Monday, July 28, 2014

The Home Front

I'm always amazed at how quickly we can slide into coasting mode at the start of summer. But now with school starting next week, we have opportunity to start new, to get our family life in order.  However, summer is not the only time we struggle with coasting.  One of the greatest struggles of parenting is engaging for the long haul. 

Years in youth ministry has provided some perspective in this area.  We've seen it happen again and again.  Parents focus on the accomplishments of their older kids and breathe a sigh of arrival.  The fruit of their labors paid off.  But now they are too worn out to be intentional about raising the younger siblings.  

Growing up number eight in a family of ten, I know what it is to be one of the 'littles'.  We watched our older siblings go off to follow their dreams, but us 'littles' were still kids . . . still in need of our parents and their involvement in our lives.

Now that I am a parent, with a set of older children and some 'littles' of my own, I can better understand the difficulty of raising children as we age.  There is less energy and some hope has faded as we reap the fruit of our mistakes or, in the case of our successes, pride.  It takes great effort to continue raising the 'littles' with the same energy and passion of our younger years. 

This is why, when my husband recently returned home from a missions trip, that tinge of regret at staying home did not bother me too much.  Staying home was my attempt at being intentional with my younger daughters.  (One attempt at least)

Some three years ago, I had made a promise . . . to make them each a quilt.  They picked out the fabric and designed a theme.  After starting the project, life marched ahead at full speed.  The quilt blocks got tucked away in a box, placed on the back burner, only to gnaw at my conscience.  It was time to resurrect this project. 

By now the fabric seemed juvenile, and so we considered starting over with different fabric.  But no, they wanted me to finish these.  

You should have seen their delight at the finished project! 

Well, the first stage anyway.  I have yet to complete the tedious part, the quilting.  But I'm planning bit by bit, to have them done in time for cold weather.

Years ago, God opened my eyes to a hard truth.  Though the need of ministry might seem urgent, I must keep my family as a priority.  It is often hard to find that balance. 

Next year my middle child will be in high school and so I look forward to more missions trips with the youth, but for this time, staying home was the right choice.  This was our first week of the summer with virtually no schedule, responsibilities, or appointments.  It was time well spent.   I hope I never underestimate the power of rest or time spent with my children.  (Yes, to sew and be domestic, is sometimes therapeutic for me.)

I am encouraged when I keep this truth ever before me:  God has a plan and purpose not only for me, but for my children as well.  He is forming them for His purpose and glory.  As I stumble and bumble through parenting, all is grace, God's grace, which carries them through to adulthood.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Choosing Life

The slogan, 'choose life', is often used in the context of abortion.  But over the last few months, it has taken on new meaning for me, so much so that I would like to make a plaque with those words and hang it on my wall.  I just might.

(Photo by Stephen Matera)

Back in April when I turned the calendar, there were these words staring me in the face, "You have made known to me the path of life."  Psalm 16:11  At the time, they seemed to mock, yet in my frustration, I sensed God speaking, that He was going to reveal to me personally, the way that would lead to life.  

Later, as I read about Joshua leading Israel to take possession of the land, he challenges them, "Choose you this day, whom you will serve...", and it clicked.  (Josh. 24:15)  My choices each day, determine who I serve:  either life or death, either God's best or my selfishness, gluttony, and pride.    

The choices might seem small and insignificant, like whether to have the doughnut or go without, whether to get the day going or sleep in, whether to push through with my own agenda or change it for others, but each choice leads to a life that overcomes or one that lives in defeat.

It sounds so black and white, and yet, there is no harm in a dessert, sleeping in, or doing something for myself.  The harm comes in the timing of it. There is a time for every activity under heaven, but the time for work is not the time for play, the time for fasting is not the time for a feast. (Eccles. 3:1)

Making the right choice empowers and releases me to freedom.  God has shown me that this "path of life..." is surrender to His terms.  It's not that victory is impossible or unavailable to me.  I'm just not always willing to sacrifice for the goal.  He has laid it out before me, but I must choose it.

It reminds me of a song which always causes me to stop and ponder, "There is power in the name of Jesus, to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain."  (by Jesus Culture)  These chains that enslave me can be broken by choosing the way of life and realizing that I don't have to yield to my desire.    

Yet, I have to be careful.  I don't want to be legalistic, but neither do I want to be so permissive that I become enslaved by my freedoms.  For example, there is nothing inherently wrong with sugar consumption, but for me, for this time in my life, it is death. I know my weakness and I must choose life lest I become its servant.

I am baffled lately with these thoughts from Hebrews where Jesus appeals to His Heavenly Father "with prayers and petitions, with loud cries and tears."  The passage goes on to say, "He was heard because of His reverent submission".  God was well aware of Jesus' pleas, yet still, the Father did not give His Son any shortcuts or easy way out.  In fact, "although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered..."  Even Jesus, God's own Son made the choice to serve life, while knowing that the road to life was a terrible painful death.  In that choice, Jesus broke off every chain of Satan seeking to destroy Him. (Heb. 5:7-8)

I still have times where I biff badly and have to pay the consequences.  Most assuredly, I have not arrived, nor do I intend to point fingers.  I share this with you only because I am so excited about this freedom I have in Christ, this empowerment He has given to overcome in ways I never thought possible.

"You have made known to me the path of life; you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."  Psa. 16:11


Monday, July 21, 2014

More Than Words

I've been going through this season of struggle.  With all my heart I've wanted to know a greater power of God in my practice, to really experience truth in my daily living.  In some areas I have.  Others not.   

