Wisdom Wednesday

Looking Through Hurt-Colored Glasses

How do you respond when you are an overall kind person, but people take advantage of your kindness?  What if your kindness was misunderstood by those close to you?  What if a misunderstood act of kindness deeply hurt your friendship/relationship?

We’ve all been there.  Whether it’s a patron at the restaurant where you serve food who is testing your patience (and thus threatening your chance of getting a good tip at the end of the meal), or it’s your guy friend who thought that you were flirting with him when you were just trying to be nice, kindness is not always well understood.  We misunderstand each other all the time!  We’re all imperfect human beings that are trying to communicate in ways that we understand, but that others might not.

I’ll admit that I misunderstand others quite often.  When everyone at the dinner table is laughing at an inside joke except for me, it’s easy for me to believe that they’re laughing at me and my ignorance.  When I see on Facebook that all my friends are hanging out and I didn’t even get an invite, I wonder if my friends purposefully avoided me.  I show kindness to others, but I don’t see the fruits of that kindness.  People show kindness to me, and I can’t receive it because I don’t know if it’s genuine.

Sometimes, I wish I could pause reality for just one minute and ask everyone to explain their intentions for saying or doing what they just said/did.  Why are you laughing?  Why wasn’t I included?  Why can’t I be nice to you without you thinking I’m flirting?  Why are you calling me to complain about your order when it wasn’t my fault?  And now that I’m thinking about it, I’m sure that others wish that they could do the same for me.

Personally, when I misunderstand a situation, I always assume that people think the worst of me.  However, it is selfish of me to believe that the people I encounter on a regular basis wake up in the morning with the specific intention to make me feel miserable.  Nevertheless, my past hurts tempt me to believe that since I’ve been hurt before, I’m doomed to a life of perpetual hurt.

As finite human beings who have been hurt, we’re led to believe that our hurt will always define us.  We’re led to believe that we’ll be doomed to let that one guy who broke our heart one time ruin our chance of ever finding love again.  We’re led to believe that we’ll be doomed to let that one condescending statement our family member said to us define our very identities.  And when we see people or circumstances that remind us of the people/circumstances that hurt us in the past, we cower for fear that we will get hurt yet again.

We begin to look at the world through hurt-colored glasses.  

We misunderstand because we assume people are trying to hurt us like we’ve been hurt before.

On my drive home this evening, I realized how blessed I really am.  I have a family that cares about me, a job that pays the bills and allows me to grow, friends that make me feel special, and a husband that never lets me feel alone (he’s even sitting by my side as I’m typing this!).  Unfortunately, I can’t see the blessing because I’m either going through a rough emotional season or I’m afraid that a conflict will come and demolish all of the good that I have in my life. I have a difficult time showing kindness to others and feeling the kindness of others because  I’m so fearful of getting hurt and being misunderstood. 

But there is a way out of the “perpetual” hurt.

I can’t change the way that people talk to me.  I can’t sit every person down I meet and ask them why they said something that hurt me.  But I can look at my own heart and see what needs to change in me.

Showing kindness and mercy to those around me starts with my my relationship with God.  Jesus gave us two commandments that are simple to memorize, but difficult to live out: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).  When I understand how much God loves me, that helps me to love myself (not in a self-centered way, but in a way that encourages me to live a healthy and confident life), and finding my worth in Christ and not in other people helps me to love people and not depend on people.

If I cling to my hurt and let my past define me, I have no space for the love that God wants to pour into me…and therefore, I have no love to give to others.  When I remove the hurt-colored glasses, that’s when I can see how much God really loves me.

If you are feeling hurt and misunderstood, take off the hurt-colored glasses.  Let God’s love define you, and let that love overflow to the people in your life—even the people who misunderstand you.

Wisdom Wednesday

It Takes Time (And Grace) to Figure it Out

I’ve been doing a series on how to find rest in the midst of our busyness.  I’m doing this series because, ultimately, I need this advice more than anyone else.  I do my devotionals in the morning, but honestly, I just can’t relate to what I’m reading.  All I can think about is the endless list of tasks I have to complete, the people I have to see, and the events I have to attend.  Whenever I have any amount of free time, it usually involves catching up on what I put to the side, what I promised I would do whenever I had time.  What I really need more than anything else is for someone to give me practical tips on how to be still even though I’m busy.

