Sunday, January 27, 2013

For the Love of Grammar

I'm glad to report that I'm mostly over the month-long crud infestation of my body. I diagnosed myself at one point with a case of the flu, because surely a mere cold or "the crud" could not so seriously manhandle a previously healthy thirtyish person like this bug did me. The whole experience made it official. I am not looking forward to being old. You know...the kind of old where fixing your coffee and then brushing your teeth is the highlight of the day simply because it's all you have the energy to manage.

All of that said, I should be highly motivated to get back on the exercise bandwagon which I tumbled right off the back of during the Plague of 2012-2013. I've got to keep this body in the best shape possible so that I can avoid that whole old thing as long as possible.

But not so much. Tomorrow. Really, I must start back tomorrow.

Instead, I am putting off sleep, as usual, in order to try and pull a few decent thoughts together. All of this is made even more difficult by the fact that we just got done watching a very troubling episode of Downton Abbey. How can I be expected to jump right back into something like blogging when tragedy has struck the Crawley family?

But, life must go on. That's the way she would have wanted it.

So, the whole topic of the Law versus Faith has been swirling around in my head this week, largely due to the fact that I've been studying Galatians. Let me tell you, Paul is serious about dying to the law and putting anyone and everyone who disagrees with him in their place.

This brings up the question of what we are to do with the law. How am I to view it? What place should it hold in my life?

It was put into place to reveal my utter hopelessness of ever being able to follow it, and yet it still reflects God's holy standard, of which I have fallen short. But, wow, the detail. Last time I checked, I don't own any oxen, but if and when I do, I'll have a very specific guideline on what my neighbor should do to make things right after he steals one. That's a load off my mind.

I'm a rule follower if there ever was one. I about wet my pants this morning when we didn't dismiss our small group in time for the worship service, because I just knew someone "in charge" would notice all of us walking in late and reprimand us at a later time. But then I remembered I am a grown woman and it's just church, not the military. Still, it was tough to let it go.

Yes, I realize I have issues. Legalism is a problem for me, and it's a problem for you if you know me because I'm totally going to judge you based on a very hard to pin down version of my standards + God's Word. Good luck with pleasing me. But, hey, I know how you feel because no one has a harder time following my own set of rules than me.

But is following the law (the true one given by God, not the made-up one given by yours truly) a bad thing? It certainly, absolutely cannot bring about our salvation!! That's what it's trying to say to us... that we can never follow it perfectly enough to be in right standing with or more loved by God than we already are.

Our salvation comes by God's grace through our faith in the One and Only Son of God, Jesus, who DID follow the law perfectly and then paid the penalty for my failure to follow it (a.k.a. sin) by his death, imparting his righteousness to me when I trust the sufficiency of his payment.

Just wanted to be clear on that.

Legalism says that I must do something in addition to trusting in Christ in order to be reconciled to God.

I know it's not true, and yet I still find myself trying to earn God's love.

Not going to happen.

So, with that said, how do I love God's law without trusting it for salvation, falling into condemnation and legalism, and judging others for their imperfections?

This morning, while listening to the sermon, my little legalistic brain spun into action. However, I wasn't being legalistic about spiritual things (which you'd hope my mind would be on during a sermon), but about grammatical things. Because I'm a stickler for some good grammar. (Disclaimer: I do make mistakes and I'm sure that there is a glaring grammatical error or errors somewhere in this post, just because that's the way life works and you know it.)

Really, I'm the type that if some piece of written information crosses my path and happens to include the use of your where you're is really called for, you can forget it. Whatever message the document was trying to send me is lost. In fact, I'll probably have to work very hard to overcome the urge to drive to the author's house and give them a thirty minute lecture on the proper use of both words. It's not that hard!!

So anyway, my pastor does use words improperly quite frequently during his sermons. I'm not judging (right this minute, anyway), I'm just saying. (Look, I'm sure if I were to get up in front of hundreds of people to speak each week, I'd do the same.) This morning, he kept using the word replica as a verb, when it is most definitely a noun. Every time he said it, I'd want to yell, "The word you're trying to say is replicate." He never figured it out. And, thankfully, I never actually said anything out loud. (My pride is great enough to overcome my love of correct grammar.)

In the midst of my very petty imaginary conversation with my pastor in my mind, the Holy Spirit said, "That's legalism."

Huh? No, that's incorrect grammar.

The truth of the matter was, I was taking part in something far worse than the incorrect usage of a word. I was being legalistic.

