Friday, March 22, 2013

FRIENDS AND ENEMIES

I was twelve. And painfully shy. I had one close friend. But I longed to have the other girls in our small class like me.

Instead of including me in their tight little circle, they giggled when I walked by. They left ugly notes in my desk to greet me after lunch and recess. One morning, I arrived to see a sketch someone had drawn of me on the blackboard. It was crude and ugly, and it highlighted the fact that I was the only girl in class who'd developed a figure. A nasty comment was scribbled underneath.

"Ignore them. They're just jealous of you," our teacher said, trying in her own feeble way to soothe my aching heart. But her words were insufficient medicine.

One day, I got an invitation out of the blue to attend a sleepover. It was from one of the girls who'd been picking on me all year. Was I finally being given an open door to new friendships?

I wrestled with butterflies the next couple of days. How had I found unexpected favor with this girl? I should have seen what she was up to, but my heart wanted so badly to be accepted and liked. Who knew? Maybe our teacher had gotten through during one of her little lectures on how to treat people.

The eve of the sleepover, my mom dropped me off at the girl's house. I was so nervous, I'd been unable to eat all day. When I knocked on her door, I was greeted by all of the girls from the group. They ushered me in and showed me where to set my things down. Were they all wanting to be my friend now?

But I soon realized otherwise. At that point, I seemed to become invisible to them. The girls acted as if I wasn't even there. I tried to jump into conversations, but my words felt rejected and unheard.

Later that night, a game unfolded. Each girl was to take a turn in the hall while the other girls chatted behind close doors. The first couple of girls took their turns. In each girl's absence, the group shared things they liked about the girl who stood in the hall.

When it came to be my turn, I wondered optimistically what they would say about me. Perhaps they were beginning to see past my maturing body and noticing the real me inside.

Tears stung my eyes as I heard every word. The girls were brutal in their comments. The insults mixed with cruel laughter were too much. I ran to the phone and called my mom. "Please come get me," I begged between sobs. When she arrived, I was too upset to share my injuries. They remained locked inside, too painful for me to revisit.

I should not have allowed the girls' cruelty to affect me. But it did. For years. All through high school, I shied away from developing friends with females. It felt too risky. Peers assumed I was "easy" because I befriended guys. And I found myself being unfairly labeled because of it. Once a reputation develops in high school, it doesn't matter how unfounded it is. It tends to stick. And insult was added to injury.

Even today, I find my guard has a tendency to go up when it comes to the female population. It's silly, I know. But wounds that cut so deeply have a way of staying with you.

Today, those who I call "friend" are like gold to me. I would walk through fire for my friends.

"Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you." These words that Jesus spoke hit home with me. I can see it's the only appropriate response. Otherwise, the wounds they inflict continue to fester. Jesus knew this.

Love your enemies. Pray for them. Ask Jesus to change their hearts. In the process, you will find your own being healed. I know this to be true. I have precious friends to prove it.

Lord, please use this painful memory from my past to bless someone today, whether friend or foe.

"Jesus' enemies were the people who crucified him, and he prayed for them even until death. Such a beautiful act of love does not come easily, but brings grace to all involved."  ~Matt Sciba

"Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath...Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody. Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. 'I'll do the judging,' says God. 'I'll take care of it.' If you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good."
~From Romans 12, The Message

"You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives His best."
~From Matthew 5, The Message  
     

Saturday, March 9, 2013

WINNING AND LOSING

I knew better. Don't go to bed mad. But that's exactly what I did. Though the same blankets covered both of us, I stubbornly clung to my side of the mattress.

Eight hours of restless slumber didn't change things between us. In fact, with the rising of the sun came more details of what had angered me in the first place. I didn't just react. I exploded. Words were spoken in frustration. We both held our positions. And the argument escaladed.

In the end, I got my way. I won the battle. But the truth is, I lost something in the process. The expression on his face revealed the injury my stinging words had caused. And I hurt too.

An apology was a good place to begin. But the silence that carried into the following day was a powerful reminder. Our words have lasting impact. "I'm sorry" is important, but it doesn't work like a delete button. When feelings get hurt, it takes time for wounds to heal.

Don't go to bed mad. Don't speak in anger. Choose words wisely. Remember that words spoken in heated emotion only make matters worse. Twenty-seven years of marriage, and I'm still learning. Kindness trumps winning an argument. Every time.

