Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas in the Eyes of a Child

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?”  He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom.”   Matthew 18: 1-4

Not all of us are men and not all of us are women, but each of us, at one time, was a child.  Many of us still act like we are!  So it should be easy for us to put ourselves in the perspective of a child right?  But it’s not.  It can be so difficult to see Christmas, to see Christ like a child, yet so vitally important, that it is mentioned in the bible not only in the Matthew 18, but again in Matthew chapter 19, a third time in Mark chapter 10 and a fourth time in Luke chapter 18.  In deed, it is more than difficult for a mature adult who has seen and heard too much of a hostile world to look at Christ, to look at Christmas, and to simply believe with the innocence and faith of a child. 

Yet Scripture is clear, in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven we have to receive it like a little child.  Why like a child?  What did Jesus see in children that so endeared them to him?  

Kid have a way of seeing the world that we adults somehow lose as we age. They possess this blind faith that what they have been told (especially by those they love) is true, they don't doubt what Mom and Dad say.  They have a kind of eternal hope that good will always win, that life is fun and fair and just.  Because of this eternal hope they have an overwhelming joy, sadness never lasts long and tomorrow will always be better than today.  So how can we, as jaded adults, look at Christmas through the eyes of a child?

When I asked my friends, family, kids, anyone I could get ahold of what Christmas meant to a child I got essentially  three distinct types of answers. 

I.  Presents

Is anyone surprised that the number one answer was presents?  There is no doubt that to all children Christmas gifts is a huge and imperative part of Christmas. And if you will allow yourself to admit it even adults eagerly anticipate the opening of presents.  The thing about a present is the mystery behind it.  You look at a gift that is all wrapped up and you take in the size and the weight and any sound it might make when shaken (gently) and you can make an educated guess about what may be in it. But you don’t actually know for certain.  Until that gift is open it could literally be anything in the world, your imagination is the only limit.  It’s especially true in my family, that the biggest gift may be in the smallest box and the smallest gift is almost always in the biggest box.  A gift that is light, will have rocks added to it, if a gift is so big or heavy that it can’t be wrapped at all then a note is wrapped (with a weight inside it) sending the recipient on a wild goose chase to find it.   Until the paper is off you can never tell what a gift might be.


Christ was a lot like that.  His greatness was hidden beneath the packaging.  Even though Isaiah, in the old testament gave us amazing insight into what to look for when the Messiah came, still people wondered, how could THIS baby be a king.  We know from Isaiah 9:6 that the son of David would come to us as a baby…  We even know from Isaiah 7:14 that the child would be born to a virgin. And in 9:7, Isaiah continues with predictions of the greatness this child will fulfill, His kingdom will never end! So with all this insight, why is it so hard to conceive that this humble little baby, born in stable, in a quiet night, was indeed the coming king, the son of God.  It had to be the packaging. He was so well wrapped that you couldn’t even fathom what he really was. 

And the bible says  "She...wrapped him in swaddling clothes.’’ Those are wonderful words. But there was more wrapped up in those swaddling clothes than a little baby.

Now he is a little Baby in Mary’s arms wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger, but soon, He will confound the pharisees in the Temple. He will be introduced and baptized by John. He will work miracles and call disciples. He will die on a cross, be buried in a borrowed tomb, and be resurrected the third day. He will ascend to the Father to become our Intercessor, Advocate, Mediator and great High Priest.
 


No one could have guessed the magnificence of that gift that was wrapped up in an infant in swaddling clothes.  Christ was and still is the most amazing gift that has ever been given.  And only a child could look at a gift like that, it’s size, shape, and weight and see in it all the greatness that was to come.  
II.  Wonder/Awe


 Have you ever seen a child’s face light up the first time they see the Christmas lights go on for the year.  It is the definition of awe.  Their eyes get big, literally reflecting the lights they see around them, their mouths drop open, but no words come out, and for a few seconds the whole body is perfectly still.  No small feat for a busy child. I imagine that’s what the shepherds look liked the first time they laid eyes on the Christ child.   They were there, the only ones to join Mary and Joseph at the time of Christ’s birth, an ordinary birth with extra-ordinary outcome.  And isn’t it the truth that children have a spiritual gift for finding the extraordinary out of the everyday ordinary.  

One of the mistakes we adults make at Christmas is that we get so caught up in the busyness of the “Holiday” that the people we encounter lose their extraordinary qualities. People become just ordinary, like grains of sand. The cashier becomes a hand that has money in it. The clerk becomes a voice with information. And the child becomes the inconvenience that always wants something.  And we fail to see the message of Christmas that God comes into our world & says, "Ordinary people are never just ordinary." When God touches them they become special, created in God’s image - And it’s perfect, just perfect.  For whatever reason, children are able to see the extraordinary, long after adults have lost that vision.  They see it all with the wonder and awe that we have lost.  Maybe that is one of our problems with Christmas. Christmas is such a familiar & common experience that we almost miss it. So this year I challenge you to see it again for the first time with the wonder and awe of a child.  Turn an ordinary light into an extraordinary splendor, turn an ordinary birth into the extraordinary miracle that saved us all.

III.  Innocence

When Christ talks about children in Matthew, in Mark and again in Luke he asks us to become like them.  Knowing how difficult it is, he calls us to embrace him with the faithfulness and innocence of a child.   

What does that innocence look like?  This week I got an email from a friend of mine and it was labeled “Children’s definition of Love” and among many other definitions was this one from a young boy named Bobby, age 7 “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”  Bobby, at a tender age of 7, gets it.

Children choose to believe the story of Jesus birth not because they have seen it or touched it or have witnessed miracles themselves.  But simply, because they were told.  Someone they love, their father, their mother, their neighbor, or their Sunday school teacher told them a story.  And because someone they love told it to them, they believe.  That is faith.  Someone You love is telling you the story too.  Your Father in heaven, who loves you very much, is telling you.  And He is asking you to believe.  Just believe with the faithfulness and innocence of a child.

