I want to be like Jesus…Thoughts on Grace

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately pondering what it means to be a Christian.  I know WHAT it means, I guess I’ve been more focused on HOW to be a Christian.  What does it look like to be more like Jesus? And why is that so stinking hard?

I love Jesus.  I’ve known and loved Him practically my whole life.  I was given at birth that wonderful legacy of generational faith, all my people know and love Him too.  And while I never had a Road to Damascus type of encounter, I can recall a specific moment where the power of the Spirit was so strong that I could have no more said no to Jesus in my heart than I could have stopped a moving train.

But preceding that moment, and following it, life was not so significantly different.  There was no gutter to glory narrative for me.  I was the one, when around the fire at camp giving testimonies, always felt that mine was, frankly, kind of boring. Especially compared to the stories of others with their broken families or drug/alcohol problems.

Mine has been a comfortable kind of faith.  Like an old sweatshirt on a cold night.

But it has also been not at all like that.  Growing to be like Jesus is not simple or easy for any of us.  Just because I never dabbled in THE BIG SINS like sex or drinking, I certainly have plenty of inner (and sometimes outer) sinning.  And the kind that is far more insidious and hurtful. The truth is:  Sin is Sin.  And God hates all of it.  So I’m no better or worse than anyone on this planet, however I may judge their foibles to make myself feel better.

When I was a little girl I would pray, as I was falling asleep, that the next day I could have one perfect sin-free day, just like Jesus.  I figured that if He could live a sin-free life, then certainly I could make it through a day.  Then I would wake up and smack my brother, or sass my mom, or in general make life less pleasant for those around me.  FAIL!

I’m a pleaser.  I want people to like me, to think I’m hard-working, and friendly, and smart, and funny, and LIKE me.  The worst punishment I could face as a child was when my dad would look over his glasses in disappointment over something I had done or left undone.

So I want to please God.  I want to live a life that makes God proud of me.  I want to do the right things, and obey the right way, and serve the right ministries, and be the good girl.

Except it doesn’t so much work that way.  No matter how hard I try, I will never be good enough ON MY OWN.  Besides, within heartbeats I can vacillate between wanting to be like Jesus with my whole heart, to barking at my kids, or flipping off the driver ahead of me.  Oops.  FAIL!

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around grace and what that means.  I know what it means, theoretically, but how does that play out?  How does it work in my life? And how do I actually extend it to others?  I don’t want to be the wicked servant who was forgiven much, and then can’t pay it forward.  But I feel like I am, so very often.

I’m forgiven.  I know that.  I get that.  In my head.  And sometimes in my heart, but not always.  It seems to me, as an educator, that a student (me) can know the material, but when it comes to actually putting that knowledge into practice, can fall flat on my face. FAIL!

Part of being generationally Christian means that I know the lingo.  I can fellowship with the best of them. (And exactly how did fellowship come to be a verb?  This is one of those buzzwords that makes me kind of crazy. But that’s another topic.) I know all about grace, justification, sanctification, redemption.  But if I can’t let it move from head knowledge to heart knowledge, what is the point?

So here is what I cling to.  I’m a work in progress.  There is no way that I can get it right.  I will never be good enough on my own.  And this is where I need to let Jesus step in.  I need to let Jesus be perfect for me.  I have to hope, to believe that when I stand before the throne, I can point at Him and say “Look at Him, not at me.”  And in the meantime, I get up in the morning and try.  And know that even though I FAIL, He never does.  This must be an on-going and everyday process.  It’s a good thing His mercies are new every morning.




On Modesty

My search through Scripture looking for verses that addressed modesty only revealed two circumstances in which the word is found – the first being in 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul is talking about how the gifts of the Spirit are like a body, and some parts that we think less of are actually accorded greater honor as we treat them with modesty.  The second is in 1 Timothy where Paul is telling Timothy to instruct the women of his church to use modesty and self-control in how they adorn themselves.

So what are we to do with that?

Modesty gets a bad rap in today’s culture.  We are told to flaunt our wealth, our bodies, our opinions, and to do anything less means we are old-fashioned and prudish.  We live in a land of excess, of too much, and we see it daily on our iPhones, TVs, laptops, tablets.  We need the newest, the best, the biggest.

Those of us who came of age in the 1980’s and 90’s are the most susceptible.  We were told we could have it all.  And should have it all.  And then should let everyone know in our carefully curated social media lives that we DO have it all.

Is it any wonder that today’s coming of age generation is slightly revolted and turning away from all that conspicuous consumption?  But really, are they any different than us in the pride they take in their simplicity and tiny houses – in living off the grid?

