Help. Don’t Help.

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I’m a list maker. A doer. A problem solver. A fixer. A helper.

I like to make things better.

Can you relate?

Unfortunately, some attempts to make things better, tend to make them much, much worse. There are some things that not only are not fixable by us, they aren’t fixable at all! And a lot of times, even if we can help, even if we can make it better, it doesn’t mean it’s our place to do so—nor does it mean the other people involved want us to try to solve their challenges.

In these cases, our efforts to help only serve the purpose of making us feel better. We really can have a tendency to pat ourselves on the back for thinking we had all the answers, or knew exactly which Scriptures to say, or took the best casserole in the meal train. There is a time and place for each of these efforts to help, but we need to be sure they are wanted and that they are done with the right motives.

So, in the situations where our version of “help” is neither wanted nor needed, what should people like us do? My teenage boys tell me the only thing to be done is to say, “That sucks!” (To which I quickly respond, “You know I don’t like that word!”) Language aside, their point is well-taken. Most of the time, when someone shares their burden with us—however small or large it may be—they simply want us to hear them. They aren’t asking for answers or action; they’re asking us to care. Just knowing someone else cares about them and the issue they are dealing with is enough to help carry their load. But too often we’re, perhaps unintentionally, like the “fools” in Proverbs 18:2 who “have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.”

Even adding a comment as seemingly innocuous as, “I understand what you’re going through,” can often add a level of frustration and misundertanding that undermines our efforts at being compassionate. The truth is, no one, not one single person, can truly understand what another is going through. We often see this at the passing of a loved one. When I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s at 59, I recoiled every time someone mentioned their grandparent who had passed in their 80s with it. While they were making an effort at solidarily, instead of helping ease my grief, it made me feel even more cheated. Financial difficulty, job challenges, parenting issues, whatever the challenge may be, we can’t ever really put ourselves in another’s shoes, no matter how hard we may try. In these times, as difficult as it may be for us, I challenge us to limit our responses to the following three statements.

  1. “That stinks!” (Or some variation thereof: How awful! I’m so sorry! What a pain!)
  2. “May I pray for you?” Not just saying, “thoughts and prayers,” but actually praying for them right then and there, and continuing to do so after the conversation has ended.
  3. “Is there anything I can do to help?” If the answer is, “No,” then that just has to be okay. We simply cannot try to solve problems we haven’t been asked to solve. However, if we ask this question, we’d better be prepared to fulfill the need should the answer be, “Yes.” Even if the help they ask for is not the kind of help we are accustomed to giving, we need to be willing to give the help they need. Galatians 6:3 actually chastises us if we do not help others: “If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” Let’s just be sure to take this verse with the one before it, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” If the best way to share each other’s burdens is is listening, then let’s listen! If it’s prayer, then let’s pray! If it’s tangible help, then let’s babysit, bake a casserole, give them a ride—but not unless it’s the help they need, and not what we think will fix it.

So next time someone is telling us about a challenge they are dealing with, let’s step outside of ourselves and really hear what they are saying and care for them the way they need to be cared for.

Celebrating You!

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This is a day to celebrate! And you are the guest of honor. Maybe you have already changed diapers or chauffeured kids to school or balanced the bank account or started your work day. Congratulations! You, dear sister, are fulfilling your purpose. God is using you this very day to have an impact on His Kingdom. He has created and chosen you, and you alone, for this. No one else can be you or fulfill your calling.

Genesis 1:27 tells us we are created in the image of God Himself. 1 Peter 2:9 describes us as “chosen,” “royal,” “holy,” and “God’s very possession.” That means you! Regardless of how anyone else sees you, or how the world says you should be, this is how God sees you and how He enables you to view yourself.

The Lord’s instructions to the people of Israel in Isaiah 43:1 apply to you, too:  “Listen to the Lord who created you…the one who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.’” Even on those days when you feel like you don’t measure up and no one cares, know that you are His. When you make mistakes, or you barely check anything off your to-do list, know that you are His. You may never be famous, and your name may never be well-known in this world, but always remember that the One who matters knows your name and has called you by it.

And in those times when you grow weary of trying to meet expectations, be reminded that it is worth the effort to “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward and that the Master you are serving is Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). Choose your work wisely. You do not have to do everything people ask of you. There will always be someone who is disappointed in you for something. Many times, you may find you are disappointed in yourself even more than anyone else is, but the Master you are serving adores you and will reward you for doing the work He has called you to do. Fulfill your purpose and your calling each day.

So, Royal Princess, change those diapers as unto the Lord! Chosen Daughter, love your husband as unto the Lord. Holy Sister, sing, dance, work, drive, play, study, worship, teach, etc. Whatever your calling is, do it with the knowledge that the Sovereign Lord has called you by name, as he did Queen Esther, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), and you will receive your inheritance as your reward.

Teens in Church

Maybe, just maybe, part of the reason teenagers leave the church is because grownups assume they’re all bad and accuse them of misbehavior on a regular basis. Would you want to go to a place where people stereotype you? Isn’t it supposed to be the place where everyone is accepted? What if the teen actually is a bad kid—how is scolding them going to help? And if they’re not a bad kid or doing anything wrong, how does it encourage them to continue on a good path if they’re lumped with the rest? Is this the “Church” Jesus founded?

