Careful Words

“… a careless word is like the thorn of the honey locust thorn tree – it can cause a deep wound that can lead to the ‘infection’ of bitterness…” – Wally Armstrong, Practicing the Presence of Jesus

“All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God forgave you in Christ.” – Eph. 4:31-32

I have been on the receiving end of bitterness, anger, slander – spiteful words. I am quite certain we all have. As a young person, these words damaged me to my core. Thankfully, I have healed from these wounds and walk free from their pain. As an adult and a believer, I have felt mostly compassion and sorrow for the unbelievers who rage against me or my worldview. I cannot expect those who do not understand me or my views to accept them, and their opinions do not injure me.image

 

However, there is one party from whom careless words continue to hurt – fellow believers. While there is not typically shouting involved, or even discernible anger, careless words from believers can cut a person’s confidence, self-worth, and spirit. They can cause a person to question his/her calling or even leave the church. This pain has not been my experience alone, but the story of many people I have walked with over the years. Careless words lead to a wound of offense, which can easily become bitterness. Tragically, I have seen many walk away from friendships, from churches, and even from the faith, over offenses rooted in careless words.

I am talking about hastily delivered criticisms.

I am talking about sarcasm;

about gossip;

about jesting;

about snarky side commentary;

about words said out of earshot,

because they weren’t really out of earshot. These things have a way of getting around.

I am talking to myself. I used to pride myself on my sarcastic humor. You know what sarcasm means? To tear the flesh. And I gloried in it. Now my six year old son calls me out on it, and I realize my foolishness.

Careless words break trust. As believers, we should be covenanted to one another, preferring one another in love, anxious to honor each other.

“But I’m speaking the truth in love!”

Is it in love? Is it patient and kind? Is it rude or self-seeking? Does it always protect and always trust?

“People are too easily offended! That is their problem!”

We have a responsibility to forgive offense, yes. We have an equal responsibility to guard our words, to be slow to speak. The Bible charges us to use our words to encourage, heal, and extend grace.

If we find that offense tends to follow us, perhaps we are the problem.

If I am to dwell in unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I must carry slow to speak and quick to forgive in equal measurings like offerings. Then I can give in trust the words of grace which build and heal.

 

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Everything You Ever Wanted

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

I decided my sophomore year in college to change my major from Sociology to English. Admittedly, I wanted to study sociology because Zora Neale Hurston did, and she wrote characters that walked off the page and into your mind, flipping through the filing cabinets of memory and reading aloud long-forgotten accounts. I wanted to observe people, to study people from a safe distance. I did not know how much science was involved, and my research papers were cleverly written, but complete scientific bunk.

What else does one do with an English major, though, except teach? I had daydreams of scenes from Dead Poets’ Society, sitting on the big desk and philosophizing about Hamlet and Frost, molding young people, inspiring, high-five-ing in the halls. Steady, respectable, interesting employment.

God has the habit (perhaps, His character) of giving us exactly what we want, and what we need, but in completely different packaging.

After five years of teaching seventh grade English (no philosophizing or even inspiring, although lots of high-fives), I felt an undeniable urging from the Lord to leave my job and raise my child, later children, at home. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. I left the thing which had made up so much of my identity for so long in exchange for full-time occupation in something that I was never truly pursuant of or prepared.

I took that in which I knew I was successful and left it on the altar. I grieved for it and looked back many times, quite frankly. I took up the position for which I was ill-equipped because God said.

The last three years have been a trial by fire, one of learning and correcting, the practice of grace.

My son is four and will begin Kindergarten next fall. I have been counting down the days, making plans for focusing on one child again, and eventually returning to some type of work. But through a series of events and realizations too lengthy to detail here, I am beginning to see that home school for the first few years may be our best option.

I am not a home-schooler. I was not even an elementary teacher. I was never a mommy-ing woman, even as a mother. I believe in public education.

Yet here I sit, flipped on my rear again, asking God why and how and “Seriously?”

In these three years I’ve also published one book, nearly finished another, and I whip out an occasional haiku for kicks. And I remember Zora Neale Hurston and that I wanted to observe people and write. I want to write transporting truth and beauty and something so familiar it makes you check your rear-view mirrors.

I have realized that my desire to work is not about my identity; it is about a deeply buried notion that my ability to add economic value is what makes me valuable.

God asked me one time in a desperate place if I would be willing to give up the vain accessories that decked my heart’s desire. Would I lay down the visible extras to do the thing for which I prayed? And as I answered, and the external vanities were cut away, I felt peace and direction which had been clouded.

