Tuesday, February 28, 2012

..Or Praiseworthy...Part 2 (Final Installment of Phil. 4:8)

Ministry is a difficult thing to explain.  On one hand, those involved are humbled and outside themselves due to a focus on others.  On the other hand, that service becomes deeply personal and often, a defining part of our personalities. 

And, in a lot of ways, ministry has defined me.  I stayed nine extra months at a church (when God had clearly given me license to leave) for my women's group.  That group, in the few years I was privileged enough to facilitate it, taught me more about living Christianity than any sermon I've ever heard.  They showed me the value of transparency, how crucial it is (for women, in particular) to link arms in a common purpose, and offered relentless encouragement to my struggling heart.

God pulled me toward that ministry, hardcore inadequacies in tact.  And I left realizing that ministry functioned not because of my gifts, but due to theirs.  I miss them--particularly now, when we would be calf deep in the book of James--and I find myself less driven when it comes to personal Bible study.  On days when it's just been enough (whatever "it" happens to be), I miss the solid comfort of their hands.  But I think I most miss the kindred connectedness that comes from women who are committed to one another.

See, I've always believed there's something different about women studying The Word.  I don't think it replaces small group ministry or large congregational meetings, but there's a dynamic between women that cannot be attained with any other grouping.  It's a recipe with that one unidentifiable spice that tantalizes and confuses the taste buds.

Six months into the new scenery, I realize I haven't written about them.  I couldn't write about them.  It hurts to write about them. 

Even when a move is God-ordained, the meantimes swell with loneliness and the rust of disuse.

Women's Ministry is still strong on my heart, but the scenery has changed and I'm not entirely sure old house plans work in the new terrain.  Old bruises are still visible, and I've become uncharacteristically closed-mouthed about where I am and who God is calling me to be.  (Not here, of course.  But few of you know me, and I rarely see the ones who do.)

In the last weeks, Phillipians 4:8 have been the quiet drip, drip of a water faucet to my heart.  The scripture has reminded me of those women, and prompted me to write about them.  After all, when a group of women models Truth, nobility, righteousness, purity, loveliness, admirability, and excellence, is it possible to turn your back and ignore that influence?

They, to my heart, have become the praiseworthy.  Each and every group.  Each and every dynamic.  Each story.  Every tear.  They have burned something into my brain that makes it impossible for me to deny the movement of God's hand--on my life and theirs.  The experience of them leaves me wondering, "What's next?" 

In the meantime, I want to honor them.  His Presence in their lives certainly deserves a bit of praise.

Monday, February 27, 2012

...or Praiseworthy...

BigBro is one of the smartest people I've ever met.  He is level-headed and intelligent--a combination I feel is sadly lacking in society.  People love him--from the very old to the very young--because he has a demeanor that makes them instantly comfortable and accepted.

And while all these things paint a picture of the great person he is, they don't show the mixing process it took to develop some of those paint colors, or the painstaking process of creation.

BigBro graduated from high school number five in his class.  His level of intelligence guaranteed that everyone above him was genius level, and that theory has proven itself in the fact that number one and number two went on to pursue endeavors with the Navy (at their invitation--something to do with nuclear submarines) and MIT respectively.

BigBro pursued his education at a private university several hours away from home, but some personal life struggles left him wanting, seeking, something that was difficult to determine.  (Keep in mind, this story is from my point of view and I won't share some of the more private aspects of this journey.)  After a few years, he returned home to attend a local university.

His endeavors there weren't much more successful.  Despite his intelligence, BigBro was struggling with the direction of his life, and that made it difficult to make potentially life-altering decisions.  Eventually, he left the university sans degree and took a job with Barnes & Noble.

He would ultimately work for the company for 10 years.  But the process is likely more important than the time.  He developed close friendships, and a deep understanding of the cafe.  BigBro was a talented barista, and that isn't a fact acknowledged by me alone.  Over time, several customers became his "regulars" and many of them his friends.

