Saturday, December 18, 2010

Season of Giving

During Christmas it seems that all the charities of the world come together to tap into the Christmas spirit of giving. I think this is a good thing. I like to help my kids see the bigger world and share the blessings we have with Christmas Shoeboxes through Samaritan's Purse. I love to stock up on canned goods when they go on sale in the fall so the boys can raid my pantry for the annual school food drive. I think it is incredibly important to teach my kids about loving our neighbors not only with our words and deeds but with our belongings as well. My boys have a very blessed life and I want them to understand their responsibility to care for those in need.

But I have been struck this year by the amount of need and the lack of funds to meet those needs. Our country got ourselves into a huge pit when we started to live beyond our means as a nation, when we started to redefine what is a need and what is a want. I think we grabbed onto our houses, our cars, our vacations, our kid's new clothes and held tight in order to feel valued, fulfilled or safe. Our priorities shifted and I think somewhere along the way we lost God. Our comfortable lives became our idols, the things we worshipped with our time, our money, our talents.

I have been reading the Old Testament a lot recently because I am way behind on my Bible reading for this year. As I have been rushing to catch up, I found myself spending a lot of time reading the prophets warning the people of Israel of God's impending judgement and discipline. The prophets were crying out for the people to turn from their idols, repent and follow God's law. And the people, who knew the stories of Moses and the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years, who knew the law and all the commands, who were the descendants of those who built the temple and those who served at the temple, these people continued to hold onto their false gods, their idols, their possessions, their own abilities.

Today I read Hosea 12:9 where God tells His people, "I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast." I will again make you dwell in tents. I will again take you into the desert, to the place where you have to trust in me, your God. I will bring you to a place of total loss, to a place where you again, have to trust in me because there is no other hope. I am the Lord your God and I will show you how much you need me.

I am deeply saddened by the pain families are feeling as the economy continues to drag down. I want to help. But I don't want to help support our idols. I don't want to accidently keep people away from God because I jumped to meet a "need" of this world and did not pray, share and meet the greater need of their lives. I want to continue to be obedient to caring for those in need. I want to be generous. But I also want to be wise. I want to help our community find that place where we remember what we really need and what are wants. I want to help people become dependent on God and not slaves to money and what it can do. I want to catch those who are truly falling and not get distracted by those that are standing on the wrong balance beam.

But how? There is no easy answer. I only know that when I pray about a need sometimes my heart hears yes and sometimes it hears no.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reading the Bible - Coming soon the 2011 Edition

So the women at our church, not all of them but a lot more than I thought, are going to be reading through the Bible in 2011. I am really excited to see our big dream coming to fruition. Reading through the Bible with my friends this year has taught me so much and given me a much better understanding of just how big God is. Whenever I open His word, even if I am simply trying to just get the reading done so I am not too far behind, God has met me. I don't always find some deep meaning or word of encouragement or reproach. Often it is more a feeling of peace that comes from reading God's word, from being obedient and allowing whatever words I read that day to wash over me even if I didn't really remember most of what I was reading. I want the women at my church to meet God in His word daily because I know it will change them. It is a good thing.

But in the planning for this big dream, I have been surprised by the opposition we received. I don't think they would think of it as opposition but instead as concern or guidance. Whenever we talked about reading through the Bible we heard, "what are you doing to give background?" Or "what study materials are you using along with the Bible?" It seems that these last few months we have had to convince different groups of people that the Bible is enough. That while having background, knowing the audience and setting of the different books of the Bible, helps us better understand the story, the Bible really does give us all the background we need. The Bible is God's word. Any supplemental material while helpful and for a history lover like me is fun, is not the actual word of God. And I really believe that the word of God is enough.

We are showing some videos that teach about different parts of the Bible. We will be encouraging people to read the book introductions in their study Bibles. But "studying" the Bible was never our intent. Our intention was always to get women to read the Bible, for themselves. Just one woman and God reading the words He gave us. Our hope is that the women will be meeting God in His word daily. Because when we show up, God shows up.

So staring January 1st I will be again reading the Bible in one year. This time chronologically which I am really excited to do. I would love to take the time to figure it all out myself, but why reinvent the wheel when a great resource has already done it for me. Here is the link to the schedule we will be using. Would you like to join me?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's been a while...

So it has been a while since I last posted. I really feel like I have not had much to say. But I am thinking it has a lot less to do with not having anything to say and a lot more to do with my hermit habits.

I love the idea of writing down my thoughts and usually I love to share my thoughts with everyone as well. I have a habit of rambling on and on and have found this blog a helpful place to ramble without wearing out my husband or friends. But every so often, usually when I am feeling exposed or overwhelmed I go into hermit mode. I want to crawl under the covers and stay in my own house all day long. I want to climb back into my cave. That is where I am right now.

And yet, I want to keep this blog going because I know I will someday have something I really want to write. Actually there are a few things turning in my head, things that I probably need to write in order to process, and yet in hermit mode, I don't really want to expose myself to my friends who read this blog. Strangers - sure read my blog and my deepest thoughts. But people I know... I am not sure I am ready for you to know what I fear in life or what hurts me.

While thinking of writing, I hear the responses I think my friends would have. In the past I have found myself editing to the expectations of those around me, even without them ever knowing. But right now, in hermit mode, I cannot even begin to open up. Both because I am not sure what people would think but also because I am not sure I want to open myself up to other people's opinions. Interacting with the world means that I am open to criticism or suggestion. Spending time with people and sharing my life means that my heart can be hurt and my expectations shattered. Some days, some weeks, some months it is easier to withdraw.

But even when I don't feel like writing, I keep hearing that voice in my head telling me to sit down and write. I keep ignoring it lately. I find other things to do. Because if I sit down and actually write, I may let out more than I am comfortable. I may write something that a friend disagrees with. I may allow people I actually know more into my mind than they or I want. I don't mind not being perfect but I am not sure I want the people around me to know how seriously flawed I am. I really don't want to open the door to the possibility that I don't have it under control or know what I am doing. And most importantly I don't want to discover that normal, all that I ever wanted to be in life, really doesn't exist.

Look at that. I just wrote a whole blog post without having to actually dig into the meat of what is on my mind. I may be a rule follower but I am also good at avoidance techniques apparently.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hockey Boy

Hockey Boy used to be really outgoing. He was always the first to join a game or make a friend at the park. But over this last year, I have seen him pulling back, going into a shell of sorts. He has become incredibly shy. In August when we went to Supply Night at his school he wouldn't look his teacher in the eye at first. And this was the same exact, wonderful teacher he had last year. Many of his classmates are the same including his best buddy but he does not want to have to talk in front of the room anymore. He is terrified of everyone looking at him. It has been so hard to watch my social, outgoing, smart little boy become so quiet and withdrawn.

I really noticed it on the ice a few weeks ago. My tough, tenacious Hockey Boy was not going after the puck as much. He was not jumping back into line on drills so he could go again. He was shrinking. His equipment was bothering him more and he was not hanging out with his teammates as much. It was one thing to have him being shy in class but to see him slipping away on the ice where he has always felt so at home and been so happy was really hard. I was not seeing the Hockey Boy I know. He was becoming timid and timid does not work in hockey. But what do we do? How as parents could we help him? I really did not know.

And then I came across 2 Timothy 1:7 which says, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." Hockey Boy was not given a timid spirit. He was not born that way. It was something he was learning as he interacted with the world. As he is becoming more aware of the people around him, as he is learning that people do judge each other, and that life is full of competition and standards, he seemed to disengage a bit. Not only is that not what God wants for him, but that is not who Hockey Boy is. He is a smart, hard working, really competitive little guy. He wants to win. He wants to do things perfectly. He wants to be involved.

So I sat him down a few weeks ago and told him the verse. I didn't say much beyond the actual verse but his eyes seem to light up a bit when I said it. "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." That was what he needed to hear. He was not made to be timid. Hockey Boy was made by God to be powerful, loving and disciplined. What a great verse for him to hold in his heart and mind.

He is still shy. He is still struggling at times. I know it is part of growing up for him but it makes my heart break a little. We have been working on eye contact and talking to his teacher. He is doing better at ordering his own food in restaurants and looking his coaches in the eye when he says thank you. He is starting to talk a bit more in class. And this weekend, after I reminded him again of the verse, he went out and played a tough, aggressive hockey game against much bigger boys. He had a huge smile on his face and didn't let anyone get in his way. It was awesome to see Hockey Boy being who he was made to be.

I love finding Bible verses that seem written for one of my kids. Have you found a great verse for your kid that you can share with me? I am always needing more!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Holidays... Or the Great Race to the New Year

At our house, once Halloween hits it feels like we are on a great holiday race to the new year. We start with Halloween, then it is Little One's birthday, Thanksgiving, Hockey Boy's birthday, Christmas and finally New Year's Eve which the boys and I celebrate alone because my husband has to work late into the night. You add in all the school events, hockey tournaments, special holiday concerts and Christmas parties and the calendar on my phone is all lit up with color. There are so many fun things and special moments which I love, love, love but for a homebody who likes to stay indoors reading and enjoying quiet afternoons while Little One naps it can be a bit overwhelming with all the busyness.

