Habits – #1

Over the weekend, I spoke at a church in Palm Bay Florida.  I think I learned more than I taught about a blind man named Bartimaeus.  For the next week or so, I will be posting about him.   You can check him out in Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43 if you’ve a mind to, but what I’ll be sharing are a few habits I’d like to incorporate into my life in light of what I read.  Hopefully they’ll stand on their own with or without the passage.  I hope you think so.

HABIT #1:  RID YOURSELF OF IGNORANCE

There are two ways to rid yourself of ignorance:  REPENT of it through your learning, or CONSENT to it and let it be swallowed up by your stupidity.

Even without power in our circumstances, we still have access to definition, explanation, hearing, and believing.  Learning creates space in our lives for moments that can recreate us.  Tomorrow may come with yesterday’s problems, but revelation gives us another tool for the challenge or maybe a way of escape that we didn’t see before.

When we settle for just what we already know, we can only live our current moments over and over again.  We make the same decisions, choose the same men (or women), and halt in the same posture no matter the situation.

In ignorance, night becomes day, but we remain asleep as the world moves ahead around us.  We view our circumstances through a darkened lens, pray to an unimpressive God, and show Him to others as limited and fathomable.

Curiosity keeps the mind supple.  Understanding makes our hope elastic.  Learning–the bridge between the two–puts Forever within our grasp.

“Big Baby” by Michelle Jones

As I write this column from the upstairs bedroom of my brother’s San Francisco loft, an argument ensues downstairs.  Pilar Brielle and Landon Asher—my 9-month-old godchildren—want what they want, and apparently their parents are not giving it to them fast enough.

The twins are loud and insistent.  That is to be expected.  What’s hilarious to me are my brother Tim and his wife Denise trying to reason with them.  They speak in smooth, patronizing tones, the way a psychiatrist talks to a guy in a straight jacket.

“Pi-laarr?  Your bottle is almost ready, okay?”

“WHAAAAAAA!!!!”

“Landon… Landon?”

“WHAAAAAAAA!!!!”

Hearing the conversation in the babies’ heads, I imagine it goes something like this:

“Bla-blaah?  Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, blah?”

“I’M HUNGRY! YOU!  FOOD LADY!  BRING FOOD!”

“Blah-blah… Blah-blah?”

“HEY! I’M HUNGRY! GIANT MAN!  HELP FOOD LADY!  NOW!!”

This, uh, discussion goes on for a few minutes before the grownups abandon reasoning and scramble to shove bottles or baby food in where all the noise is coming out.  As soon as they do, there is blissful peace, punctuated by sweet sucking sounds.

The parents feel competent, heroic even.  They have stopped the babies from crying and righted the world, as they know it.  The babies let them bask in this illusion.  So do I.  It is obvious to me that the infants run this asylum.  Tim and Denise are staff—unpaid staff—working their tails off for a reward of catnaps and baby food stained clothes.

Later, between flipping Landon upside down and clapping with Pilar (clearly I was hired for my entertainment value), I marveled at how eagerly we all doted on them.  It seemed obvious at first.  You wait on babies because they’re needy, right?  Right.  And they let you because they know they’re needy, right?  Wrong.  Babies don’t know that they need you.  They know what they want.  Big difference.

Babies are haughty.  They are entitled superior little beings.  You will never hear a baby described as “humble.”  Humility appreciates its own smallness and understands its own helplessness.  Humility asks for—it doesn’t demand—what it wants.  Landon and Pilar are lots of cute, soft, sweet smelling (most of the time) things, but there is not a humble bone in their pudgy little bodies.

Jesus tells us to come to Him as a child not a baby.  It occurs to me that in some of my dealings with Him, I have come like Landon, grabbing and snatching what I want, or like Pilar, with an ear-splitting scream demanding it NOW!

Children are not babies.  Like babies, they are smaller than we are, and they do need a lot of help, but the difference is they know it.  They are aware that someone must take care of them lest they starve or go naked.  They wait to be picked up at school.  They call you mom and dad, not Sally and Dave or What’s-your-name.

Children don’t—as a rule—order their parents around fearlessly (unless somebody’s not doing their job).  They don’t expect to pay the gas bill because they know they have no responsibility in that area.

