Putting Off My Valentine…

I didn’t intend to make New Year’s Resolutions, it just sort of happened.  It’s the sort of thing that Dan likes to do, though it doesn’t make sense to me why he enjoys it so much since he’s not much of a planner.  Despite these goals, all my attempts at fulfilling them for the past month and a half have been in vain, including putting my relationship with Jesus as a priority for as important of a reason as wanting to eat lunch instead of attending to the harvest.  And if you don’t get what I mean by that last metaphor, you’ll see what I mean in a minute.

Yesterday, at church, Joe Boyd started a new series called Barriers with a talk about 10 barriers Jesus breaks through with us and the Samaritan woman at the well found in John 4.  Two of the barriers that resonated with me were “The Expectancy Barrier (v. 25-26)” and “The Priority Barrier (v. 27-38)”. In verse 20, the Samaritan woman asks Jesus a question about the proper place to worship, a seemingly side issue compared to the revelation Jesus just disclosed to her.  Yet Jesus indulges her and gives her an answer that I don’t think she completely understands.  With that, she to all intents and purposes seems to be ending the conversation by saying that all these things will be revealed when the Messiah comes.  Perhaps because of the emotional breakthrough or because she doesn’t want to undertake all that it would require to truly know the meaning behind what Jesus is saying, she implies she wants to put off pursuing the conversation any longer… until Jesus states that it is He who is the Messiah.  What’s ironic about the whole thing is that it is at this moment that Jesus’ disciples come back.  And it is here that they do the same thing.  They put off what Jesus is asking them to do-to look at the fields and notice that the harvest is plentiful.  There are people right here, right before them who are ready to hear the gospel and accept Jesus as Lord and Messiah!  But all the disciples can think about is Jesus eating lunch.  They’re missing the fact that Jesus isn’t talking about eating food, the sustenance that comes from hand to mouth, just as the Samaritan woman didn’t understand that Jesus wasn’t talking about an actual flowing spring of water that satisfies thirsty lips.   Examining Jesus’ interaction with the woman and with the disciples we can see Jesus’ agenda versus the human agenda.  We can look at the “transcript” and say, “How could they miss what Jesus was saying?”  However, I look at the woman’s reaction and the disciples’ reaction and can’t help but think if I were in their situation I would’ve responded the same.  Because I just don’t think in spiritual matters most of the time.  I settle with the trivial and can’t often see more beyond it.  I, like the disciples often trade a “good lunch” instead of skipping it “for something better.”

What have I been doing the past couple months?  Eating lunch.  Between the holidays, we celebrated my daughters’ birthdays which I put a lot of effort into making them special for them, and caring for my children and husband as they caught the cold and flu.  It all makes sense.  To a degree.  My whole perfectionistic attitude with my daughters’ birthdays definitely got out of hand, which is a story I will save for another post.  But it makes sense when you have a human agenda.  What’s the harm of these things?  They are part of the everyday.  But when you place the everyday before spiritual matters, before the One you should never put off.  There may be reason to skip a meal in order to make time for the Lord, my Heavenly Father and true Valentine.

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Kids are driving me to the Old Testament aka Relying on God

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This quote is from a few days back, from Philip Yancey’s Grace Notes, pg. 389

As the kings of Judah demonstrate with monotonous regularity, it takes uncommon courage to rely on God alone at a moment of great peril.  Even the best of them dip into the royal treasury to purchase help from neighboring allies.  But King Jehoshaphat provides a textbook example of the proper response.  When invading armies threaten, he calls the entire nation together in a giant prayer meeting.  On the day of battle, he sends a choir in front of his army to sing praises to God…By his public prayer and personal example, King Jehoshaphat shows what can happen when a leader places complete trust in God.

Unlike King Jehoshaphat, I’m not facing a moment of great peril.  In fact, my life is quite the opposite.  It’s safe, peaceful and I wake up pretty much doing the same thing day in and day out.  So what is with the interest in Jehoshaphat?  Put us together and we couldn’t be any more different.  But I look at him and wonder if he could at such a time turned to God and relied on Him alone, shouldn’t I, too, be able to do the same?  So why not be like Jehoshaphat in this way?  I’m not facing invading armies, but I do face distractions and busyness that invade my time and vie for my attention.  Though outwardly it may seem less important and trite, these distractions and busyness can be just as dangerous in fooling me to believe that I don’t need to rely on the Lord.  Whether in peril or in apathy, the call is the same-to rely on the Lord.

The temptation to buy help from neighboring allies makes sense, even advisable.  When I’m tired and feel done, my temptation is to get frustrated or angry or to try to find some way to take time for myself even if it be a few minutes for myself.  It’s natural to get frustrated, even angry especially with the many tantrums, when the kids are being disobedient, or when they’re fussy and cranky from being sick.  No one would likely fault me for wanting to take a few moments of peace to read on my computer or watch a TV show.  But I often squander these few moments of peace by looking at things of no consequence on the internet, watching TV, instead of responding properly, praying.

