Thursday, September 27, 2012

in car we trust

When it comes to our car, God is testing me on trusting Him.

It's not a bad car.  It's the newest car we've ever had.  It STILL has under 100,000 miles, and that's saying something for us.  It was also a gift, and we are incredibly thankful for it.

And yet, ever since we've had this car, we've been pouring money into it.

In fact, this is how it works:

  • We end up saving a lot of money.
  • Something happens with the car.
  • We take it in.
  • The repairs cost almost exactly as much as we had just saved.

Elliott and I are trying our hardest.  We don't make a lot of money (the realities of ministry and support-raising), but we live frugally.  We don't spend needlessly, we don't rack up credit card debt, we give to our church and other organizations, and we are trying -- desperately -- to save, both for ourselves and our children.

But it feels like whatever we do, our best efforts are in vain.  And all because of a car.

Every time it happens, I feel defeated.
But then I remember -- am I putting my trust in a car -- in a bank account -- in a safety net?
Or am I trusting God?

I say I'm trusting God, but most of the time, I think I'm putting my trust in these others things.

So.  God is in control, as always.  He's showing me that.  Big time.

Alright, God.  I trust You.  I trust You to take care of our finances and our family.  We'll continue to do our own part and be responsible.  I trust that somehow -- in some miraculous way yet again -- that You will provide for our every need when the need arises.

(...but maybe You could go a little easy on the car for a while?...)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

grief, action, and the restoration of creation

In my desire to become strengthened in intercessory prayer, there is a deepness attached to that request.  When I sit in silence before the Lord -- asking Him to show me who needs prayer and what exactly I can pray on their behalf -- I find myself overcome with grief.  My heart breaks when I think of those who suffer.

I see their faces.  I know their situations.
I am utterly grieved.

Photo by That One Chick Mary on flickr

It's not misplaced.  God grieves too.  Jesus wept.  He still weeps.

The world is broken, and people are suffering because of it.
People are broken.
And I am breaking for them.

I really sense that I am seeing a part of God -- experiencing a part of God -- when He brings me to tears in prayer.  I realize that He is saddened.  Deeply saddened.

One of the most famous arguments against the existence of the Christian God is suffering in the world.  But it's not like God is just sitting there, watching the suffering, and turning a blind eye.  He is counting on His children to help restore the earth.

That also doesn't mean that Christians can sit idly by and say, "Well, someday Jesus will come back and everything will be well again.  In the meantime, I'm just going to go to church and pretend that suffering doesn't really happen.  There's nothing we can do until Jesus comes back."

I'd imagine that God grieves when He witnesses that sentiment being uttered and lived out.

No, we are not called to sit idly by.
No, God is not sitting stoic on a big throne.
We should grieve along with God, and that grief should bring us to action.

That's why social justice is so important.  That's why community is so important.  That's why we must not only pray for our friends and those around the world, but we must find ways to tangibly help. 

This is the time of the church.  This is the time that we look forward to the restoration of the earth as we currently participate in that restoration.  What we do here matters in eternity.

So today I would ask that you take a moment in silence before the Lord and ask Him:
God, what is grieving you?  What should be grieving me?
How can I help? 
How can I participate in the restoration of creation?

"Break my heart for what breaks Yours."
Hosanna, Hillsong United

Thursday, September 20, 2012

peel back the layers and just get rid of it

Sometimes we're sinning and don't know we're sinning.

But as we get closer to the Lord, He graciously peels back layer after layer of sin that we have built up and collected over years.

Photo by abbyladybug on flickr
Peeling back a layer hurts, because it usually requires some sort of action -- sometimes drastic -- on our part.  Every so often, He'll just release us from our sin after one prayer, but many times it takes work.

Here's the thing: when God reveals an area of sin in your life, pay attention.  Because that's grace right there -- that He is exposing something that is weighing you down, binding you up, and keeping you from experiencing the fullness of Life in Him.

So take action.

"Do not fuel your sinful imagination."
Romans 13:10, The Voice

We can choose to continue to "fuel" our sin by indulging in whatever it is -- or by even tempting ourselves to indulge.
Taking action against the sin may require some major re-orienting of habits.  But it's necessary.   Remember when Jesus said, "If your left eye causes you to sin, pluck it out"?  Think about that.  Is the left eye sinful in itself?  Of course not.  It's useful and it's part of God's creation.  It's part of us.  But if, for whatever reason, something natural and useful is causing you to sin, then seriously: just get rid of it.

