I Have a Name: Letting Go of Stereotypes

When I was in high school, my youth minister always had a way of taking us out to nature in order to have us connect with God. If any of you know me, I am not a camper. I work very hard not to be out in the woods. All that being said, I do find ways to connect with the Lord through nature, through his creation, but on this day I wasn’t going out with my peers to stare at water and connect with the Lord. No, we were going out to the woods to have a heart to heart discussion with one another.

Within our youth group, we had two very different cliques. One was the kickers. In Houston there’s a radio station called KIKK. It’s a local country station, and their slogan in the 90’s was, “Proud to be a KIKKer.” The locals would take the term KIKKer (kicker) and apply to anybody who wore Wranglers or enjoyed country music. Therefore, half of our youth group were kickers. They were members of the 4H, bull riders, raised livestock, and would proudly wear their Wranglers tighter than any jeggings teenagers wear today.  The other half of our youth group were basically skaters, or wanna-be skaters. We had straightened hair, parted down the middle baggy jeans, and no interest in being around livestock. We were not displaying unity in any way, shape, or form, and our youth minister, Ryan, was very aware of this.

We had been at youth camp for three days. It was the middle of the week, and tension was high between the two groups. Ryan decided it was time to have a come-to-Jesus moment, but he didn’t let us know that was what was happening. We were going on a nature hike at sunset. As we hiked through the woods, we came across a deck in the middle of the forest. He had us sit in a circle and started asking questions about unity. Ryan read Bible verses about how the church would be divided, and how the enemy would use that in order to keep Christians from doing the mission of God:

  • Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
  • 1 Peter 3:8 “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

Ryan then allowed us to talk, one at a time, so that we HAD to listen to each other, about grievances that we had with one another.

One kicker, Petin, began to speak up. He shared how he did not like to be called a kicker. He understood that most people in Houston who wore  Wranglers and listened to country music were labeled as a “kicker”, but he didn’t like being called that nor did the other half of our youth group. He said he didn’t even give us a chance to get to know him. I in all my high school wisdom responded, “well what do you want us to call you?”  His response is something that stuck with me for the past 20+ years: 

“I want you to call me Petin.”

What? Just call you by your name? Not the label that EVERYONE else in Houston has agreed upon? Even as a teenager, I knew this was a profound statement. As an adult,  I look back and process what was said to me. 

“I want you to call me Petin.” 

Not a label. 

Not what you think I am. 

Call me by my name. 

That night in the woods as we sat on the deck being forced to listen to one another, we learned a great lesson: 

Stereotypes are something we put on other people in order to put THEM in a box or into our own categories. 

By labeling my peers in the youth group, I thought I knew them. I thought by placing a stereotype on them, I already knew who they were.  I wasn’t taking the time to call them by name. I wasn’t creating unity. Quite the opposite.  By labeling my peers with a stereotype based on blue jeans and country music, I was creating discourse and a roadblock for what the Lord wanted to do in our youth group. 

After that night, as a group we repented for how we treated one another based on preconceived notions. We came together and asked for forgiveness. What would happen next in our youth group is truly amazing. The Lord began to work.  Our youth group went from 10 people to 50 in a matter of weeks. People were getting saved every week, and the Lord was being glorified. I truly believe that I was part of a revival at my church. The adults in our church didn’t know what was happening, but they knew God was doing something among our teenagers. This small, little country church was seeing the movement of God. The diversity of teenage social groups was truly amazing for a bunch of adolescents. However, the Lord wouldn’t move until set aside our agenda and sought unity as believers.

People have names. God knows my name. God knows your name. Take time to let go of the boxes and stereotypes and encourage unity. Stereotypes cause division. Jesus calls us to love Him and love people. God calls us to have unity. So, we let go of stereotypes and what we think we know about someone who is different… even if it means they like country music.


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Photo courtesy of sbmeaper1 on Flickr

Think Before You Click

Social media these days has become an interesting place.  People are posting homebound adventures, what they’ve been baking, and local places of business that are open.  There’s been inspirational stories of how families are staying together amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and how people are showing encouragement through rainbows on the windows and sidewalks.  Though the recent days have been tough, there have been beautiful marks of humanity and kindness.  

On the other side of the coin, there has also been a lot of fear and grabbing at anything in order to make sense of what is going on.  With the latest and greatest news story shaking the headlines, it is a bombardment of information that can send anyone into mental overload.  I don’t know about you, but my Facebook newsfeed is filled with a rollercoaster of emotion and mood swings from one post to the next with an occasional Tiger King meme. #DidCaroleDoIt?