As crazy as it sounds, what would it look like if when my daughters are going a little wild I started singing, I started praying aloud, I started my own church service.  Probably no crazier than Jehoshaphat turning the battlefield into a widespread church service of their own.

As a stay at home mother it can often feel lonely.  When the kids are sick, even lonelier-staying at home for days on end isolated in a sort of quarantine with a crying, fussy, cranky baby not knowing when she’ll get better.  These couple of months as my children have been catching every known cold, more so than any other year, it has been stretching my faith and my character.  It has tested my patience, my perseverance, my endurance and love.  It’s been challenging to know how to enter Jesus’ rest in the midst of these times of isolation with my sick children.  No going to BSF.  No going to MOPS.  No going to church.  But as Jehoshaphat can testify meeting Jesus, reliance on Him can take place anywhere from a battlefield to a living room in the burbs.  He showed in a real crucial way what it looks like for a leader to completely place His trust in God.  I hope that I may be able to show in small way the same thing as a mother placing my complete trust in God.  We know Jehoshaphat’s story, who knows what may happen if I do the same.

It’s not just about His birth

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It’s been some time since I’ve written here.  Between my computer having problems and my sweet girls continuing to get sick over and over again, it’s been challenging to find time to sit down and write.  My youngest is on her third or fourth cold of the season, and just when I think she’s gotten over her cold, she somehow catches another.  Thankfully, it doesn’t seem too serious.  However, we’ve had our fair share of staying at home and consequently, a few of us, (me included) have cabin fever.  It has been challenging to not let the fussiness, the crankiness, the girls’ sicknesses of both the body and spirit not seep into my own bones, especially when my own tendencies lean towards the pessimistic.  It’s too easy for me to begin to complain with the intention of simply sharing about my own life to complain and make it all about me, me, ME.  Though there’s a time and place for venting, true sharing, and seeking prayer and advice, this time isn’t one of them.  This post isn’t going to be about sickness or my pessimism.  It really is not.

It’s about Jesus.  It’s the advent season, where as Christians we are to wait with expectation and preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s birth.  For some reason, this year, this hasn’t felt enough.  And I’ve begun to realize that I think I know why.  It’s because despite Advent being about remembering the Lord’s birth AND remembering that one day Jesus will return, it somehow solely becomes about the miracle of Jesus’ birth or the birth and repentance (because Jesus is coming soon).  As amazing and wonderful the miracle of Jesus being born, God comes to earth as a baby!,  this miracle alone is only part of the story of Jesus.  It’s not even the good part.  Okay, well, actually it really is a pretty good story.  Luke 1:26-2:20.  Because, though our redemption begins with Jesus’ birth, it was completed through Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection.  That was the defining moment.  It’s what made Him our Savior.  I know, I know.  Who wants to think about death during Christmas?  But I do.  Because without that piece of God’s story, Our story, everything else would be well, it would all be meaningless.  So this season, as I read and remember Jesus’ birth, I will also turn to the passages that are typically set aside for Easter, Luke 22:39-24:53 and read and remember why His birth is so significant.  That baby in the manger grows up to be my Savior.

I’d like to leave you with the words of my favorite Christmas hymn:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need—to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

Words: Pla­cide Cap­peau, 1847 (Mi­nuit, chré­tiens, c’est l’heure so­len­nelle); trans­lat­ed from French to Eng­lish by John S. Dwight (1812-1893)

It’s my prayer that during these trying moments that test my patience, when I want to complain, when I feel discouraged I would read and remember, seeking the Lord first and maybe just maybe the His joy would instead replace the sickness deep into my bones and my heart.

At the heart of thankfulness

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I didn’t find it all that striking the first time I heard it.  It took time to simmer.  Like all truths, they tend to seem simple, but life often makes the truth seem muddled or more complicated than it really should be. “Spiritual drifting away begins by neglecting the great salvation that securely unites us with Christ.” Kris said towards the end of her BSF lecture.

For years after returning back to the States from my time overseas, I was unwilling to admit need.  It was ironic, since I often admitted needing help when I lived in a foreign country.  If I didn’t I wouldn’t have left my apartment or been able to eat.  But when I came back here and re-connected with old friends, the first thing that I couldn’t help but notice was how my friends had moved on with their lives without me.  They seemed so accomplished, so put together and independent.  Gone were the days when we shared our deepest secrets our vulnerabilities, our tendencies so that we could lift each other up in heartfelt prayer.  We had grown distant while I was away.  This distance, this veneer of self-sufficiency was enough to prompt me to believe that I, too, needed to do the same despite feeling otherwise.  This need to put on my best front continued, as I became a mother, in full force.  It’s part of the reason why I initially joined BSF and MOPs, to find someone somewhere who felt as flawed as I did.  But even in these places, I didn’t see it.  I could say it should be different, I expected it to be different, but these places are made up of flawed people just like me.  No one wants to go first.  No one wants to seem like the weak one, the crazy counter-cultural one.  Like everyone I, too, wore pride like a badge of courage.  I kept quiet so as to appear strong, wearing what little pride I felt I had like a comfy, cozy well-worn sweater so that everyone wouldn’t know I was exposed underneath.   It seems too strange to be vulnerable with people who you only see a few hours a week or a few hours a month, the risk too high a cost.  The only problem with this is that it’s not how to draw closer to Jesus nor to each other.

