Jackson Five Friday: Kindred Spirits

Greetings Friends,

Yes, it’s still cold outside, but I am encouraged by the glaring sun and the springlike songs the birds outside my window are singing.  Surely, there are warmer days ahead.  How divine that never once has spring failed to show up!

Do you have a favorite literary character?  One you just relate to like no other?  I’d love to know who pops into your mind first.  I don’t know who I would’ve said a few weeks ago, because a recent read has made me realize that my most bosom literary friend is most assuredly Anne of Green Gables.  Oddly, I never read it as a child, and I’m not precisely sure why I felt the need to read it now, but boy am I glad I did.  I adore her.  She is constantly getting herself in “scrapes.” which you may not know is a noun that means “embarrassing or distressing situations.”  Since I am the queen of scrapes, I can relate to every single embarrassment.  “Oh Anne dear,” I’ll think, “I could so do that very thing.”  And if you don’t know me well enough to know that I am indeed the queen of scrapes, here’s an odd piece of evidence: not infrequently I get calls, emails or texts from people who want to share their embarrassment with me.  They know I’ll find it funny, and they know I can relate.

But it isn’t just the scrapes, the book grapples with some truly profound topics, most notably its treatment of forgiveness.  I cannot recommend this book enough!  Yes, I spend some of my time reading fine print CMS regulations about the Medicare Shared Savings Program in preparation to go back to work, and this undoubtedly makes me even more inclined to appreciate a simple, but well-told story, but I think anyone of any age can appreciate this wonderful little book.

Anne will inspire you to appreciate your friends, to use your God-given imagination, and to both forgive and seek forgiveness.  She also has a way of embracing her surroundings with unparalleled gratitude.

Here is a typical musing from Anne, “Dear old world, you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

Anne sounds not unlike David, rejoicing over the beauty of the earth:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.  Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.  In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.  It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth. Psalm 19: 1-6

Praying today that you have wonderful friends who are kindred spirits, that you appreciate with humility a good scrape now and then, that you can rejoice in the world that the Lord has made, and that just like darling little Anne you may even say today, “Dear old world, you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

With Love,

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Jackson Five Friday: Wounding Prayers

Friends,

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few months, you may have noticed that I post less and less about my older two sons.  Sadly, they are getting too old for me to blog about them.  Disputes are more complicated than they used to be, and they definitely do not want me publicly writing about them.   A few months back I wrote a piece about something that concerned my oldest — it wasn’t anything embarrassing or highly personal, but when I let him preview it (as I’ve made a habit of doing for the last few years), he said he’d rather I not post it.  Of course, I honored his preference, even though I thought it was about the best thing I’d ever written.  And with my 11 year old, he has such a BIG personality and he’s always been so precocious that he’s just a wealth of material.  But alas he’s an increasingly unwilling subject as well. I fear Sam’s days are numbered too.  So all that to say, my older sons are just as wonderful and frustrating as ever, but increasingly off limits.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking I don’t have tons of stories about Dub and Nate I’d just LOVE to share.  Instead, the Samcentricity of the blog is a regrettable reality I’ll have to face at least for the foreseeable future.

But enough about that, I want to tell you a story from a few weeks back.  I couldn’t write about it when it happened because I could barely think about it without my throat closing shut and my eyes spilling over.

We were driving to school as usual, and just as we were about to arrive, I prayed.  We always pray, although we kind of take turns.  Anyway, I prayed something like this:

“Lord thank you for this day, thank you for our school and for our teachers.  Please give us all a wonderful day.  Please help Sam to pay close attention and to follow directions…”

When I turned around to watch him climb out of the car, I could see the hurt on Sam’s face.

His wounded, angry eyes peered into mine.  “Let me pray,” he snapped.  “Dear God please help Mom not to make ANY mistakes today.  Amen.”  Then he marched into school without another word.

We could dissect what I did wrong.  We could evaluate whether Sam was being overly sensitive or manipulative or irrational or irreverent.  But this I know:  my prayer hurt him.  And I can’t tell you how much I hated the image on involuntary continuous loop in my mind of Sam’s huge eyes, grieved and sorrowful because of me.

