Today I'm praying for/about:

Today, (in no particular order) I'm praying for...
- Fresh ideas, inspiration and diligence to post regularly again

- My dad fighting mesothelioma too far away for me to hug him

- Children, parents, and teachers everywhere preparing to return to school

- My single friends as they seek God for His guidance in relationships

- Broken relationships; for grace to abound where grace has been withheld

- You; I'm praying for every single person who views this blog.

Thank you for standing in agreement with me for these precious souls!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wrestling With Surrender

I'm homesick.  I have been for a long time.  I grew up about an hour from Seattle in western Washington and my whole family is still there.  I left home in November of 1997 and except for moving back for a year in 2006, I haven't even visited yearly during the last 14 years.  Thanks to Facebook I keep in touch with the majority of my family and childhood friends and I talk with my mom daily but I miss them terribly.  I also miss the scenery and climate (yes, even the rain and gloom!).  If you've never visited there I highly recommend it someday; I've traveled a lot in 14 years and I believe it's the most beautiful place I've ever lived (the second would have to be the Yorkshire Dales).  Furthermore, I grew up spending a lot of time with extended family.  We spent many a weekend on my late grandparents property riding bikes or horses with our cousins, playing softball games in the pasture or frisbee 500 in the driveway.  My kids asked the other day "What are 'cousins'?"  I didn't know how to explain (especially since they're actually second cousins!)  

Because I don't want my husband to feel bad for "keeping me away" I have been praying that God would take away this desire for Him to eventually call us back there.  When I solemnly shared with my husband that God had not done so he suggested that instead of praying for God to take away my homesickness that I instead pray for joy right where I am.

That's when the tears broke loose...  He's right.  I didn't cry about praying for joy though; I cried because of the revelation I had in that moment.  I realized that while I was serving in the Navy that everything was "for a time" (basic training, schools, each assignment, etc.) that was usually pre-determined.  Now that we're in ministry I'm realizing that it's all indefinite.  We don't know where, when or for how long God will take (or leave) us anywhere.  I realized He may never lead us back to Washington.  I realized that it's not just the little, everyday things that God asks us to surrender.  

There's several scripture passages that come to mind lately.  One is Abraham laying Isaac on the altar... oh how he must have felt leading up to the moment where the ram appeared!  I also think about all the times Jesus told people what they would have to leave behind or sacrifice to really follow Him (family, friends, careers, comforts of home, all that was familiar)...  I think I can relate.  It's so much easier to say "I want what God wants" but there's a very painful battle that we each face when the proverbial rubber meets the road.  Do we truly want what God wants?  Are we fully ready to surrender all?  Born with sinful hearts every one of us has to make the choice to die to our desires; even ones that seem healthy.

Who knows but God whether He will send us back to the west coast some day...  For the sake of peace though, since it is not now, I have to hand it over, being careful, of course, of that fine line between true, joy-filled surrender and fatalistic, begrudging pessimism reminiscent of a child's tantrum.  I think of a situation the other day when a particular toy was the source of conflict between my boys.  When I asked for the toy to be handed over the boy in possession threw it towards me with an attitudinal "Fine!  Take it; you don't want me to have anything!"  Which, of course, is not true but oh how our sinful hearts have a propensity for selfishness!

What has God been asking you to surrender?  Is it pride?  Control?  Comfort?  Fear?  A relationship (or lack of one)?  Something (or someone) else?  None are ours to withhold, though the enemy will tell you otherwise.  Pray today that God will show you where you are keeping something back and hindering your ability to serve Him in the full measure of your capacity.  What is the one thing that you fear would turn your world upside down if He takes away or fails to grant?  That's your "Isaac".   Do not, however, fear the altar, for freedom, blessing and a deeper measure of faith await you there.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Matrix

At the weekly, ladies' bible study I attend, we were talking last week about how limited our perspective is.  How we see "time" only as linear, how self-centered we are amidst our challenges and how hard it is to wrap our finite minds around an INfinite God.

It's almost like we have blinders on that give us a very narrow, tunnel vision.  In our carnal, human nature, this is where our perspective is confined.  The more we allow the Holy Spirit in then the wider our scope becomes.  Sometimes, we get a glimpse of how much bigger the "grand scheme" really is and it's mind-blowing.  I'm sure if we could see/understand all of our lives from God's view that it would send us into mental over-load and shut-down.

One thing I thought of as the group of us discussed the concept was the movie The Matrix.  I'm not a huge fan (I felt that the story line and character progressions were just ok and that the ending of the trilogy was rather anti-climactic) but one thing did impress me:  The makers of The Matrix trilogy were cinematic innovators.  They used so many camera angles simultaneously that they were able to, sort of, pick up an entire scene, and rotate it.  Pondering this then reminded me of watching my husband manipulate a Rubik's cube; twisting, turning it over, taking note of what needed to move where for every piece to fall into place.

