Monday, August 1, 2016

Through the Valley of the Shadow

"So" seems to be the way to start a conversation these days. As in, "and so..." because every little tidbit of experience stacks onto the next, till the details of life start to feel like a 2-ton truck hitting you on full speed and then sitting there on your chest. And you can't take any more details, or lists, or complaints, from your life or anyone else's. 

Is life too much? For me, not typically. But, here and there, the weeks catch up and the speed of my thoughts won't parallel the time to process them out. And even praying feels somehow exhausting.

Your computer won't work. No big deal. 
Your pantry is suddenly infested with ants of unknown entry. Handled.
Your eye somehow gets something in it and burns like hell. Water.  Pain solved.
You jab the other eye with a mascara wand. At least they're evenly red now.
Your potty-trained son decides to poop in his pants.
Your other son screams "I hate you!" and slams the door.
Your daughter laments from her bed because you won't let her bake anymore sweets. 
You read a book for a class you are supposed to teach and the words seem like gibberish. Amidst the nominalizations and academic jargon, you wonder how you would summarize such nonsensical syntax, let alone explain it.
Your child throws a major tantrum during Sunday morning worship.
Your new class seems to be falling apart before it's even started.
Your daughter refuses to do anything with arguing.

And those are the minor infractions. Hardly suffering. Speedbumps, really. But, not major wreckage.

But, there's the head-on collisions too. All around me, impacting those I love.
Depression, suicide attempts, broken hearts, broken marriages, suffering children, abuse, neglect, and more besides.

Sometimes the "and so" can feel like one too many. The weight of all that isn't right seems to shatter all that is. My spirit crumples and for a few hours (maybe days), I am undone. Unguarded. Unmotivated. Tired and angry but not angry enough to fight--to fight the right enemy. 

I blame myself, I blame other people, I blame this crappy life.

Even so, this life here on this broken earth isn't meant to feed that which aches and craves. Our deepest satisfaction will be fulfilled in another place and with the Ultimate Person, but for now, everything is a bit hazy (I Cor. 13:12). Although we may taste morsels now (Ps. 34:8), the rich reward for our souls will come later (2 Timothy 4:8,)

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. I Cor. 13:12

That "seeing dimly" part can get rather discouraging at times. Although I'm legally blind (I couldn't drive without glasses, let alone see to make my children breakfast or type on a computer), I'm thankful to live in a day with corrective lenses. Sometimes I misplace my glasses and have to walk to another room to find them. Even those few short steps feel longer than usual because I can't see everything that's around me. I have to reach out a hand to keep from banging into obstacles. I feel out of control and a little vulnerable. 

In a similar theme, we stride on this earth for just a few brief steps. We can't see everything that is taking place around us (both the good and the bad--Ephesians 6:12), but we've been told very clearly who our enemy is (I Peter 5:8). 
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Eph. 6:12

Two Sundays back we watched a short video clip that talked about the Enemy's tactics. He hates us; He hates all the God has created and redeemed and wants nothing more than to pulverize it. He wont' give you a break. He won't let you catch your breath. He is no gentleman. And if he can't tempt you into immorality and apathy, he'll try to get you so busy, you are distracted from the best thing you could be doing.  And if that doesn't work, He'll discourage you. He'll saturate your mind with thoughts like, "What does it matter?" "Who cares anyway?" "Why am I even here?" "It's all just too much to hold together?" "I can't do it."  And if he manages to keep you discouraged long enough and gets you to that darkness, he can destroy you. 

That's where I was Sunday afternoon. I'd laid down my offensive weapon and had a meltdown. At times, our emotions need release; if we don't let some pressure off at vital moments, the dam will eventually rupture. And then, what a flooded mess it leaves in its wake.

Do tears exhibit a lack of strength? No. Sometimes, we have to allow ourselves enough vulnerability to recognize our need and where our dependence lies. If we see that our dependence has been leaning against our own "do-it-yourself" attitude, than we've lost sight of our purpose and our energy source. And nothing succeeds on an eternal level when we declare ourselves capable within our own strength. 