But I do want to ask one simple question: have we completely forgotten everything that we learned in high school social studies when it came to research papers? Oh you know: always look for a credible source; when you’re looking at a source, make sure you get sources from different viewpoints; follow the money trail. Do they all affirm the same conclusion or are there some outliers? Are the research papers or articles coming out around the same time as a book, publication, or some other financial move?  As a teacher, we don’t allow students to quote Wikipedia because the information can be changed, however people use Facebook, which is always changing, to form their worldviews about important topics. Remember that emotional roller coaster we spoke of?  We deem something “fake news” without following high school social studies guidelines for accurate research paper writing, let alone forming our own opinions. We become easily swayed with the winds or the latest Facebook post with the most likes. If something becomes popular, or our favorite celebrity endorses it, we are totally on board. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

Sadly, we allow good lighting and editing to triumph over common sense or fact seeking. It doesn’t matter what side of a debate you’re on, it seems lately that anyone can be easily swayed to either direction by the quality of the production. This is the same way that cults and other extremists groups enlist new members. They make the information seem very believable because the propaganda looks so good, and they get some celebrity to endorse XYZ or to buy along with it. And as we know, celebrity doesn’t mean correct; it means popular or well-known. 

In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul is speaking to the church in Ephesus about living a Godly life.  He speaks to them about being “humble and gentle; be(ing) patient, bearing with one another in love” (v. 4).  Encouraging the church to “make every effort to keep unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (v.5).  Paul also shares that everyone in the Church has a specific role in order to “equip [Christ’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of Go and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (v 11-12).  Good stuff, right?

However, here’s where a lot of us camp out: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in the deceitful scheming. (v. 14)”  We have been seeking the truth on Facebook and the latest post from some doctors about something that we already believe to be true.  We won’t be swayed no matter what comes into my Facebook feed. We won’t move from our pillar of truth, and we will let everyone know how right we are.  (Some of us need to stop on this verse and not let a well-made video change our worldview, honestly. Joe Exotic was crazy, y’all.)

BUT…

We forget to read onto verse 15, “Instead, speaking the truth IN LOVE, we will grow to become in every respect the MATURE body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (emphasis added)

Oh.  In love and becoming mature? There’s the stinger.  

I’m not saying you can’t be passionate about things or have convictions. On the contrary, I believe that Christ calls us to be passionate about the things that He is passionate about. I do believe, though, we need to think before we post things about how it will affect our witness and ability to share the Gospel with those around us that we actually interact with face-to-face. 

A single post will not change a person’s worldview. However, a single post can change the world’s view of who you are as a person… and a Christian.  

Test everything you read.  Honestly, and if you don’t have time to fact check it yourself, you probably should not repost it. Of course you’re grown and can do what you want.  In the roller coaster of emotion that is social media these days, instead of being the super spiny part that gives riders the massive stomach ache, why not be the light at the end of the scary tunnel that gives hope?  Pretty sure that’s what Jesus would post.

Social Media Killers

   

When Facebook first came out, it was almost like a socially elite club.  Beyond the walls of Harvard, they protected their membership by only letting you sign up with a university email address, and it wasn’t every university. Only the universities that signed on and let its students have access to this up and coming way of connecting with others could have students that did the same.  In the early 2000’s, as I plugged away on MySpace and Xanga, I heard of this Facebook thing from one of my friends from high school. Her university had signed on. Mine had not. I wanted a Facebook account, but I couldn’t get one. Well, until Facebook opened it up to anyone with an email address. In that moment I could get an account and be a part of this great beast.  

Over time and since the early 2000’s, Facebook has evolved.  As technology has progressed and gotten further and further into realms not yet explored, Facebook has paved the way.  But here’s the thing: just because the road is paved, doesn’t mean it’s the one you should be on. Facebook has allowed people to connect in ways our grandparents, or even parents, could never have imagined.  I can at any moment meet someone from the other side of the world as easily meet someone at my local grocery store. We are more connected to the world than ever before. We have a larger audience than any arena.  We have a platform that can proclaim thoughts and ideas, no matter if they are based on fact or not.  

I have kept my Facebook account throughout the years, keeping touch with those I have met along this path of life.  This social media giant has been used for good in my life to stay connected to friends and family all over the country and world.  It can be a wonderful tool for doing so. But, I have been the one who chose to use social media in a positive way. There aren’t laws or rules to keep me from being sweet or a complete jerk.  I have to practice self-control as to what I do on the internet. To be honest, there are basic general rules and standards as to what can happen on the internet, but beyond that, it’s a free for all.  Almost like an anarchy of sorts.  

