Las Vegas and God

As I watched the footage of the horrific shooting in Las Vegas, my heart ripped a little further. Senseless. I can’t understand the hate that would fill a mind and heart so completely that they would shoot into a crowd of happy, oblivious people. Not just one shot, not two, but over and over and over again. vegas shooting

My chest aches and my throat swells as I relive the terror captured on screen.

No sooner had I posted my condolences and prayers then I saw it. Wave after wave of posts along these lines…

“It’s Sin City. Sin always exacts a price.”

“This is what happens when we take God from our land.”

On and on they went. My grief soon turned to anger. Why? Because such sentiments indirectly assign the blame to God instead of where it belongs…in the hands of a cowardly murderer.

Satan is the great accuser. Not only does he accuse us before God, but he accuses God before us. We are the reason for the hate and violence in this world. We are the reason cancer and war and disease exists. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey, they flung the human race onto a collision course of chaos and destruction. And where chaos reigns, it’s hard to distinguish the still, small voice of Truth amid the screams of panic.

Jesus loved you, loved me so much He willingly let Himself be stripped, whipped, beaten and crucified to die for the very sins we wallow in. He died for you and me. He died for those who attended the concert. He died for Jason Aldean. He died for the shooter. He paid the price for any who are willing to come to Him. Such love is incomprehensible.

We have had murderers from the beginning. (All the way back to Cain, in fact.) To lay the demonic, evil actions of a psychopath at the nail-scarred feet of the Savior must grieve His heart. I know it shreds mine.

In the face of tragedy, a plethora of thoughts and comments will abound. Things like, “This is terrible, but good will come from this.” Sometimes that’s true, although we often wonder what kind of good can possibly be birthed from something so crushing, something so horribly evil. A wise pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro challenged us yesterday.

“Perhaps, instead of looking for the good when tragedy strikes, we should focus on looking for God.”

Those are words to cling to. Search for God. As we do that, our attitudes will change. The same heart that climbed on that cross to give His life for a world of uncaring people will shape our hearts to be like His. Bitterness and vengeance will dissipate. Peace will replace chaos. Hope will replace anger. Love will replace hate.

Don’t look for the good that might come. Look for God.

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Give Way

While in Great Britain, I noted many peculiarities in speech and customs different from my own—the use of a “water closet” instead of a restroom, tea rooms on every corner instead of Starbucks (although I did find a few of those too), cornish pastyCornish pasties instead of sandwiches, and my favorite…the moment a bakery worker stared at me in utter confusion when I ordered a “cocoa” instead of a “hot chocolate”.

When he finally realized what I meant, he slapped his knee and belted out a booming laugh.

“A cocoa, says she? Funny word for a chocolate, that. You Americans are such fun.”

When my order was ready, he gave it to me with a bow and a wink.

“Your cocoa, miss.”

I grinned and tipped my head. “I’m sure it’s the best hot chocolate I shall ever enjoy.”

We parted as friends.

Colloquialisms are fun, and there was one sign in Great Britain I admit I prefer over its American counterpart. Instead of the yellow “Yield” signs that pepper our roadways, the British counterpart reads like this: “Give Way”.

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Give way. It has a much different connotation than “yield”, doesn’t it? When I think of “yield”, I think of being temporarily inconvenienced, forced to slow down but without much need to sacrifice on my part. “Give Way”, on the other hand, conjures up images of putting down my own wishes and desires so another may have them instead.

Many in our tour group noticed the road sign. One wise lady named Joyce observed, “I want a picture of their ‘Give Way’ signs to put on my refrigerator. It’s such a great reminder. Give way to God today.”

give wayI love that. Give way to God’s plans over my own, especially when mine are comfortable. Give way to the unexpected, even when it rattles my well-laid plans. Give way to seeking the presence of Jesus instead of busyness. Give way to sacrificial love instead of anger, compassion instead of bitterness, forgiveness instead of revenge. Give way to Love. Die to myself and give way to Jesus.

What a great way to live…no matter where you live.

What I Carried Back from the United Kingdom: Angeles

united kingdom 2I spent last week in the beautiful hills and hollows of the United Kingdom. Quaint villages and ocean-side drives by enormous bluffs greeted us at every turn. We visited lovely towns like Lacock, Bath, Cotswold, Lynmoth and Lynton, to name a few. We witnessed stunning vistas where movies like Disney’s Cinderella were filmed, as well as Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and Poldark. There was history and beauty in every moment.

However, it was one single soul in the bustling city of Oxford who captured my heart and overshadowed all else.

I had just finished a walking tour through the cramped town,  a city rife with memories of people like William Shakespeare, King James, Bloody Mary, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tokien, William Tyndale and countless others. Oxford’s infamous colleges rose up on every side. People of all nationalities clogged the sidewalks as they scurried from store to store, their sacks bulging with brand name apparel, souvenirs and other trinkets.

I had just passed “The Eagle and Child” pub and was admiring the spiraling cathedrals and abbeys, the monuments and statues on every corner. A steady rain began to fall. I pulled out my umbrella, looked down the congested street and that’s when I saw him.homeless man

A homeless man sat huddled under a blanket in the pouring rain.

