Monday, November 27, 2017

Keep Us from Grace This Instant!

The definition of grace freaks us out. Being given something we don’t deserve? Not us, we are Americans. We work hard for our quality of life, our perks, our blessings.

We’ll take gifts on our birthday, or Christmas. That’s because it’s common practice to receive gifts on those days. It’s expected.

Every other day of the year we have filters. Did we do something to earn something? Then we’ll receive it. Did we work overtime? Then we’ll splurge. Did we tap into a talent or skill that brought a valuable return? Then we’ll accept it. Because when we somehow have a part in something good, we can rightfully claim it.

But grace …

What is it about grace that makes us squirm in our seats? Even bolt out of the room?

Grace as grace is offered regardless. It does not know the words “deserve” or “earn.”

Grace doesn’t make sense.

Grace from anyone else, from ourselves, from God. Grace is so slippery we don’t even want to try to grasp it. Just let it slide on by, please. Hurry along to the next person. Grace is nice for others, but not for us. It may bless someone who’s in dire straits, but not us. We are strivers, thank you very much. And we’d like to keep it that way.

Plus, grace throws everything off balance.

Grace from others:
We may receive it a time or two, but we can see the scoreboard in their minds. We will owe them.

If this is our perception of grace, we are mistaken.

Grace from ourselves:
We may flirt with it a time or two, but we certainly can’t be regular with it. Too much grace could ruin us. What if we cease to remain responsible adults, turning instead into sloths?

If this is our perception of grace, we are mistaken.

Grace from God:
Sure, He can find it within Himself to pardon our giant sin of unbelief and grant us eternal salvation when we place our trust in Him. But that’s it. Grace for the hundredth time we fall helpless to our addictions? Grace for the millionth time we put ourselves ahead of our loved ones? There’s no way that kind of grace is real.

If this is our perception of grace, we are mistaken.

What if you’re hiding behind the idea that grace is incomprehensible, and therefore you avoid it? What if, simply because you’re more comfortable striving and earning your way through life, you’re suffocating your own soul, living at half-mast?

What if you threw your sense of checks and balances to the wind, and instead got swept away by the breathtaking rhythms of God’s abundant grace? What if you fell into grace like you fall into love … uninhibited, terrified, exhilarated, full of wonder?

What if grace became the undoing of you … in the safest, most loving place you’ve ever known? What might happen then? 

“… it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.”
Hebrews 13:9

“… and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:14

“… from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
John 1:16

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Meet Applebee's Guy This Instant!

* * * * 
Disclaimer: It’s long. It breaks my usual format. It contains absolutely no spiritual value whatsoever. And, yes, names (of people, not restaurants) have been changed to protect the innocent. Otherwise, every. Single. Word. Is true.
* * * * 

“Are you dating anyone right now?” my friend Jen got right to the point after I picked up the phone.

“Well, you could say I’m dating people,” I offered. “I’m online and I’m getting to know some guys, but no, I’m not exclusively seeing anyone right now.”

“Great,” she said. “Tell me what you think of this guy …”

She went on to describe her friend Dan to me. He was in his 40s, had two kids, been divorced for a couple of years, was a faithful church-goer, a computer guy, oh and I could look him up on Facebook and let her know what I thought of his looks. No pressure.

We hung up, I checked him out on Facebook, and I thought … sure, why not? So I gave her my green light and my phone number and email to pass along to him.

The way guys tend to move I did not expect to hear anything for a week or two. Lo and behold, that evening the phone rings. I pick up. He introduces himself and I say something like, “Wow, Jen just called me this afternoon – you are quick!” He says, “Well, she said you’d be off the market soon if I didn’t act fast.” 

Points for boldness, or negative points for coming on too strong? I wasn’t sure. 

We proceed to talk for 35 minutes. The conversation didn’t exactly flow, and I felt myself carrying the weight of trying to make it not awkward. There were a couple things he said that should have immediately been red flags to me. But you know how it is … you wanna give a guy the benefit of the doubt.

First weird thing: “So, what’s your sign?”

Me: “Haha!” 

Who asks that?! 

Him: “Really, what are you?”

