Monday, December 20, 2010

Another Thrifty Transformation

Times are tight as the hubs looks for another j.o.b. In the meantime, we're trying to make end's meat and sadly decided to forego the wonderful-fill-the-whole-house-up-with-the-smell-of-Christmas-live-tree. When I pulled this bargain bin artificial tree out of the attic and opened the box, I nearly cried. It's puny and pitiful. I think even Charlie Brown's tree was better.

So, here's the 'before' shot of the pitiful tree with the star frowning:

Here's a trick I learned a few years ago at my brother in law's Christmas wedding watching the florist at work. I simply walked out to the back yard, clipped some cedar branches as my daughter gathered pine needle bundles that had fallen and brought them in to stuff into the bare spots. A few minutes and ornaments later and wallah:

A not so pathetic tree!

[the minus-one arm] nutcracker [whose missing arm is floating around in a toy bin somewhere] in the artificial greenery that I also jazzed up with some pine

I kept it simple, and while it may not be catalog worthy, it made our home cozy and warm and ready to welcome Christmas into our needy souls.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In the Sunshine, the Rain....and Even in the Snow

(inspired by Monet, these are my photos taken this morning at different hours from our friends' bedroom window)

I am in Prague, Czech Republic! After a heartbreaking, spiritually oppressed season, I feel God lifting us out of the ashes of brokenness and hurt. What a glorious gift for God to send us here for a respite, fellowship with friends, being reminded of what it means to work for His kingdom-not trying to build our own.

Talking with church staff here about joining them in Prague is good- whether we're called here with them or just called for inspiration- it is good. Feeling the snow on my face and inches, several inches, underfoot FEELS good. Even hearing birds native to the Czech Republic who have different sounds than the ones at home reminds me to breathe, to feel, to listen.... My spirit and my senses are awakened to the possibilities of God, the One who made all this, the One who entered me (and you) into His plan.

Being a foreigner for the first time, helped in the airport by a kind French worker, being asked if I'd ordered a gingerbread latte in the Czech language at Starbucks and blankly staring at the barista, not understanding a word, made me feel a good way. Being so out of the realm of all that I know is helping me to see how big our God is and most importantly how personal He is in light of that bigness.

Through so many circumstances leading up to coming here I was reminded- I could almost hear His whisper - "I am in control of it all, even and especially the details." From the speed of cheerful givers purchasing the plane tickets, the smooth expedition of my passport, and most significantly how we-being the last to board the flight out of Paris because our plane from Cincinnati was landing while the next was boarding- actually making it onto the flight, He lined up every detail from the first to the last.

He is telling me to remember that I am His and though, yes, it was He too who brought me through the this very difficult year (and most likely will again), He is ever present. Christ is my hope, my future. He is King Jesus, the God of the Sunshine and the Rain (and in Praha - the Snow).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Plan for His Surprises!

Recently, I was talking with an eighth grade girl about her future. I listened as she rattled off this magic to do list:

1. go to college
2. graduate
3. buy a house
4. live on my own
5. get married

While I was glad to see her ambition, her list really made me think of what I'm teaching my children and what motivates my own plans. If I do believe I was made by Our Creator and was made "for His glory," shouldn't my plans be motivated by my worship of Him? If I'm following what the world sees as The Perfect Formula for a Successful Life, how can I consider the Lord's plan for my life and the special giftings He's given me?

I didn't stick to the world's magic success formula. I have no beef with you if you did. My not sticking to the magic formula has brought a LOT of struggle, but has also blessed me tremendously. God has interrupted my plans...often, very often. First, He brought a young man into my life who loved Him and it wasn't long before I was smitten and knew I wanted him to be my husband. Getting married before I finished college certainly wasn't in the magic formula, yet brought surprises - good and hard, can't-help-but-learn-to-trust-the-Lord hard. BUT, experiencing the highs and lows of our lives together made us stronger; those times deeply connected our commitment and have helped us to stay the course when it would have been easier to throw in the towel- more than once. Financially, sure we could have done more (vacations, eating out, golfing etc.) and had more (stuff: nicer clothes, cars and houses, etc.). Had we stuck to the formula where would our treasure lay? in a fat retirement or savings account, in all our stuff - Look, I know me and I know my heart- I would have been secure in my stuff and in money, not in the One who gives me breath....

I'm learning, a little more each day, to be prepared...and thankful... for the unexpected surprises the Lord brings. I can live for my plans, but will I be living for the Lord?

A little over a year ago, my husband and I made plans --plans to leave a great church and great friends and we fooled ourselves into thinking it was God's will. It has been one of the most difficult years of our lives. For awhile I convinced myself it was our mistake, and on many levels - from not deeply praying about moving, not truly seeking the will of my Father- it was our sin that brought us to this place. After the year we've had, I am realizing that what I say I believe IS really true...that it IS true that "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). As hard as the year has been, I am now confident that while we made plans to come here, it was He who directed our steps for His purposes, His big picture - one that I cannot see. He is using all this mess for good.

Because of the rough year we've had, stepping out on faith, we have resigned from our post here in Atlanta. While we desperately desire to be back home near family and friends and the music scene (the hubs is a musician), we are seeking God's will and are prepared to move wherever He leads. While I am tempted to worry as the promise of a steady monthly income fades, I must trust in the One who put me here. Presently, there are a lot of irons in the fire; one of which is exploring the possibility of working with a missions team in Prague, Czech Republic. What a surprise! In a whirlwind of being asked to come, support raising, and expediting my passport, we are booked to leave for Prague in two weeks! God used a very generous family and another friend of the family to immediately provide for the plane tickets before we'd even sent out the support letters!

I know that living in Prague has never entered my internal 'Plan of Andrea,' but desperate times have opened a crack in my will, opening my heart to this possibility. I pray that this trip will be a respite for these spirits, wounded by men and by life and I'm hoping we can discern God's will for what's around the bend. As the adrenaline swirls with the thoughts in my head, I am confident that I am safe in the center of His will as I mark off the top two things on my 2010 'to do' list..

I must expect to be surprised, I must expect His perfect provision. My hope for you, and for my children, is to realize that life is so much richer, so much more exciting, challenging and growth-enhancing when you recognize God interrupting your plans, surprising you with HIS. Let Christ lead your years, months, days and moments. Let Him book your calendar...Open up to His surprises and you will be blessed.

Matthew 6: 19-34
Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Proverbs 16:1-3

But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.