None of this is to trivialize God's sovereignty in any way, shape or form but instead to illustrate, in a very pathetic way, how complete God's purview of every detail really is.  He is not linear in His concept of "time".  He is not narrow in His scope of view.  He is not limited in His control.  In fact, He is not limited.  At all.  In any way.  And, unlike my husband with the Rubik's cube, God NEVER toys with us.  Every move is intentional, provisional, purposed and... loving.

So many people ask, and from our human perspectives, this is a valid question, "Why, if God is so loving, does He let bad things happen to good people?"  (Or, depending on how embittered we are, "do to")  As if God is ignorantly passive, or, worse, like a cosmic bully, chasing us as ants with His magnifying glass and sunlight.

On the contrary, every single trial, struggle, storm or tragedy we have endured (or will yet endure) has a purpose.  Our lives and our destinies are meant for the growth of God's kingdom.  His plans for us will always be for other people.  Your experience, testimony and resulting strengths and/or weaknesses, at some point, will be an encouragement to another person who thinks they are alone, without hope and lost.  Allow God to twist and turn you, use you, trusting that He knows exactly where and when He wants you, that no struggle comes upon you unless through Him and that very often, even amidst the trial, someone is watching, amazed at God's peace and power manifesting in your life.  

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."  (Isaiah 55:8-11)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

At Random

I know, I know... it's been a LONG while since I last posted.  If any of you are still out there reading this, thank you.  I have to admit that the morning sickness and fatigue (coupled with our frenetic pace of life) have been getting the best of me.  Lately, if I find myself not driving, cooking or helping with homework, I've taken as many opportunities as possible to spend quality time in my comfy chair or my bed.  I've really felt bad that I haven't posted anything in so long and found myself pondering if I should have ventured into the blog world at all (gotta love the whispers of the enemy in your ear, right??).  In the last few days, however, I've had some new topics start popping back into my head and, at least for the moment, the desire to write is actually greater than the desire to grab a quick snooze before dinner.

In addition, I've recently been introduced to the addicting site, Pintrest.  If you do not already have an account I recommend (HIGHLY) that you avoid it at all cost.  It is a wonderful and evil site all at the same time.  It is a site where every nifty craft ideas on blogs the world over, beautiful artwork, captivating photography, fashion/health/beauty tips, party ideas, decorating, music, celebrities (and so-on, so-on, so-on...) are all compiled by others who have "pinned" links to the site.  You then get to create your own "pin boards" (or categories) to then spend hours scrolling through brilliant idea, helpful tips and plain, raw cuteness.  After seeing some of the ideas I thought of things I've done that may be helpful to others so I may begin posting more than just my thoughts here.  You will begin to find things I wrote and shared in the past, recipes I've concocted and ideas I've come up with to make life with many children slightly more sane.

I plan to try adding different pages to this blog (though I have yet to learn how) so stay tuned for some changes.  I also promise to try and make posts more regularly again (though I can't guarantee it based on how up/down I've felt of late!).  Thanks, again, to anyone who's still reading this.  It's a humbling encouragement to know that what God puts on my heart is blessing someone.  Until next time, then, may you be well blessed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Joy Comes in the Mourning

10 years ago...

Maybe the subject has become a dead horse to some but for this little patriot, the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks called me to reflect.  I watched a few documentaries over the weekend, watched my husband share a video and devotion at church on Sunday, prayed, cried some tears and pondered what it all meant in the grand scheme of life.

With my hormones kicking into high gear it intensified the emotions I felt through all the commemoration.  At some points I felt a contented peace that there haven't been any more sincere efforts of that magnitude since then, I felt sorrow for those who lost loved ones, co-workers, friends, comrades, brethren, I felt a hint of fear regarding if/when/where terrorists may strike again, and I felt rage; a resurrection of a seething, righteous anger that someone had the gall to do what they did to so many people.  I'm sure the gamut of emotions we are processing as a nation and generation is very much akin to what was felt after Pearl Harbor, and, if we venture outside our own scope, that of the Japanese after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It's all part of grief and the healing process.  I was pondering grief today and God gave me a picture of a darkened room, closed off and hushed with heavy drapes and dust.  We have a choice to make in that room; we can choose to slowly open back up, begin to draw the shades and let the light in or we can withdraw and disappear into it, cocooning ourselves in sorrow.  Forgiveness works in a similar manner... it's a choice to either let in the light or remain shrouded in darkness.  It reminded me of the old woman, Miss Havisham, in Great Expectations and the room in which she spent her days, missing out on life, her heart and emotions locked away in a time capsule of pain.

