Category Archives: Culture

The design of chaos

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confusion

When we lived in England I witnessed a scene of purposeful chaos.

It took place in a convenience store and was unsettling to say the least.

We had stopped to fill up on petrol and grab some beverages before heading out for a day of soaking up and reveling in the local history.

My husband was filling the tank and I went in to buy some drinks and pay for our gas when suddenly a large group of loud and very excited people pulled up between the store and the pumps in 3 or 4 tall vans – all with no windows.

Guessing, I’d say there were 30-40 men and women who poured out of the vehicles, into the store, all speaking a language I couldn’t understand.  They pushed and shoved each other, and those of us in the store. There were about 8 of them who stood at the counter shouting at the clerk  – it seemed like it was over candy bars.  The rest bullied their way through every aisle, shouting and demanding that people get out of the way while the shouting continued at the counter.  And then, as suddenly as they had arrived, they took off.  It was as if a switch was flipped and in unison they rushed out of the doors, into the vans, and sped out of the parking lot.

Dumbstruck, those of us who had been in the store stood in open-mouthed shock at what had just occurred.  The silence was interrupted when my husband, who had no idea of what had taken place inside, came in to see what was taking me so long.  I said, “Did you SEE THAT?!?”  Because the vans had blocked any line of vision into the store, he hadn’t seen much of anything except that the vans were there, and then they were gone.

I was rattled, but I couldn’t even really explain why.  In probably what was less than 10 minutes a whirlwind had just occurred in our midst but none of us could think of a single word to describe what had actually transpired.  It was just a bunch of people in a convenience store.  So what if they were loud and rude?  Nothing really happened, right?

Wrong.

We found out later that the convenience store had actually been robbed – not at the cashier, but from the shelves.

The chaos that ensued in those moments was designed to distract us from what was actually happening all over the store.  It was confusing.  It was unsettling.  It was scary!  And it was meant to be so.

The thing that struck me was how successful the chaos was in keeping all of us from seeing what was really going on.  We were in the midst of the crime scene and we didn’t recognize that a crime was taking place!

I’m telling you this story because I think that the evil one is using the same tactic right now, fairly successfully against God’s people.  Things are chaotic right now, and it’s so easy to focus on the chaos and miss what is actually taking place in front of us.

The issues are important – racial tensions, immigration laws, economic policies – I get it.  They affect real human beings and I’m not trying to diminish the significance of the impact of what people in power do.

But let us remember that, for those of us who follow Jesus, we serve the King of Kings who holds the nations (and their leaders) in his hands and who does with them as he pleases.  Let us remember, that he is redeeming for himself a people – from every tribe and tongue and nation – to enjoy his fellowship forever.

I am finding that the anxiety that the chaos is designed to produce is effectively turned into peace and joy by lifting my gaze to the One who holds the whole world in his hands.

NONE OF THIS is out of his control or outside of his will for us.  EVERY EVENT AND CIRCUMSTANCE we are experiencing is both for our good and for his glory.  ALL OF THIS – is for good purposes.

Do not let the chaos of these days distract you from what is really happening!

As we each seek to be good citizens of the lands of our birth, let us more fervently, more ardently, more rigorously seek to be good citizens of the Kingdom in which our true citizenship lies forevermore.

Let us refrain from adding to the din.  Let us not allow the chaos of these days distract us from the purposes God has called us to.  Let’s not be sidelined from following hard after him and telling others what great things the Lord has done for us.  Do not let the turmoil of kingdoms that will be blown away as dust is from the scales, trouble you in the slightest, but keep your hearts and minds stayed on the solid Rock – Christ Jesus.

Remember to Whom you have been called.  Remember to Whom you belong.  Remember the promises of true and lasting peace and justice which have been given to us by the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe.

Remember and don’t forget, for we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

Satan may love to stir up chaos that is designed to distract, confuse, and even frighten us, but remember, God delights in taking chaos and making order out of it.

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Stop Teaching Your Children to Be Nice…

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You’ve heard it, I’m sure, a thousand times – “be nice!”

