Measuring “Mic Drop” Moments

During a recent trip to Hobby Lobby, I happened upon a scene I wish I hadn’t witnessed.

“I TOLD YOU TO STOP!”

To my left, a young mother took a matter—and her child—in hand, her grip on his arm strong enough to lift him a few inches off the ground.  In the cart, a pudgy toddler covered his head with open hands.

“He KICKED me!” the big boy accused, his free arm heavy with the weight of a Mr. & Mrs. throw pillow.

“I don’t care what he did, Brian.  I told you to put that pillow down, and you’ll put it down NOW!”

Digging her nails into his other arm, Brian’s mother gave it a good shake.  Easily overpowered, the indignant kindergartner released the pillow and looked around to see who was watching.

I didn’t look away fast enough.

Following his gaze, Brian’s mother saw an opportunity. Fueled by the presence of an audience, she continued,  “We don’t hit people, especially our little brothers.  How would you like it if I hit you, huh?”

Face red and blotchy, Brian looked down and shook his head ‘no.’

Oblivious to her son’s apparent shame, Brian’s mother kept on, her voice growing louder with every word, “How would that feel?”

Hoping with all my heart that I’d never said or done the same, I blushed deeply, right along with Brian, and hurried away.

“ANSWER ME!”

Aisles away, I jumped in spite of myself and wondered what, exactly, Brian’s mother expected him to say, or learn, from that experience, as she had behaved at least as badly as he.

“HAH! That’s what I thought!”

The woman sounded pleased with herself, no doubt sure she’d won, but as a fellow mother, I cringed, the sensation all too familiar.  It happens every single time I witness one Christian disrespect another on social media.

This should never happen!

Yes, I know my brothers and sisters and I act up sometimes, but that’s to be expected.  We’re, none of us, full grown, after all.  We’ll get there—God says so (Philippians 1:6)—but in the meantime, we require your patience as much as we need your wisdom and guidance.

Please, if you catch us acting like the human beings we are, I beg you to consider prayerfully the best tone and approach to take before correcting us on the public stage.

Why do so when it doesn’t seem one of us has made an effort to show the same courtesy?

Well, first of all, God says you have to.  Matthew 7:12, Mark 12:31, Ephesians 4:2, Philippians 2:1-3: all of these verses—there are many more—command Christians to love one another with patience and humility, and none include the proviso “if they treat you nice first.” As a matter of fact, God the Father, commands us to act like Him, going so far as to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45)!

Second, the truth can get lost in delivery.  If what you’re offering is actually truth according to God’s Word, the Bible, and not just another personal opinion, then we desperately need to hear it.  Don’t rob us of the opportunity by swaddling sooth in self.

Third, people are watching.

Some are Christians.  Responsible for their own behavior, they are no less dependent on the example you set as they learn how to illustrate God’s mercy—or patient restraint—and grace—or generous benevolence—in all circumstances.  Your choice to exercise the kind of self-control characteristic of someone walking in step with the Spirit will remind them that they aren’t alone in their efforts to please the Father and contribute greatly to their sense of purpose and spiritual development.

Some are not Christians.  Unfamiliar with the power of the Holy Spirit, not having experienced it for themselves, they need to see evidence of an extraordinary, supernatural power at work in your life.  If they do, they might consider the Truth of the Gospel, secure their eternal future by putting their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, and join us in advancing the Father’s Kingdom.

Surely, when all is said and done, these outcomes are far more desirable than having a personal “drop mic” moment.

 

 

 

Before We Were “Introverts”

Introvert.  

Say what?!?

Frowning, brows knit, I began taking the personality test again.  It just didn’t make sense.  I was a minister’s wife, a teacher, a public speaker.

How could I possibly be an introvert?

I talked easily with strangers, helped people make connections, and carried conversation when necessary.  I made jokes at my own expense, shared my testimony without hesitation, spilled my guts for the sake of the Kingdom, and inspired others to open up as well.  I even planned and hosted events, some of them in my own home.

Finished with the quiz, I hit ‘enter’ and waited for the results to calculate.

I spend my summers at youth camp, for crying out loud!  

But there it was.  Introvert.  INFJ, to be exact, ‘the protector.’

