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Friday, November 28, 2014

Distracted

The holidays are barreling towards us.

Shopping.  Decorating.  Concerts.  Christmas pageants.  Get those holiday parties on the calendar.  Prepare the the house for guests, not to mention kids and a husband who will be home for ten days.  The food.  Ack, the food.

All of the regular stuff must happen, too.  Appointments and car tune-ups and bills and service calls and we should really get another electricity provider - we are paying way too much.  Somehow the cleaning and the toilet paper shopping and the laundry must get done, too.  Is it any wonder that we are crazed over the holidays?

Okay.  I am crazed over the holidays.

Every year, as the wave of Thanksgiving and Christmas and the New Year looms, I look for a place to hide.  I want to protect myself from the tide and enjoy this time – shouldn’t we all enjoy this beautiful time? – so I retreat.  I find myself nose-deep in writing, reading, social media, TV.  I ignore certain things that should be addressed, like kids needing help with homework and a husband who’s talking about work.  They deserve my attention, not this article on Buzzfeed that consists of thirty pictures of dogs sitting on cats.

But I can’t help myself.  The distractions are too many, the pile of work exhausting, and I am weak.

It’s not an effective way to address feelings of being overwhelmed, to give into the paralysis that allthethings tends to elicit.  It’s also not an effective way to get allthethings accomplished.  Yet I still give in to distractions.

I wonder why these things exist.  If the holidays weren’t here, I’d still find something to be overwhelmed about, would still find the distractions that take my mind off of important things.  Ten years ago I wasn’t spending much time on writing or social media.  But I was preoccupied with other things.  Are distractions here to test our character, teach us what’s important, remind us to trust in God?  Are they here to throw another wrench in the system, to showcase our most ruinous sin, the one we refuse to address directly?

The obvious solution would be to get rid of the distraction.  Unplug.  Draw up a firm structure of when to work and when to decompress.  Stick to that structure.  When others are around, give them your full attention.  Make no exceptions.

But life isn’t like that.  I cannot draw up a schedule of when to work and when to play because life is fluid, not confined by the time I have.  Activities and events are often cut off in the middle; conversations started are stopped without conclusions; tasks and projects begin and are not finished. A rigid schedule may get me through this time, but it is only a bandage, stemming the flow right now only.

Distractions will present themselves until I give them the strongest medicine available: the word of God, the  power of the Holy Spirit, the example of Jesus.  When my focus is on anything else, I will be distracted and overwhelmed.  When I give these feelings and things over to be dealt with by God, they won’t bog me down any longer, and I will be free to manage the holidays, nurture my most important relationships, and enjoy this life that I have been so freely and wonderfully given.

Now is as good a time to start as any.

Dear God, my distractions are many.  Please help me put them in their place.  Thank you, Amen.

*******

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Friends

When we moved to our current town we knew no one.  It didn’t matter much; my husband and I were both working full-time and in the process of selling one house and buying another, and I was well into pregnancy.  Life was busy, and we worked at building our life block by block. 

Eventually all the pieces fell into place and we put down roots.  We found doctors and mechanics and favorite restaurants, spent a lot of time working on the house, shook hands with neighbors before asking them to help us move furniture, and socialized with my husband’s work colleagues.  As a new mom who worked from home I spent my days wrangling a baby while trying to work during naptime.

I don’t remember being lonely.  We were busy enjoying the little life we had made.

Eventually life found its groove, that hum that comes from doing something for enough time that things just fall into line as you go along.  We decided to find a church.  We weren’t church-goers during that time, opting in only for major holidays – it wasn’t a priority.  But we each had grown up going to church and something told us that our kids needed to, too.  Plus, church was a great place to meet people and make friends.

As we church-shopped and found our home, we started looking into faces of the people around us.  This was our new family, the people we would be spending this part of our lives with.  We didn’t have family members close by; we needed to connect with the people right here.

An ad in the bulletin and a stint in the nursery one Sunday morning led me to a mom’s ministry meeting around the time that I discovered days and nights with a baby and work-logged husband were more than I could handle.  I needed a break.  I needed out.  I needed girlfriends.

And I found them.



We shared so much around the table during those monthly meetings: from tips on how to get babies to sleep all night and potty training ideas and the best parks to take your children to relationship issues with spouses and parents and everything in between.  We shared more during those meetings than I had in years with other women.  The floodgates opened and each month we unloaded our hearts over cups of lemonade and pans of brownies.  There were stories and tears and so much laughter.

Over time I practically ran out the door of our house to sit at that table.

