Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sometimes It's Just That Simple

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
1 John 5:12 ESV

Each morning and evening, my daughter and I share a prayer time together. We always use a passage from the Bible to guide our prayers, and we practice this spiritual discipline together to with a few significant goals in mind:
  • To see our day, right from the start through to the finish, with God's mind directing our thoughts and our vision for the day;
  • To fill ourselves with compassion, goodness, grace, hope, joy, kindness, love, mercy, peace, and wisdom enough for sharing with others;
  • To call God's attention to and blessing over people we love;
  • And to cover one very special family, whom we love as our own flesh and blood, with strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow not because we are faithful in never missing a day of praying for them, but because we believe God is faithful to will and to do for them more than we ask or think.

I know it sounds like a lot to wring out of a prayer time with a teenager, but we have been praying together since she was just a little girl, and praying intensely like this for over 5 years. Standing by and feeling otherwise helpless and useless, while people you love suffer unspeakably painful blows to the soul—life attacks—has a way of intensifying the gravitational pull between your knees and the floor. 

When what seems initially like the least you can do for someone becomes essentially all you can do…well…most of us make one of two choices. We either pray wallowing in the reality of our own powerlessness, or we use every ounce of energy and faith we can summon to take hold of the One who is all powerful—the Lord, the giver of life. 

Though some of us hedge our bets and try to launch our prayers from some "middle" position on the faith continuum, pretty much any prayer that isn't anchored in the surety of God's omnipotence is adrift in unbelief...somehow, some way. Tonight, when we were praying this short, simple verse from 1 John 5, that fact really hit home. We either have Jesus and the very special fullness of life that is not available any other way…or we don't. It's just that simple.

What struck a deep chord within me tonight, particularly as we were praying for someone dear to us, is that sometimes the assaults of hardship, pain, and suffering upon our lives can unwittingly lead us to live in a state of spiritual deprivation or poverty. We can lose our grip on the power of Jesus living within us. 

Here's are some indicators that can signal our need to re-establish ourselves in the Son and the power of His living, active Word:
  • We are easily agitated.
  • We are bitter.
  • We choose avoidance, aggression, or cold shoulder strategies for solving problems with others.
  • We play Freud and psychoanalyze ourselves and others—often rationalizing our faults, and condemning the faults of others.
  • We maintain mostly surface level, superficial relationships.
  • We set up "traps" and "road blocks" to keep our real life outside of spiritual accountability.
  • We mask and pretend to be more "OK" than we really are.
  • We mistrust most people.
  • We assume the worst about others and their motives.
  • We don't really believe that tomorrow will be better, or that God's mercies are "new every morning" for us.
  • We feel robbed and/or cheated.
  • We make excuses for bad behavior.
  • We think everyone wants something from us.
  • We don't want to accept kindness or generosity from others because we don't want to owe them anything.
  • We break promises and vows.
  • We send out a lot of mixed messages.
  • We use busyness as an excuse for not dealing appropriately or effectively with people and/or problems.
  • We cite others' inability to understand, or our inability to change, as reasons why we "have to do it [my] own way."
  • We are easily offended.
  • We cut people off (in conversation, in relationships, in traffic, in our minds, in our hearts).
  • We lie to, or deceive ourselves and/or others, to avoid confrontation, conflict, and constructive patterns of solving problems.
  • We cite our feelings as sufficient reason(s) for wounding others.
  • We say we are sorry, but we don't change our behavior.
  • We say, "I know" but our actions suggest otherwise.
  • We accuse others with "crimes" we also commit ourselves.
The list could go on and on and on because of one simple fact, which is that sin—left unattended—leaves us inactive and lifeless. The list above shows us how we live when our tents are pitched outside the Word…outside the Son and His abundant life. When we truly have the Son…we are at peace with God, with ourselves, and with others. When we have the Son we have abundant life, so we don't feel threatened or thwarted by conflict or by human frailties. 

Having a life of spiritual abundance and sufficiency in Jesus is evidenced by how we live and love among others. How can we claim to have the Son, and have life, if so many of our habits and patterns reflect emptiness and death? 

What's interesting to me is that every one of the indicators I've listed above, and many others, has a contra indicator that can be found in the LIVING and ACTIVE Word of God, which is "sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12 ESV). In sum, and in short, if we have the Son, and we have life, then we also HAVE love—love from which we cannot be separated.

