Even if life turns upside-down

Ever been in one of those seasons in life where nothing feels stable? It’s like you’re trying to walk along the beach as the tide is rolling out, taking all the sand with it from under your feet. You aren’t sure where to stand because no ground is solid enough to support your weight. It’s an awkward dance, roaming the beach while the sand slides out from under you.

Welcome to my life

That’s sort of where life is for me right now. And it’s not just me. I know several people who are in similar predicaments. Life has thrown a curve ball they never expected. The job didn’t end up being a good fit. The job opportunity fell flat. People have passed away. New children have been born. New friendships are beginning, and some friendships are falling apart. New stories are starting, and others are ending.

Just about everyone I know is facing major transitions in their lives, and as I sit here this morning trying to knock out several thousand words on a novel, I’m tempted to despair. So much hurt and pain is happening right now. So many people are struggling with friendships and relationships and jobs and finances. People are scared and uncertain and feeling scattered. And I want to fix it. But I can’t. I can’t even fix my own problems. And some days it’s enough to make me want to give up.

I’m doing it wrong

That’s when I remember I’m doing this all wrong. In those moments I have to step back and remind myself who exactly is in charge here. It’s not me. And it’s not you either. None of us have the power to change much of anything in our lives, not without help. When we get to these points in life (and all of us do), we have to hold on to something. And the only anchor worth holding onto is God.

God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6). He’s the same today as He was 10,000 years ago. He’ll be the same 10,000 years from now. Not like us. We change all the time, finding new and improved ways to identify ourselves or uncover value in ourselves. And because God doesn’t change, we can trust that He’ll always keep His promises (Numbers 23:19).

It’s okay to feel hurt

instagram upside-downSo life hasn’t turned out the way you thought it would. Join the club. Peoples’ lives rarely work out the way we expect them to. That’s not a reason to give up or stop believing that God can do something miraculous. That’s when God does His best work.

Maybe something you thought was certain fell apart, and you’re hurting. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to not be okay. Nobody is okay, not really. As long as the world is broken and people are broken, “okay” is just a word we say to cover up what we’re actually feeling inside. But just because we’re not okay doesn’t mean God isn’t able. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

It doesn’t always help to remember that God’s got everything under control. Sometimes you’re just so hurt and so frightened and so unsure that you just need to feel sad, and I get that. And that’s okay too. But don’t make the mistake of thinking God doesn’t hear you, because He does. And don’t confuse His patience or His perfect timing for tardiness (2 Peter 3:9).

Nothing in life stays the same. Everything changes. Our dreams, our preferences, our stories, our families, our friendships. God is the only stable ground. He’s the only rock we can stand on that we can trust will stay put. (Psalm 18:2)

Our only hope

Life may be upside down for you right now. Or maybe you can see the chaos coming toward you like a tidal wave that threatens to sweep away the life you’ve built for yourself. Don’t assume God doesn’t know. He does, and He cares. And He’s your only hope.

Hebrews 6:18Knowing that God doesn’t change, that He always keeps His promises, that He offers hope to the hopeless, and that He is always good—maybe it won’t fix your troubles today. But maybe it’ll give you a different perspective on them. (Hebrews 6:13-19) Because it’s possible for life to be hard and good at the same time, just like you can be hurting and full of joy at the same time.

It all comes down to how you choose to see the trouble in your life. Yes, it can feel overwhelming, unfair, undeserved, and even malicious at times, but if that’s how you choose to see it, you’re missing the point. And you’re choosing to see God as an enemy who wants to hurt you, and nothing is further from the truth. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Breathe. Step back. Shut your eyes and listen to what God is telling you.

He’s got this. He’s got you, and all the little things (or big things) that you’re worrying about, He’s already figured out. And maybe He won’t give you a magic lamp and grant you three wishes. He won’t snap His fingers or wiggle His nose and solve all your problems. But you can be sure that however He chooses to act, it’ll be good, even if it doesn’t feel like it right away.

