Sunday, January 31, 2016

The devil's schemes and the God of truth

Somebody recently brought up the question, "What has Satan been hurling at you lately?"

We've been studying Revelation, specifically (over the past two weeks) Revelation 12-13.

I would like to point out that in Revelation 12, it is not Satan who is doing the hurling. It is Satan who is being hurled, hurled down.  This makes him very angry, furious, in fact.  It spurs him on to pursue and attack, because he knows his time is short.

He's a cornered wild animal.  He can't escape his doom, but he's going to chew up everything he can possibly get his teeth into on his way down.  So, although he is not the "hurler," he is a force to beware.

In October, I wrote a couple of posts on spiritual warfare which turned out to be surprisingly fortifying to me.  I'm so squeamish about these things, I guess the Lord had to allow me to write about the subject in my own way, in a way that didn't frighten me, in order for me to learn something about it.  You can go back and read them, if you wish:

Spiritual warfare

Spiritual warfare, part 2

While working through this subject, I noticed that the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6 begins with the Belt of Truth and ends with the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.  At the time, this seemed significant.  After consideration, it seems even more significant.  Our protection from the evil one is the Truth, and we find the Truth in the Word of God.

When we go out to do spiritual battle, we need to be careful about what we attribute to the devil.  We are tempted to attribute to the devil everything we don't like.  Cancer, car accidents, war, marital conflict, debt, hunger, fear, death, loss; we blame it all on Satan.  "Satan is really after me," we say.  "Satan is getting me down."  However, these things are natural results of living in a fallen world.  Many of the "bad" things that happen are either natural results of living in a fallen world, or natural consequences for our own, individual, sinful choices.  Now, obviously it was Satan who ushered sin into the world in the first place.  He jammed the gears so things don't work the way God created them to work.  Hence Murphy's Law.  Weeds.  Uphill battles.  Satan is not necessarily assailing us with trials; he just bent the system so it does these things on its own.

We should expect trials and trouble.  God warns us about this repeatedly. Trials and troubles should not surprise us.

Our spiritual warfare is not necessarily to be carried out in response to trials and troubles.  Our spiritual warfare is to be carried out in response to the devil's schemes.

I'm going to tell you what I think the devil's schemes are, what we need to watch out for, what we need to learn to triumph over:

The devil has one objective or goal, and two tactics that are really one and the same.

Satan's goal is to diminish the glory of God.  He thinks he can do this by hurting God's people, stealing the Shepherd's sheep.  Satan is out to cloud our minds and understanding so that we will not see God's glory or respond to it.

He uses two tactics to do this.  (1)  He uses deception, delusion.  He is the great deceiver.  He is a liar and the father of lies.  (2)  He uses accusation.  He loves to accuse the redeemed of their sins, which are already washed away by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus' shed blood.  Of course he wants to render Jesus' payment for our sins as useless and wasted; it was his ultimate undoing, so he wants to try to undo it back.  But he can't really, because it truly happened, once for all, and the saints stand forgiven.  The only way Satan can accuse us is by going back to his first tactic, and lying to us about what Christ has accomplished and whether God's grace could apply to us.

That stubbed toe you got in the grocery store, the scary result on the CT scan, the car breakdown... those weren't necessarily the devil's work.  God uses pain and suffering to drive us back into His own arms sometimes.  Your illness, your divorce, the termination of your job... these can be used by God to remind us to look to Jesus for our hope.  On the other hand, things we assume are blessings:  the child who is a prodigy at sports or music, the demanding but lucrative job, constantly beeping computers and smartphones, a calender chock full of dates and events... these can be provided and used by Satan to draw our eyes off our heavenly Father, to distract us and fill our time so that we neither pray nor read our Bibles nor fellowship with the community of faith.

I'm going to give you a list of some of the devil's most commonly used lies.  It's good to know what his lies are, because the best way to fight him is to name his lies and say, "That is not the truth!"  And then, of course, we need to review what the truth is, ideally by finding it written in the Word of God.

Lies of the devil:

1.  God doesn't love you.
Truth:  God loves the world.  God loves all people.  And God loves you, specifically, infinitely, unconditionally.

2.  God isn't good.
Truth:  God is good.  He is the very essence of goodness, the definition.  Everything good comes from God and from nowhere else.  God is good.

3.  There is no God.
Truth:  There is a God.  He made the Universe.  He reveals Himself through creation, scripture and Jesus Christ.

