Time for a Tune-Up

Typing away in the other room while a playdate ensued, I heard the voices of my Sweetgirl and her friend carrying loudly in the air. They were singing along to a popular song about sunshine in their pockets. One of them was out of tune. Jarringly out of tune. But, singing along no less enthusiastically.

Isn’t that just the way we humans do, sometimes?

We become glaringly out of tune with what’s good, true, honest, or noble. And we can’t even hear it.

Maybe that’s just me.

Sometimes, Grace has to swoop in on the raised eyebrows of one forced to listen to each off-key note, to get my attention. Other times, Grace opens my eyes to the words set before me.

That’s exactly how He found me this morning, wedged between Sweetman and Sweetboy on the shiny wooden pew at church. Listening to a message about our very human and very real need for second and 432nd chances, I felt my attention shifting to the list of things to be done this week. Because, clearly, I am intimate with the notion of third and 303rd chances.

Soon, I began considering my lunch options after church was done. IHOP was firmly on the short list.

But Grace reminded me (yet again) that church isn’t ever “done”.

And nothing shakes me from my irreverent reveries like a call to worship.

The opening notes were strummed and I realized we were about to sing one of my favorite hymns, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.

I stood up, perked up, and prepared to sing, thinking, “Oooh, I love this one!”

God wasn’t finished getting my attention, though.

Nope.

As we skipped to the third verse, my eyes read what my heart already knew.

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart Lord,
Take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.”

Now Grace had my full attention. Just some of what was out of tune sprang to mind:

  • The willingness to read one more chapter of the latest story over one more chapter of The Greatest Story
  • My eagerness to join conversations about others without grace even as that very grace was being heaped out upon me
  • Forgetting the joy that comes out of sacrifice as I stubbornly refused others’ needs for my wants

Friends? Forget about my inability to carry a tune, physically. Singing The Truth in that moment, my heart’s distance from the heart of God felt like a million spiritual miles away.

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Clearly, it was time for a little tune-up.

And God, in His boundless beautiful grace, whispered love. He tuned my heart to His, as He has countless other times.

Yes indeed.

I left church this morning reminded that I don’t need a tune-up because I’m bad, but because of my human ability to become dissonant. Oh-so-easily.

And, because Grace is always good, He tightens those loose strings. He replaces the frayed ones. He adjusts the pitch.

He gently brings harmony back to my heart.

Thank you, God, for binding my wandering heart to thee.

Maybe It’s Just Me

Brad Paisley got it right. When he described his girl as “sunshine mixed with a little hurricane”, I’m pretty sure he was describing Sweetgirl. That kid is a whirlwind of toothless eight-going-on-eighteen.  Ahab and The Nana would surely describe me similarly… plus a few teeth. And pounds. And years.

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The times I have to watch my Sunshine hide behind clouds of doubt or insecurity, though, because of the way others treat her, it’s my own inner hurricane that starts brewing.

I can’t be the only one who identifies with the inner hurricanes I see within these tender-hearted girls. Self-doubt is a powerful ingredient in an emotional storm and it surely does seem like there are far too many of us huffing harsh words out onto others in hopes that we will feel smarter, prettier, more popular, and even seen. We whip our attitudes around and lash out at others in an effort to boost our own meager confidence. We think more highly of ourselves than we ought in hopes that we matter more than the next girl.

And none of it does a single thing to advance love, joy, peace, kindness or goodness.

No. In fact,  witnessing how hurtful and mean girls can be toward one another is distressing. Watching the devastation left in the hearts of the hurt is heartbreaking. Too often this meanness starts a vicious circle of behavior: Be hurt. Hurt another. Feel better. Be hurt again. Hurt another again. Feel better again. And on and on it goes.

And, I’m tired of hearing that this is just how girls are with one another. Responsibility gets to fly off on the shoulders of Blame, that way. And, assuming that girls will determine social hierarchy with little emotional fallout makes about as much sense to me as throwing a non-swimmer into a pool and saying, “Good luck with that swimming thing.”

Comments sharing how there will always be mean girls fall hard on my heart, too, because I’m a firm believer in doing what you can. Don’t we all remember the Starfish Story? We can throw one starfish starving for it’s watery habitat back, and it will make a difference for that one single starfish, won’t it?

Aren’t the hearts of girls worth just as much effort and attention?

With their increasingly younger noses perpetually pressed to their smart phones or tablets, and seeking social acceptance there, it seems obvious that guidance is needed. We adults need to be checking in often enough to know who and what these girls of ours are trying to get their self-worth from.

