Trading Chains

When you hear the word “slave” what images or words do you conjure up?

For me they are: subservient, servant, labor, shackles, mistreatment, beatings, harsh, plantations, black, negro spirituals, master, cruelty, dehumanization.

I often try to imagine what it must have been like for the slaves whose emancipation finally became a reality. How surreal. They could walk away, no longer be forced to work in the sun, back bent, answering to a man called “master”.  But as free men and women they inherited a new set of worries- integrating back into society with the label “freed slave”.  They were marked so to speak, probably for life.

For much of my early Christian life, this is how I lived out my faith- like a freed slave. In my mind, I knew that grace saved me and that I was free in Christ, but in practice I was bound by legalism, rules, expectations. Being like a dumb sheep, I gave in to listening to the confines of men. This appealed to me. I followed what they taught almost without question, mastered by what could easily be called pseudo-biblical principles, relying heavily on the interpretation of men rather than God Himself.

No wonder I became such a rebel. I hated all the stipulations because what I craved was true freedom. Instead, I had simply traded one set of chains for another.

But over a period of years and a thorough embracing of the gospel of Jesus, the freedom came. The rules stopped being my god. God became my Master and I embraced Him willingly (although sometimes with suspicious resistance as I wondered if I could fully trust Him). This was not forced labor, under the service of a harsh, cruel taskmaster. This servitude was one that I entered into by my own free will, through the grace of God. Now my burden was easy and the load to bear was light.

What irony- to go from being a slave to sin, to the bondage of legalism, to a willing servant of Christ! I think of it as liberating servitude- not oppression or lack of freedom- but a loyal heart free to follow after the best, kindest Master ever.  He knows my needs and cares for them tenderly. He loves me in an unrelenting fashion. He forgives me when I have strayed or rebelled. He lavishes me with abundance, meeting all my needs and more.

Now the labor I exert and the rules I live by are simply a beautiful expression of thanksgiving to my gracious Master, who died for me. I am pleased to serve Him, happy to submit to Him, striving hard to keep my former evil master at bay; mindful also of never going back to the bondage of legalism because now I am a servant without chains.

Here it is in the words of the book of Romans, chapter 6 (The Message):

15-18 So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!

19 I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?

20-21 As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.

22-23 But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

Dear Me

My heart’s been aching for my teenagers recently because frankly, it’s a crazy place out there and when you are 15 and 17, it can be straight up crazy on the inside too.

Inspired by the question, “What would you say to your 16 year-old self?”, I wrote this letter. After all, it is with the same blue eyes (albeit with wrinkles and bags around them), that now look with concern on my own dear children who are right smack dab in the middle of this thing…But it wasn’t so very long ago that I was there too.

 

Dear 16 year-old Rebekah Jane ~

First, I am just gonna say that if you think this letter might be a good old-fashioned dose of whoop up, you are right. Get ready because I am going to give it to you straight.

OK, like, what are you thinking? (Oh wait, that’s right- somewhere around the age of 13-14, aliens from the planet DUH come abduct the logic part of your brain and they are holding it hostage until around the age of 18.) So, since you are not thinking much, I’ll help you out with that.

YOU ARE DROP DEAD BEAUTIFUL. YEAH, YOU- the one with long blond hair and sky blue eyes. Why the heck are you starving yourself? Today all you ate was a McDonalds salad (without dressing) and a piece of toast. Then you went and cheered for an hour and half long football game, didn’t you? No wonder you feel like you might die. My guess is you weighed yourself this morning and the scale said 111lbs. instead of 110, isn’t it? Do me a favor. Go home. Grab your scale and throw it away. Then pick up a fork and eat your favorite dessert. Now take that same fork and poke it into next person who insinuates that either they or you are FAT.  Oh, and make sure you go poke your brother with it since he helped start this insanity by calling you “the Good Year Blimp” when you were 12.

