Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mrs. Job

I wrote this about a year and a half ago for a Bible study I was attending.  It was nearing the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year season, and this was on my heart when I was asked to do the beginning thoughts/devotional.

As we go into the summer season, I think it applies.  As I see more families out and about doing warm weather things, I need to remember this...

Mrs. Job (Job 2:9)

What happened to Mrs. Job?  She was a woman, just like me, with a life -- children, possessions, friends, a husband, strengths and weaknesses.  One sentence is the only picture of her we have.  What if my worst moment of weakness were the only thing recorded of me for all of posterity?  What if my worst moment of weakness were on display for all to see?

Who are the Mrs. Jobs in my life?  The mom in the grocery store whose children are "out of control" due to some genetic or congenital problem?  The woman whose mother-in-law hasn't said a kind word to her in 15 years, but she now finds herself as the primary caregiver for her?  The single mom trying to buy gifts for her three children, while their deadbeat dad parties with his newest trophy?  But as I encounter these women, I do not know their back-story.  I only see their Mrs. Job moments -- the uncontrolled children who seem to lack discipline while their mother pretends not to notice, the stressed out woman who snaps at the older lady with her when she has finally heard one cutting remark too many, the woman whose credit cards are repeatedly denied at the checkout line and proceeds to cry.  I do not know these women, but they are living a Mrs. Job life before me.  Do I extend grace, do I offer a genuine smile and kind words, or do I avoid eye contact and whisper?  Do I loudly tell my children that THOSE kids are the ones we are trying to avoid them being like, and that is why we are so strict with them?

What about my Mrs. Job moments?  What about the times when it seems like NOTHING has gone right for so long that I am just DONE?  What about when my expectations are reversed, and God gives me a resounding "NO," even as I plead with Him to restore some small portion of  "normalcy" to my life?  How will I respond?  Will I cling to the fact that God is good, and that He loves me?  Or in a moment of shameful weakness, will I say something that I can never take back, maybe permanently marring a formerly positive relationship?

 So, I urge us to take some time to think before we react.  All of us are in need of grace.  This time of year especially, slow down and be gracious.  Give strangers the benefit of the doubt.  Give your family and friends the benefit of the doubt.  Before you say something that leads to your Mrs. Job moment, think carefully about what you know is true, and Who you know is Truth.

Monday, April 28, 2014

In Defense of Homemaking

"If God calls him to dig ditches, it would be a step down for him to be the President of the United States."

I don't remember precisely who said it, but I remember hearing it during my childhood.  Evidently, it stuck.

I was reminded of this quote this weekend while at the CAPE-NM annual homeschool convention.  There is nothing like spending two days away from home to convince one of her calling to be a homemaker, and of the value to the family she provides.

In our world, we homemakers are often made fun of or belittled by those who ask questions such as "don't you have any ambition?!" or "that's it?"  or "what do you DO all day?!"  Or, we hear things like "I could never be content to just be home all day" or "I have to contribute to our household!"

To most of these questions/objections/blatant put-downs, many times homemakers give a sickly smile, some kind of half-hearted comment, or feel necessary to defend themselves and their choices (depending on who made the comment in the first place).

But today, I offer a simpler, more basic defense.  If God has called me to full-time homemaking (and I believe He has), then anything else would be a step down.  Let me repeat that, and read it slowly as it sinks in -- anything else would be a step down.  Anything -- owner of a small business, a doctor who cures the incurable, even leader of the free world.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Letting Them be Who They Are, Part 2

(Ok, I'm writing these in quick succession for a reason.  Part 1 did not unfold the way I had thought it would.  It seemed to take a life of its own, and I'm continuing this for what I had wanted to say in the first place.)

As I said up front, each of my three is vastly different than her sisters, and than me or my husband.  Each is a unique creation crafted lovingly by her Creator for His purposes.

And I have no idea what those purposes ultimately look like!  That's a hard thing to admit.  I have dreams for them, ideas of what I want their lives to be like.  As do they. 

