Want What You’ve Got! (bully)

Person, Homeless, Bullied, Hiding, Alone, Sadness, Male

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When I was in elementary school – fourth grade, to be exact – I was bullied by a kid named Chris. Chris singled me out early in the year, choosing to call me names other than the one my parents had chosen for me: Burrito and It.

The fact that I can still remember Chris’ face and the names he called me hints at just how deeply I was wounded by his childish and unrelenting teasing. People would tell me – especially well-meaning adults – that boys only tease girls this way because they like you…

Really? I didn’t believe it then. Still don’t.

In high school a bully named Clyde chose me from a pool of classmates. His stares violated my personal space for months – usually followed by whispers to his friends, their stares joining his, and then laughter or inappropriate comments. Or both. He so rattled my self-confidence that I actually sought help from the school counselor to make it stop (which is a big deal in high school – seeing the counselor meant that you were either in trouble or wimpy). I don’t remember it helping – in fact, I think it made things worse. After nearly failing a semester of chemistry with Clyde in the room, one of us had to go. I can still remember how his cruel oogling pierced my fragile self-image. Obviously – scars remain.

Joseph knew what it was like to be bullied – he had endured it all of his life. It probably didn’t help that he was Daddy’s favorite, sporting a colorful testimony of his father’s affection that day as he joined his older brothers in the fields. Joseph was dropped in a deep hole and sold as a slave to travelers by those who ought to have been looking out for him instead. Betrayed by those closest to him, Joseph began a life-journey that he did not choose and that he did not want.

Fast-forward to the scene described in Genesis 50 – Joseph, reunited with the family bullies, has just buried his father. Afraid that their now-powerful and influential little brother may be ready for payback, the clan begs Joseph not to retaliate. In a decidedly poignant foreshadowing of God’s redemptive plan, Joseph responds to his brothers with these words:

“It is true that you planned to do something bad to me. But really, God was planning good things. God’s plan was to use me to save the lives of many people. And that is what happened.” Genesis 50:20 (ERV)

Joseph had learned what our Savior Jesus knew as He hung, dying – a victim of brutality – bullying unto death. Jesus’ words, as recorded in Luke 23:34, are a glimpse into the truth Joseph spoke years before:

“Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

They think this will shut me up. It won’t.

They think they can get rid of me forever. They can’t.

They think they are doing this to me. They aren’t.

Let’s be clear – there is a bully at work here – but the enemy of Christ, of Joseph, even the enemy of me isn’t Chris or Clyde or jealous siblings or military powers or church leaders. These folks don’t know what they’re doing! Mistaking the power they wield as their own, these bullies think they are causing harm and inflicting pain.

The bully – the enemy of God – has been rallying troops of broken, hurting, insecure people since the Story began. Jesus knew, Joseph discovered, and I’m slowly beginning to understand that while bullies participate in the work of the enemy, they aren’t him. My battles aren’t against people any more than Jesus was put to death by the power of some nails and a couple of pieces of wood. The person calling me names and reaching out toward me with ill intent is a piece of clay, just like me. Only, I choose to be shaped by the hands of the Potter rather than worked over by a craftsman whose commitment to his workmanship ends when it’s usefulness does, too.

No one Wants What They’ve Got when it’s a bully who’s dishing it out.

Joseph didn’t. I surely didn’t. Jesus didn’t, either. He even asked God to let Him pass on sipping from that cup.

But in the hands of the Potter and the Author of our faith, backwards is the new forwards! God is planning good things, and evil intent can be appropriated and used to shape a vessel that holds Living Water in quantities generous enough to quench the thirst of the whole world. Or fill the tummies of an entire famine-inflicted nation.

So – Want What You’ve Got, bullies and all, and wait for it…

Because no matter how things look today, God’s intentions are very, very good.

Daily Questions: Who are the bullies in your life today? Are you down in the trenches – or down in the dumps – struggling with an enemy you can see with your eyes? Think again. The world thought that the enemies of Jesus got the better of Him on the cross, but the real bully was waiting for Him on the other side. The resurrection proves that Jesus fought that battle and won! Choose today to want the eternal security you’ve got in Christ; stop giving so much power (and credit) to the bullies in your life! They really don’t know what they’re doing!

Want What You’ve Got! (shhh!)

8ELEVEN-silencePeople can be so infuriating, can’t they? Even in the church.

I was once referred to as Saint Brita by a co-worker who had a penchant for gossip and tiresome chit-chat, often at the expense of those who were not present to explain or defend themselves. I guess I had established myself as someone who wasn’t keen to participate in these third-party tirades, so as I was approaching one day, he called out – Hey! Here comes the Saint!

