When the Bull Won’t Give Up His Horns

You’ve heard the saying, “Take the bull by the horns.” It likely originated in the American West. It was common practice in both rodeos and in the workaday world of the rancher to wrestle a steer to the ground. The best, albeit dangerous, way to accomplish this was by facing the steer head on, grabbing the two horns and twisting the head until the animal could be laid low. Today, this phrase has become synonymous with facing any problem head on and dealing with it straight away.

I’m not always a take-the-bull-by-the-horns kind of person. Sometimes I believe the best thing we can do in a situation is just let things play out for a bit and see what happens. Stepping in too soon, with too much vigor, can backfire on a person every once in a while. Yet sometimes the only way to appropriately deal with a situation is to face it head on. The problem that arises is that the bull might not always want to give up its horns. You are dealing with a bull. We don’t get the term, “bull headed”, because bulls are so easily influenced.

We roll up our sleeves and face our situations with all the bravery of a western cowboy, because we feel we have no alternative. The situation is dire. We cannot wait for things to play out, if we do, the situation will become worse still. We narrow our focus, dig in and face our bull. We reach up, grab for the horns, fully expecting to wrestle the beast to the ground, but sometimes the bull will not relent. We tug, we wrestle, and yet he refuses to submit. Now we are faced with a new situation. We are face to face with a relentless bull.

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Eye to red eye.

Nose to snotty bull nose.

In the end, we are forced to let go and leave our bull standing there in the dirt. It wasn’t for lack of trying, pleading, imploring, or insisting on our part… sometimes, the bull just won’t relent.
I faced a bull this week and I lost. I dug in and rolled up my sleeves. I brought all of my abilities to bear, I grabbed hold of the horns, and I gave it my best shot. I went at my bull from a few different directions, but in the end, I had to release the horns and walk away, leaving it standing there, victorious. Stupid, but victorious.

It is possible to be right and still not be victorious. That is a hard fact to reconcile in my mind. To walk away knowing that a situation is going to play out to a predictably unfortunate end, and there is nothing I can do to change it, is a hard stroll. I can tell you… it’s tough.

It’s a hard lesson to learn that your influence just doesn’t reach as far as you thought it would. You count on your track record, experience, and good intentions to carry you to the intended end. It just doesn’t always work out that way. What’s a good bull wrestler to do then?

This week, I found I had to step back. Hands up, and surrender the bull to the One whose influence and sovereignty knows no bounds. I thought the situation was safest in my hands. I believed I had the answers and the right next steps.

If I am honest, I still do believe that, but now I have to trust in Jesus and the plan he has to see this thing through. It just wasn’t supposed to go down in the way I saw it. There are things in the story at work of which I have no knowledge. Lessons to be learned, perhaps some hard taught. It could be a difficult scene to watch playing out in front of me, but I have to trust in the One whose influence knows no boundaries. Even when I might think I have all the answers, I still have to place my trust in the One who surely does.

And I have to be okay with that.

The Great Cruelty of Suicide

If someone had told me a few years ago that my husband would be working in student ministry now, I would have thought they had been smoking something. But we have found that watching kids grow and become and answer the call of God upon their lives is truly a blessing, and it is reassuring to those of us who are just a bit older… When you have worked in ministry as long as Matthew and I have, you kind of hope all you have worked for won’t go to hell in a hand basket once you pass the ministry baton off to the younger crowd.

There is a part of student ministry that is not so exciting, though. It is never a joyful day when a young person loses their life in a tragic accident, to a horrible illness, or from suicide. It’s those days when you can lose the wind in your sails. That’s just not the way we want to see things turn out for the kids coming along in the next generation. We hope for them to be strong- physically, mentally, and spiritually. Sometimes that’s just not the case though, and that’s when we have to dig in and have those hard conversations, and face the harsh realities.

Losing a young person is hard to face, but I think the hardest situation to deal with in student ministry is when a young person decides to take their own life. Growing up is hard. It was hard when I was a kid, and it’s much harder now, in many ways. The world is spinning out of control, the family is breaking apart and as a result, the very fabric of life is unraveling. It’s hard for kids these days to find direction. It’s difficult for them to grasp hold of anything constant and sure. What used to be black and white is fading into shades of grey. Where kids used to be able to find firm footing, they are trying to stand on shifting sands.

The Bible tells us in Philippians 4:8,

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Sometimes for kids, deciding what these things are is hard. The world, and our enemy who rules it, blurs the things that Paul was referring to in verse eight. What is noble these days? What is right?

