Last week I shared an image on my social media sites that really spoke to me. It's kind of silly really. It is just my dragon puppet pattern, but before all of his pieces are sewn together.
I looked at him and thought this is so much like us. We are all constant works in progress, and we are at the mercy of those we allow to help assemble us.
The thing is, we all have strings. We are constantly growing, constantly changing, and hopefully constantly learning. But God tells us to be mindful of those we allow to shape us and our lives.
Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.
There are many verses much like this sprinkled throughout Proverbs, warning us of the company we keep. We are taught to be wise and discerning when it comes to choosing our companions, and with good reason.
Those we allow to help us through all of life's changes, those we allow to aid us on this ever changing journey; they have access to our strings. They hold power in our assembly. When I create an item, such as the puppet above, I do so with great care. I want it to be beautiful and creative, and well loved by someone who appreciates its uniqueness. I want each stitch made well, each piece sewn in securely and evenly. I want to be sure it won't fall apart with one tug. I want it to be sturdy and strong for great, creative adventures. We should all have people in our corners, taking such great care of our strings.
But unlike this puppet, we as adults, have a choice as to who we allow in that corner. God has given us the wisdom needed for being discerning about our companionship.
Do you remember the story of of Pinocchio? One thing that always stood out to me, was that when his strings were removed, he made poor choices. He was given a freedom he had never known before. He didn't realize the great care with which his puppet master treated him.
We are not puppets. God did not design us to be controlled by strings. He created us with freedom in mind; the freedom to choose Him, or not; the freedom to choose wise friends, or not; the freedom to make wise choices...or not. Although we are not puppets in this way, we do have strings, and the choices we make determine how we allow those strings to be controlled. We are in need of assembly, of growth, and if we make Christ the keeper of our strings, the head of our work in progress, He will give us the wisdom to surround ourselves with those who will build us up, in Him. He will not leave us alone to try to piece things together ourselves.
I tend to see things differently than most people. I have an inquisitive mind which often asks, "What happened that the camera is not showing?" Or, "What made this person react the way that they did?" People who do not know me or cannot understand me, often accuse me of making excuses for people, or actively searching for ways to excuse bad behavior.
But much like parenting, I don't have to excuse bad behavior to try to get to the root of the problem. Often, knowing exactly what it is we are up against, instead of making assumptions based on only part of a story, can tell us exactly how we should respond, and anger is almost never the correct response.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Not only do we often assume the incorrect response, but it is aslo a misguided reaction. The person you are angry with, is not the enemy.
The person you are angry with is not the enemy.
As with most scripture, God helps me relate, by reminding me of my own parenting experiences. My almost 4 year old daughter and I have been having kind of a rough year. We have been at odds over almost everything. She doesn't want to go potty when I tell her to, or eat when I tell her to, or...pretty much do anything when I tell her to. She has been fighting for control. And while this has been incredibly difficult and exhausting for me, I wanted to see the whole picture, even, or especially, that which she was unable to fully articulate herself. I have tried changing my own tactics. I have tried remaining calm and peaceful in the face of her screaming. I have tried different incentives, and different disciplines, I have lost my patience on multiple occasions, and I have prayed. Throughout all of my observations, God has shown me parts of what my little girl is struggling with.
She lost her playmate this year in her big brother. For all the previous years of her life, she was never without a sibling. When she was born, I was homeschooling, and all four kids were home. Then, for the first two years that the older two kids were in school, she still had one brother here. They didn't always need me. I was able to do dishes and laundry, and tidy up without too much concern. But now he too is in school, and she is lonely, and I am still responsible for the same dishes, and the same laundry, and the same, or often bigger, messes.
When I began to realize some of what her defiance was about, and recognize the pain she hasn't been able to express, I started setting aside more quality time for her, games, reading, trips together to the library, or even the store; anything that makes her feel like we're in this together. Sometimes, instead of using the TV to entertain her while I clean, I will even sit and snuggle with her during her shows. Sure, the house is a mess, and we tend to live in a perpetual state wearing clothes straight out of the dryer, but there's a little more peace, but not because my daughter changed, necessarily, but because God changed me.
When we don't truly know what we are fighting against, Satan can more easily provoke us to anger about all the wrong things, make us doubt ourselves, or those around us, and stir up constant conflict in areas where there could be resolution.
I became insecure about my parenting, I became angry with a defiant child, I lost my patience over things I did not fully understand.
