“The extent of his love”

Happy Easter y’all!  Are you ready?

New dresses, new shoes, new purse – check.

Big hair, big chocolate bunnies, big family gatherings – check.

Full churches, full bellies, full hearts – check.

I know this may not be true for everyone and for some of you the idea of church is a little scary and intimidating.  So, I’ve saved up one of my best and most horrific church stories just for you.

My husband and I had been in Nashville for several months and we were striking out week after week in the church finding game.  So, on this particular Sunday, we were both a little frustrated and probably should have stayed at home.  I also wasn’t feeling well, but I let my Christian guilt get the best of me and I went anyway.

Well, the place was packed and the ushers guided us into a very crowded section, right in the middle.  I sat down beside this overly friendly lady who was wearing none other than White Diamonds perfume – and a LOT of it.  Now if you wear this perfume, please forgive me, but for some reason it invokes extreme nausea in me.  And, my new found friend just kept talking to me and giving me the little side hugs so the perfume was now on me too.  I prayed for her to cheer down and find me less interesting but my prayers were unanswered.

Then the minister preached for what felt like five or six hours.  I became hot and more and more nauseated.  Now, I know you think I’m gonna vomit but I didn’t.  That would have actually probably been a better choice.  But instead, towards the end of the sermon I got the church giggles.  Now if you don’t know about the church giggles, let me explain.  It’s almost an out of body experience where you absolutely can’t stop laughing and usually at the most inappropriate time.

The seating was tight and my new BFF, myself and my husband were shoulder to shoulder.  Now my husband knew exactly what was going on and the giggles migrated on over to him.  But my BFF, she thought I was crying and she just got closer and closer.  I’m pretty sure she began praying for me, although I wouldn’t make eye contact with her.  Somehow, I managed to regain my composure by the end of the service, but then the unthinkable happened – a wedding.  Yep, right at the end of the service – a wedding.  I have no real explanation for this, but when they told us to take our seats for the wedding I looked at my husband and said something to the effect of “we didn’t bring a gift”.  My gift of sarcasm had reared it’s inappropriate head at just the right inappropriate moment and it was on.  Getting out of there with my dignity wasn’t going to happen.  I think the pressure of church hunting combined with the randomness of the morning finally got to me and I broke.  I kinda did one of those bahahahaha moments.  Y’all in the middle of someone’s wedding – I’m sure I’m still on a prayer list somewhere.

So why so much pressure with church?

Why the buildup?  Why?

Well I think we’ve made the whole church thing too complicated.  Just think about the choices you have to make when choosing a church……

Contemporary or traditional?

To sprinkle or to dunk?

Large or small?

Dress up or dress down?

The drinkers or the teetotalers?

Choirs with robes or worship bands with tattoos?

Coffee bars or water fountains?

Cathedrals or concrete?

Pews or chairs?

Communion for all or communion for us.

Are you exhausted yet?

It’s all just a little silly isn’t it?  I mean, if we all claim to fundamentally believe the same thing and we all believe we are going to the same heaven – what’s all the fuss about???

Well, I’m sure that we could debate a multitude of reasons for church splits, new denominations, and all of the differences in doctrine.  But, I’m convinced that our differences in opinion were never intended when Jesus died on the cross.  I often ponder what Jesus thinks about our modern church culture.

Would he feel threatened by the world we live in?  Would he protest for Christian rights?  Would he state an opinion on politics?  Would he approve of how we spend our finances?  Would he agree with our rules for acceptance?

Well, as usual, I have no answers to these questions, but this week I read the gospel of John and I was completely taken back by the behavior of Jesus in the 24 hours leading up to his arrest and crucifixion.

John 13 begins to describe the Passover Feast and tells us that Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, Peter would deny him and that “the time had come for him to leave this world”.  Knowing this he “now showed them the extent of his love”.  Then Jesus got up from the meal and washed their feet.

“The extent of his love,” y’all, this won’t leave me alone.  As the disciples would soon realize this meant crucifixion but the first example was bending down and washing dirty feet – sandal wearing, walking everywhere, never had a pedicure kind of feet.  This was a task meant for a servant not a king.

After the Passover feast Jesus and his disciples were walking through an olive grove where he was met by soldiers, chief priests, Pharisees, and Judas.

Jesus asked them “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (John 18).

He didn’t run.  He didn’t fight.  He didn’t yell or scream.  And, when Peter drew his sword, Jesus commanded him to “put your sword away”.   He willingly gave himself up to ultimately show “the extent of his love.”  Now you probably know the rest.  He was beaten, he was bruised, he was nailed to a cross, gave up his spirit and died.  This y’all – this is “the extent of his love”.  This is what it’s all about.  No more, no less.

This is where the church gets lost, right?  I think maybe we sometimes lose sight of this love.  In our everyday decisions and reactions we fail to remember the depths and the extent of HIS love.  We’ve chosen preference over love, opinions over love, convenience over love, and the list could go on.  We’ve taken a perfect sacrifice that was meant to show us love and a resurrection that was meant to show us life and allowed the message to be depreciated by agendas and selfish desire.

So to those of you who have been hurt or confused by the church, please don’t let anything the church did to you overshadow what Jesus has done for you.  Please listen to the words that have kept me captive all week.  Jesus died to show you “the extent of his love” and was raised again to give you eternal life.  And to the church (and myself), in his last 24 hours, in the face of denial, betrayal and death Jesus chose humility, selfless service, mercy, grace and overall love.  Let’s please not diminish this message.

So let’s polish those nails and tease that hair – put on your best dress and let’s go to church.  People we have a lot to celebrate and a lot of work to do!  I’ll grab you a cup of coffee, save you a seat and try not to get the giggles.

