A Little Library Misunderstanding

proverbs 19-11

It was a tiny bit of a library misunderstanding.

My son played quietly with the toy trains and the dinosaurs (who knew dinosaurs and toy trains went so well together?) so I sat quietly and read.

That’s when I heard two little girls nearby trip along into a conversation pit without realizing it.

They were only about three or four years old, sweet as can be, with ponytails and pink shoes.

Here’s the transcript of what they actually said:

Girl 1:  Can I play with you?

Girl 2:  (As she searches the Lego bin for the right block):  No, I’m playing Legos right now.  We can play later.

Girl 1 then pauses just as she was about to pull a chair up to the Lego table.  Her face reads surprise, then sadness and a little hurt.  She turns away and plays with the farm animals instead.

There were no tears and there was no conflict.  No one tattled or fought.  Each just went about doing her own little thing,  unaware of what the other little girl was truly thinking or feeling.

And, that’s the thing that gives me pause.  Neither of these girls really understood what the other one meant to say.  What each of them truly meant was:

Girl 1:  May I play Legos with you?

Girl 2:  Oh, sure!  I’m playing Legos right now and I’d love for you to join me.

But that’s not what happened.  Girl 1 was asking to join in the building fun.

Girl 2 thought she was being asked to stop her Lego building and go do something else with her little friend and by golly she was having a good old time making Lego animals right now.

Their conversation just missed a little.  It’s like they shot two arrows.  One went under the target and one went over the target, but no one hit the mark.

What resonates a bit with my heart today is when I’m offended or hurt and I let critical words sink deep into my soul,  what if I’m actually misunderstanding?

Sometimes people say hurtful things and they mean them.

Sometimes people say hurtful things without meaning it, but the pain is there just the same.

But sometimes people say things and we just miss.  We thought they meant one thing; they actually meant something else.

And we tote around that offense as a heavy burden, putting up walls of defensiveness in our relationships to protect us from future hurts.

Yes, they should be more careful.  What you say and how you say it matters.  Controlling our tongue and watching our words is a must.

What if we were slow to take offense, though?

I love the Amplified version of James 1:19:

Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]

At times the best thing we can do in a conversation is pause.

Taking time to respond rather than react can keep us from misunderstanding, from holding onto hurt, and from escalating conflict.

I have an email sitting in my inbox right now and I’ll be honest, I’m offended.  It is critical of me in ways I feel are unfair.  My defenses are up.

But I’m choosing to pause.

I’ve taken some time to ask, “God, is this true about me?” and I’ve waited and listened for the Holy Spirit’s truth.

I’ve considered whether I truly know this person’s intentions.  Probably they didn’t mean it this way.  It’s most likely, since I don’t know them very well, that I just don’t understand their humor or perspective.

I read over Proverbs 19:11:

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (ESV).

and even Ecclesiastes 7:21-22:

Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others (ESV).

We live in an easily offended world.  People curse you for simple mistakes and seek vengeance for misunderstandings and accidents.

We are so often quick to anger and quick to speak, leaving behind the wreckage of broken relationships and the ache of loneliness.

I want instead to say little and to listen much.

Sometimes I fail.  I am easily bruised by the criticism of others.

And yet, when I filter the comments of others through the gauze of grace, I can grab hold of truth and let the rest go.  I can respond with more love than I was shown.

Pausing gives us time to choose humility and wisdom, grace and gentleness, and it helps us hit the mark instead of missing and messing up.

Do I Look Dead To You?

After we’ve packed the cooler, dressed everyone in bathing suits and sandals, double-checked the bag for diapers, towels, tissues, Band-Aids (for blisters), sunscreen, and more, and then loaded every last item and person into the mini-van, we have the same-old chat with our girls as we drive to Busch Gardens, the amusement park near our home.

First we begin with the safety reminders, about strangers, about wandering away from us, and what to do if you get lost.

Then we remind them that we aren’t buying every snack, toy, or novelty item strategically scattered along our path through the park.  And no whining when it’s time to go home.

We finish up with the “friends speech.”   It goes something like this:  You are sisters.  God designed you to be best friends.  Don’t ditch your sister so that you can ride in a boat or car or dragon or whatever with some random stranger who you’ll never see again.  Sisters ride together.

This last speech generally elicits the most protests.  My girls are friendly people.  They like to meet new kids and form what they are certain are life-long bonds of friendship while standing in line at Busch Gardens.