Fantastic interpersonal skills aside, BigBro came to understand the overwhelming demands of retail.  Holidays, with the exception of Christmas, became UN-holidays, because the general public would hasten to spend their extra time browsing the aisles of books and sipping a fancy drink.  And while he may have mentioned frustrations a time or two, he rarely complained.

Some people believed a couple of years with the company would be enough to send BigBro running to the classroom to finish his degree.  I'm sure after a frustrating day, he considered it, but he was more dedicated to careful consideration and future possibilities.

One of his regulars made him a member of the "Drop-Out-Club," and while he and Ronnie considered this an inside joke, I found the jest to be fairly insulting.  One day, after I had grown tired of a number of people ragging on BigBro to "just finish" his degree, this man's "inside joke" became the straw that broke the camel's back.  The ten minute diatribe that followed wasn't my finest hour, but I still believe the things I said.

Ronnie is the most trustworthy person I know.  He is admirable for a hundred reasons that don't require a college degree, and I think that's the kicker.  Several of the things we learn in college were things Ronnie already understood.  And, I believed in him, because I knew that when the path was clear, he would pursue it with ardor.

About 9 years into his tenure at Barnes & Noble, that's exactly what happened.  His love of cars and engines developed into a bachelor's degree in engineering.  While pursuing his master's, he was head-hunted to apply for a job with a company more than ten hours away.  And after an interview, that company (who clearly saw something worthwhile there--smart people) offered him more money than he originally asked for.

Ten years from start to finish.  Ten years of frustration, decisions and well-meaning advice givers.  Ten years of courage of conviction, honesty and trustworthiness.  Ten years for God to clearly direct his path.  Ten years for BigBro to get a little recognition for the ability most of us saw very early in his life.  But he is, by far, one of the most praiseworthy people I've had the privilege of knowing personally--and more so because He gives God the glory for where he is and where he has been.

There are more struggles to come, I'm sure.  More decisions to make.  More life to live.  But in that process, I can guarantee you that the things that make BigBro praiseworthy are the very things that others will see in the journey to come.  When they do, I hope that's what they think on, because I can't think of him without openly acknowledging those traits.

Final Installment of Philippians 4:8

Thursday, February 23, 2012

...If Anything is Excellent...Part 2

This series is changing the way I approach topics.  Sometimes, I want to write scathing remarks about incidents in the lives of people I love.  I keep wanting to defend the innocent, but I can't get more than a few paragraphs in before God kindly reminds me that innocence itself is the best defense.  No amount of back biting--from whatever direction--will change that fact.

My remarks would eventually be lost in the cacophony of words that aren't beneficial.  They aren't uplifting.  And even my persuasion skills couldn't convince you they were anywhere close to Christ-like.

Like every other person, I'm stuck in the realm of first person perspective:  I can't see beyond what I can see.  I've had to use phrases like "That's not what happened" or "That information is pretty off-base."  And like my juniors are learning with The Education of Little Tree, first person perspective can be fairly manipulative.

For Lent, I was determined to give up television during the week day.  I was sure my time management skills would benefit, and I even justified I would get to spend more time in Bible study which would, in essence, draw my heart closer to God.  But PastorJosh issued a different sort of sacrificial challenge:  What if, instead of giving up chocolate, soda, television or facebook, the church determined that we would give up sin?

Instead of "giving up" for Lent, I'm determined to live differently.  I'm praying that God will teach me to love Him with my heart, soul, mind and strength--with everything I have.  And, in addition, I'm praying for a break from the first person perspective so I can pray like Jesus:  "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).  I don't just want to pray that prayer in persecution.  I want to live that life--the one that knows how desperately humanity needs Christ.

And I am not immune from humanity.

 What if we determined that the proverbial "buck" stops here? What if gossip, immorality, judgementalism and hatred ended with us?  What if we, as the church, determined to live the next forty days with Christ's heart?

What sort of excellent would that be?

...Or Praiseworthy...

...If Anything is Excellent...

Excellent isn't a word in my everyday vernacular.  In fact, it conjures images of Bill and Ted and some adventure I'm not sure my 14-year-old mind comprehended as well as my 20-year-old mind would have.  But the word is felt and seen when God graciously parts the veil enough for me to see His hand make slight movements that have rocked my world.

