This Is a Judgment Free Zone!

On Good Morning America today, there was a discussion about a viral image circulating social media.  The image in question shows a young mother breast-feeding her son at the same time that she is breast-feeding a close friend’s baby.   Different reporters were weighing in on the image and the issue, and they shared the public poll indicating that over 60% of people feel it is wrong for this woman to breast feed someone else’s baby.  However, as they reported the facts of the story, the viewers learned that the friend is unable to breast feed her baby for a variety of reasons and that the baby boy is experiencing difficulty with formula. Essentially, the woman graciously offered to breast feed her friend’s baby for his health and well-being.  The final vote came from the “expert” who is an OBGYN.  She explained that this practice goes on frequently in other cultures and that if the woman and babies are all healthy, it can actually be beneficial for everyone involved.

She closed her segment with the statement, “This should be a judgment free zone.”

As the program continued, the reporters referenced that statement many times about a variety of other issues as well; one adding, “People should be free to do whatever is best for them.  Everything should be a judgment free zone.  That should be our new hashtag.”  Everyone on the panel agreed, nodded their heads, and shared sentiments like, “So true!” and “Absolutely!”

It’s a beautiful sentiment.  Judgment free — freedom from condemnation about our choices or the influence of other people’s opinions about what we do or how we live.  It’s a good thing, right?

This whole discussion unsettled me, and I had to think about it for a long time.  Is this a good thing?

In these days of divisive language and vitriolic spewing of ideas on all sides of any issue, I am always hesitant to offer my two cents.  I haven’t always been this way, but time and failure have taught me that it is better to listen, to wait, to think, and then to speak if my words will add to or improve the discussion.  (As a disclaimer, I’m still working on this in my personal life.  I am a work in progress and I know it, just in case anyone who lives with me might be reading this).  Essentially, I do not participate in the social media discussions.

However, as a follower of Christ, I believe that many who identify themselves as Christians need to consider a perspective that I am only recently beginning to understand.

To illustrate my thought process, I start at the place where many Christians and non-Christians will agree.  We often point to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1 — “‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (NIV).

This is true, and I completely agree.  However, allowing this statement to be our default response to any form of disagreement is also misguided and does not align with the rest of scripture.  God’s Word is clear about a few issues that completely debunk the theory that everyone should be allowed to do what he or she deems best.  I believe that the enemy of God and His people has successfully permeated the truth with some subtle lies.

Lie #1 — People are essentially good.

At first blush, this seems like a loving and Christ-centered statement.  However, it is completely contrary to scripture.

Jeremiah 17:9 — “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it.”

Psalm 14:3 — “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

Romans 3:23 — “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

People are not essentially good — people are sinful, deceitful, selfish, and in need of God’s grace.  If we didn’t need God’s grace, Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross was meaningless.

Lie #2 — Allowing each person to choose what he or she thinks is best will result in peace.

Again, this seems at first glance like it allows for tolerance of various beliefs and for unity.  However, God’s Word offers a radically different perspective.

1 Corinthians 3:19 — “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.”

John 3:19 –“‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

Judges 21:25 — “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”  (If you are at all familiar with the stories in the book of Judges, this statement is repeated several times as a way to illustrate the reason that the people of Israel suffered so much war and famine and violence).

When each person does what he or she deems fit, there is often confusion and even destruction.  Even those who don’t value scripture’s perspective could point to numerous examples in history.  Without a standard, there is destruction.

Lie #3 — The best way to show love is to stay out of other people’s business and just allow them to make their own choices.

Although it may seem loving, scripture charges the followers of Christ with a much higher calling.

Ezekiel 3:18 — “When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die, and you do not warn him or speak to him to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.'”

Romans 10:14-15 — “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'”

Matthew 28:19-20 — “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The truth of scripture is that God has a standard and a plan, and He longs for people to know Him and to be reconciled to Him.  He doesn’t want us to just keep the Good News to ourselves for the sake of avoiding awkward conversations.

If I were to stop here, I believe that many would use my words to justify the ongoing condemnation that spews forth on social media from well-meaning Christians who are disheartened and discouraged by the state of morality in our country and our world. However, this is NOT my goal.  I believe it is essential to know what God’s Word says so that we “will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good pleasing and perfect will,” but God’s Word is not intended to beat people up and condemn them.

