Friendships drenched in mercy.

I am still mulling over grace and mercy and how God lavishes it upon us. I’ve also been reading Refine Us whenever they post blogs, and I am just enthralled by the possibilities of grace and mercy in my marriage.

Really, I’m excited about it in relationships in general.

I tend to love the body of Christ when all is working well and people are being Jesus. I tend to get frustrated and feel hopeless when Christ-followers have fallen off the turnip truck. However, grace and mercy bring us back.

I’ve been thinking about my best friend, Amelia. We’re now 1500 miles apart. We’ve been friends for about three years, and really upped the status after Aaron left for the military. We’ve been through a lot, and grown a lot. We’ve argued (which I think is essential for any relationship, because otherwise, someone’s not speaking up) and we’ve resolved. We have a nearly five-year age gap, but there are things that keep us in common water, like knitting, and general awesomeness.

I’m stubborn. I don’t like to open up to people about my issues, especially girls. I, just like every other female on the face of the planet, has been “burned” in friendships before. So I was pretty guarded with Amelia. Then, probably about six to nine months ago, decided to just let it go and be vulnerable. She knows pretty much everything about me, even the ugly stuff. She was one of the first people I shared my [our] testimony with.

I was thinking about her because of this idea of mercy… that when a friend confides in you, you should be merciful and not judge. Lord knows there have been plenty of times when she could have said, “Well, I told you so,” or “Don’t you know your sin has consequences?” I’ve said these things before, and there have been times she could probably read them on my face. (My face tells no lies… I am the worst liar ever.)

I love that mercy makes me a better friend. Not only is Amelia benefiting from my loving best-friend arms (or ears here in Texas), but I am blessed by a friendship that goes beyond age, occupation, marital status, or geography. 

The Lord really does knit together our friendships, if we keep them close to Him. This is one I never want to let go. It keeps me on my toes. Although I now have my husband, who is by default the best friend, I have a close girl friend to keep me accountable to my vulnerability. We also have to be willing to hear a hard word. That’s one of the biggest reasons I don’t like to open up… I don’t want to be told that maybe I should take a look at myself in the mirror.

We say that we “just don’t want to get hurt” and that “opening up to someone is hard”. Yeah, it is. But can you imagine if Paul and Timothy never had that open and honest relationship? Part of the New Testament never would have been written! 

I pray that God will continue to nudge me towards mercy and steer me away from judgment.

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:12-13 says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

This was the basis for Pastor Lee’s message today. I don’t know what it is about his sermons, but they really stick with me throughout the week. He really hits each point home, and it is a convicting word. I need it!

Lately we’ve been learning more about the Beatitudes. I love hearing well-known passages that I loved as a child rehashed as an adult with adult perspectives. It really puts the Word into practice; or, at least it should. I’m trying.

I love this quote: “Grace is getting what you don’t deserve; mercy is not getting what you do deserve.”

Being merciful is hard… it’s just not our nature. But when we read the story of the unmerciful servant, it’s easy to get upset at him! It’s a story told by Jesus to illustrate how mercy works. A servant was forgiven a huge debt by his master, but failed to forgive his servant of a much smaller debt.

The truth is, this is what we do, all. The. Time. I do it, all the time. I think… “Hmm, it would teach this person a lesson to do such-and-such or say such-and-such.” It’s not our job to “teach lessons”… it’s the Holy Spirit’s.

Jesus also teaches to forgive seven times seventy. Whoa. I don’t know if I’ve even forgiven seventy times in my whole life. The point is not the number though, it’s the “attitude of forgiveness”, as it was put this morning.

The way judgment was explained made sense to me. Like, if someone acts a certain way and I think, “Man, they must not be saved,” or “I hope they get what’s coming to them! They really hurt me,” or “No wonder that happened to them.. they’re a sinner.”

The problem I have is how to apply that in real life… but it’s best to err on the side of mercy.

I can ask myself these questions and answer them pretty quickly:

Who do I need to forgive? How do I show them mercy? 

I want to forgive more, and in turn, I will be forgiven more.

I need the peace that comes from forgiveness and showing others mercy. Without that peace, I am left to my own devices… my sin, my guilt, and will be tortured by them.

Praise God that we don’t get what we deserve.

I think I’ve figured it out..

The battle going on inside my mind, that is.