Here’s an idea: if you’re concerned about teenagers’ behavior, talk TO them—not AT them.

You just might find out that they are honors student-athletes, who have attended “your” church for over a decade, have been saved for more years than that, have been baptized (in water & the Holy Spirit) and are just on their phones because they’re waiting on their parents to wrap up one ministry before moving to the next—so they do, in fact, have a good reason for being in the hall.

Or you might find out that they have come to church without their parents because they need somewhere to feel accepted.

They might even need you to lead them to Jesus—instead of the exit.

Contrary to popular belief, teenagers don’t need loud music, flashy lights, and advanced technology to come to church. What they do need is: sincerity, the truth of the Word (not feel-good, surface-level soundbites), to feel wanted when they are there, and to feel missed when they aren’t. Not so different than any of the rest of us, huh?

“But Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children'” (Matt 19:14, NLT).

I’m of the opinion that this applies to teenagers too, so let’s stop fussing at and about them, and let them come to us. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll stay with us.

Lemon Cake

My son has a knack for asking for interesting cakes for his birthday, like this Triple Lemon Cake, this M&M & Kit Kat Cake and this Donut Cake. For his brothers I have also done Twizzlers & Candy Bar Cake and Reese’s Pieces & Kit Kat Cake. This year, when he asked for a lemon cake again, I decided to go with a family favorite.

My husband’s grandmother was so very kind a few years ago to make me a book with copies of recipes in her handwriting, as well as her mother’s handwriting. This Lemon Cake recipe is one of those treasures.

 

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Lemon Cake

1 pkg Lemon Cake Mix
1 box Lemon Jell-o
4 eggs
1 3/4 c. Oil
3/4 c. water

Blend ingredients at medium speed. Put in greased and [well] floured tube pan. Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Remove and punch holes all over with ice pick. Pour over a glaze made of 2 cups powered sugar with 8-9 tablespoons lemon juice. (I find that 5-6 tablespoons of juice is sufficient, and you end up with more than enough glaze, so you could probably cut back on powdered sugar also.)

Enjoy with a glass of milk.

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Let me know how yours turns out!

Tips for a Lasting Marriage (Part 1)

This being my 20th Valentine’s Day with my husband, I want to share some of what I think makes a marriage last.

Work
Marriage takes effort, and it’s worth working and fighting for. Every situation is different, but in most cases, marriages can survive—and thrive—with real effort. As Philip Stanhope said “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” And as Colossians 3:23 (NIV) says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” If there was ever anything worth working at with all your heart, it’s marriage! I’ve seen couples come back from seemingly hopeless situations—through prayer, counseling, and WORK! You chose to be in love with your spouse in the first place—keep making that choice, even when it’s not easy.

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The Stupid Box

(Or How to Be Ready for Anything)

My boys have been involved in sports for about 11 years now. At our busiest: the youngest played recreational (think little league) soccer; the middle had travel soccer and middle  school cross country in the fall and middle school soccer and chess team in the spring; and the eldest had travel soccer in the fall and high school soccer in the spring. That was a crazy year, especially with none of them driving. Since then we’ve also had seasons in which the eldest two played on travel teams for clubs in two different counties and the youngest also played recreational soccer. And if that weren’t enough, they all three played indoor soccer this last winter (it was the eldest’s third season), thus insuring we never go more than 3 weeks without a soccer game. Oh, but don’t worry, the high schoolers are spending LOTS of time prepping for the spring season already! All of our events (games, meets, tournaments, etc.) are held in Tennessee and Georgia, two wonderful states where you never quite know what the weather is going to be. And soccer seasons usually start out in one weather season and end up in another. March 3 to the middle of May, or July to the middle of December, can run the gamut of temperatures. Not to mention how rain and snow can affect a season!

I give all that background to say: you name it, we’ve seen it! I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way, and since high school soccer starts in a few weeks, I’m sharing them with you—so you too can be prepared for anything.

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Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Not much can make teenage boys happier—especially after being at school and soccer practice for 11 hours—than coming home to a plate piled high with chocolate-chocolate chip cookies. I love surprising and spoiling them!

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Getting Schooled

My 9-year-old struggles. He’s a sweet, bright, funny, interesting, resilient little boy, but he struggles. He doesn’t necessarily intend to be disobedient, but staying on task, following directions, and accomplishing assignments do not come to him naturally. Every day on the way to school, I try to remind him of who he is and what he is capable of. It often sounds like, “You’re going to follow directions today, right? And not distract your classmates? And you’ll finish your assignments on time? You can do this!”

One morning recently, I reminded him of what I have been trying to teach him lately. When we do what we want instead of what we are supposed to and when we distract others, it is selfish.

It’s a hard concept to learn in today’s competitive world. Everyone is trying to succeed and be better than the people around them. This is not, however, the life Christ has called us to! Philippians 2:3 (NIV) very clearly explains, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Nor is it the life Christ was called to: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (vv. 6-8)

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Refugees in My Backyard

I have seen a lot of decent, God-fearing Christians sharing their views on the Syrian refugee situation. In attempting to decide if the United States should allow people from Syria who could possibly be ISIS operatives into the country, many use scripture to back their opinions, yet still find themselves on opposing sides.