I am only recently beginning to understand what Jesus meant when he cautioned us about judgment in Matthew 7.  He was showing us that there is a judgment free zone — a place where people can find freedom from condemnation; a place that silences the voices of those who would criticize and demean.

This only happens in one place — at the foot of the cross.

At the cross, there is no hierarchy of sin or list of policy items or agendas.  There is no pundit from the opposing side ready to prove to me point by point how my perspective is wrong. There is no judgment or condemnation. There is only grace and mercy.  We all kneel shoulder to shoulder in the shadow of Christ’s sacrifice and receive true freedom.

Romans 8:1 — “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me from the law of sin and death.”

I believe that the morning news panel was right — people long to experience a judgment free zone where they experience true freedom from condemnation and release of guilt from past mistakes.  The focus should not be on the rules or the requirements or the varied opinions of experts.  As a follower of Jesus, my focus should always be on the cross and the amazing grace of Jesus.

John 3:17 — “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  Jesus already received the judgment that we all deserve.

When Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death for us, he came to each person with his arms open wide and said, “This is a judgment free zone.”

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Choosing to Forgive

I like to think of myself as a person who keeps pretty short accounts with people.  I don’t tend to harbor anger or bitterness for past interactions.  Don’t get me wrong — I am certainly not someone who floats through life without anger issues.  Those who know me can attest to my tendency to blow and lose my temper.  However, I like to think I’m more like a firecracker.  I have a short fuse, but once my fuse is lit and the explosion goes off, the anger is burned out and I’m over it.

For the most part, I have believed this to be true of myself.  I have believed that I’m a fairly forgiving person.

Until recently.

I am really struggling to forgive.

Typically there are about three reasons that I feel sort of justified in holding onto a little bit of anger and unforgiveness:

  1. A repeated behavior that doesn’t seem to change — wet towels on the hardwood floor, playing with cell phones while driving, leaving an empty toilet paper tube on the roll and waiting for Mom to replace it.  (These are just hypothetical examples.)
  2. Injustice — I believe this may stem from my middle child status, but I can get very riled about almost any level of injustice from someone cutting in line at Starbucks to the horror of sex trafficking.  When it comes to injustice, I have very little tolerance, patience, or forgiveness.
  3. Injury to one of my children — As a mom, it is incredibly difficult for me to forgive someone who has physically or emotionally hurt one of my girls.  That whole “Mother Bear” analogy is used for a reason, and if it happens more than once, look out!

Combine injustice with injury to my children, and I guess I have found my Achilles heel when it comes to forgiveness.  I am actually horrified to admit it, but I don’t think I want to forgive.

I am angry.

I am hurt.

I am disappointed.

In these last days as I’ve wrestled with this issue, I believe that the Lord is showing me some incredibly valuable reasons why I need to choose to forgive.

1.  Unforgiveness is distracting — I can be going through my day, marking off all the items on my “To Do” list, when all of the sudden, WHAM! I am reminded again of the injustice or the pain, and I’m back in the dreaded circle of disgust and anger.  I expend all kinds of mental energy listing all of the reasons I am justified in holding onto my anger.  I plot what I wish I could do to bring equal levels of hurt to the other person. When I finally feel like I have stewed long enough, I find myself asking, “Wait, what was I doing just now?  Why did I come into the laundry room?”  Distracted!  It’s so annoying.

“Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is praiseworthy — think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8

2.  Unforgiveness eclipses the light in my heart — I notice that when I think about this unresolved issue or harbor the anger and bitterness, I struggle to see the positive or to clearly articulate gratitude.  I find myself starting to believe that I will only truly be able to find peace and contentment once this issue is resolved to my satisfaction.  And, each time I entertain this thought, I can almost feel a shadow fall upon my joy.  The reality is that this issue may never be resolved to my satisfaction, and I will still have to find a way to choose joy.

“Love must be sincere . . . Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer . . . Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12: 9, 12, 14 

3.  My unforgiveness has ZERO impact on the offender; it only impacts me — The reality of my refusal to forgive is that I remain distracted and angry and lacking in joy while the person who committed the injustice is already over it.  It’s a futile crusade. I have to make a choice regardless of what the other person does.

