Of Blessings, Rewards & Just Plain Luck

God has been really good to us this year. Our business has grown 125%. We are so blessed!

If you are a part of the Christian culture, you’ve surely heard, or even said, something in the same vein as this. On the surface it sounds like a very faith-filled, believing, Christian thing to say. But is it really Christ-like? Does the framework of the thing hold water in light of the gospel?

Blessed

Let’s say you’re a farmer, your crops got the ideal amount of rain this year and your coffers are full. What a blessing! On the flip-side of your blessing, the hot shot firefighter has been out of work this summer.

Your snow removal business did very well because of the record snowfall. What a blessing! Just so happens there were also a record number of traffic deaths due to white-out conditions on the roads.

You feel thirsty so turn on the faucet and get yourself a glass of drinkable water. What a blessing! But yet 790 million other people walk to the river 5 miles from their dwelling and fetch a container of contaminated water.

Was the blessing granted to you because God loved you more? Did you serve Him better? Or did you trust Him more? Or did you work hard to create the change that led to the reward you had coming? And if you did work hard, what caused you to do that? Were you brought up in a home that encouraged hard work? Or maybe you were brought up in a much different environment and you overcame. Was your brain wired in such a way as to allow you to overcome from the start? Did God orchestrate your ancestral line for generations past in order to create a mind that works like yours which led you to make those particular choices that brought about your “blessing”? Or were you just damn lucky?

I have a growing distaste for the “blessed” motif in Christianity. I know it’s common in home decorating, clothing, and sermons. But inherent in the “blessed” is some level of “more than others”.  Or “because of who I am or what I’ve done for God”.

This world is not fair. People are not equal. We are for certain of equal value, but we are not equal. As much as we might like to think we all have equal opportunity, we really don’t. The person brought up with abuse does not have equal opportunity as those brought up in a nurturing home. The person with a chemical imbalance does not have an equal likelihood of achieving satisfying relationships as those who have a healthy balance of neurotransmitters and receptors. The person born in an oppressed country does not have the same opportunity as one born in a free country.

Taking these inequalities and saying that the positive things in our lives are the result of our being “blessed” by God puts inequality of all kinds squarely into God’s hands and makes it His doing. I don’t think that’s what He’s about. It’s inconsistent with the basic essence of the gospel message.

I think many of us are just damn lucky ~

for which we can be grateful and from which we can practice generosity.

Can we leave it at that?

25 Things

25

  1. I’m finding joy, freedom and peace in discovering who I am in Christ and allowing God to grow me rather than trying hard to be the person I think I should be or must be.
  2. The hands-down, single most redefining process in my life has been that of getting a tiny grasp on righteousness by faith. The situations God has been able to use to take me down this path defy my logic.
  3. As I increasingly embrace righteousness by faith, I am more able to allow me to be me, God to be God, and you to be you. It’s called boundaries.
  4. Simple pleasures for me would be a drive in the country, a book and a hammock, an iced coffee drink, a campfire, wandering through an art gallery, or a walk in the woods.
  5. I have a hard time turning my brain off at the end of the day if there is an unsolved puzzle buzzing around in it.
  6. Life is a bunch of unsolved puzzles.
  7. Since becoming single, I’m more relaxed around married men than single men.  Married men create no puzzle.
  8. My ideal set of vehicles would be a big ol’ pickup and a sleek, classy convertible.
  9. I’ve lived in 5 states and don’t know where to call home. I’m most emotionally attached to WY but there is no logical reason for me to call it home.
  10. I’m not very motivated by the quest for money or impressed with social position. Ironic for a doctor, but true.
  11. I more often tackle my fears and hurts than I flee from them ~ after I get done denying they exist.
  12. I believe most everyone is doing the best they can in life. But sometimes their best is detrimental to my well-being and their having good intentions doesn’t necessarily make a thing good for me. I believe God can read hearts and will honor their good intentions. He offers me the same grace.
  13. I still experience growing pains. Boy howdy!
  14. I’m finding the hardest part of parenting is the stopping part.
  15. Life is full of ironies. The hardest things are generally the most rewarding. Recognizing my weaknesses is a strength. Letting go allows me to fully attain.  My spiritual growth has resulted in my life looking less traditionally spiritual. Ironic.
  16. I like playing with boy toys (you know… guns, ATV’s, 4WD’s, tools… ~ sheesh ~ ).
  17. It never ceases to amaze me how my kids can be so much like me sometimes and the spitting image of their dad at other times.
  18. I’ve always wanted to explore Alaska. Wild places call me.
  19. My ideal house would be a cabin in the mountains or woods with a lake nearby.
  20. I enjoy the arts.
  21. My best memories from childhood include fishing and camping with my family.
  22. A writing project will distract me from my work most any day ~ like today.
  23. I’m grateful for my past ~ as tough and messed up as it’s been at times ~ because it’s brought me to where I am.  It’s been worth it.
  24.  I’ve always been sincere. But many times I’ve been sincerely wrong.
  25. I used to think I could and should do great things for God. Now I understand that it’s God who does great things for me – most of which are not seen and can’t be touched with your hand. The best I can do for Him is simply share what He’s doing in my life so others might choose to get to know Him for themselves.

