Game-Changing Prayers

What is the most under-utilized arsenal within the armor of God? The Breastplate of Righteousness? The Helmet of Salvation? Shoes of Peace? The Belt of Truth? The Sword of the Spirit or the Shield of Faith? All of these are critically important, and if you lack one you intrinsically hurt the effectiveness of the others. Hang with me, because this is a bit of Taraology here, but I tend to think the piece of equipment we most often dismiss is the one Paul tacks on at the end of Ephesians 6:18.

“Pray at all times…” ephesians 6 18

I know. We’ve heard it until it has lost its effectiveness. Pray and read your Bible. Read your Bible and pray. Why do you think pastors and leaders urge us to do it until they are blue in the face? Because these two things are our life lines to God. They are the game changers, yet we treat them as a chore in our spiritual checklist.

We tend to use prayer for the “heal the sick, help my children follow you, restore, guide, provide” kinds of situations. Those are awesome things to pray for and about. Sometimes, though, I think we should dig a little deeper. Perhaps we have resigned ourselves to the way things ‘just are’ before we have ever prayed about them. Let me give you a couple of examples.

A dear friend of mine told me how much she struggled after she was saved with the kind of music she listened to. She loved Jesus, loved reading her Bible and attending church but had listened to rock and roll all her life. That was what she connected to, despite the dark lyrics contained in many of the songs. She tried listening to Christian music and found it to be dull and vanilla. worshipThe songs all sounded the same, the melodies and chord progressions unimaginative and it didn’t help that the stations kept playing the same thirty tunes over and over again. (To be honest, I’ve frequently heard this same criticism from seasoned believers.) Instead of throwing up her hands and saying, “I’m just not into Christian music,” my friend prayed fervently that God would give her a deep love for Christian music. She continued to listen to the Christian radio stations and over the period of a few months, she fell passionately in love with it. When she tried to listen to some rock not long after, she said she felt disgusted and wondered why on earth she ever liked it in the first place.

Another woman was struggling with feelings of intimacy towards her husband. With the passing of time, their marriage (from her perspective) had grown cool in the romance department. Instead of growing bitter, or worse yet, looking for fulfillment from someone else, this wise woman prayed to God that she would once again thrill to her husband’s touch. God restored the intimacy of their marriage in profound and beautiful ways. She says they have never been happier.

Here’s a little story from my own life…

The first time I went to sing in prison, I was terrified. I almost turned the car around three times and headed back home. I’ll never forget my white knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel, or the moment I pulled off the road trying to breathe.

“Lord, I’m not sure I can do this. I’m afraid.” prison bars

He pressed a directive into my heart so simple, but it has changed everything.

“Ask me to take the fear away.” And that’s what I did.

For a year my daily prayer was, “Lord, make me fearless. I want to be bold in Your strength but never my own. Take every ounce of fear away and fill me with joy instead.”

There’s not much that can rattle me these days and it’s all because of Him. Stepping into a prison is no different than going to the mailbox now. (To be honest, I see much scarier stuff in Walmart.) planet walmart

If you’re struggling with obeying God because of fear, perhaps you should ask Him to take your fear away. Fear and love cannot coexist.

Don’t be afraid to pray “game-changing” prayers. Pray for those things you know align with God’s will. Pray believing He can do all He says and more.

Nothing is too big for Him.

Lessons from the Water Park: What is Agape Love?

I blinked against the bright sunshine as happy children squealed around me. Magic Springs was full this particular afternoon. Full of hyped-up children and exhausted parents. Close to fifty little ankle biters scurried around me at the splash pad. Water sprayed in every direction and the scent of chlorine filled my nose. My own little guy had climbed up the stairs and gleefully gone down the slide at least seventy-two times and showed no signs of wearing out.

magic springs

We were in it for the long haul.

A four year old with big blue eyes caught my attention as he waddled up the stairs in his too-big arm floaties, stopping every now and then to tug up his sagging swim trunks. His parents were standing not far from me. Every now and then he’d glance back to make sure they were still there and greeted them with a toothy grin and a wave. They laughed and waved back. I smiled at his antics.

Five minutes passed when Mr. Floaties strutted by, smiling at me in that twinkly way he had. My amusement turned to alarm when I heard his parents stop him with a furious lecture. Both of them were scowling. Both of them had their hands on their hips looking like they were ready to do battle. What had the little guy done?

