Friday, July 25, 2014

Truth or Dare

When I was in elementary school (a long—I mean a REALLY long time ago) we used to play a crazy game called Truth or Dare. When the kids I hung with would even mention playing this game, I would begin to fret and come up with a reason why I had to hurry and go home before they even got started. I have to tell you that the whole idea of being dared to do something that I knew I would never do on my own—well, let's just say this was not my idea of fun and games.

I was not the bravest of kids. I was not confident in most things and rarely did I take a risk or be a "dare-devil" like so many of my friends. To spell it out: I was a scaredy-cat. It's actually carried into my adult life. Just ask my sister about the time I prayed all the way from Anclote Island back to her dock (I swore our john boat was going to sink in the midst of a crazy storm) . . . all the while, she laughed at the rain and waves AND at me for being "such a lilly."

But Truth or Dare always did come up and it seemed we would always play this dumb game time and time again. I would keep my fingers crossed behind my back, hoping they wouldn't call my name; however, they did and when I was asked: "Rhonda Byars, Truth or Dare?" you can bet your bottom dollar that I quickly blurted out TRUTH! Trust me when I say that I would rather tell the truth when asked some off the wall question than risk having to steal someone's newspaper and pedal my bike home as fast as I could (yes, I did) without getting caught. Like this game was fun?
Some lessons in life you learn the hard way, amen?

Now, let me clarify:  I wasn't always a truth teller. In fact, on more occasions than I care to admit, I opted to lie vs. tell the truth. But I learned quickly that lying was a dead end street and that the truth always comes to the surface (ask my sister once again about the time I hid cigarette butts in the old 45 player because it was broken). And if you think that I was only an adolescent offender, just ask my husband about the "secret credit card" during our early years of marriage.

I was an expert at lying. It was in the early years of my relationship with Christ that He made it crystal clear that this was simply not acceptable and that His plan was to convict, work, sand, carve, chisel, dig, dissect, remove and work me over, over and over again, until I was convinced that He was right. You could have easily found me at LA (Liar's Anonymous) meetings because I will always choose group therapy. It's more fun to know that you're not alone with your issues! (insert smile)

I've been thinking a lot lately about why we are prone to lie and I've come up with two pretty simple answers:
1) We lie about something because we want attention.
2) We like about something because we don't want attention.

Now don't read past that so fast. Go back and let it soak for a minute. Lying is a bad habit that starts young and can follow us into adulthood if we're not careful. Sometimes we "stretch the truth" or offer a "little white lie" because it makes the story, our story bigger or better, thus drawing attention to ourselves. And then, there are the times we lie because we don't want attention. We don't want something in our lives to be exposed, brought into the light—so we "stretch the truth" or offer a "little white lie" so that whatever we say, takes the focus off of us and takes any attention regarding the situation off of us. Somewhere, we've bought a huge lie from the Father of Lies (Yep, that's Satan himself) that we either need attention, or we must hide from it. Bottom line is that whether we're seeking to attract attention or steer clear of it, when we lie, we've crossed one of the biggest compromise lines known to man. Lying is, by far, one of the most ruthless ways that Satan has a field day with our hearts and lives. I hate him for how he's wreaked havoc on so many lives because of this unhealthy heart cry: I need attention. I must hide from it.

Since I've mentioned my sister, I need to tell you that she has nudged me toward being a truth teller for many, MANY years. Her level of integrity and trustworthiness exceeds just about anyone I've ever known. There have been a few times that her gut honesty has packed a powerful punch (her motive was NOT to hurt, but to help) but I can tell you that I know that she will never lie to draw attention to herself, and she'll never compromise her character by lying in order to avoid truth being exposed. If you read this, Pat Byars Straub . . . THANK YOU. You are a powerful example of someone who tells the truth—LIVES the truth.

I work in the principal's office and there is one warning that I always offer students who are sent to see him because of a "discrepancy." Here it goes: "You have one opportunity—tell the truth. If you are honest, there will be consequences, but it will be less painful on you if you tell the truth. If you lie to him, you will have two sets of issues to deal with. I look them dead in the eye and I say it again: Tell. The. Truth."

