Monday, July 7, 2014

Babies Shouldn't be Getting Driver's Permits

Seriously. What is wrong with this country?  Or rather, this great state of Texas?  I mean, who do they think they are--issuing learner's permits to teeny tiny itty bitty baby boys? 

Does this kid even look old enough to be behind the wheel of a moving vehicle--that's NOT one of those cozy coupe cars that you peddle with your feet like Fred Flintstone?

It's ridiculous.  In fact, it's an outrage.  

I can hardly believe it.  

When I climbed into that mini-van last Tuesday and looked over at my oldest, THAT little boy above is who I saw.  Like that scene from Father of the Bride where Steve Martin sees his little girl announcing her engagement at the dinner table.  It was JUST LIKE THAT for me.

Because, for the life of me, I don't know where the years have gone.  And I sorta wanted to scream at the sharp pains I literally felt deep in my heart when I rode as the passenger whilst my son drove.

My son drove.

Y'all.  He drove.  Legally.  While I sat next to him, thinking I deserved an Oscar for my award winning performance as a perfectly calm and reasonable and relaxed mother of a driving teen.

Masking the inner turmoil I felt with the whirlwind of emotions and thoughts and memories swirling inside me like some horrible F5 tornado.  Wanting to hunt down every single mother I know who has already entered this season yet failed to tell me the utter angst I would feel when my first born drove.

Talk about torture for a control freak.  I felt the letting go like a rip across my heart.  Because there is no denying that the baby bird is ready to fly.  On his own.  Taking control for himself.  With my life in HIS hands for a change. 

While I sat next to him, consciously NOT stomping my foot on the floor board as if there was some invisible brake pad, calmly assuring him what a good job he was doing, I realized something.

He is doing a good job.  He is growing up with a wisdom and maturity I lacked at his age.  He is pressing forward, with his mind clearly focused on choosing God's narrow way, swimming upstream, moving toward his goals of attending the college of his dreams. Untethered from peer pressure or fleeting foolish things.  Undeterred.  Unstoppable.

And there it was.  The rising pride that spoke to the storm inside me.  That challenged me that if I was going to keep teaching this young man to trust the One who made him, then I better do the same.  

If I'm going to direct my children to let God in the driver's seat, then I need to do the same.  I need to embrace that passenger seat.  I need to find joy there.  I need to release the control.  Because the truth was, I never had it.

Not since the day he was being knit in my womb.  Not since the day I was told I would miscarry him and I was forced to release it all to One who was forming him.  And I knew it was my Father's goodness that turned the tide and sustained that tiny life within me.

And every day since.  Because any sense of control was only a facade.  As an infant, I couldn't make him sleep if he didn't want to.  As I toddler, I couldn't make him obey if he didn't want to.  I could only give consequences. As a preschooler, I couldn't make him read when he was still learning.  

He is not my own.  He was bought with a price.  The day he accepted that gift, he turned his life over to Christ.

And I must continually do the same.  Turn his life and the lives of my other children to Christ. Day after day.  Moment by moment.  

As my darling boy takes the wheel and chooses his own path.  Charts his own course.  Embraces the plans His Father has for him.

There is no better way. 

Because whether he is driving my car just down the street or taking his own car toward his future when he leaves home, the truth is that he's already chosen the best direction he can.  

And as he surrenders and follows the Lord, I must surrender.  I must continually do what I want that amazing young man to do.

Entrust my very life to our God who controls it all.  And the lives of my children.  To the One who loves us dearly.  Who guides us continually.  Who's got every one of us in His hands.  Pouring out His grace to cover us.  Leading us as our Good Shepherd.

Jesus, take the wheel!  Take it from my hands.  

And speak peace to my aching heart.  On this brutal, beautiful part of mothering.     

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Remember to Not Forget: Ending a School Year

A euphoria has swept my house hold.  On this, the last day of school.  My kids have been counting down for quite some time.  In fact, one child even created a daily count down with post-it notes, where each day can be ripped off.  

Yes, indeed.  It's a good day.  I personally am breathing a huge sigh of relief.  We made it!  Now, I can be freed from signing binders, obsessively asking my teenagers about their school work, and the daily grind of school pick-ups at three locations at three different times.  

In the words of the character played by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart...


Yet, as I find my mind immediately moving to the next things on the calendar--summer activities and camps and trips and such, I was reminded of something important this morning.

We must remember to not forget.  

We must remember to not forget the milestones of the last year.  The things that God has brought us through.  The struggles we survived.  The potential dangers that we (and our children) dodged.  The times we fell.  The times we got back up.  All the places we've been.  Whether you're completing a school year or a chapter of life, such as high school.

This is an important ritual for all of us.  The Bible is full of examples where God's people stopped, at the brink of the new thing, to pause in praise and worship as they remembered to not forget.  

Noah and his family, saved from the flood, walking on dry land, to build an altar of remembrance.  Abraham, narrowly avoiding the sacrifice of Isaac, pausing to name that place The Lord Will Provide. Jacob, building an altar at Bethel, to commemorate how God revealed Himself during his time of running from his brother Esau. The altar of remembrance by the twelve tribes after walking through the dry ground of the Jordan River, remembering how the Lord was bringing them to the Promised Land after wandering in the desert.

So let us intentionally stop and consider what God has done for us.  To look back and have our faith built by not forgetting the ground gained within the last school year.  I say let's do this with our children, to instill in them the important practice of pausing to remember to not forget.  Perhaps you can use this blog post as dinner conversation starter. 

1.  What were the things we feared or were anxious about for this last school year, before it began?  Did those things happen?  Were they better or worse than anticipated?  Maybe your child started middle school or high school, like one of mine did.  I remember the mini-panic attack as I walked the halls of that huge high school on registration day.  How was my son ever going to find his classes?  Would he adjust well?  For this mama bear, I was downright anxious about my little cub going off into that big unknown territory. 

Listen, my rather confident teenager told me in no uncertain terms as school began that he was going to be just fine.  In that little tone that reminded me that my anxiety was more about my own experience at a tiny high school and the intimidation I felt than it was about his perspective.  For him, it is perfectly normal to go to a large high school.  It's all he's anticipated.  He had very kind friends from church who showed him the ropes and reminded him they had his back.  Despite a rocky start with five (yes, 5!) algebra teachers within the first semester (hiring glitches! On my son's hardest subject), he has done well.  

There were other anxieties and concerns for all three of my children.  And because I am rather gifted at picturing worse case scenarios, all in all -- my fears were not the least bit realized.  Not even close.  Indeed, much to be celebrated!  May it remind me to stand firm on God's faithful track record rather than my own pessimism.

2.  What were some struggles and failures and trials that were survived?  During the last few months, I have frequently stopped by the Facebook page called Prayers for Blake.  When I consider the story of this fourteen-year-old boy who suffered a serious brain injury after a freak accident at gymnastics, I think, well...I got nothing.  I have found great encouragement in how this Facebook page has offered the details of a hard journey, with great transparency.  Specific daily needs were prayed for and then reported on.  And a dire situation, where Blake's very life hung in the balance, unfolded to the very thing his parents were specifically praying for from moment one.  

In the last few weeks, he walked out of the hospital. On his feet.  Just as his mom and dad had prayed for since the first day when his recovery was quite uncertain.

I cried like a baby reading those words.  

After that, he went back to his school to visit his friends.  And from reading the account of it, I'm pretty sure I would have been a weepy mess had I actually been there for THAT occasion.  

What astounded me throughout these last few months of keeping up with this friend of a friend is this testimony.  This family stood firmly on God's promises.  Continually asking for specific things in prayer.  Careful to note and celebrate and praise God for each tiny milestone.  They are the epitome of simply being thankful for what was survived.  For how they were held by a loving God through very dark days.  Embracing the light of the new thing, the new work, the new promises for the days ahead.  

Maybe your trials this last school year or season aren't quite dramatic.  Maybe, like our family, there were just the typical angst of being a pre-teen or teenager.  No worries.  Let us still note the very things that we survived.  That we are still here.  Still fighting.  Still taking steps.  And let's find hope in these things that did not undo us, learning lessons for the next journey.

