If you received a blog in your mail from me called Ask Not, please don’t read it. It was a draft and not meant to be published. I wasn’t sure how to save a draft on my iPad:) I will be posting for real soon though. Thanks for following me!
I recently read a story about gospel artist Bryan Popin and how he and his wife met.
Prior to the release of his latest album “You Can Make It,” gospel artist Bryan Popin experienced many difficult moments through which he learned to persevere. Perhaps none was more life-changing than when performing at a conference just outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana. After playing his first song, he scanned the audience and his eyes were instantly drawn to a girl named Susan.
“She just glowed,” Popin says. “I was stunned. Watching her worship with her hands lifted to God was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen—at least to a 16-year old boy that was in ministry.”Immediately following service, Popin proclaimed to his mother that this was the girl he was going to marry.
Two years later, he returned to that church in Indiana, but Susan wasn’t there. Instead, her father informed Popin that she was now living in Los Angeles. Another two years later, Popin visited a different church in the Fort Wayne area and amazingly saw Susan’s parents again. This time, the 20-year old musician took decisive action. He asked the father for her phone number.
“I called her the very next morning,” Popin says. “In fact for four days, she didn’t even call me back. So then I started sending her flowers every day. By the seventh day, she called me and asked me to please stop sending flowers because she wasn’t in a good place. It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting, but at least I’d gotten Susan to talk to me.”
Popin then poured out his heart. He told her how he had missed his opportunity four years earlier and how desperately he wanted the chance to pursue a relationship with her. But then Susan had something important to say.
“Eight months earlier, Susan had gotten married and was now pregnant,” Popin explains. “When her husband found out, he closed their joint bank account and left her. She was moving home to Indiana to be back with her family.”
Over the next several months, Popin consistently traveled to Indiana to visit Susan. “When I finally got to hold the newly-born Isabella Grace in my arms and look into her big beautiful brown eyes, I fell deeply in love for a second time,” Popin says.
About 18 months later, Popin married Susan and they have been together ever since. Popin and his wife Susan now have four beautiful children.
“I wasn’t planning on getting married and having an immediate family, but I loved Susan and fell in love with Isabella,” Popin says. “She has totally changed my world. She showed me what true love was. When you’re a dad with a little girl, it’s pure, innocent love. But as much as I love my four children and my wife, even more than that, God loves us. It’s just mind-boggling.”
I loved this story, and thought it was such a beautiful picture of God’s persistent, pursuing love for us. There’s part of us that says, “I wish someone would love me that way.” Whether you are a teenager, a single woman or a married woman with an imperfect husband (I think that covers everyone), the heart of a woman wants to be pursued and valued and chosen. You may look at their story and want what they have, but the good news is that you already have it.
Jesus has chosen you. He saw you across time and picked you to be his. He is sending you flowers every day all around you to let you know he wants a relationship with you. The problem is that many of us feel like Susan probably did when Bryan called her in L.A. We feel like we have messed things up and that no one could possibly choose to love us again. We believe we are damaged goods because we are “not in a good place.”
This is me. I reject the good news of God’s everlasting love because I know that I don’t deserve it. I reject his love, not because of who he is, but because of who I am. I put him off and tell myself we will get back together when I’m in a better place. Do you see how the story would have changed if Susan would have done this? Do you see all the love she would have missed had she refused to let Bryan in?
