Sometimes you’re wrong

I like NCIS. Yes, I’m one of those people. I’m not even ashamed to admit it. That being said, I haven’t been able to get into the spin-offs, which is ironic because NCIS is a spin-off (50 points if you can name the show that started it all!).

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS (played by Mark Harmon)

One thing I love about lead character Gibbs is his famous list of rules. Seriously, this man has a rule for everything. There’s a rule for how to deal with lawyers, rules with how to handle emergencies, rules for what to carry, rules for how to treat a man with a cup of coffee. Most of them are really funny, until you get to Rule 51: Sometimes you’re wrong.

I remember when that particular episode aired. I was shocked. Leroy Jethro Gibbs admitting that he could be wrong about something? That pretty much had never happened before.

Ever feel that way? Like you’re always justified? Like you can’t make a wrong move? That you’ve always got a reason for doing what you do or saying what you say?

Trust me, friend. You don’t. And you aren’t.

Even the best of us screw up sometimes. The smartest people still fumble their equations. The wisest teacher still picks the wrong answer. And the most dedicated Christ-follower still puts their foot in their mouth from time to time.

Know why? Because nobody’s perfect. (1 John 1:8-10) We pick the wrong answer. We give the wrong direction. We neglect someone. We hurt someone. We turn someone away when they need help. God can forgive it, so why can’t people?

Well, people are dust, remember? (Psalm 103:14) Nobody has it right. Not even one.

So what do you do? How do you manage in a broken world where the only thing worse than hurting yourself is hurting the people around you?

It comes down to humility. (Colossians 3:12) And believe me, I’m talking to myself right now, because this is something I struggle with in my inner life.

If I hurt someone, I need to be humble enough to ask their forgiveness. If someone has hurt me, I need to be humble enough to tell them about. Why? Because most of the time, the person who hurt you has no idea they did it.

This is the story of my life. People have hurt me over and over again, but I didn’t want to cause conflict. I didn’t want to hurt others in return. So instead of standing up about it, I chose to sit down.

Sitting down is humble, right? Taking it on the chin for someone else is humble, right? Well, it would be if that was actually in my heart. But it wasn’t.

When I chose not deal with the hurt I felt, somewhere in my brain I made a mental check mark in the “I’m better than they are” column. I was a better person because I was willing to suffer the hurt of their words and actions instead of running the risk of hurting them back. I was strong enough to deal with the hurt alone. I didn’t need to have a relationship with them anyway, and if I did need to talk to them, I was strong enough to behave normally around them.

How about we go back and count all the I’s in that paragraph? There’s a lot of them. And that’s your first clue that humility had nothing to do with this reaction.

Whenever someone would hurt me, I wanted to feel superior to them. Refusing to repair the relationship and give them the opportunity to make it right fulfilled that desire. I could hold that hurt over them in silence. They didn’t know, but I did. And because I was being a martyr and refusing to hurt someone, I thought God would honor me.

Isn’t the human brain funny?

I haven’t figured this out yet. I’m learning that my emotions are so tangled up and mixed up and confusing that it’s going to take a long time to sort them out, but this I’m pretty clear on.

When someone hurts me, I need to tell them. Believe it or not, that takes humility, because you have to accept the possibility that you may not be in the right. The actions the other person took against you might have been for your own good, or there might have been other circumstances at work that you didn’t understand. It takes extreme humility to go to someone (especially if it’s someone you love and respect) and tell them that what they said hurt you. And it takes even more humility to accept their response with grace.

But you aren’t responsible for their response. You are only responsible for your own.

If someone hurts you, tell them (Matthew 18:15). But don’t accuse them. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Think the best of them until they give you a reason to believe otherwise. Ask them if they even realized that their actions caused harm. Nine times out of ten, they won’t have any idea.

If you discover that their actions weren’t intentional, be gracious about it. Offer forgiveness. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by holding on to it. If you discover their actions were intentional, the same truth applies.

Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes you’re wrong. But that doesn’t give us the right to hold hurt over someone else’s head. Refusing to confront someone about their hurtful actions doesn’t fix a situation. It actually makes it worse, for you and for the person who hurt you.