More often than not, God has used something outside myself to clear the lens enough to allow me to see His movements of excellent.  Today, I had that privilege.

I have a life verse.  I didn’t get it all at once, but over time, God revealed bits and pieces of scripture until I was able to see that different situations I was facing boiled down to the same scripture.  Even now, He still reveals new sections and pieces that seem fitting to my circumstances.

Isaiah 43
1 But now, this is what the LORD says—
   he who created you, Jacob,
   he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
   I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
   I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
   they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
   you will not be burned;
   the flames will not set you ablaze.

First, I got verse one.  I needed the reminder that I was claimed and His.  I needed to put our relationship in perspective and realign my attitude with one who is claimed and redeemed.  More than 8 months later, as I encountered several hurts in a row, I received verse two.  I still read those verses (and wonder if they were meant to prepare me for future fires through which I had to walk).  Fire and water are both consuming and overwhelming, but I would not be consumed by them.

In the last few months, God has slowly been reminding me of verses 18-19:

18 “Forget the former things;
   do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
   Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
   and streams in the wasteland.

I don’t believe those verses to be a magic “cure-all," but I look to them to remember where I have been and where God has brought me.  They are reminders that “He who began a good work in you” will do His job fully and completely (Phil. 1:6).

I walked into an Ash Wednesday service yesterday (my first) and realized my belief God is good was born out of something horrific.  I said He was good before those circumstances entered my life, but I believed it wholeheartedly afterward (or during might be more accurate).  When I bent my head to acknowledge my sinfulness, a deep understanding of God's excellence washed over me, because He hasn't just led me in this journey, he's occasionally revealed tiny pieces of the map.

The point is this:  He is worth our thoughts, because His ways (that are not our ways) prove a path of excellence paved with or without our knowledge.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

...Whatever is Admirable...Part 2

It's a goal of mine to develop the gift of hospitality.  Stick with me here, because I'm going to share a little secret.

God has called me to a ministry of encouragement.  (Which is ironic, really.  And that irony is not lost on me.)  Often, that ministry requires gracious hosting (not a gift of mine), words of affirmation (which apparently don't include the words "pansy" or "suck it up"), attentive listening (which means checking email on my phone probably isn't acceptable during our dinner conversation) and occasionally requires laying oneself bare to encourage an atmosphere of transparency (which I can do:  awkwardly.  But recent situations--like changes in the last few months--have a way of causing one to "hole up" so to speak.  So it's another thing I don't have down).

When we built our house, I tried to build it with hospitality in mind.  I wanted a space to entertain, to feed, to laugh and to cry.  I needed the sense of cozy that comes with a well-planned room.  I wanted friends and family to come in and feel at ease to make themselves at home.  (Making themselves at home often means they are comfortable enough to get their own drinks.  That doesn't make me a bad host, does it?)  And now that we're in that house, I'm trying to practice these undeveloped skills and rearrange furniture to reach those goals.

But this post isn't for others to admire me--it's in admiration of people who already do this well.  Sometimes I'm struck dumb by people who warmly embrace people as part of their personal journey.  Their homes and their lives become a testament to the fact that this (however you identify it) really is about relationship.

I've had family model this concept for me before I had words to identify what they were doing.  My dad's youngest brother and his wife have welcomed half of the people in our county to their home with open arms.  My parents "added on" people who were without a home or family.  Shoot--there are more people than I can count who also refer to my mom and dad as their "other parents."  And my church?  Continues to include and invite.

Maybe this whole hospitality thing comes down to one thing:  inclusion.  And people who make us feel like we belong are some of the most admirable in the world.

...If Anything is Excellent...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

...Whatever is Admirable...

I keep thinking that I will eventually get the point where I am no longer almost ashamed to tell people I am a Christian. Don't misinterpret. If we were to sit down and talk about Christ and his place in my life, you would see that I am grateful for His mercies--they are new every morning.