Happy Easter,

Mary Ann

 

 

 

 

 

The God who Stays

A few months ago I opened the door of my dryer expecting to find the heavenly scent of freshly laundered clothes, only to find the horrible smell of poop.  Further investigation revealed a number of questions:  How in the???  What in the???  Who did this???  There, right on top of the clothes was a little blob of poop – some would call a turd.  I quickly summoned all the little people in my home who were most likely guilty of such a crime and, to my surprise, the guilty party confessed, rather easily, to this malfeasance.  The reason for the crime, if you’re interested, was the ever-disturbing:

“I don’t know”.

“What do you mean you don’t know?  You don’t know how your poop ended up in the dryer?”

“Nope, I don’t know”.

“So, you’re telling me that’s your poop?”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t know how it got in the dryer?”

“No.”

Isn’t that just how life is?  One day you’re just minding your own business, going about your day, expecting something great or, at least, something usual and then.. .bam!

Out of nowhere – POOP – The loss of something or someone – financial stress – job/career failure – marriage struggles – divorce – children struggles – well, the list could go on and on.

My most life altering poopy situation was almost the entire year of 2011.  It’s no secret, if you’ve read my previous blogs, that my marriage took a blow a few years ago.  And, 2011 was the height of difficulty.  We were falling apart and every time we would start to make progress – bam, more poop.  Marriage struggles, work struggles, financial struggles and then my only child, at that time, had a little health scare.  It would ultimately turn out to be only a minor illness, but to get to this diagnosis we had to rule out a battery of horrible childhood diseases.  The night before he underwent a procedure, I lost it y’all.  Completely lost it.  I mean, curled up, fetal position beside my son’s bed – incapable of controlling my emotions.  I was done.  Have you been there?

I’ve thought long and hard about theological examples to convey my next thought but I keep coming back to my own story.  I feel like sometimes we forget that the God who spoke to Moses through a burning bush, parted the sea, and sent manna from heaven is the same God who works in our lives.  I think we sometimes forget the same power that turned water into wine, opened the eyes of the blind, and raised Jesus from the dead is available to us.  2011 was one of the hardest years of my life but it was also the most life changing.  I finally came to end of myself – I gave up control and realized that there is a God and I’m not it.

The thought of control, or the lack thereof, can be terrifying to those freaks like me who need every detail – all the time.  But, as my way of doing things was clearly not working, I slowly began to relinquish my rights to things I had no business managing.  Little by little, I started believing what I had confessed my whole life.  I began to see the faithfulness of a God who promised to never leave and began to trust in the God who stays.

Now this didn’t happen at first.  No way!  There were so many dark and lonely days.  Tears flowed like monsoon rains.  There were days and weeks that felt like a desert land – dry and empty.  Then one day a complete stranger said to me, “honey, I don’t know what you’re going through.  But, I just feel like I should tell you that God’s got this”.  Y’all, I almost passed out.  It took every ounce of self control to continue to stand upright.  That right there was my burning bush moment and I’ve never been the same since.

You see, up until that moment I had bought into the lie that I was alone, abandoned and forsaken.  Hope was lost.  But when those words were spoken to me I began to realize that not only was God right there in that moment, he’d been there the entire time.  He is a God who stays.

  • He was there when he gave me a friend years before my life fell apart.  She stood by me and protected me.  She had walked in my shoes and could speak wisdom into my life like no other.
  • He was there when I joined a small group for musicians wives months before my marriage took a nose dive.  These women held me up, prayed over me and spoke so much truth in my life.
  • He was there when my 18-month old son would make Mommy and Daddy hug each other every day when we left for work even though we sometimes didn’t speak.
  • He was there in our pastor who lovingly and so non-judgmentally took the time to comfort and pray for us.
  • He was there when our church paid for half the counseling cost that otherwise would have broken us financially.
  • He was there in our counselor who was quiet and gentle with my fiery spirit.
  • He was there when my dad, who had no idea what I was facing, would randomly text me for no reason at all.  A simple, “I love you” and I would know He was there.
  • He was there when the minister at my sisters wedding felt lead to pray for all the marriages in the congregation.  He had no idea he was praying for me.
  • He was there when I was so frustrated with my life that I may have yelled a little bit at a hydrangea plant that refused to bloom.  I also may have said, “Well God, I guess you’re gonna have to bloom this plant because clearly I have no idea what I’m doing”.  Y’all I kid you not – a few months later, long after hydrangea blooming season, I looked out my window and there was one bloom on that plant – Speechless.
  • He was there in the sunshine and the rain.  He was there in a smile, a thank you, a kind word spoken by a stranger – He was always there because he is a God who doesn’t leave – He is a God who stays.

What I want you to know is that the same God who spoke to me through a stranger (and may have bloomed my hydrangea) is with you.  Right now, in the middle of your mess.  He’s the smile in a strangers face.  He’s in the twinkle of a child’s eye.  He’s the for no reason at all text message.  He’s in the warm sun on a cool day.  He’s there in the friend, the counselor, or maybe the reason you’re reading this right now.  He is with you every step of the way.  And, “honey, I don’t know what you’re going through.  But I just feel like I should tell you that “God’s got this” – because he is a God who stays.

Mary Ann

 

 

 

 

 

So Much – an open letter to my daughter.

Okay Ladies, we need to talk.

I’ve been wrestling with this blog post for almost two months now.  Since the Women’s March I’ve had many things on my mind, but every time I muster up the courage to put my thoughts down on paper, my daughter walks by.  There’s so much I need her to know about being a girl and growing into a woman.  There’s so much I need her to know about life.  But, more importantly, so much I need her to know about her.  So in an attempt to share my heart, I’ve written an open letter to my daughter.  I hope you will find a little truth in these words.