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What people say about you doesn’t matter

Have you ever discovered that someone has been telling lies about you? Maybe they haven’t been spreading lies about you around, but they believe a lie about you. Maybe it’s something you did or something you said, and somehow it got lost in translation or it got turned around. Regardless of how it happened or even what happened, you end up the butt of someone else’s antagonism.

It’s easy to believe lies about other people, especially if you don’t know them well. That’s why it’s so important to check all your facts before you take someone’s word for it. Not that anyone would willfully mislead another person (even though some people do). But it’s like those crazy news stories that float around on the internet that can’t possibly be true. It’s always good to check them out on Snopes.com or on other reputable news sites before you start spreading them around. The same is true when it comes to stories about people you know.

But that’s how you handle it when you’re hearing a rumor about someone else. What do you do when you find out that someone is spreading rumors about you?

nature-person-hands-girl_1577x1044Today’s verses are Psalm 109:1-5.

O God, whom I praise,
don’t stand silent and aloof
while the wicked slander me
and tell lies about me.
They surround me with hateful words
and fight against me for no reason.
I love them, but they try to destroy me with accusations
even as I am praying for them!
They repay evil for good,
and hatred for my love.

There are lots of ways to handle rumor spreaders. In my experience, it’s often good to address the person directly and kindly. Most of the time, the whole situation has developed because of a misunderstanding. More often than not, no one is truly at fault. There isn’t really a bad guy in the case of a miscommunication.

But every now and then you run into people who just want to hurt people. You can’t reason with them. You can’t explain anything. And even if you try to reason or explain, they won’t listen. They only hear what they want to hear, and they’re deaf to anything else. Ever run into one of those folks? They’re not a lot of fun to talk to, and they’re really not much fun to get into an argument with.

It’s always a good idea to address conflict when it arises. Address it immediately and address it to the person who has a problem with you directly. Address it humbly and graciously. Accept responsibility where you’re responsible, and ask forgiveness if you’ve done wrong. That’s your job as a Christ-follower. Beyond that, you can’t do anything else.

If that person continues to lie about you and spread rumors about you, there’s not much you can do about it. Not to be a downer, but that’s their choice. And it’s not your responsibility. The only recourse you have in that situation is to live the kind of life that contradicts everything they say about you.

Well, that’s not the only recourse, I suppose. You always have the same option David did, just like in this Psalm. He took it to the Lord. He asked God for help, for intervention.

But no matter if that person forgives you and lets it go, or if they continue to hate you and tell lies about you, it’s your job to love that person and pray for them. Honestly. Sincerely. Genuinely. Pray for them. Ask God to bless them. Ask the Lord to be real and apparent in their lives. That doesn’t mean you need to go out of your way to be kind to them, although if you can manage it, you might really shock them (which might be funny). But definitely love them as best you can.

And from there? Just keep moving forward. It’s hard for a people-pleaser like me to accept, but not everyone will like me. Not everyone will love me. The same is true for you too. But it doesn’t matter what people say about you; it matters how you choose to live.

Getting angry doesn’t make a bad situation better

I struggle with bad drivers. It’s really the one thing that gets me unreasonably upset. I’m not the greatest driver in the world either, but it just makes me really really angry when other people on the road don’t take it seriously. It’s like they don’t understand that they’re controlling a giant killing machine. A car is a weapon, yet many drivers treat it like a toy.

I get angry. And I know I’ve said some things (my passengers can attest) that weren’t very flattering about other drivers on the road. But can you think of a time when yelling at a bad driver actually made them a better driver? Can you actually think of a time when yelling at anyone actually helped them?

man-couple-people-woman_1523x1016Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:25-26.

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

It’s tempting to yell and get angry, especially when we’re mad, but in my experience, losing my temper with someone else never fixes a bad situation. It only makes it worse.

Maybe it’s driving. Maybe it’s schoolwork. Maybe it’s a work project. Whatever situation you’re in, if you’re shouting and getting upset at the people around you, that won’t make them work harder. If anything, it will make them want to quit. It will just put distance between you and them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You still need to speak up for what’s right. You still need to communicate with other people about what you’re thinking and feeling, but you should do it it in a way that is respectful. Be gentle about it.

