the right words…

We live in a world that bombards us with words.  Words from the media, words from our jobs, words from our loved ones.  Whether they are written or spoken, words can carry a great power over our lives.  Just think, with one phrase “I now pronounce you man and wife,” people can be married.  With the words “The Oscar goes to…,” an actors professional life can be altered forever. And then there is the infamous Donald Trump phrase, “You’re fired!”

However, we must also consider the words that go unspoken.  Sometimes the implied, the assumed, the subtext, can carry even more weight than the words we actually dare to utter.  I think of a time (many years ago now) when I sat drinking coffee with a friend. We had spent most of that Sunday afternoon together, and I knew that there was something she wanted to say but was for some reason holding back.  Finally I asked, “how are you REALLY doing?”  She looked at me and there was only silence, but in that silence I knew she was hurting. No words NEEDED to be spoken in that moment. Nothing HAD to be said.  The very silence made evident that my friend just needed my presence at that moment and that was all.

As you can imagine, I take great stock in words.  I measure the things I write carefully, and I store the things that are said to me even more carefully.  For me, the things I see leave an impression in my heart, but the things that I hear (good or bad) will last with me forever.

Mark Twain once said, “A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words… the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.”

So, how do we find the “right” words?  How can we be sure that the words that we speak are the words that need to be spoken?

Each summer I have the opportunity to teach swimming lessons to many children.  As you can imagine, as with all situations involving children, there are often some memorable quotes that I take away with me.  In one of my more recent preschool classes I had a sweet little girl named Natalie.  She is one of those children that smiles at you the moment that they see you, and you can’t help but smile back.  An infectious happiness.  Natalie had never taken swimming lessons before, but she immediately took to the water.  Each skill I taught she attacked with great enthusiasm.  She would blow bubbles in the water, kick her legs, and even jump to me, in the deeper water, from the side of the pool.  On the fourth day of lessons, however, Natalie froze when we went to the far end of the pool.  She was not going to jump in no matter how much I encouraged her.  I hopped up on to the side of the pool, put my arm around her, and tried to comfort her as she trembled.  Finally, after much coaxing she admitted, “If I jump in the water, I die.”  Caught completely off guard, I didn’t immediately know what to say to her, but her fear was obviously very real.  I allowed her to just slide into the water that day, and we finished our lesson.

Natalie’s mother and father approached me after class, obviously concerned with the fact that their daughter had a new found fear of the water.  I quickly relayed the story to them, and as I did, I saw understanding flash across the father’s face.  Just the day prior, he had purchased a new video game for the family.  In a portion of this game, if the main character falls into the water he dies, and then the player must start over.  He explained to me that Natalie had been watching and had asked why they had to keep starting over.  Her older sister had said, “well if you fall into the water you die.”  Something so harmless at the time, spoken in explanation to a child, had stuck deep in the heart of little Natalie, and taken a great toll on her.

Matthew 12:35-37 says, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

While the anecdotes I have relayed are meant for illustration, I can’t help but to begin to ponder the things that I say on a daily basis.  Am I saying things that will be ultimately harmful or helpful to those around me?  Do I speak the words that I speak with flippancy or sincerity?  Am I willing to accept the ultimate and eternal repercussions for the words that come out of my own heart and into the hearts of others?

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through a lens…

My perspective on life has been shaped by so many things.  Experiences, people, places.  Every moment along my life path has added to my little bundle I carry with me.  And, that little bundle works as a filter for how I experience new things.

Last week I was visiting a friend of mine in Oregon.  We always have great moments together.  I knew before I even left on my trip that I would come home with things to write about.

This particular weekend was unusually cool in the Portland area.  Every  morning I would sip my tea and watch the sun rise in between Mount Saint Helens and Mount Hood. And, every morning I would watch as the low clouds would slowly moved in covering the sun.  Every day there was the threat of rain and every day the sky cleared without follow through.  Finally, on Sunday, the sky opened up we were in the midst of a classic pacific northwest rainstorm.  If you have not experienced a storm like this, you should put it on your list of things to accomplish.  The rain drops in the northwest seem bigger.  The puddles seem wetter.  The storms seem longer.  It is one of the things I love.  To sit and watch the rain fall.  However, there is one small thing I would rather avoid when the rain comes, and that is driving.  Driving in the rain scares me to death.  I would rather do just about anything else.  In fact, my friend and I have a running joke that I would rather drive in a blizzard, and she would rather drive in a down poor.  While we laugh about this, there is a reason these things ring true in our lives.

