25 February 2015

Second Chances

Lately I find myself remembering an event from last fall - nothing major, but something I would have preferred to go differently. The more I consider the event itself and its outcome, I wonder how much of the misunderstanding was a simple inability to see another's point of view. To see the situation from a different perspective, be in the moment but without my historical experiences dramatically impacting my perceptions.

Would things have turned out differently? Perhaps...but then I wouldn't be where I am today. There are experiences I would have missed out on if that one event had gone differently.

I would still love a second chance, though. To touch base with my friend, explain why my response (and lack of additional conversation) occurred...to ask why the words used were chosen, to give me a bit of understanding. A second chance at a friendship that was beginning to feel quite meaningful, that I could see potential to greatly influence my life, and gave me an avenue for the heartful conversations about the human experience that I so love.

How comforting it is to remember that God is a God of second (third, fourth, etc.) chances.

What would the world have been like if Adam and Eve were obliterated after their sin of eating fruit from the forbidden tree? And yet God went looking for them in the garden, found them, clothed them, laid down punishment/consequences for their action, let them live. They have another chance at life, at obeying God, and we live as a result.

Jonah is another second chancer that comes readily to my mind. A man with many good reasons not to want to go to Nineveh, a man embittered by prejudice who was fine with letting an entire city die without knowing God, this man endangered others when he chose to run from God's will. He endured a storm at sea, three nights in a fish's belly, skin bleached by those stomach acids would have given him a most unusual appearance, and he ended up at Nineveh. He obeyed God, but grudgingly. The city was saved, but he wasn't happy about it.

Peter is the disciple of Jesus that often seems most human to use. We long to be like John, so close to our Lord that our head rests on his chest...in reality we are the headstrong Peter that leaps before he looks, spouts what he's thinking without a pause to consider words and tone. The Peter we find in the Book of Acts is a man truly changed by his relationship with Christ. He is a vocal church leader, a powerful evangelist, willing to overcome prejudice to follow God's call on his life.

I love the reality of the Bible, that it is filled with true stories and not fairy tales or myths. Humans make mistakes, we act rashly, we opt to do things our own way rather than following God. I find it comforting to know that God is free with his second chances, that its perfectly within his will to pray for opportunities, that today is not dictated by the choices I made yesterday. Each day is fresh and new, holds opportunities for growth-success-failure-challenges.

We have all been given second chances. Look for them, long for them, work toward them. May this day be a change-day for us all.

15 February 2015

So I Run

Last fall I discovered I enjoy running. This came as a complete and total surprise to me, as I've historically enjoyed sports like volleyball that are all about body positioning and less about masses of movement. A friend invited me to join her family for a Thanksgiving 5K, and as the race began I found my body moving almost of its own accord. Running.

In many ways I'd been struggling with a mental block toward fitness activities. I'd recovered from a significant health crisis, made drastic changes to my diet, and I was feeling pretty good. In many ways, though, I feared pushing my body. It had failed me once, and I worried about what it would handle/attempting too much too soon/failure/pain...Sound familiar?

As I found my feet moving in a running motion, feeling the wind against my face, pumping my arms, I felt a rush of health in a new way. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much that my friend and I decided to do a 5K each month of 2015. Its a simple motivational tool designed to keep us on track with our personal health/fitness goals through dreary winter months - and its working. Yesterday was our run - we ran the entire first mile (a first for us!) and cut 2 minutes from our overall time. Next month's event is 4 miles...just another challenge to keep things interesting.

The Bible uses the image of running quite a lot, and I figure those passage will mean more to me as I continue to study technique. I'm learning that body position plays a more significant role than I'd imagined - when you run long distances your foot should go heel-toe, not toe-heel. This one tip made a major difference between T-Day and January's run. I tend to hold my arms tight and close - my friend advised me to loosen up (I felt like a floppy marionette!) and I noticed an instant difference. I plan to focus on breathing techniques in advance of next month's event.

All that to say...so I run. Not because some told me I should, because its a current trend, or the clothes are fun. I run because I choose to do so and I enjoy it. I run to challenge myself, to remind myself that my mind does not rule my body - I rule my mind and thus I rule my body.

Did you set goals for yourself this year? How are you doing? Don't let the calendar fool you - you can set goal, reset goals, adjust goals, whenever you want. What it really boils down to is whether you are achieving all that God has for you - and realizing you can change. Yesterday's results do not determine today's outcome.