It's His story and we are here for Him. So whether the season feels like one of struggle, or drought, or confusion, or just good ol' fatigue, perhaps it's time to allow what's deeper access to the light. What is it that is anchoring us? Are we anchored at all? If our anchor is ourselves we're in for a major wind-whipping--exhaustion will be quick to follow. 

Take John 16:33 to heart: Christ told us we'd have it tough here. It won't be easy but hold out hope (our steadfast anchor), He will bring us in. He will bring us to the shores of Heaven. He told us so, so that when we get shaken by tumultuous seas, we'd hold on and rest in His peace.

And so, my dear, if you are in Him, you are not alone. 

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Human Understanding

Me. You. Them. Us.

Prejudice boundary lines are dividing people in implosive ways this week.

Different colored skin? Target.
Different religious beliefs? Target
Different moral code? Target
Different occupation? Target

Wait, what?

Now--more than I've seen in my lifetime--police officers are murdered because they wear a badge. Those who sacrifice safety to protect ours--and get little compensation or accolades for it--are now the ones people want to kill? Tell me where is the sense in that?
For the sake of argument, perhaps a cop makes a mistake in another state--gets a little too trigger happy (as many are saying). Perhaps disciplinary action should take place. But, why oh why, should people then think that all cops everywhere are evil? What would happen to our world without officers?  Talk about the epitome of illogical reasoning and ignorant prejudice.

If a teacher thrashes a student for misbehaving and steps over the acceptable code of conduct line, do we then declare all teachers abusive and negligent? Of course not. To do so would be absurd.

If a service-repair man comes to fix an issue with your appliance and doesn't reconnect tubes properly, and water leaks all over your new hardwood floors (yes, this actually happened to my friend), do you then declare all repair people dishonest and lazy and organize a party to have them all tied up and hung? Your friends would think you'd jumped off the deep end, wouldn't they?

If a Christian twists Scripture and uses it to manipulate and slander and shows nothing of God's grace and loving truth to people, should we denounce all Christians as bigoted and judgmental liars?  Hmm...

What's going on in our country results from a world thrown into chaos by situational ethics.
When we determine what the "good" and the "evil" is and it's subjective to our own moral code, not only does common sense depart us, but our God-established ability to understanding right and wrong also vanishes.

Murder is murder, whether your skin is white, black, or covered with a badge.
Hating another human being grows from selfish prejudice: I am better than you, my ways are better than yours, you are not acceptable, therefore--and here comes the scary conclusion--you should be discarded. 

But, if we try to understand just a little, if we show some compassion, and attempt to empathize with another person, we have stepped back closer into what it means to be human, designed in God's image.

So, I'd encourage those grieving and those angered to rise up and say "enough!" Enough with discarding that which we don't understand. Enough with killing that which we don't like. Enough with saying, "My way or you all die!"

Humility brings us to a place of community and right desires.
Charity allows us to forgive and move to a place of wholeness and wisdom.
And God's standards free us from creating faulty ones that corrupt and crumble.

Monday, June 27, 2016

In a World of Bad News, Something Good to Hear...

My husband and I dropped by Barnes & Noble after our date Wednesday night. The smell of coffee and fresh-bound paper always allures us in, and as Aaron skims his favorite sections, I find myself in the clearance aisle or the children's books. That night though, I decided to peer through the periodicals on writing. I don't recall which journal supplied the information, but the overarching theme of the month was marriage and--more specifically--divorce.

Apparently, a new trend has risen to the top of the creative non-fiction genre, and it's called "the divorce memoir." The grief of such an acclaimed new sub-genre made me want to cry or throw up. How sad that we are now writing for--celebrating and exploiting through publication--the decimation of marriage. I also uncovered that many states allow people to "earn" their officiant privilege by taking an $11 online certification course. Excuse me?

