My Deceitful Heart

Ok, so here is my question. What if you serve but your heart isn’t in it? What if you do a good thing, for a friend or stranger, because you know it is the right thing, you know you should, but you don’t want to?

Maybe you are pouting. Whining. Grumpy. Just flat out don’t “feel” like doing it.

But you do.

So what?

Does that matter? Does it not “count”? Are your good deeds tarnished and tainted by your cruddy heart? Do they not honor and bless the receiver if the giver gives with a less than cheerful heart? (This is presuming that the receiver isn’t aware of the giver’s cruddy attitude, we are talking how you feel inside, not how your act toward the recipient of your kindness.)

My BFF and I have pondered this a few times (not that she would ever feel this way). I have had the random occasion to babysit for a friend in need. And a vast majority of the time I am beyond happy to do so. Really. But there might have been a few times (friends reading this, never with you, other friends from other states) where my heart wasn’t in it. Perhaps I was tired, hormonal, cranky, or in some other way less than thrilled to watch someone else’s kid but have done so, with outward cheerfulness. Does the fact that I didn’t want to, that I was rather uncheerful in my heart but still cheerful on the outside make that blessing less of a blessing to my friend?

I don’t think so.

I really think, maybe you disagree, that sometimes you have to “fake it ’til you make it”. Sometimes you pretend to want to do some thing or other for a friend because you know they need it. And sometimes, most of the time (dare I say all the time?), in the end you are happy you chose to do so.

I believe the heart behind your actions is crucial. I really do. God tells us that if we do all the good things but have not love, (1 Corinthians 1-3) it profits nothing. I believe that.

But I also believe that where our hands and feet start, our heart will follow if we allow it, if we are servants of the One True King.

So, I ask again:

What if you serve and your heart isn’t in it?

If you have a heart to love, a heart to serve, a heart to give, some days even that heart will falter. The human heart is a wicked deceitful thing (Jeremiah 17:9). We cannot rely on it alone. My heart lies to me often.

Which is why we need Jesus so desperately. We need Him to tell us to love. To remind us to give. To encourage us to serve.

If your heart is always bitter and angry, if you never want to do good, to serve, to help a friend in need, well, you need a little more Jesus.

But if you usually love to help, yet you find yourself bitter and angry today at the prospect, maybe you need a little “fake it ’til you make it” cure. Maybe you need to just suck it up and do what Jesus has placed on your heart. Babysit. Fix a meal. Clean a bathroom. Serve someone when you least want to do it.

I’m pretty sure you will find that you are blessed as much as, perhaps more than, the one you served.

 

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Playing Games

My little guy loves board games. He is six and he constantly wants to play a board game. The problem is, he always wants to play something like Monopoly or Life. And he is six. He just doesn’t understand quite know how to play the game. And he doesn’t, yet, possess the skills necessary to play those games.

That is how I feel about life. Not the board game. The thing we live every day. Life is a series of “games” that we must play. And some games require certain skills that I do not possess. Some skills I may some day gain, others I may never.

When I was in school, I played the game of school well. I was very good at it. Not because I was extremely smart. I mean, whether I’m smart is highly debatable. But I was very, very good at the game. I didn’t know it was a game, of course. But I possessed the skills to play along. I knew how to do enough work to get good grades, how to be pleasing to the teachers, how to skate when I didn’t want to work and how to work when skating wasn’t an option. I knew how much effort must be applied so that when I wanted to get away with not applying effort, teachers let me because I was otherwise “a good student”. It really is a big game. Because I really was not as smart as some other people I know who never could quite conquer the game.

Social Acuity is a skill I do not possess. As a kid in school, I knew this. I really didn’t have great social skills. I think I presumed I would just “grow into it”.

As an adult I have come to realize, nope. I will never have a lot of the social skills that make some people such good…. socializers.

Yes, a good deal of it is attributable to the fact that I am an introvert. I do not naturally interact well with others.

But there is more to it. I have never learned the finesse of not speaking my mind. Of telling people what they want to hear. Of engaging people into a conversation about themselves and adding just a little of my story to encourage them to continue.

