Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Progress, Not Perfection

Perfection sounds so lovely. To never make a mistake or wonder what I need to do next or question how to handle a certain situation. Or to never need any help from anyone, not even God...oh wait. Maybe that's the problem with being perfect? 

In no part of life will I attain perfection. Certainly not in my appearance; it's only going to age. Definitely not in my abilities for there will always be somebody (way) better. And I mess up plenty; it helps keep me humble. I will never be perfect with my relationships; there will always be plenty of opportunities to ask for forgiveness.

So perfection is out. We know that God is the only Perfect. Now one day in heaven I will be like Him. But down here I have sin and my old nature to combat. Hence no perfection. In anything. 

That sounds depressing but really it's not.  If perfection isn't possible, God's not asking it. So I don't need to ask it of myself. Let go of perfection. It doesn't matter at all. Nobody has ever been perfect and God has used a lot of nobody's. 

So what am I going for? Progress. I want to make progress. Some days I can't see any progress. I occasionally have days, weeks, months even when I can't see any progress at all. Hopefully not in all areas at once but at least in one or two. 

Of course in my life it's harder to chart progress than it would be in some areas or jobs. In school for instance progress is finishing assignments, completing work, passing classes. At some jobs you complete more training and finish your work. In mine, well, it's a little less structured. But I want to be making progress even if it's unnoticeable to me.

-Progress in my walk with Christ. Learning more of the Bible. Surrendering so He can live it out through me. It's not enough to chart days of Bible reading or minutes of prayer because this is a heart issue. I want my heart to be closer to Jesus each day. 

-Progress as a wife. I want to learn my husband. Encourage him to be him. Pray for him. Nurture my marriage; invest in it. I want to grow closer to my husband and not farther away. 

-Progress as a mother/teacher. I want to discipline more consistently/calmly. I want to love deeper. Be less irritated, more creative. Teach them on their level. Stifle my expectations. 

-Progress on the piano. I want to be a better pianist than I was two months ago. Sometimes I can see that and sometimes I can't but I know to just keep practicing. This is an area that I know I'm improving in even if I can't see it. 

Of course there are other areas I want to progress in but you get the idea. The same goes for your life. Where do you want to make progress? Maybe it's a spot where you would prefer perfection but remember, we aren't perfect.  Change what you need to change and keep working. You will eventually see the progress. 

But please, let go of that "perfect." 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Fruit of the Spirit

There's nothing like a look in the Bible to show you who you really are. And I don't ever find I'm impressed with myself after these glimpses in the mirror. Last week I started studying the fruit of the Spirit. All I had to do was look up the definitions of the words to realize that I don't have enough fruit growing in my life. 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
After this week with my family I realized:
-I am lacking in love. Have you read the Bible description of love in 1 Cor. 13? Go read that and apply it to your behavior toward your husband and children. How are you doing? 
-My joy is often faltering. And I find it's little things that assault my joy so effectively: things like accidents, repetitious words, cloudy weather, scheduling conflicts. 
-Peace is often comparable to quiet. And there is little of that with little ones. 
-Longsuffering is expressed by sighing and eye-rolling. I don't think that's the longsuffering with joyfulness mentioned in Col. 1:11. 
-Gentleness often gives way to frustration over repeated misbehavior. And if God's gentleness helped make David great (Psalm 18:35) how much more do my babies need it? 
-Goodness has fallen by the wayside. And it's a key characteristic of God's lady in Titus 2:5
-My faith is weak when I can't see what God is doing. And that seems to be always. 
-Meekness has disappeared as I am often controlled by my feelings and annoyances. 
-And temperance goes out the door as I drink Dr. Pepper and raise my voice again. 

So what do I do? Do I quit?  Of course not. 

Only God can do this great work in my life. And He's changing me every day. Those annoyances and frustrations are ultimately very small, regardless of how big they seem in the moment. But God is using them like sandpaper to change me. And to show me how much I need Him. Isn't that the starting point? We are in the deepest trouble when we think we can handle it on our own and don't need God's help. But when confronted with my own life I see just how deeply I need Jesus every day in the smallest matter. 

I want to be a glove, just the instrument. I want God's hand to do the work, to make my life sing for Him.  So every day I surrender to Him to His work for that day. I spend time with Him. And then prayer is the breath of my heart as I go throughout the day. Of course, like anyone's life, there will be frustrations and annoyances and trials. But it's in those things that we show who is really living in our lives: us or Jesus. 
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Problems with Being Impressive

As women, it's not easy to choose to be vulnerable. It's not easy to choose to invite those people over instead of worrying what they will think of the house. It's not easy to offer the dinner invitation because they might not like the food. It's not easy to reach out to people because we can't control their reaction to us or what we can offer. 

