The God of Leftovers

I’m about the only person in my house who will eat leftovers.  I don’t like wasting food and certain kinds taste even better the next day (like spaghetti).  Besides, I tend to think that God is a fan of leftovers.

leftovers, God

I encourage you to read Matthew 14:15-20 on your own.  But for now, here’s a summary of the story.  Jesus and His disciples had been surrounded by crowds of people all day.  It was getting late, just about dinnertime, and since there wasn’t a Chic-Fil-A nearby, the disciples encouraged Jesus to send the people away.  In other words, dinner was on their own.

Jesus had a different idea.  He wanted the disciples to feed them.  However, they only had five loaves of bread and two fish…certainly not enough for the amount of people around them.  Jesus looked up to heaven, gave thanks and not only provided enough bread and fish for everyone, but there were leftovers!

He could have just made sure there was exactly enough.  Instead, there was extra.

The significance I find in this is that God provides above and beyond our needs.  We may look at the leftovers as something to store away.  But He wants us to enjoy His blessings to the fullest.  I’m not just talking about getting things, but receiving His grace.

Let’s face it…we mess up.  Sometimes more often than we should and to a level we shouldn’t.  Yet 2 Corinthians 9:8 reminds us that “God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work” (CSB)

It’s not just that He provides grace…He provides an overflow of it.  To the point we have leftovers.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to throw away God’s leftovers.  I’ll get every little bit of grace that I can.

No Sympathy for the Depressed

I’ve lived most of my life in denial when it comes to the issue of mental illness in my family.  Not that I’ve denied its existence, but I’ve definitely kept it swept under the rug.  Not exactly a conversation piece around the dinner table or at a party.

 

sympathy, depressedBesides, you don’t really get the same type of sympathy as those who have cancer or other serious health issues that run in their family.  Bring up the family members who have dealt with heart-related problems and you’re sure to get a sympathetic ear, perhaps even some great advice or encouraging words.  But talk about your grandma who was institutionalized because of schizophrenia or the several family members taking medication for some form of mental illness and there’s likely to be an uncomfortable silence or a quick changing of the subject.

Why is the level of comfort so different?  Not only is there is a stigma in the church when it comes to this delicate subject matter, but there seems to be no sympathy for those who suffer.  While others rally around you when facing a physical illness, it gets pretty lonely when you suffer with depression or anxiety.

I believe one of the reasons for the lack of sympathy is that some people see depression as nothing more than being sad.  When we turn it into an emotion, there’s a belief that we can do something about it.  That we have some degree of control over our emotions.  Depression is not sadness.  Yes, circumstances can contribute to depression but most people suffering from it, recognize there’s no real reason to feel the way they do.  They can’t choose to not be depressed.  Just like someone can’t choose to not vomit when hit by the stomach flu.

Another reason for the lack of sympathy, which is particular to the church, is that we should all be walking around with a smile plastered on our face and a worship song coming from our lips.  If you have the joy of the Lord, then surely you shouldn’t be suffering from depression.  The reality is that believers aren’t excluded from struggles.  Just because one person’s thorn is different from someone else’s doesn’t make it any less valid.

Perhaps a little more understanding (and sympathy) would eliminate that lonely feeling.  Those suffering from depression might be more willing to admit it’s a struggle and ask for help.  What better place to get it than the church?  Yet so often it’s the last place a believer goes to for help when it comes to depression.  Instead, they paste on their smiles and give a holy high-five to others in passing, while inside they’re hurting.

No one should suffer alone…especially someone who belongs to the body of Christ.

When Did I Stop Caring?

Getting ready to pick my husband and his cousin up from the airport, I was about to throw on a t-shirt and jeans.  Something made me stop and reconsider my outfit.  Maybe I should put more thought into my presence.  After all, he had driven 2,000 miles to deliver our son’s car to his Air Force base in California.  He had then flown back to Wisconsin and was surely deserving more than a frumpy wife greeting.

“When did I stop caring?” was my next thought.  Because quite honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was concerned with the way I look for my husband.

Was it after I “landed” him and no longer had to try?

Was it after my body changed from having our first child?

Was it when I lost touch with who I am because of the three little ones under my feet?

Did it happen after a few years of aging?

Did “life” just get in the way of us?

