Monday, October 7, 2013

Mothering in the Moment: The Mundane Matters

As the rain trickled down yesterday morning, my husband and I snuggled in bed talking about walking with Jesus.  My walk with Jesus is typically tied to the topic of motherhood, because along being a child of God, motherhood is so deeply woven into my identity. I am a mother. This is what I do day after day after day. I mother. It is the verb that describes much of my current life.

I want to speak frankly from my own experience. Some of you will not be able to relate to this, but I know, unfortunately, there are many of you who will see a reflection of who you are or once were.

In the first years of motherhood, I was fairly paralyzed. I knew I wanted to be a good mother, but I really didn't know how to go about that in the day to day. I saw a big picture of what I desired, but I didn't know how to get there. It was pretty overwhelming, so I did nothing.  I also believed a lie that it didn't really matter what I did in the first three or so years of my child's life because she wouldn't remember anyway.  I spent those first three years of my oldest daughter's life trying to get my junk together which only served to make everything worse because I was focused on me.  This was a time in my life when I knew a lot about God, but did not truly have a relationship with Him.

Another lie I believed (and can easily fall into today) is that gentle, loving, and intentional motherhood just comes naturally to "all of those" ladies. I saw no inner struggle. It seemed to just be their nature.  And I felt like I was at a disadvantage because, "That's just not me."

Unfortunately, I wasted a lot of time. I was terribly lazy all around. My home showed it. I struggled to maintain a tidy home, struggled to get meals on the table, struggled to be present with my child(ren), and yes, yes, struggled in my marriage.

When the Lord captivated my heart, He began to show me my beautiful calling as a wife and mother.... which was all the more overwhelming from a biblical perspective!  How was I to measure up? How could I possibly do those things?

I became passionate about these things, but because I was doing them in my own strength, my passion quickly pittered out.  I found myself going through the motions because "this is what is right" but my heart wasn't in it.  As a result, I was often frustrated, angry, exhausted, and always on the verge of feeling like giving up.  Many days I would have day dreams of running out the front door as soon as my husband got home from work, but I knew I didn't have "such a luxury".  Where would I run to anyway?

But one day, I did just that. One morning I woke up, and I ran out the front door. I had had enough. I ran out the front door and into the arms of Jesus. While my children tidied up after breakfast, I paced outside, crunching colorful leaves under my feet, and pouring my heart out to the Lord as a chilly breeze licked at my face.

"Jesus, do whatever You've gotta do to me," I cried out, "because I can't go on living in such misery." You see, the reality was that I was miserable "doing nothing" and I was miserable going through the motions.

I am often reminded of something my dear friend Becky said, "There are things that have to be done in our lives. Meals have to be made. Diapers changed. Homes tidied. It's not a matter of if we are going to do something, but rather whose strength we are going to do it in."

There have been times when I lazily waited for God just to motivate me to be active in my family's life, and then, on the other extreme, times when I, knowing His calling for me, barged ahead like a bull in a china shop.  Neither is what the Lord wants from me. Or you.

In Christian circles, we are often told to "do something great for the kingdom."  We want to do something noble, something amazing, something powerful. We want to make a huge impact while we are here. Feed the poor, nurture the sick, help the impoverished. Yes, yes! That's what we want to do. Yet, so often while we allow our imaginations to run wild with all the amazing possibilities of wonderful things we can do for the Lord, we forget that He has very intentionally placed us within an incredibly noble mission as mothers.

I know it doesn't sound very noble to wash dishes, change diapers, vacuum rugs and sweep floors, read books to little children, fix several meals (and snacks), and deal with many loads of laundry day after day after day. Our days as mothers are largely made up of tasks that are easily (and quickly) undone and must be repeated often. Week after week, month after month, we pour our hearts and lives into our children and wonder if it's doing any good.

The other day the children and I were reading through Scripture together when Evangeline pipes in, "God's not real, like Santa's not real, right?"  And I felt like banging my head against the wall, especially since I make the point, "This really happened! This is a true story!" every time we read the bible together or talk about biblical events. (We actually never taught our children about Santa, but of course, during the Christmas season, Santa is everywhere so we have had to explain who this character is.)

I sat there mentally beating myself up, wondering if my passion for the Lord and His word was falling on deaf ears and blind eyes (or even making any sense) until my oldest son, Nolyn, began to share what he had been reading in his spare time (from the bible).  As I listened to his enthusiasm, the anxiety in my heart slowly unwound and fell away, and the Lord reminded me, "This is a slow process, but one day you will look back and see growth. You will see the benefit of your time, effort, and sacrifice. I will give you tastes and glimpses, so be open and aware and present. Trust that it is happening even when it doesn't feel like it.  Be patient in those times, and know that I am working in their hearts and using you, their mother, to direct and disciple them. I am using you to show them My love. I am working through you— guiding you in your nurturing, loving influence—to build up your children and bring them into a relationship with Me."

Over the last year, the Lord has been teaching me how to be present with my children. He has been showing me that being intentional matters, even in the mundane moments. He has reminded me over and over to not give up and fall back into laziness and not run ahead and press through on my own strength, but to remain in His presence every moment of every day.

