Monday, July 21, 2014

Lessons . . . Even When I Would Rather Run and Hide

           God has been teaching me so much lately . . . in not so fun ways, I might add.  It was really good that during the past two months Brent was teaching on faith and hope and that my personal study focused on cycles of sin, God’s sovereignty, and hesed (Definition provided by Sandra Glahn: “the one word chosen above all others to summarize what God is like:  full of loyal, committed, merciful, enduring, faithful, covenant-keeping love.”).  As my friends who are in ministry know, it can sometimes really, really stink.  Or for those who are not in ministry, just being a servant like Jesus calls us to be can stink.  There are times that you feel like you give and give beyond what most people would expect, yet the first time you fail to meet an expectation, people are quick to run.  Loyalty seems to be a lost word in the world these days.  I have spent a lot of time in tears, crying out to God in pain, and I’m not going to lie, anger.

            I have wanted to run from relationships . . . current ones and the potential for future ones.  I have begged God to teach me how to serve others the way He has called me to serve them (no strings attached and with genuine love) but without attaching to them on any emotional level.  I want to do what He wants, but I want to save myself in the process, but that prayer has not been answered in the way I want.  I was driving home the other night after having been physically attacked for 45 minutes by a hurting child (I’m not exaggerating.  I was probably hit no less than 20 times and was kicked in the head, had my hair pulled, was scratched and bit, and this happened just after a pretty huge emotional hit unrelated to the little girl.), God reminded me that we are called into a RELATIONSHIP with him and a He wants us in relationships with others, genuine authentic relationships, which are not possible without some sort of attachment.  Thus that prayer of mine will not be answered the way I want because it is contrary to His will.

            So while I have a level of fear regarding friendships at the moment, I want to push past this, not let Satan win the battle, and nurture current relationships and create new ones.  God has blessed me with some pretty great people in my life.  Now, they are human, and who knows if they will be in my life a year from now (or a week from now for that matter.  God is the only being I can count on to be there for all the tomorrows to come).  But if I let something get me down so much that I don’t cultivate these friendships, they will be gone for sure.  I will be losing out on so much that God wants me to learn and understand, and I will be missing opportunities to love and serve others as well.  Instead of running from friends, my goal is to cultivate them.  I am working part time now, which is a huge blessing, and it gives me more time to do just that.  I’m feeling both apprehensive and excited for what the Lord has for me in the months to come.

            The question that stood out to me from my Bible study on Ruth recently is, “Can you trust that what looks to you like an ending may be the beginning of something great?”  Of course . . . or maybe not.  I want my answer to be of course, but my heart and often my actions say anything but of course.  Sometimes when I feel let down it can look like an ending, but when I look back at other endings, they were truly beginnings.  I can see it now because I am past it.  I’m no longer sucked in by the emotion of pain.  What was hazy is now clear.  But God does not say, “Trust Me when things are clear. “ He calls me to trust Him always, and I need to be thankful that He is there in the sun and in the rain.  He has a plan for me . . . a more amazing plan than I can fathom.  But achieving that plan may happen only by going through difficult moments.


            So here I am pushing through difficult times and cultivating friendships.  I had a fabulous conversation with a friend on Friday night, a nice park play date with another friend on Friday afternoon, On Sunday I spent time with friends from work celebrating a birthday, then enjoyed a barbecue with our neighbors.  I had lunch with a friend today and another family over for dinner tonight.  Not a bad start to my cultivating new and existing friendships.  It has been encouraging, and I am excited to practice the qualities of hesed as I grow to be more and more like Jesus in my relationships with others while trusting the sovereignty of the awesome God who I serve.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Judges

I just completed a great study on the book of Judges, and I just wanted to record the things I learned.  I will be honest, it was not a book I was looking forward to studying, nor was it a book that I thought would teach me a lot, but I spent most of the time I was studying, thinking, “Ouch!  Not sure I want this much conviction right now!”  At the same time, it was incredibly helpful as I went through some super tough situations during the month or six weeks I was completing the study.  It was really neat how I was doing exactly the study I needed to be doing at exactly the right time.  That’s the FAITHFUL God that I serve!

Some of my thoughts that I wrote down as I went through it:

“Why is it so hard to learn lessons?  We all repeat cycles . . . why?”
            Ugh!  So hard.  I wish I could answer the question because the answer probably includes how to change the problem.

