The Meaning of Sacrifice

So I’ve arranged the babysitter, pumped the milk, dragged the gear, set up the port-a-crib, mentally prepared for a rough night if the baby doesn’t like being shuffled around, and made it to home church, and only ten minutes late! Now what? In the midst of the monumental task of showing up, have I thought about how to serve someone, what to contribute? Have I thought about how to make all that sacrifice count for something? Having a baby and doing “hard” things, such as not staying home and going to bed at 9pm every night, has given me a new sense of urgency. My first time back at the high school group after Simon’s birth, I thought: I’m here, I’m awake, I have a sitter, I have to make this count.

Everyone says having a kid teaches you a whole new level of sacrifice. This has proved true for me, but not exactly in the way I thought it would. As a disclaimer I should say, I have it easy. I’m a stay-at-home mom with one happy, healthy baby, and I have a supportive and helpful husband, parents, and group of friends. I don’t claim to be making any huge or unusual sacrifices but here’s what I’m learning.

I thought the big sacrifices of having a newborn would be the sleepless nights, crying baby, restricted freedom, changing diapers, and being flabby. Four out of five came true and are challenging, but it’s not really the hard part. First of all, you don’t have a choice. When your baby’s hungry in the middle of the night you don’t decide if you’re going to sacrifice for him or her. You just get up and feed the baby. Secondly, although you’d rather be sleeping than up at 3am, you are happy in a general sense, if not at the moment, to be taking care of your baby. I like taking care of Simon. I wanted to have a baby and take care of him.

What’s really harder for me is choosing to go out and sacrifice for others, when I already have Simon’s needs to tend to. Changing his diaper isn’t that hard and isn’t optional anyway, but making the conscious choice and all the effort to go help a friend with their mess is hard to me. Because to go serve someone else means what? I have to be awake. This feels like a huge sacrifice when you have a newborn! (I don’t know what I’ll do when I have a second kid. Drink more coffee I think.) And maybe Simon’s nap will get messed up. And I have to pack up him and myself and the pack and play and stroller and whatever else, and get somewhere on time. And it means I can’t clean my house or catch up on the laundry. And  ideally I should think and pray about this person before I show up so I have something more to offer than, “I’m tired.”

Even now that I’m out of newborn zombie mode, I find myself learning more about what it means to sacrifice. Which is a nicer way of saying I’m learning how selfish I am. Take, for example, my first night volunteering in the church nursery. It was a small group of babies and everyone was good. But it was during Simon’s catnap and he couldn’t sleep. By the time we left he was clearly over-tired, a state Simon didn’t handle well (see previous blogs). I tried to put him to sleep at my friend’s house so I could hang out with a few other moms, but he cried for an hour. He went to bed at home but woke throughout the night and was cranky the whole next day.

“I never want to go to CT again!” I whined to myself while nursing cranky pants the next day. “What was even the point? I didn’t talk to a single person.” (Not true, I talked to the other parents and nursery volunteers.) Then in a moment of sanity I remembered that every week other people miss out to watch my baby, while I get to attend the Bible study and socialize.

I also realized something slightly less obvious: we sacrifice not only for our kids, but for the community we want to raise our kids in. In the end, it’s not so much a sacrifice as an investment. I know in the end I’ll lose nothing compared to what I gain. It really does take a village, and I have an invaluable group of friends who want to raise our kids to love God and others. Simon will have a second family, a group of people to turn to when he won’t listen to me, or when I don’t know the answers.

It’s not just a down-the-road hope, either. Simon already loves being with his friends and seeing new people and places. It’s great that he’s learning to be flexible. Our recent camping trip to Florida raised more than a few eyebrows, i.e., who in their right mind takes a baby camping for vacation? Well, Simon proved all the naysayers wrong by having the happiest week of his life. Camping with a baby had its challenges but I did a thorough analysis of the fun-to-effort ratio and we’re going back next year. (I really need to stop auditing my fun, but that’s a topic for another blog.)

 

 

 

Giants in the Land

I can’t believe he’s finally here, and already three months old. I definitely can believe it’s taken me three months to finally get back to blogging! I never even posted my last blog about being pregnant (site wasn’t working) and now here I am, trying to remember all the things I wanted to blog about over the last 3 months. I’m just going to start at the beginning and see how far I get.

On a Sunday night I stood up from the toilet and saw a few drops of liquid hit the bathroom floor. A huge adrenalin rush was followed by denial: my water didn’t break. But after 5 minutes of making sure I wasn’t just peeing myself, I broke something else: the news to Neil. He reacted with denial as well. But half an hour later when the contractions started, we finally believed it. Very soon they were only two minutes apart, and at midnight we headed to the hospital.

At exactly 5 am, Simon was born. My shock somewhat blocked my emotions. I was so happy to hold him, but it was so surreal I couldn’t get my mind, much less my heart, around it. Later that day, amidst a marathon of visitors, my feelings started catching up with reality and I thought Simon was the best thing ever. Despite the annoyances of hospital life, my stay was pure joy, because Simon was there. The second day, the first wave of postpartum emotions hit and I started crying with joy as Neil hugged me. Our boy had arrived!

