Don’t mess with the Sacred

The gap between where we are and where we want to be is real. Most of us look at our lives and can find at least one thing that just doesn’t line up to the ideal self-image we have in our minds. Maybe it’s our job. Our weight. Our relationships. The list is long and can get really heavy. It is easy to feel less than, or not fully fulfilled, in this life. Take a look, everyone has something… some longing for something to be different. But maybe the gap over which we gaze is about something more.

In any society, people are born into an already clearly defined world. We slide into this world not really having to decide much on our own. People, plenty of people, are there already telling us stuff about the world around us. They tell us that the sloppy dog licking our face is man’s best friend, and we are to love them. They tell us that sticking a fork into a light socket is a bad idea. We learn what things are good and what things are bad by the people who have gone before us and are there to make sure we get it right. “This is a cup, you drink from this. That is spaghetti, it goes in your mouth, not on the ceiling.” Not too much left for us to figure out.

Because of this, change comes to society with great difficulty, and currently, there are a lot of things changing in our society that make many of us uncomfortable. We are being made to feel less than because of standards that we try to uphold. I mean people wear pajamas to Walmart! But I’m not really talking about that. I’m not talking about hem lines or what we really mean by business casual either. There are things that have been established norms since creation. Because there are some who feel uncomfortable in their skin, who find the gap between where they are and where they want to be seemingly unreachable, we are being asked to extend them tolerance and acceptance in whatever they need to do to feel better.

So… now if I stand for traditional marriage, then I am intolerant. If I insist that “God made them male and female. Male and female he made them”, then I am being closed minded and ignorant. If I accept people not based on “the color of their skin but by the content of their character” then I stop elevating my own skin color and realize that race is a social construct and nothing in reality. Oh wait… that one’s okay. If I support the pro-life stance and denounce abortion as murder, then I am being insensitive and stealing away a woman’s right to choose.

For non-believers, and even some believers who haven’t thoroughly thought these things through… there is a reason why Christians just cannot give in to the current societal pressure for changes in these areas.

Sacredness.

It has to do with sacredness. A person’s gender is sacred. We are designed male and female, down to the genes that make up the DNA in every cell of our bodies. Our design is sacred. Our skin color is sacred. The space inside a woman’s womb is sacred. It is the very place designed to bring forth the Savior of the world. Marriage is sacred, also. A piece of paper does not make a marriage. A piece of paper makes it legal, but God made marriage. He defined it as a relationship between a man and a woman, entered into it, and made it sacred. We. Do. Not. Mess. With. The. Sacred.

So what about the person who feels uncomfortable in their skin? Isn’t the prevailing statement these days, “You do you”? What is the right answer for those who struggle with their identity? The answer was, is, and will always be Jesus. I think Jesus had to struggle with His identity some, too, don’t you? I mean He was God, after all, and He was limited in His earthly body during His stay on the planet. I think it stands to reason there were times when He gazed across a similar identity gap. But He never did forsake the sacred. He knew in due time, all would be made right again.

I do not doubt the real gaps that exist in the world today where identity is involved, and neither am I insensitive to them. But when we stop finding our identity in Christ, we are left to finding it in the world, and the world is a harsh, disappointing, unfaithful, misleading place. There are so many people who are bouncing from here to there looking for an identity that makes them feel comfortable when their identity was established before the foundation of the earth. It is the great lie of the age, and a gap that only Jesus can bridge.

The Wages of Sin, Post Salvation

Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. I know that most who read that passage understand it to mean that without salvation through Christ, left to our own sinful devices, we will suffer not eternal life, but eternal death. In our fallen state, we alone, cannot atone for the sins we have committed. God’s standard requires more than we, on our own, can provide. God’s standard was set forth in the Ten Commandments and through the Mosaic Law. But alas, who could keep up? And even those who made the claims that they had, would fall to the truth put forth by Jesus (the very fulfillment of the Law). Jesus took the law to a higher plane… He said to the religious leaders that while the law said no one should commit adultery, that even the man who looks lustfully at a woman has committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5). Why? Because while man looks on outward appearance… God looks at the heart. For as a man (or woman) thinks in his (or her) heart, so is he (sh…I mean, you get it)(Proverbs 23:7).

