Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Do Donkeys and Halloween Have in Common?

Happy Halloween! Or should I say Happy Satan's Day? Or Happy I Love Fall and Carving Pumpkins Day!

Oh, the controversy and opinions that come forth from believers around things like Halloween or birth control or how to school your kids or alcohol or politics. Who besides me cannot wait for this election to be over? The heated opinion throwing drives me bananas! Everybody is certain they are right (or left - ha!).

But I digress.

Last weekend, we were taking a very indirect route to the mall (so indirect that we eventually just changed our destination, because our shortcut wasn't actually short to our original destination...flexibility is what I call it) and Jack was perusing one of a set of educational books we were given over the summer. Our lovely front seat adult conversation was interrupted by the question:

"What's an ass?"

Me: "I'm sorry. What did you say?"

Jack: "What's an ass?"

Me: (thinking) He must just be misreading that word...which makes no sense because yesterday he was correctly reading words like licorice. "Spell it for me. I'm not sure which word you mean."

Jack: "A-S-S."

Me: "Okay. Yep, that's the word. Is there a picture of a donkey?" (thinking) Please tell me there's a picture of a donkey on that page.

Jack: "Yeah. That looks like a donkey."

Me: "Yep. That's another word for donkey. But we're just going to use donkey, okay?"

Now, in my book, ass is a bad word. I don't use that word. (Now, if I'm in an almost car wreck or a giant insect falls on my head, I might be heard uttering another innappropriate word, but that's neither here nor there.) But I knew not to punish my kid for saying it, because to him it was just a word on a page. It held no meaning for him and there was nothing evil in his heart that caused him to say that word. I did, however, instruct him to choose another word to use instead because of what that word means to other people.

Chris and I wrestle with topics like family planning, Halloween, church attendance (I mean we go, but I am so tempted to judge others who don't seem as committed). I struggle to see what's right for me from God's point of view and I fight the urge to judge others for their actions and views. We weigh the call for grace with the call to holiness. We debate our choices and our reaction to the choices of others who call themselves followers of Christ.

Let's face it. There are often two camps and both are equally wrong:

1. The Pharisees - We love rules and we think our list is right and whoever doesn't abide by them is on the highway to hell.

2. The Carnal - We say we love Jesus and live under grace, but really we just need to feel good about enjoying all the world has to offer while still having our ticket to heaven in our back pocket.

Jesus isn't a fan of either camp, but how often do we find ourselves veering to one extreme or the other?

The Pharisees were all about the Sabbath. Sounds like a good thing, right? Of course the Sabbath was meant to be a good thing. God came up with it and he's in the habit of only coming up with good things. However, people (and Satan) are masters of twisting good things to make them utterly evil.

So the Pharisees were thrilled to catch Jesus' disciples picking grain in the field one day to fill their empty tummies. "Awesome! We caught them breaking God's Sabbath red-handed! If Jesus loves God so much, he can't deny that breaking the Sabbath is wrong."

When those Holy Rollers called the ragtag disciples out on the whole grain-picking deal, Jesus didn't agree and give the disciples a slap on the wrist for going against the day God had instituted as the day they should stop to worship and honor him. He answers, "And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath."

Jesus says to the high and mighty, "You've missed the point once again, guys. It's not that this day is so much more important than any other. It's about your heart and its love and priority."

Then he proceeds to show them what he was all about, and he heals a guy on the Sabbath in the synagogue. He's showing them by his words and his actions where God's heart is. It's not in the rules, it's in the relationship. What were the two things Jesus chose as the most important? Love God. Love others.

God made the Sabbath to remind us to love him. He knew men were easily distracted and needed a weekly mandate to stop and reset their minds and hearts. But we can be just as easily distracted in our minds while our bodies are going through the motions of the rules God set in place.

But we're also quick to claim as recipients of God's grace that we don't have to abide by the rules, but abuse the freedom we have in Christ. Is our enjoyment of living outside the law motivated by a love for God and a desire for his glory? Or is it just selfish and worldly?

Oh, we so often miss the point.

Tonight is Halloween. In our home, we do not make a big deal about it. Chris and I don't care for it because of its origins and the evil that so easily seeps into this day. This year, Halloween happens to fall on a Wednesday, so we will go to church as we do every Wednesday. However, I have a feeling we'll be just about the only ones there and that has been a source of annoyance to me.

One of my good friends will use this night to trick-or-treat in her neighborhood with her kids. Tons of people will be there and they'll try to use the opportunity to show love to those around them. However, I have a feeling that many people won't even give God or others a second thought tonight.

