Twinkie, Anyone?

When Hostess announced the news that they were going bankrupt and would no longer be manufacturing Twinkies and their other baked goods, America went crazy. Many of their foods were beloved, but Twinkies were special. Stores sold out of the remaining stock in a blink. People were creating recipes to make them at home. Knock offs that had never even been given a second glance were suddenly reconsidered as a possibility only to be quickly discounted as nowhere nearly as good. Americans had a love affair with these little yellow cakes with the cream filling and that affair was breaking up. When it was announced that a buyer had been found who would manufacture them according to their original recipe, a collective sigh of relief was heaved and people could go back to their normal lives. What is it about these little cakes that makes them so special? One thing that made them so special was that they were always moist and fresh. You could put a Twinkie on a shelf and as long as it stayed in its little cellophane wrapper, it stayed fresh.

The other day I was getting ready for work. While I was putting my makeup on, I remembered something from many many years ago. Someone had publicly humiliated me before about 200 people. At the time, I had felt deeply embarrassed. I had felt ashamed. More than thirty years later, I felt the intensity of that shame again. Why was that? Why did the shame retain its freshness like a Twinkie? Why is it that you can pull shame off a shelf in your mind and it is as fresh as the day you put it there and tried to hide it behind other memories? Why is it that when you’ve forgotten about it, suddenly it reappears with the smell, feel, and freshness it had when you put it away?

One thing that gives shame that freshness is unforgiveness. When we fail to forgive a person for the pain they have caused us we inject a little preservative in the memory. The more we ruminate on the hurt and justify our righteousness in the situation, devaluing the person who harmed us, the more we keep that shame fresh.

Forgiving the other person releases us from that cycle and frees God to bring his justice. It is an essential first step.

However, there are times when we have gone through the steps of forgiveness. In fact we’ve done that over and over. Yet still the shame emerges from the shadows fresh and soft. How come? What can we do to make it go away? How can we be released from its grasp? The step that people often don’t remember to do is to bless. It is one thing to forgive, it is an entirely different thing to bless someone who has hurt us. When we speak a blessing over someone who has hurt us we act like our Heavenly Father. He causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. While we were still dead in our sins, Jesus died for us. In doing that he gave us the greatest blessing he could give us–eternal life. This gift was given to us while we were actively shaming him. When we walk in His steps and bless someone who has shamed us, the Twinkie starts to dry out. It loses its shape and softness. It loses its power over us. We are walking as children of God. We are walking in the power of grace. We are giving what we would want to receive.

The next time you reach back into the cupboard of your mind and pull a Twinkie of shame out, forgive that person again and follow that up by blessing them. Pray something like this, “Father, thank You so much that You loved me and gave Your Son for me. I forgive this person just as you have forgiven me. I speak a blessing on them. Bless their finances. Bless their home. Bless their family. Help them to know You in a deeper way than they have known You heretofore. I ask that you keep them safe as they travel and establish strong relationships in their lives that will help them to be a blessing to others. Amen.

Twinkie

Josiah

II Kings 23

I’ve always loved the story of Josiah. He was eight years when he began his reign as king of Judah. He was the best king of Judah ever, of all time. When Josiah came along he started cleaning the temple. This led to a discovery of the Scriptures. When the Scriptures were read to him he believed the Word of God and repented. He knew that based on what God had said in His Scriptures judgment was imminent.

There were many kings between David and Josiah. Some were good some were bad. Most led Israel into idolatry. Occasionally one would come along and stop the Baal worship, but there was never a complete turning to God. Generations of kings before him had built altars to a variety of gods…and he destroyed them all. Even gods put up by Solomon- who was revered in Judah. Solomon represented the unified kingdom. Solomon represented the time when Israel was its strongest. Its borders were secure. It had good standing with the other nations. Other kings and queens looked to Israel for strength and support. Yet, even Solomon built altars to other gods. Josiah destroyed them all. He destroyed all the altars on which they murdered their babies. He destroyed all the idols that were used to stimulate or satisfy people’s sexual appetites. He destroyed all the altars that were culturally revered as great art.