And what about purity? What does that even mean anymore? In a world where these lines have been muddied, it’s hard for a grown person to know, much less a young person just starting out in the world.

Paul warned us about allowing impure thoughts to come into our minds. He knew that our enemy, the devil, does his best work in our minds. If he can convince us to believe a lie, then he has the beginning of a stronghold and the genesis of a warped belief system.

My seventeen-year-old daughter came into our bedroom last night to tell us about a young man attending our church that she knew that had taken his life yesterday. It was not someone she knew especially well, but someone she had had the opportunity to cross paths with, even just that morning at church. The reality of the finality of death was overtaking her. Thoughts of her interactions with this young man played in her mind.




 

I knew all too well the thoughts in her mind.

The same thing happened when I was her age to a young man I had known. When I heard he had taken his life, my thoughts ran quickly to my interactions with him. Had I been nice to him? Yes. Sometimes. Had I ignored him, or snubbed him at times? Were there opportunities that I had missed to show him a kindness? Most certainly. I couldn’t help but wonder what I had done to contribute to the great sadness that led him to take his life. I knew those thoughts were also running through my daughter’s mind about the boy she had known.

That’s the great cruelty of suicide. The unanswered questions. The “what ifs” that come to those left behind who try to make sense of a senseless situation. Most of us can’t understand suicide because of the innate survival instinct woven into all of us. Should the building you are sitting in suddenly catch fire, you will not sit and continue reading this article; you will jump and run to safety. You will try to warn others to run as well. We are hardwired to preserve our lives and the lives of others.

It is only when the enemy gets inside our heads and begins to do his work in our thought life that we ever consider doing the opposite. It is his job to kill, steal, and destroy. (John 10:10) His greatest victory is in taking from us every good and perfect gift our heavenly Father has ever given us. If he can destroy the notion that we are valuable, and valued beyond measure by our heavenly Father, if he can steal our joy, and kill the passion God has placed in our hearts to fulfill the calling on our lives, then he can convince us we are better off dead.

Lies. It’s all lies.

As guardians of our minds, we have to learn from Paul, to take every thought captive. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Just because we think a thought doesn’t make it true. Some of the thoughts that run through our heads are lies. We have to grab them and hold them up to the truth of Christ. We are supposed to make them obedient to his teachings. If a thought falls in line with the truth of scripture, then we hold onto it. If not, out it goes!

In a world where the lines are blurred, and nothing is sure, we have to teach our kids to turn to the word of God to lead them. We have to surround them with strong, mature, believers who can hold them accountable, remind them whose they are, and help them find their way through the greys in this world. They need a firm place to stand. It’s up to us to show them.

My heart goes out to the family of the young man that was lost yesterday. I am sure there is nothing worse for a parent than to lose a child in such a way. I also am saddened by the young people who are struggling with unanswered questions in their own minds this day. And yet I am certain that the student ministry team is working to minister to the lives of all who suffer today and my prayers are for their strength and perseverance. This race is not easy, but it’s rewards are guaranteed, and this is part of what they are called to do.

We will mourn, but not as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Two Sides to the Forgiveness Coin

Most of us are uncomfortable with the thought that we have offended someone, but the discomfort doesn’t always come for the reason we might think. We all have a desire to reestablish the equilibrium that comes with peace, but how that happens is different for different people and different for different situations. When people find out they have made someone angry or hurt, they generally react in one of two ways.

One way we react to finding we have offended someone is we get busy absolving ourselves of the guilt and turning the issue into some problem the offended has. They are obviously making a mountain out of a molehill. They apparently have an issue with something that has nothing really to do with us or what we did… So the issue is theirs, not ours. The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the offended… we no longer feel guilty…

And all is right in the world again.th

The other way we react to hearing we have offended someone is by searching our own hearts, discovering our own motives and desires. When the Lord searches our hearts, he shows us things we didn’t realize or admit were there.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

This honest evaluation most often leads us to seek forgiveness from the offended person, as well as from our heavenly Father because ultimately, it is God whom we have offended by our careless words or actions.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” Psalm 51:1-4

It’s always the more difficult path, because we have to be willing to admit that we are at fault, and who really likes doing that? Not me. I don’t want to think I have offended anyone, least of all God. So what’s really at stake in the forgiveness game? Relationship.

When an offense occurs, there is a rift in the relationship. It’s a problem because we were made for relationships. Ultimately, the way we react when we have offended someone is determined by whether we feel condemnation or conviction. Absolving ourselves is a result of condemnation. When we have hurt someone, condemnation makes us feel offended. Condemnation comes from our enemy, and it leads us to justification of our actions and blame shifting to the person we have offended.

