Monday, September 01, 2014

Labor Day: a Day for Work?

Today is Labor Day. Labor means work, and typically on Labor Day, we take a rest from our work. 
But, the verse of the day that popped up in my "YouVersion" bible app. this morning was Hebrews 12: 14 which exhorts me to work.
Work at getting along with each other and with God. (Heb 12:14a, The Message)

ESV and other versions use the word, "Strive." 
Strive for peace with everyone...
American Standard Version says, "Follow after peace with all men..."
Good News Translation tells us to "Try to be at peace with everyone..."
Holman Christian Standard uses the word "Pursue" as in 
Pursue peace with everyone...

Pursue, strive, work at, try to, follow after...

My response to this commandment today? 
"You know, I just don't feel like it. It's Labor Day weekend, the weekend we take a BREAK from our work!  Did you not consult the calendar, oh deciders of the verse of the day at You Version Bible App. Inc.?

Maybe they didn't, but the verse remains there in scripture and the reminder from II Timothy 3:16 still rings true, too, even on Labor Day, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, or reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

Well crap, I think, I cannot run away from this. I cannot deny it or refute the call to work today from the God I have submitted my life to. I cannot say, "God, this is a day off from work."
I may be able to set aside physical labor today, though as a mom, likely not. But today and on any day I cannot set aside the call to work toward peace. 

The pursuit of peace in our relationships with others is arduous at times, is it not?
On these holiday weekends, we often find ourselves with family or close friends with whom it might require a great amount of effort on our part to find and stay on the path of peace. 

Sometimes to follow after peace demands we look hard for the way because it is so clouded by the fog of emotion. We must pause and think rather than speak. We must walk away wounded because we absorbed offense rather than returned it. We must depart at the day's end, leaving others with misconceptions or perceptions of us, our motives and intentions.  We must bite our tongue rather than use it in viperous ways.  We must leave others' wrongs un-righted, others' stinging comments un-addressed, others' passive aggressiveness un-responded to for the sake of peace. 

Our call is to peace. 
PEACE!
Look for the ways to make peace, keep peace, follow peace today.  There is no formula. The actions may look very different from one person to another. Prayerfully ask God, as I am today, what does it look like for ME to pursue peace today. 

Can we pray for one another today as we seek to labor on this Labor Day?



Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day and Everyday

Being a mom is not all sunshines and rainbows. 
I know. All moms are knodding their heads and saying, "Uh, no duh."

But, Mother's Day comes and we post pictures on facebook of smiling mommas with their adoring children. And, we give statuses of all the lovely gifts given, cards written, flowers displayed. 

We have brunch and lunch and wish each other a wonderful day. 

Don't get me wrong; there ARE moments that are wonderful. 
But there are also moments that are not so wonderful. 
Sometimes, the whole day is stinking hard and awful, painful and problematic.

With steely determination, we decide we will master our unruly emotions that want to be unhealthily attached to what our children do or don't do, how they behave or express their love, appreciation,  and respect for us as their mom.  Some of us win; some of us lose. Some of us win and lose in the same day. 

The latter was my day. 
I won some battles; I lost some battles. 

I blocked out the grumbling, arguing, disobedient, disrespectful child(ren), and allowed my husband to train and discipline.  I overlooked the lack luster, homemade cards and focused on the immensely sweet, thoughtful one instead.  I quieted the thoughts that wanted to scream at me that I didn't do enough to honor my own mother and mother in law. 

I persevered with my high maintenance kiddos who complained they were too hot, too thirsty, had to go to the bathroom (we were at public parks all day) or wanted more candy.

But, I also didn't deal well with my family's quirks.  I grew angry at some of the decisions my husband made. I spatted. I barked at my kids. And my heart sunk at the mess that we are as a family. 

So I took a walk. a long, brisk walk. alone. 


And I was able again to collect my jumbled up thoughts, my twisted up heart, take a deep breath and return to my family, these four people who I deeply love more than anything or anyone in the world. As I approached the last hill before my turn toward home, I thought, "To cross the finish line, I must stay in the race."

