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Like You Wrote It? When You’re Not Living The Dream

Like You Wrote It?

It didn’t sit right.

That America’s funny, wholesome family man- The Cosby Show was one of 3 sitcoms mom let us watch- would say something like that didn’t fit. It sounded smug, arrogant, proud.

I won’t comment on Bill Cosby’s fall from grace and imprisonment, except to say, It’s all so sad.

But Cosby’s comment does make more sense now.

These are not the exact words I heard on the TV interview two decades ago, but these are attributable, and they’re close. When asked about married life, Cosby said with that big easy grin of his,

We are living it now just like we wrote it.

It hit me wrong. Because even then, fresh out of grad school, newly married in my early 20’s, with a house and a job and good  friends, I may have been living somebody’s dream, but I knew I wasn’t living mine

My story had already taken some twists and turns I couldn’t have imagined, much less written 20 years ago. Let’s just say, I didn’t think I’d be playing these roles, with the “cast”  now. I’m not (mostly) living my dreams. This isn’t how I wrote the story.

Which is really no matter.

Playing The Part

Because, my life is not really my show.

C.S. Lewis explained like this: We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played.

The playing it well is what matters infinitely.

God wrote us each into this story, where He wanted us. He’s the Author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2) and  the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5). And He casts each of us in his grand play to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17).

And when we are on our set stages- and in our waiting stages- playing our roles with joy and thanks, we make Him look great.

Testify to Grace

Paul said something 2,000 years ago that ties all this story-play-dream stuff together for me.

In Acts 20 Paul shares some sobering last words with some old friends, church leaders from Ephesus. He explain that he will go to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to him there.

In other words, Paul didn’t know what turns his story will take. No worries, though, because not knowing the story didn’t stop him from playing his part well. Heres’s how he summed up that part (Acts 20:24):

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

Is that the aim of our lives too?

Different Stories, Same Aim

Our stories are so different. But, John Piper explains, in Christ,

We do all have the same essential goal: to magnify the glory and the greatness of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is the racecourse all Christians are running. The turns and the terrain are different. The aim is the same.

This means we embrace the fact that we do not write our own stories. We don’t know the next page, let alone the next chapter. The way there is unknown.

Our stories twist and turn,

[A]round the corner called future and disappears into the unknown. Therefore, the unwasted life is always lived one step from the unknown. This is what faith is for. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). That’s what faith does.

I don’t want to waste my life. Which means I need to rest content with the unknown next chapters and with parts I wouldn’t have scripted this way.

Not Living the Dream is Still Alright With Me

So, no. I wouldn’t have written myself in this way- not into this marriage or this job, not these boys, this house, or this blog. (Well, I guess I do write the blog. But it wasn’t my dream. My friend Traci spurred it on.)

But I do know this story I’m in, with both its surprise twists and its storylines that feel more static than I’d write, was scripted by God. 

And- oft in sorrow, oft in woe– often way too slowly both for the characters around me and for me- I’m learning that it’s not so much what part I play but how I play that part that matters.

Oh, sure, sometimes I let my hungry eyes drift to what seem like others’ storybook lives and dream up different parts for me. But my aim is to play my part well, which is to testify to the grace of God.

And the great thing is, I don’t have to have to be living like I wrote it, living the dream, to do that.

In fact, God’s grace might just look that much greater when the testimony to it comes from one whose story is not just like he wrote it.

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Jeremiah 10:23

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Conviction Comes To Interrupting Chicken


Yup, Little Miss Active Listener went rogue again. Tigger-like, she bounced right over reflective, soft-spoken Joe with her over-eager interjections.

I could say the interrupting words were well intentioned, borne of desire to build relationship and connect. I could say that.

But I know better.

Contrition

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Psalm 51:3

Jim and I were in the kitchen with our friends Sadie and Joe, enjoying some Sunday morning omelettes. Joe was summarizing a new book. I was Interrupting Chicken.

Hon! Stop interrupting, my husband broke after one of my break-ins. Let him talk!

I shut my mouth. Those words about how it’s the fool who answers before he listens (Proverbs 18:3) came to mind.  Guilt- the good kind- moved in.

After an awkward moment of silence, Joe continued, still calm.  I listened to him- and to my wounded ego- without interrupting either. In a few minutes. Joe left to help at early church.

But I didn’t say a thing. Any thing. And I didn’t do the right thing.

Conviction

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:17

But I knew the right thing to do.  James 1:19 has been a quote-out-loud verse in this house for years. Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. And I know Proverbs 18:23 pretty well, too: Whoever covers his sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and forsakes them finds mercy. 