This was clearly displayed on a Facebook LiveStream.  Steve Stephens allegedly shot and killed a 74 year-old Robert Godwin Sr. who was walking home from an Easter celebration with his family.  Robert was alone. Mr. Stephens had recently had a string of bad circumstances in his life, so he decided to randomly murder a man in cold blood all while streaming the event online for the world to see.   Steve murdered on Facebook.  

Mr. Stephens had a platform for everyone to see.  He had a larger audience than the Roman Colosseum could ever hold, where thousands of Christians were murdered in the ancient world.  He was connected to millions of people, yet felt completely alone in his struggle. He murdered another man on the internet who never saw it coming. 

I don’t take this lightly.  I don’t think what Mr. Stephens did is in any way right or acceptable.  I think it was evil and cowardly. He didn’t have to see the faces of those who saw his actions.  He didn’t give anyone a chance to tell him to stop, to get help, or to speak truth of the situation during his rants before he murdered.  He just listened to his own thoughts and ideas, acted on them, and allowed the world to see.  

During the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, Jesus speaks about murder.  It’s a pretty much understood thing that murder is bad and that we shouldn’t do it.  Jesus states starting in Matthew 5:21,

 

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.  Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

 

Pretty strong words.  The listeners were thinking He was talking about actually killing someone, and Jesus switches gears and talks about being angry.  What’s the big deal with being angry, Jesus? Well, anger when it takes root can grow into hatred and bitterness. God wants us to get rid of anger before the sun even sets (Ephesians 4:26)  In First John, he writes “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murder has eternal life in [Jesus].” In our house, hate is a strong word. It means that you can’t find one nice thing about a person or thing.  We don’t use that word lightly because it carries so much to it. Hate and love are both strong actions. Love can move mountains. Hate can destroy lives.  

Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (emphasis added).  On social media, it is easy to post hate, just as it is easy to post love.  However, when we post hateful things about people or things different from us, we are committing murder on Facebook.  The thing is, verbal murder has become accepted in our culture. Jimmy Kimmel even pokes fun of it on his bit “Mean Tweets”.  It’s where celebrities will read to millions of people what one person has posted on Twitter about them. Some of them are really hurtful.  Most have horrible grammar, but they are all meant to be hateful. According to the Bible, they are meant to murder. Which is not Jesus. It’s the enemy (John 10:10).  

So, now what?  I might be totally sweet on social media, never speaking ill of anyone or anything.  Great! The Bible wasn’t written in the technology age. It was written when people didn’t have Facebook but actually talked face to face.  Weird. My mouth speaks what’s in my heart. My words can murder and gossip or bring life and uplift. James writes in chapter 3, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both freshwater and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

I don’t want to be like Mr. Stephens and murder on social media.  I don’t want to murder, thinking I’m one of the socially elite, while drinking coffee with my friends.  My words are the product of my heart. May the words of my mouth be uplifting to those who hear it and praise my God who gave me the breath in my lungs to speak the words and energy in my fingers to type them out.  Because, let’s face it. Sticks and stones do break bones, but words cut to the heart.  


photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee

My Brain Tumor

I have a brain tumor.  

I went to see my general practitioner back in March because I had been having migraines quite frequently, about 2 a week.  Basically, every time the barometric pressure would change in the atmosphere. Typical of most doctor’s appointments, I was asked if anyone in my immediate family suffered from migraines. Answer: yes, mother.  Was anyone in my family diagnosed with a brain tumor? Answer: yes, maternal grandfather. Why are you here today? Answer: I have migraines and I’m hoping it’s not a tumor.  

Well, my doctor, being the wise and medically educated man that he is, ordered an MRI for me which showed a hard mass on the back of my brain, at the base of my skull.  Oh crap. Bring on the concern that I have something like my grandfather. The MRI showed that SOMETHING was there, but it didn’t say WHAT was there. It was the size of a large blueberry, about 1cm by 1.5cm round. I then had to go get a CT scan of my head to try to figure out what was going on.  

By this time, it was April.  The CT scan came back and indeed showed that there was not just a hard mass, but indeed a tumor at the back of my skull.  My general practitioner referred me to one of the best neurologists in the city of Detroit, but it wouldn’t be until June 4.  May was a rough month, but it was a month that I spent time praying and reflecting on God. 

A lot can go through your mind when you have a month to process what could happen.  What if I have cancer? What will happen to my kids? Will my husband be able to handle it all by himself? (because I have to go immediately to morbid) Thankfully, through this time, my Bible study group was reading through the book of Proverbs, which is packed full of Godly wisdom.  When I started to look at my brain tumor through God’s perspective, I began to think, what if God just heals me? What if He doesn’t and He uses this journey to bring Him glory? Turning the “what if I”s into “what if God”s. Through all of it, God reminded me of one simple truth:

My circumstance does not change God’s character.

