Wednesday, November 13, 2013

When is prayer enough?

My husband came home this morning from a meeting and told our boys to come give him hugs. He started cuddling and hugging them, so I thought he had a horrible meeting or something. (I should just mention that he cuddles them often, it was just a lot all at once.) I asked him how everything was and he told me about a story he heard on NPR.  A reporter was in a hospital in Syria after a school was bombed. My husband said you could hear the children screaming in the background. Then a mom came up hysterical. She said she couldn't even recognize her son's face. The reporter talked to her and in the background, you heard gun shots getting closer and closer. They stopped at one point to listen to see if they needed to leave, but then went on. As they were talking someone came up to the reporter and told her she needed to leave. They said it was all our fault - "our" as in Westerners. I know nothing about politics or the details of what's going on in Syria. But I do know that policy helps to take sons from their mamas. The dollar and the bottom line help to bomb schools. I'm listening to my husband tell this story and I have no place for it in my mind. I can do nothing except cry. And then I think of something one of my friends posted on a Facebook feed. This was her reply when asked what we are to do when we cannot respond to all the poverty and brokenness we see because our time and resources are limited:
We can ALWAYS stop and pray. Always. We have to see that as ENOUGH. As something that matters. We have to take it seriously. You're so right. You know we surely can't afford to help hardly anyone some months. But I can always, always, always, always, always pray. And lifting them to the Father matters. It counts. We have to know that it counts.

So, I cannot go to Syria or the Philippians or Haiti and I sometimes have no time for weeks to even go visit the man down the street who is sick and alone because I have these three boys of mine to teach and feed and clean up after and help provide for. I hate the hurt and usually have no words for it. But I can pray. I can get on my knees and beg to my Father to help that mama whose son is laying in a morgue. I can pray that she is comforted and that through this horrendous act of war, God will be glorified. I can pray for unity between these people and these countries and this world. And I can weep for the thousands who are without a home or a farm or a way to provide for their family or even a family. I can beg my Father for His redeeming grace to sweep those islands and those souls. I can lift up the missionaries there and pray that they are equipped supernaturally to undertake the heartache they are facing. I can pray for my friends in Haiti walking their 4 miles for water and eating their maybe one meal a day. I can weep through prayers of thanksgiving that our sponsor boy gets a chance at secondary school and pray through the fear that grips me that our sponsor girl might have a hard road - too hard - and God, just let her stay innocent to the hurt and loss that is all around her! And I can pray for my neighbor who is frail and fading. Every single time I drive by his house rushing to the store or to our homeschool group, I can pray for God's angels to surround that house and love on him when I can't. And I can pray for my friends who I talk to daily who face their own demons of sick children and marital division and parental inadequacies and anxiety and broken bodies. I can pray, but I pray that I don't stop there.

See, I never want to be desensitized to the brokenness. I worry that I will be - soon. Sometimes, the tears don't flow as long and sometimes I can stop for ten minutes to visit with my neighbor but don't and sometimes I forget to pray. It happens in those moments when I believe that I deserve some alone time or that it is important for my house to be spotless just once this month or that if I have to listen to noise for one more second I will lose my mind and I start drifting away from Christ who is weeping for the brokenness of this world. Because it is in those moments that the lies of this world are penetrating me. The lie that say that I deserve (fill in the blank) or that (fill in the blank) is more important or that I can do all things through myself who strengthens me or the very sneaky lies that says that I am good if I just love whoever is in front of me or that I need to take care of myself before I help others that desensitize me from the hurt and pain that is everywhere I turn. And, if I'm honest, I sometimes don't want to see it. Sometimes I want to take my privileged kids on our errands and not share our snack with the homeless person holding a sign. Sometimes I want to walk around the downtown shops and spoil my kids with an ice cream cone without feeling a pang of guilt when we pass someone rummaging through the garbage can. But the truth is, my eyes are open and I no longer have the luxury of being blind to the pain. I know that when I buy a cute, cheap outfit from Target, it was most likely made by someone who is making far too little of the profit and working way too many hours and seeing way too little of their children and being exploited. And I know that when I have chocolate cravings and just grab something from the check out line, those cocoa beans were probably picked by a slave who is beat and underfed and overworked. I know there are layers of reasons why that guy is holding the sign on South Florida and that it is only by grace that it is not me.

