Saturday, August 31, 2013

Crazy Likes Company

If 18 year-old me could have seen 32 year-old me, I don't think that she'd believe her eyes.  My path has taken me further into the depths of God's word and opened my eyes and mind to how he views this world and how he wants me to respond.  The deeper I get, the crazier I seem to a lot of people.  There are things that just aren't okay with me anymore--ignoring social issues, making money just to spend it on myself, trying to insulate my family from the realities of this world.  I just can't live that way anymore.  The deepest parts of my soul do somersaults because I can't sit and be oblivious anymore. 

Romans 12:2 "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

When God starts changing your view of the world, a lot people don't understand.  Those who have always known you doubt the changes.  It makes people uncomfortable when my choices are different than their choices.  Some people will pull away. 

This is why "crazy" needs company.  I have been blessed with a crazy friend for more than ten years.  Becky and I are the kind of friends that have shared life's highs/ lows and guard each other's secrets.  We also share an unrest about American excess.  She was with me the first time I went to Guatemala and the first time I went to inner city Philadelphia. 

So when I was telling her about reading Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess she already knew what I had been thinking--let's do it.  What is it?  It is a 7 month fast against the excess of this comfortable American life.  It is 7 months devoted to becoming more aware of the world outside of ourselves and how we can do more with what we're given--everything we're given.  Each month focuses on a different area of our life --Possessions, Food, Clothes, Media, Spending, Waste, and Stress.

Tomorrow, September 1st, will be our first month and we're doing Possessions.  I'm excited about this month because I love to clean stuff out.  I'm that crazy person who enjoys organizing.  Every member of our family is participating this month because we are greatly blessed with too much!  One of the most important aspects for me this month is that we are going to intentionally find new homes for our items.  Although it would be generous to pack everything up and take it to the Rescue Mission, that seems like an easy way out for me this month.  I want to be intentionally aware of those around me and how I can help them.  My prayer is that God will direct me to those who need our help this month. 

It's going to be a crazy adventure but I'm glad that I have a friend crazy enough to do this with me! 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Running the Race

The beginnings of this post have sat in my drafts since last October, waiting for the right moment.  Today it seems is that moment.

Hebrews 12: 1-3  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

I had the privilege this morning to participate in the memorial service for Steve Taylor (click here to learn more about him).  Steve had planned the service himself--choosing the praise songs we sang, the message that he wanted conveyed to those in attendance.  His request for those of us in the Praise Team was to cut loose during the service, giving me freedom to truly enjoy the service.  He really wanted people to feel and enjoy the songs and messages.  At one point, I found myself dancing in my chair, humming along to the music as we watched a video from his trips to Coast Hospice in Mimbosa, Kenya. 

Steve is the model of finishing well.  His race was not easy but he focused on the greater purpose.  More than 3 years ago, he returned from Africa, ill.  Doctors originally thought it was Malaria but came to realize it was colon cancer that had spread to his liver.  That diagnosis didn't end Steve's ministry, I think it just might have been a new opportunity.  Steve continued to work at Hospice and with youth at church.  He even returned to Africa to continue working with those who suffer greatly without the luxury of medical interventions.  His race had taken a different course but he still endured in a way that was inspiring to the crowds around him.

I didn't know Steve well but as I conveyed to Susan this morning, watching them from a distance--they are awesome.  I will never forget his final sermon at our church.  Even then the message was more about others than him.  For me, this morning was about choosing to run the race that is designed for us and finishing well.  It was about trusting God when we can't see the path and don't think we can make it any further.

I pray that I can replicate Steve's endurance and faith in my own race.  Sometimes my race seems more like an obstacle course.  Too many times I get distracted by the pain and trials of life and loose focus on God's will.  We are promised that we will endure hardships in our lives but we will never be alone.  How we choose to walk through life, especially the hard times, is a reflection of where our hope is found.  We may stumble and fall along the way but are we willing to keep crawling toward the goal?

Most importantly, as I sat there watching and listening this morning I kept thinking--I hope that when my time on earth ends the focus will be like this, not be on me but instead on how God used me in the lives of other people.  I hope that people will learn about the children of Dorie's Promise, the families we love in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, the kids we met at Urban Hope in inner city Philadelphia, and many more who will intersect our course.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Teaching without a Lesson Plan

Parenthood is not well scripted.  Unless I missed it, the hospital didn't hand out manuals with any of my children.  If they had, we could have dodged some projectile vomit and errant urine on several occasions.  The further we get into parenthood, the more complicated the questions became.  The older our children are, the less they accept vague answers. 

"What does gay mean?" was one of the first big, uncomfortable questions that we faced.  I was so afraid to answer that question.  What is age-appropriate?  How do I answer the question without disrespecting people?  How do I help them to recognize God's plan for marriage and families?  After a good bit of prayer, we started down the path of families--what our family looks like, what the bible says about families--and then to the answer of their question.  I'm not sure what I was afraid of, there was no dramatic moment--just an open, honest discussion about life.  The truth is that life is messy and we all choose how to live.  We are responsible for ourselves, what we teach our children, and if we are willing to live out our faith. 

