Tuesday, November 19, 2013

That's The Point

Regina: Focus. Concentrate.
Emma: It's kind of hard when you're talking in my ear.
Regina: And when the wind blows, or it's raining, or someone's shooting arrows at you. Yes, concentration's hard. That's the point.

--Once Upon a Time, 'Ariel' 

Alright, I'm going to attempt to combine some of my favorite things here...a tv show and the Bible...the secular and the sacred...Brace yourselves! 

But in all seriousness, my favorite tv show these days (perhaps of all time) is ABC's Once Upon a Time. I love the reinvention of familiar stories and characters. I appreciate the depth and complications because it feels like real life...you know, minus all the magic and dragons and sword fights. The emotions are real. 

And when I use my 'theory' skills that I learned as a lit major (the art of using a lens, so to speak, when watching a film or reading a book that highlights a particular theme/value/concept...i.e. marxist theory, feminist theory, etc) I can't help but find gems of Truth embedded in the show. Now, I'm in no way saying that Eddie Horowitz and Adam Kitsis, the creators of the show, have set out to make this a religous or Christian show. But that doesn't mean that God doesn't still have His fingerprints in it. I think if we're looking we can find the Sacred all over the place in the secular world. Not everywhere...because God is holy and He won't be associated with true darkness/evil...but He has overcome the world...and we'll find him when we're looking. So my personal faith becomes a filter for finding God's Truth in the show. Call me crazy, it's okay. I feel a little nutty and kinda weird blogging about a tv show as if it is important.

But maybe a tv show can be important if we're able to glean something valuable from it. And judging by the rather extensive list of topics/themes in the notepad app on my phone...maybe there's something more to learn from Once Upon a Time than what life would be like if fairy tales were real...

And so let's get back to that quote I shared...it's from an episode a couple weeks back. And I didn't really notice it when it happened. Instead, this quote came back to me as I was praying a few days ago. 

I've been reading a book by Mark Batterson called The Circle Maker (highly recommend it, good stuff). And the idea is circling your dreams and your fears in prayer. Or maybe it's circling your prayers in faith. It's kinda both. And so I've been thinking very intentionally about what my biggest dreams and strongest fears are, and trying to put circles around them. To declare to God that I won't move from these prayers until He's answered them as He's promised to do. 

Frankly, that's easy to do in the middle of the night when I have my quiet time. Because...it's quiet. In the middle of the night, I can concentrate and be sincere and profound and righteous and it's awesome. It feels great. But in the middle of the day...in the chaos and the noise of having a strong-willed eighteen month old who can't tell me what he wants/needs/feels...it is hard. And all those wonderful feelings of 'I got this prayer thing down!' just flies out the window, taking my sanity and stability with it. In the middle of the noise, all the promises I circled, all the prayers I prayed, everything I asked for, everything I committed to do...just disappears. 

And so I said to God, this is hard in all the noise. 
And he said, that's the point. 

If it was easy, I wouldn't need prayer. I wouldn't need my Bible, His Word which brings clarity, truth, perspective into my life. If it was easy, I wouldn't need Him. 

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.--John 16:33

Living the life isn't easy, it is hard. It takes faith, it takes trust, it takes commitment. It takes perseverance. I have many quailities, some of them even good or godly...but perseverance is not in my wheelhouse. I tend to give up when the going gets hard. But Mark Batterson says in his book that too many times we give up when times are hard and we forfeit the miracle. And he uses 'counterfactual' history to make his point...what if Daniel hadn't prayed through? What if Elijah had given up? Major miracles would've been forfeited. 

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.--James 1:12

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.--Galatians 6:9

So in my quiet time now I ask God to give me a promise to circle, something to stand on from His Holy Word. His word never comes back void, it always produces fruit, it always makes a difference. And the only way to achieve my biggest dreams (incidentally, my biggest dream is to be a blessing to my husband and a godly mother to my son) is being infused with His strength, power, and hope in my biggest moments of trial and weakness. So the first night I asked for a promise...this is what I was given:

He is the one who gives you power to be successful in order to fulfill his covenant...--Deuteronomy 8:18

And the next night...

Your pattern of worship will change.--Deuteronomy 12:8

God's covenant is that I am an overcomer because Jesus has overcome the world! I am made new in His image by the daily renewal of my mind, my heart, my soul, even my body with His redeeming power. I have strength that isn't mine to propel me through the noisiest, most chaotic moments. And when I realize that true worship is living a life that is pleasing to God, not just singing on Sundays, then my pattern of worship will change. I worship with my whole life, my whole heart, mind, body, and soul. And it all somehow works together to glorify God. 

