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The Thanksgiving Thing

Twenty Red Cross tips to help celebrate Thanksgiving safely

Any blogger (or preacher, or editorialist, or talk show host, or, well pretty much any and everybody with an audience) who doesn’t write or say something meaningful about Thanksgiving should lose their credentials. Or at least apologize. There’s just too much to say about Thanksgiving to not say anything. So here you go with mine.

In Colossians, 2:6-7, the Apostle Paul wrote, ” So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (NIV)

The last 3 words of this sentence are the ones I want to unpack a little. “Overflowing with thankfulness.”

A literal translation of this could be, “gushing with thanksgiving.” There’s an important requirement for anything overflowing or gushing. To do this, the vessel has to be more than full. There has to be so much of something it that there’s not room enough for it all. Simply full vessels don’t gush and overflow. They spill, but they don’t overflow.

King David wrote of this in his Psalm 23 masterpiece, “My cup overflows.” This was a picture of a cup being filled and filled, and then still being filled once the wine reached the top and began to flow out on the table. That’s what Paul was writing about in Colossians. Thanksgiving overflowing and getting out onto the table, and all over the place. To be full of thanksgiving is a beautiful thing, but it’s not the same thing as – and in my opinion, not as beautiful as – overflowing with thanksgiving. For thanksgiving to overflow in my life, I’ve got to be more than full of thanksgiving. I need to gush it.

OK. So how do I pull that off? Good question. I can tell you that not many people get to the overflow state in a snap. Nobody I know started there. Normal people start with just being full of thanksgiving. There are lots of ways to eventually get to overflowing with thanksgiving. They all start at the same point, though: learning to observe and reflect. I know, this is rocket science.

OBSERVE. The non-technical term for this is, “Pay attention.”

Most people think they pay attention more than they actually do. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is absolutely attentive at 100%, most people would like to think they’re at about 8. We may say, “Oh, well, I know I miss a lot.” But down deep, we’re thinking, “I’d say 8 is my conservative estimate. On most days, it’s got to be around 8.6, unless I’m sick or over-fatigued. Then it’s gonna go down to 6 or 7.”

A counselor friend gave me this sentence and told me to count the number of F’s in it: FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

How many F’s do you count in that sentence? Go ahead. Go back up and count them.

Most people get 3. What if I told you there’s actually 6? That’s right, SIX. Most people leave out the three times “OF” occurs in the sentence. The eyes see them, but the brain doesn’t. Still feel like you’re about an 8.6? I didn’t when my friend showed it to me. It took me three re-readings to see what I’d done.

Psychologists tell us that we only see what we’re looking for. Occasionally, we don’t even see what we’re looking for. In that little trick I just pulled on you, you might not have even seen what you had actually seen: 6 F’s. That’s just how our brains are designed by God. Generally, we’ll see what we’re looking for, though.

Many people – maybe even most people – aren’t as observant as they think they are. And one of the things most of us don’t observe are our blessings, because most of us are so busy trying to make ends meet and not disappoint the important people in our lives, we just don’t have time or energy to look for them. Which is why it’s a very good thing to have a day set aside every year to observe our blessings and give thanks for them. We all need an excuse to look for, to observe blessings.

So you start with observing, looking for blessings. Notice them. Identify them.

REFLECT. And then you reflect on them. That doesn’t mean to just nod in their direction and keep racing down the expressway at 75 MPH. Which is what lots of A-Type people are inclined to do. “Yep, that was great. Now keep moving!” It’s really hard to overflow with thanksgiving at 75 MPH. I won’t say impossible. I’ll just say I can’t do it.

I discovered this when I was in my 6-month recovery from my heart attack. For 6 months, I just didn’t go anywhere in a hurry. That wasn’t normal for me. Being a short person, I’d spent nearly my entire life walking faster to keep up with the tall guys. But when you’re not sure you can get through the parking lot from your car to the auditorium at church (about 100 feet) before they sing the last song, it makes you rethink your speed. My body made me take the speed back a few notches.

And during this recovery, the only demands or appointments I had on my formerly jammed calendar were for doctor’s visits. There was nothing to be in a hurry for. I went from working with no margin between appointments, to having nearly nothing but margin in my day. If I needed to be at the doctor’s at 10:00, it was no problem to leave at 9:20 for the 20-minute drive. I had nothing better to do with the time, and I was fine with taking it easy.

To make a long story short, I learned how not to hurry. And I liked it. It was far better for my heart, and far better for my soul. I still occasionally get jammed with too-short margins, but it’s nothing like it was. Not even close.

One of the things I learned from that recovery time is that when you’re in a hurry, it’s nearly impossible to be thankful. You have to slow down to be thankful. If I’m bustin it because I’m 5 minutes late to my next appointment, I guarantee I’m not thinking about my blessings. I’m thinking about the bozo doing 55 in a 65 speed zone, who’s making me late. Milk it or move it! But that’s just me.

To reflect takes time. It takes margin. Don’t try to do it in a hurry. Even if you’re pretty sure you can do it in a hurry. Slow down and see what happens in your less cluttered and hurried mind.

Thursday is a national holiday that was originally designed as a day to give thanks to our Creator for His blessings to us. George Washington set it as a national holiday in 1789, and Lincoln made it a federal holiday in 1863. Both men believed we, as a nation, owed God a debt of thanks for His goodness to us. Originally, American families slowed down from what we, today, would look at and think of as their grindingly slow lives to observe the day. Unfortunately, that sentiment and practice has begun to lose out to football, parades, extravagant feast prep and pre-Black Friday starting blocks. (Can you tell I could easily do a rant on this?… I won’t. Yer welcome.)

My challenge here is simple. Regardless of what the popular culture does with the 4th Thursday of November, why don’t you and your family use it as the entry-point for building a life of overflowing thanksgiving by observing God’s blessings and reflecting on them. Around the Thanksgiving dinner table would be one of the finest places I can think of to get started. Slow it down. Turn off the TV and tune into each other and God. Observe and reflect.

And if you do this, let me know what happens.

Tis the Season

Not the season to be jolly, but the season to

No Party

This means it’s also the season to have to sift through a ton of opinions and accusations, mass mail and email, commercials and ads on TV and radio for candidates I didn’t even know were running. And for a few that I wish weren’t running.

For me, tis the season to fill my trash cans (both the one in our kitchen and the one on my computer) with discarded mail and email, and to use the mute button on my remote. A lot. I’m doing both quite a bit.

In spite of all the controversy and all the rhetoric and acrimony – I felt I needed to use some big words here – it’s still the season to get registered to vote and then cast a vote for the people you believe best represent your values.

