Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Leaking

This month, my pastor has been talking to us about the Holy Spirit. He is teaching us about being filled with the Spirit and getting our power from the Spirit. He made an interesting point the first week, and reiterated it the second: he said our problem with being filled with the Spirit is that "we leak."

It got me thinking quite a bit. We tend to ask for help in times of trouble. No brainer, there. And that causes us to have a pretty heavy reliance upon the Holy Spirit to just get through the tough days. But we don't hold onto that. Life stabilizes, as it tends to do, and the bad things either get resolved or we learn to adjust and the pain eases a bit over time. When this happens, we lose sight of what we were heavily focused on before: the presence and strength of God given to us through the Holy Spirit.

I've also been thinking about how we tend to react poorly in times of stress. We lose our tempers, raise our voices, make poor decisions that we later regret, act impulsively, or damage a relationship because we didn't pause and allow the Holy Spirit to act through us.

So... yeah, we leak.

We leak the goodness of the Spirit.
We lose sight of the strength of the Spirit.
We leak the strength of the Spirit.
We forget the grace given by God because of Christ.
We leak holy love for our neighbor.

And when we leak, we need to be refilled, my pastor says. Constantly, at times. But that takes awareness to our emptiness, our weakness, doesn't it? And i'm just not sure most people have that sort of personal awareness. Which is frustrating. And unfortunate. And really sad.

This week, i encountered someone who was reacting to a situation with fear. She was overreacting, in my opinion, based on her small viewpoint, and was being not-so-kind to others who didn't share her opinion. In the moment, my blood pressure began to rise and my indignation took root... and then, a still, small voice spoke to me, reminding me to extend grace. And i was able to reign in my anger and frustration, give her the benefit of the doubt, and act in love and grace.

That wasn't me. I leak.
But the Holy Spirit, who resides in me, has been my daily portion lately, so i was not so easily distracted from His prompting as i might have normally been if my situation wasn't so difficult right now. And, frankly, that was pretty cool. :)

I've never been angry with God about suffering. Not saying i'm special for that, just saying... it isn't in me. I understand that suffering is a very unpleasant but undeniable part of life this side of heaven. But it seems like every time He guides me through another valley, He shows me another side benefit of our pain. And i truly hope that i learned well enough during this season just how wonderful the constant presence of the Holy Spirit is! I know i'll still leak, but i want to always stay aware of my need to be refilled. Moment to moment, He is my comforter and my guide, and i need Him.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ashes Have Purpose

Much like the ashes under my charcoal grill tend to swirl and lift with the sweeping breeze to be carried off to replenish the earth, i am aware that the ashes of my life are carried away for a greater purpose than i can imagine. Did you know that routine burning of plant life is a necessary component to a fertile soil? The ashes allow nutrients that would otherwise not enter the soil become available for new growth.

In the same way, our lives have experiences that must be renewed... by the burning of what was so that we can establish newer, healthier growth. I am in a season of letting go of the old and watching it burn. It isn't comfortable and it isn't always easy, but i recognize it for what it is: opportunity.

God uses everything, yes, everything, to stretch us into His image and manifest in us a purpose we often cannot see. And since we cannot see what He sees, it is easy to get discouraged. But He has a plan for that failed business venture, that project that you bombed, and that relationship that ended badly. We cannot always see His plan in the midst of our struggle, but that is why it is so important to have faith.

My faith tells me that God is still looking out for me. It reminds me that He is allowing this season for a purpose far greater than whatever it seems in the moment. And it centers me to remember. Because my life is bigger than my piles of ashes along the way. My ashes are merely a necessary component to the growth of who i am becoming.

It is often said that "hindsight is 20/20" and i believe that is true. Mostly, i think it is true because we can see the good that comes after the experience is over. During the trial, we are too busy fighting for the next breath, struggling toward the next moment, and reaching for the finish line. But later, when we are down the road a ways, we can often look back on the struggle and understand it's value. The job we wouldn't have gotten if we hadn't had the failure, the opportunity that arose because we were in the right place at the right time solely because of the trial putting us there, or the self-awareness and new-found strength that came out of that bad relationship.

So, i can say with confidence, from my position in the battle, "count it all joy," my friends! Because if you must suffer the burning, let it not be for nothing - watch for the beauty that will come from the ashes. :)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Addictions

Some people are addicted to alcohol.
Some people are addicted to cigarettes.
Some people are addicted to prescription medications.
Some people are addicted to illegal drugs.
Some people are addicted to pornography.
Some people are addicted to love (or at least, the idea of it).
I do not struggle with any of those addictions, though i have compassion for those who do.

Specifically, i battle a nearly constant urge to defend myself.
To defend myself against unfair accusations.
Against lies.
Against misunderstandings and miscommunication.

