Friday, January 31, 2014

Character qualities for Close Friendship

One of my favorite characters in literature is Anne of Green Gables.  I especially love the relationship that Anne has with her friend Diana Barry, whom she calls her "bosom friend."  That kind of friendship is the rarest, most precious treasure of friendship that we can have, I think.

I have had the privilege of having some really close, "heart-to-heart" friendships with other women that God has brought into my life, but I will be honest in saying it's been a LONG time since I have had that kind of relationship.  Joe and I have reached a great place in our marriage, and for that I feel incredibly blessed and thankful, but I don't believe anyone apart from God is meant to fill EVERY need in our lives.  Joe is not my savior, nor would it be realistic, or even healthy, for me to expect him to be.  It's taken me a while to figure that one out, I admit.

So, while I am not lonely in my marriage, I confess that I would like to cultivate God-honoring, deeper friendships with at least a few ladies to hold each other accountable, to help me to grow into a more Godly wife and mom, and to just spur each other on to good works in Him.  I've had trouble at times in the past in recognizing when a relationship I had with someone was one that I could pursue as a deeper relationship, and when someone didn't really want to be more than an acquaintance.  Thinking about this made me consider what qualities I would be looking for in the kind of friend I am talking about, and then the idea of making a list of those qualities appealed to me, in order to clarify what I am looking for in a deeper friendship, and hopefully it will call out to those ladies I know who might be hungry for this as well.   So without further ado, here are the qualities I am looking for in a close friendship with other ladies, and that I also would wish to cultivate in myself to be the kind of friend that I would want to have:

1.  First off, you have to WANT to have close friends yourself, and not feel satisfied by what friendships you already have, that you have closed yourself off to additional, deeper friendships.  This is NOT an attack on those who already have close friends and want no more; I recognize that we all have limits to what we are able to handle and maintain with regards to relationships, and sometimes the fact of the matter is that some people have no more room in their heart or life for any more additional close friendships.  I get that.  While I do think in a more general way people, most especially Christians, should seek to be inclusive rather than exclusive where they are able,   I  don't expect that everyone I meet should make room for me to be in their "inner circle".  Even Jesus chose the apostles, and from then, he had an inner circle of guys that he was more intentional about pouring his life into.  If this is how he was in life, why would I expect to be different?  So if you are reading this post, and your life is too full already, I understand, but apparently we are not called to be best friends.

2.  I value true tolerance, coupled with honesty, truth seeking, and humility.  In other words, if you want to be my bestie, you do NOT have to live your life just like me.  You can work 9 to 5, your kids can go to public school, you can eat cereal and Dominoes for dinner every night of the week , you can be an organic vegan tofu foodie, or you can be better at me than housekeeping (which isn't hard to be, actually lol), you can be a Democrat or Republican (I am libertarian, but I digress), you can have NO children or one child or twenty children, dye your hair purple and be covered in piercings and tattoos (which I find unattractive and don't see the draw of, but again, is irrelevant to my point),  you can be divorced or single or married (though I'd prefer if you weren't married to the mob, but again I digress), you can believe evolution is true or intelligent design.  Here is the deal: you can be almost anything that I am not, so long as you RESPECT what I am, and we are able to TALK about our different points of view without name calling, and you are OPEN to new ideas and wanting to learn something.  If your automatic assumption is that all Christian, homeschooling moms of four or more kids are judgemental and insane, that only backwoods hillbillies who have the IQ of a piece of lint teach their children about creation science, and the lifestyle God has CALLED me to live for MY family offends you, then we are going to have trouble finding common ground.  If every time someone questions something in your life, you get offended that they DARE to say a decision you have made might be detrimental to you, then we also have problems.  I have no issue with people who believe differently than me, when someone I care about brings a concern to me, I try my best to listen to what they are saying, unless they try to FORCE their way upon me or belittle me for being different.  There has to atleast be common ground of mutual respect for each other to have any meaningful relationship.  True tolerance doesn't demand that we all be exactly the same; it says that we can strive to live side by side and pray for one another, even if we disagree or even think the other person is wrong about something.  It says we can discuss and think through ideas, and be humble enough to respect when we disagree, and expect to learn from others.   I want to have friends that challenge me to grow as a person, and even help me to grow in my faith by thinking about things and really examining the reasons I do what I do, and think what I think.  But if it's totally one sided, if they think the only reason they want close to me is to change me, but never honestly receive anything themselves, then I don't see how the friendship will be that beneficial.

3. I will say I am really hoping that the Lord will bring some other Christian ladies in my life, to have this sort of friendship with, that we can help each other grow in our faith.  I don't mean that is a requirement to be my friend, or even a close friend that I will love deeply, just for me, it would be a blessing to have a friend of like faith, one who also WANTS to grow in their walk with the Lord, and KNOWING Him more and more.  And for this particular kind of friend, I would love for us to have the common ground of LOVING the WORD OF GOD more than our own opinions and ideas.  Sometimes, as a Christian, it can feel like the culture, and even cultural Christianity, are at odds with my faith.  It would be wonderful to have a friend who prayed with me, and valued growth in their walk as much as I did.

4. To be a heart friend, you have to be willing to be VULNERABLE, and AUTHENTIC.  If you are unwilling to admit you have struggles, or questions, or that you sometimes have problems, if you are one of those people who thrives on public appearances and a positive public image, then I am probably not the best friend you want or need.  At the same time, it'd be great to find a person like that who also likes to laugh and looks to have joy and have fun in life.   If we can spur each other onward to contentment in all things, but also see areas of life that need improvement and spur each other on to that as well, then that would be pretty much awesome.

