I Would be True

In my quiet time this morning – and boy, does God go to work on me – I see so clearly that you want and need what we all want and need; you want to feel wanted and need to be needed. Pop psychology, Oprah and Dr. Phil to the contrary, it isn’t healthy to be so independent and walled in by boundaries that we “don’t need anyone else for our happiness.” That’s simply not true. True, we need healthy boundaries to keep out harmful influences, but total independence builds walls around us that keep out the need for love God created in us, both as givers and receivers.

Yes, I am a “traditional” woman with traditional values, born into a less competitive and compulsive culture and time when relationships mattered more than accomplishment, I recognize the influence of my culture and family, and I don’t apologize for being myself. Yes, we are all influenced by the culture and the era in which we grew up and in which we live, but we don’t have to be SHAPED by those times, expectations and distortions. My worth doesn’t come from being “hip” to culture or making money or being in an influential job or looking like the models and stars on television or in magazines; my worth comes from being true to my self, the person God created me to be: alive, loving, passionate, compassionate, open, giving and forgiving. Those are God’s values, not culture’s, and those values are timeless. I choose to keep my heart free from the schemes of perversion and distortion of what’s important and lasting,  even when those come in contemporary cultural wrappings.

Contrary to what people might think, what my children remember isn’t going to exotic places for vacations or all the gadgets and technology we bought them. They remember camping out in the backyard to watch lunar eclipses, playing board games, reading bedtime stories, running through the backyard sprinklers, the sheets I hung up outside for them to paint on with watercolors, then wash off with the hose, the letters I secretly wrote them from their “imaginary friends” and put under their bedroom doors in the mornings, leaf boats we sailed down rain water in the gutters, olive and green pepper faces I made on their sandwiches (and on my husband’s, because he needed love in his lunch, too) and fun notes I put in their lunch boxes.

I hope what my friends remember are the times we laughed together, looked each other in the eyes, hugged and cried together, picnics and baking parties we had,  Christmas decorations and crafts we made together in each other’s homes, the silly day we sat in the backyard with cucumber slices on our eyes and yogurt and honey on our faces, the times we made “Joy boxes” to take to people in hospitals or going through hard times, all of the just being ourselves true to our hearts and each other.

I enjoy contemporary worship songs and even the “smoke and lights and mirrors” that seem omnipresent in worship services now, and old hymns from a hundred years before I was born still bring me to my feet and bring me to tears. I am gratified that when I teach children, I’m able to bring creativity into the mix to help them learn and have fun. I am amazed that I’ve been able to present workshops and write books that touched people’s lives in uplifting, encouraging ways. That kind of work mattered to me. The constant in everything that touched and touches  me is God’s relentless love and unchanging grace, glad presence, great power, and mercy.

I have a self to be true to, not so I shine, but so Jesus shines through me. You have a self to be true to as well and your own unique way to reflect God’s love in your corner in the world. No one else can be who you are, do what you do, say what you can say our of your heart, reach where you reach, reflect the colors of God out of the your experience, or love as you love.

Today I have to ask myself what’s more important: what I have in my house and in my bank account and on my resume, or what and who I have in my heart? What comes into my hands or what comes out of my life? I would be true …….

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.

I would be friend of all—the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.
I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.

Words by Howard A. Walter, 1906

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:1-18 NIV

A “… BUT …” to move: Oh, Father, I know I let other people influence me too much, more than I let your Word and your values influence me. I listen to the voices of culture more than I listen for your voice.  I do have to live where I am, in the time I am, BUT God, help me to see who YOU created me to be, and help me to shift from ____________________________________________ to ___________________________________________________. Help me to value ___________________________________________________________________________________ and to be patient in ______________________________________________________________________.  Where do I need you to change me?_________________________________________ Help me, Father, to bless _______________________________________________ by ____________________________________________________________. Most of all, help me to KNOW how much you have invested your love and grace into me, so I can hold  my head up and know that I am _____________________________________________________. In Jesus’ name, Amen and Hooray!

