Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Default Setting

I had the amazing privilege to hear Kristin Armstrong speak at my church on Saturday.  I wanted to go for two reasons:

1.  She openly admits that she blows it with her kids on a regular basis.

2.  She is an avid runner.

To both of these things I can fully and completely relate.  I don't normally swoon when I hear people speak, but I think I got a bit star-struck on Saturday.  I bought her new book, Heart of My Heart, which is a devotional for moms (I NEVER read daily devotionals, but this one I HAD to have) and got to go up and have her sign it for me. I told myself that I would not talk about my running and not say anything stupid, but I broke both of those rules as soon as I got up there.  Oh well.

Anyway, the reason that I mention all of this is because she said something that literally has changed my whole perspective on how to be in my life.  I'm really not exaggerating.  Really.

During her talk, she said that she tries to live her life with love as her default setting.  Is this not profound?  I mean, the idea is not new.  Jesus calls us to love all the time in the Bible, to love others as we love ourselves, to be patient, selfless, and humble.  But the way Kristin phrased it made me realize that there is a difference between loving because that is what we are supposed to do and loving because that is our natural reaction.  The latter signifies a foundation rooted in love and all that encompasses.  It denotes that there is a well-spring of life in our hearts that is continually fed by Jesus.

What is it that cuts off the flow of living water in my life so that love no longer is my default setting?

For me, the answer is primarily unforgivingness and a lack of grace for others.  (I'm sure there are more things that I could throw into the mix, but this is what is coming to mind now.)

When Kristin mentioned the unforgivingness, I blew it off.  I forgive.  That doesn't apply to me.  Please note, brushing off something as important as forgiveness is just an open invitation to God to keep you up at night.  As I lay my weary head down that night, expecting to fall right asleep, three people whom I'd been harboring a grudge toward popped into my mind.   Bam, bam, bam.  Okay, Lord, I get it!  I have a problem with grudges!  Then, I knew I had to confess.  Out loud.  Things always are tougher when I have to say them out loud.  They become more permanent, I suppose.  Even if there are no human witnesses, I'm sure the angels hear and really, who wants to disappoint their angel?

Anyhow, Kristin was right.  There was an instantaneous shift in my spirit.  Something was lifted.  I may still have things to work out down the road pertaining to these happenings or these people, but just by announcing my forgiveness and choosing to lay down the burden of anger, I was more freed up to love.

My other thing is lack of grace for others.  I often get upset -- Why couldn't she do this?  Doesn't he know that it should have been done LAST week?  What do you  mean he took it?  Shouldn't you have asked first? I can't BELIEVE she did THAT!  Anyone else have these thoughts racing through their head at times?  It is so easy for me to be affronted by the behavior instead of trying to understand the person exhibiting the behavior.  Maybe sometimes love looks like letting things slide because I know "she" is busy with other things or "he" is overwhelmed by a personal crisis.  Or maybe, gasp, "she" just forgot, but "she" really is sorry.  Maybe love looks like seeing into the heart of the person, taking myself out of the equation, and just dealing with the fall-out.

Maybe love looks like grace.

Is love your default setting?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blowing Kisses

Make time for the quiet moments, for God whispers and the world is loud.

I have this saying in a picture frame hanging in my kitchen.  When I first saw it, it brought a lot of conviction -- I don't take enough time to sit still, much less quietly, with God.  So, I bought it and hung it in a place that my eyes would find it everyday.  By now, even though my eyes "see" it, it doesn't do much for my heart anymore.  I just gloss right over it.  That is until...

I got my new hearing aids.

Yes, I'm 32 and I've had a hearing loss pretty much all my life.  My old hearing aids are 7 years old and are in rough shape.  So, because we have great insurance, I was able to afford new ones.  I brought them home yesterday and as soon as I shut my car door, I knew they needed to be adjusted -- everything was too loud.  I nearly had a panic attack picking up my daughter at preschool -- babies crying, backpacks opening, kids laughing, teachers talking, parents whispering.  I must have looked crazed.  I think I actually felt my blood pressure rising -- I had to escape the chaos.  The noise was too overwhelming.  Even at home, the slightest scream that would escape my daughters' mouths would send me over the edge.  SSHHHHHHHHHH!

I guess there is such a thing as hearing too well.

For some reason yesterday, my eyes didn't just gloss over the saying in the picture frame on the wall in my kitchen.  God caught me for a moment.  This how I get drowned out.  The world is this loud.  It can overwhelm your senses.  It can fill you with chaos.  It can make you panicked.  There is no peace here.