Obedience required confession. And not in a vague Sorry-if-I-offended-you way.  Because confession- like thanksgiving- demands particulars. Precision like, Forgive me, Joe because for repeatedly interrupting . Or, sorry I wasn’t a patient listener.  Specific. 

I knew what I had to do. Interrupting was a sin of commission. I was doing the wrong thing. But to go on without confessing, that would add to it a sin of commissionWhoever knows the right thing to do- confess to Joe- and fails to do it, for him it is sin. 

There was conviction. I knew the right thing to do. 

Confession

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:16

But my pride had kept me from confessing as a first response, before Joe left for church.

And silence when there’s sin to confess wastes away the bones (Psalm 32:3). So the ‘ole bones groaned for the next three hours at church. But when we all got home, I did the right thing.

Hey Joe, I’m sorry I kept interrupting you this morning.

I don’t know if I added Please forgive me, or not. But I know meant it. And what’s more. I know Joe gave it.

That wasn’t the first time I’ve been selfish and rash and had to confess to a friend and I’m pretty sure, it won’t be the last. Because our gracious God reveals convicts us, bit by bit. There are sins we don’t even know we commit. A year or a month ago, I might not have seen Interrupting Chicken as a sinner.

But I do now.  And once we  know the right thing to do, it’s on us to do it.

Ongoing and over and over again.

Continue

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 1 John 1:28

In a message on James 4:17, Russell Moore says that confessing our sins is critical for every Christian.

Then he explains why it’s so important to make things right,

Because the Christian life is about the Gospel. Because you and I understand that we are sinners. Not that we were sinners. That we are sinners. And that we are constantly in need of grace and mercy.

So what does the Holy Spirit drive us to do? He drives us to an ongoing confession of sin….

Because this is how God is drawing you near to him by the confession of your sins…The point is, you ask for forgiveness…so that you can be freed and liberated from that…

The most miserable Christian in the world is not the who is aware of his sin and is confessing it. It is the one who does not have his sins being exposed and repented of so [he can] experience the blessings of fellowship and walking in Christ.

It sounds so awful and terrifying. So does a surgeon. A surgeon rips you up to take the tumor out. So does the Word. It’s healing. 

Confess and repent is part and parcel of the Christian life until we see our Lord face to face, and are like him. And it’s not so morbid really, it’s actually, very lightening and relieving, and as Moore said, healing.

Confession, Interrupting Chicken can assure you, is good for the soul. 

Conclusion

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. Ecclesiastes 12:13

So what do you do with conviction? Do you stuff it inside and protect your pride? Or do you confess it and find fellowship?

During a swim at our friends pool this week’,  my 11-year-old, called me over and asked in confidence and with conviction,

Hey Mom, do you think I should say sorry to Mrs. Mills? I accidentally dropped a cheese cracker in the water and she told us kids not to have food in the pool.

You can guess this mama’s answer.

 You know the right thing to do, Son. Go do it.

Grant me never to lose sight of  
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace. 
The Valley Of Vision, “Continual Repentance”
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20 Quotes from Mark Baker’s book on Guilt and Shame

Don’t be ashamed. But do feel some guilt.

Are you guilt-ridden or shame-prone?  Do you struggle to forgive yourself and hold on to your fails too long? Isn’t there a godly sorrow that leads to repentanceIs that the same as guilt? And is guilt the same as shame?  More important still, is any of these good?

Dr. Mark Baker’s new book, Overcoming Shame: Let Go of Others’ Expectations and Embrace God’s Acceptance, takes these issues head-on and explains how healing for soul-crippling shame comes through courage, vulnerability and grace.

These quotes caught my eye. I hope they encourage your heart.

20 Quotes From Overcoming Shame

1. Guilt and shame are not the same. Guilt is the bad feeling you have for having gone too far. You did something you should not have done, and now you regret it. Shame is the feeling you get for not going far enough. You feel regret for being inadequate.  (12-13)

2. Healthy guilt is the capacity to feel bad when you have hurt someone else, God, or even yourself. Healthy guilt is motivated by love…Guilt comes from doing something wrong, so it is corrected by doing something right. Healthy guilt comes from having a conscience, and that in itself is a good thing. God created guilt to guide us toward restoring our relationships with him, but it works as a guide for restoring relationships with one another too (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). (13)

3. Neurotic guilt is not about making amends or figuring out the loving thing to do to make things right in your relationships. Neurotic guilt is about self-preservation and the fear of getting caught. If your guilt is focused on you taking care of yourself, it rarely produces anything good. (13)

