Sunday, June 8, 2014

5 babies, 5 loaves & The Edge of Tomorrow

     January.  Wow, my last post was in January.  I knew it had been a while, but 5 months?  I think that is the longest I have gone without writing! It feels good to be back.  Where did I go?  Well, at first I was embarrassed.  I felt like I needed to announce that we are expecting our 5th little one - which I never officially did (but I guess I'm doing now?).  As much as I wish I was one of those confident people who doesn't care what people think.  I'm not.  I struggle with it - A LOT.   I was personally excited the first couple of weeks, but afraid to admit it.  Then, when the pregnancy hormones kicked in full force, the word excited was no where in my vocabulary.  Scared, yes.  Doubting myself, you bet. I found myself constantly analyzing the comments I get at the grocery store (your crazy, I'm glad its you and not me, you DO know what causes that, right?, How can you give them enough...time, attention, money, space?).  At the time, those comments weren't bothering me just because of what people thought, but because of the way I replayed them in my head and allowed myself to believe them). Now that I'm my 24th week - things still aren't easy.  MUCH BETTER, but not easy.  Expecting, with a house full of little ones (four 6 & under) is hard work - physically, emotionally, mentally, even spiritually.  Incredibly worth it & full of blessing...but very challenging. There have been a few things that have brought me great encouragement through out this process, and I'd like to share them in the hopes that they will bring some refreshment & inspiration in and through whatever you may be facing.
     A dear friend of mine told me a great story about her son. He was wrestling (I think in a championship match) against an opponent he had lost to the previous season.  It was a close fight and I believe they were either tied or his opponent was ahead by one.  Just before the end of the match, her son got himself into a winning - but very difficult position.  The audience could see the obvious pain on his face - but, if he could hold himself in that position for just a few more seconds - he would win.  They cheered loudly!  And his father, knowing just what his son needed to hear began yelling "hold on" "hold on" "hold on" and that is just what his son did.  He held on, even though he was in pain, and he came out on the other side a champion! 
     I have a tendency to be pretty hard on myself.  I want to win my wresting matches with a beautiful pain-free expression on my face, a perfect attitude & with ease.  But I love the idea that in those tough times, if we just hold on (even if we have to occasionally grimace in pain), we can come out on the other side,  a seasoned champion!  I also loved the response of the audience & especially the boys father. They weren't saying - "its too hard, just let go", or chanting "give up" "give up" "give up".  They cheered him on even though he was choosing a difficult journey.  To those of you who have been cheering me on with your own versions of "hold on" "hold on" "hold on" - there are no words that can express the depth of my gratitude.
     This quote from Max Lucado's, 'And the angels were silent' has a similarly encouraging theme...
 "Jesus doesn't say if you succeed you will be saved.  Or if you come out on top you will be saved.  he says if you endure.  An accurate rendering would be, "If you hang in there until the end...if you go the distance."  The Brazilians have a great phrase for this.  In Portuguese, a person who has the ability to hang in and not give up has garra.  Garra means "claws."  What imagery!  A person with garra has claws that burrow into the side of the cliff and keep him from falling.  So do the saved.  They may get close to the edge; they may even stumble and sliede.  But they will dig their nails into the rock of God and hang on.  Jesus gives you this assurance.  Hang on .  He'll make sure you get home."
Matthew 24:13 - "Those people who keep their faith until the end will be saved."
     Speaking of Jesus, another source of encouragement has been the story of the loaves and fishes. In the past, whenever I've thought about Jesus feeding 5000 people (or more) with 5 loaves and two fish, I've focused on trusting God for physical provision - knowing that God would provide. But recently, I've read it in a different light.  I've found myself focusing more on the boy - and what he had to offer.  Not much.  Compared to the need, he didn't have enough.  There are days when I don't have enough to offer.  My children sometimes need more than I have to give.  But, I've found myself praying - "Lord, here are my loaves and fishes, this is all I have - please multiply it!" And you know what, he does - we make it through another day... and although I don't know if I've gotten to the point of leftovers yet, I have hope - and perhaps I'm getting there.
 John 6:8-13 - "Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten."
     Lastly, and this one might make you laugh (or judge me) or both, but here goes - The new Tom Cruise movie "The Edge of Tomorrow".  One reviewer described it as "Groundhog day meets Aliens".  Last night, Matt dragged me to it kicking and screaming (actually he said I could go see a chick flick if I really wanted to, but I decided to sacrifice my desires and see an Alien movie, aren't I a good wife?)  Anyway, in the movie - a group of military men were getting ready to jump out of  an aircraft and attack the enemy.  The sergeant or general (or whatever he was ;) said, "Men, it is ok to be scared.  Without fear there is no courage"  Again, because of my perfectionism, I am tempted to get down on myself when I am not in complete control of my emotions.  But the idea that without fear there is no courage, reminded me that it is ok to be afraid sometimes, doubt sometimes, be exhausted sometimes - as long as we don't give up.  Keep pressing on. Keep moving forward.  Getting through those hard times is where amazing things like courage, stronger faith and endurance come from.
Later in the movie, William Cage (Tom Cruise) finds himself living the same day over and over again (something to do with an aliens blood giving him the ability to reset time).  Unfortunately for him, it is not an easy day.  It is a day filled with mockery, fear, warfare, death, and sacrifice.  The first time he lives this day he is a complete coward, a loser really.  He encourages people to fight for their country and yet he is too afraid to do the same.  Again and again he faces the same day and learns slowly but surely how to fight his enemy, think outside the box, face fears and put others above himself.  By the end of the movie he is a courageous warrior - a hero.  On our way home, I jokingly said to Matt that sometimes I can relate to the idea of being stuck in the same day over and over.  More dishes, more laundry, more sibling squabbles, more of my weaknesses staring me right in the face etc..
      As I was drifting off to sleep I realized, that although I can relate to the feeling of the same thing day after day, just as there was an amazing growth process going on in the life of William Cage, there was and is also a growth process going on in my life.  Though I started out totally selfish, spoiled, impatient, lazy... slowly but surely God is refining me.   He is using the hard parts to make me stronger.  None of it is wasted.  Too bad, I thought to myself, that I don't get to start over every day with all of my mistakes erased (like Cage's character)...and then I remembered the precious blood of Jesus - which for me, does exactly that!

