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Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter is Kind of a Big Deal


Easter has always been my favorite holiday, except for the brief period in my childhood where Christmas edged it out the year I got my very own stereo.

Easter is spring, the end of the cold and dead winter.  Easter is new life.  Easter is birds and daffodils and sunshine.  Easter is pastel dresses and ties.  Easter is bunnies and ducks and chicks, and babies in bonnets.   Easter is egg hunts.  And Easter is chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies and chocolate crosses and chocolate ducks and chocolate chicks.

Make no mistake. Easter is chocolate.

Easter is one of those holidays that isn’t too much.  Commercialism hasn’t yet swallowed it whole, and you don’t have to prepare months in advance to observe it.  It’s a chance for families and friends to get together and celebrate with a meal.  People aren’t incredulous if you decide that you are going away for Easter this year.

If you go to church regularly, you won’t miss anything about Easter if you go to church.  In fact, church is expected at Easter because Easter is always on Sunday.  If you don’t go to church regularly, you feel better about yourself if you go on Easter because Easter Sunday is regarded as one of the most important days to go to church ever.

It’s really the perfect holiday.

By far the best part of Easter is the hope it represents.  Jesus’ death is a grisly reminder of how ugly humanity can be, but his sacrifice and resurrection marks the beginning of a new life for all of us.  His death signifies our eternal life, that despite our everyday failings we can be renewed.

The specialness of Easter is that God showed his love for us by giving his son as a sacrifice for our sins.  Our certain death was reversed by this amazing gift.  Jesus’ blood washes our sins away, and what’s more, God gave us his Spirit to guide us. 

Easter is the point of God’s plan at which the trajectory of the world, and each one of us, is given the chance to change.  Easter is when humans are given a shot at eternal life.  Easter is the reminder of God’s gift, this love that we can’t experience in any other way.

And along with the chocolate, it’s not a bad set of reasons for Easter to be a person’s favorite holiday.

*******

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)

Monday, March 25, 2013

For Convenience's Sake



This just isn’t working for me.

It is the end of March, five days into spring, and it is snowing.  Pretty hard.  The kids had school today as usual, because it didn’t get this bad until they were already on their way.  At the moment I am waiting for the phone call from the school district announcing that the school day has been shortened and they will be coming home soon.

I am not into that at all.

It is a school day.  My schedule is set.  I have grocery shopping to do, errands to run, yoga class to attend, and all the laundry to finish.  Plus I have to cook an early dinner because of our evening activities.

This snow is going to screw it all up.

I am a routine-a-holic: I crave it.  I’m not a long-term planner, but each day has a schedule and I want to stick to it.  When I can’t and I get backed up and to-dos pile up, I can’t deal.

Well, I can deal, but it puts me out a little.

I don’t want it to snow; I need to be out on the roads, and I doing like driving in this weather.  I don’t want my kids to come home from school early; if they do then they most likely will be coming home at a time when I have stuff to do.  Plus, when they get here, I’ll be on Mom duty and I have my own needs to attend to.

As we get older we discover things about ourselves that may not correspond with our previously held self-views.  You may think you love drinking coffee because you consume ten cups of it a day, and then one day you realize that you only love the creamer you put in your coffee.  You may think you love horror movies because you’ve been watching them for ten years with your husband, and then one day you realize that you have never watched one by yourself and that you actually hate horror movies.

Or if you’re like me, you spend half your life thinking of yourself as a free-wheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of girl and then one day you become conscious of the fact that you hate being inconvenienced and you resent your life being interrupted.

Then you have to consider: do I stay this way, or do I change?  For me, because I'm riddled with iniquity, usually the right thing to do is to make a change.

If it’s an easy fix, I feel lucky.  Some changes are easier than others.  But others may take some time, and that time in the change can be painful.  The realization that I hate being interrupted is easy to see, but it is difficult to change.  How can I change this part of me that seems to be such a chief part of my personality?  How can I give up caring about schedules and routine if I see them as the key to my sanity?