5.  You have to be willing to care about my concerns and needs as well as your own passionate projects.  By this, I mean I think it's great if you have something you feel strongly about; I have those things too.  Isn't finding a cure for Crohn's disease at the top of everyone's list of important things? Also, I think homeschooling is awesome.  Oh wait, you mean not everyone feels that way?  Well, that's okay.  I can respect that your life may revolve around other things than mine.  But if the only time you really care about interacting with me is when I try to understand the passion you feel for your particular passion, then probably we won't be heart friends.  We can be friends who like each other and understand a common passion together, but heart friends like each other for themselves, not just that the other person will listen to them talk ad nausiem about their one particular cause or passion.   This is an area of particular concern in my search for heart friends, because I have been misled in the past.  I have formed friendships with people in the past, sought to understand them through their passionate cause of choice, only to figure out that the care they felt for me was limited to the degree I was interested in their hobby, or cause, or even network marketing company.  There is nothing wrong with sales; it's an honorable profession.  But if you feel that the only way I will be able to grow in fellowship with you is to embrace this secondary thing you do, then it's probably good for me to know that upfront, accept our relationship for what it is (which is fine, in its proper place), and move on to continue looking for those who are willing to be selfless enough to put as much energy in knowing me and loving me as a person, without gain to their cause, as I want to know them.

6.  If you want to be my heart friend, don't marginalize my sacrifices in life, and I'll try not to marginalize yours either.  In other words, don't say, when you hear I have six kids, "Oh wow, you must have the patience of Mother Theresa! I could never do that!  I would just go insane with that many kids, trapped with them at home all day!"  First off, if God calls you to do something, he equips you to do it.  That doesn't, however, mean it's all smooth sailing, or that things won't be hard some days.  I make sacrifices to do what I do.  I know that other people, who have made different choices than I have made, have made their own kinds of sacrifices.  How about if we just accept that God is doing sometimes different things in our lives, and that looks different for different people? I can't imagine what it's like to be a single parent, or a woman whose husband is deployed, or any myriad of things, but I make it my goal to try to understand best as I can, and not trivialize their sacrifices by saying how I am too good to ever be in their shoes.  Since I don't know what the future holds, it would require an immense amount of pride for me to do that. 

5. Walking in love and forgiveness is an essential trait of being a heart friend.  If you are one of those people that holds a grudge forever, then it's going to be really hard for our friendship to grow.  I am going to mess up, and make mistakes, and say something stupid.  And so are you.  If we know each other long enough, the flaws and any sin issues we have are going to be exposed.  And growth is messy.  I want to know that we can have permission to be imperfect and make mistakes, but be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

6. If we are going to be heart friends, gossip will have no place in our relationship.  I want to know  when we share our flaws, that they will not be used as weapons.  No one is perfect, and as someone who has a big mouth, I know what it is to say something you regret.  But I want to know that we will both value keeping a confidence, and that we will strive to see not just the best in each other, but in others as well.

7. The last thing I would really like in a heart friend involves geography, but it isn't the most essential thing.  It would just be really helpful if said friend lived close enough we could actually hang out sometimes.  IF you live farther away, that's okay too, if you are willing to call or visit or just put forth effort to maintain the friendship.  I have several good friends, that were heart friends at one time, but now due to geography and the busyness of our lives, we just are not as emotionally close as we used to be.  And that is just life; I am as much to blame as they are.  I know they know I love them, and they love me.  We are just at different places in our lives now, and that's how life is.

I am posting this, hoping that there are others out there, especially locally, who maybe want that kind of friendship too.  I am hoping soon to start a Bible study soon in my home with ladies who are looking for just that kind of friendship.  If that interests you, let me know by private message.  If it doesn't, that's fine too.  I would appreciate prayer though; I sincerely want to be intentional about loving and building relationships with those God has called me to love, and I need Him to show me and give me discernment and wisdom in this area. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

RPG game update

I thought I would take a minute, while I am sick, to update about my rpg game that is supposed to help me succeed in real life.(our whole clan has been battling a head cold since last Friday, and I am one of the last to fall victim to the plague of 2014.  As I type, my youngest son David has been laying beside me, also convalescing.  This morning, he has also been throwing up, so I am hoping it's just nausea related to congestion, and not an additional stomach virus.)  I blogged about starting the game a couple times back, so go back and read that if you have no idea what I am talking about.  The upside of me being sick is yay, you, lucky reader, get MULTIPLE posts from me today.  I know, I know. 

Anyway, I have already killed the sucker a week in. lol My firstborn is doing the game as well, and she says I set my standards too high for goals to reach on my habits and dailies.  I will say one of the things I check off everyday is "drink coffee."  That is my one gimme check each day, as well as "shower/dress".  lol But I have also set goals like wake up with Joe, read my Bible and pray, work out for 30 minutes,  do a load of laundry and move it to the dryer, as well as checking off all the indidual homeschool work I have to do with each child, like Dave's reading lessons, Jon and Rebekah's grammar and math work, meeting with Joseph and Kate to go over their independent work progress, and read aloud time each day and science with the younger kids.  The homeschool work gets done, the coffee drinking and Bible time usually do as well, and I also am doing pretty well at menu planning and making sure meals are fixed.  Housework is sometimes a struggle to stay on top of, and so is exercising.  I suppose that, coupled with the fact that I have been the one in best shape for much of the weekend and early part of the week, with Joe, Kate, and Rebekah not feeling well, has been the reason for the death of nightelfmohawklady, as I have affectionately named her.

