Friday, March 27, 2015

My Crazy is Hiding Under the Bed

I am so blessed to have four women in my life who meet with me regularly to study the Bible. This motley group formed seemingly by happenstance...but we all know God was in it. These ladies are so real and authentic and such a blessing. We meet as often as we can, and we text more regularly. Text threads that should never be made public. One of them described our little group as snarky and sincere.

We all share the spiritual gift of sarcasm. It's an art form, basically.

So, this week as we laughed and shared and prayed together, we somehow got on the topic of when you realize your own crazy. You know, those moments when you see some weird habit or aversion or pet peeve and know that you got your own crazy happening. Two of the ladies (who were college roommates and hence have much history) talked about how they went through a season of admitting these to each other. They would pick up the phone and rat themselves out with the other one. 

"Hey, I got one! I just realized I [fill in the blank]."

We all five laughed and decided this practice of revelation and confession was something we could do together. Since we essentially do this anyway when we are able to all get together.

So first of all--you four friends can rest assured, I will not share you crazy here, on the world wide web for the planet to know.

Second of all--I am not going to just let it all hang out here for you bloggy friends.

But I will tell you today about one of my crazy things.

I tend to lean to being OCD. Okay, maybe greatly. As my co-workers in my first job might attest. Me--with all my charts and case notes that were color coded and my little zipper pouch of markers, pens, highlighters, pencils, post it notes, and a wide array of other supplies that I would carry to our weekly staffings JUST IN CASE.

Oh, sure. They laughed at me and had a lovely nickname for me, which I won't reveal because it's too hard to explain. 

But who did they lean on when they suddenly needed a sticky tab to mark their case notes during a staffing?

So, yes. I like things orderly. Yes. My sister used to pay me to clean her room, which I would have done simply for the thrill of organizing. And okay already, I once won a door prize at a women's luncheon for proving to be the most OCD person there.

That's not even the crazy I was getting to here. 

Yep. I know. You call it a sickness. I choose to call it a GIFT. 

And you laugh now, but who are you gonna call when you need someone to help you organize?

So part of this weird/crazy thing about me is my nearly frenzied response every time we check out of a hotel room. I double check that we've left nothing behind.

Except it's a bit more compulsive than that.

I triple check. And my heart rate goes up and my stomach churns and my adrenaline pumps. I feel frantic inside. Nearly panicked. As if relief can come only by looking under the bed, in every drawer, in the shower, in the closet, repeatedly.

Even if we have never so much as opened a drawer during said hotel stay.

The finality of closing that door for the last time with no way of getting back in to grab anything we forgot just about unravels me.

And props to my kids and my husband who don't laugh at me, but usually graciously agree to double check for me.

I'd like to think it's because they empathize and they want to be helpful.

But I'm sure it's because they are OVER it and want to get the heck outta there without my compulsively going back over every square inch of the space. 



Again. And then one more time.

So there's that.

Just one of my weird things that rears it's head during every trip away from home.

And then, a light bulb moment this morning revealed that this habit has long spilled into my relationship with God.

Like big time.

Because I tend to check and double check and ask and wonder and want to ask again.  

Did I miss something?  God, did I miss something? When something doesn't go my way or when we are still waiting for some things we've long asked for--what have I missed?

What drawer did I not look into it?

What bed did I not look under?

Because surely. Surely, there is something here I have missed. Surely, there was some answer I didn't hear or some choice I didn't make or some path I mistakenly took that led me to where I am.

Like the unmarried friend who once confided that she has gone back over her years of dating and adulthood to wonder where she missed the chance to marry, as she had so expected would have happened by now. A given. A dream. Now, feeling like a faded hope. So surely, she missed something. Somewhere.

And I think emotionally it's spot-on with how I feel when I leave a hotel room.

I see circumstances in my life that were not what I had planned. And I wonder where I forgot to look for that answer...that thing...that path...that choice...which would have brought me to a different outcome. I'm questioning myself. Over and over. And in so doing, I am actually questioning God.

When my kids struggle. I wonder what the answer is and how it might have been avoided or where I may have let them down. When our finances are tanking, I wonder where I went wrong or how I mismanaged our income and bill paying. I calculate and recalculate how I might make it right and where I might straighten the ship, so to speak.

When friendships hit conflict and rough spots, I'm digging mentally all around for where I messed up and how to fix it and where I was wronged and how to make others make it right and how to prove myself and validate my side of things.

When teachers have something to say about my student, I'm in a mental frenzy about it all and where we got off track and where my kid might end up.

And it feels exactly like my emotional and physical response when I leave a hotel room. Frenzied. Frustrating. Frantic. Anxiety ridden.

This morning, I realized something.

I reveal such unbelief in God's plan for my life, in his faithfulness to me, and in his sovereignty over it all when I allow myself to engage in this mental and emotional debate. 

Every single time that I am opening and closing drawers and lifting up bedspreads and looking under the bed for something I think I've missed, I am actually displaying such a deep level of doubt. 

Because I can tend to treat God like someone who plays hide and seek. And if I only exert enough energy or look in all the potential hiding places and say the right prayers and do the right things, THEN I might find him. THEN, I might uncover his plans. THEN, I might unearth the good things of my hopes and dreams.

As if God and his plans for me are some elusive lost thing, somewhere in the nooks and crannies of a hotel room. And if I don't look hard enough, they will not be found. So I cannot even fathom closing the door and walking out and onward to the next thing until I have obsessively double checked and triple checked.

And I devalue and ignore his power and his character and how he actually relates to me. I dare to think so much of myself that I could thwart or change or manipulate God and his plans for me.

All the while, he sits on the throne, ruling the entire universe that he created with just a spoken word. And he reminds me, over and over and over again.

He is not a God of hide and seek. 

But he is a God of seek and find.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:13

And not only does God reassure and promise me that he is not a God who hides or plays games, he adds a specific promise about his plans for me...just two verses before that.

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

He knows. He has a plan. He longs to pour hope and a future out for me. If I will just leave him to it, surrendering and submitting to Him. And seeking him.

Then, I will find him.

As my pastor says, he is not a vending machine. I don't put my coins in and make my selection. And then kick and hit or try to manipulate the machine when it doesn't give me what I thought I wanted.

