Immature Mom Moment?

My counselor asked me once why I always feel behind.  Oh gracious, I could write a book about that.

But it all starts with intending to wake up before my children, and snoozing in just a few extra peaceful minutes only to find one of them waking me up instead.  (A kid at 6am is harder to ignore than an alarm at 5:45 apparently.)

This morning my usual three year old culprit greeted me and I had to shush him and whisk him down the stairs before he woke up the other two angelic sleeping children. (And “angelic” is a word we seldom use in this house.)

Then I sat down to have my “quiet time” where I read a chapter of a book or some chapters in my Bible or pray (or for the love of all things sugar-free be ALONE).  But I find myself feeling guilty that while I’m trying to have a calm conversation with God I have to keep yelling at a mischievous child.  I think God gets it but its awkward.

Finally my little guy wore me down, as usual, and I invited him to join my “quiet time” if he could, in fact, be quiet.  Bless his heart.  He lowered his voice to a toddler whisper, but the kid never stopped talking. Asking me questions.  Wanting me to see what he was working on.

Death glare.  “Child…you will learn what quiet means if it is the only legacy I pass on to you.”

Finally my older daughter came in and I gave up my not-so-quiet endeavor to look something up on the computer for her.  Next thing I knew, I looked over and my preschooler was wielding his scissors and must have been bored with paper because he was now intent on trying to cut my new blue shirt.

I mom panicked into over-reacting umm….just a smidge we’ll say.  My poor son was surprised and hurt by how quickly I over-scolded him. 

I shooed my daughter out of the room and told her to get dressed, I plucked my crying three year old up and put him in time-out with yet another firm reminder that “we ONLY cut paper” (which his little brain will file away in the same place he puts my rules about not coloring on the wall).

Then in anger I called out passive aggressively to no one in particular (but specifically my husband) something about having to handle all the things myself just because I’m “mom”.  (Translation: obviously we are in crisis mode and if my tirade and a crying child didn’t get you down here…I’m going to lay out an additional suuuuper subtle hint for you.)

Then I sat down for a brief moment, probably to stew in irritability even though my shirt didn’t actually get cut after all.  And suddenly it occurred to me…my husband had kissed me goodbye a good 15 minutes ago and left for work already.  He clearly had no idea of the shirt and scissors kerfuffle and thankfully he also missed my immature mom moment of taking my frustration out on him.

I’m actually relieved because the minute I realized he wasn’t there I saw my Mom meltdown for what it was- that kind of embarrassing time when my kids witnessed me yelling at literally no one because of a blue shirt.  I had made a mistake but since he wasn’t there I got to take it back and start over.  (How often does that happen?)

Whew.  With any luck he won’t even read this blog and he’ll be none the wiser. 😉

Now my big kids are at school and my son has been sneaking his own lunch while I type.  But I think its worth it to take a minute to cheer you up with my immaturity.


 

What about you?  Any embarrassing or slightly over-reacting moments from your parenting career?  Feel free to share- sometimes being able to laugh at ourselves brings us a little perspective on our frustrations for today.

What Twinkies Taught Me About Human Dignity

“Fat people gotta eat!” she said as she poked around an end of aisle snack food display at the grocery store.  She’d been talking half to herself, half to my three year old son who has the innocence and charm to engage many a stranger.

I was on a pointless search for an almond butter that didn’t cost a million dollars, but I smiled as she emphasized her statement by grabbing at her perfectly thin stomach.  I assured her that she was more than fine in the weight department but not to be deterred, she good naturedly revealed her undershirt to reiterate her point.

She never stopped moving and I wondered if she really cared what anyone thought of her, stomach or otherwise, the way she confidently rattled on, side-stepping social expectations in a delightful child-like way.  But as she poked her head around me to say hi to my son, she unexpectedly threw off my own sense of social balance:  As though she literally couldn’t help herself, she invited my sugar-loving preschooler over to a veritable heaven of Hostess products and said, “Want a treat?  You can only pick two.  Which ones do you want?”

My son hid behind me at first as though even he was unsure of what to do in this situation.  But confection wins out every time and before I really knew what had happened, he was throwing a box each of Twinkies and Ding Dongs into my cart.

Our new friend grinned and waved me along, “Just follow me and I’ll buy ’em when I check out.”

What had I gotten myself into?  I didn’t have a strong social map for this situation (do they make books for this kind of thing?), and all my brain synapses were firing on awkward.  How did this shopping trip turn into me playing follow-the-leader with a stranger who wanted to buy my kid infamously bad-for-you treats?

Still, though I may never know her whole story, I sensed that this woman might be someone who frequently found herself on the receiving end of help.  How often did she feel really seen?  How often did she feel the simple dignity of giving an impromptu gift to someone who couldn’t help their self?

So what that my three year old would have more Polysorbate 60 (apparently a Twinkie ingredient) than he knew what to do with.  So what that we didn’t need them and I could have bought them myself.

We continued our unlikely procession, she occasionally turning behind to encourage my lagging son to keep going.  At one point we split down different aisles but she told me she’d catch me up front.  My son, far more aware of the situation than I’d given him credit for, said in his earnest way, “Need her!  Red shirt!”  He could identify down to the shirt color the woman who was funding his treats and he feared we’d lost her.

