Friday, October 26, 2012

COVERED

"Don't bother cleaning the house today. This is going to be a messy job," my husband told me as he walked through our living room with a large roll of insulation. Our five layers of dilapidated roof-on-top-of-roof were replaced last month with a much needed new one. Now it's time to insulate our attic before the cooler temperatures make an appearance.

My husband was right about the mess. The scent of one hundred year old dirt, accumulated above us since our bungalow was built, is wafting through the house. The swirls of dust are settling on every surface, visible and remote. Once again, I will be giving our residence an unseasonal "spring-cleaning".

So what is the lesson for me in all of this? I think there are a few to be gleaned. First, life is always going to hold its share of messes. Just when it looks like one has been cleaned up, there's another one on its heels, kicking up dust. Dirt from the past may appear as an unwelcome visitor. Try as we might, there's no getting around the fact that life is messy! It's all part of the package while we journey on earth.

Here's another thing I am learning ~ as unpleasant as they seem, the messes don't have to drag us down. We can focus on the positives and see each messy situation as a challenge...even a blessing. My blessing in today's plume of dust? A husband and future son-in-law hard at work...an insulated attic...the time and ability to tackle the mess...a home to complain about!

The new roof and insulation leads me to another lesson ~ my ultimate Covering. It doesn't matter how strong, courageous, and optimistic we are. We still live in a world that is chalk full of unknown dangers, threats, and evil influences. We can remain exposed, or we can choose to place ourselves under God's protective covering. I want the daily presence of the One who is my Shield and Refuge in every storm. Only He can insulate me from the enemy's attempts to harm the body, mind, and spirit. Like those five layers of roof that used to cover us, I can turn to other sources of protection that appear sufficient. Or I can position myself under His covering, knowing it's the safest place to weather life's storms.

Tomorrow I will get out my duster and vacuum. And today? His covering and His insulation are more than enough to put a smile on this dusty, sneezy face.

"You are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me."
~Psalm 61:3

"God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble."
~Psalm 46:1

"I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety."
~Psalm 18:1,2

"May the strength of God pilot us, may the wisdom of God instruct us, may the hand of God protect us, may the word of God direct us."
~St. Patrick

      

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

WHO'S IN CONTROL?

"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!"
~Galatians 5:22,23

The last fruit listed is perhaps the most difficult. Because self-control is more than just learning to control my behavior. On a deeper level, it's a call to set aside my need or desire to be in control, and to place myself...my loved ones...and all circumstances under God's sovereign control.

This is only possible when I am walking in close step with my Creator, moment by moment. And when I get myself in this position, I begin to see how foolish I am to cling to my desire to control anything. I think I know best, but I can only see a few small pieces of a vast, expanding puzzle. My attempt to control is like trying to navigate in complete darkness with an occasional flicker of candlelight. I can't possibly know what's ahead.

One of my greatest sources of frustration is tangled in the misconception I can or should try to control the path and the outcome in someone else's life. I create enough havoc in my own journey when I insist on doing things my way, in my timing, as I see fit. But taking it a step further and applying it to someone else's life can be disasterous. Why do I try to fill the shoes that only God is meant to wear?

I have walked through my share of painful stuff ~ experiences I or a loved one endured. And the biggest lesson I learned during those trials is to let go of the steering wheel and trust God to do the work that only He can do...especially when it involves a loved one.

My perceptions are so limited and skewed, and my wisdom always falls short. The steadfast message that God repeatedly gives me regarding others is, don't try to fix them. Don't attempt to make it all better. Don't step in to solve their problems. Just love them. LOVE THEM. ALWAYS. EXTRAVAGANTLY. UNCONDITIONALLY. TANGIBLY. Just love them.

Maybe it was my grandma's example that helped me see the heart of this fruit called self-control. She exemplified this priceless fruit every day of her life. Even more powerful was the humility and poise in which she carried herself through the ups and downs, the celebrations and the heartaches. She seemed to have no problem letting go of the wheel, and trusting that everything would turn out just as it was supposed to. Her quiet strength was certainly a result of putting to rest any need to control. I loved that about her.