So, it was no surprise that during our spring break trek out to the amusement park, my middle daughter stood in line for a ride and then announced, “Mom, I made two new best friends!”

Not just friends.  Best friends.

And how did she know these two new girls were now her bosom buddies for life?

“They told me their names, Savannah and Julia.”

That was it.  The loyal bond formed simply by exchanging names.

Friends, best friends, nice people you’ve only just met, a stranger whose name you’ve learned, sisters, the person you thought was your close friend but who gossips about you behind your back  . . . it’s a mesh of relationships they haven’t quite figured out yet.

Identifying true friends is a skill only learned over time after experiencing both hurt feelings and faithfulness, betrayal and loyal love.

A mentor once told me that women were designed for deep friendship. Every one of us needs a Ruth and Naomi relationship, not just casual acquaintances whose names we know after a few minutes of standing in lines of life together.

Unfortunately, life is busy, complicated, hectic, and hard, and investing time in those loyal friendships seems an impossible task.

Yet, Scripture tells us this is one investment that’s worth making.

We need a friend who loves sacrificially, and for whom we likewise will sacrifice.  Jesus commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”  (John 15:12).

We need a friend who remains faithful even when we’re at our ugliest, worn-outest, saddest, and yuckiest, just as it says in Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

And we need something else.

We need a friend who is not afraid to get dirty with us as we live this resurrection life.

Jesus stood at the entry to the tomb of his close friend, Lazarus.  He heard the weeping of others around him.  His own tears trailed down his cheek.  The crowd scolded him for not coming earlier and healing his friend while there was still time.  The pragmatic folks complained about the stink of death and decay wafting out of a reopened tomb.  Mary and Martha shot hopeless, hurt-filled glances in Jesus’ direction.

Undeterred, Jesus demanded, “Lazarus, come out!”  (John 11:44).  The shocked crowd watched as the dead man emerged from the grave, living, breathing, and walking—alive.

But he moved slowly, maybe a little like a mummy in a sci-fi horror flick that plays on Saturday afternoon television.  He didn’t leap out from the tomb and dance before the Lord with all the joy of a resurrected fellow.

Instead, “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (John 11:44 NIV).

Chris Tiegreen reminds us in One Year At His Feet “When Jesus raises us out of our sinful state of death, there is something left to do before we run free.  The grave clothes must go”  (p. 21).

That’s something Lazarus couldn’t do on his own.  Jesus instructed others to come alongside him and unwrap the linen bindings, the remnants of death and the grave that still had him hindered, trapped, and blinded.

That’s the church’s job.  That’s the job of a loyal friend, who patiently strips away all the habitual sins, guilt, shame, false beliefs, hang-ups, terrors from the past, and hurts that trip us up and slow us down.

Sometimes we simply require a love that doesn’t give up on us.

Sometimes it takes someone holding us accountable with truth and lovingly showering us with grace when we struggle with the ugliness of sin.  Proverbs 27:6 tells us: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (ESV).  Only a true friend skips the flattery and digs past the superficial chicanery of niceness in order to challenge us with a truth and encourage us to change.

Only a friend tells us when they see some of the grave clothes stubbornly stuck to our skin and then lovingly and patiently unbinds us so we can live in the freedom of new life.

We need a friend like that.  We need to be a friend like that, who brings grace and freedom to another.

You can read more devotionals on this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

How to Handle a Mean Girl

For those reading Lisa Harper’s book, Stumbling Into Grace, along with my small group, today’s devotional will match up with her fourth chapter: “No Fangs Allowed.”

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Mean girls strike fear into the hearts of moms everywhere.  They certainly make this momma drop to her knees.

I’ve begun praying once a week with some other moms for our kids and their school.  As we’ve prayed together, I’ve discovered that we moms share the same concerns for our kids.  We pray for their academics, sure, but mostly we pray for their hearts.

We pray they will be a light in dark places and that they will choose good friends.  We ask that our kids will not be too sensitive and will know how to respond in tough situations.

So when my daughter announced this weekend that there was a girl at her school table that she chose not to play with, I pounced with my mom questions.

“Well,” my daughter said, “when other people don’t do things the way she wants, she always says, ‘You can’t be my friend anymore.’  So, I told her that’s okay if she doesn’t want to be friends with me.”

Wow!  Here I was afraid of permanent devastation wrought at the hands of other children and my daughter handled this with calm grace and confidence. She knew that friendship is too valuable to use as manipulative weaponry in the social arsenal.