In the interest of full disclosure...I make it sound great, but I'm not there yet. The leap from rhetoric to reality is much larger than the spaces between the words. Every day has the possibility of failure as well as success. But as one of my favorite bands puts it I am 'free to struggle but I'm not struggling to be free.' You see, I may still be struggling to become that blessing to my husband and a godly mama to my son (among other achievements I pray for) but because the Spirit lives in me, I have been set free from the consequences of sin. I don't have to struggle to be free from sin's claim on my soul, just its grip on my habits and mindset. 

So yes, it's hard to concentrate on the promises in all the noise. That's why intentional quiet time is so important. It lays the ground work. And the daily input of promises will build a wall, layer by layer, day by day, to help shield me from the arrows, wind, and rain that breaks my concentration. Perseverance in prayer and in deed is a must. Regina is right, concentration is hard, practice is essential. That's the point. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

What's The Story, Morning Glory?

What do you think stories are for? These stories are classics. There's a reason we all know them. They're a way for us to deal with our world. A world that doesn't always make sense.--Mary Margaret/Snow White, Once Upon a Time, Pilot

Do you know why Peter Pan would fly to the nursery window of the Darlings' house each night? It was to listen to the stories. In fact, this is why Peter brought Wendy to Neverland with him in the first place. He wanted to hear her stories. Wendy even spends some time on the Jolly Roger regaling Captain Hook and his pirate crew with her stories. The most dastardly of villains and the most impish of boys both softened by stories. 

In the book A Little Princess Sara Crewe becomes the most popular girl in her boarding school. Not for the many lovely gifts her father sends her, but for the stories she tells. When Sara loses everything upon her father's death Sara copes with her loss and her poverty by spinning marvelous stories to believe in. Her stories give her hope and comfort. 

Everyone favorite red-headed orphan, Anne Shirley, (did you really think I was going to say Annie, puh-lease) survived lonely days and lonelier nights with stories. A voracious appetite for reading and a verbosity only a lonely little girl can have made Anne a masterful story-teller. Anne could even imagine away her carrot red hair and her plain name. 

And many of us have fallen in love with their stories. We all love a good story and lean in close to soak it in. Stories are our common language. Like music, stories cross cultural barriers and give us a common experience. Even the simplest stories tackle something of the human condition. 

Hope, grace, redemption, faith, commitment, second-chances, true love, rescue...this is the stuff of good stories. From Cinderella to Les Miserables, from The Brothers Grimm to Charles Dickens, stories are full of emotions, fears, and desires we can relate to. This is why we love stories, we see something of ourselves. Or something we hope to be. 

Our church recently started a series called 'The Story'. The concept of this series that there are two stories constantly taking place, the Upper Story and the Lower Story. The Upper Story is God's plan for all of creation, his utmost desire for us, the ultimate goal. The Lower Story consists of the individual narrative for each of us. We all play a part in God's plan, whether or not we acknowledge it or cooperate with him. Even in our rebellion, we are never out of his story. The Bible tells us, and I believe it to be true, that the best way of living is in tandem with God's plan, aligning my story with His story so that we're telling the same story. 

This idea of 'The Story' is an appealing concept. After all, who doesn't love a good story? And maybe this is why God thought it was fitting to relate to us through stories. He knew that we could understand a story and that we'd come back to it time and again. His Word is full of stories, I believe true stories (yup, I'm one of those evangelical fundamentalist kooks, you caught me!). Stories of loss, worry, fear, and failure. Stories of hope, faith, adventures, and fulfillment. Every story lined with grace, redemption, and second-chances. No one falls too far, too hard, or for too long for God to save them. The only people who are truly lost are the ones who harden in the light. The Bible is full of the human condition. There isn't a single aspect of human life that isn't addressed in some way. Oppression, vengeance, retribution, forgiveness, liberation, loss, loneliness, hatred, exile, victory...

Who knows better the human condition 
than the One who created us? 
Only one. 
Emmanuel, God With Us. 

Literature is full of heroes--Byronic heroes, tragic heroes, super heroes, ordinary heroes, unlikely heroes, even heroines. But only one Hero can really save us and only one Story really tells his tale. 

We all love a really well-crafted and expertly told story. This is what drew Peter Pan to Wendy's window, gave Sara Crewe her friends, and allowed Anne Shirley to survive. It's what packs movie theatres, tunes DVRs for that "can't miss" show, and fills bookshelves. And it's what makes the Bible the number one bestseller of all time. Of all the stories in all the world, it's the one that rings most true (because it is) and brings the most hope. Its Author is our only hope. 