God is working on my heart in this area, and i know He wants me to remain in my peace with what i know about myself, but sometimes, the urge to defend is so strong! And i have to bite my lip. If the person i would be speaking to on the matter is not open to my side, no words will penetrate anyway.

Sometimes, people have to cling to their flawed views of things in order to remain in their own reality. Other times, they are believing a lie themselves and have not yet had their eyes opened to the truth. Mostly, though, i believe that people just don't want to take responsibility for their own mistakes, errors in judgment, or lack of efforts to try something new.

Whatever the underlying cause, i can only change ME, and i have a limited amount of energy each day. So, i'm learning to let go of the things - and people - that attempt to drag me into unhealthy cycles. I am learning that my reputation in Christ is the only thing i have any rights to boast about, and everything else i am is broken, mistaken, and sinful. And if i cannot boast in who i am - other than who i am in Christ - then what is the point of defending myself, really?

So... i will try to say less, turning the other cheek and letting God be my defender. Wanting the truth to be known, while a noble goal, is outside of my realm of control anyway.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

When Your Friends Pray You Fat

Earlier this week, i noticed a frightening side-effect of my current stress: rapid weight loss. Scary weight loss. I knew my appetite was reduced, but i didn't expect to become my 15-year-old self's weight so quickly (i hadn't finished growing the last time i saw that number on the scale!)! Since i have an auto-immune condition that is barely restrained - which is easily triggered by stress - and adrenal fatigue - which is exacerbated by stress - i understandably became concerned.

Fear of regressing into a full Hashimoto's Thyroiditis "flare" in the midst of divorce and dealing with the kids drove me to my friends on Facebook, where i asked for prayer regarding my stress levels and my weight loss.

In typical "Be Careful What You Wish For" fashion, in less than a day, i am back up to a reasonable weight. Seriously? Since i didn't notice eating differently, don't remember feeling any difference in my stress levels, and didn't burn any additional calories that i am aware of, the only explanation is that my friends are praying me fat! (Um, gals, you can back off a little now... ya know, so i don't need a new wardrobe.) ;^)

I'd challenge anyone to tell me that God doesn't care about the minutia of our lives. I have experienced His hand in so many little things that i might laugh at you! So if you don't believe that God cares about the small stuff you deal with, ask your friends for prayer... but be careful: they might pray you fat! :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Jesus in My Friends

A week ago today, i received a reality check in the form of divorce papers, delivered by a complete stranger as a surprise to me in front of my children. Somehow, i managed to keep this secret from them and continue our schooling... that day and all of the days since.

In the past week, i have experienced shock, anger, and fear, and not always just one of them at a time. Looking back on the past several days, i have to acknowledge the presence of God in my life. When i was in shock, the Holy Spirit moved my feet to "just do the next right thing." When anger rose up to choke me, the calming words of a friend brought me back to acceptance. Any time fear haunted me, God calmed my soul and whispered His words of truth to my heart.

There is no explanation for the peace that comes in the midst of trials. It really is a peace that passes all understanding. But there is also no substitute for godly friends in your life. When you are facing an uncertain future, a difficult time, or a terrible loss, it is the Holy Spirit within each of your earthly friends that will encourage you, even as the Holy Spirit within you shores up your defenses and strengthens you for the road you're on.

Take the time to connect with a friend today. You really never know when you will need them or they will need you, and it is the time and energy spent building those relationships that has the greatest returns - as we bear one another's burdens, in Christ, for Christ, until the day comes when all hardship will come to an end and we will have joy everlasting.

"It Is Well With My Soul"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Depths

Lately, life has been hard. I'm not going to lie about that. But God keeps showing me that it is within the depths of the deepest oceans of our lives that He lives - to strengthen us, to accompany us, to challenge us, and to grow us. I've listened a lot to the song, "Oceans," by Hillsong United, and it is my mantra these days: He has never failed, and He's not going to start now; my fears may give me pause, but my faith is greater than my fears; i am God's and anything He calls me to will build my faith because i will not go alone.

If you haven't heard this song, have a listen. But don't pray this prayer unless you really want to walk upon the waters of the ocean's depths... because it is in the depths that we find the strength of God and the test of our own faith, but that is best learned through trials of this life.

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United.

This morning, church was hard. It's complicated, but just when i felt beaten down and disconnected from my church family, God had the worship team sing "Oceans," which is not a common worship song at our church. I felt God reaching down to hug me, and i spent the rest of worship smiling so big i almost felt foolish! :)

Does music reach you that way? Does it touch your heart in ways the spoken words cannot? God has always ministered to me through music. There's another song that has touched me this week. It's called "Hope in Front of Me," and it is by Danny Gokey. Click here for a YouTube link to that one.

And this one: "Greater" by Mercy Me.

