Jackson Five Friday: Pride and NPR’s TED Radio Hour

FullSizeRender-15Friends,

Are you having a fabulous summer?  I sure hope so.  Mine feels like it is slipping away too fast — even faster than usual.  I feel sad that swim season is wrapping up, and that August is nearly here.  And I don’t even want to hear that horrific little phrase “back to school” and yet I know when the time comes, as unfathomable as it is right now, we will probably be itching for routine and order.

So much has gone on in the world this summer, tragic news stories just keep coming, and the world feels like it’s teetering on the edge.  Division along racial, political and religious lines feels unprecedented, at least for my short life, and it’s a beat down in many ways.  But one of the things that I find most discouraging is the lack of thought and logic of many people who join the conversation.

Freedom of speech is threatened, but it’s almost scarier when those with freedom choose to be lemmings.  Pondering and considering arguments appears to be a lost art — to paraphrase Fletch, “It’s all soundbites these days.”  One of my major goals as a parent is to make sure my sons are capable of deep thought, of entertaining both sides of an argument, and knowing that unless there is absolute truth, all of it is just meaningless jibber jabber.

Have you ever listened to NPR’s TED Radio Hour?  It’s a pretty great concept.  The host is Guy Raz whom I find invariably likable — he has a sort of high pitched, dorky voice (if you’ve seen the children’s movie Rio Raz is the voice twin of “Blue”) and consistently engages with all walks of people in such a casual and yet seemingly authentic way.

Anyway, Raz gives context to and discusses TED talks with the speakers themselves.  The shows are built around a topic, and TED tidbits are strung together.  It reminds me a lot of a topical sermon, but it’s totally secular (obviously).  But even when I find the views to be rather poorly reasoned, I enjoy listening — the discussions are always thought-provoking.

One of the programs was based on the seven deadly sins.  Raz said that it is surprising how consistently the seven deadly sins show up in fictional characters from Friends to SpongeBob.  Even Gilligan’s Island appears to be based on the seven deadly sins — Gilligan (sloth), The Skipper (wrath), Ginger (lust), Mary Ann (envy), Mrs. Powell (gluttony), Mr. Powell (greed), and The Professor (pride).  It’s kind of amazing — it doesn’t seem likely that the characters would fall so neatly and clearly into these categories on accident.

But what is befuddling is that even though the entire podcast is about the seven deadly sins, the Bible is disregarded almost entirely.  It is quoted once during the segment on lust.  In fact, most of the program is a discussion of how the list doesn’t really represent “sins” at all (interestingly there was no positive spin attempted for gluttony — secularism is on board with the Judeo-Christian ethic in wholeheartedly condemning gluttony, at least from a food standpoint.  It would be interesting to really unpack that but it’s not relevant here).

Anyway the arguments of the various TED speakers fell short with regard to both coherence and logic, but what I found most interesting was the firm commitment to the absence of authority.  How can you even attempt to talk about sin without acknowledging at the very least a Natural Law or Higher Being?  The word “sin” cannot even mean anything outside of some transcendent standard.  Implicit in using the word is an acknowledgement of a standard, but then that very standard is avoided by all manner of mental acrobatics.  And what’s more is that the charade is acted out as though it has meaning — layer upon layer of absurdity.

Pride is the ugly and tenacious root of so much — people will do practically anything to avoid admitting that God is God, that we are called to live lives of submission to Him.  A moment’s reflection confirms that the seven deadly sins all have an element of pride.  Guy Raz may attempt to rationalize everything away, but that’s just what pride does.

C.S. Lewis said, “As long as one knows one is proud one is safe from the worst form of pride.”  Do you think you are proud?  I know I am.  I hate to be wrong, and I hate apologizing — two sure signs!

But one of the best ways to combat a problem is to face the problem.  I just had a conversation with one of my sons yesterday about forcing yourself to apologize, and how it gets easier when you do.  Humbling yourself and admitting you were wrong feels like a momentous thing…until you do it.