To my Ella Jane,

The year is 2017 and you’re two.  You’re sassy but sweet, opinionated but quiet, and, as you already know, your daddy is completely wrapped around your finger.  You love ferociously and fearlessly and will take down a tyrant three times your size.  When you were born I felt great comfort in the fact that you have a very large older brother to protect you.  But, as your personality develops, I feel confident that you will protect yourself and he may, at times, need to rein you in.  You are innocently unaware of the state of our union, and for that I’m grateful.  If I could put you in a bubble and protect you forever, Lord knows I would.  But, you will grow and probably learn about these trying times in a history class.   And, you will come home and ask me questions, just as I asked my mother, like “Hey, did you burn your bra?”.   I will laugh, just as she did, and the answer will be “no” and then we will talk.

Every night, I tuck you into bed and you repeat the words I say to you, “I love you” and then you add “so much”.  I must be honest when I say that my eyes fill with tears almost every night, and I’m glad the room is dark so you can’t see me cry.  That little “so much” is why I need to write this to you.  There’s just so much I need to tell you about the things you will face because of your gender.

Right now in America, the country is divided over a variety of things, but women’s rights are smack dab in the middle.  I want you to know that this is not new.  The rights of women in this country have been in the forefront since its birth.  The women who came before you and I and fought for our rights were courageous and we are forever indebted to them.  Never forget that many things we take for granted like voting, working, and speaking our minds are not allowed in many countries.  There women all over the world that cannot even fathom your freedom. You will form your own opinions on politics, but please remember that freedom must never be assumed and always protected.  You will likely continue to face political division in your lifetime and don’t let that confuse or dishearten you – that is freedom and it’s messy.  When you look at American history, we continually sway between the right and the left.  Each group is there to hold the other accountable.  So no matter which side of the spectrum you find yourself, please just get in the game….. Vote!

Okay, that’s over, no more political lectures from your mom.  There are so many things I need you to know that are deeper and more important than politics and policy.  My prayer is that I have a lifetime to teach you everything your grandparents taught me and their parents taught them, but I’ll start with five or six important facts and promise to write you a thousand more letters.

  • First, I want you to go after life the same way you eat blueberry muffins.  We have a few years to develop your table manners, but when you eat a blueberry muffin you are uninhibited, fierce, and almost savage at times.  You are all-in, and that is how I want you to chase your dreams.  Give it all you’ve got.
  • Leggings are not pants.  Now I’m serious about this.  Leggings have been in style twice in my lifetime and therefore, I’m pretty sure they will come around several times during yours.  They are, in fact, the most comfortable things you will ever squeeze into, but they are not pants.  They are unforgiving, especially the lighter colors.  Please wear them, as this is surely a glimpse of what heaven will be like, but be a cautious of your shirt length and panty lines – that’s all I’m saying.
  • You have “good hair”.  Now I can’t take all the credit for this because the first time I saw your dad his hair was longer than mine.  Although he looked a little like a professional wrestler because of his size and broad shoulders – that hair, well it was something else.  Take care of it, use conditioner, and know that the boys will flock to those long locks like a fly to honey.  May God be with all of us through your teenage years and may I not lose my mind and shave your head.  That’s all I’m gonna say about boys for now – there will be 1,092 other letters on this subject.
  • Learn how to use basic tools.  I will personally teach you this and please pay attention.  Knowing the difference in screwdrivers will take you far.  I will also teach you how to change a tire, use a power drill, pressure wash, mow grass, and other basic necessities of life.  My dad only had girls so it was important to him that we “knew things” – his motto was “What do ya need boys for?”.  We will also spend a lot of time throwing a ball and sliding into home.  It’s okay to throw like a girl if you can turn a double-play and get a base hit.
  • Men are not the enemy.  I believe that men and women were created differently on purpose.  Now your history books are correct and men have often suppressed women.  But, make no mistake, that is not the goal of every man and it will serve you well to know the difference.  I’m sure there will be times when you are treated differently because you are a girl, but remember this is a two way street and you must also treat men with respect.  When a man opens the door for you say “thank you”.  It’s not a threat to your independence – it’s called being a gentlemen.  If this is confusing, please look to your dad, grandfathers, uncles, and your brother as examples.
  • Know who you are.  I’m not talking about who others think you are or even who you think you are.  I want you to know who you really are.  You are a daughter of the King, The Living God.  Throughout your life so many things will bargain for your attention and attempt to shatter your worth, self-confidence, and identity.  My prayer is that the voice of the Most-High will speak loudly into your spirit.  You are beautiful, lovely, strong, capable, and you, Ella Jane, were worth dying for.  When you are confused, lonely and don’t know which way to turn, remember the One who gave it all so that you may live.  You come from a long line of women who trusted (and still trust) God to the fullest.  Of this I am certain, and they would agree – Through Christ you will find freedom that is far greater than any governmental policy and reaches to depths you can only imagine.

There is so much more to cover, but I’ll save that to a later date.  We will surely discuss the horrible truths about laundry, cleaning, and “becoming a woman” – no need to crush your dreams right now.  For today, can you just stay two forever?  Can you always pronounce cookie – “tookie”?  And every night when you say “so much” remember that I love you “so much” more.

Love,

Mommy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready or Not

Well, it’s that time of year again.  The musician Winter break is over, touring season is upon us, and we’re headed back into the road hard pace of life.  My husband is like a kid in a candy store.  New tour, new songs, new venues.  The fans – radio – shows.  Buses, planes, a new city everyday.  His excitement is palpable.  This is what he was created to do.  And, me.  Well, I’m getting there.

If I’m honest, I struggle this time of year.  I’m not ready to give him up just yet.  I’m not ready for chaotic, opposite schedules.  I’m not ready for the change of pace, early mornings, communication by phone and weekends alone.  Then there’s homework, toddler tantrums, baseball, potty training, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping – Oh, and that little thing called work.  It’s overwhelming and the challenge of flying solo gets me every time.

It’s not that I’m not supportive – It’s just that out of the swing of things and I’ve got to get my head in the game.