There are some things in my life that I've had to just get rid of -- things that may be totally acceptable in your lives.  There are certain magazines I cannot let myself look at because it indulges my vanity or envy -- ie. wanting to look super-duper-skinny like celebrities.  I just stopped looking at those magazines.  And if I ever pick one up haphazardly, then I immediately go back into my old habits of comparing, being jealous, and wanting to diet unhealthily.  But since God revealed that to me and I made an effort to get rid of the magazines, I've slowly been released from severe body image issues.

So what is it for you?  What has God revealed to you that is causing you to stumble -- that is keeping you bound up?  Because whatever it is, just get rid of it.
  • Please share a time of triumph -- a time when God told you to get rid of something and you did, and experienced great release.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

adoption, infertility, miscarriage: the ignorant, hurtful things we say and do

The other night, I was talking to a friend who has adopted three children from Liberia.  We were talking about the inexcusable ignorance of some people when it comes to asking questions about adoption (which, in turn, reminded me of this article that I recently read on the topic).

I told her how I have no idea the type of stress and suffering adoptive families have to go through to have their children home with them, nor the difficulty of navigating a world that still doesn't understand adoption.  We also talked about people who deal with infertility or miscarriages, and how the world responds to those women and couples with ignorance.

And then I wondered how many things I have said to adoptive parents or infertile couples or women who have miscarried that have been hurtful.  I wondered how many times I meant to say something encouraging and ended up glossing over their pain instead.  I wondered how many times I have been ignorant.  And that's no excuse for the things I have said.

So to my friends -- both the ones I know very well and the ones that perhaps I do not know yet or at all -- who have been hurt by anything I have said or done out of ignorance, I am very, sincerely sorry.

And I would love to know how I and others can love you better.  What things should we not say or do?  When are the times we should be silent instead of speaking?  What do you need to hear or not hear?  

And honestly, for the rest of us: what is our responsibility, especially in an age of Facebook where it is normal -- expected even -- to plaster your pregnancy for the world to see?  I recently had another friend tell me she just blocks all updates from pregnant women, but here I was writing her a FB message with my PREGNANT BELLY PICTURE as my profile. So even if she blocked me, she was forced to see my belly every time I messaged her.  Do I - do we - have a responsibility to be more guarded in what we post?  How can we best love others that we do not even know we are hurting?

What do you think?

Monday, September 17, 2012

gifts, and their often (or not) usage

 "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."

Romans 12:6-8, NIV 

I was reading this passage today and realized that I do most certainly know two of my gifts: intercessory prayer and encouragement.  From experience, from others' feedback, and from inside myself, I know these are the things that -- at least in this season -- God has gifted me with.  

One translation I was reading alongside the NIV said, "If it is encouragement, then do it often."  So it got me thinking - how often am I exercising these gifts?  How often am I encouraging -- in fact, maybe going out of my way to encourage someone?  How often am I spending an extra ten minutes just in intercession for other people?

My answer?  Probably not often enough.  

I want to change that answer.

  • What are your gifts?
  • How often are you using them?

Friday, September 14, 2012

the best and worst thing about being pregnant (hint: it's the same thing)

I think about it when my shoes are hitting the pavement -- when I'm running up that hill or through that long stretch of sun.

I think about how they say you can totally exercise up to the level of intensity that you did before you were pregnant.  "Up To" must be the key words here, because I'm a pretty athletic, agile person, and there's no way I can exercise at the level of intensity that I did before I was pregnant.  If you are one of those women who can, I would love to know who you are, because right now, I'm not sure they exist.

And I know it's normal to huff and puff a little bit more; I know it's normal to stop and rest and little bit more; I know it's normal to have to pace myself a little bit more.  It's normal, but it doesn't mean I like it.


Because I'm not in control.

And that's the worst thing about being pregnant.

Photo from Flickr by h.koppdelaney

And in some ways, it's just as frustrating as the last time to come to this reality -- to accept my limits as an athlete, as a mother, as a cook, as a wife, as a cleaner, as a child of God.  In all areas, I cannot push myself the way I did before I was pregnant.  I have to say no to some workouts.  I have to put on Sesame Street some mornings.  I have to put the veggies aside for a few months in order to eat something.  I have to take a nap instead of spending an afternoon with my husband.  I have to let the house go to shambles a little bit more than I'd like.  And I have to admit that God is in control.

And that's the best thing about being pregnant.

The whole process centers on the beautiful reality that nothing is in my hands -- not this little life whom I have yet to meet, not my daughter, not my own life.  I have responsibilities, yes -- but ultimately, God is and has always been the One conducting the symphony here.