I wasn’t really sure how to take that.

On the one hand, I was actually offended, at the very least by the tone in his voice.

On the other hand, though I am far from being saintly, I suppose I prefer that label to a variety of others he might have used.

I really can’t recall how I responded at the time, but I’m pretty sure I opted to smile and keep on moving toward bigger, better and more meaningful things. But I stewed about it later. He got under my skin.

Rules of engagement for believers are challenging at best. Sometimes it hurts much more to bite my tongue than it would to spew poison right back at those who hurt and maim with their unkind and provocative words. I tend to move relatively gracefully through such war zones only to find the wounding rhetoric looping in my head for hours – even days – afterwards. I think of all sorts of comebacks after the fact, which riles me up and distracts me from seeing what is really going on: how easily I’m hacked by an enemy for whom no method of intrusion is off-limits.

I stumbled upon these words after my “sainthood” was established, and I have literally clung to them for dear life ever since:

“Excuse yourself from any conversations that turn into foolish and uninformed debates because you know they only provoke fights. As the Lord’s slave, you shouldn’t exhaust yourself in bickering; instead, be gentle—no matter who you are dealing with—ready and able to teach, tolerant without resentment, gently instructing those who stand up against you. Besides, the time may come when God grants them a change of heart so that they can arrive at the full knowledge of truth. And if they come to their senses, they can escape the devil’s snare and walk freed from his captivity and evil bidding.”  2 Timothy 2:23-26 (The Voice)

Sometimes the best response to the one who picks a fight is silence.

So today, in the face of immaturity and insensitivity, excuse yourself. Preserve your strength. Respond gently. Teach tolerantly. Instruct without resentment. Keep your wits about you. Walk free. Want What You’ve Got.

Daily Questions: When was the last time your patience was tested by someone whom Rick Warren would call an EGR – Extra Grace Required? Were they being foolish? Mean-spirited? Opinionated? Judgmental? Speaking out of turn? Un (or Under) -informed? Critical? (Or just annoying?) Shhh! What is the quietest response you can muster under the circumstances? How can you avoid burning a bridge that might be an EGR’s most direct route to the foot of the Cross? Will you meet them there this week?

 

Want What You’ve Got! (awesome)

Big Heart of Art - 1000 Visual MashupsKid President is awesome! If you haven’t taken time to view his Pep Talk on YouTube, you really should. His laugh alone is worth waiting for the video to stream, but the message that this young prophet speaks is frankly one of the most important being spoken to our world today.

Because we’re all hungry for awesome.

We Like, re-Tweet, Share and Pin awesome. We follow, watch, comment on and get excited about viewing awesome. Be it music or teaching or video or sports, we get hooked by the awesomeness of others’ accomplishments and creativity. Yet when awesome goes viral, as it has for Kid President, our tendency is to be satisfied with observing awesome when what we ought to be doing is finding ways to be more awesome ourselves.

Kid President’s message doesn’t say: Look at how awesome I am, but rather: Look in the mirror, people! You be more awesome!

The downside of awesome is that people get hooked on your awesomeness and fail to wonder and explore and discover their own, choosing to live vicariously through you while letting their own potential and giftedness fall through the cushions on the sofa where they sit. Like the popcorn, coins and cracker crumbs harbored there, our dreams and ambitions may never again see the light of day unless we choose to Want What We’ve Got and do the difficult work of excavating the ruins of our lives for the awesomeness we were meant to display in our own, unique contexts.

Awesome is relative. Awesome means choosing to act and live fully, using every tool in your belt, every crayon in your box, every ounce of energy supplied by every calorie you eat – every single day.

My personal awesomeness is rooted in the raw material God gave me to live into, shaped by my choices and experiences and connections, and activated by the energy of God’s Spirit as He breathes life into these dry and brittle bones.

The God who created you knows just how awesome you are – inside and out! Psalm 139:13-14 celebrates this truth:

You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother. I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this.” (God’s Word Translation)

You, my friend, are amazingly and miraculously made by our God whose creativity and appreciation for variety knows no bounds! You have been endowed with everything you need to be more awesome in your own skin, and today is the day that your soul needs to be made fully aware of this truth.

Don’t want the awesome that you see in the world! Instead, want the awesome that God has placed inside of you. Want What You’ve Got!

Daily Questions: What or whom do you consider to be awesome? What is it that makes them awesome? Look up some synonyms for the word awesome (words like: surprising, eye-opening, fabulous, stunning)… which words remind you of you? Take a marker and write some of these words on your bathroom mirror this week and begin to see yourself as God does!