For me, all I have to do is look at an orange and I can find the innocence of Christmas through the eyes of myself as a child.  You see down in this tiny farm town in the middle of Kansas where I grew up, Christmas Eve was spent at church.  That’s when the children of First Mennonite Church put on their annual Christmas Eve program.  It was pretty much the same scene every year.  Someone read the passage from Luke; there were the leading roles of Mary and Joseph, some shepherds, a few angels and 3 wisemen.  We sang Hark the Herald Angels, Away in a Manger and Silent Night, we all lit candles and were filled with awe at the wonders of it all and then as everyone was heading home on Christmas Eve night the church gave an orange to everyone who attended.  Why an orange?  I truly have no idea! Honestly, no clue!  I’m not sure when it started but I know they have done it every year since I was a child and I know they still do it.  And because of that, because of that tradition, when I see an orange I see a Christmas scene, full of innocence, wonder and awe, in a dimly lit church full of glowing candles with a choir singing Silent Night and children on a stage dressed up like the holy nativity.  The picture of innocence.


What is it about children that endeared themselves to Jesus? Certainly they are cute. Certainly they are innocent in their understanding of life. But what impressed Jesus always was their faith… Maybe that’s why Jesus came as a babe in a manger – born innocent and full of faith he remained that way all of his life. The faith of a child is what you must gain to enter the kingdom of heaven. The surest sign of growing old gracefully is one who refuses to become jaded and cynical about life and people. Jesus never did and neither should we.


I urge you this Christmas, to look at it through the eyes of a child.  The way Christ calls us too.  Look for your own signs of Christmas they are all around.   You might find Christ in an unopened gift, beautiful Christmas lights, a child’s Christmas program, or an orange.  Whatever Your sign for Christmas may be, I hope you find it with the innocence, the miracle, the awe of a child.  Merry Christmas and God bless you.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Where God Wants Me To Be

I had a moment with God today.  Actually this moment has been stewing for quite some time now.

There is a restlessness inside of me, questioning where I am at and what I am doing.  It was bound to happen, I am just wrapping up my 6th semester of seminary. I have been going strong for 2.5 years and am just about half way.  As quickly as the last few years have gone, the road ahead still seems endless, like the finish will never come.  I will be stuck in this place of waiting forever.

Have you ever been in a place of waiting?  This is not my first time and it hasn't gotten any easier.  Erik and I had trouble carrying a baby to term (okay, technically I was the one with trouble carrying, but Erik was right there beside me on the journey).  We had two miscarriages before we had Isabella, add to that the months in between of waiting to be healthy again, trying to conceive, losing again, waiting again...you get my drift.  I have been stuck in the never ending cycle of waiting before, it's not unfamiliar.  And honestly I don't think it's the waiting that is getting to me this time.

I knew this journey wasn't going to be easy.  Graduate school work is never easy.  I knew there would be tons of reading, long papers to write, assignments I loved and assignments I didn't.  I knew the school side of things would be hard.  And it is.  One of the most academically challenging things I have ever done.  But again, that's no surprise, that is not what I'm struggling with.

And sadly, I have actually gotten kind of use to the loneliness, this process of studying is turning me into somewhat of an introvert (heaven help me!).  It turns out solitude is actually not so bad.  The loneliness is not what is overwhelming me, it's there, but I have learned to manage that.

The thing that I am struggling with the most, the thing that right now is the hardest for me, is what this process is costing my family.  I'm okay with the sacrifices I am having to make.  I made this choice and I am willing to do the work.  What I am less okay is what my family is being forced to sacrifice.  We made the decision when the kids were very young that I would stay at home with them. I have identified myself as a mom for 12 years now, that is who I am, that is what God has asked me to do.  I gave up my career, extra money, peace of mind, and showering on a regular basis to stay at home with me kids.  I have honestly never regretted that decision.  I have been gotten to be there for all my kids firsts from words to waling to preschool to kindergarten and beyond.  I have been someone's class room mom for 7 years now, I have been on countless field trips, volunteered in classrooms and hosted playdates.

Unitl now.

I am no longer the mom I have always wanted to be.  I am still a mom absolutely, but not in the way I want to be.  I don't have time to volunteer in the classrooms any more.  The last 2 years I have missed more field trips than I have made.  My kids have less playdates because I am too busy to set them up.  Our house is rarely clean, I don't always have time to make dinner, let alone serve a friend by making them dinner.  I don't have time to hang out not the drive way with other moms or go grab lunch.  I'm no longer a stay at home mom.  But we don't have the luxury of two incomes either.

In fact we have less income than we did before as we juggle the expense of school.  My family is being cheated out of my time, my energy and the families money.  They are sacrificing heavily.  And I am frustrated because I don't see this ending any time soon.

So I finally sat down and unloaded all this with God.  I cried.  He listened.  I cried some more.  And then He spoke.  Do you know what he said?  He told me, "I've got this."  He's got my children, he's got my husband and he's got our finances. He's got this. And then He said, "Don't you trust me?"

And that is the question.

That has been the question since I started this journey.  Do I trust God?  Do I trust that this is plan for me and that his plan is always better than my plan?  Do I trust him that the end result will be worth the journey?  Do I trust him that he loves my kids more than I do and he wouldn't call me to do something that ultimately hurt them?  Do I trust Him?

Do I?

Yeah,  I do.

I don't know what tomorrow, or next month or next year will look like.  While I guess I kind of do, I'll still be in school spending all my free time studying, reading and writing papers, because that is where God wants me right now. And my kids will have a little less of me than I would choose.  But they will see me being obedient.  They will see me making sacrifices, and they will learn for themselves what it means to make sacrifices.  They will learn that money is a limited commodity and obedience is always more important than our own selfish desires.