"Don't go to be angry...Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say...Don't make God's Spirit sad...Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don't yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ."
~From Ephesians 4, CEV

"Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal."
~Proverbs 12:18

Copyright 2013 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.
         

Friday, March 8, 2013

ABUNDANT LIVING

Just when I think I have this whole faith-walk figured out, God nudges my spirit. He gently calls my name, and tenderly shows me we've got business to address. Sweetly, He speaks words of stirring conviction. Lovingly, He unveils areas of weakness and vulnerability. Softly, He sheds light on pockets of darkness I didn't know existed or rationalized as okay. Consistently, He calls me to a higher road, teaching me a holier and healthier way to walk.

And I drink it in. The lessons, the prodding, the discipline ~ I used to dread it. I'd stand my ground, and insist I wasn't in the wrong. I'd have an excuse for everything He brought to light. I'd justify my actions, my thoughts, my attitudes. And I'd believe I was right.

Not anymore. Because honestly, I've lived through enough to see how destructive, defeating, and dishonoring it can be. I'm tired of trying to have my way, force my agenda, and present my arguments to God. I don't want to live this way. Not anymore.

That the God of the Universe who spoke everything into existence wants to come to me and show me a better way? Yes! I'll take it. Open the doors to my heart and mind, Lord. Shed light on all the dark spots. Breathe fresh air and new life into the hidden places that have been locked up tightly for so long. Open my eyes to the choices, habits, and mindsets that sabotage and hinder my growth. I want to climb higher, Lord. I want to put off the weight of old ways that have held me down and held me back.

I want more of You, Lord. I want Your ways, Your plans, Your purposes. I set before You my own in exchange for all you want to give to me.

It's freedom, Lord. This chance I have to give up my own agenda for Your greater way. It's exhilirating. Empowering. And it leaves me feeling almost giddy, so happy to be freed of all the stuff that "self" can chain me to.

I can see why He calls it the abundant life. When I let go and surrender all to Him, He pours so much more into me than I could ever think or imagine. I don't want to settle for anything less.

"Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I'm about; See for yourself whether I've done anything wrong - then guide me on the road to eternal life."
~Psalm 139:23-24, The Message

"God can do anything, you know - far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us."
~Ephesians 3:20, The Message

"I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)."
John 10:10

Copyright 2013 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.
 
         

Friday, March 1, 2013

PURPLE MATTRESSES

I lifted the purple air mattress off the couch and wrestled it into the guest room. Though unsightly, it's the only thing that keeps our doxie from jumping onto the couch when we are away. "Why don't you ever move this thing? It's awkward for me to handle," I complained to my husband as he nestled himself into his favorite chair.

I was dumfounded by his response. "I didn't see it. Sorry, honey."

"How can you not notice a huge, bright purple mattress draped across the couch?! This happens everytime we get home." He shrugged his shoulders and I pressed on. "Is this a passive-aggressive thing?"

"No, honey. I'm sorry. I didn't notice it. I guess I'm just used to it being there." I can read my husband like a book. The sincerity in his tone and his facial expression told me he was being completely honest.

As I sat on the couch later that evening, I realized something. Though his is much more obvious and very tangible, many of us can be quite adept at overlooking our own "purple mattresses". Things that seem obvious to outsiders looking in can fall off our radar. We develop blind spots.

Some of us manage to sweep under the rug unhealthy patterns in our lives and our family dynamics. Destructive behaviors aren't seen as a problem because we've grown accustomed to them.

I am just as guilty as my husband of overlooking some "purple mattresses" in my own life...and in my family. Maybe more so!

Lord, open my eyes to see what I need to see. Help me to recognize my "purple mattresses" for what they are. Help me to accept hard truths, not judgmentally, but with an open heart and a discerning mind. I don't want to look back one day, shake my head, and wonder how I missed the obvious.

We cannot deal with what we don't see and acknowledge. Give us eyes to see, and healthy ways to work through our "purple mattresses" that will speak love, acceptance, and healing to those who need it most.

"Sincerity and truth are what you require; fill my mind with your wisdom." 
~Psalm 51:6

"Use wisdom and understanding to establish your home; let good sense fill the rooms with priceless treasures."
~Proverbs 24:3,4

"If you are willing to start seeking truth in every situation, you will grow spiritually and begin to experience more freedom and joy than ever before."
~Joyce Meyer