3.  What were some surprises--good and bad--throughout the last school year?  Where are we now in these situations?  What ground has been gained?  What unrealized hopes still lie ahead?  Every season of life comes with surprises.  Good and bad.  For instance, we weren't familiar with my daughter's assigned teachers in the fall.  But, we found them to be fabulous and kind and encouraging and beyond anything we could have asked.  There were new students in her school, after a little rezoning in our district.  She has found some wonderful new friendships.  On the other hand, cliques and groups are forming, as these kids move toward middle school.  She has noted that she no longer spends time after school with certain friends.  Yet, she is rolling with the punches and learning a lot about friendship.  

For all of our kids, this last school year has included saying good-bye to the only pastor they remember and going through a season of transition.  We couldn't imagine anything different as our family prayed for the search for a new pastor.  Yet, God has brought our church family to a wonderful new season under a pastor whose sermons are drawing my kids to Him in new ways.

This last school year included a surprise surgery for me, during a surprise ice storm, that left my kids with the surprise of extra days at their "fake cousins" house, with their aunt and uncle by choice. We saw God's hand in every detail, as I was freed from two years of chronic pain.  And my family supported and loved me through my recovery and rejoiced to have the problem handled.

Other surprised this school year include long spoken prayers remaining unanswered, friends enduring new challenges, family being spared from a killer tornado, teachers who were challenging to work with, and my children enduring unexpected disappointments. 

Surprises, I'm learning, are a wonderful way for this planner mom to learn to surrender to the works of a constant God.  Such beautiful life lessons for my children.

4.  Looking back, what accomplishments are you most proud of or what blessings find you most thankful?  I love how the elementary school where my children have attended approaches success ceremonies.  Each child is encouraged to set goals and work toward them.  Each child is then announced across the stage with the thing they are most proud of from the school year.  I love hearing the individual "I did it!" moments that each child chooses.  Some are funny.  Some are mind boggling (REALLY?  PERFECT scores on that STAAR test?!).  Some are just interesting insight into the mind of that child.  

This year, my child said she was most proud of maintaining a good attitude when she became sick and had to leave the famous fourth grade Adventure Camp.  Indeed.  This memory stands out to me, too.  We cried the whole way home, unsure why she would miss out on this three day adventure that she had looked forward to since kindergarten.  Yet, my girl rebounded and pressed forward.  Hardly uttering a word for the weeks since when everyone dives into their "remember at camp?" stories.  She has achieved much and worked hard through an arduous fourth grade year.  But, I am with her on how she appreciates the prayers that were answered as she gathered her sad self together and determined to press on.

It's always interesting to hear your child's perspective on this question.  Because I'm guessing their answer won't match yours.  But every inch of ground gained should indeed be celebrated, with our eyes ever focused on the God who moves us forward.  

5.  What lessons learned have you gained through this last school year?  When I look back at my August, first-day-of-school self, I've learned a lot about my kids and my mothering over these last ten months.  Once I stop to consider it.  

I've learned my oldest has an inner strength that I need not doubt.  I've learned he has a quiet confidence and faith that will see him through even major disappointments.  And I can back up and let him fly.  (Or that looms around the corner).  He has a quick sense of humor, offering levity when least expected from this man of few words.  He is choosing friendships wisely and carefully, thinking through his future and not taking himself too seriously.  And he still lets me give him hugs.

My middle child never ceases to amaze me.  Once he sets his mind to something, he will get it done.  He tackled a whole new endeavor with playing football this year.  My heart nearly burst watching him rally his teammates on the field and run his routes with great agility.  He missed more school days than are even allowed, yet pulled out a grade point average higher than he ever has.  We are enjoying new ground in our relationship, as we discuss and navigate new paths of independence.  And I love how he shares funny videos or jokes or news bits with me, letting me into his world.

My youngest child is not a baby.  If you know her, this is not a news flash.  Since she is nearly as tall as me and her shoe size is already two sizes bigger than mine, despite the fact she is nine years old.  But this year, she has turned some corners of maturity and pushed herself harder academically and socially.  She has made big decisions, like leaving her volleyball team with all of her friends in order to learn piano and guitar.  Every time I see her with that guitar on her lap, strumming away, I marvel at her confidence to chart her own way.  It's evidence of answered prayers from a mom whose childhood was marked by insecurity.  

All in all, I believe God has been teaching me this year as a mom to be bold and confident and claim the big things He wants to do through all of my children.  It's all a reminder to release my doubts to God.  Because He's got me...and He has these kids.  Through whatever comes.  I must surrender them to His care, as they tackle high school or new sports or changing friendships.  I've cried about things that hardly phased them.  Oh, yes.  Perhaps I can learn from them to let things go.  

I've worked harder this year at being and staying connected to my children and leading them through grace more than demanding specific behavior.  Lessons my Father is teaching me about His love for me.  I've been challenged to choose my battles and bite my tongue and lead by example in how I speak to them or approach them.  Admit my mistakes.  Ask forgiveness.  Have grace on myself too, and trust Him to be big enough to fill in the gaps when I fail.  And I know that He has lessons He is trying to teach each of them, too.  As they navigate their own walk with their God.

I've got a long, long way to go.  But, I can look back and see that the tree of lessons learned is bending over with the weight of fruit for me to pick.  To ponder and consume and be transformed for the next steps.  

Lessons learned.  From an entire school year.  Or maybe an entire season of schooling.  More than just math or reading or geography.  Heart lessons.  Character lessons.  Faith lessons.  I often tell my children that no experience--good or really bad--is wasted if we can consider a lesson learned and move forward with that.

That we might all stop and pause there.  To look backward with thankfulness.  With an openness to being refined and molded.  With a heart of praise and worship.  With eyes to see all the many things that God walked us through.

Oh, yes.  We survived!  We survived fourth grade, seventh grade, and ninth grade.  But more than surviving...I can see how because of His grace, we have actually thrived.  

All thanks to Him for his steadfast love and faithfulness.  And afternoons NOT spent running car pools.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

This Crazy, Fast Paced Frenzy

Do y'all remember back in your teen years when you'd read Seventeen magazine and complete those little surveys?  You know, the ones that told you what kind of friend you were or what your style was or what kind of boy was best for you.  

I've always been a sucker for those kind of self-tests.  I think I'm drawn to the promise of knowing myself better.  I like things to fit nicely in little categories.  Simple formulas and step-by-step instructions toward a goal really work for my perfectionist, Type A personality.  

In the spirit of such surveys, I have one for you today.  Please complete the following questions, choosing the answer that most accurately describes you.  Then read on, bloggy friends, for my musings for today.

1.  When describing your overall pace in life, you:
a.  often find yourself sitting to ponder important life lessons.
b.  often find yourself busy doing things that need to be done.

2.  When describing your general mentality:
a.  you would say you are relaxed and particular about how you spend your time.
b.  you are in a frenzy, jumping from one thing to the next.

3.  Considering your emotional health:
a.  you would say you are refreshed and confident.
b.  you feel troubled and anxious about many things.

4.  As far as your approach to life:
a.  you are intentional and particular about your time.
b.  you have way too much going on to even think about having an approach to life.

5. When you consider your prayer life:
a.  you are thankful for the way you interact with God through prayer, learning more about him on a regular basis.
b.  you think of the million things you've asked him for help with, most of which feels unanswered.

If you answered "b" to most of these questions, then you are a normal American adult, busy juggling multiple plates.  And, if it's any consolation, you are very much like I have been for most of my life.  I'd like to say just my adult life, but who am I kidding?  I was a serious kid and high achiever from the get go.

Which has pretty much been my approach to my faith.  My entire life.  Yep.  Like the little Welcome Week wheel at my Baylor freshmen orientation week--working to find a balance between the spiritual, emotional, physical and academic.  You know--with Jesus at the center of the wheel.  Keep your spokes and pie pieces even and voile--a sure fire recipe for success!