He was serious. I was baffled. Astrology means nothing to me. If he did believe in it, what information was he trying to glean from my sign? I told him, then asked his … just to be polite? The conversation moved on.

We talked for quite a while, and it wasn’t exactly smooth and enjoyable, so I tried to wrap up. At which point he suggests we go out. Red flag #2? He wants to take me to Applebee’s.

I literally laughed out loud. There was no way I could deny a significant truth about me: I hate Applebee’s. 

“Ah, that’s funny you would suggest that,” I say cheerily. “I’m quite a foodie and I love eating out. However, anyone who knows me well knows that there is one place I refuse to eat. And that’s Applebee’s,” I say with a smile. I’m in my mid-30s. I know what I will and will not sacrifice to have a date. Good food is not one of them. “Sorry!”

So he says, “How about if I surprise you then?”

That’s fun. Why not? 

We figure out the details for Monday night and then hang up.

I’m definitely not wowed, but it’s worth a shot.

# # # 

Monday night. My nerves aren’t up at all. Another guy, another date. No big deal.

We’d decided he would pick me up at my apartment complex office. No point in having him know exactly which apartment was mine. I walked down the sidewalk and out from a humble but not awful car emerges a guy with a white rose. Wow, I thought. Pulling out all the stops.

“Aw, thanks,” I say as I greet him.

We get in the car and make small talk – about apartment complexes or something of the sort – as he drives to … well, I still didn’t know where we’d be eating.

Along the way, he proceeds to ask: “So, am I too old for you?”

What? Who says that out loud? Jen had told me his age, and I had agreed to a date with him, so what am I going to say, “Yes, you are. Can you please take me back home immediately?”

I laughed and tried to smooth over the awkwardness. I did not succeed.

A bit later, still in the car on the way to dinner, mind you, he says, “So, do you want kids?”

What is happening in my life right now? This guy is weird!!

I once again laugh awkwardly and say I’m open to it, but I’m not eager to bear my own children like many women are. 

“Well, that’s good. Cuz, you know, if you were to fall for me and this were to go all the way to marriage, you need to know that I can’t have any more kids,” he says.

Get me out of the car. NOW. We are still on the way to dinner and we just met. I do not want to have children, and I really do not want to have the ones that you can’t have anyway!

It gets better. Where do we end up for dinner? You better believe it. If this guy is the Applebee’s type, his next best option is … Red Lobster. No, no, and no. He actually thinks chain restaurants are okay!!

There’s a small wait, so we sit in the lobby next to each other with menus, part talking, part reading. I’m really not into the guy, but he is taking me out to dinner and it’s not Applebee’s and he deserves a chance. Right?!

We get seated next to window. He puts his menu down and says, “Finally, I can look at you now.” Oh, man.

We order. We talk. He talks a fair amount, but after the dates I’ve had recently, he actually does know how to have a two-way conversation. Relief. However, in the middle of something I was sharing he interrupts to say, “You’re really beautiful, you know that?” 

It’s like the man had been studying chick flicks and noticed that when the guy says that, the girl kind of melts and gets dreamy-eyed. What he failed to note is that the guy never says it in the middle of something she’s saying, nor when the moment is totally unromantic. Nor when there is absolutely no romance happening, period.

Later in the evening he says something like, “I’ve been doing a lot of talking. Tell me about you.”

Nice move, especially next to all the one-way conversation guys I’ve been out with lately. I say, “Gosh, I’m not sure what to share,” thinking he’d say, “Tell me about what college was like for you,” or, “What are some things you like to do in your free time?”  But no. He takes this as an opportunity to talk even more about himself.

He reaches for his phone. He pulls up Amazon and proceeds to show off a fantasy book with his name as the author. I’ve about had it with guys bragging about themselves, so I don’t play into it. Rather, I reach for my phone. “That’s nice,” I say. “Let me show you this.”  And I pull up the book I’ve written that’s on Amazon, as well. Two can play this game.

The night goes on. In one lull after our plates are cleared, he says point-blank, “Can I hold your hand?”

Uh, what? 

“Uh …” I say.