As a woman, I know that we want to appear competent to other women especially. We seem to have our own special code that excludes men that we use to judge ourselves and other women.  "I abide by these standards and convictions. I (do or do not) work an outside job. My home is always immaculate. My hair is never out of place." These lists always- and only- highlight the ugly sin of pride. Truthfully we don't have anything to offer in ourselves. There is nothing impressive about any of us. And that's the point; God wants to get the glory for all that is done through our lives. 

Impressing other leads us away from our priorities. It's easy to let go of the important things because they are not valued by society. We leave our small children to go work a job (I know, this is not always wrong, but often our motive is.) Our society does not value the work of a mother, or a father for that matter. My children, and this work God has given me, are important because He says so. 

We would spend extra time cleaning our home to impress another woman instead of resting so that our spirit could better reflect Christ. Our home is clean, but it's lived in. It's not a museum to impress people; it's a home where our family grows. And sometimes that rest is necessary for my spirit to best reflect Christ. But taking a short nap doesn't display the best "busy-ness" that "Oh, I haven't sat down in hours in preparation for your coming" does. 

We skip our Bible reading for about anything because who really thinks we are impressive for being women of the Word? And yet, there is nothing more important for success at this work we are called to than being faithful to the Scripture. (Josh. 1:8)

Impressing others does not emphasize Jesus. We want to control our image; we want other to view us with admiration. What about Jesus? What about desiring for Him to be glorified in our lives? All that focus on me does not push others toward Jesus with my life. Yes, we prepare for our work. Yes, we schedule our rhythms and adjust our day to the demands. But why don't we quit pretending that we are perfect? Quit pretending we have it all together and point to Jesus. Jesus is what makes anything work. I am nothing special. My rhythms, my work habits, nothing about me is special. It's all based on principles of God's Word and God can work that same transformation for you (and it will probably look different). I want my life to point others to Christ, not to myself. 

I want to be a blessing to others instead of trying to impress them. That might mean opening my home when it's not perfect. After all, her home isn't either and that might be encouraging. It might mean taking a meal that's not 100% homemade or organic. I might drop by with pizza or a frozen casserole, or a gift card.  It might mean I share a book title that's been helping me through some questions instead of pretending that I have all the answers. It might mean I offer openness and acceptance even if I don't feel accepted or liked. 

When we take our eyes off ourselves we can see others. We can see their needs, their insecurities, or at least know they are there regardless of what cloak they try to hide them behind. We can look through the eyes of Jesus. We can lose our pride, our snobbishness, our self-centeredness, and offer what we have been blessed with instead of withholding it out of fear. 

May we lose sight of ourselves and focus on Jesus. And through Him, really see the other people in our lives. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Favorites

It's been quite a while since our last Friday Favorites and since I have a collection of random things to share with you, I thought I'd break it out! 

Pregnancy Update
I'm 32 weeks tomorrow! That means only 8 more weeks until we see the little man! I cannot wait to hold him and see what he looks like! (Actually I can wait; he needs to stay where he is.)

And you get this picture because you saw my latest belly pic yesterday!

In other pregnancy news, I had forgotten the things people say to pregnant ladies. This week, a complete stranger greeted me with this encouraging statement: "Wow, you must be completely miserable!" I have to admit that I only assumed that she said this because I was pregnant but wow! I don't think I act or look completely miserable so I decided not to worry too much about it. And be grateful that I have a better attitude than that (most of the time anyway!). 

What I'm Reading
 Discipline: The Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot
GraceLaced, the blog by Ruth Simons. Love, love her Instagram too! 
2 Corinthians 9:7 (of course not just that, but I've really been thinking this verse over)

Online Favorites
Here's a few links for you. Once again I avoided sharing these on Facebook, where I really do try to be as uncontroversial as possible. 

Matt Walsh with some thoughts on spanking

Club31 Women with 12 lessons for boys

A For the Family post on infatuation, love, and weddings

And there's this post from The Better Mom. My favorite part is that before modern technology people didn't know all the bad news from all over the world, just the bad news they could actually do something about. That's helpful when you're feeling overburdened by all the bad in the world. 

The boys listening to Daddy's radio show! 

Kevo was a little tired after co-op last week. 

Micah got to help spray the fire truck hose at co-op this week! 

We're finished with the nursery! (Isn't that a cute photobomber?)

"Climbing a tree" and playing the harmonica!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Welcoming Fall!

