05
Apr
14

sons, monogamy and marriage

As we finished eating dinner one night, we had a conversation about marriage, and one of my sons said offhandedly, “Monogamy? Pshtt,” and waved his hand like he was dismissing it (monogamy, that is). Now, this son in particular likes to sometimes say shocking things to get a reaction. And I don’t normally react, but this had me curious at the very least, not to mention a little worried.

I didn’t know monogamy was on the table, so to speak. So without appearing like “WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT??” I delved a little further. I didn’t know if this son believe in polygamy, or if he just didn’t believe in marriage and was planning on being a player, but either way, this was not good. And I could see that Jeff was about to have a stroke.

So as this son and I cleared the table together, I said in what I thought was a relaxed normal voice, “What do you mean, ‘monogamy, pshtt’? Does this mean that you believe in polygamy or are you planning on being a player?” He kind of looked at me incredulously, like he didn’t know what in the world was I talking about. And then, he explained that he thought people jumped into marriage way too fast and didn’t know what they were getting into, that they didn’t take marriage seriously enough. This is true. So what he was  in fact telling me was that he didn’t want the Disney version of marriage. He realizes that marriage is not “the happily ever after” that many people jump into and then jump out of just as quickly when things get tough. He realizes that it’s hard work, and he takes it seriously.

If and when this son decides to get married, he will make an especially loving husband and will be in it for keeps.

Sigh of relief. On all accounts.

03
Mar
14

why Lent?

Growing up in a Baptist church, I don’t even think Lent was on the radar, at least not on my radar. Christmas and Easter were what we celebrated or at least what I remember anyway. We’d come to church on Easter wearing pastels and singing songs about Jesus being risen from the dead. But Lent? I didn’t even know what Lent meant.

I only started hearing about Lent a dozen or so years ago. We attended a church where people talked about what they were giving up for Lent. At first, I didn’t know what in the world they were talking about. After I learned a little more, Lent became a fun and interesting topic for discussion about what to give up. There was the usual giving up of broccoli or Brussel sprouts or something that you didn’t like or wouldn’t eat anyway. But some more serious Lent challenges, for some of us, were to give up chocolate or sugar or coffee. One year, I made my kids give up something. I used Lent as a bad parenting technique; it didn’t work out.  (Lent in My Belly Button)

I think rituals are important, but for a long time, I failed to realize what the real purpose of Lent was. It became about some kind of willpower, rather than any kind of Jesus significance.

But why give up anything for Lent? What actually is the significance? Why deprive myself for one minute when I don’t really have to? For me, it has become about the waiting, the anticipation of Jesus. I’ve noticed when I have fasted in the past, it’s at that moment when I don’t think I can stand it for one minute longer that that’s the moment when Jesus steps in, and He becomes my strength. All my self-reliance and thinking I have it figured out go out the window. And I lean in hard because I feel like my stomach will eat itself, and it’s at this point that I realize I have nothing in myself. I am physically and spiritually weak, and I really need Jesus. So that’s why I participate in Lent. It makes me realize my utter frailty, my utter lack of patience and self-control, and it makes me realize my need, my absolute dependence on God for food, for life, for everything.

About mid-February I start to think about Lent; I start thinking about what my give-up will be, not just to do something because that’s what you do. But how will I fast in anticipation of Jesus? What will help me see Him clearly and reveal my need for Him the most?

Last year, I cannot even remember what I gave up or even if I did in fact give up anything, but a friend challenged Jeff and me  to read the entire Bible during Lent. So that’s what I did. At first it was a challenge, but then it became something much, much more than that. Not to be overly dramatic, but it was life-changing for me. I felt like I ate His Word, and it became life and breath.  I absolutely could not wait to dig in and read each day, and I would go to bed in anticipation of what I would read and “see” the next day. I couldn’t wait to see how the Holy Spirit revealed Himself and how often He surprised me with His truth and love and hope in crazy kind of places (like Leviticus, and I kind of fell in love with Isaiah).