In general, I would say that this pregnancy has been slightly more difficult physically, but worlds better mentally.  Because mentally, I knew what to expect.  Last time, God taught me in leaps and bounds how much fake control I had to relinquish, and I've carried that every day of being a mom.  So this time, before I even got pregnant, I knew what I was getting into.

It's still hard.  It's still frustrating.  It's still discouraging.

But also it's beautiful.  Exciting.  Life-giving (quite literally).

So as I have to stop myself on a run for the fourth or fifth time, I call upon the Lord and ask Him for the strength to accept my limitations -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

And I thank Him for the opportunity to carry life and (re-)learn that life is His to give and take away -- that I am not in control.

  • How have you learned to accept your limitations?
  • When was a time that God taught you that you are not in control of your life?

Monday, September 10, 2012

choices, and being sensible

Before I plunge ahead into my day, I have a choice.

I can choose to forge ahead and get started on my to-do list (this is the most tempting option, especially as a mom to a one-year-old with limited "free" -- ie. chore -- time).

Or I can choose to stop.  Listen.  Pray.  Read the Bible.

Guess which one I often choose.

Lately, I have sense God giving me a direct, "No," when I think about getting ahead on my to-do list.  And you know what?  I think it's more sensible (isn't that funny?  God is more sensible than I am!  Who would've thought?).  Here's why it's more sensible.

My whole life, I've been arranging my day.  Me.  I've had to-do lists and I've started on them.  When I was in college, I didn't start (or end) the day with God because... well, I was in college and had assignments that had due dates (c'mon, God -- official due dates!  You can't mess around with homework assignments, right?).  When I was out of college, I had three jobs and didn't have time to be with the Lord (but definitely had time to work out incessantly -- funny how that works out).  When I became a mom, I didn't have time because babygirl only sleeps for a finite amount of time and I have to keep the house/work from home/call to make doctor's appointments/etc.

Sensing a pattern yet?
Seem familiar?

God's clearly telling me to stop living my own way.

Some days I will be productive, some days I won't.  That will happen whether or not I spend time with God.  Sometimes, I have quiet time and Gwenny sleeps incredibly well that day and I get everything accomplished and then some.  Other times, she barely sleeps a half hour before walking up and I just barely have time to spend with God (like today -- I already hear her stirring).

But whether or not I am productive is not the point.  The Bible says to use your time wisely.  That doesn't mean the floor has to be mopped every week (haven't read a verse about that one yet).  It does mean that I'm supposed to bring my daughter up in the Lord, and I can't exactly do that unless I'm learning about the Lord myself.

See?  It's just more sensible to spend time with God, because the day will turn out the way the day will turn out anyways, but if I neglect my spiritual life, then I am starving myself of Life.

It's time to put the to-do list aside first-thing, and instead cultivate the relationship I agreed to long ago.

He said to count the cost before we become a disciple.

Did I count it, or was I just deceiving myself?

What about you?

  • How are you doing about spending quiet time? 
  • What are the things that keep you from doing it daily?
  • How are you going to make sure it happens? 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

to dream the dreams of God

By nature, I am a dreamer.  

For better or worse, I am always thinking of what's next -- dreaming of what's to come -- whether it's a graduation or a wedding or a baby or a new home.  I pray often that God keeps me content and keeps my dreams in place, because being a dreamer can easily turn into being discontent with your current circumstances.  And that's just a miserable existence. 

So most of the time, I thank the Lord for what He has given (and He has given us a lot), and then start to ask Him for some other dreams.

But the thing is... well, the dreams go deep.  They spill out from my heart.  Desires for things-to-come are strong -- and most of the time (I think), they are good.  They aren't selfish, but good.  They are a part of who God made me.

But if these are just my dreams, then they are fruitless, and I want none of them.

If God is the potter and I am the clay, then I ask God to mold me into what He wants.

I ask that God takes my inner thoughts, and especially my dreams, and aligns them with His own.

I do not want to keep asking for things He does not want for my life.  I want to desire after His thoughts, His desires, His dreams. 

  • When was a time that you had a dream that God re-aligned to His own plans?
  • When was a time that you had a dream that God answered?

Friday, September 7, 2012

when God's promises are not fulfilled

You know Hebrews 11?  It's a pretty famous chapter. 

It's the, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen," chapter.

It's an encouraging chapter -- one we read over and over again -- as we walk through the "Faith Hall of Fame," as it is sometimes called. 