Simon slept almost constantly in the hospital. I had a hard time waking him up to eat every couple hours. I, on the other hand, barely slept for days. I was in labor through Sunday night, barely slept Monday with all the visitors, and kept waking up that night every time Simon spit up mucus. He sounded like he was choking and it terrified me.

We went home on a beautiful sunny day, with Simon so tiny in his car seat. I didn’t feel too scared to leave or when we first got home, but that night the fear hit. Here was this precious baby whom I’d nurtured for nine months but just finally met. He was so tiny, so vulnerable, and so invaluable to me. What if he died? The first few nights I kept crying because I was so scared. Neil prayed with me and I tried to trust God in a new, hard way.

I’m not sure how to describe postpartum emotions, except to say they’re the most intense I’ve ever felt. It’s this huge significant life event of bringing your child into the world plus sleep deprivation plus hormones that are like PMS times ten. I kept crying because I was so overjoyed or so overtired or so over-scared, or so all three. Then in the midst of my fear I remembered a song I heard while visiting South Street Ministries church:

He did not lead us out just to bring us back again. (4x)

Though there be giants in the land, I will not be afraid.

He brought us out to bring us into the Promised Land.

This became my anthem and Simon’s lullaby. After a long hard wait for Simon’s arrival, I learned to believe God would use Simon for good in my life, whatever happened. Learning to trust God with your child doesn’t happen all at once; surely I’m only in the primer stage. But I kept singing and praying, and Simon kept living. And I’ve never been happier. When you have a baby you realize you were made to be a mom.

What Not to Wear

I’m no fashion expert. But lately I’ve realized I need a wardrobe change when it comes to my attitude. Luckily the Bible tells us what not to wear and what’s spiritually in style instead. Consider Ephesians 4:22-24:

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted according to the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God is being created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

What not to wear is our old self, Paul’s term for the person we were before the Holy Spirit indwelt us. This doesn’t mean we abandon our personalities and adopt goody-goody fakery. The difference lies in the fact that the old man is a slave, unable to break out of the habits and attitudes that go against God’s design for us. The new man is freed from the slavery and addiction to sin and released into the radical freedom of God’s grace. Instead of laboring to break bad habits or follow religious rules, the heart of the new man is transformed by the power of God’s love as we allow Him to work.
So as believers, we ought to take off the outfit of the old self: the selfishness, defeat, and dissatisfaction with life. Instead we should wear the new self which looks like God because we have His Son’s righteousness, holiness, and truth as a result of our new identity in Him. The new self is our identity as a Christian. Galatians 3:27 says,

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” We already have our Christ clothes, but we choose to put them on by knowing, believing and acting like it’s true.

The verses that follow Ephesians 4:22-24 illustrate the concept. It tells us what not to wear: lying, unresolved conflict, stealing, hurtful words, bitterness, anger, and slander. Instead we are to don truth, unity, generosity, encouragement, kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:25-32). The one that convicts me the most is verse 29:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Meanness and mom jeans are fashion emergencies!

Ask any of my former roommates or my husband, and they’ll tell you I’m not the most edifying person. In fact I can be quite harsh and downright mean. If I’m cranky in general or unhappy with someone in particular I get wrapped up in negative thoughts, and these find their way out of my mouth in sharp words. “Could you please take out the trash?” becomes “You never take out the trash!” with “what a slob” added internally. And of course encouraging people becomes the furthest thing from my mind. This is the old self, and while it’s still there, it no longer has the same power over me. I can choose otherwise if I’m willing to be changed by God.

Colossians 3 also talks about our new life in Christ. Verses 8 and 9 tell us what not to wear with a list that matches Ephesians 4. Then Paul tells us what to wear instead:

“put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you . . . Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12, 14).

How I want to operate out of a heart of compassion and love! The qualities in this passage cannot be faked for long, if at all. They are heart attitudes which only God can cultivate in us. Without Christ I am cold, mean, proud, harsh, impatient, intolerant, and unforgiving. And I still struggle to wear the clothing of my new identity in Christ. But it’s completely absurd not to put on our new selves. It’s like if a poor street orphan were adopted by Bill Gates, given the finest designer clothes, and continued to wear their filthy rags. How ridiculous! But sometimes I prefer to wallow in the mud of my old self than slip into an Oscar de la Renta gown!

Oscar de la Renta, my favorite designer

Speaking of finery, 1 Peter 3:3,4 says,

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

While Christians have formulated all sorts of legalistic dress codes based on this verse, the idea is to pay attention to inner beauty more than outward appearances. Again, I long for “a gentle and quiet spirit.” 1Timothy 2:9 also says women should clothes themselves not with expensive garb “but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” Indeed, the Proverbs 31 wife is attractive because of her character and service to others, not her bikini bod.
The Bible speaks of another set of clothes we should put on, which goes hand-in-hand with the new self. It is the “full armor of God” described in Ephesians 6: the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and the sword of the Word (Ephesians 6:11-17). Romans 13:12-14 also talks about the spiritual battle against Satan’s darkness:

“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

Why not lay aside the sin which destroys us and instead put on the “breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thessalonians 5:8) in which there is much victory and healing?