Originally, I thought I'd write about the growing trend to celebrate what's broken. After all, you see the rebellious idea everywhere, a decimation of the traditional moral structure of our culture. But then I started thinking: sometimes we don't need more discussion about what isn't right in this world (for that assaults us more than it should). Sometimes we need to be reminded that people are choosing to follow God's ways. They are listening, responding, and walking out in Christ's love.

We need more celebration of what is right, of what is beautiful, of what is restored and redeemed. Where can we look to see God's unveiling work?

About a girl...About a God.

Jennifer's story of discovery: 

A lesbian's story of change.

Kim's story of alcoholism and inner turmoil: what happens when you humbly confess, "I have a problem and I need help." The loving hands of Christ mirrored in your spouse invite you to a better way.

The captivating beauty of The Gospel is that it is good news. We aren't just told of our broken selves and left with fatalistic answers (get pleasure, that's all that matters OR live for today for tomorrow you are worm food). No, we are given an Answer too, a cure, a remedy for our dead souls. And here we stand renewed--dry bones come to life--all because of The Good News come down to Earth taking our death and handing us the keys to eternity. What GOOD News indeed!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

When you want your own Swiss Family Robinson Adventure

As children, my brother Zach and I watched Disney's Swiss Family Robinson over and over. We'd watch it, rewind it, and plead with Mom to let us watch it again. She rarely let us watch two movies back-to-back, even if was the same film. So, we'd hop up and pretend our own Swiss Family Robinson adventure, imagining our clubhouse was our very own tree-house, secluded on a private tropical island, complete with roaming tigers and coconut bombs. We'd concoct "delicious" meals in our sandbox, gleaning fruits and edible plants from our bordering woods.

Our Missouri suburbia acreage hardly mirrored the exotic climate of the Robinson's island. Even so, we could fabricate an environment that brought us great joy...not because we had the ideal setting, but because we desired to make the most of what we did have.

Adventure is more about imagination and playfulness than it is about setting or circumstances. 

As an adult, I've lost touch with this more cheerful approach to life. Crippled by social media and the comparison game, I feel my soul whine, "But, I want to go too...I want to be there, not here. I want a change of setting."

Change of setting isn't bad, nor is vacation--I'm a huge advocate of them both. But, merely surviving 51 weeks a year so you can relax and play on one isn't much of a life. I've done it, and I don't recommend it. Because as soon as you return home and the reality of everyday life pushes in, you start to suffocate. And one week back, I'm asking when can I take another vacation.

All the money in the world won't buy you a rested soul or a playful attitude; you have to acquire that on the everyday adventures, not just the once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

If you are like me, a homeschool mom with another job from home, you know that changing attitude isn't going to "fix" everything. After all, home isn't just a sanctuary of respite; it's our office too. We see every pile, every dusty picture frame, every dirty dish and forgotten toy. The rooms can scream at us for attention. We can ignore it for awhile, but finding the ability to fully exhale doesn't always seem possible. Sometimes we have to get a little more perspective. Leave the house. Even so, you don't have to escape to the Caribbean or spend hundreds of dollars on spa treatment.

Force yourself to think outside the box...but still inside the budget.

*Go to a Farmer's Market and select a few things you've hardly cooked with before. Take it home and try a new recipe.

*Have a bonfire and make s'mores, letting the kids catch fireflies.

*Take a day trip to a town you've never seen; Google a 2-hour radius and see what part of your state (or surrounding states) you've been missing.

*Set up a scavenger hunt around town and see which family team finishes first. Complete the evening by comparing pictures and eating ice cream.

*Play frisbee golf and bring a picnic lunch.

*Hang up a calendar of fun and random holidays: for example, in June, we have doughnut day, juggling day, drive-in movie day, onion ring day, nature photography day, etc.
Have fun with it.

*Concoct your own cooking-challenge by inviting over another couple or two and each bringing three or four items to swap. Set a time and see what you can create.

*Have a themed party for no reason at all: luau (tiki torches, grass skirts, fancy drinks with umbrellas), carnival (ring toss, face painting, hotdogs), tea party (finger sandwiches, fancy hats, tarts), or theme it around a certain ethnic food/culture.