STOP TRYING TO ACT THE PART OF A DUMB BLOND! You know those boys who tease you day after day with the blond jokes? I know you don’t want to hear, much less believe this, but they are seriously crushing on you and besides that, they are enamored by your smarts and wish they had straight A’s too. (Sadly, they are just too lazy to work for them.) Stop trying to hide that you are a bit of a book nerd and really actually enjoy school. Aim high and start planning for college now. Just because no one in your family went beyond 12th grade, doesn’t mean you can’t.

Buckle up, girl. This one might hurt.

STOP DATING THAT JERK YOU ARE WITH- THE GUY WHO BELITTLES YOU AND MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE BENEATH HIM. (Yes, the one with the unibrow.) Next time he tries pushing himself on you and then comes crawling back with a lame excuse of why he just can’t help himself, remember these are: lies. All lies. (I will refrain from calling him what I would like to right now, but maybe you could just slap him for me, huh?!) AND I know you want to be like “everyone” around you and have a BF (so as they say now, you won’t be “forever alone”), but first you have to know WHO YOU ARE and be CONFIDENT in that.  Only then, can you have the common sense to know a snake in the grass when you see one. There are true gems out there. Just wait, you’ll discover one soon enough. I promise ;).

Lastly, STOP BACKING DOWN FROM YOUR CONVICTIONS. Trust me when I say that all the kids out there partying it up are likely to walk a difficult path and some of them may not even make it out alive. Getting high and drinking may seem wildly fun for a season, but it leaves ugly scars and bears consequences- sometimes in the form of addictions. STAND UP FOR WHAT’S TRUE AND RIGHT. Someone awesome once said, “If you don’t stand for something; you’ll fall for anything.” It takes more moxie than you think you have, but trust me when I say, if you learn this principle now, it will save you from much future heartache. (I’m sorry but that totally sounded like a fortune cookie paper.)

Well, I know you probably won’t FOLLOW all this great, wise life advice because I know how stubborn and hard-headed you can be- uh-hum. But try, pretty please, for me?!

Oh and one last thing. Your mom, I know she annoys you- laughs too loud, wears her “I LOVE Jesus” pin everywhere and wouldn’t let you go to the Depeche Mode concert last year. Love her. Hug her. Listen to her. Soak up every moment with her and let the little things roll off your back. You only have 8 more short years with her.

Bunches of love from this wise old sage,

Your 39 year-old self

PS. Ditch the MC Hammer pants and paisley vest. You will thank me later!

PSS. Learn to enjoy life more fully. The drama you deal with now, is nothing compared with stuff of adulthood!

 

16 year old Rebekah Jane
16 year old Rebekah Jane

 

 

 

Aimer Nonpareil

You may think me mad, but this post was inspired by none other than my bag of Trader Joe’s almonds. Yep. True story.

It may be that the flu I have has gone to my head or that for whatever reason my mind CRAVES analogies. Or both…

But as I stood in my kitchen nibbling on my favorite snack, my eyes landed on the wording of the bag label. I have read it before. I mean, I read all the labels of my food. Ya know?

This morning though, the words stood out: nonpareil (meaning no parallel or no equal in French). Dang, I knew these almonds tasted good for a reason.

But as my mind did wander about the phrase, it struck me:

 God’s love is nonpareil!

God’s love has no equal and no parallel. The sweet, endearing love of a husband or wife cannot compare to God’s love. The tender, compassionate love shared with a child cannot compare. Even the bosomy, “finish each other’s sentences” kind of BFF love doesn’t compare. Not even close- not a itsy bitsy bit close to the love or amor of God.

God loves me- lil ol’ peedly me, lil ol’ selfish me. Me- the one that has cried and shouted in bitterness at Him a few times. Me- the one who has questioned what He has done and where life has taken me. Me- the one whose reciprocal love to Him is, at best, a lukewarm (albeit heartfelt) adoration.

His love in unlike any other because it:

Never fades, fails, changes, wanes, morphs. Never gives in proportion to my love. Never begrudges when I biff it big time (which is like, a lot).

