Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Highly favored

When I was pregnant, I was very sick, each and every time. Traditionally, the royal family in England doesn't announce pregnancies until after the 12th week, but with Kate Middleton, she was just too sick. They couldn't hide it. I've been there.

The first time, I was so depressed and overwhelmed. I had to quit my part-time job at a bookstore. Johnny would pack me a small cooler by the bedside and I would be alone for eleven hours, crawling to the bathroom to puke, crying, not even strong enough to read. My mom called one time and said words I will never forget: "God must love you a lot to put you through this." Mom was saying, and it still startles me, that God could ask something of me because He somehow saw I could handle it.

Ok, first and foremost, it's just really wonderful to be blessed by your mom. Thanks, Mom. Now listen to a little bit of the Christmas story from Luke 1:26-31:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God
Twice the angel tells Mary that she is highly favored. Mary, we know, would not only deliver the baby Jesus, but raise Him and care for Him and live with Him until He was thirty. Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus--she was indeed favored by God.

With that favor, she bore the stigma of pregnancy before she was married. She left her home and delivered her child in someone's garage with only a new husband to help her. She fled to Egypt for a decade to protect her son's life. He seemed pretty normal, going into the same line of work as Joseph, but then He begins to teach, which makes her kind of proud, kind of embarrassed, not all that surprised and yet still shocked, and then He is crucified. We might have seen the movie, but she lived it.

When Mary and Joseph presented this child in the temple, a stranger takes Him and prophesies, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35). Her heart was also pierced. Mary was highly favored of God.

The Bible tells us over and over again that we are blessed when we suffer with Him. When hard circumstances sweep over you, do not assume that you are abandoned by God. This may be your visitation. You may be highly favored.

In hard times, is God enough? When you lift your eyes to Him, those watching you will draw their gaze upward as well.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Drinking wine on duty

Then the LORD said to Aaron, "You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and common, between the unclean and the clean, and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses." - Leviticus 10:8-10

I wonder sometimes if there was anything inherent in the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Or did the Lord simply create a rule to give us the opportunity to obey? It pleases me when my children obey me, a deep joy because I know their souls are healthy. It also sometimes shocks me, but that's not the current subject.

There are some practical reasons that the priests shouldn't be drunk when performing their duties. The rules the priests followed were complex, detailed, and absolute. Two of Aaron's sons were struck dead for lighting unauthorized fire at the very beginning of the system of sacrifices. Don't compromise your judgement. This is not a time to relax and kick back; this is serious work. Unlike the Nazarites, who were never to touch alcohol, the priests were simply forbidden to drink while they worked.

I like the phrase, "so that you can distinguish between the holy and common." I have been watching coverage of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and crying. I don't watch it all the time, and will stop when it overwhelms me, but I have let myself grieve and pray. When the Murrah bombing happened in OKC, I didn't watch enough of the coverage. It was like skipping a funeral or something; I didn't pay enough respect. I'm not a very scheduled, orderly person, so I am very sensitive to things with a ritualistic feel. Sometimes those rituals help us notice things, to distinguish between the holy and common.

Aaron and his sons were examples. The sacrifices they carried out were living lessons about who God is. The way you and I live, because we are called Christians, requires a certain reverance from us. Revelation 1:5 said that God has made us priests, and so we represent who God is to people watching. We display reverance to help distinguish between the holy and the common, so that people can learn about the God we serve.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eat cinnamon toast in the Spirit

I am not the kind of person who says, "That's just the way I am." I expect to change. This morning I have noticed some unpleasant things about me. For example, when my dear husband was done making his cinnamon toast, he licked the knife and put the butter away. I said, because he somehow had failed to read my mind, "Hey, I was going to make cinnamon toast for me." He replied, "There's a clean knife in the drawer." Instead of hitting him, kissing him, and carrying on, my first angry thought was, "Well, I won't have cinnamon toast." This is called passive/aggressive behavior: getting back at someone by playing the martyr.

It's not pretty. I had the same pattern flair up with my youngest. She didn't start on homework yesterday? Well, (big sigh) I guess I'll just change my plans for today so I can stay home and make sure she does her work.

This is who I am naturally. I became a Christian when I was fourteen in a wonderful small Baptist church that really loved me, loved Jesus, and loved the Bible. I learned a lot about being a Christian from them, but very little about the Holy Spirit. I learned about the Holy Spirit through a Baptist study called MasterLife when I was in my 20's. Here is the Holy Spirit in a nutshell: I can live my life by my own power, trying to do right things, or I can be filled with the Spirit and let Him work through me. If it sounds easy, you're right. All you have to do is sacrifice everything you are, all of your rights, and change the way you think.

Case in point: me. Naturally, I have some good qualities, but I have a lot of hangups, and I do not seem able to treat my family consistently with the kind of godly love and character that I want to. Spirit-filled Angie is much more pleasant, because she doesn't bring herself to the table. She's not selfish, but always able to think of the greater good. Trust me. If you know me, you like Spirit-filled Angie the best.

When I realized I was not off to a good start today, I didn't resolve to try harder. I pulled apart with my Father, and asked Him to have my day. Let me die. Work through me for His purposes.

It is possible that I will get less done today because I walk in the Spirit than if I scurry around with all my natural strength. But my agenda doesn't matter--He trumps. If I trust my natural strength, I will likely do more damage than if I walk in His peace. This trust means turning my head away from my own instincts, and letting Him have control of me.

I did have cinnamon toast, but after adjusting my thinking, it wouldn't matter what I had for breakfast. God cares intimately about all the little details of my day. He wants them all, and then they fall into their proper place.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent, a time of waiting

Advent means "the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event." In the church, it is a time of waiting for Jesus' birth, representative of all the years the world waited for the Messiah to come the first time. Advent also reminds us that He is coming again. Jesus told several stories about not being distracted from that reality.

Waiting is essential to following God. It is a submission, almost like fasting. In fasting, we give up food as a way of saying that God is more important to us. Waiting is laying down our own solutions, our own ideas and fixes, in order to receive what God has for us, in His time.

When I am sitting in my car, waiting on one of my daughters, I often have a book with me or my planner and calendar. Sometimes I'm texting or listening to the radio. But when my daughter hops in the car, she becomes my focus. Phone calls are ended, my things put away, and she has my attention. When you are waiting for company to come, you make final arrangments of the table or drinks, maybe turn on the tv. But you stop when they arrive, because they are your focus.

My daughter, who is sixteen, wants me to put up our advent calendar. I have promised to make her a chain instead, so she can visually see how long it is until Christmas. I thought my girls were too old for this. But she wants to know; she's waiting with anticipation. If I announced today when she came home from school, "It's Christmas!" she might be a bit puzzled, but she would run with it. It's what she's waiting for. (For some reason, she thinks she's getting a new phone--hence the excitement.)

As we wait, we are marked by what we're waiting for. When I sit in a parked car or Lizzye asks me, "How long until Christmas?" we become identified with the thing we are expecting.

It is interesting that "wait" is the verb used for servants. If you are at a restaurant, someone waits on you. Sometimes we use the phrase, "I'll just wait on myself," meaning, "I'll handle things on my own." May you be caught waiting on Jesus today. May the potential of His coming pull your attention away from what is in front of you. It's going to be great; it's better than what we're doing now.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Steal my show

This morning I heard Toby Mac's "Steal My Show" on the radio. I love this song. Toby is a class A performer, and he strikes me as the "real deal" when it comes to Christianity, not an easy thing when you're a big public figure.

So I listen, and Toby's giving his show to God, so God can do what He wants. I've seen Toby Mac perform, and as loud and crazy as it is, God does shine through. But towards the end (never heard this until today!) he says, "No matter who you are/No matter what you do/Every day, we can choose/To say, If you want to steal my show..."

And it hits me, in the car, that I have a show. My own little unseen musical, "Angie the Housewife and Home Educator" kicks off every Monday with a bang and goes full force until the weekend. And often through the weekend. And Jesus might want to take over.

Now Toby has a performance. What I do, people don't watch. But Toby doesn't kick back in a chair behind stage while Jesus holds the mic. Toby plans for excellence, rehearses, and then executes--and he knows none of it means anything if Jesus isn't the center of it all. Toby, in his surrender to God, isn't passive.

So, Jesus, if you want to steal my show, You can have it. When I am choosing one activity over a different one today, would You please direct that decision. When I am cleaning, cooking, writing Christmas cards, would Your song be in my heart the whole time, giving glory to You. When I am speaking to my husband, my children, my friends, and strangers, would Your words be on my lips. I'll give you center stage.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Fixing things

It's December, the month when the semester winds down and holidays ramp up. This year, my oldest has been prepping for the ACT, and we're looking at colleges and trying to think beyond high school. There are extra social events, the pressure of gift giving--ya know, I'm not all that great at giving gifts. I want my family to be surprised and yet have just what they want, and I end up jumping through a lot of emotional hoops to try to make that happen. Cards to mail, things to bake.

But December isn't the only time that things get off-kilter. The pressure of the holidays is a cauldron for growth, to be sure, but I think today I'm experiencing the same kind of "off" that plagues me year round. I'm blogging in order to review my prescription. I know these things, but I forget.

