Thursday, June 12, 2014

When Loving Feels Inconvenient

Thirty minutes until company arrived.

Apparently, my children didn't get the memo.

In the short span of a half-hour, they managed to pee their underpants, dump out every single lego, fall down the stairs, rip a few pages from the library books, and throw up on the couch.  Their stubbornness hit an all-time low and their need for training and redirection tripled.

So much for the hors d'oeuvre tray.

Sometimes, I feel like they know. They know when I'm feeling the pressure of the clock or the to-do list.  They know when I need the least number of distractions -- and that's when they offer me the most.

Maybe it's just imagined.  My emotions are high, the pressure is on, and so it seems like the interruptions, are harder and more plentiful than normal.

Or maybe it's not imagined.  Maybe messes and needs do increase.  My kids might not know, but someone else sure does.  And he will do whatever it takes to ensure that I stumble.

1 Peter 5:8 tells us:  

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith (ESV). 

You have an Enemy.  And it's not your child, or your spouse, or whoever else is getting in the way of your to-do list.

It's the devil himself, and he's prowling around, waiting to pounce and devour.

And here's the crazy part -- Peter's warning wasn't written primarily for those facing extreme persecution or sexual temptation.  Peter's warning is written to church leaders, responsible for caring for their flock. 

Ironic, isn't it?  

This warning comes right in the middle of an exhortation to care for those entrusted to you.

Your relationships with others -- specifically those under your care -- will always be a source of vulnerability and temptation.   You will regularly need to choose between loving your flock, and loving lesser things, like hors d'oeuvres, being on time, having a clean home, or feeling appreciated.  And while it's often possible to have both, are you tempted to despise or ignore your children's needs when something lesser is on the line?

The pressures of parenting and loving others will feel greater when you have something else to attend to.  But amazingly, they are actually opportunities to love more effectively.  Imagine -- in the midst of busyness, interruptions, and needs -- speaking these words to the ones you love:

It's ok that we're running late -- you're more valuable than being on time. 
I know that it was an accident -- I love you more than I loved that vase.
Yes, I just washed those clothes, but I'm so thankful you enjoyed your time playing outside.
I don't mind if dinner gets cold, it's more important that we talk about this now. 

Resist the devil.
Stand firm.
Know your weaknesses.
Be mindful when things feel "urgent" above all else.
Remember your primary calling.
Pursue and love wholeheartedly the little flock that has been given to you, especially when it means giving up the lesser things. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Don't Wait Until Tomorrow

Five different people, five different times, stooped down to say good morning to her.  And five times she pushed out her lower lip, folded her arms, and turned her head away.  Although she donned her Sunday best, her countenance was anything but attractive.

"Please say good morning, sweetie," I reminded her.

"Good morning," she eventually growled.

We soon found ourselves in the church restroom for a conversation about her attitude.

"I'm having a yucky heart this morning, mommy," she confessed.
"I don't want to be joyful right now.  Maybe I'll say hi to them tomorrow instead."

I stifled a laugh, and explained that she wouldn't get the chance tomorrow.

"We don't go to church on Mondays, sweetheart.  You can't wait until tomorrow.  Today is your only chance."

Although her childish reasoning often amuses me, I often think the same way.

I often live like tomorrow is a promise.  I put off things, reassuring myself that I will "do them tomorrow," or break that habit tomorrow, or start eating better tomorrow, or get into the Word tomorrow, or reach out to my neighbor tomorrow.

But God has not given us tomorrow.  And in reality, not only is it unreasonable to think that way, it's prideful. 

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 
James 4:13-14 (ESV)

Certainly this passage targets those who arrogantly make and trust in their own plans, giving no thought to the God who ordains each of their days.  James warns against the futility of putting stock in our own foresight of the future, as we are but "a mist that...vanishes." 

It's arrogant to make plans for tomorrow, assuring ourselves that we can predict and secure our own future. 
But it's equally arrogant to make excuses for today, assuring ourselves that tomorrow will bring us the same opportunities.  

By definition, we can't live in tomorrow.  You can only live in today. 

