Thursday, August 31, 2017

Daily Staples of Love.

I feel like I have done a lot of growing up this previous year. Not just learning a few life lessons here and there, or because of all the intentional studying I've done, or that I've simply become more knowledgeable about life in general. But I truly feel as if I am finally gaining some wisdom about how to live a good life and I am working hard, begging God to make these new habits a part of who I am, the way I naturally live.

Several books I have read this summer, or am currently reading, have contributed to this growth tremendously. And while watering my potted plants out back the other day, a lot of these separate ideas and random thoughts were connecting in my mind. I recently read something totally unrelated that connected well with these ideas I've been wanting to share with you and I hope they encourage your heart and bring you peace.

I'm sure you're all familiar with Aesop's fable The Tortoise and the Hare. The unlikely candidate wins the race (don't worry, I'm not talking any politics in this post) and the fastest, most able, most likely candidate loses. And what was the determining factor? Was his mindset to blame, or his actions? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If his mindset was different, surely his actions would have been different as well, you think?

I'm seeing what an impact our thought-life has on our actions. This is not just popular psychology  either, the bible talks about it too! See Romans 8:5-6 and 12:2, 2 Corinthians 10:5.

Just like the hare, it's easy to let what we think is going on around us dictate our choices, instead of letting what we know is right and good determine what we do.

This is giving me more reason to pause and consider what I'm doing, how I'm reacting, and what I am dwelling on more throughout the day. Our thoughts shape our physical minds and that should cause us to take what we think more seriously. What we think about ourselves, the God we serve, the family we love, and the life we live hugely impacts the actions we take throughout the day and throughout our lives. Not just the major, life-altering decisions, but the little choices that pile up. They carve the path we travel and cumulatively create the life we live.

Being a homeschooler, I have tried to make my home a haven for my family. We are here a lot, and I want it to be peaceful, relatively tidy, and a period of life my kids will look back on with fondness. I should say now, I am not naturally gifted in this, and I don't feel like I do a great job. Since our move to this new house, I've been trying to be more intentional about it, but it so easily slips my mind. I can definitely see when my kids are more on edge because of my mood, but I'm not very good at those small daily habits of keeping my attitude in check or keeping my reactions from getting out of hand. I forget that cleaning the whole house at once is miserable, as is dealing with a ton of negative emotions in one sitting (read: sob-fest), but if I can just do a little of the work every day, both emotionally and physically in my home, it will feel less overwhelming to tackle and navigate.

As I was watering some plants the other day, some of these thoughts and pieces came together. Watering the plants out back was originally Asher's chore, but he has not taken to it as well as I hoped, and I've often been too distracted or too tired to remember to remind him to do it. So, on random mornings, I'll go out there by myself and gain a few moments of solitude. These plants, they are not doing so well. Some are dying, a few are totally dead, and some will get to looking very wilty then perk back up again after a few continuous days of watering. All of these plants need more than just a big soaking here and there. They need a bit of water every day. The same goes for so many things in life for us.

This is one of my more regularly watered plants... it's less green than when I got it, but surviving better than the plants outside. 

My kids need more than just an intense season of schoolwork, a few deep conversations about God, or random spurts of love and affection from me. It is the small, daily actions that add up to the life of abundant peace and joy I so desperately want for my kids. 

My kids need a regular diet of hearing God's word, of receiving affection from me, of having their minds stimulated by truth and beauty. And in regards to enjoying life and having lots of opportunity, sometimes the big, huge thing we think will be memorable for a lifetime turns out to be a big flop. For me, it's the little things my parents did that I remember most fondly, habits of spending time with us, or just enjoying being together.

This has been a comforting revelation for me, as we are not big vacationers and don't do any camping, and as my summer has been a bit more "me-centered" than I intended. The guilt over not giving my children what I see other moms giving theirs has been hard for me to navigate. One lifestyle does not fit all families, and I know what my kids need better than anyone else, but it's hard to fight feeling like I could be doing more for them. And while yes, a vacation to Disneyland sounds like a blast, it is not what will make my children's lives wonderful. More importantly, my daily attitude and interactions with them is what will enable them to get the most out of life.

