No matter what the self-help gurus say, we can’t do anything we want. We’re not all winners all the time. Some dreams will never come true. And we need to learn to deal with that. We need to know how to be losers.
Some of us will play softball for a whole season and never make contact with the ball (me). Some of us will try to draw a tree and have it be mistaken for fallopian tubes (also me). Some of us will never, ever be liked back by that cute boy in our Chemistry class (yep…me).
No matter how much our parents may try to protect us, we will all, at some point, fail. But – and here’s the important thing – that’s not only all right. It’s good.
That’s right. Losing is good. Because failure builds character in ways that winning cannot. And developing good character is far more important than winning.
Losing teaches us humility. It teaches us to think of others. It teaches us endurance, hope, compassion. And these are qualities that make us winners, not on the sports field or the stage, but in life.
Jesus didn’t spend any time at all talking about winning. He did spend a lot of time talking about serving. About sacrifice. He was treated like a loser by people He created! He could have put those folks in their place, brought down a lightning bolt on Herod’s head or had the earth swallow up Pontius Pilot. But he didn’t. Because “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
So, go ahead, be a loser! But do it right. None of this feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t make that goal or get that part or score that A. Ask God to help you honor Him in ALL things: good and bad, winning and losing. Lose the bad attitude and win a character that reflects Christ. Know that your worth isn’t found in what you can or cannot do, but in WHOSE you are!
I hate working out. Hate it. And don’t even think about scrolling down and offering advice on how to make it less hateful. I don’t want to hear it. Exercise is, I am sure, part of the curse. God could not have intended for us to have to exercise. There will be no gyms in Heaven.
However…I need to exercise. I used to exercise (on and off…more off than on) because I wanted to lose weight. Now, though, I have more a pressing motivation – if I don’t work out, my back hurts. See, my spine is fused, so my back muscles have to work a lot harder than regular folks whose vertebrae help carry the load. And, until this year, my muscles didn’t complain.
But, alas, my youth is evaporating and my muscles are no longer as cooperative as they used to be. In fact, those muscles started really yelling at me back in January. I was in pretty intense pain that lasted for a few months. I went to several doctors, had X-Rays, tried every remedy anyone offered. Then, I broke down and saw a chiropractor (which I never thought I’d do because I have like 3 working vertebrae – what’s the point?). But this guy felt my back and immediately recognized the problem – “Your muscles can no longer handle the pressure. You need to work out.”
But intense pain will make a person do anything. So I bought a membership to our local gym and began working out with my husband – who does not hate exercise. Nor does he hate telling me what to do. So he saw me lifting the 2.5 lb weights and he walked over and added 5lbs to it, then 10lbs. My arms, back, and shoulders are weak. Anything over 2.5 lbs hurts, people. And I look like an idiot, breathing like I’m in labor to push 10lbs up when the Hulk across from me is bench pressing 1000.
But, Dave says, you’ll never strengthen those muscles by lifting 2.5 lbs. I have to add more weights, have to push harder, because the end goal is less back pain.
And it’s working.
But I still hate it.
I realized something, though, last night at the gym: God is to us in life what Dave is to me at the gym. He adds more “weight” to our lives, not because he is trying to punish us, but because our “spiritual muscles” are weak. He wants to make us stronger, better able to carry the burdens of life, to lift people up and carry them to Him. But we won’t naturally do what it takes to get stronger, so God helps us along. And it doesn’t always feel like help. Sometimes it really, really hurts. Often, we hate that “weight”. But His yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Mt. 11:30). He is for us, not against us (Romans 8:31). As He is building our “muscles”, there may be discomfort, even embarrassment. But, in the end, we will be stronger and better equipped to fulfill His calling in our lives.
Parents and teens alike struggle with the question of dating. How old is “old enough”?
That’s easy. The answer is 30.
Kind of. Not that there’s anything wrong with waiting until 30. But just in case you don’t like that idea, here’s another, a little more complicated, solution:
There’s not an exact age.
But there are some questions you should ask yourself to determine whether or not you – or your child – are ready to date.
- Why do I want to date? If it’s because all your friends have boyfriends and you feel left out, because you feel prettier when you have a boyfriend, because you like the attention, or because you don’t like paying for movies – you’re not ready.