We are finite beings, and out of necessity, certain things must wait until tomorrow.  By all means, be discerning, realistic, and strategic.  Set things aside for later.  The Bible calls this prudence.   (Proverbs 10:5)

But too often, that phrase is used as an excuse.  The thing that you put off until later will always be of secondary importance, and we will forever find reasons why right now just won't work.   The Bible calls this folly.  (Proverbs 6:10-11)

Satan loves to keep the best things as secondary in our minds.  As long as we are convinced that we really DO intend to get to that thing, but it remains of secondary importance -- we will never get to it.  The things we ought to do will forever be the "thing we will get to once we finish this first..."   And soon enough, another day will end, and we find ourselves saying it again -- I'll do it tomorrow.  

When you find yourself uttering those words --I'll do it tomorrow -- pause for a moment.  Are you choosing prudence?  Or, are you instead making excuses?  What holds "second place" on your to-do list?  Where has God called you to change, or grow, or repent, but you never quite get around it? 

God has only given you today.  Live joyfully, fully, obediently.  Don't put off until tomorrow what God has called you to do right now.  

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Reality of Me-Time

Seven times I heard the door open, and walked down the hall to see my daughter standing at the top of the stairs.  I sighed heavily.  Post 9pm is me- time. 
The house was quiet when I slipped downstairs and turned on my tea kettle.  Early mornings are rare for me --but this morning was different.  This morning I was awake, energized, cheerful, ready.  I buried myself under my favorite blanket and opened the well-worn pages of my Bible.  Two verses in and I heard it -- the sounds of awakening children.  So much for my me-time.  
3am and I audibly groaned.  The cries down the hall pleaded for my attention.  I didn't particularly feel like rolling out of bed to hold a sick child.  He'd get another nap in the morning -- but me?  This was my only chance to sleep.

There's this thing that I long for daily, hourly even, like it's an inalienable right - me-time.   I spend my days giving to children who demand more time, energy, and patience that I feel like I have.   The few moments I have each day to sit and rest never feel long enough.  

Every parenting magazine will reaffirm, celebrate even, your longing for a break from your kids.

Every mom needs their me-time.

And so we pine after it, search for it, guilt husbands into granting it, escape to hobbies, Facebook, texting, and ignoring our children, in an attempt to secure it. 

But may I suggest that perhaps you already have it?

In fact, you actually have an entire 24 hours of it each day, 7 days a week.

Your time belongs to you.  No one else.  It's your me-time, and no one else gets to decide how to use it.

I hear your brain rattling.

But what about my kids?  The laundry? My job? I can't very well ignore those things, can I? 

Now, I'm not advocating the neglect of your children or responsibilities.  However, I am advocating a perspective change.  

In motherhood, and in life, we easily view ourselves as victims of others.  We are a victim of the incessant needs of our children, who can't feed themselves, dress themselves, teach themselves, or train themselves.  We are the victim of our finances, forcing us to work a job for supplemental income.  We victimize ourselves when our husbands, or friends, can do things that we must miss out on.  We victimize ourselves when we must get up in the middle of the night and deal with unique weaknesses in our children.  

But consider Jesus the author of all of Creation and possessor of all authority on heaven and earth:

As men encircled him, arrested him as a criminal, handed him over to an enemy, and led him to the most brutal of deaths, Jesus' perspective was this:

"No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord... "

While Jesus was certainly speaking in this passage of his divine authority, he's also highlighting a principle of ownership.  He owns his life.  And he chooses to lay it down.  At any moment, he says he can call down legions of angels to save him.  In doing this, Jesus boldly declares:  I am not a victim of others, I gladly choose to give away the life which I own.

Or consider the perspective from Hebrews:

"Jesus...who for the joy set before him, endured the cross..."

Jesus chose to endure the cross for the sake of joy.  No one forced his hand or his will.  He looked at his beloved --us--and gladly, joyfully, surrendered that which belonged entirely to Him.

Those 24 hours in each day?  God's given them to you.  And you alone will determine how to use them.  It's your time. 

The next time you hear the cries of your newborn, the needs of your toddler, the demands of your family, remind yourself:

This is my me-time, but I choose to give it away to the ones I love. 

You can do it, because Jesus did it for you.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

You Can't Erase Mistakes, But You Can Find Covering

She gasped when she realized its power, that tiny pink nub on the other side of the pencil.  It was a simple eraser, but it brought her nothing short of sheer delight.