Living a life surrendered to God is the same way, it feels monumental…until you do it.  Saying “Here is my life, all of it.  I’m not holding anything back” is not scary.  It’s freeing.  There is freedom in surrender.  Jesus himself said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).  But we have to admit we are not ultimately in control.  We need to acknowledge that we are prideful, slothful, envious, greedy, gluttonous, lustful, and even wrathful sometimes.  It’s freeing to pull off the silly little sin-free mask, and admit who you are, and KNOW deep down that you are LOVED anyway.  What Jesus did on the Cross was declare that, notwithstanding NPR, sin is real and that He is LOVE.

I hope you know that justice and mercy met on the Cross — that they are only meaningful words in relation to each other.  My prayer today on this beautiful summer day is that YOU know these things deep down, that in this crazy world where so little seems to make any sense, that your identity and security are in Christ Jesus.

Not sure I’ll be back here till September since I do a social media fast in August (highly recommend), but please know that it means a lot to me that you take time to read my posts.  May the rest of your summer be blessed.  May we each live life and live it abundantly as Jesus intends.

Fondly,

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Jackson Five Friday: Making Known His Deeds

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Happy Summer Friends,

I hope you are all kicking off summer break (or soon will be) in a way that draws you closer to those you love.  May the downtime be just productive and structured enough to maintain sanity.  Getting the balance right between rest and structure is a laudable goal, but I hope you’ll give yourself a lot of grace in the coming months to know it is just a goal, and not unlike so many aspects of life, perfection therein is totally, and I mean totally, unattainable.

This week in my devotional I read 1 Chronicles 16:8 Monday through Friday.  I like revisiting the same verses for a string of days because it really makes them sink in.  Maybe read these words through a few times to get a good feel for them: “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” (ESV).

Perhaps it is an odd reaction, but I sometimes feel justified in intentionally not making known his deeds.  Let me explain.  Say I have one of those experiences that I know — know deep down — is God.  Sometimes I might tell someone about it, more often I would share it with just my family.  But lots of times, I tell no one.  Honestly part of it is that I don’t want to be known as some loon who only talks about how good God is.  There is a part of me that feels like if I am always talking about what God did for me today, I won’t even come across as legitimate.  Like people will roll their eyes and say,” There she goes again…a regular 21st century church lady.”

So this is verse is challenging for me.  Make known his deed among the peoples?  Wait, not just my people?  The peoples?  I need to be more willing to share God’s loving provision for me, even in the smallest of matters.  Even in the small matter of the earring pictured below.

About FullSizeRender-13a month ago, my niece, Maddie (13) was in DC on an end-of-middle-school field trip.  Her schedule was jam packed.  But I couldn’t have her less than ten miles away without seeing her.  So I studied her itinerary and decided that we’d just happen to visit the Jefferson Memorial at the same time as her group.  The thing was, her group took a detour on the way to the Tidal Basin.  I took only my oldest son, Will, with me.  We were on the steps, taking in the sunset above and her group was driving by some unknown park that the bus driver insisted needed to be seen.

“I’m sorry,” I told Will after Maddie texted me about the detour.

“I like sitting here,” he answered.  And it occurred to me that my apology was ridiculous.  It was a beautiful night with no rushing about, nowhere we needed to be.  We just sat there, the two of us, talking a little, but he’s thirteen as well and never prone to be overly chatty.

Eventually Maddie arrived.  We hugged her, snapped a few pictures, met a few of her friends, and said goodbye.  It was brief, but worth it.

On the way back to our car it was getting pretty dark, but as we walked I saw something shiny on the pavement.  I instinctively reached down to see what it was.  I picked it up and gasped.  It was my earring!  Did I know that I had lost an earring?  No, I did not.  I was not on the lookout for anything.  I just happened to look down and find my own earring that I did not know was lost.  The chances of that may be infinitesimal, but I don’t live in a world of chance, and neither do you.  I believe God showed me that earring as a little reminder:  “You know I’ve got the whole world in My hands, right?  Nothing goes astray — not a little sparrow, not a little earring — nothing falls to the ground without Me knowing.”

So my friends, I am resolving to be more faithful in making known His deeds — His endless loving deeds — toward me.  I’d love to know what He’s done for you as well.

Have a fabulous weekend soaking up His love!

