THROUGH THE STORM?

Yesterday, I participated in my second half marathon.  Last year I was able to run most of the 13.1 miles, but due to injury, this year I walked the race.  The concern of having the race cancelled was on a lot of people’s minds.  Forecasters predicted rain with a chance of lightning.  The rain wasn’t so much the big deal as was the risk of being hit with an electrical volt from above, so even the threat of nearby lightning  would shut everything down.  I get it.  You don’t want anyone to get fried on the course, but man, did I want to finish.

As my friend and I briskly walked through Detroit into Canada and back, we would pick up the pace in order to finish just in case the race would get called.  I would look around the sky, seeing if the clouds were getting darker or if the storm was moving in faster.  To my surprise, the rainstorm never came.  In fact, at one point the sun would peek out from the clouds as if to say, “The threat is gone.  There was never any real danger.  It was just a threat.”  Another point, the wind would pick up, the dark clouds would move in, and a sea of used water cups would roll down the road, but there wasn’t any rain or hint of lightning.

There was more of a threat in the actions that I was doing than what the sky was going to bring down.  I power walked my little heart out so much that I got blisters on the bottoms and sides of my toes.  Yes, blisters on my toes, but we finished the race and celebrated with amazing tacos.  Yum!

The threat of the storm was just that: a threat.  Until it actually happened, I wasn’t in danger.  That storm was a threat, but as much as the clouds grew dark and I thought it was going to be bad, it didn’t have any power.  There wasn’t any electricity in the clouds that could cause me from crossing that finish line.  Yes, I had injuries and it was hard on my body, but I crossed the finish line and received a reward worthy of the race. (In my mind, Mexican food is a worthy reward of any race.)

Like the storm, Satan doesn’t have any power.  As a friend of mine has said, “The only weapon the enemy has is lies.”  Lies can be debunked and rendered useless if you go seek out the Truth (John 14:6).  Satan can threaten all he wants, but Jesus has already told us that we have the victory in John 16:33: “I  have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Yes, we will have injuries and shortcoming.  We will have moments when we think that we can’t go on, when the storms around us seem like they will come crashing in.  Blisters will form from walking through hard times in faith, but blisters happen because you don’t sit and give up.  Injuries are for those who have pushed themselves beyond what they thought possible.  You don’t realize you have a shortcoming unless you are aiming at something greater.

Don’t let Satan lie to you and make you think his clouds of fiery have power.  It’s only a rainstorm, and those do come to an end.  We press on, keeping the faith to the end to earn our crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7-8), which though it may seem crazy, is so much better than tacos.


Photo courtesy of 昊昊US

FORTY-FIVE

There is something beautiful about listening to music on a 45.

Now, I may not be old enough to remember when 45’s came out (for those of you who don’t know what a 45 is, it’s a record that was listened to at 45 revolutions per minute… KNOW YOUR ROOTS!!!), but I can appreciate the beauty of listening to music on a record.  Growing up, my mom would get out her old 45’s from when she was a high school student, spread them out on the living room floor, and we would listen for hours as the record needle went around.  There was something about the rawness of that music recording that I loved and would move me.  

Time for your rock history lesson.  In the recording industry, when records were the only way to go, music was recorded using an analogue system. There wasn’t any studio work to enhance the music. What they actually did in the studio is what was heard. In some instances, there have been various noises in the background of songs that couldn’t be edited out. Some examples: breaking of drum sticks, shoe tapping, and the occasional coke machine (this happened on multiple Elvis 45’s).  It’s beautiful to listen to. You hear the little mistakes and technical tendencies of the musicians. It’s not fake. It’s raw and authentic. It may have taken a few tries to get the song to that point, but none the less, it was what it was.

Today, we live in a culture of digitally enhanced, perfected music. Good looking people are able to have “music” careers because they have computer geniuses making them sound good. Their songs are flawless, not a hint of error. The pitches and rhythms of every “musician” lines up flawlessly. You listen to their albums for hours upon hours only to find out they are terrible in concert or they have to lip sync everything. In other words, the perfection created in the studio is, well, fake.  As a musician, it’s frustrating and heart-breaking to see pretty faces get signed before actual talent.  Heart-breaking and ear-hurting. Any who…   

As I was saying, there is a something beautiful about listening to music on a 45, and following the Lord is no different.

Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9a)

Think about it.

He doesn’t want us to have it all together when we come to Him. He wants us to come with all our flaws and imperfections, so He can be more glorified through us. This isn’t to say we should aim to make mistakes over and over again. No, that would be a waste of time and resources.  You would have never heard one of the Beatles doing that in the studio, so why would act that way in life?  We offer our best because we want to perfect our craft. We’re going to mess up, but the authenticity of presenting who we really are before God and man is something beautiful.  We don’t quit because of a flaw.  We make the next go around better, not making the same mistakes.  When we manufacture our lives to look perfect, to have every note and rhythm line up exactly, it’s not real. Hard times happen. Mistakes will be made. Perfection is a goal that cannot be met, though it is the goal of both musicians and believers.   

In verses 12:7-8 in 2 Corinthians, Paul shares how he has a thorn in his side. He never states what the thorn is, but Paul has stuff in his life that causes him to mess up, to not live the perfect Christian life, and he’s Paul.  He wrote most of the New Testament.  Talk about a rock star!  Okay, the thing is, he doesn’t hide the FACT that he is a sinner and messes up. He has flaws. He makes mistakes. He gets off pitch a little bit. Paul responds to Christ,

“Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for CHRIST’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, THEN I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9b-10, emphasis added)

Crazy thought, huh? Coming honestly and openly before God with mess ups, hang ups, and occasional Coke machines in the background actually allows Christ to show off more. It’s not a digitally mastered life. It is a life that is authentic, raw, and well… beautiful. When the hard times come in front of other people, like those concerts, it matches up . The work done in the studio of private devotion comes out on the stage for the world to see. Hopefully, we aren’t so tweaked and disingenuous in the studio, that we are found majoring lacking in concert.  It think that’s why there has been this big push in the music industry for records over digital music.  It’s real and honest. Let’s face it, that’s what people are looking for: honesty. 

