The Power of the Red Pen
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:21
That one little red mark glared at me. Mocking me. Telling me I wasn't quite good enough. I needed to try harder. Disappointment seeped into my soul filling up the cracks of my self-esteem with self-doubt and inadequacy. It didn't take much for this people pleasing, perfectionist to feel like I had missed the mark and failed myself and everyone else around me. You see I have spent much of my life building my acceptance based on my performance. I have lived a carefully orchestrated existence choreographed to the things I know I can do well. My dance steps of life are slow and simple designed to a beat that plays to my strengths and not my weaknesses. My self-esteem, carefully tied to my perceptions of the expectations of those around me, would come unraveled when I felt like I didn't quite measure up. If I could be good enough, then I would be loved and accepted.
Paul addresses our need to measure up and earn our acceptance with God through our behavior in Galatians 2:21. He says "if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." In other words, if we could be good enough, then Jesus didn't need to die. Did you catch that? If we could earn God's acceptance by ourselves by following the "rules" and being "good girls," Jesus died for no purpose. His death was in vain-because we could do it ourselves. The problem is I can't do it myself. No matter how hard I try to choreograph my life, someone steps on my toes and I get out of step ruining the perfect dance. And, God is telling me to stop. Stop trying to be good. Stop trying to please everyone. Stop trying to earn his love and acceptance. Stop trying to orchestrate everything. Stop working at trying to be perfect. Stop. Just stop. Because if I could be perfect, then I wouldn't need Jesus.
God's word says it's not about me. It's about God's grace. God says I am accepted by grace. I don't have to earn acceptance. My worth is not loosely tied to my ability to please others. It is tightly wrapped in his unlimited grace and love. Red marks on my school papers don't diminish my worth. Instead of letting those marks of disappointment seep into my heart, I need God's grace to wash over me and fill the deepest recesses of my soul.
I need to stop trying to choreographic my life and let him lead while I follow his steps across the dance floor.
I need to learn a new dance step.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for grace. May this truth seep deep in my soul. I want to stop striving to please you and start following you. I want to settle once and for all my need for acceptance. I want to stop trying to be good enough by pleasing everyone and rest in the assurance that I am complete in you.
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Titus 2:15
I wish I could say I grew up brave, bold and bewitching, but scared, shy and simple would probably fit better. In an era of Marsha Brady straight hair, a Bionic Woman and Charlie's Angels, I had the wild locks of Medusa, the social graces of Scout Finch, and the confidence of Piglet. Needless to say, much of my life has been spent fighting against my insecurities. Some of them are innate (introversion), while others are self imposed (never quite measuring up) or culture driven (straight hair is better than curly). Regardless of where it comes from, insecurity has a way of worming its way deep in your heart. It paralyzes you. It causes you to question and over think and withdrawal. It builds strong roots of fear and doubt. It grows into a towering tree of falsehood that casts a shadow over the truth of God's word.
It causes you to doubt truth that says:
I am chosen.
I am accepted.
I am beautiful.
I am bold.
I am brave.
I am enough.
I am not alone.
Titus 2:11-15 offers bold encouraging words for reticent girls like me. Titus reassures us that we are not in this thing called life alone. God's grace has been given to us for salvation, training, living, and waiting- until he comes back. God says I am secure. I am redeemed. I have value. I have purpose. This is the truth that needs to grow deep in my heart. This needs to become my tree of truth. Who I am is not determined by my innate character or outside cultural forces. It is determined by who God says I am. He says I am his child with great value and purpose. These are things that I am to irrefutably declare to myself and others until my untruths are uprooted and replaced by God's truth.
I will never be Marsha Brady, Jaime Sommers, Sabrina, Kelly or Jill, but I can be a bold, brave,beautiful me by the grace of God. You can too.
I don't want to continue to disregard what you say about me. Uproot the untruths I believe about myself. Replace them with your truth. Make me zealous for good works because of what you have done in my life. Fill me so full of your love that there is no room left for insecurity and fear.
"Pass the salt, please."
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person. Colossians 4:6
I felt horrible. My sweat soaked clothes clung to me like I had just been caught in a downpour. My stomach was churning. My head was spinning and my legs felt like lead. It had been a long, hot, humid, 13.1 miles of running. I had managed to complete the Rock-n-Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon, but I was dehydrated and close to the edge of heat exhaustion. In my quest of finishing another half marathon, I had depleted my body's store of salt. My tenuous physical state was a direct result of losing the sodium my body needed to function properly.
Salt. Sodium Chloride. We don't think too much about it, but we need it. It has over 14,000 uses. It can preserve, flavor, remove stains, aid in healing, remove odors, freeze ice cream, clear icy roads, protect against decay and most importantly sustain life. The chloride part of salt is essential for digestion and respiration. The sodium part is used to transport nutrients or oxygen, transmit nerve impulses, or move muscles including the heart. Our bodies can't manufacture it and we are constantly losing it. My sweat soaked clothes were evidence of the amount of salt my body had lost over the course of two and half hours. My leaden legs were proof that my muscles were salt deprived.
So, how do we replace it if our bodies can't do it naturally? We eat it or drink it. Red meat is naturally salty. Other foods require we add it. We sprinkle it on our fries and popcorn. Gatorade or other sports drinks contain sodium to replace what is lost while exercising. And the best is when we add it to something sweet. Dark chocolate and sea salt. Chocolate covered pretzels. You get the picture.
The Bible mentions salt frequently. It is an analogy the people of the ancient world understood. Salt was valuable. It was vital for survival. It was used to preserve food and pay bills. It was important and people knew it. It's significance is lost on us because we have electricity, paper currency and credit. So what can we learn from salt to apply to our verses today?
