Thursday, January 29, 2015

I Don't Have To Explain Myself To You

Yesterday, in the midst of my other errands, I needed to stop by the bank to find out what was up with a recent deposit I had made.  For some reason, the mobile deposit had been returned, and I was charged a return fee on top of it.  Thankfully, they were very gracious and helped me figure out what happened.  In the end, they cashed the checked for me and reimbursed the fee to my account.  Praise the Lord!

"While you're here, would you like us to make sure all of your account information is up to date?" the kind man said.  "We try to do that at the beginning of each year." 

I knew I had groceries in the car and more errands to run, but I figured the process wouldn't take long, so I said, "Sure."  If only I had known what I was getting myself into. 

The entire affair started off simply enough.  Name.  Account number.  Date of birth.  Phone number.  E-mail address.  (Most of this information, by the way, was horribly out of date. I guess I haven't done this "first of the year" process in some time.)  Then, came the details of a more personal nature, as the representative was trying to see if we qualified for a home loan through their bank.

Him:  "How much is your combined annual income?" 

Me:  "You wouldn't believe me if I told you, although you are staring at the contents of my bank account, so maybe you would believe me."

Him:  "What would you say you owed in total debt, including your mortgage?"

Me:  "Far more than you could ever dream, unfortunately.  Please don't make me think about it."

Him:  "It says here you're self-employed.  What do you do?"

Me:  "I'm a writer. . . I write books and blogs and stuff."  (eloquent, huh?)

Him:  "And where is your husband employed?"

Me:  "The Clean Force Company.  It's a carpet cleaning company."

Him:  "Does he like it there?"

Me (growing extremely uncomfortable):  "It's a job.  He does what he has to do so that I can do what the Lord has called me to do."  (Let's face it, how many people actually enjoy cleaning carpets?)

By this time, I felt like I needed to explain myself, our financial situation and so much more.  I exploded into a discussion of past medical expenses and job losses, emergency circumstances and following the Lord's will.  Though the man said nothing negative, I felt as if I were being judged. . . and sentenced--"Loser!"  Instead of leaving the bank feeling happy about resolving the issue with the deposit, I instead felt discouraged and depressed.  And get this, the entire event took place less than two hours after speaking to someone who expressed gratitude for the encouragement I offered each day on my blog, especially the post on doubt.  Coincidence?  I think not!

As I drove to my next stop, striving to hold back the tears of frustration and disappointment, I decided what I needed most was to have a little talk with Jesus.  I poured out every ounce of despair and disgust at the situation I currently faced.  I explained my frustration over our financial state, ready and willing to admit that I have not been as good of a steward over my finances as I should have been.  I expressed my negative feelings about how I always feel I have to explain myself and the reason I work for pennies to those who I feel are wondering why I don't get a real job and pay off some debts.  I talked for a long while, then when my strength was gone, I sat still and listened to hear what God would say to me.

It took a while, but all evening long, my e-mail inbox filled with letters of thanks and encouragement.  Friends and readers thanking me for a particular blog post that brought comfort to them.  A dear friend who is currently listening through my Names of God audio series and had to stop long enough to send me an e-mail letting me know how much she was enjoying them and that she's making a point to take notes as she listens.  A fellow writer who thanked me for some recent help I'd given her and ended her e-mail by saying that she was thanking God for me all day.  Gratitude.  Encouragement.  Pleas to keep doing what I'm doing.  One right after another!

Now, you may be thinking, "That's not God speaking.  That's other people."  Well, yes and no.  I believe God was speaking through those people, and this is what I heard.  "Yes, Dana, I know it's hard, but you're right where I want you to be for the time being.  I am using you in ways you can't even imagine, so don't ever doubt whether or not you're making a difference.  I know the financial gains are lousy, but that's not really what this is all about, is it?  You don't need to explain yourself to anyone because they don't have the right to judge.  I am the Judge, and I know that you're doing the very thing I told you to do.  So, don't worry about what others may think or say.  Their opinions don't matter.  Mine does.  Continue to live out your life in a way that is pleasing to me, and I'll take care of the rest."

I heard all of that?  Yes, I did, but even more importantly, I felt it.  And with that answer, a great peace settled over me.    I don't have to explain what I do.  Good grief, I don't even understand it myself sometimes.  How in the world could I possibly explain it to you?  But it doesn't matter because God has reminded me that if someone has a problem with my following His will in this way, I can simply tell them to take it up with my Boss.  And I'll leave the explaining to Him. 

That'll show 'em to mind their own business, huh?

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;  Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. - Ephesians 6:5-8

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

But I've Already Done That!

