Words

words

 

God is faithful.

God keeps His promises.

God is good.

All true statements.  All statements we who follow Jesus have likely used.  All statements I love.

Yet, isn’t it true that the times we are most likely to use these statements are the times when life is going great? I’ll admit that some of these may be used after a difficult season, but they are still most often used once that season is over.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with praising God for good seasons or answered prayers, but I do wonder what our silence in difficult seasons says about our faith.

Social media displays this problem well.  When a person posts, “Closed on our house today, God is good!” What does that mean for the person that keeps losing houses? Or when someone says, “I said ‘yes!’ God keeps His promises!” What does that mean for the person that never marries? Does God not keep His promises to that person? Or the new dad posting, “Healthy mom and baby! God is faithful!” What does that say about God’s faithfulness for the barren? Or the parents of a special needs baby? Or a those devastated by stillbirth? My intent is not to lessen the celebration of each of these milestones or God’s gifts.  No doubt each of the scenarios I described did include God working miraculously.  The problem is these posts sound conditional, like God’s faithfulness, integrity, and goodness are dependent on events.  I too have posted “God is good” after posts and I would encourage others to continue praising Him in whatever way possible, but I wonder if I would share God’s goodness during a not-so-good time.  It may sound sarcastic to say, “Another year without a baby, God is good.” Or “Going to chemo, God keeps His promises,” but doesn’t there have to be a way to more authentically proclaim God’s unconditional love?

I would caution anyone about sharing or posting any hurt that is too fresh, but I also wonder if the messages we send (on social media, in person, or however else) might unintentionally portray a theme inconsistent with the God of the Bible, the One we seek to represent.

Here are a couple of questions that might help us to consider before we speak (feel free to interchange “these words” for “this story” or “this picture” or “this phrase”):

  • What do these words teach about God?
  • How do these words mix with what I’ve said/portrayed about God previously?
  • Do these words reflect Christ’s sacrificial love to my audience?

I hope my words, written and spoken, align with these questions most of the time.  Unfortunately, I know they don’t always.  In the spirit of repentance, first, I sincerely apologize for any of those words that don’t reflect God’s unconditional love.  I know there have been many times I’ve written a post, shared a picture, or told a story that was solely to boast on my accomplishments, gain attention, or just look good. Sadly, I’m sure some of those have even included a phrase like “God is faithful.”  I hope in the future I’ll be more mindful about sharing both praises and hurts, consistently pointing to God’s character with a spirit of humility and sensitivity.

After apologizing, I’d also like to display true repentance by turning from my words immediately.  I certainly don’t want everyone reading this blog post to go off and post or talk about only negative things, or feel like they’re walking on eggshells when sharing something positive.  Words are powerful and I hope this post inspires them to be used well.  Here’s a piece of my life that isn’t so great and an example of God’s unconditional love that I hope serves as an example of what I mean: Not too long ago, I was told I have to take another class before beginning my career.  You know, the one I’ve been working toward forever.  After celebrating finally finishing school less than a year ago, I now find myself on the brink of another semester, more fees, more tuition, more studying…and, worst of all, without a job.  You see, the news of taking another class quickly resulted in losing my job.  After all, you can’t work somewhere when you are no longer qualified to do the work.  The worst part of that is how much I enjoyed my job and how I hardly even dared to hope to work somewhere like the place I did.  Yet, God truly is the same today that He was the day I was offered that job.  God’s love is felt and His light is shinning.  The loss hurts and the wait stinks, but truly…

God is faithful.

God keeps His promises.

God is good.

 

Safe Place

safe-place

Where do you feel safe?

An important part of therapy is creating a safe place for a client—in and out of session.  In session, it’s important that a client feels safe.  Out of session, it’s important that a client feels safe.  Literally, a client needs a safe place to talk, cry, feel, and live.  Figuratively, a client may also need a safe place to “go” emotionally.  This safe place may be imagining a beach when something hard from counseling tries to pop back up between sessions, or a peaceful log cabin when day-to-day stresses are seem to be too much to handle.