“Jesse, you have got to stop it, son! You keep letting everyone go ahead of you in line! It’s absolutely ridiculous. The other boys and girls keep cutting ahead of you and you actually let them do it! What is wrong with you?”

The father rounded on him once the irate mother stopped for breath. “Do you want to grow up and be a wimp? A pushover? Because that’s what will happen if you keep letting everyone go in front of you. Come on, son. Man up!”

spankyLittle Jesse looked helplessly between them and held up his hands in confusion. “I was just trying to be nice.”

The gesture reminded me of Spanky from Little Rascals. There was nothing cute about his parents reaction, however.

The mother frowned. “You get back up there and be tough.”

Minutes later, the parents rewarded little Jesse with a high five when he proudly pushed another child out of his way so he could take his turn on the slide.

I had to turn away. Is this what we’ve come to? Scrap and claw for every inch of space? Refuse an act of consideration in order to ‘man up’ at the age of four? Condemn a child for showing kindness?

Don’t get me wrong. As someone who struggles with people pleasing, I get it. I have a child who battles the same issues…a child who struggles to let her voice be heard, to establish boundaries and stick with them. I know. I hear, but God forgive me if I ever use the need to set boundaries as an excuse to treat people with anything less than kindness and agape love.

Tim McGraw’s song “Humble and Kind” is more than just a nice little tune. It’s a challenge. Fruit of the Spirit on display to point hurting, broken people to Jesus. That is the goal…not ensuring our girls are the toughest or our boys are the manliest.

We are so worried about our children’s ACT scores and SATs, their future job markets and sports trophies, being tough and establishing boundaries, giving them a well-rounded childhood and opportunities, but how often do we see parents striving to make their children more loving? Sympathetic and empathetic? More concerned about showing agape love than they are about themselves?

john 13 34

Agape love is action. It’s serving someone else despite our own feelings. It’s laying down our wants and needs and giving our resources to help someone else instead. Emotion may not even accompany agape love, but it’s doing the right thing because it’s what Jesus asked us to do. Yes, it can be difficult, but Jesus Himself left us the perfect example.

Think about this: on the very night He was betrayed, He knelt, humbled Himself and washed His disciples’ feet. You know, the guys who claimed to be his friends and in a few short hours would all run away, saying they never knew Him. His best friends, closest allies and confidantes would abandon Him to face death alone. Worse yet, Jesus knew they would flee, yet He chose to love and serve them anyway.

Let’s put it in another context. Here’s agape love: You hear your neighbors are about to turn you into the police for a crime you didn’t commit, but you decide to mow their lawn and wash their car anyway.

shttefan-284259

Yeah. Agape love is powerful. That’s what this world needs more of. That’s what makes real men and women. Sacrificial love.

More than anything else, we need to be funneling the majority of our prayer and energy into molding our children to fall in love with Jesus. When they have a deep, abiding relationship with Him, they’ll learn to love like He does. Love like that transforms. It can’t help but be noticed. It turns the world upside down.

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good goal for us too.

 

The Broken Piano

“Great musicians should have only the finest instruments in their homes.”

The caustic comment from the piano tuner who had curled up his nose at my old spinet piano has bothered me for fourteen years, though I’ve had a hard time figuring out why.

I thought maybe it was the man’s attitude when he entered my home. I had been desperately searching for a tuner willing to take on my pawn shop find but from the moment this guy laid eyes on it, his annoyed smirk told me the piano didn’t meet his criteria. Maybe it was the chipped places around its edges. Or perhaps the slightly yellowed keys. I don’t know. But before he even sat down to play it, he judged it and found it lacking. 

Looking over the brim of his glasses, he shot me a scolding glare. “You are a musician, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You should be asking me to tune a baby grand then. Or least a piano with some kind of merit. But this…,” he shook his head sadly, “this piano is not fit for a musician.”

He then launched into a sales pitch about the wonderful pianos he had for sale in his store and grew agitated when I wouldn’t bite. Needless to say, that was my one and only experience with that particular tuner.

Great musicians should have only the finest instruments in their homes…

I thought perhaps his statement bothered me because it was the lead in to his sales pitch. But no, that particular comment has circled around and around in my brain for fourteen years. It bothers me. It shouldn’t. That piano has been long gone and I haven’t seen that tuner since the day of his barbed comment yet it nags me. Why? broken piano keys

I finally figured it out.