Psalm 103:12 -  "as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Life changing - the Lord's prayer

Praying through the Lord's prayer daily is one of the most life changing habits I have ever made.  On the days that I skip it, which have been quite a few lately, I can't believe how different I feel.  Its as if I am lost. I've missed it so much.

I shared the process with a couple of friends and they keep reminding me how much of a difference it is making in their daily walk - so, I'm re-joining them :)

I do it in a number of ways - sometimes in letter form (like below), sometimes in list form (listing proof of His existence, attributes of his name, reasons I long for His kingdom...and so on), and sometimes simply praying through it in the shower (my prayer closet) ;)

Would you consider joining us in this daily habit?

Our Father - Dear Abba (daddy),

Who art in heaven
Sometimes it is hard for me to remember that you really are there.  Though your creation makes it obvious in so many ways - and the blessings you pour out upon my life are unbelievable - often my feelings don't match up.  Lord Jesus, remind me today that you are truly there, on your throne, sovereign.

Hallowed be they name
Lord, I have been a Christian for so long and yet I know so little about your name.  I do know that you are bigger and more amazing than I could ever comprehend.  And, Lord - I know you are perfectly pure.  You are the only perfectly pure person or thing that has ever been.  Father may I focus on you and your perfection, rather than the many other things that pull for my affection or attention - whether negative or positive.

Thy Kingdom come
It really is so easy to forget that we are merely passing through in this life.  It is so tempting to be eaten up by the fears, worries and even offerings of this kingdom here on earth.  Lord, thank you that there is so much more than this.  Thank you that one day we will be with you.  That everything around us will be perfectly peaceful, joyful, beautiful and fun.  Thank you also Lord that though life on earth is hard, the more we look to you - the more little glimpses we get of your kingdom.  More peace.  More forgiveness.  More joy.  More of you.

Thy will be done (on earth as it is in heaven)
Lord, you know every desire of my heart.  Every fear, every stress.  Though I need not tell you every detail (as you know me so well), I am going to list the ones that come to mind this morning in the hopes that officially bringing them before you and asking for your will instead of mine will bring the peace that passes understanding that your word promises.  Thank you for the verse in 1st Peter that reminds us to cast all of our cares upon you.  Thank you also for the beautiful visual my dear friend gave me of literally casting stones into the ocean and watching as they are carried away by the tide - each one representing a particular fear, longing or stress.  Thank you, even more so, that though I am rarely close enough to the ocean to literally cast stones - you are always near - ready to take all of my burdens. Thank you for inspiring me to write each longing, and anxious thought down...then circle them as a representation of casting them before you.

Give US this day our daily bread
Me: Financial provision, peace, joy, energy, trust, compassion
Matt: Trust, Hope, Inspiration
Our kids: Glimpses of you, A spirit of wonder
A struggling friend: Peace, strength, trust
A sad friend:Healing, comfort, hope

Forgive us our sins
Lack of trust

As we forgive those who sin against us
A selfish choice
The kids bickering, grumbling, complaining
Hurtful words
Being misunderstood

Lead us not into temptation
Father, you know my temptations today...
-Escaping (through sugar, media, shopping etc...) rather than embracing what you have for me 
-Focusing on the negative instead of the postive
-Speaking harshly

But deliver us from evil
Lord, may we not forget that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Ephesians 6:12.  Please protect us from the enemy today Lord.  May we walk in complete victory.

