Beth Armstrong

Christian wife, mom, & author. Doing life with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I walk, I stumble, I fall. But God is big. And this is what I write about… Thanks for stopping by!

Archive for the category “Such are the Vicissitudes of Life”

BINGO…AND FORGIVENESS

“BINGO!”

That is the word I hear several times a week after I utter a seemingly endless strand of letters and numbers.

B9…O66…I20…B2…G55…N41…etc….etc…etc… “BINGO!”

bingo

Admittedly it’s probably the least favorite part of my job. But the residents thoroughly enjoy it. After calling BINGO for over four years now, it’s dawned on me why I don’t care for it much. It’s the least social aspect of my job. It’s rote and redundant. You can’t necessarily visit with folks because it needs to be fairly quiet and continuous. In my own quirky, silly way, however, I try to make it fun and entertaining. (I don’t do this for the residents. I do this for my own sanity.)

There’s occasionally some friendly banter back-and-forth between residents who are winning a lot and those who aren’t winning at all. There’s occasionally some friendly banter back-and-forth between residents who have empty cards and me who’s apparently not calling their numbers on purpose. They like to “threaten” me that we’ll no longer be friends if I don’t allow them to win. They even playfully threaten me with some sort of violence if I don’t start calling the “right numbers.”

After the first game the other day, one gal made such a “threat.” I played along and told her I’d work really hard to call her numbers on the next game so she could win. Well as it turned out, she did win. Then she said, “Beth, all is forgiven now!”

I replied back, “Wow…that was easy.”

Another one piped up and said, “Yes, that’s how forgiveness works.”

As we continued with the mundaneness of BINGO for the next hour, I reflected on forgiveness…and the beauty and simplicity therein.

The hardest part of forgiveness is the asking. It’s hard to admit we’ve done wrong. It’s hard to acknowledge we’ve hurt or angered someone, especially those we care a great deal about. Even so, though we may admit our wrongdoing, and ask someone for their forgiveness, they may have a hard time honoring our request. They may even deny our request for forgiveness, or make us somehow try to “earn it.” When we go through something like that, all is not necessarily forgiven, nor is it easy.

But I reflected on a grander scale. Not us being forgiven by others. But us being forgiven by God. When we admit to God we’ve screwed up or not exactly lived in a way that’s pleasing to Him, He promptly says, “All is forgiven now!”

No threats. No earning it. It’s a freely offered gift from a great big God who thinks the world of you despite your screw-ups. It’s called grace. It’s not complicated. Just beauty and simplicity therein.

When I reflect on that, I indeed reply, “Wow…that is easy!”

And my resident would respond, “Yes, that’s how forgiveness works!”

And everybody would join in and said, “BINGO!” (…or maybe AMEN!)

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THE COMMONPLACE OF COMMUNION

Grab the bread and dunk it in the juice as quickly as possible. There’s a line, ya know? And as the Kansas City Royals say, “Keep the line moving!”

This is what Communion looks like and feels like at my church. We form lines and head to the front of the Sanctuary or Ministry Center. The organist or worship team plays some Communion-related song as we “worshipfully” approach the serving Elders or Deacons at the front. It seems to be a relatively slow and reflective pace—some deep in thought or even prayerful as they make their way to receive the elements.

Or is it?

As soon as we saintly souls get to server #1 who has the plate of bread and says (as a holy reminder), “This is the body of Christ broken for you,” we’ve already moved to server #2 who has the juice and says (as a holy reminder), “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.” As a matter of fact, before server #1 is even through speaking, some have already dunked the bread into the juice and moved on.

And poor server #2 who holds the juice! They’re just holding a mess right there.

Here’s my observation: It’s a race. It’s a fast food drive through. It’s some sort of “Divine Dash.”

Somewhere along the way, we’ve confused scoring points for the Royals with taking holy Communion as quickly as you can. As I said, “Keep the line moving!”

I am an Elder who occasionally serves Communion at our church. I’ve witnessed this Divine Dash for years. There are some who grab the bread before I even get the chance to say anything. Of course, there are (very) few who actually wait, take a piece of bread, listen, and move on to the juice server, then wait, listen, and dunk the bread into the juice.

