Play It Again: Love Transforms

This post originally went live in the spring of 2013, but it’s a message that plays over and over again in my mind.  Living Loved in relationship with the Father instead of living by expectations and rules…

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I realize this so-called series on reigning in life may now have morphed into a general theme for the blog rather than just a series.  But then again, Pentecost Sunday isn’t until May 19th, so I guess technically speaking, in a church calendar sort of way, we’re still celebrating the Resurrection.  Shouldn’t we be doing that anyway???

I made the shocking revelation in my last post that Elf is one of my favorite movies (right up there with Steel Magnolias and Mr. Holland’s Opus) and that I believe it has some great parallels to abundant life.  I ended that post with a thought to ponder:

Love transforms us from the inside out, while the law conforms us from the outside in.

We all know there are several forms of love and in the Bible specifically, there are three.  So just for the sake of clarity let’s focus on the unconditional kind.  The kind that God has for us, agape.  Not only does God have this type of love for us, but according to 1 John 4:8, God is Love.  God is unconditional Love and through Jesus Christ we have direct access to that Love.

Not only do we have direct access to Love, but the living God, who is Love, then comes and takes up residence in us.  At salvation we are united with Christ.  It is no longer we who live, but Christ in us the hope of glory.  (Sorry for the huge leap, but I am making the assumption that we all ‘get’ the idea of the Trinity…if not, well apparently WordPress will allow me to write and post as many things as I would like and we can discuss it another day.).

So let’s just talk about the impact of that Love, the God of unconditional Love, that comes to dwell in us.

I think the Bible records the transforming power of Love most beautifully through the lives of three amazing men:  Peter, John the Beloved (as opposed to John the Baptist) and Paul.  These men were so changed by their encounters with Love and the life Love lived through them that their names were actually changed.  Simon became known as Peter;  John, a son of thunder, became John the Beloved; and Saul became Paul.  By the time Love was finished with them, they were completely different men.

Love transformed an uneducated fisherman into a pillar of the new church.  It took a man who wanted fire to come down from heaven and kill people who didn’t believe Jesus and transformed him into a man whose major theme in writing is Love.  It also took a man who followed the law to the nth degree, even killing under its authority, and transformed him into a man who wrote most of the New Testament.  And what was one of his primary messages?  That we are no longer under the law and we are to live free from the law.  We are to live by Love, Jesus’ new commandment.

What was so wrong with living by the law?  What is wrong with it now?  According to the New Testament it kills.  It brings death.  There is no life in the law.  The only life is found in Jesus who is The Way, The Truth and The Life.  By definition the law does not transform it conforms to pre-determined specifications.  It is limiting, confining.  And the truth is we can NEVER live up to the law’s expectations.

So, why do we go back to something that is going to kill us, hem us in and keep us from experiencing the unfathomable depths, heights and widths of the Love of God?  I am not necessarily talking about the over 600+ Jewish laws.  What about all the rules we put on ourselves to be closer to God, that we use to define a “good” relationship with God?

I am talking about “good” things like, a quiet time with God at 5:00 am every single morning, an hour reading the Bible every day, or being at church at least twice a week, or feeding and clothing the homeless every week.

Have you ever started the New Year with one of these goals in mind because you want a closer relationship with the Lord?  Then of course by the second week, unless you are highly self-disciplined, you have already missed a few quiet times or Bible readings because you got up late or your kids were sick or…fill in the blank.   So what happens then?  The condemnation comes.  Why?  Because that is what laws do (even the ones we place on ourselves), show us where we fail.

The problem with developing our own system (you could substitute the word law for system) for a closer walk with God is that it becomes all about us instead of Jesus.  It becomes about what we do instead of who we are.  Life in Jesus isn’t about a system or a formula, it’s about a relationship.

I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with any of the things above, but when they become a set of rules they become death for us instead of life.  They become one more way for the enemy to tell us we don’t measure up.

The Bible doesn’t record any system Peter, John and Paul followed to be closer to God.  It records some of their relationship with God, and some of the things God LED them to do, and then the eternal fruit that came from that relationship.  They had Christ IN them and as believers we do too.  Honestly, we can’t be any closer to the Lord than Christ IN us.