"For I know the plans [the story] I have for you," says the Lord...--Jeremiah 29:11

Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...Hebrews 12:2

Friday, October 18, 2013

Do Everything

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people--Colossians 2:23

Steven Curtis Chapman has a song called 'Do Everything' which I fell in love with the very first time I heard it. When I was working, I really struggled because I kinda sorta really hated my job. Well, I didn't mind the actual part when I worked with the kids--kids are alright. But there were some other issues made me flat our miserable. The song was encouraging to me in those days because it helped me keep my perspective. I was working for God's glory, not just for a paycheck. Oddly enough for as much as I liked the song, I didn't know what it was called until just a couple days ago. I was listening to some of his albums on Spotify and noticed the title for the first time. 'Do Everything.'

It stuck out to me because I just read in a book that one of the leading Women's Rights activists of the 1800s had a motto which was 'Do Everything'. This was a liberating idea for 19th century women. That they could do more, be more, have more. For these women it was about better education, social reform, the right to vote, equal pay/respect in the workforce, and protecting the sanctity of the home. This is how they dreamed a of a better life.

But I feel that 'Do Everything' is no longer full of glittering possibilities. Instead, it feels more like a prison sentence. It's not about the betterment of lives but the idea of having it at all, doing it all. Whatever this illusive 'it' is. Our 19th century foremothers wanted the right to choose what their lives could be. Ironically, I think we somehow missed the mark and ended up in the same boat. So many women I know don't feel as though they have choices to do this or that, but instead the choice is to deciding when to do this and that. And we're buckling under the pressure of having to do it all. Our schedules are loaded with things to do and places to be. We're supposed to be organic, from scratch, DIY women who also work full-time and still look beautiful for our husbands. 'Do Everything' is no longer about liberating women, but exhausting them!

So how do we simplify? Do we simply hang up our business suits and go back to the kitchen? No. And I'm a stay at home mom, so I sorta feel like I'm betraying my own kind with that answer. I don't think the answer is to put every woman back in her home and make her stay there. For some of us, that's the answer. It was for me. For right now in this season of my life, God wants me to be a homemaker and that's what will bring him glory. He calls me to serve him at home and in the church, and as long as I'm faithful to do that, then I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing. That's my 'Do Everything'.

Which is what brings me back to Steven Curtis Chapman. The man has a knack for putting some pretty strong Biblical wake-up calls to some catchy melodies. It just sticks with you. And his song says that we should 'Do Everything' for God's glory, big or small, glamorous or simple. Our purpose is to do the work God has designed us to do. For example, God knew before Solomon was even conceived that he would be the one to build the temple in Jerusalem. So God equipped Solomon to do the work so that he would be glorified. David encouraged Solomon in this task by telling him:

Then David continued, “Be strong and courageous, and do the workDon’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the Lord is finished correctly.--1 Chronicles 28:19-21. 

God will help us succeed at the work he has asked us to do. If we're crumbling under the workload, it's because we've piled on more than what he ever designed us to do. So the answer to the 'Do Everything' dilemma is to do the work God has set out for you to do. And then as you 'Do Everything' you're called to do, do it for the glory of God. You don't have to 'Do Everything' to do everything for God's glory! 

You're picking up toys on the living room floor 
For the 15th time today
Matching up socks
Sweeping up lost cheerios that got away
You put a baby on your hip
Color on your lips and head out the door. 

While I may not know you, 
I bet I know you wonder sometimes, 
Does it matter at all?
well let me remind you, it all matters just as long...

As you do everything you do 
To the glory of the One who made you, 
Cause he made you, 
To do
Every little thing that you do 
To bring a smile to His face
Tell the story of grace
With every move that you make

And every little thing you do

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mother of the Year? No Thanks

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than you soul? 
--Matthew 16:26

If you've read my blog for any length of time you're aware that I struggled through a time of infertility before being blessed with my precious son, Dayton. And I feel that since I begged and pleaded and wept innumerable tears for this child that I should be the absolute best mother that I can be. Of course, there are countless resources and influences competing for my attention in the instruction of how to achieve this goal. Everything from newsletters filling my inbox, to magazines crowding my end table, to Pinterest and Facebook filling up multiple tabs on my browser. And of course, the good ol' fashioned advice from friends, family, acquaintances, and people I've never met before in my life. Oh, and not to leave out pediatricians, nurses, and other professionals of varying backgrounds. It's an information overload and it results in immense pressure. Especially for someone hardwired for perfection.