Jesus is standing there telling you that he loves you with arms full of flowers even in your “bad place.” Often we act like the gospel story begins with “Because we were such great sinners and made such a big mess, God sent His Son into the world.” I hear this version preached from the pulpit very often. And while it is true, it is not the beginning of the story. The story really begins with “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Don’t leave the love out of the gospel. Don’t forget that you have already been loved, chosen and pursued by God. Do not reject his advances toward you and his voice that gently calls you to love him. Instead return his call and receive his love. You don’t have to be in a “good place” to be in a relationship with him. ”You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16)
Popin’s album “You Can Make It” will be released October 22 through a partnership with eOne Music and will be the first national debut for this piano player who is dedicated to bringing his listeners closer to the heart of God. Check it out here: http://bryanpopin.com/
I stood at the door once again. I could hear the dog on the other side barking, and he didn’t sound as evil as everyone was making him out to be. I could even hear an occasional whimper as he begged me to open the door. Maybe this time it would be different, I told myself. Maybe this time, the dog and I could find a way to live in peace together. I heard the voices of my friends begging me not to do it again, and I remembered the pain I brought on myself and those around me the last time. But I just had to know if this dog and I could be friends. Maybe this time it wouldn’t be so bad; maybe this time it would be different. Surely, it couldn’t be as bad as before. So my hand reached for the door knob, and I opened the door.
The innocent whimper turned into a ferocious growl, and I felt the pain shooting up through my leg once again. I looked down to see this bulldog holding my leg in his teeth, trying in vain to take me down. I beat him off and chased him back out the door. I turned my attention to my leg and tried to get the throbbing to stop. I looked up at the sky and said, “You were right. It was really stupid to open the door. I’m sorry.”
So before you get too worried about my leg and start to question my sanity, the above story is a picture I heard Dr. Neil T. Anderson present in a message at New Hope Community Church in Nashville, TN. He was talking about the difference between confession and repentance.
Confession is agreeing with God that what we did was wrong. It was wrong for me to open the door to the barking dog who represents that nagging sin, behavior or addiction that just won’t go away and I can’t seem to stop. Repentance is changing my behavior and not opening the door. He talked about setting boundaries and changing behavior patterns so that we stayed out of situations that were tempting.
As he spoke, I knew exactly what my barking dog was. Her name was “jealousy.” I had tried to stop being jealous of other people and wanting what they had. I had confessed to my friends and to my husband whenever I felt jealous. And the question I wrote in my notes was “How do I stop opening the door to Jealousy?”
Sometimes when your barking dog is an addiction, it seems easier to identify what makes you open the door. It’s going to a certain corner to find your drug or staying out of certain places to keep you from drinking. It’s putting a filter on the computer or deleting a phone number from your phone. I thought Jealousy was a different kind of dog, but I discovered she wasn’t so different after all.
As I started journaling about why I kept opening the door, I realized that the root was a lack of contentment. I realized that when I pictured standing at the door, I was in a closet, a tiny, stuffy, going-nowhere, full of nothing closet. And I wanted something more. I thought that “something more” was just beyond the door, so I reached for the door knob. Sure, I might have to put up with some barking and some dog bites, but it would be worth it to get to “something more.” And I kept opening the door and kept being jealous.
Then God showed me what was true. I wasn’t standing in a closet. I was standing in a big open space with no limits. I was standing in “something more” already, and the dog Jealousy was locked in a closet. All I had to do was turn around and see the family, the friends, the house, the ministry that God had already given to me on my side of the door. When I was so focused on chasing “something more,” I forgot about all that God had already given. All I had to do was turn around and repent.
And so I prayed a Princess prayer to ask God to help me be content on my side the door. To be grateful for what I already had. I needed to trust that he was big enough and strong enough to bring whatever I needed to my side of the door. He didn’t even have to go through the door; he could have it helicopter lifted in if he wanted to. He could make it magically appear, even if I never opened the door with the barking dog on the other side.
So what do you need to trust him for on your side of the door? Can he bring you the husband, the love, the attention you desire? Can he heal your pain so that you don’t have to hurt anymore? Can he bring you peace and hope outside of the other things you run to when you feel depressed? Can he provide for your financial needs even if you don’t reach for the credit cards? Will you trust him to bring it to your side of the door and stop reaching for something more?