When I read in Psalm 19 how God’s Word renews our lives, makes the inexperienced wise, makes our hearts glad, makes our eyes light up, is more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey, I can say a resounding, “Yes, Yes, YES!” When I read the Bible like I would any other novel, I feel like I absorb it into the interior parts of my soul, my head, my heart. I feel it in my bones, and  it becomes a part of me.

I read somewhere (the internet) that Lent is 40 days long and used for prayer and fasting in the time before Easter, but the period between Ash Wednesday, which happens to be on Jeff’s birthday this year (March 5), and Easter (April 20) is 46 days long. So I’m excited to once again have the opportunity to read the Bible from Ash Wednesday to Easter.  This sounds daunting and overwhelming, and it is at times. But I believe the Holy Spirit teaches us all things, and I’m excited to not just know more but see Him and hear from Him in ways that I haven’t yet heard. So I’m almost a little giddy and ready to start today, but I wait. The waiting, the anticipation is good.

I’m not necessarily giving up anything for Lent, except maybe reading other books and giving up watching more DVDs than I really need to. But no matter what I do or don’t do for Lent or any other time, the focus must be Christ. (Heb. 12)

Because of the year that I tried to make my kids give up stuff, I decided that every one should choose their own Lent give-up. It just really works better that way. The stirrings of my heart or whatever you want to call them don’t seem to apply to others the same way they do to me, and I’ve come to realize that the Holy Spirit’s not usually talking to other people in the same way that He’s talking to me. And so I don’t get caught up with pushing my own stuff on people. Not anymore. I trust God to lead me, as well as the people around me, in the places that He wants each of us to go. And that makes it so much more exciting to hear all the different ways that God wakes each one of us up to Him.:)

01
Mar
14

Eve Taught Me All I Need to Know

Eve, the mother of all mankind, had a huge responsibility and weight upon her shoulders as the first woman, wife and mother. Eve didn’t  get a choice to accept or decline that role; God Himself chose her. God created her from Adam’s rib, put her in the Garden of Eden with Adam, and the rest is history. Or is it?

We give Eve a hard time; we accuse her of blowing it for all of us. I have often thought that if I had been there in place of her that I would not have been deceived, that I would have done things much differently. But even in my few moments of pride in thinking that way, I know I would have done the same thing. I would have grasped for what I was not supposed to have. I would have risked my relationship with God to have my own way. Just like Eve, I would not have been satisfied with the life I’d been given.

The serpent deceived Eve. And when Eve chose to believe the serpent’s lies over God’s truth, she doubted God’s goodness.  And Eve’s sin was not only disobedience to God but also wanting to live a life independent from God, wanting to be her own god, wanting to know more than she needed to know, thinking that God was holding out on her.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul uses Eve’s deception as a warning for the people of Corinth to not be led away from their devotion to Christ. Poor Eve. Paul uses her as a “what not to do” person. But the point of all this: Eve sinning, being blamed by her husband and by every woman in the world for our plight, is that I finally realized it was not the end of the story for Eve. It never is. There is always hope. Always redemption.

There were certainly consequences for Adam and Eve’s sin. God booted them out of the perfect garden; and for women, there is pain in childbirth and a neediness that make some of us women want to cling to our husbands instead of God. But God didn’t boot Adam and Eve out with their leaves trailing behind them. He didn’t let them go off into a wilderness without properly clothing them first. His provision for them showed that He still loved them and would continue to take care of them. They were His children, and I believe Eve saw God’s tender care of her and responded to her Abba Father’s love. Love, not fear.

After the garden, Eve only spoke twice more in the Bible. When Eve had Cain, her firstborn son, she said, “I have had a male child with the Lord’s help.” With the Lord’s help…this seems small and insignificant, but for the first time, it stood out powerfully to me. Because after everything was said and done, Eve acknowledged her dependence on God.

And, if I didn’t see it the first time, God once again opened my eyes to His love of Eve and her dependence on Him when she had her third son Seth, the one born to her after Cain killed Abel. In her final words, Eve said, “God has given me another child in place of Abel.” God has given me..has graced me with…

Eve got it. She was not lost; she was not without hope. She saw God’s goodness, His grace, and she acknowledged His good gifts. And we are not without hope, no matter how badly we have blown it in the past. There is always redemption, always God’s goodness, always God’s amazing grace.