Colossians 4:6 tells us our speech is to be gracious and seasoned with salt. Sweet and salty. The best combination. Kind, tender, inviting, nonjudgmental words are to come out of our mouths. But, at the same time our words are to preserve, heal, spice up, prevent decay, and sustain life. Each conversation we have is different. The people we encounter need different words from us. Sometimes our friends need words that heal. Other times our words need to stop the gossip or decay around us. Sometimes we have the life giving words that someone is desperate to hear. Words are the way we transmit life sustaining truth and encouragement to each other. Words are precious. Words are healing. Words are powerful. Words are more valuable than we realize. Words need to be used wisely. Just like salt.
So, the next time you are engaging in a conversation, ask God to give you the right combination of sweet and salty words to offer those around you.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I didn't like him very much at the moment. It was the third time he had crashed his bike while cycling with his friend. Riding too close to the tire of the rider in front of him had produced two rounds of arm and leg road rash, a gash above one eye, and a pretty bad concussion. He'd punched his empathy card one too many times. I was tired, mad, frustrated, and just plain over it. I did not want to bandage one more scrape caused by drafting because it "was easier to keep up." I was done. My "I'm over it" attitude morphed into "Do I have to?" actions. I "um huh" through his grievances, nodded at the sore spots, and trudged through the bandaging. I did not want to sacrifice another moment of my time because of his self induced cycling accidents.
So what do we do when we come to end of our empathy rope?
The apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:7-8 that "one will scarcely die for a righteous person...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." These verses impacted me two ways. First, it's hard to sacrifice ourselves for those we love. Love is hard. Relationships are difficult. People stretch us. I don't like having to adjust my routine to accommodate someone else's demands. But, relationships call for love. They require compassion. We have to constantly defer ourselves for the needs of others-even if we don't think they deserve it. And, if I have a hard time sacrificing for my husband, whom I love, then it is next to impossible for me to give things up for someone I don't love.
Second, if I find it hard to sacrifice for someone I love, think about how much greater God's sacrifice of His son is for us. We are lost, weak, angry, sinful, and in need of rescuing. We don't deserve his help, yet He gives it. Repeatedly. Mercifully. Ungrudgingly. Tenderly. Fully. He gives unconditionally in order for us to be reconciled to Him. He sacrifices so we can have a right relationship with Him. He doesn't cut off his compassion because of our repeated self induced misbehavior. He keeps on giving to us, regardless.
I know I need to work on the compassion thing, especially in the light of repeated cycling accidents. So, the next time I bandage some road rash I am going to think about God's ungrudging grace that has been lavished on me and say a word of thanks.
Lord, I find it so hard sometimes to be compassionate, especially when I have reached the end of my rope. Teach me to walk in grace.
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
I hated watching him struggle. Spelling words came home every Monday and every week he struggled to learn how the letters correctly fit together to make the words he needed to spell on the exam looming ahead on Friday. The practice started on Monday- along with the frustration. As the week progressed, the practice paired with frustration carved furrowed lines into his forehead. Right one time. Wrong the next. Over and over. Evening after evening. The painstakingly hard work he put in all week didn't always produce the parental pride of a perfect score on Friday. He struggled. He tried. He passed. He failed. I watched. I quizzed. I prayed. I cried. "Please God, help him. Make it easier for him. Why does it have to be so hard for him?!"
One of the most difficult things in life is to watch your children struggle. As parents, especially mothers, we want our children to have a pain free path in life. We want to "kiss" the boo boos and make the hurt places better. We want them to do well in school, make friends easily, and to excel in sports or music. We want to protect them. It pierces our heart and wounds our soul when they encounter moments when they "can't" do it. And if we are truly honest, we find a sense of pride in the honor certificates, first place trophies, gifted labels, and all-star teams. We see the weaknesses and struggles as something we need to fix for our kids.
I pleaded with God, just like Paul did, that the struggles my child faced would be removed. I asked that life wouldn't be so hard. But, God didn't change things. Why not? The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 sheds some light on the reasons why God doesn't always fix things for us. In these verses, Paul proclaims that weakness is a strength and struggles serve a purpose. Paul tells us that God uses struggles to keep us dependent on Him. It is through our broken places that God's presence and power are revealed. God knows that we need to reach a place of "I can't" before He can. We have to become malleable before he can use us. Just like hardened Play-doh needs water to become moist and pliable again, we need struggles to soften our hearts and check our conceit. My deepest moments of prayer have come not when things are going well, but when I have been helpless to heal the heartache of my children. Do I wish things could be easier for them? Sure I do. As much as I want to wrap them up in emotional bubble wrap to protect them, I know that shielding them from personal pain will only keep them from experiencing the power of God in their life. Just like Paul, I need to shift the way I see the struggles I face in life. Instead of seeing hardships as an enemy out to destroy me and mine, I need to see them as couriers sent by God to bring us into a closer relationship with him.
I wish I could say school became easier for my child, but it didn't. But I can say, he graduated from high school, is attending college and most importantly he is walking with God.
What struggles do you face? What circumstances are you fighting to fix? What do you need to yield to God in order for Him to make you pliable?
Take our broken, weak, struggling places and make them strong. Give us wisdom with our children. Show us how to walk beside them through their struggles. Give us wisdom to know when we should intervene and when we should not. May your power be perfected in our weakness.
Between a husband, 2 sons, and teaching high school my sanity is found in running and Starbucks. I have a circle of running friends who inspire me to be authentic and real as I live a life of faith before them.