As I read the description of my personality type, light began to dawn.

I discovered introverts aren’t the people-hating scaredy-cats I thought they were.  They’re just as capable of loving and enjoying people as extroverts are.  It’s just that interaction wears them out after a certain point that varies from introvert to introvert, and they need to refuel.

It all began to make sense, the urge to hide from people even though I’m not shy, the anxiety brought on by a sea of new faces even though people fascinate me, and the exhaustion that always followed an event requiring me to entertain or invest emotionally in others.

Suddenly, the guilt I’d felt over dreading long periods of togetherness with people I truly cared about, wishing I could escape meaningful conversation, and needing to lie low for a day or so after a period of intense socialization lifted.

I wasn’t cold.  I was complex.

I had a name for the struggle inside, and in that moment, I wished I’d known it all along.

In the very next moment, I was glad I hadn’t.

You see, I know me.  If I had known from the start that I could claim introversion as a valid excuse for not interacting with people or doing things outside my comfort zone, I would have.

I wouldn’t have initiated as many conversations as I did and would’ve missed the chance to encourage and be encouraged by people whom God placed in my life for that reason.

I wouldn’t have hosted people in my home and would’ve missed the opportunity to share life on an intimate level with those who are not my blood and experience a sense of family beyond the one I was born into.

I wouldn’t have formed some of the deeper relationships I formed and would’ve missed the chance to sharpen and be sharpened by others.

I wouldn’t have reached out to some who needed me only to find I needed them, too.

I wouldn’t have volunteered for responsibilities I didn’t want that prepared me for responsibilities I did want later.

I wouldn’t have attended events that blessed and taught me.

The list goes on and on.

As it was, I didn’t give myself very many outs and experienced time and time again the wonder and joy of watching God work in and through the shaky, overtired, emotionally spent jar of clay that I was, not because I was feeling particularly spiritual or compelled by Christ’s love in those moments, but often because I didn’t think I had a choice.

And thank goodness for that!

Now, that’s not to say I don’t use my being an introvert as an excuse now.  I do.  In fact, I really have to watch it.

When I’m tired, discouraged, and disillusioned—when I’m just plain old tired of people—I have to make an intentional effort pull my fingers out of my spiritual ears, listen to the Holy Spirit’s instructions, and go do the hard things He asks me to do.  Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is something as seemingly insignificant and simple as having one more conversation I don’t have in me just in case there’s a truth He wants me to deliver, affirmation He wants me to pass along, correction that needs to happen, or a smile that needs to be shared.

Although I know myself pretty well by now, I have to trust that God knows when I’ve actually ‘had enough’ and obey Him, no matter the cost.

My fellow introverts, there’s a fine line between taking care of yourself so you’ll be of use to the Kingdom and using your own limitations as an excuse not to let God’s light shine through you.  Your inherent frailty and limitations, they exist for His glory.  They exist so He can prove His grace—the very grace this world needs to see, believe in, and receive—sufficient in human weakness.

Who am I to deny God an opportunity to glorify Himself just because I don’t feel up to human interaction?  No one.  And I didn’t before we were ‘introverts.’

Momma’s got the crazy eyes! (or The Struggle of Caring Too Much)

I have many regrets as a parent, but the worst all have something to do with my response to my children in critical formative moments.

You know the ones.

You’re rocking along feeling pretty good about where you’ve been and where you’re headed as a parent-child combo, and then, out of the blue, your little one shows a staggering lack of discernment or judgment, total disregard for the feelings of others, distinct contempt for authority, or plain old selfishness, revealing a depraved sin nature you knew they possessed, but had somehow hoped to squelch.  Suddenly, you doubt every decision you’ve made as a parent thus far.

It’s sickening.

In our little world, these cold sweat, flip-your-stomach moments always happened in public places like Hobby Lobby, the grocery store, or the State Fair with everyone watching—at least that’s how it felt—not the best place to process one’s emotions and formulate an appropriate response.

I’m always amazed when I witness a young mother handle a situation like this with patience and grace.  “Now, Billy—or nowadays, it would be something much cooler like Creed or Branch or River—I’m sure that if you stop and think, you can come up with a better solution than the one you chose.  What would Jesus do, sweet pea?”