The second reaction is all about conviction, and that comes straight from the Holy Spirit working his way in our hearts and minds. Conviction leads us to healing in our hearts and healing in our relationships. There is no guilt with conviction, only the desire to reestablish the relationship.

Still, sometimes there are those situations where someone was offended by something we have done, and we honestly didn’t really do anything to warrant such a reaction. We have searched our hearts, done our due diligence, and still we come to the conclusion that the offended party is just wearing their feelings on their sleeves. It does happen. I have been guilty of wearing my feelings on my sleeves like an accessory, too.

What do we do then? Sometimes, we just say we are sorry anyway because we care more about the relationship than we care about being right. Are we lying? Not necessarily. We are putting the relationship before our need to be right. But truth is truth and just because I help someone smooth down their ruffled feathers with a gentle word doesn’t change whatever the truth really is. And here’s the thing about the truth…it always wins… eventually. Thankfully, it is not our job to do the work of the Holy Spirit in someone’s  heart.


 

But there’s two sides to the forgiveness coin.

When I am the offended party, I usually want the Lord to deal harshly with the person that offended me. I generally start off by telling him all the things he needs to do in their lives to fix them. Instead, what usually happens is that he deals with me. I’m mad. I want him to smite them. I want him to show them how wrong they are and how justified and wounded I am. For the record… that has never happened. Never a smite. Not even a zap. Rather, he gently reminds me of all that I have been forgiven, and that dead people are difficult to offend. If I am dying daily to self, taking up an offense should be hard to do.

I don’t forgive the person who has offended me because they deserve it. I forgive them because of all that I have been forgiven. I don’t get what I deserve, I get forgiveness. This goes against conventional wisdom. Jesus was anything but conventional. You can check out the story he told his disciples when they asked about forgiveness. It’s the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. (Matthew 18:21-35) Walking in the ways of Jesus means we don’t always win in the way the world defines it, but we live in God’s economy where relationships matter and forgiveness is the standard.

Out of My Depth

I have lived by a particular philosophy of success for most of my life. Here it is.

Never try something that you are not completely sure that you can succeed at.

Apart from the poor grammar, it has always seemed like a pretty safe philosophy to me. It also may appear to most that it has worked well for me. As a kid, I never tried out for anything for which I was not chosen. As an adult, I have never interviewed for a job that I wasn’t offered. Not a bad record. But here’s the thing. I never tried out for anything, or interviewed for any job, that I wasn’t at least ninety nine percent sure I could do, and do well.

You see, I have never liked being out of my depth. I don’t like not knowing what to do or say in any given circumstance. I don’t like the thought of not being able to handle any situation that might present itself. So by carefully staying within my depth, I know that I will not sink.

Now this is not advice I would give to you, or to my kids. Take for instance when my son, Ryan, started out with swimming lessons. We are talking depth here, so this might be a great illustration. We’ll see.

Ryan was doing pretty well in his swim lessons. Right up to the point that his teacher wanted him to let go of the side of the pool and swim in the water that went way over his head. He was having no part of it. I begged him. I encouraged him. I even threatened him. He was still having no part of the deeper water. He knew his depth, and he was not going to push it.water_safety

I came up with what I thought was a great encouragement for Ryan. I told him that no matter how deep the water was beneath him, he was still only going to be swimming in about the top two feet of it. Depth didn’t matter. He wasn’t buying it, and in my heart I knew why. He was my child.


 

A few years ago, I was asked to be a part of a ministry team of women who were leading the women’s ministry of my church. Okay, I thought. I’ve been a ministry wife for a couple of decades. This was not beyond my reach. I was in! I showed up to the first round table meeting of these women, and I quickly found out that I was not the smartest person in the room, and I was completely out of my depth, spiritually. I also had the sneaky suspicion that the woman who had asked me to participate on this team knew my philosophy.

I left that first meeting feeling completely inadequate, a spiritual infant. I had sat around the table that morning with some spiritual giants… and most of them weren’t even in ministry full time! (gasp!) These were some heavy hitters, and I was an amateur by comparison.

For some dumb reason I cannot remember, I went back to the next meeting, and the next. What I discovered, in time, was that I rather liked being out of my depth with these women. I was thriving on the challenges they were presenting to me, and I was learning how to swim in the deep end of the spiritual pool. They were gracious teachers, and I learned that was an important part of the equation.

I’d like to say that I have completely recovered from my old philosophy of success, but it’s a process. I can say, that I go to work everyday in a new job, having virtually no idea what I am doing. I love it. I used to know every answer to every question or situation that came up on my former job. Now, I rarely do, but I am learning and I am growing.