His shoulders were hunched as if he were too weary to fight. An open duffel bag rested near his bent knees. Its contents boasted a folded tarp, a few paltry coins and an empty soda can. Nothing else.

As I passed his slight form, I heard his soft plea.

“Could you spare a coin or some food, me love?”

dirty fingersI dug through my wallet and handed him a few pounds. His dirt-crusted fingers reached for the coins. “God bless ye.”

“God bless you too.”

I walked away but my heart twisted. Suddenly all the shopping I wanted to do, the sights I wanted to see paled in comparison to the emaciated form sitting in the deluge. I tried pushing him from my mind, but I couldn’t. After several minutes, I whirled back and walked up to his hunkered body. After long moments, he blinked up at me and I noticed how incredibly blue his eyes were.

“Yes, me love?”

“May I ask you something, sir?”

“Of course.”

“What’s your name?”

“Angeles, me love.”

“Hi, Angeles. My name is Tara.”

I smiled at him then and he returned it slowly. I eased down next to him on the wet pavement as we shared an umbrella.

“Angeles, do you mind telling me how you came to be in this condition? What led you to these circumstances?”

He sighed and blinked slowly, before a rattling cough shook his chest. “I’ve no one to blame but meself. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve made some bad choices, for sure and certain, but now,” he shook his silver head, “I have pneumonia. I can get medicine but I need money to save for proper housing, food and clothes. No one wants to take a chance on someone who looks like this.” He gestured to his filthy clothes.

Then he smiled before I could respond. “I know what you’re going to say next. Yes, I believe in God.”

I returned his smile. “I’m glad. He loves you so much. So many people believe there is a God, but only a few know Him. I wanted to make sure you know Him.”

We swapped a few more stories and I took care of as many of his physical needs as I could. After we prayed together, I bid Angeles goodbye.

“Thank you for chatting with me, me love. The people here,” he waved his hand, “they don’t see me. They don’t care. Their focus is only on the new thing they want to buy or the site they want to see.”

I blinked back thick tears. “God sees you, Angeles. Always.”

king james oxfordAs our tour group departed Oxford, all I could think of was Angeles and all the other things I should have managed to do for him. As our bus passed by the stone buildings, the hypocrisy slapped me hard. Underneath the haughty eyes of the stone faces staring down from their lofty heights, and the carved inscriptions in Latin declaring the cathedrals were erected “to the glory of God”, a homeless man sat shivering and coughing in the cold. It was obvious from his physical state he was slowly dying.

“Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” ~1 Samuel 15:22

“Now, suppose a person has enough to live on and notices another believer in need. How can God’s love be in that person if he doesn’t bother to help the other believer? Dear children, we must show love through actions that are sincere, not through empty words.” ~1 John 3:17-18

Oftentimes we think of ministry in terms of numbers, additions and programs…technical, business-like terms we put on a spreadsheet. Real ministry, authentic Christ-like love looks altogether different. It’s sitting in the mud with the broken, seeing those the world ignores, and emptying ourselves for the good of those who can do nothing for us. As God’s kids, may we never forget our economy is people and our currency is love.

In the end, all that will matter is how deeply we love God and how we show that love to others. When we love Jesus as we should, loving the unlovable becomes easy.

Love never fails…even when stone buildings and monuments have long crumbled away.

lee abbey

Mouths and Hearts

Want to know what a person is like? I mean, what their real, true character is inside? Pay attention to what they say. More specifically, how they talk about others. lips heart

My oldest daughter recently became friends with two girls in her new school. Right from the beginning, they seemed to hit it off and became inseparable. I was soon peppered with stories like, “We had so much fun in volleyball…”, or “You’ll never guess how hard we laughed at lunch.” When I asked my daughter what it was that she loved about her two new friends, she paused for a moment before answering.

“You know, in the all the time we’ve spent together over the past few weeks, I’ve never heard them say one bad thing about anyone. Not one word. They are always positive. Always kind. Always encouraging. Not only that, when we are in chapel, they are fully engaged in the worship service. They aren’t squirming or whispering like some of the kids. They are too busy praising God to be distracted.”

Jesus said, The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45 NASB)

exploding soda

What spills from our lips tells the world what is bubbling inside, just like an exploding bottle of soda.

As my pastor often says, a potty mouth is a sign of a potty heart. Likewise, a complaining mouth is the sign of an ungrateful heart, and a mouth who constantly criticizes is the sign of a heart who doesn’t love people as he ought.

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious [scrupulously observant of the rituals of his faith], and does not control his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless (futile, barren).” ~James 1:26

My friend recently posted this on her social media page and I thought it was a beautiful challenge.

stop complaining

The opposite of complaining is gratitude. The opposite of criticism is love. Love for people who are struggling along, just like we are. One of the best ways to use our lips to build each other up is to surround ourselves with friends who do the same.

1 corinthians 15 33

Speaking for myself, I need to do better but I should not make the mistake of patching the symptom and missing the illness. The answer is not found in my feeble attempts to muzzle my mouth or control hasty words flung during frazzled days. The issue is always found in the heart.

To have a mouth change requires a heart change. When we love Jesus more and yield ourselves to Him, everything else falls into place.

 

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.

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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.