At the end of August, I took my kids to the orthodontist and there were ceramic pumpkins on the doctor’s front porch. That same week, Kroger replaced the school supplies on the seasonal aisle with Halloween candy. Don’t get me wrong. I love fall. However, my first instinct upon seeing all the orange and purple was indeed horror. With it being 90+ degrees outside and with two months to go before the end of October, I just wasn’t mentally ready! It felt like I just unpacked from summer vacation. School may have started, and college football may be have been in full swing, but my sleeveless shirts, white pants, and flip flops were still in heavy rotation, and my kids were still spending much of their weekends at the neighborhood pool.
A Thanksgiving Meal
My how things can change in just a few weeks! In my ladies’ bible study, we studied Leviticus 3, which describes the fellowship offering, and suddenly… I can’t wait for Thanksgiving! The first question in our study guide asked us to reflect on what it is we desire to communicate to our guests when we host a special meal. My thoughts immediately went to Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving for many reasons. The first reason can be summed up in five simple words: Aunt Margo’s Green Bean Casserole. This is THE dish in my family. THE non-negotiable. It’s the only time that my non-veggie eaters will happily shovel forkfuls of something green into their mouths, and unfortunately that includes my husband. The cheesy, tangy, salty, buttery-cornflake-crusted, decadent goodness is impossible to beat. Thank you, Margo. We love you.
The second reason I love Thanksgiving is because…
Have you ever considered yourself small, weak, and insufficient? In our human eyes, we often view our smallness as negative and limiting, but if we look closely, we see that our God-given limits can be the means for us to grow in our faith and dependence upon God.In the book of Judges, Gideon referred to himself as the “least” in his family. Gideon might have felt small, but God referred to him as a “mighty warrior” and he is listed alongside other men and women of faith in Hebrews 11.
God’s Work Through Gideon
In Judges 6-8, consider the following scene: Fearing the Midianites, Gideon is afraid to winnow his wheat out in the open air, where the breeze catches the grain and separates it from the chaff. He is afraid of doing that and becoming too visible to enemy eyes. As a result, we find Gideon crouching down, trying to thresh his wheat in the pit of a winepress.
Suddenly an angel speaks to him. I imagine this encounter probably made him jump out of his skin! Gideon referred to himself as “the least” likely, which meant that Gideon was economically and/or socially one of the poorest members in his tribe. Judges paints a picture of Gideon as shy and reserved. He also seems quite unassertive in the way he asks God to show him some unusual signals and signs. In his book Judges for You, Tim Keller expands our thinking with a different perspective. He believes Gideon’s response came from an earnest, humble heart seeking God’s direction. Keller sees Gideon teaching us how we need to press in and ask God to give us a big picture of who He is.
On June 6, one of the elders of our church died at the age of 58. This was an unexpected and painful loss and came only 18 months after the death of another elder from our church who was 62. Both men were beloved by their families, their church, and the Covenant College community where they worked.
It was one of those situations that makes you ask, why? If God healed Epaphroditus and spared Paul grief upon grief (Phil 2:27), why couldn’t he have restored these men who were helping care for his flock? Our church prayed fervently for that kind of healing, yet God chose not to heal them.In a fallen world, we are well acquainted with grief, loss, and suffering. But that prompts the question, what difference does Jesus make in the daily trials and hardships of life? If the way I live my life is no different from those who don’t follow Jesus, then I have a problem. Am I basically a secular person who goes to church to socialize—or do my theological beliefs have a direct impact on my daily life?
Beyond Sunday School Answers
When I ask what difference Jesus makes, the Sunday School answer is “Jesus makes ALL the difference.” And I heartily agree. But what does that mean in the mess of our daily lives? Although I believe Jesus is important, I don’t always live in a way that reflects this confession. Sometimes I wonder whether Jesus can handle my disappointments, my frustrations, my worries.
As I think about the difference Jesus makes in my life, several Scriptures stand out…
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:29
I confess to you that I am an Image Builder.
I want you to notice me…so I build my image.
I want you to accept me…so I build my image.
I want you to love me…so I build my image.
Build. Build. Build.
I think there’s a little part of all of us (and sometimes a big part) that longs to be noticed, appreciated, or even admired. So, we work hard to show only our best side, to reveal what we think looks impressive, and to create an image that appears to be perfect. We sometimes put pressure on ourselves to be perfect. We tell ourselves that we need to work harder, stay up later, get up earlier, read more, learn more, exercise more, post more on social media. The list goes on and on. All the while, the image making continues. It’s a drive that is never satisfied. It continually whispers, “You need to do better; you need to be better.” Image building is exhausting and burdensome.
Build. Build. Build…
It was my sophomore year of high school, and I was sitting around with my cross-country team listening to the older girls compare fat grams in bagel brands. If you have ever looked at bagel labels, you know that there is not any difference worth noting—unless you are obsessed with your weight.
The Lies of Appearance and Achievement
Little did I know how influential that conversation, and many more like it, would become in my life. Add to that the billboards, magazines, and other media that boasted model-thin women all around me, and I bought into the lie “I have to look like ‘her’ in order to be beautiful.”