4.  God doesn't care.
Truth:  God cares very much about his children.  He invites us to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us.  He is attentive to our prayers and zealous for our salvation.  He cares so much, He fights for us, on our side.

5.  God won't (or can't) help you.
Truth: God is for us, so who can stand against us?  He comes to the aid of His people.  Nothing is impossible for God.  God is sovereign, omnipotent, almighty, attentive and kind.  He has delivered His people from sin, and ultimately He will deliver us from eternal death.  God can and will help His people.

6.  There is nothing to look forward to.
Truth:  There is everything to look forward to.  Home in heaven.  Restoration of everything that is good.  The end of everything that is bad.  A new heaven and a new earth.  A perfect relationship with God.  Perfect relationships with all others who, like you, will also have been perfected in eternity.   Eternal life in paradise.

7.  You are worthless.
Truth:  You are so valuable to God that Jesus was crucified to buy you back from the devil who temporarily owned you.

8.  You are hopeless.
Truth:  All things are possible for God.   Nothing is ever hopeless.  God has infinite power to restore and renew.  God has infinite grace to to pour out on you in forgiveness in response to repentance.  There is hope.

9.  It's too late.
Truth:  Although there will be a point when it will be too late, it is not too late as long as you have life and breath.  Ask Jesus to heal everything that is amiss in you today, while you can.  If you can consider it, it is not too late.

10.  It doesn't matter if you just sin a little bit.  You can always stop when you want to.
Truth:  Sin always hurts you, always robs you of something that would have been better.  Sin takes you farther than you planned to go, and costs you far more than you ever planned to pay.

11.  You have to take care of yourself and put yourself first, because nobody else cares about you.
Truth:  God cares about you.  He works on your behalf, and He takes care of you, protects you.  When you trust God and die to selfishness, you will find that you are the most free you have ever been because you don't have to worry about yourself.

12.  This is way more fulfilling than anything God has to offer.
Truth:  Although Satan works hard to convince you that he has something worthwhile to offer, it is all a sham.  Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from God.  Everything that has real value comes from God.  Everything that that lasts comes from God.  True fulfillment is only found in Christ.

These are some common lies that the devil tells people every day.  If you sense his voice trying to get one of these messages into your head, immediately identify it as a lie and say, "That is not the truth!"  This is the beginning of spiritual warfare.

When you identify the devil's lies and counter them with the truth, you are wearing God's Belt of Truth, His spiritual armor.  When you counter with scripture, you are wielding the Sword of the Spirit and driving the enemy back.  Next time, I will put together a post with scripture references you can use to counter the devil's lies that I listed above, to back up the truths I've outlined.  If you are aware of other lies that you've found the devil using against you, please list them in the comments section, and I'll work on including scriptural truths to counter them in the next post, too.

 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV)

Follow on posts from this series:
Scriptures that expose the devil's lies.
Scriptures that expose the devil's lies, part 2.
Scriptures that expose the devil's lies, part 3.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A tea party with myself

Today I had tea and cookies, and it was delightful.

The title says, "A tea party with myself," but actually Shawn was here.  He came home for lunch so we could drive the van over to the service station, which is why I made cookies in the first place (because Shawn was here, not because of the van).  However, while Shawn was home, he had to take a business call upstairs in the study, so I enjoyed the first cookie and some tea by myself, before he was available.

These cookies are from my niece Esther's blog.  Her way of making them is delicious.  I've followed her recipe exactly, and they are delectable.  With her method, they are both gluten-free, and dairy-free.  (Also, her pictures are artistic, unlike mine, which are utilitarian.  This is because she is an artist and uses a real camera.  I am not an artist, and I often just use my phone because it's so much faster.  If you want to see how truly beautiful these cookies can look, be sure to check out Esther's blog.)

I've developed some alterations to Esther's recipe, mainly to make the cookies easier to fit with my own kitchen habits, and not to improve the flavor, which was spot-on to begin with.  Shawn's philosophy is, "Make them however you are happiest making them, because if you are happier making them, you will make them more often, and that is good."

For starters, I just use butter instead of coconut oil.  I don't need to be dairy free.  At our house, I am always slathering the coconut oil on my body for a moisturizer, so we are often short of it, and what we have has been stored in the bathroom and exposed to many fingertips.  Hence, there is butter in my cookies.