I normally love all things Christmas and cannot wait to pull out the Christmas decorations and holiday playlists. I am the one cheering when Target brings out the Christmas decor the day after Halloween. But this year, I am not ordering an eggnog latte at Starbucks as often as I normally would. When I turned on the radio and heard the Christmas music start the day after Thanksgiving I turned it off. It felt way too soon. I was still enjoying Thanksgiving. I was still reveling in the fact that Little One is four now. I was, and am not ready, for December.

I love Christmas. But I don't enjoy all the rush. I don't like feeling like I am in a competition for the last Bakugan Dragonoid. I love the cookies and smell of the Christmas tree. But this year I am not willing to traipse all over the tree farm looking for the perfect tree. We just don't have the time anymore. Our schedules are busier each year and more importantly I think, I am figuring out what is really important to my family.

I used to try to create the perfect holiday, straight from the movies. But over the years I am finding that my family likes different traditions. They love watching holiday shows together on the couch in our pjs. Prep and Landing was our favorite last year. They don't enjoy posing for the family Christmas card. And with Facebook it is hard to get motivated to actually take a picture, buy the cards, address them and buy Christmas stamps. I used to love to read everyone's Christmas letters but now I have been updating throughout the year so I am not sure if anyone needs a recap of our 2010.

My boys love driving around and looking at Christmas lights on all the houses. So outside lights and blowups are very important to them. My husband has taken on the task of creating a great outdoor display, making sure to get the lights up early for all the other families out there to enjoy as well as our own. Yesterday as we drove toward our house, Middle Man declared our house "the most beautiful house ever." For my family, the Christmas decor budget is much better spent on the outside. I did buy a Lego Christmas building this year. It will be fun to put together as a family and is more our style than a gingerbread house. Less messy too!

Just writing this, I am getting more in the Christmas spirit. But this year, I am going to focus on what makes Christmas special for our family. I think it is time to start enjoying the eggnog lattes. And cookies. Yummy, yummy cookies. Time to check out every Christmas book at the library to read together. Oh and did I mention the Christmas Mint M&Ms? My absolute favorite. I am hoarding them.

What are your family's favorite Christmas traditions?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Trying to Help Sometimes Gets You in Trouble

Last week, my husband was packing for a trip. He was out of brown socks and he decided to be helpful. He put some dirty clothes in a basket, went to the laundry room, moved the clean clothes from the dryer to a basket, moved the wet clothes to the dryer and put the dirty clothes in the washer. He started all the machines and brought the basket of clean clothes back to our bedroom. This would have been in incredibly helpful if I wasn't all ready for bed. But I was. I was in my pajamas all ready to climb into bed and now there was a basket of clean clothes that needed to be folded and put away.

I could have ignored the basket and waited for the morning, except there was already a basket of clean sheets waiting to be folded sitting on the chair. And for some reason, in my mind, I cannot have two baskets of clean clothes needing to be folded. It used to be that I could not have any baskets of unfolded clean clothes lying around or I could not sleep but my standards have dropped over the years and the many, many loads of laundry that come with a family of 5. I am lowering my standards all over the house and we are in serious danger of becoming a pig sty. So I could not ignore the fact that there were now, not one, but two baskets of laundry needing to be folded. So I now had to fold the clothes. There was a rule that must be followed. And since I was folding the one basket, I had to fold the other basket as well.

I was a bit annoyed at my husband. How did he not understand that by starting a load of laundry he was creating more work for me in that moment? How insensitive of him to make more work for me because he wanted brown socks? And right before he left on a trip. Not to mention the fact that I had spent a lot of time getting all the laundry done a few days before. I was also really frustrated because by starting the load of laundry he was of course telling me that I was not doing a good job. Right? That was what he was saying by trying to help. If he has to start laundry I must need help. I must be falling behind on my job.

Marriage is full of landmines. We were all set to have a peaceful night. And then my husband started a load of laundry. All because of the brown socks he couldn't find. Poor guy had no idea that his wife would take such a kind gesture and turn it into a judgment of her housekeeping skills. I am sure if he had he would have been happy to wear the grey socks in his drawer.

The grey socks right next to the brown socks which were in his sock drawer the whole time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How much?

We have been studying stewardship the last couple of weeks in our women's Bible study at church. What an uncomfortable topic for small groups. We are all so open and wiling to share our struggles and successes in prayer or service but let's not talk about money. But stewardship and giving are such a huge part of how we love and serve God. So we persevered and talked about tithing. We talked about percentages, gross or net giving and whether we have to give it all to the church or can we divide our tithes some for the church and some for other christian ministries. We talked about how we can find money in our budgets and our daily spending that we could give.

I am a big believer in tithing. I have been tithing since I was a child. My parents taught us to give 10% of any money we received to God. This was not really hard when my allowance was $2.00 and my tithe was .20. You can't buy anything with that little money. Even when I started making some money babysitting my tithe from a night was usually less than a dollar. It was not really much of a sacrifice in my mind. But it was good training. Because there came a point when the tithing started to be "real" money in my eyes. My grandfather gave us $100 Christmas checks one year. That was A LOT of money. 10% of a $100 was A LOT of money. But I gave my $10 willingly because it was what I was taught and I am so glad my parents taught me at such a young age the principle of tithing because the checks now are much bigger. And the blessings, the trust in God's provision, the joy of sharing our blessings with others is also so much bigger. We have always tithed and God has always provided. I don't doubt the connection between our trusting God with our tithe and Him blessing us beyond our needs.

I believe in tithing. But my discussions of stewardship and tithing often get caught up in the details which is so sad because God is not found in the details. He is found in our hearts and our obedience to what He is asking of us. This week in our study we read 2 Corinthians 9:6 - 8 which says,
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
I was struck by the phrase, "each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give". Paul does not write we should look at our checkbooks or calculate our tenths. He says we should give what we decided in our hearts, not our minds, to give.

So many people I know were not raised to tithe. They were never taught the joy of giving and trusting God. They have never experienced writing a tithe check that they knew they couldn't afford, only to have another surprise refund or pay increase appear. For so many tithing is big and scary and impossible. How can we give a tenth of our income? Budgets are tight and house payments have to be made. The tenth is the detail. But when we pray, when we seek God's guidance, what does He put on our hearts to give? That is what God is asking of us. He wants us to take the baby steps of trusting Him with our money, trusting Him to take care of our needs. He wants us to be obedient to what He has put on our hearts.

God doesn't need our money. He wants our hearts, our minds, our bodies - all that we are. Our money, while able to do amazing work spreading God's love and word throughout the world, is an extension of our lives. How we give is an extension of our hearts. Is your heart prompting you to give? Are you listening? Is there a baby step you can take this week?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lies Parents Tell Kids

My kids have taught me a lot of things but one of the most disturbing and yet handy is my improving skill at lying. I know that at the same time that I am teaching my kids to be honest and tell the truth, I am also actively engaged in the art of deception. Here are a few of my favorite lies parents tell kids:

- "If you don't brush your teeth they will fall out." My husband told our boys this when he was little which resulted in Hockey Boy being terrified of going to bed without brushing his teeth. So no matter how late it was or where the toothbrush might be packed, we had to find it and let Hockey Boy brush his teeth. This lie while handy at first came back to bite us in the end, though still to Hockey Boy's benefit I guess.

- "Monsters are not real." My boys loved the movie Monsters, Inc. and they were convinced for years that the monsters only lived at the ride at Disneyland. Now we are telling them monsters don't exist but the truth is the world is full of monsters, evil people who hurt people for no reason. But we keep telling the boys that monsters are fiction because we just don't want them to be scared.

- "Your little brother is going to be bigger than you when he grows up because he eats all his healthy food." We tell this lie to Hockey Boy all the time to try to get him to eat his fruits, vegetables and even pizza. It doesn't really work as much as I would have thought considering how competitive Hockey Boy is. The truth is that Little One will probably be the tallest of the three simply because of his DNA. He was taller on his 3rd birthday than the other two boys were when they turned 4.

- "I'm working!" For some reasons the boys understand the concept that working is important and shouldn't be interrupted. So sometimes when I really want to get something done on the computer, or even when I just want a few more minutes to read blogs or Facebook, I will tell Little One that I am working when really I am just procrastinating a little longer.

- "You won't get hurt." A lie I often tell any one of the boys when they get nervous about doing something new that they deem dangerous. I think when Middle Man broke his arm ice skating I was caught on this one but I now have him convinced that it was a fluke and that he won't break any more bones playing hockey. Hopefully not another lie.

