A tiger showing his teeth at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Fighting never makes it better

Have you ever heard yourself say something and cringed inside? I have. When I’m overly tired or stressed out, sometimes my mouth runs away with me. I have a sarcastic streak too, which can be very funny when it isn’t being used for the forces of evil.

I’ve learned, firsthand, the truth of today’s verse.

A tiger showing his teeth at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A tiger showing his teeth at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 15:1.

A gentle answer deflects anger,
    but harsh words make tempers flare.

People don’t like fighting. Maybe they like arguing or disagreements, and arguing and disagreement are part of every healthy relationship, whether you’re best friends or married or even family. But from my experience, people don’t like a real fight, especially between two people who care about each other.

So why does it feel like we go out of our way to start fights sometimes? Our culture has certainly dramatized relationships to the point where people like to see domestic strife on the television, but in real life it’s not always exciting or romantic–it’s miserable.

Whatever kind of relationship you’re in, it’s important to understand that answering a cruel word with more cruel words will only make a situation worse. If the person who started the fight is already that upset, fighting back isn’t going to scare them. It’s just going to make them angrier.

Yes, it’s true that some people just want to fight. Some people are just angry as a general rule. But generally speaking even people who start fights don’t really want to fight. There’s usually something else causing their problem, and they’re either too scared or too insecure to talk about it openly.

So what do we do? What can we do? It’s hard to stay calm when someone comes at us in a fighting mood, but I promise if you refuse to engage with them like they’ll run out of steam. And most of the time, if you’re close enough friends, they’ll tell you what’s really going on. Or they’ll give you enough clues that you can figure it out yourself.

And if you’re the offender–well, first pray that you have friends close enough who understand your moods. Again, when I get stressed out or really tired, I say things I don’t mean. Or I say things in ways that I don’t mean. And I am so very fortunate to have friends who understand that and forgive me for my harsh tone.

The point is, whether you’re the offender or the victim, harsh words never help anything. They may make you feel slightly better when you’re saying them, but that good feeling only lasts until the fight starts.

So when you’re tempted to snap back, when you’re tempted to say something you know you shouldn’t, when you’re tempted to release your frustration in the form of harsh words, don’t. It’s not worth it. Yes, talk to someone. Yes, be open and real about what you’re feeling. But don’t turn someone else into the focal point of your frustrations. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that meeting cruel words for cruel words will solve anything.

Answer cruel words gently. And if that doesn’t work, if the person you’re talking to doesn’t calm down, stop the conversation or leave. If he or she is that upset, nothing you can say will make it better until they calm down on their own.

Fighting won’t solve the problem. Fighting only hurts feelings and separates friends, and I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I ever want to do.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dealing with anger before it can control you

I hate misunderstandings, don’t you? I really think most of the problems between people can be solved by reducing misunderstandings because so many times people hurt each other and don’t realize it. And then, the person who gets hurt is afraid to speak up and say anything about it, so the situation never changes. And it just continues in one vicious cycle until both sides end up bitter and resentful.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 4:26-27.

And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Anger is one of those strange emotions that can be both positive or negative depending on how you react to it. It isn’t a bad emotion just by virtue of what it is. It’s an emotion that everyone feels or will feel at some point in their life. We just have to decide now (when we’re not angry) how we’re going to handle it when it does come up, and this passage is a good thought to keep in mind.

Anger can come on quickly, and if you’re not prepared for it, you’ll react to it by lashing out and hurting others around you. Maybe you want to do that, and maybe the people around you deserve it, but that’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to behave. Make the decision now to not let anger control you. When you feel it, recognize it and take steps to manage it. Don’t hide it. Don’t deny it. Deal with it. Because the longer you sit on it, the worse it will get.

That’s why I think this advice is really good. Don’t end the day still angry. And what I think is interesting is that the word angry has some other meanings, according to the Amplified Version. It means anger or fury, but it also means indignation or exasperation. So this isn’t just talking about anger because you’ve been mistreated. It also means that you shouldn’t end the day if you’ve still got frustrations bottled up inside you.