It slowly dawned on me that this confusion between a noun and a verb and my judgment of it was a great example of the law and our view of it.

Grammar is not a bad thing. It has a purpose, and that is to encourage effective communication. If we are all on the same page with our use of language, both spoken and written, we are going to be able to communicate with and understand one another much better than if we all make up our own rules, abide by them, and then try to use them on one another. Grammatical rules give us a standard by which we can understand our language and one another.

Fabulous. See why I love it so much?

The problem with my judgment of the pastor this morning on his poor grammar was not that I was incorrect. He was using the word in the wrong way. (I checked just to be sure, okay?) However, everyone in that room knew what he meant, including me. He got his point across loud and clear, and his point was much more important than whether or not he used precisely the right word to communicate it. (Seriously, it was a great sermon.)

That's where we miss the point. We get so caught up in abiding by every last rule out there (whether they are God's rules or ones we've added that we think maybe he just forgot) that we miss the bigger picture.

The law shows us how a person lives when he is loved by God and loves God. When we get so caught up in condemning ourselves and others for not following it, we're not being loving at all.

Jesus blew peoples' understanding of the law out of the water in his Sermon on the Mount. It was as if he took very specific points of the law and showed the people how they had totally missed the point.

"I told you not to kill anyone and you're all eager to tell me how you've never committed murder. But the point is not to just avoid killing them. That's just the minimum standard. It's to love them. So every time you're angry at them or hateful toward them, you might as well have killed them, because you're sure not loving them."

And so, should we throw all grammar out the window and just give in to this texting mess we've started? No. ROTFL! That doesn't lend itself to very effective communication. However, should I be lambasting someone in my mind every time they forget an apostrophe? I think not.

It's time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture that all the little rules are pointing to. Jesus did a pretty good job of boiling it down when asked to:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

It doesn't get much clearer than that.

And the beauty of it all....I don't have to follow those two little rules so that Jesus will love me. I can follow them because he already does love me.

 For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

Galatians 2:19-21

Friday, January 25, 2013

Planted by the River

There’s this funny thing that happens to me. It’s one of those things that you think must happen to everyone and is completely normal, but it could be the thing that later you find out, “Oh, yeah. It’s just me.” Okay, so I’m not sure which category this falls under, but I’m hoping the former and fearing the latter.

I think I have the personality of a chameleon. Those tricky little suckers just change themselves to match whatever place suits their fancy that day. Just imagine…you’re feeling happy and fun, just stand in front of a Vera Bradley bag. Feeling like a little alone time? No problem. Sit on top of the dirty laundry. You'll certainly be blending in with something no one wants to go near.

I may not be able to change my less than fabulous fashion habits by standing in front of a fashionista, but my thoughts can take on the shade of the voices around me so quickly, it’s scary. Every time I’m fortunate enough to spend a portion of my life on the obviously valuable task of watching Downton Abbey, I think in an aristocratic British accent for a good thirty minutes after the show has ended. And it’s strange how many times I’ve been in the middle of a conversation with someone and realized I’m talking like them, using phrases they’re fond of, and even using similar mannerisms to them.

I’m really, really hoping that no one has actually ever noticed this about me, because I feel a little creeped out by myself. I am guessing that few people have noticed, because I do still seem to have friends who are willing to hang out with me. Maybe it’s just pity.

And maybe I just blew it by letting you into my obviously damaged psyche.

Or maybe (hopefully) I’m not a complete nutcase. After all, our world is full of things that are made to blend in or absorb or reflect. Why should we be any different?

We are easily influenced creatures. Ever heard of Mob Mentality? There’s a reason Jesus refers to us as sheep. Has there ever been an animal as thoughtless and dumb? They follow without thinking. The trick is to be sure you’re following the right person.

So it stands to reason, if my brain functions in my surroundings more like a chameleon than an elephant, which is pretty much always obviously an elephant, no matter where you put him, then shouldn’t I be extremely careful about the situations in which I put it?

How can I be so naïve as to think that I can watch a movie polluted with sin without actually polluting my mind? How could I really believe that I can spend time with people whose native language is gossip and not learn that language myself? How can I think that listening to the lies of the enemy, so often disguised as my own thoughts or worldly wisdom, will not damage my outlook on life?

