Thursday, December 30, 2010

This is Your Chance to Obey Me

    I find myself in battle-like situations with my four-year old son Silas quite often here lately. He's really smart. He's really articulate. He's really only 4 years old and that is where the combination of all those things become lethal. He's not like an evil child or anything, but from time to time, like all  4-year old children, he becomes a little demanding. Ok, a lot demanding. He's still testing the boundaries of where his autonomy ends and where my authority begins. I find myself using a phrase with him over and over lately during those times when the look of great determination glazes his eyes over and I can sense his selective hearing kicking in. The phrase is: "This is your chance to obey me."I say it several times a day. I pull the phrase out when he's at the breaking point and I can see he's ready to plunge into a battle of wills with me over something like whether or not to put those toys away like I asked, or whether to continue talking in a disrespectful tone. Sometimes he makes the right choice and obeys, and sometimes...well, sometimes he doesn't. I always breathe a sigh of relief when he just goes along with what I said because that means that happy times will ensue. But when he wants what he wants and isn't going to budge, well that's when things get fairly unhappy.
    It's in these moments that I find myself wondering if this is how God feels about us, His children. I think about my own day and how many times did I have a "chance to obey" God but chose instead to do my own thing.  And just like with my little darling boy, things get very unhappy in a hurry. Obedience is hard for a pre-schooler for sure. But I'm thinking that even though as adults we have (hopefully) dropped the temper tantrums and fits, stopped the angry outbursts (again...hopefully) and the throwing of objects or hitting the closest passerby (definitely hopefully), we still have the moments my son has. We know what we want. All we can think about is that "thing", that "feeling", that "person". We don't want anything to stand in our way, we just want our way. But God steps in and whispers in our ears "This is your chance to obey me."Then we have a choice to make-plunge headlong into a destructive course of action authored by our selfish impulsive desires, or throw our hands up and say, "Ok God. I'm going to obey. I'm going to wait. I'm going to believe that you know more than I do."

    I think it all comes down to trust and faith. I came across this quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who, long story short, is known historically as a German pastor who was martyred as a result of his resistance against Nazism  as a founding member of the Confessing Church. His story is fascinating and if I had all day, I would chronicle his life here, but alas, you already know what kind of childhood forces I'm up against today as I am hurriedly typing this, so I'll keep it short and sweet. Bonhoeffer once said, "Only he who believes is obedient; only he who is obedient believes." I mean, think about that for a minute because it's huge. Absolutely huge. So huge that I can't even wrap my head around it in adult world, so I'll slip back to Mom-raising-a-strong-willed-4-year-old World. Does my son really believe in me when I give him a directive. Does he see me and my love for him more than seeing me as a barrier to his fun times? When I tell my son that I want him to do something, or change a behavior, I don't want him to do it simply because he's afraid of me or because he wants to avoid punishment (although those can certainly be motivating factors for children and adults alike). I want him to obey me, because I want him to believe in his heart that I want the best for him. I want him to have faith in his Mother that she knows more than he does and can see from past experiences of her own that what I say and what I expect will be beneficial to him in the long run. It's tough for a 4-year old kid to see beyond right now and see that the future is dependent on the now. That's where we as parents step in. And I believe that's where God steps in too. How many times have you been in a tough situation where your way seems best, but it goes against what you know God would want. It's tough to look beyond the desires of now and the possible consequences that await us. But I want to obey. Because to obey sends the message to God, "Father, I believe in You and You alone."

