Pull down that monument to Maria!

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Others may brag about themselves, but I have more reason to brag than anyone else…… Philippians 3:4 CEV

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:8 ESV

I’ve been angsting for almost two years about whether to continue or to give up a YouTube channel that I created to help people acquire English. I started it with the idea of eventually replacing my classroom teacher’s income.  But the Lord worked out a different way to provide enough money when he rapidly moved Mike into a new job that required us to move here to Huntsville, Alabama.  I left my classroom before the school year ended and no longer needed to work.

Thus vanished my initial ‘why’ for the channel. Nevertheless, I continued creating weekly videos to help English language learners, referring to it as my ‘volunteer work’.  But the truth was I NEEDED to feel special about myself, to have an identity that was ‘interesting.’  Having lost the cachet or distinction of teaching French, I found myself clinging to this enterprise of being a content provider. But soon it began to feel like an obligation, not an ‘Oh, yay!  I GET to create another video!’

Over the past few months, I have worked to find out just what is behind this desperate desire to continue if it no longer gives me joy.  Of course, the One whose desire is to make me (and all believers) more holy has been gently but steadily pushing me to see the ugliness underneath this disordered need.

Recently, my personal trainer, the Holy Spirit, showed me that I have been chiseling a monument to Maria by continuing with English without Fear. Ouch! Embarrassing, but true.  

Further reflection along with a glimpse of my ‘ego-based yuck’ prompted this realization.

  • ‘It’s this need to feel special, Maria, that’s causing you to cling tightly to this English learning channel.’

With that insight, I then asked myself, ‘What does special mean? What’s that all about?’

The answer popped quickly into my mind. Feeling special is that craving to be admired as unique and different, all the while doing one’s inner ‘superior dance’.

Oh, my! It wasn’t long before I recalled Paul’s recitation of all the reasons that made him ‘special’.  Writing the Philippians, he rattled off his singular, stellar pedigree.

Oh, I so identify with him. I know he must have taken pride in his credentials and experiences.  For that is me!

But look at how he concluded what appears to be boasting.  In listing each credential, I think Paul is simply presenting the facts. God did privilege him.  But now, Paul has seen something far more satisfying, knowing Christ.  

Having my eyes now open to what has driven me all my life, I thank God for showing me the underlying motivation for much of my life.  I don’t yet desire Jesus’ glory like I long to, but I now know how to pray.

 “Father, give me Paul’s eyes and heart to feel as he does.  All my ‘specialness’ is but rubbish compared to intimacy with you.” 

In line with the wave of dismantling Confederate statues in the US, I am taking the first step toward a right view of God and myself by tearing down this ‘monument to Maria’.

And the YouTube channel?  I sense it’s time to close out that chapter.  It feeds my ego and feels burdensome.  From this point forward, if there is anyone interested in knowing how to acquire a language, I’m going face to face. That can be in person or through Zoom.  But no more just putting out new content week by week on the web.

The lure of wanting to be ‘enough’ versus the freedom of humility

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Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves Matthew 6:24 NIV

For decades, I have subconsciously felt that I am ‘not enough’ as I am and have compensated, without being aware of how much. 

Slowly over the months, God has been guiding me in a new sanctifying journey of coming face to face with what I now see as a sinful reaction to feeling like I am not enough. 

I believe I started to craft a ‘worthy’ persona in my sophomore year of high school.  Trying out and NOT being selected for a drill/dance team (one step down from the cheerleaders) together with a sense that I wasn’t popular changed my direction. I buried myself in academics. Not a bad thing in itself.  But it initiated a trajectory of increasing drivenness.

Something happened last fall to trigger this new phase of spiritual growth. Graham, my son, shared a podcast interview with guest Jamie Winship. When Jamie named that feeling of ‘not being enough’, God touched something in my core, that released tears.

Jamie went on to describe the freedom that comes from just journaling or talking out loud to Jesus about raw feelings and listening to what He says through Scripture. Since then, God has slowly been revealing the sin that drives one to craft a persona that is ‘worthy’ of the world’s attention.

Summer arrived and the process of leaving ‘enoughness’ to Jesus gained speed.  An overnight retreat and catch-up with my dear friend Regina brought painful but liberating insights.  As she listened to me, I suddenly could see how like Martha I have been and how much more like Mary I long to be.