Before you do this, or at least as a part of the process, you’ll need to clarify your values. There is room for more than one opinion on what your values should be. I’ll spare you mine, except to say that since your values are derived from your core beliefs, you’ll do well to make sure they can and do align with biblical insight and instruction.

Depending on who you consult for the statistics, as many as half the registered voters didn’t vote in the 2016 election. I’m not sure I’d go that far. Half seems a little far fetched. I think those numbers may be hyperbole – exaggeration for the sake of effect.

I saw a figure that half the Christians who are registered to vote didn’t vote then, either. I think that may also be an inflated number. I’m not sure how you could calculate it. My faith and church affiliation isn’t on my voter registration. Please tell me it’s not. I’ll happily tell you what these are, but I don’t think it makes sense for them to be part of my permanent record as a registered voter. Call me an alarmist.

Inaccurate and misleading statistics aside, it’s a sure bet that lots of people who could have voted, many of whom were Christians, last time we elected a president didn’t.

I’m not campaigning for any candidate. Let me be clear on that. Vote for the person you believe best reflects and will represent your values, whomever you believe that to be. What I’m saying is V O T E! If you’re not registered GET REGISTERED! There’s still time. Just access your privilege and right to vote.

No one vote will win an election. Anyway, if there were such a thing as one vote winning an election in 2020, there would be no way to know whose vote it would have been. So I’m not saying you’ve got to vote because your vote could make the difference. But I am saying that your vote will make A difference. Your vote, along with the millions of others who vote as you do will make a difference. So get to the poll and cast your vote. Or mail it in. Arrange for a ride if you need it. Go out of your way. Do it first thing election morning. If you can’t get there first thing, and you’re in line when the polls close, the election workers are required by law to let you vote. Just get yourself there and do it.

In one way or another, to one degree or another, every federal election decides the direction of our great country. This election is sure no different from any other election in this regard. Interestingly, the Founding Fathers intended it to be this way when they set up a Democratic Republic with representative and free elections. It seems the least we can do is honor the memory of these heroic and wise individuals who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors for our liberty to vote in free elections by going a little out of our way every 4 years or so to do so.

Bounce Back

Resilience – How to thrive not just survive | Steph Walters

As I type this, one of the burning questions lots of us have on our mind is, “When will we bounce back?” It’s a burning question for me, anyway.

There are all sorts of answers available for this question, and you can get them at the tap of a few keys on your smart phone. Everything from, “Hey, we’re already bouncing back!” to “The world is ending. There will be no bounce back. The sky has fallen and we’re all going to die,” and most everything in between the extremes.

I have a second related question: Is there any way to bounce forward?

As a golfer, I’m familiar with the bounce-back. As in, “I hit the stupid tree and it bounced back 50 yards farther away from the green…” Occasionally I have the bounce forward, where it hits a tree or a limb and actually bounces forward toward the green. By “occasionally,” I mean, “That one time…”

I’m also simi-familiar with the bounce-back and bounce-forward in life. Like you, I’ve had at least my fair share of set-backs and bounce-backs (in the golfing sense of the term). I’ve experienced seasons of frustration and bewilderment when life has sent me a symbolic 50 yards farther away from my goal. It’s never been fun to this point, and I doubt it will ever be fun.

Now, positive thinkers call this kind of thing, “Opportunity for Course Correction.” They talk about set-backs and bounce-backs as opportunities to try something different. Intellectually, I can see the value of this. But not emotionally.

One of the things James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote kind of puts him in the positive thinkers group for me (though the rest of what he wrote seems very realistic). In the letter he wrote to the churches of his day, he gives more practical and useful concepts and principles than almost any of the other New Testament writers. One Bible commentator calls the Book of James, “The Proverbs of the New Testament.” In almost every regard, James is a realist, and a pretty strong one. I say “almost every regard” because of one thing that sometimes seems a little out there to me when I read it. He writes it early in his letter, in what we have as James 1:2. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds

Wait. What? Pure joy? Are you kidding? Half-brother of Jesus or no, that’s a bit out there for a realist.

The way J.B. Phillips paraphrased it makes it even more enigmatic. When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! 

Welcome them as friends? With friends like that, who needs enemies?

And yet, there it is in black and white. Could it be that bouncing forward begins with how I frame up the bounce-back? My conclusion is that indeed it can.

James goes on: because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

This, I think, is how a bounce-back becomes a bounce forward. The bounce-back isn’t the point. There’s an outcome that’s the point, and an amazing one: being mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James describes a process in a few words that can breathe life into otherwise hopeless situations. It starts with a test, with a bounce-back. Initially there’s nothing fun about that. It’s not the whole process, though. It’s actually the front porch of a process that produces depth and breadth of soul.

According to James, the bounce-back, the test, produces perseverance. It can, anyway, if I let it. I have to set my attitude toward this, or a bounce-back will only be a set-back, and I’ll be a victim of another bad thing, one more time on the fairway of life.

Perseverance is one of the most desirable qualities anybody can acquire. It’s in rare and short supply today. Perseverance is the ability to stay with it until it’s done, even – especially – when it’s difficult. Perseverance is the character trait that keeps going when it would be way easier to just say, “No mas.” It’s one of the lead marks of an effective life. And probably the most important thing about it is that it’s one of the top things God has on His list of things He wants to develop in your life.

But perseverance isn’t the end goal. It’s a means to an even greater end. James said it this way: Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

There’s the end goal. Maturity. You don’t get there by going to a class or reading a book. You don’t get there by listening to sermons. You get there through a process of moving through trials and trouble, through set-backs and bounce-backs, if (and this is a big if) you cooperate with God’s design to let them grow perseverance in you.

OK. So here’s my challenge. Train yourself to see your bounce-backs for what they are: opportunities to cooperate with God’s plan to produce maturity in you through the agency of perseverance. You don’t have to throw a party and hop up and down in excited anticipation when you have a bounce-back. I’m not wired for that, temperamentally. But I can discipline myself to lean into them and partner with God in His good plan for my life. And you can, too.

When we do, bounce-backs can become bounce-forwards.

By the way, if you’re a parent, or a grandparent, or an aunt or an uncle, or live in community of any kind with other people, you’re teaching people who are younger and less experienced than you how to deal with bounce-backs. Even when you don’t realize it. That’s a high honor, a grand trust. So pay attention to how you greet trouble like a friend, because somebody is watching and deciding how they’ll do it.

Nineteen

Atentados del 11S: ¿Cuántas personas murieron en los ataques del 11 de septiembre?

If you were born before 1995, you can tell me where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001.

I was driving into work at the church I was serving at the time, Highland Park Christian Church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As usual, I had the radio on. An unbelievable news alert came on, interrupting the normal programming. An American Airlines plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. The structure was on fire. Thousands of lives were at risk.