If my goal is to begin speaking in a British accent, I should definitely spend more time watching Downton. If I’d like to cuss like a sailor, I’m sure a little time on a pirate ship would do the trick. And if I’d like my thoughts and words to bear a remarkable resemblance to Christ, perhaps I should spend my time immersed in his Word.

Because I’d sure rather have Words of truth spilling out of my mouth than a phony accent that would certainly draw weird looks.

Like a chameleon, we don’t have to put forth a lot of effort to blend in or absorb or reflect. We’re easily camouflaged by or saturated with or reflective of what’s near us. A mirror doesn’t have to be turned on. It merely has to be exposed. A sponge doesn’t have to decide to get soaked, it merely has to be near liquid. A chameleon doesn’t have to hold its tongue a certain way and try really hard to blend in. It’s just what it was made to do.

So maybe the key is not trying so hard to look less like the world and more like Jesus. Perhaps the answer is simply to be near him. Maybe it’s less about effort and all about positioning. The Lord has not told us to be like what is around us. He has told us we will be like what is around us…so be careful where you plant yourself.

Oh, the joys of those who do not
    follow the advice of the wicked,
    or stand around with sinners,
    or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
    meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
    and they prosper in all they do.

Psalm 1:1-3

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Happy Snow Day to You

I must say that January  really gave its best shot at redeeming itself. It came in with the big guns on Thursday...Chris's birthday and a snow day. You know, we don't like to do boring, run-of-the-mill gifts around here, so we went straight for the snow. You get to have a fun time playing in it, plus the ultimate bonus for a teacher...early dismissal and late arrival. The only downside was leftovers for his birthday dinner since the roads were a bit too icy to go out.

Luke could barely wait for the big kids to get home so he could go out and play in the snow, so we got a little preview on the back deck. I suppose I could have taken him out before they arrived, but that would require me to be cold for more than 10 seconds.

I had high hopes for Sam's first big boy snow experience. I really thought he'd love it. Yeah, it turns out I was completely wrong. Apparently cold and wet is not his favorite combo.

You can clearly see that Daddy is the fun snow playmate. Mommy is the photographer. It turns out "Watch out! I've got the camera" is the perfect excuse to stay clear of flying snowballs.

Jack spent 85% of his time in the snow eating it. That hurts my clean-loving heart. It's just gross, considering it wasn't that deep. But, like any cool mom, I just let him do it.

I'm completely convinced there is nothing cuter than a baby bundled up for cold weather.

The three Bond crew members with winter birthdays have now celebrated with snow. I think the other three of us are out of luck, unless the next ice age comes around while we're still here.

That bright spot in the middle of this dreary month is now fading a little. We're back to Germ City, but the sun that was peeking out in the above photo after weeks of absence is still hanging around. It's amazing what a little sunshine will do for you, even when circumstances haven't changed so much.

And isn't it sweet of the Lord to give us these reflections of him and his truth in creation all around us? Germy days aren't quite so bad when we've been washed whiter than snow and we're able to face the same old circumstances with Jesus shining his light of hope on them.

Plus, there's always the hope of spring...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Who's Your Daddy?

Good morning! At least, I think it's morning. It's only slightly lighter than midnight. I've been told that my lingering sickness could be due to a Vitamin D deficiency, and I'm thinking that's highly likely considering I can barely remember what the sun looks like. But don't the cold, dreary days make us appreciate the sunny, warm ones even more?

Let's face it. We're people with a very short memory. We can manage to be thankful and appreciate something for about four hours before we find something to whine about again. I mean, if we'd been starving for most of our lives and then came to the abundance of America, don't you think we'd fall on our face in tears every time we got a hot meal? Now we just figure out how we can eat less of it and be skinnier.

The more I hang out with my kids, the more I see that I'm just like them! It's kind of scary. I mean, at 35 years old, wouldn't you think I'd be beyond acting like my 7-year-old? Sure, I clean it up and make it sound all adult-like, but underneath it all, I still think and act like a kid in so many ways.

I want life to be easy, fun, and entertaining. I want what I want when I want it. And when these things don't happen (which, let's face it, is pretty much always), I throw my pity party or question God's love for me.

Can I really still be so weak and selfish?

Um...yes. Apparently.

Now, don't get me wrong. Sometimes I make a better choice. Sometimes I choose the eternal perspective. There are times when I lay down my desires to meet someone else's. Kids aren't always disobedient and selfish.

But I realize, as trials come in life (and I use that word lightly in my case...I've got it easy) that more often than not, it's a struggle.