So which of us loves God more? Which of us is really holy and which is not?

If my family were to go to church tonight with self-righteous, judgmental hearts toward our fellow Christians who are trick-or-treating, we'd be dead wrong. We'd be sinning.

If my friend's family were to go trick-or-treating without even considering what the Lord would have them to do or how they could seek to impact the lives of others around them, but only because it's what they want to do and by golly, they'll do it, then I suppose they might be in the wrong.

(Please understand, this only applies to areas which are not directly outlined in Scripture. Some things are just plain sin.)

Because, with Jesus, it always comes back to the heart. Going to church can be good or bad. Trick-or-treating can be good or bad. The word ass can be harmless or horrifying. It's all about our intentions and our motivations.

So before you judge people for dressing up and asking for free candy and before you dress up and ask for free candy without even considering the Lord and his desires, stop and look at your heart. Ask the Lord what he would have you to do. And then do it, with his honor and glory at the forefront of your heart and mind.

And if you want to call a donkey an ass...okay, please don't, because it just sounds ugly. You can blame the Ugly Word Judge who decided it would now be a cuss word instead of a word we use when referring to a hee-hawing horse with long ears. Apparently, whoever he is, he's a Republican.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sam Turns Two (Down on the Farm)

One month ago today, my little baby Sam turned TWO! And seeing that he's the fourth child, it has taken me a whole month to commemorate his special day in bloggy world. If I was a fabulous special occassion mom, I would have planned a big shabang for my little man. As it is, I am not the greatest at making special occassions feel special. Enter Nana and Aunt Patty. (Grandma is usually a contributor of the special days, but she was special occassioning it with the oldest grandson on this particular weekend. So Sam lucked out and got two fun weekends in a row!)

When deciding how we should celebrate the Terrific Two, we wanted to do something that involved Sam's favorite activity...running around with nobody stopping him. So, Nana thought the Pumpkin Patch seemed like a good idea, and Sam concurred. Seeing as it wasn't even October yet, the farm we visited was delightfully uncrowded and somewhat humid and sweaty. I wasn't complaining, though, because the last time I was there, my teeth were chattering and my chin was numb.

Maddie, Jack, and Luke ran around in cotton. I guess that's a southern thing.

Sam loved petting the animals. The ducks, chicks, and bunnies were pretty cute, and only mildly stinky.

You'll notice Luke wasn't enjoying the petting with his siblings. That is due to his imaginary duck allergy. I suppose since Jack is allergic to pretty much everything, Luke didn't want to miss out. He tried out a few different allergies and then settled on ducks. (Elephants didn't work out since that would infringe on his zoo trips.) I suppose it was dramatic enough without infringing on too many fun activities or yummy foods. He is very conscientious when it comes to duck exposure and quickly removed himself from the barn when he realized ducks were in there. He patiently waited outside on the hay bale for us to get finished. You might think it a little odd that I don't just tell him he's not allergic to ducks, but I've tried. Apparently, he thinks I'm a liar.

We didn't realize that Emily is a goat whisperer.

Chris was clearly the coolest guy at the Pumpkin Patch.

At this particular Patch, everyone's admission automatically includes a pumpkin. Can I tell you that finding ten perfect pumpkins can be quite time consuming?

The day really was lots of fun...entertaining and low stress. What more can you ask for in a birthday celebration?

Oh, and there were outhouses...

After loading up our ten pumpkins, we zoomed back to the house for a little Elmo party. This is where Aunt Patty helped save the day. She came over the day before and spent the better part of her day decorating the apple spice birthday cake I made. If it had been up to No Fun Mom, it would have been a rectangle with a plastic Elmo toy on top. Sam was pretty excited when he saw it and then pretty ticked that we wouldn't let him have any for over 24 hours. What a rookie mom mistake! You think I'd be past that by now.

Our sweet Sam is loved by all. I'm so glad that God's plans for our family included this funny, lovable little boy. He's certainly a stinker, but I don't think a single one of us would trade him in. He brings so much fun and laughter (and climbing and mess-making) to our home. 

Happy 2nd Birthday, Sam-I-Am!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Gnats and Camels and Coupons

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel! Matthew 23: 23-24

I haven't strained my water for gnats lately, but I'm pretty sure I'd be a water strainer if I lived in a time without clean, running water. I'm a girl who is anti-insect consumption. However, I'm sure I've swallowed a few spiritual camels in my time. Don't we all just miss the point sometimes?