My oldest has ALWAYS wanted to be "something in medicine with people."  Ever since my pregnancy with the second child, and they are only sixteen months apart.  (Let that sink in!)  So, we have explained the human body, how it works, given her medical equipment and models of the body and its organs, skeletons, anatomy and physiology books, and so forth.  She has lots of other things, too, toys, and the like that have nothing to do with medicine or the study thereof.  As a mom, I dream of her finding the cure for something awful, or unlocking the puzzles of the brain like Alzheimer's or Autism, or some other amazing thing.

But maybe that's not God's will for her.  In which case, I need to let go of my dreams for her.  And she may need to let go of HER dreams for herself.  I need to help her be willing to give up those dreams, to lay them at His feet.  And I need to let her be who she is, who God created her to be.

The same goes for my other two.  My middle one wants to be a rancher with a lot of children.  (And we're debating adding chickens to our family for her.)  My youngest has no "plan" yet.  But that's fine.  She has years to discover her strengths and desires before adulthood sets in.

My job is to train them to look to the Lord, to get their calling from Him.  If necessary, to lay down their desires at His feet, to be given something far better (even if it doesn't seem like it at first, or ever from an earthly perspective.)

I also must point them to Christ for His mercy to cover their sins and weaknesses, to change their hearts.  For only He can change their hearts.  I cannot.  I can only influence outward actions on my own.  I must point them to their Creator for their ultimate fulfillment.

For now, I must learn to revel in each girl's uniqueness, to thank God for her, to pray for who He wants her to be, to pray that she trusts Him, and then finds His calling for her life.  And that she do His will willingly, obediently, and joyfully. 

First and foremost, however, I must place my children in His hands.  Ultimately, that's where they rest, anyway.

Letting Them be Who They Are, Part 1

I have three children whom I love dearly.  Three girls who are VERY different from me, and from each other.  Each has wonderful strengths, and frustrating weaknesses.  (Much like all the rest of us.)  I am, by turns, amazed and astounded by both their qualities and their struggles.

In this world, and sadly often in the church, the pressure is there to be "perfect."  We have bought into the myth that in order to create perfect humans, all we have to do is be perfect parents.  Of course, no one really agrees on what this means -- some say strict discipline, children should never speak unless spoken to in public (yes, there are those who seem to truly believe this, though they may not say it out loud, their actions certainly do!); the other end of this are the ones who say that no discipline is the way, let's not step on their fragile egos, build their self-esteem at all costs.  This is the most popular method of the day, and I think we've all seen the entitlement that is the result.  Of course, these are the extremes and there is everything imaginable in between!
But I digress.  The measure of perfection, none too surprisingly, varies depending on which adult is doing the "beholding."  This may mostly be a "mom" issue, but I don't really think so.

Again, not my point.  But I'm getting there.  If I'm not careful, I become unsure, unfocused on my mission.  What is my mission (well, one of them, anyway) -- to raise my daughters "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4), to "train them in the way they should go" (Proverbs 22:6).  Neither of those verses say anything about training them up to look good to the neighbors.  In fact, I'm pretty sure if I do a "good" job, they will fall under persecution, possibly by the same people who are fighting so hard to raise those "perfect" children.

I have heard many sermons about that Proverbs verse, and the common consensus of men much smarter than I seems to be that the translation would be more properly rendered "train up a child according to his bent."  When I first heard this, it was like a kick to the gut.  Seriously.  Growing up, this verse was used viciously as a weapon against parents whose children had "strayed from the faith."  Obviously, if the parents had TRAINED their children, they wouldn't have STRAYED, RIGHT?!  But what I heard as an adult was much deeper and richer than what I had overheard as a child.

See, God has created each of us with unique strengths and weaknesses, and each of His children has a unique calling and gifting.  We are not interchangeable parts, but unique creations, made by a loving Creator, loving placed at our time and place in history and space for His purposes.  Not our own.

This applies to our children as well.  I have not created my children, but rather given their childhoods as a stewardship.  I am not to re-create them in MY image, but to point them to their Creator, to help them see Him, and in looking at Him, help them see themselves as He does, with a place and a calling.

Throughout history, God has chosen to use fallen people, hopelessly, fatally flawed apart from Him.  And to redeem them, and use them.  He could have chosen to wipe us out with Adam and Eve and start over.  Or just not tell Noah what He was going to do, then start over at that point.  He could even have created a whole NEW planet, called it "Earth II," and left us to our own devices.  But He didn't.  He chose, and continues to choose, to use us -- imperfect, floundering, weak, and struggling.

