Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

It is no secret that it is Tim Fall’s fault encouragement that got me blogging. I always enjoy Tim’s words, and am delighted to welcome him here today with his usual blend of funny, warm and robustly encouraging insight.

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

Contrary to the impression I might have given with posts on running a 6 mile obstacle course and a half-marathon in the Happiest Place on Earth, I am not wont to join a few thousand strangers in order to traverse long distances in company.

But I did it again.

This time it was a 5K through a bunch of bounce houses. Three miles and a dozen inflatable obstacles made for a fun-run in the truest sense. It also made me feel like the folks in this verse:

They reeled and staggered like drunkards … . (Psalm 107:27.)

Tim Drunkard

Me reeling and staggering, but not falling down.

 

We signed up along with a bunch of people from the gym. As the day approached the young guy who owns the gym – and whom we looked to as our fearless leader for the race – went and blew his knee out and ended up having surgery.

That didn’t stop him from taking the course. He said he’d do it, and he did. And we did it with him. He couldn’t run so we all walked with him 3.1 miles from obstacle to obstacle. He hobbled through the obstacles along with the rest of us, laughing and joking around. It wasn’t the way the course was designed to be taken, perhaps, but it was the right way for us to go.

The Right Way to Go

Which reminds me of another verse:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(Proverbs 18:24.)

This group of friends stuck together for the sake of the one who could not run full speed. It’s the same with the church, the people of God. We are called to come together, to be with one another, to love each other in the good times and the bad times. In fact, it’s this love for one another that shows people who we belong to.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)

How can you love one another so that people will see you belong to Jesus? Good question, and one I hope you’ll help answer in a comment. For me it often means encouraging people. I don’t restrict this to fellow Christians, of course. Jesus’ love is something I can share with everyone God puts in my life.

When we love those outside the body of Christ, we do it without expectation of reciprocation. When we do it with each other, though, it should be a mutual care and love for one another. It is this bond of love – the back and forth, the give and take whether everyone can run at the same speed or not – that shows people who we are.

That’s what Jesus said.


Tim Fall pointsTim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 28 years with two grown kids, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. He blogs, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook too.

 

 

The first year of marriage

 

Why is the first year of marriage so hard?

“So, how’s married life?”

It was a question we were asked hundreds of times in that first year. It was a question that always left me feeling a little bereft as to what to say.

The truth is, our first year of marriage was hard. Very hard. Not because we’d made a mistake, not because I regretted the decision, not because I wanted out. Even though I was sure we’d chosen right and wanted in – it was still hard.

We may have been in love, but we hadn’t yet begun to learn how to love one another well. We hadn’t yet begun to learn that beyond the declarations of love and commitment comes the daily study of learning what your spouse likes, and deeper than that – how your spouse thinks.

I cried. A lot. Tears of frustration. Tears of pain. Tears of despair. Tears of martyrdom, spilled out on my pillow before sleep finally came: “Oh God, I promised to love him even if this means feeling this way fore-eh-eh-eh- (sob)-ver…zzzz”

There was no particular sin or problem that made it hard. It wasn’t that we were mismatched. It was more just that it was painful to figure out the changes. I think the most honest thing we were able to say about that first year was that it was “a big adjustment“. Here are some of the things that were hard for us to adjust:

It was hard to change our expectations of how time together was spent. When we were dating and engaged, our time together was spent “TOGETHER”, and then we went home to our respective houses and did our alone-time things alone. But once we were married, was time at home together time, or alone time? How did we figure that out? I expected marriage to feel more like an extended low-fuss date. I think he expected it more to feel like alone time, except with me in the house. It was painful for both of us to figure that out.

We suffered from decision-making fatigue. Before we were married, we had to decide on a few things together, and we figured we were pretty good at making those decisions. But once we were married, we discovered that every part of every day and every routine in every chore needed now to be decided on: we didn’t want to presume to do it “his” way or “my” way, so that meant having to have conversation after conversation about what “our” way was going to be. When should we eat dinner? what to eat for dinner? Who will do what prep and cooking for dinner? How long after dinner is it acceptable to wait before doing the dishes? Should washed dishes be dried and put away at once, or left to drip dry until morning? None of these questions was important, but much like the fatigue of a group of friends all trying to decide on a place to go for dinner and the conversation just goes and goes and goes because no-one wants to decide for the group, or the fatigue of a 4
-year olds’ “why”…. we were tired.

