Sunday, July 25, 2010

Apples vs. Doughnuts; Tree vs. Weeds: Transform DON'T Conform!

*Warning, this one is going to be lengthy, even by my standards* :)

Sometimes I get inspiration for a blog and I have to wait for time to write it. Today, inspiration hit in such a strong way that I literally couldn't get home from church fast enough, dropped everything, and had to immediately start writing. Couldn't even stop long enough to change clothes or start lunch preparation. Thankful for a husband that understands the "gravity" of what I'm feeling just by looking at me and the few comments I made on the way home. He is running interference by keeping the kids occupied and fixing lunch. Thank you Kev!

Sometimes you hit dark, dry spells where you try to reach out for God and feel empty hands come back. You know you love Him and he loves you without a doubt, but there is a disconnect. Try as you might, you just can't always feel the closeness you need. However you KNOW that if you hold on tight, the day comes. Days like today (and even the past several days), you KNOW without a single doubt that he HAS been hearing you and has really held you in the palms of his hands all along.

For so long, we've struggled with feelings of isolation and feeling alone in the journey we are on. Most specifically in our roles as parents and the choices we are making for our families. Our burden to raise Godly children and lead lives of Godly influence has changed us so drastically that we've been beaten down by the "world". Knowing without a doubt that God has called us on this path and is daily changing and shaping our hearts to be more like Him has created such an urgency in us that we can't sit still. Unfortunately, our hearts have broken so much because people just don't "get" our choices and some have been downright cruel. Sticks and know the saying. We'll words DO break and hearts do get damaged. For those of you that are on this journey with us and are feeling the same "pull" we are, PLEASE do not give up. PLEASE do not back down. Follow God's leading. Stand out and be a "freak" as we are described. It's WORTH it!

I had a total breakdown last night. I was completely tired of fighting this battle of living a life set apart, of being in the world, but not of it mentality. I had that temporary lapse of thinking I just couldn't do it anymore. Just the simple act of attempting to watch a movie turned into such an emotional issue for me. At the age of 35, I didn't feel comfortable watching a movie that the world says is appropriate for my 13 year old daughter. Coupled with the fact that people are battling our "lifestyle" and were succeeding at "hurting" me, just broke me.

Then enters God.; AS my heart was breaking and my "flesh" was at it's weakest, when I was ready to say "it's just not worth it anymore". He reaches out and picks me up and carries me to a place that is one that only HE can provide. Knowing we are on the right path, knowing that our choices are one's that God has ordained just wasn't enough at the moment and after the last several days that we've had. We as a couple and I as an individual, just brokenly surrendered it to God. We told Him how we knew that though we weren't as successful as we always needed to be that our hearts where in the right place and that we were moving in the right direction, but that we needed him to take our doubt and bury it. We needed him to just confirm to us that He saw our struggles and that He was still in control and that He hadn't forgotten us. We told Him that if we were on the wrong path and needed to turn around, to tell us. I needed tangible confirmation that I was moving in His direction and not on the wrong course. He provided & He provided abundantly.

I left the house yesterday morning in tears and broken over an issue. We did our normal early Saturday AM Farmer's Market adventure and I enjoyed it, but my heart was heavy. The moment I walked in the door, I had an email waiting from a friend that knew NOTHING of the battles I was facing. THE email was like salve to a burn. Completely out of the blue and it unexpectedly touched on the very issues that my heart was heavy over. God provided.

We had some very serious discussions with our children and they said some things that lead us to believe that we were on the right path. We spent the day with no agenda and let the rest of the world go away. God provided.

A neighbor called Adriana to come over that she had something she wanted to give her. That "something" was 7 pairs of jeans that were only worn once, designer brands that we couldn't justify buying and fit her perfectly. Along with that were several shirts and an entire bag full of books for the boys. Peyton has an insatiable desire to read right now and knowing what a struggle that was in the beginning, it left me speechless. God provided. He provided tangible needs & intangible confirmation that my soul needed.

Kevin and I spent some very late hours discussing our hearts and our brokenness. The unbelievable intimacy of such conversations was something I didn't know if we would reach again after having struggled with so many issues in previous years. It showed just how very far we had come by trusting in God. The prayer that followed and the DEEP sleep of peace was priceless. God provided.

Before Kev & I had that discussion, I was having trouble calming my spirit and was so unsettled that I was searching blogs and trying to refocus my mind on what I knew it needed to be on. I remembered a specific blog that I hadn't read in many months, but I couldn't find the link because it was on our previous computer that crashed. I contacted the friend that introduced me to it, she "just" happened to immediately respond and as soon as I opened the page God jumped right off the computer screen. (OK, figuratively speaking that is!) There was a link to a song I had never heard even though I like the artist. The video broke me (which is what lead to the heart to heart with Kevin). The song was a direct link of my own feelings and not a coincidence that I found it when I did. God provided.

This morning God provided. It was the most tangible things I've ever experienced. Few times in my life have I ever felt such a direct line connection to Him. Having attended First Christian Church for almost 3 years, today's message from Jason was the most God given directly to us that I've EVER witnessed. Our seating allowed me to see him during the worship and pre-message activities. I leaned over to Kevin and whispered that today was going to be a great day because I was watching Jason. I could tell he was having a hard time containing himself, that he just couldn't wait to get out and start talking. For anyone that knows Jason's style of preaching, he never slows down and you best just hold on tight because he is going to cram pack all he can in those 25-30 minutes. HE did not disappoint & God must have had a direct link recording of last night's conversation because he covered it POINT by POINT. It was all I could do to sit and listen because it was as if God was sitting directly beside me telling me ALL these things He wanted me to know and was wrapping his arms of comfort and peace like I've NEVER felt before.