I would love to tell you that I’ve always handled this season with great grace and humility, but the reality is that many years have been a little more “real housewives” than I’d like to admit.  In more than one instance, I’ve picked fights and tried to make my husband feel oh-so guilty for being out-of-town.  My sassy and smart aleck nature has occasionally been used for spite – like when my husband sends me amazing pictures of venues or scenery, I sometimes, maybe send him pictures of laundry or my children throwing tantrums.   I’ve hidden behind unkind text messages and used my gift of sarcasm for evil.  I’ve thrown the best pity parties around and allowed my head to go to dark places where no good can be found.  But, the truth is I’ve learned a lot in these times and with the help of a good counselor, chocolate, coffee, and Jesus I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve for survival of the “I’m not ready”.  You may not share my exact circumstances, but hopefully these tips will cross over into your territory of life.

7.  Fighting tips: Arguments happen, but you can argue smart.

  • Don’t fight when you’re tired.  You won’t make sense and you’ll have to apologize.  That’s the worst.
  • Slow down the conversation.  This is one of the best counseling tips I’ve ever received.  Before you fire off that great comeback, text, or smart aleck picture wait a minute or two – you may change your mind.
  • Try not to fight when you only have limited time. Conversations when my husband is gone are sometimes very short in duration.  I’ve learned to say we need to talk about things and try to somewhat schedule a serious conversation instead of trying to get everything out and make up in 5 minutes.  Believe me, it only makes things worse.

6.  Modern technology is your friend.  Amazon Prime and Kroger CheckList will change your life.

  • If you’ve received a gift from me in the past year, it’s highly likely that I Amazon Primed it.  I just don’t have time in my schedule to physically go to a store and look.  Y’all, I use this for everything – school supplies, toilet paper, everything!!!  I must warn you, however, that this may ruin you and make your patience for indoor shopping intolerable.  amazon.com
  • And, don’t get me started on Kroger CheckList.  Order online with curbside delivery – yes, please!  I’ve got to stop hugging the delivery people, though.  I think it makes them uncomfortable.  Here’s the link Kroger.com – then click on “online shopping”.
  • I also reserve my spot in line for my son’s hair cuts at great clips, tire rotations, etc.  Find your favorite stores and just explore.  You will save time and a lot of frustration.

5.  Sow and Reap.  Now this is a biblical principle for a lot of things in life, but I will apply it very practically here.

  • Plan ahead and prepare as much as you can.  I get book bags ready, clothes laid out, lunches prepared, and baths completed the night before .  I’m not a morning person and sometimes this preparation literally saves me.
  • Meal preparation tips:  you can plan ahead, cook in bulk, and cut up veggies on the weekend or just spend a little extra and buy the pre-cut veggies in the store.  I used to judge the lazy moms in the “pre-cut” section.  But, now when I’ve waited too late for Kroger CheckList, I just high-five my lazy mom friends and move on.
  • Spend a few minutes each night and pick up the clutter a bit.  Honestly, I’m really horrible at this, but I hear it helps.
  • Laundry.  I have no tips for laundry.  It’s evil and of the devil!!!

4.  Take care of yourself.  Eat right, exercise, go to bed early… yada, yada, yada.  Everyone knows this, right?  This is one of the principles that I’ve taught families of my patient’s for years.  You can’t take care of someone else if you don’t take care of yourself.

3.  Get over yourself.

  • If you look back on my list of problems, it was very heavily focused on me.  I hadn’t considered the struggle of my kids or my husband.  Along the same lines, when I focus on me, I listen to the wrong voices and hear “I can’t”.  But, when I change my focus to what God says about me everything changes.  For more on this read my previous blog post  I Think You’re Brave.
  • Advice to those of you who can specifically identify with my situation.  Get out there!  If I haven’t seen my husband play in a while, I lose my focus.  I forget.  But, every time – every single time – I see him play I quickly regain my focus and remember my calling – for more read The Dreamer and The Fuel.

2.  Forgive yourself often and quickly.  You will make mistakes.  You will sometimes abandon all of the above and handle things like a school yard fight.  Ask for forgiveness, forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

1. God loves to use people who are not ready.  This by far the most important.  No matter your calling, you will likely say “I’m not ready” at some point.  One of my favorite examples is Moses.  Exodus 3 tells us that when God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt he said “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God’s reply “I will be with you”.  Now Moses continues to make excuses much like me.  I’m like:  “Who am I to care for these children alone?  Who am I to manage this house?  Who am I to control this chaos?  God you know me – I’m a sassy, sarcastic smart aleck – Who am I?  God, I literally can’t”  His response, always, “I will be with you”.  There’s not a lot of talk, but a lot of action – he is there, always!

So, ready or not….. here it comes.  That thing, that time, that situation, that season you aren’t ready for.  Keep your chin up, use your resources, sow and reap, take care of yourself, get over yourself, forgive quickly and, most of all, remember you are not alone.  This road is hard, but oh so worth it.  Remember chocolate is good, coffee is necessary, amazon prime is your best friend, and Jesus is all you need!

Mary Ann

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Side

Today, I find myself in unfamiliar territory.  I have nothing to say.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to write so many blog posts that continually fall short of what I’m feeling.  The political climate of our country right now combined with the social medial outlets to express hate left all of my recent attempts at wisdom a little lack-luster.

This time of year is supposed to be a time for new beginnings and starting over, but it seems to me that, as a society, we are just moving further apart.  Division, lines drawn in the sand, my side vs. your side – honestly, I’m sick of it.  My heart aches for unity.  When did we become a society that is self-serving, self-seeking, and unable to see the other side?

The other side. Now there’s a concept.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you associate yourself, there is, in fact, another side.  Those people – the one’s we love to hate.  We group together with those on our side in order to argue a point to those who will always agree.  We watch the news that caters to our views.  We de-friend, uninvite and oppose all those who are different.