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger . . . Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:30-32

As I reflect on this issue, I must admit that my previous self-assessment is WAY off base.  I struggle to forgive because I somehow believe I deserve better or that I am more worthy of forgiveness than the person who has offended me or my loved ones.

Once again in the reflection of God’s truth I find myself woefully lacking.

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant. The parable is the story of a man who owed more than a million dollars to the king.  When the man begged for mercy, the king granted it and canceled the debt.  However, when the man left the king, he encountered a fellow servant who owed him about ten dollars.  The man attacked the fellow servant and demanded his money and had him thrown in jail for his inability to pay. When the king found out, he brought the man back in and said, “‘Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Mt. 18:33).

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” Psalm 130:4

When I’m honest with myself and consider my own standard, I am unforgiveable.

  1. I continue in repeated behaviors that I know are irritating or hurtful to the people I love.
  2. I commit injustice in a multitude of ways.
  3. And, even though it pains me to admit it, I have grievously hurt my children on more than one occasion.

Yet . . . I am forgiven.

Several years ago in graduate school, I asked a question that I have continued to ponder.  Which is more powerful — forgiving or being forgiven?

In the light of the truth, there is only one answer — being forgiven.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

I am unforgiveable sinner, yet God has chosen to forgive me.

Because I am forgiven, I am choosing to forgive.

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Can I do anything about the problems in education?

I have started a blog on the issue of education about a hundred times, and every time I get started, I delete everything.

I started one that explains my role as a new teacher.

I started one as a tribute to the amazing teachers I have worked with who continue to inspire me every single day!

I started one about the responsibility of parents.

I started one about the futility and injustice of linking teacher compensation to testing.

However, each time I start writing, I am reminded of  the rebuttals I might face due to the intense debate raging in places like Colorado.

We almost all agree that there is a problem.

We all seem to agree that we want to live in a society that educates its citizens.

And, we all seem to agree that something needs to change.

However, I am not responsible for the behavior of others, and I can’t force people to change.  I am only responsible for myself.

I am a parent.

I am a teacher.

I am even a student.

So, in light of all this, here is what I can do to help solve the problems in education.

As a teacher, I can continue to learn by staying up to date on best practices.  I can talk with other teachers about strategies that work for them.  I can continue to develop lesson plans that challenge my students and reflect their stage of learning.  When a student is disrespectful and rude, I can choose to respond with love and compassion recognizing that this student may be facing personal issues about which I know very little.  When my class looks at me with blank stares, I can flush the plan and try something different.  I can take risks and try something new even when the old lesson plan would be a lot easier and faster.  I can continue giving up my lunch or my free time to work with a student who needs help.  I can continue reaching out to the struggling student to let him know that I believe in him.  I can persevere.  I can continue to do what I love — teach.

As a parent, I can love my kids every single day and let them know that I’m in their court and on their side.  I can help my children make hard choices and learn to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing.  I can model what it means to be a life long learner by staying educated on important issues in my neighborhood, school district, state, nation, and the world.  I can put down my phone and make eye contact when they are talking to me.  When they are disciplined at school or by an authority, I can hold them accountable and teach them the value of learning from mistakes.  I can admit when I’m wrong and ask for forgiveness.  I can commit to putting the dinner preparation on hold when my daughter comes to me with tears in her eyes because she doesn’t understand her Algebra homework.  I can follow up and check the homework assignments even though I’ve been at work all day and I don’t want to think about doing one more thing.  I can read to them — even after they are way too big to sit in my lap.  I can remind them that they matter and that they are important and that they have the potential to change the world.  I can show them that one of life’s greatest gifts is the opportunity to learn.

As a student, I can approach every challenge and every new situation with an attitude that says, “What can I learn from this?”  I can recognize that learning is my job.  I can remember that the opportunity to learn is a gift.  I can remember that I don’t know everything.  When I don’t know something, I can ask.  I can remember that I am the only one ultimately responsible for my choices.  I can be thankful and grateful for those who have gone before me and paved a way for me to learn.  I can humbly and graciously respond to correction and feedback.  I can treat others the way I want to be treated.  I can work hard and persevere and embrace new ideas.  I can listen to perspectives radically different than my own and ask questions to seek to understand.

I certainly can’t fix everything.  However, I can remember that I have an important role to play, and I can do something about the problems in education.