This is so weird. 

I don’t want to be rude, so I slowly reach my hand across the table.

“I guess so?”

He takes it and says, “I like to do this …”

Ah. He “does this” with all his dates? 

“ … to see if there’s any chemistry. Sometimes it’s like holding my sister’s hand, so I just like to see.”

He’s holding my hand and I feel like we need to pray or something. It is the most unromantic non-prayer handholding I’ve had in … well, ever.

The waitress comes back and I find the timing perfect to pull my hand back to my lap. And to ask for the bill. And to get out of there as soon as possible.

“I really have to get some work done tonight, Dan,” I say. 

So we wrap things up at good ol’ Red Lobster and head for the car. Home, home, home. Must. Get. Home.

“I really had a great time tonight and hope we can do it again,” he says on the drive.

I laugh lightly and bring up something else.

By the time we get to my apartment, he brings it up a second time, “Shall we do this again?”

How did I pass his hand holding test?! 

Most normal, smart, bold women would say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” 

Me, I just can’t let a guy down hard. So I’m lame about it and say I’m a thinker and I need to process the night before I decide. “Can I let you know later?”

And with that, I bolt from the car to my apartment and vow to never, ever, ever agree to a date with a man who thinks Applebee’s is okay.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Hurry Up and Wait This Instant!

I watched as the checkout line I had just chosen to leave zoomed forward. Only 60 seconds ago I had joined the end of that line and began doing what I always do – strategically scanning the lines to my immediate right and left.  I’ve got skills; I know it doesn’t matter how long the line is, what matters is how many items are in the customers’ carts. 

That’s right – a line may be longer, but who’s got what? If he only has a watermelon and a bag of chips, he’s going to get to the clerk faster than the shorter line with the mom of four antsy kids who has a cart overflowing with diapers, macaroni and cheese, cereal boxes and baby food. It’s all about supply and demand: when the supplies to be purchased are in abundance, the demand for me to change lines is essential.

So of course I moved to the line to my right when I saw that it had more people but fewer items. I then noted who came up and took the spot I had just vacated. I wanted to see how much faster I made it through my line than she would hers.

But, oh how I was mistaken. My vacated spot rapidly became the winning lottery ticket. I watched her cruise on up to the clerk like a kid on a slip n slide as I stayed stuck in my spot, three carts behind some dude who couldn’t seem to find his wallet.

I watched Woman In My Spot leave the store and go on her merry way as I stayed right where I was, humbly learning my lesson. The grass is not always greener, Self. You’ve got to bloom where you are planted and not always think life is better elsewhere.

Or so I thought that was my lesson.

I eventually headed out of the busy store and into the even busier parking lot. I was no longer rushed. I already lost my little quest to save time, so I might as well just be leisurely and prioritize not getting hit by a vehicle over saving a few nanoseconds by hurrying. 

After carefully loading my hatchback, I turned around to see an SUV waiting for my spot. But I had to put my cart away, so I proceeded to push it past him on his passenger side, only for him to roll down the window and holler, “Can you hurry it up, lady?!”

Yep, I continued to be humbled. Turns out we’re all competing in this losing battle to save time. 

When I looked into his vehicle, I found not some rude stranger, but a coworker who I absolutely adored. He was messing with me, and we both burst out laughing. Once he found a different spot (I still had to put my cart away), he and his wife came over and we ended up chatting for several long, wonderful minutes in the glorious sunshine. I know that if I had never changed lines back in the store, I would’ve been out of the parking lot long before this friend of mine arrived. Our paths never would have crossed, and we wouldn’t have been able to encourage one another as we did.

Do you ever feel like God wants you to learn a stern lesson (don’t always think your line is the slowest one, or rather: that your place in life is not as good as your neighbor’s), only to find out He wants to redeem your mistake? What if, instead of getting bent out of shape because your plan did not go as planned, you opened yourself up to the ways God wants to surprise you with blessings as things unfold on His timeline?

" … God, who is rich in mercy …" Ephesians 2: 4

"Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s."
Psalm 103: 2-5

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, March 14, 2016

To Think or Feel This Instant!