Recently a friend sent me an email about a little boy who somehow escaped his mother at a prestigious concert hall and crawled up on stage plunking himself right next to a world renown pianist just before the man was beginning his concert.

boy at the piano

The little tyke clumsily tapped around on the keys before looking up to the famous pianist with a grin. The poor mother was horrified and jumped out of her seat, preparing to retrieve her wayward son but the pianist only smiled down at the little boy and begin to imitate the toddler’s finger strikes. Then something amazing happened.

As the little boy squealed with delight and pounded the keys harder, the pianist began to improvise melodies over the boy’s tapped notes. The entire audience was spellbound. When the little boy finally tired of the game, he hopped down and the musician stood and applauded him, causing the entire crowd to cheer and smile.

I love that story. And in a flash, I finally understood why that tuner’s comment bothered me.

Great musicians are not great because they have the finest instruments in their homes. They aren’t great because their fingers and ears are only trained for the best the world has to offer, or because they have sold X number of CDs or because they fill up concert halls. A real musician can make music out of the hardest situation. It doesn’t matter whether the keys are chipped, whether it’s a Bosendorfer or a dusty spinet, whether the action is smooth like honey or stilted, or even whether a little boy interrupts their Rachmaninoff moment.

The sign of a great musician is not in owning the finest instruments, but the ability to make the most broken instruments sing once more. broken keys

From this perspective, God is the greatest musician of all. He takes our broken strings, chipped edges, places His hands on those battered keys and coaxes out a song. A melody. An unspoken story. And the more broken the instrument, the more amazing His ability to make it sing.

Do you feel broken, chipped or used up? Don’t let the enemy’s lies discourage you. You are valuable and treasured. God doesn’t have a room full of glistening new grand pianos. He prefers the spinets.

Under his touch, they make the sweetest melodies.

When You Can’t See God

Magic Springs wore me out last week.

Correction. The heat, combined with my children’s nonstop energy, wore me out.

The amusement park nestled in the outskirts of Hot Springs, Arkansas is a popular place to take families for summer fun where they can zoom down water slides, swim, splash in freeze zones, play games like bumper cars or catch a ride on numerous pulse-stopping roller coasters.

After hours swimming in the hot sun, the older kids wanted to ride a coaster. My friend offered to watch my son play in the kiddie pool while I took one teenager, one preteen, and three giggling seven-year olds to ride the Arkansas Twister. arkansas twisterThere was virtually no line that day so we rode the wooden roller coaster several times. Five, six, seven…they didn’t want to stop.

After the third trip through, I got off and told them I would stay by the entrance and snap their pictures as they zoomed by. No problem. I got some great shots of the laughing troop of estrogen. The longer I stood, the warmer I became. Ninety-five degrees with eighty-nine percent humidity feels like you’re standing in a furnace while a llama licks your face. Soon I was sweating through my clothes and decided to find a bit of shade until the girls had ridden themselves empty.

I found the perfect spot right beside the exit stairs where passengers left the Twister. It put me as close as possible to the girls without actually sitting on the coaster with them. A bit of shade. Blessed relief. steps in shade

Another ten minutes passed when I heard a heartbroken wail. My oldest daughter descended the stairs with her arms around my youngest daughter who was sobbing.

“You see? Mom’s right there. There’s no reason to be upset.”

My heart sank. Poor Callie. My youngest daughter has battled anxiety for years. She carries a heavy burden on her small shoulders and though we’ve made tremendous strides, the old enemy of fear still rises up from time to time.

I patted the bench next to me. “Come here, sweetheart. Why are you crying?”

“Because…I…couldn’t…see you! I…saw you…before…and then…you…were gone.”

I tugged her close and kissed her hair. “That’s true but do you know why I changed spots? The heat was making me feel bad. I needed shade so I moved. But I didn’t just move any old place. I moved somewhere I would be closer to you if you needed me.”

Callie sniffed and looked around. “You are closer to us here, aren’t you?”

I smiled, “Yep. Let me ask you something. When you didn’t see me, what was the first thing you did? Pray or panic?”

She blinked. “I freaked out.”

“Yeah. And why did you freak out?”

She shrugged and scuffed the concrete with the toe of her shoe. “I guess because I assumed if I didn’t see you that you had left me.”

I squeezed her close. “Have I ever left you before?”

She shook her head. “No. Never.”