Sit back. Listen to a 45. Meditate on who God is and how gracious He is. It’s freeing to know we don’t have to have it all together. Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Wait. Perfect? Not seems to be perfect, but actually perfect.  Broken sticks and all.

BREAK BREAD & MOVE

I’ve been reading through the book of Genesis in my daily devotional time, and God brought this really mind blowing thing to my attention.  Okay, so let me back up a little, and I do mean little because, well, there isn’t anything else before Genesis, right?  I digress.  I’ve gotten to the story of Abram. Not Abraham, yet.  Just Abram. Abram traveled to Egypt with his wife Sarai, all their belongings, and his nephew Lot.  Then, stuff happened. Lot and Abram separated because they needed more space because they both acquired a great deal of wealth (13:2), and they left one another on good terms.  Where Lot was staying in chapter 14, got attacked by this gang of kings who had already taken over other kings and everything is pretty much a hot mess.  Lot, in the midst of all this chaos, gets captured, and Abram hears about it.  Now that we are all caught up, let’s get into the meat of the matter.  

Abram takes 318 of this trained men to take on the army of these 4 combined kings.  The odds are not in the their favor; however, Abram has God and ends up overtaking the combined army and gets Lot back.  (ummm… how cool is that?!)  Which brings us to Genesis 14:18-20:

“Then Melchizedek king of Salem [that is Jerusalem] brought out bread and wine.  He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.  And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”

God did what seemed like the impossible, which He does over and over and over again throughout the Bible.  In response, the priest and Abram broke bread with wine and remembered God’s faithfulness.  The next step of Abram is what hit my heart.  Abram gave 10% of all that he had.  Reading previous chapters, Abram was quite wealthy, so a tenth of all he had was not a small feat.  The thing is, Abram didn’t just break bread and remembered God’s faithfulness; no, he took the next step and did something about it.  

Fast forward a few thousand years to Mark 14:22-24, and 26.  Jesus is sitting with His disciples having supper.  They didn’t know it was going to be the last supper with Jesus.  It was just supper, but Jesus knew because, well, He’s Jesus and knows everything.  Again, I digress.  Look at verse 22,

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then, He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many,’… v. 26 “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”   

Wine and bread were common elements of dinner at that time.  It would be served with supper, so for Jesus to have it there that time, would not have been a big deal.  He used an everyday item to jog a memory.  These disciples knew the book of Genesis.  All good Jewish boys knew at least the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible.  They knew the story of Abram.  Here’s the thing:  Just like Abram, Jesus broke bread and wine, remembered God’s faithfulness (gave thanks), and then did something about it.  He went to the Mount of Olives/Gethsemane to be captured by His enemy, persecuted and murdered for OUR sin! Mind. Blow.

Okay, so here’s the big “ta-dah” moment.  We break bread with our friends and family.  We praise the Lord for His faithfulness.  Now, what’s our next step that was shown to us from the very beginning of the Bible all the way to Jesus? We have to do something about it!  Both Abram and Jesus gave something for the Kingdom of God.  How can we make an impact for the Kingdom?  It is great to remember the faithfulness of God, but sadly many times we stop there.  God calls us to proclaim His name to the nations. He Seek the Lord and see what you can do advance the Gospel wherever you live!

 

FAKING IT

faking

I think I’ve always had a way with words in some form or fashion.  When I was younger, I would use words to my benefit to get out of sticky situations.  Mainly, I would talk my way out of consequences with my parents.  I’m the youngest and the only girl, so clearly I never did ANYTHING wrong.  False… I would frame my brothers a lot for my mischievousness.  Yeah, I was that kid.  As I grew into a preteen, I would write poetry for fun.  Some of it was good, most of it was not, but I enjoyed figuring out words and rhymes in order to convey a message.  Most of my words were simple.  They didn’t have any depth or significant meaning.  I just wrote for fun.  To my fellow preteens, my words sounded profound.  They didn’t know the difference or what real writing sounded like, so they just accepted my words as awesome.  They were as ignorant as I was to authenticity in literacy.

Then, high school rolled around, and I found an amazing purpose for my ability to write and use words: I didn’t have to read the school assigned books.  I rarely read the books that I had to read for my English classes [A side note to all my English teachers in high school: I enjoyed your classes, and you are great teachers.  I am just a slow reader, so I opted to not read Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Hemmingway.  You taught me how to be a great writer, so thank you.  I was a lazy teenager].  I did manage to pass all my classes with A’s and B’s.  How, you might ask?  Well, I would read the Cliff’s Notes, pay really close attention during the book discussions in class, and write really well thought-out papers to convince my teachers I read the book.  I would even get higher grades on papers than some of my classmates who actually read and studied the book.  I was so good at writing and sounding like I knew what I was talking about that I looked better than those who were elbow deep in the book and its content, really diving into the words and meaning in every source of imagery, or spending hours reading and gleaning information from the book.  Me? I sat in class for 90 minutes every other day gathering notes from their hard work, never experiencing the joy of reading the book for myself.  I didn’t want to learn.  Looking back, it wasn’t my proudest moment, but I just wanted to get by.  

Sadly, this way of thinking crept its way into my idea of being a Christian.  I would proclaim to know the Lord, yet never dive into the literature, i.e. the Bible, for myself.  I was content with getting the scraps off of other people’s reading and experiences, yet never studying God’s written word, getting elbow deep in the content, really diving into the words and meaning in every source of imagery, or spending hours reading and gleaning from the book.   Nope.  I would pay attention during Bible discussions or church services to learn the right phrases to say or high points to talk about in order to get A’s and B’s on my Godly-living report card.  I could check all the boxes, and on paper, I looked good.  I was a good kid.  I didn’t do the really bad sins. I participated in the Christian lifestyle and idea, but never fully committed to Christ.  I was fake.