To read more scripture go to

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fruits of the Spirit, Part II: Self-Control

Galatians 5:22-24 (NKJV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness,

goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

We have had a really, reeeeeally rough year. After taking ten days to get away to visit family (and look for a job for my husband...) we came back home trying to get in some sort of routine again. Going back to Central Time from Eastern along with the 'fall back' time change, we were all sleeping in until (I'm embarrassed to say) at least ten. Either we're just exhausted or our internal clocks need some serious adjusting! I had even given the children a speech yesterday about how "tomorrow, we're going to have a Routine.." and "we're going to be done with homeschooling before lunch!" Well, when I finally herded the kids into the school room their tummies were evidently screaming so we headed to the kitchen for another detour. Then it was back to school, and on to yard work and supper.

Seeing our redneckish backyard littered with toys, plastic drink cups and bowls (my good kitchen bowls being used for mudpies and my four year old's 'cooking creations' of grass and leaves) the hubs and I became frustrated realizing how little self-control our children had in picking up after themselves and taking care of the things they've been given. I blurted out that we hadn't exactly been parenting very well for the past year during our spiritual, emotional, being kicked down in the dirt mayhem.

Our children had not been very self-controlled; they had been following our example or lack-thereof. So many things in this life require self-control: reaching for the remote and a bag of chips vs. following up a salad with a walk, avoiding road rage when you've been cut off, maintaining vehicles and simply doing the dishes when the kitchen's a mess. When I think of self-control, I think of passing up those delectable brownies to avoid tipping the scales, but self-control goes beyond the basics of keeping a trim waistline, or maintaining a schedule. Self-control is an asset to every relationship, especially marriage & family.

What does self-control look like in a marriage??

How 'bout...

-avoiding situations where you are alone with someone of the opposite sex
-caring for your body out of respect for your spouse and children
-avoiding inappropriate movies, music, etc. that fill your mind with unclean thoughts
-realizing that what you purchase effects your household budget
-taking a moment to calm down when you are upset or angry
-guarding the door of your lips so you don't sin against another (Psalm 141:3)
-intentionally loving and serving others before yourself

What does self-control look like in parenting??

-modeling self-discipline, diligence
-honoring one another rather than assaulting each other with hurtful words and actions
-avoiding being a lazy disciplinarian, getting up to discipline every time they disobey
-not taking out your stress on your children, who are really just acting like kids.....
-honoring your children's requests even when you are busy
-honoring the things that are precious to your children (even if it's a yucky, slimy, warted toad)

Self-control is a quality that God wants us to be mindful of. Self-control is a fruit of the spirit that is good to others and is an outpouring from the attitude of your heart. It can really be a gift to your spouse, your marriage and your family. Think about what that looks like for you.

So tonight, when I head to bed, setting my alarm for 8am (hopefully, my thoughts won't keep me up until 4am again....) my hope is to let the day begin with a motivating self-control that will encourage my family. Sometimes simply being up and awake with coffee in hand, ready to greet those bouncy curls and chatty lips does good for my soul, setting the tone for a good day....I am thankful God so often gives us tomorrows to try again!

Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city. - Proverbs 16:32 Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. - Proverbs 25:28

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: the Norah Jones Project

Recently on behalf of the Norah Jones project with One2One Network, I had the privilege of receiving Norah Jones' new album to review, giving my honest opinion.

From her duets with Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, to turning back the clock with Ray Charles, Norah Jones' newest album ...Featuring Norah Jones had me groovin.' Listening to the album made me feel like I was scanning an old radio. This album is diverse, moody and sassy. If you have little dancers like me, they'll love putting on cowboy hats to take a turn to Bull Rider, or you might like to grab your main squeeze for a slow dance to her collaboration with The Little Willies entitled Love Me. For the rocker in you, you'll be delighted with Norah joining The Foo Fighters and if you're in the mood for rap, meet OutKast -I'm still warming up to that one! Norah Jones' voice is as smooth as ever and you'll delight in experiencing this diverse collection of songs.

to order ...Featuring Norah Jones

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Fruits of the Spirit: Longsuffering

Looking in the mirror sometimes, past the cheeks that aren't as plump anymore and through the beginnings of crows feet, I still see an insecure twelve year old girl looking back at me...I still can't explain why I ever put my worth in what boy was paying attention to me. I remember as far back as third grade feeling rejected by a boy. Maybe in middle school it was new hormones or maybe some event I haven't yet unraveled, but for some reason I wrapped up my joy and my worth in having a boyfriend. My middle school days were focused on either obtaining, or keeping a boyfriend and high school wasn't much different until I had a turning point. Only after being hurt multiple times by guys I had always given a second or even third chance to hurt me again, did I wake up one day with a new perspective. One guy made clear his agenda and when I informed him I had no intentions of sleeping with him, broke up with me the next day. Not long after that experience, did I finally release myself from the self-imposed obligation to have a boyfriend, and I began to enjoy my life as a high schooler. I began to look at guys as potential husbands, not boyfriends. There's a B-I-G difference.

When you know you want to be married one day (even if you're really young), again, I say, you need to act like it! Boyfriend/Girlfriend relationships whether you're twelve or twenty are faux-marriages with an always present escape route. Most of these kinds of relationships do not model covenant keeping, godly relationships. If you're in the mindset of these types of relationships you could live a life full of a succession of boyfriends and never get to the life for which you had hoped. If you are not even an adult yet and know you want to accomplish x-y-z before getting married one day, take my advice and don't waste your time. Don't waste the day to day having fun in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship that could land you in a wilderness of consequence. Trust me, if you spend enough time one on one with someone of the opposite sex, especially in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, it will not take long for hand holding to turn into much more. While you are young, focus on long-lasting friendship with trustworthy friends of the same sex and focus on figuring out who you are in light of who God has made you.

In my post "Looking for a Soul Mate?" I began to explore the topic of marriage and got some good feedback so I've decided to write more on this topic. This time, I want to lightly explore how the 'fruits of the spirit' should be played out in marriage and how the adolescent boyfriend/girlfriend relationship does not reflect a covenant keeping picture of marriage.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (NKJV)

Christian or not, you have to admit the 'fruits of the Spirit' listed in the Bible are good qualities in a parent, a friend, and especially a spouse! Let me preface this by saying my marriage is not and never will be perfect, but my husband and I are committed to the good, the bad and the ugly - his, mine and ours- for a lifetime. I am writing this as much to myself as a twelve year old girl as any of you today.

Some versions of the bible leave out "longsuffering" for reasons I haven't explored, but I think longsuffering is a very pertinent quality that any marriage hinges upon. Maybe you've already suffered a great deal or know someone who has, but rest assured, you WILL deal with some kind of suffering in this life - because of sin or sickness or loss... Will you choose a mate whose character can withstand the very worst of circumstances? Are you with someone now who would run away when things get rough? Are YOU a person who cuts and runs at the first sign of conflict?