So as a “sinner saved by grace through faith”, how do I look at Romans 6:23 now? Well, in grateful humbleness, of course. I have been saved from myself… from those fleshly desires that seem to keep me knocked off focus and from being all I can be. To know that God, in His infinite wisdom, looked upon the humanity that He loved and could not bear the separation that sin caused, made a way where there seemed to be no way, and paid the price for our sin through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus, is just more than my mind can really process.

I don’t believe that lets us completely off the hook, however. I think that there is another way to see Romans 6:23, post salvation. Jesus is the atonement for all of my sin. All of it. My past sin, the sins I will bow to today, and the sins I will commit in the future. The bill is paid in full for it all. But… the wages (or product) of my sin, our sin, still brings death. Maybe not eternal death, but death in the here and now.  

Sins we commit can mean the death of a relationship. The death of trust. The death of hope. I am forgiven of my sin, but I am still responsible for my actions as they affect those around me. A husband addicted to pornography will watch the death of desire for his wife. A wife in an adulterous affair can see the death of her marriage. The thief or liar watches the trust others placed in them die. When we choose righteousness we choose life. When we choose sin, we offer up death. There has never been an instance when sin brought life to a situation. Our enemy loves to offer up cold, empty substitutes for the life God makes available to us. The devil entices with promises of freedom and uninhibited expression of desire. But even as we reach for the promised carrot dangled before us, the light of life fades, and we fall to the bondage and death that sin always brings.

The wages of sin is death, and thanks be to God that those who follow Jesus no longer have to settle their own accounts. But that does not absolve us of the effects that our sin has on those around us. It still brings death. Look around. It won’t take you too long to find those who are suffering at the hand of someone else’s sin. Salvation does not give us license to sin, it gives us freedom from our sin… for us as well as for those close to us.

The Truth of the Matter

In any situation, there’s our side, there’s their side, and then standing off somewhere to the side, waiving, is the truth. Most of us never really get past our side. We tell our side, we defend our side, we embellish our side, and we stand on our side because in our minds, it is the only side that really matters. We say that the truth is what matters, but in our hearts and minds, honestly, we are only interested in our side. If we can just get someone, or lots of someones, to support us on our side then we feel validated. We can stand taller, with our supporters cheering us on. The supporters who only heard our side.

I’m no lawyer, but I watch a lot of lawyer shows on television. I have never once seen a trial on television that, in its desire for truth, limited the evidence to only one side of the story. But we, in our zeal to join bandwagons, jump on them after reading or hearing just the one side of someone’s story. We cheer, we defend, but we never ask… so what about the other person? How did they feel about what happened? What was their perspective?

Unfortunately, in our world today, most of us just want supporters. We need those social media likes from people we barely know to encourage us to keep up the good fight. To help validate our position. We aren’t really interested in resolving anything. We need validation for what we are doing so much that we just seek out those who will give it to us without seeking out the truth of the matter.

We never tell the story or conflict we are sharing from the other person’s side. If I were to tell the story of the last fight I had with my husband from his perspective, it would go something like this.

He asked me to consider an option that I had not considered, and I immediately got on the defensive. I didn’t care to consider his point of view because I had already made up my mind on the subject. I held my defensive position and would not admit to my unwillingness to consider other options.

I’m not looking too good right now, am I? But if I had told that story from my perspective, he would have been the one who looked bad. I mean, really, arguments rarely ever make anyone involved look very good. But it takes at least two sides of a story to get anywhere near understanding the truth of the matter.