The upside to rpg games is I immediately revived her, and while I am sick, I put her in an "inn" to rest, so while I am recovering I don't kill her again.  It's funny to me how my life often dovetails with what God shows me in my quiet times, and sermons I hear and such.   I mean, I have been really giving my utmost to go after knowing God with my whole heart, and then BAM we get hit with sickness again.  I start to feel discouraged, and question why these hardships are coming again, and he speaks to me through Exodus yesterday (my last post, which got posted this morning.)  He gently reminds me to trust Him to bring me through, and to rely on His strength, not my own.  I will be quick to cry out to Him, but strive to be slow to complain.  Haha, but it's not a "natural" response for me to be supernaturally joyful when kids are puking, I am sick, and life still is moving forward.  What is cool is seeing how God still provides in the midst of this stuff.  My eldest has a job now, and I was dreading the thought of having to drag myself into the car to drive her to work, but turns out her boss is sick as well, and because someone else would be teaching the Lego class in his place, he gave her the option to show up at the school or miss today.  With the sickness going around, I chose that she could miss.  So God just made it easy for my schedule to clear a little bit.  It's the little things like that, that I notice lately. 

The awesome thing, to me, about trusting God in circumstances, is that in doing so, you are no longer limited by the laws of cause and effect, or even your own resources.  I know that when God has called me to do something, he will make a way for me to do it.  Because really it will be him doing it THROUGH me, not me really doing it at all.

I'm still praying about the rpg game app.  I'm not sure yet if it's helping me, or hindering me.  The little avatar, decked out in battle gear amuses me.   And I am so nerdy; I admit, I get a little thrill when I check a box and it rewards me with coins in the game to buy more weapons and battle gear.  The problem for me, sometimes, is I have always struggled with a  tendency to validate my worth based on my performance.  So I am not sure if a game like this might encourage that for me personally, or if I am mature enough now to let it motivate me, without feeling worthless if I am not doing "well", or earning "coins" for getting things accomplished in real life.  Silly, huh?

When I consider how old I am, and how often I struggle to be disciplined in sometimes such basic ways, I get discouraged and frustrated.  But when I consider all that God has done in my life, in spite of me, and all the ways He has shown His love to me, and the growth that has occurred, however small at times, I feel encouraged greatly.   The two biggest disciplinary nemeses in my life are regularly exercising, and being disciplined with regards to setting a schedule for myself, and following it.  I have come to see that while I am most definitely a gal who is nerdy in loving to check a box, in my personality I am actually more of a free, creative, artistic spirit than I ever realized.  In that regard, I am not much of a Martha.  So maybe my blog should be named Being Martha, becoming Mary.  lol I am only Martha in that I must discipline myself continuously to keep Christ at the center of my life, and to not let busyness crowd him out of first place.

Calibrating True North

This morning, during my quiet time, I have started reading Exodus again, as I just finished the book of Genesis.  This morning I reread Exodus 5-7.  Moses and Aaron approached Pharoah for the first time, to tell him to let the Hebrew slaves go and worship God in the wilderness, and instead of letting them go, he increases the workload of the slaves.  Here is a portion of what I read in Exodus 5:15 all the way to Exodus 6:1: 

 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this?  No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.”  But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’   Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.”   The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.”  They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh;  and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

 But the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”

I was thinking this morning as I read this, about how we as Christians are to accurately judge if we are truly following God, or if we are not.  How do we know what is right and what is wrong?

That thought led me to think about true north.  I mean, if you are in a room full of people and you ask people which direction is north, you might actually get a bunch of different answers, if people don't know.  But that doesn't change the fact that there is actually a correct answer.  It might be confusing, though, if you're in that room, and people are pointing in different directions.  Sometimes, life is like that.

It's evident in our culture to me as well; we as a people seem to have lost our bearings on how to discern what is right and wrong.  At times, we confuse moral ambiguity with compassion, and other times we confuse legalism with holiness.  However, when you talk about right and wrong, you have to first believe there IS, in fact, right and wrong.  And while there are some people who will argue that point today, most of us still have a basic sense that some things are just evil, or wicked.  But even once you have decided you concur with the idea that there is good and evil, right and wrong, then you have to decide what SOURCE you will use to determine what is right and wrong.

Whether people are honest about it or not, everyone who believes in the idea of good and evil has to have someone or something they use to judge what is, and is not, evil.  Some people use their feelings as a standard of righteousness, while others seem to adhere to the idea that if the majority of people feels something is morally okay, then it is.  But feelings are fickle, as are cultures.  If there truly is an absolute truth of right and wrong, and I believe there is, then there has to be a better way to judge that than by depending on our feelings, or what the culture says about what is okay, and what is not.  When I look at history, I see example after example of times where a government (including our own; I read to my children just the other day about the trail of tears, for example), has sanctioned and given their proverbial blessing on the mistreatment of a people group.

For me, the most realable standard I have found has been the Bible, in its entirety, and most especially the life of Jesus.   There are books written, much more eloquently than I could express, laying out how the Bible came to us, and the basis for faith in it as the inspired word of God, as well as books that discuss the life of Christ and the way he fulfilled so many of the prophecies spoken about the Jewish Messiah.   So my goal in this post is not to rehash that, or even argue with someone about it.  What I do find frustrating, however, is when I see comments or statements made by people who claim to be followers of Christ, but most of the things they adhere to or stand by as right and wrong appear to be based on their feelings or culture, not a knowledge of God's word. I say that is how it appears, because when you ask them WHY they believe what they believe, they have little support to give to their beliefs Biblically, but will tell you all the reasons why a loving God could NEVER be any other way.  In other words, they are relying on their feelings as a yardstick to measure God's justice and holiness.   But if we are to truly be a people who claim follow Jesus, we should make it our goal to think Biblically in all things, as he did, not to just be comfortable with something because the church culture says it, or our friends are okay with it, or even just because a preacher we like says something, but to KNOW what the Bible says and know WHY we think what we think.  I am no Bible scholar, but I don't think you have to be to study the Bible, and receive something from it.  I do think it requires care not to take just one verse and build a whole doctrine on it, but to look at the whole thing, at patterns and the things I see God saying over and over.  I never want to assume that just because a prophet or person God used in the Bible did something, that makes it sanctioned by God as right, or even the "holy way" of doing things.  David was an adulterer; that does not mean that God condoned adultery.  It just means that God uses sinners, which all of us are, to bring his plans and purposes to pass. 