I hear her at the kitchen table -- scratching and scrawling her letters, then giddily exclaiming "ah, I made a mistake!"  A smile creeps across her face as she flips the pencil upside-down and busily rubs until the graphite line has all but disappeared.  For her, and for now, there is joy in the "undoing" of errors, in the making of all things right.

Sometimes, I wish I had that delight -- the joy of simply "erasing mistakes."  Oh, to simply flip a pencil upside down and erase my harsh words, my judgmental spirit, my indifference towards my God.  But sin is stronger than pencils, and grown-up mistakes can leave permanent marks on the soul.  

And since I can't erase, I simply try to cover them up.  I hide my errors behind justifications, I allow time to fade their potency.  If I do acknowledge error, I do so with embarrassment and guilt.  I want others acknowledge their sin first before I'll admit to my own.  Confession becomes a shameful, exposing process. And it strips the delight from my relationships. 

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Years ago, there was a man who covered up errors, hid behind excuses, buried his mistakes, and soon found himself wasting away -- living in agony.  Surprisingly, his joy came when he stopped trying to cover himself, and and instead admitted his need for other-covering:

"Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered...When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long...
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not cover up my iniquity."
Psalm 32 (portions)

Blessing-- joy beyond words -- comes not through avoiding, or hiding -- but covering.  And there's a different kind of covering that we need -- it's not self-covering, but cross-covering.

Jesus has paid it all.  He has covered you.  Because our sins, our failures, our mistakes -- they can never just be "erased."  They can't simply be "undone," like an unwanted pencil mark on a paper.  But they can be paid for.  They can be covered through the cross.  The One whom we've wronged treats us as righteous and perfect.  

It's better than an eraser. 

Do you delight in the correction of your mistakes?
Do you quickly and humbly admit wrong against your spouse, or do you demand evidence and a reciprocated apology?
Do you relish the chance to reconcile with your children? Or do you angrily mutter, "I'm sorry" between clenched teeth, inwardly blaming them for provoking you?
Do you eagerly approach God's throne in confession, knowing that grace and forgiveness freely abounds in Christ?

How much of your day-to-day misery, exhaustion, despair, and broken relationships is a result of hiding, excusing, or pointing the finger at others?

Confess joyfully.  Find a better covering in Christ.   Blessing is yours for the taking.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Speaking Truth To Your Heart

Ten more sips of your milk, and then you can be done, I told her as I stood over the sink full of dishes.  My eyes never shifted, but my ears took note of her steady sips and soft counting.

Sip.  One.

Sip. Two.

Sip. Three.

But somewhere around halfway, the counting increased very quickly.  Too quickly to be true.

I turned toward her as she announced the completion of her task.

Sweetheart, are you trying to deceive mommy? Did you really take those sips?

She shook her head no, eyes steady on the floor.  I walked over and tilted her chin upward until her gaze met mine.

Joanna, you may not lie to mommy.  God is truth, and in this home, we speak what is true.

I resumed my dishes, she resumed her sipping. I commended myself on a parenting-job-well-done.

Yet within minutes, I found myself down on the floor, wiping vomit from the chair legs, my jeans, her hair.  And in that instant, I became the one telling lies.

No one else has to deal with this.  Lie. 
She's TRYING to get under my skin.  Lie.
This is never going to change. Lie.
I'm never going to change. Lie.
Why do I even bother?  This isn't worth it. Lie.
Doesn't God care enough to stop this?  Lie.

I command truth-telling from the lips of my children, yet I am the main contributor of lies in our home.

But I easily excuse it -- because I'm just venting,
or letting it all out,
and don't I deserve a little room just to say how I really feel?

But let's call it what it is.  We hear the words of God, we know the nature of God, we read the promises of God, yet we dismiss them as lies.  Isn't it what happened in the garden?  Eve believed a lie.  She lived a lie:

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? 
(Numbers 23:19)

We call God a liar when we doubt what He has said, and in doing so, we become the one who lies.

When you're tempted to spout off a lie -- a declaration that God is not just, or merciful, or kind, or you deserve better, or others have it better --- choose truth.  Recite what God has told you to be true.  Cling to the promises of His Word.  

Teach your children to speak words that are true -- words that reflect the very character of our God.   But don't just teach them.  Show them.  Model to them a life that holds fast to truth, even -- especially -- when it hurts.

