A Different Life

I Sinned at Church

December 29, 2014

As I ponder telling you about the inner workings of my mind today, my stomach churns. If you could take a tour of my mind, would you be disgusted? Would the continual din of discontentment, criticism and judgment lead you to put both hands over your ears and shout out, “shut up! I can’t take anymore!”? Or would you sit beside me in my mind and co-miserate? The answer to that question scares me.

As I sat in a church recently, I couldn’t stop the thoughts from entering my mind. I wanted to turn all of me over to God. I wanted to worship Him honestly and not just in song, but my mind wouldn’t sit still. It was like a child asked to sit through a four-hour sermon, and this was in the first five minutes of the service! I kept grabbing it by the collar and telling it to sit down and be quiet, but it refused: it just kept grabbing at things, “What is she wearing? Why did he say that? When will they turn off the air conditioning; it’s 32 degrees out!” As my eyes followed the lyrics on the screen, my lips moved and sound came out, but my mind was busy with other things, until I finally reached up and smacked it upside the head.

Now, one might call that brain abuse, smacking your grey matter around like that. After all, I’m only human, and human minds are prone to wander, right? True! So true. But the wandering has got to stop, it’s ridiculous. The cacophony of my thoughts drown out any and all of the reason we were there in the first place; to worship God. I love going to church. I love corporate worship, but so many times my mind is too distracted to worship anything other than itself. And that bums me out. No, it makes me sick. And so I decided to do a little house cleaning by getting rid of all that noise through confession. After all, I reasoned, confessing a sin is the first step in walking away from it.  And so I sat down in my seat, while everyone else stood. I told my brain to quit worrying about what they would all think, and I confessed. I confessed as many sins as I could count from the moment I woke up that morning till that moment in church. And I counted eleven. That’s eleven sins that I could remember, that I could identify. Ugh! Who does that? Who sins eleven times on the way to church? Me! That’s who. What a freak. But thank God for his even more freakish grace and the reminder of Romans 8:1, that “there is therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” What glorious news, cuz my mind’s a mess! And the more aware I become of God’s goodness, the more vividly I see my filth, and so need his grace daily.

The honest truth is I probably sinned far more than eleven times that morning; I’m just blind to it. But in my disgust for the eleven, I am overjoyed that the Spirit gave me eyes to see my sin. But not so I could get out the bleach and Brillo pads to start feverishly scrubbing away at the stains in my life. That’s the old Hayley’s desire. My desire now is to be different. To realize God’s amazing grace in the moment when God reveals my sin to me, even in church, then rest in the peace that he is enough.

A Different Life

I hurt just like you

November 21, 2014

Why do I often feel more empathy for animals than people? When I drive down the road and see a turtle stuck in traffic I empathize. I feel for the turtle. I want only what’s best for him. I know how it feels to move too slow to get everything done that you need to get done. I know how it can seem like life is passing you by at break neck speeds.A-turtle-crosses-the-road-011 So when I see a turtle in the road I stop the car. I get out and I lift up the turtle as it hisses at me and I take it to where it is heading; the other side of the road. Yes, I feel great empathy for turtles.

So why don’t I feel the same way for people? Why can’t I see the burdens they carry and stop the car to get out and help them? Why instead do I accuse them of not working hard enough, of not being good enough, of not being fast enough? Why do I care for animals more than people? The other day my friend told me she was afraid that her her dog was going to die of cancer. He had hurt his leg and she was afraid it was a tumor, like she had seen in her previous dog. Ironically, I have thought the same thing about myself on many occasions, “maybe this pain in my side is a tumor. Maybe the headaches mean I have cancer.” I can totally relate. Yet, when she confessed that she had been afraid that her dog had cancer, my first reaction was to encourage her not to freak out so much over pulled muscles and sore feet, that is, to say the exact opposite of what I say to myself. But then for a split second, something like the Spirit came over me, and for a refreshing change, I didn’t encourage through correction, but through empathy. This was such a different and unnatural reaction to me that it was notable. Instead of encouraging my friend to try not to stress, I empathized with her fear. After all, I knew exactly how she felt, and so I said something like, “that must have really scared you.” While these words were not natural to me, they came super naturally on this occasion. Maybe because empathy has been on my mind lately.

As I attempt to raise my nine-year-old, I find that many times empathy is all I am able to offer her as she pulls and strains at the challenges of life. But so many times her complaint leads me to exacerbation. I want to yell at her to straighten up and fly right, as if we were living in the 1940s. I want her to get over it and get on with more important stuff, but then I try to remember that a child’s complaint is the way that they communicate their suffering, their fears, their worries, their trials and their need for grace. And so I am empathizing; I am sharing my own childhood with her, giving us common ground, as I understand the “difficulties” growing up brings. And so empathy, a word I’m not sure I totally understand, is helping me to share the grace of God with my little sinner and even other big sinners. To see myself as no better and no worse, but just as crippled by the trials and pains of this world, and just as in need of grace as the rest of them is more life giving than teaching them to get over it.