Another way that people determine if they are on the right path sometimes, is by the circumstances of their life.  An assumption that can be easy to make, especially and most usually when life is going swimmingly for the individual making the assumption, is that if you are doing the right things,  you will be blessed with all the right outcomes, and not have to experience many trials or hardships in life.  Now, I will admit, when I read the Bible, I do see a pattern that blessings follow obedience.  In other words, when people are obedient to do things the way God wants them done, they do often avoid some of the pain which sin can bring into life.  For example, if I am a businessman, and I choose to run my business with honesty and integrity,  then I will  hopefully never endure the pain of going to jail for fraudulent business dealings, and I will have the respect of others who deal with me, and enjoy a good reputation in my community as an honest, upright man.  That is the general principle, I believe, which often comes to pass.  At the same time, doing things God's way is NOT a guarantee of success.  Nor does it ensure that you will not suffer unjustly.  In fact, if you are not only trying to live your life in a way that pleases God, but also actually seeking to love God and others well, and you have an intense passion to know Him more, then the pattern the Bible sets for those types of people is very different in some ways from the standard pattern of blessings following obedience.  The blessings from God still follow, but the persecution from the world, and the onslaught of trials, and hardships, actually seems to increase exponentially.

As I read the passage in Exodus, that was what I noticed.  God is on a path to deliver his people, and the path is not going to be all sun and flowers.  In fact, at the initial stage, things may seem to get worse, not better.   The good news for the Hebrew slaves, if they would have listened, is that God KNEW it was going to get worse before it got better, and He was not taken by surprise.  He actually proclaimes to his people that Pharoah wouldn't listen, and that He was planning to use Pharoah's hardness of heart as a way to show the Egyptians, and His own people, and ultimately the world, that He truly is the Lord, and that He alone is worthy of honor and glory.  And then He sets out to do that spectacularly.

The tragedy for the children of Israel in this story is NOT that they are slaves, enduring persecution.  The real tragedy is that when God begins to deliver them, they respond with murmuring and complaining, focused only on their immediate circumstances instead of the amazing fact that the God of the universe is acting on their behalf to deliver them.  The sole focus of the Hebrew taskmasters is the physical reality they see, not the spiritual reality that Moses has told them is going to come to pass.   And this is not a one time occurrence; over and over in Exodus, and in other books of the Bible as well, we see the pattern of God's people being so focused on their immediate circumstances that they whine and complain about God's provision, and put no trust in Him as their provider and protector.  Which, when you think about it, is pretty crazy.  He is the God of the Universe.  He knows the end from the beginning.  He fulfilled prophecy after prophecy.  He creates life with only the words of His mouth as tools.  Truly.

Hubris being what it is, it's always an easy thing to observe the behaviors of other humans in the Bible, to see their folly exposed, and to assume that we ouselves would never be so foolish.  When we are angry, it's righteous indignation, of course.  When we complain about our spouse, for example,  we rarely see it as an issue of our sin, but of theirs.  When we murmur about the tribulations we go through,  we're not questioning God's provision in our life.  At least, that is what we tell ourselves.

But when we begin to recognize ourselves in the story of the Hebrew slaves, when we come to God and acknowledge to Him that, "actually, yes God, I have murmured and complained.  I have questioned your provision in my life."  When we repent and ask God to help us trust Him anew, because we recognize that with regards to our own stories, we are not at the end of the book yet, so to speak, then we can begin to truly experience the blessings that follow the obedience, that often come in the midst of trials and unjust suffering, and sometimes because of them.   The awesome thing is that once we as Christians begin to get a handle on this, life becomes more of an adventure and less of a drudgery.  Even the hard parts become more bearable, because we know that God is just writing our story.  Our job is not to figure out all the answers, but to trust and obey, and to enjoy the ride.  The single greatest blessing any human can have bestowed upon them is to be called a friend of God, and to be a witness to the world of His glory, majesty, and power.  What an awesome privilege it is to sit back, popcorn in hand, and watch our God do wonders.  And he still does.

Don't lose heart, believer, if trials have come.  Examine your life, repent of sin and strive always to walk closer with Him who will never leave or forsake you.  And when the trials come because you are serving Him, rejoice!  Hallelujah! He who began a good work in you is going to finish what He started.  Sometimes his processes may seem painful, sometimes they may not make sense to us, but we can trust Him.  He is good.  He loves us.  Remember the great and mighty things He has done in the past, and see that the outcomes themselves prove this truth to be so.  No one would think to look at the clay on a potter's wheel, still in the process of being shaped and formed, and judge the artistic ability of the potter.   Yet this is how we view God.   We are still being shaped and formed, and we want an answer RIGHT NOW for the suffering and hardships we endure.   But that is not how it works, friend.  God is our "true north" in life, and we must always recalibrate our life to orient toward Him, not the other way around.  

That is what I see in these verses I shared, and I hope it encourages someone else.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Have you ever felt forgotten?

Yet the chief cupbearerer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. -Genesis 40:23
 After TWO WHOLE YEARS, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile,  -Genesis 41:1, the very next verse)

Today, I read Genesis 40-42, basically the story of Joseph's journey from a prisoner in Pharoah's prison, to his rise as the one in Egypt second only to Pharoah in power and rule.   The thing that really caught my eye today were the verses I highlighted above.  All along, Joseph was being faithful with the responsibilities God had given him to do, and using his gifts and talents to be a blessing to those around him.  Up to this point in this story, it seems like Joseph is just continually getting the short end of the stick.  He even gives the cupbearer and the baker the interpretation of their dreams, and asks the cupbearer to remember him when he is restored to his place in Pharoah's house.  But no.  Instead, this verse tells us that TWO WHOLE YEARS pass before anyone remembers Joseph. 