Another complicating factor was that it was hard to figure out our social obligations. While dating, I had a large circle of (mostly single) friends, with whom I spent about half the nights of the week. Once
married, what happened to those friendships? I wanted to keep those friendships and not be the friend-who-dropped-off-the-face-of-the-earth once she got married, but I couldn’t leave my hubby alone at home 3 nights a
week, and I couldn’t always just invite my girl friends to our house: they were my friends after all, and while they liked him they didn’t exactly want to bare their souls to my new hubby.

And so I did what all nice-girls-in-a-bind do: I cried. In private.

Would telling the truth about it being hard that first year have been understood? Would it have been seen as betrayal? Betrayal to my husband, or to the idealized notion of marriage? At the time it felt like it might be both.

And so one night, when an older, wiser friend asked: “So, how’s married life?”, and then followed it up immediately with, “It’s hard, isn’t it?”, I just about sobbed with relief. It was hard. It was such a relief to say it. And you know what? It got better. That first year wasn’t all terrible, but to be honest – it wasn’t all great.

I have friends who have had most wonderful first years of marriage. I’m so happy for them. But I just wanted to put in writing that it was not so with us. Just in case there’s anyone out there, whether in year 1 or year 4 or year 14, who feels this marriage gig is HARD and I-didn’t-expect-this and am-I-doing-something-wrong? and will-I-always-feel-like-this? and I-don’t-regret-this-but-I’m-still-crying-all-the-time…

Just in case that’s you, I wanted to say: “So how’s married life? It’s HARD, isn’t it?”

I know. We struggled through it, and we came through the stronger for it. You can too.

You might be interested in this post over at Start Marriage Right: Why we ditched the “young marrieds” groups

Things My Mother Told Me (Shannon Wilson)

Reader Shannon Wilson sent me this amazing story about her Mom. Please welcome Shannon to the blog and savor this beautiful story.

For the past 15 years, my mother has talked to me about the day that she would die. My mom holds loosely to this life, primarily because she holds tightly to the promise of her Savior,  knowing life is a vapor and she has the treasure of eternity with Christ just up ahead. She started countless sentences with this phrase:  “Shannon, when I’m gone… ”  The first several times, I was horrified. Who wants to think about their vibrant and healthy mom dying? But she did it anyway, throwing the idea around with the ease of a pizza order.

Over time I got used to this odd “coaching” that only my mother seemed to do.  She would receive an eyeroll from me in response to her casual banter about the day I wouldn’t have her beside me. I told her time and time again that just because she prepped me about this wouldn’t make the day easier for me when it actually arrived.

Alongside this “prep,” there are truths of God that she has hammered into me over the years.  She said this to me, “It is the time in between the valleys, when you are on the mountaintop, that you press hard into Christ.  When you are not in the valley, when you are on a peak, don’t forget to know him well in these days, because a valley will come.”    This was not a gloomy, pessimistic view; my mother is the opposite of those things.  She is a dispenser of wisdom and I had grown up enough (finally) to heed her words. After a season in the valley, I came to a mountaintop.  I pressed in to Christ and remembered her words, “Press in on the mountain, a valley will come.”

  On January 14, 2014, my mother didn’t show up for an appointment. The police even used the phrase “missing.”   Finally, we got the call that brought her location into the open.   She had a severe stroke that induced a brain seizure. Her brain was bleeding and seizing while she was driving on major highway.  She got up to 90 miles per hour and slammed into a guard rail.  She had just been taken to the trauma center. Come quickly.   In an instant we went from one crisis – My mother is missing – to the next.

Suddenly, I didn’t know if my mother would be alive when I got to her.   I did not know if she was alive right then, at that moment while my dad and I were in the car, speeding toward her.  In those minutes, the words that my mother had spent years building into me seamlessly and suddenly wove together with the Spirit of God within me.

I wanted my mother to be alive.  I prayed desperately for her to be alive, for God to save her. Desperately I prayed,  boldly I begged…I was not ready for this to be the day.

Shannon holding her Mom’s hand in hospital (Photo used with permission)

 

At the same time, running a parallel track, I knew that it was entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that my mom was already in the presence of Jesus and seeing him face to face, or that she would be at any moment.

In those minutes, one truth from the mountaintop blazed forth and settled over the two tracks in my mind. He had told Martha this truth two thousand years before,  I AM the One thing, He said, I AM the Better thing.  I knew it to be true.   For my mom and for me.  Jesus, the One thing, spoke again through the words implanted in my heart through His Word:  “Do you believe?”  In that instant I knew that I believed that He is Enough, that if he took her or had already taken her that we would sing His praises at her funeral.
January 14, 2014 was not my mother’s day to die.   Today, she is a walking, talking miracle. About 6 weeks after the accident she made this statement to me, her speech halting and slower than before, but clear as a bell: “Shannon, I have prayed for you to have more of God and less of me…so when the day comes, HE would be enough.”
There it was.  The thread that she had been weaving for 15 years.   Her purpose behind all those years of casual prep, the encouragement to press in on the mountaintop, had never been to make the day “easier”  for me or to assume that the day would come less painfully.  Her purpose was to fill me with more of Jesus.  So when the day comes, and it was not that day but it will be another, that I would know that He is enough.

