Let’s Celebrate!

Although I’m not one to make New Year resolutions per say, I do love the annual chance for self-evaluation and goal-setting. As a coach’s daughter, I live by goals. Daily, weekly, annually. For me, there is nothing more satisfying, motivating, than reaching a goal, except perhaps when I reach one I purposefully set just outside my comfort zone. But I have to be careful that amidst all my self-evaluation and goal setting, I’m not shooting for perfection. Occasionally, amidst my reaching, I need to stop and take stock. To look back at how far I’ve come and rejoice in what God has done.

Before you begin your New Year, with all that’s wrapped up in that, take a moment to look back. Through God’s eyes. I’ve heard it said the closer you are to God, the more apparent your sins are. This makes absolute sense! It’s like standing beneath floodlights dressed in white. Suddenly you notice the slight yellow to your shirt, every stain, every discoloration. Or more accurately, like going to the dentist for a crown, viewing all the shades of teeth, realizing yours are anything but white.

When we draw near to a holy God, we’ll begin to evaluate our lives through a holy lens as His Spirit reveals those blemishes He plans to change. Why? Because He’s in the process of refining us, molding us, transforming us to be more like Him. A glorious thing! An exciting thing! And an expression of His pure love.

But let’s go back to our teeth analogy. Have you ever stopped to look at those before and after shots in the dentist’s office? The ones that shock us most are those that started out the worst, with inflamed gums and crooked teeth.

The same is true in our spiritual walk, only we rarely take time to ponder the before and after. Instead, we compare ourselves to others, zero in on our shortcomings, and beat ourselves up over every failure.

But today, I want you to celebrate…who you are in Christ, what He’s done in you, what He plans to do.

On Tuesday (thanks to some nudging by Patty Wysong–waving) I’ll share a bit of my less-than-glorious holiday experiences. I’ll talk about a time when I was less than wifely, less than lovely, squelching the agape love of God with selfishness and pride. But this morning, as I look at that time of marital bickering, I realize even then I’d exhibited growth. As did my husband. We argued, and our pride rose up, but unlike our fights of fourteen years ago, we didn’t hurl hurtful words or bitter accusations. So, even in our moment of weakness, we demonstrated a sliver of strength–God’s grace, moving in us. And that was cause for celebration.

What about you? What has God done for you in 2011? Share it here, and write it down so that the next time you feel like a failure, you can pause and rejoice in how far you’ve come. Then, pull out your plotting, goal-setting, heart-evaluating pen and ask God to show you where He wants to take you in 2012. And start the new year with confidence, knowing He who called you is faithful and will perfect the plans He has for you. In fact, He’s got it all covered. All He asks is that you draw near, listen, and obey. He’ll take care of everything else. Because, as Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Let’s talk about this!

Join me at Living by Grace as we celebrate the grace-filled transformation God has brought in our hearts, our families, our marriages–our lives.

(Have an amazing grace story you believe would inspire, comfort, or challenge my readers? Shoot it to me in an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail.com.)

The Trickle Effect: Part I

About a week ago, I spoke with a woman regarding the number of homeless children in America.

She responded with a hand-washing, “If the women would be responsible…”

It’s easy to point fingers, but like I tried to express to this woman, a scared and lonely child struggling to survive doesn’t care why they are where they are. They care about one thing: Will anyone help me!

Walking away, frustrated and a bit teary at the misconceptions and rush to judgement apparent in the woman’s words, I realized much of her response came from a lack of knowledge. And I can’t help but wonder if we all, including myself, share a bit of this woman’s faulty thinking.

Let me give you an example, one I hope will challenge us all to look a little deeper. You are at the mall with your spouse and children. It’s a Sunday. You’ve just left church and are heading for the food court for burgers and fries, topped with ice-cream. On your way in, you pass a pack of teenagers. They’ve got gaudy jewelry dangling from every edifice, are cloaked in black attire and chained belts, have cigarettes dangling from scowling mouths, and use words that set your ears on fire. So what do you do? You pull your children closer with an obvious frown and move to the farthest door–the one that will add the most distance between you and one of these foul-mouthed, disrespectful teens.

One of them, abused by her father and rejected by her mother, looks up, and sees the disgust on your face, and although she tries to add more bricks around her already encased heart, the dagger slices before the mortar sets. Your look confirmed what she already believed to be true–she’s worthless, scum, unlovable. Ushering in a surge of anger to shield her breaking heart, she sucks harder on her cigarette and tells herself again and again she doesn’t care, about that woman with the fancy clothes and perfect life, about her father and mother, about herself–about anything.

And I’m speaking to myself here. Often when I see troubled teens or rebellious children, my first response is to jump to judgement, instead of love. But the problem is, judgement pushes people away. Love, on the other hand, draws them near. And with the large number of children living in foster care, and an even larger number living in abusive and extremely impoverished homes, the chances are we’ll come across one of these deeply wounded throughout out week. And when we do, it’ll be easy to move aside, or point fingers, or give ourselves a pat on the back knowing our children would never behave in such a way.

But God looks deeper. He looks beyond the sin and anger and displays of hatred to that three-year old crouched beneath a much-too-thin blanket while his world falls apart all around him. And He does more than look. God reaches out, providing a solution in His Son, Jesus Christ. And He’s asking us to join Him–to be conduits of His love by offering a smile that says, “I see you. You don’t disgust or frighten me. You aren’t worthless or to be avoided. In fact, you’re a child of God who’s deeply loved.”

This problem of poverty, abuse, and homelessness isn’t going to go away any time soon, and as my daughter reminded me yesterday while I wept over the children working in sugar plantations in El Salvador, I can’t change the world. But I can share Christ’s love and change faulty thinking. I can lay down the judgement and allow–no, invite–God’s love to flow through me.

And in each attitude change and expression in love, God can use me to sprinkle His life-changing love, grace, and mercy over a hurting world.

Because here’s the thing, those teens we see huddled outside the mall today will soon grow into adults. More than likely, they’ll have children of their own. Without role models in their life, what kind of parents do you think they’ll become? And what kind of children do you think they will raise? Hurting children grow up to raise hurting children who grow up to raise hurting children. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves countless wounded.

But God wants to flip it. Grace-filled children grow up to raise children surrounded by Christ who raise children surrounded by Christ. Love creates an equally powerful and long-lasting cycle, and each day we have the opportunity to create one legacy or the other.

On Wednesday I’ll share two stories to illustrate how we’ve seen this play out in our own lives and in the meantime, I challenge you to do one simply thing: When you encounter others throughout your day–the woman who cuts you off on the freeway or the scowling teen or rebellious child–build a bridge instead of a barrier. Offer a smile instead of a scowl. And take the time to pray for them and their family.

Before you go, I invite you to stop by the Literary Momma where I talk about the importance of laughter in marriage.