How does this apply to me today? I need to believe God’s word. I need to respond to it wholeheartedly. I need to trust Him with the outcome. I’ve seen people who become believers who actually believe what God says and act accordingly. It’s really simple for them. Graham Cooke, when he became a believer, wondered when the miracles would be happening in the Anglican churches he was attending…because they were written in the Bible. He believed and he received. Belief in something causes action. How does my belief in God impact what I do? Do I pray for the sick and expect them to be healed? Do I expect encounters with God? Am I willing, like Josiah, to get rid of things that I’ve trusted in, maybe for generations – maybe things that are a part of my cultural identity- because they put my trust in something other than God?

I love the story of Josiah because he became a king when he was a small child, which speaks to me of doing what God calls me to no matter whether or not I feel adequate. I love the story of Josiah because he was willing to risk popularity with the people to follow God wholeheartedly. I love the story of Josiah because in it I hear God’s voice to me.

What do you think?

B+

 

Learn Do Be Positive

I was nine years old and attending a small church. My Fourth grade teacher would pick me up on Sunday morning and take me to church. One such Sunday in November our Sunday school class was planning our Christmas pageant. I was full of it ideas and contradicted the teacher at every point, stating that Mary should sit here and Joseph there. The wise men should approach from this side, not that one. It went on and on. I was feeling pretty good…until church was over and I was sitting in the back of the car waiting to go home. Out of the church came a contingent of adults, walking directly toward me. It seems that the Sunday school teacher was in tears because of the way I had taken over the class. Me? I had done nothing, I responded. However, they wouldn’t let me get away with empty denials. I don’t remember exactly what they said, but the gist of it was that I was bad and must never treat someone like that again. I was ashamed and humiliated.

Forty years later, I am still not forcing my opinion on others. In fact, I have a hard time sharing my opinion with others. I tentatively stick my toe out in the water to see what people might think of something. Maybe I’ll share an idea, maybe not. I don’t want to take over the conversation. I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. I don’t want to force someone to do something that they don’t want to. I don’t have any good ideas, really.

Understanding the root causes of something is helpful, though, only to a certain extent. Knowing where something came from can help to determine its validity. However, being stuck reliving the past does nothing to change my present behavior.

Recently in my quiet time, God spoke to me. Having recently read the book Learned Optimism, by Martin Seligman, I started thinking about some things. Seligman talks about learned helplessness leading to pessimism. Pessimists tend to think that bad things that happen in their lives are permanent- they will never get any better (i.e. I will never get married, find a job, graduate, etc.), pervasive- they will impact many other areas of their lives negatively (I’m not good at anything, no one likes me, etc.), and personal- it is because they personally are broken that these things are happening (I am unlovable, not good enough, too old, too young, etc.). There are two measures of pessimism- the way you view negative events in your life and the way you view positive events in your life. When it comes to the negative events, I am a pretty optimistic person. I tend to view negative events as temporary, limited in scope, and not my fault. However, when it comes to positive events, I find myself falling into the pessimist role. I tend to view positive events as temporary, limited in impact, and having happened because of chance, not due to my influence. This is a pessimistic view of life.

An interesting thought though also occurred to me. It is easy to think that I am acting humbly to not take credit for the good things that I have done. When I have a good interview, do I say, “I interviewed well.”? Or is it rather, “She really liked me. Things went well. It was an easy interview. They didn’t ask me anything really very hard.” Those statements all make the good thing that happened out of my control, but they sound humble from a common view of humility.

I then thought about God. How does he behave when he has done something great? When he made the earth, he said that he looked at everything that he had done and it was very good. He didn’t say it turned out okay. Well, it was pretty good considering the things he had to work with. He didn’t say, well the atoms just aligned pretty well, making the good things that had happened out of his control. No, he looked at all that he had made and it was very good. Yep, he was pleased with his work. He owned the work and it was darn good!

CS Lewis has a great description of humility in The Screwtape Letters Letter #14.  In The Screwtape Letters, a high ranking tempter is discipling a junior tempter in the art of ensnaring a human. Let’s listen in:

You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self- forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible. To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long- term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.

Next I thought of my children. Right now they are both grown and out of the house and actually can use some care packages every now and then. I think about what they need and make sure we have it when it is time to pack a box to send to them. I will often bake something special to go in it, freezing and double wrapping to keep it as fresh as possible. Care and thought go into this. I always ask them if they’ve gotten it. I’m thrilled when they say something like, “You sent just exactly what I needed. Thanks a lot.”