And, why?  Well, I don’t know about you but when I stick to my own kind, I get what I want.  Approval.  It makes it easier for me to justify my views if no one opposes them.  It’s more comfortable.  More enjoyable.  Satisfying.  But also isolating and destructive.

I look at a specific issue and not people.  It’s easy for me to become judgmental especially about those issues that have never been a struggle for me.  For example, I’m a white middle-class female.  I’m married with two children and a dog.  I’m a rule-following perfectionist with control issues.  And, if I only look at life through this lens, well, you better watch out!  I’ll stuff you into a type-A box so fast you won’t see what hit you.  You’ll be making lists, coloring inside the lines, and organizing the custom life planner that you never knew you always wanted.  Sounds fun – doesn’t it?

No, that even sounds horrible to me – and I do all those things.  People, please hear me!!!  For the love of all things holy – we are supposed to be – created to be – DIFFERENT.

A few days ago, I was making my morning smoothie and just like every morning I offered some to my seven-year-old.  He declined and said to me, “When are you gonna realize we’re different?  I don’t like smoothies”.  I laughed but found so much wisdom in his words.  What if we all realized that the person across the line we drew in the sand was different – not wrong, but different?  What kind of progress would we make if we could just step outside of ourselves, even for a moment, and look at things from the other side.

There is a passage in Mark 4-5 and Luke 8 describing a situation in which Jesus and his disciples go to the “other side” in the “region of Gerasenes”.  Why is the region significant? –  because this was gentile territory.  Let me explain…. synonyms for gentiles include heathen, heretic, pagan, unbeliever – everything opposite of the Jews.  Now, why would Jesus willingly go over to the other side.  Well maybe because he knew there was a man and a region of people who needed him and the only way to reach them was to go to the other side.

Upon arrival to the other side, Jesus and his disciples find a demon-possessed man “chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places”.  Can you imagine the look on the disciples faces?  Really, Jesus, really???  You brought us to the other side, the land of heathens, and this is the welcoming committee?? Really??  So, in true form, Jesus casts out the demons and sends them into pigs – Wow, never a dull moment.  And, Luke reports that the people of Gerasenes were afraid and asked Jesus to leave.  I bet so.  I mean, here’s a Jew, whom we don’t associate with, who just casts demons out of the town freak and sent them into pigs.  Yep – just go.

Now, does Jesus argue his point, his views, or his purpose – No.  Luke tells us that he “got into the boat and left”.  Now the demon-possessed man begged to go with Jesus – can you blame him – dude was chained hand and foot because of the demons and now he’s free.  I’d be begging too.  But, Jesus said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you”.  And, Mark tells us that the man did just that and “all the people were amazed.”

Now, what is the point of all of this?  Well, to reach people, Jesus knew that he had to go to them and cross over to the other side.  He didn’t go preach and yell at them.  He didn’t tell them how horrible they were.  He didn’t bombard them with hateful social medial posts (see what I did there?) – he found their most troubled citizen and healed him.  Now, the people were scared and when asked to leave – Jesus left.  But, don’t be mistaken – his message and, ultimately, the reason he went to the region in the first place – remained.  And, although the bible doesn’t elaborate, we do know that they were amazed and maybe changed.

Even if you don’t believe in the bible, Jesus, or miracles, there is still a lesson to be learned.  The people most different from us, most frustrating to us, and most unlike us will not be reached through division.  They may, however, be reached or changed if we go to the other side and make a connection.

Well, I guess I did have something to say!!!!  I’ll just step off this soapbox and be on my way.  My hope is that you’ll find these words encouraging, and the next time you’re tempted to rip someone to shreds on social media (or maybe in line at the grocery store) you’ll reconsider and take a little walk to other side.

Mary Ann

 

 

 

Mr.  Misunderstood 

Over the past several months, I’ve found myself in an almost constant misunderstanding.  Not a fighting or quarreling state – not an anger state – just misunderstanding state over and over again with various relationships, job struggles, church struggles, etc.  I just keep saying, mostly to my husband – “I just don’t understand” – “I don’t get it”.

To further help you understand my misunderstandings, I’ll provide you with a short list of my most recent frustrations….

  • I don’t understand common core math – both its purpose and logic.  It makes me look stupid in front of my child.  (also a little tip for parents out there who share this position – Google it – my child’s book bag contains no actual books or examples – just Google it)
  • I don’t understand why paper towel dispensers only provide enough paper towel to dry a chicken’s foot.  I have two hands – TWO – and when one of those evil machines gives me a tiny piece of paper towel to dry two hands, I will – let me repeat – I will stand there and take at least one more than I need just to prove my point.  No one actually sees this, but I feel better when leaving a public restroom.  And, don’t even get me started on the devil hand dryers that don’t actually dry your hands!!!
  • I don’t understand people who don’t eat spicy foods.
  • I don’t understand why we all can’t just get along.
  • I don’t understand why my church that has been a place of grace, community, and so many other things to my family is going through an unbelievable time of transition.
  • I don’t understand why some marriages fall apart and some, like mine, are spared.
  • I don’t understand racism, prejudice, and judgment.  I do understand that it usually stems from fear, but what are we so scared of?
  • I don’t understand addiction and why it holds so many people captive.
  • And, finally, I don’t understand 7-year old boys.

There, I said it.  Confession:  over the past 6 months I have increasingly been unable to understand my own child.  He’s seven.  He’s silly.  He loves bathroom humor.  He loves video games and really pointless TV shows.  He’s got enough energy for three children and he’s at an age that I just don’t understand.  I mean, I get all the important stuff.  I know his preferences, his little dreams, what he needs, and what he wants.  But, I’ve recently had a hard time with the connection.  We’ve been on different pages – his behavior towards me is sometimes less than acceptable and my patience is the same.  He’s changed from a little boy to a big boy and what used to connect us is no longer working.