Always gives, extends, cares, forgives. It is constant, seeks for reconciliation, reaches out towards the hard-hearted and rebellious. It is the kind of love that knows me better than I know or understand myself. It surpasses human love in its all-encompassing affection and intimacy. God’s love can be fully relied upon and trusted.

As I stood reflecting on the astonishing, unequaled love of God, these words came to me from the hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley:

 

Love divine, all loves excelling,

joy of heaven, to earth come down;

fix in us thy humble dwelling;

all thy faithful mercies crown!

Jesus thou art all compassion,

pure, unbounded love thou art;

visit us with thy salvation;

enter every trembling heart.

So, my dear reader friends, my hope is that you KNOW this love because it is the very best love you could ever have. Also, always be on the look out in life for lessons from strange places- like a bag of almonds. 🙂

Tug-of-war

My mental tug-of-war goes something like this:

I make progress, inching my way to the winner’s line. Then without warning, I am swept onto my posterior- ouch!

I am dusty and weary, but the worst part? My pride is hurt. I was SO close to victory, to bearing the necklace of the winner. Now, I’ve not only lost, but I am groveling. Defeated, fine dirt in my mouth and eyes. Angry. Disgusted. Done.

I can’t say how badly I want to walk away and throw my hands up in the air- be done with the struggle altogether. Do I grab the rope firmly with both hands and try again? I give myself a mental badgering for being so weak-willed, so wishy-washy, so on again, off again.

I know what’s right but in all honesty, some days I don’t give a flying leap if I do it.

I’m mad at my husband’s insensitivity to my needs.

I’m hurt by a mom who has shunned my kids because they are “bad influences”.

I’m tired of continuous financial struggles.

I’m frustrated by the insincerity I see in people all around me.

I’m loving self more than God.

I’m thinking “I’m all that” or (like Jekyll and Hyde) I am thinking I’m so evil, I can’t stand myself and am sick of trying.

So there I go, again, ignoring the tug I feel in my soul to pick up the rope and put my back into it. No biggie. I’ll right this wrong some other day.

I know what’s right. Today, I dig in mentally and spiritually. I am firm in both my stance and my grip, armed with my spiritual armor. Ready for the fight; my opposition becomes clear to me. I am prepared for him. (Some days he comes in such a guise that I think he is actually helping my side.) Valiantly, I tug, and then I wear. The sinew in my arms burns hot. My grip on the rope loosens and defeat is imminent. NO! I scream inside.

Thinking on my feet, I picture my Savior hanging on the cross- dead for me. Where the wooden beam is stuck into the hard ground, has bubbled up a spring. Clear, beautiful, refreshing, the water of grace is gushing out- unhindered. All I do is draw a draught for my weary soul to drink in. Immediately, my struggle quiets. The rope seems to glide my way effortlessly. I rest.

Why do I forget that my victor’s crown is already won eternally? Why don’t I recall that my Jesus fights with me in His humanness, knowing full well my struggles, yet having resisted them all in His perfect deity?

Next time, I promise myself, I will RUN to the fountain of grace sooner and find the living water to assuage my thirst for something better in my struggle.

Have Your Cliche and Eat It Too

So here’s the deal, christian clichés really bug me.

In the last week, two (well meaning) people have admonished me to “be Jesus” to someone else. Excuse moi, that just sounds wrong to my ears. Yes, I get the concept. I know we are told to be imitators of Christ (key word: imitators), but me? BEING GOD INCARNATE? I don’t think so. I am never able to measure up and be a sinless human because sin inhabits every little crevice and nook and cranny of my mind and heart- continuously. The Bible tells me so. Ask my husband and kids.

