Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Running Away


There was a time when I wanted to run away. It was a particularly painful season in my life. The Holy Spirit had shined a light into my soul and revealed all the darkness. I admitted to myself, then to my husband, and eventually to God, how angry I was that my life had turned out the way that it had.  I was supposed to be a doctor, a successful career woman who did want she wanted, earned respect and glory for herself, then came home after a satisfying day at work and enjoyed quiet, a bubble bath and a glass of wine, and no one needing anything from me. Instead, I was a mom of four needy children, wife to a sinner, working hard for glory that was not my own. I was angry at everyone and disgusted at the reality of me.

Disciples of Jesus wanted to run away, too.

Jesus had just delivered His controversial, “if you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life” speech. (John 6:53ff) His disciples (which seem from the passage to be far more than just the 12) are having a tough time with this teaching. They are offended, and many of them “turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). So Jesus goes to the Twelve, wondering if they are going to leave, too. He asks Peter and the Twelve,

“You do not want to leave, too, do you?” (John 6:67)

I can hear the rejection in Jesus’ voice.

Peter, passionate as always, not yet fallen, not yet denied Jesus, responds beautifully, and honestly.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

I hear Peter saying, “Jesus, where we gonna go? There’s no one like you. This is tough, but we aren’t going anywhere.”

I wanted to run away. Leave this life that God had called me to and go… where?

I got as far as the bathroom (my hiding place). I knew if I ran, abandoned my family, that God would still be there. I couldn’t go anywhere He wasn’t. I thought of the psalm,

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from you presence?

If I go to the heavens, you are there;

If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

If I settle of the far side of the sea,

Even there your hand will guide me,

Your right hand will hold me fast.       Psalm 139:8-10


I read this story a while back about a woman who decided that she didn’t want to be a mom anymore. The title of the Yahoo! story was “The opposite of a 'Tiger Mother': leaving your children behind.” A mom of two boys, 5 and 3, got a fellowship to study in Japan for six months, and at about four months in, when the boys came to visit, she decided she didn’t want to parent them full time anymore. As tempted as I was to judge, I understood her. Motherhood IS a FULL TIME JOB (regardless if you work outside the home or not!). Live on your own for a while, taste freedom, live life for yourself, and why would you want to go back? 

But here’s why I would go back. Because Jesus, as difficult as His teaching is, would ask me to go back. He’s got the words of life. He’s got peace and joy in His back pocket. He’s got the keys to eternal life in heaven, and abundant life on earth.

Jesus tells us to serve. Jesus served.

 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
             Who, being in very nature God,

             did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

             But made Himself nothing,

             Taking the very nature of a servant,

             being made in human likeness.
                                                                         Philippians 2:6-7


I didn’t run away that day. I stayed. I had the hard conversation with my husband. I cried out to the Lord.  I choose to follow Jesus, even when His teachings are difficult, I fail miserably or don’t understand.
He has the words of eternal life.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Lost the Election


I lost the election.

That is to say, the candidate that I voted for lost the election. I checked the election results all night long (as my 2 year old woke me with coughing and crying), and my discouragement grew as the results rolled in, state by state, and it looked like President Obama would carry away a clear victory.

When I finally got up this morning after a sleepless night, and saw that President Barack Obama accepted a decisive victory, I felt disappointed, discouraged, like I had failed. I had failed to pray enough. The Christian community had failed to carry the vote, like some said they could. We as born-again believers had failed the nation and our cause.

But then the Holy Spirit whispered something into the ear of my heart:

“… He sets up kings and deposes them…”

Here is the entire Scripture:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;

wisdom and power are His.

He changes times and seasons;

he sets up kings and deposes them.

He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.

He reveals deep and hidden things;

he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him.”            

                                                            Daniel 2:20-22

God reminded me that He elects our leaders. “There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). God is Sovereign. God chooses our leaders. God has elected our President, and God has chosen those who will lead our country.

But it goes farther. God directs the decisions of our leaders as well.

