Monday, March 25, 2013

Learning to Walk

I've been camped out in the Peters and Johns for my Bible reading lately.  Unlike Paul, those guys were not into long letter writing.  It cracks me up that John says, in essence, "I'd rather tell you this in person and not waste the paper and ink!"  So I've kind of just been reading and re-reading these short letters to let them sink in a little.  A few days ago, 2 John 1:9 stuck out, "Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." 

The rusty wheels in my brain were turning.  How many times have I tried to run ahead of God?  I think I know what the next step is in life, and I run with it!  Forgetting the Bible's teaching, I plow ahead of my own accord, taking on too much, and trying to make everything happen in my own power, leaving a wake of destruction behind that includes a lot of ugliness towards those I'm supposed to love the most!  My life becomes an unmanageable sprint and soon I wear out and am forced to take a breather.  It's at these points I remember to wait for God, who calmly strolls up and takes my hand.  And then, we walk together until I get the notion that I need to run ahead again.  

I don't think I'm alone in this, either. I see many Christians running around stressed out at all the tasks they must "do for God!"  And certainly there are seasons where we just have more on our plates than others...but if we are continually busy, busy, busy...hmmm.  Something has to give.  And I think the thing that gets left behind is usually love. Consider 2 John 1:6: "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love."  Loving God takes intentional time spent with Him.  It takes time to learn his commands and probably a lot more time to obey them and learn how to filter out the unnecessary things that have crept into our lives.  Loving people takes time.  You cannot sprint through life and expect to love well.  And you can't refuse to move must learn to walk. 

So...are there any times when God asks us to run with him?  Yes, I think so.  And those are awesome times.  One of my favorite verses, Isaiah 40:31, says...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  The only way we can be strong enough to run (Soar, even!) is to have discipline and do it with God, not by running ahead without him.  The fastest marathon runners in the world didn't wake up one day, sign up for a race, and run sub-five minute miles for 26 plus miles!  They worked incredibly hard to be able to run that fast for that long.  And they STILL need periods of rest between runs.  So we shouldn't be surprised that we go through seasons where our walk slows to a crawl, seasons of walking, and some seasons where God prepares us to run and soar.  And when we stay close with him, he will give us wisdom to know when to slow down and when to speed up.  Only God can soar 24/7, but he chose to send a Son who was human and had to rest like us.  He also gives us the Holy Spirit that slows down to walk with us when we invite him to do so.

I feel like I'm living this out in my spiritual AND physical life lately.  If you look back a few years in this blog, I got back into running about a year after my third baby was born. I have a hard time not hibernating during winter (Who doesn't?), but during the warmer months, I was pretty consistent in at least getting out to jog until this whole chronic illness thing. After a year and a half, I have yet to get back to running. On my better days, I do some extra walking with the doggie or kids, but my body just can't run yet. Hopefully I will keep feeling pretty good and build up some strength and endurance and be back chugging along at my turtle pace soon.  But my goal of doing a half marathon before I'm 40 may have to wait awhile....seasons, seasons.  But I CAN walk. Physically. Spiritually.  I will walk.  

Stress, worry, and exhaustion are not of God.  In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus quotes Isaiah and says,“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I don't want to be the woman trying to sprint through life with heavy burdens, breaking down time and again.  I want to be the one walking with Jesus every single step with love, gentleness, humility, and a rested soul.  So...let's start walking.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tender Heart

(***Warning*** I am not a trained psychologist, but I do like to self-reflect.)

You know those personality tests they always want you to take in psychology classes and staff development workshops?  Whether it's colors(Blue!) or letters(Feeling!) or animals(Golden Retriever!), mine pretty much come out the same way.  I score pretty equal on logic and creativity.  I score a little lower on the adventure/spontaneous side of things and a little higher on the loyalty/take care of details side of things.  I'm about equal introvert vs. extrovert.  But I always score highest on anything that asks if I'm driven by emotion/relationships.  Because that's simply me.  Emotions are big.  And I love people.

I could always see some of the value in being made up this way...having a strong empathy for others means I go above and beyond to get along with people.  I have always been passionate about...well....everything and everybody.  So I am driven and do my best at work and at home and at church.  Good things, right?  But in the back of my mind I always thought that this was kind of an obstacle to overcome.  Because I am also easily overwhelmed by...everything and everybody.  Cry when I am sad, angry, happy, inspired, tired, sick, scared, excited, hungry.  I used to cry when people won on the Price is Right. (Ok, I still do that.)  There are simply many books and movies I have decided to stay away from altogether because I will be either terrified out of my mind or I know it will cause a black hole of sadness.(A healthy tender heart needs some boundaries.)

