Sunday, May 6, 2012
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
I'm currently reading Ann Voskamp's "1,000 Gifts" with a neighborhood group of girlfriends, a bookclub of sorts. At first, I wasn't crazy about the book. Mainly because of her writing style, which is quite poetic, yet dense and hard to follow. I usually love flowery prose, but for some reason, it took me awhile to get used to her writing and I kept having to go back and re-read paragraphs and ask "what is she really saying here?" But after a couple of chapters (and re-reading them a couple of times!), I began to follow her. And I find that what she is saying is life-changing. I misunderstood by her title, at first, that it was yet another book about how we should just be more thankful about things. People say that all the time. Gosh, we have so much to be thankful for, so many other people are suffering and have so much less. But that doesn't really help me in the moment. Especially if I am experiencing "suffering" of sorts, even if it may not be traumatic, like what many people around the world may be experiencing. But that doesn't make my trial any less real to me and those in my life. What I love about this book is that Ann is not saying "just suck it up and be thankful." Not at all. She is saying it is a practice, a hard discipline, a learned gift, to give thanks in ALL circumstances. It does not come natural. It is not easy. But when practiced regularly, it can transform our thought life. I've only touched the surface of this practice, but it is changing me. Gratitude, she says, is lifting our eyes up to God and not ourselves. I am challenged by how often my day is all about me, even with two little ones at home to take care of. It is still about me and my priorities and my expectations of the day. How rarely do I thank God for the little things in the day? For a sweet smile from my two year old. For a giggle from his little sister when he makes funny faces at her. For a brisk morning run around the neighborhood, pushing the double stroller, before it gets too hot. For a fun two year old birthday party and train ride with Marshall's buddies today. All of it is sweet. All are things to be thankful for. Yet what I find myself doing is allowing my thought life to go to the negative. To things that haven't happened, to worries that I can't control, to expectations that haven't been met, or a conversation I'm mulling over that may have just been a misunderstanding. My goal, then, is to work on training my mind, to "think on things above" and "things that are lovely, of good report, noble..." so that even my thought life is giving praise to God throughout the day. If you haven't read it, I recommend giving Ann Voskamp's book a try. Once you get past the poetic and flowery prose, I pray that you will find rich treasures of truth based on God's word about being thankful. For as 1 Thessalonians 5 says, "Rejoice always, be thankful in all circumstances, pray continually, for this is God's will for us in Christ Jesus."
Thursday, April 19, 2012
As my spring study on the book of Revelation comes to a close next week, I am a bit sad. It was a study I begun with hesitation, not really looking forward to studying such a heavy book of prophecy, specifically, prophecy about the end times. It just isn't one of those books that seems practical to my life in the here and now. But amazingly, I have actually gleaned much practical truth for my life today and how I live it right now by studying the book of Revelation. Revelation has painted a picture for me of what is to come: a perfect kingdom, a new heaven and a new earth, streets of gold, walls of rainbow-colored gems, a river of life that bears fruit year-round, and the very presence of our Lord who gives off so much radiance, there is no need for the sun or moon to illuminate the land. What a magnificent place this will be! A place where we will fully be able to use our gifts, our talents, our unique abilities that God has given us and use them in a way that is glorifying to God. There will be no more sin, no more tears, no more pain or suffering. Just joyful and satisfying worship of our Lord and Savior. Imagine! I'd heard all that before, but after studying it week after week, verse by verse, I began to be filled with HOPE. Hope of what is to come. Hope that this isn't all there is. Hope that we are in a temporary place, not our eternal home. Hope that one day, all our tears will be wiped away. What this means to me on a practical level is: why let the little things bother me so much? I can't quite say that about the big things yet. I mean, who could say to someone who had just lost a loved one, just think of what's waiting for us, don't be sad. It's not quite that easy. But for the little things...I can do this. Instead of getting frustrated about the messes my kids make, the fights over toys, the tantrums, the long lines at the grocery store, the solicitor that always rings the doorbell just as my kids have gone down for their nap, the traffic I'm stuck in with two screaming kids in the backseat...instead of working myself up over these little annoyances of life, I can remind myself that "this isn't all there is!" This is temporary! This isn't my home! This land is under a curse, but one day, we will live in a land where that curse has been lifted. So why work myself up over nothing? Aren't all these little annoyances just to refine my faith, my patience, and my character anyways? Preparing me to be more like Jesus each and every day. I can't say that I have this down...but each time I feel that irritation rising in my gut, I try to remind myself of my true home, a beautiful kingdom, waiting for me. And for a moment, it lifts my eyes up to Jesus and what He intends for us.
