Tuesday, July 24, 2018

What Does It Mean to Follow Jesus?



What does it mean to follow Jesus?

What does it mean in our daily life?

What does it mean in our finances?  in our relationships?  in our jobs?  in our business dealings?  in our relationships with other Christians?

What does it mean?

Like really mean?

Oh my goodness.  One hundred pat answers come to mind.

Forget all that!

What does it MEAN to lay everything we love and cherish and desire aside to follow HIM.

What does that mean?

Will we always be happy?  Will we always be comfortable?  Will we always be secure?

What does His Faithfulness, His Power, His Mercy, His Love look like?

Does it look like rich pastors flying in jets?

Or does it look like something else?

Does it look like messy, gritty, grimy stuff?

Does it sometimes look like pain?  and doubt?  and struggle?

Does following Jesus mean we are exempt from the weariness of this world?

Or does it mean that we are  prime targets?

Jesus sure garnered praise until he garnered death.

Why are we so selfish?/

Why are we so convinced it's all about us?

Oh, hear me.  I KNOW He loves me.  He gave SO much for me.

But was it so that I could be comfortable, untouchable?  Or was it so I could let others know how deeply THEY are loved as well?

What is my role?

Doesn't it tie intrinsically into what it means to follow Jesus?

Who were His followers when he was  here on earth?  They didn't have much.

And yet.  And yet!  He used them to advance the Kingdom of God

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Dear Jesus, I want to know!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Weight

How do I put into words the things that are weighing me down?

Time.  Time moves so fast.  The children grow. We continue to age.  Large blocks of time that we thought would yield certain results become a distant memory faster than we can breathe.  

I feel surrounded by chaos.  I crave simplicity. Peace. Quiet.  

I crave special moments with my children.    A house the exudes restfullness.

I don’t want to be cranky, easily irritated.  I want to be present. I want to be effective.  I want to be important.

I want my thoughts, my ideas, my contributions to matter.  

I feel like money is the societal measure of success & worth.  If that’s the case, then my worth is minimal. What I do, what I contribute to this world doesn’t involve making large amounts of money.

It involves refereeing a thousand arguments and angry words - while trying to reign in my own anger.  Hoping, hoping that in my own frailty & failures I’m cultivating spirits of compassion within my children.  That I will raise men who care, who love, who share themselves wholeheartedly.

But, sometimes it just feels like picking up trash that’s carelessly tossed aside, wiping countless smudges of peanut butter, shutting endless cupboard doors left hanging open…..always looking around at the clutter surrounding me knowing it’s not my own, yet knowing somehow it reflects on me.  My failure to teach, to guide, to model.

I feel unable to gain my footing.  Change comes at me faster & faster.  Changes as my family grows. Changes in the world around me.  Changes in the physical landscape of my community. And, each change knocks me a bit.  I feel buffeted continuously with change.

So yeah, things weigh on me.  Things I can hardly even put into words.  It takes the creative to understand the creative.  So, my vague words make no sense to the ones who surround me….the practical, logical, functional ones.  

But perhaps my words resonate with a few.

Monday, April 30, 2018

God's Love Is Not Chaotic

Those of you who know me know that I have a love/hate relationship with modern worship music.  Actually, hate is too strong a word.  Perhaps it would be better to say that I am wary of some things I see in current trends.

For the most part I am grateful for so much of the music that has come out in the last couple decades.  I know that a desire to worship God fully & wholeheartedly is at the core of these songs.

But, every now and then, there is a song where I question the songwriter's choice of words.  As someone who enjoys writing, words are incredibly important to me.  Words carry so much meaning, and yet I know we can also feel limited by words to fully express what we want to say.

And, I think that is the case in some of these songs that I question.  We are limited by our human tongues to adequately express concepts about God that are so mysterious, so incredible, so soul shaking.  Songwriters, just as any writer, have to choose a word that partially describes the indescribable.

So, I totally get that.  I do.  But, I also sometimes wish the songwriters would use a bit more caution in the words they choose.  Because sometimes the words or phrases they end up using could have negative connotations for many of us.   I could even argue that sometimes they are not biblical.  But, I will leave that for the theologians.


Such is the case for me in the song, "You're the One That Really Matters".  As a whole, I like this song.  (I do get tired of repeating the same line over and over, but that's another topic for a different post)  But there is a line in this song that I cannot sing.  And, I try really hard not to let it bother me, to accept that the songwriter's choice here just doesn't resonate with me.  But, it's more than just not being able to relate to the line, it's that I'm disturbed by the line.