So often I hear God say that to me. I'm not a kid anymore and I'm certainly not playing Truth or Dare. I'm still scared today of taking big risks and will never take a dare so don't "dare" me to bungee jump or raft down the Ocoee. I'm scared, okay—plus it does NOT sound like fun to me. But friends, we live in a day when telling the truth/living the truth is more crucial than ever. Our very lives—our witness is built on and around it. I hear the Lord loud and clear that "stretching the truth" in order to have attention just can't be. His Spirit puts the squeeze on my heart that I must have zero part of avoiding attention by covering something up that I know is not of Him.

God's grace covers those who need attention and those who are throwing a blanket over it. He beckons us to be honest. Honesty is STILL the very best policy. Training our kids and grandkids to tell the truth, no matter what, is one of the most genuine character gifts we can instill in them. Remember the old saying: "You can never expect your kids to live something that you don't?" It stands true today.

There's a huge payoff, too: It honors God.

I am challenged, more than ever in my life, to be a woman who tells the truth. Speaks the truth—lives the truth. God, give us wisdom seasoned with mercy so that we can speak the truth/tell the truth in love when we are asked hard questions when it might be easier to lie.
Give us a big dose of your attention so that we won't feel the need to stretch the truth or tell a little ole' white lie, in order to make us, our kids, grandkids, job, ministry—anything—look better than it is. Give us conviction woven with courage, to rid our lives of anything that we must hide which might ultimately draw attention to us.

God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all. If we need attention, let's allow His light to illuminate our hearts and provide what we need. If we are avoiding attention, let's allow that same light to shine so brightly onto our lives that it will change anything that may be tip-toeing around in the dark.

Last year I thought I could pull of a "little white lie" to my brother-in-law. I suppose I completely forgot that God was dead serious about this issue—so, I just tossed it out there.
I was avoiding attention because I didn't want to be "found out."
It didn't take long. God was serious enough that He wouldn't leave me alone until I confessed to my B-I-L, owned the whole thing and asked for his forgiveness. We had a big laugh over it—I was embarrassed to death but more than that, I was deeply relieved. Thankful that I was right with him—beyond grateful that I was right with my God.

Now it's your turn: Truth or Dare? Take the truth card. Riding a bike blindfolded is just not smart.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What Birds Know . . .

I wish I could tell you that I was a consistent blogger. I wish blogging came easy for me. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for people who have umpteen creative ideas swirling around in their heads and can sit down and peck out something incredible in a moment's notice. Not me. I can go weeks, even months without something prompting a post. Most days I'm far from a keyboard when life sparks an idea and by the time I sit down to blog, I've forgotten what it was I was going to write about. Sigh.

Not this morning though. In fact, every time I pass by my back door I have this tender picture before me. It draws me—beckons me to put ink (or keys) to what the Lord is speaking to my heart. It all started with drizzling rain and a baby bird.

I saw it long before dawn. There is was soaking wet, perched on my deck railing. I took a glance, then a long stare. Was it resting (I was hopeful)? Sick? Tired? Sick AND tired? Was it injured? I knew there was a nest in a bush on the side of our house so I plotted and planned a way that I might be able to return it. Surely it could fly. I mean, how else would it get up on the rail? I told my [who I thought was compassionate] husband and he said, "I hate birds. They just poop everywhere." So, I decided I would just ignore it—hoping it might fly away. Ignoring it or pretending it wasn't there was easier said than done.

Every few minutes I would pass by the back door and look out. Friends, I couldn't believe my eyes. I went to the bedroom for a better, closer look. Sure enough, there it was. To that sweet baby bird's rescue was another bird. It's Momma maybe? Grandmother? Sister? Aunt, neighbor, co-worker, friend? Was this bigger bird a stranger who saw this baby alone, scared, in desperate need of help? I sat very still so that I could watch. Bigger bird inched its way closer to baby bird. Close enough now that they were almost touching. I though of Tom Cruise in Top Gun when he said, "I will not leave my wing man."