T-shirt was replaced with a cute top, my comfy pants with capris and tennis shoes with adorable black wedges.  I even put on some jewelry, makeup and fixed my hair.  I was warmly greeted by my very tired, jetlagged husband.  No, he didn’t seem to notice the effort I had put into my look.  But it really wasn’t about that.  It was something much deeper.  A determination to care not just about the surface stuff but the deeper parts of marriage.

To not take my husband for granted.  To not forget we began this adventure with just the two of us, and once the kids are gone, it will again be just the two of us.  To take notice.  To make an effort.

To start caring.

I Got Issues, You Got Issues, We All Got Issues

Several years ago, I taught a workshop on marriage at my church.  True to my style of teaching, I was honest and raw.  I’ve never been much of a sugar coater, which can be uncomfortable for some people.  One woman, within earshot, made a negative comment to another woman about what I shared.  Apparently, she felt it was TMI (too much information).

issues

Despite hearing lots of positive feedback from others who attended the workshop, I was fixated on the one negative comment, which caused me to question what I shared.  Is there such thing as sharing too much information?  Definitely.  I don’t deny that.  But I had prayed about the message I would share and talked with my husband about the content.  I had peace and now a negative comment was threatening to steal it from me.

Thankfully I didn’t dwell too much on it because quite honestly, my philosophy is this:  I got issues.  You got issues.  We all got issues!

To me it makes no sense to pretend otherwise.  I think that some people try to hide their issues because they fear what others will think.  They portray the put together, super spiritual family…yet behind closed doors it’s chaos.  Others fear that it will blow their witness if people see a Christian family struggling.  All the while, they look more like hypocrites than anything else.

The world needs to know that I have issues.  It needs to know that you have issues.  How can anyone see a need for God when they’re convinced you have to be perfect?  How can they get a glimpse of grace when they’re not exposed to your struggles?

What better example can the world have than to know that you’re really not perfect, and your family isn’t perfect—but you have a Perfect God who will hold you up when you need the strength…who will forgive when you’ve messed up…who will see you through the storm…who will transform your mind, heart and soul.

Sometimes we feel alone in our struggles.  We’re embarrassed by our circumstances.  But the greatest testimonies come out of those times.  Don’t let fear stop you.  I got issues.  You got issues.  We all got issues.

Submission Is the Least of My Worries

Whenever I’ve been in a marriage class and the topic of submission comes up, you hear a lot of groans or chuckles.  For me it was never a humorous subject matter.  And it wasn’t even something that rubbed me the wrong way.  My only thought was that submission was the least of my worries.  I needed other kinds of help.  For instance, learning how to like my husband or how to deal with the side of his personality that only I was privy to see.

Although the church’s intentions were great when it came to marriage issues, I always felt like something was missing.  I don’t think they realized that not every wife sitting in that class had a husband who was “on fire for the Lord” or even remotely smoldering.  Yes, even those husbands who showed up at church.

Just as parking your butt in a garage doesn’t make you a car, neither does parking your butt in a pew make you a Christian.  But there always seemed to be this assumption that if your husband was in church, then your marriage just had to follow the Biblical mandates and all would be well.

I’m not going to lie.  The majority of my past, nearly 26 years of marriage, have been challenging.  Only in very recent years has there been a significant positive change.  We’re finally at a place that I don’t worry about us not making it.  But it’s been a long, hard road to get here.

Submission continues to remain the least of my worries but for a different reason.  We finally got this marriage thing together.  And it’s not because I learned how to submit or he even learned to lead.  We just learned how to do this thing together…with God’s help.  I’m not discounting the importance of submission in marriage, but I do believe that other work sometimes has to be done before you can even engage that kind of topic.

Maybe we need more classes such as:

How to Like Your Husband When He’s Gotten on Your Very Last Nerve

 

How to Bite Your Tongue When Your Husband Says Something Hurtful (or Stupid)

 

5 Ways to Desire the Husband Who Never Helps You Out Around the House or With the Kids

I’m joking (sort of).  Marriage is so much more than tackling the issue of submission.  Or even how husbands should love their wives like Christ loves the church.  These are ideal ways to flourish in a marriage.  But I think we’re missing some important steps before we get there.

Oftentimes couples are dealing with circumstances that don’t always get addressed…financial struggles.  Baggage from the past.  Addictions.  Problems with the kids.  Or even the differences between spouses when it comes to maturity in their faith.

Is it just me that thinks submission is the least of her worries in a marriage???