“It’s so easy to look at the Israelites and judge, but when I look internally, I realize I am so much like them . . . YUCK!”
            I repeat cycles.  I don’t stay focused on God or obeying Him and get easily swayed and discouraged by people or circumstances around me.  These people or circumstances or my desire for God to just fix things is a form of idolatry that I have to stop.  My constant prayer right now is that I will stay focused on what God wants for me and keep the other things in my peripheral vision, loving and caring for them but not seeking to please them.  They will either be pleased by my obedience (or the actions that come from it) or they won’t, and I can’t fix that.

“They [the Israelites] were so dependent on a leader and did not follow God on their own.”
            We all need leaders, and that’s okay, but when left without one for a time, am I able to stay focused on follow God on my own? I think I can, but the thought struck me as an important question.

“God remembers His covenant with us, even when we forget our covenant with Him.”
            What a great promise!!!!

“While God might respond to a fleece laid before him, we lose the full benefit of just obeying Him to begin with.”
            It was just painful to read Gideon’s story, but that’s because I’m on the outside looking in.  I’m sure other people have watched me with that same feeling that I had while reading about Gideon.  I pray that my obedience will follow immediately without questioning God and asking for more signs.  It’s hard to know what God wants, and I understand that about Gideon’s story.  I question if what I hear is from God all the time, which is what Gideon was doing, so I’m not being judgmental, but I want to learn from him.  Fleece’s are dangerous and should be avoided.  And they definitely should not be used to just get the answer we want, which is often what happens.  Gideon asks the Lord not to be angry with him before he lays out the fleece, indicating that he knew he was not supposed to do it.

“God is powerful but He is also understanding.  He knows our fears and doubts.  He provided something to give Gideon security, even when Gideon should have trusted Him.  Our God is amazing!”
            And yet, even though a fleece was not God’s best for Gideon, He is so understanding that he provided an answer.  He could have given up and moved on to the next available person.

“When things are going well, I fail to depend on God, and when things are not going well, I have a hard time trusting Him.”
            Another painful revelation!  It’s so true.  When everything is cruising along, it is easy to “forget” God or at least to forget to acknowledge God’s blessings.  And yet when things are bad, I want to change them myself, instead of handing it over to God.  I think if I remained “connected to the vine” at all times, my response during difficult times would be to trust God, not just ask God to rescue me and then be bummed when the rescue doesn’t happen (which returns to the issue of treating God like an idol; something Brent’s been teaching at church lately).

“God is jealous but even more compassionate.”
            For this I am just so very thankful!!!!  Another great promise!

One of the questions in the study asked what are the results when people want benefits but let everybody else do the work?  My thoughts:  “They miss the true joy of servanthood.”
            Recently I was asked to help serve in a particular way.  I really did not have the time or energy as I have been pretty spent the past month.  There were several asked to help, but only two of us stepped up to do it.  I felt a little stressed going into the whole situation, but I wanted to bless people by doing it anyway.  When the end came, I realized what a blessing it is to be able to serve others, to see a smile on another person’s face, and to know that it also put a smile on God’s face.  So many people miss out on these opportunities all the time.  Boundaries are good, but too many boundaries can cause a person to miss out on the incredible blessing that it is to bless another.

“We all have spiritual strengths and an opposite fleshly weaknesses, two for me are discernment vs. judgmentalism and perseverance vs. pride.”
            The fleshly weaknesses stink, but God uses us in spite of them.  We need to rely on him to handle the weakness.  A quote I read in the book says this, “Whatever our strengths and weaknesses, the secret of our usefulness is our availability to God.”  And another quote along these same lines. “We fail to see that we’re never too small or too weak for God to use, but we can be too big and too strong.  God is bigger than our weaknesses and will use us in spite of them.”

The biggest lesson for me in the whole study: 
            God is FAITHFUL, regardless of my behavior!


(And on a lighter note:  The book of judges is rich and full of lessons!!!)

