Monday, January 31, 2011

Sensing the Worth of My Work

When I read Proverbs 31, there are parts where I stop and breathe out a low sigh, as if to signify that there is NO way I can match up to the ideal woman described there. If I'm being honest, if I were to use the Proverbs 31 passage as a checklist, there would be very few checks. I'm not a morning person, I'm not bursting out of my bed each morning in song with a smile on my face ready to conquer the domestic world. The Message touts the ultimate wife as follows: " First thing in the morning, she dresses for work, rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started." It's 10:16 and I am still wearing pajamas and I still haven't determined what kind of work I should throw myself into today.

The next verse though, is one that I am determined to work on. Call it a New Year's Resolution if you will, but verse 18 is something I am trying to live out.

Verse 18: "She senses the worth of her work, is in no hurry to call it quits for the day."

So often, we Moms get into this routine and rut of trying to hurry from Point A to Point B during the day. How often on Facebook do we see Moms saying "Ugggg...naptime, hurry up!!!!!" or something very similar. In doing so, we're burning up so much time. We are not seeing the worth of our work. About a year ago in a Small Group for Stay-at-Home Moms, this verse sucker punched me in the face. I realized that I was looking at my task of being a Mom not as a blessing, but as a curse. I was wasting my days away trying to get things done. At the time, we were building on to our house and there was an overwhelming amount of work to be done. I would wake up early and stain wood or clean up construction debris and then as the kids woke up, I remember calculating how many hours until naptime so that I could get back to my work. When they woke up from their naps, I would calculate how many hours would pass until bedtime so that I could get back to what I deemed to be so important.  It sounds terrible as I type it now. I'm just glad that I realized the pit I was falling in to.  I had forgotten that the most important part of my day was to enjoy my kids and to let them enjoy me as their Mom. I have an awesome Mom. As I look back on my childhood, I honestly can't remember a time when my Mom placed more value on a clean house over spending time with her kids. I don't remember her ever putting our needs and time together on the backburner so that she could get something accomplished. That is what I am striving for. 

 Now don't get me wrong, this isn't an excuse for not getting things done around the house- "Sorry honey, the laundry isn't done, there is no food in the house, and it looks like a tornado ripped through here, but at least we had a fun day, didn't we kids?" What it is, is a call to balance out the "have-to" aspect of Motherhood with the "want-to". It's a call to begin to be good stewards of our time. It's a call to stop complaining about the work that lies before us. I despise doing laundry. Of all the household jobs I have, it ranks way at the bottom. When I fold laundry, instead of the internal grumbling I used to partake in, I now try to listen to some worship music or pray. The downside to this is that at times I totally lose track of whose pile I am putting clothes in and end up with everyone's clothes disbursed throughout the stacks which started off so organized! So folding laundry might take me twice the time it used to in "grumble mode", but at least I am in a positive frame of mind! So if you find yourself playing the role of the "household chore victim" and are more of a martyr than a Mother, I would encourage you to spruce up your routine a little with some worship music or prayer. You'll find joy and value in what was once trivial, redundant, or mindless work. Your work will take on some worth.

In closing, let me encourage all of you Husbands out there who may be reading this to go home and thank your wife for the work she does daily. Even if, in your mind, you think she could do a better job. Take it from me, it's hard work to hold a household together! Particularly in the winter, things can become pretty monotonous. A genuine "thank you" or, if you really want to go out of your way, a note or small gift thanking your wife for all she does could go a long way. Think about your own job, guys. If your boss stops by and tells you what a great job you're doing, don't you want to put out even more effort after that? The same holds true for the woman you love, who is working hard all day to clean the house, prepare the meals, raise the children, and still retain some semblance of womanhood. It's multi-tasking on steroids.

 And finally, let me encourage you Moms out there- the tasks you and I are called to each day are definitely worth our time. There is a beautiful joy that wells up inside of me when I look at my smiling kids at the end of the day and think to myself all the fun that we had and how any complications, any chores, any interruptions to my  routine were certainly worth it. We need to be encouraged and know that we're not just wasting our lives away. At the end of the day, I want to know that I put my best effort in and that even though "things" may not be perfect, "things" are not important in the scope of eternity anyway. My house will someday be a pile of rubble. All the work that I pour into it won't matter one bit at the end of my days on this earth. What lasts, what matters is that I live out my life in a healthy Spiritual manner and that I devote myself to the care, love, and education of my children- that I sense the worth of my work and am in no hurry to call it quits for the day. Cherish every second and live your life well. Your work is definitely worth it!

Friday, January 14, 2011

What Do You Want to Be?

