MM: Love is Patient

Today marks one week until I am back in Virginia to start up my sophomore year of college. Summer flew by! While I am remarkably excited to return and dive into a new living situation (maybe I will start a new blog/continue this one to keep a record of that experience!), parting will be a sweet sorrow.

I am bummed to be leaving home because it seems as though I am just starting to get the hang of loving and serving my family well. The beginning of the summer was a bit of a tumultuous transition as I, in my prideful independence, struggled to embrace the humility and selflessness that is crucial to family life. Thus, patient love was a hallmark of my growth this summer in several ways.

First: the Lord has been incredibly patient with me. The evidence of this is present in my trail of posts detailing how He has shown up in my life week by week and helped me to learn how to be more like Him. When I ask Him to speak to me and guide me, He has never failed to give me instruction. I thank God because I feel like I have had so many breakthroughs this summer – discovering new, healthy ways of thinking about the issues I face and learning how I can better honor Him. Although I still struggle and fall often, He is all encouragement and grace.

Second: My family has been so patient and generous with me. They have demonstrated the way that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). When I am grouchy or unkind to them, they are quick to forgive me and reconcile with me. My family has supported me and cheered me on in my pursuit of a Nurse Aide Certification, which I recently received – praise God! – and has attentively listened to my stories of work, adventures, and life back in Virginia. Their love has been unconditional – in the midst of difficult situations growing only stronger.

Third: I have learned the importance of having patient love for others. Just as the Lord loves with unending generosity and mercy, so should I! This summer I have learned to let go of control and to do all things with love – choosing not to sweat the small stuff and instead looking for the good and beauty in everything and everyone around me. By the grace of God, I am growing to love better.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 famously begins, “love is patient, love is kind…” I think when I get back to Virginia I will write these verses and put them on my wall where I can be reminded daily of the characteristics of God’s love. Our purpose is to love others like He does, in thanks and praise to the God who has loved us deeply and ceaselessly. Praise the Lord who will continue to patiently teach us to live and love like Him!

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MM: Two Ears, One Mouth

With only two weeks left at home this summer, I have been reflecting on what I have learned in the past few months of living with my family again. Much of the new insight I have gained is the result of conversations with my parents or sisters. Sometimes our talks have been serene – times for me to think aloud and receive input or encouragement without question. Others have not been as painless.

Wow, that was a bit dramatic. When making the above statement and implying that some of my conversations have been painful, I mainly refer to growing pains and the slight burning sensation that accompanies embracing humility. This summer I have had practice with handling both so I can receive correction graciously. Instead of making excuses when my little sister or my mom call me on to better behavior, I have been trying to open my mind and hear them out. This has not been easy.

Although I often forget, the truth is that when my family and friends challenge me, they do so out of love. Although I may feel offended, I am learning to recognize that it is not their intent to hurt me. Instead of being so quick to defend myself, I have to call to mind James 1:19 – “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” The same idea is reflected in a quote from Epictetus (I have no idea who that is…): “We have two ears and one mouth, so we ought to listen twice as much as we talk.” Although truth is hard for me to hear when it hurts my pride, it is so important for me to listen. Truth spoken in love (Ephesians 4:15) should be received in love.

Although I know I will never be perfect, it is not fun to discover yet another area of my life that needs work. Yet if I take the time to listen to the encouragement and calling on of the people who love me, if I can let go of the irritation that is my immediate response, I discover truth and hope. In my weakness and struggle, God is strong. If I surrender my difficulties to Him, He empowers me to overcome.

I know I am flawed and broken, and oh how I wish I could do a better job of loving and serving God and the people He has put in my life. Thank God, then, that He gives us grace to overcome weakness when we are leaning on Him. I thank Him for His mercy that does not run out, even when I am slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to get angry. Our God is quick to love and every day we have the chance to try to be more like Him. Praise God!

MM: Loved and Known

On Monday afternoon I had time to kill. Planning to get some reading done, I went in search of a cute coffee shop where I could sit down and be productive for an hour or so. Instead of reading, however, I set my back pack aside and ended up talking to and getting to know a stranger! A casual question from me led to the man explaining the mission of that coffee shop. Rather than being a place to check in, do solitary work, and leave without speaking to anyone, this cute cafe seeks to connect random people and build community through conversation and the simple face-to-face interaction that seems a rarity today. While my hour was not productive in the usual sense, my experience that day led me to reflect on my definition of productivity.

As a planner and organizer, I like to know the specifics of a task. Thus, I often wish God would give me a rundown of His mission for me. The Lord sometimes lays out the details when asking us to do things. Other times, however, He simply directs us to love. I have a hard time with this. How can I check “simply love” off of my to-do list? What are the guidelines for successfully “loving”?

There is a line in one of my favorite songs, “City of God,” that I often sing to myself to remind me of the mission God has called me (and all of us) to. “The world is dying to be shown a place where each is loved and each is known.” Lately I have been realizing that there are not any hard and fast rules for loving. The Lord gives us freedom to carry out that mission as we see fit, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit! To know and to love His people – those are the guidelines He gives.

