As Time Goes By

It’s hard to believe it is already 2009… I remember last year, as each month flew by, watching it go incredulously.  And now here we are, in a whole new year! 

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions, and I have a couple to share and perhaps keep this time around.  I have noticed on other blogs that women write how they are keeping up on their resolutions; what they have accomplished, how far they have come.  I am so proud of them!  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for me.  Maybe this time!

I have this thing where I like to start new things on significant dates — like Christmas, my birthday, or the beginning of a month.  I don’t like to start something on, say, September 17th.  So the first of the year is the most important date to start anything, and I am starting a whole new life.

2008 was not a good year in my life, and I knew it as I went through it.  I muddled through it, rather… and while I knew I had to get organized, get together, get with God, I never made time to do it, resulting in an entire year that I can’t look back on with happiness.  I’m not proud of it.  And I know God wasn’t proud of me.  Perhaps that is what hurts most of all… knowing that I disappointed Him in many ways.  Looking back, I see them all clearly.  In that moment, I didn’t really care to look.

As time goes by, we can take that look back and see what we did and evaluate it.  I truly resent doing this because I see my words and actions and cringe.  “Did I really say that?”  “How could I have…!” “That was really, really dumb.”  If I don’t look back, though, I won’t see what I did and learn how to overcome it.  I won’t see the problem, so I won’t look for a solution; I won’t know I have a disease, so I won’t find a cure.

A resolution, in and of itself, doesn’t accomplish anything.  A lot of non-Christians make resolutions, and by sheer willpower accomplish what they hoped:  better fitness, fewer hangovers, or spending more time with the family.  For Christians, there are two facets to our goals/resolutions:  first, they are based on what God desires us to be, not only our personal opinion of what needs to change; and second, we are not on our own accomplishing them.  God will give us strength.

So when I look back at my past year and find what I need to change, I can’t just make a resolution ‘not to do it again’, because I said that hundreds of times and did ‘it’ again!  The first step is to recognize our failures not as ‘mistakes’ but as sins.  The more lightly we view our sins, the less grateful we are for forgiveness — if we even seek it.  We must understand the magnitude of going against the will of God.  We must ask Him to reinstate us to Himself, because sin separates us from Him.  ‘Mistakes’ are accidents.  I don’t know many instances of ‘accidental’ sin. 

In recognizing sin for what it is, we can take the next step, which is to forsake it.  This is where the resolve comes in!  Yet our resolve need not be to make ourselves resist temptation, but to make ourselves trust God when we are tempted.  I didn’t understand this at first.  When we trust God in temptation, we admit to Him that we know He ‘will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear’ and that He ‘will never leave us nor forsake us’.  In this confidence, we can conquer.

It in this way that we make each New Year’s resolution produce real change in our lives.  It’s not on human willpower, but on trust and humility in an almighty God.  Consider also that the enemy will do anything to make us fail.  Too often I write off Satan as a man in a red suit running about with a pitchfork in hand.  He’s much more powerful than a sunburned farmer.  Realizing this helped me to know when he was tempting me, recognize it as such, and turn to the One who is my strength and stronghold.

2009 can be different for me, and it can be different for you as well.  Whatever you may be facing, what trials, heartaches, hardships, obstacles — entrust them.  I have plenty of all of the above.  Holding onto the them only gives me a stomachache.  Surrendering them to Jesus Christ gives me a life worth living — one to be proud of as time goes by.

 

 

 

Willow Weep for Me

Try to remember the kind of September/When no one wept except the willow…  That’s one of the lines from the song “Try to Remember”.  It’s too bad the willow isn’t the only one that weeps.  There comes a time in life when the tears fall all too easily… usually the product of an aching heart, as we discussed in the last post.  Life doesn’t only bring disappointments, but often stresses, decisions, hopes, wonderments, confusion, anger, frustration… in these times my reaction is to run to somewhere quiet and cry.  Sometimes it helps vent the emotion without making other people endure it.  Yet other times it just makes me feel worse.  If only the willow would weep, and not me!

Emotions are strange in many ways, and too often misunderstood.  One of the funny things about emotions is that they are circular.  I don’t think many girls realize thisOften, we react to our circumstances with an outbreak of emotion, then, because we have this emotion toward our circumstance, we develop a consistent attitude toward it, which in turn causes more outbreaks of emotion… all fueled by our overwhelming consideration of our emotions in the first place.