No lip sweat.

No crazy eyes.

No “What in the world were you thinking?!?!  You know better than that!” with a tone-implied “you goofball!”

Just white teeth and lip gloss and—I assume—minty-fresh breath gently coaxing wide-eyed children toward a future of safety and selflessness.

Wow.  To exhibit such self-control under pressure!

I wish I could say that if I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d do better, that I’d be able to school my facial expressions, keep my breathing and tone of voice calm and even, and deliver inspiring speeches so sugar-sweet with grace that my children would cave under conviction and rush to repentance, but I can’t.

I care too much.

That’s not to say that women who can keep it together don’t care.  Not by any means!

I just know how I am.

When analyzing the words and actions of my children to determine the thought processes behind them—a delicate business better left to the Holy Spirit—my mind inevitably projects beyond now to someday, following the path of their current behavioral trajectory to the predictable outcome.

If what I imagine doesn’t match up with what I understand to be God’s will for them according to His Word, I panic.

I shouldn’t—I know God is big and honors the kind of prayers that I pray for my children (1 Jn 5:14-15)—but I do.

Why?  Because God gave me a job to do.  When my children display what I perceive to be ignorance of Who He is or what He’s done—I know that my knowledge and perspective are limited—I get concerned that I might have missed something in my efforts to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).

I don’t mind for my sake or reputation, really.  I know how flawed I am, and I suspect that everyone who has ever met me knows it, too.  I’ve nothing to lose on that front.

I mind because I love God and want to please Him.  I mind because I want to see Him glorified.  I mind because I don’t want to have wasted the best chance God has ever given me to advance His Kingdom by aiming the sharp arrows that are my children carelessly (Ps 127:4).

I used to think that my panic response to the inevitable, but no less surprising, missteps of my children would lessen when they got older.

Not so.

If anything, it has intensified.  You see, these days, we are constantly pulling from the oven the results of what we put in way back when, so to speak.  Although God has been faithful and we’ve been mostly relieved and pleased, I know it’s too late now to change anything we did, no matter how much we might want to.

All we can do is press on, growing, learning, and becoming who God designed us to be alongside our children as they continue to do same.

*sigh*

Here’s hoping they’ll extend to us the same measure of grace going forward that we extend to them, ignoring the lip sweat, forgiving the crazy eyes, and feeling the love behind any exhortation we might offer—however short-sighted or panic-driven it may seem—even as we learn to wait on the Lord and measure our words carefully.

When we fail—and we will—may they realize, we simply care too much.

Saints in Their Skivvies, a Cautionary Tale

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Knees locked, pulse in my ears, I waited for the front door to open, my ten-year-old heart fairly bursting with passion and purpose.  I—we—were making a difference, a real difference.

Click.

The deadbolt.  Only seconds left to wait.  Breathless and a little light-headed, I cast a glance over each shoulder to make sure my friends were in their places.  Eyes big, smiles wide, they were.

“May I help…”

Voila! Our audience, no doubt stunned into silence by our beauty and poise.

“Good afternoon, neighbor,” I began, stomach in, chest out, head held high. “My name is Angela, and these are my friends.  We’re here to raise money for the church!”

“F-for the ch-church?” our would-be patron stammered.  “B-but you’re wearing lingerie!”

True.  And necessary.  How else were we supposed to perform a convincing soap opera without the benefit of stage props?

Besides, we were wearing it over our clothes.

“Yes, sir,” I nodded.  “Now just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.”

My friends and I performed our little hearts out.  Stretching scrawny, preteen legs and flailing spindly arms to make full use of the available porch space, we played to the back row, so to speak, delivering shocking lines that sounded grand, but meant little to us, copied, as they were, from television, not forged in the flames of experience.

Nonetheless, our words seemed to work the desired effect. Our audience of one stood mouth agape, brows deeply knit, gray head swinging side to side of its own accord, the very same response we’d gotten at the first two houses.

Now to collect. 

Hitching discreetly at the pale pink teddy I wore over faded, grass-stained jeans, I took a bow and approached the front door, palm outstretched.

“For the church, sir,” I reminded the man who was, obviously, too wowed by our talent to respond properly.

