Saturday, October 30, 2010

Confession 137: The "No Christmas Until December" Holiday Pledge

As I took my boys shopping yesterday for some cooler weather clothes that would actually cover their skin, three days before November, I was bombarded with images of Christmas.  Actually, the holiday to celebrate Christ's birth has been so commercialized that I don't think it appropriate to call it Christmas anymore.  You could go with X-Mas, but X in Latin represents Christ so in the end, I guess we're just left with "Mas" which could easily translate to mess.  Is that too cynical?  I think, as a society, we're just going back to our pagan roots where the big holiday celebration was the Winter Solstice.  It's actually the reason we, as Christians, celebrate Christ's birth on December 25.  The early church was trying to counter paganism with big holiday celebrations of its own.  How ironic that over 1000 years later we would be in the same position as the early church leaders.

Over the past few years, our family has tried to take some different approaches to the winter holidays to bring it back to Christmas. We've done alternative gift giving, taken a family vacation in lieu of a big holiday celebration, and engaged in Advent studies.  Last December, my husband and I took a trip to the mall in mid-December and came to the realization that we were the only seemingly happy people to be found in the place, all because we had absolutely no gifts to buy!! It was beautiful, and I think we were able to truly enjoy the season.

This year, I've decided to embark on a new bring back the true holiday quest.  I am going to make a public pledge to not turn myself in any way toward Christmas until at least December 1st.  No decorating, no carols (except in cantata practice), no gift planning or purchasing, no decoration purchasing, no Christmas card purchasing, no holiday baking or prepping for holiday baking until at least December 1st!  I am going to fully appreciate the season of Fall and celebrate Thanksgiving without looking forward to the next big event.  I am going to take my time and truly enter into a season of Advent so that I may fully appreciate the gift of Christ into a world of so much need.  Heck, maybe we'll be true traditionalists this year and not celebrate Christmas until Christmas, and then enter the 12 days of Christmas and celebrate Epiphany.  Okay, that might just be crazy talk. :-)  But you get the point.

My question now is, are you up for the pledge?  Can you leave "Mas" to the masses in order to focus on the Christ in the midst of it?  Will you pledge with me to restrain from the season until at least December 1st?

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Confession 136: Wait For Me!!

My boys are both absolute "mama's boys".  What that translates to is wherever Mama is, that's where they are. On the rare occasion that someone other than Grandma, Grandpa or Auntie calls, I try to disengage myself from the noise of having a two and a four year old boy by walking to a seldom used corner of the house so that I can fully grasp why someone who is not Grandma, Grandpa or Auntie would be calling.  The caller usually gets through the first sentence before my rowdy ones descend and I'm left trying to piece-meal together the conversation I was having.  I've given up daily showers.  They boys always want to take one too, and our shower was really only made for one.  Sometimes I go and hide in the bathroom to read a magazine, but just when I get into an article, the boys come barreling in slamming every door along the way.  I could lock them out, but the last time I did that we ended up with a sofa covered in raw egg, so it's really best to have them in eye-sight or ear-shot at all times.

Lately, my two-year-old has been calling, "Wait for me!" whenever I get even a step in front of him.  Actually, with his tendency to take the first letter off of every word it actually is, "Ate or eee!"  As I was waiting for him to catch up the other day (which took all of two seconds) I thought, "This is what God does all the time!"  Not only does God call out, "Wait for me!", but he also waits patiently on the other end of a situation for us to catch up!!

How many times do we try to run ahead in any given situation, only to end up back at the start?  I try to be a patient person.  Yet unfortunately, it is one of the fruits of the Spirit I don't always work to cultivate.  Recently, I was faced with a life situation in which I lost my patience.  I decided God wasn't moving fast enough for me to resolve the issue, so I took it upon myself to make some headway.  I heard God calling out to me, "Wait for me!"  But I was warmed up and ready to run.  So, run I did.  In the end, I had a month of undue worry and stress which put me right back where I started in the first place.  I didn't wait, but God did.  When I had lost my race, God was waiting right back at the start.  Wouldn't you know, the moment I slowed down to wait for God, God began working to resolve the situation in his way--the better way.

