Living in Faith, Scripture verses

MLK, presidents, and me

This is a week of importance for Americans.

Yesterday marked the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when we’re encouraged to think about the issues he fought for. Tomorrow is Presidential inauguration day, ushering in a time of new leadership and whatever may come with that.

I felt like today’s blog post, sandwiched between these two national observances, should be insightful or meaningful or profound. Well, not necessarily profound – because I don’t consider most of what I say or write to fall in that category. That’s for people who are much deeper thinkers than me.

Bible verse love one anotherBut I still have quite a few thoughts related to these two events tumbling in my mind, so I’ll share a few with you.

I was raised in a time and place when many people didn’t necessarily embrace the issues raised by Dr. King. That sounds harsh, especially in today’s culture, but it was my reality. He was assassinated only a few years before I was born, which meant events were still fresh on people’s minds. Changing laws or perspectives or hearts is difficult, tedious work. It takes time. More time, for some, than what had passed by the late 60s and early 70s of my childhood.

Grappling with that realization as I grew old enough to be aware of it and understand what it meant was tough. To be honest, some days it still is.

I also was raised in a family that believed voting was a privilege to be exercised, but that politics were personal. My parents voted every time an election came around. In those days you stepped up to an available voting machine and pulled the curtain closed around you so that no one else in the room saw anything but your calves and shoes. There was just enough space for me to stand at their elbow as they flipped the levers for the candidates they voted for. The clicks and thunks of the levers carried such finality, sounded so official. Standing in that little closed-in space felt magical and secretive and special – and private.

I’m sure my parents could have discussed candidates and issues, but they never had those conversations in front of me. Maybe it stemmed from how they were raised themselves, but you truly let your vote be your voice instead of vocalizing your opinions on candidates to anyone who cared to listen. Talking politics was seen as tacky.

Wow, have we moved past that mindset as a society.

Talking politics still isn’t high on my list of favorite conversational topics. I research candidates and make my choices and believe that everyone else should be allowed to do the same. It’s one of our rights as American citizens.

Do we have to agree on who to vote for? No. Do we need to be respectful of each other’s opinions and find ways to move forward together despite those differences? I believe so.

Bible verse love one anotherAs I wrestle with these issues on a personal level, the words from John’s letters to other believers (1 John, 2 John, 3 John) keep rising above the muck: Love one another.

It’s a recurring message in John’s letters, but echoes what Jesus Himself taught: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 ESV) and “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV).

John walked with Jesus and was part of His inner circle. He was part of some events such as the Transfiguration that only a handful of people experienced (Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9). He stood at the cross during the Crucifixion and was given the responsibility of caring for Jesus’ mother Mary (John 19). He was one of the first disciples to see that Jesus was no longer in the tomb (John 20).

He was gifted with a vision and was told to write it down in what we know as the book of Revelation.

Yet after seeing all these things, after experiencing face-to-face life with Jesus, the message John shared again and again was to love each other.

Everything of importance comes back to love.

I’m trying to remember that for myself. I’m trying to get better at putting it into practice myself.

As tired as I am of anything related to this election season, as bruised/battered/frustrated/angry as I felt at different times during the past year, it all comes back to loving each other and loving God.

It doesn’t matter which candidates you supported. It doesn’t matter which candidates won.

What matters is that God is in control. He is on the throne.

My job is to love God and to love other people, no matter who they are or what they believe. God will take it from there.

That’s what I hold to, especially in crazy or uncertain times (read my other post, Faithful Despite the Fear). I pray we reach a place someday where we’re able to do that together – as Americans, as Christians, as children of God.

Living in Faith, Writing life

5 things I’m thankful for from 2020

And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:13 ESV)

If I heard it said once, it seems like I heard it a thousand times: 2020 was “unprecedented,” a “year like no other,” a year of “pivoting.” Yes, it was a year of challenges, fear, and frustration. I even wrote about some of my fears in my blog post Faithful Despite the Fear.

But 2020 also had moments of beauty and joy, hope and fulfillment. And while I plan to remember the lessons I learned in 2020 and don’t in any way want to discount the heartaches that so many people experienced, I’m choosing to focus on positive things from the year and be grateful for those as we move into 2021.

Here are five of those things (in no particular order).

Psalm 107:1 Bible verseWorking from home again. I worked from home for almost 18 years while our kids were growing up, but returned to the “real” working world in 2016. I enjoy my job and work with some wonderful people – but I’ve also really enjoyed being able to work from home again. It’s less pressure in a lot of ways and I definitely haven’t missed fighting traffic or spending 2+ hours in my car every day.