From Critical to Compassionate: 10 Ways to be Kinder to Yourself and Others

Critical: Better late than never.

Compassionate: Better now than never.

Critical: That was stupid of me.

Compassionate: I learned something from that experience.

Critical: Stop telling me what to do. 

Compassionate: It will be a beautiful thing when you trust God to direct my life.

Critical: That’s crazy! How did you ever come up with that?

Compassionate: You have a unique perspective.

Critical: You’re wrong!

Compassionate: Hmm. Interesting. I don’t see it that way, but you may be right.

Critical: I’m really dumb.  

Compassionate: I’m a human being with a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses.

Critical: You’re kidding me! She did that?!

Compassionate: She must be going through a rough time right now.

Critical: I already said what I thought. I can’t change my mind now.

Compassionate: I am on a journey of growth. I see things differently than I did before.

Critical: I can’t face those people again after what I did.

Compassionate: Seeing them reminds me I’m glad I can make healthier choices.

Critical: I can’t do that.

Compassionate: I may not have a natural talent, but with practice I’ll probably get better at that.

Wrapping it up in Pretty Paper

The young man was angry. His life had not gone well. He had been cheated of so much that he truly needed as a child. And now as a young adult his life was spiraling out of control. Disappointed and dissatisfied, he began hanging out at the bar on his way home from his minimum-wage job, first occasionally, then more frequently and for longer periods of time. Soon his bar-mates were his closest friends. He was funny there. They liked him.  He found acceptance, but more than that, he found relief. He could forget about his troubles for as long as he was there. Reality was left at the door.

A friend outside of the bar began to notice the change in him – his lack of personal hygiene, his weight gain, and his lack of concern for being able to provide for himself. His friend was concerned and confronted him one day. His friend suggested that the young man get on a community sports team, find more uplifting friends, and get out of the bar rut. The young man saw the value in his friend’s words and did just that. He committed himself as much to the sports as he had to the bar.  With every smack of the ball he attached some of his anger. He became physically fit and attractive. Soon he was the best ball player in town. He was a hero on the field. He was valued for his skills. His team liked him. He found acceptance, but more than that, he found relief. He could forget about his troubles for as long as he was playing. Reality was left off the field.

“The function of an addiction is to remove intolerable reality.” (Pia Mellody)  We, in the human race, find some creative ways to package our addictions in order to make us feel better about ourselves and our addictions. One interesting addiction I’ve come across recently is being called “Orthorexia”.  Wikipedia has this to say about it:

Orthorexia nervosa[pronunciation?] (also known as orthorexia) is a proposed eating disorder or mental disorder[1] characterized by an extreme or excessive preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy.[2][3] The term orthorexia derives from the Greekορθο- (ortho, “right” or “correct”), and όρεξις (orexis, “appetite”), literally meaning ‘correct appetite’, but in practice meaning ‘correct diet’.

That’s quite a paradigm shift. The person who looks and acts the healthiest may in all actuality be very sick.

The point of this blog post is not to discourage fitness or healthy eating. They have their place. However, I find it good to remind myself that anything can become my god. Anything can become my idol. And anything that distracts me from getting to know Jesus personally on a daily basis isn’t worth keeping.  C.S. Lewis points out in the Screwtape Letters that the devil doesn’t really mind how he captures our attention away from God. If being preoccupied with church service is what distracts you or me from a relationship, that’s just fine with him. If I spend my time studying about and fretting over the clever ploys satan may use to trap me rather than spending my time learning about who God is and how He’s already freed me ~ the devil doesn’t mind. It all works the same. In fact, sometimes the “good” distractions are doubly effective.

Christmas-Wrap-123rf

 

The pretty wrapping paper is deceiving. 

My Two Cents

Rick-Warren-Quote-Unlovely-People

I disagree. 

I admire Rick Warren’s work and appreciate his ministry more than the typical person on the street. But this particular quote seems surprisingly off the mark to me.  Perhaps I’m taking the concept further than it was intended, or perhaps the saying is more of a sound bite than a reliable dogma. Here’s how it looks played out to the extreme:

God teaches you to forgive by causing your spouse to have an affair. Really?

God teaches you patience by causing your date to be an hour late. Really?