Psalm 30:5(b) seems fitting: "...sorrow may last for a night but joy comes in the morning."  If we allow God's light to flood into our grief then we find His hope, promises and forgiveness.  Joy is not the same as happiness; happiness is temporal and dependent on circumstances.  Joy is the peace that "surpasses all understanding" because of the victory we know we have through our identity in Him.  It is likely that every one of us will face more unhappiness (ranging from minor irritations to major tragedy) than happiness in our lives.  With Christ, we can have peace and joy amidst it all even when we're not happy about it.  It is especially in those trials that we can learn fully what joy is so that, quite literally, that joy comes in the mourning.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Comfort Zone

Well, it's been two weeks since my last post and a crazy couple weeks it's been.  We just finished the second week of school and we're still adjusting to the schedule and the homework as we continue to work through our eldest son's behavior issues.  (Of which we are seeing improvements, hallelujah!)  We're also dealing with some things between extended family and church (respectively) that have kept me distracted, and, admittedly, less prayerful than I should have been.  Additionally, the pinnacle of distractions to top this all off has been finding out that we are expecting our fifth baby.

We are surprised and happy but still trying to let it fully sink in that we have now filled our minivan (which we swore we'd never drive) to capacity.  Our quiver is quite full (or perhaps we're just fully quivering!) and our "rewards" from God will now outnumber our hands.  I'm still trying to process it all.  Just as exercise is the only way to fitness, so too is testing the only way to strengthen one's faith and, as such, I'm realizing how content I've been in my weakness.  I didn't realize before today that I had a comfort zone to get out of.  I think I've actually developed a level of pride (the kind that goeth before a fall) in being a mother of four and holding it all relatively well together.  I often get compliments on their behavior in public, I can, if necessary, get a shopping trip done with all of them and I've grown quite accustomed to hearing "Wow, your hands are FULL!" and "How do you do it??" (to which I always just point skyward and answer "God.")

When Eric and I got married I began taking birth control because we didn't want to have kids right away.  Within the first couple months I began to hear that nagging, "still, small voice" saying "Trust me."  To which I responded with an incredulous "HAHahaha!  No."  The voice did not relent for a good two weeks and I finally came to my husband and said "Honey, I think God wants me to stop taking birth control."  At that point his eyes about popped out of his head as he nearly shot whatever he was drinking through his nose asking "WHAT?!?"  I explained "Well, I feel that He's telling me to 1) let my body function the way He intended (especially since birth control always made me feel terrible) 2) that babies, no matter what anyone tries to do, happen only in His time 3) that He won't give us more than we can handle without Him and 4) that we should enjoy each other freely as a form of worship to Him."  He pondered this for only a moment, cocked his head to one side, shrugged and said "Ok."  I think I threw the remaining pills in the trash that day and have never taken them again in almost nine years.

Ten months later we conceived our first son.  When he was almost six months old we were surprised to conceive our second (which I struggled with at first as well until someone, thankfully, put me in my place about it!), the third boy was conceived another six months after number two was born and then we got afraid of each other.  People have always asked if we were trying for a girl to which I usually reply "We weren't TRYING for any of them!"  We managed to avoid pregnancy for almost three years at that point but were actually thrilled when number four joined the mix.  Now, baby number five will join us in May, only six weeks before our eldest turns eight.  Five kids in eight years...  If you had told me what it really was that I was committing to when I threw those pills away less than a decade ago I probably would have laughed to tears or passed out.

One of my favorite verses to quote to myself is "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline" (2 Tim 1:7).  However, at this moment, I'm wrestling with fear...  Several aspects of it, in fact, along with a lot of questions in the form of whys, what-ifs and what-nows.  I'm also wrestling with guilt/conviction for even feeling afraid and questioning God's sovereignty.  Hormones certainly don't help.

The spiritual side of me knows that God will provide for this child no less than He has the others, that He has ordained the timing, and that He is using us for some grand purpose that spans beyond our pitifully limited imaginations.  The earthly side of me is volleying all the temporal concerns of money, transportation, health, logistics, psychology and the ridicule we will certainly face.  (During my fourth pregnancy I had someone ask me in the grocery line if I was trying to be like the "Octo-mom" and several well-meaning siblings in Christ have contradicted the bible in telling us that we need to be "wise" and "do something about it")

I was listening to a talk the other day on the radio where a woman whose name I cannot remember had made it her prayer (paraphrased) that God's will be done even at her expense.  It brought me to tears because I felt the wrench of conviction that I was not (am not) in a place where I could pray something similar with sincerity.  I so want to want what God wants but for the first time in a long time, I wish He wasn't taking me there.  I want to be leaving a legacy of faith as I walk through this life, I want to be the child of God that leaves Him pumping his fists in the air, beaming with pride (just as I do on days when my eldest comes home from school with a green star in his notebook), I want to live for Him wildly unhindered.  Unfortunately, I don't want to sacrifice, I don't want to be refined and I don't want to be persecuted.