If you say you love the person who hurt you, show that you love them. Tell them. Give them the chance to make it right. If you don’t, that’s not love. That’s pride. And God doesn’t honor that. (James 4:6)

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Cavities can’t be forgiven

God gave me a trip to the dentist. Maybe that’s not what you would pray for, but I needed to go. And I didn’t have insurance to cover it, so when I found out that my former employer had underpaid on my 401K and was issuing a check to make up for it, I hoped it would be enough for a visit.

Surprise! It was! Such a huge blessing. And it arrived exactly when I needed it, and it was just the amount I needed for the exam. God is good, ain’t He?

But this post isn’t about going to the dentist. Well, it sort of is. Mainly because I had a random thought while the cute little dental assistant was scraping the plaque off my teeth. You can’t cover up whether you’ve been brushing your teeth or not.

When we were little, my brother and I were always very careful to brush our teeth, but my mom always insisted that we brush our teeth thoroughly before we went to the dentist. Somewhere in my strange little child brain, I thought that brushing my teeth before I saw my dentist would erase any of the times I had forgotten to do it.

I didn’t quite understand it, though, because if I could brush my teeth once and cover up the fact that I hadn’t been brushing regularly, what was the point of brushing regularly? That being said, I was an obedient child. So I brushed my teeth.

I’m ashamed how long it took me to figure it out. I think I was in college by the time I realized brushing your teeth before you went to the dentist was less a cover-up and more a courtesy. Brushing your teeth once doesn’t undo six months of not brushing at all. That’s impossible. But what it does is get the top layer of food and such out of your teeth to help your dentist out with the cleaning.

It won’t do anything to take care of the mess under the surface.

And as I lay under the scraper, listening to the dental assistant scratch off the layers of plaque (in spite of brushing nightly!), I thought about sin.

My brain is weird. But hang with me.

Because how many of us treat sin the same way we treat brushing our teeth?

We cheat. We lie. We steal. Whatever we do, we know God said not to do it, and we do it anyway. That’s sin, and we all do it. Repeatedly. (Romans 3:23)

That’s where talking to God comes in. Confessing our sins. Telling God what we’ve done, telling Him that we’re sorry (and actually being sorry about it), and asking for His help so that we don’t do it again. (1 John 1:9) Sometimes you get an accountability partner to hold you to the mark, someone who will check up on you and make sure that you haven’t slipped back into doing what God says is wrong.

That’s like brushing your teeth daily. That’s a habit, a routine, of following Jesus, of doing what He says, and trusting Him to bless you for it. It’s a lifestyle.

If you let all those things pile up without confessing them, though, you’ll be a mess inside. If you hold on to all those sins, all those choices you’ve made that go against what God says is right, your heart will be hard and cold and dark. (Matthew 23:28) And maybe you can clean yourself up on the outside. Maybe you can put on the nicely pressed clothes of a Churchgoer. Maybe you can pass as devout and dedicated. And on the surface you can look for all the world like the greatest Christian in history, but underneath you’re rotten to the core because sin has taken root in your life.

You can’t erase your sin. You can’t just brush it away, sweep it under the rug, ignore it like it doesn’t matter. It always comes back to haunt you. And you can try to cover it up as much as you like, but eventually the truth will come out. (Numbers 32:23)

The main difference here is that cavities can’t be forgiven. But your sins can.

If you’ve screwed up your teeth, they’re screwed up for good. Worst case scenario, you’ll lose them all and have them replaced.

If you’ve screwed up your heart, ask God for a new one. God’s the only one who can wash away sins, but you have to bring them to Him first. No matter what they are. No matter who you hurt. No matter how long it’s been. He’s listening. He knows anyway. And He’s waiting for you to come to Him. (Romans 10:9)

So stop trying to cover up what you’ve done wrong. Tell God about it. It’s not like He isn’t already aware. He’s just waiting for you to come clean, so He can make you clean inside.

Don’t give power to powerless things

We have a little garden plot here are Safe Haven Farm. It isn’t much, and it’s actually much less now than it used to be. But we get some fresh veggies out of it.

