Patience, Trust, and Plans.

hot-hearts

Part of the FBC Carlsbad Youth Group…we did a lot of learning along with those shenanigans…

Like most kids who were part of church youth groups in the ’90’s, I loved the Christian band DC Talk.  Of course there was the general obsession with “Jesus Freak” (which, by the way, I am proud to say that I can still recite every single word of the rap sections), but one of my favorites was “What If I Stumble?”  I heard it for the first time at Youth MusiCamp in the 8th grade, and it resonated with me more than any other song.  The beginning line jarred me to the core:  “The greatest single cause of Atheism in the world today is Christians; who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

As a young teenager, I hadn’t thought much about that, but only it took about two minutes for the truth to sink in:  if I weren’t towing the line with the words and actions if I professed to be a Christian, I could be the one who causes someone else to refuse Christ because of what they saw in me.  Around the same time, Chuck Tipton who was a fabulous Baptist youth pastor, was leading our Disciple Now group, and reminded us that “we might be the only Jesus our friends see.  And they should see Him in us.”

Now that I am an adult, I think about this even more than I did as a teenager.  When we are in high school and college, we might have different majors and be involved in different activities, but we are still on pretty similar life-tracks.  We go to school with the intention of finishing and getting a job.  We are looking for a mate.  We are figuring out how to be adults and have responsibilities.  As we’ve all gotten older, though, our lives are about as different as they could get from one another.  Some of us are married, and some are single.  Some have been married for more than a decade, and some are newlyweds.  Some have children numbering in the double-digits and some have no children, and some are in the middle.  Some of us have high-paying jobs, some don’t, some are blue-collar, and some are white-collar.  Some of us don’t work at all.  We are on very, very different tracks.  We become friends with people who are much younger, much older, and people who we never expected to be friends with.

It seems that the more our lives differ, the harder it is for us to see outside of our own little bubble.  Instead of realizing that God’s plans for each other will greatly differ for each one of us, we try and force others back into that homogeneous track we were on as children and adolescents.  It is so easy to think to ourselves, “We work hard, we’ve been faithful, we seek the Lord, and we must be on track.  If such and such isn’t working for that couple, well, they must not be on track.  Their prayer life must be lacking, or they are not following God’s commands.  If they were, this would fall into place for them like it fell into place for us.”  Sometimes these thoughts get verbalized hypothetically, or even directly.  Or, in the name of helping, we try and pressure “those people” into making changes or finding their own avenues to make their lives work more like ours because, “clearly, we have it all figured out.”

Well, I don’t believe God intends us to all stay on a homogeneous track.   He didn’t have the same plans for Ruth that He did for Esther.  He didn’t have the same plans for Paul as He had for Peter.  Was one better or more righteous than the other?  Did God love one more than the other?  Did one do more Christian things (or Godly things in the case of old Testament characters) than another?  We could try and weigh it out and argue it, but it is a moot point.  Peter and Paul both made a lot of mistakes, but because of Christ, it didn’t matter.  They were equally valued by Christ, and both were used in a unique way.

I believe the same applies today.  Some of us are meant to be married young and have twelve children.  Some of us are meant to be married later and adopt children.  Some of us are meant to be single.  Some of us are meant to work a certain job for a certain purpose.  Some of us go through devastating sickness at a young age, and some of us are never sick.  Some of us have a big bank account, and some of us barely get by, even though both parties tithe and live faithfully.

God has different plans for each one of us, just like He had different plans for each character we read about in the Bible.  He allows different trials for each one of us at different times so He can use them in the way He needs to.  God’s plans for us are so much bigger than just our lives, or our families lives.  They are a part of the intricate weavings of His plan for ministering to a hurting world.

Christians–when we are overly judgmental on other Christians because something that has worked out easily for us doesn’t work out easily for others, we are not being Christ to them.  We are forgetting that God may have different plans for another than what He has for us.  We are forgetting that God’s timing is in control, and that patience is more holy than trying to force God’s hand just so that we, or others, fit into the box that looks the holiest.  Abraham is described as being “a friend of God.”  This honor was not bestowed on many, yet He had to wait and wait and wait for children.  God promised, but made him wait until the timing was right.  When Abraham tried to force God’s hand, well…we all know how well that turned out.

If we are actively seeking God’s will in our daily lives, actively praying and reading scripture, are faithful stewards of all He has given us–financially and otherwise–then we are on the right track.  If we are living our lives according to scripture, then we are on the right track.  Let’s be kinder to each other, and stop pushing each other into doubting God’s plans for us, simply because we don’t understand them or because they don’t match ours.  God’s plans for you are not His plans for me, and His plans for me are not His plans for you.  Let’s make sure our lifestyle reflects patience in the Lord, and the wisdom to realize that we are all broken, and that God has very specific plans for each one of us.

It took me sixteen years to realize that DC Talk and Chuck weren’t talking just about showing Christ to the lost.  We need to be showing Christ, His trust, and His patience to each other too.  If we don’t, we make it pretty easy for Satan to make his way right into the middle of our churches as we cause others to doubt God’s faithfulness.  Love trumps legalism.