- Am I ready to think about marriage? I can hear the groans already. But seriously, if you are a young woman seeking after God, then dating is not a sport or a hobby or a science project. It is the way you get to know the young man who will eventually be your husband. Not that you should marry the first guy you date (though that’s pretty cool when it happens!), but that possibility should be there. If you’re not within 2-3 years of seriously considering marriage, then don’t date. You are setting yourself up for temptation and distraction – both of which can hinder your relationship with Jesus.
- Do I really understand I Corinthians 13? That’s the “love chapter” in the Bible. Know that chapter, memorize it, and then live it out with those close to you – your parents, your siblings, your friends. If you can’t get along with your little sister, if you and your parents fight every time you try to talk, if you constantly jump from friend group to friend group…you are not ready to date.
- Does this guy love Jesus? And I don’t just mean is he a Christian. The Bible says we are to be “equally yoked” – this is more than just sharing the same basic faith. You, hopefully, are someone who is passionate about knowing and serving Jesus. You want a spouse with the same passion. Don’t settle for anything less, I don’t care how hot he is.
- What do my parents think? If your parents say you can’t date, then you can’t date. That’s where our daughters, ages 15 & 17 are. We aren’t trying to, as my younger daughter jokes, force them to “commit social suicide”. We are trying to help them focus first on their relationship with Jesus so they will be ready to make godly choices when the time comes for them to start dating…Age 30 ;). Also, if your parents don’t like the guy you like, trust their judgment. If they’re wrong, and that really is the guy for you, God will work it out. In his time. He is all-powerful, after all.
Dating is fun, and the memories you make dating your future spouse are sweet. But don’t rush it. You might feel like you HAVE to date, that this guy you’re crushing on is the best thing since Snapchat. But even what we think is the best is nothing compared to what God has planned for us. Wait for God’s guy in God’s time.
“Don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe—and you’re ready. ” Song of Songs 2:7 The Message
Most girls crave relationships. We want to be known and loved and thought about. We want to share our feelings, our ups and downs, our questions and frustrations with those who will listen and understand. We spend hours watching movies and TV shows that glorify these kinds of relationships – perfect marriages and friendships where brief struggles are resolved and everyone lives happily ever after.
The reality, of course, is that friendships aren’t always beautiful, and marriage isn’t always perfect. There are glimpses of beauty, of course, and moments of perfection in these relationships. But anytime sinful humans are involved, there will be tears, frustrations, annoyances…Our friends can be draining, our guys can be insensitive. Or vice-versa! Feelings get hurt, we say things we regret. What we thought was the “perfect” relationship, we realize, is flawed. Disappointing. So we “start over” with another friend, another guy. But no one can live up to unrealistic, super-human expectations. So the cycle continues.
UNLESS we understand this: What we are craving – a soul-deep, unconditional love – is already ours! The God who created us gave us those cravings, and they will only be fully satisfied in Him. Not even the greatest of BFF’s or the most amazing of boyfriends/husbands can truly meet all our needs. They aren’t supposed to! In fact, one of the greatest paradoxes in life is that the more we try to find fulfillment in another person, the more empty we feel.
However, when we fully surrender to the One who loves us more than we can possibly imagine, we find everything we are looking for. We find true, soul-deep, unconditional love. And God’s love in us allows us to love others without unrealistic expectations. God’s love in us allows us to forgive offenses and be patient with shortcomings and always hope for the best. It even allows us to walk away, if a relationship is destructive. Because the only One we “need” is the One who will never leave us, forsake us, or let us down.
So, as you consider what your #relationshipgoals are, don’t look around. Look up. The “one” is already there, already loving you and listening to you and knowing you. You already have what you want.
A former pastor used to say we’re all either entering a trial, exiting a trial, or in the middle of a trial.
It sounds pretty rough, I know. But those of us who have been walking with the Lord for a while know this is true. And, honestly, as I look back on a quarter century as a Christian, I realize that the times I feel closest to God is when I am in the middle of a trial. It’s in those times, difficult as they are, that I am desperate for Him. I need time in His word, in prayer, in fellowship with others, to get through each day. I know God allows trials, in part, to do that – draw us to Him, remind us that He is our strength.
But what about the in-between times? I’m there right now – though I’m slightly afraid to admit it. (As if I could “jinx” myself. Silly.) I am, in my former pastor’s words, “between storms”. The “storm” of moving and the difficulties involved in that have abated. The storm of having my first child leave the nest is on the horizon, but it’s not here yet. Life is pretty easy right now.
And that’s the problem.