*Have an outdoor painting party.

*Go to an outdoor festival or concert.

For more ideas...

Just remember that creating the idyllic conditions for adventure is more about mindset and a willing spirit. Kids remember the special times we share life together--even if nothing was expensive or elaborate. Be intentional with your time. Set up a "dream list" of adventures to pull from. And have an attitude that says, "We're out to laugh and make memories!"

Friday, May 27, 2016

When You Feel Tired: Grace for Today

I'm captivated by color and creation and the magical growth of a seed developing into a plant, but, sadly, my thumbs are brown--not a green one to be found. In fact, I've even been known to kill a succulent or two (Tell me, how does one manage to kill a cactus?).

Growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, I helped my parents garden large plots of land and raise chickens. I couldn't do much other than water (with supervision) and weed, but my dad somehow possessed that secret application to grow lush plants and plentiful harvests.

The few times I've tried to garden in a little raised box, I've been met with spindly stalks and shriveled leaves. I either over-water or under-water. I can't seem to get the right soil. And if that doesn't succeed in destroying my attempts, the bugs devour what's left.

The other night, Aaron heard my lament again--same song, different stanza. I am not making a dent. I can't get anywhere with these kids. Everything I say feels like a new idea the next day; like I'm just going through the same futile motions every hour.

Discouraged, I went to bed and read Larry Crabb's words, "Imagine yourself faithfully following your call to serve when your only results are more weeds." That's it! That's exactly how I feel. How did he know? Day after day of pulling weeds.

Why am I doing what I'm doing? Am I doing it for a particular outcome, or am I just doing it as an act of worship to Him? Hard questions for this results-oriented girl.

But, I'm learning...ever. so. slowly.

"...everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil. 3:8, NLT).

Regardless of what "profits" my life produces, I can succeed and move forward if my focus is on knowing Christ. And that's enough to keep me pulling weeds till He returns or calls me Home.

More posts like this...

When we are tired, we need to remember why we are running and who is running with us.
When life leaves you feeling "blah". 

Monday, May 16, 2016

What’s it all for Anyway?

     I’ve never been much of a prayer warrior; to me, prayer involved some arbitrary equation where 2+2 never quite equaled 4. But, for the life of me, the right formula remained elusive. When one of my greatest prayers for my father’s physical healing was answered with a “no” and my dad left this place for Heaven, the Lord challenged me to step back from my prayers and assess what I was praying for. Was my faith in a certain answer or was my faith in the secure identity of who God is (regardless of what He answered)? Would I be okay with God as Lord if He only ever answered “no” from now until I departed for eternity? Did He have to say yes to my requests for me to believe He was faithful?

     So, I went on a search: how were biblical prayers formatted? What did those prayers focus on? Very few times were prayers about specific circumstances—of course, there are those examples too—but more often, recorded prayers were about acknowledging ourselves in front of a Great God. When we truly acknowledge the overwhelming nature of God’s attributes, we can’t help but be humbled. Instead of going to the throne demanding a certain outcome, we approach with grateful confidence, knowing He will lead us where we need to go. We go with open hands, seeing what He’s already poured into them. And then we ask, “What would you like to do with this?”

     Prayer is relationship; it isn’t a manipulation tool. God is not my infinite vending machine.  Being a recovering control freak, I cringe at how many times I’ve tried to coerce people…coerce God into following my plan—as if I even could. I’d take God my to-do list and explain why it’s essential He follow my protocol; after all, my plan is for the best, right? My arrogance is laughable at best; downright idolatrous at worst.

     The times when I’ve tried to pressure someone—usually my husband or child—into something I saw as best have never quite turned out the way I’d hoped. In desperation, I’d nag, deploying every manipulative device I possessed, but my efforts often seemed to turn the person further from my desired outcome.  After futile attempts, I finally resolved myself “to just pray.”  [On a side note, the Enemy has duped us into thinking that prayer is a last resort, give-up endeavor void of power.  Oh, how wrong we are to believe such lies.]  I asked God to show me how to pray His will over my loved ones.  And step-by-step, I walked beside Him in my thoughts and desires and my conversation with Him.