It was the kind of answer I’ve been praying my daughter is able to give.  Praise God that He answers our prayers for our children.

But, it’s not just our kids who need to make decisions about whom to befriend or how to answer detractors, nay-sayers, judgers, and mockers.

In her book, Stumbling Into Grace, Lisa Harper writes:

“I want to recognize the dangerous, potentially biting characters in my story; the people who create constant emotional debris with their destructive personalities or who refuse to shed the skin of deception, the ones who threaten the God-with-me peace in my life.  I’m learning to keep my distance and to  pray for snakes, but not make a habit of getting down in the dirt to play with them” (p. 47).

In our lives, we’ll face some biting personalities and snakes in the grass ourselves–even when we are simply pursuing righteousness, just like Hannah did in 1 Samuel.

Hannah was a Godly woman.  Religious law dictated that men must travel to the tabernacle three times a year to worship and sacrifice, but we see in 1 Samuel 1:7 that “year by year, she went up to the house of the Lord.”  She committed to going above and beyond the minimum requirements in order to worship God with her whole heart.

But, this Godly woman had a struggle, a personal pain that cut deep.  She was childless while her husband’s second wife, Peninnah, was a bunny rabbit of a breeder.  Scripture doesn’t even count all her kids; it just says, “Peninnah . . and  . . . all her sons and daughters” (1 Samuel 1:4).  Sounds like quite a brood.

The worst part of it is, that Peninnah gloated.  She boasted and preened.  She set herself up as Hannah’s rival and “provoked her severely, to make her miserable”  (1 Samuel 1:6).

Peninnah was a mean girl.

But it wasn’t just Peninnah who was the problem.  There was also Hannah’s husband, Elkanah.  He truly loved Hannah and he was sad about her distress.

Still, there’s something kind of clueless about Elkanah’s compassion.  He said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep?  Why do you not eat?  And why is your heart grieved?  Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8).

Seriously?  He didn’t tell Peninnah to knock off the nastiness.  Instead, he told Hannah, the innocent one, to just get over it. Just be happy with the fact that she shared a home and husband with a woman who had annual baby showers when she herself could not get pregnant.  Just shrug off Peninnah’s provoking ways and be happy with her husband’s love.

Elkanah was an unhelpful friend.  He didn’t stand up for Hannah, didn’t have her back, and wasn’t concerned with the true depth of her pain.

Then there was Eli, the priest who watched Hannah’s impassioned prayer at the altar.  He pounced on her in a second, saying, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!” (1 Samuel 1:14).

Eli was the judgmental onlooker.  The one with all the opinions who doesn’t even take time to fully understand the situation, just makes accusations and spews forth a diatribe of assumptions and personal attacks.

Beset on every side by those close to her and those in spiritual authority over her, Hannah nevertheless responded with grace.

She spoke “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). She didn’t rebel against Eli, speak badly about him behind his back, or cause a ruckus in the spiritual community, despite the fact that he hurt her.  Instead, she answered and said, “No, my lord.  I am a woman of sorrowful spirit.  I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:15).

She trusted God to take care of her.  Hannah “was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish” (1 Samuel 1:10).  She took all of her pain to the altar and poured her soul out before God.

And after she held the baby boy God gave her, after she nursed him and weaned him and presented him to the tabernacle, she declared, “Talk no more so very proudly; Let no arrogance come from your mouth, For the Lord is the God of knowledge; And by Him actions are weighed” (1 Samuel 1:3).

By Him actions are weighed.  God saw Peninnah in her meanness, Elkanah in his cluelessness, Eli in his pompousness and Hannah in her brokenness.  Hannah placed the entire situation in God’s hands and trusted in His ability to judge and to bless.

We likewise can trust God to help us when we face mean girls, unhelpful friends, and those who judge us.  He will help us know how to love our enemies, pray for those who hurt us, and turn the other cheek, and yet all the while protect us from the venomous bite that comes from stepping too close to the snakes in the grass.

Want to learn more about praying for your kids and their school?  Check out Moms In Touch International.  There are groups of moms, grandmas, and school staff internationally who meet once a week for one hour to pray for our children. You can find a group in your area by searching their website.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

Women Warriors, Part II

When I was about ten or 11, my mom marched me past the shelves of Sweet Valley Twins books in the teen section of the library and led me to the literary classics section with Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Jane Austen.  She waved her hands over the greats and said, “These.  You can read these.”  And I did.  I devoured them. I fell in love with them.  I studied them in college. I taught them to high schoolers.  To this day if you say Macbeth to me I’ll light up like a teenage girl in love and 15 minutes later you’ll emerge from a lecture on soliloquies.