As Paul told Timothy, the law is for the unrighteous.  The law, even our own moral codes and formulas, only have the power to tell us what we do wrong.  They don’t change us.  God’s Love IN us has unlimited ability to transform us, if we let it.  If we can lay down our own expectations and definitions of successful Christian living, then God can make us unrecognizable too.

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More Momma Grace

In my last post I shared a little bit of my struggle in this new season. However, if you read that carefully and saw that I mentioned that one of my daughters is in college then you know this season isn’t really new. In fact, I’ve been in it for probably five years, I JUST DID NOT KNOW IT! My oldest daughter, Liv Loo, knew it, but I was completely oblivious to the fact that the game had changed and I was still trying to play it the way I always had. In other words, lay down the law and expect to be obeyed at all costs, OR ELSE!

What is new however, is that I am in a reflective, nostalgic, evaluate-my-entire life place, and well, all I can say is that I am grateful for God’s unconditional love and that His mercies are new EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for me and every member of my family.

Over the last several years though, I did miss a lot of opportunities for relationship, particularly with my oldest daughter, who has been the one to lead the way through all of these parenting transitions. I spent an awful lot of time telling her what to do, what to think, how to dress, who to hang out with, and just generally communicating all of my thoughts and expectations, but not really letting her try on some of her own.

But as transformation has occurred, albeit slowly, I’ve tried to give her the room she needs to live life as an adult, which has honestly felt like driving on the left-hand side of the road…completely unnatural. In the grand scheme of things I don’t feel like I’ve been very good at it and it only feels like I’ve been doing it for five minutes, but I’ve decided I can’t change the past I can just trust God in every moment I move forward through and trust Him to redeem the ones I’ve left behind in the wake of fear and control.

Left side driving

And in His love and mercy He gives me beautiful glimpses, Momma grace moments) into how only He can redeem all and restore all.  A couple of weeks ago Liv Loo was sharing a conversation with me that occurred between her and a friend who is also her age, almost 20 years old – an adult (I wrote that to keep reminding ME that she is an adult…it’s really hard). Without going into too many details, they were discussing an encounter her friend had with his parents and his disappointment in their response to something he wanted to try. The long and the short of it is he felt like they were treating him like a 14-year-old instead of a man.

And then some of the most precious words I’ve ever heard (and she didn’t even know it) came out of her mouth, “They don’t treat him like you treat me, Momma. You listen to me, ask questions, make suggestions and then let me make my own decisions. They just tell him what to do and what to think.” All I could do was thank God for letting me see that He is so much bigger than my mistakes.

He truly makes all things new, even when I make a mess.

I receive that grace.  This is abundant life.  This is walking through life with my tiara on straight, not because of anything I’ve done, but because of Who He is.

Taylor Swift & Momma Grace

It’s a little hard to segue from an unintentional series on how I am only now starting to know myself and how I really don’t know what to do with my emotions, but here’s giving it a shot.

I am in a bit of a nostalgic season. Since school is back in session (O summer where have you gone????) and I now have one in college, a high school junior and an eighth grader, it has put me in a reflective frame of mind. All of this reflection has made it more and more apparent that my role as a mom is changing, it’s a new season, and it is hard for me.

I don’t mean it’s hard in the something-is-terribly-wrong-and-I-don’t-know-what-to-do way. It’s hard because I don’t do change well, in fact I don’t like it.  I REALLY liked it when my kids were little. Even though I was completely clueless back then, I at least felt like it was a good Momma day if everyone got to and from school, ate three times, wore clean clothes, bathed, brushed their teeth at least once, and squealed with laughter while rubbing their bare feet on Popey’s bald head at bed time. In other words, I was pretty much in charge of everything in their lives, including their fun.