So, what do I do with that? No, I cannot go save the world. Yes, I need to love the people in front of me. But that is not enough. Not for me. I have my children and my friends and some babies and some big kids in front of me and my world is small. Of course I want to love them all well. But this world is big and is full of hurt. On that same Facebook feed I mentioned earlier another friend wrote:
The question to me is does your life here with your family have true purpose? Do you spend time with your kids teaching them about serving and sacrificing? Do you model for the women around you a heart that makes little of you and a lot about God? What portion of what you do have is given away? How do I die to myself everyday?
While prayer is certainly enough and sufficient for dealing with the hurts, it is not to be used as a pass. (Please know that I am mostly speaking to myself but am assuming that I'm not alone in my struggles to honor God). See, there is a big difference between being in a place when all you can do is pray and choosing to only pray when God is calling you to do more. Now, I'm not saying that prayer should be a last resort. It should be the first thing we do (my lie that I can do all things through myself who strengthens me is exactly what I'm addressing here). The only reason we can accomplish anything is because God is gracious enough to use us. It is only through His blessings of ability or health or money or time or timing that we are able to be a part of what He is doing. This is not a legalistic call to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and turn into a super human who raises your kids well while traveling to Asia and Africa and Haiti and freeing some slaves along the way and being home in time to have dinner on the table for your husband. This is not even a call to go volunteer once a week somewhere. See, in this season I am in, I know that sometimes God wants you to sit tight and be a prayer warrior. I know that because there have been moments when that is literally all I could do. But, He also always calls us to die to ourselves. When I pass by my neighbor's home and ignore that pull at my heart to stop for just 10 min because I know that my husband will be home with the kids in 30 min and I really want that cup of coffee while I sit quietly and read, then I am not dying to myself. And since I've been wrestling with this for a while I will share that my argument at this point is that I cannot give if I have nothing to give, so I need that time. And now, I am going to win this argument with myself and say that the only boundary that I ever saw Christ set in scripture was making sure He spent time with His Father. Sure, I can lie and say that's why I'm rushing past his house, but I know it has nothing to do with being filled by Christ and everything to do with being filled by caffeine delivered in a big warm mug while sitting in my chair looking out my window at my big tree and the fall leaves. It has to do with my comforts and my selfishness. So, while I cannot be a globe trotter and save the world or change foreign policy or end world hunger, I can hold myself accountable to what I know. I can be intentional with my time. I can be intentional with how I love those in front of me - in ways that share what I've learned about God's heart and desire for our lives. I can make it a priority to arm myself with God's word and to shield myself from the lies of this world by abiding in my savior daily. I can pray. And when God decides to use me in the day to day moments with friends and children and babies and big kids or in the amazing life altering moments in Haiti or with at risk youth or maybe with an orphan who we get to parent (please, Lord) then I can listen and obey. I am certainly not saying that sitting with a big cup of coffee in a special chair is wrong. But I am saying that Christians are called to put God first, to not make unto thee any graven image (like a mug in my case), and to be refined by His fire.

And what does this mean for you? I don't know exactly. But I strongly encourage you to ask yourself daily if you have set time aside to be with Christ, to intentionally think about whether you are making decisions out of habit or selfishness or selflessness, and to pray without ceasing. And who knows, maybe God will enlist you to be the one who frees some slaves or changes US foreign policy or parents one of the millions of orphans in this world or plants a seed that will give eternal life to your neighbor or husband or children.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

This week it was a hatchet.

This week it was a hatchet. When my now 5 year old was about 2 it was knives. I would wake up after nursing the baby and come out to find my then 2 year old chasing my then 8 year old around the house with a sharp knife way too often. Recently, the baby (now 3) has developed a fascination with scissors. Not the kid scissors, but the very sharp adult ones. We have holes in sheets and a few of the tabs in my 12 year old's notebook are snipped off. I don't even know what important documents have been cut up to bits. The 5 year old even got in on that fun and snipped off the erasers of about twenty pencils. Their plastic swords spend a lot of time on the top shelf of a closet as a result of their pirate play getting a bit too, well piratey. And their time wrestling always ends in yelling, yet they beg me to let them wrestle. I have 3 boys and this is my life. 

On most days I feel like I'm going to have a stroke soon. But every now and then I have a moment to sit back and watch my boys be boys, and I love it. Like the day that they found a hatchet that was left in the yard (thank you 12 year old).  I was hanging clothes while my two little ones were out by the back fence digging and exploring. I looked up and saw the youngest hitting something, as if he was cutting up firewood with an ax. I had no idea what he was hitting or what he was using, so I squinted until I made out the shiny head of the hatchet. No, I did not throw my laundry down and bolt to him. This is the third boy after all. Instead I hollered "Stop playing with that hatchet!" And of course the reply was not obedience, but "Why?" So I replied "Bring me that hatchet or I'm going to spank you!" So my chubby little 3 year old comes running to me with a hatchet. I told him to walk and when he handed me the hatchet he still had no idea why he could not play with this fun toy. I explained that it was sharp and hard and heavy and that he would have to wait a few years to use tools like that. He said ok and ran off to go dig and explore some more. As I continued to hang laundry and watch them, I thought about how uninhibited they are. I watched them dig and find bugs and build with twigs and pictured them as farmers or builders or scientists or just men who work hard. I know this exploring and chopping things and getting dirty will help them become strong men one day. 