This post has been rolling around in the back of mind for a couple of years now, but I've never felt like the Lord would give me the freedom to write it.  I don't know why.  I can't explain it.  So, I've left it on the back burner, and honestly, I had forgotten about it. . . until this morning.  Out of the blue, the thought hit me and hard on its heels was the impression that this was the topic for this morning's post. I don't know who this is for today or why God chose this particular time to allow me to post these thoughts, but I don't need to know.  I need only obey, so that's what I'm going to do.

Have you ever heard a song, sermon or testimony where the person was describing a situation to which you could relate all too well?  Perhaps it was a story of darkness and despair.  Maybe the person was describing a time when they had lost all hope and joy in life.  Whatever the case, you were listening and nodding your head, thinking Oh, yes, this is me and, at the same time, hoping that the person was about to reveal his/her secret to setting things right.

And typically, they do, but the answer was not that for which you were hoping.  Come to find out, this "life struggle" took place before salvation, and once the person came to know the Lord, everything turned out fine.  Immediately, your heart is crushed, and for several reasons.  On the one hand, you're happy for the individual who came to know the Lord, but on the other hand, you're confused and dismayed.  Is everything supposed to be hunky dory once you're saved?  Do problems cease to exist?  Does the presence of the Holy Spirit in your heart negate the fact that life is full of trouble?  And if the answer to those questions is yes, then are you really saved at all?  Because that has certainly not been the case for you.

I've been there, dear friend.  So desperate for an answer to my problem that I was crushed when it was revealed that the answer was salvation.  "But I've already done that," I've argued.  I'm saved.  I know I am.  I'm living my life day after day, trying to serve God to the best of my ability.  So, why am I not experiencing this sunshine and rainbows of which others are speaking?  Well, to answer that, let me be blunt.  They don't experience sunshine and rainbows every day either.  Sure there are good days, but there are bad days too.  And it's imperative that we realize that the presence of bad days does not serve as an indicator that we are not saved and partakers of the joy of the Lord.

My favorite Bible verse is John 16:33, and one of the reasons I love it so is because Jesus tells it like it is.  He doesn't try to sugarcoat the truth to make it easier to swallow.  He simply states the facts.  One problem and one solution.   These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. 

Did you catch that?  Jesus is saying this so that we might have peace.  So, how does telling us that we're going to have troubles give us peace?  Well, for one, we know they're coming, so they shouldn't catch us off guard.  Two, we can be assured that He knows they're coming, so we can trust that He'll see us through.  And lastly, we can have peace because Jesus' statement didn't end there.  He didn't simply state the problem, but He went on to give us the solution.  Yes, there will be problems, but it's no big deal because He has overcome the world.  In other words, He's got it under control.  Keep in mind that Jesus was talking to believers at this point in time, so we have it on His authority that we can be saved and still have troubles.

The solution to the biggest of life's problems for the unsaved is salvation.  After all, without Jesus, they have nothing.  But if you are already saved and are still searching for the answer to life's distresses, I would like to direct you back to Jesus' statement.  Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.  Don't panic.  Don't worry.  Don't stress over it.  God is looking on, and He knows exactly what you're going through.  He is with you and will give you strength to overcome.  Don't lose heart.  Don't lose faith.  And don't question a decision that you made long ago.  Trials do not indicate a lack of salvation.  On the contrary, more often than not, they verify that God is at work in your life and the devil is fighting against that work.  So don't view the hard times as a curse but rather as a blessing.  God is working, so you can rest in His embrace and be at peace.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Would You Please Pass the Grace?

Sunday evenings, after church, anyone who wants to stay is invited to gather together in the fellowship building and share a meal.  It's usually something simple, consisting of miscellaneous items we have brought.  Sandwiches, pizza and soups are common menu items at such gatherings.

Last Sunday afternoon, however, I was at a loss at what to take.  I didn't have the time or energy to fix a soup.  I didn't have the supplies for sandwiches.  Scrounging through my pantry, I emerged with a pack of seasoned rice.  My thought was to cut up the leftover pork chops, toss them, along with the flavored rice, into the crock pot, add some water and broth and create a soup of sorts.  When Jason saw my plan, he immediately began to help, adding his own offerings to the mix.  All afternoon, the two of us added little things to the soup--a can of black beans, a can of diced tomatoes, a few seasonings here and there.  After a while, it began to smell good. . .really good!!!!

But as we tasted our hodgepodge concoction, we both agreed that something was missing.  Unfortunately, neither of us could figure out what.  Jason perused the various seasonings on the rack as I once again scrounged through the pantry and then the refrigerator.  After several minutes, Jason decided to add a splash of lemon juice to the mix, and you know what?  That was it!  That was the missing ingredient!  Who would have thought that a tiny splash of lemon juice would turn an okay soup into a culinary masterpiece?  (Okay, maybe it wasn't that good, but it was very tasty.  The worst part was trying to answer the question, "Hey, what kind of soup is that?"  Um, well. . .)

