The Last Time

This morning I took a shower in my Mema’s house, probably for the last time. It’s funny how things hit you sometimes. For the last couple of weekends, we have been working to clean out Mema’s house since she doesn’t need any of this stuff in heaven.🙂 The 9 months since her death have been eventful, to be sure. My Mom has the most stories to tell. This season has been a most difficult one in her life. She has been an absolute ROCK star! She takes after her mother.

Mema was practical, seemingly unbreakable. She took the crap that life handed her and dealt with it head on. She was tough, but gentle. She ALWAYS took care of the people around her. She never stopped. She worked, and worked, and worked, and loved and loved and loved. She was a phenomenal care-giver. She loved fully. She gave completely. We saw her generosity to us, but now realize we have seen only a glimpse of the far-reaching extent of her generosity. In fact, there were a lot of things about her we are discovering the depth of only now.

“Generous,” “loving,” “practical,” “long-suffering,” “wise,” “dependable,” “strong,” “private,” “discerning,” “hard-working,” “persevering,”– all words that describe Mema. In fact, as I type these words, I can’t help but think of the “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13. She embodied that passage like no one else I’ve ever known.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

So here I sit. After a lifetime of visiting Mema’s house, we are down to the last time: the last time I sat at her table to eat with extended family, the last time of sitting in her den reading one of her books, the last time taking a shower at her house. It hurts my heart. We often don’t know when something is happening for the last time until we look back. In the last weeks of her life, every time we left her, we wondered if it was the last time. And then it was. A diagnosis of cancer or other disease makes you aware that each life event, each holiday, each good-bye may be the last time with a loved one. Yet oftentimes, we experience last events without that awareness. This is probably a good thing. Would we fully embrace the joy of the moment if there was grief hanging over it?

No. We don’t need to borrow tomorrow’s grief in today’s celebration. Mema wouldn’t want that.

Even in this last time, Mema’s practicality helps to bring laughter through the tears. As the sadness washed over me with the water this morning, the shower curtain rings caught my eye. I couldn’t help but giggle. What would you do if the best placement of the shower curtain rod caused too big of a gap at the bottom of the curtain? Mema just added another row of curtain rings to the existing curtain rings. Fixed for less than a dollar. I swear that woman could have been the original author of all the “life-hack” videos and lists we’ve seen on social media.

God, please give me just a portion of her spirit and wisdom. I KNOW it came from YOU. Amen!

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Whose Agenda are We Following, and Why?

“Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “A certain group of people exist in pockets among the other peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of everyone else (stricter, actually, because of their religious beliefs), and they refuse to obey the king’s laws (just the one stating they had to bow down to Haman or any man against their religious beliefs). There’s no good reason for the king to put up with them any longer (they weren’t bothering the king, just Haman.) If the king wishes, let a written order be sent out to destroy them, and I will hand over ten thousand kikkars of silver to those in charge of the king’s business. The silver can go into the king’s treasuries.” (Haman was willing to personally fund the campaign to wipe out those who didn’t agree with his prideful, selfish agenda. This was personal.) Esther 3:8-9, CEB, (my comments added.)

In this story, one man (Haman) felt another man (Mordecai) disrespected him. Haman’s pride caused him to then view everyone of Mordecai’s race as a threat to his powerful position. This fear wasn’t based on fact, it was based on prejudice. Because Haman was in a position of power, influence and wealth, he was able to spread his agenda quickly, without the king investigating the facts of the case. The king probably trusted his leaders who were closer to the situation. An entire group of people’s lives were endangered with no real thought at all from the “government” because a small group within the government felt disrespected by these people following their religious beliefs.

In light of the news this week, what can we learn from this story to apply to our society today?

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He Could Have Grabbed a Stone

“And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He returned to the temple. All the people gathered around Him, and He sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test Him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against Him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with His finger.
They continued to question Him, so He stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, He wrote on the ground. Those who heard Him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”
She said, “No one, Sir.”
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”
~~John 8:1-11, Contemporary English Bible

In this story, religious leaders and legal experts were going to use a woman’s life to trap Jesus. Legal experts. At this point in Israel’s history, they were living by the Roman laws and trying to follow (at least in word) the stricter Jewish law. In the center of this microcosm God, the Maker/Formulator of the very law the legal experts were trying to use to trip Jesus up, enters as Jesus. Ironic. The story, though, just tugs at my heart.