Monday, April 16, 2012
I love those days and weeks as a stay at home mom when my children and I enjoy spending time together. They play well, they giggle and laugh at one another, they share well and are just fun and easy to be around. But I have to admit, most of my days and weeks aren't like that. Most of them are challenging and tiring, with a lot of whining, disobeying, hitting, pushing, not sharing and making messes all over the house. On those especially hard days, I ask myself: why am I doing this? That is when I have to remember my purpose. My purpose as a stay at home mom is not to enjoy a slower paced life. Nor is it to enjoy extended time with my children since I am not working. My primary purpose is to train and instruct my children in the way of the Lord. That means that everyday is chock full of training opportunities. Teaching moments. If I am selfish and lazy, I can skip those moments and use that time to do other things, like clean the house or get dressed or talk on the phone or check my email. But if I remember my primary purpose is to train and instruct them, I am willing to drop what I am doing at that moment when instruction is needed and take hold of that opportunity. To do that well, I have to be willing to let go of my personal goals for the day, my personal demands of time and how my morning or afternoon should look and my demands for a little peace and quiet. Because of those especially hard days of training and instruction, there may be very little "down time" for myself. But that's okay. Because my purpose is to train and instruct my children in the way of the Lord and that is much more important than getting time for myself to do whatever I want. This is my job and I want to do it well. But what does teaching and training my children in the way of the Lord really mean? I know the character qualities I want them to emulate. They are the character qualities of Jesus: humility, love, patience, kindness, faithfulness, peace, joy, self-control, and hope. But I also know that it is impossible to achieve those qualities without first addressing the problem of our hearts. According to God's word, our hearts are deceitful, full of sin, and choose to reject God. Since the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, we have chosen to go our own way. We think that independence from God means freedom. But sadly, it means death, destruction, emptiness and lack of joy. God won't force us to love and obey Him. If we choose to reject God, He gives us exactly what we want: separation from him. And we have ALL chosen that route. So my first goal is to show my children their rebellious hearts. That when they hit and yell and grab toys from one another, they are going their own way, against that of God. That their desires and motives are evil, at their core. Now, I'm dealing with a 2 year old and a 10 month old here, so I can't quite lay it out like that right now. But when they disobey, I can talk to them about their hearts. When they are not loving, when they are selfish, when they are angry and impatient and disrespectful. They may not fully get it, but my goal is to show them that their hearts are rebellious, just like my own. That all of us choose our own way and this way is selfish and sinful. But I don't leave them in despair. That's where the good news of the gospel comes in. That because God is holy and perfect, He cannot just accept us as we are. There must be a consequence for sin and death. He could've allowed us to just stay in our sin and go our own way and never know what it's like to be in relationship with Him. But He didn't, because He is a God of love. So He came down to earth Himself, in the form of a man, Jesus, and died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, to bear the consequence for our rebellious hearts, to be that once and final blood sacrifice that was necessary to make our slate clean before God. My daily aim, then, as a mom, is to show my children their need for Jesus. Their need for forgiveness. Their need for grace in order to be reconciled to God. It's not going to happen overnight. But I know that every time I lose my patience, I snap at my children, I get angry because of yet another mess on the kitchen floor, I can get down on my knees in front of them and say, "I'm sorry that Mommy got angry at you. I did not have a loving heart. Will you forgive me?" Then I can pray with them to Jesus and confess my sin and ask forgiveness of my Lord. When they are in time-out, I can do the same thing: ask them to name their sin (not the behavior, but a heart attitude like selfishness, anger, jealousy, disrespect, etc.) and ask them to pray to Jesus for forgiveness. And if necessary, ask them to go to their sibling and apologize, asking for forgiveness as well. This takes time, this takes energy, this takes effort. I will have less time to get ready, check email, talk on the phone and clean up the house. But to me, this is my primary purpose: to train and instruct my children in the way of the Lord, to teach them (and remind myself) that we are all sinners in need of God's grace.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