I’ve used this technique and intend to use it again.  I truly believe safety is a key to healing.  But I also think safety is a concept that’s really popular in our humanistic world today, and can be idolized.  Contrary to this ideal, we aren’t always going to be safe.  Don’t get me wrong, I want people to be safe.  I encourage safety.  I value safety.  I teach safety.  I think part of my life’s work is/will be advocating safety.  I think there is great wisdom in safety.  After all, safety is preventative and restorative.  I just think this emphasis can fall short when we’re hit with a cancer diagnosis, job loss, or a natural disaster.

I think this goes back to age-old questions like, “why did God allow ______?” or “where was God when ______?” Maybe you’ve asked these questions yourself.  I have, many times.  As an aspiring therapist, it seems like these questions come up more and more—for me and those God has called me to serve.    Atrocities in our world seem inconsistent with the character of God.  In Millard J. Erickson’s third edition of Christian Theology, he wisely refers to this issue as “Evil and God’s World: A Special Problem.” Evil, like feeling unsafe, in God’s world does present a special problem, doesn’t it?

Disclaimer: if you’re hoping I’ll answer these questions in this post, you might as well stop reading.  I have no intention of even trying to touch either question.  I would, however, like to share a thought I had while singing about God’s intercession one Sunday in church.  To be honest, I don’t even remember what song it was, but I do remember feeling overwhelmed by God’s willingness to take the worst of everything I’ve done.  While I was meditating on God’s intercession, it made me wonder if God experiences the worst hurts of sin.  Yes, God takes the worst result of sin from those that profess Him as Lord (death), but I wonder if God also experiences our hurts with us.  Not just with us in the Hebrews 4:15 (been there, done that) way or the 1 Corinthians 6:19 (the Holy Spirit is literally in us) way, but somehow in an experiencing the pain for us kind of way.  In other words, I wonder if He wipes us clean of just our sin (which is a huge deal, please don’t hear me lessen that) or if He also takes some of the burden of the sins against us.  Romans 8:26 makes me think He intercedes for us with more than freedom from death, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words” (ESV).  That is powerful intercession! It makes me think that God is experiencing our hurts with us and somehow knows them more intimately than we do.

I wonder if God hurts more than we do when we hurt.  Not the cliché “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” pre-spanking kind of hurt, I wonder if God actually feels the pain we’re experiencing worse than we do.  I wonder if God somehow feels the pangs of hunger worse than a child without food.  I wonder if God somehow aches more than the person plagued with chronic pain.  I wonder if God somehow feels more agony than a grieving widow.  I certainly don’t mean God experiences emotions like we do.  I’d actually argue quite the opposite: that we, as image bearers, experience emotions like Him, just in a lesser, more sin-skewed way.  I also don’t mean that God’s emotions change or are fickle like our emotions are.  The Bible is clear that He is steady and unchanging, our Rock (Psalm 89:26).  I’m not even sure God feels physical pain apart from the pain Christ experienced on earth, but I am confident that God feels empathy for His children that we cannot begin to understand.

As I was thinking about this, the illustration that came to mind is from the 2004 Pixar movie, The Incredibles.  In that movie, one of the characters has the power to create a protective forcefield over herself and any object or person near her.  Violet, this forcefield-producing teenager, manages to protect her family on numerous occasions using her powers.  Yet, during each forcefield save, Violet’s family is always hovering and terrified throughout the experience.  Violet, however, is bravely standing and working to keep her family from harm.  After each experience, the whole family is relieved, while Violet is both relieved and exhausted.  While God doesn’t always save us wholly from harm like Violet did, I wonder if He sometimes stands and takes the brunt of it, while we cower and endure a milder version of the pain.  The experience may still be excruciating and awful for us (it may even kill us), but it somehow seems safer considering God overseeing and enduring a greater version of it.