I wake up and my soul calls out, "Lord, here I am. I am about to get out of this bed, and I need You.  This day will be a mess without You. I trust that You are with me. Help me to stay close to Your side."  I fling my legs over the side of my bed, knowing Christ is with me because He says He is in His Word, believing that He will guide me in all the little mundane tasks, trusting that He will reveal special moments when I can pour a little extra into their lives, reveal to them a little more about His love, direct their steps with grace and compassion, and weld our bond a little firmer.  And at least fifty times a day, if not a hundred or more, I find myself singing out to Him, "I need You, O, I need You! Every hour I need You! Oh bless me now my Savior; I come to You!"

Sometimes I find myself pressing through the day, attempting to check off my own agenda, and I feel this little niggling within as though the Lord is whispering, "Come back to Me!"  Last Monday was one of those days. I found myself walking in frustration and exasperation rather than the peace and joy of the Lord. It took a couple hours (which is fortunate since some times it takes nearly the whole day) for me to stop resisting, for me to just relax and fall into the Lord's rest.  Finally, I tossed aside my plans.

"No lessons today, kids," I announced. I confessed to them that I was frustrated and so we sat and read our bibles together, tidied the house, and then ran errands so we could get a few things to make our homemade cleaning products.  I released the day to the Lord, and He made it wonderful, and the kids actually learned a lot, despite our "giving up" on lessons for the day. Many days our routine is the same, and the Lord is in it, guiding me through it.  Some days I cling to my routine and demand that it go in a timely manner, and the Lord reminds me that I am to cling to Him alone.

Sometimes I read books of great things women and men of faith have done, and I feel discontent with my position in life. "I want to do something noble, something great," I think.  And the Lord smacks my pride down. He calls me to be content in the beautiful calling of motherhood, reminding me that in the day to day it doesn't seem so mighty or glamorous, but that it is one of His greatest callings and most noble ministries.  Oh how quickly I can forget the importance of raising everlasting beings who have been made in God's image!

I feel it is impossible to be intentional if we do not know (or have forgotten) God's wonderful calling for mothers.  We can take it so lightly and miss out on the mission He has for us if we are not renewing our minds in the Lord.  Our culture does not value mothers, but God does.

He doesn't want us to hang back, overwhelmed of the task or unaware of the ministry before us. He doesn't want us to charge ahead, thinking we know what to do and how to do it. He wants us to be with Him, and with our children, right here, right now.

Once again I am taken back to my favorite verse, Isaiah 40:11:

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Note that He is currently doing this. It is an action He is doing. Right now.  He so cares for mothers, and He knows our struggles, our weariness, and our worries. He is not asking us to go down this path alone. He is not asking us to figure it out ourselves.  He only desires that we would stay close to His side and allow Him to lead us because He deeply, passionately loves us and our children.

Maybe you are in a position where your heart longs to be all in, to be all there, in mothering, but all you see is this big picture and you feel paralyzed. While it is so, so important to see the big picture and know the calling of God on our lives as mothers, what we must realize is that our steps are so small. They are often so tiny and minute that they seem insignificant.

It's simple really, but you should know simple is not always easy because we like to complicate everything (and plus, we are often warring against our flesh)!

Maybe right now God is calling you just to pick up your baby and snuggle her to your chest as you sing a hymn or make up a song or whisper verses and sniff the sweet smell of her hair.  Maybe your son is excitedly tapping your shoulder and wants to show you something. Go! Go with gusto and see what he wants to show you, and be aware that the Lord may want to show you something there too.  Maybe the Lord wants you to love on your daughter by braiding her hair or painting her nails.  Maybe it's lunch time, and it's just the same ol' same ol' sandwich, but God is just calling you to smile and serve your children to show an unwavering faithfulness, a steady example, a daily provision. It means something. Don't think it doesn't.  Sit with them. Talk with them. Walk with them. Don't feel pressured to make every moment magnificent, just be there. Hear them. Sing with them. Love them. Serve them.

When I think back to my childhood, it really isn't the big, grand displays of parental love that stand out to me. It's dinner, night after night, gathered around the table together as a family talking about our days.  It's the little bars of soap mom bought for me and allowed me to melt away in the tub.  It's the sweet sounds of the piano keys creating a beautiful melody as one of my parents played from memory.  It's the smell and warmth of fresh laundry as I folded rags while mom hung the clothes. It's the memories of my mom fixing my hair nearly every single morning. Braids? Clips? French twist? What would you like today? It's the joy of piling into my parents' bed on Saturday mornings, reading the Sunday comics after church, clipping coupons of things I wanted my mom to buy (but she rarely did, with good reason) while everyone lounged in the livingroom. It's the sweetness of running in from sweaty play, and mom handing me an ice cold glass of water. It's Dad's adventurous stories (featuring my brother and I as the heroes).  Saturday biscuit baking and creamy sausage gravy.  It's the conversations with Mom over mexican food.  Rocking in the big plush chair with one of my parents. Sticking colorful clips in Dad's hair. Riding on the lawn mower with my dad or big brother. It's the comfort of a familiar routine. Mom's loving touch when I was sick. My parents' listening ears when I wanted to read a poem I had written or a story I had made up.  Much of what makes up the joy of my childhood is simply their presence in the every day mundane, in the steady and predictable, in the seemingly insignificant.

