The blessing is the payback

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. 1 Peter 3:9, NLT

Hurt.

We have all experienced it. We have all had people hurt us-whether intentionally or not so. Whether due to circumstances outside of anyone’s control; or actions, words, or deeds that were chosen, and maybe a little “out” of control.

We have all experienced hurt. We have even all been the one at some point in time inflicting the hurt.

Today’s post isn’t about deep hurts-that is a path to healing and forgiveness that takes a little more time. One that can’t be wrapped up neatly in one post, because it is just that hard. I know because I am walking it. Walking it over again for some things through which I thought I had already taken that path many years ago.

However, we can still approach people who have hurt us with the following as Peter instructs in 1 Peter 3:8, being “agreeable, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble, without sharp-tongued sarcasm” (The Message).

But how???

One of the easiest places to get tripped up, and caught up in this need to retaliate with the same hurt is through our daily interactions. Our relationships with those around us, and with those with whom we will come into contact, or with whom we will speak. Electronic devices and the use of social media, messaging and texting make it so easy to do. Hurt comes in the form of words or general complacency. Or let’s just be real…we get this “I’ve got a second, let me respond and just get this over with. Give this as little emotion and attention as possible as I can right now to say I did” attitude about our relationships and connections.

Our words become impulsive with the tap of our thumbs. Behind screens we become invincible. And we say and do things we would not do in person. Things that damage and impair meaningful connections-simply because we never took the time to stop, think, and be agreeable, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, or humble.

When we are on the receiving end, oh…we want to pull out our “fire” thumbs. Tap back a response. One that demands an apology, puts people in their place. And then back and forth. Round and round we go. Retaliating.

I wish we could be as bold in our face to face interactions as we are in the ones we have with our thumbs. Behind keyboards and screens. Then maybe we would not be walking around with so many unresolved, hurt feelings because of perceived words or actions.

Or maybe we can simply be the one who stops the trail of hurt in the beginning. “Do not repay evil for evil.” The call from Peter implies a choice. Which means in this case we have a choice whether we will hurt someone, or as he also instructs, “pay them back with a blessing.”

And blessings can be firm boundaries that tell where lines have been crossed, without the use of hurtful words or actions. We can speak the truth using loving, compassionate language, and still let others know we will not tolerate being harmed or dishonored. We can call out disrespect without being nasty and unkind.

Or…we can choose surrender. Give the situation to God. Ask God to bless them. Ask God to rid their hearts of hurt and bitterness…(oh, and ours, too). Ask God to show them the path to righteousness, and to give them a life that is prosperous; if they so choose to take that one.

We can give it to God, and move on.

Sometimes it’s the best payback. It’s the one that’s unexpected.

Because here’s the straight up truth. We cannot control how someone speaks. We cannot control the actions of others, or their character when they are hurting.

We choose on this day whom we will serve, and if we are serving Him, we serve others with kindness, sympathy, love, compassion, and humility.

Because we may never get an apology. That person may never see the errors in the way a situation was handled. May never change at all. May change, and we may never see it. And we can’t go back and fix anything.

But we can be a blessing, and in doing so He will bless us.

When we bless this way, let go and move on; He will pay us back what we are owed-Our peace. Our dignity. Our courage. The true payback.

Enough

Enough

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

My name is January. I am an approval addict. I want to be liked. I want to be enough of everything to everyone. I struggle with the dangerous need to please. A need and a desire that saps my energy. That festers in my soul. That listens to the lies of the devil when I become the target of someone’s unkind words, hurtful whispers, or misguided actions. A dangerous need to be liked that causes me to constantly question if I am good enough.

My name is January. I have several other identities. I am broken. A sinner saved and redeemed by the grace of God. I am flawed. I can be a little too “tough.” And, I have a testimony courtesy of all the mistakes I have made, and all the wrong paths I have chosen. Of all the imperfections that have made me who I am.

Even with all this…he thinks I am enough.