 

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Mother’s Day for the Childless

Mother’s Day is such a beautiful day.  This year’s mother’s day is crammed full of children and music, baby dedications, rejoicing with families and praying with families.

But, this year.  This year is hard.

My mother lives across the country.  I can call and send a card, but she isn’t here for me to serve Sunday dinner to in our dining room.

Mom Summit Inn 2

My grandmothers have been gone for many years, and were gone for years before they were actually gone.  I’ve never met most of the women in my extended family.

But mostly, this year is hard because I am not a mother.  I am thirty, and I am not a mother.

As the months go on, my heart yearns more and more for the children we don’t have. It feels…empty.  Empty because I don’t have a sweet little thing to cuddle, or to run up into my arms after Sunday School, or anyone to just say, “I love you, Mama.”  It feels like something is missing.

Being around children as much as I am, I know it isn’t all butterflies and perfection.  I also know it is worth all of the trials and heartache.  If it weren’t, we certainly wouldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day.

On my way home from a business trip earlier this week, I had plenty of time to think.  I was thinking about how hard it was not to cry when a sweet gentleman asked me if we had children and I could barely choke out an answer, right there in his basement print-shop. Crying at the drop of a hat isn’t usually a good way to handle things, so while I was stuck in the car, I began to ask God to help me change my perspective get a grip.

I realized that I have been given a beautiful gift to be able to desire children so deeply before we have them.  So many women do not have these feelings in their hearts when they discover they are soon to be a mother.  So many women dread hearing the words, or worse–hate hearing the words–that tell them they are expecting.  I have a beautiful gift in knowing that, for whatever reasons He has, God has given me time to have a heart that is as fully prepared as a heart can be, and a faith that is so much stronger than it was even a year ago.

Mother’s Day for the childless at our house means I get one more practice run.  I get to hug fifty other children and be their music teacher when they sing for their Mamas on Mother’s Day morning.  I get to desire children even more deeply  than I did last week before they come to us.  Our marriage gets to grow even stronger before we have to care for  little lives.  I get to have a stronger faith as God continues to remind me that his plans are absolutely perfect, even when the pieces I can see are hard to understand.

This Mother’s Day, my prayer for the childless woman, is that we daily seek God’s perspective–especially on the hardest days.  I believe that the more we work toward shifting our focus to His perspective, the more we will gain the wisdom and peace that will never come from focusing on the emotions that seek to tear us down in the present.

“Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”  Luke 1:42

 

On Vowel Shapes and Heart Shapes

KKMusic is a gift.  It is a gift by which we can praise our Lord, a gift that can bring us joy, and a gift that can express our thoughts and feelings better than words or pictures alone.  When music gives us negative feelings, the teaching of it becomes abusive, and when we are shamed by it, we–meaning people–have missed the point and mis-used this beautiful gift.

I recently posted two videos of my church children’s choirs singing on Easter Sunday.  I was so very, very proud of them.  I was relieved that the musical part was going to be fine, but truthfully, I was more proud of them because they were children who were happy to be at church and happy to have a short moment to minister to the grown-ups.  I was proud of their attitudes, their good behavior, and their toothy smiles.  I was proud of how hard they worked on their music, and that they all followed directions and sang their very best.  I was proud of their parents for bringing them to church faithfully, and thankful that I was trusted with their children.  This lady was just beaming with pride for my kiddos, and oddly enough, very little of it had to do with the actual music itself.

Before I posted the video on Facebook, I had an instinctive hesitation.  I’m Facebook friends with all kinds of people, including lots of other musicians.  What would they think?  Did my children sound like an auditioned, Kodaly-based children’s choir?  Did I expect them to?  Was that my motive?  Definitely not.  But suddenly, some kind of instinct caused  me to begin to worry.

It’s some kind of pressure that all young classical musicians experience–many times you feel like you either must succumb to the attitude or look like you don’t know what good music is. The schnobby, elitist, cynical attitude.  The Nasty.  Just like any bad habit, young musicians seem to pick this up from the older ones, and if they don’t, they are looked at like they just don’t know.  Of course not every classical musician is like this–thank goodness.  But the Nasty is definitely present and pervasive.  For me, being in the classical music world sometimes felt like I was surrounded by a pack of wild dogs.  (enter visions from the Lion King.  Those were hyenas.  Anyways.)  Then there were other times when I succumbed and became the Nasty myself.  (glad I was not so subtly enlightened to that bad choice.)  Unfortunately, this attitude spills over into church music all too much.  Not at my church, but I see it all the time elsewhere–usually covertly disguised as humor, or for the purpose of “bettering our worship experience” or behind closed doors with other musicians.  All over the cotton-pickin’ place. And it’s hard not to be intimidated by it.