I don’t remember when I first heard this, but it seems fitting to be reminded of this picture of God from Philip Yancey’s Grace Notes (pg.374).

As one lecturer in spirituality explains it, ‘God in heaven holds each person by a string.  When you sin, you cut the string.  Then God ties it up again, making a knot-and thereby bringing you a little closer to him.  Agin and again your sins cut the string-and with each further knot God keeps drawing you closer and closer.’

I spiritually drifted away when I neglected my need for Jesus and instead attended to my pride.  It had been awhile since I felt connected to my Father in heaven.  By not spending time with Him, I fooled myself into believing that what He wanted was my adherence to the rules.  Since I saw in how many ways, I failed in doing so I kept postponing my times with Him telling myself He’s always there, I can repent later.  Because I did this, I suffered.  Yancey also discusses this kind of legalism (pg. 373),

It teases, promising some of the benefits of faith but unable to deliver what matters most.  As Paul wrote to the legalists of his day, ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’

Jesus didn’t want my obedience in this way.  He just wanted me.  Obedience would come later, as an expression of love for Him.  Today I’m thankful for this journey He’s taken me on.  It is sometimes painful, but well worthwhile.  At the heart of my thankfulness, is cherishing that Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins, to save me from a life without him.  This is what matters most.

How is pride hurting you?  How is God bringing you closer to Him?

Pure, Unadulterated Thanks

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The other day, afg casually asked, “Do you think Minnie should go to preschool this winter?”  “This winter?” I asked perplexed.  How could he even consider enrolling our eldest daughter to preschool now of all times?  I don’t know a whole lot about the process, but isn’t it supposed to be this rigorous, time consuming, nail biting endeavor requiring endless research and repeatedly staring at review after review till your eyes fall out of your skull to find the perfect preschool.  At least, that was my impression of what the process was like.  We hadn’t done one iota of it yet.  How could he propose we just “put her” in any ole school or that there was one available?!

But what really surprised me wasn’t that my husband asked this question or suggesting the possibility that Minnie could be going to preschool in two months, it was that I  couldn’t admit that I just wasn’t ready for her to go.  I couldn’t believe it.  All this time struggling with Minnie’s terrible two’s and here I was saddened at the mere thought of her leaving me for a few hours to go to school.  I imagined the whole scenario in slow motion in my head.  Releasing the lever of the car door, stepping out into the cold wintery air, watching my hands opening the car door for her car door, and unclasping the carseat latch across her chest, and lastly pushing the big red button that would  release her into the world.

I realized I would miss her.  I’d miss all the random lovingkindness she shows me throughout the day for no particular reason at all.  “Do you know why I love you?” she asked innocently.  Then without waiting for me to answer, she exclaimed, “Because!”  It was reason enough for her.  Another time, Minnie sat on the floor content playing like she normally does everyday, creating a building and its landscape with her Little People blocks.  Midway through she looked up at me.  She scooted her sitting two and a half year old body around to face me, stood up and rushed full speed into my arms to give me a hug.  I don’t know why.   Still another time, she picked up her stuffed Hello Kitty doll she had been playing with and asked me, “Who gave me this Hello Kitty?”  I don’t know how many times she’s asked me that question about this toy or that toy, this particular food or treat, but I’d answer, sometimes annoyed to have to answer the question yet again, “Your Daddy and I did or Your Grandmother and Grandfather did or Your Po Po and Gung Gung did, going through all the gift givers in her life.”  After hearing the answer she’d reply with such genuine enthusiasm, “Oh, thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you!” She gave the same reply even when it wasn’t me who gave her the object in question.  Each time it was as if I’d given her the rarest most wonderful gift imaginable instead of, in this instance, a fifteen dollar plush toy found just about anywhere.  Just today while I set Minnie in her booster chair for lunch, she asked, “Who made me this peanut butter sandwich?”  I replied again like I always do, “I did.”  “Thank you, Mommy.  Thank you!  I love it!”  she said with a huge grin.  It flowed so naturally for her.  Anytime a thought of gratitude came to mind, she instantly said it unabashedly, without reason in that pure, unadulterated way of hers, she said, “Thanks.”  It’s especially this way that she expresses her thanks that endears me to her.  It’s, perhaps, one of the things I’ll miss most about her.  There will be a few less hours where I’ll be reminded HOW to say thank you.