It's well into September, folks! (Just in case you hadn't noticed.)  We seem to have finally hit some fall weather and it's beautiful, although I must ask where the sun went. It seems we haven't seen it in a week! But with cold weather approaching, school starting, and schedules changing, it seems time to talk about tweaking our home life a little. Just for kicks I thought I'd start off with some of my...

Favorite Fall Things: 
-apple pie
-falling leaves
-soup and homemade bread
-crisp morning air
-Missions Conference
-oh, and this year we're having a baby! See? I'm really not making it up!  (31 weeks!)

Adjusting to Fall: 

1. Schedule changes. Homeschool co-op has started and the boys are really enjoying it! It's a fun afternoon for them once a week and gym should come in handy for burning off some extra energy. We're going to move some of our indoor work to the evening hours when we have to be inside to make the most of the daylight hours. Justin's back in class, teaching and taking them and preschool is back in "full swing." Or at least as much as I feel any four-year-old needs "full swing" education. 

2. Activities. I've kept some games and the playdough put up most of the summer so that the boys will have new things to do this fall and winter as it's getting colder and dark earlier. I've also kept a cardboard box with a puppet window for this season. Of course we'll tromp through the leaves, go on more walks, watch some local college football games, bake pies, and hopefully visit the pumpkin patch! And I'm on the lookout for some plastic bowling pins for the boys to do some hallway bowling. Anybody seen any? 

3. Counting blessings! As much as I don't like the dark evenings there are some great things about them! Justin doesn't have to mow and we will love the extra time with him! And don't forget it's time to break out the hot chocolate! And as for the darkness, turn on some lights and play some fun music. The sunshine is really supposed to come from within, right? 

What are your favorite fall things? 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Small Work

"The things that Jesus did were of the most menial and commonplace order, and this is an indication that it takes all God's power in me to do the most commonplace things in His way. Can I use a towel as He did? Towels and dishes and sandals, all the ordinary sordid things of our lives, reveal more quickly than anything what we are made of. It takes God Almighty Incarnate in us to do the meanest duty as it ought to be done." Oswald Chambers
So often we long for glory, to be noticed and appreciated, to be admired for our accomplishments. We desire to serve in grand ways and accomplish great things for God. But what about those little things? 

What about the breakfast dishes and the diapers? 
What about the board books and the blocks? 
What about the laundry and the dusting? 
What about the teaching and training? 
What about the faithfulness to our daily Bible reading? 
What about the kind words instead of a sharp tone? 
What about the evidence of our love for our husband? 

What about the small things that seem to be nothing? 

Yes, I write something about the small work frequently but that's because the small work matters. The work right in front of our hands that God has assigned us for today is our glorious calling. The Apostle's Paul's life is what we would call a life of accomplishment. He traveled over the known world winning others to Christ and planting churches. He wrote books of the Bible and witnessed in front of huge crowds of people. But most of his life was walking; they didn't have cars or trains then. His life was teaching people who seemed to not get it. His life was writing down the words, suffering through hardships, and serving in the most menial ways. We should not search for the fame or the glory. We must serve in the mundane and routine. 

We must serve in the Tuesday that comes every week and seems to hold nothing special. (Of course it really does.) We must serve in the daily routine of bedtime with our children even if we are tired and worn out mentally. We must serve the same people who show up every day dirty and misbehaving. And not just serve, but serve with joy. 

After Jesus washed the disciples feet he said, "For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." (John 13:15) Can we really think that any task is beneath us if we are following the footsteps of our Savior? 

We cannot do it on our own.  Too often we try to serve on our own and we quickly realize the task is beyond us. It takes "all God's power in me to do the most commonplace things in His way." ALL God's power for the most commonplace things. Isn't that true? It's easy to think that we only need God for the big things but we need Him for the small things too. Surrender yourself and your day to Him and obey what He says. 

All small work is not the same. Your small work may be filing or waiting tables or taking complaints over the phone. But it's the same truth. It takes all of God in you to do your work well regardless of what it is. Be faithful to the small work in front of you today. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

By the Time I'm 30

A favorite blogger that I follow on Instagram (and her blog, of course) turned 30 a few weeks ago. And I suddenly realized how close to 30 I am. I'll be 28 in January and two years will fly by. 30 doesn't scare me at all; it seems rather exciting actually. I'm enjoying growing and learning and you couldn't pay me to go back to being younger. Getting older is where it's at...at least for most things. 

But I started thinking, "What do I want to have done with my life by the time I'm 30?" 