That line is "Chaotic love has messed me up again."  Taken out of context, one might assume that the author is talking about a destructive, unhealthy worldly 'love' here.  But, it's not.  This line is attempting to describe God's love.
(Correction/ Addendum:  After reading over my post a couple times, I realized I did not quote the line in its entirety.  For the sake of fairness, the full line should read "Chaotic love has messed me up so I can live again.")
As someone who has a past of extremely destructive, unhealthy, chaotic relationships, this line does indeed have a negative connotation for me.  I lived many years chasing after 'love' that messed me up and left me broken and ashamed.  I lived many years  where the 'love' I pursued created chaos in my heart, my mind, and my soul.

So, this is the last possible way I would choose to describe God's love.  God has brought order to my chaos, healing to my messed up places.

I would describe God's love as unfathomable, fierce, powerful, life altering, but I wouldn't describe it as chaotic.

Yes, God does often call us out of our comfort zones.  God does often take us places that require personal sacrifice. God's plans for our lives are often so different than our own.  But there is always a beautiful, ultimate plan of order and peace behind it all.

God takes our shattered pieces - our messed up thoughts & atititudes - and He sets them right.  He redeems.  He restores.  He brings order to the chaos.  He is the One who calms the storm.

As we were singing this song on Sunday, I felt like there might be others who struggled in the same way with this line.  I thought about going to the front during worship & sharing my reflections on that line as an encouragement to those who are so desperate for peace & order.  I decided against doing that.  So, I wrote this post instead.

If you are feeling caught in chaos & disorder, I will leave you with God's Word.....

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33





Monday, April 2, 2018

Dreaming


|t is Easter Sunday.  We have been spending an extended weekend with my husband's family at a rented house on Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  The house itself is large & roomy with a wall of windows that overlook the lake that is just steps away.  It has been a serene & gorgeous atmosphere for us to unwind and to connect.



The Finger Lakes region is one of our favorite places to visit.  We first discovered it on a trip in 2010 with friends for my 40th birthday.....and fell in love.  We have stayed on both Seneca Lake & Keuka Lake.  We have done anniversary getaways - just John & I.  We have done trips as a couple with other couples.  We have done trips with family -  we've now been here with both my family & John's family over Easter weekend.  I did a girl's trip one year with girlfriends of mine & John has been on a guy's trip for his brother's bachelor weekend.

The absolute best way to experience the Finger Lakes is to rent a house...preferably lakeside.  It gives the feel of being at home away from home.  When we came the first time, the Finger Lakes were just starting to gain notoriety as a great tourist destination.  The beautiful sweeping landscapes dotted with vineyards & farmland, the gorgeous lakes & quaint towns that sit at the ends of each, and the wine trails have all been pulling more & more people to visit.  It started out as a very affordable vacation.....now though it takes more searching each year to find affordable options for our stays.

We have played with the idea over the years of buying into the real estate here.  Our ideas have ranged from buying a lake house to enjoy as a vacation home & rent out in between.... to buying a permanent residence...perhaps a farm that sits between the lakes and carving out a life in this area we've grown to love.

The major factor that has always held us back is the money....the feasibility of making something like that happen.  We're not exactly 'vacation home people'.  In fact, we are pretty low on the financial pole.  Our actual home is very small, kind of dilapidated, and the idea of fixing our own home up.....much less buying a vacation property.....is out of our current range of economic possibility.  And yes, perhaps if we had forgone our years of taking vacations and getaways & saved that money instead we'd be in a different financial position now.  But, we've never been extravagant the way some people understand extravagant....and the time spent away has been priceless & had created memories that are well worth the money we've spent).

All this to say, every time we come here, we get that same itch to consider what could be.  Could we move here?  Could we make this our home?  This is always met with obstacles...so many obstacles.  For one, I am a creature of habit.  Change is a four letter word for me.  My roots run deep, deep, deep where we are.  And, it's hard to imagine putting down roots somewhere new.   Also, despite the booming tourist trade in the Finger Lakes, it is primarily based in the wine trade.  Overall this is still a fairly financially depressed area.  There's not much in terms of business or trade.  And, what exactly would John & I do to earn our living here?  The land (between the lakes...not lakeside) is definitely more affordable than where we are now.  But, we would still have to find a way to pay for it, to continue to support ourselves.

John & I went for a drive today.  I have been watching properties in this area on Zillow.  My sister in law & I drove past a couple of them yesterday as we were out and about.  And, one area in particular captured my heart even more.  I wanted to show it to John today.