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I Want (to be like) Candy

Rear view of three young female friends at music festival

This title is from an old song by the Strangeloves in 1965. The lyrics for the first verse are:

I Want Candy
By The Strangeloves
I know a girl who’s soft and sweet
She’s so fine, she can’t be beat
Got everything that I desire
Sets the summer sun on fire
I want Candy, I want Candy

I know a woman named Candy. Nobody would give her a second look. Yes, she has long flowing hair, but there her resemblance to the girl on the beach in 1965 ends. Strangely enough, I know this Candy is infinitely more beautiful than the Candy of the Bo-Diddly beat, and if I could have a heart half as caring and kind as hers, I’d be glad, because Candy’s self-less self-giving love humbles me.

I met her one morning at church in our women’s ministry: long hair stringing straight down, carrying extra pounds, some teeth broken, wearing glasses, shorter than my 5’5″, not well-educated, completely ingenuous and genuine, from somewhere around the hills of West Virginia, a woman who used the phrase “I might could …” betraying her humble roots. There I was, the morning speaker for the message, table discussion leader, former National Merit Scholar, blessed with a good education, born in the Midwest where yes, my extended family used the term “red up” to mean clean the table, but I’d never said that in my life. Candy was the kind of person that some shy away from in order to not be considered as simple and “un-cool” as she. We shared wearing glasses and we shared loving Jesus. I might have been delivering the morning message, but I had a lot to learn from Candy.

We’d talk when we met in the lobby at church, but I never called her or went to lunch with her. Some days she needed a ride to the women’s meetings, and I’d pick her up and return her home. There I was, doing my “good Christian duty.” Oh, was I about to be set straight! Candy volunteered with the “Friendship Class” at our church, a Sunday School class for the developmentally disabled, including quite a few adults with Down’s Syndrome. She loved those people with such respect and compassion that I began to marvel at the heart in this woman.

Candy talked with real admiration about comments some of the class members made on Sunday mornings. She was always ready to serve in women’s  ministry, too, helping set and clear tables, giving hugs to anyone who would accept one. She beamed when she and the other class leaders led the Friendship Class onto the stage at church to sing in our Sunday morning services. They always got a standing ovation! Some Sundays they put on skits, and there was hardly a dry eye in the house. Several of those childlike young people also helped usher on Sunday mornings, and why not? Weren’t they fully vested Christians too? Didn’t they merit a chance to use their gifts to serve? Didn’t Jesus count them worthy of shedding his blood and enduring the whip and the cross that they could know how deeply, desperately, relentlessly God loves them?

Candy cried with me when my husband left me and the rug got pulled out from under all I’d cherished and believed – with no recrimination, no condemnation, no “What didn’t you do right?” She simply loved from that genuine, kind, simply good, simply Christlike  heart of hers, and I was grateful. I needed her friendship more than she ever needed a car ride from me.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NIV

So, rightly humbled and blessed and honored to call her my friend – I Want (to be like) Candy, a woman soft-hearted and sweet, fine as gold refined in the fire with a heart few others could claim to approximate. Yes, Candy does have something I desire very much: to love with the selfless, caring, joyfully appreciating and others-validating heart of Jesus. Candy, I respect, honor, admire, and love you, my teacher and my friend!

A “…BUT…” to move:  God, I am so quick to judge and compare people based on outward appearances or superficial qualities before I even take  a few minutes to see who they are in character and heart. Help me, Father, to see the good in ___________________________ today and give me an opportunity to tell __________________________________ how much I value him/her. Keep my eyes open for others who need to know how truly wonderful they are, and give me eyes to see below the surface and honor as you do what you’ve placed inside them. And Lord, when I feel I don’t measure up to the standards others set for me, help me to be gracious and to remember that you dance over me with singing. (Zeph 3:17)

Armor-Bearer, Heart and Soul

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Friday my Bible fell open to 1 Samuel 14, and in an odd place I  read some of the best relationship advice I’ve ever found. The set-up is during Philistine domination of Israel at the time of King Saul. There wasn’t a weapon in Israel and not a single blacksmith to even sharpen their plows and sickles; the only weapons were the swords of Saul and Jonathan. One day Jonathan decided to go after a detachment of Philistine soldiers who had gone to a pass at Micmash. Saul had six hundred men, but Jonathan secretly went out alone with his armor-bearer.

Jonathan said, “Perhaps the LORD will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.”

What faith and courage! His armor-bearer answered with words that, to me, should be in the heart of every one of us and every woman in particular , because I sense from the way God created us that our original design was to be the “ezer kenegdo,” the one who comes alongside. “Do all you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said, “Go ahead, I am with you heart and soul.”