You see, I can't look at a list of the 25 best activities/habits/learning concepts to do with your toddler and choose just one or two to start with. I have to try the whole 25 because that's the best way, the perfect way, the 'mom of the year' way. But since that's impossible, I end up doing none of them and feeling like 'crummy mom of the year' instead. I can't possibly use all of the advice I'm given, I can't possibly live up to the standard of every best practice, I can't possibly do all of the ideas of Pinterest. But the perfectionist in me says that I fail if I don't and that has left me frozen in inaction.

Truth be told, I've been drowning under all this pressure---mostly imposed upon by my own self, I willingly admit. Drowning, and yet dying of thirst. You know, water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink! I get that. I totally get that.

But this weekend I was given an opportunity to wade knee deep in the Living Water. O, how it watered this parched and weary soul.

Twenty-four of us from my church convoyed over to Cedar Point for Point Fest, their annual Christian music festival. I debated for a couple of weeks whether or not to go--the money & leaving my son ALL.DAY. being two main reasons holding me back (it's hard to spend money on yourself after having a child--it just is!). But as this dry feeling began eroding more and more of my joy, my resolve, my drive, my sanity it became clear that I needed this badly. I didn't know what God would give me but He always shows up when I go looking. Always. And so I prayed for something, anything, that He wanted to give me, I said I'd take it.

Four bands, each giving a different message, each one profound, powerful, and of God. But the one that hit me the deepest, the one I'm holding on to and declaring for my truth from the Almighty Himself, came from Toby Mac at the end of the night. In a song I've had on my iPod for years and have listened to many times but that night I heard it with fresh ears. It struck me like a bolt of lightning, the floodgates of heaven opened in my soul and the water came rushing in. It'd be trickling through all day, soaking in slow and steady, but in this moment, I was drenched in the Living Water.

'I don't wanna gain the whole world, and lose my soul'. 

I don't want to be mother of the year 
and lose every semblance of grace in the process. 

I don't want to spend time reading about mothering while ignoring the one who needs mothered. I don't want to waste time talking about mothering while the one who needs mothered is trying to get my attention. I don't want to be supermom, that mom, a Pinterest mom, and end up with a child that had 'perfection' but no modeling of grace, joy, and redemption. I don't want to be the best mom anymore, I want to be the mom who does what's best for my family.

You see, I've been striving after the wrong things. I've been chasing someone else's standard, even chasing my standard is wrong. It's God's standard that matters. God's standard is grace, but I've been living in un-grace. No grace for myself, no grace for the ones around me. God's standard is love but it's awfully hard to love when you're living in un-grace. God's standard is joy, praise, gratitude, but un-grace will suck that out of a life at warp speed. Un-grace is the offspring of perfectionism bred with disappointment.

But as a redeemed child of God and a divinely appointed mother of my son, I can live in grace. I can model forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. I can praise and worship with my heart, my attitude, my words, and my song. I can show Dayton that it's okay to be imperfect, to mess up, to struggle (because I don't think for a moment the struggle is over just because I had an a-ha moment), because God is bigger than our biggest messes and His grace never runs out. I want to show Dayton with my life, not just teach him with my words, that gaining the whole world is worth absolutely nothing, if you lose your soul in the process.

If were to somehow meet every standard I've encountered in the world, to teach Dayton everything he's supposed to learn right on schedule, to prepare every meal with creativity and perfect nutrition, to do it all, it would mean NOTHING, nothing, nothing, NOTHING, if were to also lose my soul to un-grace in the process. Heaven forbid it. I'd rather lose a whole lot of the perfect and keep my soul alive in grace instead. Hallelujah! Amen.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Do The Work

Wherever you set foot, you will be on land that I have given you...Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.--Joshua 1:3, 9

Then David continued, " Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don't be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will to it that all the work related to the Temple of the Lord is finished correctly."--1 Chronicles 28:20

But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God's entire house. And we are God's house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in Christ.--Hebrews 3:6

Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?--1 Corinthians 6:19

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!--Psalm 84:1

In the last couple of months my dream has shifted from inspiring youths to choose the straight and narrow, to ministering to women. While I have a list a mile long of things I want teenagers to know, things I wish I had known or understood better or understood at all, I have no such list for women. Fact is, it terrifies me. I'm young, I'm a bit awkward and nervous when it comes to teaching, and I feel that I have no authority to tell anyone anything. My dog barely listens to me and my son rarely does...although I blame that on the fact that neither of them as a real great grasp on English yet.

But I was fortunate enough to hear a sermon several years ago about Joshua--the man and the book. Using the first chapter of Joshua as his text this preacher explained that if the man had only trusted God, every single step he took would've been blessed. It says so right there in black and white. And then the famous, be strong and courageous, be strong and courageous, haven't I commanded you? BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS! I think God wanted Joshua to be strong and courageous.