At the same time I was running cross-country, I was also playing basketball. Unlike the girls on my cross-country team, my teammates could down a fast-food burger in no time at all and not think twice about it. And my coach certainly thought I could use a few burgers myself in order to put on some weight for my position as forward or center. Add to that the fact he could fire off a cuss word, stomp his feet, clap his hands, and throw water, attempting to motivate us to play better and harder and I began to believe another lie: “My worth is based on my outward performance.” Failure to perform well led me to inflict punishment on myself—if I didn’t live up to my coach’s expectations, then I didn’t deserve to eat.These twin themes of body image and performance are still at the heart of young women’s search for beauty and worth today. But it is not just young women. Women of all ages struggle with defining their significance by their appearance and achievements.
“Absolute Truth. Absolute Truth. Everything in the Bible is the Absolute Truth.”
I can still hear my daughter singing this chant she learned in her two-year-old Sunday school class. My husband and I had her sing it over and over again because of how adorably expressive she was—her clapping hand motions were as loud as she sang. By God’s grace, almost twenty years later, the words of this song are settled deep into her heart. She knows the absolute truth of His Word, trusts in His righteousness for her, and now with a voice that moves me to tears, sings of His truths each week at her campus’ RUF gathering.
But in holding firm to the Truth about Jesus, she increasingly finds herself at the crossroads of our rapidly changing culture and the Word of God. As do we all. Our culture today is very different than it was when I began parenting, and certainly from the world in which I grew up.Truth today is not absolute, and the Bible is not seen as authoritative. Instead, pop culture tells us to do “whatever makes you happy” and “you do you.” Even Christians have bought into this mindset, sometimes without even realizing it. But the less we hear the true gospel and spend time in God’s Word, the more susceptible we become to subtle twists to the truth.
One of my bucket list items, for when we became empty nesters, was to learn Chinese cooking. The exotic smells and flavors have always had a special appeal, and I am easily mesmerized in a Chinese market by the assortment of spices and sauces, most with labels I cannot even read. It turned out that to enroll in a culinary school with Chinese cooking classes would require pre-requisite cooking classes. So began my journey back to college after over 40 years!
I did eventually get that Chinese cooking class and then expanded to other Asian cuisines, Mexican and finally classical and bistro French cooking. I have been taught by wonderful chefs who corrected my knife skills, taught me to taste as I go, showed me how to layer flavors to optimize dishes, and when to stop the cooking so the food will be at its peak flavors. The classes usually require a properly plated presentation to the chef, where a critique is provided to me regarding the balance of flavors. For the first two years, the most common comments from my chefs were “needs more salt.” Even when I decided I had better add extra salt during the cooking process, the same comment sometimes appeared on my evaluation.
Salt is a funny ingredient. Of course, it provides saltiness, but it is also an enhancer. It brings out the best of the other spices in the food, heightening the contribution of each without overpowering with its own saltiness. Salt is an essential ingredient regardless of the type of cuisine. It can also be added in a variety of ways -absorbed through boiling water, creating a crust on meats, drying out vegetables, or simply added to a pot of sauce.
Salt is referenced in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, when He instructs His disciples to be salt in the world. Matthew 5:13 says “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
My first job out of college was at a domestic violence shelter.I was twenty-one years old, newly married, and the ink on my college diploma had barely dried when I took the job as a counselor for women who were caught in violent relationships. Though I had the heart and desire to help these women, I was sorely prepared. Though I had learned a lot about the helping field in college, I had little experience.I was underqualified. I knew it and the women I helped knew it.Fast forward a number of years later when I was expecting my first child. I had read dozens of parenting books. I had taught parenting classes as part of my counseling work. I had talked to every mom-friend I knew to get their advice on various aspects of motherhood. But when I held my newborn son in my arms, I knew it. I think he knew it too.I was underqualified. Incapable. Insufficient.Underqualified MomI’ve always been an independent sort. When I have a goal, I work hard and pursue it. I may seek advice or assistance along the way, but ultimately, I know if I want to get to where I’m headed, I have to do the work that’s required. I faced motherhood the same way. I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person; I like to be prepared. So I bought all the books, studied all the methods, and read all the research.I applied myself to motherhood the same way I did a project or paper in college. I put everything into it the way I did my work. But unlike other things in life, motherhood did not fit so neatly into a box. My children did not always conform to what the books said. The methods often failed. The research often turned out meaningless.As a result, I was humbled. Like the stretch marks forever etched in my skin, motherhood stretched me beyond what I was capable of within myself. I learned that I was weak and insufficient and couldn’t rely on my own resources or strength. I had to face the truth that I couldn’t depend on my own wisdom. I couldn’t find help and hope in methods. I couldn’t make life work for me.If there’s one thing motherhood has taught me, it’s that I can’t do it on my own. I need help from outside myself. I need Jesus.
God woke me up and showed me Jesus when I was in high school. My one and only high school boyfriend was about to escort me to a fancy Christmas party, and I was stoked. I’d noticed him acting a little strange recently, but I was sure it would pass. Instead, after the party he drove me to a quiet, romantic spot, and broke up with me.
I was devastated. My mother shouldered the burden of sorrow and rejection with me, but I refused to be comforted. As far as I was concerned, I was not only unloved, I was unlovable. Days turned into weeks. Then of all things, my mother—who was not the Bible thumping type—said this, “Rondi, you’ve got to get a hold of yourself. You need to ‘put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters.’”
In a flash, the Holy Spirit connected the dots for me. The Jesus of my childhood suddenly became the mighty Savior of the Scriptures who had come to rescue me. The 1971 folk song brought a portion of God’s word to life and Jesus stepped off the page.