I see a lot of stuff out on the internet about how ridding yourself of the toxic relationships in your life will make you a happier person. I guess I understand how that could be true. I have some relationships that others would probably consider toxic, and I guess in a way they are. I sometimes daydream about what it would be like to be able to just completely wash my hands of certain people and situations. The outlook would be a much more peaceful life.

But cutting people out of your life is a two edged sword, at least for me. I think that a lot of the time, we are predisposed to thinking of everything in black and white. For example, I have a person in my life, we’ll call her Donna, whose temper is just completely out of control. This is a big issue for me, especially when it comes to her spending time around my son. I grew up in a house with a lot of screaming, cussing, and yelling, and it did a lot of damage to me emotionally. It’s taken a long time for me to heal, and I’m determined that my child will not be around that type of behavior. But at the same time, Donna’s  poured a lot of good into my life. I’m the person I am today, some good and some bad, because of her influence in my life. She would (forgive the cliché) give me the shirt off of her back, even though she’d probably cuss me out for it later.

I can’t just cut her out of my life. For one, it wouldn’t go over too well with some other people I know. It would make certain get togethers and formal functions really uncomfortable and weird. And secondly, and most importantly, God has called me to love Donna. (A little disclaimer here: I am not advocating for anyone to stay in an abusive situation. Just in case I’m not being clear, I am only talking about difficult relationships.)

There are others in my life that have cut Donna out, and they are clueless as to why I make an effort to have a relationship with her.   Does her temper bother me? Yes. Do I think she gets out of control sometimes? Absolutely. When people ask me how I stand it, I simply tell them that I’ve learned to set boundaries. When Donna gets all crazy, I get up and leave. I appreciate the good that she brings to my life, and I forgive her for the ugly. I try not to let her angry outbursts get me down too much, but when it does, I look to the One who can heal Donna. I say this a lot, and I think it may be turning into my life slogan: Christ is enough. And how’s Donna going to know that if someone isn’t being there for her, telling her and showing her?

We’d all do better to remember that down at our very core, we are all dark and twisted. Sin makes our heart a toxic wasteland. That’s why we need a Savior.

Last Resort

Struggle. No one wants to do it. It’s difficult and no fun, but a guarantee in this life. We have no choice in the matter unfortunately. We’re gonna go through seasons of it. I’m going through a season of my own. I’ll spare you the gory details (I wouldn’t care to share myself; it’s only that others involved in my imbroglio might not feel so keen). I finally reached out to my pastor this week and set up a counseling session to discuss it with him. I am hoping he will offer a fresh perspective because I am all out of ideas. I’ve honestly been feeling as though my situation has been DOA the past few months. I’ve really lost hope.

All of this makes me think about Jairus and his daughter, and the bleeding woman. I’ve thought about him in particular this past week. Matthew tells us that he was a synagogue leader. That means he was involved with all of the adminstrative tasks that concerned running the place of worship; He looked after the building and ran the school housed there through the week. He also supervised worship and scheduled rabbis to speak on the Sabbath.  He was a planner, an organized person. He had to be in order to do his job. But what strikes me most about Jarius is that his focus and all of his day revolved around serving God and his house. So why did he wait until his daughter was dead before he sought out Jesus? Why did he come to Jesus when it seemed all was lost?

I do this all the time. I wait and wait and wait until a situation is the worst it can get. I allow God to be a last resort much of the time instead of my first line of defense. Sure I pray about it, but I’m disgusted to admit that during these times of desperation, my prayers come out sounding like an almighty wish list instead of loving communication with my Almighty Father. And then when I take into account everything He has already done for me, I feel like a whiny adolescent and that telling God about my problems is the equivalent of complaining about having to do my chores or go to school.

I don’t want to be Jarius or the bleeding woman. I don’t want to wait until it’s too late or suffer for years before I take my problem to God. I’d rather be Jehoshaphat, facing down a massive army and the surety of annihilation with a prayer. I pray that God will help me anchor my life on Him instead of my own strength. I can’t do it on my own. After all, I mess things up time and time again. I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself.

Jarius and the bleeding woman give me hope though. The bleeding woman had been sick for twelve years before Jesus healed her. This woman was probably in a pretty dismal place, thinking that she would live her life being considered unclean and untouchable, until she placed her faith in Christ. It just goes to show you that God can heal situations or people that have not changed for a really long time.  And Jarius. It was too late for him, but Jesus raised his daughter from the dead.  God can restore what is broken and save what is lost. I knew this already, of course, because he saved me, but I’ve been spectacularly failing at living this truth. It’s funny how we trust God to save our eternal soul, but we won’t trust Him with our problems and our tomorrows.

I am learning.

Verb Love

My husband and I have been together for nine years. Nine years. It’s flown by at a breakneck pace, at least for me. My husband may tell a different story. Sometimes we’ll be sitting around in the evening reminiscing and laughing about something, like how we got into a knock down, drag out fight over a crooked piece of wall art in our first apartment, and it will hit me all of a sudden that we have so much history together. I can’t believe we have so many memories to share.