The hard part for me is transitioning from being the hygiene-police to whatever it is I am supposed to do now. My inner Momma wants to daily insert myself in every area of their lives. It’s hard to watch them struggle and find their own way, whether it’s in relationships or work or school or just trying to understand who they are and where they fit in the world. And let’s face it, it’s really, really hard to not tell them how to drive. Every time one of them backs out of the driveway I have to take a deep breath and push back tears. It’s not that I want things to always stay the same, I just miss my little girls.

We are in that season when, even though they all technically live here and put our address down as their legal residence, for the most part they are never home. They are either at school, at work, at church or hunkered down in their respective rooms doing homework. Or hunkered down in their respective rooms avoiding homework. I have learned that if I park myself in my bedroom at the top of stairs (I work on my bed a lot and have a direct line of sight to whoever is coming up or going down) or on the corner of our big red couch then I can catch a momentary glimpse of them as they are coming or going or grabbing a snack. It’s not much, but I will take what I can get. I miss my girls.

So last week one of our daughters had the chance to go see Taylor Swift’s concert in Greensboro, NC. She had the tickets for months, but the excitement really mounted around here as her iPhone counted down the final days to the concert. The afternoon she left with a friend and her parents to go to the concert I walked with her out to their car. When she got into the car I just asked if she would text when they got there and then again when they were on the way home. What I wanted to ask was that she text me every five minutes so that I would know she was alive, but I restrained myself. You may think I am joking, but God really has done a work in me.

English: Taylor Swift performing live on Speak...

As they pulled out of the cul-de-sac I felt a twinge of regret that I had not bought a ticket and was going with them. But at that exact moment I realized I could really use a nap and there was no way I would have made it through a concert and the drive home (much to my family’s dismay I am often in my PJ’s by 7:00 pm and I am usually in the bed by 8:30 every night reading or watching TV).

A couple of hours later I got a text that they were there. I breathed deep and grateful relief. Then I got a text and photo of my daughter and her friend in their seats. Then I got a text about the first act. And then I got a text about the next act. And another text and another text. And then more texts when they got in the car to come home, written in ALL CAPS TO COMMUNICATE HER JOY AND EXCITEMENT.

My 16-year old daughter was having the best night of her life and she texted me through the whole thing. I receive that grace.

In this season of the struggles, the miscommunications, the misunderstandings, the stretching of wings, the venturing out, the trying on of new ideas and the shirking of old ones, the wrestlings of faith, and the pushing against the goad, I will gladly receive what they choose to share. I will celebrate who they are becoming. I will wait for them to reach out and embrace them when they do. I will be grateful that in all the moving forward and out they still reach back sometimes just to touch home base, just to share familiar love even just for a moment.

I receive that grace.

By the way, in all of the concert-texting-excitement my daughter made an executive decision to make me her manager. I am now tasked with making her famous and planning her world tour. I am so overwhelmed with emotion I can’t decide whether to eat ice cream, make sandwiches or send her an ugly, imaginary plant. Stay tuned for all of her concert dates and locations. But first I think I need that nap.

Thanks for Chasing Me Down in the Winn Dixie

Have I ever told you the story of how I met my husband? For some reason this was on my mind a lot the last several days. As I mulled it over my perspective on the story changed a little bit and it became a bit sweeter to me.

Be warned, this is probably a post written more for me than anyone else, so feel free to abandon ship at any point you have something better to do…like fold laundry, make dinner or watch TV.

When I was 18 years old and just a few months from my high school graduation, I worked at a local Winn Dixie store. And when I say I worked there, well that’s sort of an understatement. I practically lived there because I begged for all the hours I could get. At one point in my retail grocery career, two store managers split my time between their individual stores so that I could work more than 40 hours per week and they wouldn’t have to pay me over time.  I know, I was dumb.