I thought, “That’s just crazy. It’s like a Tom Clancy novel. Is this a War of the Worlds thing? Somebody’s got to be messing with us.” By the time I got in the building and to my office, TVs were going, and the nightmare had begun.

The reports coming in were choppy and chaotic. First one plane, then the next, strategically crashing into the Twin Towers. Then another one crashes into the Pentagon. Then one crashes in Pennsylvania, in a field, which we learned was thanks to the heroism of passengers on board. The Towers began to collapse. Soot, smoke and toxins filled the air. In a few hours, all that was left of the Towers was twisted girders and debris at what would come to be known as Ground Zero.

In all, 2,977 people lost their lives.

I remember thinking and hearing, “Life will never be the same.” Planes were grounded, business came to a halt, Capitol Hill, the White House and the Pentagon went into hyper drive, and so did the news networks. We held our breath. Churches from sea to shining sea filled with grieving and praying souls looking for some kind of grace to make some sense of what happened and make their way through this.

In some ways, life hasn’t been the same. You get a dose of this every time you fly. No more rushing from the curb to you gate for your plane. No more accompanying loved ones and friends to their gate. Long lines through the TSA screening, instead.

Eighteen years after 9/11, Debbie and I were given tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game, and were surprised to have to empty purses and pockets to go through a metal detector to enter the arena. This precaution and others similar to it are in place in places we would never have dreamed of 19 years ago.

So, no, life isn’t the same as it was on September 10, 2001.

And yet. After about six weeks, there were no standing-room-only church services any more (or at least not very many – not as many has there had been that first week after 9/11/01). Once the world felt safe enough to get back on airplanes and do business again, life went back to something very much like “normal” with some considerable inconveniences.

That’s kind of how we are. We have short memories. The ardor and passion and sense of our need for God in those first days and weeks after the unthinkable event of 9/11, and the nation turned our hearts and thoughts to Him began to slide back into a normal rhythm of hustle and buy and sell and get on with life.

Is this because we’re evil? Do we have so short a memory because we’re just bad? Well, there’s no doubt that there is real evil at work in the world, and sometimes in us. There are bad people out there. But I’m thinking this short memory thing is less about us being evil than it is about us being human.

Once our limbic system is no longer over-stimulated and finally comes back to stasis, we’ll come back down to some kind of normal. That’s how God designed our brains to work. The nearly instant hyper-vigilance reaction of our limbic system when we’re under threat is a gift to us from God for our survival. The return to stasis is a gift to us, too. Without it, we’d never be able to sustain survival. Our short collective memory is something of an undesirable and unavoidable outcome of this process. Just my opinion.

On this 19th anniversary of one of the saddest days in American history, it would be a good idea for us to do some remembering. Like remembering the 343 firefighters (including a chaplain and two paramedics) of the New York City Fire Department who gave their lives trying to save the lives of others. Like the 37 police officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department and the 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department. And the 8 men and women from Private Emergency Responders who died. The 265 men and women who lost their lives on the four airliners. The 125 who died in the Pentagon. And then the 2606 who perished in the Twin Towers.

With the exception of Police, Firefighters and Military Personnel, none of those who died had signed up to put their life at risk. They were innocent victims of a meticulously planned and orchestrated terrorist attack.

I don’t know how to calculate the number of families who were represented by these 2,977 souls. All I know is that it’s thousands. I also don’t know how to calculate how many of them have come to peace about their losses. I’m pretty sure it’s not the majority.

Honoring the memory of those who perished won’t bring them back. It won’t lessen the grief and sorrow of the families left behind. It won’t fix anything. But it seems ungrateful and unmindful to nod at the day on the calendar as we charge off to the next thing as unhindered as possible.

For me, there are three essential realities that this day brings to front and center. First of all, life is short and none of us has a guarantee of our next breath, let alone tomorrow. This is a reality worth pondering.

Secondly, the loss and sorrow of people I do not know and possibly will never meet is worth a pause from me to pray for them and think about them and honor the memory of their loved ones. Life has returned to a form of normal for me, but I doubt it will ever be normal for them.

And last of all, control is an illusion. We forget this to our harm.

Whatever you’ve done on this day, on this 9/11/2020, it would be wise to intentionally pause and reflect on the weight and significance of 19 years ago.

I’m the Exception

But I'm An Exception Products from Cheese Tees | Teespring

No. You’re not. Really. You’re WAY not the exception. Not even AN exception.

I know I’m an old guy, and as an old guy, I tend to talk about things in a somewhat rigid way. But I’m just telling you the truth.

I also know that you’ve had everybody from TV Preachers to Kindergarten Teachers tell you that you can be anything you want to be. President, Pro Athlete, Movie Star, Rock Star, whatever you want. Positive Mental Attitude people have been saying some form of , “Whatever you can dream, you can make happen,” for more than 50 years. I know that lots of the movies you watch are about men and women, boys and girls becoming what everybody told them they couldn’t be. I get all that.

I know that professional athletes (and sometimes college athletes) seem to get away with stuff that, if anybody else did them, would land in jail. I know that the same thing has happened with politicians and media personalities and movie stars. I know that there are lots of voices making lots of noise to lead you to believe that you’re the exception.

But there’s this other thing called R E A L I T Y that will always be getting in the way of you being an exception. The biggest part of this R E A L I T Y is that we live in a cause-and-effect world. Action/reaction is the basic formula for everything in life.

Twenty centuries ago, the Bible laid out the formula in agricultural language. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7 NIV)

Most of the time when I read or hear a teaching on this, they skip right to the “A man reaps what he sows” part. But that’s not the entire formula. It starts with, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.”

I want to camp out a little on that idea.

First of all, “Do not be deceived.” Again, I know I’m an old guy, so I’m doing my best to filter that out and be objective. But even with that filter on, it seems to me that we live in a world that’s full of deception. Some of it is just entertainment. But some of it is very harmful. I sometimes wish I could throw Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth around politicians, advertisers and news casters to get the actual truth out of them. I have my mental list of these people, and you probably have yours. But alas, neither Wonder Woman nor the Lasso of Truth exist. So that’s not going to happen. Bummer.

But if it did, I wonder how much activity there would be on social media, and how many of the 24 hours of the day and night could be filled by the news media? My sense is that it would be “not much.” There would be a lot more posts of pets and grand kids, and the news cycle would be shortened a good bit.

You pick the news outlet. I’m not talking about just one side of the political line, either. I’m talking about all of it.

I have no doubt that some on both sides know that they’re being deceitful, and they’re leveraging an agenda. But not all. I think there are sincere folks in all these places on both sides of any line you want to draw who really believe they’re presenting the truth.

Short of a Lasso of Truth, how will you and I know what’s real and true, and what’s not? I don’t have a great answer for this question.