Back to the topic of productivity. In my mind, I am productive when I can point to results. I have succeeded at something when I can pronounce it completed with excellence. In serving God, however, I cannot “check off” bringing the Lord into a situation. I cannot “complete” relationships and I do not always see the results of my conversations or interactions with others.

This does not mean that my efforts to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and share God with others are not worthwhile – praise the Lord! Instead, I can give glory to God in any interaction when I try to love and better get to know those around me. Jesus said that He longed for His beloved people to “become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me” (John 17:21-22). Loving and knowing people fosters unity, building up the Kingdom of God and a community founded on relationship.

Most likely, I will never again see my new friend from the coffee shop. That does not mean, however, that my time spent getting to know him was wasted or unproductive. Rather, it brought glory to God because our relationship-building brought a little more light and love into the world.

I have a new goal, now. Instead of wishing for specific guidelines or trying to puzzle out progress in my relationships, I will simply try to know and to love people better. Sometimes that looks like investing myself in relating to strangers, knowing I may never see them again, because those interactions make God present in a little way. It looks like simply relishing time spent with my friends, regardless of whether or not we have “deep” conversations, because even the random discussion of style preferences and the spontaneous car karaoke are marked with the love of Christ. Recently I have realized that it also looks like getting to know my sisters better so that I can relate to them with more patience and gentleness.

Christ’s request of us to know and love His people has no completion point. It matters not whether the person with whom I interact is someone I have just met or a lifetime friend – it is always worthwhile to pour myself into loving every person around me. Praise God for this simple though demanding mission and for the flexibility we have in carrying it out. Now to practice leaning continually on the Lord for the strength and creativity to never stop loving!

MM: Roots

Ever heard the quote “comparison is the thief of joy”? I find this to be so true. Comparison leads me to view my friends as competitors and my sisters as rivals. A little bit of healthy competition is alright, but the comparison that I have been struggling with lately is mainly divisive.

At the root of my habit of comparison is a sneaking insecurity. While I think of my self as someone who trusts deeply in the Lord, there are still areas of my life that I cling to have difficulty surrendering to Him. Instead of giving my fears to Him and “casting my cares upon Him” (1 Peter 5:7), I am prompted by my pride and a fierce independence to rely on myself for security and fulfillment. Let me give a specific example.

I love pilates (specifically Blogilates). When I work out, I feel strong and healthy. Sometimes I am tired and don’t want to exercise, but I see my sisters pull out their yoga mats and I am motivated to do the same. This is healthy. At other times, unfortunately, my response is not as positive. If I allow a competitive spirit of comparison to overcome me, I may instead lash out in grouchiness without valid cause or else allow my mind to churn out a list of other ways that I am better than them, since in the moment their strength makes me feel insecure.

The Lord called me out on this the other day. He challenged me, “Is your confidence so shaky that another’s success and capability can convince you that you are weak and worthless? That is not true! Where is your security rooted?” What a wake up call! If my peace was found in Christ, it would be deeply rooted and not as easily shaken. Clearly, I was looking for confidence in the wrong place.

It is sad that it has taken several instances of me asking myself “Why am I so grumpy with my family today?” to realize that something was going on in my heart that needed to be resolved. Right now, that something is misplaced security. I am really struggling with finding my identity in how healthy and fit I feel, the way that I look, the way that people around me react and relate to me… Basically, I was striving to find fulfillment in myself and in affirmation from others.

Jesus told us, “Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life… I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry” (John 6:27, 35). If I keep searching for peace to come from my appearance, my feelings, or my relationships, I will not find it. God alone will give me the joy, fulfillment, and security I long for. While comparison and painstaking concern about the “food that spoils” may boost my confidence at times, my roots can only grow deep into Jesus.

There is much work ahead for me as I seek to uproot myself from the shallow pot of passing things from which I have sought to derive my worth. I must transplant myself into the rich soil of God, turning my face to Him and letting myself be fulfilled and renewed by the water of His grace. When He is Lord of my heart – the one in whom I place all my trust – and my eyes are fixed on Him, I will find joy that comparison cannot steal. With my gaze locked on Christ, I can see that there is a mission much greater than I which demands a heart fully relying on the Lord. God, help me to surrender to you my insecurities and shallow cares. You are my hope and security. Come, Lord!

MM: There’s a Plank in my Eye!

First of all, I apologize that this post is not timely. I missed both of my usual posting dates – Monday and Thursday – because this week has been busy with beginning Nurse Aide training! It’s been a tiring week, but I have learned so much and have a feeling that the end of this summer will be a definite introduction to the world of patient care. Ready or not, here I come!

Busyness and tiredness in my life also tends to lead to grouchiness. With that, I give you today’s musing topic: hyper-critical-ness. I have a habit of suggesting to my sisters (and sometimes even my parents) that they modify their behavior. In my mind, I am encouraging them and spurring them to holiness (as if I am qualified to evaluate in that area…) My mom the other day, though, to see that there is a fine line between motivating and making unkind assumptions, and I had crossed it.

