Land That I Love

img_2408Operation Desert Shield began when I was a pre-teen. We had just moved back to the States the year before, and I was happy to be living in the U.S. again. One product of the Gulf War was a surge in patriotism, similar to the patriotism expressed in the aftermath of 9/11. I remember I had several American flag t-shirts and an American flag pin. Yellow ribbons were popping up all over the place and you could not escape the song, “God Bless the U.S.A.” (It was so overplayed that, to this day, I can’t stand that song! – Cue the haters! :-))

But it was that period of my life that I realized, as the song says, that I’m proud to be an American. And ever since then, I’ve considered myself to be a patriotic person. Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. I miss singing in patriotic productions – the Salute to the Armed Forces was one of my favorites! I got goose bumps during President Whitmore’s speech in the film, Independence Day, I tear up in movies like The Patriot, and I felt inspired walking through the Reagan Presidential Library. Since the early 90’s, there have been two July 4th’s where I was out of the country, and it felt bizarre to not celebrate with a BBQ and fireworks.

All this to say, I love my country! And the divide I see in it right now – amplified by this election season – breaks my heart. Even Christians are divided over what’s right, who’s wrong, and how we should respond regarding various issues. The thing is, this is nothing new. Americans were divided over the Vietnam War. Racial tensions erupted in the 60’s in both violent and non-violent protest. During the Cold War, Americans were fearful of nuclear attack, and of each other: McCarthyism fostered distrust, false accusations, and persecution. The Bible says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NLT.) Even a cursory study of history will show you how true that statement is.

As much as I love this country, for years I have thought that, in the End Times, the United States of America would be no more. My thinking has been that there is no mention of a nation standing against a one-world government or against a leader (anti-Christ) who would rule us all, and I’m certain that the United States I know and love would not willingly hand over our power to another. My pastor has preached several sermons on the End Times and floated another theory that the U.S. will be the new Babylon. Either way, the United States of America as we know it will change – radically. And with the way things are going, this could very well happen in my lifetime.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by all of this, my initial, extreme response is fear, sorrow, hopelessness, anger, and a desire to resist ANY change because of what it might signify. But I have to remind myself that, as much as I love the U.S., my TRUE allegiance is to Christ, to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The verse that keeps coming to mind is Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Horses and chariots signified wealth, power, and military might, which we have had in the U.S. for as long as I’ve been alive. So, you could even say, “Some trust in the United States of America, but I trust in the Lord my God.”

The next President is not going to save us; neither Republicans, nor Democrats can save us; less federal debt, or a stronger military, or renewable energy will not save us. The only one who can and will save us is Jesus Christ!

The other extreme I lean towards is “why bother?” Why vote if I legit can’t get behind ANY of the candidates?! Why dig my heels in over morality issues when the pendulum has swung so far to the side of moral relativism – “You do you.” (As long as “you” doesn’t interfere with “me do me,” do whatever you think is right, or whatever our current culture decides is right.)

And I know that “why bother” is not a good attitude to have. In spite of all our problems, there is a lot of good. It truly is a privilege to live in this great country and, as citizens, it is our responsibility to participate, to give back. (Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities)

So what can we do when we’re feeling overwhelmed by political and social turbulence?

  1. Pray, pray, and pray some more!
    • …Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority… (I Tim. 2:1-3);
    • Then if my people…will humble themselves and pray… (2 Chron. 7:14);
    • …Pray for those who persecute you!… (Matt. 5:43-48).
  2. Speak the truth in love – LOVE being the operative word.
    • Your love for one another will prove…you are my disciples. (John 13:35);
    • …Instead, we will speak the truth in love… (Eph. 4:14-16);
    • …forgive anyone who offends you… (Col. 3:13);
    • …Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors… (I Peter 2:11-12). 
  3. Remember that we are “temporary residents and foreigners.”
    • But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives… (Phil. 3:20);
    • Don’t store up treasures here on earth…Store your treasures in heaven… (Matt. 6:19-21);
    • …And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world… (John 17:13-19);
    • …For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ… (Col. 3:1-4).
  4. Remember that our hope is in Christ alone.
    • …having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet… (I Cor. 15:24-28);
    • …So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen… (2 Cor. 4:16-18);
    • I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace… (Rom. 15:13);
    • …But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:33).

