Sunday, December 12, 2010

2010 Christmas Meditation #1

For years I thought that Christmas was about the perfect family holiday, full of traditions, and food made only once a year, and the perfect gifts, and everyone you love around you all happy and enjoying one another. After I was married and had a home of my own, I worked tirelessly (OK, I actually was VERY tired) to create the perfect holiday traditions for my family, incorporating some of my own childhood traditions with my husband's, and some of our own ideas as well. When the kids came along, I renewed my efforts to weave together the real meaning of Christmas with our own special ways of celebrating it and enjoying one another. Of course, every year, I got to Christmas day with those few things still unfinished, with a couple presents forgotten--it wasn't perfect, but it came close.  Or did it? Our first Christmas with our first baby was also the first Christmas after my mom went home to be with the Lord. One Christmas my husband completely missed Christmas day because he had food poisoning. Many Christmas celebrations found my husband out working his beat as a sheriff's deputy, or us rushing from one family member's house to another's, ending the day exhausted.

For years I thought I knew what God wanted me to have in the way of a "perfect" family. Oh, not perfect in the sense of sinless, but living our lives together biblically and growing in our love and service of Jesus and one another.  I worked very hard to be what I thought was the "perfect" wife and mother. I tried to encourage my husband to be the best he could be and I also tried to show grace and forgiveness when he wasn't (because I knew full well I wasn't!) I read books to become a better mother, a better housekeeper, a better Christian.  I made lists and tackled goals.  Life was moving along beautifully, or so I thought. Then one tragedy hit after another--the losses of my parents, and my marriage, debilitating health issues, the slow dwindling of my financial security until I was living on manna from heaven--life became very hard, and I felt all the time like I was barely keeping things together. I watched as my family moved from what I thought was "perfect" to what seemed to be barely functional. This was not what I had grown up expecting! This was not what I wanted, or what I thought God had planned for me.

I was reflecting on the beginning of the Christmas story today.
Oh what a precious promise,
Oh what a gift of love;
Joseph makes his choice to do
What few men would have done:
To take Mary as his bride,
When she's already carrying a child
That isn't his own.
Oh what a precious promise;
Mary and the child will have a home.

     (Precious Promise, by Steven Curtis Chapman)
Mary was a simple Jewish girl. She had lived a "perfect" life--simple and reverent, awaiting the day she would marry and have a perfectly simple home and family. God's plan for her was anything but simple.

Joseph was an earthy carpenter. He had lived an industrious life, perfectly suited to a man of the working class.  It had come time for him to marry, and he had chosen well--a simple girl, from a simple family, but perfect for him. Life was moving along beautifully, of so he thought. God's plan was anything but simple, anything but expected . . . but it was perfect.

God's plan for Mary and Joseph wasn't the common, expected plan for a young, simple Jewish couple--work, family, life, faith.  It turned their lives upside down. It brought challenges into their lives from every front. Their friends and family thought they were scandalously sinful and probably even crazy.  They ran from government oppression for which their baby was the cause.  They had to leave everyone they loved at a time when those dear people would suffer extreme loss and grief.  They had to leave a home, and an established occupation, and travel long distances with a young baby. They had to try to parent every other kid they had in the shadow of a perfect one, and they had to deal with their own sinful parenting in contrast to a sinless child (Ugh! The thought of that makes me glad I was the one chosen!) Eventually they would have to watch as their son was rejected, persecuted, gossiped about, and Mary would even have to watch her completely innocent son put to death on a cross. They had to wrestle with all of the worst of humanity in glaring contrast to the perfection of heaven, and up close they had to watch as humanity rejected what they knew was holy. Life did not seem perfect after they became the parents of the baby Jesus. It was hard and painful.

Once again today, I was reminded that the Christmas story was not about a lovely little tradition tied up in a pretty bow. The gorgeous nativity scenes we set out in our homes were not what the presence of littered hay, and animals, some dirty travel gear, and the remnants of childbirth would have looked like. The scent of cinnamon and spice candles does not accurately represent the stench of a lowly Galilean stable where a baby had just been delivered.  The aftermath of the birth of this holy king did not glow even as the shepherds knelt and the star shown down.  The long years after the baby arrived  most certainly did not seem to unfold perfectly as anyone else would have planned. But then, perfection couldn't look like anyone would have expected it to, because this world was far from perfect.  The world was corrupt, sinful, painful, and awful as the glory, beauty, and perfection of heaven was poured into it.