Meanwhile, my child was fighting for control in a world that has been changing around her, and struggling with emotions she could not fully understand.
Is life perfect now that I have figured this out? No. Sometimes I still lose myself in my anger, in rushed moments of chaos, but the realization is eye-opening. When I take the time to remember what it is I am truly fighting, or what it is she is really struggling with, it doesn't always change her behavior, but God reminds me of how to love her through it.
God knows our battles, He knows our enemy, and it is not the people we are at odds with. It is not the people we argue with or the people we disagree with. It is not the people at all. Satan uses these people, these disagreements to stir up conflict in our own hearts.
Knowing your true enemy does not always change the behavior of the person you are struggling with, but rather changes your response to them. Allow God to change your heart. The enemy seeks to stir up distrust and hate and bitterness, but God's truth will bring peace.
Are you a planner? Do you have an organized journal or calendar for planning? Do you make lists of the things you need to get done, day to day, week to week, month to month? Do you plan out quarterly or yearly goals?
I am a wanna-be planner. I pretend to be more organized than I actually am. I buy planners at the beginning of every year, and I start writing things down. But I inevitably become side-tracked, or plans continually change, and I lose track of my plans and my lists. Of course there are missteps, and there is often confusion. If I don't add things to the calendar or my lists, they are easily forgotten. But what I have learned is that God still orders my steps. Life doesn't stop because I have failed to write it down. The problem lies in my failure to consult with God about my plans.
Our human bains often visualize our plans, lists, steps, in a particular order. It might be a mountain, but generally it's still a straight line. And in our humanness, we often think our daily plans are too mundane for God. These are not the things He concerns Himself with. These are just unimportant details of our lives that need to happen. So often, we believe our plans have failed, when they do not go according to our own plans; when instead of a neat straight line, there are zigs and zags, and even drop offs where we lost the plan entirely.
Here's the thing about climbing mountains; it is almost never done in a straight line. You can map out a perfectly good plan in your own head, which seems efficient, and time saving, but some of that path might be dangerous. There may be patches of fog where visibility is poor. There may be areas of loose gravel, where it is difficult to maintain your footing. There may even be times when you have to wait out a storm before continuing on.
And while all you can see at the moment, is the base of the mountain in front of you, and in your head, a straight line up makes the most sense, God can see the whole mountain. He can see the fog. He can see the areas of danger.
Include God in your planning. Take comfort in the zigs and the zags, knowing that your Creator has mapped out the safest, most efficient path, whether you can see that in your humanness or not. Have faith.
Last week we talked about our growth and spiritual maturity, in reference to toddlers. Today, I want to talk about teens. The truth is, our relationship with God often parellels that of children with their parents. With both, we begin as infants, relying on them for everything, trusting them with our lives. As we grow, and learn about the world around us, we begin to question them, and all that they've told us. We rebel, and often turn from their teachings in search of our own understandings. Then, as adults, we often gain a better understanding of how they raised us, and we come to appreciate their discipline and life lessons.
Many of us become stagnant and stuck in the unruly teen years in our relationship with God. I cannot even count the number of times in my life where I have played that part with God, giving Him the silent treatment because I felt like He wasn't listening, or He was never doing what I asked of Him anyway. It sounds silly and selfish when put that way, but don't we all go through that at times? We get tired of praying for the same things over and over again, to no avail. It can be infuriating, feeling like a confused teenager again, asking repeatedly for something, without an understanding as to why your parents won't allow it.
We can still find ourselves, in our rooms, shutting Him out, blaring our music, wrapped in a confusing variety of emotions because things aren't turning out the way we wanted.
But He is still there, waiting.
I found myself in just such a position this fall. I had just gotten over a case of MRSA, which was no fun at all, when my back, for about the 3rd time this year, quit on me. It is an area I have prayed for healing many times; more times than I can count. It is an injury my husband, my family, and my church have prayed for, on multiple occasions. I was sick and tired of the pain, and sick and tired of beating my head against the wall with God. I have never asked my doctor for medication, because I don't even like taking Tylenol, but this time, I was fed up.
In my moment of "I know best, and God won't do what I've asked anyway," I finally asked my doctor for something to help with the pain. I was prescribed a muscle relaxer and a pain killer I was assured was NOT a narcotic, only to get to the pharmacy, and receive all the paperwork warning me about this narcotic, and the potential risks of taking it. I didn't even pray about it. I took them anyway. At least the doctor was helping me, right?
