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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Help Wanted

Whatever.  I can’t do anything about that.  That’s not my problem.  That’s not my job.  That doesn’t affect me.  I can’t take responsibility for that.  Some people just need to help themselves.  I can’t do anything about that.

In our ever-isolated society, I hear these words all the time.

From myself.

I think I’ve written about this before.  I am not a great helper.  I am not the first in line to offer help when it is needed.  I don’t see needs right away, tend to stand back and watch others do a job because I think they’ve got things under control, that I’d just be in the way, that I’d take more time away from their productivity than my help is worth.  I’ll help when asked, but man, will they be sorry when I accept.

I guess you could say that I sometimes feel as if I suffer from passivity.  Or non-helperitis.

I was raised to help.  My parents were good examples and continue to be; they helped out where they could when we were growing up, and still do.  I helped them do chores, helped them help others.  Throughout my life I helped out in Sunday School and the church nursery, helped at a women’s shelter, helped friends move, watched other people’s kids, helped at schools in various roles, and continue to help my family by taking care of the house and their needs, even though I have deliberately pulled back recently because these kids need to learn how to make their own lunches and clean their own rooms, for goodness’ sakes.

So what am I whining about?  I help.

There is always the pull that I’m not doing enough.  I’m not effective enough.  Look!  Those people are working hard; why aren’t you jumping in as well?  Your friend could use some help.  Why aren’t you calling her to see what you can do?  I see other people who care for others and I wonder if I could do that, too. Jesus called us to sacrifice.  I hate that when there is a need I sometimes shrink down in my chair and hope that no one calls on me.  I hate the resulting guilt that tells me I am not sacrificing enough, that I am not doing enough. 

Is this God telling me to help more?  Is this the famous ‘tug’ or ‘prick’ of the heart that the Holy Spirit employs that all good Christians in every small Bible study group talk about?

I don’t know.

I do know that I have helped in the past, and I continue to help now, and that I should probably be less hard on myself about it.  That my help might not look the same as my neighbor or friend, but I am doing what I can, in my own way.  On the other hand, I probably could do more, or differently, and be more effective than I am right at this very moment.

I do know that Jesus is a wonderful example and inspiration of helping others.  After all, he taught us what it means to love.  The ultimate sacrifice may not be needed in my case, but I am called to be like Jesus in helping others, and a little sacrifice goes a long way if done in his name and in his image.


And I do know that I need to be mindful of helping, and pray about where God wants me to be, and what he wants me to do.  I think that sometimes we struggle with ourselves, even in the good things, because we haven’t gone to God for guidance.  Only God knows where we can be most effective, where best we can shine.  Because he is the one who equips us to do the jobs we are intended to do.

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This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3: 16-18 (NIV)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Centered

As I gaze down the barrel of yet another jam-packed day, I look forward to the time because it’s filled with activities that I chose and they all come to a common goal: progress.  Writing in the morning ensures that I have blog posts ready to publish; helping kids get ready for school means that I see their sweet faces and kiss them off to another day of learning and growing; walking with a neighbor, yoga class, and a chiropractic appointment ensures that my body is taken care of; Bible study and time with friends feeds me spiritually, and the rest of the hours, whether they revolve around children’s activities, meals, or taking care of the house, are spent doing things that are organized in the name of progress.

I truly believe that God has called me for this life.  Gone are the days of wondering what I am doing, if there’s more for me, something different.  I used to grasp at the future like it was a dangling carrot just out of my reach.  My steps were labored, my attitude alternately melancholic and surly.  The days loomed, the time strangled and strained.  I resented my lot and regularly looked just past my life to see if there was anything else out there.  God was kind of out there, off in the distance.  I imagined he was waiting for me to get my life together so that I could meet him.  It was hard; I felt off-balance.

I was busy then, just as I am now.  But one thing is different now: peace.  Maybe it’s just that I’m older and mellower, that I have settled into the rhythm of life instead of fighting it every step of the way.  Maybe it’s because the kids are more independent.  It could be the years of Bible study finally kicking in.  But peace is there.  I have allowed God to come closer to the center of my life.  Some days, he’s right smack in the middle of it all.  Those days are wonderful.