Run, my friends.

10 February 2015

Do you read? How?

I can't think of a time when books weren't part of my life. I taught myself to read at a young age [Remember books on tape with the chime signalling a page turn? loved them]. I love to feel the weight of a thick novel on my lap as I sit in warm sunshine, the rustle of pages, the smell of paper and dust mingled into that old book smell.

I still buy books - full price, half-price, thrift store, garage sales, hard cover, soft cover, paperback - and I love my home library. It is the sanctuary in which I start each day, a reminder of who I am and what I value. I happily spend hours with the lifelong friends that fill my bookshelves, their tactile feel evoking memories of the first - or last - time I shared my time with that particular piece.

There was a time in life when I had a 30+ minute commute to work - and if the highways were jammed that time could be increased. I'd put books on tape aside long ago - the sheer volume of tapes for the books I love was staggering and clunky. Books on CD was an improvement..but when books became part of the digital world my car time was forever changed. A friend told me about audible.com and I at my first perusal I was sold. My commute was drastically shortened, but audiobooks are a fantastic companion and I complete home improvement projects, work in my garden, or bask in sunshine on a hot summer day. 

That's reading.

The arrival of e-books gave me yet another option. I find them convenient - especially when traveling! - but they are seldom my first choice when my favorite authors produce a new work. Too many times I've arrived at a good part of the story and my device runs out of power or becomes uncomfortably hot. I, like many people, carry electronic version of the Bible to church services - there are many apps out there, and the ability to pull up multiple versions for comparison during the sermons is one of my favorite features.

This is reading.

As with most subjects, I've witnessed extremism on the great "read" debate. Is reading me sitting down with a book, listening to a recording of that book, staring at a tablet screen, having a book read to me? Well...yeah all of the above. The options available overcome any excuse that there is no time to read (better to ask what you're doing with the 16-18 awake hours you have each day...but I digress).

The reality is that many adults read very little post-college - and my hunch is that most read fluff novels (I love them too!), not books that expand their knowledge base. While the how of reading is important, I find a better question is what are you reading. 

Does that not cut to the heart of the issue? If you find reading books tedious, why not turn to audio recordings instead of turning on the radio or television? Instead of debating what is "really" reading...let's stir up a desire for learning.

If you were to explore all my libraries - the physical books, the audiobooks, the ebooks, you would notice fairly quickly that I have many books in multiple formats. As I listen to an audio recording of the Bible I can visual the passage's page in my beloved hard copy. Each version earns a place in my library for specific reasons - and I love them all.

Its easy to become complacent, to challenge ourselves less as the years pass by. Stretching our minds through reading - in whatever format - will keep your mind sharp and give you open doors for conversation with people. 

Read. It matters not how. Just read.

07 February 2015

Circles and Spirals

For me, the worst cyberbullying on the internet has to be the negative self-talk. Too many woman virtually kick themselves - for the world to see - if they fail to exercise, eat a sweet, skip Bible reading, say something negative about another person...you know what I'm talking about.

I bet your "failure" came to mind almost instantly.

Tired of living life this way? Please, allow me to assist.

Recognize that you need to change.
If your behavior is not pleasing to God, if it prevents you from fulfilling the mission he has for you, if it deters others from even wanting to know him? Stop justifying your action by calling it your personality. As believers in Christ we are called to a higher standard - learn that standard and aspire to be more like him each dayy.

Recognize that you can change.
You are not trapped on a never ending loop. We have been created with a remarkable ability to change - "as a man thinketh in his heart so is he"! Determine how you would like to be different - hold your tongue, get up earlier, develop a healthy lifestyle, and develop a plan to help yourself do it.

Recognize that you will need help.
Few of us are so strong willed that we can made significant life changes without involving others. I mean really, how many times have you heard a preacher charge you to maintain daily devotions or a doctor chide you to get within the suggested weight for your body type? If you haven't done it yet - or been unable to maintain - you need people to help you.

This is the phase where we tend to skew wrong. Accountability isn't about someone parenting you to do right. Its not their job to call you at 4am to get you out of bed, to hound you about calories when you're out for a birthday meal, or shame you if you miss daily reading. Accountability is when you make a choice to change your behavior, then find a safe person or group to share your wins and losses.