On this Mother's Day and on many days, that's all I've got to give....just staying in the race. I may not be running well, or I might have had a good stretch with strong legs, lungs and breath.  Either way, the finish line is all I am really interested in.  And, I have to stay in the race in order to get there. I have to keep showing up as a momma. I have to keep admitting my failures, shortcomings and sins, ask for forgiveness and grace and then move on.  I  have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, taking steps toward that finish line. 

Whether you had sunshine and rainbows or some hills to climb and valleys to find your way through today, my prayer and hope for you is that you will keep running (or walking) your race.  Keep putting one.foot.in.front.of the other. Keep moving through and on and over what you need to  in order to reach that finish line. Keep showing up as a momma. On Mother's Day and everyday.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring Will Come

                                     
I started writing this post weeks ago and began thinking about it weeks before that.   Tonight seemed like THE night to finish and publish it given this freakish snow fall on APRIL 15!
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The calendar says it's spring, but the weather forecasts say winter has forgotten to take a hike.  Just days after we celebrated the arrival of spring, white stuff, aka 'snow' (the new four letter word) fell once again from the sky.  Even my 9 year old son complained that he was sick of snow.  You know it's been a long winter when a nine year old boy moans at the threat of more snow rather than falling to his knees to plead the gates of Heaven for it to be true.

Upon losing track of which number snow fall for the winter we were experiencing or anticipating, I adopted a mantra to help keep me from complaining. That mantra was, "Spring will come."  I figured it has come every year; it will come again. Renewal, rejuvination, rebirth. It will all come. And, when we pulled out our spring basket on March 22 and filled it with seeds to plant, bubbles to blow and eggs to dye, I replaced the mantra of "Spring will come" with "Spring has sprung."

But, I looked outside today and spring most definitely has not sprung. Aside from rain saturating the earth, there are few signs of spring's arrival.  I still have to grab a coat when I go outside.  A few buds are peeking through the ground, but not many, and I wonder if the ones brave enough to rear their buds will survive.  Temperatures have dipped below freezing multiple nights since spring "arrived." (***And, now, on April 15th, after many more buds have erupted and many vegetables have been planted, it snows and is below freezing after experiencing glorious temperatures in the seventees just days ago.)

We long for spring, and we have caught glimpses of it. Tomorrow morning many of the glimpses may have frozen to death overnight but that is not entirely the point. Sorry to be a downer here.  I promise this post will end on a good note. 

Yes, we long for spring while we endure winter.
Spring has come but it hasn't, not the spring our hearts truly long for. 

The winter of this fallen earth remains even as I take in the beauty of blooming buds outside. 
Our friend, Jonathan, who is just in his thirties, lingers in the hospital for months now trying to recover from his THIRD kidney transplant.  
Another friend sends a sad text letting me know she has lost the baby she prayed many years for and had a privileged 7 weeks to carry in her womb.  
Then there is the woman from Utah who was arrested for murdering and covering up the remains of six of her own babies which is not only hideous but deeply hurtful in light of the loss my friend is still mourning. 

Positive thinking only gets us so far and it just does not erase these realities.  

Nirvana is nowhere to be found in hospital rooms or jail cells.

And, I have thought, "OH, Jesus, how I LONG for spring....not just the spring that brings daffodils and daisies but the spring that brings YOU again, the spring that ushers in the new earth and new heaven, new bodies for those who are in Christ, the new Kingdom of His righteous reign."

But, "spring" will come. It will. There is something, rather someONE who will take us farther than self affirmations.  There is someONE who exceeds the state of nirvana, who will take all the wrongs of this world and one day make it right, who will call all evil to account, who will fully and finally shackle all that shackles us, who will burst on the scene will more brilliance than any row of azaleas ever could display.
His name is Jesus.
And, he came to earth once. We celebrate His first coming at Christmas.
This week, we not only remember His dying but also rejoice at His resurrection because it assures us that death has been conquered, eternal life in Heaven with Him is possible, spring will come again.

What is in my heart and what I have tried to communicate in this post is perhaps more succintly and poetically expressed in the lines taken from one of our family's favorite series, "The Chronicles of Narnia", 
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

― C.S. LewisThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

We WILL have spring again. 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Nature"s Hidden Treasures

Between the stress of having to be a responsible parent far beyond my preference or capacity this week and the clear, blue skies, this day beckoned me to enjoy some outside time.