Praise…Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

It might sound doable, when in the midst of a trial to pray even when you don’t feel like it.  But to actually praise God when everything is going wrong?  Now I’m asking too much…right?

Praying or praising isn’t easy when faced with difficulties.  I won’t pretend otherwise.  But I go back to Job, who not only lost his wealth, health and the lives of his children…but his wife said he should curse God and die.  Talk about pouring salt on an open wound!

Job didn’t curse God, as many do when things go wrong in life.  He did the opposite.  He praised God!  Not for the circumstances He was in but for the majesty of who God is—which didn’t change despite all he lost.

I will never forget walking into my friend’s house the day after her husband was tragically killed in a workplace accident to the sound of worship music playing.  She lost not only her husband but her best friend.  They had just become empty nesters and were ready to finally have their time together.  In a heartbeat, he was taken away.

Who feels like praising God when death has taken a loved one away?  My friend recognized the importance of worshipping despite her circumstances.

The early morning hours when I left the hospice after watching my father die, I didn’t feel like praising God.  But it was like my heart had an urgency to declare God’s goodness.  So, with tears running down my face, I blasted worship music the whole way home.

We make deep connections with music.  That’s why it’s so important we’re careful about the types of music we listen to.  My spirit is lifted, regardless of what’s going on, when I listen to uplifting worship music.

But praise is more than music.  It’s continuing to declare God’s greatness even when things aren’t going great.  We don’t have to necessarily praise Him for the struggles we’re facing but we can praise Him for the way He will work through them.  We praise Him because He is worthy of it, despite our trials.

Trials got you down?  You may not feel like it, but praise Him anyway.  At your weakest, Jesus will show His strength through you.

Another Fallen One

Shocked and saddened.  Another Christian marriage ending in divorce.  And this time it was a famous author…one of my favorites.  In fact, I have a picture with her and some of my friends.  I’ve read all of her books.  I follow her blog.  A few years ago, I attended one of her conferences in North Carolina.  How is it possible that her marriage would end???

I feel sorry for her, that the entire world has to know her business.  It’s bad enough when a Christian couple in the church divorces, let alone someone who is a bestselling author.  Because then all the know-it-alls and judgmental people come out.  They all have an opinion and feel it’s their right to declare if she was right or wrong for making the decision to end her marriage.

I just can’t voice my thoughts about a situation I’m not personally familiar with…even though at one time I would have been glad to offer my two cents (which is about all it’s really worth).  It’s so easy to spout off what the Bible says and how others should live it—unless we’re in that position.

There is nothing more humbling than to experience the very thing you judge.  Been there, done that.  The first time I heard about a teen pregnancy at my church, wow, it was amazing how super spiritual I suddenly became.  Then a few years later I would be shocked to learn my 17-year-old daughter was pregnant.  Suddenly my husband and I were on the other end of judgment because surely, we had done something wrong as parents.

It would be great if we could live in this perfect Christian bubble surrounded by perfect Christian people who follow the Bible word for word.  But that’s not reality.  We live in a fallen world.  We’re sinners.  Husbands cheat.  Kids rebel.  Pastors fall.

People sometimes lose their way.  They get caught up in the ways of this world.  They succumb to the temptations.  It’s unfortunate.  Sad.  Heartbreaking.  Tragic.  But this side of heaven it’s what we should expect.  Not until we reach our eternal destination will there be no more divorces, teen pregnancies, addictions, disappointments, lies and death.

Until then, when another believer becomes part of a tragic story, let’s not be so quick to jump on the judgment bandwagon.  We never know if we’ll end up in their shoes or face the unthinkable in other ways.

These days I’m more of the “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15) mindset.  I won’t stop reading that famous ministry leader’s books or unsubscribe to her blog.  I’ll pray for her, that despite the circumstances, she will find a way to cling even closer to God.  And someday…see this trial turned into a testimony for another woman facing divorce.

“There but for the grace of God, go I.” (John Bradford)

Pray…Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

Sometimes there comes a point during a trial that you have no words for God.  You are so tapped out, disappointed, frustrated, hurt or angry that you can’t even pray.  Do it anyway.

There’s a great song by Martina McBride called “Anyway,” which speaks to this.  My favorite part of the song is this:

God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good

When I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should

But I do it anyway

I do it anyway

This is a wonderful reminder that even when life isn’t good, God remains great.  And that sometimes things don’t turn out the way we think they should, but we pray anyway.