The teenage boy/girl relationship does not promote longsuffering, rather it teaches one to break up at the first sign of trouble. Merriam-Webster defines longsuffering as "patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship." The fact that the bible lists longsuffering as a fruit of the Spirit suggests that the Christian, like anyone else, WILL, in fact, experience offenses and hardships.

In marriage, you bring every one of your qualities -good and bad- to the table. Your strengths and your sins, his strengths and his sins. Yes, your bad habits (his leaving socks on the floor, or your propensity to burn everything you cook) will annoy each other, but your ever present sins will require grace extended to one another over and over and over again! And you don't get to be the One who is responsible for your spouse's sanctification! God will use each of you to sanctify one another, but at the end of the day you have to pray and trust God. You have to focus on your own sin instead of looking to your spouse's sin every time. There is no one in the world who I love more than my husband, but there's no one who can hurt me more or make me madder than hell either!

You will NEVER be "ready" to get married, but I pray that you would be confident in who you are in Christ before you turn your attentions to a spouse. Longsuffering could mean sickness for you, or in my case it seems to be financial struggle; whatever 'it' is for you, you can be sure the Lord will bring hard times to your marriage. Will you choose to be longsuffering forgiving one another as God has forgiven you?? Will you choose to fight for your marriage when the slings and arrows of the world are being thrown at you? Will you marry someone strong in the Lord who is confident in Christ, confidently willing to longsuffer with you 'til death do you part?

I encourage you to listen or at least read the notes to John Piper's sermons entitled:
Marriage: God’s Showcase of Covenant-Keeping Grace and Marriage: Forgiving and Forbearing. My favorite point is that when you recognize how much God has forgiven you, it's not so hard to forgive your spouse.

Colossians 3 (NIV)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beautiful Things

For almost a year now I have been more stressed out than ever in my life. My spiritual health, mental health (I could've already used several 'mental holidays' to date if given the chance), and lately the stress has even affected my physical health bringing headaches and nausea. In attempts to combat the stress, I've begun regularly working out and trying to decorate a rental home I'm not sure I'll be in much longer. All I can think about is the next beautiful thing I can add to enhance the decor. I like beautiful things. I covet beautiful things. I'd rather have a new accessory for my home than a new outfit. My budget rarely allows for either so I've been getting a little creative. I've been perusing through countless home decor and craft blogs for inspiration and don't plan on turning this blog into a craft blog, but I might add a section showing off my thrifty transformations. All this begs the question, why do I want the things that I don't really need? Why am I so drawn to beautiful things, to beautiful homes and clothes?

For me, the answer is simple, we aren't made for this world. God made us for His glory and ultimately, heaven. My heart is not home, yet it longs for heaven. That is why I attempt to make my home a heaven on earth - choosing the right paint color, every picture in place, attempting to be organized down to the last paperclip. I have four little folks and my favorite man to help in the disarray of my home, but in vain I try.

My heart longs for a beautiful home (that has my name on the title) where I can live for the rest of my life with a parade of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren visiting my perfectly decorated home every Christmas where wassil is warm on the stove, my husband is leading us in carols and everyone is peaceful and content. Idyllic, hmm?

The reality is that God doesn't want our hearts to be here. He is jealous for our attentions and if you look at scripture closely you'll read how often He moved his people around, requiring them to depend upon Him often.

My comfort should never be in the stuff that this culture has taught me to love: that American dream we chase after - the house, the car, the shiny wardrobe and perfectly obedient children. I'm sure I've said this before, but houses rot, cars rust and breakdown, clothes go out of style (or get washed with a random red scarf and turn pink) and children will disobey.

While I wait for heaven and attempt to train my heart for it, I will continue to try to make treasure out of this world's trash and I will still attempt to make my home lovely on a shoe-string budget, but maybe as I transform a thrift store skirt into a new pillow or paint something I found at a garage sale, I will be reminded of my need for the Father who has made all beauty. And in Him is where my treasure should lie.

I can still hear this song being sung by the older ladies at my grandparents' church when I was a little girl:

Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life,
Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life;
Words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.
Christ, the bless├Ęd One, gives to all wonderful words of life;
Sinner, list to the loving call, wonderful words of life;
All so freely given, wooing us to heaven.
Sweetly echo the Gospel call, wonderful words of life;
Offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior, sanctify us forever. -Words & Music: Phil­ip P. Bliss, 1874

"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. -Matthew 6:20-21

Semper Reformanda- Ever being reformed,
I'm attempting to attach my husband's quick (and beautiful) version of Wonderful Words of Life below. video

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Only Comfort in Life & Death

Until a few short hours ago, I was really thinking over the reality of what this world REALLY offers....danger, death, despair. What sense can I make of all this mess? Why are we even here?! My questions, my fear, my despair turned a corner, and I realized I have to hope. I must cling to hope..... I thought of the Heidelberg question: "What is my only comfort in life and death?"

I could define my state this day, this week, this year as somewhat hope-less and very emotionally charged. And very much in need of comfort.

My husband, bless his heart (insert TN Southern girl accent), is a self-admitted crier. He wears his heart on his sleeve. I guess I always thought I was sensitive, but I'm stone cold compared to him! He's always the first one to apologize, yet I can never seem to find the words "I'm sorry." Doing a little self-evaluation I'm recognizing one of my many character flaws is pride. Not the 'give yourself a pat on the back' pride, but a don't-show-how-you-really-feel and pretend-everything-is-perfect pride. Lately, I've even seen how I've even passed this not-quite-coping mechanism to my own daughter. Basically, I've either inherited or just learned to pretend to be inhuman.

I could make excuses and say that it's been my own built-in defense system. Or I could shift the blame and say being shy doesn't really encourage others to delve into getting to know me, much less how I'm feeling.

My emotions have gone awry this year. I mean out of the box of Andrea awry! 'I actually am considering REALLY giving you the speech in my head outloud for once' not so prim and proper Andrea!!

I have not been myself. I've basically been -internally anyway- in a puddle, often unable to hold back my dam of emotions. In October, I was devasted when my dear friend became a widow at 33. Yet, I wondered why I had the right to cry for a week. In January, an accident shortened the earthly life of a young teacher who ran in the same circles as some of my dearest friends. Yet, I thought the flood of emotion I was experiencing was unnatural since I was twice removed from a real friendship with her. This weekend, when I feared that an eye doctor who served the people of Afghanistan for years and had had dinner in my home less than two years ago may have been one of the ten mercilessly killed, my anxiety rose and I literally trembled. I thought it bizarre for me to experience this fear for the life of someone I met only for a few hours. Then, today riding home, checking out the latest Facebook status posts, when I learned that an elementary-through-high school classmate had been widowed by her hero husband serving our country in Afghanistan, the tears poured and I wondered what right do I have to experience this emotion?

