January 30, 2012

a spoonful of sugar

"nobody likes having salt rubbed into their wounds, even if it is the salt of the earth." rebecca west

it was my first ever cheesecake, reese's peanut butter, and it had to be perfect because it was intended for a former boyfriend and his family. i had decided to unleash my inner betty crocker and to make it completely from scratch. i melted down the reese's peanut butter chips. i softened the cream cheese. i lightly beat those eggs. and then i dumped the sugar in...only to suddenly be overcome with a baker's worst fear: did i just use salt when i should have used sugar?

i immediately took my spoon and got a little of whatever i just dumped in and put it in my mouth...only to be relieved by the fact that it had been sugar. but the situation couldn't help but cause me to think about how many times i use salt when i should be using sugar in everyday life.

i'll admit it. i'm a huge people watcher. i could sit in a starbucks all day long with an IV drip of iced caramel apple spice and be perfectly content in watching people as they interact. and in my lifelong career as a human observer, i have made several observations and come to several conclusions.

my most recent observation is that 2 people can say the exact same thing in 2 different ways, and 1 will be totally accepted and appreciated while the other will be totally rejected and despised. and the positive one ALWAYS wins.

one mom says to her child, "you won't get to go outside and play unless you finish all of your chores," while another says, "as soon as you finish these chores, you get to go outside and play!" one teacher says to his class, "if you fail to come to class, you will lose points," while another says, "you will receive points for every day that you come to class." i've found that anything can be said with a positive twist, and the difference between the statements that essentially say the exact same thing makes all of the difference. it's all a matter of knowing when to use sugar instead of salt.

i've also noticed that too much salt can make a person bitter. and bitter people can sometimes dump their excess salt on other people's wounds without even realizing it. when someone is overly consumed with feelings of criticism or unrealistic expectations of perfection, that person begins to become overtaken with bitterness that can't help but overflow and touch the people with whom he or she comes in contact. the salt then touches the wounds of others, causing them to sting and to burn. people's hearts then start to close, and they tend to start drifting further and further away from the salt shaker.

now i'm not discounting salt. there's no denying that as christians we are supposed to become like salt and are supposed to make every attempt to keep up our flavor. and sometimes a good sting of salt is exactly what is needed to correct and to heal. but i believe that sometimes the difference between being effective and having the impact that we want with other people is knowing when to use salt and when to use sugar. just because we choose to take things with a grain of salt doesn't mean that we have to go crazy with the whole shaker. and sometimes we have to give and realize that it's only a spoonful of sugar that will actually make the medicine go down.

"you are the salt of the earth. but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?" matthew 5:13

"instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, CHRIST." ephesians 4:15

January 9, 2012

12 for '12

"and what does the LORD require of you? to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your GOD." micah 6:8

i always love new years as they offer opportunities for fresh perspective, fresh insight, and fresh reevaluation. i love looking back on the previous year: reliving the high points, determining the low points, and analyzing what decisions, behaviors, habits, and attitudes allowed both to occur and figuring out the difference between the highs and the lows. this past year was wonderful in so many ways: i tackled the hardest semesters of my graduate program, i got to live and work in zambia, and i met important people that will change the course of my life forever. but as i reevaluate my life and my path, i notice some common themes and realize some important goals for which i want to be striving in this next, fresh, new year, and therefore i'd like to share with you my 12 for '12.

pursue JESUS.
some might consider this a typical, cliché resolution for a christian at the beginning of a new year. each year we christians make goals to read our bibles more or to pray regularly, and we become very discouraged when we fail to initiate and follow through with our determined plans. but this goal is different for me than a scheduled reading plan or a specific checklist to carry out. because the truth is that i can't remember a time that i've pursued JESUS like a potential job. a potential boyfriend. a potential grade. a potential fill-in-the-blank. i cannot remember a time when i was truly hungry for GOD'S word and craved it like a whopper jr. value meal. i can't remember a time when my every thought and word was motivated by my feelings and love for JESUS CHRIST, and that truth scares me. therefore, i'm stepping out of my lukewarm bathwater and putting the heat and fire back into my relationship with JESUS. i want HIM to feel pursued like i'm a lovesick girl who has HIS picture hanging all over my locker and who cannot stop talking about HIM to all of her friends. i want to give HIM the same gift HE'S given me: undivided attention, unending grace, and unyielding pursuit.

let go. i can hardly write about this one without smiling and laughing because of all of my failed attempts to be crowned the queen of control. with the lethal combination of my planner, my organization, and all of my other type A/OCD idiosyncrasies, there simply isn't enough time or security for me to be able to let go and to trust. i am so thankful to GOD for sending me a boyfriend who is so encouraging and who reminds me on a daily basis that GOD loves me and that HE is ultimately in control. and i am learning the relief that comes by making my requests and worries known to GOD first instead of immediately feeling anxious about them. i want to learn to lean more, letting go of the railing that my hands are so fiercely clenched to and setting myself free to learn how to follow.

pray for peace. and that being said, i want to start truly praying for peace. not just peace for the world and for GOD'S people, but personal peace as i realize that doubt, worry, and anxiety only lead to ineffectiveness and weakness. i want to seek peace with myself, learning to breathe, to let go, and to fully enjoy letting others realize the joy and hope that i've found that can only be seen by demonstrating trust and reliance.