- And my favorite lie, "Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus." I have never actually used those words but we talk about Santa like he is real. My husband and I both mention Santa not liking some boy's behavior or the naughty and nice list over and over again starting right after Halloween. We even have an elf named George who visits our house in December. Each night he magically flies back to the North Pole, reports all he saw to Santa, and returns before dawn the next morning sitting in a different spot than the day before. "I have no idea how he gets to the spot."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lies Parents Tell Parents to Be... A Sin of Omission

I was recently thinking about all the lies parents tell soon to be parents, or adults who might be even considering being parents, or new parents. Some are lies. Most are sins of omission, things we don't share until you are a part of the club. Then we will talk about it at length, over dinner.

Things like the lack of sleep. We talk about it and try to prepare pregnant mommies for the lack of sleep when the baby is a newborn but I don't remember anyone telling me that it would be months of middle of the night feedings, followed by years of bad dreams, middle of the night coughing fits, and morning kids who like to wake up with the sun. It feels like they are taking turns through the years. One finally outgrows the bad dreams and then another gets sick. I am exhausted.

Beyond the exhaustion, there is the saying "it never gets any easier." I heard this a lot when my kids were babies from women with older kids. These same women would tell the exhausted, overwhelmed and brain fuzzy me that I should enjoy every moment because it goes by in the blink of an eye. I was so thankful when I heard someone say, "the days last forever but the years fly by" because it made sense and I no longer wondered why all those women were romanticizing the hardest days of my life. I look at Little One now who is turning 4 next week and am amazed that he is so big. That he is no longer my baby. For me though, it has gotten so, so much easier. My kids are still full of challenges which feel bigger and way more out of my control which is hard, but they are also so much easier. They get themselves dressed, go to the bathroom alone, feed themselves and can play for long periods of time without me having to worry about choking or electrocution. There are school conferences and crazy sports schedules along with 7 year old tantrums and meanness. They keep changing on me. But each day they each become more capable, more independent and more responsible for their own lives which is the point of parenting I think.

My favorite sin of omission is the one that keeps parents to be from ever knowing the horrors they will endure at the hands of their children. The deep panic you feel when you can't see your child in the store. The pain in your heart when your child is the victim of someone being mean. Or the deepest, darkest secret of them all, the fact that you will eventually willingly catch vomit in your hands to keep it off the carpet.

We don't tell parents to be most of the hard parts of having kids. I don't know if that is because we don't want to scare them off or because we forget those parts, the ugly, hard parts when we hold the hand of our little one as we walk across the street or get a big toothless smile when they walk in the door from school. I think parenting is a lot like childbirth, the moment the baby is born we forget the pain.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I want my mommy!

There are days in my life when I want my mommy. Days when I want to call up my mommy and have her listen to me whine without trying to fix anything. Days when I am just not in a good mood and want someone to make it a little bit better by loving on me. Days when nothing has really gone wrong but I still feel sad. Days when my feelings have been hurt or my kids are not as cute as they can be. Days when I need someone I can trust not to spread the gossip but wants to listen to me vent. Friends are great but there is a safety that comes with your mommy that cannot be replicated.

Today is one of those days. I want my Mommy. For no particular reason except I am feeling a little low and would love someone to tell me how wonderful I am and how much they love me. I want to pick up the phone and call my mommy but not the mom I actually have because that brings a lot of complications and dysfunction that really doesn't make me feel better. I want the mommy I dreamed of as a little girl. I want the mommy who listens without judgment, loves without expectation and cheers without competing.

I see mother and daughter relationships all around me. Some are complicated like my own but some are actually healthy, loving and caring bonds that grow strong and deeper over time. I know daughters who lost their mothers and mothers who lost their daughters. There is no perfect relationship except on Nick at Night reruns. But there is a vast gully of pain and heartache between the healthy ones and the damaged ones.

Today I want my mommy. And it makes me very, very sad that I don't.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I'm In the Shower!

"I'm in the shower" is a phrase often heard shouted in the morning at our house. It seems that everything becomes vitally important as soon as I start shampooing my hair. I don't understand why the kids suddenly need something, anything, as soon as I get in the shower. You would think by now I would know what to expect and yet every morning I am surprised by the spilled milk that is dripping onto the floor or the missing clean socks that must be found while I am in the middle of rinsing the soap out of my eyes. There are also an amazing number of accidents requiring bandaids when I am sopping wet and naked.

On those few mornings when I am not interrupted while showering, I come out of my room and find wonderful fort creations using every couch cushion and sheets off all their beds. I have also come downstairs to find all the cereal boxes dumped all over the floor though that was years ago. But the scars of remain. Oh and there was the one time when one of my boys decided to throw a book at the nice, fancy tv and break it.

I keep waiting for the day when I can shower in peace again. When the kids were babies I loved the few minutes of peace and quiet I got in the shower. It was my refuge for the day. Now though, showering is very risky behavior. I never know who might sever a finger or decide to climb onto the roof during a game of hide and seek.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What are you?

Yesterday at church I was sitting near the front. A place I am often found first because if I am up front, I am less distracted by my friends and the people around me. Also because there are always seats up front when I come in late. During the greeting part, my pastor came up to me, since I was up front, and asked me, "what are you?" Since it was Halloween I thought he meant what was my costume going to be.

Turns out he was asking what am I? As in what is the core of who I am. Since I was not expecting such a deep question I floundered for a second and the went with the obvious. "I'm a follower of Jesus," I said. Immediately after the words were out of my mouth, actually as the words were forming on my tongue, they felt false. I knew in that moment that while the "correct" answer might be that I am a follower of Christ, it was not really true. It is not the essence of my being or the deepest definition of who I am.

I may want to be a follower of Jesus but my life is evidence to the fact that I am not most of the time. I want to claim being sold out for Christ but I like comfort, warmth and safety a little too much. My every action shows me really shows me being a follower of Jesus only a percentage of the time.

But even more than my actions giving me away, the truth is that my identity is based not on my actions but on my being. Not on what I do but who I am. And to that question I answer confidently and gratefully that I am a child of God, loved and redeemed. That is the very essence of my identity. Being a Jesus follower is something I try to do because He first loved me. But I am first and foremost a child of God, living in the grace He has extended to me.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I love my kids but...

Both my husband and I have a sibling that is married but does not have kids. Both these couples made a choice at some point in their marriages, years ago, to not have kids. For both these couples it was a choice not a result of infertility. It is a choice I can really understand.

I love my kids but they are wearing me out. They are not doing anything unusual, just being normal kids, but I am feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed all at the same time.

I love my kids but there are days when I wish I could be the old me, the before kids me, that slept in and hung out at coffee shops with my husband.

I love my kids but somedays I just want to hop on a plane to London and run away from it all for a week or two. Not forever because I know I would miss them but I would love to actually miss them because I was not with them all the time.

I love my kids but I don't know that I like the mirror effect they have reflecting all the yucky parts of me right back at me. Before kids, I could live in a bubble where I was a basically good human being. When things outside myself got hard or yucky, I could hide out in myself, in my house and avoid the rest of the world. I can't do that anymore because they follow me into the house. They follow me into my bathroom if I forget to close all the doors in my bedroom. I cannot avoid the uncomfortable parts of life or myself anymore because I have walking mirrors following me everywhere I go. They are awfully cute mirrors but I don't always look so cute when I see myself responding to the kids and reflected in their eyes. My kids bring out the best and worst in me me. They show my great capacity to sacrifice myself for my kids and also my incredibly short fuse and pettiness when I have to do something I don't want to do because they need me.

I love my kids but I hate not being in control of everything. Before kids I felt like I could manage my life, I could control my life and my reactions to my circumstances. With three little one's interacting with the world away from me, I am finding that I cannot control things. I cannot control my kids and I cannot control how the world treats my kids. And I don't like that feeling. I don't like my heart breaking for my boys when they get hurt or feeling the depression set in when one is not doing well at school. I don't like how much my emotions and my mood are tied to my kids' lives. I didn't think I would be one of those moms who lives vicariously through her kids. And while I don't think I do that, I do think that my life is partly lived in response to my kids' lives. I am connected to these kids that is not always comfortable.

I am tied to someone else, three someone else's in a way that is both magical and difficult for someone like me. I was a lone ranger. I didn't need anyone. I was doing life on my own even when I was first married, I was still not dependent. Now though, these kids have tied their hearts to mine in a way that is at times really painful because I can no longer deny my emotions or avoid feeling anything.

I love my kids but I don't like seeing my weakness, my faults, my dependency in them. I know my kids have changed me into a better person. It is good but I don't always like the process.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Part 2, My Champion

Gender roles are a challenge facing the modern church. Women preaching? Women elders? What is the role of women in the church? In marriage? Most of the conversations focus on the role of women, though that could be because I am a woman so the conversations I am in are usually within that context. No one has asked me what I thought the role of men should be. Well until recently.

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a pastor that somehow drifted into gender roles. I was prepared for the usual discussion. But then he surprised me and moved quickly over Ephesians 5:22 - 24 and instead moved down to the next few verses,
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself."
Ephesians 5:25-28

Then he asked me what I thought that meant. I had to stop my mind preparing to debate women's roles and really think about the passage. What did it mean? What is the role of husbands supposed to be in marriage? What is the role of my husband? I read the passage again and the word that came to mind was that my husband is my champion.