Without further ado, here is the recipe:

Delicious Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 & 3/4 cups oat flour (optionally, you can sub 3/4 cup almond meal for 3/4 cup of the oat flour, and it is delicious)
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour (this is more than Esther uses)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (Esther uses sea salt, but I have used both sea salt and plain and don't detect a difference.)
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs (Esther calls for an egg and an egg yolk, but I cringe at throwing away an egg white, even for a good cause.)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. coconut extract 
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • (opt. 1/2-1 cup flaked coconut)
  • (opt. 1/2-1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans)

Mix dry ingredients (flours, soda, salt) and set aside.
Beat the butter until fluffy.  Beat in the sugar, and then the eggs, one at a time.  Beat in the extracts.  Carefully beat in the dry ingredients.  Stir in the chocolate chips (and coconut and walnuts, if you use them) by hand.

Form into balls with a soup spoon (make fairly large cookies).  Place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Chill or freeze until firm.  Bake at 350 for 8 minutes, then rotate cookie sheet and bake 4 more minutes.

I like to keep the dough in the refrigerator and just bake up one tray of cookies at a time.  The other day, I served this recipe to some friends, and they said, "These are really good. Nobody would ever have to know that they're gluten-free, because these are really good."

Confession:  Sometimes I tell people that stuff is gluten-free, kind of hoping that they will think it's going to be gross, and then they won't take any, and then I will get to have more.  I feel that this somewhat balances out the sadness of my not being able to eat any glutenous treats. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Blessings in turmoil

Yesterday I was looking for a particular passage of scripture.

Often, the Lord blesses me miraculously by leading me to the passages I am looking for, even when I am not sure where they are.  Sometimes I feel that this is a sort of game we play together, God and I: I pray and ask Him to help me find some verses, and He answers and leads me to them.

Yesterday, He took me on a detour along the way, which I am writing about on Seeking Wisdom, Craving Grace (please check it out; it's a another really great story).

But eventually I did find the verses I was looking for:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?"

~Luke 18:1-7 (NIV)
The assurance I was looking for was right there in verse 1:  We should always pray and not give up.  That's what I was looking for, and there it was.  Encouragement to persevere in prayer.  Even when it seems like nothing is happening, like nothing is going to happen, like nothing could possibly happen, we should still always pray and not give up.  Nothing is impossible for God.

The rest of the passage reminded me that God loves His children and graciously gives good gifts to those who ask.  I thought of the place where Jesus says, "Which of you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake?"  So I went looking for that.

Guess where it was?

Luke 11:11.  11:11.  (Please click on that link if you don't already know about the significance 11:11 has for me.)  This discovery was a love letter from God to me, a special kiss.  Dark chocolate and diamonds.

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” ~Luke 11:11-13 (NIV)
I hope this means that the Lord will also give the Holy Spirit, somehow, to those we intercede for, who are too blinded and bound to ask for themselves. Hope itself is from God; He is the source of all hope, and the power of His Holy Spirit fills us with overflowing hope (and joy and peace, Romans 15:13).

God is in the business of rescuing and restoring. That is who He is and what He does. He cares for the lost. He seeks wandering sheep. He came for the sick, not the healthy. He died for sinners.

I know all these things, and yet I still find myself doubting and despairing. So He reaches into my world, takes a verse that encourages me to pray with hope in His goodness, and He connects it to a number He has already made meaningful to me. Obviously, He didn't just do it last night. He set it up before the foundation of the world, amongst every other detail of His plans for the Universe, knowing (imagine this) that I would discover this particular connection on that particular night and be comforted by His unfailing love for me. The thought boggles my mind. How can I doubt a God like this? How can I despair, when He is in control?

Then, Shawn was on another trip this past week. He was supposed to be coming home today, flying from Pittsburgh to Newark to Chicago, and then finally to here. He was supposed to get home late in the afternoon. The morning began with snow in Pennsylvania.

Last night, I steeled myself for the worst. I told myself, "It's okay. There might be weather and delays. I will just be thankful if he gets home by Saturday." And then I had a talk with God (being home alone all week, I had lots of talks with God). I said, "Please bring him home safe. You know, even if there is snow on the east coast, maybe you could cancel his flight to Newark and let him go straight to Chicago." Then I remembered that it doesn't generally go well for me when I make suggestions to God about what He could do, so I gave myself a small, mental swat and got on to other things.

Guess what? This morning I got a text from Shawn saying that they had canceled his flight to Newark and booked him straight through to Chicago, and he would be getting in three hours early. None of his flights were late. They were all on time. He is here now, working from home in his study.