Most of us have contributed to the chorus of mothers and fathers bending low, looking their little ones in the eye, and in the face of some conflict with siblings or peers instructing them to, “be nice!”

STOP IT!

Webster’s defines “nice” as:

          Pleasing; agreeable; delightful.

         To behave in a friendly, ingratiating, or conciliatory manner.

Those are all “nice” ways of behaving – of interacting with our fellow human beings.

But are they good?

If we consider the messages that these words convey we will start to notice a nasty trend…  At the root of each of them is people pleasing.  What we usually mean when we tell our kids to “be nice” is to give in, yield, capitulate, surrender.

If they are simply defending their own selfishness, then yes, by all means, encourage them to yield to righteousness.  But there are better ways to instruct them in that then simply saying, “be nice.”  Calling out their selfishness is a great place to start.

But all too often, what we want when we tell our children to “be nice” is for them to stop whatever behavior is taking place so that they (and we) avoid conflict.  Have you ever interrupted your child telling auntie that she needs Jesus because you know that auntie is a dyed-in-the-wool God-hater who has already raged in furious indignation over your “arrogance” in telling her how to live her life?  What if God is pleased to use the voice of a little child to disarm her fury and penetrate her heart of stone?

What we do when we tell our kids to “be nice” is interrupt a different lesson that ought to occur.  Even if auntie decides to rage at your little one – isn’t that a good (albeit hard) lesson to walk through with your child?

We know that God often teaches us the most profound lessons through the hardest things.  Why do we want to take those things away from our children?

Following are five reasons I can think of – I’m sure there are more.

We teach our children to “be nice” so that…

  1. Conflicts will either stop or not arise at all rather than teach them how to resolve conflict in a God-honoring way (which is harder, takes more time, and more prayers for wisdom than we ever dreamed we’d need!).
  2. They will be well-liked among their peers.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being well-regarded amongst one’s peers, but if we give the message to our children that this is our goal rather than the pleasant outcome of living with integrity, we have simply begun laying the foundation of building up little Pharisees rather than Disciples of Jesus.  We are teaching them to care more about what others think about them than what God thinks about them.
  3. They will be well-liked among our  Our children see to the heart of this pride with laser-like accuracy.  We might not say it out loud, but we say it loud and clear nonetheless:  “it matters more to mom (or dad) what my friends think of me than the person you are turning out to be.”  (ouch!)
  4. They will climb the social ladders set before them.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being successful in relationships – that’s actually a good gift from the Lord.  But when we teach them that climbing social ladders is important we distort and pervert the true nature of God-honoring relationships. Rather than being willing to invest in the life of the other person because they have value and worth as image-bearers of the Almighty, we actually train them in manipulation techniques; I’ll be nice to you if you give me social standing – I’ll give you social standing if you “stroke” me by being “nice.”  Incidentally, these are the “friendships” that crumble in the face of hardship, but understanding what they are based on makes it clear why they collapse when “nice-ness” is gone.
  5. Because we want them perceived as those who get along, don’t rock the boat, keep things smooth and so on.  We want to save our children from the heartache of trials and tribulations.  We want things to be easy and comfortable for our kids… because that is what we really want for ourselves. (ouch again!)

Our culture has elevated “nice” to a place of pre-eminance.  We demand that “being nice” rule our public discourse.  We demand that “being nice” rule our educational institutions.  We operate in a way that places “being nice” as the highest form of virtue and have ceased to tolerate anything that disrupts the peace and harmony of “nice-ness.”

But is this what the Bible teaches us to value?

In a singular and resounding word – No!

Here is what the Bible says about our expectations of “getting along”:

  • If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

Living as believers guarantees that we will not be well-received.  Let that sink in.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not to go looking for conflicts, strife, and persecution.  They’ll come along just fine on their own – trust me.  And when our troubles are caused by our own foolishness or wickedness, we need to own the consequences, repent, and learn the lessons we can from them.

