Thursday, October 16, 2014

Spirituality: Heaven is now.

You'll catch a glimpse of heaven now if you don't blink and look closely. There are a few sweet seconds of my life written on my heart that I call to memory during quiet moments when the house is empty and my morning coffee is warm in my hands.

I remember those first precious moments of our first baby's life. I remember looking across the room at her daddy holding her in his warm protective arms lying on the couch in our cramped hospital room. I remember the silence, the stillness, of that moment. The wait was over. She was here; all ten toes, all ten tiny fingers bundled in a blue and pink blanky. I knew then, this must be what the wait for heaven is. Through groaning and misery and wonder and fear, we wait. Then it sweetly arrives and joy overwhelms; a perfect moment of time; a goal reached, an end met. Anxiety is finally put to rest and fear will be no more.

"When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby she no longer remembers the anguish, for her joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you."  ~ John 16:21 

I can close my eyes and hear my best friends singing. I can feel the presence of their voices surrounding me. In my last year of college at the close of a choir concert, we stood in a circle and sang The Lord Bless You and Keep You. Have you ever stood in the middle of an accomplished choir surrounded by their strong voices? I wish this blessing for every person. There is simply nothing like it and the energy of the music is palpable. I close my eyes and feel the power of their voices wash right through me. I still hear them in that perfect moment of unity and well-wishes. There was heaven in that moment, and it is hard to hold back emotions as I hear their sweet song in my memory. Standing among my closest friends, holding hands, and knowing that moment would never be recreated allowed us to sing in an uninhibited way...until the day comes when we can sing together again.

"Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord." ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:17

After a difficult year of ministry, my family took our first big family vacation to Disney World. My husband and I had railed against the marketing genius of Disney for years for the overpriced shmooziness that Disney is. Having three kids, especially one who is a princess fanatic, changes a parent. We caved. Humbly I confess, we loved every second, but the memory that enchants me the most is the walk into the Magic Kingdom. As we strolled down the street toward the castle in that crowd of humanity, I looked at my family; at my sweet kids. Their little faces were all lit up with joy and huge smiles looking ahead at that beautiful castle. My boys started to run toward it, and my daughter grabbed my hand while my husband tightly held my other hand. I knew in that split second how wonderful it will be to see my family walking, no running, into glory. The smiles on that coming day won't compare to the run toward Mickey. The run toward Jesus will be so much more.

" thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." ~ Phillipians 3:13
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." ~ Phillippians 3: 20

I once knew a champion of Christ who lived a great adventure. On this continent and others, she was an evangelist, a loving minister's wife, a mother, a mentor, a prayerful grandmother, a friend, a bible teacher, and a sassy opinionated woman chasing after the Lord. She brought so many souls to Jesus because her life was a yellow brightly lit road sign pointing to the Christ. On the day I said goodbye to this sweet friend she was propped up on her couch looking at a photograph of her mother who was already celebrating with the Lord. I knew what she must be thinking, "See you soon, Mama.", while the rest of us standing around her were thinking "Absolutely not! How will we ever find someone else like you?" And, we won't. I am happy for my sweet friend. When she left this world, she left behind pain and weariness. Surrounded by her family and friends, her goodbye was a grand hello to her Savior; a picture of what I hope my goodbye looks like one day. Today she holds her mother's hand and sits at the feet of Jesus. I will see her again.

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." ~ Revelation 21:4

Heaven is around you. Soak in the sweet seconds and picture how much sweeter the years are to come. From the tender first moments when we first see glory,
to our blessed reunions,
to the end of all pain and sorrow,
to finally never having to never say good-bye again, I'm thankful for these little hints of what joys await.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spirituality: Gripe Addiction.

Crystal meth users become so dependent upon the rush of their vise that they simply cannot stop use without extreme intervention. The addiction to crystal meth sets in so quickly that users almost immediately become tolerant and are forced to increase "dosage" to achieve the previous desired high.  Studies have shown that animals given meth will continue go to the drug repeatedly until it kills them. There are some drugs that are killers even in the first injection, sniff, or swallow. 

Spiritual addictions can be similar. Further, I'd say there are some spiritual diseases that are more contagious than the common cold.