So maybe this isn't exactly where I want to be right now, or where I want my family to be, but I am absolutely certain that this is right where God wants us to be.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Will They Ever Know?

Being a parent is the single hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life!

Far harder than my own adolescence, far harder than setting off on my own, far harder than learning how to navigate that first year of marriage.

Raising kids. It. Is. Hard.

One of my kids got hard news today.  They wanted something, worked hard for something and thought they would get it, but they didn't.  And it hurt.  It made them cry.

Honestly, it made me cry too.

To see my kid hurt and NOT be able to fix. Hardest. Thing. Ever.

Don't get me wrong.  I have seen my kids cry before.  I have even made them cry before.  I am not a "You want it, you can have it!" kind of mom.  I know my kids will face hard times.  I know that it is the hard times that will ultimately draw them closer to God.  I want them close to God so I must, therefore, want them to go through hard times.  But recognizing that with my head and living with that in my heart are two very different things!

The hardest part, the very hardest part is that this kiddo processes things internally, they won't talk about, the more I react, the harder it is for them.  So I will smile and pretend everything is okay and we won't talk about it, not till this child is ready.

But in the mean time, behind closed doors.  I will cry.  Because my child is sad, and I can't make it better.

Will they ever know?

Will they ever know that I cry EVERY SINGLE TIME they cry?

Will they ever know that everything they worried about, I worried about more?

Will they ever know that every dream they had, I dreamt for them too?

Will they ever know there were nights I snuck into their room just to watch them sleep, thanking God that I got to be their momma, even when it was the hardest thing I ever did!?

Will they ever know?

Will they ever know I fought for them, with every breath I had, from the moment they were conceived until the day I die?

Will they ever know how many hours of sleep I gave up, how many meals I ate cold, how many miles I drove, how much I willingly sacrificed just for them?

And will they ever know that I would gladly do it all again?

I wonder if they will ever know.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Will the Rocks Cry Out?

I have been a Kansas girl all my life.  Even for the five short years I lived all of two miles across the state line on the Missouri side of Kansas City, I still told people I was from Kansas.  

I attended the University of Kansas, so of course I cheer for the Jayhawks.

I currently live in one of the Kansas suburbs of Kansas City, so of course I cheer for the Chiefs.

But one of my favorite teams, one of my very favorites teams, has always been the Royals!!!  I grew up listening to nearly every game the Kansas City Royals played on am radio, thanks to my brother and my dad.  I was a little girl when the Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 1985 and I bet I could have told you the entire starting line-up that year!  Willie Wilson was my personal favorite!

It's really no surprise then that my boy's play baseball, both of them.   We attended 50+ little league games last summer alone!  My ten year old's team is of course... the Royals!!! 

The past few weeks have been absolutely amazing here in the KC area, well, all throughout Kansas quite honestly.  We were lucky enough to have tickets to the postseason games and I got to go to two of the games with the kids.  As I took in all the sights and sounds of the final game in the American League Championship, it was something I will never forget.  The crowed went absolutely wild!  40,000 people were cheering, shouting and screaming, united in a single victory,a common conquest, sharing in the triumph of one team.  Strangers embraced, grown men cried, the whole city rejoiced!

I screamed too, jumped up and down, hugged my kids, and high-fived some strangers.  Then I took a step back and just watched.  And I found myself wondering why it takes a sports team to get this kind of reaction from a crowd.

As amazing as this post season has been, and it HAS BEEN AMAZING!!  It's a moment in time.  Next year, it will be another team in the lime light and this will be a story we tell.  Yes, Royals fans have waited a long time for this, I know, I'm one of them.  But there is something else I have been waiting my whole life for.  Something the whole creation has been waiting nearly 2000 years for, the coming of a King.  Do you think He will get the same reaction?  I don't think He will.

Last Wednesday night, the city of Kansas City went wild, we cried out, we rejoiced... for a sports team.  Would the King of Kings get the same reaction?

When Jesus entered the street of Jerusalem for the last time, his disciples, the multitude that followed him and adored him cried out, they rejoiced and when the Pharisees told Jesus to make them be quiet, His reply was, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."  

There were no stones crying out last Wednesday, not in Kansas City.  Would we rejoice the same if it wasn't a sport's team but the one true King? Or would it be up to the rocks to cry out?

Friday, September 19, 2014

When Miracles Don't Come

Last week our church laid to rest a young mom.  A mom who had battled cancer for the last three years of her life.  A mom who left behind behind a husband, a six year old daughter and a four year old son.  

A few weeks prior to this, in a completely separate conversation, someone asked me if I thought God still performed miracles.  

I told her, "Yes! I absolutely believe in miracles!"

Do I still think that today?

Yes.  I really do.  But I also recognize that it is not always in God's will to heal.

Some of you may nod your heads and agree with that statement.  And some of you may see red and get spitting mad. That's okay.  I get that. I do.

How could it possibly be "God's will" for a child to lose a mother or a husband to lose a wife?  Honestly? I don't know.  I don't pretend to understand why God does what He does.  Why God allows what He allows.  I don't understand why there is so much loss and pain in this world.  I only know there is.  

I also know God never leaves us nor forsakes us (Hebrews 13:5).  I know God is our refuge and strength in times of trouble (Psalm 50:15 and 62:8).  I know that in Him is a peace that passes understanding (Phil 4:7).  I know His word is true and He keeps His promises.  

There was a time in my life, years ago, when I fell to my knees and cried out to God for a miracle.  But that miracle never came.  I know what it feels like when God chooses not to answer your prayer.  I know what it feels like to believe in a God you know is perfectly capable of healing, perfectly capable of performing miracles; and yet have to live with the aftermath of a dream shattered, the absence of a miracle, the loss when healing didn't come.  I know what that feels like.

