Thursday, October 8, 2015

From a Veteran Mom to the Rookies

You wanna know something that makes you feel your age? When you are hosting your Life Group and mention the year you graduated from college, and your friend says that's the year he was born. Then, you see him holding his newborn and it dawns on you.

I could not only be his mother, I could be a grandmother. 

On Sunday nights, we have a fun and chaotic houseful of toddlers and babies and it is the most awesome thing ever. It makes me all nostalgic for the days when my son was playing with toy cars instead of driving a real one.

Since I've been going all MeMaw with our Life Group and actually starting sentences with the phrase "Well, back in my day when mine were babies," I thought I'd try to sum up the thoughts and all the feelings for you darling young moms who are taking your first stab at this mothering thing.  

Word of caution--I do not have this thing figured out and I never will. Oh wait--maybe that's the first thing I want to tell you. 

1. There is no one way to mother. No matter how certain and sure some other mom seems when they get all up in your business to give you unsolicited advice, the truth is that mothering is trial and error. Even if you were to gather the wisest of all moms with their amazing, wonderful and perfect children to ask for a step-by-step recipe, there's a big old problem with that. Psalms 139 tells us that we were each wonderfully and fearfully made and that we were, every one of us, knit in our mother's womb. Which means that everyone of us has unique bents and personality and strengths and weaknesses and developmental timing. There is no "one size fits all" advice for mothering. So, yes, by all means, ask for the wisdom of older moms and surround yourself with supportive mentors. Pick their brains all the live long day. And know that when you go to put their advice into practice, it's best done by prayerfully asking the God who made your child to direct you on how to apply such wisdom.  

P.S. Your child's unique life story is being written day by day. God is the author. He is the Owner's manual. I have never once gone to him in prayer about how to mother my kids when he gave bad advice.

2. Try to not worry so much. One of my biggest regrets about my first five years of mothering is how much joy I gave away because I was so frequently giving in to worry. Oh, yes, I'm still struggling with that, but I really see it when I look back on those first five years, before our bonus baby hit the scene and it was the ultimate "JUST GO WITH IT" moment because obviously, duh, God has his own plans. 

When my first baby was born, I had so overestimated my knowledge of babies because I had given advice to new adoptive parents for four years. What the heck was I thinking? I'm so sorry--every one of you precious adoptive parents that I had the nerve to act as if I had a clue. (Except for you, that adoptive mom who asked me if the rubbing alcohol swab went on the umbilical cord or the fresh circumcision. I owe you no apology. I was dead-on with my advice there).  

I was quickly humbled in the first week of parenting when I literally cried and fretted and lost hours of sleep over whether or not to give my baby a pacifier. When I fell into a horrid ugly cry with sincere despair because my baby was crying and what on earth is wrong? (Thank you, sis, for keeping a straight face when you told me that babies cry. That's what they do). And then, when I knew for certain that my baby was broken beyond repair and had some horrid disease and life would never be the same because he was projectile puking all over the house like some water sprinkler.

News flash. Some babies have reflux. In my case, ALL my babies had reflux. Along with crying, puking. It's what my babies did.

I fretted and worried and obsessed about every little thing. My husband truly is a saint to have stuck with me. And any friends that I still have from that era--you are a saint, too. The truth is, now when I look back, that I willingly gave away so much joy in the miracle of mothering those amazing bundles from heaven because I allowed my mind to get stuck in the quagmire of worry. 

I know that telling you not to worry is pretty useless. From one recovering worrier to perhaps another. But I can tell you this. When you are wound up and unraveling, stop and pray. Ask God to give you eyes to see the joy and the truth of the miracle that your child is. Stop and think about all the amazing milestones you've already successfully passed. Hold that little nugget on your chest and rock and sing to him or her and allow your mind to fast forward to the time when they will be too big for those things to happen. Savor the fresh smell after a bath. Wrap them up in a towel and take a moment to drink in that fragrance and commit it to memory. On your worst most stressful day, intentionally find a way to create a "happy" to hang onto as a foothold. 

3. Enjoy it--it goes by so fast. I've already basically told you the ridiculous thing that I was told approximately 5,689 times a day. It was the statement that made me roll my eyes as a young mom. "Oh, enjoy it! It goes so fast!" Yep. One day when I got that line from a woman in Target, with my big pregnant self, my toddler son and my preschool son who were both acting like monkeys who had escaped the zoo, I was this close to handing them over to her and saying, "No, really. YOU enjoy it." 

I wish there was a better way to express this cliche. But I haven't come up with one yet. The truth is that the days of mothering are so very long and the years of mothering littles are so very short. I blinked and I've gone from agonizing over when to send my son to Mother's Day Out to going to the mail box to find stacks of college post cards from colleges all over the country. I used to obsess over my second baby who, for the love, would never sleep. Ever. Never. He hated to sleep. He fought it from the very first night home from the hospital. In fact, one of his first complete sentences to me was, "I no like sleep." Message received, little man. Do you see the dark circles under my eyes? Do you see my gray hairs?

Now, that kid is taller than my husband and he lives for naps. He comes home from high school and naps as soon as possible. He even sleeps till lunch time on the weekends. When my husband asked if we should be worried about how much he sleeps, I said nope. He's got years of not sleeping from which to catch up.

And I almost, just nearly, miss the middle-of-the-night visits to his room to try to console him back into sleep. 

4. Keep margins. Always. Always. Always. Keep margins in your life. Don't think that an empty day on your calendar means you are available. We are all bombarded with opportunities to go and do and sign up for "Mommy and Me" this and that. Now, none of those activities are bad things. Really.  There a jillion things with merit. But, your family time should be closely guarded. Fiercely guarded even. Your ability to lounge around on a Saturday or truly Sabbath on a Sunday or even sit around the dinner table together with your dear little munchkin in the high chair next to you-- guard those times with your very life. If your two-year-old is not yet signed up for select soccer, don't fret. Celebrate that actually! 

My sister and I made a pact when our kids were little that we would guard their childhoods. That we would be sure we didn't hyper parent, over schedule and burn ourselves out. And it's hard. It's counter cultural. It can make you feel like your kid has fallen so far behind that they won't catch up. Because their friends are all doing tons of activities and yours are not. When our kids were little, the rule was one kid, one activity at a time. The other kid's turn came next. Even with our good intentions, we had some busy weeks or some busy seasons.  But we attempted to keep the idea in mind to let our kids have time to get bored or to build tents in the living room all day long or to go in the backyard and play. By themselves. For hours. 

Life is full of demands and tasks and schedules and opportunities to achieve and participate. And as your child grows, there will be busier seasons that are not as much within your control. But I'm telling you that I've never once, in 21 years of interviewing adoptive parents for home studies, had someone say that their biggest regret from childhood was that their parents just gave them too much time to make memories as a family. In fact, they tend to speak way more about the family trips, meals and traditions than they speak of the sports teams or school activities.  

Family time. It's the glue that holds you together. And someday, believe it or not, you will actually ask that child who never let you go to the bathroom by yourself if he will please just spend some time with you.