And, while we’re at it, where are we trying to get our own self-worth from?

As I’ve mentioned here and here, I do believe our worth is something a few of us adults need to be reminded of, too.

Or, maybe it’s just me.

What do you say we work on battening down those hurricane hatches together?

God knows Grace gushes in my general direction because I desperately need it.

Often.

Can we agree to work on showing, not telling, our girls how to treat themselves, first. Can we remind them again and again that they are created in the image of One who loves them more than any Facebook or Insta “like” ever will. And can we do that together, by caring more about the eyes watching us refresh our screens than those on our screens.

Sweetgirl needs some help learning how to combat The Mean with the truth that we are each a special God-designed mix of sunshine and hurricane. Especially as we boot up for a new school year.

And, quite frankly, her mama can always use some more work in that area, too.

Always.

Yes indeedy.

Who’s with me?

If Grace Had an Instagram Feed

What would it look like, do you imagine?

If Grace, the actual I-died-so-you-could-be-loved-perfectly-forever, had an Insta feed, what pictures do you figure we could scroll through?

I have a few ideas. You must, too.

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I’m guessing Grace will get a kick out of posting pictures of my favorite snack foods with snappy captions like, “Devil Dogs in 2 easy steps!” or “Swiss Cake Rolls for Days!”. And Grace will use a beautiful filter on the pic and He’ll layer over the verse from Proverbs about all things in moderation and He’ll know… He’ll just know that I’m straining against the constraints of my diet and needing a pass for the cheat treat I just had.

I think one would probably have to be a picture of horses nuzzling on a beach with the caption, “Listen Missy, horses need love, too.” And Grace would know, He’d just know that I’d be reeled in by the beach scene. He’d know I couldn’t look away and that He could use my nemesis, as I’ve mentioned here and here and here and here, to remind me that I don’t get to decide who gets love and who doesn’t.

But I think one of my favorites would be a puppy pie pie (and it really wouldn’t matter what kind, as long as it wasn’t a hairless Chihuahua because, He would know that I just can’t even). And anyway, this puppy would be on a boat with it’s hair all wild in the wind, with the caption, “Dog Hair, Don’t Care” to remind me that even when the wind is whipping, He’s got this.

And I am absolutely certain that I’d see a picture of pigs flying. Can’t you just see it? Heavenly pigs winging through the air! And, of course, He’d know that I wouldn’t be able to resist seeing those animals flying and I would, of course, need to thoroughly examine the picture and investigate whether it was modified. And he’d use this one to remind me that Hope is alive and well and flying high, despite what it seems like in the world.

The one I won’t be able to stop liking, though, is the one Grace will put up of my Sweetman in a beach chair with a big ol’ pile of books stacked up in the sand next to him. Man. Candy. Mine. And Grace will just know that I’m needing a reminder (in that post-argumentative moment) of all that I love about That Man. And it’ll totes work, too.

Oh, but you just know that Grace will snap a pic of my sweetkids, at their very cutest of course, on a lake. Or, in a lake. And He’ll be sure that I’ll admire those stinkin’ cute kids while at the same time turning my nose up at the lake (because, Ocean). And I can imagine the caption would be something along the lines of, “Lake people are people too,” because He hears my every inner thought. Especially about lake lovers.

Because, I’m human. And, indeed, sometimes very human.

But Grace doesn’t worry about that.

He knows.

And loves me anyway.

I think I’d like that Insta feed. And I’d be scrolling through it all the live-long day.

And Grace would get all my likes.

Yes indeedy.

**My Instagram feed isn’t nearly as exciting, but in case you missed it, I do indeed have one. Click here to go there.**

I Am the Unlovely

In the wake of the horrific tragedy that took place in Orlando, FL last weekend, I instantly noticed a disturbing trend. Maybe you did too? Posts in the blogosphere and Pinterest pins and Instagram photos started flooding my news feed.

And many of them pointed out ways Christians could “love the unlovely”.

It made me ill. And mad.

If you’re still reading, let me tell you why. And if you follow along here regularly, you’re already ahead of me, aren’t you?

I am the unlovely. 

This isn’t a slam against myself. Or self-deprecation. Or a result of low self-esteem.

No, it’s Truth, with a capital T.  And I believe in a God who so loved me, and you, that He was willing to die to show us the extent of that love.

And because I believe that Truth, and am so overwhelmingly thankful for His love, I long to love everyone like me.