Shannon Wilson lives in NC with her husband and son.  Her passion is to write and speak about the riches of God’s Word and encourage women to live out the Gospel in their daily lives.  She loves reading, talking, wildly accessorizing and spending time with her family.  Connect with her on her blog, twitter and instagram (@shannonhw), or find her on Facebook.

 

Voting for Nero

Emperor Nero

I don’t envy American voters right now. As much as I covet the perks of citizenship, the responsibilities of having to choose a President in this years’ election feel a bit like a bad meal on the show Survivor: a choice between roasted scorpion and BBQ’d slug for dinner… awful, but a girl’s gotta eat.

That the presidency has been so closely tied to identifying as Christian in the past makes things that much more complex. Certainly, at this stage I’m not persuaded that any of the leading candidates for either party have anything close to an authentic faith (not that I think being a Christian is necessary for public office. Character and competence? Yes. Christ-follower? Not necessary. Church and state are separate, after all.)

My heart goes out to Christian voters who are grieving their choices. These are less-than-ideal options, and as someone who will live under the reign of one of these officials, I know that I will also experience the effects of their policies in a tangible way. I’m more than a little concerned about what the future may hold for me as an immigrant, and a tax payer, and as a parent of American citizens.

But I can’t help feeling, too, that while this election spells trouble for the America, maybe it will also be really good for American believers. This election no longer allows us to draw a line in the sand and say “my faith says I should vote this way”, because the issues are so complex. Our faith says we should vote (be an engaged citizen, do our civic duty), but exactly HOW to vote is far more nuanced.

I think (I hope! I pray!) that this political climate could have some really healthy spiritual consequences. I just finished reading Mark Labberton’s short-but-powerful book Called, in which he explores the crisis and calling of Christians in our world today. What does God want from us? Why is our faith often so ineffective? How do we figure out what our priorities are, or should be?

Labberton argues that part of the reason the church is in crisis is that, in America, we have positioned ourselves in the wrong place theologically: we live and teach and pray as if we are living in the Promised Land (A place of blessing! We’ve arrived! We have been faithful and rewarded, and if “my people would just humble themselves and pray” He will pour out His blessing!) Consequently, we expect this country to be one with Christian institutions, Christian laws, and Christian leaders: a whole gamut of Promised Land blessings. I’ve seen more than one article comparing Trump to King Saul, and while the similarities are fascinating, it is also fascinating that the position of President of the USA is being compared to the role of King of God’s Kingdom.

Labberton says (and I agree) that we’re not in the Promised Land. Not yet, anyway. A better way for us to situate ourselves theologically is to see ourselves as believers in exile: we are Daniel in Babylon – honoring God, and serving within a system that is not our own, and seeking to exert godly influence there. We are the exiles, seeking the peace of the city we are in – for we will be here a while yet before we finally make it home to the place He has prepared for us. So settle down: plant a vegetable garden, figure out how to be faithful to God in a land-not-yet-your-own, seek your neighbors’ welfare and trust that here and now is not the end of God’s story.

I found reading Called to be surprisingly comforting. The absence of a godly leader does not mean that God’s plan is thwarted: we are not Israel living under a King. We are Kingdom exiles living under a foreign ruler, and while believers may occupy positions of influence and power in that realm– the fate of God’s promises doesn’t depend on these institutions.

The words of the New Testament are all the more salient to believers in these days when it feels like governments are populated by people like the Emperor Nero was: self-serving politicians with significant mean streaks. Nero famously “fiddled while Rome fell”: his cruelty and indifference to people’s suffering so pointedly demonstrating the moral decrepitude which characterized his reign.

This years’ election lineup looks like a bunch of Nero’s (or Nera’s?) to me. The South African government looks much the same, and it is disheartening sometimes to think that behind them are a long, long line of Nero-wannabes waiting to take their place should the head honcho tumble.

But we know that God’s purposes never depended on godly leaders being at the helm. It was to people under a hostile and indifferent government that the apostles wrote their letters about citizenship: honor the leader. Obey the laws. Pay your taxes. Show love to your neighbor. Pray for peace that you may live a quiet life and get on with what God has called you to do.