     I think I've probably given myself a lot to chew on and I hope that you can chew with me, so I'll leave you with a quote by Chuck Colson that I also love and that also has huge implications for us and our quest for obedience: "Maturing faith, faith that deepens and grows as we live our Christian life is not just knowledge, but knowledge acted upon. It is not just belief, but belief lived out and practiced." The word "maturing" pops out at me in that statement. My son, even though he has some very willful days now and then is getting better with time. I can now begin to reason with him. I'm finding that as we develop a close relationship built on trust and the simple enjoyment of being together, that those times where he wants to do his own thing are being replaced more and more with the change of attitude and the belief that Mom really DOES know what she's talking about. Cause and effect is kicking in for him. In our Christian walk, I think it's the same way. As we develop that trust in God and begin to realize that He truly does "work all things to our good", we mature. And those times where we want to throw an inner temper tantrum against Him give way to beauty of surrender and belief that He who made us, He who we can call "Father", He who knows what we need before we even know it ourselves, He who has lined up every star and planet in the sky, can surely look down our roads and lead us on a course of obedience, knowing His good and perfect plans for our lives.

     Wishing you a blessed 2011 filled with obedience, trust, faith, searching, and knowing that He is good.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 22nd.

     December 22nd always gets me in a very emotional, very reflective mood. It has been a near-magical day for me on two separate occasions. I love December 22nd. I look forward to it every year. It's a day when I can remember what God has done in my life and the blessings I have. So many times, I am such an Israelite, you know? If you're unfamiliar with the story in the Bible, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and were miraculously, over a period of  time, freed from their bondage and led by Moses to the Promise Land. Well, you would think they would be the most grateful people ever, but they were just like us. They were given a gift and were so full of joy-just ecstatic that they were leaving misery and walking into freedom. But after a while, the realities of life set in and they began to complain. Some of their complaints were legitimate: food and drink related requests, "are we there yet?" kind of questions. When they would begin to grumble, God would remind them, sometimes forcefully about their previous condition and the way in which He had saved and was currently saving them. Time after time in the Old Testament the old story of the Israelites being freed would be retold to the masses as a way to humble them and make them see how good they truly had it. So I think it's good to take the same posture- to humbly remember, reflect, and realize how much we have to be thankful for this year.
     December 22nd, 1999. 
     My boyfriend of several years said we'd be having Christmas with his parents and brother at their family cabin. I thought to myself, "hmmmm...a little electric up there, no heat, no running water, in December? Interesting. Ok." So we drove up in the dark to the little cabin on the edge of the family farm. No one had arrived but us: "Looks like they're running late" he said as we approached the crest of the hill where the little cabin sat. We decided to head on in and get the fire burning in the fireplace. As we walked past the windows, I noticed a fire already burning "Huh. Grandpa must've been up here earlier" was my boyfriend's reasoning. We walked in and he placed another log on the fire, causing more light to shine around the small darkened room. The next thing I noticed was a cute little Christmas tree in the corner with oodles of bows tied on it's branches. Then, a little stuffed black bear under the tree with arms outstretched (I love black bears, so I was pretty stoked to see such a cute little gift under the tree.) "Is this for me?" I asked, kneeling down to pick it up. And where WAS my boyfriend anyway- he had suddenly gotten all quiet on me. Then I heard his voice behind me. "It is...and so is this."I turned on my knees and was face-to-face with Jarrod. He was holding a white box with the most beautiful diamond  ring I had ever seen. And he asked me to be his wife. And I said yes. And it was the best December 22nd of my whole life. On that day, God brought us together and began a ministry that still goes on today. We got married in 2001, felt really called into ministering to young adults like ourselves in 2003, taught ourselves how to play piano and guitar that year, and started leading others in worship. We still do. There is something so amazing and special about sharing something like that with your spouse. Sometimes it's tough to juggle our kids and schedules and make it work, but with lots of help (thanks to our families) we are able to make music together and point others to God. There are no words strong enough or positive enough to describe this life we share together. And it all started with a couple of teenagers in love!  So on December 22nd each year, the first memory I start with is that one. So much hope, so much joy, so much love. Such promise and a lifetime worth of blessings. 

