Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

No time for grace

My face flushed and my heart started to race as I felt all eyes on me. The guy in line behind me gave a heavy, dissatisfied sigh, and the cashier trainer muttered to the trainee at the register, “welcome to summer.”

I wanted to crawl in a hole somewhere and disappear. I was on vacation with my family and friends and had gone to the local grocery store to buy a week’s worth of food and supplies. I was distractedly going through my list, comparing it to what was in the cart to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything when I spotted the shortest check-out line and walked up. I began to unload my full cart onto the belt and said hello to the cashier who mumbled a quick hello back. A few moments later a line began forming behind me and the aforementioned guy directly behind me pointed out, in a not-too-polite way, that I was in the express check-out line. I looked up and for the first time noticed a sign that said 15 items or less.

My friend, who is much better in these situations than I am, tried to lighten the mood and said, “I bet you just love when summer comes and all of the tourists arrive.” And he said, very matter-of-factly, “Actually I hate it.” He might as well have said to me “I hate you.” Because that’s how it felt.

Despite numerous apologies and explaining I didn’t see the sign, I left the store and left behind a bunch of very aggravated locals, as I got in my car feeling totally humiliated.

For weeks, months even, I replayed that scene and thought of all the things I could have said, should have said. I vacillated between being embarrassed, angry, and hurt. Then I wondered “why did it bother me so much?” I would never see these people again, why did I care how they reacted to my honest mistake?

Eventually I realized the root of the issue was I had received no mercy from the people at the store; no hint of forgiveness or understanding.  They were in a hurry and I was slowing them down. There was no time for grace.

I confess that when I looked deep in my heart I knew that there were many times I, too have been guilty of believing there was no time for grace.

I’ve stood in a check-out line behind the woman with 45 coupons and sighed heavily at the delay it meant for me.

I’ve zoomed past a slow-moving car in the left lane and muttered under my breath an uncharitable and unkind sentiment about their driving skills because I was in a hurry to get somewhere.

I’ve lost my temper with my children because they forgot their lunch/shoes/clothes/bag in the house and had to run back inside while the rest of us waited in the car, already late for school or practice.

Because of my plans, my agenda, and my timing I have been unable or unwilling to stop and extend grace to someone else.

I’m so grateful my heavenly Father doesn’t work that way. If he was like me, I can imagine he’d sigh-heavily, roll his eyes and say, “really Jelise?! How many times have I shown you what to do? I’ve given you a better way, and yet you still haven’t gotten it! I’m done waiting. I’ve got more important matters to attend to. I don’t have time for children who don’t read the signs.”

But there is no limit on God’s grace for us.

Psalm 103 says:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8, 11-12)

As far as the east is from the west, that’s how big God’s grace is for us. His grace knows no end.

And then, the inevitable question: if God’s grace for me knows no limits, wouldn’t He want me to try and offer the same to others? I don’t have to wonder because scripture tells me He does.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” – Ephesians 4:2

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32

Psalm 103:12

So here I sit, asking myself, “what makes me and my life so important that I can’t find the time to show patience, compassion, and mercy toward others?”

Maybe that lady with the 45 coupons is trying to feed a family of four on minimum wage and the only way she can afford groceries is to clip those coupons. Maybe that guy in the left lane just received bad news, is consumed by worry and doesn’t realize he’s in the passing lane. Maybe my kids need an extra 15 minutes in the morning to get themselves and their stuff together because when I rush them it makes them nervous and causes them to forget things.

Why is my need to get where I’m going, on my timeline more important than extending forgiveness or understanding? It’s not.

That scene from the store at the beach still plays in my mind. But now I think if I could go back and do anything differently, I would simply say, “I’m so sorry my mistake is impacting your day. I hope you can forgive me and extend a little forgiveness, since we could all use more grace in our life.”

And then I would try and do the same thing for them.

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90 Days of Thanks and Giving

Today is August 25th. Exactly 90 days until Thanksgiving.