Why? Well, it says why. The longer you sit and stew on those negative emotions, the more opportunity you give Satan in your life. He’s always looking for a way in, and focusing on those negative emotions opens the door just a crack. Enough for him to reach in and poke at your life.

That’s the last thing you need. Life has enough trouble on its own without inviting trouble from our enemy!

So the next time you’re angry or frustrated, step back and calm down. Think about it, yes, but don’t think too long. Granted, it does depend on the situation.

I think this is interesting, and I’m not sure if I understand it entirely. But the part of this verse that says, “t sin by letting anger control you,” is actually pulled from the Old Testament.

Psalm 4:4

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
    Think about it overnight and remain silent.

My first thought when I read that was shock because that looks like a contradiction. The Old Testament says think about your anger overnight. The New Testament says deal with your anger before the sun goes down. What?

And I don’t know if this is right or not, but I looked at who wrote each of these passages. Paul wrote Ephesians. David wrote Psalm 4. (Both of them were writing under the inspiration of God, of course.) Any of you who know the Bible may already know where I’m going.

The personality differences between Paul and David are massive. They’re like opposite sides of the same coin. Paul was a scholar, an educated man, polite and appropriate and respected. David was a shepherd. Yes, he was a king, but he was also a warrior and an artist. Paul and David were both passionate in different ways.

For Paul’s personality, it was probably better to deal with his anger and frustration immediately after he recognized it. For David, if he’d tried to deal with his anger immediately, he’d probably make things worse because he hadn’t gotten over it himself yet. Either way, both means of dealing with frustration prevent anger from calling the shots.

The key is to recognize when you’re getting angry or frustrated, and whether you decide to deal with it immediately or let some time pass so you can cool off doesn’t matter. Notice the Psalm says think about it overnight, so don’t think about it longer than that. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to address.

But you have to do it.

Your relationships are worth it. Your own sanity is worth it. Don’t hold on to anger or frustration. Deal with it. Work through it. Talk about it with the person who hurt you, and you’ll probably discover that they didn’t mean to. Or you’ll discover that you hurt them to start off with. That’s how human relationships work, friends. We’re all screwed up.

So let’s cut each other a break. Value your relationships enough to talk about the misunderstandings. And even if you don’t sort everything out, at least you will know where your own heart stands and so will they.

Peace of mind is something you can’t buy, and when your mind and heart are at peace, Satan can’t get in.

A peaceful spot at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Work at living in peace

Drama confuses me. No, not stage drama. Life drama. Life drama is an incredible waste of time, emotional resources, and opportunity. I don’t care for it, and I have a hard time feeling compassion for people who thrive in it.

You know those people in your life. You know who they are. They’re the ones who can make mountains out of mole hills. They’re the ones who are only content if their life is in a crisis of some kind or another. Having those people in my life makes me appreciate the understated friends I have. Those understated friends are the ones who can be in crisis but you wouldn’t know it. They’re the ones who are experiencing all sorts of difficulty in their lives, but they don’t focus on it.

A peaceful spot at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

A peaceful spot at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Hebrews 12:14.

Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.

Which camp do you fall into? It’s okay to admit it if you tend toward the drama queen side of the coin. In some cases, being dramatic about stuff is helpful. Those personalities can be valuable in many circumstances because they tend to get stuff done. They tend to prod others into action. They tend to be ferocious doers.

I’m not dramatic. I’m dry. And sarcastic. And I have this awful tendency … when people nag me about something, I usually go out of my way to avoid doing it. It’s not a very Christ-like response, and I’ll admit it. I’m a work in progress. But nothing gets under my skin like nagging. But part of my non-dramatic reactions to things is a disadvantage because I tend to minimize situations that probably need to be maximized.