Sure, I can apply the topic of self-control to my longing for a new dress I can't afford or the plate of cookies on the counter calling to me. But there's more meat to this fruit. And though it hasn't been easy or pleasant, I wouldn't trade what I have come to know over the years walking some difficult paths. Every day...every moment...presents a choice of who is in control. And today, I choose to let go, and let God.

"How appropriate that the list of qualities began with love and ends with self-control. Love keeps us afloat, and self-control keeps us anchored."
~Beth Moore

"Some of us wonder why our lives are such a tangle; if we wonder why we seem to live in an inner jungle; if the soil of our souls seems to be buried beneath a bramblelike growth of unchecked, uncontrolled wild vines, it is because we have not allowed ourselves to be brought under the control of the Good Gardener. We simply don't want Him interfering in the grounds of our lives."
~W. Phillip Keller      

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

THE POWER OF GENTLENESS

"Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength."
~Francis de Sales

Some think that gentleness implies weakness. But I have found the opposite to be true. A gentle response packs a powerful punch, and its infuence can be far-reaching. I love what Beth Moore says about it, "Gentleness is the power and strength created by submitting to God's will. Gentleness is responsibility with power."

How much easier it is to react in the heat of the moment ~ to push until you get your point across ~ to have the last word, determined to prove you are right. But these are signs of taking the low road. I recognize them right away. Because I have walked this path too often.

It's the high road I want to travel on. And who better to show me the way than my grandma. She walked it every day. Her touch, her words, and her heart were cloaked in gentleness. I wonder, did my grandma ever slam a cupboard in utter frustration? Did she ever raise her voice in anger at her husband? I doubt it.

Grandma knew how to let things go. She didn't stew, didn't blow things out of proportion. She seemed to have a forgiving nature, because I never saw her in conflict with anyone. All that she said and did were with a gentleness and a quiet strength you only encounter on the high road.

Me? I get frustrated. I become angry. I've slammed my share of doors. I've said some pretty ugly things. And I have overreacted when I was hurt or offended.

But that's not evidence of a gentle spirit. And I know that if I am going to take the high road of gentleness, I have to change my perspective. It begins with putting myself aside, and looking at others through the lens of agape love. I believe this was my grandma's secret. On gentleness, author W. Phillip Keller wrote, "This is no soft life to live. But it is the restful way. It is the peaceful way. It is the best way. It is His way."

"Both gentleness and meekness are born of power, not weakness...we should never be afraid, therefore, that the gentleness of the Spirit means weakness in character. It takes strength, God's strength, to be truly gentle."
~Jerry Bridges

"Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other's faults because of your love."
~Ephesians 4:2

"A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare."
~Proverbs 15:1

"Be beautiful in your heart by being gentle and quiet. This kind of beauty will last, and God considers it very special."
~1 Peter 3:4

"Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest."
~Matthew 11:29

"But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy."
~James 3:17    
   

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

CHOOSING FAITHFULNESS

"I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful."
~Mother Teresa

Have you ever walked the rugged path of unfaithfulness in a relationship? In a heartbeat, it can unravel a union that took years to build. I know. I've been there. Thankfully, that relationship ended before lifelong vows were made.

My husband and I have been married over twenty-five years. I know from experience it takes more than love to ride the rough storms of life together. Faithfulness is key. But when I am painfully honest, I have to ask myself the tough questions. Am I completely loyal to my husband when it comes to my words? What about my thoughts? How about the way I manage our money and my time? Aren't these a part of the whole "faithful" package?

Up until a week ago, I thought this message would be a breeze to write. But as I began to study the fruit of faithfulness, I started to realize there is so much more to it than we see within the context of marriage. And the more I pressed into it, the more I realized how short I fall.

"Faithfulness" is a big word with multiple layers that grow more complex as you peel them away. I am no expert. I have only begun the process. But I happily and humbly share what I am learning along the way.

I'll start with the first layer I found as I cut into the subject. "Faithful", full of faith, leaves me breathless. Am I really "full of faith"? This kind of faith goes far beyond believing. It is the unwaivering assurance of who God is and what He says. This kind of faith doesn't need to have all the answers. It knows some will remain a mystery, because, unless you are God, faith can't know everything. It wouldn't be faith; it would simply be knowledge.