Every unlovely.

So, you know, every human being.

Not just now, all of the sudden, since evil attempted to get an upper hand (once again).

Not just in the aftermath of any great “reveal” where we find out someone we know or love is addicted or afflicted.

Humans don’t suddenly become “unlovely” in those instances. And I’m beyond sure about this, friends, because I am now, and always have been, unlovely.

From dust we came and to dust we will return.

Truth.

So the next time we are tempted to look upon another human heart as “unlovely” and worthy of being loved, let’s take a quick look in the mirror.

And remember…

If we call ourselves saved, well…

Jesus didn’t come to save the healthy ones.

And, I’m not good with if/then statements in science, but I get this one. If He came to save the sick, and He surely did save me…

Then that makes me one of the unlovely ones.

Oh, yes indeedy!

 

Silently Correcting Their Grammar

Few things slay my inner grammarian like hearing someone botch a perfectly good word or phrase. Folks do it “alot” (ahem).

And I’m silently correcting their grammar.

Hearing Americans talk and write about the Republican and Democratic “cannidates” could spell disaster for the future of our country. And, I’m talking about the mispronunciation of candidates, not the potential election results.

I’m silently correcting their grammar, and praying for the elections.

Listening to a young lifeguard friend tell about the time she had to swim “acrosst” the bay to make sure someone didn’t “drownd” while goofing around in the surf, makes me cray-cray.

I’m silently correcting her grammar, while thanking God for her bravery.

But, for all intensive purposes, I think it’s best if people stop using that phrase. Because, for all intents and purposes, it’s being used incorrectly.

Providing me another opportunity to silently correct grammar.

And I make jokes with my other grammar abiding friends about this private act of silently correcting others’ grammar.

Never once did I give it another thought.

Until…

jokingly used a phrase with my sweetkids the other day. “Listen up peoples!”

And my children not-so-silently corrected my grammar.

Humility…I am still learning it.

Parenting, it is a mighty teacher.

Oh, yes indeedy.

I am trying to train those children up in the way they should go. But, Lord? Could my training not come back and hit me upside the head so very often?

While my defenses rose and I felt the need to shout-explain, “I know that!”, I felt Humility, Himself, knocking on my heart’s door. With each knock, there was a growing unease in my soul at my many silent corrections.

Proverbs 3:7 harked back to mind,

“Don’t be conceited, sure of your own wisdom.”

But, as usual, grace laps over the edges of my spirit as I submit my desire to know more to His desire for me to love more.

The rest of that “train your children up” verse? It says to do so in the hopes that when they are old, they won’t depart from it [their training].

I’ve departed. Oh, how I’ve departed again and again.

But Grace…

I’d like to stop departing now. Please, and thank you.

In the meantime, I’ll stop silently correcting grammar.

Thankfully, there is no statue of limitations on grace.

For the Quitters Among Us

Let me start by admitting I go by another name. It’s true. While “Missy” is certainly one way to turn my head toward the sound of your voice, so is “Quitzilla”.

As we wrap up our study of The Five Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit by Nicki Koziarz over on the P31 Online Bible Studies’ blog, I’m reminded of my “other” name.

And I don’t like it. Or her. (Quitzilla, not Nicki Koziarz, because she? She is LOVELY!)

This person inside of me who doubts she has what it takes to see a new adventure through to completion? I don’t care for her.

And, I know I’m not alone. Friends share constantly about issues they quit over and over again. We all seem to have issues that just can’t seem to be overcome.

  • The weight that won’t come off
  • The relationship that won’t heal
  • The risk we just can’t seem to take

 

Slowly, I’m seeing the patterns of behavior where my inner quitter starts getting most vocal. No surprises in the patterns, either. The enemy of my soul, the one who won’t quit trying to turn my eyes from He who makes everything possible, will press on. It’s my job to see when I’m most prone to hearing his hollow tune over the steady song of my Savior.

And, I think I’ve nailed down how I can do that best.

Just do the next thing.

Simple, right? It should be. But, I tend to get wrapped up in the whole goal. What is my end game? And, I start looking down the barrel of that goal and I get tunnel vision. Big time.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who forgets to take it one step at a time?

Recently, Sweetman and I had to make a financial decision that hurt. It ruined a perfectly good summer vacation plan and put a wedge in some perfectly wonderful friendships. What I most wanted to do, as Sweetman and I approached this hurtful decision-making process, was quit. Flat out throw caution and wisdom to the wind and do what I wanted to do. And that Quitzilla voice roared the whole time we wrestled with the choice before us.