But, even with this truth, I have resorted too freely to people-pleasing. I try to please the society that is too quick to label anyone that does not fit the norm. The one that labels “bad” kids, “deadbeat” dads, “unfit” mothers. If you don’t work society calls you “lazy.” If you are not the shining star in class, then you are labeled “stupid” or “unteachable.” If you do not do everything just like those before you, then you are “incompetent.” If you don’t meet the ideal of perfection, you are unworthy.

But, this is not the truth.

You are enough.

In a world that will label you too broken, too damaged, too sassy, too sweet, too goofy, too this, too that. God says otherwise.

He says you are enough.

When you have yelled at your kids one too many times. When you are too tired to help with the homework. When you could not find the right words to say to soothe a hurting child. God says you are just the mom they need.

You are enough.

When the comparison trap rears its ugly head again. When the world tells you that you don’t measure up to its standards. When the devil’s lies scream that you don’t have what it takes. God says “I have called you. I have chosen you. You have just what I need.”

You are enough.

When you leave work feeling completely useless. Thinking you are out of your league, or that you are not making a difference. Doing it all wrong. Know that God has equipped you with the skills you need. The endurance to persevere.

You are enough.

When the guilt and shame of your past sins slowly start creeping back in. Remember, God gave you a fresh start. He gave you grace. He poured out His love to prove you are enough.

When the demands of life just become too much. When your balance is off. When you can’t remember who you are. When you just want to give up. God reminds us He has enough of what we need to get through.

So, you…the one reading this. Right now. The one who has been labeled “bad,” a “deadbeat,” unfit, lazy, unworthy.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14)

You are altogether flawless. (Song of Solomon 4:7)

Your weaknesses? Your failures? They will be used for good.

Because, you are important.

You are beautiful.

You are smart enough.

You are good enough.

You are strong enough.

You are worthy enough.

You are enough.

My Father Told Me So

How beautiful you are, my darling, how beautiful! Song of Songs 1:5

“Mommy, what’s wrong with your hair? You look like a poodle.”

I had been coveting a short haircut for many years, always scared that the curls which adorned my head would make that impossible. That those curls would make me resemble a 30 year old Annie, and nothing like the Halle Berry styles I desired.

What was uttered as a simple child-like observation after taking the pixie plunge, quickly transported me back to middle and high school. The hair that was a source of so much “teasing,” and which apparently made me resemble a poodle according to my classmates, was once again something I began to loathe.

“Mommy, all my friends have straight hair. Why can’t I have straight hair? You even straighten yours.”

Uh oh…Now, 4 years later, she has once again left me speechless. I have been called out. Dealt with. Exposed. By a 7 year old little girl who so needs to hear that her curls are beautiful, before the world convinces her otherwise.

“I just want it straight like yours.” Like “hers.” Like “theirs.” Like all the others who make her feel different. And, I get it, girl. I do. I remember watching those girls in class with straight locks as they ran their fingers through their hair. No tangles at the end of their silky strands. Able to brush their hair so it looked shiny and soft, not frizzy and frazzled like my own.

I remember all the times I made the same plea with my own mom. “Please, make it straight.” The number of times she took me to the salon in an attempt to tame the mass of tangles and ringlets I hated so much. To tame the curls that were the subject of taunts in gym class, when the running around would turn my neatly gelled curls into a heaping mess. To silence the critics that spoke words that made me believe I was not beautiful. To fulfill the longing to just look like everyone else.

The critics I still, 20 to 30 years later, try to silence with bleach, a pixie cut, and a flat iron. Yes, even the white hair that still makes me look drastically different isn’t enough to embrace the idea that my head is adorned with a heap of waves.

Even though I am reminded that it is acceptable to be unique.

Before you were born, I set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5

Even though I am reminded that I am beautiful.

Even though I have a Father who tells me so…

You are beautiful, my darling, beautiful beyond words. Your hair falls in waves, like a flock of goats winding down the slopes of Gilead. Song of Songs 4:1

Even as I try to teach my daughter that the same heap of falling waves, and tangled curls is altogether beautiful.