What’s the purpose of praying when nothing is going our way?  We have to get out of the mindset that praying is about getting something.  Prayer isn’t a tool we use to manipulate things our way.  It isn’t a means of telling God what to do.  Yet so often this is exactly how we act.

Prayer is communing with God.  The dictionary describes this as:  sharing one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone or something), especially when the exchange is on a spiritual level.

When Job lost everything, he prayed.  It didn’t change his circumstances.  He still lost his fortune, children and health.  He had the right perspective on what prayer is all about.  He needed to talk to his heavenly Father, yes, even when everything around him was going wrong.

Here’s what I’ve come to learn about prayer during trials.  Even when I don’t feel like doing it, and the words seem pointless, and my heart isn’t in it…my soul is still making a connection to the One who holds my life in His hands.

It’s easier to “get back” to God after the trial is over when I’ve continued to pray.  It’s easier to see how God was working in the midst of my difficulty.  It’s easier to feel His peace and joy.  But more importantly, I’ve acknowledged that prayer isn’t about getting my way but getting closer to God.

Going through a trial?  Don’t let your feelings dictate your relationship with God.  Pray anyway.

13 Reasons Why You Need to Talk to Your Children

Steeped in controversy, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has brought greater awareness to teen issues such as bullying, depression and suicide.  It’s raw.  It’s violent.  It’s difficult to watch.  But it’s real and the reality of what many teenagers go through on a daily basis.  Long before it became a series, I read the book, “13 Reasons Why.”  And yes, I did watch the series with my daughter (who was 19 at the time), which sparked some great conversation.

Regardless of how you feel about the series, it was my past naivete that leads me now to face these types of hard topics head on.  Our family’s personal experience with some of the same issues addressed in this series doesn’t allow for me to ignore the painful truth.  Yes, even for a semi-functional family.  A two-parent family.  A loving family.  A church family.

Whether you choose to watch it or not, alone or with your child, I implore you to consider 13 reasons why you need to talk to your children about these types of difficult topics.

  1. What we think is minuscule could be monumental to your child.

I’ve always joked that my daughter was a drama queen, or when she was younger that she was sensitive.  Emerging into the teen years, I oftentimes made the mistake of dismissing her “end-of-the-world” events with it “just being her.”  Yet the reality is that some of those events were truly traumatic to her.  The more I poo-pooed them, the less she shared.  As a result, she suffered silently.  Our wake-up call came when she overdosed, which thankfully she recovered from. But it taught me a painful lesson on not recognizing the importance of taking her hurts to heart.

2. Bullying is real and it’s harsher that we might imagine.

Bullying has reached new levels, compared to when I was a child.  And we can easily miss cues that it’s become an issue for our child.  I naively believed that my daughter’s middle school years were smooth sailing.  It wasn’t until she was in high school that I discovered just how painful that time was in her life.  None of my children have been spared from some form of bullying.  And it didn’t just happen at school…it happened in the church.  It extends to an online world, in which you can’t seem to escape the bullying.  Pictures, posts, snap chats, Tweets, and comments can follow a child around ruthlessly.

3. Everyone reacts differently to bullying.

The way someone responds to taunts, name-calling, or harassment depends on so many different factors.  Some people seem to handle it better than others.  Certainly, the answer is never to end one’s life.  Yet we can’t dismiss the deep hurt that some feel, to the point where it feels like there is no other option.  Because of this, we need to be available to our children so they can talk to us if there are issues of bullying.

4. Our children need to understand the impact of suicide. 

Some felt the Netflix series glamorized suicide.  In some ways I can understand why, but it also depicted the deep pain and anguish felt by the main character’s parents, friends, and yes, even her enemies.  Suicide is a very uncomfortable topic but it’s so important.  My daughter (thank God) was able to see the effects of her overdose on our family.  This isn’t always the case.

5. We need to understand the climate our teenagers face on a daily basis.

At one point in the series I turned to my daughter and asked, “Is this really what school is like?”  It seemed almost too vulgar to believe.  Yet she confirmed that it was indeed what she had experienced.  Our children face a daily barrage of foul language, unkindness, gossip and backstabbing.   While we’d like to believe they’re untainted, it’s safe to say they’re affected to one degree or another.  And let me assure you, it takes place in both public and private schools.  It’s naïve to believe that our children aren’t affected by a school’s climate.