If there is one thing that bothers me, it’s a moody girl.  You know the kind:  she’s happy one day, and then by some ‘right’ she gets to be huffy the next.  You didn’t do anything — or maybe you did, and you don’t know it, you can never be sure.  I’ve heard people comment before, “Oh, it’s okay, she’s just in one of her moods.”  I couldn’t help but think:  who gave you the right to have ‘moods’?  Our society gives that right.  ‘Feelings’ are everything; we are to consider them first in ourselves and in others.  Our generation of girls has grown up with the idea that their emotions take highest priority, and if you trample on them, you take the consequences.   This is seen just as often in Christian girls.

Somehow Christian girls have slipped through the cracks when it comes to moodiness.  Truth be told, we have no inherent right to vent our emotions on people, especially our families.  I’ve done it, and I learned quickly that ’emotional abuse’ of family members doesn’t last long.  The reason it occurs so often is that moodiness is not seen as a sin.  It’s just a ‘woman thing’.  Did anyone ever think to make it a ‘nobody thing’?  Some girls blame it on hormones.  I could get into a whole speel on PMS and why I think it’s just an excuse for emotional lack of control, but I won’t argue that point here :).  The issue is this: moodiness and venting emotions is a lack of self control, patience, gentleness and kindness, all of which are fruits of God’s Holy Spirit.  If you are walking with the Spirit, it won’t happen.

“So when do I get to be myself?”,  you ask.  As Anne Ortlund said, your self is who you are in Christ.  Thus, your emotions will be controlled by Him.  If you want to live in your sinful self, go ahead and be moody.  That’s not God’s idea of a beautiful woman.

Crying over the pressures of life does not qualify as moodiness, since moodiness is taking out those pressures on others.  But there is a solution to the emotions we feel in life’s trials:  Jesus Christ.  If I hold on to my emotions, either bottling them for later use or dumping them on my family, I am not solving anything.  Peter said, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:6-7, ESV).

How does this have to do with relationships?  Everything.  Whether you are still at home with your family, married with a husband, dating, courting, or just having great friends, your emotions can be kept in control.  I am not saying to bottle them up until you explode, because that will be the result.  By releasing your emotions to Christ, in tears or laughter, whatever you may be feeling — He will take them and make you strong.

A Baby Changes Everything

There’s my home… and it’s fall-pictures-169Christmas Day.  It seemed like it would never come, and it is here.  It is quiet… peaceful… calm.  The snow has been falling steadily for the past week, and it continues today outside my window.  I can see the chickadees and bluejays picking at the seeds in the fluffy whiteness, with a little red squirrel scampering beside them.  We opened all the presents this morning — Laney came running into my room at what seemed to be much too early an hour to announce that it was Christmas!  All my siblings slept around the tree last night, which is a tradition of ours.  So as soon as morning came, it was present time!  Wrapping paper all over the floor, the couch, the chairs; pillows on the ground, dogs rolling on the rugs, squeals and laughter over gifts.  But is this all Christmas is?

It’s the same question many other blogs are posing; so are many books, television hosts and churches.  Is this all there is?  And everyone answers:  “No!  Of course not!”  That’s the right answer, see.  But then, if Christmas isn’t about the gifts and fun times, what IS it about?  Some say family.  “We’re close together, having quality time.”  But how many destroyed families attempt to cover the pain with a shallow gathering of bitter people: hurt women, unhappy men, and unloved children?  They say Christmas is about family, but for many, there is no ‘family’ at all. 

Some say it is about cheer and ‘goodwill’.  Yet good deeds and happy faces don’t cover a whole year for you.  December can’t be the only month we choose to have ‘goodwill toward men’.  Christmas is over, a new year begins… resolutions are made, often to be broken.  Christmas is not about ‘goodwill’.

Is Christmas about peace?  For many, peace is not to be grasped.  Peace is ever evasive; ever sought and never found.  To feel peace — contentment, ease, no worry, no pain — is unbeknownst to so many people.  They print it on their Christmas cards (along with goodwill to men) without understanding or ever experiencing it themselves.  It’s just a word… like so many other phrases associated with Christmas.