“And I never will. Just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I’ve left. In this case, not being able to see me was a very good thing because I was actually closer to you than I was before.”

With a long pause, I realized God was capturing my attention at the same time I spoke truth and comfort to my child.

How many times have I wondered if God saw me, especially when I couldn’t feel His presence? How many times have I believed the lie that said it was up to me—my effort, my work and my eyes on Him—to keep our relationship close? And while a relationship, any relationship, is a two-way street, deep in my heart I know that anything left up to my own efforts is doomed to fail. That is where Grace moves in.

He draws me to Him. He comes after me when I stray. He sees my need and moves to fill the gaps in my crumbled, broken weakness. When fear rattles the doorknob, He is close…closer than eyes can see. deuteronomy 31 6

Sometimes we have to ignore what our fickle emotions scream at us, silence the lies of what we think we know and stand firm on the promises of God’s Word. He said He will never leave us. He says His love for us is incomprehensible. It is not dependent on anything we do or are unable to do. We need only let His grace move in and hold us.

I don’t have to see Him to know He’s there.

I startled back to the present when Callie offered a shaky smile and wiped the tears from her blotchy face. “I think I’m ready to ride it again. My friends are waiting for me.”

“Okay, sweetie. Only if you’re sure.”

She looked over her shoulder as she climbed the stairs.

“It’s okay, Mom. Now I know. Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean you’re not there.”

The Thief: The Problem with Comparing

Jean size. That dreaded number on the scale. Checking account balances. Facebook friends. Instagram and Twitter followers. Awards and degrees. Points scored by your child at his last game. Job performance evaluations.

So many numbers and none of them are good or bad when rattled off in isolation. The only time we have a problem with any of the above is when we are tempted to compare these numbers to the stats of others.

thief of joy

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So true. Not only is comparison a thief, it’s also a terrible judge. Speaking for myself, I tend to compare myself either to those who are way more put together than I am, or I compare myself to those who can’t seem to get their act together at all. The Ree Drummonds, June Cleavers and James Dobsons of the world leave me wallowing in self-loathing, wondering why I can’t seem to get my hot mess of a life in shape. So instead I look to those who are further down on the proverbial ‘getting-their-garbage-handled’ totem pole and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that.”

But does looking down at someone else’s mess make me any better of a mother? A wife? A friend? A sister or daughter? No. It just makes me more prideful…and a much bigger pain.

compare highlight reel

That’s the problem with comparing ourselves to anyone else. It forces us to ride a pendulum that swings between pride and the lie that says, “You’re not good enough.”

The disciple Peter battled the same issue in John 21:19-22.

“He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Follow Me [walk the same path of life that I have walked]!’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His chest at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray You?’ So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man [what is in his future]?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to stay alive until I come[again], what is that to you? You follow Me!’ ” (AMP)

God designed each of us with a unique purpose in mind…a purpose we do our best to throw away when we compare and long for the bodies, the families, the plans, the dreams, the goals, the bank accounts or the lives of others. Comparison breeds discontentment and discontentment leads to every other sin we struggle against.

flower comparison

God made only one you. There is only one person with your exact fingerprint. Only one with your exact strand of DNA. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Keep your  joy full today. Be who you were created to be. No comparisons allowed.

The Rodeo Clown: Learning to Be Seen

“Tara, why can’t you look me in the eye?”

My friend’s question sliced to the quick. We had been chatting for over forty minutes and the topic had drifted from the mundane to more personal waters. Personal makes me uncomfortable. When I know someone is peeling back layers and taking a peek underneath the mask I work so hard to keep fixed in place, the intensity of their stare is too much. I don’t want them to see the trembling mess I am.

coffee

So I take a sudden interest in my shoes. Or the couch cushion. Or the coffee cup clutched in my fingers. Anything other than their probing stare. I can feel it. Like a monster breathing against my bedroom window.

Whoever said real is the new black doesn’t know how terrifying real can be. Or perhaps they do. Maybe they are just farther along in the journey than I am and have learned how to face their fear with a courage I long to possess.

I’ve made tremendous strides in the past few years. I’m learning to say no, to express my thoughts and opinions without worrying what others might think of me. I’m not exactly dancing in freedom but God has been teaching me to walk in it, though some days it feels more like I’m tiptoeing around in His grace. That’s okay. Imperfect progress and all that.

Yet why do I still have trouble looking people in the eye?

