Get Out of the Picture!

When my husband was a kid, he loved to have his face in every photograph. His mother used to laugh at all the pictures that were supposed to be of relatives, special guests and events. No matter the occasion, somewhere in the background was Wayne's impish face, mugging for the camera.

He says now that he thought everyone wanted a picture of him. He was making the picture better!

His niece was just like him. Every time a camera appeared, so did she. We learned quickly to line up the shot we wanted and call, "Over a little, honey. No, a little more! A le-e-ettle more to the left...There, that's just right!" And then snap the shot when she'd scooted over far enough to get out of the picture.

Have you wondered lately why things don't seem to work out like you thought they were going to? You thought you understood your calling, your purpose, your life goals--but it's not working out.
Maybe God is telling you to get out of the picture. He has a perfect plan, an amazing panorama that fits perfectly with all the other masterpieces he's created, and he'd like to let you be a part of it. But you've got to get out of the picture.

The problem is we see the camera and start mugging. We get a glimpse of what God wants to do through us and we say, "Great! I like that. I'll just tweak it a little here and fluff it up a bit there and this'll be even better!"

But our tweaking and fluffing ruin the shot. The great idea becomes a ruined picture---nothing like you'd thought it would be.

You scratch your head and wonder why it failed. You were sure you heard God. This was a great plan! What happened? Has God let you down? Why would he do that? With God's help, you could've done fantastic things! God would be the "idea-guy" and you would run with it. What a team!

But while you stress yourself out trying to make the plan work, God puts the camera away and finds somebody else to use.

I'm realizing lately that God can only use the parts of me that he owns completely. Not the parts I've loaned him, or rented to him, or offered on a time-share basis.

And then there are those areas to which I've attached a bungee cord---just in case I don't like what God does with them.

I finally figured out: He knows about the bungee cord.

God is not a thief. He doesn't take over what hasn't been freely given to him. And his plans for it may be very different from mine. That's when I'm tempted to dart back into the picture to "rescue" it, just as Wayne thought he was rescuing a boring photograph.

How do we know when we're out of the picture enough?

You can tell you're out of the picture when you no longer have an emotional claim on the outcome.

Just as I used to say to my niece, God whispers to us, "Scoot over, honey. A little more...a little more..." Until the thing we grasped so tightly is no longer of any importance to us. It's God's now and whatever he wants to do with his photo is fine with us.

Are you still too much in the picture? Is there too much of you and not enough of Him? Is it YOUR ministry? YOUR business? YOUR family? YOUR plans?

If so, you will only accomplish your goals. You will never live up to the full potential God has invested in you, nor will you see his greater purpose accomplished in your life. As Jesus blessed the little boy's lunch of bread and fish, he wants to do miraculous things with your offering. But you have to take your hands off the picnic basket first.

Wondering if there is too much of you still showing in the picture?

Ask yourself: Is your ego invested in this venture? Do you have something to prove? Is your self-worth based on how well you do?

If so, then you're still blocking the shot.

Listen for that still, small whisper and get out of the picture!


What's on Your iPod?

I just got my first iPod. (Okay, quit smirking. I'm slow.)

Now when I walk around oblivious to anything but the worship music crashing into my ears, my kids give me the same looks I used to give them. Let them roll their eyes. I've earned it!

I've been on a downloading frenzy, discovering praise and worship bands I hadn't heard of before. LOVE Kari Jobe and Gateway Worship, Encounter Worship, and the Women of Faith. This constant access to uplifting, worshipful music keeps me in a good mood. My thoughts are constantly where they ought to be--on the thrilling majesty of God. And when your thoughts are where they ought to be, the rest of you is going to feel better.

But when I see the zillions of people walking around with the telltale cord running from ear to pocket, I wonder where their thoughts are. If the constant presence of worship music lifts my mind and spirit, where would my heart be if I was listening to something else?

Scripture says "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he." And nothing thinks our thoughts for us like music pumping directly into our ears.

We all have different tastes in music. What I find uplifting bores my daughter, and her favorite bands annoy me. My 20-year-old son feasts on a steady diet of Weird Al Yankovich!(Weird Al is actually very funny!)

