Thursday, October 8, 2015

When Culture and Truth Collide

Christians are supposed to be counter-cultural. As our nation and world (at least parts of it-let's not be so America-centric) drift further from the Bible we are going to stick out more and more. Our ideas, character, motives, and lifestyle should be notedly different from our unsaved neighbors. We must realize when we are hearing truth and when we are hearing popular ideas that masquerade as truth. 

Today I only want to talk about two slogans. Partly because they are so popular and partly because these affect our lives daily.

The first one is this- "Do what you love." I recognize that most people are saying to pursue a job or a career that you love. That's not necessarily bad if you are privileged to do that. Sometimes though you just need to pay the bills and put food on the table. 

To be honest, I do a lot of things every day that I don't just love doing. Ever potty-trained anyone? Not a love. And while I've cultivated a good attitude about housework (most of the time anyway) I don't just love washing dishes or doing the laundry. I don't just love getting out of bed every morning or going grocery shopping in the rain with three children. 

So what's the antidote? What do we pursue if it's not just doing what we love? 

Instead of doing what we love we need to do what needs to be done. Then learn to love that. Goethe said, "Cease endlessly striving for what you would like to do and learn to love what must be done."   That's not a topic applauded in our world. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works." And  1 Timothy 5:10 gives a list that ends with "every good work." That list includes things like washing the saints' feet and bringing up children just in case you thought that work didn't qualify. 

I spend my days doing things that I'm learning to love. Or at the very least learning to love for what they do for my character and my family. It often helps to look at the results of the work or the reason for the work instead of the effort of the work. 

I'm learning to love getting up at night with babies. I'm thankful for them and that's just part of it. I'm learning to love training my boys because the results are going to be men of character (I hope.)

Sure that's a time to pursue what you love. But there are plenty more times to knuckle down and do what needs to be done. 

There's another saying that is just as dangerous to our lives. I cringe when I hear it (but that's it; I really don't lecture people in person regardless of what I say here). You've heard it too- "Follow your heart." Really? In some ways this is just another way of saying, "Do what you love." Pursue what you're interested in; consider no one besides yourself. This is erroneous advice. 

Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Our hearts are the last thing we should follow. I don't want to look for guidance on the inside of me because I know what I am. And you know what you are. 

We don't need to look deep inside us for truth because it's not there. We don't need to examine our hearts and use that as an excuse for flitting through life committing to nothing. We don't need to use our flighty emotions as reasons for abandoning our families, hurting the feelings of others, and ignoring our responsibilities. 

Don't worry; there's an antidote here too. Instead of following our hearts we should follow the Bible. I guess that's not as catchy of a phrase; you probably won't see that one waved around on the banner. But what if we tried it? What if instead of doing whatever our heart wanted to- whatever felt good- we did what the Bible said to? How much trouble would that save us? 

How much sin would we leave behind if we made the Bible our standard? We might even cast off a few things that aren't sin but that hold us back from fully serving God. Doesn't He deserve that from us? 

Not sure you believe me? We can evaluate our hearts quickly. Matthew 12:34 states: "O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." That's enough to tell me that my heart is not what I want to follow. But if you still need more convincing try this one. Proverbs 23:7, "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:" You might have cleaned up your speech but I doubt anyone has cleaned up their thoughts enough to be impressed with themselves. 

We know what we are. We know our hearts will not lead us to truth. Let's depend on the Bible to show us the way instead. Psalm 119:105 says, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." God gave us His Word to show us how to live. Let's not bumble along on our own. 

We don't have to accept the world's slogans as truth. We do need to be able to evaluate what's being said in the light of Scripture.

What other popular sayings would you add to this list? How do you remember the truth when you are faced with lies?  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How I Stay Inspired

With small kids, everything happens at once. Sometimes when I start cooking lunch I spend twenty minutes alternating between fishing some scrap of paper out of the baby's mouth, taking a child to the potty, correcting another child, changing a diaper, getting someone a drink, and moving the baby away from whatever "dangerous" spot he's found. And all I've done for lunch is turn on the stove. 

