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:   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."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

All Is Well

This song has been on repeat tonight.
After two weeks of a slower pace due to snow and sickness, real life smacked me in the face this morning and continued to do so all day long.

School started on time for me and my gang.
But, soon after lunch, it was fast and furious, scurrying to meet pre-planned obligations all while trying to manage details of upcoming calendar items by way of phone calls and lesson planning.

By 3 this afternoon, I was running behind.
Hurry and trying to do two or more things at a time leaves the door wide open for disaster or at very least, mishap.

Well, that mishap came today, a mishap that very well could have ended in disaster. 

After my chiropractor appointment, I made my way down to Hopkins in Baltimore to drop some things off to a friend who has been staying with her son, recovering from his third kidney transplant, for more than a month now.  Timing worked such that I made plans to meet my hubby in the city for dinner, kids in tow, so nothing more extravagant than Panera to which we had a gift card. Awesome!

While attempting a merge from one highway to another, I smashed into the car in front of me who suddenly braked at an oncoming car neither one of us saw soon enough. She braked suddenly; I braked suddenly. We screeched to a halt, but not before I hit the tail end of her BMW.  **Why must I always hit expensive cars?  Yet another reason to live and STAY in the country where everyone drives beat up pick up trucks. :)**

Kids started crying. One of them asked if he was dead. All of them told my husband later that they thought they were on their way to Heaven.  Dramatic much?

Though both our vehicles appeared to handle the impact better than my children, no obvious dents, my neck is hurting tonight and temptation is near to be fearful and worried that the other woman will be hurt as well, whiplash or something else, that she'll find some dings or scratches (least of my worries), put a claim in with our insurance, and our insurance will have to drop us as this is the 2nd fender bender (or whole door cruncher-inner) accident claim within a matter of months for me.

But then there is also the news of a previous pastor of mine and friends' father/grandfather's recent death that is weighing on my heart tonight.  JJ Altrogge was 95 and lived a long, story-filled life.  He loved to tell stories, and he did with detail and flare.  He loved to paint and he did with skill and delight. He loved to bless, and he did with hand painted birthday cards and smiles.  I was blessed by this man, by the way he loved The Lord, loved God's people, loved his wife and used his talents to bless so many people. 95 years! A long life, but still cut too short. Death is never natural, no matter how old one is.

So, I listen to the lyrics over and over again tonight,

The sun beams on behind the clouds 
And in the dark still grace abounds 
All is well because of God’s great love 

The road of disappointment runs 
Where unseen mercies wait for us 
And all is well because of God’s great love 

He feels our weakness, knows our need 
And for our good He intercedes 
All is well because of God’s great love 

Through every failure, every fear The Lord of comfort draws us near And all is well because of God’s great love 

All is well with me, not because I made it home tonight without a scratch and not because there is a possibility we may not be dropped by our insurance, but because of God's great love. 

All is well with Mark, JJ's son, not because his heart isn't breaking at the loss of his dad and friend, not because JJ lived a long life and death was a mercy at the end due to the pain and discomfort he was experiencing, but because of God's great love. 

God's great love. 
Here's the thing about it.
He reserves this great love for His children. 
And, while all mankind are God's creation, they are not all His children. For much of His creation, all is NOT well. 
It may seem well, though. 
You may have riches, security, the love and acceptance of another or many. You may have family, health and never really known great loss. You may have the accolades of co-workers and friends alike. But, still all may not be well.

If you do not know Jesus as your Savior, then you do not know God as your Father, and all is NOT well.  But, it can be. 

John 1:12 says, Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

Believe in Jesus. Believe that He died on the cross for all the wrong things you have thought, felt or done. He died because He was the only one who could, because He was perfect. He did, felt and thought only things that pleased God, His Father.  He lovingly and sacrificially took the punishment that we deserved and instead offers us life here on earth and one day, forever in Heaven with Him.  Confess your wrongdoing. Turn away from it and turn instead to Jesus. 

He wants all to be well with us.

It may seem a trite plea, maybe one you have read or heard before. Most of those who read this blog, I think, are already children of God; all is well with them no matter their circumstances. 

But, because there may stand a chance that someone may read this who is not yet a child of God, I do make this plea with you. 
I was not guaranteed today. I am not guaranteed tomorrow. Neither are you. Is it well with you? 

His coming soon will fill the sky 
And all that’s wrong will be made right 
With newborn eyes we will behold 
The glory of the risen Lord 
All will be well because of God’s great love 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Happy 7th, girlie!