I went ahead and posted the videos, bursting with pride at my kiddos.  They come to music rotation for 20 minutes every Sunday night, and in a few weeks, they were singing in two parts.  Not bad.  On the other part of my inside, I was nervous at whether or not the Nasty would say or think snarky things.  I knew I took the tempo of one piece too fast, that my kids live in Georgia and half the vowels turn out to be tripthongs, that we weren’t quite getting all the way over top of that high note, etc. etc.  Did any of those things matter to me on Easter Sunday?  Absolutely not!  But I was still instinctively intimidated by the cynicism I’ve known for too many years.  Thankfully, I’ve learned to find my confidence over the Nasties, thanks to help from my music minister, husband, and a good friend.  I’ve also realized that if I am doing my job to the best of my ability, following Christ’s leadership, then it doesn’t matter what opinions anyone attaches to me–it isn’t about me.

Here is what I think :  Music is for worship.  Music ministry is to facilitate that worship for every age and for every ability level.  Children cannot understand worship at the same level as an adult who has been a Christian for 40 years, but as leaders, we should be modeling Christ-like behavior in order to teach children what worship means.  If we are turning the gift of music into something negative, just because “I have musical training and I know what this is supposed to sound like, so I am going to work it into the ground to make sure my colleagues know I am a good musician” I am being sickeningly narcissistic and making my children miserable.  If they are miserable, music will no longer be fun.  If the music is at church, that tells them that being at church isn’t a good place to be.  NOT Christ-like behavior.  If they feel that church isn’t a good place to be at a young age, why would they want to stay as college kids, or come back as adults?

This doesn’t mean anything goes.  I also believe that I have a call to use my gifts to the best of my ability to create music that can draw people into worship.  We also should balance that with our gift of common sense and the gift of remembering what it was like to be a child–knowing when to work the music, and when to stop and play a game.  Even if it means that vowel doesn’t get fixed.

In my church choirs, we play games, we have Bible time, we sing songs–some for performance and some not, we play beat-up instruments, and we love being at church on Sunday nights.  I work with them musically to keep increasing what they can sing, hear, and play, but the main point is leading them to become Christians who are leaders themselves.  Maybe they will have so much fun in music that they will include it in their adult lives and help with children’s choir later, or even become a music minister or a church pianist.  Maybe that secure, positive feeling they get by being at church on Sunday night is just what they will need to come back to church as an adult.  Then maybe, they will remember and be faithful in bringing their own children to choir on Sunday nights.  If all I focused on were the musical elements that need to be fixed, I would be missing out on the beautiful gift of singing, smiling, wiggly children right in front of me, and the humbling opportunity to be an influence in their lives.

At the end of the day, God looks at the shape of our hearts, not the shape of our vowels.  🙂

P.S.  My choir kids are the bomb.  And they are awesome singers.

 

 

 

I AM first

“I AM first.

I AM.  I go before you–ahead of you.  Wherever you go, I AM already there.  I AM in the darkest of places ready to hold you and carry you through to the light.  I AM before you, behind you, above you, and below you.  I lead you, protect you, shelter you, and hold you up.  You don’t have to beckon me to appear in the dark of night.  I AM already with you.

I AM.”

Satan knows how to get to me.  When he does it, he hits hard.  Really hard.  It always follows the same pattern.  I will be working harder than normal, giving it my all, more tired than normal, more stressed than normal, juggling work, home, church obligations, finances, unexpected trials, and—-  Discouraging whispers turn into booming shouts reminding me of how inadequate, fat, ugly, stupid, incapable, and annoying I am.  I’ve always really struggled with self-confidence, so that one is easy for him.  But if that weren’t enough, he starts to tell me that because I am so inadequate and stupid, that I’m worthless.  “God can’t use you.  You are a failure.  You made too many mistakes in college–just look at all of the un-Christian things you did.  You are an impostor.  Look at how stupid you are.  You can’t do anything right.  Don’t even try to call someone to talk with, because they don’t care.  They don’t want to be bothered with you, and neither does God.  God forgives other people, and maybe He forgave you, but He is going to punish you forever.  Why do you think you don’t have children yet?  Why do you think things are like they are?  It’s your fault, you worthless piece of trash.”

I used to be better at reaching out.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a conscious effort to not talk about what bothers me deep down.  Any time I do open up, I feel incredibly guilty after I’ve done it.  Now, truthfully, I needed to learn to hold it in better.  I was a typical artsy, sensitive girl who lived life on the Texas Giant of emotional roller coasters, and let the whole world know it.  That was a little much.  I mean…yikes.  God calls us to have self-control, and I needed some emotional self control, but I think sometimes, Satan grabs a hold of our efforts and tries to make us go too far–so far that we don’t reach out to a sister in Christ.  Or even to our husbands.  That we internalize and spiral down so far that we are drowning so quickly we almost can’t reach up.

I’m treading in deep stuff, I know.  But I don’t think I’m the only one who experiences Satan trying to keep us from what God has planned for us.  Maybe if we talked about our struggles like this sometimes, so many young people wouldn’t be convinced to take their own lives.  The last few weeks have been some of the hardest of my adult life.  I won’t go into it here, but trust me, they have been really hard.  Partly because of things that have happened and things I had to deal with, but also because in the midst of it, Satan was playing dirty with me, and I didn’t fight back at first.

