Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Gift of Kindness {GratiTuesday}

Let me just make this clear before I begin- I am way more fun with kids that don't belong to me. Right, I know none technically belong to me at all, but you know what I mean. A neighbor kid comes over, a visit with my nieces and nephews, and I am pretty fun. Not crazy fun mind you, but pretty fun.

So when I was feeling fun with my kids the other day, I decided to make the most of it. It was one of those times where I turned into a monster and it was a good thing. One of the very few times.

I grabbed the toddler and pulled her into my arms as I collapsed to the ground. I roared, "You'll never get away!" She screamed, "I need save! I need save! Waaaa! Waaaa!" Her rescuers snatched her from my clutches and climbed on top of me for a wrestling match. As I rolled on the floor tickling the kids, (this actually happened- I'm still shocked) I rolled onto my back.

It was then that I got a firm heel to the eye socket.

With one powerful swing, the two-year-old kicked me in the eye. Direct hit. I held my eye, not quite in tears, and looked at the perpetrator, smiling triumphantly. The other kids all turned to her with shouts of, "You can't do that," but she was just so happy that she had incapacitated the monster momentarily that she kept shrieking, "I did it! I did it!"

We laughed. It was hilarious really.

I write today because on Thursday I will be giving thanks with my family and I pray you find yourself doing the same things with family and/or friends. I write this story because we fall victim to fatigue and "too much togetherness." If not with family and friends, then with other people throughout the year.

And honestly there are times we just want to kick someone in the eye because let's face it, they can be a real monster.

But people aren't monsters, no matter what act they put on. And a swift kick to the eye socket rarely rescues anyone. Ok, maybe never.

I am praying that as we all navigate our holidays that one thing prevails, kindness. Not necessarily our kindness to others (though that would be cool), but God's kindness to us.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works.
Psalm 145:17 

In all His works, God shows mercy and love and kindness. Overflowing kindness that comes from a love that knows no bounds. And He infuses us with that love! What a gift! For that we can be truly thankful.


P.S. To all my family and friends with whom I am able to celebrate any of life's adventures... I don't want to kick you in the eye. I really love you so much! XOXO

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When You Need More Hands, but You Really Just Need His {This Day Thursday}

I’m a bit stretchier than I used to be…

I bear birthing battle scars that no amount of cocoa butter will ever fade.

And more recently my foot took up the stretchy cause and decided to pain me with its choice. Fairly certain I was suffering a stress fracture in my foot (and praising God that not everything in my body was stressing to pieces), I went to the chiropractor for an adjustment. I told him I knew I would be a bit off with the compensating I was doing while walking. So he took a look at it- no stress fracture, but I did receive an informative discourse on foot health and ligaments.

Am I about to share the wealth? You know me too well.

He compared the ligaments in my feet (and really anywhere in the human body) to plastic wrap. 

While muscles stretch and tighten like a rubber band, ligaments stretch and stay. Like when you stretch plastic wrap over a dish and then take it off. (Again, thankful they don’t twist and wrap in an impenetrable mass of uselessness like the aforementioned wrap.) So here I am with stretchy ligaments and orthotics in my shoes, praising God I can afford orthotics and good shoes.

This day, I need support. We call it all manner of things- hands, help, sanity. Support.

The tendency towards overstretched stress goes beyond feet and body parts. It gets to the heart and soul of who we are. And much like my foot, when we are overstretched in one area, it puts pressure somewhere else- somewhere it should not be, somewhere too weak to hold up- and pain is the inevitable outcome.

It’s time for some support.

“When he summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread,
he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” Psalm 105: 16-17

Please tell me I surprised you with that one.

Psalm 105 begins “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name…” so naturally I would turn there and read when writing a piece on God’s support, but it was verses 16 and 17 that gave me pause.

Stretching is unavoidable. In fact, if we make it our sole endeavor to avoid all stress it ends up becoming a stressor in itself. The world was stretched. Physically, literally stretched beyond its capacity. There was a famine, attributed to God, a gift of God to remind His creation that they needed Him. The pathway to their gift of deliverance at His hand and to His glory.

But Psalm 105 reminds God’s people of a greater gift- the present that God pre-sent. Joseph. God knew what His people would need long before they did. And He involved Himself in every little detail to ensure they would have what they needed… including humbling the man He sent to help them.

How often are we most helped by those who have been in bondage and freed by the Lord’s mercy?
The fiery trials of others blaze a path of hope for those in need of support.

And God pre-sends because He has it all in His control.

The key is looking in all the right places, and none of the wrong ones. The devil has counterfeits everywhere. The key is to keep our eyes on Jesus, the “author and founder of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) who did not avoid the cross and the strain, but took it up on our behalf.

If our day-to-day turns us away from the cross, takes our focus off the one who endured the cross for us, and depletes us  of the energy we need to serve Him and His people, then maybe it’s time to step back and reassess the busy business in our lives. Get out the proverbial sifter and shake out the little things that will not stand the test of time and will rob us of the gift of fulfilling our God-given passions for His glory.