Or speak.

Or move.

“Does your daddy know you’re doing this?” he finally croaked.

“I’m going to surprise him.”

The man nodded, and his bushy eyebrows finally let go of each other.  “Wait here.”

Long moments later, the man returned just as a car pulled up at the curb behind us.

My daddy’s car.

“Angela!” he called, tone clipped, but calm. “You girls get in the car.”

I leveled a dramatic, deep-frown glare at the man holding his front door.  He’d ratted us out, ruined the surprise.  My face flushed with indignation.

How could he?

“I appreciate what you are trying to do, Angela,” the man said in the kind of patient teacher voice I hated only because it meant I’d goofed, “but you’re doing it the wrong way.”

Then, with a gentle smile, my father’s friend pried open the fist I’d formed and filled it with loose change, $2.32, to be exact, money that landed in the church offering plate that very evening with far less pomp than originally planned.

I disliked that man for a long time, cringed when I saw him coming, acted interested in anything and everything but him when he gave me a nod or a smile, but now I understand and appreciate what he did.

Although my motives were pure—Well, mostly pure.  I also liked being the center of attention!—my methodology was skewed.

In my naïveté, I’d employed worldly practices to accomplish Kingdom purposes, something that never, ever works, sending a message that was, at the very least, mixed and jeopardizing my reputation in the process.

Truth be told, my neighbor not only saved me from potential embarrassment, but, considering the compromising situation my friends and I put ourselves in, he may also have spared our families grief.

Now, I want to pay it forward.

These days, it seems I can’t open any social media feed without being accosted by well-meaning, but misguided Christians seeking to further the Kingdom through worldly means, manipulating, mocking, slandering, intimidating, accusing, and attacking their brothers and sisters in Christ.

While their motives may be pure, their methodology is skewed, and the ‘friendly fire’ they’re unleashing not only damages their credibility as ambassadors of Christ, but causes the Church, their God-given family and responsibility, much grief.

My brothers and sisters, there is a time and a place and a way to accomplish the things we feel led by God to accomplish, and it doesn’t involve our dragging one another into the public square to be gawked at or stoned by the general public.

I know that you yearn.

I know you feel deeply.

I do, too!

But I beg you, in the interest of the Gospel we proclaim, to proceed with caution.

Before you post anything to anyone, stop.  Hold not only what you want to say, but how you want to say it up against God’s will and character as presented in His Word, the Bible.  Take a careful, prayerful look at every aspect of your message and its presentation.  Then, if and only if your message, attitude, tone, and motives align with God’s Word and ultimate purpose–His glory, not yours (Eph 1:11)—communicate your message in love, extending grace (treating others better than they deserve to be treated) and mercy (showing kind, compassionate restraint when dealing with an offender) without favoritism.

Let Truth do Its work and remember: You cannot spread light dressed in darkness.

 

 

The Conversationalist

“I’m really good at talking with adults,” I announced, proud of a recent heart-to-heart I’d had with a history teacher over a borderline grade.

“Talking with or talking to?” my dad quizzed, his half-smile skeptical, but patient.

Great.  Apparently, this was going to be one of those teachable moments. Considering the implications of Dad’s question, I didn’t answer immediately, indignation welling.

He continued, “It’s not the same thing, you know.  Maybe the adults you talk to are just good listeners.” Knowing just how far to push me and at what pace so that I wouldn’t tune him out, he paused and worked his mouth a bit, choosing his next words carefully.  “No doubt, they know a lot about you and what you think and feel, but what do you know about them and what they think, how they feel?”

Blushing a little, I considered.  Not much.  I felt silly.  How many of my adult friends really weren’t?  How many simply tolerated and indulged me to make me feel good about myself the same way I tolerated and indulged the kids I babysat?

Sensing the need to cushion my fragile teenage-girl ego with a compliment, Dad threw me a bone.  “You do a really good job of expressing yourself, Angela.”  Then he brought it home.  “But that doesn’t make you a good communicator.  You have to learn to ask good questions, give them a chance to respond, and then really listen.  That’s how you talk with someone.”