     December 22nd, 2005. Six years later. Such a beautiful life I had. I was enjoying being married to my best friend so much. But something was missing. We just weren't complete. And I was more frustrated than I had ever been in my life. For a year, we had tried to get pregnant. A year of anticipation and constant disappointment. We went through medical testing and there were some definite obstacles for me. I was in the middle of an endocrine system mutiny. If you know anything about the human body and hormones, it only takes one little thing to be out of whack and you can have some serious problems on your hands. I was essentially told that it would be difficult, if not impossible for me to conceive. I think the most frustrating part wasn't that I wasn't getting pregnant. I think the hardest part was knowing that God was in control, knew how badly I wanted this, but He was not working on my schedule. No amount of pleading, praying, crying, or worrying could make Him budge. The whole situation was impossible. But friends, as  the angel told Mary, "Nothing is impossible with God." And so on December 22, 2005 I was waiting again. Christmas was approaching, I had just gone through a day of teaching 6th graders and I was ready for my Christmas break. But more than that, I was ready to know why I felt so weird. I sat in the doctor's office. Again. My doctor and a nurse were leaning over a pregnancy test saying, "Nope. I'm sorry..." I thought for sure this time was THE time. I felt completely hopeless. Again. But then he said, " you see that line?" And he contorted his arm this way and that, holding the test up to the fluorescent light. "I think I see a line. Do you see it?" he asked the nurse. "Yep. That's a line. It's a faint one, but it's a line." She smiled at me. I couldn't speak. They sent me for a blood test to be sure and an hour later, my doctor called. "Merry Christmas Carrie. You're going to be a Momma." That was the December 22nd when my outlook on life instantly changed from bleak, frustrated, angry, discouraged, and absolutely downtrodden to hope. Blessed hope. 

     But it gets even better. Christmas Eve, 2005. Jarrod and I could hardly keep the news to ourselves, but we had these adorable little Christmas boxes for everyone to open on Christmas morning announcing the big news. People didn't make it easy for us to keep our secret. My Mom, who I love so much and am so thankful for, shared with me that she had been praying for me to have a baby. And that God had made it clear to her that I would have one. She had been taking daily walks to the creek where we had played as children. She would spend time asking God to grant us our request. And one winter's day, she knelt down on the creek bank and swirled her hand in the cold water. Some brown leaves on the creek bed swirled and underneath was a perfect, green leaf. In December. With tears streaming, she told me that Christmas Eve that she knew God was creating new life. Little did she know that new life had already been created and was growing within. It was at that moment that I knew the power of prayer, the beauty of an answered prayer, and the extreme level of gratitude that comes only at the end of a long wait and struggle. 

     A lot of people have a "life verse" from the Bible. For me, I have sort of a "life Bible story". It's the story of the blind man in John Chapter 9. The guy is blind and has been from birth. The disciples ask Jesus, "what's the deal with this guy- did his parents sin? Is that why he's blind?" And Jesus says in verse 3, "It was not because of his sins or his parents' sins," Jesus answered. "This happened so the power of God could be seen in him." 

 I like to think that many of our struggles can be directly correlated to this verse. So many of you reading this can probably look back to a time in your life when you went through a terrible trial in life only to come out on the other side of it full of wonder and awe when you discovered what the Lord had been doing in the midst of the situation. But we can only have these realizations if we take the time to remember. That is what December 22nd is all about for me. I love to go through the pictures and remember what it felt like to be inside of those days. And so, this Christmas, I hope that you can all take some time to remember. I would love to hear some of your own "December 22nd" stories. 

                                      Merry Christmas and Blessings for the coming year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mean Christians Stink