Modesty does not assume a hair shirt.  It does not sit in sackcloth and ashes and proclaim how modest it is.  Modesty just means to live a well-tempered life.  To be modest means to find middle-ground, let things be what they are, and to NOT DRAW ATTENTION to it!  If you proclaim to live modestly, then by sheer virtue of the fact you’ve said it you are not doing it!

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis puts it this way (exchange the words modest and humble):

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 8 “The Great Sin”)

How is it that C. S. Lewis continually sends it out of the ballpark?  (I have a theory that involves pondering, but that is in another post, see On Discernment.)

I’d like to think this is all new – that no society before us had so much time to blow their own horns. But it’s not.  History is chock full of eras of excess, and pride in lack of excess.  There is nothing new under the sun (said several millenia ago by a pretty wise man).

The big question is: How do we walk the tightrope between true and false modesty?  My parents’ generation was raised to assume a false modesty about everything they did.  This led to a whole lot of them underplaying their gifts and trying to remedy their weaknesses.  My generation was given awards just for showing up.  As Syndrome says in  The Incredibles, “when everyone is super, nobody will be.”  (The Incredibles, 2004)

There is nothing wrong with being “super” if that is the gift you are given.  Just as there is nothing wrong with affording greater modesty to parts we think less of, to paraphrase Paul.

The point is that true modesty neither denies nor exalts.  It just lives.  And in a culture where that becomes increasingly difficult, it is a virtue we should probably all be praying for.


8 Fixes for a Bad Attitude

8 Fixes for a Bad AttitudeYesterday was not a good day.  It started out okay, and really spiraled downward in a great big vortex of awfulness.

Here’s the kicker. I brought it on myself.  It started with an innocent text from someone very dear to me, and I did what I caution my kids against all the time: I read between the lines.  I created subtext that may or may not have even existed and without giving the sender the least benefit of the doubt, I created a whole dreadful dialogue in my brain in which I came out as the pathetic loser.

And since that really wasn’t enough, I spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself for every perceived wrong in my life that I have ever committed, and how the whole entire world was against me, and really, in general, behaved like an irrational premenstrual adolescent.  It was not pretty.

I reveled in it.  I wallowed in it.  I even cried.  Three or four times throughout the day.  I hate crying.  Everyone says it’s cathartic and will make you feel better, and THAT IS A LIE!  I just end up feeling itchy-eyed and puffy. And a little bit snotty.  It is truly unpleasant.

What is particularly horrifying about this shameful episode, is that there is no reason on God’s gorgeous green earth for me to EVER feel sorry for myself.  My life is sweet.  I am smart, healthy, and well-educated. I have a supportive husband, brilliant funny kids, a nice house, plenty to eat, a car that runs… basically I have every amenity and blessing that this country has to offer.  We’re not rich by any first world means, but by golly, we have MORE than enough.  And more important than any of that, by the grace of God, I am his child.  He sent his Son to make things right for me.

All true.  But in the whirlpool of emotions, I forget.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.  I suspect that almost all of us sink into this abyss once in a while.  It is not something to be proud of.  But maybe there are a few things we can do to try to offset our bad attitude and “turn that frown upside down!”  (Does that make anyone else want to gag as much as it makes me want to?  I HATE strongly dislike platitudes.)

May I humbly suggest:

 1.  Take it to your knees. This should really be the first thing you do.  But why so often is it the last?  Why do I always seem to wait on this one until I’m sobbing for forgiveness, rather than begging for help?  The truth is, that if I would just grab my Bible, open a Psalm, pray it, cling to it, write it on a piece of scrap paper and carry it around, my whole worldview would probably come back to where it belongs.  Nothing like a little love of Jesus to re-orient priorities.

2.  Tell Satan to take a hike.  Jesus tells us that the thief (Satan) comes only to steal (my inner thoughts) and kill (my happiness) and destroy (my peace of mind) John 10:10 (parenthetical remarks are mine.  Any good thing could be put into the parentheses).

Satan loves to first bring us down, and then kick us while we are there.  Ever have a thought that goes something like this?

“I can’t do anything right. I am totally useless, fat, ugly, stupid, worthless.  Nobody could ever love me.  Not even God could love me.  I’ll never amount to anything ever. I suck.”

Ever had those thoughts?  I have.  Yesterday.  These are lies.  These are lies that Satan delights in whispering in your head and getting you to believe.  Satan is a liar.  Jesus is the truth-teller.  Listen to him.  He calls Satan on the lies.  Put Jesus in front of you, the armor of God on you, and tell Satan to bug off.  The only thing that should suck is your vacuum cleaner.