But as an ambassador, I am sadly lacking. Without becoming self deprecating (because most people think that term and realism are interchangeable), I need to be honest about the reflection that stares at me from the mirror. My words are not always helpful or beneficial. Some of those words I am attempting to removefrom my vocabulary entirely--with limited success. I make inappropriate jokes and even more inappropriate comments. Screening before speaking is not a virtue of mine.

I don't always know how to deal with hurts, insecurities or horrible people. I'm at an even deeper loss when I'm the horrible person. I struggle with boundaries and alienation, but I know that some decisions, happy or not, are necessary.

Walking with Jesus hasn't innoculated me from any sense of my humanity. But the time between the actual act or word and my recognition of what needs to be sacrficed for His glory is becoming shorter.

And I'm just praying that is admirable.

...Whatever is Admirable... Part 2

Thursday, February 16, 2012

...Whatever is Lovely...Part 2

Sometimes it's difficult to verbalize the affect of one little word.  But when I see that word in action, I know there's no better definition than the picture that is actualized before me.

Lovely is a hard one.  How is that different from beautiful?  Or pretty?  Or gorgeous, even?  I know broken things are ultimately lovely when they are redeemed, but I wanted to share something that just harmonized with my heart.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend a restaurant with a group of people from my church.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to develop deeper relationships--especially considering I've fashioned myself a bit of a social pariah.  Fortunately, these people are open to the most anti-social of congregants.

I sat beside a woman who is engaged.  She is in her forties, and the man she is marrying will be her first husband.  Normally, I wouldn't qualify a story with so many statements, but I feel these things are part of the tapestry that made the conversation so interesting.

We chit-chatted about wedding registries, and the things I felt were most valuable.  We talked about her house, her dress and her family.  Finally, I got so excited (most due to her bubbly conversation about the blessed event), I asked, "What excites you most about marrying Vern?"

Diane thought for a minute before she responded:  "I'm just excited to marry Vern.  I just love him."

A simple answer was the definition of lovely, because it painted a picture of the beauty of relationship.  Of course, she is looking forward to registries, celebration, her dress, her house and the ceremony.  But she is most excited that she loves this man.  She's most excited that they are committing the rest of their lives to one another.  She's most excited that they are in this together.

I heard once that everyone has a story.  The more I listen to others, the more I believe that statement is true.  And those stories have a way of redefining words into pictures until lovely no longer struggles to be separated from beautiful, pretty or gorgeous.  Instead, lovely is Diane and Vern.

...Whatever is Admirable...

Monday, February 13, 2012

...Whatever is Lovely...

Go looking for honey, and chances are good you'll stir up some bees.

Despite my declaration that thick skin is a necessity, my heart is easily bruised by people I've loved with reckless abandon.  (And I mean every bit of that cheesy-sounding sentence.)  Stings multiply quickly, and they swell until, like Peter on the waves, I cry out praying that I would quit being the common denominator in a series of never-will-be-the-sames.  And while change is certainly good, it seems people forget that we live in the wreckage of that change while learning to withstand the fire of the "adjustment period."  Sometimes, the real adjustment is the wake-up call that there are petty people in the world who will quit when they've never tried.  But that, too, is a sting.

Few of those things are lovely.  Actually, I pretty positive that absolutely none of those things are lovely in any sense of the word.

So I've been trying to reconcile the command that we should think on truth, nobility, righteousness, purity and loveliness to the reality that our lives may look a little less lovely and a little more wrecked at times.  Then what?

Then we know we are redeemed, and that water and fire cannot drown or burn us (Isaiah 43:1-2).  Then our focus gravitates to the year of the Lord's favor, and his anointing to heal the broken (Isaiah 61).  Then we revel in the fact that loveliness doesn't come from perfection, but from the precious gift housed in the shoddiest vessel available (2 Corinthians 4:7).

In the process, I guess I'm starting to see that the loveliest picture is generally made from fragments and shards that will never go together the same way again.  Who would want them to when your God is "doing a new thing"? (Isaiah 43:19).

Perhaps the loveliest picture we will ever see is the broken redeemed.  Think about such things.