When I am emotionally unbalanced, I need to spend some time planning. I need to look at the calendar. List out our menus for the next few days. Look at the budget. Make out my shopping list. Basically, I have to orient myself to the big picture, so that the sense of "There are things to do!!!" doesn't swarm me like killer horse flies.

I need to stay home, light a candle, and put away the groceries that I just left out two days ago. Go through the mail. Hang up the clothes I've been throwing over the chair. Or I need to get out of the house, buy a cup of coffee, and knock out all those little tasks that have been building up: paper recycling, books to the library, deposits to the bank, two items from Lowe's, returns to Walmart.

And the other thing I need is time with God. Just sit down. Read my Bible. Journal a little. Pray. Do you have that one routine that draws you to Him? I have been journaling and reading my Bible for years...not a ritualistic daily thing, but certainly a habit. And now that habit feeds me. What are your spiritual habits that pull you under His wing? Do that. If you don't have one, start one. A habit is built of a hundred small choices. Whether you're making the choice for the third time or the 63rd, make it.

Yesterday, my husband and I went out on a date, first time in a while because eating out just kills my attempt to lose weight. And I watched several episodes of Psych with my daughter. I've been honestly trying to rest all week, and yesterday I was tired of trying. I wanted to feel fixed. Now. I got so mad that I wasn't feeling better, more centered, that I was quite unpleasant with my children. (So sorry, kids. I really love you. You are close enough to me to get my warts...that's the way it is.)

Today my goal is not to fix things. Today, I'm just going to try, to make healthy choices and duck the arrows of Expectations that get shot at me. No matter how I feel, I'm going to plod along, trying.

And you guessed it: today is indeed a better day. As if I made room for God, the great Fixer of Things. Or a better title, the Lover of my soul.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Good, but good for what?

A dj on Air1 Radio (Brant Hanson--isn't he great?) spent time on his show discussed Luke 11, where Jesus rips the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Hanson pointed out that the Pharisees were really good people. They did the right thing, they were an example to others in good living, and they were passionate for the purity of their nation. But Jesus criticized them for being showy on the outside and not having clean hearts. Hanson pointed out that He gave them one prescription for getting right with God: "Give to the poor, and everything will be clean for you" (Luke 11:41).

Sounds like the same advice Jesus gave the rich young ruler. It seems that if we have a lot (of righteousness, of money, of comfort), we stop wanting to get messy. We withdraw from the world and make ourselves happy. Jesus also said it is hard for a rich person to enter heaven. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man received his reward in this life, while Lazarus received his in the next.

Jesus told us to make disciples. Leverage what you have--your time and money--to reach out to others. In an odd way, you can even leverage your own righteousness. Righteous living does not make you better than anyone else, but it does reduce the number of stresses in your life. The more sin you get out of your life, the fewer burdens and struggles you carry personally. It leaves you more free to help another with her load.

In verse 42, Jesus said, "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God." Jesus didn't tell us to stop obeying rules. But He did warn us that while we follow rules, our heart can get off kilter. What did the love of God do? God's love compelled Him to give His Son. Jesus laid down all of heaven to come for us. Sacrifice is better than a checklist of religious duties.

This conversation is happening while Jesus is eating with a Pharisee, who invited Jesus to his home. Now some other guests, who were teachers of the Law, speak up and say, "Hey, you're insulting us too with all this kind of talk." And so Jesus turns to them directly. He says, "Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them" (Luke 11:46). And later, "You have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering" (v.51)

If you know God, if you have experienced His love and grace, it is not enough just to be a shining beacon on a hill so others can admire you. You need to help others get to where you are. Don't just burden them with your knowledge; extend your hand. Don't make Christianity so complex and advanced that someone who wants to come to God can't find the way. Open the door for people around you. Invite others to come on the journey. Remember that you are also traveling, not someone who has arrived and is sending back postcards.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Bible on curses

This seems like an odd topic to explore, but when I'm reading my Bible, I often become curious about odd things. If you have ever thought about worldviews, there might be something interesting here.

Have you ever heard Christians use the term "breaking curses"? The terminology is actually not really in the Bible. The language "breaking curses" is actually borrowed from the worldview of witchcraft. Witches believe they can wield power over unseen things. They seek to manipulate the spiritual to accomplish their own purposes. Some aspects of witchcraft focuses on curses placed on us or those we care about, and there are spells and rituals to set us free. You may not even be aware you are living daily under a curse, but if a witch breaks it, then you have a new degree of freedom. In the worldview of witchcraft, you might make an appeal to a spiritual power, but you are seeking to control that power, more than submit to it.

By the way, the Bible forbids witchcraft. In Deuteronomy 18:10-11, we are told, "Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead." These were the practices of the pagan cultures around them. It's interesting to me that the Bible doesn't say that these things are empty and don't work. In fact, when Saul got frustrated as King of Israel, he had a witch raise up the spirit of Samuel, who had helped him in the past. She did it (1 Samuel 28). Move over, Harry Potter. I think that messing with spiritual powers is very dangerous and real--a good reason to stay clear.

Now zoom over to Christianity. In the Old Testament, God announced blessings and curses on His people for obeying or breaking His law. If you found yourself living under His curse (and Israel often did), there was no prescription to "break the curse." Instead, the people simply repented and obeyed the law. They changed their behavior; they did not need a ritual. There were all sorts of prescribed rituals in the OT: hyssop brushes & holy water, libations, sprinkling blood. It sounds very "witchy," but it's always picturing atonement, which is a central concept in Scripture. We have sinned; we must atone. Not "we have curses on us and we must break them." When the people discovered they were living under a curse, they began to obey the Law. They repented and cried out to God. Their repentance would draw God's mercy, and He would save them. On their own, they had no power to "lift a curse"--it wasn't even the language they would use. Their focus was always on behavior, on their God.

Furthermore, God cursed the people for their make them aware of their behavior (breaking the Law). When you saw signs of the curse being played out (poor harvests, invaders, wild animals), you repented. You didn't live "cursed" and just go about your business--not if you were a God-follower.

We know that God blesses and curses, but so do people. The blessing of a father is very significant, and individuals would speak blessings to each other. Likewise, they would speak curses, but this was often disastrous. The book of Judges notes several people cursing, and Saul cursed his army if they ate honey (1 Samuel 14)...these acts were foolish, and demonstrated a separation from God, a life in contrast to a life of faith. So when people curse it is shown to be foolish; it is not summoning a spiritual power. When Shimei cursed King David as he was fleeing his son Absalom, his men wanted to punish the man. But David said to leave him alone, that God would do what He wanted (2 Samuel 16:12). There was no spiritual threat that David responded to--his heart was turned to God alone. Balaam is another example: he was paid to curse God's people, but it had no effect, because God's intention was to bless them. Proverbs 26:2 says, "Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest."

The New Testament is simply a fulfillment of the Law. Jesus became the curse for us, as it says in Galatians 3:13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'" There is no curse we must break that He has not broken for us in the cross. He holds all spiritual power and authority; we come to Him, and receive His protection.

Zoom with me one more time. If you come to the Bible with an idea in your head, and you want to find a text to support what you think, you can almost always do so. For example, if I think Christians should be breaking curses and I search the word "break," I find that the prophets often spoke about breaking the yoke of the oppressor. Ha! There it is! A proof-text for what I'm wanting to teach! It is far better to let the Scripture instruct you, instead of grabbing from it what you want.

The Bible teaches us about atonement: repenting of our sin and seeking the righteousness of God, all of which is won for us in the cross. The prescription in the New Testament when we are struggling is to change our behavior--the exact same prescription in the Old Testament. The NT does not teach us any rituals for grasping the power of the cross. In fact, there were people in Acts who saw the power of God at work in the lives of the apostles, and they wanted that same power. Simon, one of these examples, was a known sorcerer (Acts 8:9-25). It is witchcraft that seeks to control spiritual powers; Simon had a great reputation in Samaria, a place of confused religious understanding, and he was nicknamed "The Great Power of God." We believers submit ourselves to God, and like King David, look to His hand for anything we need, willing to endure suffering if we must. We must exercise our will.

You do not have to live in fear. We're just sheep; stay close to the Shepherd. He who bought you with His blood is able to keep you safe.

Monday, November 26, 2012

An almost-poem of where I am

I used to be on staff at a large church. Sunday, for staff members, is an inherently different experience. At worship services, we are the servants, the ones who design and implement an environment for the crowd to worship the Father. Sometimes, we worship Him too, but our goal is to serve. Our worship comes at other moments; it is good.

The worship center of our church was always meaningful to me. Even mornings that completely occupied me with problems and work...on those days, still, the worship center was a place of God's presence. I could not always pull my head away from the work, but I always felt Him there. Some days I would enter, and hundreds of people were worshiping or listening to a sermon, and I was not fully engaged in my spirit. I was in servant mode.

In those times, I often imagined my Father, enthroned at the front of the room, receiving the glory and praise that He is worthy of. I enter, not participating, and He sees me. He nods gently at me as I slip into a chair off to the side. I am His beloved daughter. I am written on His very heart, and He sees me. It doesn't matter that I am not worshiping Him with all I am. I am tired, and He knows everything. I am so comforted to be there, because I am His.