In the blink of an eye, or the flap of a wing, God spoke loud and clear. There are people out there who need us. We have family, co-workers, neighbors and friends who are waiting for someone to come alongside of them. This bigger bird couldn't do much for baby, but it was there. Standing guard, bringing comfort. Reminding this baby that it was not alone. In the pouring rain, stuck on a narrow wooden board, but not alone.

And even sweeter still, God reminds me . . . and you, that we too, are not alone. His presence and His comfort are as close to us as the bigger bird is to that sweet baby bird. Sometimes He sends someone to scoot in next to us; other times, He wraps His arms around us and holds us tight Himself. Circumstances may look bleak, but He is there. Death, sickness, relationship struggles, finances, job issues, just the day-in-day-out pressures of life: HE. IS. THERE. Did you catch that? You are not alone. Let me say it again: You, dear reader, are NOT alone.

Look at the birds . . . careless in the care of God. And you count far more to Him than birds. - Matthew 6/The Message

Friday, May 30, 2014

This Thing Called Faith . . .

So, my whole week has seemingly revolved around one word: F A I T H. Everything I've read, studied, listened to, even sung about—there it is: Faith. Not just "faith" in general, mind you; but MY faith. Or better stated . . . my lack of. So often, I link my faith with just how much I am trusting God to do this for me, or take care of that for me. Hard to admit, but I've even found that I've trusted Him so much more with something that I've asked of Him for someone else. I know it might sound crazy, but I'm just keeping it real tonight.

This morning, I began putting ink to some things about my faith that the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart. I've pondered this stuff all day. In the midst of working, my heart was stirring. As I faced a big fear head on this afternoon, the whole subject of my [lack of faith] was heavy on my heart. Can I just tell you that I want faith with substance? Not just faith of a mustard seed—but say to this mountain, "move" and it will be done kind of faith?

I want faith . . .
that doesn't waiver in the waiting
that doesn't plummet under pressure
that stands when it would be easier to sit
that doesn't doubt in the midst of disappointment

Did I mention that I long for faith that doesn't doubt in the midst of disappointment?

I want faith . . .
that turns away in the midst of temptation
that stays calm in a season of chaotic
that refuses to ignore conviction
that speaks the truth when it would be more popular to be quiet

I want faith . . .
that leads me to give when everything within me screams get

I want faith . . .
that is unmoved by the unknown
that willingly denies self in exchange for our Savior
that trusts in the promise of God's perfect timing
that is solid when God's voice is silent

I want faith . . .
that truly forgives when my flesh can't seem to forget

I share a father's expression that is found in Mark 9:24: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief." I love the Living Bible translation:  “I do have faith; oh, help me to have more!”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

It's a quiet Saturday morning . . .

Surrounding me on my counter are graduation announcements, baby shower invitations, dentist appointment reminders and wedding invitations. There's a bill or two, a sink full of dishes and a to-do list of what needs to happen today. After a long, busy, semi-stressful week, part of me just wants to crawl back into the bed that I didn't even get out of until 9:30 AM. Now don't judge me for sleeping the morning away OR be jealous that you didn't or couldn't. Empty-nesters have earned a lazy Saturday every now and then.

I'm sitting here and as I glance around my eyes spot them on the other side of the counter—behind my iPad and can of Orbit gum that I meant to put in my car days ago: my Mother's Day cards from last weekend. I probably read through them quickly on Sunday, but today, I take them in and read them each . . . word for word, real slow and on purpose. If my Bible study on making a difference and leaving a legacy wasn't enough, these precious cards have just about done me in.

Over the past week, these cards have taken my heart and mind all the way back to my own childhood. So many of you know that part of my story includes being a child of divorce. Please hear me: I love my parents dearly. I will serve them faithfully and invest in their lives until they take their last breath. Long after they are gone, their lives will have left huge marks on me—some of those marks may include some scars, but either way, I will never be the same and I thank God for how He has used my Mom and Dad to mold me into the woman I am today.