What I do know, though, is that although I can be deceived, and you can be deceived, God cannot be mocked. That’s the second part of this first half of the formula.

Now, I know you don’t intend to mock God. Neither do I. I’ll let you believe what you want to about whether or not there are people in the world who do intend to mock Him. If you’re unconvinced, you may want to watch TV with a critical eye…

But even for them, the bottom line is that they can try to mock Him, they may even think they’ve successfully done it and gotten away with it, and have a lucrative following as a result. But Paul didn’t say, “Most of the time God can’t be mocked.” He didn’t even say, “Mocking God isn’t a good idea.” He made the bold and unequivocal statement that God CANNOT be mocked. As in, “It’s not possible to mock God.”

I suppose if you wanted to, you could mock Einstein’s intelligence and genius, but in light of reality and the truth, even accounting for relativity, you’d only end up mocking yourself. Put that on steroids, and you’ve got what trying to mock God is like.

And here’s why:

“A man (person) reaps what he (they) sow.”

Well, of course. It stands to reason. If you plant okra, you’ll get okra, not squash. You’ll always harvest what you plant. This isn’t a principle that usually works. It always does. There are no exceptions. Okra seeds will always produce okra plants. I suppose it’s possible that squash seeds may have been packaged as okra seeds, and so you may have thought you were planting okra seeds when you were, in fact planting squash. (If this ever happens to you, let me know. I’ve never heard of it. And if you’re an actual gardener, you already know that okra seeds and squash seeds are very different in size and appearance.) But squash seeds will always produce squash, even if they’re mislabeled and misidentified. Without exception. It’s a law, not a suggestion. You will always harvest what you plant.

You’re connecting the dots between you and me being exceptions and Galatians 6:7, right? There are universal laws you can’t suspend which rule out being an exception. Paul’s Law of the Harvest is one of those.

Sometimes we act like we’re not under these universal laws, though. Even those of us who know better. We live as though we were entitled to be treated as exceptions. After all, doesn’t every rule have it’s exception? Well, no, not this one.

“Entitled” is the operative word in that last paragraph. It’s also a hallmark – maybe THE hallmark – of our current culture. I could go a long way with this, but I won’t. You’re welcome.

I’ll just ask you to reflect on your own life and see if there are ways you act like you’re the exception. Are there any ways you act as though you’re entitled? I’m not judging you. I’m right there in the same boat with you. My answer to both of these questions is, “Yes, I’m afraid so.”

So here’s my suggestion. Since both you and I have to admit that there are times when we act as though we were entitled to be the exception, how about we ask God for grace to both see this in ourselves, and to empower us to come back to the reality that we’re not entitled and not exceptions? When grace does this, it shows up as humility, a seed, which when planted, produces incredible harvests of fabulous things in a person’s life. Fabulous things that make a person seem truly exceptional.

And by the way, MOM and/or DAD, one of the most important things you will ever teach your kids is how to balance the fact that they can live exceptionally in a world of confused values while knowing they’re not the exception. Guess what the most valuable technique for this is? Your example. There’s a lot at stake! In partnership with Christ and His Spirit, you can make it work. Live authentically. Trust God’s grace to give you all you need. Live confidently. But don’t fall for the lie that you’re the exception…

Give it a rest…

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I don’t generally get to say that phrase out loud, but I’m often feeling it these days. There are times in my counseling, after hearing the same spousal complaint 11 times in 10 minutes, I want to say it. But I rarely do, because it’s not helpful to the process. I nearly always feel it when I see or hear the news. Not the headlines. Not the nuggets of salient information about what actually happened, but when the media personalities tell me what these nuggets mean and how I should feel and think about them. You probably don’t, but I routinely say it out loud to the TV.

Last night I saw an ad on TV that evoked this deeply philosophical response. The essence of the ad was that wearing a mask says much about the kind of person who is wearing it. And so does not wearing a mask. The unambiguous message is that if you don’t wear a mask you’re a low-life, selfish, disrespectful, red-necked idiot who will keep the pandemic going.

I wear a mask when I go to Walmart because they require it. When I go to other places that display a sign on the entry door that masks are required, I wear a mask. I don’t do this because I fear I’ll get or give the virus to someone, but because I’m entering an environment that is not mine, and I’ll submit to the desires of the owners of the establishment. It’s not about science. It’s about respecting others.

You can probably tell from this that I’m not 100% onboard with the idea that masks will end the pandemic. Are there times when a mask would be appropriate? Yes. And when this is the case, I’ll wear one. But the science I’m reading is bearing out these days that these times aren’t everywhere and every time. You get to believe what you want to about masks. If you believe they’re essential, let me know, and I’ll do my best to wear one when I’m around you. I don’t want to make your life more difficult, because I respect you. But you don’t have to wear one around me.

For me, the mask-up thing is a “give it a rest” thing. So. Sorry if that creates a stumbling block for anybody.

I wonder if God ever says, “Give it a rest…”? This is a purely anthropomorphic question. The theological truth is that God doesn’t live within the emotional constraints we live within. For instance, He can’t be disappointed. And that matters here because disappointment is a part of the “give it a rest” thing. Disappointment would be impossible for an omniscient (one who knows all) being. Because of this He can’t be surprised. He knew from eternity before time that I’d be whining. I don’t think He can be fatigued, either. He rested on the 7th day of Creation, but I’m not thinking this was because he was tired, but because He was giving us His own example for observing sabbath.

But I still think He might sometimes say, “Give it a rest…”

If I were God, I’d be saying it. Thankfully, I’m not God.

I journal every morning as part of my Quiet Time routine. I discovered 45 years ago that the best answer for my ADD prayer-hindering brain was to write my prayers, and I’ve been doing it ever since. If you have trouble staying on task with your prayers, I recommend the practice of writing them.

A few years back, I thought it would be a good thing to gather up a bunch of my journals and read through them for inspiration. So on a Day Away (another practice I recommend), I set out for Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas with a ragged stack of journals, anticipating a rewarding couple of hours being reminded of how reliable God is and how He had carried me along through my many trials.

What I got from the day wasn’t very rewarding, though. Page after page, journal after journal was little more than a series of complaints and whines about how things in life weren’t working for me. After a few minutes, I abandoned the plan. It was too depressing to finish. The message was simple and clear: You are a spiritual wienie. Give it a rest, Oscar (as in Meyer).

If I was God (and, again, we’re all glad I’m not) I’d be a little sick and tired of hearing people like me whining and complaining incessantly about the same things over and over again. I’d be worn out by the 11 complaints in 10 minutes thing. My patience would wear thin quickly.

The truth is, though, that God isn’t sighing a divine sigh and saying, “Again?…” And here’s how I know. The Book of Psalms.