Just because I was going through something hard, does not mean that all of a sudden He was cruel.  God was and is still good. He doesn’t have to answer to me or anyone. Yes, I have a brain tumor, but that doesn’t mean it changes who He is. 

Back to the tumor… I went and saw the neurologist.  After looking at my scans, the doctor told me yes, it is a tumor, which just means it’s a mass in my head.  The mass is not living, meaning he believes it is filled with dead blood, due to a childhood injury, since the tumor seemed to have grown along the side of my brain and with my skull.  Basically, he believes that when kids get a head injury, the body will attack the brain bleed, calcifying the blood, to prevent further injury. However, where it is located, it has nothing to do with my migraines.  We just happened to come across it in the process. Crazy right?!  

In this scrolling mindset that we have in our culture, we quickly move onto the next thought and next idea.  We don’t take time to remember. I easily forget the faithfulness of God when the next thing comes along, and I turn it all into, “woe is me!” Kind of gives me perspective to the Israelites in the book of Exodus.  One minute they are like, “God is our redeemer! He is so good!” The next minute, “Moses is taking too long. Let’s worship a golden cow.” How quickly we also forget the goodness of God.

I still have the tumor.  It’s not going anywhere. I still have my God.  He’s not going anywhere. God didn’t get rid of my tumor, but He did give me peace and reminded me of His character when I could have easily been freaking out.  The tumor is a blessing. The Lord reminded me of His goodness, and I hope I don’t forget the next time something happens… because let’s face it. It will. 

 

***The injury we believe caused the tumor: When I was 10, my family had about 35 pine trees cut down on their one acre of land in Texas.  Pine trees in the south are about 6 feet in circumference and 2.5 stories tall. They are big. Any way, it was summer, so my two older brothers, and I were inside watching international sports.  We see the Scottish log rolling competition. If you aren’t familiar, it’s where two men get on opposite sides of a log, which is in the water, and run in an attempt to get the other person to fall off.  Think king of the mountain, but with a log. Well, being the geniuses that we were, we were like, “we have all these trees in our yard until the lumber guys pick them up… we can totally do this.”

My brothers, who are 3 and 5 years older than me, start running backwards, moving the log down the slight decline in our backyard.  It moves faster and faster, when I start yelling for the boys to slow down, slow down, SLOW DOWN!!! All of a sudden, my feet fly out from underneath me, and I landed with clunk head-first into the log we were running on.  The next thing I remember, I’m waking up in my room a few hours later. Apparently, I hit my head so hard I blacked out. Hence, the calcified blood on my brain.  

 

Photo used by permission by Richard Elzey

When Mother’s Day is Hard

Mother’s Day.  A day set aside to celebrate all the sacrifices that moms have made over the years for the benefit of their children.  For many, this is a joyous day filled with flowers, brunch, and memories of how mom has been and continues to be amazing.  Usually, mom “gets a day off” from moming, but still ends up having to put out some small fires or disagreements within the family unit.  At least that’s how it goes in my house. Kids gonna fight and nothing squashes a disagreement like mom counting to three. Nothing.

My husband, kids, and I celebrate my mothers day on Saturday.  The actual day can be a little painful for me, so Dennis (my hubby) takes the day before to do whatever I want to do with no interruptions.  The actual day of we go to church and spend the day with my mother and father-in-law. It’s great to focus on her and not to check the constant Facebook statuses of how everyone else has the world’s best mom.  Like I said… Mother’s Day can be a little painful.

Somewhere along life, my mom and I drifted apart physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  I had to guard my heart (Proverbs 4:23) from destructive behavior, which means I had to set some boundaries between the two of us, which didn’t go over well nor was it well received.  Since then, I have written my mom letters with no response, sent cards with no acknowledgement and reached out with no return. Though we are both physically alive, the relationship is very close to dead.  

I scroll through my Facebook feed seeing posts of my peers saying how blessed they are to spend the day with a loving mom.  I’m happy for them, but I mourn my own loss. I do realize that I chose to set up the boundary, but I honestly thought it would turn out differently.  I thought by some miracle of the Lord that eyes would be open, both hers and mine, and our relationship would be restored. All would be great. All would be healthy.  However, it hasn’t happened. Well, at least not yet.

For others Mother’s Day is hard because they are mourning a mother or child who has physically passed or a child who never came to be.  They mourn the child who walked away from them, which I imagine is how my mom is interpreting my actions but it isn’t the case. This day can be quite painful for many for reasons no one can understand or comprehend.  As I heard this morning from a dear friend, “Mother’s Day is one of the hardest days because there is so much emotion attached to being a mom… and having one.”