“Tune my heart to sing Thy grace…” I often sing this song to myself, reminding me that I cannot even tune my own heart to sing God’s grace…He has to tune it for me. His grace is not something that I can conjure up…not something I can make appear in my own life. It just is, and I can receive it with open hands and an open heart, or I can shut down and choose to reject it. Eve accepted it. God tuned Eve’s heart to sing His grace.

I’m sure Eve felt very deeply for what she had lost, not just in terms of things and perfection but also in the relationship with God that was different. But I believe she grew in amazing ways because of the trial and suffering she brought upon herself. I sometimes find myself repeating the first part of Eve’s story daily in wanting my own way and grasping for what I think will make me happy, but thank goodness, Eve’s story didn’t end there. And mine doesn’t either. The first part helps bring me to my knees in realizing  that I cannot do this life without God. He has to be the center. I see this in Eve, in her acceptance and acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and goodness in her life.

So thank you, Eve, for doing the thankless job of being the first one, and thank you for representing us all, showing us that we are all frail and easily deceived. But thank you, most of all, for acknowledging your dependence on a good God and seeing His good gifts, even in the midst of terrible struggles. We see your example of hope, and we see God’s graciousness in providing for all of His children. So, thanks, for pointing us to Him.

07
Feb
14

counselors, pastors, church and growing up in God

When I was about 30, Jeff and I saw a counselor. We’d been married ten years at that point, and I was just angry. Really angry. I was there to unload. But during that three-hour session, I had a great epiphany (more like a lightning bolt in a gentle God kind of way) about Matthew 18 concerning God’s forgiveness and my forgiveness toward others (specifically Jeff). I remember hearing the Holy Spirit speak to me then for the first time. I’m sure He had before; I just failed to recognize it as His voice. But once He spoke to me at that moment, my heart softened, and my eyes became like a faucet that no amount of tissue could stop. The problems in our marriage didn’t magically go away when I heard the Holy Spirit, but I learned at that point that God was really real and that He loved me very much. And that was enough.

Over the last twelve years, I’ve been learning to trust Him gradually more and more. And over the last five years, I feel like I’ve been in God’s laboratory, and He has done some serious damage to who I thought I was and who I thought He was. Not that I have to figure out who He is and put Him in some kind of “God-box,” but I know Him to be good, and I know Him to be kind and gentle, and I trust Him with my life and with the lives of the people around me. And that is enough.

I have gone to church my whole life with the exception of about 3 1/2 years, and those three plus years were where I actually grew the most. And God did this growing thing in me. He taught me Himself. I’m not ditching or slamming church here, nor am I advocating ditching or slamming church, but what I’m trying to say is “going to church” is not the key thing. Religion is not the key thing. Jesus is. Life has to be about this relationship with Him. So what does that look like?

A few years back, I came across this Scripture that changed me or at the very least my way of thinking about how God teaches us. I John 2:20, 27 says, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One and all of you have knowledge…The  anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie; just as He has taught you, remain in Him.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a message preached about this passage. Does this mean that we don’t necessarily need someone explaining the Bible to us? Does this mean that the Holy Spirit can really teach us by Himself without the aid of the pastor? What if we taught that, promoted that? Would that empty the pews on Sunday? Would that mean we couldn’t support those buildings and budgets because we don’t need the pastor in the way we think we need the pastor? I’m not trying to be snarky here. Jeff just became a pastor, and part of our living depends on gifts given to the church.

But I’m not worried about our living; God has shown up more times than I could possibly count. Nor am I concerned with filling pews with people who are interested in just playing church and not actually “being the church.” Because what I want more than anything is for God’s people to grow up in Jesus, to be able to see God at work in their lives, to be able to read the Bible, God’s Truth, and for Him to set them free. And I don’t think that necessarily comes from hearing what a pastor has to say on Sunday. That might be a part it, but that is definitely not the whole picture.

What if we each learn how to hear what the Holy Spirit is teaching each one of us daily? What if we believe what James 1 says about asking God for wisdom and actually ask Him and see Him teach us Himself? That could be life-changing, church-changing, Kingdom-changing.