Music itself is neither good nor bad. The test of good music is what it creates inside your spirit. Where does it lead your heart? When you listen to your favorite songs, where do your thoughts go? Does your music stir up dissatisfaction? Restlessness? Does it take you back to a time you'd do better to forget? Do the words paint an alluring picture of something God disallows? Does the artist flaunt evil and dare you to do the same?

Some of what the world calls music is clearly offensive and anybody with a shred of sense avoids that stuff. But what about all the other? All the secular or even some that is called Christian?

I hear your "humph!" Okay, so it's not overtly about God, what's wrong with that?

Nothing's wrong with it if it leaves your heart in a higher place, thinking right thoughts, desiring Godly attitudes. If it turns your mind toward doing right, inspires you to live better, fills you with hope, and thrills you with promise.

But so much of current popular entertainment focuses on darkness, even some Christian music. It's depressing. It points out all that is wrong, hurtful, angry in life, and gives no solutions. When the song ends, your thoughts go on...and on... Mulling over dark feelings, agreeing that yes, things are bad and life is meaningless.

Okay then, what about light pop music? Nothing wrong with that, is there? It's just fun. Harmless.

Maybe. Most Top 40 songs have one theme: romance and getting "my baby" back. Some of that is fine, but what is it really saying? What ideas are pumped like oxygen directly into your spirit? In a large percentage of popular songs, the singer is pining to spend the night with the current object of his lust and is wailing about it, accompanied by a lot of synthesizers.

If the music doesn't move you, stir you, connect with something inside your heart, you probably don't like it and it won't be on your iPod. So the fact that it's on there says you relate to it. But what part of you relates to it? Your worldly side or your spirit?

This is not a rant against secular music. I've got plenty of that on my iPod too, but I notice that the closer I draw to God, I don't care to listen to it much. It doesn't do anything for me. Seems empty somehow. Pointless.
Think of this post as a checkpoint, a little stop along the way asking you to rethink some of your music choices. What is going into your ears does affect your spirit. If you rely on your iPod for little time-outs during the day, little escapes from daily stress, then be careful what you're listening to.

When you set the headphones aside, is your outlook more positive, your attitude more pleasant, your spirit calm? Or are you feeling down and don't know why? Have your thoughts ventured into areas where they shouldn't go? Are you having trouble focusing on your spiritual life the way you want to? Do you find yourself humming lyrics that, were you to write them down and show them to your pastor, would mortify you?

Maybe the answer is as close as your iPod.
It occurred to me last night, as I was browsing through the visitor links that show me from what part of the world my blog readers come, that some of you may not know what I'm talking about much of the time.

I have assumed that my readers were Christians like me, but I've been surprised and humbled to see the variety of visitors and the number of countries represented. The Lord reminded me that some of you may need more information about what it means to be a Christian.

If you've been reading my posts with all the references to my personal relationship with God and been puzzled by it, I invite you to a new blog site I created just for you! It is my hope and prayer that everyone who reads my blog will come to have a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with God, because in the end, that's all that really matters.

Click here for a more detailed explanation of what it means to know God.

When I Knew I Was A Grownup

This essay appeared a few months ago, but I had to remove it during the time it was entered in a national contest. I've had several requests to rerun it, so here it is.
When I Knew I Was A Grownup
It should have happened sooner. Possibly when my husband and I outgrew the Young Married class at church. Or perhaps the day the cute grocery sacker called me a respectful “Ma’am instead of flirting with me. At least I should have realized it the day the nurse handed me my firstborn child.

But at age forty, with a husband and four young children, I was woefully unprepared for adulthood when the doctor looked from me to my mother’s ashen face against the sheet: “I’m sorry, it’s cancer. It has spread so much, there’s nothing we can do.”

Cancer…cancer…cancer…the dreaded word that had never found our family until a mere two years ago when a surgeon strode from my father’s biopsy and told us the unthinkable. He’d lived eight months. Here we were again.

“Sometimes lightning does strike twice in the same place,” the doctor said, before escaping back into his world where cancer was just a word that belonged to somebody else.

“I can’t do this alone,” Mom sobbed. “Daddy’s not here and I’m gonna have to do this alone.”

I stood and took her face between my hands, forcing her to look at me. The tears dropped from my cheeks to hers as she watched me with childish fear. “Don’t say that! You’re not alone. I will be there for you. Everything. All of it. You…are...not…alone!”