So, instead of trying to make my children over into someone's idea of perfection, whether that be mine, yours, or someone else's, I'm going to be faithful to point them to Him, to what He's done.  And I will help them, as best I can, turn over their struggles and weaknesses over to Him.

And I will ask for grace.  From you, if you know me and my children.  Because they will not be perfect, and I will not be parenting according to your choices.  And I will give you grace, because your children will not be perfect, no matter what you do, and you will not be parenting according to my choices.

I will allow my children to be who they have been created to be.  God has made them.  It is not my job to turn them into cookie cutter "people".  It's a journey.  I will fail.  So will they.  We will repent, God will forgive us, pick us up, and dust us off, and He will instruct us.  And it will all happen again (hopefully the failures will be different!).  And again, until He calls us home, one way or the other.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Am I the Left Pinkie Toe?

The Bible calls Christians the Body of Christ.  In one particular passage, Paul lays it out a in detail, talking about the parts, and how they are all important (1 Corinthians 12:14-25).  Based on the context, and to whom the letter is addressed, I believe the Holy Spirit (through Paul) is telling the Corinthians that each of them is important, and vital, and that their contributions all have worth and honor.

But that is not my struggle.  I easily see the value in the contributions of others.  I find richness in the fact that we are not all alike.  I find it shocking when someone belittles the calling of another, or questions their value.  I feel like I've been punched when someone decides that the contributions of another are worthless instead of priceless.

My struggle is the other-way-around.  I struggle to find my own contributions valuable.  I wonder why God did not gift me with Mrs. Smith's giftings, or call me the way He called Mrs. Jones.  I decide "my" contribution, "my" gift, is not worth much.

You know what?  That's pride.  Ugly, selfish, I'm-the-center-of-the-universe pride.  Because when I make those statements, I am denying that God has the right to put His people together as He sees fit.  I forget that I am not the One in charge, and I set myself up as God's judge.  Wow!  It horrifies me just to type that sentence.  But it's what I am doing.

Here's the other reason excuse.  Sometimes it's easier to try to live someone else's calling than my own.  If I see that someone else is succeeding, then it's easy for me to fall into the trap of "let me try that, too."  Because, God doesn't guarantee success.  The test of obedience isn't earthly results.  (Praise Him for that!)  But the thought of "failure", even "failure" when I know I'm obeying, is scary.  Trust requires an ongoing relationship, faith requires trusting and seeing how He carries me through the tough times, even if I can't see the "successes" this side of Heaven.  Sometimes, I want comfort more than I want relationship.  (Another terrifying, but honest, sentence!) 

So, if I'm the left pinkie toe, I need to trust God to glorify Himself through my left-pinkie-toe-ness.  Instead of wishing I were hair, or eyes, or voice, or knees. 

(I'm not really sure I even know what the left pinkie toe DOES for the body, but God gave them to us as standard equipment, so they must do SOMETHING!)

Bottom line is this, I need to fulfill God's calling on MY life, use the gifts He has given me in order to build up His body, do the things He commands in the way He has called and equipped me.  Whatever and however that looks to myself and others.  Because I'm not the Judge (thankfully), He is.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Loving my Family Means Doing my Chores

I love, love, love having a clean house to live in, clean clothes to wear, and a clean kitchen in which to prepare home-cooked meals.  I, however, do not enjoy being the one to clean the house, wash the laundry, and clean the kitchen after I have cooked.

I also do not enjoy the woman I become when our home is messy or cluttered; the laundry is past-due; and the kitchen is crumby, sticky, or just cluttered.  I am unloving and unlovely.  My stress level rises as my guilt over "not getting it done" rises.

And guilt is a terrible motivator (at least for me).  I'd rather let love motivate me into what I need to do.

See, it's loving for me to take the time to make things tidy and neat before the house becomes a natural disaster.  It's a loving thing for me to "work ahead" on Friday and Saturday so that Sunday is peaceful (as much as it can be, anyway).

My husband enjoys a clean house, too, especially a crumb-less floor.  (He goes barefoot in the house.)  My children are more creative when things are neater, when they don't have to shove stuff over in order to create, or just play.  And I am far more pleasant to be around when I have taken the initiative to make things clean before they "need" it visibly.