The difference between a baby and a child is in the attitude.  Babies are arrogant.  They demand that their needs are met and they don’t care how.  One hand with a bottle or a dry diaper is as good as another.  Children have learned to be confident.  They know what they want, but they also know where to go to get it.

A “good” child doesn’t accept a ride from a stranger.  She doesn’t expect an allowance from any grownup passing by with cash.  If he has a booboo that needs kissing, only one pair of lips will do.  When she brings a trophy home, nobody’s attagirl matters as much as mom’s or dad’s.

Come, as a child, not a baby.  Come.  Approach.  Move from where you are to get what you need from the One who is waiting for you with everything in His hand.  Come, don’t sit and pout, rant and rail, scream, accuse, put your hands on your hips, flip your wig, or storm off in a huff because you’re tired of waiting.  Come expecting, not snatching and grabbing.  Come to your Father, not a stranger, as a beloved son or daughter, not an orphan.

Landon can’t walk yet, and he’s not fond of crawling, but every day he waits for my brother—his daddy—to come home from work.  He listens for the key in the door, and when it opens, the sight is hysterical.  No matter what Landon is doing, he stops, drops to the floor, and scoots like a tadpole toward the “Hey Little Man!” coming from the giant man who rocks him to sleep every night.

He’s learning.  When I grow up, I want to be just like him.

“Beautiful” by Michelle Jones

I woke up in my imagination this morning with the man I hope will be my husband one day.  He doesn’t actually exist, but I call him Naked Fred, for reasons I will explain on another day.

From brow to sole, he is Love. It is the sexiest thing about him. (I suspect it will always be that way, even after he becomes a physical reality.) This morning he asked me, “Do you know how beautiful you are?” I wondered about that. Do I?

We all have some idea of whether we are beautiful or not. “How beautiful” is another thing altogether. That assumes some standard I must compare myself to. There are as many standards as there are people, right? So which one matters?

This morning, I came to this conclusion: I know how beautiful I think I am, but my hope is that my thoughts agree with God BEFORE I meet someone whose thoughts agree with me. That will be a romance for the ages.

2011 New Years REVOLUTION by Michelle Jones

2010 was a blur.  I remember bits and pieces of it, but not without the help of my journals.  If God were to ask me what I did with the 365 days He gave me, I’d have to tell him what He already knows: that I can’t account for many of them.  How does that happen?

We are fond of saying, “Goodness, the time went by so fast!”  In point of fact, we all got the same thing: a 60-second minute, a 24-hour day, a 7-day week, and a 52-week year.  Knowing that made celebrating the coming year a challenge for me at first.

I woke up New Years Eve morning obsessing about everything I left undone in 2010.  I had lost only 3 of the many unwanted pounds I packed into my clothes every day.  My second bedroom was one giant junk drawer. I could barely walk through it for all the magazines, boxes, and half-completed projects covering every inch of it. There were back taxes to do, and books to outline or write not to mention the books other people have written, which I had only begun to read.  Add to that my car needed washing, I owed my mother a phone call, and there were people coming over for dinner the next day, and I had not grocery shopped.

Thoughts of what I hadn’t finished gave way to disappointment at not being the woman I had planned to be.  Immediately I shifted into “resolution mode” in an attempt to correct everything that was wrong so I could feel better about myself.  I was full of ideas; gym membership, menus from foodnetwork.com, buy a paper shredder, make a reading schedule…

STOP!

Sometimes God whispers as He did for Elijah.  Other times he has to smack us upside the head.  Ask Paul.  I’m sure Damascus Road is never far from his mind.

God’s efforts to get our attention are usually directed by our focus.  He speaks softly when we’re already listening to Him.   When we’re going our own way, shouting out our own orders to the universe, our ears tuned to the sound of our own footsteps, the Lord can and will shout.  It’s His way of telling us that we have forgotten Who’s in charge…again.

I love it when He whispers.  It’s sweet.  I have to admit, however, that I’m not past needing a pop in the noggin every now and then.  New Years Eve was such an occasion.

The reason, He told me, 2010—and so many years before it—disappeared like vapor is because I wasn’t present for most of it.  I was so busy trying to correct the mistakes I made yesterday, so I could like myself more tomorrow, that I was missing the moments God had placed in my hands TODAY.

This brings me to my 2011 New Years Resolution:  I WILL MAKE NO MORE NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS.