And though I can accept those moments, share my grief (and sometime even anger) with God and lean on Him in the turmoil that follows; I would be lying if I said the question of "Why?" never entered my mind. 

Sometimes, I am able to understand the "Why?" given enough time and distance.  Other times, I'm not.  I still have no answer to give when someone comes to me with a heavy heart asking why God didn't do what they know he is capable of doing.

In my seminary reading this week Richard Rohr, a catholic priest, wrote something to this effect...  Jesus never healed for the sake of healing.  The miracles Jesus performed, all of them, were always about, and always will be about, inner transformation.  People today cry out to God and ask for healing, but have no interest in the inner transformation that must go along with it.  

So I looked back at many of Jesus's healings and it turns out, Rohr is right.  Jesus healed not so bodies would be healthy but so souls would be saved.  When I cried out to God for my miracle years ago, the one that never came, I wasn't crying out for transformation, I wasn't interested in inner change.  I was calling out for my wants.  Legitimate, God honoring wants, but wants all the same.  In the 12 years since the night I spent on my knees, I have been more transformed by His faithfulness, His love and His devotion to me, than I ever would have been had He performed a miracle that night.  

I will never fully understand why God takes a child before their life has been fully lived.  I will never fully understand why God would take a young mother from a family that desperately needs her.  But these are things God never intended for me to fully understand;  that is why it is called faith.  I have to have faith that His way is best.  I have to have faith that His plan is perfect, even when it makes no sense to me.  I have to have faith that "ALL the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful" (Psalm 25:10), even when it's not the way I want things to be.  

God is gracious and compassionate (Neh 9:17), don't forget that.  Even when the miracle doesn't come.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Treasured Possession

"For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession."
Deuteronomy 7:6

It sometimes amazes me how you can feel so alone in the middle of a great big crowd.  Have you ever felt that way?  You are surrounded by people, voices, even laughter; you are sharing experiences, stories and life with others and yet somehow you feel...lonely.

This reality was a heavy weight on my shoulders throughout my time in Haiti.  The kids in the orphanages were surrounded by people, 56, 80, sometimes 89 other kids depending on which orphanage we were at.  This number doesn't even include the mommas (what they call the caregivers), the teachers, the pastors or other staff that was there. The kids were surrounded by other people, yet if there was one word I could use to describe these kids it would be... lonely. 



They were starved for attention, desperate to be held, yearning to have someone look them in the eye and say, "I see you!"  "I know you!"  "I love you!" They needed that as much, if not more, than they needed food or the fun we brought.  I guess that doesn't make them so very different from us.



We all have this desperate need to be seen, to be known, to be loved.  We need to know we are valued, adored, treasured.  We need it like we need air to breathe and food to survive.  It is a basic human need.  And the children of Haiti are human.  Just like you.  Just like me.  



If you are like me, you have had people around you all your life.  And I am willing to bet that most of you have had someone in your life speaking these words to you, telling you "I see you."  "I know you."  "I love you."  

But if you are like me, there have also been times in your life when you have been lonely.  When you are convinced that you are not seen, not known, and not loved.  I am guessing there have been times when you, just like the orphans in Haiti, have wondered if there is anyone out there who values you, adores you, treasures you.

I want to tell you there is.  

Your heavenly Father absolutely adores you!  He does!!



He sees you.

He knows you.

He loves you!

YOU are His treasured possession.  

Don't forget that.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Home

It was pretty obvious as soon as we stepped off the plane, we were NOT in Kansas anymore!

This was definitely not home!

As we exited the airport to the chaos of the Haitian culture, foreign languages surrounded us, people crowded us, and smells overwhelmed us.  Isabella grabbed my hand and whispered in my ear, "Will it be like this the whole time we are here?" I squeezed her hand and said a quick prayer.  

It was pretty clear that we were strangers in a foreign land, "aliens" the Bible would say.  This was not our home.  And honestly, it was a little.. okay... a lot uncomfortable.

We missed being able to communicate with the people around us.
We missed our familiar American food.
We missed American plumbing and hot water.
We missed air conditioning and drinking tap water.
We missed our cozy beds and nights free from the sounds of Haiti (roosters crowing at ALL hours of the night; dogs barking, cars honking).
We missed the families we left behind.
We missed home.

We didn't miss Facebook, emails or text messages.
We didn't miss our hectic American schedule, running from one place to another.
We didn't miss the constant demand for more (more stuff, more toys, more clothes, more entertainment).
We didn't miss those aspects of home.

But then again, those things aren't home.  The truth of the matter is, sitting here at my familiar desk, in my cozy house, hair drying from a nice hot shower, my favorite jeans and a nice new t-shirt on, I'm still not home.  This isn't home.

1 Peter 2:11 says we are aliens or strangers in this world.  The whole WORLD should be a foreign land to us, it should ALL be uncomfortable; even my cozy little house, in my cozy little neighborhood should be uncomfortable.  We are called to be in this world yes, absolutely, but we are not of this world. And all the worldly things that surround us, drowned us, and pull us from our true home, where we REALLY belong should leave us feeling uncomfortable, foreign, alien, like we aren't where we are supposed to be.

Ephesians 2:19 says we are members of God's household, fellow citizens with God's people.  That is where our home is, with God, in heaven.  And no we aren't there yet, none of us are.  We are simply not home yet.  And we should feel like that.  This world is a foreign land, even if you have lived your whole life in the same small town, that little town is not where you will spend eternity.

As I looked around the strange land of Haiti, taking in the trash in the streets, the broken buildings and abject poverty, it was uncomfortable, it was pretty obvious I didn't fit in.  But I also knew I was right where God wanted me, and surprisingly, there was a whole lot of comfort in that. 