Except, I've come to realize, it's not.  It's just not the formula to the type of life I'm becoming more and more hungry for--the life I'm in  the process of embracing.  Learning to be released from this crazy, fast paced frenzy.  My Granny used to say that the older you get, the faster time goes.  Truer words were never spoken, Granny.  
Absolutely.  And as the years fly by and my children grow up, I've found myself in this sorta reflective mode about the way I spend my time.  The way my days add up together to equal the sum of my years on earth.  

And it's all a rather frenzied mess of tasks and deadlines and calendar demands.  Listen, I want off!  I want off the treadmill going no where.  I want to run along some beautiful paths and soak in the experience.  I want to slow it down a bit.  Quit playing the LP record at a pace that sounds like the Chipmunks because the record player is tuned to a faster pace.  (I'm dating myself...younger generations missed out, I tell ya.) 

Do you know what I mean?  I'm in a serious season of regrouping here.  Trying to be molded and refined as only God can do to move my focus where it has been to where it needs to be.  To learn to do what Mary did, rather than succumb to my Martha ways.

And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to His teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving.  And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me."  But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." 
Luke 10:39-42 

Compare and contrast. Mary sat and listened.  Martha was distracted with much serving.  Mary humbled herself at the Lord's feet and learned.  Martha made demands of the Lord.  Mary chose the good portion.  Martha was anxious and troubled.  Mary invested in what couldn't be taken away.  Martha got herself worked up in a frenzy.  

The Lord loved them both.  

He answered Martha.  It doesn't say he rebuked her or scolded her.  He answered her.  Both women are noted as special to the Lord.  Listen, no matter which one describes you best--the Lord's love doesn't fail or falter.  His grace is extended to all.

But, I think if you evaluate the lives of both women, Mary enjoyed a deeper relationship with the Lord that led to being freed from anxiety and trouble and distractions.  Because Mary chose the one thing necessary.  

Mary wasn't juggling plates to keep her physical and academic and emotional parts of life balanced with her spiritual.  

She just chose the one thing.  

She sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things were added unto her.  She lived by first things first.  God can handle the rest.

Mary has been a fascinating character for me to consider this year.  And I have been mulling her life over throughout the gospels.  I have much more to say about her in days to come.  But, today, I want to talk about this secret.  The secret of avoiding the distractions and the busyness of serving that led Martha to make demands of the Lord and to be anxious and troubled.

Because I am, by nature Martha.  And for a long time, I've tried to be Mary.  

This year, as a person who does, I'm learning to instead set a new task list.  Instead of trying to be someone I'm not, I'm trying to DO what Mary did.

Dial it all back.  Simplify and cut out distractions and let go of some things so that I can be sure to literally sit and listen to His teaching.  And also figuratively do so in a spirit and posture of prayer and meditation throughout my day, literally picturing myself sitting at His feet, releasing all the kitchen duties to Him to fight my battles. 

It's no easy lesson for me, I tell ya.  I'm barely out of the starting gates.  Learning the sacred practice of sitting at the feet of Jesus and reorienting my life from doing and tasks to an approach of Sabbath living.  Sabbath in the original language meant to cease or desist.  I'm in a continual mode of asking for wisdom for what I need to cease and desist. Keep in mind, it may look different for you.  

This is how far I've gotten.  I'm still on that social media fast, hopping on to post my blog, send a specific message or check my sons' activities.  Cannot even begin to tell you how this has reoriented me to live for my audience of One and not even think of my life in statuses or posts.  

I've let go of couponing.  I'm in a season of trying to keep two teenage boys and one hungry preteen girl fed and full.  I'm also trying to feed my family food that is cleaner and not pre-packaged or preserved.  Couponing is not working.  So I've broken up with grocery game.  For now.  Because it gives me freedom to knock out my shopping faster and have one less task that makes me feel frenzied.

My meal planning is uber simple.  A meat and some (or one) veggie.  Generally, a meat I throw in the oven or have my husband grill and a veggie that I steam or broil.  Or I'm loving my crock pot recipes.  Listen, the dinner I fix my kids is only one of two they usually eat each night... they are like the Hobbits who eat a second breakfast.  They snack when they get home from school, eat my dinner and then fix another dinner about 8:30.  There's the kitchen kids.  Knock yourself out.  Because I'm not going to lose sleep about fancy meal planning right now.  

Overall, I'm changing my mentality to this:  one thing is necessary.  If I can find time daily to sit with my prayer journal, read the Word (I'm using the reading plan), and reflect on it, then I've had a productive day.  All else is gravy.  THIS is some major, major regrouping and redefining for me.  BIG TIME.  To remember that He wants my good portion that cannot be taken away.  Not my highlighted and completed task list.  

Another change I've made is I've quit doing my budget spreadsheets, tallying my receipts.  I realized something.  My bimonthly habit of trying to gather all receipts, input them into my monthly budget, and gauge where we are was making me feel anxious and troubled.  I have had this habit for approximately ALWAYS.  So, to let it go meant asking my husband incessantly about 3,229 times if he was okay with me NOT doing the spreadsheets this year.  Sure, said Mr. Type B.  Patiently.  Every time.  Because I married a saint.  

The truth is this.  Our budget never adds up on paper.  We should be majorly in debt.  But we have been debt free (so far) for over 6 years, other than our house.  We live on a non-profit salary and my irregular non-profit contractor work that is the little extra every time we need it.  We take out cash every paycheck and that's what we live on until the next paycheck.  So, really--I'm not being financially irresponsible or throwing all caution to the wind by not doing my spreadsheet.  I'm simply trying to live up to the challenge to trust my Provider and leave it at that. I guess, for me, I'm being challenged to quit micromanaging my Provider God.

Here's one last, more recent addition.  Cutting social media has meant I'm losing my appetite for television.  I'm finding that as I ask God to teach me how to choose the one thing and give me a hunger for Him, he is taking away the hunger for empty calories.  I'm simply more drawn to reading right now.  Oh, I'll sit to watch a specific show here or there.  Or a movie with my kids (Oh, YES!  Let's watch Frozen for the billionth time, sweet daughter!).  But the more I am intentionally trying to reorient myself, the more my longings and desires are falling in line.  

So, I'm jumping out there.  Choosing obedience first.  Asking God to help me do what Mary did.  To minute by minute, learn to plant myself and my heart at His feet.  Listening.  Ready.  Posed.  Surrendering the kitchen duties and battles to Him to fight for me.  Waiting for His direction.  

Interesting thing.  While it is incredibly uncomfortable at first (okay, and still), I'm learning to embrace it more and more.  To find joy in a slower pace.  In the difficult job of unraveling.  Unwinding.  Letting go.  Setting my sights on the one thing necessary.  Mindful of the extra unnecessary distractions that I can surrender.

The one thing necessary.  To sit at the Lord's feet and listen to His teaching.  

Tomorrow, I hope you'll join me for the next amazing glimpse of Mary at Jesus' feet.  I'll just say this. Mind blown... may we be like Mary!   

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dear Tired Mama

Dear Tired Mama,

I see how tired you are.  I know the weariness you feel.  A weariness that is so deep, it settles in your bones and attacks your motivation.  It taunts you, whispering every misstep and making accusations.  It tries to convince you that you are failing.  Miserably.  It creates an emotional frenzy in you, causing you to question everything you do for your kids or with your kids, as a mom.  It plants seeds of worry about impending doom for your kids or yourself.  Your mind takes you crazy places.  Maybe picturing your kid in an orange jump suit, declaring that it was your failure as a mom that lead to their demise.  Or wondering if your kids will succeed in the same way that you perceive the achievements of others. 

You grew up thinking of motherhood as this noble task.  A dream come true.  There were rough roads when you weren't sure you would be a mama.  And you realized it was all you wanted to be.  When you finally became a mom, it didn't take long before you questioned why you thought this would be so fun?  Because while the rewards are indescribable, so are the challenges.

