Then Forgive Them

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13 NLT

Closing the email, I felt resentment creeping into my heart. The words from the screen had hurt my feelings. I had tried to do something nice for someone else, but the plan had failed. In the aftermath other’s opinions crept in creating a toxic environment. I felt thrown under the bus by someone I cared for deeply and a since of betrayal. To make it worse, they didn’t even call me. They emailed me, as if that was how we communicated every day.

Trapping hurt feelings, replaying words in my mind trying to rationalize what had happened, just made things worse. I prayed for God to help me let it go. In the grand scheme of life, none of this event even matters, but…the helpless feelings of hurt harbor within.

Sometimes it is hard to let things go. I want justice to shout its voice in my defense, but the truth is justice is seen differently to the two sides of contrasting opinions. That’s when the question of, “Do you value these people more than winning this petty battle?” knocks at the door.

I do value them more. In fact, way more.

“Then forgive them.” The quiet whisper rushes through my heart.

Lord, I forgive them. Please forgive me for holding a grudge. Help me to love them more. Amen

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Listen, Don’t Assume

“It is a sin to belittle one’s neighbor; blessed are those who help the poor.” Proverbs 14:21 NLT 

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high…”

 I love listening to the late Ella Fitzgerald. She’s my favorite sing along in the car music. Yeah… not the normal driving tunage for most, but I like it. Her soulful sounding voice, within my singing range, added to lyrics I understand and the jazzy rhythm I love so much keeps me belting out the songs as I drive around town.

I’m a little old fashioned when it comes to music. I love jazz of almost any style, a bit of 80’s rock from my youth and Celtic music. Random, I know. I also love hymns in church. They are scripture and poetry set to tunes that seem to stick in my head. Hymns challenge me to think about my faith, as well as, bring comfort. In fact, during crisis times in life, hymns are what I have meditated on to calm my spirit and bring momentary strength. I’m so thankful to know as many as I do.

Yesterday, my husband and I attended a funeral. A friend’s husband died in a car accident. He was thirty-seven years old. I’ve had friends pass away, but attending a funeral for a father of two under the age of six was heartbreaking. At the end of the service, a soulful singer performed an incredible rendition of the hymn, Amazing Grace. Oh the tears that fell in that sanctuary. Oh the comfort experienced.

Amazing Grace was one of the first hymns I learned on the piano. I remember my seventh grade crush telling me it was a sad song. His reasoning, “Amazing Grace is always sung at funerals.” Case and point yesterday, for sure. Yesterday it was a sad song yet it was a comfort. So beautiful and poignant a song.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see”

 I was thinking about the “Was blind but now I see” just now. About how often I am blinded from the truth, not only of God’s grace, but also of life in general. How in my blindness, I make assumptions which further aggravates understanding in relationships around me. Relationships where I truly desire to extend love.

My husband always repeats the quote, “When you assume, it makes an ass out of you and me.” So true. Assuming things about people implies I have knowledge of something I really don’t. I’ve really made a judgment based on what I think is ahead filtered through my own perception. The truth is, other’s experiences are often so different than my own. In other words, I haven’t taken the time to listen to their story and I arrogantly act like I have.

Funny thing about this process. It is relatively easy to stop. It just requires listening and finding out the truth without assuming anything. Listening and sharing stories helps build loving relationships. Relationships that can form world changing actions.

Yesterday, before the funeral, my husband and I hosted an extraordinary young woman to lunch. She works with my husband but is quitting her job to go work for a church in South Africa. Her desire is to bring Jesus into the picture where Nelson Mandela left off. Mandela desired a united country between all his people. Jesus desires that too. This young woman is giving up her comfort here, to go share her faith there in hopes of breaking prejudice and hurtful barriers. She is going to be doing a lot of listening to learn people’s stories in order to create moments for healing.

I teared up listening to her story.

There are hardships, prejudices and injustices in every country in our big beautiful world. I see it in my own area. Not always black and white where I live, but instead prejudices between the different cultures within our community definitely exist. I live in a huge chicken farming  Tyson territory mixed with the established retail regime of Walmart. Companies that bring in people from many different cultures. Then on top of that, add in the largest community of Marshallese families in the nation. Each culture is different. Each culture, including mine makes assumptions and judgements about their neighbors that builds walls instead of relationships.

Every now and then, though something amazing happens. Someone stops to listen and a story is shared. A truth trumps an assumption. Sometimes it’s a teacher who takes time with a student just to hear their story and encourage. Other times, it is happenstance conversations while waiting in line at the supermarket or when people drop their guard and offer dinner to a neighbor or coworker opening the opportunity to get to know someone different from themselves. Whatever it is, something amazing happens. Prejudice stops and friendship begins.