I believe there are two things in this world that can do more to improve our attitude, inspire hope, create unity, and spread love more than anything else, and I’m challenging myself to be more intentional about both. They are, as you might have guessed, genuine thankfulness, and giving to others.

Two years ago I was inspired by a colleague to do a “100 Happy Days” challenge. What at first seemed like a fun exercise to focus on my blessings, turned into a real lesson on the power of positivity and living each day to its fullest. I discovered that when we challenge ourselves to find something to be happy about each day — even if it was just a pretty sunset or a few moments reading a book on my porch — it was easy to live every day in triumph and gratitude.

Intentionally seeking out joy is a sure way to find it.

My hope is this challenge will have a similar impact. Intentionally seeking opportunities to give to others, and/or find things to be thankful for will help me turn my focus away from selfish pursuits, lies from the enemy, and worldly defeat.

If you want to follow along my journey for the next 90 days, follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/neitherheightnordepth), Twitter (@jelise) or on Instagram (@jelise4peace).

Even better — why don’t you join me? Post a photo or story each day about your moment of thanks or giving (or both) to social media and tag it with #90DaysOfThanksAndGiving .  I would love to share this journey with you. Maybe together we can help turn the conversation on social media from anger and condemnation to love and gratitude.

2 Corinthians 9:11

Do I have any regrets?

Forty will be here in a few days.

Something happens when you start approaching a milestone birthday like this one. You spend a lot of time in quiet introspection, contemplating where you’ve been and where you’re headed. True, it happens at other times, too. But as I conclude the final days of my 30’s I’ve been feeling a surge of what I can only describe as equal parts nostalgic joy and quiet anticipation.

I take great pleasure in sentimental remembrance of all I’ve experienced and witnessed in the last 40 years, knowing there’s been far more good even in the midst of pain. But I also feel a measure of satisfaction when I evaluate where I’ve fallen short and made mistakes. Because I can only regret something once I’ve learned there’s a better way.

One of the things that has never sat well with me is the idea that to live a happy and full life you need to live without regrets…that looking back and wishing we’d made some different choices somehow keeps us locked in the past and prevents us from being happy and healthy in our present. This, coupled with the sentiment that we reach a point where we’re suddenly “too old to change”, leaves me baffled. Being dissatisfied, disappointed even, in certain decisions is an essential part of the gift of life experience that shapes us and our relationships. To refuse to live with any regrets is terribly short-sighted.

Looking back on the last 39 years I can tell you without hesitation I absolutely have regrets.

I regret I spent so much time worrying about what other people thought of me.

I regret the years spent dissatisfied with my younger, stronger, more flexible body, because it did not fit into a size 8 pair of jeans.

I regret being quick to lose my temper and slow to forgive.

I regret holding myself and my loved ones to such impossibly high standards and expectations that disappointment and failure were inevitable.

I regret all the times I lost my temper with my kids, especially over the little things, instead of keeping my cool and some perspective.

I regret not spending more time actively seeking God, and instead waiting for things to fall apart before seeking comfort in His word and love.

I regret all of the time spent looking ahead to what was next instead of just being content and fully present in the here and now.

“Because I can only regret something once I’ve learned there’s a better way.”

 

I look back on the past 39 years and there is so much that I wish I did more or less of, did differently.  But I’m thankful for that view of the past because it has led to a much healthier, more content person in the present. One who has learned a lot about what’s most important in life and where to focus her time and energies. She’s not perfect, but I like this me more than any previous version.

Forty will be here in a few days. And I look forward to entering this next decade with a little more patience, a little more grace for myself and others, a little more content to be here and present, and little more reliant on God.

I expect that by the time I hit 60, 80, (maybe even) 100 I will look back on the previous decades and see the things I should have, could have done differently, because God’s not done with me yet.

Isaiah 64:8

No matter how old I get I hope I never close myself off to allowing Him to change and mold me into the person He’s created me to be. I know this body — this life — is not my final destination, but I’d like to make the most of it while I’m here.

Yes, forty will be here in a few days and I’m quite alright with that.