Now, I am in a completely different place. My life is very good, but I will be honest, part of me is hurt and still healing. Because I am a certain maturity (we won't say "old"), the hurt doesn't consume me; it's not terribly important that it is there. But my Daddy knows. I live this wonderful life where He has placed me, and I never stop talking with Him. Please do not lose the goodness of where I am. But the hurt keeps me from some of the formality of my faith. I don't formally pray much, not as often as I used to.

Sometimes, my formal prayers have a picture, like the one I used to have when I was a staff member. I am standing by my Daddy, and I am looking at what He looks at. I am listening always for what He would say, but I can't quite turn and talk to Him. Instead, I reach up my tiny hand...I find His hand, and slip mine inside, and just stand next to Him, in silence.

I am His beloved daughter, and I am hidden in His heart. And He is glad to hold my hand and just wait. He is. This is enough for me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holiday survival guide

Mary and Martha. It's funny how a story that is meant to de-stress us sometimes has the opposite effect. Martha-types (I probably should have said "We Martha-types," but I'm giving myself a break) sometimes hear, "Do everything AND be remarkably peaceful and calm in the midst of it." If Martha just hadn't complained to Jesus, then she wouldn't have been rebuked, right? So what we should do is bake three pies, roast the turkey with that new recipe and some new vegetables but still make the old vegetables because someone is going to gripe if we don't and have both whole cranberry sauce and the newer cranberry relish and let's all work at John 3:16 after we eat this meal except I'm so exhausted I wish you'd all just go home and take my kids with you.

I mean, I'm so glad you're here, I am full of the joy of the Lord. (I can write a Christmas version of that later if you don't have one yourself.)

If you haven't read the story in a while, it's pretty short:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Notice that the Bible says that the Lord answered her. Not some guy, but the Lord. The one in charge. Martha, Martha, you are not your own. And you've gotten distracted, dear one.

In the parable of the sower, some seed fell among thorns. Jesus explained the meaning of this parable to His disciples: "The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22).

The worries of this life choke out our concern for God. The wealth and blessings we have deceive us; they choke out our desire to sit and hear Him. And then we are unfruitful.

You are not in control this holiday season. You don't have to do anything. Sit, and listen to the Father. Everything He has given you--your home, your talent, your abilities, your time, your money--is intended to bless, to build up His kingdom. It is not for you to manage, and you can't make His work happen. So sit and listen, then get up and do.

Mary, the one who sat listening, was offensive to her sister. This call, to belong to Him, isn't always comfortable. Did Mary blush when Martha complained to Jesus? Martha complained to Jesus, who was sitting in their home! Has anyone prayed against you specifically at the Thanksgiving table? "Lord, bless this food, even though Sally didn't lift a hand to help in the kitchen."

His peace is a greater reward than any praise you might forfeit. His call is our only desire.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Parenting, fun, and the big picture

You're a parent, right? Even if you aren't, think with me. Parents teach their children disciplines and values when they're young. We know that they need to learn certain things to survive as adults--brush your teeth, eat your vegetables, what moral values should guide relationships, bugs will collect under that many clothes dumped on your floor, etc. We require behavior of our children that reinforces those beliefs because we want to train them, and we know they learn by doing, not just hearing. That said, our requirements and lectures often cut into our children's "fun." They can't do just anything they want, because we know adulthood is coming, and they must learn a few things now in order to be prepared.

I can see your face. Of course their "fun" is not paramount. In fact, we attend those secret New Year Eve's meetings where parents share ideas for ruining the fun of their children's lives over the next calendar year.

Jokes aside, let's agree that their fun is not our goal. We need them to have character, in order to navigate the much longer period of adulthood. If you're a parent, whether you're a Christian or not, you are training your child to be an adult, and there are things you believe he or she needs to know. Adulthood lasts a long time, and kids don't really grasp what it's like.

Now zoom with me. What if eternity is real? What if God is sitting in His vantage point, and He knows you have this big thing ahead of you, and this ENTIRE life is only preliminary to that big thing. There are things you must learn now, you must choose now, in order to be ready. Is He going to be overly concerned with your desire to have fun? with your own short-sightedness? Does He have a right, because of His vantage point and wisdom, to make claims on your time, your thinking, and your heart?

Pause for a moment.

Now think a little more. How are you reacting? Like a toddler, kicking and going hungry until 8pm? Like a teenager, whose parent is about ready to throw up her hands and kick you out? God's claims on your life are not always what you want. Does He know what's best? What's your response?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A servant's heart

As a stay-home mom, I don't have a lot of personal agenda. My days are driven by the needs of my family: meals on the table, rides to school ETC, scheduling appointments, doing laundry, teaching school. I am blessed to have a lot of time with friends, but there is a different quality to this homemaker thing that didn't plague me when I worked outside the home.

In my job, I had certain tasks that were completed at certain times (usually with some amount of praise or satisfaction). I dressed up. I was serving God. I was compensated with a paycheck twice each month, sometimes a bonus. Now my tasks are like shoveling snow in a snowstorm. My family is very gracious to praise me, but you rarely move on from anything. This task is like the last task and similar to the next task and serves the same people. I wear gym clothes, or jeans and t-shirts. Yes, I am serving God, but I have the title "homemaker," not "minister." I don't get paid for what I do, and consequently there is no time "on" or "off" the job. I can get to thinking I am "on" 24/7.

Here's the heart issue: sometimes I find myself feeling like a martyr. I must do the laundry! I must make this sandwich! I must find the coffe cup that someone didn't return to the kitchen so said person has their coffee this morning! I must change the trash! Woe is me, to muster so much.

It is tricky, because I indeed serve them all. My youngest once said to me, when I was trying to help her with something, "I don't need that, Mom. I know you spoil sissy, so you think you have to do that for me, but I don't need that." So much wisdom in such a small package.

I have to want to be here. It's like serving Jesus. He doesn't hand me a list of do's and don'ts and tell me to get cracking. He loves me, and as I chase after a relationship with Him, I do and don't do certain things. I am His willing servant. And while I meditate on the biblical concept of being Jesus' slave, I have to shy away from the connotations of that word when it comes to my family.

The Law is quite interesting when it discusses slavery; I may blog on that soon. Exodus 21:5-6 says, “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,' then his master must take him before the judges.He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life." I have submitted myself to Jesus. My ear has been pierced. How silly for me to now paint myself as a tragic figure.

When this mood comes on me, I must pull back and look at my heart. I must submit my heart to the Man I originally bound myself to. If He was worthy then of all I am, He is good and worthy now. Then, I can serve my family with a whole heart, and not as a victim.

Tip #5

When I'm doing a lot of work in the kitchen, I often keep a folded paper towel on the floor. Then, if something spills, I use my foot to "mop" it up. One paper towel usually suffices for the messes I make. Of course, yesterday I had the brilliant idea of throwing the two leftover pieces of potato into the soup pot from across the island. I didn't realize how much the soup would SPLASH. And I didn't consider it would splash on Lizzye's open geometry book. But everything's okay. Really.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The question of suffering

It is my hope that this blog, like the devotionals I do at Lunch at Angie's, give you something to think on. I like my chin to be tilted up, to see a bigger picture than just this carpool, this evening's dinner plans, tonight's homework, tomorrow's meeting. I also hope that you can share some of these ideas with others who have questions. Questions are good.

I am teaching a class called Understanding the Times to two homeschool students (one is my own daughter), and there are indeed some interesting ideas therein. (I just used the word "therein" in a sentence. Let's pause while I take a moment to feel smart.) I was talking to my best friend about one of the featured authors, and she told me I should blog on it. So here it is, best friend.

This author presented the Biblical perspective on why there is evil in the world in terms of past, present, and future. He said that this question (Why do bad things happen to good people, and all its forms) has two components: the general philosophical question of what this means about God and the universe, and the more personal, ie, why did something bad happen to me? The personal is harder to deal with--there is pain attached to that one, so it's not a matter of simple reasoning; we require healing--but having the philosophical answer in place can be useful.

First, consider the past. God created the world to be good. He was very pleased with all of creation, including the man and woman He made and blessed. Suffering came when man messed up; Adam disobeyed God and all sorts of suffering entered the world as a consequence of his rebellion. Do you remember your parents ever telling you, "You brought your suffering on yourself"? To a degree, that's true of mankind. We rejected God and His ways, and the consequences don't just hurt us, they hurt those around us, like a drunk behind the wheel. The world is messed up, and evil is bouncing around like a pinball.

Why doesn't a good God set things right? The answer is in the future: He will. Just because He hasn't solved the problem yet doesn't mean the answer isn't provided and everything won't be set straight..eventually. I honestly look forward to judgement and the end of the world. I love justice, and I'm tired of my own hangups being part of the problem. I want righteousness to reign and all this junk to stop. But 2 Peter tells us that God is patient, wanting all men to come to salvation, and so He is delaying judgement. We're waiting, God, and we trust You.