I wasn't home, that was for sure.  

But then again, this isn't home either. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Haiti Bound

I have to admit that for most of my adult life (and my younger days too if I'm being honest) I really thought I was doing my kids a favor by raising them where we are.  We are in an area just outside of a fairly big city, we have excellent schools, a big church with lots of programming and resources, a neighborhood full of kids and just about anything we could want within a 30-45 minute drive.  

However in the last few years I have come to realize that perhaps I got this one wrong.  The area we live in is also one of the top five wealthiest counties in America.  And where I once saw opportunity and resources I now see materialism and pride.  Where I once saw family friendly neighbors where kids play outside while the moms visit, I now see kids who are over scheduled and moms who are overcommitted   Where I once saw parents who work hard to provide the best for their children, I now see parents who have their priorities way out of whack.  Don't get me wrong.  I still love where we live, I love the people around us and feel like this is EXACTLY where God wants us.  He has just opened my eyes to some realities I needed to see.

In just a few hours I will board a plane with my 11 year old daughter and head to Haiti.  The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  We will visit with, love on and play with children who have been orphaned or abandoned living in abject poverty, children who have absolutely NO material possessions and who are eager to get whatever limited education is available to them.  Yet these children have a faith that inspires me.  They believe in Christ with a conviction us spoiled Americans find it difficult to emulate.  

I have visited this country one other time and I am excited to see it again, this time through the eyes of my daughter.  I am excited to see what God shows her, what she learns, and how she processes it all.  I am excited to see how God uses her and how she reconciles the life she lives with those of the kids we will soon meet.  

If you are so inspired to pray for us in the coming days we would so very much appreciate it.  I look forward to sharing our stories and lessons with you when we get back!

But right now, Isabella and I are Haiti bound!!!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An All Consuming, Unconditional Love

Where does the time go?

Last week I sent the kids back to school.  Where did the summer go?

Last week I sent my oldest child to middle school!  Where did the years ago?

I swear we brought her home from the hospital just last year!  I remember looking at her, thinking, "I don't have a clue what I am doing!  But oh my heavens do I love her!!"  I loved her with a love I had never experienced before.  I loved her instantly. I loved her with a love that was all consuming.  I loved her unconditionally.  It made no difference what she did or didn't do, how she would grow or who she would become, there was nothing that would ever change how much I loved her.

A few months ago she was a toddler (at least it feels like it was a few months ago) and life was messy.  She was messy, the house was messy, I was messy.  She had her share of temper tantrums, honestly, I had my share too!  But it didn't change my love for her.  I loved her with an all consuming love.  I loved her unconditionally, even in the messy moments, even in the middle of her temper tantrums.  It hurt me to see them, but it didn't make me love her any less.  

Last month she was a preschooler.  She seemed so big that first day of preschool, with hair in barrettes, clothes clean and pressed.  She brought home art work that I couldn't decipher and writing I couldn't read, her work was FAR from perfect, but I loved it!  I loved her!  I loved her with a love that was all consuming.  I loved her unconditionally.  It didn't matter that her stick figures were missing most of their parts, while her peers were drawing far more detailed pictures.  It didn't matter that language skills came harder for her.  I was proud of what she drew, what she had accomplished and who she was.  And her imperfect attempts didn't make me love her any less. 

Last week she started kindergarten.  She was officially a big kid now.  Some of the school work was hard for her.  She wasn't the smartest kid in class, she wasn't the fastest or funniest or coolest.  But I loved her just the same.  I loved her with a love that was all consuming.  I loved her unconditionally.  It didn't matter that other kids won amazing awards, or were recognized for stellar performance.  I didn't love Isabella any less when she didn't get the accolades or honors.  

Yesterday Isabella started middle school. Through the years I have gotten to know her better.  I know more of her inner thoughts, her fears, and her feelings.  And she knows me better.  Our relationship is changing.  She is starting to see me as a person and not just her mom.  She knows what my dreams are and I know what hers are.  She knows what I am scared of, what keeps me up at nights, and I know the same about her.   Though we are closer now, I don't LOVE her anymore.  I still love her with a love that is all consuming, just like I loved that baby.  I love her with a love that is unconditional, just like I loved that messy toddler.  I love her now, just like I loved that preschooler and school-ager.

Our relationship has changed over the years, but my love for her hasn't.

The same can be said for our Heavenly Father.  I don't know where you are in your spiritual journey.  I don't now whether you are at the infant stage of your faith or the toddler stage; maybe you have a school-age faith or maybe you have a mature adult faith.  Whatever stage you find yourself in, your Heavenly Father loves you.  He loves you with an all consuming love.  He loves you with an unconditional love.  He loves you even when you are messy.  He loves you even when your very best work just doesn't compare to others around you.  He loves you even when you are not the smartest, funniest or coolest.  He loves even when others are winning awards and your work looks like kindergarten work.  He doesn't love you more the more mature or further in your faith you get.  Your relationship with Him will change, but His love doesn't.  

It doesn't matter if you have the faith of an infant, toddler, preschooler, school-ager or someone more mature.  He always has and always will love you.  He loves you with an all consuming, unconditional love.


Friday, August 15, 2014

A Life Lived Well, Part 2

"Well done, good and faithful servant!"
Matthew 25:21

I am sure you are all familiar with these words.  They are found in a parable Jesus tells in the book of Matthew.  Three servants are given some of their master's money or "talents" before he leaves town.  I won't recap the whole story, you can read it yourself in Matthew 25:14-30.  But within this parable the servants who properly manage what they have been given are rewarded and praised with these words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

They are words I dream of hearing some day as I stand before my master, my God and King.  I pray the life I am living is one that is being lived well; that I am properly managing what I have been given; and that one day I will be told these words.  