     My 4 year old son, Silas was erupting with laughter in the back seat. What was so funny? We had asked the boys where they wanted to eat lunch after church and Cohen answered, "Stink N Shake". He had no idea why we were all laughing, but decided to join in and, for good measure, threw out another "Stink N Shake", producing another round of giggles from all of us. So, off we drove to Steak N' Shake. 
     We were seated and our server came out, greeted us, and Silas shared with him how Cohen had accidentally called this fine establishment "Stink N Shake".  We all, our server included, had a good laugh. He stood around and just kind of chatted with us for a while, enjoying our boys' humorous little boy ways. We got our drinks, put in our food order, and he was on his way to the kitchen. While we waited for our food, we enjoyed some good family conversation, asked Silas what he learned about in his class at church (typical 4-year old response, "Jesus"), and discussed our plans to go to the Columbus Zoo that evening to see the Christmas lights. It was an average lunchtime for us. Our server stopped by a few times to check in on us, did the drink refill thing, and each time we thanked him, maybe made a comment or two, but nothing out of the ordinary.
     But then, he came back to our table and said something that would haunt me for the next week and a half. What he said made me feel so angry and so frustrated, that I actually had to put off writing this blog for a few extra days just so I could count to 10 a few times, take some deep breaths, and try not to come off as a crazy angry person to all of you loyal readers of mine. Are you ready for it? Here is what he said: "I just want to thank you all for being so pleasant and so kind to me. Sunday is usually my worst day. I get a lot of customers who have just come from church and it's just ironic that it's my worst day of the week." I interpreted this to mean "A lot of other Christians come in here on Sunday and make my life miserable. Thank you for not being idiotic jerks to me." I didn't really know what to say, so I just looked into his eyes and said, "Yes, that is ironic and really sad, isn't it?" He agreed and then rushed off to get our food.

    As I sat there, I felt so bad. Please don't get me wrong- I have a bad day now and then. I get snippy with my kids and husband. I have probably given the people who work at Wal Mart in the Photo Center a dirty look or two when they tell me for the fifth time in a row that they can't find my online order (even when I pull out my phone and show them the email they just sent saying my order was ready...but I digress). But people, Jesus has set a better example and He has called us to a higher standard of living than to make some poor kid making not a whole lot of money at a food establishment think of us as hypocritical, angry people who treat others in lousy, uncaring ways. I would understand if we had gone way above and beyond the typical chit-chat with this guy that he would commend us for our kindness, but we were just being, in my estimation, normal. 

      In scripture, we find story after story showing that Jesus was a person who went out of His way to meet the needs of everyone He met. One good example of this is Mark 6:30-44. It's the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. 

30 "The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things." 
     So, here we have Jesus and his friends who are most likely exhausted. They have not even had a chance to eat because of their pressing schedule of ministering to others' needs. Jesus  realizes this and says, "Ok guys. We need a break. We need to eat, get some rest, get refocused so we can get back out there and work some more." So they hop on a boat for a short respite from their work. They were probably all looking forward to some downtime. I can totally relate to this as a Stay-at-Home Mom. Sometimes, you just need a break. Even an hour sitting in the chair at the Dentist's office can be a rejuvenating encounter for a weary Mom (sad, but true). 

     But there is no rest for the weary. People start chasing after Jesus and the disciples. A large crowd met Him at the spot where Jesus was going to take a break. He saw their needs and He felt compassion, so He gave up His "me time" and got back to work, and in doing so performed one of His greatest miracles:feeding 5000 people with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fish. But how did He do it? What was His attitude? Did He begrudgingly address the crowd? Did He roll His eyes and bad mouth them under His breath? Did He complain at all? Of course not. He took on the role of servant and did His Father's work on the earth. Jesus came to meet the needs of people. Jesus was pleasant with people. Jesus did not act impatient or cop an attitude with people. He was the very picture of love. We are all called to do the same.

     How does this change our Sunday lunchtimes (and our everyday lunchtimes as well)? Well, first of all, we should start by moving beyond our own petty selves as Jesus did. Instead of putting on these airs of importance and entitlement, let's be humble and generous. Next, let's try to engage the culture, not just tolerate the culture. Talk to people! Try to make someone smile! Let people know that you care-even in small ways!  Let's get out among the masses and be different, in a good way. We need to set ourselves apart from the rest and stop whining. Stop complaining. Stop being impatient and asking for the 5th time when your Chocolate shake will be out-it's coming, alright? Finally, let's try to move beyond just "acting" kind to people and actually BE kind. Let's pray that God softens our hearts toward others so that we can produce the all-important fruit of kindness. 