5. Guard your marriage. Yep. Guard your family time. Guard your marriage. Fight for your marriage. Invest in your marriage. Now, this is hard to do when the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and boy, do your littles know how to squeak. But, figure out ways to spend time as a couple and have an actual conversation. And when you start to feel disconnected with your spouse, do something about that. Babysit swap with a friend. Beg a grandparent. Or even put the baby down early and sit on the couch and listen to each other. Even if its only for ten minutes because you are both drifting off to sleep. Find a way to go away together, at least annually. For a night or two. Or send Junior to grandma for the weekend. But, remember that the center of your lives is Jesus. Then it's you and your spouse. Your marriage is central to your family. When you are marriage centered instead of "kid-centric," you are giving the biggest gift ever to your children. They need and want a mom who loves their dad and supports him. They need and want a dad who shows them what its like to lead a family and love a woman like Christ loves the church. 

So hold hands. Hug in front of them. And totally gross them out by kissing in front of them. They may protest loudly, but they secretly love knowing that their family is secure because mom and dad love each other and are completely committed to this family unit. 

6. Everything you do matters. Every little act of service matters. Every little hug and cuddle and diaper change and bottle fed and sippy cup filled. Every time you pick up the toys for the millionth time. Every little cheerio and goldfish you pick up from the mini-van. Every time you pack that dang diaper bag AGAIN and every late night session with a crying baby. Never buy the lie that it's mundane and worthless and insignificant. Every little way that you serve your family is seen by the Father who notes exactly what you are doing. So preach that to yourself on your harried days. Tell yourself when you are worn out that God sees every little thing and he loves how you love and serve the ones he's given you. Remind yourself that you are doing Kingdom work by investing in the next generation, with even the littlest and hardest things you do. It ALL matters. And you are amazing, by the way!

I could go on for days with all the things I want to tell you. I'm in this place of watching the sand fall faster in the hour glass and realizing that my season of launching my kids out on their own is flying at me. And it makes me want to choose the chaos, be the host, drive the car pool, choose the joy, make the memory. It makes me pray harder for God's guidance and protection as my kids make their own ways. It makes me want to gather you all up, every last one of you parentals, and sit you down and applaud you endlessly. 

I've gone from 24 hour care giving to intense discipline training to preschool teaching to elementary school guiding to this season of becoming a consultant and a coach. I'm moving to the sidelines to cheer my kids on, because its time I'm not standing in the middle of their game. It's time I trust that I've tried to seek the Lord and mother well and it's time to loosen the reigns a little bit. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm still the parent. And I am still the boss of them. I will endlessly stalk and hound them, but I am also learning to listen more and ask more questions and entrust some things to them. If I want my kids to soar on their own in the very near future, then I need to give them this practice field under my watchful eye. I can't be the referee throwing penalty flags every two seconds. 

Here's the bottom line, Rookie Moms. You've got what it takes. The One who made those little ones entrusted them to YOU. He picked YOU for the job. Because he believes you can do it, with his strength, power and guidance. And he will happily direct you every second of every day. He meant for you to know that he loves you and he chose you for the precious job of mothering that child placed in your care. He is cheering you on!

And so are the Veteran moms in your life. We are all misty eyed and crazy over here with our own nostalgia, and it makes us want to say, "GO GO GO, Little mama!" We will also say things that sound stupid like, "It goes so quickly! Enjoy it!" But we might have learned some things from our own mistakes along the way and we will be happy to share. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I Need to go to the S.P.A (Sarcastic People Anonymous)

Apparently, I have a problem. Although I'm still a bit in denial. I mean, I don't really think it's a problem. I think, in fact, that it's a sign of greatness. 

It's my magical abilities for sass and sarcasm.

I may not be as magical as others, but I'm telling you--it's taken me decades to fine tune this level of snarky. I started in humble beginnings, with a speech impediment that caused me to be painfully shy.


Me. Painfully shy. Complete introvert. When I commented in Life Group the other night about how I, too, lean toward being an introvert, a friend said she didn't see it. At all. She would, in fact, never have guessed that I could possibly see myself that way.

I've come a long way, baby.

Because I used to struggle to form friendships. And I was an Army brat. Meeting new people was an every day occurrence when you live in an Army base. Not to mention all the great opportunities to be the "new girl." Again. 

I used to be very self-conscious. 

Okay, okay. I still can be. I still can tend to overanalyze a conversation or a text or even a lack of response from a text.  Did I somehow offend? Is that person unhappy with me? Oh, yes, one of my other gifts is my ability to critique and second guess myself. My clothes, my words, my thoughts, my actions. My everything. Oh, the joys of living like a totally confused adolescent who tends to ask repeatedly--"Does this look okay on me?" 

I must say, however, that age is doing wonders to sand off the rough edges on this self-consciousness thing. It must be why older people say whatever they think. Because they've lived long enough to earn the right to, I guess.

When I was a kid, in my recollection, I was most at home with a sketchbook that I would fill with doodles and a sewing kit to make my own stuffed animals and purses. Creativity was my outlet. It was my thing. 

Because interactions with others often left me wondering what I should have said or could have said. 

So you see, it's taken me the better part of my life to fine tune my ability to be completely sarcastic. And personally, I tend to pat myself on the back when I say something that amuses others. I feel as though I've creatively used my talents and abilities to finally become somewhat fluent in the second language of sarcasm.

Just to be funny, mind you. Not to belittle others.

Unless you count my running snarky commentary during the VMA's that I unfortunately watched with one of my teenagers. Look, I'm sorry. Miley Cyrus just gave me so much material. What are you supposed to do when it's handed to you on a silver platter AND you actually amuse your teenage offspring to the point of laughter? I blame it all on mother/son bonding.

So, while I'm all, "ha ha, that's a good one!"... this past Monday revealed to me that I may have a problem?

First sign of a potential issue.

I was in the mum supply store (Yes, they exist in the great state of Texas. And I should totally own one because I'd be raking in some dough off of the mum excess that I'm so prone to blog about both here and here). 

Anyway, I was in this mum supply store having 50 shades of frenzy with all the ribbons and teddy bears and doo-dads and thing-a-ma-jigs and I was thinking that all my criticism of mums had come back to bite me. Because I was, alas, a mom making a mum. All for the love of children. Or rather, tall teenage not-quite-children. Unsure of what were absolutely necessary items to secure so that the mum would be fabulous while staying on budget, my son texted his friend to ask her what she might like on her mum. You know, any of her activities to be represented. 

(SIDE NOTE: Major rabbit trail. Maybe that's why mums have gotten so big and excessive? Because you put a ribbon on for this activity and a doo-dad thingie on to represent that activity? So since our preschoolers are having signing days for select team soccer while balancing their careers in elite dance crews and Mathletes, I guess it stands to reason that by their teen years, their mum must be big enough to reflect all that they have accomplished).  

I hardly know this friend of my son's. But I loved her response.

"Whatever is fine with me."

You are an angel, sweet girl! Bravo, son, for having such awesome friends.

So, in my usual fashion, I told my son to text her back and tell her that his mama said to quit being so high maintenance. 

He's so obedient always that he, of course, did just as I asked. 

She, however, does not know me that well, as I just mentioned.

Unfortunately, I caused a teenage girl to have a moment of uncertainty....

"What?!" (with a concerned face emoji).