And the dunking of the bread is another thing. Trust me I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen big hunks of bread accidentally dropped into the chalice of juice, then grabbed right back out with germy hands. I’ve seen hunks of bread left in the chalice as nice little floaters to greet the next person in line. I’ve seen dunks so big and sloppy I feel like we need one of those “Caution—Wet Floor” signs to place in front of the juice server.

What is happening here? Seriously, I’d like to know!

Do you know what the word “commune” means? According to the Oxford dictionary, to commune means to “share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone), especially on a spiritual level.” It means to “feel in close spiritual contact with.”

In the Divine Dash to grab and dunk, are we “communing” at all with God? Are we having any “close spiritual contact” with Jesus—the One we are doing this in remembrance of?

Come on, church! Is this any way to approach Communion? Is this any way to approach Holy Communion?

Where’s the reverence? Where’s the reflection? Where’s the repentance?

Am I coming down on my church? Yes! Am I shaking my holy finger in their face? No! Because I’ve been equally as guilty as the rest.

But maybe my church isn’t that different than yours. Maybe your church has its own “Divine Dash” or seemingly apathetic approach to something set aside as a holy sacrament.

I would contend that perhaps Communion has become commonplace.

A lady in her 90’s recently shared a story with me. She and her husband used to lead the youth group at her church some 70 years ago. On a youth mission trip—in which they planned to offer Communion—something happened to the bread and the juice. The bread was moldy and the juice was spoiled because it got left in the hot car for days. So, they scrambled for a solution. Instead of serving bread and juice for Holy Communion, they served potato chips and Pepsi. (Yes, you read that right!) I laughed out loud when she told me that. And then she said, when all were served, they threw out the rest of the potato chips and Pepsi because they were used as holy elements. They were set aside and designated as a holy remembrance of Jesus’ body broken for them, and His blood shed for them. And because of that, they could not (in good conscience), have used the chips and soda pop as common food. She shared with me that they all had to move past the simple in order to arrive at the sacred. They had to step over the droll in order to embrace the Divine. She said it was one of the most meaningful and memorable Communions they had ever partaken of.

Friends, no matter how you receive Communion, remember it’s not a common occasion. It’s a holy experience. Pause…slow down…reflect. If the elements are passed down your row of chairs or pew, hold the elements before you gobble them up and slam them back. If you go forward to be served the elements, let the server actually serve you. Let the words of their mouths soak in. Infuse the words of institution. Refuse the temptation to allow Communion to become commonplace. It’s not a Divine Dash. It’s a moment. A moment to commune with our Heavenly Father. A moment to share and connect with the God of the Universe. A moment to reflect on His lavish love by way of sacrificing His Son Jesus.

A moment created for you…not about you.

Slow down…reflect…repent…embrace the Divine…welcome the privilege to commune. Move past the simple, and arrive at the sacred.

 

THE STARE DOWN

The stare down between us started at 9:15 Wednesday morning.

I was outside visiting with a gentleman who had his scooter parked alongside the handrail of the wide sidewalk from the front door to the parking lot. It’s about 30 feet from the door to the edge of the sidewalk where our company van picks up folks to transport them to various places.

In the middle of our conversation, I looked up and there he was, hunched over, unable to stand erect, using a cane instead of his normal walker, struggling to take his steps toward the van. Scruffy beard (which I’ve complimented by the way), bald head, glasses half way down his nose. Worn and weathered stern looking face. Headed my direction.

I heard him say something to me in his gruff voice…something that I couldn’t quite make out. So I asked him if he needed any help…if there was anything I could do for him.

He immediately bit my head off. I didn’t understand all of his rant, but what I could decipher was a few expletives shot right at me, stating his adamant independence and his desire for me to leave him the hell alone.

That’s when it happened. The stare down between him and me. I didn’t say a word and neither did he as he made his way right toward me. He stared at me with his devil face and I stared right back with my bitch eyes. As he passed by me we were only a few feet away from each other, deadlocked on each other’s faces. Eye to eye. I didn’t crack and neither did he.

Stare DownHe turned to get in the van as we gave each other one last, long, look. Then I turned and walked inside. Not a word was vocalized after his outburst. Well…perhaps many words were spoken, just not verbally. This is the same gentleman (if I can even call him that) I blogged about on June 28th. He’s crusty and very rough around the edges.