For thine is the Kingdom, the power, the glory, forever
Remind me when I forget today that really -  It's all about you! :)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Legalism, cheap grace & parenting.

As many Christians do, I often feel like I am trying to balance on a seesaw between legalism and cheap grace.  In other words, at times I am tempted to focus solely on the "rules" of Christianity and other times I am tempted to completely forget about "rules" and find myself with a "who cares, He loves me no matter what" kind of attitude.  Focusing on either end brings little glory to God.  Yet, there is a place for both within the gospel of Christ.  

There is another "seesaw" I wrestle with daily - training my children to behave vs demonstrating God's grace with my words and actions.  At times I find myself discouraged because though I have read many books & articles on both sides of the spectrum (either totally focused on behavior or totally focused on grace), it is rare that I stumble upon one with a healthy balance - although, there are a few.  The "grace based" philosophys make me feel like I shouldn't work on my children's behavior and the "behavior based" philosophys make me feel like I'm failing when my children (and I) continually miss the mark.

I recently stumbled across the following verse and found it encouraging in regards to the gospel and in regards to parenting...

Isaiah 28:8-13

“Who is it he is trying to teach?
    To whom is he explaining his message?
To children weaned from their milk,
    to those just taken from the breast?
10 For it is:
    Do this, do that,
    a rule for this, a rule for that[a];
    a little here, a little there.
11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
    God will speak to this people,
12 to whom he said,
    “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
    but they would not listen.
13 So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
    Do this, do that,
    a rule for this, a rule for that;
    a little here, a little there
so that as they go they will fall backward;
they will be injured and snared and captured.
These verses seem to indicate that there is a time for both rules and rest/grace. The problem seems to arise when when one never makes it past the rules.

Most of us know that as Christians, we were given rules to live by - whether the focus is the ten commandments or Mark 12:30 ("Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind and with all your strength), there is no way we can obey perfectly.  Yet, we are commanded to try.  Why?  Why are we given rules that we can't live up to?  Because, they show us that we are in need. No matter how hard we try, our best is not enough, yet someone's best is. Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  If we could live perfectly, we wouldn't be in need of a Savior.  But we can't.  And yet, we are loved.  We are forgiven.  We are made new.  Often, new believers (and sometimes old ones) get distracted by the rules. We focus so much on the rights and wrongs that we miss the who - at least for a time.  As we grow in Christ we begin to recognize that it isn't really about the rules - it is about a genuine relationship with Christ.  But, without the rules - how would we know what to strive for, or who to turn to when we recognize our striving will never be enough?

As parents, if we don't give our children rules to live by - if we don't encourage them to obey, to love, to serve, to give, to forgive...we are doing them a great disservice. Just as we will never be able to perfectly obey our Father, they will never be able to perfectly obey us.  Though this may tempt us to pour "grace" on them by continually lowering our standards to something they will be able to achieve, doing so will make their lives harder in so many ways. 

My children are young.  The youngest of them are not yet able to grasp much about the gospel (or the "why" behind the rules) - and yet, the rules are adding up. DON'T TOUCH (the stove, the plug, the buttons on the television), DON'T EAT (the marbles, the legos, the cat hair), DON'T HIT (your brother, your friend, your head against a wall) etc...   With four children five and under, sometimes I feel like teaching the "rules" is a full time job.  It has only been in the past year that I've been able to see it coming together with the gospel.  When my older kiddos disobey, there are consequences - but along with the consequences comes such a sweet message. A message of hope - to them and to me.  

It looks something like this...

Me: What is the most important rule? 

them: wuv God with all your hawrt, sowl, mind and stwength 
When you disobeyed, did you break that rule? myeah
What is it called when you disobey? sin or sim or thin...depending on who's answering ;)
What does God want us to do when we sin? ask forgiveness
Does he forgive us? myeah
Why? cuz He died on the Cwoss for us
Does He & Mommy & Daddy love you no matter what? myeah (proceeded by tickles and giggles)

or sometimes it looks like this...

When mommy yelled, did she break the most important rule? myeah
What is it called when mommy disobeys? sin
What should mommy do? ask fowgivness 
Will you forgive me? myeah Will God forgive me? myeah
Why? cuz he dyed on the cwoss for you mommy...and cuz I wuv you no matter wut.

God's law is important.  God's love is even more important.  The two work together so beautifully.  If your struggling with perfectionism, whether in your walk with Christ or in your parenting, know that in your weakness, He is strong.  On the other hand, if your struggling with being lackadaisical in your faith or in your parenting- He's given us the law for a reason.  Strive.  And when you fail, run to Him.  He gave His life for you.  And, He loves you no matter what.