But in the course of living lives defined by the transformation of the Gospel within us – lives marked by Spirit-given gifts – we will not always be perceived as being “nice.”  And as parents, it’s our job to prepare our children for the blows that will come as a result of being a disciple of Jesus.

Standing against sin will always bring with it trials of various kinds.

Rather than teaching our children to “be nice” how about if we use words like these as each situation demands:

Be…

    • Loving.
    • Kind
    • Strong.
    • Of good courage
    • Forgiving.
    • Merciful.
    • Truthful.
    • Patient.
    • Gentle.
    • A man/woman of integrity.
    • Compassionate.
    • Humble.
    • Generous.
    • Wise.
    • Someone who stands up for the widows and orphans among you.
    • Holy.

Each of these things will require you to take the time to explain them to your children according to their understanding.  You will need to show them, for example, why avoiding a difficult conflict is not actually good for the other person – even when confrontation opens us up to false accusations and gossip.  You can help them see how God is providing an opportunity to enter into the sufferings of Christ by allowing them to experience insults, and malicious claims against them the way Jesus did before he was crucified.  You can help your child learn to bear the weight of other’s sin in this way because Jesus did it for him – and you will be, at the same time, helping your child to love his Savior all the more as the realization of the cost of the Cross becomes clearer to him through his own suffering.

We are not called to be people-pleasing, ease-and-comfort seeking survivors of this world.  We are called to be God-glorifying, disciple-seeking, victorious citizens of the next.  Let’s help one another teach our children how to do the same.

Bee Inspired…

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Bee Inspired…

When my son, Joel, was around 8 or 9 years old he started asking if we could get some bees and learn beekeeping.  My answer was swift as sure as it was firm –

“Ain’t gonna happen, Sparky.”

Sparky – that’s one of my many terms of endearment – don’t ya just love it??

Undeterred by his mother’s seemingly iron-clad negative response, he continued.  It’s not that he was whiny or nagging.  He just kept asking.

Finally, when he was 14, I paused a little when he asked…  “He has been interested in this for a long time,” I thought to myself.  “I shouldn’t allow my reluctance to voluntarily expose myself to tens of thousands of angry, stinging insects on a regular basis to snuff out a genuine interest he has…. Should I…???”

We started going to the county Beekeepers Association meetings (did you know they existed?) just to see if this was something we could even consider.  We were not even novices – we were novice wannabees.  But we kept going and learning what we could.

Joel was a trooper sitting through countless hours of men and women with PhD’s in apiculture (beekeeping) drone on and on about pest management and bee diseases… He really just wanted to get on with it.  But perseverance was becoming a strong suit for him and he kept going so that I could feel more comfortable with this whole idea.

To make a long story short, I relented, and we finally got some bees.  We started out with two hives, which both died the first winter.  Undaunted, we bought two more packages of bees (a small crate about the size of half a cinder block containing approximately 3lbs – or about 12,000 bees) to try again.  One of those survived this past winter.  And we got two more packages this year, for a total of three hives.

Our apiary (beehives)

Our apiary (beehives)

Can I just take a moment and be the voice of that excited five-year-old who has just lost her first tooth….  BEES ARE SO COOL!!!!!!

When I first found out that there are men and women who have PhD’s in a variety of things having to do with bees, I thought, “Oh come on… That’s a little ridiculous.  That’s like getting a PhD in basket weaving.”  But now that I know a little something about bees and beekeeping I realize that not only is there enough knowledge to legitimately earn a PhD in beekeeping – I WANT ONE!!!

These little creatures are AMAZING!

Their bee society is amazing.  Their body structures are amazing.  Their honey production is amazing.  Their hives are amazing!  I mean it – the more I learn the more I am in awe.

But not with the bees, really.  Though I find them fascinating to ever increasing measures, I am in awe of the One who made them.

I cannot help but to praise God every time Joel and I go out to work with our bees.

Recently we attended a lecture at our local Beekeepers Association meeting and the professor – who openly gushed about how awesome she thought bees were – said multiple times, that bees and the flowers they pollinate are “so smart – amazingly intelligent!”