I know spiritual warfare is real.  It is very real.  I also know that God was fighting for me the entire time I wasn’t fighting for myself.  When I finally cried out, God spoke.  He spoke those words I quoted at the top of the page, right there in the cab of my husband’s truck, in the dark, as I was driving to pick him up from work.  “I AM…”  Sometimes He speaks in quiet whispers and feelings, but this time, it was like He spoke with a bold, loving, booming voice that covered me with its power and love.  God always IS.  He was, and he will be, but He IS.  Right now, with me, with you, and He goes before us in every situation we pass through.  I envisioned this picture of me having to walk into the dark, knowing I had to, but seeing God standing before me, holding out His hand, beckoning me to take hold.

I think a lot of times, we look at dark situations as a place where we are all alone, trying to fend off Satan by ourselves until we call out to God to swoop us up out of them.  I was reminded that we are not alone, and rarely are we swooped out of difficult situations, but that God goes before us into every tunnel. He will lead the way and hold us up, if we will only take His hand.  We have to be the ones to accept the Hand, and we have to be the ones to keep hold of the Hand.

” 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38-39

 

 

The Mighty Assumption

 

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As Christians, we spend a lot of time talking about our thoughts and actions, about how harmful gossip is, and about our roles as Christian men and women.  Something I hear very little talk about, though, is the subject of assumptions.  More specifically, assumptions about people we encounter. I had a rather funny conversation today with a colleague that got me to thinking about how much we wrongly assume about each other. This colleague came in the office, and being a typical Southern man who likes to eat, commented on my lunch and asked who made it.  When I told him that I did, he said, “You cook!?”  We aren’t currently speaking.  Just kidding.  We are.  Sort of…  Truthfully, I wouldn’t expect him to know that I cook.  He only sees me at work, dressed up, doing work stuff, and unless you tell men things directly, they will never know.  I’ve never told him how much I love to cook, so of course, he had no idea.  And no, I’m not mad him.  Hehe.  🙂

Because I’m a thinker, though, I did start to think a little deeper about assumptions.  People seem so quick to view and categorize others, that they never end up getting to actually know the person they have just assumed they know all about.  I’ve been guilty of this more times that I would care to admit, but I think we all do it.  As young children, one of the first things we are taught is to categorize, group, and sort, so it is probably only natural that we take it a little too far into categorizing, grouping, and sorting people, too.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually work out too well with people.

In college, my roommate and I both drove a Lexus.  Neither of us acquired them new, and for both of us, it was just the car that God happened to provide for us at the time.  Many of our neighbors assumed we were just spoiled little rich girls, and made some fairly nasty comments without even getting to know us, just because of the cars we drove.  We couldn’t even get to know some of our neighbors because they were so hung up on assuming who we were because of what we drove.  If they knew the truth, they would know that the roommate’s Lexus had 290,000 miles on it, and I am still driving mine, ten years later.  We were tired music majors who penny pinched, cooked, and watched the Food Channel and PBS when we weren’t practicing and doing homework.

Does any of that really matter?  Nope.  People are people and people are broken.  What does bother me, though, is how much we miss out on because of assumptions like that.  There could have been some really nice relationships in the neighborhood if it weren’t for that, but they never happened.  We had a wonderful relationship with the older couple across the street–the couple who couldn’t have cared less what we looked like, or what cars we drove, or whether we grew up in Mockingbird Heights or the gutter.  We always knew that Mr. Ed (yep–Mr. Ed.  We called his wife Mrs. Ed, but I couldn’t tell you their last name for the life of me…)  was there for us, and I’d like to think that maybe we made their lives a little less lonely.

It seems like the harsher and more misguided the assumptions get, the more hurtful it gets for both the one being assumed about and the one doing the assuming.  There was a time when I almost allowed others’ actions based on untrue assumptions tear apart our marriage.  I know that I’ve made some gravely wrong assumptions about people, and it took years for me to mend the damage I did.  In fact, there are things that I am still trying to mend over making and acting on hurtful assumptions years ago.  Had I listened to what God had to say about a situation, or asked for wisdom to see the person’s heart, I doubt I would have ever headed down the rabbit trail of assuming things.

I have several friends who are the type who are very reserved until they feel comfortable around someone.  Many times, these people are kind of hard to get to know at first, and hard to read at first.  Once you get to know them, though, the reservations are gone, and this once very quiet and formal person is now outgoing, talkative, and relaxed, and oftentimes, incredibly funny.  I happen to know that my friends who are like this struggle with people making assumptions about them that aren’t true.  Some I just find funny, like those people who say, “Oh, she is just so sweet and quiet.”  I’d love to say back, “Well clearly you’ve never really talked to her, or you would know that she is sweet but definitely not quiet!!”  I’ve also heard people say much more hurtful things like, “Oh, well she is just a cold person” or “She hardly said a word.  She is so rude.”  The truth is, if people got off of the first-impression assumption train and make some conversation, they would see that these people just have a hard time knowing what to say at first, or they have a hard time letting their guard down, or they just get nervous around new people.  I wonder how often valuable friendships are missed out on because people aren’t given enough of a chance?