Lately I have been totally absorbed by the world.  Even in doing volunteer things for my church -- things that I have felt called to do, I am completely overwhelmed.  I find myself easily irritated, upset over schedule changes, and people not always holding up their end of the bargain like I think they should.  I find myself having to work in short spurts on anything because I'm juggling my job, my family, my volunteer commitments (it's taken me at least 4 times to write this blog post).  Interruptions are everywhere -- the world barges in.

Yet, God knocks.

He stands at the door and waits for me to open it.  If I would only let Him in, perhaps I would be able to deal with the world more gracefully instead of just plugging my ears or barreling ahead to the next project.  Perhaps I would have a greater capacity for patience and love, for wisdom and godliness.  Instead of looking at the clutter and mess in my life and throwing my hands up in despair, I could sit in peace and deal with things in God's timing instead of the world's.  Instead of my own.

When I allow life to be overwhelming, I know I miss out on the little ways that God tries to catch my attention during the day.  Sometimes I even miss the depth of the larger blessings because I have engaged all my emotional capacity toward negativity.  Yesterday after I picked Hannah up from school, we were just riding in the car.  All of the sudden, she says, Mommy!  I just saw Grannie. I blew her a kiss.  It was a glimpse of the child-like realm in which Jesus would like me to abide, at least for a few moments.  A realm where I am readily able to see His hand, His work, and His love.

Where I can easily hear His whispers.  And maybe blow a kiss or two...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Satisfied with Grace

Ahhh, another day in the weeds...uh, I mean garden.  To our credit we do have a large garden that is (mostly) weed-free, but our lawn, well, that's another story.  I went out today to pull some of the nasty plant life from what should be a nice, luscious lawn since it has been raining off and on for a few days.  When the ground is wet, it is so much easier to pull out the weeds, roots and all.  For most of them today, I didn't even need a spade or a shovel to help me do the dirty work -- just my bare hands.

I began to equate the moist soil with my own soul.  It seems that the times when my soul and my heart are tender, it is much easier God to uproot the sin in my life.  What makes my soul tender?  Oddly, it is easier to rattle off those things that I know harden me -- anger, distrust, disobedience.  While I believe the opposites of those things do make for tillable heart soil, I think to be completely workable, there must also be concession and courage.

I must concede that I do not know best and yield to Him who does.

I must be courageous, knowing that He who started a good work in me will carry it through to the end.  No matter how messed up I feel, no matter what pain this world may inflict on me (or that I cause myself), no matter how much I feel like I am drowning, I must have courage to allow this plan to unfold without trying to control every last detail.  I must have courage and admit that I have faults, that I am not always right, and even if I am right, many times there is something I could have done better.  I must face my fears and in surrendering those out loud to God, I must allow His healing powers to set me free.

Do you remember that I told Hannah I was going to read a book about Heaven so I could help her find some answers to her questions about Grannie?  I have the book (I'm reading Randy Alcorn's book Heaven), but it has spent more time laying on the table than actually in my hands.  Out of the blue, Hannah called me out.  Mom-my, are you reading that book about Heaven yet?

Um, sure, honey.  I'm reading it.  I just haven't gotten to the chapter that talks about the answers to our questions.

Whoops.  I probably should have read past the introduction.

A four-year old can have too good a memory, eh?  I felt it to be a bit of a nudge that perhaps I should get on with it, to stop being afraid of what I might find out, and to just read.

One of the questions Hannah and I both had was if people in Heaven could see what was happening on earth.  Alcorn's supposition is that yes, people in Heaven can see what is happening on earth and his explanation draws on several Biblical references.  Although I had expected relief at this conclusion, my first actual thought was, Gee, I hope she looks down when I'm doing a good job.  What if she sees me mess up?  Will she love me as much?

Sometimes I wonder how I got so wrapped up in love being contingent on my good behavior, on doing the right things.  Since I did not see Grannie everyday, it was easy to shield her from my...um...less favorable side.  I could put my best foot forward for those eight or nine days we were together because, let's face it, I wanted her to be proud of me.  Whether or not she expected me to always be this way, I'm not sure.  Being a mom herself, I'm sure she knew that I could lose control, that I wasn't always so calm while disciplining my children, and that at the end of most days I was exhausted.  I wanted to live up to every expectation that she had of me, but did I want that because I really wanted to strive to be a better person or because I was afraid of losing her love?