Now, though, it's time to decide... which of those desires is greater?  In my heart, I know already but at the moment, the wrestling match continues.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

With Much Love

Well, it's been nearly a week since I posted last.  I've had a few different ideas start to form only to just sort of fizzle.  At the same time I've been knee deep in back-to-school prep (for the kids AND hubby) as well as the constant demands of plain old, every day motherhood.

I've mentioned before that my eldest is struggling with some behavior/developmental issues.  We could probably very easily get some kind of diagnosis that would get us some kind of medication and give us some kind of relief.  However, my husband and I have prayed long and hard over the subject and believe that God has another plan for us.  As such, we've been embroiled in a long, drawn out struggle over our son's growth in the areas of self-control and social skills.

This is a bit of a side note but I hope it will bring encouragement to someone facing the same dilema:  This journey has been agonizing.  Picking him up from every day of every school year thus far has come with a litany of antics, acting out and misbehaviors, we have had looks of distain, felt the shame, been subject to judgments regarding our likely parental short-comings, etc.  Then, through all of that, trying to respond with unconditional love to the "source" of the struggle has, at times, felt impossible.  Last school year we picked up a copy of a book called Transforming the Difficult Child by Glasser and Easley and it provided us an amazing paradigm shift.  One of the first things the book shared was how prejudicial the world is towards the parents of an intense child.  Facing perceptions that we are ignorant to how severe the problem really is, how lax we must be in our discipline of the child, about the kind of junk we must be feeding them, and so on, leaves us seriously (and constantly) questioning our abilities, motives, approaches and evaluating our probable mistakes.  However, the authors pointed out, the parents of intense children are typically the most proactive, well-read, active learners and problem solvers those therapists have seen.  If you are the parent of an "intense" child then know these things 1) it's not your fault 2) you are doing your best 3) there are alternative resources to prescription drugs 4) God has a plan and a purpose even for this 5) you are, in fact, not alone and 6) I am praying for you because I understand.

I remember sharing the kids section of our local Books-A-Million once with a woman and her autistic son.  I smiled and sympathetic and understanding smile and told her "God must really trust you to take care of a boy who needs so much more care than the average."  to which she replied curtly "Yea, that's what people who have no concept of the situation comfort themselves with."  She walked away before I could tell her that while not to the same level/depth of intensity, I could indeed relate and it has, indeed comforted me to believe that God must trust us greatly to give us this boy who needs an extra measure of understanding, learning and problem solving.

One thing I've dealt with for a long time now is the meltdowns and tantrums when he's confronted with either a task he doesn't want or discipline of any sort, which, between him and I, can quickly become a power struggle.  I've tried several different methods of asking, bribing, cajoling, yelling... all to no effective avail.  The other day I had a little epiphany that could only have come from God.  It occurred to me that when we need to develop a character trait (take patience, for example) He gives us chances to practice it.  So, when my son was acting out of control the other day I decided to give him the chance to practice just the opposite.  I set a timer and told him he had to sit, cross-legged, hands in lap for the allotted amount of time.  If he moved from the tile on the floor he was sitting on or talked, time would start over, if he railed against me, fought it, threw tantrums, etc. then I would add minutes.

It all seemed simple enough but as I anticipated, his attitude quickly racked him up a two-hour time-out (of sorts).  Historically, if he fights me long and hard enough I've had to retreat and regroup but not this time.  It took WAY longer than two hours to complete the consequence but I sat in the chair near him the majority of the entire time, telling him I was with him, reading to him from the bible (which he accused me at one point of writing my own), giving him gentle reminders that he could "do all things through Christ who gives (him) strength", that a loving parent provides discipline, and that no matter how long it took I would not be moved.  During that time, especially when I felt my emotions begin to boil, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper "with much love...  with much love, great things..." and I knew it was a reminder to not be the disciplinarian but rather the loving shepherd.  It helped me stay calm and steady, avoiding what would have otherwise been a power struggle.  When the timer finally reached 0 and beeped we both rejoiced, had a cuddle, a prayer and a little talk about love.

The very next morning, before we could even have breakfast it all began again with some ugly words toward his brother and a tantrum.  Before I could even get the words "five minutes" out of my mouth he was yelling rotten things at me.  I started adding minutes, he continued.  That consequence took even longer, most of the day, in fact, to complete what could have been a mere 10 minutes.  However, from everything I've read, researched and learned from a therapist friend of mine, is that he NEEDS to know that no matter how hard he pushes the buttons, no matter how long he fights, we're not giving in or giving up.  This is because the underlying message would be "you're not worth THAT much effort".  It's part of what the verse in the bible means when it says "whoever spares the rod hates their children but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them" (Prov. 13:24)

On day three of this method he was doing phenomenal for the first half of the day, even served a couple 10-minute "sit-downs" with a great attitude and did a couple chores in the same manner.  Unfortunately, he and his brother started acting silly so I assigned another sit-down together.  Boy 1 railed, boy 2 complied.  Boy 1 took almost an hour to get through his 10 minutes but I can tell he's starting to figure this whole thing out.  There was an example in the book I mentioned above about someone getting a speeding ticket daily for as long as it took for them to decide to lay off the accelerator... I feel like I'm handing out speeding tickets BUT instead of him blaming me for them, he's starting to back off a bit and realize that he needs to take responsibility.  We keep lovingly reminding him that no one, not even the devil, can force him to do anything; that only he controls his actions, attitudes and words.