But if Joshua was anything like me, his next question would've been: how? How can I be strong, courageous, not terrified, not discouraged? Because quite frankly, taking the promised land, chasing down a dream, is daunting, especially when you feel unqualified.

So I've done a little word study using my brand spanking new Bible and it's wonderful concordance. I've never had a Bible with such a good concordance and I've made good use of it! I've read every verse with the words strong, strength, strengthen, courage, and courageous. I've written down all of them that made any sense out of context and I've tried to draw some conclusions.

I'm not quite there yet, so I won't waste your time with my fragmented throughts. But I did notice something. Something I'm still mulling over but felt ready to share. Re-read those verses I put at the very beginning of this post. Do you see how they connect?

Be strong and courageous. Don't be afraid or discouraged. Do the work. God is with you. (David is telling Solomon the same things that Joshua was told way back in Joshua 1). Why? How? Because God won't fail you. HE will see to it that all the work is finished. The work on the temple. And not just Solomon's temple, but THE temple. The church, the body and bride of Christ. And more intimately, me. I am a living temple, the dwelling place of the Spirit. And I am lovely, or being made lovely, complete, perfect.

Do the work...even when you're tired and it feels like a big floppity failure. Do the work...even when you can't think a straight thought. Do the work...even when you feel unqualified and nervous and scared. Because God is with you and God will see that the work is finished. The work in me, the work being done through me.

The Spirit of the Lord of Heaven's Armies dwells in me--whom shall I fear? What shall I fear? Failure, exhaustion, inadequacy. Ridiculous.

Here's the thing...right now, the work ahead of me is not just women's ministry, that's just the dream. To write like Beth Moore, to teach like Kay Arthur, to instruct like Lysa TerKeurst, to encourage like Angela Thomas. One part of the work for right now is to lead a women's Bible study and to teach the youth Sunday school, however bumbling. But the other part, the greater part, of the work in my life, the one I really feel unqualified for is that of wife & mother. Somehow, I didn't feel like such a hapless wife until I started feeling like such a helpless mother. Funny how insecurities can unravel you like pulling the wrong thread in a sweater. This, however, is my calling, my true ministry, my most important work. And I must do the work of mothering and help-meeting, and nurturing the men I love--my husband and my son. Even when I feel like a big floppity failure. Because it's GOD who is seeing that work will be finished on HIS dwelling place--me, my house, and my family. And no matter how I feel about myself in any given moment on any given day, He already dwells in me and therefore, I am already lovely.

And this is my verse, the one I'm clinging to in order to do the work and see it through each day...

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him--2 Chronicles 16:9

If I am wholly committed, all in, not holding anything back...then He gives me His strength to do the work, to forge on, to see it through. For His glory and for my good, and for the good of the lives I touch. And that's a promise worth clinging to. Standing on even. Standing on the promises of God, my Savior!

And I promise...once I round out some more of my thoughts on this whole strong & courageous thing, I'll share. Because there's some really great stuff there, some wonderful patterns and promises. But in the meantime...do the work...

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dawn of New Life, Twilight of a Life Well Lived

My grandmother, so I hear from many miles away across a cell phone signal, agreed willingly to the move to the nursing home. She moved in this evening. My grandfather is resistant. 

Elsewhere, in another part of the country, my two (and a half!) year old precious niece is enjoying her still-new room. She soaked it in with eyes wide and in uncharacteristic quiet. A hush fell over the room as she saw what her Daddy had done just for her. "It's so nice," she breathed. The breathless awe of something just for you. Something grown up and special and wonderful. 

In a yet another part of the country, my son enjoyed an evening with one of his favorite people on Earth...a bright, beautiful young lady preparing for her first year of college at my alma mater. The first time Mama and Dada entrusted him to someone not a parent themselves. And he not only survived without me for the evening, he loved it. He waved when she left. My son doesn't wave 'bye-bye', he waves when he sees something he wants. He waves harder when he senses he's not getting it. He waved very hard when we came inside. He loves her. 

My grandfather agreed to go tomorrow. What reasoning finally worked? I don't know. But I don't think it was human eloquence. I think it was a divine intervention. I think this because I asked for it specifically, me and an untold number of friends and fellow believers. And I asked God to remind my grandfather, who has nearly circled around the sun on this planet 100 times, that He is in control, no matter where he lives. That God is to  be trusted, no matter who is calling the shots. That the next stop is Paradise, good and faithful friend, hold on, keep trusting me to the very, very end. God sustained my grandfather across two world wars, the nation's stock market crash, the Great Depression, his youngest daughter's illness which could've killed her, his oldest daughter's car crash that should've killed her, his only son's mugging that could've left him dead, personal injury that kept him from working and the paychecks from coming, the birth of their only grandson, five years later, their only granddaughter, and even their great-granddaughter and great-grandson. In the century that my grandfather has spent here on this side of Eternity God has proved faithful, trustworthy, and sovereign. What on Earth does he have to fear? This is what I asked God to remind him. 