Well, one time not too long ago, I didn't miss the point. Hallelujah! Miracles happen. The fact that this rule lovin' mama ever gets the point behind it all is a praise that needs to go up.

I am what I like to call a good steward. Some might call me a penny pincher or even a tight-wad. I prefer to look at the positive aspects of the fact that I hate to let go of even a cent for something that I see as unnecessary. Combine this with my recent attempts to feed my family "real food," and there is some major stress going on during my trips to the grocery store. Apparently, food that will kill you is cheap. Healthy food...not so much.

I was excited a couple of weeks ago when there were some sweet potato fries that were on sale (and that barely squeaked by my not-as-strict-as-it-could-be list of acceptable foods) and I had a coupon for. Again, not many coupons for not-gonna-kill-you foods, so I was pumped to actually have one. I happily headed to the register with Maddie, full of excitement as I waited for the "-$.55" to scroll across the screen as the checker scanned my little piece of golden paper.

Beep. Puzzled look. Again, beep. Again, puzzled look. I could see this was not going as well as I'd hoped.

Apparently, the nice little high tech scanner didn't want me to save $.55 on my fries. I expected the checker to call for help, but she just kept scanning and looking puzzled. Now, this being Publix, the store of all stores when it comes to customer service, I knew that I could go to greater lengths and walk out that door with my $.55. I could see the checker wasn't going to do much of anything for me and I started to get irritated, but then that soft, gentle whisper just said, "Amy, let it go."

Que the internal battle over $.55, which was really so much more in my mind. But as I felt my daughter's presence beside me and looked into the puzzled but not so helpful face of the cashier, I knew it wasn't worth it. I could choose to avoid hassling that cashier and putting anyone out over a few cents or I could choose my self-satisfaction at getting what was rightfully mine.

By the grace of God, I just smiled, said "It's okay," and reached out to retrieve my now useless coupon.

I had forgotten about the incident until last night, when I recounted it to my accountability group. (Yes, I bored them with this story before I chose to bore you with it. I'm generous with boredom-inducing talk like that.) I thought it might be an appropriate, yet slightly lame, example of the Scripture we were studying. (See above.)

Saving a few cents isn't a bad thing, and it's even something I feel called to do as a wife and manager of our household. But I just knew somehow that putting that worker (and maybe additional workers) out over that small amount wasn't the right thing to do. It would appear stingy and petty, not frugal and wise.

So tonight, I went to Publix, filled my buggy with lots of real food (and some hot dogs for Chris's camping excursion, because nitrites and nitrates are powerless to harm you when consumed while sitting around a campfire) and headed to check out, while simultaneously fighting the urge to throw up when I thought of what the total of my bill would likely be.

As I chose to smile and ignore the giant number at the bottom of the screen, I scanned my debit card. The cashier pulled a coupon off of an item I was purchasing and gave it to the customer service worker. "She'll take care of that coupon for you at the desk." Now, I knew very well that the coupon was not for any item I was purchasing (and so did the cashier), so I had not pulled it off the item myself. But I ended up walking out of the store with $1 cash in my wallet anyway.

As the swooshie doors closed behind me on my way to the car, I remembered. "See, Amy. You didn't need that $.55 after all."

Obedience brings blessings, just not always when or how we expect them. Thanks, God. :) I'll try my best to use that dollar wisely. Of course.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Where We've Been

I should be ironing. Naptime will be cut short today, because it's early pick-up day at school. Oh, how this day plagues me. Don't the people at the school know how this messes with my schedule? I mean, what mom doesn't have bookoodles of laundry and houswork to do on Mondays?

Then again, I suppose that they shouldn't be blamed for the fact that I'm sitting here at the computer instead of standing at the ironing board.

I haven't seen many cute life stories to share here lately. I suppose I'm having writer's block. Yet the Lord is doing so much in and around me. There is no greater feeling than hearing Him speak or seeing Him work. As I've reveled in so much fruitfulness in my life and my friends' lives lately, it's caused me and Chris to look back over the years with such thankfulness for how far He's brought us.

In Psalm 51, David says: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to you. Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you."

When the Lord restores and works in our lives, our lips should be eager to praise him. As I look back over what he's done in us, I want to give him glory! What is excitement unless it's shared?

Eightish years ago, my husband came to his pregnant wife and said he thought God was calling him to something different. Something more. His wife said, "No, thanks," and he agreed. Kinda reminds me of a cute little couple who used to live in a garden until they encountered a sly serpent.

