Can I really do this?

My hosting service ends in 21 days. I’m still not sure this blog thing is worth the effort. I’m feeling woefully inadequate, technologically speaking. I fear that I’m not cut out for this blogging thing, and that bothers me.

Because I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I AM cut out for writing. I’ve known it for a long time. It may be the only thing I know I can do well. In fact, off the top of my head, it really is the only thing I can think of that I can say I’m confident in my abilities. But on a virtual platform? Oy. I feel like I’m trying to speak into a microphone in front of millions who can’t understand me because I don’t speak the language.

The thought of actually doing this in any way that would ever be monetarily profitable is almost laughable to me. It’s not my thing.

So … To blog or not to blog? That is the question of the day. Well, okay, the next 20 days. After that, I’m pretty much dead in the virtual water.

Identity Crisis or Crisis of Faith?

(Originally posted on my old blog, Camped Out on Mt. Never-Rest, on September 16, 2017)

Putting fingers to keys and letting these words flow out of my brain for the first time is terrifying to me. It’s one of those things that I really would rather no one know about me, because while it doesn’t matter to me what people think of *me*, it very much matters to me what image I bear of the One in whose image I am created. I’m not a perfect person. I never have been. I’ve had some huge lapses in judgment throughout my life that have had painful consequences–some of them have taken half a lifetime to overcome; I really don’t want this to be another of those poor judgment calls. However, I know that the trials I have faced and overcome through my faith in God and by His sometimes-unbelievable provision of strength can and should be used to help others overcome similar trials; not stuffed in the dark recesses of my memory to never again see the light of day. Certainly God didn’t bring me through all of this for my own sake. I’m just not that important. I may not be able to help the one I wish I could reach, but maybe if my struggle could help strengthen just one … then it will be worth it.

Most everyone who knows anything about me knows that I’m not a girly-girl. I often quip that God was displaying His sense of humor by giving me six daughters. Jeans, baggy t-shirts, and sneakers are my comfort zone. The color pink, glitter, rhinestones, all of those frilly, fancy, fru-fru things that “normal” girls love are my kryptonite. I did have a favorite baby doll when I was tiny–I used to dress up my cat and haul him around in my little doll stroller. But the other stuff? Yeah, no thanks. 

What most people don’t know about me (even those who are very close friends) is that I spent my entire childhood believing I was one of God’s goof-ups. No, I’m not being dramatic or self-deprecating; I truly believed I was not born with the physical body to fit “who I was”. From my earliest recollections of playing house with my best friend, every escape into the world of make-believe had me playing a male role. What’s crazy looking back on it now is that no one ever questioned it; all of my friends naturally assumed whatever character I was pretending to be was going to be male. I remember vividly, at the age of six, going to bed every night praying to God that I’d wake up a boy so I wouldn’t have to pretend to be a girl anymore. 

I *hated* being a girl. I hated dresses, skirts, turtleneck shirts, lace, tights, and those awful patent leather Mary Janes. I hated being told that ‘girls don’t play football”, “act like a lady”, or my favorite, “girls have dolls, boys have action figures’.  I wanted to play with “boy toys”, throw mud around and not have to worry about being dirty, ride a BMX bike with the cool pads while wearing a football jersey, and go fishing. 

As I got older, my disassociation with my “assigned gender” only got worse. Some time during the eighth grade, I came to the startling realization that girls made friends in different ways than boys did. I had never been popular, but that year I somehow lost most of my friends to a hormone-charged beauty contest that I had no interest in participating in. I was suddenly no longer “pretty” enough for the few friends I had, who used their increasing adolescent freedoms to hang out at malls and have make-up and hair parties. I found myself painfully aware that being a tomboy who was described as “plain” and “homely” made navigating middle school a very lonely adventure. I didn’t really understand who I was supposed to be, because what I was being told a “girl” was certainly did not fit me at all.
In ninth grade, I gave up. I decided that I’d enter this new school with a new philosophy–be who I want to be, because obviously I wasn’t going to fit in one way or another. I shortened my name to its androgynous form, started wearing the loose-fitting shirts, jeans, sometimes even dress shirts with a necktie (all put on after I’d gotten on the bus because I dare not allow my mother to know I was dressing like a boy) and guys’ high-top Reebok sneakers that I actually liked. I listened to Bruce Springsteen and Def Leppard while most of my middle school friends were fawning over some boy band called New Kids on the Block (side note–I was so oblivious to teen girl culture that I didn’t know Donnie Wahlberg was in NKOTB till we’d been watching Blue Bloods for almost two seasons. DUH!); I hung out with the guys and other tomboys that I found in the marching band who really didn’t care much for pretense and accepted me with all my quirks. But through that year I encountered what was no less than emotional and mental abuse from the older band geeks because of my ambiguity, and I spent most of the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school thinking I didn’t belong in this world at all because I obviously didn’t fit in anywhere. I found myself praying another impossible prayer–that God would let me just die in my sleep. I didn’t know who I was, what I was supposed to do after high school, how I would ever fit in with the things I was learning at church about what a woman’s role is. I kept thinking over and over that somehow, my brain had faulty wiring somewhere. How could I fall in line with typical women’s roles when I hadn’t felt female for a single day of my life?