To remind her that God wants her to embrace who he made her to be. To help her silence the critics who tell her she has to look a certain way. To live this out a little more in my own life, even if it means I have to leave the flat iron in the bathroom drawer on a regular basis.

To be an example of the message I want my daughter to understand and own…that she is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

The message I was afraid to embrace, and definitely too terrified to boldly state so many years ago.

So, to my former critics, and to those future hair critics who will try to decide what defines beautiful…take a look at this little girl. Take a look at her curls. The curls that some may say resemble the hair of a poodle.

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I hope you get to meet her some day, and I hope she will be brave enough to stand up to her critics and say:

“You are wrong! I may look different, but I am beautiful! My Father told me so!”

For He Has Taught Me More

Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. James 1:17

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“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” I hear the screams in the wee hours of the morning. The screams that have woken me from a state of sleep I seemed to have just fallen into. As I fumble around in the dark, I hear the screams again: “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”

As I open the door, I hear the small faint whisper of what has distressed this little child so-an earache. Not exactly what I wanted to hear after having just battled three straight cases of strep in 2 months. Really? Was the poor little guy sick again? So, I did the usual-Motrin, back rubs, hushed whispers, but still only howls of pain.

Then I did the only thing that used to calm this same child 6 years ago when he was a floppy, cuddly baby. Picked him up (now about 28 pounds heavier, and much, much longer), made a bed on the couch, and laid his sweet little head on my chest.

While he slept, and I watched the clock tick-1:22, 1:23, 1:24…I started to reminisce about those many months when this was the only way this little boy would sleep, as well as the many things this little one has taught me in the last 6 years.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.                                                                                                  Romans 5:3-4

Our children often teach us more than we could ever learn on our own. In my 36 years I have learned more about myself, others, love, and life in the last 6 years than any book or other experience has or could have ever taught me.

With our “monster” it has been one thing after another. “He isn’t growing enough. Let’s test for cystic fibrosis.” “He isn’t walking yet. Let’s make sure he doesn’t have any neurological reason for this.” “He’s a little floppy, let’s try physical therapy.” “He’s not talking, banging his head, rigid, not social…we think he has autism.”

In the last 6 years I have learned I have more peace and strength than I ever thought I would have. Through the strength only given by Him, I endured each one of these painful visits with one little head laying firmly against my beating heart.

It is also in the last 6 years I have learned not to judge a “book” by its cover. What we see on the outside is often not a true reflection of what is really going on at home, beyond the surface of a child’s tantrum in a store, beyond the harsh words or attitude of a stranger.

In these last 6 years I have endured brutal tantrums, been slapped, kicked, confused, broken, and worn down by a 36 pound bundle of fury. Some days I have wanted to run away. Some days I have wished just “once” Hunter would be “normal.” And, I am more patient, strong, and resilient than I ever thought I would be. All because Christ decided to give this little boy to me.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.                                                              1 Corinthians 13:7

Most importantly, I learned how to love. Unconditionally. To look beyond the faults, the inadequacies, the sins, and the disabilities of others. To realize love goes far beyond being able to say the words.

Because this was the greatest gift God gave me.

And, the greatest lesson Hunter has taught me.

No matter how many fights I endure, outbursts I have to get through, or the sleepless nights I lay on the couch with a little boy listening to the sound of my beating heart, the only thing that will ever truly matter, whether he can get the words out or not, is love.

To love.

At all times. In all conditions. Despite the circumstances. Even when the words aren’t said. Unconditionally.

To love. As He sent my sweet little “monster” to teach me.

To love. As He first loved me.

Let’s Be Honest…I Walk Through the Desert, Too

Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. Ephesians 4:25

We Have to Walk in the Desert, Too

Transparency. It is something I have come to appreciate. The art of showing emotion, letting others in on what is going on in life. Not hiding behind a smile. Not painting on a happy face. Not denying struggles. Being completely, and totally honest with another.

It’s something I have grown to appreciate. but not something that was ever accepted as practice growing up.