What ensued was the pursuit of two stubborn, worldly people by a jealous, loving God.

"Move to Texas. Give up everybody you have in your life (except your immediate family) and everything you've chased after thus far. Give up your income, your home, your comforts, your relationships, your church, your stuff that won't fit into a tiny apartment."

The Lord began to refine and whittle and tear and pry and purify and remove. It felt so painful, so hard, so hateful. I remember riding the exercise bike in the basement one day and crying out to God, "Who are you? Why are you doing this to me? Why are you putting me through this tearing away and giving up when everybody around me seems completely untouched by your refining fire? Do you love me?"

In essence, I was asking, "Can't I have you and the world?" And, clearly, He was saying "NO." He will not share his glory with anyone or anything, because there is nothing or no one worthy of it. In the midst of the struggle, he redefined who he is to me. He showed me his true character, the extent of his love, and the freedom that letting go brings.

"Just kidding. Stay put."

"I have a different plan. Go to seminary here and get a new, lower-paying job that you have no experience in to make it happen. Give up your time and your status. Go backwards in the world's eyes."

And so we did. And he proved faithful. We knew it was from him (because random jobs usually don't fall from the sky) and knew what it was to run from him, so we chose to stick with him this time. We thought we knew the purpose of it, but oh how little we could see.

We endured the questions, asked by others and ourselves. "When will Chris finish seminary? What will he do after that?" Who in the world knows. Only God. He redefined our view of earthly education, which can be valuable, and put our priority on the training straight from the hand of God, which is priceless. He taught us to obey in the little things and to trust him a little more.

But still Chris wrestled with not being fulfilled and I wrestled with giving it all up.

So he laid another opportunity in front of us. "Maybe I want you to move to a little island far away from home where you know no one and cannot leave. It will be uncomfortable and different and lonely and hard."

And so we began again. To wrestle, to question, to agonize, to wonder, to dream, to let go of dreams, to submit, to cry, to be scared out of our (my) minds. And so I began a blog, thinking I would document my life as the worst, most begrudging missionary to ever live.

Until we visited that little island and heard nothing.

No calling. No pulling. No direction, except:

"Just kidding. Stay put."

What?? What will people think? Am I not good enough? Do I not love you enough? I thought you had a plan, a calling.

And even in all that, he was teaching, refining, preparing, loving.

We learned that his plans are unfathomable, but that they will match our passions and giftedness. We learned to let go a little more. We learned some hard truths about ourselves, our pride, and our faith. We learned to quit living five years down the road and to live in the today he's given us. He has a job, a mission, a ministry in the little and big things as we follow him everyday.

"Obey in little, and one day I just might give you much. Take joy in where I have you, and maybe someday I'll take you somewhere new."

So we stayed put and waited. It seemed we'd been waiting for years. Oh, yeah. We had. Searching, being pulled and stretched, only to end up right back where we'd started. Truthfully, though, we were only physically where we'd started. Spiritually, he'd taken us to many new places.

And then one day, Chris set off for what seemed like it would be another routine annual trip for job training in another city. He came back with a vision and direction that God had brought about through that everday obedience. In true God-fashion, he had spoken when and where we least expected it. That still, small voice. When we finally surrendered and embraced the living out of our every day for him, he showed us something bigger.

This long road of twists and turns, wondering and waiting, letting go and grabbing hold, fearing and hoping, hating and loving has brought us to today. Chris is serving in a way that so perfectly fits his desires, passions, and giftedness that it's crazy. He leads more effectively and cares more deeply than ever. I am holding onto this world less than I did eight years ago. I am trusting more and fearing less. We both know him and love him more now than we ever have.

His goodness and faithfulness are real to us now. His love and plans amaze us. It all came welling up inside of me when I read this email, sent from the other side of the world, to little old us. A kit that began in our dining room has ended up in a country I've never even seen in real life.

The Bicycle generator units are very very useful and the Pastors are using them very much. Now They could be able to use them in the night prayers in the remote villages. Even at the house, as you are aware we have a 12 hour power cut in the villages of Andhra Pradesh. These Pastors are using them at their houses for the study of their children etc., They are expressing their heartful gratitude to The Designs for Hope. Even the congregations of Anandapuram Village ( Deacon K.Satyam ) and Seri narsannapalem Village ( Pastor Yesupadam ) are also thanking The Designs for Hope.

Kindly inform the concerned Officers of The Designs for Hope for their generous gift of the generator units. We may request more now. What are the other ministries of The Designs for Hope ?

