No Boundaries?

Really?

                                    Really?

Zac and I had a conversation the other day.  An online friend of his thinks his dad and I are too strict.

“You won’t let me stay up as late as I want. That’s unfair,” he said.

I thought about it for a minute.  We’ve had several of these discussions before.

“I know it looks like that to you,” I said.  “But no boundaries – getting to do whatever you want – is not love.  Your friend who can do whatever he wants to do whenever, he’s experiencing neglect.  That isn’t love. It’s the opposite.”

Our job as parents is to teach our kids how to make good decisions and to know right from wrong.  In the beginning, we make all the decisions.  We feed them, change them and let them play on a schedule that works for us. We dress them in the closest clean item(s).  As they get older, they get to choose between a couple of options.  Peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese for lunch?  Green dress with white polka dots or red dress with purple and blue flowers?  And on from there.  The progression, hopefully, is gradual and continuous.  It ends when they move out to live on their own.

Psst! Teenagers generally don’t know correct information, despite having the internet at their fingertips and their propensity to spill everything they’ve ever done. We’ve discussed several hot buttons with Zac. We’ve given our input on relationship quandaries.  But we leave it up to him to figure out how to handle situations.  Yes, we pray for him – always have. We’ve told him, If you have questions, ask.  We have been there and done that.  We resisted the T-shirt, however, because it was crap.

Are we so different as adults?  We *really* want to do something, but we know it’ll be hurtful in the long run. Sometimes we even try it, like staying up late and eating an overabundance of treats.  The next morning we awaken with a twinkie hangover, regret our closest friend. Mercifully, many times the God-given boundaries of law and conscience reel us back from the brink. Yet not before we’ve pouted some and maybe even whined to God about it. “It’s not fair!”

Love, as I’ve written about before, doesn’t always translate as soft and fluffy. I’m sure Zac thinks we have a funny way of showing our love. At nearly 15, Zac is well into the last phase of transitioning to adulthood.  He can fend for himself a bit.  He knows how to cook (a little), clean and fold clothes. He picks up after himself. He does dishes. He budgets his allowance for what he wants most and the rest gets banked. He sometimes spontaneously hugs me. He does tasks he doesn’t like, without complaining or arguing.  Most importantly, he’s learning to discern right from wrong, real love from fake love.  Those are life skills that will serve him well in every phase of his life.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. – I Corinthians 13:7

Dear Christian

I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus, the only Son of God.  He died on the cross for my sins.  I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit and the gift of prophecy.  I believe in the Bible, the inerrant word of God.  I’m a full gospel, Pentecostal, all-in believer. If that offends you, I’m sorry.  This is who I am, and in the wonderful words of Rich Mullins, “I did not make it/No, it is making me.” Full disclosure:  I don’t swing from chandeliers or bark like a dog when filled with the Spirit.  Just FYI.

That being said, I am mindful of how I share those beliefs.  Recently, an associate of mine recounted an argument in which they discussed scientific advances with an unbeliever. 

“I told him it didn’t matter that his son has a doctorate in physics and is respected in his field, or was wanted at this university and that university.  Who cares? Physics doesn’t solve man’s ills,” my compatriot said with a smug smirk.

I stood there and said nothing. Maybe physics can help, maybe it can’t. I don’t know. One college class doesn’t make me an expert. I simply couldn’t get past the offensive blanket statement.  It floored me.  The condescending, dismissing comment damaged that relationship.This “little Christ” made Christianity offensive to someone whom Jesus longs to embrace.

This, friends, is unacceptable.  We know the One who has answers, but we don’t have them all. We don’t get to pass judgment on every decision someone makes.  Our role is to share the good news, be filled with the fruits of the Spirit, and to serve.  The Bible says as we lift Jesus up, He will draw people to Himself.  We don’t draw people, and we certainly don’t win people to Jesus by hammering them with self-righteousness soliloquies.   We are to exemplify excellence by submitting our lives as we follow Christ .  That’s it. Is it easy?  No. It costs us, sometimes dearly. The Holy Spirit in us gives us the forgiveness and power to live outside of our weaknesses and poor decisions. We won’t measure up completely, but that’s what God’s love does:  it covers. It forgives.  It restores.