    We're all going to be out and about doing last minute shopping and Christmas activities during the next couple weeks. I pray that we all carry within our hearts a grace and peace that we can extend to a weary world. Let's set a good example and glorify the reputation of Christ. I pray that we can maybe even brighten someone's day with a smile, a cheerful word, or a simple act of kindness. Jesus said to His followers in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:14,"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden". Let's be that light- a beacon of hope to the world. 



Monday, December 6, 2010

The Simpler the Better

     I have to credit Katie Barber for much of this posting. Sunday morning as part of our Advent series at LCC, she spoke about how we always try to make our holiday season bigger and better than the year before and spoke about peace and finding it in the midst of a busy season. I have really been trying to digest that information. I mean, it seems really simple, but it's so tough for me to let go of the "Martha Stewart" perfect Christmas that my brain is telling me I have to have or else...or else, what? Will my boys have more or less fun if I am crazy about all the details? Will my husband enjoy these precious weeks of the holiday season with me if I am stressed about every gift on the list to be bought, the ever-important cheesecake recipe choice for Christmas Eve, or keeping the house in tip-top yuletide shape?

     I like to think that simplifying is going to amplify our enjoyment of the holiday season rather than diminish the memories. So, instead of picking up my kids' toys 10 times throughout the day to put them away and keep my house spotless, I'm going to sit down and play with them by the tree. Instead of struggling to find those "perfect gifts" which do not exist anyway, I'm going to be happy to settle this year for less than perfect. I will be exchanging aimless hours walking around busy, crowded stores for time spent enjoying my family at home. Instead of poring through cookbooks to find the most impressive (i.e. stress inducing) dessert recipes, I am going to go with simple, standard, time-tested favorites. Another activity I intend to pursue with great diligence this Christmas season is sitting down with my Bible and reflecting daily on the gift of the Word made flesh.

     I love a Christmas devotional book I've been reading entitled "The Glory of Christmas" by Charles Swindoll, Max Lucado, and Charles Colson. My reading for today confirmed that I need to calm down about the things that do not matter this Christmas and re-focus. I know it's a little long, but I'd like to share with you a portion of what I read this morning:
     "There is one word that describes the night He came- ordinary. The sky was ordinary. An occasional gust stirred the leaves and chilled the air. The stars were diamonds sparkling on black velvet. Fleets of clouds floated in front of the moon. 
     It was a beautiful night-a night worthy peeking out your bedroom window to admire-but not really an unusual one. No reason to expect a surprise. Nothing to keep a person awake. An ordinary night with an ordinary sky. 
     The sheep were ordinary. Some fat. Some scrawny. Some with barrel bellies. Some with twig legs, Common animals. No fleece made of gold. No history makers. They were simply sheep-lumpy, sleeping silhouettes on a hillside. 
     And the shepherds. Peasants they were. Probably wearing all the clothes they owned. Smelling like sheep and looking just as woolly. You won't find their staffs in a museum nor their writings in a library. They were nameless and simple. 
     An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds. And were it not for a God who loves to hook an 'extra' on the front of the ordinary, the night would have gone unnoticed.
     But God dances amidst the common. And that night He did a waltz. The black sky exploded with brightness. Trees that had been shadows jumped into clarity. Sheep that had been silent became a chorus of curiosity. One minute the shepherd was asleep, the next he was rubbing his eyes and staring into the face of an alien.
     The night was ordinary no more. The angel came in the night because that is when lights are best seen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into the common for the same reason. 
     His most powerful tools are the simplest."