In an effort to not be an “assumer,” I think I notice more than I used to.  I see things all the time that people do to rob each other of a blessing:

  • People assume that people who financially struggle are always irresponsible.
  • People assume that people who are financially well-off are always going to be rude and selfish.
  • People assume that people who are in the ministry are perfect and never need sleep.
  • People assume that people who have physical limitations also have mental limitations.
  • People assume that people who are developmentally disabled are incapable of doing anything.
  • People assume that if a young woman isn’t married by a certain age, that there is something wrong with her, or that she doesn’t want to be married.
  • People assume that those with big families are somehow foolish and misguided as to how that happens, because “who would want that many kids!?”
  • People assume that those without children choose that on purpose.

If we make assumptions that stifle our ability to have relationships with others, do we make assumptions that stifle our ability to have a healthy relationship with God?  Do we make assumptions about scripture, or how strong our faith is, or how obedient we are?  Do we make assumptions about what is permissible and what isn’t, and what is right for our family without praying for and seeking God’s guidance through His word?

Assumptions are immediate, but relationships are more like those elephant ears above.  They start out as bulbs, but with a little effort, time, and nourishment, they transform into something no one would have ever expected on a first impression.

 

Strange Packages

Apples

Five inches of water in the tent.  Five.  “Record-breaking rain in North Georgia and the Carolinas.”  Someone told me there was 28 inches in 36 hours where we were.  Regardless of the measurement, I can attest to the fact that there was about 27,000 tub fulls of rain.  While there was a hurricane dumping tons of water on the Southeast, we were camping where the hurricane was dumping tons of water.

No, we aren’t crazy.  Yes, we checked the weather.  Unfortunately, to get a camping space (let alone a hotel room) in the Blue Ridge while the leaves are turning requires a reservation months in advance, so we didn’t have much of a choice about the bad timing.  The trip was already scheduled and paid for, so we packed up and hoped for the best.  This disastrous-on-the-outside camping trip turned out to be one of the most wonderful blessings-on-the-inside weekends I’ve ever had.

It started out beautifully.  In fact, we had one really, really nice day up in the mountains.  The air was cool, the sky was overcast, the leaves were turning, and it was just…perfect.  We met friends that we planned to meet, and met lots of others that we didn’t know were coming.  Our camps were set up, supper was done, a campfire was roaring, and we got to relax by the fire.  Ahhh….  But then, sprinkle, sprinkle, roar through the canyon, and DOWNPOUR!!!  That downpour is still going as I type this three days later.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of blessing in this, and I’ll be honest–when I woke up the next morning to the pool in the tent, wet boots, wet clothes, and a broken zipper on the tent door, I was NOT feeling the blessing.  In fact, I cried.  And cried, and cried.  I wasn’t really crying about the rain.  I was crying about a long, stressful summer, too much lost sleep, too much self-imposed pressure to be productive, and the cold rain was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.  When I was younger, I never really understood what my grandma meant when she would say, “I just need a good cry” in her sweet, West Virginia accent, but as an adult, I definitely understand.  I needed a good cry, so in my usual style, I took it to the extreme, since that is what I do with everything, and had a good old-fashioned sob fest.  Twice.

I’ll spare the rest of the pathetic details, but needless to say, after fighting it, we finally decided to cut our losses and come home.  Before you laugh at us for having no idea what we were doing, just hold your horses.  I grew up camping, and am no stranger to making due, and my husband is a great outdoorsman.  Unfortunately for us, his intense, blizzard-proof tent had already been through a lot of New Mexico wind, snow, rain, and ice, and it choose just this particular trip to give up the ghost.  I’ll throw a bone for Honey, though–his fire that he built on the only night we got to have one burned for four hours in the rain! We were all huddled under a canopy trying to stay dry, but that hickory-wood fire burned with steady flames all night.  He’s a good man to have around, even if he did think I was being over-dramatic about the amount of water in the tent at first…

Like any woman, I felt much better and much more rational after I was done with my sob fest .  I went back to wanting to make the best of things, and suddenly, I started to see the blessings.  We were there with lots of people we loved.  We had some wonderful conversations with our friends, and played with sweet little girls.  The campfire didn’t get rained out completely, and we managed to get in one round of s’mores before the downpour.  I got in one gloriously bodacious nap in the woods, complete with the good-sleep-snoring that only happens when it’s the best kind of sleep.  (in case I hadn’t blown it for some of you already, my ladylike facade just got carried away with that last sentence.)  I even got to cook my big breakfast outside, which was really fun!  The rain was still coming down, but we were cozied up under the canopy with warm stoves and aromas of fried potatoes and bacon wafting out as we drank our coffee.  Pretty good when you think of it that way.

That afternoon when we were still thinking we would try to salvage our camp, a friend hopped out in the rain to help put up a tarp to cover the table.  By the time he was finished, he was soaked, but helped with willingness anyway.  The Navy knot-tying skills got to make an appearance, and are some of the most impressive skills I’ve ever seen!  After we finally decided to throw in the sopping wet towels and head home, we still got to do some shopping, apple-picking, and do some barbecue and fried pie eating with our dear friends before it was time to tear down our camp.