My growing up years were spent high in the mountains of Idaho.  I don’t think I ever fully appreciated that beautiful community until I was an adult, but now I look back on that place with more than a fondness.  I think it is the place my heart will forever call home.  The summers are filled with fishing and camping and wildflowers.  And the winters, the winters are filled with everything “snow.” It is not uncommon for my hometown to have 6ft of snow on the ground and another snow storm on the horizon.  The days are short and the months are long, but the snow brings a sense of loveliness and quiet.  I never once considered that some people may not relish the thought of driving in these conditions.  After all, I spent more of my first year of driving, sliding on frozen roads than I did cruising on dry pavement.  (There are great stories to be told about that first winter of me driving… maybe at another time.)  However, this same friend in Portland cannot understand how I care to venture out in a snowstorm.  When she comes to Idaho to visit me in the winter, I do all of the driving.  Our differing life experiences have molded our perspectives on what is “normal” or “easy” or “better.” Two different lives, two different experiences, two different perspectives.

I feel that often in life when we encounter those with opinions that are different than our own, it is our immediate reaction to prove them wrong, to show that we are the ones who are right.  We forget that people have had life experiences that have shaped who they have become.  And while some of that perspective may alter their vantage point, there is great reason as to why they are where they are and why they think the way they think.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know ho to answer everyone.”  Colossians 4:6

My faith is deeply rooted.  It IS so much of who I am.  I see life through the lens of my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  I tackle problems and seek direction through the Word of God.  I know where I find Truth.  However, if my conversations with others (who have different life experiences) lack grace and true richness, there is nothing to be gained.  If I cannot listen as well as I can speak then I have accomplished nothing.

So, for today I challenge you to consider what it is that shapes your perspective?  Are these lenses healthy or unhealthy?  Are there new lenses you could assimilate into your life, or are there lenses you need to shatter and dispose of?  Finally, do you have an awareness of the things in life that shape OTHERS so that you can truly have grace and a sense of richness in your conversations?

passionate sacrifice…

Have you ever just stopped?  Stopped in the middle of a crowded space, and simply observed? As you suspend your own moment, you can melt in to the background and watch the world as it scurries by.  People rushing from one place to the next.

As a self-proclaimed  “people watcher,”  I often do this very thing.  I see a tired young mother with several small, smiling children, and I wonder; “What is her story?”  I see a sweet old couple walking hand in hand, occasionally pausing to gaze lovingly at each other, and I wonder; “What have their lives been like?”  I see a man dressed in Armani and walking with purpose, and I wonder; “What is it that drives him?”  So many lives, so many people, so many stories.

My grandmother’s gardens are a labor of love.  For nearly 25 years she has worked the soil in the various flower beds.  Making sure that everything is just right for growing the many plants and flowers and trees. Last spring, a huge wind storm swept through the valley where we live, and one of her dear old friends, the tree on the corner, was completely uprooted.  It caused us all to feel a sense of loss.  Something that she had poured so many hours into now was laying helplessly across the front yard.  Nothing could change that moment.  All that was left to do was to have someone come in and remove the giant from its final resting place.

For quite some time after that day I pondered why it was that it grieved us so to lose that tree. After all was that not part of the cycle of life? Why is it  that still, when I look at that corner, it seems so empty?  Wasn’t that to be expected at some point?  And yet, I believe that the things that we are passionate about, the things that we love, the things that we pour our hearts into come with great attachment. To truly be passionate about something becomes a sacrificial pouring of ones self into an idea, a person, a project, a cause.  For my grandma, her gardens are a personal act of worship to her Heavenly Father.  It is something that allows her to feel a closeness with her Creator.  So, for her this act is MORE than worth the personal sacrifice that is sure to come along the way.