 For us, it is the span of two verses, that we read in an instant.  But for Joseph, I wonder how slowly that time passed.  I wonder how often the temptation crept in to doubt God, or to wonder if God had forgotten him.  As I read these passages, one of my favorite psalms came to mind, Psalm 13.  It is a pretty short psalm, one written by David, and it begins,

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

I always liked this psalm, because I could identify with it.  I mean, sometimes, it is a painful thing to wait on the Lord.  Especially when you feel forgotten.  

Maybe you are the girl who is still single, and the greatest desire of your heart is to marry a  young man.  And you are watching all your friends marry, you are being the bridesmaid at all the weddings, and meanwhile, there is no young man in site for you.  So you keep trudging on, to school or to work, day in, day out, and wondering why others make falling in love with the right person look so easy.  I am not that young anymore, but I remember feeling that way at one time. 

Maybe marriage isn't the issue at all. Maybe, like me, you have struggled with the two headed beast of anxiety, or depression.   Maybe you had a dream at one time, like Joseph, but instead of living that dream, your life feels like a treadmill of work and eating and sleeping.  Or maybe, for no reason you can pinpoint, you just struggle to get up in the morning, because it feels like you are living underneath a cloud of sadness.

Or maybe you are married, but childless.  And for months, or years (though when you are waiting on something, months can often FEEL like years), you have attended baby showers for your friends, and made dinners for those friends when their babies came, and hoped and prayed for a child of your own.  And no child has come.  yet.  But when your arms are empty, while you watch others' arms so full, that waiting can feel like forever.  And though you can keep the doubts at bay most days, on some days it's harder, and you wonder: has God forgotten me, or does he really care about my pain at all?

Or maybe you have a child, but instead of the dreams you envisioned for that child of a normal, healthy life, you are instead watching that child struggle, day in, day out, with a life-altering disease, say for instance,  Crohn's disease.  I will use our experience here, because it is what I know, but it could be any diagnosis, like juvenile diabetes, or asthma, or even as rare as renal HSP.  Whatever it is, I know God is a healer, and he still works miracles.  I believe he guides us as parents to help our children.  But sometimes, for whatever reason, God holds back.  You are waiting, and trusting, and your child is still struggling.  And you watch, and it hurts so bad to watch, you wish that YOU were the one struggling to breathe, or having stomach aches.  Because what you want for your kid is that they can be well, that they won't have to deal with inhalers and nebulizers, with medications and colonoscopies and NG feeding tubes, with specialists  and wheelchairs.  So you read, you study, you get advice left and right (some of it conflicting, by the way), but ultimately, you know it is in God's hands.  And while others around you seem to think nothing of taking their kids to the park, you realize that your life has changed fundamentally, and things that used to be no big deal feel like planning an expedition.  And the temptation is there, to doubt and to wonder: has God forgotten me? 

Or maybe, it's worse than that.  And I admit, I have never gone through this, but I have loved those who have, and my heart has ached for them.  Maybe you are the parent of a child who is now in the arms of Jesus.  I can't begin to fathom the pain of missing them, or the hole that must fill your heart.  It seems unendurable to me, and it is easy for those like me who have never experienced such loss to whitewash over it, to breeze past it.   Because, frankly, pain makes most of us uncomfortable.  We want to sail onward to the happy ending, not sit with you in the sackcloth and ashes.  But for you, the reminders are there daily.  And God is faithful; he can indeed give the garments of praise for the garments of mourning; he can give you peace in the midst of deep despair.  He can work supernaturally in your heart to cause you to dance when the world says you should be on your face in the dust.  I have seen him do this, for dear friends.  But that doesn't mean there won't be any dark days, or it won't still hurt to miss them.  I am sure the temptation is there, to ask that question at times: Has God forgotten me? 

I have never lived all these situations, but only a few of them.  I have never been in prison, like Joseph in the Bible.  But that doesn't change the answer the Bible has given me here: the answer, my friend, is NO!  God has NOT forgotten you!  We  should not judge God's love for us by our circumstances, but by His word.  And that is why we need His word, day in, and day out: to remind us and to transform our thinking, so that when the trials come (I said WHEN, not IF), we will persevere in them, and our faith will be such that we will be able to say, like the Psalmist in Psalm 13, when he has remembered and reminds himself:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 

 I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The thing I see in Joseph's story, also, in Genesis 40-42, is that with the plans of God, no pain is pointless, for the child of God.  When we give our heartaches, and our struggles to Him, when we submit ourselves to him in faith, he doesn't promise immediate deliverance, but he does promise he will not leave us or forsake us; he will walk with us through every struggle and trial.  And we cry out to him, he will give us peace that passes understanding.  And he will use every trial, every struggle, if we give it to Him, for our good and His glory.    And best of all, he will open our eyes more fully to all the ways he has indeed dealt bountifully with us, even in the midst of pain and suffering.  

We may be like Corrie ten Boom's sister, who praised God for fleas in the concentration camps during WWII.  In Corrie's book the Hiding Place, Corrie writes, 

We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw.

..Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.

“‘Fleas!’ I cried. ’Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

“‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

“‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me asecond to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

“‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ’He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

“I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

“In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…’” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

“‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

“‘Oh yes:’…“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“‘Such as?’ I said.

“‘Such as being assigned here together.’

