Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Here All Along

Sometimes I wrestle with joy.  Or maybe the more accurate truth is that sometimes I wrestle with discontentment.  I wrestle with remaining joyful and content at all times.  I have a good life.  A really good life.  Not a perfect or problem-free life.  But I have a good life.  God has answered the biggest and best prayer I have ever had in the form of a wonderfully loving, selfless husband and five fun, smart, and uniquely amazing children.  Day by day, life has its ups and downs but truly I am a blessed woman.  However, I struggle to remain joyful and content.  I forget, at times, to count my blessings one by one.  And sometimes, I truly believe that I have lost joy.  That I can't find it.  

Recently our family added to our chickens.  We love our hens.  My oldest son takes such good care of them.  It's a win-win for us:  we wanted our kids to experience the responsibility of having pets, but not indoor ones just yet due to my son's allergies.  I have become a bona fide egg-snob.  I won't order eggs out anymore; they just aren't as tasty.  So, we added more baby chicks to our brood recently and our kids were thrilled.

Just like the first time around, our kids began picking "their" chick and naming her.  (Honestly, amongst those of the same breed, I can tell no difference).  But our kids usually can.  And it matters.  My daughter Ella promptly decided which one was hers and named her Lilah.

The following day, after moving our chicks to their new temporary home until they join the older hens, Ella could no longer tell which one was Lilah.  She was distraught.  Ella is a passionate young girl and is extremely emotional, like her mama.  I am continually seeking God's help in teaching her not to allow her emotions to cloud rational thinking.  Ahh...such an easy thing to do!  Smirk!  That being said, she was more than just a little upset that she couldn't find Lilah.

The day dragged on and Ella was inconsolable.  She had lost her Lilah.  We assured her that she would figure it out.  But Ella was still upset.  Later I was at the kitchen sink when Ella ran through the door and exclaimed "Mama!  I found Lilah!" "Yay! I'm so glad!" I told her.  Her joy was so evident.  She ran back out and I grinned at my husband as I whispered, "She was there all along." 

You know where I'm going with this.  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, the reality hit me like a ton of bricks.  God nudged me, grinned with the love of a Father who knows best, and said "kinda like your joy, huh?!"  He knows.  He has deposited joy on the inside of us.  Readily available as a gift of strength in all of our days, we only need to access it.  God promises us that in His presence is fullness of joy!*  It is with us as His beloved children.  

Just as my daughter's new baby chick Lilah was there all along--though not recognizable to her--joy has always been available to me. Too often, I fail to recognize it.  I am so guilty of looking for joy in the wrong places.  I am waiting for it to chirp or peep in such a way as to say "Here I am!  This is where you can find me!"  Maybe in a new place I'd never thought to look?  But the truth is that I only have to look inside.  Joy has been deposited inside me through the love and goodness of God, in the gift of His son.  If I trust in Him, then I can rest in His hope.  I can be filled with joy!*  It's that simple!

My prayer is that I would remember joy is here in Christ and nowhere else.  Help me with this Lord!  My joy can't be found somewhere that God didn't place it.  He placed joy in His presence.  We will only be met with disappointment when we seek for joy and fulfillment in the wrong places.  Lilah was there all along, waiting to be recognized.  The joy of the Lord is waiting for me to recognize it and access it.  In Him alone, it has been here all along.

*Psalm 16:11
*Psalm 28:7

I'm having Coffee For Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth today

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Our Greatest Opportunity

Love is our greatest opportunity. If we want to see people change, if we want to influence their futures, we’re to love them profoundly. ~Andy Stanley

As followers of Christ, we have a responsibility to love as He has first loved us.  I have two dear friends who share the same favorite bible passage:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38,39 ESV
He loved us first.  And what an amazing love He has for us.  Nothing I do can separate me from His love because I am in Christ Jesus.  His love is in me.  Even when I don't feel it.  Even when I seem unable to live it.  Even when I am unfaithful, this promise remains.  Nothing can separate me from His love.  I understand why my dear friends both claim this passage as their favorite.  What comfort!  What reassurance!  What responsibility we then have, as His followers, to demonstrate His love to others.

Although this reality of the love of God is often difficult for me to grasp, I can understand it more clearly when I look into the eyes of a child.
 Somehow, when I look into the eyes of one of my precious children, I get it!  I can better grasp it.  Because, you see, I can't imagine anything that a child of mine could do, or not do, that could separate him from my love.  My love is far from perfect.  My love doesn't hold a candle to the love of God.  But the love I have for my children is very real and I can't imagine withholding it.

I have at times imagined scenarios that cause me to ponder how I might respond to my children.  I have considered bad or sad choices that they might make.  (God knows I know about such choices.)  And yes, sometimes I allow myself to be fearful of certain possibilities.  None of us want to be devastated by the choices of our children.  Still, I cannot imagine any possibility in which I would be able to withhold my love from them.  I would rather not breathe.  

