Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I'm SO Not Qualified

Just in case anyone out there was under the illusion that I am actually missionary material, I'd like to set the record straight. In the case that I ever become an official "missionary," I want anyone who might consider selecting me to be one or anyone who might consider supporting us financially to know what you're getting yourself into. And I'd also like to remind God (in case He's recently started the habit of forgetting) of what I'm really like.

I'm pretty sure a missionary should never do any of the following:

1. Yell at your kids multiple times in one day just because they're being extremely annoying and frustrating as a result of absolute boredom.

2. Talk bad about others. I have been very convicted about this for a long time, but have made frustratingly little progress in controlling my tongue or, what would be even better, not having critical thoughts of others in the first place. I hope you'll all still be my friend. :)

3. Lose it with your husband because he just purchased his 28th pair of ugly, non-real shoes and is planning on wearing them in public. In eternity, it won't matter, right? But still!

4. When you have a little moment of quiet alone time, try to find an interesting book somewhere in your house to read and then finally settle for the Bible after you cannot track down the book you're looking for and the conviction of the Holy Spirit is so heavy you can no longer ignore it.

5. Whine about how you don't have enough money to do anything fun or go out to eat whenever the urge strikes you despite the fact that God has faithfully supplied every need for the 2 1/2 years that your husband has been a school teacher (and all the years before, too).

6. When asked about what ministry opportunity has become a possibility for you, respond by frowning, dropping your head, and mumbling something about the Caribbean.

7. Dwell on the fact that homeschooling sounds like way too much work and that being at home everyday with your children seems like utter misery.

8. Write blogs about some of the crappy things you've done lately, which could really be a list about two miles long.

Now, I know what your response will probably be. Well, it could be, "Wow. She's a mess. I'm gonna mark her off the friend list RIGHT now." But, seeing as one thing I am pretty good at is choosing friends, you're more likely to say, "Oh, Amy. None of us is perfect. In our weaknesses He is strong" or "God doesn't call the perfect, just the willing" or some other such Godly wisdom. But, seriously, shouldn't "missionaries" or people in positions of Christian calling be at least decent people after being believers for 21 years? I just don't ever want to be pegged as this Godly, mature woman (it just dawned on me that maybe I'm being a lot prideful assuming anyone would EVER think that) when I'm just a messed up, sinful, ugly, mistake-making person.

I suppose, if I wasn't, His grace wouldn't be needed. Grace: the UNDESERVED favor of God. I've got the undeserved part covered. I suppose He's got the rest.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I'll Have a Blue (Couple Days After) Christmas

I love Christmas. The whole month of December is just wonderful. The fact that I can listen to non-stop Christmas music as I wash dishes or sit by the beautifully lit Christmas tree as I fold laundry makes even those daily chores so much more enjoyable. I love the full social calendar, the days of yummy food that is not chicken fingers and mac'n cheese, and the anticipation of fun days and time with family and friends ahead. There's only one problem with the whole Christmas season. It always comes to an end.

I'm just really weird. (Surprise!) As I'm enjoying all that makes Christmas what it is, in the back of my mind I am preparing myself for the fact that it will end and January will stretch before me with it's long, cold, dark, dull days. If you haven't already noticed, I'm a bit of a glass-is-half-empty girl. I don't like that fact, but it's true nonetheless. I just can't seem to completely enjoy an experience, like Christmas or a vacation, without preparing myself for the big let-down at the end. I guess I'm afraid that if I don't prepare myself, the let-down will take me off guard and I'll feel like I was hit with a 2x4 of laundry, backed-up work, and everyday life. I prefer an easy smack in the face rather than a full-on blunt force trauma to the skull. And, since it is now Demember whatever day it is after the 25th, I'm a little bummed.