So, today is "clean the house" on my weekly chore list.  And I'm going to start right now, before I become an unloving and unlovely wife and mother.

And after it's done, I will be glad I did it.  I will work on my attitude about cleaning as I clean.  Because I have a terrible case of the "don't-wannas."

Sigh.  No one ever said love would be easy all the time.

(Note at the end of this post: The children do, in fact, help with this. However, I must start the process, and there are certain things they are not old enough to clean yet.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Please Don't Make Me Publish This

I'm not so sure I'm going to publish this, but I am going to write it.  I need to.  I'm ashamed to put this into words, typed up for all the world to see.  (Even if no one actually does.  Just the remote possibility is enough to make me scared.)

Here's the truth.  I hate someone.  This person would be shocked, I think, to know the depth of my anger/hatred.

Here's the point at which my humanness wants to give you a list of reasons excuses, to mitigate what some potential someone might think.  Some might even seem "justifiable" excuses.  That's all they are, however.  Excuses.  That verse, the one that keeps biting me, the one that says, "Let all that you do be done in LOVE."  Yeah, that one.  It leaves no room for me to hate.

Let me tell you a bit about how this confession has come about.  I have been stewing over a situation for a while now.  I have prayed many times over this person, but always the wrong way, with the wrong motives.  Mostly, I have prayed to be able to avoid this person, to not have to deal with him/her (from here on out, I'm going to use the masculine to make it simple.)

Today, as I was praying AGAIN, it hit me.  I hate this person.  I didn't want to say it.  Hate is such a strong, awful word.  It's a strong, awful thing.

And it's sin.  Pure and simple.  It. Must. Be. Called. Out.  By name.  Because, if I don't call it out, I'll continue.  And I'll hide behind lesser things, like "he just makes me so mad!" or "he just rubs me the wrong way!" or "he and I just don't get along."  It's deeper than that, though.  He doesn't "make" me anything.  I choose to be angry, I choose to think ill of him.

It must end.  Today, I began the first step.  I called the sin by name, and asked God for forgiveness.  I prayed for the Lord to remove my hate for this person, to change my heart.  Specifically.  By name.  Do you know, I struggled with telling God that I hate this person.  I didn't want to say it.  To say it would make it seem real.  Sadly, though, it already was the reality in my heart.  I just had to come to the place where I finally saw it for what it was.

And it's ugly.  And dark.  And scary.

But you know what?  I almost immediately felt the anger subsiding, the hatred going away.  Being honest, and repentant, begins the process.  Asking God to change my heart is the correct prayer.  Because He deals with me when talking to me.  He doesn't want me to rant about someone else, but to ask Him to change me.  He's the only One who can break this heart of stone.  And I believe He will. It may take time.  I've been hateful toward this person for a long time now.

I'm thankful that God is not finished with me yet, or this person.  I am thankful that God is not finished with this circumstance, even.  He can bring beauty out of ashes.  If He can love a selfish, sinful, easily angered, "polished on the outside, rotten on the inside" sinner like me, then there's hope.  He can do anything.  Any. Thing.  He specializes in the impossible!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

One Tough Lesson

Inside me lives a two year old.  And she's MEAN.  And demanding.  And pouty, whiny, and probably sleep-deprived.

She's selfish and moody and unforgiving.

And she's learning a hard lesson right now.  Sometimes, love means letting the other person "win."  Even if they don't know they've bulldozed over your preferences without a thought.  Or, even if they do.

And no pouting, either.  Because that would not be loving.  That would be spiteful.  That would be allowing the two-year-old to stomp her little feet in the toy aisle, fling herself to the floor, and throw a fit.

And I'm too old for that.  (I don't think my knees would forgive me at this point.)

And that's not loving.  Insisting I get my way isn't either.  Holding a grudge, for any amount of time is certainly not loving.

And it is time that my actions and attitudes be motivated by love.

1 Corinthians 16:14 "Let all that you do be done in love."  I don't see an exception for people who bulldoze over me without thinking, or for difficult "friends" and relatives, or for people in the general public who rub me the wrong way, or for the driver who cut me off in traffic.