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Being Thankful for Dirty Dishes

Recently I was asked to think about what is easy for me to be thankful for and what is difficult for me to be thankful for.  Of course, my immediate response was that I am so thankful for my husband and my three beautiful children. Each one has blessed my life in ways I can’t even fully define, and whenever I think about what I’m thankful for, their faces immediately come into my mind.

However, when I think about what I struggle to be thankful for, my immediate answer involves all the stuff that goes along with having this amazing family — cleaning up after them, putting away the piles of clothes and shoes, cooking the meals, doing the dishes, and dealing with the clutter.  The tasks never end, and frankly, this list of “to do” items gets in the way of accomplishing my personal agenda, which usually involves reading a good book or finishing a project I’ve been working on.

Then it hits me . . .

I’m not thankful at all!

My great-aunt was an amazing woman who loved the Lord and lived her life to serve Him and to serve others.  She has always inspired me.  One time when I was in her home, I noticed a plaque hanging on her wall:

Thank God for dirty dishes,

They have a lot to tell

While other folks go hungry

We are so very well.

With health and home and happiness,

We shouldn’t want to fuss,

For by this stack of evidence,

God’s very good to us.

The first time I noticed this, I took a piece of scratch paper from my purse to scrawl down this beautiful reminder.  After my great-aunt passed away, this plaque was given to me as a way to remember her.  Today this plaque hangs in my kitchen to remind me that even when I struggle with the day to day list of mundane tasks, each item on my “to-do” list is actually a blessing. 

So, I have decided to commit to being thankful for the tasks. I’ve started working on my own poems to remind me of the truth when the irritation of the tasks overwhelms me.

So, here are just a couple:

Thank God for Dirty Diapers

Thank God for dirty diapers

Though stinky, foul, and gross;

Each poopy mess remind me,

That I am blessed the most.

The child whom I hold and love

Is healthy as can be.

Her body works just as it should,

And God’s been good to me.

While other mothers fear and wait,

And pray for perfect health,

My baby eats and laughs and plays

More precious than great wealth.

This second one hits closest to my heart because the laundry is my least favorite task.  I may have to hang this in my laundry room:

Thank God for Dirty Laundry

Thank God for dirty laundry

The piles, the mess, the chore;

For all are proof of God’s great love,

His provision and much more.

For every towel and shirt and sock

Are evidence of such.

The stack of clothes I’ve folded,

Reminds me I have much.

I know that I can’t just be thankful for all the easy stuff unless I am also thankful for the “so annoying”, the “so irritating”, and the “never finished” in my life, too.

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Today, I choose to be thankful for the dirty dishes. 

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It’s The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Years ago as a young adult, I went white water rafting with a group from our church.  I was home from college for the summer, and my parents invited me to join them and a group of friends for this adventure in the Colorado Rockies.

When we arrived, I met this vibrant, enthusiastic, and adorable couple who were probably a few years older than my parents.  They were teasing each other and flirting — splashing each other with river water, laughing, and talking to each other like close friends.  As I observed them, my first thought about this couple was that it must be a second marriage for both of them.  They were simply too much in love and enjoying their time together too much to have been married for very long.

As we spent time together in the raft and I continued observing and listening, I learned that they had been married almost thirty years, had children and grandchildren, and they were, in fact, still very much in love.

For the rest of that day, and even up until today, I am still moved by their relationship and frankly shocked by my initial interpretation.  The behavior I witnessed between those two people did not fit my paradigm for marriage when I was in my early twenties.

Quite honestly, I simply had not seen this before.  My parents were committed to each other, but they certainly didn’t flirt, laugh, or goof around together.  My youth pastor at the time had referred to his wedding ring as “the world’s smallest handcuff.”  Additionally, I had witnessed a lot of friends and relatives who had been married for a long time and seemed, at best, resigned to their relationships.

I’ve always been a dreamer, and even as a child I believed in romance and “happily ever after”.  I longed for a “romantic” story in my life.  That same youth pastor would chide me on different outings when I would talk about the stars and how beautiful and romantic they were.  “You know, Kim, relationships are work and romance does not last.”  Quite frankly, this is the message I received from everyone around me.

Falling in love is wonderful but being married is just a lot of work.

