July 28, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 28}

On Saturday, our family had plans to visit the four covered bridges in our county.   The kids and I had taken a driving tour to see them shortly after we moved here two years ago, but my husband had never been.  The drive affords one a chance to take in some of Western PA's beautiful countryside and each bridge offers a brief history lesson, making one wonder how many carriages passed over them, what their riders and drivers talked and worried about, and if the past was as quaint as we would like to believe.  Well, I don't know if my children were thinking about those things, but I was.

Earlier in the week, I was so thrilled we had a free Saturday morning and plans to go on a family adventure.  When I woke up Saturday morning, however, the but-you-could-get-so-much-done vice began to tighten its grip on my thoughts.  Delight disappeared and all I could see were the myriad things  I "really should" do with that empty morning.

But the morning wasn't empty, we had plans!  The hours were already accounted for and I was going to get to be with my family.  People, I had to talk myself back into the plans I was so excited about just a couple of days before!  Aren't our emotions and minds strange like that?  I mean, really. I am embarrassed to admit that I was going to let unnecessary concern about tasks - that could be done at any time - keep me from some good, quality, summery family time.

Not long ago I read a quote that said something like, We need to learn to live with the undone.  The gist was that there will constantly be things left undone or things needing done that we cannot get to at a moment.  I struggle with this a great deal.  I choose, wisely, to spend my time in the morning one way, then spend my afternoon regretting that I didn't spend it in a "more productive" way, even if I had a fantastic time doing the other thing.  I am a silly girl and need to learn to value rest as much as I do productivity, or the illusion thereof.

Anyway, back to Saturday.  I talked myself out of even suggesting to my husband that we postpone.  Into the car we climbed with a small bag of snacks, five water bottles, the camera and tripod, and directions.  The day was glorious, the company was my own personal fantastic four, and we had a wonderful morning together, ending in the early afternoon with a visit to a farm market that was new to all of us and a Wendy's lunch.

How foolish it would have been to stay home and do chores!

I guess Saturday's lesson was practicing being OPEN to what is before me, not changing plans for fear of what I might miss out on or might make me feel more accomplished.  I know it doesn't always work out this way, but funnily enough Saturday morning was so relaxing and fun that when we got home I had energy for tidying up, vacuuming, and dusting!  I would not have believed you if you had told me in the morning that the day would turn out that way.  Not. at. all.  The Good Lord is trying to help me deal with my idols and I'm so thankful He got through to stubborn me this past weekend allowing for time with family and time to restore order.  Grace upon grace!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

Time to Take Action:  Do you have a hard time resting?  Does it make you feel guilty?  Do you feel like you're "supposed to" use every blessed second to get something done?  The irony of this style of life is that not resting usually leads to less productivity!  The Lord instructs His people to rest from physical labor and to spiritually rest in Him.  We can express our trust in Him and our love for Him by being the finite ones we are and obeying His instruction.  After all, it is most wise to let the One who is God be God.

July 23, 2015

Two Questions to Point You to God and Deepen Relationships

Catching up with a friend at an swim meet last weekend.
She went right past fluff to real stuff.  So refreshing!

Don't you love those moments when you find yourself in a social situation where you want to move past small talk but have no idea how to do it without sounding nosy or awkward?  It is so easy to talk about the weather, ask what someone did over the weekend, or the triumphs of the local sports team.  But then what?

If you dump too many of your own problems on someone, they may never come back, even for small talk.  Or if you ask too probing a question, they also may never come back, even for small talk!  How are we supposed to go deeper in relationships if we can't move past the small talk?

One of my priorities in conversation is to try to draw out the other person, so I (try to!) avoid talking solely about myself.  I listen for things in the conversation that lend themselves to further questions.  For example, if someone is sharing about a difficult situation with their spouse or kids, I might ask how they respond emotionally.  I know how I would react, but they are not me and I can learn a lot about them, and from them, by asking such a question.

Another approach I like to take, is to have a few open-ended questions ready to ask: what they like best about their job, describe what a normal day in your life is like, or what do you do for fun.  Anything to make the conversation advance past how much it has been raining or how quickly the summer is flying by!

As I was cooking eggs to feed the masses one morning before rushing out to Summer's Best Two Weeks, I was thinking about good questions.  Here are the two that came to mind:

What is great about you? 

What is your most-difficult-to-discuss struggle?

Both of these questions reveal a lot about us and how we think about ourselves.  Meditating on them also convinced me that these two questions can point us straight to God; yep, even the one about what is great about us!