Some relationships blossom and others fade; I am fortunate to maintain a few strong ones that began during those meetings.  I am immensely grateful for them; they have become my family, aunts and uncles to my kids, people we spend birthdays and holidays and vacations with. 

I am just as grateful for the acquaintances I made during that time.  No longer together during monthly meetings, we still pass each other in church and in the community and smile; I remember the faces in the crowd as the faces around that table.  They are older and wiser, maybe not as needing of the shared time now as much as then.  Maybe they have gone off to nurture their own strong bonds with each other.

Those connections were vital to me, to our family, to our life.  I learned so much about motherhood during that time, but also marriage and being a daughter, sister, friend, and Christian.  I learned from these other women how to grow in my faith and as a person in general.  I found God, and myself, in those meetings.


When people ask when God has helped you through a rough part of life, I think of how he put these women in my life at this particular time.  When I needed to learn about being a mom, wife, friend, and Christian, he put these women right in my path.  More than that, he put the desire in my heart for their company.  Just at the moment when I needed friends, he provided them. 

Friendships are mysterious relationships; we never know who will be in our lives for the long haul upon first meeting.  We can connect with others on a deep level quickly, but that initial spark might be a flame that burns fast and dies down just as quickly.  These relationships are no less important to God – after all, he gave them to us just as he gave us our greatest relationship with Jesus.  Knowing this, those past relationships are not any less important to me, either.  I still love those women with whom I might not be as close with; they occupy a space in my heart that God made just for them.  They were with me during a great growing part of my life.

For all of these friends, I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Teachable Moments

I’ll never forget that first back-to-school night as a middle school parent.  The night crackled with the positive outlook that all teachers have at the beginning of a school year.  I was nervous and excited to hear about the next phase of education for my child.  I was ready to absorb all I needed to help him navigate new challenges and experiences that are emblematic of the in-between years.  It was a clean slate, and I wondered what these educators could teach me as they taught my kid.

The details of the meeting focused on curriculum and new freedoms that our students would enjoy, both items that I expected.  But one thing stood out.  As the principal gave his speech, he said something that will forever stick in my brain:

“Although we are teachers by profession, we only have your children 29% of an entire calendar year.  The rest of their time spent learning is with YOU, the parents.”

That means that for 71% of my children’s life, it is up to me to teach them.  Math and Language Arts and Social Studies are subjects taught at school, but they are only a small fraction of what they must learn.

I am their primary teacher.



Often parents talk about having teachable moments with their kids.  We are equal parts amused and thankful for the opportunity to live through something with our children instead of having to lecture them about it. Teachable moments may be times where we catch our child doing something right or wrong, and we take the time to emphasize what that experience means within the framework of a life.  We teach our kids to share, help, and work through experience and our own example.  We hope that they learn and apply the lesson when we aren’t looking.

What we overlook is that most moments are teachable.

It’s the teachable moment that isn’t scripted that truly reveals our character.  The one that happens when our guard is down and we don’t notice who is watching.  We know that when we volunteer our time helping others, treat others with kindness and respect, and work hard, we are teaching.  But it goes further.  Every second that our kids are with us, they are learning how to treat people, how to assert themselves, how to be in a relationship, how to work hard to attain goals, how to be brave, how to care for others.  Our kids hear and see everything we do. 

They also see us when we gossip, lie, and judge others, lash out in anger, keep secrets, and waste time.  We might not intend to teach them these less-than-stellar behaviors, but the effects of these behaviors are strong.  It’s important to know that however we live our lives, we are teaching our kids how to live theirs. 

I have to say that I worry about these subversive teachable moments that I am giving my children, the ones that show them my dark side without realizing that it is showing.  My character is not unmarred; there are cracks in the surface and pieces that are missing, exposing the deeper parts.  I see the ugly parts of me in the behaviors of my children, and it is regrettable.

Luckily for them – and me – we have a better role model in Jesus.  Jesus’ example is always stellar, and he doesn’t shy away from teaching his true character.  There is no dark underbelly to his makeup; his lessons are all worthy of following.  Each moment of his life is teachable.  The hard part is adapting his lessons to our lives in this world.

But we can.  With the tools that God gives us through his word and the spiritual gifts that he provides within our own personalities and abilities, we can be a better role model and better teacher to our kids.   And everyone around us.

Each of us is capable – and called – to use the gifts that God has given us, and follow the lead of Jesus to show our children and strangers the lessons of life.  We don’t need to spotlight the teachable moment, the lengthy lecture that induces judgment, shame and boredom.  We can just live our lives – with humility and love, integrity and kindness.  If we follow Jesus’ lead, and make his teachable moments our own, our example will influence not only our children, but others around us as well.