I see a lot of merit in the wisdom (or attempts at it) from the Matthew 10:16 campers: “‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’” What I can’t figure out about this one is how doing nothing for these refugees makes us shrewd and innocent. As Edmund Burke said,
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I also see the sincerity—at least I think that’s what’s being attempted—from the Matthew 25:44-45 folks: “‘Then they will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?” ‘And he will answer, “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”’” What I can’t figure out about this one is how it suddenly applies more to the refugees from Syria than it does to the folks sleeping on the benches downtown.

While I’m sure there must be a way to reconcile these two passages, I haven’t been sure what that looks like. Then I came across this passage in my timehop today from 4 years ago. “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.” 1 Peter 2:21-24 NLT

Suffering? No thanks! Most Americans have no clue what true suffering really is. And do good, even if it means suffering? Not interested! Those kind of things are going to put us way out of our comfort zone. Those kind of things are going to mean sacrificing a meal once in a while and giving it to a homeless veteran, or cleaning out a couple of outfits from our closets for a family whose home has burned, or inviting a shut-in to our homes for Thanksgiving dinner. Let’s start with those things. There are people in our own backyards who need our help today—they also needed it yesterday and last week and last month and last year. Whether it’s helping folks in our home mission field or opening our doors to people from a dangerous war-torn nation, we very well may find ourselves suffering for their sakes. But we can follow the example of Christ who left his case in the hands of God and suffered for us.

I still don’t have all the answers for this situation, and I in no way believe that I have set an example of helping the less fortunate. But, frankly, I don’t think any of us have the right answer—so now I want to present for your consideration a lengthly passage that came up in my Bible study class tonight:

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another” (Gal. 5:16-26, NLT, emphasis mine).

Let’s be sure that in all our good intentions, we don’t find ourselves fighting the wrong battle. The Enemy will do anything to bring division among believers. If we can’t have discussions about this that are characterized by peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control, but bring quarreling, dissension, provocation and division instead, we shouldn’t even engage in the conversation.

When God’s Voice Sounds Like Geese

Here I am in a place of transition. I have just left my full-time job of 11 years to work from home! I have no doubt the Lord ordered my steps in this, but as with any change, there is a lot of new data to digest about the job and the impact it has on all other areas of my life. Also, my baby boy, who was nine months old at my college graduation, has just applied to my (and my husband’s) alma mater, so I am anticipating this transition as well.

Our family is no stranger to change, as you can see by this basic timeline of the early days of our family.

1996: Met.
1997: Married.
1998: Had our first son. Husband graduated college.
1999: Moved to Texas. I graduated college.
2000: Had our second son. Moved to Colorado.
2002: Moved back to Tennessee.

As much as our lives were in transition those first six years, they have remained basically constant the last 13. Though I did change jobs once, we had our third son, my husband obtained his Master’s degree, and we faced a number of challenges, we have—for the most part—been in a nice comfort zone of relative stability.

But lately I have been asking the Lord what He is up to. I am trying to understand what His plans are and what He expects from me at this point in our journey. I am certain that He is using this time in my life to stretch me or grow me in certain areas, though I’m not entirely certain what areas or how.

So I was seeking Him about this this morning.

Then I heard geese.

I am the last one in our family anyone would consider a nature enthusiast, but those geese got my attention. The lovely thing about working from home is I can hear geese, and when I hear geese, I can go outside and see the geese. While that’s nice, realizing this benefit is not what God wanted me to see from them.

The moment I saw them, I was reminded and knew with everything in me that I don’t need to know what God is up to anymore than those geese need God to explain to them what to do when October and cold weather come around. They flew in perfect formation, and went exactly where they were supposed to be going, because that’s what He created them to do. I am well aware that humans are far more complex than geese, but there is still a lesson to be learned from them. If the God of all creation cared enough to give a plan and purpose to the geese, He certainly cares enough to do the same for us.

Matthew 6:25-27 (NLT) sheds some light on this: “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”

The bottom line is: TRUST. The same God who created the geese and gave them their purpose can be trusted to reveal to us what we need to know, when we need to know it—but not a moment before. In the meantime: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need (Matt 6:33, NLT).”

[And just in case I needed further proof that the Lord was speaking to me, He certainly provided it. I had already typed up the above portion of this, and shared it with my husband. I was even thinking I’d post it, but hadn’t. I decided to do a little work and my Bible study lesson for the day, and I would get around to posting later. Well, I suppose that was just the Lord proving He knows best. My lesson today is from Beth Moore’s “Daniel” study. The topic is “While I Was Still in Prayer.” AS Daniel was seeking the Lord on behalf of the people, the angel Gabriel interrupted with a message from God (see Daniel 9). Isaiah 65:24 (NLT) promises, “I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs. I will go ahead and answer their prayers!” Sometimes He interrupts and answers prayers through angels, his Word, other believers, or a vision—but today, for me, it was geese.]

Me and my eldest at my college graduation

Me and my eldest at my college graduation

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