"Like a cheerleader?" asked the pastor. No definitely not a cheerleader. I was a cheerleader in high school. I loved it. I liked the uniform. I enjoyed the practices, hanging out with my friends and practicing our routines. I loved encouraging the athletes during their games and cheering when they had a big play but that was the extent of my role in the game and the team's life. I was not a partner.

I think that a husband is meant to be a champion for his wife. A person who wants the best for me even if it involves challenging me to be better. Champions encourage the positive and work to soften and change the weaknesses. Champions tell you the truth even when it might hurt but they do so in real love, not the fake "friend" wanting to get back at you with the truth kind of "love". Champions help edit your life into a better story. And as godly husbands, our champions point us to God through it all.

My husband is my champion. He loves me. He makes choices that are evidence of that love. He goes to work every day to provide for me and our boys even when the job he has is demoralizing and frustrating. He still goes. My husband encourages me in my faith, making sure I get up on those Sunday mornings when I want to be lazy or spending a Saturday afternoon with the boys so I can go off to Starbucks to read and study the Bible. My husband is generous with our resources and helps me be more generous, an area that needs work in my heart. He is the ying to my yang in so many ways that challenge me to be better than I am.

My husband supports me using my gifts to serve God even when it involves him having to leave work early so I can go teach a Bible study. He is willing to work hard to pay the bills so I can serve at our church without having to worry about making money. When I was starting this blog and unsure if writing was something I should do, he bought me a domain name because he believes in my writing, even though he doesn't read it. He still believes in me without me having to prove myself.

My husband gives me a safe place to share my doubts about God and my frustrations that would turn to gossip with anyone else. He is upstanding, steadfast and even tempered giving me a better understanding of those qualities in God that I desperately need. He is so unlike me and yet we are made to fit together. I love him dearly even when I am frustrated because he is not doing things my way. I want to be worthy of my husband's love which encourages me to be a better person. Most of all, as my champion, my husband gives me the space to be the person God made me to be, not the wife he envisioned.

Hopefully we are each other's champions. Though I can see that women because of our give everything to other's, people pleasing and chaotic nature, may be needing a strong champion.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wives Submit to Your Husbands, Part I

I have been in a lot of conversations over the years about gender roles in marriage. This is part 1 of my thoughts, the part that we all talk about.
Within the church there is a lot of talk about "wives submit to your husbands" from Ephesians 5. Men as the spiritual leader of the family is a phrase thrown around a lot, especially as it relates to how women are to relate to their husbands. What I find interesting when talking to people about men as the spiritual leader of the family is that they point to Ephesians 5:22 - 24, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." This is the passage we always discuss when talking about gender roles in marriage within the church.

And before you start to wonder where I stand on this issue, know that my husband and I both believe that we are to submit to the Lord and when we submit to the Lord, we are honoring one another and pleasing God. I know that sounds like I don't believe in submission to my husband, but before you judge me look at my track record. I have moved over a dozen times since being married to my husband with almost all of those moves for his job. I have been pregnant overseas twice so he could follow his dream job. I became a hockey fan. I care about Michigan football. I no longer sleep in on a Sunday morning. I am conscious of our spending and have worked hard to build up an emergency savings account. All of these things I did not care about but were important to my husband.

Often when we are faced with a decision and we disagree, we go with the one that cares more or knows more. I make most education decisions, my husband makes long term investment decisions. When I have been wrong, he kindly reminds me the next time I go to the make the same mistake. And I still give him grief about not buying Apple stock when I wanted to years and years ago when I got my first iPod. When we come to an impasse, instead of just saying the tie goes to the husband, we both agree to pray about it more. To give God time to work on each of our hearts so that we can come to a united decision based on what God wants, not what each of us wants. It took months of patience on my husband's part and prayer and God working on my heart to get me to be willing to move to Puerto Rico. But we allow each other the time. And so far, thirteen years in, it has worked for us.

As I write this there is a huge part of me, raised in a family where "the man was the leader of the family" that makes me want to explain that my husband does not believe that he is the singular leader of our family. I want to tell you that my husband believes that over the years, our faith and spiritual maturity will ebb and flow. Sometimes he will be the one driving sometimes I will be. I want to prove that I am submitting to my husband's more egalitarian view of spiritual leadership, thus absolving me of any wrong doing. Because while I do believe that we are supposed to work together to both lead and grow ourselves and our family toward God there is huge part of me that is glad I can still blame my husband for this view and thus be "submitting" to him.

See notice how in that last paragraph, I was able to somehow shift the decision making to my husband and thus make him responsible for any wrong decisions we make. By making my husband the spiritual leader of our family, I can blame him when we don't prioritize church, reading the Bible or prayer. By making my husband the leader of our family I can absolve myself of my responsibility to personally grow closer to God, disciple my kids or help my husband in his walk with God.

This is a complicated issue that the church has simplified to the point of dismissing the partnership that God created when He made Adam and Eve. I know it is a complicated issue. I also know that I respect my husband. I love my husband. And if he needed me to give myself up for him, I would.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Prayer Works

So somewhere in the journey of learning and preparing to teach about prayer, I asked for prayer. It should not have been a step of faith for me. It should have been an obvious, natural request for prayer as I was getting ready to teach God's word. But for me it was a step of faith. A risk worth taking because everything I was learning told me that prayer changes things, that the prayers of His children have power. So I asked those that read my blog to pray for me.

I have to say now that my little experiment proved to me that prayer works. I know that some of you were praying for me as I prepared to teach the women's Bible study at my church. Beyond this blog, I know that my friends and fellow teachers were praying for me as I prepared and taught for two weeks. And I felt those prayers. I found time to get the work done. I felt peace when nerves should have been making it hard for me to sit or sleep the night before.

But beyond the regular wisdom, guidance and peace I needed when preparing and teaching, I was protected. It is a long, complicated story involving my parents and a long, difficult relationship that has fallen apart over the years. After years and years of talking, praying and trying to make things "all right" I had come to a place where I was able to forgive, extend grace and move on. I had thought we had come to a place where we could be. I thought things were fine, or as fine as they could be with the characters involved.

And then on the Saturday between the two weeks I was teaching, I got an email from my dad letting me know that my parents were separating, again, and probably for the last time. This should have rocked me a bit because they have been married for 40 years, though I was unfortunately not surprised since they also separated and reunited a couple of years ago. This is how my family works it seems. There is always some drama or crisis. And it usually happens just as I am needing to focus on something important in my own life. Somehow, and this is where I see the prayers of God's people really working in my life, I was not thrown off by the news. I was able to hear the news without being distracted by it. God protected my heart and my mind so I could do stay focused on the task at hand, preparing and teaching amazing women about prayer. God protected me through that week. The prayers of His people held me up and created a place of safety for me.

It was not until I was in my car after teaching my last session that the tears began to flow. I was in a safe place. I had the time to deal with the pain of my parent's marriage breaking. I hate the fact that after 40 years of marriage they are separating. It is scary for lots of reasons. Lots and lots of reasons. I hate doubting my husband when he has never done anything to deserve the doubt. I hate worrying about them and their futures. I spent an entire childhood worrying about my parents and trying to take care of things. I hate the awkwardness it brings to my life if I choose to include them in family activities. Thankfully we have had to be really protective of the kids with my parents because of some things that have happened over the last few years so I don't know when the kids will even begin to realize that my parents are separated. It is not something I plan to talk to the kids about any time soon. But when we do eventually talk about it I don't know what that will do to their idea of marriage to know that after 40 years people can still be in danger of splitting up. Will they worry about their Dad and I? Will I worry about it?

So I have been processing this information slowly over the last few weeks. Releasing the anger or more truthfully venting the anger to those I trust. Prayerfully deciding how my family, my husband, the boys and I, will relate to my parents. Trying to pray for them, through the anger, frustration and hurt. I am feeling the hurt and realizing that it is not my story even though it is my family's story. This has been a long journey with them but I am a grown up now and I can decide how I want to deal with their actions. I can write my own story.

What keeps coming to my mind ever since first hearing the news is that prayer works. I don't know how. But I needed prayer even more than I realized when I asked for people to pray for me. They prayed. And I was protected when I needed to be. So thank you if you were one of the people that prayed for me. What an amazing gift you gave me with your prayers. God is big. God is good. He does not need us. And yet He invites us to participate with Him through our prayers.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Prayer - Complaining

This is the last post from my Bible Study teaching on prayer and it is the most shocking. It will sound heretical at first but truly you will find this type of prayer all over the Bible. I would build up the suspense more but I think the post title sort of gave it away.

In our world, our country and our culture, we are supposed to be optimistic hard workers who never complain. We are not supposed to moan to God or complain about our circumstances. At least that is what we have been taught. I am certainly teaching my boys not to whine about things they cannot change and definitely not to whine about things they can. Just do it is the motto of our society. If you don't like it, don't complain about it, change it. As JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom teach in their book "Praying; Finding our Way Through Duty to Delight" complaining is meant to be part of our prayers.