Thus, we must learn to count the cost of the things that we invest our heart and soul into.  What are the things in our lives that our worth our passion? What are the things that we are willing to feel a sense of loss over?

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20 &21)

I challenge you to stop.  Really stop, and not look at those whose lives are passing in front of you, but at your own life. This time, suspend the world around you and examine yourself.  What does the story of your life say about you?  How does the product of your passionate sacrifice matter in the end?

a place of stillness…

“Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change, He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend. Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.” (Katharina von Schlegel- 1752)

Recently, the words to this old hymn have been pouring over my soul like cool running water. While my God is faithful and I am blessed, there have been moments where my soul feels as if it is in the midst of a storm. I find myself tossed about in a sea of uncertainty. And in those moments, the Holy Spirit speaks. “Be still Jennie, be still. KNOW that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

To truly KNOW that HE is God is a loaded idea. It begs for an attitude of faith without need for complete understanding. It is just something that we are to do. In that we can find rest; a “peace that passes ALL understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)

This morning I was meandering through our local farmers market with a couple of dear friends. They have been a great source of fellowship and unconditional love for me in the last year of my life. God dropped them right in front of me when I needed them most. We laugh together, we cry together, and we spend time praying for one another. As we walked together enjoying the smells of the barbeque, the warmth of the morning sun, and the sounds of people caught up in the company of each other, a breeze blew. In that moment I breathed in. There was significance. Nothing, has changed, and yet I could feel that peace. The peace of God. The peace that comes BECAUSE He is God.

I know nothing of what my tomorrows hold. (How many of us really do?) But for now, my soul is quenched and my heart is full. I will be still, KNOWING that God is on my side; pressing on toward a joyful end, where my Heavenly Father will receive the glory for all he has done.

So now, I ask you. Where does your peace come from? Where do you find your place of rest? Do you truly KNOW that HE is God? I don’t believe we ever will come to a place in our lives where this is second nature. I think our human self fights against this, but I do believe that in our every moment it is something we can strive for. And in each of those moments we can feel the sweetness of God rushing over us; a place of stillness.

living a legacy…

When my grandmother (my mother’s mother) passed away, I spoke at her funeral on the idea of a legacy left behind.  Her legacy of love, and compassion, and selflessness.  I remember thinking at the time that I prepared to speak, that, THAT was all anyone should every really care to aspire to.  To be an example for people to reflect on after you are gone.  To love without expecting anything in return.  To see the heart of others and empathize with the utmost care.  After all these are the things that bind hearts together, that surmounts distances, that join generations; even after one generation has passed on.

“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.” (Proverbs 31:28-29 KJV)

I am blessed.  I know this.  My grandmother passed a legacy to my mother, and my mother has passed that same legacy to me.  In fact if I can even be a fraction of the woman my mother has been I will be forever thankful.

However, I often think of those who have not been left a legacy to be proud of.  In fact there are so many people in this world that would just as soon forget the legacy they have been left.  But, I would like to suggest that each of you ARE equally, if not MORE, blessed than I.  We serve a God of choice.  Therefore, even as you sit here reading this you can choose to redirect the legacy that you are already laying down.  You can DECIDE to be the start of a NEW legacy for generations to come.

While this little thought is intended to be one in honor of Mother’s Day, I would also like for those of you who are not mothers to consider how this is applicable to you.  Are you a teacher who can impact the lives of children daily? Are you a friend who can love and pray for those around you?  Are you a father who can set the example for the rest of your family?  Whoever you may be, what is your living legacy? Who are you at your core?

Happy Mother’s Day to each of the beautiful mothers in my life!  I am blessed because of you.

in a heap…

I learn so much from children. Through the eyes of a child I often regain my perspective on life. Recently, I was on a trip and had the opportunity to spend time playing with an adorable 2yo little boy. In every way he is just like every other 2yo boy. He was drawn to every mud puddle in a one mile radius. He had more fun with a cardboard box than he did with the toy that came out of it. His mind was always going, looking for the next great adventure.