Another one, and forgive me ’cause I know this is so last decade, but the whole WWJD? thing bugged big time. Again, I get the concept behind the acronym. (What Would Jesus Do? in case you were living in a cave or something.) To ask that question is a good thought provoking consideration- not a bad place to start. But were we to be able to honestly answer what the Savior of the world would do given a situation, would be to fully grasp the thoughts and motivations of a sinless Man. The first Adam wrought into the fibers of our nature and being deep down depravity. The second Adam, Jesus, calls us to put off that nature and take up His righteousness, which we can only do by His graceful help. I am afraid that WWJD? sets us up for moralistic failure because if we use that as a literal behavioral barometer, we would still fall miserably short of the mark.

So, here’s what I like to do instead of subsist on “sounds good in theory” clichés-

Revel in the gospel every day! Think about Jesus’s cross work FOR ME. Ponder how MUCH I’ve been forgiven. Refresh myself in the grace of God that is poured out like living water to a weary soul. Consider the magnitude of my expunged verdict– His death for mine. Remember the victory I have already won against my sin! Talk about this awesome undeserved gift to those around me. Look forward to my final destiny- heaven.

Quaking in my Converse®

FDR once said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Obviously, he was too busy being Mr. smarty-pants president and not with raising his 6 children. I have two teenagers plus a tweener right now and I can heartily assure you that I fear more than fear itself.

The past few months, I have likened raising children into adulthood to walking along the edge of a cliff. It is slow going, laborious, scary as hell, nerve-wracking and many days, just a rather unpleasant experience. Every day, here I go, one foot in front of the other, not exactly seeing what lies up ahead; never knowing for sure if I will loose my footing and take a tumble or make it safely over to the other side. Most often, I am so hot (under the collar- that is), bewildered and frustrated, I am totally unable to take in any scenery (if there is anything beautiful worth seeing). But every once in a while, (oh, say, when there is a blue moon) a cool refreshing breeze blows, bringing with it a smile of relief and refreshment; giving just enough respite to keep me going. Then I begin to say to myself: “one step at a time” like a mantra over and over again.

The high and lows come in dizzying cycles. Just when I think: “Oh ok, I am getting the hang of this walking along the edge of a cliff thing”, SHABAM! an evil wind of change comes blowing, threatening to either knock me on my booty or off the ledge, plummeting to my undoing altogether! I relegate myself to sit down, collect my nerve, soothe frazzled emotions (drink some wine maybe) and take a deep breath before going on.

Accompanying me every step of the way is FEAR- downright abject doses of it- the kind that makes my tummy feel swirly and my knees weak. And here’s the million dollar question that runs continuously, like an electronic banner through my frontal lobe:

How will my kids turn out in the end?

I can almost hear what some of you are saying to me right now: “You think too much. You don’t trust God enough. You forget that your children belong to Him anyways. Don’t you just pray when you feel afraid?” Yes to every query! But that still doesn’t change the fact that every day when my children are away from the safety cocoon we call “home”, they are doing, saying, thinking, acting, only God knows what/how.

A friend spoke some wise words to me this week (as I was taking a chillaxing break on my little cliff edge). She said: Stop striving to be the thermostat keeper of the home, always adjusting the temperature, trying to keep it a perfectly, comfortable 78 degrees. In other words, some days it’s gonna get hot, real hot. Other days, it will be so chilly, it may feel as if your toes would fall off. Stop trying to control every point in your children’s existence. OUCH! That hurt my control-freakish nature. But I was forced to admit that if I have nurtured my kids in light of my faith, to the very best of my ability (keeping in mind own mile-long list of faults and failures), I have to trust that they will turn out OK- whatever that looks like. (Which, in all likelihood won’t match my cookie cutter impression of what I’d imagined).

If I’m being honest, and I am, my fear is holding me, gripping me, sometimes paralyzing me. It is the very component that keeps me walking the precipice, frightened. I wage an all out mental war with myself not to jump off or just sit down and say, “Forget it. This is WAY TOO HARD!”

For now, all that keeps me going is prayer and the reminder that someday, in the not so very distant future, I will be ambling down a serene path, unafraid, knowing exactly how my kids turned out.