So both personalities need each other, the dramatics to spur the non-dramatics into action and the non-dramatics to keep the dramatics planted on the ground instead of whirling around like crazy people. It’s absolutely possible to work together, but it takes effort on both sides.

Working together is harder than it sounds. If you’ve ever been part of a team, you understand what I mean, but no one person is sufficient on his or her own. We all need each other.

Mainly, we just need to be patient with each other. We need to take a moment, take a step back, and remind ourselves what the point is. The vast majority of the time whatever is causing the drama isn’t personal. It’s just different personalities clashing, different points of view crashing into each other, different ways of communicating muddying the waters.

If you’re a dramatic person, recognize it and embrace it. Your intense emotions are a gift, but understand that not everyone around you feels with the same intensity you do. So ease up!

If you’re a non-dramatic person, do the same thing. Realize that your penchant toward the more logical side of life is also a gift. It’s just not as loud. So lighten up!

God made each of us with our own personalities and our own hang ups and our own special gifts. Don’t discount someone just because they burst with emotion over every tiny little thing. And don’t shun someone because they barely react at all either.

Try to see the best in each other. Try to learn from each other. They’re in your life for a reason, and even if you think you escape having a relationship with them, God will bring another one just like them into your life to take their place. He’ll keep doing it until you learn the lesson you need to learn.

So don’t be stubborn. Trust me, you may think you’re the most stubborn person on the planet, but God can match you any day.

Lonely tree in the southern field behind Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Don’t let solitude become a security blanket

I’m an independent person. I always have been, from the time I was a little girl. I don’t need much to make it through in life. I’m not really the sort of person who requires socialization or a circle of friends. It’s easy for me to be on my own, and by that token, it’s easy for me to isolate myself. I live like a hermit anyway, alone in the middle of nowhere. And now I don’t even have a cat to talk to, as they’ve all either died of old age or got carried off by owls or coyotes.

And while I like the quietude of this lifestyle choice, sometimes the silence lies and tries to convince me that I’m isolated because I’m alone. And there’s a big difference between being isolated and being alone, between being independent and being lonely. I don’t necessarily think that isolation is bad. It just depends on your motives. But if you’re going to live a life that’s solitary–and even if you don’t–you need to be aware that lies get louder in silence. And you need to remember that even if you enjoy being on your own, you still need people.

Lonely tree in the southern field behind Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Lonely tree in the southern field behind Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:23-25.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

I’ve been running wild the last couple of months. Actually, running wild is sort of a constant with me. I’m always dashing from one thing to another, rarely standing still. But that’s me, and I’ve got a lot of plates spinning. So for the last few months, I actually haven’t been able to go to church. I’m fortunate to attend a church that streams their services live, so I’ve watched when I had the opportunity. But streaming online isn’t the same as being there in person.

I got to go this weekend. And being in the service, surrounded by friends and family in the blood of Christ reminded me just how much I need people. When I’m on my own, busy and bustling back and forth from crisis to crisis, it’s easy for me to think that I’m okay without sharing life with people. I’m functioning just fine, after all. But there’s more to life than just functioning. There’s more to life than just surviving. God didn’t put me here to just make it through another day. He wants me to thrive. He wants me to grow. He wants me to live.

And while I prefer the silence sometimes, silence isn’t always conducive to growth. And you can’t experience real friendship if you don’t invest in other people. It’s a risk, yes, because people are people. But it’s worth it.

Pastor posed a question in his message yesterday, asking us to think about the people who’ve loved us the most in our lives and what our lives would look like without them. That’s difficult to even think about. And my first thought was that I didn’t have a whole lot of people who loved me like that, and that’s when I realized I’d been shutting myself away too long. Because that’s a lie.

I started making a list of people who’ve loved me, who’ve made a difference in my life, and needless to say it’s very very long. It was much longer than I expected it to be. I have been very fortunate in my life to have many, many people come alongside me to support me and love me more than I deserved. But when you get so busy with your nose to the grindstone, it’s easy to forget the people who’ve invested in you.