*******


Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Philippians 12:14-15

Friday, November 7, 2014

Taking Care

“What happens when you run out of gas?  Does the car just stop?”

“Yes.  Well, it slows down.  But then it just stops.”

My kids, sitting in the car with me on a rainy morning at the bus stop, were silent as they thought about this.  My daughter wondered, “What if you’re on the highway?”

I said “Well, I think you’d just try to pull off as best you can, and call someone for help.”

My son: “Has that ever happened to you?”

“No.  It hasn’t.  But it might today.”

The gas gauge, which just a moment ago proclaimed “4 miles to empty” now gave me a different warning: “0 miles to empty.”  Just the other night it promised 11 miles.  That night I had enough gas in my tank get to the gas station and back a couple of times.  I didn’t go then.  Literally overnight, I lost those eleven miles.  I needed those eleven miles.

It was 46 degrees and raining, the type of weather that seeps into your bones and chills you all day long.  The kind of weather you definitely don’t want to walk in along the highway to the gas station for a portable container of gas because you ran out. 

The school bus arrived, and I hurriedly kissed my kids goodbye and not very patiently waited for the bus to drive away.  Barely after it took off, I began my speedy trip to the gas station a couple of miles away, mentally listing names of friends who could bail me out if I got stranded, and cursing myself for toeing the line of an empty gas tank yet again.

Please God don’t leave me stranded. Please God don’t let me run out of gas.  Please oh please oh please oh please just let there be enough gas, I shouted in my mind as I zoomed down the road.  I prayed as if I was bargaining for my life and the lives of my children.  Please just let me make it there.

I wheeled into the gas station on two wheels, imagining my gas tank emptying right then, not a drop to spare.  I opened the tank and inserted the gas nozzle and breathed a sigh of relief as the gas poured into the tank.  Saved.

* * *



Shortly after my husband and I met, I made arrangements to meet his family at Christmastime.  I was visiting my family in Arizona, and I would be flying back to a city three hours away from his family’s home.  Three days before my trip out west was to end, I caught the flu.  Feverish and nauseated, I spent the last days of my visit in bed.  The night of my trip back, I dosed myself with medicine and slept on the plane, only to learn that a snowstorm was making its way through the area.

I remember hoping that my new boyfriend would have realized my need for assistance, having the flu and all, and, knowing that the roads were treacherous, would either have found me a hotel room somewhere or, like a knight in shining armor, would meet me at the airport to drive me to his family’s house.

Neither one happened.  After scanning the airport welcome crowd to no avail, finally calling to tell him I made it, I drove through a snowstorm through the night, following the tire tracks of the salt trucks in front of me to avoid sliding off the road.  The trip took almost six hours.  I arrived safely but exhausted and ill, mumbling my hellos and nice to meet yous in a stupor, quickly falling asleep.

Later I wondered: He knew I was sick, knew it was late, that the weather was dangerous: why didn’t he take care of me better?

* * *



In our house, everyone else gets the first choice.  Just take what you want, I say.  I’ll make do with what’s left.  My husband and I decided that when we had kids, I would take care of the house and our family.  For many years this was fine: the needs of our babies and new home were novel, fun, time-consuming, and relatively easy.  Caring for children, cleaning the house, making dinner; I took on the tasks willingly; indeed, with gusto.  Paint the walls?  Pay the bills?  Make the appointments?  Buy the toilet paper?  Don’t mind if I do!

Over the years, though, the tasks have worn on me.  I am older, tired.  The tasks have become harder, kids’ needs more complex.  I need assistance, and only sometimes get it.  Worse, my own interests suffer because I spend so much time taking care of everyone else’s needs.  Balance is hard.

It’s easy for me to be bitter about it, to resent not being taken care of the way I’ve taken care of everyone else for so long.  I complain that all I do is take care of everything: the house, the kids, my husband, and lastly, myself.  I come last, always last.  Who takes care of me?

* * *

As I pulled away from the gas station, shaking my head at how close I came to walking in the rain, vowing never to cut it that close again with an empty tank, it dawned on me that I had not thanked God for answering my frantic prayers.  Minutes before, I was crying out for deliverance, for one last push forward to get me to where I wanted to be, to avoid the inconvenient and possibly dangerous consequences of my own actions. 

Thank you, Lord.  Thank you so much for doing that for me, for giving me something that I do not deserve, not even a little bit.  Thank you for giving me the time, the money, and the ability to do this.  Thank you for taking care of me.