Did he? I have no way of knowing for sure. But the little text that came about an hour later that informed me he had changed his mind told me that, one way or another, God had heard me and my prayers had been answered. 

The juxtaposition of it all just astounds me. My niece with her brand new big girl room...so thrilled with the change, so excited to be a BIG girl, full wonder and awe at this big, exciting world laying at her feet. My son growing confident, learning to be okay without me, having first adventures without me, growing so big and strong. The dawn of new life, the twilight of a life well lived. Something about it inspires me...to trust God a little faster, a little stronger, to hold onto Him a little tighter. He prepares new big girl changes for me with as much love as tenderness as my brother does for her beloved daughter. He takes me on new adventures with people I come to love and trust, just as my son is learning to do in his toddlerhood. And He will sustain me across an untold amount of years and an untold amount of struggles and victories, blessings and trials. No matter where I live or who is calling the shots, GOD is faithful, trustworthy, and sovereign. 

Hallelujah. Amen. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Red is Not My Color

I entitled this post 'Red is not my color' because I think it's catchy. And I have a theory that if your title is catchy people will click on it. The fact of the matter is, red is my color. I look nice in red, pink, purple, magenta, that whole part of the color spectrum. Except orange. But really, who looks good in orange if you're not a Siberian tiger?

But red is my color in other ways, too. Fashion unrelated ways.

I've been known to see red. I've had a battle against my own temper for as long as I can remember. I used to stomp my foot and get all hopping mad when things just weren't going my way. (who am I kidding, I still stomp my foot every now and then). Then there was the time in high school I flung my purse--a purse weighted down with a cell phone and clunky old camera--and shattered a rehearsal mirror in the choir room all because my friends were gossiping and saying nasty things about me. That was an expensive lesson in anger management. Lately, my nerves feel a little raw--maybe because I haven't slept through the night since sometime in November 2011--and it seems like I'm flying off the handle at every little thing. I'm seeing red and it ain't pretty.

And then there's being in the red. It doesn't seem to matter where we trim--dumped the smartphone with the pricey data plan (*sniffle*), cancelled the satellite and signed up for Netflix and Hulu (*sniffle, sniffle*)--we're still just barely getting by. Every one step forward is met with a need that sends us three steps back in this rather obnoxious version of Chutes & Ladders we're playing.

It was that particular phrase--'in the red'--that inspired this post. As I was sitting on the side of some country road, praying over my husband as he crawled under our flatbed trailer to repair a blown tire, and wondering just how much new tires cost and if any other damage had been done. I felt like I had just been sent down another long chute. I wanted to cry but it seemed too silly to cry over a blown tire, especially when I wasn't the one risking life, limb, and giant splinters to fix it. No really, you should see the splinter my husband pulled out of his hand later!

I realized that something else is red, something that's good to be in: the red letters. The words of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the Author of Life.

The red letters (and many of the black ones around the red letters) tell me many things about my Savior. He was sometimes lonely, He was regularly moved with compassion, He cried, He got good and mad (I'm sure He was seeing red at the temple that day!), and He was brought to despair in Gethsemane. But He was never ever worried. Never once did Jesus wring His hands and wonder if or how His Father would pull off a miracle (cast out six demons, sure, no problem, but seven might be one too many??). Never did Jesus analyze, strategize, and come up with a 'Plan B' should His Father not pull through (nine lepers cured, sure, no problem, but ten? better have a back-up plan!).

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.--James 1:6-8

Jesus was not double-minded, as His brother calls it. Jesus did not doubt His authority to call upon the Father. He knew there'd be results, He knew miracles would happen, He knew God would provide. After all, when I look at the red letters, I see Jesus giving me this beautiful piece of imagery to hold on to, even when I've blown my top or we've blown a tire.

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing,  yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.--Matthew 6:25-34

It seems that when I'm in the red or starting to see red what I really need to do is turn to the red letters. I need to be in the red (letters) of Jesus, I need to see the red (letters) of the Prince of Peace, my Risen Savior. Maybe as hard as it feels right now, like drowning in a Red Sea all my own, I have to trust that He'll part the waters, or walk on water to meet me in my storm. That maybe after all red is my color, not just in my wardrobe, but in my heart when I let Jesus fill me the Word of Life. The red letters.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Master Artist, Gourmet Chef, and Me

I don't know very much about art. Truth be told, I still put the sun in the corner of my paper with sunglasses and a smiley face. My art education roommate in college told me that's what kindergartners do. So that's the extent of my art expertise.