    If I was praying for a person’s heart to change, I would see more results when I stepped back and let God be God for them, instead of trying to tell them what I thought they needed to do. Did the transformation come in my timing? Hardly ever. Even so, He’s done some miraculous transformation in my life and the lives of those around me, bringing change as only He could. Some of the prayers I’m praying still haven’t had a definitive answer yet, but I’m okay with that. I trust that the Lord will do what needs to be done when it needs to happen. And even if I don’t comprehend the answer or agree with the results, I know God’s nature: He is good and loving and more than capable without me. He sees what I'm blind to. He holds all things in that beautiful tension. Therefore, He is trustworthy. Prayer doesn’t have to be a desperate or a scary thing anymore.

   I’d say that truly purposeful prayer isn’t about producing a certain result. It’s more about changing my heart into a right attitude that aligns with who God is and who He says I am, and then—and only then— do I reach out for something “more.” Prayer has become about connecting with Him and less about what I can get from Him. And He Himself is so much more than anything He can give me anyway. He is more than everything.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Goodbye Front Porch

Out of the 50+ houses in our subdivision, about three of them hold front porches. In the warm spring evenings, a stroll through the area will produce little-to-no contact with neighbors, as people are either inside or out on their back decks. Sometimes the subdivision can feel more like a ghost town. 

But just one generation ago, people did life in a more community-oriented nature. My mom and her family were committed members of a church in the greater St. Louis area. It's morphed into a larger congregation, but my Grandma still remains devoted and involved, having taught Sunday school for years. My mom and dad had over 700 people at their wedding, because their church families were so vast, and they were a part of a deeper understanding of community. My mom still has close bonds to the families she grew up with in that town.

Today, even though we are more globally "connected" than ever, people isolate themselves and avoid regularly face-to-face interactions. Sadly, we're too busy networking contacts and conquering the world to sit outside over a glass of iced tea and just shoot the breeze.

About a month or so ago, an older couple moved in across the street from us. Although Aaron had met them on afternoon while both were working in their respective yards, the kids and I hadn't made direct introductions. Despite that, Mr. and Mrs. Watson would regularly sit outside their front door (no porch, but a paved part of their driveway) and wave and smile generously. We'd always return the wave and drive on. 

One day Madeline decided she wanted to take our neighbors something. She baked them some chocolate cake cookies, and her Grammy and I walked over to their house to welcome them to the neighborhood. Ironically, I think we felt more welcomed in return. They told us a little of their story and their families and asked us questions. The wife gave Maddie a hug like she was one of her own grandchildren and invited us over to pick strawberries from their patch or sit on their porch swing. 

They'd been trying to find a church they could get connected to, and had been attending our congregation for a couple of weeks. Their only major reservation was the size (our church runs close to 2,000). 
The 75-year-old D Watson lamented how challenging it would be to find true community in such an overwhelming situation. They had moved away from a church with fewer people and everyone truly was family. I had no answer for them, other than encouraging them to be a part of a smaller community group.

Authentic and lasting community comes through the Body of Christ. Fully loving our neighbor follows on the heals of loving the Lord. He is the One that imparts the will and ability to selflessly love and commit to people. So, we can only love others rightly when we are aligned with God and His principles. 

Dallas Willard says, "His [God's] intent is for us to learn to mesh our kingdom with the kingdom of others. Love of neighbor, rightly understood, will make this happen. But we can only love adequately by taking as our primary aim the integration of our rule with God's" (The Divine Conspiracy 26).

Perhaps that's why community has diminished over the years: we've let go of our submission to God's ruling authority. Consequently, other relationships have crumbled as well. 

Harmony and community come when we humbly submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allow His Spirit to unify us. (Eph. 4:3)

I John 1:7a, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another,"

Acts 2:46-47, "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

Psalm 133:1, "How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!"