Regina reminded me of Jesus’ humility and mentioned author Andrew Murray.  A few weeks later Regina gifted me with Murray’s book entitled, Humility and Absolute Surrender.

Then last week, at the end of August, Mike and I spent 5 days in mountains of North Georgia. We spent our mornings slowly, savoring the beauty as we read God’s word, thought, prayed and shared insights.

What I am learning from Andrew Murray’s book is this fact:

  • I am not enough and neither are you.  That is by God’s purposeful design for David writes in Psalm 22:9 (NIV) ….. you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.

So, my self-assessment at age 15 was accurate. The truth is, God did not design any of us to be enough, to be self-sufficient. He created us to be 100% dependent on Him, to be needy as a nursing baby.

I see now that although I accurately assessed my condition back in the ‘70s, I didn’t see that TWO paths lay before me.  I listened only to Satan’s solution, that of ‘making myself enough’. All along, another choice waited, that of owning my ‘not enoughness’ and embracing God’s plan for JESUS to be my sufficiency!

But, how would I have known?  I didn’t grow up in a Christian home.  I didn’t know anything about God other than a vague notion that He existed.

Murray presents the two paths, or you could say, the two kingdoms.  Satan encourages us to live in the Kingdom of Pride of Self (as I’m calling it) and Jesus invites us into his Kingdom of Humility.

As that opening verse from Matthew declares, the way into the Kingdom of Humility is to deny oneself.  For me, I define that as ‘stop feeding what make you think you are special.’   I don’t think I struggle with wanting to be self-sufficient. Ever since I became a Christian, I have prayed for what I need. But I now see that I take pride in so many aspects of Maria.  Every judgment I make about someone, practically without thinking, is a 180-degree statement of what makes Maria special.

Murray is providing me with new ideas, such as:

  • the glory of being just an empty vase chosen by God
  • how Jesus emptied himself
  • the freedom of being nothing
  • the spaciousness of letting everyone be better than me
  • the leisure of seeking only to learn humility from my Champion and serving my fellow man

I have much to learn and to put into practice.  But I feel hope-filled for the first time in a long time.  Thanks be to God!

The twin evils of smugness and envy

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I was feeling smug. Admiring my ability to juggle this and that. Compared to others.  Evaluating myself next to another sister. He pulled me up short. As realization of sin spread, so did horror.

Juggling life

“I repent, Lord! Forgive me! I see! Truly! I humble myself. You don’t need to do anything else to get my attention. Seriously!”

 

For what had flashed across my consciousness about God was this:

“You, the all-wise and infinitely good God, have perfectly arranged this fellow Christian’s plate with the appropriate palate of weaknesses, strengths, characteristics, bents, abilities, talents, habits (good and bad), circumstances, and experiences all intended for her to grow in the knowledge and love of your Son. Every piece on that plate of hers is necessary to her sanctification and growth in holiness. You planned each one, the good and the ugly!”

And You have done the same for me. Who am I to boast about this or that as though they were due to my efforts and smarts? All along You are the one who has traced out our paths? And more pointedly, who am I to complain about the potholes in the road if they are according to Your will?

“Father, I see that this constant comparing of me with others produce either envy or pride and both are evil! Deliver me from these sins, please! Pride says: Look at me!  Envy says: You are a bad God not to give me what I want/deserve!

Since that day a week ago, He has continued to show me that He does indeed ordain and govern all circumstances. Because He is in charge of every molecule in the universe I can trust what He commands me to do:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6-8

Not evaluating, not judging the circumstances of others is wise. That’s God’s business. Do you remember Peter’s comment to Jesus as told by John after Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples post resurrection?

“So Peter seeing him (John) said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man? Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’” John 21:21-22

Several times a day as my smug-o-meter rises, (that is – when I awake to this sin), I put myself back in my place. I say to myself:

“Maria, you have died! And the life you now live, you live by faith in Jesus. (Gal 2:20) That is to say – you move and live and have your being attached to Him. If there be any good in your life, it is only good because of Him. So give it up, this thinking that there is something good in or about you alone!”