God teaches you tolerance by causing your best friend to emotionally abuse you. Really?

The application of that principle in specific situations where I decide specifically what God is trying to teach is painting a really ugly picture of God. Does God orchestrate tragedy in my life because I’m a bad person and need to learn something? Or does the rain fall on the good and the bad?

Let’s see how it looks when the logic is reversed.

If I was already more forgiving, nothing would happen in my life that would require me to forgive.  Really?

If I was already more patient, I would never have to wait. Really?

If I was already more loving, there would be no unlovely people around me. Really?

Do the things that happen to me and around me occur because of me? Looking at it this way give me a whole bunch of control. It is self-centered. It encourages perfectionism in my thinking because, if I believe the logic, then I must also believe that if I was just a better person I would be able to control the circumstances and people around me. When unlovely things continue to happen to and around me, the natural conclusion is that I am a bad person – I didn’t get my act together well enough. This then produces self-loathing, anger, frustration, guilt and shame. It is a codependent way of thinking that enmeshes me with the people in my life.

Here’s what I think:

God teaches us to love by loving us. 

There are unlovely people in my life because I live in a war zone where there is a battle going on between good and evil. I am not in control of the other people in my life. I am simply traveling beside them and have experiences as a result of that shared journey. Sometimes I am the unlovely person. Sometimes other people who I love are the unlovely people. And always God is so amazingly good that He is able to create beauty where the enemy planned destruction.

Lessons from Pottery Class Number 2

1. Take as much time as is required during the first class getting the clay perfectly centered before making anything out of it. (I did not.)

2. If the clay was not centered in the first class, it will not be centered during the trimming process. (Mine was not.)

3. If the clay piece is centered, it can be shaped in amazing ways during the wheel trimming process. (I cannot demonstrate this.)

4. Trying to trim a piece that wasn’t centered to begin with and therefore is not centered while trimming, causes major problems that will require a patch. (My pieces had major problems.)

5. Trimming is detail work. (I am not detail oriented.)

6. A plain piece before trimming can become something very ornate during the trimming process. (This was demonstrated to me by others.)

7. Write your initials on the bottom of your work the first week. (I did not – and a bowl is a bowl is a bowl.)

8. If it’s not awesome, save yourself the hassle of trimming and just pitch the off-centered clay piece into the reclaim can. (I did not.)

9. You can always write someone else’s initials on the bottom of your pottery… (I thought about it.)

10. I wonder if my mom will still smile and tell me how lovely it is when I give her a bowl that looks like a 10-year-old made it. (I’ll probably try it.)

trimming-clay-courtesy-of-potteryabout

Top 10 Lessons from my First Pottery Class

1. The potter gets messy.

2. To get the clay centered, the potter’s hands need to stay as steady as possible with minimal force applied to the clay, and the wheel should be turning fairly slow. The clay will center much faster than if pressured.

3.Hydroplaning is a good thing when throwing clay.

4. When trying to take the piece off the wheel, dry clay is good or a lot of water on the wheel is good. Middle-of-the-road tacky is bad.

5. Sometimes it’s just best to start over.

6. The clay from the piece that flops actually gets reclaimed and used later.

7. Throwing clay works a lot of muscles.

8. Pottery throwing is good, clean fun despite its messiness.

9. An art class is a nice place to meet interesting people.

10. It’s easier to clean up if you wash your hands first.

wheel throwing

(11. This is NOT a picture of me nor my work from my first class….)

The “White Man’s” Doctor

I heard an interesting story from a black man yesterday. I call him a black man, because that’s what he calls himself. He’s 85 years old. He grew up in an orphanage. When he was 11 years old a boiler exploded, splashing his legs and face with scalding water. Doctors’ offices were segregated at the time. He was seen by the “black people’s” doctor and was told he would probably go blind. That evening the “black” doctor was talking with some of his friends about the sad case of the 11 year old boy he’d seen that day. One of the friends who heard the story was a “white man’s” doctor. He was sure he could help the boy and requested that his friend send the young boy to his clinic. After a year of frequent treatments, the boy’s sight was restored. He sees well to this day, and remains forever grateful for the assistance he received from someone who was willing to step outside of society’s rules to help someone in need.  May our compassion for humanity never be hampered by our culture.

Pithy Proverbs

“Pithy”?!  “Pithy Proverbs” is what the man said. If I’d read his name, seen his face, written his name, then repeated it back a few times, I could tell you what his name was. But alas, it was just an interview on the radio with an apparently well-studied man and author on the subject of Christian family life, and I can’t remember his name. But his comment caught me off guard. Weren’t Proverbs guidelines for life? Weren’t they promises? Weren’t they meant to define a Christian? For Pete’s sake, there’s a whole industry and list of expectations for what a Christian woman should look and act like based on Proverbs 31. And he’s calling them pithy? Somehow that threatened their importance in my mind.

pithy 

pithy phrase or statement is brief but full of substance and meaning. Proverbs and sayings are pithy; newspaper columnists givepithy advice.