I also do not possess the skill to make myself look good. Not necessarily physically (though that isn’t my strong suit either), but socially, academically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Some people possess a skill of, humbly, making themselves “look” appealing. They aren’t braggarts. In fact, if you asked people around them they would say that these gifted individuals are humble people. But they have a gift for wrapping their faults in a cloak of strength making their very faults look like strengths. They have a way of being so very affable that you can’t help but see every strength in them and ignore, disregard or totally not see any weakness in them. They soar at making themselves look good in a way that doesn’t look like they are trying to make themselves look good.

I admire these people. They are not dishonest or braggarts. They are just very talented when it comes to the game of Society.

I lack this ability.

What I do have is the unwavering ability to be me. It isn’t through conviction. “I’m going to just going to be me and you can like me or too bad.” No, it’s not that at all. It’s simply that I lack the skills to be anything else.

I cannot make myself look good. I cannot pretend to be something I’m not. I cannot even pull off the “Sunday go to Meetin’ Momma” look. (You know, the moms who look totally put together, their kids and husbands look put together, their kids clothes match – I don’t even mean each other I just mean each kid is wearing clothes that match, they show up looking fresh and cheerful with perfectly coiffed children and manage to look completely “normal” until the end of church.)

I show up at church, with 6 or 7 kids in tow. I show up with 4 girls with hair in varying states of brushed and 2 or 3 boys in varying states of disheveled. Camo is a color at our house and is frequently the main color donned by the boys. The youngest girl might, or might not, have shoes. The older girls may or may not have shoes for that matter… We come through the doors like a flurry of activity, boisterous and loud, kids bouncing up the stairs for donuts, me bringing up the rear. We make an entrance. We are seen and heard.

I look at other “kempt” mommas. Their kids walk, actually walk, inside. They are tidy and adorable. The moms are smiling and look so lovely. I want to emulate. But I lack the skills to really, actually care.

After years of being torn, feeling like I “should” be or at least look like some specific thing, feeling like I should look like the mommas whose kids are quiet and calm, wear matching clothes and cute shoes, or some shoes – after years of thinking I should be able to talk to other people with the social graces of an extrovert – after years of feeling like I was failing because no matter how hard I tried to be something, anything else, I was only able to be … me… this mess that I see – after years of all of this struggle, I am finally starting to see something incredible.

I don’t have to settle for being me.

Apparently me is what I am supposed to be. Apparently people who like me actually like me simply because I am me. (Yeah, I don’t get it either…)

So what is my rambling point?

Life is a series of games. It is a series of games played by players of all different skill levels. Games played by people who don’t even know they are playing games.

Some games we are good at. Some games we stink at. But if we are so bogged down with keeping score in the game and worried about losing, we will miss the fun of the game. You know, when you play a game, not only the “winners” are supposed to have fun. Everyone playing the game is supposed to have fun. In life, the games aren’t about winning and losing. They are about getting around and through the events of life with as much fun and joy as possible.

We take this game of life way too seriously. Remember, nobody gets out of it alive.

 

Half Star Christian

Yep. That’s me. I’m a half star Christian. On my good days. Some days I can only claim a quarter star.

My friends and I joke frequently about this. It is a way to laugh and make fun of ourselves and our tendency to think that it’s all about us. The world has a way of making us look too much at ourselves. The more we look at ourselves the unhappier we become. We are never enough.

Not thin enough. Not young enough. Not fit enough. Not pretty enough. Not smart enough.

And not a good enough Christian.

There it is. There is the crux of the Christian problem. Being a good enough Christian. Looking like a Christian. Acting like a Christian. Talking like a Christian. Never failing. Never stumbling. Walk a walk of faith and never doubt or fear.

We listen to messages our entire life on how to be and what to do. We know we are not to covet our neighbor’s things, lie, steal, you know… all the biggies. We know we are supposed to tithe, take care of widows and orphans, pray without ceasing and have unwavering faith. There is a list of things we are to do and not to do. And we easily become bogged down with the list and forget the grace.

Oh, there it is again.

The Grace.

The Grace.

Yes, the Bible does contain valuable guidelines that tell us the best ways to live our lives. Trying to following these guidlelines is an important step in trusting God and in seeing good fruit in our lives. We cannot go wrong in following God’s list of Dos and Donts.

