Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Once Upon A Time...

     Once upon a time there was an overwhelmed, tired, impatient, frustrated, angry, sad, and frightened mom. Like other mothers, she had entered motherhood with expectations and assumptions...she just didn't realize it. She assumed that she could raise her children using the exact same methods that her parents had used in raising her. She expected these methods to work because they were based on biblical principles. Only God knew that the children He gave her were going to blow those expectations and assumptions right out of the water!

     The children didn't respond the way the mother expected to the guidelines, directions, and methods she was using to raise them. Of course she knew there would be opposition  no one is perfect, not even her little angels! What she didn't plan on were the tantrums, the talking back, the strong will, and a season where every day was a battle. She tried everything she knew and then lost her temper. When she lost her temper she slammed doors, yelled, and lectured. Sometimes an occasional curse word would fly out of her mouth, and right after it hung wide open in shock! She felt like a bad example, a failure. Many times she cried and prayed, certain that she was messing up her kids. Sometimes she left. There were times when she waited by the door because she knew her husband would be home soon. She stood there waiting shoes and coat on, keys in hand ready to make a run for it, to escape for a few hours. She was tired of the battle of wills.

     One day when she had come to the end of herself, she sat at the kitchen table with her Bible open and simply said, "God I don't even know what to pray anymore. Show me."  Suddenly verses that she had memorized as a child flooded her mind one after the other. She quickly wrote them down until they stopped coming and peace flooded her soul. For the next two years she prayed those verses over her children's lives every day...and SHE was transformed. She prayed those verses over her children, allowed those verses to guide her responses to her children, and taught them to her children so they would know that God had something to say about how to live life. Her children were transformed too. Over time the battle of the wills became a less common occurrence, expectations and assumptions vanished, and hearts were softened and teachable. She didn't lose her temper as easily, she stopped slamming doors, and she yelled less. Praying these Scriptures over her children catapulted her into praying for others. Her prayer life took off and she learned how to use her Sword, the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. She became convinced that the Word of God is alive and active, and it gets things done. She also became convinced of her constant need for Christ. Without Him she would still be that mother at the beginning of our story and who knows what terrible shape her kids would be in!

     That mother is me. I share all of this because I've been doing some thinking back lately.  In recent weeks my husband and I have received some very encouraging words about our children, their behavior, their love for God, their love for others, and their knowledge of God's Word. Some have said, "You must be doing something right." That's why I wrote this tonight. You see, I didn't do anything right. I KNOW it was all God. I'm thankful for the encouragement and I'm thankful that people see God at work in my girls. However, more than anything I am so incredibly thankful that God brought me to the end of myself that day at the kitchen table and lead me in the direction I needed to go to raise these kids of mine. It's something I never take for granted because we're still in the process of raising them and two things I know for sure...there will be battles yet to come and I will always fight them on my knees!

     One more thing...if you are reading this and you can identify with the mom at the beginning of this tale don't give up, let go.  Open your hand to God and let go of your expectations, assumptions, fears, and perceived failures. Keep your now empty hand open to receive His love, wisdom, grace, forgiveness, and peace. No one loves and understands you and your kids more than God. No one else can guide you through parenting AND transform you in the process. I am convinced that no matter how old our children get (even when they are adults), we will always need wisdom in how to love them in the way they will best receive it at the time. I also know that for as long as I need wisdom...I need God!



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lent...

  
     For years I thought that Lent was what Catholics did after Fat Tuesday to make themselves feel better about all the donuts they ate. I didn't realize until a few years ago, that Lent wasn't only practiced in Catholic churches but in other evangelical denominations as well. I stumbled upon it when the church I currently attend had an Ash Wednesday service. For some reason that particular year, everyone was asking me what I was going to give up for Lent. I think being asked so many times only served to cement in my mind that I was not going to participate at all. Some would refer to that as my classic stubbornness, I somewhat disagree. At the time, I didn't feel right practicing Lent just because everybody else was doing it.  If I had chosen to participate my heart wouldn't have been in it. I would be doing it to get all those people off my back who were asking me what I had given up for Lent! What I didn't understand then, but am starting to grasp now is that Lent is really a time of reflection and heart preparation.

     Somehow I saw it as a ritual...maybe because the only question I was asked was "What did you give up for Lent?" I confess to wondering if the things that people do give up for Lent, really make a difference. Does giving up those things change the person from the inside out? Is the change lasting? It most likely depends on whether or not the things we are giving up are the very same things that God has asked us to let go of and give to Him. This is the difference between being led by the Holy Spirit and participating in a religious ritual. This is what I have been sorting my way through right now, during this Lent season.

     I didn't set out to participate in Lent this year. Lent found me. Sure, it had crossed my mind. I thought maybe I would give it a try. I even planned to go to the Ash Wednesday service, but I didn't. Ash Wednesday came around and though I longed for a time of quiet reflection in the sanctuary, I couldn't bring myself to go in the building because I was already spent. I was certain there would be people inside and I had nothing left to offer and couldn't risk running into anyone who may want or need a listening ear. So I sat in my car and waited for my oldest to finish with youth group.  A few days later I was reading a blog about the twenty one Egyptian Christians who were beheaded by ISIS for their faith. The writer of this blog somehow managed to turn what she was writing about into a prayer of repentance and a call to action for the church. It resonated deeply with me and at the end of her blog she had a free download of daily reflections for Lent. I was so moved that I downloaded and printed them. This is how Lent found me.

     Each day since I have been reading and reflecting on these devotions. They cut to the quick. Each day there is something to repent of and something to fast from....something that I would never think to fast from. For some reason I have only really thought of fasting in the context of fasting from food. In one devotional this week, I was encouraged to fast from "chaining myself to petty and purposeless things".  I couldn't help but remember those twenty one martyrs as I considered this. I take so much for granted while other Christians know that receiving Christ as Savior is an earthly death sentence the moment they do it.  I live in a country where faith and theology are debated. Christians in other countries simply live for Christ and die for Christ....they don't waste time debating. They don't question Lent. They LIVE Lent. They give it ALL up.

     I am learning that Lent is a time of reflection. It's a long, intentional time of making room for God to examine my heart. It's a time of surrender so that I can be free to live for Christ because He died for me. When I open my hand to let go of what God asks me to give up, my hand is now open and empty to receive what it is He has to give. It's the secret that the twenty one martyrs knew. To give up is to gain. Just like Paul said in Phillipians 1:21 " For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." In dying to our flesh by letting go of what God asks us to surrender, we gain. So maybe the question we should ask each other this Lent is "What did you gain?" because the truth is that no matter what we give up it pales in comparison to what Christ gave up for us...His life. It only matters that what we gain every time is more of Christ and what we give up every time is more of us....until we realize that all that truly matters is Him.