I've also read that giving such brilliant children warning after warning is less conducive to them learning a lesson because it's insulting their intelligence.  Because of that, over the last few days, whenever he breaks a rule in our home that's been reiterated to him countless times in his short life, rather than lecturing him, I've been instead telling him "That's five minutes; tell me why."  It's actually been working so well that I'm beginning to use it on the next two boys.

Don't get me wrong; I by no means claim to have found any sort of magic, fix-all answer, just sharing my most recent approach.  The main points I've hoped to make here are 1) to attempt to emulate our Father, the great and perfect parent and 2) how vast a difference our approach, mannerisms and attitude makes in even difficult children.  I'm sure we could drug him into compliance, spank him into submission*, and try to conform him by force.  None of that, however, would change his heart or address the original source of the problem which I believe to be, in part, due three unavoidable separations between him and I in the first two years of his life.  (I was very honored and proud to serve my country but this is one very major reason I do not miss my career)  Those instances left him questioning whether mommy (or anyone) has every truly been there for him, no matter what.  I think also that on occasions in the past when I've grown frustrated and "gone back to the drawing board" it has inadvertently reinforced that fear.

It's been a very long, exhausting week but also, I feel, a productive one.  For a boy who has grown up insecure, I think I may have found one tool to help him find security.  If actions speak louder than words then I pray I'm showing him, by spending the day next to him, still in my pj's, no shower, committed to seeing the consequence through, that I really am here for him, no matter what.  I pray also that reinforcing that approach with scripture will help him understand that God disciplines all of us, throughout life just as Proverbs 12:1 (NIV) says "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge but whoever hates correction is stupid."  ((My son was furious the first time I read him that and indignantly stated that he hates discipline but is not stupid!  Then he accused me of writing my own bible...  That one's going in my "funny motherhood memories journal"))  Finally, I pray that all the struggle we're going through will be for the purpose of helping someone else find a pathway through it, feeling less alone and a little more understood... because, with much love, great things!

*Just a note: I am not against the spankings; he is just the type of kid that I could probably wear myself out on without impacting his behavior.  While I do believe in corporal punishment when it's called for, I don't see it as the answer to every issue.  It is a very effective tool for out-and-out defiance but, in my mind, not effective for issues of the heart, especially deeply rooted ones.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Look at Me

I mentioned in another post a speculation I have that my eldest son and I share a generational issue of mild attachment disorder.  One of the "symptoms" of it is an avoidance (possibly even inability) at making solid eye contact when talking with someone.  I've been researching activities and exercises that, with God, will help the two of us restore what was robbed from us.  One such exercise is staring contests and another is making extra effort at eye contact during all communication.  Because of that I've found myself almost constantly saying "Look at me; look at my eyes."  It seems very easy for him to miss what I'm saying when he's looking all over the room.  It leaves him open to distractions and hinders him hearing my full message.

During a phone call with one of my dearest mentors this morning I shared some of my current struggles.  She told me to "keep looking at Him; look only to Jesus."  It hit me in that moment that God's been trying to tell me the same thing I've been trying to tell my son.  "Look at me and only me... so you hear only me, only what I have to say and so you don't miss any of the message."

How easy it is for us to get distracted and begin looking all around us and only (maybe) half-listen to the Holy Spirit's voice.  There's the phone, now rehearsal, TV, Facebook, tweets, texts, doorbell, Ipod, new release movie, committee meeting, lesson plan, shopping, playdate, orientation, audition...  Noise.  Demands and distractions all pulling us in different directions, all for justifiable, healthy (ish) reasons but all of them detracting from what we NEED to hear.

I love my children.  They are amazing, full of adventure, always ready for a wrestling match or some form of chasing game (usually through my kitchen).  As happens though, the rough-housing gets too rough and someone's crying, now it's snack time, the baby's ready for a nap, he took my toy, I'm bored, someone spilled, or any other litany of grade/pre-school dilemas and only I seem hold the solutions to everyone's problem.  It can get overwhelming and the "noise" (often literally) of my life gets to me.  Today I found myself in the middle of one such moment.  I knew I needed a few moments of peace, to seek God, to "reset" my spirit.  I also knew there was NOWHERE I could go that the "noise" wouldn't follow.  I had to get out my ipod and my noise-cancelling headphones and turn Michael W. Smith's "Freedom" album up LOUD.  Some of his compositions are "powerfully peaceful" and I found myself just a few minutes of "quiet time" as I hid under some music.  I had to create a curtain or shroud of peace, a closet, where I could go seek His face, to breath deeply, cry two or three tears, release the tension and emerge refreshed enough to get through the rest of the day.