It will never be the rare, extravagant vacations or sparse, exotic experiences that determine the outcome of their hearts and lives.

If you struggle with feeling let down after big plans have been made or large events have been thrown, or if you have a hard time figuring out what to do to make your home more life-giving, don't think that a magnificent vacation or elaborate birthday party will make everything magically wonderful. Those are blips of fun and excitement thrown in, not the foundation of your lives together. It is the daily grind that will either grind you down or polish you up. It is the moment-by-moment interactions with your children that will shape how they see themselves and how they see the world around them.

I do want to talk more about little habits and tricks you can implement, just small things to help you see how easy it can be to get your mind into a better space, but that will have to wait for another day. The big task I am working on right now is making my daily reactions to the kids better. Instead of being frustrated with the continual questions, I am setting clearer boundaries (with explanations) for them, then giving them my full attention when it is needed and appropriate. Instead of being in a huff about having to help my four-year-old with something, I try to act like I am glad to serve her (because really, I should be happy to help) and make sure I actually see her, acknowledge her, and notice something I love about her during those small moments.

These little tasks might seem silly or inconsequential, but it is building a habit of appreciating my children and teaching them how to love and live with other people. It's taking actions I know are good and beneficial and putting them into my life intentionally. I want to naturally enjoy chatting with my kids, but if I only do this when it's convenient for me, my kids will pick up on this and no longer strive for my attention.

Overall, I am learning that these small habits, the little ways I act, and the little ways I react to others, make a large, long-term impact. Sadly, I'm not usually very impressed by my own actions or reactions, and I definitely need God's help in aligning my life with the way He wants me to live. Little by little, my heart is being filled, my mind is being renewed, and my kids are being loved. It might not look glamorous or exciting, but over the course of their lives it will look like love, commitment, intentionality, sacrifice... all the things they will need to understand and observe in order live a good life.

If I could encourage you in one thing today, it would be to love them well in any small way you can find. Don't let discouragement about what you can't do, rob you of what you can do. Water the people in your life every day! Don't wait until you have something fantastic planned. Wipe those bottoms with a sweet smile for your child, answer their questions with a "yes dear" instead of a "what!?", and tell them what a gift they really are every chance you get. Make love and encouragement a staple in your home. Do it every day and enjoy the growth you will find all around you.

*In case you are curious, here are affiliate links to some of the books I have been enjoying that have contributed to some of my thinking:

A Hunger for God by John Piper
The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
The Growth Mindset Coach by Annie Brock
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
Anchored In by Micah Maddox

Thursday, August 17, 2017

More Important than Me.

When political tides loom large, and the Facebook frenzy is intense, I tend to be very selective in what I comment on and like. After all, sometimes it takes a lot of words to fully express my observations, intentions, and the heart behind these black and white letters. And I don't usually have all day to interact back and forth in the online world. No matter, I still want to say something about the events unfolding in our country but I am not a voice that carries a lot of weight in these matters, so I have been hesitant to put my thoughts on paper/computer.

I grew up in a small, isolated, Oregon beach town. I can remember one black male student in High School, a few more Hispanic kids, and a handful Asian students, but the gross majority was white. My college was also mostly white, and while I knew some of this was geographical, much of it is racial. Not because black students were not welcome, but because of the historical events that have altered what is available to who.

Most of why I don't often speak up is because I don't know the entire picture. Living all of my life on the West Coast, as a white woman, in a liberal state has put me far away from the front lines where most of our country's racial prejudice has been battled. I have seen it here and there, and now more so with social media and instantaneous news, but I know it is not the same for me. My dear half-Filipino friend who married a black man has said she sees it far more often now. Comments like "You are pretty smart for a black guy!" or people being surprised at the way he speaks are frustrating to her. It feels minimal to many, but this the small perpetuation of judgement by appearance is part of what keeps us from ridding of racism in our country.

A few things I do know, but I don't know them well, are the ways drug-arrests, housing affordability, and educational opportunity continue to rob much of the black community. Not only because the perception many people have of black people, but also because the cycle of living without fathers, without opportunity, surrounded by many other desperate people unable to get by is incredibly hard to break. The income differences for black employees (which I don't know how much or to what extent still exists) has contributed to this. The "free pass" that many white people have received, and continue to receive, for breaking the law or possessing drugs contributes to this. The placement of former slaves and the segregation our country allowed and enforced continues to affect black people today. It is complicated, sad, terrible, and more. And this is why I have a really difficult time writing anything about it.