One of the perks to this job was that I had to wear a RIDICULOUS polyester, Carolina blue uniform (complete with elastic waist pants and matching top with two very utilitarian pockets to hold 20 pens at once) that had absolutely no shape. The best part was I had to wear white nursing shoes with my uniform so I looked extra professional.

winn-dixie crew 1986 pleasantfamilyshopping

(The EXACT uniforms store employees wore back then…only we weren’t this happy about it!  Thanks Pleasant Family Shopping)

I was very industrious for $3.65 per hour. I took everything very seriously. When my store manager told me to stay busy and never be caught standing around talking to my friends, well I figured he meant it. And I diligently made sure that when I wasn’t checking out customers as fast as lightening or counting down tills in the office that I picked up every piece of trash in sight, swept the floors, re-stocked unwanted grocery items, and above all else I never looked like I had nothing to do. Otherwise, he might send me home and I wouldn’t get all the hours I needed.

For reasons that are better left revealed in a MUCH longer format (say a book?), I was afraid of losing my job. And just to show you I know how crazy it sounds, let me say it clearly, I WAS AFRAID OF LOSING A JOB THAT PAID $3.65 AN HOUR (and made me wear possibly the worst uniform in history).

So, one Friday night, in walked the man I have now spent almost 27 years of my life with. And he came in specifically to meet me. He was home from Fort Bragg to spend a long Easter weekend with his family. And he had a sister, a sister who worked with me. And he came to Winn Dixie that night to meet me and to ask me out on a date.

He walked up to me at the video counter (we were a cutting edge store – we rented movies before Block Buster came along and we had the first scanners I had ever seen in a store) where I was checking in videos and he started to talk to me.  He was a real, adult, grown up man, and he was talking to me.  And I almost threw up. All I could think was, “Talk without moving your lips and keep moving your arms like you are working and maybe the manager won’t notice.” I kept trying to squeeze myself into the one square foot of space behind the cigarette/video counter that could not be seen from the one-way mirrored glass in the front office where the manager kept a close watch on all of us.

And my future husband kept talking. Sadly, I can’t remember a thing he said. I am sure he asked me about myself. I am sure he told me a lot about himself. But all I heard was the voice in the back of my head screaming , “You’re gonna get fired! And then how are you going to pay for college? And if you don’t go to college, what’s going to happen to you?”

At some point I realized there was a basket of groceries that needed to be put away so I grabbed the basket and took off around the store to put the items back. And Popey (his cleverly disguised nick name – you know how vigilant I am about protecting the innocent) took off after me. That man followed me up and down those aisles, watching me put away groceries, trying to have a conversation with me. The truth is, he didn’t just follow me, he chased me. He would not be ignored. He would not be left behind. He was going to ask me out if it took him all night.  I didn’t realize he jumped out of airplanes for a living, chasing me around a grocery store to ask me out probably didn’t seem all that intimidating.

I wish I could remember what he said. I wish I could say we had some sweet conversation, but all I know after all this time is that at some point in the pursuit he asked and I said yes, and a lot of story has unfolded since that night. We went on that first date. He left the Army a couple of months later. I went off to college a couple of months after that. We dated the whole time I was in college. We’ve had three kids, a home, long term health issues, a business/several jobs/multiple careers between us. We’ve shared a lot of joy and a lot of pain (and sometimes we’ve inflicted it  😦 ), but the point is we’ve done it together.

I’ve always looked back on that story and thought about how precious and sweet he was that night, but I beat myself up for being so broken that I almost missed the opportunity to share my life with him. But what hit me the last few days is that God loved me so much and knew how broken I was that He sent someone into my life who wasn’t going to give up on me, who wasn’t going to run away even when I ignored him, and who was willing to share life with me – the good, the bad and the ugly. He sent me someone willing to chase me down when necessary, just to love me.

God knew how lonely I was. He knew I didn’t know how to fix it. He knew that I didn’t even understand how much trouble I was really in by trying to live life in all my independence and self-sufficiency. God knew me and God sent Popey.

This life is too hard to live and figure out on our own.  Popey, thanks for chasing me down in the Winn Dixie that night (and every day since).  And Father, thanks for loving me through him.

Two Things I Thought I Would Never Say (or Write)

English: A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in Win...

