Saturday, January 30, 2016

Bathroom Routine Checklist

 photo DD05E457-50CC-46B5-9774-9880483B9E56_zpsmvgapuh8.jpg On Saturdays, I like to skip the "home maintenance" stuff I do Monday-Friday and opt for creativity or completing projects that I don't have time to do during the week.

My children, God love them, become monsters at bedtime.  They also lose their ability to do anything on their own.

Enter the Bathroom Routine Checklist.

Each kid needs to check off their to-dos before they leave the bathroom.  I don't need to remind them.  They just read (or look at the images) and check it off as they complete it.  No parental intervention.  Just kids learning to be independent.  It's a win-win for everyone.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Does God Really Give You the Desires of Your Heart?

When I was in high school, and for a year after, I had a boyfriend.  He was a serious boyfriend, in that we talked about our future together which included marriage and kids.  I was convinced he was the one for me.  I was not a Christian at the time but I believed God existed and I did pray on a regular basis.  "God help me to score 15 points in the game," "God let me get an 'A' on my test (even though I didn't study)," "God let me get the solo I tried out for."  And during this particular relationship, I prayed A LOT.  Our relationship was pretty tumultuous and unhealthy for the most part and I was constantly asking God to "fix this" or "help him to love me" or "stop him from cheating on me again."  When I look back on it now, it makes me a little sick to my stomach to know the things I put up with all because I loved him but we all know that, generally speaking, teenagers + love = drama.

I prayed almost every night for God to let us be together forever.  Somehow, in the middle of all the turmoil, I could still imagine this beautiful life, in a beautiful house, with beautiful jobs and beautiful kids.  Love is soooooooooooo blind.  After about our fourth break-up and reunion, I started to realize that this was probably not going to last forever.  When our final break-up happened, I was beyond furious with God.  I told Him I hated Him and would never, ever, talk to Him again.  I decided that God hated me and that I was obviously just going to have to live this life on my own.  Which doesn't generally turn out well.

I hit rock bottom.  I rebelled quite a bit.  I would do things that I knew were destructive just because they were destructive.  God could care less about my desires, so why should I care about His?

Fast forward about fifteen years and I can't believe that was my desire.  I can't know for sure what would have happened if God had given me the desires of my heart back then but I can almost bet it would have ended in infidelity, divorce, depression, children stuck in the middle of a custody battle and deep pain.  Not only that, but I would have robbed myself of the chance to meet my husband.  A man who loves me unconditionally, edifies and encourages me and never makes me feel insecure or unworthy.

If you are like me, you have seen many instances and circumstances in your life that you were sure was the best thing for you, only to have God either not answer your prayers or seemingly slam the door in your face.  And if you're like me, at the time you feel angry, frustrated and confused only to walk a little ways down the road and find a rainbow at the end of the storm.  The clouds lifted, the sun came out and that unanswered prayer became a blessing - not a disaster.

I'm always cautious when people post things on Facebook or preachers preach on the subject of God answering prayer.  Our society has become one that makes God look like a "genie in a bottle," here to give us our every desire.  Step right up.  Tell me your request.  Your wish is my command.  And when things don't go our way, suddenly the Genie you were praying to is nothing more than a heartless, vengeful God.

Too many people turn to these popular passages in the Bible when asking God for a favorable answer to prayer:
"...ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." -John 15:7
" that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give you." -John 15:16
You know why these passages make me cringe?  Because they are incomplete.  They are just an afterthought to the main point of the passage.  Unfortunately, they are the only parts that people memorize and ultimately throw in God's face when He doesn't comply.
"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." - John 15:7 
"You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give you." - John 15:16
The key word that struck me this morning was the word abide.  To abide in the terms mentioned by Jesus is to rest or dwell.  To be firm and unmovable.  To wait for.  To endure or sustain.  Believers that abide in Jesus are not shaken or thwarted when a prayer is not answered in the way they expected.  But also, Believers that abide in Jesus have a transformation of their prayers as well.  Their prayers move from a selfish and inward approach to a selfless and outward approach.  When someone really abides in Jesus, and are not just seeking Him for personal gain, their relationship with Him is solidified.  What He wants becomes what we want.  His desires become our desires.  Prayer becomes a way to communicate instead of a way to manipulate.

Does God answer outlandish prayers, make miracles happen and bless the socks off His people?  ABSOLUTELY!  But He does it within the confines of His will and what he knows is best for us, not as a reward withheld for only really good Christians.

God's purpose for prayer was never to ensure that His followers were successful, secure, safe, healthy or comfortable in this life - as hard as that is to hear.  God's divine purpose for prayer is to give us successful (and intimate) relationship with Him, a secure truth to stand on, a safe place to go when life is difficult, a healthy spiritual life that withstands trials of any kind and comfort in knowing that this is not all there is - that eternity awaits.