As we stared to tear down, a flashlight beamed at us through the rain, and because we live in Georgia, the normal response to anyone approaching, regardless of whether or not you can even see who is coming,  is a slow “Hey” spread out through a quadruplethong vowel (in case you are wondering, that is a double-diphthong).  In answer to that all-welcoming greeting was another couple from our church who showed up with kindness, flashlights, boiled peanuts, and helping hands to tear down our camp.  On their vacation, they chose to help us tear down our camp–in the rain, in the dark, and almost in the middle of the night.  We didn’t ask, they just gave.  Amazingly enough, it was not only extremely helpful, but the activity I was dreading suddenly became fun!  We got the camp torn down and the truck packed in record time, but not without a break for me to be tormented and chased with what I assumed was the dreaded frog-creature, but what actually turned out to be a poor, innocent, slimy salamander.

As we were leaving these folks stopped, after all of the kindness and laughter, to pray with us and give us coffee and hugs to send us on our way.  Another family offered for us to stay in their trailer when they found out we were packing up, and another was upset that we decided to pack up without saying anything, because they would have helped, too.  As we drove away that night, I suddenly couldn’t help but laugh with joy.  I sat sopping wet and cold, but haven’t felt more cared about, loved, and accepted as I did that night.  We experienced the meaning of Christian love and charity so many times that weekend from so many people, that I am overwhelmed by the thought.  The selfless giving–the idea of someone willingly making themselves uncomfortable to help a brother and sister in Christ, the laughter and jokes to make it all bearable, and the direct prayer over the whole thing is something that should never be taken for granted.  I am overwhelmed, thankful, encouraged, challenged, and appreciative of how beautifully these men and women faithfully imaged Christ this weekend.

They say that large blessings come in small packages, but sometimes, large blessings come in large, wet, funny-shaped packages.  In this case, our strange package was a hurricane, a tent-turned-bathtub, and a beautiful group of people brought together under a bond of the church family and a love for the outdoors.  It just goes to show you that even in small things, what looks like a dreadful situation might transform into the most beautiful blessing we have ever received.  If we can slow down long enough to accept the situation given us and open our eyes, we will start to see the overwhelming blessings right where we sit.

Just to be clear, though, I will never, ever, ever go camping in a hurricane again.

Hypocrite? There’s room here.

Photo credit: google.com

Photo credit: google.com

At the end of May, I was having lunch with an out-of-town friend who asked me what had caused such rapid growth in our church in recent years.  At the time, I didn’t really have a good answer for her.  In fact, I pretty much avoided the question.  I could have gone on about all the wonderful things about our church, and what a change it has brought about in our lives, but because this was a friend I was still very much getting to know that day, I was consciously trying not to prattle on about things she and her husband might not be interested in.  Usually, I find it easy to dive right in to a deep, spiritual conversation, and wanted so badly to talk about the people, discipleship, teaching, and sisterhood, but because some are put off by heavy conversation too soon, I instead answered with some generalized, surface remark and changed the subject.

On the drive home to Georgia, I sat wondering why I had answered the way I did–why I avoided sharing anything from my heart at all.  After quite a while of raffling between regretting being shallow and feeling like an idiot, I finally came to a two-fold conclusion:  I didn’t answer because at the time, the answer in my heart was more of a bucket of wonderful abstract thoughts and feelings, rather than a concrete opinion, and second, because I couldn’t have given a concise answer, I felt like those thoughts from my heart would have been looked at as irritating, unnecessary, and just…stupid. Would the kind people I was sharing lunch with have responded that way?  Doubtfully.  My friend wouldn’t have asked if she didn’t want me to answer, but I somehow convinced myself in the moment that no one would want to hear anything I had to say from deep down.

As the time went on, I occasionally thought about that answer I never gave, and kept wishing I could have answered it.  Eventually, though, my days led to a summer that left me in a place of being completely overwhelmed, too many demands on my time, too many things to handle, and not enough sleep.  At that moment, I couldn’t have cared less about answering the church growth question for myself.  Oddly enough, it was me being pushed to my limit from two different directions that God used to show me how this body of believers was held together, and why it kept drawing more in. 

From one direction, I was just tired.  Tired of thinking and planning, tired of having to make unkind people happy, tired of remodeling, tired of always being behind on chores because of the remodeling, tired of having a perpetually dirty house because of the remodeling and the being behind, tired of arthritis screaming at me for doing all of the remodeling work myself, tired of being at work until dark…and the list goes on.  Before I knew it, it was time to plan for children’s choirs at church, and I wasn’t sure that I could handle planning and giving time and energy to anything else.

From the other direction came the “old fear monster” renewing himself.  The fear of musical failure.  The fear of feeling like everything I do has to be over the top, lest it not be pleasing enough.  The fear of judgement from music ed colleagues and mentors, who might not think I’m teaching enough music ed in church choir.  The fear acquired from past church circles that to be valid–a valid Christian, teacher, church member–we must have reached the “arrival point.”  No room for imperfections, insecurities, or grace.  The fear that if I make a mistake, that no one will forgive me and give me a second chance, and most deeply, the fear that I am dumb and have nothing worth giving.