Here’s the thing.  Jesus made it very clear that Cliff’s Notes Christianity ain’t gonna cut it.  In Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus tells the parable of the fisherman’s net. Verse 47:  “… the Kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.”  Fat fish, skinny fish, red fish, blue fish.  All kinds of fish.  They all looked like fish.  They all swam like fish.  They all came across as fish that should be caught.  Verse 48: “When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore.  Then they sat down and collected the good fish in the baskets, but threw the bad away.”  They didn’t throw the bad fish back into the water.  They threw them away.  The fish that weren’t good fish went away.  I bet some of the bad fish looked better than the good fish.  They had all their fishiness together.  They were the kind of fish that we would put in a tank and ramble on and on about at dinner parties.  But to the trained fisherman, there was a difference.  The bad fish may have been pleasing to the eye, but they were of no good to anyone else.  They were thrown away in the trash, like any rubbish.  They weren’t envied.  They weren’t proudly displayed or celebrated.  They were tossed aside.  Jesus then states in verses 49 and 50 that at the end of the age that the angels will do this with people, but the wicked will go the a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, or hell.  All the fish looked good in the water.  They swam together.  They might have even eaten together, but the fisherman knew the imposters who were taking up room in the net.  There was no cozy fish tank for them.  No, they got weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Ouch.

I went to church.  I knew the songs on Sunday morning.  I could even quote a Bible verse or two.  Man, I looked good.  I was a beautiful fish.  I used my gifting for words to even teach the Bible to little preschool kids, yet I didn’t know the Lord.  I knew Jesus was the only way to heaven.  I knew all about the Bible, but I never let His words dive into my soul until one Sunday night youth gathering when God opened my eyes to the fact that I was faking it.  I had cultural Christianity and not Christ.  That night I prayed and dove-in head first to who Jesus really is.  God made me a keeper.

It’s not just listening to a Sunday morning message.  It’s not just paying attention during Bible study discussions.  It’s not just saying all the right Christian phrases that make you sound like a super holy, good fish.  No, it’s really living for God.  It’s inviting the Holy Spirit into your life to MAKE you into a good fish.  You might be able to fool those around you, but they can’t see your soul like the Lord can.  Bad fish can’t make themselves good fish.  Only the Creator can change a fish’s scales. I couldn’t make myself into a good fish, no matter how much I nodded my head to the pastor’s sermon.  

As great as my English teachers were, I could word-my-way-out and make them think I was really devoted to our literature studies.  I could pull out some fancy words and imagery references to make them think I was profoundly moved by The Scarlet Letter, but I was still a bad student.  I wasn’t willing to learn.  I wanted to swim in the honors classes, but I wasn’t really into getting smarter.  I could fool my peers.  They were just as ignorant and unknowing as I was.  If my classes were treated like a fishing net, I would have been thrown out, tossed the side, not celebrated in any way.  My English teachers knew the material.  They didn’t teach these books because it added some great value to their own lives.  They wanted me to know and experience more.  Jesus wants for us to have more in this life.  He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” [John 10:10]  Abundant life does not come from faking it with Jesus; it is knowing the Lord. It is not being content with going with the flow and just hanging out with those who know Christ.  It’s not being a bad fish tossed to the side.  It’s inviting the Creator of all to authentically change your scales and to live beyond the Cliff’s Notes Christianity, to dive in, and to know Him.  

HURRICANES

Katrina

I tend to take the words of those who have been-there-done-that with a little more weight than those who have researched a particular topic.  There is just something to be said about actually experiencing a place or event.  I can read all about Paris, but to see the emotion and reaction of someone who experienced the event is awe-inspiring. Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate the magazines and blogs about Paris, but to talk to someone who has been in the city of lights, or anywhere on the map, is a story in itself.  Sometimes the stories or experience isn’t as romantic as Paris.  At times the story is hard.  You can see the pain or regret in the eyes of the storyteller or hear it in the tone of voice.  Heartache comes out in many forms and can still have a reaction many years later.  

In July of 2005, I sat in my apartment with my roommates and rode out the hurricane.  At the time, the news reporters told us that Cindy was only a tropical storm, but later she was upgraded to a hurricane.  It was a fun night.  The power went out on campus, so my friends and I were eating cold queso dip and chips while playing Phase 10 by candle light.  It was a night of laughs, rain watching, and good memories.  Cindy was barely Category 1 hurricane, and as someone who grew up in Houston with hurricanes just about every year, it didn’t seem like that big of deal.  The Cindy celebration, or Cindy-bration, was really fun and what most Southerners do when hurricanes do hit.  On a side note, it is amazing to me that from June 1st until November 1st most Southerners are amatuer meteorologists.  We know the storm’s projection is better calculated after it hits Cuba or the Florida keys.  We’ve been there and lived through it, so we are able to speak more to storm watching because we have had first hand experience.  

Fast forward a few months, I’m at work at a French Quarter restaurant getting ready to check out for the night.  Some of the waitstaff is looking at this hurricane on the computer and talking about the projection of the storm.  I can still remember the amount of red on the screen showing the winds and rainfall that went along with her.  The words evacuation were being thrown around, but I didn’t think anything of it.  I finished my checkout and went back to my apartment.  When I got home, I was talking to my roommate asking if she knew about this hurricane in the Gulf.  Mind you, I didn’t watch the news.  Between all my studies for grad school and work, I really didn’t have time to watch the news.  This was also the pre-Facebook and smartphones era.  I couldn’t check my news feed for the latest reports.  I didn’t have my iPhone to be notified of breaking news.  I had a Razor flip-phone.  I could barely send photos let alone get on the internet without costing an arm and a leg.  Back to the story…

I remember so vividly what my wise roommate, Amy, told me.  She responded, “Yes, there is a pretty big hurricane in the Gulf.  Yes, we are evacuating. Yes, we are taking your car.”  I didn’t have a say in the matter.  Amy knew I was stubborn.  Amy knew that she would have to make the plans for me if I was going to leave.  Amy also knew that my car was the nicer of the two vehicles and would make it to my hometown of Houston.  Like I said: Amy was wise.  