Our wall art
But this was not the case with my oldest. He was an only child for 6 years. I was right by his side. He would not have been by our back fence playing with I don't know what and he certainly would not have found a hatchet and started swinging it around a bit before I realized what he was doing. The result? I have a 12 year old who micromanages his brothers (he learned from the best), does not like picnics because the flies land on his food and they eat poop (that one came from my sister but was heavily reinforced by me), and cringes at the idea of camping because it's hot and there are bugs. Don't get me wrong, he can be tough. He is amazing on the soccer field. He does drills and work outs almost every day at home without me prompting him. And maybe he just naturally is not my outdoors-man. But my hovering over him armed with wet wipes and band aids probably did not help. And I'm fairly certain I stifled his creativity years ago. He's not ruined or anything. He creates some superb drawings. But I'll never know if he could have been a painter or a sculpture. He certainly would not have been able to reach the scissors, or any other art supplies for that matter. Before we had our youngest two, we never had the alphabet scrawled across our dining room nor did any of my eldest's drawings stay on the wall for years - I don't mean hung on the wall but literally drawn on the wall. I kept a tight reign on anything that could be messy. The play dough, paint, and even markers were up out of his reach. 
ABC's written in pencil on our wall. :) 

As I grow as a parent I'm learning to be controlled less by fear and "what
ifs" and an irrational need to have everything be a certain way. I'm learning there aren't as many absolutes in parenting as i thought there were. My sanity, my personality, my kids' varying personalities, their unique ways of exploring and taking in the world all contribute to how I raise them. When I had just one child, I became obsessed with everything - should I co-sleep or let him cry himself to sleep? Should I wear my baby or let him get used to spending time in the pack n play or excersaucer? Should I spank or do time out? Those are all important questions, but instead of relaxing and listening to my own intuition while seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance, I sought "experts" and kept flip flopping my parenting style. Of course all kids need love, nurturing, and discipline. But the varying ways to do that seem, in my experience, to deal more with the individuals involved (usually mom, dad, and kids) and less with some scientific study. Yes, there are some things that science and history teaches us and sure, some people have found the magic recipe to get their child to sleep through the night at 3 months old while my 5 year old still comes to our bed (sigh). But as I raise these three wild boys of mine I become more and more convinced that there aren't as many absolutes. (Just a quick admission - I too feel like I'm right in the way I parent and everyone who does it differently is wrong. This is why I'm making these statements public - for accountability!) And the more I talk with other parents and hear their stories of extreme joy and gut wrenching disappointment and uncontainable love and unexplainable frustration, I become more and more convinced that we need to hold a lot of our personal convictions a lot looser (and realize that some of them are just that - personal) and listen and encourage each other a lot more. See, during this time of my boys growing to hopefully one day become strong, caring men, I am growing into a mom, wife, and woman who is learning to listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance and lean on faith more and fear less. And, sometimes, it is hard! So, instead of judging me for letting my son run with a hatchet or judging me for taking it away, maybe just stop and laugh with me? Because, Lord knows, I need a good laugh during this season of growing pains, cut up sheets, and a 12 year old! 