If I had to give advice to myself, I would say this: I’m being too hard on myself.

I know I mention this a lot, but my life has been busy since I graduated college.  I wrote a post when I graduated college about how I didn’t know what God had planned for me.  About six months later, the roller coaster began.  You can read about the ups and downs of my life in other posts, especially this one.  For the sake of this post, I will let you in on my current situation.  My husband and I have been married for almost seven months. Due to the fact that we both have full-time jobs and long commutes to and from work, we are exhausted by the time we get home.  Not to mention we are both involved in various ministries during the week that allow us just enough time to stop home and eat a quick bite for dinner.  Oh, and yeah, I’m trying to publish a book, which involves proposing to various literary agents.

The residual effects of our busyness are why I feel so guilty for being constantly on-the-go.  We don’t get to see our families on a regular basis, and the desire and obligation to see them hangs over our heads.  Our place of living is not as spotless as it was when I had all the time in the world to clean it.  Seeing crumbs on the floor, piles of laundry on our bed, and dishes in the sink makes me feel like I’m not taking care of the place that God has given me.  Plus, the overarching nagging of my responsibilities causes me to be irritable and impatient.  I constantly hear this ringing in my ear, telling me that I should be doing things more efficiently, that I’m not being a good wife or a good family member or a good employee.

So, I shall take this moment to ask myself: What is the problem here, the busyness, or that little voice in my head telling me I’m not good enough?

My husband and I are still newlyweds.  My apartment is still new to me.  I’m still trying to figure out my schedule.  And in the midst of all of the “newness,” God’s grace is with me.  He is not angry at me for failing to understand everything right away.  It takes time to learn how to be a great wife, an efficient house-cleaner, a brilliant employee, and all of the other roles that God has entrusted to me.  For now, all God expects of me is to lean on Him and be patient with myself.

If you find yourself feeling guilty for not having everything figured out, my word of encouragement to you is to be patient with yourself.  Even if others expect you to be an expert (fill in the blank), you cannot be without practice.  It may involve making mistakes; you may have to discover several ways that don’t work before you discover the one way that works for you.  All that matters is: you’re not alone, and you will get through this.

My challenge this week for you is to affirm yourself.  Instead of focusing on what you are doing wrong, write down what you are doing right. Thank God for the ability to do those things well.  I would also challenge you to ask God to help you in the process of figuring it out.  It will take time.  Be patient with yourself and humbly ask God for strength to endure the transitional period.  God, through Jesus Christ, understands our weaknesses and gives us grace and mercy when we need it.  Ask God for that grace when you hear that voice that says you are not good enough.

Wisdom Wednesday

Relying on God for Strength

A few months ago, I wrote about how I was going to reevaluate my responsibilities and pull back from a few things.  I earnestly asked God to show me what He wanted me to change, because I was sure that He would tell me I needed to do less.  Unfortunately for my fatigue, I had a different realization: God was calling me to do even more.

You see, I wanted the world to stop so that I could finish working on my book.  But as I’ve tried to take breaks and slow down, the reality is: the world will never slow down for me.  If I want to make my dreams a reality, I have to fight through the struggle instead of waiting for the struggle to stop.

The greatest struggle I face on a daily basis is waking up.  I don’t know if it’s because my bed is so comfy or because I’m just so tired, but I cannot get up like I used to.  My entire life, I was a morning person.  Now that I’m married and I have a comfy bed, I don’t want to get up early.  But alas, I have work, and work is what wakes me up at six-thirty, with a jolting panic that is sort of like getting ice water dumped on my face.

One day, I came into work, already overwhelmed by all the stuff going on in my life.  We’d had a busy week, and my weekend did not allow me time for rest (it very rarely does).  Now, it was Monday, and I wanted nothing more than to restart the weekend and get another break.

I dragged my feet toward my desk, knowing another crazy week was just beginning.  I had all these thoughts in my head, but the main prayer of my mind was: Take this from me, Lord.  I want to have a day free from stress, busyness, and conflict.