     Remember when you were a little kid and the world was just waiting to see what you would become? My son, Silas, at age 4, is definitely at that stage right now. He goes back and forth between wanting to be a Train Engineer, a Fireman, a Farmer, owning an Excavation business, and his most recent desire is to be someone who polishes trophies for a living. Strange, but true. Anyway, when I was in school, my Mom filled out one of those "school days" kind of books-you know the one that has a place for your yearly school photo, favorite subjects, school friends, etc. Well, for each year, there was a spot that asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Every year from Kindergarten through about ninth grade, I put something to the effect of wanting to be a famous singer. Actually, from Kindergarten to about fourth grade, I said that I wanted to BE Amy Grant. Some major dose of reality must have hit me during my tenth year of life, during which I realized I would have to simply aspire to be LIKE someone, not BE them. So from fifth grade on, I just said I wanted to be a famous singer. Amy must have lost some of her sparkle for me at that time or something. I honestly can't recall.
     Recently I read a post by Stuff Christians Like author Jon Acuff and he stated the following:

"we are becoming the 'I’m, but generation.'
Whenever I travel and meet people or connect online with folks, our conversation inevitably drifts toward a simple question, “What do you do?” The most common answer I hear, from people of all ages, is simple:
“I’m a __________, but I want to be a ___________.”
In some form or another, I have heard this thought expressed a thousand times:
I’m an accountant, but I want to be an artist.
I’m a teacher, but I want to work on a water project.
I’m a project manager, but I want to start my own business.
I’m a stay at home mom, but I have a craft I really want to share with the world.
 We are an ageless generation stuck between the things we feel called to do and the things we have to do. If you’ve ever felt a little sick to your stomach on Sunday afternoon because Monday was coming, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever sat in a cubicle and thought, “This can’t be what I do for the rest of my life,” you know what I am talking about. If you’ve ever had an amazing experience and said, “Why can’t this be my job? I wish I could do what makes me feel alive for 40 hours every week,” you know what I’m talking about."

     This is a really fascinating thought. I definitely fell into this category sometime around my Junior year of high school where I downshifted by dream from singer to teacher. Now, don't get me wrong, I know from personal experience that educating future generations in any subject as a teacher is very meaningful, very important, even crucial. I am so grateful for the time I spent teaching Middle School students prior to having my own kids and staying home. But we have to recognize that God gives us desires, talents, giftings, leanings, and yearnings. To deny those in our lives is unfair to ourselves and does not allow for the fullness of God to be present in our lives. He plants within each heart a drive-something that makes you want to wake up in the morning, something that makes your heart swell. For me, that something has always been music. Whether it was singing, or playing my beloved trumpet in High School, I never felt more comfortable or at home than when I was on stage performing and sharing my music with others. 
     But reality always sets in. What are the odds that I could have made a living as a professional musician? Probably very slim. I understand that. There is the reality of bills and the responsibility of caring for a family. Sometimes, those responsibilities and requirements overshadow our dreams. But life doesn't have to be all work and no enjoyment, does it? Even though you may not be able to do that thing that you dearly love for a living, it doesn't mean that you can't dabble in your dream. Over the years, I've adapted to reality. I've re-discovered my desire to share my music with others. But this time, it goes so far beyond wanting to be a famous singer, or be THE Amy Grant. I've discovered so much joy in using music to minister to others through worship music. I may not make any money doing it, my name isn't up on billboards, but I've decided that I don't want it to be. I have found true happiness within my creative side by placing my gifts, dreams, and desires at the feet of Jesus and saying, "Here it is, humble and simple and inadequate as it may be. But it's all for You and I want you to have it." I think something happens when we do that- when we lay our dreams down and ask God to make something real out of them. He responds. It may look totally different from what you thought, it might be exactly the place you wanted to be back in fourth grade, but if you ask God to use you and have a genuine, humble heart about it, He will respond. 
     So, what do you want to do? Are there some very simple areas where you could start pursuing your dream, even in the tiniest of increments? I encourage anyone reading this to think about that one thing that just makes your heart well up. Begin to pray and ask God, who places desires and dreams inside of us, to give you the courage to take your dreams and run with them. I don't want to live a life where I get to the end and say, "Well, I was a ________ but I had always wanted to be a _______". Instead, I want to be able to say that I had always dreamed big, I placed my desires in the very capable and powerful hands of the Lord, and He guided my path beautifully, using my talents beyond what I could have ever imagined. 

Psalm 37:4,7
"Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass ... Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Formulas are Great for Chemistry Class, But For Church...?