I think we all need reminders that those things matters.  In the moment, it might feel like no one notices, no one cares, or no one is grateful.  But it matters. It has a purpose. It all adds up.

I think someone needs to hear this, so I am going to write it and hope that it speaks to you, whoever you are.
God loves you, Mama. His desire is for you to be successful, so He has, yes, believe that He has most definitely, no question, equipped you for this very task.  Everything you need is in Christ, and only in Christ.  
God does not want you to fail. He is not tapping His foot in impatience. He is not waiting for you to "get it all together". He is not waiting for you to screw it all up.  Yes, you will fail. You will screw it up.  But He will be there to pick you up.  And you don't need to wallow in the guilt. He doesn't want you to continue to beat yourself up.  Accept His forgiveness. Believe that He passionately loves you as though you were the only person on the face of the earth.
Remember that Jesus did not die on the cross, carry our sin and conquer death so that you would be doomed to live a life of defeat. Right now, all He is asking you to do is trust that He loves you, trust that He is nearer than near and hears the cry of your heart. 


Friday, June 21, 2013

Shiloh and the Supernatural

I don't even know how to describe this rollercoaster Brandon and I have been on. In just two days I fell like we went through a deep valley and came out on the highest mountain.  It has been surreal.  No, no... it has been supernatural.

Wednesday Brandon and I were pretty sure we were miscarrying Shiloh.  In his words, "There was so much blood, I didn't really think it could be anything else."  In my mind, there wasn't a lot of blood, but he didn't realize that it was amniotic fluid mixed with blood, so of course it did look a lot bloodier than it was.

Wednesday was extremely uncomfortable. The contractions (which I will call cramps) were pretty steady and fairly intense, so much so that at many points during the day I couldn't even sit up or stand straight.

By Thursday, things were much more mild, and I was a bit stunned.  Was this the calm before the storm?  Nanci, my friend and midwife, suggested we get an ultrasound.  Our favorite tech, Debbie from Sonomasters, was able to fit us in that very day!

I was nervous and excited and.... mostly terrified. I kept thinking, "It's in Jesus' hands. I can rest knowing He knows the outcome."

When Debbie put the wand to my stomach, we quickly saw a little baby blob come into view. My heart pounded furiously in my chest. Was it dead? Just waiting to expelled from my body?

"There's your baby..." she said.  And I'm expecting her to tell me... well, I'm not sure what I was expecting. But I expected her to follow with bad news.  But then she said Shiloh was moving.  Little hands and feet waving around.  Brandon and I stood there in shock.  To outsiders we probably looked emotionless.  Shiloh looked healthy, growing well, doing great.


Debbie found what seemed like the remnants of another sac between Shiloh's placental sac and the uterine wall.  No one can be sure what exactly happened, but by our best guess, two sacs developed, and nothing developed in one of them. Maybe it was twins but the twin was too small or never developed? Who knows!? Only God. Maybe it was just an empty sac.

Thank you Jesus! Thank you Lord! Thank you for giving us the desires of our heart!

What is so amazing is that God knew all along.  Nothing surprises Him. The difference in my heart attitude is only because, at one point, I knew nothing and had to trust Him "blindly", and at another, I was able to see with my own eyes the truth and because I could see, I felt like I could praise Him.

Even in just the two days that we were in suspense, thinking we were losing our little Shiloh, God poured out so much love on us through our friends.  It is so, so amazing to have friends who mourn when we mourn and rejoice when we rejoice.  I can't emphasize just how awesome that is.

Last night our friends invited us over for a potluck dinner with some other friends of ours, and afterwards we sat in the livingroom praying, worshipping, and singing praise for such a great, wonderful gift. What a joy it is to praise and rejoice with those whose hearts are knit to mine.

For the next two weeks I am to take it very easy while my body heals.  I am told that I am not supposed to pick up babies, vacuum, or do any strenuous activities. I tried to get out of cooking, but my midwife wouldn't support me. Some kind of friend she is! Ha!

We are beyond thrilled and still in awe. I know God protected Shiloh while my body cramped and contracted, and we are praying that Shiloh continues to grow healthy and strong inside the womb until January when our baby is due to arrive!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Shiloah, Shiloh

(A post from May 20th)

 I was reading in Isaiah this morning, really enjoying the prophesy of the coming Immanuel (Isaiah 7), and thinking how neat that, long before Jesus Christ ever came to earth as a baby, His name was already written in the word. In the back of my mind, I was thinking, "Boy, it would be nice if God would show me what to name our next child," and then I went on reading.  

I came to Isaiah 8:6, where it talks of the waters of Shiloah. I wondered exactly what those waters that the Israelites rejected was, what it symbolized, so I began studying it. Below are my observations, which have really encouraged me today.  