Being gentle isn’t be weak. That’s an important thing to remember. Being gentle just means you’re taking their thoughts and feelings into consideration. You aren’t behaving like a bulldozer and steamrolling everyone in your path. Oftentimes being gentle actually takes more strength than letting loose on someone does.

If you know someone who believes a lie or who is antagonistic to the truth or who is just being stupid, regardless of how angry you are at them, it’s your job to love them. That’s our job. Period. Love people, in spite of how they act. Don’t pull punches, though. What’s true is true, whether people believe it or not, and as a Christ-follower it’s your job to be right. You should know what God says and so it. But that doesn’t mean you have to pummel people over the head with clubs. We don’t use the Bible to beat people up. We use the Bible to teach ourselves how to live, and in the peace of the life we life with Christ, other people come to Him.

Remember, it’s not up to us to save people. It’s up to us to live the way God says, and people around us will be drawn to that.

So don’t put it on yourself to bludgeon people into submission. If you’re going to bludgeon anyone, bludgeon yourself.

You can fight someone else all day long and have nothing to show for it but a fractured relationship. Instead, speak what’s true with love. You can tell people what God says without being hurtful. Do that instead. Leave the rest to God. He’s the only one who can change hearts, and that’s where the root of all our problems starts anyway.

There’s something better on the other side

The light in my upstairs landing burned out a few months ago. A burned out light bulb in the city is one thing. The ambient light from outside often illuminates the inside of a house enough to see by, but out here in the country? Everything is always pitch black, until there’s a full moon.

Burned out light bulbs have always been interesting to me because they don’t look much different from a new light bulb. At least with the old incandescent bulbs, you could shake them to hear if the filament was dislodged. But with the new curlicue bulbs, I haven’t figured out how to look at one and determine if it works or not.

They look like they should work just fine, but when you actually try to use them, they’re broken.

bulbToday’s verse is Hebrews 13:14.

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

Have you ever realized how broken our world is? Maybe it looks fine on the outside, but in practical use, nothing works the way it’s supposed to? It’s one thing to know it. It’s something else to experience it, to watch your friends experience it, to see the pain and the suffering it causes.

Just turn on the television. Just listen to the radio. Spend an hour talking to someone at work or at school or at church. Everybody’s broken, but the world is more broken than any of us.

It’s so sad because God designed this world to function in a certain way. He put processes and rules and laws in place when He created it, and while all of those processes and rules and laws are still working, they have to use pieces that are falling apart.

It’s like our own lives, our relationships. Two perfect people would never find themselves on opposite sides. They’d always understand what the other was saying, and they’d never try to hurt each other. But nobody’s perfect. So in this world, our friendships and relationships of all kinds have to be built with imperfect materials.

We’re all insecure. We’re all afraid. We’re all jealous. How do you build a lasting relationship when the base materials you have to use are only good for tearing things apart? Maybe you could build a beautiful home with a horrible foundation, and maybe it will look perfect–but the first storm that comes along will bring it crashing down because it doesn’t work. It was broken from the start.

There are days when I know God can fix anything. There are moments when I believe that God is the restorer and can mend hearts and relationships and families and friendships. And I don’t doubt that. I’ve never doubted that. And I’ve seen Him do miracles more than once.

But is our world really worth fixing? Have you really thought about that? I mean, it would be wonderful if He did, but if you read Scripture, you understand that the way everything is falling apart isn’t a surprise. If you know the Bible, you know this global rebellion against God was coming. Maybe it’s not what God wanted for us, but it’s what has to happen before He can come back.

It’s so tempting to get attached to our lives here because they feel real. The taste of the coffee in my cup, the feel of the sunshine on my face in my upstairs office window, the smell of the apricots blossoming in the orchard. But it’s not real–not by God’s definition. It will all pass away in the end, and if I’m not invested in the things that are real, I’ll have nothing.

This world where we live isn’t our permanent home. It’s nobody’s permanent home. We will all live somewhere in eternity, but there are only two choices. And if you don’t choose one, that means you’re automatically choosing the other.