Thankfully, God meets every one of us right where we are.  Rituals are not required; only a desire to seek and find.  No matter where we are, He is.  All we have to do is find a way to tune out the world so we can tune into Him.  Think of where you find the most peace; maybe it's listening to crickets in the dark, relaxing in a hot bath, under a veil of blaring praise songs, watching a sunset, cuddling your child, or lying still in utter silence.  Matthew 7:7 says "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."  Just like any loving father, our Holy, All-knowing God is so personal that He knows what your heart needs.  Sometimes you just need to cry, sometimes to vent, sometimes scream, sometimes praise; all He asks in return is that we look to Him and listen.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Butterfly: Affect.

Last year I had the privilege of attending the Women of Faith conference where I heard author/speaker Andy Andrews share from his book Butterfly Effect.  It struck me in a profound way so as soon as I could I picked up a copy.  I need another one already because I gave it away.

If you've never heard of the basic premise of the butterfly effect, according to Wikipedia (because I can't explain it in any more concise terms) it is described such:

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions; where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. For example, the presence or absence of a butterfly flapping its wings could lead to creation or absence of a hurricane.
Although the butterfly effect may appear to be an esoteric and unusual behavior, it is exhibited by very simple systems: for example, a ball placed at the crest of a hill might roll into any of several valleys depending on slight differences in initial position.
The term "butterfly effect" itself is related to the meteorological work of Edward Lorenz, who popularized the term.
The butterfly effect is a common trope in fiction when presenting scenarios involving time travel and with "what if" cases where one storyline diverges at the moment of a seemingly minor event resulting in two significantly different outcomes.

At the WoF conference Andrews shared the story of a slave-born baby rescued by a couple in the middle of a frigid night.  The man rode the family's only horse for miles to negotiate a trade with night raiders the horse for the child.  He then went on to tell how that child grew to manhood and impacted the world through his work in agriculture and alternative crops.  That man was George Washington Carver and if not for Moses Carver rescuing him it's possible that none of us would have peanut butter in our pantries.  

Andrews' book further cites others further back as well as forward in the chain of people connected to Carver's life with the point of illustrating how one simple act on our part can have profound effects on the world around us.  He provides one of the best "what if's" I've ever considered and it's compelled me to be much more aware of how I interact with my world.  

One day I very randomly (and by very random, I mean this is the only time in as long as I can remember) I bought a scratch ticket at the store.  That scratch ticket won me a second one and the second one had a $2 prize on it.  I had to get somewhere so I just slipped it in my pocket and headed out.  As I got in the car and backed out of my parking space there was a homeless man headed into the store.  I felt compelled to hand him the ticket since I had no other cash to give him.  As I headed down the road I started to second guess my choice as the thought started to build that I had only given him a pathetic $2.  But then the Holy Spirit interrupted that thought and said "What if that man bought another scratch ticket?  What if that scratch ticket had a large prize on it?  What if that cash prize is all that man needs to get some new clothes and rent a room to get a job?  What if he gets a job and gets back on his feet?  What if, after he gets back on his feet, he gets reunited with his family?  And all because of a pathetic $2 scratch ticket that some young woman gave him in a parking lot."  What if...?

What if your smile is the one someone's asked God for as a sign that He's really there?  What if that sign is what makes them decide not to attempt suicide?  What if letting someone into traffic makes the difference between them making the next light, making it to work on time, and saving their job, their house payment, their marriage?  What if being gracious to a stranger motivates them to choose the same later on?  What if...?

As all of us have changed like a caterpillar into a butterfly through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  As such, as new creations, we need to remember that God's plans and purposes for us all pertain to people.  Saving trees, saving whales... all well and good, noble causes but if "we have not love" then how will it benefit the Kingdom of Eternity?  We are charged with leaving a legacy by affecting everyone we come in contact with.  God "formed you in the secret place" because He "knows the plans He has for you" to "go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit".

Now, as you ponder that and go about life, keep an eye out for those "what ifs".  Make the conscious choice to make a difference.  Smile.  Be considerate.  Be kind.  Be Christ.  Flap your little wings and change the world...  Butterfly: Affect.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Of Life and Surf

My husband and I met in Hawaii in January of 2001.  We were in partnered work sections on the same schedule and so ended up spending our off-time with all the same people.  We worked odd shifts which was brutal on our sleeping habits but great for days off when normal people were working.  It was during that time we learned to surf.