You see, what is amazing about who we are and the life experience we have had is all a gift from God.  The Bible says he knit us together in our mother's womb and He knows all about every aspect of our being and our living.  None of it is an accident.  What is great about you is an opportunity to praise the One who made you and has provided experiences and education for you!   What we are proud of or happy about who we are is an opportunity to worship.  We cannot take credit for the myriad things that have been providentially given, so we can give credit where credit is due.

Now, how about that second question?  What is your most-difficult-to-discuss struggle?  Is there anyone in your life with whom you discuss it?  Have you even dared to open up that part of your heart to the Lord?!  It is scary to be vulnerable, even with the One who already knows how bad it is!  But lean in, my friend, that which is most difficult at the moment is an opportunity to entrust yourself to God and watch Him work in astounding ways!  What we struggle with and burdens us is an opportunity to worship.  We can't handle it, but we know the Lord can; we honor Him by talking with Him about it and placing it in His hands.

Before you go asking these questions of someone else, answer them for yourself!  Most of us don't take the time to know ourselves well enough; the tyranny of the urgent is always consuming us.  If we can answer these questions, though, it will launch us to new depths of faith and, as we invite others to consider the same, new depths of friendship.  Will you give it a go today?

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Psalm 103:1

If you feel brave, I would love to hear your answers so I can join you in worship, pray for your struggles, and get to know you better!

July 21, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 27}

Finding myself in a reading void, I pulled a book off the shelf to give it another go.  In 2002 my father gave me Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, by Soren Kierkegaard.  My previous underlines stopped about three chapters in, i.e. I never finished.  Starting anew, I know why I never got through it.  What strange writing!  I feel very challenged trying to sift my way through his words: the style of argumentation and the repetition.  This time, though, I will conquer; I'm on chapter 6, approaching the half-way mark.

Despite the challenge, the main point is coming through, purity of heart is the opposite of double-mindedness. And as I am confronted with my double-mindedness, my fortress of pride is taking a beating.  Here is the verse from which Kierkegaard's treatise was birthed:
Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  James 4:8

If I want purity of heart, which Jesus said will allow me to see God, I need to let go of (or, better, be rescued from) my double-mindedness.  Being OPEN to purity of heart means being OPEN to exposure, admitting my double-mindedness to myself, God, and others.  Mr. Kierkegaard addresses some of the ways we are prone to double-mindedness: wanting reward more than God, living for God out of fear of punishment, and other chapters I have not gotten to yet.  Already I feel beaten up by the truth in his words, not sure I want to go on to those chapters!  Knowing that he closes the book with several chapters under the heading "WHAT THEN MUST I DO?" is the driving force pushing me through the tough stuff; at least there's hope coming.  I hope!

After several days of ego-bruising reading with my Danish philosopher buddy, our pastor got up in the pulpit on Sunday and had the audacity to talk about idols!  Geez, Lord, are you trying to tell me something?  The pastor is in the middle of a sermon series on work, and this Sunday he did not shy away from talking about the idolatry of work, preaching out of the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11.  He specifically highlighted two ways we idolize work: money and fame.  As with all idols, what makes them such is when a good thing becomes the ultimate thing.  With almost everything Ryan said I was able to shake my head in agreement: I know what you mean; that's me, too; yep, that hits the nail on the head.

Idols are pretty, shiny, alluring, and seem to offer the satisfaction our hearts desire.  Instead, they always leave us longing for more, if they don't destroy us.  How much money is enough?  Just a little bit more.  How much prestige and honor is enough?  Just a little bit more.  Something good happens to boost our faith in our idols, but too-soon we find ourselves wishing the boost had been juuuust a little bit higher.

I have always found this verse from Jonah 2:8 convicting:

Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

Every idol is worthless.  Every idol keeps us from God's loving-kindness.  

Our idols keep us from the Lord, so far from Him.  The verse from James 4:8 reminds us of our need to have our hearts purified for us to see God.  Our double-mindedness, as we try to love and serve other masters along with God, leads us further away from Him, not to mention how it keeps us from what He longs to give us and how He wants to use us.  Recognizing our idolatry is an invitation to repent!  Verses nine and ten of James four continue in this way:

Grieve, mourn, and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning, and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
He will lift you up!  What a promise!!

God is not looking for success stories.  He is looking for humble servants who know they can trust their Lord.  He can free us from idols that chain us to worry, doubt, and fear, for He knows our needs before we even ask Him.

Running through town this morning in the quiet of the early hour, I thought about how desperately I want to be free.  Those who belong to Christ are already free; our place as heirs in the Kingdom of God is secure.  Blessed truth of the Good News!!  But we are not Home yet, so we must learn to keep our eyes fixed on our Father, forsaking all other pretty, shiny, alluring idols that try to turn our head.  Purity of heart starts with purity of sight, eyes only for our Lord.