The root of this word is pith, which refers to the spongy tissue in plant stems, or the white part under the skin of citrus fruits. Pith is also used figuratively to refer to the essential part of something: They finally got to the pith of the discussion. Pith descends from Middle English, from Old English pitha “the pith of plants.” In the adjective pithy, the suffix –y means “characterized by.”

Well, ok, maybe “pithy” carried a negative connotation to me and applying it to the Proverbs really didn’t diminish their worth. However, the speaker gave an example of how those pithy directives in Proverbs can actually contradict each other. I was surprised, once again, to realize these apparently contradictory words of advice directly follow each other in Proverbs 26.

4 When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are. 5 When arguing with fools, be sure to answer their foolish arguments, or they will become wise in their own estimation.

So… is it wise to respond to foolish arguments or not? Hmm… I’m not sure. Maybe it’s one of those things that isn’t “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”  – but is one of those situations in this crazy life where there really isn’t a one-way-fits-all answer. There are consequences (and it would appear that neither of them is ideal) for either direction of action we choose.

 proverbs1

Perhaps the words of Proverbs are merely heavenly-inspired education. Maybe Proverbs wasn’t written to tell me how I have to live. Maybe they aren’t intended to be cut and dry promises of God’s blessings if I just act right. Maybe it was written to give wise advice on the common consequences of choices in various tough situations. Maybe following it has nothing to do with securing nor maintaining my salvation. But maybe it has a whole lot to do with increasing the odds of living a peaceful, whole-hearted life as I walk through these often less-than-ideal circumstances I find myself in every day.

Invalidating Words of Kindness

“You are beautiful inside and out.”
“You are the best provider.”
“You are the most loving woman.”
“You are the model of a parent.”
“You are _____.” (Fill in the blank with whatever positive message you’d like to hear.)
 

This variety of “kind” statements have always left me a little on-edge and uneasy but I’ve been totally uncertain as to why.  Sometimes I’ve felt the need to say similar comments to others thinking I would validate them, but after the comments were spoken they never really seemed as satisfying as I’d imagined they would be.

For a long time now I’ve understood the dangers of “You are (insert negative message)” comments. When said to children, the children tend to believe the statement which eats at their self-esteem. When said to other adults, it turns the “discussion” into a squabble or bitter fight. No productive conversation can be expected to follow a “You are mean” comment.  The recommended communication method would go something more like: “When you eat my piece of pie, I feel cheated, angry, and unloved. I would prefer that you at least ask me if I want the pie before you just take it.”  It’s called XYZ. That approach is obviously less condemning and more focused on problem solving. But what is so wrong with saying “You are wonderful”? How can those “kind” words be invalidating?

This past week I had an “ah-ha” moment with my pastoral counselor I’d like to share with you. See if you agree. These “kind” comments are unsettling because the listener knows they are not true.  In our heart of hearts we know we are not always beautiful, the most loving, thoughtful or otherwise superb individual. If we are honest people, we realize we all mess up, have bad days, do stupid things and at times have zits in the middle of our foreheads. So comments like that set us up for a tenuous, superficial relationship.  Subconsciously we get the message: “I better be careful not to show them who I really am or they will learn it isn’t true and might not accept me.”  Those comments are not filled with acceptance and belonging. Additionally, they make life a competition. It immediately puts the receiver into “compare” mode, comparing their lives, looks, qualities, talents with other people. Are they really as great as the other person says they are? Or is there someone better and more deserving?

Consider this: What happens if the girl who has repeatedly been told she is “beautiful” gets in a car accident and her face is deformed? What happens if the “good provider” becomes ill and can’t work?  What happens if the “best parent ever” has a child who becomes a delinquent? Those comments that were said to build the person up, now become their destruction. Their security in the relationship is gone. Their self-esteem and self-worth was built on things they did not have total control over. Is that in reality very kind? Is it validating? Or invalidating?

How much better to say: “You really worked hard on learning that new song. I’m proud of you.”  “I love the way you did your hair today.” “That dress is flattering on you.” “I see that you make it a priority to spend time with your kids. I think that’s great.” “I saw you open the door for that person. That was a nice thing for you to do.”  Instead of praising the person, praise the positive character traits you see.  When combined with honest and loving use of the XYZ method, the relationship can be real, vulnerable and deep. And how about if we talk to our inner selves with the same respect and compassion?  I’m still striving toward the goal myself.

What say you?