Now, while I say we learned to surf and, I can honestly say I've surfed Hawaii's legendary North Shore, I should, by no means, be considered a surfer.  I can paddle, catch a wave, get up, ride it and repeat (on a long board).  However, I have never attempted a short board, I cannot carve, whip the lip, get my toes on the nose, and I've never been "in the barrel" (on purpose anyway).  Oh, and the waves I rode are probably what a pro would put their toddler on so, to put it plainly, I have no claims to surfing greatness.  Even my husband, who has some more experience than I do, probably would not consider himself a surfer either but both of us really enjoyed what we got to experience and, if we ever went back, would definitely do it again.  The rush of riding a wave is amazing and the power of the ocean is humbling, beautiful and awe-inspiring.

We finally saw Soul Surfer the other night and while I don't see it garnering any Oscar nods for the acting, it was still a great film.  It brought back a lot of memories for us despite being set on a different island than we lived on.  One interesting note is that Bethany Hamilton's attack occurred while we were living out there and it was all over the news.  So much so that it left me feeling some trepidation before rushing into the waves but we went anyway.  Her story circulated especially quickly through the Christian community out there because of her peace and tenacity through all of it.  If you can look up any of her interviews they're really uplifting and encouraging.

One thing God showed me out on those waves so long ago, and, reminded me of again during the film, is that there's ups and downs of varying degrees, storms, dead calm; days where you're on your A-game and days when you fall... a lot.  The worst though, is when you get caught in the roll.  When the waves begin to toss you; when you finally figure out which way is up, break through to take a breath but find that the next wave is on top of you, rolling you again.  Getting caught in the roll can be fatal if you get disoriented and can't catch a breath.  Sometimes, there's even rocks or reef waiting for you and it's those moments you realize how truly strong and unyielding mere water can be.  One of the tricks to it is to stop fighting and calm down... be still.  The more you fight the waves the more lost, the more exhausted, the more panicked you become.  Sounds a bit like life.

Railing against the waves of life is an exercise in futility.  You can't stop trials from coming any more than you could stand on the shore and keep the sea at bay.  Try to protect your child from every woe, try to plan against pitfalls, try to keep tragedy from calling on the phone, try to keep evil from breaking in.  At some point, we will all face our waves; some come in sets, regular, steady, bearable; a duck-dive and you're through it.  Maybe right now it's flat with nothing exciting or promising on the horizon.  Then there's some that come like a tsunami; larger than imaginable, devastating, wreaking havoc.  Only with Christ can we find the way up, catch our breath, and escape the undertow or the rip current.  Whatever the waters seem now, there's a couple things to remember:
1) Whatever you're facing right now is going to change.  Waves are affected by weather, tides, temperature and currents; the only thing consistent is the inconsistency... just like life there's so many factors that all you can know for sure is right here, right now and God promises to never leave or forsake.
2) We cannot allow ourselves to fear what may be or dwell on what has been, it will prevent us from fully experiencing what is right now.  Whether pleasant or painful, God has something for you in this moment so ride it out for all it's worth.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Ninevah Next Door

I recently had the privilege of going through a Priscilla Shirer study called Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted.  We were challenged to look at "interruptions" we've experienced in life from a Heavenly perspective and try to view those instances instead as Divine appointments.  The concept was a blessing and it's a process I've been working on for some time.  This study nudged me a little further down that path.  I'm realizing where I've experienced my own "Nineveh" on several occasions and where God either did something amazing or I totally failed and missed out on blessing.  Since the study I've been more compelled to check my attitude when life's irritations confront me.

Even now, I'm feeling convicted regarding a little boy in our neighborhood who seems quite lonely and largely ignored by his dad (he says he has siblings but we've never seen them).  In the opinions of the majority of our neighborhood, he's really too young to be out by himself, especially for hours on end and many are finding him a bit of a nuisance.  (Just the other day he pounded on the door during nap time, setting off the dog; I'm afraid I was not at my sweetest when I told him the boys could not come out to play)  I don't really feel comfortable inviting him in (something about his dad makes me feel uneasy) but I also don't want the discomfort of sitting out front in the hot sun to watch my kids play on the sidewalk.  On the flip-side, though, I feel a deep pang of conviction every time I turn him away.  What if our family could plant the seeds of his salvation?  What if my choice between hosting him or turning him away makes the difference in an abduction?  What if my hospitality towards him shows all our neighbors how real Christians should act?  What if...

And yet, here I sit, writing this, comfortable in my home, with my kids, safe inside, that familiar thorn still in my side that's driven deeper with every justification of why not.  I'm deeply conflicted about this little boy.  There's something in my spirit that feels uneasy and yet there's the pondering of stories I've heard about "that one family who reached out" to someone and made a profound difference in who they grew to be.