At it’s truest expression it can often feel vulnerable-to say thank you.  It’s the acknowledgement that you received from another.  I can’t help but think this is what Jesus desires of us, what my daughter, Minnie seems to be born understanding, what perhaps we were all born understanding, but somehow forgot due to the cynical armor we slowly picked up along the way and clothed ourselves in.

So as I contemplate Thanksgiving this year and try to live with gratitude, I’m going to, with Jesus’ help, take a cue from my daughter, take off the armor and thank Jesus with abandon in that childlike manner, starting here.   “Thank you!  Jesus, thank you so much!  Thank you for my daughter Minnie for so many reasons.  I love her.  Thank you because she reminds me how much I have to be grateful for.”

When I Grow Up: Mother v. Daughter

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When I was eleven years old,  I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor of my parents’ bedroom filling out “My School Days” memory book.  My mother sat next to me to help me fill out the same questions every year, adding my report card for that particular year and any additional exceptional or distinctive work.  The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was written on the bottom of every designated new school year.  Below the question, there were a few boxes where you could check off, policeman, teacher, astronaut, artist, and a few other professions.  That year I answered proudly and without hesitation, “I want to be an engineer.”  I would give the same answer, from then on, every year up till senior year of high school.  I wanted needed to follow in my father’s footsteps.  My mother added, “You know, there hasn’t been another woman in our family who has continued their education beyond their undergraduate college degree.” With that single utterance,  it gave me the extra pressure motivation and confirmed that yes, this is what I should be pursuing.  After that, I made it a priority to do well in all my courses in elementary, junior high and high school, but especially those in math and science, even if it killed me.  My philosophy on academics became, “There are twenty-four hours a day.  There should be enough time to do everything I need to perfect my work.”  I wanted my parents to be proud.  As time would tell, and as God intervened, it wasn’t meant to be.  I wasn’t going to be an engineer.

Now, I stay home with my daughters Minnie and Elle.  Minnie is two and a half now.  And Elle?  She’s just shy of one year by a few months.

For our family, deciding that I would be a SAHM wasn’t as much a conscious choice as it was something that sort of happened.   After college, I pursued a life of ministry in a foreign country for four years. Following that, I worked in college ministry here in the States.  In 2006, Dan and I attended Urbana, with our students.  It was a game-changer for us.  My husband believed the conference confirmed what the Lord’s work in his heart to pursue his passion for business. So we moved to another state so that he could go to business school.  I decided to stay home and take a sabbatical to rest  from the burnout I felt from working with college students for the past seven years.  During Dan’s second year of business school,  we talked about starting a family.  Soon after our talk, God blessed our desire for a baby and I was pregnant with Minnie.  So that was it. I became a SAHM when she arrived.

I’m now following in my mother’s footsteps and coincidentally, my mother-in-law’s footsteps as well.  I’m sure it’s probably not what my mother hoped for, especially thinking back to that conversation I had with her when I was eleven.  But dreams change.

I thought I knew what it would mean to be a Stay at Home Mother.  I’ve heard plenty of my husband’s stories of his mother when she was home with her kids.  Then there’s my experience when my mother was home with me that seems to still be quite vivid for me.  Not to mention, I’ve had plenty of friends who decided to become SAHMs as well, though it’s been some time since I’ve kept in touch with them.  In fact, it comes quite naturally to have an opinion or a picture of what a SAHM mother should be about.  All you have to do is turn on the television, read a magazine, go on the internet or talk with people you run into everyday. We all think we know what a stay at home mother’s responsibilities are, how they go about accomplishing them day to day, and what her day looks like.  That is, until YOU become one.  With all these expectations, it’s easy to feel guilty when I haven’t accomplished all the things that “I’m supposed to” each day.  It’s a terrible thing- this guilt- because the longer it stays, the uglier it becomes till it’s almost unrecognizable, transforming into despair.  For a perfectionist like me, I struggle with feeling like a failure almost every day.  Who wants to wake up in the morning to already feeling the weight of defeat?

This is not the way the Lord intended life to be.  In fact Jesus in his parable about the “Shepherd and the Sheep” in John 10 (KJV) says, “The thief comes not, but to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  Children are meant to be gifts from God.  So why couldn’t I believe this in the middle of the blow outs, in the meltdowns, in the middle of the tantrums?  Part of it is, in fact, the terrible twos, which I’m hoping only lasts during that particular year.  (Minnie will be turning 3 in about a month or so.)  The smiles are few and far between.  She has grown out of most of the “firsts.” The “awww moments” are beginning to wear off along with the rose-tinted glasses.  They’ve been replaced with the rough and tumble of potty training, talking back, tantrum-throwing, her will attempting to stretch the limits and boundaries we give her, and an all out testing of Mama and Daddy.  I love my daughter very much, but in the moment to moment stickiness, rebuke, yelling, ignoring life just feels not easy at the moment.   That “infatuation with all things baby” is gone.  She’s no longer a baby.  She’s entered a new phase I haven’t quite figured out yet.  Each day feels a little bit like hugging a porcupine.  Minnie is often prickly with the occasional hug from the soft underside.  But this isn’t really about Minnie.  What it all comes down to is this lie I’ve been believing, the source of the guilt, the despair.  The lie is this: Your identity and worth is based on your abilities to be the perfect mother to your children.  There’s that word again.  That perfection that I was pursuing as a child in my academics has continued as I’ve become a mother.