What was perfect was the baby held in the new parents' arms. What was perfect was the plan no one expected--a plan written by a perfect God from before time began. What would be perfect was what God brought out of the imperfect world after Jesus came. My life . . . your life . . . on their own--they aren't perfect. But with Jesus they are exactly what God planned for them to be, and that makes it perfect. Christmas isn't about a perfect tradition, it's about a messy one. When I don't get my decorations up "on time," when I struggle to smile because I miss family members and traditions that only I remember, when I can't buy presents for my own kids . . . it's exactly the kind of life that Jesus came to be a part of--a messy, troubled, painful, imperfect one.  A perfect God came into a very imperfect world, and I am a part of the miracle that He is still working today revealed in that one event 2000 years ago. That is a reason to celebrate. That is Christmas.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Remember, I'm the Bride?

 "An excellent wife who can find?
Her worth is far above jewels
The heart of her husband trusts in her
And he will have no lack of gain."
Proverbs 31:10  (from verses 10-31)

During the year of my engagement to be married, I memorized Proverbs 31:10-31, aspiring to be that kind of wife and mother.  Over the years, God would bring the passage back to my mind, convicting me of neglect or encouraging me in my efforts.  After my husband and I divorced, the scripture became a knife, reminding me painfully of days when I was full of hopes and dreams, and contrasting them with the chaos that has seemed to characterize my life in the last decade. Yet every time the enemy of my soul snidely reminds me that I "failed" as a wife, and might be "failing" as a mother, the still, sweet voice of my Beloved interrupts, reminding me that "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow." (Deut 10:18) When my husband abandoned me, God stepped in and took his place. He is my husband, and I am His bride.

When I think of my role this way, it relieves a lot of pressure. I am worth more than precious jewels to him--I am His treasure! Over the years, I have slowly learned to consider God this way. When I make a dumb mistake, I often find myself remembering how my husband would show me grace, even though he wasn't condoning the mistake. God's tenderness and love are even stronger, so I try to consider what my husband would have told me, and listen to that. Sometimes that means returning the foolish purchase, but sometimes it is just a caution to be more careful next time. Or I remember how he would have encouraged me to do something good for myself instead of pinching the pennies like normal. Most of all, I remind myself to go to my Beloved for answers, for provision, for help. He wants to help me because He loves me!

One of the lies the enemy of my soul uses against me is that all my failures, sins, and weaknesses are "messing up" what God has given me to do. But the heart of my Beloved trusts in me! And because of Him, there is no lack of gain to Him because of me! I'm not the comely outcast that barely made it into His graces, I'm His beautiful bride, beloved by Him and elevated to the status of wife! I've been given the place of coworker and coheir! He only expects of me what He knows I am capable of, and what He has designed for me to do. If I don't do more than that, He's still satisfied!

"Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear. 
Forget your people and your father's house! 
The KING is enthralled by your beauty! 
Honor Him, for He is your Lord."  Psalm 45:11

Monday, November 22, 2010

What I Would Have Said

Last year our church began a new tradition of having a Thanksgiving service the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving.  We come together and sing and there are open mics for those who want to share what God has done for them during that year.  I am always humbled as I hear more stories of healing and of faithfulness through continued sickness, of restored marriages, of the provision of jobs. I love hearing kids who are grateful for families, schools, and friends--I was one of those not long ago (OK. Longer than  I care to admit.), and it is an amazing testimony to realize extremes in God's protection of you as a child. I am usually a pretty outgoing soul, and I love my share of the spotlight, but I have not been eager to get up on these couple of occasions. It's not that I'm not grateful, because God has done so many things for me, big and small. I'm just not sure what to say. How can I get up and share in only a few minutes the vast number of things that God has done for me in the course of a year.Tonight I was trying to form my thoughts, but for me it's so much easier to write it. 

I grew up in a large gregarious extended family. Every holiday or birthday I was surrounded with aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had a very close-knit neighborhood, where the kids banded together and created adventures, the grown-ups had regular yard sales, and we were in and out of each others' homes and lives constantly.  Even my church was a tight group--my parents were always going to another couple's home or having kids from a family in the church to spend the night.  My family was pretty close to ideal--including sit-down meals, yearly vacations, PTA meetings, and parent sponsored parties. Life was safe and comfortable and full of relationships. It isn't surprising that I married into the same kind of family. My husband's immediate family was full of brokenness, but his extended family relationships were very similar to mine--loud, busy, loving, and involved with each other. I felt completely at home with them.  It was my every intention to raise my kids just the same way, in the middle of their very large, very busy, very relational family.