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will.         Proverbs 21:1 (ESV)

Ultimately, I’m reminded that God is in charge. He chooses our leaders. He places them in authority. He directs their decisions. He even uses those leaders who do not acknowledge Him to do His work (like Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1-5).

As believers in an all-powerful, Almighty, Sovereign God, we have nothing to fear. There is no agenda that will succeed without the permission of our King. Instead of mourning, we should be praying. Instead of criticizing, we should instead be looking at our own lives, asking what WE are doing to change our nation. Instead of condemning those whose lifestyles do not match our values, we should look at our own lives as ask where we ourselves are not obeying the Bible’s teaching.

As my wise pastor said this Sunday,

“It is not what happens in the White House that matters,

but what happens in our house.” 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Whole Life


I believe that the Lord is calling me to a “whole” life, one that no longer ignores the body and the soul, but nurtures all three: body, spirit and soul. What does this look like? I’m not sure. What I do know is that I’ve neglected body and soul.

I thought that the only good thing was my spirit. My spirit, as far as I know, is what communes with God. My spirit makes me spirit-ual, eternal; it endures when my body has passed away.

So I worked hard nurturing my spirit, thinking that it was my job. I interceeded for the world and my family, friends, and unsaved neighbors. I studied the Word – completing my Bible study homework, digging deeper into the answers that I didn’t fully understand, getting lost in a question that I had… I prepared sermons and talks for Sunday mornings, women’s ministry meetings and the retreat. I planned meetings and vision for the next year. These were all good things to do, but I was constantly WORKING for God. I never stopped to REST with Him. To “practice His presence.” It was like He was waiting for me to put my pen down and just be with Him.

My body… well, the easy answer is that I had two babies in two years, and they didn’t like the gym, or the gym didn’t like them. Either way, I hadn’t been in one for four years. I fasted occasionally, sometimes weekly, and the Lord began a work to deliver me from an eating addiction… more like, eating idolatry. I ran to food when I was sad, happy, anxious, tired. When Finn was an infant, he screamed for hours at a time. I hit the chocolate chips hard in those days. My post-baby weight was inviting friends over, instead of falling off. I began to get serious about honoring the Lord with eating, so I guess I wasn’t completely neglecting my body. But I did seem to focus on NOT eating, instead of enjoying eating what I had… 

When I did finally go back to the gym in April of this year, I felt guilty about it. I was leaving my children during the best part of their day (the morning), so that I could exercise. I felt like a stereotype: the stay-at-home mom at the gym. The rich, tan mom, with lots of diamonds and a perfectly sculpted %@$, whose children were cared for by another lowly person while she worked on her work of art, her body. When the truth is, I was just a woman who had been neglecting herself and had lost her own identity in motherhood and ministry.

Taking care of my body in exercise was the first step for me in rediscovering myself. God made my body. He even called it “very good.” (I’ll take it!) He made me a steward of that body, just like the servant with the talents. I am the caretaker of God’s wonderful masterpiece. It is every bit spiritual for me to exercise. And I often find myself worshipping with abandon during spin class. “Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus for techno music! Thank you for the healthy body you’ve given me! Thank you for strong legs and arms and for sweat and endorphins and for a community of people to exercise with, so I’m not alone in this fight to take care of my body! Thank you for bringing me back to the gym! Thank you for the wonderful child care workers who give me a break, so that I can go back home and give more to my kids!” Sometimes I hear really clearly from God right in the middle of spin class. Or on a run. I get ideas that seem heaven-sent. I can clear my head as I exhaust my body. For a while I started listening to podcasts (sermons) while I exercised. I found myself dreading the gym… I was making my body work into spirit work. Exercise was a break from my constantly moving mind. When I added some deep theology, the same release was not accomplished. So I went back to Rhianna on the elliptical. Much better. I can listen to “We Found Love” about 400 times in a row. It totally motivates me to do one more set of crunches. (I once tried to put that song on the play list at my mom’s 60 birthday party. It was like the dancing stopped, the crickets chirped, and everyone stared at me. Oops. Never put Rhianna on the playlist when the average age is about 60.)

