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Mistaken Crowns: When We Are Not the Answer

I could hear the ramping up of emotion in the dining area from my room upstairs. My youngest son, who struggles with anxiety, had just survived his first few days of the new school year and was quickly unraveling from holding it together for six hours a day in front of peers and staff. As ugly as the meltdowns can be, I could see from the short time they lasted and the quicker recovery period that he is developing coping skills. Even so, this particular afternoon, I really didn’t want to be the recipient of his angst. I had been in a lot of traffic and went to my room for a while to get my peace on.

But then, the storm—the one where lightning is starting to flash and a big crash of thunder will soon follow. I’m so used to being hyper-vigilant that I almost ran down the stairs, but then I stopped myself. I heard something. My oldest son responded to the distress signal and calmly entered the room, speaking gently, rationally, briefly, and directly to his little brother. He was following all the instructions I offered him recently on how to bring Little Man down a notch.

And it worked.

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I began thanking Jesus out loud in my room because it was amazing to hear someone else step in and do a better job than I often do. It was a relief of dramatic proportions. After about 20 minutes, I came downstairs, asked Little Man how he could have handled his stress better for the next time, and quietly affirmed his older brother.

I was not the one God put on this assignment, and had I barreled ahead, three people would have missed a blessing. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Blessing From Broken Places

[This was originally written before Easter 2017 as I faced down my fears about April.]

April is wrought with good and bad memories for me, especially in recent years. My father’s birthday is in early April; his burial was toward the end of April. The events kick off memories around his death and burial that I’d rather forget. I had been doing so well, but as we turned a corner toward the end of March, I felt the need to “close my curtains” and only let safe people hold me close. “I will reemerge,” I told myself. “I’ll get past this. It will be okay.”

And while I was lamenting to a close friend, she told me she wants this April to be different for me, perhaps from this point forward. She recommended I “redeem” the pain.

Blessing From Broken Places
So I am.

I bought two plants, and call me eccentric, but I gave them names and placed them in the window of the common room where I look outside all the time. I need to see something grow.

I restocked the bird feeder for the first time all winter. They haven’t found their way to it yet, but it’s ready for chickadees and cardinals to land in front of my window.

A friend of mine brought me a set of pansies, completely unaware of my resolve to make April great. They are bright yellow, the color of the sun, of life, of hope.

I bought a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of happy dogs to put together with my daughter on weekends.

And on my father’s birthday, I will Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Becoming Icicles—and Other Dangers of Comparing Ourselves to Others

Becoming Icicles- and Other Dangers of Comparing Ourselves to OthersI live in the Boston area, and over the past eight days, we have received over 5 feet of snow. My roof has a low-enough pitch to develop ice dams, so this year, after many years of my husband chipping away at them, he installed roof warming cables. As you can imagine, after 5 feet of snow and dropping temperatures, my roof cables were doing exactly what they were supposed to: preventing dams. But in the process, they were also creating ice stalactites that, after a few days, extended down from two stories to almost touch the ground. They were incredible, the talk of the neighborhood. People would walk their dogs by and stop and marvel at our sharp, massive ice needles. The bus driver even made comments. They were honestly the most beautiful winter “growth” I had ever watched before my eyes.

But they were also about 40 pounds by the time they were starting to weigh too heavy to remain there—and they were wicked sharp.

(If you’re unfamiliar, “wicked” is a New England adverb meaning “really” or “very.” When I first moved here from California, I misused it to the amusement of all my native New England friends: “I wicked want that.” Yeah, not the correct usage.)

These icicles took on a life of their own, that’s for sure. I know they were just water, but they felt organic. They became a part of us—well, at least part of the house. Each day, the kids would delight in their growth, but we had to knock some down over the doorways so that they didn’t impale us or the dogs as we left the house.

And I got to thinking that icicles start off so beautiful. They amaze us, and it feels like each inch growing down is achieving something magnificent. What’s more, they come from good intentions: They are evidence of a roof melting and recovering from an intense onslaught of weather. They are a thermodynamics and gravity lesson wrapped up into one.

But the thing about these massive formations is: They can’t hang there forever. They eventually thin out at the origin, the weight becoming too much to bear, and once they crash down—and inevitably, they do—they are a force to be reckoned with, damaging whatever they land on and cutting deep into the snow below, like a stake being posted in full force.

Likewise, I was thinking that our moments of little envy here, tiny comparison to others there, start off like tiny drips. It’s just water after all…can people even see it? We’re just shedding a little personal angst by thinking how someone else has it better for a minute. No harm done, right?