Psalm 27:14 exhorts us to "Wait for the Lord: be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord!"
Lamentations 3:26 also reminds us that "it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."

So, how's your patience been, lately?  Are you waiting?  God's plan is perfect.  The question is, can we wait?

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, October 22, 2010

Confession 135: Living Expectantly

Okay, after a brief hiatus in which my computer went with my husband to Chicago (truly, I missed my husband more) we are back online.  I've been thinking the past week about praying expectantly.  It's part of a Bible study I'm leading.  I've realized, through the course of this study, that I do not always pray with expectation.  And, I've found that if I'm not praying with expectation, then I am not living with expectation.  I don't bring everything to God, because deep down, I don't always believe that God cares.  I also worry at times that God won't hear or act on my prayers because I am not "good enough".  As a life-long Christian, I know in my head this is not true.  But my heart doesn't always live it out.  And so, I've decided that I am going to embark on a journey to live expectantly.  I worship a God, THE God, who created the world and all that is in it.  He knows every hair on my head, and yours as well.  He parted the sea with a word, breathed life into the dead, and is the only being who has ever EVER pulled off a true resurrection!  I need to expect more!! 

I need to wake up each morning feeling that God has exceeded himself in just giving me another day with my husband and my boys, another day in which I can get out of bed and work for him.  And, I need to revel in God's faithfulness, praising God for providing for me each and every day, for knowing the plans he has for my life.  I need to live expectantly.

So, my question for you is this:  Where has God exceeded your expectations?

Blessings and Peace,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Confession 134: Twit or Tweet?

Okay, I have a confession to make.  I don't like Twitter.  I just don't get it.  On a cultural level, I feel like it's an incredibly narcissistic tool that serves to further the self-centered nature of our society.  On a social level, I feel like it diminishes the concept of meaningful relationships.  A meaningful relationship is one in which you know the very heart of the person you are in relationship with, not what time they eat breakfast each morning.  And on a personal level, I just don't think there's that much in my life that is instant-news worthy.

However, for the benefit of the faithful Tweeters out there, I thought I'd give it a go for a day.  Let me know the final outcome.  Are they notes from a twit, or sincere tweets?