If we look honestly at ourselves and at the list above, can we really say that we have the Son, the abundant life He offers us, and love (for God and others) if our actions reflect emptiness and depravity instead of abundant life?  The book of Joshua says it this way, 

Joshua 24:15English Standard Version (ESV)

15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lordchoose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Sometimes…it's just that simple. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Are Your Roots Showing? - A little ramble on dye jobs, highlights, touch-ups, and transplants

In this day and age, females of increasingly younger ages are likely to have at least one experience with coloring their hair…if only by way of a box of Kool-Aid. Women and girls are often willing to try just about anything to get a new and different look, setting themselves apart as unique and interesting. 

Just take a look at these quotes from some famous folks, and you'll see that there's a lot of insight to be gained from how we view our hair.
  • “Some of the worst mistakes in my life were haircuts”  — Jim Morrison
  • “If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.”  — Hilary Rodham Clinton

And my personal favorite, from the great Hollywood actress, Joan Crawford, “I think that the most important thing a woman can have—next to talent, of course—is her hairdresser.”  Sultry, edgy, and intense Joan had a point. 

Your hairdresser can really make or break the statement you make out in the world.

For myself, I'm pretty into my mane. I never feel quite right with a dull coif, and since I'm blessed to have inherited my grandmother's "young" skin, I never feel good about letting my 51 years show through my gray hairs. After lots of trial and error, I decided to let my hairdresser make a dramatic change in my hair color. 

Although I lived nearly 50 years as a dark brunette, when the gray started coming in faster than I could color them, I started increasing the intensity and number of my highlights. I am now, officially a blonde. I have the drivers license picture to prove it! (And no, you absolutely CANNOT see the picture!)

But here's the deal, if I don't keep vigilant watch over my 'do, and if I grow too poor or too cheap to keep up with the demands of new growth…my roots begin to show. It can get very ugly in a hurry…kinda like a clumsy ombre.  

It's pretty much the same with my Christian walk of faith as a disciple of Jesus. If I am not deliberate and diligent in attending to my spiritual growth, it doesn't take long for me to become undisciplined, unkind, unforgiving, and unloving toward others. My dark roots of sin begin to show. 

That's the thing about being a follower of Jesus. We are not called to be sinners—dyed and highlighted to look like saints. Our faith should emerge from having been transplanted from a life filled with conflict, sin, unforgiveness, and unrepentance, to a life of joy, obedience, forgiveness, and transformation.

Here's how Paul says it in a letter to the Ephesians:

Ephesians 4:22-24New American Standard Bible (NASB)

22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old [a]self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new [b]self, which [c]in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.


  1. Ephesians 4:22 Lit man
  2. Ephesians 4:24 Lit man
  3. Ephesians 4:24 Lit according to God
To the Romans, Paul says it even more clearly and directly.

Romans 12:2New King James Version (NKJV)

2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
The basic command being forwarded by Paul in these verses is a consistent, intentional pattern of being not only reborn, but also being re-formed, and re-newed…again, and again, and again until that mysterious and awesome day when we meet Jesus face to face. 

There's grace to cover our imperfection, and freedom to choose obedience over disobedience (or vice versa). There is not, however, an opt-out plan that allows for disciples to live in a continuous "no-fault" state like a divorcee. Ultimately, we're either transplanted and transformed into something new with strong roots to endure, or we're going to get eaten up, dried up, or crowded out before long.

***** ***** *****
The parable of the sower, which is found in three of the four gospel accounts of Jesus' life and ministry, explains these differences comparing our faith in Christ, and it's intended growth, to seeds that are intended to grow and bear fruit. 

Matthew 13:3-8New American Standard Bible (NASB)

And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell [a]among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.


  1. Matthew 13:7 Lit upon

The fact is, when it comes to growing a good, hearty crop, much has to do with the roots. There's no long term "posing" if you're a farmer. It will become painfully obvious to everyone that you may have left the city, but you're no farmer. 
Ineptitude may make for a lot of laughs on an old television show like Green Acres, but in real life an inept farmer can lose every last cent, and the farm too if the crops don't take root, grow up, and get harvested. There's no hiding that kind of failure for long.

Not to mix metaphors, but isn't it a lot like that with our dyed, highlighted, and touched up hair? Short of a complete hair transplant, no brunette can be a perpetual blonde, and even then the brunette DNA remains unchanged. 