When I was younger, we’d eat out of the garden. We had potatoes and carrots and onions. We had everything to make salsa, except the tortilla chips. I loved the results of gardening. What I didn’t like was the work behind getting those results.

In this part of Kansas, our soil is fertile, but it’s filled with clay, which makes digging difficult. And then there are the weeds.

Weeds, weeds, everywhere, from dandelions to cheat grass and everything in between. Weeds make gardening difficult. They sap the nutrients from the fruit-bearing plants, and sometimes they’re difficult to distinguish too.

And even if you can tell the difference between a weed and a real plant, usually their roots are woven together, so you can’t pull one up without killing the other.

I hate weeds. Everyone does. I think that’s one of the reasons they’re part of the original curse (Genesis 3:17). But weeds don’t just affect our gardens. Weeds can affect our lives too. Weeds can be spiritual.

Idolatry is a spiritual weed. Ever thought about that?

When I think about idols and idolatry, I envision mass groups of people in robes bowing down to bronze statues or singing in foreign languages. Like some twisted church service thousands of years in the past when people didn’t know any better.

Maybe in some cases that’s true. Historically some cultures did bow down before forged statues, but you won’t see that kind of idolatry happening in the United States. American idolatry is much more subversive.

Sports. Artists. Politicians. Performers. Your job. Your friends. Your family. Idols can take the shape of even the most innocent relationships. It’s the power you give them over your life that makes them idols.

Those bronze statues people worshiped in ancient times had no power at all, except what the people who bowed down surrendered (Jeremiah 10:5).

We all have idols. Let’s just admit that right now, because it’s true. We all have something or someone in our lives that is fighting to take precedence over God and His plans. The question is who you’re willing to surrender your life to.

An idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life. So to figure out what idols are in your life, you have to ask yourself what role God should be filling.

God is our comforter. He should be the one who helps us manage our stress. Are you turning to something else other than His Word or His promises to calm you down? That’s an idol.

God is our sufficiency. He should be the one who makes us whole. Are you looking to another relationship to complete you? Are you looking to something you can achieve to make you feel worthwhile? That’s an idol.

God is our security. He should be the one who makes us feel safe, who makes us feel loved. Are you looking to what another person makes you feel to sooth your insecurity? Are you looking to your success personally to make you feel safe? That’s an idol.

Your sports team may be a community, but it shouldn’t be the root of your community. Your job may be how God provides for you, but never forget that it is still God who provides. And you may never be happy with the way you look, but you should always remember that God made you the way you are. And God doesn’t make mistakes.

But identifying idols is only one part of this. And it’s the easiest part. Removing idols from your life is difficult, painful work. Not only does it hurt you, but it hurts the people around you.

You have to dig up your life to expose the roots of the problem. So do the people who care about you.

If you’re blessed (like I am), you have people in your life who love you so deeply that they’re willing to experience the pain of uprooting your idols alongside you. No matter how much it hurts them or inconveniences them, they’ll hang in there right beside you. They’ll walk you through the pain and the heartache of realizing how flawed you actually are, and they’ll love you throughout it all.

But how much better would it be if we didn’t let idols put down roots in our lives? Remember, idols only have the power we give them (Jeremiah 10:5). So wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we didn’t give our idols any power at all?

That job you think matters so much? Instead of trusting your finances, how about you try trusting your faith?

That person whose opinion will make or break you? How about you care less about what they think and more about what God says?

That relationship you think you can’t lose? Ask God what He thinks about you and then reevaluate how the people in your life treat you.

Identify what could become an idol before it puts down roots. It’s like pre-treating your garden plot for weeds before you plant. That way you can pull it out before it damages your life and the lives of those around you. (Matthew 13:24-30)

God has give you the power to choose who will control your life. You can either hand that power over to powerless things, or you can give it back to God, who can actually do something with it.

Which do you think is a better idea?