I would have to say that this Easter was sweeter than it's ever been. Thanks to my two year old. Unlike years past, when I let the holiday rush by because I was more focused on the logistics of travel and family plans for Easter lunch, this year, I spent less time worrying about the logistics (perhaps because we decided to stay home) and more time focusing on how to tell the Easter story to my children (mainly my two year old, since my 10 month old little girl is probably a little young). I had been polling parents the week before for ideas on how to celebrate and teach the story of Easter to their toddlers. One of the common practices shared among other Christian moms was the idea of the resurrection eggs. You take 12 plastic eggs and fill each one with a symbol that represents Jesus and the Easter story. For example, one egg has 3 nails, representing the nails in his hands and feet. Another nail has a thorn, representing the thorn in his crown. And so on. Honestly, I didn't even get that far. All I did was the egg with the nails in it. It was Good Friday when I sat down to teach him the story. It was late afternoon, after naps, which isn't always the most receptive time or "happy heart" time of the day for him. But God was gracious because that day, He was incredibly sweet and mellow and just seemed to want to spend time with mom. Ellie was still in her crib sleeping, so it was just me and Marshall, seated at our wooden kitchen table, with a few plastic eggs and a big blank sheet of paper and some crayons. I began with drawing the Easter story. I drew the cross and asked him what it was. He knew it, thanks to school and bible study mornings with his teachers. I drew Jesus on the cross. That's when I got hesitant. Would this be too gruesome for a 2 year old? Should I leave out the picture of Jesus on the cross? Should I not talk about the crucifixion. But a good friend who I respect and who works as a full-time nanny and who loves Jesus said to me, "It is never too early to talk about the cross." I believe she is right. She explained that as parents, we are building a foundation for our children right now. What foundation do I want to build? One that says that they get whatever they want? That they should be happy in life? That they can achieve their dreams? No. To me, the most important foundation for my children is that they know that we are sinners saved by grace. That God came down to us and died a gruesome death so that we can be reconciled and restored to a right relationship with him. That to me, is the foundation I want to build for my children above all else. Because everything else is secondary. So I proceeded. I drew Jesus on the cross, explaining the nails in his hands and his feet. Then I showed Marshall actually nails and a hammer. I showed him how they hammered the nails into his hands and his feet and how it was a very sad day. I talked about he cried out to his daddy, asking for help. I talked about how he was hurting and in pain but that he did it for us, for me, for you, for Marshall, for Ellie, for everyone. Because he loves us. I was amazed at how quiet Marshall was through it all. He held the nails in his hands and turned them over in his palm. Then he pointed to his feet and said, "Jesus boo boo." And I said, "that's right, Marshall. Jesus had some boo boo's that hurt very bad. He was very sad and he cried. But he did it for us. Because he loves us." Then, we talked about him dying and taking him off the cross and putting him in the tomb and how that was very sad. And I left him hanging for a bit. "Do you know what happened next, Marshall?" My eyes lit up and his did the same. He seemed to understand that was not all to the story. I drew the tomb with the rock rolled away and an angel on the rock. I explained that when the women went to the tomb to anoint him with oils, he was not there. "Where was Jesus, Marshall?" I said with a smile. And this is what blew me away. He began to sing "He is risen. He is risen." It was a song he had learned in his children's bible study class. I smiled. "Exactly!" And I began to sing with him. The rest of the Easter weekend, I continued to ask him what happened to Jesus. And he would tell me: Jesus had nails in his hands and his feet and he was very sad. He died on the cross. But then, he is risen! I was blown away by how much he could repeat back to me. And maybe that's all it is at this point - repeating words back to me. But that's okay, because he is building a foundation. And that foundation is on the truth that Jesus died for you and me, a sinner's death on calvary, by his blood we are saved. Hallejujah! On Easter Sunday morning during the worship service, I felt a deeper appreciation of the cross and what Jesus did for me. Something about saying it over and over with my little boy made me appreciate it in a deeper way. It is such a simple truth, but so profound. Thank you, Jesus, for what You did on the cross for all of humanity. Thank you for taking our places and dying a death that we could never die and paying the price that we could never pay. And thank you, Lord, for using my little two year old to teach me a greater appreciation of the cross. May Easter continually live on in our hearts...