If eyes are windows to the soul, I try my best to keep my soul shuttered and locked away from view.

tara 18 2016 (2)

At my friend’s pointed observation, I made some silly comment. Something intended to make her laugh. A joke. It’s what I do. She smiled, but she wasn’t through.

“Do you know what you remind me of? One of those rodeo clowns.”

I blinked. “What do you mean?”

rodeo clown

She smiled kindly, but she didn’t shy away from the truth. “You know what the original rodeo clowns were intended to do, right? They were meant to distract the crowd from the blood and gore that had just occurred between the bull and rider. They diverted attention away from the serious issues by entertaining. Cover the grotesque with a smile and a funny routine.” She squeezed my hand. “And sometimes a bit of grease paint.”

How faithful are the wounds of a friend. Though difficult to hear, my friend was completely correct. Though God is restoring my broken places each and every day, there is still a part of me that longs to hide. A fragment of my spirit that lives in shame. Shame never wants to flaunt itself, does it? It covers. It distracts. It deflects. As Jennifer Dukes Lee worded it in her book Love Idol, “Because we can’t make peace with ourselves, we try to hide ourselves.”

Hiding can take all kind of forms. It doesn’t have to be the mousy little girl ducking behind her mane of hair and folded arms. Shame and insecurity can be wrapped in the Homecoming Queen or the public speaker or yes, even a rodeo clown. Some of us only want to be seen if we will be perceived as perfect…and we either avert our gaze or apply the grease paint because we know we’re not.

kintsugi 3Despite my struggle with people pleasing, one thing I have learned is this: perfect is boring, at least by the human definition. For me, flawless has become synonymous with plastic. Dull. Lifeless. What a miserable way to live. No, I think I’ll strive for the Biblical definition of perfect instead…complete. Complete in Jesus. Whole. Not lacking anything because His grace has filled the broken places where my own weakness is laid bare.

When we grasp hold of how much He loves us, deeply and scandalously loves us, it changes things. Shame flees in the light of His love. He becomes our safe place. The One we can tell our deepest fears, thoughts and dreams to and know they are held in the only hands strong enough to carry the weight of the world. No condemnation. Only grace.

One of my favorite names of God is El Roi, meaning “The God Who sees me”. A lowly slave girl discovered this firsthand.

el roi

” The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery…

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

                                                                        (Genesis 16:7-13)

If I am to be seen, I want it to be through His love-filled eyes. Eyes that see the blood of His Son marked upon my heart. Eyes that saw my faults yet loved me so much He would have rather died than leave me in the dark.

We all want to be seen in those terms. We all want to know that we matter. In the presence of Jesus, there is no need for grease paint. No need to hide. No need to drop our gazes in shame. He sees. He knows, yet He loves us all the same.

That includes rodeo clowns.

When Life Hands You…Wigs

 

Yes, I know the saying goes, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Sometimes there’s not a lemon to be found but a startling abundance of hair pieces. Hang with me and I’ll explain. lemons

Not long ago I ordered a pair of pants from an online store. I was supposed to appear on a television interview and I thought the pants would be cute paired with a top I already owned. The company promised the product would arrive before my interview. You know what’s coming. Interview day came. No pants.

No big deal, I thought. The pants were still extremely inexpensive and fashionable. I would have plenty of places to wear them when they arrived from the company’s warehouse in China. (Are warning bells going off in your head too?) Yeah, I had done a little research on the company after I ordered my too-late pants, which is never the best time to research a company. Ideally, one should research them before buying their product, but I digress.

Two days after my interview, I opened my mailbox to see a very small, very flat package. Return label: China. I frowned. This package was way too small to be my pants, but I’d ordered nothing else.

Intrigued, I slid the package open to discover the company had sent me, not my lovely pants I had dreamed about, but a wig piece instead. Say what?

wig piece

I wouldn’t have even minded that so much if it had been the right color.

I couldn’t help it. I burst into laughter and looked up into the sky.

