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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Willful Disobedience

As I disciplined my kids yet again over a minor transgression – staying up past their bedtime – I got the usual “I’m sorry, Mom” from each of them.  Neither of them had attempted to follow the early bedtime rule I had enforced a week before school was to start.   They knew the time and chose to ignore it and the rules.  These people are old enough to tell time, and crazily, had opted to watch Cupcake Wars instead of listening to their mother.  Do I have to hold their hands as they brush their teeth and stand at the doorway while they get their pajamas on?  I don’t think so.  I thought I was over the baby stage!  I was frustrated, and steamed.

They each sang out “Sorry” again and I responded, “Too many I’m sorries, guys.  I’m sorry is when there’s an accident and you didn’t mean to.  You two willfully disobey the rules over and over again and expect that the apology will fix things.  It doesn’t.  You need to fix the behavior.”

I tucked them into their beds with a stern “Next time, do what is right instead of apologizing” and although I was still mad, gave their worried faces a guarantee that I had in fact forgiven them for their shared sin of viewing a baking competition over readying themselves for bed at the obligatory time.  Later, I worried that they would never get it right, that this was a new fight we would be having on a regular basis, and I thought about how many times I was going to have to steel myself against losing my temper when they pull this stunt again.  The thought of that exhausted me.  They need to go to bed early; if they don’t, they’ll be horrible monsters in the morning.  Every. Single. Morning.  Maybe I’ll go live in a hotel.

As I played the scenario out in my head again and again, a little thought kept peeking out from behind the anger and frustration.  I could have reacted better, I could have patiently helped them understand how important this is, I could have held their hands a little more until they found their way to bed at the appointed time.  Eventually, they will get it, and I need to stop being so crazy and be a better role model.

Sigh. 

Then I thought of how many times I fail to meet God’s expectations, ignore Jesus’ teachings, or shift my focus away from the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  At this point, it’s willful disobedience on my part – I know the rules.  How many times do I say “Sorry” and expect that I will be forgiven for my transgressions, which let’s face it, are usually more serious than staying up too late?

Jesus takes my hand, stands by my side, and watches me get my act together until I can get it right all by myself.  Every. Single. Time.

And if he can do that with me, queen of willful disobedience, then I can help my kids go to bed on time.

Cupcake Wars, really.  Do I have nothing else better to harp on them about?

******* 
Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!  Psalm 32:1

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

She's Struggling!

A little over three years ago, my nephew was born.  As the kids sat on the couch waiting their turn to hold their new cousin, he started to squirm just as my daughter, then six years old, received him into her own little and uncertain arms.  Adults snapped pictures and stood close by in case a baby rescue was needed and soon my daughter exclaimed in an alarmed voice, “HE’S STRUGGLING!  HE’S STRUGGLING!”

To this day, when anyone seems like they’re having a hard time doing anything, from pulling on a pair of socks to spilling a drink, you may hear a member of our family exclaim “HE’S STRUGGLING!  HE’S STRUGGLING!”

And then we laugh.

We all struggle, and unfortunately, our struggles are not as sweet and easily remedied as a squirming baby in the arms of his big kid cousin.  How many times does God exclaim HE’S STRUGGLING about us? 

God probably says it a lot about me.  I struggle when I say the wrong thing to a friend, ignore my kids when they ask me for something, snark at my husband when I’m in a bad mood, or even silently judge someone for wearing a shirt I think is ugly.  Even on a good day, I struggle.  I struggle with thinking I need to do everything myself or it won’t get done right, with being selfish with my time, with not being totally grateful for what I have.  I struggle every day.

Everyone says God has a sense of humor, but I don’t think that God is laughing when we sees us having a hard time.  Instead of giggling with his buddies in heaven over how cute we are when we seem to be wrestling with a difficult decision or in a desperate situation, sometimes he rescues us or gives us a lesson to learn.  These lessons may be repeated over and over and over in our lives as we struggle.

It sure is in my case.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing something over and over again and expecting different results.  This might not be an official definition, but it does make sense.  Bad habits, negative thoughts, my propensity to get angry over fingerprints on the windows – we return to these things, and God uses them to reveal himself in different ways or in the same ways, over and over and over.

When I struggle, my mistakes are highlighted.  God shows me how to live through them and how to correct them.  I know he doesn’t want me to struggle, so he helps me learn to do better.  I won’t ever stop struggling, but I know I’ve got someone to help me out when I do.

******* 

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  Romans 8:26 (NLT)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Loving the Awful



My favorite movie is Terms of Endearment.  It depicts a close relationship between a protective, overbearing widow and her easygoing daughter.  Both struggle within their relationship and outside of it; the movie spans thirty years as they share life, love, and insults.  You’ve probably seen it or heard of it, and if you haven’t, then you’re probably very young.  Or my husband.

I’ve seen it a hundred times, and every time I watch it, the opening music makes me cry immediately.  Like ugly face cry.  Incidentally, I always watch it alone.

The characters in this movie show love to each other despite their complaints, stinging remarks, and grudges.  These behaviors have become how they relate to each other, even care for each other; they show their love through the arguing.  It’s entertaining and touching to see how they accept and love the awfulness about each other.