But God knew from the beginning that perfect wasn’t in our nature. Sin. Sin entered our lives and destroyed any chance of us having a perfect life.

But God.

God didn’t just “solve a problem”. He created a solution before the problem existed. He knew we’d fail. He had a plan to show us a way to His perfect world. But first we had to see that we couldn’t do it ourselves. In His infinite wisdom He knew that we would always try to do it on our own. Like my three year old who can put on her own clothes and my six year old who can build his own real working radio, God knew that we would think we could earn our own salvation.

He let us wander around in desert made of our sin and poor choices. Let us see how life apart from His Grace and His Love really is. Then, He poured His perfect love out on a cross for us.

He let us see how Good life was WITH him. He gave us a savior who would gladly pay the price for all of our sins.

And how do we thank him?

We try to do it ourselves.

Again and again we play the part. We talk the talk. We try to walk the walk. But the walk is too hard. So we get angry and hurt and try to pretend we are as perfect as all the other people are trying to pretend to be. And here is the funny part, we expect other Christians to be as perfect as they pretend to be. As perfect as we pretend to be. As perfect as we know we are not.

Friends, we, as Christians, really need to stop looking at our fellow Christians in judgement. Let God deal with that. I’m not saying that we “condone sin”. I’m saying that we love each other. Stop saying and thinking, “She calls herself a Christian, she drank 3 glasses of wine last night! That’s not moderation!” Or “He goes to church but I happen to know that his son was born only 7 months after the wedding…”

This is not what we are called to do. We are here to love one another. Sometimes love looks like telling someone the hard truth about their sin. Sometimes it looks like giving them a cup of coffee and a shoulder to cry on when they lament their sin.

We cannot be perfect Christians. We cannot be 5 Star Christians. Our friends and fellow church goers likewise cannot be 5 Star Christians. And the more we try to rank ourselves as Christians, the more we really miss the point.

Because being a Christian just isn’t about us. It is about Jesus. It is about loving a savior who loved us while we were still slaves to our sin. It’s about loving our neighbors enough to look past (not overlook) their sin and see the heart that Jesus came to save.

Stop making your Christianity about you. Stop making other people’s Christianity about you. Remember the Cross. Remember Jesus. It is really about Him.

Spend your life trying to point others to the Jesus that you love and that loves you. Spend your life trying to do the best you can, improving your life and the lives of those around you, making better choices than the day before. Spend your life in gratitude of the grace that saves despite our failures.

But stop spending your life judging your Christianity. Start living your salvation.

 

 

 

 

Growing Joy in Thankfulness

The entire month of November, my Facebook newsfeed is historically filled with people daily posting those things for which they find themselves thankful. I really do love it. For so many reasons. Sometimes they remind me to be thankful. Sometimes they are fun and lighthearted and remind me not to take life too seriously (a real problem I have).  But pretty much always I appreciate them.

I’ve learned something from having participated in them in years past, then choosing not to participate but rather to watch.

I am very thankful. I am so thankful for a litany of blessings that if I started listing them here you would stop reading.

A very short list includes:
A Savior who saved me in spite of me and somehow loves me in spite of myself…
A Husband who loves me even when I’m least lovable
Seven amazing kids
Friends fiercely loyal and steadfast
Family for better and worse (face it, we all have both, right?)
Shelter, food, warmth, and a firetruck

I have a huge list of things I’m thankful for. And at night before I pass out I begin my ‘Thank you list to God” with the above items. I pretty much always pass out before I even get past these few things.

So what I have really learned about me is how very grateful and thankful I am for these big things in my life.

I’ve also learned that I am not grateful enough for the little things in life.

I’ve written before about thankfulness and being thankful for the Great Goodness of God. But honestly, what I’m really learning over these past few weeks is that I focus so much on the big things and how grateful I am for them. (And I am. And I do. I do think all the time about these things.) I just feel like I am missing so many little things that other people see to be thankful about. It’s a “forest and trees” scenario here.