No matter how good your hairdresser is, you cannot be a natural blonde without a truly miraculous intervention by God. And even if you should be the recipient of such a miracle, you'd still need to care for your hair to ensure that it is kept regularly clean and cut. It needs consistent attention to not only look healthy, but also be healthy…so it can grow.

People who color their hair will tell you that even touch-ups are insufficient for maintaining a good-looking head of hair. A few times a year it's necessary to completely re-do the base color for highlighted hair, or re-do a full head of color for hair that is colored without highlights.

Whether we're talking about hair coloring,  farming, or Christian living…EVERYTHING has to do with the roots. You can't skimp or cheat for long, or your lack of care will show. Your roots will be exposed.

In light of Jesus' teaching, we need to examine ourselves honestly. 

I have to look at myself and ask some super tough questions:

Are my roots showing? Are they the roots of a truly transformed soul that has grown deep into the love and truth of Christ? Or are they the dark roots of sin that have been left to grow wild? 

Am I just pretending at being a disciple of Jesus—covering my sins with some dye and a few highlights, maybe doing a few touch-ups once in a while? Or am I inviting God search me down to my roots and transform anything He finds grievous or offensive in me

When He reveals the truth of my condition, do I make excuses, and try to put off His efforts to prune me back? Or do I stand at the ready before before His pruning shears, anticipating new growth, healthy fruit, and a great harvest?

The answers to these questions are probably never more evident than through the lens of my responses to conflicts with the people I love. Sigh.

When I am unwilling to settle differences and solve problems on God's terms (love) with God's end (reconciliation) in mind…my dark, sinful roots show, and after awhile even a few touch-ups here and there are insufficient to disguise my rebellious nature. 

Sure, I can choose to highlight my finer qualities to keep the focus away from my unsightly roots, but that is not genuine care for my soul…or the souls of people I claim to love. More than that, occasional touch-ups and highlights don't demonstrate true love for my Savior, or His love for me.

How about you? Pray. Ask God to search you down to the roots. Ask Him to do whatever it takes—even pruning you back—to ensure that your roots grow down deep into His love, so that even your enemies, and the people with whom you find yourself in conflict, can see Jesus through you.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

At the Impulse of Thy Love

Soooo many thoughts, tonight, as I process the events of the past day, and the present one that marks 51 years of my life on earth. I am reminded, once again, that my God sees me. He is intimately acquainted with all of my ways. How do I know these things with any certainty? Well, to be honest, I take a lot on faith; I am blessed to have been so richly endowed with faith allows me to see life from a very unique perspective.

For example, when I came to the end of a deeply emotional day yesterday, my whole soul was eager to meet God in prayer, and to press into God's arms, letting Him enfold me as I shared my heart and sought His wisdom. He was present and waiting for me with this verse:

Hebrews 12:1New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Jesus, the Example