What I grew up feeling is currently called “gender confusion”. Were I born into today’s society, people would encourage my parents to allow me to identify however I chose to identify–that clearly it would be healthier to let me change my name, have people start referring to me with different pronouns, and for me to live my life “as a male”, despite whatever DNA biology had randomly stuck me with. HOWEVER … my story didn’t go that way. Thankfully, even though I will admit that the gender stereotypes that existed when I was born (and that still exist today even in this ridiculous world of gender fluidity where there are an infinite number of genders based upon your current state of mind or your feelings/emotions/personal preferences) were the cause of my mental anguish, I came into this world in a time that it was still expected practice to figure things out for yourself and to work through your problems instead of embracing them as your identity. I grew up being assured that God didn’t make mistakes and that the idea that He did was an outright LIE.

It took me a good ten years and a ton of hard-fought, painfully-gained personal growth for me to realize that the lie I was being fed actually came from my own mind. That lie said that because I didn’t fit with what society said I should be, then obviously it’s God’s fault, because He clearly screwed up. DID HE? Did God somewhere say that when He created the female of the species that He also created a rigid, never-to-be-deviated-from set of character and personality traits that each and every female throughout time would HAVE TO have? Or was woman, taken from the side of the image-bearer of God Himself (who, by the way, has three distinct “beings” with three distinct roles and traits), created with the same makeup but with a differing role? Did God determine in that surgical suite in the Garden of Eden that this woman He was forming was to never venture into the Craftsman section of Sears or become giddy when a new Bass Pro Shops opened up, but instead stick to girly things and craft stores? Did He remove from Adam the desire to express himself creatively or to appreciate beautiful things (I don’t guess Michelangelo or Shakespeare ever got that memo)? Did God endow only one of those two garden-dwellers with the ability to be loving and nurturing?

See, given my own personal experience, I tend to halfway agree with the current stream of thought about gender being a societal construct–but not to the extreme that it is taken by the crowd that seems to add another letter to their identity every few months. I firmly believe that gender **stereotypes** are a societal construct. Take for instance that cutesy little childhood rhyme: “Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of. Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of.” HUH? Now go to a gender reveal party. Blue or pink? Skip ahead a couple of years. Do you get that two-year-old a baby doll or a tiny little baseball bat (or Tonka truck) for his or her birthday? When he’s six, can he take up crocheting? Can she play with action figures and wear a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt?

Society tells us (go ahead, look it up–I did) that gender is “the identity you present to the world, based on your own personal truth and what you believe yourself to be”. God’s Word said that He “created them male and female, and blessed them.” One of those two things is a lie. God’s Word has never changed; society’s definition of things changes like the tides. The big question is where does this lie come from? Think back to the Garden of Eden with me for a second. What did the serpent do to get Eve to sin? All he had to do was to get her to think that God was holding out on her; that she deserved more than what God had given her. She took the bait. All Satan had to do was get Eve’s mind off of what God HAD given her and start thinking selfishly about what she … what SHE wanted.

There is nothing special about me. But looking back, I can see that Satan had me in his sights from the time I was six years old. It took him seven short years to convince me that what God had in mind for me was a lie. It took him very little effort to convince me that I was an ugly, useless mistake that was born in the wrong body. He used passive stereotypes and people’s flippant comments to build layer upon layer of lies.

So what changed for me? Motherhood. I kind of lost the ability to deny who I was created to be when I held that baby that I had carried for nine months and birthed with this body I once believed was a complete mistake. Seven living beings walk this earth because I was born female. To say I am anything but a woman would be the most ridiculous assertion one could make. Do I *feel* feminine? Nope. Never have, probably never will. I’ve also never once in my life felt “pretty”. I’ve never felt “good enough”. I’ve never felt “important” or “nurturing” or “loving” … but I know that despite what I feel, which is an absolutely worthless gauge of reality, I can still fulfill my God-given role as a wife and a mother, as a daughter and a grandmother, and especially as a Christian. What changed was the realization that what I feel has no bearing on who I am.

Unless I let it.

I’m still the same person I was in middle school. I still have the same insecurities. But I don’t let them rule my mind like they used to, because I know that keeping my mind focused on what God wants me doing here in this life will drown out the lies that Satan is trying to get me to believe. I also haven’t let the world tell me I’m not “feminine” enough. That’s not something I see as important, if I am fulfilling my duty as a woman made in the image of God with a specific, unique purpose that no man can fulfill. I still hate dresses. I get to play in the dirt more now that I’m gardening on my own patch of land. I still love the outdoors, although physical limitations have swayed me away from playing sports to hiking and camping. I’m not the huggy, lovey-dovey type that has to fawn on every baby I see. I am admittedly not a huge fan of children, although I won’t deny I have learned to relate to them because I have a responsibility in raising up future warriors for God’s kingdom and my responsibility far outweighs what I “like”. I will never be a girly-girl like my middle child. But even she isn’t “typical”, because she enjoys things that are considered more “masculine” pursuits. And that’s okay. Because God doesn’t use cookie cutters.