IMG_3056

 

Mary Poppins Confessional

So… remember that little phrase on my “about “ page that I am a “recovering perfectionist”? Yes, me too.  Well, pull up a chair. I have a confession to make.

Comfortable? Good. Excuse me for being a bit fidgety but, you know, I am about to “come clean”, so be nice and bear with me? K?!

I DID say recovering, nor recovered. Some habits die hard, they say. Well, I am thinking that ALL habits die hard.

I am a doer- a worker bee extraordinaire.  Busy, busy, busy all the time- buzzing around- finding a corner to dust (wait, why did I just say that- I LOATHE dusting!!) or a counter to wipe or an email to type or a cookie to bake. Talking on the phone pains me unless I am doing the dishes or folding laundry while talking. Multi-tasker is my middle name.

Have I ever gone to coffee with you? If I have, I enjoyed it. Trust me. I love coffee and talking with a friend makes it twice as nice. Oh, how my mind does wander though… My husband pokes fun at me because he asks a question and sometimes it takes me awhile to answer. Be nice, now! I have to shut off a million other thoughts before I can get to your question. I like to think of my mind as a “old-fashioned” pinball machine; my thoughts like the shiny metal balls pinging all over the place, bouncing up to proper order when I hit them into submission with my little “get it together” levers!!!

Rest and Relaxation rarely find their place on my “to do” list. You might as well replace those words with “idleness” and “laziness”. Call it a generational curse- my mom (bless her heart) was my teacher. Her theme was: “A man’s work is from sun to sun. A woman’s work is never done.” Literally, that’s what I heard my whole growing up years. She was always working, busy and active, that is until she got very sick with cancer and was forced to rest.

Back to me…

So why, you may be asking, the confession? Am I trying to assuage a guilty conscience? Am I trying to make all of you who are NOT this way, feel like slackers? No and No. As a matter of fact, I have fallen under the heavy hand of conviction (if you will) to:

 Stop the glorification of busyness!

Because you see, as I also mentioned in the “about” page,  I am also, hmmm, just a teensy-tiny bit STUBBORN. The lesson to slow down, relax and enjoy life has been pounded into me for years. I resist. It comes back to haunt me. One of the last words of wisdom spoken by my mom was that she wished she would have spent less time cleaning and more time “playing”.

Being busy is my habit and in itself is not a bad one (better to be a hard worker than a lazy one). When it comes right down to it though, I guess you could call it my idol. Yikes! That sounds ugly and it is.

So here’s what I am learning:

  • Rest and relaxation are GOOD things. God “created” the act of resting.
  • They are necessary- not “necessary evils”- but actually needed for greater productivity in the end.
  • I have ADD and I am ok with that!:)
  • Relaxing makes me a happier, more peaceful person. (Which I am quite sure my family would nod in hearty approval to!)
  • When I don’t rest enough, I get resentful of other people who are relaxing and I expect others (meaning hubby & kids) to be right alongside me- busy, busy.
  • In my buzzing, I am likely to miss “hearing” opportunities to help or give to someone or something of a much greater value.
  • Working hard does not always mean working efficient– as brought to my attention by my ever-loving, sweet, “managerial type” hubby, in a very kind way of course!

Recovering, yes. RECOVERED, no. Learning, as we all should be, to become a better version of me. Striving to be a more “things that matter” person. Thankful, that I have energy to get things done. Remembering, that without my Master, I can do nothing of my own accord to change myself.

Thanks for listening. I hope that, maybe, just maybe if you are like me (even a little bit), you will consider this a challenge to rest. Oh and please, would you put away that chair you got out? 🙂

Be Still My Heart (or how I fell in love)- part 1

“Is he walking toward me?” I thought. “Oh my gosh, YES!”

My heart began to speed up just a little. I knew his first name and not much else. We were in 4 classes together- freshman at the same college.