After praying, my day was even more hectic, busy, and full of tears.  I spent the day angry at God for not answering my prayers.  I just wanted a break, but instead, I received more responsibility.  Unfortunately, this was not the right way to look at my day.  God was blessing me with a chance to grow my faith, and I was trying to do it all by myself.

What I needed to pray was: God, give me Your strength to overcome this day, no matter what comes my way.

Typically, when I am overwhelmed, I want to remove any and all objects, ideas, and people from my surroundings.  When I’m having a panic attack, I need to leave the room, close the door, shut my eyes, and breathe; by doing so, I ignore every negative voice that tries to scream at me in my head. When there’s conflict between two or more people in front of me (even if the conflict is not including me), I walk away to ignore the people I can’t control.  When I had a long work week, I typically want to spend my weekend doing absolutely nothing.

As healthy as it is to take care of myself, it is impractical to expect the world around me to pause so that I can catch a breath.  As much as I don’t like it, society is still going to try to fill my mind with negative self-talk and fear.  As much as I don’t like it, the people fighting in front of me are still going to yell even though it makes me uncomfortable.  As much as I don’t like it, plans, and chores are still going to infiltrate my stress-free weekend, making each week blend together with the others.

All along, I felt guilty for being busy.  I thought God was angry at me for giving in to the stresses of life.  But while I’m trying to manage the crazy, the first thing I have to do is embrace it.  And God’s grace is with me while I try to figure it all out.

God grows character out of pressure.  When I’m in the fight of life, that’s when my faith grows.  When I don’t have control, that’s when God gets to reveal His strength in my life.  The best part is: God knew all of that, and He loves me enough to let me go through this crazy season so that He could show me His strength.

This week, instead of asking God to take away my busyness, I’m going to trust Him in my busyness.  My challenge this week is to pray this simple prayer once every day: “Lord, give me strength.”  Let’s see what God does when we submit to His plan for our lives.  When we let God work out our busy schedules, we may discover that we weren’t so busy after all. (I’ll talk more about that next week!).

As always, you can comment on this post, or on Facebook or Twitter.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wisdom Wednesday

Motivation for A Busy Life

I feel like, lately, everyone is busy.  And all the busy people have advice on how not to be busy.  The #1 best-selling advice is simple: stop doing so much.  But is it really that simple when you have to put in overtime at work, when you want to invest time in healthy meals for your family instead of going to get fast food, when your house looks like a tornado blow through it, when you miss your husband because you’ve both been so busy you haven’t had a full conversation in days, when your extended family and friends are asking where you’ve been, and when the minute you actually have some free time you feel guilty doing nothing because of all the voices screaming for your attention?  Did I even mention the self-care that I must do: the time I spend with God in the morning, the 30-minute workout, journaling, doing tasks that fill me instead of drain me, eating healthy, sleeping early, drinking water at the right time (yep, that’s a thing apparently), and breathing?

In my blog, I’ve tried to be as real as possible.  I read the works of writers who have overcome all kinds of raw emotions, and I want to follow their example and pour my heart out for the world to see.  But if you asked me how I was really feeling, this is what I would tell you: I have no idea, because I’ve been too busy to sit down and actually contemplate what’s within my heart.  What’s new?  I have no idea, because everything is new.  Where do I even start?  My head is almost always spinning, and all I want is to take a giant remote, press the “pause” button, and take a nap.

To be quite honest, I want a change in my life.  I’ve been busy for about three years straight, and I’m done with being exhausted and stressed.  I’m sick of always having something to do, and never feeling like I get anything done.  Worst of all, I am frustrated because I’ve heard over and over again that God does not want us to get addicted to busyness, and yet I feel I have no choice but to jump into the current and let it take me into the chaos.

How many of you can resonate with that?

I wish the answer could be as simple as “stop doing everything.”  But life does not come with a “pause” button.  Life is coming at us fast, and all we have time to do is reflexively react to our environment.

The truth is: we all have a motivation to be busy.  There are reasons, positive and negative, why we are attracted to the busy lifestyle.  In order to “stop doing everything,” we must develop the motivation to pause, breathe, and develop a rhythm of rest.  As with most things, rest starts in the mind and the heart.

If you are like me and are tired of running around, I have one question for you: How badly do you want rest?