This is my God, the one who hears my prayers and rejoices to give me good things. I can trust Him. He loves me.
Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. ~Psalm 86:17 (NIV)
Our enemies are not people. "Our enemies" are the devil. He will surely be put to shame, while justice, mercy and love will prevail. Hallelujah.

(disclaimer: I am having trouble getting things written in a timely fashion due to computer access issues. This did not happen "yesterday." It happened Wednesday Thursday--I am really struggling with accuracy for some reason. It probably makes no difference, but since it is part of a memoir, it matters to me.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dreaming of vacation

After Christmas, once the house-guests have all vacated and the decorations have been stuffed back into basement boxes, the house is stripped of warmth, cheer and community.  When I leave home in the morning, I back out of my driveway-- trying not to notice my cold, bare porch-- dreaming of a vacation in the south seas.

Fiji may not be in the budget, but maybe I could take a road trip to see one of my kids.

Road trips are funny.  You can plan and plan, or you can take off on a spontaneous adventure.  Sometimes, it doesn't seem to matter very much which way you go.  Sometimes, the most quickly embarked-upon trips produce the best memories.

Even if you are taking off in a rush, you do need a few key things.  I have a triumvirate, that I check anytime I am getting into my car:
(1) keys
(2) purse
(3) sunglasses

Of course, my purse contains both my phone and my billfold, and these are the essential items therein.  So you could instead call it a quadumvirate, and make it:
(1) keys
(2) phone (with GPS)
(3) billfold/wallet (with cash and credit cards)
(4) sunglasses

I find it a useful exercise always to count to three or four as I think through these essential items whenever I leave the house.

Honestly that's all you need.  Unless you have prescription medications.  Remember your prescription medications if you are going to be gone for more than a day!

That's all you need, but there are many things you can throw into the car to make yourself more comfortable on a long drive.

Here are six of my favorite

Road Trip Comforts

1.  Bottled water and almonds.  You can keep going for a long time on bottled water and almonds.  They are healthy, and they are not very messy if you spill.  I always take a stock of bottled water and almonds, and I have been very thankful for them on many occasions.  Emergency breakfast, lunch and supper.

2.  Oranges are another fabulous car snack.  I discovered this when I was the mother of young children.  Oranges are like a food and a drink all in one.  Because they are juicy, they don't make you thirsty.  But, because they are a piece of fruit, and not a liquid beverage, they don't increase your need for bathroom stops!  We spent many a long car ride peeling and sectioning oranges for the kids all the way across NY, PA, OH, IN, IL and WI on our way to Minnesota.  (Caveat: if you are sensitive to acids, too many oranges can upset your stomach.Carrot sticks and peppermints are good snacks to stock as well, and can help soothe carsickness and keep you awake when you are driving late into the night.

3.  Baby wipes.  Again, back when I was the mother of young children, I discovered the amazing versatility of a good baby wipe.  Besides wiping babies, baby wipes are good for
  • cleaning stains out of upholstery
  • getting stickiness off hands (for instance, after you have peeled a number of oranges)
  • sanitizing certain objects at a rest stop
  • washing your face after a full night of driving
  • freshening your armpits (in a pinch)

4.  Plastic bags.  I use recycled ones, and if I forget to throw a few into the glove compartment, it's somewhat crippling.  Plastic bags are good for many things, but most especially for collecting garbage (orange peels, and used babywipes, to name a few).  If I take a nice supply, we can toss out the current garbage bag at every stop. 

5.  The Atlas.  Yes.  I am old.  But seriously, there's often no substitute for a bird's eye view of the terrain.  Whether you need to plot a detour, or you just want a visual picture in your head of how much farther you have to go, an atlas is a wonderful thing.  Also, the GPS sometimes fails.  It happens.  I've experienced it.  Once my husband's GPS took him into the heart of a frightening neighborhood in an unfamiliar city, and then froze into a completely unresponsive state.  When the GPS fails, it's exceedingly nice to have the back-up of a good old-fashioned atlas.

6.  A towel.  This is my personal favorite.  Ideally, it should be a nice, fluffy, cozy beach towel.  I used to have a pink-on-pink floral one, but it got lost when we moved to Illinois.  I haven't completely given up hope that one day we will find it in the bowels of our basement.  I loved that towel the way a baby loves her blankie.  I could lay it across my body if I was cold, or roll it up like a pillow to cushion my head against the car window.  I could make it into a sunshade.  Folded, it makes a nice pad to sit on.  Obviously, it works well for wiping and drying things.  All this, and super easy to launder besides.