But as we rounded another aisle she shuffled past and kept waving us along as though we’d never left her sights.  True to her word, she presented my son with his prize bag of goodies as she rung up her own things in the self check-out.  I scanned my items too and thanked her, enjoying her ongoing irritated conversation with the finicky self-check out system.  Before we left she told us where she lived and that we should stop by sometime and head to the lake.  Her generous sincerity somehow rubbed like sandpaper against my own inhibitions and slowness to welcome people with such open-handed hospitality.

As we walked out the door she called loudly to my son again, “Love ya babe!”  Maybe we’d call it taboo.  Maybe we’d say it was a lack of social awareness. But from the time we encountered her, the woman was simply reacting in the present with a warmth and realness that most of us would be too embarrassed to show.  (And maybe that’s more a tragedy than we realize.)

Though she didn’t hear him, my son, now tagging at my heels, met her free child-like emotion with his own: “I lud you too.”

And though admittedly I had to fight that place in my head that worried about my son freely throwing out “I love yous” to strangers, I started tearing up a bit at the exchange I’d just witnessed.  My son didn’t see the strange, the uncomfortable, or the awkward.  He didn’t care her gender, clothing choice, education level or race.  Yes he was mostly fixated on the Twinkies, but I also believe he saw her as an equal.  And isn’t that what I say I believe too?  That we’re all equals?

It made me stop to ask myself how I think about each person I see.  Do I really believe each person has equal dignity?  Do I honestly believe that each person I encounter has a dignity that goes beyond what they’ve ACCOMPLISHED, what they can GIVE, or how they PRESENT themselves? Am I so busy trying to secure my own dignity and worth through helping others that I stop seeing each person as intrinsically valuable?

Do I forget that our human need for each other doesn’t depend on our culture’s definition of who qualifies as “needy” but on the fundamental premise that each of us has some incalculable imprint of our Creator to share with the world?

Silly though my story may be, I didn’t give that woman dignity by letting her buy my son Twinkies.  Her dignity was her own beautiful birthright, Creator bestowed, not to be increased or diminished by a fellow creation.  But in letting her buy my son something seemingly insignificant, I believe I acknowledged in my heart the dignity that was always hers.  In watching her interact with my son I witnessed a piece of her that filled my own soul with more joy than a Twinkie has crème.

As I shared this story with my dad I lamented that my first reaction towards people is to see their social status, their worth according to culture, not their intrinsic dignity.  How can I change that first reaction?

And he wisely suggested that perhaps we can’t control that first reaction, but that God is more concerned with our “second look” at people.  Maybe we can’t help that first feeling of superiority (or inferiority even), that knee-jerk scan of who a person is and how valuable they are based on our first glance.  But we give that reaction to God and let Him shape our second look so that we are able to lay down our man-made view of dignity and see people through the filter of His free love.

So may we pray to acknowledge and embrace the full dignity of others on the streets, in our homes, and occasionally even in the Twinkie aisle.


Have a story to share about your own encounter with the dignity in others?  No story is small or insignificant…I hope you’ll share your moment and revelations with the rest of us.  Or start a conversation on my facebook page at www.facebook.com/lesstobemore. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

I Don’t Know (Gray Faith Study Ch 8: Gray Answers)

“I don’t know” has become one of the most refreshing phrases to hear others say, and yet it doesn’t roll off my own tongue easily.  In fact, sometimes I have to chase it down and drag it out of my mouth kicking and screaming.

I know I don’t have all the answers but I so desperately want to fix everything- to make it better.  I NEED for there to be an answer…or I think that’s what I need.  What they need.  What you need.

At core admitting that “I don’t know” is a massive letting go of control.   Letting go of my perceived control over making someone happy, my perceived ability to make someone better, our perceived control over situations that are broken.

But trusting in God takes the “I don’t know” to another level of humility because I have to concede that He DOES KNOW.  It’s this letting go of my belief that I’m capable of even beginning to fathom the vast knowledge that spans souls and soil, breath and bread, Spirit and truth. And that’s scary.

But what’s perhaps even scarier is that God knows the answers and yet problems still exist.  The suffering still continues.  My friends’ pain isn’t getting wrapped up neatly.  My own struggles aren’t dissolving.  If God knows the answer and the problem persists then maybe we’re tempted to throw God out entirely and say we can’t believe in a God who knows and hasn’t fixed.

Or.  OR.  We chase the why.  We become absolutely convinced that even if we don’t know how to SOLVE a problem we can make it better with a “why” bandaid.  Why does someone’s pain exist? Is God teaching them something?  Did we make a mistake?  Is something amazing going to happen through the suffering?  Why?

“I don’t know” is a giant inky pool that no one wants to swim in.  We think answers are the life-raft to save us- but they’re not.  They might actually be trapping us, handicapping us, holding us hostage.

But…God is there in the inky pool holding us somehow in the not knowing.  He is a Life-raft that somehow envelops us more securely than the styrofoam answers we’re clinging to.

Photo Credit: Joy Martin

And He, Holder of the answers, Creator of the world, Sustainer of our cells and souls, perhaps wants us to trust in Him even more than in answers.

And just as He sits with us in our unanswered mess, walks with us and speaks identity over us, we can sit with others and extend to them the grace of not knowing.  We can point them to the Answer that doesn’t always resolve our problems here-and-now, neat and clean- that Spirit that surpasses all the other answers that we think we need.

Maybe that sounds like another easy answer.  But I’ve had to fight and flounder to believe it, and even now it isn’t easy.  I can honestly say now that finding God’s presence in my life has been the single thing that keeps me afloat because I’ve felt Him when nothing else made sense.

