Thursday, December 30, 2010
First, I have finally come to love Christmas. After 5 years of hating it, 3 of tolerating it and 5 more of trying to reconcile the materialism of the season with the beauty of its meaning. I have finally given in and loved it again. It helps that I have 3 precious boys that absolutely love Jesus and toys. I was struck by the irony that we preach "Christmas is not about getting but about giving" when the true meaning of Christmas is our "getting" in a way we could never "give". The joy of my boys opening their presents and loving what they got with unadulterated abandon is EXACTLY how we are supposed to feel on Christmas. That is the small and shallow reflection of what it means to "open up" our present of Jesus. We give presents on Christmas to represent the gifts of the magi, and we give presents on Christmas because its Jesus' birthday and we can't gift him, so we gift each other; and we give presents on Christmas because "tis better to give than to receive" and all of that is true, true, true. I tell my kids the same things. But as I watched them open their presents, I realized that it's also because we are teaching them to receive with joy. We are to receive Him with joy and abandon and foolish delight the way my kids received their remote control helicopter and race car and their matching walkie-talkies. We are to delightedly discover Jesus everyday the way they revel in their new pajamas and didn't take them off for 48 hours. We are to receive him "like a child". I saw that Christmas morning. Dear Jesus, I want to delight in the gift of you as my children delight in the gifts I give them!
But I'll get out from behind the pulpit. That's Jonathan's job...
Secondly, we were surrounded by family. Jonathan's brother and dad flew in to see us (well his dad came just to see us, his brother has a g-friend in Dallas that he came to see and tagged us on too). But for seeing their Colorado relatives only once a year, my kids are smitten. They absolutely love their Papa, and Uncle Michael is THE BEST!! I laughed so hard when I caught Gideon and Michael holed up in the new pop-up tent Michael got them, watching videos on Michael's new camera. Michael was practically folded in half to be in there, but he wanted to hang with Gideon (and who doesn't?) so he crawled in with him. Michael also brought Roman Centurion costumes from his "pilgrimmage" to Rome which the boys adored! They are really cute, but my favorite is Judah dressed up in his breastplate, helmet, shield, sword and night-vision goggles we got him. Yep, you read that right. Some night-vision specs completed the roman warrior outfit. My dad asked him if he was entirely sure that ensemble all went together. I assured my father that that was the secret weapon that allowed Rome to conquer the known world: night-vision. The Gauls couldn't compete with that!
Thirdly, and maybe most important (okay, running a close second to Jesus' birthday) is that Jonathan has been off work for 9 days!! He had vacation built up that he had to use or lose by Jan 1, so we chose to use it and get 9 consecutive days home. I cannot tell you what a blessing having him home regularly has been. It's like I can breathe again. And when he didn't have to leave on day three, I actually took a breath and relaxed. I love that he likes his job, but I hate his schedule. We miss him so much!
And finally, my presents: Mark Twain Autobiography, Vol 1 and a new ESV Bible!!! I was so happy! I knew I was getting the Bible. I had gotten Jonathan one a year and half ago, and after a lifetime of being a dedicated NASB reader, I was sold on switching. But, we had no money, so I just prayed and asked God for an ESV. I know that sounds odd, but hear me out: He gave me one! Right after Jonathan started work at the Ranch, they cleaned out the "lost and found" from kids who had moved out and left stuff and there was an compact ESV that had the exact same embossing on it as Jonathan's. It was like a mini-me of Jonathan's Bible. He brought it home and I was shocked that God had really given me an ESV for free like I asked. I know I shouldn't be shocked at God any more, but I continually am! He's just so faithful and funny.
So, I love my compact ESV, but "compact" is Greek for "nearly illegible the print is so small". I've been struggling to read it, literally. Not in a "have a hard time with the discipline of Bible study" but like "I can't make out the words"! So, Jonathan wanted to get me a legible one for Christmas. It's gorgeous! However, in my weird mind, it's still odd that when the Word became flesh, "He had no stately form or majesty that we would be attracted to Him," but when the word comes out in print, we dress it in calfskin leather and emboss it with Celtic crosses or roses to make it beautiful and feel special. Don't get me wrong, I love my Bible and I fully intend on reading it and carrying it with me and not ripping the cover off and making a duct-tape cover to feel more holy. Just my odd brain at work.