I even had a conversation with my husband about this just a few weeks ago.  This was super hard for me because I’m not one to admit defeat quickly.  But since I’ve never been a 7-year-old boy, I begged for help.  His advice – show interest in what he likes.  Well that seems simple enough, but when one is terrible at flying drones and playing video games – not so much!!!  Nonetheless, I’m trying.

What I’ve learned in the short few weeks since that conversation is priceless.  This little boy has taught me how to fly the drone, not very well but it’s flying.  I’ve learned a few new dance moves and dinosaur names.  He’s taught me how to build a Minecraft house, play a goat game, and I’ve even participated in the bathroom humor.  And, you know what, both of our behavior has changed.  I’m more patient and he’s more obedient.  Imagine that!!!

The point of all of this is when you are in a state of misunderstanding, you’ve got a lot of learning to do.  You may never understand the reasons why something is the way it is, but if you want to connect with that thing or that someone you don’t understand you must be willing to learn new things.  Here’s a few tips from my recent revelation….

  • LISTEN.  Let me repeat – LISTEN.  James 1:19 teaches us to be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak”.  There have been times when I did not stop to listen to my young son.  I saw an action and immediately disciplined.  Maybe his wild silly behavior just needed to be redirected or maybe I just needed to pay attention – OUCH!!!  SLOW DOWN and listen. Here’s a little public service announcement for all the leaders out there (this includes all parents):  those under your authority need to know that you hear them.  They need less talk!!!  More listening!!!  Proverbs 18:13 also gives us a warning:  “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame”.  I’ll just leave that right there for you to ponder.
  • Ask for help – from someone who has been there and is in a position to give it.  That’s why I asked my husband.  I’ve never been a 7 year old boy – he has.  I’ve also asked my son to help me learn the things he likes.  Let me tell you, when you ask a little boy to help you fly a drone, he will light up like a Christmas tree.
  • Don’t accept the notion that “this is the way it is”.  Its easier for me to say, “I’m not used to boys because I only have sisters” or “it’s a stage” than to admit that I need to change.  Try for goodness sake!!!  I may never completely understand 7-year-old boys, but I will try my best to make a better connection.  As he changes, so will my try.

I’ll leave you with one quick little story that hopefully demonstrates all of the above.  This actually happened a few months ago and if I’d stayed with these actions maybe my recent learning curve would not have been so steep.  My son came into my room and said, “I’ve learned a new song”.  He then started singing “Baby Got Back”.  He only knew a few words as he had surely only heard another child’s rendition.  I was then faced with quite the dilemma – Do I sharply discipline because of the inappropriateness of this song or do I break it down right there and sing all the lyrics.  I chose the latter.  All I can say is – MIND BLOWN.  He looked at me in complete shock and said, “Mom, that was awesome”.  Now I’m not recommending that you teach your children 90’s rap, but do believe in hidden opportunities.  He is still talking about the time that mom went straight gangsta in her bedroom.  It reminds me of the time when my own mother did the twist like a pro at my sister’s wedding and when my dad knew who Queen was – MIND BLOWN=CONNECTION.

I’m sure this son of mine, and my daughter too, will go through thousands of moments of misunderstanding over the next few years.  I will be constantly listening, asking for help and trying hard to understand them as my parents surely did for me.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll reach out to the paper towel dispenser company to clear up our misunderstanding too!

Mary Ann

 

 

 

 

 

Water Walking

Happy New Year Everyone!!!  It’s 2017.  Can you believe it?  Honestly its a little unbelievable to me that the year could actually be 2017.  I mean I’m still walking around thinking I’m 27, singing the best of TLC and maybe a little 90’s country, and hoping that people born in 1994 aren’t actually old enough to vote.  Did you know that someone in their early 20’s actually asked me who Tom Cruise was a few months ago?  My response was, “get out of my office”.  I was mostly joking, in a serious sort of way, but really mostly joking.  How can this be?  I’m actually 36, currently watching Dora the Explorer with a 2-year-old, and planning my evening meal of black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread that my children will surely complain about – but I have to keep this southern tradition alive – otherwise my children will have no idea what to eat on New Year’s Day when they’re 36 and probably living on Mars.

Seriously, though, how exciting is it to live right now?  Things change so fast that I can’t possibly keep up with what the kids are doing.  I recently joined the snap chat world and although I had a long tutorial from my 14-year-old nephew over Christmas, I still don’t get the point.  But, I will continue to try this form of communication and put my face in awkward deer designs as to attempt conversation with the Millennials in my life that I love dearly.  After all, I do get a good laugh and a funny deer face never hurt anyone.

So what are your hopes and dreams in 2017?  Resolutions? New goals?  Well, I’m not big on the New Year’s Resolutions.  It reminds me of dieting or restriction and that is painful to me.  I believe in healthy living and all but it really must be a lifestyle and to me diet is temporary – something that I know will not last – so why even try?  So I try to start the new year with more of restoration period.  A time to look at what’s working, what’s not and rebuild so to speak.

For me, this year I just want to have a little less fear and a lot more faith.  I want to take more risks.  Less worry and more trust.  So, how you ask?  How do you make lasting restorative change? Honestly, I’m not sure but as I think about my own life and faith/trust journey it has happened little-by-little with short bursts of water-walking faith.

Matthew 14 describes a scene where Jesus had just heard of the death of John the Baptist and he was trying to find a “solitary place” – I’m sure to contemplate the news.  Unfortunately, however, Jesus was somewhat of a celebrity and was followed by crowds of people.  Because the people were hungry, he then performed a miracle of feeding the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish.  At this point, still needing time to himself, Jesus asked the disciples to go ahead of him on the boat.  Early in the morning, Jesus began walking on water to get in the boat.  According to the bible, the disciples were “terrified”.  Now I would think after all the miracles the disciples had witnessed they would be used to strange things by now, but since I’m somewhat of a “jumpy” person who can easily be frightened by predictable “tricks” of my seven-year-old, I’ll cut them some slack.  Anyway, Jesus said in verse 27, “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid”….. and Peter said, “tell me to come to you on the water”.  “Come, he said”.  “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus”.