I don't have to search under every piece of furniture and behind the shower curtain, as if game playing, to find God and his plans for me.

I can just rest assured that when my heart is bent on following Him, he will lead. And he has a plan. And a timing. He is all for me and not against me. His heart toward me is my ultimate good and holiness. And His glory, above all else.

So my part to play is to quit searching frantically. 

To sit and embrace the places he has me. To trust his sovereignty and submit to it. Surrendered to Him, going where I feel he leads me and asking him to direct and guide me. As long as I am pursuing him and not running from him, then I can rest.

I can rest with deep breaths, all the way to a soul level, that I am with the people I am with, in the places where I am, doing the things that I do on a daily basis because it's exactly where I was meant to be.  

The ministry and spheres of influences where I am currently placed is exactly where I was meant to be. I can trust him for all the hidden things to be revealed in his timing and according to his plan. I can rest assured that he will bring to light what he intends and when he intends it. He will open doors for my future and new opportunities in his perfect timing.

And when I look around at what others have going on for them, I can be sure that if it's not where I am then it's not where I am meant to be. Not now. Not yet. When I look longingly at the opportunities that other people have and think I don't measure up, then I am essentially looking in drawers frantically to find something that is actually not missing.

If I can only learn to walk in the paths where he's placed me and move forward with faith and hope that nothing has gone missing.

If only I can stop the madness, stop the crazy and just walk out of the hotel room.

Slamming the door on some insane game of hide and seek.

Knowing that our God has it well under control. And I can look to him and find him. And then with great belief in his goodness toward me, I can fully embrace the places and people and things he has for me. Right here. Right now.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Keys to a Happy Marriage




A couple of months ago, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. I mean--go US! I wanted to shout our accolades from the roof tops at this achievement in a world where so much has become disposable. Not to mention that our love story is rooted smack dab in the middle of some serious pain and suffering. So, we are basically rock stars when it comes to this marriage thing.  

And so, in my prideful efforts to toot our own horn, I posted photos and overshared all sorts of moments of our early dating years and our wedding. 

Including this gem.



Where I realized for the first time that we were apparently 12 when we married and we were far too young and had no business making some lifelong commitment. Yet, we did it anyway. And lest there be any doubt, we were all in. Because our pastor made us each say "I do" twice. Just for good measure.

So we are essentially doubly married.

And as it so happens when I hit milestones in life, I get all sentimental and full of advice, even more so than some little old lady in a nursing home when someone pops by for a visit.

I've spent a fair share of time reminiscing about our years together and what makes it work and what wisdom I've gleaned along the way to pass on to anyone willing to listen read. Because the truth is, Chris and I are indeed happily married. The truth is that my husband is still my best friend and I still cannot believe he picked me.

He's quite a catch, in case you didn't know.

And somehow I snowed him some nearly 25 years ago when he got all caught up with me in the middle of my severe depression and complete unraveling in life.

He's still here. 

And I still lean toward an unraveling or emotional meltdown on a now semi-regular basis. 

But I haven't scared him off yet. So I'm pretty sure we're in this thing for the long haul.

Here are some things I've learned along the way. The secrets to our "success," so to speak. The keys to our happy marriage, for all of you who are the least bit curious.

Prayer. When I was about 15, I received life changing, mind blowing advice from my friend Jennifer's mom, Shirley. She encouraged Jennifer and me to pray for our future spouses. Shirley and her husband Ron seemed quite happily married, so I took her advice. And I began to pray for my future spouse. I dreamed of him and asked God for specific things. In hindsight, I probably should have prayed more about myself as a wife rather than making it all about him. But, nonetheless, I began to pray that wherever he was, he was making good choices toward our future together. I prayed over a list of things I had created that I thought would make a good husband and asked God to weave these traits into my future love. When my dad got cancer, I prayed my future spouse would always be able to understand that part of me and the deep impact. 

He became real to me and I began to envision what it might be like someday. That someday prayer helped me deal with dating woes of that day. 

And crazy side note--in a home economics project as a junior in high school, we had to plan our future, fake wedding. Hold on to your seats, kids. My future man was named Chris and he was from the city of Dallas. 

Yep. Nailed it.

When Chris and I began dating, he was quite the spiritual leader in our relationship. Just as I had prayed he would be. And he and I prayed regularly together. Out loud. When it was awkward. (It's not awkward anymore, BTW). We prayed for our ability to stay pure, we prayed for wisdom about our relationship, we prayed over decisions. 

Prayer. Running to God together about every concern. Keeping our foundation the Rock who promises to faithfully strengthen us.

We've prayed in frustration in the middle of a disagreement. When one or both of us didn't want to do so. We've prayed desperate tearful prayers in the middle of a miscarriage and in the shocking aftermath of the news that we'd lost our nephew. We've prayed for God to show us how to raise these children he made and then gave us. We've prayed over finances, house purchases, and even which dog to adopt from the rescue organization.

If you've met our Murphy, you know we are winning!

Prayer. Keeping the priority where the priority should be. Asking God to be the center, the foundation, the leader. 

Side note here. I grew up in the church, being taught to ask God for to show me the right person to marry and to help me be the right person to be married to. No one told me that sometimes, when those prayers are answered, there's a sequel. That's waiting for the right time. We met as college freshmen. We finished undergrad AND grad school before we married. It was a long 4 1/2 years. Even our most Godly friends didn't get why we waited.

If you have found the one, but the timing is not right yet...hang on. Pray continually. It's worth the wait. I am so glad that Chris had the fortitude to wait until we finished schooling and were gainfully employed and he felt the timing was right. I know without a doubt that God has blessed our obedience and we've avoided a world of strife we might have otherwise faced. 

Respect. When I look back on our early, college years as a dating couple, I could say that dumb luck brought us some really good choices and blessings and experiences. But it was all God. It was all his faithfulness when we weren't faithful or trusting or even asking for specific things.

Like a couples class led by some friends for all of us "seriously dating" couples in Chris' fraternity. Kevin and Nikki felt led to write Biblically based curriculum, leaning on the knowledge of Gary Smalley, John Trent, and a host of other Christian authors. I can look back and see that there are some long lasting marriages that came out of that class.