4:45 A.M.-Boys up and demanding juice--Stephen wants bacon.
5:00 A.M.-Dog ate Stephen's bacon.
5:15 A.M.- Garrett wants yogurt.
5:20 A.M.-Stephen wants yogurt.
5:30 A.M.-Curl up in recliner with blanket over my head and threaten life and limb of anyone who disturbs me.
6:00 A.M.-Give up and work on Bible study--focus on abundance of God which does not include sleep.
6:40 A.M.- Compose what I hope to be an Encouraging Word to Bible study participants--can't be sure because am sleep deprived.
7:00 A.M.- Cat eats Stephen's bacon--refuse to make anymore.
7:15 A.M.- Contemplate exercise while eating peanuts.
7:30 A.M.- Blog instead
8:15 A.M.- Drag out exercise bike to exercise--tell Stephen he has to wait his turn.
9:00 A.M.- Make egg whites with cheese and toast a piece of home made bread--top with butter.
9:05 A.M.- Pour coffee, add CoffeeMate and Splenda--pour Stephen a splash of coffee with milk.
9:07 A.M.- Get Garrett some yogurt.
9:08 A.M.- Get Stephen some yogurt.
9:30 A.M.- Clean up kitchen while cartoons are still on
10:00 A.M.- Get self and Stephen dressed--Garrett piddling.
10:05 A.M.- Tell Garrett to hurry up.
10:10 A.M.- Tell Garrett to hurry up.
10:30 A.M.- Off to the classroom for school.
10:40 A.M.- Threaten to send both boys to the office for behavior issues.
10:50 A.M.- Craft activity.
11:10 A.M. Clean up remains of craft activity and run bath to remove paint from boys--hope it is indeed "non-toxic"
11:30 A.M.- Clean up bathroom after deluge of water covers floor from boys splashing in bath.
11:45 A.M.- Make lunch for boys.
12:00 P.M.- Make lunch for Chris and I while yelling "Take a bite!" periodically into the dining room.
12:25 P.M.- Sit down for lunch--Stephen wants Kool-Aid.
12:30 P.M.- Sit down for lunch--Garrett wants water.
1:00 P.M.- Clean up lunch dishes and prepare to make bread.
1:10 P.M.- Boys want to help and arm themselves with measuring cups-- move flour out of reach.
1:30 P.M.- Bread rising--clean kitchen--again.
1:45 P.M.- Decide to go to library--find shoes for boys.
2:00 P.M.- Shoes on--must find library books to return.
2:10 P.M.- Books found--heading for wagon in garage--realize library card is still in purse--back inside.
2:15 P.M.- Off to library!!
3:15 P.M.- Home with bag of books--Mickey Mouse, Clifford, Thomas, Seuss, Froggy and Olivia have all come home to entertain.
3:35 P.M.- Cuddle up in recliner with boys to read new books.
4:10 P.M.- Go outside for nature walk.
4:11 P.M.- Stop to pick up leaves.
4:13 P.M.- Stop to pick up nuts.
4:15 P.M.- Stop to chase cat.
4:23 P.M.- Cross the street after boys run cat up into a tree and head for home.
4:25 P.M.- Stop to pick up leaves.
4:27 P.M.- Stop to pick up nuts.
4:29 P.M.- Stop to watch squirrels play.
4:35 P.M.- Daddy passes us on his way home from work--consider bumming a ride for the last block.
4:36 P.M.- Stop to pick up rocks.
4:38 P.M.- Stop to pick up leaves.
4:40 P.M.- Stop to watch another cat--see home straight ahead--just out of reach!!
5:50 P.M.- Sit down to dinner.
5:55 P.M.- Stephen wants milk.
6:00 P.M.- Sit down to dinner.
6:05 P.M.- Garrett needs Kleenex.
6:10 P.M.- Sit down to dinner--attempt to talk to Chris over din of boys.
6:30 P.M.- Let boys run wild--encourage the chasing of cats.
7:00 P.M.- Jammy time--ecstatic!!  Garrett piddling.
7:05 P.M.- Stephen dressed--Garrett still piddling.
7:20 P.M.- Garrett finally dressed--both boys out in living room ready to read.
7:45 P.M.- Lights out!
8:00 P.M.- Stephen out!!
8:45 P.M.- Garrett out!!
9:00 P.M.- Mommy out!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Confession 133: Heart of Worship

This is an article I wrote for our church's weekly newsletter on the importance of worship.  I thought it might be good before Sunday! :-)

As I’ve been reflecting on the importance of worship this past week (yes, I really do sit around and think about Chris’ sermons!)  an experience has come back to me that reminds me of the true heart of worship.  Several years ago, Chris and I were working in a church that had, I felt, an extremely BORING service.  I thought the music was too old and too slow, the prayers too long and the traditions, well, too traditional.  One Sunday during praise and worship time, my sister and I were griping to each other about the music.  I leaned over to her and made some snarky comment which had us both laughing out loud when I turned around and looked behind me.  There was an older gentleman standing just behind us, worshiping with his adult son.  He was not a tall gentleman, and it occurred to me in that moment that each time I leaned over to chat and laugh with my sister, I was blocking his view of the screen on which the song lyrics were printed. 
God convicted me in that moment in a way that wiped the smug smile right off of my face and tore open my heart.  Not only had I hindered myself and my sister from worshiping God that morning, I was hindering the gentleman behind me as well!!  