4. Shame motivates us to want to keep secrets. And the toxic power of shame only grows stronger in the dark. (16)

5. It is only when we are most vulnerable that we can experience the connection with God and others that we were designed for, but is also exactly when we are most vulnerable that we can get hurt the most. Vulnerability is a two edged sword that can cut both ways. It can surgically heal you of your deepest shame or cut out your heart. (42)

6. Jesus taught a lot about joy and love, but he never taught his followers to avoid pain. Quite the opposite, it was central to Jesus’s teachings that facing suffering well is a crucial element in developing a mature character and that our vulnerability to suffering is not only not a bad thing but is the best path to finding a clear picture of who God really is. To Jesus, vulnerability was certainly not a weakness but was actually a sign of spiritual strength. (44-45)

7. Shame is a painful feeling that directs your attention onto yourself in ways that make it difficult for you to care about what other people are feeling around you…Shame-prone people tend to respond to fear by either trying to hide or trying forcefully to overcome it. The best response to fear is to face it, with vulnerability. (47)

8. The solution to the fear of vulnerability is healthy dependence. Psychologists call it secure attachment. People who live with secure attachments view vulnerability as a powerful means for connection, and they experience their dependence on others as a natural part of the give-and-take of healthy interdependence…People with secure attachments are generally grateful people. (54)

9. People with secure attachments are not looking for the easy way out…If you are comfortable, you probably aren’t learning anything. Growth stretches us, and that means we need to believe discomfort is simply a part of a normal life. (55)

10. The best life isn’t about getting onto easy street, it’s about being connected to God and others no matter where you live. The goal isn’t to be better than everyone else by invulnerably rising about them; it’s to figure out how to have a healthy dependence on God and others to find joy. (55)

11. [S]hame-free guilt…actually helps people to be more empathic, to deal with their anger in more constructive ways, and to have more benevolent interpersonal relationships…Shame on the other hand, causes people to focus on their worthlessness, which makes them defensive and more likely to fly off the handle in destructive ways. (68-69)

12. Shame-free guilt produces humility. Feeling bad about what you did motivates you to restore any broken relationship that resulted from it…You don’t have to be defensive because you don’t have anything to hide, as you would if you felt shame. (69)

13. [T]he truly confident person who has a secure sense of love and belonging is free to be humble; and all those who live this way are the ones that have a lasting impact on others. They will be the ones that others respect and look up to because they are living the the way God created us to be. (72)

14. Envy is the hatred you feel toward another person who reminds you of what you are not. This is a two-person dynamic between you and one other person. With envy, you see qualities in someone else that trigger feelings of shame in you. (107)

15. An attitude of scarcity fuels envy and jealousy because scarcity is the enemy of connection and belonging. It is based on the notion that you must defeat competitors to survive. Scarcity cause you to feel that losing means you are a loser, because the attitude of scarcity is motivated by shame. (118)

16. An attitude of scarcity is often a spiritual problem. If it is rooted in the belief that you are not enough, it will cause you to compete with others for what you believe are limited resources for your survival. But to thrive in life, you must see others as a needed resource for your survival, not a threat to it. This comes through the spiritual attitude of plenty (Matthew 10:29-31). (118)

17. Shame doesn’t make us want to be good; love does…[W]e have the most effective delivery system on the planet for the prevention of crime in even the most crime-ridden areas of society. Do you know what that delivery system is? The Christian church. (136)

18. Perfectionism is the attempt to hide your fear that you are not enough by getting everything just right. If you are good at it, you will only succeed at covering over your fear, never dispelling it. As soon as you have completed whatever it is that you are doing, you have to start over again immediately trying to do things perfectly to avoid your shame. (139)

19. To overcome shame a person must experience acceptance at a time when they don’t deserve it but need it more than anything else. Shame-proneness can be healed only by the renewing of your mind, and that can happen only by experiencing acceptance of the unacceptable…The grace we extend toward one another has the power to heal shame. (179)

20 The point is, grace heals shame. Whether grace knocked you down and blinded you with its impact or snuck up on you over time, the experience of acceptance changes you. If you are willing to live a life of courage, vulnerability, and grace, you will be healing shame in your life and the lives of those around you. Jesus has paved the way before us. (188)

“Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,

who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:1b-2

Related:

Access John Piper’s “Battling Misplaced Shame” sermon here. (Instead of guilt and shame, Piper uses the terms well-placed shame and misplaced shame, and explains that biblically, the criterion well-placed shame versus misplaced shame is not how foolish or how bad you look to men, but whether you in fact bring honor to God.)

