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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Circus Act

Someone once made the point that we are all given the same amount of time: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It is so true.  No one in the entire world, 7 billion of us, gets one minute more of time per day, per week.  Ever.  Despite demands and schedules, it is up to each person to manage that time wisely and to set realistic goals so that we aren’t always scrambling to get things done.

Invariably, no matter how carefully we manage our time, we manage to run out of it.  We get busy and overloaded.  Dirty laundry lies in heaps on the floor, reports go unwritten, phone calls are pushed off until the next day, doctor appointments are overlooked.  We look to others in comparison, and complain that they must have extra hours in the day; they seem to get more things done than I do.  Or maybe we think they are more driven and can accomplish more.  Or maybe they are better at everything and can get things done more quickly.

Sometimes the comparisons go the other way, and we see others as lazy or not ambitious. We’ve got so much going on.  We run in circles to get the day’s tasks halfway accomplished, while others stroll through life unruffled.  We are crazed with an insane schedule, and resent their calm, easy-going life.  They must have nothing to do.  How boring; what a waste.

These comparisons serve no purpose other than to draw our focus outwardly, fostering jealousy and judgments and any number of things that take away from our own accomplishments.  We see ourselves as driven and successful, and feed our egos with more and more tasks in order to rack up successes, or we see ourselves as idlers and feel as if we’re trapped in a holding pattern, or our tasks overwhelm us and we fail at them over and over - we can’t do anything right.  All of these perspectives isolate us and undermine our purpose, which is that we are valuable and meaningful and useful in the eyes of God.

As a stay-at-home mom, I sometimes have difficulty figuring out how to spend my time.   From the outside it looks as though my time is free to do many things, but no more than anyone else who works at any other job.  I have responsibilities that are used to achieve a standard that we have set in our family, and there are consequences when I don’t meet them. 

At the end of any given day I am faced with a whole list of things I let go undone.  The next day starts off with additions to my to-do list, and they too go unfinished.  Forget it if a kid is home sick - the whole week is shot.  The end result is that I feel useless and unpurposeful.

That’s when, if I am present and quiet, I pray.  Pray for God’s wisdom, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ peace and any other heavenly power I can drum up at the moment.  I guess what I’m asking for is discernment.  What is important here?  What is my purpose?  What is crucial for the well-being of my family, my community, myself?  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING HERE?

Sometimes I get an answer.  Sometimes, I don’t.  But I get up, and I get on with it.  And eventually, that peace comes, and I feel as if I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.
*******

You can make many plans, but the Lord's purpose will prevail. Proverbs 19:21 (NLT)

For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.  Philippians 2:13 (NLT)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gimme

Who doesn’t want more?

I want more money, more shoes, more freedom, more time, more brown hair instead of gray.  Stronger fingernails, faster computer, cleaner carpet, nicer patio furniture, better EVERYTHING.

And that’s just the short list.

We all want more of what we don’t have; we fill our desires only to replace them with new ones.  We want a new car so we get one.  The new one lacks certain added extras and we reminisce about the old one, which had the one thing that this one doesn’t.

Desires can plague us.  My husband has been coveting an iPad for so long that I hardly remember a time when he didn’t want an iPad.  I have wanted someone else to clean my house nearly all my adult life.

All those minutes and hours and days pining for things we want.  I have always wanted something other than what I have.  I am spoiled and ungrateful.

So are our kids.  They, like us, want everything they see.  Our son buys a yo-yo and he looks around for another, better, faster one.  Our daughter has thirty thousand stuffed animals, and still wants one more.  They want a piece of candy, and in no time they have eaten the whole bag.

We try to teach them that we can’t have everything we want, and then we tell them to get in the car – we have a 30% percent off coupon at Kohl’s to use that expires tomorrow.

We blame society, culture, other people – they pressure us to get what we don’t need.

But I know better.  I know that I don’t need everything, and when my closets are stuffed and drawers are overflowing, I know that there’s only one person who is to blame for all the excess around me, and that’s me.

I know that I am not filling my life with the things I really need.

I know that the things that will fill me up are not things, but man, how easy things are to obtain, how simple and quick is my satisfaction with them.

But just as quickly, the satisfaction evaporates.