So many of us seem so quick to call God to the carpet over things. We seem to rush to the conclusion that the Lord no longer loves us or is present in our lives because...well, frankly, because we're unhappy. Our circumstances have disappointed us and so we wonder where God is and what in the world He could be doing.

When the glass is bumped, muddy water spills out.

But, as parents, can we not see that so often we subject our children to things that don't necessarily make them happy? We discipline, we teach responsibility, we mold, we direct, and they don't always enjoy this process. I mean, who would rather clean their room than watch tv? Or who would rather do homework than go outside and play? Who would rather get a spanking than get away with screaming at someone who's just annoyed the stew out of you?

I want my kids to get this. I want my kids to know that even when things seem tough or too harsh or bleak, my love hasn't changed. And what that means is God has not changed.

When I spank them, I ask them, "Do you know why I did this?" When I scold them,  I ask, "Do you know why I did this?" When I make them suffer the natural consequences of their actions, I ask, "Do you know why I did this?" When I use stinky circumstances in their lives to teach them instead of rescue them, I ask, "Do you know why I did this?"

And the answer I'm looking for?

"Because you love me."

It doesn't feel like love. It doesn't look like love. It doesn't sound like love. Our perception tells us it cannot be love.

And, yet, as the parent, we know it is. Loving is not allowing unhindered indulgence. Loving is not shielding them from circumstances or consequences. Loving is not always giving them what seems pleasant at that moment.

Love is using life to show them what true life really is.

So why am I so hard on God? Has their ever been a more good or loving Father? Has their ever been someone who so clearly demonstrated selfless love for me?

Why do I so quickly forget the proof of the Cross when my toast burns?

Life is hard and the world is broken. Tragedy threatens and heartache happens. Trials seem unending and failure seems eminent. Loneliness lurks around every corner and discouragement is so quick to set in.

I want a faith that looks in the face of this broken world and smiles. I want a faith that takes the trials in stride, thanking God for the finished product that will result. I want a faith that doesn't question His character but always trusts His goodness. I want a faith that stands the test of time and life and struggle. I want a faith that knows He's my loving Daddy even in the midst of the tough lessons.

And I suppose the only way to get that is to live this hard life in this hurting world, choosing to trust His Word until I can see His hand.

As I look out the window at another rain-filled day, I choose to believe the sun still exists, though the world is cloudy and gray.

 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.  And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Oh, January

Oh, January. You are so full of blah I can hardly stand you. You are the month of my husband's birth, so there is something redeeming about you, but mostly just blah. Gray skies, stuffy noses, fevers, laundry, school, and a big long stretch of nothing. Okay, there is also our new tradition of winning a college football national championship every year, and that's pretty enjoyable. But mostly, blah.

My head is very likely going to explode soon from sinus pressure and the theme of the last couple of weeks has been Stay at Home with Sick Kids. Now it is turning into Stay at Home with Sicky Mommy. So the year's off to a fun start. (Please know that I do realize I'm being very whiny and that I have much to be grateful for. I'm just trying to be dramatic. And maybe blow off a little steam.)

I've been praying and racking my little brain for this year's vision or title or theme, but I just can't see it or label it. Many things have swirled around in my little mind, but nothing has really stuck.

That could be due to the fact that my mind has been one of two things this past week:

1. About to explode. (See above.)

2. Floaty. Very floaty.

It seems the only option other than explosion is sinus medicine, which leaves me with a very bad case of Medicine Head.

And just one more jab at January: If you're going to be dreary and we're all going to be stuck at home, could you at least have the courtesy to be really cold so that I can drown my sorrows in a cup of coffee or hot apple cider all day? This morning, as I tried to enjoy my coffee while contemplating turning the a/c on, it took everything within me not to throw my cup and curse as sweat started to bead up on my forehead. That may have been a tad overdoing, thus the holding back.

I apparently have caught The Bug That Won't Let Go, no matter how many antibiotics or cold meds you take or how much disgusting stuff you cough up or how many nights you toss and turn or how much you beg God. Not. Letting. Go.

And so, today, I stayed home "to rest." I cancelled all my fun plans in an effort to recuperate once and for all. Funny thing, though. These kids, they still want snacks, and drinks, and decisions, and entertainment. I'll give Maddie credit. She shooed the boys away a few times, helped clean up the kitchen a little, and then brushed my hair. (I just like it, okay?) And Luke did once smother my arm with slobbery kisses, while saying, "I'm doing all these nice things to make you happy."