I guess I've gotten so used to pushing down my emotion to hide, to protect, and to avoid that when the emotion took me by surprise, I felt ashamed. Ashamed and odd for feeling. Maybe I'm still trying to make excuses for my inability to control my tears, but I think God made us to be in community with one another. He wants us to hurt with one person, or even across the miles through some social network site.

We should desire community where we're not concerned with showing off all our worldly goods and polished wardrobes, but a community where we can expose our souls and find comfort in the shared human experience. A community that holds us up when we've sinned, when we've fallen short, when we are hurting. Even in that idyllic 'community' we cannot be filled. It is only Christ who can minister to our very beings.

He is ABLE be our ONLY comfort in life and death because He did share the human experience even to the point of death!

Am I sad, am I despairing over the state of this rotting world? Yes! Is it just as rotten as it was all those years ago when Christ was crucified for no justifiable reason? Yes?! Yet, I cannot give up hope that it will be restored. In the meantime, when my emotions take me by surprise, I pray that I will welcome them and express them to connect to people who are not six degrees away from me, but who share the one thing we all have in common - souls desperate for love, desperate for hope. Desperate for peace. I pray that I will welcome my emotions, and use them to drive my knees to the ground to pray for the brokenhearted and to move my hands and feet to serve.

So, the next time my emotions take me aback, I might just think my husband's just wearing off on me, or maybe I'm changing....maybe I'm human afterall..

from the Heidelberg Catechism
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:24-25

I will remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:20-22

[Christ] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:7-8

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Looking for a Soul Mate?

Recently, my husband's friend got a song cut on a well known soap opera. The title of the song was "Happy." I found it hilarious since that is the last word I would use to describe the life of a soap opera character!
When I was in elementary school my mother went back to the working world. After school I walked down the street to my babysitter's home and was the oldest child there by about five years so she let me stay in the living room with her while the younger children napped. During that time she watched Days of Our Lives and well, I did too. I don't remember whether or not I was interested then, but as I grew older and especially when I was too old for a babysitter, but not old enough to work, I watched it during my summer breaks and eventually during my own children's naptimes. That was until, like a switch being flipped, I decided it was a total waste of time and I just couldn't stomach the ridiculous plots and endless parade of characters coming back from the dead.

The soap operas and the fairy tales we've heard,
where over and over again, the plot and characters are shuffled and we are presented with the same tale, just revisited with new faces; the names have been changed, but the story remains. These tales have conditioned us to want, to expect the "Once upon a time.....(I met my soul mate who rescued me)....and we lived happily ever after, the end." Then there are supposed 'reality' shows where you can turn on the television to watch the ridiculous mess that ensues when a woman is presented with the world's idea of beautiful, successful men, from which she is to choose a husband. (No, don't. Don't waste your precious time. Really.)

If you do, in fact, want a 'soul mate' for life, act like it! If you know you want to be married one day, strengthen your marriage before it's even begun. No relationship you have before your spouse is going to bring honor to your future marriage. No physical relationship you have before you are married will bring goodness to the relationship you have with your spouse. I do not look fondly upon the time my husband spent with other women before he met me and he doesn't exactly rejoice over any relationships I had before him either. Sure, you'll learn about relationships when you date, but you are basically pretending to be married- the difference is that you have an 'out' because commitment is conditional in the dating relationship. There are ways of getting to know a person without putting yourself in risky situations. What does dating (today) reveal about our view of marriage?!

Looking on my short, but eventful dating life before I met my husband, and watching young girls today - from how they dress to how they spend their time makes me want something more for my children. My desire is for them to honor themselves and use their bodies in ways that are honoring to the Creator. Rather than focusing on who they are to their Maker, today's young women are wrapped up in the guy of the week, the month, or maybe even the year. They become blinded by infatuation, pretending to be 'in love,' trying to convince everyone they've found 'it' while in their gut they see signs of sin and reasons to mistrust - signs that they ignore. A girl who doubts her man's faithfulness driving around trying to see if he is, in fact, where he said he was, is not waking up to the fact that her very going to investigate is a HUGE sign that she should not be in that relationship! The warning signs are there.....but she is blinded. Her standards are lowered and she has settled for last place.

From the time I was very young, I knew I wanted to be a wife and a mother. I wanted a family. The night I met my one-day-would-be husband, I remember thinking there was something different about him. I thought I could see myself marrying someone like him. Getting engaged just a few short months later, then dragging out the engagement for three and a half years while I tried to get through college and convince my family that he was indeed the man I wanted to marry wasn't easy, but I did it. Like most young girls in search of their 'one true love,' I too assumed life would be especially wonderful once I was married. Then. Then my life would start....Then-things would be easier. After all, I'd found 'the one,' my 'soul mate.'

Marriage turned out not to be not so easy. A couple months into newlywed bliss, we learned my mother-in-law had cancer. We spent the first year of our marriage coping with the process of losing her. The second year was a roller coaster; we were still reeling from her death, learned we were expecting our first child and though we wanted me to be home with our children, had no plan of action. The third year of marriage was consumed with job losses, hard to get out of bed sadness, and a lot of tears. I thought I was failing as a wife, a mother, a citizen and a child of God. I thought I was going to have to leave and start over. Instead of giving up, I opened my usually quiet mouth and asked my husband to talk to someone. Thankfully, by God's grace, he did. From that point on our marriage was different...not easy, but different. Today, we're standing together in the midst of some pretty tough life stuff, but we're together and committed.

I've heard so many times 'a marriage is not 50/50 but 100/100.' My experience has taught me that you have to be willing to give 100% even when your spouse is giving Zero and vice versa. The times I didn't think our marriage would survive another day I had to let myself be vulnerable, share my heart and pray. a lot. Thankfully, my husband is committed to doing the same. It's never easy to open your heart, it's never easy to forgive or to seek forgiveness, but if you want a strong marriage that ages with grace and strength, you have to be willing to get down in the trenches when times are tough. I could go on about the difficulties we've faced in each year of our marriage, but you get the point. I hope. Marrying 'the one' does not equal bliss. My husband is a wonderful, gifted, godly man who I love more now than I ever thought was possible. But - he is a man. Just a man. There's no one else who can make me spit nails, but there's no one on this earth I love more. I cannot be a black hole expecting him to fill every need I have.