Honestly I have known a handful of “modern American” women who feel that way. I am not saying that women shouldn’t work if they want to or if they need to, nor am I saying we were meant to be simply “barefoot and pregnant.” What I do see in this story, though,  is the heart attitude of Jonathan’s armor bearer.  Brenda, Patty,  Eva, Sharon, Sara, Karen, Viola, my “God’s Chicks” buddies from my church in Mesa are armor bearers. My dear friend Debbie feel and think this way, too. The Lord literally brought Debbie and me together as kindred spirits in trial and sorrow in very similar situations in our marriages, though Debbie was further down the road than I when God connected us. We prayed together and praised God together in the early stages, crying out for God to make himself real to our guys who’d gone down the slippery slope of infidelity. Debbie has a sweet, gentle spirit and we share a deep, passionate love for Jesus that I think perhaps only comes when you’ve shared in his sorrow. At any rate, she and I think alike, counter-culturally it seems, that the coolest thing to be is an “armor bearer” beside a Jonathan.

I’ve never heard a pastor preach on the faithfulness, humility, God-honoring and loyalty in Jonathan. All the “press” has been on David, his like-a-brother friend. Jonathan was in line to be the next king, but he knew God had anointed his friend David. What humility as the son of a king to bow to and consider equal to himself the son of a sheep farmer! And what courage Jonathan showed in 1 Samuel 14!

“One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father ….’Do all you have in mind,’ his armor-bearer said, ‘Go ahead, I am with you heart and soul.’ … Jonathan  climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.”

Men are called to be Jonathans beside Jesus, and that’s an incredible commission handed to you. You guys need more than a pretty face, sweet words, hot body and healthy bank account in a woman: you need an armor-bearer, because when the heat is on and you have to go alone to take down the “Philistines” marauding the people and causes you love, you need a woman with the heart to carry your armor, be with you heart and soul, go beside you and take down a few behind you.

And yes, women are called to champion causes as well. In truth we all should have the attitude of Jonathan’s armor bearer toward each other, the attitude Jonathan had toward David.  Climbing over, getting ahead of, and standing on top of other people, particularly our family, friends, and colleagues,  will never give us the deep reward found in standing beside each other “with all my heart and soul.”

It takes two people and four hands to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano. It sometimes only takes two people and four hands, two hearts and souls, to bring down twenty of the “enemies” like offense, division in families, oppression,  you fill in the list.

Who needs you to go with them and put your hands, heart and soul beside theirs today?

Ginny’s Balloon

In my email this morning was a notification I’ve never received before: an orange balloon with the message “April 16th is Ginny M______’s 58th birthday.” A wave of shock and sorrow crashed over me, with wondering like seaweed wrapping around my mind. I never even knew the date of Ginny’s birthday! Who sent this? How and why did this reminder come to me?

The last time I spoke with Ginny was in November, 1996, when, moved by a nudge inside me from God’s Spirit, I told the prayer team at our women’s retreat that I didn’t think I could lead the team the following year. Ginny stepped up and said, “I know God has been calling me to do something, but I didn’t know what. Sure, I’ll take over!” Sure enough, my husband took a new job and moved us across the country in September of 1997. For several years after that Ginny led the prayer team, a group of amazing, fun, passionately praying, ordinary, extraordinarily loving women

But why did I get this “Birthday Alarm” email? I don’t even know about a website called Birthday Alarm!

These questions swirled as, oh, God, I broke down in tears for Ginny, remembering the sweet spirit she showed, her compassionate heart, the prayer warrior she was, her struggle to understand and to survive on a small income from a non-profit job after her husband’s betrayal and their divorce. I prayed for Ginny’s family for comfort today and on her birthday, because Ginny took her life over ten years ago.

She never saw the baby her daughter was carrying at the time when Ginny’s pain and grief outweighed her hope. Why, then, this strange email – a shocking reminder of her grief and yet a memory of her warmth and love?