Oops! My son, quickly texted back that his mom was totally kidding and that I lean toward sarcasm. She seemed to be put at ease.

Perhaps you have to know me to appreciate me? Or, maybe I should be more selective in my sassy moments and use them all up on people like my immediate family and my closest friends. I have a lovely running text thread with some equally snarky friends.

And we are hilarious, I tell you. We amuse ourselves all the live long day.

So my son and I wrapped up our mum supply shopping but not before I got these two interesting factoids that I simply must share with all my bloggy friends who know my struggle with excessive mums.

1. One of the employees announced she spent over $800 on her mum. But not to worry, she added. Since she was able to work off most of her bill.

2. And, that really wasn't that bad because one girl's mum in a neighboring suburb (if you live around here, three guesses and first two don't count) cost over $2,000.

My mind immediately considered how many kids in Ethiopia or Uganda could go to school for a year with that amount.

(In case you are wondering, about 50 depending on the school program--where they are educated, fed and clothed. Or you know, one girl causes permanent neck damage by wearing a mumstrosity bigger than Texas).

Anyhoo, off to church we went, my son and I, to catch some very relevant teaching at our church's monthly supplement teaching event. The girls and guys were separated, and somewhere in the topic of the church and pornography, the speaker said something about being a recovering sarcastic person. She said this was a habit she was still struggling with but working to break. And she was making strides with it.

And I panicked.

I do not recall seeing the sin of sarcasm on the ten commandments list. Couldn't bring to mind a Bible verse particularly pertaining to "thou shalt not be sassy, snarky or sarcastic." 

So I did the only thing I could do in a moment like that.

I texted my BFF who was sitting three rows ahead of me and said:

" Uh oh!
Sarcastic People Anonymous?"

My sincerest apologies to our speaker if she is reading this. I really was paying attention to all the great wisdom you shared. Such a relevant topic and I am so glad I attend a church that hits on such hard topics. 

(Not an ounce of sarcasm in that statement, by the way. Which may be another problem with sarcasm? Maybe part of the issue is people aren't sure when you are sincere?)

As I sat in that pew, it was a moment of self-examination. About my sarcasm.

At the break, my friend laughed with me and said, "Um, maybe we save that for each other?"

Which of course, I'm totally doing since I'm blogging today about sarcasm here on the world wide web. Totally keeping it to myself. 

And if you're a reader here regularly, you might be quite curious about how one day I blog something deep and meaningful and the next day I am offering this dribble. It's a glimpse into my brain. That's all I can say.

But, I did get the speaker's point. When sarcasm is used to cut people down or to be critical of them, it truly is tearing them down rather than building them up.And there is a Bible verse about that.

Miley Cyrus--forgive me for my VMA snarkiness with my son regarding your choices of attire and lifestyle. I really do hope that someone speaks some truth and wisdom into your life before you something destructive happens.

Sarcasm can be misinterpreted and wounding when not used wisely or with the right people or in the right situations. It can be disrespectful and detracting from an opportunity to encourage and uplift others. And, when not used in the right context or when used in excess, I concede that it might cause people to question your sincerity.

I get that completely. 

So maybe, I really should re-evaluate the appropriate contexts for my propensity for sarcasm? Using my super powers for good and not evil?

Using them to make my husband laugh about something unimportant? Or using it to find a reason to smile about a tough situation? As in looking for humor in hard times. Or maybe laughing with my kids about some eCard or meme about the weather or Baylor football or other benign subjects?

Perhaps it's best to use my sass in my close circles of friends who get me--who really get me--rather than in text responses to a poor teenage girl who doesn't really know me?

Maybe here, on this blog, or in my writing, to make a point, but not at the expense of others?

I don't know. 

It's food for thought.

My need for the S.P.A. 

Or maybe I should just cash in on that idea, connected to my mum supply store, and create an actual spa with a backroom for S.P.A. meetings?

"Hi, my name is Heather. (Hi Heather, says the crowd, dressed in white fluffy bathrobes and hair turbans, fresh from their massage and facials)

"And I have a problem with sarcasm and sass."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Unleashing the Next Generation

Have you ever stumbled over a new dream? Sorta accidentally discovered something that you realize you have a passion to pursue? Maybe you went into it thinking you might dabble there or just show up, and before you know it, you want to lead the charge.

This one has surprised me even more than I could express. A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about the group of girls that I co-lead for a biweekly Bible study. This time last school year, I went into this whole God's Girls thing because I wanted it to happen and I thought I could probably manage to not mess it up too much. Sorta like when you sign up to be the room mom because you want your kid to have the benefits, so sure, why not?

But this thing, this God's Girls thing, has taken it's own course. It's become way more than I ever intended--purely by the grace of God. Seeing the little community being built of girls from all different faith backgrounds and family backgrounds finding a refuge together... as they enter middle school. Those years full of pitfalls from pimples to crushes to puberty. And they have each other for moral support. While they are cultivating their faith.

When the girls run into my house and give me a quick hug and chatter and talk and open their hearts to honest conversation; whey they dialog and ask questions about big things like who God is and why he gave us free will and what is heaven like... well, my heart melts at the wonder of it all. 

Which is why I initially blogged to throw down the challenge for others to pick up the charge.

And here's what has happened since then.

I had the pleasure of having lunch with three moms from another school in our district who are looking to start their own God's Girls. I tried to answer all their questions and just kept telling them that when we say yes, God does the rest. I can take no credit for the special thing that happens when up to 18 sixth grade girls fill my living room and share their heartaches and their joys and we open the Word of God together. When after one hectic gathering, someone admonishes me as she leaves, "Mama H, we didn't even pray together today!" OOPS! 

So I sat and listened to these moms and the vision became clearer to me. And the small spark within me began to roll into a blazing fire. I pictured groups of kids gathering all over this country. Gathering in living rooms for the common purpose to explore who God is.

What if?

What if groups of girls (and even boys) who attend school together began to meet in the living rooms of parents who are willing to invest ninety minutes every other week into the lives of the next generation?

When I got home from that lunch meeting, I had a phone call with one of my best friends from college. And before I knew it, I was giving her a rousing speech that sounded something like this.

Research shows that kids who grow up being active in Evangelical churches throughout their childhoods are leaving the church in droves during their 20's. These are kids who came regularly and were taught about the Bible throughout their formative years. We're not talking fringe kids. We are talking the regulars who fill the youth section of pews every Sunday. They are leaving the church in big numbers after they head off to college.

The reasons are so varied. And as a mom of one who will be heading off to college in less than two years, I'm eager to do whatever it takes to shore that up.

So what if we rolled back the clocks and took a good hard look at preventative measures even earlier than the high school years? 

Could we stop this trend? Could we do something to ground these kids with roots so deep that it carries them through some tough and challenging real world experiences?

My friend noted that she was having a hard time finding good Bible study curriculum and resources for her boys who are in sixth and ninth grades.

Um, yes. That is exactly what I found when I went to search for a book to go through with the God's Girls this year. There is a huge gap in the market at the Christian book store. There are "devos" and some teen Bible studies. There are some books on topics such as dating, sex and modesty. And listen--those all have merit. Those are important topics. But if I have about one hour of instruction with these girls every other week, I want it to be all about the gospel. If nothing else, I want them to leave each week with a clearer understanding of who Jesus is and what he did for us.

