Sunday, November 9, 2008
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I will be honest, I have been chafing at the bit a little lately. There are so many unfullfilled desires--time to work out, a house that stays clean for more than 10 minutes, hikes I would like to take, time to write, conversations I long to have or people I would enjoy spending time with without having to break up a sibling argument or find a lost hair barrette... and plenty of others. I am ashamed to admit that my thoughts have dwelt far more on these things of late rather than on my husband and children. I must even confess occasional stabs of jealousy at my husband's workout time during his lunch hour. I turned these cares over to my Father in prayer, and He replied, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
This is not what I wanted to hear.
"But God!" I argued, "I am so tired! I need to somehow teach these children, manage my household, minister to my husband, and the list just goes on and on and on. I badly want to get back in shape, but for that I need time. And sometimes such and such a thing irritates me so. I just don't feel that I can deal with it anymore. Wouldn't this scenario be a better one for my life? I really think I would have more joy if only You would change ______."
"... let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
"Lord, I feel like that is all I've ever done is deny myself! Remember _____ and _____ and _____? Can't I, just this once ______?"
"...let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
"Oh, but it is so heavy! I want to serve You with joy, but my cross is too heavy for me and I feel I am just trudging ahead numbly."
"Heavier than the weight of all sins of all time, past, present and future? Heavier than My Son, who was with Me since the beginning, enduring separation from Me--not because He sinned, as you have--but because He chose to bear your sins out of love? Is your service weightier than His, child? Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Me."
So here I am again, absolutely convicted and not really liking it; praying for the grace to follow Him and for the desires of my heart to be aligned fully with His.
Father, please turn my heart around and make me Your faithful servant. Help me to carry the cross You have given me, not because I must, but because I love You so. Grant me the grace to take up my cross daily with an attitude of eager privilege, participating in some minute way in the sufferings of my Lord and Master. Give Your servant a greater love for You and a lesser love for my own comforts and cravings. May I yearn only for more of You. I ask for this grace in Jesus' name, amen.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
The truth is, I am looking forward to school this year. I know it will be cumbersome and at times I will long to be free of it, but if I can get my attitude right, I can enjoy this precious time with my children. That is the hardest bit for me, I think, having the correct attitude. It really all comes down to where my focus is. . . and to where it is not.
The prophet Isaiah wrote, "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You." I have found this little sentence to be absolutely true in action. When I have no peace, I find that my mind is full of my own problems or the dirtiness of my house or the burdens I carry and not of the Lord. When my mind is fixed on Him, well, the house is still a mess and my chores are still endless, but I do not have the anxiety that haunts me otherwise. I can be a regular Snow White, whistling while I work.
As this school year is about to kick off, it is my prayer that all moms, including myself, will have our minds fixed in the will of our God and King each and every day. I pray for all of you out there; that when mundane drudgery comes sneaking in to rob us of joy, we will ignore it completely, so focused are we on the glory of the One we serve. I pray that this attitude of worship and resultant peace will infect our pupils and children as well, and that this school year will be a year of spiritual victory. I pray that love would be the word that forms the root of everything we grow; that our parenting, teaching, learning, and living are all done on a foundation of love. Finally, I pray for those who do not know God and to whom this sounds like a bunch of foolishness--for you I pray that Love will find you anyway, and that this foolishness will someday make sense to you, too. Anything runs the risk of sounding foolish if we do not understand it, so Lord, enlarge our understanding!
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Around 8:00, I had settled into Aria's reading lesson while waiting on Nate to finish up in the bathroom. Just as we were finishing, the telephone rang. As is my schooltime habit, I let the machine get it and heard the voice of an old friend whom I had not heard from in a while on the other end. Something in her tone told me to pick it up, so I did. I was in for a shift in perspective.