Keuka Lake forms a Y.  The land that sits in the between that Y is secluded & incredibly beautiful.  It's away from the main wine trail route....yet it hosts a multitude of vineyards.  This is where they grow so many of the grapes that are used by the wineries in the area.  It also hosts a state park and dead end roads.  In other words, the people who come here....for the most part...are the people who live here.  It's private...a hidden treasure.  And, the area is breathtaking.

There was a property there for sale that we drove past.  It sits high on a bluff, surrounded by vineyards, and has a peek-a-boo view of the lake.  The house itself is a bit odd.  While the original part of the house is apparently from the 1800s, it has had multiple weird additions over the years that make it long and narrow, and it's covered in siding from (I'm guessing) the 80s.

But, it's what surrounds that property that draws me in.  I could allow my children to ride their bikes anywhere without  fear of traffic...there is very little if any.  We would have privacy (which equals peace to me).  It's quiet & the air is so fresh & clean.  The pressures of the outside world seem so far, far away.

It's not perfect, but it could be amazing.

So, is this just a case of 'the grass is always greener'?  Or could it truly be a chance for a fresh start?  For finding that something that my heart longs for?  Is that 'something' even possible on this side of heaven?  I struggle and struggle and struggle with that question.

I also struggle with the question, "Is is wrong to dream?"  I know we are called to be content in whatever our current location or circumstance is.  There is peace & joy that transcends anything that a change in either could produce.

But....is it wrong to dream?

When I was young and passionate, dreams are what kept me going.  The hope for something new & exciting.  The hope for more.  For opportunities.  For an unknown future.

Somewhere along the line I replaced those dreams with fear, with responsibility, with settling for what I had. 

Listen.  Part of that is maturity and growing.....and the very real aspect of responsibility and reality.

But is there any room yet for the girl who dreamed?  The girl who saw possibilities?

Is it ok for a Christian to dream?  To dream about things that aren't necessarily tied to anything spiritual?  Ah.  There is where I struggle again.  I don't know.  I don't know if these kinds of things distract us from what God would have us do.  Or, if they are a road sign pointing us in the direction He would have us head.

And, then there's also the fact that when we return home, the familiar wraps around me like a secure, warm blanket.   And, those dreams that stirred me just days earlier now seem foreign and scary and not nearly as appealing.

All I know is that it feels like something new needs to happen.  I'm not sure what it is or what form it will take.  But, my soul cries out for something fresh & vibrant to breath life into me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Under Attack

We have been going through a season where I feel like myself and my family are under attack.  Not a physical, earthly attack per se - although there are aspects of the physical & earthly taking place.  No, it is a spiritual attack that is trying to tear us down.  We can't seem to catch a break and the punches keep coming in the form of....

 - An exceedingly difficult winter in terms of sickness.  We've all be sick multiple times this winter & it has worn us all down.  Every time we think we are in the clear, someone else becomes sick.  (As I write this, my oldest is on the couch home from school because he is ill).

 - An exceedingly difficult winter in terms of seasonal depression.  This is mostly my issue.  I always struggle with depression in the winter.  But, this winter it's been severe and relentless.

 - Stresses at work.  This one has been huge for John.  And, it goes beyond your typical day to day work stresses.  There has been an environment of hostility and betrayal building at his job that is beyond my understanding.  John is usually pretty even keeled in his emotions.  I'm the emotional one.  He's the rational one.  He approaches problems by trying to find solutions - not allowing himself to be frustrated by them.  But, the situations at his work place have taken their toll on him.  I've never seen him as discouraged, frustrated, and depressed as he is now.  And, that carries over to our family.  As his wife, I hate to see him this way.  I also tend to absorb the emotions of others.  So, when he's hurting, I'm hurting.

 - Financial struggles - We are always able to pay our bills.  And, for this I'm so grateful.  But, lately it feels like we are treading water, trying to keep our heads from going under.  And, with all the other stresses, it feels even more burdensome.

 - Questions about my future - I'm trying to decide whether to move forward in my business & my role in coordinating vintage markets.  It has taken a lot of my time and I've seen very little benefit.  I become very stressed over it & this too affects my family.

 - Questions about the church/faith - I've never been so personally close to God & so disillusioned with the Church.  That sounds counter-intuitive.  And, I suppose it is.  I've been pressing in to God - pursuing Him and His plans & purposes.  I feel like I'm hearing His voice - and then I see things in the Church (both local and as a whole) that leave me wondering if any of us can truly hear Him.  How can we all claim to hear from God & hear such different things?