Friends, there is something so deep about this chapter.  I believe it answers head-on the whole, "How could there be a loving God if people suffer?" question.

I'm not downplaying that question.  It's a fair question -- one that ought to be wrestled with in our attempts to understand God -- one that, even though I "know" the answers, I still find troubling.  I constantly find myself calling out to God, on behalf of others I know who suffer very deeply and others I do not know that suffer unthinkable things.  My soul cries out.

So anyways.  Back to Hebrews 11.  We read a list of people who are commended for their faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and then: a very surprising verse.  One I find that I have often overlooked.

"All these I have mentioned died in faith without receiving the full promises, although they saw the fulfillment as though from a distance."
Hebrews 11:13, The Voice

You know I never thought about the fact that Abraham and Sarah never actually saw on this earth the fulfillment of God's covenant to them.  They had Isaac.  They never saw their descendents numbering the sand on the seashore and the stars in heaven.  And yet they had faith.  They believed.
It goes on.  Bear with me here -- try to read the whole passage.

"And what more shall I say?  For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Hephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets--

who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection.  

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.  

They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated -- of whom the world was not worthy -- wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect."

Hebrews 11:32-40, ESV

These verses are so important because -- well, hey, I don't know what you've been taught in the American-version of Christianity, but I know I've been taught -- sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly -- that if I follow God, I will be happy.  I will be "blessed" by material things.  Everything will be okay.  

If I follow God, I will certainly be blessed, but God does not promise blessing by material things.  He does not promise safety.  In fact, He promises the opposite.

Don't believe me?  Check out what Jesus says in Matthew 10:

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves."
Matthew 10:16, ESV

Jesus tells us to take up the cross daily and follow Him.  He says we will suffer for His name's sake.  

Okay, so Christians will suffer.  What about others who are suffering?

I guess what I'm saying is this life is not the end.  This life is only a blink of an eye in the scope of eternity.  There is Hope.  More specifically: there is Hope in Christ Jesus.  

What we see in this life is broken, twisted, and evidence that sin has entered the world -- but we were only given the option to sin because God loves us and does not want us to be robots.  He wants true love -- love that is a choice -- a commitment.  Because we do not choose to love Him all the time, sin is in the world.  Every bit of brokenness and suffering we see is a result of sin. 

God will redeem it -- and by it, I mean everything.  A new heaven and new earth.  Let me say it again: There is Hope.  We may not see the promises of renewal in this life, but if we hope in the Lord, we will see it someday -- just as Abraham and Sarah can see their descendents today.

And when I think again about my friends who suffer deeply -- about those I do not know who suffer unthinkable things, Jesus' words of the Beatitudes ring in my head...

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 5:3-10, ESV
  • What other thoughts do you have about Hebrews 11?  
  • Have you been taught that if you follow God, everything will be fine in this life?  How have you wrestled with this?
  • How have you wrestled with the reality of suffering in this world?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

even now: the little baby inside me

It's unmistakable now.

The little flips and flurries inside me tell me this baby is already different than its big sister.  Even now, merely 15 weeks in, and I sense its own personality coming through.

With Gwen, they were little flutters -- like a butterfly, or a pixie, as we ended up calling her throughout the pregnancy (and even to this day).  And when she emerged, she was indeed a little pixie -- with her elvish looks and prancing energy, flitting from here to there with little giggles.

With this baby, the movements are more like distinct flips.  Sometimes I feel as though Baby is on a roller coaster in my belly.  What will this little one be, I wonder?  When it is a year old, will I be looking back and remembering these little movements and seeing the connection -- the way I do with its big sister?

And when I feel these indications of life inside me, I stop.  I almost hate to breathe because I don't want to miss it.  Of course, give it another 15 weeks and I'll be begging the baby to get its foot out of my ribs.

But I never tire of this -- the first little movements of a forming, growing baby.

And I also never tired of this --

"For you formed my inward parts,
you knitted me together is my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works,
my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there were none of them."

Psalm 139:13-16

Even now, every day has been formed.
Even now, you are not hidden completely. 
There is One who sees you
and knows you
and loves you more than I know how.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made, even now.
And I cannot help but praise the Lord because of your existence.
  • When was the first moment you realized your children's personalities were very different?

Monday, September 3, 2012

when vacation plans go bust

Even now, as I sit here and start typing, I feel ... icky. 

I've just forced down two slices of gluten-free toast because (thankfully) my appetite has (sort of) returned but my stomach has not caught up.