Deuteronomy 6:7-9 "Impress them [command, decrees, and laws from God] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates."

Faith is not a Sunday morning activity.  It's not sitting in a church.  My children learn a lot more about life by living with me than they do at church (even though they have awesome teachers).  They watch what I do all the time.  Sometimes it's not a good example.  Every moment that I spend with them (or anyone else) is a teaching moment about life, my character, and what my faith means to me. 

How do I speak?  What do I do?  What do I tolerate?  Am I willing to take a stand?

Learning happens by living, not through lecturing.  My daily life should reflect what I believe even without words.  I may not be able to script our lives but I do have an amazing reference to guide me through.

From Live Second Devotional:
Talk with God  Remind me, every moment of every day, to inspire the life of Second.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Big, Fat Lies

On Sunday evening Caroline asked me how much I weigh.  My response:  "None of your business."  Brandon's response:  "Women don't like to talk about their weight."  She was stumped.  Getting bigger is awesome to her.

Her question hit me right in the middle of the perfect storm of self doubt and hatred.  For the last few months I've been struggling with my weight.  (Go ahead and shake your heads, it's fine.)  I gained what is a significant amount of weight for me in what I consider a short amount of time.  There's no logical reason for the change -- I'm eating no better or worse, I am NOT pregnant, for several months I was exercising regularly (fell right back off that wagon), and no medical conditions.  I was concerned enough that I convinced the doctor to do a thyroid test just in case.  I'm just not where I belong in my mind.

During our vacation I donned my bikini a couple times for maximum baking potential.  (We can discuss the modesty issue of bikinis later.)  Sometimes I wear a bikini because I like the attention from my husband.  I'm not interested in others seeing me in my bikini, just him, so these instances are limited.  All was well until Sunday evening when I was downloading pictures off my camera.  I came across a picture that Brandon had taken of me in my bikini. 

Immediately I started to analyze every aspect of the picture -- my stomach looks fat, there's no muscle definition, I think I see a cellulite dimple on my thigh.  I couldn't stand to look at the picture!  All that I saw was a fat woman trying to wear a bikini who really shouldn't be!  Even now I hate the person I saw in the picture.  That isn't what I want to look like.  My husband deserves someone who looks better than that.  As I spiraled out of control Brandon teetered between trying to explain the ridiculousness of my argument, being supportive, and acting as a voice of reason. 

How I see myself affects more than just me.  It affects how I interact with my husband, how I compare myself to other women, and is a terrible example for my daughters.  During a followup discussion about the bikini picture Brandon asked me who's standard I was using to judge myself.  "Mine."  To which he responded, "Do you want your daughters to use the same standard?"  That was a little harsh but I knew that it was true.  I don't want my daughters to have this same struggle. 

I have always struggled to believe that I was beautiful.  Some times I have just masked it better than others.  No matter my size I have always looked at other women and tried to copy them to improve myself.  There always seems to be something better about them.  There are very few pictures of me as an adult because I hate to look at myself.  I feel like I have to work hard to make myself look good and then if I do feel good I feel guilty.  Good christian wives shouldn't try to attract attention to themselves, right?  Is it wrong to enjoy looking good? 

I'm not going to claim to have an answer to my problem but I think that being honest might be a step in the right direction.  I need to stop insisting that my husband is just saying I'm beautiful because he's settling for the wife that he has.  I need to be ok with the body I have or be serious about being healthy -- not just thin.  Maybe I even need to be ok with the idea that I'm not 20 anymore and maintaining that body might not be reasonable.

I need to love the body that God has given me -- big hips, small chest, undefined stomach, so straight it scoffs at being curled hair, and skin that refuses to give up on the occasional pimple. 

Psalm 139: 14 "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made"

For years I have lied to myself over and over again about everything that is so ugly about me.  I keep telling myself that I'm not good enough for my husband.  I feel like I'm not good enough for my "position" in life.  And now, I'm modeling those same lies for my daughters.  I might not be saying those words to them but I'm teaching them to judge themselves and that there is shame in our bodies.  It's ridiculous when my daughter tries to show me her "fat" legs but I know where she learned that. 

My value does not come from my outward appearance, my value is from the outward display of the Holy Spirit's work inside me.  I must teach myself to love who God created and the awesome changes that he has made in me. 

Proverbs 31: 30-31 "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Not even in the spirit of honesty am I going to tell you my weight or post that picture though!  I'm not there yet.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Retreat: Noun or Verb?

As soon as we entered our vacation house we were greeted by the hint of relief.

I had been anxiously awaiting our family vacation -- a couple days away without the stress of work.  We were looking forward to relaxing and enjoying carefree days on the beach.  Reading, writing, napping, and photographing the kids could all be accomplished from the comfort of my beach chair.

That simple pillow stirred questions deeper than what I would do on vacation.  Of course I considered this vacation house on the bay a retreat -- a place affording peace, quiet, privacy, or security.  It afforded us the comforts of home in a beautiful setting.  The bigger question is if I am looking for a retreat or if I am trying to retreat.  The truth lies within both forms.