NOW....with all that said (told you it was lengthy!!!!!) is the message and what it meant to me.

I knew ahead of time that we would be learning from Galatians 5:22-23 (fruit of the spirit) because of our Congregational study book for scripture memorization. I was already excited because I had wondered what "new" twist or new spin he would put on it because of his very practical way of preaching. WOW...I was totally unprepared for what was to come!

It was all about culture and how culture has changed us all. How it has taken us down such a different path. A not pleasing one. Agreed!!!! He prefaced his sermon with a description of two sides. We are either influenced by one or the other. One side is that of "weeds" . Its an influence that is filled with hate, darkness, guilt, pain, destruction. The power of hate. The other side is the "tree". It is the side of absolute agape love. It welcomes you no matter what, it brings peace and grace. The tree obviously also shows the death of God's son and the life that He gives. The power of that tree can't be contained.

Our culture has changed our views of God and our views of sin. It's more "comfortable" for the world to call someone a "wild child" instead of acknowledging the sin or the sinner aspect. We've become a culture that doesn't see sin anymore. We live in a mentality of "let your heart be your guide" or "just do what makes you happy". The tree brings freedom in Christ; weeds bring slavery. Weeds focus on rising up the corporate ladder more than on their families. Weeds focus on making sure that their Jr. High kids and High school kids are popular instead of Holy. Weeds don't consider what they watch on TV or which movies they watch as important. Weeds don't see the value of modest dress. Weeds don't recognize the sexual images that are portrayed in media as a problem; they have become accustomed to it so much they don't really "see" it anymore. Weeds see true Christians as closed-off and narrow minded because they are following "rules".

The important question to ask yourself is are you going to be influenced by the weeds or the tree? Are you aware of the hold that the weeds have on you? Are you going to step out and be an influencer of the tree or let the "fads" and popularity/culture grow the weeds?

He used an apple and a doughnut as an object lesson. For many people, that doughnut looks much more appealing than the healthy apple. We know that indulging in the doughnut will cause health problems if we do it too often. It may taste good at first and our desires may crave it, but there are consequences. If it "tastes good, spit it out". Though you can draw physical/health lessons from that description....he wanted us to focus more on the spiritual aspects. Sin may taste good and look harmless and actually makes us feel great temporarily, but there is an ultimate price to pay for it.

Galatians 5:19-21 are the "weeds" of sin. Verses 22-23 are the "tree". He pointed out something to me that I never really noticed. The word is FRUIT in the text. NOT fruits plural. I've memorized it as "fruits of the spirit" and usually the posters and bookmarks I've seen have it plural as well. It is FRUIT single. Fruit is love. The "fruits" of the spirit are all descriptive words describing love. You can't pick and choose which ones to exhibit. It's a package deal. If you can't exhibit all of those qualities, you need to spend more time at the tree! (GUILTY, GUILTY!)

More points:
  • Many soldiers, especially those in WWII, wrote letters for their families before they entered the battle field. When they signed up as a soldier and to support the cause, they knew they were signing up for their possible death. As Christians, when we signed up for Christ, we signed up to die from our old selves and everything "weed".
  • Our life with Christ is like an athlete, specifically a pace runner. Christ is setting the pace for us and our job is to keep in step with him. It's not to run faster or slower, taking different's to keep right in his stride.
  • Fundamentals matter. Fundamentals lead to excellence. That means that saying NO to the world and their ideals do matter. It means raising your children to be holy despite what those around them are doing and how it makes you as a parent look. A successful athlete conditions and practices fundamentals; a successful Christian practices daily turning away from sin, even those the "world" may not even see as an issue.
  • What you put in your body is what you end up looking like. It's true for food, but the focus is on spirituality. What goes in WILL come out. Fill your mind with "worldliness", then you lose sight of the tree and let the weeds begin to take over. EVERYTHING you do, REALLY matters.
  • Don't worry about what this world thinks of you. THIS one really touched me. Don't worry about what the world THINKS of your choices TRACYE! When you get caught up in what the world (and the world means EVERYONE around you!) thinks, then YOU become part of the world. IF I'm so worried about what those around me think of what my choices are, I'm allowing THEM to overtake me and will end up with my faith being tossed about and questioning the path that I already KNOW that God has me on. Hello? Direct link from God!
  • Finish Strong. DO NOT give up. He talked about how some of us are beginning to tire of the fight and battling discouragement for being in the world but not of it and how it leaves us feeling alone at times. Hello, again? Did he just really say the near exact words I had spoken the night before. So where I was ready to give up, God spoke and says DO NOT GIVE up. Finish Strong!
  • Do not stop being an agent of change in this world. Whatever you do, no matter how heavy the load gets, DO NOT run back to the weeds. A transformation agent of Christ follows his fruit. Don't follow the world or weeds. The world is driven by culture and fads. If you let yourself be influenced by the world around you, you'll never be "popular" because IT WILL CHANGE and you WILL be left behind. It's TREND not TRUTH!!!! Thank you God for that reminder that I'm not trendy and I'm not trendy for a reason! TRUTH is what matters. It won't every change.
  • TRANSFORM don't CONFORM. Stand your ground. In other words, if I'm having trouble with everything around me and not fitting in, God is leading me on the right track.

Thank you God for the most encouraging, comforting message that reached my entire being. Thank you for letting me know vividly that you are listening to me and you are seeing my struggles. Thank you for reviving the passion that I feel for the choices I am making. Thank you for letting me see that this path may be hard, but it is the RIGHT one for my family. Thank you. Simply. Thank You. Thank you for revealing more of me that needs to change to be more like you and for showing me which direction to go. Thank you for the worship that followed and the walls in me that came down. Thank you for letting me have the true heart of worship that I felt and for building more bridges and crushing more obstacles. http://http// Thank you for all the most incredible revelations of YOU that YOU are showing us as we try to be more about YOU and less about US! Thank you for your forgiveness and grace. Thank you for reminding us that we are TRULY free and not bound by the worlds standards. Thank you for loving me enough to not let me stay still or unchanged. Thank you for more than I could ever list.