For our culture, Christmas is hollow.  It is empty.  It is the shell of something they never actually have experienced or known.  It is a name and an idea that they view through a glass; gazing at the Norman Rockwell Christmas they long for, wishing their family was that ‘functional’, they had that goodwill, and that they felt that peace.  Just as they window shop for the gifts they buy, they window shop ‘what Christmas is all about’.  Always seeking, but never buying into the message, hope and promise of Christmas. 

I know what Christmas is all about.  I know.  It’s about a life… a birth.  It’s not about us and our presents to each other, or our families, or our good feelings and peaceful pretentions.  Christmas is the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s gift of Himself for all mankind.  Because I believe and accept this — because I know in my heart of hearts that this is true — Christmas gives me my family, together, not disjointed.  Because He was born and I love Him I DO have goodwill toward mankind… but only because He gives it.  Because of His love and grace I DO have peace, for He is still with me, not just in Bethlehem.  The world makes a cheap imitation of what I and every other Christian has. 

Because of Him, my Christmas is beautiful.  Because I accept the Child of Bethlehem as my Savior, my life is different, not only my Christmas.  That’s how a Baby changes everything.

Soldier Boy

brandon1This blog isn’t really a personal blog, but since I am a person, some events from my own life will make it on here.  Over Thanksgiving I got to see my cousins again — all four of them, all boys — and especially my eldest cousin, Brandon.  Brandon is nineteen, a little older than me.  Since each girl in my family is slightly younger than one of the boys, we each have our ‘own’ cousin.  Brandon was mine.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time for family to see each other, and in this case, I will probably see Brandon only one more time for a long while.  On December 30th he leaves to join the Army, going to a base in Oklahoma.  He will then go into basic training and within a year or so take a tour of Iraq and Afghanistan.  He is going to be a data analyst, which means he will be programming the computers to direct artillery where to drop shells (I am hoping that is accurate!).  We are all going to miss him.

While Brandon goes to fight for our country, we are left here on the home front.  Just as Brandon will be a soldier for a greater cause, so are we in our own way.  Not in the sense that we are physically defending our country, but spiritually fighting on its behalf. 

Our nation is not centered around righteousness, and you needn’t look around long to affirm that conclusion.  While we may send soldiers out to uphold America’s legacy of freedom, at home true freedom is being undermined at an alarming rate.  Freedom to do good is no longer one of our rights, it seems — but freedom for evil, as with abortion, gay marriage, and corruption in finance and taxes is the only ‘freedom’ we are allowed.  Thus, we really aren’t free at all.

We can debate, argue, condemn and judge all day long.  There are so many things ‘wrong’ with our society that it would be easy to spend time lamenting the state of it.  While discussing these things is necessary in order to understand and counter them, if all we ever do is ‘discuss’ there won’t be progress.  Secondly, this progress will never be accomplished with human hands alone.  Going into our culture with nothing to offer but another voice of negativity is not a right representation of Christ.  What can we offer to our spiritually dead culture that can bring the ‘change’ they all cry for?  On our own, nothing.  With Christ, everything.

So we must pray.  We must be a voice of encouragement and confidence, knowing God wasn’t surprised that Barack Obama became president.  He wasn’t on coffee break when the Democrats sneaked into the White House.  He is still God, and if anything, rather than lamenting our situation we should take action to make these next four years a time where we rise above our circumstances, trusting the Lord who allowed them. 

Lastly, we are gradually reaching the day when our Lord will return.  These things will come and go, presidents will arrive and leave, nations will rise and fall.  Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.  We will never have a utopia here on earth.  ‘Progress’ will be limited by this fact, for God’s purpose was not for us to create our own heaven in this world.  So in this time, we are soldiers for Christ, fighting His battle, holding His flag — and only He sees the end.  We know we will be victorious with Him.  We just don’t know when.  So, trusting Him, we battle on.

When the Circle is Empty

I have had several comments on the posts about girl friends from ladies who are at a time in their lives where their circle of friends is very small — or even nonexistent.  For these women, going out for coffee isn’t always possible.  The facts are, we all will probably have a time in our lives where our circle of friends is empty.

When I was twelve our family had a circle of friends that were very close.  We had been friends for years through our church.  Yet when we moved to another church, our friends went a different direction.  We didn’t see them so often.  Now they are still our friends, but not nearly so close as they were before.  Following were three years where my friend base wasn’t that big.