Later, when I was 12 or 13, we visited my great-uncle Henry’s farm, something we did only infrequently.  He walked us around to see the cows in the fields and we took a tour of the old farm house with Aunt Mary and creaked along the floor boards from room to room.

Aunt Mary discovered that day that I was a bookworm.  So, in her enthusiasm to share her own love of reading with me, she handed me a pile of books that she had finished and was eager to pass along to someone else.

I thought I had received a great treasure that day!

And then I opened one book and learned what a Harlequin romance novel was.  She probably didn’t even realize how young I was and how those books weren’t really a good fit for me.

To this day, I don’t read romance novels.  Not the ones you can buy from the racks at the grocery story.  Not the Christian ones where the girl loves God and falls in love with a guy that loves God.  Not any.

Sure I have opinions on the matter.  I have principles guiding my decision that God has laid on my heart, all of the whys and wherefores that make that particular genre off-limits for me.

But, do I think the eleventh commandment is Thou Shalt Not Read Romance Novels?

Nope.

Do I think you are doomed for all time if you like a good clean Christian romance?

No way.

Maybe God has told you that other things are off-limits.  Something you eat, watch, read, or do that isn’t clearly wrong or covered under a Biblical commandment, but that God has personally convicted you about.

God has given us so much freedom and yet that doesn’t mean anything goes.  Paul wrote, “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

This principle covers more than just what shows we watch on TV or what books line our bookshelves at home.  Some of us God has called to be stay-at-home moms and some to work outside the home. Some to have large families.  Some to be one-and-done. Some to adopt.  Some to home school.  Some to choose public schools.

What happens when I impose on you the calling God has given me?  Then we have explosive battles of criticism and condemnation.  We have legalism where we add mandates to Scripture and make everyone else obey the instructions God personally designed for us.

Oswald Chambers wrote: “At first, Jesus Christ through His Spirit has to restrain you from doing a great many things that may be perfectly right for everyone else but not right for you.  Yet, see that you don’t use your restrictions to criticize someone else.”

How then do we navigate these explosive relationships where even the most innocent remark or most God-directed decision becomes the atomic bomb in the next World War Women?

Allow for the Calling of Others

In Part One, I reminded you to Do What You Are Called to Do.

But, there’s another side to the story.  We also need to let others do what they are called to do.

What if we allowed for differences, not just in opinion, but in calling?  Not differences in doctrinal truth or the very clear mandates in Scripture, but differences in style, taste, gifting, personality, ability and weaknesses.

In Genesis 26:2, God told Isaac, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.”

Decades later, God said to Jacob, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there” (Genesis 46:3).

Don’t go to Egypt.  Do go to Egypt.

Does it seem like God can’t make up His mind?

But consider that Isaac and Jacob were different people, in different circumstances at different times.  God’s calling for each of them was uniquely appropriate.

What if Jacob had never traveled to Egypt because he felt that God’s command to Isaac must carry over to him, as well?  He would never have seen his long-lost son, Joseph, again.  No reconciliation.  No 400 years of the Israelites in Egypt.  No slavery—yes—-but also no deliverance.  It’s highly possible that Jacob and his remaining sons would have died off in obscurity as the result of famine.

Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  Peaceful relationships in this world aren’t always possible and that’s the ugly truth of it all.

But, we need to do everything we can to cultivate peace even in disputed territories where landmines of personal opinion dot the fields.  Sometimes that means we stay-at-home moms need to go out of our way to encourage the working moms we know, to pray for them, to help them out if they need it and not to exclude them from our activities and friendships.

Sometimes that means letting petty jealousies and misinterpreted comments and too-sensitive feelings fall to the ground and instead choose—sometimes it’s a difficult choice—-but choose not to be offended.  Choose to put on thick skin.  Choose to let comments pass by unanswered.

Sometimes we need to keep some opinions to ourselves.  We must put down the protest signs and banners about issues that God doesn’t clearly address in Scripture.

If God has told you to go to Egypt, then go.  Pack up your bags and take the first plane out of here because you need to live in obedience to God.  But don’t condemn those who are boarding a different plane also in obedience to Him.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Women Warriors, Part I

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ”
Galatians 1:10

“Tinkerbell or Princesses,” I asked my daughters as we stared at the 20 different tubes of children’s toothpaste on the shelves.