Shiloah- means gentle, quiet. Root word means rest.  Jesus is called Shiloh (rest-giver) in Genesis 49:10 (some verses just say "He", while others read, "Shiloh"). "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be."  In Isaiah 8:6, we find that the Israelites "rejected the gentle flowing waters of Shiloah".  This is referred to as "a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the most High dwells" (Psalm 46:4). It was a gentle flowing river because it flowed from a spring, which is why we often read of Christ being the living water.  It was not a stagnant pond.  It had a gentle, constant flow.

Shiloh is an ancient village of central Palestine, Northwest of the Dead Sea.  It was a meeting place and sanctuary for the Israelites and the site of the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept (more on that in a bit).  There was a baptismal pool, Siloam, which means sent, (John 9:7) where Jesus told a man blind from birth to wash, located just outside the walls of the Old City to the southeast, which was fed by waters of the Gihon Spring (which seems to be synonymous with the spring of Shiloah).

We find Isaiah 8:6 echoed in Jeremiah 2:13, "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water."  Again, in Jeremiah 17:13, we read, "LORD, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water."    This just stands as such a reminder to me that any time I turn to my own works, I am forsaking, denying, and rejecting the living water. I am rejecting Christ.  This living water is from Christ andis Christ. It comes from the very Throne of God. (Revelation 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.)  In other words, He is the Source

Ezekiel 47 is a beautiful picture of what happens when we rely on the living water.  (Below, verses 7-9)

Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then said he to me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that lives, which moves, wherever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live where the river comes.

Above we see a physical picture of what Jesus said would happen within in John 7:38: "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'"

Isaiah 44:3 "For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants."

These verses in Ezekiel also remind me of what Jesus said when he called His disciples: "Come, and I will make you fishers of men!"
Something the Lord has been showing me these last few weeks is that He fills us and changes us not for just our own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. The river of life within the "inner man" is not just for his or her benefit, but it is meant to overflow.  Everything it touches it brings life to.  It heals. Those things don'tt just survive but really FLOURISH with life. In the Bible, we see that everywhere around this living water is lush, green life.  So we can see that the Holy Spirit, this living water, is who should flow out from us and build up the whole body (causing it to flourish), not only touching those who also already have the Holy Spirit, but bringing more into the fold as well.  It is HIS living water that does it. Not us. It is His living water that refreshes and revives, heals and helps, cleanses and satisfies. Nothing else will do. Our own cisterns are empty and can offer nothing but dry dirt.  Digging a cistern is a lot of work. It keeps me busy, but it yields nothing.

Best of all, it is a free gift.

Revelation 22:17- The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let the one who hears say, "Come!" Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Isaiah 55:1 "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost."  This speaks of those who have nothing to offer being able to come to the stream and receive.  It reminds me that, if I think I have something to offer, if I think I can afford it myself, I will never joyfully bow before the stream to "draw water from the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3).  All it requires is for me to "come", acknowledging my need.

John 4:10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
John 4:14 "... but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

This bit below speaks of the restoration of Israel, but I believe it speaks to us as well:

Isaiah 49: 8- 10 Thus said the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard you, and in a day of salvation have I helped you: and I will preserve you, and give you for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; That you may say to the prisoners,"Come out,"; to them that are in darkness, "Be free!". They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that has mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.

And I these verses, for me, really expand upon that- Psalm 36:7-9- How excellent is your loving kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of your wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of your house; and you shall make them drink of the river of your pleasuresFor with you is the fountain of life: in your light shall we see light.

Sounds like a wonderful place to abide- and we can! :-)

John 4:10, 14 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water... whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Welling up to eternal life. Ahhhh. How sweet is that?

This bit below speaks of the restoration of Israel, but I believe it speaks to us as well:

Isaiah 49: 8- 10 Thus said the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard you, and in a day of salvation have I helped you: and I will preserve you, and give you for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; That you may say to the prisoners,"Come out,"; to them that are in darkness, "Be free!". They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that has mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.

And I these verses, for me, really expand upon that- Psalm 36:7-9- How excellent is your loving kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of your wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of your house; and you shall make them drink of the river of your pleasuresFor with you is the fountain of life: in your light shall we see light.

Sounds like a wonderful place to abide- and we can! :-)

Anyway, in case you haven't figured it out, Shiloah/Shiloh will be a nice name for our next baby (due Jan. 2014).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A taste of my mother's life

I've been sick for the past four days.  Well, actually seven, because it all started Friday when my eye became swollen.  Sunday, my whole body started feeling bad, and by Monday, I realized I had managed to come down with strep throat.  (Exciting times around these parts.)

These days of being sick have taken a toll on my body, but especially on my mind.  When one can't do much except lay in bed, well, one goes a little crazy... at least, this one does.