Now if you’ve heard this story before you know that shortly after the stroll on the water began, Peter “saw the wind,… was afraid….(and began) to sink”.  He cried out to the Lord and Jesus reached out and saved him.  There are thousands of good lessons here but I want to focus on the part of the story where Peter got out of the boat.  Think about that for a minute – he got out of a perfectly good boat and came toward Jesus.  Was he afraid?  Yes.  Did he lose his nerve right in the middle?  Yes.  Did he need to be rescued?  Yes.  But he was the only one that got out of the boat.  There were 12 disciples and 11 of them stayed in the boat.  Peter was the only one who knew what it was like to walk on water.    For a moment, even in fear, Peter got out of the boat to walk toward Jesus.  For a moment, faith conquered fear.  For a moment, Peter believed the words of Jesus “don’t be afraid” and took him at his word and walked on water.   Peter said, “tell me (what to do)” and Jesus said “come (to me)”.

So, how do I have less fear this year?  More faith.  How do I worry less?  More faith.  How do I take more risks?  More faith.  How do I make lasting, restorative change?  More faith.  Not perfect faith.  Not mind altering faith without fear involved.  Maybe just short bursts of water-walking faith.  Maybe with your knees shaking and your hands trembling.  Maybe you just take Him at His word, even if just for a moment, and believe what He says, “don’t be afraid”.

So this year, my prayer for myself and for you is just a little more faith.  When you’re faced with difficult decisions. When life is hard.  When life is great.   Just a little more faith – bursts of water-walking faith.  These moments make all the difference and change us forever.  So, let’s go 2017!!!  Let’s get out of the boat, walk toward Jesus and, who knows, we may just walk on water!

Mary Ann

Treasure Up

One of the things I really dislike about living in Middle Tennessee is the end of daylight saving time.  I’m so close to the eastern time zone that I could almost reach out and touch it, yet I’m still forced to live an hour behind.  That, my dear friends, means that it gets dark at 4:30pm.  I literally feel your heart ache for me as you read this.  I’m fully aware that this is a first world problem and I should just grow up and get over it, but when I walk to my car every evening at 5ish in pitch black darkness I die a little inside.  The only thing that makes this tolerable right now is Christmas lights.  Every evening, I pass house after house after house full of lights- some nice and elegant – some tacky – some that have been up since last year – but all of them put a little smile on my face and warm my winter-hating heart.

There is one house in particular that caught my eye last week.   The house was lit with white lights strung from the porch down to a nativity scene.  There were little plastic figures of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, and an angel gathered neatly around a little manger holding baby Jesus.  As I passed this house, I began to think:  Is that what really happened?  Did everyone gather around the baby in perfect form, all in a neat little row?  I’m not buying it.

Now the bible does not give a full play-by-play of the birth of Jesus but the books of Matthew and Luke provide us with a little sneak peak.  Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but became pregnant – oops!  Well, as it turns out she became pregnant through the Holy Spirit and the little baby she was carrying was the Son of God.  Now, I’m sure that no one believed that story and neither did Joseph because Matthew tells us that he was planning to quietly divorce her.  I know that I just said they were “pledged” to be married but then Joseph was going to divorce her?  Well, this was before the Bachelor, so if you said you were gonna marry someone, you better be serious because in those days you couldn’t just give the ring back and provide an interview to People magazine – it required divorce.  Anyway, an angel appeared to Joseph and smoothed things over assuring him that Mary was telling the truth.  There they were – a young Jewish couple, with an unplanned pregnancy, who had just encountered angels, and most likely overwhelmed with their newly given task of raising the Son of God – no pressure.

Intrigued?  I’ll continue.  While pregnant, Mary had to travel with Joseph to Bethlehem for a census.  According to the footnotes in my bible, this was a least a three day trip.  Now, I am pretty sure that they didn’t travel in any luxury capacity – so a three day pregnant trip, most likely on the back of a camel or a donkey – no thanks!  We also know that while she was there, in Bethlehem, she went into labor.  The details of this blessed event are somewhat short and sweet, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).  Most nativity scenes appear to take place in a barn or a stable.  Honestly I’m not really sure, but since they were apparently looking for an inn, the setting for the birth of the little baby Jesus was not ideal.  I mean, she was giving birth to the Son of God in a makeshift room with a manger as a bed for her newborn that was going to save the world.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here-I’m guessing Mary was not as put together as she appears in those little plastic figures.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure the birth of Christ was nothing short of amazing, but please don’t be deceived – it was still a birth.  I’ve had two children in the very controlled setting of an operating room, and even with the latest and greatest medical equipment and knowledge literally at my fingertips, I was overwhelmed.  Can you imagine what Mary was feeling?  Not to mention the awkward presence of the shepherds, the wise men who just showed up out of nowhere.  But, I also imagine if an angel has appeared to you and you became pregnant by the Holy Spirit – at this point, a few strangers are no big deal.  And if all of this is not enough, King Herod wanted to kill the little baby King.  So, I’m sure as they were living as refugees in Egypt, the promise of a savior seemed out of reach.

Have you been there?  In a messy situation that was completely off course?  Have you ever planned for something and things are not turning out the way you planned?  This reason right here is why I love the Christmas story.  Christ was born into a messy situation and his parents were literally hanging on by a promise.  The fact that this is how our Savior was born proves that He’s not scared, embarrassed or ashamed of my mess.  He’s familiar with messy – He can handle it.  And, when I read the scriptures about Mary and Joseph I see a familiar theme – in the middle of the mess, they continued to believe.