The year I turn 30, Micah will be 6, Kevin 4, and Caleb 2.

So what would I like to have accomplished? I started sorting through some ideas and came up with this list. It's not all-inclusive or in any certain order and some things are just assumed. (Note, for instance, there's not a marriage goal here; I do intend to still be married.)

-have steady blog readers; people who are learning and working just like me
-homeschooling actively (micah 1st grade, kevin k-4)
-have a cute wardrobe for daily life
-be able to play the piano competently for church if needed
-be more confident telling others about Jesus in daily life- proclaim Jesus; love Him supremely
-have a closer walk with God; that daily growing from spending time with Him and obeying what He tells me

Nothing "huge" by the world's standards. I don't want to be famous or well-known or rich. I don't want to be a speaker or an author or a famous blogger. What I would really like to be doing is the same thing I'm doing now just as a more mature person. A more mature by walking with Jesus for two more years person. 

To get there I just keep doing what I'm doing: my work that God gives me every single day. Keep on learning and keep on working.  It's very reassuring that I don't need to revamp everything I'm doing. The list is not impressive and neither is my current work . But I am fulfilling God's purposes for my life with my obedience. That is important. 

Have you considered what you would like to accomplish over the next two years? Of course your list may be totally different from mine. You may not be married. You may have a career or a home business. You may have six children or none. But where do you want to be then? And this sounds very self-focused but I don't intend for it to be. The reason I was even considering this is that I don't want to waste my life; I want to spend it for Jesus. 

Have you thought about where you want to be in a few years? About who you want to be? What you are doing today is shaping your future. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Coveting Made Personal

I'm friends on Facebook with many people that attend the church I grew up in. I love that church. I loved it so much when I attended there that Justin was afraid we would never find anything I liked as well. But God tends to take care of such things. A few weeks ago a lady posted about her Sunday School class; she stated that they had discussed being covetous of qualities instead of things. 

Let's be honest, it's easy to talk about the sins we don't do. Or are at least less likely to do. Drinking. Homosexuality. Adultery. Coveting someone else's house (although that's nearer the mark, isn't it? With pretty social media posts and blogs?) We tend to not discuss the sins we really have problems with: things like gossip, self-indulgence, pride, or rebellion.  Those are sins too. And maybe worse ones because they are the ones we try to overlook. 

So when she started talking about being covetous over qualities I was immediately convicted. She listed beauty, wisdom, and talents as examples. How often am I jealous of someone else's beauty or body size? Do I covet that quality instead of thanking God for what I have and making the most of it? What about other ladies' talents? Do I wish for those, thinking mine aren't as impressive or important? 

It's easy to look around and say, "I wish I could write like her, or sing like her, or teach like her, or care like her," and never think we are being covetous. But if we were to say, "I wish I had her clothes or her house or her husband," then we would know we're in the wrong. God put us where we are with what we have for a reason. God will give us something different if that's His will for us. We can even pray about it but we need to leave it up to Him. 

So what do we do instead of coveting? 
1. Be thankful for what you have. Thank God for the health you have, the home, the talents, your appearance. Thank God that He has a purpose and plan for your life. Gratitude makes such a difference in our attitudes and our lives. 

2. Make the most of what you have. Why on earth should God give you more if you aren't using what you have? Maybe you wouldn't have picked the talents that God gave you but are you using them? Are you being a good steward of what you have been entrusted with?  Make the most of your home instead of comparing it to someone else's. Make the most of your appearance by dressing nice and fixing up a little. Make the most of your talents by using them even if it feels like small work. 

Coveting really starts when we start comparing. Instead of doing our work and running our race, we are looking at someone else's work and race. Instead of focusing on what God has given us to do we are looking at how much better someone else's work seems. Stop that. We are to be "looking unto Jesus," not staring at our neighbor's race and wondering why it's so much more exciting than ours. Everything becomes ordinary once you start doing it every day. Everything. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

When You're Feeling Big and Sloppy (Or On Adjusting Your Thought Life)

A few weeks ago I was feeling big and sloppy. Now I realize that I'm 29 weeks pregnant but I don't think I'm really big and sloppy and it's not a typical pregnancy feeling for me. So I started to ask myself why I might be feeling that way. 

(And yes, I know I don't look big and sloppy in this picture, ok??)

Now granted it doesn't help that this scenario has been repeated multiple times over the past few weeks. 
Sweet lady gives me the once-over and says, "Oh, when are you due?" in a nice, gushing voice. 
I smile, put my hand on my stomach, and reply, "November." 
She stares at my stomach and responds, "OH!"