I have found myself sobbing, begging God to heal my body, followed by feeling frustrated and alone and unheard when the next day I wake up, shine a flashlight down my throat, and still see white spots there.  The aloneness is all the more because I haven't been able to see my friends or attend fellowship meetings or ladies gatherings for a couple weeks now (due to sicknesses or other things going on in the household).  I've missed out on our usual play dates, when I get to see my sweet Becky friend.

And then I realized, this is just a small taste of what it's like to be my mom.  Except, hers is not a sickness she will eventually get over.  It has been going on for 12 years.  I wouldn't dare say that I can totally relate, because I can't, but I know that she has felt these feelings that I have felt these last few days.

I want to play with, tickle, and enjoy my children, but I am confined to this bed most of the day.  It took so much energy for me to shower, dress, comb my hair, and change the sheets this morning.  My legs hurt. My arms hurt. I was ready for a nap, but I knew those things were necessary.  (And I think I had begun to smell a lot like death.)

I want to greet my husband with a smile and the scent of dinner in the works wafting through the air.  I hate that every day this week he has had to manage dinner on his own (well, with some help from the children). Furthermore, the wife that usually greets him now has crazy bed hair, is still in her pajamas, and is trying to rest and keep herself from having an emotional breakdown.

I cry a lot.  I cry because I feel so helpless.  I cry because there is little I can do about anything right now. I cry because I know I'm a big wimp.  I cry because I feel guilty that I am not spending time with the kids, not able play games with them outside, not able to take them to playdates.  I cry because I feel horrible that my husband works hard and then has to come home and play mom. I cry because I miss our fun times together, and I know he misses his wife. I cry because I'm in pain, and I'm sweating like we live next to the sun. I cry because I'm pretty sure the dog thinks I've abandoned him. I cry because I feel alone. I cry because this feels like it's going to last forever.

I cry because I worry about how my children feel.  I cry because I am not able to make them breakfast or lunch, and I cry because my older two are so big they are able to do that themselves.  I cry because we need groceries, and I cannot just run out and get them.  I cry because I have to depend on everyone else. I cry because when Evangeline climbs in my bed each day, I can tell she misses her mommy- misses playing with me throughout the day, misses being chased around the house, misses helping me with the chores.

I cry because I have had a taste of what my mom often feels- and it is hard.  It is hard to want to function for your family- to be there for them, to take them places, to make them things, to play with them.....

yet not be able to.

It is difficult to realize that you are spent and your energy is gone all because you got ready for the day and started a load of laundry. There is this voice screaming inside my head, "You should be doing more!!!" and it is loud and cruel.

So I may try to get up and do something.  Sometimes I try to get up and sweep, and then I'm exhausted, hurting all over, and my head is throbbing.

I tell myself to suck it up, but it's just not that easy. I wish it was.  Lord knows Mom wishes it was too.

I've been sick for a week.  My mom has been sick for what feels like a lifetime.  I can't even imagine what that must be like, but I have had a small, minuscule, tip-of-the-iceberg taste...... and it is hard to bear.

I am not proof reading this, so forgive any typos/mistakes.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Guilt lashings, taped on fruit

I used to go to bed beating myself up.  The emotional wounds I inflicted upon myself were just as painful as a physical lashing.  I used to think it silly that monks and Christians of old would cut themselves and beat upon their own backs with a whip, but I realized that I was doing that very same thing to myself, only on the inside.  For twenty-something years, I ended each and every day with a run down of how I had failed miserably, scolding myself for each minor detail, and vowing to do better the next day. Of course, the next day came and I found myself powerless, yet again, to be the person I wanted to be.
So I read books on how to control my anger, how be a picture of biblical womanhood, how to be an excellent wife and loving mother, how to raise my children with a biblical worldview and make sure they had all the in-home theological training I was told they needed, how to pray efficiently, and how to be a loving and compassionate person.

And then God reminded me of my humble beginnings.
He reminded me that books and articles and even my nightly guilt trips and pleas for forgiveness and rehabilitation couldn't give me what I so desired.

He reminded me that transformation doesn't come in those things.  Transformation came when I bowed before the Lord, knowing I was broken and weak and fragile, understanding that He alone was my strength, that He alone was my healer, that He alone could create the transformation I so desperately needed.  When I saw that, I knew I needed it, and I knew He was offering it to me.  I didn't have to plead and beg and pray for it.  It was there, and it had always been there waiting for me to accept.  His salvation, that forgiveness, that beautiful cleansing I needed, it was there, and all I had to do was claim it.

Somehow, though, I moved on from trusting that all I needed was in Christ to, like the Galatians, believing that I needed to do something to finish the process.  The truth is, I couldn't wrap my mind around Christ being in me and I being in Christ and what that really meant.  I think most of us can't, because it's just so mind blowing.  We can't because we're so independent and self-sufficient, and our culture tells us that, if we put our mind to something, we can accomplish anything.  If we just keep putting stone upon stone, we can construct a tower of Babel to reach Heaven and strut right through those pearly gates.
But that's a lie.
We find ourselves frustrated because we work and work and work, and think we're headed somewhere- that we're getting better, holier, more Christ-like- with all of our bible reading, praying, and various methods and ministries (1). We put on works like a coat, thinking we look righteous and beautiful, not realizing it's not so in God's eyes.  Before long, though, this coat becomes so burdensome, we can hardly carry it around, yet we are wary to remove it because we have judged others who have not had a coat like ours because, if these people truly loved the Lord, surely they would be adorned in a coat like ours.  We find ourselves putting burdens upon people that we ourselves struggle under the weight of, burdens that are impossible for us to bear (Acts 15:10).  We heap judgment upon then, not realizing we are heaping judgment upon ourselves because we are no different.