The exhausting baby phase.  The sleepless nights.  The obsessive worry that plagues every last tiny detail of minutia.  Why are they crying so much?  Is something really wrong--and they are too little to tell you?  Why aren't they rolling over like someone else's baby is at this point?  What if there are developmental delays you can't see?  What if there is some medical issue you can't discern?  When will you ever sleep again?

Just when you feel you have succeeded and are about ready to pat yourself on the back, the toddler phase begins.  Oh, for the love of sanity, why the whining?  And the testing?  And that smug look of defiance when your toddler touches for that electrical outlet AGAIN?  The mobility.  That points out the dangers that are all around, lurking at every turn to injure or maim your child.  And for a brief nanosecond, you wonder if the baby phase was better?  

You segue into the preschool phase.  And the five million times a day that you are asked why.  Is there a magic formula to make it stop?  The curiosity and the inquisitiveness.  And the endless dumping of toys that you tirelessly replace again and again.  The play date politics.  And the wondering why your little cherub isn't already reading like that other kid?  You feel a sense of accomplishment, knowing you've almost reached the school years.  Only to realize...

...You've almost reached the school years.  Which means you have to decide the best route to educate your children.  Are you capable of home schooling?  Is that best?  Is public school the right route?  Or maybe private school?  What to think about someone else enjoying your child for hours each day?  Oh, wait. A few hours each day when your child is under the watchful eye of someone else.  What might you do with all that time?  Is this the season of eating bon bons and a life of leisure?  

And so it goes.  Each new phase brings new rewards.  New highlights to enjoy.  Fresh discoveries and tiny glimpses of the people your littles are becoming.  Along with new challenges and fears and worries and angst.  

This is where I am.  Staring down the last three years of having my oldest in the house.  Seeing the end and dreading it.  And applauding it.  Wondering if I've done enough.  How do I prepare these children to make wise decisions, cling to the Jesus we love, stay on the straight and narrow, avoid the pitfalls?  

My epiphany this morning is that I have a bucket load of insecurities as a mom.  I'm going to be totally transparent here today.  It is a sore spot that causes me to jump into defense mode quicker than any Olympic sprinter can finish a 100 yard dash.  It wears me out and steals my joy.  It causes me a million obsessive thoughts about my mothering.  I question my every move.  It adds exponentially to the tiredness and fatigue that I think every mother is naturally bent to.  Because the most important thing I can do with my life is mother well.  So I set up these altars of success where I pour out my sacrifices and hope it is enough.  I pray my offerings are acceptable.  I wonder endlessly if they are.

Yet, here is the truth that no amount of criticism and no approval or opinion of man can ever change.  And it's a truth I think all of us tired and weary moms need to hear and embrace.

We were chosen.  

When you look at the children under your care, remember that they are not there by any accident.  There was no OOPS on God's part when He entrusted these darlings to you.  The very fact that He called you to be their mama means that He gave you a resounding vote of confidence.  He gave you the job and it was no mistake.  He will equip and empower us for that which He has called us.  

Because, indeed, He chose us to mother these little ones (or not so little ones) that he placed in our care.  

And on the worst days of doubt and worry and stress and frenzy, we must cling to this truth.  We must allow this truth to set us free from all that whispers of our incompetence.  

God thought we could handle it.  And He intends to be our answer in every valley and within every doubt and during every struggle.  He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us.  He gives us His Word to direct and guide us.  In our most panicked prayer for our children, we have the echoing voice of the Holy Spirit interceding with groanings too deep for words along with the voice of Jesus Himself who sits next to the Father interceding for us.  

God has a purpose and a plan for our children.  And for us.  And He intends for us to embrace our call through His authority that He grants us to complete the task.  Every day.  Day in and day out.  To pour grace on our shortcomings (and our children's) fall into His ocean of love for our frantic doubts...and to claim His new mercies for each day of mothering.  

So tired mama, I thought you might need to listen in on this pep talk that I'm giving myself today.  

It's exhausting.  It's hard work.  And it's kingdom work.  Each of us is exactly the one for the job assigned to us.  Because the God of the Universe is equipping us.  He has called us and He wants only our willingness and availability.  He will provide what we need--we just need to ask Him. He is the answer for our problem.  He is the strength in our weakness.  He sees us.  He hears us.  He loves us.  And He applauds us.

He promises us this, for every hard place of mothering.

He gently leads those who have young (Isaiah 40:11).

In Jesus, we have the YES to every dilemma, every doubt, every concern.  

If the Creator God hand picked us for this job, then we can rest in our calling.  Fall on His equipping.  And take every doubting thought captive with the freeing truth of His Word.  

With Him, all things are possible.  

So, let's rally.  Let's write these things on our heart.  Let's silence the voice of the accuser. Let's embrace the calling God gave us.  Let's press on to run our mothering race with endurance.  Fixing our eyes on Jesus.  Trusting Him to give us all that we need.  For one more day.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What Did You Expect?

expectation (noun) -- the act or state of looking forward or anticipating; a thing looked forward to; a prospect of good or profit; the degree of probability that something will occur

Expectations.  They are the mile markers that either leave us completely disappointed or incredibly elated.  They are the emotional benchmarks upon which we gauge our life, either in a good way or a bad way.  They are the fences within which we find joy or frustration.  They are the predecessors of our emotional response.

We all have expectations.  Whether we realize them or not.  And inevitably, I've found that expectations are the very root of many problems.  Unspoken expectations that are unmet lead to emotional turmoil.  Yet, I can hardly hold the other accountable when I have not clearly expressed my expectations.  Unrealized expectations lead to surprise and often dismay.  And, there is nothing quite as euphoric as exceeded expectations.  

While we often are tossed about on the waves of our emotions, expectations are another animal altogether.  They are something we can approach logically and that we have the power to redefine.  Readjusting them is a tangible way to gain control in an emotionally charged situation.  

So, herein lies the problem as I see it.  It's a two fold issue.  

First of all, we expect too much of people and the world around us.  We expect people to complete us, to affirm us, to be our definition of self-worth and value.  We expect our bank accounts to make us happy.  We expect our jobs to fulfill us.  We expect the tangible world around us to cater to our needs and our rights and our demands.   Bottom line, we tend to place all of our expectations on the people and circumstances around us.  

Which leads to epic failure and disappointment.  This is where relationships are broken, hearts are wounded, bitterness and anger seep in, and entitlement grows like a plague.  This leads to a sense of being wronged and disappointed, and someone or something is to blame. 

It's certainly not a matter of taking responsibility of our misplaced expectations, is it?  

The way I see it is that the first issue with expectations is too much is made of that which cannot meet the heavy burden placed upon it.

The second issue, going hand in hand with the first?  

Too little is expected of the only One who can exceed our expectations.  Who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  Whose track record pretty well blows the mind of anyone who really studies it.  Who shows up when least expected in ways that his followers can not wrap their brains around.  Whose power is unmatched.  Whose love and grace knows no bounds.  Who is a force that no power on earth can rifle.  

Yet, we sit back in our holy huddles and box God in and belittle who He is to ourselves and the world around us.  Continually misplacing our expectations.  Denying ourselves the real joy and peace that God wishes to pour out upon us.  If we would only make Him our expectation.  The person we wait for, look forward to, anticipate.  

We are like the beggar at the Gate Beautiful in Acts 3:1-10.  We sit in our ugly, begging for more.  We are lame and broken and wounded.  In desperate need of help.  We beg for little things, like this lame beggar did.  We ask for the alms or bread we need for this day.  It's all we consider--the immediate need.  We are the cringing beggar asking for crumbs.

There we sit.  Paralyzed by our needs.  Begging for some little morsel that God might decide to throw our way.  

Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
Acts 3:2-5 

Do we give God our attention in a limited, half-hearted sort of way?  Expecting to get something from Him?  Not seeing Him as any different from all the others who have walked past us.  Maybe I will hear a worship song that makes me feel good inside.  Or I can find a verse that sorta gives me a glimpse of fleeting hope, but whose power I deny.  Maybe, He'll give an answered prayer if I beg enough and flip cartwheels and assert myself and convince God to see it my way?  Coming at him with a sense of exchanging my wish list for His benevolence, if pestered enough.