During those three years, however, we joined the drama group for girls I have mentioned, and through that group, I made an entirely new circle of friends.  These were girls of all ages, while before they had been mostly younger than me.  The friends from those years are the friends that are closest to me now.  Also, when we began going to the church we attend currently, I met more girls and guys my age who became part of my circle.  But in order to reach this time of fullness in friendship, my circle had to be empty first.

Sometimes God takes certain things from us to keep Him as our first priority.  While it can be hard not having what it seems all other women and girls have — a great group of girlfriends — God is not allowing it arbitrarily.  He knows the longings of your heart. 

I had one girl write me with an opposite problem:  she had all girl friends, and no guy friends.  While I would definitely say that girls need to be your best friends, no matter what age you are, but girls can get petty and small at times, and in these times guy friends are refreshing.  She wanted to know if it was a natural desire to want to have young men as friends.  It is!  Titus was advised by Paul to treat the young women as sisters, and the young men as brothers — but he was not advised to avoid them.  As I said before, having young men friends will help you understand how they think when you enter the courtship age.  For this particular girl, her desire was to expand her friend base in gender.  God knows that desire just like any other woman’s — and in His time, He will fulfill it.

Married women often say (and I believe they should) that their husband is their best friend.  When you are married, guy friends are unadvisable unless it is a ‘couple friend’, as in, two couples that are friends with each other.  Obviously, my mother does not have male friends just to chat with like she does my dad.  HE is her priority.  However, they do couple dates quite often with their friends.  She also has a few great girl friends she goes out with now and then.  But she doesn’t find her security in them, because if she did, when they left or had to move like our first circle, she would be crushed.  My father and God have to be her foremost friends, just like they have to be ours.

On the topic of friends is family.  I used to be desperate for friends while totally ignoring the fact that I had sisters.  Granted, I LIVE with my sisters, and not with my friends.  Sisters don’t always get along!  As time has gone on, however, we have become much better buddies.  There can still be some friction since we are very, very different.  For instance, Ella is the tomboy, lumberjack-gone-girly type; Autumn is the funky-layered-laugh-a-lot-   didn’tthinkthatwouldgotogether type, and I am the prissy-ultrafeminine-don’t-break-a-nail-type.  Somehow, we all ended up in the same house.  Yet your family is the first friend base you should have before all others.  Outside friends come after;  blood is thicker than water, you know.

Thus, there may be a time when you will not have the friend base you wish for.  Instead of evaluating yourself or your life in view of the number of friends you have, use this time to learn what it means for the Lord to be your best friend.  If you are married, then the Lord and your husband become your best friends.  There will still be a desire for girl friends who can understand certain things from a feminine perspective, but God will fulfill the desires of those who delight in Him (Ps. 37:4).  Trust your best Friend to fill your circle, and it won’t feel so empty anymore.

So… Can I See You Again?

Girls who choose not to date in high school are making a hard but good choice.  Not only does it give them time to focus on God, but it also gives freedom in friendship and time for the family.  These girls are preserving their precious gift of purity as well.  We have already gone over the ‘dangers’ of dating and what to do in the time of waiting.

But now you are eighteen.  High school is over.  What now?

I have watched several girls go different directions when they finished high school.  For some, they ‘put in their time’, and were swiftly seen with a boyfriend, scruffy and short, as soon as their Open House was over.  Others continued on with the exact same commitment they had in high school, perhaps more stringent than before.  Others were married within the year.  Each family had a different system for what they deemed appropriate after high school, and their daughters, for the most part, followed that system.

I turned eighteen six months ago.  No one showed up on my doorstep with a pocket full of posies and ring.  But things do change when you turn eighteen, and how you deal with those changes will determine who you grow to be, who you meet, and how you go about relationships in this new adult life. 

Some of this will reiterate what I said in the post, ‘Can I Have Guys as Friends?’ and for those of you that haven’t read that post, I would suggest it simply so that you can see where I am going on this topic.  Truly, it all comes back to that question — can I have male friends, and how do I interact with them?  There are, however, two different answers.  The high school answer was used in the ‘Guys as Friends’ post, and I have a different answer for those who have graduated.  While very similar, there are a few differences when you become an adult.