I Can See Clearly Now the Sin is Gone

I only wish the title was truer for me. Last night I traveled to Columbus to hear the great Ralph Ankeman teach a Love Ethics class. After Dar called to invite me I was so excited to see this legendary figure who counseled the venerable Katey Downs, who in turn helped disciple our fearless leader, Keith McCallum. What an example of real spiritual significance.

Dr. Ankeman, a medical student-turned-missionary who now practices biblical love therapy in a secular psych ward, did not disappoint. He began on a note of wonder: “How closely the gospel of Christ fits the way human beings are,” he reflected. His teaching, at once quirky, comical, and insightful, was brimming with stories and examples illustrating the application of biblical love rules. The rule that stood out the most to me is that “I can’t make you do anything, but I can tell you what lies within my power to do.” For example, I can’t make you stop neglecting your kids, but I can call child services, as painful as that might be for me.

Keith’s teaching was equally good, if somewhat shortened for the sake of time. He’s updated the material a bit to clarify the concepts of fences and gates. But I think he’s writing an article on it, so I’ll save the details for now. I’ll just say his teaching got me thinking about what God is showing me about other people. I tend to be very negative about, well, everything, and my negatively quickly escalates into judging others. “Why can’t they just get it together?” I wonder. Keith’s teaching offered an interesting possibility. Perhaps it’s my own heart that’s getting in the way of others’ growth.

What an odd, counter-intuitive thought. And it must be rightly understood. I can’t make anyone do anything, as stated above. But if I’m seeking to help someone, and yet judging them at the same time, is it not reasonable that God would withhold insight from me regarding the other person? If I’m seeking to motivate someone’s change for impure reasons, perhaps to bolster my reputation or just because her sin annoys me, it makes sense that God would not honor my efforts. But when I sincerely want to help that person only for her own sake, it then becomes safe for God to reveal her heart to me, thus showing me how to spur her on toward love and good deeds, as Hebrews 11:24 says.

I feel like God is showing me things about “what lies beneath the surface” of my old home church and my new cell group. I don’t know exactly what to do about it; no doubt my heart needs further purifying. But I did not sleep well after my return from Columbus. I felt like God was laying burden after burden upon me. I arose this morning feeling weighed down and a bit confused. What did God want me to do with all of it? My first response is to worry, and I set right to work with an ever-hardening knot in my stomach.

But I knew this wasn’t right, or pragmatically helpful. After all, Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. As I started to trust God one worry at a time, I realized God showed me these concerns not to weigh me down, but bring treacherous undercurrents to light. I know I’m not the only one with these insights, as many of them were gathered from conversations with others. I’m not special. I’m just convicted. And my practical nature is itching to do something about it, and there will be plenty of time for that. But I won’t know what to do unless my heart is right.

And that’s the last point I wanted to comment on. Of course with all the heart-clarifying, there will always be a measure of sin this side of paradise. God in his grace grants us revelation even in our imperfection. But the clearer the heart, the clearer our spiritual eyes: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Dennis closed the 2007 Xenos Summer Institute with a teaching called “Cultivating a Tender Heart.” It’s worth listening to (http://www.xenos.org/xsi/resources.htm#2007) and/or reading his paper (http://www.xenos.org/essays/tender_heart.htm) by the same title. It’s been over a year since I’ve done either, but the theme strikes me as increasingly relevant: in ministry we face the paradox of loving people with the hope that God will change them, but we also know they may choose to reject God and us. Even with a disciple it’s possible to invest deeply and sacrificially for years, only to lose them to a person, a job, or a drug. It’s a painful reality and especially tempts seasoned workers to hold something back—namely, their hearts. What does that look like? The leader might give of time, knowledge, prayer, and counsel, but ultimately their efforts lack zeal because they are afraid of being hurt. The less compassion and vulnerability are developed in the friendship, the less will be lost if the person forsakes their walk with God. So the thinking goes. Yet the Bible calls for something quite different:

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

I periodically (at least once a week) dive into the depths of my melancholy nature and revel in the misery and fear of historic and potential losses. First it was Missy, then Kay, then Jen. Now I fear the same for Yana. And I start naming a handful of people who might be next. I don’t want to care about them, I conclude. It’ll hurt too much later on.

But then I remember how much God has been hurt by humanity. Think of all the times people turned their back on God. There was the Garden of Eden incident for starters. He must have been profoundly grieved, as well as wondering, “What exactly did you think I meant by ‘If you eat of it, you will surely die?’” And He didn’t flood the earth because people were thriving spiritually. Nor did He confuse the languages at Babel because people were building a tower to honor Him. Abraham’s naughty little scheme for baby-making without his decrepit wife wasn’t exactly godly, either, but God still came through on his promise when Abraham repented. Jacob was a complete con artist but he still secured God’s blessing.