I was in great need of refreshment for my soul, mind and body. For me, nothing sooths my soul, quiets my mind and energizes my body quite like being in the great outdoors.

After spending some time watching our kiddos and their friends splash in the spring-cold water of our nearby stream, make mud pies, jump on the trampoline and romp through our daffodils, I decided to pick up where my mother in law left off just a few days ago clearing away layers of leaves left from last fall in one of our flower beds.
 
                                

What looked like a thin layer of leaves turned out to be a rather thick blanket of them which I discovered was hiding precious treasures beneath it.

                               
First, little green sprouts appeared that may be tulips?  This is our first spring here in our new home, and we have not yet seen what beauty spring will have for us here at Montford, but we are excited to find out.

The more I raked, the more I began to see that there was quite a number of blooming plants I had no idea existed beneath all those leaves.

A part from the sheer (odd?) joy I find in physical labor, which was raking today, I was near giddy to be rewarded for my work with these gems.  This propelled me to keep raking even as dusk was settling in and my arms were beginning to quiver from the repetitive task of raking.

I could not finish the entire flower bed before I needed to set the rakes aside for the night in order to complete indoor tasks and prepare myself and our home for this upcoming week's needs.  But, I eagerly made a plan to return to my work tomorrow evening, hoping no rain is in the forecast and I can get back to raking, uncovering more of nature's hidden treasures that might still be lying underneath those layers of leaves. 

It made me think of some aspects of friendship. Initially, when we meet someone we see just the surface. But, we work at discovering what might be below the surface. And, it is work, isn't it? Asking questions. Giving time and careful attention to the details of another's story? Remembering new information about the person. Finding ways to bless her and communicate affection for her.

With time, attention and persistence, however, we often discover gems just waiting to be uncovered.

I am in a season of needing to make and develop new friendships.  There have been several changes in our life over this past year, and I know God is calling me to pursue and embrace new friendships--not at the forsaking of "old" friendships, which I always have to assure myself of because I am a "loyal to the death" type of friend and the idea of "moving on" relationally can start the water works flowing for this girl rather quickly (*if you are just getting to know me, you might want to take note of that and run now.)  ;)  And, yes, I know that was one, really long RUN ON sentence. oy!

So as I move forward relationally, I am going to hold on to this lovely picture God provided tonight as I raked my flower bed, that of hidden treasures lying below the surface. I want to gear myself up for a 'treasure hunt.'

How about you?  Have you experienced friendship in this way, finding unexpected treasures in your pursuit and/or committment to a friend? I'd love to hear about it.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Thoughts About Marriage on our 12th Anniversary

Wedded bliss?  I have never known it. Those rose colored glasses that many couples wear while they date, are engaged and slowly remove that first year of marriage?  Lawrence and I never bought them, never wore them and hence never had to remove them.

But here we are celebrating 12 years of married life together. High fives, smiles, a hug and some passionate kisses were shared between the two of us along with a scrumptious dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Bonefish Grille.

To most who know us and anyone who follows me on facebook, it is not a secret that Lawrence and I have what we feel is a hard marriage. Truly, I realize that there are marriages that are SO much harder than ours. What defines a hard marriage anyway? I suppose every marriage is hard in its own way.

So, let me take just a sentence or two to define what is hard about OUR marriage.  In a nutshell, Lawrence and I are the two most opinionated, proud, stubborn people on the planet. A close friend of ours recently said that we are two control freaks battling it out for control all day, everyday.  We care about too much. We are passionate about too much, and we are skilled debators. Everything can become fodder for a fight between the two of us.  From parenting decisions to home improvement choices to how we spend a Saturday, we can somehow find a way not only to argue about it but to make a case as to why it is so very crucial that we argue about it. I am telling you; it is exhausting.

But, we have scratched and clawed our way to celebrating 12 years together. We have confessed sin to one another, asked for forgiveness, and granted forgiveness more times than we can count. We have invited countless friends and mentors and, in the last several months, a professional marriage counselor into the nitty gritty details of our marriage by way of soliciting their counsel and prayers.