And one of the lessons with the farthest reaching impact is the idea of not dishonoring your spouse. This means not saying things in front of them, away from them, in writing, in phone calls, anywhere that would bring dishonor to them. This means choosing to believe the best in them and continually speaking to that end. This means being their biggest cheerleader and the one who affirms them positively to their face, to your friends, to your in-laws, to your family. I'm not talking schmoozing or lying.

I'm talking withholding their faults from being topics of conversations with others. I'm talking showing them respect as the one you chose. And addressing issues privately and positively.

It made sense to me and Chris back then. So we made a deal. Pinkie swear or such that we would abide by this and set this idea of never dishonoring each other as a hard and fast and unbendable rule in our relationship. No bashing each other. Ever. Even when we must address something with each other and perhaps discuss a weakness, we do it with respect and never publicly.

I cannot tell any of you how incredibly powerful this is. It builds trust. It helps build each other up. It helps us strive toward being better people. Because we know that we each believe in the potential of our spouse and we are cheering them toward that.

Give it a try. We are not perfect people here, but we got each other's back. And just as every girl wants a BFF that doesn't gossip about her beyond her back, every wife and every husband wants a spouse who doesn't make them the butt of a joke.

Communication. This is a weak area right now in life, let me tell you. I can remember when we would each come home from our jobs and tell each other all the details of our day. We'd linger long over meals. We'd have weekly date nights. We'd have long conversations while driving. 

Then, we had kids.

And we've been tired ever since. Our ability to complete a sentence has been greatly hampered by this thing called parenting. We tried that old "couch time" thing as young parents where we sat on the couch for 10-15 minutes of conversation after Chris came home from work, when we were supposed to be training our children to not interrupt and to see Mommy and Daddy making our communication a priority.

Who are we kidding? 

We might go days here without discussing anything beyond what's for dinner and at what time does which kid need to be to what place.

Keeping it real.

But, we make feeble attempts anyway. And sometimes, we do have conversations. Like grown-ups. Like our pre-kid selves. These usually coincide with the great effort of going out on a date, which involves finding the energy as 40+ people with three children to do something on a Friday night besides put on pajamas at 5:00 pm.

And it's greatness. Well, it's good. To have a conversation, albeit peppered with big yawns and a realization that we like to be at home. And this is a season that will pass.

Because someday these people we birthed will be living their own lives. And we'll have all the time in the world to look at each other and converse. 

So we continue to take staps at keeping the communication open. Avoiding any secrets. Texting random thoughts before we forget them. Emailing at times. And talking super fast in those moments we have together in between the other demands of life.

Remember.  This is big. This can turn a grumpy marriage day around. It's powerful for me to stop in my frustration and remember. Remember how he looked at me and how I felt when we first began dating. Remember how he slept on the hospital floor when we were newly dating and I was horribly sick with a stomach virus. Remember how he planned such an elaborate engagement night. Remember the tears and emotion that choked him up as I walked down the aisle. Remember how he held me so tight and made me feel safe when we lost our first baby. Remember how he nearly fainted when our first son was being born, with all the excitement and emotions of that moment.

Remember why I fell in love with him in the first place. Remember that butterflies in the stomach feeling in the beginning. Remember all the years of memories and devotion and commitment that have brought us to where we are today.

It's such a good thing to remember. To be quick to forget the faults and the fights and the issues and the mistakes. And to linger on the memories that have knit our hearts together...to ponder all the moments. ALL the moments that are worth cherishing and replaying. To remember all that we have to be thankful for...all that we can say God has done for us, through us, and in us.

So there you have it.

These are some of the things. We don't have it all together here, folks. Just ask our kids. 

But we are in this thing till our dying days. We will go from big bangs and 90's hair of our early days to the graying hair we have now to the baldness that may come in the future. We will work continually to pray, to respect, to communicate, to remember.

And we will always laugh at ourselves. At our 12 year old selves who thought we had it all figured out when we said "I do"... and then again, "I do." 

We will dream together of traveling the world and stalking our children and grandchildren and indulging those babies till their parents scold us. We will laugh at our mistakes. We will burst into songs of our childhood in order to embarrass and harrass our children. We will finish each other sentences and think we are the coolest people ever.

And we will thank the Lord for all that he has done and continues to do. To keep two broken people bound together through marriage.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dealing With The Unloveables

It's a good news/bad news scenario.  I've got a pastor who speaks the truth unashamedly and boldly. Good news! Bad news... it hurts sometimes. My toes get squished and I am challenged. To live out this faith in a way that is radical and genuine and is something far beyond any religion or ritual. It's living out the beauty of the gospel story. 

It's taking to heart such truths as this. If I have a problem extending grace to others, then I have a problem receiving and understanding God's grace. Because if I really got the depths of his grace over my life, then I would not hesitate to extend it to others. I would not essentially slap God in the face by refusing to give others what he generously gives me.

See?

My pastor ain't playing.

OUCH. 

Brutiful. These revelations that still startle me. That after a lifetime of being in the church, there is so much that I have gotten wrong. There is so much to learn. And there is a beauty in stripping down the empty ritual and getting to the heart of it all. A beauty that is hard and wonderful.

So, this hard-to-swallow challenge summarizes the sermon from last Sunday. As we are going through the Sermon on the Mound, there it was. That part I'd really like to just gloss over. Can someone find me a version of the Bible that excludes that little part about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you and loving those who hate you and giving to those who demand of you and offend you and coerce you?

Isn't that part of the Bible we can just skip?  

Because it's So. Very. Hard. I must admit. I think I've always had in my head that God sorta meant this but not really. Because I've allowed myself to think he doesn't really understand how people can treat me. He just sits on his throne way up there and somehow misses the details of some things.

Like ongoing relationships that wound me over and over and over. Like how I can be wronged repeatedly. And my sense of justice is pretty much over the top. I'm one of those, "but it's just WRONG and unfair" kind of justice girls. I'm way more concerned about fixing what's wrong in my world than fixing what's wrong in THE world.

Because I tend to think my little world is some exception to the rule. Obviously. God surely is on my side when someone is mean spirited or cruel or rude. That must make him mad, right? So it's okay to feel angry too and to seek to set things straight?

Or maybe, just maybe, since he's God and all, he just doesn't really get how it feels to us humans when we are wronged. It's a bit foreign to him so he is asking us to do this "love your enemy" thing without full understanding, blinded by his Godness.