So when it comes to Mother’s Day, I choose to take on the words of Paul in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  Some days I will need a shoulder to cry on, and other days my shoulder will be soaked with tears. I may not be able to choose my circumstances, but I can choose my disposition and attitude.  To those who also have a hard time on Mother’s Day, you may be silent in your heartache but know that you are not alone. It’s okay to be sad and ask why, but don’t stay there. Find the joy. Guard your heart, and allow God to restore in a way that only He can.  There’s hope. Hang in there, little mama.

Writer’s Block

I sit down in the usual spot, with my usual yoga pants on, and my super comfy shirt ready to write my next blog post. The Bible verse is ready and the thoughts that I want to get out on the tip of my tongue. I put my hands on the keyboard and…

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing comes to mind as to what I should write about. Granted, throughout the week I’ve had the Lord show me many different things that will be wonderful for me to share my blog. But when push came to shove, and the time to write actually came, I had nothing to write. How could this be? How could I not have a single thought running through my mind that was worthy enough to put on to the screen? Did I run out of things to say? Was I done with my blog experience that I was so sure I was going to be doing for a long time? What is the meaning of this writer’s block?

Now, I know I’m not the first writer that ever endured this, and I know that I’m not the last. There will be times in life when I’m on able to get the words out. Most of the time this happens whenever I’m deep in an argument that I feel like I should be winning, but for some reason I’m unable to come up with the words. These arguments usually happen with my husband when I feel like he’s outsmarting me, which he does quite often, but I also know there’s times when I have good points but I can’t seem to find them.

Ever had one of those times when you think about the right words to say hours after the actual conversation? “Man, if I only would’ve said XYZ maybe I would have my point come across more clearly”… “ I wish I would’ve said something more debonair, or at least more flattering to myself in that moment.” I honestly think that people don’t pray out loud for these very reasons.

The fear of saying something stupid or not saying the right thing at the right time for the right reasons paralyze us to not say anything at all.

Whenever we have to do corporate prayer people say things like, “I don’t know what to say… I’m not that good at praying out loud… I’m not one of those professional prayers.” Now, I’ve never been a professional prayer, but I think that would be a really cool job get paid all day just talk to Jesus. Pretty solid gig if you ask me since there is always a need.  

Back to writers block. As you can tell I’ve kind of overcome my writer’s block, and I’m just sitting rambling on and on about how I don’t have writers block at the current moment. But there’s times when ever I really want to communicate something, but I just can’t seem to find the words. As I said before, I like to write and at times I don’t know the words. I don’t have the words in order to communicate the points that I want to get across. The same is true whenever we pray.

The Bible says that when we don’t know what to pray that the Holy Spirit will pray on our behalf (See Romans 8:26-27).  

When we have spiritual writers block, God himself will pray on our behalf and write our narrative of what our hearts really wants to say.  

On those days when you’re sad and you just don’t know why, just cry out to God because He’s going to pray on your behalf. In those moments when someone’s hurting, and you don’t know how to pray for them, ask the Holy Spirit to pray on your behalf. What better person to pray on your behalf than the One who knows everything about everything and everywhere. There’s no surprises to God. There’s nothing where He’s like, “oh, I didn’t see that one coming.” Nope.

There are times that I’m just in a funk. Not like a 70s funk where everything is groovy and disco balls are spinning around, but the type of funk where I’m not really happy I’m not really sad I just kind of just… am. In those moments, when I don’t know what to pray and I don’t know why am in a little melancholy state, I go to Jesus, and I say,  “You know more about me than I know about me. I need for You to do what you do best which is be God because I am not.”

When I don’t understand why things are happening the way they are, I pray for the Holy Spirit to pray on my behalf because I don’t know what’s going on. How much does God want to communicate with that first He teaches us how to pray and then even when that fails He prays for us?

There may be days when you have spiritual writer’s block; when you don’t know what to say to God; when you don’t know what to say to others; when you don’t know what to say to yourself. In those moments, when you’ll be content with just having on the right comfortable pants and the right loose shirt and hope that you’ll make it through. Pray to the God who knows all things about everything. He will speak, on your behalf, and intercede for you.  Why? So, you can grow your relationship with Him and He can do amazing things in you. Yoga pants and all.


Photo courtesy of Gregory Gill

 

 

Why do we say Amen?

I’m venturing into podcasting, and answering questions that we might have about Christian sub-culture. Let me know what you think, and leave a question you or a friend might have in the comments.  Enjoy!