They believed when everyone thought they were crazy.  They believed when there was no room in the inn.  They believed when they fled to Egypt.  They believed when Jesus was a young boy in the temple.  They believed when He turned water to wine, healed the sick, raised the dead, when He was wrongly accused, convicted and crucified on a cross.  They believed through the mess.

Why?  Because of a promise that was placed deep in their hearts.  Luke tells us that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”.  She stored them up, she “pondered” them, she held them close.  And, although I don’t have proof of this, I imagine as she moved from one messy situation to another, she remembered the promise of a savior and her belief was renewed.

So wherever you find yourself, remember that God is present in your mess.  Right there in the middle.  He’s not a sideline coach or an innocent bystander.  He chose to show up mid-mess, when the light was dim and the promise was almost out of reach.  God became human to fulfill a promise to His people and save them from their sins.

Therefore, treasure up.  Do you have a promise that was placed in your heart?  Treasure up when life gets messy.  Treasure up when the light is dim.  Treasure up when the promise is almost out of reach and continue to believe.  Treasure up and look around.  God presents himself in the most unlikely places and fulfills His promises in the most unexpected messy ways – like a virgin birth with a baby King – so that you will know He showed up.   So this Christmas, treasure up, my friends.  Treasure up.

Mary Ann

 

The Frogs

This month is a very special month to me for many reasons.  The first, very obvious reason, is Christmas.  I love to reminisce about all the wonderful Christmases with my family when I was young.  All of the traditions – some of which I still keep alive today.  I think about my grandparents and how my grandmother would always say, “well its over ’till next year” when we finished opening the presents.  Then, there was this one year when my uncle bought her a present that she really wanted but wouldn’t dare ask for.  I don’t even remember what it was, but when she opened it she said, “my country tis of thee”.  Every time I think of that moment and her smile I can’t help but laugh and tear up at the same time – man, I miss her!!!

But, this month is also special because it’s the month I got engaged.  It was December 20th, just five days before Christmas.  We went to dinner and my soon-to-be fiancé was so nervous he couldn’t carry on a conversation.  Then, suddenly, he just kinda fell on one knee and popped the question.  We were so young, so in love and so stupid at the same time.  We had big dreams, little pocket books and nothing but blue skies – or so we thought.  I guess we were somewhat “typical” of most young couples – starry eyes and miles of rough terrain ahead.

The first year of marriage was really very easy.  We had always lived about three hours away from each other, so just being together most of the time was kinda nice.  The second year, we moved to Nashville and I’m not gonna lie to ya – it was pretty rough.  Everything was different – he went from being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in an ocean.  I didn’t know anyone really and we both took a large pay cut when we moved.  We plowed through, however, and things gradually began to improve.  Then, there was year three through five – I was in graduate school and I really don’t remember much of anything except the Krebs cycle, talk of action potentials, cytochrome P450, calculating GFR, mg/kg/hr, etc. (if you’re a nurse you know what I’m talking about and I bet you just shivered – if not, please disregard).  Anyway, I finally graduated, had a baby about two years later and then, in year seven, things began to unravel.

I’ll skip the details because it’s always the root of the problem that matters.  But, we had become okay with mediocre.  We had grown apart for a lot of reasons: graduate school, he traveled more, and a baby.  These things are natural and happen to most people I think; but the problem is that we accepted this as a normal part of life and forgot to reconnect and fix it.  We got used to it, okay with it  – and what is the “it” you ask?  We became used to the frogs.

I know this sounds crazy but let me explain.  The scene takes place in Exodus 8.  The background is that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and God sent plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians in order to free the Israelites.  The plague of the frogs is particularly annoying and gross to me.  Apparently the frogs were everywhere – “the Nile will teem with frogs.  They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs.  The frogs will go up on you and your people and all your officials” (Exodus 8:3-4).  Gag!!!  Then Pharaoh asked Moses to pray and ask the Lord to cancel the frog thing.  And, Moses was like, okay, when would you like for them to leave?  And Pharaoh said, “tomorrow”.

What? Tomorrow?  Are you kidding me?  There are frogs in my bed, my oven and jumping all over me.  Not tomorrow – how about “yesterday” for an answer – or a simple “now, right now”.  But no – he said tomorrow.

I’m sure that theologians and scholars have very sophisticated lessons to learn from this passage of scripture, but I think maybe Pharaoh was just used to the frogs.  I first heard this message preached a few years ago and it was like a light bulb went off.  That’s what happened to my marriage.  We just became used to mediocre, used to distance, used to hit-or-miss connection, and used to just okay.  We didn’t communicate well and sometimes not at all.  We accepted this as “normal”.   We both knew that it wasn’t great but we also weren’t calling lawyers.  We didn’t address the frogs in our home because we settled for a frog-filled life.  Underwhelmed, out of touch, and headed for a break down.

Thankfully, we were jolted into reality pretty quickly and forced to address the frogs or lose it all.  But, I believe that many people spend their whole lives in a frog-filled existence.  It may not be marriage – maybe a career, other relationships, hard to break habits.  We know they aren’t right but we settle because addressing the frogs seems impossible.  So, every night we lie down with the frogs and say “tomorrow”.

What I love about my story is that it ends well – not really ends – continues well, I guess.  We started intense counseling and began addressing the frogs one-by-one.  We started with the big bull frogs and worked our way down.  Frogs are problems and they never really go away but they will move out of your house and into the rivers, ponds, etc. where they belong.  But only, and this is key, if you stop saying tomorrow and start saying now.

If this is you, my prayer is that you will start right now and begin to address the frogs in your life.  Make a phone call, see a counselor, go to meetings, make an appointment with a pastor/friend/confidant – anyone you can trust.  Take one step in the right direction.  It will not be easy.  It will be messy but you are more than mediocre.  You are better than okay.   And, you are worth so much more than the frogs.

Mary Ann

 

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