Accept that you will fail
Yes, you will fail. There will be sick days, emotional days, tragic days, and "I just don't feel like it" days. How you respond after that is where character is developed, where change truly becomes your new life.  If you stay down your failure will forever define you - you must have friends to lift you back up. The low days are easier to get through when you have someone willing to listen, respond to a text, acknowledge your words.

This is stage where your life changes from a circle to a spiral. When you look back a year from now will you see the same woman? Will you see someone that has embraced the notion of change, that she can be more than she ever dreamed, and is moving forward. That sees her failures getting easier to conquer, her slip-ups fewer, healthy living as an enjoyable lifestyle not a dramatic tension.

Three years ago tomorrow I went on a week-long trip that changed my life. I look to that trip as a major milestone in my life, one of those times that I can define myself as "before" and "after". I realized that week that I was not doomed to failure, that I could change, and that I was limiting myself in a thousand different ways. I chose to change and surrounded myself with people that could help.

Will this be the week that you choose to change?

03 February 2015

The myth of the "gift of singleness"

Churches, like any place humans gather, develop a culture and language that seems utterly illogical to those outside the group - so let's start looking at them.

I am often asked whether I think I have the "gift of singleness". It's been happening less frequently over the years - in the mind of many I have likely become a Church Spinster or Baptist Nun (the phrase of choice in the parochial school I attended). 

The idea of singleness as a gift is founded in 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul lays out the pros and cons of marriage. Specifically in verse 7 he says "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another." (ESV)

Given Paul's history, it is highly likely that he was married earlier in his life. Whether his wife left him after he converted to Christianity or he was a widow is unclear. What is clear is that he is now a single man, and he is upfront about that reality. Single people are able to focus completely on God's calling and work in their lives. Married folk should (must!) work together as a unit to make joint life decisions. One is not better than the other - the question should be whether the person is focused on what God has them to do more than their marital status.

For the scripture to be twisted into a "gift of singleness" is ludicrous. It makes as much sense to say that some people have a "gift of marriage" (or widowhood, divorce, remarriage, etc.). 

Gifts are something desired, something wanted, even something we didn't realize we need (clothes for Christmas as a child!). I have met a handful of people that love and thrive in their singleness - it is clearly a gift to them and they embrace it. The wild majority of single people I meet see their singleness as a burden they would happily give up - thus, singleness is not a gift to them.

James tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from God the Father (James 1:7) - if you don't like being single it is not your gift! Good Fathers do not put burdens on their children - they desire to gift them with things to help them grow, to draw them into relationship with themselves and others, to see joy on their faces.

Let's acknowledge that whatever state we find ourselves in, that state is the gift of God. Healthy, ill, single, married, strong, weak - each day of life is a gift from God, whatever that day may hold.

God is our Good Father and provides what is best for our lives. Perhaps you find yourself overly focused on your marital status (the upcoming Valentine's holiday can do that) - if you are dissatisfied with singleness why not focus that energy by pouring out your cares to God in prayer? If you are married, praise God for the spouse you have been given and embrace the gift of a supremely intimate relationship with another human being. Instead of asking if your friends/relatives have the gift of singleness, why not ask how they are using their unique talents and abilities (gifts) to serve the Lord? 

01 February 2015

I'm single, but I'm not mad about it.

A friend and I were talking the other day about small group studies, and the lack of material that comes from a positive viewpoint. He and his wife are long time friends of mine, so our conversations tend to get straight to the point. We've both noticed the same thing when it comes to material that relates to one's marital status. Marriage materials tend to focus on problems - affairs, porn, abuse; Single materials talk about lifestyle choices, external appearance (physical fitness, clothing choices), emotional extremes.

We both lamented the lack of material for couples and singles that comes from a positive view. Where are materials for couples that have been faithful to one another, that seek satisfaction in/with one another and are not tempted by porn, who do not abuse one another in any way? What about materials for singles that are content with where God has them in life? That enjoy their single years as a time to explore who they are, what they are interested in, and the world itself?