So I started out dreaming of Fiji and ended up remembering my beloved lost travel towel.  That's a lot like how life is, isn't it?

* * * * * * * * * *

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

The difference between grace and mercy

Since my last post, I've been thinking about the difference between grace and mercy.

I already wrote out the standard differentiation:

Mercy is when we escape a consequence that we deserve.
Grace is when we receive a blessing that we do not deserve.

It occurs to me that we appreciate mercy a whole lot more than we appreciate grace.

This is, of course, because where mercy is concerned, we realize what we had coming, and we are thankful to escape it.  However, where grace is concerned, we humans often operate under the assumption that we deserve all the good things that randomly fall into our lives.

We are not thankful to wake up in a warm bed, swaddled in clean sheets and blankets.  This seems normal to us.  We take it for granted.

We expect there to be hot water flowing from the shower, a working coffee-maker for our coffee, and plenty of clothes to provide us choices in what to wear.  We expect our cars to start, our credit cards to work, and our computers to connect efficiently to the internet.  We expect the stores to have milk, bread, socks and ibuprofen.

We are not generally thankful that we are breathing, that we are not running a fever, that our family members are around us, alive and well.  All these things are graces, but we do not even notice: we are frustrated that the room is chilly, or our neck is stiff, or somebody else is in the bathroom slowing down our morning routine.  We get grumpy because the pair of slacks we'd intended to wear is dirty, and we forget to be thankful that we have a number of other pairs of slacks to choose from.

On the other hand, when something bad brushes into the edges of our world and mercy prevents a calamity, then we are thankful.  When we lose control of the car on the ice, but regain it before we crunch any metal, then we are thankful.  When we get sick, but doctors help us heal up, then we are thankful.  When one job ends, but another is quickly provided, then we are thankful.  When we fear that we are not going to be able to pay a certain bill, but God provides what we need, then we are thankful.

When I think about how much more we appreciate mercy than grace, I realize how impossible it would be for God to teach us anything if He didn't allow trials in our lives.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The difference between grace and indulgence

I once knew a woman who had a way of dealing with her kids that was very different from the way I believed in dealing with mine.  (This is not to say that I was a great mother, because I was not, but this is for illustrative purposes only.)

She would tell them, "You must have your toys picked up by 3:00, or no snack."  They would ignore her.  She would remind them that 3:00 was in ten minutes.  They continued to ignore.  3:00 would arrive, and she would say, "Well, it's 3:00 and your toys aren't picked up.  No snack."  They would cry and throw themselves prostrate on the floor, "I'm so hungry, Mommy," they would whine.  "I can't pick up my toys when I am so hungry!"

She would look at me and say, "What about grace?  God is gracious with us."  And she would serve her children a lovely snack.  They ate it quickly and returned to their toys, while she swept up their crumbs.  She prided herself on her grace.

Can I just say?  Yes, God is gracious.  But gracious does not mean indulgent.  Gracious does not mean giving in to our whims or ignoring our sins.  That is indulgence, and indulgence is not the same as grace.

Mercy, they say, is when we do not get a bad consequence that we deserve.  When we go off to school leaving our research paper on our desk at home, and we are going to have to take a late grade as a result, but our mom drives the paper in to school, arriving before the the pertinent class so that our grade will not be penalized, that is mercy.

Grace, they say, is when we get a good result that we do not deserve.  When we argue with our mother about how much money she should spend on our back to school wardrobe, and complain that the sneakers she has suggested are stupid, but she goes ahead and spends what she had originally promised to spend despite our ungratefulness, that is grace.

Indulgence, however, is to give in to a desire or to gratify a whim.

There may be a fine line between grace and indulgence, but it is definable.

Indulgence allows people to wallow in selfishness, but grace demonstrates unselfishness in a way that challenges people to emulate it.

Indulgence trains a child to throw a tantrum because it gets results, but grace offers a child a dignified way around a tantrum.

Indulgence costs a parent very little in the present, but yields a staggering debt of conflict in the future.  Grace is costly in the present, but yields fruit of peace and joy in the future.

Indulgence is crippling to the people who are indulged, but grace offers its recipients a hand up to a better way of life.