Just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of a non-believer.  Maybe you can remember back to what it was like before you became a Christian.  Probably you considered yourself, as many of us did,  a “good person”. How would you want to be treated? As a complete and utter buffoon, lucky to be walking upright, or as a valued member of the human race, loved and respected as one of God’s precious children? Would a belligerent, belittling conversation with a God-worshiper make you want anything to do with that God? I know I would run away screaming.  Probably silently, but still.

For clarification purposes, this is not about “speaking the truth in love”.  We earn that privilege. The other person must trust us enough to hear our counsel. It’s not a given. Even then, we have to ensure our motivation is love, and not simply to be right. We can be right at the expense of a relationship.  While there are times we have to make tough decisions to sever toxic associations, Jesus’ prime directive has always been redeeming the connection between God and man.  We get to facilitate that.

I know I can grow in this area, too. I consider this an open letter to all my fellow believers, myself included.  Please fully receive God’s love and acceptance for yourself so you can freely give it to others.

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. –
I Corinthians 13:4-7

Lemonade Love

lemonadeI’ve asked Ruby to take a timeout in her room.  Apparently, while I was gone for a mere 60 minutes, she managed to throw a huge fit regarding what type of lemonade to drink.  She wanted to open the new bottle when there was an open bottle of blueberry lemonade in the fridge.  Zac tried to point her in the right direction – the half-full carafe – but she insisted. He stood his ground. Result?  Ruby threw a fit. 

Sigh.

I figured we’d end up here.  She was awake after 10:00 last night.  We hit 98 degrees (not the boy band) in Shelton yesterday.  Which means it cooled down to all of 80 degrees by our bedtime, around 10:00 p.m.  After we’d retired, Ruby came in wanting to fill her cup with water. That’s how I know she was still up.

This morning went well.  The afternoon, so-so. But eventually all good things like controlled behavior come to an end when you’re sleep-deprived.  Some of us have TMI moments.  Others throw things. 

I sent her to her room to cool off.  Or I should say, I tried.  She apologized, to me and to Zac.  She hugged Zac. She put her shoes and coat away, tidying up her contribution to the downstairs chaos.

“Mom, I’m really, really sorry,” she said, her big eyes sad.

“I know,” I said.  “But you still haven’t done what I asked you to do.”

Eventually, she tromped up to her room. She came back down, five minutes later, lugging her green princess suitcase.  It was stuffed to the gills. She was moving out.

“I hope you’re happy when I’m gone,” she said, frowning in my general direction. “You won’t have a daughter anymore.”

“I’ll miss you.  I love you,” I said.  I meant it, too. I even smiled at her.

“You don’t have to go.”

Ruby rolled her eyes.

Then she turned her head and rolled herself and suitcase out to the carport.

“I’m gonna live outside,” she informed us. And she was gone.

Times like this make me wonder about our decision to reproduce.  Truly.

How many times have I acted the same way? Ruby and I aren’t so different. I want it my wa-a-a-y!  And now, if you please.  Ruby has a will of iron.  But it needs to be tempered so others can stand to be around her.  We’re a family here.  We love each other and we look out for our own.

The Lord does the same with us.  He’s called me on my bad attitudes and poor excuses.  He’s made me face up to my selfish acts.  He loves me, and boundaries for behavior are part of the package. We want the best for Ruby. We love her, too. Boundaries mean we care. This means a life lived without manipulating others or bombastic rage aimed at those we love. It means a life lived in the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5). 

In the meantime, I need to grow up.  Our kids need to see us modeling good behavior, guided by the Spirit, in order to know what it looks like and how to do it.  So I’m praying for me right now, too. Ruby and I have an opportunity to grow together in godliness in this moment.

 

 

 

 

Speaking the Truth

I like to think of myself as someone who tells it like it is.  I guess my close friends would say I am.

The other day, Jonathon and I were laughing over a Facebook meme. I think I even rolled my eyes.  The same theme kept coming up in my feed, over and over.  He mentioned how he’d like to respond, but didn’t.  He never would.  The thought of it, though, that’s what got us laughing.

“I just want to punch them in the groin,” I said.  Not that I would.  But it expressed exactly how I felt about the whole thing.  Yeah.  I’m direct. I try to curtail it, yet sometimes it slips out. Sorry.

Today I spent a long visit with an old friend of mine.  We both speak frankly.  I filter a bit more than she does, but we both know it.  Years ago, she gave me a bit of advice about a certain situation.

She looked me in the eye, her dark eyes flashing concern, and said, “That person is trying to control you.”