There are days that are not full of peaceful things.  Kids fight, my husband hurts my feelings, I say and do things that I regret immediately, someone gets sick and the whole day is shot.  Plans go out the window when the weather changes, an unexpected expense blows the budget.  I realize that my schedule is too tight; things need to relax a little.

But when God is at the center, there is peace.  The peace comes from knowing that God is in control, that no matter what the days look like, he has chosen me to do this life.  Just this one.  He has given me the tools I need to do this.  I will stumble and fail, cry that it’s too hard, and pout because I don’t want to, but this life has been given to me and blessed by God and that never changes.  When I trust in that, in God’s plan, the peace overwhelms the angst that threatens to overwhelm me.

I can tell when I’ve allowed God to slip from the center of my life – stress and anxiety take over and the old feelings of plodding through mud to get to my bed at the end of the day surface.  So centering my life on God has become vital to me doing this life, and doing it well.  There is no scorecard to fill in to see how well I am doing compared to everyone else.  There is only the relationship with God.  The bonus that is wrapped up in this relationship is that others can benefit from it, and maybe even grow from it themselves.  I may not be a shining star in the center of anyone’s world, but as long as God is in mine, I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

How about you?  Do you believe that you are where you’re supposed to be right now?  What does that look like?

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This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  Acts 10:36 (NLT)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Daily Lessons

Maybe it’s the month of September and its relation to newly sharpened pencils and the musty smell of textbooks, unmarked notebooks and clean new sneakers and backpacks, lunchboxes and notes tucked in for teachers.  Maybe it’s the start of a new school year and a fresh beginning, the eagerness of learning new things. 

Maybe all of these things are the reason why the theme of teaching and learning has come up so much in the time I’m spending with God lately.  After all, the time is right.  It could be that the company that publishes my daily devotional knows what they’re doing. I can see it now: “Put the one about learning in that first week of September!  That’s back to school time!  Christians love that crap!”

Or it could be that God is trying to tell me something. Or teach me something.

That prospect is scary; I’m nothing if not a girl after comfort and routine.  In a crowd, I’m the one glomming onto my friends and acquaintances because I’m so awkward with new people.  I’m the one dreaming about her bed when a night out goes too late.  I’m the one who writes about her love for Monday mornings because of its promise of five full days of routine.  Oh, how I love a good routine.

I like to know what’s coming.  So when I leaf through my journal of notes and read through a new Bible study and the subject of teaching and learning seems to be highlighted and bolded and comes up more frequently than ever before, I get a little nervous.  God is telling me through his word and my own prayers that I am about to be taught something.  And the truth is: that makes me a little uneasy.

I don’t know why.  I’ve never shied away from learning new things in the past.  Plus, I trust that God has my best interests at heart.  But my unease at what God might want to teach me and what that might look like in my solidly-built power schedule and ohmygoodness how will I fit one more thing in? – this makes me feel like maybe I don’t trust God quite as deeply as I profess, and that makes me feel sad.  And then there’s the rabbit hole of feeling that God is sad because I’m feeling sad about not trusting him, that my lack of confidence grieves him, and who am I to distrust God?  Even if he wants to teach me something that turns my life upside down?  The feelings of worthlessness threaten to spiral out of control.

But then I take a breath, slow down, and read.  Read what I prayed last week: “Teach me, God, to trust in your power instead of my own.” A statement that I scribbled as an answer to a question in my Bible study:  “I need to be more deliberate in putting God at the top of my list, not consider ‘time with God’ as something to check off.”

God is clear that he wants me to trust him.  He wants that from all of us.  We have great examples to follow in the Bible, maybe even great examples of people in our own lives.  We have been blessed by God’s lessons; my life in particular has been made richer by what I have learned from him.  Why should today be any different?

Psalm 25 (NIV)

In you, Lord my God,
    I put my trust.