The idea of diving into that dark pool again made my insides shriek. We both knew what lay ahead. But as I looked at her, suddenly small and frail against the sheet, gazing at me like a drowning swimmer longs for a lifeline, the mantle of adulthood passed to me.

Sometimes life forces people into seasons they’re not ready to face: a teenager becomes a parent, a husband becomes a widower, a sibling is suddenly faced with being an only child. But innate in us all is that connection with our parents--a bond so strong it transcends the health of the relationship. When the one who once spanked you, grounded you, and taught you about the birds and the bees is now looking at you with trusting eyesthe way you once looked at heryou no longer have the option of being a child.

No matter your chronological age, regardless of your title or position in life, a part of you retains an intrinsic need to be parented. You need someone to show off for, somewhere to bring your trophies, your accomplishments, your cute kids. Parents are the only people in the world who think you’re wonderful simply because you exist.

You can’t go,” I wanted to tell her. “I’m still here. I’m not through needing you. I don’t know how to be an orphan.

But it didn’t matter. She had no choice, and neither did I. It was my turn to find the enthusiasm and patience to remain cheerful in the face of the worst possible news. After all, how many times had she done that for me? A bad report card, a broken heart, a shattered dream. She’d been a pillar for me when my adolescent world threatened to crush me. When trauma and sickness and disappointment swirled through my life, she’d been my anchor—a calm, unshakable stalwart that could withstand anything hurled against it. Whether I’d liked it or not at the time, I’d drawn strength from it. I could be that for her now.

“I guess I can trust you, can’t I,” my mother whispered through dry, cracked lips when the cancer was no longer satisfied with stealing her body. It was taking her mind. You’re old enough to be wise. I don’t have to do it anymore. I can rest now.” And she closed her eyes and her nightmares stopped.

Mine had just begun: doling out the proper medicines on time, cleaning up the messes she would have never made in her right mind, filing the insurance papers, keeping her affairs in order, bullying our way into doctors offices when no one wanted to take responsibility for her deteriorating condition.

Months. She had a few short months from the moment we were told. She readied her affairs, approached the coming storm with courage and her head held high, but cancer can defeat even the most courageous. In the end, few can be grownups by themselves.

“When you die,” she said one day from her elevated bed, they just dig a hole and put you in it. How do they know?” She looked at me with childlike faith. “How will they know I’m really dead?”

We hadn’t talked about it much. It was easier to stay busy with the myriad of chores that cancer brings. The word caretaker was more manageable when it was physical care I could provide, duties I could perform. Anything to keep from watching her slip further and further away.

But the chaos inside her head demanded that someone take charge.

“God will tell me,” I answered and smoothed her graying hair.

Her eyes were still shadowed with worry. “You’ll be there?”

“Absolutely. I promise you. No one will put you into the ground until God tells me it’s okay.”

She smiled and closed her eyes.

I wanted to cry, to throw myself against her withered chest and scream that she couldn’t do this to me. What did I know about anything? I was just a kid. She was the one with all the answers. She was the one I’d always gone to when life didn’t make sense. But grownups don’t cry.

At forty, I wasn’t ready to be a grownup, but life handed it to me anyway, as it does to us all. It was a gift that I could give her as she had given to me so many times before.

To Mom, From Me. Thanks for teaching me how to be a grownup.

Talking About Pain

Pain is not a favorite topic.

We hate it, avoid it at all costs, and double our fists, ready to hold someone responsible when it lands on us anyway.

My pastor's sermon this week was about unavoidable pain and the correct response to it. Some people have the idea that if they're doing everything right, life should be a joy ride. After all, God owes them an easy time if they follow the rules, right?

But what happens when you're doing the best you can and ugly life slaps you down anyway?

There is no escaping hard times, heartaches, scary events, and sorrow. No matter who you are. Death, unemployment, poverty, handicap, and sickness strike the just and the unjust alike.

Jesus told his loyal followers, "In this world, you will have much trouble,. But take heart, I have overcome the world." His disciples were clearly as close to God as a human can be on the earth, and yet Jesus warned them life wouldn't be a piece of Boston Cream Pie. His certainly wasn't.

But God is big on personal choice and he offers you a choice in the middle of tragedy. When pain hits you in the face, you can either say, "God, what are you doing to me?" or "God, change me." Your choice of response will make all the difference in what happens next.