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Want What You’ve Got! (help)

Help

Help (Photo credit: Hil)

When I walked out of the travel agency, I felt a wave of relief and excitement about my family’s upcoming European vacation. You may wonder how one could feel anything but excitement about traveling abroad, but days earlier as I sat eagerly at the computer to create an awesome itinerary for this once-in-a-lifetime family trip, excitement quickly turned to anxiety and in a matter of minutes, I was overwhelmed.

Sometimes there are simply too many options. Even with a clear window of time and one pre-selected destination, I found myself tangled in the World Wide Web – frozen by a seemingly infinite number of possibilities.

Travel agents aren’t exactly en vogue anymore, but it was abundantly clear that what I needed most of all – in order to insure the success of this family investment – was help.

When it comes to housekeeping, I can use all of the help I can get. Every couple of weeks I write a check for the young mom who helps me keep my house clean. If you know me at all by now, you know that hanging around the house isn’t really my thing, which makes housekeeping something of a four-letter-word in my world. By seeking help in the areas that challenge me the most, I am freed up to provide help in the ways I am uniquely equipped to do. This check that I write is part of the help I can give and in turn, I am blessed by the help I receive.

Paul talks about this as being part of God’s plan (the helping-one-another-part, not necessarily related to keeping house):

Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands. This isn’t so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, you’re shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end you come out even. As it is written, nothing left over to the one with the most, nothing lacking to the one with the least.” 2 Corinthians 11b-14 (the Message)

My deficits are many and include travel planning and housecleaning, but God has given me plenty of things that others need. Your deficits are an opportunity for me to invest my plenty in ways that make us both better people and faithful stewards of what has been entrusted to us.

According to author Ann Lamott, help is one of the three essential prayers (Help, Thanks, Wow copyright 2012 by Ann Lamott, Riverside Books):

“We say, Help, this is really all too much, or I am going slowly crazy, or I can’t do this, or I can’t stop doing this, or I can’t feel anything. Or, Help, he is going to leave me, or I have no life, or I hate the one I’ve created, or I forgot to have a life, or I forgot to pay attention as it scrolled by. Or even, Help, I hate her so much, and one of my parents is dying – or will never die. Unfortunately, we haven’t even gotten to the big-ticket items yet: cancer, financial ruin, lost children, incontinence.”

On any given day, our prayers for help cover a lot of ground. As I sit here this morning, already I have asked God for help in at least a dozen situations pertaining to my life and those I love. And I believe He hears our cries for help! But here’s the rub…

God answers our prayers. Yup, that’s the rub.

God answers our prayers, but instead of zapping us with holy help in a cloud of fire and mystery and miracle, the help that comes from the Lord almost always comes through people. This messes with those of us whose pride and privacy issues serve to keep others at arm’s length.

We post no trespassing signs around our lives and pray that God would help us with our needs… And then we wonder what’s taking Him so long.

What’s wrong with this picture? Today some of us need to Want What We’ve Got – which may very well be a need for help. Until we are willing to receive God’s help through people, or to be God’s help to people, we won’t be positioned to receive the answers to our prayers that God is eager and ready to give.

Daily Questions: Have you been crying Help and then waiting for lightning to strike? How might God be trying to answer your prayers through the people around you? Are you willing to let your need be known so that God can rally His troops? If you are equipped to be the answer to someone’s prayers, are you paying attention to the needs of those around you? Will you act to meet those needs when God calls?

Want What You’ve Got! (weekend)

Messy RoomFloor.

I’m pretty sure that my son’s room has one, its just that I can’t remember what it looks like (it’s been so long since I’ve seen it).

Guess what he’s going to be doing this weekend?!

Looking around at the piles of clothing, books, sporting goods and teenage-toys strewn across his alleged floorboards, it’s pretty clear to me that our children are doing everything they can to get what they want in this permissive society we live in… and they’re learning from the masters. We are intentional about teaching our kids to use their manners, show respect for others and to do their best in school (aren’t we?), yet we continue to add to the illusion that more is more and enough is actually a four-letter word. We do this – I do this – by example.

Maybe your room is clean and you won’t need to spend most of Saturday and a few hours on Sunday to unearth your bed (actually, that’s not a problem for my son – his loft bed is the only thing you can see right now – only getting to the stairs requires tornado insurance), but maybe there are closets or shelves or piles in your home that are sending confusing messages to those who live with you or will visit you this weekend.

Look around your home today – do you Want What You’ve Got? On this third weekend of our Lenten adventure, we’re beginning to realize that there is always another angle to consider when it comes to faithful living. It’s not all about me for the believer in Jesus who longs for God’s Kingdom Come!