I think a lot of people dream of hearing these words.  I think some people even expect to hear these words.  Honestly, most of us would probably say we are pretty good people.  Sure we might sin a little, but the Bible says we ALL sin, so we can't really avoid that.  Besides, we're supposed to be humble so we better say we're sinful even if we don't really think we are!  

If we get down to it though, I wonder just how many of us bank on hearing these words of praise at the end of our life?  It's not like we expect the master to say, "Perfectly done!"  No one expects him to say, "Really, AMAZING job!  You couldn't have done better!"   All we are asking for is a little ol', "well done."  That's hardly too much to ask!  Or is it?

In the parable there are three servants, only two of them hear these words.  One of them does not.  It wasn't until I really started studying this passage that I began to get concerned about the third servant.  I mean, what did he do that was so wrong?  It's not like he squandered the talent. He wasn't like the Prodigal son who spent what wasn't even his. The prodigal son was welcomed back with open arms.  But this poor servant, who gave back EXACTLY what he was given, was punished.  I don't get it!  What did he do wrong? And more importantly, how can I make sure I don't do the exact same thing!!

I have thought A LOT about this.  I have read this passage over and over, I have prayed about this passage, asking God to show me He wanted me to learn from it.  And here is what I think He has been telling me.  Here is what the third servant did that was so wrong...

He didn't know his master. 

He didn't know him.  The servant tried to justify his actions by explaining that he knew the master was a hard man who harvested where he did not sow and gathered where he did not scatter seed.  The servant was scared of him.  So rather than risk losing what wasn't his in the first place and angering the hard master, the servant hid the money, and when the master returned he gave back to him exactly what he had been given. The master responds with this comment, "...So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?"  It's the question mark I have never noticed before.  

The master isn't agreeing that he is a hard and wretched man.  It's more like he is saying, "That's what you think of me, huh?"  But the fact is, he was neither hard nor wretched.  He gave three servants an opportunity to do something great, to do something for him and only two of them did.  Those two he generously rewarded, not the actions of a hard or wretched man.  The other servant had a distorted view of his master.  He didn't really know him. And he didn't take the time to find out what the master expected of him.  

Had he spent more time in his masters presence, had he paid more attention to his master's actions and his expectations of those who worked for him, perhaps the servant would have acted differently. 

It wasn't that the master expected the same return on his investment from this servant.  He didn't expect this servant to earn him five talents or even two, it wasn't about how much he  could earn for the master.  It was simply about taking what the master had blessed him with and doing something good with it.  It was about knowing the master enough to recognize he wouldn't be mad if there wasn't a bountiful harvest as long as there was something!

Our master has given us all a lot.  He has given us giftings and resources and love.  And he expects us to know Him enough to know how to use these gifts and to know what exactly it is He expects of us.  He doesn't care how talented we are, he doesn't care how much fruit we bring in or how many people we reach.  He doesn't care if my talent is kindergarten work and yours looks like a PhD in perfection!  He is pleased with both efforts!  And if you take the time to get to know your Master he will show you EXACTLY what he wants you to do with what he has given you.

How sad if at the end of our life we meet Jesus and say, "Thank you for all that you gave me.  I so appreciate it.  But, I didn't really use it, so you can have it back, exactly what you gave to me.  It's in mint condition, 'cause again, I didn't really use it."

You have been given much, but you are expected to use it.  You are expected to use it for His glory and not for your own.  But in order to do that, you have to know your master.  You have to spend time in His presences, listen to His word, and do what He asks.  That is the key to a life lived well.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Joy

Summer is beginning to wind down in our household.  The kids go back to school later this week.  It's hard to believe another year has gone by.  

This summer has been a happy one, we didn't travel, we didn't do any "great" things.  But we had a lot of fun with the occasional incredibly boring days thrown in.  I think kids need those days too.  

One of the lessons I learned this summer is there is a difference between joy and happiness.  I had an opportunity to share this lesson on another blog recently and it posted today.  I would love for you to check it out by clicking here!

I wish you all a very joyful day!!


Monday, August 4, 2014

A Life Lived Well, part 1

One of the problems with being a talkative person is that many talkers don't make very good listeners.  I don't mean this to be some great overgeneralization.  I am sure there are lots of talkers who make very fine listeners.  I would not be one of those.  

I'm not a good listener.

Unfortunately this is also true when it comes to listening to God at times.  Sometimes God needs to tell me the same thing over and over again before I hear him; before I pay attention to him.  That seems to be the case this summer.

The summer started with me becoming fascinated with Hebrews 12:28 
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."
The words "worship God acceptably" grabbed my attention.  If there was a way to worship God acceptably than there must also be a way to worship God unacceptably.  And honestly this idea terrified me.  Was I worshipping God acceptably???  I shared my thoughts and my concerns on this idea at BCW and you can read about it here.  

Perfect!  Done!  Lesson learned, processed and documented.  Check.

Um, not quite. Though I may have been done listening, God wasn't done talking. 

A few weeks later someone brought to my attention Cain and Abel.  Two brothers who both made sacrifices to God, only one was found acceptable and one was found lacking.  So clearly, we can make sacrifices that we ourselves feel pretty good about yet God finds lacking, even insulting, unacceptable.  Oh.  So, how do the sacrifices I claim to be making stack up?  Honestly? Probably not as good as I think they do.  I mean if I have been worshipping unacceptably, there is a good chance I have also been making sacrifices unacceptably.  

Let's be honest, God wasn't always getting my first fruits.  Yes Erik and I tithe a fair portion of our finances, but He wasn't always getting the first and the best of my time or my attention.  I had not taken captive every thought and made it obedient to Him as we are told to do in 2 Cor. 10:5.  He got what I was willing to give Him, when it was convenient for me, if I wasn't feeling it, He wasn't getting it.  And I expect Him to be delighted with me? 