English: A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in Winter Springs, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Continuing with the theme of enjoying things…vacationing with teenagers, trying on yellow tube top dresses, and summer in general, I would like to share two things I have discovered I enjoy, but never thought I would:

1)  I LOVE The Neighborhood Market by Walmart that opened near our home.  Close friends and family are probably picking their jaws up off the floor after reading that first one.  My husband has to practically beg me (or trick me or drug me or force me at gun point :)) to get me to cross the threshold of a Walmart.  So when this store opened in February I was skeptical to say the least, but something or Someone kept whispering in the back of my mind, “Try it.”

I ignored that little voice for five months until one Saturday afternoon I put on my big girl pants and said, “Let’s do this!”  I also told myself I was free to run straight back to my car at any point I felt overwhelmed.

This is the part I can’t believe I am saying, but I have been there probably four times in the last three weeks and each time (different days, different times of day) has been a PLEASURE!  The staff is VERY friendly, the store is clean, it is well organized, well stocked, the aisles are clear, they have a good variety of foods (I forgot to mention it is Walmart’s version of a grocery store), and the prices are amazing.  The only thing I was unable to find was alfalfa sprouts, but really, those are not something to base such a life altering decision on.

I always knew I was missing out on low food prices by not shopping at our Walmart Super Center, but I figured that I was saving money on the medication I would need to do that on a regular basis by shopping at a more expensive store closer to home.

Now I have the best of both worlds – cheap food and my sanity.  Thank you Walmart!

2)  Kale Salad is my new favorite food.  My close friends and family are again stunned because vegetables, particularly greens have never been high on my list of priorities.  But this stuff is AMAZING!  I’ve eaten every day this week.

Just think, if I hadn’t tried on the yellow tube top dress at the beginning of the summer I wouldn’t have starting thinking about all the possibilities and being open to whatever comes my way.  And I would still be spending too much money on food and not enjoying this best thing I’ve eaten in a long time.

Enjoying the Summer

Y’all, I have so been enjoying this summer.  It’s not so much what we have done, but probably what we haven’t done that has made it by far the most enjoyable summer on record for me.  The only really big thing on our calendar for the last few months was our annual trek to the beach (documented in some of its hilarity here, here, and here).  It’s the first summer that I can remember that I didn’t feel guilty about having down time so I filled it up with worthwhile and productive projects.  Don’t get me wrong, I actually did start off with a Summer Manifesto of sorts that I put in my desk drawer, but instead of allowing myself to be berated by a list of things to accomplish I decided to throw caution to the wind and not worry about it.

So I didn’t get my kitchen painted (hopefully that will be soon because my poor family has been forced to dine with various color samples on the wall for seven months while I agonize over Just The Right shade of whatever); I didn’t get up at 5:00 am every day to write so I could finish a couple of goals I have; I haven’t gone through my closet to pare my wardrobe down; and I didn’t even make up my bed every day (gasp).  I have just tried to go with the flow and enjoy time (a rare and precious commodity with working and driving teens) with my family.  Once again, in the interest of full disclosure, I was informed today at lunch by two of them that I am “always so tense about everything that it’s ridiculous” so I guess my version of going with the flow is different from theirs.  What can I say girls?  My blood sugar was low and you have my most profound and sincere apologies.  🙂

With that said I just wanted to share some interesting and funny quotes that have come my way recently.  I REALLY love a good quote!

“Hell hath no fury like a narcissist told no!” by my good friend and fellow Grace Girl, Holly (shared over lots of laughter and dinner).  I have chewed on this for weeks, because it is so true.  I think we can all relate to at least one time or one person in our lives this applies to.

“Why do I get my best ideas in the shower?” supposedly said by Albert Einstein.  Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way shares Einstein’s words when discussing the difference between our logic-brain activity versus our artist-brain activity.  According to her, showering and other things like cooking, driving, and washing dishes are all more related to our creative brain activity than our logical more linear brain activity.  The reason I love that quote is because this happens to me ALL THE TIME and I thought it was just me.

English: Albert Einstein Français : portrait d...