The "faith-ful" don't have to have their way. Their faith is in the One who knows what is best at all times, in all circumstances. Their self-will loses its willpower, as they look to God's will in everything.

For those who are full of faith, there is an absence of fear. The two cannot coexist. There simply isn't room for both. A little faith and a little fear can cohabitate quite nicely. But when you are filled up by faith, fear sees the full house and moves on.

A life lived faithfully is written all over the actions of the faithful heart. Daily, hourly, moment by moment, a person full of faith is not full of himself. There is freedom from self to put God and others first. Faithfulness reflects the very image of God, because the Lord is always and completely faithful.

As I meditate on this fruit and reflect back on my grandmother's life, I find myself trying to make the pieces fit. My grandma didn't talk much abour her beliefs. At times she admitted to having doubts and unanswered questions. But I saw more faithfulness in how she lived her daily life than I do in many who talk openly about their own "faith".

One thing is clear. I cannot produce this fruit on my own. It takes the hand of my Master Gardener to make anything of value grow. While he weeds and prunes and plants and fertilizes, I learn to put my faith in Him. And in doing so, the fruit of faithfulness begins to slowly sprout up and grow.

A faithful life ~ a life lived in faith and bearing the good fruits it produces, is a holy existence. And though it's a far cry from my own, it's the life I want.

"Faith puts the best construction on every situation and looks for the silver edge on every dark cloud. It searches for any hint of honor and dignity. It believes that with God, all things are possible. It pushes on, perseveres, remains loyal in spite of reverses and disappointments. Such faith is steadfast in spite of shaking experiences and has its gaze fastened upon Him who is faithful, not upon the chaos and confusion of circumstances around us. It is in the atmosphere of this confidence in Christ that the faithful person (a person full of faith) quietly carries on living in serenity, strength, and stability. He is not shaken by the stormy events or unpredictable behavior of others around him. Gently, calmly, without fanfare he simply gives and gives and gives himself to God and others."
~W. Phillip Keller                  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE

"Kind people are the best kind of people."
~Author Unknown

Mean-spirited people can bring out the worst in me. When I am snapped at, I tend to snap back. It's a rare and rather holy moment when I can rise above my knee-jerk reaction and extend love when I am more inclined to retaliate.

I don't think my grandma possessed a mean bone in her body. If she harbored unkind thoughts or ill will toward others, it was well hidden under a life lived by the Golden Rule.

My only memory of grandma's feathers being ruffled was during her daily indulgence in front of her TV. If grandma had a vice, it was her soap opera. As the world turned, her world came to a screeching halt so she could plunge into the dramas of her fictitious friends. I am smiling as I remember her responses to scenarios that played out on the screen. Grandma lived by a strong code of ethics, but she was no dummy when it came to people and society. I can hear her now, "Oh, you don't mean it!" If she could, I think she would have crawled into that box to try and bring a little kindness into their made-up, heartbroken lives.

Grandma was kindhearted; saying and doing kind things seemed to come more naturally to her than it does to me. Genuine kindness is a valued fruit of God's Spirit, and I want to possess it more abundantly. So I look to my grandma, who was a glowing example. She didn't just speak it with words, she lived kindness daily. She has much to teach those of us who are hungry for more of this precious fruit.

What do we gain when we treat someone meanly? Nothing of value. But when we act kindly, especially when we don't like the way we are being treated, we can change the world. Grandma's code of kindness inspires me to clothe myself in it daily, even on those days when I want to reach for the robe of retaliation instead.

"Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not."
~Samuel Johnson

"The best portion of a good man's life ~ his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindess and love."
~William Wordsworth

"Kindness is the greatest wisdom."
~Author Unknown

"Even when you do not feel bighearted, you can give yourself permission to act that way."
~Lama Willa Miller

"If we cannot be clever, we can always be kind."
~Alfred Fripp

"To err on the side of kindness is seldom an error."
~Liz Armbruster

"Have you had a kindess shown?
Pass it on;
'Twas not given for thee alone,
Pass it on;
Let it travel down the years,
Let it wipe away another's tears,
'Til in Heaven the deed appears ~
Pass it on."
~Henry Burton

"Kind words bring life, but cruel words crush your spirit."
~Proverbs 15:4