The situation was that one of my sisters had expressed frustration at something and I immediately called her out for not speaking positively. My thought was that she should be speaking only that which was uplifting, even if that meant stifling a struggle. My quick response was unkind and inappropriate, though. Not only did I cut her off and end potential dialogue about a difficulty in her life, but it also turned out that I had misheard her!

When I shut myself in my room a little later to catch my breath and clear my mind, I recalled the verse from Matthew that says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?” (7:4). Yup, I definitely had a log in my eye. I was so quick to see her speech as wrong that I completely overlooked the unloving way in which I was responding to her. 

I believe that there do exist situations in which we should “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Perhaps in my situation there was room for improvement in my sister’s behavior and I could have encouraged her gently. Whatever the case, though, I need to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide my speech rather than appointing myself to be the critiquer of others’ actions. There is definitely room for improvement in my own life and I am so in need of God’s grace and mercy. Come, Holy Spirit and lead me in my actions and responses. Give me more of your love and wisdom, and keep me from being a plank-eyed speck-pointer.

MM: Hanging Out with Jesus

This year I have learned how awesome it is to hang out with Jesus. I am not referring to spending time praying, although that is fantastic too. I am talking about something a little bit different that I began doing after I left home for college: entering into the activities of my day with the mindset that I was doing them not only for God, but with Him.

I first did this one evening in the Spring semester when I was feeling lonely and a bit discouraged. It was one of those nights when things seem to be worse than they actually are and your thoughts can easily spiral downward. My friends were having a chick flick movie night while working through some boy troubles. They did not in any way exclude me, but I didn’t have any boys interested in me to be troubled about in the first place! I found myself beginning to bum out about this and wish for boy drama of my own to share with them.

Thankfully, God prompted me to something better. The idea of having a date night with Jesus popped into my mind. While I hesitated to use that term with the jokes from this Blimey Cow video in the back of my head, the thought of having Someone to keep me company and make me feel loved that night was comforting. I spent a lovely evening hanging out with Jesus. Maybe at this point you are picturing me sitting alone at a table talking to an imaginary Jesus across from me or something else along those lines. Not quite!

A few years ago I fell in love with this verse from the Message version of Romans 12:1-2: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering… Fix your attention on God…” That night I worked to fix my attention on God – inviting Him into each task and trying to enjoy it more thoroughly with Him. I relaxed by painting my nails and talking to Him while I was refreshed and rejuvenated in that way. I called a friend of mine to catch up with her and had a richer conversation than normal because I tried to bring the Lord into the conversation too. I went to dinner alone, but didn’t feel lonely because I knew that even though I was alone that the Lord never leaves me. He gave me strength to reject the lies like – “you don’t have any friends” or “no boys will ever like you” with which Satan tried to discourage me. As I invited Jesus into my evening, He lifted me up and filled me with life, encouragement, and His love. Instead of being lonely, that night was unforgettable and grace-filled.

I would love to say that I am this focused on Christ every day, but that is an area of my life that still needs a lot of work. Each day is a new opportunity to invite Him into every area of my life, though, and to hang out with Him as I carry out my daily tasks. Today, that looked like smiling in the face of the big pile of dishes in the sink and enjoying the time spent washing them because He was with me and I got to listen to some beautiful Kari Jobe music while I worked. It meant using the time I had while stuck in traffic to sing praise to God along with the radio.

God isn’t going anywhere. He is alive in you! (And that is the hope of bringing His glory into the world! Check out Colossians 1:24-29). So invite Him into each day and choose to live it with Him. Trust me – there is so much joy and growth when you do so!

MM: Attitude is Everything

A few years ago, we found a plaque at a garage sale that read “Attitude is Everything.” My mom, quite excited at the find, bought it and hung it in our bathroom with a small addendum. The plaque now reads “A good attitude is everything” – an important reminder for me and the topic of today’s musings.

When I stop to think about it I realize that I have literally nothing worthy of complaining about. Sure, there are things or situations in my life that make me irritable or seem unjust. There are many, many more things, however, for which I should be grateful and be praising God – I shouldn’t have any time left to complain! Even if I had time left over to complain, what is the use of that? Whining does nothing to change a tough circumstance. Having a good attitude, on the other hand, can completely turn a situation around if only by giving you a more positive perspective.

Choosing to have a good attitude does not mean that one must never struggle. It does not mean denying the reality of an irritation or frustration. I think, though, that it means talking to God about those difficulties more than you talk to other people about them. It means not complaining about problems but addressing them. It means being willing to put up with more than you think you should.

One of the first things you notice about someone when you meet them is their personality or demeanor. As Christians, we are trying to live like Christ. Therefore, our attitudes should be like Jesus’ was. I don’t think Jesus would complain about not having any spinach in the fridge to make a salad for lunch, or about the behavior of a colleague that rubs me the wrong way. In fact, I don’t think Jesus would have complained at all.

I imagine that Jesus chose instead to step into each day with a good attitude and his mind set on the work His Father had laid out ahead for Him. I want to do the same thing. I desire to let go of the things that bother me and lean on the joy of the Lord, so I pray: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).