Seems to me this is a market that needs to be explored - and since I'm a single female I'll focus on that side of thing. I've talked with single people of all ages about what it means to them to be single, and this is what I've found. 
  • College folks that aren't in a serious relationship tend to view themselves as "less" than those that are coupled up. This point of view tends to be encouraged (knowingly? unknowingly?) by leaders, family, older married people. Rather than thriving as they discover God-given skills, abilities, talents, interests, they are told to focus on getting married...as though that's the only thing they were made for. I've seen many thriving college students stop pursuing interests, degrees, travel to focus exclusively on a relationship. 
  • Mid to late twenty-somethings are a whole different stage, but I can pinpoint two extremes. They are either depressed or angry. Depressed twenty-somethings feel unworthy of marriage, that they aren't good enough/godly enough, or that God is withholding something from them for an unknown reason. The angry ones put up defensive walls, verbalize a lack of desire to date/marry when they mean the opposite, and becoming quite off-putting to those around them. Both types feel hopeless and abandoned by God...they just express it in different ways.
  • Thirties? Confidence has grown and they are settled into who they are. Many still have a desire for marriage, but the natural social circles now consist primarily of married friends. Meeting potential dating partners is much more difficult. It takes work to meet singles and some excel at expanding social circles more than other. Enlisting the aid of trusted friends for matches is - in my opinion - the most valuable to steps. Its easy to grow mad at God at this stage - the "I'm not worthy" stage.
  • 40+ - most of the women I've talked with are quite content and settled in their single status. Whether time is devoted to work, social causes, family and friends, travel, or other interests many of them are content and thriving. Some grow increasingly bitter due to bad experiences in the social game, which manifests as anger toward the opposite sex.
Notice a theme? Anger. 

I ask you: what single man in his right mind would be interested in an angry woman? What wise woman would want a man that is alright with - or even enjoys - an angry woman?

My dear single friends, I ask you - do you want to be married (some don't!)? If yes, are you angry that you are not yet married? How does that anger manifest in you - verbal spats, overeating, unkindness to self, depression? It takes work to get through all that mess. 

How much better to get through all that stuff before entering the lifelong commitment of marriage, to know that you are confident and safe with your spouse! How satisfying to wait for a man that has worked through these scenarios in his own life!

So yes, I'm single...but I'm not mad about it. I enjoy my life, I have great friendships and family relationships, I get to explore my interests and make spur of the moment decisions about how to spend my time. Trusted friends are aware that I'm interested in getting married one day and open to meeting eligible men they send my way. Though my dates are few and far between, I'm satisfied. I get to enjoy wonderful experiences with godly men that are not angry about being single either!

12 August 2014

To Lead or Not To Lead

During a recent chat I made a comment along the lines of this: "There are times when women should step back and let men lead." When asked what I meant I actually had to stop and think about it - to be honest I didn't even realize I'd chosen that turn of phrase. I discovered that I didn't really know what I meant. 

To give you some context, we were talking about men/women/church etc. and the difficult positions women can find themselves in within church walls. So many of us have a sincere desire to lead as God directs, yet we find ourselves facing (biblical? cultural?) obstacles to leadership.

I replied with the example of Lydia: a wealthy, capable women identified as the leader of a group of folks meeting by a river, not the synagogue. The gist of the reason: no priest so no meeting in a synagogue - The Law laid out a provision for just such a scenario. Paul and his team arrived, told of them of Christ, and a church was birthed. See my first post on this fascinating woman here.

The relevance? Lydia did not insist that she was still in charge when someone more qualified showed up - she was willing to step aside and allow another to lead. [Be careful: don't incorrectly apply passages about submission here - she's not married to these men or under their authority.]

Our conversation moved on to other topics, but I've been thinking about it ever since. I find myself wondering if I really believe that this passage is instructional/should be applied to the positions of men/women in the New Testament church.

What I do know is this: 
  • The Law was super clear that all Jewish priests were male (see Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).
  • The New Testament is super clear that all believers in Christ are priests. He is our High Priest, we are his priesthood - there is no gender distinction (see Hebrews, 1 Peter 2).
This one's hard, right? I acknowledge that in Christ I am part of His priesthood...but at the same time I believe that The Fall impacted how men and women relate to one another...that women tend to want to take control. We justify frantic grasps for authority and/or pride of place at church by claiming there are no men available - perhaps even refusing to step aside when someone (male or female) more qualified arrives.

There is no indication that Lydia was upset when qualified folks showed up to teach and help them. She still played a significant role in that group of believers - she simply changed position. 

In the end I suppose that's where I land. I don't want to cling so hard to a position that I lose sight of Christ, that I forget where my gifts/abilities/passions lie. I want to be willing to step back so that another man or woman can step forward. So long as I keep sight of Christ, connect to God, trust the Spirit that resides within me...I can remain confident that I'll know when to lead and when not to lead.