Perhaps there is something in that. Perhaps some secret of living a life filled with joy includes the ability to see past the big blessings and to see the little things, not just for little pleasures, but as a part of a bigger whole. My heart gets so full sometimes of gratitude of the blessings in my life, I feel like I’m going to burst knowing the unmerited favor of a Holy God that granted me this husband and these kids. But I’ll honestly admit that joy has never been an easy one for me. If I am truly grateful for so many big things, why is joy so hard?

Perhaps because joy is from the daily. Joy is from seeing the blessing in a cup of coffee. Joy is from a heart of being thankful for a kind act bestowed by someone in cyber-land, a kind word from someone in the checkout line, a quiet moment in front of a fire. Perhaps joy comes from the same place thankfulness comes from. Perhaps being thankful as a way of life has less to do with being grateful for the big things in life and more to do with taking the time to see the little things and finding the moment to savor the small blessings and to really think and feel “Thank you” for those moments.

Perhaps joy is the expression of a lifestyle that sees the little blessings, wallows in them, rolls around in the little things of life that just being thankful overlooks. Perhaps “Thankfulness” is more than being thankful. Perhaps it, too, requires an ongoing outpouring of gratitude for the moments in life that we, I, overlook on my way to the bigger moments, the bigger blessings.

Perhaps “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10 NKJV) applies here as well. Perhaps being thankful and grateful in that which is “least” grows our thankfulness, and our joy, in the “much”.

I don’t know. Maybe it is just a Monday morning and I’ve not yet had my coffee.

 

 

I Am Not Raising Good Christians

Yep. It is true.

I am not raising my children to be Good Christians.

I don’t want my children to grow up trying to be “Good Christians”.

If there is such a thing as a Good Christian then there must be such a thing as a Bad Christian. What does it take to place you on the “good” or “bad” scale? Is it the number of times a week you attend church? How early you get up for “devotions”? How many missions you support?

I guess rather than ask what it takes to be a Good Christian, we should really ask what is a Christian?

A Christian is simply someone who trusts in Christ for their salvation.

The fact is, you simply cannot earn your salvation.

As such, furthering the idea of being a “Good” Christian is furthering the misconception that our piety, or attempts at, can increase how much our Savior loves us. And the very hurtful misbelief that our failings can decrease how much He loves us. In this day and age we rarely hear this aspect being outwardly preached, the idea that our failings decrease His love for us. But kids are smart. If we convey to them that our actions can increase His love, they will rapidly conclude that likewise our actions can decrease His love.

But His love is unfailing.

If our good deeds make Him love us more and our bad deeds make Him love us less, we could eventually earn our way into heaven. If that were the case, Jesus would never have needed to die for our sins.

But He did. He willingly died for our sins. He knows our failings. He knows our goodness. He isn’t some cosmic, angry overlord looking at us, weighing whether we have done enough good things to make Him happy and outweigh the bad things we’ve done.

I want to raise my children to know and love Jesus. I want them to love Him unconditionally. And I want them to know that He loves them unconditionally.

I don’t want them trying to be Good Enough to earn anyone’s love, let alone that of the Savior who already did the work.

As parents we don’t want to lead our kids to the idea that our love for them is contingent upon their behavior. So we must stop raising them to believe that Jesus’s love for them is contingent upon their behavior.

I think one of the best gifts I can give to my children is an understanding of God as a devout and heavenly father who loves them unconditionally. To understand that we choose to do good and make good decisions not because they increase our standing as a “Good Christian” but because we have a loving heavenly Father who wants to share His love with us and through us.

I want my kids to be good people. I want them to love Jesus and to love others. I want them to see what love looks like and to offer love. I want them never to make conditions on their love and to never feel that love toward them is conditional. I want them to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I want them to be a light to the cold, dark world. I want them to be salt.

But I don’t want them to be Good Christians.

 

Dishwasher Theology

For most of my adult life, I have struggled with understanding the truth of who Jesus is and of His great, unending, unmerited love for me. I believed, or so I would have told you, that works would not cull favor with the Lord. Salvation is not works based. I knew this. And yet I prescribed to a somewhat, shall we say ill-conceived, theology. I call it my “Dishwasher Theology”.