Have you ever had a friend who could never say a nice word about anything or anyone? In every good gift and every happy day, THIS friend was sure to find the gloomy dark cloud. Rather, this friend was YOUR gloomy dark cloud. You may have found yourself laughing off her behavior at first and trying to cheer her up, but soon you started to notice the kernel of truth in some of what she was saying. Then you started to join in with the fault finding. Before long, you weren't laughing at your friend, you were joining in with the cynicism and criticisms solving the worlds problems together with righteous indignation!

I confess to you. I've been the critic, and I've been the friend sucked in by the critic. 

Gripe addiction is rampant in our culture. Watch any sitcom or listen to any news commentary, and you will hear it. You'll hear it in PTA meetings as parent's criticize teachers. You'll hear it in doctor's waiting rooms as eager patients complain about the wait time. You'll hear it in the check-out line in Walmart as customers complain about the slow checkers and question the checker's intelligence (True story. That one I heard last week.) Everyone seems to think they are experts in everything, and everyone is a critic. We laugh it off. We take it as a joke after all. That checker deserves my criticism! Go to college!

Beyond our culture, gripe addiction runs rampant in our churches. We hear a lovely sermon, sing lovely songs, head out to lunch and pick apart the minister, laugh about the boredom of bible class, accuse the elders of inaction, and throw the worship leader under the bus all while smiling and eating spaghetti. We are allowed to do that right? As long as we pray before the meal and bless everyone's heart, we can criticize the church family that work for us, right? Right?

When I first realized that I had a gripe addiction, it was when I noticed my children complaining all the time about everything. When your nine-year old becomes a self-proclaimed expert on how a math lesson should and should not be performed, there must be a problem. Does your nine year old already have a teaching certificate? Mine does not. 

Gripe addiction comes on slowly. You may be justified in your opinion. You may be right on target with you opinion. I'd even go as far to say that you should share that opinion...with the person who it concerns not the lunch table and not repeatedly to whomever will listen. 

One of the scariest verses in scripture is spoken by Jesus, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:36-37.

Gripe addiction is a fun addiction. When we complain and gripe, it gives us a false sense of control and makes us feel superior. We like this feeling especially if we are right! It takes the focus off of our own inadequacy and insecurities and puts the spotlight on someone else's. Then, we begin to justify our own behaviors, our right to gripe. (You see, I know all this because I'm an expert.)

Typically, gripe addictions begin with rightness. They begin when something truly bad happens, and we are justified in our complaints. From my perspective, this happens in churches a lot. Typically, churches who go through rough times have a hard time pulling out of the valley and getting back to the mountain because so many become addicted to the complaining. I believe this is why churches experience rebound ministries or have ministries dry up entirely. Sometimes we get so accustomed to something being wrong we don't know how to behave when something goes right!

I am on a mission, and I hope you will join me. A year ago I left a habit of cynicism behind and little by little God has helped me let go of that snare (Though, it's still a struggle). Tonight, I hope you'll join me and wave good-bye to gripe addiction. If a Negative Nancy comes your way, acknowledge the complaint, direct her to whom she should share the complaint, and then share a blessing in your life with her. Finally...

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Colossians 4:6

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Parenting: Have you lied to your kids today?

The day I had to explain to my eleven year old daughter what sexual abuse was is permanently seared into my memory and hers. It was a cold spring day. The wind was whipping through our backyard and whistling through our windows. After our awkward conversation, she walked zombie style outside to our tennis ball covered trampoline. I watched her through the kitchen window trying to make sense of why she appeared blase' about a topic that was heart wrenching to share while staring into her big blue innocent eyes. She sat in the middle of the trampoline for a few minutes and stared into our neighbor's yard. I started to empty the dishwasher and silently began to question what I had shared with her. I prayed for her heart and mine. I prayed for, her friend, the victim. I hatefully wished death on the perpetrator.

We've always been open with our children about our faith struggles and our doubts. We've been open about the difficulties of working with churches and Christian people. Our biggest concern is lying to our children and wearing falsified smiles knowing full well the often heavy load of church work and past indiscretions of Christendom in general. We know that they will enter a world, sooner than we think, that forces doubt upon them, that forces atrocities upon them, that forces images of death and sex upon them. We want them to be ready.