At the moment of his blasting, I wasn’t at all taken aback. I’ve gotten used to it from him. I wasn’t necessarily left speechless, because again, I’ve been on the receiving end of his chastising before. But at the same time I didn’t know what to say back. I’d had it. It hit a nerve this time. So I stared him down and quite likely in my mind spewed words so sharp it would have cut the scruff right off his beard.

I fully believe everything I shared in my previous blog about dealing with difficult people. I believe we are supposed to bless those who curse us and love our enemies. I believe we shouldn’t repay evil with evil or insult with insult. With regard to “Mr. Crusty Man” I’ve literally put those words into practice.

But after I got home, something (or perhaps someONE—who’s far greater than me) reminded me of the passage in Scripture where Jesus tells His disciples “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14).

Could it be that this is what God is calling me to do with him? I wrestle with the thought. On one hand, I feel that I should love unconditionally. That I should continue to offer grace and mercy to a guy who certainly doesn’t deserve it, because isn’t that a picture of what God does for us daily?

On the other hand, there are Jesus’ words to His disciples to “shake the dust off their feet” which is a symbolic indication that they had done all they could do and no longer carried the responsibility of it. They were free to walk away with a clear conscience.

Is this God’s way of telling me to move on? To “shake the dust off my feet” with regard to this guy who I’ve poured into, prayed for, tried to encourage, helped in every way I can, planted seeds, and made an effort to take our conversations Godward when I could?

I’m stuck in the middle of these two teachings of Jesus. Both right. Both true. Both I believe firmly in.

I haven’t seen him since the stare down occurred. When I encounter him next, will there be the sweet fragrance of Jesus in the air…or just a cloud of dust?

DISHING ON DIFFICULT PEOPLE

I was being kind and compassionate and was prepared to go out of my way to be helpful. Then he bit my head off. I immediately thought, “Thanks for nothin’ there, bud!” I always go the extra mile in the respect, caring, and kindhearted department with this guy. And what I get in return is short, impatient, disrespectful responses. He grunts, he groans, or he growls at me nearly every time. He’s crusty. He’s rough around the edges to say the least. He once told me that when he dies he’s “going straight to hell because he’s one mean son of a bitch.” (Yep, that’s a direct quote from him.) Ever since he made that declaration, he’s been on my heart. For whatever reason, this week when I reached out to help out with my normal positive, considerate approach, and when he bit my head off, I thought to myself, “I’m done! I’m over you, dude! Game over!”

Later, another gentleman (not sure he really deserves that title if I’m being honest) told me he didn’t like me one bit at all. (What I really wanted to say was, “Yeah, the feeling is mutual!”) He let me know I was terrible at my job and that I needed to get with the program. He then stated that he didn’t like being around me and told me to go away. Apparently not long after we met I ticked him off. He doesn’t look at me, speak to me, or acknowledge me in any way. I say hello to him every time I see him. I ask him how his day is going. And he pretends that I don’t exist. Until this week. When I got an earful. And again, I thought to myself, “I’m done! I’m over you, dude! Game over!”

head buttWhen I deal with difficult people, my motto (and self-talk reminder) of the last several years has been, “Just kill ‘em with kindness.” But after this week, my new motto just might leave off the words “with kindness.”

“Bless those who curse you,” He said. I’d like to think Jesus was plum crazy or maybe on something when He challenged His listeners in this way. But that wasn’t the case at all. He was always taking what was right-side-up and turning it upside down. Or perhaps better to the point, He was always taking what was upside down, and turning it right-side-up. Paul reiterates Jesus’ words by adding, “Bless and do not curse.” Then Peter adds his two cents by saying, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing…”

I think Jesus initiated these words because He knew that life was a grander story than just mere moments of insults and ingrates. He knew that He was part of a bigger story than the one written in the heat of the moment of disgust or displeasure with an individual. Not only was His story bigger, but so was that of the insulter, the attacker, the persecutor, the difficult person. And if He could weave kindness, compassion, grace, and mercy into their story, maybe it would awaken them to the bigger story they were a part of but just didn’t know it.