My husband and I have never had, in any of our married years, a physically speaking smooth and easy life. Now, I know, compared to people in other countries we have an easy life. But compared to “Middle Class Americans” we really don’t. Feel free to read here about some of our water issues.  But we own a firetruck and that isn’t something a lot of people can say. Someday I’ll blog about the firetruck, but I digress.

We moved into this house ten years ago, a few weeks after the birth of our fifth child. This house, that was the answer to prayers in so many ways including but not limited to moving our family of seven from a 900 sq. ft. house to a 2300 sq. ft. house! But with it began a whole host of troubles that we are still dealing with. One such issue was the dishwasher.

The only problem with the dishwasher in this house was the lack of one. We eventually installed one. And it stopped working. We had two given to us. They stopped working. With all the other issues, we didn’t think we could afford to buy one for a while. So basically for the first few years in this house we had a string of poorly working or non working dishwashers and 5 children 7 years old and under. I was a stressed out momma.

That isn’t a terribly unusual story. I know a lot of people without dishwashers. The real problem wasn’t my faulty dishwasher. It was my faulty theology.

See, I didn’t just “not have a dishwasher”. But rather all attempts to get a dishwasher quickly resulted in the same problem — a broken dishwasher. It felt like punishment. It felt like each step toward a dishwasher was a trip down the slide straight back to no dishwasher. It felt like there was some reason I wasn’t allowed to have a dishwasher. Logic told me that God was punishing me for being a lousy housekeeper (which I truly am). I was convinced that until I learned to keep my dishes clean without a dishwasher, I would never be allowed to have a dishwasher because I needed to learn a lesson. A lesson I was quite incapable of learning.

Somehow, I mixed up in my head the amazing saving grace of a Father God who adores us and wants all good things for us with some idea that if I couldn’t measure up to some humanly derived standard, then I couldn’t have things that would help me measure up to said, humanly derived, standard.

Is that confusing? Good. Because it is confusing.

How can we really believe that God loves us, believe that He wants only good for us, and yet think that He is somehow responsible for the bad things that come our way. Whether we believe He “broke our dishwasher” as punishment or simply that He “Allowed our dishwasher to break as punishment” (because as Christians we are really good and phraseology that shows that we’d never “blame” God), how can we really justify this with our belief in His total Goodness.

Stuff happens. Bad stuff happens. We make choices and we have consequences. This is not God sending us bad things. He tells us that He will make all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28). He doesn’t say “I’m gonna break your dishwasher and make you learn a lesson for your own good.” Bad things happen. Dishwashers break (A lot actually, I had no idea…After starting this post and leaving it to sit for a few… weeks, my dishwasher broke again. As I’ve mentioned before, I live an ironic life.)

So I have spent the last several years grappling with this concept. Trying to understand that not every bad thing means God is angry or displeased.

But the opposite is just as true.

I have always served. I have served out of a heart for others and for God. I have served not to gain, but to do what is right. In fact, I have said over and over to my own children and the children that I teach “Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.” (Not “right” in a legalistic way but right as in that which does good, not evil.)

I have always believed this. I have always tried to live this. I have never served to “cull favor” with God.

But.

Now this is where faulty Dishwasher Theology gets really muddy.

Though I have never served in order to cull favor with God or man, though I have never served in an attempt to gain thanks and accolades or attention (and truthfully those things make me super uncomfortable), I have been guilty of feeling like somehow my service should have culled favor. Should have “counted” in some way. My reasons for serving were pure. And yet I have let myself think “God, I do all these things because I should. Because I want to. Because it is right. Why do I not receive in kind? Why do people who don’t give so easily and selflessly receive more abundant blessing? Why does my heart to serve not give me more favor than other people who serve minimally and out of obligation?”

Do you see it?

Do you see the lunacy? The circle of crazy in my brain? Because as I search my heart I fully believe every act of service I have done has been done out of a pure heart with NO hope of using it to leverage favor. And yet, I feel like God should know that and bestow the favor.

Yeah. It’s truly crazy.

I have talked to friends and pastors about these issues, struggling to understand why God allows us to deal with certain struggles, why God seems to bless unequally, why some people seem to walk in abundant favor and others of us seem to walk in just enough favor to get by. I have cried, yelled, written awful things, deleted many of them, wished I had deleted others. I have spent years trying to understand the Grace of a Good, Good God.