In that moment I realized something.  Despite all the times I complain about not being taken care of the way I take care of everyone else, the poor me self-pity parties, the spewed rants about how nobody notices anything I do, that God takes care of me.  That while I was waiting for my husband to pick me up at the airport so long ago and when I wish he was home to help me pick the kids up from their practices at the same times and when I want someone else to make dinner for the love of Pete, God took care of me, he takes care of me.  He delivered me safely to my husband’s family that Christmas; he keeps my kids safe when I am late picking them up; he gives us the food that we need to survive; and he gave me just enough gas to get to the gas station.

I had been looking to be taken care of by other people, to have someone take care of my needs so thoroughly, the way I feel I do for them. And while I was being mad that they didn’t, I was overlooking the fact that they couldn't.  They can't.  Only God can do that for me.

I’m not special in this way.  God takes care of all of us individually, of our personal needs, one by one.  He knows us intimately.  He knows how to take care of us.  And he does it without fail. 

Do we always recognize it?

*******

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


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Do-Over

School is getting hard in our house.

Where once there were idle afternoons and evenings with no homework, no material to study for tests, no papers to write, projects to manage, or chapters to read, now we have it all.  Nightly.  No more declarations of “I finished it in study hall.”  Teachers are no longer saying “I don’t give homework” on back-to-school night.

Until this year, school work was so different from when I was their age.  Daily math worksheets, books to read, reports to write – all of these were normal parts of my day, starting in elementary school.  It continued until my last day of graduate school.

Now my eldest is juggling math concepts along with social studies papers, blog entries for language arts, and studying, studying, studying.  He’s never done this before.  He hasn’t ever brought home much schoolwork. Now he brings several subjects to study and learn every night.  It’s fine.  School is different now.  My kids are smarter than I ever was.  I’m not complaining.

But it’s hard.  For all of us.

Teaching a teenager how to study, how to prioritize assignments, how to manage time – it’s not for the faint of heart.  I know how to do this.  He wants to do it himself.  I can see the gaps in his efforts.  He wants me to leave him alone.

The other night, there was yelling and swearing and general gnashing of teeth.  Yes – we use this phrase in our house.  There was gnashing of teeth.

I want a do-over.  I want him to go back to elementary school, where things were slower and easier, and he was more apt to listen to his mother.  I want to have better prepared for this and given him homework to do when the teachers didn’t, so he could practice the skills he needs now. 

More than this, though, I want a do-over on the gnashing of teeth part.  I want to take back the shouting, my frustration.  I want to eat my words, bitter as they are.  I want to have responded to an assertion of “I don’t have to memorize this” with aplomb instead of an f-bomb.

I want to be given another chance to shut up, already.

As I get older, my words haunt me more.  They are the source of my greatest sins.  More than pride, stubbornness, lack of faith – the words I say reveal my heart and drive my actions, and they are what God uses most to teach me life lessons.  I learn through words, written and spoken. 

And those which should have been left unspoken.

I can’t count the number of times I wished for a do-over on situations that end with me saying words that harm others or show a glimpse of my character that I choose to keep hidden most times: the rash emotional tempest that shows itself for a moment in times of extreme frustration and exasperation.  As quick as it comes, then it’s gone.  But the effects are lasting.

There are no real do-overs in life.  We can’t go back in time and take back what was said or done.  Once it’s out there, it’s out.  The consequences of our humanity can be painful and cringe-worthy memories about what we have done, a tarnished impression of our ideal selves that we leave with others, and wounds that we inflict without lifting a hand.

But we can do better – there is always another day, another chance for improvement.  We can make better choices.  We can choose our words and actions more carefully.  We can apologize for our actions. 

When we reach out to others with humility and sorrow, we show them love.  We show them that they are worthy of better than what we have given them.  We say we’re sorry for our behavior, for our frustration, for the words that hurt.  We can ask for another chance.

And we can ask Jesus for forgiveness.  We can ask him to help us correct our habits, to be more godly.  To love others instead of tear them down.

Even if those we have harmed choose not to give us another chance, Jesus will come through for us.  Our forgiveness is sure if our hearts are in the right place, if we believe that we have sinned and that only he can make it right. 

I wish I could say that I have no need for forgiveness, that I always do the right thing, that my thoughts and words and actions are always upstanding and holy.  But they are not – I need Jesus’ forgiveness and am so thankful for his sacrifice that wipes my slate clean.  I have no illusions about the true effects of my behavior.