But then that drip becomes slow and steady, and while it appears to be evidence of a heart under thaw, it can’t really release itself. It refreezes in a different form, slowly growing to noticeable levels. Other people passing by may think: “Wow, she’s just leaking a little. That sounded a little toxic, but she’ll move on.” But, eventually, if we entertain those thoughts of how:

  • much more money this friend makes
  • that one delivered her babies by blinking while I underwent every trick—medical and otherwise—under the sun to get these kids birthed
  • none of her kids have any medical or special education needs
  • his kids always win the awards
  • running must just come naturally to her
  • her husband never has to travel

we suddenly become sharp and cutting with an icy critical spirit, bearing down heavily on those around us. We become dangerous, daggered hurt machines that speak dark instead of light, never seeing the beauty and gifts we have been given, dwelling only on what we think we want but don’t have.

When we’re living a life dissatisfied that we don’t measure up to some mythical standard we assume somebody else set, we start measuring people with the wrong gauge: what they have easier than we do. It then leads to some gossip here, a little story-sharing there. At first, it starts off pretty interesting and seemingly “innocent.” We’re just “processing with a friend,” after all. But then, if we don’t keep that in check, we become obsessive, never counting our own blessings anymore, just waiting for someone else to fail or again demonstrate success in some area whereby we, in comparison, feel less than. We start to self-justify, to settle, to become complacent, and to take a seat as self-appointed judges. We decide they don’t deserve our compassion (because, after all, we have it worse). We shut down where blessings could happen because we think we have full perspective.

And soon, our feelings weigh so heavy and our emotions so raw and on the surface, that gravity wins, and we end up sending a spike down into someone or a situation where we really didn’t mean to. Our comparisons just became too heavy to bear, and we sent them crashing into someone.

And the fallout is ugly: a wet, cold, icy shard kind of mess. We hurt people when we think the grass is greener. And aren’t we all already hurting enough?

Proverbs 14:30, ESV, King Solomon speaking
A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.

Proverbs 27:4, ESV, King Solomon speaking
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?

The only solution I find for stopping myself from growing spiky, cold formations from my heart is to invite Jesus in to keep it warm. There are times I catch myself mid-icicle, and there are times, I do not let Him in soon enough or regularly, and then my icicles are on steroids and absolutely crash. And when they fall down, they always hit something. They never fall without consequence, even if the damage is mostly within ourselves.

What keeps your heart warm, content, and peaceful?

James 3:14-18, ESV, James, Brother of Jesus, speaking
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 4:6-8, ESV, James, Brother of Jesus, speaking
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (emphasis mine).

More on relational boundaries, healthy relationships, renewing our minds in Christ, and understanding grace and a relationship with God can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day.

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This post is linked up with Grace & Truth. Check out other Inspirational Christian Living posts here.
 

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What’s Really Behind the Things That Drive Us Nuts? [Excerpt]

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Today, Espressos of Faith offers a fifth excerpt from Not Just on Sundays, due out this month. The book often features the smaller moments of life and what they can teach us if we zoom in to see what might really be going on—how God can be showing us something huge in the ordinary of the day.

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Not giving a creative person the time, space, and materials to do his “art” is like slowly starving him from the inside out. I am trying to find that balance, and I am learning from my youngest guy. His hands are not the strongest, and his fine motor skills need to develop and be refined, but he sees himself as an artist as he shapes Amazon.com boxes with endless materials to create amazing treasures. I have to remember that although all of the assorted scraps I call “trash” (like Dum Dum wrappers) get under my skin after a while—when he stocks them up like a squirrel—he sees future masterpieces. What I like to think I see in words, he sees in everyday stuff around him.

Okay, Little Man, if you need a card table in the family room with endless junk on it and a used mailing box—and that keeps you from begging for more screen time—then have at it, Child! Can’t wait to see what you make. Maybe we should sell a few of those items at our lemonade stand this summer to afford storage for your recycling, er, I mean art studio.

That was a lovely story, wasn’t it?

I wish I could say my perspective looks that delightful and calm all of the time.

It doesn’t.

I occasionally rage. But it is an area I am turning over to God so He can help me find a way to bless instead of speak labels onto my children.

I’m not a big fan of any label. The label “ADHD” may help a child get the help he needs on an IEP, and within the context of a school system, that may be entirely appropriate and helpful, but I do not want to look at any of my children as limited by their weaknesses.

I don’t want to say: “You forever will have attention issues.”

I want to say: “It will be awesome to see how God uses all that phenomenal energy for creative works to bring Him honor someday and help people!”

But this takes daily praying through what may perplex me or drive me nuts and asking God for words that cancel out the:

“You never wills,”
“You always,” 
“You have to stop XYZ-ings”

that our kids hear every day.

Some of it is necessary. A lot of it is not. Here’s what it looks like when I ask my Father in heaven to give me words. (I won’t taint your minds with what it looks and sounds like when I don’t. You’re welcome.)

I was challenged this past weekend to speak to my kids more about their God-given gifts and abilities, how the Lord is shaping their hearts, and whom I see them growing to be. It builds on some of what I have already been doing, but I love saying:

“______, you have been given a tremendous heart for others, tender toward people and all of God’s creatures. You are sensitive to the hurts in others and respond with great compassion.”