Then there’s Moses, a nasty combination of murderer and whiner, but God miraculously led the Israelites out of Egypt with him as their leader. Speaking of Israel and whiners, God’s chosen people always promptly forgot how God provided for them and bowed down to stupid wooden lawn statues instead. God repeatedly mourns their unfaithfulness, comparing them to a wife who committed adultery again and again. But He kept taking them back, picking them up and dusting them off through forgiveness and healing. David was a total macho-man idiot, what with the womanizing and husband-killing, but God used him because he was “a man after God’s own heart.” The list goes on and on, with Israel the star idiot of the Old Testament drama. But God never gave up, reneged on His promises, or withheld His love.

And then I remember how much God has been hurt by me. I’m a star idiot, too. From the sinful state I was born in to my fear and negativity, to the daily sinful thoughts and motives I’m not even aware of, He has plenty of reason to write me off. Yet He pursues me with lovingkindness just as He did with Israel. I didn’t go looking for God. He was looking out for me. He tracked me down and drew me to Himself. It had nothing to do with me or my goodness. There is nothing good about me (Isaiah 64:6), but He wants me anyway.

How heartbreaking God’s hurts must be; how agonizing to endure. And I complain when I lose a disciple or two, whom I didn’t love nearly as well as God loves me. While it’s worth mourning the loss of those friends I can’t let that change how I love the people God’s put in my life right now. I want to cultivate the tender heart He has displayed through Scripture and in my relationship with Him. It’s a heart that continues to love even in the face of betrayal and unfaithfulness. It’s a heart that loves boldly, relentlessly, tenderly, and patiently. It’s a heart that pursues, initiates, chases down the people who so desperately need Christ’s healing love. That’s what it means to “love one another as I have loved You” (John 13:34).

Batter My Heart

Have you ever prayed for brokenness, that painful process that reduces the flesh so the Spirit can shine forth? It’s a scary prayer because you know God will answer it, and it won’t feel good when He does.

I prayed for God to break me of my pride earlier this summer. I prayed I would not become a comfortable Christian. Even as I wrote the words in my prayer journal, I shuddered to think of what the answer might look like. Perhaps I would fail miserably in ministry, lose someone close to me, or be called to missions in a dangerous country. Part of me thought it would be awful if God allowed those things to happen, but at the same time I knew God was wise and loving. I struggled to accept that God is not a God of comfort, but He always knows and wants what’s best for us.

So how did He answer? For now He’s placed me in high school ministry, with a large cell group of some highly damaged girls. This certainly wasn’t the answer I expected, but the breaking has already begun. And despite my best prayer-journal intentions, I wriggled and writhed at the first sign of suffering. I cried through a couple weeks, alternating between acceptance and despair at my situation. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the girls or the ministry. But I felt overwhelmed, inadequate, and under-supported. I was shocked at my own immaturity, which hadn’t surfaced so blatantly when I was comfortable in my previous roles.

God was hammering away at my heart of pride, self-dependence, and fear. I felt awkward and uncomfortable when I stepped outside of the tribe of my old home church. God was answering my prayer, but it felt like He was hanging me out to dry, setting me up for failure. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He came in with support and new plan for the girls’ cell group leadership. The work has just begun, both in ministry and in my heart. I’m sure I’ll resist the Surgeon’s healing incisions again, but hopefully I give Him enough room to work.

The process of the “breaking of the outer man for the release of the Spirit,” (Watchman Nee), reminds me of a poem called “Batter my Heart.” It’s by John Donne, the 18th-century metaphysical poet of “no man is an island” fame. I’ve updated the spelling to make it more readable:

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne, my poet-hero

The imagery is startling: first Donne’s heart is like a castle door which He asks God to charge with a battering ram so he can be healed. He says if he takes a stand on his own, God should overthrow Him with force in order to make him into the new creature God wants him to be. The means he suggests—breaking, blowing, and burning—all sound painful. Donne compares his heart to a town where he’s unfairly taken control; it rightfully belongs to God. He’s trying to let God rule, but his mind struggles to believe and therefore admit the true King. And yet he knows his thinking is weak, false, and easily held captive.

Donne experiences the human tension of loving God and wanting God’s love, even as he plays the harlot with the devil. He asks God to break his bonds with the devil and make him God’s prisoner instead. Until then, Donne realizes he can’t be free, since humans by nature are not independent beings. The last line is scandalous, but rounds out the metaphysical conceit of being betrothed to the devil: he can never be pure until God has full power over him, penetrating every area of his life.