The gnashing of teeth give it away every time.

*******


When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. ~Proverbs 10:19 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bogged Down in the Details

My daughter and I share this character trait where we focus on the fine print.  We have the patience to work in fine detail: we unravel knots, erase and rewrite over and over, and remove lint and crumbs one at a time.  We look up at the end of a task and time has slipped by, and we still have many more to do.  We overthink, ruminate, and stay with something until we have it all worked out.  We are slow movers, deliberate workers.  We are the sloths of the human world.

As an adult, it’s no big thing.  I can do things quickly and with sparkling accuracy.  I just choose not to, most of the time.  Most of the time it doesn’t matter.  When timeliness counts, though, I can bring the action.

As a tween, my daughter is not so good at this.

“You’re getting bogged down in the details,” I say to her when she’s on hour five of a posterboard project, drawing with glitter and glue, fretting over the wrinkles that the drying adhesive made under the surface of the layers of colorful paper.  “The grading rubric says ‘no wrinkled paper!’” she replies.  “I’ll lose points if the paper is wrinkled.  Do you think it’s creative enough?  I’m going to add more pictures,” she worries more.

“It’s great, and those wrinkles don’t count,” I said.  “Move on.  Get it finished.  You’re spending way too much time on this.”  I try to help her understand task priorities.  A posterboard project does not trump studying for a science test.  How long will that take?

“Do you know what ‘bogged down’ means?” I ask her.  “Yes,” she says.  “I just want to do a good job, and it takes time.”

She’s right.  Doing well takes time, practice, and care.  We should always strive to do our best.

“I only want to have my hands on this once,” a former co-worker used to say.  His attention to detail was something that I admired; we got along well because we understood being meticulous in our work.  Unlike him, though, I was not always consistent, and I suffered through many revisions before I was satisfied with what I had produced.

But I learned to do better over time; in a year I was able to move with lightning speed and accuracy through the tasks laid out before me.

God wants us to do our best.  Whether it is a mundane household task, school project, or billion-dollar business deal, we are to put forth our best effort.  It takes time and practice.  This builds our character, trustworthiness, and work ethic, among other desirable qualities.

Further, we are to do it all for him.  I find that my tasks go more smoothly and I have a better attitude about them when I know that they are being done ultimately for the glory of God.  I find that I get bogged down in the details less when I know that the work is being done for a higher purpose than just making it perfect.

I see myself in my daughter when she knits her brows together at a rogue blob of glitter glue, the barely perceptible wrinkles on her project; it will bother her until she works out how to fix these problems, and is satisfied with the result.

She needs to learn that those small wrinkles don’t amount to much.  

What’s important is that God knows that her best effort has been put forth.




*******

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

More or Less

Our family is not particularly strong in outward faith.  We go to church and Bible study once in a while, say a quick “God is great” before dinner on the rare nights that we all sit down to eat together, but we don’t hand out pamphlets on the street or ask friends if they’ve found Jesus yet.

Sometimes I think that we could do more, say more, and be more for God.  We could take more opportunities to share his love and the gospel.

It’s so typical of a person in our society to think more is better for everything.  Gimme gimme.

After all, the more years we live, the more people we meet, the more opportunities we have to show God’s love to the world, right?

The reality is, sometimes more in one hand looks like less in another.  We give up favorite habits.  We meet others who don’t share our beliefs, and they cross us off their list.  Relationships suffer because we are on one path, and others are on another, and those people slip through our lives and we are left with one less friend.

Sometimes the scales tip within us.  We get to a point in our faith where we feel like we have to start over.  We’ve grown out of our beginning faith clothes so we put on another outfit that has more room for us to grow into.  It can be uncomfortable, lonely, painful.

Maybe we start a new Bible study.  Maybe we stop a bad habit that comes between us and God.  Maybe we make new friends.  Maybe we add a new activity to our lives.  Maybe we make a stand within a group of people who are sitting down. 

I help out with our church’s youth group.  My kids and I go every week.

To say it has changed us is a little dramatic, but it has.  Spend over two hours with thirty or so teenagers each week and you’ll say the same thing.

Before I started helping out in youth group I was sitting next to you, whispering about how terrifying teenagers are.

Our kids are in middle school, and they love youth group.  They want to go to church and see friends and do fun activities.  I knew they’d love it for those reasons.  What I didn’t expect was they also want to learn about Jesus, and how he can work in their lives.

They are learning about the importance of faith, and they are working out how to strengthen it while also realizing that other people aren’t interested in that.  The scales within them are tipping.