When you compare the themes of the individual psalms, you see a few categories emerge. Songs of praise. Songs of admonition. And songs of lament (which are songs of complaint). You might think the songs of praise would be the largest category. It’s not. The songs of lament and complaint comprise the largest category. There are a ton of them. And not all of them are pious and polite. Most of them are raw and even crude.

A lot can be made of this. I’ll spare you my rant about it and just say this: apparently it’s OK with God that we complain. In fact, it’s so OK that He has included it in His Word to us. I believe the inference here is that God wants us to complain to Him.

In addition to the example of the many Psalms of Lament, isn’t that part of the meaning in 1 Peter 5:7? “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” I wonder of a lose paraphrase could be, “Go ahead and complain away. It’s OK. I love you.”

An interesting thing about the Psalms of Lament is that many (but not all) of them end with a God-ward focus. They begin with the raw emotions of disappointment, sadness, anger, even a desire for revenge, but end with words of affirmation about the goodness and faithfulness of God. Many of them end with thanksgiving for these. God’s goodness and faithfulness, not the things that caused the lament.

Here’s the bottom line for me on this. God gets it. He’s OK with the fact that there are things we don’t understand and don’t like. He’s OK with us complaining to Him. He’s not rolling His eyes and whispering for us to get over it under His breath.

There are a lot of things I need to give it a rest about, but when I cast my anxiety on Him, He actually likes it. Because He cares for me. And when I’ve got so many First World Problems to complain about, that’s kind of comforting.

Tough Times Don’t Last…

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It makes a great plaque for the desk or office, doesn’t it? And it’s true. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.

So why don’t I feel more bold and empowered when I read it or say it? I think it’s supposed to be empowering.

Anybody else out there feel that?

For most of us, these last 5-plus months have been a tough time. The perfect storm. Perfect? I guess I’d say it’s been an imperfect storm. And it’s not over yet. There are lots of theories about when life will get back to normal, including “soon”, “we’re living in a ‘new normal’, so get used to it,” “never,” and about a dozen other permutations of these. Nobody is setting hard dates for the tough times coming to an end. And if there’s somebody out there who says they’ve got that figured out, I’d be cautious to believe them. Nobody’s got a reliable crystal ball on this thing.

And, by the way, we’re not the first generation to deal with tough times. The truth is that tough times have been part and parcel with human experience ever since Adam and Eve took a bite out of the forbidden fruit. At that point, the world was broken. Virtually every system shifted away from its flawless design and toward entropy. Tough times entered because of that, and they’ll continue until the end of time.

Well, that’s a cheery way to look at life. Thanks for the optimism…

Some tough times come because we make stupid decisions. The world is a cause and effect place. The Apostle Paul wrote, “A man (person) reaps what he/she sows.” (Galatians 6:7) Sow stupid choices, reap tough times. I think it was the great philosopher Forest Gump who said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Some tough times come because of the stupid choices of other people. We get the backwash of their stupidity. Or we’re in the direct downward flow of their authority and it comes rushing down on us like the current of the mighty Mississippi.

Or we’re victimized by the wrong (sometimes evil) choices of others. These consequences are very difficult to bear up under.

In all cases, when the consequence of tough times come, we’ve got to figure out how we’ll cope with them.

Here’s how this usually goes for me. First, there’s panic. Then anger. Then blaming. Often, after that comes some form of denial. When I’m at my best, I eventually enter a problem solving mode. It almost never starts with a response, though. It generally starts with a reaction. On my good days, it moves from reacting to responding.

What I’m trying to learn how to do in my life is to get off the reaction train and get more quickly to responding. I think this is one of the primary marks of maturity. Immature people spend their lives reacting and then having to clean up the damage their reactions cause. Mature people spend a lot less of their lives cleaning up that kind of damage because they do a lot less reacting.

You see this is marriages all the time. Anyway, I do. Most of my counseling is with couples, and most of them are conflicted. Most of their conflict is the result of reacting, not responding. Much of the labor of helping them reconnect and begin to like each other is in helping them learn how to respond instead of reacting.

I see it in ineffective parenting, too. Most parenting mistakes are the result of reacting instead of responding.

Most broken relationships are broken as a result of reacting instead of responding.

OK. So reacting to tough times doesn’t work. How are we supposed to respond to tough times? Great question.

James, Jesus’ half-brother, writes about this in the opening of his letter in the book of the Bible that bears his name. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2) Consider it pure joy?! Are you high?

Here’s how J. B. Phillips paraphrased it: When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends!

I’m so not there. I’m usually just trying to figure out how to survive when tough times come knocking at my door. Sweeping off the welcome mat is way not on my mind.

But James doesn’t stop with this opening statement. He goes on, “…because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

God is after an outcome we don’t usually see when the tough times roll in. He’s going for perseverance.

That’s a word that doesn’t get much air time these days. When was the last time you used it or heard someone else use it, not in a sermon at church? I think this is a commentary on our culture. But that’s a hobby horse I won’t climb on. There’s not time for it. You’re welcome.

Still, perseverance isn’t a term most of us use very much. Here’s the Webster definition of it: continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition. There’s two pieces to it. Continued effort, and opposition (tough times).

James says the ultimate outcome of perseverance is “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Does that sound good to anybody? Me, too. But I’m not seeing a 4 or 5 Step formula for getting there. That’s because there isn’t one.

But there is a power that makes it possible to persevere, to continue effort when tough times come. The weeping prophet, Jeremiah, writes about it.

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him…” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

Lovely, is it not?

But when you set it in its historical context, this poem has direct and powerful impact on the whole subject of tough times.

Israel was at the front end of one of the most humiliating and difficult chapters of its history. Because of their disregard for God and His commands, God has turned them over to the Babylonians. Jerusalem and the temple are about to be sacked, ravaged and burned. Thousands are about to be killed and thousands more will be taken as captives to Babylon. For 70 years.

Jeremiah has been compelled by God to speak out against the tide and current of this culture. And he does. But his message hasn’t been received kindly. He’s had his life threatened, been imprisoned, been dropped into an empty well, up to his armpits in mud, been banished from the community and labeled a traitor. He writes Lamentations during this time. It’s a book of sadness (a lament is a cry of deep sadness) and grief, from Jeremiah’s personal experience.

When I read his story every year, I wonder how he made it. I’d have been clinically depressed. Probably suicidal. I’m not being cute. I actually believe this.

The answer to how he made it is there in this beautiful poem he wrote. And it’s the front door of the answer for how we can persevere in hard times.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”

I like how the New King James Version words it: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.

The fuel for our perseverance are God’s mercy and His compassion. Not our effort. Not our intentions. Not our blood, sweat and tears. His mercy and compassion.