It's easy to feel overwhelmed in a house full of small children no matter how much you love them. As my children get older and I've been mothering longer (funny how those two go together) I'm learning ways to stay filled up instead of just pouring out all day. 

I know this is a touchy topic. Should moms pursue "me time"? Do we spend every minute in service to our family and think we can do it happily because we love them and love Jesus? Moms are still women first. It's hard to nurture anyone else when you are running on empty.

Of course there's a caution in this. When I want to run away and escape I have a problem. No rest will be enough, no vacation will cheer me up if I want to be released from the responsibilities that God has given me. 

Carolyn Mahaney said that the point of rest was to strengthen ourselves for service. And the point of this recharging is to better steward the talents and opportunities God has placed before us- whether it's motherhood or some other work. 

So how do I recharge or fill back up? 

1. Spend time in the Word. Read it. Soak it up. Let God speak to your heart. This is what I need more than anything. 

2. Read good books. I'm always reading books about marriage, mothering, homemaking, writing, creativity, and sometimes even business. I need that spark of ideas and the reminder of why I do what I do. 

3. Write. Even if it's not for public eye writing helps me understand my beliefs. Writing about my thoughts helps organize them and captures a fleeting picture of life. 

4. Have real conversations. Real conversations preferably aren't interrupted by texts or Twitter and center on more than the weather or the latest trend in scarves. 

5. Do focused work. For me this looks like piano lessons and my art project. Just getting out of the house to wander around Wal-Mart wouldn't be as helpful. 

Tomorrow on the Uniquely Woman podcast I'm interviewing Tori Gillit and we discuss inspiration and social media and how she stays inspired. Be sure to download the episode and leave us a rating and review once you listen! 

What do you do to recharge? How do you stay filled up in the midst of your responsibilities? What are your thoughts on motherhood and womanhood and managing both?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Embracing Discomfort

I've been introducing myself to strangers lately. It's not something I really enjoy and even the fact that we have mutual acquaintances and purpose to the meetings doesn't really help. But I have learned to do it without choking, physically at least.  

God has intentionally been sticking these opportunities in front of me- opportunities that I really want to take- so that I have to step up when I'd rather not. I'd rather not make a phone call. I'd rather not show up when I don't recognize any faces. I'd rather not offer my skills when I'm afraid I'll be laughed at. But I've been doing it anyway. 

Most of it has come from doing what I'd rather not in everyday life. I'd rather not clean up another accident, draft that email, get out of bed. But I do because God tells me to. The little work has been training in obedience for when the harder things arrive. As I learn to obey today I'm preparing myself for what's down the road. Even if I clean up cheerios three times today I know that I can do it again tomorrow. And then I learn to do it with a smile, teaching the boys how to help me with a good attitude. Hard things becomes habits and I find they don't take the mental effort that they used to. Then I can tackle another hard thing. 

Sometimes it goes really well with strangers and with the obedience. We hit it off; I find a place to assist with the work; I clean up the spill without losing my temper. Sometimes I'm left relieved that I did what I was supposed to and I didn't turn my back on uncomfortable opportunity. "All opportunity is uncomfortable. That's where you have to live life."  It's easy to believe that on those days. 

And other times it's everything I fear it will be. I leave remembering all the things I said that perhaps I shouldn't have or I fall asleep at night wishing I could take back those words or that wasted time. I would rather curl up on the couch with a book instead of writing my own story because I'm very likely to embarrass myself. If I don't do anything I can at least avoid that. 

That's not entirely true. Once I've wasted my life I'll see all the things that I could have done if I had lived in that discomfort. I'll see the people I could have helped, the places I could have served, and realize that all the potential embarrassment in the world shouldn't have been enough to stop me. The point of life isn't to avoid mistakes or humiliation. The purpose of life is to pour myself out serving God and helping others. The purpose is to empty myself every day for the people that God places in my path instead of trying to keep it all in my grasp. 