The solution to contentment in life, I think, is to embrace circumstances.. good or bad, and to be thankful in everything. Not necessarily for everything, but in everything… that there’s a greater purpose to whatever is swirling around you.

I am working on just embracing and letting go all at the same time, be happy with my life and just live the Spirit-filled life. Gosh, it sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

My best friend’s philosophy is that everything good stems from love and everything evil stems from pride. How true this is.

I am prideful… of my education, of my marital status, of many parts of my past. But mostly I don’t want to embrace my life right now, because it would conflict with how I used to feel about “stay-at-home wives”, or those who worked only a little bit. I thought they were lazy… surely they can make themselves useful. They don’t have children, and why in the world are they wasting their education on cooking, knitting, reading, etc??

Truth is, pride aside,  I love being at home, and cooking, cleaning, baking, knitting, reading, sewing, cross-stitching, upcycling. I love making a home out of a house. Maybe it’s because I saw how well my mom did it… she’s an excellent homemaker. So organized, resourceful, and just good at everything. She’s been teaching full-time for years now, but I have lots of fond memories helping her in the kitchen and on the sewing machine. I was taught how to sew on a button about the time I had enough hand-eye coordination… and somehow the crafts are in my genes as well.

I delighted in making dinner and dessert for small group last night…. pulled pork BBQ sandwiches, tomato/cucumber/onion salad, and oatmeal apple crisp. It was all gone (which is a cook’s best compliment!) and when people asked me for the recipe, I told them it’s from my mom and that she never writes anything down (except for the apple crisp.. that’s in the red Betty Crocker cookbook). Guess what? I hardly do, either! Mostly I use recipe for inspiration unless it’s baking… then it’s important to be (mostly) exact.

Annnnnnyway…. I admit it, or lots of things…

I like working only ten hours a week, or thereabouts.

I like being at home to eat breakfast with Aaron when he gets home from PT.

I like surprising him with cookies or whatever goodies I decided to bake… or sending them to work with him.

I like sitting on the couch with iced tea and getting some [amateur] knitting done.

I like being able to call my aunt during the day to chat about desert life and life 1500 miles away from “home”.

————————–

I don’t mind not having lots of excess money… we get by just fine right now and we’re blessed. God is so good. For us, we’re really the richest we’ve ever been ($25k of debt GONE, baby!)

I don’t mind not having lesson plans to prepare, outfits to iron, and 10-hour days.

I don’t mind not having a crazy beefed-up resume with tons of volunteering. I love my job at Sylvan and I love tutoring!

 

So there you have it. I’ve come clean.

So, this is home.

Tonight for a change in view, I decided to get my $10 Walmart patio “furniture” (just a chair and cheapo table) and bring it out front and sit like an old lady with my iced tea and my…. laptop. Yes, like an old lady… who’s up to date with technology. Anyway.

how quaint.
and to your right, you'll see an oasis in the sand.

A friend of mine posted recently about her feelings in her family’s cross-country move, and how she looked at the calendar and it felt like it was just a vacation. We’ll be going back anytime, right?

I think because I’m in a new environment, which isn’t nearly as oven-like inviting as “home”, I revert back to things of comfort. For me, that’s corn and bean fields, sounds of locusts and crickets, tornado warnings, days of rain and clouds, coldfronts that leave you feeling refreshed, and not being in the minority of language or culture. It’s homesickness, but it’s strange because I have my family (my husband), and my bed, and my blankies.

I stare down El Paso sometimes like it’s the bane of my existence, when really, the attitude is all mine. People here are very polite and welcoming, for the most part, and the roads are open with great views of the mountains, sky, and well, desert. I also stare it down like I’ll be in battle with it for the next five years… who knows how long the Army will keep us here.

I just want it to feel like home. I want to transport the comfort of even our third-floor apartment that overlooked a parking lot into our spacious house. I want it to look like the desert, but feel like I could cuddle up on my couch with a blanket and hot tea and welcome in the fall air. I want to see it get dark at 6 PM and see the snow falling… and then I think that and I ask myself, WHAT?! Didn’t you want to get out of the snow and cold that lasts for months? Well, of course I do. Digging my car out of a freakin’ blizzard with a dust pan and shovel were not my idea of fun. But at the same time, no. Because it’s comfortable. Because it’s what I’ve always known.