“I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

“‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’

She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

“‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”

Saturday, January 11, 2014

RPG app that helps you succeed in real life

Well, this is a short post, but I wanted to share something Kate found that I am trying out, and thought was really neat.  The game is at the website  This is a FREE program, so that fact makes it awesome to me from the get go, because I am a gal on a budget.  You set up your personal avatar and the tasks you wish to accomplish up on your computer, then you install the app on your phone. Then you earn points in the game every time you do the things in real life that you set for yourself as goals.  There are three types of tasks: habits that you want to do every day, daily tasks you can set to only have to do certain days of the week, and a to do list.for one time things.  You can even decide if you want the things you set up to be positive if you do them but not take away anything, only negative (like eating junk food or drinking soda, for example), or both.  You earn virtual "money" as you check off things, and you can use the virtual money to "buy" armor and weapons for your little avatar.  I am not sure how much this part motivates me, but I like that you can also set up individualized, real life rewards for yourself when you have reached whatever points you think would be worthy of that reward.  I am trying it out, and will have to let you know in the future if it is helping me to build healthy habits.  I put in things like drinking enough water each day, exercising, folding laundry, reading my Bible, etc.  The nerd side of myself thinks this may be just the thing that will motivate me to get the things accomplished that I want to, like exercising regularly.  
Oh, the other thing is you can friend people you know who sign up for this as well.  So if anyone I know decides to sign up, let me know so I can friend you on the game.  One can never have enough friends with battle armor. ;0)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Giving God our Leftovers, Part 2

What, you say? You didn't know the last post was part 1? Well, honestly, neither did I until yesterday afternoon, after I posted it, and more thoughts that tied in with that post wouldn't let me alone.  You will need to reread the last post if you don't know what I'm talking about, because, hey, I admit, sometimes I can be lazy, I have an audience of like 4 people, lol, and why would I rehash it when you can just click on it and reread it yourself? lol So do that, and come back here, if you need to.

Anyway, this blog is about my journey with God, and what God is teaching me and doing in me.  And I am most definitely a work in progress.  And part of what God is teaching me lately is about self-control.  And yesterday's post, whether you realize it or not, ties into that. Esau was a guy who definitely LACKED self-control, so much so that at one point he agreed to sell his whole birthright over a bowl of porridge.  Later, he accuses Jacob of stealing it from him, but honestly, that was not how it sounded to me. It sounded to me like Esau's flesh was so weak that he honestly thought selling the birthright for a bowl of porridge was worth it, at the moment.  But lack of self control is like that.  When we lack it, we can justify behaviors we would never justify, if we were thinking clearly.  Esau is a character in the Bible who never seems to make decisions based on what is truly best, but just on what feels good to him at the time.

Self-control is mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 as one of the desirable fruits of the Spirit that we can note as the mark of a mature Christian.  It is evidence, just like love, joy, peace, kindness, etc., of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.  And it's one of the fruits of the Spirit I have struggled to attain.  I've always longed for it, but never really understood how to have it.  I would read verses like the ones in Galatians, or the verse in 2 Timothy 1:7, that says in the ESV,

 "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."

and this verse, let me say, just annoyed me.  Because as much as I prayed about it, as much as I longed to be a disciplined person, I could never seem to BE that person.

Okay, I guess I should amend that. I am disciplined in some things.  I always did pretty well in my classes at college and high school.  I was near the top of my graduating class, and had tons of scholarship money to go to school.  So, in that regard I suppose I was not totally undisciplined.  But in other ways, I am sorely lacking.  For example, I chose which foreign language to take in college based on which one I could sleep in the latest.  For as much as I could in college, I had a "rule" that I didn't sign up for the courses that met before 10 am.  And exercise?  Yuck.  While my middle sister was one who even in middle school was one who did stomach crunches for FUN (really.  It used to annoy the snot out of me), I am the one who always has gotten paired with ninety year old women when I HAVE made the effort, however short lived, to join a gym and do an aerobics class.  I can laugh about it, only because my pride is pretty low in this area of my life.  It really is almost comical, how the instuctors always ask me about 20 times a class if I am okay.

And then there is the way my lack of self-control manifests in the area of maintaining a schedule.  As a homeschool mom, I have a lot of freedom.  And I do take the education of my children very seriously.  Every year, I make this beautiful schedule for us to follow.  And about every year, we don't follow it.  It's depressing, really.  That does NOT mean my children are uneducated.  Because God's grace is great, and he still works in me and through me, and we manage to get things done.  It's just alot more stress sometimes than it would be if I would just be an early riser, and also have the fruit of the spirit of self-control in my life.   Oh, dear heart, but there is more.

This lack of self control has manifested in other ways, perhaps more common to other people.  At least I think it may be more common, because I sometimes see it.  I am sharing here my experience as a homeschool mom, but I don't think homeschool moms are the only ones guilty of this.  I have seen lack of self-control manifesting in my life, as a manifestation of my covetousness or fear.  And here is what I mean:  in the past, I would be sailing along, homeschooling my kids, and I meet another homeschool mom; let's call her Mom A.  Mom A would mention what COOL activity her kids engage in, for example an engineering club.  So I would find out about the engineering club, and sign my kids up for it, because I am AFRAID if my kids aren't in the engineering club, then they are going to be idiots who can't become engineers, and it will be ALL MY FAULT. lol  Then I meet Mom B.  Her kids are all a part of their own family band, who play stringed instruments from a Suzuki teacher, they do drama with a drama coach, and they are in a classically educating co op.   So what do I want to do?  I want to find a strings teacher for all my kids, and put them in drama, and get information on the co op, because all these BRILLIANT children are doing this stuff, and if we don't, well, I am afraid to ponder the opportunities my kids will miss.  Then I have well meaning relatives, who don't homeschool, who love us, but would make passing statements like how my kids really NEEDED to do a sport.  And, self-control lacking, people pleasing person that I am, I would find my kids a sport to do. Because kids NEED exercise, right?  What kind of mom has kids who don't play sports?