We read books on marriage, make date night happen regularly, and "always kiss each other goodnight" (sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning because the fight lasted that long).  We have pet names, nothing overly exotic or gross, but pet names nonetheless.  We call each other during the day almost every day. We communicate a lot. about a lot. We still hold hands when out in public. My husband opens the car door for me and pumps gas for me as much as he has the opportunity to. But, let me tell you, all these things really are just motions and can be playacting for us and any married couple if there aren't a few things in place.

I am CLEARLY not in a position to give marriage advice, or maybe I am.  Maybe because married life (and even our dating life for that matter) has not been a walk in the park and the most blissful, emotionally buoying experience, I do have a few things I can say work well in propelling a marriage in the right direction.

12 (12 sounds so right to go with the 12 years we have been married, but I just do not know that much, so it is only four things) 4 things I have learned from 12 years in a hard marriage:

1. Commitment is what will carry you to 2 years, 12 years, 22 or 52 years. There is no way around this. When we take vows to love "in sickness and health and in good times or bad", we really have NO way of knowing how that resolve is going to be tested.  And a part from infidelity or abuse, there is a whole heck of a lot one or both of you may be required to endure for the sake of the vow you made.

Which leads me to the 2nd thing...

2. GRACE.  Grace as I best understand it is giving to someone that which he does not deserve. This can be tangible or intangible. I have long, too long, like until just a couple months ago long....treated Lawrence based on his performance or lack thereof. I have standards in my mind, sometimes that I am not even aware of until they're not met, and when he does not meet those standards, I basically punish him in some way.  Wow...this just does not lead to anything good for anyone.

I think I am only recently realizing that true love for Lawrence (and anyone for that matter) must and can only truly come from a heart that is not demanding anything in return, a heart that is willing to overlook offense, a heart that is so full of GOD's unconditional love and acceptance of her that she can draw upon that to give to her husband.  There is so much more that could be said about this, but I'll move onto #3.

3. Be real with the people around you about the hard realities of your marriage. By this I do not mean to complain about your spouse every opportunity you get to hang out with the guys or girls. And, I have had to ask for forgiveness from friends on more than one occasion for doing so myself.  By this I mean, be transparent with others about the temptations you face in extending love, grace, trust, perseverance, hope to your spouse for the purpose of receiving encouragement, counsel, and prayer. As much as Lawrence and I continue to duke it out with each other, I do not know that we would even be married today a part from the community of friends, family and mentors who have cheered us on, prayed for us, cried with us, and kicked us in the proverbial pants when we needed it.

4. Figure out what marriage is really all about.  Marriage, the covenantal union of a man and a woman, is to be a reflection of Christ and His Church.  As was so well articulated by my pastor just this morning, "God does not grade a marriage on how satisfied the partners are or how long they stick it out.  He grades a marriage on how well it reflects Christ and His church," which has everything to do with the Gospel.  The good news of Jesus is that He, the perfect Son of God, took the punishment from God the Father that WE deserved upon Himself by dying on a cross.  He died, was buried and rose again, conquering death and sin.

He offers us the choice to be reconciled to God, our Creator, by recognizing we do not live up to His standards of righteousness. We offend our Creator by not acknowledging Him or our need for Him. But, He offers us forgiveness and restoration of our relationship with Him by the confession of our need and His sufficiency.  He offers us eternal life with Him rather than eternal death and separation from God by believing in His Son, Jesus.

And in marriage, in MY marriage I get to reflect Jesus' love and grace to me by extending love and grace to Lawrence over and over again. For another 12 years and 12 years after that, and 12 years after that we both hope and pray.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Health is a Gift

Sometimes I am lulled into thinking of health as a given in this life.  We go a week or two or an entire month--which is always and usually, only December simply because I have set a boundary around that month of not scheduling any doctor's appointments unless emergent--without having to see a doctor. An entire season or even two may pass without any of us catching a virus or other infection of any sort, and I begin to think health is ours for the taking.  This week is reminding me it is not. This winter has reminded many that health is not a given. It is a blessing and in many parts of the world, a mark of the privileged.