However, this fun-loving couple challenged that notion and gave me hope that a happy marriage is possible.

I’m reflecting on this today because, sadly, I have just found out via Facebook, that another good friend’s marriage has crumbled and she’s hoping to build a new life with someone else.  Truly and in all sincerity, I wish her the best.  I’m happy for her, and I hope that this new relationship brings her joy and peace and fulfillment.  My words are not judgment — it just made me think and wonder.

Why am I so happily married?
Why am I so confident that we are going to stay together?
What makes the difference?

I know that I don’t have the answer, and I certainly do not have the perfect marriage.  But I think I have one idea from my own experience.

When my oldest two daughters were toddlers, I was driving in my car to the grocery store.  I was feeling rather unfulfilled as a stay-at-home mom.  I think deep down I believed that somehow I deserved something more meaningful out of life, and changing diapers, doing the laundry, reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom for the 23rd time in a day, and falling asleep on the couch at 8:30 pm from exhaustion were just not cutting it.  The reality — I was discontented.

I’m pretty sure I was stewing on something my husband had failed to do or say, and I think he may have said that he had to work late because I remember that I was feeling very frustrated when I first started listening to the words of a Carly Simon song that was playing on the radio.  This song was incredibly familiar to me — I had probably heard it hundreds of times and could sing every lyric.  But, I hadn’t really ever listened to the words:

“And you’re feeling closed in by the same four walls

The same old conversation with the same old guy you’ve known for years;

But use your imagination, and you will see,

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of . . .”

I started to cry, and as I pulled into the Fareway parking lot, I sat in my car and let the tears roll.  These were the kind of tears that well-up from that place deep in your soul and just spill over involuntarily.

It is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Marriage, children, home, family, memories — all of it!

I am so quick to complain or find fault, and this emotional amnesia fuels that heart of discontent until I begin searching for something else.  Then, suddenly, a song that I don’t even like all that much comes on the radio, and reminds me that I’m living the dream.

I believe when it comes to marriage, I am learning what Paul described in Philippians 4 — “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (vs. 12,13, NIV).

Living in contentment is the living the dream.

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up and my husband was still sleeping  (which never happens, by the way, because I love to sleep and make the most of every moment to do it.)  On this rare morning, as I looked at him, I realized that a part of what makes this a dream is working through all the hard stuff together, staying committed, and pressing on through all that life brings in spite of what we face, what we say to each other in anger, or what we forget to say because we take each other for granted.  As he slept, I could still see the boy I fell in love with almost 25 years ago within the man I am married to today.  I felt overwhelmed with peace, joy, love, thankfulness, and my very own “happily ever after.”

Contentment.

It’s just the everyday stuff.

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

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Reflecting On This Day

I was starting a new chapter in my life.  My precious 4 year old, Elizabeth, was going to her first day of preschool, and I was nursing her 7 month old sister, Maggie, on the bed in my room.  I’m still not sure why I decided to turn on the TV, but I have a recollection that this seemed like something “school mothers” do — they watch Good Morning America, drink coffee, make pancakes, and pack lunches.

As soon as the image became clear, I felt a tremendous thud within my chest as I took in the tragedy and the horror that was unfolding.  The World  Trade Center was burning.  A plane had flown into the Pentagon.  A split screen showed black smoke billowing in two major cities. I audibly gasped, and the girls came running into the room.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?  What happened?”

I couldn’t formulate an answer; there was no way to explain this to my baby girls.

“I’m not sure, but something bad is happening. Come up here with me.  We’re going to pray.”

And so, the four of us sat on my bed in Loveland, Colorado, and joined a massive chorus being lifted to heaven pleading for God’s mercy to rescue, to protect, to heal, and to save.

When the South Tower began to collapse, I listened as seasoned news anchor, Peter Jennings, couldn’t even process what he was seeing.  He kept saying, “It looks as if part of the building is falling away.”  No one wanted to believe that this was possible.  The ache in my chest intensified, and I could feel each beat of my heart as I realized in that moment that thousands of people had just died.

Life changed in an instant.

Elizabeth went to preschool as planned.  Emily and I read books and played at the park.  Little Maggie giggled and smiled as she sat surrounded by all her little toys.

All I could think about was that my children would be growing up in a world marked by this day.  They would live their lives in the shadow of terrorism.