The arrow hit its mark, and learning how to communicate well became a top priority in my life, learning not only to listen, but to hear, as well as express my own thoughts as clearly as possible.  I don’t consider myself an accomplished conversationalist by any stretch, but I do pay attention.

To people.

My prayer life?  Well, that’s another story.  Taking the command to “pray without ceasing” seriously, I’m always talking to God.  I just don’t always talk with Him.

When I was younger, I didn’t really know how.  Following the lead of others, I relied heavily on gut feelings and perceived ‘open doors,’ too spiritually immature at that time to realize that the Enemy opens doors, too.  Sometimes, I did the right thing, but looking back, I think my coming safely through some of the rough waters that I navigated had more to do with the faithful prayers of more mature Christians than any real spiritual discernment on my part.  Fancying myself a seasoned sailor worth imitating, I was, in reality, a child at sea, my prayer life no more than a plastic compass, its stickered arrow always reading North.

I was a youth minister’s wife preparing lessons on prayer before I even realized that my prayer life was lacking.  Feeling silly, I realized that, while I belonged to God, saw His hand at work in my life, and felt His presence, I didn’t really know Him that well.

I wanted to, though—needed to—if I hoped to lead others well.

So, applying a very practical lesson from my father to spiritual matters, I started listening, not feeling or watching, but listening.  That still, small voice people talk about?  I heard it.  Not audibly, although that would be really cool, and I hope I get the chance to experience that someday, but my heart felt the echo of God’s voice much the same way I imagine a deaf person experiences music.

It happened when I read my Bible.

Of course, when I read my Bible just to say I did, nothing really ever came of it.  I’d forget most of what I read unless the passage happened to be one of the dozens I knew by heart after a lifetime of Sunday school, youth group, and Sunday sermons.  Those passages I remembered easily, but what I took away from them really didn’t make any more of an impact on me than Cliff’s notes make on those with no real interest in the actual book. In fact, there were times I could almost see where those who had never actually surrendered their lives to Christ could dismiss the Bible as ancient and irrelevant, their not having the Holy Spirit in their hearts to testify to its truth.

Almost. 

 But, you see, I had surrendered my heart to Christ.  I did have the Holy Spirit in my heart to testify, so when I read my Bible to listen for God’s voice, I heard Him.  Sometimes, it took considerable effort.  Often, it took considerable time.  But I found that when I shut out all distractions and preconceived notions of what I expected to gain and read instead just to know and understand God better, to talk with Him, giving Him permission to wound or encourage as He saw fit, the truth of His Word resonated with His Holy Spirit in my heart, and I was filled with a peace so real and pervasive that obedience and submission to His will seemed a small price to pay for continued intimacy and unhindered communication with Him.

Man, it was cool!

Still is, and I wish I could say that I always approach Bible study this way, but I can’t.  Like anyone else, I get busy, distracted, preoccupied, and a little too confident in what I know and can do on my own. Exchanging, like a fool, the peace and clarity that are mine for the taking as a child of God for the haze and ambiguity of half-hearted pursuit, I go through the motions of Bible study.  Praying, but not seeking.  Reading, but not listening.

I’m a goof.

Thankfully, God is more faithful than I.  Fully committed to finishing what He started in me a long time ago, He continues to shape me, using Scripture I learned in those more astute moments to get my attention, call me home, and correct me when I doze off or wander away.  I won’t pretend it’s always a pretty process—His Sword is sharp, after all—but, in the end, I’m always grateful for His persistence. Patient and loving, my Father always speaks truth to me, and there is no thrill on earth quite so exquisite as authentic, unhindered communion with Him.

 

My (NEW) New Year’s Prayer

I’m late to the game in doing this, I know, but this morning, I decided to make a list of the ways that God has blessed and proven his faithfulness to me and my family in 2015 so I could be as specific as possible when thanking Him for it.  As I did, a verse came to mind, several verses, actually, but all related to this one.

“For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Matthew 25:29

 (This passage was taken from the ‘Parable of the Bags of Gold,’ Matthew 25:14-30.)

I’ve spent the past week telling God what I hope 2016 will be like for me and my family, and, to be honest, most of what I’ve said has to do with what I want HIM to do for ME.  I’ve begged Him to continue as He has, to sustain, to bless, to protect, and to guide, but, the truth is, there’s no reason He should do any of those things if I don’t honor and obey Him by using the things that He has already provided for His glory and the building of His Kingdom.

