November 5, 2013

12 Things God Might be Telling Me that I Don't Want to Hear Right Now

In the same spirit as "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young, I sat down last night and started praying.  As he sometimes does, the Lord quieted my heart so that I could listen to what he is saying to me through my struggles.  I share my most personal thoughts/prayers uncensored in hopes that you might resonate with them as well and the Lord would use them to speak to your own heart.

1.  The process is more important that what you produce.  You will learn in the struggle, not through your successes.

2.  Patience is learned.  Waiting is a high virture.  Expectation is greater still.  Wait on the Lord.

3.  You will never be satisfied in your life's circumstances.  Life is like riding a wave of crests and dips.  You will find true peace when you trust in me alone.

4.  Let my word be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.  It is the only truth you have at your fingertips.  Everything else is tainted by trends and opinions.  Don't neglect my Word, but let it be life to you.

5.  I am your Source.  I am your True North.  Keep your eyes fixed on me and I will guide you.  You will stumble if you look ahead too far or behind you.  Keep your eyes looking up to heaven.

6.  Your one calling is to be my disciple---no more and no less!  Leave the where, when, and how to me.

7.  Your joy and peace will be what attracts others to me through you, not your polish, your talent, your charm or charisma.  Be brave enough to be humble.  Pride is a mask for the fear of man.

8.  Don't be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve.  You are, afterall, only human and though some people may try to take advantage of your vulnerability many of others will see
an opportunity to open up to you in return.

9.  Disappointment is a fact of life.  The quicker you learn to let go of your expectations and embrace my plans for you, the sooner you will find contentment.

10.  Don't allow your hopes to cloud reality, nor reality to destroy your true hope.

11.  Stop judging others.  You are a walking contradiction.  Your words and desire to obtey will never perfectly match your thoughts and actions.  Don't underestimate your need to give and receive my grace.

12.  Do you really love my people, or just the thought of helping them?  They will know you are a Christian by your love for others.

November 1, 2013

Give Us This Day

The muffled cries of my baby
Awaken me from
Fitful slumber

And the stage is set.
Day does not wait
Until I'm ready for it.

Three year old girl
Needs milk and kisses.
Whines while waiting.

As the fog lifts on my brain
Dreams linger like dew
In the morning chill.

Icy kitchen tiles
Shock my toes
While my husband
Makes the coffee.

Children hushed
With gulps of milk.
Relish the momentary silence.

Mind and hands
Move with etched memory
While I move my spirit
To give thanks to God
For daily bread.

October 31, 2013

Cracked Pots

Like most women (and men for that matter) I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself. I don't blame this on my parents who seemed to wait to see what I wanted to do or had a natural talent for rather than pushing me into their own mold, and for this I am grateful; but I still managed to fall into the trap of trying to BE someone that others would applaud and approve of.

Of course everyone goes through the predictable life stages of developing a sense of self and gradually coming to the realization that others are watching and some are keeping score. When I was a precocious (according to my mom) kindergartner, I used to sing freely on the playground and proclaim my destiny as a famous recording artist. My role models at the time were an eclectic mix of Amy Grant, Whitney Houston, Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, of course) and Diana Ross (I was all about some Motown). As I reached puberty, my dreams of singing stardom disappeared along with my baby fat and my clothes and hair became an all important focus. I had to look cool even if I was starting to get the impression that I was never going to be the most popular kid at school. But horror of horrors, my best friend Heather and I showed up on the first day of 6th grade wearing exactly the same red, black, and white sweater and matching hounds tooth-printed leggings from the Limited Too. How could this have happened? How we could have failed to compare fashion notes for the most important day of our 12-year-old lives still baffles me. Fast-forward to high school where I start thinking more about "who I want to be when I grow up" in terms of college and career. By that time I had already ditched the idea of becoming a 3rd grade teacher. I still wanted to help people in some way, maybe as a counselor or social worker, but mostly I saw myself getting married and having a few kids, and thought that would be enough to keep me busy. Still, I was much more concerned with fitting in and not making a fool of myself in public than about my future vocation. Every unchoreographed move seemed a risk at humiliation. So I stayed in my impenetrable bubble of close friends who would come to my rescue should I find myself in a socially awkward situation and would vote for me as class Vice-President even though they knew as well as I did that I had no chance in hell of winning. Why did I run for student office as an introverted student at a large public high school? For the same reason that pushed myself to excel in college and in every job I ever had: to try to win the approval and respect of others. Even now in my 30s, married and caring for two adorable children, I have to resist the temptation to prove my worth to the world. Without irony I find myself wondering how to value my productivity: in a tally of laundry loads washed and folded, well-balanced meals cooked, floors swept, or in books read or hugs and kisses given to my children? Or in the number of words written on a page?  In articles published?  How am I supposed to know if I'm doing my life well? What is it all for?