Friday, July 23, 2010

How very ARROGANT I am!

Arrogance. It's an ugly word in my opinion. It's not a good description of a personality. However, I am guilty.

I've blogged many times before about the shame I feel that I place demands on God and then am disappointed or mad when He doesn't do as I asked. I think it's very normal of our sinful, selfish natures. However, I hope to see God continue to mold me into more of Him and less of me so that that side of me becomes less visible. Thankfully God is continuing to do a thorough cleaning of my heart and attitudes.

Continuing to "study" and take apart "Crazy Love" has further illuminated my arrogance. I can't believe I've learned so much from ONE single chapter of a book and how ONE book can really change so much of how I think.

The first chapter's title is "Stop Praying". I was really taken back when I read the title. What? All those people that recommended I read "Crazy Love", are they insane? Had a gotten myself involved with the wrong group of people? NO! It didn't take too long to see that there was a beautiful twist to the title. It is more about just stopping and WORSHIPPING God for who HE is. Stop placing demands and JUST worship Him! Don't ask, worship!

I'm guilty. I worship God, love Him with all I have and more so every day, but how often do I JUST stop and just totally fall at His feet in pure worship. Not nearly enough. I instead rush through the thank yous and speed right into my needs. Sure those needs may be pure needs, but still I'm shortchanging Him.

Colossians 1:16 "For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or power or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him FOR Him." It didn't say he was created for me or to serve me. I WAS created FOR Him.

"We instead live our lives as though God is created for US, to do OUR biding, to bless US and to take care of OUR loved ones." Truth! If God never did a single thing for us, never provided us with a single blessing or answered a single prayer....would we still be devoted? I remember being asked that question in college as well and one thing is for sure, I never willingly answered another question. I was the only "honest" one that said, "I'm not sure!" and boy did I almost write my ticket out the door. Truth is: would YOU? I know what the answer is that I would like to give, but I also know my own arrogance. YES is becoming my answer more every day as I learn to see God for who HE is and the REAL understanding of the sacrifice He made for our sin.

This chapter challenged me to think about God's attributes in a whole new light. I'm finding a fresh new love for Him and wanting to just stop the world around me and just WORSHIP. JUST to focus on HIM and NOT me. That is hard when you have so many "needs", obstacles, and REAL concerns going on around you. That is also very hard when you are in the season of motherhood that doesn't even allow you the ability to be alone in the bathroom for 5 minutes without someone needing you! However, my soul is craving it and craving that oneness with the one that made me FOR Him.

I'm arrogant in thinking that He owes me anything. He owes me NO blessings, nothing. He owes me NO explanation when things don't go my way or according to MY plan.

The chapter ended with two descriptions of heaven's throne room. John & Isaiah both give descriptions. (Revelation 4, Isaiah 6). John helps us imagine what the throne room looks like. (Think of the most beautiful, breath taking scene you've ever seen in nature. Try to describe it. Some things "wow" and "breathtaking" can't fully describe. That is how John felt when he was trying to describe it for us. Words couldn't be formed to fully encompass it's beauty.) Isaiah reminds us what our only response to such a God should be. He said "Woe is me...I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty". Isaiah's response is what we should be thinking when we think about God. May his cry become our own. "Woe is me...we are a people of unclean lips."

How puny are we in comparison to God's tremendous worth.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

God is All-KNOWING: Intimidating?

I'm battling extreme lack of focus, agitation, and struggling with so many things right now. I can't begin to know what it is that God is getting ready to do, but it REALLY must be big. Some of our "storms" are beginning to settle, but the feeling of being tossed about is getting more evident by the minute. I just can't seem to sit still in "this" world anymore. Literally and figuratively. Just really waiting for God to reveal His plan and open doors to replace ones that are closing and open other doors that I don't even see yet.

Last night, Kevin finally helped me relax and "still" my thoughts. After he went to sleep, I started to write "this" blog but almost instantly fell asleep. It felt good to be getting peaceful rest, but I was back wide awake with that same agitation at 3:30 AM. I hope this all passes soon or God provides MAJOR peace, for I may go insane (or at the very least drive those around me insane!)

Last night's topic: God is ALL-KNOWING

Once again, this topic is taken from the "Crazy Love" as I am still working through the attributes of God. The first question posed is: intimidated? Is it intimidating to know that God knows EACH and EVERY thing about you. Basically, no stone unturned. Before reading "Crazy Love", I would have answered ABSOLUTELY! It is VERY intimidating to know that you can't hide ANYTHING.

(Taken from the book, but I've changed we/our to me/I to make it more personal.)

"I can fool everyone, except God. He knows me deeply, and specifically. He knows my thoughts before I think them, my actions before I commit them, whether I am lying down or sitting or walking around. He knows who I am and what I am about. I cannot escape Him, not even if I want to. When I grow weary of trying to be faithful to Him and want a break, it doesn't come as a surprise to God."

Normally intimidation would be the first feeling I would describe. Does it make you uneasy to know that every action, thought, feeling, etc... that you have is already in the mind of God? Even our very best friends or spouses may know us VERY well, but even they can't see completely everything about us. As much as I think I know about Kevin, I can't begin to scratch the surface of who he is or what he is thinking. It doesn't matter how purposeful we are about communication, trust, intimacy and growing together...I will NEVER fully know Him. But God does. God knows my thoughts even if I don't voice them. He knows today what mistakes I'm going to make tomorrow. He knows the secret hurts and fears I have. He knows the content of the next blog I will write, even though I've not formed it in my brain yet.