James, earlier in chapter four, reminds me of one BIG way to keep my eyes steady:

What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don't get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.  You do not have, because you do not ask God.

You do not have, because you do not ask God.  We are often at war with ourselves and at war with those around us, and we - believers, saved by grace, loved by God, oh so secure in Him - forget about God.  We forget that we can seek and trust Him for forgiveness, for hope, for restoration, for guidance, and for provision.  I spent too many hours last week worrying, warring within myself and at war with my family and my circumstances.  I was so thankful when my eyes passed over those words: You do not have, because you do not ask God.

Feebly, I am asking, ashamed that I wait so long, every time, to remember my God.  I plan to keep asking and see if we can't shed some of these idols together.  Boldness will come, so will glory - His!

Time to Take Action
What do you want that you do not have?  What are you longing for?  How are you worshiping at the feet of idols waiting for them to fulfill you and your requests?  What is going on in your heart?  I can direct you to only one place, a person.  He is safe and He is able.  Humble yourself and He will lift you up.  May you know freedom in Him.

July 16, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 26}

Waking up Saturday morning with nothing on my schedule was thrilling; I could do with the day whatever I wanted.  I made plans.  The big kids had a morning rehearsal, so Katherine and I could stay home and get to long-neglected yard work, then in the afternoon we could all reward ourselves for our hard work with a trip to the pool!  It has been raining so much this summer we have visited the pool only about half a dozen times.  Saturday was finally pool weather.  Hurray!

Some time in the midst of my work, my husband and I had a conversation about what would happen for the rest of the day.  I have to confess that going into this conversation, I was already annoyed that he had not offered to help with the yard.  While I had been making plans, he had, too.  There was a near-by dam and park he had been wanting to visit and he thought the day was perfect for it.

I cringed.

 had a plan and didn't he appreciate that we paid for the pool pass and we finally had a day we could use it?  A good day, even, mostly sunny!

But I am also aware of the Scriptures.  Look not only to your own interests, Heather, but to the interests of others.  Love is not self-seeking.   I knew the right thing to do was to let go of my plan and embrace my husband's.  But boy, I sure hate doing the right thing when it means I don't get my way!

Being OPEN last weekend, meant more than simply changing plans, however.  Being OPEN meant joyfully changing plans.  Would I go to the park with an attitude that communicated to my husband that I thought his plan was dumb and I was only going along with it because I'm a model martyr?  Or would I get excited to see a new place together and go joyfully, because, after all, I mainly wanted to have some family time and that desire was being met?  I had a conversation with a friend not two days before about the difference between these responses, bitterly enduring a change in plans versus embracing the change and anticipating what the Lord has in store for you instead.  God was getting me ready through her words!  Thanks, Nancy.

I started writing this post on Tuesday, but never got a chance to finish it for two reasons: 1. I ran out of time and 2. I started getting re-upset about not getting my way on Saturday!  We had a great time visiting a new place, even tried a new restaurant for dinner.  But thinking about how I had to die a little to self made me start to get hot around the collar again.  The Bible talks about putting sin to death; simply trying to disable it isn't enough.  But sin dies hard, doesn't it?  Sin does not go down without a fight!

This war against self that continues to rage this side of heaven is wearying.  The only way we can press on is by remembering passages like Philippians 2:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus!  Yes!  He is our example, but more, He is our Savior and our Lord.   He shows us the extent and extreme to which we are called to put others before ourselves, but more, He rescues us from the very sin that entangles us and transforms us from the inside out to be able to follow His example.  Self-lovers can become God- and others-lovers; the Good News for ordinary days.

As we explored Tunnelview Historic Site on Saturday, we strolled under an old train trestle that is dwarfed by a new, modern one, (pictured above).  I couldn't help but think, out with the old, in with the new!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17

Time to take action:  
Do you find dying to self as difficult as I do?  Meditate on the verses above, on the Lord and His example, sacrifice, provision, and position.  And rejoice that if you are in Christ, you are a new creation!  The old is not you and you can let go of it.  Dying to self is not about martyrdom, but rather about worship, new life, and transformation.  Take heart, friend, the Way, the Truth, and the Life is on your side!

July 10, 2015

This You Must Remember

This morning I will share the Good News with the Kindergartners before we gather with the rest of the classes for our closing program.  I am praying their little ears and hearts will be open to hear, because I know as they grow up and leave the innocence and bliss of childhood the world will try to defeat and destroy them.  Like most of us adults, they will spend much of their time wondering if they measure up, if they matter, and if they are truly loved.  My prayer is that God's Word would be life and hope to them all their days.  I know the Spirit can put their feet on solid ground and protect them!