I lived in a home full of “stuffers.” We grew up believing that old saying…you know, about not airing dirty laundry, or what not. You had a problem, you stuffed it. You were having a bad day, you stuffed your emotions and put on a smile. Look like you have it all together at all costs. Don’t let anyone know the real you. The real issues you face.

Well, let’s be honest. I am over that.

And, let’s be even more honest…I admit it. I walk through the desert, too. Just.like.you.

I’m a mess and so are you. We’ve built walls nobody can get through.

Yes, I’m a mess. Just.like.you.

I have bad days, too. “I don’t want to get out of this bed and do a thing” days. “I spilled coffee on my white shirt, was late for work, and left my gas card at home” days. My bad days are probably just like yours, and my responses to them are, too. I vent, I rant, I yell, and (gasp) sometimes I let a curse word fly. But, I also pray. I get up and move on. I rejoice in the hope that tomorrow will be better.

Let’s be honest. I walk through the desert, too. Just.like.you.

I hurt, too. I have pain. I have struggles. There are days I wonder if anyone cares. There are days I feel alone. Broken. Confused. Useless. Just.like.you.

I am a parent. And, my kids…oh, my kids. On any given Sunday morning one may be laying, kicking, and screaming on the sanctuary floor, while the other stands sassing at the door. I struggle as a parent. I wonder if I even get any of it right. Just.like.you.

And, since I have my own kids…well, sometimes I can get easily frustrated with other kids. But, let’s be honest. Anyone who stands in the front of a classroom of 20 kids who have spent 15 minutes punching, yelling, running, and back-talking, and not one ounce of completing the tasks given to them would be a tad bit frustrated, too. And, yes…on those days I want to desperately run to the nearest exit and run away to the closest desert island. Because, on those days, I need a break. Just.like.you.

Let’s be honest. I walk through the desert, too.

I am human. I am a woman. An insecure woman. Sometimes a stubborn woman. I am a parent. I am a wife, and sometimes not a very good one. I get angry, sad, and scared. And, I am just.like.you.

So bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine. ‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides. And mercy’s waiting on the other side. If we’re honest. 

So, let’s be honest with each other. Let’s throw away the masks and be a little transparent. Let’s walk through the desert together.

When I want to come unraveled because autism came out to play on the way to church (and in the middle of the foyer), hug me and tell me I am doing a good job. When your kid is having struggles and acting out, know that I will do the same for you.

When your lonely, insecure, scared, and don’t know what to pray. Be honest. Someone else has been there, too.

When your day has been bad, and it keeps getting worse, paint on a smile if you wish, laugh about it a little, but be honest. Because there is someone else out there having a bad day, too.

We are in this thing called life together. We all have bad days. Bad months. Bad years. And, we all need a little encouragement along the way.

So, let’s just be honest. We all walk through the desert, too.

Every Single Strand

And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Matthew 10:30

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It is no secret that our home has been a breeding ground for one “learning” experience after another. So, it is no surprise that our home would start to breed other things as well.

Like…lice.

Yes, I know. Yuck. Gross. My thoughts exactly! The mere mention of them makes my skin crawl and my head itch. If that is not enough to make you cringe, then just take a look at the head full of hair in the picture above. Yes, that head. The one with the dark tangled curls. That is where our new problem decided to breed.

And, yet again. God hands me a lesson in the midst of our new problem.

“Mommy, this is why I hate my hair.”

And, I get it. I remember feeling the same way about my own long, curly locks. But, I don’t want my little girl to feel such contempt for her looks, so instead of agreeing, I simply said: “Hayley, your hair is beautiful. It is exactly the way God wanted it to be.”

And, with her best oh-mommy-you-are-so-dumb look of annoyance- “God wanted me to get lice?”

“Well, yes. And you know what? God knows exactly how many strands of hair are on your head. And, believe it or not. He knows exactly how many of these strands also have lice eggs (except, he certainly was not letting me in on this little secret!).

While I certainly did not want to be picking these gross things out of this head full of hair, He wanted me to.