Or do we give God our attention expecting EVERYTHING from Him?

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Acts 3:6-10 
The beggar was asking for money to meet his needs for that day.  We know that every day, he was placed at that gate called Beautiful seeking enough to survive for that day. He depended on others to place him there.  He depended on the temple goers to help him survive another day. 

But God sees our greater need.  His heart is to give beyond the temporal provision. He longs to evoke eternal change.  He meets needs and exceeds them.  He sees our need.  And He moves.  He makes the ugly things beautiful.  He reaches in, right where we are, begging at the gate.  And He wants to change us so that we can walk and jump and praise God, having recognized fully the transforming power of God. He wants to move in our lives in such a way that the people around us are filled with wonder and amazement at what has happened to us.

God sees beyond the mundane need and He is moving to bring healing and completeness on the eternal level.  I am begging Him for what I need today.  He is doing greater things and greater works to mold me for eternal glory.  He longs for me to give him my full attention, expecting EVERYTHING from Him--not just something.

Oh, yes, even us who claim the name of Jesus beg for little things because it's all we consider.  It's the best we think He might offer.  But God can bring completeness, wholeness, healing, and the eternal.  What if I quit asking for crumbs and asked God to give me a banquet of grace and power and love? 

I wonder, as I ask myself this same question.

What is your big "ask" from God?  Surrendering all expectations to the God of the Universe changes the way we pray.  It moves us to live in a life of expectancy...for the only One who can exceed all expectations. It emboldens us to dream bigger, on the scale of a God with whom all things are possible.

Here's a glimpse of a life lived in this way.  As Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego entered that fiery furnace, placing their very lives at the feet of their God, they said, "If He does not [save us]...then God is still good."  THAT is praying big.  That is placing all expectations on God for everything.  To believe firmly in the goodness of a God who paid the ultimate price to make us His very own. No matter if the outcome is what I expect...or what He has planned.

What if?  What if we could quit being a cringing beggar, asking people to meet our daily needs and emotional needs and give us a sense of fulfillment? What if we instead became expectant children of God, giving Him our full attention and asking Him to give us everything?

That we might be like that healed beggar.  Who got up and walked.  Who had the faith to take the first step.  And then lived a life of walking and jumping and praising God.  A life that all those around took note of, because the change was so remarkable.  Changed forever by the touch of a God who is capable of doing so much more than we could ask.  

And more than we expect.    

Friday, May 23, 2014

Are You STILL Waiting?

Don't you hate it when you go to Target and there are about 40 check out lines...with only 4 open?  Thus causing long, long lines to form.  Annoyed people sighing and shifting on their feet and become more agitated by the minute.  If you are like me, waiting like that feels annoying.  I watch every red shirted employee who seems to be doing nothing of significance and wonder.  WHY aren't they manning a check out line?

Waiting.  As a culture, we are really bad at waiting.  We have become so conditioned for instant gratification and short cuts that waiting is just not acceptable.  Now, I'd wonder about anyone who enjoyed waiting...but I think we can all stand to learn how to tolerate it better.  Myself, of course, included.

Waiting.  It has become something I think of often.  As there continues to be a very significant aspect of my life that has been shuffled to the waiting room.  For nearly two years now.  It is a matter that I believed would be resolved quickly.  I certainly didn't expect to linger in this no man's land for THIS long.  

Considering the number of times that I have wrestled this waiting thing out with God, my mind was BLOWN when I studied Acts 1:4-8 last week.  I saw a concept there that reframed the call to wait in a way that I had never pondered.  

Waiting feels so terrible to us, I believe, because we feel powerless.  We feel out of control.  There's a sense that we are at the mercy of circumstance or decision makers. I know this is the case for friends and family of mine who are waiting for an adoption that is stalled by governmental rules, for soldiers serving in harm's way, for health to be restored, for relationships to be mended, for financial provision that feels out of reach. 

For every one who is in some season of waiting, I pray you will be encouraged by these insights today.

On one occasion, while he [Jesus] was eating with them, he game them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father has promised, which you have heard me speak about...He said to them, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive the power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  
Acts 1:4, 7-8

Jesus told his disciples to wait.  To wait for the Father's timing.  To wait for a gift.  To wait for God's provision of all we need and more.  Rather than running away, God says to dwell in the in-between, waiting for the fulfillment of His promises. In order that we can move forward to be witnesses of His faithfulness--having been equipped through the discipline of waiting.

God is in the business of making all things new.  He is all about turning the ugly (in this passage, Jesus' death) or the hard (Jesus' ascension into heaven) into something beautiful.  But these changes take time.  The disciples waited three days after Jesus' death before He was resurrected.  Here, as Jesus is about to ascend, they will wait seven weeks for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.

This is where waiting comes in--not running or worrying.  But waiting.  Here is the mind blowing TRUTH I see in this passage.

There is power in the waiting.  When we are called to wait, it's because He is at work.  He is in the process of equipping us.  With His power, as we wait.  

His power, His new work, His redemption of pain and suffering and the agony of waiting--it is all unleashed through the seasons of waiting. 

As the disciples waited those seven weeks for this new thing, it ushered in a new power--the resurrection power--that would be given within each of them.  And us.

Waiting feels as though nothing is being accomplished.  But our Father is telling us that seasons of waiting actually usher in seasons of fresh power, new gifts, and God appointed new works.  From our seats in the waiting room, we see nothing happening.  Behind the closed doors around us, God is moving and acting for our benefit to bring about the new.  To unleash the power of the next thing. 

Jesus said to wait.  And then, he was gone.  He must have felt so far away to the disciples.  They must have felt confused and lonely and abandoned.  The angst of waiting when nothing seemed to be happening, no progress made.

Can you relate?

Yet, they obeyed the command to wait.  

And the Holy Spirit came.  Within each of them was placed the power of God.  The Comforter.  The Counselor.  The One who intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  The deposit of the Trinity within each of us.

Indeed, the seasons when God asks us to wait will lead to His great power and new works being unleashed.  As never before.  In new movements of God and fresh revelations of His sufficiency and sovereignty.  

I have pondered this and mulled it over and asked myself if I really do believe everything I just wrote to be true?  Because what if?  WHAT IF the unthinkable comes at the end of waiting and circumstances take a turn for what seems like the worst?

This is what I threw back in prayer.  Sorta throwing down the gauntlet.  "Oh really, God?  What about those 18 months we waited for my dad to be healed from cancer?  And he died anyway?"

The gentle whisper to my soul:

"Yes. But your dad was healed eternally.  He came home.  His suffering ended.  He was made complete and whole and his earthly purposes were accomplished.  And I have been redeeming this loss through your life ever since.  Giving you a compassion for the grieving.  Showing myself to be enough.  Building and weaving within you a greater faith, an ability to be used through your brokenness.  EVEN THAT ushered in new seasons of power."

Even that. I cannot deny that even that has shaped and molded me in ways I would not change.

Even whatever that may be--the worse fear you have about the result of your waiting.  God's power is still unleashed--even there.

That we might take these truths and weave them around our minds and our hearts and tie up our anxiety with the bow of these promises.  And wait with expectation.  For the new movements of God that are being unleashed through our waiting.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:29-31    

Thursday, May 22, 2014

10 Lessons from 1 Week Without Social Media

I'm not really sure that any 12 step program would give a chip or token for one week without social media.  But, I think I'm coming to realize that our culture might need a 12 step program to deal with social media. And I have nothing to be proud or boastful about here.  

As I blogged last Thursday, I decided that I needed to take a break from social media. I saw myself in the Biblical story of Peter who starts to walk along with Jesus and suddenly looks over his shoulder to see John.  He basically asks Jesus, "What about him?" 
Jesus told him to not worry about the other guy--to just follow.  I realized that social media is an avenue where I tend to look over my shoulder.  It fuels my tendency to compare myself to others or to some unattainable Pinterest plumb line.  