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
I was reading from Luke 14 today about the story of the dinner guests at the banquet. The room was bustling with people and lots of tables. As it came time to eat, everyone took a seat, all knowing which table was reserved for the guests of honor (like at a wedding, where the family and wedding party sit, usually with a good view of the festivities). This one guest assumed he was a guest of honor and grabbed a seat at the head table. To his surprise, the host of the party came up and asked him to move tables because someone else at the party was supposed to sit there, someone more "honorable" than him. Talk about a humiliating walk of shame to the "low" table in front of all the other guests! The moral of the story was...never assume you are the guest of honor at a party. Pick a humble seat and let the host of the party make that call, elevating you to the guest of honor table, rather than humiliating yourself in front of everyone else, arrogantly assuming you are a "guest of honor." For some reason, that story spoke to me in a new way today. As a mom and a Christian, there are many circles I walk in where I can easily feel like I should be included at the guest of honor table. In Christian circles, especially, it's easy to start thinking, well, I'm involved in x number of Bible studies, I am mentoring x number of women, I host x number of outreach events...I am obviously a "super Christian." What I love about Jesus and the entire story of the Bible is that it is totally flipped upside down. The way of the cross is a humiliating one. It looks weak. Jesus, the Son of God, was mocked, flogged, slandered, beaten, tortured, laughed at, spit upon and cursed. THE SON OF GOD. Why? For US. He took a humble seat at the table, going to the cross, refusing to send down fire and brimstone upon all of mankind (which he totally could have done and have every right to do!) and DYING for us. So that WE could be elevated to the position of guest of honor. He took the HUMBLE seat, so we could take the position of honor. When in fact, He completley deserved to walk right up and sit at the guest of honor table. But He didn't. Because He knew this was the only way we could truly sit at the guest of honor table. He had to humble himself...to death on a cross. Thank you, Jesus, as I am reminded of my arrogance and my demands and my rights and my expectations...you remind me, through the cross, how you set all of that aside. You - in perfect form - demanded nothing and gave everything. For US. Thank you.
Monday, March 19, 2012
My hubby constantly challenges me when I have conflict with someone in my life by asking "are you trying to engineer an outcome in this situation or are you loving them where they are?" Yikes. It's hard when you see someone in your life that you think is making a poor choice for themselves (or others) to not want to tell them what they should be doing to "fix" the problem. I am convicted that I do the same in my prayer life. How often do I go to God with a list of things that I want Him to change, both in myself and in others, and give Him the ANSWER. I tell Him what He needs to do. How funny is that, when you really think about it? He is GOD, for crying out loud. I think He knows what we need better than anyone because He created us...hellooo! But that doesn't necessarily mean that I can't ask God for things to change in people's lives, especially when there is sin and hurt and grief and destruction that is evident. But what I am being challenged by lately is that I have to pray for these people and these hurtful, destructive issues to change in their lives with OPEN HANDS, with an ATTITUDE OF SURRENDER. As Easter approaches, I am reminded of Jesus' words in the Garden of Gethsemene, before he headed to the cross. "Father, please take this cup from me...yet not my will, but Your will be done." That is a model way to pray for me. I can ask God: please Lord, change this person's heart...or please Lord, rescue this person from despair or lies or greed or addiction...but simultaneously praying: yet Lord, you know best. Your timing is best. Your knowledge of this situation is best. You know what this person needs better than anyone else. Not my will, but Your will be done. In doing that, I am surrendering my desires. I'm surrending my DEMAND for someone to change. I surrendering my EXPECTATIONS for what should happen in the situation, for what God should do, for how He should fix it. In that, I am releasing that person and situation to the Lord. And there is such PEACE in that! Because I am no longer holding onto and chomping on it and stressing about it and getting frustrated thinking about. Because I have RELEASED it to the Lord. I have humbly submitted myself to His reign, His sovereignty, His control over life. It's funny how...even in prayer, God is showing me that I don't trust Him. That I still think I am in control. So I will continue to reflect on my Savior...who turned His head toward the cross and in agony, knowing what lay ahead for Him, prayed, "Not my will, but Your will be done."