Thursday, May 23, 2013


     This season has been a confusing one. See for years I have been waiting. Waiting for my husband, waiting for my kids to get old enough, waiting for my sanity, waiting to have enough time. Waiting to do what? To fulfill my purpose. I know that there is great purpose in being a good wife and in raising my kids well. And as much as I was waiting to fulfill some other purpose during those years of changing diapers non stop, holding my crying baby while cuddling my toddler while teaching my big kid writing, getting 2 hour chunks of sleep at a time, and camping out in survival mode, I clung to those moments that I knew would be over way too soon. And I still cling to the sweet moments now - the soccer games, teaching my middle how to read, playing board games, bracing myself to teach Latin and the occasional cuddles. But in the midst of all this fullness, I have felt that there is another purpose for my life besides supporting my husband and raising my kids. I won't say a bigger purpose. All of this is plenty. It's just that there is this stirring that I can't quite describe. I used to fantasize about joining the Peace Corp when I was in high school. And I always pictured my family being made up of biological and adopted kids. Living in a third world country never felt foreign to me and the idea of "doing unto the least of these" brings me tremendous joy. But the doors have not opened to move my family across the world or to adopt or even to dive into ministry. So I've waited. 
     Well, for the past year and a half, I've seen some doors start to crack open. It started with my husband reading Radical by David Platt, then both of us going on separate trips to Haiti, and then taking domestic adoption classes. But, as we were finishing our adoption class, chaos began with my husband's job. It started with his pay being unpredictable and ended with a drastic pay cut. We had to put adoption on hold, but I kept praying that God would open the doors for us to adopt. 
     After a few months of uncertainty, I started feeling like God began to speak to me. I distinctively felt God say Cambodia. Then later, I distinctively felt God say January of 2013. I started Googling Cambodia and reading about the brokenness in their country's past, their staggering number of orphans, the disgusting statistics about sex slavery among children in their country, and their high poverty rate. And then I came across article after article about Cambodia being closed to US adoptions until January of 2013. I just knew that God had some solution to our financial chaos and that by the end of January we would be sending in our application to adopt. But January came and Cambodia was still not open to US adoptions and my husband was still making the same reduced pay at the same job. So, by the end of January, instead of sending in our application to adopt, we were sending in our first payment to our lawyer to go bankrupt. I didn't get it. I thought I distinctively felt God tell me that we would start adopting from Cambodia in January of this year.
     My first instinct was to problem solve. We would just start fundraising and plow forward. Surely God would see how diligent we were and honor that. But as I brought plan after plan to my husband, he felt more and more weighed down. He had been dealing with the day to day stress of figuring out how to provide for our family and, in the meantime, our lives were getting busier and busier. We had some friends move in with us, I was busy trying to sell necklaces for Haiti, and I kept talking to my husband about praying about whether or not we should plug into ministry after ministry. My focus was not on him or his stress or the ripple effects all of this was having on our kids; it was on finding my purpose. In the back of my mind, I knew that I was acting like Sarai, Abram's wife, who took matters into her own hands and ended up despising the situation she had created. But I ignored that truth and plowed on. . . until Jon put the brakes on it all. 
     Yep, we had a come to Jesus conversation where we were a little too honest and voices were raised and tears were shed and the law was laid down. I have to admit, at first I was angry. I wanted a plan for us to adopt. I wanted to be taking care of the least of these. How could he say that we needed to focus on our family instead of reaching out? We had so much more than the rest of the world! We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ! We are called to take care of the orphans and widows! But when I stepped back, I realized I had become impatient, frustrated and bitter, Jon had become overwhelmed and withdrawn, and my kids were just little balls of anger. We were not producing fruit. How could we? We had not remained in the vine.  How could we adopt and bring a child, who had already suffered so much loss, into our home if our family is not in a healthy place? Plus, even Jesus set aside time to just be with His Father. At the beginning of Mark, we see that "while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." He does this right after driving out evil spirits and healing people and right before teaching and healing more people. He shows us our need to stop and go to the Father in the midst of serving. So, we decided to set aside one day a week as a family day. We also began reading family devotionals every night and are trying to be more intentional about having set prayer time and time alone with God. (Well, honestly, we still have a long way to go with these things, but it's all about those baby steps.) But more importantly, I agreed to wait. This does not mean that I am hunkering down in my house with my bible and waiting to serve until I'm Godly enough or something. God does call all Christians to serve, love our neighbor, and to take care of the helpless, hungry, naked, lonely, widows, and orphans. But He also calls us to sit at his feet and listen, to abide in Him, to drink from the well that will never run dry. These things have to be intertwined. There is no "becoming Godly enough to serve" without following the bible and going and serving. But I also have to remember that if I "give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:3). 
     I don't quite know what God was trying to tell me when He put Cambodia on my heart or if I even heard Him right to begin with. I don't know why I've learned about so many injustices in the world only to be able to do nothing about them. I don't know why doors were cracked open only to be shut again. But I do know that God is the one who has given me my heart that aches for the helpless. And I also know that pursuing God and His purposes are all that matter in this life. I  know that prayer can move mountains and that nothing I do matters if it's not done through Christ. And I know that I have a hard time resting in God's truths, even when I know them to be true. So, I may have to wait 20 years for God to reveal His purpose in my life like Sarai. Or He may have already revealed it. But, I will learn from Sarai's mistakes and (try to) contently wait. I will serve when I can and mother my boys and support my husband and love every person who comes into my life, but I will only be able to do these things if I first go to the Father. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A New Easter Tradition

Hi friends. I haven't blogged in a while. It's good to be back and get at least some of these thoughts that are swirling around out. This has been a season of uncertainty and confusion. I think God's telling me one thing, but then circumstances change and I feel uncertain. (More about that later though.)