I believe that there will always be difficult moments when you’re a mother.  I was reminded of this the other day when my mother as well as my mother-in-law shared this very truth.  You don’t know how much a comfort it was to hear that from these two women who I greatly admire.  It’s part of the job.  However, looking at the bigger picture, I believe that God’s intention was for children to their parents’ joy, their pleasure.

From C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters,  pg. 41-42 (From the perspective of the devil)

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures; all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable.

When I base my worth on my accomplishments as a stay at home mother, I take away the pleasure that God intended for me to have in being a mother.  In other words, when I start start placing greater importance in my identity as a stay at home mother than my identity as the daughter of the God who created the heavens and the earth, I give Satan the opportunity to warp the pleasure that God intended to give me through my children.  It breaks my heart to realize this.  Imagining for a moment being in God’s shoes, where it was me who gave a gift to one of my daughters that I believed would give them such insurmountable joy and pleasure, but instead watched how they received this gift and somehow misused it or it transformed into this terrible thing that caused her pain and grief, would indeed break my heart.  This is what I mean when I say I don’t believe this is what God intended-because the gifts God gives us are good.  It’s my sin and the the devil’s influence that warps these good gifts, transforms them, in this case, into a terrible weapon to hurt and destroy.

God, being who He is, however is able to even here redeem the pain that this warped gift may have caused.  For me, it is a constant battle to fight this terrible lie and remember who I am in God’s sight, remembering my true identity in Jesus. Nevertheless, it’s a battle worth fighting.  Yesterday, I was reminded that during the times I feel the weakest, when I feel the battle is surging the wrong way, the Lord is there beside me helping me to take just one more step in choosing joy and enjoying the God-given pleasure of my children.  He is helping me take one more step towards Him.

Money Questions, It’s Not What You Think

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It’s about giving.  It’s that time of year where it’s on most people’s minds to give whether it’s a canned food drive, helping out at a soup kitchen, or giving toys to children less fortunate for Christmas.

Like I said yesterday, there are convictions that the Lord is working out in me that I’m still sorting out.  The heart of it is this: How can our family make it a priority to make giving a discipline we consistently live out?  How can we devote ourselves to live more simply?

Seven years ago, all my belongings that I really cared about fit in one duffle bag and a backpack, a rather large duffle bag, but it was only one nonetheless.  I look at my belongings now.  They’ve multiplied, exploded I don’t know how many times over the amount that once fit in that one piece of luggage and backpack.  Part of the reason why I didn’t have much before is because I was single, living abroad.  Since then, I’ve gotten married, had two kids, and bought a house.  Living simply has changed.  Well, it’s become a lot more complicated. Somewhere along the line, I lost sight of living simply and exchanged it for the American dream.  In this sense, I believe this idea of living simply will be a constant question that will have to be re-evaluated many times throughout my life.

When I was living abroad, teaching English and sharing the gospel in Asia I remember feeling indignant when I’d share with supporters back home about some of the financial burdens I experienced and then hear how these same supporters recently bought the newest, the biggest TV to add to their large home.   I didn’t hear back from them.  I was young then.  Even though I didn’t have a lot of money and was struggling in my fundraising, even then, I’m now convinced that I should’ve given my money to others.  I thought, at the time, it was enough that I was dedicating my life to ministry giving my time, my energy, all the more giving up my potential future-ruining my chances at having a decent career.  Wasn’t that enough?  To that question, I do have an answer.  No, it wasn’t enough because there is something about giving away money, seeing that physical wealth leave your hands and choosing to deliberately remember and be thankful for the provision God’s given to me already.  Funny thing is as I look back on these supporters, I find myself in their very same position.  How easy it is to get caught up in ambition, appearances, wealth and what everyone is doing.  Where do we go from here?

In Yancey’s Grace Notes, one sentence changed my perspective of the story about the widow with her last mites (Mark 12:41-44).  “It made no sense for a widow to donate her last few pennies to a corrupt and crumbling institution in Jerusalem.”  I never thought about the fact that the widow gave her money away to someone or something that wasn’t altogether pure, right and holy.  It’s the excuse I often make.  I don’t want to give my money away because I’m not sure if it’s going to be used in a fitting way.  I don’t want to give to that homeless person because what if he uses it for alcohol, gambling, or drugs?  Knowing that the widow may have given her money to something corrupt and the fact that Jesus championed her, making her an example for all of us to follow causes me to truly consider why not give generously, with abandon instead of with doubt, suspicion or over thinking it.