But that’s where my story is.

I know for some just getting to that place of believing in God feels like too big a step, too much faith in what you can’t see.   I don’t want to diminish that struggle or try to fix you with some platitude.

So I’ll leave you to ponder, to wonder, to seek.  But I hope that when the search for answers wearies you and you can’t even find the whys, that you might venture trusting in surprisingly steady arms in that dark sea you find yourself in.

And for those who feel like they have to have all the answers, or that God isn’t pleased if they can’t find a verse to combat any problem…may you somehow find peace and rest in the not knowing.

Here’s the FINAL Gray Faith video/Study Guide!!  (Chapter 8)


Experiment #8-
Whatever you believe has been shaped by many things. I challenge you to take away the books, the friend’s opinions that fill your head, even the things you were taught to believe as a child. When you strip away all these things, what is the bottom line of your belief- the fundamental reason you believe as you do. Sometimes this means mentally suspending what you believe momentarily to ask yourself if another way makes sense. For example, can you imagine that God doesn’t exist? Would your life be substantially changed if He didn’t? What, if any, personal experiences have you had with God that shape your belief? Even if you don’t feel like you have all the answers, imagine what living out your deepest beliefs may look like in your practical life.

Chapter 8 Study Questions:

1.What does it mean to be “comfortable being uncomfortable” when we don’t have the answers? Why is this necessary?

2. Formulas can be tools to help us grow, but how can they become negative?

3. Imagine/discuss what you believe Eden was like: a perfect relationship with God, a world before the curse. How do you see brokenness of the fall in everything humans have touched?

4. Respond to this statement: “The beauty of the world and the suffering alike tell me that we were meant for more.”

5. Have you experienced Jesus to be bigger than your circumstances? Explain.

6. Be honest with yourself/ your group, and God- what are some the “unanswered” questions in your life?

7. How can you live with questions and still actively believe in God?

Bible passages for further reading:
Romans 1:18-20 (God reveals Himself through creation); Mark 9:14-29 (Jesus heals a boy/father asks for help with unbelief); Matthew 11:1-6 (John the Baptist questions Jesus’ identity);

 

 

Moving On, Community and Letting Go (Friend Post Friday #6)

I still remember the first day I met Maura Eckels, my guest blogger for today.  We were at a mutual friend’s graduation party and her sweet love of children found her gravitating towards the playground where I was swinging my kiddos.  From the first conversation, I could tell Maura oozed passion to taste and change the world- and not just in a passing fad kind of way- the girl was ready to make a real difference.  I was amazed that someone so young was already aware of such a deep calling on her life.  It’s no surprise then that her faith and heart have since taken her to Franciscan University where she’s enrolled in theology and human life studies, with plans to graduate and carry God’s heart wherever He takes her.  If you ever have the pleasure of talking with Maura, you’ll find yourself caught up in her smile and eager dialogue, while simultaneously feeling challenged to fully live your beliefs and convictions the way she does.  Her journey hasn’t been easy, and in fact her life circumstances have made tuition alone very difficult for her.  I’m sharing with you her tuition go-fund-me page in the hopes that you will read more of her story and please help out financially if you are able!  And I hope you’ll stick around to be inspired as she shares her honest beautiful thoughts.

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“Moving On, Community and Letting Go”

by Maura Eckels

There’s this closing scene in a film called Brooklyn that deeply moves me. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie, but it’s about this young woman from Ireland who takes the boat to New York City and meets this Italian fella. The movie ends with her standing on a street in a city which became her home. She sees her husband after a long period of time (she married the Italian guy), he sees her and then she says this incredible line:

“One day the sun will come out-you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past and you’ll realize… that this is where your life is.”

As I moved away from Connecticut and into a new home in my college town, I found myself on soccer mom duty for the children of a former professor. Three munchkins, one minivan and an afternoon practice seemed to be the perfect medicine for my soul after a restless day driving to Ohio.

It was here that I was overcome with this same realization. These friends and families around me have become my community. This poverty stricken town has become my home. And for right now, this is where my life is.

Just days before I was cleaning out the childhood bedroom of the home I’ve known for 21 years. I noticed that the mess I was either throwing away or organizing into storage bins paled in comparison to the mess of my heart. On the one hand, I could taste the sweet freedom of moving out for good and on the other, the daunting reality of now facing life with the baggage I’ve accumulated over the years, like dust on a shelf.

As I took one last look at the empty room holding nothing but my battered heart, a truth washed over me that perhaps you can sympathize with: We don’t realize how much crap we have until we sift through it and we can’t see how broken we are until we try to clean shop.

Somehow, I’ve painfully managed to grasp on rather than let go of that which weighs me down. This still small voice would keep asking to lighten the load and to share in my burden, but I couldn’t figure out how to concretely give it over to Jesus. And the truth is, I still can’t. So I resolved to carry it alone. Worse, I accepted that maybe I am alone. After all, how could He possibly be helping if he claims his yoke to be light and mine is so heavy?

Then a beautiful woman reminded me that God will allow you to struggle because He wants you to show up for your own fight. And I remembered all the times I made it through the valley with the help of His grace and once again I am reassured that just as I was victorious before, I will be victorious again.

