Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Remembering to be Thankful

When I was in college my grandmother suffered a stroke.  This first stroke was just one of many she suffered over the course of about three years until she finally died from one.  These strokes affected her in a progressively negative way.  The first one she had affected her ability to raise her right arm and also her speech.  She also fell and tore her rotator cuff in her left arm, rendering her virtually unable to use either of her arms.  As the strokes progressed in severity, her ability to take care of herself was also affected.  About a year after her first stroke, we decided to put her in an assisted living facility.  As she deteriorated, we moved her to an increasing level of care until finally, right at the end, she was in a fully assisted nursing home.

I remember my aunt coming up to visit my grandmother while she was still in a section of the facility that was for folks who were still fairly independent, but needed some extra help.  In this section of the facility she was served a couple of meals a day and got some help cleaning her apartment. 

During my aunt's visit, we ended up having lunch over at my grandmother's apartment.  After lunch, my aunt and I were washing dishes by hand and my aunt casually looked over at my grandmother and said, "Boy, I sure bet you don't miss washing dishes!"  Suddenly without warning, my grandmother burst into tears.  My aunt and I stood there shocked for a moment before we could register that my grandmother was crying over not being able to do the dishes.

I was pretty young when all of this was happening...maybe 20 or 21, but the memory of this day is etched with me.  You see, my grandmother wasn't sad because she liked doing dishes....she was sad because even if she had wanted to...she was physically incapable of helping.  It wasn't the dishes, it was what the dishes represented.  My grandmother was a feisty, strong and capable woman.  I don't know how she couldn't have been, growing up in the depression, raising a family of four and then in her later years nursing my invalid grandfather until his passing.  This woman, who'd served her family and others for her whole life was now almost completely dependent on other people. 

I had an epiphany at that moment....the epiphany was just how thankful and grateful I should be over the things I any moment they could be taken away.  I resolved to try my best to complain less about the things in life that were really not worth my time or energy to complain about.

I was reminded of this truth again this past week.  I just got done reading a book called "90 Minutes in Heaven."  This book is about a man who died in a car accident.  He was so dead that the paramedics who arrived did not even bother doing CPR on him.  His dead body sat in his car for 90 minutes until a man happened to come along and asked to pray for him.  After being declared dead for 90 minutes, this man, named Don Piper, came back to life.  Of course an accident as traumatic as he was in had a lasting impact on him physically.  Much of the book is about his road to recovery after this accident.  He lives in almost constant pain, he has no use of one of his arms, his leg is missing a whole piece of bone and is shorter than his other leg, twisting his body and causing arthritis among many other physical ailments.

In one chapter of this book, Don describes the emotional trauma of realizing he is unable to throw a football with his boys again, and cannot take the youth group skiing like he used to.  I was struck anew with all that I take for granted in life.  I am relatively healthy.  All my arms, legs, fingers and toes work exactly the way they were designed to.  My brain is fully functional, I can communicate with others and take care of myself. 

I am resolved yet again to be grateful and thankful for what I have....even when it means I am mowing the lawn for the second time in a week, or doing laundry yet again, or any of the things in life that seem to be my least favorite things to do.  I am going to remember to be thankful I have the ability to do them. 


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Smart Cookie

I'm a pretty smart cookie.  I mean this with as much humility as I can muster.  I have two bachelor's degrees, one of which is a BS in biology.  I am an incessant learner and thinker.  One of the ways the Lord created me is with wisdom and "brilliance."  However, in the words of Voltaire: with great power comes great responsibility. Everything good about how we are created has a flip side.  Taken too far or twisted in the wrong way, our strengths can also be our biggest stumbling blocks. 

One of the ways this works with me is that because I am right about most things much of the time, I have a tendancy to think I am right about all things all of the time.  In other words, I can come across as condescending or patronizing or even an outright know-it-all.  My pride rears its ugly head because I love sharing all of my knowledge and wisdom with others.  This is one of the reasons I am a great teacher, but it can also be hurtful to other people.  Not just because I have corrected them, pointed out that they are wrong, or in the tone of my voice but also because there is a real part of my heart that just likes being right.

This week has turned out to be a series of me having to apologize and say I am sorry.  First at work when I was told I had been condescending to a little boy who reached for something I was holding without asking, then to a friend who was offended at a facebook status I posted after a conversation with her, and then to another friend who roots for a different baseball team than I do after a comment he made about the Mariners.  Sigh. 

And, I will tell you...nothing shows you just how much pride you have when you have to swallow it and admit you're wrong and apologize.  Thus, I march on, swallowing my pride and learning how to live in the fullness of being me but in all humility considering others better than myself (Phil 2:3).   This is a lesson I have needed to learn this week. 


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Not Defined by My Past

I have have a friend who likes to talk about her past by using phrase such as: "When I used to do ____ (fill in negative term)." Or, "When _______ (fill in past event described in horrific terms) happened to me." In perusing my own blog posts, I have come to realized that I also talk at times about things in my past this way.  I am sure a lot of us do this.  It is probably a natural tendancy when we have memories of something negative to describe it in negative terms.  The difference is that my friend talks about these things all the time.  And, she cannot use any other description for these things except in boarderline hostile words.  She is, in essence, defined by her past.