If you are out at a party with your child, and it is late, and she (being tired) begins to misbehave, you can indulge her by loading her up with sugary treats and trying to find a colorful cartoon to amuse her while you pursue your adult entertainment a few feet away.  Or you can give her grace by recognizing her need and stepping aside from your own pleasure to take her home while she still has some dignity, kindly putting her to bed in a calm, quiet environment that is just what she needs.

The thing is, grace always demands a sacrifice by its giver.  Grace is dying to your own wants for the good of someone else.  Indulgence is finding the quickest, easiest way to put a lid on a conflict, at the lowest possible immediate cost to yourself.  Indulgence seems cheap and easy at the time, but you will pay in the future; oh, you will pay.

When God extends grace to us, He doesn't ever say that our sins do not matter.  Our sins matter so much that Jesus, the perfect, unblemished lamb of God, had to pay the price for them with His own priceless blood.

Grace is, by definition, somewhat insulting.  The only way for grace to be grace is for the recipient to be undeserving: plainly, undeniably undeserving.  If the benefit were deserved, it would not be grace when it was bestowed.  However, the human nature is to believe that we always deserve the best.

God gives us grace so that we can be both saved and sanctified.  Grace purifies us, cleans off the muck and makes us new, better people.

Grace changes us, but indulgence leaves us in the same, sorry condition.

If we are to emulate our heavenly Father in offering grace to those around us, what should we do?  Here are three questions we can ask ourselves:

1.  How does this action on my part help the other person learn and grow in a productive way?
2.  How does this action on my part demonstrate the worth of Christian virtues (such as faithfulness, truth, perseverance and self-control)?
3.  What sacrifice am I making, and for what greater good?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

I am 50

Here is a picture from my 50th birthday.  What?  Has it been nearly a month already?

(Click to enlarge view.)

Matthew smiles.

David points.

Jon's fingers.

Shawn lights the candles (yes, 2).

Shannon frosted the cake.

Lu is behind the camera.

(Yes, gluten free.)

(Shawn can even make decaf taste nice.)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

In praise of apologies

A couple days ago, I was looking for my refill ink cartridges for my fountain pen.  Shawn also has a fountain pen, and some time ago he asked to use one of my refill cartridges for his pen.  That was the last time I remembered seeing the little packet of refills, so when I couldn't find them in a couple of places that I looked, I went to Shawn.

"Do you know where my refill cartridges went?" I asked him, holding up my dry pen.

"No," he replied.

"Remember how you asked me to give you a cartridge?  What did you do with them after I gave you one?" I was getting a tad snippy.

"I believe I handed them back to you," he said.  "They aren't here."  He was sitting in the study, at his desk, at his computer.  I reached in front of him, pushy, a bit rough, and yanked out his desk drawer to have a look.  He helped me sift through the contents of the drawer, a bit defensive.  "They aren't here," he maintained.  They weren't.

"Can't you remember what you did with them?" I demanded, "I need one and I can't find them."

"I'm pretty sure I handed them back to you."

"Hmph."  I stomped away, frustrated.

And then I thought of another place to look: the nightstand next to my side of the bed, where I usually store the pen.  It probably should have been the first place I looked, and sure enough, there they were.

Shannon says there is sometimes a point in an argument where you realize that you are wrong, and that realization is one of the worst feelings in the world.  At the moment I found my ink refills, I felt terrible, as though I'd taken a fist to the gut.  I'd all but accused Shawn of losing them for me, and suddenly there they were, in my very own nightstand, right in the little basket where I keep pens and writing supplies, exactly where I must have put them myself.

In that moment, I could have said nothing.  I could have pretended the cartridges were still lost.  I could have put down my empty pen and quietly gone downstairs to work on laundry or dinner.

But instead, I swallowed and called out, "Oh my word!  I found them!"

Shawn, from the study, said, "Where were they?"

"Right here, in my nightstand," I admitted.  "I'm sure I must have put them here myself.  I don't know why I didn't think to look here first."  And then I said, "I'm sorry."

I said, "I'm sorry I was mean, and crabby, and acted like I thought you were to blame.  That wasn't very nice of me.  Will you forgive me?"

And do you know what?  He did.  He did forgive me, and we went on to have quite a lovely, peaceful and harmonious day.

In apologizing, I gained for myself forgiveness, peace and freedom from the need to cover up what I had done.  It was so worth it. It was a blessing.  Also, I was able to ask my husband to help me replace the dry cartridge in my pen and get my pen up and running, right away.