I find myself pushing “Snooze” when I should be getting up and spending time with God. I allow my thoughts to drift to lesson plans and grocery lists during church. I choose staying home and reading over getting together with friends. I don’t “need” those things. So I do my own thing.
As a result, I am feeling distant from God. I am missing the passion I have when I’m in the “fire” – not that I want to be there! But I do want that closeness, that longing for God, that nearness to Him. I don’t want to have to enter a storm to force me to His side. I want to live there, to dwell in the shadow of His wings.
After 25 years of knowing Jesus, I feel like I should be better at this! And there is certainly growth, don’t get me wrong. But I still get lazy, complacent. I still allow the fire of passion to get dulled in the daily routine of a comfortable life.
In short, I still need Jesus. Even in the “in-between”.
We’ve all been there. Someone we care deeply about is contemplating – or actively pursuing – something (or someone!) terrible. What do we do?
As a confrontation-hater, I like to “just pray about it” and avoid the person. God can change them, right? And He is in control. So He will make sure that loved one gets the message. I’ll jump back in once God has done His thing….Until, as a confrontation-hater-that-occasionally-explodes, I just can’t take it anymore and then I say something I deeply regret.
This strategy doesn’t really work all that well.
And it’s definitely not biblical.
God certainly calls us to pray for our brothers and sisters. But we are also called to action. Galatian 6:1 tells us that believers should seek to restore someone who is in sin. Matthew 18 shows us how to do it: 1) confront the person one-on-one 2) if he/she doesn’t listen, bring in another person 3) if the person still doesn’t listen, bring him/her before the church.
God takes sin seriously. Sin keeps us from fully experiencing His purpose in our lives, from doing what God has called us to do, from knowing Him. How can we say we love someone, then, if we allow him/her to continue in sin? If we “just pray about it”, but do nothing to stop him/her?
This means that even us confrontation-haters need to confront – one-on-one first, then with someone else, if that isn’t effective. We need to be willing to bring in church leaders, as necessary, if the second step fails.
We don’t do this because we’re angry or harsh or judgmental, but because we love people too much to allow them to continue down a path that will destroy them. Occasionally, this means that we have to establish boundaries that mean a relationship is put on hold. Again, not because we are angry or trying to hurt someone, but because sin is serious. We are called to reflect God in every way – His love and His righteousness.
Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” Sometimes, the greatest love we can show someone is to refuse to enable them to continue walking down a path that will destroy them.
When I began my AP Literature class this week, I told the students the key to success in that class can be stated in two words…
Students who rush through the AP readings (complex literature with many layers) miss most of what the passages are about and can rarely analyze the passages correctly. But students are so conditioned to rushing through so much of life – the downside of having the world at your fingertips – that the idea of slowing down is foreign.
As I wrote those words on the board (Hangman-style, as requested by the students), I realized that I need to follow my own advice. Not for AP Lit, but for life. I tend to rush through much of my day. I multitask far too often and still find tasks that I have forgotten. I finish one day while planning the next. Too often, I only half-listen to my husband when he talks to me because my mind is somewhere else – where are the kids? Did I leave the coffee maker on? Did I make the copies that I need for tomorrow…?
I need to slow down. To enjoy each moment. I don’t want to keep looking back at my days and realize I spent them distracted rather than engaged. There’s nothing wrong with planning. But rushing in life, as in AP Lit, can keep me from missing the true beauty right in front of me. It can prevent me from enjoying the people God has placed in my life right now.
Worse, it can keep me from God Himself. When I am rushing, I fly through my Bible study and prayer time because I am thinking of what comes next. How many lessons has God wanted to teach me, lately, that I have missed because I am not slowing down and listening to His voice? How many people has He placed in my path that I have ignored because I am too involved in my own plans to consider His?
This teacher needs to follow her own advice and Slow. Down. Enjoy each day because God hasn’t promised us tomorrow. And because tomorrow has enough worries of its own. And because God is here, today, and He has plans for me today.
Maybe you need this reminder, too. It’s so easy to rush, so easy to be distracted. So incredibly easy to focus on the temporal and neglect the eternal. But there is a remedy: Slow. Down.
“This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Ps. 118:24 (emphasis mine)
Several years ago, my friend Amy told me about a book she read that discussed how parents celebrate the “firsts”, but often miss the “lasts”. Usually it’s because we don’t know when those “lasts” will be…the last time we read a book to our child in bed, the last lost tooth, the last Band-Aid we apply.