His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

So I want Jesus to be my number one. I want him to be enough for me. He is the bridegroom and I am his bride. His love for me is covenant; it’s eternal. My maker wants to marry me. He gives himself totally and completely on the cross, holding nothing back. His body given up for me. Love without condition. And in response to Christ’s disinterested gift of self, I desire to be one right back. I want to love him for his own sake and goodness and not for what he does for me. And I can’t claim to fully love someone whom I fear because perfect love casts out all fear. Therefore, I will continue to ask for the grace to not put God in my own image because it’s a false one. Rather, I hope to see him for who he truly is.

The problem is this: Jesus is not as tangible as I would like him to be. I can’t see his facial expressions, hear the inflection in his voice or know what his laugh sounds like. Does he have a preference in wine? I mean he created the vines, but you never know. It’s the details which seem lacking. He feels less real to me than the people around me even though that’s the furthest from the truth. He’s more real…I know that. Yet my heart won’t consent. I hate admitting that he doesn’t feel enough for me because he is supposed to be. To love God for his own sake means to really know him. But I realized that I don’t know him well because if I did, I wouldn’t fear him.

Yet, I have to believe that the same God who created us for himself in whom we alone find satisfaction and fulfillment is also the same God who said to Adam in the Garden that it is not good for man to be alone. We need others just as much as we need God. I mean Heaven itself isn’t just us alone chillin’ with the Trinity. It’s us, Him and the angels and saints. Even our forever is community. Community is what we’re created for.

I know that soon enough I will have to say goodbye to this community that the Lord has blessed me with these past three years. He’s given me so much more than I could have ever anticipated for myself and for this, I am eternally grateful. As I’ve been learning to detach from objects, people and places, I’ve come to the conclusion that as Elizabeth Bishop says, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” Letting go is okay, necessary and good. I don’t think any of us will ever be perfectly content with it, but I can only pray for a holy indifference so that when God asks me to leave, I’ll leave and when he asks me to stay, I’ll stay.

Just as God has given before, he will give again. I’m reminded of this even now surrounded by what feels like an abundance of blessings. Even when we are left with what may seem like nothing and no one, we can have confidence and peace knowing that one day he will fill our cup again. When our brokenness surfaces, we can trust that he will heal us in his timing. We can choose to believe the promise Jesus gives us that everything else will be given to us when we seek first the kingdom of God. So I’m choosing right now to seek him first. I want him to be my priority amidst the struggle of this life. In this pursuit of the one who brought me into being, I can find consolation knowing that he will take care of the rest.

Gray Expectations (Gray Faith Study Chapter 6)

One day I plan to write a whole book about how encountering God requires a constant surrender and reshaping of our expectations of Him.  But until then, I’ll keep it brief.  Whenever our expectations of God don’t align with the reality of who He is, we will be missing something.  We will be frustrated.  We will be running and grasping and wondering why our life isn’t going according to plan.  Our pain and suffering and unfulfilled prayers will try to tell us that our God isn’t good, didn’t show up, or doesn’t really love us.  But excruciating though it can be, surrendering even our most painful unmet expectations to God is like giving over control of the sculpting knife to the Master Artist and letting Him shape something beautiful.

I share in my book a little bit about my own type-1 diabetes and the ways God has used that to shape and alter my faith in surprisingly purposeful and pleasant ways.  (Though I wouldn’t choose it for myself!)  Even when it comes at great cost, I’m stubborn but slowly realizing I’d rather be stripped of my idols and comforts and see Him for the only thing I really need.  If He is my deepest expectation…my vision…my Hope…then I believe ultimately I have all that I need.

Check out this video to be encouraged and challenged, and then dig into the free Gray Faith study guide for chapter 6 below!

Puzzles and Expectations: Gray Faith Ch 6- “Gray Expectations”

Experiment #6- Part of experiencing the full life God wants means honestly giving Him our greatest disappointments, hurts, and fears. We have to get to a place where WHO God is outweighs the WHATS of our lives. I won’t pretend this is easy, and there isn’t a formula for getting there. But if we want to get to know someone better, sometimes asking a question is the best place to start. This week, tell God that you want to know Him better. Ask Him to show you through His Word something about Himself- part of who He is- that will meet you wherever you are at. Read the following verses and pray them for yourself this week:

Ephesians 1:17-19 “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Chapter 6 Study Questions:

1. What does it look like to give God “an honest acknowledgement of struggle” instead of a “pretense of praise”?

2. What have been the “hard places” in your life? Have those places grown your faith or turned you away from God? Why?

3. Discuss your experience with God through prayer. Talk about your expectations, disappointments, and your level of honesty with God.

4. What does it look like to give up control and let God author your story? Is this idea scary or liberating for you?

5. Do you believe that God’s promises will keep you safe, thriving, and blessed? Use Scripture to explain why or why not.

6. How can we hold fast to God’s ultimate “good” promises when life doesn’t go as we want or expect? Can you believe in a good God when your circumstances are disappointing?

Bible passages for further reading:
Psalm 13 (David honest before God); Matthew 16:24-25 (Giving up to follow Christ); Romans 8:28 (He’s working for our good); John 16:33 (Jesus promises trouble/He overcomes);

Faith (Friend Post Friday #5)

It may be difficult to perfectly sum up today’s “Friend-poster”.  One of the very first times I met her, Lexi Mcguigan’s vulnerable words made me cry as she poured out her soul in a Breaking Silences girls’ play at Epoch Arts.  This is the place I’ve watched her invest so many precious pieces of herself in others through art and her servant’s heart.  She’s got this infectiously genuine personality and she’s present and invested in each moment.  One of the best things about Lexi (aside from the fact that she’s willing to babysit my three children!) is that she never wants to stay stagnant- she’s always thinking deeply, allowing herself to be shaped by God and others, desiring to grow even through the most difficult seasons.  And as she’s grown, she’s gleaned poignant wisdom to pass on to us.  I hope you’ll be inspired by her heart today…here’s Lexi!