So, my prayer for 2016 has changed a bit.

Father, by your grace, please continue to sustain, bless, protect, and guide me and my family as I give you reason to do so, using what you have already provided to glorify you over me and build your Kingdom over mine.  This year, I resolve anew to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to worship you through my obedience to your Word and submission to your will.  Order my steps, keep my eyes fixed on you, and stir my heart for what stirs yours, Father, that you might find me faithful a year from now.  Amen.

When One Won’t Do

I hate needles!  Not a little bit, but with everything that I am.  Think I’m exaggerating?  To me, the worst thing about childbirth—and my daughter was born sunny side up, for those of you who know anything about back labor—was the IV, and the very idea of voluntarily allowing someone to shove a sharp foreign object through and under my skin for such a silly thing as unbearable tooth pain and jaw deterioration delayed my having wisdom teeth removed for roughly twenty years.

Last week, I had to have some tests run that required my having blood drawn from my arm.  Well, you can imagine how excited I was about that!  I put on a brave face and forced my feet to follow each other down the short hallway to the lab to have it drawn, climbed up on the table, and laid my arm down, wrist up, knuckles white.

The poor lab technician assigned to the task didn’t know me. I almost felt sorry for her as she prepared the huge vile and slipped on her gloves.  At her approach, my arm began to twitch.  I couldn’t help it.  I knew what was expected of me and tried my best to do it.  Sucking in a deep breath, I stared at my arm and willed it to obey me, but my will alone was not enough.

Seeing that she was getting nowhere with me, the lab tech smiled politely and stepped into the hallway.  “Psst,” she called, “I’m going to need a little help in here.”

“What? Oh!  Sorry.  I forgot you have Angela down here.” A familiar chuckle.

I smiled.  Andrea, my nurse for over twenty years, my friend, the woman who has coached me through my worst phobias, accommodated my strangest requests, and seen every stinkin’ inch of me swished in with a smile. Grace in action.

Without a word, she leaned over the table, took my arm by my bicep and wrist, and pressed it to the table with firm determination.  With calm authority born of experience, she gave quick instructions to the tech and made transparent small talk with me that, somehow, always does the trick even though I know what she’s doing.

Within minutes, the ghastly vial was full, the floating black dots in my peripheral vision were subsiding, and I felt for the umpteenth time a heart full of gratitude for the woman who helps me when I cannot manage by myself, without judgement, without jest.

It’s the same kind of help that we all need spiritually. Following Jesus is hard sometimes, not so much the knowing what to do—if we belong to Jesus, the Holy Spirit helps us to understand the Bible God has given us if we will just read it—but the actual doing of it.

We don’t like to admit that we struggle because it makes us sound fragile, weak.  News flash: We are, and it’s no surprise to God.  The Bible tells us He remembers we are dust (Psalm 103:14), so whom do we think we’re fooling, exactly?  Why do we go it alone, leaving questions unasked that others could answer, harboring fears that others could help alleviate, carrying burdens that others could share, trying and failing over and over again to do the right thing because we lack the willpower to accomplish it on our own, all when God has provided the perfect support system for us in our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Sure, they are quirky and selfish and flawed, but so are we.  Who better to understand what we are going through and what we are trying to achieve than people who share our struggles and ultimate goal?

Last week, a friend of mine said something I didn’t want to hear following a lengthy conversation about the past.  “Angela, you need to forgive that person,” she coaxed, without blame, without judgement.

Indignant, I met her gaze, hoping to end the talk that had taken an uncomfortable turn.  “I have.”

Long seconds later, she countered, unblinking and correct, “I don’t think you have.”

I didn’t want to hear it, but I needed to hear it.  Forced to consider her words, I went home and did what needed to be done.  Within days, the burden was lifted, an ache decades old began to subside, and I felt for the umpteenth time a heart full of gratitude for one of my Jesus sibs and the Heavenly Father who gave them to me.