Surviving Theme Parks With Chronic Illness

It has been just over a year since our family joined two of our closest friend-families for a trip to Universal Orlando, and while we all had a great time, it’s taken me a long time to admit something I didn’t want to believe I was old enough for–I felt like a speed bump the whole time. Granted, I’d just had breast reconstruction surgery two weeks prior, but it took a lot more pride-swallowing than I was prepared for to admit that yeah, my version of “feeling pretty good” was nowhere near normal levels. I paid dearly. I’m pretty sure my friends and family, while incredibly understanding and patient, felt as though I probably should have stayed home.

We’re planning another theme park trip in about a year. A huge undertaking; we’re dragging all seven of our kids, two kids-in-law, and three grandchildren to Disney. The excitement is both intoxicating and terrifying. So many variables. Teens and toddlers all at the same time!

And yet, one thing I fear losing control over more than naptimes or hormonal fits is my ability to stay ahead of the chronic pain and debilitating fatigue that fibromyalgia hits me with mercilessly at the worst times! No joke, my fibro is going to be the hardest park guest to accommodate. So before my entire family jumps headlong into park planning, I’m going to do some documenting of what I remember from the struggles at Universal so I can include some of that in our plans for this next trip.

Plan for downtime!

Seriously, chronic illnesses require rest. You simply cannot walk six or seven miles a day, surrounded by a half million other people, being barraged by lights and sounds and smells and heat and dehydration without cracking. You can’t.

Tired and cranky.

Spending four days in the parks? Plan for a day in the middle to sit at the hotel in the pool and do nothing else. And then do exactly that–nothing else. Eat and rest. Oh, and on the subject of eating … on that off day, eat WELL. Lots of veggies and good proteins.

During your park days, make an effort to sit and eat lunch or a snack. Don’t think you’re doing your schedule any favors by eating on the run. Your body will need that time to rest. Need to get to the other side of the park? See if there’s a train nearby so you don’t have to walk the entire way.

Know Your Triggers

Motion sickness isn’t the only thing that can make you sick at theme parks.

It wasn’t just me having a hard time.

This was probably the hardest part of the trip for me. My youngest has some pretty hefty sensory issues, and her anxiety over the immersive nature of the rides was just as difficult on me as dealing with it myself. Interestingly, the same loud, flashing, jarring rides and tightly-packed crowds that caused her to shut down in a teary heap caused my body to tense up and stage a painful revolt.

For some, it’s strong scents. For others, loud noises. Some can’t tolerate bright flashes of light. You need to know what causes your body to go into defense mode and do your best to either avoid those situations or, well … medicate accordingly. Don’t expect that you will suddenly be able to handle the sensory overload just because it’s themed well. Overload is still overload. Know what you’re up against and be ready to treat it. I suggest bringing some headphones or earplugs so you can shut out the outside world for a bit. And honestly, like my daughter and I were doing in the picture above, don’t be ashamed to find a spot to sit and have a meltdown. Nobody even blinked at us sitting outside of Hogwarts in the fetal position. 🤪

Don’t Ignore Big Symptoms

I made a big mistake one of the days we were in Universal; I chalked up a pretty serious and compounding pain as “muscle aches”. Granted, my fibromyalgia makes sure I have some pretty hefty aches and pains to deal with on a regular basis, so I had no reason to believe what was going on was anything other than a bad flare. It wasn’t. I was stuck walking the two miles from the back of Universal Orlando to our parking spot with what ended up being a migrating kidney stone. I tried to ignore the pain because I didn’t want to ruin the day. I ended up needing to stop walking just to avoid passing out.

I should have let hubby get the wheelchair he wanted to go track down. I should have admitted how much pain I was in. But we do some really odd things when we are on vacation. Don’t do that. If you find yourself questioning whether you’re feeling a “normal” pain or some other symptom related to your chronic illnesses, don’t be a martyr! If things start spiraling out of control, ask for help! There’s no harm in letting the group go ahead without you for an hour or two. There’s greater harm in ignoring your body’s cues that something is very wrong!

If I had to pass on one bit of advice to you, it would be to be realistic. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits *just* because you’re on vacation. Oh–and plan on crashing for a few days when you get home. Your body will likely be in full mutiny! 😏 So what would you add to what I’ve listed? I’d love to learn from you!

Let the Spoiling Begin?

(originally posted on my first blog, Camped Out On Mt. Never-Rest, on July 21,2012)

Meeting my tiny (six week old) little firstborn grandchild in the Baltimore airport.