But wait.  Then there is church.  And if you are really going to love God, it means being BUSY, right?  All the important people at church are the ones in charge, or so I thought.  So even though I totally feared any position that meant I was really in charge, I still felt that I should DO something.  So I would help with the middle school girls, or work the nursery, or go to ladies prayer.  Now, sometimes, some of my motives were good.  But there has also always been this dynamic in the past of feeling like I had to prove myself to all these people that I was a GOOD mom and wife, and that I was really HOLY.  Yeah, it's horrible to admit.

Then I meet Mom C.  She bakes ALL of her own bread, she exercises religiously, and all of her children are fluent in latin.  And let me tell you about Mom C.  Unlike Mom A and B, who just mentioned what they were doing and had no care in the world WHAT I did with my own kids, and weren't judging me, Mom C is different.  She never said it directly, but she is constantly implying it.  Her way is the best way, and the enlightened way, and if you don't do EVERYTHING how she does it, then you are a deficient mother.  I get Mom C.  I think some of it is honestly that God has shown her what works for her family, and she is actually well meaning.  She is confused.  She thinks that what God has shown HER for HER FAMILY is from God, so IT MUST BE FOR EVERYONE.  I admit, there was a time in my life, and probably still is, in areas of my life, where I fall victim to this myself.  So if you think I am hating on Mom C, you are wrong.  I don't; I love her.  I think most of us, when we are like that, don't recognize it, or we would change.  And I believe in absolute truth, so maybe sometimes the moms I see that way are actually RIGHT.  Maybe I WOULD be better off if I was naturally motivated to do things the way she is doing them.  But I also think that attitude is dangerous, because it comes from a place of pride, sometimes.  And it makes it really hard for us as moms to build relationships with each other, if we are constantly judging each other, partially because of our own insecurities, or because of pride.

You see where this is going, don't you?  It never ends.  Most of the time, the other mom wasn't judging me at all, but I was still feeling the pressure and being led by my desire to be a PERFECT mom, and to do what is best for my kids. And when time or lack of monetary resources meant we couldn't do the thing someone else was doing, then all this condemnation was heaped on me, because I couldn't provide to my own kids what ESSENTIAL thing someone else was providing to theirs.  But the truly essential thing  I lacked  was self-control; in fact, I was controlled and dominated by ANYTHING but myself, and assuredly, not motivated by joy.   All of this reached a boiling point when my son was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, because all the running became extremely painful.  We were a family with six kids doing co op two days a week, and I babysat in the nursery at that co op, so it's not like I was getting time off ( I had to watch other mom's kids to afford it), with music lessons, a full day of dance lessons, church, doctors appointments, and a new baby number 6 to chase down.  And I was MISERABLE, I was run down, and enjoying VERY little of it.  I realized this was not how I wanted to live my life.

So this year, I did something I had never considered doing before: I really PRAYED about EVERY activity we planned to do this school year.  And then I felt the Lord saying to not do a co op.  You heard me:   I didn't do a CO OP at all.  My palms were sweaty, and fear welled up in me.  All the "best", "brightest" kids were doing one.  It's not like my behavior change started a movement, either.  The world moved on without me.  And then I felt nauseous when our dance studio closed.  We prayed, and the Lord said to hold off on signing up for that as well.  I obeyed, but I trembled.  What would happen to my kids?  Would they be antisocial morons?  Would we never see the outside of our home?  My kids still did music lessons, and we hosted a small group for our church.  We still attended church, and I did sign my middle daughter in a Heritage Girl's group.  And I hosted a monthly geography club for the my elementary school crowd, so they still get to hang out with their friends and it's a fun time for them and for me.   So, truly, it is not as if we are hermits.

But something amazing has happened this year.  I am smiling again.  I am not so stressed.  And as I have been more consistent in reading my Bible, in prayer, I am finding I have had energy for things I have never had time for in the past, like writing and painting.  And even blogging.  I am finding that saying NO is not an END to my life, but really I am saying YES to more important things.  I am saying YES to more time with my kids reading from great books, and YES to family worship time.  And definitely YES to being available to my Savior to divine appointments, because before I had NO TIME LEFT for them.  If a friend needed prayer, it was a sacrifice.  I would do it, but the whole time I might be worried about what I SHOULD be doing instead.

I am learning that "Discipline without direction is drudgery", but "discipline WITH direction is a delight." (from a book I am currently reading,  Spiritual Disciplines For the Christian Life, by Donald S Whitney).  I am no longer doing things because someone else is doing them.  I choose to do them or not because I have thought through my goals and the direction God has given me, and the thing fits with that plan.  And so the things I do delight me, because I see them as helping me to meet my goals, and the vision I have for the future.  Now, I am not perfect.  I am a work in progress.  And when someone mentions what their kids are doing, or even what their family does together, my palms still sweat.  I feel anxious.  I question if we should be doing that thing too.  But I am doing my best to not make knee jerk decisions.  "No" is no longer a bad word in my vocabulary.  And because I am thinking through what my goals are in life, I feel empowered when I say yes to something, instead of enslaved.