But God…

He keeps reassuring me our resolution was not just the wise thing to do, but exactly what we needed to do to be good stewards of all He’s given.

And He has given much! He has blessed when I deserved less than half a devil dog. He had seen fit to right too many of my wrongs. He washes me new with grace and mercy All The Days.

Moving forward is a matter of taking that next right step.

I’m quitting the quitting.

Yes indeedy!

What’s hard for you for you to quit? What gives you strength to keep going?

 

I Almost Wore the Fake Rings

As I sat on a plane, slowly descending back into my home state, God nudged me. He’d been nudging me for a couple of months, actually. But, the glint of the overhead light, off the diamond in my wedding ring, was His final hip-check.

I had spent the previous few days listening and learning from some of the best Christian Speaking and Writing professionals. Filled to the fullest would be an understatement. Session after workshop after keynote speech, the same few words kept being repeated. It felt much like Morse Code, alerting me to a message meant for my heart alone.

I started to decode the message in my journal after that first day. But, distractions were everywhere and my eyes weren’t fixed.

And, I know that because the next day, I found myself copying those same few words again. Only, this time, I chose to just sit with them a bit. I knew they were meant for me to hear. I just couldn’t grasp why.

Days later, enjoying some pool time amongst precious friends, the conversation flitted around those same words.

Again!

And then, twenty-four hours later, sitting in seat 6B and enjoying the unexpected pleasure of a row to myself, guess what? As I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, it became clear that God wasn’t finished laying that message on my heart.

Clearly, I hadn’t received it the way I needed to.

Hearing and receiving isn’t always the same thing, is it?

I’m going to tell you something that I’ve told you about four hundred times, already.

I.

Need.

Grace.

As I confidently share with others, all the time, God declares we are enough. God declares that I am enough. Made so by Christ. The solid rock on which I stand.

Because, friends?  All other ground surely is sinking sand.

I’ve found myself descending in it a time or twenty.

But this particular message, the one where God fills my empty places, and declares that He is enough, just hadn’t sunk in.

In fact, prior to leaving for this particular trip, I was so hoping to impress the outside world with my worth that I was willing to wear my fake wedding rings. (If you’ve experienced pregnancy or weight gain… or better yet, pregnancy AND weight gain, then you know exactly why I even have the fake rings!)

I was willing to wear these rings to a conference of OTHER BELIEVING WOMEN!

Oh God, how I still need You!

I didn’t… wear the fake rings, I mean.

At the last-minute, I reread a piece I was going to submit for a Writing Critique session. The following Bible verse was central to my piece.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”   (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV)

This verse is central to my being.

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Indeed. The entire five days, God filled me up, poured me out, and shined His light in dark places. In me. Through me. He showed me, much like he showed Samuel, that He has no need for me to impress anyone with anything other than the heart He’s given me.

And as that light glittered off the diamond, the real diamond, of my wedding ring, I realized all over again how very much grace I need.

Still.

And always.

Like Raisins Soaked in Gin

Ahab’s mama, “Honey” as we were instructed to address her, used to swear by the health benefits of taking 5 white raisins a day, with your breakfast. But, these were no ordinary golden raisins. Oh, no! These had been soaked, patiently, for five or six long months. In gin.

To this day, I don’t understand what benefit they were to have had. And now that she’s dancing with The Good Lord, I can no longer ask her. But, she surely made a big deal about allowing them to soak for that 5-6 month time period.

And I can’t help but think that the grace God dispenses is kind of like that too. It has maximum benefit when I soak in it for long periods of time.

It’s when I forget that the grace is there for the soaking in, and maybe you can relate, that I do myself and others the most harm. God’s very Word utters promises and whispers tender affirmations of His boundless love for me. Of His fathomless grace for each and every one of us.

For a few years, I chose a word to hone in on. I am not doing that. No, I’m choosing a mindset.

This new year, this 2016, is the year I choose grace. For myself. For others who aren’t yet choosing it for themselves. And for each situation that doesn’t sit right at the start.

While I’m at it, I might pop a few of those raisins.

Yes indeedy. Because, it surely can’t hurt!

Happy New Year, friends. I pray God enlarges your vision for all the grace He gives to you. And maybe more than that, that we can always remember the grace we have to give to others.

 

I Feel So Ugly

Today, I woke up feeling ugly.  The mirror was harsh and my thoughts were harsher.