And yes, sometimes that means I mess up. But I'm going to keep introducing myself. I'm going to keep cleaning up the messes, filing the papers, folding the laundry. I'm going to get off the couch and live my story. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Self-Esteem and Glasses

(Obviously we have to start this with the obligatory self-esteem discussion. This is not a tribute to just believing in yourself and how awesome you are. But we can't deny that what we believe about ourselves shows up in how we present ourselves and how others view us. Disclaimer over but I would love to have a conversation with you about self-esteem. Leave a comment or hop over to IG or Twitter.)

One summer during junior high I got a clothing catalog. I don't remember the company or any particular clothes but I do remember colors and an aesthetic that assured me that I too could be beautiful. I wasted too much time that summer browsing that magazine and comparing my appearance with glasses to my appearance without glasses. Time that I can never recover unfortunately. 

I got glasses in the first grade because I couldn't see the board. Seems that it's hard to learn that way and that it caught my teacher's attention. I got my first pair of contacts when I was a freshman in high school. Trust me when I say that drastically improved my physical attractiveness, mostly due to the style of the glasses I was wearing. I religiously avoided wearing glasses in front of people for years. But sometime after I had Micah I developed an eye problem and I can't wear contacts on a regular basis. 

So the glasses are back. I've always had a bit of an ugly duckling syndrome (as has every female I've spoken to). I don't know if you feel like this but I think my appearance has improved as I've gotten older. I could dig up some old pictures for you, but really, why? It was only after college that I (semi) learned to fix my hair, learned some makeup tricks, and started to develop some style. Am I being a little harsh on myself? Probably- but not much. 

When first I started wearing glasses all the time I picked a pair that seemed the least noticeable. My goal was for them to be almost invisible. (Honestly my goal was to be as invisible as possible too.) I took them off for pictures and felt less attractive in them. But somewhere over the past year things have changed- I've started to pick up a little confidence. 

I don't believe that physical attractiveness is the issue in self-esteem. You can't really change how you look and what's the standard for beauty anyway? Instead I started to find confidence in doing what God's given me to do. Proverbs 3:26 says, "For the Lord shall be thy confidence." Instead of looking at the woman beside me and comparing myself to her I could just run my race. 

How we look or how much money we have or how talented we are doesn't matter in life unless we are surrendering all of that to God. But once we give those things to God the less concerned we are with how we present ourselves means the more we have to give to the people and to the work. 

When I was at Influence Conference I had this same conversation with another woman. She felt like it was easier to hide in the corner so she tried to help herself out too. I've been working on my posture: back straight, elbows out instead of tucked in an effort to take up the least amount of room imaginable. Look people in the eyes, smile, speak up. Clean yourself up and then forget about it. You can do that when you've put in some effort. 

I have a long way to go with this but it is working. When I went to pick out glasses this year I knew exactly what I wanted. 

Before it was "I have to wear glasses so let's make them as least noticeable as possible." This time it was "I have to wear glasses so let's rock it out." ("Rock it out" is my new phrase. Let's do it with enthusiasm, passion, and muscle.)

I love my new glasses but you know what I've discovered? 

Nobody else notices you. They get a "air" of who you are. Confident, insecure, vain, others-centered. Very few people have noticed my new glasses. We could help ourselves by remembering that no one is paying attention to us because they are focused on themselves. 

So all those things that you don't like about yourself? Few people notice. The things you would change aren't even a blip on anyone else's radar. Forget them.

While it sounds spiritual to say our appearance shouldn't matter and we shouldn't care, we all know that's not real life. At some point we each have to go deeper than how we look on the outside. That's what's worked for me. I do my best to look nice and then I do the work God has for me today. There's a strong confidence in standing where God put you.