I did not want to take the decorations down (but, boy, am I glad that chore is behind me) and I do not want to get back to the daily grind of school, housework, seminary for Chris, (oh, yeah - and work for Chris period), and the tons of other things we do on a daily basis around here. I know there are some who long for the routine and stability of "normal life," but I'm not one of those people. I love the fun, fun, fun and the lazy freedom of time off from "life." I'm a pleasure-lover. And one other kind of important fact that makes this winter seem especially unappealing is that it will contain the MOMENT OF DECISION. That's right. A trip to the dreaded St. Maarten. (Okay, I know that's not a dreaded place for most of you, but that's because you visit it as a cruise destination, not as a "this could be my new home" destination.) Ugh. I can't even think about it. Only I AM thinking about it every waking minute of my life.

Now that I have wandered down this long, winding, somewhat depressing path, I will end this post on a lighter note. I will share with you two really great things about the days and months after Christmas. First of all, I spent the dreaded December 26 with my favorite 7-year-old doing very fun mommy and daughter things, which was our Christmas gift to her. We began the afternoon sharing sesame chicken without the distraction of one talkative brother and one very rowdy brother. Then I took her to get her ears pierced! She finally convinced me and she has declared it the best gift ever. As a distraction from the throbbing ear lobes, we went bowling and then I watched her happily lick an ice cream cone while repeatedly telling me how much fun she was having. So sweet! We wrapped up the day with a trip to see her pony. (Yes, she's the luckiest little girl in the world. Only I don't believe in luck.) It was a wonderful day and made the day after Christmas no longer one of my least favorite days of the year.

And the second thing (I know I'm long-winded) that makes after-Christmas exciting is anticipating our trip to Disney World. Now, some of you may remember this post, where I wrestled with lavish trips to this very location, among other things. In this particular situation, I feel at peace accepting the gift of a trip (not money) from my family which includes my children spending time with their grandparents and enjoying a special blessing. I can honestly say that we have tried and succeeded in using our finances more for God's purposes this year than ever before, and God is taking me on a path where He is asking me to be willing to give all that I have financially, relationally, emotionally, etc to follow Him. So, I am okay with receiving this blessing from him and from those who love me - and my kids. :) I am excited about the trip, but I am being careful to keep my focus where it needs to be and keeping my priorities in line with His. Please don't think I'm trying to justify it. I only desire to be transparent and not say one thing and then do another. We do still wrestle greatly on a daily basis with how God would have us use our lives, our time, and our money to glorify Him, and we take the decisions on a daily basis as well.

Though Christmas has passed for another year, I must say, it was wonderful and I am blessed. Now for 2010. I'm scared to find out what this year holds, but glad I know Who holds this year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

St. Nick is Dead!

We had such a fun time on our annual family trip to see Santa at the mall tonight. Am I the only one that truly cherishes fun family outings filled with sweet memories...because most of our family outings turn out to be not as fun or stress-free as I'd imagined? (You know, instead of a calm, sweet time it ends up filled with whining, fighting, or screaming? No? Maybe it's just me, then.) Anyway, this WAS a fun time, with all the kids really excited about Santa and Chick-fil-A. Luke didn't even cry in Santa's lap, thanks to those two trusty fingers he plugs his mouth with in times of distress or tiredness. And we all laughed when Jack had "a super-real itch on my bottom and I can't reach it!!" in his car seat on the way home. Fun times.

There's one thing that's a little silly about this particular outing, however. You see, we made the decision this year to tell the kids the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Santa Claus. I know some of you have always done this with your kids, while others think we're being ridiculous and a bit of a humbug by "killing the magic" of Christmas. In years past (well, several years past), I saw nothing wrong with "doing Santa Claus." I mean, that's how I was brought up and it didn't hurt me any, right? But I started feeling convicted about it a few years ago.