When we look through the prayers of the Bible, we see complaints throughout.
But I call to God,
and the LORD will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice.
Psalm 55:16-17

Job, a man so faithful that God allowed Satan to test him, had every reason to complain before God. And he did. Chapter 10 of Job is full of his complaints.

I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint.
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul...

Does it seem good to you to oppress,
to despise the work of your hands
and favor the designs of the wicked?...

Your hands fashioned and made me;
and now you have destroyed me altogether.

Why did you bring me out of the womb?...

Packer and Nystrom write, "Is this the same Job that God described to Satan as "my servant, ... a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil" (Job 1:8). Yes, but this is Job distraught by grief and human pain, goaded to despair by his well meaning friends, speaking his words of complaint to the safest possible source: God."

We have very real hurts and frustrations. Very real pain and complaint. Moaning and yes, even whining, that we need to take before God because we cannot be real with God if we hide our pain from Him. We cannot be real if we hide our frustrations. We cannot be real if we hide our hurts, even the ones we think He caused us. The safest place to take our complaints is God. He has our best interests in mind. He will not lead us astray. He will hold us tight when we turn to Him.

Job cried out to God asking for answers. Read Job 38 - 42 when you have a minute. It is powerful stuff. It is God's answer to Job. My favorite part is when God asks, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations?" Those four chapters remind me every time I read them that God is God. He is the creator and I am His creation. But it also shows me that God listens to His children's complaints and hears us.

"Those who have read the end of Job's book will know that God did indeed meet with Job as Job had invited him to do. But explanations are lacking even then; God does not need to explain. Still, he responded to Job's complaing - and Job was content." (Packer & Nystrom)

That is it. This is the end of my prayer series I taught at Bible study at my church. Now back to our previously scheduled programming.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prayer - Brooding

I highly recommend reading JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom's book "Praying: Finding our Way Through Duty to Delight". There are so many great insights and takeaways in that book. One of my favorites is the idea of brooding as a part of your prayer life. Brooding seems like a negative waste of time, as we think and think and think about a problem from every angle. We all do this, but Packer and Nystrom introduce the idea of Christian brooding where we combine our brooding tendencies with meditation which I wrote about here.

One way I like to include God in my brooding is to meditate on God's word. I have been reading through the Bible this year and so many times whatever problem or question I had floating in my mind was answered through that day or week's reading. When I pray as I read God's word, my mind and heart are shifting, moving closer to God's. Paul Miller in his book, "A Praying Life" wrote, "By praying slowly through a portion of scripture, I was allowing Scripture to shape my prayers.” Also when I am in doubt about what to pray or how to pray for a friend, I like to pray the prayers of scripture. When in doubt, brood on this list of prayers that were in the Bible study guide I provided for the women at our church:

- Romans 15:30 – 33

- 2 Corinthians 12:7 – 10

- Ephesians 1:15 – 23

- Ephesians 3:12 - 21

- Philippians 1:2-11

- Colossians 1:9 – 14

- 2 Thessalonians 1:11 – 12

Meditating on God's works is another way that Packer and Nystrom say we can engage in Christian brooding. Psalm 77:11 – 12 says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.” We can glorify God in our prayers by spending time, remembering what God has done historically. When I think about how amazing the works of God were in the Old Testament, the redemption plan of Jesus, and how God has worked in my own personal life I am amazing by the goodness of God. He has loved me from the beginning. He placed me in a family that took me to church. He lead Mrs. Wybenga to be a Sunday School teacher for my class when I was in third and fourth grade. God held me close, using His family to teach me through youth group and small group Bible studies. God led me to the Christian college I attended where I became my own person and found me own faith. My life is full of markers that point to God's love for me, to His plan for my life, and His saving grace.

What markers do you have that you can hold onto?
o The family you were born into?
o Who you met that shared Jesus with you?
o The people God brought into your life - Sunday School teachers, college roommates, spouses and friends?
o The times when circumstances fell so perfectly into place you know God was working?

I wish I had taken the time to write down each marker as it happened because I think I forget about God's hand at work in my life the farther I get from the event. I can imagine that a list of God's fingerprints on a big step of faith would provide great comfort and assurance when my world started rocking a bit like it does after a big step of faith.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Prayer - Group Prayer

I have had experiences with prayer requests and group prayer that left me wondering if we were even talking to a real, living God. I have also been in the room when I was overwhelmed by the presence of God and the prayers of His people around me. I have had the privilege of being there when someone said their very first prayer out loud in a room with other women. What a scary step of obedience that is the first time. I have had a lot of practice praying out loud in front of a room. I went to a Christian college and I think it is part of the curriculum. You can't graduate without being willing to lead the group in prayer or at the very least pray when it is your turn in the prayer circle.

Since then though group pray is one of the areas where I most struggle to follow the Bible's teachings. I have always been pretty authentic in my own pray time. It is easier for me to be truthful with God because He already knows it all. There is no place to hide. But group prayer is a whole other story. Saying, out loud, my prayer requests makes them both real and also makes me aware of how off base my requests might be. I don't want to sound silly, whiny, or needy. I don't want to sound selfish. I don't want to be judged for my request or feel bad that my request seems trivial next to someone who is struggling with something real. I also don't know what to do when someone asks for something that I am not sure is really God's will. It is hard. And yet, we are taught by the example of Jesus and the early church that group prayer was part of their community life, part of their worship and ministry. So when trying to figure out how to pray as a community, let's look at Acts 4:23 - 30:
When the church heard that their leaders Peter and John had been arrested and told to stop preaching they prayed. On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“ ‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord and against his Anointed One. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

Peter and John had been arrested and told to stop preaching the Good News of Jesus which they were commanded to do by Jesus himself. In Matthew 28:19 - 20a, Jesus tells the disciples, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." There was no doubt about the will of God. They were to preach the gospel to all the nations. So they prayed. And here I think is the lesson for me. Their prayer was not "Lord, consider their threats and protect us so we can preach." or "Lord, considering their threats, give us safe passage so we can teach people about you." No, their prayer was something much greater. They prayed, "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness."

Not protect us. Not prayers for safety or vindication.

They prayed that they would be able to do speak with boldness.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Prayer - Persevering

When we pray, when we ask our Father in heaven to give us the desires of our hearts, we want answers. I am not by nature a patient person especially about the unknown. I would rather hear the answer No than be left waiting. I am often quick to jump to the conclusion that no answer means NO. Sometimes though when no answer comes it means we need to continue to pray. We need to engage in the work of persevering prayer.

I am not good at persevering in prayer. All the books I read on prayer hit on the topic of persevering prayer and when all the books I read point to an area of weakness in my life, I think it is wise for me to pay attention. Each of the books explained the important work of continuing to lift up our requests over and over again to the Lord. I think this was a new concept to me. Partly because I love being efficient and partly because I don't like to seem needy, asking over and over again for something that I really think God wants to give me seems almost rude.

I started thinking about persevering prayer a few months ago which I wrote about here. I loved what Andrew Murray wrote in "With Christ in the School of Prayer". "O what a deep heavenly mystery this is of perseverance prayer. The God who promised, who longs, whose fixed purpose it is to give the blessing, holds it back." What a great quote. God loves us. God wants to bless us. And yet he holds back. He waits. This feels like torture at times, but knowing that God is good (all the time, all the time, God is good) I have to accept that God has a reason for holding back His answer, holding back the blessing He has promised.

Packer and Nystrom in their book "Praying" give three reasons why God waits. First, by compelling us to wait patiently for him to act, God purges our motives. I have seen this at work in my life. My original prayer might be "right" but my motives might be all wrong. I ask God to help my child obey because it would make my life easier not because I am in that moment wanting to help my son become a man of God. I am often asking for a change of situation because I am uncomfortable or unhappy not because I want to glorify God with the situation change. But over time, as I continue to bring my requests before God, my heart is changed. My motives are lining up with God's plan.

The second reason God waits is that God shapes his giving in a natural way. God is using time to change things slowly in a natural way. We see this in Nehemiah. At the beginning of chapter 1 a date is recorded when Nehemiah and the people of God begin to repent and pray for the restoration of Jerusalem and a return of the Israelites to their land. It is not until nine months later in chapter 2 that Gods work behind the scenes comes to a place of letting Nehemiah go home to restore Jerusalem. Nine months of Nehemiah and those with him praying "Give success to Nehemiah today." God could have worked a miracle with Nehemiah's ruler like He did with Moses and Pharoah. But as Packer and Nystrom write, "Prayers answered? Yes! By miracle? No, by a natural flow of events - which took time. Ordering a natural flow is God's habitual way of answering prayer, and it often takes time, so we have to be willing to wait."