Um, no. Big time no.

While these little rationalizations and justifications might permit me to act in my natural responses and reactions, they are a far cry from the truth.

Because, here's the deal. Here's where the sermon hit the application for me this week.

As I read Mark 14:17-21 the other day, while doing the IF:Equip study for Easter.

While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me -- one who is eating with me." They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?"

For the first time, it hit me. I had never seen this story for what it was.

It's Jesus living out the commands he has given to love his enemy. Oh, yes, he said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" as the Romans crucified him.

And forgiving a stranger who commits some grievous act toward you is surely incredible.

But this is a picture of loving your "enemy" that is more day to day. It's a picture of choosing grace to that person in your life who is just plain hard to love. Maybe it's a family member, so you can't really break the whole thing off. Maybe it's a co-worker? Maybe it's someone in your own home?

Those ongoing relationships that are difficult and contentious or wounding and challenging...that's a whole different side of doing good to those who aren't good to you. To seeking their well being when they never seek yours. To choose a radical love instead of retaliation. 

On a regular, ongoing, cyclical basis, day after day after day.

Because Jesus was fully human. And fully God.

He loved and relied on his disciples. He called them friends. They were his confidants and his companions and his travel buddies. They dined with him, ministered with him, and stayed with him. 

Sure, they were a clueless bunch. Being human and all, they often missed what Jesus was telling him. They often seemed to be aloof to the Deity before them and the story of redemption happening right before their eyes. The prophecies of old, come to life.

But Jesus hand picked these guys. These twelve. And they were precious to him.

But he was also fully God. He knew the plan. He knew how this was all going down in the end. 

He knew from day one exactly who and what Judas was going to do. He knew that one of his closest friends was going to betray him unto death for the sake of financial gain. He knew Judas was going to sell him out. He knew the part Judas was going to play.

So, with all this in mind, do you see it? 

Do you see the wonder of that little passage in bold above?

"One by one, they said to him, 'Surely not I?' " 

In other words, Jesus loved so radically, so thoroughly, so graciously, so unconditionally that these twelve men had not a clue which one was the betrayer.

Jesus treated every one of them no differently from the others. 

Even Judas. 

Even the one he knew would be the catalyst to his ultimate sacrifice.

Jesus treated even him in such a way, with no differentiation, that these men were clueless.

That is what Matthew 5:38-48 looks like.

Loving the people in our lives, difficult or loving, hard or kind, mean or caring...always for us, or always against us...all the same.

That is the standard. That is the call. That is living out the gospel.

Do you think it's hard?

 I certainly do. 

But yet, this is what I must keep in mind.

I was an enemy of God. I am the worst offender when it comes to denying his ways, ignoring his love, refusing his grace, choosing my own way over his. Over and over and over again, I miss the mark. Every single day. Moment by moment. I know better, and still I choose my own way. I call myself a Jesus follower, but I'd really like to go with my instincts. I attach myself to Christ, using the name Christian, but I continually place a million other things before God.

I am Judas.

Every single day.

But my Father God's nature toward me is love. Sacrificial, hold nothing back, offer all-that-I-need kind of love. His heart for me caused him to allow the highest cost that could be paid to make me his--to buy me back from my rebellious, selfish ways. It was indeed a high cost. To send his son to be wrapped and confined in flesh. To live a perfect life. And then to willingly die on the cross to capture me back for his very own.

The cross makes us sons and daughters. The cross says die to your own natural instincts and choose God's way.

The tomb says this is how.

The resurrection of Jesus from death to life is the power we can draw from to live out this incredibly high call.

To treat all the Judases in our lives as if they are John the Beloveds.

To exhibit a love for others, drawn from the well of the heart of the Almighty God, even if they don't love me. To love despite chaos and brokenness and wrong doing. To absorb the wrongs of others with a love that will melt the hardened hearts.

To choose as Martin Luther King, Junior did:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

To seek to understand the glory of God and his incredible, unfailing love so that I am able to choose to follow his example.

As my pastor, JR Vassar, said, to choose to show mercy and let God handle the justice end of things.

Even if that means that you recline at a table with enemies and friends, betrayers and confidants, and no one can tell the difference, even if you know it.

Lest you think this can't be done...lest you think there are exceptions to this rule, such as the evil personified in terrorists like ISIS, then please, I beg of you, watch THIS VIDEO

Can you even imagine? What would happen in the world if we chose grace and chose love and trusted God for the justice? How would things look if those who say they follow Jesus actually loved so radically that others saw a difference? If we really took God at his word and remembered that Jesus commanded it AND lived it out? What if we quit yelling at people or about people or inciting drama and speaking our piece? And we instead chose to love and leave the rest to God?

It's what this world is hungry for. It's what we are all hungry for, at the end of the day.

A love that throws open its arms and says you are welcome here. Faults and all. No masks required. Because God shows me that kind of love, I will rely on him to help me do the same.

The darkness that might be driven out. The hate that might be melted.

Because we chose the applause of heaven over the vengeance of the moment.

And trust God to right all wrongs, in his way and his timing.

Radical.

Radical love.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Uncrippling

The daylight poured through the window of her tiny little house. Although house might be an overstatement for the one room shack with dirt floors. There, lying uncomfortably on her straw mattress, she saw the light of a new day. And she remembered what it was like. Back when that meant something. When a new day meant promise and possibilities. When a new day meant possibly new opportunities that stretched out before her, beckoning her. 

Way back then. She scolded herself for allowing this train of thought. Allowing herself to ponder the luxury she used to have and always took for granted. The luxury of hope. The luxury of joy. 

Bitterness then reached in and took over, her familiar companion. The only emotion that seemed appropriate and comfortable, albeit dismal and depressing to live with that feeling overshadowing every day.

Every single day. The sunlight poured in, but dark clouds never left.

She sighed a deep sigh and struggled to rise from her bed. The pain overwhelming her. The effort to get out of bed a great strain that took what little energy she ever seemed to have. She dressed herself, which would be about the extend of her daily accomplishments. 

For what? She wondered. Why bother? Yet, she couldn't seem to do any differently. Just as she had done nearly every day for now eighteen years. Ever since it started. 

Oh, that fateful day was replayed over and over and over again. A constant puzzle on how she might have done differently to have a different outcome. How could she have avoided this crippling? The bending of her back that made every moment of every day miserable and painful and made life feel pointless.