Eighteen is the age where guys become bolder.  You are no longer in high school; you are recognized as an adult.  With this in mind, offers for dates will become more common.  How do you answer?  Young men will want to spend time with you in public places, or in groups.  How do you deal with that?  And what about when you can’t stand someone, and they won’t leave you alone??  I have an example of the last question, so let’s start with that one:

There is a young man at my local college named Bill.  I am only taking one class at the college (the rest are online) and it is at night.  So every night I go to class, and there is Bill.  One time, I repeat, ONE time, we walked back to the parking lot on the same sidewalk simply because both our cars were parked in the same lot, and I had no choice.  But he took that one little walk as a sign that we were meant to be.  The next few weeks he made sure we left class at the same time so we could walk again.  I was very much not interested in him, he is not a Christian and also, our interests are just too different.  So I got smart:  I parked in another lot closer to the building so we couldn’t walk together.  That worked at first, but soon he got smart too, and parked in the same lot.  He chased me down the sidewalk to ‘ask my advice’ about a speaking project.  So I got smarter:  my desk was closer to the door than his, so I made a run for it like Eric Liddle as soon as class ended, and by the time he maneuvered around to follow, I was gone!

Unfortunately, that method is not going to work with everyone.  I knew, though, that Bill was the type of guy who would ask you out on his fourth week knowing you if you gave him the time of day.  I was not interested, but I didn’t want to hurt him or make him afraid to ask other girls out, which can happen if one girl turns a man down rudely.  So I came up with a plan.  If Bill asked me out, I would say: ”I’m sorry Bill, we can be friends in class, but I am in a committed relationship right now and can’t date you.”  My parents helped me come up with this.  Am I in a committed relationship?  Yes — with Jesus Christ!  This answer will be true and also unoffensive to someone who enjoys your company but just doesn’t meet the standard.

But what about when you LIKE the guy that asks you out?  This is where it gets tricky.  I have another example for this one:

I went to a concert in the park this past summer, and although I had invited a mixed crowd, I was the only one that showed.  I was sitting by a pleasant older lady when a tall, dark and handsome young man came up to me.  (Yes, it’s true, but I didn’t believe it either, at first) He patted my dog and we chatted generically a moment.  Then it began to rain… or rather, pour.  Everyone ran, soaking wet, up to the Presbyterian church.  I put Lassie in the car and slipped quietly into a pew, dripping from my skirt and hair.  Who comes up but Mr. McDreamy.  “May I?” he asked, gesturing toward the seat.  “Yes,” I answered.  He asked me my name, if I lived around here, and all that stuff they ask in the movies, you know. “I’m Samuel, but you can call me Sam.” He said it as I were receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He went to tell me how well he sang, and how he had a paid lead part in a play, and how he knew all about voice techinique and where he was schooling and how old he was and what his dreams were.  Now, a man’s ego tends to take over a bit when he is nervous, but this was over the top.  He gave me a cordial farewell before joining the choir for the performance.  (He did a good job, too, at least he’s not a liar!)  Afterward, I left the church and walked down the tree lined sidewalk in the summer sun.  The trees were still dripping, the sun was gleaming…  I looked back, and there, on the steps, stood Sam, frantically looking over the heads of the crowd.  He spotted me and raised his hand.  I waved demurely and walked out of sight.  It wasn’t five seconds before he came running down the sidewalk hollering, “Phylicia! Wait!” I turned to face him and he said, “Can I see you again when I come back to town?  I mean, do you have a phone number?”  So I told him, “I don’t usually go out with people I have just met…” “I understand!” “But you can do something with me and my family, if you like.  You can call my dad if you want to.  Here is my card –”  His face had fallen. His manner grew cold.  It was like night and day.  “Alright then.” And he left.  I liked him.  He was proud, but he was friendly and attractive.  My human, girlish self liked him.  But as you can see by his change of manner, he didn’t want family involved.  He didn’t want accountability. And when he read the Bible verse on my business card, his face revealed he didn’t want that, either.  He wasn’t the right one.

These instances will become more and more frequent.  I would suggest planning your responses so you are not caught off guard.  Being distracted by these attentions can cause you to be either rude or unable to answer, which usually translates as ‘yes’ to the normal, confident male! Also, if not already, plan with your parents what you are to do after high school when it comes to relationships.  I will be getting into my own family’s methods next week.  However, now is the time to figure it out, because whether you like them or not, the suitors will eventually come!