Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Send ANYONE Else



He told me not to bother. If I remember correctly, his exact words actually were, "Don't bother."

This was around my 27th year and I was less than a week away from launching The Remnant, a Christian service group comprised of adult singles....wait for it...with a twist.

The twist was that singles groups are awkward and I didn't want to attend them anymore. So how does one meet new people and make quality friendships? One starts a group that weeds out any namby-pamby. Here's what I figured: I'd create a service group that specialized in volunteer projects so heinous, so tiring, so draining, so filthy, only the cool would survive.

Anyone left standing would be my kind of person. And we could be friends!

A week before the launch meeting, while I was in the midst of making snacks (the almond bark coated pretzels were a big hit) and organizing my pitch, a friend asked me a question that nearly ended it all: Are you willing to lead?


Define 'willing.'


Matthew - you beautiful boy you - was a friend with a background in ministry leadership. While working on the initial launch, he helped me think of scenarios and issues I'd never imagined. He asked me the hard questions. He took me through the logistics and the reality. Basically, he was my Mr. Miyagi.

Then he asked me that question and I was stumped. What I was comfortable doing was starting the group, not leading it. I assumed God was only asking me to do what I was comfortable doing. Isn't that what God does? Lets us chill in our comfort zones? Can I get an amen?

Matthew wasn't impressed with my answer. "If you can't lead it, don't bother starting it."


But...but...but...


This is what I call, "Being a real Moses." Not the Red Sea division Moses. The earlier dude talking to a burning bush about a speech impediment.

Initially, when God spoke to Moses about His plans to free the Israelites from Egypt, Moses responded with questions. We may think of him as this powerful Charleton Heston type and, with God beside him, he was. But he was also a man with a fear of public speaking he could not face.

So, he threw out any question he could. People will want to know God's name, what was he suppose to tell them? People will question his authority, how could he make them believe him? When God had answers for every excuse, Moses finally got real.

"Oh Lord, I'm not very good with words. I never have been, and I'm not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled." Exodus 4:10


Oh Moses. I get you, man.


I relate so much more to this Moses than the miracle working one. He saw his own inability and it caused hesitation and fear. I've often given God a list of the things I don't want to do. "Ask me to do anything Lord! Except this list of exceptions I've made into a convenient refrigerator magnet for you."

When Matthew asked me that question, I had a list of excuses, too. But God came with a ready answer.
Then the Lord asked Moses, "Who makes a person's mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say." Exodus 4:11-12

In other words, "You get tongue-tied? So what! Your limitations do not limit me. So get your rear in gear!" But Moses couldn't give God this one fear. He just couldn't.
"Lord, please! Send anyone else." Exodus 4:13


Accepting your ineptitude is liberating.


All those years ago, my friend Matthew gave me a new perspective on stepping into a role where I didn't feel qualified.

"God has trusted you with this project," he told me. "So are you going to protect what God's given you or let someone else step in and, quite possibly, take this group in the direction God never meant for it to go?"

This wasn't about what I was qualified to do. It was about God asking me if I was willing to do anything. Even if that anything freaked me out.

I take it back. 


I did launch The Remnant. And led it.

Not because I felt empowered and capable, but because I wasn't going to let anyone come along and screw it up.

Not only did God use me far beyond my capabilities, but He blessed me immeasurably for trusting Him. That group is where I met many of my closest, dearest, lifelong friends. For three years, we broke bread and sweat together. Lived with more paint in our hair than was culturally stylish. Worked in the cold rain and brutal sun. Ended most projects covered in dust, dirt, sawdust, and, on one particular weekend, cow manure. We also had an unfortunate event in a muddy field with a heavy truck, laughed more hours than we cried, and experienced true brother and sisterhood. All these years later, and I'm still blessed by that time in my life.

I think about that a lot when God comes around again asking me to travel further into my fears, which He does all the blasted day long. It's like He doesn't appreciate that refrigerator magnet at all.