I think we mention in almost every podcast episode that it all comes back to our personal walk with Christ. And by all I really do mean everything. Our confidence, our joy, and the grace we extend to others (and hopefully ourselves) all overflow from our walk with God. I always picture Ephesians 3:19 like a teacup and saucer. We (the teacup) know God loves us which enables us to be filled with the fulness of God. Then guess what splashes onto everything around us (the saucer)? God's love. 
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Ephesians 3:19
What's been your experience with self-esteem? How do you describe it and what's your story? Leave a comment or hop over to social media to tell me.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What I Really Want for Our Marriage

Sometimes it seems that all days are long. I sit feeding the baby before putting him in bed, letting the book close in my lap, while Curious George plays in the kitchen where the older boys eat a snack. His strong legs lift the ottoman off the rug and run the vacuum across it.

Not because I asked. Because it needed vacuumed.

He sacrifices his time and resources for our well-being. He works his days because he loves it and to keep us in this home where we play and learn. He rarely asks for anything- occasionally some new sunglasses to put around his shaved head or a sandwich when he comes home for lunch.

He's mine. I said "yes" the day he asked me to marry him. That day when we were still teenagers and only knew we wanted to do life together. I was barely out of my teens the day we said "I do" in a simple ceremony in December.

We moved easily into life together. Homework because I was still in school, dinners that we cooked together in our tiny apartment where we didn't have curtains. We watched movies on the air mattress in front of the TV on Friday nights and slept until 11 the next morning in the cozy bed that had been handed down for generations.

We disagreed. We still do. Two different people moving together through life are bound to. But I went into each day with him with one resolve- to give him more.

More grace when he messes up. More benefit of the doubt when I feel offended. More respect than I give to another. He's been the best of things to me and I want to give him my best. 

It's easiest to give him my worst.

To save the soft answers for the woman at church that hurts my feelings. To keep the patience for the children on a good day or for the slow, grumbling cashier at the store. To consider the emotions of a stranger that cares nothing for me while making assumptions about his intentions. 

I want to save my best for him. I want to nurture a love that's holding hands walking into the restaurant or the hospital, into riches or want. I want to give more to this one whose story is intertwined with mine and not to others who only play a secondary role. 

Because one motivation is out of love and the other is to be impressive. He knows me too well to be impressed; he sees my best and my worst. I can think that those who don't know me well are impressed with me. Maybe they are sometimes. 

The impressions are fake. They don't see me when I'm tired and the kids have been up all night and I've not had any coffee. They don't see me roll my eyes or raise my voice or apologize for sarcastic answers. 

He does. He chooses me anyway. 

And every morning I choose him. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Your Hands Reveal Your Heart

They move across the piano keys, sometimes swiftly, sometimes stumbling. They knead the bread dough, rinse the carrots, chop the chicken. They type on the computer keyboard and jot notes in my planner. They hold my husband's hands, hug my boys, wash little baby toes. They move the pencil to form pictures, hold the broom to clean the floor, fold the shirts out of the dryer. They answer the phone, move the iced coffee to my mouth, and open the door. 

My hands are probably the part of my body I am most aware of throughout the day. They do so much. They show love to others, care for my family, and express creativity. They are the outlet for my brain.

The work they do reveals my heart. 

They aren't a model's hands; no one will ever ask to photograph my hands to advertise jewelry. I used to be embarrassed that my hands were so big but now I'm just thankful. Big hands can spread more than an octave on the piano, set a volleyball with better contact, and hold far more little cars than small hands could. 

This mindset is gradually carrying over to more than just my hands. I'm learning to see things (including myself) for how they work and bless others instead of how they look.  

To be less superficial in my views. 

Less obsessive about appearance.
Less concerned with the outside and more preoccupied with the heart. 

My hands are working hands. When I'm eighty I hope they are hands that have served strangers, painted pictures that have cheered homes, written words that pointed others to Jesus, changed diapers for countless baby bottoms and lightened the load for young mothers. I hope they have helped others up, filled bellies with food, played the piano, and managed money with a balanced heart. 