Amazing Grace, a song that brought so much comfort to many African American slaves was actually written by ex-slave trader, John Newton. Only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus really cares enough to create lyrics that transcend pain so the truth of His grace can provide comfort to both a slave and a slave trader. Like our friend who desires to break down walls of prejudice in South Africa, Jesus wants you and me to break down walls right where we are. It will take bravery and the truth of God’s love to learn to listen so loving relationships can be established. It will take risks in leaving our hearts out for someone to potentially break, too. However, imagine the freedom that will come from relinquished fear of prejudices broken. All from listening and then sharing a story.

 

Sharing Space

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” – Ezekiel 36:26 NLT

I have a confession. I struggle with sharing. Kind of makes me feel like a toddler to admit it, but it’s true. I can share food, clothes, and other material goods, but I really struggle with sharing my space.

Back in January of this year, I made a New Year’s resolution to be more open with my home. I wanted to invite people into my space and spend time with them. I was thinking more like dinner or coffee, but that’s not the way it has worked.

January started with a series of people over for dinner. Then in February we hosted some friends from Africa for a week.  People we dearly love.  Even so, hospitality was a stretch for me. (Hospitality is truly not my comfort zone. I try, try, try (probably over try); it is just hard, hard, hard for me.) I think the visit went well, but I definitely had some unsteady moments.

March and April were filled with varying experiences from my kids’ friends. Then came late April when my son called to ask if we would be willing to host his future roommate for the summer who had taken an internship in our area and needed a place to stay. I prayed about it and offered half the summer, hoping we could split with another family. (It may sound selfish, but I wanted my space for at least half the summer.)

That didn’t quite work out.

My son called right before he left for Ireland for three weeks in May to tell me his friend probably needed our home for the whole summer. I conceited but was fearfully reluctant, having met the guy only a couple of times.

When picking up my son at the airport after Ireland, we ran into his friend. I wasn’t sure when he was moving in so I asked. He informed me, “Tomorrow.”

Tomorrow came.

My son’s friend is a super guy gifted in gab and photography. He jumped into “my space” really comfortably and soon became part of the household.

In fact, everything was going well until my husband and daughter headed on a trip to Uganda to do some work with the couple we hosted in February.

I learned some things about myself that week, I wasn’t particularly fond of. With the stabilizing comfort of my husband gone, I wanted “my space” back really badly. I worked diligently to bury the resentment of having to share my home with this young man, but I still became divisive in my heart and cruel with my thoughts. Although, I tried to maintain an outer coat of genuine hospitality, my inner heart grew tainted.  Towards the end of the second week of my husband’s absence – I cracked. I wasn’t able to keep it in anymore.

I kept asking myself why this was bothering me. The guy staying with us wasn’t doing anything wrong. Why was it so hard to share space? After a couple of melt downs I came clean speaking honestly with both my son and his friend.  I was relieved both were gentle with me, although I suspect I hurt feelings as I spoke. I needed help with “our space” not only with chores, but also with me. In all the guilt I was feeling over not wanting to share space, I wasn’t taking care of myself and giving myself grace through the stress I was under with my husband gone. I needed to allow myself some solitude and not feel guilty about it. I also needed time with God to remove the ugly places built up in my heart hanging out with the over dramatized resentment and hurt feelings.

After confession and some well needed conversations with God, there were some things God showed me He was doing in our household.

First. My home really isn’t “my space”. It is God’s. God wants my family to share our home with others so we can share His love with others. Hosting and inviting people over to this amazing space allows us to provide comfort and care to others in need of God’s amazing grace.

Second. God has used our houseguest to teach me quite a bit. My son’s friend and I are polar opposites on the personality scale. While I want to run and hide, this kid boldly burst into whatever he is facing. He’s also not afraid to ask for help. One of my largest struggles. Watching him over the summer has kind of been like having a living You-Tube tutorial right in “my space.”

Thirdly. I was worried our family wouldn’t have as many personal family moments. That simply wasn’t true. We still did stuff as a family, sometimes with our houseguest, sometimes without. There were still times my son and I met for lunch, my daughter and I still did girl things and there were still plenty of family movie nights. Having an extra smile at dinner was nice, too. Especially since he even complimented the “food gone wrong” evenings.

Lastly, I got to see parts of my son, I would’ve never experienced without his friend around. Since my son moved to college he changed and grew up. He wasn’t the same person who left home last fall. Having his friend here in our house, allowed me to experience those changes because he hung out more at home. Also, when I broke down during the time my husband was out, I received grace from my son. Grace I didn’t even know was there. He is a really great guy! God blessed me with opportunities to see him in a different light this summer.

I’m not going to lie. I still struggle with sharing space – but… I’ve grown a lot over the summer. I am grateful for struggle, too. God has shown me through this struggle, He is still at work in me. He has also shown me how much He is working in my son. And that makes my momma heart very happy.