She had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery on August 19, and she was gracious enough in the midst of this heart wrenching trial to think of me halfway across the state and take the time to call and tell me personally. She had an amazing tale of God's provision of wisdom, help, and strength. He is there with her, very palpably with her, through this and her faith amazed and humbled me. Because of His guidance, the cancer was caught early and the prognosis is good. She is continuing to homeschool her children despite having chemotherapy treatments starting next month. She sounded incredibly positive and steady and as even-keeled as ever. I wanted to cry, then I wanted not to cry when she was not. I wanted to laugh that she has such a good attitude. I wanted to hang my head in shame that I had been so caught up in ridiculous self-serving thoughts just moments before. I wanted to get on my knees and beg forgiveness from God for not trusting Him in my petty, little trials. I wanted to praise Him for preserving her life and for helping me to remember that all things, all trials, all troubles will someday pass away. Thank You, God, for Lori and I pray that You will protect her heart through all of this and that she will be around to bless us all for many more years.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
It was during the latest and most vile of these low times that I began the daily reading of 1 John. At first, the exhortations to walk in the Light and walk as He walked only added to my sense of gloom. I would weep before my Father, begging His pardon and asking Him to give me only enough faith to even ask, believing, for greater faith! I would also rail against Him, angrily wondering why He made me thus and why I had a free will when I am so clearly not responsible enough for it. My anger made me question whether I was even His, I was so disrespectful and arrogant in attitude. Slowly, He began to quiet my inner storm and to make me aware of Him reading along with me, whispering to me to take note of what I was overlooking.
As I read, with His guidance I realized that if I was not walking in His Light, I would not even be aware of the extent of my sin. By walking more closely with Him, even the faintest stains are exposed in glaring contrast to His absolute purity. The proper attitude of my heart should be thanksgiving for the cleansing power of Jesus' blood which has allowed me, sinner that I am, to stand so near, to have fellowship with Him at all. Rather than being consumed with sorrow over my sins, I am better served to put them entirely out of mind. It would be best to remove my focus from myself and place it onto Him, where it solidly belongs. This was lovingly pointed out as I read 1 John 3:19-20, "By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him, for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows everything."
My Father reminded me that, while my heart does sometimes condemn me, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). As I read, prayed, and reflected, He helped me to see that much of my problem was simple emotion. Praise Him that our salvation is not dependant on our emotional or physical state! In many ways, I am imprisoned in my flesh; engaged in continual warfare with not only "fleshly desires" but also with sleep deprivation, hormonal flux, and bad broccoli. But Christ came to free the captives and those who are bound (Isaiah 61:1). Yes, I struggle, yes, I suffer, yes it is difficult. He helps me remember, however, that "suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us," (Romans 5:4-5). All this life, all this battle with my own flesh and against the enemy's attacks, all this is meant to produce a more steadfast resolve, a more complete love, a more firm foundation--not for now, but for eternity. I am being prepared not only for this life, but for the time I am truly set free of my flesh and may worship Him unfettered by it. It is not the physical me, but my spirit that is being refined. The fact that I never stop loving Him and never stop loving my brothers and sisters in Christ is far more important than the fact that I lost my temper or allowed my thoughts to stray. My heart is His, firmly His, and that is something that no state of fatigue, illness, or indigestion will change. And again, I praise Him for deigniing to be my strength when I have none!
One final point that brought me to once more pondering the greatness of God as I should be rather than mourning my own worthlessness, which leads only to spiritual death: That is the fact that, in 1 John 5:19, it is written, "...the whole world is in the power of the evil one." Equally true, however, is that once I gave my life to Christ, I am His possession and no longer belong to this world (1 Corinthains 6:20, 7:23). Since He has overcome the world (John 16:33) I can rest assured, knowing that "greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). The most comforting thought of all, however, is that my salvation is not dependant on my mood or the state of my hormones. And God knows my frame; He remembers that I am dust (Psalm 103:14). Friends, when my emotions are overwhelmed by a malfunction of my flesh, I take heart in that!
Sunday, July 20, 2008
One of the nastiest bits of yesterday occurred when I was convicted by my own words to my children. I was dealing with a discipline issue and felt as if God were shooting a significant look my way when I spoke. Ugh. That happens far too frequently for my liking. I do wish I had it all together before God blessed me with children. How much easier would it be to teach them self-control if I had already mastered it! And why, oh, why my Father did you give me such a mulish and harrying son? The child is so incredibly smart, but I can not let my guard down for a moment! When I do, I pay dearly, and he seems to continually probe for weakness. I feel so inept! Wouldn't he have done better with one of those super-parents who manage to always discipline out of love and keep their anger in check? Or even me before my resolve was eroded by constant fatigue? I know the Lord knows best, but it is knowledge borne of faith and not sight!