So, is the point of this post that co ops are evil, and women who bake bread are evil, and all of us moms should now be hermits?  By no means!  I have been known to bake bread on occasion, and I may well do a co op again in the future.  The point is that, I think, maybe, I am not the only one out there who has been guilty of doing things, even good things, for the wrong reasons.  And when I did these things, it was definitely not out of self-control. Maybe I am wrong, but  I think alot of homeschool moms do this.  And maybe not only homeschool moms, but other moms as well.  We moms are such an insecure lot, and we think we have something to prove with each other.  And it's really all nonsense.  Our children all have different gifts and callings, and God is not interested in cookie-cutter families.  He is in the business of relationship, and relationships are individual things.  Also, relationships take TIME.  So when we do a hundred activities, we really are sacrificing the BEST thing, our ability to have relationship with God, with our own husband and kids, in order to prove something we never have to prove with the one who counts most: Our worth to Him.  And if he values us and loves us, then it becomes less relevant what the world says about us.

So all this to say, self-control is still not the main fruit one would see in my life.  I am still, by nature a night owl.  I still struggle to follow the schedule I set for myself.  I still am trying to figure out how exercise fits into my life; I did not wake up yesterday and think about having a "fun" afternoon of ab crunches.  But I am learning.  And now, the process is no longer drudgery to me.  I love the example the book I am reading gives, about a student practicing a music instrument.  As long as there is no vision of the future, that practicing is drudgery.  But if that person has been given by God a vision of playing someday as a master at Carnegie Hall, then practicing would become a delight, because they see a reason to practice.  Something they are striving toward.  So it is with me, and you, reader.  When we have sat in the presence of God, and waited for Him to speak into our lives, and show us what He desires for us, and what the true longings of our heart are, and maybe a part of how he intends to meet them, then working toward those dreams becomes a delight.  All of life becomes a joy to us, even the hard parts, because we can see a purpose to even the pain.  And it becomes easier to not become distracted with things that hold no purpose for us, personally.  At least, that is how it seems to me now. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Giving God our Leftovers

I love leftovers.  I mean, I think it's great at the holidays when I (or someone else) cooks enough for such a feast, that the next day no cooking is necessary.  For two or three days after Christmas, between the three meals I cooked, our family was able to just eat lasagna, turkey, and roast to our heart's content.

I suppose the reason I love leftovers is because of how easy they are.  Once I have them, I don't have to wonder what the next meal should be.  I know all we have to do is reach into the fridge, reheat it, and dinner is served.  No more dishes get dirty than the ones we eat on.  My kitchen stays fairly clean.  And everyone's hunger is sated.  For all practical purposes, eating leftovers is as good as eating a freshly prepared meal.

But not so with the things of God.  God is not interested in being served my "leftovers".   Throughout the Bible, we see a pattern of God requiring the "first fruits", the best of our labors and lives, as our act of worship to Him.  God wants the things that we give him to demonstrate our faith, our trust in Him.

And why should we expect any differently than this?  He is the God of the universe.  He created us, and gives us breath.  He loved each of us enough that He gave his only son, Jesus,as a demonstration of His love toward us.  From the beginning, he told Abraham that He would use his line to bless all the nations of the earth, so we know it was always His plan to atone for our sins with the work of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection.  In essence, God only wants our best, because he himself demonstrated this kind of sacrificial love toward us first.  Our salvation has already been paid for; we have only to believe and receive it by faith.  So we don't give the best of our lives to Him to earn anything, but rather as an act of love toward Him, a kind of recognition and gratitude.
All of this was mulling around in my brain during my Bible time this morning.  Since the start of the year, I have been following the reading plan in my planner, which would get me through the whole Bible in a year.  I am counting what I read last year (the gospels, Acts, and Romans) as already read, though, so I can go at a slightly less rushed pace, and by the end of this year I will have read the whole Bible in two years.  Anyway, I have been in Genesis again.  Today I read Genesis 25-28.  This is the part of Genesis where Esau and Jacob are born, and Jacob steals the blessing and gets the birthright from Esau.  But this verse is what caught my eye today in Genesis 28:8-9:

So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father,  Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth.

Now bear with me, here.  I am oversimplifying a little, to get to the point I am making.  Suffice to say, there is a lot of drama and deception going on, but I don't want to lose my point in the midst of it.  Previously in the story, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau's mom, had said that she loathed the Canannite women.  So they send Jacob, who is unmarried, to Rebekah's brother's family to find a wife.  This was a precedent set by Abraham when he sent his servant to get a wife for Isaac from his people, because this was seen as preferable.  I am not clear on why, but I get the sense there were God ordained reasons for this.  At any rate, Esau has already disregarded his parent's opinions by rejecting this idea and marrying from the Canaanite women.  But at this point, he sees that he has displeased his father.  So what does he attempt to do to please Him?  He goes and gets an ADDITIONAL wife from another side of the family.  He doesn't get rid of the other wives; he just adds in another one. 
Now, don't get me wrong. I am NOT saying the right answer for Esau is that he should have divorced his other wives, just because Dad didn't approve.  Not at all.  Actually, this story to me in this instance, though I believe the situation is true,  is more like a metaphor, and perhaps a warning to the rest of us who wish to serve the Lord.  

Adding in the things of God ON TOP of everything else, is really not a good way to live the Christian life.  In fact, it's not even a CHRISTLIKE way to live the Christian life.  With God, it's always all or nothing.  Often, I think trying to do this, as Esau did, is probably WORSE than doing nothing, because of the message it communicates to unbelievers around us, about the way we perceive God. If we don't value our relationship with the creator of the universe enough to order our lives around him, then why would we ever expect them to care anything about knowing more about our faith?  Saving faith is life changing faith.  It's faith that moves mountains.  And sometimes, the biggest mountain we move is the mountain of our old life, our old ways of doing things.  

Jim Elliot, a missionary who gave his life to share the gospel with the Huaorani people of Ecuador, said it best when he said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
This type of thinking should be the sentiment of every true believer, not just missionaries in foreign countries. We should give God the best and first place in our lives, and never expect the lover of our souls to be satisfied with leftovers.
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.