To be honest, I did a one week technology fast a year ago.  Just to clarify--by fast, I mean I abstained from it completely.  It was good.  And hard.  It was all part of my journey through Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. A book that I now see as an ongoing challenge to gauge and remove those things that distract me from the most important things.  My faith.  My family.  My friends.  My time and resources.

Last year's social media fast was part of a bigger picture of the 7 weeks of fasts of the book.  This year, it is just me trying to listen to a still small voice that has been whispering that I have a problem.  And I need to deal with it.  Oh, I could choose to ignore it.  But the choice boiled down to this for me.  Do the hard thing and see what happens.  Or, continue the status quo.  And perhaps deny myself some greater gain.  

Deep breaths as I dove in.  Declared it here so that I felt I had to put my money where my mouth was.  Here's what I've learned one week into this.

1.  Social media is a problem for me.  I have long defended my use of social media.  Because yes--it has merits.  It has allowed me to catch up and reconnect with friends from all seasons of my life.  It has kept me up-to-date on their struggles and joys and allowed me try to encourage them along the way.  And friends who follow me have done the same.  It has allowed me a beautiful glimpse and challenge into the hearts of some amazing people.  It has even given me some great recipes, budgeting ideas, and craft ideas through Pinterest.

But, when I felt a compulsive itch approximately every three to five minutes during that first day of this fast, I found it hard to deny the hold social media has over me.  Any compulsion like that--without which you have a sense of withdrawal--means that you have given it power over your day.  It's a harsh reality.  But social media is a problem when I have a dependency on its distractions.

This brought to mind the warnings of Hebrews 12:1.  Sorta hard to deny that social media can be something that hinders and entangles me.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
2.  Social media takes up my time.  Call me Captain Obvious! I think we all like to pretend--or perhaps I should speak only for myself--I like to pretend that I hop on social media when I have down time.  It's just a brain dead thing to do while sitting in the waiting room or watching television.  You know--you just hop on for a few minutes here and there.

But, like any temptation that you consciously decide to avoid--you suddenly realize its place in your life.  And the truth is that my daily habit of social media takes up valuable time.  Whether it's a day when I hop on and off and it equals maybe twenty minutes or it's a day when I become engrossed in news feeds on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.  Either way, it takes up my time.  

And anything that takes up time in this busy culture and season of life should be evaluated.  Because I need to guard my time.  I need to count it as a treasure and be wise how I spend it.  It's a commodity that can't be retrieved.  And to give one thing my time and attention means that something else is on the losing end of that deal.

3.  Social media creates an emotional frenzy.  It just does.  I've liked to pretend that it is relaxing.  But the truth is that in summation, it feeds a frenzy in me emotionally.  Perhaps it does not have the same effect on you?  But for me, the removal of social media this past week has proven that it creates an emotional response in me.  I feel happy over someone's status.  Or angry.  Or frustrated.  Or sad. All in quick succession. I see measuring sticks that I apply to my own efforts or activities.  I feel a strange sense of striving to be sure I'm up to date on all news feeds. Since when has getting updated on social media news feeds become a task on my task list?  Tsk. Tsk. 

Once I began to literally feel the withdrawal decrease, I have found a freedom emotionally.  Like releasing a ball-and-chain.  I feel a peace and rest that was being disrupted by an abuse of social media.

4. Good intentions can be directed differently.  I have never had anything but good intentions with my use of social media.  I want to stay connected with friends.  I want to keep up with how they are doing.  I want to glean good ideas and tips.  I want to be resourceful or simply have down time.

Guess what I've found in the vacuum social media has left this week?  I have downloaded some books I'd been wanting to read and I've plowed through 2.5 of them.  I've reconnected to that love of reading and being transported to another world.  I've downloaded a new Scripture memorization app and begun to work on memorizing some important Bible verses that encourage me and uplift me every time I think on them.  I've created some play lists and listened to them--song after song that speaks to me and feeds my soul.  

I've realized the vacuum left where I had been plugging social media into my day.  And I've filled it with some other things. Good things.  Edifying things.  The "whatevers" of Philippians 4:7-8--thinking on those things that are noble, true, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praise worthy.  

5. Social media creates some myths of connection.  I am deeply relational.  I love to connect with my friends and family and really dive into what is going on with each other.  Social media does indeed facilitate some great connections that might otherwise not come to pass.  It is a meeting ground with friends I may not stay in touch with otherwise.  But it also creates a myth--a shadow or counterfeit of connection.  It can take the place of better connections.  It can serve as a substitute--a false reality.  It can distract us from running to God to pour out our problems or to actual face-to-face contact with people He's placed in our lives.  You know -- the people we live with or live near.  

This past week, I have intentionally connected with friends via text or a quick Facebook message (seriously--hop on, message, hop off).  I have found myself freed up to follow-up on specific things I'm praying for them about or that we have discussed.  I have had some intentional conversations with my children, given time and energy that I'm finding from my fast from social media.  I even enjoyed a long and deep conversation with one of my dearest friends over a cup of coffee.  Face-to-face. In person.  No like buttons to push.  No LOL.  Just actual shared laughter.   

My emotional energy has been directed with greater intention to connected to others and to my prayer life.  I've tried to run to Him in prayer about things that I realized I had been running to social media about before.  Hard lessons about my natural tendencies.  But sweet rewards as I work to unravel them.

6. I really need to get over myself.   The first page of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren says, "It's not about me."  Guess what?  Social media is pretty much the antithesis of this, isn't it?  It's all about ME.  My status.  My photo.  How many likes did I get?  What validation and strokes can I receive through social media?  What new decor and clothes and such do I need to have?  

Listen, bloggy friends, when you start you live out your day thinking in statuses about what is happening, you realize you might have a problem with "it's all about ME."  Well, maybe you don't actually realize that until you force yourself to face it.  And then you really do grasp the bigger picture.  It really is not about me.  There are people in our lives we are meant to connect with for real.  To carry their burdens.  There is a household and neighborhood and community where we have each been placed and where we can make an impact.  If we can look up from our electronic devices and see the needs around us.  

Egocentric living, I've found, is only satisfying for so long.  Because it's never enough.  Entitlement creates a beast with an unsatiable appetite.  For followers of Christ, it's the exact opposite of our call to follow Jesus' example of pouring out love and grace as we walk through our day.  Sure, you can write out loving comments on someone's status or post Scripture.  But there is a REAL world around us, begging for our attention.  If we can just get ourselves out of the way.

7.  There are bigger rewards to gain.  As I stated, I've felt this still small voice calling me to do this hard thing for awhile.  Yeah, I kinda like my routine.  Not so much a fan of doing the uncomfortable or difficult.  However, I have found the truth that I've long espoused to my children to be so very true this last week.  Obedience to God brings blessing.  When we step out in faith to do as He asks and make some hard choices, He blesses us.  I don't mean material blessings.  This is not some prosperity gospel.  

No, I mean that He has been found as I have sought Him more intentionally this week.  Some things that I have been wrestling with in prayer have not necessarily been answered--but He has spoken to them as I've dove into His word more and thought about it throughout the day.  I've seen fruit in my own prayer life and in my home.  There is a peace I'm finding in the place of the frenzy I was allowing through social media.  The freedom of energies and time freed up has been channeled to more eternal things.  I can't quit thinking about the verse that tells us to look to the unseen and not the seen.  This is fleshing out daily for me here, in this social media fast.

8. Little eyes are watching.  A few years ago, I saw a blog by someone who called herself Hands Free Mama.  I haven't read her blog faithfully, but I gathered enough to learn she is a mom of young children who made a very drastic choice to be a hands free mom and quit parenting behind an iPhone.  Oh, yes, of course.  I mean, we are all in on that, right?  

Except that I've deceived myself into thinking that I'm in control of my social media usage.  I've lied to myself that it really doesn't impact my kids.  Because we don't allow phones at the table.  And I only look at my phone when they are distracted.  Or at red lights.  Or you know, maybe ten times an hour.  