Some of these fears are just things that Satan whispers in the ear of the perfectionist.  Some of these fears, however, are fears that  I call learned fears–fears that come from previous situations that cut our hearts deeply, and that Satan uses to try to push us backwards.   As most women know, when either of these fears come crashing down on us at a time when we are over-stretched and sleep deprived, we usually don’t handle things terribly well.  We do a lot of “freaking out,” but not a lot of listening to what God might have to say to us.  (I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who hops in this boat from time to time.)

I think it was pretty clear to several that I was overwhelmed, and a couple of folks requested that I call them this week to talk things over.  In the past, this meant a reprimand, so I tried to prepare myself to listen to my failings that I was already acutely aware of, and just made the calls.  What I heard on the other end, instead of the reprimand I had expected, was affirmation, kindness, love, understanding, and sharing.  These ladies shared with me their own fears, “old fear monsters,” experiences, and hearts.  We laughed about how we all try to do too much, and graciously figured out how to scale things down to what was realistically possible in this particular season.

What I learned here, was that everyone around me was freely willing to admit that they are just as imperfect as I am, and they don’t have to be ashamed about it.  This is a body of people who recognizes how much we all need God’s grace daily, but at the same time, that we should daily try to image God by our actions, thoughts, and words.  We are a group with high behavioral standards, but a group who lovingly and quickly forgives when we fail.  We are a group of understanding servants, who live life in the real world, and we all understand what it means to struggle, but instead of hiding the struggle, we share our experiences and our resources to help another.  We disciple each other, and learn with each other.  No one is expected to “do it all,” “have it all,” or “know it all” to be valid, but everyone seems to want to help, give, and learn more.

Is our church perfect?  No.  Is there any member who is perfect?  No way.  We are a group of flawed humans–or as the world likes to say, hypocrites–who constantly make mistakes, but what separates this group from others, to me, is that instead of hiding our shortcomings, we help each other grow past them.  We forgive each other, love each other, and show our caring for each other, through verbal grace, through arriving at a home on a Saturday to lend a helping hand, or by simply spending time with each other and encouraging one another.

As far as those old fears go, well, most of them just needed to get put into perspective.   I know I’m not stupid, and I may not be a soprano bound for the Met, but that isn’t God’s musical calling for my life. Will this semester be heavy on music education?  Probably not–you can’t do much in 20 minutes.  Somehow, though, if older boys are willingly singing and participating, and three-year-olds are singing little solos in a singing game, things can’t be going too badly.  If we can teach children about the Lord, teach them that church is a good place to be, and put a love for music in their hearts at an early age, I think that’s pretty good.  After all, who are we supposed to be pleasing?

If we are afraid of sharing our hearts because we are afraid people will react to us with annoyance, harshness, or a good eye-roll, we are selling many people short, who probably would love to hear what we had to say, and who would never react cynically.  As far as the people who would react cynically, those probably aren’t the people whose reactions and opinions matter.  Considering that cynicism is usually the fruit of emptiness, those people should never have power over my heart and how I choose to speak to others.

And to finally answer that question that was unassumingly asked in May, I believe that God is present in the people, and that spirit draws others in.  This church is a body of people who are trying, stumbling, learning, forgiving, and loving, with scripture as their guide.  With every corporate song sung together, every disagreement that gets resolved, every roof that gets put on,  every meal that gets delivered and shared, and every verse of the Bible that gets learned, the people take one more step forward in the footpaths of Christ.   Instead of a church that tries to look good and look smart under a veil of ritual and cynicism, it is a church that tries to do right and good by carrying out God’s commands, and become smarter by studying and discipling each other in the Word.

We share our lives, our burdens, our joys, and our hearts, as we try, with God’s grace, to be what He calls us to be.  We stumble and forgive, and help each other to keep trying.  And, as Brian Moore would say, “There’s always room for one more.”

Why We Don’t Have Kids

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I have crocheted more pairs of baby booties than I can count since we moved to Georgia, and loved on more sweet bundles of joy than I ever have in my life.  It’s no wonder that the thought of children is never far from my mind.

In the urban area I work in, it seems completely normal for a married couple to be childless in their twenties .  People tend to get married later, and wait to have children until well into their thirties.  They typically have small families–two or three children–and four children is considered a big family.  In the rural area where we live, however, young people still tend to get married early, settle down early, and have children early.  The families can be quite large–seven and eight children is considered normal.  In fact, in our church, I am fairly certain that we are the oldest married couple without children.  And by oldest, I mean we are both 29 (not for long, but that’s beside the point).

In the town where I work, I don’t usually feel out of place for not being a part of the “mom club.”  In the town where I live, though, I sometimes feel like I’m on the outside looking in at the rest of the young women, whose lives are centered around babies, baby things, baby conversations, jokes about raising children…all of the beautiful pieces of that life.  Most of the time, I love these conversations!  They are funny, educational, and just good girl talk.  There are days, though, where I wish I weren’t sitting on the other end without anything to add to the conversation.  Sure, I can add words of encouragement or discernment, but I can’t add any stories of my own.  On those days, my heart grieves for the children we don’t have.