And finally, God's wants us to continue to grow in faith and spiritual maturity. Before we took our kids to Disneyland for the first time, we spent months practicing waiting in line patiently. We waited in some fun lines, hand stamps at story time, and some really boring lines at the post office. We wanted to build up their patience so that they could enjoy Disneyland despite all the long lines. Likewise, God uses delayed answers to build up our patience stamina. "Sometimes God uses delayed responses to prayer to discipline and train our spiritual muscles. We hang on in prayer, and our faith muscles grow stronger."

I am still a work in progress with persevering prayer especially when all is going well. I should keep a prayer journal and prayer cards to keep me focused and continuing diligently in my prayers for myself, my family and God's children throughout my life. I am getting better one person, one need at a time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Prayer - Asking

When you think about it, the whole point of prayer is asking - asking for help from God. I am not good about asking for help. I don't like to feel like I cannot take care of things myself. But the truth is I cannot. I am helpless. I was made to ask my creator to meet my needs, to give me my daily bread, to lead me not into temptation. God wants us to come to him with our cares.

I had my small groups at Bible study read three passages and look ponder what these passages teach and how they touch the women's lives.

- Matthew 7:7-11

- John 15:5-8

- I John 5:14-15

The basic premise of all of these passages is that God wants us to ask him. He wants us to bring our cares to Him in prayer. Philippians 4:6 - 7 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." I love this passage because it tells us that when we take our cares and requests to God, we will receive His peace. Not our requests fulfilled in that moment. Not the new job or the husband. Not reconciliation with our obnoxious boss or a calm, respectful attitude from our child. The passage says when we take our cares to God we receive His peace.

I love what Paul Miller wrote in "A Praying Life", "Anxiety is unable to relax in the face of chaos; continuous prayer clings to the Father in the face of chaos. My life is often full of chaos and anxiety. I can easily get overwhelmed by what is before me. At that point I get to choose whether to live in the anxiety or trade it in for God's peace through prayer.

I want to bring all my requests before God. There is a part of me that still holds onto those false fears that I can't pray because I don't know what God's will is in this situation. Or that if I pray the wrong thing, God might give me what I want, which will be wrong because it was not what He wanted to do in my life. I have a few weird beliefs about prayer that need to be challenged. But the passages above and throughout the Bible make it clear that God wants to hear my prayers asking for His help. There is power in these prayers even if I don't know how it all works. I know that over time, as I spend more time in His word and in prayer, my requests will begin to align themselves more and more quickly with God's will. Until then, I will pray knowing what Packer and Nystrom wrote in "Praying." "God reserves the right to answer the prayer we should have made rather than the one we did make."

I loved this poem:

Paradox of Prayer
He asked for strength that he might achieve;
He was made weak that he might obey.
He asked for health that he might do greater things;
He was given infirmity that he might do better things
He asked for riches that he might be happy;
He was given poverty that he might be wise.

He asked for power that he might have the praise of men;
He was given weakness that he might feel the need of God.
He asked for all things that he might enjoy life;
He was given life that he might enjoy all things.
He has received nothing that he asked for, but all that he hoped for.
His prayer is answered.

Our prayers are always answered. Just not always how we expected.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Prayer - Helplessness

I have already written a little bit of this story here, but am writing it again to share with the women at Bible study. Since my blog is an exercise in writing, I am using it to mesh out what to share. Here is the story again, but this time with how prayer worked in the story.

Last year, Middle Man struggled in kindergarten. I am not sure he knew he struggled but I did. I sat by myself in the fall conference with his teacher and found out that he was being disruptive. Sadness set in. I got the phone calls from the teacher telling me what Middle Man had done this time. Frustration began. I read the emails between myself, his teacher, the counselor and the principal all trying to figure out how to help Middle Man fit in and follow directions. Despair entered my heart.

I felt crushed. I know what an amazing kid Middle Man is. I also know that he doesn't always fit into the box. He is quirky. He needs a special teacher and a special classroom environment to thrive. He survived kindergarten and was happy for most of the year, even when the adults were not. But I don't want school to be merely a matter of getting through the next grade. This is a bright kid who loves to learn. He loves going to school. I want him to thrive in school. I want him to be able to use all his gifts and talents. I want him in a place that meets him where he is and then helps him grow to the next level. Last year was about surviving. I tried everything I knew. I had meetings. I made reward charts. I problem solved. And then I came to the place where I realized I could not problem solve this one. I could not make it all better. I was helpless. Worse, I was helpless to make it better for my child.

Paul E. Miller in "A Praying Life" writes about how we need to learn to be helpless in order to pray. I loved this quote,
"If we think we can do life on our own, we will not take prayer seriously. Our failure to pray will always feel like something else - a lack of discipline or too many obligations. But when something is really important to us we make room for it. Prayer is simply not important to many Christians because Jesus is already an add-on."

At that moment of complete despair, of total helplessness, the only thing I could do was pray. I got to the place where I could not make my child better. I could not change him. I could only pray for him. So I started praying. I reminded God what was written in Philippians 1:6 "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." I know God made Middle Man the person he is with a purpose and that He needed to carry it to completion. I asked for God to transform Middle Man. Funny enough the next day, Middle Man started calling himself Transform, after a Pokemon character. There was a good Transform who sometimes lived with us, and a naughty one that we had to ask leave our house a few times. For the most part I had given up on the year, but when troubles arose, I would pray. It was all I could think to do.

This summer I started praying for Middle Man's class and teacher. I really want Middle Man to have a strong, positive first grade year. It has been a rocky few years of school and I don't want him to lose his love of school. I prayed for his teacher especially, that he would be placed with a great teacher who would help him thrive. I really wanted him to have Hockey Boy's teacher from last year. She is amazing. Runs a really structured class with lots of positive praise which Middle Man eats up. So I was praying Middle Man would get her class.

A week before class lists were posted we found out that Hockey Boy's teacher was moving to 2nd grade. Funny enough I was not worried about Hockey Boy's class placement at all. I rarely worry about him in school because he is such a good student and almost always follows directions - at school. I was sad for Middle Man who really wanted Hockey Boy's teacher. I began to worry about it all again. I had been praying and was confident, I thought, that God would take care of my boys. But when I heard that the "plan" I had in mind wasn't going to happen, I worried.

I had not turned my problem over to God. Not fully. In reality what I had done was turn my solution over to God. I had figured out the solution to my problem and had then prayed with the intention that I wanted God to make my solution happen. But that is not what we are told to do in Philippians 4:6-7. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

It is when we are helpless that we turn to God. It was when I was without a solution but full of anxiety that I cast my cares on Him. Once I heard my solution was not going to happen for Middle Man, I started praying about my problem. I was worried about Middle Man having a good teacher and a good class. I was worried about numbers and class mates. I was worried he would be forced to conform and lose himself in the process. I was worried he would lose his love of learning. So I prayed for God to work. I prayed for God to solve my problem His way.

It turns out He already had. The class lists for this year were pretty much set at the end of the last school year. We just didn't know it. So did the prayers matter? I think they did. Praying allowed me to align my will to God's will. It reminded me that Middle Man is God's child who He loves. It taught me a few things about prayer to use in the future. I am not sure how prayer works but I know in this situation, it did work. Middle Man has a great teacher, who seems to really get him. He is loving school. He is being allowed the space he needs and also allowed to move beyond the standard. I am sure there will be challenges ahead, but I am hoping this year I will remember to pray first.

God was not only looking out for Middle Man who I was praying about, but God was also looking out for Hockey Boy who I had not really thought to pray for because I still felt like I was in control there. Again, God loves my boys so much more than I even know how to love them. God has a plan and purpose for them. Hockey Boy has moved around a lot in the last four years of school. He has been to four schools in four years. He has adapted well so I never really thought about it. But with a good kid like Hockey Boy you can slide under the radar and never really be challenged to grow. Hockey Boy got his same teacher from last year. She knows him well now and knows where he needs to be challenged. He trusts her so when she pushes he doesn't panic. He rises up to meet her challenge.

God is good to me and my family. Even when I don't know what to ask.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Prayer - Who God Is

As I starting asking, "Lord, teach me to pray," I began to see my prayer life changing. Between the books I was reading, the Bible reading I was doing and simply engaging the Lord in prayer, I was slowly learning to pray. I am still very much a student in the God's school of prayer but I learned something foundational this last year that has helped me to pray. God is God! HE IS. This world, this story is not about me. I am not the author or the star but I am able to participate in a meaningful way when I align myself with God. Otherwise, I am milling about, trying to make it all about me, creating a life of drama and activity. Our prayer lives I think can also take on a me, me, me quality that moves us from conversation to monologue very quickly. And while I do enjoy my husband listening to me, I don't find a one sided conversation very meaningful or relationship building. So it is with God.

I love what RC Sproul wrote in his book "The Prayer of the Lord":
People come to me and ask: "What are the rules for prayer? How should we approach God in prayer? What's the right way to pray?" I tell those who ask these kinds of questions that there are really only two rules you have to keep in mind when you're in prayer, two things that should drive and govern and control your prayer life with the Almighty. You should remember who is being addressed and who is doing the speaking. That is, the first thing you are to remember in prayer is who it is you're talking to, because nothing will condition your prayer life more deeply than remembering that you're in conversation with God, the sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe. Second, you are to remember who you are. You are not God. You are a creature. So prayer is not a conversation between peers; it is not a fireside chat among equals. This is the creature speaking to the sovereign Creator.