The truth is resolutions are outside of my area of responsibility.  Every one I make is an attempt to fix my past or shape my future.  That is God’s job, not mine.  He works ALL of my past decisions—right, wrong, genius, or idiotic—together for my good, according to His future plans for me, which are also good.  Why am I minding His business with my busyness?

We are all prodigal progeny, trying to manage our futures in view of our past mistakes.  Like the original lost son, we sit in our various hog pens, surrounded by the ugly consequences of choices we made.  Resolutions are a way of making ourselves presentable and acceptable, when all the while, The Father is just waiting for us to come home.  The robe and ring are waiting.  There is food for our growling bellies—and a not just the moldy crust of bread we think we deserve, but a fatted calf!

God is not asking us to make another resolution, a declaration of what we will do. He wants us to show the world what He has already done in us.  He is looking for a REVOLUTION.

On New Years Eve I confessed that my resolution reflex is a passive-aggressive way of telling God I’m tired of waiting for Him to change my life.  He whispered back, “Do you ever think that I might be weary of waiting for My Life to change you?”

We are not quite two weeks into 2011 at the writing of this column, and there is a lot of “unfinished-ness” in my world.  More importantly, though, I am undone—fearfully, wonderfully, and imperfectly inhabiting my today, and leaving the rest to Him.

I am lost in the hand of The One who found me.  I stand weak in His awesome strength, a pile of beautiful ashes, unworthy and yet worth dying for.

I am HOME.

 

Are We There Yet? by Michelle Jones

Driving is one of those seemingly ordinary activities that, upon closer scrutiny, reveals the true nature of the person engaged in it.  Genuinely sweet, docile individuals rarely speed up when they see you trying to change lanes in front of them.  Bitter, angry people feel entitled to their road rage.  Then there are the impatient souls, who weave in and out of traffic or tailgate until you get out of their way.

My personality surfaces most when I have to follow someone, especially if we’re going somewhere I’ve never been, or going by a way that is unfamiliar to me.  That’s when I am reminded that, despite my belief in the sovereignty and omnipotence of God, I have control issues.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7 NIV)

I loved this passage.  Every time I read it, or heard someone preach on it, I felt like I had hit the spiritual lottery.  I get whatever I ask for, find whatever I look for, and have doors swing open to me whenever I knock?  All I have to do is follow Jesus?  Follow?  Follow… Hm…

Okay, I admit it.  Asking me to follow you anywhere in my car will test the authenticity of your spiritual fruit, longsuffering in particular.  I don’t just want to know where we’re going.  I would like you to give me the directions ahead of time in case we get separated.  I want your cell phone number so I can check with you if I’m the least bit uncomfortable about the route you’re taking.  And now that I have my iPad, I will plug our destination into my navigation application so I can refer to it while I’m “following” you, to see if you really know where you’re going.  If you don’t, not a problem.  I can get us back on track.

This, I discovered, was not unlike my behavior as a follower of Christ.  I was not always comfortable with Him leading me.  You see, I didn’t get a map ahead of time, and the route He has me on is not only unfamiliar.  At times it seems we’re moving in the opposite direction from everything I asked for, sought, and expected behind the door.

Walking with God is great in the beginning.  When we’re embarking on our journey with Him, everything is sparkling with anticipation and imagination.  We have words like “grace,” “power,” “freedom,” and “blessed” burning a hole in our pockets.  We’re ready to pull them out and use them in our asking, seeking, and knocking.

A few years and maybe some tears later, we realize that we were so focused on finding, receiving, and getting access, that we didn’t consider pesky little things like the methods, means, and motives of God.

He loves us, but we were made for His pleasure, not the other way around. He would not withhold any good thing from us.  He will place desires in our hearts, but be clear.  He is the King of Kings, not Burger King.  You will have what you asked for, but that is no guarantee that you will have it your way.

Ask for patience.  You will be given an opportunity to wait.  You want strength?  You will be given something heavy to lift.   Seek peace. You will find it in a storm.   Knock on the door marked Grace.  You will be humbled so you can receive what’s behind it.

Why does it have to be so hard?  Why can’t He just wave a hand and poof! I have compassion?  Why does He allow me to be hurt over and over again?  Couldn’t He just give Adam a wife without making him lonely first?  Can’t I come forth as gold without walking through the fire?  Must we follow Him through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land?