The truth is, I only really, truly see my side.  Try as I might, I will only partially understand someone else's perspective.  My understanding is colored by my own opinions, and selfishness.

So, sometimes love means letting the other person "win" without a fight.  And trusting that God will work it out as He sees fit in the end.

Because ultimately, life here on earth is not about being comfortable, but being Christ-like; not happy but holy; not selfish, but self-less.  While all the world howls at us to make ourselves the center of a very small and angry universe, God calls us to something, SomeONE much higher.  And we're to point the way to Him.  If I am so busy fighting for my "rights," no one will see Jesus in me.  And that would be the greatest tragedy of all.

Why I NEED a Laundry Day

Let me start by saying I LOVE home blogs -- ones about home organization, decorating, cleaning; you name it, I love it.  Mostly, I love to live vicariously through women who write much better than I do, and have homes that they decorate with a flair I cannot even imagine.  And their blogs are warm, and funny, and make me feel like I've made a new friend.

I get tips from them all the time.  Some work.  Some don't.

One of the tips that is pretty standard is the "do one load of laundry per day."  The bloggers maintain that if you do one load per day, you'll avoid some variation on Mount Launderest, and you're more likely to be successful.

Or maybe not, if you're me.

I tried this tip for YEARS!!!  And I failed for YEARS.  Seriously.  Years of my life spent desperately trying to make this concept work.  But it wouldn't.  Because I don't work that way.  I am a "project" person.  I need a project.  One with a definite beginning and ending.

And Laundry Day fits that need.  Without a defined day, laundry becomes this never-ending weight on my shoulders.  Instead of feeling like I've done something without really DOING something, I feel like I've done all this work without any noticeable difference.  The laundry is NEVER finished.  It never ends.  And the project becomes almost like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors that must be fed and maintained at all times.  And it depresses me, because laundry is high maintenance.

Laundry Day begins sometime Monday night, once the kids have on their pjs.  By Tuesday afternoon or evening, all of our clothing, towels, and underthings have been washed, dried, and put away.  And it ends.  The hampers are (for a few hours) empty.  And I feel like dancing.  I've done the same amount of work as before, but it ENDED, and I am done for the week.

Instead of trying to deny who I am, and trying to work against it, I work with it, and things are so much better.

How is this a loving thing?  To focus on myself and work my home chores around MY personality?  Isn't that selfish?

Maybe it is a bit selfish.  I have found, though, that if I work within my personality, I am a much more cheerful wife and mama.  I have more to give to my husband and children because I am not weighted by a daily fight against how I was created.  And I am far more likely to include my children in the chores, teaching them how to help if I am relaxed and working in my "strengths" so to speak.  And teaching them how to be adults is a large part of my job as mama.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

If I let my Feelings Lead

I woke up this morning not wanting to do anything.  I mean ANYTHING.  I didn't really even want to get up.  I felt lethargic, and lazy...

Here's the problem with that.  There is absolutely no reason for me to feel this way.  I am not sick.  I'm not expecting.  I'm not sleep-deprived.  I'm not depressed.  I have experienced all but that last one.  I'm just having a "down" day.  We all have them.

If I let my feelings lead my actions, I would totally have curled up on the couch today.

And this is why I love built-in accountability.  You see, today is Laundry Day.  (One day, I will explain our system, and why it works for us.)  And because of the limits I've placed on clothing amounts, that means tomorrow, the girls and I would be sans-clothing if laundry doesn't get done TODAY.

Do you know that there's nothing like DOING something to get over that occasional "I-don't-wanna-do-anything" mood?  I don't want to go out and tackle the world, but I DO want to finish the laundry and do the daily stuff (like cooking, cleaning the kitchen, etc.).  I will be REALLY glad tomorrow when I wake up and the girls and I have clothing.

(I feel the need to add two notes:
1.  My husband would still have clothing, because he is a grown-up, and I don't impose limits on his clothing.  So he has more clothing than the three girls and I do combined.  I refuse to treat, speak, or think of my husband as a child.  One of these days, I'll do a post on that.  Maybe.
2.  I am NOT speaking of depression here.  This is just that "off" day we all have occasionally.  You know the ones.  If you are facing depression, or think you may be -- GET HELP.  From a professional.  One with some letters behind his/her name.)