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Jackson Five Friday: Heaven

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Dear Friends,

It’s been a soggy week here in DC.  On Monday I heard a forecast about how this system was going to move in and then park here.  I thought it was a novel description of a weather pattern, and unfortunately they were exactly right, for once.  Nary a trace of blue sky since Monday, and off and on rain every day.

I’m terribly sensitive to weather.  I can hardly wait for the sun to peak out later tonight as my phone says it will.  I think if I lived in San Francisco I’d just have to cross the Golden Gate on days when the fog wouldn’t lift.  I actually haven’t spent much time there, but both times I went across the bridge when the city was misty and gray, pure, almost blinding, sunshine was just on the other side.  I imagine that’s almost a glimpse of what heaven is like.  One side full of a confusing fog, the other absolute clarity.  One side beats you down with the pain of this world, the other side a tearless existence.  One side relentlessly tugs at you in a million different directions, the other side there is no conflict, inner or otherwise.  On one side darkness seems to be tightening its grip, on the other side ONLY LIGHT.

I am blessed with many wise friends, one of whom lost both a baby girl to SIDS and a brother when she was growing up.  I lost a baby (a miscarriage that even after nine years I don’t feel ready to write or talk about much at all — although I did have a good cry over her (I’m quite sure it was a girl) with my husband a few months ago, which I’m pretty sure he was alarmed by).  And my brother Craig died when I was thirty.  This wise friend intimately knows loss and exemplifies faith.  Like pretty much all my favorite people in this world, she also happens to be extremely fun!  Anyway, she and I were exchanging messages not that long ago and she suggested that our hilarious brothers were sharing their humor with our daughters.  I cannot tell you how much I love this thought.

I hope that clouds make you long for heaven too, that you look forward to a great reunion, that even though the darkness of the world can press down hard sometimes, that you hold on to the promise that in the end Light and Love always win.

In John 8:12 we read this: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”

May I follow Him today and always, walking in the Light and knowing that one day clouds will be no more.

With Love,

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Jackson Five Friday: On Being a Wretch

Happy Friday Friends!

I hope you’ve had a marvelous short week — what a gift it is for Friday to come so quickly!

Sometimes I wonder if the lyrics to Amazing Grace are so familiar that they lack their deserving punch. I mean do we ever stop to truly identify ourselves as wretched?  Imperfect?  Well, maybe, we are human after all.  But I think if we are honest — and many are not — we can all sing, believing with gratitude, that it is only by grace that God “saved a wretch like me.”

You only have to glance at any newspaper to see people claiming to be downright saintly in spite of a mountain of wretch-like evidence.  In contrast, self-proclaimed wretches are often pointed at by a throng of judging fingers and labeled hypocrites with permanent ink.  The lack of logic is almost as befuddling as the lack of humility.  So many willing first-stone throwers!

I pray my sons will make wise decisions, and I hope they will never point judging fingers, or be so disillusioned by pride to think they aren’t wretched.  Because I know them.  I know myself.  I know their dad.   I can assure you, we are all wretched.  The wretched Jackson Five!  It doesn’t have much of a ring, other than it’s 100% true.  Of course we also happen to be children of the One True King, and He adores us with an unquenchable love that will never end, no matter what.  So we’ve got that going for us!

But honestly, I do think being able to laugh at yourself is a small part of having a posture of humility.  Humility is obviously necessary to give your life to Christ (“In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;,in all his thoughts there is no room for God” Proverbs 10:4).  And prideful people don’t laugh at themselves.  So it follows that laughing at yourself is actually vitally important.

My son Nate and I had an interesting little exchange the other night.  He was writing an essay about the Chesapeake Bay.  He wrote some silly sentence that was not established by the facts presented,

When I read the sweeping claim back to Nate, he got so amused at himself!   I didn’t even need to tell him that his sentence might be overwrought, just hearing me read it back struck him as downright hilarious.  Ahh, that darling teachable spirit, so willing to laugh at his own expense!

Lord Jesus, may Nate always be this way!  And not just about essay writing but in other areas, where he’s more inclined to point fingers and lay blame. May I too be humble and teachable and easily amused, even at my own misgivings.  

May each of us know, deep down, that we are wretched, and that Your Grace is AMAZING. 

Have a great weekend, friends, soaking up the sweet sound of grace.

Fondly,

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Jackson Five Friday: A Better Answer?