Now God is our Father, He has also given us many gifts. Imagine that we get the mail and in the mail is a package to us. It is from God. We open it and we see many gifts. One of our gifts is mathematics; we are a natural with numbers with its cousin, logic. In addition to that we are good at spatial things and then as a bonus gift we have good leadership skills. Perhaps our box has people skills and nurturing relationships, language, and good looks. Should we, when we see these evidenced in our lives, disdain these gifts from God and diminish their value? Is it the right response to say that these just happen in our lives and we have no control over them? Is it true humility to say, “I don’t have anything to offer to this world. I haven’t been given any gifts with which to effect the situations in my life. I think I’ll just lay here and take everything that is happening to me. It must be God’s will.”

Obviously the answer to these questions is “No!” God has given us gifts. He wants us to use them, develop them, and see an increase in our lives and the lives of others through them. The parable of the talents comes to mind. It was the servant who hid his talents that the master was angry with, not the ones who used their talents.

Let’s unpack this a little more. Seligman states that learned helplessness leads to depression. When Jesus went to the cross he stated, “No one takes my life from me I lay my life down.” He didn’t feel helpless in this. He wasn’t coerced. He wasn’t forced. He understood the price and wanted there to be another way, but when no other way was available, he still chose to go through with it. James, in chapter 1 of his book says to consider it all joy when we fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of our faith brings maturity. The writer of Hebrews says that no discipline for the moment is joyful, but grievous, yet afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.

Jesus states that he came to set captives free. Paul says that we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ. Jesus said when he left that all authority had been given to him and it was our job to carry on in his name. These statements do not sound like those who are helpless in the face of calamity. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, stoned and left for dead. He did not respond with helplessness. He considered it an honor to suffer for Jesus. David spoke to his soul and encouraged himself in the Lord.

Finally, Seligman speaks about a process of retraining our minds to reinterpret our situations so that we do not feel helpless. This process will be examined in a later post.

Understanding where my hesitancy to put myself forward came from in my childhood has some benefit, but applying the principles that God has put me in this world to be an overcomer  and not helpless has greater value.

Life is hard. Sometimes it seems that no matter what we do, we cannot come out ahead. But, as Christians, we have been given the principles that enable us to see ourselves as overcomers, not helpless victims.

Blessings to you!

 

 

The Smell of Fear

Remember when you were a kid watching cartoons? Sometimes a cartoon would show the enticing smell of a cake or a pie coming off the desired object, scintillating along the way to the unsuspecting victim’s nose, brush under the nose and pull away, only to come back and tease it again? The hapless victim would be drawn to this irresistible smell with tongue lolling out arms hanging down, unable to resist the temptation, and usually fall prey to whatever shenanigans the antagonist had in mind. We all hoped that the victim would wake up from his hypnotic slumber and realize what was going on.

I had a similar experience recently. We have noticed an unsavory character hanging around the apartments lately, often walking two pit bulls, but the last couple of times he was just hanging around doing nothing. This is not normal behavior. It is an item to note and be aware of, looking at the rest of the situation to be aware of the totality of it. Nothing has happened, but it something Curt and I are aware of.

So, Curt left the apartment this morning to walk to a nearby appointment. I hadn’t showered yet, so I was going to do that while he was gone. As soon as he left he called me to let me know that this person was hanging out again, and he wanted me to be aware of it should I need to take Amica out. I was fine with it, and didn’t give it another thought.

I didn’t give it another thought, that is, until I was in the shower. We have two locks on our apartment door and one is openable by the staff, with a master key. The other has no key and is only openable from the inside. I hadn’t locked the additional deadbolt lock after Curt had left and didn’t remember that until I was showering. Fear crept in like that aforementioned scent. I could almost see it flowing around my head …being present, going away, and coming back, teasing me with stress. It seemed to be seeing if I would fall victim to its hypnotic power by breathing it in.