I believe that we were meant to give generously, give with abandon, give with grace.  I believe that God built it in us this desire to give.  Why else would we naturally see it happening in the world, even when there’s no logical reason to do so.  It’s the sin of selfishness that taints that desire, deforming it,  but deep down I think that it’s part of our makeup.  There are numerous examples of the benefits of giving. Researchers have documented something called a Helper’s High, a euphoric feeling that comes as a result of carrying out a kind act.  There is also research that shows those elderly who choose to give of themselves tend to live longer, happier lives.  Yancey said it best when he writes, “But in truth my need to give is every bit as desperate as their need to receive.”

My husband, afinanceguy (afg), and I discussed ways we could live more simply, realizing we’ve taken liberties with some of our spending habits that we’d like to amend.  There is the question of whether we should live much more drastically and give it all away and live in more basic means.  We have friends who have done this.  However, all I can say to this at the moment is that I’m not sure and I don’t know.  It’ll be a continuing conversation we will have to have with the Lord.  The real question that we’re able to contend with at the moment is this: What does it look like to be financially responsible, be wise with the resources the Lord has given us, yet continue to give in real ways?  We still have student loans from when my husband went to business school, a car loan we’re still paying off, a mortgage on a new home.

As a side note, it’s ironic that back when I was fundraising and had a positive net worth, I was much more limited in my ability to give much money away.  Now that I have a negative worth accounting for student loans, mortgage, car, etc, we have a greater ability to give due to higher income and credit limits since my husband and I are no longer fundraising and he has a regular salary.

How do you decide on your level of giving?  Do you also have debt you have to consider?  How have you followed the high call to live simply?

Giving Out of Emotional Need

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Last night my baby girl, Elle, couldn’t sleep.  She whimpered throughout the night, trying to get comfortable.  She was terribly congested. The humidifier didn’t seem to help much except sputtered a loud gurgling every now and then.  And the Vicks at the bottoms of her feet didn’t seem to add much needed relief either. She was miserable.

Dan and I tried to go to bed earlier, setting aside a few responsibilities that we really should’ve done-prepping food for the week, washing laundry, folding previous loads of laundry- but decided to let them go for the sake of catching up on our sleep. It was unfortunate that this sickness of Elle’s had something else in mind.  We were already working from a sleep debt from the night before.  It was that evasive hour of daylight savings that tricked us into believing we had more time available than we truly did.  Of course the way Dan and I are, we like to take things to another level so stayed up not only an extra hour but an extra couple of hours.  The girls, naturally, didn’t know anything about the time change.  Apparently transitioning to that hour makes all the difference in the world.  While trying to keep them up, the girls melted down.   They ended up waking up right on the dot at seven in the morning.  Now, in this case, six.  We should’ve known.

First mistake, we shouldn’t have stayed up so late the night before.  Second mistake, we chose to neglect how the time change would affect our young daughters.  Third mistake, we were thoughtless with Elle’s cold.

Looking back, it’s easy to see all those mistakes.  This all brings me up to last night around midnight.  I was tired, full of regret for not accomplishing all the things I felt like needed to be done and I was frustrated.  After half an hour of rocking, comfort nursing, I placed Elle back in her crib.  She settled in, I left and walked back to go to bed.  After ten minutes in bed, she woke up again whimpering.  It suddenly got louder, crescendoing louder, then even LOUDER.  I didn’t want her to wake up Minnie, so I went back again going through the same routine.  Rocking, comfort nursing and placed her back in her crib.  The same thing happened after forty-five minutes.  She awoke screaming.  I was angry, and oh so frustrated.  I shouldn’t have been, but I was.  Emotionally I was already spent, the physical weariness again lowering my inhibitions,  lowering my emotional threshold and what I felt like I could stand.

After all this, my dear husband,who was feeling a bit sick himself, was gracious enough to take to Elle downstairs to the swing, put her to sleep and stayed with her for a couple of hours.  At around five this morning, he asked me to take her again since he really needed at least an hour to sleep in bed.  I should’ve been grateful, but I was resentful.  Like I said, emotional threshold much lower than was right or ideal.  As I sat rocking Elle again, I tried to alleviate my frustration by thinking through the whole thing logically.  It didn’t really help.  Then I tried thinking about how miserable my baby was feeling and how much she probably really wanted to sleep herself.  This didn’t help either. Like I said with this amount of sleep, I couldn’t think logically and was extremely selfish.  What finally did help was remembering my mother taking care of me when I was sick.  At five in the morning and being this tired, all I could think about was me.  Me, me, me.  Like I said, SELFISH. This was the only way I could put myself in Elle’s shoes.  I remembered what it was like to feel miserable, not having enough energy to do anything, just wanting to be held and loved by my mother.