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Thankful and Content

It's been a great few days!  After spending an evening with a group of friends and acquaintances at a celebration and looking back over the past few days, I just smiled to myself.  It is often hard for me to trust people.  I think that might be true of many in ministry.  For me I think it is one of the ways that I try to maintain control and to prevent myself from getting let down by relationships.  Due to some recent hurts, I have been trying to figure out what to do with that because I have been feeling even more skeptical, and I truly don't want that.  I spent today with five of David's friends over playing and celebrating the start of summer while I baked and prepared for a party for a friend tonight.  At the party I sat and enjoyed the company of other friends and my family.  I looked around at one point and just realized how blessed I am.  It's a blessing that someone needed me to help throw a party and trusted me enough to pull it off.  It's a blessing that I had a friend who was willing to jump in and help me do it because I'm not sure I'm trustworthy enough to pull it off by myself.  It's a blessing that I was able to sit down and just enjoy the presence of others.

Then I got home and I was looking at Facebook.  I somehow missed an amazing post that James put up a couple days ago, or at least I didn't read it when I was not distracted because tonight it had a huge impact on me.  It's interesting how God is working on similar things in James's life as He is in mine.  Because of that James posted the following, something I desperately need to hear and remember:

"A huge struggle lately has been getting caught up in the responsibilities and difficulties of life in Haiti. Everything has seemed to leave me entirely spent lately. But God has been hammering me with 2 reminders over the past two days to lift me up. 1) I've got to lean into Him! I'm not pulling off anything good on my own, His will is perfect I only need to allow him to use me and trust him! and 2) I'm extremely blessed, I have a great life, I'm surrounded by great people, the extent of my job is sharing smiles with amazing kids and the God of the universe gave me the greatest gift ever! Focusing on the trials is ungrateful, selfish and frankly exhausting. My God is great and He pours out endless blessings when my eyes are fixed on that fact and my heart has faith in what He is doing no trial can even earn a second glance. Love my Lord and where he has me in life!"

My issue of trying to control things is a problem.  I know that.  I can't tell you that I am going to be able to change that, but I need to continue leaning into God and remembering that I am His tool and nothing more.  And I need to remember that I am abundantly blessed.  I am surrounded by great people!!!  And to top it off, I have an incredible husband and pretty amazing kids as well.  I cannot thank God enough for the many blessings He has bestowed on me!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fighting Discontentment!

A while back I posted about a lack of contentment, which continues to be a struggle for me at this point.  I have taken some significant steps to try to overcome it, but it continues to bring me down.  I am not one to spot a demon behind every issue, but lately I have felt that this is in many ways a spiritual issue, probably brought on a lot by being incredibly tired physically and emotionally, but a spiritual one none the less.

I know the truth that "The joy of the Lord is my strength" (Nehemiah 8:10), and yet I remain in this struggle.  The knowledge is not translating to the heart.  I have contemplated how in the world to make this right thinking seep down and create right feeling.  I don't know what the answer is, but almost a year ago, I felt really convicted to take time to blog about the things in my life for which I should be so grateful.  I posted five blog posts about it, determined to post one every day, but as with other things in life, this fizzled, and I did not remain committed to the endeavor.  I also noticed about that time that I really started struggling more with being frustrated with the circumstances of life (mostly with regard to not having the time and flexibility in my schedule that I want).  This was partly why I thought the blog posts were so important.  After I started posting, though, things began to seemingly get worse, almost as if there was some sort of attack, and it has continued to be a difficult season for me.

With that said, I am very aware that while things are not always perfect and great, God has blessed me immensely, and I want to continue with this idea of posting things for which I am grateful.  I am not going to set myself up for failure again by trying to do it daily, but I do want to write down the amazing blessings God has given to me.  I started a new blog for this purpose a year ago, and I think I will continue typing in that one.  If you are interested, the link is Counting My Blessings . . . And Making Them Count.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

One Size Does NOT Fit All

For anyone who has more than one child, you know what I am talking about.  I remember when Jason became a toddler and then preschooler and how confused I was . . . and the confusion with Jason does not even begin to compare to my shock with David.  James was a very easy toddler and preschooler.  He was fairly calm and compliant.  The word “no” generally heeded positive results.  He played nicely by himself.  He talked at a young age, so he was able to verbalize his wants and needs.  He was even potty trained by 2 ½ years old, which we thought was great for a boy.  It was all pretty simple, and Brent and I thought we were pretty good parents.