I can’t say that I’m not jealous any more, but I can say that it has been a long time, which is about the best that any addict can hope for. When I confessed that I was focusing on the wrong things and began to turn around and focus on other things, that barking dog wasn’t as loud as she was before. I’ve learned that the root of all our reaching is a desire for something more, whether we are reaching for love in an illegitimate relationship or reaching for happiness at the bottom of a bottle. This desire can only be satisfied in a relationship with Jesus. And that’s not a band-aid or a nice Christian phrase. It’s the gut-wrenching, heart-pounding truth.
I stood at the back of the room dressed in a tuxedo shirt and bow tie with black pants. The emotions caught me by surprise. As I looked around the room, I saw familiar faces. I looked at the person on stage. I used to be that person, the one standing on the stage in the front of the room giving the keynote address. I wanted to be that person again. But today I was standing in the back of the room wearing an apron and cleaning up dirty dishes. It was a painful reminder that I was not where I used to be.
To me, it felt like a giant demotion. Being there as part of the catering staff felt like a declaration of my failure. I guess the book thing didn’t work for her, so now the poor thing has to wait tables. The voice of the accuser haunted my ears. “See, you tried too hard, you went too fast, you pushed too hard and you ruined it. Now you will never have it because you messed it up. Everyone else knew you weren’t ready, that you were too young, but you didn’t listen. You kept pushing anyway.” All of his words confirmed to me that I was an Orphan, unworthy and abandoned…unloved.
But I kept serving and smiling. I texted my husband to ask him to pray. He knew what it felt like. He had friends show up at concerts where he was working security and not the green room. He reminded me that we were doing what we had to so that we could provide for our family. I hated that. I hated doing this to provide and not the things I loved doing, that I was gifted to do, that I was called to do. And then I became the Accuser. If God wanted to, he could have made it so. He could have made our efforts successful. But he didn’t. The proof was as plain as day… he must not love us after all.
And in my desperate prayer for help, I heard his voice. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. It makes no difference to me whether you are standing on a platform in the front of the room or standing with the catering staff in the back of the room. It’s all service. All of it is serving me and my purposes for my glory. I don’t care where you are standing; I care about your heart.” I asked him to forgive me for putting him in the wrong.
He is lovingly teaching me what it means to serve. I’m learning to be content serving in the back. I’m finding joy in serving others and helping others’ dreams come true. God, in his amazing grace, has even given me friends to serve alongside. Last weekend some friends who were in Bible studies with me years ago came and worked at my catering job too. What fun it was to serve together again! So we weren’t planning a women’s retreat or doing a weekly women’s Bible study. But it was still sacred because we were doing what Jesus did when he took up the basin and the towel.
Recently I was filling out another job application, and it asked where I saw myself in five years. I used to be able to answer this question easily because I was very goal-oriented. However now I’m in a place I never planned to be, and my goals are completely worthless when matched against God’s sovereign plan. I’ve learned that I am and will always be a follower of Jesus. And Jesus had no career goals or plans. He simply did whatever the Father asked him to do; he went wherever the Father asked him to go; he said whatever the Father asked him to say. And everything was overshadowed by two words: loving and serving. By his example, Jesus made all service sacred.
I don’t know where my “career” is going, but I do know that wherever the Father asks me to go, I will be loving and serving others, hopefully just like Jesus did. I serve at the pleasure of the King, and I will go wherever he asks me to go…to a tiny back room to make jewelry, to a marketing firm as a PR assistant, to my family at home or standing in the back of the room in a tuxedo shirt and apron. Some day I may even stand on a platform again delivering a keynote address, but it will still be about loving and serving people, and it will be no greater or more significant or more important than where I am serving and loving today. It’s all loving and serving people. It’s all pleasing to the Lord when my heart is the heart of a Princess. Just like Jesus, I serve at the pleasure of the King.
A baseball game in July in Tennessee. An all black team versus an all white team playing for the World Series Championship. Two black umpires. LaVergne versus Brentwood. One loud crowd and one quiet. One with chants and cheers and one with jeers and golf claps. I hate it. I hate the bad calls. I hate the tension. I hate the division.