 In that moment, there was only one response I could make.  I knelt at the altar rail during prayer, humbled and ashamed, and begged God’s forgiveness for my arrogance and insensitivity.  I also asked God to be present with me in worship, to help me fix my eyes upon him and to truly cultivate within me a heart for worship.

This became my prayer each Sunday as I entered into service.  I prayed for focus, I prayed to experience the presence of God, and I prayed that others would do the same.  As the months passed, I found that it was no longer an effort for me to experience God in worship.  I stopped being so focused on the outside elements of worship (like music and traditions) and focused on its true purpose—to draw us into the heart of God.  Worship became sacred to me in a way it never had before.  Now, when I enter into worship, it is with the conviction and assurance that I will encounter the living God, our creator God, my redeemer God.  The music no longer matters, the traditions no longer matter, the length of the pastoral prayer no longer matters.  God is there and I am there to praise him and receive his Word.  That is the heart of worship.

As you respond to Chris’ challenge in the next week, remember that it’s not a question of “fixing” worship but a question of what you would be willing to change about your worship so that people who have never experienced the presence of God would have that opportunity-- that they would learn to worship in the heart of God.
Blessings and Peace,

Monday, October 11, 2010

Confession 132: Surprised?

We are in the midst of the abundance portion of the study Faithful, Abundant and True by Kay Arthur, Priscilla Shirer and Beth Moore.  Priscilla Shirer (who may be my new favorite go-to Bible study gal!) made the point that not only is God able, but he also surprises us.  One of the conclusions I've come to over the years is that our cynical, post-modern notions of the world have pushed us to push God into a box.  We put limits to what God can do, as evidenced in our need to discover exactly how the world was made.  We put our hope in human beings to solve our problems and then get disappointed when they ultimately, medical malpractice suits, snarly politicians and national gripe fests.  We forget, as Ephesians 1:19-20 tells us, that there is an "incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is the same as the mighty strength God exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms."

 We serve a God who CAN and DOES in wonderfully miraculous and absolutely surprising ways!!  When I graduated from college 12 years ago I had my life planned out.  Yet, four years later I was moving away from everything I knew and loved to go to seminary (What!?) to chase this new calling God had put upon my life.  Little did I know that God had a magnificent plan far greater than what I could ever imagine.  The course of my life changed with that move in a way I could never have planned.  God not only surprised me, but he also showed me the richness of his abundance and blessing in following the road he laid out for me.  I'm not saying it's been all sunny days with the smell of roses, but it has been blessed.  And to think, I would have missed it all had I not let God out of the box!!

So, my question for you today is: Where has God surprised you?  When in your life have you been able to shout "God is ABLE!"?  I want to hear your stories.  I want to celebrate together our God who empowers us to do all things through Christ from whom we get our strength. 

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Confession 131: Unqualified

As I continue to maneuver through this job-hunting process, I have come to the realization that after investing over 50,000 dollars in higher education I am essentially unqualified to do anything!!  It's true.  One look at my resume would tell you that in an instant.  Here's how it starts:
Enthusiastic, certified English / Language Arts Teacher with seven years experience providing students with the self-discipline and communication skills necessary to achieve personal and professional goals.  Skilled educator with experience using constructivist, cooperative learning, and inquiry-based techniques to capture student interest and improve knowledge retention. Personable, respected school leader who builds rapport and communicates effectively with diverse audiences.
It's okay, until you get to my degrees--the product of the $50,000 of education.  B.A. in Secondary English Education and M.A. in Christian Education will just about get you a nickel and a cup of coffee in these tough economic times.  Employers want hard skills, none of which I seem to have.  And, as the face of education changes, my teaching license means less than it did when I started 10 years ago, although it is valid until the year 2110!  Don't worry--this isn't going to turn into the woes of the out-of-work English teacher--it's just a fact that in the eyes of those who have money for people to earn I happen to be unqualified to earn it.  I envy those people who have fixed their eyes on one goal and done all in their capacity to achieve it.  My husband is like that.  He felt the call to ministry at the age of 13 and has, with a few detours, followed it through ever since.  I think I tend to approach life more like a smorgasbord--try a little of this and then move onto that.  It's not that I don't have a goal--I felt both called to teaching and writing at an early age.  It's just that God has taken me to some very different places, for which I am grateful.