So for the rest of this month, I really want to focus on friendships and relationships in life and how important they are. Granted, I’m not going to change the way I live, unless God tells me I need to. But I don’t have to shut myself away from people. Living a quiet life is good. Having quiet moments is essential. But when the quiet changes from a refuge to a security blanket, you’ve got a problem.

Don’t cut people out of your life. If you were sufficient on your own, God wouldn’t have made other people. And, yes, God is sufficient for you as your friend, your maker, your God, your Lord. But if it was just supposed to be you and God going through life without any other interaction with people, why are there people around you? God designed us to invest in each other. So don’t run away from it. Embrace it. Yes, that means you’re taking a risk. Yes, that means you’ll have to give up some time alone. But what are you really here for?

Hippos working on their tans - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Walking on porcupines

Have you ever tried to get a picture of a porcupine? Well, if you do, good for you. I’ve never seen a real one. So I have no photographs of porcupines, but I do have hippos. And that will work for today, because I’m not talking about real porcupines anyway. I’m actually talking about friendship.

I don’t think I post enough about friendships. I don’t even know where to start most of the time because I am so overwhelmed and so thankful to be friends with such amazing people.

Our friends determine so much in our lives. And if you have awesome friends — and I mean truly awesome friends and not just popular ones — you should count yourself fortunate.

Hippos working on their tans - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Hippos working on their tans – Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:24.

There are “friends” who destroy each other,
but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Who are your friends? Do your friends ask more from you than they expect of themselves? Do your friends treat you the way you treat them? Do your friends love God? Do your friends speak truth? Do your friends give you sound advice based in Scripture and tempered with the love of God?

If you have friends like that, you are richer than the richest man in the universe. Because there are “friends” out there who will hang out with you just because they want something from you. There are “friends” out there who need a prop. And even though they may be your “friends” when they feel like it, the day will eventually come when they won’t have time for you. And they’ll drop you like a rock.

I always told myself that I didn’t really need friends, that I could get along just fine without them. And, if we’re being honest here, that’s probably true. But how lonely would life be? How empty would life be? And, truthfully, how much more difficult would life be? If I didn’t have my friends to rely on and blow up on and cry on, life would be much harder than it is now.

Today’s verse just made me think about friendship and what it really is. Because true friendship goes beyond blood. It stretches deeper than DNA and further than a family name. Because we don’t get to choose our families; we choose our friends. And, what’s more important, our friends choose us. And what’s more, true friends keep choosing us even when we have a bad day, even when we’re struggling at work or at home, even when we snap, even when we don’t feel good.

Can you imagine what it would be like to walk through a field of porcupines? Just think about that. It wouldn’t be pleasant at all. They’re volatile and unpredictable, and they’re covered in needles. All it would take is one wrong move, and they’ll let loose a volley of needles that will leave you wincing.

But no one walks on porcupines. I’m sure there’s some kind of fee or fine you have to pay for that. But even though we don’t actually walk on porcupines, we do have to walk through life. And life can have its needles and touchy spots. And so many times through Scripture, God talks about friends and walking. It’s not unusual to see the concept of friendship lined right up with the concept of walking through life.

Why? Well, think about it. What else do friends do but walk with you, even through the most difficult times in your life? That’s what friends are for.

I got to thinking about this verse because of a birthday present one of my friends gave me. Silly socks covered in porcupines! They’re adorable! And they’re bright, and they’re fun! I love them! (So far, I have encountered two things that turn me girly: Bath & Body Works hand soaps and funny, silly socks.)

But beyond the fun of the socks, they just made me think about friendship. Because friendships aren’t forged in the good times. Maybe they start in good times. Maybe they start over a fun conversation or a good cup of coffee. But they don’t get very deep there. To grow a deep friendship, you have to walk through some porcupines, and you have to do it together. And somewhere between needles, you’ll make a choice to either keep walking or turn back.