These are things I need to remember when I’m feeling especially distressed over the deluge of “bad news.” What about you? How do you navigate the choppy waters of this world? How do you keep your focus on our eternal future without neglecting your earthly responsibilities?

The Hunt

I watched as my three-year-old nephew gathered Easter eggs. He knew there was chocolate in those brightly-colored, plastic eggs, so after he had filled his bucket about a quarter of the way, he was ready to go inside and devour the spoils of the hunt.

What he didn’t realize was that he had only found a small portion of timg_2288he eggs, and if he would just keep searching, he would be able to fill his bucket to overflowing!

But he had given up. Content with the chocolate in the meager portion of eggs “hidden” in plain sight, he wasn’t prepared for the hard work of searching for the more expertly hidden eggs, thereby missing out on an even greater portion of chocolate.

How often do we adults do the same with God? Matthew 7:7 tells us to keep asking, to keep seeking, and to keep knocking. Matthew 13:45-46 likens the Kingdom of Heaven to a costly pearl. And the Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 3:8 that everything is worthless compared to the infinite value of knowing Christ.

Yet how often do we content ourselves with what we know about God – unprepared to put in the effort of continually seeking him. Unwilling to give up what we do have in order to obtain that pearl of great price. Uneasy about counting everything as loss when compared to knowing Christ.

We often don’t even realize the great reward that awaits us if we would but keep searching – greater wisdom, increased favor, a more intimate relationship with God, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

When it comes to my faith, I do not ever want to become content with where I am. I want to keep hunting so I do not miss out on the fullness of God!

 

The Dream

The old woman trudged by my window every morning. She walked with her head down and her back bent, as if she were carrying a terrible burden. Her fists were tightly clenched and clutched to her chest. Every morning it was the same. One morning, as she shuffled by, I smiled and waved from my window. She did not see me, her head was down too low. The next morning, I stood on my front step and, as she passed, I smiled and waved. She saw me. She paused, looked over her shoulder, clutched her hands a little tighter to her chest, and continued on her way. 
 
I was determined to get a response from her. So, the next morning, I stood in her path. When she reached me, she stopped. She did not look up, she did not try to go around me. She waited as she clutched her hands ever tighter to her chest. “Good morning!” I exclaimed, smiling brightly. At this, she looked up and I was shocked at what I saw. For this was not an old woman at all! Sure, she was stooped and she moved slowly, her hands and arms appeared gnarled, her face was a permanent scowl and there was no light in her eyes. But looking her full in the face, it was clear that this woman was much younger than she appeared. 
 
She did not respond to my greeting, nor did she look me in the eye. In fact, other than slightly raising her head, she gave no indication that she had even heard me. “Good morning!” I again exclaimed “it’s a beautiful day!” She looked around, as if for the first time, and grunted “I hadn’t noticed.” Well, at least now I knew she could speak.

I was fascinated by this woman. Why did she appear so old? Why did she not engage in normal social interaction? Why did she clutch her hands so tightly to her chest? I wanted to ask her all of my questions, but from the look on her face it seemed that our brief exchange had angered her. So, I stepped aside and, as she shuffled by, I told her to have a nice day. We repeated this exact exchange over the next week. I would stand in her path, greet her, she would grunt in reply, and would move along as soon as I stepped out of her way. 
 
On the seventh day, I stood there ready to offer my greeting, but she spoke first. “Why do you hinder me every morning?” Her voice was tinged with frustration and anger.   

“I’m sorry,” I replied “but, if I can be completely honest, you’ve peaked my curiosity. I wonder why you appear older than you are, why you keep your head bowed so low, and why you clutch your hands so tightly to your chest.”  
 