In Christ,

I can't explain to you all this represents. All the uncertainty and struggle and refining that he's taken us through culminated for me in this truth: God works in us so that he can be glorified through us in ways we could never imagine or make happen on our own. His ways...higher. His thoughts...better. His love...greater.

I still have doubts and struggles, but hopefully, he has many more amazing things in store for us as we seek him and grow to know him more. The thought of it makes me scared and excited all at the same time, but today I can be a little less scared and a little more excited as I reflect on the journey thus far. I know it's not so much about how successful our service is in our eyes as it is how well we know the one whom it's done for. To God be the glory. Great things he has done is doing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Father Loves Best

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 
Matthew 7:7-11

In the past, I have believed things that are not true about God's character. I knew in my head that He loved me, but I displayed by my actions and attitudes my belief that He did not. But in one shining, blessed moment, I finally understood and truly believed that He does love me. A pure, shining, faithful, endless love that does not depend on me or my actions. It's totally founded in His own identity. It's in His very make-up. God is love.

That love has always been mirrored to me by my earthly father. I have been doubly blessed.

One of my most pressing desires for my children is for them to truly believe that their gentle, precious, holy Father in heaven loves them. No matter how they feel or act or how it seems, He loves them and can do nothing that is not founded in love toward them.

So as I hear them tell their exciting tales...

and see the pictures of the memories they made...

and watch the smiles on their little round faces...

and wash the dirt out of their fingernails and clothes...

and realize how much they look like their sweet Daddy...

I pray that they'll realize very early on that the love their Daddy shows them here on earth is but a faint shadow of the love their perfect Heavenly Father has for them.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!
1 John 3:1

Monday, October 8, 2012

Treasure Worth Finding

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Matthew 13:44

I’m chewing on God’s Word today. I love the hunt. We are to seek him like we would hidden treasure. If someone told me there was a million bucks buried in my backyard, you better believe I’d make good use of a shovel today. So why, when God and His Word are worth so much more than earthly treasure, do we toss them aside and decide to come back later when we have time or when we feel like it? It’s when I seek him with determination and perseverance that he reveals himself to me.

It’s great to hear God’s Word spoken or taught by others, but getting it directly from the Spirit of God to yourself is so much better!

Today, I’m just asking questions of God. Not prideful, demanding questions. Seeking, eager questions. I’m not eager for him to tell me what I want to hear, but what he wants me to hear. I’m reading His Words to me and then asking him exactly what he means by them.

Today, I’m seeking to remove the distractions and the earthly desires that are likely to pull me away from him. I’m asking him to remove things that I can’t even see need removing. I’m denying earthly pleasures that I really want to indulge in, in order to indulge in God, the only pleasure that truly satisfies.

I’ve read God’s Word for years and prayed for years. Those are the two biggies that all good Christians are supposed to do, right? Then how come so many of us struggle to do it out of love and a true desire rather than obligation? I think, for me, because I’ve casually read through the Word and quickly, without passion, thrown up prayers to God. I haven’t treated the Word and prayer like the powerful, meaningful things that they are. I act like they’re an alternative to tv or computer time, not like they’re the keys to a kingdom worth having.

Now the Lord is showing me the importance and power of these things in a new way. I try to no longer put His Words in my mouth only to chew a little and then spit them out. It’s my intention the chew and chew and chew, then to swallow and digest. It’s only by meditating and digesting that I get the necessary nutrients this Bread is there to provide.

I read His Word in the morning, then let it swirl around in my mind as I go about my daily tasks. I’m pondering and wondering and asking, as I do laundry, or wipe bottoms, or fix lunch.

He is drawing me into a new understanding of prayer. “Why pray?” we ask. What do we mean by a question like that? Why talk to other people? To know them and build a relationship with them. Why go before a king or employer or leader and ask for anything? Because they have the power to provide what you need and/or desire. What a silly question, but one I’ve asked too many times! Why pray? Because we’ve been given access to know and be provided for by the all-powerful King of the Universe! Why do we casually throw such a high privilege, that carries with it such power, away?

Today, I’m on a treasure hunt. I want more of God and I can't stop until I get it. What are you hunting today?

Joyful is the person who finds wisdom,

the one who gains understanding.

For wisdom is more profitable than silver,

and her wages are better than gold.

Wisdom is more precious than rubies;

nothing you desire can compare with her.

She offers you long life in her right hand,

and riches and honor in her left.

She will guide you down delightful paths;

all her ways are satisfying.

Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her;

happy are those who hold her tightly.

Proverbs 3:13-18