I needn't have worried about a drug addiction. The medicine made me so sick, that it set my healing back several days. I couldn't move. I couldn't get out of bed. My husband had to work. My 3-year old was watching TV downstairs, and I couldn't even open my eyes. At this point, I finally prayed, simply, please help me get through this day.
There was a knock at the door. These days, people just don't "stop in" anymore, and especially not at 8:30 in the morning. I couldn't move, and I couldn't even open my mouth to yell to my daughter. She knew better than to open the door on her own, so she sat watching TV. My cell phone rang next to me, and I saw that it was a mom from our school, the mother of one of my son's friends, that I have been slowly getting to know. She was at the door. I answered the phone, and she knew from my voice something was very wrong. I briefly explained, and we talked Charlotte into opening the door.
This angel from God spent the day cleaning my house, and taking care of my child. Our daughters played, and their laughter and fun carried up the stairs to where I lay, and I knew we were going to be ok. But my pain didn't yet leave, and my struggle wasn't yet over. Still knocked off my feet the following day, another friend called; a church friend that at the moment, didn't know what was going on. She immediately took the afternoon off work and came to take care of my children, feeding them, and providing us all with dinner. The next night our school's principal arrived with meals and bags full of groceries provided by many of the teachers.
In my stubbornness, and eagerness to "do things myself," and in my anger and bitterness with Him, He could have shut me out, the way I was shutting Him out. He could have spitefully turned His back on me and walked away, but He didn't. He showed mercy and compassion in my time of need. I waited until I was completely out of other options before asking Him for help, and yet He came. He assembled an army around me to get me back on my feet and take care of my family in the process.
This is a lesson I have had to learn over and over again.
8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
~ 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
When we think we know it all, and we know better than God, it doesn't make Him any less God. It simply prevents us from receiving the grace and the power of Christ.
Maybe God is preparing His army for you today. He's just waiting for your signal.
Our youngest daughter is less than 3 months away from turning 4 years old, and up until last week, we could not get her to use the toilet. There were none of the tell tale signs of being ready for potty training; no dry morning or post nap diapers, no warning signals as she was about to go. In fact, she didn't seem at all aware of when she was going. There was not a single motivating bribe that seemed to interest her to even try. I tried stickers, suckers, and chocolates. She would just say, "No, thanks." I bought fun, themed underpants of which she had little to no interest in wearing.
I actually gave up trying because my back wasn't well enough for the battles, and I could so much as dangle an M&M in front of her face, and she'd just say, "Nah," and proceed to use her diaper.
A little less than two weeks ago, she began telling us when she had to go, and suddenly, because it was hers, using the potty seemed like the best idea ever! And she didn't forget about those M&Ms tucked away in the cupboard either. After completing the task of using the potty, she exclaimed, "Yay! Now I can have my special treat!"
I had stopped bribing her. I had stopped offering her the candy. I had stopped forcing my own will upon her. She is living in a house with 5 other humans who know how to use the toilet. She has seen it done her whole life. She has had all the tools and all the knowledge she has needed, but until that very moment, she just wasn't ready.
How often do we turn away God's blessings; God's M&Ms if you will, because we are not ready for the responsibility? When we have not yet matured enough, spiritually, to do what God has called us to do, we are essentially saying, "Nah. No, thanks. I'm good just like this, sitting in my own mess." Nevermind all the M&Ms. Just the freedom alone that this task provides, is a blessing in and of itself.
My daughter may have felt that going potty was taking away valuable play time. She didn't realize that much more time was wasted on the changing table. She may have felt that the toilet was big and scary and loud, but really, it takes care of her messes for her, so she doesn't have to sit in them. She can be clean and free.
What does that sound like?
God has given us free will to choose. He has allowed for us to make our own decisions. But, He also has great plans for us if we follow His teachings. Sometimes that step toward His will can be scary. It can feel like we don't know what we're doing or we don't have the time. It might be loud, and it might be completely different from what we're used to. But if we lean into Him, there is freedom and cleansing in His will, and He is waiting there, with His blessing for our obedience.
When God holds that M&M out for you, will you be ready to receive it?
As a wife, mom of 4, and business owner, finding time to spend in the Word, can be difficult, so I get it! Come join me each Monday for a simple message of hope, faith, and encouragement amidst some honest mommy moments.
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