And this is the message that the Apostle Paul was preaching against. He called it another gospel, a different Jesus.  

"I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—  not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the good news about the Messiah," Paul exclaims (Galatians 1:6-7), and time and time again, God says the same thing to me. "Take off that heavy coat," my Savior says. "My garment is easy and light. Wear it, my dear" (Matt. 11:30).

In his writings of The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee words it beautifully, "Living in the Spirit means that I trust the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself. This life is completely different from the life I would naturally live of myself. Each time I am faced with a new demand from the Lord, I look to Him to do in me what He requires of me.  It is not a case of trying but of trusting; not of struggling but of resting in Him.  If I have a hasty temper, impure thoughts, a quick tongue, or a critical spirit, I shall not set out with a determined effort to change myself, but instead, reckoning myself dead in Christ to these things, I shall look to the spirit of God to produce in me the needed purity of humility or meekness, confident that He will do so."

The Apostle Paul lovingly scolds the Galatians, " Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" [Galatians 3:2-3]

How often has Christ begun to transform areas of my life, and when I get to a certain point I haughtily say, "Thanks God, I got this now."    What really strikes me about Paul's admonishment is his point on BELIEVING.  Last year, I went through a period of time where I really struggled with "this whole Holy Spirit thing". I began to question whether I was really saved because I did not see this power of the Holy Spirit in my life.  The Lord kept giving me these flashbacks to when I first began my walk with Him.  There was a huge transformation and, while I definitely am not the person I was before, I became concerned that my passion for God had seemed to settle down.   I concluded that I didn't have the Holy Spirit, then wanted to know how to get it, and then I went on trying to figure out how to get His works to be in my life.

Obviously I was missing the point.  I saw myself as God's helper.  I saw myself as helping Him work those works in my life.  I thought to myself, "I will try to figure out what God likes, and then I will do those things, and that is how the Holy Spirit works in my life."  It was all more frustrating, exhausting works, and still, over and over, God was giving me images of my humble beginnings with Him.  I was thinking He was scolding me, telling me to get it together, but what He was saying is, "Mandy, you have lost your focus. You have lost your first Love."

"Oh," I sighed, "how I miss the freedom and peace I felt then."  So I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and.... promptly fell back down.  That's what happens in Christianity.  There is no "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps".  It doesn't work. I felt like God surely must be frowning down upon me, wondering why I couldn't get my stuff together.

"A believer's peace is lost when he allows sincere, religious people to put him under the covenant of works of the Old Testament [legalism] {{{note: often legalism isn't just "Mosaic law, but even different law which others may put upon us, like "you must wear skirts" or "you must tithe 10%" or "you must have as many children as you can and never use any form of conception control" or "don't smoke, don't drink, don't dance"}}}. And when a believer loses sight of the truth of his standing in Christ then he loses sight of grace, mercy, love and the power of God. Then he gets into confusion as to the truth, and his peace evaporates, and it is gone," Victor Paul Wierwille stated in the book Living Victoriously, and it's true.  I had lost sight of this beautiful God I loved, this God of radical grace, overwhelming mercy, and abundant love.  I stopped looking to Him, and I started looking to a list of laws (many of which I had made up myself) which became an awful, ugly filtered lens through which I looked at my God.  Of course, it distorted the view and made Him look much more like a strict, unloving school master. What I was really seeing was the law.  Romans 7:7 tells us that the law shows us our sin.  The law shows us a standard we are unable to meet. The more we try to meet the law, the more our frailty and lack is revealed.

Once again, Nee puts this beautifully, "So we can say, reverently, that God never gave us the Law to keep; he gave us the Law to break! He well knew that we could not keep it. We are so bad that he asks no favor and makes no demands. Never has any man succeeded in making himself acceptable to God by means of the Law. Nowhere in the New Testament are men of faith told that they are to keep the Law; but it does say that the Law was given so that there should be transgression (Romans 5:20, Romans 7:7-9). The Law is that which exposes our true nature. Alas, we are so conceited, and think ourselves so strong, that God has to give us something to test us and prove how weak we are. At last we see it, and confess, "I am a sinner through and through, and of myself I can do nothing whatever to please a holy God. [...] The law requires much but offers no help in carrying out its requirements. The Lord Jesus requires just as much, yea more (Matthew 5:21-48), but what He requires from us He Himself carries out in us. The law makes demands and leaves us helpless to fulfill them; Christ makes demands, but He Himself fulfills in us the very demands He makes."