What if we begin to view the pastor as a shepherd who, like everyone else, is led by the chief Shepherd? He (the pastor, the little shepherd) is there to point people to Jesus and hopefully teach people how to see God and hear from the Holy Spirit themselves. The pastor’s sermons are important, but probably not as important as we think they are, or rely on them to be.

This is what the Bible says for pastors to be and do: “Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”  I Peter 5:2-3 It seems like it’s not what pastors say that is so important but rather how they walk it out with their families, friends, congregations. And isn’t that true of all of us?

One day I got irritated with Jeff about him not picking up his phone and meeting whatever demands I had at the time. I usually only call when I want or need something. But anyway, he was gone; I needed something, and he wasn’t answering. I was mad but picked up my Bible anyway and the Proverbs I read that day pretty much said this…Don’t pick stupid fights… I had to laugh out loud at myself and my little tantrum. I love how God does that for me. It’s like He’s saying to me, Are you really going to take yourself that seriously? Eyes off Jeff; eyes back on Me.

We just started a Bible study on the women of the Bible that I am super excited about, and I recently did our first Bible study on Eve. I’ve read those passages so many times. And for those of us who grew up in church, we almost know them by heart and sometimes we might even be tempted to think that they are boring, but the Holy Spirit still reveals Himself in the middle of those things if we’re willing to listen.

Now, when I began preparing for the Bible study, I ordered every book from the library I could get my hands on about the women of the Bible. But I have to say, they ended up in my closet because why would I go there for information and inspiration when I have God’s inspired Word sitting in front of me? Once again, other people’s opinions are great, and I’m really glad that they had the Holy Spirit teach them, but I want the Holy Spirit to teach me without their help, without my mind being clouded by their thoughts and feelings. So I dug in myself. Just me, my Bible, the Holy Spirit. And I learned some pretty amazing things as a result.

There’s so much that the Holy Spirit wants to teach you, to teach me. Something else might be your thing; but here’s my thing: Dig in just a little…say a prayer; read a verse; take a walk; sing out loud; show up; hang on and see if God shows up in a way you can hear. There’s not a formula, but you have to start somewhere and what do any of us have to lose? And the gain? I think I’ve just barely scratched the surface.

06
Feb
14

Courage: I Can’t Do This Without You

We have huge opportunities in our neighborhood, in our community. But honestly sometimes I’m a little afraid. I’m nervous that I won’t do things right, that I will zone out when someone is telling me something important, that I will be confused and won’t have any idea what I’m supposed to do. And yet, God is opening doors and placing opportunities to go outside my comfort zone and offer myself. To show up. Are we willing to step beyond our little spaces and offer a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty? (Matthew 10)

I like the thought of helping people. I like the thought of volunteering and being useful, but for me the actual doing it is the hard part. Finding the courage to step out and maybe not do things the right way, admit my lack of common sense, admit that I have a directionally challenged brain and just be willing to do what is needed and to be able to a laugh out loud at my limitations and see what God can do with them is still hard for me. But it’s really not about me or my fear, my pain, my insecurities. But what I’m learning is to show up with open hands and an open heart and see what God can do with them.

Some of us from Trinity volunteered a couple of weeks ago to help in our local school with a vision and hearing screening. We had no idea what we would be doing going in there, and I have to admit I was nervous. I talked with one of our church people when we were at the school, and she admitted she had been nervous too, and that after she originally signed up, she thought, “What in the world am I doing?” But she showed up anyway, and she did her job well. Her courage amazed me…she’s 79.

The task that I was given for the screening is one of the things I’m no good at; I had to pay attention to what I was being told and then go find different classrooms. My brain does not work at all with directions and finding stuff. I totally freeze up and cannot even pay attention to what I’m being told. But I honestly did the best I could, and I walked around and around and up and down halls and eventually found what I was looking for. It was good for me to have to try to find my way around; it was good for me to be uncomfortable. It was good for me to have to walk around the building and “own” it.