It’s so for our own relationships.  We love our loved ones through jokes and teasing, accept their flaws and bad habits, complain about the things they do that annoy us, and we still love each other. 

We all love awfulness in other ways, too.  I love junk food, which is questionably categorized as food at best, and it is most certainly awful for my health.  But I love it.  
 
We are drawn to the dark, the foolish, the dangerous, the mean.  We hungrily consume bad news, gleefully gossip about and judge others, and celebrate when our rivals lose.  We love being fed by the awfulness of our world, and we don’t even realize it.

God loves us despite our flaws, despite our ruined perfection.   His love for us contains no teasing, jokes, barbs, or insults.  He wants us to live with him forever, in the most perfect place none of us can even imagine, and love only the good, the wonderful, and the lovely.  We will work, play, and celebrate his perfection and our own.  There will be no insults, no annoyances, and no complaining.

Until then, we can practice by loving the good that God delivers to us.  It’s a constant struggle for me, lover of the movie about the argumentative and deeply flawed.  I have to remember that he has so much more for us than our world can give, and none of it is awful.

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Jesus said, “Do not fear little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  Luke 12:13 (NKJV)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why My Bible Study Group Rocks


This fall will mark the start of the ninth year that my Bible study group has been together.  It’s a group of about eleven women; we take turns meeting once a week for lunch in each other’s homes, we start in September and end in May.  Each year we do two Bible studies that we discuss beforehand and agree on.  Well, the other women discuss and agree on the studies we do.  I just go along with whatever they suggest.  I am not picky.  I need all the Bibling I can get on any subject matter.

I am also lucky that they have put up with me all this time and continue to allow me in the group, mainly because of my rude jokes and/or irreverence on every subject.

Through the years, we have gotten to know each other intimately.  Together we have been through illness, death, job loss and change, problems with children, relationship issues, and many joys and celebrations.  There have been tears and a lot of laughing.

Because we are women, we talk a lot.  Sometimes our meetings are more talk than Bible study.  Meetings go a little long these weeks.  Our children come home from school to be greeted by all of us.  They have gotten used to it.
Each week, we pray for each other.  We have seen prayers answered over and over.  We talk about God’s miracles in each of our lives and share in the awe that he hears us, a group of clucking hens sitting around eating lasagna and drinking iced tea in the middle of the day.

Over the years we have learned much about God and what he intends for us, what we mean to him and to each other.  We have learned the history of Christ’s life and death, who we are and where we are going when we die.  We have grown individually.  We have felt the peace and warmth of the Holy Spirit in our group, even during meetings when we blow off the lesson and focus instead on encouraging each other.  Or just giggling.

I am so blessed to be a part of this group; it is a blessing that I didn’t deserve at the point which God placed it in my life.  I sure wasn’t looking for it.

I think God finds each of us someone, or a group of someones, who accept and love us no matter how unlikely or how little we think we deserve it.  He uses others to pull us closer to him wherever we are, however he can.

And I think that is the best part of these ladies putting up with all my dumb jokes.

*******

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. Psalm 19:7 (NKJV)
 
Jesus replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” Luke 11:28 (NLT)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sometimes

Sometimes when I have a terrible day, it means that my patience was lost with my kids and I spewed something ugly that I will probably see again on a future day – directed at me.

I cringe thinking about that day.

I’m human.  Everything from the Bible to the pain of a bee sting tells me so, but my own self, the difficult part of my personality that whines and cries when I don’t get my way spotlights my humanity in shocking and often loud ways.

The kids yell at me from upstairs to be tucked in, to be seen one last time before sleeping.  I tromp up the stairs, weary with the day, indignant about the disruptions: my evening, my TV show, my conversation, my glass of wine.

I throw myself down on one of their beds and grump, “Good night.”

One little minister starts to pray while the other one mirrors my grumpiness.  “Mom, why did you… she did this… I need that… I didn’t have time to… I’m not tired…”  I close my eyes to shield against the humanity, internal and external.  I have learned to ignore the bickering and complaining that we all unleash by the end of the day.  I let God take over when it threatens to overflow.  It took me a longer time to learn this than I wish it had.

The prayer continues, switches from one child to the next.  Dear God, thank you for this day, thank you for our family, our beds, vacation, for all the time we spend together.  Help us to overcome our fears, help us to have better attitudes.  Please forgive me for losing my temper, for yelling, for being mean.  Amen amen amen.

Tensions release and fade.  Heat cools.  Kids sweeten and I soften.  Things that annoyed me three minutes ago no longer matter.

Sometimes days are difficult, and we only have to look at ourselves to figure out how they got that way.  I teach my kids all kinds of bad habits just by being myself, by being imperfect, by being human.

But always, always, God is perfect, and he can perfect the imperfect days, the ugliness, the grumps and the whines.  He irons out our wrinkles.  Sometimes it only takes three minutes.

*******

No humans are innocent in the eyes of God their Creator. Job 4:17 (NLT)

But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:16 (NLT)