Overall, our lives are good.  We are fed and warm and healthy in the largest sense (barring our winter illnesses).  We have family & friends who love us.  We live in relative comfort and safety.

But, these other things add up  - making life seem so heavy.  And, I start to wonder....Is this a spiritual attack?  Or is it God allowing us to experience some of these things as a season of refining and sanctification?

I'm not sure how to tell the difference.  I doubt my ability to discern correctly.  So, I am doing all that I know to do.  I'm reading his word.  I'm praying.  I keep asking and asking and asking....hoping that I'll hear Him clearly and without any room for doubt.

I keep coming across these preachers & speakers who talk about seeing angels, hearing audibly from God, or having visions as though they are normal, everyday things.  And, listening to the nonchalant way in which they talk about it, I want to call their bluff.  Because I know that if I heard right now from God in such a powerful, tangible, awe-inspiring way my tone would be anything but nonchalant.

And, I don't know that those are the types of experiences God is asking me to seek.  I believe God speaks to us on a daily basis - but I also believe we often have to look hard  & pay attention to see it.  He saves those parting the clouds moments for rare occasions.

And, while I don't expect a physical parting of the skies, I'd love for him to part the clouds in my heart & my soul right now and shine a little light into a place that feels rather dark.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

He Is Able


Yesterday's words were "Ridiculously Unable".  You can read my blog post by the same name. 

Yesterday I was reminded again how little strength I have on my own.

Today's words are "He is Able"

Jude:  1:24  "To him is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy."

2 Corinthians 9:8   "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."

Ephesians 3:20  "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us."

2 Timothy 1:12  "Yet I am not ashamed because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day."

Hebrews 7:25  "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." 

*Able to keep me from falling
*Able to make all grace abound to me
*Able to do immeasurably more than I ask or imagine
*Able to guard what I have entrusted to him
*Able to save

Where I am ridiculously unable, He is able!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Ridiculously Unable

Today we had a snow day (without much snow).  Today all the children were home.  Today was hard.  It was hard because.....I don't know. I'm trying to put my finger on why I was so easily triggered today.  Raging hormones?  Too much overall stress in my life?  Not enough sleep?  Not enough coffee? 

Who knows?

All I know is that I lost it big time.   And, it was only about 8 or so in the morning.

This is what I posted on Facebook shortly after my explosion...
"I just completely lost it on my kids. Like mama meltdown crazy...7 on the Richter scale.The constant bickering makes me nuts. It makes me feel like I've completely failed in their earlier years where I should have clamped down harder on that kind of thing....but in the gentle yet firm way that I seem to also fail at."

Why did I post that?  Was it a confession of sorts?  A cry for help?  A need to put words to what had just happened?  What that post didn't capture was exactly how awful that moment was.  The look of shock on the faces of my older two.  The tears from my second to youngest.  And the silence of my youngest...who is just getting over being sick...and  him crawling into bed pulling the covers over himself.

And, it doesn't capture me crying...almost weeping....for the better part of an hour afterwards.

 I did apologize to my children.  But, I couldn't help but feel like the damage was done.  I had screwed up again.




My heart burned inside me even more when my children offered little peace offerings in the form of working on the dishes I had started and had walked away from.... and a hug.  Even the one who won't let me hug him anymore, the one who usually pushes me away, let me hug him & he hugged me back.

Being a mom is the one thing I knew without a doubt I was meant to do.  From the time I was very young, I couldn't imagine a greater goal in my life than to have children of my own.

And, I was going to be awesome at it.  I just knew it.

 I've always had a very natural affinity with children.  I can be so patient, gentle, enthusiastic, creative, nurturing.

But when I had kids of my own I discovered I also have a tendency toward anger, being easily irritated,  being overwhelmed.

The thing that I thought was my talent....my greatest ability.. the thing that set me apart....has also been my greatest failure.

If I had been more patient when they were younger.  If I had been firmer.  If I had been more.....more like I thought I'd be.  Maybe my children would now be gentler, more obedient, kinder, less prone to anger themselves.

Their younger years play back like a video reel in my mind.  Times I reacted instead of responded.  Times I was too angry, hurt, or depressed to be of much good to anyone.  Times I yelled instead of corrected.  Times, so many times, that I lost it.