I like to know stuff. 

I like to know the number of people in a crowded room, the number of calories in my food, the number of dollars I’m saving when something is a certain percentage off. I may be a bit OCD, but I don’t think I’m alone in my quest to know stuff, numbers or not. We seek knowledge as though our lives depend on it. Some are voracious readers, others are voracious talkers (you know who you are) – all in an effort to gain or exchange data. Information. Fuel for our fires to keep us moving forward in this life, to make wise decisions, to become more well-rounded people.

But when it comes to matters of the heart, I am idle. It seems my feelings happen TO me, not as a result of any effort on my part to pursue them. Someone compliments me? Happiness. Someone ignores me? Hurt. Someone smiles at me? Warm fuzzies. Someone criticizes me? Hurt again. All throughout the day, it seems my feelings are handed to me. And so my life becomes a rollercoaster of feelings that merely respond to what I’m given by factors outside of my control.

These are fleshly ways of living in the natural world. But what if the spiritual could infuse the natural? What if instead of diligently pursuing earthly knowledge with our intellect, we chose to ask and wait for the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the thoughts of God? What if we carved out time and space, silence and stillness to listen to Him as we seek not our own wisdom, but His? 

And what if instead of waiting passively for “good feelings” to be handed to us by the people in our lives, we instead pursued inner joy, abundant love, and consistent contentment in Christ as though our lives depended on it? What if matters of the soul became our priority? How might life begin to change for us, and how much might we begin to change for life?

“All the kings of the earth sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” 2 Chronicles 9:23

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Eat Right This Instant!

Some people eat to live and others live to eat. 

I am a proud member of the latter group. Those who belong to the former group leave me literally dumbfounded. I do not understand how food can be an afterthought, or how eating can be a chore one has to remember to do in order to get through the day. That is foreign to me. I live to eat.

True confessions, though. As a self-professed foodie, I can’t say I actually know anything about food. I’m no good at discerning flavors or spices or knowing what goes into a dish to make it amazing. I just like it. I admire it, I savor it, I talk about it, I delight in it. Food makes me happy!

The kind of food that entices me, however, is rather particular. Let’s face it. In America we can make our diets consist of just about anything we want. We can be fast food freaks, packaged and processed people, organic purists, whole and raw food champions, gluten/dairy/sugar or fat-free fanatics. The choice is ours. It is, in fact, easy to feast on some things and avoid others all together. In addition to food costs and our lifestyle, our daily intake is also influenced by allergies, preferences, and tastes. Much goes into our dietary decisions.

The same holds true for the food we feed our spirits. I recently thought I had a healthy diet of spiritual nourishment, only to have the Lord point out that I was actually starving myself from what I truly needed. I was going to church every Sunday. I went to work every day at a Christian organization. I surrounded myself with Christian friends. I skimmed passages of the Bible in the morning. I even listened to Christian music when I felt like it. BAM! A nice, well-rounded Christian diet, right?

While there is nothing wrong with those things, they’re actually more like snacks. You can graze on snacks and enjoy them and they do benefit you, but the problem was that I was skipping meals. Meals are where the essential nutrients come from. The catch is that meals, by nature, take more work than snacks. Wholesome, nourishing meals require forethought, preparation, space and, of course, lots of time. And that, for me, was the rub. I wanted a faith that moved as fast as my life. I thought grab-n-go Christianity could sustain me.

The meal my soul was craving was time with the Lord. Sweet, rich, quiet and still time in His presence. I had been refusing to sit down with Him and just BE. To talk to Him, but more importantly – for me – to listen to Him. I didn’t think His Word could teach me anything new since I’d “read it before,” an all-out affront to the truth that God’s Word is “living and active” and meets us right where we’re at. I’m sad to say I was neglecting the meat in my diet, my very relationship with Jesus, thinking sugary and salty snacks could sustain me.

What are you feeding your spirit these days? Have you been favoring processed foods over whole foods? Have you been powering through on empty calories? What if all the essential proteins, vitamins and nutrients that will rejuvenate you are only a bite away?

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”
Psalm 34:8

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

Labels: , , , , , , , ,