Be Alert and of Sober Mind

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV

This morning I drove with my family to the airport to drop off my husband and daughter. They headed out with our church to Uganda where they  will be doing some building projects and setting up medical clinics. We woke up early after a not so great night of sleep. My husband finished packing his carry on, while my daughter got ready to leave. I was in a brutal mood. Trying not to fight with anything that was under my skin (which was pretty much everything), I climbed in the car a bit melancholy.

I love that my amazing husband does the work that he does for our church’s Uganda Mission Project, but I struggle each year when it is time for a trip.  The struggling starts with fear. Will there be troubles with travel? Is my daughter safe? Etc. The list goes on. Often petty things set a collision course to heighten the emotion. Over this last week it was having two computers go down, a minor car accident, stomach issues and a couple of work problems.

I know a lot of people don’t believe in Satan or anything to do with spiritual warfare. My examples above would sound like coincidences to them. But I know spiritual warfare is real. This is how I know.

After arriving at the airport I was nervous – until we prayed. Release from the moody snares came when I surrendered them to God. Simple as that.

Driving back from the airport I was much more peaceful. I spent time with one of my favorite people, my son. He and his college roommate are at home with me. While my husband and daughter are enjoying serving with old friends in Uganda eating chapatti and posho (kind of like grits), we will be enjoying Ozark home cooking as we help keep up the blog being sent in from the trip (cumcuganda.blogspot.com) on the computers I just picked up from the Geek Squad. We will also be doing a lot of praying for the team in Uganda, as well as, the team at Thorntonville.

Ear Plugs

“But he said, ‘It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.’” Exodus 32:18 ESV

June 2nd. Regardless of the Summer Solstice stating the arrival of summer June 20th, it is summer at Thorntonville. My kids are out of school, there are random sleep cycles going with varying work and friend schedules, lawn mower sounds are happening in the distance (need to be happening at my house) and the evenings are filled with stories from the events of the day. The days’ activities create a variety of sound. More noise going in and out of the house than average , but totally normal for summer.

I spend most of the year in a whole lot of silence. I do silence really well. If my husband hadn’t been so temptingly attractive and if I had been Catholic, I could have totally have rocked the nun life.

When summer’s extra sounds hit, I get a little anxious. Ok. It’s more of a problem than I am admitting. My whole life noises have caused me to become nervous. Growing up, I felt like a freak because attending loud events shut me down. Concerts, parties, any large gathering, even worship services at church could send my nerves over the edge. The situation really became noticeable during the awkwardness of middle school when I was ill equipped to handle much of anything different than my peers, let alone get stressed over sound. Over the years I learned avoidance for my way of coping with noise. That, however, didn’t make for an interesting life, especially when I love adventure. During therapy a few years ago, my doctor noticed my problem. I shared with her that during noisy moments I struggle desperately to focus and how often sound made life frustrating. She smiled sympathetically looking back at me and asked, “Do you carry ear plugs?” Life changing moment. I laughed realizing the idea had never even occurred to me. Here I am at 46. I still struggle with sound, but it doesn’t stop me like it once did. My car, purse, every bag I carry, coat pockets and even bed side table all have ear plugs stored and waiting for use.

My son, a music major loves making sound. My husband and I often joke at God’s sense of humor with me. A person who responds so negatively to noise birthing a sound machine. I have missed so much hearing his music during this past school year. This summer we are playing catch up; he’s practicing piano, guitar, playing vinyl, recording his music in his bedroom and singing as he moves through the halls. He also has a friend staying with us who has his own music going from the guest room. Double blasted from each side of the house. Add in my girl concocting treats in the kitchen with the beater and my husband’s tunes in the evening. There is quite a bit of noise happening at Thorntonville.

Thankfully with all this life going on there are also a lot of ear plugs.

Life at Thorntonville School Year Review

“I am the Lord; there is no other God. I have equipped you for battle, though you don’t even know me, ‘so all the world from east to west will know there is no other God. I am the Lord, and there is no other.’ I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I the Lord, am the one who does these things.” Isaiah 45:5-7

What a school year! I’m taking a moment to just reflect on the time from August to September. To enjoy some of the most impacting moments from Thorntonville.

Back up. It really all started in June.

In June my husband began a new job. He had been on the same banking team for twenty years when he left for a new team and opportunity. Over this year I have been inspired by his ability to adapt to change. I have also witnessed him slowly win over a team, learning even more about leadership. He’s had some ideas shot down and had to recover with his team watching; he’s implemented concepts that were new, encouraged team mates and worked hard to facilitate a team working environment. He hasn’t done all this alone. Many prayers were answered when God blessed my husband with an incredible mentor who met with him challenging him to keep God first and helped strengthen his leadership skills.