I always assumed parents chose not to teach their kids that Santa was real because it detracted from Jesus at Christmas. I didn't really see that as a big problem, but Chris and I have always wanted to emphasize Jesus MUCH more than Santa. So, we just didn't really talk about Santa with the kids. They heard it from other places and we just avoided their questions with questions directed back at them. "I don't know, what do you think?" But later on, it became more of an issue of truth versus deceit. When one of my children would lie to me - or tell a "half-truth" - I would get in their face and tell them that they are to ALWAYS tell the truth. I said over and over again how God loves truth and hates lies and we were never to lie to anyone under any circumstances. And as I would say this to them, the Holy Spirit, in His quiet yet annoyingly persistent way, would whisper, "Are you being completely truthful with your children?" So, it was this issue that finally did us in.

I did not want to tell my kids how God is real, even though they can't see Him, and that He knows everything about them and then turn around and say the same thing about Santa Claus. For the record, I personally did not ever have doubts about the reality of God based on the fact that I believed that Santa was real for the first several years of my life. However, I did not want that to be even a possibility for my children. Mainly, we just want to be truthful with them so they never have any reason to doubt what we tell them.

There are other issues that play into this with us as well...namely, the whole "you better watch out" mentality of earning your gifts by good deeds. That's not the way God works at all. Our salvation and our blessings are by God's grace alone, and I don't want to be manipulating my children into obedience. I want to lay all choices before them, with the consequences before them as well, but I want them to always be aware and appreciative of grace. I could go on, but you get the point.

So, at the beginning of the Christmas season, we killed St. Nick. Well, we actually shared the story of the real St. Nicholas and how he was motivated to give by God's gift to him, as we all should be. We tried to gently lay out the truth, while still preserving the specialness of Christmas and the wonder of Christ's birth. Maddie quietly contemplated it all, while Jack was too busy talking to usual. So, it seemed they took the news well. The next morning, Jack got out of bed, walked to the living room, looked up at the stockings on the fireplace, and said, "I wonder what Santa will put in my stocking this year." Evidently, we have some work to do. :)

So, back to our annual family outing to see Santa...just because we don't believe he's real (well, all of us but Jack), that doesn't stop us from enjoying all the special things of the season. And it leaves us to concentrate on the true meaning of it all. God in the flesh. I don't know about you, but I think that's much more amazing than a jolly old man with a sleigh full of presents any day.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's Almost Here

What a long, long, long week we've had full of feverish foreheads and runny noses. Thankfully, we're on the mend because...


Since we didn't mail out cards this year, here is your Merry Christmas wish from the Bond family.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tested and Proven

I feel so out of touch with my bloggy world. I haven't had time to check on all my blog friends (most of whom I've never actually met), much less write on mine. My plate has been full, which is a good thing, but I have felt a little overwhelmed - mainly by my little slimy tadpole friends. My mind has been full of thoughts for blogging, but my schedule has not been full of the time to do so. As I type, I know I should be busy reassuring people that their tadpoles will one day come, but I just can't stay away from my blog any longer. I know all of my readers have been unable to go on with their lives, which are especially busy this time of year, because they've been glued to their computers waiting on a new entry, and I just can't do that to them any longer. Okay, so maybe that's a teeny tiny exaggeration. :)

While I've been away, I've been learning what it means to take up your cross DAILY and follow Christ. (Truth be told, that's what I'm always learning.) It's the daily part (which you probably guessed, since I capitalized it) that's tricky. One day I'm right on board with God and His plans. I'm focused, willing, and even almost excited. Then the next day, as I shared in my last post, I'm distracted, very unwilling, and extremely NOT excited. It really is a day by day, moment by moment decision to focus on the prize and keep running toward it. One glance to the side and I'm done for the day, the week, or even the month. It doesn't take much for the enemy to distract me. I'm weak, and I know it.