...Whatever is Lovely...Part 2

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

...Whatever is Pure...Part 2

In high school culture, the 16th birthday is a big deal.  Around here, it doesn't just afford the new driver the opportunity to get from place to place; it also affords them a new found freedom at lunch due to the phenomenon of open campus.

Invariably, that person develops any number of friendships in the weeks before s/he turns 16.  Freshmen and young sophomores come out of the woodwork to cultivate a relationship with the guy who will be able to drive sooner rather than later.

And generally, those relationships last until the freshman or young sophomore turns 16.  Then, the "bond" that was formed fizzles into nothing and the two students go their separate ways.

C'est la vie.  Such is life.

Except, I wonder if we should be so nonchalant about something that is potentially damaging.

Unfortunately, I've actively participated in any number of relationships with lack of pure motives.  If I wouldn't benefit, I didn't get involved.  And, sometimes, I sought out relationships only because they were beneficial to me.

Ulterior motives are one of the uglier parts of human nature.  But those particular motives, even when they're fulfilled, don't satisfy.  Most of the time, I think the commands in scripture lean far more to our benefit; God knows human nature.  He created it.  So when He says, "...whatever is pure...think on these things..." I think it's a it's an admonishment that so much can go wrong when we lean the other direction.

Madeleine L'Engle has been one of the only authors to help me understand the concept of pure motive.  In one of her stories (The Time Quartet or A Ring of Endless Light--I'm not sure which), one character asks another when she is most herself.  After a moment or two, she responds, "When I'm involved in something else and completely focused on that thing."  He, in turn, says, "So you're not thinking about yourself at all.  Isn't it funny that when you're not thinking solely about you is when you're most yourself."

When we completely throw ourselves into something for the sake of that something, I think we begin to see glimpses of Jesus reflected in our own countenance.  But when we seek only ourselves, that's all we'll ever see.

Slowly, God is drawing my motives, my attitude, my focus back to Himself.  He's spent a lot of years letting me wonder in the desert.  More than anything, I pray it's been a purifying process.  But I'm looking for Canaan across the horizon.

Whatever is Lovely

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

...Whatever is Pure...

Apparently, I have a little problem with the antonym game.  I stared at Philippians 4:8, focused on the word "pure" and then started listing every tainted thing in my life.  I think I have a problem.  Or this project is definitely drawing my thought life into the light.  At this point, I'm going to end up having a nervous breakdown during 7th hour and screaming, "TURN THE LIGHT OFF...IT'S ENOUGH LIGHT ALREADY.  IT'S BURNING.  I'M MELTING.  MELTING."

Ha.  Kidding.  Just kidding. 

A little.  (I promise I don't act out scenes from The Wizard of Oz...at least not every day.)

Except for the tainted thing.  That's true.

And the most tainted thing in my life?  Food.

I started my first diet in 7th grade.  In those days, Weight Watchers actually gave you a certain amount of fats, protein, bread, etc. that you could eat in a day.  It wasn't the simple "calculate your points" progam Jennifer Hudson is plugging on the tee-vee.

(Speaking of Jennifer Hudson--Wow.  Just, wow.)

In high school, I experimented with a variety of ways to lose weight.  I would skip meals.  Chew gum.  Eat only tic tacs.  Eat certain types of food.  Chew food so I could taste it and spit it out.  (Yeah, that sounds really sick, now.)

Into college, I discovered Atkins, Slim Fast and laxatives.  All super-healthy approaches to eating well.   #heartattackwaitingtohappen

By the time I got married, I knew I needed to do something about my ever-increasing weight.  So I started Weight Watchers (POINTS by this time) and walked every day.  For an hour.  Sometimes longer.  And in a 4 week time period, I lost a pound.

Frustrated, I shared my problem with my doctor who got in my face and said, "You're fat because you eat too much."  And then?  Food became the enemy.

It was difficult to enjoy dinner when I knew I would hate myself for eating it later.  Anytime I ate a chocolate, a piece of cake or anything that wasn't a raw carrot stick, I would hear something in my head:  "You don't deserve that, Fatty.  What's wrong with you that you think you get to eat something like that?"

I fight that taint every day.  Food isn't the problem.  I am.  My body is.  And the best lesson I've gotten on purely enjoying food has been from a one-year-old.