Over the next few weeks, I will be trying to process what motivates me to be busy.  I will be sorting through both the positive and the negative reasons that I’m attracted to the busy lifestyle.  Each week, I will give you a challenge.  You can comment on each week’s post to respond to each challenge, or you can simply contemplate it in your own way.

This week, I would like you to think about the reasons why your life is busy.  Identify whether each reason is good or bad, and why.

Here are my motivations to be busy to give you some ideas, and I will expand on these ideas throughout the week:

  1. God is calling me to rely on Him
  2. I’m in a transitional stage of life
  3. I don’t like to say “no”
  4. I like to say “yes”
  5. I want to avoid conflict
  6. I want to avoid myself
  7. I don’t want to miss out
  8. I’m afraid of failure

Join me in developing a rhythm of rest instead of a life of busyness.

Wisdom Wednesday

According to the World, Things Will Get Worse

“Oh, just you wait.  Things will get worse.  Trust me.”

If I could sum up the words that have been spoken over my generation in the recent months, it would be these three sentences. I’d never thought that just three short years after my graduation, my dreams would be attacked so much.

In my last few weeks of college, my classmates, professors, and mentors poured courage, peace, and strength into my heart.  Their message was clear and it was good: “God has great plans for you.”  I fully believe it then, and I fully believe it now.  My college friends encouraged my hopes of traveling the world and meeting people from various cultures.  They pushed me to use my gift of and passion for writing (even when I didn’t want to admit that my dream was to be a writer).  They noticed my joy and guided me to live with the joy of the Lord as my strength.  They walked with me through my raw emotions; they accepted me for who I was, but they loved me too much to let me stay there.  Because I was surrounded by encouragement, love, and support for four years, I thought my time in college would prepare me for a lifetime of constant encouragement, love, and support from the world.

Within a few months after graduating, I learned the harsh reality that the world is actually cheering for my failure.  In a world where comparison prevents us from celebrating along with other people, where statistics scream in our faces that we will never be successful, and where people’s interests and obsessions change in the blink of an eye…it is so easy for us to believe that there is no point in fighting for success, because in the end, it won’t matter anyway.

For those of us who are looking for approval from anyone other than God, we are looking in the wrong place.  We have big dreams, but people are jealous of our success and want to rob us of our joy.  We want to go places, but the media portrays the world as a scary place, and tells us that we should just stay in our warm cubby holes and talk to people within our comfort levels.  We want to be the talk of the town, but even that video that went viral became old news within a week.  We want to fight for ourselves to matter, but in the end, the world shoves it in our face that we don’t.  So…what’s the point?

The point is: when we live for the world, we mean nothing, but when we live for God, our legacy will last for eternity.  God is happy to see us succeed, especially when we surrender our lives to Him.  He is not jealous of us, but jealous for us; He does not compete with us, but in His perfect will He orchestrates all things to work together for good…and He wants you to be a part of His plan.  God knows the statistics of this world, but He can do the impossible; the God who fed over five thousand people with five loaves and two fish can take your hopeless, implausible dreams and use them to change the world.  And while the interests of this world are fleeting, God’s attention is always on you; He never leaves you or forsakes you.

It would be absolutely wrong to say that I haven’t received any encouragement after graduating college (or even that college was void of any discouragement).  But I must say that the world is harsh.  While it is said that there is a 50/50 chance of a marriage flourishing or failing, why would anyone want to tell a newly married couple that is enjoying marriage to just give it a few years until they are sick of each other?  After a college graduate spends four years and tens of thousands of dollars pursuing a degree that she enjoys, why would anyone want to tell her that she’ll never get a decent job with her head in the clouds?  In the confusion of our politics today, why would anyone tell a young person who has been studying current events that his political views are illogical and that he will never understand?

I can’t control the world around me, but I can control how I respond.  I was inspired to write this post to encourage millennials, as I have heard many people from other generations talk down to us as if we will never be successful until they conform to the standards of the “older people.”  But I believe that this message can encourage others  who have big dreams that have been squashed by their peers.  I don’t seek to bash anyone, but rather to encourage the people who have lost their hope.