I wish everyone could learn the beauty of an honest apology, well spoken.  An apology is such a relief for everybody.  An apology blesses both the one who apologizes, and the one who receives the apology.

Apologies mitigate the damage that happens in relationships.

The awkwardness that you feel in realizing that you are wrong, and acknowledging it, and saying that you are sorry for what you have done, that awkwardness is literally nothing compared to the awkwardness that results from months or years of unacknowledged wrong eroding a relationship.

When you agree with someone that you are wrong, that you have acted badly and are sorry, this is disarming.  It takes all the tension out of the fight immediately.  People cannot be defensive if you are agreeing with them.

"You were mean," the wronged party says, expecting to have to prove it to you.

"Yes," you agree.  "I was mean.  I wish I hadn't been.  I'm sorry.  What can I do to rebuild your trust in me?"

Boom.  The fight is over.

Another thing: Pretending that nothing happened never makes a problem go away.  Insisting on pretending that nothing happened is cruel.  Everybody knows that something happened, especially the person you most directly hurt.  If you want to build walls of resentment, pretend that nothing happened.  Pretend that you didn't do anything and watch the hurt multiply while the relationship disintegrates.  If you really want to kill a relationship, pretend that you are faultless and the injured person is just a head-case with no right to be angry.  Tell the injured person, "You have no right to bring that up.  That is in the past, and you are over-interpreting, stewing, being bitter."  Expect that the injured party should agree, "Nothing happened; it is all in my head.  The problem is all my fault.  I do not deserve resolution.  I do not deserve an apology."  Tell the injured party, "Move on!"  He might do just that, maybe even without you.

Here's the deal: when you need forgiveness, you need forgiveness.  To receive forgiveness, you have to be sorry, admit what you did wrong, name your sin and acknowledge the damage that resulted from it, own these things and repent of them.  And here's the next deal: when you do all that, you get the most fabulous freedom and peace you can imagine.  The destructive cycle begins at once to reverse, and you were the one who reversed it!  Why wouldn't you want that?

Yes, we need to forgive whether people ask for forgiveness or not.  When you are the injured party, you have to extend forgiveness to the one who hurt you.

But don't you know?  If you are the one who caused the hurt, you are the one with the true opportunity to fix things.  Forgiveness extended does not culminate in restoration until it is received by the one who did wrong.  To receive forgiveness, you need to apologize, expressing true sorrow for the wrong you did and the hurt you caused.  It stings for a moment, but it makes things so much better in the long run.

It is the same when we come to God.  He freely offers forgiveness to all who ask.  However, salvation is only for those who do avail themselves of His forgiveness.  You need to start out by being convicted of your sins.  You need to feel the guilt of your wrongdoing.  Guilt, when you have done wrong, is a good thing that leads to the next step in healing: confession.  After you are convicted of sin, you confess your sin.  Name your wrongdoing.  Ponder the effects of what you have done, and grieve over them.  Wish in your heart that you had made better choices, and determine that next time you will make better choices, because you understand the ugliness of doing things the wrong way.  This is repentance:  Turning from the wrong way and heading in the right way.  Agreeing with the one you have wronged that you have done wrong.

When we confess and repent, God promises absolutely to forgive us and cleanse us from unrighteousness, to wash us and make us new, to restore us (1 John 1:9).  This is the beauty of becoming God's child.  We are reborn out of our confession and repentance into a renewed state where God's Spirit purifies us and teaches us to walk in grace.

Lastly, I've heard it said that it is never too late to send a thank-you note.  That goes exponentially for an apology.  Whether it's days, weeks, or even years or decades overdue, it's never too late to apologize.  Admit your wrong.  Own your responsibility.  Ask for forgiveness.  And let the healing begin.  You'll be so glad you did.

To whom do you need to apologize today?

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar
and there remember that your brother has something against you,
leave your gift there in front of the altar. 
First go and be reconciled to your brother;
then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 5:23-24 (niv)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Encouragement and dreams

Today in church, our pastor preached about Gideon.

Sometimes a detail in a sermon catches one's attention more than the main point.

Pastor was talking about how the Lord encouraged Gideon, and he read the part where Gideon and Purah, his servant, sneaked down into the Midianite camp to spy.  Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream.  This man had dreamed that a round loaf of barley bread tumbled into the Midianite camp and struck a tent with so much force, it collapsed.

The man and his friend figured it was an omen that God was going to give Gideon and his army victory over the Midianites.  They were scared.  Gideon, hearing the story, drew the same conclusion, but of course he was elated.