As I sit here in the Atlanta airport with still more than an hour before my flight to Baltimore boards, I am contemplating what I have heard from several people these last few days. Knowing I am flying up to meet my first grandchild, most people say something to the effect of, “I hope you have a good time spoiling that baby,” or “Be sure to have fun making him mad and then handing him over to Mom and Dad … you can do that now, you know?”
I know, it’s all in jest. I think anyone who has ever even HAD a grandparent knows that grandparenting is a much more enjoyable, much more laid-back “job” than parenting. I have never even laid eyes on my little grandbaby, and I already know that I am going to thoroughly ENJOY this, and that the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is a far different dynamic than that of parents and children. I fully “get” that there is going to be some gloating and lots of “I told you so” smirks as my children move into this new season of life and experience all of the trials and frustrations that we did (and still do). I know I will get that little baby in my arms and have the desire to make sure he has everything he could ever need and want. After all, isn’t that what grandmothers are for? Isn’t it a grandparent’s job to spoil their grandchildren rotten?
Is it really?
I had grandparents who didn’t spoil me, either materially or by allowing me to “get away with” improper behavior. I don’t remember any “thing” specifically given to me by any of my grandparents. I do remember that my Memaw would take me shopping every year for my birthday and that my birthday present was usually a pretty Easter dress. I didn’t really have a huge appreciation for dresses when I was younger, but I did enjoy the experience of shopping with her. I don’t remember much at all about my father’s parents; they always did their own thing and were traveling so often that we didn’t really see them that often. I remember my Papaw telling me that he loved having me around because I was the calmest of any of his grandchildren. It “helped” my cause that I was the only girl, I was tiny compared to the boys (even though I was the oldest)  and that my brother and cousins were always loud and rambunctious; Papaw never had an impatient word for his quiet, shy little granddaughter … yes, it was sort of nice being the only girl, but I knew they didn’t have any “favorites”! No, my grandparents never really “spoiled” me (or any of their other grandchildren, that I know of), but they did give me an amazing example that I plan to follow with my own grandchildren.
I couldn’t get away with anything around my grandparents. In fact, my great-grandmother (Mamaw) could see through me better than anyone else in my life. She could tell when I was “tellin’ a story”, and when I had a bad case of the wiggles. My grandparents showed an intense interest in my life; they always wanted me to be with them; I was never “in the way”. They never complained about the messes I made, but rather included me in all of the messy aspects of daily life. I learned to drive a tractor, pick blackberries, weed a garden, prune trees, and make communion bread from my grandparents. I also learned respect from them. I learned to appreciate frugality. I learned what true beauty was, and that it cannot be found in any “thing” this fallen world has to offer. I learned the difference between strength and toughness. I learned when to cry, when to laugh, and that holding one’s head high should display confidence rather than conceit.
My parents weren’t awful people. They weren’t neglectful. They provided well for me and my brother. They didn’t necessarily abdicate my upbringing to my grandparents, but for whatever reason, I just listened more to my grandparents than to my parents. The informal lessons of life weren’t as obvious, but they were just as much, if not MORE effective when they came from my grandparents.
I’m not rushing into this grandmothering thing flippantly. I take my “job” as an Omi VERY seriously. My grandchildren (singular now, but I do certainly hope the Lord blesses us with a whole slew of grandchildren!) are not just pretty faces to post pictures of on my wall (either virtual or physical). They aren’t trophies for me to parade around for the world to see. They aren’t toys for me to play with and then hand back when I get tired of them or when they start acting up. Levi isn’t mine to “spoil”. In fact, I wouldn’t want him to spoil. I don’t want my grandchildren to be rotten. Something that is spoiled is not pleasant, and I don’t want my relationship with Levi or any of his siblings or cousins to be that of a ‘stuff-giver’. I want my grandbabies to have the memories I do of my own grandparents. I want them to be able to look at pictures of me (ugh, I guess that means I will have to let someone TAKE pictures … eeks) and recall a memory, not a blank. I want to be part of their lives. I want them to know my phone number and be able to dial it like I could my Mamaw’s when I was little. I still know that number. I just “dialed” it in my head, three decades later! I want my grandchildren to look forward to spending time with me and to miss me when we’re apart. When they’re older and I have left this life, I want to leave a legacy behind that will influence my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren to desire the truly GOOD things in this life, and I want to be able to be the person for them who shows them what a dedicated Christian lives.
OF COURSE I want them to have that influence from their parents, but by the time my children have married and brought children into this world, my work as parent has pretty much been phased out and I have little say in what kind of environment my grandchildren are raised in. I can give advice, but it’s likely that most of it will be ignored. LOL I take on this new role of life with much humility, because I know I will never be perfect. I will never be able to be everything God wants me to be. But I certainly won’t stop trying! I know how powerful my influence can be. No … WILL be. One way or the other, Levi and his future siblings and cousins WILL be influenced by my life. I just want to make sure it’s not a “rotten” influence. So I will boldly say that if my grandbabies are going to be ‘spoiled’, it will not be by me!

I’m Too Young for This

Today is a good day. Tomorrow might not be, but today is a good day, and I’m going to enjoy it while I’ve got it. The last ten days have been anything BUT what I now call “good”. Funny thing is, my “good” now used to cripple me–before I met my new alter ego, the Fibro Minion.

Several years ago, I started having pain that doctors couldn’t explain. It started in my back, which of course was dismissed as “mom fatigue”–bending, stooping, kneeling, lifting, carrying, all that rough-on-the-back stuff that I’d done with seven children. I had headaches for weeks; not migraines, but just incessant, unrelenting headaches that wore me down. I chalked that up to eye strain, because the older I was getting, the more the sun was bothering me, and being outside almost always left me feeling the wrath of my optic nerves.