And again, I find myself serving alongside women in my church who are spiritual giants to me, but I’m in safe waters. What I used to fear, challenges me to grow and be better. The women I serve with cheer me on, challenge me at every turn, and believe that I can do it. They believe I can dive deeper, grow stronger, and take risks where I cannot calculate the outcomes on the front end.

There is another philosophy that says, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” We can choose to measure our successes by only trying those things we know we can do, or we can decide to risk it all for the chance to grow, become, and impact the world around us. Failure may be on the table, but so is success. If we surround ourselves with gracious mentors and teachers, people who will hold us up and hold us accountable, there is no telling the depths to which we can go.

(I dedicate this post to the beautiful women on the Lead Team for the Women’s Hub at Grants Mill/Church of the Highlands. Thank you for swimming in the deep end of the pool and for letting me jump in with you!)

What Will I Do? Where Will I Go?

Gone with the Wind was an epic movie. And by epic, I mean long. Oh, it was quite a story about the Old South, but I don’t really know anyone whose ancestors lived on plantations and owned other people. About that time, my ancestors were trying to scrape and claw up enough of anything to survive. None of my folks were sitting on a wide front porch sipping a mint julip.

The Scarlet of Gone with the Wind lived a life of plenty, for all the good it did her. She was a wreck of a woman. Spoiled, confused, and pretty stupid really. It’s hard to believe they made a movie about such a pathetic woman, and that it became such a classic. Now I know I’m stepping on some fan’s toes out there. I know Scarlet had a few good qualities, and as soon as I can remember one I’ll write it down.

Scarlet might serve as a great example of how not to live our lives as women. One of her most grave life errors was in her divided loyalties. Scarlet loved both Rhett and Ashley. She saw the potential in both men. What she failed to see clearly was the wedding ring on Ashley’s finger. In the end, both men brought her sadness because neither could ever be what she had cooked up in her head that they were. CivilScarlettCurtain

Scarlet O’Hara was just too self absorbed to be of much good to anyone. To Scarlet, people were merely placed on the earth to answer to her whims, men and women alike. She ran from one thing to the next trying to find something or someone to fill a void in her life that neither could fill. Eventually even Rhett saw the writing on the wall and with one last, Frankly Miss Scarlet, I don’t give a hoot, he was gone.

In the end, Scarlet lost everything she had been seeking. But a new day was dawning in the Old South and she saw hope on the horizon. I don’t know if Scarlet ever started looking in the right direction for fulfillment in her life, but I hope she did. Sometimes it takes hitting bottom before we start seeking the one thing that will truly fill that void in our lives.

There is a corny saying that we all have a God shaped hole inside of us. It’s corny, but it’s true. Even those of us who have met Him, sometimes try pushing other things into it, but they never fit. Relationships, jobs, money, security, things… In and of themselves, those are all good things. But when we try to find ultimate fulfillment in those things, we come up lacking.

We were created for relationship with the Father. Some people spend their whole lives seeking and never finding that which is right within their grasp. The Bible tells us that he stands at the door, knocking. It’s as easy as opening a door. For those of us who opened that door already, we still sometimes fail at inviting Him in to be the answer to all of our needs. Maybe a new day is dawning in your life. Maybe you are tired of trying to fill that void that only He can fill. Just turn around. Repent, the Bible says.


Southern women are strong women. Back us into a corner and you’ll see. My mom sometimes refers to that as being “mad as a wet hen”. When I was a little girl, I always wanted to throw water on a chicken to see what happened.

Southern women can seem to be all about appearances. It’s why women in trailer parks still get their nails done. It’s why you’ll never see a southern woman in public with wet hair. It’s why Scarlet made a dress from curtains. A true southern woman has the innate need to appear as though she’s got it all together. What most southern women know, though, is that we often do not.

I think we love Scarlet, in spite of her numerous failings, because we can see some of ourselves in her. She longed for the love of her life. She longed for happiness and contentment. When pushed, in true southern fashion, Scarlet could muster up some moxie and push through. That might be her only good quality. When she took those curtains down off the window and made a gown from them, I was so proud of her. It is also my favorite Carol Burnet sketch. Google it. You’ll laugh, I promise.

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I am proud to be a southern woman. Because of my heritage, I am strong, resourceful, loyal, and gracious. But as a southern woman, surrounded by churches on every corner, I must remember from where my help comes. It doesn’t come from the nice, neat, nest I have built, the job I have, or the wonderful people in my life. It comes from my Father, who cares for me and provides for me.

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:1-2