God's love for His children is endless and it is fully and completely perfect!  He is able to forgive with no reservations.  He is love himself.  And as He so freely promises that nothing can separate us from His love, we realize that we have a responsibility toward others.  As Andy Stanley stated, we have an love them profoundly.

One of the things we talk about frequently with our children is love.  Any of them will tell you that they often hear me and their Dad saying: show love, show kindness.  We want them to see love our too.  It is my hope that they feel our love toward them in tangible ways.  It's not perfect and it's not complete, but it's there and I want them to know it without question.  We recently decided that we could help our children learn to show love in a more tangible way.  That as followers of Christ, we could do something more impacting.  We began sponsoring a child through Compassion International.  The excitement and joy on our children's faces as we made this decision together was priceless.  They began drawing pictures and making origami for this child long before we received our welcome packet in the mail.

They now have a friend in Haiti to love and pray for.  This has opened up several discussions about showing God's love.  We cannot do everything.  But as a family that has the privilege of being regularly reminded of the love God has for us, we can definitely do something.  We all can.  When we realize the depth of His great love for us--and that nothing can separate us from it--we have to do something!  We have a responsibility.  We have the wonderful opportunity to share His love.  And how much it makes our whole family smile that our special child to sponsor, love, and pray for is named Lovelie.  She is our constant reminder of the depth of God's love for all of us.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  We might not be able to fully grasp this great love, but we can do something.  Let's share that love.  Let's teach our children to share that love.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Perfectly Complete

So will you be nice for the rest of your life Ella?  *sigh* I'll try.  Okay, I'll try to be nice for the rest of my life too and then we can be best friends!
 This was an interaction I overheard between my five and seven year old daughters not long ago. It was an easy-going Saturday morning and they were playing an imaginative horse game together. They were getting along so beautifully.  In a moment of realization that they were having nothing but fun, Tessa wanted the promise that this would continue.  I heard my older daughter's reluctant sigh as she promised to try.  Unfortunately, they both have since failed.

They come by failure easily.  Not the failure to succeed.  No, not even the failure to be nice.  They both share in this failure, however, to be perfect!  It runs in the family. I too have suffered with this failure to be perfect!  What is upsetting is that so early on, this pressure to be perfect is evident.  I've seen it in my oldest son too.  I am likely more than half to blame for this.  (And my husband is probably the other half...or the bigger half, right?!).  I struggle to understand how or where exactly it comes from, but I remember feeling it as a young girl too.

So although it would be easy to blame myself--as a mama--for this pressure or need to be perfect in a couple of my children, I think it is more complex than that.  I think somehow that this pressure to be perfect, to never fail, is innate in some of us.  Wasn't it initially evident in the Garden of Eden?*  That is, after all, how the serpent tempted Eve.  You will be like God, he said.  And that notion met with her vulnerability and she succombed to the temptation.  At first, man and woman were both naked and unashamed.  My guess is that that nakedness was also a picture of our vulnerability...our human imperfections.  Eve was okay with her imperfections until the serpent caused her to wonder if she could possibly be perfect like God.  Well, we know how that turned out.  And how it still turns out today!

Many of us, men and women alike, are plagued with this pressure to be perfect.  Some of us (like my oldest son and oldest myself) experience the inner-workings of this pressure early on.  We internally struggle to make peace with what we know will never happen.  Whether it eventually exhibits itself in academic performance, hobbies, work, parenting, church activities, or just being nice forever to our little sister...the struggle is real!  And the knowing that perfection will never fully be achieved isn't where we find peace at all!

The peace we perfectionists need--we all need--can only come from God.  This peace comes from knowing that God never expects us to be perfect!  He wants us to be complete.  He never wanted us to bear the heavy burden of perfectionism.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light.* This was the gentle answer to my heart's cry not long ago.   I had cried out to God in angst:  Why is it so hard?  Why can't I do this mama thing right?  Why do I try and try and try and still fall so short?  The truth is that I  was asking the wrong questions!  God knew I would fail time and time again.  He knows that I will fall short and miss the mark.  He knew it would be impossibly difficult in my own strength.  The question I should have been asking was:  Do you expect me to do this thing perfectly all the time, God?  And of course the easy answer is No!  He whispered to me, My yoke is easy and my burden is light!*

So that is my endeavor as a mama to these five beautiful children:  I want to teach them...and show them...that God doesn't expect perfection from them.  He expects them to trust Him and give Him each and every burden and pressure.  We were always meant to eat of life.  We were always meant to experience our fulfillment and joy through God alone.  We were never meant to act His part--in our lives or in the lives of another!  So when my oldest daughter feels the weight of not being perfectly nice all the time, I will remind her that God never expected that of her.  He doesn't expect it of me either!  He expects our willingness to trust in Him and give Him our hearts.  He will do the rest!  He who began a good work in us will complete it!*  He will perfectly complete us.