We are almost at the end of the first game, and we are losing badly. Another bad call, and the parents are complaining loudly. “Bad call! That was horrible!” And then I heard someone make it personal, “We know which side you are on.” The umpire warns our coach that if he can’t control the parents, he will get thrown out of the game. I hate it. The tension is too much. We should win this game because if we don’t, we have to play this team again with the same umpires. I don’t think I can do this again.
Faith brings me out of the tension by announcing that she has added a new friend to her club. Her name is Cora, and in a few minutes she is sitting in the shade of our tent. She’s an adorable black girl with pigtails, and these little girls have no idea what’s going on in the rest of the world around them. They only see friends to play with. I smile and welcome her under our tent and ask her if her mom knows where she is. I’m reminded there is a bigger game to play than the one on the field.
We lose the first game and take a break before the next game. Some parents go to inquire about whether we can get new umpires for the second game, but there’s no resolution. The parents pace and stretch, and Connor sits under our tent trying to re-set for the next game. “Are you going to be able to put that game behind you?” asks one of the parents. “Yes, sir,” Connor replies.
Second game begins, and we come out swinging. For the other team, this is their third game in a row. Everyone is tired. Then they hit a homerun, and we slowly lose our lead. The chant comes from the other side, “Uh, oh…Stealers, Stealers. Uh, oh….Stealers, Stealers.” We clap a little harder and yell a little louder. We come back and tie, but in the next inning, they pull ahead. Connor throws fourteen pitches to end an inning, but the next one, he is tired. The coach pulls him after he hits his third batter with the ball. Another good hit, and they are ahead 12-8 going into the bottom of the fifth inning.
The moms can’t take it. We leave the stands and go for a walk. Two of the moms have walked down to the end of the fence and are smoking. Another mom is looking for a strong drink. One of the dads says he forgot his valium. We are all discouraged; some even turn on the coaches and on each other. Two of the moms can’t handle the tension and leave in a hurry before they start to say things they will regret. It’s ugly. I hate it. I find another conversation to distract me from the game for a few minutes.
Our boys held them in the top of the sixth. As they come to the dugout, we cheer for them and encourage them to stay in it and not give up. Even though in our hearts, we have mostly given up. But the boys have not given up. They hit the ball, the other team makes costly errors, and we are tied. Connor goes in as a sub runner on second. He makes it to third and watches for a chance to steal home. His chance comes when the catcher misses a wild pitch. Connor slides into home for the winning run. In minutes, the team piles on top of him.
Both teams stand on the base lines for the award presentations. I linger for awhile and then head to the stands to start packing up. I didn’t know my proudest moment was yet to come. They called Connor’s name, and I stand to watch him. He heads toward the other team to congratulate them like his teammates before him. But before he gets to the coach and the team, he stops at the mommas standing on the field. I see my talk, lanky white son giving big bear hugs to each of those beautiful black women who have cheered their team on all day. Then he hugs the coaches and goes down the line congratulating the team. “Uh, oh…Patton, Patton. Uh, oh… Patton, Patton,” the women cheer.
Then I hear, “Where’s Connie’s momma? Which one is Connor’s mom?” These women have come looking for me, and I go out to the field to meet them. They embrace me with the same embrace they gave to Connor and tell me how they love my son and how sweet he is. We laugh and congratulate each other on a battle well-fought. It’s good for the boys to see. It’s good to leave it all on the field. They even try to teach me the cheer, so we can use it at Cooperstown. “Uh, oh…Sting, Sting. Uh, oh….Sting, Sting.” My husband assures them that I don’t have the rhythm for it, and I try to prove him wrong.
I walk off the field smiling. I’m so glad my kids don’t see color, that they understand so little of what the world used to be like. When we watched the movie “42,” it showed a world that seems so strange to them, so unfathomable the way that black people were treated. I’m so glad it’s 2013, and thankful for all the hard-fought battles that came before. Battles that allow black and white girls to be in the same clubs and teams to play on the same fields. So thankful for open hearts and open arms that take us in. My heart is full.