No doctor could save her. No treatment had helped her. Gradually, she seemed to be alone with her dreary thoughts, as friends who were initially helpful and concerned began to float away, distracted by their own healthy and full lives that marched forward. Without her. She had very little family to assist her. They, too, had gone from taking her from doctor to doctor to an acceptance of her fate as their own lives continued with a fullness and abundance that she no longer had.

Because day after day, she just wrestled through every wretched moment of pain to get to the end of the day. Hopelessness was an exhausting way to live. She relied on the mercy of others to drop water and food to her and she enjoyed but an occasional visit from someone to check on her.

As she stumbled to the table for her morning meal, such as it was, she heard a knock on the door. And she was startled. It was the Sabbath. Who would be coming on this day? 

She called loudly to come in, as getting to the door to let the visitor in was too much effort for her. She was surprised to see her distant cousin, whose last visit had been some time before. 

She tried to sort out what he was saying, but he spoke quickly, with excitement. She eventually gathered that he was speaking of the teacher that so many were talking about. The man from Galilee who was said to perform great miracles and speak with an authority that belied his humble upbringing.

Her cousin had heard that the teacher would be at their synagogue this day. He had decided that he must bring her to the syngagogue. He hoped that perhaps this man might infuse even the tiniest bit of hope within his crippled kin. He admitted to her that he had long since given up on ideas to help her, but yet he thought this day at the synagogue might help lift the depression that seemed to cripple her as much as her bent and broken back.

She initially refused, as it seemed pointless. But she remembered how the townsfolk spoke of this teacher. She considered the joy he seemed to bring to those who heard him. Well, joy for some, yet anger for others. She was intrigued enough that she agreed to make the effort to come to the synagogue with her cousin. 

And thus, she sat. In the crowd. Exhausted and worn from the endeavor of shuffling to the temple that day. Yet she found the teacher just as it was said he was. Speaking with authority, yet also containing a gentleness and a tenderness that was soothing and encouraging. And very different from anyone she had ever met before.

That's when it happened.

That's when he, the man named Jesus, saw her. Bent over and unable to straighten up.

That's when he called her forward.

She gulped. She knew. Somehow she knew. She had to come closer to him.

And that's when he said the words that would change her life. Forever. The words that brought her bitterness and pain and suffering to an end.

The words that brought the uncrippling.

"Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." 

And he put his hands on her. Immediately she straightened up. And she could not even contain it. Her loud and boisterous praise to the God Almighty.

Because the spirit who had crippled her body and her very own spirit was gone. Just like that. Banished. Forever and ever.

And the life that had become her prison sentence for the last eighteen years had come to end. 

She was freed. She was set free from the pain and the suffering and the relentless depression that had held her captive for so very long.

Luke 13:10-13 tells of this healing. This uncrippling.

And perhaps this story falls firmly in the category of interesting and yet unapplicable Bible stories for you. Because your back isn't bent and you are not crippled.

But yet, this story is about you. In fact, it's about all of us.

Because all of us have been bent and crippled emotionally and spiritually and perhaps even socially. By the wounds of others, by the things that have been done or said to us. Perhaps by friends or even family. Maybe by a stranger. The ways we have been hurt and treated and wronged. The names we were called. The bullying that occurred. The ways we were abandoned or rejected or victimized. The losses we've endured. The grief with which we live. 

And it all leaves us crippled. But we may not even recognize it. We may not even see how crippled we are. We don't even realize it.

But just as Jesus saw this crippled lady and her bent body, he sees us. 

Jesus sees our infirmities. He sees our struggles and our brokenness.

And the sight of it moves him to action.

Because the Lord's heart beat for us is freedom and wholeness.

He sees our crippling emotionally and spiritually, for all these years. He knows every moment of every day that we have struggled.

And he says, "Woman [or man], you are set free from your infirmity!"

He says no more self-pity.

He says no more poor me or inability to trust or reasons to rehearse our wounds by repeating their story, again and again, in an effort to gain attention or validation or to evoke compassion or justice for ourselves.

He says you are free. You are not rejected, neglected, abandoned, less than, damaged goods. You are not the sum total of the things done to you. They are not your identity.

Jesus says you are freed, healed and complete.

And what's next?  What do we do with that?

Now, we are to ask him to show us how to walk in this freedom. We are to seek him about how to walk out our freedom and wholeness. We beg his grace and guidance on how to proceed in the healing he offers. 

His touch on our lives brings us immediate wholeness and it should leave us praising God. 

We should see our crippling for what it is. It's a spiritual battle. Just as this woman in Luke 13 was crippled in her body by a spirit. Jesus said in verse 16 that satan had kept her bound, and we are recognize what's behind our crippling. It's our very real enemy. 

So this is how we move forward in freedom and wholeness. 

(1) We pray against our enemy, asking God to bind him through the blood of Jesus. 

(2) We are to stand firm on specific promises, praying them and claiming them and memorizing them. Using them as our Sword, which the Word of God is. Verses like Isaiah 9:4:

For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

(3) We are to seek prayer cover and accountability through close friends or spouses or our life group.

(4) We are to ask him to show us how to walk in freedom and wholeness, day by day. Or possibly moment by moment if necessary.

(5) We are to quit dwelling on the past and we are to forget the former things. As Isaiah 43:18-19 says, we are to forget these former things, not dwell on the past, but look for the new things that God is doing. Quit rehearsing and rehashing our past. But move forward to the new things.

(6) We are to retrain ourselves, day by day, in these new things. In freedom and wholeness. Remembering that Jesus has set us free. That by his wounds, we are healed. That he has loved us radically and poured out grace and mercy and that he intends for us to be UNCRIPPLED. He wants us to quit being bent and twisted by our crippling past.

And it's hard. If you've ever had a prolonged physical injury, you know that you tend to compensate. You walk differently, move differently, sit differently -- favoring your good side in order to avoid the pain. The same is true of emotional injury. We compensate. We live and move differently to avoid the pain.

But Jesus says, YOU ARE SET FREE FROM YOUR INFIRMITIES!

May today be the day. May today be the day we see the sunlight streaming in our window and we know that today is the first day of freedom and wholeness and a new way of life.