“Faith”

by Lexi Mcguigan

When I was asked to write for the blog I was super excited, I love sharing my perspective and
view of things. I had already decided at the beginning of the month what I was going to write about and I thought that was that…. But boy was I wrong. What I felt the need to write about now was faith.

Faith:
complete trust or confidence in someone or something
synonyms:​ trust · belief · confidence · conviction · optimism · hopefulness · hope

Faith is a strong and powerful word, before looking it up in the dictionary I knew what it was, but I decided to look anyway and what I found interesting and kind of a call out was that a synonym of faith was conviction. I feel convicted of sin all the time, I am not a perfect christian nor do I claim to be, my only goal is to give God all of me. And I fail at that more than I succeed. I feel most people can relate to that because we are all human, we make mistakes, we falter and stumble. My main issue that I come upon is myself, I am my own worst enemy, the critic I can’t escape, the only one that can truly destroy my mind. So how do we escape from our own thoughts? Well through prayer, and I learned that through trial and error, through running away, and finally through just realizing the only one I can truly turn to is God. I have never before experienced the chaos and shake up of God in my life like this.

I have always had issues with control, I am very aware that I have no control and God always will but that does not stop me from trying. I’m stubborn and want things to go a certain way and I always seem to be telling God “I know your way is best but let me try” or “God I trust you, I give you all of me… except for this because I really think I need to do this.” I have this need to have everything stay the same or go in the direction I believe it should instead of trusting God’s plan. I have never been hit so hard in the face by my own actions and words as I have this past month. I never realized how much the word faith meant to me, God has stripped people for my life, moved me, changed me and altogether shown me that I am loved, I am his and yet I can’t give him my complete faith because I hold onto fear.

Fear itself is something we all feel at certain times, some more than others. I personally have been living in fear for most of my life. I believe that it is so easy to fall into fear which can lead to countless amounts of things. This past week we’ve been having some issues with our landlord, and only last night did I see what it was truly like to not live in fear or what might happen or to hold onto a grudge but to see this person through God’s eyes, this person God created just as he created me and he loves just as much as he loves all his children. For me to see this person as less than that itself is faithlessness in my opinion, to not try to understand my enemy, to not imagine them as my brother or sister; is a sin. In the bible it says “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.”(Psalm 34:4) So why do we still hold onto fear? When we give it to God are we truly giving it to him? I can answer this truthfully and say that not always do I fully give it to God and then I wonder why it still eats at me. At times I blame God for my own faults. And I think the hardest part about it, is sometimes when I blame him I am fully aware that I am to blame. Yet I am forgiven. Why then do I have fear?

As much as I wish I didn’t have fear I know it goes hand and hand with faith, without the trials and different stops I have made in fear I wouldn’t have the faith I have. Along with the the other things that have contributed to my faith, fear has played a big part. I know God has me on a path of for beautiful and amazing things, he would never abandon me so I am putting my trust in him. To quote tobymac. “It’s a little bit overdue, but I’m putting my trust in you. I refuse to backtrack because God has me on a road and it’s a one way street, no u-turns, and backing up on a busy road is illegal. He’s got mighty plans for his children and it all begins with faith. Fully giving yourself over to your Father, Your maker, the creator of all things.

I am a complete mess with God in my life, thinking about it now; I’m not even sure how I
survived without him. My journey with God is far from over and I am bound to fall down at times but I have the faith and trust that God will pick me back up, dust me off and tell me to get back in the game. And there’s times I feel like giving up, It’s hard to be in a world so full of negativity and anger, sometimes we start to be in the world instead of being of the world. We as christians need to spread this faith, I remember during the hartford project this month the pastor of South church said something amazing that sticks to my heart. “It’s like we’re in a battlefield, were clothed in this amazing armor of God and we’re watching others go out into battle unprepared. We are letting people die because of fear.” Yes it is scary but our God is always with us, we are only here for a moment. I want to see my friends, family acquaintances and strangers in heaven rejoicing because of our God. The only way we’re going to do that, is by faith.

The Christian Phrase I Hate (Gray Faith Study Ch 4: Gray Sin)

Does the very phrase “gray sin” make you uncomfortable?  Each generation seems to be getting more and more fuzzy about what sin means and how we handle it.  But if we’re going to live and love in God’s kingdom, we need a give-and-take discussion about sin.  And frankly, people, we all have room to grow in how we respond.

Check out my video to find out one Christian phrase I’ve come to hate- then stick around to check out this week’s on-your-own experiment and study questions.  (To follow along with the book, download or purchase here: Gray Faith on Amazon. )

Experiment #4:  

(PART 1) Find a comfortable place to kneel down.  Read through Bible passages that declare God’s holiness and power (Revelation 4:8-11, Job 38, 1Timothy 6:15-16)  Or listen to songs like “Revelation Song” by Kari Jobe, or “The Stand” by Hillsong, “Your Great Name” by Natalie Grant.  (These are suggestions- feel free to play songs you most resonate with.)  The posture of kneeling or bowing sometimes helps us to physically acknowledge who God is. Verbally acknowledge His holiness and that you accept His Lordship in your life.  Consider your smallness and brokenness in relation to who He is.