Why are we all so enamored with Hollywood love stories that have happy endings? Why do we cry when Edward says such beautiful words to the woman he loves? I dare to say, because we believe it's out there for us! And I'll tell you - it is! Only 'it's' not an 'it.' It's Christ! We want the 'soul mate' who's the prince on the white horse, but we're looking in all the wrong places. Christ IS the perfect 'soul mate' and no earthly man can compare! Wake up to the need to re-define 'it' - 'true love,' to re-define what a 'soul mate" is.

We have to change our desire for the fairytale life and desire a biblical one where we are called to commitment and faith. We can be sure that life is going to throw us some messy, dirty, ugly stuff, but when we've chosen a spouse who loves the Lord, and is committed to 'til death do us part,' life becomes about more than what this world has to offer. Be marriage-minded and look for a spouse who will support you and encourage you in your path of sanctification, a spouse for whom you will be happy to do the same. You can stop looking to your spouse to fill the needs in your bottomless pit of a soul. Christ is the ONLY one who can fill you!

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. Johns 15:13

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.

Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.

She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.

She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.

She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.

She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.

She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.

In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.

When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

"Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Proverbs 31:10-30

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord
does the church. Ephesians 5:25-29

Saturday, May 1, 2010


It's been awhile since I've blogged, and I've actually started a few different entries, but haven't been able to wrap them up yet. My experiences over the last couple of days has lead me right back to thoughts on "blooming."

In my recent attempts to keep my aging brain sharp, I've read several Jane Austen books. One concept she often mentions in her main character's quest for the ultimate fulfillment (-marriage-), is the idea of a young lady 'in bloom' when her complexion glows of health around the age of 16 most likely in Austen's day, or 'past the bloom' when the face begins to thin and lose its radiance.... Lately, I recognize that by Austen's pen I would be considered past my 'bloom,' In the mirror I often only see the increasing quantity of gray hairs on my head, the lack of bounce back from my dimples after a smile, and many other issues that any mother who has housed four children would have unless she's Brooke Burke.

In my growing desire to turn back the clock, to better my image, improve my physique and self-esteem, I have begun to make some small changes in my life. My wardrobe (and my confidence) was given a boost when my sweet mom took me shopping on a recent visit. This week trying to take baby steps to better health, I switched to fat-free half and half and a natural sugar substitute in my coffee - that didn't last because my taste buds revolted! I was pleased with my latest "Great" chain store haircut and thought the finishing touch would be some highlights in my once sandy blonde turned dingy brown hair. Ever aware that our family is on a shoestring budget, I am a bargain hunter, not cheap, but thrifty, buying store brand foods, using coupons, and always perusing the clearance racks for clothing bargains.

When I passed a home highlighting kit on clearance, I couldn't resist. I had somewhat successfully pulled this off in the past, so the next morning, after I got two of my children off to school, I began the process (with my two little ones running around my feet). I proceeded through the process, realized I totally left out one entire bottle of ingredients. I attempted to correct the problem, but when I removed the cap from my head, I was stunned by the skunk meets leopard effect from my bangs to my crown where the bleaching agent had leaked through the holes in the cap..As the panic began to rise, my sweet husband lied to me, telling me it didn't look bad. My despair grew when the loneliness of having been in a new city for less than a year and not knowing anyone off hand to help me fix the problem hit me. I called the number on the product's box and was instructed to purchase two separate products, combine them in a certain formula, apply, and my hair would be restored. As soon as my kids were home and playdates were over, donning my hat, we raced out to buy the solution that would make my hair my natural color again. Putting off my children, I speedily opened the products and began the process. What should have taken 30 minutes, ended up stealing away an hour and a half and resulted in a lovely (insert sarcasm here) shade of brassy red! Ugh! On a good note, I no longer looked skunk-like and was able to go out into public with my hair in plain view - yet was still convinced that everyone was looking at it in disgust.

This morning I ran into a salon that a friend recommended and got a reasonable quote that I could afford (this week) and scheduled my appointment.

While I could not hit 'redo,' 'undo,' or 'control z' to rewind and start this whole event over, making the choice to bypass the big $5 bargain that was now costing me WAY more, I sat in the hydraulic chair at the salon enjoying the quiet around me. The sweet stylist restored me to a much more flattering look (I'll still probably have to go back one more time to get closer to my original hair color) that I am presently content with.

Reflecting on this whole mess I created, I see how pitiful I felt when I was responsible for my ridiculous appearance, and wasted a whole day nearly in tears, unable to wholly respond to the needs of my children, consumed by embarrassment and shame. While my kids and I had been in the store, I began to see growing discontent in them over things they wanted but didn't have. By the time we got back in the van, I was in mommy lecture mode explaining the need to be thankful for what we do have. In mid-sentence I was hit with the realization that all my mess stemmed from my own discontented heart. I removed my cap to show them this very tangible example of where my own discontented heart had led.

For months, one of the verses I've posted in our home is "...give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (I Thessalonians 5:16-18) It's obvious I hadn't hidden it in my own heart while I was preaching it to my children.

I'm not saying I will stop attempting to present my best, but I do want to be God's best from the inside out. I won't get that on the clearance rack or the department store, in the makeup aisle or the beauty shop. I'll only get it through the sanctifying work of Christ blooming in me. THAT's what I desire for my children and my husband to SEE. That's how I want to age, in a growing grace and love for my savior, every day more and more....

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." I Samuel 16:7

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Proverbs 31:30

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus....Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. I Thessalonians 5:16-23

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sinner & Hypocrite

Sometimes when I pray or read my Bible or even when I go to church, I doubt. I doubt big-time...even the words from my own mouth sometimes seem foreign, like science fiction. Doubt and fear knock at my door daily - especially when I know there are so many circumstances out of my control. I can plan and prepare a meal, buying all the right ingredients, follow the recipe to the letter all the while thinking I am somehow in control. And I DO want control. of everything within my reach: my home, my children's health and behavior, my husband's health and behavior, the budget, the car I drive, the prices at the store or at the pump, even my hair...I do. I want control. I want the power and the ability to prevail in every circumstance, yet I cannot.

I am a sinner. I am a hypocrite. I believe one thing and do and even think another. That is the very essence of why I need the perfect Savior.

Peel away the layers of legalism and twisted teachings of some individuals and churches who pick and choose what they follow, get to the truth of the Bible as a whole and you get the 'vanilla gospel.' The human being is a liar, fool and idolater. The Christian is a hypocrite. The Christian believes in certain morality, yet in his or her human state, cannot ever perfectly conform to the requirement of holiness. The inability of the human being to attain perfect morality leads to outcry for a savior - THE Savior.