Something about him intrigued me. He was calmer, more mature, than the rest of the over- zealous, goofy 18 year-olds in our general ed classes.

What did I know about guys? I knew I was tired of jerks. I knew I tried hard to put on a “crusty” exterior so that I wouldn’t be hurt by one again. I determined not to fall in love or marry until at least the age of 25, so I could go all over the world as a traveling journalist. India, Japan, the Middle East. I wanted to see them all.

“So, how’s your paper coming?” he asked. (We were in English Literature together.)  I can’t tell you what else we said in those first moments together, but I do recall one thing- he seemed so nice and genuine. But he isn’t the floppy haired blond surfer type that I’ve set my sights on, so whatever. Besides, he is such a “brainer”, sitting on the front row, asking the professor all these questions. I mean, who does that?! He must be a nerd, but he sure doesn’t look like one.

A few days later, he caught up with me as I walked across the baseball field. I was wearing my Dr. Martens, my striped polyester shirt from the thrift store and a tennis skirt.  This time he asked about another class- AND asked me on a date. My little 17 year-old heart was all a pitter-patter. This guy was so FOR REAL- kind, respectful, cute (as far as brown haired guys go :)), smart, and interested IN ME.

Our date seemed like it might never arrive. The anticipation was killing me. Would he be this gentlemanly or was this just a shill to get me to go out with him? Every time we had bumped into each other, the conversation flowed free and natural. He was a talker AND a listener. I was smitten.

Finally, the evening of our date- nervous doesn’t really touch the tip of my emotional state iceberg- I was more like petrified!  Things started a bit rocky because he was late- poor guy-directionally challenged- let’s just say. Oh, Rebekah, get over it, if that’s the worst thing he is. Never the less, first impressions are important.

We drove to Hollywood Boulevard; the street that literally glitters beneath the glinting lights. Watched the movie “Beauty and the Beast” at the El Capitan theater, then walked until we meandered into an old timey diner called C.C. Brown’s. We ate delicious sundaes and he drank coffee.  I was impressed.  This guy is like, so mature. He drinks black coffee!

We talked and talked and talked. Finally, I asked, “So how old are you, anyways?”  

“I’m 24” he said.

GULP! My eyes grew to saucer size. I was in disbelief. I hit his arm (gently, of course). “No way!” (Quickly calculating that was 7 years older than me- ok, so I am no math whiz!)

to be continuedIMG_1192

Newton Shmooton

Newton’s third law of motion states:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This is true in physics AND in parenting teenagers.

You push, they pull. You apply force, they resist. You bear down, they buoy up to the surface, gasping for air.

Often times, the very thing we try, try, try so hard to coax out of or impress into our teens seems to snap back on us like a rubber band to the skin. It stings. We’re hurt. The lesson gets lost like a rock in quicksand and we are left feeling void- void of hope that they will ever be different.

From day one when baby comes bouncing into the world, we look at he or she like a ball of clay. There they are all moist and fresh, sitting on the potter’s wheel, just waiting to be shaped. Away we go with our tools and hands: molding, carving, pinching, pulling, stretching, pounding. So often we go at the clay with past regrets of our own past mistakes. Other times we are angry, rough and impatient because it will just not cooperate. Then sometimes, it is so pliable, easily molding into the perfect, smooth masterpiece we had envisioned.

There are many moments when we forget who should really be sitting at the wheel. We put ourselves in the chair, thinking we are the potter- and in one sense we are. Our children are largely shaped by us- our ideals, our personalities, our passions, our dislikes, our philosophies, our methods.

But nothing seems farther from the truth when they are about to embark on their own journey called life.  No matter what forces we have applied, they are moved more by who they have become and less by what you hoped, planned or tried to make them be.

God is the Potter of every human soul. He fashions and shapes the clay of humanity in His time and in His ways.  And He is the MOST EXCELLENT POTTER of all! His vessels are always perfectly fit for His plan and purpose.