Some days I take a big bite out of life and realize that something's missing.  Everything is okay, but something is not quite right.  And as it was with the soup, it is often tricky to figure out what the missing ingredient is.  But, I've been doing a lot of praying and soul-searching lately, and God has revealed to me an ingredient that is often missed in various parts of my life.  No, it's not lemon juice.  It's something much sweeter.  My missing ingredient is grace.

Understand that I'm not saying grace is missing from my life because I haven't received any.  That's not it at all.  It's not the receiving that is lacking, but rather the extending of grace.  In my Gung ho approach to conquer each day and its many tasks, I often fail to take the time to step outside of my own little zone and look for opportunities to extend grace to others.  Then, of course, there are times when the opportunities are right in front of me, but my selfishness and pride talk me into offering sarcasm, bitterness or moodiness instead.  And suddenly, life doesn't taste just right.  Things aren't what I know they should be.  And I have no one to blame but myself.

Now that I've finally figured out the missing ingredient, I have begun paying attention to what's going on outside my own little world.  I have started looking for opportunities to extend grace to others.  When that little voice within me begins to grumble about someone else's actions or attitudes, I am learning to silence it by remembering how many times I've received grace and  by realizing that God would have me to pass on what I've received.  And you know what?  Life is tasting sweeter each day.  Do I still have problems?  You bet I do.  Are some days still difficult?  Absolutely.   But as odd as it sounds, it seems that the more grace I give out the more I have for myself.  And each day seems to taste a little better than the day before.

All that from a simple dash of grace!  Who would have thought?

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. - Colossians 4:6

Friday, January 23, 2015

Team Us: Marriage Together by Ashleigh Slater

When a couple promises "I do," they agree to more than just a shared last name, a joint bank account, and no more dateless nights. This husband and wife duo forms a new team. "Life together" becomes their mantra. Nothing can come between them. At least, that's the plan. But then real life sets in. With it come disappointments and frustrations. If the couple isn't intentional in their day-to-day interactions, that once enthusiastic "we" can slowly revert to "you" and "me." Before long, the couple's left wondering what happened to their team spirit. Team Us: Marriage Together offers couples practical ways to cultivate and strengthen unity in their marriages. Author Ashleigh Slater shares from her own marriage as she presents couples with realistic ideas on how to foster cooperation, deepen commitment, and exercise grace on a daily basis.

My Review:

I'm fairly picky about marriage books.  Generally, I either love or hate them.  Some tend to focus so much on the intimacy of the marriage that they leave out the practical side of things.  Others do the exact opposite.  I'm happy to say that Team Us does a wonderful job of balancing the two sides of marriage:  the intimate side and the day-to-day practicality side. And while the book didn't really provide me with any new information or "aha" moments, it did serve to remind me of several areas that I could use improvement in, as well as areas in which I have grown lax over the years.

I think what I admired most about the book was Ashleigh's straightforward, down-to-earth tone.  She didn't come across as some high and mighty marriage counselor that had all the answers.  Instead, she approached the subject from the viewpoint of "Hey, I'm right here with you in the midst of this chaotic thing called marriage. Let's work together and see if we can't figure out how to make it everything God intended for it to be."  With real life examples and witty humor, Ashleigh takes you by the hand on a tour through her marriage, pointing out along the way what worked and what didn't.  It's is a refreshingly honest approach to what can often be a delicate topic--how to make a Christian marriage work.

Being roughly the same age as I am, Ashleigh used many examples that brought back childhood memories.  Her references to the old show "Full House," as well as the movie, "The Princess Bride" brought a smile to my face as I could totally relate to the point she was trying to make.  I could also  relate to some of the difficult situations she discussed, including what she terms "the weeping years."  In a nutshell, the book and the real-life examples contained within serve as proof that marriages can grow through even some of the darkest adversities, whether it be job loss or the death of a loved one.  It won't be easy, and there are no quick fixes or instant formulas.  But with a true faith in God and the choice to love one another no matter what, every marriage can be a success.

Whether you've been married for six months or sixty years, this book is a valuable guide to having and keeping a happy marriage, and I highly recommend it.

The Giveaway:

If you'd like to receive a free copy of Ashleigh Slater's book, Team Us: Marriage Together, send me an e-mail at Dana@DanaRongione.com.  Be sure to include your name and mailing address.  A winner will be chosen at random on Wednesday, January 28th.  The giveaway is only open to those in the United States and Canada, sorry!