As I wrap my mind and heart around the first of these two rules, I remember who God is. God is God. I am not. I am slowly finding comfort in my place of creation not creator. It is hard to let go of being the one in charge of my life and the world around me. But the more I understand who God is, the easier it is for me to stand before Him as His child. This is where my prayers need to begin. It is where Jesus taught us to begin in the Lord's prayer - "Our Father!"

So now that I KNOW God is God, I am finding out I want to know more and more about who He is and what He has created and planned for me. My prayers can no longer be monologues that leave me feeling like I am talking to a tree. I have a desire, and a duty, to learn more about God. And the best way I know to learn more about God is to read His letters to us. He left us a whole series of books and letters that tell us who He is and what He desires for us. Imagine if your best friend, child or husband left you a book full of letters telling you all their stories. I would want to read that every day, every time I felt that hole from them being gone. That is how I want to feel toward God's word. Reading God's word should be a huge part of my prayer life because it is the best, most true way that God talks to me. I recently came to the realization that I am horrible listener when it comes to God. I recently posted on this blog,
I have been confronted by what a horrible listener I am when it comes to God. I am pretty good about allowing a few moments of quiet reflection when I pray for wisdom or guidance, hoping that God will give me the directions I need in that moment. But I am not utilizing God's actual Words enough, His written Word, His Holy letter to me. I will let days go by before I pick up my Bible and rarely do I think of it as a part of my prayer life. That the Bible is God's word to and for me. That He is speaking, quite literally, in the Bible.
And yet, I often throw up prayers to God and then wait for answers to magically appear in my day.

This summer I began to think that praying without reading God's word is a lot like asking my husband, "Does this dress make me look fat?" In both cases, I will never know if the answer I got is the Truth.

And just like I need a regular date night to spend time with my husband, I need a regular date time with God. I need to spend time with God, not just talking about and reading about God. Quality time, dedicated time that is set apart from the regular business of the day. Time that let's God and I reconnect.

I want to know God well enough that I want to hear the truth. I want to trust God enough that I can really hear Him when I need to be told that the dress does indeed make me look fat.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Prayer - The Starting Line

This prayer journey I have been on is coming to a culmination of sorts as I am tasked with teaching on the subject of prayer at our women's Bible study. Since I write now in blog form, I am going to use a series of blog vignettes to teach. Here is my first:

I want to start by admitting that I am not a prayer warrior. I do not have all the answers. And if you all decide that I must be the person to share your prayer requests with I must truthfully admit now that I will probably forget half of them because I am not very disciplined about praying for others, yet. Instead, I am a student just like all of you, trying to figure this whole prayer thing out.

I started my journey about a year ago when I came to the realization that I needed to really engage God in prayer but I did not feel like I knew how. I knew the basics, the Lord's Prayer, ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). I knew the common scriptures about prayer: Pray without ceasing (I Thes 5:17), Ask and it shall be given unto you (Matt 7:7), Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed (Mark 1:35). I knew we were instructed to pray. I knew the early church was actively engaged in the work of prayer. I knew also that our prayers are often misguided and even self indulgent. I felt at a loss for what to pray. What is God's will? Is this the right thing to pray for? What does God want from prayer? I finally, after decades in the church, felt compelled to try to figure this whole prayer thing out. But how?

I decided to ask some of the people I trusted most, who I knew truly understood prayer, for some recommendations for books to read. I compiled the list, looked them up on Amazon and ordered the whole stack. As a history teacher, I like to have multiple sources before I come to a conclusion for myself. A group of friends and I also decided to read through the Bible in 2010. The first book I started reading was Andrew Murray's "With Christ in the School of Prayer." Wow! What a great way to start. I wrote about what I was learning here, here, here and here. The most important lesson being that books and sermons are great to help you learn and understand, but first and foremost we need to ask Jesus to be our instructor. We need to sign up with Him for His class on prayer. Murray ended his first chapter with this prayer which I took on as my own:
Lord Jesus! I ask Thee this day to enroll my name among those who confess that they know not how to pray as they ought, and specially ask Thee for a course of teaching in prayer. Lord! teach me to tarry with Thee in the school, and give Thee time to train me. May a deep sense of my ignorance, of the wonderful privilege and power of prayer, of the need of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of prayer, lead me to cast away my thoughts of what I think I know, and make me kneel before Thee in true teachableness and poverty of spirit.
I went on to read "The Prayer of the Lord" by RC Sproul, "Praying: Finding our Way Through Duty to Delight" by J.I Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, and "A Praying Life" by Paul E. Miller. Through all these books, the Bible reading, and oh yes the two different sermon series I listened to this year (I love how God gives you abundant opportunities to learn when you go to him to create the syllubus), I have grown as a student. I have a much better understanding of prayer, mostly because I have given up trying to understand it. I have come to a place where I can stand in the mysterious, boldly coming before God with my hopes, hurts and needs, being sure that His answer to my prayers is the BEST answer for me, even if I don't like the answer or the amount of days, weeks, or years I have to bring the same prayer before Him without closure.

I don't understand it all. I am still horribly inconsistent. I still have a few more books in my stack to read. But I am seeing God working through my prayers over the last year. The prayers of someone testing out this whole prayer thing. The prayers of someone doubting that God cares, but still coming before Him with my heart. The prayers said with an arrogant or angry tone for people who have annoyed or hurt me. The prayers said with heartfelt gratitude for God calling me His child.

I don't know if I will ever be a prayer warrior but I am finally engaged in prayer.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Churches - a Cultural Study

Due to some scheduling issues, Hockey Boy is not able to attend our local church for the next two months. We struggled with how to handle this situation. Do we make him go to church and miss practice? Do we make him go to practice since he is part of team and miss church? Are we choosing sports over God? Does it matter if we meet together on Sunday mornings? Is going on just Wednesday night enough?

We prayed about it. We talked it over with Hockey Boy. And we came to the decision that we would not choose hockey over God, but we were comfortable choosing hockey over our local Sunday morning service for a short period of time. We decided to use this opportunity to teach hockey boy the importance of meeting together regularly with other believers to worship. Even if your schedule did not allow you to go to your comfortable, safe, home church on Sunday mornings. As he grows up life might get in the way of Sunday mornings. I know once he is in college and staying up late, sleep might get in the way. He may also choose a career that requires you to work on Sundays. He may become a pastor someday. :)

We looked at different church schedules and found a church nearby that has a service time that works. It is a church I have heard about that draws a young crowd. I have heard they have great music and are really seeker friendly. It even has a children's program on Sunday evenings. So Hockey Boy and I decided to check it out.

First thing that surprised me was the crowds. We had to park quite a ways away and people were streaming into the building, on a Sunday night. Not only were they all coming to church, they were all carrying Bibles. And not little pocket Bibles but big study Bibles. I was a bit stunned by the number of Bibles.

Hockey Boy started in the service with me before the kids were released to their class. The music was good, but LOUD. Too loud for Hockey Boy so we went into the overflow room where it was less deafening. Good thing we went into the overflow room because there was no room in the sanctuary until they released the kids to class and then it was like a sold out movie theater with people trying to find seats and having to cuddle up with your neighbor because every seat was full. I was happy to see Hockey Boy head into this new classroom so easily. He has become really shy over the last few years, but he seems to be comfortable in church, even when it is a new church or camp. I love that he feels so safe in God's houses.

Once the sermon was beginning the pastor asked everyone to open their Bibles and to raise your hand if you did not have a Bible. Every lap had a big Bible on it and those that did not raised their hands high to get one to use. At that moment, I felt a little weird. I had my Bible with me. I always have my Bible with me. It is an app on my phone. I actually have two Bibles on my phone, the Bible app by and also the Reformed Study Bible in case I want the extra study notes. I have my Bible on my phone so I always have it with me. I read it in car line or at hockey practice. I can look up a verse quickly if I want to share it with someone I am with or in an email. But in that room I felt a little less than because I was the only person pulling out my phone to read the Bible. I began to think to myself that I should probably bring a "real" Bible from home next time and not just my pocket Bible, but my really big Study Bible. Maybe I should grab my commentary too?

In that moment I realized how quickly good discipline, bringing your Bible to church, can become cultural and not Biblical. I had my Bible. I was able to follow along with all the scripture references. I was able to take notes if I wanted. There was nothing missing because I was using a Bible on my phone. And yet I felt a bit out of place. I was wondering if people were judging me and thinking I was less of a Christian. Maybe they thought I was a new believer. I wanted to fit into their church culture.