But little (and in my house, not so little) eyes are watching.  My kids are noticing this attempt to have self-restraint and gather self-control in an area where I can no longer pretend that I've got it together.  They see as I've started leaving my phone out of view--maybe even upstairs.  One has even talked about their own technology fast as a way to refocus their attention on what is important.  They are not all rushing to join me, mind you.  But I believe I'm planting some seeds here about how to dig deeper, walk more intentionally with our God, be obedient, do some hard things, be teachable.  Or rather--God is planting some seeds.  This is more of the fruit from this endeavor.

 9. Social media is not evil.  Listen, don't mishear me.  Social media is not satan's pawn.  It's not in and of itself evil.  That is not what I'm saying.  What I am pretty much unable to deny at this point is that its up to me.  How I use social media is the problem.  Setting healthy boundaries and perimeters is the key.  With social media stripped away this week, I've had to come face-to-face with the root of the issue.  And that is ME.  And my approach and use of social media.  I have no idea how long I'll be working through this social media fast--jumping on only for one specific purpose and getting right off.  Right now, that is just to post my blog or message someone about a particular thing.  For now, I can see that one week has begun to unravel and bring to light some things I need to change about my use of social media.  

And I don't want to cut this teaching time short.  I don't want to miss some things I need to realize, however hard they are.  I want to glean all that I need to learn in this little endeavor to refocus and regroup.  So that I can have a healthy relationship with and use of social media in the future.  

10. Sabbaticals aren't just for professors or preachers.  I think most of us are familiar with the term "sabbatical" as it relates to a particular amount of time off given to professors or preachers or missionaries.  A season of rest.  An extension of the commandment that says to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  To rest on the seventh day, as God did when creating the earth.  

This is not just some old fashioned and outdated concept for ancient Biblical times or certain professions.  God knows us.  He made us.  He knows the hairs on our head.  He knows we require seasons of rest.  Farmers know their fields need to rest every so often in order to grow productive crops.  We need to refuel, as well.  It's a sacred practice, designed to refresh our souls and our bodies and our minds and to equip us to go and be productive.  

We all need breaks in this fast paced and overscheduled society in which we live.  We must not neglect to rest our minds and thoughts and hearts from the daily grind and distractions.  It is not unusual for me to normally jump on to social media to do one thing.  An hour later, I cannot remember what that was and I've chased numerous rabbits.  This is not restful.  

Consciously created pockets of space or margins in our lives is a very healthy and necessary practice.  It is part of God's design for self-care.  So wherever we can create these margins, we are doing ourselves a huge favor.  Who knows?  Right now, I'm all about a social media fast.  Maybe I'll try a house cleaning fast next?  

This last week has been interesting.  I am not meaning to step on anyone's toes or make anyone feel badly.  I also do not intend to sound prideful or self-righteous in this endeavor.  I'm just wanting to be transparent about my journey of faith and this particular call to obey, in this particular area of my life and day-to-day routine.  

It's not easy.  Yet, it seems easier with every day that passes.  I find myself unwinding, as though on a little vacation where you gradually settle in to a different routine.  A slower pace.  More intentional with your time and energy, away from the distractions.  It's actually quite lovely.  

Won't you join me here?  Try a little break from social media.  Let's see what might be unleashed in our lives when we do some hard things.  It might be status worthy!  Although we will refrain from that for now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Hope Found in a Comma

I thought my heart was going to come out of my chest. A feeling of panic came over me so strongly that I thought I might jump up and flee.  It was palpable. I literally put my hands over my chest and had to remind myself to take deep breaths to calm down. I dabbed my eyes, fighting back a gush of tears. 

The cause of such angst?  

Nothing as dramatic as you might think.  I wasn't stuck in a dark alley being pursued by some dangerous criminal.

Nope.  I was sitting in a church pew during a graduation ceremony.  Watching the inevitable.  And feeling overwhelmed.  It was too much.  There she was.  My "first baby girl"-- my niece.  Graduating from high school.  There had been the cruel and unusual punishment of a slide show of photos for each graduate from the small Christian high school.  Photos showing chubby toothless grins through funny toddler antics to beautiful senior photos of grown up young adults.  

Excuse me?  My heart literally felt as though it couldn't take it.  Sure, I lean to the dramatic...but there were so many factors to my feeling of sadness and panic and a sense of loss that an ending was upon me.  

She's the first of six grandkids.  My first "baby"--the niece I doted on.  The one who ushered in the thrills of being an aunt before I was distracted by my own children.  The one whose birth spurred her proud auntie and uncle to purchase a video camera.  So that we could film endless hours.  Of her just lying there.  As babies do. The first of my precious sister's children, whom I love as my own.

Here we go.  The beginning of the domino. First her graduation.  Then her brother, two years from now.

Then it will be my first born.

And BOOM!  Before you know it, it's all over.  My kids are grown and out of the nest and I will have to readjust this life of mothering I've lived for so many years.  An ending of an era.  

The heart wrenching road of mothering.  Being a mom feels so hard sometimes that I want to run away and think I'll gladly look to the empty nest.  The next moment, I want to wind back the clock and have some do-overs. Snuggle my babies more often and longer.  Laugh more often.  Play with my toddlers more.  Give them more of my attention.  Pour out more grace on their childish ways.  If I only I could go back.

This graduation was symbolic.  Watching that gorgeous curly haired beauty receive her high school diploma.  It feels as though it's ushering in an ending that I'm not sure any mother is fully prepared to face.  

Endings.  Transitions.  Change. 

The period at the end of the sentence.  

I wonder if the disciples felt this angst, this sadness and grief when Jesus ascended into heaven?  First they endured his death.  Surely, it must have slayed them.  As Scripture so clearly points out, they were a bit confused and clueless--having missed his repeated predictions of what was to come.  They were overwhelmed at the cruel death and the gaping hole in their hearts.  Then, the roller coaster of his resurrection, reviving their hope and their faith.  The fulfillment of promises.  The embodiment of grace that changes eternity.  

And then, he's gone again.  

I just can't imagine their emotions.  As I dove into my first day of the study of Acts, I drank in the words of Luke.  Thinking that those first followers must have felt a bit like I did at that graduation ceremony.  Panicked about the future?  Sorrowed over the ending?

But there it was.  And it leaped off the page.  

I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven....
Acts 1:1

The word that jumped out to me? 


All that Jesus BEGAN to do and to teach.

To me, that one little word makes all the difference in the world for any of us facing a transition that FEELS like nothing but a big fat ending with a bold period at the end of the sentence.

The perspective that Jesus' earthly ministry was just the beginning.  That even his death, resurrection and ascension were only the start. That although Jesus had left them physically and was no longer among them, the works of Jesus were merely getting started.  The truth of it--surely more than Luke could have imagined as he wrote that little verse--is that miracles and wonders and signs and movements of God were just beginning. The interaction between God and man was about to be blown out of the water with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And the ending of Jesus' time on earth was not the period at the end of the sentence.

Not at all.  Instead, it was the hope found in the comma rather than the agony of a period.

Because it was not this:
Jesus had left.

It was this:
Jesus had left them in order to bring them into a new power and to a new life of grace and to unimaginable new things, equipped by the Holy Spirit.  

It is the flip in perspective that brings a hope to ease the grief.  To see the hope of a comma during our mourning over what feels like a period.  The leap of a paradigm shift that sees endings as transitions rather than just the end.  Because here is the gospel truth. What we see as an ending, God says is just the beginning.  He is about the continual work, the never ending work, the eternal work.  The big picture when we see only pieces of a puzzle. We are finite.  But, HE is infinite.

Have you ever read a great book or seen a movie and you just hated the ending?  You felt an emotional response to the ending because it just can't end THAT way.  

And, then, you turn the page or the movie screen shifts and you see this:
To Be Continued....

Doesn't that make it all feel okay?  To know that this is not the end?  There is more to come?