Just kissed my 6 year old girlie g'night for the last time. 
Tomorrow, she turns 7!
7 prayers for you, my girl.

Just as you elicit great laughter in our home, I pray that you would laugh at the days to come knowing that God has gone before you into each one, comes behind you and has His mighty hand of grace upon you every step that you take. 

May you walk out all your days in the uniqueness of who God has made you to be, always confident of what God's Word says about you in Psalm 139, that you are fearfully and wonderfully made!

May you not have to kiss too many (just one? A momma can pray!) frogs before you find your prince.

May both the injustices of this world  and the mercies of God cause your hair to stand on end.

And, may you work hard for the causes of Christ, the advancement of His gospel and the fame of His name.

May you live your life fearless, ready to jump into any endeavor, give up anything of this world and run hard after anything God puts in your heart to do for Him, knowing HE's got your back. 

May you enjoy the intimacy of a relationship with Jesus through prayer and the fervent study of His Word. May your days begin and end and be filled, chatting it up with your Heavenly Father who loves you more and better than I or Papi or anyone on this beloved earth ever could.

And, we do love you, baby girl, B girl, Bell, Bella, Isabela Claire Almengor!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Where I meet Jesus and He meets me

Shallowed breathing. Cold sweats. Laying on the cold tile of my bathroom floor separated only by a bath towel that is now drenched with the toxic sweat, seaping out from my pores, virus trying to find its way out.

I don't know how long I laid there, limp, the life blood near drained from my body. Blood pressure must have been scarily low as I could barely lift a brow let alone arms or legs to carry me to my bed.

The dreaded stomach virus hit our home yesterday. And, by God's kind mercy, yes, I am writing about it just a day later. Amazing how one can go to hell and back in less than 24 hours.

In the midst of  hours, seemed days, of chills, aches, fever, diarrhea and dry heaving, I experienced some incredible joy and the nearness of God unmatched by more apparent calm, comfortable and coherent moments in my life.

While lying on that cold tile, sweating profusely, unable to move, I heard in my head the words Ann Voskamp prayed at the IF Conference, referring to Queen Esther and the "Esther generation" of today's Christian women who will stand up and live unashamedly and fearlessly for Jesus, "If I perish, I perish."

And, I thought, "If I perish, if this is how I'm going down, I'm going down giving thanks."  The words to a well known worship song came to mind, "As long as I have breath (even shallowed), I will praise you; As long as my heart beats (even rapidly), I will sing.  As long as life flows through my veins (even with virus mixed in with it), I will bless your name."

At some point, I found my way back to bed. By this time, my daughter was beside me having had experienced her own "to hell and back" vomiting that my husband so heroically walked her through and cleaned her up from.

Freezing but sizzling to the touch, achy and restless, I wondered if fever had set in. It had. As I waited it out, again I experienced the incredible nearness of God. So comforted by His presence, reminded of the truths that the darkness cannot dampen His light (Psalm 139:12), He will never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5), that wherever I go, He will be there (Psalm 139:7).

My thankful heart was buoyed, too, by remembrances of my dad, in the last days of his life battling cancer, walking the hallways of the hospital with bible and IV pole to tell anyone and everyone who would give him the time of day (and probably some who wouldn't) about Jesus, His Savior and friend; of Carol Turek who laid in bed for more than a decade, staving away bed sores by the massage mat under her and compassionate caregivers who would stretch her limbs, neck and head, praying through her prayer list diligently because this was her living sacrifice, her spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:2); of Jonathan Talley, whose keyboard has sat in our basement for a month now, unplayed because he had to return to Hopkins for complications due to his third kidney transplant but who is undeterred to do what it takes to live, to persevere in the life God has given him for the purpose of living for Christ.

And I gave thanks for these people, these lovers of Jesus who suffered or are suffering well for the glory and fame of Christ, fueled by His nearness and grace, who waited or are waiting still for complete healing but with every step proclaim the truth that healing will come. It has come.

Our healer is Jesus--not just of our physical bodies but of our souls, sin sick souls, who desperately need someone to take on human flesh and be perfect, unlike we can be, and then take the punishment from God, our Creator, that we deserve for turning our backs on Him.  And He did. He came. He was perfect. He took the wrath of God that we deserved when He died on that Roman cross.  More than an event in our history's timeline. This was LIFE come to a dying world.

