Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Different Lens...

     "Who do I look like, Mom? You or Dad?" she asked. "I think you look quite a bit like Dad did when he was your age," I said.  To which she replied, " Why do I have to look like Dad, I want to look like you!" It's this last sentence in our conversation that has me considering the lens through which we view ourselves.

     I was trying to answer her question as accurately as I could. It is true that she looks very much like her Dad when he was her age, but it is also true that she has my eye and hair color. I suppose I could have been more specific and pointed out which features she shared with each parent, but I didn't. It's the difference between really paying attention to detail and just taking a glance.

     The words "I want to look like you!" really took me by surprise especially since my girl and I have very different styles. She's made it known in prior conversations that she doesn't want to be "plain" like me. I never let it offend me, I want her to be herself and I have been called "plain" many times before. Her words made me think about the lens through which I have viewed myself. In that moment I realized that the lens she currently views me through is different than the one that I view myself through.  I view myself through the lens of "plain".  Then I began to wonder when did that become my lens? Was it always my lens or was it handed to me by others through their words?

     More often than not we tend to view ourselves through the words of others. Words are a kind of lens. The words that others offer us can encourage us, help us grow in the strengths that we already have, and inspire us to greatness. They can also tear us down, make us feel inadequate, and deprive us from dreaming big because we think we are only mediocre. Words can be general and words can be specific. General words are the words we use when we are viewing ourselves or others at a glance. Specific words are the ones we use when we are paying attention to detail.

   After pondering all of this, I realized how my words give my daughter a lens through which to view herself and it scares me. It scares me because I know that the only lens I want her to see herself through is God's lens. His is the only one that matters because it is the most accurate. Here I sit typing about God's lens being the only one that matters for my daughter...and this mother is the one who needs the reminder! This must be the reason God gave me kids, to bring Him into focus!

     If words are a kind of lens through which we view ourselves, then what does God's Word say about us?  If we belong to Him, what does He see when He looks at us? How is the way He sees us different than the way we see ourselves?  Here are some things that come to mind as I think about this: All-knowing God, looks at us through the eyes of unconditional love. He knows our failures and imperfections, yet He looks at us and loves us anyway. He knows our brokeness but when He looks at us, He sees us whole. He knows the ugliness of our sins but when He looks at us, He sees our purity. God views us through the lens of eternity. He sees who we were, who we are now, who we are becoming, and who we will be all at the same time.  If we were to be honest, we'd have to admit that our lens and God's lens are very different. The lens through which we view ourselves is probably most like the lens of a microscope. A microscope focuses on one thing and magnifies it until it's big enough to see in great detail. Isn't that what most of us do with our flaws and the flaws of others? How do we change this?

     The only way to change this is to ask God to help us to see ourselves and others through His lens. After we have exchanged our lens for His, our view will be more accurate and so will the words that we speak to ourselves and to others.  Instead of zooming in on imperfections, we will see through the lens of God's love. God's love sees the whole picture.  I don't know about you, but I want to make a conscious effort to look through God's lens. I know that doing so will provide me with His words of life, love, and hope for myself and others.

   

    

    

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Hard Places...

     Sometimes God requires us to go to the hard places. He may even lead us there more often than we like. We can choose to go willingly, reluctantly, or not at all. If we go willingly it is easier to enjoy His company and to feel His presence with us. If we go reluctantly, it may leave us feeling alone. If we choose not to go at all we will miss an opportunity for personal growth, possible healing, and potential joy.

     For over a year now God has brought me to the same hard place. In the beginning I went willingly because it was easy for me to see the importance of going. In recent months I have gone less often and reluctantly. Where is this hard place, you ask?  My hard place is the home of my Aunt and my Cousin. It used to be the place that I spent time with my Grandmother. That is why it is a hard place.

     In the beginning it was easy to willingly go. I was needed and I saw it is an opportunity to share God's love with my family. As time passed and things settled down it became more difficult. My Aunt moved into Grammy's old bedroom because of her health issues. This meant that when I went to visit my Aunt I would sit next to her bed in the same spot I used to visit with Grammy.  There were many times that I would return home from visiting my Aunt and have nightmares when I went to sleep. In those nightmares, I was reliving Grammy's last moments in that room. This is when my reluctance to go to the hard place began. I would go but not as often. Although I no longer have those nightmares, in their place I feel a heavy blanket of sadness.

     There have been times in recent months when I have felt prompted to go and visit my family and have chosen not to. I've come to God with excuses such as, "I'm too busy" or "Maybe next week". Visiting a few times a month has turned into visiting once a month, until yesterday.  Yesterday I didn't make excuses, I went. I still felt the same sadness but God showed me something important about the hard places yesterday. He used my Aunt and my cousin's daughter to do it.

      Sometimes you have to visit the hard places for a long time in order to see God at work and experience the joy.  During my visit yesterday my Aunt turned to me and said, "I always enjoy our visits. I like it when you come."  When Grammy was living I didn't have much of a relationship with my Aunt because she was very sick and slept a lot. God has used my Grandmother's death and our visits to draw us together. I didn't fully realize just how close together He had drawn us until our time together yesterday. Somehow during a year and half's worth of visits God has made me her confidant.  I now have the privilege and the joy in the midst of the hard place, of sharing hopes and fears with her. We get to do life together. If God had not helped me continue to go to the hard place I would have missed all of this.

