Tuesday, December 25, 2007

At the Family Table

12/07 Muncie Star Press

Because I was born late into my family, my earliest memories have always included my three sisters-in-law. So by the time my parents, my brothers and their wives occupied our holiday table, I was necessarily placed at the dreaded “kid table.”

I never liked this arrangement. At eight years old, I definitely had a lot of sparkling conversation to bring to the table. Alas, no adult ever gave up his seat so that the eight-year-old brat could sit at the grown-up table.

No matter how old we all grew, I remained youngest until my nephews came along, and then at least I had company at the kid table, even if they all spoke Elmer Fudd language.

The day finally came when as a newlywed, I returned home for the holidays. I can’t remember if I finally made the cut for the big table or not. But the following year, I had a two-month-old, and guess what—it was back to the kid table for me. And there I remained with all three of my children as they grew up, year after year.

Remembering the kid table recently inspired me: when my kids and grandkids come home for the holidays, just once, I’m going to turn the world on its ear and reserve places for the smallest people at the elusive grown-up table.

On a larger scale, society also has its rules about who belongs and ranks and who doesn’t. But just because humans have established pecking orders (caste systems, hierarchies of power, designations of respect) doesn’t mean they reflect the Lord’s standards at all. In fact, we position those with money and power at the head of the table, while others are relegated to back entries, wobbly stools and leftovers.

But Jesus, as surely as he tipped over the money-changers tables in the temple, flipped the status quo concerning who is first and who is last in his order. He washed dirty feet to show us how to be great in his kingdom. He forewarned us about pride and exclusivity.

In Luke 22:26-27 Jesus said to his disciples: "Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It's not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant. Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You'd rather eat and be served, right? But I've taken my place among you as the one who serves” (MSG).

And so we know how to live as his disciples--offering what we have to those who have less, dying to selfishness instead of demanding our desires, serving others.

Christmas is the season when we celebrate the birth of a King who refused to occupy a temporary earthly throne to experience a stable and a cross. Because of his extraordinary love, he now sits eternally at the right hand of the Father.

Someday there will be a banquet table at which we’ll all gather to share in the Lord’s great supper. Jesus lived, died and rose again for the joy of inviting every single person: “Come to my table; there is a place saved especially for you.”

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Exchanging Real Life for Decay

I re-worked the wisdom tooth extraction experience for my column today. I'm copying it here because you can only link to the articles on line free for 7 days, so instead I'll to link to this post for the archive. The last thing I want to do is pay to get to my own words!

Twenty-two years ago, I had two wisdom teeth pulled. Because the whole ordeal wasn't a picnic, I decided to wait a while to have the others removed.

"A while" became 22 years.

In spite of meticulous brushing, flossing and even whitening, the remaining "wizzies" had to go. My dentist said there was nothing I could've done to avoid the surgery; the very nature of these nonessential, problematic teeth demanded that they go.

Driving home, I remembered his words, "It's the nature of the tooth, its anatomy, its physiology. It's just naturally bad."

Something being naturally bad made me think of sin.

I remembered a time when I hid sin similar to these teeth, keeping my secrets tucked so far back into the recesses of who I was that there was no danger of people seeing my misery. I practiced all of the spiritual disciplines -- reading scripture, attending church and serving others, but still, I hid my pain, thinking, "I'll take care of this at some point-just not yet."

Eventually, I realized as long as I harbored one unrepented sin, all the "whitening" in the world was either just for show or a half-hearted, prideful attempt to patch a serious problem. Living in denial about the state of my heart became a way of life. It hurt to expose flaws and release long-held anger, but it was necessary. And in the end, it was the best thing for me.

Although I knew I would feel some discomfort after this extraction, I trusted this surgeon -- unlike my father-in-law, who continually offers to perform all kinds of medical procedures fast and cheap for his family, and no, he's not a doctor! This surgeon didn't appear to have a sadistic bone in his body. He listened to all my fears and reassured me. I was in good hands.

Likewise, I know that when I release my grip on an ancient grudge or heartache, at first, it won't feel good. I might feel like I've "lost" somehow. But that's not so. The truth is, being set free from decaying forces in my life is the best thing for me.

And I trust my God. He wants to excise whatever harms me and drives a wedge between us. When I'm scared to turn over my hang-ups to him, he listens to my fears and reassures me. When life hurts, I could resort to all sorts of crazy methods to treat myself, but the truth is, he is the only one who can truly set me free. I cannot help myself. I will always need a savior.

Right now, my front teeth look great, but don't come too close! The inside of my mouth looks and smells like walking death. I'm reminded of Matthew 23:27, where Jesus warned, "You Pharisees and teachers are in for trouble! You're nothing but show-offs. You're like tombs that have been whitewashed. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth." Yet I am comforted by Isaiah 1:18: "I, the Lord, invite you to come and talk it over. Your sins are scarlet red, but they will be whiter than snow."