I hope they continue to want to learn about Jesus and strengthen their faith.  I pray that they stay on the path that God has for them.  I hope they do not waver when they meet someone who tells them that there is no God, that Jesus was just a guy, that the Bible was written by men and it has nothing to do with our lives.

I hope they realize that sometimes when we have more, it only looks like we are getting less.



*******


Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:7

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

No Worries

Are you a worrier?

I’m not.  Not really.  Sure, there are times when I’m feeling especially overloaded or burdened, when my eyes snap open in the middle of the night with thoughts that keep me up for an hour or two.  I toss and turn, trying to work out several solutions or outcomes for the problems that roll around in my head.

Thankfully these times are few and far between.  They were more frequent not too long ago.

Maybe life is just easier now, you think.  I don’t know about that.  Life moves forward faster and faster, and responsibilities and experiences pile up and more difficult situations to overcome present themselves.  Every snowball gets bigger as it rolls along, and life is no exception.

I don’t think my opportunities to worry are less than before.

Things like jobs, relationships, the repercussions of my own behavior, good health and safety, doing right, doing well, missing opportunities, and messing up are always ripe subjects for worrying.  As I’ve gotten older I am gripped by the realization that there is little that I can control about most things in this world.  My own words, behaviors and decisions.  Maybe daily tasks.  It’s not much, but it’s enough.

I’m just laid back, man. 

The worries never really went away.  So how am I so chill?

Call it age, faith, maturity, or all three, but I got tired of worrying, and finally learned to pray.  I give more worries to God these days than I did maybe the first twenty years of my life.  Maybe.  There’s no way to count.

If we kept score by the worries that plague us, most of us would be winning.  But God doesn’t want us to worry.  We are his children; does any parent wish his or her children to worry?



So far today, I’ve prayed for:

A good day for us all.

Safety for my husband on the road.

Safety for my kids as they walked to the bus.

Peace for a friend.

Love for a friend of my child.

Healing and comfort for a friend of a friend whose child is ill.

Comfort for a friend who lost her grandfather.

Thanks for the rain (to drive me inside so I couldn’t exercise outside.  I can’t say all my prayers are selfless.)

Thanks for a smooth morning.

Thanks for his watchful eye.

My kids to do their best in school.

Patience.

The prayers don't stop.  They come more naturally because of practicing, I think.  I learned to stop and pray when I read the words “please pray for…” and if something terrible has happened, or if a person’s face or name comes to mind.  The worries are kept at bay because when they surface, they come up against God’s omnipotence, goodness, and grace. 

Try it.  It works.

I wish I could say that I’m 100% successful at not worrying, that I am so in tune with God that his heart is mine.  It’s not.  After all, I have prayed thanks to God for creating weather conditions that prevented me from exercising so that I could stay inside and be lazy.  My prayers could use a little tweaking sometimes.  They could use a little more specificity, a little more frequency, a little more thought.  There’s always room for improvement.

I trust that God is always listening anyway.  That’s something none of us has to worry about.

*******


But let all those rejoice who put their trust in you; let them ever shout for joy, because you defend them; let those also who love your name be joyful in you.  Psalm 5:11 (NKJV)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Personality Plus

The people in the Bible lived outrageous lives.

Some lived to be over 800 years old.  Jonah was swallowed by a fish.  Noah and all those animals.  Moses’ amazing feats.  Jesus’ disciples hung out with him after his death. 

I’ve seen enough crazy stuff in my life to believe all of them.

And why not?  God can do anything.  If he wants to make whacko stuff happen, he can.  He sort of corners the market on doing whatever he wants.  I’m amazed and thankful everyday that he’s able to do all of it for good.

The stuff that really makes me wonder, though, is what was in the heads of the people in these stories?

We sort of know what Jonah was thinking about after being swallowed by a fish – his book is sort of like a diary.  But what was Noah thinking when the animals started coming?  How about when Moses raised his hand and the sea parted?  Was he jazzed by this?  Did he try it out later with a cup of water, under the cover of his tent?

Were these people like OMG that was amazing I want to do it again?  Maybe except for Jonah.


Or were they totally together, fully confident in their abilities with God at the steering wheel?  Like people today who do things like chase tornados and free sex slaves and jump from helicopters into enemy territory and stuff like that? 

How was David able to stand against Goliath?  What was he thinking?  We know that he was confident that God was with him overall, but he was human, wasn’t he?  There had to have been some small part of him that was like “This is nuts, what am I doing?”