All of that USED to be intimidating to me. Now, it brings comfort. God KNOWS every last part of me, ALL of me. I can't hide anything. The amazing thing: HE STILL LOVES ME! God's All-Knowing attribute isn't meant to be intimidating. It's the ultimate gift of love and acceptance. How many times in my life did I search down the wrong path trying to find someone that LOVED me FOR ME? How many of us just want someone that loves us despite everyone of our faults. How many times have we searched for someone to unburden our "weight" on, but out of lack of trust we didn't? How many times have we trusted someone with our innermost thoughts and only had it come back to bite us? WAY too many times! Guess what, God already KNOWS it and he didn't run away and he didn't use any of it against us. He just continues to welcome us with open arms. That is NOT intimidation. That is FREEDOM!

David wrote in Psalms 139 about even in the darkness he couldn't hide from God. That even while he was still in his mother's womb, God was there. We can't hide from God either. Run all we want, He's still there. Disappoint, He's still there. Take a wrong path and don't know which way to go next, He's still there. He already knew we were going to turn the wrong way. Have a heartache you can't share with anyone else, something that may hurt so bad that you can't even form the words to describe to someone....He's still there and He is hurting with you because He knew when that hurt was going to take place. Not intimidating. Comforting! Struggling with issues of faith? He's still there. Mad at Him over not answering a prayer that way YOU expected. He's still there. He didn't abandon! He just knows what is waiting around the corner that we can't see around yet!

The book also challenged me to think of it this way. God, in all his glory, created every intricacy you can imagine. (Examples: a caterpillar has 228 distinctive muscles in it's HEAD; average elm tree has 6 million leaves; spiders produce 3 kinds of silk and can make 60 feet an hour). If the same God that paid that much attention to those small details and created billions of galaxies, what was he doing when he created each of us? He takes the time to know all the details about each of us. He CHOOSES to know us so well. That leaves me speechless!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another God Moment---Hidden in the Pages of Fiction

I LOVE to read and my favorite fiction books are historical Christian fiction. I love to get swept away in another time period and feel like I'm part of the town, taking part in their lives. That's what a great book does for me. I REALLY love reading series that have 3-4 books so I can "grow" along with the town in whichever era it's in.

Today I was reading "Speak Through the Wind" by Allison Pittman. It's book 2 out of the Crossroads of Grace series. The main character of the story lived a very broken life, one that forced her into a life of sin. She had made mistakes, those that she felt she could never heal from or be forgiven for. She made the choice to find her way back to God, but she just didn't see how it was possible because of how far she had walked away from Him. The exchange she had with her mentor brought me to tears. It was another one of those God "finding me" moments. This time it was simply in the pages of a fiction book.

"So you see, " she said shrugging, "I do not see how God and I could ever truly love each other." (after she had unburdened herself by telling her darkest secrets)

Reverend Joseph laughed. "Aren't we lucky, then, that God is capable of so much more than we are?" He leaned forward in his chair and, with one finger hooked beneath her chin, forced Kassandra to turn and look at him. "We can never be sure why God doesn't choose to rescue us from our mistakes. But we can be sure it's not for lack of love for us. There is always a reason for the trails we endure, even if those trials are the consequences of our own poor judgment."

"And do you really think He can forgive all I've done?"

"If He could not, the death of His Son would have been in vain. You are His child, Kassandra. You prayed to Him in this very room many years ago and made Him the Lord of your life. He has never left you, not in all this time."

Isn't that amazing? Isn't knowing that God loves us NO MATTER what we have done the most FREEING feeling? The most unbelievable part of that is that He loves us EVEN if we willfully sinned. No matter what MY darkest secrets are, my deepest sins...HE KNOWS them and has freed me from it. It's the same for anyone reading these words, ONCE you ask God to be your savior and turn you life over to Him, there is NOTHING that he won't forgive you for. EVEN if you purposely walked away from Him and have lived a life that makes you want to hide from Him, he already knows and once you ask for forgiveness, it is granted. He holds it against you NO more. It's forgotten as far as the east is from the west. No matter how long you've been running from Him, He has been waiting patiently for you to return. It's all up to you!

It also reminded me that sin does have consequences. God truly does forgive us, but sometimes He just doesn't automatically clean up our "mess". The exchange between Kassandra and Reverend Joseph about God not rescuing her really hit home. I can't count the number of times I've blamed God for MY mistakes because He didn't come in and stop me or didn't "fix" it after I did it. Just like Kassandra had to learn, I also do. God loves me EVEN if I don't know His reason for NOT cleaning up after me. Sometimes He does, but often times He leaves the wound created from sin open and slowly allows it to heal. Perhaps those wounds that become scars are BIGGER acts of love than the immediate "cleaning" up. It's in that healing process, or the sometimes VERY long process of picking up pieces from mistakes, that His real love is shown. I'm less likely to go down that path again and I'm more likely to fully grasp His forgiveness when the process has been slow. What matters most, is that He is there with us EACH and EVERY step. Even if we don't know which step to take next, as long as we head in His direction, everything eventually works out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Meaning of Holy

Two posts: One day. What is this world coming to? :)

I just have a "quick" one to share. I'm finally finding the time to focus on the book "Crazy Love" (Frances Chan) at night when the house is quiet and during those very few stolen quiet moments otherwise. Though I generally tackle books quickly, this is one of those that I'm purposely taking VERY slow. I read it through rather fast and now I'm back "digesting" it and letting God "work" on me through it.