When Jason was born, he was an easy baby, sleeping through the night within a few weeks.  He was rarely fussy, and he took nice long naps during the day.  The only problem at that time was that he did not like a bottle, and I had to go back to work.  But when Jason got old enough to be told the word “no” or to be taught and trained various things, from walking to not touching breakable objects, we were in for something new.  And we were stumped!

The rest of their lives have been like this, plus we added David and Sarah, who each brought their own special personalities, both positive and negatives, that we have had to learn how to manage.  Brent once heard a pastor speak on the passage, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and in the end he will not part from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  It was different than what we had previously understood this verse to mean.  The pastor talked about raising each child according to the child’s natural bent.  Now, I’m just a mom blogging (yes, I’m a pastor’s wife, but I’m not blogging to analyze Scripture) and I’m sure there are plenty of smarter people out there who can argue the truth of this interpretation with me, but it’s not necessary.  Either interpretation is an excellent promise.  This idea of raising a child according to his gifts and talents and personality makes a lot of sense to me.  We have failed miserably at different times, and we have had to apologize for each of the times that our children have had to be guinea pigs as we try new parenting strategies on them, but we try.

While James was an easy toddler and preschooler, Jason has been the easiest teenager ever!!!!  It is very rare that we have to punish him.  When there is an issue, it is generally related to school, which is ultimately an issue of work ethic.  With James the issues were over his attitude and how much smarter he thought he was than us.  He would argue FOREVER!!!!  But his work ethic was incredible!  This is only one example of their differences.  It has taken a lot of work on our part to even come close to figuring out what works best with each of them in terms of guiding and directing them.  Sometimes it would be nice if a quick spanking fixed whatever problems with any of them . . . for us and for them . . . or if reading a book to them immediately created a connection with any of them, but they different.


We have to work to figure out both connecting and correcting opportunities that work for their uniqueness in order to effect the best change and the best relationship.  And though it is hard, it is also a fun adventure, and I would not give it up for anything in the world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It Doesn't Last Forever

This could apply to so many things with regard to children, but what I'm thinking of right now is the short period of time that an infant fits sleeping curled up between your belly button and the top of your chest. Never has that been more real to me than last year . . . the year my oldest baby grew up and not only moved away but moved away and overseas! And though I held him a lot, I would go back and do it more if I could. 

For nine months a baby is curled up in a crazy ball inside his mother's womb (well I guess part of the time he's small enough that he does not have to be curled up, but you get what I mean). When he enters this world he still needs to be close to his mother's (or father's) heartbeat. Can you imagine the comfort that is taken away when those sounds and feelings are just suddenly gone? I know that an infant is too young and the brain is not developed enough to identify the loss of what had been normal, but the brain is developed enough for him to sense comfort and security when he hears and feels what was normal.  But it's also a great thing for the parent in terms of bonding with the baby.  You CANNOT overbond!

I had two babies who struggled with sleep (James and David) and two who did not (Jason and Sarah). It was nice to be able to put Jason and Sarah down for bed and know they were going to fall asleep and that they were not going to be as demanding as the others. But nice and convenient is not what parenting is about. God NEVER promised that. He said there would be pain in childbirth (Genesis 3:16), and certainly as moms we all know the truth in that, but I don't think the pain and discomfort ends there. In fact that might be some of the easiest pain many parents feel. Yes, it hurts but the hurt generally ends and the body heals, but the emotional pain we feel throughout our children's lives is often not as short-lived. Your children will be hurt by others which will cause you pain. They will say things to hurt you. You will be saddened at times by their actions. The pain in childbirth is only the beginning.  No one is guaranteed an easy life, but I can tell you, if that's what you're seeking, DON'T have children.

But in the trials (and in the everyday life), there is great joy, as the Bible says in James 1. Don't miss those moments . . . the moments filled with joy . . . the moments you can cherish forever . . . the moments that create or enhance the relationship you have with your children. Hold your baby on your chest. Let him fall asleep there and stay asleep there (if you want). Don't feel an ounce of guilt rocking him to sleep or when he's older laying beside him in bed until he falls asleep . . . or letting him stay up past bedtime for that talk that might not happen any other time. These moments will be gone in the blink of an eye. By eight or nine months they don't fit in that space on your chest and/or they are too wiggly and it's not comfortable. By the 2nd or 3rd grade, if you have not seized those moments, your child is probably going to prefer to stay up with their friends than with you.  For people with young babies who are sleep deprived, I know it seems like you will never sleep again, but rest assured you will, and you will even miss the days when your children wanted to climb in bed with you.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Parenting

I was at dinner with a sweet friend a couple weeks ago.  She does not have any children yet, and she was talking about her friends who do and the struggle that exists between them.  It took me back to the days when James was a baby and the things I learned about people and parenting, and it made me sad.  It is amazing what causes division among Believers, and parenting is one of them.  And I find it so interesting that it causes the most division among parents of young children who do not even know if their techniques are going to work or not.