The truth is, we cannot say we trust God without experiencing challenges to that trust.  Am I really following you if I have a map, a phone, and a navigation system?  If we are His sheep, and we know His voice, shouldn’t we expect to encounter imposters?  There is no glory in overcoming if we haven’t “come over” anything.

Following Him means relying on Him, not walking in the same direction while relying on my own equipment and understanding.  Following Him means HE is my map and my navigator.  He is the One who decides when or if we speed up, slow down, or take a detour.  Following Him means I am faithful, not just lacking in opportunities to be unfaithful.

Following means asking without demanding guarantees, seeking without checking the map first, knocking without requiring updates and status reports.  It means letting Him be point A, point B, and every point in between.  It means turning over the wheel and enjoying the ride.

Are you there yet?

“The View From In Here” by Michelle Jones

I just went on Amazon.com and ordered my favorite movie of all time:  “Life As A House.”  It stars Kevin Kline as an architect who lived in a dilapidated shack on an amazing piece of property overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  He inherited it from his father, an abusive alcoholic who killed his wife (KK’s mother) and another couple in a drunk driving accident when Kline was just a kid.

Kline’s character learns that he’s dying of cancer at the beginning of the film.  He decides to spend the time he has left trying to make things right with his rebellious, estranged son who lives with his mother and hates him because he was never there.  They spend the summer building the house he designed for that property.  His motivation:  “…to give my son something better than my father gave me.”

As I watched the movie for the umpteenth time, I wondered, for the umpteenth time, how we manage these lives that we have “inherited” from our parents.  As we move through our days, sometimes it’s difficult to see the beauty around us because of all the crap that’s inside us.

It’s a beautiful story about relationship, redemption, healing, and forgiveness.  What always strikes me though is how the house they built together was one that had windows everywhere.  The view—which was ALWAYS THERE—could be seen from the inside looking out, and if you were outside, you could see the beauty that was inside the house.

Isn’t that one of the goals of life, to SEE what is really there, what’s always been there—the truth—and to show the world a “house” that was built with that view in mind?  If the “house” is my heart and not my physical being, or my circumstances, it makes sense that we can’t see the “view” as well from the shack as we can from the new house.  If we’re believers, we can only say so much about the awesomeness of God if our lives are not a reflection of the truth we say we know.  Kevin Kline tells his son at one point, “We have to tear this thing down before we can begin to build.”

I was afraid to tear down the house I had become so used to living in, because I didn’t know if I had what it took to start, much less finish my life according to the plans God has for me.  I have failed at too many things to count.  I have left so much unfinished.  I have been wrong more times than anyone has a right to be.  I was tired of watching my life fall down around my ears, over and over again, and I was too scared to believe God would—and could—meet me in my squalor and cover me as we built anew.

It’s tempting to want to just go outside to look at the view; momentarily forgetting the shack is where we really live.  I have been guilty of avoiding facing what’s damaged and neglected in my life, through deflecting, blaming others for where I am, or busily fixing other “houses” in other neighborhoods.  But those are temporary respites from reality.  Eventually, I have to go home and sleep in my own bed.  I have to hear the creaks under my own floorboards and the rattling of my own pipes.  I have to try and look at the view through my own tiny, dirty windows…until I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and do the work.

Once I decided to show up for work, I found out that God’s sleeves were already rolled up and that He—Author, Finisher, Designer, Builder, and Decorator—had always been there.  He was just waiting for me, because you see, faith only works when you do.

We’re all in various stages of “construction.”  I’m not always comfortable in my unfinished digs.  I imagine that I’m an eye sore to the neighbors from time to time, but the truth is they all have their own homes to deal with.  If they’re focused on mine, I can’t do anything about that.  I just have to keep hammering where I’m employed.

I want a house where the view can be seen from every room.  I know it’s doable now.  I am sure that’s the plan He has for me—for all of us.  I don’t want to just talk about a view that can’t be seen from where I live.  I don’t want that life.

Atlanta has been good for me because I’ve been forced to look at the condition of my heart without distraction.  It’s not always easy, but somehow God is growing my confidence in His ability and willingness to create the heart He wants in me.  The “view” is becoming more visible from the inside of me and in the inside of me.  I am certain now that before it is anything else, Love is PATIENT and KIND.  If not for that, I would have no hope.