I'm back in chapter one on the attributes and characteristics of God. The first one listed is God is HOLY. I've not been able to go any farther than that tonight because just that word has really wrapped around me and not letting me move forward.

What does holy mean? It means that "He is set apart, distinct from us. And because of His set apartness, there is no way we can ever fathom all of who He is". It goes on to say that when the Jews said something three times, it was to demonstrate perfection. Think of all those songs that we sing that contain, "Holy, holy, holy" (for example Holy, holy, the Lord Almighty). I thought repeating those words that specific number of times was just to make the song "musical" or to keep it in it's intended rhythm. So in essence, when we are singing that song, we are singing the words that mean God is "perfectly set apart with nothing and no one to compare Him to". That is what it means to be Holy.

"His perfect Holiness, by definition, assures us that our words can't contain Him. Isn't it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?" That last question is what has wrapped around me and won't let go. YES it is MORE than comforting. It's completely amazing and beautiful to think about. It gives me chills.

I can't count the number of times that someone has questioned my devotion to my faith or even the times I am guilty of doubting. How many times have I attributed blessings to God or thanked Him for providing in a situation? How many times have people laughed and said it was coincidence; that I was putting my faith in something unseen and that the situation would have worked out just the same anyway?

Reading about the meaning of the word holy and that statement of how we cannot exaggerate God brings me great comfort. How could I not attribute those things to his greatness! Nothing I can say or do can begin to touch or describe what He is or what he is capable of. How can one not find themselves in awe and worship! Just those few statements have brought to new life just how much I want to be pleasing to Him and has reaffirmed my passion for serving Him.

A Parenting Question to Ponder

There has been a hot topic of conversation going on in our home over the last several months. It has come up often and we have actively discussed it as a family.

Is it possible to raise children that aren't spoiled? Does it really matter?

It doesn't take much to look around and realize that family values are changing. There are many people that are doing their best to go against the grain and are attempting to teach their children Godly values, but on the flip side it seems like more and more parents are just throwing in the towel and saying "whatever".

We live in a very affluent neighborhood, though we only lease our home and it's a townhouse/zero lot. Our home is nestled in the back of the subdivision and the kids jokingly refer to it as slumming it when compared to their friends home on the other end of the street. We love it & are amazingly blessed to be living here. Rentals just don't open up in this area very often, so we were extremely thankful when things fell into place for us to call this "our" home.

The majority of the kids in this area have ZERO clue about reality. They don't have any sense of what it means to wait for something, be told no, or have much value for their belongings. A movie AT the theater, is a 2-3 time per week trip....not the 2-3 times per year that our kids are used to. There is no such thing as 2nd hand clothing (but I'm thankful that we find their "castaways" in consignment stores/yard sales!). Family vacations aren't something that you dream about and save for months or years for. There is no such thing as giving up something in order to make it happen. Their passports are full of international travel and their typical "weekend" trips are our DREAM trips! Eating out is their norm, not their special occasion treat. Christmas and birthday gifts don't bring much excitement because they TRULY have everything in the stores!

It isn't the child's fault in most cases that they are spoiled. The majority of the blame lies on the parent. No matter what level of income you may have, no matter if you basically have access to printing your own money, isn't the parent's responsibility to still say no? Just because you TRULY have the money to say YES to everything, it doesn't mean it is the right thing to do. What is it going to be like for these kids when they are adults and real life hits them in the face? How are they going to learn the skills they need? What kind of pressure will be on these kids to have MEGA jobs or to find husbands that can maintain their level of living? Dreaming big and reaching for goals is GREAT, but what if they can't succeed at that level? Then what? What happens if a girl becomes a mother and decides she wants to stay home and her husband isn't a doctor or lawyer? Will she have the first clue how to make it possible? What if a child grows up and wants to be *gasp*...a teacher....a social worker....or any of those noble professions that don't pay nearly enough? What if they start a business that fails. What if their company downsizes?

We've really been looking around and being observant about those around us: in our neighborhood, at church, in the gym, in all of our social and work surroundings. We are struggling to find many parents that seem to be looking at the BIG picture. THEY ARE there, but in the minority.

Just this weekend, we were invited to go swimming at a home in our neighborhood. The home was GORGEOUS beyond belief. It was magazine quality. Let's just put it this way: you wouldn't have to leave that home for ANYTHING or go ANYWHERE for entertainment purposes. I asked some serious questions of the host (a relative of the homeowner). What do the kids have to look forward to or work hard for? How are the kids in social situations? Are they "grounded" or do they have no sense of reality? The answers were as I expected. Another friend of Adriana's, buys high dollar shoes to LOOK at....even if they are too small! Grow thing....too small, totally another. What is it that these parents are trying to accomplish?

That conversation with our neighbor, led us to serious conversations on the way home. These are the questions we asked our kids:

1) Is it REALLY possible to raise grounded children if you are financially blessed? Is it possible for those parents to not get caught up in keeping up with their neighbors. Maybe we can't fault them. Maybe they don't know how to end the cycle.

2) When you are in a home like the one we were in or when you spend time with friends, do you come home feeling "less" than or do you still feel thankful for what you have and blessed to be where God has placed you? Does it make you feel inferior or do you feel like God loves you less?

3) On the flip side, when you are in a home or with someone that doesn't have the things you have or drive through a neighborhood in a lower income bracket, how do you feel? Do you feel sorry for those people? Do you feel BETTER than those people? Do you feel convicted about having pride? Does you heart hurt for them or do you not give them a second glance? Do YOU treat those people any different?