Because Jesus came to uncripple us all.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Mommy Stalker

She seems to lurk at every corner. She appears to constantly be just a few steps behind me, watching my every move and stalking me relentlessly. She's the Mommy Stalker. 

It's as if she is constantly taking photographs to cover a wall somewhere with every documented failure. Photographs of every misstep, every mistake, every moment--all the moments. But the hairs on the arms particularly bristle in our off moments. Our not-so-good moments. Because that is when I can feel her eyes fixed upon me, staring intently, from her hiding place, just out of my view.



I can remember vividly when my life began to be watched and taunted and tormented by this stalker. It all began in 1997. When I went to my first prenatal appointment for our first pregnancy. And the doctor callously and glibly announced that not only was I not pregnant but I had never been pregnant. Insensitive to the magnitude of his words, he said something about me being young so I could keep trying and not to go too far because if he was wrong and I had a tubal pregnancy, I might need to be rushed the ER.

The nurse looked embarrassed at his rudeness when she saw the tears streaming down my face. At my insistence, she agreed to schedule an ultrasound and bloodwork. And then, as confirmation came that I had indeed been pregnant, I sat like a ticking time bomb, just waiting for the painful miscarriage that did come, graciously, within a few days.

That's when I first thought I caught a glimpse of her. The Mommy Stalker. As she pushed her stroller of joy and cuteness and taunting me about my empty arms. Everywhere I went, there she was. Darling and adorable with her perfectly reproducing body and arms full of baby.

While in the months that followed, my mourning turned to fear that I might never be a mom.

There she was. With a sinister laugh and smirk, stalking me. 

She was never far away when I did indeed become pregnant with my first born. She stalked me with jeers about her perfect nutrition and weight gain and lovely and text book pregnancy. Feeding my anxieties about my own pregnancy. Fueled by my stalker's presence, I fretted about my own health and the health of the baby. I became neurotic about every warning sign I read in What to Expect When You're Expecting. I felt sure that it was her doing. Her next attempt to stalk me with worry and concern and comparison.

This Mommy Stalker has indeed been relentless over these sixteen years of mothering. I find her on the playground with her brilliant and athletic children who never fight and always obey. I see her in the articles telling me all the perfect ways to say the right things and mother the best way and raise incredible children. When I drop my kids at school, there she is. Delivering a nutritionally well balanced meal in her darling little work out clothes with her magazine cover body, attenting to her children with a standard I can never meet.

This Mommy Stalker is there. Always there. On my Facebook feed, with her statuses about the nightly family devotions and incredible Jesus loving children who read their Bibles by their own volition every single morning. 

She is also on Instagram and Pinterest. With her head-over-heels love affair with her husband, with whom she always finds time for date nights while perfectly managing a beautiful household and cooking up admirable meals and never missing a beat.

This Mommy Stalker is at the schools. Never missing a chance to chaperone her children's events and lovingly tending to her children's teachers with regular gifts and love and acts of service. She's at every PTA meeting and at every volunteering occasion. And she seems to give me the stink-eye when I do show up. Because she is quite aware of my shortcomings in all the above categories.

Cause I'm just over here trying to get through a cold and maybe run a brush through my hair and hoping my kids don't fight too loudly and praying that I'm not completely messing this mom thing up.

The Mommy Stalker is there, lurking in my mind all too often. She makes her presence known on a regular basis, making sure I see her watching me. That I see her noting my every shortcoming. That I see her capturing it all in her mind's eye all the times I miss the mark. 

She prowls around, throwing out silent accusations, when I get a phone call from the school or my children struggle or we all have a bad day that just needs to be over. She is there, feeding me my lines. Throwing out her plumb lines and shaking her head with a tsk-tsk when I don't measure up.

This Mommy Stalker has invaded my past and my future, as well as my present. She reminds me of past failures and teases me with impending doom that will surely be the end result. Her presence feels nearly constant. When I sit on the couch at the end of a long day, and neglect a chance to prolong bedtime with my child, perhaps reading a story or a devotion or a time of prayer together. Because all I have to offer is a kiss on her cheek and an, "I love you, now go to sleep." 

When I allow our family to sit in the living and "be lazy" with our dinner. She whispers, just within my ear shot, about how I should have gathered them at the table for in-depth conversation. How I should turn off the television and enforce a family game night. 

The Mommy Stalker is in the television shows, the commercial ads, the magazines, the iPad, the iPhone, the billboards, the doctor's office, the library, the grocery stores. She is everywhere. That's part of her job, as the One Who Stealthily Pursues Me. Deliberately. Sinister. Accusing. Like a game of cat and mouse where I am the prey. 

She visits my day with regrets and future worries. She invades my thoughts with reminders of goals unattained. She ends up in my mailbox with advertisements about private schools or learning opportunities or magazines like Family Fun. She ridicules me with what I am NOT doing that I should. Or what I am doing that I should NOT.

And it's just so exhausting. This Mommy Stalker. I'm tired of feeling her breath on the back of my neck, gaining speed on me as I try to run from her. I'm tired of feeling the pressure of her presence. I'm weary of her chasing me down. I'm ragged from trying to evade her.

So I want to tell her something. I want her to know this.

I see you. And I'm done with you. I'm on to your game and your tricks and your accusations. And you need to know something. I'm done playing. I'm not entering your contest and competition for Mother of the Year. You can go on with your bad self and all your glory and good luck with it all.

Because this mothering thing is hard enough. And I'd much rather us cheer each other on than work against each other. If you want, Mommy Stalker, you are invited to be part of reminding each other one thing. But only ONE thing.

Our presence in our children's lives is more important than our perfection.

And we can not doubt God's choice to make us the Mom to be present with the children he gave us. It was his choice. He thought we were up for the job. He knew we'd fall short. So he pours out his grace to fill our gaps. He multiplies our efforts every day to make it enough. He gives our children an ability to love us, faults and all. Just as we love them without condition. He answers our calls, every single day, to equip us for this job that he called us to do. 

And if we listen really closely, we can hear his voice drown out the Mommy Stalkers and their accusations. We can see his presence overshadow theirs. We can fall into his arms of love and be protected from all those in search of our shortcomings.