To be human is to be naturally inclined to disobey, even though we know we are digging our own graves. When God says, "It's time for this rot to go," I have to remember to trust in his mercy and unfailing kindness toward me. Even though there's much value in doing good, no regiment of noble behaviors or charitable endeavors can purify my inner self. Therefore, to kick off this month of thanksgiving, I'm declaring my thanks to God for exchanging real life for my decay, for trading his joy for my sorrow. Great is your faithfulness, O God!

Linda Crow, of Muncie, is the mother of three teenagers and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at www.2nd-cup-of-coffee.blogspot.com.
Originally published November 3, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chocolate's a Sin? Salvation is Sweet

September 2007

I “heart” chocolate. Virtually all day long, I battle a nagging inner voice whispering, “Get some chocolate. Now.”

Behold my unsuccessful strategies for taming my habit: Cold turkey. One ounce per day. Fake chocolate. Caffeine. Fruity water. Vitamins and minerals. Candy. Chocolate-scented candles. I can’t believe I’m revealing this, but I have even opened up a packet of Splenda—the sugar junkie’s methadone, and poured it directly on my tongue. Oh yeah, this habit is bad.

Yesterday I was jonesin’ for some no-bake chocolate oatmeal peanut butter cookies, my personal tipping point when it comes to chocolate binging. I can make these cookies in my sleep. And eat them in my sleep.

I worked my magic. Guess how many my husband and daughter ate? Zero. Guess how many I ate? Whatever you guessed, you’re wrong, because I ate more than you guessed.

The morning after a night like that isn’t pretty.

I promised myself that when I came home from work today, I would not eat the remaining three. Can I just say in my defense that if cookies could wink with a flirty come-on, these did. So I wolfed them down.

Obviously, I cannot have cocoa, peanut butter and oatmeal in my house simultaneously. So I pitched the cocoa into the trash and grieved over it like it was a grave.

In Romans 7, Paul expresses how remorseful I felt in that moment. In fact, he communicates the whole human condition precisely: “I know that my selfish desires won't let me do anything that is good. Even when I want to do right, I cannot. Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong. What a miserable person I am!”

Although eating chocolate isn’t exactly a sin, my habit wields enough power over me to disrupt my life. God is concerned about our struggles because left unchecked, sin kills us, spirit and body. No loving father wants to see his children wither away or hit the wall at full speed.

Some people erroneously believe they must first clean up and straighten out their lives before God will be interested in them. But God is not stunned by our habits, weaknesses, and hang-ups. It’s all old news to him. First, he wants a relationship with us. Then, if destructive forces are compromising our lives, he will reveal them and help us say “no” to one thing in order to say “yes” to the ultimate good thing.

After his confession of moral impotence, Paul offers this hope, “Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me! If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won't be condemned. The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death.”

As long as I’m in this body, I will never be completely sinless. Sometimes I’m more successful than other times in battling my weaknesses. But when I find myself in yet another self-dug pit, knowing that a forgiving, compassionate Father wants to lift me up and dust me off gives me courage and hope for the next leg of my journey.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Her Anchor Will Make House Less Empty (My Son Goes to College)

In three weeks, our household is going to change drastically.

Instead of maintaining four vehicles, we will dwindle to two, allowing me to pull into the garage without weaving through our private summer obstacle course called "the driveway."

Our grocery bill will plummet like the first drop of a roller coaster. The telephone will ring less. Toilet paper will no longer be on the endangered species list. Best of all, my little dog, a walking aggregation of nerves, will no longer be launched into outer space when our kids' friends ring the doorbell. (Her rockets fire before "ding" becomes "dong.")

The reason for these changes? Two of our three kids are leaving for college -- my son, Jordan, for the first time.

Cue the violins, because no matter how much I'll appreciate the pleasant changes, when I see their empty chairs at dinner and empty beds each night, I will struggle with just that -- emptiness.

I know that life is transitional and that the ultimate goal of rearing kids is to guide them to complete independence. Still, I long for permanence I can count on no matter how many years pass, no matter how my circumstances -- my job, my interests or my role as mom changes. I need an anchor.

Happily, just such a mainstay of peace has been mine over the years, even when my footing was unsure, or my heart raced with fear, or ached with sadness -- as when we left our daughter at college that first time. My anchor has been the constant friendship of Jesus.

In all of my ups and downs, relationship struggles, personal failures and insecurities, I have not been alone. When my head hit my pillow at night, I knew I was under his watchful eye. When I awoke to face another problematic day, (is there any other kind?) I trusted that he knew the paths I would take and would even order my steps if I submitted to him.

When I walked through fiery trials, he didn't extinguish the flames, but he held my hand through them. As a result, the purifying heat helped refine me, but more importantly, helped me know him more intimately.