Wisdom says, “I know there will be times when being stretched is just a reality- the question is with what will I stretch? With Whom?” True support systems will help you assess your activities and commitments through the glasses of godly wisdom.

“Never is a woman so fulfilled as when she chooses to underwhelm her schedule so she can let God overwhelm her soul.” – Lysa Terkeurst, The Best Yes

Equipping our soul with this day, every day, orthotics is believing in the truth that the Lord has pre-sent tools for our present troubles. It is trusting and putting our full weight into the knowledge that God knows our needs long before and more deeply than we can imagine.

Praying for eyes wide open to see His empty tomb and saving grace, and hands palms up to receive His help today and always.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wanted: Perspective {This Day Thursday}

I wasn't going to do this. My to-do list is long. My time is short. What I wouldn't give for a magic lamp... ("Ya got a list that's three miles long no doubt, well all you gotta do is rub like so...")

I figured you'd get it if I just let you know that my brain is fried, emotions fraying, and I just need to get. stuff. done. But God is persistent. No amount of laundry, packing, cooking, cleaning will give me the peace of mind only time with God can offer. And I can't multitask that.

So here we sit, you and I, and I need to do a bit of bragging. My mom makes hella-good banana bread. So good I almost engaged in a drop-down, drag-out fight over it. Is it mob-mentality when its just a mob of individuals assaulting each other?

Well, years ago I was on tour with my university's choir. Before every performance, a church would provide a meal. Usually a potluck deal. Good eats for sure. I chowed with my fellow choir buddy nerds and we chatted about all the whatnots going on in our "important" collegiate world. Then one of the guys takes a bite of the banana bread and makes some comment like, "This banana bread is good. Not as good as my mom's, but my mom makes the best banana bread in the world, so..."

That set off some playful banter along the lines of, "No way, my mom makes the best banana bread in the world. No my mom does. No mine. My mom uses cream cheese frosting. My mom does need crappy frosting. My mom's banana bread would make your mom's taste like cat food." Stuff like that. Good-natured at first, with just a hint of nasty. It was more than banana bread proficiency that hung in the balance, it was our mothers' honor- and that honor rested heavily on the quality of their banana bread. I won, by the way.

Anyway, in a world where we could disown our comrades over un-resolvable quickbread differences, we sure give a lot of ground when it comes to bragging up on our God. That isn't meant to be condemnation. I hop right on that train. People say, "look at this awesome stuff I have/do/think," and I say "uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, that's so cool!" And truth is- some of it is. But I am so slow. So. Slow. To be like, "Hey look at this totally awesome stuff my God did!"

And if I focus on how my marble mouth stumbles over praising God out loud to people who have their own gods to think of, I get down on myself. Man I suck.

But if instead I think about how awesome God is, I cut myself some slack because hey, God is awesome. So awesome. And the point has never been to flog ourselves and straighten up- its been about the good news of Jesus Christ. That doesn't mean flippantly ignoring the grievous sin that would separate me from God, it means confessing and living like Jesus is alive. He took my sins to that tree, but that is not the end of the story.

So I am going to do a little bragging on God.It's totally Biblical. "Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:31) Jesus is alive and living and active, and that perspective hit me afresh today.

This Day Thursday, I need some perspective. I need prayers for sure. But I really need perspective. God was good enough to sit down with me in Job. I didn't turn there out of Job-like self-pity. It was just on the way to Psalms, but I honestly didn't make it to Psalms.

Job 38-39 might as well have been titled, "The Lord Answers His Wild Woman." I have become aware that the times I am most apt to cry is when I feel overwhelmed and/or feel that things are out of my control. My kids and house, sure. Other people, definitely. And honestly, I felt a tad out of control this morning. I even said that, "I just feel like I have absolutely no control."

Guess what Job 38-39 is about? Control. God's control. Often I read it and play it out in my head that God is really giving it to Job. You think you're all that, Job? "Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you?" (38:34) While that is definitely the vibe it intentionally gives off, today I read it differently- not with the edge of a God who has had it up to here with self-justification. Today it whispered of God's mercy and loving care for every single tiny bit of His creation. There is no detail overlooked. No decision carelessly made. Couple that with Christ's sermon on the mount and we see that all flows out of the love and attention of the Creator of all- and that extends to me and you as well. The love that nailed Jesus to the cross is the love that makes known to us that we are valued and special, and that comes without any control on our part.

And then I flipped to John 17 and spent time in Jesus' high priestly prayer. God does these things for us and then He prays for us. That we would believe Him, be one, be kept from the evil one, be with Him. I ask people to pray for me, but I actually get to read the words that my Savior prayed on my behalf.