About seven years ago, I was in a very dark place full of anxiety and fear.  Every day I was worried that someone I loved would die.  I didn't want to leave the house.  I didn't want to be separated from my husband and kids.  I decided I needed to seek help and I started seeing a counselor.  Nine long months into counseling and I was beginning to see the light at the end of a dark tunnel.  And then we got a phone call.  My father-in-law passed away very suddenly.  A man that I loved like my own father.  A man who was everything to our family.  A man who was loved by so many.  It could have been crippling.  I could have fallen apart.  Someone reading this may think, "How cruel is God to let that happen when He knew that was her biggest fear?"  And trust me, for a time, that was how I felt, too.  But after some time of grieving, a rainbow appeared and the sun came out and I realized...God didn't do that to me, he prepared me - through counseling - for what He knew was coming.  I prayed for months, even years, that no one I loved would die.  God knew He couldn't answer that prayer the way I wanted Him to, so instead He allowed me to stand firmly on His truths, to heal from things in my past that were affecting my ability to trust Him and to continually seek wise counsel from someone when I couldn't figure things out on my own.  It was the gentle hands of a loving Father that carried me through one of the darkest times of my life, not the harsh hands of a vengeful God who didn't want to answer my prayers.

When we received salvation, we didn't sign a document that provided a checklist of problems that go away and a resolution to every task or difficulty.  We did, however, have a Savior who paid a serious price so that we could have continual communion with a God who knows all, sees all and desires that His people partner with Him in the restoration of this beautifully complicated world.  Even if its just our own beautifully complicated world that needs the restoration.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Grief in Comparison

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day.  She has been going through a few rough things in the last couple of months and it all seemingly has just finally taken its toll on her.  After the last event, the final straw, she mentioned that she had sat in bed trying to coax herself by saying, "be tough," and "suck it up," and "stop feeling this way."  After she gave me the list of things that have been tipping her over the edge, she says something along the lines of, "I know that people are starving and horrible things are happening all over the world, but today, I just can't take all of this."  I, too, have gone through many of the same things she is going through and felt genuine sympathy for her feelings.  But what if I hadn't?  What if I couldn't sympathize because I had no idea what she was going through?

Almost three years ago, I lost a baby to miscarriage.  Up until that point, I had many friends who had experienced miscarriage.  In fact,  some had experienced many miscarriages.  I foolishly thought to myself on a number of occasions, "the baby was hardly developed, at least the baby didn't die during birth or something when they could actually see it and hold it."  Don't judge me please, it makes cringe to think that I actually had that mindset.

But until I lost my baby, I just couldn't understand completely the agony one goes through and the hope and expectation that is lost.  Which, I guess, was the beginning of a transformation of thought that I have come to adopt as a personal belief.

We often throw expressions around like, "I'm sorry you lost your job but there are starving children in Africa right now!"  Or maybe, "Your Uncle died...well at least it wasn't your Mom or something."  (Yes, I actually had someone say that)  Or how about something a little more difficult to swallow; "I'm so sorry your husband died...but at least he's going to heaven!"  Maybe that last one makes you question my sanity, but hear me out.

The Bible is not riddled with passages telling us NOT to compare our own experiences with others' but it does give us someone to compare to.

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.   “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
In John 11, a friend of Jesus, Lazarus, had just died.  Jesus knew he was going to die.  He also knew that he was going to bring him back to life.  Yet, he cried.  Why?  Why would the Savior, who already knew the outcome, cry over a dead man who was about to be raised back to life? 

I think it was because Jesus allowed himself to grieve with others.  He allowed Himself to be "deeply moved in spirit and troubled" by what others were going through.  Notice that Jesus didn't say, "At least he wasn't your own son," or "thank goodness he's not suffering from illness anymore."  And you know what Jesus also didn't say?  "At least he's going to heaven."  No.  He wept.  He cried for Lazarus because he felt deeply for him but he wept because he ALSO felt deeply for those who were grieving for Lazarus, too.

Jesus knew that if Lazarus was going to die, he was going to Heaven.  Just like most of us know that there are other people who have it worse in the world than we do.  We have to start realizing that it doesn't do anyone any good to remind them that their situation could be worse.  Even if theoretically it could be, it's not how I think Jesus handles people who are grieving.  And I don't think that's how we should either.

Yes, there is sometimes a need for some perspective, but grief is funny in that it isn't logical.  Perspective will eventually come back, but not in the middle of grief.  And guess what?  It's really ok.  It's ok that we grieve.  It's ok that we cry.  It's ok that we question.  It's ok that we lose sight of reality for a little while.  Because one of the things that God does care about is that we have a softened heart, a heart of flesh.
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." -Ezekiel 36:26
When we tell ourselves, or others, "Be tough!" "Suck it up!" "Stop Feeling this way!" or "It could be worse!" we change our hearts of flesh, and others' hearts, little by little back to stone.  Those same hearts that God has worked so hard to make more flesh-like and soft.  Our world is full of hard-hearted people who have "sucked it up" - do we really want to be that way too?

I, for one, want to feel deeply for others.  I don't ever want to encourage someone to get over "something" when I have no idea how God plans to use that "something" to work in them.  I want to meet them in their pain and disappointment and struggle because that's exactly what Jesus did for me.  I may not understand it, or have been through it myself, but I know what it's like to lose someone I love or worry about paying a bill or wonder what the blood test will reveal.  If you've experienced any kind of grief in your life, you already have the capability to grieve deeply with someone who really just needs you to be there for them.  We don't need grief in comparison; with its wise words of perspective and promise of a better tomorrow (even though we know that to be true).  We need to find a place where grief is acceptable, struggle is a reality and disappointment is a place for us to connect and be in communion with one another and Christ.