A Different Life

Building Transparent Relationships

November 15, 2014

Today my nine-year-old, who is a great conversationalist and especially likes asking difficult questions to get people talking, asked my 72-year-old mother what was one sin she committed today that she’d like to confess to us all. Gulp! That’s what I get for spending half of our homeschool time on the gospel, a child who asks the really uncomfortable questions, oops. But the question was a good one, if not for casual conversation with your grandparent, it was a healthy and self-aware question, I tell myself so as not to feel to embarrassed. My mom, however, is of a generation where things like sin aren’t talked about casually. So I jumped in and told Addy that, that was a question best directed to herself. After all, not everyone wants to be so transparent. And then I proceeded to offer up a couple of my own beauties (by which I mean sins).

While some parents might think this to be a dangerous way to fall on the grenade for a parent, I see it as an opportunity to give the gospel wings. After all, my sin isn’t a surprise to my daughter, who spends her entire waking life alongside of me as we do life together. If I’ve taught her anything, I’ve taught her that I’m a sinner. There’s just no hiding it: we live too close together.

There was a time when I feared my sin: when I looked in the mirror and regretted my imperfections: when I tried to cover up my mistakes and hide from my foolishness. But then I started to teach my daughter the gospel and suddenly I saw it, my failure is God’s glory. It was quite an awakening. So long had I told myself that my goodness alone would bring glory to God, that my sinfulness and mess became something I wanted to shove in the closet when company came over. But make it the object of show-and-tell? How could I do that? Isn’t that just giving sin the glory?

But then I saw that the gospel has no power without my sin. If you think that statement looks heretical, I agree, but looks can be deceiving. If I were perfect, rather than imperfect, then what Christ did on that cross would be useless: I’d have no need for it, for him. In fact, the whole coming to earth as a man and dying for our sins thing would be a waste of his time (see Galatians 2:21), because I would be proof that we could do it for ourselves: that the gospel was just one of many paths to God. But my confession of sin is a verbal embrace of my need for a Savior, and so that’s why I freely tell my daughter my confessions. Not all of them, not the ones she has no clue about, not the ones that would scare her or make her aware of sins she’s too young to understand, but the sin that she is party to, the sin that she sees on my face when I am resentful, or in my tone when I am harsh, these sins I name as sin.

Our confessions don’t take away our power but reinforce it, as our truth telling gives all the glory to God as we simply confirm what inquisitive minds already notice: that we all are imperfect and in need of rescue. Our confessions keep us from hypocrisy, from pretend living, from faking it and teaching our kids to fake it too. My confession is just my verbal agreement with what God has said, that anything that I do that is inconsistent with the life of Christ is sin. Sometimes I worry over my imperfections and weaknesses because I think there is a way to be perfect and to be done once and for all with the mess of my life. I guess you could say that subconsciously I think that there is a way to get to God without Christ, but that would mean that Christ was a lune, doing what he did to save us when we could just do it ourselves. I want to try to see my imperfections as an opportunity to recognize my need for a Savior and to remind anyone who will listen that without admitting my sin I have no access to God (see 1 John 1:10). I want my sins to matter. I don’t want them to be for nothing, for destruction, for ruin, I want them to be for God’s glory, and so I have to talk about them and to freely confess the righteousness I have that comes from faith in Christ alone (see Galatians 3:21-22), and not from my attempt at perfection.

In an effort to build more transparent and meaningful relationships I’m am trying to do what’s different for me and that is to let people into my life so that I can let Christ out. So welcome to the messiness of what different does.

if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:21-22

A Different Life

I Need a Personality Upgrade

November 14, 2014

A while ago I told a friend that she talked too much. We were sitting in a circle during a book club and the topic of conversation turned to listening and the importance of it in relationship to others. And as she droned on and on, I finally couldn’t take it any more and so I told her, in my most detached clinical psychologist voice, “you have a problem with words. You use too many of them!” Of course, everyone was stunned. The room went silent. After all, who says that to a person? Who actually volunteers to destroy a friendship in order to teach a potentially life changing and valuable lesson? Me. That’s who. In fact, that’s not the first time. Nope, I’m fearless in the face of friendship suicide. If I see a shortcoming in someone I love I am so selfless that I will fall on the grenade of relationship destruction and be blown to smithereens just to help a woman get out of her endless loop of self-denial.

Of course, I know I’m alone in this tragic flaw, because that friend I told to shut up, after she recovered, went to five of our closest friends and asked each of them if they thought she talked too much. To my surprise not one of them was fearless enough to confirm her infatuation with her own voice. So when she came back to me with her data that five out of five friends interviewed said she wasn’t that much of a talker I was beside myself. Why would they lie? I questioned. Why wouldn’t they help a girl out. See, at the time I couldn’t see that the truth told in such a way doesn’t help anyone, but in fact, hurts the very one you are trying to help. At the time I was all about being the conscience of the world, taking the place of the Holy Spirit and pushing people into change. And boy what a mess I made. From telling a friend she didn’t love her kids, to saying that another’s favorite book was “spiritually destructive,” I put being (brutally) honest above being kind and trusting my friends to discover truth in their own time.