Listen to Dr. Baker’s hour-long interview with Janet Parshall here

Read how purging these 4 words can strangle misplaced shame here.

 

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On a Lunchable Restored and a Kindness that Leads to Repentance

The note the boy wrote. Lower right on our bathroom mirror reads, “John 11, Jesus wept.”

 

Son, you get the Lunchable. Would you like some ice cream too? 

Those words cut across every grain of my don’t-back-down, actions-have-consequences, hold-the-line parental instinct.

And then some.

On the table was an “Uploaded Pizza Lunchable.” Despite the absence of whole food health, these had somehow weasled their way as a field trip lunch tradition. But when one son had pitched such a fit about a reasonable bit of homework, his Lunchable was off the table. And when he refused my warnings, ice cream for dessert was too.

Because of what, in the education world, we call  “Escalation” and “Red Zone” and “Level 5.”  Because of his kicking and shouting and chair-banging. You might call it a good, old-fashioned temper tantrum. At home we call it raging and losing control or, how I classed this one: out-of-your-head mad.  

Mind over matter, I kept telling myself. Tune it out. Don’t engage. Ignore the beast and wait for the boy. Keep on. 

But the self-talk was to no avail. I managed to finish all of two sentences of a work report in the half-hour my boy lay writhing on the floor. I couldn’t tune out the beast and my mind couldn’t hurdle this matter. And I couldn’t just keep on.

So- better late than never-I thought, and dropped to my knees to pray.

Mrs. Business Relents

…Have Mercy. Help me. Help the boy. Amen.  Then a still small voice said, Relent, even as a loud, mad voice wore on.

The Lunchable’s yours, Bud. You can take it on your field trip. And the loud, mad voice was stilled.

What did you say? it said.

You get your Lunchable back I said.

Then, the silencer: Wanna have a  bowl of ice cream with me? 

Kids need to know parents mean business, child-rearing gurus say. As if I’m not Mrs. Business herself. Give a consequence, set your face like flint and stick to it-I generally subscribe to that. Relenting went against every sound disciplinary principle I knew.

Except one.

Kindness Leads To Repentance

Because our Father in heaven, the Prima Parent and Best of dads, does not deal with us according as our sins deserve nor repay us according to our iniquities. He relents. Sometimes, even before we repent. Romans 2:4 tells us one reason why. (This sermon by Derek Carlsen explains the context of Romans 2 well.)

But between warnings in verses 3 and 5 we read,

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

The Lord does not turn a blind eye to sin or make nothing of it.  It is there and it is real and it is offensive to him, Carlsen says.

But God is patient and his kindness waits for us to repent. That is why sinners aren’t consumed.  When God proclaimed his name to Moses way back in Exodus 34:5-7, he opened with “The LORD, The LORD, a God merciful and gracious.”  The reason judgment hasn’t crushed us all is because of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience. God waits for us to repent and come to Him in his Beloved Son.

Charles Spurgeon said it so well,

GOD is often exceedingly good to those who are utterly unworthy of such treatment…The goodness of God to a man of evil life is not intended to encourage him to continue in his sin, but it is meant to woo and win him away from it. (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon #2857)

But kindness isn’t always received this way. It doesn’t always woo sinners away from sin.

Wisdom Required

But God blessed us- the boy and me- this time and it did. My restoring the Lunchable and scooping the ice cream did woo Gabe from his selfish fit. He worked a glorious repentance from a tiny act of kindness.  He turned from writhing on the floor to homework at the table.  And based on the writing on the bathroom mirror that night, Gabe had turned from sin to God.

But yes, Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death. Yes- be diligent to discipline him. And yes, mercy does triumph over judgment and yes, we are to ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 

It’s all there lumped together and it’s all true. And we do fail and we won’t always do discipline right. We’ll cave when we should wait and hold the line when  we should release. It’s only with divine guidance that we can know when to relent and when to keep the consequences in place and sit tight. Only with the wisdom from above that we will apply these truths aright.

Thankfully, it just so happens that we serve a kind, kind Father who gives wisdom generously and without finding fault to everyone who asks.

Gabe and I are living proof.

My “Whoever does not love his brother, who he can see, cannot love God who he does not see.” (1 John 4:20) To which Gabe’s, “I see you and I love you” made immense and soul-rejoicing sense. God’s truth got through.

 

*Gabe’s reference to “see you and love you” in the photo at the top rejoiced this mom’s heart. He was connecting to 1 John 4:20, which I had written on their bathroom mirror a week earlier.