Well, one lesson that I am certain that God is teaching me is to scale back. I feel called to scale back my busy schedule and to scale back my spending and to scale back my list of things I need to do to be a good mom and make good memories for my kids. I need less of this world and more of God's. And God's world is a world where the last are first and the rich are poor and people drop their dreams and ambitions and their entire livelihood to follow Jesus.

The living out of this lesson has manifested itself in different ways. For one, I try not to overbook myself for the week anymore. Sure there are the occasional busy weeks, but generally speaking, we do not do more than 2 field trips in a month or more than 3 outings in a week. I get stressed trying to fit everything into our schedule and my stress comes out on my kids, so it's just not worth it. Another thing I've done is to stop buying new stuff. Yep, if I can't find it second hand or if I can't make it, I have to seriously reconsider whether or not I "need" the item. And the third thing I've done is to try to be more intentional about how I express my faith and what traditions our family associates with the holidays (Holy days!) we celebrate.

This last thing is what I wanted to expound on tonight in light of the Holiest of days that we will be celebrating tomorrow. I have to admit that I didn't put too much thought into Easter this year. We have been fairly inconsistent about going through our 2 week Easter Devotional. I don't think we even read through Christ's crucifixion! (Please don't judge.) Part of the reason is because we've been blessed with a sweet newborn in our home. One of my closest friends, her toddler, and her husband (well, he's here on the weekends) has been with us for a few months while their family is transitioning to another town - right at the end of her pregnancy! Their little girl was born a week and a half ago, so we've been soaking in having a newborn in our home. I have to say that I am going to be one unhappy camper when they finally get settled into their new home.

Anyway, as Easter was getting closer and closer, my husband and I began to question the whole Easter bunnies, eggs, and over commercialized Easter that we see all around us. We started talking about what we didn't want to do, but had no idea what we did want to do. Luckily, some amazing friends of ours jump-started our road to building more meaningful Easter traditions by having a Passover meal at their home. This was a precious time of meeting new people, learning more about rich biblical history and traditions, and some fun fellowship. We couldn't walk away from that night and then do our normal Easter baskets filled with too much candy and too many toys followed by an Easter egg hunt. That just did not compare to the richness that we just experienced. But, I wanted my family to rejoice and celebrate Jesus' resurrection. So, the brainstorming began and we finally landed on something. It still doesn't feel as rich, but we hope that it will be fun and filled with meaning. And now, what you've all been waiting for, our magical Easter celebration will be  . . . a scavenger hunt. I know, it doesn't sound so grand. But there is meaning behind it and it should be fun. Below is the list of items and their meaning.

Water - Jesus showed how to be a servant leader by washing His disciples' feet
Sugar Cookie - Jesus' body, which was broken for us
Grape Juice - Jesus' blood, which was shed for us
A Flower - Jesus fervently prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for the cup to be taken from Him
String - Jesus was whipped and beaten before being crucified
Thorn or stick - A crown of thorns was placed on Jesus' head to mock Him
Nail - Jesus' hands and feet were nailed to the cross
Cross - Jesus was crucified on a cross to atone for our sins
Jellybeans - Jesus was placed in a tomb and a big stone was rolled in front of the grave
Empty container - After three days, Jesus' tomb was empty
Balloons - Jesus rose from the grave! He conquered death! Time to celebrate!

Our dinner will not be a big to do - fish, rice, veggies, and salad. We will have a yummy dessert and a day spent with people we love, but overall, we will reflect on how Christ has redeemed us. The true change in our tradition is simply that we will reflect more on Christ's love for us than on the things our culture says is important. I'm not sure if this scavenger hunt idea will stick. Maybe it will grow and develop over the years or maybe it will flop. I just want my children to know that we are celebrating Christ's resurrection, not new life or baby animals or spring.

My prayer is that these holy days will be a time for Christians to reflect on Christ's life, example, death and resurrection. When we make holidays about the toys or food or clothes we miss the message that Christ came to spread. We end up not honoring Christ at all, but instead put our focus on the things of this world that He warned us about. This scavenger hunt is just one idea of how you can celebrate Jesus' resurrection. Really, pulling out a board game or having a party or doing anything else that you would do to celebrate would honor God. I just want to encourage you to not get caught up on the dress and the ham and the presents, but to make memories and traditions that will truly honor God. Happy Easter!