That truth not only humbles me, but it liberates me. Since all that is good in me through faith is a gift, I don’t have to worry about earning it. And since Jesus has given me the most costly gift, Himself, I can trust Him to give me any and all such that He deems good for me for godliness and life (2 Peter 1:3)

PS:  When I caught myself later on in the week doing my ‘I’m-so-good dance’, I realized that God was showing me a specific way to PRAY for this fellow Christian.  Again, I repented.  We are all different, intentionally.  He has arranged each of us in the Body of Christ as He sees fit.  Therefore, we are to encourage and pray for one another. It’s in our best interests, after all.  Another gentle smack-down!

New Beginnings….. or Repentance aka 180 turnabout

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There’s NO way – I don’t HAVE the time!

No time

Have you ever found yourself going ’round and round’ with the same problem, unable to see a way forward?

Time is always the most stalwart of constraints, or so I thought until a new idea collided with my lifestyle time routine.

Over the years as the internet has exploded with content, I have gradually added to my daily life blog posts in both French and English about logic, French culture, teaching foreign languages, apologetics, Biblical Christianity, word origins, cooking and fitness.  Innocent at first, prideful as time passed, I got used to  beaming inwardly at having grown into a well-read, thinking person.  On top of that I would boast (to myself of course!) how I was not like others who WASTE time with TV and idle chatter, but I was one of those few ‘efficient users of time’.

Truth be told, I had become a slave to all the content, spending up to one and a half hours a day reading, saving and forwarding on to friends and family (I truly apologize for blitzing your inboxes with stuff – all very ‘good for you’, you know!)   I took pride in this self-appointed ‘job’, yet felt constrained as I continually pushed up against the 24 hours that God has allotted to each one of us.

*

Then an offer to audit an on-line seminary course on Biblical Womanhood arrived and I was intrigued.

Info about the course is here

Realistically, I knew that there was NO WAY I could fit the required on-line viewing, reading and study into my soon-to-ramp up teaching life this fall unless I eliminated something.

Here’s where God came in – by His providential timing, my oldest son Graham gifted me with a book he re-reads every year.  Pen in hand, I started working through it this week.  Some of Tim Ferriss’ ideas shattered my self-limiting notions about time!Four Hour Work Week

 

 

 

 

  • Being busy is a form of laziness
  • Lack of time is actually lack of priorities

I have ALWAYS asked God to stretch my time, but never have I asked Him to re-order my activities or even IF what I was doing was what He wanted me to do with my His time. 

If you haven’t guessed already, I like to read.  I REALLY like books and there’s never enough TIME!

So prompted by the impending collision of Tim Ferriss’  new ideas AND the desire to add something to my life, I turned ruthless!

  • Yesterday I unsubscribed from all but 3 email blogs,
  • eliminated ALL my Feedly subscriptions
  • and even dropped off the professional list-serves I have followed for 13 years.

This is good news for ALL of my friends and family.  I won’t be passing on more stuff that you either

-read out of politeness and delete

-or delete and feel guilty about

Change can exercise a snow-ball effect.  Along with freeing up study time by eliminating screen time, I have decided that the amount of sleep I get during the summer when I’m not in school is what I really need to feel good.  So come the start of the new school year, I will do the following: instead of getting up super early in time BOTH to walk AND do my daily Bible study ‘cum’ prayers, I will sleep the 7 and one half hours optimal for me and shift Bible time to the evenings when I’m not rushed.

As David prayed in Psalm 31, verse 15:

My times are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies

My Times are in your hands

 

 

 

I used to ask God to STRETCH ‘my’ time.  How arrogant – as though I knew best how to fill the time allotted to me!

It’s BABY STEPS in this new way of asking Him what He wants me to do with HIS time entrusted to me to steward.

Question: What new idea from God has recently turned YOUR world upside down?

Wanting to be admired

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  MeVoilà my favorite topic – me! 

 

I’ve grown increasingly aware via my lived-out experiences as well as through reading Christian authors of this unpleasant fact: the more we grow in our knowledge of God and His standards of holiness, the more we realize how far short we fall.

 (Thank the good Lord that our salvation does NOT depend on meeting the bar, but on what Jesus did on our behalf!) 

So when the desire rises in me to boast, in a fake nonchalant way about myself or my kids, I have to pray to resist this pathetic urge.  For that is what it is – sick self-aggrandizement!