If God is asking you, like He does with me, to do something that freaks you out, here's what we should do:

Right after listing all the reasons we're not qualified and believing anyone else would do a better job, take a breath. Deep inhale. Deep exhale. Get rid of the boundaries we've placed on our life. Forget who we are alone and remember Who is with us. Then, with as steady of a voice as we can summon, say, "Geez. Okay God. I take it back. Don't send anyone else. Send me."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Yes. But He's alive.



A wise and noble friend of mine often says, "Life is hard, but it's also so much more than hard."

And I reply, "Yes, but it is hard."

And he replies, "But not only hard."

And I reply, "Yes, but..." You get the picture.

My side of the conversation is super easier to prove. In fact, at this very moment I can rattle off names of family, friends, acquaintances, and even plug myself in there, who are currently struggling financially, with serious health issues, mourning over lost loved ones and lost trust, battling with failure and those fuzzy feelings that go with it, facing self-doubt, helplessness, hopelessness, broken heartedness, and pain of various shapes, colors, degrees, and delights.

See? Hard. I win.

Rules and exceptions.


We know this, of course. The evidence is everywhere. After awhile, and simply to maintain sanity, we accept my argument without much push back. Why fight it? What's done is done. What will be will be.

Right on.

Things get glitchy at this point because, if you're a Christian, you can't leave it there. God won't leave it there either. Lately, His 'not leaving it there' is getting louder. At least in my head. I have this phrase that keeps making its rounds everytime I consider all the harshness of life. It goes something like this, "Yes. But He's alive."

Easy to remember; hard to forget. Also, incredibly repetitive, like when you get, "The Final Countdown" by Europe stuck in your head.

Life is hard! Yes. But He's alive.

The harshness is real! Yes. But He's alive.

The real is confirmed! Yes. But He's alive.

Death is as real as it gets.


Easter weekend is here and I keep thinking about the disciples and their reality. They walked with the Son of God on earth, saw the sick healed, lame walk, thousands fed, Pharisees publically humiliated.

Good times.

Things took a drastic turn nearly as soon as Jesus got off that donkey.

The miracle worker stopped working miracles. The good guys started losing. The man who raised others from the dead was now dead himself. What could they have been feeling as Jesus was tortured to death on that cross? Probably hopeless. Definitely fearful. Incredibly lost. Undeniably defeated.

This was their harsh reality. It was their grave medical diagnosis, their home foreclosure, their sick child, their ending marriage, their failed dream. Jesus didn't just appear dead, He took a final breath. Done, finished, finito.

What's done was done. What would be...was.

Yes. But.


Sunday was coming. Not all that far off, actually.

The disciples saw their Teacher and Savior buried in a tomb. But their reality didn't change God's eventuality. That tomb was already empty. Those burial clothes were already tossed aside. Even before reality said so.

The plan God had written from the beginning was already as good as done before it even started.
Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus said, "Listen, we're going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise."
Luke 18:31-33 

All these hardships we face are real. They aren't frivolous or minor or shrug-worthy. They're painful, excruciating at times, and overwhelmingly defeating. They're as real as real gets. So, yes. The harshness is true.

And, because of that, I think we often see the future as more of the same. Mourning that never ends. Heartache that never stops. Pain that never relents. It's hard to imagine anything different than the reality we're facing every day, over and over, without any signs of change or renewal or hope.

But He's alive. And, because of that one fact, everything can change. Everything. Even our reality.

You know what this means? It means I lost the argument.


Happy Easter, my friends. He's risen! 



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Don't despise criticism. Despise the absence of it.



Take six months, he said. Enroll in some grammar classes. Start fresh and relearn the craft. My fiction writing had creativity. And humor. And timing. What it didn't have yet, he said, was the technical chops to be taken seriously.

Yeah. That hurt.

This was an assessment I received years ago after a New York Times best-selling author critiqued a few pages from one of my initial manuscripts. The advice put me back five years in publishing my first fiction novel. It caused me to second guess every sentence I wrote. It made me paranoid about comma usage. It created doubt about my talent. It unearthed serious insecurities about my career choice.