Oh, one other thing. Ive been counting calories. I tried cutting out sugar completely for a while, but I was miserable and depressed. I LOVE making cookies with my kids. So lately Ive just been counting my calories with an app on my ipod. I’ll never (OK, probably never) drink another caramel Frappaccino ever again. They are like 500 calories! Holy cow! Who knew? But my favorite homemade peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies are only 170 calories each. ONE of those suckers almost satisfies my sweet-tooth for the day. SOOO good. (I’ll give you the recipe if you want.) AND, I got to make them with my little boys, who love to eat the dough, and we love making them together. It's just as fun to make them as to eat them. We literally had a cookies for lunch today. Who needs PB&J (400 calories)? Taking care of my body, and sensible eating, doesn’t mean never eating fun, yummy food. It just means balancing it out. I’m honestly finding freedom in the self-control.

As for my soul, I’m still figuring this one out. I am trying to discover what I love. Besides Jesus, Todd, and my kids, of course. But what in this “unspiritual” world do I really enjoy? (Perhaps it’s all spiritual when we see it through the right lens.)

I have discovered a few things I love. I like country music. Carrie Underwood especially. And jazz. I have found that jazz relaxes me just as much as a bowl of ice cream at the end of an exhausting day. (Seriously!) I like art musuems. And cities. I just went to Boston with my mom, and we started at the Musuem of Fine Art. I felt alive, and cultured, and stimulated in a way that I’m not usually. I stared long and hard at paintings of George Washington in his youth, and a woman (I forgot her name) who was a revolutionary in her own time, yet was painted tending a garden. Perhaps, like me, she felt more comfortable with a pen than a trowel in her hands. I loved riding the “T,” people watching, wandering in and out of little shops along Newberry Street, eating my way through Quincy Market (Yeah, that wasn’t a good calorie day. We won’t talk too much more about that one.), drinking chilled wine and hot coffee. I love the energy of the city.

I love to read. And not just Christian books. Novels. Magazines. Home design books, which are just picture books for grown-ups. I like going to the library by myself, so I can pick the books and movies that I like, without a toddler yelling in the adult section, or the rest of my crew running around like untrained children. (“Who are those children? They certainly aren’t mine! Ughh!”)

I like to meet friends out for a coffee or a glass of wine. I do try to connect with my friends during the week with my children. But there is GREAT blessing in connecting with my friends without my children. Uninterrupted conversation is greater than gold, and good friends are like apples in settings of silver. (Or something like that.) A fabulous cabernet sauvignon is a bonus. And Italian bread dipped in olive oil. Yum. (300 calories)

I’ve always loved home design. But I want to learn more. I want to use the sewing machine that my grandmother gave me. I’m hoping to take a home d├ęcor sewing class and learn how to make curtains and slip covers for my dining room chairs and new pillow covers and duvet covers for my bed. I recently wandered through a fabric store and collected all the little free swatches of fabric I liked. Then I put up some corkboard in my home office and displayed them all, by room. I feel like a proper designer. Problem is I don’t have the budget. Or the time. Someday.

I’ve struggled to be still in this season of rest and wholeness that God has me in. It feels weird not to put most of my free time towards planning some meeting or some sermon. But it’s also freeing. I feel more whole than I have, perhaps, ever. God is loving me in this season. He is loving me body, soul, and spirit.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dreams


Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.
Psalm 40:5 NIV

I have big dreams. Dreams that only God could accomplish. I just read on Beth Moore’s blog: “If we look around our lives and we have everything we need, then we may need to live a bigger life and set better goals.” (http://blog.lproof.org/  Anybody Get a Word? June 4, 2012) But it brings up a good point: where is the balance between contentment and holy discontent?

I am content with my children, and being a homemaker, and quilting and cleaning and cooking. But I want more: I want to travel the world and teach the Bible and feed the hungry and hold the orphans.