God is allowing me to have the opportunity to pursue the occupations I always wanted while doing what is best for my family, even if I never earn an income or notoriety as a writer. My faith must rise to the uncertainty of finances and to the strength to face the tasks given. I must trust my fragile soul in the hands of my Creator, who gives me the true desires of my heart.

 

Book available now – Sparrow: Devotions in Prose and Verse

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/amycford

30 Days to 30, Days 11 and 12

So, I missed an entry yesterday.  Here’s a twofer…

Day 11 – I Will Improve the Home I Have (and not pine after ones I don’t).

When we bought our house, we thought we would pay it off as quickly as we could (or at least way down) and sell it for our real forever home in five to ten years.  Since then, the housing market fell, God led me to stay home as a full-time mother, and we have used much of our nest egg to bankroll four mission trips and the remaining two years of a bachelor’s degree.  So, here I sit in our starter home in a subdivision in the middle of nowhere.

My husband and I are Nashville natives and never envisioned staying in this college town after I graduated in 2006, much less at this point in our lives.  We are city folk, and we often find ourselves looking around, daydreaming about moving back.  Plus, our house is at space capacity with two children buzzing about, and the bargain-basement carpet, paint, cabinets, and the like are all showing their, ehem, quality.

On Friday, though, as I rolled fresh paint onto the wall behind our dining room table, I felt a sense of pride.  Everything needs updating, and doing the work of updating is especially difficult when it is on an after-the-kids-go-to-bed schedule and performed by a couple of amateurs.  But, we will improve, little by little, until the cycle begins again.  We will love our place in the world until God releases us to go elsewhere.  We will be grateful to have a place to call our own, no matter what lies over the fence.  We have more than many.

 

Day 12 – I Will be Slow to Speak, Slow to Get Angry.

Not going to lie – this is the one I failed today, and that’s why I am writing about it now.  No long stories or details here, just the humble realization that I need to grow up a little, act in love a little better, and not allow environment or circumstances to create frustration in me.  

30 Days to 30, Day 9

Day 9 – I Will Get More Sleep

There is a lot to be said about getting a decent night’s sleep, none of which I will say tonight because I want to live up to this resolution. I am too old to stay up all night working on or worrying about things which are not as important in the daylight. And now, it is late, and I still have a few things to do. Goodnight, dear void!

My Story

Every generation has that moment – the one you tell your grandkids, the one which you can recall exactly where you were and what you were doing.  For my mother, it was President Kennedy’ assassination.  She was thirteen at the time and remembers it like yesterday.  I grew up listening to that story, fascinated by the tragedy that struck an entire nation all at once, and that changed the course of history.  I now know the story I will tell my grandchildren.  I know it like it was yesterday.

September is beautiful in Tennessee, and the eleventh was the epitome of all that was young and free.  The morning air felt like walking into the ocean, and the sky was perfect blue.  Tuesdays were my favorite days of that early school year: double-periods of gym, humanities, and art.  It was everything a senior could want in a schedule.  My morning gym class took the school’s activity bus to a nearby driving range to practice our golf swings.  Some of my best friends were in that class.  We donned our gym shorts and shades, and we joked about our pathetic attempts at hitting golf balls for an hour.  I remember being joyous, loving my life and the promise of the present.

The forty or so seniors in that class piled back into school just as classes changed.  I was on autopilot, beaming from the fresh air and sunshine as I climbed the stories of our ancient high school which sits in the heart of downtown Nashville.  I didn’t notice the strange, somber faces in the hall; it is the nature of a seventeen year old to be self-centered.  As I left my friends and entered my homeroom, I encountered a foreign sight.  Small groups of students huddled, talking low and staring at nothing.  My teacher stood on a chair trying to make a mounted television work.  We had never watched TV in homeroom before.  I do not recall whom I first asked, but I asked someone.  “Hey, what’s going on?” 

 Do you ever have the experience of listening to someone but not absorbing what that person says?  Her words bounced off me rubber bullets, creating unexplained pain.  Plane crashes.  World Trade Center.  Pentagon.  “Wait.  What?”  We pulled a third into our conversation to re-explain.  My mind began turning.  I couldn’t even remember what the World Trade Center actually was.  My eyes lifted to a static-y television scene to see a replay of the second plane hitting one of the towers, the other tower like a smokestack behind it. 

The teacher asked us all to move to the room next door where there was a working TV.  I sat on a cold tile floor staring at footage that is forbidden now.  We watched the first tower sway, news anchors attempting to comment on what seemed to be an inevitable collapse.  After it fell, we saw people from the second building leap to their deaths, preferring to die in the air than the rubble of a building.  I had to keep reminding myself that it was real, it was live, and it might only be the beginning.