I’m already thinking of where I want to live after he gets out. On my list is not really the desert, but I could still see myself settling somewhere like El Paso… it’s home, for right now. And when we move on to the next place, I’ll take away memories from here, too.

(Like this little guy, named Jack. We’re watching him for a friend of my husband’s. Cuuuuuute.)

I wish I may, I wish I might

Get this: The day after I wrote my post on “being on the road to contentment”, I gave myself a hearty slap in the face.

We all grow up wishing things, right? On the stars, on birthday candles, on whatever. (One time, I wrote a preadolescent wish on a slip of paper and placed it in a “wishing jar” my aunt gave me from Hallmark. The wish came true. But I won’t tell you what it is… yet. It’s pretty funny, because it came true. Insert suspense here.)

There’s nothing wrong with hoping and dreaming for your life, until you’re 25 and feel as if you still haven’t gotten anything you’ve wished for. I know.. it’s overdramatic and whiny. I have plenty of great things.. an awesome husband, we’re provided for, we’re employed, we are madly in love.

But lately I’ve been grumpy. My husband has noticed it on multiple occasions, and it’s really none of his fault. Really. It’s been my choice to be grumpy, which is just plain ridiculous. I wished for two whole years that if we could just be together, live under the same roof, then I’d be happy. Well guess what? Our happiness is not, cannot, be wrapped in circumstance. Because when it doesn’t go our way, we get grumpy. And when Elizabeth is grumpy, it’s a bad day to be inside her head.

This whole week has been pretty bleak, mindfully speaking. Blah.

I have a confession: I am a covetous person. I really have always been this way… unfortunately it’s a way of life here in America, always wanting the bigger, better, more grandiose things in life. If we could only have this, only have that. Only look like her, have a different body.

The truth is, to covet is to sin. It says so in the Ten Commandments. “Covet” is such an ugly word, and I hate to say that I do this. All. The. Time. I compare and judge myself against others, and most saddening, against myself. It’s a horrible game of tearing myself down.

Part of my problem has been running. I know, I know.. when I started running it was never supposed to turn into a sick game of beating myself up. It’s like a punishment, that I gladly take upon myself. Go faster, run longer, follow a strict training plan (even though there’s no race or weight goal). And when I don’t meet my self-imposed goals, I feel guilty.

—————

I want to do my hair like that.. then I’ll feel more confident.

I want to have smaller body proportions.. then I can wear cuter clothes in smaller sizes. (My wish, [remember?], was that I wanted big boobs.. Lord help me, because genetically it shouldn’t really have been possible. Ha.)

I want to run faster so I can be better than… myself. (WHAT?! But this is what goes through my messed up brain!)

I want a job better than the one I have now, because then I’ll feel like I’m really doing something.

I wish I hadn’t missed that exit.. now I have to waste time and take the next one. I hate wasting time, and now I feel guilty for wasting a part of my day.

—————-

This is just a sneak peak at what goes through my mind for what seems like every second of every day. I apologize to my husband incessantly for saying or doing something that I think hurt him, when in reality, he told me that I’m really apologizing to myself. It’s so true. What a sick cycle!

It really makes me want to cry, because this is not a reflection at all of who I am in Christ! Where is the freedom, the joy, the grace?

I tell you what.. I am so glad that Jesus ate with sinners, that He chose to forgive those who were putting Him on that cross.. and that the fact that He lives now is what sustains me for eternity. I need grace, I need forgiveness, I need a Savior. Without those things, I am doing nothing but putting myself through a downward spiral…. and that, eventually, will send one to the grave.

I want to live a simple life of contentment and freedom. That’s really what I want. I don’t have to covet someone else or push them around to get it, either. It’s freely given to me through grace.

I want to stop striving all the time, and just start living.  I want to eat ice cream, and not feel guilty. I want to run and just be thankful that I can run. I want to go to work and be content there.

Romans 8:1-2 says,

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation

for those who are in Christ Jesus,

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit

who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

Gospel Challenge: Matthew 5-6, Jesus’ teachings

Wow! I am blown away by all the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5 and 6. We truly could live on His words alone, as He fulfills the Old Testament and Law. One thing that I didn’t really realize before is how concise Jesus is in His teaching… a take-it-or-leave-it sort of thing.

Matthew

5 Jesus spoke to His disciples: blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who seek righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, the persecuted

5:13-16 As salt and light, we can bring out the best in others, just as seasonings bring out the best in food. Our light should illuminate the goodness of God.