Give God time to keep His promise

I try to control too many things. But I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember, so I’m not entirely sure when it started. I just have this driving urge to keep a handle on life so it won’t get away from me. Which is ridiculous, as any self-respecting Christ-follower knows (Luke 17:33). But, hey, I’m being honest here.

I try to control the silliest things too. When I go grocery shopping, I try to think of everything I need for about a month. Grocery stores aren’t exactly convenient to where I live, so it’s easier to make one big trip. But that means I have to plan ahead. That means I have to make meal plans. That means designing several different meals all at once and hoping that life doesn’t go crazy between shopping trips.

The trouble is, life always goes crazy. Life always screws up my plans, and usually I’m left with expired produce, questionable meat, or stale crackers. And none of that would have happened if I’d planned a week in advance rather than a month.

I’m not saying don’t plan. But what I am saying is don’t rush ahead too far, because you never know what curve balls are going to come at you.

Life will take crazy twists and turns. God will lead you down paths you never dreamed possible. He may take you down roads you never even thought you wanted to go down, and somewhere along the way you’ll realize you never belonged anywhere else. But that’s all part of His promise (Psalm 37:4). And God can be trusted to keep His promises (Hebrews 10:23).

But that means we have to wait.

I hate waiting. Maybe you didn’t know that about me. Unlikely if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time. Waiting is my least favorite thing.

At least, it used to be. God has been working on my old stubborn Scottish heart this past year, and I’ve begun to see the joy we can have when we release the things that scare us and trust God completely.

I had to go there several times in 2016. More than once, I had to pry my own hands off of my life and hand it over to God. And then I had to sit and wait and trust and pray, and that was literally all I could do.

No, I should clarify. It was all I did, but I could have done several other things.

I could have gone back to the corporate world and asked for my job back. I could have gone to my many loving and supportive friends and asked for a loan, just big enough so that I could afford groceries for the next month. I could have gone to a pawn shop and sold anything I had of value (I’m not joking, the thought did occur to me).

I could have done any of those things, but one question kept hovering at the back of my mind: “Do you trust God or not?”

I told Him at the beginning of this journey that I wanted to rely on faith rather than finances. I told Him I didn’t care what was coming, that I wanted to place my trust and my life and my future entirely in His hands. And if this was the life I was supposed to be living, I needed Him to provide for me, and if it wasn’t, I needed Him to stop.

Good gracious, friends, be careful what you ask for. Because God will hold you to declarations like that.

A few times throughout last year I thought God had stopped providing, but that was because I was planning too far ahead. So I started looking at life differently. I woke up every morning and thanked God for what I had that day, because every day I had what I needed for that day. And when tomorrow arrived, I would have what I needed then. God just wouldn’t always let me know ahead of time.

That is the recurring tale of my 2016. Until the end of December when God opened his storehouses and poured some major blessings on my silly head—blessings enough to provide over and above what I had expected for 2017.

While part of me is concerned He’s providing this much this quickly and telling me about it, the louder part of me is simply choosing to be thankful. I don’t want to forget what He’s taught me this year. Even if I have enough for months and months, it could still all be lost in an instant.

God has to be enough. Just God. Not money. Not possessions. Not power or influence or book sales or car maintenance or health insurance. All those things are wonderful blessings, but God is enough for me. He’s enough to provide what I need when I need it, and He doesn’t have to tell me what He’s doing or when He’s doing it. He’s God. He’s got a plan. He’s working everything out for my good. (Romans 8:28)

My part in this story is to be still. To trust. To wait. My responsibility is to give God time to keep the promises He’s made me, because He will. He always has, and He always blows me away with His goodness and generosity.

Are you trying to control your life? What about your finances or your health or people in your life? You can’t. You need to let go and give it to God and trust that He will work things out. And once you do that, you need to wait.

Even if it feels like you’re standing still. Even if it feels like you’re wasting time. Even when it feels like you should be doing something—anything. Just wait.

You’ll see the door when He opens it. There won’t be any doubt in your mind.

Celebrate the unfamous

Happy New Year! May 2017 be kinder to us all than 2016 was. My goodness. How many people passed away in 2016?