And here’s the best news I can give you on this: they’re new every morning. Whatever I use up today will be restored by morning. God hasn’t put a cap on my use of his mercy and compassion. He’s not stingy with it. He’s not waiting for me to deserve it. He just pours it out. As much as I need, when I need it, and then sets me up with a brand new, full tank of it in the morning for the day ahead.

Here’s the thing, though. I usually act as if I’d used up all there was. I soldier on as if it all depends on my effort. I push and agonize without accessing God’s mercy and compassion. It never works out well.

But what if we make a deal with ourselves and with God that we’ll start every day from here in this tough time by reminding ourselves that God’s mercy and compassion is new and for us? What if we consciously embrace the fact that we don’t have to face this stuff with nothing more than whatever energy we got from the night of sleep? And what if we acted like we believed this, even if our belief is pretty slim?

I’m making no guarantees, but I have a strong sense that this could be a game changer for us. I believe it will make us resilient and agile and able to adapt to the challenges. It just might make it possible for us to welcome them as friends.

Manna?

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A little exercise of the imagination. Take 650,000 men and their families, their belongings, and the things their neighbors loaded them up with, and set them out on a journey across a wilderness (which is mostly desert) that no one except their leader, Moses, has any experience with, in about 1440 BC. Not much technology was available for a trip of this nature. The mode of transportation was walking. If you had a cart to put your possessions in, it would likely have been dragged by people power. Maybe you had a cow or an ox and they could pull the cart. Maybe.

Add in the fact that marriage was an expectation for an adult male, and was generally arranged by the parents of the men and women in this ethnic group, often before they graduated from preschool. And then add in the fact there really was no such thing as birth control, meaning the group of 650,000 men would have easily grown to three times that size when wives and children were factored in. That would be the most conservative estimate. The size of the group would have been ginormous.

Of course, I’ve just described the Children of Israel in the Exodus.

There’s one more important thing. These are people who had been slaves for many generations. It had started fairly benignly, but now, 400 years after they had settled in this land far from their ancestral home, their generation had been brutalized by Egyptian slave drivers, at the command of the Pharaoh. Things weren’t benign anymore. They had been beaten for not meeting their daily quota of mud-dried bricks – a quota which was un-doable, no matter how early in the morning they started or how late into the night they worked. They had been forced to throw their male babies into the Nile to be eaten by crocks or drown in the water. This was Pharaoh’s population control program. It wasn’t a great time to be a Hebrew.

So why am I talking about the Exodus? And why is it such a big deal that there could have been three times more people on the journey than the number of men counted? That they were newly-freed slaves? And that they were probably carrying their stuff on their backs? What’s that got to do with anything?

Well, throw all this into the blender and what I think you get is TROUBLE. That starts with T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Pool. (Sorry for the Music Man reference… You’d have to be old to get it. As I was typing it, I was singing it in my head.)

I’m talking about an easy 2.5 MILLION men, women and children in this exiting population of Israelites. For perspective, that’s about the population of Houston, proper.

Here’s why I included the fact that they were walking, probably not riding on carts, and why it matters: how much food do you think you could pack and carry, along with all your other possessions, for a trip who’s duration you did not know? A few day’s worth? Maybe a week’s worth?

Once this massive movement of people got across a miraculously parted Red Sea (which swallowed up Pharaoh’s army behind them), they were in a wilderness without GPS. Just a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide they. Their comfort zones were just a speck in the rear view mirror. It was way back there, far out of sight. Their new-found freedom from the bondage of slavery under the whips of Pharaoh’s task masters had to be awesome. But the path before them was incredibly uncertain.

And one of the things that made it uncertain was eminently practical: their food supplies would run out soon after the Red Sea closed up behind them.

You know the story, though. God provided for them. He sent a substance that settled on the ground like dew every morning for the entire Israelite camp, except for Saturday morning (the Sabbath). That first morning, when the Israelites came out of their tents and saw it, they said, “Manna?” Meaning, “What is it?” They’d never seen it before, and it’s never been seen since. Since they didn’t have a better name for it, they called it Manna for the next 40 years, until it stopped being dropped from heaven the first day they occupied the Promised Land.

God’s instructions were that an omer of manna would be gathered for each person in each household (or tent-hold). An omer is the equivalent of six pints.

Author Steve Farrar, calculating on the conservative estimate of 2,000,000 people, writes, “For two million people, God had to send twelve million pints, or nine million pounds, or four thousand five hundred tons of manna each morning. It is hard to fathom that amount.” (Farrar, Steve. Manna p. 5. Thomas Nelson.)

He goes on to give a sense of the magnitude of this, “Today that amount of manna would require ten trains, each having thirty cars, and each car carrying fifteen tons—for a single day’s supply.” (ibid)

It boggles the mind, does it not?

Here’s where I’m going with this.

We’re not quite in a Middle-East desert wilderness, but things aren’t just peachy for most of us. If you’re not among those of us who are wondering how we’ll make it all work in the future, you’re in a pretty small minority. The rest of us are trying to figure out what we’ll do with the uncertain future that lies before us. Lots of us don’t know if our job will outlast the Covid thing. Lots of jobs already haven’t. Lots of us are wondering if our 401 K will ever recover from the pounding the Stock Market is taking. What happens now that we’ve burned through the stimulus check we got a while back? And our unemployment benefits won’t last forever. What happens when that income stream dries up? And then what about the election? We’re wondering if life will ever swing back around to any kind of “normal.”

For a whole lot of us, these are anxious days. The future’s starting to look a lot less bright than it was on January 1, 2020. The unknowns can be overwhelming. Denying it or just keeping a stiff upper lip won’t work. Eventually you won’t be able to keep your lip stuff, and eventually reality will invade your fortress of denial.

I know it sounds a little like a Sunday School answer, but the best way to deal with the ugly realities of our life right now is to look at it square on and remember the Manna God has provided in the past.

You’ll be tempted to just look the other way until it feels like the storm has past, but that’s not going to work, I’m afraid. This storm has settled in and there’s not much of a way to accurately predict when it’s going to move on. It could be a long time before things settle back down. So don’t look away. See it for what it is.

But don’t freak out because of how awful it looks.

Now get out your journal or a piece of paper and a pen, or create a document on your computer or tablet or phone and start writing down the times God has come through for you. Don’t worry about the form. Just write down as many as you can remember. Start this effort with praying for God to bring to your mind the times He provided Manna. A random list is fine. The point is, get a list down so you can look at it. I’m pretty sure there will be more on your list than you thought there would be when you started.

When you’ve made your list, mentally walk through it. Revisit the stories of God’s provision. Set aside a bit of time so you won’t have to run through the list. It takes time and effort to reflect. So give yourself the time to make the effort.