 

(Part 2) Instead of dwelling on your smallness and brokenness to the point of guilt and despair, now consider the amazing love of the Father who made a way for you to approach His throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).  Relish the fact that you’re covered by Jesus’ holiness, that God has removed your sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).  Take a moment to just dwell on how great His love for us is, that covers over our worst sins.  Write any thoughts that come to you during this time.

 

Chapter 4 Study Questions:

 

  1. What did you grow up believing were the “big sins”?  Has your understanding of or reaction to these sins changed over time?

 

  1. Can you live in the tension that someone else who loves God may not follow God the same way you do?  Explain.

 

  1.  What is the difference between standing up for what we believe in and arguing with someone over belief?  

 

  1. What does it look like to confront sin in love?

 

  1.  We’re all broken- prone to fail and fall short of God’s glory.  How have honest relationships in your life have helped to break down your judgment towards others?  

 

  1.  The “discomfort of grace” means that God covers our sins, even those we aren’t aware we commit, and he covers others as well.  We’re partly right, partly wrong.  Discuss what implications this has for our moral disagreements and how we interact with others.

 

  1. How does the magnitude of God’s holiness affect the way you view sin?

 

Bible passages for further reading:

Romans 14 (Don’t judge, Disputable issues are between us and God); Matthew 18:15-17 (sin in the Church); 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 (we know in part); Philippian 1:4-11 (God continues a good work in us); Luke 7:36-47 (Those who are forgiven much, love much); Luke 17:1-4 (Causing to sin); John 8:1-11 (A Woman Caught in Adultery); Acts 2:38 (Repent from Sin and be forgiven);Luke 18:9-14 (Humility before God); Revelation 1:9-18 (A Vision of holy Jesus


Tough conversation, but if you care to join, please comment below with your thoughts on anything from your own experience with Christianity and sin, to answers to the study questions. Thanks for joining the online study!

You Are Here

My most philosophical lesson this week came quite unexpectedly from my three year old.

I picked him up from preschool and we went with a friend to New Haven CT to volunteer at Love146 for a couple hours.  (BTW, they are absolutely a fantastic organization, devoted to ending slavery and sex trafficking both in the US and abroad. Check them out!!)

Anyway, I had my friend drive because I’m not a city driver.  Not remotely.  Just this weekend I botched a simple parallel parking job in my tiny town and had people on the curb awkwardly giving me directions.  I played it cool and joked that I’d love to tote those lovely people with me to help in my next driving fiasco.  I don’t think they saw the humor in that.

But please, enough of me.

As my friend drove, my son inserted himself frequently into our conversation, and gave a running commentary of things he saw out the window.  At one point while we were a long way from our destination, my little man suddenly perked up.  “We’re Here!” He shouted in rapture, apparently believing that our shortcut off the main road meant we’d arrived where we intended to go.

And I laughed at my sweet kiddo, but my friend and I both agreed that in some ridiculously simple but profound way- YES, we are here.

We were there in a moment.  No we hadn’t made it to where we planned to go, but that didn’t mean that the present was unimportant.  That didn’t mean that we were exactly in the middle of a meaningful “here”.

Lately I’ve found my heart struggling with “here”.  I find myself waiting to get through the morning routine, the bedtime routine (who am I kidding…there’s no routine)…just so I can savor a minute of peace at the end of the day.  If I’m supposed to meet someone for coffee later, then I’m counting down till the “then”;  if I’m planning out my next tattoo it feels so far away till just then… or lately I find myself waiting while God incubates something new in me- I know it’s growing there because I feel it- but the waiting part hardly seems fun.  The “then and there already” would be much better.

But then I look at my three year old.  This kid is all. in.  No matter what he is feeling or expecting, he embraces each moment with every atom of his being.

If I tell him he can have an ice pop, the kid gasps in amazement; if we’re hanging out in line at Starbucks he is full-on dancing to the store music, making use of every spare inch of floor tile.  If we’re at Walmart he’s going to embrace being a ninja turtle while we’re in the toy aisle.

If he sees a friend, even one he just met, that friend better not need a space bubble, because my son loves handing out enthusiastic hugs in the moment.   Sure he gets mad- sure he throws a fit when things don’t go his way.  But even that is a reminder of how fully immersed he is in “now”.

I get the sense that, for him, life is something that is here. now.  And the beauty of that attitude is that whether he’s up or down, he’s engaged.  He’s happy if an unexpected treat comes along; he’s not thinking about where he’s going next so any context is a social context; he’s not worried about where he’ll be in five minutes because that wide open field is calling his name right now.

Maybe that’s what God is trying to teach me.  Matthew chapter 6 says “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry about itself.”  “God, give us TODAY our daily bread.” (What we need for this moment.) Or how about Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Why am I striving so hard for my way, my plans down the road, “later”- when there is rest letting go and believing God’s purpose will outlast, outdo, outweigh my own ideas.

Life is happening- now.  And I don’t want to miss it.  Even the hard parts- I’m believing there’s something now that is worth being present for.  Now is going to happen whether I like it or not…so I might as well soak it in.  Just ask my three year old…although, I wouldn’t take his advice on everything.