As I spoke, her face twisted in bitterness, her eyes filled with pain, and tears began to run down her cheeks. “Please,” she whispered, “just let me pass.” I stepped aside. I felt terrible. I had made her cry. I had hurt her.  
 
I knew that I needed to apologize. So when she approached me the next morning, I was surprised when she spoke first.  “I’m sorry for the way I responded yesterday,” she said. “I know you’ve been trying to be kind this past week by greeting me every morning. I’m sorry that I could not be kind in return; but I will answer your question.” 
 
“You are curious as to why I clench my fists so tightly and hold my hands so close to my chest. Well, you see, I carry my dream. I hold it tightly so I don’t lose it. I clench my fists so others do not see it.”  
“How long have you held your dream so tightly?” I asked.  
“For all of my adult life” she replied.  
“May I see it?”  
“I can’t show you my dream! You might laugh at it, or ridicule me for even thinking I could have it.”
“I would never do that!” 
“No, I’m sorry, but it’s too personal. I’m too afraid. I’ve held it too tightly for too long to risk losing it now.”  
I told her I understood and she shuffled on her way.  
 
For the next few months, I continued to speak to her when she came by. As she grew accustomed to me, she began to open up more. I discovered that she was actually quite funny – a dry, witty sense of humor. We had the same taste in music and movies and television. We enjoyed reading the same books. We were both Christians. We found we had many things in common and, I would say, we became friends. Occasionally, I would see a sparkle in her eyes, or a smile play at the corners of her mouth. Once, she even laughed out loud – a small chuckle that was quickly silenced. And she continued to clutch her dream tightly to her chest. 
 
Eventually, our conversations became more meaningful and she told me what her dream was. I was not surprised by her dream. I did not think she was undeserving of that dream. I joined her in wondering why her dream had never come to fruition. “Is it something God has specifically promised you?” I asked one morning. 
 
“No, I have never felt like it was a promise. It’s just something I’ve always wanted. I fantasized about what my life would be like once my dream was realized. I feel like my life has been on hold just waiting for my dream to begin. I’m beginning to lose hope though. I’m not getting any younger and, at my age, I don’t know if this dream is even possible anymore.” 
 
“Well,” I mused aloud, “could it be possible that God has a different dream for you? A better dream for you?”  
“Yes, I suppose that is possible. But he’s never given me another dream.”  
“Well, maybe you need to let go of the old dream so you can receive the new.”  
“No!” She cried. “Without this dream the future is a complete unknown. Without this dream, my life may not fit the ‘norm.’ Without this dream, I might have to accept a dream that makes me uncomfortable! No! It’s too hard! I don’t want to let go!” 
 
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to give hollow advice or offer platitudes. After we spent some time in silence, I asked, “Do you trust God?”  
“Yes” she replied.  
“Do you doubt his character?”  
“No.”  
“Do you believe in his love, his grace, and his mercy? Do you believe he gives good gifts to his children?”  
“Yes, yes.”  
“Are you living like you believe all of that?”  
Her face fell. “No” she whispered.  
“Have you entrusted your dream to God?”  
“I thought I had.”  
“But how can you give him your dream while clenching it so tightly?” 
 
Tears coursed down her cheeks. She fell to her knees right there on the sidewalk. Doubled over, the sobs racked her body. Great groans of sorrow rent the otherwise peaceful morning. She knew. She knew she had to release her dream. The sobbing subsided but the tears still flowed as she lifted her head and slowly stretched out her arms – one at a time. The pain of reaching out after all these years must have been excruciating. Once she had completely extended her arms, she began to slowly uncurl her fingers until both of her hands were fully opened. I couldn’t help but stare at her dream. It was yellowed with age, dry, cracked, useless. As we sat there looking at her dream, it began to disintegrate and a slight breeze came up, sweeping every last piece away. 
 