Or “______, you have been given a warrior spirit to stand up for injustice and speak His Truth when He calls you to it.”

Or “________, you have a kind, gentle heart that speaks quiet strength, safety, and protection. You lead softly, with delightful humor and deep thought. You know His Word inside and out, and now may it go from your head to soak deeply into your heart.”

And, really, what’s actually behind the things that get under our skin is simply that: our own skin. We are just as annoying and frustrating at times. But we’re adults and have more authority to misuse or mishandle.

Or to bless.

James 3:9-12, James, brother of Jesus, speaking

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

 

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Grace That Changes: One Forgiving Moment at a Time [Excerpt]

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Today, Espressos of Faith offers an excerpt from the upcoming Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, due out this month. 

Cover design: Traci Carmichael Art 

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I performed an interesting social experiment in the past year at a favorite establishment in my town. Folks working there weren’t very friendly, to the point I dreaded going in. So, I tried being very kind every time I went, going out of my way to clean up any mess we left, saying something encouraging at the counter, and in general bringing in a consistent smile, no matter what attitude came back at me. I went in more regularly with my kids, having them do homework and lingering, looking for opportunities to bless. It took a few months, but then suddenly, the staff not only knew me by name, but they started going out of their way to also be kind: They brought my kids free food, helped me more with questions I had, and apologized for mistakes even when I didn’t complain. Although I’m sure I’m not the reason the entire establishment is friendlier, I was able to show my kids that kindness begets more kindness. Even they have noticed a difference.

So, I keep thinking how deliberate the choice is to love and bless. It doesn’t always flow naturally; it is a minute-by-minute choice, but if we employed this same idea everywhere—the car that cuts in front of us for a parking space, the tired clerk at the market counter, the pharmacy technician who doesn’t need one more prescription coming in when she’s already so behind—how many people could we each reach with love and grace? Too much in this world tears us down. What if that pharmacy clerk was going to go home and drink herself into a stupor again tonight because of problems weighing on her unbeknownst to me? What if the impatient car parker is also impatient at home with his kids, snapping at the least little annoyance? Do we need to cause him more angst, or could grace perhaps make a small dent, leading to bigger dents, in the way he daily functions? Could our choice to extend grace turn around a despairing, tense, hopeless attitude? All I know is grace changed who I am, and the people who offered me grace in my own bad attitudes deserve so much credit; they overlooked the ugly in me and encouraged the beautiful. Grace changes things, one forgiving moment at a time. My mouth can’t hold poison and antidote all at the same time. James, brother of Jesus, said it best:

James 3:9-12

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

And here is a fun one for you. I thought it was amazingly descriptive to wear cursing as one’s garment and have it enter one’s body like water and bones like oil. Hello, songwriter! Modifiers and analogies make my heart jump!

Psalm 109:17-18, David (not yet king) speaking

He loved to pronounce a curse—
    may it come on him.
He found no pleasure in blessing—
    may it be far from him. 

He wore cursing as his garment;
    it entered into his body like water,
    into his bones like oil.

Summertime presents some nice opportunities for learning how to relate better to one another. I bet if you’re a parent of kids still at home, it does in your house too. One of the rules of my house is: “If you come to any of us with accusations, anger, or emotional response of any kind, you may not walk away when you are in the middle of receiving a response. If you are not prepared to hear out a response to a problem/accusation you put forth, you should not present it in the first place.” I told my children that I know adults who do this to me all of the time. They drop their emotion down but run off and sulk without sticking around to hear another perspective. Any issue or relationship worth working out deserves to have both people heard. We better ourselves with stronger, committed relationships if we learn to develop this one important concept. I see this as part of the blessing/curse idea. Working through misunderstandings or upsets needs to be approached from a stance of blessing. Blessing invites openness and vulnerability. Cursing shuts relationships down. I don’t want cursing to enter my body like water or my bones like oil as the Psalmist depicts for us, which suggests to me a “soaking in.” Toxic interactions have a way of soaking in and permeating so many areas of our lives. Grace and love do just the opposite; they cover us:

1 Peter 4:8, Apostle Peter speaking

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Along the same lines, I had a difficult “issue of character” discussion with one child at bedtime one night. It wasn’t a huge deal, really, and it was only one area of correction, but this child struggles to receive constructive criticism no matter how delicately it is presented. I waited to make sure it sank in and shared that we all have to be able to take feedback and ask God if it’s something He wants us to correct. Then, because this child bruises easily from feedback, I spent the falling-asleep moments listing all of the things this child does well, areas where I am very pleased, and at Item Number 20, the slight smile gave way to slumber, and peace climbed beside us and laid its head on the pillow as well, a welcome companion. That is not how I conduct myself every day, but when I consult God and come from a standpoint of blessing, informed by His living Word, it is a much more peaceful way to do life.