I’ve been realizing lately that I have two columns running through my head all day long. One column keeps all the good things I’ve done and one keeps all the bad. Mostly it’s good mom vs. bad mom. I have been realizing how often I tell myself I’m a bad mom in one form or another. (See last week’s post.)
For example, this morning started off with the good mom column. I spent time checking my kids “work boxes,” giving points for yesterday’s chores and loading them up with chores for the day. I even included “fun chores” like playing UNO Attack together. But this could turn out to be an item in the bad mom column if they actually attack each other during the game. You see, I’m a bad mom because I haven’t taught my children how to play together without fighting. Then at work I realized I didn’t have my phone within ear shot. Bad mom. Fortunately when I checked it, there were no urgent messages, so the work boxes must be working. Good mom.
This afternoon I came home and the girls wanted to go to the pool. But I couldn’t take them because I had to take Connor to the doctor. This is bad mom because I let him play in the woods, and he got poison ivy because I didn’t make him shower when he came in. Every time he gets poison ivy it takes over, and we can’t get rid of it until he gets a steroid prescription. Bad mom.
While at the doctor’s, my dear husband texted to say he was taking the girls to the pool. Bad mom because he had to stop working to take care of the kids. When I got home, I made a good mom choice…I think. Andrew stayed at the pool with the kids and I mopped the floor. It could be bad mom for not choosing to spend time with the girls or it could be bad wife for not spending time with the husband. But it could also be good wife because he came home to a clean house.
Tonight the boys went to a baseball game, so I was trying to find something fun to do with the girls. We decided to go to the mall and ride the little train. Bad mom for teaching my girls that shopping is what girls do for fun. Bad mom for not being content to spend the evening at home. Good mom for spending time with the girls.
When we got there, I had no cash. Bad mom. After the train ride, I let them pick the restaurant in the food court. Of course, it was pizza again. Bad mom. I picked the salad. Good choice. But also ate a big helping of pasta. Bad choice. I did have a diet Pepsi that I split with my daughter. Now this one could go in either column depending who you talk to. Bad for the caffeine and letting my daughter have it and that all diet drinks are just bad for you and you should just have water. Good because it was diet and had very few calories?? So confusing. I realized that pasta was a really bad choice when I went to try on clothes and everything made me look fat. Very bad choice.
Then we went to the playground at the mall. Good mom. And I just removed the sucker from my daughter’s mouth so as not to worry other moms that she would get a sucker stick through her brain. Good mom. But then again, I’m sitting here typing a blog instead of engaging with them. Bad mom.
Maybe your columns are different. maybe your day is measured by smart vs. dumb or cool vs. lame. Do you think that God keeps this kind of record of your day? If he did, would his record match yours?
As I have considered it, I think the answer to both of those questions is no. When God looks at me he doesn’t see two columns. He has no cosmic scale. When he looks at the chart of my day, the current of his thought is love. His abundant, free-flowing grace covers my day. His mercy is new every morning. He keeps no record of wrongs. It has all been forgiven. He is far more concerned with my heart because when my heart is turned toward him, the choices that matter fall into place. My heart turns toward him because of his great love for me, not because I’m trying to keep points in the good column. I also don’t avoid him because I’m afraid the bad column will bring his wrath, which is completely deserved. Instead I turn toward him because of his steadfast, everlasting love.
When I judge my day according to columns, it also affects those closest to me. They get columns too: good kid vs. bad kid, good husband vs. bad husband, good friend vs. bad friend. But when I learn to accept the grace and mercy God pours on my day, I am free to pour out grace and mercy on those around me. And they feel loved.
Consider this question: how many checks in the bad column could your child have before you stopped loving him or her? This is a ridiculous question because I simply can’t come up with a number. No matter how full the bad column was this good mom would always love her kid. So then if we know how to love our children in spite of poor choices, how much more does our Father in heaven?