More time together as a family. When everything began to change in March, our son was nearing the end of his third year in college and our daughter was two months from her high school graduation. Their shift to online school and our shift to working from home full-time meant that we spent a lot more time together. It wasn’t what they wanted for school, but they made the best of it and my Mama heart loved soaking in every minute of togetherness that I could.

The bits and pieces of “normal.” Our daughter’s class had in-person graduation in late June for those who wanted to attend under then-current protocols (thanks to being able to hold it at Atlanta Motor Speedway). Both their colleges allowed students on campus in the fall, even though many things were different from usual. Our church began holding in-person services again in August, although that was also new and different in many ways. Any glimpses of what we used to consider “normal” were good to see.

Healthy parents. While I’ve been concerned for the health of all our family and friends, I’m incredibly thankful that our parents have been healthy through all of this. They’ve stayed home as much as possible and have followed the rules when they’ve gone out. I thank God for preserving their health and pray that those who test positive for COVID-19 have mild cases and recover quickly.

1 Chronicles 29:13 Bible verseA fresh writing mindset. I began 2020 thinking and praying a lot about things I wanted to do once both kids were at college and I had time to refocus on some things for myself. One of the clear answers was to get back to the writing that I had basically ignored for the past few years because of being focused on work and other things. I joined a new critique group during the summer, began working again on a YA manuscript, entered the first chapter of that manuscript in a contest, and have been getting back in the habit of posting more regularly here on my blog and social media. The responses have been encouraging and I’m excited about doing even more in 2021.

What about you – can you find some glimmers of hope among the craziness and mess we’re connecting with 2020? These are only a few things and I’ve barely scratched the surface of them. What are some things you found to be grateful for in 2020 despite all the uncertainty?

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 107:1 ESV)

Thank you, Lord, for your blessings, even when things around us are uncertain or don’t go the way we want. You teach us many times in Scripture that there are always reasons to be thankful. Help us remember that as we move into this new year and deal with whatever comes our way. Amen.

Living in Faith, Scripture verses

Being big enough to humble ourselves

Those who humble themselves will be exalted Matthew 23:12Years ago, one of our former pastors would invite people in the congregation to help write an Advent devotional book that we could use together as a church family. He mapped out the Scripture readings and let us write whatever came to mind. Entries were written by teenagers, retirees, and everyone in between.

I found a couple of these booklets while cleaning out some things in my office. Flipping through and seeing the names of those who shared their thoughts was a sweet walk down memory lane.

She was one of “my girls” in youth group and now she’s married and a mom herself. They moved away so I haven’t seen them in years, but we keep up with each other on Facebook. She was such a beautiful example of what a Christian woman should be; now she’s singing with the angels in heaven.

With Christmas only a few days away, here’s the devotional I wrote for one of those booklets.

Scripture reading: Matthew 23: 1-12 (NIV)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

 

image of woman prayingThis story is one of several when Jesus “called out” church leaders or other supposedly important people on their hypocrisy and lack of understanding. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were highly educated men who didn’t have a clue. I’m sure their cheeks burned and their indignation ran high at Jesus’ words.

The Pharisees not be called instructors? Servants were the greatest of all? They needed to humble themselves in order to be great?

Didn’t Jesus realize who He was talking to? Who He was talking about?

Of course He did. Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and teachers of the law then, but to each of us now.

Being humbled isn’t any more fun for us than it was the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, though we’ve all been there. The situation that puts us in our place often takes us by surprise and leaves us scratching our heads until we realize just what happened – and why. Once we think about it, we may realize that we deserved to be humbled, whether we want to admit it or not.

The only man who never deserved to be humbled was Jesus, yet He was willing to be humbled enough for all mankind. He left His throne beside God to become one of us, to humble Himself to the point of becoming fully human and surrounding Himself with the sins of the earth.

The last verse of today’s Scripture passage says that “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus was certainly exalted after His time of humility on earth, when He returned to His rightful place in heaven with God. Because of the sacrifice He made – beginning on that quiet night of His birth we’re preparing to celebrate – we too can be exalted with Him someday.

And that’s the best gift of all during Christmas.

Thank you, Lord, for sending Jesus to live among us so we could learn more about you and know that someday we’ll be with you in heaven. As we celebrate Christmas this year, give us a new appreciation for how great a sacrifice Jesus made to be part of your plan. Amen.