talking too much 3

Ten years and multiple burnt bridges later I have come to realize that I need a personality upgrade. The status quo of Hayley ‘the volunteering counselor’ had to change. But who changes their personality? Who looks in the mirror and says, “I’ve gotten it all wrong. The desires, the impulses, the approach, the tendencies, the urges, all wrong?” I talk when I should be silent. I am silent when I should talk. I tend to fear conversations focused on my life because of potential rejection and instead focus on others out of a desire to help them in their misery. I am quick to use the missteps and mistakes of others in order to make a point. I’m a hot mess. But if there’s one thing I’ve come to learn through all of my years of studying God’s Word, it’s that my personality is not a life sentence but an infatuation with my flesh. For years I thought that personality was in the DNA, and maybe it is, but isn’t the DNA just an invisible part of the flesh? If it is, then it, like the rest of my flesh should be able to be changed.

If my personality is all about the sin, bout the sin, bout the sin (all trouble), then something’s gotta change. I am no longer comfortable saying things like, “that’s just who I am,” or “I have a sarcastic personality, it’s nothing personal.” Why have I clung for so long to the character of my flesh? Why have I accepted the status quo as if it were more powerful than the Holy Spirit. Why haven’t I applied the words from 2 Corinthians 5:17 to my personality?  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” cuz’ I’m a mess, that’s why. But even messes can be cleaned up. Of course, if they’re in my house they won’t be for long. Mess seems to be the natural state of my stuff, and it’s definately the natural state of my personality. But at least being aware of it is the first step, right? So today I’m gonna do what different does, and ask God for a personality upgrade, since I know I can’t do it myself. And I’m gonna thank him for his grace because I know I’m gonna fall back into Hayley 4.0 (yes this is my 5th major upgrade). Let me just say now that I might say something incredibly insensitive to you in the future, but please know that I only say those things to those I love. And I love you.

A Different Life

Do You Need Me?

November 11, 2014

I once heard a missionary tell a story of a woman who came up to him after he had given a talk about the mission field at a small country church. The old woman thanked him for his words and said she wanted to give him something very special to her. She then handed him a white Bic pen with a black cap, the kind you can buy in a 10 pack for a couple of dollars. As she held out the pen and smiled, he could see how much she loved it and probably needed it. He wanted to tell her “thank you” and to keep it: he had no need for it and she clearly loved it. But instead, he reached out and took it from her feeble hands and said, “thank you. I love it. And will think of you every time I use it.” With that, the old woman smiled triumphantly and walked out of the room.

Older-woman-Writing

It can be easy to think that serving others is about what we can give them, but a lot of the time it’s about taking what they want to give us. I know a little of which I speak. When we moved to our little southern town from the west coast I was very lonely. It took me years to make friends, so tight knit are the groups of women I met. I yearned to connect with others, to bond over coffee and playtime. I wanted to have a best friend, someone who I could call when life got mess. But more than that, someone who would call me when she just needed to talk. So, years later, when a friend of mine from our homeschool coop asked if there was any possible way that I could come to her house and take care of her three kids while she went to the doctor, I jumped at the chance.

After three hours of Addy and I playing with her kids, she came home and thanked me so much for the help. Then she said, “Don’t worry, I won’t make a habit of this.” To which I smiled and said, “I hope you will.” She probably thought I was crazy. Who asks to interrupt their day to take care of someone else’s kids?  A woman who looks at building community as one of the most important things she could do for herself and her child, that’s who. A woman like me who grew up alone. My family didn’t have friends to speak of. People didn’t come over. And I was an only child. So, when I became a believer and saw the importance of community, of living alongside of one another, helping, carrying one another’s burdens, praying for one another, laughing with one another, I began a quest to build a community that would glorify God and show those involved and those not yet involved, the beauty of living Life Together. In his book by that title, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums up my sentiments best when he says, “it is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated.” So, sometimes the best way to serve someone is to need them.

Who are the most successful missionaries? According to Nik Ripkin, the missionary who accepted the pen, it is missionaries who need people, and aren’t there as the superior being, only offering help and never needing any who are the most successful. Nationals who see that foreign missionaries living among them become a part of their community, not only serving them, but being served by them, feel a greater affinity for those missionaries. And in the same way, my affinity for my friend has grown since she asked me to help her. We cannot worry about needing people, putting them out. This is the lesson I am teaching myself as I write these words. So long I have feared being an imposition, asking for friendship, for help, for participation. But knowing what I know now, I can say that if I know you I just might ask you to help me one day. In living out the one another’s of scripture, I will do my part to need you more and to think you need me less. While I know I’m really good at being there for people, I’m going to work on asking others to be there for me, and accepting their help, not being an island, a woman who can do it all on her own. That doesn’t build the community that God has created us for.

Galatians 6:2 tells us to, “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” How will you bear my burdens if I don’t talk to you about them? How will you help if I do not ask? I need you, and that kills me to say, but I will try my best to say it whenever it is true. Life is a scary journey when you do what different does, especially when it’s different than what you always do.