God gives us many ways to be satisfied: through reading his word, which always seems to cover any life circumstance, through Jesus’ life story, which is amazing and lovely and tragic and comforting, through the many lessons we learn with the Holy Spirit’s testimony.  When we focus on the truth of God’s gifts, we are less satisfied by things we can get from the world.

Like everything else, it’s a daily effort to find God in this life.  But when we make that effort, it becomes a habit that satisfies much more than anything we obtain on our own.

*******

But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed. Exodus 16:18 (NLT)
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. Psalm 23:1 (NLT)
These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Matthew 6:32 (NLT)
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. Luke 12:31 (NLT)
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (NLT)
And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5 (NLT)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

NO Judgments

Last week my husband and I went to New Orleans.  He was there for a work conference and I tagged along to help him out by relaxing, shopping, and sitting out by the pool.  I’m nothing if not a supportive wife.  My parents were at home taking care of our children, so we had no worries for five whole days.

The first day there, we explored a little.  We carried with us a list of places that were recommended, and our goal was to hit as many as we could on our short trip.  For us, this means bars and restaurants.  We are not sight-seers.

Because I don’t pay attention to much, prior to our trip I was unfocused on the fact that New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter where we were staying, is known for its party atmosphere.  I was completely unprepared for the constant daytime party: thumping music, hawkers trying to lure you into bars and strip clubs, and many people wandering around with drinks in their hands before noon.  I knew all about Mardi Gras, but wasn’t expecting it in the middle of September.  I’d been there once before with my parents when I was a kid, and jokingly sent my mom a text:  “What were you thinking, bringing children here?”

Now, look.  I’ve been around enough to know what the world offers.  I wasn’t shocked and horrified.  I am a people watcher, and gleefully found myself in the audience watching the show on one of the best stages.  There were costumed people all over the place doing little tricks and singing songs, or just wandering around to be looked at and possibly getting some cash for their efforts.

One evening we stopped to watch a group of street performers.  They joked and danced and wowed us with their routine.  They passed around a bucket for money.

That’s when I saw this girl nearby who was about 16 years old.  She was small and beautiful, with blue eyes and long blond hair pulled into a side ponytail.  She had on heavy eye makeup and was dressed in the kind of an outfit that teenage girls change into after they leave their parents’ protective eyes.   Her fluorescent-pink fingernails were gnawed down to nubs.  The friend that was standing next to her was dressed similarly; they were smoking cigarettes.

I assumed they were a couple of local kids out for the evening, and as the blond girl turned I saw that she had a few tattoos, one on the back of her neck with a man’s name on it.  I figured she was at least 18 then, because I’m still na├»ve enough to believe that all people with tattoos are over 18.

The show ended, my husband and I left for dinner, and I didn’t give the girl another thought.

Until I saw her much later standing in the doorway of the strip club across the street from our hotel, dressed in her underwear.

My heart and stomach sank as I tried to grasp the reality of her life.  I tend to have an active imagination so I instantly went all Apocalypse Now: troubled family, abuse, drug addiction.  I tried to imagine what would bring such a beautiful girl to Bourbon Street to work as a stripper, at least as bait for a strip club.  I felt sorry for her and wished I hadn’t seen her.  It was nicer for me to be detached from what went on inside a strip club, but now that I had humanized this girl, I wanted to whisk her away from what I perceived as a horrible life.

Later I thought about my instant reaction to this girl, which was judgment.  I didn’t know her.  I didn’t know her circumstances.  Maybe that night she quit her job and reunited with her family.  Maybe she works in the strip club to make money to feed her family.  Maybe she just started working there, and in a year will start a Bible study among her fellow strippers. 

I don’t know what her deal is, and that’s the point.  God knows, and I believe that she was there for reasons that are not mine to know.  On my end, maybe she was there for me to see, wonder, care, and pray for her.  Maybe she was there to remind me that his plan is not for me to figure out.  Maybe she was there to make me see and share my own judgments that are so natural for me but ultimately wrong.  
 
I probably will never forget that girl.  The thing that I have to trust is that God won’t either.
 
 
Chill out, Judgy McJudgerson.  God's got this.
 

Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do… It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!  Galatians 6:15 (The Message)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New Life

On September 11, 2001, I was a new mom with a 6-month-old, married just under two years, living in a new area in a new house.  It was the start of a new life.