I love thinking about the people in the Bible.  They were regular humans, experiencing life as we do.  Maybe the details aren’t the same between us, but they lived and breathed and ate and drank and interacted and worked and loved and cried, just like the rest of us.  Did they know they’d be in this book someday, that their lives would be used as stories to teach generations of people about life and faith and God?

None of us know how we really influence others during our lifetimes.  Most of us will not have books written about our lives.

But we all have the opportunity to live our lives according to the instructions God gives us, just as our favorite Bible characters did.  We can use their lives as examples of how to live our own, and we can model our faith after theirs.  They were chosen by God to teach us the lessons he wants us to learn.  Despite whatever was going on in their heads at the time, they are the ones that we look at when we are going through something similar.

I might have a Goliath to face today.  Will I standing tall before it, drawing on the power of God to face it head on like David?  Am I relying on God to clear the obstacle ahead of me like Moses?

Truth is, I don’t know.  Do any of us know what we will do at the moment of crisis?  Our plans and expectations may change in an instant; we may find that we’re not as brave as we thought.  We may even find that our faith wasn’t as strong as we thought.

It’s sobering and humbling to know that what we think and how we act could be two very different things.  I’ve proven that to myself many times over.

I don’t trust myself to follow through every time.  But I do trust God, and I pray that he strengthens my faith enough to withstand trouble when it comes.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

At A Loss

For the past four or five years I’ve kept a journal of daily devotions.  It’s a good habit that I started for Lent one year to avoid having to give up something that I really enjoy.

Also because I don’t understand how holiness begins with giving up chocolate.

I read a page of a devotional book every day (I read Our Daily Bread, or ODB for short, which reminds me of this rapper in the 90’s named Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and now you know the types of connections that form in my mind), reflect on it, and write about it in a notebook.  The reflections aren’t always groundbreaking, nor are most particularly deep or revealing.  Many of my thoughts on the devotions are featured here as blog posts.

But recently, eh, I haven’t really been feeling it, you know what I mean?

My good habit has become more habit and less good.

It happens in life: you start out doing something that is good for you, whether putting the effort into a new relationship or exercising or going to church, and eventually you find yourself going through the motions and your relationship stalls, your exercise routine stops yielding results and during prayer time at church you’re looking around to see who else is at church instead of actually praying.

Ahem.

It’s where I’m finding myself lately.  Sort of flailing, sort of bored, sort of at a loss for spiritual insight.



My journal (and I feel like this blog, too) reads like a watered-down manifesto of Sunday School lessons: Trust the Lord.  Life is hard, but God can help.  We need to seek God’s help in everything.  Thank you, Lord, for helping me.  God is good.  God is great.  Let us thank him for our food.  Amen.

Okay.  That last one isn’t in there.

But you get the point – my spirit life is a little meh, a little boring, a little too many words and not enough of anything else.

And I’m having a little trouble getting beyond it.   

Usually when a person finds herself stagnating, the natural response is to change it up.  Start doing something differently. 

I’ve done it before.  I’ve changed up the routine, found a new way.  But it seems that the more I chase things that are new, the more often I need to find another one.  Something isn’t right.  It isn’t a good fit.  It burns out quickly and I am back at the beginning again.

I don’t want to spend my life chasing new and different.  Even “A Relationship With God” is just a thing if you say the words but don’t do anything with them.

Maybe all those devotionals where my only response is “Trust the Lord” and “Seek God” count for something.


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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What'd I Miss?

The boys in my family want to know all of the details, all of the time.

Neither likes to miss anything.  They like to know what happened, what’s going on now, and what will happen.  And they ask questions.  Questions about the details.  The questions, people.  They are real, and they are many.

I am not like this.  No news is good news.  Spare me the details.  I’d rather not know.  Only tell me if necessary.  I think this stems from a) having endless questions hurled at me since becoming a mom, b) the limitless quantity of information in the world, and c) my desire to not be in charge of all the details.

I’m burned out on details.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of conversations that go like this: “I have something to tell you, but it’s a secret, so you can’t tell anybody, but there’s this person, and I can’t tell you who it is, but they did something, and I can’t tell you what they did, but it was bad.  Very, very, bad.  And we need to talk about it.”

And that, friends, is the worst.  In my mind I am filling in the blanks of whatever story you’re trying not to tell me, and let me tell you, those details are much more graphic and depraved than anything you’re trying to keep secret.

So don’t tell me.  I don’t want to know.

As a result, I miss a lot.

And that’s okay.  I’m a simple girl.  I can count on my fingers the amount of things I do every day.  I like to see empty spaces on the calendar.  I like to have big, open areas in the day to fill in when the time comes.  Or not, if need be.