Speaking of faith, I am also saddened at my amazing lack. Each time I feel a teeny bit strong in my faith, God shows me how utterly weak I am. For each time I succeed in taking every thought captive to Christ, there are 50 times I fail. Oh, how I want to keep my mind full of Him, and how impossible it seems to be sometimes! I am reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. He talks of how he would calmly expel vain or useless thoughts each time they arose in his mind until they were gone. How I desire to do just that, and instead I am swept away by some idiotic "what-if" fantasy or some equally selfish matter. And so my discouragement mounts.
Finally, there is my struggle to renounce personal desires altogether and completely submit to the authority God has placed me under (or even His own). Rather than feeling bitter or ill-used when I am not able to do something I want to do, why do I not joyfully accept it, let the matter slip from my mind, and move on? Why do I stubbornly hang onto personhood? If I am to be cleansed and a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful to my Master (Timothy 2:21) then I need to be empty of personal ambition and desire. When do my dishes ever complain that I do not use them as a frisbee? Or my coffee mug whine because it prefers flavored coffee to the potent stuff I drink? I am the creation, not the Creator! Why do I have such a powerfully foolish will?
Point in fact, this all boils down to a failure to surrender--to give up the steering wheel. Oh, I've done it here and there, but like many things in my life, I am not consistant. I long to just sit back and enjoy the ride, but some nagging anxiety always prompts me to try my hand at driving yet again. Father, please rid me of this need to remain in control. Help me to let go of what I want, help me to let go of myself entirely. I pray that I will be supple in Your hands for You to shape as You wish without resistance on my part. Forgive me for failing in faith and surrender. I raise up my request to be wholly Yours, nothing held back, permanently. I want to, and yet something holds me back. Expose it, remove it, and use me as You will. In Jesus' name I ask for the grace to utterly relinquish control--forever; amen.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Let Israel say, "His steadfast love endures forever.
Let the house of Aaron say, "His steadfast love endures forever." Let those who fear the LORD say, "His steadfast love endures forever."
Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.
The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Just the other night, I was frustrated. Due to an escalating discipline issue with our son, I was feeling like a failure as a parent. My homeschool year is looming and I did not feel ready. My once healthy body seems to be falling apart, treatments for one set of problems do not always work in conjunction with treatments for another set, bits of me seem to be aging prematurely in the most depressing ways, I'm tired of pain, tired of medicines, and tired of being tired all the time. There was more, but suffice to say that I was feeling simply overwhelmed. After putting the children to bed, I trudged downstairs ready to attack chores that had been left behind due to the time-consuming battle with Little Man and his great, big stubborn streak.
As I wearily prepared to wash the dishes, I felt a strong urge to go outside. I started to resist but recognized my Lord's quiet voice urging me and so abandoned the dishes and went. It was beautiful out; the heat of the day had given way to a pleasantly warm evening. I began to pray, laying all my frustrations at God's feet and trusting Him to know the ones I couldn't voice. As I prayed, tears began to fall and I fell silent, gazing at the horizon. The sun was beginning to set, and the sky was streaked with faint color. I sat for a moment, then stirred myself to rise and go back indoors. Again, that urging, "Just sit. Wait. I have something to show you." I sat. I listened. The cicadas were beginning their evening song. I realized that I used to enjoy listening to the cicadas on summer evenings but had not had the time since moving into and trying to maintain our big house. As I listened, I began to hear not only bird song, but individual birds and became aware of their locations around me. Always, the cicadas hummed their rising and falling song in the background. Peace washed over me and suddenly the pale colors in the sky began to seem a little richer... and a little richer... until the sky blazed with red-gold tinged with violet. Still, all around me the birds, cicadas, the frogs in the lake sang their goodnight praise to their Maker. Distant voices, rather than disturbing the symphony, were simply a part of it; the owners an unknowing participant in a harmony of worship. I began to worship silently, enjoying the show, enjoying feeling wrapped in my Father's arms.
When my husband arrived home from his errand, I was still lounging in the grass. I knew in my heart that my problems were not miraculously resolved. I knew that my health trouble was not over, nor was the battle to apply my son's stubbornness to the correct path. I had something better--my Lord had reminded me that He would be with me every step of the way. He had reminded me not to forget to praise Him through it all. By bringing my attention to the song of His Creation, my Father caused me to remember that He loves me too much to remove the trials. No matter what comes of it all, He has my best interests at heart. After all, no matter what happens to me here on earth, it is all to prepare me for a much greater chapter of my life after this earthly life ends. I came away, not with solutions, but with the peace that comes from understanding in a more complete and deeper way that I am in training for eternity. Yes, the work is hard, but it will be worthwhile. And most importantly, my Father truly does love me. Me personally. That amazes me most of all.