But here is what has occurred to me and continues to give me hope on this winding journey of what to do with my life.  In God's eyes, I am fully qualified to do whatever he has created me to do!  One of my favorite verses that I tell myself at least once a week is found in Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
God made us each unique, important, and highly qualified in the body of Christ.  Look at the people God has called throughout Scripture to act on his behalf.  None of them seemed "qualified" in human eyes.  Abraham was an old man, Moses was an outlaw with a stuttering problem, Jacob was a weasel, David was a skinny sheep herder, Mary was a teenage girl from the wrong side of town and Paul was one of the biggest bullies the church had yet to see.  Yet each of these individuals was fully qualified to carry out the task God laid before them, for God gave them everything they needed to succeed.  God does not ever look at our resume and pronounce us unqualified for the task at hand.  Instead, he sees our strengths and builds us up to carry out his will.  And so, in closing, I leave you with this passage from Hebrews 13:
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the Sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.
 Blessings and Peace,

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Confession 130: Trust--A New Hair-Do

My hubby and I will have been married for six years this month.  Now, I know for many of you out there this is merely a drop in the bucket and we might as well still be newlyweds.  But for us, six years seems pretty big.  It's not that we expected anything different, we went into marriage as "lifers", but there's a sense of satisfaction in seeing the numbers start to add up.

I believe that marriage is like anything else you do in life.  One, you have to choose to work at it.  And two, there are natural ebbs and flows to the relationship you have to be prepared for.  Lately, Chris and I have been in an ebbing period brought about by all of the transitions of our move in July.  Chris is working hard to get his feet under him in a new congregation while starting a doctoral program, we've all been adjusting to my unemployment, and we're raising toddler boys.  We've been present for everyone except each other.  After a good heart-to-heart earlier this week, we've both been making an effort to focus more on the flow of our relationship, being the partner the other one needs rather than focusing on our own needs.

One of the things I love about my husband is his absolute steadfastness when it comes to his love for myself and our family. I trust Chris.  I trust his judgment, I trust his abilities as a leader, I trust his ability to problem-solve, I trust his instincts, and I trust in his ability to cut my hair.  Yes, you heard that last one right.  I let my husband cut my hair!!  Chris is a very detail oriented person, and when he begins a project, he is steadfast in making sure it is done the right way.  I desperately wanted a hair-cut, did not want to invest the time or money in finding a new hair stylist, so decided that my wonderful husband with his attention to detail, gifts for design and spatial reasoning ability could do the job. I mean, he cuts the boys' hair, right?  Before beginning, Chris made me say out loud that this was all my idea and that he took no responsibility in the end result.  We were good to go!

I told Chris I wanted a bob cut following the line of my chin.  His first cut was up to my cheekbone.  I will admit to a moment of uncertainty, but the cut had been made and there was no going back.  Chris worked slowly and methodically, focusing on the detail of the design, as is his nature.  After making the final cut, he stood back for the examination.  "Well?" I asked.  "It's cute," he replied.  I ran to the bathroom to take a look.  I am happy to report that my faith and trust in my husband has not been misplaced.  The cut is indeed "cute" and doesn't look at all like a home "whack job".  I'll post a picture later and you can judge for yourself.  Chris tells me he's not doing it again, at least not for a long time, so I guess I'll have to eventually invest in finding a professional.  But it is nice to know that I can truly trust this man God has made as my partner and soul mate with anything--even my hair!! 

Blessings and Peace,

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2