“Love your enemies,” He said. Why would I want to love them when they don’t return the sentiment? Loving them is an investment that doesn’t produce any kind of return, other than frustration on the part of the one giving the love. But this is what we’re challenged to do. To participate in God’s story–one in which He is speaking and acting. A story of unconditional love. And grace. And mercy.

“Love, do good, help, and lend to those difficult people in your life,” He said. Those difficult people in our lives aren’t problems to fix. They’re people. Made in the image of God. People to love. People to serve.

Jesus also added these words, “…expecting nothing in return.” That’s where it gets real. That’s where it gets raw. I want progress in return. I want a glimpse of something positive in return. I want my effort to mean something, to make an impact, to influence…and see evidence of it.

God says to all of us, “It’s not about the return. It’s about the story. I am writing your story just as I am writing theirs.”

So…we gear up, we armor up, we fill up and prepare ourselves to spill out love and blessings to those who curse us, our enemies, the ungrateful, the selfish, the hateful, and the mean-spirited. And we know after all the spillage, our bucket will indeed be empty. (Jesus probably experienced this on a regular basis.) But we go straight back to the Source to refuel. The Author of our story. The One who invites us to participate in it as best we can. By loving…doing good…and blessing.

 

WHY JESUS DIDN’T HALF-ASS

“A job isn’t worth doing unless it’s done right the first time.” It was something like this that my grandmother embedded into us when we spent the summers with her. We “earned our keep,” so to speak. We had a list of chores to do each day. We memorized Bible verses at meal times, we were expected to treat each other with kindness and respect, and she set the bar high. We had to make our beds each morning…perfectly. We had to do the dishes…completely and thoroughly. We had to clean out the toy closets and ball closets…spotlessly. We had to sweep the garage…immaculately. She wasn’t being mean, or harsh, or a taskmaster. She just expected us to pitch in. She wanted us to learn the value of hard work. She wanted us to learn to do a job right…the first time. It’s a waste of time to do a job half-assed, then do it repeatedly until it’s done right, done well, and with care and excellence.

This is what my grandmother taught me. I didn’t care much for those lessons at the time. Matter of fact, I kinda thought it was a crock. Since when do kids go to their grandmother’s house to work? It’s supposed to be all about fun. And, truthfully, we had a lot of fun with her…after the work was done. She loved to play games…after the chores were complete. Part of her mission, I think, was to teach us grandkids to do a job right the first time around. And it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

I ran across a passage this week that made me think of this very thing. Some people brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus took him aside, put His fingers in the man’s ears, and some of His spit on the man’s tongue. (Yes, this sounds disgusting!) Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Be opened!” In an instant, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue loosened, and he began to speak clearly. It was gross, crazy, strange, and miraculous all at the same time.

The people who witnessed this were absolutely blown away. And do you know what their response was? Here’s what they said about Jesus… “He has done everything well…” What they were indicating about Jesus was, “He does everything beautifully, commendably, and with excellence. Jesus does admirable things that are honorable, surpassing good and noble.”

He didn’t just do some things well. He did all things well. He didn’t choose to half-ass a few things now and then. He chose to do the job right (and with excellence) the first time. The Message Translation of Mark 7:37 records it this way, “He’s done it all and done it well.”

I wonder if Jesus grew up with a grandmother like mine?

Or maybe He just knew that it made perfect sense to do everything well. That doing things half-assed is a waste of time. Maybe He sensed that excellence and honor was the way God intended it to be. Maybe He figured out that if you’re gonna do a job, do it right the first time. Because in the end, this is the way, the effort, the attitude, and the character that pleases God…and my grandmother.

 

ISSUES EXIST…LOVE ENDURES

I have issues. It bugs me when people stand really close to me. I don’t like people messing with my hair. It drives me crazy when, in an empty public restroom with a dozen open stalls, the next person in chooses the stall right next to me.

Like I said…I have issues.

I have bigger issues than the ones I mentioned above, however. I’m stubborn—and it’s not easy to overcome. I’m arrogant—and it’s a daily battle within me to keep my ego in check. I don’t have a stellar bank account or the perfect marriage. And my kids are on pace to be every bit as flawed as their mother. Oh joy!