Back then I worked from home, one of two people in my whole company.  I called in daily to get my assignments and I worked whenever I could, usually around nap times and whenever I could fit it in.

That morning was a busy one; I was under pressure that grew louder and more demanding as phone calls and emails shot from an impatient coworker as I juggled my son, my life, and the work that was supposed to be finished.  I was worried because I knew that if I couldn't keep up, I wouldn't have that job much longer.

Around eleven, my mother called and said she spent her morning keeping up-to-the-minute on the plane crashes.

I had no idea what she was talking about.  Our TV and radio had been off all morning.

She couldn't believe that I was in the dark about it.  Exasperated, she said, "Andrea, planes are crashing all over the place.  Two flew into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon.  It's the only thing anyone's talking about." I don't remember if she said anything about the one that crashed into the field not far from her home.

I turned on the TV and sank to the floor as I quickly caught up and realized what had been happening just over a hundred miles away from my quiet home in seemingly every direction.

I ignored the ringing phone as I got my napping toddler out of bed, held him tight and cried and cried as I watched what I couldn't believe I was seeing on the television.

I read an email from my husband's aunt who works in Washington asking to call her mother and tell her that she's OK.

I called my husband and told him that I wanted him to come home.

I finally answered the phone and asked my coworker if he realized that was happening in our country and I told him that I would get the work done when I got it done.  He wasn't happy with me.

My husband came home and we sat in our living room and watched the news the rest of that day and night and the next morning.  We cried and talked and took care of our son.

That week was a blur of news stories and live video and commentaries and repeated viewings of jet planes crashing into buildings. 

On Sunday, my husband and I went to church and prayed for the vicitims and their families and our country and the world.

And in the days and weeks and months and years that followed, life renewed over and over as we worked, raised our son and daughter, quit jobs and got new ones, lost loved ones, made friends, spent time with family, grew in our faith, and laughed, loved, argued, cried, prayed.

And life continues to renew, yet never again like it did that day.

*******

Dear Lord, 

Today is a difficult day. The memories are painful and some of the wounds I fear may never heal. Yet I pray you will help me to go on living for truth, firm in my hope of your salvation. May I live for you, Lord, and by doing so, be an example to my friends and family. I pray, just like Jesus, I may learn obedience through these things that I have suffered. Help me not to question why, yet even if I do, give me courage to continue to trust you. Help me take the comfort and strength you've poured into my life and use it to comfort and strengthen others who need hope.

I pray I might become a better person and help make the world a better place because of this terrible event. Thank you for the heroes that gave so sacrificially on September 11. Help me to remember their courage and learn from them. I want my life to be worthy of you Lord, so make of it what you desire, and use me to fulfill your purposes. May the evil of that day cause me and my family to work harder to do good on this earth and to bring your light into the dark places. Help me to never stop believing in you and living my life for you.

Lord, heal all those who were crushed and broken on that day. May they come to experience your presence and know your peace.

Amen.

prayer from Mary Fairchild, About.com Guide

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Priceless

My daughter has a one million dollar bill.  As much as I’d like to use it for a trip to Rio, surprisingly, it is not real. 

Hold on a minute while I think about what I would do with one million dollars.
 
***

Anyway, this one million dollar bill is a religious tract that came in a Christmas card one year.  It has a picture of Santa Claus on it, and my daughter snagged it because she is a professional hoarder, and because it is pretty cool – it looks like real money despite the picture of Santa Claus.  She’s had it for years and keeps it in her junk treasures drawer.

 
Mean Santa is scary in more ways than one.
 
It contains some scripture and a message about Heaven, God, Jesus, Hell, Death, Sin, and the Bible.  It uses some pretty heavy language which reads:


The million dollar question: Will you go to Heaven? Here's a quick test. Have you ever told a lie, stolen anything, or used God's name in vain? Jesus said, "Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Have you looked with lust? Will you be guilty on Judgment Day? If you have done those things, God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer-at-heart. The Bible warns that if you are guilty you will end up in Hell.