“Tinkerbell,” shouts my middle girl.

“Princesses,” shouts my oldest dressed all in pink with bows in her hair.

My baby makes a grab for the Little Einsteins tube on the shelf.

I toss the plain old children’s Crest toothpaste into the cart, noting that it is $1, Tinkerbell is more than $2 and princesses tops out at a whopping almost-$4.  It’s a conspiracy really.  Princess stuff always costs more.  What in the world are we teaching these little girls of ours about materialism and money and . . . .but I digress.

Slowly I’m learning a lesson over and over every day as three little faces flash disappointed glances back at me when I buy toothpaste and when I choose a show on television.

You can’t please everyone all the time.

I want to make everybody happy so desperately.  If I could tiptoe through life with everyone always agreeing with me, that’s what I’d do.

But it’s impossible.  If you go to Wal-Mart with more than 1.5 children, you’ll likely hear the opinions of strangers on your family planning skills.

If you stay at home with your kids, you’ll probably read how you wasted all of the money spent on your education. If you dress up and head out the door every day for work, you’ll probably feel condemned by the moms wearing jeans and flip-flops and toting their kids to the library for story time on a weekday morning.

If you pull out the school books at your kitchen table for your kids each day, moms will hint at the damage you’re doing by not socializing your children enough. If you watch your child step onto a school bus each morning with her back pack and packed lunch, you’ll be reminded that you aren’t protecting your children from worldly indoctrination.

Women Warriors.  That’s what many of us become.  Mama Bears defending our choices against the criticism of others.  We get backed into corners and our claws extend.  So, we spend much of our time engaged in battles, aligning with others on our “side” and slinging weighted insults at the “enemy.”

Let’s face it.  Too much of the time, we women are cruel to other women.

And it’s worse on the Internet.  We sit anonymously behind our computers and hurl our opinions at others.  Throwing around scientific evidence, philosophical arguments, medical findings, and —-yes, even Scripture—we offer proof of why we are right and others are wrong.

So, what’s a girl to do?  How do you make the right choices for you and your family and not feel the need to defend yourself every time you sense the critical stares of random shoppers or read an article railing against the choices you have made?

For starters, we walk in the assurance of our calling.

Do What You Are Called to Do

When the teenage shepherd boy, David, stood in front of King Saul, he boldly announced that he would fight the bellowing giant even though the battle-trained fighting men were cowering in their tents. At first, Saul declared it was impossible.  A wimpy little kid was no match for the expert warrior with size on his side.

But, David prevailed and Saul agreed to let him fight Goliath, with one condition.  David had to wear Saul’s armor.

Saul thought he was helping David out.

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. (1 Samuel 17:38-39).

How often do we try to sling our own personal tunics over the shoulders of other women, assuming that all they need is our advice, our method, our choices, our plans?  We tell them (or imply) that if they want to be good wives, good moms, good Christian women, then they must do it our way and with the tools we ourselves have found useful.

But, the call God has given you is a poor fit for another woman.

In the same way, Saul’s armor confined David’s movements and made him easy prey for Goliath’s attack.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.   Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine (1 Samuel 17:39-40).

David had the assurance of his calling.  He knew what God told him to do and how he was supposed to do it.  So, he declined to wear the armor of another and stood against Goliath bare-shouldered instead, hurling a stone in a slingshot over his head, and killing the giant as a result.  He vanquished the enemy that day because he listened to God and not anyone else, even a well-meaning, older, wiser and more experienced king.

When you feel yourself in an Incredible Hulk-like transformation, from reasonable woman to claws-extended She-Mama in defense of your life and family and personal choices, breathe deeply and ask:

  • Am I doing what I know God has called me to do?
  • Is it possible that she, although doing something differently than me, could also be doing what God has called her to do?
  • Can I let her obey God without feeling personally criticized by her every decision and action?
  • Do I really need to defend myself against implied (or stated) criticism?  Or can I instead let it go, choosing to walk confidently in my own calling and not worry about anyone else’s opinion?
  • If I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and she’s doing what she’s supposed to do, then is this war between us necessary?

What has God called you to do?  Whatever it is, do it.  People will disagree with you.  People will criticize you.  People won’t understand.

Sometimes you may need to defend yourself, but there are so many times when we can choose to ignore the snide remarks and disapproving glares, because we know that we are doing what God wants us to do.  And that really should be all that matters.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.