Yes, yes.  I can take a deep breath and relax.  I can stop being so selfish – much to my own dismay and in spite of my delusions, I am not a princess.  I can still do all my planned activities; they just might take a little longer than usual.  Or, before I do any of those things, I can pray.

God made me to enjoy order, but I took it further and became a routine junkie.  I can give this part of myself to God. I can ask him for peace in the chaos that swirls through my mind.  I can ask him for patience with myself, forgiveness for my unease with his plan, and cast my semblance of control to him.   He will change my heart, if it is his intention, and if I truly want to change.

In the meantime, I can look out the window and appreciate this beautiful scene that he gave us – after all, I might not see it for months again after today.  I can pray for the well-being of those who are on the roads.  I can thank God for the blessings her gave me in the form of my home, my family, my health, and really, nothing that HAS to be done today.

But I can ask for a full day of school for my kids too, can’t I?

*******

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Change

“How we live our lives ultimately meets divine judgment” – I read this today in my daily devotional, and it gave me a little heart attack.

Am I doing this right?  Am I doing enough?  I’m not doing enough.  I haven’t helped/given/prayed enough.  I am the very worst kind of sinner because I’m totally inadequate OMG I’M GOING TO HELL.

And then I put down my coffee cup.

We all sin.  Some of us were unaware of our sin for longer periods of life than others.  For instance, my friend who remembers accepting Jesus as her Lord and Savior in her kindergarten Sunday School class may be more alert and has had more practice defeating her sins than me, who in my twenties was instigating arguments with Christians only to scorn them for their beliefs.

Sometimes I feel like I have some catching up to do.

But we all sin, every day.  Not one is worse than the other – God made us all, and we are all alike in that we all fall short of his intention for us, individually and as a group.

Then, for some of us, and I hope and pray most of us, at some point our eyes open and we become aware of God’s hand in our lives.  We see how he has orchestrated our past to mold our future.  We feel the love he has poured out on us through the sacrifice of his son and the gift of his spirit.  As a result we act more deliberately and with more intention; this intentional behavior occurs more regularly and with less effort.  Our will becomes God’s; our lives stick to the path he provided for us.

We become aware that we are building treasure in heaven with how we conduct our lives.  Over time, our character changes; our feelings align with what is right instead of only what we want; we feel love that surpasses the love we thought we knew. 

We experience genuine peace in our hearts – what bothered us before no longer holds its pull on us.  We are tempered by the love of Christ, humbled by his sacrifice, and made gentle.  Our hard edges are softened, our motives purified. 

We realize that we are still human, and the old ways still creep in, but God has our souls, and we are in his hands.

It’s all he really wants for us, for us to accept his gift.  The rest will follow, no matter how long or short of a time it takes for us to come around.  I’m not sure how big my pile of treasure in heaven is at this point, and I can only guess that it is smaller than the one my friend has amassed, but that really isn’t for me to know.  I do know that I can do better, and I have done better.  I no longer pick fights with people about their beliefs.  I am no longer the young woman with a chip on her shoulder about everything.  I am no longer as selfish, no longer as mean, no longer as careless with others’ feelings.

And I pray for God to change me more, and I pray for him to change the hearts and lives of my loved ones, friends and family members who maybe don’t know yet what I know.  God’s love has shown me how wonderful this life can be, even if it is hard.  The greatest feeling I’ve ever known is that he wants me in heaven.  There’s just something about it that I want everyone to experience.

Because once they have it, they always will.  And we will enjoy our treasure once we get to heaven, no matter how big or how small.

*******

Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.

You’ve already put in your time in that God-ignorant way of life, partying night after night, a drunken and profligate life. Now it’s time to be done with it for good. Of course, your old friends don’t understand why you don’t join in with the old gang anymore. But you don’t have to give an account to them. They’re the ones who will be called on the carpet—and before God himself.

Listen to the Message. It was preached to those believers who are now dead, and yet even though they died (just as all people must), they will still get in on the life that God has given in Jesus.

Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!  1 Peter 4:1-11 (The Message)


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It’s a Cliché Because It’s True


When it rains, it pours.  I hate that saying, because it’s usually true.  Isn’t rain enough?  When it pours, there are floods, and when there are floods, things get messy and bad things can happen.  A steady rain is much more manageable than a downpour.  There isn’t much to do about a heavy rain except take cover and pray that it ceases.