Man, I owe him.

The war on words.


Telling the hard truth isn't popular these days. Nor is questioning certain sacred cows. There are people, ideas, even opinions in our culture that are not to be criticized or tested. Doing so is borderline illegal. Unless you're in Canada and question Islam, then there is no borderline. It's just plain illegal.

Welcome to the age of settled science, hate speech, and safe spaces: all terms used conveniently to silence all questions, doubt, and opposing opinions.

I don't know where this idea started that certain people, ideas, and beliefs couldn't be questioned. Who decided which ones get coddled? And which don't? What makes these people, ideas, and beliefs so fragile they can't survive doubt? And wouldn't treating them like a namby-pamby be considered soft criticism?

Someone needs to issue a public apology. Stat.

Desperately seeking adulthood. 


I don't think I grew up in a bubble, but maybe I did. In my formative years, the one thing you didn't want was to be treated like a child. Not even when you were one.

That meant accepting constructive criticism, instruction, even punishment and correction with emotional maturity. It also meant dealing with different viewpoints, not always getting your way, never being a sore loser, and, yes, having your ideas and beliefs questioned.

This was the normal path to adulthood.

And we're not talking Medieval Times here people. It was the 80s. Earning respect meant you had to have the gumption and strength to withstand criticism, even when it wasn't constructive.


Tough words are for the tough.



My author friend, the one with the harsh rebuke, actually paid me the ultimate compliment. He treated me like an equal.

He didn't pander, pat me consolingly on the head, and lie about keeping up the good work so I'd feel accepted.

Instead, he questioned me where I needed questioned and challenged me where I didn't know I needed challenged. His words weren't easy, but they were respectful. He knew my fortitude was, or would have to be, strong enough to withstand being questioned and criticized.

Appeasement would have been an insult; rebuke gave me dignity.  

If I were a Muslim in Canada, I'd be so offended right now.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ladies, you've embarrassed strong women long enough.



Lately, there's a certain group of women consistently in the spotlight. Women who really love talking about their genitals. And, I'm just going to say it, they're humiliating the rest of us.

Where do these pussy hat wearing, free contraceptive demanding, abortion-on-demand glorifying, public breast exposing, poor me whining, nasty woman celebrating, genital obsessing, free bleeding females come from? And do they talk to their mother with that mouth?

These women revel in dropping the word "vagina" into any conversation. They brandish it like a talisman, capable of bestowing undisputed relevance.

Stephen Colbert: "Cate Blanchett, what is your moral compass? Where does kindness and humanity sit in a brutal world? Because those are important questions right now." 
Cate Blanchett: "In my vagina." 

That sounds uncomfortable.

The Apple Has Fallen Far


I'm baffled anyone - the media, the culture, Stephen Colbert - takes these women seriously. When did we start mistaking vulgarity, shrieking, and anger as strength?

Some will blame it on political viewpoints, but I disagree. My girlfriends with differing political or religious viewpoints than I are all classy and kind, funny and joyful, giving and intelligent and successful and just...cool. None wear genital costumes.

What women are actually facing is a crisis of identity. Being a female has become nothing more than a thought. Even a man can be one if he so chooses.

It's way past time for strong women to take our gender back.


The Strong Woman Manifesto


Strong women have been beating down the mangled, overgrown path ahead of me my entire life.

I've watched them face unbearable pain with nobility and charm. I've watched them struggle through financial destitution; the loss of marriages, spouses, parents, and children; the challenge of single motherhood with disabled children; the ache of loneliness; the heartbreak of infertility; the mortality of life in all its shades and tints and textures. And still they do it while enchanting us with their heart and laughter and that incorrigible wink of mischief.

I know what strong women look like because I know their names.

In honor of them, and because they deserve better representation than what they've been getting, here are 8 of the many life lessons they've taught me: 

Strong women don't feel sorry for themselves.