As I prepared for Jordan's graduation a few weeks ago, I found a stick figure crayon drawing he made for us when he was six. On the page I had written, "Jordan wants us to keep this, even when he goes to college." And now that time is here. I did indeed keep it, treasuring the thought that as much as kids want to grow up and away, they also need an enduring love they can depend on; they need an anchor.

My greatest hope is that as my children grow more independent, they will grow more dependent on the one who loves them unconditionally and unflinchingly, through all of their personal trials. Despite the best of intentions and efforts, no parent, spouse or child of their own will ever be able to completely or perfectly fulfill their needs.

As a result of his faithfulness, I am able to release my grip on my son and daughter, and the only clinging I'll do will be to Jesus, my steadfast anchor and friend.

Linda Crow, of Muncie, is the mother of three teenagers and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at www.2nd-cup-of-coffee.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

For 22 Years, It's Been Him, Her and God

*This is a sticky post for a weekend submission to P31 Woman. For weekend updates, see posts below.

No More Tears for Fears--Marriage as a Three-Cord Strand

On June 15, 1985, I was a college graduate of three weeks and a bride of 24 hours. I remember languishing poolside in Floridian bliss, humming along to Tears for Fears' Everybody Wants to Rule the World, while sipping a cold drink and exchanging smiles with my bridegroom. I didn't want to rule the world exactly, but I did have big plans for my new married life.

When I hear the song now, I smile at the irony of the first line: "Welcome to your life; there's no turning back ... ." At 22, what did I know about a commitment to care forever -- no turning back?

Occasionally, I wish I could return to June 14, 1985, and meet myself as a young bride at the back of the church. I'd whisper candidly to the young me about my expectations versus the reality of the years ahead. If you had asked me then if I understood the scope and weight of my vows, I would have said yes, but I didn't really.

Being in love didn't prepare me for those first grocery shopping ventures, when I plopped favorites into the cart and he promptly removed them. I didn't know that without due warning he would change my radio stations. Who knew we'd spend 22 years disagreeing about how to mow the lawn? And how could I have known that he had a sleeping disorder? Or (and this still puts a chill up my spine) that we would have kids with sleeping disorders?

I didn't understand that he couldn't be "everything" for me. After all, he was the love of my life, with emphasis on "my."

And that poor bridegroom -- he didn't know the half of his bride's self-centered capacities. He didn't know his fun-loving girlfriend would be so uptight about clothes on the floor and dust on ceiling fans. How could an affectionate girlfriend neglect to meet her husband when he walked through the door after work each night? And how did she manage to break so many things weekly? Imagine his confusion about a wife who six months into marriage began daily afternoon naps that merged into nights. Had he married a narcoleptic?

No, the power naps were due to the hormonal changes of pregnancy, and he would be a dad in only his second year of marriage.

Who knew?

God did. He knew we would go through seasons of joy alternated with frustration, depression, family deaths, disappointment in each other and in ourselves. But by the grace of God who remained faithful to us when our commitment lagged, and through the support of church family and friends, we stand together 22 years later.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken"(NIV).

Three strands: God, my husband, and me.

At times, the cord frayed, but it didn't break, because ultimately, we love God and value who we are as a couple and a family more than we love our individual selves-- not because we're noble or martyrs, but because God's spirit in us "grew" this counter-human commitment to something bigger than ourselves as individuals.

Based on statistics, it's a safe bet that without positioning our marriage and family on his principles and grace, we wouldn't be together today.

A line in the aforementioned songs says, "There's a room where the light won't find you/holding hands while the walls come tumbling down/When they do I'll be right behind you..." In the tropical sun of 1985, I wouldn't have believed that darkness could ever threaten us. But by banding together when darkness came and walls fell, we defended each other when one was weaker. And when we were both tired, our anchor strand was strong enough to get us through.

I am not as naive about life and expectations anymore. I do know that when my husband is pushed, I'll be right behind him, supporting him. When walls tumble, I'll be right beside him, holding his hand.

And even if I could time travel and enlighten myself about the triumphs and trials to come, I'd trust in the outstretched hand of my bridegroom at the altar, squish my puffy dress through the vestibule, and confidently meet him there -- no turning back.

Written by Linda Crow. Word Count: 716. Previously published in the Muncie Star Press, June 16, 2007. Permission granted to Proverbs 31 Ministries to use this article in the magazine P31 Woman and its promotion, as well as in other facets of Proverbs 31 Ministries, including radio programs and website.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Jesus Goes To Greath Lengths to Reach Us

Jesus goes to great lengths to reach us

I should've named my tiny Yorkshire terrier "Enigma" instead of "Zoe" because her quirkiness could stump the best dog whisperer.