Eventually, we were sent to our next class, which happened to be a humanities class.  We spent the entire time talking about the whys and hows and what ifs and what nows.  Our building was put on lockdown because it was surrounded by governmental buildings.  I looked out the windows from the third story classroom.  No cars on the busiest street in the city.  Planes had been grounded, leaving an eerie silence overhead.  An armed officer patrolled the block around the federal courthouse across the street.  It felt like a nation was holding its breath.

As the day wore on, the lockdown was lifted.  People slowly made their ways home.  We, as a nation, began to get clarity on what happened and why, we, as a generation, began to see the implications.  We knew there would be a war, and, more than that, we knew it was probable that much of our lives from that point would be defined by that day.  I remember crying one night at work because an older co-worker began excitedly talking about war and how there would probably be a draft.  All I could think about were my brother, my boyfriend, my friends.  It was not his generation that would pay the price.

Looking back on it now, I refuse to be cliche, saying that I grew up that day, or that things were miserable after that.  There was never a draft and, while I have friends and relatives who served in the wars, they did so voluntarily.  I didn’t lose a loved one that day, and I was not tangibly effected by it.  I will say, though, that a cloud settled over us that day.  No one of an age of understanding was unchanged.  And in my tiny little sphere, our perspectives changed.  The feeling of  invincibility that comes with being seventeen was gone, and in its place was a deep respect for frailty and resilience, as well as an understanding of the big picture. 

I wish that generationally-defining moment was a beautiful one which I could share with children and make them smile.  But, if we are honest, it is not the beautiful moments that change us.  They are good, but they don’t grow us.  It is through trials that we develop hope, perseverance, and maturity.  We are a nation that is more mature now than it was on September 10, 2001.  Let us pray,  fervently and sincerely, that we do not forget.

Logic

The most difficult class I took in college was one called “Logic.”  This should tell you something about me.  Anyway, I had taken a philosophy class my first semester, freshman year, and the next class in that series was Logic.  It fit a general requirement and I assumed it would be an easy A.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be all about formulas and proofs.  It was like taking geometry in high school all over again.  I had nightmares about standing in front of a blackboard, receiving the barks of Mr. Knight as I fumbled chalk.   I scraped out of Logic with a B minus, and to this day, I hold that class personally responsible for keeping me from graduating Summa Cum Laude (furrows brow, shakes fist in silent aggression). 

That class left me with some understanding about logical conclusions, however.  A lot of “if this then that’s.”  As fate would have it, I was also doing some soul-searching at that point in my life.  It’s a long story, but I had basically come to the realization that either my life was worth living, or it wasn’t.  And my life was not worth living.  Throughout my adolescent years, I had tried every path you could think, from New Age mysticism to atheism to eastern religions and philosophies.  Reluctantly, and as a last resort, I found myself in a non-denominational church that spring.  And reluctantly, things started to make sense.  I had never approached Christianity in a logical way, always believing it a crutch for the masses. But as I opened my mind to the teachings and examined the world around me, it was the only thing that made sense. 

As I turned my life over to God, I gave Him an ultimatum (because, you know, I’m at liberty to do that…).  I remember praying one night that, if this was real, it needed to be my everything.  It didn’t make sense to worship a God, but only give myself to Him in pieces and portions.  Here’s where the logic comes in:

If God is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last; if He is the reason for my existence, your existence, and the existence of everything; if He created everything and everything works in a greater plan that all points to Him, then it follows that everything I do and say should be for Him.  If He created me for Him, my only goals in life should be for Him, directed by Him. 

Let’s follow this rabbit a little further, shall we?  It sounds like this God is pretty selfish, huh?  Creating all of us and everything just for Him.  I mean, how arrogant, right?  Shouldn’t we just get to live our own lives the way we want?  But we forgot something else with regard to logic: A does not equal B.  God is all goodness, all love, all perfection.  I am not.  I am fault and carelessness and sin, even when I have good intentions.  I am worthy of nobody’s worship.

God takes His goodness one step further, too.  He doesn’t force our worship, our love, or even our respect. He gives us the choice. 

So what does all of this lead us to logically conclude?  God is worthy of everything we have, everything we say, everything we do.  He cannot be an afterthought in my life.  He cannot take the passenger seat or wait until I feel like going to Him.  My existence is proof of His.  My life should be proof of His goodness and mercy. 

And one more thing – this conclusion doesn’t mean that life as I wanted it is over.  You see, I’ve also realized that what God has planned for me is so much more amazing than anything I could plan for myself.  Not “win the lottery, live on a yacht” amazing, but “I can’t believe I did that” amazing.  At nineteen, my ten-year plan had me alone in an apartment with a crappy office job and a persistent feeling of insignificance.  God has given me a husband, a career, a beautiful child, and purpose. 