The next part really struck me: so if God made everything good, but He won't fix things until later, where does that leave us now? The answer is: He is with us. One of the names of Jesus is Immanuel, "God with us." He came to walk alongside of us, to not leave us alone while we're waiting for it all to be sorted. Remember the story of Lazarus dying? Jesus waited four days to come, knowing Lazarus would die, knowing He would raise him from the dead. When Mary fell at His feet and said, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died," Jesus wept. Why did He do that? He knew in mere minutes she would hug her brother again. But in her suffering, He was with her. No other religion promises a Comforter to be with us in all of our troubles. God didn't just tell us to suck it up through the hard times; He is with us in our hurt.

Thanks, Jesus. Thank You so much.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The greatest commandment

Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength" (Luke 10:27). That verse in Luke isn't actually Jesus speaking; it's an expert in the law answering Jesus' question. In Matthew, Jesus provides this answer...that's complete bonus.

Another complete bonus is that when Jesus sums up the law, He is actually quoting two passages from Jewish Scriptures. The command to love God with all that we are is from Deuteronomy 6:5. Deuteronomy 6 is a significant chapter, sort of a grand summary of the law and the responsibility of the chosen people to follow it. It makes sense that "the greatest commandment" would come from this passage. Oddly, the "second greatest commandment" is from Leviticus 19:18 (Love your neighbor as yourself). I don't know what's so great about Leviticus 19 that you could pinpoint that verse as a summary of the law. It follows a long list of "do not's" that in my Bible are captioned "Various Laws." Verses 17-18 read, "Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke youir neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself." When you read this command in context, the man's question, "Who is my neighbor?" makes a ton of sense. In Leviticus, just reading the text, I would assume the answer is "another Israelite." Jesus is worth listening to because He just doesn't answer questions the way you think He will. His teaching will keep you on your toes.

Where am I going with all this preamble? Just giving you some idea of how I study the Bible. When something catches my eye, I mull it over, look up other things it makes me think of, poke around a bit. I think about the text itself. Consider how we are supposed to love God:

with all our heart - Your heart is deceitful. You are probably wanting two contradictory things right now. We are full of conflicting desires, and Jesus looks into that mess and says, Love God with all your heart. Turn your desires towards Him. (They're a mess if they run amuck.)

with all our mind - Two things I think of here. Discipline what you think about; don't let your mind run on topics that are unhealthy. Secondly, study. Use the intelligence you have been given to learn about who God is.

with all our soul - You were made body, soul, and spirit. You have a personality and a perspective on the world that God values--He made you on purpose, different from anyone else. Your spirit is dead until Christ brings life to you, and then the Holy Spirit begins to capture your soul, to use who you are, just how God made you, for His purposes. Use all of your uniqueness for Him.

with all your strength - Sometimes you have a lot of strength. Sometimes you have a little. Whatever you have, don't wear yourself out pursuing your own goals and ideas. Use all of your strength for His Kingdom, whether you are raising your kids or doing your job or fixing your car. Don't chase down a road He hasn't sent you on.

We talked at Lunch at Angie's about which of these we might struggle with surrendering to God (our mind, heart, soul, strength). But our conclusion was that they are hard to separate. Maybe that's the point. God wants all of us. He wants control. He is Lord, Master. Those four areas are listed out for us to think on, but the conclusion is He must be first, and we must be second. Period.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The song you sing

We are each humming a song. Some of us are singing loud, some of us are mouthing the words under our breath, but we each vibrate with a message. I think mine would be, "Be encouraged."

I have some friends who do amazing work. One woman sings to those hurting in poverty. Her sister sings to high school girls, telling each that she is a princess. One woman sings over a little baby she is adopting from the foster system. One woman sings "Jesus Loves You" to over a dozen foster kids who have been in and out of her home this calendar year. The chords of their lives are compassion, mercy, and love.

I have heard songs like, "Help me,""I'm so lonely," and some very angry songs. There are ones like "I want to know Jesus" or "I'm not ready to surrender my life." I think some people have a song that their heart plays, and one that they switch to when others are around. "I enjoy sin" might become "How I love the church."

I hope your song is consistent. You don't have to play it loud, and you may not know all the words yet. I hope the song you sing is one you received from the Father. Our God has a plan for each of our lives, a song He made just for us. In singing the song you were made for, you will find a range and depth that you didn't know you have. You will resonate with joy.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Your Life: a guidebook

I saw a sign outside a church the other day that said, "Our lives are a guidebook for our children." Go ahead, take a minute to panic and freak out. But you know it's true. You already know you're an example living out in front of your children. You are also very aware that you're not always a good one.

Have you ever said, "I wish my child came with an instruction manual"? Whether you are the parent of a crying baby at 2:00am or locked in a struggle over veggies or a parent whose child has not returned home yet, and it's 2:00am, and she's not answering her cell, and you don't know if she's in trouble, ignoring you, or the phone just died, and you don't know if you will kill her when you finally see her (what page of the manual addresses this???)...I digress. We parents don't always know what to do, and there are so many times we want an easy answer.

You don't have a manual for your kids. You never received a manual for your own life. I could get religious here and tell you that the Bible is our manual, but I want to talk about those decisions that you don't know how to handle. The ones where there is no chapter and verse that states, "Take away her cell phone and ground her from all media for one week, thus saith the Lord." Or what about your own life? Why isn't there a book with your name that says in chapter 3 who you should marry? Or chapter 4, yes, take that job.

Now let's go back to the guidebook idea. You are listening for God's voice and doing your very best, and you still mess up. How can this be a guidebook? But it is. The Lord does not desire us to be perfect. In fact, He knows we can't be. When we're taken up to heaven, our character issues will be settled. Until then, He has left us here with our own flaws and hangups. Are we supposed to be diligently correcting those?

The real answer doesn't always match the questions we ask: we are supposed to live out the gospel. We are supposed to wrestle with our sin, seek the Spirit so that His fruit bears out in our lives, ask forgiveness, repent, do hard things, serve others, love our enemies. We, as failed people, empty ourselves before a holy God. In doing so, we write a guidebook for anyone watching--not easy answers, not a quick reference list, but a living example of who God is, how He provides in amazing ways, and how He doesn't give up on us.

Do you see a way to do that today? Good job. Keep going.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Bible on drinking

Okay, I'm not a theologian, and not really a great teacher. However, I will attempt to give you some idea of what Scripture says about drinking. Feel free to comment if you have insight that I miss!

Surely the grapevine was created by God, but the first story about alcohol definitely reflects the fallen nature of man. After the flood, Genesis 8 says, "Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he bacame drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent." This leads to a curse falling on one of his sons (you can read the story). Two things from this story: wine is appealing to men, and the consequences of getting drunk are not pleasant. Alcohol plays a role with Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19). Melchizedek brings Abraham bread and wine after his victory in battle (Genesis 14:18), which definitely reminds us of the last supper which Jesus, our high priest in the order of Melchizedek, shared with his apostles. New wine is part of the blessing that Isaac mistakenly gives to Jacob (Genesis 27:28; he drinks wine in verse 25), and the vine is part of the imagery in the blessing Jacob gives his own sons (Genesis 49). Jacob pours out wine as an offering to God in Genesis 35.

Wine is part of a man's crop on which he should tithe in the Law (Exodus 22:29), and it was used as an offering in the Temple (Leviticus 23:13). The Law also talks about the duties of Aaron and his descendents (the priests), who should not drink before entering the Temple (Leviticus 10:8-10), and a specially dedicated person called a Nazirite, who always abstained from alcohol (and even grape juice, see Numbers 6).

Wine is often associated with celebrations (1 Chron 12:39-40) Psalm 104 praises God: "You cause grass to grow for the livestock and plants for people to use. You allow them to produce food from the earth—wine to make them glad, olive oil to soothe their skin,and bread to give them strength." In light of this Scripture, it seems silly to say that bread is good to eat, but wine is inherently bad.

However, drunkenness is often condemned. Eli the priest accused Hannah of being drunk in 1 Samuel 1 and rebuked her. Sometimes wine is used to symbolize judgement, as in Psalm 75:8: "For the LORD holds a cup in his hand that is full of foaming wine mixed with spices. He pours out the wine in judgment, and all the wicked must drink it, draining it to the dregs" (and many places in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Revelation, etc.) Proverbs 20:1 says that people who are led astray by drink are among the mockers, get into fights, and can't be wise. Proverbs 21:17 associates alcohol with poverty (see also Proverbs 23:30-32); kings are especially warned to stay away from it (Proverbs 31:4).

Solomon, as he pursued wisdom in Ecclesiastes, explored drinking as a potential lifestyle option (chapter 2). His conclusion in chapter 9 is, "So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne! Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun" (v.7-9). I recommend you never take advice from Ecclesiastes without reading it in context, with serious meditation. It is more a book of reflection than rules.

My husband likes to quote Proverbs 31:6: "Alcohol is for the dying, and wine for those in bitter distress," because unlike celebration or drunkenness, this verse refers to alcohol as a medicine. Paul, in the New Testament, told Timothy to not just drink water, but take a little wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). This verse says to me that there have always been people inclined to stay away from alcohol for moral reasons. I imagine Timothy, raised in a home where his father was a Gentile and his mother a believer, avoiding alcohol in zeal for his God and rejection of his culture. But that's my imagination. I imagine the culture of the Bible being filled with the kinds of people I encounter in my own life.