Like I said…I have issues. I’m not proud of them. I’m not flaunting them. I wish I didn’t have them. But the truth is I struggle with them just like you struggle with yours.

Everybody has issues.

Your friend has issues. She’s insecure as all get out. Your spouse has issues. He/she is arrogant, insensitive, and controlling. Your co-worker has issues. She’s overbearing and doesn’t let you get a word in edgewise. Your neighbor has issues. He lies constantly. You wonder why he feels the need to do that. The lady in your bible study has issues. She’s got a root of bitterness bigger than Dallas, but hides it as best she can. Your nephew has issues. He’s into pornography, but doesn’t see the harm in it.

Everybody has issues. And issues present us with an interesting enigma.

The question is, can you see past my issues? Can you overlook your co-worker’s issues? Can you embrace your neighbor despite his issues? Can you be kind to the lady in your bible study regardless of her issues? Can you get along with your friend even though she has issues?

Here’s what I have found to be true in this interesting enigma: issues exist…but love endures. At least a Christ-like love does.

Issues Exist Love EnduresJesus loved His disciples—all quirky, ill-equipped and flawed twelve of them. I don’t know if that was easy for Him or not. My guess is He wore thin of patience with a few every now and then because you know what? They had issues. Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Maybe they were easier to love than His disciples. But Martha certainly had issues, and Jesus brought those into light.

Jesus also loved the rich young man who ended up walking away from Him—materially wealthy, but eternally bankrupt. Ouch!

Jesus had compassion on all sorts of people who had all sorts of issues. He hung out with sinful people. He touched “unclean” people. He embraced the ones who were far from perfect. He did life with people who were self-absorbed, broken, messed up, whacked out, and didn’t buy what Jesus was selling.

They had issues. They had struggles. They had challenges. They had problems. They had difficulties. Their lives were not pretty little packages wrapped up with pretty little bows. And truth be told, neither are ours.

Can we have compassion like Jesus did on others who have issues? Can we hang out with people like Jesus did who are far from perfect? Can we do life with people like Jesus did who have hang-ups, problems, and struggles? Can we embrace people like Jesus did who don’t even acknowledge Jesus?

Can we love like Jesus? Regardless…in spite of…even though…
Issues exist. Love endures.
Go love like Jesus!

 

CAN YOU BRIDGE THE GAP?

swing-bridge

I have a friend who’s really wigged out by bridges. Not totally creeped out, but pretty freaky about them. I had no idea this existed in her until several years ago. She invited my boys and me down to the lake to spend a few days with her and her kids. We hung out and did some sight-seeing and driving around.

One day we were driving through one of the state parks. It was a pretty remote area with deep woods and winding gravel roads. Somewhere in the middle of the winding and driving on our primitive path, we came upon an old suspension bridge with wooden planks that you could see through straight to the water below. I thought it was cool. So did the kids. They wanted to get out and walk across. So we stopped the car and her uneasiness began. Again, I had no idea she was so wigged out by these things. She wanted no part of getting out of the car. Matter of fact she wanted no part of even driving over the bridge even though car after car had gone over it for years. It wasn’t like she was totally freaking out or anything, but was noticeably bothered. Honestly, at the time I thought she was just messing with me. But, no. Oh no. It was for real. She does not like bridges and this old, rickety suspension bridge was proof positive.

Some time ago at work one of the entertainers at our facility played the Simon and Garfunkel song Bridge Over Troubled Water on the piano. I hadn’t thought about my friend and her freaky bridge aversion in a long time. And for whatever reason, this song brought back that memory. Personally I like the song. If you read the history behind it, you’ll find the “true meaning” of the song lies somewhere between Jesus and heroin and the few strands of gray in Mrs. Simon’s hair.

Here’s the thing…people struggle, people have junk and baggage. When they look through the wooden planks of their lives it’s far from sturdy. And all they see through the weathered and worn out planks is troubled waters. They see failure, shortcomings, regret, poor choices, guilt, remorse, and shattered hopes and dreams. They don’t see peace. They don’t sense calm. They don’t feel stillness. Like the bridge they feel suspended in mid-air without any kind of solid foundation underneath.