PastorJosh's daughter is Chloe, and she is so excited about food.  When Favorite and I went out to eat with her (and her family), every time the waitress brought a plate of food, she would say, "Ooooooohhhh....num, num, num."

Everything looked delicious to her.  Everything tasted fabulous.  And I guarantee she didn't go home and wonder what that sweet potato was going to do to her thighs.  She just knew it tasted good, and she enjoyed it.

I know it may sound stupid to you, but I truly pray food doesn't become tainted for her--that she purely enjoys something because it's meant to be enjoyed.

I don't mean this to be a lesson on nutrition, nor do I intend to say that purity is all about enjoyment.  But I do think so many things get weighed down with factors that don't even belong in that particular category.  Our lives have become an ever-growing Pinterest board.  We "pin" issues that may not even belong in a particular category, but those issues impact the way that category functions in our lives.

Maybe instead of embracing a world of issues, we need to stand in defense of a little purity.  Might do a world of wonder for our attitudes.

Whatever is Pure Part 2

Monday, February 6, 2012

...Whatever is Right...Part 2

I hate introductions.

I also hate waiting, freezing, dieting, weird hair growth (and not on my head), pimples and the fact that I may never have a biological child.  I hate those things deeply.  Passionately.  And even though I've declared this stupid disease will never own me, I've had days when I stare in the mirror and feel like I'm suffocating under a list of ridiculous symptoms.

I cry.  A lot.  I feel alone and forgotten.  I forget to ask for knowledge, and remember that I wouldn't be able to identify knowledge if it hit me in the face.  I feel hopeless.  And then?  Then, I get very, very angry. 

Sometimes, on really bad days, I rant to God.  I tell Him that I know He can, so why won't He?  I ask Him to direct my path, but rarely believe He actually will.  I ask Him to make it stop--whenever and however that's possible.

And that particular attitude follows me into every. single. relationship.  It pursues me through my classroom doors.  It sits next to me in church.  It buckles up in my car on the ride home.

Because no matter how I look on the outside, my heart?  Often feels like a dark, ugly shade of gray.

Since my days at U of I (circa 2001), I've working to "take captive every thought" (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Beth Moore's Breaking Free was the first indication I even needed to consider my thought life.  Eleven years later, I wished I would've processed the lesson in its entirety.

When it comes to "right," it's easy to gloss over the concept of right thinking or right attitudes, but the Bible has a lot to say about our thought lives.

Hebrews tells us that God "judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (4:12).  Paul reminds us that, in giving, attitude is as important as the gift (2 Corinthians 9:7).  We are reminded to put off our old selves and "to be made new in the attitude of your minds" (Ephesians 4:23).

Those few examples are enough evidence to convince me that our focus on something right isn't just supposed to lead to right action.  It's supposed to generate right thinking.

I'm not entirely sure that right thinking is always positive thinking, but I know that it is God-centered--in recognition of who He is and what He can do.

Attitude clamps me in manacles.  I get my feelings hurt easily.  I dwell on those hurts.  I pull away and isolate myself to avoid subsequent hurt.  And then...then, I think about all the ways I've been wronged.  I wallow.  I stew.  But rarely, if ever, do I consider what is right in the perameters of my mind.

And I desperately need a reminder.

Bad attitudes fester.  They become malignant.  Without treatment, they will invade every part of life until it's impossible to see any light at the end of any tunnel.  In fact, it becomes impossible to see the tunnel at all.

It turns my mind to what I know about Him.  That He is good.  That I belong to Him.  And, I hope, it's the reminder I need to put the effort into taking my thoughts captive so I can finally think "right."

Whatever is Pure

Sunday, February 5, 2012

...Whatever is Right...

Start at the beginning...

When I started this project, I really didn't think about any of the words that would come after "whatever is true."  I only knew that in order to meditate on something, I had to write through it.  I've stared at the word "right" for two hours now.  Two. Hours.  And what I've accumulated is a list of things that are not right--which is the polar opposite of any verbage that was supposed to make up the bulk of this post.