At the time, I came away a little unsettled and confused.  She must have misinterpreted things. How in the world…?  I was grown, married, with kids of my own.  I had a mortgage.  I paid taxes.  I worked. Nobody had me cowed. I shook my head.

Wrong.

Now, several years have gone by.  The friend said it again today.

“How will you get out from under their control?”

My friend tried to show me the muddle I’d been in for a long time, but I couldn’t – or didn’t want – to see it.  The skies cleared, and I could see that God did that work through a series of rather painful circumstances. Funny she should ask. I related to her all that transpired and where I found myself now.

Can I just say I’m very thankful for good friends who speak the truth in love to me, sometimes more than once?  Let me say to you:  I’m listening.  I hear you.  I might not have a pocket to put it in at this point or a spot to anchor it on my internal wall, but in time I will.  Don’t stop.  I need it and I need you.  I hope I can do the same for you, if you’ll let me.

Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:15

Risky Love

I had a long conversation with an old friend today.  We talked a bit about love.

I remembered this scripture out of I Corinthians 13:  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Each of us experienced recent events where we had to choose to act in love.  Our culture makes love out to be, well, squishy.  It’s portrayed as romantic, two lovers running hand and hand through a backlit field spangled with wildflowers.  It’s a couple snuggling beneath a full moon next to the ocean’s  luminous shore.  Or, it’s parental.  Mothers staying up all night with cranky babies.  Fathers cheerfully working 2 jobs to support a family. 

What if the love needed doesn’t fall into those popular, Hallmark heart-swelling categories?  What if it’s more like “keep quiet or you’ll start WW III in the backseat”?  You know in your heart if you say anything, it will be misconstrued.  You choose to keep your thoughts to yourself because you realize you can’t fix what’s broken.  Love is patient and kind. Love does not demand its own way. It costs something to be patient and kind.  It costs to be quiet when everything in you screams to be heard, to do it your way.

What if it’s more important to restore relationship than to be right?  The other party is wrong.  Their attitude and actions, not to mention words, cut you deeply.  You have two choices:  cut them out of your life like so much rotten fruit or make peace.  Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  The truth is that in God’s economy, renewed fellowship must win out except in the most dire circumstances.  This means our pride takes a hike, possibly forever.

What if we have certain primary relationships whose dynamic never seems to change, despite our best efforts of prayer and words of encouragement?  Some people close to us may never get us nor love us in ways we can receive. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

This love thing, it’s risky business. It’s not squishy or soft at all.  We could get hurt turning the other cheek, and often we do. But God is love. He’s a firm foundation, a shelter in the time of storm. Do we believe the best about others?  Do we show it by our actions?  Loving is the Father’s primary business.

 

 

 

Song of Solomon

I’m still finishing up my Bible reading plan.  Yesterday, I landed on Song of Solomon.  You might know it as Song of Songs.  It’s a slender book of only 8 chapters, sandwiched between Ecclesiastes (eat, drink and be merry, because there are no guarantees in this life) and Isaiah, the heavyweight prophet of the Old Testament.  It’s easy to miss.

Song of Solomon is the book about, well, Solomon and his lady love, the Shulamite.  I’ve heard this preached two different ways.  The first way is definitely the safest way.  The book, with its memorable picturesque metaphors, is  an extended metaphor for God and His covenant people.  God is the male lover and Israel with her pomegranate cheeks is the female counterpart.  My commentary says:  “The basis for all human love should be covenant love, the master metaphor of the Bible.  This covenant love is also the basis of the relationship between God and man; therefore, the Song applies properly to both marriage and covenant history.” (1991, Thomas Nelson Publishers).  So there!

The second way is to discuss the Song of Solomon as the standard for married love.  I’ve been to one church where it was preached this way.  The guy had a lot of chutzpah.  I hope he’s okay.  Nobody else I know has done it since, without blushing over their entire body.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the Church universal does a poor job of teaching on human sexuality within relationships.  Over the course of my life, I’ve sat in numerous classes and seminars purporting to cover this very subject.  Do I remember any of them?  No.  Is it because I’m old? Possibly, but beside the point.  What I have gleaned from my Christian subculture is:  be pure, be modest, let men be the initiator in romantic relationships.  I am not debating any of those things.  Purity is a godly standard for men and women. I’ve also seen relationships work both ways.