Yet I found very little by way of resources to help late elementary and middle school kids dig into the Bible and learn about who God is and our relationship with him.

Here's the heartbeat of what I want to convey today.

In our information and technology age, kids are far more savvy than I was at their age. They are far more aware of all sorts of things than my generation was. In those narcissistic and emotionally charged years of puberty, these kids are being thrown way more than ever crossed our radar at that age.

And I, for one, think there is a huge void here that needs to be filled. I think that if we want to ground our kids in a faith that they won't let go of as they leave our homes, then we must be intentional to pour into them way back before their teen years. We must be intentional to have spaces where they feel safe asking questions and having dialog beyond pat "Sunday School" answers. 

As the world has become more complicated and more accessible, we, as the Church, must keep up with it, for our children's sakes. 

If we want to see a generation taking their place with a rock solid faith to change the world for Jesus, then we have to do something about it. We have to be aware of the gaps and the voids and the places where kids are actually hungry for some meat to chew on. 

Because they are. These girls fill my living room, practically sitting on each other's laps, and they are starving for some solid and hard and authentic conversations about the truths from the Bible. They just need someone who is willing to show up and listen and answer and invest. 

They need somewhere that they are welcomed and loved and respected and heard. 

The majority of the girls in my group attend church regularly. They have parents who are imparting God's truth to them. They are involved in youth groups and other activities. But this group is something else. God's Girls allows them to have an environment of peers from their school where they can form a community and learn together how to be light in their particular world. The world they share, in their public school. 

I am not trying to replace their Sunday School or their church gatherings. I am not trying to usurp the teaching from their parents. I see now that God's Girls is a supplement to all that and it solidifies and repeats and emphasizes the other places where they learning about God. It is unlike any other organization that gathers students under the name of Jesus. 

This is a group of various faith backgrounds that meets in a home, in a smaller setting, and they share a snack together. They share common spaces at school and they have same-gender peers who are all learning together how to navigate friendships and how to run to God with all their concerns. 

My prayer is that they are discovering a genuine faith which will grow deep, deep roots alongside all that they gain from their churches and their families. 

The truth is that if we want to see the next generation rise up for Jesus in a crazy world, then it won't happen by wishing. It won't happen by thinking about it. 

But it can happen when we dare to gather them together and be present with them. 

My heart nearly bursts when I think of all the what if's. What if these girls really learn how to respond to their stresses by turning to prayer and the Word? What if they really do see their God's Girls peers in the hallway and offer a hug and a prayer on a hard day? What if they keep reaching out to show love and support to the hurting and the lowly and the marginalized through our outreach initiatives? And they carry this on for ALL THEIR LIVES? What if they have this faith to fall back on before they reach a place where drugs and alcohol and boyfriends all come calling for them? What if they keep gathering and they enter high school and they avoid the pitfalls because a foundation has been set?

What if they blaze new trails in the name of Christ because their faith was fed and encouraged? What if they head off to college and career and they can look back and see that the tiny seeds planted in their formative years contributed to who they become in Christ?

Listen, if we want to see the next generation grow deep roots and thrive in a living and active faith in Jesus Christ, then we can be part of it. We can dare to keep pace with all the messages that are being thrown at them by gathering them in our living rooms and reminding them who Jesus is and how he loved them to death and how he walks with them through it all. 

We can counteract all the information and the temptations and the pitfalls by pouring into them with love and care and attention. Guiding them through the Bible and using resources and creativity to make faith real to them. We can do so much by helping to create a community where they feel they belong, not because of their looks or their interests or any other common factor but this... a curiosity to know more about God.

I, for one, think it's high time for adults to really grasp how hungry and smart and capable kids these days are. That we might harness all that they have to offer by giving them spaces to explore and grow their faith. 

So that they mature into adults who step out bravely in obedience with a faith so strong that they glorify the name of Jesus in all that they do. A generation of world changers. A generation of Jesus lovers. A generation of servants who are crazy about the Master of the Universe. 

What if we took part in unleashing that kind of next generation?

What if?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Things We Do for Fame and Glory

"It's like Miley Cyrus!" I said.

She laughed and asked, "What on earth do you mean?"

"You know, like Hannah Montana. It's the best of both worlds!" I explained.

I had taken my friend Lauren to lunch. As we caught up, she made a comment about something being the best of both worlds, and for some reason, my crazy mind turned to the theme song of Hannah Montana. Our conversation thus began a rabbit trail about the current status of Miley Cyrus and the things she is doing for fame and glory.

I told Lauren that I wonder what her future self would tell her current self. Will her future, more mature, possibly mother or eventually grandmother self want to scold her current self for selling out dignity and self-control and even a decent covering of clothes for the sake of fame and glory?

Glory. It's become a nearly cliche term we use for all sorts of things from YouTube viral sensations to the glory of God. We have thus become desensitized to its actual meaning. We have become numb to the weight and worth of the idea of glory, ignoring the significance it actually contains. 

Glory has been something rattling around my brain as I've been reading Isaiah 6. This chapter is one of my husband's all-time favorite passages. But for some reason, I'm just now really taking a close look. And I can hardly get through one verse each day, with the heaviness of its content. Today, I finally came to verse 5. But let's go back a step and look at verses 3 through 5 to put it all in context.

And they [the seraphs] were calling to one another, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. "Woe is me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."

When the seraphs beheld the glory of God, they used two wings to cover their faces and they could not help but call out to one another in order to praise him and recognize his fame. And those genuine and heartfelt praises shook the doorposts as it all unwound the prophet Isaiah. When he caught a glimpse of the kingship of God Almighty, he completely grasped his own ruined state. The glory of God brought Isaiah's heart to a prostrate position of humility. Isaiah comprehended true fame and true glory and that put him in his place.

Thus, I've begun asking God to give me a glimpse of it. Just help me to have eyes to see his glory all around me, in all of creation and throughout my day so that I can be rightfully positioned in my heart attitude.

Tuesday, I looked for it. I strained my eyes at the blue skies and fluffy skies and thanked him for them. I even said out loud as I drove, "That's a display of your glory!" And then I waited for the warm fuzzy that would fill my heart and change my day and change my entire life.

Instead, my van started doing some weird thing where the engine shuttered and strained to accelerate. 

Gee, thanks God. 

Yes, that was my honest response. And I'm with you--surprising that a bolt of lightening did not just take me then.

So, I quickly U-turned and went back one block to our usual mechanic. I half-heartedly thanked him that at least I broke down right by the car place we use. But it wasn't very sincere.  And when the young mechanic treated me like the stereotypical little lady who knows nothing about cars, I was completely offended and officially ticked off.

Why, yes, young man. I did fill it with gas. Don't let the boxed color that covers my gray hairs fool you. I've actually been a driver for nearly thirty years. I have indeed mastered the art of filling my van with gas. 

Hmpf. Then he shrugged when I pointed out the odd sounds as if he doubted I knew the difference between the brake and the gas pedal. Sure, I may have mixed that up the first time behind the wheel, causing me to drive into a building. But I've had that down for a long time now.