Of course the Bible has much to say on the topic of how God batters our hearts and “ravishes” us. First, He can show us our sin more clearly, thus leading us to repentance and the new and living way:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there by any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.”
-Psalm 139:23, 24

Sometimes breaking requires more than a glimpse of our sin nature. Hebrews explains that God, like any good father, disciplines in love:

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him,
For those whom the Lord loves He disciples,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”
-Hebrews 12: 5, 6 quoting Proverbs 3:12

We are encouraged to endure God’s discipline “so that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10b). As Keith taught recently, we cannot gain substance in the Christian life until we’ve grown beyond the “American way” of comfort, rights-thinking, and instant pleasure. Like an Olympic athlete, we cannot hope to win the race Paul speaks of (2 Timothy) without serious training and endurance. Everyone knows “no pain, no gain” is true. The Bible concurs:

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
-Hebrews 12:11

In our fallen world, suffering is inevitable. The question is not whether we’ll suffer, or even how much, but if we’ll allow God to use it for good in our lives. In the midst of intense, life-threatening persecution, Paul kept perspective on the relative values of temporal comfort versus eternal reward:

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
-2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Paul could rejoice in physical and emotional pain because God was using it to grow his spirit, the inner man. Peter agrees earthly suffering is worthwhile in light of the substance our faith gains now, and the eternal glory of heaven:

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
-1 Peter 1:6, 7

I’m still a sissy when it comes to suffering, but I’ll continue daring to pray for brokenness.

True Confessions of a Tribal Sissy

After re-reading Keith’s article “Time to Grow Up!” I realized what a sissy I am. I grew up in a tribal home where love was largely defined as compliance. While my parents instilled in me a number of important permanent love values such as responsibility, a good work ethic, and contributing in the family, I found myself completely unable to function socially in the world outside of home. I also suffer from the first-child syndrome: my parents, despite their best efforts to warn me against the idea, left me thinking that I am the center of the universe.

Sissy Meets World

This problem’s first clear manifestation occurred at my preschool program, where I sat revealing my three-year-old panties and sucking my thumb instead of singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and similar fare with the more well-adjusted children. The finale of my performance saw me hurl my carpet square off the stage, an act which was imitated by one of my classmates. Best of all, my parents had the foresight to preserve a video record of my public debut for posterity.

Perhaps my shy nature is mostly to blame, as my more outgoing younger sister did not have the same difficulties. In fact, she gained the title of social butterfly at my kindergarten graduation since she “made more friends there than Kalie did the entire year,” as my parents observed. To what extent nurture and nature are at fault I cannot say, but my inability to relate to others clearly marked me as a tribal sissy from the start.

The situation did not improve over the years; rather I found myself a lonely and isolated teenager who thought myself above befriending brain-dead adolescents. Never mind that hormones left me just as brain-damaged as the next fourteen-year-old. I was different; I was not high school—a noun which became the ultimate adjective-insult in my vocabulary. Thus I found myself alone and lonely at the end of the torment commonly called high school.

Many of you already know the story of how God transformed me from a scared-but-willing college freshman who cried before parties, to a person who cared enough about others to at least carry on a conversation. But the remnants of my tribal sissy past still haunt my relationships and ultimately my sense of significance. I see it in every area of my life: I want to be loved and that means gaining others’ acceptance, approval, and affirmation. I think this often concerns me more than what is good for other people. That’s why I’m too soft on people, while I silently judge them in my heart. It’s why I’m often ineffective at disciplining people, despite my self-righteous convictions that they are so very wrong. When boldness is required, I’m more likely to back off because I fear others’ response to me.

I’m sure this contributed to my failures in discipleship, including but not limited to Missy, Kay, and Jen. And while they each ultimately made their own decision, I think I offered too little too late (especially in the first two cases). I am so scared to repeat these mistakes—I literally have nightmares about it—but if it’s still fear that drives me, I’m doomed for failure again. Because half the reason I’m scared has nothing to do with the well-being of my friends, my cell group, or my home church, and has everything to do with what people will think of me. Once again, I’m after what I falsely define as love, namely, recognition for a job well done.

This worked in my tribe. If I did my chores, practiced my instruments, and didn’t fight with my sisters, I was received as a good daughter. But I misinterpreted my parents’ acceptance for love, and that based on conditions. This is why I was so shocked when they expressed love even after I messed up big time (i.e. “secret car” incident). Their loved turned out to be unconditional, or at least much less conditional that I thought. But this demonstration couldn’t undo nineteen years of my twisted view of love.

Now my sissy self gets discouraged at the slightest hint of defeat because I feel threatened. And I react with ugly immaturity, sometimes sophisticatedly masked and sometimes not. Like a child who throws a fit after losing a game, I metaphorically suck my thumb and throw my carpet square by crying and blurting stupid, proud, fatalistic statements. While I know my tantrum-declarations aren’t true, my feelings overwhelm and conquer me in a classic example of infantile behavior.

Tantrums--cuter on kids than adults

While I’ve become more mature according to the world and can now initiate conversations, build friendships, and maintain even difficult relationships, I’m still far from spiritual maturity. I want to be able to serve with humility, no longer seeking others’ approval and admiration. I want to disciple with authority, fervently and boldly pursuing what is best for the other person regardless of her reaction. I want to stop fearing failure, take my identity from Christ, and remember that I answer to God. I want to stop demanding to be loved the wrong way, whether it’s with tantrums or subtleties, and start loving the right way, God’s way. And although my negative sissy self whispers that it’ll never happen, I’ve already experienced God’s victorious love output in my life, and I know that He can continue to lead me in a life of love that conquers.