I speak to my generation, the millennials, the young folks, the kids who apparently aren’t quite adults but are definitely not kids.  This is my message to you: Do not give up.  Rise against the negative voices that have been spoken to you.  Life will not be easy, but things do not have get worse.  Enjoy the season you are in now.  Use the strengths that God has given you now.  Do not wait until things get better.  Do not be afraid of things getting worse.  Life is a process, and you will figure it out.

Above all, know that God is cheering you on.  The same God who will never leave you or forsake you inspired Paul to write these words to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).  May this verse sink deep into your heart and encourage you to persevere in the midst of hopelessness.

According to this world, things will only get worse, but according to God’s Word, there is hope even in the tough times.  God has great plans for you, but it involves trusting Him and putting your faith into action.  Be encouraged: you are not doomed to a life of failure, but you are promised a life of hope and faith when you commit to follow God’s plan for you.

Wisdom Wednesday

We Are Filled…But With “Stuff”

These past few weeks have been emotionally draining.  As a result, I’ve been short-tempered, I’ve shed a few tears, and I’ve shut down on a few occasions.  As one who enjoys analyzing my feelings, I have been trying to figure out why I’ve been like this.  I’m a generally upbeat and positive person, so for me to express feelings of apathy and irritation is quite uncommon.

I was sort of going through the motions until a guy cut me off on the way home the other day.  I’d given him the signal that I was changing into the left lane, and since he slowed down, I figured he was letting me cut in front of him.  As soon as I made it into the left lane, however, he suddenly honked the horn at me, swerved around me, stopped quickly enough to ask me “WTF (spelled out) is your problem?”, and then proceeded to cut in front of me.  As if he could hear me (or even care that I had an answer), I shouted back, “I was trying to turn left to get onto the parkway, but then you decided to change your mind and almost get both of us into an accident!”  I realized in that moment that there was no reasoning with a guy as angry and irresponsible as him, especially since he was already out of earshot.  I spent the twenty-minute car ride angry that someone would treat me like a roadblock, like an object that was simply in the way.  I impatiently stopped at every light, desiring more than anything just to make it home.  I was spent, I was finished, I was…empty.

In the busyness of this life, it is easy to believe that we are filled.  We turn down plans because we have such a full schedule that we cannot bear to have just one more hour-long activity tacked onto our week.  We roll our eyes at the mounds of dirty dishes and the mountain of laundry waiting to be cleaned, because our living space is full of our possessions (especially when you’re living with a spouse and you both brought items from your childhood into your tiny apartment and you have nowhere to put anything).  We grab our phones because it our message inbox is full, and we need to contact our friends. We eat so much, that we are full for about an hour, but then we indulge in even more food.  But when we stop to think about it, what is our life filled with?  Stuff.  Not things.  Stuff.  A disarray of unnameable items that don’t have a distinct category.  Everything (friends, family, time, ministry, work, possessions, marriage) all ends up in one pile of stuff.  And when we don’t deal with the way this stuff affects us, it creates stuff in our hearts: bitterness, anger, greed, and insecurities.

You see, the problem with the driver was that he brought up stuff in my heart.  He brought up my insecurity about driving, my inability to stick up for myself, and ultimately, my insecurity of not being good enough.  This is stuff that I had buried deep within my heart, that I could not deal with because of my other stuff: my busyness, my responsibilities, and my lack of energy.

I wrote this post because, quite honestly, I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff already.  I’ve prayed and grieved through many circumstances that have happened in my life as well as sins that I have committed.  I’ve asked for forgiveness from God and others for past mistakes, and I have accepted forgiveness for what others have done to me.

So…where is this other stuff coming from?  Was it always there?  Did I not pray hard enough when I prayed to get rid of that stuff in the first place?

Jesus taught His disciples about keeping our souls free from stuff.  In Luke 11, Jesus explains that when an unclean spirit leaves someone, the spirit looks for another place to go.  When it doesn’t find any place, it goes back to the person it left.  If the spirit finds the place clean and tidy, he will go in and call several others to dwell there with him (see vv 24-26).  We think that we have to clean up our lives in order to be free from sin.  The reality is, we just need to be filled.

God uses trials and various circumstances to reveal to us what is truly in our hearts.  When I thought God was revealing my lack of forgiveness or my insecurity, He was revealing something much deeper…

He was revealing that at the depth of my core, I am an empty cup just waiting to be filled.