In August we dropped our son off for his first year of college. Two sets of parents between him and his roommate (and a younger sister), we all worked to create a space for two boys in a small dorm room. It ended with the parents leaving and letting the boys arrange the room on their own. I left the college that evening filled with so many emotions. Excitement, fear, anticipation, sorrow in knowing I was going to miss him like crazy. And I did. Then over the year came the joys of victory as he met challenge after challenge. Two weeks ago I went to help him move home. Not the boy he was when he left, but a man. Still room for growth, but tremendous growth revealed. Amazing!

In August my baby started high school. She marched in on the first day confident, but  nervous.  She has had to fight for some of her dreams, learn to let go of some things that didn’t really matter, and discern the difference. She has had to choose between passions because there wasn’t enough time to do it all, find courage to talk to teachers about grades she didn’t care for, pick herself up when she stumbled and plant a smile on her face when she felt like crying. We’ve discovered high school prepares for life in ways that are unexpected. She was our princess. Now she is our warrior princess. In another week, she will have completed her sophomore year.  She’s a fighter- a compassionate one. We learned all that since August. Well… some of it we already knew.

In September, I started back teaching Bible studies.  Having been out of the saddle for a few years I was really nervous.  It took months for me to get my groove on.  It took even longer for the reality of how much I loved it to set in.  One of my classes was a group of women who were so patient with me.  We all grew in God’s word together.  The second class I co-taught with my daughter.  First graders.  We were all a mess.  But in the end we learned so much and loved each one of those kiddos.  God had to get me over myself in both classes.  I was constantly tripping on my own insecurity.  In the end, I walked away stronger, wiser, and ready to implement the things I had learned.

In October my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I wept. I was frightened for him. Afraid of loosing him. In January I went to visit him and went with him to one of his radiation treatments. My relationship with him will be forever changed. He was brave. He was strong in ways I had never imagined. He was kind to those he came into contact with despite the discomfort of the disease. He shared more information than I ever wanted to hear, but he shared more than information. He shared himself through his vulnerability. It was beautiful. He was beautiful. When he finished treatment and was declared in remission he rung the bell at the clinic. I cried tears of joy and celebrated  a fight well fought, a battle won.

In March our family went to hear my son’s band perform. It was so much fun to hear him. I was caught off guard by the response of the crowd though. I’m his mom, so of course I think he’s good, but when the crowd did too.  Wow! That was pretty cool! Although his major is music, his band is totally outside of campus studies so I had been apprehensive for the time he spent on it.  However, leaving the performance, I gave thanks. God helped me see a different side of my son.

In March (or maybe it was April – kind of blur) my daughter began dating. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of momma nerves that moved in. I was so excited for her because she was excited. We knew she had liked this guy for quite a while. I was fine during all the crush time, because I crushed big time on a guy from my high school. Crushes are from a distance. Nice and safe. Then they went from texting to talking on the phone and next thing we knew she was headed out the door with this really great guy to a movie (and then canoeing and then a walk in the park…) A few weeks later he asked my girl to his prom. They were precious. I didn’t have a date for prom, so… I was really (ok way over the top) excited for her. Even more excited when he had her home by 11:30 because he was leading the praise band the next morning at his dad’s church. Told you he was a great guy!

Thorntonville has been through quite a bit of transition this past school year. There have been definite changes in our lives. We are growing up! (sniffle, sniffle) We are learning from our trials and moving forward.

But now….

Bring on the summer vacation!!!

Align

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13

Sitting in a conference a couple of years ago I heard a speaker say, “We need to align our will to be with God’s will.”

“Align,” I thought to myself.  “What exactly does that mean?”

So… I looked it up.

Align: “to arrange things so that they form a line or are in proper position” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary App)

My life was not “in proper position” with God’s will. In fact, I realized, I had spent a lot of time trying to get God’s will  “in proper position” with my will. I needed an adjustment. A realignment.

It began with a prayer…

“Holy Lord, Align us [my family] with your will. Our work, our home, our lives. Tear down the things that hinder us or block us from the life you long for us to travel and live. Eliminate pride, unforgiveness, fear and other strongholds. Give us confidence when we doubt, vision when the road is unclear and help for when we feel torn – even between good choices. Align us with you. Amen.”

…  which was followed by studying scripture specifically targeting the areas in my life that were out of line: Pride, unforgiveness, fear…

I’m still working on aligning my will to God’s will. However, the progress forward has changed my life. When I am prideful God provides humility. When I am angry God provides forgiveness (so I can extend it before exploding.)  When I am fearful God provides courage and bravery to trust Him more. When my strongholds rear their ugly heads God shows me how to break their gripping chains and cry the victory shout of, “No more!”

Alignment with God’s will brings freedom.

Freedom brings joy.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16