I trust in you;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
    who are treacherous without cause.

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.


Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Love is Hard

I write a lot about love here, and sometimes I’m worried that I’m becoming one of those lovey-dovey types whom everyone scoffs at, taking the easy route of focusing on the love of God and the love of Jesus because it is appealing and it’s easy to talk about.  Things like taking responsibility for our sins and challenging ourselves to do things that are out of our comfort zones on a regular basis and serving others sacrificially and deepening and broadening and stretching our faith muscles – these are the things that make us grow, make us trust in God, make us disciples.  Life is hard; treat it as such.

When I think of the Biblical command to love, I think of what love looks like coming from me.  Love looks light and easy and fun – smiles, laughing, kisses and hugs.  Helping and caring for others are positive things, things that I do to express love.  These things make me happy, make me feel like I’m doing good things, like I am fulfilling God’s intentions for my life.

But my imagination is so limited.  These are just the things that I can think of doing in love. Love is so much more than that, and when I think of God as the source of love and what God can do and has done in love, my efforts pale in comparison.

Plus, I will offer that love can be hard.

Love is hard when others make it hard to be loved, when you have strongholds that prevent you from loving, when someone has hurt you in the past or if they are hurting you today.  Love is hard when you feel you are being persecuted.  Loving others who argue and refuse to accept you is hard.  Loving others is hard when you can’t see them, when you can’t physically do anything for them, when it is easier to turn your head away from their needs. Love is hard when you feel as if your resources are tapped out.

I’m a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a grandchild, and a friend.  My relationships call for love.  This love is in the form of sacrifice, turning the other cheek, doing things that scare me, serving people who are against me, loving my enemy, whomever it may be today – the guy who flipped me off on the road, the woman who cut in front of me at the deli, the kid in my child’s life who I just don’t trust.  Love comes into play in my life daily, and it is not all kisses and laughter.  I am an example of love in all things to my children and husband, friends and extended family, those I serve.

All of us get the chance to experience God’s love, and all of us are called to show it in every different way imaginable.  God’s love is beyond that which I can give – it comes from him first.  If God hadn’t loved us first, there would be no love to give, no love to show, no love in our lives at all. When I remember that, showing love to others makes more sense when it becomes difficult.  Showing love begins to take on more forms than those I come up with on my own, and some of those forms include taking responsibility for my sins, being challenged to do scary things, serving sacrificially, and growing my faith.

So I guess it’s not so bad that I write a lot about love here.

*******

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  1 John 4: 7-12 (NIV)



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I Don't Want To

This past Sunday was cleaning day in our house.  I know, I know, day of rest and all that.  But I have children, and they need to learn life, and life includes cleaning, and I have lived with enough people who never were taught or expected to clean up after themselves to know that children need to be taught to clean up after themselves.  Because living with adults who don’t clean up after themselves is totally disgusting.  So, even though I am at home all week while everyone else is gone and my role as Stay At Home Mom traditionally includes the task of cleaning the whole house of everyone else’s filth, I say SCREW THAT.  We were away on Saturday, so Sunday won cleaning day this weekend.

And there was resistance.  From all parties involved.

The opposition came in many forms.  Eye-rolling, disgusted tsk-ing and complaints of “But I just wanted to watch the game today!” and “I’m tired!” and “But I have homework!” One family member snuck up to her room, plugged in, and pretended not to hear the proclamation of Cleaning Day.

Nobody wanted to clean today.  Including me.

I dug in my heels and appealed to the only side I could, the practical one.  If we all work for an hour and a half, we can clean this house from top to bottom.  I didn’t want to clean either, but I sure didn’t want to save the job for myself for later, where it would take me half a day or more.  Many hands make light work: isn’t that one of the biggest truths of the universe?

We worked, and in an hour and ten minutes, our house was sparkling clean.  And we all felt good about that, and we still had the rest of the day to watch the game, do homework, take a nap, and rest on Sunday.