That’s some pretty confrontational stuff.  I think my daughter secretly likes to read it because it seems scary and mysterious.  But a resolution is on the way.  It goes on to say:
 

That's not God's will. He sent His Son to suffer and die on the cross for you. Jesus took your punishment upon Himself: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Then He rose from the dead and defeated death. Please, repent (turn from sin) today and trust in Jesus, and God will grant you everlasting life. Then read your Bible daily and obey it.
   
I’m not overly tickled with the tone of this million dollar message.  In addition to it being printed on what at first glance looks to be real money, only to be FAKE (thanks a lot for the slap in the face AGAIN, Santa), I can see it as being a little off-putting to someone who stops reading at “you will end up in Hell.”

I know the context of this message so it doesn’t offend me.  Even my daughter knows where this is coming from, even though it seems a little sensational for kids (I had to explain adultery to her.  Again.)  For someone who doesn’t know the context of this little feel-good message on the Santa Claus tract, I worry a little. 

I think about when I was in my twenties and I made fun of the guy who I thought had a little too much to say to me about being a Christian, and I worry.

I think about when I thought how interesting the psychology of religion is because it doesn’t matter what a person believes, it merely studies how religious beliefs can help or hinder a person in life, and I worry.

I think about when I thought how weird it was for people to use phrases like “invite Jesus into your heart” and are they serious, really?

I think about when I thought that you’d go to heaven if you believed you would, and that your heaven would be true for you, even if someone else’s heaven was different, and that if you didn’t believe in heaven then nothing would happen to you.  You’d just die.  And I worry.

I worry because it is a sensational message, even though I know in my heart that it’s true.  I worry because it seems extreme, which it is.  Like most things sensational or extreme, people either embrace it or turn from it.  I worry because I think about how many people read the Santa Claus tract and make fun of it or ignore it or are offended by it, or stop after reading “you will end up in Hell.”  I worry because they might not ever get the context.

But then I stop worrying because A) it does no good, and B) it does no good.  Like he did with me, God knows when a person needs to hear his message, and he will make sure that they will. 

And that is worth more than one million dollars AND a trip to Rio.
 
It looks real, right? 
Okay, obviously it's just me.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NLT)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Philippians 4:6 (NLT)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Perfect Mess

I am a little bit of a neat freak.

In my house, everything has a place, and it better be in that place if it’s not in use.  On the upside, I rarely lose anything.  On the downside, I spend a lot of time straightening up, organizing, and putting stuff away.

You may also be a neat freak if you know the difference between straightening up, organizing, and putting away.

I kind of can’t relax until everything has a place.  I rarely start projects I can’t finish right away, because I don’t want to deal with the mess of a work in progress.  If I do happen to start something and it doesn’t get finished, I put it away, likely never to be restarted for weeks.

Or years, as was the case of the special painting project that I intended for the entry of our house and never got off the ground.  I bought all the stuff and put it away just long enough that my desired result went out of style before I even got the materials out of the closet.

I drive my family crazy.  It’s hard having a neat freak wife if you’re a slob who prefers to get dressed out of piles of folded up laundry on the floor.  It’s hard to be the child of a neat freak if you hoard things like yo-yo strings and tags from clothing, vending machine junk and ticket stubs.

It’s also hard being a neat freak if the people you live with are slobs and hoarders. 
I wonder if God is a neat freak.  He seems to have a high tolerance for messes.  Look what we do in the world that he made.  People fighting all over the place and doing untold horrors to each other.  All the beauty that we have stripped from his creation.  What a mess.

He loves each of us completely even though some of us love him back and some fight against his love, and still others don’t know him yet.  He answers all prayers individually according to what a person needs to see and hear, instead of giving the same answer to the same prayer over and over.  He makes things happen in the world that no one even knows about.  If God was a neat freak I would imagine he’d fix up everything immediately and only love those who love him, and his every move would be predictable.

However, God is not defined in our terms.  His puzzle, though we cannot solve it, contains no missing pieces.  He knows what has been, what is, and what is coming.  His Creation is not a mess, it is perfect.  I can’t see it because I am too mired in the mess I see.  

God puts up with our messes with grace and perfect patience; no pile of clutter is too big for him.  To him, we are always in the right spot, exactly where he wants us to be.  Our job is to trust his arrangement, that everything has its place.

I don’t know about you, but that gives me more peace than any straightening up I could do.

*******

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)