Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Aroma of His Glory

There is a sensory memory that I will carry with me throughout my life ~ it is the delicious smell of Mom’s pot roast, simmering with oven-browned potatoes and carrots. The rich aroma filled our senses each Sunday as we arrived home from church!

It is amazing to me that sensory experiences are so strong. Scientists describe it as odor memory, that is, our ability to remember the scent and the memory connected to the scent. In fact, they have found that only two synapses separate the olfactory nerve from the amygdala, that part of the brain where we experience emotions. That explains why these aromas from childhood form such a strong connection for me ~ like a time and date stamp ~ they connect me not only to Mom’s delicious cooking but the deeper emotion of family dinners together..

So it comes as no surprise that God would chose the metaphor of aroma when he talks about how we live our lives. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1-2 that when we live a life of love, our very lives become an offering, a fragrant sacrifice to God.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
This metaphor of aroma is both powerful and personal to me. When our sixteen year old son died, I wrestled with questions of meaning and purpose. Why would a loving God allow this tragedy? What benefit could come from the death of my son? How could this tragedy bring God glory?

I distinctly remember the day I read Paul’s words in II Corinthians 2. Paul writes that our lives can also be an aroma of Christ’s glory to those who seek him.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
I realized that it was not Scott’s death that would bring God glory. It was my response to Scott’s death that had the power to be an aroma of Christ's glory and eternal life.

I firmly believe that Satan intended to gain a victory through Scott’s death; that this loss would destroy our family's hope in the promises of God. Yes, we felt broken and confused. Yes, we struggled to redefine our theology on a daily basis as we sought to understand this tremendous loss through God’s perfect will. But in time, with God’s grace and mercy, we are being transformed not destroyed by this loss.

Perhaps theologian John Piper expresses my thoughts more clearly in his book, God is the Gospel.
The supreme value of the glory of Christ revealed in the gospel is what makes Satan so furious with the gospel. Satan is not mainly interested in causing us misery. He is mainly interested in making Christ look bad. He hates Christ. And he hates the glory of Christ. He will do all he can to keep people from seeing Christ as glorious. The gospel is God’s instrument for liberating people from exulting in self to exulting in Christ. Therefore Satan hates the gospel.
The events of this fallen world are real. Divorce, the death of a loved one, a rebellious child, upside-down mortgages, economic hardships, layoffs . . . the list goes on. These are painful, gut-wrenching situations. Each one has the potential to destroy us. But I believe we have a choice in every situation ~ to be destroyed or transformed. The choice is ours ~ to be an aroma of Christ’s glory to those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  Will we be a fragrance of death and destruction, or a fragrance of life and transformation?

Oh, may the aroma of Christ's glory pour out of me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Clear the Deck First

Each morning I receive a quick read in my Google Reader from Today's Stress Tip ~ some tidbit of wisdom to apply to my busy life.  I don't always agree with the advice, as was the case last week.  But for the most part, I usually come away with something I can use to transform my daily life.

Then there are tips like the one posted this morning, that seem so common sense until I read it over a couple of times, and realize ~ This is so much more that just surface talk.

Before you begin a project, first clear your desk, kitchen counter or work area of the clutter that will surely get in the way. Then take out and organize the implements you'll need to get the job done, leaving yourself ample room to maneuver. That's it. The minute or two it takes to do this will save you a considerable time and aggravation over the course of the project. Clear the deck first.
Pretty much common sense here ~ clean off your work space, make sure you have all the ingredients before you start, and plan your time so you can finish what you begin!  Got it!

But are there areas of life where we tend to not apply this common sense?  As a mediator and conflict coach, my mind takes this tip ~ from the desk, kitchen counter or work area ~ to our relationships.

When it comes to relationships, it seems we tend to clear the deck with a broad stroke ~ quite literally sweeping away problem people in our lives.  The trend we see in our mediation center is to simply dispose of individuals who cause us conflict, avoid people who hurt us, and begin again with a new set of friends, a new spouse, a new family, even a new faith community.