The Bible describes humans as vessels, containers that are meant to be filled, that are meant to contain something.  That’s why we strive to be filled, since we are aware that there is an emptiness deep within our soul.  But God is not the only one that can fill us.  We can also be filled with junk.  We can be filled with the greed of this world, with complaining, with habitual sin, and with overindulgence.  Just because we are filled does not mean we are content.  The Holy Spirit is the only “soul-filler” that can truly satisfy; the other things we chase simply leave us empty after a while.

The events, people, and attitudes we encounter may seem good, but if God has not called you to them, they just become white noise in the background of your crazy life.

My week is typically filled with laundry, washing dishes, working 9-5, food shopping, women’s conferences, church meetings, catching up with friends, eating dinner with family, and lots and lots of driving.  I used to look forward to the weekend because that’s when I would get a break.  Now I’m just praying for a break to show up somewhere!

My attitude this week reminded me that I need to cut back from some of the stuff that I have on my plate.  This week, I am making a conscious effort to pray about where God is leading me.  That may involve making my schedule more empty.  That may involve making my friends list a little more scarce.  That may involve simply developing a more eternal perspective on the tasks God has given me.  That may even involve taking part in different activities that I enjoy, instead of activities that drain me.  Whatever happens, removing the stuff from my life will allow more room for God to move in my life.

What is the stuff in your life?  I challenge you to take time each day this week to do a heart check.  Is there an area in your life where you are feeling dissatisfied?  Ask God what you need to surrender to Him.  Is there an attitude, a sin, unresolved conflict, or unforgiveness that you have been storing in your heart?  Be honest with God about how you feel (even if you have to confess that you don’t want to change your behavior, deal with the conflict, or forgive the one who hurt you).  Giving up the stuff in your life will be risky and very possibly uncomfortable, but when you finally let go, that is when God can fill you with His ever-satisfying love, peace, and grace.

Wisdom Wednesday

Silence is Golden

Every Easter, a different aspect of the story stands out.  It’s as if everything I read, every word spoken by a pastor, and every conversation I have with others come together and speak a message that God wants me to reflect on each year.  This Easter season, I realized a lesson that is so important for this generation…

Silence is golden.

In the world today, people are fighting to let others know their opinions.  When people don’t get their way, they will scream and shout until everyone is practically throwing things at them to get them to shut up.  Two people can be talking at each other without having a conversation. All that matters today is being heard.  As it is said, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  The one who does the most complaining, and the most explaining, will be the one who gets attention, and who ultimately gets what he or she wants.

But that’s not the way that Jesus left this Earth.  You see, Jesus had all the power in the world to do whatever He wanted.  When the rulers of the law hurled insults at Him, Jesus had the wisdom to know how to defend Himself.  He could have used His words to hail thousands of angels to come to His side and destroy any accusation made against Him.  But the mode of attack that Jesus chose to use…was silence.

Our Savior, on the day He could have glorified God by showing the world His power, putting to death any form of doubt, opted not to fight back.  He opted to glorify God by doing what we least expected.  He gave darkness five minutes of fame.  All along, Jesus knew that His power would overcome, so He didn’t have to defend Himself against His mockers.  He already knew that it was impossible for them to kill Him, so He willingly let them give it their best effort to try.

In a world that is screaming at us for attention, we must find a way to disconnect for a few minutes and recollect our thoughts.  In a society that makes it difficult to keep up, we must find a way to be content with our current situation for just a few minutes, instead of starving for something different.  In a place where the one who yells the loudest gets the biggest prize, we must find a way to listen to the faint whispers of those who have a message we need to hear.

Those who are truly powerful don’t have to prove their power.  They just have to be themselves.  Instead of trying to prove ourselves with our words, let’s allow our actions to speak for us.

Wisdom Wednesday

The Story of the One Who Didn’t Fail

Easter.  A holiday where the only consistent memory I have is putting on a pretty new dress, piling into the car with my family, and sitting in a crowded church ready to hear the story yet again.  This story changed the world, one desperate heart at a time.  This story made me cry for days after seeing it reenacted on stage.  This story begs the question: If this happened during my lifetime, which character would describe my reaction?