12 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
As my prayer embraced this verse, I became confidently aware of a few things:
First, I am not alone. God sees me and all that concerns me. In fact, all the saints in heaven, and indeed the heavens themselves—the stars that He calls out by name—are a great cloud of witnesses with whom I share a testimony of my God as my creator and redeemer who lives. 
Yet, I was not only keenly aware of His presence, I also found myself reminded of how the troubles of life are not impenetrable walls that prevent me from a blessed life. I am charged, in fact, with a duty to lay aside EVERY encumbrance—especially my sinfulness—that might inhibit me from not only accepting the life that was given to me, but embracing it and living it with endurance, and with God's end, not my own, in mind. 
I asked myself what it really means to lay aside every encumbrance, and I realized quickly that God never asks us to lay aside reality, only any weight of reality that  threatens to hold us back from saying, "Here am I," as Samuel the prophet did, when God calls us to something…no matter how challenging. So, for example, whether I am carrying the weight of illness, poor finances, or even profound grief and suffering, God says I am to lay down any part of these things that limits my ability to take the life that is set before me, and live it daily in service and obedience to Him who is able to keep me from falling.
We might think of it this way: God would never ask us to deal in unreality. If we are sick, or poor, or grief-stricken, etc., God doesn't ask us to stop being ill, or poor, or bereaved. He only asks that we let Him sift off from our troubles any part(s) that stand between us and His will for our lives—the lives we have set before us. 
So, God would never say to me, "Anne! You are not allowed to feel any sorrow or discomfort in this life!" Instead, God says, "Anne, you must not allow your sorrows or discomforts to stand in the way of your full obedience to me." That means my troubles are not an excuse for my disobedience.
In fact, I think it's quite the opposite! I think laying aside encumbrances and running the race of life means taking my troubles and using them as spiritual energy to help me draw nearer to God—receiving His strength in order to obey Him despite my human weaknesses. I don't get to say, "…but God, my body is broken with illness, my piggy bank is broken with financial pressures, my heart is broken with some terrible tragedy." Instead, my job is to persist in the endeavor to obey God at every unexpected twist and turn in life…from the highest highs to the lowest lows. I am to surrender myself and my whole life to God and His ways…whatever the path He has laid before me. 
Oh sure; I can pretend at obedience on the surface, and then resent it down deep, but God sees. He knows. He is present…slow to anger and abounding in love. He has given us not only the freedom to disobey, but also the tools to obey…to run the race with endurance.
In doing so, when we say, "Here am I, Lord," we are to do more than simply report for some kind of spiritual KP duty, and then kvetch the whole time. We are to report as hands, feet, hearts, lips, and eyes that move "at the impulse of His love." So we can be sure, whether we are asked to love our enemies, our neighbors, our families, or even ourselves, He has already given us His love to do the job, and to do it well for the long haul. He has already loved before us.
We do well to ask ourselves, then, if we are living fully surrendered lives that move at His impulses, and not our own. If we are not, we can ask God, "Why?" but He will undoubtedly answer by giving us some sort of reminder that we have failed to lay aside any weight that keeps us from acting at the impulse of His love.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It Takes Gratitude to Keep a Connection

Have you ever stopped to think about what (precisely) keeps you consistently connected to some people, while others fall by the wayside of your life? I think I always just assumed that connections are maintained or broken through simple realities such as peace or conflict, and presence or absence. Those assumptions kind of flew out the window for me today while I was driving with my daughter to Target.
We were talking about someone precious to us who's been through a really rough time lately. My daughter remarked that our dear one always seems the closest to us at the times when she expresses gratitude and appreciation for us, and seems the most disconnected from us when the gratitude fades away. I thought that was a profound observation for a 14 year old. 
Yet, it's true, isn't it? The more gratitude we feel toward someone, the more connected we feel to them. Of course, it's obvious that when we experience conflict or disappointment with someone, gratitude isn't really the first thing that comes to mind. That realization started me thinking about how it is that we tend to solve problems and stay connected with some people but not others. It seems to me that gratitude plays a major role in our choices to maintain close connections with people.
When we fall into conflicts and run low on gratitude that is the beginning of disconnection. Conflicts draw our attention toward whatever has offended or disappointed us, and away from cultivating gratitude. It doesn't take long for gaps to develop, and relationships to begin falling apart.
However, if we take a cue from the apostle, Paul, we are likely to find a way to hurt less and heal more. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says, "I do not cease to give thanks for you." He minimizes the opportunity for conflicts and disappointments to do substantial damage to his relationship with the Ephesians by thanking God for them—remembering them in his prayers. Since we have  evidence throughout the New Testament that Paul lived a life of prolific prayer, we can safely say that when Paul says, "I do not cease to give thanks for you" he's not inflating the truth.

Paul's heart of gratitude, and his practice of prayer, served to protect and grow his relationships with people in the church at Ehpesus. He communicates with them, and not only expresses his gratitude for the Ephesians, but also blesses them (Eph. 1:3) and instructs them throughout his letter. Paul is invested. These people were given to Paul in trust by God, and so he felt appropriately responsible to cultivate the relationship. He followed through with his calling.

So…what about us? Do we follow through with God's call upon our lives—His commandment to love others—and keep a hedge of protection around our relationships through gratitude and prayer? Think about a conflicted relationship in your life. What would happen if you decided to pray gratefully for the person/people without ceasing, even if the most you could initially feel gratitude for is God's opportunity to develop character and obedience in you through the conflict? What if you started these ceaseless prayers by calling for God's blessing over the person or people with whom you are in conflict?