The law is a harsh schoolmaster who instructs but does not help. God is a loving Father who comes alongside us and bears these burdens through Jesus Christ.

The other day at our fellowship gathering, some friends and I were talking about being convicted.  I confessed that I once had an "addiction to conviction".  I went to church to hear sermons that would leave me feeling beaten and bruised. "I crave conviction," I told people. I wanted instruction and conviction and to be shown where I was wrong because I thought it all would make me more holy, more Christ-like.  Whenever I missed church on Sunday morning, I felt empty because I hadn't had my weekly shot to fill my conviction addiction.  I would listen to sermons online and read articles that would leave me feeling torn to shreds, that would instruct me to, basically, change my ways and get everything together using these three principles or five methods, and so I would set out to do those things.   It was like I made a check list. 

I need to have faith so I can walk on water like Peter (figuratively speaking, of course). Check.
I need to trust God. Check.
I need to be less critical of others and more critical of myself as part of examining myself. Check, check.
I need to be submissive to my husband. Check.
I need to give to the poor.
I need to pray more.
My prayers aren't being answered like I think they should so I should pray using this method.
I need to believe prayer works.
I need, I should, I blah blah blah.

And so it became a list I built of things to do and things I needed to do and things I needed to work in my life to be holy and closer to God.  I regularly added to this list, and it became so long that it was difficult to keep up with.  I would wake up everything morning trying to remember all the things I needed to do, and I was already overwhelmed before I got out of bed, and of course... that spirit flooded the household and tainted the rest of the day causing me to do the very things I wanted to overcome.

God's list for me is simple.
Believe and trust.  Actually, believing is part of trusting.  I can't trust someone if I don't believe them.

It is not that I am to believe in the power of prayer or believe that He will bless me if I bless others or believe that if I teach my children about God they will become super-Christians.  I believe in God.  I believe He is who is says He is.  I believe that He is powerful and mighty. I believe He accomplished what He said He accomplished, and that He has given me what He says He has given me, and so I am no longer bound to sin and death, even though some days I feel like it.  I believe that Jesus is Lord, it's already happened, and I surrender to Him. He's not going to be made Lord, as my friend Brittany shared. He is Lord. I don't make Him Lord of my life. He is. I either bow to that fact or not.  I believe , even when I feel distant from Him, He is in me, and with me, and not angry with me. I believe my emotions are fickle and unreliable, and Christ is Truth and Fact and Life, unchanging, immovable.  I see that I am weak and fragile and broken, and so, instead of trying to repair myself, put on pretty coats, and stuff this vessel full or even try to make it empty for Christ, I stop and see the beauty of my Lord who asks me to do nothing but to surrender this vessel to Him.  I don't put my trust in things or ifs or promises.  I put my trust in Christ.  All the rest follows.

I see that in Christ, I have everything, and apart from Him, I have nothing but my own works that only bring frustration and damnation.  In Christ, I have beautiful and glorious treasures- it has all been given to me already.  

I was talking to my friend Rebecca the other day and gave the following analogy (which, turns out, is the same analogy a friend of mine gave in his book).  As believers, we are rich, rich men and women. Figuratively speaking, we have billions of dollars in the bank.  However, many believers are living like paupers.  Why is that? Why are so many believers wearing tattered garments and scrounging for food in the garbage when they have been given beautiful new garments and literally have everything they need?  Do they not know they have billions of dollars in the bank?  Have they been told yet they don't believe?

2 Peter 1:3-4 tells us we have "a billion dollars in the bank": His divine power has granted to us all things [everything we need] that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, whereby he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust.

 I have spent so much time begging, pleading, and crying out for things which God has ALREADY GIVEN ME.  In a simple illustration, it as though we are crying out for food and clothing and a roof over our head, and God is saying to us, "I have already given you these things!  Would you please accept them?"  But because we don't believe it, we don't act on it, and we live like beggars and poor men.

When I am distraught over my sinful flesh and wishing, crying out for God to make me new, He is hugging me tight and saying, "Mandy, my beloved daughter, I have! Believe this!" When I believe I am a new creation, even though I can't "see the money in the bank", I trust what He says is true, and I ignore the fears and taunts that creep up time and time again whispering, "What if you're not? Remember when you did ___? If you're new why do you struggle with these thoughts?  If you're a new creation, why are you so easily distracted?"  I wave them away, and know that Christ is my identity, my reality, He's my billion dollars in the bank.  He is the Truth. He is my Life. And as John 17:3 says, "This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."  And that is it. It is knowing Him. Believing Him. Focusing on Him. 