3.  Go for a walk. Or a bike ride. Or a run. Or the Ben & Jerry’s.  All the experts tell us that exercise releases all kinds of feel-good endorphins that will completely revolutionize our outlook on life.  Unless of course you hate to sweat.  Like me.  But if you are one of those people, just do it!  Even I, who hate to exercise and would only run if a madman were chasing me with a knife (and even then I might just lay down and let him get it over with), find that a walk sometimes helps.  And when it doesn’t, dipping a spoon into a pint of Chubby Hubby might just do the trick.

4.  Speaking of Chubby hubbies…  if the beloved of your heart is not the cause of your distress, or even if he is, maybe especially if he is, a little action on that front might work some wonders.  (Trying to keep it clean, people. My children might read this.  Nah.  But maybe my mom.)

5.  Rework the internal dialogue.  Even in my most pathetic moment yesterday, I started to laugh a little at myself because it was so ridiculous and I knew it.  It was when I reached the “how could God even love me” phase that I knew I had sunk to new lows.  What I should have done at that moment was turn the narrative around.  Which I did albeit a few hours later.  This is a good time to start counting all the graces in your life.  Fix your mind on what is true, and noble, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable, and excellent, and praiseworthy. (Phil 4:8)  When you think you are ugly, amend it with “but at least the hair on my legs is blonde.” Or “I may be fat, but at least I own some stretchy pants.” Once you start down that path, you realize pretty quickly how ludicrous the negative statements were.

If you are fighting in your head with your spouse/child/boss/neighbor, rewrite the dialogue so that it is positive.  The truth is you really don’t know how they would respond to your accusations, so try to put the best-case scenario into play.

6.  Get in your car, roll the windows down and crank the Country Western music.  Let’s be honest.  Either you will totally relate to the lyrics and derive some comfort there or you will laugh your head off.  I don’t CARE if you despise country western (I’m an opera singer for pity’s sake), it is the most highly cathartic music ever written.  And you can even sing along because it is entirely predictable!

7.  SLEEP!  Sometimes that’s all you need.  A good night’s rest.  If brain chatter is keeping you awake, have a warm bath and some warm milk.

8.  Get some help.  Here is a truth.  Sometimes life is hard.  Even if we bring it on ourselves.  You don’t have to go this alone.  Call a friend.  Have her join you in any of the above steps. (Except for number 4.  That would be immoral.  And creepy.) When things are overwhelming, find somebody you can talk to.  If you really don’t feel like you have anyone, wander into your local church.  They are in the business (or should be) of listening when things are tough.  If you are truly in the pit, not just visiting for a day, then talk to your pastor or a Christian counselor.  My suggestions aren’t meant to deal with true depression.  Just an occasional bad day brought on by a bad attitude.

May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. 2 Thess. 3:16.


Hello world! Prepare for the ride…

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And so it begins. I have no idea where it will end, but I have felt more and more compelled to write down my thoughts, to find a way to express all the ideas that percolate and whirl around my head like water through coffee grounds. And I love me some good strong coffee!

This blog will be a hodgepodge of interests and ideas, stuff that motivates and intrigues me. “When I fall on my knees” comes from the old communion hymn.

When I fall on my knees, with my face to the rising sun,
Oh Lord! have mercy on me!

Mostly I’m naming it this because for years this name has run through my head. All my best ideas seem to come to me (at least when my kids were little) when I was down on the floor wiping up spilled milk or dog vomit or picking up crayons or stinky socks. I always felt closest to God down in that position too – and it came to me that when I fall on my knees I might as well pray because I’m down here already. So this corner of the web will be musings about Motherhood, Mayhem, and God’s Great Mercy.

A disclaimer up front. I am not a theologian. I’m just a Christian trying to stumble through. I won’t get it right probably half the time, but if I’m thinking it somebody else probably is too and maybe by writing it down I’ll come to some conclusion. Or not. Maybe I’ll make you think too. Or not. I hope to make you laugh or cry. Or not. What I’m trying to do is be obedient to that still small voice that has been nagging me to write for a long time. And the once a year Christmas letter just ain’t cutting it anymore.

So, Web-friend. Hello. Be kind while I get the hang of this thing. Check in once in awhile if you are in the neighborhood. Or if you are bored. I’ll try to be thought-provoking or entertaining. Or both. The time has come, so fasten your seatbelts and prepare for bumpy ride. Or throw your hands up in the air and scream with wild abandon. The ride is about to start.