Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Gift

A couple of weeks ago, I was given a gift. My sweet friend brought me groceries. It may seem like an odd gift, but it was perfect. See, she (unknowingly) cracked this door to allow me to complain, so I let it all out. I vented about how stressful our finances have been and how hard it is to pay the bills and get the groceries when my husband's paycheck is consistently late these days. I complained about having to work my new part time job and whined about being a tired and impatient mommy. I closed with asking for prayer. She decided to pray and then some. She didn't come with a check or a gift card to go get groceries (although that would've been appreciated as well). No, she did my grocery shopping for me. And she didn't just pick up some cereal and Ramen noodles. She got probably at least $200 of gluten free organic yummy goodness that I would've bought for my own family. I'm talking free range chicken, Almond milk, quinoa pasta, and organic fruits and veggies. I did not have to do any grocery shopping for a week and a half and then only had to get a few things for specific recipes. She stocked us up. And it was soooo hard to accept.

See, I know that behind the late paychecks are also nights of just not feeling like cooking or date nights with a little too much splurging or forgetfulness when it comes to paying the bills. Yes, we choose to live paycheck to paycheck so that I can focus on homeschooling our children, and there are a lot of sacrifices we choose to make, but we've had our moments of being irresponsible. I'm sure they are not much worse than the average person's moments, but they exist and here I have my friend (who goes without plenty herself to answer the same calling of homeschooling her kiddos) who just took her kids grocery shopping for me and spent her money doing so. It was humbling to say the least. My first temptation was to pack up the food - most of it at least - and take it to someone who needed it more than we did. I mean, there are people starving. We were certainly not starving. And if we ever ran out of food completely and there was still no paycheck, we have a lot of family members who would help. So, there are people starving and alone. But, I heard this whisper from God saying, "No, just enjoy. I love you."

So, then I thought that this is God's way of teaching me. All of this - the late paychecks, the late fees, the waiting to go grocery shopping and getting creative with meals, the heated discussions about whether or not we should go bankrupt, and now this gift - are all ways that God is trying to teach me to trust Him. I hadn't been fully trusting Him. After all, I had too many nights of just getting pizza or Subway for dinner. I should be able to do better. And if I truly leaned on Christ, I could do better. I began to see the gift as almost a form of correction. I desperately want to help others. My heart aches for all the suffering people in this world. I am supposed to be able to help others, but instead, I needed help. I am supposed to willingly lay down my life for others, but instead, I complained at the first sign of struggle. I should do better. I know Christ and I know His promises. But throughout this thought process, I would faintly hear God whispering, "No, you have it all wrong. I just love you."

I wouldn't really listen to the whispers. I began fixating on why it is that I would need to use God's resources. I kept thinking about our child who we are supposed to be adopting and about the single mom with no one who can't feed her kids dinner and my friends in Haiti who eat one or maybe two meals a day. Guilt began to set in. I should have packed up the food and found someone else to give it to. I am not the destitute. There are others who needed it more than us. My friend didn't know about our splurges or that we have a huge support network here. If she had, surely she would've chosen someone else to bless. I started planning on how I would pay it back. I was calculating how much things cost and what I owed. I would pay it forward - tenfold. Yes, that would reconcile this. But the whispers began getting louder. "I have paid everything. You cannot do this in your own strength. You have not taken away from anyone - everything belongs to me. I create all the food and I just want to love you. Accept my gift."

Sigh. Why is that so hard? Maybe it's because I am such an independent perfectionist. It can really get ridiculous. Yes, this has been a lesson, but not the kind I thought. See, somewhere along the way, I lost sight of the fact that Christ died for me. He died because I would never be able to earn my way to Heaven or be good enough to have the Holy Spirit dwell in me. Acts 2:39 says "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." I am one who is far off. My family line is not Jewish, it is European. Christ died so that the whole world (including me) would be reconciled to Him. I used to read these verses and think that Paul or Luke or Peter were talking to me, but they were talking about me.  See, I need Christ. Otherwise, I am hopeless. And He loves me enough to do something about my hopelessness. I have to really sit on that, which is a little embarrassing. Isn't this Christianity 101? Christ loves us and died for our sins. Yes, that is where our faith starts. Most Christians accept the Holy Spirit once they realize these truths. That's how it happened for me anyway. I remember listening to my youth pastor sharing his testimony and thinking, "I want to know God that intimately. I want to have a relationship with the God who sacrificed so much for me." I was so moved by the fact that Christ took on my sins. And each time I fell away from God, He would call me back and I would be even more moved that Christ took on even more of my sins.

But that is not where we stay as Christians. We begin to learn more and more about who God is and what truths He embraces. Without moving on to the realization that we are to first love God and then love our neighbors as ourselves, we do not experience the fullness of Christ. We receive His love and grace and mercy, we acknowledge the gifts He has poured out on us, and then we overflow with His love to the point that we have to share it. It's a beautiful thing. But I had left the first two truths behind. I stored them in my brain somewhere and began to focus on the pouring out to others. I knew that God does not want us to have a faith that is self-centered, but rather one that is God-centered. But, instead, I made my faith other-centered. Now, that sounds good, but the problem is that other-centered is not God-centered. My other-centeredness quickly turned to self-righteousness and burn out. Without focusing on God and holding onto the truths that He loves me and died for me, I became judgmental. I began to categorize Christians and look down on anyone who did not embrace my ideas of serving and dying to oneself. That's what happens when you do not exist out of the reality that God loves you and died for you - you become hard and calloused.

See, the gratitude that wells up is huge when you realize that without God's love and sacrifice you would be completely lost and hopeless. And then when you couple that with the knowledge that this God who loves you is the same God who created the universe and who owns the whole earth and everything in it, then you realize how much you will always have to depend on Him, not yourself or your own abilities or your job or your time management skills or anything else. You realize that those things are only God's gifts that could be taken away or that could shift into a different type of gift or whatever. There is no room for judgement or self righteousness when the truths you learn in Christianity 101 are so fresh and real. But when those truths start to fade into a how to guide, then there is room for all kinds of bad heart habits to form. See, if I've moved to the realization that I need to love my neighbor but don't first love God and receive His love and grace, I am acting out of my own will. God's goal is always about drawing our hearts to Him. When I act out of my own will, I do not depend on God and I begin to push Him out of the equation. So, sometimes God wants to use people to do acts of service to reveal himself or to minister to the destitute. But sometimes He just wants to love on His sons and daughters. See, every week, for the past couple of months we have been trying to balance our uncertain income. We tried to focus on God and to be grateful for what we have, but it's been stressful. I started working a part time job to help us get caught up from the financial strain all of this has caused and to help us pay for all the extras that come up when you're homeschooling 3 kids. When my friend brought me groceries, I hadn't seen the financial fruits of my job yet, but that first paycheck was coming soon. We would've been fine if she hadn't served us in that way. We would've just had another week or two of stress before it started to level out. But God chose to speak to her heart and relieve me of that stress. He chose to use this moment to remind me that He is my Abba Father and I am His daughter and all He wants me to do is to curl up with Him and just be. How am I to tell others about God's love and grace if I don't allow Him to lavish it on me? How am I to go and serve others if I have run out into the desert alone away from the living water? How can I love anyone if I do not accept God's perfect love and allow that love to flow out of me? I think the light finally went on when I watched Beth Moore tell this story about a man in an airport. I strongly encourage you to listen to it - whether or not you like Beth Moore. It just captures God's love for us. I am praying that we will all begin to realize how much our heavenly father adores us. Can you just imagine how much more we can spread God's love if we did?