My point of this post is not solely about our little neighbor boy; instead I hope we all can begin to recognize our own "Nineveh".  Maybe Nineveh is snoring next to you every night, maybe it's in the next cubicle.   Wherever (whom ever) it is, we need to become more and more willing to tolerate discomfort, irritation or a challenge to our point of view so we can deliver the message of salvation where God wants it received.  Maybe it involves hospitality, maybe it involves getting up and moving.  Either way, we need to trust that obedience will bring blessing and reward that will outweigh any discomfort the journey may bring.  If you can make time, read through the short book of Jonah today; it will bless you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sacred Chaos

We have four children...
All boys...
Age seven and under...
Two in school...
One in pre-k...
One in diapers...
My husband is a bi-vocational, part-time youth pastor/full-time analyst...
He's pursuing his undergrad in his "free time"...

We almost always have chaos.  Terms like "sleep", "vacation", "day off" and "relax" are not, at this stage of life, part of our regular vocabulary.  As such, there are things we just don't do.  None of our kids are in organized activities (yet), we are not actively part of the PTA, and I don't make any long-term, regular/weekly commitments.  We know it's only for a time and that as the degree gets completed, the kids grow and our roles evolve, so too will our lifestyle.  In addition, I speculate that due to some generational issues and some abuse I endured in the past, I struggle with a bit of an attachment disorder.  Not to a debilitating level but it just adds to the chaos as I grow through my own struggles while trying to co-shepherd this house full of man-hearts.

For now, I've learned, for the most part, to embrace this sacred chaos.  It is the sounds of children growing, refining taking place, foundations being built, and a period of life that every sage mentor I've ever had has told me I will someday miss.  My laundry baskets are never empty, my dust bunnies never vanquished, my furniture never polished with anything besides a banana, and a bathroom that's probably never sanitary for more than five minutes.  What we do have instead is giggles and wrestling matches, crying and cuddling, tantrums and lectures, messes and miracles, set-backs and breakthroughs.  We have a leader that God is using in and out of our home, showing four little boys how to be men, how to balance family and ministry, and, most important, we hope, how to be warriors for God's Kingdom as eventual husbands and fathers themselves.

I've pondered many times "Why?"... Why did God choose us to raise up four men?  Why do other couples try for years before they get even one... maybe none?  I so often feel inadequate and overwhelmed by our life; sometimes in a negative way but sometimes in a positive way, humbly in awe that God would entrust me with these remarkable little people.  God's word says "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children are a reward from Him (Ps. 127:3) and I recently came to a much deeper understanding of that verse.  I realized that if we'd had daughters, there's a probability that a Godly heritage in my husband's family name would die with him.  I believe God has a purpose and a destiny for this band of brothers and I am honored that God chose me to be their mommy.  I am learning to embrace the chaos for what it is, nurture them into who they're meant to be and praise God for the sacred beauty in all of it.

By the way, wherever you are, if you happen to be raising my future daughters-in-law, I'm praying for you and them.  I can't wait to meet you someday, to watch them grow in their own love, to coo over our grandchildren and sit back, giggling, as they sort out their own sacred chaos.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Me DO!"

The reason I've entitled my blog "The Toybox Gospel" is because God has shown me more insight into His perspectives through my interaction with my children than any other aspect of my life.  He's convicted me so many times of my own issues when I've realized I'm acting in a similar way to that of my boys.  Tantrums, attitudes, selfishness, foolishness... it's all the same, we just like to think we're the mature ones.

Case in point, my fourth son is about 20 months old now and it's obvious that I'll soon be hearing the words "Me do!" quite often.  Every toddler goes through this phase as he or she begins to explore self-determination and plant the seeds of independence.  He's beginning to refuse food from the spoon unless he's holding it, screamed at me the other day for trying to help him fasten his sandal and he'll probably want to attempt his car seat buckles any day now.  The thing is, I KNOW he lacks the dexterity/skill/strength/size to complete these tasks yet and, when he does attempt them, I'll be dealing with a screaming melt-down of frustration when HE realizes the same thing.  When one of the older boys went through this same phase God showed me that we do the same thing.  He knows what's best, has plans laid out, and gives us directions in His word... but don't we always know better???  I can't even count how many times in my own life I've told God "Me do!" only to find myself in a screaming melt-down, praying for His help, guidance and comfort amidst the consequnces of my own mistakes.  Thankfully, God has a patience we earthly parents can NEVER grasp or, sadly, attain so He's always there to step in, not always to fix, but to guide us back to where we need to be.  You can almost hear these scriptures strung together in a loving lecture...
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways (Is. 55:8)... with deep compassion I will bring you back (Is. 54:7)... for I know the plans I have for you (Jer. 29:11)... and I will never leave or forsake you (Heb 13:5b)... in all your ways acknowledge (Me) and (I) will make your paths straight (Prov 3:6)."

As parents, may we be vessels of this same grace as we deal with our children.  As His children, may we learn from our mistakes, find comfort in His presence and accept His hand of assistance when we need to humbly hand it over and say "You do."