So many times I have consciously and unconsciously asked God to make me less emotional or at least more emotionally tough.  It would be cool to be more adventurous and bungee jump for God or be an EMT and save people's lives without passing out because I heard the word "lipid."  It would be awesome to be a person of boldness who freely speaks their opinions without fear of what it would do to the relationships with my 433 facebook friends.

And YET.  I think it is counterproductive and even against God's will for my life when I try to be somebody else's personality.  Yeah, there's a long list of weaknesses that could use some work.  But I'm starting to find out that there's a lot more value in embracing the personality that God has given me and striving after the person I was made to be...instead of trying to be more like somebody else.  And I have been given a very tender and passionate heart.

So...what do I DO with that?  Well kids, let's form a circle and sing Kumbayha around the campfire and then watch Steel Magnolias and cry our eyes out.

Noooo.  Just kidding.  But I do have some clues:

1. I have recently ventured into territories unknown for the past decade- simply singing at church, in front, without having a large instrument to hide behind.  If that isn't scary, I don't know what is.  But if I have a lot of passion and emotion...if I am being sensitive to the message...the congregation...the music...the Holy Spirit...this will make me a better equipped to lead others in worship.  As a translator almost. (Not being crazy emotional just to be crazy emotional.)  But taking what was heard from the Bible and turning that into an honest and edifying emotional God  You get it.  I'm still a little guarded...a bit awkward I'm sure.  But I'll get there.  I'm so thankful to have others around me with large hearts to learn from!

2.  God has used my tender heart to make me a person who prays constantly.  If I'm broken hearted over people, their sin, or their situations, I will pray about it.  Sometimes there's not a lot I can do physically for someone or about something, but I can pray.  Sometimes I'm broken hearted about myself or my own situation, and so I helps to keep the emotion in check and not turn it into self-serving stuff like pity or bitterness.  Sometimes praying has shown me that I do, in fact, need to put my compassion into a clear course of action.  Sometimes it gives me peace that God's got it, and I over-reacted, and it is not my personal responsibility to save the universe...or at least all the doggies and kitties that come on the screen when Sarah MacLachlan sings a sad, sad, song.

3.  I am a good balance to those on Team God who have other gifts.  I admire those who are great at managing money, who have vision to see where the church is going, and who love serving in rooms full of babies.  Those are all strengths I simply do not have.  But if you need me to get to the heart of the matter?  I got that.  I will remind you that hard hearts need to go.  It's also a gift that's beneficial to my family.  I need my strong and stoic husband to pull me back when I go off the deep end.  He needs me to know it's ok to venture into deeper waters.  Our kids can learn from us both.  (Although I wish that Angry Mom and Angry Wife made less appearances.)

So, do you have a tender heart like I do?  Do you see it as a strength or a weakness?

Psalm 51:17
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I Want to Tell You I Love You

I want to tell you I love you.
I knew you before you were born, before your parents were born, before your grandparents were born.  I saw you, and it was love at first sight.  You are unlike any other person in all of time.  I have given you dreams and talents and quirks that no one else shares. I have a purpose for you and only you.

I want to tell you I love you.
Those days of sunshine that are delicious and warm, full of waving trees and fresh cut grass.  The miracle of water ebbing, flowing.  Those sunsets that take your breath away and the thunderclouds that seem too massive to be real.  I made them for you as hints of my love.

I want to tell you I love you.
I know every injustice done to you.  I know every hurt and I grieve with you.  Every single person in this life will fail you at least once.  One of the hardest parts of life is knowing when to forgive and move forward and when it's time to step away. But I will never fail you. Never.

I want to tell you I love you.
I know that the circumstances of your life will not always make sense.  Human beings and the world are finite.  Limited. Sin has personal and corporate consequence.  Faith in an infinite God of truth and love is not easy. Trust in an infinite God of truth and love is not common.

I want to tell you I love you.
True love is never selfish and it does not manipulate.  I will never force you or trick you to love me back.  The gift of decision is yours.  I will send reminders of my love throughout your life. Through words and people and nature and art and more.  Birth to death. 

I want to tell you I love you.
When you consider my love, I am a breath away. A split-second. A heart beat.  It does not matter what you have done, what you have not done, what you have thought about doing.  There's grace for it all.  Every single second.  So, I can start now...healing that gaping ache inside.  I want to replace it.  With Hope. Life. Love eternal. 