What if we took this common sense tip and applied it to our personal relationships?  How would we live it out?
Before you begin a new relationship, first reconcile the ‘clutter’ in your heart and mind from past relationships that will surely get in the way of making new relationships. Then take out and organize the interpersonal skills you'll need to establish a lasting relationship, leaving yourself ample time to put these skills into practice. That's it. The time it takes to do this will save you considerable hurt and aggravation over the course of the new relationship. Clear the decks first.
I know it is never that simple.

But here is the bottom line: if we don’t deal with the brokenness in our old relationships, we carry it into our new ones.  Many people call it baggage.  I call it our default response to things that confront us ~ our usual reaction to conflict, pain and loss.  It is what we bring into each new relationship, learned from our family of origin and past experiences.

When the pain and hurt is not addressed; when the broken relationships are not reconciled, we simply bring all that clutter into new relationships, hoping each one will be better than the last.  Take today’s tip and think about how to clear the deck in our personal lives.  Not with a broad sweep of the arm that pushes all the hurtful people out of our lives, but with a purposeful act to restore relationships that are sure to get in the way as we creating relationships in the future.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love That Does Not Disappoint

Yesterday I read a tip on how to reduce stress in my life.
Don't believe for a minute . . . you'll get the number of servings the recipe says you will . . . you can perform a complex computer task with a single click of the mouse . . . your call is important to them . . . the "push here on red" button will get you across the street any faster . . . you're indispensable to your company . . . your cake will look anything like the one illustrated on the box . . . the battery will last anywhere near what they claim. Get smart. Lower your expectations.
That's right! I can reduce my stress in life if I don't believe the claims, think of myself as dispensable, lower my expectations, and basically, just plan to be disappointed!

Know what? I am not only stressed by that tip-of-the-day, I am disappointed! Lower my expectations? Settle for less?

Don't take me wrong. I know I can’t believe all of the claims I hear.  I agree there are times when I do trust them and find myself stressed. Like when I spend two hours assembling something that clearly states on the box can be assembled in five easy steps.

I began thinking about Valentine's Day in light of this stress-reducing tip. Many people have high expectations of how they will feel loved today. Many have a little jingle playing in their heads ~ every kiss begins with Kay ~ and dream of a small velvet box filled with something that sparkles! Many envision how the events of the day will fall into place to create the ultimate romantic evening. And, I predict, many will be stressed out if their valentines do not live up to their hopes and expectations.

Today my valentine is not feeling so good. In fact, my valentine is asleep on the couch hoping the combination of decongestants, antihistamines and cough suppressants work its mojo to help him feel better.

The sight of my valentine lying there in his sweats could be cause for disappointment. I mean ~ nobody is receiving breakfast in bed this morning and there won't be much hugging and kissing going on. It is just not going to be that kind of day!

When we base our view of love on what the world claims, we are in for disappointment!

I am thankful that there is a love that does not disappoint; not based on circumstances or the actions of others. A love that is as much an act of the will as it is a response of the heart . . . that seeks the highest good of another . . . with claims that are trustworthy and believable. It is a love that transforms circumstances that seeks to disappoint.
Love is patient; love is kind and is not jealous;
Love does not brag and is not arrogant,
Does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own,
Is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
Does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I Corinthians 13:4-7
Here is a new tip-for-the-day for Valentine’s Day ~
Don't believe in what the world calls love . . . you will get what you deserve . . . it is all about you . . . love comes in small velvet boxes . . . it is alright if he yells at you ~ at least he comes home at night . . . she better look great . . . if it doesn’t feel right, find someone new . . . Get smart. Raise your expectations.

Decide today to embrace
a love that does not disappoint . . . 
and expect your relationship to be transformed.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not ~ perhaps you recited these words as you pulled the petals from a flower, one by one, to try to determine whether the one you love will truly returns your love. It always seemed like a childhood game.

But more and more it seems that marriages reflect the sentiment of those words.