Hi Friends,

I missed posting again last week because it was a crazy few days.  I started my job, there was a major fire on our street and I volunteered at my sons’ school almost the entire day and night on Friday for a delightful graduation banquet.  Then the weekend was full of its standard 8 games — although one was rained out and just in time for us to watch the Preakness.  It was a whirlwind and Monday arrived in a hurry.

In this new life of mine with a very enjoyable job in a beautiful office building with lots of lovely people, Mondays will be a little different.  I will be taking my boys to school, but won’t be coming home to rectify the domestic destruction wrought by the weekend.  Instead I’ll be dropping them and going straight to work.  Even without my own need to be somewhere, I’ve never managed to consistently make getting out the door smooth and peaceful.  But l keep trying, and I’m not above the occasional bribe either.  It’s actually pretty effective.  Everyone in the car by 8:40?  Yes, we can go to Chipotle after school.

This first new-life Monday seemed to be off to an impressive start, but after I put my work bag in the car, I went back in the house to get my phone.  When I came out again Sam was downright attacking Nate.  Upon investigation, I learned that the inciting event was Nate’s song choice.  He’s a Taylor Swift fan, and Sam evidently is not.

It was not my plan to lecture the boys on the way to school about “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  Nor did I want to tell Sam that he would be disciplined after school (because honestly I am so much better at grace than consequences, but I especially abhor the delayed consequence).  Of course parenting often requires doing what we’d rather not do.

A friend brought the boys home, and I arrived a few minutes later.  Not surprisingly Sam was already out back shooting hoops.

When I called him in to talk about what happened that morning, he was immediately emotional.

“Why would you do that to your brother?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he sniffed.

I went on to explain how unacceptable his behavior was, how disappointed I was, how that should never happen again.  Somehow in the midst of it, I asked something again about why.

“I don’t know,” Sam repeated.  “I don’t have a better answer than that!”

I tried rolling my lips inward to hide my smirk, but without success.  The candid wisdom of that child!  Of course he doesn’t have a better answer than that.  We never do.  Harping on “why” can really obscure the point.  We are human.  We are sinners.  We do what we know we should not do (Romans 7:14-20).  In fact, I knew I should not be asking him why repeatedly, yet somehow I was.

Sticks and carrots can be somewhat effective in modifying behavior, but Sam’s is a heart issue.  I think we really miss the big picture if we fail to engage a child’s heart.  Overcoming sin is not the result of good training or “wise choices” or proper rewards or anything else touted as modern wisdom.  Overcoming sin is about knowing and becoming like Jesus, pure and simple.  Jesus came to earth to show us how to live.  If we know Him deeply, we’ll start acting more and more like Him.

So my prayer today is that Sam will know and love Jesus, that his motivation in life will not be to please us as parents, but to live for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Do you ever mess up and find yourself befuddled at how you could have done something like that, reasoning like Sam “I don’t know — I don’t have a better answer than that!”  I think if we are honest, we all do.  But the fact that we cannot fully eradicate the mark of sin in our lives should leave us more grateful than discouraged. Jesus doesn’t love us one iota less, no matter what we’ve done.  His love cannot be earned and it cannot be lost.  Praise God.

A pastor at my church recently said, “You cannot forgive a deserving person.  Forgiveness means they don’t deserve it.”

I forgave Sam.  Nate forgave Sam.  He didn’t deserve it.

May we realize we are forgiven every single day, and may we not let pride convince us that we deserve it.  Because we don’t.

I know, and I hope you know, the truth of John 1:16 “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Have a fabulous weekend!

With Love,

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Jackson Five Friday: The Daytime Date


Friends,

I hope you’ve had a lovely week and are kicking off a fabulous weekend. I kicked mine off by spending the day with my handsome husband. And really I cannot recommend the daytime date enough.

I know couples who manage to regularly get away without kids. I know others who are faithful to date night. We are not them. We’ve never been good about either.  Our guys are involved in sports to a semi-absurd degree and we don’t live near family, save my twenty-something niece.  Most of the time I’m also just longing to make family memories — although I won’t pretend that’s all the time.