I am content with my church: its school-building sanctuary, 150-member body, crackling sound system, and one-pastor leadership. But I want more! A big, beautiful building that invites our wealthy community in the door, so we can introduce them to Jesus. A pastoral team, whose combined gifts are greater than the sum of all of them, who might lighten the load of our dear pastor. In-ear technology, so the praise team can “play skillfully” and lead us into worship without the distractions to their finely tuned musical ears. More life groups for couples. More people serving. New believers, weekly. Salvations. Healing. Deliverance. Hope. Joy. Peace. Jesus.

How do we live this life with contentment, yet long for more?

We wait on the Lord. We wait on the Lord to fill our mouths with His provision. We wait on the Lord to accomplish our dreams. We wait on the Lord to do things we could never do on our own. We wait on the Lord.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:13-14

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rest

Yesterday I was exhausted. Emotionally, physically, I needed rest. Often on Thursday nights, I try to get out in the evening, just to get out, go somewhere by myself (without 4 kids in tow!), and have some fun. Yesterday afternoon, I didn't know how to spend my Thursday night. My girlfriend couldn't join me, I wanted to shop but didn't have much money... I felt discouraged because I didn't know what to do. I asked God to give me rest. What I really wanted was to fly away with Todd to Mexico for 5 days and sit on the beach in the sun. That's REALLY what I wanted to do. But since that wasn't an option, I prayed for rest.

I felt led by the Holy Spirit to visit my neighbor. She's a modern day widow. She's divorced, lives alone, physically housebound for the most part. She doesn't need food or money like the widows of the Bible, but she needs company. I get lonely when Todd's out two nights in a row. I can't imagine how lonely she gets day after day by herself. 

But I admit that I didn't really want to go. I didn't think it seemed restful. Thursday was MY night! My rest! It was supposed to be a time to refill my tank, not further empty it again. But I also wanted to obey God and where I thought He was asking me to go. So I went. 

We had a very pleasant time. We chatted about our houses, the neighborhood, marriage, her health. I stayed about an hour. I was so glad I went. 

I came home, planning to sit in front of the T.V. and eat junk food. (Now that's real rest, right?) But for some reason, I didn't. Instead I went to my bathroom that I've been painting and redoing, and I finished the work I'd been doing that day. I even cleaned it, hung a new medicine cabinet and picture on the wall, put away the paint supplies, put all our toiletries away in the cabinet. (Still not "restful.")  Eventually I did end up in front of the T.V., with a smile on my face. (I skipped the junk food!)

Before bed I've been trying to read a Psalm every night. I'm teaching at our upcoming women's retreat on worship, and I want to learn to worship. I turned off the light to go to sleep, and the Lord reminded me to read my Psalm. So I got back up, and this is what I read:

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.               Psalm 23:1-3a

I'm still amazed when I read something and it says something completely different to me than the last time I read it. Also when Scripture so directly speaks to where I'm at in that exact moment. Two things, here:

1. Just three psalms earlier, David is praying that the Lord would give him the desires of his heart and grant all his requests. Here, he's saying that he doesn't have any wants. It's as if God has, three psalms later, filled the desires of David's heart and granted all David's requests.

Last night I prayed for rest. God led me to a place I didn't see as restful, yet this morning I feel rested AND joyful! I feel more rested than I have all week.

2. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. God knows what will give us rest. Physical and spiritual rest. (Both are important!) These verses are a picture of rest. I've been asking God for a while to teach me about rest. As a busy mom of four kids, a leader of women's ministry, and a woman involved in many people's lives, I get tired! And I don't always know what will bring me rest. Sometimes it is T.V. and books. Other times its coffee with a friend. But sometimes my method of "rest" just doesn't work, and I'm left feeling discouraged and not rested.

What I'm seeing is that I need to ask God for help, even to rest. Psalm 23 tells me that He can give me rest, and I saw His provision in that way last night. He knows what I need that day, that moment. He knows what will truly give me rest. He knows that sometimes what I call "work" in that moment will actually bring me peace and give me better rest.

I'm so thankful to God for giving me rest last night. I feel like I can do another day. I'm also thankful that because of God, I shall not be in want. Thank you, Father.