On this Valentine's Day Eve, husbands and wives will stand in the aisles of Walgreen's to find a card that expresses the words they meant to say to one another throughout the year. There will be dozens of roses delivered. The sweet smell of chocolate will fill the air. And couples will say I love you in the glow of candlelight.

I don't mean to sound cynical, but on Monday, February 15th, lives will once again be overflowing with the demands of the dailies ~ dirty dishes, unpaid bills, loads of laundry, sick children, upside down mortgages, furlough days, dead batteries ~ you name it! ~ any number of situations that create a climate of crisis for the family. The romance of Valentine's Day will quickly be replaced with the challenging day-to-day responsibilities of life, and a commitment to love one another will once again fall victim to circumstances.

Lack of commitment is not new. It is not unique to this generation of over-stressed, economically-strapped Americans.  Even in the first century, a series of oaths were required to guarantee that one’s commitment would remain true. Jesus enters this system of oaths and offers a solution.

In Matthew 5, His words seem almost too simple to be taken seriously ~

Let what you say be simply Yes or No.

The people of that day would recognize Jesus' use of a cultural idiom. Jesus is basically saying ~

Let your inside Yes match your outside Yes
and your inner No match your outer No.

In essence ~ mean what you say and say what you mean.

Anything less is duplicity, doubleness, sin ~ saying one thing, living another.

Oh that we would choose today to be transformed and live a life of love that is characterized by commitment, not duplicity ~ where the words and tones we use, and the actions we display, would truly communicate an unconditional love. A love lived out everyday ~ not just on Valentine's Day.

A love that says to one another in spite of the dailies . . .

I love you and there is nothing you can do about it!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Where The Rhythm Seems Lost

Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November.
All the rest have thirty-one
but February's the shortest one.
With 28 days most of the time,
until Leap year gives us twenty-nine.

I am not sure when I actually learned this short poem from my mother. I just remember knowing it most of my life. And I have used it in many ways over the years ~ to know the date to write on checks, to plan vacations, to find the 100th Day of School in my classroom, and to help my students learn the number of days in each month.

I remember thinking as a child ~ the first three lines have an arranged pattern of rhythm, a sense of completeness and  predictability of what sounds come next.
Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November.
All the rest of thirty-one.
These three lines were the easiest to memorize.  But the remaining three lines have always stumped me.  The rhythm of the poem seems to change in those last three lines. The words seem crowded.

Little did I know what a word picture this poem was to become for my life.

My February, as with the pulse of this childhood poem, is marked with syncopation rather than a predictable beat. The rhythm of its days has been modified and my focus is drawn to weaker sounds.

They are the sounds of mourning and groaning and loss.

For February, in its short twenty-eight days, marks the sudden death of my son, Scott, as well as the death of both my mother and father.

So, as each February comes around ~ like struggling to make the words of the poem conform to the rhythm of each line ~ I slow down and consider how best to experience the full weight of these losses and redeem the days to come.

I spend time in my storehouse of memories. I grieve what could have been. I give thanks that this one short month is not like the rest of the year. I rejoice in the hope and promise of a blessed reunion with my loved ones.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What If I Knew . . .

What if I knew today would be the last day I had with my child?
Would it transform the words we exchanged?

Would it alter the non-verbal messages I expressed?

Would I focus less energy on the chores left undone?

Would I linger a little longer as we hugged goodbye?
The morning of February 5th, 1996 began like any other in our home. There was no forewarning that it would be my last day at home with our precious son, Scott. But at 11:36 a.m., I received the phone call all parents dreads. Your son has been in an accidentScott was declared brain dead on February 6, 1996.

As I reflect on our last days together . . .
I am grateful for Scott’s humble spirit on February 4th that caused him to seek reconciliation and forgiveness.

I am grateful for our loving and fun conversation that morning.

I am grateful I took time ~ on that particularly hectic day of school for me ~ to say Goodbye and I love you.
Psalm 90:12 reads ~
Teach us to use wisely all the time we have. 

Oh that His Wisdom, His Grace, and His Love would transform relationships in our hearts and homes.