Gracious Father, we thank and praise You for Your goodness, for Your might, for Your compassion, and for Your strength. Your Creation sings Your praise. Thank You that we are invited to join this song! Help our frail, human minds and wills to remember You in all things--the good and the bad. Increase our faith and our sensitivity to Your Spirit's leading so that we may honor You in all we say, think, and do. May we bless You with our lives. In Jesus's precious name we praise and ask, amen.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
While I was looking at my poor, wilting plants with all their beautiful flowers and mourning their early death, an adult moth scared me half to death. I thought it was some strange, fat, black and red wasp. However, in my web search for anything--anything at all--that could be done for my poor plants, I found a picture of the mature menace. Grrrrrr... What is to be done? Perhaps I will skip all squashes next year and starve the little critters. More room for my corn, then, eh?
Monday, June 2, 2008
It would make sense that a breech should exist between Christ's church and the materialistic and increasingly fast-paced culture we live in. What does not make sense to me is the shortcuts we see in modern Christianity. We have become a culture of frantically active, instantly gratified, deadline-driven folk. As Christians, we want to drag the lost to the cross, celebrate briefly when they see it with naked eyes, then shove them out the door to service. This has bothered me since the beginning of my walk and I have only just put words to it. It's true that I am just as guilty, just as willing to serve up a single-serving Gospel message and then expect that to fill the wadi of the soul enough to prompt the overflow of service. In truth, I think too many of us take occasional sips of the Living Water rather than drinking our fill and allowing Him to well up within us. I ran across a quote that gave wings to my thoughts on this matter:
"If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than as a canal. For a canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus communicates, without loss to itself, its superabundant water. In the Church at the present day, we have many canals, few reservoirs."--Bernard of Clairvaux
That is it, precisely. There are many toddlers in the faith fumbling about, teaching others from their little and quickly burning out their spiritual energy. There are few who are willing to take the time to drink deeply of our Lord and quench their own inner thirst first. That is what I rail against--this battle inside my heart to do what is accepted in our culture. I have strained against my Lord's loving arms, "Let me run, Abba! Let me serve as the others do!" He has lovingly allowed me to trot off only to see that my own legs simply will not carry me as far as I believed they will. He lets me fall to see how young I am, how weak, how little I know. Then He takes me back in His arms and says, "Not yet. I have much to teach you yet, Little One. Service is nothing to Me if you do not obey." Ahhh, isn't that exactly what I tell my own children? "The best help you can give me is to obey my words." I say it, then I ignore it from my own Father. Foolish child that I am!
These things first began to bother me as I read through the Bible again and again. Not a single one of God's "superheros" came out of their very first experience with Him and conquered the world! No, to the contrary, they communed with Him, waited on His timing, loved Him, and learned from Him. Abram waited 25 years for his promised son. Moses spent 40 years in exile before receiving his commission from God. Joshua was first Moses' servant for unknown years before he became a leader. David was not anointed and immediately crowned--he faced years of uncertainty if his life would even be spared! Years of pressing into God further, trusting in Him... Paul--arguably the greatest evangelist who ever lived--also had a time apart before the greatest part of his ministry began. We know that after the 3 days of fasting and praying following his dramatic encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, he "immediately ... proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." (Acts 9:20) Recall, however, that Paul was rigorously trained in Jewish law and tradition. He was already an authority on Scripture as it existed at the time! He was not a new convert whose only previous brush with the Word of God was seeing John 3:16 on a highway billboard. And even he, with all his zeal and all his knowledge was sent to Tarsus by the brothers of the faith. We don't hear from Paul again in Acts until Chapter 11:25 when Barnabus went to Tarsus to look for him. We know from Galatians that the interval could have been as much as 14 years (see Galatians 1:13-2:1). For Barnabus, it was no matter of dropping Paul an email and then hopping a bus or plane to head over to 34 Tarsus Drive. There was a good deal of leg work, asking questions, and certainly a great deal of time involved in finding him. I believe that God used this time to eradicate the remnants of Pharisee within Paul and to draw him in to closer fellowship with Himself. Paul was the first modern Christian, perhaps, champing at the bit until the Father reined him in and caused him to rest, reflect, and ripen.