Thankfully Sam got over it.  I told him how sorry I was for hurting his feelings.  I told him how I never intended to make him feel bad.  It was easy for me to be genuinely sorry because I witnessed the true pain I caused him.

But sometimes in my marriage I can get really hung up on whether Will’s reaction is justified.  I may even find myself thinking, “Geez!  He is totally overreacting!”  Somehow for a highly sensitive little boy, I can just be sorry, without qualifiers.  But for my man I can be more concerned about whether what I did was truly wrong.

As a stubborn, strong-willed woman, this is sort of an epiphany: I can be sorry for my actions because of their effect without justifying my actions on their merits.  And, in fact, this is the loving thing to do.

The Bible says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”  (Romans 12:18 NIV).

Is there some relationship in which you are being stubborn?  Are you reluctant to make amends because you think you are right?  With God’s help, can you just be sorry, without qualifying, without justifying in any way?

May we be more about nurturing relationships than proving rightness.

Have a fabulous weekend and stay warm,

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Jackson Five Friday: My Starbucks Lover

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Happy Friday, Friends!

I’m sure you have heard the Taylor Swift song that seemingly references “Starbucks lovers.”  I’m not sure I get it.  Starbucks lovers.  Is that a thing?  I mean I love Starbucks and from time to time (when I’m writing a lot) I spend substantial chunks of my day there.  Admittedly, from a taste standpoint, I strongly prefer Dunkin Donuts coffee, but Starbucks obviously doesn’t just sell coffee — they provide an experience and an inviting environment where lingering is encouraged.  Dunkin Donuts, on the other hand, is the antithesis: horror of horrors, they even have televisions!  Who wants to watch tv in a coffee shop?  Who’s the cottonheaded ninnymuggins who came up with that bright idea?

Anyway, earlier this week I was at my local Starbucks, delighting over an extra hot chai tea latte and poring over my Bible study when a seventy-ish woman interrupted.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, “I can see you are very engrossed, but I just wanted to tell you that I think it’s wonderful to see someone reading the Bible in a public place.  I thought I’d tell you that Jesus is my Lord and Savior.”

I had no idea what to say to her.

“That’s wonderful,” I offered.  But on the inside I felt a little disturbed.  In fact, I had an indignant response that was vying for access to my vocal chords.

“What on earth are you talking about?  This is America, lady.  Reading the Bible in public is an everyday occurrence, isn’t it?  Because frankly I think it’s a little scary you think it’s noteworthy.”

Thankfully I didn’t say anything else to this woman.  She grabbed her coffee and moved along.

But I’ve been pondering this brief exchange and I think it paints an alarming picture.  What does it say that it’s surprising to find someone reading the Bible in Starbucks?

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 says:

Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!  Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.

That’s The Message, Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase of the Bible, but I think we could justifiably add a line about studying God’s Word in Starbucks — “study and talk about the life-changing power of Scripture wherever you are, in whatever coffee shop you find yourself.”

Jesus’ own words are abundantly clear: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory.” Luke 9:26 ESV.

I’m so convicted by this verse.  I want Jesus as my Starbucks lover.  I want to never ever be ashamed to openly love the Person who knows and loves me best.  Wherever I go I want my life to be one big Brach’s conversation heart, the one that says to Jesus: “I’m Yours.”

I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s weekend.  But most of all, I hope you know the Lover of your soul who knit you together in your mother’s womb.

Warmly (because it’s bitter outside),

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Jackson Five Friday: Going Home

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Friends,

I bet most of you have had the experience of feeling like you are living two separate lives.  When I was eighteen and left Michigan to attend college in Florida, I was struck by how completely distinct my two lives were.  My college life and hometown life didn’t intersect at all.  I had no friends who were part of both worlds.  To a lesser degree my whole adult life has been this way.  My home life is unlike my hometown life in many respects.  Yet there’s nothing like being with people who have known you and loved you forever.

