How to not fall flat on your face

The wise are glad to be instructed, but babbling fools fall flat on their faces.

Proverbs 10:8 NLT

Last month I attended the San Diego Christian Writer’s Conference. It was a chance to learn from seasoned writers, savor the creativity in the air, and partake in a Humility 101 class. It’s funny how we think we’re so great at something until we meet someone (or dozens of people) who are better.  When this happens, we may realize

we should take off our superhero cape until we’re able to fly rather than just skip. . .

there are many kind, generous people in this world who are willing to help us learn our trade . . .

and God thought of others besides us when he created the Earth. . .

Kentucky and Belle Meade 194

And then we wipe off our humble pie mustaches, pull back our shoulders, and wisely use resources at our disposal to grow and help others do so along the way.

Or we fall flat on our faces because we can’t see or accept these realities about our situation.

It’s never fun to fall, although one can get quite adept at it (just ask a baby learning to walk). But why fall when you can soar above your problems by seeking wisdom from God and accepting the instruction he provides through our experiences?

This isn’t to say we won’t trip a little before taking flight, or that we’ll immediately feel the wind under our wings. It can mean, though, that the next time we’re served a giant size portion of humble pie, we’ll soar faster than before, brush the dust off of our knees without worrying about the stains left on our pants, and thank God for the chance to grow in wisdom with his gentle guidance.

Have you been humbled lately? Were you glad for the lesson, or did you resist it?

Advertisements

When living in the desert isn’t such a bad option

The high desert along Highway 395 by Heather Zuber-Harshman

The high desert along Highway 395 by Heather Zuber-Harshman

It’s better to live alone in the desert than with a quarrelsome, complaining wife.

 Proverbs 21: 19

I’m sure a number of interesting thoughts went through your mind when you read this verse. Maybe you thought, “I’m not quarrelsome” or “What about husbands?” or “The desert isn’t so bad.”

When I read it, I thought, “Gee, could I really be so awful to live with that the desert would be a better option?” If any of us were to ask this last question, we would be humbled by the resounding “yes” that would boom down from heaven.

This train of thought brings to mind an interesting phenomenon: people tend to be on better behavior when they are around strangers, friends, and co-workers than when they are with the family members they care most about. We are more prone to being impatient, unsympathetic, quarrelsome, and even big complainers when we’re at home with our loved ones than when we’re with those who are here and gone in our lives. Why is this?

The high desert along Highway 395 by Heather Zuber-Harshman

The high desert along Highway 395 by Heather Zuber-Harshman

Perhaps it’s because we know our family members love us and will endure our presence no matter how we act. It’s not like our young children are going to move out if we snap at them all the time, or our spouses are going to leave because we’re grumpy every morning, right? We excuse our behavior because we’re sure they’ll continually forgive or at least accept our behavior because “that’s just the way I am.”

The verse above pushes us to change how we view home life. It should be a place where we practice the fruits of the spirit everyday (joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, love). Of course we won’t succeed on all fronts each day, but we should aspire to put our best foot forward, despite being stressed, tired, or just plain weary of our routine.

How can you improve life in your home today?

Life = Ministry

Henry W. Coe State Park in Morgan Hill, CA by Heather Zuber-Harshman

Henry W. Coe State Park in Morgan Hill, CA by Heather Zuber-Harshman

I am coming to visit you after I have been to Macedonia, for I am planning to travel through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay awhile with you, possibly all winter, and then you can send me on my way to my next destination. This time I don’t want to make just a short visit and then go right on. I want to come and stay awhile, if the Lord will let me. In the meantime, I will be staying here at Ephesus until the Festival of Pentecost. There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.
1 Corinthians 16: 5 – 9 NLT
 
 

Paul was a mover and a groover. He only stayed in one place long enough to accomplish what God intended for him there, then moved on to the next place.  It’s amazing how much he traveled considering he didn’t have the luxury of toting himself around in a 4-door sedan.

Part of me feels tired when I think about how much time he spent in transit and working with people, and another part of me admires how completely he devoted his life to ministry. He was zealous about his ministry, seeing opportunities to pursue God’s work in all situations. Paul didn’t sit on the sidelines waiting for opportunities to present themselves; he actively sought them out.

In the past week a number of ministry opportunities popped up in our life. A few friends were sick or experiencing other health problems, which meant it was time to deliver homemade chicken noodle soup. An 89 year old neighbor wanted to reminisce about his younger years so I lent him my ear.  A family at our church had a lot of stressful things going on, so we provided them with dinner. Some friends were feeling overwhelmed by fostering a seven-year-old girl, which presented an opportunity to send them a care package to let them know they are loved and cherished.

Henry W. Coe State Park by Heather Zuber-Harshman

Henry W. Coe State Park by Heather Zuber-Harshman

These ministry opportunities made for a busy yet satisfying week. They also opened my eyes to the realization that life is ministry, meaning, we could spend everyday serving others and never run out of people to help. I used to fret about deciding which charities I should volunteer with, thinking I needed to do so in order to give back to the community. Now I see, like Paul, that there are people everywhere, in all walks of life that need our love and attention; all we have to do is open our eyes to the opportunities that are sitting there, waiting to be pursued.

What ministry opportunities are there at your church and  work place? with your friends and family? with your neighbors?

One word at a time

Mt. Cook on the South Island of New Zealand, by Heather Zuber-Harshman

Mt. Cook on the South Island of New Zealand, by Heather Zuber-Harshman

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.