The game changer was my bout with histoplasmosis. For almost six months, I felt like I was getting the flu–body aches that made me want to curl up in a corner, night sweats, and fatigue … oh goodness, the fatigue. Thanks to my immune system’s little temper tantrum fighting an infection that most people never really even know they have, I ended up having major surgery to remove part of my lung that had developed fibrosis and was dying. Lovely thought, that. I figured that getting rid of the infection would end my pain and malaise, but when my pulmonologist could not find any reason my symptoms had reappeared despite the lack of infection, he referred me back to my doctor to discuss the possibility that something had triggered the onset of a nemesis I never knew I feared–fibromyalgia.

All my labs revealed that, other than feeling like I have the flu all the time, I’m pretty healthy! Even my blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar is within normal ranges. The only thing my labs pointed to was a severe vitamin D deficiency. The physical exam, on the other hand, made me understand what is meant by the term “trigger points”. Oh, WOW!! Just shoot me across the room, why don’t you?? I left the doctor’s office that day knowing what I was diagnosed with, but not knowing what it meant. It took a long while to understand that I have a new reality now–and it’s one I continually struggle with. Too many months, I find myself falling into a slump of exasperated depression. I just don’t like this. At all.

I used to be able to do so much. Being exhausted was earned; there was a sense of accomplishment behind sore muscles and a worn-out body. Now? Well, now I wake up exhausted. It takes at least half an hour just to get out of bed. I don’t mean just tired from not sleeping well–I mean exhausted like you haven’t rested in days. Most days, upon waking, I have to spend at least ten minutes waking up one of my limbs because it’s painfully numb. Don’t understand how numb can be painful? I’m glad for you, truly. I honestly don’t remember the last time I woke up feeling rested or refreshed. Fibromyalgia took that away from  me. It took away my ability to complete tasks I use to do without even thinking about it. I pay dearly for physical exertion.

Never, in my wildest nightmares, had I ever thought I’d feel like this at 43 years of age. I know 80-somethings who don’t deal with chronic pain, yet here I am, in what should be my middle age “prime,” barely making it through each day. I must admit, this one fact is humiliating. I want to be able to do so much more, but when I attempt it, I suffer for days afterward. What’s even harder is keeping tabs on the depression that creeps up alongside the pain. I don’t want to take medication, but I want to feel better. I want to do more, but I don’t want to be “rewarded” with pain. I just want my life back. I’m too young for this. There are days–those awful “bad” days–when I’m overtaken not just by pain, but also by hopelessness. It’s not surprising that suicide is the biggest killer among those fighting fibromyalgia. The thought of enduring another 30 years or more of this pain is too much.

The only option worth considering is to take life one day at a time.

(originally posted on Camped Out On Mt. Never-Rest on October 19, 2016)

Some People Never Learn

“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”  
                                                                                                       –James 3:10

I wondered, maybe only casually, for many years whatever happened to Jonah. There was no response to God’s chastisement of him in chapter 4. No mention of some “come to Jesus” moment when Jonah finally “gets it”. No mention of him doing great things in faith in that Hebraic walk of faith chapter. Just … nothing. We do know what happened to Nineveh, on the other hand. Some 150 years later, Nahum delivers a much different message from Jehovah. No mercy, no compassion, no more second chances. Just utter destruction. Something they did really managed to get on the Almighty’s bad side, you know? Maybe … just maybe it’s that God doesn’t take too well to people slapping Him in the face with His own plan. Nobody knew this better than the Israelites, but only every few generations–you know, between aspostasies? Seems God’s people, and anyone He had on His side for the duration of the abundant blessings and covenants and years of milk and honey eventually forgot WHO buttered their unleavened bread. They eventually forgot WHO was the real one in charge.

Isn’t that what happened to Jonah? Here this mighty prophet of God was, going about his business passing on the word of the Lord to God’s people when his boss gives him a new assignment. He didn’t particularly like that assignment, so he does what any red-blooded American … er, uh, Israelite would do. He runs the other way. Insert providentially-conjured storm, God-appointed fish, and a three-day stay in the Acid Reflux Inn, and poof, Jonah’s a changed man, right? Well, sure, he goes to Nineveh, he tells them God is going to destroy them. He did his job. All’s well with the world, except the evil, mean, wicked, and nasty Ninevites didn’t do what Jonah expected them to do, and neither did the Almighty!

Ok, here’s where it got real for me tonight during our [adult] Bible class. See, I’ve taught this lesson before to kids of varied ages. My own, other people’s kids, no matter. One would think I’d have known this story inside-out and upside-down. I thought I did. Nineveh, the upchucking fish, the sackcloth and ashes, the little shade tree, the worm, the east wind, I had it. And then tonight I got fish-slapped with the one thing I’d somehow managed to glaze over, read past, whatever, for 30-something years. Here it is, but to see it you’ve got to put aside the chapter divisions for a second. God didn’t put those there–man did. Just read these two verses TOGETHER, as they are in order–the last verse of Jonah 3 and the first verse of chapter 4:

“Then God saw their works [speaking of the Ninevites covered in sackcloth and ashes, fasting in repentance and hoping and praying that God shows them mercy, that is], that they turned from their evil way, and God relented from the disaster that he had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.”