Last thing in this exercise, offer a prayer something like this: “Lord, thank You for reminding me of the Manna You’ve provided. I put my trust in You for providing what we need through this really hard season. My faith is small, but thank You for not waiting for it to get large before You provide. Give me faith and courage to keep putting my trust in You.”

There’s nothing magical about that prayer. Use your words, not mine. But know that the promise is that God hears your prayer, and in His perfect wisdom and on His time table, He promises to answer.

To paraphrase Oswald Chambers, trust God and do what’s next.

U B U

Who, me?" The What, Who and How of Accountability | USCJ

The best and the worst advice I ever got were in the same phrase: You be you.

It’s the best advice because trying to be someone other than yourself is a hopeless project. I should know. I’ve tried to be someone other than myself. One of the times this was huge was when I was in Jr. High. This was back in the day when there was no Middle School. Just Jr. High. I’m old.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who did this – trying to be someone other than who I was. More than anything else, when I was in Jr. High, I wanted to be in the “In Crowd.” I wanted to be liked and accepted. I wanted to be in an inner crowd of cool kids. Actually, what I wanted was to be in inner crowd of the way cool, groovy kids crowd.

This meant a couple of things regarding accepted style. It meant wearing penny loafers (with the penny in them) and Levi 501 jeans. I had neither. My mom bought all our clothes at J.C. Penny. And if they sold Levi 501’s, I never knew it, because she always fitted me off the Penny’s brand tables. They were serviceable jeans, as far as I can remember. But very not cool. Way not cool enough to get you in the In Crowd.

The penny loafers were less of a stretch, since J.C. Penny also sold shoes, among which were penny loafers. Nobody knew what brand of shoes you wore. Unless you took them off and showed them the insole, which, even in Jr. High, wasn’t accepted protocol. Thank God.

Clothes and style weren’t the only thing required for getting into the cool kid group. You needed a girlfriend. A cheerleader, if possible. But there was a limited supply of these, and all of them were very far out of my league.

You also needed to be witty. Or sarcastic. Jr. High people have no way of knowing the difference between the two. I could pull this off. But the only way you’d ever get to show out on this is if you were already in the In Crowd.

In Crowd kids had a kind of swagger. The boy’s did, anyway. They had an uncharacteristic confidence. How many confident Jr. High kids are there in the world? Who knows. I’m pretty sure they’re all confined to the In Crowd, wherever they can be found.

Finally, as a 9th Grader (my Jr. High was 7th through 9th grade), I was asked to join the In Crowd at a High School football game. By this time, I had a paper route and was buying my own clothes – Levi 501 jeans and penny loafers. I did my best to curb my enthusiasm and just be cool. I didn’t want to get kicked out of the In Crowd the first night I got into it. Being cool was a prerequisite to the whole thing, whether you felt cool or not.

It was awesome. For the first few minutes. I was In! I was cool. I was valuable. And that all felt fantastic.

But after the first 10 or 15 minutes, I realized that I was still me. Under the cover of my cool jeans and shoes, I was still the Preacher’s Kid who lived in a tiny little house in a not-cool neighborhood. I was still the possessor of countless insecurities. I was still me. And that set up a fear that I’d be discovered as the fraud I knew I was.

I have, unfortunately, not fully grown out of this. I still like to be at the cool kids’ table, wherever that table might be found. We’re not kids anymore, so it’s more the high-value people’s table. And it may not be an actual table. But the compelling desire to be included among the influencers and important people is still there. Thankfully, there are no more penny loafers in the mix, but the magnetic draw of this desire to be “in” hasn’t gone away.

I’m still trying to learn how to be me, and let that be enough. I haven’t yet mastered the U B U thing. I’m not interested in trying to be somebody I’m not. It’s still my goal, but I’m not in sight of the finish line yet.

There’s a down side to this advice, though. I’m familiar with this, too. It’s that if I misunderstand the essence of U B U, I may think it’s permission to not bother with being more than I am right now. That I’ll be better off to just be the way I am and let people deal with it if it doesn’t suit them.

Well, yes. And no.

For me to be me, I’ll have to let go of the obsession with trying to be who they think I should be and meet other people’s standards. When I don’t meet them, they’ll have to deal with it. I may have to deal with it, too.

But no, this isn’t a free pass to coast and just let myself be my bad self.

I got 30 pounds overweight under this paradigm. And way out of shape. And ended up with Type 2 Diabetes. It didn’t work out very well in these physical areas. Age and gravity always win. That’s just the way it is.

Spiritually, none of us can afford to coast and be our bad selves. That will not work out well.

There’s an important dynamic in this U B U thing that we have to deal with. It makes it a little messy and sometimes complicated. Still, it’s got to be addressed and somehow factored in. Here’s what I think it is: The ultimate power in the entire U B U thing is God’s Grace. Without it, we’ll never get there. Ultimately it’s God’s Grace that empowers you to be you and me to be me. His goal for extending us that grace is enormous – it’s our only hope that we will grow into the us He had in mind when He first thought of us, back before He spoke the cosmos into being and spun the planets into orbit.

The thing about grace that makes this U B U thing complex is that you can’t effort your way into it. You can’t earn or deserve it. You can’t try harder to access God’s Grace. You have to humbly accept it and embrace it.

But once you have accepted it and embraced it, it empowers your effort toward the development and growth that God has in mind for you.

Never get effort ahead of grace. You just can’t get where you want to go if you do. Grace first, then effort.

From this perspective, my path to me being me looks like this: humility – embrace grace – make effort by grace. It’s easy for me to type. Why is it so durn hard to do in life?!

The idea of making effort isn’t rare in the New Testament. I did a quick search of the phrase, “Make every effort,” on Biblegateway.com and found more than I thought I would. You should do that search for yourself. The Apostle Peter used these 3 words most often. Here’s what he wrote in 2 Peter 1:5-9:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

To form the kind of character that will emerge in a person who is adding these good things one to another takes effort. None of it will happen consistently by accident. It takes intention, focus, effort to pull this off. Even if your temperament sets you up for some of them to be easier for you than they are for “normal” people.

I want you to be you. I want me to be me. I don’t want to be held hostage by what I think other people think of me or expect of me. And I want my character – my spirit – to grow and deepen. So here’s what I’m trying to do, and what I recommend to you. I’m trying to make every effort toward becoming who God has in mind for me to be, humbly depending on His grace for the power to do this. For me, this means that I have to visit and revisit His grace in my life over and over again. Remembering it. Bathing in it. Basking in it. Drinking deeply of it.

And then I move ahead with sincere, though often faltering, effort.