“I don’t want to” is a refrain that takes many forms.  Complaining about it, saying we don’t have time, being physically unable, hiding behind other responsibilities; when there is a job to do and we don’t want to do it, we become very creative in avoiding it.

I know this because I have an arsenal of avoidance tactics that are custom-built for nearly any situation.

Everyone is different.  Some people are natural do-gooders who find themselves burned out on good deeds and helping, helping, helping.  They spread themselves too thin and avoid taking care of their health, their families, their own needs because they want to help others.  These yes people may struggle to find a balance between caring for others and caring for themselves.

Others are hermits and create work for themselves so that they don’t have to help anyone.  They fill their days with their own tasks and say that they don’t have time or resources to help others, that caring for themselves or their family is enough work for them to do. They say no to nearly every request to help, and operate in their own world, where they don’t have to bother with unknown variables that might surface when helping others. 

Even though the do-gooder types might get more recognition for serving, neither one of these types of people does any good in the long run.  Sure, either kind of person can say they are helping, whether their own families or others, but doing all of one and not the other is not ideal.  And they suffer.

We are made to be social, to help others, to love each other through actions, to serve.  God created us to be in communion with him and each other.  Jesus showed us what it means to serve.  Paul showed us to go outside our comfort zone to serve and grow our faith.  That may look like spending more time at home with our families or going out into the world.

When we are called by God to do something, it is usually to serve, to help, to give of ourselves for his Kingdom.  Serving takes many forms.  Though we don’t have to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations to serve, we are asked to serve regularly in some capacity, whether it is to encourage someone in a new venture, pick up a friend from the airport, minister to the homeless, to bring the gospel to a foreign place. 

Or maybe even to teach children the responsibility of cleaning their home. 

We all are part of God’s Kingdom, and we all have tasks.  We are not expected to do all the tasks ourselves, nor are we expected to let others do all of them.  They might not ones that we particularly enjoy doing, and we might resist them at first, but when we serve, we bless others.  And in turn, God blesses us.




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Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:1-11 (NIV)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New Routines

It’s September, and for teachers and parents, September means back to school.  You know, The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

I’m a parent, and know lots of other parents, and it seems that back to school is what everyone is focused on these days.  Despite events happening around the world and in our own country, newsworthy stories about war-torn countries and our involvement, or some starlet’s behavior on an awards show, the undercurrent is all things back to school.

Grade levels.  Teachers.  Supplies.  Clothes shopping.  New schools.  Old schools.  

Moms of young ones talk about their own tears as they watch kindergartners ride the bus for the first time.  Parents of older elementary ages and middle schoolers lament that the full swing of after school and evening activities will soon begin and no one is ready for it.  Parents of seniors are wondering where the time went as they have finished their children’s college visits for the summer and are onto college applications and the last year of high school.  College students are gone already.  Thoughts about packed lunches and school meetings and what to make for dinner and the ominous threat of homework and tests come to the forefront of our thoughts as we all find new schedules.

Everyone is changing, growing, preparing for the new.

For me, back to school means a whole new routine.  Finding my way through the day that doesn’t include two other people involves a new order, new priorities.  I am not very disciplined without a routine.  Tasks that I put on myself are numerous and I see them pile up if I don’t give them each their own time, and my reaction is to freeze up and do none of them.  To stay focused, I draw up a daily schedule, keep my head down and my nose to the grindstone.  I tell myself that life doesn’t stop just because I do.  The fear of being smothered by household chores and other tasks is usually enough to keep me going every day.  At the end of the day I am successful in keeping the pile from collapsing.  But that is no way to live.

My way through life is not fulfilled by having a routine.  No matter how I try to order it, something will fall out of place.  There has to be flexibility for other things to fit in there, because other things will come up.  More important things.

I pray for wisdom these days, wisdom and clarity to know what it is God intends for me, what my role is in his intention.  I picture Solomon praying for wisdom, being wise enough to write books on common wisdoms and have them published in a book that millions of us read centuries later for answers, God’s very word.  Solomon was the wisest man that ever lived.  If Solomon could ask for wisdom and receive it, why can’t I?  Wisdom can only help me. 