I continue to wonder what my role is in all of this turmoil. I can only begin to relate to the terror some feel out in public because of who they are. Only recently have I become more aware of my weaknesses and the way that could make me vulnerable to others, which makes me cautious of every single male I pass on my nearby running trail in broad daylight. I despise assuming the worst, but the risk of being caught off guard could be great. How much more for those who live in neighborhoods where this is their reality every day, from school-age on?

After I began homeschooling my children I started to read a lot more about education in general, both in regards to how children learn and the state of our educational system in America. Paul Tough has some great books about this and seeing how home atmosphere affects the ability to learn and succeed is both enlightening and heart breaking. Even worse, the segregation that cast many black people into specific neighborhoods continues to give the children living there now a meager education and high-risk for life in prison.

My soul gets knotted up trying to understand how my homeschooling can benefit kids who have very little opportunity just several states away. How can what I teach at home make a lasting difference? How can I use what I learn to help the children there? How can I even be involved in all of this sitting at my table, typing on my laptop, in perfect peace on my dead end street?

Sadly, I don't have wonderfully packaged, clearly laid out answers for you. I simply have a few insights I hope challenge the way you think and the way you act. Because honestly, if we thought more about the consequences of our actions, much of the travesty in the history of mankind would be drastically different.

A large piece of this puzzle is what we value. In America, we value Freedom, or so we say. Protests, marches, riots, and disregard for others show we really only value a certain kind of freedom. What we mostly mean by saying others are free to protest, is that you are only free to protest things that are right and good. Since most people do not agree on what is right and good, this gets sticky. I don't know all the details of how everything unfolded in Charlottesville, but I will never understand how a statue can mean more than the hearts and safety of others. I don't know enough about General Lee or the history of that statue to know why it was important to many, but I know having a statue that brings shame to others is not worth keeping. And living out here in Oregon, even though I consider myself a conservation Christian, I cannot understand why someone would want to honor a statue that represents to many the hurtful past of slavery and war.

Are you seeing why this is hard for me to write about?

There is one thing that constantly comes to mind in all of this political, social, and emotional chaos: "...count others more significant than yourselves." (Philippians 2:3b)

Jesus considered our eternity more significant than remaining with God. He left his role to take on ours, to take our travesty, our consequences upon himself. As Christians, we are called to the same life. Not to be killed for others necessarily, but to willingly suffer and serve on behalf of others. To value what other people need more than what we think we need. Can we honestly say we do this on a regular basis? You may not think you need to live this way, or maybe you think doing this all the time seems extreme, but I would venture to say our country's long history or serving self is biting us in the butt.

We are selfish, and we strive to make ourselves known. We want others to know exactly how we feel or exactly what we think. I do it too! Look at me, blogging, writing, posting, and expressing myself. I am guilty of the selfish ambition Jesus hates. I need to stop, we all need to stop, and it will benefit our country more than we realize. If every single person in that protest stopped and thought about what was best for their black neighbor, could they have honestly marched on in their fierce determination? If the Nazi's stopped to think about what was best for their Jewish neighbor, would they have continued to serve their country's military?

Sadly, when it comes to kill or be killed, many people opt for saving themselves. Heck, even if it comes to giving 15 minutes for a friend or taking 15 minutes for ourselves, we opt for the route of self. Are you seeing this? How can we expect to change our country for good, to be willing to serve the underprivileged, the cast-out, the condemned or discriminated, if we cannot even serve the people living in our house. How many times a day do we really give up something we think we need in order to give to someone else? I have a hard time giving up a place in line at Target, or a parking spot at the Nike Employee store. We cannot expect to find the willingness to change our world without knowing it will cost us the pursuit of self.

Take some time to think and pray over this. Consider what we take for ourselves and what it costs other people. You cannot expect to serve the greater good of the world and serve yourself as well. At some point, you will have to choose one or the other. I am convicted about how much of my life revolves around choosing myself over my neighbors, my family, and my friends. It shouldn't matter what they believe or what color their skin is. If I value others more than myself, I am revealing what I believe.