Thanks, lady, thanks. Now I feel like a whale. 

1. I banned a few outfits. There were a few things that I felt huge in whenever I wore them. So I stopped wearing them. 

2. I'm spending an extra five minutes or so on my hair in the morning. Fixing my hair is one of my least favorite things to do; I can always think of so many other better and more interesting things to be doing. Having said that, I fix my hair every single morning. So I'm putting a few more minutes into it to help it look nicer. My hair really affects how I feel about how I look. 

3. I'm wearing my contacts as often as possible. I have an eye problem that keeps me from wearing my contacts all the time but I can wear them occasionally. They make me feel much more put together. 

4. I'm not  skipping my freshen-up minutes in the afternoon. I typically spend 5 minutes touching up my hair and makeup before I start cooking dinner. 

5. I decided to quit saying, "Wow, I feel big and sloppy." Instead I said, "I really like this shirt." Or, "Look how nice my hair turned out today." Quit saying "big and sloppy" to yourself, Lisa! Goodness. The way we talk to ourselves is just as important as how we talk to others. 

These issues aren't just related to body image during pregnancy or any other time. There are many things that we can adjust to in order to remove some mental barriers in our lives. I believe if we are going to care for our families and other people that is is imperative that we take care of ourselves. The Bible says to "love thy neighbor as thyself." We are not to pretend that we aren't human beings with needs and issues. 

Thinking about the things that bother you in life, especially little things like this, can be so beneficial. Get some idea of what's bothering you and then pray about it. Nothing is too small to take to God. Psalm 62:8 encourages us to "pour out your heart before him." Instead of being weighed down by little things you can solve them and save your mental energy for things that really matter. 

Obviously most issues aren't this easily resolved. I'm not pretending this little exercise will solve most problems. But there is always that collection of little things that we can fix. Think about your little issues and deal with them so that you can better serve God. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Discipline is a Set of Habits

To a great degree, discipline is a set of habits that can be cultivated.
I read that quote in a blog post last week and was arrested by the thought. We behave as though we are either disciplined people or we aren't. As if it is some sort of cosmic choice out of our control. It's not. We all learn discipline; we aren't born with it. 

There are some habits that I am so grateful to have. They are part of my life and I don't really think about whether or not to do them. Reading my Bible every day, cleaning up the kitchen after each meal, planning out our work, brushing my teeth multiple times a days are all things I do without debating when or if to do them. That is so helpful for my life. I started to consider some thoughts about this personal discipline. 

-One habit won't make you a disciplined person but it will make you a more disciplined person. We can start one habit at a time and build our personal discipline. We can start reading our Bible, even just for five minutes, every single day. We can start working out, even just for five minutes, every single day. We can start doing, to some small degree, whatever it is that we want to be a part of our lives. Maybe you want a cleaner house. Clean, every day, for five minutes. Make a list and do something from it every single day. Pick one thing and start small. Once you do that daily (or pretty close to it) add another habit. You'd be surprised at how quickly life can change this way. 

-It requires work. The habits have to be cultivated. You have to make yourself do the work even when you don't feel like it. It will require attention and effort on your part to make these habits part of your life. Think about raising your children. It requires attention and effort to make sure your children learn to brush their teeth on a regular basis. But once it's part of their lives you don't really have to worry about it after that. Give yourself the same gift and cultivate some discipline for yourself. It's not a punishment; it's a blessing. 

You would be surprised at what you can accomplish in one day if you simply keep working. Don't stop to check facebook or read your emails (unless it's time to do those things). And I'm not talking about being busy; we live in a culture that glorifies being busy. I'm talking about doing God's work for your day. That may include sitting on the couch with your kids reading, spending some time on your writing/painting/crafting, cuddling your baby and enjoying his baby grins, taking a nap so that you can be gracious with your family all evening. I'm not suggesting that we use discipline as an excuse to be so busy that we have no time for the important people (or tasks) in our lives. Sometimes the most important things can feel the least productive. But if you want to learn to do God's work for you well, you will need some discipline about yourself. 

Know what it's time to do and do it. Don't do anything else. Of course when you are raising small children you have the training of your children as the trump card. It might be time to clean the bathroom or conduct circle time but that may need to stop so you can deal with a discipline issue or an attitude problem. Don't be frustrated; that is your overall mission. Deal with the interruption and then go back to the task at hand. But don't stop for things that don't matter. Let the phone ring if it's not important. Leave the internet alone. Don't sit and watch tv. Be about your work. 

How do you form new habits? What are the habits that have been most beneficial for your life?