I have tried this exercise myself, and it works to reveal my heart and shift the focus away from the conflict and toward my own flaws. More than that, it works to help me feel more connected to people and more willing to do my part in protecting the relationship. At times when I've thrown my hands up in the air, walked away, and not come back with a heart to settle the problem amicably, I have also stopped praying and blessing people. I have lost my gratitude, and ultimately my relationship. In sum, I've been disobedient. 
However, when I've actively and consistently prayed for and blessed someone who has offended or disappointed me, the relationship may be rocked, but it remains in tact. Not only that, but the relationship heals and grows stronger. It's not rocket science, and it's not a secret. 
When we follow God's design for love and relationship with people we experience fewer disconnections, and greater personal peace. I mean, it stands to reason that conflicts solved through obedience to God in prayer, and in gratitude, will lead to more peaceful lives. It really doesn't make sense to live any other way.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Don't Dis' Me, Man!" - Have We Become Pathological Name-Callers?

In the years since psychology and psychiatry have gained respect and public acceptance, the Western world, in particular, has incorporated many diagnostic terms into everyday vocabulary. In contemporary America, you probably cannot go a day in normal conversation without someone self-disclosing—if only jokingly—about their ADD, ADHD, or even "schizo" behaviors. There probably isn't a cocktail party in any major city where someone isn't naming someone else as a "manic" or "clinical" or <fill in the blank> over a martini.  

Frankly, I'm at the point where I want to shout, "ENOUGH ALREADY!" 

I mean, isn't about time we all stop playing armchair mental health professional, and start talking about ourselves and others more…kindly…more…human-ly? 

If our deepest ways of understanding one another have to come from a professional manual that exists to define and catalog mental and emotional disorders, doesn't that seem…I dunno…kind of…sick? Obsessive? Pathological…? 

Seriously, how does persistently calling someone a "case" or "co-dependent" or "OCD" help us to treat people with Christ-like humility and kindness? 

This world is a red-hot mess. People get hurt out there—really banged up. Is this the best we can do, as the people of God? We break out our label-makers, like Martha Stewart, and go around assuring that everyone knows who we think is bi-polar or personality disordered...? Dude, really? 

Think about it. Our friends hear us calling one another by "clinical" names. People share what we say about others. (That, incidentally, is called gossip…just sayin'.) If that's how we roll, then what happens when we fall into conflict with people? Do we check their label and start with the dis'…? 

Cool it with the clinical and the Haterade, peeps. If you call yourself a Christian, you can't be down with that. 

Word up

Ephesians 4:29

English Standard Version (ESV)
29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

You get me? Knock it off! 

Explain to me—please, I'm all ears—how slapping on labels and walking off all confident in your "professional" Dx (that's how the professionals write "diagnosis") builds anyone up or gives grace to those who hear. Ya. I thought so. You can't.

You didn't ask for my non-professional opinion, but here it is anyway…

Stick with The Golden Rule. "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them" (Luke 6:30-31). 

If you think someone needs professional help, guide them there…gently. Kindly. If you can't, pray and seek someone who can. But put down your little label maker and chill, for heaven's sake! Who died and left you Freud? 

And don't just leave the broken, wounded people you encounter to go around wearing their labels and searching for hope. No one says you have to "fix" them, but you can be nice. You can be an encourager. 

Yo, and one more thing…

If you really can't get yourself to the place where you stop with the name-calling (because that's what it is) and start with the edifying (because that's what it ain't) you can be rock solid that there's a whole pipeline of folks who have your page marked in the manual. They onto you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Galatians 5:22-25

New Living Translation (NLT)
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

Growing in Grace Means Growing Healthy Fruit: 
There's no room for bad seeds

How we grow in grace often depends on what seeds we sow. Growing the fruits of the Spirit means cultivating healthy fruits from a good garden. If we plant good seeds, and cultivate our lives as good places where people thrive among us, the harvest of grace is great. If we plant old, tired seeds we'll limit our yield and probably cause the people and places around us to become distressed and withered.

Most of us have a lot of old habits shoved into the drawers and boxes of our lives, or neatly hung and arranged by occasion for later use—perhaps even stashed away in a vault for emergencies. Nothing wrong with that. Not all of our old habits are bad. Some of them become tried and true practices that never lose effectiveness, i.e. being grateful, taking care of our health, being kind to others. Habits like these are all keepers.

However, when we enter new seasons in our lives, which inevitably lead to new people, passions, and problems, many old habits are no longer serviceable. They become bad seeds. In fact, we may well find that these habits are entirely destructive. They often rob new seasons of good fruit. Some new seasons are traumatic and unsettling. They leave us broken and bruised on the inside. We develop coping skills that are briefly effective and tolerable for getting us through a crisis, but—left in place as habits—our bad seeds begin having corrosive effects upon our lives.