I am finding, however, that whenever I use negativity to describe things from my past, it brings up negative emotions within me.  This gives my past a measure of power over me.  If I allow things from my past to continue to affect me negatively, then I am still in some ways defined and controled by those things.  It makes me a victim.

I am not a victim.  My friend who continues to describe her past in negative terms is not a victim either, if she choses not to be so.  She has a decision to make.  Is she going to let these things define her today and control her today? Or, is she going to move on from her past?

I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about negative things that we've been involved with or bad things that have happened to us.  In fact I think it is good to talk about those things and understand how those events have affected us. What I am talking about is the power we give those things when we allow them to define us. 


Friday, May 13, 2011


President Obama wrote a book about three years ago called "The Audacity of Hope."  I have not read this book, but the title intrigues me a lot.  Specifically, why is hope audacious?

A week or so ago I was sitting in our church's prayer room when I felt in my spirit the Lord stirring me to hope again.  If you've been following my blog for any length of time, you  know that since about September, life has been overflowing with peace and calm.  There are so many lessons I have learned in the last seven months.  One thing that seems to have eluded me, however, is the desire to hope again.  It isn't that I have been in a full-on hopeless state, but it has felt like I have come to accept the mundane and perpetually mediocre as normal for me.

When I felt this stirring in my guts to hope again, it came as a bit of a shock: how had I gotten to a place where hope was NOT normal?  In light of this, I realized that while I had moved past the idea that the Lord had nothing but pain and turmoil for me, I had NOT moved on to fully expecting abundant life, though that is my inheritance.  As a daughter of the King of Kings, I should live hoping for and expecting abundance.  I don't mean this in the prosperity gospel, materialistic kind of way.  I mean abundance of life on the inside, in my heart, in the fruit of the spirit, and yes, even sometimes in my circumstances too.

I wrote in my journal on that night a long entry about hope....that this year would be a year of jubilee, that this would be a year of blessing, of joy, of outrageous outpouring of amazingly wonderful LIFE.  I don't believe in New Year's resolutions, because I feel like I have the power to make changes in my life at any time, and so I have decided to hope extravagantly yet again.

This brings me back to my first paragraph about the "audacity of hope."  Barack Obama describes hope as audacious.  The definition of this word is: fearlessly, recklessly bold, daring, disregard of normal restraint."  I find it fascinating that the president of our country would describe hope as audacious. 

The reality is that hope should be NORMAL.....not fearless, not reckless, not restrained, but NORMAL. I mean, I've got the God of the universe on my side, working on my behalf.  I know how my story ends.  I know that all things work together for my good.  I know too much to live a life of not expecting the worst, but also not expecting the best.

This is what the Lord is asking of me: to make hope normal again.


Friday, May 06, 2011


A number of months ago Steve Fry, pastor of The Gate and president of Messenger Fellowship spoke at our young adult gathering.  He spoke on the Trinity and really shifted some of my paradigms about how the Trinity functions. Specifically I was intrigued by a new thought: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in community and fellowship with one another, each equally important, and in interdependence with one another and in mutual submission to one other.  (I am paraphrasing an hour-long message into a short sentence, so suffice to say that there was a lot more depth and detail, which I won't get into now.) He spoke about how this model of community really shapes how we see each and interact with one another. 

This community existed before time, and we are drawn into this relationship because we are invited to be a part of this same relationship.  Not that the Lord needs us in the same way He needs the other members of the Trinity, but we are adopted and grafted into His family and He does chose to use us to accomplish all He wants accomplished.  I find this concept intriguing.

I think most people are longing for community.  We are designed in the image of God, we are bearers of His likeness in spirit.  If He longs for relationship, it makes sense that we would be too.  One of the very definitions of the word community is: "A group of interdependent organisms of different species growing or living together in a specified habitat."  I love that this definition is applicable to so many different scenarios.  It can apply to a group of people simply living in the same town, it can apply to a group of people growing in knowledge of something (like a class in college) or growing in a common interest (like a group of people who all play softball) and it can apply to a group of people who happen to work together.

I have found that there can be a lot of power in community.  I believe that there is a direct correlation to the amount of investment each individual is willing to give and how interdependent each person really is, to the amount of power within that community.  If there are members of a community that feel superior to the others, the power breaks down.  If there are members who are holding back and not fully investing in community, the power breaks down too.

This is why people respond so positively to people who are willing to invest in other's lives in every way.  You want to speak into my life on an issue?? Great! But the authority to do so will be increased if you also celebrate with me or cry with me or just be silly with me too.  We are so much more than our sanctification needs. This is why kindness leads to repentance....not frustration, or a desire to fix, or to make people a project.

This is also why people don't respond to superiority.  You want me to come to your Bible study?  Wonderful!  I love coming to Bible studies where there is an atmosphere of interdependence and sharing.  How do I know when this is in place?  When anyone, regardless of marital status, ministry status, or age could be up in front sharing.  Or, even better, when the person sharing is sharing out of their own brokenness and realness...this is when real transformational power occurs. 

No community outside of the trinity is perfect, but I am praying for full investment and true interdependence in the communities I am already a part of, including myself.