I won't share the details of the answers the kids provided since they were spoken in an open conversation that probably wasn't expected to be shared "with the world". I will admit that some of our answers did make us think about our own attitudes and revealed areas that we personally need to focus on. I do challenge you to have similar conversations with your families or think about the answers you would give if asked the same. I know that we as a family are used to saying "no" and feel deprived at times, but tend to forget about the unbelievable blessings we have. WE ARE ALSO SPOILED! As we try to "flip" contentment as part of our church series a couple of months ago, we are finding that things aren't always what they seem and that our priorities are also misguided. We aren't sure exactly where God is leading our family or what he is asking us in the future, but I'm sure all of these "questions" he is revealing to us has a purpose. We do know that we tend to take things for granted and that is displeasing to God. We do know that we tend to lose focus on what matters most and that also is displeasing. So my question, "is it really possible to raise children that aren't spoiled", is a valid question that needs MUCH work to be able to honestly answer in the way that we desire.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Lesson in Laundry

I've always been told I have a habit of over thinking things and sometimes my train of thought is just simply too deep at times. I tend to look at something simple and try to "read" it deeply and figure out what it is I'm REALLY supposed to be seeing. Part of it is just my natural personality and life experiences. Part of it is just craziness. Part of it came from a college lit and comp class that drove me insane trying to keep an A average because the teacher NEVER gave A's and I didn't know that "rumor" until it was too late! Searching for symbolism in EVERY thing we read became such a task that I was never able to look at anything "simply" anymore!

This morning I had one of those "deep thinking" moments doing the mundane task of laundry. Laundry has been such a topic of interest in our household for the past 4-5 months. As our washing machine began it's last loads on a long journey of 12 years, every day seemed to be about...did it work, will it go ONE more or not? It became a point of stress knowing that any second would be it's last and there was ZERO hope of having money available for a new one in the next year. As Kevin tried EVERY single thing he could to get it to last a little longer we became thankful for each load it did. Thankful even in "the last days" when I had to literally go restart it with EVERY cycle (7 times per load) and I would forget or have to leave the house. That load of laundry may have taken ALL day, but we were feeling blessed to have managed another load of clean laundry. When it finally died COMPLETELY beyond all hope of repair, I was disappointed but thankful. I was thankful that my husband "bought" us time and then incredibly thankful that he completely tore apart one that was here in the house when we moved in and was able to fix it and make it LIKE new. Thankful that he didn't give up even when a parts supplier said it couldn't be done. We spent hours searching for parts diagrams and watching videos on YouTube until he found JUST the right one! He checked that part and sure enough, it was broken and an easy repair to make (for someone like him!). Grand total: less than $16 and a few cents less than what I was spending each trip to the Laundromat.

This morning I started a load of laundry and just stood watching it work. Yes, I'm kinda strange. Nothing new to report in that regards. I initially was watching it because the one that "died" was a front loader and our "new" one is a top loader. It's been so long since I've used one that I stood watching to make sure I had chosen a good water level and that there was plenty of space for everything to properly agitate. I stood watching it for so long that Bradlee finally came searching for me. (He and I stayed home from church this morning because he's been so overwhelmed and overtired that I knew he needed some downtime with just Mommy! I think God understands that!)

God and I had a few minutes while I stood there. I've said it many times before, God finds me in the strangest places and at the oddest times. Maybe it's just because of the season of life I am in or it could be I'm just strange. Either option works! What did He reveal to me and what was I thinking all of that time? A washing machine/dirty clothes are so much like life right now! They are piled together with all different colors and textures. Some are fairly clean and really might could be used again without being washed (ESPECIALLY if you have a teenager in your house!), but because they got tossed in the "dirty" pile they have to be washed anyway. Others might be slightly dirty and others are JUST PLAIN disgusting (ESPECIALLY if you have boys). They all get piled together, separated, and then tossed in the washer. Not much regard is given to them. Once the detergent or other cleansers are added, the machine is started and the agitating begins. I stood and watched as clothes disappeared and reappeared over and over. I watched how the water color began to change as the filth began to be washed away. I watched how the water became dark and the clothes began to brighten and look cleaner with each "pass". But if I stopped the load right then and left it to sit, the filth would infiltrate the clothes again. It is the flushing with clean water and the spinning out of the old that makes the clothes clean.

God was speaking to me and letting me know that is what he is doing with me right now. It feels like for so long that maybe I would begin to get the filth washed away, but I didn't let Him finish by spinning and rinsing me! Before I knew what had happened, that filth (sin, bad habit, lack of trust) would soak right back in. I have let him begin the process, but for many different reasons...I didn't let him complete all the cycles. I felt like he was telling me that I've been through some pretty tough things and been "agitated", tossed, dunked over and over and even though I may feel stuck right there and just really want it to be done, that He is getting ready to start the next cycle. I just have to trust Him, hang on, and when the time is right I will come out shining and clean. He isn't forgetful or too busy to turn the knob to the next cycle like I was guilty of. He knows EXACTLY what amount of time I need in each cycle and He's not going to turn it too early or too late. Looking forward to the day that I come out clean, whole, and as good as new!

Friday, July 16, 2010

VBS Worship---AMAZING!

VBS regular program ended last night and we have a family finale tonight. The kids will get to see a video made during the week, sing all the songs for their parents, share what they have been learning, and top off the night with bounce houses and ice cream sandwiches. They will have a blast (and I am already dreading how much energy it will take to keep up with Bradlee!).

I was able to sneak over to the worship center to see a couple of minutes of worship time. Let me tell you, there isn't a heart hard enough in this world to have not been moved by that scene. I came in the back doors and all I could see was kids jumping, hands in the air, dancing all over the place...singing at the top of their lungs. HUNDREDS of kids and more adults than I could count filled that room. From the back, you MIGHT have mistaken it just as entertainment or "fun". Granted, they WERE having fun. Because Bradlee was in the front and I couldn't see him over the older elementary kids, I slipped back out and went in the front doors. It was at that point that I immediately couldn't hold back the tears. THEIR faces told an incredible story. It wasn't JUST entertainment, it was their hearts that were singing. These little kids TOTALLY were absorbed in just the purest form of worship. They were giving God ALL of them without worry of what they looked like, sounded like, or who saw them.