Fear.  No control.  Unknown.

Later that day when all three were napping, I poured out my heart to the Lord.  I was crying.  I was in pain.  I was afraid.

The Holy Spirit led me to Psalm 46:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore I will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging . . . Come see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shield with fire.

‘Be still and know that I am God;  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

My answer that day — Just be still.  

Twelve years later, I find myself thinking about that morning more than I have in years.  Perhaps it is because I put all three of my daughters on buses this morning.  They will be at a retreat with their school to hear from God about what He wants to do in their lives and how He is going to work through them in the future.

The house is very quiet.

I have been thinking about the fact that my sweet Maggie has never known a world before 9/11.  For her, the Twin Towers are just an historical image seen in old movies and photographs.  There has been a war going on for the entirety of her life.  How is this shaping her?

Well, here is what I see.

Just as she did twelve years ago, Maggie wakes up every day with a smile on her face.  She is still willing to take risks.  She wants to see the world.  She doesn’t live in fear.  She longs for friendships with all different kinds of people.  Honestly, she loves life!

Have we just adapted to a new normal?  Have we forgotten?

I don’t think so, and here’s why.

Terrorism rocked our world that day.  Terrorism still rocks our world.  When I think about the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School, I am reminded that terrorism lives in our backyards.

Giving into fear is always a choice.  Choosing to live in a place of peace is also a choice.

I think many of our children today are well aware of the tragedies that they may face.  I think they understand that people have given their lives to keep them safe, and (as entitled as many believe them to be) I think many are unspeakably grateful for this sacrifice.  I think they know that the world can be dark, terrifying, and unjust.

When I watch my girls embracing life, trusting God, and looking to the future, I believe that they are demonstrating what it means to live in the confident hope promised in scripture:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

In so many ways, they are setting an example for me.  The terror of that day hasn’t crippled them or isolated them.  They still care about people and hope for the future.

It’s tough to think about letting them go.  I worry about them experiencing the “big bad world.”  Yet, when I reflect on a day like today, I am reminded that even in the darkest moments, God still reigns eternal and His purposes endure.

I still look for answers and I often cry out in fear and pain.  Then I hear Him whisper to my soul:

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

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Am I Good Enough? (Part 2)

Recognizing that I have already written on this topic, I feel compelled to revisit it in light of what the Lord has been showing me in recent days.

Our church has been going through a study of Ephesians, and the messages have dramatically impacted my understanding of my identity in Christ.  The whole of Ephesians chapter 1 convicted me in a powerfully new and fresh way.  In Christ, I am chosen, adopted, redeemed, guaranteed a spot in eternity, filled with the Holy Spirit, and given access to the same power that raised Christ from the dead.

Wow!

Even as I review all that I have been thinking about, I am humbled and impressed yet again by the power of the truth behind this portion of God’s Word.

Two weeks ago, this truth became even more significant to me as Pastor Jeff Henderson spoke from Ephesians 2:8-10.  Most of my life I have stopped at verses 8 and 9, which emphasize the fact that I am saved by grace and not by works.  But Pastor Henderson focused on verse 10 — “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (NIV).  He talked about how God has already prepared good works in advance for us to do and that we can accomplish these because we are in Christ and have access to the power of God working within us.  He talked about how this requires confident humility. He also offered a great strategy for the moments when the enemy tries to remind us of our shortcomings and our failings.  He suggested that we need to speak out loud — “Jesus says I can.  Jesus says I am.”

Pastor Henderson was filling the pulpit for our regular pastor, who happens to be Louie Giglio, a world-renowned, highly respected, “almost prayed at the Presidential inauguration”, famous pastor.  As Pastor Henderson was sharing about the aforementioned strategy, he stated rather honestly and transparently that this was the only way he could walk the stairs onto the stage at Passion City Church and complete the good work of speaking to us that God had prepared in advance for him to do.  As his internal voice was saying, “Who do you think you are?  You can’t do this!  You can’t speak for Louie Giglio!”, he was saying, “Jesus says I can.  Jesus says I am.”  His voice cracked as he shared this personal experience, and his testimony to God’s power and the work of the Holy Spirit was compelling and humbling.