On a basic level, I am looking for a quiet place away from the chaos of daily life.  Phone calls, texts (even though everyone knows I don't like texting), kids asking a million questions, kids fighting, the radio up way too loud, conference calls, my internal to do list, and that noisy toy dump truck vanquish any hope of quiet during my normal day.  I had billed this trip as a chance for me to find time for myself. 

Even deeper I find my self seeking to retreat from life some times.  When the expectations and challenges that face me seem daunting I start to question why we spend so much effort in our current circumstances.  I dream of selling everything, packing my suitcases, and moving to Guatemala.  There is an appeal to living simply and spending my days helping other people.  The logical part of my mind knows that although I love going to Guatemala, I'm where I am called to be.  Retreating to Guatemala wouldn't remove pressure in my life.  Full-time foreign missionaries don't live glamorous lives.  If they did, the pile of applications would surpass the positions and we would have reached all the nations already.  My full-time mission field is right where God has placed me and the job description includes multi-tasking all these tasks that make my life so taxing in a way that is God-honoring and kingdom building.

A retreat and retreating might both be what is needed at different times in our lives.  A retreat is that safe place that you can go to collect your thoughts, clear your mind, and renew your spirit.  Retreating isn't all bad either.  There are times when it is good to withdraw from things in your life.  I can't run from my responsibilities but I can cull out the stresses that are unnecessary and unhealthy.  I'm not good at letting go but there is only so much that I can realistically do and maintain some level of sanity.

Retreat -- a little more sleep, carefree fun, and the chance to enjoy our family

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Super Woman Needs a Nap

I have created my own nightmare.  The expectations that I have for myself are unrealistic--total care for our children myself, manage our home to my standards, try to be outrageously involved at church, and be awesome at work. 

The problem is that if you run on empty for long enough, everything starts to slip.  That's where we are.  I am tired and catch myself being short with the kids.  A few times we've had to pull clothes out of the dryer to wear to work because I couldn't keep up.  My desk at work looked awful and I can feel myself slipping--just not as sharp as I should be.  There are a few too many Red Bulls needed to make it through the day.

When I expect myself to be Super Woman, I need to also be responsible for taking care of myself.  Instead of feeling like I could collapse at any point in the day, we are taking a break!  No work computer, out of office message posted, family and relaxation time.  We are taking the chance to have fun as a family and catch up on a lot of missed sleep.

Super Woman is no good when she's so tired that she isn't fun to be around or screws up a project at work.  Hard work is necessary and sometimes the hours are long but I can't sacrifice our family and myself.

Friday, August 2, 2013

An Education Wasted?

In the last few months I've read books like Radical by David Platt and 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess and Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker, all of which were wonderful!  These are the kinds of books that Brandon groans about because as I read, I am highlighting, making notes, and generating "crazy" ideas.

Consider these ideas from Jen Hatmaker's books for a minute...

"At some point, the church stopped living the Bible and decided just to study it" 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

"Why did I spend all my time blessing blessed people who should be on the giving side of the equation by now?"  Interrupted

I want to jump up and down and shout to everyone who will listen, "There are souls dying every day and we're either too scared or too selfish to save them!" 

Consumer Christianity, as I like to describe it, has become so fashionable in America.  You go to church to get your weekly religion fix, then go back to your comfy life.  Some churches cater to the lifestyle--come have a nice cup of coffee, listen to a great band, be seen at the right church with the right people, and be sure to give a donation to pay the bills.

What if we go one half step better with a wide array of programs?  We have a class or study for every conceivable age/ gender/ marital status/ topic imaginable.  All of our time is spent feeding our own education.  Over the course of our life we will have studied and restudied all the major figures and books of the bible, along with several doses of life application topics.

Enjoying a church community and service is not wrong.  I will be the first to tell you that a faithful group of friends is one of the best blessings.  Indepth study of the bible is fundamental to our continued spiritual growth.  Our failure begins when we choose to hoard all of the gifts and education we have received instead of blessing those outside the church. 

1 Peter 3:15 "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect..."

Even those persecuted Christians whom Peter was trying to encourage in this reference where advised to always be ready to share about their faith.  They faced torture and death because of their faith but still they were told to continue to do what was right even if they suffered as a result.  Few of us will ever face the same level of persecution that the early church endured but we must be willing to risk intolerance, loss of status, discomfort, and mockery for our beliefs.

If we spend our whole lives studying the bible but never apply it beyond ourselves, what have we gained?  One selfish believer!  What have we lost?  The opportunity to reach countless lives that crossed our path!  I love to see how a van full of kids has changed our little church.  There are people who I would have never guessed volunteering to pick up kids, eat supper with kids, and mentor them in class.  It's a quiet (not really they're pretty loud) revolution towards building a strong church body that purposefully focuses on the world outside it's doors.

From Live Second
Talk with God -- Prepare me to talk with those who you have put in my life about the story you have worked in my life. 

Let me add -- Give me discernment to balance loving like Jesus and sharing biblical truths in a way that will guide people toward Jesus, not away.  Help me to face my fears and selfishness to reach your people.