“The Living God dwells in us, we don’t have to meet Him at a specific address,” said by me.  I actually heard myself say this to a friend as we talked about why sometimes people don’t feel like they are “doing well with the Lord” if they miss church.  Why do we feel like we have to meet God at an address?  Christ IN us is the hope of glory.  The New Testament talks about Christ in us about as much as it talks about us in Christ.  Why?  Because we are in relationship together.  We are ONE, in union with Christ.  As believers we don’t have to go looking for Him somewhere outside of ourselves.  That’s what is so amazing about the New Covenant, it’s internal not external.  Any time we want we can simply start talking with Him because He never leaves us or forsakes us.

I love a good quote, please share some with me.

That’s enough for now.  Let’s just enjoy the last few weeks of summer and embrace every season no matter what it brings.

May the Lord give you eyes to see His daily new mercies, ears to hear the songs of Love He sings over you, and a heart able to receive and accept that Love.

Oh The Possibilities

So earlier this summer when I realized the season was a-changin’ on me and my wardrobe was needing a boost, I headed to the store, taking Sophalopes with me. It had been a particularly traumatic afternoon for me, I had survived my first phone call from a teen that started with, “Mom, everybody’s ok, but I’ve had an accident” and buying cheap stuff that would make me look better (that’s code for not-old-enough-to-have-two-teen-drivers) seemed like the appropriate response.

(I would like to pause and give a shout out to the anonymous teen who had to make that phone call to her Momma. You did GREAT! You were calm and you gave me the most important information FIRST! Thank YOU!)

Now back to me…so I headed to the store with Sophalopes. In case we’ve never met in real life and in case I have not expressed it clearly in this space, I have issues with shopping. My issues are the crowds of people, spending money, parking lots, and looking at all the stuff. I am easily visually overwhelmed. And did I mention the crowds of people???

So when I go into a store I enter with a survival plan which usually involves a specific list or one or two specific ideas in mind. And I always have a quick escape plan. I usually don’t do what I refer to as open-ended shopping unless I am accompanied by a professional who knows how to help me when at some point panic ensues.

Well, there are a few open-ended shoppers in my family. People who look at shopping as an opportunity. People who enjoy picking up everything in the store (several times), even things not in their size, color palette or price range. People who not only like to shop, but are rather visionary in their pursuit of it. Sophalopes is one of those family members. She is also the one I wrote about here who kept telling me the Apple Store would give her a new iPod. And in fact they did.

So as we entered the store I picked up three or four things that fit my idea criteria – dresses, in my size, in a very specific color palette, under $25. It took all of 10 minutes and I was ready to head to the dressing room. I looked for Soph and found her four rows over in dresses four times her size. She wanted to check every dress on every rack just in case some gem had been accidentally hung in the wrong place.

Forty-five minutes later I finally chased her into the dressing room begging her to, “make it quick.” I was at that point thirty minutes over my shopping limit and wishing I had just opened a bag of Oreos instead of heading to the store. Of course it only took me five minutes in the dressing room and I had picked out one thing and eliminated everything else.

At that point I heard her call out to me across the dressing room, “Mom, I think you should try on this yellow, tube top dress. And this green block one.” I burst out laughing right there in the dressing room. There were just so many things wrong with both those sentences that I didn’t know where to start. I believe that tube tops in any shape or color belong in the same category as Speedos and you know how I feel about those (see #1 on this post).  But Persistence is Soph’s middle name. Once she has an idea NOTHING is going to deter her. I admire that. I am easily deterred, especially if I perceive something is too hard, too expensive or might involve me losing sleep.

Needless to say, twenty minutes later I had tried on about ten more dresses of various sizes, shapes and colors and according to Soph they all looked great.

I would love to report that they were all a success, especially the tube top dress, but none of them made the final purchase cut. However, I tried. And I got to spend time with my visionary daughter looking at the world of fashion through her eyes with a renewed appreciation for how some of us go through life seeing all the possibilities.

God put those possibility-seeing-visionaries in my life and yours because sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we view life only through our limitations – our bank account, our mistakes, our struggles, our specific mind sets, our color palettes – instead of through an infinite God with Whom all things are possible.

I am not saying the yellow tube top dress is always a good idea, but sometimes you at least have to be willing to try it on.  Thank you to all the visionary people in my life, I love you!