Watching Bradlee just melted me. As long as he didn't see me, he was actively participating. He was singing each and every word and doing all of the motions. When they would say one of the bible points, He immediately shouted out the proper response. He came home telling us ALL of the stories.

All of that confirms that our children are completely absorbing everything around them. Since I was completely wrapped up in Goodies from the Galley, I didn't get the opportunity to listen to the stories, learn the songs, or know much of the nightly happenings. We didn't go home and "practice" the songs or learn the memory verses. HE learned those just because of the great people around him. EACH and every person that walked on our campus this week made that happen. I fully believe in teaching kids, especially the very young, about God. If any time anyone doubts that it is worth it or that it works, your mind would have instantly changed upon watching those little ones. Their hearts and minds are just like little sponges waiting to soak up anything and everything around them. That is why it is so important that it is soaking up things of God, not things of the world.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

VBS=Confirmation of Home

With VBS about to wrap up (one regular night left and the Family Finale left), I find myself really thinking about the week and what it has meant for us. As exhausted as we are, I find myself wishing it was just beginning instead of ending. It has been an amazing week.

I've completely missed seeing all the kids in worship or watching their eyes light up during story time. I had purposely planned to leave our snack area early and watch last night, but well...hmmm....let's just say Bradlee created a little drama that just slightly pulled me in another direction. :) Hopefully tonight I can sneak in and see them.

Despite being a stressful week just trying to keep up with the balance between "real life", making sure all the bases were covered and trying to keep things running smooth, it has been AMAZING. It was an emotional first of the week with Peyton having such a horrible panic attack in the large crowds. I won't lie and say that didn't set me back. Nightmares of another time and place and the realization that we aren't past all of that as much as we had hoped is unnerving. Fortunately, I think it did open a great line of communication with him and hope that we opened the door for more as it's needed. All of "that" in the past was at a time he wasn't old enough to understand and now that he does, hopefully we can help him come up with ways to positively work through those situations. He is still a little on edge about all of it, but he will now be more aware of what to do when he begins to feel that way. As his mom, that wasn't a fun experience to witness and I hate that helplessness. However, I think I learned some huge lessons from it as well.

This whole week has been like salve to a burn, confirmation of being where we KNOW God placed us, and hope for amazing things to come. When we first moved to C-U, it was extremely hard starting over from scratch. With Kev's job, we've had to start over many times and we just never truly got to the point that the location we were living ever became "home". We finally have that feeling here. It's been at least a year now that we all have totally, completely without a doubt felt "home". That's an incredible feeling when you've been searching for that completeness for years.

Even though FCC has been our church home for almost 3 years, it's only been about 1.5 years that we've been actively involved. Having come from the mindset of complete, TOTAL burn-out...we took the approach of sitting on the pews, with little more activity than showing up for worship, soaking it in, and then walking out the door. There WAS a time for that. Our own hearts & souls just needed to be sponges for awhile. Once the time came that we both we're ready, we jumped back in. OH boy----what an amazing decision that has been. IT was from that diving in, that we found HOME!

Last year, VBS was a great time for Kevin and I. We showed up, dropped the kids off, and then had some much needed adult time. We SELDOM ever had that opportunity. Like...NEVER! FIVE whole nights of "dates" was unbelievable. It also was a much needed time of reconnection. At the end of that week, we began to look forward to VBS this year just because we knew that it would be a week to slow down and connect with each other. However, I told him on that last night that I "knew" we just wouldn't get away with it. We were just beginning to become active with children's ministry again and I knew our "guilt" would keep us from having that date week again. I'll admit...part of me was disappointed.

Fast forward a few months. Erin asked if I would co-direct snacks with Kathleen. ZERO hesitation. YES! By that time, I was developing a great friendship with Kathleen and I knew God had directed Erin. I'm so THANKFUL that I wasn't hesitant in saying YES! I could have been selfish and said Kevin and I needed that time alone instead. Yes, it would have been a great week with him, but I know without a doubt I would have missed out on an incredibly huge blessing.

This week has further cemented my feeling of HOME, joy in being back involved in children's ministry, passion for sticking to the beliefs that I have. I have LAUGHED more than in a VERY long time, made some new friends, taken some friendships to an even deeper level, and just completely am overwhelmed with contentment. Contentment in knowing that God KNEW exactly what he was doing in bringing us to this place and at the time he did! YES, we've had some setbacks and continue to deal with broken promises in how things were "supposed" to be. We've had "losses" along the way....ones that still sting and ones that will continue to haunt us for awhile. However, I'm certain God knew all of this before we drove that first mile down the interstate with a four month old already crying because he was teething and hungry. I look back and visually think of that drive and can see how it symbolically told the story of the life we were about to begin. NEVER can go back, because THIS is the path God was sending us on. I have no idea what the next chapter brings, but I'm excited to be turning the pages!

So....Erin, thank you for asking us. I love your statement of "Just ask. Make THEM say NO!" Of course, I'm just learning to say NO, but I'm so glad I didn't learn that skill back then. Thank you for giving me the chance to let my friendship with Kathleen have a jump start! Erin: can't say enough about you! You are priceless! Nothing else describes you! Elaine: Can anyone ever truly have a bad day with you around? It doesn't matter what stress or uncertainty we may all be dealing with, you have a way to just turn it, flip it and make it a laughing session. You are my Maxine from Hallmark! Your take on life is unparalleled! Kathleen: plain and simple.....where we sisters separated at birth? And to all of you that have been our volunteers: YOU HAVE BEEN AMAZING. Thank you!!!! I've enjoyed getting to know you, laugh with you, and even at times pull my hair out with you!!!!!!