Not long ago, my son asked me "Mommy, why does God let there be sin?" Whoa...that was a big one and I didn't have an answer in my back pocket. Saying a silent prayer for wisdom, the words escaped my lips and it was I who came to a greater understanding. I asked my son to think of how he feels when he's been outside playing in the summer heat, sweaty and stinky, covered in dirt and mud, then he comes in to take a nice warm shower, coming out squeaky clean. I noted that he wouldn't know what it means to be truly, deeply clean if he didn't know what it had meant to be dirty. That's how sin is - dirty, evil, self-centered...and it reminds us how deeply and truly holy our Creator is. I do believe He allowed sin to enter this world so that His holiness would be so clear, so evident and in that realization would come a beacon for hope and our true source of redemption - Christ.

Simply stated, God IS perfectly holy; humans are not. Offended yet? No one - Christian or not- wants to hear they need something or someone other than self to provide right standing before God! The gospel IS offensive to our very being. No method or philosophy that teaches that one can attain some higher level of consciousness actually deals with the root and consequence of sin, nor does it deal with the solution. As long as there is a human - there is sin and temptation -temptation of the mind to hate another, to lust after another, to covet the stuff of this world, temptation of the hands to promote self (even when working for good wanting praise and promotion), the temptation of the tongue to slander another, to lie for self gain, to puff self up.

All I have to do is be alone with my own thoughts for a moment to see that even when my words or hands "do good" my thoughts are only self-motivated, my selfish heart wants praise and I want credit for any "good" I do.

What this sinner & hypocrite must realize is that credit is not due to self - an unholy, unworthy hypocrite. Credit/praise/glory is due to the God of Heaven and Earth, the God of all visible and invisible. And you can bet that He is jealous for His glory.

My/Your/the human inability to be perfect is the very reason we cannot stand before the mysteriously perfect, holy, just God with all our blemishes and walk away having somehow "earned" a prize. But Christ, who was mysteriously fully man and fully God was all those things - perfect, holy, sinless - the One who even defeated !death! was and IS the solution for the sinner. The Bible teaches that the one who believes in Christ is saved not for what he or she has done, but because of what Christ has done on his or her behalf. When God looks at me, a believer, He sees the perfect work of Christ and has removed my sins as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12) The 'vanilla gospel' is that I am a sinner and a hypocrite, unable to be righteous to be justified before God and Jesus has ALREADY paid for all that I have done, am doing, or ever will do! Thank goodness- thank Jesus that it was never up to me!

Like the bud anticipating Spring, beginning to open, yet stifled by sleet and snow, the believer (despite the bumps and bruises along the way) is already unmoved on the path of glorious victory. I will stray, I will doubt, but HIS work has already been done in me.

I encourage those of you who are not familiar with the Bible, or who have never considered or investigated the big picture of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation to do so. The book of Romans in the New Testament is a wonderful place to start. The Jesus Storybook Bible is a beautifully simplified storybook that paints a good big picture of the Bible. Explaining how God brought His people under the law first to show them how law keeping was impossible in our human state - yet!- He promised them a Savior and He delivered Christ to bring His people under grace.

So yes, I am still a sinner and still a hypocrite. My faith should not drive me to judge, but rather to love because by the grace of Jesus Christ through faith I am forgiven. There IS freedom in Christ that no one else, no thing in this world can EVER provide.

Romans 8:1-3
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.

Psalm 103:11-13 (New International Version)

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

Romans 3:24-26 (New King James Version)
24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Hebrews 2:16-18 (New King James Version)
16 For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. 17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Yes, I was. A Pageant girl.....Wearing my aunt's pastel blue, ruffly prom dress, this quiet, barely-in-high-school girl entered the pageant at the local fair, based mostly on looks and not much on brains - big surprise there. I don't think I even made the top ten that time, but it was an experience. I went on to enter scholarship pageants at the county level two years in a row, placing in each one. Then I ventured out, having to get sponsors to support my attempt to win at a state level pageant.

My Junior year I entered the "Miss Teen Tennessee Scholarship Pageant." This pageant was the 'real' thing, interview lunches with judges (etiquette in table manners, making sense of numerous eating utensils, and grown up discussion on display), a 'talent' or speech competition, and even my g.p.a was part of my score. My parents, sister, grandparents and extended family came to support me. I was meeting girls from all over the state. Some were kind and well-rounded - the ones I wanted to win- and others would complement my dress to my face, then turn in plain view to make an ugly expression of disgust.

Since I had no obvious talent....I've always been the type to do very well in any number of tasks, only achieving "good" merit never "excellent" (I'm sure my husband and parents would graciously disagree)...I chose to deliver a speech. I spoke of "believing in yourself...putting trust in self." Older and a little wiser now, I know that 'self' leads to destruction... I made it into the top eight out of numerous girls who had displayed excellent talents of piano playing, sign language interpretations, dancing and the like. Next, I would be asked a judge's question on stage.

Called up to the microphone, I walked poised and hopefully prepared. "Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?" the M.C. asked. "Whew, an easy one," I thought. I got a laugh from the audience when I said "Well, first, I plan to graduate from high school." I went on to say "then I plan on graduating from college, getting married and having a family." I began to walk back to the lineup, then realized I was supposed to take a turn at the front of the stage so I turned, did my pageant twirl, and returned to the line of other 'well-rounded' girls.

Looking back I can hear the thoughts of the judges, my family, and the audience: "What?! no mention of career?!"

How telling my answer that day was! I did not place in that pageant. Getting married and having a family are not on the world's agenda for a "good, successful" life, especially in front of the line, ahead of career and 'personal fulfillment.' Every day, I'm becoming more comfortable with disagreeing with the idea that somehow I've shortchanged myself and subdued my life for some lesser existence because I want to be a full-time wife and mother. Most days, if I'm honest, I still need some convincing.

The recent warm weather opened the blooms on the tree in our front yard, but today they are stifled by the sleet and snow. Like that bloom, I often expect that I am on path 'x' to grow and blossom and achieve. In the reality of God's perfect, mysterious ordination of all life, my feet don't always tread on the path I expect. He brings challenges and seasons of stagnation in what looks like life to me - just so He can remind me why I'm here and for whom I am here - what life really IS.