 

Music courtesy of Lee Rosevere; “Wandering” from Music for Podcasts 2   2016

Photo courtesy of Catherine Todd

Fear of the Missed Exit

 

I realize that it has been a while since I have posted.  It’s not because I had nothing to share.  Plenty was happening in my life.  Honestly, I have been going through a bit of a dry spell when it came to hearing the voice of the Lord.  He has always been there, but maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t in a place to hear from Him.  I’m guessing the latter is the reason.

I recently attended a women’s conference at my church.  It was a time set aside to have an ugly cry, a broken heart, and a life restored. Let’s just say that when you offer the sacrifice of time before the Lord, He will honor that sacrifice and meet with you, no matter how ugly you cry.  (If you want to learn about the conference click here)

Going back to the dry spell… Why?  Why did I have such a long time of not really hearing from God?  Not that He didn’t speak, but my spiritual ears were filled with so much junk that His voice was blocked.  The honest reason for the blockage?

Fear.

Fear that I missed my calling.  See, the suburbs of Detroit were no where on my radar when I was dreaming of all the adventures God was going to lead me on, but here I am.  In Michigan with the two kids, a dog, and a mortgage; teaching music in the local school, married to a smokin’ hot husband, but feeling like I missed it.  Insert Belle singing on the side of a hill about adventure… #DisneyChildhood

I felt called in one way from what I was told in the past, yet I find myself in a different place than what I visioned in my early years with Jesus.  It’s rather confusing and seems complicated.  Am I supposed to do something else?  Am I supposed to stay a teacher? I really feel like being a teacher has developed my skill, but is that where I am supposed to stay?  What if people don’t affirm what I thought was my calling?  What if my husband doesn’t want me to move into that roll?  What if the roll I think I’m supposed to be in isn’t it?  Maybe I should look for some castle in the woods of France instead of living a provincial life?  No, wait, that’s Disney again.

So many what ifs.  So many unknowns.  My brain and soul get wrecked trying to figure it out, fearful that I will miss my exit and never live up to some calling on this road of life.

I sat before the Lord this weekend, weeping ugly tears, my face looking red as my mascara ran down my face.  I hid in the back corner of the sanctuary, angry with God that everything I’ve been doing is for nothing because I made some wrong choice decades ago.  I made a single mistake and messed up God’s entire plan for my life.  Very powerful of me to do such a thing, right?

Then in the midst of the music and hiding in the corner, God whispered His truth to me.  The thing is, all of my efforts of me trying to navigate the route is really me wanting to be God and drive the car.  Me trying to hold control or gain control when I should be in the passenger seat enjoying the view, admiring the wildflowers and vast creation along the side of the road.  And when I’m trying to drive it all myself, I can’t hear from God because I’m trying to BE God, which is the sin of idolatry.

The driver tells me which exits to look for while He is driving, and I joyfully seek the roadsigns because it is His roadtrip that I GET to be a part of. But when there is no exit in sight, I sit, enjoying the conversation with the Driver.

Past “missed opportunities” are not missed exits, but rather not MY exit.  Not where the driver wanted me to go.  When I do grab the wheel and force the exit, like Google maps, I am directed over and over how to get back on route to where I need to be.  I’m never kicked out of the car or given up on because I’m not there yet.

My calling? My calling is to get in.  Get in and enjoy the ride.  If it’s through the treacherous mountains or the foggy valleys.  Get in and enjoy the neighborhoods of white picket fences or the projects of those cast to side.

Get in.  Trust the Driver.

Don’t worry about the missed or even next exit.  Wait for the Driver to tell me to look for the sign or opportunity, look for the turn, look for the next rest stop, wait in the traffic, sing His praise with the radio, but never abandon the car.

Get in.  All in.  Buckle up because THIS ride is the adventure.

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Photo “Highway 101, Ventura California” courtesy of Wendell.

A LETTER TO MY CHILDREN

To my babies,

If I were to talk to my college-self, I never would have imagined being a mom.  Daddy and I got married later in life, and by later, I mean late 20’s. In southern timeline, that is way late. I should have already had both of you before I was 30.  BUT, I didn’t. So, there. Since I didn’t meet Daddy until I was out of both college and grad-school, I honestly thought I wasn’t going to get married, ever. However, God knew that I needed a man like Daddy who is kind, patient, and extremely good-looking.  Never settle for less than what God has planned for you, kids. Never settle.