My thoughts about God and my illustration aren’t perfect.  I haven’t examined every implication of either assertion or comparison (though I did study many).  I also know that many people have experienced more pain than I can imagine.  Regardless of the imperfections of my theology or the naïveté of my experiences, I hope that these thoughts help you more deeply experience the truth of God’s love despite the reality of sin and hurt.  Following God may not always be safe, but His love produces unrivalled security.

 

Old Dog, New Tricks

new-tricks

It’s honestly kind of amazing that one of my blog categories isn’t “Quigley,” “dogs,” or something similar.  As much as my speech, camera roll, and social media are consumed by my ancient dog, I don’t think he’s had nearly enough time on my blog.

This past weekend earned him a post.

Let me reiterate that Quigley is ancient.  He’ll be fifteen in February.  According to the mystery person that said a dog manages to pack seven years into every one human year, that means my dog is almost 105.  One hundred and five years old.  When I think of 105, I think of someone living out their last days in a wheelchair or at least a walker.  I think of little energy and a lot of medicine.  I think of calm.  Yet, when I think of Quigley I think of exactly the opposite.  Sure, he sleeps most of the time, gets specially made medicine, smells horrible, has more moles than I can count, and is very stiff when he walks, but he’s still not calm.  This weekend proved it.

When Quigley was a puppy, we had the brilliant idea to train him to “drop it” when he stole an item like a shoe, slice of pizza, pillow, or $100 (yes, that actually happened).  This plan worked wonderfully while he was a puppy.  It saved us from replacing countless flip flops (though my mom still replaced her fair share).  The problem was when he got older and really didn’t care about eating the items, he thought this was just a fun game.  He’d go into someone’s room, steal a shoe (or whatever looked fun), run into the kitchen, and get a cookie when he promptly dropped the item after the command.  I’m sad to say that my fifteen year old dog still does this.

Recently, he amped-up the game.  Each night when everyone is winding down, Quigley decides it’s time to start his stealing game.  He’ll steal items over and over until his attention-seeking is satisfied, running with two bad knees throughout the house just to get a cookie or someone to chase him.  (And, yes, it works every time…who is training who?)

This weekend my mom and I were cooking when Quigley decided it was time to start his game.  He started his game with a pair of socks.  The problem was my mom and I did not give him sufficient attention.  We heard him continuing to root around in the other room and expected him to come back with another pair of socks.  The noise didn’t last long, so we just assumed his game ended early.  (He is, after all, 15.)

A few minutes later, my mom came in and showed me an empty Sudafed container that Quigley chewed.

So we went to the Internet.

Turns out that Sudafed is pretty bad for dogs.  You never know what’s exactly accurate, but I saw one post that said “your dog will likely die a slow and painful death.”  Another mentioned that it was one of the “top ten” poisons for dogs.

So at age 15, Quigley, the dog that’s managed to digest plastic, chocolate, and countless other items as a puppy, took his first trip to the doggie ER.

Turns out that the doggy ER is a pretty hoppin’ place on a Saturday night after 10pm.  The parking lot and lobby were both packed.  According to the receptionist (and the people we surveyed in the waiting room), the majority of the visitors that night also had furry friends that ate something they weren’t supposed to eat.

Other than admiring the other pets, I had a lot of thoughts while sitting in the waiting room: “At least I can’t catch what these patients have.” “I think the dog that sneezed twice probably doesn’t need to be here.” “At least we didn’t give our dog the poisonous medicine like that person did.”

But I also couldn’t help but think how my dog (and it looks like many other dogs) works so hard to get into trouble.  I’ll admit we are not the best disciplinarians, but Quigley has always been particularly mischievous.  For him, there is something fun about being ornery.

That reminds me of myself, but my mischief is far less innocent.  Rather than stealing a shoe, I try to steal God’s glory.  Rather than stealing a slice of pizza, I covet gifts God gives my friends–stealing those blessings with my thoughts, rather than loving and celebrating with my friends.  It seems like I am always finding new ways to use my flesh to taint (or steal) God’s image in me.