I could say that I chose to get married while I was in college, chose to come home full-time, and chose to have a 'big' family by today's American standards despite the struggles of having a limited budget. I am confident that this path has been chosen for me. I do struggle with not having a big bank account for the security I think I need, or having enough cash to put my kids in all sorts of extracurricular activities. I struggle with not having, not doing, not receiving, not being enough. This culture has expectations that I'll follow a certain list of what it takes to be a good parent or spouse and implies I deserve or will receive something in return.

I see it every day and often sense the unspoken judgement of other parents when I don't conform to what they think I should be doing:
help my child have the best project in the science fair (not letting the child touch it, of course) - check
enlist my child in swimming lessons, music, dance, sports, etc. - check, check, check
take daughter to the mother/daughter event at church - check
have a membership to the family gym - check, check

When I attempt to have, do, receive or be, I fail - every time. I can never perfectly achieve and never receive what my sinful heart thinks I deserve from anyone: husband, child, friend, family, etc. I thank God for giving me grace to not need a to do list. His grace IS sufficient for me!(2 Corinthians 12:9). I must find what I need in HIM and quit seeking it elsewhere...

My senior year of high school, once again, I entered the local county pageant. I won. The prizes were a crown, a basket of perfume, a gift card for a haircut at a local salon, and $250 towards my college education (it barely covered my books the first semester). Winning certainly temporarily boosted my confidence, but today 'the win' and all of those prizes are gone. That earthly crown is broken and in a dump somewhere after living in a bin of little girls' dress up clothes until it was beyond repair. Today, that win and all those prizes are literally rubbish.

I know that the legacy I leave my children, good or bad, is not! What must I do today to ensure that I leave a legacy, a crown on their hearts after I've left this world? Do I instill in them a drive for education? fame? fortune? No. Sure, I'm a huge proponent of education and would love for each of my four children to have a college degree, fame is overrated, and I do desire for them to be good money managers, but even those things won't give them what their hearts most need. My children will see me worship - but what? Each of us does worship some thing. What will I worship? or rather Whom will I worship?

I don't want to give my children a "Life's To Do List;" I want to leave a legacy of faith where they don't see what I did, but what Christ did in me. I must model trust in the One who made me, provides for me, and will give me the only crown I and they shall EVER need.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

I Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Matthew 6:19-34

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust [5] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? [7] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Makes Me Happy?

I welcomed the four day long weekend and the snow that came with it last week. Monday I ventured out of the house with my three girls in tow, and headed to the store to stock up on groceries ahead of the second blast of snow in the forecast. I love to peruse the endcaps of this particular store looking for a bargain on their orange clearance tags. My eight year old was chatting away non-stop and my two little ones continually dropped their treasured blankies under my feet. In that store there was a little whining and crying albeit brief. Then we went on to Trader Joe's to see what yummies we could find there. More than one time older women made comments like "that's a bunch" or "you've got your hands full!" Agitated, I responded happily "I have one more at home!" And then there was my three year old's loud "Mommy, is that a boy or a girl?" question after being assisted by a young lady who was clearly of an "alternate lifestyle." On the way out my three year old could have cared less about my directions to "stay close to Mommy, we're in the parking lot." At home, naptime was complicated and my son decided to ante up a not-so-pleasing attitude. That night I prayed that the next day would be better.

Getting back into the routine on Tuesday proved to be a challenge for this family of six. Surprisingly, I managed to rise without hitting the snooze button and had a master acheivement of getting a shower before the kids awoke. I had some more grocery items to purchase to complete the ingredient list for some new recipes I wanted to try and again, had several errands to run. My older two were off to school and the younger girls and I were ready to get going. We went on a mini field trip to the pet store, which they loved, and after more frustration with the will of my three year old, we headed onto the store next door. There, my three year old who had just pottied at home asserted that yes, she did have to potty again. After attempting to open the locked bathroom in the back of the store, we had to go to the front to obtain the key which was attached to a rather large bouy of some sort. I lugged my two year old who was wearing her slick and puffy coat still on one hip with large key contraption in hand and held my three year old's hand in the other. Of course after all that, she didn't have to potty....By the time we made it back to the van less than an hour later, I...well, let's just say I had a wardrobe malfunction that took more than a minute to fix in the car. Internally, I was a mess and continued to spiral into a pit of frustration and agitation for the remainder of the day. I could feel my blood pressure rising and felt adrenaline pumping through my blood. My husband had missed out on all the 'fun' for the last few nights - and again tomorrow night because of work meetings. This is all in a week when one child has an oral book report to give in costume, another has an Abe Lincoln log cabin to build, and I am in charge of eight first graders during an all day trip to the zoo on Friday.
Needless to say, I've been overwhelmed.

Exhausted just from the days behind me and from thinking about the days ahead, as soon as the last child was tucked in bed, I attempted to escape. I locked myself in my room with a glass of wine and a bubble bath, my favorite home design magazines piled high beside the tub. I opened the December 2009 issue of Domino magazine -my all time favorite one which was recently discontinued (boo!)- to a page entitled "10 Things That Make Me Happy." The items: a porcelain teapot, "huggable" hangers, an electric citrus press, linen sheets, suede boots, a $70 gallon of paint, a leather bag, a retro shower head, the city of Florence and a bottle of Champagne.

I began to consider what makes me happy....Is it Trader Joes' dark chocolate cover almonds? my family? my husband? my inner confidence? a beautiful home? body image? the events of the day? stylish clothes? the obedience of my children? financial security?

The truth is that I know all of those things will fail me: the almonds will go rancid, my family will hurt me, my husband is a human, my inner confidence is not dependable, I've currently given up on making our rental home pretty, my body will age, the events of any given day are always out of my control, stylish clothes will fade and shrink and eventually go out of style, my children will disobey and sin, and trust me, financial security is relative.

None of the things that come to mind when I think of what I need to be happy are necessarily bad in and of themselves, but using those things to pursue "happiness" is self indulgent nonsense. Seeking everywhere except the throne of God for fulfillment is what I'm really doing when I look to food, beauty and other people for what I truly need from my Creator.

When the things and people in my life do not satisfy and moreover, disappoint, do I wallow in self-pity or do I recognize my sin and MY need for the Savior?!

The last few days and really the last two years almost, have been challenging. During that time we've moved to a new state, been to two funerals of dearly loved ones, gone from homeschooling to private school and back to homeschooling plans for next fall. Physically I am drained, anemic and not getting enough rest. Emotionally, I am on a roller coaster. Spiritually, I feel like I'm wandering in the wilderness with no destination. In every realm I am spent. I want peace in my home and my heart and the world, but ultimately will not find it here. I know I've written this before, but the Lord is really hitting this home to me, and maybe to you too. That perfect peace I want is NOT here!! The only way to get close to it is by trying to be more like my Savior. Having a heart like his, hands that want to work for His kingdom, and having my head saturated in His word. Do I love things that are "pure and noble and good" (Philippians 4) or am I looking for satisfaction with self indulgent entertainment from this world? Do you? Are you?