Our pastor then remarked that God sometimes encourages us through dreams.  He recounted how his father had died over a year ago, in early November 2014.  His mother had not had a dream about her departed husband until recently, but recently she dreamed that she was in a familiar garden, and he was there, her husband, on the other side of a fence.  She saw his hand on the fence.  He was smiling and happy, and she tried to run to him, but she woke up.  Although she did not reach him in her dream, the dream filled her with peace and joy because she had seen him, and he was happy.

This reminded me that I had a dream myself, the other night.

Isn't it odd how you can have dreams which evaporate so quickly out of your mind, but then random things awaken a memory of what you'd dreamed?  If I'd been paying attention, it might have been a dream that I woke up with on New Year's Day, 1/1/2016.  That seems about right, but I'll never know for sure.

I dreamed about our house on Sugar Pine.  I've been wondering when I would dream about that house, if I would dream about it.  I used to dream about our house on Homeland Road fairly often (after we moved out of it), recurrent dreams about huge unexplored portions of it that we were only just discovering, with lots of bedrooms and bathrooms, but the plumbing was all broken.  I dreamed about Homeland Road so often, it seemed natural to wonder when the dreams about Sugar Pine would begin after our move to Illinois.  Now and then, I would realize that I'd lived here in Illinois for over a year, or over two years, and not had a single dream about the house back on Sugar Pine.

That night (New Year's Eve?) I dreamed about Sugar Pine.  I did not dream about the kitchen, or the family room, or even the front foyer, images that usually come to mind when I think back to that home.  No, I dreamed I was in my bedroom, the master bedroom, but I did not see the bedroom, because I was looking out the bedroom door and down the upstairs hall, which culminated in the kids' bathroom.  Jonny was in that bathroom.  He was about five or six years old, with his hair asunder and his smooth little olive skinned cheeks, dancing around in a big old tee-shirt that hung down about to his knees, and he was running himself a bath.  I could hear the bathwater roaring from the tap, and I could smell the sweet, clean scent of soap.  I kept thinking, "Does he know how to run himself a bath?  Does he know how?"  But for some reason, I felt that it was important to leave him alone and let him do it by himself.

When I awoke, I still lingered in the warm, fragrant, steamy sensation of air floating out the door of a room that held a hot bath.  It took me quite awhile to remember that Jonny is no longer six, cavorting in a floppy tee-shirt.  He no longer takes baths.  He showers.  He is 6'4".  His voice is a deep bass, and he has facial hair.  This was a startling realization as my waking consciousness was restored.

It was one of those dreams where I feel as though it meant something, but I don't know what.

2016.  My main word for the year is restoration.  God restores our souls.  He restores the joy of His salvation.  He restores hope and peace (which were my words last year).  He is in the business of restoring what is broken: fixing, polishing, beautifying things so that they will be able to bring Him glory as they were originally intended to do.

God is a God of restoration, primarily because there is nothing on this earth without need of restoration.

My dreams about the Homeland Road house were about potential restoration.  I saw in the dreams how much potential that house had to become big and beautiful, but I was always utterly daunted by its condition and all that extensive broken plumbing.  In my dream of the Sugar Pine house, the plumbing was fine.  Although I saw the bath through two angled doorways and down a significant hallway, it was a beautiful bath.  The tub was white and sparkling, and the water was hot.  The little boy was ready to get clean.

Friday, January 1, 2016

the year

January is ice outside, soup inside, long nights, long weeks, football.

February is purple fingers and toes, but red hearts, red roses and cherry cheesecake.

March is melty, windy, brighter, and (here in Illinois), actually the beginning of spring!

April is delicate blossoms, daffodils, misty leaf buds and Easter eggs.

May is when the flowers start in earnest, and I love it, everything building to the crescendo of the summer solstice.

June is almost as good as May, except that it's so near the end of the crescendo.  Sunshine, strawberries, peonies and the end of the school year!

July is hot and wonderful; zinnias take off in abundance, slightly out of control.  Fireworks, watermelon and home improvement projects.

August is beach vacations, sea shells and fresh peaches.  Yes.

September is apples, school buses, new crayons.

October is pumpkins, miles of razed corn fields, blazing treetops, and marching band.

November is fallen brown leaves, turkeys, and warm kitchens with their lights turned on.

December is secrets, snowflakes, peppermint, chocolate, Christmas trees and holly, twinkly lights.

And then we go again.