I believe God creates each person purposefully, specifically, and with great love.

I believe God wants everyone to know Him personally, deeply, and desires for them to live with Him forever.

Jesus is that way. It's not just what I believe, it's what God said, what He ordained, and what He proved.

If I follow Him, I cannot continue to serve self.

In all of this, I absolutely have to trust God with my care, my needs, my eternity. Anything I give up here on earth in order to give to others will be the silliest sacrifice I could imagine. What we gain by serving Christ is greater. If that does not motivate me to serve, it's because I don't know it, because I don't really believe it to be the truth I claim it is.

So in all of this American angst, what will you serve? An ideal? A political party? A religion? A particular way of life? Or will you serve God? Will you serve the other people in your day to day life? Courage for radical service will only come by knowing the value that service contains. As Christians, we know our value lies in eternity with God, and nothing we can gain in this world is worth losing that. So serve in confidence. Know your sacrifice is not in vain. Each small step will lead you closer to changing the world, but it will only change if you start right now. Don't wait until life gives you the opportunity you think you need. If you have kids, co-workers, family or friends, you have all the opportunity you need. If you see other people ever, you have opportunity to change the world around you for the better.

Take each opportunity and consider those you meet, those you know, those you encounter every day, as more important than your selfish desires. This is the mind of Christ. This is what our world needs.

*If you have friends, family, or connections with people who need tangible help on the front lines of these racial battles, ask them how to help, ask them to put you to work. I'm sure there is more we can all be doing. Serve others, be humble, and just start where you are.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sunday, Sunday.

I have a real problem "keeping the Sabbath". My Sundays never feel like what I imagine.

This topic has been reappearing in my life a lot lately, so I'm taking some time to consider its importance. Maybe your family does a really good job of keeping the Sabbath, or maybe you've never thought about it too much. Either way, I hope some of my thoughts and struggles here will help you find a way to honor the Lord and find the rest you need.

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." Exodus 20:8

I grew up in the church, as did my husband, so the idea of keeping the Sabbath is not a new one by any means. My husband's grandfather would even go so far as to not eat out, shop at any stores, or use any type of hired service on Sundays. Always considering others as important as himself, it was important that he enable others not to need to work on Sundays. This has always been interesting to me, as my idea of rest usually includes hiring out the work of fixing lunch or maybe dinner. Heaven forbid I plan ahead and crock-pot my way to rest. That's a story for another day.

Over the last year this has come up in conversation quite often and many of the people talking about taking a Sabbath have been pastors or pastor's wives. Most have shared about regularly taking all day Monday or Friday to enjoy family time, go on hikes, or do whatever was good for their family to have a break, spend time together, and enjoy a day without much obligation or formal work. This really intrigued me, but since my husband has a typical Monday through Friday, eight-to-five job, it would never work for us. Their reasoning is that Sunday is always at least half-full of work at church, so they might as well go all-out and expect to "work" that day. After all, it's no easy task to constantly be serving at church and fellowshipping with others afterwards, maybe even running or serving at a Sunday night service.

Our Sundays have looked vastly different depending on what church we were attending. When we were first married, my husband sometimes led worship, but that was really the only capacity our church seemed to need us. The young adults group met Sunday evenings, but it was a very casual time of teaching and prayer, and since we didn't have kids and many of our best friends went too, it was refreshing and easy to go.

At our next church, again Mark led worship, but he was a more integral part of it. I was on our women's ministry team and helped with different events and bible studies (which almost never required anything from me on Sundays at all). Our church didn't usually have any evening services, so once church was out on Sundays, it really was a day of rest for us. We also only had the two boys at that time, and they were pretty easy kiddos.

With only a short stint at the church between then and now, those are my only experiences with Sundays in church as an adult. Our church now is fairly small. We committed with our dear friends in the revitalization of an old church and have been tremendously blessed by our last three-plus years there. But I have really struggled to figure out how to fit in a day of real rest as a family.