Thanks, Father. I needed that laugh.

matt with wigShipping that cheap wig piece back to the company would cost more than I initially paid for it so we kept it. You know what? That dumb little scrap of hair has brought our family and friends more laughter in the past few days than I imagined possible.

church signIf you find me on Facebook, you’ll see lots of silly memes, funny church signs, and goofy pictures. It’s intentional on my part. I’m currently taking a stand-up writing course and loving it. God loves laughter. He loves joy. I believe Jesus had a good sense of humor and loved to laugh. Have you ever been around someone who didn’t? Yeah. They can suck the air right out of a room with a single look. But the Bible says Jesus wasn’t like that. People came to Him in droves. They wanted to be with Him, to touch Him, to talk with Him. He is love and goodness and joy.

proverbs 17 22

As I’m typing this blog, the mailman knocked on our door with a package. A larger package. From China. Yep. My pants finally arrived. So where did this goofy wig piece come from? I have no idea, but I’m thankful for the gift of laughter God peppers throughout the journey. It’s a beautiful coping mechanism for the hard days, and makes the good days even brighter.

ralphie with soapA final word: Laugh, but keep it clean. No need to use that wig as a sham-wow.

Just for fun, share your favorite joke with me today. Clean only, please. Let’s do some laughing!

Trolls on the Bridge: How to Keep Negative Feedback from Shredding Your Heart

I recently read this quote by Allen Arnold and it resonated deeply. “If God is pleased with your latest creation but the world ignores it, how do you feel? The answer reveals who you are creating for.”

thumbs up

Excellent question. I fall into this trap far too often. I hope people like what I’ve written. This new blog was a step out of my comfort zone. Will people read it? Will they like it? This doesn’t even have to revolve around writing. This could be about any situation. The secret fear is, “Will they approve what I offer? Will they approve of me?”

So many of us say we are living, breathing, creating, and doing for an Audience of One, but the truth is, when our creative offering is ignored by the masses, we suffer hurt. Disappointment. We may even feel insignificant or devalued. Such a reaction tells us the true condition of our heart.

What’s worse? Not having our creation ignored but having it, or perhaps even our very person, attacked. Ouch.

ecclesiastes 7 5Let me stop here and say I’m not talking about constructive criticism, although for some, any kind of criticism feels like destructive criticism. Wearing our feelings on our sleeve about something we create isn’t healthy. One of the best pieces of advice I heard early on when beginning my writing career came from Tamera Alexander. She said, “What you create, whether it be your book, your story, an article, whatever it is…that thing is not your baby. It is a product. You are not what you create.”

Great advice, and an excellent way to keep the sting from burning too deeply when criticism need be applied. And trust me, it will. No one is born the expert in their field. No one.
Constructive criticism is intended to build up. It’s based on love and wants the best for the other person. Destructive criticism wants only to harm. Its intent is to destroy, and is usually birthed out of jealousy or fear. So when you’ve been hit with negative feedback, it’s important to take a step back and analyze the source. There are four types of feedback sources.

  1. Lovers  

flatteryThese guys love everything you produce, say, and do. They love you. More of you 24-7. Of course, they would never dream of giving you negative feedback so they aren’t pertinent to our chat today, but beware. You should still take their gushing praise with a grain of salt. Don’t let it give you a big head. “…a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:28)

 

 

  1. Critics

More or less, critics are people who are educated in the creative product you’ve released. They have opinions that are subjective but carefully thought out about why they do or don’t like something, how aspects could be improved, etc. Good critics should be about the product, not the person behind it. Constructive criticism from a critic can be extremely valuable. Just remember their opinion is subjective.

  1. Trolls

trollAh, here is where things get messy. Trolls will hit you with all kinds of negative feedback. They don’t like your product because blah, blah, blah. Some criticisms may seem legit, some utterly ridiculous and hurtful. In the midst of their barbs, it may become apparent to you these guys have never even read or used your product. What?!

Trolls are internet drama feeders. They love stirring up fights because they find it amusing. They will go after your creation, and possibly, after you just for the shock value of it. As a friend of mine recently put it, “Trolls are just looking for a goat to cross their bridge.” Someone to torture. Someone to mess with. Although it seems they are quite hostile towards you, they are probably indifferent. They really don’t care about you at all, one way or the other. They are just looking for some drama-induced excitement in their too-dull lives. feed the trolls

Word of advice: Don’t feed the trolls. Do not engage with them. Don’t try to make them like you. They are out for one thing: drama. You feed a troll, and they’ll keep hanging around the bridge. Starve a troll, and they’ll look for some other place to feed.