I want to tell you I love you.

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

Dedicated to those with big hurts, big questions, and those trying to find where they fit.  So, pretty much all of us...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Warning: Experienced Mom Tells All

This post is for all you mommas out there.  It occurred to me as I was cleaning what I can only guess is cat or dog vomit from the new front room carpet, that I am not a newbie mom anymore. (I don't know why my best thinking is done during chores like this...but ahhh, such is my glamorous life.)

All of my kids are pretty much "big kids" now.  My baby will turn five this summer and will head off to the kindergarten in August.  In some ways it seems like they are growing so fast; some periods of time from the past nine years of motherhood have become a blur in my memory.  But in most ways, I am just so happy to be where we are right exactly now.  Everyone can talk, walk, and use the bathroom for themselves.  No one has hit the drama and hormones of the pre-teen years yet.  Parenthood is never easy, mind you.  I have to break up fights over the Wii daily.  But I have deemed this the "golden age" and will delight in it while it's here!

So I've been living it up here in pre-school/elementary wonderland, and my little guy and I have been going on fun adventures before he goes to the Big K in the fall.  And we've met lots of parents and kiddos doing the same thing.  This time around, however, I feel like I am the one who's been around the momma block more than most.  I'm the one who's been through the nights of little sleep and toddler-proofing and tantrums and came out wiser and stronger on the other side.  Let's face it, while our little darlings learn so much during the first few years of life, the learning curve for parents seems just as steep!

So as I look back on my time as a parent...I remember myself as a new mom barely balancing full time work and irregular hours and pumping breast milk in my car before a meeting and how new and scary everything was even though my little baby girl was well worth any sacrifice.  I remember becoming a family of four and how grown-up I thought my tiny 19 month old girl seemed next to her new baby brother.  I remember going back to work barely 6 weeks after giving birth so our family would survive and getting a phone call that there was a mistake and I still owed money on my first baby before getting the hospital bills for the second.  I remember how having my third baby seemed almost like a vacation in the hospital (A room to myself, room service, and only one child to care for? Cake, I tell you! CAKE!).  I remember how freeing it was to know I didn't have to go back to work as I made the transition to stay-at-home mom.  Until the months rolled by, and I felt isolated and overwhelmed by three young children who demanded all my time and energy and even the simplest outings led to meltdowns of kids and mom alike.

I love my kids fiercely.  All of my kids are beautiful, smart, God-given wonders and there are so many milestones to celebrate during their first years on planet earth...I am incredibly thankful and humbled to be their mom.  But early parenthood was hard.  Physically hard.  Emotionally hard.  Financially hard.  Plain stinkin' hard.  So if your babies have you grasping at the last straws of your are certainly among friends here.

I have met those moms who just seem to be supernaturally gifted and love every aspect of being a mom of babies and young children.  If that's you, then more power to you, Momma!  Rock that spit-up on each shoulder.  Truly, I learn a lot from you and am amazed at you.  But I think I am just more gifted when it comes to relating to older kids.  Kids that understand logic.  And empathy.  And sarcasm.  (Yessss...much sarcasm...)  So if you are in survival mode as a parent right now, let me encourage you.  You will sleep an entire night again someday.  Drool and poo will no longer be on every item of clothing you own.  They will not surely die if you allow them to watch an extra hour of TV on difficult days.  Give yourself a little grace.  You have never been a parent before, and no one has ever parented these particular kids at this particular time before.  You can seek good advice, read good parenting books, and Google until the sun goes down and comes back up, and you are still going to make parenting mistakes.  But God has entrusted YOU with this child and He will be there even when you feel like another second of parenting will drive you bananas.  I love the wording of the NIV version of this Bible verse, "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." (Proverbs 22:6)  We are responsible for giving them a good start. (Yes, the very best start we can!)  But God holds the responsibility of fulfilling his promise. 

When I was pretty much hanging on by a thread of the very end of my parenting rope a few years ago, God gave me an excellent vision that illustrates this verse.  Now, I'm not usually one who claims visions from God, but during a prayer time at church one evening, my mind clearly saw my kids- beautiful, strong and grown-up- laughing and running towards Jesus with outstretched arms.  In that moment, suddenly I saw the fulfillment of that very verse.  Not only were my kids not turning away from Christ, they were running full speed toward him!  That encourages me to keep being the parent I know I need to be, even when I don't see immediate results of all the work I'm putting in today, tomorrow, or the next, oh....decade or so.

You are not alone, Mom.  And it will get better.