 

Quick Reminders!!!

  • Don’t forget to check in THIS Friday, June 23rd, for my next “Friend Post Friday”!!!!  You won’t want to miss hearing from my good friend Audrey Beatty.
  • AND the Gray Faith Study starts THIS Monday online!  Check back here for the first video and discussion guide or follow along at https://www.facebook.com/lesstobemore/  I can’t wait to get started!

 

 

 

 

Dead Sparrows= Don’t be Afraid?

The Bible often mystifies me.  Levitical law is too far beyond my culture and era to fathom; Paul is obnoxiously confusing at times (You seemed pretty confident that I’m saved by faith, so what’s this line about being saved through childbearing, Buddy? Get your story straight.); and the finer details of Revelation leave me scratching my head every time.

So there’s this perplexing passage where Jesus is talking to His disciples about how they shouldn’t fear people- the worst they can do is kill your body, but they have no power to touch your soul.  Rather, shouldn’t we be concerned about God and what He thinks of us because He has true authority over us?

But He follows up with what I’ve long considered to be one of the worst pep talks ever:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31: 29 )

I don’t know about you, but here’s what I’m reading: A sparrow isn’t worth much.  But God still knows when it dies.  I can barely keep track of when I’m supposed to wash my hair, but God, apparently, keeps a running tally of each follicle, clean or otherwise.  Moral: Don’t be afraid, because you’re worth more than many cheap sparrows.  The end.

Here’s my problem, in case any of you missed the apparently non-sequitur leap from message to moral: the sparrow is dead, people.  We aren’t supposed to be afraid because of a dead sparrow? (I’ve complained enough about this passage to one friend, that she sent me this picture because dead birds remind her of me now.  I know, it’s pretty bad.)

Image: Caitlin Leffingwell

Jesus doesn’t say that when a sparrow, who is worth almost nothing, starts to fall, God swoops in to resuscitate it.  Jesus doesn’t say, if the sparrow starts to plummet, I’ll give it wings like Eagles and send it on its merry way.  Nope.  He simply says that the sparrow doesn’t go down “0utside your Father’s care.”  Oh, and have no fear.

Ahem, “God, pardon my irreverent question here, but how does watching a bird die count as ‘care’?”  

OK, I’m going to let you just hold onto that awkward irreverent question while I pause to insert a brief side story:

I was talking to my friend Susan recently about the how I’m stressed from always being high- and when I say “high”, I mean my blood sugar numbers have been elevated because of my diabetes.  (Ah, I enjoy that joke too much.)

I told her I had struggled to feel like God cared for me in the midst of my suffering; that He didn’t seem to want to help.  But I also told her I felt like I was supposed to say “yes” to whatever He wanted to do through my problem- that I needed to let Him use the circumstance for His plan.

And she basically said, “You’re still looking at the circumstance.”  Pff…um…no I was trying to learn God’s lesson for me, right?  That’s what all this is about, right?  Being made mature and God using me to help others and bladabladah?  But maybe she was right?  Maybe I was putting way too much emphasis on the circumstance itself.

If I was upset at God for not healing me, I was defining Him by my circumstance.  If I was waiting for Him to do something through my pain, I was defining Him by my circumstance.  If I was feeling that I had to somehow figure out how to use my problem for something better, I’d still be focusing on my circumstance.

So…can I define God completely outside of my circumstance?

Back to our dying bird and the deafening silence I left you in after my last question to God: What if the point of that story has a lot more to do with WHO GOD IS than with the condition of the bird?  Here I’ve been making sarcastic comments to God about how His little dead bird anecdote is hardly uplifting- when all the while that dead bird has been pointing me to a God whose character is outside my circumstances.  

In the middle of our worst moments we ask God where He is, whether He is big enough, whether He “cares”.  Why? Because our circumstances changed.

But did He?

What if God simply IS good?  (Whether our car gets totaled or we inherit a lamborghini?)

What if God simply DOES care? (Whether we’re enjoying a day at the beach or we just got diagnosed with an illness?)

What if God simply IS love? (Whether we feel Him powerfully in the moment or lie awake in the dark wishing we knew where He was?)

Maybe the story is really saying, “If I care to know this bird’s story, if I’m aware and concerned for it’s death, then I’m a God who cares that much more about you.  No matter what is happening to you.  I’ve numbered your hairs- because that’s how much I care to KNOW you…because that’s just who I am.  I can’t promise you no pain, I won’t promise you won’t die, but I promise you that as your circumstances change, I never will.  Who I am is gloriously unaffected by your circumstances.  So when your pain and heartache and loss tell you I’ve left you, can you remember that I’m not defined by those things?  Can you still trust Me because you know who I am?”

 

I’m on the upswing of a rough week, and the weather is finally bright and sunshiny…its possible that my rising belief in God’s goodness is related to that.  But now more than ever, I desperately want to KNOW God deeply, because I need Love and Care and Good that will not change no matter what I face. Because I’m pretty sure there will be worse days, and I’m going to need something solid to stand on.


What about you?  Have you ever felt like you were defining God by what was happening around you?  What have you found about God’s character in the middle of your trials?  What do you think it means that God cares for us even when our struggles remain?