Then the person next to me could not find a pen for her daughter. I had one in my bag so I pulled it out and handed it over to her. She was appreciative but I can only imagine what she thought when she realized it was a pen from our regular church. Not only did I not bring my Bible, but I steal pens too.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Paying Attention Does Work

As much as I hate to admit it, paying attention to my kids does work. As I wrote yesterday, I am not a fan of dragging the other boys to watch their brother's hockey practice. I have often resorted to video games to keep them distracted and entertained so I can watch the practice and chat with my friends. This works sometimes but I have noticed that the magic of the video game has been fading. My kids were beginning to act more entitled and having a hard time sharing and turning off the games. As a Bejeweled addict I understand.

Yesterday I decided to try a new tactic. I packed a bag with books, puzzle books, wiki sticks and also hockey balls and sticks. I brought along Middle Man's church homework also. It worked. Not perfectly. One kid was watching over the shoulder of another child on their video game for a while, but I eventually distracted them taking them off to another corner to talk about their Bible study questions. There were also a few close calls of hockey practice balls hitting a spectator or two. But overall it worked. Bringing engaging toys and books, spending time talking and playing with the boys, all worked to entertain the little ones and keep the crying and whining of them and me to a minimum.

It is more work to be prepared, more work to engage, but so much more rewarding and a lot less embarrassing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why I Am Not a Fan of Weekday Practices

Hockey season has started. The boys, for the most part, are thrilled. Middle Man broke his arm at his last hockey class about a month ago. He was doing a superman fall and glide across the ice because the coach told them too even though Middle Man did not want to do it. So he is tentative about this whole hockey thing now that his cast is off. But even he is out there on the ice two times a week. With three boys in two different age groups, we have 5 hockey practices a week. The weekend practices are fine because my husband and I can tag team. Hockey Boy though has two evening practices during the week that I get to do all by myself with all three boys. I love supporting my kids doing what they love to do, but I HATE (yes I know we are not supposed to say HATE) but I really dislike midweek practices.

I always have high hopes of getting some reading done while the other boys share the iPod Touch nicely, taking turns playing Angry Birds. Turns out sharing the game involves a lot of whining, "He's not letting me watch him play" and asking me every two minutes, "how much longer until it's my turn?" Add someone else's dog on a leash to the mix and Little One is screaming and climbing up my legs so fast and demanding to be held because he is terrified of dogs. He is almost 4 years old and heavy so now my back is aching and the kids are whining and I am agitated. And then embarrassed because I am pretty sure I have yelled at at least one of the kids if not the whole crew. The only thing more frustrating than badly behaved kids in public is me behaving badly to my kids in public.

So all that to say that I am not a fan of hockey practice. Let me amend that because I do love to watch each of my boys skating and playing on the ice: I am not a fan of taking the other kids to hockey practice.

After last nights crying and whining with a video game to entertain them, I decided that we would be going old school tonight. They already know that we will be taking coloring books, wiki sticks and maybe a board game to play tonight. More labor intensive for me because I will probably actually have to talk to my kids while we are sitting at the rink. I might have to actually play a game with them or read them a book. I might have to use that hour Hockey Boy is on the ice to spend quality time with my other two boys.

I'll let you know if this plan goes any better... or if I buy a second iPod Touch before next Monday's practice. I knew we should have bought stock in Apple.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Leaving Room for the Unexpected

I am still not in the swing of things - obviously. Last year I often wrote after I put the older boys on the bus and before Little One and I headed out for the day. We had nice quiet mornings, he watching PBS Kids (someone has to teach him his letters) and me drinking coffee and spending time reading and writing blogs. It was a nice time of day. This year our schedule has changed. Little One has school two mornings a week, I have to be at Bible Study earlier to help with set up, Little One's speech class is on another morning and the first month of school seems to have a lot of activities that are interrupting our one quiet morning. I am sure I will get a rhythm to my days once everything is up and running and we have a few weeks under our belts.

But then that is what I keep telling myself. I will catch up on my Bible Reading - tomorrow. I will get back to blogging - someday. I will get myself back on a workout schedule - soon. I will have time for "this" after "that". Tomorrow. Someday. Soon. Never?

That is without the unexpected things that shake your schedule up. The cast that has to come off requiring a trip to the pediatrician's office. Love our pediatrician but there goes an entire afternoon. The meeting that has to happen as a result of a very emotional and heartfelt confrontation. The husband has to work late when you are scheduled to teach and a babysitter has to be found. I am thankful that for the most part I have created a life that has margins for the unexpected and loving babysitters for when we are double booked or actually want to spend a few minutes together without the little kids hanging on. For the most part I can roll with the punches.

Then there are times when I lose it a bit. This week we had major stress and drama when Little One and Middle Man's hockey times got changed. They had been at a difficult time before overlapping with Hockey Boy's practice at a different hockey rink in a different city. But the new time was on the same night as the children's midweek program at church. And it was also ending really late for my early to bed, early to rise little boys. There was a moment of panic when I saw the email. Text messaging ensued with my husband. We were frantically trying to figure it all out. I was trying to solve the problem, trying to remove the stress myself.

And in that moment of stress, I remembered what I had read in Paul E. Miller's book "A Praying Life." "We become anxious when we take a godlike stance, occupying ourselves with things too great for us. We return to sanity by become like his little children, resting on our mothers." He goes on to write, "Anxiety is unable to relax in the face of chaos; continuous prayer clings to the Father in the face of chaos." In that moment, I stopped my racing mind to pray. I had a problem. I could not solve it. I needed my Father to figure it out in a way that keeps my kids close to Him. And then I raced off to an evening meeting forgetting the stress, the anxiety, the chaos that was in my head.

By the time I got home that night, we had received another email, informing us that the practice was being moved, yet again, to Sunday mornings at 7 am. No midweek practices for the little boys. I was overjoyed. Our conflict was solved. Without me. I never knew I could be so happy for a 7 am ice time but I am thrilled.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The First Week of School

7 years, 9 months, 2 days. Waiting. I had been counting down the years, months and days until all my boys would be in school if only for a few short hours a couple of days a week in Little One's case. Finally I would have a little time to myself. Real time to myself without creating it by paying a babysitter or swapping the kids with friends. So you can imagine my surprise when I spent the whole first day of school feeling sick to my stomach. This was especially surprising because my husband took the day off so we could send off the boys together and then have a few hours alone, just the two of us. Even with my husband there, I felt a little lost while Little One was in school, like a part of my body was missing. You know the part that stands under you as you try to talk to your husband or keeps angling the grocery cart toward the cans of food in the store. I thought the sick feeling would go away when we picked up Little One from his preschool class. We got to the car line early, first in line which I knew he would love. When he walked out the door with his teacher, he was smiling, happy to be at school, looking so big with his back pack and all his class mates walking in line. He loved his first day he said. And then he said, "I want to stay home with you tomorrow." I guess he missed me. While he likes school and wanted to go back the next time, I am glad he only goes two days a week so we can still cuddle and hangout together.

The sick feeling should have been gone once we picked up my baby. But it did not. It is hard to let go of your kids. As much as I want the break in my day, to think, be quiet and maybe get a few things done without whining or fighting, I don't like feeling so far removed from my kids. I don't like not knowing what is happening throughout their day. I don't like knowing that not every teacher, not every kid will be the best fit for my boys. I don't like knowing that my kids will struggle and I won't be right there to help them through. I know this from experience because Middle Man had a very long, very hard kindergarten year. If he did not like going to school so much, I think I would have pulled him out by Thanksgiving. There were meetings. There were changes. Progress was made. Behavior regressed. Boredom became disruptive. At one point I simply gave up trying to work through the problem because Middle Man was happy. He did not see the problems. Throughout most of the year, Middle Man wanted to go to school. He liked school. It was not until the last month of school that he started to say he did not want to go. Summer was right around the corner and he made it through kindergarten. We both survived.

We had a nice, lazy summer. A summer that allowed Middle Man to go at his own pace. A summer full of camps and lessons that challenged him and he loved it. A summer that gave him time and space when he needed it. And then at the beginning of August, he started asking me when school was going to start again. He started counting down the days. He was really excited about starting first grade. He started working on behaving like a first grader. He mellowed out a bit. Our typically most challenging child became our easiest one in the month of August. He was ready to start another year.

So my anxiety on the first day of school did not stop when I picked up my baby. It did not stop until my older boys were home, eating cookies and milk and telling me about their day. Even then it did not go away completely. Middle Man was cautiously optimistic but not ready to fall in love with school yet. I think after being in his new class, he slowly began to realize how hard last year actually was. Being in a better classroom setting, being a year older, having a different teacher, with a different group of kids, I think turned on the light a bit to the reality that sometimes school can be tough. So he was cautious in his assessments as was I. Last year, he kept telling me how much he liked school. How much he wanted to go to school and yet it was not a great situation last year. So we were both a bit wary.

And then a few nights later it was Middle Man's turn to pray at dinner. This is his prayer:

Dear God. Thank you for school. Thank you for Mrs. S. Amen

And that is when God showed me how much He loves my little guy. How Middle Man is His child too and while I may not be able to be in the classroom with him, riding the bus or watching him on the playground, God is with Him always. God is taking care of my Middle Man.