And, then another image comes to my mind.  A friend who is an advocate for adoption posted the profile & video last night of an 13 year old girl in a Chinese orphanage.  'Joy' is about to age out.  The family she's desperately been waiting for, the one she's been convinced is on it's way....that family needs to reach her now or she will never have a family.  And, the thing is, there is no family that has spoken for her, no family that is coming.

And, this speaks to me.  Adoption is also something that has always been close to my heart. I always imagined that part of my role as 'mom' might come in the form of adoption.

 Oh!  This sweet girl singing a song in Chinese in celebration of her friend who is going home with his family in America.  This sweet girl who has saved rolled up bits of colored paper in a jar to give to her family as a gift when they come.  This sweet girl who has lived among other orphans in an orphanage her whole life.  She needs me.  At least that's my first thought.

But, after screaming....and I mean literally screaming.... at my children today like a banshee.  And looking at the chaos & arguing & tension that seems to reign in our house, I think 'How could I ever bring that peaceful, gentle child into our mess?'.  Has an orphanage done a better job in raising a child than I have?

I jotted these words down earlier today.  I scribbled them across the top of a magazine page - the closest piece of paper i had.   Words I had not shared on Facebook. 
"Here I am again - ridiculously unable to do anything in my own strength."

Ridiculously unable. 

Not just unable. 

I am ridiculously unable. 

Oh.  And, my word for this year was 'Stronger'.  Ha!

Sure.   I can feel like I'm riding the wave, like I'm succeeding at my goals.  For a while. But, when I crash...and I always crash, it's hard and painful.  And, really, it's kind of ridiculous.

I'm ridiculously unable to parent in my own strength.

I'm ridiculously unable to stick to a health & wellness plan.

I'm ridiculously unable to stay organized and on task.

I'm ridiculously unable to change any of my bad habits.

I am unable. 

Ridiculously so.

Perhaps the most ridiculous part is thinking that I ever had my stuff together at all.  Failure is always just around the corner.

So, that magazine page that I scribbled those words across the top.  That page held a very important paragraph in an article about spiritual nourishment.  Go figure. 

Actually, it's not an accident that that's where I scribbled those words.  I'd been reading that article today...trying to soothe this gaping wound of failure.   And, this paragraph caught me.  It really caught me.

If you grew up in the church, you know how much a personal daily devotional time is stressed....that we need to spend time in the word and in prayer. 

But, this was the first time that I read something that expressed it in a way that went beyond it being an obligation or an 'ought to'.  This actually struck me that it's a NEED.

This comes from Charisma magazine (I have some issues with Charisma...but that's another topic, another time.  And, this particular article was spot on.)  The article was "Spiritual Nourishment:  4 Ways the Lord's Supper invites Christians to a richer, deeper spiritual walk."  by  Eric Wilson.

"When I hold the bread of Communion, I also reflect on the manna sent from heaven to the Israelites, as recounted in Exodus 16.  The manna was sent on a daily basis, for immediate consumption.  Those who hoarded it found that it rotted.  Jesus wants to be my fresh sustenance, my daily bread.  It is a  mistake to think I can fill up on that bread, store some away and live off it for weeks to months to come.  It will grow stale and leave me wanting.  Bread is a reminder of God's deliverance and provision, and when enjoyed on a regular basis, it empowers me."

Wait.  Hang on a second.  Jesus is the Bread of Life.  He calls himself that.  He is also the Word.

The old testament foreshadows so much of what is to come, to be fulfilled in the form of Jesus. 

But, I never thought about comparing manna - the nourishment God provided the Israelites to Jesus...the Word - the nourishment God provides us. 

Just as God was trying to teach the Israelites the need for daily dependence on Him, he is trying to teach us the same. 

How foolish am I for thinking that I am able to get through my days without daily going to Him? 

Oh and hear me!  This came across to me so differently than the guilt-driven ways I'd approached daily communion with God before.  It suddenly was so clear & obvious to me, how desperately, completely we need Him and His nourishment each and every day.

And listen.  I'd been having some really great times with God lately.  I've been working on memorizing a Psalm.  I've been praying.  I've been reading.  But, if I didn't get to it each day, well - you know.....life. 

But, would I ever skip breakfast one day?  Or my coffee? 

What am I doing trying to get through my days without Him?

Who do I think I am?

Again,  I am Ridiculously Unable.  This was proven to me today.

And, also hear me, I don't think a daily time with God is necessarily going to eliminate our struggles, our anger, our tendency to heed the flesh.

BUT,

but I just....I just know that without Him I am ridiculously unable.
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