During church last week, we talked about several more opportunities to volunteer and help in our local school, and a friend came up to me and said that she wanted to do things like that, but she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to do what was asked of her. And this is what I told her…I’m scared too. But what if we do this thing together? What if we face our fears and “kumbaya” it together? There’s not only huge encouragement in it being more than just myself, but there can be real community in serving together, knowing that we’re not left alone with our fears and insecurities, knowing that the people around us are facing the same fear, different situations maybe, but the same paralyzing fear to see beyond ourselves to the world around us and to actually show up in this life we’re called to live.

We’re really in this thing together. Matthew 18: 20 says, “When two or three are gathering in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” Jesus sent His disciples out in groups of two. And it’s pretty amazing when believers are gathered the things that God can accomplish through them. He works individually as well. No doubt about that. But the sense of togetherness, the courage that God can build in a community of people who are focused on Him can be pretty amazing. The energy, the strength, not to mention the excitement of being involved in something that is bigger than ourselves and not for our own glory but for His glory is just a downright “jumping up and down for joy” kind of thing.

Paul and Silas, beaten and thrown into jail, prayed and sang praises together at midnight. The result: the jailer and his family came to know Jesus. Together. There’s something about doing stuff with other people that gives us a boost of courage. A “we’re not in this alone” kind of thing.  We’re serving Jesus together. If I fall down, there’s going to be someone there to help me get back up. I don’t have to do this stuff alone.There will be someone to sing praises with to God.

Even when Jesus went back to heaven, He told His disciples that He was not going to leave them alone. He told them that He was going  to send a Comforter who would be with them always…the Holy Spirit within them, within us to give us courage to be bold and do the things that we cannot do alone, on our own. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”(Ephesians 2)  But it still takes courage to take the first step and the many steps thereafter. But we don’t have to do it alone.

So whether it’s just me and the Holy Spirit or a whole bunch of people and the Holy Spirit, God can do this thing that He’s called us to do. It’s His kingdom. He’s in charge, and I may not know the specifics of what I am supposed to be doing all the time, but I know this: God has called me to this life, and He’s called me to give this life away for Him, and this absolutely begins in my home and with my family. He may be calling me to other things as well, but it starts with the people closest to me and works its way out. Jesus says in Matthew 5 that we are to let our light shine, so the good works (you know, the ones that God created that we just have to walk in) point people to God and bring Him glory.

I don’t have a lot of courage. I don’t particularly love doing new things. But I know God can do this thing through me (whatever the thing is He’s calling me to do at the time), and it’s even more exciting to see when He does it through others. And then, when we all join hands and hearts and do it together, I almost come out of my skin with joy.

Courage bleeds neediness.

Courage sees hope in dark places.

Courage leans heavy on Jesus and moves in the middle of fear. –Emily P. Freeman, A Million Little Ways, 136

03
Feb
14

when stuff unravels

Jeff and I are in the middle of something that we had not anticipated. It has nothing to do with our family or our church family or us as a couple. From our perspective, it’s huge and troublesome and overwhelming. But the crazy thing is that it’s really nobody’s fault, and for that I am grateful. I tend to be a “blamer,” just like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. But this crazy, unexpected thing, I cannot blame anyone for. We could not possibly have seen this coming. We could not have prepared for it or even fixed it. We just had no idea. But here we are anyway having to deal with something way beyond our control, something that a few years back would have left me a panicky mess.

I have a few options when I get to these dark places that threaten to overwhelm me and make me want to “numb out,” freak out, and figure out someone to blame. But I’ve been here before. Maybe not exactly the same situation, but I’ve had similar feelings in my gut, and I’ve seen God do some amazing things in those dark times, so I’m trusting that this is another opportunity for growth. We don’t necessarily get opportunities like these every day.

I see God in the middle of this. I trust that He is here with me at all times and lean heavily into Him. This is not something I can make better; not something I can manufacture with an “It’ll be fine” attitude; it’s not something I can ignore or make go away. It’s something that has to be faced head on but can be faced with confidence, knowing that Jesus is walking with us through it and allowing Him to do His good work in us. And eventually when others go through this too, we will be able to comfort them in their struggle…been there, done that; God is good, especially in the middle of it because His mercies never cease. He is truly kind and gentle.