Jesus is real. Faith is real. Love is real. And the souls of the people around you are real. That’s what you should be investing in. You can spend all your money and all your time working to achieve a status or a goal the world says is admirable, but if God doesn’t say it’s worth it, it’s not.

Don’t get caught up in living in this world. Christ-follower or not, you’re not long for it. Not in comparison to forever.

But don’t be discouraged either. Our world is broken. People are broken. We’re all falling apart physically, emotionally, mentally. Nothing works the way it was supposed to, but that’s because this world isn’t our home. There’s something better on the other side, and that’s worth believing in.

When feeling insecure becomes an act of aggression

You can’t believe they said that about you, can you? It’s completely untrue, of course. Designed to hurt and tear you down. Why would anyone say something about you to hurt you when you haven’t done anything to them?

Have you been in that situation? Asked those questions? If you’ve gotten out of bed and interacted with people at any point in your life, you probably have.

It’s a fact of life that not everyone you meet is going to like you. If you’re a people pleaser like me, that’s devastating. I hate the thought that I might encounter people who don’t automatically like me. Even worse, thinking about someone who actively dislikes me turns my stomach inside out. Such a thing makes me wish I were born with more of a hardened personality so that encountering those types wouldn’t be so heartbreaking–but if I had someone else’s personality, I wouldn’t be me.

The truth of the situation? It’s not even about me. And it’s not about you either.

There just seems to be a percentage of the population who is dead set on tearing others around them to pieces. Nothing you can do will change their minds. Nothing you say will convince them otherwise. Some people just see other people as tools or objects to use in their own personal struggle for significance. Why is that?

Insecurity is a silent aggressor. It sneaks up on you like a thief in the night and whispers lies to your heart. It starts with comparison. You see someone you know and you see them doing amazing things, and maybe you’re happy for them at first. But it doesn’t take long before you start seeing that person you know as a rival or as competition. You see that person and their success, and you think their life must be perfect. And it’s not fair, because you deserve success more than they do.

The longer you sit on that passive, silent aggression, the stronger it gets. And then, one day, it’s not silent anymore. And you start nit-picking that person’s actions in front of other people. You start looking for chinks in their armor, and when you find one, you tell others. Because if everybody knows about that person’s weakness, people won’t think they’re perfect anymore. You tell yourself you’re doing the world a favor, because nobody wants to idolize someone who obviously has so many flaws. If you can bring them down to your level, they won’t get the spotlight. They won’t be the hero. They won’t be superior.

But the flaw in that thinking is that the person you’re tearing down is superior in the first place. In your own mind, you build them up until they’re standing on a pedestal above everyone else, and there’s a good chance that person never asked to be in that position. And if you’re both followers of Christ, there’s a good chance God put them there on purpose.

JEALOUSY-_-SESSIONToday’s verses are Psalm 75:4-7.

I warned the proud, ‘Stop your boasting!’
I told the wicked, ‘Don’t raise your fists!
Don’t raise your fists in defiance at the heavens
or speak with such arrogance.’”
For no one on earth—from east or west,
or even from the wilderness—
should raise a defiant fist.
It is God alone who judges;
he decides who will rise and who will fall.

Insecurity may be more dangerous than any other emotion. At least, that’s been my personal experience. When I started feeling insecure around other people, that’s when I would turn into someone I’m not. My own feelings of insecurity tainted the words others said to me, so that even praise became thinly-veiled criticism.

When you see your relationships through the fog of personal insecurity, it wrecks you. And it causes you to wreck others.

So why do we feel it? Why do the successes of other people cause us to doubt our own gifts? Why do the talents of our peers make us see ourselves as less than worthy of God’s grace or blessing?

It’s the same lie the enemy has been telling us for years, friends. Pride. Our enemy knows our weaknesses, and he appeals to them on the level that will be most effective in turning us against each other.