I came from a family that had the cruelest joke. They marked dramatic shifts in my life by my birthday. "If it's Anne's birthday," they'd say, "then it must be moving day." For YEARS, my birthday's convenient summer timing made it the "just right" occasion for my mother to move us either in or out of my grandparents comfortable home. (The out was never a welcome change.) Every once in a while we would even do it in between…right around Christmas. Sigh.

Each time, I would have to gather up my things (or simply come home and find they had been gathered for me) unpack them into the latest new life, and start over, all while avoiding conflict with my mother, and keeping silent…no complaints allowed. I'd learned from a very early age that crying, complaining, or questioning inevitably led to truly dangerous tirades. These were rife with long, hard winds of abusive words, and irrational, violent outbursts that resulted in things like bruises, cut lips, abrasions, clumps of hair falling out…and tears that would keep the horrors coming until some distraction called her fury to an end. All of this was to say nothing of the abuses I suffered as an even younger child at my father's hands. For much of my childhood, I learned how to keep my complaints to myself. I learned the safety of silence.

Even my well-meaning grandmother promoted silence as a safety measure. Since my mother would be gone for days, and (at least once) even weeks at a time, my grandmother looked to silence as the gateway to peace when my mother was at home. Not wanting to lose her youngest daughter, but trying to protect me, my grandmother decided that silence was the way to keep her blood pressure and nitroglycerin pills to a minimum, and my safety to the maximum. When she'd see my mother ramping up into an angry episode she'd pull me aside and whisper, "Just don't say anything. Shut up. She'll leave soon and we'll have peace and quiet." My grandfather, often at work and seldom at home for the worst of my mother's rages, would just shake his head and half mutter/half chuckle, saying of my mother, "That girl could disturb a high mass!" as he walked away. So, as long as my grandparents were around to diffuse things by encouraging my silence, I could escape most of the blasts with just a few slaps and some yelling.

Yet, not speaking my complaints didn't mean making peace with them. Instead, I learned to purge in order to start over—first my things, like souvenirs from good times at the old place, or yearbooks from the old school…and later my food. My once reliable habit of silence in the face of change was also a habit of silence in the face of abuse, and later a habit of silence in handling many of my other problems. I learned to "take one on the chin for the team" in order to control the madness. Of course, nothing could have been more counter-productive and dangerous for me in later seasons of problem solving. My silence stopped creating safety for me, or anyone else.

When seasons changed in my later years, and the problems of life grew more complex, silence no longer afforded me peace. In fact, silence became the great fertilizer of a bitter root in me that grew (unexpectedly, even to me) my own outbursts of hateful words, and  stirred me to have hot-tempered responses to conflicts—cutting people to the quick, and then cutting them off to restore the silence. With even the smallest hint of conflict, I'd set my face like flint and move on with very little gratitude, if any, for any kindness that had been shown me. I had virtually no grace for others. I completely shut down.

Later in life, I came to realize that silence can be two faced. While silence was the very good habit that allowed me to listen attentively and pick up on crucial nuances and details—a skill that has served me well in life as a teacher and encourager—it also drove me to alienate people, put out a lot of mixed messages, or sometimes stew too long, think too much, and ultimately lose my temper. Not so great.

I've had to spend my the better part of my adult years, in each of its seasons, ferreting out the hiding places and poor practices of unhealthy silence, replacing them with a voice, and then training that voice to speak properly. It's not always easy, but I do it. I make a lot of mistakes. I fall down backward sometimes when an unfamiliar crisis reveals a few more bad seeds, but I keep learning to seek after ways of making grace, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control the centerpieces of my life. A spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation has been the natural outcropping of my best efforts, and the missing element of my worst failures.

What about you? If you look closely at conflicts in your life, are there old habits directing your responses to new seasons? How are these old habits working out for you? It's easy to blame others for not understanding you, or for not taking your cues and adapting to your new needs and preferences, but there comes a point when you may want to consider that your old habits are the greatest common factor in many of your conflicts and limitations. It may be time to plant some new seeds. 

The more you get rid of the bad seeds and sow the good ones, the less likely you'll be to throw away, or push away, good people and a good life. Your life will be a good place for others to grow up alongside you. Plant the fruits of the Spirit. Cultivate a good garden. You'll find that you, and the people around you, will grow in grace and peace.