The two most commonly quoted Scriptures for Christians thinking about these things come from the New Testament. I have given you LOTS of Scripture about wine before writing about these so that you can see how much it is part of the Biblical picture of life. As you read the life of Jesus, you see the same culture--one in which alcohol is a part of man's experience. Wine to celebrate a wedding (John 2), wine to enjoy at a meal with friends (Luke 22:20), wine as medicine (Luke 10:34, Mark 15:23,36). People criticized Jesus for associating with drunkards (Luke 7:33-35), even here a reference to alcohol's dangerous side.

Okay, so the two "big" Scriptures. Ephesians 5:18 says, "Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit." The obvious command here is to not be drunk; drink can be dangerous. The Scripture doesn't just give you a "don't"; it also says to BE filled with the Spirit. In Him, we find all the joy and freedom that people seek in drunkenness. Romans 14:21 says, "It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble." Sure, you have freedom as a Christian. Be aware of who is watching you, and how your actions will speak about your Lord. God is always more important than your comfort or your fun.

My basic conclusion is that it was part of the life of man. Like money, it can be used for good, but also tempt us to where we don't want to be. Things are pretty neutral; how we use those things are very telling about our own character.

A Safe Community

At the last Lunch at Angie's, we talked about alcohol. Do you drink? What do you think about drinking? Our group is quite a mix of women (ages, backgrounds, life situations), and so the answer was kind of like hearing the Church itself speak. Granted, we are all American Protestants, but still, it was varied, real, and refreshing.

Being a part of meaningful conversation creates some sort of marker in our lives. Being able to express your real thoughts, hearing from the hearts and lives of others, is not something that happens to us all the time. I pray that you have a group of friends or a family environment that connects with meaningful words. It is food for the soul, a refreshing drink.

Someone once called Lunch at Angie's a safe environment. There is a theology behind being safe. Did you ever think about that, the beliefs that are in place to have safety?

1) God loves you, and He knows everything in your heart, whether you say it out loud or not.

2) We are all sinners--this is one of my favorites. Many religions are a list of do's and don'ts, but Christianity is about knowing Truth, a personal God who wants to be known. One of the realities that Christianity teaches is that we all mess up, we are all short of the holiness of God. I never have to put on a false front before my God or His people. I can be known for what I really am, warts and all.

3) We are meant to encourage each other. Christians are not lone rangers who pull themselves together and do the right thing. We need each other...other insights, other perspectives, the knowledge others share, the example (good or not) that they provide. Not only does God love you, but so do your sisters in Christ. And we love with a love He has planted in our hearts, which is awesome and beyond our own ability.

Our only Scripture was "Seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). This must be the primary focus of our lives. Everything else--what we know, what we do, how we fail, how we succeed--is secondary to chasing Him, to living out His call. On the journey, may we help others along.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Say it out loud

The other day, I had some time to talk with my best friend. Sometimes life gets crazy and we miss those moments. It's especially nice when we have open-ended time, instead of, "I've got ten minutes, let me tell you what's going on." I like conversation that can wander; it allows my heart to unfold.

I told her the story of finding our pet rat Cookie dead in her cage on Saturday morning. I told her about an incident that, until I told the story, I didn't realize had hurt my feelings. I talked about my daughters. For me, it is theraputic to put my life into words. I think and even feel the emotion of the situation better if I set things into conversation. Are you that way? I don't think it's true of everyone. My youngest likes to withdraw and put her thoughts together. It is important, I think, to keep up with the narrative of your life, whether you need to think about things or talk them out.

It is also good to acknowledge moments. Always kiss me goodnight, greet me when you come home, say goodbye when you leave...these little habits are worth building into your family. My best friend tells me I am a scientist watching rats in a maze, so for me, being intentional about sentimentality is necessary, and I treasure these things.

Here's another thing to say out loud: I'm sorry. Does anyone come to mind when you read that? I pray the Holy Spirit would show you your heart, if there is someone you need to be reconciled with. That said, I used to be a compulsive "I'm sorry"-er. I drove my friend nuts in grad school, saying sorry all the time, over everything. I think I was taking responsibility for things that I wasn't truly responsible for. "I'm sorry" also doesn't mean very much if you just want the other person to be happy, but you're not really addressing what caused the situation. Let your "I'm sorry" bring clarity and healing. If you're not sure it's doing that, spend some time talking to God before you talk with that person.

We mark moments in our lives with little rituals, including those things we bother to say out loud. May your words connect you deeper with the people around you today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Remember where you've been

I have been really down lately about not having a church home. I've been through all sorts of phases since we left our church, but this recent time found me not really thinking about any particular thing...just sad.

I don't like being sad. It actually makes me a bit angry, so you can imagine I've been a joy to be around. I'm pretty good on the surface, but if you bump me--well, yuck. Then at some point last week (probably 4:13pm on Thursday), I remembered.

God values remembering. A lot of the psalms are just reminders of what history Israel has been through. Many times when he addresses individuals he begins with flicking their forehead and saying, "Remember da da da, o beloved moron?" Have you had that happen to you?

At 4:12, I thought, "I just need to think all of this through, settle in my mind what has happened." And at 4:13, God flicked me on the forehead and said, "Remember? Remember when you left your church home after 10 years, walking away from a women's class that you were leading, that you loved? What kind of 'understanding' did you find then? Remember?"

Ironically, until that thump on the head, I thought I had sorted that out. After all, I have so much peace about that time period in my life. But as it was happening? It was awful. I didn't know if we were doing the right thing, and people were certainly not applauding us. When we would tell someone our decision, we often got shocked expressions and a bit of distance. But after a year, things were better. After four years, they were amazing.

But I never "understood." There are parts of that scenario that were just painful, that I can't explain, and some of those parts taught me the most. I had to trust that God was guiding my family, that He would take care of us and prepare a good future for us. Which He did.

Psalm 131 says, "My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." Read it's like a lullaby for your spirit.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sweat and inspirational music

I don't finish a lot of the nonfiction books that I read. Sometimes the title alone is enough to inspire me, but usually after about 3-4 chapters, I think, "Yes, yes, I get it." However, this weekend I finished Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. His math isn't very good, but his writing captivates me. This book is about the concept of story. Here's an excerpt:

Before I learned about story, I was becoming a fatalist. I was starting to believe you couldn't feel meaning in life because there wasn't any meaning to be found. But I don't believe that anymore. It's a shame, because you can make good money being a writer and a fatalist. Nietzsche did it with relative success. Not personal success, mind you, because he rarely got out of bed. But he's huge with twenty-something intellectuals. He's the Justin Timberlake of depressed Germans, and there are a lot of depressed Germans.

One time the team I was on was preparing to go to a conference where Donald Miller was a speaker. I said that I was excited to hear him, and my coworker scrunched up his face as if something smelled bad and shook his head. "Donald Miller is not my favorite," he said. A year later, that coworker was found to have been living a horrible double life of sin and church leadership. I don't know if I really like Miller anymore because of that story, or if it is just symbolic in my head of "real Christians" and the fake ones.

My daughter and I went to a modeling audition on Saturday, and it was a wonderful experience. They told us that everyone is called to do something: if singing or acting or modeling is a tool God has given you in your tool belt, use it to get the job done. If it is some other career, go and do what God has made you to do, go do your part in His Kingdom. The head scout told us to have no fear in the audition. Be yourself; give it everything you have. If you bomb, make sure you bomb big.

The modeling audition and Miller's book are both about living awake, about living a good story. About facing fear and taking risk and staying the course even when it's hard. This morning, I considered, "What if I just gave up on church?" Other people have done it, been hurt and run away for years, sometimes their entire lives. But I don't want to be THAT character in the story. I want to be the one who hangs on through the pain, the sadness, and all the things that don't make sense and find hope, some wisdom, and a new start.

When you watch a movie about a character training for some really difficult goal (like Rocky), they show that character working and sweating while music plays, always something inspiring. During those scenes, I, being a realist, think how much work that prep really is, and we're just glossing over it for a good story. That said, the work entitles you to be the main character. The Story may gloss over the hard, tedious parts of your life, but those times earn you the story worth telling. No one wants to watch someone at the Olympics who gave up and stopped training.

I don't know what is in store for my family in the future, but I think I am going to listen for the soundtrack of inspiring music that I know is playing in some cosmic background.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Speeding along

What is your natural speed? I'm a 65mph kinda girl. I like life fast, a little hectic even. My husband says, "You're only happy when you have too much to do." A bit embarrassing, but I think he's right.

Last week, I dialed down to 35mph. I couldn't "do nothing" because I'm a mom. I still had to homeschool, drive the kids around, feed everybody, make coffee. But I needed some space to breathe, so I chose a slower pace.

I think we often feel like there is a posted speed limit, and we're not doing it. Either we're going too slow (everyone else is doing more than I am!) or we're not going slow enough (everyone else has margin in their life!). Maybe God doesn't have a standard speed that He's measuring us by. Maybe our eyes shouldn't be on a white sign off to the side somewhere, but up. Are we obeying Him? He ordained a "time for everything under the sun" (Ecclisiastes 3). Sometimes rest, sometimes chaos, sometimes laughter, sometimes mourning. Wherever you are now, are you there with God?