But why does it have to pour?  Why, when I have ten things to do, those ten multiply and become twenty?  When I have the time to do ten things, suddenly ten more get piled on.  But the time never gets piled on, just the things to do.  And they all have to be done in the same span of time.  Annoying.

Why is it that when I am feeling overwhelmed, more life events happen that are seemingly as important as all the other things that are currently overwhelming me?

Why does this week feel like it’s crawling, when I already feel like I’m being pulled in 40 different directions each day?  It should feel as if it's moving fast.  How can I spend days with hardly anything to do, and then there is a cascade of days where one or both of my children won’t be eating dinner because of our crazy schedule and I fear for their health, not to mention my sanity?

I have a million of them.  Why do phone calls all come at the same time?  Why is the weather so crappy?  Why, when I offered to help at the school, did it occur at a time when I really don’t have the time?  Why are my kids’ birthdays so close to other holidays?  The whys go on and on.   They are really just complaints.  Complaints about life, a life that I chose, a life that is really very cushy, one that allows me to sit in my warm house, wearing my pajamas, and tap away on my laptop while my stomach is in knots trying to figure out how I’m going to get through the next few days that are packed with activities that I agreed upon.

I know that complaining never does anyone any good.  It doesn’t fix anything, it doesn’t change anything, and it only serves to make the complainer look like a spoiled brat.  My mother says that some people will always find something to complain about. 

I guess she is talking about me.

I’m embarrassed when I overbook my life, this wonderful gift that God gave me, this thing that I so carelessly run at times, hours and weeks and even years squandered on worthless things, only to complain about it.  If my life were a corporation, my days as CEO would be numbered.

Why does it pour?  I certainly don’t know.  I don’t like being blasted with rain.  I don’t enjoy feeling like every time I look up I feel as if I’m drowning.  I especially don’t like the impression that I’m giving off, the one of top complainer. 

I can only believe that it pours because I’m being taught something.  Maybe patience, maybe peace.  Maybe I’ve not been nurturing my relationship with God and he’s calling me in.  Maybe my faith is being stretched.  Maybe I’m being – horror of all horrors – prepared for something.

God only gives you what you can handle.  Can I be real for a minute and say that I’d like to punch whoever made that little gem a cliché?

Okay, I’m not really a puncher.  How about a really violent eye roll?





You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Exodus 18:18 (NLT)

Then the wayward will gain understanding, and complainers will accept instruction.  Isaiah 29:24 (NLT)

Do everything without complaining and arguing.  Philippians 2:14 (NLT)


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Continuing Education


When I was in the hospital giving birth to our son, there were two guests waiting in the hallway to help us welcome our new baby.

Little did I know at that point that they were also welcoming me into motherhood.  My mom and mother-in-law stood there together, 60 years of experience between them, ready to pass on all that they had learned about being a mother, to me.  I had at that point read several books and articles on motherhood in preparation for this day.  Despite this, I felt utterly lost about being a mom.

I met their enthusiasm with open arms and a terrified soul.  I gripped their knowledge about motherhood like I was hanging onto a tree limb over a very high cliff.  I had been around babies my whole life, even watched a younger brother grow from infancy to adulthood, but something about a baby that I was solely responsible for wiped any previous knowledge completely from my mind.  Suddenly I had no idea how to hold a baby, diaper a baby, recognize a baby’s needs, when to feed, bathe, or how to clothe a baby. 

Luckily, these women were more than willing to teach me.  As were our grandmothers, aunts, cousins, family friends, women who I met at church and in the neighborhood.  I asked questions and listened to answers, implemented baby-raising techniques and adjusted others to fit our lifestyle.  All the while, I read parenting books and magazine articles about parenting to see if there was anything I might be missing.  In short, I used my resources to figure out how to be a mother.