Joel and I looked at each other.  Huh?

As cool and amazing and fun and educational as we both think bees are… we’ve seen the size of their heads that enclose their even smaller brains.  “Smart,” is not an adjective either of us would use.

And flowers…. Last we knew, they didn’t have brains at all.

So what gives with this professor of professors trying to earn PhD’s in apiculture calling flowers and insects “smart?”

This woman, who knows so much about the created order, has carefully constructed a world view that tries to deny a creator.  But she simply cannot deny praise!  Her research and experience all point directly to awe-inspiring design – yet, who can she praise if she denies a designer?  She is left to relegating her praise to the created things – as absurd as it sounds – because surely these are praiseworthy!

Bees are not smart.  Flowers are even less smart.  But bees and flowers and birds and mountains and oceans and stars are all awe-inspiring.  They don’t inspire awe because they’re so clever.  They inspire awe because they each, in different ways, give a clue – a small hint – to the AWESOME character of the God who created them.  Their beauty, design, majesty, power, light, and order all tell us something about Him.  They remind us how small we are and how mighty He is.  They speak of his delight in color and strength, tranquility and grandeur, and even in his humor (have you seen the size of a bee’s wings compared to its body size??) in the unexpected.

Look around you – His handiwork is everywhere.  And everywhere there is cause to praise Him!

Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;

he will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

let the field exult, and everything in it!

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.  Psalm 96:10-12

Imagine our delight to open up this hive this year to find it BURSTING at the seams with bees and honey!

Imagine our delight to open up this hive this year to find it BURSTING at the seams with bees and honey!

Routine Joy…

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Several years ago we got to live in England for a while.  It was, as the Brits would say, lovely.

One of the side-effects of living in England for a while is that a lot of our friends and family – who’d always wanted to visit England but never quite had the motivation – became highly motivated to come.  Maybe it was the free digs and personal tour guides, but I was truly happy to share in their delight of visiting a country I had grown to love.  This, too, was quite lovely.

In the course of these many visits I became very familiar with London Heathrow International Airport – especially the waiting area just outside of customs.

I was never able to quite figure out what the right amount of time was to allow folks to get through customs.  There are so many variables.  The age of the traveler and how weary they were from their trans-Atlantic flight, did they know to fill out their customs form prior to “queuing up,” how many were traveling together, and of course, the overall amount of air traffic at their arrival time all factored into how quickly (or slowly) they got through the all-important passport-stamping customs agents.

So, I always had to arrive earlier than I really needed to be there and I always ended up waiting for quite some time.

But waiting outside of customs at LHR became one of my favorite things to do because I found it to be one of the happiest places on earth.

You see, what I learned while waiting for my friends and loved ones was that everyone standing around the customs area exit doors was waiting for friends and loved ones, too.  It was a joyous place – full of expectation and hope.

Again and again I witnessed beautiful reunions bathed in tears of happiness that spilled freely and unashamedly.  This happened every time I was there.  Long, lingering hugs and enthusiastic kisses were the norm as families welcomed mothers, fathers, daughters, sons.  Lovers who had spent too much time apart didn’t care who saw their affection for one another.  Flowers for friends and other beloveds were always a part of the scene.  Culture played a huge role in the steady expression of delight – from bowing low to kiss the shoes of an elder relative not seen in decades, to squealing loudly while jumping up and down in unison.

Always – without exception – happiness was the norm.  I came expecting it and I was never disappointed.  I grew to love this place where joy was routine.

In my own delight at simply watching others reunited with people they loved so very much I couldn’t help but let my mind wander to thoughts of heaven.

Can’t you just see it?  As every soul enters there a crowd of witnesses surrounds and welcomes them in with shouts of joy and hugs and kisses!  “You’re here at last!  We’ve been waiting for you!  We’re so glad you finally got here!  We can’t wait to show you everything and everyone.  Lord Jesus!  Looks who’s here!”