This morning, as I was doing my devotional-reading from Yancey’s Grace Notes, the passage was about giving, specifically monetarily.  (There are some things here, too, that I believe the Lord is speaking to, convictions that He is forming, which I will save for later.)

At the end of this passage, Yancey says from Money booklet (20-21),

The act of giving best reminds me of my place on earth.  All of us live here by the goodness and grace of God-like the birds in the air and the flowers of the field, Jesus said.  Those creations do not worry about future security and safety; neither should we.  Giving offers me a way to express my faith and confidence that God will care for me just as God cares for the sparrow and lily.

It is never ideal to give to others out of our emotional deficiency.  Nevertheless being a mother, we can’t always wait to afford to give out of our abundance.  In fact, we are often called to help, to care, to love when we are at our weakest, most broken-which is mainly why being a mother is so difficult.  However, even here, Jesus is able to meet us, even if it be through our selfishness, to get us to a place where we’re reminded of His grace.  Today I remember my mother’s grace she demonstrated to me through her loving acts of kindness caring for me when I was sick.  And I was sick A LOT as a child.  I remember the Lord’s grace on me when he ultimately saved me from the “sickness” of sin.  I can only pray and hope that, in the future, even when I feel at my weakest, it won’t take me so long to get there- to naturally love and care not only for my daughters but for others as well.

Joyous Desperation

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This last week during BSF there were two questions at the end of the notes that preoccupied me.

Do you today experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the fruit of inward joy? (Compare Acts 13:52 with Galatians 5:22.

Are you experiencing, with the disciples, that opposition brings a special tenderness and love of the Lord Jesus, so sweet and strengthening that you are even glad for the ‘persecution’ because it is accompanied by joy, as well as mental satisfaction which is the unique comfort of the Holy Spirit? (Compare John 14:16; Acts 9:31; 2 Corinthians 12:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

The simple answer is no.  I’m not experiencing this kind of joy.  But I want to.  If even the disciples who experienced such difficult obstacles with threats on their lives, huge opposition, persecution from neighbors and authorities could have joy, then it should be possible for me as well.

It has been awhile since I’ve written here.  Mostly, because I was hoping to have something better to write about.  Who wants to constantly read the challenges I’ve experienced to be a stay at home mother  ALL. THE. TIME?  The problem is this seems to be that sort of season of life for me.  A season of desperation.  It’s taken me awhile to realize, but I’ve finally come to believe that it’s okay.  Actually it’s more than okay.  Why?  It’s because I believe it’s in this place that the Lord is able to do some amazing things and that perhaps, it does put me in a place to be able to experience this sort of joy that’s previously eluded me.

From 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NLT)

That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I was reminded at church this last Sunday that, as one of the pastors, Joe Boyd said, “It’s part of the human condition to be desperate.  I don’t think you can avoid it.  It’s the way God made us with a hole in our heart and we search for everything to fill it up.”  For me, this recent new job of being a stay at home mother has made me more desperate than I have been in a long time.  I’m constantly reminded of my flaws, my inadequacies which feeds into guilt.  The thing is, it’s an ugly guilt because it often leads to a soul sucking despair that drains hope.   This is especially true when I get caught up in the lie that my identity is wrapped up in being a perfect mother to my children.  At one point or another, I always fail.  It’s a very dark place to be in.

This isn’t the kind of life that Jesus desires.  In Matthew 5, when Jesus speaks on the beatitudes in Matthew 5 and says, “Blessed are those poor in spirit,”  I don’t think this guilty living is what he’s intimating.  In fact the New Living Translation includes “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”  It’s only when I give this desperation over to Jesus that joy is possible.  Filling this hole or desperation with anything else, such as my need or desire to be “the perfect mother” on my own, will only lead to more guilt, more sorrow and more disappointment.

I’m reminded that the Bible is filled with stories of desperate people.  Some have great faith before meeting with Jesus, some grow in faith after they engage with him, and some with none.  This is all to say, that Jesus meets us where we are no matter where we are in our faith progression.  So instead of responding with the usual guilt and despair, I can take hope that this “desperation” can lead to this great joy. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be able to look back and be glad for the desperation.

Redemption

I’ve been reading through Philip Yancey’s Grace Notes as well as studying Acts in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  The last couple entries in Yancey’s book have dealt with the topic of pain and suffering.  Coincidentally, it is a topic that came up in BSF as well.  As uncomfortable as I am with thinking about this problematic issue, I can’t ignore the significance of its abrupt emergence.