This story initially stirs my anger. As a woman, my first reaction is: “Jerks! She wasn’t ‘caught in adultery’ alone. Where is her partner? Why didn’t they bring him?” The Law they were referring to, found in Leviticus 20:10, says “both must be executed.” In Numbers 5:11, there is a description of what to do if a woman is suspected of committing adultery, but not “caught.” Being caught means there is another guilty (and equally condemned) party, as well.

I feel empathy for this woman, standing in the middle of the crowd, exposed and possibly naked, with her sin proclaimed for everyone to know and judge. How often do we do this to people today, I wonder, while secretly hoping no one does the same to us? For some, the sin is obvious because there is still a stark contrast on some things between right and wrong. But for others, hiding has become easy. Heck, some sins we don’t even hide anymore, even at church functions (because eating too much is a fun way to bring people together).

We mustn’t lose sight of the accusers’ motivation, mentioned in verse 6. They were not asking Jesus what they should do because they wanted to know if there was any grace in the Law. This wasn’t, “Jesus, what would God have us do? This woman is our mother/sister/friend/neighbor. We love her. We don’t want to have to stone her, but the law says we must. We are heartbroken, what do we do?” No, this was a set-up. The woman, exposed with her life on the line, was a pawn for the purpose of finding a reason to bring an accusation against Jesus. And I wonder, why would this have been a dilemma for Jesus? How would this have tested Him? In order for it to “test” Him, there would have to be a compelling reason for Him not to say, “Yes. That’s what the law says. Do what you must.” The law is clear. She was “caught.” There were obviously more than 2 witnesses. (How on earth that was arranged is left out of the story.) Did He know this woman? Did she already have a “reputation”? Was she one of the crowd that had been following Him, intrigued by His teaching and wondering if she really had any hope? I wonder.

I also wonder about Jesus’ initial response. What was He writing on the ground? Was He just creating some space to let emotions settle and for people to think? Did He write or draw something that struck their hearts? Then, in the middle of his writing/drawing, He spoke that famous phrase, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.”

Do you realize that He was speaking about Himself? He was the only one in the crowd who had not sinned. By His own words He had the authority to start the execution sentence. But He didn’t. He just bent down and wrote on the ground some more. The others knew their personal sins. Imagine one of them picking up a stone to throw and the guy standing next to him saying, “Um…Fred… umm…Hold on a minute. I know you can’t start this. You lied to me yesterday.” So they went away one by one, led by the elders. Were these the same elders who had led the charge to test Jesus?

The story ends with so much hope for each of us. Jesus, the only ONE without sin who could have cast the first stone says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.” “I don’t condemn you.” Do you need to hear that from Jesus today? HE DOESN’T CONDEMN YOU. Yes, you are guilty. You may be caught. You broke God’s Law. You broke His heart. The sentence is clear. But you are not condemned by the only One who has the right to pass that sentence. Because of Jesus, you are free to go and sin no more. You can leave the past behind you and walk in new life. Others still may not trust you, they may judge you, or expect you to keep doing what you have before. In fact, they may still be hurt by what you have done. There may be natural and logical consequences you have to face because of your sin. I don’t know. But you have a chance to start anew today, to live differently from this point forward, to make better choices, to walk free of eternal condemnation. Trust Jesus.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in Him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.
“This is the basis for judgment: The Light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the Light, for their actions are evil. All who do wicked things hate the Light and don’t come to the Light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the Light. Whoever does the truth comes to the Light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”-John 3:16-21, Contemporary English Bible.

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Dear Mother of Screaming Child,

I’m not smiling because I’m judging you and find your desperation amusing.

I’m smiling because I’ve been where you are and I know you will make it through, even if you don’t feel like it at the moment.

I’m smiling because I know one day you will look back on days like this and actually miss them.

I’m smiling because, like your unhappy child, I have days when I’m tired and would love to throw a fit in the middle of a department store. But because I’m not 4, I would end up arrested. That thought made me smile.

Dear young Mother, do not despair. There are people around you who understand your plight and sympathize. We would help you if we could. But the world can be a dangerous and cruel place, and we don’t know how you would receive our input, or how we could best give it. So we stand by silently and smile as you try to hurriedly complete your purchase and take your screaming child home.

But some of us don’t just smile, we pray.

We pray for you; for you to have an extra measure of love, patience, grace, wisdom, joy, peace and anything else you need in this situation.

We pray for your child to also find some peace in his upset little heart and mind.

We pray for God’s blessings on you and your sweet baby who is just having a rough, tired moment.

So I smile and pray, hoping that in my smile you find encouragement, hope and understanding reflective of the prayers being said on your behalf.