In our world today, we get offended and we defend. We draw lines in the sand and force others to choose an ill-informed side. We take stories we read at face value and make pronouncements about situations that we cannot possibly understand. But what if we told our stories from the other person’s point of view? What if the story we posted about the rude grocery store cashier on Facebook was told from the perspective of the cashier? It might go something like this:

I was really in a hurry when I stopped at the grocery store. Usually, I am pretty nice to the cashiers, but today I was distracted with all I had to do and I just needed her to hurry it up. I didn’t bother to ask how her day was going, like I said I was in a hurry. I huffed several times and looked at my watch when she messed up and had to go back and delete a wrong charge. Can you believe she told me I just needed to be patient when I told her I was really in a rush?

Like I said, there’s our side, their side, and the truth is standing somewhere to the side. Getting to the truth in our stories means we have to be willing to consider the other person’s story, too. We can’t stop at gathering our supporters to make us feel better about ourselves. The truth transcends all of that plotting and scheming. To get to it, so must we.

Infertility- A Journey to Wholeness

Being a parent has been the greatest blessing of my life. I have four children here, one in heaven, and two new daughters in love. My quiver is full. But there are many who travel the road of infertility and it can be devastating. It can be all-consuming. It can be a disappointment that visits them again and again, when all they want is to bring a new life into this world to love and nurture. 

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine, Ann Adams (with her own journey of infertility) began a small group at our church for those who were dealing with infertility and she called it A Blessed Womb. She wrote the curriculum and we hashed it out over salads and sandwiches again and again. She poured her heart and soul into helping women discover that there was hope in the midst of trial, through Jesus. Infertility did not have to define them. God had a different name for them, and while the desire for a child did not wane, it did not have to be the sum total of their identity. 

Before we knew it, A Blessed Womb grew into more than my friend could have imagined with multiple small groups and story after story of healing and breakthrough, but when you give your plans over to God, the possibilities are without end! With support from her husband, Ann quit her job as a Nurse Practitioner to start a non-profit that would support those who wanted to try infertility treatments but could not afford them. She had already begun gathering her team. Soon, she told me about an amazing infertility specialist in Birmingham who wanted to partner with her and had a wonderful treatment that cost a fraction of what regular treatments cost!

In fairly short order, Blessed Brokenness was born. I humbly agreed to serve on the Board of Directors, and I have been overwhelmed by the ways that God has shown up, opened doors, and provided just in time resources. But it’s time to let others join in this wonderful ministry to couples needing financial support for treatment.

If you have been touched by the struggles of infertility and feel led to join this ministry to couples, now could be the time for you! We are hosting a fund-raising event on May 14th, and we would love to send you a personal invitation to come. If you’d like to come and hear about all that God is doing through Blessed Brokenness, send me a message with your address, and I will get an invitation to you. If you know someone else who would be interested in all that Blessed Brokenness is about, share this with them as well!

My Mother’s Stuff

Most of us would say we don’t really like goodbyes. I don’t. Saying goodbye to the people I love isn’t something I enjoy. Almost two years ago, I said an unexpected goodbye to my mother. It was traumatic. She literally died in my hands. I did everything I could to save her, and I failed. I watched her slip from this world into the next. Even as paramedics worked on her, I knew she was already gone. Even as I called on the name of Jesus, I knew it was goodbye.

I’ve learned a lot of things about my mother since her death. I have gone through her house… every nook and cranny. Attic, cabinets, closets and drawers. Mom had things stowed away in every conceivable space. My mother didn’t grow up with much of anything. She was the much loved daughter of two hard working parents with meager earnings. When she was finally able to have things, she began collecting… everything. That little oriental lady who thinks folks should only keep things that bring them joy, would have met her match in my mother. EVERYTHING my mother had brought her joy. Even if she packed it away for a rainy day that would never come, she would say she still loved it. 

That’s all well and good until you die unexpectedly and leave it to your daughter to wade through. My mom used to say, with only a little humor and more disdain, “I won’t be cold in the ground before you and your daddy have the mother of all yard sales.” She was sort of right. We had two yard sales the year she died, but it barely made a dent. Dad and I had some sweet times going through boxes in the attic; unpacking memories and wondering why in the world she kept the things she did. More times than I could count, I said, “Mother! Why?”. 