Anyway, the daytime date is about the best thing that’s ever happened to parents of school-aged kids. My husband works long hours — twelve to fourteen hour days are not uncommon.  Once in a while, like today, he’ll take Friday off.   We spent the whole day together, driving the boys to school, hitting the gym,  then we headed toward DC to see World War II planes flying over the National Mall for VE Day.  We ate a leisurely lunch outside at a yummy spot in Arlington.  We had so much time to just talk.

At lunch Will said something sweet and sincere about what a good mother I am, which compelled me to tell him how I’ve totally blown it this week.  I told him how convicted I’ve been about something with one of our sons.  It wasn’t something I’d been thinking we need to talk about.  But  so many good things happen when you have quantity time — conversations can get beyond the tidbit summation of daily life.  Sometimes it’s surprising where the conversation ends up.

The namesake of this blog is Hebrews 10:24 which says we are to “spur” one another on toward love and good deeds.  The most effective spurring clearly happens inside meaningful relationships. So how are you doing spurring those you are closest to?  Do you need to carve out time to just be with someone?  If it’s your spouse, could you possibly make the daytime date work its magic?

I pray that wherever you are and wherever you go this week, that you will know you are treasured by the King of Kings and that He has a good and perfect will for your life that includes spurring!

With Love,

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Wedded Bliss Wednesday

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Well, friends, I missed posting last Friday because I hosted a little happy hour at my house that day.  But I cannot tell you how much I miss posting when I don’t carve out time to do it.  I was sort of in a funk a few days ago and I told my man, “I know this probably sounds crazy but I think part of my problem is that I haven’t written anything lately.”

That sweet man o mine wisely said, “I don’t think that’s crazy.”

This year is our twentieth year of marriage, and boy we’ve learned a lot these two decades.  We’ve learned to listen to and encourage one another in such meaningful ways.  It’s gratifying that Will knows just what I need.

And one of things I need is a good storyteller.  I love being told good stories as part of daily life.  God was so good to give me a fantastic storyteller.

Just yesterday he told me a great story when he brought me coffee to wake me up.

You’ll need a little bit of background to appreciate the story.  When I was a child we drove from Michigan to Florida a couple of times a year.  My mom loved the now ubiquitous restaurant Cracker Barrel.  Back in the 70’s and 80’s Cracker Barrels were rare, but we always, always stopped there on our road trips.  My brother, Jeff, who is 11 and a half years older than me, was totally against the long stop.  For anything.  And my own family has sided more with Jeff.  We do fourteen hour road trips with total stoppage time of about a half hour.  But my parents were different: Cracker Barrel was a must, even if there was a wait.  One time Jeff was quite irritated that we made the stop when we had been making such good time.

When the food came, things got worse.  Jeff bit into something sharp.  He reached in his mouth and pulled out something that shouldn’t have been in his pulled pork dinner.

“What in the world?!?” he said.  “My gosh that hurt!  It looks like a shark tooth,” he concluded.

My dad in his nonchalant, always understated way. looked at the specimen.  “Mmhh,” he said, “Looks more like a toenail.”

We all thought that was hilarious!  We could not stop laughing.  Well, except for Jeff.  He didn’t think it was funny, not in the least.

Anyway, all that is background for Will’s story.

Yesterday Will woke me up and told me about how he had made himself a post-workout smoothie with our twenty-year-old blender.  Yes, he’d been up for hours before me!  He said the blender was making all sorts of weird noises.  Then a little while later as he was draining the last of the smoothie,  he felt something foreign and hard and sharp in his mouth.

He thought of Jeff and his “shark tooth,” or was it a toenail as Roy had suggested.  Then he pulled the piece of blade pictured above from his mouth.  A piece of blender blade broke off and Will almost swallowed it.

I cannot tell you how funny and horrifying I found this story.  My man could’ve died!  Our lives are so fragile, just like David Goldberg falling off a treadmill.  You.  Never.  Know.  How can we not be thankful for every moment?  And I want to be, whether my husband almost swallows a blender blade or not.

But the Bible is also abundantly clear on this issue.  James writes unambiguously:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

James 4: 13-14

I’m a mist that will vanish.  May I be grateful in every moment.  May my life be one lived for Jesus.

Thanks for reading.  It means so much.

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