On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.  The levees broke.  80% of the city flooded.  The city was destroyed.  People died.  It felt hopeless.   We didn’t have Facebook to find our friends.  Cell towers were down, so anyone with a 504 area code phone number couldn’t be reached.  Even if your friends made it out, you wouldn’t have known because you couldn’t reach them.  It was scary, and even today I will still become emotional thinking about how horrible it was.  No one was prepared for that kind of storm to hit, but over the past 12 years, New Orleans has rebuilt and has come back stronger.  

Fast forward to today.  Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, the city that was once refuge for thousands of displaced New Orleans residents (including myself).  The damage is more widespread and more costly than any other storm in recorded history.  We see it all over the news.  But, unlike Katrina, people were more prepared.  Texas grocers, furniture stores, gas stations, and pro-football players stepped up ready to go in order to help the people around them.  The Cajun Navy from Louisiana came over just to get people out of their houses with their fishing boats.  You can check in on Facebook to let people know you are safe.  Yes, there is A LOT of devastation and damage, but in my opinion, I feel like we learned from the lack of preparation from Katrina over the past 12 years and gave ourselves a fighting chance when Harvey came to town.  

To me, one of the most heart-warming stories out of the Harvey disaster is how local businesses in New Orleans are raising funds to help hurricane victims.  “They helped us in our time of need.  We know what they are going through.  The least we can do is return the kindness,” said one NOLA business owner.  Bring on the tears.  I can honestly say that I empathize with those in Houston right now.  I know the feelings of fear and unsettledness that happens after going through a natural disaster.  Here’s the thing: we will go through hardships which make us able to relate to those who are suffering and realize that they and we aren’t alone.

I can talk about my shortcomings, failures, hardships, and success because I have had them all.  In the midst of the not-so-good times, I’ll admit that I asked God why.  Why is this happening to me?  Why do I have to go through this?  Why aren’t you taking me out?  Though we are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), we are not immune to heartache.  Christ Himself endured hardships, death, loss, and grief.  

If Christ has gone through so much that we can relate to Him, as an ambassador of the Lord, why would I think that I would not go through similar hardships as the One I am representing?  How can I portray the hope that God gives in the midst of a horrible situation if I haven’t gone through and come out the other side.  There will be scars.  There will be tears that still come back even after 12 years or more.  There will be work and rebuilding.  As Christine Caine has said in Propel Women, “Scars show that something has healed, not that it is still injured.” Hold strong.  Share your story.  Let people see your scars and know that through Christ you came out okay.  Don’t be ashamed of what you have overcome through the power of our Lord.  Because someone else will need you to be that wise person who tells them to get out at the right time or to help because you really know how it feels.   “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13)” There is bad stuff in this world because sin is in this world.  All of creation, even the oceans, long to see Christ’s return (See Romans 8). Don’t allow the horrible crap in this world deter you from doing good.  Fight bad and evil by doing more good.

Tell your story. Share your hope. Love like Jesus.

ENOUGH

 

I have never been a thin person.  I’ve been active and able to do a lot of things, but I’ve never been able to be a smaller size.  Healthy, but not thin.  I’m more of the, “Oooo, girl, you healthy,” kind of healthy.  I believe my southern friends would also say “thick”.  I can find clothes that fit, but the first place that wears out on my jeans is usually the inner thighs or back pockets. Try as I might, dropping weight typically seems like an uphill battle that I’m constantly losing my breath while trying to conquer.  One of my friends in high school was a size 00.  She was a nice friend, but I hated shopping with her.  She would try to make me feel better by saying we had the same problem with clothes nothing fitting.  Everything was too big on her, and everything was too small on me.  I know she was just trying to make me feel better, but bless her heart.  We did NOT have the same problem.  She was petite, and I wasn’t skinny enough.  

I’m not as patient as some of my fellow mom-friends are.  I tend to yell when my kids won’t listen, as if by me raising my voice my kids will somehow have an internal realization that mom is frustrated.  They are 2 and 4 years old; such realizations never happen.  My 2 year-old wants to dress herself when we are trying to rush out of the house.  My 4 year-old wants to get his own drink while spilling milk all over the counter.  Instead of pulling out my teacher language and seeing this as a “learning opportunity”, I get frustrated and impatient that my two mini-me’s aren’t doing things MY way. Then, on comes the mom-guilt of not wanting to take the time to teach and pour into my kids like June Cleaver.  I’m not patient enough.  

I struggle with these feeling of not being enough.  I will get so upset that I’m not meeting some standard that I’ve placed on myself to be my very best.  My husband will ask me what’s wrong, which comes with such a loaded answer.   I don’t want to open up the Pandora’s box of raw emotion of how I feel like a failure of everything.  Half the time I’m can’t pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, so I just start ranting everything that has ever bothered me in the past month, causing me to become even more upset with things that I can’t change immediately.  Thoughts like, “I should be doing more with my life”, “I need to be reading more books”, “I don’t need to eat ice cream” come out of my mouth during these rants. Now, I know that these are lies from Satan because ice cream is amazing.  There are times when I feel like I have the anti-King Midas touch where instead of everything turning to gold, everything I touch turns into a large pile of poop.  I feel like I’m not a good friend; I’m not a good wife; I’m a horrible mom; I suck at my job; I’ll never make it as a writer or in women’s ministry; I’m just not enough. I don’t meet the measure of who I think I’m supposed to be.  Here’s the thing, I don’t always have these doubts or insecurities.  I don’t always care about what I look like.  I have days and weeks where I feel like I am rocking at life.  I’m mom-ing it like a pro, my husband is happy, and I am feeling super close to my friends.  So, what’s with the switch?