You see someone else succeed where you’ve failed, and he whispers that it should have been you. That you deserved to win, and life caused you to lose. You start putting talented people on pedestals, but it won’t be long before you wonder why you don’t deserve to be up there too. Pride leads to jealousy, and jealousy turns into action. And it will all start with the simple question: Why not me?

And, frankly, it’s not that you shouldn’t ask that question. That question is a great one to ask, and the answer might even spur you on to do something great for God. But you should never ask it thinking that the person you’re admiring is any more worthy of God’s grace or blessing than you are. No one is worthy. Period. Not even the most perfect, most spiritual person you know.

God decides who succeeds based on His own Will. No, that doesn’t mean you’re destined to fail. But it does mean that if you’ve failed, you still have something to learn. And, honestly, if you talk to that person you’ve been tearing down, I’d bet you’d discover that they see themselves as a failure in many areas as well.

If you’re that person who feels the need to rip others down to make yourself feel better, stop it. And if you’re a follower of Christ and you still feel the need to point out the flaws in other believers, you need to take a moment and ask yourself who you’re listening to. Because if you feel like you have to tear others down to make yourself feel better, you’re not listening to God. You’re listening to His enemy, the enemy who despises you simply because God loves you.

If you’re the person who’s been hurt by what others have said about you, don’t let it get to you. Recognize insecurity where you see it. Don’t get angry. See it for what it is and forgive. It’s not worth getting angry about. Trust me. Most accusations from insecure people are baseless anyway. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, but you don’t have to stoop to their level. What matters is what God thinks, and God knows the truth. That should be good enough for you.

Don’t let insecurity creep into your relationships. If you see someone succeeding, rejoice with them. Maybe you didn’t achieve the same measure of success they did, but maybe that’s not where your gifts are. Maybe God has a better plan for you. Or maybe God’s just trying to teach you something. Either way, tearing someone else down with your words or your actions is never ever the right choice.

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

We all need a little grace

It’s so easy to complain about people when they can’t hear you. Even if you’re saying true things, it’s a lot easier to say them when there’s no danger of being overheard. Why is that?

For me, I can tell you it’s because I hate confrontation. Even if it’s telling someone something they need to hear, that doesn’t mean they’ll accept it. That doesn’t mean they’ll be gracious. And I’m pathetic. I really am. All it takes to get me to tear up is a sharp word. And while I recognize the importance of a sensitive spirit, it doesn’t make living in the real world any easier.

But if it’s something you can talk about behind closed doors with people who weren’t involved, it’s something you ought to talk about with the person who started the problem.

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are James 4:11-12.

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

We’ve all been there. Unscrew the halos. I’ve been there, and you’ve been there. Something happens. Somebody makes you angry. And instead of going to the person who made you angry, you stuff it down deep inside and press on.

But when the opportunity comes up in conversation with other, uninvolved people, you tell the story of what happened. And everyone shakes their heads. How unprofessional! How immature!

Be honest, grownups. You feel vindicated.

There’s something about having people agree with you that is cathartic. There’s something about having people on your side that makes you feel strong. But talking about your hurt feelings with people who didn’t hurt them is the easy path. And nobody who takes the easy way is usually ever called strong.

Talking about your problems with the person who offended you is the harder choice. Facing the person who made you angry or wrecked your day or whatever and communicating honestly with them is not only difficult, it’s terrifying. And for me, most of the time I convince myself it isn’t worth it.

Can you guess what happens when you take that route?

Yup. Nothing changes.

The problems that are still problems stay problems. And your resentment builds and builds and builds, and the person irritating you keeps doing what they’re doing without being held accountable. Why? Well, quite honestly, until you speak up and let them know that they’re irritating you, they probably don’t even know.

We all have different standards of professionalism. Some people are impossible to work with because their standards are so high. Others are impossible to work with because their standards are so low. It doesn’t mean necessarily that one perspective is wrong and one is right. It just means that we all need a little grace.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t sit back and let your temper build and build until you explode. And don’t be a coward and complain about the situation where they can’t hear. Do something about it. Granted, do something in love. But do something.

