Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ketchup packets

Don't ask me why, but ketchup packets used to fascinate me (okay, they kind of still do). Like, how do they get all the ketchup in there without making a big mess? Do they just clean it off afterwards? Do they use a tiny ketchup straw to get it in there? Or do they place a blob of the stuff on one piece of the foil-plasticy wrap, and then stamp another piece over top of it? (If you have any clue, please tell me, I really haven't the slightest idea.)

And of course, you always get that one stubborn packet which just doesn't want to be opened. You try ripping along the dotted line, you try biting a hole in it, in a fit of desperation you even take a plastic knife from the silverware station and try stabbing the stubborn thing open. And then you give up (or at least I do, after all I've already spent five hours* trying and rubbed my hands raw making sure they're dry enough to open it) and toss it in the trash in disgust as you go for another one.

Just like ketchup packets are kind of useless if we can't even get them open, so we can never truly minister or be useful to others if we've closed ourselves off to them. If we're not honest about who we are, if we live our lives like they're perfect little fairy tales with magical cotton candy clouds and glittery pansies, how can we help those who are hurting?

The group Casting Crowns talks about how we tend to put a mask on our lives in their song Stained-Glass Masquerade. We become perfect-mold people going into a perfect-mold church going through perfect-mold rituals. But meanwhile, all around us people are grieving, our own hearts are bleeding, crying out, starving to seek help but afraid of rejection from the perfection illusion around us.

James urges us to be open about what we're going through with each other. He urges us to "confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed"  (James 5:16a, NKJV). God never meant us to keep it all inside. He meant for us to support one another, to bear each other's burdens, to love and pray for one another.

I don't mean tell everyone at church every gory detail of your life, but let them see your humanity, let them see who you really are, be honest if you're struggling with something and you need prayer, let them know that you've been through something similar to what they're going through, and that God's going to see them through. We have this idea in modern Christianity that we can't talk about our struggles, or that we should be so explicitly baring that we tell everyone every wrong thing we ever did. Ketchup packets which burst all over don't do us much good either. But by just letting people see we're human, letting them see that we're not on some crystal pedestal above them, we open ourselves up for not only helping those who are struggling, but receiving help ourselves.

Father, thank You that You send those in our way who need our ministry, or who can minster to us through You. I pray You keep us strong enough and brave enough to share when we need help and prayer. Give me strength and wisdom as I minster to those You send my way, and remind me that it's only through Your strength that I am of use. Amen. 

Speaking of being open to minster to others, (drum roll please), my mom, a very talented  song writer, has started her own blog and YouTube channel to share the beautiful songs she's writing (forgive me if I'm a little vain here, I mean she's my momma after all). Check out her blog here.

I'm planning a series to come really soon, but what are some topics you want me to talk about? Let me know in the comments!

*Yeah, that's definitely an example of hyperbole. I'm stubborn, but not to that extreme.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Forgiving

As an intern in a public school district, I see so many kids who just won't let it go. They've been hurt, horribly treated by monsters of humanity. They've been bullied, harassed, abused in unspeakable ways, teased mercilessly, called names, shunned, ignored. And while the people who did these things to them deserve every bit of punishment they're getting and more, these kids just won't let it go. They live their lives with a chip on their shoulder, waiting for the person who hurt them to die, get in trouble, go to jail. And instead of overcoming these issues, instead of being able to become greater than their problems and to become spectacular people in spite of the horrid things they've had to go through, they play the victim card over and over again. Their lives become a continual downward spiral of "I've been hurt, so you should give me what I want. You should treat me like I'm king/queen."

But real life doesn't work that way. Because of sin, we've all been hurt in one way or another, some of us worse than others. But holding onto grudges, being hostile with someone you have to see day after day, always being angry, always looking for how you can pay them back, or blaming them for the way your life is spinning out of control...it just doesn't work.

Joanna Weaver, author of Having a Mary Spirit: Allowing God to Change Us from the Inside Out, tells us that “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Instead of doing "him/her" any harm, bitterness just eats away at you, gnawing and gnawing, like a rat on a table leg, until the whole thing topples over. I'm no doctor, but it's my belief that the answer to many cases of these autoimmune diseases and other illnesses we see today, causing suffering in both Christians and unbelievers, is letting go of the bitterness. Letting go of the anger. Rising above the horrible things done to you.

Just imagine, what if Joseph hadn't forgiven his brothers? Here's a guy with a tree-trunk-of-a-chip if anyone has one. He's thrown into a pit, then sold as a slave away from his family, taken to a new land where he doesn't even speak the language and sold there. He's falsely accused of trying to rape an official's wife, and is thrown in prison for years. He's forgotten until finally when the pharaoh has a dream someone remembers "Hey, that dude in prison, he was able to tell me what mine meant. Whoops, kind of forgot about him." When Pharaoh makes Joseph his second-in-command, Joseph is thirty years old. That's thirteen whole years he's suffered away from his family. It'd be almost another decade before he'd see them again. Over twenty years separated from them, all because of his brothers.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think Joseph was innocent in the whole his-brothers-hating-him-thing (would any of you go tell your older siblings that you had a dream where you were going to be greater than them? Can we just say automatic atomic noogie?). Which makes his response even more amazing and evident of the power of God working in his life. Because he forgave them. All the years of pain, separation, being misunderstood and falsely accused, all this was caused by his brothers, but Joseph let it go. He relied on God's strength to let go of the bitterness, the hatred, the victim mentality. He saw that, even though God didn't cause it, God is greater than the bullies, the monsters, the abusers. God turned all that pain into something for good. He put Joseph in the position to save his entire family and all of Egypt from the famine.

I'm not saying forgiving is easy. It's downright hard. It requires constant going to God and asking for the strength and grace to let go of old hurts, to be kind to someone who's wronged you and hurt you so badly (at least it does for me). But it's worth it. God commands us to "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32, NKJV). When we're bitter, our relationship with God can't be whole. Only when we let go of the anger, when we forgive, can we truly have a right relationship with God.