“We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.” (1 Corinthians 10:24 MSG)

If this is true, then our example is foremost in showing others a better way to live. Our kids (spouses, parents, grandchildren) won’t necessarily Want What They’ve Got unless we do. This weekend, let’s take action! Let’s show them how.

Daily Questions: Where does your excess show up around your home? Do others see it? Start with the areas that are most obvious to others and ask yourself what messages you are sending through your stuff. Is there something you need to do in an effort to help others live well, by your example? Maybe it’s been a long time since someone told you to clean your room?

 

Want What You’ve Got! (weekend)

Much of our Want What You’ve Got focus this week has been on our history. Stories from our life-experiences, decisions made (both wise and questionable), trials and suffering, control issues and redemption…

No matter how you tell it, your story is uniquely your own.

I sat across the table from my best high school friend – a rare meal shared with one of my favorite people of all time. She was telling me a recent family story when she mentioned her bedroom at home – a place I’ve not thought about for more than 20 years. Immediately my senses were flooded with memories of sleepovers and birds singing and sunlight flooding through her second story window. Mental pictures of her big, sweet Saint Bernard lying in the yard, the sound of her piano as it floated through the old wooden ranchhouse, the feel of my hands – dirty from working in her mother’s garden…

I couldn’t help but smile as the pages of our friendship’s history were turned through the story she was telling because in a way, it was my story, too.

This weekend, seek out a quiet place in your home and carve some room into your schedule to simply remember. Close your eyes and open your senses to the memories of people, places, scents, sounds and sensations that have made you who you are today.

As you remember, consider how you might re-connect with your history as your future unfolds. So often we are so eager to move forward into the next thing that we blast through our past without fully absorbing the rich ointment of blessing to be found there.

This weekend, take time to remember and respond to the stories your life could be telling. Who knows how far this simple exercise could take you toward Wanting What You’ve Got today?

Want What You’ve Got! (tears)

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I sat in my parked car on the driveway the other day with the cell phone held tight against my ear. On the other end was one of the most dear and gracious women I know, and when her tears began to flow, so did mine. It hurts to let go of our loved ones – to be the one left behind.

Later in the day, as I was loading up the car to make an after-school carpool run, I spotted my next door neighbor in his garage. I haven’t seen him outside for weeks – he’s quite ill and his daughter has moved in to care for him. I stopped to chat and couldn’t help but notice how tired and gaunt his face had become. He told me about the way his condition drains every ounce of energy. He said that most of the time he just wants to rest – to fall asleep and never wake up. His words made me sad and I remembered the tear-stained face of his daughter as she returned from a walk last week. It hurts to watch our loved ones suffer without a way to really ease their pain.

Family drama, broken relationships, fences in dire need of mending, lonely tears of hopelessness which threaten to end a life… From our jail cells to our hospital beds, it hurts to be a part of this desperately broken world.

Are we to want the tears, too? Because I’m pretty sure none of us can really Want What We’ve Got when what we’ve got is so far from the way we want things to be.

Tears betray our true condition. The Psalmist’s words resonate with us in the midst of our trials:

“I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed has been floating forty days and nights on the flood of my tears. My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears. The sockets of my eyes are black holes; nearly blind, I squint and grope.” (Psalm 6:6, 7 MSG)

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is filled with the desperate cries of our forefathers and mothers. No one wants to be lost, hurt, lonely, wounded, left for dead, homeless or abandoned, yet these are the days of our lives. If we believe in a good God and yet suffer calamity along with those who have no faith, why in the world should we Want What We’ve Got if what we’ve got only leads us to rivers of tears?

I have only one answer today, and you’re probably not going to like it. It may not be enough to satisfy your need to understand your suffering. I really wish there was more I could say… but the common denominator among the most tear-filled passages of scripture is that, while squinting and groping, we do the only thing we can do while gasping for air and battling to stay afloat… we cry out to God.

If tears are what you’ve got today, you have something to offer to the God who collects every tear in His bottle (Psalm 56:8) and records every pain in His book. Like it or not, our tears draw us toward God, and this may be the only way through the rainy season you find yourself in.

So scream out loud, shake your fists, cry your tears of anger and confusion! The God who longs for you to look His way is going to be there to meet you when you turn, and He can take whatever you can dish out in your struggle to Want What You’ve Got.

Daily Questions: What kinds of tears are you crying today – tears of disappointment? Anger? Frustration? Betrayal? Loss? If the only good thing about tears is that they position us to connect with the God who loves us, are you willing to reach past the hurt to the Healer? Read through the Psalms for proof that God is close to the brokenhearted (start with Psalm 34 & 42).

Welcome to “Life in the Zone!”