     In addition to visiting my Aunt in the hard place, I have spent time with my Cousin and her kids there. I had spent time with them even when Grammy was living. However, since her death the kids have drawn closer to my kids and we have become a safe place for them to land. Yesterday her oldest began asking me questions about God. We've had conversations about Him before but this time was different. She is really searching and confused because of some recent conversations that she's had with a Jehovah's Witness. What if I had continued to resist going to the hard place? I would have missed the opportunity to share Christ and the truth of His Word with her. He would have sent someone else but I would have missed out on the joy of pointing her in His direction. These things that happened yesterday make going to the hard places worth it.
  
     We all have hard places. What is your hard place? Is it work? Church? The home of a difficult family member? Your own home?  As long as God keeps bringing you there, keep going. Ask Him to do what He needs to do in and through you in that hard place. It's easy when we're in a hard place to dwell on how painful it is to be there, but if we could only have eyes to see what God is doing we would go willingly rather than reluctantly. Because we are human and our understanding is finite, it often appears as if He is doing nothing and there is no point in our sacrifice or suffering. Yet if we could see through the eyes of eternity we would know better. He is always at work. He is always up to something. It's our choice. Will we only go with Him to the easy places or will we let Him walk us through the hard places, willing to be a part if His plan even if it hurts?  Maybe the questions we need to ask ourselves are this: Is the suffering and the sacrifice of going to the hard places worth it if God can use it to point just one person to Christ? Is it worth it if it brings His love, His hope, and His healing into someone else's life and in the process our own? 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Family...

     I left my heart in Kentucky. It sounds like the verse of a bad country song, doesn't it?!  While not totally true, I think a piece of me is still there and maybe always will be. A week and a half ago I was in Kentucky and I met some of my family for the first time.  I went with all of my preconceived ideas and they shot them right out of the water much like they shoot other things down South! I came home with memories I will treasure and a more accurate sense of where my Grandparents came from. I also came home with a greater appreciation for family.

     Great Aunt Mary has lived in Kentucky all of her life. She is my Grandmother's sister. She is the only one out of her eleven other siblings that is still living. She's been through a lot in her eighty four years on this earth. When we first stood face to face, she took me by the shoulders and said, " I'm the only one left. The only one left of Mommy and Daddy's kids."  I saw the sadness and the loneliness in her eyes and acknowledged that this was a very difficult place for her to be in, the last one living.

     During our time together I received long spontaneous hugs. No one has squeezed me that tight since Grammy was living. Great Aunt Mary doesn't say much but when she speaks it's worth listening to. One conversation began with her saying, " One year Daddy died and the next nine of us kids stood in the same cemetary and buried Mommy. We left with no where to go." A day later I would stand in that same spot in front of my Great Grandparent's grave and feel the weight of those words. They took me back in time and gave me an appreciation for the women Great Aunt Mary and Grammy would become.  She also spoke of a brother long gone who had done some unspeakable things to his siblings. He was the same brother who badly beat my Grandmother. Great Aunt Mary's words were, "I forgave him. I just hope he came to know the good Lord before he passed. I'd like to see him someday." Wow. 

     Great Aunt Mary isn't entirely alone. Her daughter lives with her. She also has two nephews that travel to visit her from far away, several times a year. Charlie and Bob claim that she was always like a second mother to them. Her response to that," Well, I lived right by them. They was always over my place. My kids and my brother's kids always played together. We shared everythin'. What one of us had the other one had."

     "What one of us had the other one had."  Those words have stuck with me for a few reasons. First, because this is backwoods Kentucky. These people are poor but instead of holding tightly to what they have they share it. Second, because my Grammy always said those same words when she was about to share with one of us. Finally, because I can't help but think that this is what the family of God should be like.

     It's this final thought that has really grabbed a hold of me lately. There is no reason for anyone to be in need if we all share what God has given us. If I have food then you should have food even if that means I give you some of mine. The truth is it really wasn't mine to begin with...it came from God. He provides for me. It's this way with family relationships too. There is no need for anyone to be lonely. If God has poured out His love in our hearts and made us a a part of His family, then we need to let it spill out into the lives of others. Family doesn't  just have to be the word we use to describe the people who are biologically related to us. God makes other kinds of families too. The Bible says He sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:6)  God has certainly set some precious people in my life throughout the years. He has enlarged my family and by doing so enlarged my heart.

     I'll leave you with these final thoughts. It doesn't matter to God whether we have little to share or an abundance. What matters is that we share it because it was never really ours to begin with. It all belongs to Him. Sharing isn't always about material things. God wants us to share the love He's given us. God may want to make your family bigger. For some of us this can be a scary thought because sharing life with others makes us vulnerable. As one who used to be afraid, I can tell you it's worth it.  There is no greater joy than loving someone like they are your own flesh and blood, simply because God brought them to you and placed them in your family. Look around you. Who can you share with? Who is it that God keeps bringing to your door? Could it be that He wants you to be their family?