“Wow,” I thought, “this is too much. She won’t be able to handle the complete annihilation of her dream.” But then an amazing thing began to happen. She looked up, she threw her arms wide, and at the top of her lungs she began to sing praises to God. She stood up and, as she continued to worship, I was amazed at her physical transformation. Her back straightened, her face softened, and her eyes were shining. She looked decades younger. And as I sat there, marveling at the changes to her appearance, she began to laugh. Not a giggle, not a chuckle, but a loud and long full belly laugh. 
 
When the laughing subsided, she looked at me with a beatific smile and she showed me her hands. There, if you looked hard enough, you could see the beginnings of a new dream. Oh, it may only be the size of a mustard seed now, but it is alive! And I have full confidence that if she listens to the Lord about how to cultivate her dream, if she continues to walk with her hands open and her arms outstretched, then, in God’s time, that tiny seed will sprout, it will grow, and it will bear fruit. Her dream will thrive! 

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What’s in a Name?

For the past two years, I’ve chosen a theme for the year based on what I believe God is working on in my life. This year, my theme is “Choose Your Own Adventure,” so when I was brainstorming names for my blog, I wanted to include something about adventure. But I also like alliteration and nothing was coming together. “Adventure” made me think of the late 1800s → pith helmets → Indiana Jones → the 1920s → societies and clubs. I liked “Society,” but what kind?

Well, I’m at an age where I thought I would be married by now, with a few kids. And in recent years, I’ve become much more aware of how never-married, or late-married, individuals are portrayed in our culture. I’ve overheard conversations that, while not intended as a put-down of me, made me feel like I was lacking in some way.

  •  A sitcom has only to say, “He lives with his mother” to automatically imply he has no girlfriend, is a nerd, geek, socially awkward, a loser, and/or a stoner;
  • A couple may be waiting to start their family and friends/relatives might say, “Well, they shouldn’t wait too long, she’s almost 30!” (When I’m over here pushing 40!);
  • If a person reaches a certain age and has never married, there MUST be a reason. It MUST mean they’re either a closeted homosexual, they’re unattractive, have a bad personality, or are otherwise unsuitable (of course, this would never be said to your face!).

And the comments from friends and family — “I found the love of my life once I stopped looking,” or “You just need to put yourself out there,” or “Have you tried online dating?” — while well-intentioned, are not very helpful.

It’s not that I’m bitter about still being single. In fact, if not for societal pressure/attitudes, and if I thought I could support myself, and had a close community of friends, I think I could be content being single. Would I prefer to be married? Yes, absolutely! But I no longer view the single life as something to dread.

However, I’ve felt like for most of my adult life I’ve been waiting for my life to start. I was never career-minded so, essentially, I figured that once I got married, that’s when I would be on the right track. But that implies that if I’m not married, my life has no meaning. And I know that’s not true! Because this is my current state, I knew I wanted my blog to have the name “Singles Society.” But, again, what kind?

A couple of months ago, a co-worker called me “sassy.” I guess because I can be sarcastic, wry, and quippy. So, when I was trying to find an adjective for my blog, I googled “sassy” and the definition was “lively, bold, and full of spirit; cheeky.”

That is how I want to live, whether single or married! I don’t want to wait on something that may never happen. I want to step out, take risks, live boldly, be full of spirit, and full of the Holy Spirit! Hence, “The Sassy Singles Society.”

My hope is that at least one person who is discouraged by their single state will read my blog and be reminded that there is so much more to life than our marital status. Our identity is not in our jobs, our pasts, or our spouses. Our identity is in Christ! And what a tragedy it would be if we lived our whole lives waiting for one thing, when God has called us to something else. Maybe it truly is something we could only do as a single person.

“God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful — “severe mercies” at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our hearts desire except to give us something better.”
~  Elisabeth Elliot 

Or maybe you’re not single, but life hasn’t turned out the way you expected. Perhaps, most days, you’re completely fine with that, but there may be days where you get stuck in a circle of doubt and what-ifs. If that’s the case, I hope you, too, will be encouraged by my blog.