I think I may know the reason why.  It’s embarrassing to admit.  Shameful even.  When I get together with my friends who are mothers, it’s not something we discuss.  In fact, I don’t know anyone who discusses these types of things.  When I say being a stay at home mother sometimes feels hard, I mean sometimes it feels like suffering.  It’s difficult to admit because it doesn’t feel like it’s a legitimate feeling that a mother is allowed to have.  Our children are a gift and I’m lucky to have them in my life.  I do believe these things to be true, but it doesn’t diminish the  pains of loneliness, pains of  weariness, or pains of continually doing the mundane tasks necessary to get through the day.  Now don’t get me wrong.  This kind of suffering is nowhere near what I know many people experience on a daily basis.  I’m not suffering a disease that is ravaging my body.  I’m not starving.  I don’t fear for my well-being on a regular basis.  All in all, I live a very blessed life.  I’m also not suffering the same way the disciples experienced during the birth of the new early church.  I’m not being persecuted because of my faith.  There isn’t any one who is threatening my life because I claim Jesus to be my Lord.

But to pretend that there’s nothing wrong, that it’s easy to be a SAHM, would be a disservice to other mothers who do the same day in and day out and perhaps, have some of the same experiences.  It would also be a disservice to my children because I’ve realized continually pushing those feelings down can be very detrimental.  One way or another, those feelings come out as resentment, anger and frustration.  And as much as I thought I was doing a good job of hiding these things, my two and half year old, Minnie, could see it seeping through.  She saw how easily I’d get frustrated with her while I was potty training her, or trying to coax her to eat her meals, or cleaning up after her. With that being said, I hope that God will transform my weaknesses and redeem them.

The Bible consistently changes the questions we bring to the problem of pain.  It rarely, or ambiguously, answers the backward-looking question ‘Why?’  Instead, it raises the forward-looking question, ‘To what end?’ We are not put on earth merely to satisfy our desires, to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.  We are here to be changed, to be made more like God in order to prepare us for a lifetime with God.  And that process may be served by the mysterious pattern of all creation: pleasure sometimes emerges against a background of pain, evil may be transformed into good, and suffering may produce something of value.

Is God speaking to us through our sufferings?  It is dangerous and perhaps even unscriptural to torture ourselves by looking for God’s message in a specific throb of pain, a specific instance of suffering.  The message may simply be that we live in a world with fixed laws, like everyone else.  But from the larger view, from the view of all history, yes, God speaks to us through suffering–or perhaps in spite of suffering.

From Philip Yancey’s Where is God When It Hurts? (94-95)

This issue of pain and suffering also came up in BSF this week.  “Read Acts 12.  What do you learn about God in this passage that encourages you to trust Him?”  At first when I read this question, I assumed that the answer they wanted me to give was to extol the wonderful story of Peter and the amazing miracle of his release in prison.  That indeed is true, but the beginning of Acts 12 also mentions the death of James, one of the brothers of Zebedee.  Not to mention, towards the end of this account it mentions how King Herod ordered the execution of the guards who were to keep watch over Peter while he was imprisoned. Peter’s escape played a part in their deaths.  How can I trust in a God who allowed James and these soldiers to die but work to free Peter?  Why? The question is challenging because the assumption is that it would build trust.  That’s why, for me, reading the question and the passage through the lens of the Yancey passage was meaningful for me because it reminded me of the bigger picture.

I hear so many people who come by a passage like this and seemingly dismiss it with the overarching quaint saying, “God is sovereign” without giving much thought to what that simple sentence truly means.  Simply saying, “God is sovereign” and leaving it at that, feels dismissive.  It seems to dismiss the fact that most of us would be asking the question, “Why?” in a situation like this.  I believe Yancey addresses this by stating that, of course, we would wonder why.  In the end, based on his research and experience he explains in his book, Where is God when it hurts?, that it  isn’t helpful to dwell on this question, because there are no answers on this side of heaven that will satisfy.   He suggests that the question that should be asked is, “To what end?” because really, that is the question that has the power to ultimately bring joy, healing and hope.

That isn’t easy.  Even as children, when we get hurt or someone says something mean, we automatically respond by wanting to know why.  However, in the case of Acts 12 I think it does require a leap of faith to believe that God is who He says He is, that He is good, He is working everything together for the good of those who love him.  I think that means that he won’t make life easier for us, he won’t make life easier even for those who believe in him as James can attest, but He is able to transform those things in life that cause suffering and pain to further the kingdom of heaven here on earth and to prepare us for a lifetime with Him.  That is good news indeed.

So as a mother, what does that mean?  It means acknowledging that it can sometimes be painful.  You often hear the term mother with sacrifice.  There’s a reason for that.  But I think the key, that I’m learning, is that I can’t dwell on the pain.  When I do, it eats away at me and takes away my ability to love my children as well as I could be or they deserve to be.  However, when I think about, “To what end?” it gives me hope.

It reminds me that the pain isn’t forever.  It gives me hope that the pain can be transformed into an investment in my children and that hopefully, one day it might lead them to know Jesus as their personal Savior.  It gives me hope that the pain can be transformed in me, to make me more like Jesus so that I’ll be better prepared for my life with Him.