Sometimes it was a nice stroll down memory lane, every once in a while, I’d find something that brought back sweet memories of my childhood, but mostly it was a struggle. Do I just throw away all this stuff? Mostly no one wanted it. Not me, my brother, or our children. We all have our own things, and didn’t have much room for her stuff, too. 

We sold Mom and Dad’s house recently. That gave me a crazy deadline. I had to get through the rest of the house in just a few weeks. Every day after work and all day on the weekends, I spent at my parent’s house sorting through nearly 60 years of stuff. I had sweet friends and family that helped me, but mostly I just had to go through it all myself. I loved my mother, and on one hand, it was kind of fun to open the next drawer to see what was inside, but on the other hand, when I do see her again, we are going to have a word!

Today, the house is empty. I stood in the bedroom where I said goodbye to my mom. I won’t be back there anymore. It’s empty. All the stuff gone. I look around in astonishment that it’s really all gone. I know sometimes people claim to have little visits from their dearly departed. My mother has visited me in my dreams, but I wondered if there would be something for me there in that room where we shared our last moments. There was nothing. After a few minutes, Dad and I decided to go. It was done. Nothing left to do. 

As we made our way toward the interstate to head across town to my house, the ambulance from the local fire station rushed past us. I rode to the emergency room with my mother in that ambulance. She was gone, but for my Dad’s sake, I wanted her to be pronounced at the hospital. I thought of my mom again when I saw the ambulance. And as it passed by us, I looked up to see another truck sitting at the light ahead of us, waiting to cross our lane. It was a large truck hauling plants. My mother loved plants of all kinds… and on the side of the truck in huge green letters was the word, Bonnie. My mom’s name. I’m not trying to make something out of nothing, but as the truck passed in front of me, I realized that my mother’s life was not wrapped up in that ambulance, but in the things she loved, which of all those things… what she loved the most was her family. 

Children Are An Inconvenience

Recently, one of my children called us unexpectedly to say they were having car trouble and needed a bit of advice. My husband, being the fixer that he is, jumped into motion, ready to drive across town to where they were to help them figure the issue out. Our child, however, really just wanted advice over the phone as to what they should do. They did not want to inconvenience us.

I had to laugh a little bit. Because here is the truth. Children are an inconvenience from the time they are conceived, and my personal research thus far proves they continue to be an inconvenience for the sum total of their existence. It’s just the way it is. Most of us realize that, in theory anyway, when we decide to become parents. Nevertheless, kids are just… inconvenient. They get sick right before a vacation. Their little toes grow through the ends of their shoes very unexpectedly. They need an elaborate science project… and it’s due tomorrow. It is teacher appreciation week and they signed you up to bring in homemade breakfast casserole. Also needed tomorrow. See? Inconvenient. 

But we have taken this whole inconvenience thing way too far in our nation. Recently, the Governor of New York signed the “Reproductive Health Act”, which among other horrible atrocities, makes late term abortions (after 24 weeks gestation) legal. There were smiles and cheers all around, from what I understand, at the signing ceremony. But there are many American people who are grieving this action now. Hearts are breaking all over our nation for the innocents that will be sacrificed in the name of convenience. The most common defense (other than the woman’s right to choose) seems so kind- we must protect the life of the mother. But it is a lie. There is never a need to abort a baby that late in its gestation. Delivery, yes, but not abortion. 

I find it really interesting that the only difference between using every medical intervention we have at our disposal to save the unborn child and tossing the “contents of conception” aside like garbage is whether the mother wants the child or not. If she does, we will fight to save that life. If she does not, it’s not even a life at all.

Maternal mortality rates in the US have grown a bit in the last few years with it landing at about 23 deaths out of every 100,000 births (CDC.gov). This is a sad number, for sure, but most of those cases have to do with poor management of chronic conditions and poor access to health care. Those are the issues that should be dealt with in order to lower the mortality rate among expectant mothers. Perhaps instead of funding Planned Parenthood, we could improve prenatal care for those with chronic health conditions or poor access to healthcare. 