True Confessions of a Tribal Sissy

After re-reading Keith’s article “Time to Grow Up!” I realized what a sissy I am. I grew up in a tribal home where love was largely defined as compliance. While my parents instilled in me a number of important permanent love values such as responsibility, a good work ethic, and contributing in the family, I found myself completely unable to function socially in the world outside of home. I also suffer from the first-child syndrome: my parents, despite their best efforts to warn me against the idea, left me thinking that I am the center of the universe.

Sissy Meets World

This problem’s first clear manifestation occurred at my preschool program, where I sat revealing my three-year-old panties and sucking my thumb instead of singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and similar fare with the more well-adjusted children. The finale of my performance saw me hurl my carpet square off the stage, an act which was imitated by one of my classmates. Best of all, my parents had the foresight to preserve a video record of my public debut for posterity.

Perhaps my shy nature is mostly to blame, as my more outgoing younger sister did not have the same difficulties. In fact, she gained the title of social butterfly at my kindergarten graduation since she “made more friends there than Kalie did the entire year,” as my parents observed. To what extent nurture and nature are at fault I cannot say, but my inability to relate to others clearly marked me as a tribal sissy from the start.

The situation did not improve over the years; rather I found myself a lonely and isolated teenager who thought myself above befriending brain-dead adolescents. Never mind that hormones left me just as brain-damaged as the next fourteen-year-old. I was different; I was not high school—a noun which became the ultimate adjective-insult in my vocabulary. Thus I found myself alone and lonely at the end of the torment commonly called high school.

Many of you already know the story of how God transformed me from a scared-but-willing college freshman who cried before parties, to a person who cared enough about others to at least carry on a conversation. But the remnants of my tribal sissy past still haunt my relationships and ultimately my sense of significance. I see it in every area of my life: I want to be loved and that means gaining others’ acceptance, approval, and affirmation. I think this often concerns me more than what is good for other people. That’s why I’m too soft on people, while I silently judge them in my heart. It’s why I’m often ineffective at disciplining people, despite my self-righteous convictions that they are so very wrong. When boldness is required, I’m more likely to back off because I fear others’ response to me.

I’m sure this contributed to my failures in discipleship, including but not limited to Missy, Kay, and Jen. And while they each ultimately made their own decision, I think I offered too little too late (especially in the first two cases). I am so scared to repeat these mistakes—I literally have nightmares about it—but if it’s still fear that drives me, I’m doomed for failure again. Because half the reason I’m scared has nothing to do with the well-being of my friends, my cell group, or my home church, and has everything to do with what people will think of me. Once again, I’m after what I falsely define as love, namely, recognition for a job well done.

This worked in my tribe. If I did my chores, practiced my instruments, and didn’t fight with my sisters, I was received as a good daughter. But I misinterpreted my parents’ acceptance for love, and that based on conditions. This is why I was so shocked when they expressed love even after I messed up big time (i.e. “secret car” incident). Their loved turned out to be unconditional, or at least much less conditional that I thought. But this demonstration couldn’t undo nineteen years of my twisted view of love.

Now my sissy self gets discouraged at the slightest hint of defeat because I feel threatened. And I react with ugly immaturity, sometimes sophisticatedly masked and sometimes not. Like a child who throws a fit after losing a game, I metaphorically suck my thumb and throw my carpet square by crying and blurting stupid, proud, fatalistic statements. While I know my tantrum-declarations aren’t true, my feelings overwhelm and conquer me in a classic example of infantile behavior.

Tantrums--cuter on kids than adults

While I’ve become more mature according to the world and can now initiate conversations, build friendships, and maintain even difficult relationships, I’m still far from spiritual maturity. I want to be able to serve with humility, no longer seeking others’ approval and admiration. I want to disciple with authority, fervently and boldly pursuing what is best for the other person regardless of her reaction. I want to stop fearing failure, take my identity from Christ, and remember that I answer to God. I want to stop demanding to be loved the wrong way, whether it’s with tantrums or subtleties, and start loving the right way, God’s way. And although my negative sissy self whispers that it’ll never happen, I’ve already experienced God’s victorious love output in my life, and I know that He can continue to lead me in a life of love that conquers.

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

After a rather ungrateful day yesterday, I thought I’d look back to my notes on Keith and Greg’s Labor Day East Harbor teaching. The following is adapted from their teaching, and it helps me get re-oriented when I get ungrateful.

If you’re like most people, you’ve settled into a life of tolerable misery. Joy seems unattainable, as far out of reach as the stars. You know that Christians should “rejoice in the Lord,” but you blame your temperament, your circumstances, or your relationships for your inability to experience joy. Life sucks, you reason, so pursuing a joyful life is futile. Depression or distraction is much easier.

If this is you, consider the possibility that deep-seated ingratitude, not your personality or situation, is what stands between you and a joyful Christian life. The enlightenment of gratitude can transform your relationship with God and other people. Your faith can grow, your character can change, and your relationships can be revolutionized if you are willing to cultivate a grateful heart.