What would we do if the Easter story took place today?  What would we do if Jesus showed up, performed miracles, and spoke truth to a hurting world?  What would you do if the crowd shouted to crucify him, and they asked you to join them?

We always try to identify with the people who were there, the people whose names are now just words on a page but whose stories are so…relatable.  Women can identify with one of the Mary’s, who went to visit Jesus at the tomb or who sat at His feet.  Men can identify with John, the beloved disciple, who took care of Jesus’ mother after His crucifixion.

We want to be the people in the story who didn’t mess up, who were triumphant to the end.  We want to be the ones who pushed through the crowd and begged the officials not to crucify Jesus.  We want to be the ones who believed in Jesus and understood what He was doing for us in that very moment.

There’s only one problem with this desire…No one in the story fits that description.

The truth is: we all fall short, just like every person in the story of Holy Week.  

Two of the most famous failures of this story are Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, and Peter’s denial of Jesus.  Judas was one of Jesus’s disciples, one of the people that Jesus let into His inner circle.  Judas had a front-row seat to all of Jesus’s teachings, witnessing all of His miracles and hearing the testimonies of those Jesus had affected.  Even after three years of this, Judas’s heart was still as cold as ice, and his love of money kept him from being transformed by the love of God.  He sold Jesus out for a couple of pieces of silver.  When he finally realized the stupidity of his decision, he threw the money on the ground of the temple, “went away,” and hanged himself (see Matthew 27).

Peter had a very special relationship with Jesus.  Jesus blessed Peter to be the leader of the new Church.  Jesus called Peter to walk on water with Him, in the middle of the sea.  Jesus allowed Peter to see His healing power, as well as to understand the mysteries of His teachings.  Peter made a vow to never deny Jesus.  He even swore that he would be willing to die with Him.  But even after three years of knowing Jesus, Peter rejected Him in front of a handful of strangers, only to avoid his opportunity to die with Him.  One could feel the dagger thrust through Peter’s conscious as his Lord turned around and looked right at him, seconds after he denied knowing Him (see Luke 22).

Unfortunately, we are much more like Judas and Peter than we would like to admit.  We want to be the ones to stay with Jesus until the very end, but we mess up before we even get close to the finish line.  We wake up each morning, ready to live for Jesus completely, but we fail before we even leave the house.

We want to be the heroes in this story, but the true hero is and only can be Jesus. 

Jesus was the only one in this story who didn’t fail.  He was the only one who was beaten, mocked, and scorned, and still came out victorious through it all.  Jesus was the one who offered opportunities of redemption to both Judas and Peter.  If there was one thing that the disciples must have learned by spending so much time with Jesus, it was that He was in the business of forgiving those who least deserved His love.

Judas believed he was least deserving of the love of Jesus, and instead of running to the beautiful forgiveness of Jesus, the only option he saw in front of him was to end his own life.  He missed out on the chance to be redeemed and transformed by Jesus because he was too busy looking at his own sin.

Peter also believed he was least deserving of the love of Jesus.  However, his story differs from the story of Judas in that Peter did not run from Jesus.  As a matter of fact, when Jesus’s tomb was rumored to be empty, Peter literally ran into the tomb to make sure that Jesus had actually risen from the dead (John 20:8).  What a beautiful picture of repentance: running right toward the Savior, knowing that there is no better place to turn.  Jesus encounters Peter and reaffirms His plan for his ministry.  Jesus forgives him, as if he had never denied Him in the first place.  Peter did not look at his own sin; rather, he looked at the miracle of Jesus’s life-giving power.  As a result, Peter was able to receive the grace for which Jesus died and rose again.

So, how do you fit into Holy Week?  The question isn’t “Will you mess up?”  The question is: When you mess up, will you allow your failure to define you, or will you trust Jesus to forgive you?”  Let Jesus be the hero of this Easter story.

Wisdom Wednesday

What Difference Does it Make? Part 4: Shelter

We are moving to the element of a community about which I know very little. But this topic is what inspired me to think about third world countries in a different light. This topic caused me to question whether the American, first-world way is the only acceptable way. It changed my perspective on what is necessary for survival.