     I get so distracted with all of the seemingly important parts of the Christmas season that I forget to enjoy it more often than not. No wonder people, myself included, feel such a letdown the day after Christmas. Now don't get me wrong, I am not going to let my house fall to ruin with layers of clutter and dirt. I am not going to throw my hands up in the air and say, "oh well, no gifts for all of you-I'm enjoying Christmas this year." And I am certainly not going to be mindless about my Christmas Eve dessert. Heaven forbid that I shirk an ounce on dessert making. But I am going to relax. I am not going to get worked up over the pursuit of the "perfect" Christmas. I am going to seek peace in the only place it can be found- in Christ the Lord, the Prince of Peace. And I think in doing so, I am going to find that simple is always best. Just look at the way God chose to reveal himself to us: Not in a palatial a small cave, in the countryside, in the dead of night. And angels announced His coming to the most simple and common people in the culture. When I consider the Christmas story, I come to the conclusion that simple is the only way to go when it comes to Christmas.

How about you? How do you intend to find true peace this Christmas season?

Friday, December 3, 2010

How Deep Are Your Roots?

Ephesians 3:17-19 (New International Version, ©2010)

17 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

There is a saying, something about if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer to this question means very little to my sons, Silas (age 4) and Cohen (age Terrible 2). They love natural disasters. We live in the woods and natural disasters occur more frequently than you would imagine. Of course, to them, things we would consider a minor inconvenience would be a disaster to them, so you have to take this all in context. So the other night, a fierce wind swept up our hilltop home and a dead tree fell. Across the driveway. This was huge. As soon as breakfast ended, we put on our muck boots (mud is also a nearly never-ending natural disaster in our neck of the woods), our rain jackets, and, of course, Silas grabbed his toy chain saw. We headed to the scene of the crime and stood in awe of the 30 foot dead tree that had fallen in the night. Now if you have children or have ever been around one in your life, you know that they love to ask questions. It's just what they do. My kids' primary speech pattern is in the form of a question. We're training them to win big on Jeopardy someday- just remember your dear old Mother who not only put up with your questions, but also did her best to answer them well and in a timely manner, I tell them. 
                                                                                                                                                          Anyway, so the tree was lying there across the road and the first question was, obviously, "Mom, why did it fall?" As a Mother, you develop some amazing scientist and detective-like qualities over time, so we set off on our investigation. The answer, in this case, was simple. The roots of the tree were completely rotten. The tree didn't stand a chance (pun...intended?) against the ferocious wind the previous night. My little boys crowded around the base of the fallen tree with great intensity and curiosity as I explained to them that the roots of the tree are where the true strength lies and without strong roots, the tree could no longer stand. They tend to be fairly short on attention span, so they scampered off and proceeded to attempt to chop the beast of a tree up with a toy chainsaw (with dead batteries I might add). I sat and looked at the tree and my philosophical side began to well up. My mind immediately went to the Ephesians passage about being rooted and established (grounded in other translations) in love. I started thinking about how as people of God, if we don't have the love of God as our base, we're destined for a fall. 
     As I stared at the fragile, broken roots I thought about my own life and what condition my own roots are in at the moment. Am I loving God as fervently and with my entire life as He deserves? Am I loving my family and working hard to create a loving environment in our home? And what about people I don't know or, if I'm being honest, don't care to know? Louie Giglio is one of my favorite teachers and he once shared in one of his messages the concept of love and how if you don't love people, you don't truly love God. When you have a heart for people, that's when the love of God is living in your own life. So many times I sing these songs and lead others in singing songs about love as a way of life and loving God with all that we are. Do we really mean it? I know I don't at times. But I'm thankful that God brought a natural disaster into my woods and the curious nature of two little boys to make me think about my foundation and my roots. 
     I pray that all of you consider your own foundation and ask yourself the question, how deep does your love go? How deep are your roots? The great and nearly overwhelming news is that if you look deep inside and answer these questions negatively and can admit that your roots are rotten, unproductive, and destined to wither, that there is a way to turn it around. I'm praying that God will give me a heart like His- a heart that loves people who are vastly different from me-and even people who are downright nasty. It's a life-changing and actually, a world-changing concept. So take some time to consider your roots so that we may "grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."