What makes the Song of Solomon so unique is the celebration of physical love. It’s rampant in the entire book.  I’m no Greek scholar, but I know of three Greek words that mean love:  agape (unconditional love), phileo (platonic love between friends), and eros (romantic love).  The Song celebrates romantic love. It does so unashamedly.

(The Shulamite) Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – For your love is better than wine (1:2).

Heck of a start to a book, no?

The book reads like a play.  Now the king is speaking, now the Shulamite, now different groups of choruses.  Some of it is downright beautiful.

You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; You have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes…(4:9)

Alongside the eros love in the Song reside phileo, and hopefully, agape.  The heart of covenant is “til death do us part”.  The terms are “through sickness and in health, for richer or poorer”.

This book reminds me of the joy and freedom there is within a committed marriage.  The colorful garden imagery reminds us of the beauty of live, growing things.  In this book, namely love.  The world likes to portray marriage as a ball and chain, a self-made prison.  It cites the limitations of sleeping with only one person for the rest of your life:  no chance of variety.  And you only gain your freedom upon the death of your spouse or your own demise.  But God has a better way.  He designed us to give ourselves to one person for all our days.

Drink water from your own well — share your love only with your wife. Why spill the water of your springs in public, having sex with just anyone? You should reserve it for yourselves. Don’t share it with strangers.  Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. She is a loving doe, a graceful deer. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, with an immoral woman, or embrace the breasts of an adulterous woman? (Proverbs 5:15-20)

Since this is God’s design, won’t He help us uphold it?  It’s up to us to work on our marriages and cultivate the connection with our spouse. Sex is an integral part of that as an expression of committed love.  Physical intimacy within marriage is important, otherwise there wouldn’t be en entire book dedicated to it; it edifies the relationship.  We won’t find fulfillment in sleeping  with multiple partners, as intoxicating as it may be in the short term.  We desire to be understood and loved.  Romantic love may ebb and flow,  but the friendship and believing the best of my spouse continues on.  This little book is playful, intense and vivid.  Married love is one of God’s best gifts.  Let’s embrace it.

The Long Game

My mother-in-law and I took an early walk this morning.  Her life has been in emotional turmoil lately, and I knew she needed to talk it out.  We stepped outside into the sunny, low-humidity morning and started down the block.

Her life has been marked with rejection.  She is a survivor.  She got her B.A. last summer in Fine Arts.  She sews, paints, draws, does sculpture, cooks, you name it.  You dream it, she can build it.  She birthed and raised three wonderful boys with her husband.  She’s lived in several different states and in Kenya. And yet, she has lived with a hole in her heart for 70 years.

Very recently, God stepped in and answered some well-worn prayers.  She reconciled with someone who held her in contempt all her life.  She grew up under the shadow of rejection and only in the past couple of weeks walked into the light of acceptance.

She is overwhelmed.

We walked and talked and she poured out her heart.  Sometimes, listening is all we have to offer.

“I’ve lived in exile all my life.  I don’t know where to put all these good things,” she mused.

Indeed.

I think sometimes we pray earnestly and seek God for things.  We have a great desire in our hearts that drive sus. Then, after awhile, when the prayer seems to yield no results, we give up.  We let go.  We move on.  We get on with the business of living and forget about it, the sharp thorn stabbing us from time to time.  “God, where are you?” we lament in time of greatest pain. “Don’t you love me?  Why don’t you fix this?!”

The silence in heaven mocks us.  God didn’t come through.

Then, all of a sudden, in some secret greenhouse, the prayer reaches fruition.  We get pregnant after years of trying.  The job we’ve always wanted and hoped for becomes ours.  We find that long-lost friend.  We pluck – and taste – the fruit of God’s faithfulness.

God, you see, is in it for the long haul.  He is always holding us by the hand.  We run and run and He keeps up. We turn to the right and He is with us.  We jump into the rapids and He dives alongside us.  He never forsakes us.  God has a killer long game.  He aims purposefully, for eternity, and yet still allows people to make choices.

My mother-in-law and I eventually found the river and rested on a bench, watching the river flow.  The water sparkled.  As the sun crept slowly over the hills, a fresh breeze blew, refreshing us. To witness the healing of decades of bitterness and strife stokes my faith.  I can see the arc of her life, like the earth’s curve, and I realize He never relents. And I am so grateful.  If we hold and on and wait, He has good things for us.

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. – Hebrews 11:1