But I can recognize a good painting when I see one. At least, what I consider good. And as cliche as his art may have become Thomas Kinkade is known as the 'Painter of Light' for a reason. His paintings seem to glow with something ethereal and divine. The cottages aren't just cozy or his country churches merely quaint, there's something in them that we want to experience.

I am not a great cook either. I have a whole shelf of cookbooks that I've never used. Sticking to the same tried and true recipes, meals aren't very exciting around here. There's a reason my husband gets excited when were invited over for dinner. It's not that I'm a bad cook, just not a very confident cook.

But I can recognize a good meal when I have one. On our honeymoon we splurged on an expensive dinner at one of Bobby Flay's restaurants. Curtis had the steak, I had the lamb chops. His steak was the most perfectly seasoned, perfectly prepared cut of meat either of us had ever tasted. I practically licked my plate clean my lamb chops were so delicious. It was a meal that left us wanting more and we often talk about returning to NYC and eating there again.
Outside of Bar Americain

In the last few days, weeks, I've experienced the true Painter of Light doing work in my life. The Master Artist has been at work, layering in fresh colors, highlighting new details, tenderly adding depth, purposefully giving dimension to His created work--my life, my heart.  The Gourmet Chef has awakened a hunger and thirst for Him.

I've grown up in the church so I have a good amount of base knowledge of the things of God. As I've grown up and matured, through questioning, life experience, and lots of reading I've added to that base knowledge. But I'm afraid to admit that I've been subsisting on boiled down tidbits in certain areas. It's not necessarily my fault or the fault of my teachers but it's been subsistence all the same. And God has decided it's high time I feast on the Word and put some spiritual fat on my base knowledge bones.

This time, instead of teaching me through an emotional experience, or perhaps because I've given my attention willingly instead of forcing His hand to strip me of my distractions, I'm learning differently. I'm seeing  a beautiful methodology being used by the Artist, a rich feast prepared by the Gourmet Chef.

He showed me a lack of discipline in my life and asked me to focus my striving on simply being disciplined to meet with Him intentionally and consistently. The discipline led to a few reminders on obedience, because the two go hand in hand. He asked me to eliminate some of the noise, like Facebook, so that I could hear Him more clearly whenever He called. The Master Artist was adding some depth to my stark canvas outline.

And once that work was begun (this is a lifestyle for a lifetime, not an acquiesce for a moment) He taught me many things about prayer that I had never even considered before, let alone been practicing. The true power and purpose of prayer, the longevity and legacy of prayer, the sacrifice and intercessory abilities of prayer. Too many things to clumsily recount here. Perhaps most importantly, I've come to finally understand the real power of praying His Word, of claiming it for myself and standing on its Truth. It seems absurd that a good little Sunday School girl like me has taken twenty-eight and a half years to really digest that wonderful morsel but I've always been a picky eater.

Every lesson I've ever heard on prayer has boiled it down to some simple formula (A.C.T.S. or each finger on your hand stands for something to include in prayer or just pray the 'Our Father'--it was good enough for Jesus). But that's not it at all. It's not a formula, it's not a boiled down tidbit, something easily contained and explained in one half-hour Sunday school lesson. Prayer is one of the vast wells of Spiritual water, of God's goodness, even of divine mystery. The more you know about prayer, the more there seems to know about prayer, much like God Himself. I believe that's by (His) design. Just as the more you read the Word, the more you keep returning to the Word because it's always the same but forever revealing new depths of truth. Much like God Himself. A masterpiece invites the viewer to gaze a little longer, to come back and see the painting in different light, to consider the beauty from all angles. God does all this and more.

God has taught me about time and numbering my days, about seeing my service to Him as simply organizing and He's doing the doing, about giving worth and precedence to my priorities the way He does. And in all of this, He has taught me about Himself. To learn about the things of God--prayer, Scriptures, service, time, priorities--is to learn about God. And instead of just another fact-finding mission to satiate my intellect, this has been a gourmet feast on God Himself to satisfy my soul. Not satisfaction for all time, but like any nourishment, one meal at a time, one day at a time. Like manna falling from Heaven, more must be gathered and digested each day to keep my soul satisfied.

It's not for the painting to decide when it's finished but the painter. I am clearly an unfinished work but I hope to be one of His masterpieces. I want to be a canvas on which He can leave His unmistakable and indelible signature. I want to be a painting that reveals something inside people want to experience for themselves.

