is makes “me” happy as the optimal decision bias.  Even though reality proves that the “happiness” is fleeting and this temporary enjoyment could very likely lead to long term misery.

We’ve seen evidence of this all throughout the Bible: Eve chose to eat the apple;  Abraham had a son with Hagar;  David gave into his desire for another man’s wife with Bathsheba.  There are examples in our lives every day:  telling the “white” lie to cover-up; condoning gossip and back-biting in order to be accepted; sneaking around outside of your marriage to get some “excitement”.  We have come to believe the absolute lie that we deserve happiness.  Truthfully, no one deserves happiness.  Happiness is a daily choice, NOT a destination.  You can chase happiness, but you will not find it.  And when our decisions are based on finding happiness, the consequences will be empty and quite often painful.

So, in this carnival we call life, when we choose all the fun and exciting regardless of personal morals or conscience, consequences can be overwhelming. Much like too much time on the Tilt-a-Whirl you are left off-balance, dizzy and maybe a little ill.  When the excitement wears off and the happiness is no longer palpable, guilt moves in to fill the void.  You can’t go back and undo your actions or unsay the words.  You can only live within this moment.  Eve chose the apple and mankind would forever have sin in our lives.  The consequences of Abraham’s choice to have a son with Hagar are still being played out in our world.  In an attempt to cover up his wrong decision, David would go on to commit murder and saw his own son eventually turn against him.  But, in each case, these people continued to seek God.  They were now on a different path in life and God would use them anyway.

We’ve all heard the saying “You made your bed, now lie in it.” The consequences will be there, even after forgiveness.  We must choose to make better choices and decisions.  Decide to move forward toward God’s will and plan for your life regardless of the current situation.  Avoid getting caught up in the endless whirlwind of running toward the next “ME” moment.  Accept the consequences and work through them.  Look out for those who depend upon you and put their needs first.  Make the decision to be happy today, where you are, even if you can’t understand how that could possibly happen.  You won’t make an instant difference, but you will invest in the future.

Consequences, both good and bad are what we reap. Make your harvest one of which you are proud.

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“Well, you’ve made your bed – now lie in it; you wanted your own way – now, how do you like it?” Proverbs 1:31  MSG

“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