Knowing that there is a strong possibility that she can see what is happening in my life, should she choose to look, I think I must set down the fear of disappointing her, of somehow losing her love, of not living up to, at least what I perceive to be, her expectations.  Instead of striving to be loved more, perhaps I can strive to honor God.  Instead of setting out to be perfect, I can choose to learn from my mistakes.  Instead of sitting in fear wondering when I'm going to blow it, I can choose to wrap my life in the unconditional love of God and be satisfied with grace.

Conceding that grace is pivotal to walking with Jesus and having the courage to not look perfect (note there can be no be here) are crucial to accepting love at face value.  To try to guess at motives or wonder if it is unconditional or not takes the joy out of just feeling...loved.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Things that Make Me Smile

Sadness has made me more aware of moments of joy.  And when those moments appear, they tend to shine magnificently bright, like rays of light piercing through the the trees, a second or two stopped in time to allow for the complete absorption of the occasion. 

These moments, had I not journeyed on the path I have trodden, would have seemed rather insignificant really.  The absence of joy over the last month has left me longing for that state again and I didn't realize how much I had missed it until it began to trickle in through seemingly ordinary events that were sweetly covered in God's grace.

Baking Monkey Bread
First, I must say, I HATE COOKING & BAKING.  Thus, doing one of these things and smiling usually can never happen at the same time.  But, monkey bread is something that I always made with my grandmother and then, when she could no longer bake it herself, I made it for her with joy.  Last night when I was making it for my Bible study girls, it was without tedium.  Shocking!  As I sliced the biscuits, melted the butter, and mixed up the sugar and cinnamon (are you getting hungry yet?), I just felt light.  A slow, simple smile played upon my lips and pressed into my heart.  Sweetness!  It's amazing to have a memory of a lost loved one and actually focus on the fullness of the moment instead of the loss of the person.  And the best part?  My house smelled just like Grannie's on any day that monkey bread had graced the oven.

The Graciousness of my Eldest Daughter
Abby is in Kindergarten and since the beginning of school, she has talked about taking a school bus (she lives too close to the school to ride one every day) for her field trip.  Today was to be the big day and it started with vomiting at 5:00 in the morning.  When I suddenly awoke at 5 am and noticed my husband was not in bed with me, I knew that the stomach virus that hit Hannah on Saturday was now coursing through Abby.  But I prayed, Lord!  You are letting me down here!  Do you know how much stuff I have to do today??  Ugh!  Expecting a tirade of tears at the news that she would not be going to the farm and a full day of meltdowns, I was radically impressed by her demeanor and behavior.  She accepted her fate, not with resignation, but hope.  Can we snuggle on the couch and watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?  I have never seen her handle disappointment this well and I can only think that it was the grace of God, a miracle, and blessing.  All day, I was watching to see what God was going to uncover and how He was going to bless us through her being at home.  My absolute favorite moment of the day was eating breakfast outside with the girls.  Abby hadn't thrown up again at all since the first incident and she was BEGGING me to let her have some monkey bread (sorry Bible study girls!).  She asked me, Did you make this, Mommy?  How did you make it?  I asked her, Do you remember making it with Grannie?  She nodded an emphatic oh, yes!  She then proceded to rattle off all the ingredients, quite pleased at what a bit of jogging of the memory can evoke.  The conversation switched directions after that, but for a few moments the three of us, under the canopy of a beautiful day, reminisced about good times with Grannie with nary a tear and only smiles.

New Facial Products
Okay, this one is just silly, but worth mentioning nonetheless.  Today I used my new skincare products.  My new face wash completely smells like the air at the Coral Sands -- the beach hotel that we have stayed at every summer with Grannie.  The last couple of days I have been thinking about when we go on vacation there in July and I have had such a hard time not tearing up at the thought that she will not be there upon our arrival.  Today, though, I just felt excitement and blessed that there have been several instances when I have smelled her presence.  I know this sounds weird, but the other day when I was running outside, for quite a few strides, I could breath deeply and I could smell her.  I am not sure why I associate smells with her so much, but any time I encounter them, I immediately feel safe and at home -- how I have always felt with her. 

Anyway, a day that could have been awful turned out to be wonderful.  Abby's sickness quickly abated and perhaps quite a bit of the darkness surrounding my soul was pierced by His light -- a process of rediscovering the power of joy all over again.