  1. Haters muppet haters

As a recovering people pleaser, this one hurts, but it’s true. There will be some people that hate you. There I said it. Let it sink in. They will hate you for no other reason than that. It’s usually based out of some sort of jealousy, but perhaps not. Maybe it’s a wound they are struggling with and you’re an easy target. Whatever the reason, there will be people that don’t like you. They will say the meanest, most nasty, soul-cutting things to you. You’ll have a choice in that moment whether to believe what they say about you and your worth or reject it. (Remember this: a lie can only harm us if we believe it.)

john 15 18You are not what you create. You were lovingly fashioned and knit together by God, designed for a purpose before you ever drew a breath. Haters spew venom because they have no love nor light. Trolls linger on bridges, but none of it changes one thing between you and the Author of Life.

Press on. Pray for those who hurt you. Love with abandon, even those trolls and haters. They must hurt deeply to have so much acid spill out. Here’s a thought: every time you’re confronted with hurtful feedback, instead of lashing back or wallowing in tears, as we all so often want to do, bow your head and say a prayer for that mean person. Talk about agape love in action.

After all, trolls need Jesus too.

galatians-1-10

“To Do” or “To Be”?: Exchanging Checklists for God’s Presence

Not long ago, I finished up a beautiful study on the book of Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. She challenged her readers to do something I love: to make a to-be list instead of a to-do list.

I’m prolific at creating master to-do lists. They give me a sense of control, a sense of accomplishment and keep my cluttered mind from letting crucial jobs slip through the cracks of my faulty memory. (Correction: these things give me illusion of control, accomplishment and clearer brain function.)

Despite my love of meddlesome to-do lists, I think they are overrated. Our culture is so consumed with “do more”, schedule-juggling, organizing, managing and rearranging that we’ve lost sight of something quite important. Call me crazy, but I think we’ve got the whole cram-more-into-your-day-and-wonder-why-we-need-caffeine-and-stress-management-to-keep-up thing down.

No. Better organization isn’t the problem. What we choose to tackle in a day has less to do with a checklist and more about what our priorities are. In other words, to do is not nearly as important as to be.

As yourself the question, “Who do I want to be?”

For you hard-core list makers, start writing. I started my to-be list and, in just a few minutes, I was running out of room on the page. list making

To Be:

Compassionate

Loving

Kind

Less prideful

Less stubborn

More flexible

Teachable

Heart to serve others

Look at people through God’s eyes

Wise

Slow to speak

Serene

Joyful

Encouraging

Prayerful

Seeker of God’s heart…

The longer I gripped my pencil, the more I realized I was circling around one person, one focal point. All these character traits and more were compressed and displayed in the person of Christ. Scanning the list, it became clear…I want to be like Jesus.

Flip over to 1 John 2:6 and you’ll see that John worded it this way: the one who says he abides in Him[Jesus] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  

So to be like Jesus, I just need to walk like Jesus. Got it. Check that off the list.

If only it were that easy.

That’s kind of a tall order, you know? It’s like saying to be a great basketball player, just play like Michael Jordan. To be pretty, just look like Cindy Crawford. It seems unattainable. Impossible.

little boy basketballmichael jordan 2

Before I crumpled the overwhelming list in my hand, I took a deep breath. The Lord knows I’m not perfect, and He knows I have, and will continue to, mess up. That’s why He sent His Son.

The idea isn’t to be sinless…it’s to strive to be like Him. To please Him. To know His heart. To let Him mold me into the image of His Son.

So like any good, organized girl does, I made a list.

How did Jesus Walk?

  1. His prayer time with God was long and a priority.
  2. He sought out the broken, rejected, abused, mistreated & social outcasts.
  3. His concern was doing God’s will, and ONLY God’s will.
  4. He battled temptation with scripture.
  5. He touched the untouchables.
  6. He made people mad.
  7. He spoke the truth.
  8. He was a God pleaser, not a people pleaser.
  9. He wasn’t consumed with material wealth.
  10. He did not chastise the broken for being broken. He offered them Living Water instead.
  11. He served those he knew would betray and abandon Him.
  12. He wept for people who rejected Him.
  13. He forgave.
  14. He offered compassion.
  15. He loved people, even when they were messy.

This list barely scratches the surface, but it’s a start. I may never be all I should be, but with His help, I can strive to respond like Jesus, to show forgiveness like Jesus, to extend a hand like Jesus and to love like Jesus.

There’s an old story that claims when Michelangelo revealed his masterpiece statue of David, a man asked him, “However did you create such a breathtaking work out of nothing more than a block of lifeless marble?”