He says run hard! Let us run the race marked out for us--for each of us, because my race is different than yours. He says I will show you how, day by day. He says I will equip you for each day's needs with fresh mercies. He says my faithfulness to you is GREAT. He says my love can fill you up when you are drained. He says my grace can fill the gaps of your failures. 

He says you are the one for THIS job. You are the one hand-picked here. 

So may we turn our gaze from the Mommy Stalkers and fix our eyes on Jesus.

The one who promises that he gently leads those of us who have young (Isaiah 40:11). 

So take that, Mommy Stalkers. I'm shining the light on you, there in the dark shadows of our minds and around every corner.

Your days of getting the best of us are done.

Because I am a daughter of the King of Kings, equipped by the One who made the entire universe, to do the job that he gave me to do. And I can daily surrender my kids to his ultimate care. Because he has plans for them. He has plans for them that will blow my mind. Plans for their good and their future and a hope... not plans to harm them.

And he's given me the privilege of a front row seat to all that he wants to accomplish in and through my children. As he asks only for my availability to participate and not for my abilities.

So there. 

Be gone, Mommy Stalkers!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

SAE's, OU and Lessons to Glean

We sat down to breakfast at a hotel a few days ago, and although the television was muted in the lobby, I gleaned the gist of the situation through the captions.

And I was horrified.

There were the faces of young men chanting words that could not even be written within the captions. Smug looks on their faces. Laughing. Thinking it was hysterical to spout such hatred and bigotry. 

But it made me crinch. It made me wonder. Have we not learned anything? Have we not made progress here? I felt foolish for all the times that my husband and I have sat our kids down on MLK Day to watch the "I Have a Dream" speech and the "I've Been to the Mountain Top" speech. As we've explained what it's all about, it's been so easy for me to feel so smug myself. To think, "We've come so far that my kids cannot fathom a world with separate water fountains." Or to think I can pat myself on the back for my efforts.

Because it's not enough. We've not come far enough. We are still divided and twisted by stereotypes and isolation. At the IF Gathering in February, they had a round table discussion about racial diversity, and I realized how narrow my world is. I realized how my circle of friends don't reflect as much diversity as the world contains. I realized how white my world is. I realized how easy it is for me to feel far removed from this issue.

Because I am the majority. Because I don't walk in the shoes of those who are the minority. So, it's pretty easy to gloss over it all or, as much as I hate to admit it, to think maybe some things get exaggerated. Surely, it's a much better world and we are all much better off? 

In my naivete, it's rather easy to feel prideful when watching movies like 12 Years a Slave or The Help and think we've come so far.  Of course, we have in some aspects. But racism is still there. Racism in all its insidious forms still reaches into the hearts of people and causes barriers and throws up divisions and draws a line in the sand.

Racism still grieves the heart of God. 

Racism still makes young, immature college kids think nothing of mocking others for the color of their skin and thinking it's all a laughing matter.

I don't think those boys are laughing anymore.

And I applaud the wisdom and the insight from the college professor who blogged about the missed teaching moment in this situation. Her perspective is that the university missed a chance to actually teach and change and transform these boys, offering the wisdom they can glean by actually learning from the very people they mocked. Her point is such a good one. That the lesson here be about opening the ignorant and uneducated eyes of the boys who are obviously lacking so very much. To choose grace and a belief that people can change. That young boys can be taught to do better and to think for themselves and to form their own EDUCATED opinion rather than embrace the bigotry of their parents.

That we might all lean in and fall hard on that wisdom. That we might all take this situation as a teaching moment. To check our own hearts. To truly sift through the bigotry from generations past and uncover the worth of people based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. That we would seek to hear the stories of people who may not look like us. To learn from them. To know them. To understand THEIR experience. To acknowledge that we are blinded by our majority privilege. Because we have no idea what it is to be a minority in our culture.

Again, I go back to my own overestimation on this issue. I was raised on integrated military bases by parents who sincerely taught us to care more about the person than the color of their skin. My dad had fought for two years in Vietnam, relying on his fellow soldiers of all ethnic backgrounds. He was part of training the Vietnamese military to fight the communists. He lived what he taught. That there is a beautiful unity when we can live together, no matter our differences, see each other's intrinsic worth, and literally risk our lives for each other if need be. My parents always encouraged us to look for a partner with our values and morals and Biblical perspective, regardless of race. In fact, years after my dad died, my mom lived what she taught when she married a black man. Because of their similar beliefs and values and interests. And skin color had nothing to do with it.

I watched that video and I remembered. I was twelve years old, having just moved to a small Texas town, before I ever heard the N word uttered. And I remember being horrified.

Because back then, just as now, I had overestimated how far we have come. I have underestimated the racial divide. Which is something quite easy to do with majority privilege.

 

So may we all take this as a teaching moment. May we all see past our own experience, our own upbringing, our own frame of reference. May we all carefully consider how to take a step back and listen. Really listen. To the stories of people. The stories of people who were not surprised that things like that fraternity bus incident still happen. People who, in fact, have first hand experience with such bigotry. May we all lean in and listen carefully. May we all stop and pause on this situation and truly take a heart check. Opening our minds to the pitfalls of racism and what it means for all of us. For all of our culture. For all of our country.

Because obviously, we have work to do here.  Let us not waste this opportunity to gain from a situation where so many lose. Where people lose because they are mocked and ridiculed and belittled. Where people lose because they cannot see their own issues that limit them, and in this case, became their undoing. Where people lose because we are not willing or able to put ourselves in someone else's frame of reference.

I was thinking how years back, an incident on a bus raised a controversy. Sparked debate. Ignited hatred. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person. It was an incident, in time, which led to change and to progress and to conversations that opened eyes.

May this incident on a bus similarly lead us to change and progress and steps forward. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Mama NEVER Said There'd Be Days Like This

I've been mentally writing a book for about sixteen years now. Continually adding chapters to it with titles such as Objects Up the Nose, Being Punched at Church, How to Use an Airplane Toilet Whilst Holding an Infant, Things You Never Thought You'd Need to Say, and Navigating the Minefield of Your Child Dating.

The name of the book?

Things No One Ever Told You about Motherhood.

Lately, I've uttered that phrase several times. Because the truth is, mama actually never said that there'd be days like these.