As to Mark Twain, well, ever since I heard the embargo was up in November 2010, I've been panting after that book! I'm so excited. I'm behind on my book club book, so I have to refrain from diving in too much yet, but it's beckoning me from the bookshelf, just begging me to dive right in!
There, that was Christmas. I have so much more to talk about, but really, I have to be realistic about how much you, dear reader, can handle in one post.
PS. I must mention that there was a bit of nostalgia at the thought of our last Christmas in this house. Christmas 2011 will find us in a much snowier location and we shall see what adventures await us there. Thank you God, for the gift of 2010, the joy, the sorrow, the refining, growing, encouraging and rebuking You have done this year. And thank you, Father, that as it draws to a close, You were Lord of it all and will be Lord of 2011.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
However, as He usually does, God totally schooled me and in the process humbled me. The group of women in this Bible study have proven voracious both in their hunger for the Word and in their dedication to each other. I have been awed and inspired by how these women love and support one another. I have watched in amazement as they love on newborns and weep at the loss of a child. They pray without ceasing and cook dinners. They go to 537 birthday parties during the summer and get their tax dollars out of the splash pads. They wipes noses, wipe bottoms, wipe tables and wipe eyes. We have laughed, cried, gotten angry, gotten silly, gotten real. We come from a wide range of backgrounds and denominations. We don't always agree, but we let love rule the day. These women have challenged me, grown me, taught me, encouraged me, rebuked me and always loved me. I cannot describe how special these women are to me.
It has been one of the biggest blessings of my life. And Bible study was NEVER secondary. Some weeks it was the only real Gospel I got. We are Bereans!
This last Wednesday, we had to say goodbye to one of our dear Bible study friends. She is not going HOME in the big sense, but we prayed too well, and her husband got a good job in another city. They are moving right after Christmas. Where God is taking them is such a blessing. I'm just amazed at His faithfulness and tenderness to His children. He is taking them back to where they were before, only they are not the same people. He has grown them. They will be 1 block from their favorite library, one mile from their favorite park. They will get to go to their old church with their pastor they love. And while they were anxious about finding work for awhile, God had this job prepared for them all along and in His timing. They have a beautiful house ready and it is so obviously God's orchestration. So I rejoice with my dear friend.
But I also mourn for myself and my family. We will miss them. Terribly. Her 2 girls are my boys' friends. And she is my friend. And we will miss them. When I told my oldest that they were moving, he just wept. Truly heart broken. And I cried as our Bible study said goodbye yesterday.
But I mourn for the idea that it is only the first of many goodbyes that will come over the next few months.
I'm excited to move. I'm excited to follow God on this journey. That has not always been true. I have been mad--furious! I have been sad. I have had heart rebellion and heart idols. I still have reluctance and struggles. But for the most part, I'm looking forward to this adventure.
But I'm not looking forward to goodbyes.
And I'm not looking forward to my children saying goodbye.
I have such a deeper understanding of that simple verse, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country;" That's really powerful to me "even though he did not know where he was going". I have never set foot in Madison. I have never lived outside of Colorado and Texas and away from family. My boys remember no home except Temple.
As I think of that, I realize: What we are doing is crazy! We have a support system here, friends, family, babysitters. We know where the best priced gas is and where to get a good hamburger. For crying out loud, they finally opened a good liquor store in Temple and we're moving!
But we are willing to be crazy if Jesus is with us. We will be fools for Him. And ultimately He is our home.
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go,
Anywhere He leads me in this world below;
Anywhere without Him dearest joys would fade;
Anywhere with Jesus I am not afraid.
Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know;
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.
Anywhere with Jesus I am not alone;
Other friends may fail me, He is still my own;
Though His hand may lead me over drearest ways,
Anywhere with Jesus is a house of praise.
Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know;
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.
Anywhere with Jesus, over land and sea,
Telling souls in darkness of salvation free;
Ready as He summons me to go or stay,
Anywhere with Jesus when He points the way.
Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know;
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.
Anywhere with Jesus I can go to sleep,
When the darkening shadows round about me creep,
Knowing I shall waken nevermore to roam;
Anywhere with Jesus will be home, sweet home.
The goodbyes are worth it for Him.
And the goodbyes are not the end...
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
As a youth minister I was constantly encouraging the teens to think through the consequences of that illogical goal. What was the ultimate end of attempting to make sure people don't understand you? But I digress. I don't need to get on my soap box about illogical, emotion based youth movements. Chances are, if you read this, I'm preaching to the choir anyway.
Of the many throw-away creations from that movement, there was one song that stuck out: I Will Follow You Into the Dark. It is a terrible song! If you listen to the lyrics you realize this artist is totally rejecting Judeo-Christian beliefs of the afterlife, presumably based on a bad grade-school experience and his inability to conform to the idea of fearing God as the beginning of true love. So, instead, he offers his significant other a third option instead of heaven or hell. Whenever she dies, he will also (kill himself?) and they will just hold each other in the nothingness forever.
If you know me, you must be wondering why in the world I listened to this song enough to even know what it's about. Because besides being a terrible song, it is a beautiful song. It has one of the most haunting melodies I've ever heard. The melancholy longing and the passionate "give it all up for you" love spoken in the lyrics is unmistakable.
After I heard this song, I spent months trying to put other lyrics to it. In the true spirit of Christian music, I tried to replace the words with Amazing Grace, and found if I used "The Steadfast Love of the Lord" as the chorus, it worked out perfectly! Ha!
Ironically, that's not what has been most applicable to me lately. When Jonathan first came to me with the notion of church planting, I rejected it immediately. There was no way I was walking away from my dream job. I had worked too hard and prayed too long to be a youth minister to give it up and chase some crazy idea of planting the Gospel elsewhere. I wanted to plant the Gospel in my teens. I wanted to teach awesome Sunday night devotionals, have true, heartfelt worship with new songs, play stupid games and go to camp. That might sound like a Japanese torture chamber to some of you, but that's the life I love and I wasn't going to give it up.
But God had other plans. Slowly and painfully, he began prying my fingers off of my life. He was gentle but insistent. He claimed that I had given Him my heart and my "yes" years ago, and now He was calling in His marker. I remember nights of weeping and wailing (yes, quite literally) at Jonathan for this transgression of "bait and switch" he had pulled on me. I had married a youth minister and now he was going to be a pastor! I was going to have to give up my hip faded jeans and American Eagle waffle shirts and wear flowery dresses and white pumps and sit on the front row! That's what a pastor's wife did! Ugh! I didn't even know how to play piano!
But as God began thawing my heart (and sometimes with a blow torch), I began falling in love with not only Him again, but with His vision for reaching lost people. I had no idea how to plant a church, how to be a pastor's wife, how to support my husband and raise our 3 kids, how to raise support or even how to ask for help. But I did know Him, and He who called is faithful!
I remember the night I looked at Jonathan, nodded in assent and said, "Ok. I will follow you into dark" I didn't mean it emo. I wasn't going to slit my wrists. But I was going to surrender to God, submit to my husband and hand-in-hand we were going to walk off the cliff trusting God to make the tight-rope appear that He had called us walk on.
I find myself saying that a lot to God these days. "I'm following You in the dark right now, Lord" I'm not sure how we're going to sell this house, find money to move, leave our friends and family and strike out into the wild blue yonder, but I know we won't be doing it Alone. I know we're following the One who called us on this journey and is leading out ahead of us.
We're still following Him in the dark, and Jesus' love hasn't failed us yet.