It’s awfully hard, sometimes, to keep moving forward with only a dim picture of what could be.

Here I go, grappling with that old question again! How long, Lord?

I want to see a glimpse, a clear glimpse, of the me You know I will be.

But, right now?

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Well, right now, I only see this dim and very muddled reflection. It’s not pretty. It’s all smudged with “wish I never said that” thinking and “why couldn’t I finish that” questioning. It’s tainted by age that hasn’t been accompanied by wisdom near as much as I would like.

 “It is the same with us. Now we see a dim reflection, as if we were looking into a mirror, but then we shall see clearly. Now I know only a part, but then I will know fully, as God has known me.”

-1 Corinthians 13:12 (NCV)

Age aside, (way way aside, please), it’s worth noting that most days, I’m quite happy to only see my reflection dimly. If at all. The problem I’m experiencing is that as grace abounds more and more, the dimmer the image staring back at me in the mirror.

Maybe that’s exactly the way it should be.

Each time I think I think I’ve got a hold of what I look like, God changes something in me.

And each time He makes adjustments to the old me, I find myself staring at a new and unfamiliar reflection.

Even as I type out these words, I realize that there’s really no need to know exactly how I look. To myself, or others.

It’s got to be enough, His grace has to be enough to cover my lack with His all.

My ugly with His beauty.

Whether dimly or clearly.

Why does it take me so long to figure these things out?

He knows what I will look like. He loves the me that I am now through Perfect Eyes that see past this here and now and into the gorgeous eternal.

Those flaws we see in ourselves, that I constantly see in myself, the ones that glare back at us in the mirror? They are the same ones He uses to draw others toward us.

I’ve watched Him use my ugly to speak into someone else’s ugly, time and time again. He does it with such beauty. It’s staggering.

But then, the times I wake up and immediately hate what I see, I so easily forget that there is no room for hatred in His eyes. The disgust and frustration and disappointment, seen so clearly by my own eyes, are all crowded out by the affection and joy and delight, in His.

For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.”

BibleGateway Psalm 149:4 (NASB)

I am His people. I’m guessing that if you’re reading, you are too.

Or, you long to be.

The God who made us, sees beauty.

The One who sees me, sees beauty.

Oh God, how I need to cling to that! 

He promises that He will beautify.

Oh God, afflict us with salvation! 

I’m thanking Him for that promise, today.

Yes indeedy.

When You Just Don’t Understand Yourself

“Stay open to conversations instead of confrontations.” – Nicki Koziarz

Listening to a session about how to engage millennials in our churches, I was struck by the quote, above, by this wise young speaker. (Ten years younger feels like forever ago young!)

Each word she poured out was filled with exceptional wisdom regarding her generation. I felt, by turns, convicted, encouraged, and hopeful. And, as you can imagine, I’m especially thankful for that last one.

Grace equals hope, for me. Listening to each point made, I realized how many opportunities for connection I’ve passed up. But, mercifully, there is grace. And every time I move toward conversation and away from confrontation, I speak Grace a little more fluently.

That quote, though? Sweet Moses! I was also made fully aware of just how quickly I am prone to launching toward the confrontational aspect of an issue. While the speaker made a special point to encourage us to be wary of doing this on social media, I instantly saw how this behavior could carry over in my relationships.

Has carried over into my relationships.

Ouch.

I recalled words exchanged between Sweetman and myself. During one particular and recent incident, hurt layered over my words in ugly ways. I winced as I remembered details of my portion of our discussion. Leaving the conversation on the floor, and opting instead for confrontation, I felt justified.

At first…

I didn’t give near enough thought to my end game, though. Harmony in the household is not achieved by angry confrontation. We all know this. I know this. And yet, I don’t do this! And this frustrates me.

I feel like Paul.

“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15 NLT)

Paul’s admission reminds me that I am human (hate that), and that I’m not the first person to experience this dilemma (love that).

He also rightly points out that we don’t fully understand ourselves.

I think this is the part I keep forgetting. We humans can have all the self-awareness in the world. We can be deeply introspective and highly conscious and widely informed about our foibles and propensities.

But, God…He fully understands us.

And loves us anyway.

What delights me is that He continues to use things, like this speaker’s talk on engaging millennials, to reach into my ignorance and show me better ways. He takes what I am and makes me into something kinder. He shepherds me toward grace when I chase after confrontation.

Oh, thank you Lord!

And, when I’m feeling like I just don’t understand myself, I can rest knowing that God surely does.

Yes indeedy!