Did you catch that? Yes, yes, I know–we’ve all noticed that Jonah was angry that the Ninevites didn’t get obliterated with holy lightning. I know that. The part I had just not made that connection to was what Jonah was REALLY mad about. See, Jonah had forgotten who was calling the shots. He forgot who he worked for; WHOSE message he was bringing. Jonah was mad that God had the audacity to call an audible on the field and change the play! Not too many verses before this, (albeit after a rather lengthy walk across the Assyrian landscape covered in the remains of fish-sick), Jonah had been singing God’s praises for saving his own hide from certain death! And now here he was, telling God that he’d rather die than to live if these foul Ninevites were shown mercy and compassion.

Makes you want to shake him, doesn’t it? What, did he never read that verse in James that I put up at the top? Well … actually, no, he didn’t … that would come just a few hundred years later. HOWEVER … why do you think we’re given the story of Jonah and his Ninevan excursion? We learn a bunch of things from the Old Testament–namely about the character of God. He’s loving, He’s patient, He’s willing to give people second chances … but those Ninevites didn’t just get a second chance because God was having a particularly happy day. God SAW their repentance. He SAW that they’d changed their ways. This is something that isn’t very PC to say. Lots of “fluffy” religionists like to say that “God loves you no matter what, and God doesn’t want us to judge each other, He accepts everyone equally”. Well, not so much. That didn’t come from the Bible. Nineveh got a second chance, but not until they’d repented! And not quite two centuries later, the gig was up when they’d forgotten about that second chance. Don’t take advantage of God’s compassion and mercy; it will eventually come back to bite you. And it could make you into someone like Jonah–hardened against God Himself, simply because you just don’t like the way God sees fit to run His own plan!?

Be careful. Jonah didn’t have the “right” to be angry with God for, well, for being GOD … and neither do we. If God says it, that settles it. Believe it or not, it really doesn’t matter except to your soul. Don’t be a Jonah, and don’t be a forgetful Ninevite. Be the fish. Let God prepare you, let Him use you, even if it means you might have to swallow something rather unpleasant from time to time.

(originally posted on Camped Out On Mt. Never-Rest on October 23, 2013)

The Problem With Christmas

This life thing … it’s complicated, ya know? It’s hard to balance the right with the *almost right* while pushing back from the *almost wrong* when the lines tend to blur together.

It shouldn’t be so complicated with something like Christmas, should it? I mean, sure, the materialism and greed and obvious sins of overindulgence and idolatry … those are easy to identify and avoid. Aren’t they?

I was raised to understand that Christmas, while having origins in the world of Christendom, was not something that has the true “blessing” of God as a corporate celebration; that while personal participation in seasonal festivities is not sinful, claiming it as a true, biblical, and important religious holiday is dipping one’s foot in the mud puddles of false doctrine. I knew that we all decorated for Christmas, everyone exchanged gifts and had family gatherings, and yes, Christmas was a big deal for everyone except our Jewish neighbors … but we don’t talk about it at church, we don’t sing “those” songs even if they are in the song book, and we certainly don’t celebrate Jesus’ birthday, because that’s just not biblical!

As I entered adulthood, I realized quickly that this was something I was never challenged to give much thought to, we just accepted it because it’s truth. The Bible doesn’t say anything about Christmas, so neither do we. At about my 19th year of life, I encountered an attitude that shook my fledgeling faith to its core–not an entirely bad thing, considering it needed to happen for me to grow in my own personal faith. A gentleman we worshipped with, who was the type of person who was just as sweet as southern iced tea and full of loving admonishment eleven months out of the year turned into someone I didn’t recognize in December. He became obsessed with correcting any and every one of the brethren among our tiny little congregation who dared to have anything to do with Christmas, because (in his estimation) we were forgoing the truth of Scripture and joining ourselves to the pagan world of idolatry. He was anything but loving in his approach, and while it truly disgusted me then, as I look back, I can view it as something I really needed to see. It was an extreme that made me examine things I’d never considered before.

I’ll say this much about the truth of Christmas–it’s man-made. Let’s be honest and real. It did have its origins in response to pagan worship, and while it’s not scripturally based, it does point to the Bible account of the birth of the Messiah. Yes, there are a lot of ridiculous untruths involved that are obvious to those of us who have bothered to do the research. In fact, birthday celebrations are not something that devout Jews in the first century would have even been part of. I get it. Truly I do. I know ALL of the arguments against it, and yes, I know that every one is historically and scripturally accurate. I’m the type who can’t do anything but research and dig until I can form a conclusion based on fact and not tradition and emotion. I still firmly believe that there is no scriptural reason for the Body of Christ to change our worship at all, unless it is inconsistent with what the inspired Word commands and authorizes.

But. And yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a BIG “but” … are we shooting ourselves in the foot and possibly hiding our light under a bushel when we refuse to rejoice in the one day (okay, two, counting Easter) that the entire world is actually focused on celebrating our Savior?? Sure, we’ll decorate. We will dress up and wrap presents and buy candy canes, but we stop there, because it’s not something the Bible speaks of? Forgive my harshness here, but do we take such a hardline stance against prayer in schools or at football games or even in Congress? Do we shun the religious nature of Thanksgiving with equal vigor?