*Genesis 3:1-7 ESV; Matthew 11:30 ESV; Philippians 1:6 ESV

Some great reads about freedom from perfectionism:
You’re Loved No Matter What: Freeing Your Heart from the Need to Be Perfect

Love Idol by Jennifer Dukes Lee

You're Already Amazing by Holley Gerth

I'm having Coffee For Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth today

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Patience Prevails

I could have reached around and smooched him while driving!  Of course, safety prevailed.  My nine year old son was in the car with me and my baby, making a quick pit stop before heading home to prepare dinner for the rest of the gang.  He had been talking with his Dad and brother just the day before in regard to their excitement about playing catch outside once it gets warmer.  Luke has a couple baseballs, and although he has not played on a team, he enjoys playing catch in our yard with his Dad.  They had determined he still needed a mitt.

After we completed a quick errand, my ever-predictable Luke asked, "Mom, I don't know if this will be a yes or a no," (his precursor to every question in which he asks for something) "...but is there a place near here that sells baseball mitts?"  Unfortunately, due to our time crunch (and my motherly instinct to help Luke with patience), I answered "I'm not sure buddy but we're not buying a glove today."  "Ah man, I just really wanted to get one."  I told him I understood that, but that he would just have to be patient.  He responded so honestly with "I know.  That's just hard for me."

His genuine admission of struggle was enough to melt my heart.  I couldn't have loved him more at that moment.  I shared with him how I sometimes have a hard time with patience myself.  Okay, maybe sometimes isn't quite it; I often struggle with patience, in one area or another.  But that's not the reason I loved his confession.  I loved it simply for its sheer honesty.

Luke likes stuff.  Anyone who really knows him knows this is true.  Luke also struggles a great deal in times when he has to wait for stuff.  And if he gets an idea about new stuff, he prefers said stuff to be accessible immediately.  We try to balance allowing the opportunities for developing patience with occasions for blessing and rewarding him.

He had another opportunity to exercise patience this past Sunday at church. I had ordered my older son a hoodie with our church name and logo on it.  He doesn't ask for stuff often and I knew he really wanted this (plus the proceeds go to the church Missions Fund).  When we went to pick up Jaden's hoodie, Luke was quick to ask for one too.  I took him over to the table to look at colors and we placed an order.  When the lady helping us told us it should be there the following Sunday, Luke responded with "I have to wait a whole week?!"  I said "Buddy, you just have to be patient." He exclaimed "Hey! Patience is our 'bottom-line' this week!" In his children's church class they were discussing patience.  I thought to myself, it's about time! (Smirk)

He had to wait for something else that afternoon and it wasn't long before he appeared a bit somber.  He brightened later when he told me he had finally come up with the perfect idea for his 3rd grade Consumer Fair project.  I watched his face light up as he told me all about his really is pretty cute!  Snow falling fast outside, he asked if we could please go get the supplies so he could get to work right away.  Now, mind you, my previous day had felt nonstop as I juggled kids, chores, a recovering sickie, and baking while my husband was at an all-day training (and I am a mama who needs plenty of downtime).  This was Sunday afternoon (our day of rest):  the baby was down for a nap, and I wanted nothing more than one myself!  But this time...this time I couldn't bring myself to remind him to be patient.  Here came the time for balance.  (And the natural part of parenthood wherein you long to do good things for your children just because you love them!)  So away we went!  We had a fun time shopping together, just the two of us.  We even split a pack of Mentos!  We returned home (baby boy now wide awake and crawling with lightning speed toward this tired mama), and my son excitedly shed his coat and shoes and began his project.  Because this time, his previous patience had been rewarded!
Samples of Luke's "Messenger Bird Magnets" for the Evergreen Elementary 3rd grade Consumer Fair

It has since occurred to me that this is how God deals with us too.  Yes, as they say, patience is a virtue!  And truly, patience develops character.  Patience is a good teacher for all of us.  But even God rewards our patience for bigger stuff with smaller stuff.  And no, it's not always "stuff" that we are waiting on!

My husband and I have been wanting to build an addition onto this old farmhouse.  We are not trying to keep up with the Jones's.  I just think life would be a whole lot easier with more than one bathtub for seven people.  And a dining room (and table) big enough for our whole family would be super too!  It has yet to be feasible.  We must continue to be patient.  But recently, we sold our wood pellet burner which took up a good deal of floor space in our living room.  This enabled us to rearrange furniture and make room for our dining table.  Now--hooray!--you can enter the front door and the foyer without running smack dab into the dining room table!  I can't fully express just how happy this makes me!  I was also able to purchase some small items for our home that have been on my "Want to Purchase for the House" list.  My husband was also able to recently purchase enough wood to begin the trim-work for our entire downstairs.  These small rewards for our bigger patience are nice.  

While Luke had opportunity after opportunity to practice patience, it was a reminder to me of how often I am the same way.  Just like a child who constantly wants more.  In aiding Luke to practice patience regularly, and then--in an act of simple love, rewarding his patience--I realized how our loving heavenly Father is also gently teaching us.  And when we fail to be patient?  No worries!  We will certainly be afforded another opportunity!  But guess what?  God is patient with us as we learn to wait on Him!

I'm having Coffee For Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth