Monday, October 14, 2013

A Timely Word

     It's always amazing to me, no matter how many times it has happened- and there have been many times- when the Word of God speaks to me just when I need it most.  When it hits me right where I need to be hit. When it provides counsel and peace and wisdom.

    We're going through such a season of transition right now, particularly with our oldest sons. It's enough to make a Mom's head explode. Seriously. Silas switched from a tiny, private Christian school last year, to a large, public school this year. We seem to have all the nerves and emotions somewhat under control. But he's so anxious (both the good and bad kind of anxious) about school, that he's waking up way before the roosters across the road even think about crowing. This then puts him in a foul mood for the day and he's a grump all evening. Not pleasant. A minor issue in the grand scheme of life, but an issue nonetheless. 

Then there is my sweet Cohen. He has gone from a happy-go-lucky, peaceful, chill kid to a nervous wreck. Everything has changed for him with starting preschool and having to step out from the shadow of big brother to become his own person- to seek his own identity. And it has been downright hard. Once at school, he loves it. But always the night before and the morning of, he is panicked. Tears. Worried face. Even upset stomach. It is wearing us all thin. No intervention, no promise, no bribe has changed this. No matter what I say, his fears are too strong to be overcome.

Add on a 19 month old with a burgeoning need for independence (and injuries that go with it), the fact that we've all had some kind of sickness running through our family since early September, along with all the usual things of life-and it's a recipe. A recipe for doubt and hopeless sighs and frustration. 

But then, the Word of God cuts through. I was sitting with my Bible on Saturday and randomly opened it to Isaiah (sort of a Bible Roulette, if you will. Sometimes, this results in turning to a scripture listing a family treeful of names, or how to properly store grain, but for the most part, this can be a fruitful exercise.) Isaiah 40:11 was right there at the top of my page: 

He will tend to His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in His arms;
He will carry them in His bosom;
And gently lead those that are with young.

I was so intrigued by this passage. Some commentary study (Matthew Henry's) yielded the following passage that brought me a ton of peace:

 He takes particular care of those that most need his care, the lambs that are weak, and cannot help themselves, and are unaccustomed to hardship, and those that are with young, that are therefore heavy, and, if any harm be done them, are in danger of casting their young. He particularly takes care for a succession, that it may not fail or be cut off. The good Shepherd has tender care for children that are towardly and hopeful, for young converts, that are setting out in the way to heaven, for weak believers, and those that are of a sorrowful spirit. These are the lambs of his flock, that shall be sure to want nothing that their case requires. [1.] He will gather them in the arms of his power; his strength shall be made perfect in their weakness2 Cor. 12:9. He will gather them in when they wander, gather them up when they fall, gather them together when they are dispersed, and gather them home to himself at last; and all this with his own arm, out of which none shall be able to pluck them, John 10:28. [2.] He will carry them in the bosom of his love and cherish them there. When they tire or are weary, are sick and faint, when they meet with foul ways, he will carry them on, and take care they are not left behind. [3.] He will gently lead them. By his word he requires no more service, and by his providence he inflicts no more trouble, than he will fit them for; for he considers their frame.

I think I forgot that sometimes, all we can do as parents, is pray and release the outcomes of our children into the able hand of the Good Shepherd. 

I can't get a grip on all these situations right now. But I know who can. 
I can't calm the irrational fears of my children. But I know who can. 
I can't always be right there for my kids during the day when they're away from me. But I know who can.

Father, thank you for letting me lean on You. Thank you for carrying us, my little lambs and I, when we need You the most. Thank you for caring about succession- that You will stop at nothing to see the continuation of generations who love and fear You. Thank You for the peace that comes from Your word and the way You always come through when I need you most. Let Your love, peace, joy, and the security that can only come from You, flood into my family right now. You are the one we cling to. Amen. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Attention All Wives- This One Is For You!

I am writing to all of you dear ladies out there who have one of those guys we call a husband. I love mine dearly. He is my best friend in the whole world. He is helpful, kind, respectful, and leads our family well.

I. Love. Him.

We've been married 12 years and in those 12 years, we've done some growing together. I don't want to pretend here that I have the perfect marriage, but I also don't want to be falsely humble- so the truth is, I have a pretty awesome marriage. It's not perfect, but it's good. We don't have (and never have had) slamming-door fights or nights spent on the couch. In fact, we've never slept a night of our marriage apart (though we have found ourselves separated by ill children and the like, we've not ever been outside of the same structure at night time. And we feel pretty good about that record!)We work together, in partnership with God, to keep our love alive.

But lately, there is something that's bugging me. Not about my husband. (Ok, the way he leaves his dirty clothes on the floor next to the bed all the time kind of bugs me, but then again, my habit of washing his cup the moment it touches the counter bugs him, so we're even I suppose). What's bugging me is competition for my time. I feel awful to admit this, but if there is one person in my life that suffers because of my poor time management choices, it's my husband. All day long, as a Mom, I put aside what I want to do or even need to do for my kids, but somehow, when they go to bed, it's easy for me to say to him, "Hold on, I'll be there in a minute (which in reality means 126 minutes). Either that, or I am there next to him, but I'm not truly "there"- I'm distracted or zoned out after a long day. I feel like he sometimes gets the leftovers of my energy and I am tired of it.

Now to cut all of us moms a little slack, I do think after a day of little people tugging on you and getting covered with all kinds of goo and serving lots of snacks and cleaning up messes that we deserve some down time. Some quiet. Some peace even. I'm not insinuating that we don't deserve some alone time once in a while. What I am saying is that there is this guy who loves and supports me. Who works hard all day and would love to be a part of my world for a couple of hours a night and have me to himself. And honestly, I LOVE just spending time with my husband. He's fun! He's kind! We laugh together! We enjoy being with one another. It's just-wow-at the end of the day, sometimes I feel a selfish part of me coming to the surface. Sometimes I feel like it's easier just to retreat into mindless TV or Facebook or Pinterest than actually talk to him. Like with multiple words. Sentences even.

It's becoming clear to me that there is a war against and within marriage. It is a series of battles over small and large things. I don't believe we are fighting one another in these battles- no dear sister, we are fighting the enemy of marriage, the enemy of love: satan- the ultimate enemy and father of lies. He so wants us to be distracted and indifferent toward our spouse. Because he knows the power of a couple surrendered to God and one another and he's scared. And he should be! satan knows that God has designed marriage to be a shelter from the world where we can find strength and comfort. God has designed us to work together for the Kingdom. And that partnership can pose a real threat to the enemy. But somehow, that partnership often gets put on the back burner.

Attention all Wives- It's time to make our marriage the priority that it should be! Here are some simple things I am working on to do just that in my own marriage.

1. Make God the center of your marriage. Pray for your spouse. Throughout the day, as he comes to your mind, ask God to bless and protect him mentally, physically, and spiritually. Read the Bible or a book based on Biblical principles. If your marriage is struggling, read a Christ-centered book on marriage together. Talk about God. Worship together. If you think about your marriage and realize that God is not a part of it, make that the first change because it is the most important aspect. Ask God to give you more energy! We need that! He'll give you exactly what you need to do His will- and His will is for you to have a healthy marriage. So if you're lacking in an area- ask God for His strength and power in that area. Do not try to tackle fixing your marriage on your own strength. Ain't gonna happen.

2. Fix your schedule. Did God intend for families to be split up, taking kids to all manner of activities every evening of the week so that the husband and wife just see each other in passing on the driveway? Silly question. No He did not. Prioritize and rearrange. God first, Spouse second, Kids third. Activities fourth. Simple. Defend your time. You can say no to things. Try it. Your marriage and family are worth the temporary dejection someone else will experience. Also, think hard about your day and try, as best as you are able, to get your dishes, your laundry, all those joyful things done during the day to free up your evening time to spend with your spouse. I hate putting the kids to bed and then having to trudge through a dozen chores before finally getting to spend time with my man. Because by then, I am tired and feeling the fresh angst that comes with folding 8 baskets of laundry. I have 3 tornadoes, I mean children, in my house. I know all of this doesn't happen easily. If you're like me, you've got to relax your standards a bit. Something we are working on as a family is a 20 minute clean up time after dinner in which everyone participates. If they see something out of place in any area they clean it up. It makes the post-children's bedtime clean up that much easier and faster. This one is hard for me, but I'm trying. Time is precious. Organize it well. Use it carefully.

3. Put the Phone DOWN! Or TV or whatever other electrical entertainment device has found it's way into your life. Seriously. What is the benefit to your marriage of watching a movie or TV show together? Yes, it's relaxing, kind of entertaining...once in a while? Sure! Every single night INSTEAD of real intimacy? No. If you truly enjoy a show together, I am not saying that you should abandon that joy. What I am saying is that entertainment can detract and distract you from your spouse. Every time we have a power outage, we have no choice but to ditch the electronics and I always vow to NOT fall back into the trap of mindless entertainment once the power is restored, but alas, it is a trap that catches me so easily. Lots of things are vying for our attention. Something we're working on is setting a time limit of 20 minutes on news catch-up, or mindless surfing. When 20 minutes end, the devices need to go. Choose wisely how you spend your alone time. Which leads me to idea #4...

4. Have sex. I am going to be bluntly honest here. Having sex is a pretty obvious part of marriage.  But it's also something that we women tend to push aside selfishly. Sorry girls, but you all know it's true. Yes, we're tired. (I'm sure husbands are often tired as well). Yes, we have had a long day-especially if you work outside of the home AND have to deal with all the domestic stuff on top of all of that. But sex is important- not just for your husband, but for you too. And it can be enjoyed if we'll get our silly, selfish mind out of the way and be committed to making the choice to have sex regularly. What if we stopped thinking of it as something for "him" that we "have to do" and instead think of it as something for "both of us" that we "want to do"? I have heard so many women talk about sex as though it is a chore to be checked off on the to-do list and that makes me sad. It shouldn't be a duty. It should be a great part of your day! There is a study out there somewhere that says the more you have sex, the more you want to have sex. I'm pretty sure it's a real study anyway...if it's not then it should be. It's true! Sex is a beautiful, fun, God-given thing. Be willing to pursue sex. Regularly. If you're both in agreement that you're too tired once in a while, at least have some sleepy snuggle time. It may turn out you weren't that tired after all.  That's all I have to say about that. Moving on!

5. Make time. I'll tell ya- with all the stuff we have going on (and it's all good stuff) in our lives, it leaves little time for dates. This really makes me sad. I love a good date. We ask people to watch our kids all the time for the things we have to do, to the point where I feel bad asking people to watch them for things we just want to do. Plus, I like having our entire family together as much as possible in the evenings. If you can't go out on a formal date, create one at home. Improvise and be creative. Some spontaneity never hurts either. Candlelight chips and salsa. A massage. Sit on the porch swing together and look at the stars. Just whatever, ladies! Make something fun happen! Seasons of life dictate the frequency of dates. We are currently in a super busy season. But seize the moments when you can to get away and enjoy each other. Even if it's on the couch after the kids go to bed!

If you'll pick even just one of the things above and start working on it, I can, with certainty, promise that it will help your marriage. I'm going to be tackling all of them at once because that's just the type of personality I have. All or nothin'. Because I love the gift of my marriage. I want to steward it just as well as I do any other part of my life. I look at my husband playing with our kids, or falling asleep on the couch after a long day at work, or working on a house project and getting covered in drywall dust and I just think, wow. I am so blessed. God has given me a treasure that I can enjoy every day. I want to enjoy him to the fullest and take what's already great about our marriage and make it even more great. Maybe you read this and feel like your marriage could never thrive because it's not good right now, or you don't feel like your husband is on board. Take those feelings to God and ask Him to work in your marriage and then take small steps like those listed above to start investing into what you have. And build on it, and grow. There is potential for every couple, whether in a wonderful marriage, or a horrible marriage, to improve.

The best news is that God is for us. He is for marriage. He is for you. He is for your husband. And if God is for us, who or what can stand against us? Nothing! His love wins, which means that your love, when built on Him, can win too.

Ladies, let's make the commitment. Our marriages are well worth the effort. Who's with me?

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Modern Family's Guide to Surviving the Sabbath

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

This is the message I keep hearing. Everywhere I look, every song I like, every book I read, every message I hear...REST. You have my attention, God! I am listening!

In my previous blog post about striving, I talked about my journey toward resting in obedience rather than striving and wrestling with God for control. It really resonated with people. This is a hot topic!

One of the things my husband and I have integrated into our family life in our quest for rest and seeking obedience in our walk with the Lord is observing the Sabbath. It's an interesting topic. One that people don't really feel they need or maybe feel as though it's an option. I'm here to tell you, it is an important practice in the Christian life! If you are not currently embracing the concept of taking a Sabbath rest, I encourage you strongly to try it! Your life will never be the same and you will NOT want to go back to the way you were before.

Life is busy. This is not breaking news to you. God knew that life would be busy. And so He modeled for us a way to break through the busy-ness of life and get away from the noise long enough to hear His voice. In Genesis 2, we see where God finished His work of creation, and then took a day to rest. People argue, "I'm not doing a Sabbath because that's Old Covenant." Sabbath existed before any covenant did! The precedent was set by God Himself! Kinda hard to argue against that.

You may think that you're too busy to "waste" your time on a Sabbath day. I don't know how to explain it, but since we have committed to keeping a Sabbath day, I've been able to get more done in 6 days than I ever could in 7.

We observe our day of Sabbath on Saturday since our Sundays are full with responsibilities at church. It's a wonderful feeling to go in to our worship experiences on Sunday with a rested heart and mind!

On paper, a Sabbath sounds wonderful! All this restful time and moments spent in solitude with God and reading the Bible...Well, in practice, it's different for us as a family with young kids. Over the last year, we've worked on making the Sabbath work for a family. Here are some ideas:

- First of all, if you have young's not going to be an incredibly restful experience! Remember those pre-children Saturday naps? Sabbath or not, those days are gone. However, one thing we try to do is have our kids all either nap or sit down for a movie or some video games in the afternoon so Mom and Dad can rest a bit. It may not be a nap, but it's not chasing kids around either! It's just a season of life- later on there will be time for lazy naps. Until then, take what you can get!

- I try as best as I can to minimize housework on our Sabbath day. I try to prepare as much food as possible the day before (or, my favorite, order pizza), we use paper plates (sorry environment...we do recycle though!), and I do my best to get all laundry and similar household work done the day before. I used to get really frustrated because I found myself still cleaning up after everyone. People, give yourself permission to not get the kitchen cleaned up on your Sabbath day. The mess will be waiting for you the next day. That said though, there's no reason to get legalistic about it. If you need to fold some laundry, wash a pan, or do some yard work, do it- particularly if it's something that you enjoy (like working in your garden). The point of the day is not to get nitpicky about what constitutes "work" and what does not. The point is to prioritize engaging in restful, meaningful activities and to take a break from the normal busy schedule of life.

- Plan something fun with the family- go to the park. Go swimming. Pull out some board games. All those little things that you've been hoping to get to all week long but haven't been able to? Do those. Ask your kids for input on something fun to do as a family and do it. If you have hobbies like sports or a particular craft or art activity, incorporate those into your day.

-Try to carve out some time for solitude. This could be a challenge, but for us, the way it works is my husband and I try to give each other some downtime by trading child-watching time. The way this might work is he plays with the kids for an hour while I go for a walk in the woods, or read a book or the Bible outside on the hammock. Then, we switch.

-Above all else, use the day as a way to recall together the many blessings in your life. Slow down and watch your kids play. Put on some worship music and sing together. Put the kids to bed early and enjoy some one-on-one time with your spouse. There is no formula to this- as you go through the day, just try to keep relaxation and enjoyment as your goal.

Particularly if you have a family with small children, your day of rest may not be all that restful. But it will be a change of pace in which you can enjoy life and take a break from working and the normal routine. Our kids look SO forward to Saturday "rest day", as they like to call it. They know that they will have time to do things they enjoy and that as a family, we'll be spending time together. It's a day we look forward to and a day that makes us appreciate the love and the life that we have.

SO if you're feeling frantic and pulled apart by how busy your life feels, even though it may seem counter-intuitive, take a day to rest. You will be amazed by how the Lord responds to your obedience to this necessary and highly enjoyable commandment. And you'll be amazed at how truly rested you feel!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Stop Striving!

I started WorshipU through Bethel church 10 weeks ago with a couple goals in mind- I wanted to pick the brains of some of the best songwriters in the worship music world and wanted to pick up some practical tips for how to be an awesome worship leader.

But God had other plans. I went in to this course work the same way I go in to every other venture and the way I approach every single area of my life- I wanted to "do" instead of "be". God quickly made it very clear to me that this time was not going to be practical, though I have learned some practical things. It was not going to be a time to sharpen my skills as much as it was going to be a time to soften my heart. He showed me that I operate primarily from a place of striving instead of from a place of rest. Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God" always just sounded like a kind suggestion or option for me. But now I realize it is a command and that I was willfully ignoring it.

It is a statement of fact to say that I have a busy life. I am married. I have three kids (boys, mind you) ages 1,4, and 6. We are still finishing our final touches on our house (and by "final touches", I mean things like "siding" and "drywall"). I work part time for our quickly growing church as the Director of Worship. Jarrod and I lead a Connect Group. In my spare time (what, wait, you mean there is spare time?) I write blogs and devotionals and songs and read loads of books. We go on camping adventures as a family. I hang out with my close family members often. I have a large garden I (try) to keep up with. I love to bake. I love to have a clean, organized house.

People, on a very regular basis say to me, "I don't know how you do it all." 

Well, I know how. I exhaust myself. Because I don't just "do" all the stuff above- I try to do it all perfectly. And here lately, especially in the areas of family and ministry, God has essentially put His hand out and said, "Stop." And I am so glad that He has.

Christa Black is the speaker at Bethel who has driven this truth in to my life more than anyone else. A wife, Mother, and amazing songwriter and musician in her own right, this lady is busy! And yet she knows the way to have a full life, but not a life that runs you over and makes you crazy.

Some of her wisdom: 
You can only love God as much as you know He loves you.

“Obedience is better than sacrifice.” In other words “To hear is better than your effort to do the right thing.” (1 Samuel 15:22)
  • God’s obedience is shama (Hebrew) - To hear, to listen towards.
  • Obedience is not rules. Obedience is towards a person. Obedience is about love. Obedience is all about relationship.
  • Obedience is not the act of doing something.
  • Obedience is not measured by the act I do or how well I perform.
  • If you are going after discipline, discipline yourself to be in love-retreating into the presence and receiving and hearing.
  • Receiving and hearing must come before doing.
  • Resting and hearing inspires us to do things for Him.
  • Obedience is an expression of love.
  • God loves to be with His kids. It’s not about what we do or how we do it. He shows up when we seek Him.
I have a personality that loves to do and achieve. I despise process. Science and Math were always a huge waste of time to me, because I do not care HOW things happen, I just want them TO happen. And I will make them happen with a fierce determination. A person like me is an amazing wife, Mom and employee. Because I will work myself until the bitter end to get something done and to get it done well and try to please the people who matter in the process, subtly discarding the rest. I am the Western Industrial World's dream come true. Tireless, tenacious,hardworking, excellent. In other words, I have no idea how to rest. Call it "personality", call it "wiring", I thought I was stuck in this mindset. But you know, God is powerful enough to change personality. He is the master re-wiring expert. And He has changed my mind.

I don't believe God is opposed to people doing things. Jesus, after all, did a whole lot of "doing" in His life. But He always got away and listened before the doing.  

His relationship with God was more important than the results He got.

Excellence was the goal, not tidy perfection. Yes, Jesus was perfect and sinless, but a lot of the things He achieved on this earth were more than a little messy. The start of His life, being born in a filthy cave with livestock comes to mind, as does His brutal death on a cross. 

So this is what God has been speaking to me- louder than song ideas, louder than tips on how to manage a team of people, louder than how to be more skilled or organized. 

His voice is speaking loud and clear- "Carrie, I love you. Just slow down and let me love you." 

And that statement is a game changer. 

I've been so busy doing, that I forgot to be His daughter and let Him be the Father. I've been so busy being perfect that I forgot to value processes and people. I've worked so hard to get my voice heard, that I forgot to listen to His. And even worse, I have applied this "Just Do it!" attitude to my relationship with God- like somehow if I am good enough or work hard enough, I can earn His favor- a cycle that ends in complete frustration. 

And isn't this right where the enemy wants us? Spinning our wheels as hard as we can, but never leaving the rut? Burning out quicker than quick and never getting to our destination and certainly not picking other people up to take the ride with us?

This is the brand of sin I hate the most- the kind that comes in and robs you in broad daylight. 

I can't explain how thankful I am that I was lured in to doing WorshipU out of my own selfish ambition to "do" more. In the process, God has shown me that it's more important to "be". What it looks like practically is I'm not as worked up about things. If a dilemma comes up, I'm not going to scheme in my mind constantly. I'm not going to feel compelled to have a museum showroom level of housekeeping. My kids aren't going to go to bed without me saying goodnight because I have my head buried in a computer screen. I won't go to bed and find that my husband has been asleep for hours without me as I was finishing up working on songs that were very forced and not worth singing anyway. 

Achievement is not my goal anymore. Obedience is my goal. 

So basically, will I be less effective? Some kind of hippie just going with the flow living in a messy house being lazy? I believe quite the contrary. I'm still going to work hard at creating an atmosphere in my home, career, and hobbies, but it's going to be an atmosphere led by God. Not by me. I'm going to do things a little slower- because I need time to listen before I take off running to the finish line. 

I have traded in my old values: I have traded in Perfection for Excellence. Striving for Rest. Results for Relationships. Fear of Failing for Obeying His Voice.

If you're like me and feel caught in a never-ending grip of busy. If you're trying to muscle your way through life and make things happen. If you're often frustrated with the pace of things- nothing is happening fast enough. If time is passing by quickly but you didn't even see it coming. If your priorities are completely out of whack. Then BE STILL.

 It's going to be a process for me. I'm always going to have a tendency toward being a Martha rather than a Mary (Luke 10) But I didn't even really know I was trapped before. I thrived on the striving. But the feeling of resting in obedience and receiving His love has by far replaced the thrill of achievement.

I don't have to do it all. His grace is nothing I can earn anyway. His gift can't be repaid. All the things of God must be received with an open heart and out of obedience, we will do more than we ever imagined. Not because of us, but because of Him. That's the kind of life I strive for now. 

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

When Hope is Gone

When bad things happen, we feel that breath of hope that was filling our lungs escape our lips. And we feel empty. We are left with questions about life and God and why and how.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16

We have hope because of God's grace- that grace is the reason we hope.

Who is this grace available to?
This grace is available to people who have

1. Made Christ their Savior ("Now may OUR Lord") and

2. those who have placed their future in God's hands and see Him as a loving Father guiding their life ("and God our Father") releasing anxiety, trusting God with the future.

This is something I have always struggled with and that God has given me a lot of victory over in the past few years. I used to be the queen of what-if. I would get so down if things weren't going the way I thought they should go. My mind would swirl with all the negative possibilities. But I now realize that it’s crucial to release the outcomes to God. Let go of tension and stress. This is not only a good thing for us personally, but also important for the Kingdom. People around us are not going to be drawn to Christ if they see us worried, anxious, and hopeless. So if we have Christ as our Savior and allow God to guide us, our hope should be evident to the world-

1 Peter 3:15:
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the HOPE that is in you;

But how often do we NOT stand out as being hopeful?

This past week at the grocery store, I looked at the faces of the people around me and there just isn’t a lot of hope in the world right now. People are so weighed down by their problems. Even in my family, we've had some hope stolen in the past couple weeks as Jarrod's dear Grandmother passed away. A young girl in Logan was recently and tragically killed in a car accident, leaving a town and family in shock. It's at times like this that our hope takes a hit.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5

The reason why so many people come in to church week in and week out with defeat in their lives, unable to worship, unable to live out their calling and purpose is because they aren't putting their hope in the grace of God. They aren't leaning into the Holy Spirit's power to get them through rough times. They are hanging their heads in shame and are unable to enter into worship because they feel hopeless- they aren't accepting His grace and they aren't actively receiving His love. The reason that people will turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, or any number of other fixes to numb their hurts, is because an enemy wants them to not only be hopeless, but also to be destroyed.

There is an easier way.

Burdens of life are heavy, but the grace of God lifts our burdens.

Matthew 11:28-30 The Message
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

How many of you could use some life recovery?

How many of you could use a real rest?

Friends, we need to replace our hope in the temporal and find our hope in the grace that God gives us:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 43:5

Are you dragging something around that you need to let go of?
Do you feel guilty?

Do you harbor sorrow for something you couldn't stop from happening, couldn't fix, couldn't make better but you can't let go?

Do you feel loaded down with responsibility for someone else's behavior or addiction or feelings?

Do you have anger you can't let go of?

Do you have hurt feelings, embarrassment, anxiety?

We drag all these things around with us. We let them take up space within us. We've been carrying them so long we don't know what to do without them.

And it all makes our hearts and souls heavy. So heavy.

What would happen if we were to lay down our burdens? What would happen if we gave these things up? What would happen if we just would let God love us?

Take some time to pray about what is stealing your hope and ask that God would replace that with His grace and His abundant love.

On paper, write a burden (or a list of them!) weighing you down. If you are willing to release the burden, get rid of it in some way! Rip it to pieces, burn it, trash it in whatever way you wish. But DO get rid of it.

His grace is enough. Our hope is found in Him alone.

"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Perfect song for this topic: Spend some time alone with Him and place your life in His capable hands.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The More We Seek Him

The more I discover about God, the more I realize how little I truly know. Not because my access to Him is limited (because it's not). Not because He hides Himself (because He doesn't.) But because of how absolutely amazing and great He is. We can't even scratch the surface of how big our God is, and yet, the mystery of all mysteries is that we can still have a relationship that is personal and intimate. He is near.

The last few weeks, I have been taking a course through Bethel Church on worship. I have had such an eye-opening experience through that- and not even so much because of what they are directly teaching, but more from my own desire to deepen my relationship with the Lord and what He is teaching me as a result.

One concept that keeps coming up through my courses is how every person has the potential to be a carrier of the presence of God. Think about that- we are designed to be a vessel to carry His presence to the world around us. And not just on a stage when singing and leading people in worship- but in every part of our day and in every situation. This is not a new concept for me, but the idea of it is really resonating with me as I am learning more about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit and what it means to bring about His Kingdom on the earth. 

Being in God's presence is where we find our rest. But it's also where we receive direction for life. It's where we can bring our questions, but also get some answers and clarity. It's where we can stand in awe of how much we don't know, but also where we can sit at His feet and learn and just be loved. 

Imagine if every person in your church realized the potential God has placed in them- to be a partner with Him to carry His love, grace, and power to world? If every one of them would seek after God and ask Him to fill them up until they were overflowing with His presence, it would be incredible. It is in the presence of God that we are healed, changed, and loved- my prayer is that we all would seek more of Him and make every effort to get in to His presence, both individually and corporately. Not for a "feeling" or an "experience", but so that we can truly know Him and make Him known. It's all about Him and it's all for His glory! 

"But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul." Deuteronomy 4:29

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Standing In The Wind

I am a big fan of gardening. Correction- I am a big fan of the product of gardening. All of the work that goes in to harvesting those big, ripe tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, green beans, and herbs is time-consuming. But oh so worth it! The last few years, I have tried to grow my plants from seed. The first year was a massive success. I had all kinds of time to baby the seedlings and get them growing really well. Last year, I had a newborn baby (not nearly enough time to take care of the seeds, but I did manage somehow) and then our stinking cat sat on the seedlings that I had half-attempted to nurture and killed them. This year, my carefully planted seedlings did really well for a couple weeks and then one night, somehow, the door the tomatoes were placed near came open overnight. The cold air crept in and made them wilt to the point where they were not salvageable. I was ticked (and our house was freezing cold!) Thankfully, there is a local grower who has the most productive, beautiful plants around for sale. It's just a bummer to have to pay more cash for your plants and not feel the victory of growing from seed. But life goes on (and tomato sandwiches are still had.) 

In my research over the last years of gardening, I came across something that was so interesting. If you have tomato seedlings and don't "toughen them up", sometimes when you plant them outside, at the first sign of wind, they will break and bend and be useless. So some master gardeners suggest, when the seedlings reach a certain height, to get a household fan and turn it on low for a few hours, pointed at the seedlings. Then you put the fan on the opposite side of the plants and do the same thing. For a couple days, you keep the speed on low. Then you turn it up to medium. Then you crank that fan up all the way! What this does is puts stress on the plants so that they learn to handle the wind they will face outside in the real world of the garden. 

As I read about that- I thought about my Christian walk. I know- strange to compare tomatoes to people. But trust me, there is a great correlation here. As a growing Christian, sometimes it seems like we are faced with all kinds of turmoil, both externally and internally. God knows about all of this turmoil. He even allows it to happen. And you know what happens to us if we can take the low, medium, and high speed wind that life throws our way? When we're placed into the really tough life situations, we will not break. We will not bend. We will stand firm and tall in Christ and His redemption of us. I know a lot of people right now are going through some terribly difficult things. This world is just ridiculous. It seriously is. But the truth is, that God loves us so much. He wants us to be strong. He wants us to grow. I do not believe that He is turning the fan up a couple notches and watching us get pummeled and taking some kind of sick satisfaction in it. On the contrary, I think He feels our pain. He mourns with us. But in the end, He knows we will come out of all of our temporary trials stronger and more fruitful. He simply wants us to still ourselves, be in His presence to get perspective, and to press in to His loving embrace as we weather life's storms. 

I'm working on writing a song right now based on Psalm 73:26 ("My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever".)that I think captures this concept. So far, it goes like this:

In this life, there is pain
But You give us hope that heals
In our hearts, there is peace
That drives out the doubt we feel

When the wind and waves come
When the storm is raging over me
I hear You saying, "Peace, be still"

Though my heart breaks
Though my flesh fails
You are my portion forever
You are the strength of my life

So friends, whether it feels like the fan is barely on low, or if you're getting blasted by strong winds, God is Your source of strength. Let Him love you, Let Him comfort You. He wants You to grow into the person He designed You to be- a person with a colorful story who can help others out along the way because of your many experiences of His faithfulness. We've just got to dig in-hold on-and know that He is our God. He loves you and knows every detail of every situation you have ever faced or will ever face. As you consider your current life situations, ask Him to be very close to you- so close that He will shelter You and carry you through. And trust Him! He really does know what is best and can see the bigger picture that we can't even start to understand. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Letting Go of Ungratefulness

God has been working on a sin in my heart lately. And when that happens, I start noticing that same sin in others. And let me tell you, MANY people struggle with this. It's not in a self-righteous way, but more in a "let's talk about this and figure this out together" sort of way that I write this post. So let's dig in. I will warn you, this is not a post of soft, fuzzy puppies and fragrant spring flowers, people. This is ugly. This is serious.

And here's what it is about: Being ungrateful.

I've got admit right off the bat that I don't have any extreme trials in my life right now. I'm relatively healthy, I'm married to a wonderful, Godly man who knows how to love me well (don't hate, but in the 12 years we have been married, we have never, ever had an argument. Discussions, yes. Arguments, no.) I have 3 handsome, healthy, fun-loving sons. I have a lovely house that we are building ourselves, surrounded by the forest and nature on 12 acres. I have no debt other than our mortgage. I do not have to work outside of the home. I have a completely stocked pantry and refrigerator (for the moment...), I am part of a growing, vibrant church where my family and I experience the power and presence of God in our lives, and where we are vitally involved in the worship ministry.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Sounds like I have a pretty blessed life, right?

Sounds like God has provided for me in some pretty incredible ways, right?

Well why, then, do I find myself, more often than not, in a state of frustration over something? Why do I look at all the blessings above, not for what they are (which is blessings), but instead, look at them as a source of curse? The answer is simple. I am ungrateful. I need more thankfulness in my life. If you were to take a look at your life, I bet you could come to the same conclusion.

How do we get ourselves into such a miserable "woe is me" type of mindset in the first place? Well, it turns out that we're in pretty good company. One might even go so far as to label it a generational curse on humanity- one that has been in place since the bite of the forbidden fruit in the garden. Nothing is ever enough. Nothing is ever satisfying. And the reason is, that we don't seek our satisfaction solely from God and we don't thank Him for the many blessings He has given.

If you know the story of the Israelites from the Old Testament, then you can see we, as the descendent apples haven't fallen far from the tree. We read their story. We celebrate their release from freedom and then shake our head at their stupidity as they time and time again relapse into bad habits of being greedy, wanting more, not being satisfied with what they have, not being thankful. Here is an example:

And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them. Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat!" Numbers 11:1-4

Good grief, Israelite people! SHUT UP already! You just about got burnt to a crisp for whining, God saved you, and you are right back at whining AGAIN!?! It's frustratingly painful to read. And do you know why? Because we are just as guilty. We see our own reflection in the face of the whining Israelites. We are mired in the same cycle of stupidity.

I need more.

I need it now.

I need to get my way.

If I just had________, then I'd be happy.

We are so wrapped up in our petty, nonsensical "issues" that we miss the bigger picture. We are so miserable and so overcome by our First World Problems, that we forget that there are people living a world away who would love to be in our shoes. We struggle and strain and complain and get moody over NOTHING!!!! (I am speaking to myself just as much as I am speaking to you, so don't get defensive.)

Friends. We have it better than we deserve. If your life is not in imminent danger right now while you are reading this, you're doing pretty well. In fact, you're doing better than most of the people living on this earth at the moment.

Did you drive somewhere in a vehicle today? 
Did you eat anything at all today? 
Did you turn on a faucet and clean water came out of it? 
Did you put on some clothes? 
Did anyone acknowledge your existence today?

If your answer is yes to even ONE of these, then you have a reason to give thanks.
But even if you couldn't say "yes" to ANY of those questions, you still have a reason to give thanks. And here is why- the God of the Universe is a prayer away. He wants to be Your comfort today. He wants to heal. He wants to love you. But you know why you won't reach out to Him? Because you're so concerned about all your little problems. 

Do you understand that in this world, we are up against a very strong, very evil enemy? Do you further understand that one of his best weapons is when he MAKES us a weapon against ourselves? satan gets us tangled up in our little webs of trouble and then all he has to do is sit back and watch the self-destruction begin. It is cunning and it is cruel. But it's easy to recognize. God has mercifully been waking me up to this truth and I feel like I'd be a real jerk if I didn't try to reach through this screen and grab you by the shoulders and shake you a bit. When we let our light and momentary troubles consume us, then we're fairly useless for the Kingdom. That is right where our enemy wants us. And most of us are there.

Are you thankful? Do you believe deep within your heart, soul, and mind that God has everything under control?

Then stop bemoaning whatever it is that you're dealing with right now. And trust me, I understand that there are seasons of life that are hard. I have been through them. God doesn't expect us to paste a smile on and pretend life is grand all the time. Because He knows better than anyone, that this is a broken world. He so longed to make it better that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to win us back. And He is making a home in Heaven for us where these troubles we face today won't hurt us ever again! 

That good day you had where you lifted your eyes heavenward and gave God a prayer of thanks? That's great that you did that. But today when the stuff is hitting the fan and you're feeling aggravated? Just take a moment to find something to be thankful for- in fact, make a list. And I bet you'll start to feel some chains falling off and hear them clattering to the floor. 

That "one thing" that's making you nuts? Let. It. Go. 

The list of grievances you have about your spouse or kids or house or body or job or friend or enemy? Burn it.

The way you rush around to try to get more done and more out of your day? That's actually causing you to MISS OUT on your day. Stop.

I have been doing 3 things on top of seeking God in prayer, the Word, and worship,  that are helping me overcome my ungrateful heart and they are as follows:

1. Read Ann Voscamp's book "1000 Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are"

2. Anytime you start to feel a sense of entitlement, dread, or frustration, just stop and find a way to find a reason to thank God in that moment. A silly example- I was looking at a huge pile of pots and pans to clean on my counter today and I was frustrated about the time it would take. As I started to wash, rather than get ticked off, I thanked God for each pan and thought about how my parents gave them to me as a wedding gift- and I gave thanks. I thought about my clean water that I didn't have to walk miles to get. I thought about the lovely view out of the window. I thanked God for all of it. Then at the end of that time, I thanked God for the time I had to just talk to Him and thank Him! And voila! The work was done! It seems silly. But it worked. The process of being thankful almost has a viral quality to it. We need to be infected with thankfulness!

3. In Voscamp's book, she has a journal where she lists her blessings daily. I have a chalkboard by the door where we are writing what we are thankful for. I try to do one every day. Being thankful begins with paying attention and not taking things for granted. So take some time to really consider the gifts that you have in your life. They are countless and far outweigh the difficulties you face.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
2 Corinthians 4:7-12

You don't have to make yourself miserable and frustrated. Life is in you. You get that one life to live in this world. One chance to make a difference. Look beyond yourself. Look at all that God has done and all that He gives. He is all we need. When we do that, our worship will become life-changing, our relationships will be stronger, our satisfaction will be fuller, because it's all based on Him. Give thanks to the Giver and you will not find yourself wanting.

Friday, April 5, 2013

This Was NOT a Pinterest Morning

Good Morning all you frazzled parents out there. I've got a little secret to share with you all--- this morning? My house? My kids? Total chaos. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. There was a giant sized fit over the grey shirt that didn't match the camo pants. There was an uproar over breakfast. My little normally sweet 6 year old was so angry, that on the way home from dropping him off at school, my 4 year old, Cohen, quite seriously asked, "do you think Silas is going to the dark side, Mom?" Which caused me to have my own fit- of laughter!

Isn't it just annoying to have a morning like this? No one is feeling good about things. Everyone is insecure in their role as parent/child. All those "what have I done wrong?" kinds of questions linger. Your mind drifts to all those other "perfect" parents you know sending their smiling kids out the door with a beautifully packed lunch of epic homemade proportions, wearing clothes they made themselves, carrying a hand-folded cardboard box with hand-painted spring flowers on the side, with beautiful, perfect treats for their (also perfect) classmates inside? I'm not buying it. I have a day once in a while where I can achieve those things, but more often than not, my morning is like a circus. Or a marathon. Or a wrestling match. There is nothing I could take a photo of from this morning and pin on Pinterest boards today at all. My kid had a piece of bacon coming out of his mouth, tears dropping out of his eyes, and that wild brown hair shooting up in every direction. We ran from the house in a late frenzy to the van and scrambled in as fast as we could. Not exactly a peaceful experience.

In the end, after a long talk on the way to school, as he was exiting the mini-van, we both had smiles on our faces and he gave me two kisses and a big hug and said he was sorry for his anger and disrespectful words- and I forgave him. Lesson learned. Disaster morning over. And so we all move on. It was not the morning I would have wished upon us, but it was the morning that we had. We parents pressure ourselves so much to have every moment be sparkling and delightful, straight from the pages of a parenting magazine. But it's not reality. Life is not perfect. The sooner our kids (and we, as parents) learn that lesson and get the grace to deal with it, the better. I am the kind of person who has always liked things orderly, tidy, neat and wrapped up in a bow. Guess what? I'm getting over it. Because if you hold ridiculous expectations, you're going to be miserable, and I don't want to live my life that way. I want to let go of this idea that everything has to be perfect, because it can't be. It can be close, but only at the expense of our sanity and family. And those are two trades I am not willing to make. We are fallen, broken people living in an angry, hurting, chaotic world. The only perfection we can know is the perfection that is found in our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our example, and though we strive for a whole lifetime, we know we will never attain that perfection. But along the way, even in mornings like this, our faith and our relationships are tested, torn, and strengthened once again. And we grow. There was nothing perfect or contained about this morning. But I'm pretty sure not much would have been learned had it been that way.

Just before he opened the door of his school, he turned around with a huge toothy smile and asked, "tomorrow is Saturday, right Mom?" Yes it is, my sweet son. A chance to recharge and regain our composure as we look to the challenges ahead. Because we never know what the next day will hold. But we know WHO holds our next day. Thank You, God. For loving us even in our chaos. For giving us grace that we don't deserve. For showing us perfection, but not expecting it from us. For being good. For giving us rest. For being our source of security. For Your love.

Praying that you all have a blessed, restful weekend. Give your kids an extra hug today. Life is hard for everybody and we all have "one of those days" once in a while.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Open The Gift

Parents reading this- this will especially resonate with you. Remember that first time you were in the hospital room with just your baby and your spouse? The nurse smiled as she shut the door and said, "just let us know if you need anything" with a look that said, "all you need is time alone, together." You slowly unwrapped the layers of swaddling blanket and saw the tiny feet. You marveled at the skinny little legs and wanted to memorize every dimple and curve. You looked at your spouse and you smiled. Maybe you cried. In that moment, you were filled with gratitude. You had just unwrapped a beautiful gift.

I loved meeting all 3 of my sons, but one huge regret I have with my last birth, was that I was loopy. I was exhausted. 12 hours of hard labor followed by an emergency c-section was not how it had all gone in my head in the months leading up the the big day.  After a slow day of a stubborn baby with his head turned the wrong way, everything was suddenly fast. Everyone was moving quickly to get Sawyer out into the world. I saw him for a moment, but as they began stitching me up, I became sick to my stomach and then blacked out. When I woke up, there he was. The stress of the labor, combined with a fresh wound and the disappointment that came with it was hard to handle. I was on all sorts of pain medications and honestly- I know I held Sawyer. I know I looked at him and was filled with joy. I know the nurses left us alone to unwrap him. But I don't really remember it at all. It is heartbreaking. It makes me cry even now as I write this. It doesn't make me any less grateful, but the memory is so foggy that it crushes my heart that I wasn't in the moment. I was not present as I normally am.

I think a lot of times, our lives are like that. There are moments we savor and times that we remember to be thankful. But the majority of our time is spent in a fog. Going from point A to point B. Going as fast as we can. Not remembering. And most detrimentally, not being thankful.

I listened to an interview with author Ann Voscamp in which she discussed this topic and she listed Romans 1:21 as a call to thankfulness and absorbing the moments God gives us:

"For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." 

The truth of this verse and the truth in our own lives is that evidence of God is everywhere we look. Even in our most dark times. We can clearly see Him at work in every circumstance, and yet, we do not acknowledge Him as He deserves.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to live this way. Too busy, too stressed, too unaware, too distracted. I want to be a more thankful person. I want to live each moment in wonder and awe of what God is doing- to have an undercurrent of gratitude running at all times during my stay on this earth.

This week is a perfect week to reflect and give thanks as we remember the gift that Jesus gave to the world as He offered Himself as a sacrifice. But the thing is- you have to be aware. You have to open the gift and pause and think about it, not only with your head, but with your heart too. Don't let these moments pass you by. They are precious and overflowing with opportunity to worship the God who has given them to us. Open the gift, slowly, and appreciate it in all it's glory and beauty.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Carrie's Worship Playlist

I often have people ask me what worship songs I'm listening to at any given moment. There are so many good albums out here recently, I just thought I'd let you take a tour through my playlist.

First of all- new Passion CD: Let The Future Begin. Oh wow. Every song on this one is fantastic. I don't love the title track "God's Great Dance Floor/Let the Future Begin" as a corporately sung worship song, but it's got a great beat. My kids and I are often found dancing around to this one. Cohen the other night said, "hold on Mom! Pause the dance floor! I will be right back!" My top 3 favorites off of this one are "The Lord Our God" by Kristian Stanfill (the bridge is based on Numbers 9, where the Israelites would only move when the pillar of cloud, or the fire by night would move-cool concept.) " Here's My Heart" by THE David Crowder is a nice song-simple, but says all that we need to say to God. I also really like " In Christ Alone" sung by Kristian Stanfill. This is a great modern hymn (written in 2001 by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty). Buy this whole CD. You will not be disappointed!

Second on my go-to list is "Burning Lights" by Chris Tomlin. I've got to be honest. I generally do not enjoy his studio recordings at all. He's so dynamic and powerful in live settings. I have been spoiled by all those times we saw him lead worship live back in our younger days. But this album is different. There are a lot of good songs on here. You can't really go wrong with any of them. My favorite song is "Crown Him/Majesty" which we have been doing at LCC. I love that bridge, "All hail Redeemer, hail. For He has died for me. His praise and glory shall not fail, throughout eternity."

I'm patiently waiting for David Crowder to put out his first solo album after the break up of David Crowder Band. We saw him in concert a couple weeks ago. If you are afraid of bluegrass, I promise if you'll just give Crowder's new sound a try, he will win you over. He artfully blends bluegrass and folk with modern sounds and songs. It's a toe-tappin', loud-singin', good time of worship. I am assuming he'll be working on an album here directly as he introduced several new songs at the concert.

In the same vein, "Campfire" by Rend Collective Experiment is great. It's folky, it's organic, and for good reason- it's a bunch of people singing together around a fire in Ireland. Seriously good content- I especially like the song "Build Your Kingdom Here". Honestly, I could do without the song Kumbaya. I get it. Believe me, I do- with the campfire theme and all, it's practically a requirement to have it on there. I've hosted many a campfire and that song has been, is, and forever will be, banned. No offense to whoever wrote it whenever, but it's a song I could definitely go without hearing. Ever. Again. But overall, great CD (if you skip track #1.)

"Zion" by Hillsong United has such a great, fresh vibe to it. I can hardly get enough. The songs and lyrics are unique, but the truth within is familiar. Great stuff!

So buy some new music today! I love how God inspires and directs people to write songs that touch people (maybe even Kumbaya hits someone in a special I feel a little bad about how harsh I was...maybe.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Looking to Him

   "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into same the image  from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 
2 Corinthians 3:18

     I love to watch my kids' faces when I give them a gift, or hand them their favorite toy, or set a plate of their favorite food in front of them. Just this morning, I was holding my youngest son, Sawyer on my lap and he was just sitting there looking around the room. He was content, but just kind of bored. I picked up a colorful book filled with pictures of animals and was able to watch his face as I opened it to his favorite page filled with lions and tigers. His eyes began to take it all in and they changed. I could see the joy, the excitement, and the change in his eyes.

    If you are a Lancaster Community Church person reading this, I can tell you that your eyes have been changing too. I have been leading worship for several years at LCC and here recently have I noticed a significant change. For the most part, we've all been pretty content. There have been spikes on the worship-meter over the past couple years, and we've all grown so much- we have all been learning what worship really is together. But something is happening and I can't quite pinpoint it or trace it back to a particular moment, but just the last few weeks, as I scan the crowd during worship, your eyes are telling me that you're changing. There is a new sense of seeking. There is a new wave of participating in the worship, in moving beyond singing the songs and going through the motions. The Holy Spirit is stirring. And I can see it. Some faces show incredible pain and hurt, but I watch as people push past the tears and raise a shaking hand into the air, determined to put their circumstances aside and enter the throne room of God. Other faces show an indescribable joy and elation as their hearts rush to the Father they love so much. Yes, there are a few people here and there with their hands still in their pockets wondering what all the fuss is about. But for the most part, people are entering into this beautiful time of praise each week wholeheartedly and with eyes that want to see the beauty and the glory of God. As I watched my sons face light up this morning over the book, it made me think of our time together on Sundays in the sanctuary of LCC. We are awakening. 

    What is even more encouraging for me to think about, is that Sunday morning worship is just a product of what has been occurring on a daily basis, Monday- Saturday. It is the overflow of hearts that have been looking toward Him all week long. I'm thrilled by that! I mean it! I love the idea of people throughout the week worshiping on their own, reading the Word, praying, and studying with friends in Connect Groups. I love to think about people heading out to their various daily routines with Jesus as their focus. I think all along this is what we have wanted. This is what we have prayed for. But it just feels like, to me, that it's all coming together. We are living and being the church that God has envisioned. 

    Have we "arrived"? I don't think so. I think this is only the very beginning. And that fills me with wonder and excitement. And it inspires me to keep pushing ahead with our worship teams. As I frequently say, "we can only lead people to where we've been ourselves." So I want you to know, I am fixing my eyes on Jesus. I am looking to Him as we continue to elevate His name that is above every other name. And during these weeks leading up to Easter, I am looking back at His cross. His beautiful sacrifice for us all. I'm awed at the sight of a God who loved us so much that His Son was willing to give His life for our sins. No one can see the cross of Jesus and the love He has for us all and walk away unchanged. It is impossible. 

    So let's continue to fix our gaze on Him. If you haven't been looking, He wants you to seek Him! And if you have been seeking Him, then let's seek Him even more! And let Psalm 27:4 be the cry of our hearts: 

One thing I ask from the Lord,
This only do I seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord,
All the days of my life,
To gaze on the beauty of the Lord
And to seek Him in His temple. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Finding God in the Mess

Have you ever read those Facebook status updates where a woman goes through every detail of her day- how she washed and dried and put away 36 loads of laundry, and how she has changed 17 poopy diapers so far that morning alone?

Have you ever written one? Be honest.

I will. I have!

I had a friend ask me last week why women do that. I had no intelligible answer to that question. But I've been thinking about it. And I think the situation goes deep. Waaaay deep. So if you'd like to explore this mysterious phenomenon AND learn that Jesus wants something better for us, then keep reading.

It's no joke- running a household is not an easy, neat, or drama-free task. There are some days I feel like I could lose my mind. I think the problem with being a wife/Mom/live-in maid, is that life often feels like a mixture of the movie Groundhog Day and the episode of Saved by the Bell where Jesse Spano has to take caffeine pills in order to get everything done (Here's the link to the classic're welcome- The thing is though, that as with everything in this life, we have a choice of how we respond to the mundane, often ridiculous, never dull, seldom predictable days that we have amongst our children wiping their noses and then turning around only to have to wipe it again- washing all the dishes only to have to wash them again (and again and again), getting those clothes put away only to turn around to see another pile needing get the idea. It's a never-ending cycle. There may be a feeling of victory and closure at the end of the day when everything is all put away and lovely and sparkling. But that feeling of closure is ripped open the next morning, just like the lid of the toy box in the family room. And the toys come right back out.

Never. Ending. Cycle.

Well the question of why women feel the need to post their grievances for the world to see got me to thinking. And when I get to thinking, it's downright dangerous. I've come to the conclusion that we shouldn't complain about the life God has given us. "But it's soooo haaaard to do this everrrrryyy dayyyy!" I hear you.

If we shouldn't complain and feel downhearted, then what should our attitude be? (And please, if you post something about laundry or poopy diapers on Facebook, don't feel like I am going to judge you. I'll probably slip up and pop one on there myself sooner or later.) If we look at Jesus' life, we know He was and is the ultimate servant. He said specifically that He came to serve (Matthew 20:28- "even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”- Jesus actually died for us...kinda makes our laundry woes inconsequential, eh?) He showed his love through serving others tirelessly. He got down on his knees and washed the filthy feet of His own followers (John 13). He didn't complain. He didn't put His hand to His head in dramatic fashion, hoping for someone to notice His difficulties. He didn't want sympathy or crave a pat on the back. And we can learn from this. All of us.

Jesus' ultimate goal is to get us, His followers, to actually follow Him. And in so doing, to become like Him. Imagine it. It makes the heart soar and the head spin. A word to the ladies reading this, Jesus wants us to be like Him. So in your daily sacrificial duties, and trust me, Mom-of-3 boys that I am, I understand that there are sacrifices- let's look to Him as our example.

Let's be last. With willingness.

Let's bind up those little hearts and wipe away those tears. With compassion.

Let's serve our husbands well and meet their needs. With submission.

Let's complete our tasks throughout the day. With joy.

That's a day well done. That's something to be proud of. That's the kind of day that sheds light into the darkest corners of our hearts and shines right out of our front doors to the rest of the watching world.

Guys. You're not off the hook. If you are a husband, encourage your wife as she grows in this area. Be helpful. Don't fall into the excuse that you're a guy and you just don't know how to clean. Everyone can learn this simple skill :) While I do believe women are better predisposed emotionally and mentally for such tasks as child-rearing and the running of a household, I also believe that marriage and life together is a team effort! So do what you can to lead your family as a team. Recognize your calling to encourage, equip, and love your wife as she learns to serve willingly and well. Roll up your sleeves and wash some dishes. And pick your dirty socks up off of the floor by your side of the bed. Please. Work together! I promise it will be a challenge, but the results will be phenomenal.

I do believe that we learn so much from God in the day-to-day. Those are the real deal, rubber-meets-the-road kind of experiences. He is longing to meet us there. He wants to take us under His wing and show us a better way. He has given us a beautiful example in the life of Jesus to follow.

I'd love to write more, but as you can guess, I have a lot of work to do. Spiritually AND physically. So let's all commit to start looking at our days differently. Whoever you are, whatever you do and wherever you find yourself today- let us serve. Let us give. Let us find Him in the mess!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I Will

    I've been looking at my life a lot lately and wondering how it can possibly get any more crammed full of stuff. I'm sure many of you reading this feel the same way. In the course of my day, there are so many things I wish I could be doing, but I find myself with so many "Have-to's", that I can't get to the "Want to's". This struggle makes a person like me introspective and evaluative. What am I doing? Where am I wasting time? What is important?

    The problem is that I have come to the conclusion that it's all important! I can't delete my Mothering and household responsibilities. Someone has to wash, dry, fold, and put away laundry for 5 (but often, it feels more like 25). Someone has to pay bills, clean toilets, change diapers. It's me. I'd much rather spend my day at the piano working on songs, or soaking up the Word and writing.

    Someone also has to learn to rely more on the power of God to maintain a positive attitude about the "have-to's" and that's also me. It does no good to anyone for me to get that disgruntled, entitled feeling as I'm making round 2 of breakfast for the day for little hungry mouths JUST as I had finally had a chance to sit down with my journal and Bible finally open, pen in hand.

     I'm asking God to remind me daily that this is a season. A season of extreme maintenance and work. Some days, it's hard work. Some days, it's frustrating that I haven't even accomplished the "Have to's", let alone had time to think about the "Want to's." I am learning that there can be peace in the chaos. I have learned that it is necessary to mesh "time spent with God" into both the "Have to" column AND the "Want to" column. I can't get through the day in one piece without Him. It's non-negotiable.

     And today, as I read Psalm 101 with a fussy baby who just had shots yesterday (and today a resulting fever) bouncing on one knee, a 4 year old at my shoulder saying "Mom, why, why, why..." I was able to block it out in the 30 seconds it took for these words to come alive off of the page. It was like God was saying "Here is what is important for you, Carrie Crawford, today, right now." And I think He wants to say these words to all of us. Here are the lines that jumped out from Psalm 101 and here are the things I WILL do with my life and with my time. Instead of getting so worked up about what I need to do, want to do, and the fear of failing to accomplish any of it,

I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to You O Lord, I will make music. 

I will ponder the way that is blameless.

I will walk with integrity of heart within my house.

I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.

The laundry pile may overflow, the piano keys may go untouched for the day, the dinner might not look like a magazine cover. But I am going to make these things of Psalm 101 happen. And I know He will help me.