I recently drove over Douglas Pass, returning my daughter home from orchestra camp.  As we bridged the mountain crest, ready to come down the other side, the radio began a song I dearly love, ''I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind, the God of Angel Armies, is always by my side."  (Chris Tomlin)  Shifting down to low gear, the truck hugging each hairpin curve, all of us began singing along with this song. 

As we sang, I thought of this.  Angel Armies, that's a lot of power!  If the God of Angel Armies is for me, why don't I experience more of His power in my life?  Why is it such a struggle to appropriate His Word in practical living? 

I look at the secular world, and they often seem to have a greater hold on discipline, confidence, and ability than many Christians.  We do much lip service to God's strength, but it seems to go no further. 

Over the last two weeks, something has become very clear to me, and it is also the reason I haven't written any new posts recently.

I've been fighting.  Hard.  Obsessively.  Relentlessly.  And as a result, there is a little less of me.  Three months ago, I never dreamed it possible.  You might ask, "How is that any different than self-discipline or will power which the world promotes?"  My answer is, that I've tried their way and it has failed me every time.  Even when my spirit is willing, my flesh is weak.  I need God's power in my life as I seek to honor Him with my body.  It is a spiritual battle. 

Not only am I learning to fight, but I'm also realizing the value of another word . . . consistency.   The fighting is pointless if I am not committed to the long haul, to lifestyle change.   This is not a journey that ends when I reach a certain number.  It goes on for a lifetime. 

In the Scriptures I read of David's mighty men. (2 Sam. 23)  Here is a group who knows how to fight! They knew what it was to endure, to suffer, to ignore pain and trudge forward to accomplish a goal.  And I think I found my answer.

To overcome, I must not only pray, lean hard into God, and surrender to His way, but also engage.  Though God is the one who fights for me, I must apply myself to His truth so it can be known in my experience.

Only yesterday, I talked to a woman who is also fighting hard.  Cancer threatens her life, but she refuses to yield to its power and God is giving her great strength.  She encouraged me with these words, that "it's as if God is slashing back and forth with His sword, resisting the disease, one day at time."  But live or die, she has chosen to rest in God's will for her life.  The praise on her lips is her fight.  And she is fighting well. 

God does not always chose to heal.  He is not magic which we control, for He is in charge.  However, because I have placed my faith in Him, I am one of His own, which changes everything.  He gives me purpose, the will to fight, and His ever present grace, that undeserved favor always ready to catch me in open arms, drawing me close to His heart.  Even if I falter, I know His love remains strong.

Yet, I don't want to be stagnant with apathy, singing of grace, when God would have me go further.  This is why I seek to take faith beyond words.  I want it living in my life, to know God's presence, His fulness of joy even in the ordinary. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Witness of the Stars

It's been a long time since I've really looked at the stars.  Living in town I rarely stop to notice, but camping in the wilderness, the night sky becomes prominent.  Once more I am dazzled by their witness. 

"Wake me up so that I can see them," was my secret prayer.  God heard that desire, and at nearly two in the morning, I stood outside my tent, gazing in complete wonder.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."  (Psa. 19:1) Whether I see them or not, every night they shine as testimony to His faithfulness, His control, and His sustaining power because  "Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge."  (Psa. 19:2)  Even the constellations declare His great work of salvation and interest in our lives.   As I think of our planet and its setting in the universe I think, "Who am I, that God would even consider me?"  And I am drawn to my Creator.

Yet, there is a war going on in the heavens, a fight for the lives of people.  Not only are we caught in the crossfire, but as followers of Christ we are very much participators in it.  The days, weeks, and months grow weary and sometimes I get tired of the battle. 

The first free week of the summer turned into a frustrating challenge and we ended up without reliable wheels.  We were in a desperate place, discouraged and disappointed, pressed down by the stress.  But even before we called, God was intersecting our path with another, setting His plan in motion.  We were shocked to see His swift provision and awed by His faithfulness.

It was then that I realized I was beginning to believe the lie that we had fallen off God's radar, that we were only one little family among a sea of mankind and why should He care for us?   But God is not like that.  He has a reason for everything He does and the question I should be asking instead is, "Who am I to think I know better than God who sees past, present, and future alike in one big panorama?  Should I not simply trust His viewpoint?"

Having this perspective doesn't necessarily mean I understand what He is doing or that the frustration lets up.  Half of my family underwent allergies so badly, we had to cut the camping trip short.  I know, what's the big deal.  Only that these days are precious and family dynamics are changing.  My daughter leaves for Africa next week and my son's work schedule rarely coincides with ours.  To have all my children together for an event is rare. 

But I am thankful for the time we did have together.  God knows my heart's desire, taking great delight in fulfilling that desire, even when it doesn't always happen the way I envision. 

Gazing at the stars, reminds me of my personal God.  The One who has named each star, also knows my name.  (Psa. 147:4)  He has inscribed me in the nail prints of His hands, a 'tatoo', never to be removed.  (Isa. 49:16)  And He never abandons His own. (Heb. 13:5b) 

These stars which bear witness of God, are the same stars Abraham saw . . . and David . . . and that my daughter will see half way around the world, for "there is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world."  (Psa. 19:3-4)

The truth is, that God is faithful, and He has not wasted His suffering nor His life for nothing.  The interest He has invested in us who believe is far too great to drop by the wayside.  No matter what we go through, He can be trusted.