Above all, i'm resting on God's promises that He is working all things together for my good, even if it doesn't feel good today, because i have faith in a hope and a future, and because my hope is not in the things of this world, but in Christ Jesus, who has overcome the world so that when my time here is up, i get to spend eternity with my Father in Heaven.

Keeping my eye on the prize . . . .

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Out With the Old, In With the New?

Somewhere along the way, my generation lost respect for older people. Maybe we never had it. We were a spoiled generation, full of our own worth and so many complaints of the injustices of our "station" (as the youth of the day). We spent our youth scoffing at the wisdom of those who raised us, fighting against the restrictions of what was simply good sense, and creating our own reality as victims of our circumstances and our determination to overcome them.

How arrogant! And now, we aren't youth anymore. And we still don't value older people. We don't include them in our lives, we tolerate them. We don't ask about their experiences, we roll our eyes when they tell "another of their stories." We don't sit at their feet and soak in their wisdom, we turn away with confidence that we have this whole thing figured out.

Is this normal? Is this just us, or does every generation go through this? Will we come back around to understanding the value of those who've gone before us on the journey?

Because if we don't, i shudder to think how our children will ever mature well! We are like spoiled teenagers playing at adulthood. Here we are, parents, responsible for the future adults our children will be, but so sure that we have this whole thing figured out that we shut down anyone who attempts to speak words into our lives that are different from our beliefs. We've nothing to glean from one another because we know it all already.

I get it that each generation has new information. And we are responsible for that information once we have it. But along the way, i have needed, no, craved, the precious wisdom of someone past my stage of life. Someone to tell me what i might not be seeing, what i might be doing wrong, how i could improve, what they learned... because once upon a time, those older people walked in shoes that looked a lot like mine. And they fought many of the same battles. Why, then, should i reinvent the wheel? How arrogant i would be if i was unwilling to learn from others and from history!

{sigh} Maybe i'm tired. Maybe it's years of living apart from family and wondering if every visit will be the last time i see my grandparents. Maybe it's age. Whatever it is, it makes me sad that we treat our wise older relatives and friends like we can totally live without them. Well, maybe we can live without them. But can we thrive?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Trenches

There's a lot going on in our world today.
There are a lot of reasons not to turn on the news. Because, quite simply, there are things you just cannot unsee.
And we are heartbroken for the many experiencing Genocide. No question.
But i'm beginning to wonder...

I've been in the trenches with Jesus. Nothing like Genocide, you understand, but in the muck that the evils of life enjoy dishing out. And i've learned something really important: i'd rather be in the trenches with Jesus than in a beautiful resort with the devil. Or even all alone.

You see, unless you have experienced the soul-connecting, Spirit-filled encounter with Christ that comes in the midst of trials, you will always think, "i could never...." And, absolutely, you are right. You could never. But God.

God is with those who suffer for Him.
God is with those who suffer for their faith.
God is with those who are persecuted because of Him.

And while there is undeniably an astounding suffering happening amongst people who absolutely do not deserve it, we must also understand that God is with them. In a way we almost cannot wrap our minds around. And i sense some of them, if not all of them, have found their way to grasp that inner peace that overpowers the fear of an unknown (or known) evil.

So, certainly, let's pray.
Let's pray for help. For the terror to end. For the bad guys to stop.
But let's also pray for the peace and strength and comfort of our Abba Father to wrap around and inside the ones in the trenches today. May they find joy in their suffering and relief in Christ Jesus. And may they be rescued besides.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Back to School = SUCCESS!

This week, we had our first week of school after taking the summer off. Since i fired the teacher this summer and rehired myself as the mom, it was a nail-biting weekend of preparations, wondering if the Little Darlings would revolt against "the institution" and refuse to get out of bed or cling lovingly to the schedule of normalcy and productivity. (Yeah, right!)

Well, i am happy to report that on Day 1, they had a successful day of positive attitudes, brain-stretching lessons, and completed assignments. Wahoo! They even asked if we could do that every.day. Um, say wha..?

Yeah, so, i didn't hold my breath, but i squinted my face a little in fear as i tackled Tuesday... then Wednesday... and by Thursday, i thought, "we're in the home stretch! Will it really be this easy?" And Friday was no different. Lessons learned, books utilized, brains engaged, attitudes improved. Golly, i love homeschooling!

So, i am here to tell you that it really is okay to take the summer off sometimes. Go ahead, fire your kids' teacher and just be the mom every once in awhile. The kids will do just fine. In fact, if mine are anything to go by, they'll thrive!

Christmas break is gonna rock this year!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

You're Fired!

This month, i did something drastic: i fired myself as my children's Teacher and re-hired myself as their mother. Let me explain....

Instead of seeing them as my offspring in whom i delight, i was seeing them as workbook pages to be completed.