One word: comparison.  I like to compare myself to the other people around me or people I want to be like.  I get on social media to see what I missing out on instead of being in the moment thankful for what Jesus is doing right in front of me.  The enemy uses doubts and insecurities, feelings of not being enough, to get me so inwardly focused that I ignore every blessing that the Lord done.  Yes, I’ve been a little bigger my whole life, but I’m still healthy, in a good way.  I’m overweight, but I had two kids and the joy of Blue Bell ice cream.  If you’ve never had Blue Bell, you need to.  It’s not Jesus, but it will change your life.

Jesus speaks to this in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18: 9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

On those days when I think that I’m awesome and I am King Midas, those are the days that I can become like the pharisee.  When I don’t think I’m the worst guy in the room, I’m okay with my choices and image.  I tell myself that I’m not that bad, and I start to get a little prideful of who I am.  Until something changes.  When I’m not the smartest person in the room, which is very often, I start to doubt who I am.  When my friends are dressed better than me, which again is very often.  When I don’t handle a situation with my kids or husband the best, and I’m playing on my phone instead of playing with my kids.  Those are the times when I become what I don’t want to become, and I start to pity myself. “Pity party of one… your lonesome table is ready.” The difference between the pharisee and the tax collector is WHO they each compared themselves to.  The pharisee, or pompous religious leader, was comparing himself to fellow sinners; the tax collector compared himself to God.  The pharisee saw himself as the best of all the flies, even though he was still on the same pile of poop.  The tax collector hoped God would turn his poop condition into gold.  

I’m going to have failures.  I’m going to have those days where I just don’t feel like I’m enough.  There are going to be lots of different areas of my life where I feel like I will have more shortcomings than victories.  However, as my pastor once told our congregation, “Feelings are real, but they aren’t trustworthy.”  I can either sulk about how I feel or do something about it. Seek the root.  How I feel may not be true about who I am.  Maybe I need more patience with my kids? Or I need more self-control with my eating and exercise?  Or maybe I need more kindness with those around me?  All of those things are fruits of the spirit that are grown out of humility, not the work of my hands.  Like the tax collector, I need more of the Lord not more of myself.  I don’t want to be the best fly of the pile.  I need Jesus to make my life a justified golden treasure for His glory, which is more than enough.  

WORDS

 

Words are funny little things.  We all use them to tell stories, communicate feelings, or to generally share with other people.  Sometimes we can think of the right words to share at the exact right time.  On the other hand, our words can escape us causing us to use different adjectives to try to find help to figure out the word we can’t think of. “You know, that thing.  It’s red and we use it to clean up the leaves in the fall?”  “You mean a rake?” “Yeah, a rake… big words are hard.”  Even as I’m writing I’m having a hard time coming up with the words to clearly communicate all the thoughts that are running through my head.  Or maybe it’s because of all the coffee running through my veins?  Who knows?  Words have a way of… what was I saying?  Oh, right.  Words are powerful.

Recently in my household, we have been talking about words a lot.  My son, who is currently four, has an amazing vocabulary.  He speaks well for someone his age and is able to communicate his thoughts clearly.  This, however, is not a story of my son’s linguistic ability.  This is a story of how my son didn’t want to take a nap at school and called his teachers “poopy” and “butthead”.  The horror that came over me to hear that my sweet little boy could allow such words to come out of his mouth made me reevaluate my parenting style.  Then, I remembered he’s a sinner just like me, and like me, he too will make mistakes and will need to have God’s truth and Word (Bible verses) spoken into his life.   When I got the behavior note from his teacher, I knelt down and asked my son why he said such mean words to his teachers.  He gave the very astute answer of “I don’t know”.  This was my time to swoop in and tell him why his little sinful ways were happening, and we need Jesus to save us from our sin.  Watch out; discipling of young spawn about to commence.  I began to tell my son how our mouths will speak what is in our heart.

I quoted scripture: “Jesus said, ‘Out of the overflow of our hearts our mouth speaks.’ [Luke 6] So, when we say mean things to people, we show that we don’t have love in our hearts for them.  Do you love your teachers?”

Son: “Yes, mama.”

Me: “So how can you show them God’s love?”

Son: “By saying nice things to them, mama, and not being mean.”  

Me: “Good job, bubba. Now go say sorry to your teachers for your mean words.”

Parenting win!  I was on cloud 9! I was rocking out discipling of my kid!  (pats self on back).  Now, in the mind of a 4-year-old, words go in, get stirred around, and can sometimes produce something completely different.  The next morning, as I’m driving my kids to school, I wanted to encourage my son about his words and how his words needed to be kind.  

After listening to my son’s favorite song “Your Grace is Enough” by Matt Maher…

Me: “Ok, bud.  How are you going to talk to your teachers today?”

Son: “With nice words and not be mean.”

Me: “Why are you going to do that?” *side note: At this moment in the conversation, I thought he was going to quote the words of Jesus back to me that I shared with him the previous day.  No, he took all the words I’ve ever said to him about Jesus and our hearts, stirred it around in his head, and replied back to me.*

Son: “Well, when I say nice words, it shows my teachers and friends that I love Jesus.  I want people to know Jesus loves them, so I have to speak nice words and not be mean.”

Ummm, ok.  That was unexpected… and convicting.  I mean, awesome that my son had this kind of revelation in his four-year-old mind, but as his 34-year-old mom, I was struck to the core.  At that very moment, the Lord reminded me of James 3:9-10:

“With the tongue (words) we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.” (parentheses added)

I can admit that out of my mouth both praises to the Lord and cursing of people have come out.  I have spoken mean words to and about other people.  Complaining that something didn’t go how I thought it should; not agreeing with a decision that had been made; basically whining about some injustice that had happened to me that I would forget about in two weeks.  You know, those injustices: having to sit in traffic, waiting a couple extra minutes at the grocery store line while the ladies in front of me had a pleasant conversation,  or not getting the best service at a restaurant.  I’m not saying I was dropping F-bombs like I was in war.  Rather, cursing as in saying mean words, to use my 4-year-old’s definition.  In those moments, when I was cursing people, were my words pointing to Jesus?  Were they kind words, so other people would see that I love Jesus and that Jesus loves them just as much? Or were they mean words, cursing and condemning?  If I spoke mostly mean words instead of kind, what does that say about me, since my words are the overflow of my heart? Ouch.