The last few days I’ve been in Michigan with my mom who has played games with my boys till all hours and is about the easiest person to just hang out with you could possibly imagine.  I saw my sister, my brother-in-law (who I’ve known since I was five), and two of my nephews.  But I also briefly got to see an aunt, uncle and cousins, none of whom I had seen in more than three years.  My one cousin, Cassie, pictured above, is my oldest friend.  She was born just 24 days after me – no new friend could possibly catch her in terms of the number of sweet memories shared.

The thing is though that when you don’t see someone for a long time, and don’t even talk to them consistently, you can start to doubt that things will be the same.  I know it is pure Dana Carvey Church-Lady, but you know who I think is responsible for planting these seeds of doubt?  Could it be?  SATAN!  I believe it is.  I truly do.  I think the prince of this world doesn’t want relationships to work.  The Bible says we will be known by our love for one another.  Of course the enemy of love is the enemy of relationships.  That persistent but suave voice may tell you “don’t call, they’re probably busy.  It’s too much running around to make that brief visit work.  Not worth it…”  But that nagging whisper is straight from hell and full of lies.

The TRUTH is that it is ALWAYS worth it.  I promise it is.  God wants you to keep making the effort.  This afternoon I had coffee with Cassie.  Any doubt that things could change just because we somehow haven’t seen each other in THREE years was swept away, swept away by the force of a Pacific tsunami.  Sadly some people pass in and out of our lives, but you know the people who are supposed to remain no matter what.  You know if you are connected in such fundamental ways (in this particular relationship by both blood and shared experiences) that letting go just isn’t an option.

Is there someone you need to reach out to today?  Is there someone who needs to hear how much you love them?

May the words of Paul be a comfort and a spur:

This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience—it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.

Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails (1 Corinthians 4:7, Phillips).

I hope you are able to embrace your roots, enjoy your home, and rest in the comfort of knowing your eternal Savior.

With Love,

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Jackson Five Friday: Every Perfect Gift

Happy Friday, Spurrers! I hope you’ve had a wonderful week. I’m another year older since last Friday — golly the birthdays just keep coming, don’t they? Of course, every day is a gift. I won’t go as far as saying every wrinkle is a gift, but maybe that’s true as well.

This week I read an article about actress Julianne Moore. In it she claimed that she does not believe in God and that essentially she is “self-made.” Such claims invariably give me a sick feeling in my stomach because I believe life is ALL about gratitude and nothing evidences a lack of gratitude like a posture of “look what I did!” Jesus personified grace, but when he encountered proud, “self-made” types He was unambiguous.

“You fool,” God says in the parable Jesus told on the topic. “This very night your life will be demanded from you” (Luke 12:20).

We are not in control, no matter how much pompous pretending and proclaiming we may do.  I am grateful to have friends — faithful spurrers — in my life who remind me of this truth and point me toward gratitude.

James, in writing about wisdom, remaining steadfast, and overcoming temptation, said “Do not be deceived…every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:16-17).  Do you think wisdom might just be correlated with gratitude?  Do you think a strong faith might grow best in a thankful heart?  Do you think the ability to overcome temptation is hindered by gratitude or helped by it?  Do you think James just happened to link all of these subjects together in the first few paragraphs of his letter?  Of course not!  There are all intertwined.

Gratitude is foundational — it’s a delicate little root that needs constant watering but promises incredible fruit.  May I faithfully water my little seed by acknowledging that every gift is from above.  When I wake up in the morning, may I be thankful.  When I lay down to sleep, may I be thankful.  May gratitude be the air I breathe each and every moment.

Can you make a list of five specific things that have happened already in 2015 for which you are thankful?

How can you be more intentional in acknowledging that every perfect gift is from God?