Oh, we read books like What to Expect When You're Expecting, and Bringing Up Boys and a whole library of other titles, all designed to help us be the best parents in the world. But the reality is that no amount of reading or conversation or parenting classes can really cover the gamet.  Because the truth is that raising children involves daily struggles that we never saw coming.

Like what to do when your toddler shoves something up their nose and proudly announces it at 11:00 p.m. at night. Is this an ER visit? Ugh. What about the co-pay? Or is there a way to extract the item and avoid the hospital and expensive medical bills? And what of your sheer exhaustion and annoyance at this dilemma which occurs when you are about 38 weeks pregnant.

Or, here's an ethical dilemma for you. There's a difficult child from a struggling family at church. You know, church. Where you go to learn about Jesus and how to be kind and loving and live out the commands of the Bible. But said child repeatedly punches your child at church. Bullying over Bible stories. Not something you saw coming.

There is no manual for how to hold your 8 week old baby whilst trying to use the teeny tiny airplane bathroom. You're on the flight alone, so do you trust or ask a stranger to help you? What is the proper etiquette for this? But even if so, you think the baby needs a new diaper. Um, how do you navigate all that? Much less, dragging your small children through the airport with as much gear as it takes to set up a fully functioning nursery for the three day trip to visit friends.

The list of things you never thought you'd need to say. That could be a trilogy all it's own. Don't sit on your brother...I don't care if he is laughing and not mad. Don't wash your hair with your cereal. Don't pee in the bathtub. Don't put your hands in your poopy diaper. Don't set things on fire. Don't try to ride the dog as if he were a horse. And of course, the famous, don't touch your sibling...just pretend there's a brick wall between you.

And just when I thought all those crazy toddler and preschool conundrums were well behind me, I'm hitting the teen years over here. As I've previously blogged, parenting in the digital age is HARD, y'all. It's exhausting. Keeping ahead of the technology and training your children how to use it appropriately and how to actually have a conversation and not just text their friends but use words. Spoken. Out loud. Navigating the perils of dating or not dating and what is your family philosophy on this? Tiptoeing through the emotionally trying times of junior high and high school with your children is no small feat. And a million times worse, in my humble opinion, than when it was you. Because you hurt when they hurt and you wish you could convince them of the wisdom you've gained. But you know they have to figure some things out for themselves.

It's just hard. Not for the faint of heart. The days and moments that no one prepared you for. Because, you realize, there was no way to prepare you for it. So you just pray. A lot. And talk to other parenting friends in the same boats. And build alliances with your village so that you are all directing your kids in community and with like minds. And you are all looking out for each other's kids.

While the angst of these things make your heart break and you wonder at how your mama never said there'd be days like these, you're storing up another pile of things. Things of wonder and joy and awe that again, are beyond description or preparation.

When you begin to discern your newborn's cries and you can begin to respond appropriately. And that swell of pride the first time you knew the hungry cry from the dirty diaper cry and you got it right. When your little one seems inconsolable, but yet, somehow you had the magic touch. When those fat, dimply little toddler hands grab your face and plant a sloppy kiss on it with a loud proclamation of, "I wuv you!" 

When you sit your little one down to discuss the bullying, and with absolute childlike innocence they say, "It's okay, Mommy. I think he just doesn't have any friends and it must make him feel so angry." When your children give away a precious toy to someone they just met who has none. And you just about die. Because the compassion and kindness and tender heart is right there, in between the sibling squabbles and the refusal to eat their vegetables. 

When your heart melts at your big teenage son holding a child's newborn baby. And suddenly, you can picture how maybe, just maybe, the years of parenting might replicate themselves in the next generation. When your boys give you a hug and ask about your day after their long day at school. When you catch your daughter mimicking some hard fought habit you've worked to institute in your own life, such as journaling in a prayer journal. 

When you catch your kids reciting some amazing truth gleaned from the sermon, and from your vantage point of the youth group sitting in front of you, you weren't sure they were listening. 

There are so many moments. Tiny glimpses of the people they are becoming. Tiny peeks into the dividends of your mothering efforts. Moments that make you tear up with a sense of fulfillment that you never knew were possible. Because for all your mistakes and struggles and mishaps, you've tried. You may not have been perfect, but you were present.

And somehow, with God's grace filling in all the gaps, it made a difference. And while it's a long, hard fought battle to raise your children and to be the parent you'd like to be, it's worth it. It's so worth it.

You wouldn't trade it for anything.

And when your kids become parents, you'll smile to yourself because you know there'll be some things you just can't prepare them for. 

But just as you've done since the day they became yours, you will cheer them on. You'll be their number one fan, even on those days.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Blanket of Hope

On this record breaking March snow day for Texas, I offer you a letter. This is a letter to every reader, from the perspective of your Heavenly Father. Soak in every word as if he is speaking just for you.

Dear Child,

I am the maker of all things new. I don't just wash you as white as snow -- I am the snow.  I cover the dreary and the barren and the dread with glistening beauty that breaths new life into it -- and over it. 

I take the dirty and the lifeless and I blanket it with wonder. I change the sadness and anger and loneliness to a pristine, gorgeous sight. 

This.

This is what I want to do in your life.


I want to take what is worn out and tired and then rain down new things. I want to change the heart of the weary to make them feel like a giddy school child with an unexpected snow day.

Awed.

Inspired.

Hopeful.

Carefree.

Excited.

Eager.

I want to take the cold, gray rain in your life and transform it to a breathtaking wonderland.


This is a picture of me.

This is an image of what I do. How I work. What I'm up to.

Beauty. For ashes.

Seasons of winter for the soul turned into the gorgeous and unexpected.

Taking the hard and ragged and wearisome -- and wrapping it a blanket of wonder and love and surprises.


Trust my heart, dear one. Look out the window at the blue clear skies and the evergreens with snow collected on their branches and piles of sparkling, glistening white as far as the eye can see.

Fresh. Untouched. Majestic.

Picturesque.

Like a snow globe, come to life.

Magical.

Transformed.

Awe inspiring.

And this, my child, is what I do for you. In you. Through you.

Over and over and over. It's the rhythm of my grace. To take what is gray and muddy and ugly and worn. And pour myself out to cover it all with a blanket of hope. A blanket of newness. A blanket of beauty.

I transform the ugly, dreary, endless seasons of hard. And wrap it in my love to create incredible beauty that stirs your soul.