Being your mom is the biggest blessing and the biggest struggle I think I’ve ever had.  Not that you are bad kids; you’re not. The Lord has used you to show me parts of my heart and soul that I didn’t know existed… both good and bad.  The character traits that I aim to have or show, you easily show to others around you without bias or reservation. You always give hugs at the exact right time and know how to bring a smile to my face and those around you.  Then, there’s the other side of the coin. The things that I can’t stand about myself you at times do. I’ve never taught you these attributes, but somehow you managed to pick them up. Great.

There are many days when I feel less than perfect.  When my parenting looks less like Proverbs 31 and more like a Pinterest fail.  It’s messy, but it’s made with love and probably tastes good. My honest to goodness fear is that I will lose my temper or yell too much, make too many mistakes, say too many wrong things that you will want nothing to do with Jesus.  Not wanting to be around me, I can understand. There are times when I don’t even want to be around me, but to turn your back on the Lord because I sucked as a parent is too much to swallow. Way worse than any Pinterest fail.

In those moments of doubt, God has reminded me that if I was able find Jesus when I was a teenager, there is always hope for you.  Through Christ, I beat the odds and have kept my faith. I’m not perfect. As you know, my sweet babies, I mess up. I mess up a lot.  I am quick to tell you sorry and to ask for your forgiveness because I need you to know that I’m trying.

I sin and mess up like all people, so I apologize to you because you get caught in the crossfires of my failure.  

I pray everyday that you will do more for the Kingdom of God than I ever could.  I pray that God will reach entire nations through your faithfulness, especially when I’m struggling to see beyond my own situations and hurts.  I want more for you than I want for myself because I desire for Jesus to make your life an adventure that only He can write.

To my son and my daughter, remember that you are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Nothing in your life is a surprise to God. No freckle or scar goes without purpose or plan.  You have never been forgotten, nor will you ever be forgotten. God thinks of you more than I could ever dream, more than the grains of sand on all the beaches, both fresh and saltwater combined (It’s a Michigan thing.) There is no place you can hide from God’s love, even if I mess up as your mom.  Jesus is bigger, His thoughts are deeper, and His commitment to you is stronger than anything I could muster up. (Psalm 139)

I love you more than I will ever be able to express into words.  You are a blessing to me and Daddy, even on the days that are hard.  I write this letter, not only for your benefit, but to remind myself that you are not really mine.  You are God’s. He made you; I merely got to be a part of the process. So, no matter how many rough days we have or times I feel like the worst mom in the world, know that you are loved.  I never thought I would get to be your mama, but I couldn’t imagine my life any other way. Thank you for your patience as Daddy and I are figuring it out. Thank you for your love and forgiveness.  

Thank you for calling me “Mom”.

GARDENING

Spring is a wonderful time in Michigan.  The snow is melting. Warmer weather is finally emerging.  The world turns green again instead of a mixture of mud and snow.  As the heavy jackets are being placed into bins and light sweatshirts are coming out, residents of Michigan begin to come outside too.  Winter is long here in the mitten state, so as soon as the temperatures are above 40 degrees, people tend to come out from hiding in their homes to begin yard work.  I grew up in the south where things grow year round. The idea of plants waking up from a season of slumber is new to me, but I look forward to it every year. It amazes me each spring how one day the trees are barren, and the next day little green leaves appear.  They are only followed by full on leaves by the end of the week. In a time period of seven days, my neighborhood goes from empty wasteland to abundant life. Every year the trees just know to come back.

Trees are not the only things that comes back.  Flowers and greenery start blooming, filling the air with the sweet smell of new blooms. I have tried to grow these flowers, but I do not have a green thumb.  Not. At. All. If there is a 1% chance that I can kill something in the garden, I will. I will follow the instructions to the letter, and it still doesn’t manage to work.  Last year, I thought I would try to plant a fool-proof garden. I tried the wildflower mix that only requires spreading the seed, a little water, and sunlight. I tilled the flower bed, sprinkled the seeds, gave it some water, and the Lord provided the sun.  It seemed like I would be enjoying wildflowers in 14-21 days as the packaging suggested. However, like any spring in Michigan, an unexpected frost came and prevented my flowers from growing. I failed the fool-proof seeds. Again, I do not have a green thumb.  My wildflowers didn’t make it. However, the weeds in my garden came up nice and strong.

Weeds have a way of doing that.  The things that I want to grow don’t, yet the weeds will grow without any care or effort on my part.  I even have an area in my yard that it is covered in rocks and nothing grows… except weeds. Those buggers will push past the rocks, find any opening they can muster in order to make their way to the surface.  I have a garden of rocks and weeds. Great. We have hired professionals to fertilize our lawn in order to get rid of all the weeds, but we always manage to find a few dandelions in the lushness of our grass. My neighbors on either side… well, let’s just say they have not utilized the same services for their yards.  I’m pretty sure that one neighbor’s wild yard has caused a slight contamination of my yard. I don’t have direct proof, and it’s not like I’m going to do anything about it, but I’m just thinking in grass terms, my yard is guilty by association.