Why should I brag about how XYZ I am as though it is a true representation of my value?  Because it’s NOT who I really am.  Yes, I feel a momentary rush as I bask in my own self-proclaimed glory, whether you admire me or not.  But here’s the rub: it’s not the total picture of who I am.

Imposter Syndrom

To be honest, if you knew all those thoughts and feelings and actions that I keep from you, you’d laugh to think that I, Maria, even thought highly of herself for one moment.

 

 

 

 

So there we were last night enjoying supper with some friends on our deck overlooking God’s splendor.

Early Morning Mist at Gilead House - 14 June

And I was aware of wanting them to be impressed with how well I cooked as well as how smart, hardworking, well-read and fit I was.  And at the same time, I knew that to drop hints of my fake-veiled glory was to steal glory form the One who alone deserves to be magnified – Jesus Christ.  I even prayed about my tendency ahead of time, knowing that it would far better to do otherwise.  Admiring Jesus could be potentially life-giving to them and it certainly would satisfy me more deeply.

I think God allowed me to fall again into this sin and then have the opportunity in church today to repent and long to kill that instinct through His grace – aka HS power.  These 2 verses describe the Maria I want to be:

Psalm 34 – 2 to 3

My life makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble and afflicted hear and be glad.

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.

 

Measuring others based on which standards?

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My husband and I were discussing different character attributes of people the other day.  I realize that I am fairly judgmental about people (I know that comes as a surprise to you!), but what was a new thought to me was the question of which standard I use.

I realized that I measure others based on the metric of MY strengths and what’s important to me.

Let’s imagine that maintaining a super clean house was high on my list. (it’s not)

So according to my theory – I would evaluate others on how well they achieve the standard that comes easily or naturally to me.

Do you see how ‘playing this game’ makes me a winner each time and feeds my judgmentalism?

But what if OTHERS take THEIR strengths and use them as a grid for seeing how well I do?  Ouch!!!

And what if I am not even AWARE that I’m being evaluated? After all, do all my ‘judgees’ know how they rate on Maria’s scale?

This was a new thought – and a disturbing one. I realize that in every movie I spin,  I’m  the ‘STAR’, the hero/the good guy  in my movie about myself.

What are some external behavioral ways people might judge their fellow man or woman made in God’s image?  Off the top of my head, I thought of possible standards one might ‘secretly’ impose on others:

  • how they dress or fix their hair; whether they keep nails manicured
  • how their children behave or achieve academically
  • type of schooling they choose for their children
  • how generous they are with their time or wealth with friends and ‘strangers’
  • degree of community involvement
  • type of meals served at home, if any
  • how hospitable they are
  • skill in driving
  • whether ‘writing thank-you notes’ is part of their normal behavior
  • how they keep in shape physically
  • ambitiousness at work; degree to which one seeks out leadership roles or responsibility
  • responsiveness to emails and phone messages
  • quality of gift-giving/ability to remember birthdays
  • degree a person talks ONLY about himself v. interest in the other
  • how well-read they are;  quality of books they read
  • whether they do family devotions with the kids
  • whether they go ‘back’ for the Sunday evening service or attend a mid-week small group/Bible study
  • whether they watch TV or read
  • how grammatically correct one speaks
  • degree to which someone initiates invitations to others
  • how tech-dependent or tech-free
  • how ‘good with kids/animals’ they are
  • do they make their beds? (half the world doesn’t per my informal polls of students in French class)
  • whether a stay-at-home mom ‘just’ takes care of the kids OR runs a small business from home

I’m sure you can add to the list.  But the point is….. what are we to do?

You’ve heard it says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (1 Pet 5:5)

I, for one, do NOT want the God of the universe, the living and very present God to oppose me!  All I or you can do is CONFESS, REPENT and beg for help from the One who promises to give us a way out when we are tempted.

1 Cor 10:13  The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

Of course, the KEY is – the DESIRE to drop the judging.(judging can be FUN!) …So that’s what we should ask God for.

Question:  True confessions, if you dare….. – Where do YOU feel superior in your life?

Pity, Pride and Promises

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Several of my dear friends have been struggling with the very real and insidious satanic snare of: 

  • self pity – look at how terrible my circumstances are!
  • pride – these circumstances should not be happening to me!