God's plan for them and for me was different.  Over the years, my big extended family grew and changed, and some estrangements and grudges weakened the involvement with each other.  He took my mother home to heaven just after my first son was born.  Later He took my husband from our home when we divorced, and with it some of the family I loved. Not long after that my sister moved to the far away northern United States, and my dad was also called home to heaven. Suddenly I was left feeling very alone, an orphan AND a widow. I struggled for years with depression and anxiety, and as a result health issues plagued me. I couldn't sleep well, and over time my ability to think and focus weakened. I had severe bouts of loneliness as the many-times-over promised new husband never appeared on my doorstep.  All along I wondered why after years I was still hurting so, whether God would ever heal my aching heart, and who would take care of me when I couldn't.

But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God's presence. Let them be filled with joy.  Sing praises to God and to his name! Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds. His name is the LORD-- rejoice in his presence!  Father to the fatherless, defender of widows-- this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But for rebels, there is only famine and distress.  Psalm 68:3-6

The truth is, God prepared my life for these dark years even before I entered them.  He had peppered it with older women who mentored me and loved me along the way, and they quickly stepped in at different points to offer their unique gifts of prayer, hospitality, comfort, counsel, and many others.  God brought a special young woman into my life--a young mother who piqued my curiosity even before we were friends--who consistently spoke truth into my life and loved me even when I was more than a little unlovable. He gave me a mother-in-law and father-in-law who would so grow in their love for Him that they would let their own son go the way he wanted and refuse to desert me just because he didn't want me any longer. He almost literally surrounded me with families who repeatedly have said to me that they love me, they believe in me and in the choices I've been making (even when some have been foolish!), and that they will respond to God's leading when He chooses to provide for me through them.  He's given me prayer warriors, counselors, moms with shoulders for crying on, and brothers in Christ who correct my female notions of how to raise boys. Many of these individuals and families have not stuck with me for a few months, or even a couple years, they have been with me all along, and continue to declare their love for me over and over again. They stick by me because we are joint heirs in a covenant sealed with Christ's blood, and I have found it is a covenant thicker than water, and even more than the usual blood.

It is still not unusual for me to still struggle with bouts of self-pity as I succumb to the loneliness and hugeness of being a single mom, but it is rare for me to get lost in it for long.  God is still busy on my behalf, raising up women and couples and families who love me and my boys like we are their own family, because they understand that we are . . . for eternity.  So if I could have shared what I am thankful for this year, it would have been that even though my story didn't end with the magical marriage reconciliation, or a new husband who treasures me, it still ended with the miracle of family--the kind God sets the lonely in, and the kind that bears with you in love. It is the kind of family that makes me long for heaven, when I will enjoy family at its fullest and best!

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Sincerest Form of Flattery—and Worship!

When I moved into the stage of parenting toddlers, I was quickly convicted of some weak areas in my life.  Words I said, habits I had, even what I liked to eat . . . all were imitated by my children.  It was one thing to hear a slightly off-color word out of the mouth of an adult, or maybe even a teen, but to hear it from a two-year-old made my skin crawl. Something inside me innately knew it was wrong, but my age and exposure to the world had dulled my sense of it being wrong even for me. I think I expected that as my children grew, they would become more independent thinkers, less likely to imitate what they see and hear, but that is actually not true at all.

Right now, my teenagers are downstairs playing "Ninja" on each other. They are quoting funny "Mythbuster" lines because that is what we just watched.  I have laughed at them as they watch shows studying it for cool or funny lines and repeating them ad nauseum for days afterward. It was funny when one of my kids informed me that his goal in life was to be able to converse completely in movie quotes (and I think he's there!).  Recently we listened to some Bill Cosby comedy, and in just a hearing or two, they completely memorized the routines. I've come to realize that everyone--young children, teens, and even adults--imitate what surrounds them.  How often do we find ourselves using coloquial expressions: "Right on!"  "Like . . . totally!"  "Dude!" and lately "Seriously?" or "Totally awesome!" (said with a high pitched squeal on the "awesome")

We are creatures made to imitate what we admire.