Meaning no disrespect to the truly wise, well-meaning, and well-respected folks who believe in such a manner, but when the world celebrates Jesus, even if it’s because of a relatively new holiday (and in the scope of two thousand years, a couple of centuries is definitely new) that has not been authorized by Scripture, then why on earth would we do anything but be thankful for the temporary focus and the opportunity to lovingly join in pointing the world to Christ for the remainder of the year?

Personally, I wholeheartedly enjoy being able to sing along to all of the beautiful songs of praise for our Messiah that would raise eyebrows the rest of the year. Try belting out “Mary, Did You Know?” in Walmart in July and see what happens! I love it! And why shouldn’t we love it? There are worshipful songs on the radio and people speaking of Jesus on television!! On secular stations! This is our Savior we’re singing and speaking of, regardless of the time of year He was actually born or whether there were more than three wise men that visited, or even how old Jesus was when they got there!

The world is listening. They’re watching us. Might I gently remind you that Philip, when he stepped aboard that chariot with the Ethiopian eunuch, began teaching where the eunuch’s understanding ended. He didn’t expect him to know everything. He began where the eunuch was and preached Jesus from there. Brothers and sisters, we preach that Jesus is the reason for EVERY season. Let’s not forget that it includes December as well. Our love for Christ should radiate from us every day of the year; we have no need, no reason, no excuse for becoming suddenly mute for one day or acting as though Christmas doesn’t “begin with Christ”.

One final thought–look a few chapters beyond the story of Jesus’ birth in Luke and you’ll see in chapter 9 that right after Jesus speaks to His disciples about who would be the greatest in the kingdom, this happens:

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not accompany us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus replied, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

Did you catch that?

(Don’t) Use Your Imagination?

Of all of God’s creation, He blessed the human race alone with the gift of imagination. We simple beings create things because it is in our God-given nature. Entrusted to us is the ability to dream of great things and to bring those things to life. We are the innovators; the inventors; the storytellers.

But it’s a two-edged sword.

We are blessed with the intellect to discern fact from fiction, yet in this world we live in today we are seeing fantasy and imagination given “real” status. We are witnesses to the embodiment of Proverbs 23:7 (as a man thinks in his heart, so is he), and our society is encouraging us to believe whatever we think about ourselves, even if it is incorrect. Young, impressionable children are encouraged to question what they “feel” about themselves, without even really understanding what that means (because, hey, do adults fully grasp it?), and to embrace whatever truth they feel about who they are, regardless of what is factually correct.

Big names in politics encourage this intentional oversight of truth in favor of what they believe to be “morally right”. The problem is their definition of morality changes to reflect what they feel, and in a time when emotional instability is being celebrated as “passionate activism”, stability and traditional conviction is labeled as archaic and oppressive.

There’s a great divide here, and at the heart of it is the lack of training in discernment. Fact vs. opinion comparisons used to be taught in all levels of schooling. Unfortunately, a cursory search of curriculum taught at elementary and middle school levels today will reveal that instead of being trained how to think, students are being taught what to think–they are being spoon-fed some rather alarming information that reinforces the progressive, “inclusive” rhetoric of politicians who drive the educational machines.

What’s worse is that children are being encouraged to explore the dangerous notion that their very identity is something they can choose, and reality is something they can choose to ignore. They are told that their “true self” (even if it conflicts with biology) IS their identity.

We live in a world that says we shouldn’t be defined by who we are or aren’t … yet places a disproportionate amount of emphasis on exploring imagined realities and celebrating those people who identify as something they are not.

This is creativity gone haywire. It’s a giant leap past the creative spelling that didn’t seem so harmful in early elementary school. Yet we are now finding ourselves with adults who cannot accept that they may be wrong, even when something so innocuous as having their incorrect spelling challenged. We can thank the lack of emphasis on correctness for that!

In much the same way, we have allowed imagination and emotion to rule over fact and reality. Feelings and opinions have lost their place in the realm of fantasy and been given equal status to those things that are true, proven, and factual.

There is a school of thought that discourages pretend, fantasy reading, fairy tales, and the like because it encourages children to believe in things that are untrue. There is some truth to that; if children are left to their own devices, they may take up residence in their fantasy world and refuse to leave. However, if they have a parent guiding them through life who is firmly grounded in reality, having simple conversations about what is real and what is not can be a very healthy way for a child to grow up. Children who are exposed to fantasy are allowed to let their imaginations develop, and if also taught logic and discernment by a caring parent, they will come through childhood with the ability to use both their imagination and their grasp of truth and fact to relate to a world that is confused about blurred lines.

Children are made in the image of God, who shows us in every facet of creation how beautiful and detailed His imagination was. There is nothing inherently wrong with fantasy or pretend or imagining different realities. It’s quite healthy for a child to imagine and dream. The danger comes from not balancing that imagination with the knowledge to see what separates fact from fiction.