I guess it's pretty hard to think about what's right if you can't identify what's wrong, though.  And maybe we've spent so much time brushing off or ignoring the wrong that we have no capability to focus on what's right.  Half the time, we can't even identify "the wrong."

And by "we"?  I mean me. 

When I talk about PCOS, I have a difficult time identifying what's actually "wrong" with my body.  I no longer suffer from multiple cysts.  My ovaries appear to be normal in size.  But my body isn't "right."  It doesn't function normally.

And forgive me for making the comparison, but I think that's a good portion of what's wrong with the church collective.  We know something is wrong, but we seem to have a supremely difficult time identifying what needs to be done to fix the wrong.  But rarely do we ever take our focus off what is wrong to see what is right. 

I sat with a congregation this morning and listened to the ways Jesus loved (the love we are supposed to be professing) the community at large, and I understood that a good portion of what is wrong is the fact that we don't understand how right love is.

I'm guilty of loving when it's convenient.  Often, I'll only love people who are lovable.  Sometimes, I love people who are clean.  But when it's inconvenient?  When people are absolutely unlovable?  When they are dirty and smelly and outside of my comfort zone?  Well, then I'm less worried about "the right thing" and more worried about my personal effort.

As much as I cringe when I type it, love means putting personal feelings aside and doing the right thing.  What is the "right thing"?  It means biting sharp tongues and letting what's in the past stay in the past.  It means paying debts.  It means reaching out even if the effort is on your part alone.  But mostly?  I think love means truly pursuing all right avenues--not just as they relate to you.

I'm guilty.  You are, too.  Because love?  Is hard.  Righteousness?  Is hard.  Focusing on either of those things?  Is supremely difficult.

But we weren't called to do anything in our own strength.

And If love binds us all together in perfect unity, how will that ever be anything but right? (Colossians 3:14).

Whatever is Right Part 2

Friday, February 3, 2012

Show Us Your Life: Single Guy Blake

This is Blake in his element.  He's 20, single and one of the best singers I've ever heard.  (And I don't mean best amateur--I mean one of the best.  Period.)  I met Blake when he was a rascally 3 three year old.  We reacquainted ourselves when he was a senior in high school, and now he spends a lot of time with my family because he my cousin's best friend.

Blake is a strong Christian, and one of the funniest guys I know.  He laughs easily, acclimates himself to any and all situations and is a generally amiable personality.

He's been a fun addition to our family gatherings, because he randomly breaks into song.  If you sing with him, be prepared for him to switch parts a hundred different times.  (One time, I moved down to alto so he started singing the melody--in falsetto!)  He and my cousin, Jake, sing quite well together; their harmony never gets old.

In his own words, Blake is looking for this type of girl:

"She has got to have a personal relationship with Jesus, after that its pretty much just finding out if we are eye to eye. Jesus is number one in my life and must be in hers, too." 
Blake is not your run-of-the-mill guy.  He says, "I am probably most known for my sense of humor, but I try to be very thoughtful, kind, and sweet.  I really like/enjoy loving people and doing nice things for them. I am very unique and confident in standing out from the crowd."

If you just want to date, though, Blake isn't your guy.  He believes the dating/courting relationship is for the purpose of finding his wife.  He's not going to play the dating game and break your heart.  It's not his M.O.  Other deal breakers?  Women who don't dress modestly, women who aren't growing in their relationships with Christ, women who aren't encouraging and smokers need not apply.

Otherwise, I believe you'd be pretty blessed to spend time with this guy.  If you are interested in contacting Blake, shoot me an email:  cryshsmn@aol.com.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

...Whatever is Noble Part 2...

Whatever is Noble Part 1 (links to Whatever is True can be found here, too)

I drove home from class today trying to do a bit of word association in my head.  Writing about Truth wasn't nearly as difficult as writing about nobility.  That is, until one word hit me smack in the face:  upstanding.

Noble human beings and upstanding human beings are basically the same thing, and there's no shortage of those people in my life.  In our particular set of circumstances, I've been God-blessed with women who pursued my friendship when I probably would've locked myself in a hole and stayed there.