In Luke 15: 6-7 Jesus tells of a shepherd who went looking for his lost sheep and compares his joy to that of heaven when he says,  “And when he (the shepherd) comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

And in Revelation 21 we’re told that in heaven he will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more sorrow or mourning or pain or death – our joy will be routine for we will be in the presence of the One who is and gives unending joy.  While the reunions will be sweet, there is no doubt about that, living in His presence will be the very thing that makes our joy routine.

Oh to be in a place like Heathrow’s customs area forever – only so, SO much better!  I can’t wait!

Going to hell is worse than going to jail…

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That probably seems obvious to most of the people reading this blog.  Most of my friends would readily agree to this being truth.

But do we believe it?

Do we live in a way that we make decisions based on that being true?

Sometimes I’m guilty of saying I believe something to be true, but not living and making decisions like I believe it to be true.

I’ll give you an example.

Years ago, when I was expecting baby #2, we had moved away from “home” to a place where I knew exactly two people – my husband and baby #1.

I was young and embarassingly immature.  I was exceedingly lonely.  And I was sick as a dog with said baby.  I don’t mean a little queasy in the mornings, but couldn’t eat or drink anything, losing weight, needing to be in the hospital multiple times sick as a dog.  It was a dark time for me.

Why did God take me away from all the people who loved me and would have helped me?  Why did we have to move to such a gloomy place (Cleveland, OH – no lie – check out their yearly cloud cover!)?  Why did I have to be so stinking sick when other people “glowed” with pregnancy?  In short, I was whining a lot and demanding of God, “Why do I have to suffer???”

Previous to this I know I would have given complete and confident verbal assent to the truth that all Christians will have to suffer at some time or another.  I know this because I had already done it.

I knew 1 Peter 2 – where Peter tells us, “For to this (suffering well) you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in his steps.”

Intellectually I knew the implications of Matthew 16:24 where Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

And I could have quoted John 15:20 where Jesus said, “Remember what I told you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they have persecuted me they will persecute you also…”  and John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble…”

But in both cases I would have focused on the ends of those verses – “If they have persecuted me they will persecute you also.  If they have obeyed my teaching they will obey yours also.”  And, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

Glossing over the hard parts doesn’t make the hard parts, well, not hard.

As I lay in my bed, wasting away under the call to bring a new life into the world I did not celebrate this high calling – I railed against it.  I raised my ridiculously small fist at the Almighty God of the Universe and demanded to know, “WHY!?!”

That’s just one example of how I didn’t want to suffer any real pain or inconvenience – unfortunately, there have been many.

In all those times what I really needed was to understand the truths that these passages and others like them are really saying.

Here’s what I’ve learned that Jesus is really saying to me… and to all those he is calling to follow Him:

“Laurie – life is going to be hard if you are going to be my disciple.  You are going to experience all kinds of hardships simply because you belong to me.  They may be a little hard, or they may be exceedingly hard – to the point of pain or torture or death.  But don’t be afraid.  In fact, be bold!  For nothing will happen to you that isn’t from my hand and no one can take you from me or my care – I have overcome everything that stands between you and me.  Trust me in all things.  Following me will be worth infinitely more than you can imagine.”

I’ve continued to need to learn, in fuller and fuller measure, what this really means in the daily things of life.

Will I step in to difficult situations knowing full well that they will be painful, because God is calling me to them?  Will I stop and help that person?  Will I go into that neighborhood?  Will I go into that country?  Will I go back, again, to engage that difficult person?  Will I risk comfort and safety and reputation to tell others what Jesus wants them to know?

And perhaps harder still, will I take my children into those situations because they need to learn how to do those same things?  Will I support my children going into “dangerous” situations without me because they believe God is calling them there?

This is where the rubber meets the road.  These are the daily, ordinary kinds of things we all face but want to run away from.  This is where our decisions reflect what we really believe.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, then my answers to those questions will need to based on that truth.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, I will value his direction for my life more than I will value my personal space, or comforts, or safety, or reputation.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, then like the believers in North Africa, or China, or the MIddle East, I would be willing to go to jail or be beaten or even put to death in order to tell my friends and neighbors about Jesus… because them going to hell is worse than me going to jail.