They tried.

So I'm thinking my focus for 2013 should be to find the key to less sinus pressure. It doesn't quite have the ring to it that The Year of Humility did, but it seems to be the only thing I can focus on these days.

While trying not to kill everyone who crosses my grumpy path, I've been doing some wrestling with the Lord. Not sure what that's about, other than my crummy attitude, but I'm thinking it has something to do with grace.

As in, I just can't accept that my relationship with him is based on grace and not my works. I know it in my noggin, but many days my thoughts and actions don't reflect it. I'm such a legalistic little gal.

But today is a great day to be thankful for grace...the undeserved favor of God...because I certainly don't deserve anyone's favor. I'm a mess, and I'm hoping February is a lot more fun than January.

And if it's not, I hope I figure out this sufficient grace and Christ's power in my weakness thing real quick. (See 2 Corinthians 12:9)

Oh, fine. I'll just paste it here.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So there you go. A very uplifting moment courtesy of yours truly. And, for the record, I have tried numerous times to upload Christmas photos (due to very high demand...if one person counts as high), but Blogger is acting wonky. Maybe it has The Bug That Won't Let Go, too. Poor Blogger.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Focus, Amy, Focus

The boss is after me to get on top of this blogging thing. Apparently, my husband likes to read my blog. I think that's funny, for some reason. You'd think after having to listen to me talk all the livelong day, he'd be tired of all my words. It seems that's not the case, though, which is pretty nice, if you ask me. Chris, I hope this meets your long-awaited expectations. Not likely.

So, the reason I haven't gotten back on the blogging wagon is because I'm not sure what I have to say. I've scanned back over the past few years' New Year posts and found that I kind of like what that girl has to say on her blog. Now if only I could figure out how to live it!

I had to laugh when, in January 2010, I read how the author of this blog was going to read through the Bible that year. If that is indeed the same read-through plan I'm on now, then I should be done by this time next year. It's only taken me three years to get through Acts. I'm using the old adage: Pace yourself. Nice and steady, that's my motto.

My mind has been wandering back through the last year, of course, as we all do when a new one rolls around. I'm happy to report that I survived the Year of Humility and that I do believe the Lord has done a work in my mind and heart in this area. Can I say I'm completely humble? Ha! Of course not. That would pretty much make me not humble, wouldn't it? But I can say that the phrase, "Uh, remember, Amy, this life is not about you," rolls through my mind a lot more often than it used to. And occasionally, it affects my behavior as well. Hallelujah.

So I've been asking the Lord what he would have my focus be in this new year of 2013, which sounds like I should be whirring through life in my floating jet car in the middle of a sci-fi flick. Compassion has been on my mind a lot. Not just feeling sorry for people or mushy gushy toward those less fortunate. I mean the kind of compassion Jesus had...the kind that translated into his actions. Feeling sorry for someone doesn't make a difference to them unless it's intentionally expressed in our words and actions.

I'm not known as a compassionate gal. I mean, it takes effort, and who has time to expend effort in being compassionate when they have so much blogging to do? My heart has been softened over the years, though, and I'm hoping in just a few more decades I'll be thought of as a compassionate and kind-hearted person.

Just pacing myself, okay?

However, I'm not 100% sure that's what the Lord wants my focus to be, though clearly it's something we should be striving to be at all times. I want my focus to be about Him, not just me trying to pull myself up by my boot straps to be a better person. Cause you know what? I usually stink that up by about day five.

So, while I'm mulling over God's vision for my life in 2013, I'll subject you to viewing some family Christmas photos. We had a lovely holiday (despite that, for most of it, I felt like I'd cracked a rib from all the coughing) and I managed to get up and face this first day of Real Life with a pretty good attitude, though I share Luke's sentiments which he expressed at breakfast this morning:

I hate school.

He doesn't even go to school yet, (though it won't be long...sniffle, sob) he just hates that half of our family has to go on a regular basis.

Okay, focus, Amy.

Christmas Photos:

Ha! Oh, wait. I will have to actually get the Christmas photos off of my camera first. It's your lucky day. I think this has happened every single year since I've had a blog. Maybe that's the secret to still having readers. I've never made you look through our Christmas photos.

I guess I'm done with my very unfocused post about my focus for the New Year. Maybe it should just be to stay focused on something. Hopefully I'll be back in a few days with a solidifed focus and Christmas photos. I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

Happy New Year!