I shared some of these thoughts with my friend Suzan, and she suggested I share them with others.  Every day this week, someone has said something to me about writing down what’s been on my mind and heart for others to see.

It finally hit me a moment ago.  Each time I learn a truth, and write about it, it’s like God telling me that He has installed another window in my house. When we do the things God put us here to do in the way that He planned for us to do them, it is like a window that gives us another glimpse of the magnificent view of Him.

When we love our husbands, raise our children, give to those in need, weep for those who suffer and lift our hands to help them, study and share the Word, celebrate the beauty in another person’s life, hope when life appears hopeless, or give ourselves when our pockets are empty, we confirm that there are windows where decaying walls used to be.

There’s lots of work to do in me still, but every time I look through a window, and see the view of The One who gave me my breath, it takes my breath away, and I am encouraged to keep moving forward.

Growing Older With Grace by Michelle Jones

I have a beautiful amazing friend named Grace who woke up this morning and felt every one of her 40-something years.  Today she is more than a little aware of her grey hair, the baby fat, and the aches and pains that weren’t there not so long ago.

She has decided that she doesn’t want to “go down without a fight.”  She is sorry that she took her beauty, youth, and health for granted.  Today she could use some encouragement.  I’m posting my response to her and to you too if you are finding it a challenge to grow old gracefully.

My darling sister,

Who decided that growing old “gracefully”–or doing anything gracefully for that matter–meant taking what comes without reaction or response? I am 49 as of a week and a half ago. I decided that Graceful is the thing that needs reshaping if I’m going to leave my 40s and enter the second half of my life with it.

Like you, I thought I’d just accept my grey hair as it came. However, it did not get the memo that I would not be ready for it until I was closer to 60. Until then, it is supposed to come slowly and discreetly. It doesn’t, so it must be punished with invisibility, because the rest of me is not finished with the black hair. The hair does not decide my age. I do.

As for the excess fat that shows up in the worst places, not a problem. We always say, “If I knew then what I know now…”  If I knew then that my body would turn on me like this, I would have been more disciplined about exercising, right? Okay, you know now what you didn’t know then. Why not do now what you didn’t do then?  Tell your body who is the boss of whom. I promise it will not always be easy, but Grace, we are tougher, wiser, and more determined than we were when we were younger, aren’t we? If we knew then what we know now, it just wouldn’t have been fair to be that fabulous! Balance…

What we don’t have now is nothing compared to what we didn’t have then. Youth is supposed to be taken for granted.  If it isn’t, then we’re just old people walking around in young bodies.  Where’s the fun and extravagance in that?

Society calls us “women of a certain age” because of our years. But I realize that I am also a woman of a certain age because there are some things I know now that I only suspected or hoped for when I was young. I am certain of the substance of my value, not just in this world, but to God, and to others. I am certain that I am strong and capable of loving the way I want to be loved.  I am certain that the truth is what IS, not what people tell me it is, or what I may feel in a given moment, or what I regret.  I am certain that these years on me are a good thing.  I wouldn’t trade what I’m certain of now for all the elastic skin and perky boobs in the world!

Recently I started working out because I decided I wasn’t going to “turn” 50 next year.  I’m going to ROCK it.  50 is going to wake up on March 22, 2011 and say, “Damn! I am FOINE!! I didn’t know I could look like this.  Thanks Michelle!”  And happily, my body is responding because I AM THE BOSS OF IT, no matter what I feel like when I wake up in the morning.

So the other day, I was walking into my dressing area like I always do before a shower. I got a look at myself in the mirror naked.  There is a beauty that happens in a healthy, fit woman as she ages that is more impressive than anything plastic surgery can accomplish.  When we take care of them, our bodies become the stewards of our beauty and not the other way around.

Get rid of everything that gets in the way of the beauty that your body wants to show you and you will be fine.  I’m saying this as a woman at the end of her 40s looking forward to rocking 50 next year on a cruise ship in a smokin’ hot swimsuit. I’m talking as a woman who has to fight off 30-something men these days.  I’m talking as a woman of a certain age whose body is certain about who’s in charge of it finally.

You don’t have to fight age. Just tell it what it’s supposed to look like, and watch it behave.  It’s different for every woman. What is it for you? I can’t wait to see.

I love you,

Michelle

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