     I saw this video the other day and I was simultaneously disturbed, humored, offended, challenged, and entertained. So, of course, I thought I would share it with all of you. So, watch it and then we'll talk.

    Please understand up front, I am not one to complain and harp on the problem with church. I think that's covered in great detail on other blogs. Let me say, I love my church. I love the heart behind what we do. I know all of us reading this who are involved in church planning of any sort have good motives and want what's best. I am for the most part a very positive person and don't want this to become a negative church-bashing forum. I do, however, want to challenge us to rethink what we all have come to know (and love) about church. Now the video above was actually made by a church. North Point Community Church put this out for the same reason I'm writing about it. I have a great deal of respect for Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor at North Point, and all that he's done in his church.  This topic has actually been stirring in my mind and heart for many, many years but now I have a visual, tangible representation of my thoughts in this video. 

     I am, admittedly, part of the problem. But I would love to be in on the solution end of this. So what is the solution? Do we even need a solution? Is what we are doing "broken"? I think on the one hand how human beings are largely creatures of habit and like predictability. Consider the way we relate to God. It's pretty predictable. I think about the way I have prayed nearly my entire life. Just lately I've begun to realize that prayer is an ongoing conversation, not so much an isolated event during the day. If we are truly in "relationship" with God, then why do we keep having the same, almost word-for-word, Mad-Libs type of conversations with Him day in and day out: "Father, thank you for this day, thank you for my (fill in the blank-could be kids, family, job, house, food), help us to have a good (again, fill in the blank- could be lunch, day, vacation, church service) and watch over us today (a vital staple of most prayers). Amen." If my husband spoke in a rushed, formulaic manner every time he spoke to me I think after a while I would prefer him not to talk to me at all. But then again, I am human and bestow far, far less grace on those around me in comparison with our loving God who, like a good parent can overlook the stumbling, infantile speech and actions of us, His children and I am grateful for that! But the point is, I wonder as we plan out our church services and order our Christian lives and disciplines, like prayer, what God does think. I'm sure for the most part, like I said, that He looks at the heart and knows we mean well. But are we really doing all that we can to bring Him the glory and praise He deserves? I'm honestly asking this. This is not a rhetorical question kind of blog here. I am really wrestling with these ideas right now. Does church, as it is currently "produced" work? Are we making things more difficult and more structured than they need to be or on the contrary, do we need more structure and creativity in our services? What would Jesus himself think if He walked into our churches on a Sunday morning? Some suggest that we not have regular organized services at all, but instead, go out into the world and minister to the needs we find. Hebrews 10 gives a clear indication that we are to gather together, but the manner and frequency of gathering is pretty vague. 

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

     I feel like it's largely a cultural decision about the way church is carried out, but it's clear that we are to gather together and create an equipping environment of encouragement and love. That's the crucial aspect and the rest of the stuff we do would just be the details, but I feel like from the video that the details matter. A lot. The details say so much about who Christians are and ultimately reveal God to the rest of the world. 

    So what about the unchurched? Please, any friends of mine reading this who do not currently attend a church, for whatever reason- your input in this would be beyond valuable in this discussion. Are we, in our best efforts to program with the unchurched in mind, actually creating barriers for the very people we're trying to reach? Are our churches a place where they can both feel welcome and comfortable, but at the same time feel the presence of a God who loves them? I can honestly say that I think my church, Lancaster Community Church is far more purposed about creating an environment where these things happen than most. It's what drew us there and what keeps us there.  A lot of thought, prayer, and time go in to creating the way we "do church". I just wonder, respectfully, what we can do to break beyond the cookie cutter type of service that the video describes.  I am beginning to challenge myself, in the small role we play as worship leaders, what we can do to inject some change and creativity. My brother Shawn, our fabulous drummer, always jokes about the songs we do because the third verse always has to drop way down volume-wise and then build to this giant, rapturous crescendo. Though effective, it's very predictable and has become routine. But I don't know what to do about it. I'm afraid this blog offers more questions than answers, but it's what was on my heart today. If anyone wants to open this up and have some dialogue, let's begin by commenting below. Maybe we all just need to sit down and have an open and honest conversation about church-how God sees it, how we see it, and how the people we dearly love who will not walk through our doors see it. I think only then can we begin to move beyond the formula into the realm of real worship, real change, and real encounters with the living God. I think the worst thing that can happen is if we watch the video, do a cringe/laugh combination, and then go marching into church next Sunday and carry out what we watched. A favorite quote of mine is "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten." This applies so well to this topic. Maybe this is too much to digest on a Monday, especially a Monday after a long vacation! I've been struggling since I watched it last week and could use some insight and some solutions. Let's imagine together!