I've spent plenty of time shouting the first response and I don't recommend it. Demanding that God explain himself to us is similar to a toddler demanding that you explain life to him. Some things are beyond our immediate comprehension. The first response is adversarial. It automatically sets you at odds with a God who you've decided has done this evil thing to you. He could have stopped it and He didn't, so He owes you an explanation.

But such a response gets you nowhere. It instantly severs the lifeline that could have sustained you. Bitterness takes root and you now see God as the cruel server of this pain you don't feel you deserve. Too many people are still shrouded in the bitterness they adopted during an event years ago, now all but forgotten. But their separation from God has become a part of who they are and damaged their spirit, their relationships, and their healing.

The second response requires humility and God has promised to draw near to the brokenhearted. He tells us clearly that His ways are not our ways. No one doubts that; the trick is in admitting that His ways are better than our ways. We don't really think so. Our ways wouldn't involve such suffering. So we have to be willing to let Him change our perspective to His. If any good is to come from this suffering, we have to be pliable lumps of clay and let Him fashion a beauty from it we had not envisioned.

That's where humility comes in. We have to humble ourselves in order to let go of our opinions and the way we see things. God is attracted by our true humility. He's always searching for it in us, but unfortunately, rarely finds it. What He finds instead are angry, stubborn, arrogant people with a list of demands we call prayers.

It is the second response that opens the door to a storehouse of strength, peace, endurance we would never have discovered on our own. The stronger the pain, the more fiercely we should cling to our only source of help.

Don't let the pain of life drive you away from your closest ally. How sad if the pain in your life does double damage: causing pain in the fleeting present, while destroying your relationship with your Creator.

What will your response be to the next whammy that knocks the breath out of you? You're not a victim; you have a choice.

Dirty Snow

We've had snow on the ground--the SAME snow--for over two weeks. For you northerners, that's no big deal, but in Oklahoma we close down the town when more than two flakes are forecast for the night. However, by anybody's standards, it's been painfully cold for too long.
The snow on Christmas Eve was so beautiful, so seasonal and welcome. It was a dusty snow that lay like cotton candy on the ground and didn't clog up the highline wires like wet snow does. It brought with it dreams of jingle bells and wonderland, hot cocoa and s'mores.
But it's still here. And it looks nothing like the above picture.
It's now hard and crusty, like concrete. Dingy from mud and footprints. Patchy where it's evaporated or been scraped away. It's not pretty at all. It's just annoying, but we can't get rid of it.
Some sins are like that. So enticing at first, so seemingly harmless we welcome them like friends, assuming they'll leave when we're ready. Their beauty is so dazzling it hides what we don't want to see. It's easy to forget about slick streets and and mudholes when the flakes are swirling like a geometric art form. And it's easy to excuse a bad habit, sinful indulgence, or harmful relationship when we're enamoured with the newness of it.
But what happens when we tire of it? Does it just go away?
That's the slippery part about which preachers rail, your mother warned, and God gives clear instruction. Humans have done everything possible to make sin more acceptable. We don't even use the term "sin" anymore. Too archaic. Too judgmental. Instead, we've renamed it, tamed it, put a bow on it, airbrushed it, and computer enhanced it in a frantic attempt to convince ourselves it's as harmless as new fallen snow.
But like snow in the Arctic, it hardens there and refuses to budge when we've had enough. That little porn enjoyment on the side mushrooms into a failed marriage. The drinking to deaden painful emotions becomes a full-blown monster that is now calling the shots in your life. The one-time dally with the next door neighbor results in an unexpected pregnancy that destroys two families.
One of the biggest mistakes we make is the false assumption that we can control sin. But rebellion against God is by its very nature uncontrollable. There may be no outward signs of the hold it has on you, but inside--you know. Guilt colors every relationship, self-esteem plummets, and you're afraid to pray because you know that God knows.
When you look out your window this winter at hardened dirty snow, ask yourself if there's anything in your life that has lost its luster and needs to go. You may not be able to extricate yourself from sin's hold on you, but God can.
And He will, but only when you totally let go of it. Completely. No last lingering looks. No regrets. No fond memories of the beauty it once held for you. You have to see it as He sees it--dirty, ugly, useless. Only then can He wash your life clean and make you once more as beautiful as the new fallen snow.