Don’t get me wrong. You need to determine if the friendship is one that’s worth pursuing. Sometimes turning back is the best decision you can make. But if you turn back on every friendship the moment the going gets tough, you’ll never understand what it really means to have a real friend.

I guess, what I’m saying this morning, is that the closest friendships in my life have come through some amount of difficulty — whether it was through a difficult situation we tackled together or through a difficult conversation we had to have to straighten things out between us. The best friendships you have aren’t just going to happen. Like any relationship, you have to work at them.

So if you have a friend (or friends) in your life who you have walked on porcupines with, be thankful for them. And tell them that you’re thankful for them. You never know when you might not have the opportunity to thank them anymore.

And if you’ve never walked through porcupines, you will. So it might not be a bad idea to find someone who won’t mind walking with you. Just remember that true friendship is a two-way street. And if you’re walking through a field of porcupines with a friend, you’ll both take hits, but you’ll both be there to keep each other going.

Two turtles at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Working together

I used to hate projects at school when I had to team up with a group. Group projects made me cringe inside, usually because I ended up carrying the project. There were a few times when I didn’t, when everyone worked hard and carried their own load, but those times were few and far between.

Have you ever worked together with someone and felt frustrated because they finished first? Or because it was like they got their work done and got to move on to something else? Or they completed their part first and got their grade or their bonus or their positive feedback before you did because the part you’re working on is more complicated?

Two turtles at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Two turtles at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 3:8

The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.

It’s easy to lose focus when you’re working in pairs or in a group because you start to compare your work with someone else’s work. But you shouldn’t do that, especially in ministry.

I work in a marketing department as a copywriter, so I am involved in just about every single project that my group puts out. We do magazines. We do brochures. We do web content. We do pamphlets, press releases, news articles, trade show booths. You name it; if it’s got any sort of writing on it, I touch it. The ones I don’t look at are the technical documents, but that’s about it.

My part in these projects is usually long and drawn out because I have to get everyone to agree on the way phrase specific product descriptions. The graphic designers have to design it. The coordinator has to make sure everyone signs off. But we don’t all work on it together, kind of like planting and watering mentioned in today’s verse. If you try to water a field before the seeds are planted, you’re wasting your time. But if you plant your seeds, they need to be watered. You can’t move on to the second part until the first part is complete. Kind of like building a brochure in my marketing group; the designers can’t place photos until I write the copy; the coordinator can’t get signoffs until the photos and the copy are in place.

And when each of us finish our part of the project, we can take it easy (theoretically speaking). When each of us finish our part to the best of our ability, we receive our own individual reward.

The same is true in ministry. My church is gearing up for a huge outreach drama that we do every year called Judgement House, and there will be a lot of people working together on my church’s property. I think this verse is important to remember for ministry especially because in ministry it’s very very easy to compare roles. Judgement House is a great example because there are so many facets to it.

There are actors. There are directors. There are tour guides. There are concession workers. There are greeters. There are prayer walkers and security and cleaners and parking lot people. There are the awesome ladies who prepare food for the cast to eat. And every single person is essential. Not one person is more important than the other because we can’t do Judgement House without every person being involved.

But it’s easy for a tour guide (for example) to start thinking that they’re hot stuff. Because they’re visible. Because they’re obvious. Because people see them and notice them. … But I guarantee that Mr. Hot Stuff Tour Guide wouldn’t be able to be a tour guide if the invisible woman in the kitchen didn’t come in early from work to prepare a hot meal for the Tour Guide to eat. And Mr. Hot Stuff Tour Guide wouldn’t be nearly so hot if the invisible prayer walker wasn’t interceded for him, or if the security guard wasn’t helping to hold doors and keep the groups calm, or if the cleaners weren’t helping keep the bathrooms in shape.

See what I’m saying?