In 2010, the earthquake in Haiti destroyed many homes and public buildings in Port au Prince. As a result, numerous families found residence in tents. There are currently several tent cities in Haiti, including Cite Soleil.

Because people lived in tents, there was very little protection. Many people were kidnapped, raped, and/or killed. Strong winds and pouring rain would invade the tents, making it impossible for the inhabitants to get comfortable.

Many people still live in tents. Struggling to survive, they pray for someone to intervene and help them relocate.

Our team worked in a resettlement village. Everyone living there used to live in tents, but the government asked them to move into homes. Our bumpy bus drove past the small cement buildings. We knew there was no running water. There were barely windows! How could that be considered good living?

As we talked about it, a woman who had grown up in Haiti shared her insight. Most Haitians did not know what American houses look like. Haitians do not aspire to have large mansions. Most people in Haiti just want protection. They want shelter from the heat and from the rain. These cement houses, albeit small, provided for the needs of these people.

Again, I know the least about this topic. But I want to start a conversation. What IS necessary for survival when it comes to shelter? Do we need air conditioning or heat? Do we need running water and sewage?

The concept of shelter caused me to take a step back and rethink my American values. What if the things we consider wrong or bad are actually just different? To fix Haiti, do we need to buy every Haitian family a nice house?

How can we help Haiti? Does Haiti even need our help?

Even several days after coming back from Haiti, I am still wrestling with these questions. It may take longer than I thought to answer them.

Wisdom Wednesday

What Difference Does it Make? Part 3: Food Distribution/Cultivation

Have you ever seen pictures of kids who were so hungry that their stomachs were bloated? I honestly didn’t think those people existed…until I got to Haiti. Some children (however, not all) are severely malnourished and in need of care.

Some children have red or yellow hair to show their lack of proper nutrients.

Some children look like they are 5 or 6 when they are really 10.

But the child who broke my heart the most had a disability that could have been prevented.

On our first day in Haiti, we went to the children’s home to help feed some of the special needs kids. Most of these kids were in wheelchairs, suffering primarily from cerebral palsy. They were happy to be fed and to interact with us.

One child called me over with his bright smile. I walked over to his wheelchair and touched his hand. Suddenly, he took both of my hands and picked himself up out of the wheelchair! I didn’t expect him to stand. While holding my hands, he walked with me around the playground. When he got tired, someone helped me pick him up and put him back in his wheelchair.

In the dining area of our camp, there were bios about the special needs children at the children’s home. The bios included their birthdays, where they were found, their medical conditions, their likes and dislikes, and special informatiom about them. My eyes scanned for my new friend. When I found his bio, my eyes widened with shock. He had been found on the street. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy…and a muscular condition due to severe malnourishment.

What my friend had could have been prevented. All he had to do was eat a little bit more than nothing, and he might have been able to walk without help.

In Haiti, we were able to distribute food. Because of the donations of generous people, we were able to buy enough rice, beans, oil, and fish to feed 639 families of 5-6 for 2-3 weeks. We also had some rice and beans left over. Each time I handed a bag to a needy family member, I was grateful that one more family was blessed.

You may be thinking, “OK, you fed 639 families. Big deal. What about the other thousands of families that need food?” Honestly, I had thought about this myself. We had handed out food from a locked church building because we knew that there were much more than 600 families out there. Even after we handed out bags, we had people crying through the windows (In English), “Hey you! Please give me food.” We had to turn our backs because we simply did not have enough resources to feed everyone.

But quickly after I thought about the hundreds of families who we were not able to feed, I realized that we used what we had to help a community. We did what we could, and that’s all that mattered.

If we all did what we could, more bellies would be full at night.

There has been a controversy about whether to simply give food to people in third world countries or teach them how to grow their own food. After seeing what I have seen in Haiti, I think that both are necessary. Where we served, the ground was rocky. It is difficult to plant anything among the desert-like soil. As a result, much of Haiti’s diet is imported food. However, organizations such as Plant With Purpose ( plant trees in areas where vegetation can be grown. According to the organization’s website, one can sponsor a village so that vegetation could be brought there.

If food is something you enjoy, think about ways to fill the stomachs of malnourished people in third world countries.