Is it not enough to be faithful to love God and to love others? It should be, yes. But unfortunately I often stray into the territory of social comparison and worldly measures of success. I want my identity as a child of God saved by grace to be enough. I know in my heart that Jesus is more than enough for me. And yet, I struggle with feelings of inadequacy. I am constantly attacked my inner thoughts that I am not good enough as I am. My inner critic tells me that I am a lazy mom, an awful housekeeper, disorganized, foolish, and selfish. In the juggling act that is motherhood, I am constantly wondering if I have my priorities straight.  When I am washing a sink full of dishes, I am berating myself for not reaching out to my neighbors. When I am up to my elbows in dirty diapers and about to "lose it" as my 3 year old throws another tantrum, I wonder if I should go back to work outside my home to stay sane. When I am giving my full attention to a friend in need, I am wishing I could think of the right words to say and then kicking myself for forgetting to pray with her. When my husband comes home late, I am frustrated that I have to get through the tumultuous hours between 5 and 8pm on my own and dinner is cold--my dreams of a lovely sit-down dinner disappointed. None of the above is unusual I suspect. But maybe that's why it feels miserable to even admit such weaknesses. Deep down I have this inner yearning to BE someone greater than I think I am. To be the kind of person who doesn't deal with such trivialities or if she does, does not let them get her down. Basically, I want to be an idol I've created in my own image. Ouch! It hurts to admit that. But if I am willing to be honest, it is true. I tend to look at the lives of the women I admire from afar and think they have it all together. And although it might be comforting if I knew that they too struggled with many of the same spiritual battles that I do, I would be disappointed that I could no longer point to a human being who seemed to be able to reach the personal goals of perfection that I aspire to. To some degree we are all wearing a mask based on the image we want others to see and hiding our real, imperfect selves for fear that if we were ever "found out" we would be rejected. Within each of us is the knowledge that we are not all that we wish we could be. And though we may foolishly try to fulfill this desire through selfish and idolatrous means, I believe that at our heart's core God put within us this yearning for perfection. We long to become the sons and daughters of God that we were created to be: to be holy as He is holy, an image-bearer of the Lord Almighty. Even creation itself groans just as we do waiting with eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:22).

Instead of looking outside of myself for the blueprints of how I should look, speak, and act in order to be deemed significant in the eyes of others, I need to look at the one from whom I came: to the Creator God who formed me from the dust of the earth, from the rib of Adam, and knit me together in my mother's womb according to his mind's eye (Gen. 2; Psalm 139). Only by the grace of he who delivered me from the death of my self-centered ambition, I have been made righteous in his sight and hold the power of his resurrection in my very being. His Holy Spirit gives me the desire to be loved and to love with heavenly passion. It is he who stirs my soul to reach for eternal heights of joy and freedom in all that I do for his glory. It is he who reminds me that this world is full of prideful one-upmanship, but that he has overcome the world so that we can overcome our need to be accepted by the world. Although he promised that the world would reject us as Christians, he assures us that he fully accepts and embraces us just as we are...not as we should be, not even as we want to be...but as we ARE. This truth gives me great joy and the courage to throw off my self-imposed burdens designed to impress others in order to carry the cross of sacrificial love.

Oftentimes in our understanding of the gospel we stop short. We stress the gospel message of Jesus bearing our shame and punishment on the cross, but we sometimes fail to remember that Christ not only redeemed us while we were yet sinners, he also wants to restore us in every way. From the first day of our conversion, hee begins the slow and painful process of healing and sanctification in our lives, molding and shaping us as he sees fit, like a potter forms the clay. We do not remain broken vessels but are gradually being transformed into his image from "glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18).  I cannot overemphasize how far I feel from this reality most days but I have been blessed with the mustard-seed faith to believe that it is true. Although I may not see how my circumstances, worries, and nagging insecurities are going to be used as tools in the hand of the Master artist to achieve his best work, he is the most patient of craftsmen and has promised to finish his work until it is perfect.  "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6)."

We were created in Christ before the foundation of the world to BE his workmanship and to BECOME like him day by day. Today I choose to submit to the knowledge that the Lord has chosen me in all my mess to be the lump of clay that he is molding into a beautiful jar to display his beauty (Jeremiah 18:6). How marvelous! It sounds too good to be true, but he says "...and this treasure is hidden in jars of clay so we will know that the surpassing greatest is of God and NOT from us (2 Corinthians 4:7).  The world around me and the voice of the "Impostor" (as Brennen Manning calls him) points out my ugly flaws and picks at the wounds of my insecurity. But my God has bigger and better plans for me. I may not win friends and influence people, but I will bring a smile to my Father's face. What more could I ask for?

So like the prophet Isaiah I pray:

"But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand."