Was your own heart crowded and confused as a child? Maybe you're in the thick of raising your own little ones and you see that your own heart needs to be sorted through, cleaned up . . . cleaned off? Could it be, that like me, you survived your own childhood only to stumble and fumble through raising your own kids? Now, you so long to live by example and leave some kind of legacy for them and their children.

Parents and grandparents . . . be real with your children. They know you aren't perfect and the honest truth is: they aren't looking for perfect. They are looking for the real deal. Share with them your own journey. Let them see and know about your life as a child. It will help them to understand who you are today. Allow the deep places of your heart, your victories/struggles and your faith journey to be open and laid bare before them. Hard for sure, but necessary in bringing the real factor in your home.

Never live in secret anything before them. If you want to lose credibility with your kids faster than a mouse scatters when the light turns on, live something in secret. Our kids are smart and one day, the secret will have the potential to build a big wall between you. Be who you are, live an open/honest life before them. Anything you must do "in secret" will not end up being something that you're proud of or something that you want them to model after. Right or wrong, I raised my girls with a standard of this: If I must do this in secret, I must not do it at all. There were some who criticized me for this mindset; however, I have no regrets today from living anything in the dark.

Spend more time with them than the money you spend on them. Stuff may make them happy as a child, but as they grow up, it will really be YOU that they want to be a part of their world. As we get older we know that no amount of money can replace the gift of time.

To all my Mom-friends . . . let's aim for becoming healthy in our minds and hearts. Let's focus on living before our kids, no matter how young or how grown they may be, a life that will leave a legacy of truth, honesty and investment long after we are gone. Let's not cave to the crave of what this crazy world offers us as women. Regardless of our childhood, regardless of where we've failed as parents, regardless of where our kitchen counters may be crowded, messy and in desperate need of being cleaned off. Even us empty-nesters, listen up: Keep climbing. Keep looking back at those precious lives who are climbing behind you, watching how you climb. Rest along the way together and share life . . . REAL life along the way. One day, they will remember how you climbed. They will have seen with their own eyes the path that you walked and lived before them. Real. Honest. Intentional about investment. A legacy, left with love.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Five W's

Surely at some point in your life, you’ve heard of the five W’s. You know them: Who, what, when, where and why. This “system” of rounding up information is used on everything from enhanced learning, website evaluations and even for digging deeper in journalism.

This morning as I was sorting out some things with the Lord, I realized that I was using this same method, even with Him. Several situations in my life where I’ve scratched my head, wrestled in my heart, questioned without answers and even doubted in the dark what God has so faithfully shown in the light.

Maybe you’ve been there. If not for you, then for someone you love. Ever ask these questions? Lord, what are you doing? What are you up to, anyway? What are you working on that my eyes have yet to see?

Or maybe, you’ve been waiting.  Is the question on your heart today simply, “When, Lord?” Learning to trust Him in the waiting can be so very hard.

The question of where isn’t far from some of us either. Where are you in this God? Where were you when ____________________. Where, God, where?

And then there is the hardest question of all: Why. Why, God? Why have you allowed this? Why have you not prevented this? Why have you not intervened? Why have you not _________________.
Why, God? W H Y?

I purposefully left off the first W, because for me it’s the only one I can answer completely and confidently: Who. He is God and He is faithful. He may or may not answer all of our nagging questions. We may or may not see Him work in the situations where we’ve prayed and waited for Him to. But what we can know is Who He is and all that He does promise to do, to be for us. What great comfort there is in knowing Who I can depend on. Who I can trust. Who I can put my faith in to not only save my soul, but walk with me through this crazy life. Of all the five W’s, this is the most important, the most significant. And at the end of the day, it’s the only one that really does matter.