Many people get the idea that we don’t have children because I’ve chosen a career over children.  If they really knew me, they would know that this is about as far from the truth as it can be.  Don’t misunderstand me, I love my job, and I am thankful that I have it, but having a job doesn’t mean I’ve chosen to not have other things.  Others will say, “well, they are just being smart and waiting.”  Here is the truth:  My greatest desire in life is to raise up children in our home, as God would have us raise them.  We are not “waiting” as some see it.   So, why no kids?

I’ve struggled with that question for a long time.  I used to think that maybe it was because we weren’t being good enough followers of Christ.  Well, if that were true, then none of us would be having any children.  We all fall short of the mark.  Thank goodness for God’s Grace on our lives.  Other possible issues were ruled out, which I won’t go into, since I’m a little old-fashioned.  Finally, after a teary-eyed conversation after Sunday School one day, my husband reminded me of the Truth.  There is Truth in why he and I do not have children yet.

He reminded me that the picture of God’s plan is so much bigger than we could ever perceive.  It is so much bigger than us, today, and what we think we need or want.  Finally, he said, “Our friends have children because those children were meant to be alive today, so they could fulfill God’s purposes that he has laid out for them at the right time.  We don’t have children yet because our children aren’t meant to be alive yet.  If we are meant to have them, they are meant to be alive later, so they can also fulfill God’s purposes at the right time.  They are meant to influence people at a specific time, which will influence other people, and their children, and their grandchildren, and right on down the line.”  (This is why I married him, people.)

We had this discussion about five months ago, but those words that God spoke through my husband have completely changed my heart on when we do or do not have children.   I haven’t stopped thinking about it, but I have stopped worrying about it.  If I think about the times God has used someone to minister to me, or me to minister to someone else, I should remember that those times were pre-ordained, long before either one of us existed.  If we are to be blessed with children, God already has a plan for those children, and that time just hasn’t come yet.  Of course I am aware that there is a science to conception, but God being the Creator, He created that scientific process, and He is in ultimate control of it.  There is so much comfort in knowing that it isn’t up to us; knowing that His plan is perfect, and when we seek after it, it will be for our good.

Truthfully, I know that God has been doing some serious work in my heart and mind the last six months.  I am a changed woman who is seeking after Him more strongly than I ever thought possible.  When I step back and think about it, I am so very thankful that the changes He has brought about in me have begun before I have ten little fingers and ten little toes needing me to care for them.  God’s timing is perfect, whether it is for the woman who has seven children at 29, or the woman who has no children at 29.   God’s timing is perfect.

*Disclaimer:  I do not pretend to have all of the answers.  This post is a reflection on my own life, faith, and heart.  I cannot pretend to answer the choices and outcomes of every decision made by every person, nor can I pretend to understand them.  I do know, however, that every child is a blessed child from God.

The Persevering Heart

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“Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong,

They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me,

Yes, Jesus loves me,

Yes Jesus loves me,

The Bible tells me so.”

Love is what having a persevering heart is all about–God’s love that flows down through Christ, into our hearts, and out to each other.  “We love each other, because He first loved us,” says I John.

Parents love their children with a love that is stronger than words can describe.  It is a love that encompasses all of the tears and boo boo’s and hugs of childhood, and late night discussions and revelations of adulthood.  It comforts, it holds tightly, it soothes, and it understands.

God loves us this much, and even more–after all, He designed parenthood, and modeled the love that goes along with it.  I’ve learned lately, that just like a parent’s love, God’s love holds us, comforts us, soothes us, and understands everything we think and feel.

What I was surprised to learn, is that God loves us too much to leave us where we are.  He loves us too much to let us drown in our flawed, selfish ways.  Parents who truly love their children know when it is time to comfort, and when it is time to discipline; they know when it is time to understand and smile, and when it is time to understand and firmly teach; they know when it is time to soothe, and when it is time to push forward.  They know when it is time to make choices that are painful in the present, but needed for the future.

God loves us unconditionally, but unconditional love doesn’t mean that His love won’t sometimes feel like the sting of a thorn, as it convicts us against words that should not have been spoken, or an attitude that we shouldn’t have.  Sometimes, love feels like a freight train that runs us over in the middle of the night–if you are anything like me, there are times that it takes something that drastic to get my attention…

God loves me too much to let me drown in emotions that get a hold of me, and too much to let me fall victim to the insecurities that Satan whispers in my ear.  He teaches me.  He holds me with a firm hand that keeps me safe and pulls me closer to Him, through lessons learned and comforts given. He loves me too much not to stretch me until I have nothing to hold onto but the unseen power of the Holy Spirit.

Through all of the thorns and freight trains, I’ve learned how to have real faith.  This kind of faith is where we can find a Persevering Heart–the kind of faith that is forged in fire and softened through compassion.  With such faith, I am learning that the song text above is not just a nursery song; it is a creed for every minute of every day.