Then I started to re-read "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan and was reminded of the parable of the seed found in Matthew 13.  We all tend to assume that we are the good soil that the seed falls on.  Meanwhile, the reality is we are more rocky than we think with roots that don't grow deep.  We have earthly weeds that we allow to choke out our full devotion to God.  Chan tells us not to just assume we are the good soil, but really look at how we are living out our faith.  

In the last 10 years my faith has grown by radical proportions.  Often I find myself thinking I am in a pretty good place.  But when I am confronted with the scriptures; with the truth from God's own word.  I am forced to acknowledge that my worship, my sacrifice, my soil is not what I think it is.  I have a long way to go before I am the person God is making me to be.  

There are times this summer, brief moments, when I have been discouraged by this.  But then the Holy Spirit brings to mind Phil. 1:6, 
"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

And I am reminded of the grace that is found in Christ Jesus.  I am not enough.   My worship, my sacrifice, my soil, will never be good enough.  I cannot earn my salvation, my place in heaven. It is given to me freely because I have given my life, my whole life to Christ Jesus.  He and he alone is enough. 

Hmm, maybe I am finally starting to listen.  The lesson maybe sinking in...

Lately, I have been dwelling on the parable of talents found in Matthew 25.  It is the story of three servants who are entrusted with some of their master's property.  At the end of the parable the master says to two of his servants, "Well done, good and faithful servant." The third servant, though he thought he was doing the right thing, got it all wrong.  He was reprimanded and disgraced.  

We will never live our lives perfectly, but we can live them well.  The question is, are we?

There are lots of things we do for God throughout our day; pray to him, worship him, maybe sacrifice some small part of our time or attention, or perhaps our finances, but do we do these things well?  Because the mere fact that we do these things does not mean that we are doing them acceptably.  Just because we worship, does not mean we worship well.  Just because we sacrifice does not mean we sacrifice well.  Just because we pray, does not mean we pray well.  

Our worship should be acceptable.  Our sacrifice should be a fragrant offering.  Our prayer should be heart-felt.  Our life should be lived well.  Is yours?

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Real Me

I've come to the realization recently that I don't always show people the real me.

I'm an open person, perfectly willing to share the stories and events of my life.  But there are parts of my story I tend not to share.  There are parts of me, the earthly me, the me I would be without Jesus in my life that I tend not to talk much about.  And perhaps I overemphasize the person the good parts.  Perhaps I spend to much time talking about the me I am trying to become through the power of the Holy Spirit.  I don't want to become a whiner who spends all her time complaining about her sins and mistakes, but I do want to let you all know I don't have it all figure out yet.  I am a new creation in Christ, but I still battle with the earthly me who wants things HER way, who is prone to emotional outbursts and would rather read a novel than the Bible.

Someone, a good friend, recently commented on my marriage, how Erik and I seem to have this marriage thing down.  That is so far from the truth I was taken aback for a moment!  Is that the image I portray to people?  Because it's not the truth.  Yes Erik and I love each other deeply, but let's be honest... we fight.  We argue, we disagree, and we annoy each other.  At the end of the day (or usually by morning at the latest) we work it out, but don't think for a second that we have this marriage thing all figured out.

Another friend recently made a comment on my prayer life.  This comment made me laugh out loud!!! If there is one spiritual discipline I struggle with it is prayer!  I could give you the list of excuses why, but honestly, that's all they are, excuses.  Yes, I talk to God, everyday (or almost everyday), but I do not spend hours (or even half of hours) on my knees each day.  Occasionally I do, but not often.  Sometimes my prayer is focused, more often it is distracted.  Sometimes I make it through all those things we are supposed to pray for (adoration for God, thanks for His blessing, my spouse, my marriage, my children, their future spouses, their teachers, their friends, their safety, our country, our leaders, the church...) more often than not most of these things get left out.

This week was our church's VBS and I was one of the co-directors.  The first year of directing is a little like trial by fire.  There is no list of your job description because anything and everything falls under "your" responsibility.  It was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work.  Along the way someone asked me if I ever just lost it.  They inferred that I always had it together.  And although I will give Jesus credit where credit is due, He and the Holy Spirit have come a long way in helping me tone down my out of control temper, my nearly-about-to-combust outbursts.  However, I still on occasion just lose it.  Usually at home, usually with my own family, but not always.  Sometimes I still have public explosions and though they are not as damaging as they used to be, they are still humbling, painful, and require apologizing to whomever I hurt when all is said and done.

I am a new creation in Christ, just like the Bible tells us.  But that doesn't mean I have it all together.  That doesn't mean I don't still have moments the earthly me rears her ugly head.  Honestly, I am so far from having this all figured out, I feel guilty when someone implies I have things figure out, because it just means I'm not showing them the real me.

The real me is a sinner, daily in need of the grace and forgiveness that will only come from my Lord and savior Jesus Christ.  That is the real me!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Repent and Rest

I stumbled across a verse in the bible the other day that has had me thinking about it ever since.

Isaiah 30:15 says, 
"This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'" (NIV)

Generally, when I think about salvation I look to verses like Romans 10:10, 
"For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, 
and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." 

or Ephesians 2:8 
"For is it by grace you have been saved - through faith..." 

Perhaps I might turn to Mark 16:16 
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved..." 

or John 10:9 
"I am the gate, whoever enters through me will me saved."  

The verse I have not turned to much (or at all) regarding salvation is Isaiah 30:15.  And honestly I didn't really understand it when I read it yesterday.  I get that we need repentance to be saved, but how does "rest" play into salvation?  So I did what all good seminary students should do and looked up what the original Hebrew said.  

Yeah, that didn't help at all!  