Isaiah 40 says that those who wait on the Lord "will soar with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not grow faint." Sometimes in life we run; sometimes we walk. Either way, the Lord is able to sustain us. There is not a judgement on which you should be doing. The first part of that verse says, "They will soar with wings like eagles." Because we know Jesus, we can be lifted up above our circumstances. We don't always remember that, but we have an access to the clouds because of Him. Perhaps you need to take a deep breath and beat your way up to the air currents for a bit.

In Philippians, Paul wrote that he had learned to be content with plenty and with little (chapter 4). The verse applies to finances, but it can just as easily apply to time, the currency of choice in today's suburban lifestyle. Paul was content in any circumstance because he knew that Christ could give him strength.

You only need to ask yourself one question: can you see the face of God? If you can see Him, chances are, the cry of your heart is answered. If you can see Him, you can sense His peace, His joy, His provision...that thing that you are needing. There is no "right" way that you should be doing your life. Look at Him; are you pleasing Him? Then you're okay.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Be awake, but not alone

It is not easy to live awake. There are so many options for checking out, whether substances, entertainment, or just emotional distance and distraction. So if you're living with sadness, worry, or anger today, know that you are at least engaged. Be awake to the problems in your life, and move towards a solution.

However, you don't have to face anything alone. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." He said, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Jesus is not encouraging us to check out, to live as if we have no problems. He is telling us to give them over to Him, and He will pull with us. With Him, it is not so heavy to carry those emotions and trials.

Please realize, today I am clearly speaking to myself. Do not imagine me happy and content, typing away some advice that I am not in need of. As I was driving home to teach this morning, having dropped off each younger daughter, I was working these truths out like a butterfly battling out of my coccoon. It's okay to be tired, Angie, when you are working out tough things. Oh, and guess what, Angie? You can take these burdens to God, and He will genuinely help you.

It is so easy to forget.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stepping in

I have been privileged to be part of a church that promotes fostering and adoption. "Religion that the Father considers pure and blameless is this: to keep oneself from being polluted by the world, and to look after widows and orphans in their distress" (James 1:27).

As I have watched my friends foster, I have discovered something: even in this area of life, Christians are channels of blessing. In many circumstances, we do more than swoop in and rescue the child. If there is hope for even one of the parents, Christians try to minister there, to build up the original family so that they can raise their child. The love we give is indeed like salt, working through the culture so that it is better in the end than in the beginning. Even in a broken system, our effort makes a difference.

If Republicans and Democrats each put action to their words, what a great culture we live in. Republicans would labor to keep people from making mistakes, and Democrats would care for those who inevitably do mess up. Just do something. If God is in your life, what you do will be incredible as He blesses the work of your hands.

This past Sunday, in a women's class at a church in Broken Arrow, the teacher asked the question, "What fields do you see ripe for harvest?" There were many answers, and not all of them resonated with me. I would maintain that what YOU see is unique. Because of your passions, experiences, and upbringing, you see needs in the world from a unique angle. Go there. Don't compare the field you see to someone else's...just go. You are designed to harvest. Step in.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


My basic theology is, "Life is often crappy. Better to go through things with God than alone." In John 16:33, Jesus said, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” Jesus said that we will have trials and sorrows. He did not say that on earth, we would overcome all unpleasant circumstances. We go through them knowing that He has overcome this world, and in the end, everything will turn out under His authority.

In the story of David & Goliath, we are often encouraged to see ourselves as David, fiercely slaying the enormous enemy with our faith. But recently, I heard a preacher remind us who we are in that story: we are the Israelites. We cower before our enemy, and we will not send anyone forward to fight him, despite all the armor and weapons we have assembled. Each day when he taunts us, we run away. We cannot defeat the things that come against us on our own; we need a champion. That champion is Jesus. He looked at our sin and guilt and defeated them. We charge after him into battle, but we are not Christ. We are the Israelites. Christ overcame the world, and we follow Him into victory, through our trials and sorrows. We do not skip over suffering, the same way that Christ did not use His divinity to trump pain and sorrow.

But He is peace. How often do we look to our circumstances and just want them to go away? Is it enough for us that He is our peace? In our journey to become more like Jesus, we renew our minds--we change our thinking to be more like His. I think simple things are very profound with Him, things we would rather overlook as easy assumptions. Things like, God is good; God loves me; I sin; Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. These are the graduate school of Christianity as well as the basic building blocks. There is no lesson that concludes, "And now your life will be easy and super great." But God is sufficient, sovereign, and more than we could hope or ask for.

In Jesus' day, people were very disappointed in their Messiah, because He failed to do the one thing they wanted: overthrow Rome. Are you also disappointed in Jesus?

Sunday, September 30, 2012


My mother is an only child, and we don't have family reunions--I don't think. My parents were divorced when I was little, so I also lack that sense that "these people are family," some kind of underlying certainty that doesn't change. For me, family shifted when I was small, so it's not a rock-solid certainty that I put much trust in.

However, in the last two days, I have spent a lot of time with family. One event was my husband's stepdad's kids and a grandson. The other was my mom's aunt's 90th birthday, which included all kinds of family that sprung around her. My daughter joined me in both events, and we had a great time. Family is such a different thing than friends. With friends, you spend time on the assumption that you value this connection. With family, you spend time together because the link is already there, and then you get to evaluate who you've met and what you think. The link remains whether you like them or not. I can tell that my daughter is like me, in that we simply enjoy being connected to people. The greater the variety, the greater the enjoyment. Being around family is always good: if you like them, you think, "Hey, I'm related to this great person. How cool!" If you don't, you think, "Wow, I'm doing better than that!" Either way, it feels good. (Okay, the second isn't particularly nice. Sorry for being a flawed person.) And I like putting together a cheese & cracker tray that looks artful--who wouldn't enjoy that?

I feel the same way about church. If you attend my church, you're family. You are "in" with me, no matter what I think about your personality or body odor or political opinions. We are connected by our Father, and I enjoy the connection. Despite having a somewhat broken emotional understanding of "family", that word is still redeemed with me. Family is good.

Friday, September 28, 2012


The presets in my car are Christian music and country, so when something rock-ish is playing, I almost always assume it's a Christian band. One day I pop into my car and the first song that comes on has a great beat that grabs my attention immediately. My assumption is that I am hearing a Christian song. If you don't have children with you, you may listen to it here (the video is pretty inspirational!). I apologize for the language--it was my first clue that maybe this wasn't a Christian song per se--but in truth, I appreciate the lyrics.

Give em h***
Turn their heads
Gonna live life till we're dead
Give me scars
Give me pain
And they'll say to me, "There goes a fighter."

The bridge says, "Till both your eyes start to swell/till the referee rings the bell/till the crowd goes home/what we gonna do, kid?"

I remember Lizzye laying on the couch crying because she knew she couldn't fail classes and stay in cosmetology and she just didn't know how to pull things together and be good enough. I said, "We will make it work, baby" and her reply was, "You always say that, but it never turns out." A semester of homeschool in 8th grade when Mom wasn't home enough to teach. Two years of failing grades in high school. No friends, no job, no church could she trust me?

But I knew what was inside of me: a strong determination that my child would be successful. Circumstances may look bad, but the God of the universe loves us, and we will battle our way through this. We may have a bad track record over the last few years, but that is not the end of our story. It's just a blip that makes the final outcome even better.

Maybe it's because I live in the capitol of the Bible belt, surrounded by preachers who preach wealth and happiness in this lifetime...but I resonate with the lines, "Give me scars/Give me pain" as a Christian. Not that I am eager for suffering, but we are called to suffer with Christ. I am challenged to give up my comfort to make a difference, not seek my own satisfaction in a hurting world. Would that we who call ourselves by the name "like Christ" be willing to sacrifice our own personal heaven in order to walk alongside those still who still hurt, still need. May we live life till we're dead.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Secret things, part 2

In the same chapter where Israel is judged and hauled off to Assyria, we see the transformation of the land of Samaria. In Jesus' times, we know the Samaritans were looked down on as half-breeds, who had a form of worshipping the Lord but weren't true worshippers like the Jews. This is the story of how Samaria got in that state.

The Assyrians brought in people from other conquered lands to occupy & farm the conquered land of Israel, whose capitol was Samaria (hence the new name). The land of Judah, with the capitol of Jerusalem, is still intact. When the people settle in, they begin to be harrassed by lions. They, being spiritually astute, immediately realize that they are not appeasing the god of the land. They send word to the King of Assyria, who sends them one of the captured priests to teach them about "the god of the land." Unfortunately, this priest teaches them what he knows: worshipping in the high places (see previous post). The new inhabitants added this to whatever religion they brought with them. Essentially, they did what they always did, but now also went to church on Sunday because that made their lives look better. In our day, it might be the equivalent of attending church to network for business connections. Verse 34 says, "They neither worship the LORD nor adhere to the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands that the LORD gave the descendents of Jacob, whom he named Israel."