Just as mourning comes in waves, so does His grace. It rides in on constant tides like a covering of love that soaks into every pore until it fills the heart. There is never grief without grace, if we’d only learn to keep our feet in the Living Water, facing the oncoming surf, not fearing the raging storms, but instead standing steadfast to receive as He gives. If only we stood there in great faith and expectancy, we’d quickly find He never ever stops giving. We’re the ones who lose hope or courage and walk away from the source. His waves of grace chase us and lap at our feet, desiring to heal, to nurture, and to be received, but if our backs are to those waves as we walk away, we never even know what was there for us, what we failed to discover as we walk back inland to where discouragement and fear are ready to take hold and plant roots—only because we gave those dark thoughts permission again. I don’t want to give them permission anymore. I want to sit in tide pools of never-ending grace at the feet of Jesus. If you trust Him, you can sit there too!

 

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Sticky Notes from God [Excerpt]

Espressos of Faith is committed to posting excerpts from Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day in the weeks leading up to publication. (This is Excerpt #2.) Many of the stories within Not Just on Sundays are inspired by trying to view life through the small moments of life, by zooming in on something we might otherwise miss, much like my photographer friends do through an actual lens. Sometimes the greatest blessings and lessons are in the simple things. I hope we all look more each day to find those “sticky notes” God sends just for us, often blessing us through other people.

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Sticky Notes from GodA dear friend of mine from my island days came to visit; sadly, I was away at the time, so she and her husband hung out with Salad Boy* and the kids without me. She was unaware of the incidents I encountered the week I was gone, but when I came home, she had left me sticky-note messages all over my house, reminding me of God’s love and her friend love. She had no idea the heart returning home needed to see and feel something tangible that was the very definition of love (my own family also reminded me of that). God knows what we need, and He sends messengers to deliver the messages. We are not always tuned in to see it, but He does this. And I love it! Open my eyes to see it more, Lord! You are awesome!

So, I got to thinking how God also leaves us sticky notes. They are all over our Bibles, sure, but they are also penned by those who love us, like my sweet island friend. Salad Boy and I don’t write each other notes a lot in the everyday rhythm of our lives. I wish I could say, being a writer, that I wrote him long confessions of my love, daily, but alas, I do not. But in a rare moment when he felt inspired, as he left for work, he said: “Have a great day at work, Honey.” I don’t work yet for regular pay. Not yet. But it doesn’t matter if it is a writing day or a “keeping house” day or a “running around on errands” day, he gets it. He gets every bit of it, and I just love him to pieces for it. He was my sticky note from God that day. It was verbal, but it was a blessing.

Sometimes we are the ones writing the sticky notes. One day, this was my sticky note to a friend of mine who did not share my faith. Life had taken her down a road where she had taken a bite out of the bitter apple one too many times. Don’t we all get to that place some days? I wanted to speak some of God’s Truth to her. She didn’t magically embrace my faith. We often need a whole stack of sticky notes speaking truth to undo the hateful, untrue ones we have received.

Dear Friend:

I have many thoughts, and I probably can’t get them all down, but I do hear you on feeling betrayed, abandoned, disappointed. I think when so many people have poorly reflected back to you your worth, it is easy to think they are reflecting God as well with their awful choices to be devastatingly hurtful. I can understand why that feels like it is God acting (or not acting in some cases). This is a great discussion for a time when I can go more in depth, but I encourage you to realize humans failed you over and over again, but God knows that and has a heart that aches for you. This may not make sense right now or feel real. I had to spend a lot of time getting “human” out of my way of seeing God. Humans can really disappoint and screw it up sometimes. They kept getting in the way of me seeing God. It’s hard to distinguish. It’s hard not to feel left out in the cold at times, especially after all of your rotten experiences. I hear you on feeling like you “did all of the right things” or “followed all of the right rules.” I am sure He sees that. The coolest part for me in my faith (or perhaps the biggest relief) is that, while I want to do all of the right things because I love Him, my relationship with Him isn’t dependent on that. I don’t have to be perfect or measure up.

I want to be praying for you that the lies and untruths that all of those people (those who abused their responsibility to “tend your heart and soul”) spoke to you will scatter and that God’s love for who He made you to be will be the only voice you hear. I am still clearing out my own cobwebs and telling old tapes playing in my head to stop, but each time I do, I see myself through God’s eyes more clearly. It’s the only version of me I fully love—because He does.

Blessings,
Bonnie

Where can we see God reaching us through another person’s love or act of compassion today? Where can we be that sticky note in someone else’s life, speaking blessing and encouragement, bringing hope?

*My affectionate name for my husband because he’s on a fitness/health kick

**Update: Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day published October 1, 2014.

This blog was shared at A Little R & R.

 

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