Isaiah 64:8

September 10, 2013

My New (and Improved) Blog

If you have followed this blog at all, you will notice that I've decided to take this writing space in a new direction.  As I've attempted to sort my ideas, I have discovered that most of my interests lie at the intersections of faith, culture, art, social issues, and motherhood as I perceive them in my daily life. 

Like many writers and creative thinkers (particularly in the age of blogging), I often feel pressured to define my niche.  But the truth is, I believe that I will discover more that is worthy of sharing with you through the process of thinking and writing than if I narrow my focus.  So while I ruminate on whatever happens to make me tick, excites my senses, boils my blood, or tickles my fancy, I hope that you will come along with me.

Because life is simply a series of well-timed stories waiting to be told...

July 1, 2013

Freedom vs. Guilt

Why is it so much easier to make a pot of coffee, wash dishes, pick up the remnants of lunch, check email, anything other than doing what I need and really love to do, which is write!  Honestly, that’s not quite accurate.  I have more of a love/hate relationship with writing.  I love it because it is life giving for me, it challenges me to plumb the depths of my inner self and express my creativity, and yet…and yet…sometimes it is excruciating to get to that part of myself. Everything in me tells me that writing is insignificant.  That I don’t really need that time for myself.  That I am being selfish, or worse self-absorbed, to think that what I have to say to the world through the written word could possibly make a hill of beans difference to anyone.  And even if it did, it isn’t worth the time and energy it is going to require for me to fully dedicate myself to the creative process.

This is when I need to get mad!  I mean downright cuss-you-up-and-down angry because what kind of nonsense is that?  Why shouldn’t I take the time to cultivate what God has given me?  If He thought me worthy enough to receive such a gift, not of my own merit, but out of the depths of his grace, who am I to refuse it?  Who am I to waste something so precious by allowing it to lie dormant?  And furthermore, who am I to say that he can’t use me to touch the life of another in this way.

But Motherhood!  You sly devil in disguise.  You keep telling me that somehow I’m not fulfilling my higher calling of mothering my children properly if I prioritize time for myself.  You convince me that my creative, intellectual, and personal pursuits are a relic of my single days.  That I must sacrifice all on the altar of motherhood. 

So I worship the idol of idealism when it comes to my role as a mother. I think, “If I can’t be it all, do it all well without ever making my children wait as I give my attention to my own well-being then I am guilty!  Guilty of sacrificing their best interests in favor of my own self-centered ambition.” 

Boldly, I must constantly tell myself, “This is a lie from the pit!”  You, Melissa, are not last.  You are not a martyr to motherhood.  You are a multi-faceted, fragile, imperfect, loving, needy, giving human being.  Your children need a role model of a mother who is not enchained to giving it to their every whim and whimper.  She is a woman who knows herself and loves herself and her children enough to show them through her actions that she is valuable.  She is not to be taken advantage of.  Instead, she serves her family with a joyful heart by keeping healthy boundaries both for her sake and theirs.  When her children cross a boundary that she has lovingly set for them, she disciplines them and shows them how much peace they can find when they willingly submit to her authority rather than constantly kicking against it. 

This is the kind of woman I want to be.  Inevitably, I will sometimes let the “tyranny of the urgent” or the persistence of a two-year-old get the best of me.  Sometimes I will give in to defeat and let my own needs and desires slip through the cracks.  Sometimes I will be guilty of selfishness and will resent my limitations as a mother at this point in my life.  But I will live one day at a time.  I will savor the moments with my children, the moments with my husband, the moments with my friends and family, the moments with myself.

And when that ugly accuser in my head starts to taunt me, I will shut my ears, say a prayer, and remember that I am a child of God and the blood of Jesus bought me freedom from a guilty conscience. “For freedom Christ has set you free.  Therefore, do not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) The slavery is the voice of condemnation.  It is the voice that tells us that we have to do more, be more than we already are in order to obtain or keep God’s love.  But what Jesus asks of us is simply to surrender to his love.  Surrender to our own inadequacies and submit to his loving authority over our lives.  What he longs to give us is pure freedom from self-doubt and striving to be better.  Though it comes in all shapes and sizes, this futile striving to be “like God” in and of ourselves is every man and woman’s battle, inherited from Adam and Eve.  This spiritual toil depletes our inner strength and keeps us bound. 

As I write, I feel the chains coming loose.  I stop worrying about what to say. I simply let God speak to me as I write.  I learn to listen to the Spirit of God rather than the spirit of the accuser.  And I begin to experience true freedom, one letter at a time.

I pray that you would experience this same freedom through surrender to Jesus Christ.  He may not use writing, but I pray he would use something or someone in your life to reveal your need for his grace.  Joyfully succumb to a grace you cannot comprehend and spend eternity drinking deeply from a well of love that never runs dry.