One sunny afternoon, we were playing out in the backyard, and he began dragging out several different toys. In a matter of minutes we were equipped with two baseball bats, a mostly flat soccer ball, and a hula hoop. Little did I know that I was about to be rolling with laughter as we played his newly invented game. It went something like this: each person takes turns hitting the soccer ball with the baseball bat using the swing of a golf club. The goal is to get the ball inside of the hula hoop. Easy… right? Uhm, not so much. The best part of this game was the fact that this dear little boy could not figure out why I was not better at his sport. In his mind I should have been the star player. (After all I was the “big person” playing with him) The reality was that each time I hit the soccer ball, I was met with a resounding thump, and the ball managed to move only a few inches. (Have you ever tried to make a flat soccer ball move? It isn’t easy.) In short order, he was giggling hysterically, which only made me laugh harder, to the point that tears were running down my cheeks. What a lovely afternoon it was!

I often think about this life that we live. The things that we are “supposed” to be doing. The places that we are “supposed” to be going. We are even very aware of many of the gifts that God has given us, and we do our best to put those to use for His glory. Lately though, I have been struck by how much I can limit God with the gifts He has given me. I look at this “heap” of seemingly tired and worn out “equipment” and I wonder if there is anything left for God to do. Can He still use me? Or, have a given all I have to give?

1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (KJV)

I am challenged by this. I want to strive for the things that God has prepared for me. I want to trust that all of this “stuff” that I have to lay before Him in offering, is about something bigger than I. I want to move forward loving my Heavenly Father, knowing that what my eye has not seen, and what my ear has not heard is worth it all.

And, OH, to be in that moment, when I am so filled with the joy of the Lord that tears are streaming down my cheeks.

i am there…

This week I have been drawn into a place where there is a hillside covered with people, and I am there. There is the smell of livestock in the air, and I am there. There are angry shouting crowds, and I am there.

As with many other Easter weeks in my life, I nightly have the opportunity to live out the retelling of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. From his stories and miracles, to his death and resurrection, each day is told through dramatic interpretation and I am there.

Jesus, while fully God was also fully man. He walked this Earth 2000 years ago. He made real friends, ate real food, laughed real laughter, and cried real tears. There are moments that I long to have been alive all of those years ago. To observe, even from a distance, his comings and goings. However, I wonder what my reaction to him would have been. Would I have been like his followers who anxiously welcomed him into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna? Would I have been like the scoffers who only saw him as an eccentric and crazy man? Or, would I have been like Judas, a close friend who attempted to force Jesus’ hand to fulfill the need of the moment.

I would like to think I would be one of those who with unyielding faith followed the man called Jesus. Knowing him and trusting him for a larger purpose than the one at hand. But I am often afraid that I have more of Judas in me than I would like to admit.

For you see at this time the Jews had been so disregarded by the Romans, all they longed for was a day much before their own time, when David was king. When they could come and go as they pleased. When life was more “pleasant.” Judas, while he recognized the power of Christ, he could only see his power as a tool to solve the problems of that one moment. He BELIEVED that Jesus could free the Jewish people from their pain and suffering. He KNEW that with one word Jesus could realign all Earthly governments. He TRUSTED that Jesus was the Son of God. And yet, he limited Jesus to just that one moment in history. He could not see outside of that moment. Because of this, Judas betrayed his friend, Jesus. He turned him over to the very people who would put him to death. Judas wanted to force Jesus into something that was not part God’s bigger plan. And Jesus was silent.

PRAISE THE LORD for the silence of Jesus. He knew that his death and resurrection played a much larger role in the course of history. He knew that without his death we would be forever separated from our Heavenly Father. Knowing the end of the story, we often look at Judas as the “weak disciple”, or the “evil disciple.” However, I would like to propose that many of us often approach God with the attitude of Judas.

I know that many times I come before God only wanting my answers for THIS seemingly important moment. I pray earnestly for God’s will to be done now. Then, I wind up confused when things do not turn out the way I think they should. Yet, I say, “I BELIEVE,” I KNOW,” I TRUST” God for my everything? Does my God not know better than I, what the bigger picture looks like? Oh how I long for a glimpse of what God sees. Yet, if I really trust my God, if I really have faith, I will trust him when I don’t understand the immediate details of his plan.

*For more on the life and death of Jesus, read John chapters 18, 19, 20, and 21.