6. The sexualization of females (yes, in middle and high school) is real.

Slut-shaming, crude remarks and sexual assault are realities that females face everywhere—even in school.  Evaluated by looks, body parts and how far one goes…is an unfortunate part of this sinful world.  Being taken advantage of, emotionally or physically, can significantly impact a person’s mental health.  This type of behavior should never be downplayed.  And when we see teenage girls posing in provocative or suggestive pictures online, let’s pray for them.  Most are confused and have falsely come to believe that their worth is tied up in how they look.  We need to have open and honest conversations with not only our daughters but sons when it comes to the sexualization of females.

7. Our children need to know the value of a true friendship.

I don’t want to spoil the story-line for those who may not have watched this series, but I have to say it’s extremely sad the main character missed the opportunity for a true friend.  She had one, even though she partly blamed that person for her death…the reality is that this individual genuinely cared for her.  Trust is a real issue in friendships, especially for teenagers.  One minute someone claims to be your best friend and the next, they stab you in the back.  While these events are painful, they reveal if someone is a true friend.  Our children need to know that a crowd of friends who will dump you in a second can never replace the worth of one good friend who is there for a lifetime.

8. A bad reputation isn’t always built on truth.

A bad reputation is hard to recover from.  Once gossip spreads about someone, it’s really hard to take it back—kind of like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube.  It’s messy and nearly impossible.  While we can create our own bad reputations, sometimes they’re built on lies.  It’s extremely painful to be known for something that you’re not.  This is a good reminder to our teens that what they say about someone could result in long-lasting damage.

9. Even with the best intentions, we can miss the mark.

Another issue that critics had with this series is how the guidance counselor failed to help the main character.  I don’t know if the intent was to throw professionals under the bus.  Yet the reality is that teachers and others can fail to see a need.  Even her parents missed the mark.  No one could have ever convinced me several years ago that I would find myself sitting in a room at Children’s Hospital, with no privacy, because my daughter was there on suicide watch.  Or that I would have to fight to get her out of a mental institution.  I’ve always had the best intentions for my daughter but clearly, somewhere along the way, I missed something.  It’s important to acknowledge this reality—not to place us on a guilt trip, but as a reminder of our imperfections and God’s perfect grace.

10. We can’t blame everyone around us for the way we respond to our feelings.

Critics have also brought up the way the main character blames everyone for her decision to end her life.  It’s a reminder that we must take personal responsibility for the way we react to our feelings.  We can feel angry, hurt and frustrated about what others do.  It’s what we do with those feelings that rests squarely on our shoulders.  When someone decides to end their life, it’s on that person.  It’s a choice.  A terrible, heartbreaking, permanent choice that cannot be undone.

11. Pain is temporary. Death is forever.

Watching my daughter suffer through some pretty painful experiences were the hardest times of my life.  In the moment, it feels like the pain will never end.  Our children need to know that it doesn’t last…but death, oh, there is no coming back from it.  We need to share with our children those moments in our own life when it felt like the pain would never end.  They are not alone in that thinking.  They need to know that God will see them through because He has a wonderful future awaiting them.

12. Suicide is grisly.

Unlike other scenes where the cutting of wrists looks like a simple slice and then you just relax and stop breathing…the scene in “13 Reasons Why” was graphic.  It was bloody.  Death was slow.  It was very difficult to watch.

Suicide isn’t romantic.  It’s also not the answer to life’s problems.  While it’s not an easy topic to discuss, it’s critical we talk to our children about it.

13. God has entrusted these children to you.

Our responsibility to parent goes beyond providing shelter, food and clothes.  We have a holy obligation to point our children to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  The spiritual implications of this cannot be underestimated.  The devil wants to do everything he can to thwart your efforts.  He will use all means of doing this—depression, eating disorders, self-harm, pornography, sexual immorality, drug addiction, alcoholism and the list goes on.

We can’t talk to our children if we’re wrapped up in our own world.  With our eyes fixed on our phones, computers and television sets.  We need to purpose to set aside time to talk with them.  We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones and deal with the hard stuff of life.

Don’t be lax in the reality that there’s a battle waging for their souls.  Mom, Dad…YOU are their champion!  You are their warrior!  You are their safe place.  Do not ignore or make light of this role.  It could make an eternal difference…