As I climbed out of my van to call my husband for rescue, I gave into the situation completely. To all the feelings I was feeling. Offended. Frustrated. Woe is me, my van broke down. Rushed for time to accomplish the tasks of the day. Weary about the expensive repair that will be putting us right back into debt. 

Blah, blah, blah. 

I exhaust myself. And everyone around me, I'm sure. So I asked God-- Hey! What about your glory? That's what I was hoping for today. Some lovely light show in the sky or some miraculous event or some strange coincidence that shows you are Master of the Universe. 

What about that, God? Huh?

While I battled internally, here's what came to my mind.

My glory isn't just "out there." The wonder of my glory is that I would dare to let it be seen from within you. YOU are an instrument to my glory. Your response to choose to trust me and to remind your feelings that I am boss...that is to my glory. So, while you were busy looking all over for the glory, you've just missed an opportunity to be used to show it.


Mind blown. 


Some days, I wonder if I've been listening at all, this lifetime I've spent going to church and digging in Bible studies. Because sometimes I see something with fresh eyes and I wonder if I was ever really paying attention at all. 

You want to know about glory and fame and what we attempt to do to earn it and what it's really all about?

By our actions and our words and our attitudes, we are either stealing God's glory, hiding God's glory or displaying God's glory. We are either extinguishing the flame of his glory as we seek to light our own lanterns. Or we are blocking God's glory with our sinful tendencies. Or, we are surrendered to be the jar of clay that lets his glory shine through. Heavenly rewards are either gained or lost in these daily, tiny, mundane moments of choice. 

We are called to lay down our lives for another. Letting the aggressive driver in during traffic. Or getting up off the couch three seconds after you sat down because your child needs you. Choosing grace rather than expressing complaints, even when the complaints are warranted. All these choices expose God's glory. They are all saying yes to being a jar of clay.

Posting on social media to gain attention or credit or sympathy for ourselves. Being consumed with clothes and appearance to earn compliments. Allowing yourself to feel frustrated because you feel unappreciated when nobody notes your contribution. These things all steal God's glory. They all extinguish God's glory to light your own.

Floating on the winds of your emotions and letting them dictate your mood and your day. Fighting hard for "your rights" and "to be heard" because you deserve that. Asserting yourself above others because your needs are more important. Working through your own strength and ignoring God altogether. All of it covers God's glory. It all hides it behind the dark shroud of human tendencies.

Make no mistake.

His glory is so brilliant that it can hardly be tolerated by our weak human eyes. It would blind us all in its full magnitude. It blinded Paul on the road to Damascus. Being in the presence of God's glory caused Moses' face to glow with a brilliance that demanded a veil covering so that others could stand to look Moses in the eye. The effects of his glory are that radiant. 

His glory--the tiniest glimpses of it--changes everything. It puts everything in its proper perspective. Because its majesty makes all suffering, pain and struggles worth it. It sets all that happens on this earth and in this life, on this side of heaven, into its rightful context.

When we gain the tiniest taste of his true glory, it changes our appetites for anything less. The victory of seeing his glory causes all else to be a defeat to which we would gladly concede.

Glory is not just a church word. It's not just a lyric for Sunday hymns.

It is the fullness of his presence. It is the brilliance of his love. It is the fulfillment and satisfaction that shakes the hold of all earthly pursuits. It is the foothold that makes us release our grip on anything else...on anything less.

So let's not just pray to see his glory around us in the blue skies and amazing sunsets. 

Let's pray to participate in his glory by being a conduit of it.

That's what happens every time we suppress our desires for the sake of serving others.

That's what happens every time we tell our feelings who is boss by dwelling on the facts of Scripture. 

That's what happens every time we run to God first with every weakness and ask him to show up strong.

That's what happens every time we utter, "I do believe! Help my unbelief!"

It's what happens every time we set our ambitions and dreams and hopes aside and we tell our soul to trust them all to the God who made us in the first place and knows all of our days.

His glory changes everything.

May we let it be the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night to guide our way.

May we also keep this in mind.

Sometimes, all feels dark and we feel far away from God and we feel quite stuck. Because sometimes, he places us in the cleft of a rock and he covers us with his hand until he has passed by. In those very dark and dismal and lonely times, we will not even realize that he was passing through it all until he removes his hand over us and we see his back. Only in hindsight can we see how near God was all the time. Only afterward can we realize that his glory was all around us even in the midst of it all. And he just could not let us see his face-- "for no one can see the glory of my face and live," (Exodus 33:13-23).

Sometimes, we wonder where God's glory is and why it seems to have been extinguished because darkness is closing in on us. We cannot see that God is actually protecting us and the revelation of his glory will only be grasped in hindsight.

His glory.

When we someday step fully into its warm embrace, we will never regret a single thing done to reveal it on earth.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What's a MUM to do? (The Unintended Sequel to My Previous Rant)

Once upon a time, in a land full of sarcasm and sass, I wrote this blog post about the crazy excessively large mums that have taken over not only the great Texas tradition of homecoming, but also the bodies of innocent high school girls all across the Lone Star State.

Apparently, over nine thousand of you were interested enough to read through my diatribe. 

Or maybe you just wanted to peruse the pictures that I included of examples like this:

Y'all, it seriously makes me want to stage an intervention. I want to be all Tammy at the nail salon and say, "Girls, you so pret-ty like cheerleader... WHY?" I want to gather each of the Texas beauties and remind them they have a body beneath all that ribbon and boas and stuffed animals and literal bells and whistles. 

SO, can we return to moderation? 

For those who are NOT from Texas or who are not familiar with this whole thing, let me introduce to you the very beginnings of this tradition for a guy to give his date a decorated fall flower--known as a mum--for the big homecoming football game where high school alumni came back to celebrate.

It looked a little something like this.

See? Boy awkwardly pins a mum flower with some little streamers flowing down for his homecoming date. While Ward and June Cleaver look on.

Simple. Sweet. Classy.

So of course, to improve upon such tradition, we obviously just get bigger and bigger, like Harry's Potter's aunt who flies away in the movie after his magical spell.

And we somehow ended up HERE.

Bless their hearts. That's right, girls. I'd have my identity hidden too if I was carrying around a Hobby Lobby floral section around my neck.

Yep. We've gone from pinning them on your shirt to putting them on these neck holsters. I have a really hard time getting past that fact alone. Because here's what you wear around your neck, little sweet high school girls.

Necklaces. Or maybe a scarf? Perhaps even some sort of neck tie if you are going for a gender neutral look.

But a huge blob of streamers and teddy bears and literal glowing lights and things that makes sounds?

Not so much.

And one other fine point I'd like to make about this whole homecoming gone mad trend is the way a boy asks a girl. 

Not even kidding, it is literally called a homecoming proposal. Or to be more accurate a HOCO proposal. (See the insanity? The mums get bigger but we have to shrink that long homecoming word.

And in this social media driven age, the creativity and elaborateness (is that a word?) and extravagance of said proposals are ever growing as the teens see the latest tweet from a successfully magnificent HOCO proposal. 

It looks a little like this. An entire pep rally skit in front of a whole school is literally a ruse for a HOCO proposal. Think the half-time at an NBA game that is actually a wedding proposal. Except these people cannot even rent a car.