Finally, I think I understand it.

Grace is not meant to be understood.

Grace isn’t something we can hope to grasp so that we can finally understand the ways of God.

Grace is meant to be felt and extended. Grace is meant to be lived.

Grace.

Folks, as long as we spend our lives trying to understand why God and how God and if God and when God, we will continue to miss the Grace of God. God sent us His Son to be Grace. He poured out His Grace on that cross and on our lives every single day. And as long as we focus on how we earn, merit, deserve or any other verb Grace, we miss the point. Our focus is still on us. And when our focus is on us, when my focus is on me, it isn’t on God. And when we stop focusing on God, on His Grace, we miss it.

Grace.

All Grace.

I’m so grateful as I write this, as I show my human failings and shortcomings. As I open my heart and all it’s failures to people I know to see how shallow I am, that I already have the forgiveness of God, because He and I are all good. He sees my heart and His Grace has more than covered my years of Dishwasher Theology. And when I inevitably slide back into it from time to time, He’ll gently remind me of His Grace. And He’ll remember my sins no more.

I want to say a special thanks to Jami Amerine at Sacred Ground Sticky Floors for her book Stolen Jesus (I get no money for this recommendation, that is not an affiliate link) which was instrumental in helping to cement months of work that God had been doing on my heart helping me begin to grasp the Grace of God.

And to my dear Kristy, who has giggled with me about my Dishwasher Theology for years repeating, “That’s not how this works” and loving my crazy chaotic self through it all.

 

 

 

Widen Your Circle

I grew up in a teeny, tiny town. That town was located inside a small, close knit county. And and though I haven’t lived there since I was 18, I moved back to neighboring counties and still consider myself a “Brown Countian”.

Growing up in this rural county was great.  But it offered what I think might be somewhat unique issues. We had 4 elementary schools that fed into one “central” junior high and high school.  Our little county includes the county seat, Nashville, Indiana – a much known tourist town.  One of our elementary schools was in this town.  The rest were what I call “outliers”. I attended an outlying school. The first time I realized there was a difference was when we all started junior high.  If you were not from the elementary school in Nashville, well… there was a certain – stigma.

As I grew, I thought I had outgrown the frustration associated with being a townie versus being an outlier.  It appears I have not.  Those who live in or near town truly have a different experience in life than those who live in the more rural areas of the county.  In some ways it is still like being in high school. If you live close, you get included in all the fun. If you live outside of town, you really aren’t excluded. But you aren’t thought of to be included. You don’t tend to be “in town” when the impromptu stuff happens. As such, you are not making those connections, building friendships and becoming more closely known by those in town. Therefore when stuff comes up again, the same group of people are immediately thought of to do stuff again.

As an adult I can see that it isn’t a matter of trying to hurt others by being exclusive. What I do see is, it is super easy to exclude people for simple reasons of location.

girls vbs blog

Three Musketeers

I find this same thing in my life.  I homeschool.  I know A LOT of homeschoolers.  But I tend to pick the same 4 or 5 families to do homeschool activities with.  And the other homeschoolers I know tend to pick the same group of homeschoolers to do things with. We rarely do things together. Habit.

This leads to a bigger problem. How often we exclude others for similarly silly reasons. Usually we are not intending to be exclusive, right? But we get in a habit of chatting with the same people, generally just hanging out with the same people. And that is normal. And it is okay. But we should all develop a habit of looking outside ourselves, our cliques, our friendship circles for those who desperately need/want/are seeking someone to include them.

I’m guilty. For sure. Often God has impressed upon me someone He wanted me to befriend. I’ve been guilty of wishing He had chosen someone else…But when I’ve listened I have found these people to be huge blessings in my life.

My rambling point is this: Maybe we need to be more aware when we are doing things in groups. There is nothing at all wrong with having a group of friends we choose to hang out with. This alone does not make us a “clique”. But when we over focus on just being with certain friends, and never look around to see if God wants us to reach out, we lose many blessings and lose the chance to be an instrument of God in His blessing of others.