I was twenty when we met and he was twenty-three. I look at pictures from way back when, and my eyes get all misty and I get this funny tickle in my throat. We were just a couple of kids, so young looking. We thought we had it all figured out, when in actuality we were only on the cusp of adulthood. I think back on that time quite fondly. The night we met. The long distance relationship angst and the euphoria of finally seeing one another.  It was wonderful and exciting. It was fight and chase each other into the rain. It was intense, in a way that makes me feel exhausted now.  It was so easy to love each other, in spite of the turmoil we sometimes faced (and caused) in our relationship with one another because we didn’t know our Holy Father.

Things are a bit different now. We’re older. We’re more stable, both financially and emotionally. We bought a home and we have a child. While I sometimes look back on our earlier days wistfully, I don’t think I’d want to go back and relive them. There is a lot less turmoil these days, but sometimes it’s more difficult to love one another. It’s hard to divert time to just spend on one another. And our definition of love has changed.

Love isn’t just a feeling anymore, the highs and lows of infatuation. The world believes that infatuation is love, and they sell it that way through television and magazines. They use the two interchangably, but it’s not true. Love is a verb. It’s something you do. All you have to do is crack open your Bible and take a peek to find out where this kernel of truth came from. It’s there, from the front cover to the maps. Verb love is Christ like love.

See, if you’ve been married for a good chunk of time, you know that marriages go through seasons of struggle, apathy, or even straight up dislike. It’s normal and to be expected, although the world will tell you differently. The world tells you that you should get up and leave the moment you feel unsatisfied or if things get a little tough. But there’s beauty in sticking it out. There’s satisfaction and growth. And you get to see real love, in action; The kind of love that says, “I’m going to do this thing for you, even though you’ve been really selfish lately. Even though you’ve been neglecting our relationship this month. Even though you’re a tootie head. I’m going to go out of my way for you. I’m going to do something that I’d rather not. I’m going to make sacrifices. Even though you don’t deserve it.”

That’s the kind of love that Jesus gives. It saved my soul. It’s kept my marriage afloat.  Let me practice it more like You, Lord. More and more and more.




The Beauty of Real

My husband and I got rid of cable TV almost as soon as the Roku hit the market. We have a lot of scorn for our previous provider, who charges outrageous rates because they are the only company in the area (yes, I live out in the country, but not quite as far out as you might think). Switching over to the Roku has been a blessing in more ways than one though. It’s helped the budget in a gigantic way. I’m talking cutting our bill by more than half. We also love that the shows we enjoy are now “on demand” for us. It’s nice to come home and be able to watch whenever we like. Even for shows that come on weekly through suscription services like Hulu or Starz, we wait until the season is over and then binge watch. If it’s a suscription service that we don’t use regularly, we also have the added benefit of only having to pay for it for a month instead of the length of the show’s season.  The biggest benefit of cutting out cable for me, however, has been no commercials, and probably not for the reason that you think.

See, I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and I am particularly susceptible to the sins of seeking the approval of man and covetousness (I am not afraid to get gritty and raw with you. When we share our brokenness and need for Christ with others, they can recognize their own). Coming to know the Savior has shown me that I have value that is not based on the approval of others, but I still struggle occasionally and try to avoid certain triggers that may cause me to sin in this area. What this means for me is that I avoid certain stores and I never, ever look at magazines. Here lately it has also meant a Facebook break. I may end up deleting Facebook altogether. I am still praying about this. What I didn’t realize until they were gone, is that commercials make me feel the same way that these things do.

This may seem crazy, but think about it. Commercials and advertisements are hardwired to make us feel inadequate. Their core message is that our life is not complete without their product or service. We will never be attractive. We will never be good parents. Our children will miss out. We will never be happy. Unless we buy what they are selling. If that’s not a recipe for temptation, I’m a raccoon (albeit a cute, chubby one). What’s more, is that the images and ideas that they try to sell us are not real. Stainless steel pots and pans, leather furniture, expensive make up, hip clothing, and the most high tech gadgets on the market will not satisfy us or make us beautiful.

Only Jesus can do that. He’s enough.

So what exactly is true beauty? What’s true joy? Only the work of Lord in us: A quiet and gentle spirit. Meekness. Humility. Servanthood. Thankfulness. Obedience. Compassion. A heart bent on loving others no matter the cost. These things are of eternal value, and do not fade away with the passing of time. Now that’s real. And beautiful.




Coming From a Trailer Park Near You

When I was growing up, I was friends with a girl from my church.  We were really tight for a while, and spent a lot of time together.  Our nicknames rhymed, which was kind of cute and made us seem like quite the pair.  We were at this incredibly awkward age where we just sticking our feelers out and dipping our toes into our own identities. We’d only begun to ask the question “Who am I really?” I think that was truly the cement of our relationship, because looking back on it now, I’m not so sure that we would have been friends otherwise. We didn’t have much else in common, at least personality wise. We were both chubby and insecure though, and just plain boy crazy.  I had the most dehabilitating crush on her older brother. It was a good time.