Can you, even for a moment, bridge the gap between their hurt and your hope? Can you, even for a moment, bridge the gap between their pain and God’s promises? Can you, even for a moment, bridge the gap between their struggles and your Savior?

When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all
I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…

To my friend’s credit she did drive over the bridge after a little coaxing and several offers from me to take the wheel. We made it. All in one piece. With memories to share and stories to tell when we safely arrived at the other side.

Ah, yes…the other side. Safety is on the other side, but the journey to get there sometimes has to go over old, rickety bridges with weathered and worn out planks.

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part
When darkness comes around
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…

 Who can you be a bridge for this week?

(*Note: This post originally appeared on the Clutter Interrupted website on November 23, 2014)

EVERYONE HAS A STORY TO TELL

She was a 17-year-old senior in high school and fell in love with a 24-year-old man who was widowed and had 3 kids. They decided to get married, but there was a catch. Her school had a rule which stated you could not be married and be in high school. She had every credit she needed to graduate except one semester of history. She begged the principal to allow her to stay and complete the requirement so she could get her diploma, but a rule was a rule. That was in 1951.

She was thrown into instant family, taking on her role as wife and step-mom. Soon she and her husband had kids of their own. She fully embraced this responsibility, staying home to raise the kids and keep their home.

Years went by and she never looked back at the high school diploma that was so close, yet so far.

…Until 1999…

Forty-eight years after she would have graduated from high school, she decided to go back and get it. She met with the principal and told him her situation. He listened with a sympathetic ear and kindly told her to seek her GED. She kindly responded back to him, “I don’t want my GED, I want my high school diploma!”

After much consternation, the administration agreed. And she went back to high school for one semester to complete the history credit she lacked. She walked the halls with high school kids. She sat in class with high school kids. I asked her if she was mistakenly thought of as a teacher every now and then. She chuckled.

She completed her one semester history credit. She proudly wore her cap and gown, walked across the stage, and received her high school diploma…forty-eight years later.

Now this is the part of the story where you might expect me to say something like, “This just goes to show you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.” Or, “Never give up on your dream, go for it, and you’ll succeed.” But truthfully, I’m not much of a buyer-inner to those feel-good, shoot-for-the-stars messages. While they work for some, they fall painfully flat for others.

No, this is the part of the story where I tell you everyone has a story to tell. You see, she’s quiet by nature. She’s not forthcoming with much personal information. She loves to be a part of things to listen and observe, but not necessarily to contribute to the conversation. She’s quiet and kind of soft-spoken. But that all changed when I began to ask her questions. One question led to another and before you know it she had shared this incredible story that blew us all away.

Here’s the thing about questions…they can be accusatory in nature, or they can be inquisitive. We can ask questions with an underlying whisper of disapproval or judgment. Or we can ask questions innocently because our curiosity craves an answer. And when it’s the latter, it opens up a whole new world—one that we wish people knew, but are too afraid to share.

Everyone has a story to tell—an opinion, a viewpoint, a conviction, a past—that’s inside them and just may be longing to come out. With our questions, we can carefully and graciously unearth these things in each other. Or with our questions, we can insensitively bury them forever.

Seneca the Younger once said, “If you don’t know, ask.” It’s why and how we ask that make all the difference.

WHY LOVING THE UNLOVABLE STINKS

He’s rude. He’s inappropriate. He’s foul-mouthed. He thinks he’s funny and cute. He makes snide remarks to people and doesn’t care about the outcome. He speaks his mind with total disregard for whomever he wipes out in the wake of his words. He makes more enemies than friends and couldn’t care less.

He’s the topic of frequent conversations and complaints among other residents at the senior living community where I work.

Sometimes he can be charming. Occasionally he can be sweet. But my experience is more the former than the latter.

As I walked up to the table where he was seated recently, I heard him tell his table mates, “This lady here is a real b*tch.” I don’t know if he was kidding or serious. It didn’t matter really.

This summer I personally registered him to vote and hand delivered his form to the Clay County Board of Elections in Liberty, Missouri. I’ve answered questions that he’s inquired about. I always say hello, am always friendly and reach out to him. But quite frankly it’s not easy. To be honest, I’d rather toss him out with the rest of the trash at the end of the day.