 

photo credit: Big Grey Mare In Love With Clay via photopin (license)

photo credit: David Grandmougin Valentine via photopin (license)

The Greatest Love Story of All Time

Who enjoys a good love story? I know I do. Whether it’s in a book or movie, I love the experience of watching a love story unfold, it just feels good to witness that love.

When I think about some of the best love stories I’ve read or watched, there are a couple of things they have in common. And as it turns out there is actually a formula that authors and screen writers use to create the perfect love story. According to Writer’s Digest there are four crucial basics that every love story must have:

  1. A hero and a heroine to fall in love
  2. A problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart
  3. A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime
  4. A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united

Today is Easter, a day that makes up a key chapter in the greatest love story of all time. The story of a Father’s love that knew no limits.

If we look at those four basics of the perfect love story we can find each of them in the story of God’s love for us.

Number one: A hero and heroine fall in love. Of course, the hero in our story isn’t your average hero. It’s God. You might say He’s the hero of heroes. And before each of us was even born, He had already fallen in love with us. God created us specifically to be in relationship with Him and He has loved us from the beginning. Now, unfortunately we took a bit longer to recognize and accept this love. But if you are a believer, I want you to think back to when you first discovered God’s love and how you felt when you first accepted Him into your heart. And if you aren’t sure you’ve gotten there yet, that’s OK, it just means your love story is waiting to happen.

 

Number two: There is a problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart. Boy does our love story have this. In fact it has thousands of years of problems and conflict. But it all started in the garden when Adam and Eve chose sin instead of love. Over and over God’s people have chosen something — or someone –over Him. Often that someone else we choose is ourselves. Our own selfish desires. And if this love story were a movie or book, I imagine even the most devoted hero would have given up and moved on. But not our Hero. He continues to pursue us. He continues to forgive us. He continues to love us.

 

Number three: A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime. Now this is the part of our story where we start to get closer to today’s chapter. Because while from the beginning God’s love for us could easily be categorized as “so special it comes only once in a lifetime”, it was really the day that God himself chose to walk on this earth in human form that changed everything. When our Hero decided that the best way to win our love was to meet us where we were, to become just like us, and tell us in His own words, from the lips of His own mouth just how much He loved us… I mean there had never been anything like it to come before, and there has been nothing like it to come since. Jesus Christ was that once-in-a-lifetime expression of love.

 

And so, that brings us to Number four: A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united. Now remember, our conflict, the thing keeping us apart from our Hero is our own sin. So what did God do to resolve this? He made the ultimate sacrifice. He took all of our sin, nailed it to a cross and died. On a day, nearly 2,000 years ago, when the skies turned black, God looked down from that cross and said: “I love you more.”

And let’s pause for a moment and talk about passion. It wasn’t in our list, but every good love story has an element of passion in it, right? That day that God said “I love you more” and took from us the very thing that was keeping us separated? The Bible tells us that in that moment the “curtain of the temple was torn in two, the earth shook and the rocks split, and tombs were broken open!” (Matthew 27:51-52). There was so much passion in God’s love for us that at the exact moment He took away the thing that was tearing us apart, the moment He took on our sin, the whole world shook.

As beautiful of an example of love as this story is, it would be kind of a sad ending to the greatest love story of all time if it just ended there at the cross. Of course God, our Hero, doesn’t leave anything unfinished. He doesn’t leave us lost and alone, weeping in the realization of what love did for us.

No. He came back. He was resurrected. He made sure we knew that He was not leaving us for good; that His death was truly a resolution to what had been keeping us apart and now we could be together forever. Our Hero was raised from the dead and got up and walked among us once again so that we could hear from his very own lips these words: “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

He doesn't leave us lost and alone, weeping in the realization of what love did for us.

Today we celebrate the greatest love story of all time. And you know what makes it even better? We are part of that story. We are not simply moviegoers or bystanders to this love story. We are the heroine, the bride of Christ. We have been united with our great love, with our Hero because of Easter. Because of His death and resurrection there is nothing, nothing we can ever do to make him stop loving us, to give up on us, to leave us.

Now, go and live that story, it’s the story of your life.

 

 

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