I forget about all of Solomon’s mistakes.

I need to remember that even Solomon, in all his wisdom and success, made mistakes, that even within his organized, flourishing kingdom, his wisdom benefited him only when his focus was on God.  When that focus slipped, he was led away from God, and his kingdom suffered. (see 1 Kings 11:3).

Like him, my kingdom – household, relationships, life – will suffer if I don’t apply wisdom to my decisions.  But more importantly, I have to have the wisdom to focus on God first.  When I look at my mountains of tasks through the filter of God’s wisdom, a new routine doesn’t seem as important.  What becomes more important is to please him.

*******

Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong.  For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours? 1 Kings 3:9 (NLT)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.  Proverbs 1:7 (NIV)


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Owning Your Oops


One of the hardest parts of life is admitting you were wrong about something.   No one wants to say “oops” – we all want to be in control of our actions all the time, and what’s more, we want others to know that we are in control all the time.

But we still make mistakes.

This past weekend, I made a mistake, and that mistake was to forget to apply bug spray to the exposed parts of my body as I spent some time outside.  Oops, now I have fifty bug bites that cover my feet and calves.

Fifty is a conservative count.

As I treated the angry, itchy red bumps that caused my feet and legs to swell, I regretted my behavior, regretted the non-decision to take action against little critters which love to bite under the cover of darkness on my back patio.  I hate to admit it, but I was wrong; I hate to have to take care of fifty itchy, red bumps.  But they are a consequence of my actions.

Several days from now I will brush off the incident; if anyone asks I will make light of this situation, will laugh and joke about never to forget bug spray again, but I’m telling you now: having this many bug bites sucks, no pun intended.  I was stupid to have forgotten the bug spray; I take full responsibility for my actions.

As a parent one of the hardest jobs is to teach kids responsibility.  We go from doing everything for our children to giving them the space they need to do things for themselves, mistakes and all.  It’s hard because we get into a routine of helping or doing everything for them, and to watch them struggle or do things differently or more slowly than we can is hard to watch.  But they must learn responsibility.

As a stay-at-home mom whose job of doing for my family has gotten lighter over the years, this responsibility is tough because I have the time to do things for my kids.   There are certain jobs that I expect them to do that I could easily do, like unload the dishwasher, clean their rooms, or take out the garbage.  But I don’t, because the kids need to learn responsibility, learn that if they don’t unload the dishwasher, the dishes will pile up and create more work, that if the garbage doesn’t get taken out we will soon have a very stinky house.  Oops.

Taking responsibility for mistakes is no fun; we feel silly, like we lose face in front of others.  We are taken down a notch or two.  Owning mistakes humbles us, and we’d rather stand tall and proud rather than admit, chins down and eyes to the floor, that we did something wrong.  We feel foolish.  We don’t want to say oops.  We want to say I got this; this is no problem for me.

Jesus never made a mistake, and his example and lessons are scattered throughout the New Testament.  He teaches us how to live: be gentle, be merciful, love God, share the gospel, mend broken relationships, stop judging, don’t worry, and on and on (see Matthew 5:3-16, 23-24, 6:25-7:1-6).  Paul teaches us to be renewed and to follow the example of Christ (see Ephesians 5:1-2).  Neither tells us that we will avoid mistakes, that we should avoid the consequences of our actions.  There are no promises that we are capable of lives without mistakes.  In fact, we are promised that we will make mistakes (see Romans 3:23).

Sometimes we lose control, and it is a problem, and we must own our oops: admit it, humble ourselves before God and everybody, and try to do better next time.

In my case, remember the bug spray.  Always remember the bug spray.

*******

Don’t try to avoid responsibility by saying that you didn’t know about it.  For God knows all hearts, and he sees you.  He keeps watch over your soul, and he knows you knew!  And he will judge all people according to what they have done. Proverbs 24:12 (NLT)

For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Romans 3:23 (NLT)


If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.  1 John 1:9:8-10 (NIV)