 

 

 

Unraveled (Friend Post Friday #3)

I’m beyond thrilled for you to meet my friend Sharon Butler who is this month’s “Friend Poster”.  I’d introduce her myself, but I can’t beat her own beautifully spoken bio…so the rest is Sharon:
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These days, I am the wife of a crazy redheaded lumberjack, the mother of seven amazing kids, a homeschool mom, a blogger at www.PureReligionIs.com, an anti-human trafficking activist, and a compassionate entrepreneur. 

I’ve been a writer as long as I could write. The downstairs bathroom was my childhood office and the toilet lid was my desk. I found quiet and solitude there, perfect for my childhood writing. As a teen, I processed fears, beliefs, joy, and all my strange ideas in my beanbag chair writing-lab. 

By college, I was a misfit journalism and ministry student who wanted to change the world, but I started to doubt myself and God’s plan for me. I stumbled, doing things my way for the next several years. Then one day, God took it all. He wrecked the life I had built, and led me through years of wilderness while He shaped me, carved me, humbled me, and began to prepare me to do it all His way. 

I wear a lot of hats, but of this I am sure: that no matter how much or how little I know, God chooses the weak, so He can use even me. Whatever I do, I do for His glory. May that be always evident in all I do.

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UNRAVELED– by Sharon Butler

No Strings Attached

If life is like a tapestry, you can imagine how it might unravel. A loose thread here, a tug, a yank, a pull. Before you know it, you’re just a mess of string, unattached.

The unraveling comes in those hard times that shake us to our core, circumstances that seem to wreck our lives. I presume we all have them, but we don’t always know what to do with them, do we? In the midst of a crisis, we may not see the whole tapestry—only the pull that’s causing the destruction.

My unraveling season was the spring and summer of 2008. It almost seems surreal as I think back to this time of my life. It lives in my mind in mere flashes of scenes – disconnected from each other, but yet, held together by the tiny thread that unraveled me with each tug.

It was the family vacation when I first suspected my husband’s affair. He was on the phone with work way too much, and missing our time at the beach house. When we returned home, I asked him to cut back on his time with her, because something didn’t seem right; but instead, he said, no and walked out the door. That’s how I found out that there was an actual problem, and it was not just paranoia.

It was the day my boss, friend and mentor told me she had cancer, and I felt that knot tighten in my throat. I didn’t dare burden her with my troubles. Then later, she asked for my help crafting a ‘positive’ message about her illness to the staff, while she was losing her hair and growing thin and frail.

It was the day my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, right before she and I should have been leaving for our first vacation alone. I knew our lives would never be the same again.

It was the day I secretly hoped her Diabetes would bring him back to us, but it didn’t. It was the day he asked for a divorce. It was the day my boss died and my world was wrecked.

That was it. My life unraveled. I was undone—a mere pile of thread tangled up on the floor.

Before that, my life had been a string of people, places and events that connected me to the world, a tapestry of experiences, hopes and dreams; but after, my life was punctuated by nightmares, tears, and far too many unknowns. It was a mess, with no meaning, no pattern left.

My marriage was over, my job was in question, my daughter was chronically ill. And I was alone, with no strings to anything, except my sick baby girl. I had lost my framework — my goals, my dreams, my career, and my partner. I stood there like a blind man in the middle of a room trying to feel for a reference point.

For weeks, I cried as I walked to work. I would pull myself together long enough to look reasonably professional, and cry again on my way home. Occasionally, I’d turn off my office lights, sit under the desk and cry. She, my former boss, would have understood. I would always clean myself up outside the front door of my house, and be sure to walk in with a smile to see my daughter at the end of each day. I’d lie on the floor and let her crawl on me because that’s all I had energy for.

I grieved. I mourned. And then one day, I knew I had to make a decision. I could continue grieving, or I could make a new life, put some of those threads back together, no matter how messy. The tears may not have stopped just because I said so. I still cry nine years later as I recall that time, all the loss. But I began carefully crafting a life for myself–something different to set my eyes on for the future.

First goal: Find me.

After years of marriage to a man I began dating in college, I had given up so many of my own personal dreams and desires, and even elements of my personality, that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I’d moved for him twice, helped put him through medical school, and lived as a single parent, effectively. So the first goal was to uncover who I was. Do I like to dance? I have no idea! Let’s take a Salsa class! What kind of music do I like? Who knows anymore! Let’s go hear some bands.

Second goal: Be brave.

All those things that scared me? I now had a drive to overcome those fears, to try new things, to stretch myself. I had to become brave. I made my list of fears and determined to overcome them with personal challenges. Afraid of swimming with creatures? Snorkeling in the ocean will cure that! Scared of guns? Well, that means its time to learn to shoot.

Third goal: Dream.

For all those years of marriage, I had put my own dreams on hold. I pushed them back into the dark corners of the closets. Now, as I struggled to untangle that thread, I didn’t know what to use it for. What was it I wanted? What was it I loved? What was it I felt called to do?

Dreaming is scary. It’s dangerous and risky. What if I dream it and can’t achieve it? At the time, I was so scared, I manufactured false dreams—dreams I was willing to walk away from easily. And I did. But years later, God restored my true dreams of old—the dreams I had dreamed my whole life—the dreams of helping hurting people, dreams of writing, dreams of family and faith and ministry.

Even though I forgot who I was, forgot how to be brave and forgot my dreams, God never did. He held the plans for the tapestry of my life all along. I had made some poor design choices and ended up with a tangled up life, so as it unraveled around me, God saw opportunity—a chance to re-weave my life into what He intended all along.