Near the end of our friendship, right around the time we were about fifteen or so, I remember riding in the car with her and her mother. They were taking me home. I don’t remember the exact words she used, but she said something derogatory about people who live in trailers, something that made her seem like she was above them, better. And I remember how it felt to get out of the car when they dropped me off at home, where I lived in a trailer.

As an adult, I understand now that she wasn’t necessary scorning people who live in trailers, but the poor (which I was not).  I want you to know that I’m not knocking this girl down. I honestly don’t think that she said it to hurt me. It was thoughtless privilege. We were only kids and everyone is guilty of the “I’m better than you” complex from time to time. This type of thinking is actually endemic in the church today, as sad as that is, especially when it comes to the needy.

Poor people tend to have problems, problems that are unique to being poor, like not having enough to eat or not being able to afford to pay the light bill. They have messy lives that bleed onto others who associate with them. They are often impacted by drug abuse and domestic violence and tend to have a lot of family problems. I’m not saying that these types of problems are only relegated to poor people, but the fact remains that poor people are more likely to have them.  They don’t really have much to offer when the offering plate comes around and it’s not much of a picnic to go about the business of helping them out. It’s quite costly. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret, a secret that I’ll bet you already know: Jesus died for them too. It’s pretty simple really. The ground at the cross is level. And believe me, I am not coming at you from a self righteous place. My heart is convicted this morning.

The Bible is pretty clear in its commands to help the poor and the needy. I think it’s funny that we waffle around with questions about God’s will for our lives when all we have to do is look in our Bibles to know. What’s God’s will for your life? Well, He wants you to help the poor. How do I know? Well, because He said so.

So what are we doing? Are we really living the scripture? Are we truly devoted to following Christ’s ways? How are we welcoming the less fortunate into the church? A better question might be how are we going out of our way to be the hands and feet of Christ to the poor? Because on top of all of their problems, there is one that trumps the rest. Coming from a trailer park near you, is someone who is dead in their sin and desperately needs the Savior.



Building Authentic Relationships

I’ve always struggled with making friends. Always. In grade school, I was chubby. I’m still chubby, but because children tend to be cruel, it was a much bigger deal back then.  Sometimes being overweight in school can help someone’s personality blossom because, hey, you gotta work with what you have.  Unfortunately, this is not what happened to me. Being the fat kid turned me into a trembling bundle of resentment and insecurities. I was much too worried about what others thought of me and how I might be made the butt of a joke to ever have a chance of being a real friend to anyone.  In high school I slimmed down enough to where I was only called fat occasionally, but my intense fear of rejection and ridicule remained. I went through several groups of friends, going through the motions of changing my taste in music, clothing, etc. to fit in. I clung to whoever seemed to even mildly like me. I let others use me. I fell into drugs and alcohol.  Although I was able to cultivate some relationships during this time, they weren’t healthy and they were all colored by the fact that I was alone in my misery. I dealt with this by becoming increasingly self absorbed (which certainly didn’t help anything). This continued into my adult life until I came to know Christ. Maybe you rolled your eyes when you read that, but it’s true nevertheless. Maybe you don’t buy into all the Jesus stuff but stay with me for a few minutes and let me explain.

Coming to know Christ has freed me from bondage.

See, Jesus loved me so much that he died for me. He died to save me from my sin and to save my soul from eternal separation from Him in hell. He died so I could become a part of His family. He chose me.  And because He chose me, someone who’d been looked over and picked last for a lot of my life, I finally understood that I had value. I was free to be myself, because my identity was in Christ.  Jesus freed me from the bondage of sin, and He gave me victory over the hatred I had for myself and the need I had for the approval of others.

Coming to know Christ has emptied me of myself.

Seems contradictory, no? If I was finally free to be myself, then how could I possibly be emptied of myself? A few months after my conversion, I found out that my husband and I were expecting our first and only child. Let me tell you, my son is truly a gift from God.  He is a gift in himself, with his sweet, humble smile, his enthusiasm for learning new things, and his overload of snuggles and kisses. But the gift is twofold. Through my child, God also gave me a joy in putting others before myself. He emptied me of my self absorption. I’m not saying that I practice selflessness perfectly. I still have plenty of selfish moments and I fail on the daily. But through many sleepless nights, lots of dirty diapers, and plenty of tears from the both of us, I found that all the effort I poured into my son was just worth it. I was exhausted, stressed, and frazzled beyond belief, but I was also insanely joyful.  I began to approach all of my relationships from the perspective of  “What can I do for you?” instead of “What can you do for me?”

Having an authentic relationship with Jesus has allowed me to build authentic relationships with others.

God has poured out an enormous amount of healing into my life, probably more than my fair share. My marriage, which was on the brink of divorce, is much improved. My relationships with my family are no longer one sided. Making friends is quite a bit easier. I don’t have many and I’ll never win any popularity contests, but the friendships I have cultivated are genuine and grounded in the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and my heart explodes with thankfulness to God.