And just as I've been fed on the Word of the Lord, and the meals prepared by others in His name, I want to feed those hungry souls the good things of God. I want to nourish as I've been nourished.

I've been given new light and dimension. I've been strengthened and nourished. And the Master Artist, the Gourmet Chef is just getting started.

*If you're searching for some extra nourishment for your prayer life, these are the books I've been reading:
Handle With Prayer by Charles Stanley
The Prayer of Hannah by Kenn Gividen
Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver
A Busy Woman's Guide to Prayer by Cherri Fuller
On my list to read soon:
Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey
The Circle Maker: Drawing Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson.
Please feel free to leave any titles on prayer that have strengthened and nourished you, or added new light and dimension to your prayer life!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Not Just a Hallmark Holiday

Tears were stinging my eyes and the sheets of music on the stand in front of the keyboard were starting to blur. I felt that horrible lump in my throat, the one that means your emotions are getting the better of you. In a split second I decided to leave the service as quickly as possible--it was over anyway and I didn't want to have to explain my inexplicable teary eyes and lumpy throat to anyone. 

But my husband knew, and my best friend already knew, and it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. It was Mother's Day. And I was a childless mother. A childless mother? What an oxymoron...but for those of us that have been there, you know exactly what I mean. And you know just how unbearable Mother's Day can be. And you feel like such a jerk for feeling sorry for yourself on a day when you should be thankful for your own mother and happy for all the mothers around you. But you just can't. At least I couldn't. 

At this point, it'd already been 2 years of trying to get pregnant and nothing but heartache. Tests and more tests, pills that didn't work, bloodwork that didn't give hope, ultrasounds that showed an empty womb. Data. Data that added up to one thing--I was not a mother on Mother's Day. 

But this proved to be a turning point. After 2 years and some months of pouring my heart out to God and lamenting my worst fears and trying to bolster up hope, I finally felt as if I had reached a decisive moment. God made it clear in the following days and weeks that it was time for me to share my story, my struggle with people. It started with our pastor and then his wife. I was anointed at the old altar in the church we were then attending. It was a private moment, didn't take very long, but it was profound and significant, and in my opinion, it made all the difference. 

I came home from that anointing and asked 10 people to pray, a mixture of old friends and new, a few family members on both my side and his. It was a cross-section of people who knew how to pray and always held out the highest hopes for us. 

And then I started writing. I wrote here and I shared it. And then people started sharing their stories with me. Stories of infertility, of miscarriages, of hopes and fears and prayers and triumphs. A community sprung up around me. After years of feeling alone and ashamed with my childless womb. 

Last year was my very first Mother's Day. My son was exactly a week old. He was recovering from jaundice and we thought he seemed more yellow than he should be so we took him to the hospital to be checked. The photoraphs aren't very good--he's a squishy little newborn and I was still all puffy and big from pregnancy...but they're precious all the same. My very first Mother's Day with my little miracle of faith. 

But this year...this day... is one of great significance to me. My second Mother's Day is one for the record books...or the blogosphere , as the case may be. For today Dayton was dedicated. Along with two other babies, the April and June babies, Adalaynn and Jaxon who bookend my miaracle, miracles themselves.

We stood on the stage before our congregation, our church family, our extra grandparents and aunts and uncles and role models, and we pledged to give Dayton back to God and to raise him in faith. He was conceived in faith, how else could be raise him? And our friends, some of which were the very same people that prayed for his conception, pledged to help us raise him to know God and live the faith. The same pastor that anointed me led us through the dedication. It all came full circle. 

Hannah, the mother of Samuel and one of the best mothers on record in all of history, has been my hero since this journey through infertility began. Hers is a story of intensely honest emotions and intensely profound faith. Shortly after I found out I was pregnant, I began to fear losing him during pregnancy. So it was at the same altar I knelt to be anointed that I gave my son back to God...before I even knew he was a boy...before I'd ever heard his heartbeat...before I'd ever held him in my arms...I gave him back to God. And today I did it publicly. That looks different for me in this century, in this culture, than it did for Hannah...but I'm familiar with her promise, her heart. 

So while some people disregard this as just a Hallmark holiday, a way for businesses to sell cards, flowers, and brunches, I will never see it as such. It's so much more and it'll never be about the gifts and cards. It's about my heart, my faith, and my miracle. My little noisy rambunctious precious miracle that I waited so long to conceive, meet, and give back to God. 
A bit antsy during the Dedication Ceremony

Standing up so big and tall!

Myself, Pastor Mike, Dayton, and Curtis after the Dedication Ceremony

Happy Mother's Day!!
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