For it’s not as if we need a new Messiah to come and fix the mess of a system we’re in. We have a perfect King, already installed on the throne, and one day His Kingdom will be revealed. But for now? We live in exile, and no matter who is in power – NO ONE is stopping us from doing the work we were called to do right now: loving God, loving our neighbor. This post is not saying “our hope is not in politics, so withdraw withdraw withdraw!” This post is saying “our hope is not in politics, so engage engage engage… in the Kingdom work right in front of you.” 

This is what I’m trying to remember as I read all the heartbroken and angry reactions on my social media feed. We are in exile, living in the times of Nero. But Jesus is still on his throne, and he says that Greatness is about service and love to the least of these:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your servant— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28)

If nothing else, maybe this year’s elections will remind the church which leader we’re ultimately putting our confidence in. Come what may, my vote’s on Him.

That’s Not My Name

Please welcome Bobbie Schaeperkoetter to the blog!

Maybe I’ve let myself be defined by the wrong names for long enough. And maybe you have too.

Unworthy.  Unloveable.  Unattractive.  Selfish.  Spoiled.  Out of touch with reality.  Irresponsible.  Snob.  Untalented.  Liar.  Cheater.  Judgmental.  Failure.  I’ve been called these names and many more.  These, and others, are words that I’ve heard spoken about me nearly all of my life.  They are words of hurt and pain.  They are words that cut deep.  They are words that I’ve felt have left a scar on my poor tender heart.  Sometimes those words were spoken by others.  Sometimes I just felt them because of a person’s attitude of actions.  Most often though, the words that have cut me the deepest, are the words that I’ve spoken to myself.  The worst names are the ones I gave myself.

This isn’t the regular state of my heart, but I have been my own worst enemy at times.  I’ve doubted my heart, my worth, my skills, my actions, my looks, my motives, and my talents.  I’ve focused on my negative qualities far more than my positives.  I have let fear and doubt rule me for so much of my life.  I have I’ve stood in my own way far more than anyone else ever has.  I’ve let my past, my failures, my mistakes, and especially my sins define me for far too long.  I’ve been a slave to the names.  I’ve often felt locked in the prison of these words.  I’ve let myself believe them.  I have believed that I am unworthy and unloveable.  I have believed that I am a cheat and a liar and a failure. 

And for some reason, I’ve never fought back against those names.  Maybe I kept letting myself be defined by those names because a small part of me believed each one of them for one reason or another.  Maybe it is because no one knows me like I know myself.  No one knows every detail of my past and every struggle that I have walked through or every mistake that I have made.  But just maybe,  I have listened to the lies that the enemy has whispered into my ear for far too long.

Maybe I’ve let myself be defined by the wrong names for long enough.  And maybe you have too.

This morning, I woke up to a text from a dear friend who is in the middle of a very difficult situation.  She is feeling defeated.  She is feeling defined by her circumstances and her situation.  She is believing the names.  She is believing the names that others have called her, but most often, she is believing the names that she has called herself.  

And my heart broke for her.  And it broke a little for myself because I have done the same thing so often.

I have so many friends and family members who are in the middle of very difficult situations.  Some are there as a result of their own choices but some are just a victim of circumstance.  Regardless of how they got to where they are, many of them have one common bond.  They’ve let the names they have been called define them.  

They have believed the lies too.  They’ve believed the lies that they are their circumstances or their situation or their mistakes.  They’ve believed the lies that they are their sin or their faults or their failures.  They’ve believed the lies that they are what other people have said that they are.  They have let those names define them just like I have.

That is not the case for them, it is not the case for me, and it is not the case for you sweet friend. 

                I am not unworthy, unloveable, unattractive, or untalented.  That is not my name.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a Heavenly Father who specifically designed me for a purpose and with a plan.   (Psalm 139:13-14)

I am not a cheater, a liar, or a failure.  That’s not my name.  I am redeemed and forgiven.  I am a child of my Heavenly Father and I am loved beyond measure.  He has taken my past and nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 1:14, Colossians 2:13-14, John 3:16)

 I am not selfish, judgmental, out of touch with reality, spoiled, or a snob. That’s not my name.   I am learning to walk in newness of life.  I’ve laid aside my old self and have been given a new heart.  The road may be a little bumpy and I may fail sometimes, but my Father is patient and loving.  (Ephesians 4:20-32, Ezekiel 36:26)

I am not those names that others have called me.  I am not those names that I have called myself.  I am not those names that the enemy has whispered in my ear.  I am not defined by my past or even my current situation.  And neither are you.  If we are a follower of Jesus, then those names do not define us.  His name does.