I only recently quit working in the nursery, have been a faithful bible-study participant, and Mark leads worship at least every other week. We have service Sunday morning, and a prayer service on Sunday nights, however, we rarely make it to those now that we live a bit further away. Mark has men's group on Monday evenings, and during the school year our bible study meets on Friday mornings. Now this doesn't cramp our schedule or anything, but I'm struggling to find a day of the week where we can truly rest the way God has wired us. Mark is definitely more of an introvert, and with me homeschooling and being with the kids all day, some non-people time is something I genuinely need to do more often.

On top of all this, I will only briefly mention the life-zapping effect my daughter has had on me. Her physical and emotional neediness the first few years of her life were far more draining than all of life with both of my boys. I feel like I am still recovering from the last four years with her. Don't get me started on what it's like to drop her off in the nursery each week.

So how does a family who serves in church, but has a typical, secular work-schedule, and who has children who are homeschooled and participate in sports, take a day an entire day of rest together?

After reading/listening to Glynnis Whitwer's book Doing Busy Better and listening to her session at SheSpeaks this year, I was curious to see if I could really not work on Sunday and still find the joyful revival in my soul that often alludes me. Do I trust God enough to make my service on Sundays feel life-giving and not like a burden? Do I trust Him to help me get all my work done in six days, and only do what rejuvenates and is life-giving on Sunday? Will all of this really make a lasting difference in my life and the life of my family?

Realistically, this feels like a lot to expect. I mean, there are kids who need help, meals that need made, and some type of cleaning is pretty much always involved. Then I have to factor in the fact that going to church usually involves some sacrifice, either because of service-roles or because it's not always easy to show up with a room full of diverse people and hold conversation while you wait to hear the Word of God. Yes, many conversations are life-giving, but sometimes they feel more like work. And often, kids are interrupting, needing help, or just plain driving you crazy.

So what am I doing with all of this? Well, taking a Sabbath on any other day of the week simply doesn't work for us. So on Sunday, I am trying really hard to wake up with a different mindset. It's not a day to simply do nothing, and expect to not be needed. It's a day to accept God's calling on my life, to accept the role I am playing with a joyful heart. As one who struggles with needing to actively pursue something in order to feel joy, I am trying to simply enjoy the down-time and not sneak in "work" throughout the day.

At our Sunday Service, this looks like being willing to hold conversations with people who seem uninterested, or are new, trusting that participating in God's work will bring about blessing and life. In the afternoons, this means not constantly checking on posts on social media, or responding to emails, knowing that what others expect of me has no genuine bearing on my soul. It means not reading books to catch up with my work, and only reading what I know will leave me refreshed and encouraged. It means if we watch a movie, I am snuggling the kids (or my husband!) instead of half-paying attention and scrolling through Facebook, completely confident of the benefits of being fully present in these important relationships.

Overall, I am working on making our Sundays life-giving, where I can observe God's goodness, and forget my own expectations of what makes a "good day". Every day is a good day to praise Him, and I need to be able to praise Him and honor Him by taking up the rest He calls me to. We need lasting rejuvenation, not just finding fulfillment in temporary accomplishments, having our life in order, or feeling like our service is noticed. We need more than to feel like all our ducks are in a row, or that we are particularly special, or even that our future circumstances are planned out and perfect. We need our security, our worth, our reward, and our joy to come from trusting in God for eternal goodness, provision, and favor.

Taking a quality Sabbath is a wonderful way to move our minds into experiencing what we know we should feel. God can take care of everything, even when we take a day off. And I am already seeing how trusting Him with those few hours on Sunday really impacts the rest of my week. My work feels lighter and less dependent on my ability. My striving feels fun and doesn't change the value of my personhood. My goals seem to find a way to line up better with His plans for me and I am struggling less with trying to "figure out my life" when frustrating situations arise.

You might not be able to take a "real" Sabbath like you wish, but you can change your posture toward your selective day of rest, and I really hope you do. We all need to find better ways to rest in Him. Sometimes that comes from the heart first, and sometimes from our body. But either way, I know that taking steps to trust God more will bear everlasting fruit. No matter what area of your life you are trusting Him with, He is more than capable of taking your load and giving you peace and fulfillment instead.