When I was a new mom, there was a popular parenting program in churches.  Many of you who might be reading this will know what I'm referring to, and in all honesty, I don't have any problem mentioning it, but for the time being I think I will refrain because I don't want start with a fight.  But I will say that I did not follow it, and I have no regrets.  I was a young mom . . . not a teen, but young and I was finishing college.  I had a baby with a cleft lip who was going to require surgery, and basically I was not a crowd follower, and though I was sometimes sad that I did not fit in with almost all the other moms my age, I did not care enough to try to follow the crowd and use the popular parenting technique.  I didn't have time to read "the books" when James was a baby.  I was reading school books and studying for tests and spending the rest of my time in doctor's offices.  James struggled with feeding because of his cleft, so doctor's orders were to feed him when he was hungry, and I followed those orders.  There was no going on a tight feeding schedule for him until he was about 5 months, and at that point, it was too late.  I suppose people did not look down on me like they may have others . . . or maybe it was just that I did not care, but I remember a situation that made me realize how incredibly ridiculous this issue of parenting was among my peers.

There was another mom who had a baby sometime near the time that James was born.  She was trying to follow this tight feeding schedule, but I guess it just wasn't working.  One day I was at a function, and her baby was crying.  She disappeared and later I found her in another room.  She appeared to be anxious.  I remember walking into the room and realizing she had been secretly nursing her baby.  She admitted to me that she was not following the routine, but she did not want to have to get into it with the other ladies, so she was pretending that she was.  It broke my heart.  I remember thinking, "Why is this stupid schedule so important?"  I remember people saying things like, "This is the godly way to raise your children."  "If you follow these instructions, your children will not have behavioral problems."  And other nonsensical things.  I remember Brent and I discussing this "godly" way of raising children and trying to make some sense out of it.  I could not recall anywhere in the Bible that it gave specific instructions on day to day parenting with regard to feeding schedules and discipline techniques (other than the argument that God is a God of order, which I do believe, but I don't necessarily think that translates into feeding schedules.  If it does, I don't think it should change when we get older, so I think everyone who makes their babies be on a rigid schedule should be on one themselves).  I didn't remember anywhere in the Bible that it said children should sleep through the night by the time they were a certain age, or that they should not be allowed to fall asleep after eating but should have tummy time instead.  All I could see of this parenting practice was division, sneakiness, people feeling unable to be authentic and to talk through their struggles.  I also thought it was quite naive that people thought these parenting practices were going to create children without behavior problems.  Last I checked we all have sin nature, not to mention maturity issues.  A child would not be a child if there were not behavior problems.

The theme I kept hearing was how this parenting practice was going to make parenting easier for the parents.  No one actually used those words, but the supposed outcomes of using this type of parenting was definitely about making things easy for parents.  I want to note that later (when Jason was born and life was less stressful), I read a couple of the books (infants and toddlers I believe) and to me this was the message of the books.  There are some good ideas in the books, but as with everything else, there are things to take hold of and run with, and there are things to throw out and run away from.  The book was written by a human being . . . an imperfect human being.  What I saw was that people were taking this book and following it like it was the Bible . . . but I'm not sure they were actually looking at the book in relation to Scripture.

I am sad to hear that almost 20 years later this parenting practice is still causing division, hurting friendships, making people feel like they need to be something different than what they really are in terms of their parenting.  As I talked to my friend, who as I mentioned does not have children yet, I was broken-hearted to hear her already wondering how this was going to impact her when she does have children and how it is impacting a friend of hers who is not following this practice.  I don't know if any of you will read this blog, but I plan to write some of the things I'm so glad I did with my children . . . and some of the things I wish I did differently.  I've also been looking at Scripture in terms of parenting.  I think this will be an interesting study and opportunity for me to put some of my thoughts in writing.