Take hold of His hand and let Him take hold of your heart. Knowing Who He is will prove to be more beneficial than gaining answers to any questions that you may be wrestling with today. He loves you
so . . . He’s never going to let you go. Even with all your questions, in spite of all your questions, regardless of all those crazy stinkin’ questions.  Guess what? I still don’t know what. Still waiting on when. Don’t even know where. Why is still swirling at times. Oh, but I do know Who. And for today, my heart is resting in Who I know Him to be. I pray yours will, too.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Crossroad

I have been awake for quite some time. Okay, truth is, I've been awake for a L O N G time. It could be the horrible side effect from steroids, but I am leaning toward the Spirit of God who has finally nudged me out of my bed. Here I sit, coffee in hand, rain pouring down and a strong desire to talk about my Nana.

Willia Mae Hixson was a very unique woman. She lived on this earth just six weeks shy of her 100th birthday. She was a legend, not only in her own mind, but in the mark she left for decades on Cleveland, Tennessee. In some ways, she was Cleveland's "first" lady. First female who got to be "the first" for many things. From working with the police (she would search women who were being sent to jail) to being the first female writer for the Banner. She was the first woman to host a wildlife sports radio broadcast at a local station. The stories she'd tell, the memories she'd share—well, let's just say that growing up she had a captive audience. As I laid in bed thinking of her, my mind kept going back to something she had shared with me on more than one occasion. These were her exact words: "There are two roads to go in this life, Rhonda. The right road and the wrong road. Go the right road, and it will all go well for you. Go the wrong road, and it will end in disaster." 

In all due respect, Nana, I want to challenge your mindset just a bit. Based on my own life journey (52+ years and counting), I've learned that much of what you shared with me to be true; however, I must disagree that in traveling the "right" road, it doesn't always go well.

For me, traveling the right road means that I am living my life intentionally seeking God's heart and His will for my life. It means that I am active in a real relationship with Him and that in this pursuit, I'm following hard after Him as I live day to day. Not a perfect life, not a sinless life, but a life that is putting Him and others in front of self. Can I just say that it's been while traveling the right road that I've faced some of my deepest heartaches and suffered some of my greatest losses? Some of the most faithful servants I know have had the rug yanked right out from underneath them and have had the bottom fall completely out on their lives while traveling the right road. I'm sure there have been some who have wondered if they were really on the right road. Oh, Nana, you failed to mention that the right road isn't always the easy road. The right road, at times, is just plain hard.

Then there's the wrong road. The road that completely abandons God's heart and will to chase after what self wants—what the flesh of who we are craves. Choosing the wrong road means we stop at nothing in order to get what it is we want, regardless of what it costs us, regardless of who we wound along the way. People who look left and travel the wrong road, more times than not, really do know they are headed in the wrong direction. They have failed to obey God and they have ignored the wise counsel of those who love them enough to not only tell them the truth, but challenge them to walk in it.

Here's the simple truth about the difference between the right road and the wrong road. One leads to the Lord, the other will lead you far away from Him. It really is that plain and simple. The road that leads to the Lord, in spite of pain, heartache, heartbreak, rejection, even loss, will also be a road where the peace of God truly does surpass ALL understanding. The right road fills us with hope, in spite of circumstances that scream the complete opposite. The right road isn't filled with worry and will never echo regret. The right road may be a difficult road, but it does lead to good because He promises that He will work all things together for our good if we love God and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) The right road is the best road, friends. He promises.

If the road you are traveling has you at a crossroad and the steps that have led you here are surrounded by confusion, doubt and have you withdrawing from not only the Truth but those who live by it; if deep down you know you are pursuing your will and not His will, then more than likely, you're on and will continue to head down the wrong road. Stop. Look. Listen.

"Stand at the crossroads and look; ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." - Jeremiah 6:16

Yes, Nana, there always have been and there always will be two roads to walk in this life. Thank you for encouraging me to walk the right road. Traveling the right road has also given me the rest of the story: It may not always go well, but the journey with Jesus is worth it and it does end well. Oh, does it ever end well.