With this visual, I was able to come to my senses and realize that this was not from God. This was designed to give the devil a foothold. It reminded me of the Scripture that says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The Bible also says that perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment. When that stomach gripping , paralyzing fear comes in, it is no different than that scintillating, hypnotic fear. Both seem so reasonable. Both are designed to steal our peace. Both are designed to create a space between us and God. Both are designed to create a hypnotic response to the shenanigans of the antagonist in our lives . Both will end up ensnaring us until we end up saying, “Yes, you gave me all these talents, but I was afraid and I hid them.”

One of the biggest tools used against us is fear. Fear is crippling. We fear many things: what people think, what they say, what people will do. We fear making mistakes and we fear hurting others by those mistakes. Christians often fear other Christians’ responses, or they fear doing something that people who are not Christians will misinterpret. Fear stops us by telling us we can’t do something or we shouldn’t even try.

The really encouraging thing about fear, though, is that if you are feeling fear you are probably thinking about doing something really great and fear is afraid that you might actually do something. Fear is afraid of accomplishment because achievement makes fear smaller. A great book to help overcome fear is the book Start by Jon Acuff. Reading that book helped me to start this blog. Don’t be afraid. God isn’t worried about our mistakes.

Here is a picture that illustrates living in that love that casts out fear. (..and it just makes me smile, so I wanted to share it.)

Serena on Stairs

The Couch

We were moving. We had lived in our house and had the same furniture for 15 years. I decided we would not move most of it with us. One of the pieces we needed to find a new home for was a hide-a-bed couch. It was in great shape, but I was done with it.

We had great memories on this couch. This couch had been in the bonus room, where we had done the vast majority of our home schooling. Our Great Dane loved this couch. When I would read to the kids, which was often, she would take up one half of the couch and we the other.

JEff's Camera march 06 085

The time had come to find someone else who wanted a couch that was in great shape. I tried Freecycle. Freecycle is a loosely organized group of people who are interested in sharing good stuff freely. They post a description and picture of the item for which they need to find a new home and the general area in which the item is to be found. People will email back to the poster of their interest and a time will be arranged for it to be picked up. If you have good stuff it moves very quickly. Most of my stuff was great and had found a home within a few minutes of posting.

For some reason however, this couch was different. It was still great, but it wasn’t moving.  I posted it and had a couple of nibbles. One woman came out and measured it, went home and found it wouldn’t fit. I just couldn’t find a home for it. It was really heavy, and while it was in great shape and we could certainly have taken it with us, I didn’t want to pay to move it.

Finally, I listed it on Craig’s list for $50. Someone responded and wanted it! I said she had to bring her own help to move it and her own truck to haul it. She said that would be no problem! We made an appointment for the exchange and it went off without a hitch.

After the move, while driving around my new town, I was thinking about this. I had to assign value to it before someone else wanted it. I had to make it a little hard to get…then someone would work to own it.

The parallel with my own life was dawning. While I am living my life, do I devalue myself and my own contributions? Do I denigrate myself to others? I need to assign a realistic value to myself, make myself  a little hard to get even. It is very easy to think that if I can do something, anyone can do it- a monkey even. The things that I can do can’t be very hard.

But is this the voice of my Heavenly Father, or the voice of one who wants to tear me down? I am really good at hearing God’s voice. He has spoken very clearly to me. However, I’m beginning to realize that the other thoughts that enter my head that degrade me, break me down, downplay my skills, abilities, and contributions- those thoughts do not need to be accepted and embraced. They do not need to be absorbed and digested. They actually need to be rejected. Just as I don’t like the taste of okra and politely refuse it, or abhor the thought of drinking bleach, I need to reject these toxic thoughts that will only cause me harm.  I must treat my spirit as a living thing that needs to be nourished.

I must assign value to it, just as I did with my sofa. I am certainly more valuable than a 15 year-old sofa. I have much more to offer.  Furthermore, God thought I had enough to offer the world that He sent His Son to redeem my life. I am actually pretty valuable indeed.

 

It’s Been Pretty Quiet

In case those of you who are following me wonder what has happened. We sold our house, packed our stuff and moved across country. Phew! It’s been pretty busy here! I haven’t had much time to think about blogging.

We are in temporary housing and the order of the day is to find a new house and jobs for both of us. Blogging will continue, albeit in a limited fashion. 🙂

Thanks for the prayer support! We all made it here safe and sound.