Thankfully, Jesus is capable of changing my heart.  I invited Him in almost 20-some years ago, and over time in His strength, He changed and continue to changes me.  The thing is, when it comes to sin, I am a hoarder.  I like to stockpile evil and sinful desires in my heart.  That’s probably why the psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”  Might not sin, not will not sin, against the Lord.  Sin will happen because I am a sinner.  I will have mean words come out of my mouth every once in awhile. J.I. Packer says in Concise Theology, “We are not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners, born with a nature enslaved to sin.”  That is why Jesus came and died to set us free from being enslaved to sin.  Though I am free, it is a constant battle for me to not sin.  It is hard to not have words that can tear down other people come out of my mouth, which in all honesty are coming out of my heart.  Even if my words may never hit someone’s ear and I say them to myself in secret, they are still flowing out of my heart. I may seem like I’m totally nice or have it all together, but when I am alone, the truth of my heart comes out.  Thankfully, like a bucket, my heart can only hold so much. I’d like to think my bucket would be like one found at some farmhouse in central Texas. Really cute, but functional. Anywho, going back to the verse from Psalm 119, the more I fill my heart with God’s truth and word, the less cursing of my fellow sinner will come out of my heart and mouth.  I may be a hoarder, but Jesus is all about decluttering my life and making it clean (sanctification).  And, as my son said it, people will know that I love Jesus and that Jesus loves them when I speak God’s love and not mean words.  

 

COMMUNITY

 

As I sit here on my couch, listening to the dishwasher for at least the second time today and finally taking a moment for myself, I am reminded of the importance of community.  You see, my husband travels for work periodically, and when he does, it is usually for the majority of the week.  If I only had to worry myself with my own schedule and appointments, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  However, I also have two kids under 4 to attend to, Bible studies to lead, people to pour into, a teaching job with students ages 7 and younger, and other roles and responsibilities that involve other people.  I love all of these many hats that I wear, but, as I’m sure you can relate to, I’m mainly the giver in the roles.  To add to it, when my husband is out of town, I feel like I have to give even more.  It’s quite exhausting and easy to make excuses to isolate myself, mainly to try and get a nap.  Oh, sleep.  Sigh. *one day*

That’s what most women tend to do and be.  We give.  We help others because they have a need.  We pack lunches, clean up after events, offer to bring a dish to a get-together, etc. We are around people all day long, giving everything we have and everything we are in order to see other people become better.  It’s part of who we are as women, but also who we are as leaders.  In the midst of our giving, we can become drained and exhausted until we get that moment to sit on the couch and only listen for the dishwasher.  The consistent and lulling dishwasher.

Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:7-9 “Cast all your anxiety on Him [God] because He cares for you.  Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of suffering.”

In those moments when we are drained from giving and serving, we need to cast ourselves onto the Lord and fellowship with other believers who will lift us up and help us in our times of need.  Have you ever watched National Geographic and seen how a lion hunts?  The lion surveys the gazelles and determines which one is the weakest and can get caught.  Then, hunting with other lions, isolates the weak gazelle away from the herd in order to pounce, destroy, and devour.  The lion doesn’t go after the strongest, nor is there chance of catching everyone in the herd.  Go for the weak and isolated for dinner.  

How encouraging is God’s Word!  We know the enemy’s attack style and know that we are not the only one he is trying to go after.  You are the leader.  Everyone is a leader in some capacity.  You can lead your kids, your friends, your community, etc.  If the devil can get you discouraged, the rest will follow.  Satan wants you to be weak.  He wants you to rely on yourself.  He wants you to tell yourself, “I may be tired and overwhelmed, but I got this.  I can fake it ’til I make it.  Nobody has to know.”  However, if you take a moment to regroup yourself, share your suffering, tiredness, and anxiety with God and other followers of Jesus who are also seeking the Lord (very important to share with other believers and not those other lions hunting with the devil), the enemy cannot isolate and destroy.  We can claim Christ’s victory! We have community with other believers, and when we gather with others, Christ is there, too. (Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I [Jesus] with them.”) We can enjoy the peace of Jesus’s presence, even after a long day of giving and waiting for the dishwasher to finishing running for the second time.  

 

TURNING DOWN ERWIN

 

Early in my college career, I knew that the Lord was calling me to attend seminary.  Since the first nudging, I felt as if He was directing me to earn my seminary masters in New Orleans.  During my senior year of undergrad, the collegiate ministry at my local church was having a prayer gathering and revival.  I opened myself up to the Lord.  I got on my hands and knees and prayed, “Lord! I will go and do whatever you ask of me in order to proclaim your Gospel!”  Side note, when you pray big, be ready.  God is faithful to answer you.  In that moment of praying before the Lord, I felt as if God wanted to me to go to Dallas, Texas for seminary instead of South Louisiana.  I remember saying with tears in my eyes, “What?! God, do you not realize that I am from Houston? I don’t want to go to Dallas!  The only thing good that comes out of Dallas is I-45.  Please, Lord, please!  Let me go to New Orleans!”  I didn’t want to seem like Jonah and go in a different direction than what God was calling me, even though I knew they needed Christians in Dallas; I just really didn’t want to go to, ugh, Dallas.  I wept bitterly praying that God would give me His stamp of approval to study Jesus in the Big Easy.  In a gentleness that only the Lord can do, I heard Him whisper, “Tiffany, you can go wherever you want, but just know that the journey in New Orleans is going to be hard.”  I got up from my spot on the floor where my tears had fallen.  I felt the peace of God, almost like a blessing to go forth.  I was going to New Orleans.