That's why I love people in the Bible. They have so many weak moments, but most of them finish the race well. One of my favorite people in all of Scripture is Abraham. God asked a lot of him, Abraham messed up a few times, God promised great blessing, and ultimately Abraham was proven faithful. If you think about it, Abraham didn't have a lot to go on when it came to his relationship with God. No Bible, no ever-present Holy Spirit, no church family to encourage him. He had some powerful yet brief and sporadic encounters with God, which were either communicating tough commands or promising big blessings. In the course of his walk with God, Abraham was told to leave his home and his extended family for a new, unnamed homeland, told to wait an unspecified amount of time for a son to be born to two old, infertile people, and told to perform a delicate, unpleasant surgery on himself and every other man associated with his family. He usually obeyed immediately, but sometimes he got impatient or scared and messed it up, much as we tend to do.

There is one command from God to Abraham, however, that really intrigues me. There is this one passage of Scripture that never fails to grip my heart and challenge me to the core. It is when Abraham is given what I'm sure is the hardest command God could have ever spoken to him. Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." Talk about a tough command. Abraham is asked to kill his son that he waited so long to receive from God. The one who holds all the promises of God on his shoulders. It couldn't have made any sense to Abraham, and it had to have stopped him dead in his tracks when he heard God command it. Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice the one thing through which God had promised He'd bring blessing to the whole world? Why would God have made Abraham and Sarah wait so long for a son only to kill him?

God knew it was a hard command. He called Isaac, "your son, your ONLY son, whom you love." It's not like God thought it would be easy. When God calls us to sacrifice, He knows and even intends for it to be tough. Despite the seemingly harsh command, Abraham doesn't hesitate. He gets up early the next morning and sets out. Don't you know the next three days were the hardest ones of Abraham's life? He spent three days traveling with his beloved son to the place where he would be asked to give him up completely. I can only imagine what he was thinking as they traveled all that way. Did he think of turning back? Did he try to come up with another way to satisfy God's demand? Did he wonder what in the world God could possibly be doing? Did he question God's love? Did he beg God to change His mind? No matter what he was thinking or what emotions were pulsing through his body, Abraham continued in obedience and faith. He spent three days letting go of his precious son, dying to him emotionally, just as Jesus spent three days in the grave. Three dark days.

Then the moment of truth arrives. This is where the rubber meets the road. Isaac carries the wood on which he will be sacrificed up the mountain, just as Christ carried his cross up to Calvary. Isaac briefly asks his father about the missing lamb for the sacrifice, but follows Abraham in trust as he tells his son that God will provide. As they arrive at the appointed place, Abraham binds his son and prepares to sacrifice him, just as God the Father put Jesus on the cross and gave Him up as a sacrifice. And Isaac must have allowed Abraham to do it, just as Christ willingly went to the cross. Isaac was a young, strapping lad and his father was an old man of 120 or so years. Isaac had to willingly lay down as a sacrifice, trusting both his earthly and heavenly fathers. Abraham takes the knife to slay his beloved son, with nothing to hope in and no one to turn to but God. And what happens in that moment? That terrifying, emotional, heart-rending moment? That moment of utter desperation? What else? God provides. God comes through. God Most High provides the sacrifice. Don't you know that was the most beautiful ram Abraham had ever laid eyes on? Isaac is resurrected, so to speak. Three days of death exchanged for one glorious moment of joy.

Abraham's faith was proven genuine. God was proven faithful. And the most beautiful and amazing part of it all was that God asked Abraham to do something unbelievably hard by our standards, but it wasn't something God wasn't willing to do Himself. When the moment came for Jesus to be slain and sacrificed, God didn't say, "Stop!" like He did to Abraham. He turned His back and let Jesus die. He provided the Lamb.