Here are the questions I asked myself as I read through this section of Scripture.  Do I see beginnings or endings?  Do I trust Him as continually being at work?  Can I just let Him keep writing His story and have trust in His authorship of my faith?  When a chapter ends, can I rest in the knowledge that God has so many more chapters to write?

Jesus told the disciples that it was better for Him to go.  Better for them to know this new paradigm of faith--living with the Holy Spirit inside of them rather than a Savior walking among them.  He assured them that it was better to have the power of God within us.  The Spirit of authority and fire.  The remedy for any timidity in us so that we can walk boldly for Him.

The hope in the glorious, beautiful punctuation mark in life when we realize that there is a comma rather than a period.  God is in the business of doing new things all the time.  Painting beauty from ashes.  Turning mourning into dancing.  Making all things work together for good to those who love Him.  Redeeming hardships into beautiful ministries and stories of grace and love.  

Calling us to trust Him where we see an ending.  Because from His perspective, He's just getting started.  He is just beginning a story that He longs to unfold for eternal purposes.

When I sat on that church pew Saturday morning, my mind's eye flashed through so many memories with my sweet niece.  As well times with my nephews and my own children.  And yes, it brought a lump to my throat when I stood up, eye to eye with these children.  But, I said a quick prayer for peace and assurance.

And I realized.  It's not ending at all. It's just getting started.  This glorious, wonderful adventure of life that God is writing, day by day.  

She's not just finished high school and leaving her home.  She's about to embark on the next chapter.  Memories to make.  Joys to experience.  Hard roads to endure. Revelations of the God she loves.

As I tucked my tissue into my purse, I felt God whisper.  "To be continued!  For my glory and good."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Handcuffs of Social Media

Major revelation as I wrapped up a nearly 3 month study in the book of John. I've been in awe and challenged and changed and transformed by these weeks I've poured over the incredible book of John, seeing Jesus in new light.  Seeing myself in the Pharisees more often than the Jesus followers.  Seeing God's grace on grand display.  

So, I went into my last day with a climactic expectation of a fabulous ending.  I mean, this book has to end with a bang!  Surely.

But the ending nearly made me giggle--along with the sting of recognition with which I saw myself in the last story.  Full humanness on display.  Sorta the author John's way to warn us about how we might respond to this incredible book of the Bible. Or even Jesus in general as we make our way to follow him.

Here was my take away.  Social media makes me like Peter.  Peter, as in, Peter the disciple.  Who denied Jesus three times after Jesus was arrested.  Who answered Jesus, after his resurrection, with a bit of exasperation each of the three times that Jesus asked him if he loved him.

That Peter.  So, this thrice questioning and answering session has occurred and Jesus tells Peter to follow him.  (As in at that moment--not in the general call to obedience).

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them...When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"  Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  You must follow me."
John 21:20-22

This is the way I see it.  Peter denied Jesus three times.  Jesus poured out grace and redemption by three times asking Peter if he loved him.  Peter declared his love and his intention to live out that love for Jesus from that day forward.  Huge.  So Jesus says--hey, Peter.  Come with me.

Peter starts on this road of obedience that is going to lead him to be the "cornerstone of the church" that God will build after Jesus ascends into heaven.  With Peter at the helm. 

And Peter looks back, over his shoulder.  

Peter takes that first step in this new exciting call to be part of history...and he looks over his shoulder and says, "HEY!  What about HIM?  That guy?  John? What about him?"

Oh, Peter.  Can't even take step one without looking around to see who else is coming, hot on your heels.  To become a contestant in the comparison game. Jesus picks Peter up after his epic failure of denial and dusts him off and says, "If you love me, take care of my people."  Peter responds with a resounding YES!  I'm in!  He jumps onto the path for his race of faith...and immediately looks over his shoulder.

I really picture his face kinda like that girl in green.  Sorta conveys an "Uh oh!  WHO is catching up with me?  WHAT is that person doing?"  And honestly, I wonder if John's face was a bit smug like that girl in white.  I mean, he does confidently call himself the one whom Jesus loved.  And he did write this book...consciously pointing out for all mankind to see how Peter was a bit worried about who was nipping at his heels.  

Don't we do the same?  I thought about this story all day after reading it.  I realized how often I look over my shoulder.  Which brought to mind my Biblical passage for this year about how Mary chose the one thing necessary when she sat at Jesus feet, listening to His teaching.  While her sister Martha was distracted with much and basically told Jesus what Peter had said.  "HEY!  Jesus.  What about her?  What about the other guy? Make my sister help me!"

Deeply convicted.  In my eagerness to press through impossible walls that keep me delivered but shut out of freedom, I recognized that this tendency to look over my shoulder throws me off course.  It messes with my rhythm.  It gets me out of sync in my race of faith.

And this habit of looking over my shoulder basically translates to a mom who is tied to her phone or iPad.  Looking through social media.  Seeing what the other guy is up to.  Yes, at times, out of concern and curiosity and eager to keep up with old friends.  There are genuine and positive motivations and results from social media.  But right now, I am also recognizing that frenzy in my gut when I see what the other guy is doing and it makes me basically sound like Peter.  "Hey! WHAT about HIM?  Or her? Look at what THEY are doing!"

And Jesus says, "What about them?  You just worry about your race.  You just follow me."

Drastic times call for drastic measures.  Because I've been playing around with this long enough.  I realized something as I wound up the study of John, preparing myself for the next study on the book of Acts.  If I want to be like Peter, embracing God's call for MY life, for MY race, throwing myself into the work of being used as never before to accomplish what has never been accomplished and tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit, so that I can throw off every sin and hindrance that entangles me...then I gotta quit looking over my shoulder.  

When I turn my eyes to the other guy, then are being turned away from Jesus.  

So, for now, I'm taking off the handcuff of social media.  I intend to post my blog link on Facebook.  And I might hop on to offer a birthday wish or send a particular message.  But, I desperately want to free myself from the frenzy of comparison that keeps tripping me up.  

For now, that means stopping the habit of scrolling through newsfeeds for long periods of time.  Or at stop lights.  It means learning to unwind the habit that literally feels like a physical itch or need to check in on the world.  Through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.  Looking to see how "they" are doing.  And translating that to a mark of how I'm doing, too.

I'm getting off the crazy train for now.  And since I've announced it here, for the world to know, then I'm basically saying I really need to take a breather and you might need to call me out.  

I've been working on this for a couple of days.  Here's what I've already seen.  I have a compulsion to check in on social media.  I believe that would actually be called an addiction.  And like trying to avoid a food temptation, telling myself to just stop makes me think about it more.  So, I'm trying to replace it with something else.  

Hey!  Here's a thought!  What would happen if I was looking into the Word of God or pray or making actual physical contact with people every time I was tempted to look at social media?

On day three...that is my game plan.  I downloaded a new Bible memorization app and that is what I look at while sitting in car pool line.  I actually left my phone on the charger for long spells and sorta, you know, engaged with the people I live with over breakfast and homework.  I created some new play lists so I can listen to music to fill some lulls.  And I downloaded some new books to my Kindle app. 

That's as far as I've gotten.  My husband asked me how long I was planning to tackle this media fast?  

My answer was I don't know.  I really don't know.  I just know that I have a problem.  And I want to be like the Peter who leads the charge in the book of Acts to build the church and meet the needs of those around him and be engaged with those who crossed his path.  

I don't want to be like the Peter who is literally walking with the resurrected Jesus and is distracted as he looks over his shoulder at the other guy.  

Social media.  It has so many benefits.  I think it's similar to anything in life, when used in moderation with proper motivation and responsible use, it's a good thing.  Even beneficial.  But when the user moves beyond those parameters, it can be a handcuff.  Tying you into the habit of comparing.  Stealing your joy.  Tripping you up.

Deep breath.  

Here I go!  We'll see how this goes.  I will keep you posted and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Bloggy friends, y'all hold me to it.

By calling or texting or emailing or--hey--when you see me in person!  And if you are slipping up behind me--I may not see you.  I'm trying to not look over my shoulder, you know.