Colossians 3:10 NLT

If you were to describe Jesus in three words, what words would you select?  I would describe him as patient, compassionate, and understanding. Those words jumped to the forefront of my mind because they are three words that don’t consistently describe me.

A new year means fresh starts, so I see this month as an opportunity to pick one of my three words to work on. I choose patience.  Dictionary.com defines patience as “the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.” Hmm. . . quite an all-encompassing word, huh? There’s nothing like starting big.

I vow that this month I will 1) not grumble and leak steam from my ears when I get stopped by a series of red lights, 2) smile and say a prayer each time my 12 week old son has a mega crying session, 3) stop looking at the clock so much when it’s family time in the evenings, 4) suck in three deep breaths if someone is taking longer to explain something than I think is necessary, and 5) not get grumpy when the person in front of me at the grocery store has a million coupons, doesn’t start writing out his/her check until the total is displayed, and disputes some of the charges.  Phew.  I’ll be busy.

Do you need to work on one or more of the words you used to describe Jesus? Which one will be your focus for the remainder of this month?

Grace: mercy; clemency; pardon

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Genesis 45: 1 – 5 ESV

Whenever I read this passage I am baffled at how Joseph is more concerned about his brothers not being angry at themselves than about hearing

God's light in the Sierras by Heather Zuber- Harshman

God’s light in the Sierras by Heather Zuber-Harshman

many repetitions of, “We’re so sorry for selling you, little brother.” How could he so easily put aside the anger, frustration, and sadness he experienced for years on end because of his brothers? And then the answer hits me squarely in the face: God’s grace.

His brothers didn’t deserve forgiveness. They also didn’t deserve Joseph’s kindness, love, or compassion. If anything, they deserved to be turned away after being publicly ridiculed. Joseph apparently realized, however, that God’s grace is bigger than what his brothers put him through.  God chooses to shower us with the gift of grace when we least deserve it because He is full of love and forgiveness.  Therefore, since He is always eager to cover our mess ups with this undeserved gift, we should do the same when others “mess up” towards us. Easier said than done, right?

It seems that being gracious to others requires more than just a one time mental agreement with ourselves to do so. It takes repeating this agreement over and over until our hearts and minds truly believe it. It also takes forgiveness and removing thoughts of the wrong from our minds. In sum, it requires diligence and a soft heart.

Who in your life deserves your grace?

Creation at its Best

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:18 – 21 NIV

Have you ever wondered why God chose to have Jesus born by Mary rather than appear as a grown man? Instead of spending his entire childhood and adult life on Earth, God could have had Jesus on Earth for just a few years as an adult. That would have saved a lot of time and effort . . . but then the beauty of creation would not have been showcased through his birth.

My husband, Dale, and I became parents on October 28, 2012 to a boy weighing in at 9 lb. 14 oz. He was such a hefty guy, we thought he should have a big name, too, so we selected Christian Alexander.

Christian Alexander on his first day

Christian Alexander on his first day

We chose to not know his sex until the delivery. All throughout the pregnancy we debated what we thought the baby would be, or I should say others debated – I knew it was a boy from the first day we found out we were expecting. It was as if God decided to give me a little inside information on his creation, just like Mary and Joseph got the scoop on Jesus before he was born.

jesus birthBecoming a parent is a magical and terrifying experience. You spend hours inspecting every little part of your darling, marveling at how perfect he is,  and then an equal amount of time brainstorming and researching the source of his incessant crying. I imagine Mary and Joseph experienced something similar. Even though Jesus was perfect in every way, he was still born a babe. His parents likely marveled at how beautiful his toes were and guessed what color his eyes and hair would be as he got older. They probably savored every moment with him, knowing he would grow up faster than they wanted.

God sending Jesus to us as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes was brilliant and beautiful.  Jesus’ birth gives us parents and our little ones something to relate to and cherish, and lets everyone celebrate the miracle of creation each year. Only God could create something as magnificent as a baby named Jesus.

DSC_0057

Our adorable creation

Are there twins in there?

3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. 1 Corinthians 4: 3 – 5 ESV

Are you ever self-conscious about what others think of you? Maybe you just got a new haircut, car, or outfit and you want others to like it. Or you are a new parent and people everywhere (grocery store, work, mom’s group) are giving advice on how to parent your child/children. Or maybe you left your job to pursue your dream career and your family and friends think you’re making a big mistake.

I was very self-conscious this past summer about my pregnancy weight gain. Ever since month five I’ve had people comment about how big I am and how I’m going to have a large baby. Now it’s also, “Are there twins in there?” Super.

Heather at 35 weeks right before heading off to teach a cycle class

Being a fitness instructor who leads a relatively healthy life style, I wanted people to view me as fit, healthy, and just the right size. After weeks of tormenting myself about working out more, eating fewer sweets, and not gaining more than X pounds between my doctor visits, I finally had to realize that people were going to think (and unfortunately say) whatever they wanted no matter what I did. That’s when I decided it was time to start focusing on my mental and physical health rather than others’ view of what that should look like.

Now I’ve accepted that I’m going to be larger than I expected despite eating healthy and teaching multiple hours at the gym each week, and that’s okay. My body wants to be “all baby” so I need to let it do so. And for those people who like to comment on my massive belly, I will simply smile and remember that God is handling this pregnancy exactly as he sees fit, which is perfect in every way.

How can you be less self-conscious about what others think of you? What is a healthier perspective you can have on this area of your life?