On “Keepin’ it Real”

“Let your conversation be always full of grace…” Colossians 4:6

Ouch! Can I just tell you? My heart is still throbbing from the conviction this verse brought to my heart this morning, and a story comes to mind, one that a young college friend of mine shared a few summers ago.

As a high school senior, my friend had made a terrible mistake and sat on the bed in her room waiting for her parents to come in and talk to her about it.  Angry, this young lady’s parents excused themselves to their bedroom to discuss punishment, but the conversation quickly turned.  To ease the tension of the moment and lower their collective blood pressure, they began to make private jokes at her expense as only parents know how to do.  My friend began to fume.

How did she know?

“I can hear you!” she informed her parents from the foot of her own bed.

Silence.  “You can hear us?” they asked, laughing nervously.

“Yes.”

Whispers. “How much did you hear?” her mother asked.

“Everything!”

More whispers. More laughter.  “For how long?” her dad asked.

“My whole life!”

Dead silence.

Okay, so, all kinds of thoughts went through my head when I heard this story, and the very first thing I did when we got home from camp was to have my husband stand in our room and talk at different volumes while I listened from each of the kids’ rooms.  Thankfully, we’re good.

Or are we?

My daughter is a sweet girl. Truly.  A more loyal friend you’ll never find, no matter what you do to hurt or offend her.  She is a model of forgiveness and unconditional friendship, so it surprised me to hear her say recently something rather critical and unforgiving about someone our family loves dearly.

Not sure how to respond, as what she said was true enough, in my opinion, I sat mute, wondering what had turned her thoughts and then her words that direction.  With a start, I realized it was me, and my face began to burn.

I didn’t know she was listening.

I hadn’t actually spoken the words that she used, but I had expressed the attitude behind them in numerous conversations with my husband in recent months.  In his patient way, he had tried to correct my thinking, but, in my mind, I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Just keepin’ it real, you know?

Yeah.  Real ugly!

The Bible tells us in Romans 12:2 that followers of Christ are not supposed to do what the world does.  That means that it’s not okay for us to slander or gossip, no matter how true our words seem to us.  Nope, our job is to heap on grace, to treat others better than they deserve, even—perhaps, especially—in the way we discuss them, not only for their benefit, but also for the benefit of those who listen (Ephesians 4:29). This includes both what we do say and what we don’t say, a difficult concept to swallow for someone who likes to talk.

“But isn’t that lying?” Satan whispers to me.  “God says to train up your child in the way they should go. Surely there’s no better way to do that than to point out the faults of others!  You’ve got to paint the whole picture, Angela.  Tell it like it is.”

My answer?  It’s not lying if I do what the rest of Romans 12:2 tells me to do and allow God to renew my mind. See, when I put aside personal opinion and bias, put on God’s glasses, and view others through the lenses of mercy and grace, meanies, glory hounds, and lazy bums become people just like me—not that they weren’t already!—broken, but loved, with unlimited potential to impact the Kingdom and bring glory to the Heavenly Father I love.

I begin to look for the good in them, and, even when I can’t find it, I see God’s hand at work, using all things together for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28), shaping and maturing me through my interaction both with those who seek to please Him and those who don’t.

My conversational patterns begin to change as I speak the Truth that I am only then able to see.  “Keeping it real” becomes less about pointing out other’s faults and more about the Gospel, the availability of forgiveness to all, and freedom from sin made possible through Jesus Christ, whether or not the person in question happens to be taking advantage of that freedom.  “Painting the whole picture” becomes less about digging up skeletons and more about God’s ability to redeem, change, and grow a person into what they were created to be, no matter where they happen to be in the process.

Let’s face it.  The contents of a critical heart are just as infectious as virus vomit, maybe more so—Sorry!  That made me gag, too, but isn’t that the point?—and I, for one, don’t want to make the people around me sick. So, today, I’m asking God to renew my mind, to get in there and rewire my hard drive, so to speak, so the words I speak will please Him, my conversation will be full of grace, and listening ears will benefit, those I know about and those I don’t. Join me?

Gross

“Drop it!”

The command came from down the street.  My neighbor and his three-year-old son were giving the family van yet another cleaning.  Scolding myself for having no desire to follow their example, I leaned deep into the trunk of my car to fetch the green bean cans that had rolled free of their sacks.