Beware of a faith that imitates man. If all you know of God is what you have seen your parents do, or the smattering you get at church, you may be missing Him completely. The Samaritans were not taught the covenant relationship God established with Israel (which included any foreign-born people who wanted in). They did not know that by following His rules they would be His people, and He would be their God. They just sacrificed in His name on a high hill, and did what they wanted.

Let me ask another question: what kind of a priest are you? Do you teach others to sacrifice in high places, but neglect the calling of God? Is "Come to church with me" a phrase equivalent to "Let's get a beer this Friday"? Are you sharing a person or a habit?

Everything comes back to this simple question: do you know Him? Have you listened to how He reveals Himself in His word for yourself? He longs to be pursued by you, and if you do so, you will find Him. Don't settle for something less.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Secret things

"The Israelites secretly did things against the LORD their God that were not right." - 2 Kings 17:9

This is one of those passages that sums up the sins of the nation of Israel. It goes on to detail their idol worship and God's resulting judgment. All the kings in this book have been evaluated in a verse or two, usually something like, "He did evil in the eyes of the Lord," or "He followed the Lord, but not wholeheartedly like his ancestor David," or "He followed the Lord but he did not remove the high places."

"He followed the Lord, but..." Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you are not committing great evil in the eyes of the Lord. Assuming that, how is your walk with Him? Is it, "I follow, but...?" Last night, Lizzye made a passing comment: "He's like most Americans. You know, prays when he's in trouble, maybe goes to church on Sunday, but lives however he wants."

In the book of Kings, Israel is divided. The temple is in the nation of Judah, and if the people want to worship the Lord, they should do so there. But when Israel split off from Judah, their king (Jeroboam) set up idols for them to worship so they didn't have to go so far. Obviously, he had political motives, but it was also much more convenient. And the Israelites had long had the practice of "high places," local shrines that allowed them to worship God without exactly doing what He said.

2 Kings 17 details the idolatry of Israel, ending with, "They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger" (verse 17). Anyone, if we start with that verse, would recognize that sin. But it begins with "secretly doing things that weren't right." How can you be secret before God? That is only an illusion, but we are good at deluding ourselves. Let His light shine in your life; you don't have to fabricate His conviction. If there is anything that you think He's winking at, or overlooking, beware. You cannot keep your secrets and live in His blessing with light and truth.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Huldah the prophet

If I had a biblical hero, someone I want to be like, it would be Huldah. 2 Chronicles 34 tells the story of The Book of the Law being found, during Josiah's reign. The king, his court, and the religious leaders were appalled to learn that they had not been following God's commands. When Josiah wanted to inquire of the Lord, to find out if this book was the real thing, he sent the priest and his men to "the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe" (v.22).

I picture Huldah spooning baby food to the littlest, sitting in the high chair, while two other children are playing. The tv is on some PBS channel, and the doorbell rings. "Huldah?" asks an official looking group of men on her doorstep. "Can we ask you a question?"

In the next three verses, she tells them what prophets throughout all of Israel's history have been saying: if you don't follow the Law, you will face God's wrath. Then she has a word for the king himself: because you were humble before the Lord, you won't see this happen in your lifetime. Verse 28 ends, "So they took her answer back to the king," and he begins a revival in Judah.

Huldah's husband was the keeper of the wardrobe. He was just a worker in the temple, serving the priests as they changed clothes for their holy duties. He punched a clock and provided for their household. Huldah didn't lead a bible study or a temple ministry. And yet when she was bumped, look what she knew. She knew truth when The Book of the Law had been lost; she knew Truth enough to hear His voice when the king came to inquire of her. And the leaders knew to find her, when the king wanted some godly insight.

I want to live like her, with a private depth in my ordinary life. I want to know the True King, in the midst of my humble, quiet life married to an ordinary (but wonderful) man. When I am bumped, I want Truth to spill out of me. If the Lord writes a few verses about me, I want them to reveal Him.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Learning the Bible

Growing closer to God is a three-legged stool that has your name on it in His throne room. After all, you are His child, and we all have our special privileges, being the King's kids. My stool is bright green with whimsical flowers painted on it...but I digress.

The three legs are the Bible, prayer, and fellowship with other believers. If you're reading this blog, it's likely that you know me, so as part of your group of believers, I want to share with you how I learned about the Bible.

I loved reading as a child, and in college I majored in English because it allowed me to read books instead of textbooks. I know how to approach a book and learn about it, and since the Bible is like 1300 pages, it is not the easiest text to grasp. When I was younger, I decided that instead of memorizing a bunch of verses, I would try to learn the Bible's structure; I learned what kind of book each one was, who wrote it, why and when(ish). I love history, so I tried to imagine what life was like for all the people in the time they lived in, how different the culture was in say Moses' day compared to King David compared to Jesus. I read the NIV Study Bible, which had commentary on verses giving cultural and historical details that made the text make more sense. I wanted the whole book in my head. If you want to study the Bible this way, find an edition that has introductions at the beginning of each book with background information. It's really helpful. My husband and I also read Jesus & His Times, a Reader's Digest book that discussed history, politics, religion, education, geography, etc. in Jesus' day. Anything that makes it come alive to you is good.

The second "process" that I used to help learn the Bible was just curiosity. I remember sitting in a women's Bible study when I had been a Christian about 15 years. When in the course of the discussion, I would think of a different verse that seemed to shed light on what we were talking about, I would look it up. Not just think, "Oh, that says blah," but physically find it (which helped me learn where things are a little better) and read the context. Sometimes I didn't remember the verse accurately, and looking it up made the reference irrelevant--or even more interesting. This is still the primary way I grown in my knowledge of the Bible: connecting verses, strengthening my memory and familiarity with the Word, following my curiosity.

The third way to learn the Bible better is to do what it says. It is one thing to have knowledge, but you must also look up and ask, "In light of what I read, now what do I DO?" Trying to apply the Bible makes you curious about how God works in YOUR world, which makes you think of something you read in Ruth, which you look up, which further makes you curious about what you should do on Tuesday, which stirs you to ask the Father, and as you pray you think of a verse in Luke, etc. Obedience leads to growth as a Christian like nothing else. But you must know what God says in His revealed Word. He will not primarily approach you in personal revelation until your brain is saturated with the truth He has already given. It is through this truth that He chooses to speak to us. Know the Bible and you know Him better.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Iron relationships

I have known my best friend for longer than we've really been best friends. She was in school and worked with my husband before I "stole" her, about the time our firstborns arrived in the world. Our eldest are 18 and almost 18 now, so we have a few years invested in our relationship.

One thing I have learned is that she's just not good at everything. She is the first person I call in any crisis, and she is great at "Put on your big girl panties" speeches. She is a gale-force wind to help me choose the right thing when I don't feel like it. And she's not really good at emotional comfort when the bottom drops out of my world. I've learned to mitigate how much I seek her out in those times, and to minimally brace for her reaction.

Please note, she endures a lot of drama from me. When we first met, I was so sensitized to different issues, thanks to a lot of pain from graduate school, there were times she could barely converse with me. But that is my point: tolerating each other's weaknesses and working through them has given us a stronger relationship.

She has a no-nonsense approach to life, and I have seen her siblings in crisis through her perspective. Each one has something to contribute, and together they handle family trials, each playing a different role. In the midst of this uniqueness, there could be a lot of annoyance. It often seems like one of the siblings isn't doing the "right" thing, and yet my friend finds their strength and expects them to shine there, not putting them in a situation that she herself might be able to handle beautifully but would certainly put one of her sisters in failure mode.

Long set up to do you see your church? Are they family? Do you play the role God designed you to play and realize that everyone else has a different part? There were so many times over the course of our friendship that one of us could have walked away. Think about it: the Bible describes friends as "iron sharpening iron," which seems extremely abrasive and irritating and totally anti-Hallmark. God will put people in your life who will rub on you. Be willing to look for His hand in that relationship or situation that you would rather flee. Maybe He is sharpening you.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Encourage younger moms

This entry is for older women. I don't know what qualifies you as an "older woman", but if it comforts you, I fit that category and I'm only 29. (Smile, look around the room, I think they believe me...)

One of our jobs is to encourage younger women. The book of the Bible written to Titus tells us to urge the younger women to do various things "so that no one will malign the word of God" (Titus 2:4). When I mentioned this topic to my best friend, she sighed, "But I don't want to do Valentine parties." And I immediately think of all those church programs that get a bunch of women together for "mentoring," pairing them off with commands to meet weekly, pray for each other daily, and study this book. One more item for our checklist--just what we need.

Whatever image you have in your head of "encourage the younger women," set it on the table and honestly look at it. Do you think you don't have time? That you're not knowledgable enough, good enough, wise enough, etc? You've been told to do it, so let's consider something other than that revolting mass of obligation you're staring at.

Do you ever see a woman in the store with children younger than yours? You think, "Oh, I remember my kids at that age." Say something nice to her. Stop in the hall at church and tell that young mom that she's doing a good job. You don't even have to know if it's true! Your words bless her, and encourage her on the best path before her.

That wasn't so hard, was it? Could you take one more step? Invite a younger mom for coffee or an afternoon soft drink. Meet her somewhere. Drop by her house with a cookie. Take 45 minutes to listen to her. Just talking out loud and knowing you care about her will make her entire week better. Give yourself the following freedoms: 1) it doesn't have to be a long visit; 2) you don't ever have to do it again. God is capable of bringing one encouraging voice after another into her life; you aren't committing to a 10-year relationship.