Jackson Five Friday: Spurrers

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Dear Spurrers,

Today I am somewhat modifying the format of my blog.  I started Spur in August of 2008, but even though it’s been nearly seven years, some months with many posts, a few with none, I feel as though the vision has been somewhat blurry.  When I started posting, I wrote as if the audience was broad and impersonal like a piece for a magazine.  But over the years, it’s become clear that I have a group of faithful core readers — people I know and love.  I am grateful to have this hybrid community which is a little bit blogosphere, but mostly flesh and blood.  If you are reading this I probably know you personally, or I know a friend of yours personally.  I’m grateful for that.  I’m not a big online community person — I know that some people really thrive on that, but honestly that’s just not me.  Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate when you share, like and favorite.  I love that!  Please keep it up.  In fact, I often tell people when they take the time to tell me they enjoy my writing how much that truly means to me.  As a writer, I am destined to remain in a place where no amount of praise is ever enough.  I don’t mean that in a “woe is me” way.  Writing is just such a vulnerable endeavor that you can never overdose on positive feedback!

So beginning today, I am aiming to make my posts more personal, more like I’m writing a note to you, my friend.

And what’s on my heart this morning is how much we all need spurrers in our lives.  Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  I don’t know about you but sometimes by bent is not toward love, and not toward good deeds!

There’s a situation in my life right now that pretty much bends me in the exact opposite direction.  My frustration over this issue spills out in ugly and unloving ways.  My sweet husband is so good about talking me out of my hostility.  He is a faithful spurrer, and in fact I’m always sort of amazed that when I do get wound up about something, how masterful he is at unwinding me.  Because if you know us, you know that’s something of a role reversal.  I’m not usually one who requires unwinding.

And I am blessed to have others who will listen with compassion, but refrain from stoking the fire, who in the end will point me back to love.  I don’t know how, other than the grace of God, I’ve been able to cultivate such spurring friendships, but I am so very grateful to have many in my life who spur me on.

Right now I am studying the book of James, which begins with the challenge to consider it joy when you face trails because “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  Trying to live that today in this minor, but irksome trial.  I am choosing joy.  I am trusting that this will produce perseverance.  Hold me accountable.  Spur me on!

Why not explicitly ask a friend to spur you on toward love and good deeds with regard to an ongoing issue or trial in your own life?  

How can you spur someone on today?

Joy to YOU,

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Jackson Five Friday: People Change

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A great and persistent lie of our culture is that people never change, or when they do it’s for the worse.  Think of all the marriages you know that crumbled because the people in them “changed.”  What a shame that changing for the good is written off as unrealistic.

This week I had numerous contractors at my house to install the above cozy gas fireplace.  One worker, named Tony, ran into all sorts of setbacks that were not his fault.  Others had told him to run the gas line one way, but when it got down to tackling the job, the guidance from his company was dead wrong.  His response cracked me up.  Instead of getting frustrated about the significant amount of time he wasted, Tony just calmly shrugged and said, “We’ll get it done.  Happens all the time.”

When he opened the custom metal panel he was installing around the fireplace, he discovered it was wrong too.  It had extra metal tabs that would need to be sawed off.  He didn’t have the tools to do it, but when he called in reinforcements to help, he did so with a voice as cool as a cucumber.  Tony’s day started early and it was already getting dark.  I wouldn’t have blamed him if he would’ve gotten a little ticked about the comedy of errors befalling our installation, but he just shrugged again and pressed on.

“Tony,” I said, “I think you could teach anger management courses.”

He stopped what he was doing and looked over at me.

“I spent two years in anger management,” he said.

You can imagine the depth of conversation we had after that, but the takeaway is that Tony changed.  By God’s grace, anger management took.

People change all the time.  I am not the meanie I was growing up.  I am not the selfish, jealous jerk my husband married.  I am not who I was at thirty, or thirty-five.  I am not the person I was last year or even last week.  Every day I am changed by my Savior.  I am on a journey of sanctification, just like Tony.  Anyone and everyone can change if they are willing to admit they can’t do it on their own.  And I know I’m a sinner, that I fall short all the time, that I stink at self-help, that any advancements I make on my own are temporary.  But I also know that God ripped out my heart of stone, and gave me a heart of flesh that is motivated not by bettering myself, but by pleasing Him.

I have a long way to go, clearly, but I am so grateful that I don’t live in defeat.  Today I thank God for 2 Corinthians 3:18

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

May I continue to behold the glory of my Savior each day and be transformed by Him from one degree of glory to another!