The trick of Satan is to mask his role in promoting these depressing and self-righteous feelings!  Instead, we think they are OUR true assessment of reality.

One friend is struggling with her marriage and wishing it were otherwise.

The other friend is struggling with his vocation and wishing it were otherwise.

Who can rescue them (and us when we are so attacked) from this downward spiral that seems unending?

One version of an endless cycle

Thank God that He exists and has come that we might have life.

The other day I, TOO, felt that descent into murky grayness as I was meditating on some difficult circumstances. But before I hit dark despair, the Holy Spirit brought to mind God’s promise in Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Then I recalled

  • the FACT that God is sovereignly controlling all my circumstances
  • the FACT that God is always doing 10,000 plus things in every circumstance that touches me
  • the FACT that God predestined me to work, to help, to pray, to give, to worship, to trust in activities and projects of His own choosing
  • the FACT that God chose to give me life today for His purposes
  • the FACT that I can trust God of all ‘people’ to be consistent and true to His Word

All those thoughts got my mind OFF of my circumstance and reversed the trend of my feelings.

So dear friends, I am praying that the Holy Spirit will remind you hourly:

  • that you can trust God
  • that God is close to the broken-hearted
  • that He is allowing this circumstance, at the moment, because He has good in mind for you, for those involved and others about whose situation you might not know

So……relax, trust and remember how He has come through in the past and what He promises for your future.

1 Cor 2:9

Weddings, Part 1: Lewis and Logic

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One is either pregnant or not pregnant.  One is either in Christ or not.

Just as you can’t be a little pregnant, you can’t be a little Christian. Nonetheless, it should not surprise us that pregnant and non- pregnant women could exhibit similar symptoms, i.e. craving for pickles.  We would not necessarily conclude about a pickle-loving friend that he or she must be expecting a child.

So also it is possible that non-Christians can be kind and generous. Their commendable behavior, however, does not make them Christian. But my point is not about examining someone to see if they are Christian, but to assert that there is no sliding scale for determining whether one is in Christ. There are truly only 2 groups of people: Christians and non-Christians. The Law of Non-Contradiction explains God’s logic.  You can’t be X and non-X at the same time.

Why is this important?  Because God has proscribed how we are to treat both kinds of people.

CS Lewis broke into my consciousness when my mother, as a new Christian, lamented the fact that she could not make sense of Mere Christianity, that it was too deep for her.  My first personal introduction to Lewis was reading the Chronicles of Narnia to Graham the summer he was 8.  We took advantage of Wes’ naptime to lose ourselves in the magical world of Aslan and the adventures of the Pevensie children.

Then I, myself, journeyed through Mere Christianity with the help of a weekly group at my former school.  I moved on through Surprised by Joy, The Abolition of Man and The Great Divorce as well as devotionals based on Lewis excerpts.  But what has renewed by delight and lifted my thoughts heavenward is a collection of essays named for the first, Weight of Glory.

Here is Lewis’ stunning and arresting premise: there are no ordinary humans.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Lewis continues by starkly laying on his reader the burden of considering first how we treat each person we encounter.  We are either helping them heavenward or assisting them toward the horror of Hell.  And if that thought were not enough, he goes over the top with this addendum, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object present to your senses.”

So….what are we to do?

I was thinking about how we Christians are like members of the bridal party, getting ready for the big event that actually is not about us, but Jesus and His Church.  We’ve all been invited and are considered valuable participants.  When we criticize a brother or sister in Christ for not being strong or gifted in a particular manner like us, we are acting ridiculously.  Instead of sniping at one another, we should marvel at the other’s differences and thank our creative Lord.

My normal reflex is to be the Pharisee who prides herself in being good at X, unlike my fellow Christian/ fellow bridal party member who obviously doesn’t have it together in MY area of strength.  My busy gloating, secret smugness and touch of disdain prevent me from seeing her God-assigned role and her God-endowed gifts.

And what about those unfortunate souls not including in the bridal party, how are we to treat them?  Actually it is possible that we are incorrect in our assessment. So since we are not privy to the Heavenly Wedding Plans of Christ and His Bride, we would do well to treat all neighbors as possible fellow participants.  Kindness is never wasted.

Next week – Weddings Part 2:   God and Love

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