I graduated in December from college and started my seminary career in January.  Winter in the south isn’t harsh, but I was in for a rude awakening.  New Orleans can have a dark undertone that can sweep you in.  It’s a lovely city, don’t get me wrong, but if you have a struggle in a certain area of life, New Orleans has a way to allow you to give in.  As I was studying all about the Bible in my classes, I was slowly not living for the Lord.  In my mind, the Bible became more like textbook instead of the Living Word of God.  This was the first time I was attending any type of Christian educational institution, so to study and read the Bible for a grade was a new challenge for me.  My relationship with God’s word changed in my eyes though He remained consistent.  I no longer read the Bible to grow in my relationship with the Lord.  I read it to check it off my homework assignments.  This was the foothold Satan used to have me become numb and disengaged to my studies and God’s voice.  

The semester finished, and I decided to stay in New Orleans and work.  I attended church and hung out with my friends.  I didn’t really grow in my faith, but I didn’t really fall either.  I just was.  I was numb to life around me.  Working in the French Quarter at a restaurant, I would go out after my shift with my coworkers, then go home and watch American Idol to vote for Carrie Underwood.  Pretty lame, but I guess it could have been worse.  I just wanted to be accepted and fit in, regardless of who I was with.

When the new school year rolled around, our campus president hosted a prayer service for the city of New Orleans.  We prayed God would bring great revival.  We prayed He would open the eyes of those in the city in order for His name to be proclaimed.  We asked that God would rain down His Holy Spirit and flood the streets with His praise.  We wept bitterly for the Lord to bring revival.  We prayed big, and God heard us.  God met with us.  God was on the move.  We thought we were ready for whatever the Lord brought our way.  I felt connected to God in a way that I hadn’t in a very long time.  I left that service excited and ready to see what He was going to do.  

Two weeks later, hurricane season got into full swing.  I evacuated to my parents home in Houston with my roommate the Saturday before the storm hit.  I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal, so I only brought five days of clothes and all my textbooks in order to study.  Surely, we were going to be back in New Orleans by the next Saturday, but then Monday came.  On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina had ripped through my city, causing the levees to break, flooding the streets.  I was not going to be back in a week.  I didn’t know if I was going to go back at all.  My life became a whirlwind.  I was angry, mainly at God, for allowing this to happen.  I was finally growing in Him, and now my life was more flipped than the Fresh Prince of Bel Aire.  

I didn’t know what was happening.  I had plans.  Plans to attend seminary.  Plans to be  with my friends in NOLA.  Plans to hang out with some cute boys from my classes.  Plans to fit in.  None of my plans had evacuate from a flooded New Orleans and start plan B.  I did, however, have a plan to attend Catalyst leadership conference in Atlanta in October 2005 with my roommate and other friends, so I made plans to go to Georgia.

Catalyst was amazing.  There was so much passion and zeal for what the Lord was doing.  Now mind you, I was still struggling with what just happened in my life.  I was like a canoe floating in the ocean longing for someone or something to be tethered to, but the conference provided a moment to feel normal again.  The speakers were amazing, and one in particular got me fired up: Erwin McManus.  This guy spoke with such passion and fervor for the Lord.  My hand actually hurt from all the notes I took during his talk.  I turned to my friend, half jokingly, and said, “Man, I wish I could be his student, like an intern or something.” To which Joe replied, “He has a program at Mosaic. Just go on his site and apply.”

What?!  Could this really be happening?  Did I have to go through one of the worst natural disasters to hit the USA in order to study under Erwin?  To give the abridged version of the process: I applied for the internship, got interviewed many times, and was offered one of five open positions to serve at Mosaic with Mr. McManus.  O.M.Goodness.  When I got the call, I praised the Lord.  I did a happy dance. I was beyond stoked that I would be moving out to California, but… I didn’t have a peace.  You know, that nagging feeling like a child pulling on your shirt saying, “Wait.  We aren’t finished.”

I prayed to the Lord and asked for wisdom.  I turned down the internship.  I could feel Jesus saying, “Go back to New Orleans.  I told you it would be hard.  Roll up your sleeves; we have work to do.”  I told my peers about turning down the position and moving back to Louisiana.  I had one friend tell me, jokingly, that I was praying to the wrong God.  It didn’t look right on paper.  I had what so many of my classmates would have wanted, to study under a big name, but I wanted to be right by His name.  I wouldn’t be running to an internship; I would be running away from the hurt people who needed to see that God didn’t give up on them.  I didn’t plan on what happened, but I’m thankful God had it all planned out.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21).”   I thought I knew what I wanted.  I wanted to be important.  I wanted the fancy role and to be admired for my resume.  Thankfully, The Lord knows me better than I know myself (See Psalm 139).  I had plans, but how I would have orchestrated them wouldn’t have been for my good or God’s glory.  I prayed for things that I wanted, but the way God answered them, I never would have planned.  I went back to New Orleans, and God used me to mentor teenagers, plant a church, help locals reopen restaurants, and serve young singles all over the city to connect with Jesus, just to name a few things.  I was part of His purpose.  I connected to the Lord deeply, relied on Him and not my studies, and grew in my knowledge and relationship with Jesus.  Not only did I get to be creative and help be a part of the rebuilding of an amazing city, I met my husband who is from Michigan at a worship gathering.  I wanted all those things, but I thought I had to run away to California to get it.  The internship wasn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t what God wanted for me.  He had a different plans for my life for His glory.  One purpose for my life was to learn lessons that I’m not sure I would have grasp unless I lived them out. I was used by God to make an impact in ways I never would have dreamed, and I am still being used by Him in Michigan, a place that wasn’t even on my radar in 2005.  This journey hasn’t been easy, but I’ve never been alone.  Satan will still bring up that I could have taken the “prestigious” road and gone to California.  I’ll admit, I struggle with wondering the “what if” at times when I watch an Erwin McManus talk.  I honestly believe that the enemy will use those “what if” moments to have us look backwards and cause us wonder instead of looking forward to the Lord and gaze in amazement.  In those moments, I hold on to God, by reminding myself by what is in His Word:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” – Proverbs 3:5-8

I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know Who holds tomorrow.  I don’t know all the ends and outs of my life thus far, but all I asked when I first trusted Jesus was to live an adventure.  The best adventure stories are the ones you don’t know how it will all work out, but it does.  With any adventure, there will be times when I will need healing and refreshment.  I won’t lean on my understanding, rather I will trust the One who invites me to be a part of His purpose, even if He would call me to Dallas.  Because, as hard as it may be to believe, I would rather walk to Dallas, than walk in disobedience.  