Instead of seeing them as my heart walking around outside my own body, i was seeing them as lessons they would fight me on.

Instead of finding opportunities to connect with them in their personal time, i was seeing them as simply leaving me alone to do "more important work" while i wasn't teaching.

So, this month, i fired that Teacher! She is NOT who my children need, and frankly, i don't particularly like her.

Since i have fired the Teacher, i have enjoyed outings, walks, documentaries, laughter, and most importantly, real conversation and connection with each of these beautiful blessings God somehow believes i am worthy of raising for Him.

It is a good reminder of my first calling, and i am grateful the Holy Spirit saw this lack in me and convicted my heart to make this change.

Happy Summer, Friends! :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

The "Not-Quite" Life

We are in the process of selling our home. We have lived here longer than i have ever lived anywhere, and it took weeks to prepare a "ready" home for market (for our standards, anyway). Now that we are ready, and our home is finally listed, we are living in a sort of transitional home. We can't quite live freely in this space, but we can't move into our new home and live freely there either. We are stuck in this model home that other people can come see at any time... and i find it is exhausting in a way for which i was not prepared.

It is exhausting to be afraid to cook a meal the family loves because it will stink up the house for the whole day. It is exhausting to be afraid to have friends over to play with my children because they might make a mess that is a lot of work to clean up. It is exhausting to remind my children to wipe down the entire bathroom - every time they use it. It is exhausting to stay hyper-connected to my cell phone just in case the Realtor has to inform me of another showing. It is exhausting to keep coming up with things to do with three children and a dog for an hour and a half - every day.

People seem to understand the work of preparing the home for showings. But i haven't heard anyone else talk about the weariness that comes from living in a state of "not quite" life. Sure, we go on about our day, but just when i make a plan to throw caution to the wind and make those birthday cupcakes for a friend, we get a showing at the most inconvenient time. And, folks, the bottom line is that i want the house to sell. So, yeah, we're available for showings as much as possible.

The cleaning isn't fun. And i'm not a fan of cleaning, i'll be honest. The vacuuming daily is giving me enormous arm muscles that are not the least bit feminine. And making sure everything is in its place is a little nerve-wracking. But after a week of that, i'm getting really good at it! And it isn't what is wearing me down at all....

So, let me be the one to tell the full truth: listing your house and showing it to sell it is going to wear you out in ways you might not realize. I know it will eventually be worth it, and i know i value my humdrum daily routines and my family much more now that we have this experience. But, i'm so ready for the "Not-Quite" Life to be over so i can have my real life back. :)

Monday, March 31, 2014

How to be "Rich In Years" (book review)

I thought this book sounded really deep. As I'm dealing with aging parents in my own life, watching my aging parents care for their aging parents, the reality of aging is never far from my thoughts.

Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life, by Johann Christoph Arnold, was a window into the aging adult beyond what I had already deduced for myself or learned about in my Sociology of Aging course in college. Can the aging adult really be at peace with approaching old age? Can there still be purpose in those later years?

Arnold answers those questions, and others, in Rich in Years, and I found myself captivated by the words on every page. Just as I would proclaim a particular concept "the most powerful statement" and want to share it with all of my family members and friends, I would continue on in my reading and be gripped by yet another "most powerful statement." Just as I would thrill to the subject of one chapter (i.e., Combatting Loneliness), I would finish it and be equally thrilled by the subject of the next (Finding Purpose). Since I have relatives battling dementia, the chapter, Living With Dementia, was eye-opening and encouraging.  And truthfully, I can scarcely wait to read back over the book with a highlighter in hand, to commit much of it to memory, so that the ideas within are never far from my thoughts as I face my later years.

This year, I will turn 40. Certainly not the end of my lifespan, I'll admit, but I have never been one to assume that I would be guaranteed a long life. Figuring out how to age with grace, purpose, and faith is helpful for anyone, but particularly anyone who finds the thought of growing older to be frightening. What I found especially inspiring about Rich in Years was the parallel between the concepts about the elderly's unique availability to God's purposes and those of the teen years (my oldest daughter and I recently did a study about teenagers' unique availability for God's purposes). It can't help but encourage someone dreading growing older to read all of the unique ways the elderly can be useful to God during those later years!

Reading this book, I recognized yet again how blessed I am. My paternal and maternal grandmothers are both well into their eighties and completely self-sufficient. Both have lived out the wisdom in Finding Nemo: "just keep swimming." :^) And my parents are full-time caregivers to two aging parents with dementia. I find the proof of this book within my own family's story. Accept the changes that come with aging, find your purpose in those later years, remember to hold onto your faith in your Creator, find the peace that passes understanding, and just "keep pressing on toward the goal." [Philippians 3:14]

*I received this book for free, with the understanding that I would read it and review it. My review is my honest assessment of the book.