Because no matter where we are in life, or where we are on our faith journey, we can all use a reminder that we do not have to go it alone. We do not have to go through it fearful, timid, or somber, wondering “is this it?!” We do not have to put our lives on hold, waiting for something that may or may not ever happen.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t wait upon the Lord, or that we should charge ahead with what we think is best — our “Plan B.” But if we loosen our grip on our wants, desires, and plans, and give them to the Lord, we may find that he has something completely different in store for us. And it will most definitely be better than what we could have imagined!

So, today I choose to be sassy. Some days may be much, much harder than others, but I will continue to trust God’s plan for my life and, hopefully, encourage others to do the same.

“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” ~ Proverbs 19:21 (NLT) 

““My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” ~ Isaiah 55:8 (NLT)

TRYING A DOOR

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” 28967172715_1e0b44f9ba_o
~ President Theodore Roosevelt

When I was five years old, I did not have very lofty career aspirations. I didn’t want to get married or have kids. I wanted to open a daycare center in my parents’ home. I quickly grew out of that!

In junior high, I wanted to be one of three things: a photographer, a writer, or a lawyer. I also harbored fantasies of being a world-class athlete (thank you, 1992 Olympic games and “A League of Their Own”), or an A-list actor (who would wow showbiz insiders with her raw talent and dazzle on the talk show circuit).

Alas, I did not pursue any of those professions. Somewhere along the way I let pragmatism and fear of failure keep me from pursuing a dream – from even testing the waters to confirm whether it was something I truly wanted to do.

Photography and writing were too competitive, and there’s no guarantee you could make a living. Being an attorney would require more schooling, which equaled time and money that I was not willing to sacrifice, especially since I had no idea if I would like being a lawyer. I was afraid of getting stuck.

So, I struggled. I took multiple personality/career aptitude tests. I put off picking a college major for as long as I could, and when I finally did choose one, it was a sensible choice: I figured I could go in many different directions with a communications major.

This brings me to today – still wondering what I’m supposed to DO with my life. Well, after working at a law firm for almost five years, I know for certain that I DO NOT want to be a lawyer!

For the past four months or so, I have met with a friend once a week for a mini small group. In conjunction with a study on the Holy Spirit, we read a book called Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will, by Kevin DeYoung.

He says that sometimes you have to just step out and make a decision to do something. Many of us don’t take risks for God because we’re too concerned with our security. But God is a good God and our trust in his character allows us to take risks for him – that is faith.

DeYoung posits that because God is most concerned with our holiness, sanctification, and transformation, if we’re seeking first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, dying to self and living for Christ, seeking wisdom by rooting ourselves in the Word, and if we fear God and keep his commands, then we are free to make decisions like “where should I live,” “where should I work,” and “whom should I marry?” And, though we may not see it in the moment, as we look back over our lives, we will see how God’s hand has lovingly guided us.

In reading/discussing this book, and by spending time in prayer, I’ve had to ask myself, how can I expect God to guide me if I lock myself in a box, unwilling to take any risks or try any doors? I need to take the first step and see where he will lead.

This is why I have decided to start a blog. I realize that there are millions of blogs out there, and some are really well-written, insightful, encouraging, and challenging. How can I compare to those great writers, why even try?

Well, I’ve realized that being creative invigorates me – whether scrapbooking, editing pictures/creating collages, writing, or even something I’m not particularly good at, like drawing. I feel refreshed when I have the opportunity to create.

Writing, in particular, has always been something I enjoy. I’ve kept journals for most of my life. I still have all of my journals, including a diary from when I was ten. But, honestly, the idea of blogging freaks me out! It means letting my guard down and allowing people to get to know me better. It involves opening myself up to the possibility of judgment, ridicule, or pity. And then, of course, there’s always the chance that no one will even read my blog!

But I’m trying to become more comfortable with the idea of failure as a learning experience. Maybe nothing will come from blogging. Maybe I’ll get tired of it in a couple of months and decide it’s not for me. Or maybe it will be a great creative outlet for me.

If nothing else, I can view this as an exercise in humility, transparency, and obedience. What about you? How are you going to try to succeed this week?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)

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