Photo courtesy of Mosaic.

RUN

 

In October 2016 my husband and I did something together that I never in a million years thought I would do.  We ran a half-marathon.  Now, if you saw me, the first thought that would come into your mind would not be, “She looks like a lady who runs half-marathons.”  No, it would probably be, “She looks like a lady who knows what good food tastes like.”  I’m what Southerners call “healthy” aka I have “meat on my bones”… and then some.  But I like me, and that’s okay.

Anywho, flashback to January 2016. I wanted to have some sort of motivation to get into better shape.  I thought having the end goal of a major race could be my motivation.  Seemed some what practical, and since my husband was going to be training too, I would have some in-home accountability.  I (and by “I” I mean my husband) researched for a manageable training schedule to get us ready.  Being in our mid-thirties, it would take a little more time to train for our bodies.  It’s easier to move pebbles than boulders, and my boulder of a body did not like moving.  I exercised, so I could eat more.  That’s about it, so running as a training program was not my natural tendency nor desire.  Cookies, though, now that is my natural desire.    

Training for a half-marathon takes time, yet as a mom of two, wife, avid volunteer at my church, and school teacher, time is something I didn’t have in excess.  I had to find time.  Therefore, I would get up early to train.  Like, five in the morning early.  The sun wasn’t even up, early.  Too early.  BUT, I had to stick to the schedule, or I would regret it later.  There’s a reason it’s a training schedule and not just a mere suggestion.  It gets you ready for the big race that WILL happen.  I had to stick to the schedule in order to grow in strength. If I skipped a day of training, I would regret it later.   It would be harder on my body the next training day.  I would hurt, and I might even cause myself serious injury.  Plus, it would be easier to give up and give in to not getting up early if I skipped.

There was opposition, sleep mainly.  I love sleep like I love cookies, and my bed is super comfy.  Also, there was a “crime spree” occurring my little suburb.  In the dark of night and into the morning, people were dressing up as clowns and jumping out at innocent bystanders in order to instill deep fear in the hearts of many.  Clowns. In. The. Dark.  Talk about a reason for counseling… and pepper spray.  Clowns alone would have kept me in, but training was important.  It was a priority.  I would even bring up to others how I got up early in order to run in the dark and how it was hard but worth it.  I would post sweaty, ugly training photos on social media to encourage others (brag) about my getting up in spite of wanting to sleep and facing my fear of clowns.  (side bar, they caught the people dressing up as clowns.  The clown spree is over.)

Finally, October had come, and after 12 weeks of training, we finished our half marathon.  I was sore.  I was tired, but man was I proud of my accomplishment.  I loved how I felt. My legs were all muscle, and I could see the result of my hard work, self-discipline, and personal motivation.  I wanted to keep up this training schedule, getting up early and running for my health.  I wanted to keep going.  I wanted more of this healthy lifestyle.

I kept up the early runs for about a week before my bed was too comfortable and my eyes were too heavy.  I no longer got up early, and I would fit my runs in every so often in order to eat more.  The race was over.  Training was no longer a priority.  I went back to my old ways as if I never ran the race.

Jesus shows us how we should prioritize spending time in prayer.  In Mark 1:35, the author writes, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  Jesus wasn’t getting in his early morning run.  He got up to pray, to spend time with the Lord.  Jesus had long days of healing people, driving out evil spirits, and out smarting religious leaders.  I’m sure He was tired.  His comfy, temporary bed was calling His name. I’m sure sleep was something He wanted, but He wanted to be in prayer more.  Jesus’s ear was turned more to the Father than to the pillow and comfort.  He wanted more.

The Apostle Paul says in his second letter to Timothy that he has “run the good race”.  Paul is getting close to the finish line of life.  Meaning, he’s about to die, just in case you didn’t catch that.  He wrote earlier in 1 Corinthians 9 that runners run to get a crown that fades.  Now, Paul writes to tell his student that he will die and inherit a crown of righteousness through Christ.  Paul prioritized Jesus in all that he did.  He knew the scriptures, and he knew spending time with the Lord through prayer and fasting was important.  His race was not a one-time event.  It was an all-in, all-life choice to proclaim the Gospel.  According to the beginning of the letter, Paul also knew that God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).  He faced something way scarier than clowns.  Paul faced prison, torture, and death.  

Satan doesn’t have to make all my Bibles disappear to keep me from reading the Scriptures or make my tongue mute to keep me from prayer.  All he has to do is distract me, so I prioritize something else, instead of the Lord, in my life.  Just like my love of sleep would keep me from getting up, my love for myself (usually in the form of sleep), will keep me from prayer and Bible reading.  If Jesus thought it was necessary to get up early to pray, who am I to say I don’t?  

I don’t have to heal people, drive out evil spirits, or out smart religious leaders on a daily basis, but I do have to love people, guard against evil (through the power of the Holy Spirit), and grow in my knowledge of the Lord.  Though running a half-marathon is super cool and can be marked off a bucket list, I want Jesus to tell me (like Paul) that I have run the good race.  That can only be done through spiritual training: prayer, meditating on Scripture, and fasting.

Now, instead of getting up early to train my body, my husband and I get up early to spend time with the Lord.  We get up before the kids, make a pot of coffee, and spend our early mornings in prayer before the light of day even occurs.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  It’s a battle to tell my bed no.  But that’s exactly it.  It’s a battle.  We already have the victory in Jesus, but the everyday battle is won before the sun comes up because running the race Christ has set before me has to be my number one priority and desire.  Even more than cookies.