Bad things happen to strong women. It's actually the rough edges of their life that have shaped them into the curvaceous, bodacious Amazonians that they are.

That doesn't, however, mean they don't have their weak moments. It means they take those moments, recognize them for what they are, accept they come, soak in the unfairness of it all, then refuse to be defeated by it.

Strong women face challenges with determination, not self-pity.


Strong women respect their bodies. 

Self-respect cannot and will not happen without respecting your body. It's the outer presentation of your inner self. Pretending otherwise is a lie. So it must be protected. And honored. And clothed.

Do you want to be viewed as a chalkboard? Then don't expose your breasts to write messages on them.

Strong women use posterboard.

Strong women love strong men.

Dear Lord in Heaven, yes.

Please.

And thank you.

Strong men are beautiful creatures. We need more of them, not less. I've never seen a single strong female be intimidated by a strong man. In fact, they thrill her. Strong women know that strong men are their equal, while gloriously different, counterparts. They support them, encourage them, respect them, because she knows true strength never needs others to be less.

Only bullies push others down to feel powerful. Strong women admire strength wherever it is found.


Strong women control their tongue.

You don't have to say everything you think. Really, it's best not.

You also don't have to infuse your verbal dictionary with excessive descriptions of your reproductive organs. The women I admire in my life are always worth listening to because they always have something of value to say. And when they don't, they shut up.

They also keep talk about their private parts private.


Strong women welcome opposing viewpoints. 

Disagree with her. She really doesn't care.

A strong woman won't agree with people often. Because she has her own mind. She's a maverick, a pioneer, a free thinker. But she also knows she can gain insight and wisdom from hearing differing opinions...about everything!

What she doesn't do is send f-bomb tirades on Twitter when someone says something she doesn't like.

Want an easy test to tell a strong woman from a weak one? Disagree with her. Then stand back and watch.


Strong women are hard workers.

I've never known a single strong woman who doesn't want to work. Not a single one.

Whether their job is with a company, for their family, or raising the next great generation, strong women embrace the hard labor of life because they want the rewards - self-respect, education, discipline, achievement, better life, more options, sense of fulfillment, and a chance to show off, baby.


Strong women are survivors, not victims.

I've seen this too many times, in too many glorious ways, to believe women cannot and do not overcome some of the harshest circumstances in life. The strongest women among us never see themselves as a victim, even though society would gladly approve them for the label.

They refuse.

They want to be more, prove more, and have more than what victimhood provides. Yes, they have obstacles to face and tears to cry. But they face them. They cry them.

Then strong women go kick ass.


Strong women are more than their gender.

Being a woman is fabulous. And strong women are nothing if not fabulous. They love indulging their relational nature, delighting in their femininity, celebrating and displaying beauty, and exploring all the ways their minds work differently than men.

A strong woman takes great pleasure in being female, but she does not worship it.



The next time a woman starts dropping the v-word, tell her to stop embarrassing herself. And while she's at it, stop embarrassing the rest of us, too.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The storm your meteorologist isn't talking about.



It's March in the heartland.

That means it's time for Oklahomans to burrow into the ground with our water, flashlight, and battery-powered radio. Park our vehicles in a garage or under the awning at Sonic. Gather our family so everyone is ready to take the situation seriously when that fifth tornado siren goes off. Check into social media every ten minutes to write funny posts so it doesn't sound like we're scared. Charge our phone battery so we can record video when the floods come and hail falls.

And go one more round with Mother Nature to see who wins.

Of all our standard severe weather practices, the most important one is that we never let a tornado take us by surprise.

Which means we live in vigilant fear for one season and constant dread the other three.

Keep an Eye on the Forecast


We don't actually. We're just aware that bad weather does come. It always comes. We won't make it through this season without it so being shocked when it arrives would seem...well...stupid.

Spring comes every year. And bad weather comes with it. Every. Year.