In the middle of my tears, doubled over on the floor in grief, I asked, “This is from you. It must be something deeper than Ginny, isn’t it, Jesus?”  Immediately I “saw” other women on their own floor in tears, and I began praying for others who may today be on the brink of suicide as Ginny was, needing a real hand of love and hope outstretched to them, someone somehow breaking into their life with real, tangible hope, a message of love from someone that can keep them going one more day and believing that God has good ahead for their lives. In all honesty, I know what Ginny felt, because deep love loves deeply forever, grief and despair overwhelmed me two summers ago and I almost went the way Ginny chose to end the pain of her loss. Sweet friend Ginny, I know what you felt, because you and I love with the heart we asked Jesus to give us.

“This is something deeper than Ginny, isn’t it, Jesus?”

It’s a call to all of us to do two things: first, to let the incredible love and compassion of God push out the walls of our hearts, open and expand our prayers beyond our own immediate concerns, beyond our own families and jobs and wants, to make our hearts big enough to contain the cares and hopes and sorrows and desires and urgencies of our Father’s heart. Secondly, it’s the call to listen and act on prompts God gives us to pray for others, not to shrug them off as our own ideas, but take them as a call to come alongside Jesus as “priests” beside him as he prays for those unknown to us but intimately loved and known by him.

Thirty years ago I felt a nudge to make an appointment with my hairdresser David to get a haircut. He was going through a divorce at the time, but we had never talked about how it was impacting him. I had errands to run that day, so I pushed aside the thought and didn’t come back to it for two weeks. I called the salon at last and asked it I could make an appointment with David. “Oh …. ,” the receptionist paused, “haven’t you heard? David drove his car off the road in North Mountain Park last week. David is dead.”

Could a conversation with him, a prayer with David have given him hope enough to hang on? I’ll never know.

But I know I will never again ignore a nudge to call, to stop and speak to someone, to pray.

A friend asked me to speak at her church’s World Day of Prayer service in 2007. I wondered what message God wanted me to bring to them and waited for inspiration. A few days later I was looking in the bathroom mirror, concerned for all the wrinkles starting to show on my face, and  I began praying, ”Oh God, please increase the collagen production in my skin …” when God interrupted me with the memory of a local police officer who’d been burned over much of his body when his police car crashed into a vehicle he was chasing. His car was engulfed in flames. I’d seen a story about him on television, how he was still trying to be a positive husband and father to his family, even though he had no nose and no ears and his face was horribly disfigured. My words changed in mid-stream, and I prayed instead, “God, please restore healthy skin to Jason’s face and body. Bring him a miracle of new skin. And Jesus, others are struggling with burns and scars …. Jesus, heal THEIR skin!”

I glanced at the small artificial “bonsai” tree sitting on the bathroom counter, and the Spirit gave me the message he wanted to deliver: “I need a bigger pot.” I need, we all need, to stop living in tiny containers, pruning our “roots” and stunting the growth of our prayers to only reach as high as our own immediate concerns. God calls us to let him grow our “roots” to take in the needs and concerns and urgencies of people all over our world. We’re meant to be 50-foot tall Oaks of  Righteousness, not dwarfed bonsai imitations, whose roots reach out to others near and far.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:1-3 NIV

Oh, sweet prayer warrior Ginny, you did it. Your memory moved me beyond my own sense of loss to take in the loss someone else is feeling out there today, to pray and, I truly believe, to activate God’s plan to send angels or his people – maybe YOU, my reader friend – with hearts full of love, encouragement, hope, and real physical help where that’s the pressing, vital need today for some hurting, grieving, barely hoping heart.

We need pure hearts, big hearts, hearts refined by the relentless love and compassion of God. Someone, somewhere, needs your prayers today! Needs your phone call today! Needs your text message or email, but most of all, your physical presence beside them today! I wept on the floor and sang this song as a cry to God to enlarge my heart again:

Purify my heart, let me be as gold, and precious silver. Refiner’s Fire ….

I was almost in Ginny’s spot not so very long ago, and miraculously, Praise God, I’m still here. Thank God if you don’t know the bitter heartbreak of betrayal, but Jesus does, and I think He sent me this reminder today to flatten me on the floor in awareness to pray for women I’ll never meet, men I’ll never know, but who need Jesus’ power and presence released in their lives in tangible, mighty, loving, powerful ways today.

I’d love to send up a thousand prayer balloons for Ginny!

Can I ask you to join me, to ask God who in the world needs your prayers, and to pray today to honor our Father’s precious daughter Ginny?

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