“Drop it, son!” the man said again, more insistent.

“No,” the boy hedged.

Trying not to be obvious, I hoisted a few sacks out of the trunk and watched the standoff through the tinted windows of my son’s SUV.

Holding a mountain of blankets, books, and other items he’d assembled, the man paused on the way to his garage and looked back at his son, clearly expecting immediate obedience.  A safe distance down the driveway, surrounded by glistening, wet floor mats, the cutest little rebel you’ve ever seen stood defiant, feet shoulder width apart, staring down at his own clenched fist with an intensity equal his father’s.

“Drop it, son!”

No response.

“Now!”

The boy began to roll and inspect the object, passing it from one hand to the other.

Raising his voice, the man took a step toward his son and barked, “Drop it now, son!  That’s gross.  Throw it down.”

Shaking his head “no,” the boy tucked his chin, took a step backward, and pressed the treasured item to his chest.

“Throw it down!” Finally, the man dropped the load he carried right where he stood and covered the distance to his son in a split second.  With firm patience, he knelt and pried the object from the boy’s hand.  “You can’t keep this, son,” he explained.  “It’ll make you sick!”

With dramatic flair peculiar to three-year-olds, the little boy, bereft of what he thought was treasure, drooped his shoulders, threw his head back, and wailed.

I felt his pain.

It’s hard to let go of something that fascinates you just because someone told you to, even if that something is sin and even if that Someone is God.  Maybe that’s because most of us don’t really understand what sin is and what it does.

Don’t be fooled.  Sin is not a right, although it comes with being human.  Sin is not a treat, although it often offers thrill. Sin is selfish rebellion against a just and loving God.  Sind condemns.  Sin enslaves.  Sin steals, and sin destroys.  Sin, my friends, is gross.

When the Father tells you to throw it down, He does so for your good.  Obey Him quickly and with gratitude, knowing you’ve been spared, not robbed.

Soapbox: 6 Tips for Christians Who Post

Hoping to use social media for God’s glory? Use these tips to maximize your influence and avoid undermining your own Truth-telling efforts.

  • Keep it short.

Social media feeds are the ticker tape of our day. Cut to the chase. Be concise. Cut out all unnecessary words and phrases before posting or you will lose readers quickly.

If the words “read more…” appear often at the end of your Facebook posts, you may want to consider starting a blog and posting links to it on your social media feed instead.  If most of your posts are lengthy, people will begin to skim past your name out of habit, even if they think what you have to say is usually important.

  • Chunk it up.

Remember that most people read your posts on their phones. What looks like a paragraph of reasonable length on your computer can stretch into something intimidating on a hand-held device.

Try to keep paragraphs to three sentences max.  If you write a lot of compound or complex sentences, keep it to one or two if possible.

Double-space between paragraphs to create visual chunks of text.  Pressing “enter” isn’t enough.

  • Use bullets.

 Present ideas of equal importance in bullet lists, discussing each separately so people with limited time can glean the gist of your post without reading all of it and people with time to read it all can better comprehend, organize, and remember what they read.

  • Avoid bandwagon posting.

If what you want to say smacks of “Yeah, what he said! That goes for me double!”, then don’t post.  Take time to think matters through and consider your words carefully.  If you don’t have anything original to say or are unable to post without expressing anger or using hurtful words, either don’t say anything at all or simply repost the careful, considerate words of someone who is able to express your thoughts with more tact.

  • Use your filter.

If you belong to Jesus, His Holy Spirit lives in your heart and helps you discern right from wrong, wise from unwise.  If you feel the slightest check in your heart about posting something, don’t do it!

When choosing between similar words to express a thought, choose the mildest, stepping out of the way and giving the Holy Spirit room to speak to other hearts through your post.

No rants!  Ever, but especially not about non-eternal things like Walmart check-out lines or traffic.  Your points may be valid, but they make you seem petty.

  • Check your mechanics.

Grammar, punctuation, and spelling don’t matter to everyone, but they matter to many.  Don’t risk losing credibility with your audience in your hurry to post.

Clear communication takes work, for sure, but the pay-off is big when the message is Truth (Isaiah 55:11)!  Don’t waste your opportunity to influence.