My son, who is 5, doesn’t understand why weeds are bad.  He doesn’t get that dandelions are bad for the lawn because all he sees through his eyes are pretty flowers.  Though we tell him time and time again that we want grass in our yard, he still doesn’t get it. The weeds look nice because they come across as pretty.  Little does he know, that those cute little yellow flowers are choking out the good lawn. Weeds choke out what we really want: life and lushness.

We all have weeds in our lives.  If you have a yard, you literally have weeds growing in your life in terms of your front yard or garden.  You get down and pull the weeds out of your garden, but if you don’t get the root, those suckers are going to come back with bigger roots and be even harder to get rid of.  You can be like me and put rocks over your weeds, hoping that the lack of sunlight with just drown out the weeds, but they will always find their way to the surface, exposing your lack of killing the root.  If you don’t attend to your front yard, it will run wild with weeds like my neighbor, and can cause neighboring lawns to stumble into weed-dom.

In our personal lives, weeds have two names: hurt and sin.  Hurt is sin that is done to you. Sin is actual sin that we commit whether to ourselves or someone else.  We can try burying it under loads of better looking rocks like appearance, nice things, being super friendly, etc., but it will always come to the surface.  Through my reading, I came across Ephesians 5. It says starting in verse 12:

“For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.”

Sin in secret and hurt that we shove down will ALWAYS come to the surface.  Not maybe. Always. The tricky thing is secrets can come out in different ways.  I have an emotional weed that I am in process of pulling now. I have for many years had a difficult relationship with my mom.  We have different religious beliefs and views concerning life, which causes a lot of strife on our relationship. I didn’t realize how much it affected me until I had children of my own.  I would get angry at them for the dumbest things. I’m not talking a little frustrated. I’m talking grit my teeth, yelling, with everyone in the house (including myself) crying. My kids didn’t know why.  I didn’t know why. To get to the root, I started going to a Christian counselor, and we figured out together it was a weed from my poor maternal relationship that I never pulled the root on. I just tried to ignore it and hoped it went away, but it didn’t.  Weeds that are left untamed will go wild. It’s in their nature, and it will destroy the good things you are trying to grow, like healthy relationships. I still keep a loose relationship with my mom, but I have to set clear boundaries for myself and my children.  I have to guard my heart, for it’s the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23), and no one wants weeds near their wellspring.

Playing with similar weeds in the lives of others can cause our demise.  Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 15, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” Just like my neighbor’s yard flows into my nicely fertilized grass that we have spent time and effort making beautiful, the association of another can cause downfall.  Does this mean I’m going to build a bubble around my yard and let no one’s dandelion seeds fall on it? No, but I shouldn’t be surprised when I see weeds coming up in my lawn. What it does mean is that I can’t just assume that I can work on my lawn every once in a while, and everything is going to be okay.  If a friend was a struggling alcoholic, you wouldn’t want to see her at the bar. If my sister had a porn addiction, I wouldn’t want to leave her alone with my computer with no internet filters. You can have the best intentions, but if we are trying to live a life of holiness but our biggest influences aren’t, we aren’t going to rid our lives of anything but good character.  Simple as that. (Note: I don’t have a sister; this is just for example. Carry on.) The next verse Paul writes is, “Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God – I say this to your shame.” We can’t know what God is about for our whole lives and pursue Him if we don’t maintain our lives rooted in His Word (the Bible) and stop trying to live a life of sin.  Just like my son doesn’t know that dandelions are weeds, how can we know God’s ideal plan for us unless we read it in His Word. My son’s lack of knowledge doesn’t change the fact that a weed is a weed, no matter how pretty it looks; and our lack of knowledge doesn’t change the fact that sin is sin, even though culture says it’s pretty. To God, sin is detestable, and secret weeds come to the surface. Always.

Spring is a beautiful reminder of God’s grace.  Yes, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have to pull the weeds in our lives, but God is the ultimate gardener (John 15:1).  There is no way we can rid our lives of sin without Jesus. Just like each year the world comes back to life, we are given opportunity to see life emerge out of our mud and that which seems to be dead.  We can take off the layers of past experiences and hurt and be made new in Christ. Life blooms and smells sweet to the Lord. Like the flowers and trees, as Christ makes our lives new in Him, what seems like small buds today can be lushness by the end of the week.  Praise the Lord that He doesn’t want the weeds to run wild in our lives, but wants to get to the root of it all so we can live and bloom for Him.