For example, she loves to sit on laps, so whoever is planted comfortably is the momentary apple of her little eye, and she begs to sit with the sitter. The problem is, she cannot jump high enough to get to us. We have to lean and scoop her up.


Oddly, she then darts away, looking over her shoulder as if to say, "What are you trying to do, imprison me? Why are you so possessive?"

She repeats this approach and retreat until she is far from the sofa, causing us to forfeit prime couch potato time by getting up and carrying her back to our laps, thus creating a whole new, frustrating version of "fetch."

We've analyzed her bizarre routine, wondering if she is ...

afraid of being lifted to 2-foot heights.

playing a screwy game of chase.

a control freak.

communicating, like Lassie, that Old Man Hanson is trapped in a burning shed which toppled onto a railroad track and is now in the path of a locomotive and we must go save him.
Exasperated, I announced one day, "I wish I could become a dog and learn what is in that head of hers. I'd be able to tell her to stop this madness and convince her to trust us."

My family nodded in agreement, but I saw my son furtively dialing Dr. Phil and my daughter tracing "!PLEH" on the foggy window.

Allow me a very rough parallel here -- do you suppose this scenario is similar to how we often respond to the Father? In other words, do we "play" at knowing him, claiming we want intimacy but dart away when he gets too close?

Do you think we really fathom how far-reaching Jesus's love was, how he left a holy place and condescended to us on earth? Humanity didn't just happen to Jesus; he chose it. And John 10:18 says he gave up his life for us voluntarily. That is big love.

Because he decided to be Jesus and not a stone image or despot, we know he was misunderstood and despised. We know he endured temptation. He grieved when John the Baptist and Lazarus died. He celebrated weddings and loved children but never married or had biological children. In Jesus's death, the Father experienced what it means to have your child brutally killed. All of Jesus's earthly experiences culminated in propitiation for our sin but also in our assurance that he knows our struggles and our needs because he was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3).

Jesus still reaches for us, and not half-heartedly -- he goes to great lengths -- leaves the couch, if you will, to bring us to him. Luke 15:4 and John 10 tell how he is the Good Shepherd who searches for the lost and for those who stupidly run away from his protection and love.

Do you sense the Shepherd reaching for you? Do you know your Shepherd's voice? Do you vex him with indecisiveness and lukewarm responses? Do you trust him, or do you doubt his ability to carry you?

Don't just glance at him over your shoulder when he beckons you. Stay a while. You can never thank him enough for the great length he went to so that you can be with him forever and know him right now.

Linda Crow, of Muncie, is the mother of three teenagers and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at www.2nd-cup-of-coffee.blogspot.com.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

When God Says "No"

No one likes to be told, “No.” In fact, we often feel entitled to an explanation or apology when things don’t go our way.

When I worked for a renowned weight-loss company, which I shall refer to as “Plate Watchers,” one piece of advice I offered members was, “Realize that when you say ‘no’ to one thing, you’re saying ‘yes’ to another. Therefore, you might say ‘no’ to dessert in order to say ‘yes’ to a smaller dress size.” Often that suggestion motivated members, but had I stood in front of my group and said, “You wanna lose weight? Just tell yourself ‘No:’ ‘No, I’m not going to have this entire box of Girl Scout Cookies. No, I’m not going to mega-size my fries. No, I’m not going to have a piece of birthday cake. No, no, no,’” I don’t think I would have lasted long in that position!

As much as we don’t like it, “no,” is good for us sometimes.

Once I yearned for a specific house in a great neighborhood. I could just see my children playing in the yard with friends. But I prayed for God to shut the door on the opportunity if it wasn’t best for us. We didn’t get it, and to say I was disappointed is an understatement. A few months later, a man who lived directly across from that house was arrested for molesting children, luring them in by fixing their bicycles, etc. You can bet my vision of my children playing on that street became a shuddering thought, and I thanked God we didn’t move there.

For the last two weeks I’ve ridden an emotional roller coasting waiting for a door to open or close. One outcome would’ve drastically changed my family’s lives, so it occupied most of my waking thoughts and prayers. As it happened, the door swung shut with a thud, and without much explanation. That hurt.

For about an hour, I was really upset. But even in the midst of the turmoil, because I have already offered God my whole life and know that every step is taken under his providential eye, I felt at peace. After the emotional release, my disappointed feelings began catching up to my faith.

I may never know why that door was shut, but I did receive comfort in Psalm 25:12-13, “Where is the man who fears the Lord? God will teach him how to choose the best. He shall live within God’s circle of blessing, and his children shall inherit the earth.” I did not have the opportunity to choose in this situation, but I trust that God chose the best for me. I will not worry about my future, or my children’s futures.

A key verse in my life is Isaiah 30:21: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” There is no golden opportunity in this life that can compare with walking in The Way. And that’s why I’m thanking God for saying “no” this week.
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