So I am in a place of seeking now. I am learning to rest in Him, be with Him throughout my day. No more excuses that I don't have time... He gave me this family and I am attempting to make every toy I pick up, every t-shirt I fold, every dish I wash an act of worship. I am diligent to seek Him in the morning before the kids are up, even when I don't feel like it. On those days fatigue overtakes me and I sleep in, I snatch a moment to read a Psalm and pray, or I do it along with the kids. More and more frequently, I do both. I try to remember that He is with me everywhere I go. I make an effort to talk with Him about the joys, frustrations... even the temptations and sins I stumble on as I go about my day. I meditate on His word, sometimes in quiet, sometimes amidst the chaos of family life.
Do I find that I fit in nicely to this world with all this? Well, no. No, not at all. I have never seen Survivor or American Idol. I don't know what music is popular, nor do I know if my clothes are in fashion. What I do know is this: I can not possibly keep up with this world and allow God to stretch my heart in the ways I feel He desires for me. I can't give in to the temptation to look like a good little Christian and be visibly active in my church at the expense of my relationship to Him. Of course, once I relinquished that desire to "look good," He opened doors of service for me that are less visible--how glorious to obey! However, before I can afford to be busy, I must first develop the habit of continual awareness, continuous prayer, constant communion with Him. Jesus was able to balance an incredibly hectic pace in service to others with His relationship to the Father, but then sin never separated Christ from the Father until that horrible moment on the cross. And even Jesus didn't start His ministry from the cradle but took time to mature into a physical man. My whole point is, if our Lord took the time to mature, what on earth makes us think we can do otherwise?
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Then the adventures began. The first was a runaway wagon that I saw coming down a small hill and heading into the brush. One of our little group had been pulling and lost control, and my middle daughter was inside with 2 other little girls. By the grace of God no one was hurt--not even a scratch from the overhanging branches--and we were quickly back to trekking to the picnic tables. I was able to enjoy the story from the perspective of one of our friends, who is a gifted storyteller and can make you laugh until you fear public embarrassment! From fear to fun, and what a gift laughter is in releasing tensions!
Not long after, one expectant mom and I decided to take a break and head on over to the playground so the kids could run a bit and she could rest a little out of the sun. We'd hardly taken 5 steps when a passerby informed her that there was a bug on her 2-year-old's face. We looked, and Little Miss was rubbing a swollen, red eye! Was it simply sunscreen in the eye? We went to wash her face and it turned out that there was more to it... Off we drove to pick up some Benedryl! After some time, the swelling went down, the little one seemed better, and all 4 kids wished to go back and try the playground once more. Whew!
On my way home for a last-minute scramble to get everyone cleaned up and gather materials for our community group, I happened to see a car on the opposite side of the interstate swerve off the road. I felt concern for the driver and took a look in my mirror to see if they were able to regain control. Instead, my stomach clenched as I watched the car skid through the grass and tip to briefly stand on it's headlights before flipping upside down. I began to pray and fumbled my silly little cell phone out, trying to unlock it and dial 911. Thankfully, someone else was quicker than I and they already had the appropriate vehicles dispatched.
By the time we reached home, I was supercharged with adrenaline! I was also filled with a powerful love and appreciation for all of the family and friends my God has surrounded me with. Perhaps it was watching the vehicle accident; someone who was not spared after my own friends and family had been spared twice. I do know that there have been times when I have grumbled at the duties involved in keeping up with it all, times when all I wanted was a few hours of peace, quiet, and time alone with God. Yesterday, God met me amidst all the chaos, the noise, the crowd and I was filled with love almost beyond what I can bear. I felt a love that couldn't have been from my own heart: it was far too great, far too painfully sweet. I am convinced that He allowed me to sense just an eyelash-worth of the weight of love He carries for each one of us silly, selfish, thick-headed sinners. I cannot imagine further! I was up much of the night, just lying in my bed and talking to God, thanking Him for the experience, for my family, for my friends. Thanking Him for allowing me to glimpse something greater than I can ever concoct on my own. Praising Him for His mercy. Delighting in His presence. What an awesome God we have!