Maybe it was for the simple fact that I couldn’t think of the last time I had actually spent 3 hours just hanging out with my daughter.

Or, maybe it was to make me understand that He not only knows everything about my little girl, and still loves her; He feels the same way about me as well. That the same messages of His love I try so hard to get her to understand, also apply to me as well.

To remind me that while I may use His word to keep the world and its messages of what is beautiful from corrupting the self-esteem of my daughter, I need to heed these words as well. Even if I have been beaten up by a cruel and harsh world.

Like me, my mom always made sure I knew that the many strands of curly hair on my head were beautiful, but it didn’t change the fact that I still looked different from my classmates.

That those strands were a source of ridicule.

That those strands would be the very thing a harsh and cruel world would focus on.

The very strands I began to hate. To loathe. To scorn. Until I moved on to hate and scorn other parts of my body. My upturned nose. My short legs. My strong arms. My crooked teeth.

The very things that God loves about me, and the very things that set me apart from everyone else.

So, He could have made me look like everyone else, but He chose to give me thick, curly, brown hair. Just as He knows the number of strands on my daughter’s head (and the number of lice, too….yuck!), He also knows the number of hairs on my head.

He knows my fears. He knows my doubts.

He knows my strengths. He knows my weaknesses.

You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts when I am far away. Psalm 139:2

And, He also fashioned all my parts. My body. My teeth. My nose. My hair.

Unlike the cruel and harsh world that often does not appreciate the very things that make us unique, God loves every part of me. Of my little girl. Of all of us.

And this is something I won’t allow the world to take from my beautiful daughter.

This is something I can’t allow the world to take away from me.

From the tips of my toes, to the hairs on my short-stranded head-God loves all of me!

What Happened to Compassion?

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. 1 Peter 3:8

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It was bound to happen again eventually. We just didn’t think it would happen the second week of school. A substitute bus driver is usually no big deal to most kids, but our little “monster” has a tough time handling this situation. And when I say tough, I mean the completely berserk kind of tough.

I had some giant-sized faith at the beginning of this new school year. I had even been bold enough to take down the visual schedule that was used to help Hunter adapt to any changes in routine. I had a new confidence that our little boy would eventually see that life and school were not all that scary.

Until he woke up the first day with nerves so bad he was literally sick. Until a snafu with bus schedules left him inconsolable one morning as the driver waited for a solution. But, it had started to get better. He had even started leaving his beloved “puppy” at home. I thought maybe, finally he had found another way to relieve his anxiety while at school.

“The bus is here!”

And, yes, Bus 66 had made its way around the turn. The same number. The same bus.

But wait! Our brown-haired male had been replaced with a blonde-haired female. Oh, great! Here we go!

And, sure enough…as soon as the bus stopped, I heard it. The scared and anxious wails of my little boy. He was NOT getting on that bus.

“Mommy! Mommy! I don’t want puppy! I just want Mommy!”

Yep, I was going to be taking him to school this morning, because I knew he was NOT going to even think about getting on that bus.

Then, as my husband handed me the boy with the tearstained glasses, he added this: “You know that little girl in the front seat actually looked up and said, ‘I wish he would shut-up and stop crying?'”

Say what? No, she didn’t!!

Well, little missy! I wish he would stop crying, too. I wish I didn’t have to add an hour to my day to drive him to school. I also wish I understood how a bus full of kindergartner through second graders lost the ability to show compassion and love to each other. To another scared kid. How does such disdain come out of the mouth of someone barely over the age of 7?

Don’t oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor people. And don’t even think of doing evil to each other. But people refused to pay attention. They shrugged their shoulders at me and shut their ears so that they could not hear. Zechariah 7:10-11

The words we hear come so easily out of the mouths of 7 years olds, also flow so freely from ours. 

I know, because I have witnessed my daughter tell her baby dolls to be quiet, because their whining was giving her a headache. I heard her say the exact words I had said to she and her brother the afternoon before. 