Or, the girl is showered with expensive and elaborate gifts from designers and expensive stores, and within that is the big question. These gift baskets are akin to the goody bags the celebrities get at the Oscars.  Carefully plotted out schemes involving a multitude of people, props, and of course, huge bouquets of flowers.

All to ask a girl if you can spend upwards of hundreds of MORE dollars to sit by her at a football game. Only the guy won't even be able to hold her hand because he won't be able to find it beneath the glitz and flora.

The over-the-top stuff bothers me. Not just because I have boys, but also for my girl. Such pressure for a teenage boy to ask in some way that will be retweet worthy. And setting a precedent that will only demand more and more as the boys and girls get older. I personally do not want my girl having such high expectations. Unless someone is asking to marry her.

Back in my day, the interested guy asked his best friend to check with my best friend about the potential of being his date. Of course, that is if the hypothetical question involves me actually being asked out. Somehow, that awkward four-way conversation evolved into the question of going together to homecoming and the decision was made by default.

That's it. No posters, flowers, designer gifts, or elements of huge surprise and Pinterest inspired creativity.

For the record, I'm all for my boys putting thought and consideration into asking a girl out. Their daddy has trained them carefully over many the camp fire on male-only camping trips, coaching them on how to treat a girl. But, those conversations did not involve brainstorming sessions to created the biggest, baddest, most noteworthy HOCO proposal.

Oh, how I could go on. Truly, I've written a sequel to my original post every time I see another photo of one of these over sized creations. I wonder what those transplanted to Texas think of this phenomenon? Do they want to immediately return to the saner states from which they came? And when Yankees read this blog post, what must go through their minds?

So on and so forth. I could rant for ages about this.

But it's all fun and games until you find yourself on the flip side.

Oh, yes. So easy to play armchair quarterback until the day comes.

When your son decides to ask a girl to HOCO. And you suddenly see the OTHER side of this equation. You suddenly feel their angst about doing it all well enough so that it feels acceptable to the girl. It's the clash of theories about HOCO meets the reality of HOCO.

Because the truth is, I wanted my guy to feel good about how it all went down. I wanted his friend whom he asked to feel special and to feel like it was thoughtful. I want this girl to feel proud to wear a mum from my son. And I want my son to feel that both his "proposal" and the mum are acceptable.

Suddenly, I am 16 again and looking around at what everyone else is doing to gauge what I should do. And I feel stuck between not wanting to keep up with the Joneses or cause a permanent neck issue by creating a mumstrosity... and also wanting to not stick out like a sore thumb. 

Because I well remember those years when I did want to blend to some degree. And I cared about fitting in with my peers.

So what's a Mum to do in this mum-eat-mum world of Texas homecomings?

That's where I am, bloggy friends. That's the struggle. And the struggle is real, albeit a completely First World Problem of epic proportions. 

Thankfully, the asking went well. And it did not involve a trip to the Dallas Galleria or the need to go into debt. 

Whew! One down, one to go.

Now that I have personally entered the arena of modern day mums instead of complaining from the sidelines, I'm falling back on my go-to approach.

I'm calling all the Mums who have gone before me to help me get a grasp on this. To help me find a balance between creating a mum for my son's friend that will make her feel part of this tradition while not compromising my dignity. (Or hers for that matter.)

After all, I do not want her picture to appear on Google images with her face blacked out and my kid's name in glitter letters down one of the 3,478 ribbons that are serving as a barricade to her personal space.

For other newbie Mums making mums, here's a few things I've learned.

1. Apparently, there is some pecking order to mums according to grade, at least from what my sources tell me. In other words, freshmen mums are more moderate and involve being a single mum (AKA one silk mum flower). As the years go by, the mums get bigger. Mums for senior girls involve the idea of four silk mums, are completely white and silver, and include all manner of Crazy Town. Good intel, huh?

2. You can order a mum completely made. I've been told that this can be a more expensive option, but less headache and no permanent scarring on the fingers from your hot glue gun. However, if you are buy enough of all the doo-dads and build your own mum, it may actually NOT be a less expensive route. So sounds like a toss up.

3. You can buy the "base" and build from there. In other words, shop around the crafty stores and find a basic model. I would say use your 40% off coupon. Then build up from there to personalize it and make it glitzy and fab.

4. It is always a good idea to pump mutual parties for Intel, when you as the mom do not really know the girl your son is taking. (By the way, taking where? No where. There is no dance at our high school. Your date wears her mum to school on game day, you get some street cred for not messing the whole thing up, and then you sit together at the football game. UNLESS your date is a cheerleader. Then, she cheers and shows off your glorious contribution to the time honored mum tradition from the sidelines).
Back on point, ask a friend to ask her daughter who knows the girl for some ideas on what kind of bling to add to the basic mum.

5. I'm all for a Mum making party. I intend to gather whichever friends want to come to tackle this together and make it fun. I can remember how much fun Homecoming was when I was in high school, so my new mantra is to embrace the idea behind it and be part of facilitating a good memory for all involved.

6. I might need an intervention when the time comes for Senior Year and they have upped the ante and the expectation is higher for mums. Or, I may need to grab those darling high school girls and take them to a lovely lunch where we discuss the perimeters for the mum. I can offer to donate to a worthy cause in her name and she can agree to keep the crazy out of the mum. This conversation will likely involve a power point slide show of Mum Fashion Do's and Don'ts.

So there you have it. While it is still 900 degrees here in Big D, the calendar begs to differ and it is sounding the alarm bell for the impending Homecoming. And while I used to sit back and wax poetic in all sorts of snarky ways, I must admit that my words have come back to haunt me. Sorta like the days I was the best mom ever because I saw all the ways it wasn't done as well as I would do it. And I had yet to have a child.

Yep. Humility often comes to those who pridefully bash a tradition in which they will eventually need to participate. And it has caused me to go from all sorts of analyst and commentator to one who needs to eat my words.

Because while I still think the excess is beyond and I wish we could save extravagant "proposals" for marriage, I am now smack dab in the middle of the feelings of teenagers and I'm feeling all the feelings myself. 

I want my kids to have fun and make memories and participate in these traditions. The truth of it is, no one talked me off the ledge of those big 80's bangs and hair. No one staged an Aqua Net intervention on me. I think they were all too busy laughing at how ridiculous I looked. I think they'd all gained the wisdom with age to know that I'd eventually figure it out on my own and decide I was ready for change. 

I'm not sure I'm ready to acquiesce that far on this excessive mumstrosity situation. But I can be a big enough Mum to say that there can be a way to honor the tradition and not lose my mind or compromise my morals. I'm still the hugest ever fan of Mum alternatives that involve donating to charity. And I still want to really behind that battle cry.

But in the meantime, I can admit the need to surrender to the whole mum thing within reason. 

I can remind myself as I build that mum and burn my fingers, that I am bringing a smile to a lovely teenage girl's face. Hopefully. And the mum I make shall hang on her walls during these teen years marking this season as a time that she can always remember with joy. 

While also giving her plenty of fodder for future blog posts and musings.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Rubble

We all have rubble. That's what I told her. It was a spontaneous thought, but it's so very true. As she sat on my couch crying, and frustrated with herself for crying. But we told her--me and another friend--we told her we all have rubble. In fact, we admitted our own rubble. And we told her that there's no shame in crying about it. She was beating herself up for "not dealing with it well." 