Through the years, and another child later, I’m still learning how to parent.  I still ask questions about things that I’m not so sure of, if only to receive confirmation that my children are not the only ones who display a behavior that I’m not so psyched about.  Is this normal?  Does your son do this?  Does your daughter talk about that?  How do you get your kids to go to the bathroom/sleep in their own beds/get dressed on their own/eat vegetables/do their homework?  I have to know.

I ask about experiences.  I ask family members about how it was when I was a kid, and what they would do if they were raising a kid today.  I ask friends about their experiences with allowances, pacifiers, sleepovers, cellphones, activity overload.  I ask friends what they make for dinner when their kids have extra-curricular activities.  The women in my life (and sometimes men) and I talk about what works for us and what doesn’t not only in parenting, but also in relationships, vacationing, intimacy, work schedules.  I learn how to do everything from these conversations. 

Of course, what works for one person will not always work for me or my family.  But these things are the exception, not the rule.  I learn that we are not really as different as we think we are.  Neither are our kids.

Still, I have found that many people don’t want to learn about how anyone else does things.  I have heard people defend their parenting and life styles under the guise of Nobody Tells Me How to Live My Life.

It’s pride, really.  Pride in thinking that I am the only one who can do anything for my family.  Pride in thinking that I know best.

I get that.  Everyone wants some kind of control in life.  Whether it is parenting, or relationship with a spouse or mother or father, or a job – we all want to feel as if we hold the reins, that we have it all together.

But then something happens and we lose that control.  We fall.  A child gets into trouble.  A husband loses his job.  A marriage weakens.  And we suffer.  The pain is lonely.

At that moment, we can lean on others who might have had the same experience.  We can learn from their past mistakes and try not to make the same ones.  We can ask for help; more often than not, those we love are more than happy to tell us how they endured the hard times. 

God puts people in our paths to help us learn about life.  I have no question that the people who helped me through the toughest days of parenting young children were expressly put there by God to teach me something in the the exact way that I needed to hear it.  He has this knack for inserting just the right person at the right time to show us a way out of whatever we are struggling with.  The best part is that his teaching is designed to always yield wisdom.

Our part is to humble ourselves, admit that we don't have all the answers, and look to him for guidance.  We need only be open to the lesson.



 

Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can – there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did. – Sarah Caldwell

don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground.  In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses.  All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water.  For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ.  Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.  These things happened as a warning to us… These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.  1 Corinthians 10:1-6a, 11 (NLT)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Honestly


I had a particularly painful hangnail, and as I rummaged through the desk drawer to find the nail clippers, my son asked me what I was doing.  I explained that if I didn’t fix this fingernail problem, there would be blood.  He took one look at me and casually mentioned that the points on the nail clippers were perfect for popping blisters.  Evidently the nail clippers were his tool of choice for that job.

Totally grossed out, I finished my task, washed the clippers with very hot water and some soap, and put them away.  I didn’t need to hear that.

A word of advice: Bring your own nail clippers if you’re ever at my house.

Last night my husband and I sat our children down to explain to them that they got up way too early in the morning.   In their quest to be earlier than the other, they had each set their alarms for 6:05 AM.  Preposterous.

As I explained that I would prefer if they would get up a little later for various reasons, mostly because I wanted to reclaim my morning alone time and that I don’t need yapping and conversation that early in the morning, my daughter started to cry.  I had hurt her with my words.  I was just being honest, but what I was saying made her feel unloved.

 “I’m just saying” is a phrase that we use when we sense that we are saying something insulting.  “No offense” is another preface or postscript that we use when we are saying something offensive.  Usually we say these words when we are going to drop an honest view on a person, but unfortunately, neither one of these phrases is going to bring crowds of fans to our door.  The truth hurts, especially when it slaps you in the face.

How many times have I said something that hurt another person, grossed someone out, or said something inappropriate, under the guise of honesty?  Countless.  I have learned to hold my tongue.  The expense of this education is in ruined relationships, the realization that a former acquaintance keeps her distance, the tears of my child.  I’m still learning.

When is honesty the best policy?  When it will not hurt another person.  When you can speak the truth diplomatically.  When you are sensitive to another’s feeling and needs.  “I’m just saying” doesn’t cut it.  We may be just saying, but the effects linger in hearts and minds that could use a little care.