Perhaps it's the fact that I haven't actually taken Hebrew yet, but I got no help from that.  So then I looked up the verse in multiple translations to see if that clarified things.  That helped a little bit, the HCSB said, " You will be delivered by returning and resting."  The NET said, "If you repented and patiently waited for me, you would be delivered."  Ok, that makes a little more sense.

Once I added the Biblical context of this verse, it all started to come together.  You see the Israelites were God's chosen people and He longed for His people to be saved.  Yet they kept turning away from Him.  They would repent yes, but then in the next moment they would run from Him, sometimes in fear, sometimes because of pride, and sometimes for a variety of other reasons.  Finally God said, through Isaiah, just stop!!!  Stop running from me.  Repent.  And then rest.  Stop turning away from me.  Stop running from.  I know you are scared, but rest in my presence, that is where salvation will come from. But the Israelites would have none of it.  They continued the pattern of repenting and running.

Much like the ancient Israelites, I think we tend to do the same thing today.  We repent of our sin and we turn away from it.  We turn toward God and things start looking pretty good.  But then something happens, any variety of things, and we get scared, or prideful, or hurt, or __________(fill in the blank); and instead of resting in Him, His strength, His peace, His presence, we turn away from Him, we run.  Maybe we run toward our own sense of financial security, maybe we run to a sin, maybe we run to material possessions, or something that will allow us to take a break from the reality we are facing; wherever or whatever it is we choose to run to during moments like this, it is not Him.  

In repentance and rest (resting in Him) is your salvation.  Salvation will not be found in financial security, escapes from reality, material possessions or whatever else you are turning to.  It will only be found in Him.  Returning to Him, patiently waiting on Him.  That is where salvation is found.

Repent and then rest.  Rest in Him.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Secret of Contentment

I have recently undertaken a happiness challenge.  

The challenge is to find at least one thing to be happy about for 100 consecutive days, then share a picture of that happiness via social media.  At the beginning of the challenge it was reported that only 29% of the people who began the challenge actually completed it.  71% of the people could not find something, anything, to be happy about for 100 days in a row!  

I imagine that the documenting of said happiness and posting it to social media had something to do with the success rate.  Surely people are happy at some point everyday right?  It was probably just taking the picture and getting it posted that was the hang up.  Or at least I would like to think so.  

But then I thought about Paul's words in Philippians 4:12-13.  

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (emphasis mine)

Contentment, let alone happiness, is not something that came naturally to Paul.  It was something he had to learn.  He learned this secret of contentment, not through a life lived according to the law or the world's standards, but only after he began a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Only after he had found the deep and abiding joy of a relationship with Jesus was he able to find contentment in any and all situations.  

Lack of contentment seems to be pervasive in the culture around us.  Everywhere I look people are discontent.  They don't have what the want or want what they have.  They are too busy and too stressed to enjoy the process of living the life God has given them.  They waste their days chasing one dream or another never finding true joy, happiness or even contentment.

The thing is you won't find contentment on your own.  The world will tell you that you can never have enough, that you should always want more (more money, more friends, more success).  That kind of attitude breeds discontent. It is hard to be happy when you are continually discontent.

There is a soul deep joy and a peace that comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  A joy and a peace that surpasses the world's expectations for a "good life"; a joy and a peace that surpasses the immediate circumstances of your life; a joy and a peace that lets you know God is in charge and allows you to be content in any and every situation.

That doesn't mean you will always be happy, that doesn't mean you will never be sad.  But it does mean that underneath that sadness is a joy and even a contentment that no earthly thing can touch.  And when you are content with the circumstances in your life, when you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and have an underlying joy and peace that runs soul deep, then you can find happiness in each day.  The only thing left to do is take a picture of it!

#100happydays 



Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Wisdom in a T-shirt

"For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands."
2 Timothy 1:6

It's summer time!  Which means the kids are out of school and my days are jam packed with  planning activities, entertaining kids, swimming, baseball, horse back riding, referee-ing disagreements and maintaining sanity (theirs and mine).  That has left very little time for things like quiet time with the Lord, spiritual disciplines or writing.  

And I must say I have missed it greatly.  It is through writing that I process the things God is teaching me.  The act of organizing my thoughts and getting them down in print is almost therapeutic for me and it helps me better understand the lessons I am learning.  Needless, to say, thus far, this has not been a summer of great learning for me, and I find that frustrating.

Last night found my family once again at the ball fields (no surprise there!), where I saw a young boy in a t-shirt I simply loved!  The t-shirt read "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."  I pointed it out to my boys and after a great discussion we all agreed the t-shrit was true.  When I got home later that night, I was reminded of this verse Paul wrote to Timothy, "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God."  Timothy had talent too, a gift of God to teach, preach, encourage and lead the church in Ephesus.  But much like the t-shirt read, Paul was telling Timothy that talent, or a gift from God, isn't always enough.  It also takes hard work, you need to fan the flame, make it grow, develop it.  

Whatever your talent or spiritual gift might be, whether it is baseball, writing, singing or praying, Paul tells us to fan this gift into a flame.  Don't just take natural talent for granted but work hard.  And that talent, that spiritual gift will grow into a flame that no one can put out.  

Very few gifts are given to us in full bloom, they need to be nurtured and developed.  They need to be practiced and repeated.  We have all heard the adage that practice makes perfect.  Though none of us will ever be able to claim perfection, our gifts do need to be practiced.  If your spiritual gifting is prayer, then practice prayer, study prayer, read about prayer, learn about prayer and fan into a flame your gift.  If your spiritual gifting is music than practice music, sing, play, dance every day, fan the flame.  If your spiritual gifting is writing, than write... every day.  

My boys coaches will tell them to "see the ball" everyday.  Practice.   Because talent isn't enough.  Hard work will beat talent if talent doesn't work hard.