Every month, I run our Resident Council meeting. Yesterday he came. Shocker! He doesn’t attend anything…ever. Before the meeting, I make coffee for the residents and serve each one of them. It was all I could do to serve this man—who is rude, difficult, and unkind—without wanting to “accidentally” spill the coffee on him. But serve him I did. I’m pretty sure he muttered a “thank you” somewhere in there. And I thought for a hot second, “maybe this is progress.” I thought wrong. Later in the meeting he got ticked off at me and stormed out. I shook my head and moved on with the meeting.

Loving the unlovable is a real struggle. It’s frustrating. Loving the unlovable is work, there’s no reward, and it’s not any fun—three things which we spoiled, self-centered Americans aren’t particularly fond of.

I was kinda frustrated at the end of the day as I reflected back. My conversation with Jesus at that point went something like this:

“I’m done. I’m not wasting my time with that guy anymore.”

“Love him anyway.”

“But it’s pure work.”

“Indeed it is. But love him anyway.”

“But I never see any progress in my love for him.”

“Doesn’t matter. Love him anyway.”

“But I served that guy coffee today, adding cream and sugar just the way he likes it, and this is the thanks I get in return?”

“Yes! And by the way…it’s not about you!”

“This straight up stinks!”

“Maybe to you. But your loving the unlovable is a sweet fragrance to Me.”

Deep breath. Reboot. Got it.

You see…whether we know it or not…whether we feel it or not…whether we see progress or not…the sweet fragrance of the likeness of Christ can be an irresistible pull toward the Savior.

JESUS, WHERE’S WALDO, & PROBLEM SOLVING

About 15 years ago or so, the Kansas City Star used to put Where’s Waldo in the lineup of comic strips in their Sunday edition. Back in the day, we spent lots of Sundays with my folks who took the paper faithfully. I remember Sunday after Sunday, lying on the family room floor, poring over each comic strip with an occasional grin or chuckle. But one of my favorite parts of the funny papers was Where’s Waldo. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s one of those seek-and-find type things. Waldo is a kinda geeky looking guy with a red and white striped shirt, round glasses, wacky brown hair, and a red and white stocking cap. Where's WaldoEach cartoon features Waldo tucked away in some crazy, action-packed scene. And your job is to find him. I usually couldn’t. I’d spend a good 5-10 minutes searching for the guy, but wasn’t very successful. Then my oldest son, who was about 4 or 5 at the time, would come scrunch down beside me, and within 30 seconds would say, “There he is, momma!” I thought it was coincidence at first. But week after week, I’d search high and low, studying the scene with a careful eye, trying to find Waldo. I’d find someone who closely resembled Waldo, but not Waldo. Then like I said, Caleb would swoop in, and find him in a heartbeat without even trying.

Sometimes I think solutions to our problems are like this. We search high and low, in what feels like some crazy, action-packed scene. We look the scene (aka our problem) up one side and down the other and just can’t seem to find the solution. For us it’s sometimes grueling and clouded by seeing the same reality over and over again. Someone else, however, can take a look at the same reality and see the solution quickly. They can come in with a different perspective—one that’s not emotionally charged—and see the solution.

But here’s the thing…we don’t like those people. Even though they can see clearly what we should do, we don’t listen to their advice. We brush away their wisdom. It’s a pride thing in us. We have trouble admitting the fact that we have weaknesses and need help. There are times when we should seek out wisdom, help, advice, or counsel from others, but instead we just insist on trying harder ourselves.

You remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? When He stood at the entrance of the tomb and hollered for Lazarus to come out, scripture records that “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (John 11:44a).

Why did Jesus do that? Why didn’t Jesus bring Lazarus out all clean and fresh to put a further exclamation point on this miracle? Why did Jesus have Lazarus come out of the tomb all “mummified” like that?

The very next thing Jesus said to those close by was, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go (John 11:44b).” That’s why. Jesus asked whoever was near the tomb to help Lazarus take off what bound him. You see, Jesus knew we needed each other. Jesus knew the value of others stepping in to help, to unbind us, to be hands-on in setting us free from our problems.

If you can’t find Waldo, you might ask Caleb to help you.

If you can’t find the solution to your problem, however, you just might consider the Jesus method—of asking those nearby to help unbind you.

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