So let your children imagine and dream. Let them escape into the world of make-believe. Walk beside them and learn to enjoy it together. Just make sure you show them the way back out so they don’t get lost inside.

The Struggle (With Self-Image) is Real

Let’s get personal for a minute, shall we? I’ve struggled most of my life with feeling like I’m not good enough. My very first memories are of being told that the things I liked weren’t “right”: girls were supposed to play with dolls and enjoy getting dressed up, not play football in the mud and climb trees. It didn’t improve as I grew, either. I wasn’t growing well. I was short. My face wasn’t pretty. I looked and acted like a boy. I was too skinny. Not ladylike. Too shy. Bad with math. My hair was messy. I didn’t know how to dress. I was frumpy. A nerd.

By the time I reached high school, my self-image was awful. If I’m honest with myself, the day that gangly redhead asked me to go with him to the homecoming dance, I thought he had to have been put up to it by someone who was trying to pick on me. I didn’t believe that anyone could be interested in me or find anything attractive about me at all. A year later, just sixteen years old and pregnant at the wedding that was more of a humiliating spectacle than a celebration of our union, I felt like I’d reached the pinnacle of failure. I was an embarrassment to my family, a burden to my new husband, and our child deserved better than what he had been born into.

I’m still struggling with all of those feelings. As much as I’d like to say that my faith is strong enough to push it all behind me and just rest in the belief that I’m so loved by my Heavenly Father that He’d let His Son die for me … I honestly identify more with the apostle Paul when he called himself a wretch. I still hear the voices in my head from my childhood telling me all the ways I’m flawed and that anything less than perfection isn’t good enough.

I’ll never be perfect this side of eternity. I don’t think I want to be. I know in my heart (and in my mind as well, even though it’s a fickle beast) that God doesn’t expect perfection of me because it’s unattainable. That knowledge doesn’t erase those feelings of being “less than,” though, so on my bad days I slog through life feeling as though everyone around me deserves so much more than I am capable of giving. On my good days, the imperfections don’t bother me as much. On my best days, I’m able to see just how beautiful those imperfections can be.

I don’t dare put myself out there as a know-it-all who’s got it all figured out and who is so strong emotionally that the yucky stuff never bothers me. I’m just a broken vessel who wants to share what I have learned in the hopes that it may help someone who may be in the rut I’ve made it out of. That’s what this life is about, right? The only reason any of us should look back is to see if there’s anyone we can help.

The Power of Insignificance

Little David had some impressive big brothers. So impressive, in fact, that the prophet Samuel thought for sure his brother Eliab had to be God’s choice for King Saul’s successor. Three of those brothers had followed Saul into battle. Considering that they’d come back home alive, they were no doubt rather intimidating specimens of physical might. Their father Jesse, when asked to present his sons, brought the biggest, strongest, and surely the ones he thought were fit for the job. And he left little David out in the fields with the sheep. Seven big brothers, and God didn’t approve of any of them. He wanted the one that everyone else had overlooked, because God saw David’s heart.

We get a clear picture in 1 Samuel 16 that Jesse preferred his older sons over the youngest. David was obviously not the prize bull of the family; he wasn’t even important enough for Jesse to present to Samuel alongside his brothers! I’m sure David probably preferred to be with the sheep and his harp. Can you imagine how awkward it was for Jesse and the older brothers as they waited for David after hearing that the Lord had rejected all seven of them?

Many of us grew up in families with either a “golden child” whose presence dwarfed the other siblings or a “black sheep” who didn’t fit in anywhere. Maybe it was physical stature or good looks that set our sibling apart, or maybe our parents just played favorites. Hey, it happened in the Bible; it’s nothing new. Look at how badly favoritism tore the family of Jacob apart! A favorite wife, preferential treatment for her sons … it was a recipe for disaster. That kind of inequity still happens today, and it leaves many of us identifying with that little shepherd boy whose father didn’t even think he was worthy to be considered for service to the Lord.

I wonder how many of us are crippled to some extent by that feeling of inadequacy when it comes to our own talents? I suspect it’s a staggering number, actually. We’ve all heard of the “giants of the faith;” do we dismiss our own abilities as unimportant or useless in comparison? Do we excuse ourselves from serving in ways that God has gifted us simply because we may not be as good as someone else?

Feelings of inadequacy are difficult to overcome. It’s hard to step out of the shadow and put yourself out there because yes, people do judge harshly and sometimes will unfairly compare us to those who might be more gifted.

But maybe … just maybe …

Maybe we’ve been spending too much time in the peaceful fields when God expects us to stand up and rise to a challenge that He has chosen for us alone?

When Samuel set out to find the one that God had chosen to replace the mighty King Saul, he had preconceived ideas of what the king should look like. Saul was a BIG man. He was respected among his people and his peers. But God wanted something else. Someone different. Someone who wasn’t a self-made man, but who God could use for His glory.

Do you have a story that needs telling? Do you have a talent or a gift or a passion that God can use for His purposes? Are you holding back because you just don’t feel “good enough”? My friend, it’s those “insignificant” people that God does His best and most powerful work with. You’ve just got to step out of the shadows.