So pray for us. Not that the situation would get easier or go away, but that we would face it with God’s strength. I spent one night last week watching DVDs for hours curled up on the couch, bone-tired and burdened. Today is a new day, and I can face it with Jesus as my strength, and these are not just words that I throw around to make myself feel better or appear especially “religious.” With me, what you see is what you get, and if Jesus weren’t real to me, I wouldn’t be talking about Him or depending on Him as my very life. For me, life is all about relationships…the relationships I have with God, with my family, with friends, with those I come into contact with, and when my relationships are out of whack…any of them, I feel it deeply. Thankfully, God and God alone keeps me grounded. He tunes my heart to sing His grace.

And just as James says to rejoice in trials because they allow us to endure and then become more mature in God, I want to welcome this struggle, realizing that we will be able to see God work this out for His glory and our good, as well as see Him grow us up a bit more. And these days, that’s what I long for most, to be fully alive, completely depending on my Abba.

18
Jan
14

Change

We recently decided we needed a change in our bedroom situation.  Jesse (17) and Jeremiah (9) shared a room.  Jonah (16) and Jake (15)  shared the other bedroom. When we moved into our house over 6 years ago, we let the kids pick out what color they wanted their rooms to be.  Jonah and Jake, who are both artistic, were in the 3rd and 4th grades and wanted a rain forest themed room and wanted to draw animals on their walls. I was cool with them drawing on their walls until I fell in love with the blue paint and the green paint (white chair rail in the middle) that I helped them choose, and then I didn’t want them to “mess” up their walls. Jonah wanted to draw vines all over the place, and Jake would have drawn amazing animals.

I prayed last night about the switch in rooms. One of my sons was having a hard time adjusting to the change, and I prayed that it would bring unity and harmony to my teenage sons, and that they would accept each other into the boys’ club with no one left out. (Jesse told me not to call it the boys’ club because that sounded weird.)

Jonah and Jeremiah are now sharing a room. We’re in the middle of painting and moving things around…most of their things are sitting in the hall right now. Jonah likes cool; he likes trendy, and he wanted a rust orange color for his room. I found a burnt orange/brown color on the mistint table at Lowe’s, and he said that would be fine. As he, Julia and I were painting his room, I don’t know if the color that somebody didn’t want was exactly what Jonah really had in mind, but as I finished up tonight, he walked in and called it “pumpkin mocha.” Which means cool. And I’m beyond excited that he likes it so much. He said it looked like a coffee shop. And Jeremiah, of course, he’s 9 and doesn’t really care what color the room is (unless it’s blue…my kids have gotten it into their minds that blue rooms look like nurseries).

Monday after we finish school, we will paint Jesse and Jake’s room gray. Jesse originally wanted “bamboo” like our rec room; Jake wanted “black.” We all compromised and went with “sable grey.” I think it will be nice. Man-cavish. No white chair rail.

I know there will be adjustments. Jesse likes to tease and throw playing cards at people (we watched some movie where the guy threw cards; Jesse thought it was cool and figured out how to do it; Julia and Jeremiah have taken it up as well); Jake likes to be left alone most of the time (I guess he figured Jesse’s throwing cards beat Jonah’s non-stop singing).  Jeremiah doesn’t know what to think because Jesse’s very gentle with him and treats him like a kid brother. But Jeremiah really looks up to Jonah and thinks Jonah is an amazing singer and actor; Jonah has an incredible opportunity to love.

We’re very much in transition. The rooms are a wreck, but my teenage boys are upstairs lying on their beds all watching a movie together, and my heart feels like it could burst.

They’re together. I’m kind of jealous of all that time they’ll spend just hanging out and all the amazing conversations they will have, Jesse getting to bond with Jake kind of for the first time, and Jonah hanging out in their room with them because he’s an extrovert and won’t mind barging in. I’m trying to figure out a way to get the love seat in there because I want to hang out in there too. Teenage boys are really funny.

I’m praying that the change will be good for everyone. I’m praying that kindness will abound, and that they would enjoy the time; it goes by so fast. Change happens. And I don’t want them to miss opportunities to know each other, to love each other, to embrace their differences.

And another thing, I would let my kids draw on their walls now…no matter how cool the paint color.:)




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