The short talk I gave at the Mom Heart Reunion in Colorado came to mind this morning and fits with the theme of my prayer for the children, so here it is.  May God be the lifter of your head today!

*     *     *     *     *

There is one truth about our God that we easily forget, but that we MUST remember in order to continue in our faith and any work God calls us to as a family member, neighbor, or friend.

God never changes.

Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Our God is unchanging from eternity past through eternity future.  This is good news!  Why?

Everything around us is always changing!

Old buildings are torn down and new buildings are constructed in their place, changing landscapes and towns.  You go to the store to pick up your favorite toiletries and you can't find them because the packaging has changed, again!  What is accepted and embraced by the culture is always ebbing and flowing, so it is hard to keep up.  We have children and those babies become toddlers, then school-aged, then youths, and (suddenly, so I hear) they are adults.  Change.  How about our circumstances?  In the blink of an eye we can have minor or major changes in health, employment, location, family, and so on, sometimes more than one at a time!  And need I even mention how our bodies and moods are always in flux?!

My goodness, we can count more on change than we can on consistency in this world!
But Scripture tells us that God never changes.

Could you breathe easier if you let the Spirit drive this truth home in your heart and mind?

God’s immutability (that’s fancy talk for unchanging-ness) should be a comfort to us, dear friends.  When I remember that truth, it is like wrapping a warm blanket around my soul.  Because God never changes, I can be sure of many things, even when things around me or in me are shaky and unstable.  You can be sure of these things, too!  Here are three:

God is unchanging in His love for us, His promise to carry to completion what He starts, and in His commitment to never let us go.  Great news, right?

Let's remember daily that our God does not change,
so we do not need to fear in this ever-changing world!

July 7, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 25}

Last week’s energy and time for blogging were swallowed up by the first week of Summer’s Best Two Weeks Junior Camp, our church’s version of Vacation Bible School.  I have the fun privilege of teaching the rising Kindergarteners their Bible lessons and spending the rest of morning moving with them to and from their other activities.  We sing; we snack; we craft; we recreate!  I have three dynamite classroom assistants who do all this along with us.  The mornings have been flying by smoothly and I cannot have asked for a better time.

But, I tell ya, by the time we dismiss the children, straighten the room, and I gather up my own little ones, I am beat!  I guess I’m not as young as I used to be.  Well, I know that!  Nevertheless, I want to be able to leave camp and carry on for the rest of the day like I’m the energizer bunny, rather than a mom in her mid-thirties who just wore herself out getting her family to the church early in the morning, followed by three hours of “on”-time with fifteen kindergarteners.

I get tired!

As such, being OPEN for week twenty-five of 2015 meant being willing to embrace my need for rest, and take it.

The first couple of days of camp, I was not willing to embrace this need.  The idols of pride and productivity won the hour.  By the end of those days though, heck, by the middle of those afternoons, I was snippy, unpleasant, self-indulgent, and generally blech.  I hate to have a great time talking about the Lord and being involved in mission at church, only to come home and spew gunk all over my family.  The foolishness of going to bed to late and not resting after lunch needed to be dismissed, posthaste!

The remainder of the week, I made sure to nap or read, or both, while the kids had their rest time.  Once I sat, I was always so glad that I did, but any direction I faced in our house always presented the temptation of another task: dinner to prep, clothes to wash, counters to clear, floors to pick up.  I know those are not fun temptations, but when there is space in the day that could be “productive” it is tempting to prioritize the task over my body’s more urgent needs.

Being OPEN last week, then, meant taking the nap and leaving dishes in the sink for thirty minutes longer.  As usual, I was struck by how much a short break energizes me for the rest of the afternoon.  The tasks got done faster and the kids and I even sneaked in some fun!  I think this self-care is even enabling blogging to happen this week.

Friends, rest is wise.  Our culture in enslaved to productivity and busyness.  We run ourselves ragged, even in the name of service, creating a heart-environment of discontentment, bitterness, and impatience.  Not to mention what it does to us physically!

Our Lord rested.  Countless times Jesus pulled away from the crowds to be with His Father, to pray and be filled up.  We cannot pour out of emptiness.  We need to rest and recharge.  Certain seasons or events require that we do this more intentionally than others.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  Mark 6:30-31

Time to take action:
Let me invite you to take stock today.  Are you worn and weary?  Is it because you are trying to be infinite when you are finite?  We all fall in to this at one time or another.  Take at least fifteen minutes today to do something that seems indulgent, but is actually wise: take a walk or a nap, read a book, pray, eat something delicious, write a letter, etc.  Then do the same tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

We need rest and refreshment
to carry on in the work God has placed before us.
Honor Him with some rest!