Since that message, I have been working on this strategy in my own life, and I am beginning to see how God is erasing the tapes and silencing the internal dialogue that makes me question whether or not I can accomplish anything or if I am really good enough to be used by God.

The one voice that seems to linger says something like, “Well, I am sure that God hasn’t prepared ‘good works’ for you that are all that important or special.  You get the run-of-the-mill good works cause you’re a run-of-the-mill type of person.  You’re not really good enough to do something important.”

As I’ve been processing all this, my husband and I attended our new community group for Passion City Church.  It’s always a little awkward to meet new people and talk about life to strangers.  Again, when the internal voice is saying, “You’re ordinary,” it’s difficult to feel like I have anything meaningful to contribute to these people’s lives.

As I met some ladies and shared about the start of the new school year, I was asked where my children attend school.  I responded that they go to Providence Christian Academy in Lilburn.  One of the ladies in my group said, “We were one of the founding families of that school.  Our son was a part of that first graduating class.”

I was completely blown away by this because I had heard the story of those families.  I have been told about how they stepped out in faith, purchased an old strip mall, renovated it in a matter of days by working all hours of the day and night, and trusted that God would take care of the details.  The school wasn’t even accredited when they opened, but they trusted God to take care of their children and their educational futures.

Since moving to Georgia, Providence Christian Academy has been the greatest blessing to our family.  It is a genuinely Christ-centered environment where my girls have developed friendships, grown in their faith, and received a top-notch education.  Needless to say, I was very excited to meet this woman.

As the conversation in our group turned to the topic of our identity in Christ based on the sermons from the previous weeks, we were asked to think about what God thinks about when He thinks about us.  This same woman that I had just met shared very honestly that she thinks God thinks, “You are a mistake.”

So honest and so real.

Others in the group reminded her from scripture that God doesn’t make mistakes and that He clearly has a plan and purpose for each of our lives, but the internal dialogue for this woman was so strong that I could tell she struggled to believe it.  Suddenly, I was reminded of the conversation we had when I first arrived, and it’s as if the Holy Spirit gave me a giant elbow nudge.  I put my hand on her leg and said, “I don’t see how you could see yourself as a mistake, when you did something for me that blessed me when you didn’t even know me.  You stepped out in faith and started a school that continues to honor God and teach young people.  What you did impacted my life because you were willing to trust God.  I am eternally grateful to you! There is no way that you could be a mistake.”

What is interesting to me is that even with this specific example, she didn’t see it as any big deal. She sort of downplayed it and talked about how it happened a long time ago.  However, as we continued talking, she began to see that her faithfulness was a clear example of a way that she had accomplished the good works that God had planned in advance for her to do.

Later, she leaned over and whispered to me, “Thank you.  I really needed to hear that.”

Is it possible that in that moment when I responded to that Holy Spirit nudge that I was part of accomplishing the good works that God had planned in advance for me to do?

When I reflect on my interaction with this new friend, I see so much of myself.  I see so many of the people I dearly love who bypass the joy and power of walking with Christ because, frankly, they think most of what they have done for the Lord is insignificant, unimportant, or perhaps even a mistake.

Oh, how this paralyzes us from being effective for Him!  Truly – it’s tragic.

The truth of scripture — “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).

I believe that God is using this to truth to transform my heart.  It is true that my good works may never involve mounting a stage and speaking to 5,000+ people.  However, maybe my good works involve sitting with someone who needs to be reminded of the truth and hear again, “You are not a mistake.  You are in Christ and He loves you.  He has a plan and purpose for your life.”

Perhaps God is even saying to me, “The good works I have planned in advance for you to do include washing the clothes for your children to wear to school tomorrow, shopping for the groceries, and preparing a healthy meal for your family to enjoy.”

Whatever it is, I can trust that God is saying I am His workmanship and that He has planned good works in advance for me to do for Him.

When I struggle to feel good enough, I remember the challenge and strategy offered by Pastor Henderson, “Jesus says I can.  Jesus says I am.”

And, as the Lord keeps teaching me, I plan to add to the list.

When the voice inside says, “What you’re doing isn’t all that important.  It doesn’t really qualify as a ‘good work,'” I can respond with confident humility and say, “Jesus says it is!  Jesus says it does!”

For I am God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for me to do.  This is the only answer I need.

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