At the outset of this week I had four doctor's appointments scheduled. As the week has ensued, it looks like I will be making a fifth appointment.  Only one of these appointments is routine; all the others are for some kind of ailment.  And, even the routine check up was with a doctor I see an hour's drive from my home because she specializes in a pain disorder I have.

I do not feel sorry for myself. And I do not want anyone reading this to feel sorry for me or my family. I mention all of the above to draw out a point that health is not a given in this life. Not just in my life but in any life.

Health is a gift.

God grants this gift ultimately, but uses genetics, our diet, fitness, environment and/or medications/suppliments/oils/vitamins, etc. to sustain this gift.

For so many around the world, pursuing health is not an option. Needed medications are not affordable or available. Doctors or otherwise knowledgable medical persons are not accessible.  Environments are polluted or less than sanitary.  Nutrition is not optimal because the funds to acquire quality food are lacking.

So, when I waited an hour in the doctor's office today and was tempted to complain or be frustrated by the long wait, I was grateful for that nudge from God that reminded me that my complaint would stem from a life that has only known privilege and blessing, wealth, abundance and even, relatively good health.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Gnawing Tension

Disclaimer: I'm going to be very "raw" with this post.

This issues raised by Ann Voskamp in this post: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2014/02/a-north-american-lent-when-you-want-to-have-an-appetite-for-god/   grip me and have as long as I can remember.
The inequalities of the world we live in has weighed on me since my childhood when I can remember watching the TV "commercials" or special shows that highlighted the starving children in Ethiopia. I never grew immune to the need. Their gaunt faces always haunted me, and I wanted to save them all.

As an adult, I still struggle with inequality. I constantly wrestle with the question of how much is enough for me, for my family?  Is there room to give more than we are giving?

And, I will be honest and say I also struggle with self righteously judging others who I see allowing themselves material possessions, experiences and excess when so many in the world are barely surviving, don't have clean water to drink, are digging through trash heaps for their next meal or even selling their bodies to make ends meet. The atrocities of these realities can grip me to the point that I can not easily enjoy the wealth, privilege, and abundant blessing God has bestowed on me and my family.

This is why it's hard for me to buy anything at full price, and why I belabor many of the purchases we do make.
This is why I am more than okay wearing last year's (or decade's) fashions and am so self conscious about the Dooney & Bourke purse I currently carry only bc my mom got it for free and gave it to me.
This is why a persistent tension exists in my heart in receiving the blessing of our new home that is so beyond what I ever asked or dreamed of.
This is why I gave thanks today as I swiped my credit card at BJ's to buy yet another week's worth of groceries.
This is why it's hard for me at Christmas to lavish gift upon gift to my children who have more than they need, why I cringe just a little bit at the excess of our Thanksgiving feasts.
This is why I have created a family culture of eating up leftovers.
And, this is why while I would love and have taken get-aways with my husband and vacations with my family, it can leave me feeling the sting of undeservedness and regret over where else and on whom else that money could have been spent.

I know there is plenty of room to look more closely at my life and criticize my hypocrisy, my inconsistencies. I know there is a spectrum of giving, of want, of need and plenty and we're all on it somewhere including me. I know I alone have to answer to God for how I spend my time, my money, my resources, my talents. I know I don't answer for anyone else nor should judge others based on the "book's cover."

But I have to say I am refreshed to read a post like Ann's, to know there are other godly voices out there brave enough to call us North Americans to the proverbial carpet.  There have been pastors, teachers, friends and even my husband who have sought to 'adjust' my perspective. And, while I appreciate the perspectives they share, the back and forth banter, and the honest dialogue about the less than black and white-ness of this issue, I feel affirmed  when I read Ann's post.

I recognize that GOD has put this tension in my heart. And, I will do well not to ignore it or litigate it away but rather press in via prayer and the reading of God's Word (and maybe even a bit of fasting should I muster up the self control for that), to moment by moment, decision upon decision hear from and be led by the Holy Spirit on how HE would have me be a part of His redemptive work on this earth in terms of "acting justly."