While I take a moment to speak, I can ask God for words that will uplift and get my point across.  I can hold my tongue and wait for God to take it over.  There still might not be crowds of fans at my door, but there also won’t be broken hearts and feelings in the wake of my words either.



The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Isaiah 58:11 (NLT)

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (NLT)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lazy Bones


As a stay-at-home mom, I spend most of my days at home.  I don’t volunteer all my time in serving others, working side jobs, or doing much of anything that doesn’t have to do with my family, our home, or myself.

Man.  That looks selfish when it’s all written down like that.

But it’s true.  My job is to take care of my family, myself, and our home.  It’s full-time.  Yesterday, I did laundry, cleaned bathrooms, made breakfast for the kids, cleaned the kitchen, motivated (read: yelled at) my children to clean their rooms and bathroom AND basement, wrote a blog post, watched a neighbor’s kids, walked a neighbor’s dog, made dinner, ate dinner, cleaned up after dinner, ran a kid to and from two different activities, paid bills, worked through a pile of mail, filled out several school forms, picked up milk, showered, answered the phone, sent texts, read and responded to emails, and went to the gym.  These things fill a whole day.  Most days are a version of this.

I worked outside of the home full-time for a short period after my husband and I were married.  I would spend ten hours a day traveling to work and working and would come home to take care of home business.  Then after we had children I worked from home full-time, and I would work that job and work as a stay-at-home mom.  Back then, I needed someone like me to run the house and my life when I was working.  I needed a stay-at-home mom.

I’m not sure how I did it.  Granted, the kids were younger then and didn’t demand as much of me as they do now.  Things were different then.  Old activities are replaced by new ones.  Life gets crammed with more stuff.

And I have let things go.  Despite the long lists of tasks that I do and will do and should do soon, there are piles of important papers to be filed, envelopes full of receipts to be sorted and discarded, more paperwork to go through, recipes to organize, a photograph compilation project taking up residence over there in the corner.

The pile of paid bills lying over there contains documents we need to do our taxes.  The spreadsheet I used to scrupulously maintain to itemize our spending has been forgotten since last November.  My husband needs information that is hiding in the filing cabinet that I haven’t organized in over a year.  The garbage disposal needs to be replaced; I need to make a dentist appointment for our son.  I’m tired of holding everything in balance.  I just want to sit down, put my feet up, and be lazy.

My favorite thing to do – EVER – is to sit down and do very little.  It’s my rest, refreshment, rejuvenation. For an undetermined period of time, I want to sit and think, or read, or watch TV.  The time I have for these things is at night, after the kids are in bed and I have said “no more” to myself and the house and my husband.  This usually happens around nine o’clock, and within a half an hour I am asleep, the time to be lazy morphing into bedtime.

I used to spend some time with God in the morning, before everyone was up.  It was my time with God.  It was my rest, my refreshment, my rejuvenating period.  I would sit at the kitchen table, coffee brewing, read a devotional or do Bible study homework and write in a journal and pray.  These days the kids get up when I do, make their way downstairs when I do, and start talking as soon as they see me.  I’m certain that the loud snapping sound of my eyelids opening is what rouses them from their sleep.  If I got up at 4 am, they’d be at my side at 4:05.  They are intense beings, children.  To get up before them would require an act of God.

At times like this, when I complain of all I have been given to take care of and the resulting guilt I feel for being so ungrateful when there are billions of other people in the world who don’t have it nearly as easy as I do, I mean, let’s face it, my life is only as complicated as I make it, I am beyond blessed in the very best ways imaginable – God nudges me to sit.  And think. And do very little.

And put my life – once again – in his hands.  To stop cataloguing my accomplishments, no matter the size.  He will bring me to my coveted place of refreshment, definitely and as promised.  Until then, he is working in my life to give me exactly what I need to grow.  That may mean more tasks, or less tasks, or simply the time to reflect on what I have.



Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!  For the Lord will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy.  And the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among you!  At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster.  On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid!  For the Lord your God is living among you.  He is a mighty savior.  He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears.  He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”  Zephaniah 3:14-17 (NLT)