5:17 Jesus has come to fulfill the law and the prophets.. there is no need for ceremonial law because it is no longer necessary to sacrifice animals, etc, because Jesus came as the Ultimate Sacrifice. However, Jesus did follow completely the moral law.

5:21 We are subject to judgment if we hate our brother — we should reconcile with him and bring our sacrifice to the alttar

5:27 If you look at someone with lust, you have already committed adultery in your heart.

5:37 Be honest: Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”.. keep your word.

5:38 Do not retaliate — turn the other cheek. If someone sues you for your shirt, give him also your coat.

5:43 Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” Even the pagans do that…

6:1 Don’t parade around when you give to the needy; be humble.

6:6 Pray in secret, not standing in the streets in order to look righteous; be humble.

6:9-13 the Lord’s Prayer — simple, sincere, and succinct.

6:14 Forgive men as the Father would forgive them so that you may also be forgiven.

6:16 Do not make a public declaration of fasting; be humble.

6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

6:22 Keep your eyes clean.

6:24 “You cannot serve both God and Money.” We must choose a master.

6:25-33 Do not worry about money, or food, or clothes — pagans run after those things. Seek first His kingdom.

6:34 Tomorrow will worry about itself.

Hell-bent on expectations

Before I get into organizing my thoughts (which could be scary!) on this lazy Friday afternoon, I just have to say that I love being at home… the house is relatively clean, I have flowers on the table, and all I hear is the whirring of the fans and the purring kitteh. I love it.

a surprise from the hubby... he even picked them out to match our kitchen! what a man.

Anyway. I was wasting time playing mindless games on my iPod (yes, still have one of those) and I was just thinking about life, and all this philosophical mumbo-jumbo that’s hard to put into words concisely. Do I ever write anything concisely? Not really, but I will try.

But lately I’ve been thinking about how I had planned out my life, as if I could control and obtain certain circumstances that would make all the things I wanted possible. Like, I had thought that I’d still be teaching, probably still in Middle of a Cornfield, Illinois, and we’d have bought a house and popped out a kid by now. But have any of those things come to pass? Obviously not. Obviously life has taken us in a very different and unexpected direction.

What percentage of events in life can we really predict or expect anyway? Why are we so “hell-bent”, as the title says, on making things go our way and meeting our expectations?

They say that 95% of our worries never come to pass, and I’m starting to think it’s the same way with expectations. We can have all these supposedly grandiose things planned to do in life, and then when they don’t happen according to our timeline, we throw a little temper tantrum like a two-year-old, except we’re actually a 25-year-old mature(ish) woman with more blessings that she can count…. (yeah, that would be me in case you’re wondering…)

How does that even make sense? Things, so far, have turned out just fine. Sure, some times are rough, but that’s life. Things would be rough in an Illinois cornfield with a baby, too. (No, not Children of the Corn… though I think we joked about that sometimes where I worked…)

Lately, as in this week, I’ve been moving towards a more grateful and accepting attitude of my life and how it’s turned out so far instead of being bitter and resenting certain things like the United States military (cough cough).

My God is bigger than the military, bigger than my expectations, and certainly bigger than my hell-bent dependence on me. I think once we grasp the inevitability and uncertainty of life, we can move towards making better decisions that actually have our spiritual well-being and eternity in mind.

The expectations and deadlines seem to fade away, as memories of what we once thought we’d be, and then our future and even the present seem to brighten… suddenly we’re actually living life day by day instead of striving for something that’s not certain to happen anyway. We move to a clearing in the woods where we’re free to trust more instead of holding on to a plan that’s really not the plan.

We realize that everything is always Plan A, and never “second best”. A good friend’s thoughts on “Plan A” really stuck with me when she was describing how her husband of 27 years had passed away, and ten years later she fell in love and married again. Her second husband wasn’t a replacement or a Plan B… he’d always been part of Plan A from the start, unbeknownst to her.

This is just another one of those things where I realize how much God loves us… that He’s always had our “Plan A” in mind, and will continue to execute it in our lives as we allow ourselves to trust. When we trust, we have joy. When we have joy, we find contentment, and when we find contentment, we have peace.

And when I think of peace, I think of this…

 

What a great place for my mind (& heart) to be.