Rambling thoughts on the last day of 2008...

I started this post earlier this morning, then wound up talking on the phone for a long time. We normally spend New Year's Eve at Chris and Cheryl's. But Nikki has started running a fever and I think it would probably be best if we didn't expose ourselves to any new germs. John has battled a sinus infection for weeks and is finally getting over it. I have not felt well since Christmas Eve and am finally just starting to get over my own sinus issues. Plus, we are all so worn out from the events of this past week. I love spending NYE with Chris, Cheryl and the kids. But I have to admit that staying home after so much traveling is also appealing. Not getting in the car for an hour's drive...even better. John and I will spend a nice, quiet NYE at home alone.

So, now I just have to figure out what I'm going to make for dinner because, after all, it's New Year's Eve! We have to have a little party for two at the very least. Which means I'm probably going to have to go to the grocery store. I know I don't want to go out. It sounds really good to stay in and just relax. Besides, we had the most amazing dinner on our way home last night. We decided to stop at Stony River in Nashville and have an early anniversary celebration. It was one of the best meals I have had in a long time. We started with a shrimp appetizer our server recommended. I think it was called Whiskey Shrimp. It had a delicious cream sauce over the shrimp, which was served on top of small slices of warm French bread. We shared a spinach salad with warm bacon dressing. I had the Tempura Lobster Tails with Caramelized Onion Mashed Potatoes. And John had Filet Oscar with mushrooms and steamed broccoli. We shared tastes with each other, which was the icing on the cake for me. Stony River also serves these little round rolls that are almost like eating a donut (with honey butter). I had a few of those. And after we mentioned to our server that we were celebrating our anniversary a few days early (it's Sunday), he brought us a complimentary dessert. We were so full. And I was so content. I fell asleep during the 30 minute drive from Nashville to Murfreesboro. This was partly from being exhausted and partly from the delicious Riesling we had with dinner.

It feels good to be home. And I am reflecting on the last few days, of course. In spite of the sad occasion of my grandma's passing, it was good to be with so many people I rarely have the opportunity to see. Grandma would have been pleased with her service, pleased with the lunch her church provided afterward and pleased that we were all together.

If you know me and my testimony at all, then it will come as no surprise for me to openly admit that there were a lot of things said (from a spiritual perspective) in the service that I was not in agreement with. However, as John and I shared our thoughts on the drive home, we both agreed wholeheartedly that it was the funeral Grandma would have wanted. Grandma would have agreed with the message. Grandma would have been hoping that we would recognize "the truth" (and not be "idiots"...ha ha...you had to be there to get that joke). And, after all, it was Grandma's funeral.

I remember with amusement all the times I heard Grandma say about someone (including myself) that they "need to get in the RIGHT church." (That would be HER church.) I used to get so frustrated with her at times. But now I can just remember her fondly and smile. Finding the humor in all of life's situations is one of the best strategies I have found for survival and overlooking what bothers us in others. Chances are, what bothers us in others can also be found somewhere in us. I know this is true of Grandma Annalea and me as well. I have some of her traits and not just good ones.

I thought mostly about love yesterday. It is so important to get our love to other people. It felt so good to express my love to others in that setting. It is possibly even more critical to get our love to those we disagree with. If we are to ever truly love our enemies, it really struck me yesterday that perhaps a good place to begin practicing that kind of love is with people whom we are not exactly in harmony with. I really felt that God was impressing that on me.

I don't regret (not even a little bit) standing firm for what I believe is right and true (just as Grandma stood firm for what she believed). Yet, while I know the love that is in my heart for others, I have to ask myself if I have conveyed that love in every instance as Jesus would have me to. If I am to be completely honest with myself, I know that I haven't. And one of the things I got out of Grandma's funeral service was how important it is for me to be constantly examining my own life and heart; not everybody else's.

We are told in Scripture to return good for evil. Jesus loved those who were spitting on Him and crucifying Him. He asked the Father to forgive them. I believe Jesus loved Judas, even though Judas betrayed Him and the kiss Judas offered Jesus was insincere.

I remember a Tim Keller sermon I listened to a few years ago. I have been thinking about it this morning. It was so powerful and left such a lasting impression on me. He talked about the way we look at others. He pointed out how people we disagree with, especially people who have hurt or disappointed us, become caricatures of themselves in our eyes. They become one dimensional. They become whatever they have done to us. If they have lied about us, for instance, they become, purely and simply, a liar. Whatever the label is that we've given, whether "liar," "hypocrite," "arrogant," "critical," it doesn't really matter. It's not the label, it's the caricature we have created that reduces them to this one dimensional description (whatever it may be) that was his point. That becomes all we see when we look at them. They are no longer like us. And we view ourselves as superior. In order to look down on someone else, we FIRST have to think more highly of ourselves.

In that sermon, Keller contrasted the way we view others with the way we view ourselves. After a humorous depiction of the way we label, reduce and dismiss others, seeing nothing but their hypocrisy (substitute anything here that really bothers you, from insincerity to arrogance) he followed up with, "But when I tell a lie, now that's totally different. I'm not a liar. I'm a complex, multi-faceted human being with strengths AND weaknesses..."