I know such adult speak, such hatred, such disdain for others problems, and struggles, and yes, even wails, often comes from us-the adults. The ones who are supposed to teach our kids how to be tolerant of each other, but find it so easy to pick apart the differences in personality, clothing choice, or life choice in those we interact with on a daily basis. The ones who think nothing of yelling the word “retard” at the woman parking her car in the Wal-Mart parking lot (Note: the women was me!). The ones who want to teach our children to think before they speak, but are quick to rattle off some not so appropriate words at the driver who cut us off (guilty!). The adults who are supposed to teach the next generation to love, but have a hard time showing love to our cranky, nosy neighbor (yes, that is me, too!). The ones who write the articles in the magazines that tell women and girls how they should look. The same adults who will critique the weight of women carrying the miracle of birth. 

The same adults who are desperately trying to raise our kids in a cruel and dark world, but whose kids are learning that it’s not alright to cry. It’s not alright to be different. It’s not alright to be something other than what the media thinks is “normal.” And, it’s alright to point out each and every flaw. 

Or to tell a scared, little boy to shut-up and stop crying. 

Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Romans 15:7

As I pulled up into the parking lot at school, I grabbed my little monster and gave him a hug. I took his hand and walked him to his classroom, even though I knew he has done this countless times before. And, as he stood, still crying in his new classroom, I hugged him. I told him I loved him. I told him to never let anyone tell him to be quiet. To always tell people how he feels even if he has to scream and wail a little louder.

Because, while it may be small, that is what compassion looks like. That is what acceptance looks like. That is how we love others. Understand their struggles. Have empathy for their wound up emotions. Walk with them hand and hand through those emotions, even if it means walking down the same path together. Over and over again.

It may be small, but this is what we should teach our kids. That’s what I hope I am teaching mine.

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. Proverbs 22:6

 

Different, Yet the Same

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I want you to take a look at the two rocks in the picture above. Notice the one on the right is smooth, shiny, easy to hold, and without sharp edges. To some, this rock may be more attractive. The rock on the left, however, is jagged. It’s rough. It’s edges are not smooth, but pointy. It is not easy to grasp, and many folks would not pick this rock up at all.

The two are vastly different, yet the same.

Now, let’s imagine these rocks are people. The smooth rock. We will call this one the positive people. These are the folks who can look at any situation in life and put a bright, shiny spin on it. These are the people we pick up when we are blue and need a word of encouragement. These are the “rocks” we pick up when we need to be reminded of the positives. We need smooth rocks in our lives.

However, the rough rock; the one that is sometimes neglected and tossed away-you need these rough “rocks” too. These people are the ones who wear the scars of life on the outside, who have been hardened and made tough by the circumstances in their lives. These are the no nonsense “rocks.” You need these rocks when you want the truth (spoken in love, of course). You need these rocks when nothing is really OK. When you want someone to tell you that it most certainly is NOT OK. That life is hard. That life is tough, but there is hope. You need these “rocks” when you need a voice, an advocate.

Different, yet still the same.

From one man He created all the nations of the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. Acts 17:26

Just as God formed each rock to look different-some smooth, and some not so-he formed us in the same way. Some of us, like me, were made with rough edges. This toughness allowed me to navigate the streets of a not-so-nice neighborhood, to survive a teenage pregnancy, and to be strong and protect a younger brother. He also toughened me for the ministry to which he would eventually call me.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

They may look different, speak differently, and act differently; and their purpose and calling may be different, but each “rock” is a reflection of His image. Made to fulfill His purposes. Made to bring people to Christ and salvation, whether it is through the roughest of circumstances or the smoothest of waters.

You need rough “rocks” to advocate against the bullies that wait for you at the bus stop. To talk you down from the ledge when you feel like your world is falling apart. You need rough “rocks” who know the hardships of the legal system to help another sibling who has found themselves in deep you know what. But, you also need smooth “rocks.” To tell you you’re important when the bullies don’t. To hug you while you cry about your poor choices. To tell you: “It’s going to be OK. Life is hard. Life is tough, but there is hope.”

Different, yet still the same.