A quick word on the "I'm not (blank) enough." Of course you're not. God is. Ask Him for enough confidence to help someone else. You don't have to be a paramedic to give someone a hand when they've fallen down. You don't have to never have fallen yourself, or been trained as the Expert Get Upper. Maybe you need to learn a little grace for yourself so you can offer it to someone else...that is very important for your own walk, and I encourage you to look into that one.

In our crazy American culture, we could all use a little casual. A little unscheduled friendliness. A little low-pressure community. Be willing, and let God be in charge of the rest.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ooze a little

The Lord doesn't need your goodness. He didn't save you so that you would be a cleaned-up version of yourself. Christianity isn't just being smug and "better" than everyone else.

The Lord is...the Lord. Our culture doesn't have that concept much. To be Lord is to be everything: the provider, the decision-maker, the planner, the rewarder. Our job, as Christians, is to surrender to Who He Is.

I don't think people were struck by Jesus because He was just so good. Goodness as a stand-alone isn't really appealing. I think they were startled in His presence because there was something MORE in the atmosphere around Him. Being around Jesus had the lingering smell of the throne room of heaven. He was just this ordinary person, and there was something BIG in His presence.

That is what we are called to, to be vessels of the Spirit of God, so that when people are around us, they touch something greater than us. There are keys to revealing Him, things like repentance, humility, choosing righteousness, remaining silent, speaking up when it's hard. No matter where you are in your journey with Him, you can reveal who He is by your choices. Laying your will down is so opposed to this culture--trust me, you can make much of Him in something as simple as a quiet choice.

Magnify the Lord today. You don't really want to put yourself on display anyway, and He is worth making much of.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Ovarian Cancer

September is ovarian cancer awareness month. Ovarian cancer is fairly rare and is often called "the silent killer." My mom was diagnosed with this disease four years ago. She has one of the healthiest lifestyles that I know of, and yet cancer still took over her body. God, in His mercy, allowed us to catch the disease in stage one, because one of the tumors burst and filled Mom's abdominal cavity with fluid. She looked four months pregnant. However, she had been having some odd symptoms for six months, and we never knew to even think "ovarian cancer."

Cervical cancer is the number one killer of women world-wide, but it is easily detectable by a pap smear. Thanks to the push for annual pelvic exams and pap smears, women in the US are much more likely to detect cervical cancer early and receive treatment. Breast cancer research and awareness is supported by the powerful Susan Komen foundation, so women know to conduct monthly self-examinations. Women over the age of 40 are encouraged to have regular mammograms to look for cancer in their breasts.

Ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in over 22,000 women this year. Over 15,000 of those women will die from the disease, because it is often not detected until stage 3 or 4. Ovarian cancer is not silent; it whispers. Be alert to these symptoms:

*Changes in bladder or bowel habits
*Increased waist size or feeling full quickly
*Abnormal vaginal bleeding
*Unusual fatigue or sudden change in weight (up or down)

The key to these symptoms is that they don't come and go, but are rather consistent over a period of months. If you are concerned, ask your physician. A pelvic ultrasound can detect tumors growing around the ovaries or in the uterus (endometrial cancer). A blood test for CA-125 can also sometimes be helpful.

Tell your friends. Tell women that you love. Cancer sucks, and a little education never hurt anyone.

My sister-in-law, my mom (cancer survivor!), and me in teal, the color of ovarian cancer awareness.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Our culture's standard

The other day I was browsing through a Home Economics book from the 1940's. The author had a chart on how often to clean the house. Totally clean the kitchen and bathrooms daily. Clean hallways, bedrooms, and living room twice a week. Etc. I bemoaned to my best friend that we don't have standards any more. I didn't want to clean that much; I don't really value an incredibly clean house. Something in me just wanted the peer pressure towards margin and order.

My best friend remarked that we do have cultural standards: we don't clean, we don't have time for relationships, we eat out too much, we bond with others over our schedule horror stories. Egads, I think she's right.

And being the intrinsic rebel, I begin to look for an opportunity to move against the culture. I've been mulling it over for a few days, and I don't have any huge answers. I have a couple of observations.

If we willingly choose to participate in our culture (and we all have choices), let's do so with purpose. When I was working, I would sometimes put in 50-hour weeks. My husband and kids were very committed to what I was doing. We didn't do a lot of upkeep on the house. We didn't socialize with friends much. The house wasn't always clean. But we knew why we kept the pace we did; we had a strong sense of purpose. Crazy and purposeful isn't necessarily terrible, do you think? But crazy for the sake of crazy, without any thought...that seems a little dangerous.

The other observation: it's okay to say no. I was supposed to get together with a friend on Monday to do some cooking. It was an opportunity to get some work done and be together. A very good idea. But I'm too tired, and my days have been snowballing lately. I needed a break, so I called her and offered coffee instead. The other gift I gave my friend was not being guilty for needing to change our plans. I'm going to be a rebel against our culture; I'm going to make it okay to choose something less, instead of always more more more.

Since my culture offers me no pressure towards margin and order, I'll make a little of my own. Or at least live thoughtfully. How about you?

Friday, August 31, 2012

What I want

The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things. The little booger will trick you all the time, so every now and then, stop and ask yourself, "What do I want?" Letting God examine you is always a good idea.

I want Lizzye to be successful in cosmetology. If she fails any class, at the high school, she loses her spot in cosmo. I was always an A student, so my emotions run much more similar to my youngest, who frets over an A- and can really only relax if there is bonus on a test that will maybe allow her to bump over 100%. Last night, Lizzye didn't do her geometry homework. When I went upstairs to remind her, she had already gone to bed.

Her behavior freaks me out, and because I am mature enough not to start screaming and ranting, I am left instead with this ugly, mounting anxiety in my chest. My neck is way tighter today.

What do I want?

I want Lizzye to be successful in cosmetology, so she has to pass her classes. What if her counselors find out how many classes she failed her first two years of high school? According to my calculations, she's not going to graduate until the summer after high school, and that's IF she passes everything she's enrolled in and takes two courses each summer.

What do I want? I want Lizzye to be successful, and she's not cooperating. She didn't do her geometry! Arg!

What do I want? Actually, I want my daughter to grow in her knowledge of God. I want her to be Christlike. Now here's the rub: do I want her to know God AND be successful in cosmetology? Or do I just only, first and foremost, want her to know God?

Her success in cosmetology is my Isaac, which I lay on the altar before God. I only want You for her, Father. Just You. I don't want Your blessings, I don't want Your answers, I just want You.

So today we start fresh. I have no rights (like last night, when I WANTED to watch a movie with my husband, I WANTED some time with him, and that was really my RIGHT, and surely Lizzye would do her homework on her own). I want You, Jesus, for me. I will do whatever You ask of me. I've got the flint knife. Let's climb that mountain.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


I collect pictures, whether photographs or sketches or those made of words, because they help me settle and focus who I am. Sometimes a single word resonates with me so clearly that it doesn't need explanation. At a small homeschooling conference years ago, a speaker addressed the topic of "joystealers," and that word has magnified over my life, a word I hung in the hallway of my mind.

She spoke of how little things will crowd out our joy. When you can see the top of a lamp every time you walk down the stairs, and that little screwy thing is missing, and it just drives you nuts...that's a joystealer. When the handle on the bottom drawer of your dresser is loose or the a lightbulb is burned out in the dining room fixture, right over the guest chair. These little things eat at you because they declare, "Something isn't right!" and just nibble away at your joy. She recommended some Saturday, after a morning cup of coffee, just fix three of those pesky things. Then, each time you pass that lamp or open that drawer, you'll feel a zing of happiness instead of the crunch of annoyance. (Thank you, Linda Duntley.)

The concept of joystealers expanded for me when I noticed another pattern. Sometimes I get so busy running the kids around, attacking what needs to be done in the day, that I lose my bearings. Where am I in my budget? Where am I in my calendar? Have I planned and shopped for any meals this week at all? As a homeschooler, my lesson plans can escape me, leaving me without the oxygen of joy. When my joy has leaked out and left me gasping, I remember to look at the bigger picture, to restore my bearings and recapture my joy.

Tackling the little things, restoring the big picture...these are important and useful. But ultimately, our joy comes from connecting with our Father. His plan for our life is perfect and meaningful. He is our oxygen. You don't have to be in control, you don't have to DO anything to draw on His strength, but you do have to be purposeful. You have to choose to draw near, to quiet everything else and connect with Him. Listen to these two Bible verses about joy: "Consider it pure joy when you encounter trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops pereseverance, and perseverance must finish its work so that you will be mature and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4). And, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father" (Hebrews 12:2). In neither of these verses does joy sound like a result of happy circumstances. Neither depict you bringing order and control to your life in order to have joy. Joy comes from walking out what the Father wants for us, a sense of His purpose and goodness over all of our mess.

No matter how chaotic things are around you, no matter how many things are falling apart, you can always climb up in your Father's lap, feel His arms around you, and nurture the joy that flows from His goodness over your feeble heart.