What do we take away from this? For me, it is another reminder (and I need them daily) that God asks us to sacrifice and suffer for Him, trusting Him through it all. And, in order for it to be a sacrifice, it must be something precious to us. Why? Because it is by suffering and sacrificing that we are made holy and our faith is proven to be real. It is by suffering and sacrificing that we learn to trust Him and show His faithfulness, love, and goodness to the world. But it's a reminder of something else as well...God will not ask us to sacrifice something that Jesus hasn't already sacrificed for us. So as I daily take up my cross of sacrifice and suffering, I truly am following Him, for it is a path He has already walked. He knows it well. And it is a path of hope, for it leads to glory. Abraham's faith was proven to be genuine. God was proven faithful. Will you allow your faith to be tested? Will it be proven genuine? Do you believe God is faithful? Take up your cross and see how God provides through your sacrifice.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Bit of a Disaster

I knew it was coming. Life was too easy. I was too focused on Christ and counting everything as joy. It seems on the roller coaster of life, I can only stay on the uphill climb and the peak of the coaster so long before I come crashing down. Oh, how I pray that the day will come when I am solid, steadfast, a rock. But not today, and probably not anytime soon. Fortunately, "He's still working on me, to make me what I ought to be." (That would be great if I were technically savvy enough - and had the time - to post a video of Jack singing that little song. He's so cute when he sings.)

I love the holiday season. October through December is my absolute favorite time of year, which is a little odd considering I usually end up stressed out and stretched too thin every year. Why do I still love it so much? Maybe I'm still remembering my childhood and thinking, "This year has to be better, more like when I was 8." Ahh, the Good Ole Days. No bills, no awareness of "family issues," no dishes to wash or laundry to fold. Do you know what I always used to say when I was a kid? "I'M BORED!" What in the world was I thinking? Well, God solved that problem. :)

I digress. Okay, so we spent four days visiting/goofing off and having a good time with our family over Thanksgiving. It was nice and relaxing. It was WONDERFUL having other people do most of the planning and cooking. (What will I do when I'm the grandmother and have to do all that? Ugh.) The kids were entertained and we got to sit down. (Funny that sitting down is such a joy to me now.) There were only two problems, which spelled certain disaster for me: 1) I did not spend any meaningful time with the Lord. When I'm out of my routine, all self-discipline goes out the window. 2) The world didn't stop spinning. Clothes still got dirty. My calendar was still full. The toilet still got peed (how do you spell that?) in. People's tadpoles still died. (If you don't know, don't ask.) Basically, life met me head-on Sunday. If you didn't know, moms don't really get days off. And if they do, they have to make them up later.

So, with Sunday came the first signs of the avalanche of stress and emotions that was ahead. And on was not pretty. As all this was occuring (and by "all this" I am referring to my horrible emotional reaction to all the stress piling up on me that manifested itself in lots of ranting, complaining, yelling, foot-stomping, huffing and puffing, and just general grumpiness mainly directed toward those who were unfortunate enough to be living under the same roof with me), I KNEW what was happening and why it was happening. My flesh and my sinful nature were taking over because I had let my guard down. I had neglected my time of renewing my mind in the truth of God's Word and focusing my thoughts on Him. I had failed to communicate with my Heavenly Father and the source of all my strength, peace, and joy. Though I knew what was going on and what I needed to do to end it, I had waited too late. My emotions were taking over and I had a huge uphill climb to get out of this miserable pit.

But, the Lord is gracious. His mercies never end. As I slowly and stubbornly began to struggle against my flesh and emotions, He met me where I was. He is so amazingly patient and forgiving. As Psalm 103 says: 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. That's me. A big ball of dirt.

Today is better, but I still have a ways to go before I'm counting all my trials as joy again. However, God has gently reminded me of His faithfulness to me, and I am so grateful to Him. I am determined that, with God's help, I will not make this same mistake again this month (we have to set realistic goals, don't we?). I don't want this very special and meaningful time of year that should be all about Him to be miserable for me and my family because I'm too busy to spend time with Him. I want this Christmas to be about Christ more than it's ever been before. I want Him to be glorified in my words and in my actions, but that's impossible without the power of Christ Himself in me. I encourage each of you to make this whole hustley, bustley season completely focused on Him (as everyday should be) so that people would be drawn to the Savior through you. (And if you see me acting like Ebenezer Scrooge, kick me.) Merry Christmas!