David Bowie started it I think, but he was followed very closely by one of my favorite actors of all time: Alan Rickman. And the year only devolved from there. Prince in April. Muhammad Ali and Anton Yelchin (only like 27 years old) in June. Followed by Kenny Baker, best known as the lovable droid R2-D2 in Star Wars, and Gene Wilder in August. In November we lost Florence Henderson of the Brady Bunch and also Ron Glass, who I fell in love with in Joss Whedon’s Firefly. But everyone really seemed to lose hope in December when the world lost Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia herself.

Not going to lie. When my dad hollered down the stairs that Carrie Fisher had passed away, I shouted back, “No!!” Twitter had just reported her stable, and I’d joined the rest of the world in hoping she would recover from the massive heart attack she’d suffered.

We were wrong.

But in the midst of being sad for all the celebrities and artists who passed away in 2016, I just had to marvel. Because while it is sad to lose such talented people, it’s much sadder to lose people who actually made a difference in my life.

See, the same day Carrie Fisher died, a close friend of mine also passed away. And she didn’t get social media accolades. She didn’t get an outpouring of love from strangers. She didn’t get any media attention at all. And, honestly, this woman had a far greater impact on my life than Carrie Fisher did.

Carrie Fisher might have played Princess Leia in possibly the greatest science fiction trilogy of all time. But my friend Roberta fought three rounds of cancer while raising a teenage son alone and working a more-than-full-time job in marketing. I saw her almost every weekday for five years, and not one of those days did she take it easy. She was a fighter, and she fought to the very end of her life.

And I guess it just shook me to see the tidal wave of praise and glory and grief that washed across the nation at the death of a woman none of us really knew personally, while the death of a woman who truly was a hero went mostly unnoticed.

Yes, that’s fame. Maybe that’s part of the allure of being famous—that the world will mourn your passing. And maybe it doesn’t mean as much to have complete strangers crying at your funeral. But it makes me sad that someone who I never touched, never hugged, never had a conversation with can make national headlines when a woman who inspired me to be better only gets a few social media posts from her closest coworkers.

We all die (Ecclesiastes 9:2). Everyone. Nobody escapes it. And while the passing of so many celebrities was very sad, do we really think people live forever? Did we really think the “important” people from film and screen would endure longer than average? (James 4:14)

Don’t get me wrong. I am sad for Carrie Fisher. I’m sad for her family and her friends and her loved ones. I’m sad that we won’t get to see Princess Leia in the flesh on the big screen again.

But we shouldn’t get so caught up in the sensationalized grief of the passing of titans and forget to mourn and celebrate our own loved ones as well, regardless of how “unfamous” they may be. Every soul is equal (Deuteronomy 10:17). Every individual matters. And I guess I just want the world to know that it wasn’t just famous people who left us last year.

My friend Roberta died December 27. My Great Uncle Bud, a veteran of World War II who served as a mechanic on flame-throwing tanks on Okinawa, passed away on December 18. My sister-in-law’s grandmother, Mrs. Jenkins, passed away earlier last year. None of them were famous. None of them made the news. But they left a gaping hole in all our lives, and our worlds won’t be the same without them. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Those of you who mourn Carrie Fisher and Ron Glass and Alan Rickman (and I’m with you, believe me), your everyday life isn’t going to change because they’re no longer with us. Unless your everyday life was somehow connected to them personally, and then that’s a different matter.

The celebrity who died in a hospital shouldn’t matter more than the grandmother who died at home in her bed.

According to the media, they do. And if we watch social media feeds, celebrities get the headlines. And that’s not going to change. And that’s actually okay.

I just want to remind us all that there are famous people, and then there are people who matter (Matthew 19:30). They are rarely the same. Mourn. Grieve. Recognize and acknowledge the hurt of the families who lost one of their own. But don’t mistake fame for morality. Don’t mistake celebrity for wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:24).

Better yet, learn to recognize the gift of the relationships in your life right now before the time comes when they are gone. And that way, when those people leave your life, you can remember them with no regrets. And you can share their stories with the world honestly, as someone who lived life alongside them, rather than vicariously through them on the big screen.