First, make sure that what’s bothering you isn’t actually your own issue. When we get stressed out, it’s so easy to blame people around us for our frustrations. But before you jump to conclusions, take a moment and assess your heart and your attitude.

If you can say with a clear conscience that the issue isn’t yours, then approach the person who’s irritating you. Let them know kindly, politely that they’re bothering you. Do it discreetly. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t put on a show. Just be respectful, like you’d want them to be if they were approaching you.

If they choose to make it into a show, that’s their problem. If you’ve addressed them respectfully, reasonably, politely and they turn it into a confrontation, they’re the ones being ridiculous.

But you have to at least give them a chance to make things right before you give up on them. You have to give them the opportunity to realize that their behavior is bothering you before you label them as hopeless cases. If you skip that step, if you give up on them or label them before you’ve even given them a chance to change, you aren’t acting like Jesus.

Jesus is the King of second chances (and third chances, fortieth chances, one-hundred-and-eleventieth chances, etc). How often have we embarrassed Him with our behavior and how often has He labeled us as a lost cause?

That’s right. Never.

So why do we think that gives us the right to do the same with other people?

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Would you ever throw away a priceless gift?

Think of a friend in your life, someone you know well. How long have you been friends? How long did it take for you to get close? How long did it take for you to develop inside jokes and code words and funny stories? How long did it take for you to get to the place where you felt like you could share everything, where you were closer than family, where you could finish each other’s sentences?

Not many friends get to that place. If you have, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And you’ll know just how much work and sacrifice it took to get there. Friendships like that don’t just happen. They take a long time. But they’re worth it.

Oh, they are so worth it.

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:10.

Never abandon a friend—
    either yours or your father’s.
When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance.
    It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away.

I spent four hours at a birthday party last night. I was there with my brother, and also in attendance were two friends that my brother and I have known for 20 years.

20 years.

That shocks me to realize. It doesn’t seem possible that 20 years ago the four of us were running around getting into all sorts of trouble, making each other laugh, sharing life and telling crazy stories. It’s funny because that’s exactly what we did last night. Some things–and some friendships–never change.

And as I stood and listened and laughed with my friends last night, all I could think about was how thankful I was. Thankful because we didn’t have to still be friends. So much has happened in those 20 years that could have broken us up. And I’m not going to tell you it was easy.

You try being friends with someone for 20 years and see how easy it is. Try being friends with someone for five years first.

With so many friendships that I hear about today, I’m just not sure if they understand what friendship is about. I get the feeling that today’s friendships are about self. They’re about getting in with the right crowd to accomplish something. They’re about social status or opportunity.

And that’s a generalization. Many friendships don’t start like that. But many of them end because of selfish reasons. One friend hurts another friend, and neither (or both) will let it go.

And that’s okay. Some friendships aren’t meant to last 20 years. It’s probably better if some don’t.

But I can tell you I’m glad these friendships did. I’m so thankful–so very thankful–that I still have these two people in my life. They’re two people I know I could turn to at any moment–any day of the week, any time, with any request–and know that they would help me however they could. Because they’re more than family. They’re my friends.

Have you got a friendship in your life that has lasted for a long time? Don’t take it for granted. Don’t take advantage of it. If you don’t take care of it, it might not always be around. Friendship takes work–hard work.

What about the opposite side of the coin? Have you got a friendship you’re getting ready to walk away from? If you really feel like that’s the best choice, then do it. There are some friendships that aren’t healthy. But take the time to find out what a healthy friendship is supposed to look like before you give up. If you’re walking away from a long-time friendship because you got your feelings hurt or because you didn’t get your way about something, reconsider.

Friendship is a priceless gift. That’s exactly what it is. You can’t force someone to be your friend. And if they love you and trust you enough to call you a friend in return, please don’t ever take that lightly. And please think twice (or more) before you throw it away.

And if you’re one of the fortunate ones who gets the opportunity to celebrate a birthday party with a friend of 20 years, you won’t even remember the bad times. And if you do, you’ll just see them as stepping stones to a closer relationship.

Nothing worth having was easy to get. That goes for friendship too. And friendship is worth having.