I am doing that work today because today makes up a piece of the future.  I am typing the words. I am cooking the food, changing the diapers, turning the pages of the story, cutting the grapes, pulling the weeds. I am pushing the keys, drawing the pictures, wiping the counter. This home is at present my primary serving place. I want to do my work here well because to do otherwise would reveal a cold heart toward this mission field.

What are your hands doing? What work are you performing? If you examine your work you will find your heart. 

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today, He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way, He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died, He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.     Annie Johnston Flint

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

When Serving God is Good

My pastor hates when preachers tell stories that make God look small. You've heard them. "I was going to preach somewhere and we were broke. They didn't give me an offering to buy gas but they gave me a chicken. My wife cooked that chicken over a fire by the road and while we were eating someone stopped by and put a gallon of gas in the car." He always says, "Who wants to serve that God?" 

Serving God can get a bad rap. "Come serve God and you can be miserable too!" It's easy to see how it turns into that. After all, God does call us to die to self and take up our cross. He did send His own Son to Calvary. We've all heard someone deliver the "God called me to do all the things I hated in life and I did them and it was hard."

In real life I don't know anyone like that- at least no one I want to be like. That does not inspire or motivate me to serve God. And if I want to serve God I can only imagine how it sounds to people who are on the fence about giving their lives as well as their hearts to Jesus. 

I'm not at all suggesting that we water down God's Word to be appealing to me or anyone else. I'm not suggesting that we make the will of God seem like walks along the beach at sunset. I am suggesting that maybe we should look at our own lives and see what's been true for us. 

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. Psalm 34:8

We have to purposely look for the good in life. We are naturally bent to notice the negative. The heartbreaking moments of life are seared into us by force of emotion. We don't have to try to remember them. But we do have to challenge ourselves to see the good; otherwise we can walk right by without once thanking God for it. 

Writing is an excellent memory aid. I have an apparently faulty memory and it helps to look back over answered prayers and issues and events in life. So I started a list. I have my own family and a home to care for. I get to work in various ministries through our church. I'm using my writing skills not just here on the blog but also in other avenues. I've coached volleyball and counseled women. I could go on but I'm not really that interested in your knowing my list. 

I want you to make your own list. Sit down with a pencil and notebook (or the notes app on your iPhone) and think about the things that you do now or have done. Write down all the things that you do that you truly enjoy or have always wanted to do or hope to keep doing. Most of you can come up with something. 

But what if you aren't there yet? Maybe your list is small. Maybe you're a new Christian and you don't know where to start. You might not be sure how life can be good once God starts reshaping your heart. Here are a few ideas. 

1. Take opportunities. 
Don't worry about whether you are the most qualified. There will always be someone more qualified. But they might not be where you are. If you are available and willing you are the person. 

2. Develop skills even if you don't know how/when you will use them. 
You can't expect God to use you if you won't put in some work. If you are interested in something, learn more about it.  As you learn skills God will bring opportunities to use them in His timing. 

3. Learn to love what you do. 
Life will never consist of only doing your favorite things. If you can learn to love what is in front of you, you will enjoy life so much more. Don't we all want to radiate joy even in the midst of a less-than-perfect life? It might take some practice but you can get there. Start by asking God to change your heart. 

Every person has hard things in life. In no way am I trying to remove that truth. But as I walk in hard things I don't have to do it alone. The presence of God is a gift that softens the sharp edges of difficulties. 

I should serve Him just because of what He's done for me- whether or not it's hard, whether or not I like it. 

Instead He gives me opportunities to serve in ways that I love. That makes me love Him more. 

Maybe you're not at a place in life where you can say that. That's ok. You can say that living for God is hard- because it is. But hear this- God made you; He knows you; He loves you. And He has a plan for your life that surpasses where you are at this moment. Don't quit.