I do know a few mothers who put themselves ahead of their children, but none who don’t suffer from some mental disorder. I don’t know a mentally healthy woman alive who would not sacrifice her own life to save the life of her child. And if she could do it twice, she would. The “life of the mother” argument is negligible. It is far more common for a woman to decide that she did not intend to become pregnant, and then place her own desires above the needs of the baby in her womb. Mother Teresa is attributed with saying, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish”. 

The great deception of the enemy about abortion is in the belief that the contents of a woman’s womb is not a person. It is much more palatable to rid oneself of something that is not a human being than to dispose of a tiny person, piece by precious piece, into a garbage pail. Maybe everyone desiring an abortion should first have to witness one in progress. Maybe if every pro-choicer could witness an abortion for themselves, and see the tiny life that is discarded like yesterday’s leftovers, we’d see the tide turn in this country. Maybe we’d begin, once more, to value life as precious. 

Sure, my kids are, each one, an inconvenience… but what blessed inconveniences they are!

Five Years From Now

This is a repost from about a year ago. A great friend found it and suggested I post this piece again. I hope you guys like it…

When we moved back to Birmingham several years ago, I interviewed for a job in my field of expertise. The woman conducting the interview asked me a typical interviewer question. She asked, “What do you want to be doing in five years?” With complete honesty, I said, “I hope to be doing this.” She was pleased with my answer. I got the job.

But now that I look back on that day, I am disappointed in my answer. Like I said, I was honest. I was good at what I did, had trained hard and long for it, but did I really hope to be doing that same thing in five years? Here’s the truth. No matter how hard we try to stay the same, we will change. None of us will be the person we are today in five years. We will be better at our jobs, or we will be worse. We will be fatter or skinnier. Our talents will be more or less developed. Our marriages or other relationships will be stronger or weaker.

And we will either be closer or farther away from God in five years depending on what we do and how we invest. If I choose to seek God in prayer, worship, Bible study, and godly friendships, then I will be closer to God and stronger in my faith moving forward. If I drift away from my church, let those friendships that push me toward Jesus slide away, and find myself too busy to pray, worship, and spend time in my Bible, then I will be farther away from God in five years.

In life, there is no such thing as putting down anchor and staying put. We are either moving forward or we are drifting backward. We can allow the wrong influences impact us, and we will lose ground. We will eat too much, think less of our spouses, or fall away from God. We can gain positive ground by being very intentional about the influences that speak into our lives, and by doing so, we’ll find that we are in a much better place five years from now than we are currently.

There are some things in my life that I’m not too happy about right now.Like you, I have stress. I have worries and sadness, challenges and struggles. There are some things that I need to do today that will have an impact on where my life will be tomorrow and the day after that. I can chart a course for a destination with intention, or I can drift with very little effort and find myself in a disappointing place in the future.

I would answer that interview question much differently today than I did years ago. My answer today would likely not land me that job. I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing now in five years. I don’t want my relationships to be where they are, or my depth of faith in God, or my talents to be at the same level. I want more. I want different. I want better.

So what does that look like? 

Well, for me, I am being very intentional about the people who speak into my life. I need people who are going to push me and challenge me. I need people to call me out and speak truth over me. Sure, sometimes it hurts a bit, but it’s how we manage to keep moving forward. I make myself pray and worship and seek the knowledge found in the pages of scripture. And yes, sometimes I have to make myself do it. And I am seeking out new challenges. Currently, I am a semester away from earning a Master’s Degree. It’s painful, for sure, teaching this old dog new tricks, but it will take me places that I have not yet been.

My point is this… it is pointless to say that I want things to be the same in five years as they are today (Even if today is really great). It won’t happen. I have to chart a course today if I want to move ahead tomorrow and the day after that. Otherwise, I’ll be drifting back, becoming less than, and getting nowhere good any time fast.

May God bless us as we move forward with intention in the New Year!

[Post Script: I am happy to say that I finished that degree, began teaching part time in that field, and am looking forward to the new things and changes that will come in 2019. But I do have to remember the truths I wrote last year… We have to keep pressing forward with intention, or we will slip backwards…]