You cannot separate the two, just like you cannot separate life from problems. The former doesn't come without versions of the latter. Believing we can get through life without facing disappointment, difficulty, challenges, or struggles would seem...well...stupid.

But I do it anyway.

You?

The only thing to fear is schizophrenia itself


I'm that person always warning others there are rumblings on the horizon. It's obnoxious. Trust me. But I can't seem to help myself. I see patterns in life my friends believe is a side effect from all those drugs I took in the 60s.

But I've been doing it forever.

My guess is it's leftover hypervigilance from a few traumatic experiences of my childhood. You don't get tossed off the roof of a burning house as a child and it not make an impression. Or get yanked out of a church building on an Easter morning while the floor is collapsing under your feet and not wonder if you're a marble and the planet is a Hungry, Hungry Hippo.

For years, my life was so exciting I didn't need an imagination.

Beware the Ides of the Other Shoe


Accepting that life can be an obstacle course has rarely been my challenge. For me, it's believing that life isn't only an obstacle course.

But if I can do it, anyone can.

Yes, we must face the harsh realities of life. When we don't, we become those people who sob on the front lawns of universities when we realize anything of value costs money.

Let's never be those people.

But acceptance doesn't mean obsession. Or fatalism. Even though the weather, our circumstances, life itself, often tries to convince us the struggle will never end. It does. It will. Just hold on.

Because, outside, the weather is going to do its best to convince us every day is nothing but another chance for the wind to draw blood. But that isn't the weather always and won't be the weather forever. As most Oklahomans know, not every breeze turns into a storm. Not every storm turns into a tornado. Not every tornado causes irreparable damage.

Eventually, the new norm changes into another new norm. The winds die down. The sky stops churning. The thunder rumbles off. And spring, each and every year, turns to summer.

So, while we wait for this tumultuous spring season to pass, whether that's the weather or our circumstances, I'll leave you with a blessing my grandfather often repeated that's been a comfort to me:
"May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace." Numbers 6:24-26
And I'll add: May your storm shelter be fortified, roomy, and have wifi.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

7 Unwanted Emotions and the Uncommon Advice To Overcome Them


You don't want to feel what you feel, but you do. You don't want this emotion, but you've got it.

Oh, I've been there, am there, was there, will be there again. Rotten feelings are normal and expected. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. Or succumb without a fight.

When negative emotions get their hook in, we need a way to yank them out.

Carefully.

Painlessly would be groovy.

At the very least, thoroughly.

First and foremost, I recommend prayer and honest, quiet, focused scripture reading. But, sometimes, we need to add some fresh perspective to the mix. We need someone not in our head to give us a new viewpoint.

Recently, I had a series of meet-ups with friends. All of whom are brilliant. Brilliant and interesting. A necessary combination.

After each conversation, it struck me how all their insight, advice, or just conversational thoughts - collectively - touched on a variety of negative emotions all of us face. And usually repetitively.

It was stuff too good not to share. So...my friends...here's some words from...my friends...on dealing with 7 of the most common negative emotions:


When you feel Defeated: 

“You’ve got to live your life. Not anyone else’s. That means it moves at your unique pace. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that."
I loved this freeing thought because I'm definitely at war with time. I have exactly one clock in my house. One. That's all I can stomach. But, even though time is rarely our friend, it doesn't have to be our captor.


When you feel Jealous: 

“The way I look at it, I still have something to work toward that others with more than me don't. I haven’t achieved everything I want in life, yet. That means I have desires that motivate me to keep moving forward and gives me something to look forward to experiencing." 

This thought reminds me of a scene in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, a movie my girlfriends and I watched too many times in our teen years.


Gerald Howells: Gosh, I want to kiss you so bad, Dinky.
Dinky Bossetti: It's good to want things.


When you feel Anxious: 

“Your shoulda’s will kill you. I should’a done this, I should’a achieved that, I should’a had that by now. That’s what builds anxiety. You have to stop setting these rules and simply accept your pace of life.”
Those shouda's really will kill you.