"Thus far as the Lord been faithful--Ebenezer"
Friday, November 19, 2010
Recently, with the reality of church planting and moving, it's been getting very hard. Not so much to keep my kids from being my idols, but to keep from sheltering my kids from suffering for the Gospel. I am perfectly content to sacrifice for Jesus. Okay, that's not true at all. I'm not perfectly content most of the time. I kick against the goads every day. And every day, I picture Jesus sighing, rolling His eyes, and gently nudging me again. But I signed up for this. I counted the cost for me. I even long for it on many levels. I wanted the great adventure of following Jesus. And I sang the songs, "I don't want to be, I don't want to be a casual Christian. I don't want to live, I don't want to live a lukewarm life. I just to want light up the night, with your everlasting light. I don't' want live a casual Christian life." Maybe I sang them too much and Jesus took me seriously, cause here we go. And there are things I'm giving up that I'm not happy about. At all. Friendships. My house. My routines. But what has been bothering me is what my kids are about to give up. They haven't signed up for this yet. Judah has asked Jesus into his heart, but he's only five and how much does he truly understand. Gideon has mimicked Judah's plea, but he's three and I know he doesn't understand. But they're about to give up as much as me: friends, school, home, routine, family. And it hurts my heart a little to think of that.
So, this Monday morning, I walked Judah into school. He had a bit of a runny nose and right away a little girl in his class starts making fun of him: pointing it out, talking loudly about it, saying she was going to write in her journal about the slime in his nose, etc. I could tell Judah heard it and that it bothered him a bit. I asked him if he liked her saying that and he said no. I told him to go ask her to quit saying that. But it didn't just bother me a little. It bothered me a lot. I kind of went nuclear over it. Not in front of Judah, of course. But as I left, I started tearing up. As I drove home, I started crying. And by the time I walked in the front door, I was sobbing. I told my husband, between hiccuping sobs, "I'm not letting him go to that school anymore. Those kids are terrible. The girls are snarky and catty and hateful. They are mean to him and hurt his feelings." My husband knows better than to laugh (in front of me) when I go AWOL like that. He calmly talked me down from the ledge and then pointed out that, while hurtful a little to Judah, maybe I was reading some of my own emotional baggage from snotty girls in elementary school onto Judah. I acknowledged that wisdom, and, when sure I wasn't going to blow anything up, my husband left for work.
That left me with God to think through what was going on. As I calmed down and began to pray about it, God was pretty rough with me. He pointed out to my heart that I was willing to suffer for Christ, and that I knew that the Gospel had to rule my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. But I didn't seem to think that same thing applied to my kids. My automatic response was to defend Judah instead of teaching Judah to love openly even snarky little girls. Instead of worrying that she had hurt his self-esteem somehow, my response should have been complete confidence that Judah's life is hidden in Christ and he has no need to fear little jabs. I need to be shoring him up in Jesus every day, preparing him that the world is hateful, not because they don't want to love, but because they don't know they are loved. I need to teach him to see past the hurting to the hurt one. I need to prepare him to respond in love instead of in kind. I was shocked to see that I expected one thing of myself and a totally different standard for my boys. I had to really repent of that.
By the time I picked Judah up from school, I was ready to talk about what had happened and give him some Gospel coping methods for next time. "We love people even when they are mean to us because Jesus loves us even when we are mean to Him." Judah got it. He just said, "Yep, Momma!" It was Momma that needed to realize that the same Gospel that saves and sanctifies me, saves and sanctifies Judah and saves and sanctifies snarky little girls!
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
No, it's not nostalgia or my cougar side (which I evidently don't have because I was never Team Jacob) or hero worship that keeps me coming back and staying up too late watching Smallville. I just love the story! I love the character development, the depth of struggles they have, the richness of their relationships, the fact that they aren't perfect. Clark gets way too Wimpy Kiddie Baby Whiner (name that reference) for me sometimes. Lois is still pushy. Chloe is too sneaky. And why are they still chumming with Tess? At least Lana's gone! And now I sound like my grandmother talking about her soap operas. These people seem real to me, and I think that's the appeal.