Tomorrow, however, is a “last” that I am very aware of. Tomorrow is Emma’s last “first day” of school.* That also means that, after more than decade, it’s the last day all three of my kids will start the same school together.
This is the last year we’ll have a “first day” picture with all three kids, the last year my girls will play volleyball together, the last time I’ll teach Emma in my English class, most likely the last time I’ll direct her in a play.
All our lives will be different next year. Ellie and Thomas don’t know a world without Emma in it daily. And, while I am aware this is part of the “deal” as a parent, knowing that my nest will soon be emptying is a sad thought. My kids are two years apart – by the time I get over Emma leaving, Ellie will be a senior. Then Thomas…
These pictures are from the kids’ first day at school (in Madrid, Spain) – the first time all three were in school together. It is hard to believe I took those 10 years ago. Hard to believe we’ve been to three different schools since then, moved across the Atlantic and across the US. Hard to believe those adorable little babies are now all amazing teens on the brink of adulthood.
So I am celebrating this “last”. I am pausing to thank God for the years He has given me to parent my children, to buy school supplies and go to volleyball games and kiss hurts and host slumber parties. I am thankful for kids who love Jesus and love each other and bring us joy. I am thankful that, while this may be a “last”, Lord willing, there will be many, many more “firsts” to come.
*We are on a modified year-round schedule: school starts in July and ends in May.
I love to go to the beach. With its sounds and smells, the feel of the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair, ahhh. It is so relaxing. And since I live fairly close to the beach, I can go pretty often.
When we lived in Florida, we went most often to the Gulf of Mexico. I remember lying on my towel and looking out at the water – the same Gulf that kissed the shores of Florida also touched Texas and, of course, Mexico. And when we ventured to Florida’s east coast, I looked out at the Atlantic and thought how amazing that ocean went all the way to Europe! I may not be able to visit England, but I could visit a body of water that touches England.
But the Pacific Ocean…that thing is HUGE! The waters I touch in the Pacific also touch the shores of Australia and China. My sister and her family, missionaries in Southeast Asia, over 8000 miles away, can see the shores of the same ocean that I visit. I can’t even fathom the magnitude of that much water. To visit my sister would take a day’s travel by plane and a passing through of 14 time zones! But the Pacific Ocean is both there and here.
Psalm 103:12 tells us “He has removed our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west.” When I read that verse, I think about the ocean. As far as the east – America – is from the west – Asia. That’s how far my sins have been removed. Some translators say this refers to the sun setting – as far as daybreak is from nightfall, that’s how far our sins are removed. Either way – our sins are long gone!
I might wish to take a swim across the Pacific and visit my sister. But, even if I weren’t ridiculously afraid of what’s in the ocean (Shark Week doesn’t help!), I could never make it. It’s simply too far.
I need to apply that same understanding to my sins. When God forgives me, that sin is long gone. I can’t reach it. It can’t come back for me. I don’t have to live with the guilt or shame of it. It is GONE. As far as the east is from the west.
What a wonderful, gracious God we have to take all our sins – every one of them – and toss them “as far as the east is from the west.” Let’s not live as if they are nearby, let’s not allow the Enemy to bring those sins back to our minds. They are GONE. Let us live in the joy and freedom of a forgiven life.
Having moved several times in my adult life, I am jealous of folks who have lived in one place their whole lives, whose parents, siblings, and extended families live close enough to share Sunday dinners and holidays. Sometimes, I get a little bitter that I didn’t get that story. I long for roots — deep, decades-long roots – in one place. Instead, I have shallow roots all over.
This week, God has been reminding me that I do have roots, I do have a home. The permanency I long for is a reality. At church on Sunday, our pastor spoke of Heaven and said, “Imagine…what is most precious here on earth is the asphalt of heaven.” In my Bible study, I am nearing the end of Revelation, where John describes the beauty and majesty of Heaven.
Far too often, I get too caught up in this life. I get overwhelmed with “to-do lists” and worldly concerns, with minor details and passing problems. I allow those temporary issues to keep me from focusing on the eternal. I live as if this life is all there is.
But this life is not all there is. Not even close. In fact, compared to eternity, this life is a blip on the radar. So why do I live like this life is all there is? Why do I worry about things I can’t change? Why do I get jealous of people who have “roots” here when I have the greatest roots ever? I get an eternity to live next to family and feast with my Father!
I don’t know about you, but I constantly need the reminder that I am not of this world. I am a stranger here. Someday, though, I will have my longed-for “forever home”.
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” John 14:2