We are ALL a work-in-progress! Whether you feel like someone who is “under construction,” “being remodeled,” or “a renovation project,” each one of us is a piece of work (isn’t that the truth)! God’s workmanship, to be precise (Ephesians 2:10).

Having just spent an amazing retreat weekend with the lovely women of Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church, perhaps a picture is actually worth a thousand words…

May your own Life in the Zone be filled with blessings this week and always!

 

Interested in bringing a Pink Shoes Ministries women’s retreat to your church? Contact Brita for details: brita@pinkshoesministries.me

 

Keeping the World at Arm’s Length

It’s good to get away by yourself now and then, if only to remember why you chose the life you live.

From my chair under the pines I had a bird’s-eye view of Willow Creek as it gently flowed over smooth rocks into a tiny pond beyond an outcropping of granite. A bench sat empty at water’s edge, save for the sole man and his Golden who visited the spot once – two days ago.

Wild-looking, pointy-eared squirrels darted from tree to tree and across the large rocks between which the water flowed, along with something like a large rodent – which I was more than happy to observe from a distance.

A chorus of birds sang overhead, some of which I can say sounded less bird-like than the sounds on my son’s electronic keyboard at home – who knew those sounds actually originated in nature?

A gentle breeze played with my hair, which tickled my face while I sat smelling grass and moist soil and breathing deeply out and in and out again. I closed my eyes and wondered what it would be like to stay right here, under my blanket on this canvas chair in the woods, where the only sound of human life was the distant hum of a jet in transit.

The life of a hermit has its appeal, where the only drama in the past three days was caused by the mouse who got into my food bag overnight. An easy routine of eating, sleeping, writing, praying could make for a peaceful “normal” out here, where keeping the world at arm’s length is much, much simpler to do.

No TV. No internet. Poor cell coverage. Distant neighbors.

No coffee with friends. No spur of the moment conversations. No shared laughter – or tears. No one but bugs and cobwebs and God to hear me when I open my mouth to speak.

Part of me argues: What a perfect scenario for a world-weary woman who is pulled this way and that from the moment the alarm signals morning! But the part of me whose bags are already packed and ready to load into the waiting car says, “Nah!”

 

Hair Gel in the Holy Water

Last week I sat across a (very short) table in the church nursery from a mother and her son. As the staff member who is tasked with preparing families for baptism, this meeting was unique by virtue of the child’s age: Justus is eleven.

Of course, for many of you, this is not unexpected; but for those who worship in denominational churches like mine – you understand. Most of the time, when the baptismal waters part in our congregations, the candidate for baptism is an infant – presented by faithful parents with a future Confirmation class in mind. Sitting with me at the table, however, was a mischievous middle-schooler with an infectious enthusiasm for life and a smile that cannot easily be described but which most certainly takes place not at the lips, but at the cellular level.

Our “splash class” proceeded as you might expect, with myself and mom doing most of the talking while Justus’ eyes danced with anticipation. We talked about what to expect at the baptism. We discussed our understanding of what “happens” in the water, when the Spirit of God hovers over the face of the deep and resurrection-life springs forth. We wondered out loud about how much of this baptism was a profession of faith by Justus in God, and how much was God’s own pronouncement that Justus belongs to Him.

I described the upcoming event in detail so as to dispel any possible trepidation on the part of either mother or son, but the look Justus gave me when I described how the water would be splashed onto his head made it abundantly clear that this guy wasn’t nervous about baptism day; instead, he seemed ready to take on some water, and something told me that Justus had never met a puddle or swimming pool he didn’t like.

Sunday came, prayers were offered, and water was poured over Justus’ bowed head in triplicate, “in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.” A candle was lit, a faith chest presented, and the family of God cheered him on.

After the service, I ran into Justus, whose grin betrayed his feelings about the day. Even as I write this now, I’m not sure what I expected to hear when I told him what a great morning it had been. “Yeah,” he chuckled easily, as he reached up with one hand to pat the hair on the top of his head, “and I got hair gel in the holy water!” He was giggling (and so was I) as he turned toward his friends and walked away.

Hair gel in the holy water.

Isn’t it just like God to meet us where we are? For Justus on his baptism day, a holy transaction took place in the water; something human met Someone holy in the process, leaving a swirling residue as proof in the baptismal font. God made His mark on Justus, and the hair gel in the holy water goes to show that God is ready to deal with the consequences of calling imperfect, mischievous, in-progress people to life in the community of His Son; He can handle the messes we make. In fact, He expects them.

Of course, Justus may not have realized all of this at the time, but that doesn’t make it any less so – or any less perfectly beautiful.