But I also think the writers attempt to make statements about human struggles with their super hero struggles. And I'm going to quote Green Arrow from the episode we watched last night:
"We have a bunch of arm-chair bloggers that have created a generation of critics instead of leaders!" Wow! That one really hit me. Not only because I'm a blogger, which just makes me enjoy the irony. But also because that's me. And it's going to be my boys if I don't watch it.
As we are preparing to plant, and riding this crazy train, I'm realizing not only how easy but how appealing it is to be the critic. To sit in your pew, week after week and criticize. I'm not preaching to the audience (I'm a woman I can't preach). I'm not even preaching to the choir. It's me. I'm a critic. It's so easy to sit from the safety of my un-invested area, with nothing on the line and decide how they should be doing it better. I watch it time after time in church members and in myself. And if I'm honest, it was that initial critical nature that made church planting so appealing. I was so frustrated with how little voice I had, how little the leadership listened, how little they did. And I was invested. But when we stepped out and began pursuing a church plant, God put the breaks on. At the time, I didn't know why. Now I know a little bit of why. He wanted to weed out that critical nature. He wanted to take me out of the "Never done it but know it all" place and into the "have no idea what I'm doing and probably the worst person for the job, but God called me so here I go" place. And it's humbling. It's humiliating to realize that you've run your mouth but have no alternative and nothing to show for it.
God is so good to humble us. I know that sounds weird, but it is true. His goodness will not allow us to put ourselves on His throne. We are not the King. We serve Him. And while I'm absolutely NOT against judging rightly between sound doctrine and false, between flesh and Spirit, I'm also vigorously submitting my every critical thought to His sound judgment and trusting Him to show me the truth through His grace.
That's a good lesson for me. But I also need to learn it for my boys. I want to teach them that we are not merely hearers of the Word and therefore deceived by ourselves. We are doers. And that means getting up, off the sofa, off the pew and investing. It means lending a hand. It means inviting a neighbor, leading a song, teaching a class, joining a team. Put on a shoe and do some walking, then we'll talk. We teach empathy at our house, but I also want to teach servant leadership. To me and to my boys.
Friday, November 5, 2010
I'm also scared of moving to Wisconsin. There's something painful and frightening about change. No, it's not the house I'm leaving or the routine, or the familiarity of knowing when story time at the library is, when the mall playground will be calm or the best way to avoid Christmas rush traffic (which is to NEVER drive on 31st Street between Thanksgiving and New Years). All of those are parts of my fear for certain. I had dreams for this house, and I still can see what it could be. I have never been a routine person, but having 3 kids has forced a routine and now it's comfortable. And I love knowing when to go where.
But I think those things are all just representatives of a deeper fear: letting go of a dream. This place, my hometown, represented something to me. I desperately fought coming back here. I didn't want to end up in my hometown with a feeling of not being able to make it out in the "real world". It felt like failure to come back here. But God has been so faithful here. He has opened up doors to a new identity away from my high school self. I have become a woman here instead of a little girl; a wife instead of a girlfriend; a mother instead of a daughter; and a friend instead of a pal. It has been a nourishing and nurturing time for me. Not always pleasant but I had such an amazing support group to go through the tough times with.
Now I'm stepping into the unknown. We're about to embark for parts unknown and people unknown. When I came home, I had a built in support system, a built in group of friends. My best friend since 5th grade, and my best friend since 9th grade both live here. I never wonder who to call when we're going out on Thursday afternoon to the park or who to call when we're going out on Saturday night. A girl's night out is a text message away; a date night babysitter is around the corner.
The "me" I am here will not exist in Madison. I will be a different me. I will have different friends, different patterns, different schedules. We'll be in a different house and even different plants will grow in our front yard (as opposed to no plants right now cause I haven't gotten around to landscaping).