The popular thing to do is ridicule Christians for their beliefs, and I used to subscribe to that philosophy.  Now I see, though, God is the logical choice.

Solomon

Solomon was a wise guy, quite literally.  When God gave him the choice of all kinds of gifts, he chose wisdom – see, smart already.  Scripture mentions his wisdom as having “a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29).  He made lots of great decisions, settling disputes amongst his kingdom with common sense and clarity of mind.  He even threatened to cut a baby in half in his wisdom, but we can assume he was just trying to prove a point (sarcasm is so hard to convey in print…).  The Queen of Sheba, not exactly an Israelite, was compelled to come see him because of his wisdom, riches, and splendor.  The guy was the man. And, as far as a relationship with God is concerned, the Bible tells us he encountered God personally twice.  Not once.  Twice (1 Kings 11:9). 

But Solomon isn’t perfect, and there is a lot to be said about his devotion and humanity.  You see, despite his answered request for wisdom, his God-bestowed riches and glory, and the rather blatant visits from the Almighty Himself, Solomon fell for the same old temptations of his father David.  1 Kings 11 recounts Solomon’s girl troubles.  Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  Brother got around.  And, as we are wont to do, Solomon was willing to go to great lengths to please them (“hell hath no fury..”).  They worshipped gods he did not, but he was willing to play the part to please them.  He constructed altars to Ashtoreth, Molech, and other pagan gods for his wives to worship.  He didn’t stop there, either.  He decided to go there himself and worship, all in an attempt to please his many wives.  Mo’ money, mo’ problems, I guess.

Alright, so no one I know has even 2 spouses, much less 700 and 300 concubines.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.  Except in Nevada.  And maybe Utah.  But I digress. 

The question here is, what can I learn from him.  Well, first of all, no one, and I mean no one, is exempt from idol worship.  Solomon had everything.  He knew it all came straight from God, too.  God appeared to him twice.  I would think one visitation would be enough to convince me of His existence!  Yet, Solomon was distracted enough by a pretty face (or two, or a thousand) to risk his good standing with God.  Another lesson here is about hanging out with the wrong crowd.  In his day, there was a very clear law about not marrying from outside your tribe, not because of some ethnocentric or racist attitudes, but because God knows the power of spiritual influence.  Marrying someone who doesn’t believe the way you do means, eventually, one of you is going to give up your beliefs to please the other.  And, let’s face it, we women are pretty persuasive creatures.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, Solomon’s consequences were as follows: God said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates (1 Kings 11:11). Adversaries rise up against Solomon, and he and his son eventually lose the majority of the kingdom to Jeroboam.

Kind of mean of God, right?  Isn’t He supposed to be all loving and merciful?  Yes, of course, but we forget that He is merciful because He is holy.  Seriously holy.  Like, can’t-look-on-any-sin holy.  It’s not His fault; it’s His nature.  God is a black-and-white kind of guy.  We are gray-area kind of people.  Gray area means there is an exception to the rules: a way out, a get out of jail free card.  To God, there are only light and dark.  And there was nothing Solomon could really do to make up for his mistakes.  After all, God requires obedience rather than sacrifice, which makes sense.  I’d much rather my husband just keep his marriage vows rather than cheat on me, then bring flowers to make up for it.  Same concept.

So God had to turn away from Solomon.  But, yes, He is merciful, so Solomon’s family didn’t entirely lose the kingdom.  In fact, the world would eventually be redeemed through his line through Christ.  And, the wise guy left us with some lessons.  Beware the girls, the gold, and the glory, as my pastor says.  Don’t be unequally yoked, as Jesus says.  And, as I like to say, as soon as you start thinking yourself too holy, you get reminded just how low you can go.

John 18:37-38

“What is truth?” he stated rhetorically,

And he took a nice, long look before turning to leave.

The impression: ragged feet in worn sandals,

torn, dingy robes,

scraped and calloused hands,

tired eyes.

The servant met him with a basin.

“What is truth?” he thought confidently.

He turned over his hands in the water

And the tattered man’s words in his head:

“Why do you want to know?”

“Is this your own idea?”

His eyes rolled, mouth half-laughed.

“What is truth?” he mumbled reassuringly.

Examined his hands; yet here’s a spot.

The tired eyes hang behind his own:

feeling,

sensing,

knowing something he doesn’t.

He reached for the towel and feigned control.

“What is truth?” he settled finally;

What’s done cannot be undone.

He faced the light of the crowds:

lifted his palms,

eyed the sky,

waited for resolution.