Thursday, April 14, 2011

Transparancy & Whitewashed Tombs - WHAT IS THIS LIFE ABOUT?

Who knew that going to a foreign country for Language Learning would be a major Lesson in Life as well!

As I try to fit in an adapt in this new culture without completely changing myself, I am learning amazing life lessons from the Lord. I notice that here in a land that seems closed off to God that there is an abundance of beauty. Some of it is incredible, but there is also an abundance of the kind of beauty that is skin deep - superficial, temporary. Let's face it -our skin is temporary. We will not live in this body forever. One day we all turn in this sack of skin (whether it's fresh and firm like a baby or saggy and wrinkled with signs of time etched in it's folds). We turn in our outer shell and what is within remains in eternity - either with God or without. So why is it that this outer shell holds our interest for so long (yet in the light of eternity such a brief vapor of a moment)? Why do we, Americans included, strive to improve only what people can see at first glance if first impressions are often wrong anyway?

In my first few weeks here, I noticed a big difference in the way I dressed and presented myself when I compared myself to the French. That, of course, was my first problem - comparisons. Never-the-less, I noticed. I started seeing myself differently. I am one who was never much concerned with makeup or fancy clothes. I've often been content just to find clothes and shoes that fit since I am of tall stature. I also come with slightly larger feet than most the population (even in the US). I like to think of my large feet as serving a purpose to keep all of my height standing firm. Now when I compare, these things morph and adapt to fit someone else's standard. I begin to see myself differently. It's like someone is holding up a standard - a unit of measure- that I will never reach, and I am bending and jumping to try to attain this goal, a goal only valuable in the world's eyes. I once again must reset my focus.

This is not my standard.
"Do not conform yourselves any long to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (found in Romans 12:1-2).
I Must THINK. I must renew my mind. It is a battle-field.

So once again I begin to evaluate my life by the standards I've learned from the Bible. How does God see me? Am I a white-washed-tomb?

Mathew 23:25-27
  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
   27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Am I pretty and presentable on the outside but smell of death on the inside?

Sobering thoughts. Necessary reality check.

I look deep into my life. Past makeup, past neatly fashioned hair, past matching clothes. Past how I appear... to deep within my soul. To who I really am when this skin, this envelope, is torn open and cast aside. What of me will remain? Is it valuable?

I look again and see areas of my soul that need some major house cleaning and others that just need some dusting. Let's face it. We all have these things that need airing out sometimes. So here comes the transparency part. I started thinking about my interactions with my family, and found myself...  falling short.

Then I read an excerpt from something written by Ann Voskamp that made me cry because it explained exactly how I felt I that I am falling short. Here it is. "Because what will the math really matter if they are bitter? If the house is immaculate — but my attitude a mess? If they can count — but they don’t know how to count all things as joy? If we get the lists done, but have lost happiness in Him? How can any grammar skill outweigh the fact they don’t know the language of grace and thanks? What good will it be if they can recite all the major British battles — but they don’t know to see beauty? What am I teaching our children if I’m not living simply, quietly this: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Focusing on what is beautiful, good, true – isn’t this the truest education?"

This explains what I regularly wonder. Am I training these precious little ones well? Am I interacting properly even when I am irritated by their harmless but tangible quirks or when their less-than-angelic attitudes appear? I know we all have these things, and I am certain my parents had to deal with my own faults just as my husband now must deal with some that still linger. I'm a work in progress. So I think that they must be also. Most definitely. So I tend to these thoughts and my reactions regularly, and sometimes have to apologize. The same is true for my marriage. I constantly wonder if I am living as a godly wife. Did I bless my husband today with my words? Were my actions in line with the Word? Did I encourage him? Have I helped him? After all I am his help-meet. I don't know how to do it on my own & often I fail.

So once again I forcibly take my face in my own hands and shift my focus to the cross and what the Bible says I should be like. I turn to the One who can help me. I've been trying to change my heart in these areas through prayer and find it is an on-going battle with my flesh - this skin that is so temporary, but so clingy! However, my flesh is the first thing I am faced with each day when I look in the mirror- so it must be dealt with daily. It's fine to look nice, but the heart of me must match. So I must continue to deny myself - deny my flesh and it's worldly (yet seemingly normal sometimes) cravings. I must deny myself to truly live a full and joyous life.  Living each moment in love, with my eternal future in mind. To live in a way that will last forever because I am following in the footsteps of my friend, Jesus. It's a big standard to live up to, but by grace we are capable with His help.

He can help us live each moment right. Each precious moment.

What if all your moments were numbered and your number would be up soon? I think about this in my life a lot as I try to understand how my folks must feel as my dad battles cancer. My dad's an inspiration to me. He's always been great even with his own faults, but now he has this piercing focus - he knows what really matters. He's apologized to me; he's encouraged me; he's talked to me about what God has said to his heart; he's shared the important things in love and tenderness. He knows that we live life but briefly and we must not live for ourselves. I know this too, living it out is a tougher battle.

Now each day, I re-live moments in my head. Did I speak harshly? Was that kind? How can I encourage my spouse, my kids, my neighbor, myself?  It makes sense to let go of comparisons and worldly standards and to reach for the standard of joy. Joy in serving the One who lifts me up to meet His unit of measurement. One who raises my head when I fall short and feel I can not try again. One who gives fullness of joy. When we figure out the proper focus it all adds up to joy.
JOY = Jesus, Others, You

"The joy of the Lord is our strength."

Looking at each day as if it could be your last always seemed crazy and sad to me before. I understand now. It's not crazy or very sad (though it can be a bit). Living each day as if it were my last feels like a touch of strength. Does that make sense? Living today as if I had no tomorrow in this skin, really propels me towards what really matters.

It's all about focus. What am I looking at? Am I looking towards what I can do in my own power to improve myself? Am I looking at my circumstances? Am I looking at others to see if I match up? Or am I looking deep inside my heart?  Where God's spirit dwells - deep within me.

I want to be living each day as if it were my last - reaching for eternity.

Reaching for God. He is the giver of joy in this life and the next. It's His opinion that matters. He will be the One to decide if I've done well. I'm His - there's no question, but what will I do with this gift of LIFE?

Will I let this gift of LIFE decay as it waits in this shell...?

Or will I hand this life over to the One who made me, and ask Him to shape it into something useful for Him?

Even though the shaping can hurt, it is worth it.

Just like a sculptor chips away at stone or wood to make something useful or beautiful so God chips away at the hardness in my heart and creates a new and wonderful thing. Carve me today, Lord, in the likeness of Your Son, Jesus.

I am thankful for the gift of today - for each breath, for the amazing and even sometimes unsightly moments that slip through my fingers. Thank you for the opportunity to learn and to try again. Thank you for the joy of being Your child, Your work in progress. Help me to be who You want me to be.
Love, Laura

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