It is not focusing on myself, worrying over my works, trying to get it figured out, focusing on prayer, trying to get in "the right spirit" to worship.  It is simply believing. Trusting. Knowing. Abiding.
It is simple, yet complicated.  We have so much in our hands, and we have been juggling these things for so long, running on these hamster wheels for so many years, that we don't know how to stop.  The simple things, the narrow way, it seems to hard. It is straight but we are so crooked that it seems too difficult.  Like little Much-Afraid in the book Hinds Feet on High Places, we often focus on our cripples rather than the Good Shepherd.  We hear Him say, "I have given you everything you need for life and godliness!" and we think, "Surely not everything.  Look at me! Look at how broken I am.  Surely I have not received everything.  I do not feel like I have everything. I must not have everything, for if I did, surely I would feel different and look different."  And so we continue limping along, wishing we could be transformed, rather than believing what He has told us.  The old has gone, the new has come.  This broken being has been filled with the Holy Spirit.  He is there, present, living in me, even when I wake up with a list of things I have done wrong and things I should do differently.   He is there, even when I feel alone. He is there, I have been given the Holy Spirit. God says so, and I must believe Him.
I am learning that I cannot rely on the guilty feelings and the emotions that twist and turn and change so quickly. There is only one steady in my life that I can bank on.  It's God. When everything seems to be falling around me.  When the circumstances are overwhelming, when I find myself crying over a sink full of dishes, or wondering how I am to handle these beautiful children I have been entrusted with when I am such a mess, He is there. And I remember, this life is only a blip on the span of eternity.  I don't have to wait for heaven to "cash in" on the truth that I have been made new.  I don't have to wait until I die to see God, He's with me now. He's carrying me now.  It would be so much easier if I would rest in those strong arms.
He doesn't want me to beat myself up for the mistakes I've made.  He doesn't require I go through a time of proving.  He only wants me to turn to Him and believe. Now. Here. Yes.  And as I believe, and as I gaze upon Him, and as I take in His goodness, it flows through my prayer life, through the Scriptures I read, and I am nurtured, and I am strengthened, and I have peace.
And when I see those glimpses of my humble beginnings, I no longer have to wonder, "How do I get back there?"  I just know that I am there. I stop trying to get there, and I realize God has placed me there, in Christ.  When God gives me those little images, they stand as reminders, "Rest, my dear. Cease your works. Trust in mine."

I'll close with this little "parable" that often plays out in our family.  I often will ask one of the kids to do something, and it often plays out like this:
"Keagan, I want you to clean off the table. Put away the game, and clear off the coloring books, okay?"
"Because it's time."
"Okay, but can I play a little longer?"
"No, it's time to clean up and put things away."
"What if..."
"Keagan, it's time to put things away."
"But I..."
"What did I say?"
"I hurt my finger though," he states, holding up a finger with a nearly invisible scratch on it.
"You are still able to clean off the table."
So he goes to the table and ever so slowly packs things away, often getting distracted and needing reminders.

This is such a picture of my relationship with God.  He tells me to do something, and I have a thousand excuses, buts, what-ifs and so on. Instead of obeying, and trusting in Him, trusting that He is good and wonderful and always has a beautiful reason (even if He chooses not to tell me ahead of time what that is), I drag my feet, complain, allow myself to become distracted and even entertain thoughts that He is not good, or this is ridiculous and useless and....

I find every reason why I cannot complete the task.  I'm not capable. I can't do it.  I forget that He has given me strength, that in Him and through Him all things are possible.  I waste so much time with my whys and what-ifs and buts, concerned with myself, not focusing on the Lord, not believing and trusting Him.

But I am thankful He supplies me with so many reminders, draws me out of my distractions, and turns my face to His over and over again.

Trusting leads to a beautiful place.  Trusting lends itself to obedience.  When we trust, our hearts give to obedience, and His works are manifest in us.  

Keagan's trust and obedience led to a meal that filled his belly and then to a fun time of painting lovely pictures, but first, He had to trust and obey my words.

It's so clear to me now that obedience apart from trusting is not really obedience at all where the Lord is concerned.  Joe and Sally can do the same works- they can both feed the poor and attend church gatherings and sing praises to God and pray fervently, but if Joe does not trust God, if He is not doing these things out of a trusting belief in God, these works are just his own works.  And if Sally does all these things as the Lord prompts and moves and she listens to Him and trusts, submitting each moment, asking what He would have her do and say, and stepping out in obedience, allowing Him to live through her body, her works are not her own. On the outside, Joe and Sally are doing the same things, but... not really.  Sally's are the fruit of the Spirit, Joe's works are just taped on plastic apples.

I often find myself taping on plastic apples, stepping out in "what I think I should be doing," rather than asking God, "What now? What next? Lord send me!"

 Anyway, like always, I've rambled and this may not make much sense, but I thought I would share what's on my heart, in my mind, and working in my life.

(1)- This is not to say that bible reading, praying, ministries, etc, are not important, but "it is wrong to trust in even in them for victory", as Nee says. Our trust must be only in the One who is the focus and object of our reading, praying, ministering, and so on.  Too often, Christians are encouraged to put their faith in a method of prayer or wording, to trust in the "power of prayer" rather than the God whom we pray to. Our passion turns from Christ alone, to ministries and methods and doctrine about or involving Christ.  This is a problem.  It is summed up as fleshly works, carnal, even though it may seem good and godly.

Watchman Nee's book is available FREE here: THE NORMAL CHRISTIAN LIFE
Inexpensive copies (less than $10) can be found at most book stores as well.