Kevin: thank you for being here every step with us. I've loved seeing the involved Dads taking part. I've missed you LIKE crazy this week and have felt so completely out of sorts by not being able to spend enough time with you. I miss my best friend, the one that keeps me grounded when the world is spinning. Two more nights....then there is NO excuse. You have a mandatory meeting with me. Got it?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More of You, Less of Me

The last weeks have been incredibly busy, full of stressful events, and just in general...hard! They've also been full of joy, laughter, and absolutely incredible! Tonight, I KNOW I should be grabbing every second of sleep possible. However, I'm finding that I've had a tough time sleeping. It's when the entire house is quiet, that I finally have the chance to BREATHE and REALLY connect with God. Instead of giving me restful sleep, I've felt God twisting me in every direction once again trying to get in my heart. Bending. Twisting. Working HIS way through all the messes I've made, all the times I've tripped over my own two feet getting in HIS way. Connecting. Soothing. Teaching me that HE is in control, even when I'm uncertain of how the outcome is working for His good. It's been such a myriad of emotions.

Tonight, I've found myself coming back to a Jeremy Camp song called Empty Me. Even though I LOVE the newer version that was written by Chris Sligh (American Idol) and think those words are amazing as well, I'm referring to an older Jeremy Camp song also entitled Empty Me.

"Holy Fire burn away, my desire for anything that is not of you and is of me. I want more of you and less of me......Empty me, Fill me with you"

I think for the last several months, that is what I'm finding that He is trying to do in me. Sometimes He has succeeded, but many more times my own stubbornness and selfishness have prevented Him from fulfilling that desire. My sister always said I had to be the klutziest person on this planet. Granted, she was right on many occasions, but on an even greater level...I do trip over my own two feet almost every time I turn around. God gets me where He wants me, then I gain a little bit of confidence and try to take a couple of steps. Those first tentative steps may be wobbly, but they general get me moving in the right direction. Gain a tad bit more confidence, and BOOM....smack dab on my face because I stopped holding His hand.

I see some of where God is leading me and some of the things he's trying to change in me. I slowly take those steps with Him and head in the right direction. Then I either try to do it on my own and fail or I step backwards in either defiance, fear, or simply laziness.

Father, thank you for being patient just like a parent with a toddler learning to take those first wobbly steps. We don't give up and walk away when our children don't learn to walk the first time they let go of the furniture or of our hands and I'm thankful that God doesn't walk away from me either. He either helps me back up or he waits patiently while I try to pull myself back up.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Whenever asked one of those silly ice breaker questions about which cartoon character are you, I've ALWAYS had the same answer. The Tasmanian Devil. I don't exhibit all of his qualities, but ONE specific one describes me perfectly. (Let's not forget he is part of the Looney Tunes cartoon...and well, I just happen to fall in that category of being just a little looney!) Can you picture him spinning around in circles and all you see is hands, feet, tail sticking out of the dust cloud in strange, unnatural positions? THAT is me. Despite my constant endeavour to "slow down" life, I still find myself in that insanely wild whirlwind.

Spinning in circles. That describes life right now perfectly. For someone like me that is not blessed with the enjoyment of roller coasters, anything spinning and that gets sick just watching her children on the church merry-go-round, spinning in circles is not an enjoyable place to be. Life does feel like it is spinning out of control, despite VERY obvious attempts to slow things down and simplify. I tend to get caught in that cycle of it spinning faster with no way to slow it down and the inability to just jump off the merry-go-round.

Have no fear! My SUPERHERO is here and he hears my plea for his calming nature to overtake. I may be caught up in situation after situation that is placing me in either "unchartered" waters, major uncertainty, fear of the unknown, disappointment, unspeakable stress. However, along with all of this "whirlwind" surrounding us, God is faithful. He has given me an unusual calm, one that doesn't come first nature for me. Personality wise, I'm a tender heart to the extreme. I can easily find myself in panic mode where worry and uncertainty paralyzes. Don't get me wrong, I believe God's promises and KNOW he will provide, but in the meantime I usually get caught up in "trying" to help him along. That usually ends up in EPIC failure.

So this time as life is spinning, I'm finding great comfort in his peace. Stepping back and letting Him take it ALL (every heartache, every financial need, every family member that needs healing, every strained relationship, every disappointment, every failure, every uncertain choice, EVERY EVERY EVERY.....the list goes on). I just need to SEE Him, FEEL Him be the miracle worker that He is. I don't need my "two cents" worth in it. So as I'm spinning, I'm learning to "spot" Him. In ballet, you learn to fix your eyes on a certain spot each time you spin around to keep from losing your balance. Adriana learned in gymnastics on beam how to totally focus in on her task at hand and shut out every other sound and motion in the gym. So as I'm spinning, each turn is bringing my eyes back to focusing on Him. I've learned that nothing else matters. I can't necessarily change situations around me, but God can. Without a doubt. If life is too scary or too painful, I can just picture myself sitting in the middle of that merry-go-round, white knuckling the bars, with my eyes clamped shut....JUST begging for the spinning to stop. I'm sitting in the merry-go-round of life, with all the negative emotions and situations spinning around but it's not the bar I have a death grip on. I'm sitting in the middle with God's arms wrapped around me, with whispers of calm permeating my heart as He tells me to just hang on to Him for the ride.

Kev: just a little reminder that I know you will understand... "The Anchor Holds" The artist may no longer be inspiring, but the words of the song and it's meaning to us is not diminished.