First, I am going to really try to get more rest and exercise.
Then, I'm going to try serve my family well, praying for them and joyfully serving them and disciplining my children for Christ, and not so they will give me something in return (peace, quiet, rest, obedience...)
Lastly, I must faithfully pursue the Word being fulfilled and even entertained by it. God can transform me through His Word yet, I must open it.

One of my dearest pastor's sermons would often dangle me over the pit of hell, making me recognize my wretched heart, yet EVERY time the same sermon would call me to be convinced of my Savior's perfect work on the cross.

I love these verses below....Note how the phrase "But God...." reveals His character. I've also thrown in a Martin Luther quote that is poignant.

"...this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever." 2 Corinthians 7:5-7 (New International Version)

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" Romans 5:7-9 (New International Version)

"But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them." Genesis 50:19-21 (New International Version)

"So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: "I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!" "
— Martin Luther

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dangled Over the Valley

Two years ago, on Super Bowl Sunday, I struggled to get myself and my three children ready for church and out the door. My husband, the church's worship director, had left early as usual to prepare for the services. Nine months pregnant with a six and a half year old, a five year old, and a seventeen month old in tow, being motivated to even go anywhere was a challenge. Physically, I was exhausted and uncomfortable. I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for many weeks and they were beginning to get stronger each day. I decided to go ahead and go to church because my c-section was scheduled for a couple weeks later and I knew I'd miss church for a while after the baby was born. I left for church looking forward to an afternoon of rest.

Just after dropping off my children in the nursery and classrooms, I walked through a common area and had a sharp back pain, not unlike usual pains I had experienced after carrying the kids or wearing high heels for too long. I did happen to catch a glimpse of the clock hanging on the wall when the pain was followed by a contraction. During the Sunday school hour, my back continued to bother me and I watched the clock, timing these mysterious pains. I picked up my older two children and headed into the sanctuary for the worship service. Midway through the service when my husband was sitting down across the room, he mouthed "Are you okay?" I gave a very firm "No" nod. I walked the kids to children's church and went to my husband's office to put my feet up to see if rest would slow down or stop the contractions. Every twelve minutes I was experiencing a contraction - not a painful one, but firm and steady. Knowing that having three previous c-sections would put me at serious risk for uterine rupture if I were to go into labor, I called my doctor. She told me to come in right away. Someone notified my husband, who quickly left the stage (without his jacket and wallet!) and met me downstairs. We hurried through the potholes, which were not pleasant during my contractions, and made our way for the hospital.

Once we arrived, they hooked me up to monitors and of course, my contractions stopped. Shane left to go get himself some lunch and go home to pick up the camera - just in case. I assumed they would send me home until the anesthesiologist entered and asked me to sign papers. I asked him if we were doing this today and he said yes, they would be taking me back to the OR at 3:00 that afternoon. It was already a quarter 'til two and Shane hadn't gotten back yet. He made it back around 2:20 and not much later, I was whisked away into the O.R.

In the meantime, friends had taken our children and van home and my mother moved her flight up so she would be able to take care of the kids and me when I got back home.

At 3:11 that afternoon we met our precious fourth child, a girl, born with a head full of black hair, weighing 8 lbs, 8 oz.- our biggest baby yet! Obviously, my due date was miscalculated as she arrived seventeen days earlier than the anticipated due date.

I have learned to look forward to those first couple of days in the hospital when there is a quiet calm in the air, and even though I'm waking to nurse every couple of hours, I find it a very restful time physically because I no longer have eight pounds weighing heavily on my bones, making sleep very uncomfortable. Meeting my precious child is an awakening experience, pouring over each finger and toe and hearing everyone's take on who she looks like, and feeling a deep, unique love for this new little person that I'm seeing for the first time ever.

After two nights in the hospital, we were anxious to get home. My husband had started his first seminary class the second day we were in the hospital and I was ready to sleep in my own bed. We had one last night to stay, then we could go home. Our last night, around eleven, a plumber inspected several rooms on our floor and concluded that flooding could occur in our room. The hospital staff kindly asked us to transfer rooms and offered a restaurant gift certificate for our trouble. We didn't mind, after all, we'd be going home the next day. I didn't sleep well on the labor and delivery bed that they disassemble when one is in labor; it felt broken and hard. The next morning the head of hospital staff, or someone with a very official title, came in with two $25 Target gift cards, and a gift certificate to a ritzy spa where I could order one spa treatment. What a nice gift and on what a great note to leave the hospital!

The next morning we showered, dressed and packed our bags then waited patiently for our discharge papers. About an hour before our time of discharge, the nurse practitioner who had been examining our baby entered. She explained that she'd had difficulty locating the pulses in the baby's legs and it needed further investigation, as that could be the sign of a heart defect. Our hearts were worried, but she reassured us and said she was waiting for someone else to come in and see if he could find the pulses. We waited, and waited, and finally, we were told our new baby would need an ultrasound of her heart because he too could not find them. Our hearts were anxious. Never before had we experienced such helplessness. We could do nothing but wait. The nurse brought this precious new little one back to us while we waited for the ultrasound to be performed, sent to a radiologist, and the readings to be sent back. During that time we asked for prayers from loved ones and our church family. As we waited my thoughts raced over what this child's life beheld. Death? Pain? Suffering?

The answer was and is a resounding "Yes!" Death IS inevitable for my child. Pain also AND suffering. When I come face to face with any of those hard things will I look to myself for comfort, to other people, or to the One who holds my life, my very breath in His hands, my God and my Creator...? Will I teach this daughter to look to this world or to her Savior?

Today, we are celebrating my precious daughter's second birthday. I don't know what I would have done if the outcome that day had been anything but good, but I know that my King is good and just when he gives me joy AND when he calls me to suffer. My life is His for the taking. My life is not about me, my husband, my children, my stuff, my job. My life must be consecrated to His perfect will. Sometimes He brings me beside the still waters and sometimes he dangles me over the valley of the shadow of death.....yet - He. is. good.

Why is there sin and sickness, death and despair in this world? My only conclusion is that we could not know the bounty of heaven, the depth of His love, nor the holiness of Christ, if we did not taste this world and still remain thirsty.

John 6:35
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

The 23rd Psalm:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 63:1-8
God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;
To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.

John 7:37-38
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.