I only have a vague idea about what's in the news.  I hear chatter about things in the world, like sextraffickingweatherpatternswarstrifeextremistgroupsviolenceracerelationschildrendyingdiseasepovertyhatecrimesrecessioncorruption
and I know I have missed a lot of what most people think are important because I don’t pay attention to the details about The Issues.  The World Events.  The Way Things Are Going.

Am I an avoider?  Maybe.  Ignorant?  Sure.  I’m not trying to justify my way as everyone’s right way.  I’m just letting you know: I’m okay with not knowing all the details, of missing some things.  I can’t be bogged down in the details – they keep my focus away from the important stuff. 

Love God and love your neighbors as you love yourself – this is the way to heaven, says Jesus.  I love that Jesus really knows how to get to the point.  When we remember these things, we are ready for whatever the world can throw at us.  He doesn’t promise that it will be easy, or that we won’t suffer, or that we may doubt his ways and dig in our heels and refuse to go on, but if we keep these simple instructions in mind, we can face anything.  When I put my trust in him, and let him lead me into the unknown, I know that I am doing exactly what he planned – not what I plan.

When I live my life according to details, I miss the lessons that God has for me.  Life gets in the way of my focus on him, and I’ve learned from experience that I can’t really live like that.  I miss too much of what’s important.

And I can’t risk that.  Not for all the details in the world.

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Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you.  For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.  When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.

But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief.  For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night.  So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded.  Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk.  But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us.  Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever.  So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NLT)

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One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”  Luke 10:25-28 (NLT)


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Deal With the Drama

My kids are both in middle school, and you know what that means.

Bring the drama.

Neither of them are drama queens – well, except when they get a scratch or bump their elbows or don’t want to do chores.  I can handle that.  “You’re not bleeding that much.  You’re okay.”  “Can you bend your arm?  You’re fine.”  “Do it, or else.”

It’s the relationship drama that is hard.  The friendship drama.  The drama that comes when children have feeeeelings, and those feelings get in the way of interacting peacefully with others.

The jealousy.  The meanness.  The insecurity.  The alienation.  The misunderstanding.

It’s hard.  Even though there haven't been many yet, it’s hard to hear the stories, because they were mine at one time.  I remember thinking: my friend said this.  My friend did that.  My friend passed me in the hall and didn’t say hi.  My friend sat with someone else at lunch.  I remember the feelings of despair, of worry, of fear.  What is happening?  I don’t want to lose this friendship.  What if nobody likes me?

As a modern parent my children share their troubles with me.  I have created these people who come to me for answers, and I can’t bring myself to dismiss them.  I know the hurts and the confusion.  I cannot just say You’re on your own, Drama Mama, a line my daughter picked up from TV when she was five.  If my children come to me with their drama, I want to fix it.  I want to change it.  I want to take care of it.  I want to share my knowledge, tell them how to handle it.  After all, it’s easy from my side.  Most of the time, their drama isn’t drama at all.  It’s just something for them to talk about.  They are learning how to distinguish between right and wrong.  They are figuring out that people are different from them in their beliefs and behaviors.  They are learning peace-making, how to explain themselves, how to communicate better.  They are finding their spot in the world.  If I tell them what to do, where to stand, and how to say everything, then how much of their handling of life is me, and how much is them?  I want each of them to be able to make good decisions without my input.

Romans 12:18 is one of my favorite Bible verses: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone.  Short, easy to remember, simple message.  Live in peace with everyone, as much as you can.  Of course, life is messier than this implies.  This line doesn’t give you instructions about what to do if a friend wrongs you.  Nor does it tell you how to correct things if you wrong someone unintentionally (or, in the case of my middle schoolers sometimes, intentionally.  I never said my kids were always unwitting participants in any sort of drama).



We can ask for help, but ultimately we have to figure it out for ourselves.  Life is a swinging pendulum of elation and despair, hopeful beginnings and abrupt endings, encouraging words and harsh dismissals.  Through it all, we have to deal.

I pray that God will back me up on teaching my kids how to deal with their drama.  He knows my children way better than I ever will, and I am thankful that they are in his hands.  I can encourage them to keep bringing their troubles to me, and I can teach them what I know, but they are different from me.  They need to know that I don’t always have all the answers, but God does.  I am grateful that I can teach them this, that they can pray for guidance, for the right words to say, and for peace in their hearts when they go through the drama.

During middle school, for sure, but also for the rest of their lives.


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