Quig’s new trick landed him in the ER with medicine designed to make him vomit.  My new tricks (aka sins) also require a Physician, who purges me of those toxins.  Without Jesus’ sacrifice, I would be doomed to a much more slow and painful death than Sudafed might cause my dog.  Praise God for His infinite mercy, His complete healing, and eternal life! The cleansing process may not always be pretty, but it’s worth it.

As for Quigley….don’t worry, he’s back to normal.

Like a dog that returns to his vomit
    is a fool who repeats his folly

Proverbs 26:11, ESV

As much as I love my dog, may we strive to not be as foolish.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

lemonade

…make lemonade.

I’ve heard this age-old expression a lot lately.  For some reason several friends have posted DIY projects with the before labeled “lemons” and the after labeled “lemonade.”  Maybe it’s a trend like #yolo or #treatyoself that I just missed, or maybe I just have particularly optimistic/resourceful friends.  Whatever the reason, these friends have definitely made the most of items I’d never consider useful.

But when I think of lemonade, I still think of the classic beverage sold at lemonade stands.  I’m flooded with memories of pouring lemonade powder into canisters for college ministry lunches (and hauling and cleaning those canisters each week).  Of course, I also think of time spent at Chick-fil-A, home of the best, fresh-squeezed lemonade.  For those that haven’t had the pleasure of working at Chick-fil-A (pun, intended), the lemonade really is fresh-squeezed.  When I worked there they never asked me to squeeze the lemonade (the people that run Chick-fil-A are also wise), but I remember watching one of the guys squeeze the lemonade.  He was a champ! He made cutting and squeezing the lemons look like child’s play.  He cut and squeezed the lemons at lightning speed, never missing a beat.  (If I had been cutting or squeezing, it would’ve taken twice as long, inevitably included lemon peels, and eventually a trip to the hospital without a finger.)

If you’ve ever worked at Chick-fil-A or been on a Backstage Tour at one of their restaurants, you know that Chick-fil-A lemonade only has three ingredients: lemons, water, and sugar (or Splenda if you’re a diet lemonade kind of person).  I never bothered counting the number of ingredients in the powdered lemonade I was using in my college days, but I have a feeling it had more than three ingredients.  But even three makes that expression “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” kind of tricky.

Think about it.  You’re given lemons and someone says, “Make lemonade!”  It’s true, you could rip the lemon apart and squeeze the juice into your mouth, but I would hardly call that lemonade.  To make lemonade, you have to go get the other ingredients and combine them. You need the right tools, supplies, and skills.

My DIY friends were spot on with their expressions of lemonade made from lemons, showing old items made into beautiful creations.  They had the lemons available to combine, but it took their creativity, resourcefulness, and hard work to actually make the lemonade.

I think the first step to making lemonade is thanking God for the lemons.  This is something that I’m not always good at doing.  I’m often so blinded by the pile of lemons in front of me that I can’t see the potential for lemonade.  It might take a while to get to the point of thankfulness.  (I mean, honestly, there are some lemons that just seem extra useless.)  One thing that might help is remembering that God could view us as lemons too, but instead He uses us for great things.  If God can use sinners that nailed His son to a cross, surely I can use possessions, circumstances, feelings, or other lemons that I’d rather trade in for something that seems more useful.  I have a feeling a thankful heart is kind of like the sugar that flavors the lemonade.  Any good lemonade has a lot of sugar.  Without it, the lemonade is just lemon juice that purses your lips and destroys your enamel.

With a thankful heart, it’s easier to work hard to use life’s lemons for great lemonade.  May we not forget that good lemonade isn’t just pouring powder into a canister and stirring it.  Good lemonade involves hard work.

Good lemonade also takes time.  With time, water can dilute the overpowering sour flavor of the lemons and turn it into a refreshing beverage.  With time, God can shift our perspective and help us see how He’s using the lemons He gave us.  With time, we may not like the lemons or enjoy the process, but we can taste more than the bitterness.

Let the Living Water into the lemons of life, trusting that He can do great things through anything we have to give.