I laughed.

I know that sounds mean spirited.

But I explained quickly that not dealing well with our rubble looks more like self-destructive behavior, such as substance abuse, or choosing to live in complete denial. 

Not dealing well with our rubble does not look like crying about it. It's okay to mourn the rubble. Then I had to fess up. That in fact, just hours earlier, I had come home to sit alone and cry. Because my rubble was hurting me again. I had once again been tripped up by it. She nodded in complete agreement about that feeling when the stab of the pain is so fresh and you wonder if the rubble will ever clear away. If, although you've scooped it to the side, you will ever quit falling because of it.

Oh, yes. We all have rubble in our lives. Ruin from loss and pain and heartaches and disappointments. Rubble from things we tried to build that came crashing down. Rubble from our own mistakes, or the mistakes of others. Rubble from decades-old demons. 

It's rubble, nonetheless. I don't care how pretty the landscape appears, there's rubble somewhere. I don't care how big the fake smile is or how happy-go-lucky the person seems. There is still rubble. No matter your age or race or upbringing or financial status or marital status. 

There's rubble from words flung so hard that walls of self-esteem came crashing down. There's rubble from plans made and dreams dreamed that ended up in piles of dust and debris. There's rubble from earthquakes of death and abuse and neglect and despair.

We all have rubble. 

Wouldn't it be better if we just quit trying to hide it? If we just reminded each other it's okay to cry about it?

The Israelites stood amongst the rubble of their holy city of Jerusalem. Gates had been burned. Walls crumbled and tumbled down into just piles of nothingness. Their protection and security were gone and they were laid bare. There they were, standing in their rubble. The dust of it caking their faces, and their eyes taking inventory of the complete loss.

We can stand in our rubble, too, and assess the damage. 

But then, there is a decision to make.

Will we sit down in the rubble and wail and moan and be defeated? Will we be defined by our rubble, going the rest of our lives feeling as though we are somehow owed something because of the rubble we lament?

Or will stand up and stand firm and do something about it? 

Will we assess the damage and then pound the doors of heaven to help us rebuild? 

Some of those Israelites, as described in Nehemiah, had never seen the city of Jerusalem in it's glory days. Some of them had never seen how busy and vibrant and wonderful it had been. Some of them knew nothing but the rubble. 

Maybe that's you. Maybe you cannot even remember a time when there were beautiful dwelling places in our life, or walls standing strong and grand to protect you and strengthen you and surround you. Maybe you feel as though all your life has ever been is trying to dodge the rubble.

But despite all that lay in pitiful heaps around them, those Israelites dared to hope. They dared to dream beyond what had been torn down to consider what could be built up to replace that which had been lost. The book of Job describes a man of great wealth and prosperity who suddenly became a man lying in the ashes of complete and utter ruin. 

Yet the story didn't end there.

God rebuilt something amazing and even more wonderful in place of the rubble. The rubble can be bulldozed to create a new foundation for new things.

He can do the same for us. 

He can take our willingness to dare to consider new walls and new gates and new buildings, and from that, he himself builds the foundation. He himself is the Corner Stone.

If we will look to him and ask him to set himself right down in the midst of all the piles, then we can begin to look for him for direction. We can begin to beg of him to help us rebuild. We can pray and be obedient to take up the tools he may offer and to go about the overwhelming task of rebuilding, one tiny brick at a time.

He is the architect. He is the master builder. He is the dreamer of new things. The Lord anointed Christ to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve... bestow on them a CROWN OF BEAUTY instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Jesus came to clear all the rubble. He wipes it all away and takes care of it for us. Over and over and over again. We can run to him with our tears and our sorrow as we stumble over our rubble.

He dreams for us of new things and new buildings and new growth that have never existed before. For those Israelites who had never seen Jerusalem before its destruction, they had to believe that God could create something that they could not conceive. They had to muster up the faith to consider a Jerusalem surrounded by strong walls. They needed just enough faith to grab a hammer and join the work.

Because that is what happens when we run to Jesus with our rubble. He binds up our broken hears, and he proclaims freedom as he releases us from being trapped under our rubble. He shouts favor over our broken places and comfort for our grieving hearts. He provides for us in our grieving. 

And gradually, he begins to paint beauty from the ashes. He is the master artist who uses broad strokes to cover mourning with gladness and praise instead of despair.

When we run to him with our rubble and entrust him to build something from it, he performs the biggest miracle of all. He frees us from our rubble for a purpose. He dares us to join in the rebuilding. He calls us to let our rubble places become our places of ministry. 

So that we "will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; and we will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations." (Isaiah 61:4).

The bottom line is that you may have rubble as your inheritance. It may be your heritage, passed down through generations. Like the young Israelites who came to a Jerusalem that was in complete destruction. That was the city handed to them. 

But they rose from the ashes and let God lead them. They dared to  obey and to join in, believing that while they could not change their heritage, they could change their legacy. That the rubble of their forefathers could be transformed into a home for future generations.

Whatever your rubble story is, it can be used. It can become your story to help someone else rebuild. You can take the heaps of destruction handed down to you and choose to renew those ruined cities for yourself and future generations. No matter how long that rubble has been passed down from one generation to the next, you can accept the call to step out and build something new and wonderful and healing from it by letting God use the rubble places as building blocks for future good.

The nails were used to hold our Christ to the cross. So that we might hammer him into our splintered lives and let him create wondrous things from it all.

Even from the rubble.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

When All Seems Lost

When I was a little girl, I can remember telling people, with my little lisp and inability to say "R," that I wanted to be an author and an illustrator. Honestly, to utter those phrases that emphasized my speech impediment was complete vulnerability. Even all these years later, declaring it again here makes me feel vulnerable. But it's still a dream planted deep within me. And so, I am at long last, choosing obedience to begin a writing project that is daunting to say the least. I am writing my story. Even if no one else ever reads it, it is an important process, as I am learning. Because as I relive some very heartbreaking moments, I am seeing God reveal himself in new ways. 

Yesterday, I wrote the section about my dad's death. I retold the scene, processing the feelings and memories and committing them to paper. Or, rather, to my hard drive. It all came flooding back, those wee hours in the morning of May 14, 1990. And so did the tears. As I wiped them from my face, I closed my laptop and moved on with my day. Then, I saw with fresh eyes the tiny miracles of how God has moved in my life. Going to pick up my children from school. Preparing dinner for my family. Texting with sweet friends. The normalcy of my life that I can take for granted because I forget how devastated I truly was. It was something brought to the forefront of my mind again because of my writing. And also because of the news of the death of a high school teacher, who leaves behind his children to grieve the loss of him. I see myself when I pray for them.

In that frame of mind, I started reading Isaiah 6 today. I got no further than verse 1. 

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

The year that King Uzziah died. A year of uncertainty and grief and confusion and loss. And he saw the Lord on his throne. High and exalted. And the train of his robe filled the temple.

I wonder. 

What has died in your life? Or who has died? Or both? Because the loss of a loved one is like a huge stone thrown into the middle of a lake. The ripple effects of the loss go on and on. Dreams die. Hopes die. Sometimes other relationships suffer and have their own form of death. Plans and futures die. The deaths are complex and far reaching. And they also tend to take us by surprise. Because even if you are anticipating the initial loss -- even if you have forewarning -- you are rarely prepared for all that will die with that loss.