I thought the most difficult thing I would ever face would be infertility.  Then, we dealt with loss.  I know I'm all broken record about those experiences, but that's because I've never been in a situation that left me so void.

When it happened, I didn't know how I was going to face students in the classroom, because there were two weeks of school left before summer vacation.  Thankfully, I have an understanding administrator who knew something was very, very wrong.  Those two weeks at work were hazy.  I stepped away from civilization.  I didn't socialize.  I didn't celebrate summer vacation.  I pretended that nothing was happening when students were not in my classroom.

Except I couldn't seem to shake my friend, Morgan.

My first day back at school, she sought me out and just hugged me.  She didn't say anything, and even though she's not a touchy-feely person, she must've held me for a good ten minutes.  As summer months passed and we found ourselves back in school, she found simple ways to encourage me in my rut--a dinner invitation, a stop by my classroom, a joke.

Into the spring semester of the following year, she was blessed enough to be expecting her first child.  Because this was such a difficult road to navigate, I assumed we would talk less.  Our close relationship would fall victim to circumstance, and that would have to be OK because some things are just beyond my control.

Not Morgan.  She became an example of graciousness in my life--celebrating her pregnancy on one hand, while offering subtle support to someone who struggled to reconcile happiness and grief.  Though I have been around my fair share of obnoxious women, Morgan never made it on that list.  She seemed purposefully aware that I was happy for her, but struggling with my own set of circumstances.  And she never pushed the issue.

My first pregnancy and infant loss awareness day, she left a sweet gift.  It's on the credenza in my living room, and everytime I see it, I'm reminded of the graciousness of others.  To date, she has never forgotten pregnancy and infant loss awareness day:  she always makes time to let me know she's thinking of me.

And on particularly tough days (even now--I have a whole story about struggling through grad school!), she always seems to find her way to my classroom with an idea for dinner or some smart alec comment.

To me, that's the perfect example of an upstanding human being--one who sees others and cares about them so deeply, s/he cannot ignore the situation.

She would never admit that she's done these things.  It's not in her nature to accept praise.  But her example will ring true with me anytime I find myself rich and sitting with someone who is poor. 

It's about living together and giving to one another.  That's the essence of true excellence of character and the definition of noble.

Whatever Is Right

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

...Whatever is Noble...

Whatever is True Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

I have no difficulty picturing nobility.  I have significant difficulty putting words to that picture.  Essentially, "noble" is "of an exalted moral or mental character or excellence."

On a daily basis, I see students who come from desperately broken homes.  I don't mean they are children of divorce.  I mean they live in homes with people who cannot even spell the word functional.  I see addiction in a hundred different forms--drug abuse, alcohol, cutting, etc.  I see unplanned pregnancy and uneducated choices.  I see people who are hurting and without resources.

But despite all of those things, I think the best part of me comes as the result of my students.  They will teach if people are willing to learn.  They will show if we are willing to see.  And they will definitely talk if we are willing to listen.  

At the beginning of the year, I gave every class their choice of writing prompts.  Every prompt comes back to the same basic principle:  tell me about yourself.  One of the prompts asked students to explain something they were learning/had learned.  I almost choked on my coffee when I read one response (my paraphrase despite the quotes):
"This year, I'm learning about humility.  My dad says it's a lifetime process, but I really want to learn what I can about being humble now."
At fifteen, she gets it, and I think that's excellence of character at its best.

I've watched her since that day in August, and I've noticed a couple of other things about her character.  She consistently treats others with dignity and kindness.  She takes responsibility for her mistakes, owns the consequences of those mistakes and continuously asks for forgiveness or pardon.

She's fifteen, and I want to be her when I grow up.

I don't know what she will accomplish when she is 30.  I do know that God is using her now.  Because she aspires to moral excellence, He is taking her down roads most of us don't navigate for another 5-10 years.  Does it mean she's reached perfection?  Unlikely.  And also unnecessary.  God doesn't ask for perfection; He asks for a willing heart.

And if a willing heart isn't noble, I don't know what is.

Whatever Is Noble Part 2