Michelangelo replied, “It is not difficult. A person need only chip away the parts that do not resemble David.” sculptor

That’s what God wants to do with us—chip away all the hard stuff in our hearts and lives until we look like His Son.

A good way to start? Drop the to-do lists and focus on how to be like Christ. Spend time with Him. We are who we hang out with. When we shift our focus on to-be, our to-do list rewrites itself.

And isn’t that a relief? No more to-do lists.

Check.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are other ways that Jesus walked? Are you a list-maker? Have you ever switched your to-do list for a to-be list? What differences did you notice in your focus?

Learning Joy in Failure

 

learning joy in failure

The Arkansas State Police is a happening place to be, especially in the motor vehicle office and even more so from one to four when they are administering driving tests.

I recently took a family member to fill out some paperwork, which provided me plenty of time to sit in the waiting room and watch people coming and going. Anxious teens milled around, some of whom were too cool to show their jitters. Nervous mothers smacking gum contrasted against parents who rolled their eyes, muttering to the person on the other end of their cell phone that young Anthony “better not fail again. I’m tired of dragging him down here over and over if he ain’t gonna study.” Middle aged men getting their CDL and motorcycle licenses, female bus drivers, terse police officers and everyone in between. It felt like a cross between the DMV and America’s Got Talentdrivers test ecard

The hour long wait provided me quite an education in one particular area: the art of failing. During that entire time, only one kid passed his permit test. Just one. He, of course, was all smiles. The others…well, that’s an entirely different story.

Some slunk out of the room with a scowl, shoving their paperwork at their parents with a grunt.

“Didn’t you pass?”

“Do I look like I passed?”

Others bit back tears or merely shrugged with a careless attitude. “No big deal. I’ll try again later. I didn’t really care about it anyway.” One particular boy stomped up to his dad and glared. “Stupid test. That’s the fifth time I’ve taken it. I think they deliberately make it harder and harder each time. They want me to fail!”

Some parents offered hugs or condolences. Some told their child, “You’re right. It’s just not fair.” My favorite parent was one very wise mother who, after her daughter had fussed because she’d flunked, stared her down and spoke with a stern calmness I envied. “You know why you flunked? Two reasons. Your attitude stinks and you haven’t been studying like you should have. Both reasons tell me you’re not mature enough to drive yet. So guess what? We’re not coming back to try again next week. We’ll try again in six months.”

Go, Mom!

My favorite of all was a sixty year old man who’d taken his CDL exam. He ambled into the waiting room and stared at his wife. She put down her magazine and stood.

“Well, let’s have it. Please don’t tell me we drove all the way down here for nothing. Again.”

He chuckled. “Sorry, sweetheart. I failed.”

She groaned. “Dale, that’s makes the fourth time.”

He walked up and kissed her on the cheek. “The good news is I only failed by one question this time. Only one! I’m getting better each time. I’m failing my way to success. Next time I should have it. I’m learning all the ways not to pass my CDL test!” His wife giggled. “Say, you in the mood for cheeseburgers or Mexican?” And off they went.

That sweet man is the perfect example of how to find joy in failure.

failure vs successLife is a series of mistakes with a few successes thrown in. Some of us have become so paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, we’ve stopped learning. Stopped discovering. Stopping crawling outside our boxes and exploring the beauty around us. We hold on the illusion of control, somehow thinking all will be right. No pain, no discomfort…that is, until we fail and our world tips on its axis.

How you handle failure reveals more of your character than how you handle success.

ryan-riggins-216051Adversity reveals our true nature. Pressure, heat, resistance…all of it is like a hand squeezing around a toothpaste tube. It isn’t until the fist squeezes that we see what is truly inside. When pressure is applied, the inner man is revealed. It’s easy to blame others, the system, or any other host of issues for our mistakes, but we still won’t learn a thing, will we? We may even find some folks who will agree with our finger pointing, but then what? It doesn’t bring us one step closer to our goals or dreams.

The only way to learn from failure is to embrace it.

Some of the most beautiful things can be birthed from the messiest. God has shown it to me over and over in my own life, but it takes a heart willing to say, “I have no pride. I have no agenda. I want to learn, both what to do and what not to do. Teach me. I’m Yours.Failing doesn’t feel like failure at all in that state of mind. It’s just…learning.

What a great place to be.