We return again and again to what we admire, cutting grooves into our minds that match the messages we see and hear.  Not only are we creating thought and belief patterns in our own minds, but also in the minds of those we have in tow with us—especially our kids—who are watching and learning too.  As I enter further into the task of parenting teenagers, I'm very concerned about ways that I've failed to understand and apply that principle earlier in the lives of my children.  For whatever reasons (or excuses), I have allowed influences into their lives unintentionally, without thinking through what they would admire, love, and imitate. I've had to sacrifice some of my goals and plans for them, because I myself derailed those goals by not being intentional about using exposure and influence to shape their passions and their character.  I wish that I could go back in time and do things differently, but I'm comforted by the truth that in God's plan there is no plan B, and everything that I've done, intentionally or unintentionally, is a part of His plan A.

I’m currently working through Louie Giglio’s study Wired: for a Life of Worship with my Jr. High girls, and I’m so convicted of the way that imitation is actually a sign of worship. As I study, I’m hoping to write more on what I learn about worship and about the things that influence us.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

10-10 in 2010

If you've followed my blog at all, it has become apparent to you that I am . . . er . . . goal-challenged. Seems like when I set a goal it ends up forgotten. It's probably on my floor somewhere with many other things being walked upon. However, I am convinced that it is not (for me) the achieving of a goal that is important, it is setting them and moving in their general direction for at least a period of time. So I'm leaping again this year. And, as I did last year, I'm dropping the bar a bit, hoping that by not setting it too high I might actually achieve what I set out to do! So here's my 2010 Goals:

10 Books I'd like to read:
  • When Life and Beliefs Collide
  • Age of Opportunity
  • A House for My Name
  • Ministry of Motherhood
  • Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone
  • The Reason for God
  • UnChristian
  • Esperanza Rising
  • An Unfinished Life
  • another fiction yet undecided

10 Goals for My Year:
  • Get rid of the junk in my garage
  • Make curtains for my bedroom windows and hall
  • Learn to cook (really cook)
  • Organize my schoolroom
  • Research and tentatively plan getting my Master's Degree
  • Get away for my birthday with some of my girlfriends
  • Study the book of Romans (or at least part of it)
  • Double my income (find a work-from-home job?)
  • Lose 25 pounds
  • Renew my relationship with my most Beloved

Easy goals right? Should be a piece of cake. Stay tuned. My life reads like a bad comedy (filled with a lot of God's grace!)

May Old Aquaintance NEVER Be Forgot!!!

The last two weeks have brought some interesting twists into my life . . . through Facebook, of all things! Over the last year, I have loved reconnecting with old friends from high school. It has been fun to see what they are like as adults--in ways you can't really discover at a high school reunion. I have been struck by how they have changed, and how they are still the same. I've laughed at grown-up outlooks on life that we never thought we'd have when we were carefree teenagers. And I've realized that many of the quarrels and conflicts and things that divided us were really not worth all the angst they brought on us.

In the last couple of weeks I've begun brainstorming and searching for old friends from the churches I've attended over the many years. It has been very rewarding to find one of the first students I ever had in Sunday School--she was first grade the last time I saw her. Now she's 26, and a very beautiful young woman! When I was 22, she was my 6-year-old best friend (and I took a lot of teasing from my husband for that!). I've found friends, former pastors, kids I knew . . . and it has brought back a flood of wonderful memories. Best of all, it has given me some insight into what life is like when lived in community with believers. Until I started corresponding with some of these people, I didn't even realize how very much my heart had missed them, or how much I still love them because of the relationships we formed long ago! One of my status comments was about how big a party heaven will be because of all the reunions going on there! I truly cannot wait!!!

I've also rediscovered how totally worthwhile pouring your life into others is! I have run into people online that I know shaped who I am and what I believe, and I'm SO grateful for the things they taught me, for the way they loved me, and for the grace they showed this headstrong young woman! I've glimpsed how my willingness to teach Sunday School, work with teens, play with babies, and hang out with families has shaped a little of who these people have become. Most of all, because of our mutual love of the Savior, I've seen that twenty years of joys, pain, triumphs, disappointments, mundane routine, and pushing through the next thing have not marred the sense of kinship I feel toward these brothers and sisters in Christ. Living in the family of God is a wonderful place to be, and I'm in awe of the protection and provision God has afforded me in His body.