On beautiful fall days, after lunch with a good friend and knowing half the customers at Chick-fil-A on a first name basis, I'm struck by how much will change next May. Am I excited? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely! But am I scared? Surely.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
That was terrifying! I was so scared going in that room. My hubby had to wait in the waiting room with my 2 little ones and I had to go back by myself. I was petrified. After the nurse left to go get all the stuff, I started shaking I was so scared. So I started praying really hard for peace. I felt a bit silly about all of that, and asked God if I was really selfish for wanting Him to be with me when there were probably people being tortured for their faith somewhere. Why couldn't I put on my big-girl panties and quit blubbering? But I felt totally convicted that first off, prayer is not something we can do AND worry. We either pray or we worry, but we can't do both. Worry is prayer; it's just prayer to ourselves, which is of course impotent and pointless. Prayer is to a Sovereign God and is potent and useful. But worry with prayer is faithless and not pleasing to God. Secondly, He loves me! As usual, I keep forgetting that. I care when my kids are scared to jump off the bottom step of the stairs. I know it's silly and they'll be fine, but I care that their hearts are quaking. So God cares when I'm silly and spineless too. And I just got really humble and asked Him to be there with me in that moment and let me feel His presence there. Everything sort of shifted and felt better. I'm learning to ask Him for what I need spiritually as well as physically. I've always thought I could ask him for tangible things (healing, food, money), but I was supposed to create the spiritual things that were required (faith, peace, patience). How ridiculous! So, I just asked Him for the faith to believe He was with me, the peace to rest in Him and the love to have for Him. He's always faithful to answer those prayers.
Back to my traumatic story:
Then they put on the laughing gas, and it got much better! Ha! I know why they call it laughing gas, but I also think it's mean to call it that. I thought to myself, "This is laughing gas, so whatever you do--don't laugh!" So, of course, all I wanted to do was laugh hysterically. I managed to control it down to a really big grin, but I know the nurse was on to me, cause she was laughing at me grinning like a loon.
But I hate anesthesia! They were putting a pillow under my left arm, asking me about Ibuprofen, then they walked behind me to go around to the other side and put a pillow there, then they got me up out of bed and took me in a wheelchair to recovery! Seriously. I know that I went under, they performed minor surgery and then woke me up. But that's not my memory. You know when you're asleep, part of you knows you are asleep. And when you wake up, you know you've been asleep. This was NOT like that. I lost time. I blacked out. I time warped to 30 minutes in the future. It was unsettling, and frankly, terrifying to me. I started to cry. The nurse thought I was in pain, which was ridiculous because I was so numbed up and doped out I couldn't move my mouth. But my husband knew what was going on (and that my blood sugar was low). It was worth it (or will be when I finish healing) to have the pain from my wisdom teeth gone. But I hope I don't have to go under again! Yikes! However, God is so good, and used this scary experience to show Himself and his tender love for me to silly, scared me!
See, I'm a Church Planters Wife. I know my blog title is "This is the Life" and I guess it implies that I have it made and couldn't ask for anything more. And I do. And I couldn't. But that doesn't mean it's easy. It's the opposite. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do. On so many levels. I have to watch all my "best laid plans gang aft aglay" or however it goes. I have to watch my kids live out my sacrifice. I have to let God completely strip me and remake me in His image, with His characteristics, agendas, passions and plans. And, what's worse in so many ways, watch my husband go through those same refining moments.
We have always been ministers. From the moment of our separate callings, God has had His hand and agendas on our lives. We have definitely resisted and fought, sometimes tooth and nail, against those agendas. But God is just so funny in that whole "sovereignty" thing. He's nothing if not stubborn!
After 3 years in youth ministry, we found a compelling push on our hearts to church plant. Well, that's putting it politely. Not to venture too far into theological arguments, but the call to Gospel plant was, truly, irresistible. God left us no other options. We quit, or were politely excused from, out positions with our church, and set out into the wild blue yonder to chase God and this new dream.
So here I sit. Waiting again. What is He up to today?
If you wait on God a lot. If you are a planters wife. If you have prayed for more passion, more patience, more Presence in your life. I have NO ANSWERS for you. But you are welcome to share my journey here. Saddle up your horses (as the great Steven Curtis Chapman has been known to say)