put people first.
as simple as this seems, it is something that i fail to do regularly. i get so overwhelmed with whatever i'm doing or hoping to achieve that i forget the people around me. i forget that sometimes my worries are minimal compared to those of others, and i don't realize how selfish it can appear to get caught up and lost in my own desires which in reality are merely preferences. i want to remember that life is about people and relationships and that selfishness destroys those relationships and their potential influences.

only encourage. to be completely honest, it is so easy for me to gossip without even realizing it and then to justify it the minute that i know better. one person really needs our prayers, so naturally i share the request. i feel sorry that another person made a certain choice and ask if he or she is alright. i seek to know what happened to someone else, but all of these examples cause me to consider my motivation and intention in learning and sharing such privileged information. do i truly care, or do i enjoy the juice and the dirt? does this person i'm talking to really need to know the information i'm sharing? do i get satisfaction out of another's weakness or struggle? would i say this if the person were in the next room? am i encouraging gossip by sitting in on this conversation and listening? with all of these questions flooding my mind, i want to seek to only encourage and to only speak words that are necessary. sometimes we can't encourage and must instead be honest, but i want to carefully consider the necessity of each word before uttering it and never being able to reclaim it.

bear burdens.
for the first time in a long time i am beginning to understand what it's like to bear another's burdens. my boyfriend is allergic to all products made from wheat or dairy and therefore must eliminate them from his diet. as one of his christmas presents, i have volunteered to stick to his diet with him in order to encourage him and to motivate him to stay strong. so together we are eating gluten and dairy free and exercising more, and i must say that it's a fun and exciting challenge that is already making a difference. it's in making this small sacrifice that i realize the gravity of the sacrifice that JESUS made for us. HE allowed himself to become one of us and to be tempted in every way yet was able to do it without sinning. HE continues to carry our weight and to bear our burdens while remaining perfect, patient, and persevering. i want to start bearing little burdens regularly and to lift others up not only with words but also with actual actions and true understanding.

give grace. grace is something that i simply don't understand and cannot wrap my mind around. and in my striving for perfection, i can tend to be severely critical and unyielding. but when i realize just how much grace GOD has given me, it makes me realize that i need to give more grace to others and also to myself. that's not to say that i want to tolerate or accept sin but that i want to open myself to forgiveness and to set my heart free with grace. i love reading about david and knowing that he was a man after GOD'S own heart despite poor choices and sinful ways. not to excuse david or to live a sinful lifestyle totally dependent on grace, but i want to understand that nothing i do will ever be good enough to earn eternity with GOD and that GOD'S love will never change despite what i do or don't. and i want to extend that same understanding to everyone with whom i come in contact.

receive criticism. what helps me grow the most is when another person comes to me and tells me a way in which i can improve in a loving manner. sadly, many people choose to discuss our faults behind our backs instead of coming directly to us the way scripture encourages. i'm telling you now that if you come to me with love and tell me a way in which i can improve to my face instead of discussing it behind my back, i will be thankful for the rest of my life. initially, it makes me very defensive and somewhat sad, but once i choose to accept responsibility and make changes accordingly, i see so much growth and improvement. i choose today to no longer fall victim to playing the victim. i think nothing loses respect more than someone who continually feels victimized and fails to accept responsibility for actions. i want to start welcoming and accepting constructive criticism and learn how to use it in order to refine and improve myself.

seek humility. micah 6:8 is one of my favorite scriptures as i believe it is a simple statement on how to live. one way i need to grow is in learning to walk more humbly. i want to go out of my way to seek humility. i want to be less noticed and let the attention fall somewhere else. i want to be secretive in the good that i do and for the credit to be given to someone else. and i want to ultimately allow my self worth to be totally dependent on what GOD thinks as opposed to what others think of what i do or who i am.

be open to direction. as i am about to complete my graduate degree i realize the countless directions in which i could go. there are natural biases that definitely tempt me to choose certain paths, but i want to be truly open to anywhere GOD might lead. i don't want to ignore opportunities or possibilities, and i want to try to find the direction in which i will be most influential and effective.

eat beef. i mean this one in a figurative and spiritual sense as sometimes i feel like i am surviving on spiritual gerber instead of thriving on a diet of spiritual steak. i'm tired of surviving on baby peaches and baby peas, and i want to become stronger with what i'm putting into my system. i'm tired of forgetting scriptures and the things that i used to know so well growing up as your typical PK (preacher's kid, not point kicker). therefore i am seeking the filet mignon of GOD'S word and seeking to grow deeper in my understanding and knowledge of the bible. i want to challenge myself to memorize scripture and to become more familiar with what i've known all of my life.

get the point. quite honestly many times i feel like i am chasing after the wind and missing the whole point of life. i believe that sometimes we mistake good things for the right things and get carried away and confused with priorities and levels of importance. i really relate to the passage in the screwtape letters that talks about getting so overwhelmed with ourselves and what we are doing that we fail to notice and accomplish the right and important things. i'm tired of letting my goals and ambitions get in the way of relationships and opportunities to put people first. i'm tired of chasing after meaningless things that cloud my view of true priorities and the main point.