If he’s a jerk…

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Recently, on the same day but at different times during that day, I had very similar conversations with two of my grown daughters…

The first conversation started because of a clear demonstration of road rage that we witnessed between two other drivers.  The second conversation started as a result of watching someone become irate and argumentative with someone almost instantaneously after being “offended”, when in fact, he was the real offender.  His reaction started by being indignant and ended up with him changing the whole course of the conflict to being about him being the victim, rather than the person doing the offending.

Both scenes were spectacular, really.  Kind of like a bad accident you drive by – you don’t want to stare at something so horrible, but you can’t help yourself.  It was easy, as spectators, to watch these different scenarios unfold and see what was really going on.

In both cases, the angry person was blaming anyone and everyone other than themselves for their troubles.  They were quick and insistent on pointing fingers and calling others (among other things) the jerk.

And as we watched these scenarios play out in front of us (and a whole lot of other people as well!) I couldn’t help but wonder … “If he’s the jerk, why should you be so upset?”

If he’s the jerk, and cut you off without giving any warning or signal, why should that upset you to the point of rage?

If he’s the jerk, and was inconsiderate enough to have purposely turned slowly enough to make you have to wait for another light, why should your response be to yell and curse and scream?

If he’s the jerk, and selfishly and thoughtlessly ruined your work, why is your reaction to yell and whine and complain?

He’s been the inconsiderate one.  He’s been the thoughtless one.  He’s been the one without manners.

If he’s the jerk, and truly offended you by his words or actions it says a lot about him.

It says he’s insensitive and rude, or maybe cowardly, or arrogant, or harsh, or mean-spirited, or even malicious and despicable – or a whole host of other things all at the same time…

But your response says a lot about you as well.

Did you catch that?  Your response says a lot about you as well.

When we rage because of someone else’s thoughtlessness or unkindness or rudeness or … whatever, we are declaring for all the world to hear that we believe ourselves to be entitled to better treatment than what we’ve just received.   We think that we are owed politeness and consideration and complimentary words.

I’m all for good manners and pleasant behavior between the members of mankind, really I am.  But I don’t think we can go so far as to feel entitled to it.  We train our children to consider others.  We train ourselves to hold our tongues.  We like to think we are able to live by the “Golden Rule”  – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

But can we demand it?  Are we entitled to it?

The following passages from Scripture come to mind very quickly when I’m tempted to think so:

“What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that you consider him?” Psalm 8:4

“How much less a mortal, who is but a maggot – a human being, who is but a worm”, Job 25:6

“Man that is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.” Job 14:1

“For man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.”  Job 5:7

“Do not be surprised if the world hates you,” I John 3:13

I don’t know – it seems to me that we should pretty much expect trouble and be happy when it doesn’t come our way.

We have a saying in our house that applies:  “Circumstances never excuse bad behavior or attitudes.  Never.”

There is never a time when someone else’s rudeness entitles me to be rude.  There is never a time when someone else’s thoughtlessness entitles me to be thoughtless.  There is never a time when someone else’s hurtfulness entitles me to turn around and be hurtful.  Never.

When people do those things, they are indeed sinful, but when I respond the same way it is never justified – it’s just adding another person to the sinful pile.

Paul Tripp uses a water bottle to demonstrate the same principle.  When he’s giving his talk he unscrews the lid of a water bottle and shakes the bottle enough so that water comes spilling out over the top and onto the floor.

He then asks, “Why did the water spill out of the water bottle?”

Invariably, people’s first response is to say, “Because you shook it and it spilled!”

But that is not the right answer.

It spilled water, because the bottle was filled with water.  It didn’t spill tea or soda or juice, but water.  The fact that it was shaken is largely irrelevant to the question.  What was in the bottle was what came out of the bottle.

It’s a small, but significant difference, isn’t it?

Amy Carmichael says the same thing a little differently.  She wrote, “A cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.”