Learning Real Faith
Gratitude is an important part of our faith. Colossians 2:7 says we should walk in Christ, “having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” We will become more grateful as we experience and acknowledge God’s goodness in our lives. Such gratitude will fertilize our faith as we learn to trust God more.

Tapping into the Power of God
As our faith increases, so will God’s power in our lives: “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14). The growth cycle of faith and gratitude should spur us to express thankfulness to God for the victory He gives us. This is an important way of glorifying His power, not our own.

Practicing Stewardship
Showing gratitude is also a way of practicing stewardship. When we thank God, we acknowledge that all we have is His, which in turn motivates us to use these provisions for Him. In Colossians 3:15-17 the thankful attitude of stewardship is the refrain: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual sons, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” The words be thankful literally mean “show yourselves thankful.” A mature steward will not only feel thankful, but will also express thankfulness to God and others.

Attracting Others to Christ
Such a grateful attitude attracts others to Christ, which is why Paul tells the Colossians to pray “with an attitude of thanksgiving” before telling them to “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:2, 6). A thankful prayer life will empower us to draw others to God as His grace permeates our lives. When people see that we are thankful to God, from whom all good gifts come, they will want to know more about Him.

Experiencing the New Creature in Christ
Only as we learn to be grateful can we fully experience being a new creature in Christ. If we truly appreciate what God has done in freeing us from the power of sin and giving us a new life in Him, then we can present our whole selves to God to be used by Him (Romans 6:9, 11, 13). Presenting our bodies “a living and holy sacrifice” is the only logical response when we are grateful for our new freedom. We are guilty of a crime that requires the death penalty, but have been acquitted by a merciful Judge. Certainly gratitude and devotion are only natural reactions in this case.

Joy
A life of gratitude is a completely different existence than the ungrateful rebellion we are born into. It is characterized by qualities that are impossible to achieve or imitate without a grateful heart. When we realize that we deserve nothing, yet have been given much, an indescribable joy infuses our experiences. Suddenly, we look around and see that all that we have has been given to us, and we start to appreciate the provisions, abilities, and people we so often take for granted. Certainly this is cause to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Php. 4:4). Finally, we can stop worrying and whining and instead “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Php. 4:6).

Contentment
When we are grateful for everything God gives us, we develop a deep-seated contentment that no experience of temporary pleasures can bring. Paul says that he “learned to be content in whatever circumstances” (Php. 4:12) precisely because he could “rejoice in the Lord always,” no matter the situation. He saw God’s hand at work in the midst of shipwrecks, beatings, and imprisonment, and continually found cause to give thanks. Too often we adopt the American attitude instead of the biblical view, wishing our car was faster, our home bigger, our clothes nicer, and our technology newer. Our never-ending wish list will only be complete when we choose to be thankful and content for all that we have been blessed with.

Able to Freely Love and Serve
It’s only at this point of contentment that it’s possible for us to freely love and serve others. Once we are no longer consumed with our own desires, we can begin to sacrificially love. Paul urges that “entreaties and prayer, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1 Tim. 2:1). One of our first steps in loving others is to pray for them, giving thanks for their role in our lives, for the opportunity to serve them, for the vision God has for them…the list could go on and on because there is so much to be thankful for! And our prayers for others should not be restricted to a close-knit circle of friends. Rather, our prayers should extend to “all men,” even those in other countries.

Edifying
Christ reminds us in Matthew 10:8 that “freely you received; freely give.” God’s love and grace come at no cost to us, so there’s no good reason not to share these riches with others. One good way to “freely give” is to “consider how to stimulate one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:25). Let your friends know how much you admire their willingness to serve God, or their courage in taking a new step of faith. Such encouragement is edifying, motivating, and much-needed.

Hopeful
Gratitude gives us hope in the midst of sufferings, as we look forward to the perfect eternity God promises. When we realize that we deserve hell but have access to heaven instead, it makes sense to “greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials” (1 Pet. 1:6). It is crucial that we learn to rejoice even in trials, so that we are ready “to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). Expressing our gratitude for eternal life should begin here on earth, and it is this hope that allows us to rejoice always.

Direction
Even as the world threatens to destroy us, “we exult in hope of the glory of God … and we also exult in our tribulations,” because we know that God can use our situation to develop perseverance, proven character, and hope (Romans 5:2-4). Growing gratitude results in direction: we know God is transforming us in this life and will perfect us in the life to come. We have much to be grateful for in the Holy Spirit, who does this work within us and guides us in the truth (Romans 5:5, John 16:13).

Victory
As God completes his good work in us, we experience the victorious life of freedom from sin and a new ability to love: “thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin you became obedient from the heart…and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17,18). As humans, we are not capable of independent self-rule. By default, we are slaves to sin, but when we choose to come under God’s leadership instead, we are suddenly free to live a life of love. There couldn’t be a better cause to rejoice!

Answered Prayers
Gratitude can transform our prayer life as well. The old shopping-list approach to God can be replaced with a vibrant, pervasive gratitude that seeks to know more of God’s goodness while always giving thanks. The Bible says to “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2), and as we relate to God with this new attitude, we will begin to see life through God’s eyes. And as we pray according to His will, we will see more of our prayers answered.