You know, it all comes down to this. Although I was yet His enemy, God loved me and sent His Son to die in my place. I am forgiven; therefore, I am called to forgive. I am loved; therefore, I am called to love. I am also called to be salt and light. So I know there will be times when God will expect me to take a stand even if it brings conflict or rejection. Apathy is not love. Indifference is not love. Nodding in agreement simply to avoid conflict and anyone feeling upset or displeased with me is not loving others. It's loving myself. I don't want or need to grow in self-love. But I do want to grow in my ability to love others in a selfless way, to demonstrate my love for them as effectively as I communicate my stand on issues. That is something specific I would like to do better in the coming year. As a result of much that was said in my grandma's service, I have a greater desire to ask God to shine light on my own heart. I won't give an account for anyone else's life or words when I stand before God on judgment day; just mine.

The pastor of my grandma's church talked about my grandma as a person and how she wanted other people to do right. She was a very direct, very outspoken, very sober person. He acknowledged all that. And I was thankful he did not try to portray her as perfect. I was truthfully afraid he might. He didn't use this word, but we all know she was more than direct; she was often critical. I experienced this personally because she was often critical of me and did not hesitate to let me know she was not pleased with me in any area where I did not believe or "do right" exactly as she believed or did. Her way was the right way. And if I deviated from it, I was just wrong. That's all there was to it.

Her pastor described her in realistic terms. I believe he used the word immovable. That was definitely an accurate assessment of her. But as her grandaughter, I would have to tell you honestly that when I tried to have a conversation with her, she would not hear a word I said if it didn't line up with her own view. Although I loved her and I know she loved me, we could not communicate in a meaningful way. That's not a tradition I want to carry on. It's something I want to learn from. Just as I hope someone younger than me can learn from mistakes that I have made and benefit from them.

I don't say any of this to degrade my grandma in any way. I loved my grandma very much. She had many admirable qualities. There are things about her that I wish HAD been passed on to me genetically. I wish I had her work ethic, for one thing. She was a complex human being just like me and I want to remember her that way. She wasn't perfect. But I didn't need her to be perfect. I don't need to put her on a pedestal to love her and appreciate her life. I loved her as she was. But as I listened to the pastor's portrayal of her, it did strike me that in every example her pastor gave, my grandma was worrying about what other people were doing right or doing wrong. She was often evaluating and correcting others. I'm certainly not suggesting she never evaluated herself. Her pastor mentioned that she would sometimes worry about whether or not she had said something the wrong way. (I certainly can relate to THAT.) But his comments caused me to think about how I can also be guilty of the same wrong focus. I want to be more focused on my heart, my motives, and how I might be harming another soul with my words rather than to be constantly focused on whether or not someone else is doing right or wrong (and telling them).

Sometimes John will tease me and say, "I can see a little Grandma Annalea in you." He said it to me just yesterday at his mom's. He was brushing his teeth and I noticed the water was turned toward the hot side. He didn't notice and it hadn't had time to heat up. If you knew Grandma, just put her voice and expression to this question: "Why are you brushing your teeth with HOT water?!" He just laughed and said, "Okay, Grandma Annalea...what's it to ya how I brush my teeth?" And I just cracked up. It was so true. I said it JUST LIKE Grandma would have said it. I heard it through his response. But I wouldn't have recognized it on my own.

So often, I give instructions where instructions are not needed or requested. The response I hear most often from John is, "This ain't my first rodeo, darling." And thank goodness I AM able to laugh at myself and realize how often I think someone needs to know how I would handle a situation or how I would think or feel or respond. And maybe none of my insight is even helpful. Maybe my insight is even offensive at times, whether or not I mean well. Sometimes sincerity is even over-rated if it is made to be an ultimate thing. We can be sincerely wrong just as easily as we can be insincerely wrong. There's a quote I love and I may not even be able to quote it with accuracy. But it goes something like this: "People want to know you care more than they care what you know." I so want to inspire someone else rather than to instruct them. You might not always know that from my behavior. But it truly is the desire of my heart.

These are just some of the thoughts I have been pondering since my grandma's funeral.

I also cannot reflect on her funeral without expressing how thankful I am that God has delivered me from such bondage. I know some of the things that were said yesterday were directed at those of us who do not attend what my grandma and her pastor might consider the "right" church or agree with him about what the truth is. One statement that was made was that some people don't want to know the truth. I agree with that statement. I just don't think I ever received the truth of the gospel in that environment. And nothing I heard had the effect on me that he desired. I felt repelled, not drawn, by that message. But in spite of my very different convictions and beliefs, I did not feel angrer. I felt compassion. I found the humor in the situation to the very best of my ability. And I focused myself on how much I genuinely love those with whom I have so deeply disagreed. That is where I hope my focus can stay.

I want "In Christ Alone" and "Hallelujah! What a Savior!" sung at my funeral. I want to be clothed in Christ's righteousness, because only His righteousness is sufficient and only in HIM can I ever hope to stand blameless in the sight or presence of God.

In the coming year, I want to live fully in the present and for eternity. I will always acknowledge and give thanks for the deliverance God has brought to my life. And that will at times involve my testimony and my past. But I don't want to live there (in the past) anymore. I could feel during the funeral service yesterday that God was helping me in new and different ways. And I am ending 2008 with such a grateful heart. God has been so good and so faithful in my life.

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