So, back to my question – if he’s the jerk, why are you reacting so badly?  If his bad behavior has jostled you, why is that spilling out?

It was easy for my daughters and me to look at these particular situations and see two people behaving badly.  But it is harder to look at myself and recognize when I’m doing the same.  But I must.  And so must you.

Circumstances never excuse bad behavior or attitudes.  Never.

God is far from silent on the matter.  He says:

“But I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  Luke 6:27-28

“Do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”  I Peter 3:9

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:21

If your attitudes or behavior are not what they ought to be, it’s time to examine what is filling you up – because it will spill out.

Some initial reflections on France…

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The world can be such a merry-go-round at times!

When I was little, I hated when it was my turn to “push” my friends on the merry-go-round.  I’d run and run until I could hardly keep up with the momentum I’d created.  While my playmates cried, “Faster!  Faster!” my heart and head screamed, “LET GO!!!”

Sometimes I still feel that way.  I want to say, “No really.  You guys go on ahead without me.  I’ll catch up soon…honest.”

But in the same way that I instinctively knew I’d better not let go of the merry-go-round (or I’d face certain destruction) I know I need to just keep running with the pace of the days at hand as well.

We returned home a week ago today, but in many ways, our time in France seems like a life-time ago already.  We came home to many activities (not the least of which has been our daughter and son-in-law, along with 21 month old son, Elias and brand new son, Declan staying with us for a while).  VBS was already in full swing, laundry, illness, appointments and so forth have all clamored for my attention when what I really want to do is collect my thoughts and write them down before they fade into the haze that is becoming my memory.

Someone asked my husband what his one biggest impression of his time was.  He answered that the work is vast.

I would agree with his assessment, but with so many swirling thoughts I don’t know that I could have come up with one answer!

We worked with two different missionary families, and their approaches to their work could not have been more different, but I learned a great deal from each of them.  We spent a little over a week in the city and almost a week in the country.  We saw every day, ordinary life and we saw special events.  All of it was good and all of it taught us much.

I loved watching my children have opportunities to be their own, individual selves, with unique gifts and struggles to work through.  I was happy to see them rise to challenges and scared to death a few times when they were facing them.

I felt inadequate and victorious at the same times.  Inadequate because I knew I had so little to offer, and yet victorious over little things – like communicating in a combination of English and French to the point of real understanding.

We were exhausted and exhilarated by the quick pace and the many tasks we were asked to do.  We never really slept enough or well to feel rested, but we got up each morning with enthusiasm for what the day would bring.

I came away with a new appreciation for the transition that happens when you move to a new country.  Everything – E-V-E-R-Y  T-H-I-N-G, is hard.  Buying a train ticket is hard.  Going to the grocery store is hard.  Learning the traffic rules is hard.  Speaking the language is hard.  Meeting new people ALL the time is hard.  There are so many “comforts” that we take for granted when we are familiar with our surroundings.  We know the route to take to get to the bank and we know when it will be open.  We know where the pharmacy that is open 24 hours is (we know that there are pharmacies open 24 hours!).  We know where the best places to get produce, or meat, or pizzas are.  We know what restaurants are good and which ones to avoid.  We know where our friends life – we have friends!  We know how to use the telephone – we can understand and be understood on the telephone!

All of these things are new and strange to navigate in a different country.  We found these things to be difficult when we lived in England, but we were at least able to understand (mostly) the language.  In France, all of this was compounded by not only a language barrier but a real cultural difference in how we even approach these things.

In France, all the houses we went by had a tall fence or hedge along the front of the property.  You could see the tops of houses, but not too many front doors or yards.  The fences and hedges said, “keep your distance.”  How do you share the Good News with people who don’t want to let you in?

A suspicion of strangers was palpable – how does one become known to a people who seem to say, “stay away”?

All of these things are every-day struggles for the families we stayed with and worked with, but they have both found beautiful ways to overcome them.

I have much to learn, and am so thankful that they were willing to spend their time and efforts teaching us what it is like to live amongst and love the French people.

More thoughts to come… but dinner and laundry call