When you feel Confused: 

“We don’t see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." 
Acceptance is the first step to recovery. And clarify.


When you feel Disappointed: 

“When you look at the horizon, all you can see is a comparison of where you are and where others are. And you’ve got to let it all go. God wants to step in, but He’s waiting for us to move out of the way.”


That song from Frozen got stuck in my head for a solid four hours after.


When you feel Hopeless: 

“The relationship was dead. I’d given up. There was no saving it. But God showed up and, I tell you, it’s amazing what He can do.”
Hope until the end. Hope with your last breath. Life is simply too mean, too harsh, too cruel to face it without hope. And, make no mistake, holding on to hope may be the hardest thing you'll ever do.


When you feel Offended: 

“Don’t you need confrontation to face things you haven’t faced on your own?”
It's time for brutal truth to make a comeback.

***


I'll leave you with one of my own favorite quotes. I honestly don't know if I compiled it from a compilation of scripture and other quotes or I stole it verbatim. But it's awesome so I'll take credit until I'm challenged:

When you feel Despair:

"God loves doing the impossible because He's the only one who can." 



Until next week.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Everything needed to be happy I learned from an outhouse




Grandma Birdie was a natural redhead, a color my tomato bisque turns when I add extra cream. She laughed frequently, listened intently, and anytime she had Keebler fudge striped cookies, I went home with a handful of them.

She made sure of it.

What she didn't have was indoor plumbing. Visiting her and Grandpa on their rural Oklahoma farm meant traveling back, back, baaaaack to an era where water was pumped from a well and the bathroom was a good 100-feet or more from the house.

Trust me. You wanted it that far.

They lived on the original 160-acres my great, great grandfather claimed during the Oklahoma Land Run and raised their four children in the original settler house, which consisted of three rooms - the kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom.

Visits to my great grandparent's farm meant lots of time sitting outside under an enormous elm tree and, yes, hiking to the wooden outhouse when nature called.


Just do your business.


You didn't dawdle in Grandma and Grandpa's bathroom. You got in, got done, and got out. In between times, you tried to ignore the smell, the flies, and the wasps buzzing overhead.

This was the beginning of my love affair with plumbers.

Water was found in two metal bowls in the kitchen. One was for washing your hands. One was for drinking. Both were filled by pumping the water out of a natural spring well, which kept the water abnormally cool and super duper delicious.

Just don't confuse which bowl was which.

That's so unfair.


I don't know how that remarkable woman lived every day where simply going to the bathroom at night, in the cold, or in the rain was a miserable chore. But she did.

Every morning, Grandma headed to a local restaurant where she worked as the cook, while Grandpa farmed. Then both came home, sat in their comfy furniture, ordered Chinese take-out, and binge watched 24.

Yeah, no. They came home and worked more.

You were never around either of them and heard a word of complaint. Or even a grouchy attitude. They were lovely people. Funny and smart. Quick to laugh, quick to give out hugs, and always thinking of others, even when others had so much more.

(Is that kind of strength and graciousness hereditary? Um, some. My mother has it. But it skips a generation.)

Thank God for every flush.


Ask me what I want in life, and I could rattle it off alphabetically. Ask me what I'm grateful for and I need a minute to think.

Hey, I'm a work in progress.

Grandma Birdie was the opposite. She never focused on what she didn't have but what she did. And it served her well.

I think of her nearly every time I turn on my faucet, take a shower, run a load of laundry, get filtered water from my refrigerator, or stumble to the bathroom at night. She's the image in my head reminding me that, no matter what happens in life or what I face, I can always live with a grateful heart. And it'll serve me, well, too.

It's really too bad more didn't have the chance to know her.

Maybe then the people complaining about not having free college and free healthcare, demanding raises they didn't earn and a lifestyle they can't afford, emotionally distraught over opposing viewpoints or lost elections, could find happiness in their self-imposed misery.

Because - and I'm only guessing here - I bet they have a toilet that flushes.