No role is more important than another. Everyone works together, or we should. We shouldn’t compare. We are all working for the same purpose, like two farmers working in a field. One is planting; one is watering. Maybe the farmer who plants gets finished first; maybe he gets paid first. But the whole harvest won’t come in until the crops get water. So maybe the farmer who does the watering gets paid later. But both of their roles are essential, and if they focus on the fact that they’re both out in the field for the same reason, maybe they won’t compare each other.

So if you’re at work or you’re in a ministry (like Judgement House) and you’re tempted to compare your job with someone elses? Don’t.

You are positioned where you are for a reason. You have gifts and skill sets that mean only you can do your job right now at this moment. Don’t be jealous of someone else. Don’t be defensive or protective. Just do your job the best you can, and let God sort out the rest.

Wheat close up - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Small problems don’t stay that way

Small problems are annoying. I’ve blogged on this before, but I’m a big picture person. Not a detail person. Details drive me up the wall, and I tend to ignore them for as long as possible. So on Monday afternoon on my way home from work when I stopped to get gas, it was unusual that I noticed a detail about my car. It was sitting somewhat crooked. As I filled up with gas, I reset the odometer in my car so I can eagerly check my miles per gallon, and the computer in my car told me that my left rear tire was about 10 pounds low.

Of course, no one in Wichita has free air anymore. So $.75 and a dust stain on my dress pants later, I had all of my tires are pressure, and I was driving home. The tire hold the air just fine all the way home. No big deal. Got home. Sort of slept (not really; I think I’ve forgotten how) and went back into work the next day. The tire was low but not desperately. Even so, I decided to make an appointment with my local dealership to have it checked out.

So yesterday morning, I took my beloved car into the dealer. And surprise surprise, I had a rather large nail pierced right through the sidewall. To make a long story short, I had to buy a new tire.

And I spent a good half hour pondering exactly how a rusty square nail could cost me $150.

Wheat close up - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat close up – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 13:31-32.

Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”

This verse is a positive verse, but I’m going to take a negative spin with it. Jesus used the illustration of a mustard seed to demonstrate how God can take something small and do something awesome with it, turning it into something great.

Well … you know that can work a different way.

Things that start off small can eventually become big, whether they’re good things or bad things. A nail in a tire is a bad thing, but if you leave it alone and don’t fix it, it can lead to a blow out … which can lead to deaths … possibly even more than one.

Can a petty, rusty square nail really cause someone to die?

If you don’t fix the problem before it becomes unfixable, yes.

Seeds are pretty spectacular little things. They’re so tiny, but after you plant them and take care of them, they become such big things. Trees or wheat crops that feed millions. The law of sowing and harvesting is incredible!

A virus is a spectacular little thing too, but even though it’s tiny–microscopic even–all it has to do is start multiplying, and pretty soon that tiny little microscopic annoyance has become something huge and out of control that can do a lot of damage.

I guess my thought this morning is that we have so many opportunities in life to fix problems before they grow beyond our means to control, but so many times we choose to let them go. We convince ourselves that the problem isn’t that big of a deal or that it will all work itself out. Well, yes, it probably will, but if you would take the initiative to fix it before it spirals out of control, maybe you can reduce the damage.

Everything is a seed. Everything you say, everything you do, everything you think. You’re planting seeds every day, and one day you’re going to watch your crops grow into something much bigger than what you planted. So if you planted something that’s too big for you to control, you need to take steps to control it before it starts controlling you.

It’s like that nail in my tire. I didn’t have to get it fixed. I could have just kept filling the tire up with air and waiting for it to deflate. But eventually that tire would have blown.

Most problems can be fixed while they’re still small. No, it’s not fun. Fixing problems is never fun, especially when it’s your fault. But it’s better to suffer a little and fix the problem while you can before it grows beyond your capabilities.

Believe me when I say if you wait until it’s too late, the suffering is far far worse.