We are defined by a God who loves us more than we can even begin to fathom.   We are named by the one who calls us chosen, loved, redeemed, beautiful, precious, forgiven, and new.  Let go of those old names and embrace the name that Jesus has given you.

 

bobbie schaeBobbie Schaeperkoetter makes her home in Jefferson City, Missouri, with her high school sweetheart-turned hubby and her two handsome boys. She is a wife, mom, homeschooler, the Director of Ministry and Creative Branding for The Women In My World, and a part of the The Genesis Project Development Group’s production team. Bobbie blogs at bobbieschae.com.  Her writing can also be found at Grace Centered at http://www.gracecentered.com/.  and at Faith Filled Family magazine  www.faithfilledfamily.com .  She would love you to stop by for a virtual cup of coffee and a chat.

What God Wants From You

He is carving new words into the contours of my soul_ %22Come.%22

A few friends have chosen a theme word for their year: thrive. rest. courage. knock. I chose one last year: anchor, and given the horrendously stormy start last year had, an anchor was just what I needed.

I’m not usually a person who limits herself to one, or even a handful, of words – but I do see the value in sometimes boiling something down to one essential truth to meditate and mull over. This morning I was thinking about some specific words to try and nail down what was on my heart for a couple people, so I could pray for them.

For one, the word striving came to mind: always reaching, working, on the go-go-go, and as I prayed, I found myself asking for rest for her, and that she would hear God’s invitation to sit with him and just be.

For another, the word lonely was there, and I found myself praying that she’d know God as Emmanuel: the one who is with us

For another, even though I’ve prayed for this person for years, it was a completely unexpected thing to find the word Fatherless coming to mind, and so I prayed that they would know God as their Father, even though I’d never seen them as an orphan-in-need-of-a-parent before.

And, as I thought about these (and more), it struck me how much my understanding of what God really wants from us, and for us, has changed. My one-word prayers were no longer “help them to do better”, but “help them to draw near.”

I don’t know if I would have put it quite like this, but I think for the longest time I thought God’s message to us—in a nutshell—was this: “Repent and toe the line.” Yes, he loved us enough to make a way to forgive our sin; and yes, he was gracious and all that… but I think I had absorbed a belief that unless I was making an effort to toe that proverbial line, the love and grace was out of reach.

It takes waves a long time to carve contours into rock; and I think the contours of my soul have had to have God’s truth wash over me again, and again, and again (sometimes crashing! sometimes just rinsing out debris with a gentle tide), but I see a new contour, and I see God’s handiwork in this. For these days, if I had to summarize God’s message to us—in a nutshell—I think it would be this: “Come.”

He is a Father waiting with open arms. A Lover who can’t wait to see the face of his beloved. A Shepherd who sees us when we are harassed and helpless, and has compassion.

Come, he says.

More than anything, I believe that’s what he wants from us, and what he wants for us, because he knows that rest, and joy, and life-to-the-full, and meaning, and purpose are all found in him.

Image credit: Bill Richards/Azure Window (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea using Canva.

He Tends His Flock (Nicole T. Walters)

sheep

He Tends His Flock (Isaiah 40.11)

The sun is fading behind the trees now

And there’s a place I’m supposed to be

But the fog is rolling in like waves,

Slowly covering and drowning me.

Somewhere is the familiar path

That leads to safety, leads me home.

But in the descending darkness

My tired legs begin to roam.

 

Somewhere not too far from here

The gate is closing for the night.

He is counting every head to see

That each one made it home all right.

But tonight there’s one wandering lamb

Who forgot to watch for His lead.

Now I find myself alone and scared.

I find myself in desperate need.

Against the briars and jagged rocks

At first I begin to grope,

But the world spins around me

As I lay down my head, give up hope.

 

I lay down in defeat to die,

Unable to keep up the fight,

Until in the darkness of despair

A familiar voice breaks through the night.

Could this really be the one I love,

Come to carry me back home?

But isn’t he angry at my mistakes,

At my tendency to always roam?

Why would he leave the ninety-nine

For one alone I cannot see.

Why would He risk His own life

For a worthless lamb like me?

 

When he finds me at last,

Shivering in the cold night air

I see joyful tears in his eyes

And I understand why he is there.

I am not just another lamb

In a flock of nameless sheep.

I am like a precious child

He promised he would always keep.

He gathers me into his arms,

Forgetting all I have done wrong

And he carries me close to his heart,

For it is to him that I belong.

by Nicole T. Walters
Illustration by Corrie Haffly

*************

The Lord is my Shepherd: this poem gave me a fresh glimpse into what that means for us. Perhaps these words were just what you needed today.