Lies come easily.
Truth is hard.
But when your heart hurts the most -- and you choose the words of truth -- you sing the sweetest songs of praise.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Give Your Soul the Food that Nourishes

I hear her quiet footsteps coming down the steps, her soft voice quickly following:

I'm hungry, mama.

I smile.  My heart melts as it always does when she announces a desire for food.  My daughter's feeding disability not only prevents her from eating normally, but also from recognizing hunger pangs, so these rare words from her lips are especially sweet.

What can I get you for a snack, hon? Pudding?  Yogurt? 

I offer a wide array of options to satisfy her hunger, hoping one of them will strike her fancy.

No thank, mama.  I'll just eat this pretend hamburger.
She picks up the brown, plastic disk off the floor.  I pick up another piece of laundry.  She pretends to munch away.  I pretend that I'm not bothered by the whole exchange.

But I am.  My heart breaks that when I offer her body real nourishment, she rejects it for something fake -- pretend food that will never nourish.

Yet I'm more like my daughter than I care to admit.

I too, regularly choose to indulge in something lesser, something pretend.

In a day spent constantly meeting the needs of dependent little ones, my energy tank runs dry, and my soul craves nourishment.

I need food that will sustain me through long hours and thankless tasks.  I need encouragement, rest, strength, purpose, hope, a reason to persevere – yet I opt to feast on fake food.  I busy myself with social media, texting, email.  I indulge in hobbies, snacks, daydreaming.  I fill up my soul with enough distractions to get me through until bedtime – and then curiously wonder why I’m still hungry after my house is quiet.

Perhaps we’re choosing the wrong nourishment. 

Our merciful God extends a dinner invitation for malnourished souls like mine: 

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money - come, buy and eat!... Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, 
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  
Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live..." 
(Isaiah 55:1-3)

Your soul doesn't need a distraction.   It needs real food -- God Himself.  God holds out the promise of good, delightful, rich, satisfying food -- He offers Himself:

"Come to Me; hear, that your soul may live..." (vs 3)

True nourishment is never found in something, it’s always found in someone.

Put down the fake hamburger.  Turn the iPhone on silent. Ignore the text. Let the remote lie untouched.  They won’t fill you anyway.
Instead, come to Jesus. Find rest in Him.   And allow the promises of His Word to nourish, strengthen, and encourage your soul.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

You Can Turn Today Around

The clock had barely ticked 9am, and already, the morning was replete with whining, complaining, outright rebellion, free-flowing tears, and a pair of wet underpants.   I held her on my lap as she whimpered quietly.  And I pleaded.

The day doesn't have to be like this, sweetheart.  You don't have to continue down the path of disobedience. Wouldn't you rather that today be full of joy and fun, rather than sadness? You can repent, choose to obey mommy, and we can turn today around.   

We all have those days -- days when it feels like everything is falling apart, and we're sitting in a pair of wet underpants by 9am.

We easily believe that days that start well, stay well.  But days that start off poorly...well, they only ever get worse.  

I frequently find myself in patterns of bitterness, complaining, harsh words, impatience, nagging, or envy, and it feels like I just can't escape the trajectory.  The whole day is ruined, I tell myself. The only way out is for the day to end -- for me to just try again tomorrow.  

When it feels like all is ruined -- there is always an out:  Repentance.

Repentance has been a buzz word in our home.  Repentance means turning away from disobedience and turning towards obedience, and always through the power of the cross.

"Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,  
that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord..."
Acts 3:19-20 (ESV)

The gospel says we can always, always, turn today around.

There's always room at the cross for confession.
There's always grace through the cross for forgiveness.
And there's always power through the cross not just for a new day, but for a new middle-of-the day.  

Maybe you can't change the attitude of your children today, or tackle ALL of the laundry today, or solve your financial crisis today.

But there's one thing you can change today -- you.  You can turn from patterns of sin and destruction that will only ever make your day worse -- never better.  And if you can change you, then no matter how poorly today has gone, you can turn today around.

Is your home filled to the brim with whining children, piles of dirty shoes, unwashed dishes and never ending to-do lists, and the only contribution you can make is a poor attitude?
Are you ready to crawl back in bed by 10am and pray that tomorrow comes quickly?

Don't give up.  Don't give in.  Just repent.

You can turn today around.