No, it's not morning sickness any more.  I think I might be done with morning sickness, although it's a little hard to tell at this point.  You see, while starting the first week of the second trimester, I (oh joy) caught my little one's stomach bug.

This wouldn't have been so awful had it not been a planned vacation weekend.

Is it just me or when you have kids, do the most inopportune things happen at the worst times? 


Okay, okay.  Let me start from the beginning.  And I promise, I'll try to spare you the icky details and just be vague and sweeping in my description of things.

The first thing you should know is that -- probably like you -- Elliott and I don't really get away very much.  We don't get to go on a real vacation often, because usually our trips are devoted to CCO training events or support-raising.

The second thing you should know is that Elliott and I are very much in love with the mountains.  We live in (sadly) a generally flat part of the country (compared to growing up along the Appalachian trail, ya know?) and it gnaws away at my soul a little bit every day.  So when we can, we like to go to the mountains.  It doesn't matter where (although we believe the White Mountains in NH is what heaven will look like) -- as long as we can see mountains and go hiking and all that wonderful outdoorsy stuff. 

We also have a lot of family that we love and want to visit.

With that in mind...

We planned a five-day getaway to the Adirondacks.  I have a number of family members up there (and a good friend whom I haven't seen in 10 YEARS - Hi, Stacy!!) and Elliott hadn't yet had a real chance to hang out with them (our wedding doesn't count; we were a bit distracted with each other that day). 

The night before we leave, my husband hears weird noises coming from the nursery.  He goes in, and to our horror, we find Gwennygirl got sick probably an hour or two before and was ... well, in need of a bath. 

I cried and stripped the sheets along with the beloved froggy lovey and started a wash; Elliott gave the baby a bath, and the baby -- despite being sick to her stomach -- was having the time of her life.  At first, she was in shock, and then she realized she was up with mom and dad in the middle of the night and got the idea: "Hey.... this is AWESOME!!"  She goes to bed really early (between 5:30 and 6pm), so she was enamored by the night sounds outside and the lights from the cars.

Anyways, we didn't exactly get the sleep we anticipated, but Gwen only got better, so we decided to leave without thinking twice about it.

The first full day of vacation, I woke up and felt immediately really, really ill.  Of course, I chalked it up to morning sickness and tried to muster up the energy to take care of the baby.  And I ate something -- even though everything in my body was telling me not to -- because I thought maybe I just needed something in my stomach.  Big mistake.

So here's where I'll skip the details.  You've been there.  I spent most of the day bedridden and couldn't eat a thing, and of course I also worried about the little Baby Simko growing inside me, not getting any nourishment.  The only thing I could stomach was fruit punch -- which, incidentally, I never drink -- but I figured anything was better than nothing.

That night, I slept on the couch just in case I had to run to the bathroom.  I didn't want to wake Gwen, who was sleeping in the same room with us -- which, in her mind means that it's PLAYTIME ALL THE TIME ("Mommy and Daddy are in the room with me?  It must be time to wake up!!!").

It wouldn't have mattered anyways because baby was up at 3:30, whimpering to my husband until he finally got her at 5:30 am and brought her downstairs.  He looked really out of it and said he felt like a train hit him so I tried to help him out.

So there we were, day two of vacation, both of us sick -- running around chasing a very mobile baby.  We decided pretty early on that day to just cut our losses and head home. And let me tell you -- packing up your stuff and driving several hours home is not exactly the easiest thing to do when both parents are sick and need to be in bed.  But we did it -- not only for ourselves, but also for my poor cousins who basically nursed one of us the whole time we were there.

It wasn't completely a bust.  We did get to spend a lot of quality time with my cousins (especially Elliott, since he wasn't sick until the day we left) and we enjoyed their new home and beyond-beautiful property.  But it wasn't exactly the idyllic rest in the mountains we have envisioned.

I'm not upset or angry.  I mean, these things happen -- especially when you have kids and those kids have friends and those friends have germs.  It just is part of the territory.  I get that.

But on the way home, I just started thinking -- what's God thinking in the midst of all this?  Was there some sort of greater purpose?  Was He orchestrating something in the background that I was unaware of?

I haven't gotten any answers, but I'd love to know.  Because, well -- I was really looking forward to this trip and it didn't turn out anything like we planned.  And that's fine.  It's okay.  We still got to rest.  I would just love to know... why.  Just simply: why.

So this is where I turn the conversation to you -- because I know you have experienced this story, or something very similar:

  • When have you experienced a less-than-idyllic vacation?  How did you react?  
  • Did you find any silver living in the disappointment?  Did you see God in any of the more difficult moments?
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