Patience, Trust, and Plans.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

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.