Giving to God
Finally, only gratitude will enable us to give to God as we should. While He doesn’t need anything from us, He certainly deserves our praise. “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15). Our praise is a sign that we know who He is and what He has done. So “praise the name of God with song and magnify Him with thanksgiving, and it will please the Lord better than an ox or a young bull with horns and hoofs” (Psalm 69:30, 31). God is more pleased with our thanksgiving than with token sacrifices or acts of duty. He made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross because He wants us—heart, mind, soul, and strength. And when we cultivate a grateful heart, we can know Him in the way He intended, both honoring Him and giving Him thanks.

The In-born Supremacy (a.k.a. The boastful pride of life)

I just listened to the recording of the last Love Ethics class and I’m wondering exactly I get seduced by the cosmos. The three main ways Satan seduces people are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. I think I am most influenced by the boastful pride of life. I’m not naturally an excessive sensualist; it simply isn’t my personality. Sometimes I get drawn into the lures of materialism, wanting to buy nice, new things, but mostly I’m too practical to succumb to this. The lust of the eyes will probably be more tempting as we look for a house to buy. But more than anything, the boastful pride of life infiltrates and undermines my desire to build into God’s kingdom.


“The boastful pride of life seeks to take others out in the quest to steal significance.”

One of the ways that I am drawn into the cosmos is my concern with how I look. I’m not really into make-up, trendy hairstyles, or clothes (anymore), but I am into fitness. It’s basically good to be fit, but my focus too easily shifts to my looks. My concern moves from whether I am fit to whether I look fit. The classic question, “Does my (fill in body part) look big in this dress?” says it all. I don’t want to buy into the cosmos lie that I need to look like an airbrushed model in order to be accepted by others or be attractive to my husband. But I realize that sometimes my trips to the “work-out center” have more to do with appearance than health.

Another way that I get seduced by the cosmos is by taking my identity from what I do. This is a tendency I probably developed in childhood and adolescence, as I found success in music, sports, and school. As I was considered skilled in my small-town high school, I took my identity from my success. I felt smart and talented, but underneath my confident façade teemed a toxic waste dump of insecurities and false humility. I didn’t really feel smart because I knew that someone, somewhere (probably not too far away) was smarter than me. And I was afraid of being confronted with this reality because if I took my identity from being smart and then I wasn’t the “smart one” anymore, what was I? Without my false sense of intellectual superiority, I was utterly insignificant.

College posed a terrifying threat because I knew the proverbial pond was about to get much bigger. Unfortunately, I choose a major that was less than intellectually rigorous, and Akron isn’t exactly the Ivy League. Once again I was at the top, a big fish in a relatively small pond. Ego bolstered by my professor’s praise and my GPA, I continued, as much as I didn’t want to, taking my identity from my school. The only event that could destroy this temptation was graduation. As a teacher rather than a student, I came face-to-face with my inability to apply my knowledge perfectly in every situation. And I had no grades coming in at the end of each semester, only kids whose free will to learn was largely outside of my control.

Now I subtly but proudly take my identity from my performance in a different realm: ministry. If my disciples are doing well, serving, and reaching out to people, I feel like I’m doing all right. If people thank or compliment me for my efforts, I feel validated. As much as I hate to admit it, I often realize my thoughts reveal that I seek recognition for works of service. I was asked to help at several weddings without receiving the honor of being a bridesmaid. This disappointed me even though I understood the bride’s choices, and I recognized that sometimes I serve with proud rather than humble motives.

Talking to another person who is proud of their accomplishments makes me realize the depth of my own pride. Instead of humbly listening to and congratulating their successes, or calling them to humility if needed, I find that I want to boast about myself. Six years after high school graduation, I still feel the desperate need to prove myself to others. I want to show that I’m just as good as the next person, when the truth is that we’re all terribly depraved.

When I have kids, I’m afraid I’ll want them to experience the same type of success in music, sports, and school that I did. I know those activities aren’t as important as the Kingdom of God. They can actually be the devil’s best ploy to distract my family from God and win them to his kingdom instead. I don’t want to take my identity from my kids and how successful they are in the world, but I already see myself doing it when I proudly brag about my smart, talented, beautiful little sisters. The temptation to do the same with my kids will only be stronger, no doubt.

God is teaching me how to take my identity from him, especially as I’ve quit my job and can no identify myself as a very young high school teacher. Now I am in a rather humbling position as an unpublished writer and deacon wannabe. While I’ll continue to work and write for God’s Kingdom, I can’t take my sense of worth from the success or failures I experience. I don’t want to proudly boast (aloud or in my head) about my attributes or accomplishments. God gave me every good gift I have so there’s no use bragging about what I’ve done nothing to earn. I think the antidote to the boastful pride of life is being a humble, grateful, faithful steward of my gifts, so I want to learn significance by bringing glory to God as I serve others, instead of building a kingdom for myself. This is the best way to fight against the seduction of the cosmos.