Are you at a crossroad today? Having a hard time deciding which way you want to go? Is self screaming left, while Savior whispers right? I pray God's word will encourage and challenge you: Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way, walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21)

Seek God's heart through His Word. Invite the wise counsel of those who love God and are seeking His heart through His Word. Let Him speak to you today as you stand at the crossroad and consider the outcome of going left vs. right. If you choose the right road, it will have been His voice saying to you, "Yes, dear one, this is the right way. Walk in it." The promise is also that as you do, you will find rest for your soul. The left road never leads to it, no matter how long we walk on it or how we might try to convince ourselves otherwise. Deep down we do know which road we've chosen and which road we are making our journey on.

I wasted nearly 28 years of my life walking on the wrong road. There were signs all along with way, but I ignored them. I went the way that seemed right to me. It was a messed-up life at best and the one thing I lacked that I so longed for was peace. Never did find it traveling the wrong road. Then I met Jesus and the journey on the right road began. For many of these (almost 25) years of walking with Him, I've ran strong. There have been seasons where I've walked and in all honestly, I've had seasons where I've crawled. I've had seasons where I simply had to rest. Resting doesn't mean quitting. Sometimes we must rest so that we can have the strength to get back in the journey of traveling on the right road.

Stand at the crossroad and look. Look left. Is it costing you your relationship with the Lord and those who you love and love you? Is it a road of compromise? Is it a road that has left your heart tangled and do you feel as if you're struggling to breath? Now look right. Consider all that can be gained in your life by going the right road. Peace with God, peace with others. An authentic relationship with Christ that comes from delight and not duty. Genuine fellowship with other believers. Not a life without pain, but a life with great promise. A journey on the right road that does end well. The choice is mine, friend, and the choice is yours.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

It seems the older I get the more aware I am of how quickly time passes. Maybe it's because I recently spent a few days with my aging parents. Maybe it's due to all the social media and the exposure to countless pictures of my daughter's friends who are now grown and raising families of their own. When exactly did these kids who used to swim in my pool, slumber party at my house, roll my front yard—when did they grow up? Could it be that my own daughters are moms and I have this incredible privilege of watching them raise their own kids? Add to the evidence the wrinkles that I see on my face which also serve as a daily reminder. Gosh, there are days I simply wonder where time has gone.

How true it is that we each have only 24 hours in a day. From the time our feet hit the floor until the time we crawl (sometimes fall) into bed at night, our days are jam-packed with just living life. Whether you work in or outside of the home, whether you are a Mom/Dad with little ones, or a retired empty-nester, we all are guilty of letting the day get away from us. But what if today was our last day to live on this earth? The last day to touch those we love, to hear their voice, listen as they laugh? What if today was your last chance to live your life to the fullest, to experience something new, to take a chance, to step outside of the norm or what feels so comfortable for you? What if?

I confess that I am a routine person through and through. Even though I don't mind change, the truth is, I like things to stay the same. I like order. I like life best when it runs like a well-oiled wheel. I tend to function best when I'm doing what I know I'm good at, or better yet, what I'm comfortable at. After living through four years of consistent change, I'm not only adjusting more and more, I'm actually beginning to settle into it. I've learned (and yes, the hard way) that nothing stays the same in this life—nothing except God's extravagant love and His promises which are strong, steady and true.

So, friends . . . LET'S LIVE THIS DAY. The clock is ticking and if we're not careful, life will pass us by. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: "Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why we call it "the present."

Let's take this gift of today and use it all up. If you can, change the routine a bit. Drive to work a different route and look for changes in scenery along the way. Take the time you would have used for self and offer it to someone else. Nothing on your to-do list is nearly as important as investing into another life. Laugh with others and at yourself today. Try a new food—reach out and make a new friend. Speak to the person behind you in line at Target. Turn on the radio, open the window or sunroof (for ultimate praising while driving) and sing to the top of your lungs. Be intentional with the hours you've been given today. Make some memories with someone, somehow, someway. And if we're given the gift of tomorrow, we'll look back on today with no regrets.

I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence.
1 Corinthians 7:29/The Message