Perspective. The things out of my control- they are going to stay that way. And if I did have control, I would sure be bound to screw something up. But God's way is better. The picture He sees is complete and just the absolute best because it is built on and around who He is- holy, perfect love.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Thursday, November 6, 2014

When Joy Leaves You Constipated {This Day Thursday}

Pain pierced my chest. Sudden. Shocking. Acute, unrelenting pain. I breathed deeply. Nope. That made it worse.

I muscled through it. Sitting, back straight in my chair, feet on the floor, I read my music and sang the notes, but the pain still increased.

Nerves burning, tingling, I motioned to my director that I had to stop. The choir continued as I made my way to the back of the chairs and lay down on the cold tile floor. The pain shifted, but never lessened. I hung in there as long as I could, but as I hobbled back to my dorm room I envisioned all the things that could be wrong with me.

I was dying. I knew it. My mind raced through every scenario. How it would happen. How they would find me. My parents left without their oldest. My siblings consoling each other. The music at the funeral. My friends bereaved. I held back the tears as I pondered my own demise. Surely the end was coming, and far too soon.

I staggered into my dorm room. My roommate and her boyfriend were hanging out, unaware of the tragedy at their doorstep. They looked at me and their expression changed.

“What’s wrong?”

“I am in pain. Sharp stabbing pain. Right here.” I pointed to my upper chest. “I think I need to go to the emergency room.” I looked from face to face. First, my roommate who was confused, but concerned. Then at her boyfriend, a muscle-man who served in the Marines and was a Chicago city police officer. I was searching for answers, a plan.

Then he spoke. His answer was like his name- tough and straight to the point. But what he lacked in tact, he made up for in confidence.

“You have gas.”
“It’s just gas.”
“But, no. The pain is up here…”
“My mom is a nurse. I know what I’m talking about. Trust me. You gotta fart.”

The diagnosis was startling and more than a little humiliating. He didn’t seem at all ruffled by the matter. It was a fact of life. And I am sure you have gathered (since I am writing you some 10+ years later) the situation… remedied itself… just a couple hours later.

It is my first adult memory of bowel awareness. Little did I know that in a couple short years my life would largely revolve around bowel movements. Mine and others. And the more bowels we added to the situation, the more my life revolved around the toilet. Little did I know that soon the most frequently asked question when my children were out of sorts would be, “did you poop today?”

Before we continue: This Day Thursday isn’t about poop- though maybe that is your prayer for today, and if so, that’s totally cool. I get it. It also isn’t about doing more. Busy does not equal joy, and there are no awards for the fullest schedule. No need to log community service hours or reading minutes or money saved.

This Day Thursday is about release- it’s about joy. Joy is a gift of God, but if you aren’t feeling the joy, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the gift.

It might mean you have 1 of 2 spiritual issues. You could be filling yourself up on the things of the world, and leaving little room for the things of the Spirit. A diet of worldly junk makes it hard to perform any duty of life with joy. A sort of spiritual malnutrition.

Or it might be a sort of spiritual constipation. It sounds gross, but that’s where my mind goes- so you are welcome. You are doing the “right” things. Reading your Bible and any devotional you can get your hands on. Going to church, Bible study.  Filling up on Jesus! Yay! But denying yourself the opportunity to let Him out.

God is a mover. He is unchanging in that He does not grow, or learn, or need. The God of the beginning will be the God of the end. But He is movement too. Think of His earthly representations- wind, fire, living water (which is moving water). He designed our bodies in the way He designed creation- things don’t stay stagnant, or if they do they usually lead to decay and disease. (Funny how the church is also described as the body.)

Your joy may be “down in your heart to stay,” but that does not mean it should be hoarded. God placed His creative spirit in each of us- something special He shares with you specifically, to help you release your joy in Him. To help you enjoy Him. It might change over time, but there is usually one thing that you have that helps you release tension and enjoy your time.

I’m not talking getting a mani-pedi. Or shopping. (Maybe giving a mani-pedi. Maybe making something to sell.) Creation, not consumption, is the key. Whatever it is- a common problem is our culture does not allow time to fulfill the creative side in us.

For me writing is cathartic, but singing is even beyond that. Not singing- making music. Creating, collaborating. I physically feel myself giving over to God what He has given to me. Breath gives life to notes and words, and makes something beautiful for and with God. It moves something inside me.

If joy is a daily prayer- and oftentimes it is for me- take a quick inventory. What has God given you to do and enjoy? Take photographs? Draw? Sing? Play? Paint? Write? Act? Dance? Create? Cook? Explore? Have you given yourself time to deliberately spend time with God while doing these things, just for the sake of doing them? Not to get busy points. Not to meet a deadline.

Facials, spa trips, weekend getaways- there isn’t anything wrong with those things. They give rest and rest is needed. But if joy is what you are after, you need something that gets deeper. Something you and God enjoy together. He gave you that gift. Turn off the comparisons and schedules and take time to enjoy Him. You may find that in releasing your time and expectations, God will release your joy, and your whole body will thank you for it.

It gives a whole new perspective to “let go and let God.” ;)

“My heart overflows with a pleasing theme…” Psalm 45:1