If you’re a mom or a dad, imagine what it could mean to your kids to see you modeling this kind of life. Imagine what this approach might do to your marriage. To your job. To your whole life.

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

Image result for ornate mirror

And, of course, you know the rest of the phrase. “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

In the Disney movie, the mirror normally lies appropriately and assures the evil queen that she is. He (Disney made the voice male) was a mirror, but he wasn’t stupid. When the evil queen asks you who’s the most beautiful in the land, you tell her she is. And you try to sound like you believe it to be true. Except for the time he had to break the bad news to her that there was one even fairer than her. You know the rest of the story.

In real life, though, when a mirror gets asked this question there’s no answer from the mirror. But there is almost always an answer from the psyche of the one asking. A profoundly convincing answer. Unfortunately, it’s often an answer that breaks the heart of the asker.

You might think only girls ask this question. I think most any honest male will tell you they ask it, too. They might use different words. “Who’s the biggest stud at school?” or something like that. Most guys aren’t too much into “fair.” Well, not in the looks category, anyway.

I’ll even go so far as to conjecture that it’s not just adolescent girls and boys who ask this question. Even grown people sometimes still ask it. Sometimes, even people who know better ask it. I think this is why the phrase we heard in Disney’s Snow White connected instantly.

It’s not a great question, really. The older you get, the more you should know this. Even the ultra-rich and ultra-vain have to some day realize that they’re no longer the fair one they once were, and that it’s not going to get any better. The shelf life of physical beauty is short. Even when you factor cosmetic surgery into the equation. Just ask Goldie Hawn.

It’s the answer that most people hear that’s the worst, though. Because what most people hear back from the mirror is, “Well, it ain’t you. Not by a long shot!” It couldn’t have been more powerful if it had actually come from a voice in the mirror.

Many a young woman and young man has stepped away from the mirror believing that they’re damaged goods, imperfect and ugly. Not wondering if this might be so, but fully convinced that this is the truth about them. Anybody else remember that? I’m thinking if you had a mirror in your house when you grew up, you probably played this little drama out. You’re quite an exception if you didn’t.

One of the most unfortunate things about this is that until and unless we learned to hear another message – the truth about who we are – this broken message wrote a very powerful scrip for our lives. A very powerful and very broken script.

We behave out of our beliefs. If we believe we’re sub-standard, we’ll act in sub-standard ways. Or else we’ll spend our resources proving to everybody around us that we’re NOT sub-standard. I’m not sure which is worse. Neither of these has much of an upside.

OK, in a world where appearance and image trumps everything, what’s a parent supposed to do to help their kid(s) not be sucked in and devoured by a brutal, beauty-obsessed culture? I don’t have all the answers to this, but I’ll offer a few tips that I hope God will use to spark your own creativity and thought.

First, talk about character every chance you get. At the end of the day, only character will count. In God’s economy, character trumps pretty much everything else. So look for it and talk about it. When you see an admirable character quality being displayed, point it out. When you see honesty, talk about it. When you see integrity, talk about it. When you see positive character, say so.

You need to be able to identify character qualities that matter to you. So take a couple of minutes and make a grocery list of 10 or 12 character qualities you want your kids to have firmly in their lives and expressed in their behaviors. It may take more than a couple of minutes. Here are a few Bible references that could give you some help:
– Galatians 5:22-23
– 2 Peter 1:5-8
– Philippians 4:8

Then when you see anything on your list being acted out by your kid(s), TELL THEM! You don’t have to throw a party for them. But if you don’t tell them when they do something good, they’re not likely to sustain motivation to keep up the good work.

Second, help them figure out how to make the most of what they’ve got. This is tricky. You’ve got to figure out how to do this without making their physical appearance the most significant thing about them. This is delicate work. Add to the delicate balance the fact that kids are all different from each other, and you have a really big challenge on your hands. How you do this with each of your kids may (probably will) need to be custom tailored to how they’re individually wired. Your approach has to account for these differences. Unfortunately, this isn’t one-size-fits-all.

I’ll give you a simple example. If you’ve ever had a pubescent boy, you know that one of these physical things that can be addressed is body odor. Could we, please! How is it that they went to bed a little boy one night and came to breakfast the next morning smelling like a locker room? Ah, the wonders of physiology. And, by the way, how can he not smell himself?! You’ll need to help him do something about it.

Acne and skin issues are another common thing. They can’t always be instantly fixed, but they can cause such grief for young ladies and young men. Spend some money that you might not think you can afford and see a dermatologist to get advice and help. Buy over-the-counter products to help them keep their skin clear and clean. Help them take care of themselves.

In case you haven’t been there yet, they’ll probably fight you on this. Be consistent with your urging. Adolescents have amazingly short memories, and they often just don’t want to do things they know they should do. Imagine that? How’d that thing get transferred to them from their other parent? Factor this in. This is another time lots of wisdom and fineness is needed. Nagging them is counter-productive. But if you don’t sort of stay on their case, they may just not do the 3.5 minutes of work it takes to tend to their skin every night. So.

Styles change quickly, and as an adult, you understand the shallow nature of style. But be sensitive to your kids and their sense of style. I feel strongly that the number one rule for style is about modesty. You get to decide what is appropriately modest. You’re the parent. You can invite the input of your kid(s), but you’re the one who bears the responsibility for deciding, and then enforcing you decision.

The second rule for style involves money. When our three girls were growing up, we had the fantastic blessing of mature friends who taught us how to give our kids a budget for clothing at the end of summer, to be used for school clothes, and then let them decide how they would spend it. When it was gone, it was gone. If they overspent for style, well, that’s gonna be a bad deal soon. We didn’t bail them out when we knew it wasn’t going work out well. They learned better when they figured this out for themselves. If the style they want fits in their budget, and it meets the appropriate modesty test, I say let them buy it and wear it. But you’ve got to make it clear to them, and then let them learn for themselves that they can only spend money once.

If you try to control all these variables in your kids’ lives, you’ll end up alienating them, and you’ll hate yourself before it’s all said and done. James Dobson, the Godfather of Christian family psychologists, used to say, “Choose your battles wisely.” I doubt that it applies anywhere as much as it does here.

The last bit of advice is what I give at the end of almost every post I write: ask God to make you wise. You’ll never be able to manage this whole delicate thing with only your wisdom and background. Count on James 1:5. Ask God for wisdom. And ask Him to guide you to others who are wise so you can benefit from their wisdom and experience. Most of these people are the ones who’ve already been down all these roads. Harvesting wisdom from them is smart. It probably goes without saying, but you’re not looking for people who have lots to say about raising kids. You’re looking for people with great kids. Sometimes they’re not the same people.

The waters of self-image are choppy and deep. That’s why I’ll be writing a lot about them. But no more this time. I’ve exceeded my word limit.