I’m learning to replace two words, good and bad, with one word… LOVE. To receive it from the Father and to give it to others.
What are your columns today? Will you believe in and accept the Father’s love?
I’m sitting at a brown table built with 2×4′s under the shade of a green umbrella. Sounds of children playing bounce back and forth. Above it all, I hear my daughter Hope bossing around the other kids, telling them how to play the game. I hear a mom correct her child, followed by the familiar “No!” Internal sigh of relief that my kids aren’t the only ones who talk back.
Teens in bikinis come into the pool sipping Sonic drinks. I wonder if I will let my daughters wear bikinis when they are teenagers. It’s so hard to say no when they look so good in them. I remember when I had a body like that…well maybe not just like that.
My friend is sitting down by the deep end. I haven’t gone over to chat because I have “work” to do like writing this blog. I’m trying to collect my scattered thoughts. This morning it seems…
“Mom! I’m going potty!” announces my youngest daughter Faith as she runs dripping to the bathroom. It feels like every five minutes my thoughts are interrupted by kids asking questions.
“When can we go to the pool? Can we go to Bounce U? Have you called Bounce U? Can I bring a friend?”
In between the questions, I’m trying to check off the to-do list running through my head. Change dentist appointment. Find a place to board the dog. Call my mother.
“1…2…3…go!” I hear Kyle say in the deep end. And one lonely girl in the kiddie pool calling “Polo…Polo…Polo.”
“My name is Faith,” my daughter says when the girl calls her Marco. Guess I need to add teaching her how to play Marco Polo to the list.
The poor kid sitting behind me is trying to endure a disciplinary lecture from his mom. Another boy sits across from me working on homework in a workbook. We all try so hard to be good moms.
Kyle just walked up with ice cream. He hasn’t had lunch. How can a good mom let her son have ice cream before lunch? I remind myself that I did succeed in parenting Faith. She sits next to me finishing her PBJ so she can go get ice cream. And I am a good mom because my kids have to earn their ice cream money. Justified.
“Mom will you play horseshoe with me?”
“Not right now.” See, I told you I was a bad mom. Choosing writing over my kids. Bad mom. They want me to come swim with them and honestly I don’t want to. I would rather write.
“Not right now. Maybe when I’m done.” And the questions don’t stop and the thoughts are never complete. And I feel like I’m going crazy. Like I’m going to jump out of my skin. God, didn’t you know I was an introvert control freak? So why the four kids? He just smiles a mischievous, Father-knows-best kind of grin.
I do however stop writing to help Faith finish her ice cream, and she didn’t even have to ask. Priorities…you know? Now she’s off to socialize with the teens in bikinis. Bad mom.
But I’m supposed to enjoy this because someday I will come to the pool alone because everyone is too busy to come. I will bring my sunglasses, my book, my suntan lotion and my big floppy hat. Someday I will sit at the pool and read and only take a dip when I get hot. I will get my own ice cream and not have to share it with anyone. I could even spend time blogging at the pool and not fee guilty about it.
This was actually a writing exercise I did to help me be present in the moment and pay attention to what I was thinking about. What I realized was how often I told myself that I was a bad mom. Of course, I know all the right answers and remedies about trusting God and pleasing only him, and I have given them to people before. And yet…I still struggle, like most women do, with the internal dialogue, the inner critic, that follows me throughout my day. I wish that other people understood what I told myself on a daily basis. Maybe they would think twice before telling me what I’m doing wrong as a parent or boasting about what they are doing right. I wish my husband remembered how little positive affirmation there was in the profession of motherhood. I hope that I will remember this the next time I’m tempted to judge another mom or boast about my own shining moments, brief as they are. And the next time you see a mom being the best mom she can be, tell her she’s doing a great job and help her inner critic shut up for just a moment.