This is surely what the prophet Isaiah felt, as the leader of his country died. And so Isaiah writes to you. To every one of you who have faced a death or loss of any kind in your life. 

May we glean the treasures of this one verse.

Here's the truth. It's the truth of my own life. From my own experiences. I do not offer it flippantly or nonchalantly. I offer it today from the deepest parts of myself, from my own life.

In our hardest, gut wrenching moments, we can see the Lord most clearly. When we are flat on the ground, face to the floor, tears wetting the soil beneath us -- pettiness and distractions removed in those raw moments -- we are most perfectly positioned to truly see him. Because pretense is wiped away. And our desperate hearts seek.

Will we look up?

Will we strain our eyes and look intently and focus our gaze heavenward? 

Because when we are spent and depleted and emptied because of our pain, we are actually perfectly positioned to be filled by him.

In the most bitter of moments, his sweetness can be most fully appreciated.

When the waves and wind crash and blow and toss us around, he can become our life preserver.

When we are drowning in circumstances, his rescue is most needed. And most felt. And most seen. When I didn't know how to climb out of bed and function back in my college days, my dependence for the tiniest things made me see how he kept showing up.

When we are stripped and bare and all feels as though it is taken away, the depth of his sufficiency can be explored and discovered. 

Let me ask you this question. Every hurting heart that reads this.

So in the year of _________________, will you seek to see the Lord?

What fills in your blank? In the year of what heartache that you are enduring, will you seek to see the Lord?

See him on a throne? Sovereign. Mighty. Holy. Ruling and reigning. High and exalted.

Can you trust that while you are struggling under the circumstance, he is still in control, according to an omniscient plan for eternal good?

Can you lift your eyes from your pit and believe that he still sits on a throne? And not just "a throne"-- but THE Throne.

Can you beg and plead and seek his greatness to fill every place that human hands have ever built?  The train of his robe filled the temple.

Can you choose to trust that even just the hem of his robe fills every earthly place because of the magnitude of his presence?
Like the bleeding woman who grasped to touch just the hem of Jesus' robe as he passed by when she was searching for healing...

...Can you believe that he's still passing by the very place where you are laid low and weakest, and will you dare to reach for the edge of his glorious robes?

For in our most devastated moments, he is indeed Lord. He is the Lord over all. He sees things from a bigger picture than what we can see from our limited perspective. He is still sitting on the throne. He is still in control. And he can help keep you from spinning out of control. He is still filling the places of earth with the train of his robe. 

That we may dare to believe with boldness and courage that his glory is still passing by us and be brave enough to say--

"I choose to believe that you are still high and exalted above all."

With even the tiniest hint of belief, can you preach that truth to your soul? That God has never left his throne. That the God who created the heavens and the earth is still birthing new things, even in the midst of despair and loss.

And then, in the year of our devastation and grief, we will indeed SEE the Lord.

Just as Job said of God at the end of his journey, when restoration had finally replaced all that was lost to him.

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.
Job 42:5


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How Long, God?

The longer I sat at the endless red light, the more frustrated I became. I have this incredible gift for mulling over things to the point of pure aggravation. Yet I've never seen that gift listed in the inventory of the 1 Corinthians passage about spiritual gifts and using them for the body of Christ? 

Yes. I know. I must learn more and more how to get over myself.

But the feelings didn't diminish as I sat in early morning traffic on the 2.2 mile drive from my house to the schools that my children attend. I couldn't shake them as I sat and reminded myself that these are first world problems or as I listened to Christian radio and attempted to sing myself off the ledge.

I pulled into our driveway and decided to use that energy to attack the flower beds. With work gloves on and a bucket for the weeds nearby, I yanked and prayed.

How long, God?

How long will we seek you and ask and wait in this very silent waiting room? How long will we run to you with unfulfilled desires, asking you to remove them or show us how you intend to fulfill them? How long will our children stand watch on our very up and down journey of waiting and asking and praying and seeking? How long will our unbelieving loved ones gaze upon our waiting and wonder if prayer really works?

How long, God?

And why do I keep getting wound up? These aren't life and death matters. Just unfulfilled dreams. How petty am I? How weak and lacking in faith am I that I wrestle so hard with these things? 

I know that I cannot let emotions be my boss, because that is where faith is squelched. That is where my deceitful heart hijacks my trust in God and I come unwound. Yet the emotions were crashing like waves against me. 

I completed my weeding, feeling slightly better from the physical exertion as an outlet. And then, I came inside. 

I knew I needed to pray. I knew I needed to run to him full force, and cast my cares upon him again, for he cares for me. But like an immature child, as I can tend to be, I ran at him rather than to him. Arms outstretched, prostrate on the ground, tears flowing freely.

How long, God?

Help! Do you see how hard I am wrestling here with these same nagging issues, a struggle that seems endless? I don't want to struggle. I want to be a champion of faith, not a pawn of fear. I don't want to be like the grumbling Israelites wandering in the desert, crying to go back into slavery rather than leaning into the waiting. I don't want the waiting to feel so hard. 

Why can't I be like David, with five smooth stones and full confidence in God to slay the giants that taunt me?

Yet, here I am. Foolishly wrestling again. Feelings winning out over faith. Emotions ruling the day. And wanting to wish that away so that my unbelief disappears.

I do believe! Help my unbelief!

My soul quieted in those dark moments of authentically expressing thoughts and feelings that didn't startle my All Knowing God in the slightest.

While the angst sat like a chip on my shoulder, the burden no longer felt like a boulder. 

Quietly. Slowly. God began to speak to my soul. Giving me time to press on, he revealed the truth once again to my stubborn, stiff necked self.

The doors I open, no one can close. The doors I close, no one can open. Trust Me as your doorman. Know my faithfulness. Recount it. Remember it. Write it down. Read it over. Dwell on it. Consider it. I have never gotten it wrong. And I never will. My timing. My wisdom. My plan. Leave it all to Me. All these unfulfilled dreams and desires and points of repeated prayer. Seek Me. Steward this season of waiting well. So that you can look back and know you were faithful to seek Me every step of the way. Because the day will come when you will be looking back upon this rather than staring it down in front of you. I have revealed Myself to you in this season, as no other time. And you have looked long and hard because of these circumstances. Your wrestling...your questioning...your seeking, has drawn your gaze upon Me. And THAT is divine, sacred, eternal and WORTHY work of the heart. 

So embrace this sacred season while I hold your hand -- and all of you, and all of your future -- and you are full on gazing upon Me, eager. Anticipating. Wondering. Waiting. 

Busier seasons are coming. Seasons of fulfillment and answers that put this waiting into context. That allow you to see this waiting as merely a momentary precursor and not the main event. 

So settle into the seeking. To the lull of waiting. To the rhythm of asking, again and again, like the persistent widow. Settle in to even the moments of desperation.

For you are the clay. And I am the potter. You are spinning on the wheel, like a lump, being smashed down and reformed. But My hands are tightly around you. Masterfully shaping you into what I intend you to be.

A jar of clay.

That reveal My glory.