God bless you, dear Mother of young children.

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Fun Times

Sitting in court this morning (my job, not personal), I had ample time to find constructive things to do…like check Facebook, write a blog post, clean out my inbox… What did people do with their waiting time before all this technology?!?!  I vaguely remember those ancient days.

Anyway, in my inbox I found an email from a laser tag place to which I used to take my former church youth group…back when I was young and innocent… No, really I was just extremely naive. Here’s part of the email:

Here is an activity that is sure to unleash the fun at your next Youth Group gathering!

The name of the game is “Never Have I Ever”

Follow these simple instructions and have a blast!
1.       Everyone holds up one hand.
2.       Go around the circle and one at a time, each person announces something that they have never done, beginning the sentence with the phrase “Never have I ever…” For example, a person could say, “Never have I ever been to Europe.”
3.       For each statement that is said, all the other players drop a finger if they have done that statement.
4.       The goal is to stay in the game the longest.
5.       To win, it’s a good strategy to say statements that most people have done, but you haven’t.

Doesn’t that sound like a fun game to play with a group of teenagers? If you can’t imagine it, let me assure you, it is. Although we did the game differently, I have played it many times with my regular, church kids…the kind that have grown up in their family home and have, at least on occasion, attended church. They somehow knew what was and was not appropriate to say they had never done, which others may have. “Never have I ever: sang a solo, ridden a horse, drove a truck, climbed Stone Mountain, etc…” You get the idea. Perhaps these precious babies played the game differently at non-church parties. But they followed protocol at church.

And then one day I started working at a group home for troubled teenagers. Some of these kids LOVE to go to church and participate in youth group. So I take them. And one evening at youth group, we played “Never have I ever.” I probably will never do that again…lol! That’s when I found out how naive I was in my experience and expectations of “unchurched” kids; you know, the ones we say we want to reach? Turns out these kids are competitive…and adept at surviving… and some were not afraid or ashamed to use what they knew about the other contestants to win the game. Because I have been desensitized to what these kids say and do, I was not as shocked as I should have been… I think I even laughed. It was funny. I also stopped the game really quickly.

Here’s the rub and the question for you to ponder today: how do we reach out to hurting, disadvantaged children and include them in our “good, wholesome” activities, exposing them to love and grace and positive influences while protecting the children we currently have from negative influences brought in by the new kids? I’m open to suggestions. Please comment.

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Changing Our Want

     I want to eat to eat what I want and be thin.
     I have had to face the reality that not everyone’s body responds to food the same way. Some people are able to eat whatever they want and stay thin. This is not a blessing or gift I have. Actually, I guess I should say, some people appear to be able to eat whatever I want to eat, and while I would immediately gain a pound of fat, they metabolize it efficiently and stay thin. Truth be told, most of these individuals probably have a lifestyle in which they eat a lot fewer calories, and burn a lot more, on a regular daily basis than I do. For instance, my youngest son eats all the delicious carbs (bread, Mac and cheese, ice cream, etc), fried food, sugary drinks, pizza, chips, etc… he wants to eat, rarely touches a vegetable or fruit (never a salad), and is just as thin as he ever was. But he doesn’t eat often and he walks miles, I mean MILES, every day. Food just isn’t a THING to him. It’s not one of his main pleasures in life. Food may not be one of my MAIN pleasures, but I do enjoy it. And knowing the reality of my situation, I can’t do what I want.
      OR, I can change my “want”.
      Paul wrote about wants in Ephesians 7: “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (Romans 7:18, 19 NLT) And if a grown, educated, wise man such as the apostle Paul had this struggle, perhaps the solution for me is a little more complicated than a “diet” or weight-loss program. Perhaps the answer is to let the Holy Spirit live through me.
     “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to Him at all.)… The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.” (Romans 8:9, 11-13 NLT)
    There is a whole lot more in the 2 chapters than I touched on here. But this is a good start for today.
     I’m also going to make Post-It notes for myself that say, “I want to take care of this body God gave me.” “I want to use my time for God’s purposes, and accomplish the tasks that benefit His kingdom.” “I want to do what The Lord tells me to do and bring glory to His Name.” But first and foremost, I am going to write, “I will live by the Holy Spirit inside of me and NOT by my sinful nature.”
     What about you? What do you need to write on your Post-It notes today?
*name changed
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“THE CURSE OF WORK” – August 16

“THE CURSE OF WORK” – August 16

This post did not just speak to me, it shouted. How I wish I had taught this lesson to my children better.

 

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