Jesus meets me when I have NOTHING. Laying on a cold, tile, bathroom floor, He meets me. Resting feverish in my bed, He meets me.  And, I believe with all that is in me that he wants to meet you, too.  I don't know who reads this blog of mine aside from Danielle Jones who so kindly comments from time to time, but I am praying for anyone who does read this post.  Whether you know Jesus or not, I am praying He will meet you today.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Artistic or Not?

I never considered myself the creative, artistic type. Crafty, I am not.  Art connoisseur, fashionista, Interior Designer would never be words I or anyone else who knows me would likely use to describe me.

The study of art in particular has always intimidated me. I can barely draw a stick figure with confidence. It was only a few years ago that I figured out how to distinguish my girl stick figure from my boy stick figure by adding a triangle "skirt" to my girl. That was good enough for me.

I am surrounded, however, by so many talented, artistic folks-- Professional photographers, crafters, blog authors, painters, potters, graphic designers, and many, many women who beautify their homes and their person effortlessly.

This past year, I took a job as a tutor with Classical Conversations, the homeschool co op that the kids and I participate in every Monday.  Apart of my job description is to teach fine arts, 12 weeks of music and 12 weeks of art. I don't think I can begin to describe how intimidating and unappealing this subject matter is for me.

I do have a 2 year stint of playing the clarinet (so beautifully that my dad would pull out his pretend rifle to shoot the geese he thought were flying overhead whenever I practiced) that provides some frame of reference for teaching music.  My only frame of reference for teaching art, on the other hand, comes almost solely from all the amazingly gifted friends I know.

So, when looking over my assigned lessons for the current 6 week session of fine arts and seeing that not only am I presenting some of the world's greatest artists but also duplicating, or making my most valiant effort at duplicating, their art work, the most encouraging thought I could think to myself was, "Umm, this is going to be interesting."

Thus far, we have taken a very cursory look at Rembrandt, Linnaeus, Gainsborough, and today, Monet. With the help of an easy to follow, easy to impliment book, "Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters" by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga, I think I have done a half decent job fumbling my way through these past four weeks of lessons.

Up until today, however, I only presented the material to my students. I did not actually participate in the art project itself. After all, someone has to fetch clean water with which to clean out brushes. I was more than happy to serve my students in this way.

Maybe it was the larger than life snowflakes falling outside my living room bay window, or maybe it was the fact that I was in my own home and not at co op because of the snow, that I wanted to pick up a brush, create my own palette of colors and attempt a mock Monet.

Choosing one of his most famous paintings, and possibly easiest? to duplicate, "Water Lillies and the Japanese Bridge", the kids and I set to create something from nothing.  I turned on some classical music as is my habit for my class at co op and began to lightly pencil in the bridge.

Slowly, carefully at first, and methodically I choose colors, mixed colors and applied strokes that I felt were in keeping with what I saw on the image of Monet's painting as viewed from my computer screen.

Having taught 6 weeks of basic principles of art to my class earlier this year, I found that applying those basic principles and techniques produced a finished product that I am proud of. Is it good?  Relatively speaking, no, I don't think it's good. But, is it good for me?  YES! I am actually quite proud of my work. I told my husband tonight I want to frame it.

I have been looking at this painting of mine all day, and it has inspired me in several ways.
I have predetermined ideas about what I think I am good at or not good at. Areas of skill or knowledge that I judge myself to be only mediocre, I cross off my mental list as worthwhile pursuits. And, while there is a measure of wisdom in that, given the call to be wise stewards of our precious time here on earth, my estimation of what is good or good enough cannot and should not keep me from trying things, from serving in ways that may not be my area of strength.

Sometimes, it is less that I am not good at something and more that I just have not been taught some basic principles or been afforded extended exposure to an area of life.

Sometimes,  it takes more than one stab (or ten) at something before an inkling of talent or giftedness emerges.

Sometimes, ability is as okay as giftedness.

I have no intention of trying to auction off my "Monet Masterpiece" on ebay or start an Etsy shop of "Briana's Best Reproductions of the Great Artists", but I do plan to frame my work and smile every time I look at it, reminding myself as I do that sometimes one just has to try and try again. Sometimes, one can find joy in just being able. Sometimes, one just needs some basic, guiding principles to set her loose on a newly found skill or craft.  Sometimes, one has not yet discovered all she is capable of.

Is there something you have determined you are no good at but perhaps only because you have never really tried or had enough exposure or practice?  Take a look at my Monet and jump on over that mental hurdle of yours.  Give it a try and see where it takes you.  Who knows what ability or talent may be lying untapped?