I've questioned that day a thousand times. Should I have smiled and pretended everything was OK? Should I have left her in childhood delusions of happy families and good Christian people always doing good Christian things? Was my explanation appropriate for her age or did I say too much? Did I answer her questions with integrity or did I protect myself from embarrassment while trying to protect an ounce of her innocence?  Did I permanently ruin her trust in people? in men? in Christians?

I heard her yelling. When I looked up and out the window, I saw my daughter throwing tennis balls as hard as she could. She was screaming hateful words and asking God why. She was hurting for her friend. She was mad at God and mad at the world. So was I.

Since that day, we have healed, a little, together. We have prayed together. We have backtracked into anger together. We have questioned God together. We have gained an understanding that sin attacks all of us together. We have struggled through trust issues together. We have doubted the purpose of the church together. We have questioned forgiveness and practiced grace together. You see, I refuse to let her walk this journey of doubt, fear, and distrust alone.

Everyday when your kids hop on the bus or walk the halls at school they are bombarded with different world views. Teens walk hallways with pregnant classmates and friends who ritualistically cut their arms to rid themselves of the hurt that comes from neglect or abuse from a relative. Your kids have gay friends. They have atheist friends. They have friends who are thinking about suicide or who have attempted suicide. They have friends with the emotional depth of a puddle and friends who medicate for depression, ADD, and anxiety.

When we avoid having difficult conversations with our children, we deny them the right to process doubt and faith in a world that will surely force doubt upon them before they leave for college. When you avoid sharing with your child your own personal doubts, fears, and anxieties, you deny them the right to share with you their doubts, fears, and anxieties without feelings of brokenness. Imagine the loneliness of being the only one in the family with problems! I refuse to let my children believe they doubt and fear only because they are children...or, heaven forbid, only because they are weak.

Doubt is not sinful. Lying to your children is.

Today I encourage you to honestly reveal your faith, or lack there of, with your child. Allow them to work through their faith and doubt in a safe harbor. Trust them with what helps you to choose God everyday. Gift them with understanding, a non-judgmental listening ear, and the example of commitment to Christ and to the church even when the doubts come. Be humble enough to admit not having all the answers. Be vulnerable enough to confess your weaknesses. Don't for a second let them believe they doubt or fear alone. If not already, one day they will have doubts, give them the tools to find peace within doubts and battle through them together.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." ~ John 16:33

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Parenting: What they don't tell you.

Before I had children, I was absolutely certain of all the things I would and would not do.


Cloth diapers
Homemade baby food
Gentle words only
Militant Scheduling
Love every moment of the day

Would nots:

No Video Games
No McDonalds
No yelling
No dating

Before I had children, I knew in my heart that my children would always eat their vegetables, never say a naughty word, never disregard family rules, and, finally, always accept my words in blind understanding that I, as parent, have much to offer their limited scope. I would never raise my voice or say irrational hurtful things, after all, I am parent. I am educated, sophisticated, and above all, I've watched all these other folks fail miserably. Learn by example, right?

Fail. Big fat hairy fail.

For a few years, I've beaten myself up by my failure to achieve the perfect home and family life. I've seen the facebook posts of "perfect" families with their tidy Sunday dress and their clean faced children hugging them tightly in perfectly lit photos. This is clearly not me nor my children. Where did I go wrong? But wait...

Those digital illusions are not meant to give a clear representation of what is family, and I have figured out, as I hope you have too, that digital life is not what is really going around us. It is not for me, and, I bet, it is not for you.

In my house, there are days when my children eat cake for breakfast.
In my house, there are days when people yell, cry, and slam doors.
In my house, there are hurt feelings, sour faces, and painful words spoken.
In my house, children may dig through laundry to find a shirt.  There are unflushed toilets, fingerprints on everything, dishes needing to be washed, and the occasional injury made by a sibling. This is my family. I apologize for the accusation, and maybe you truly don't relate. But today, I assume this, sometimes, is your family, too.

What they don't tell you is though the all-night diaper changes and bottle feedings exhaust you, parenting goes far beyond those first sweet moments. As you struggle to maintain your plans for your children, a journey is beginning of which you cannot prepare.

Parenting is the endeavor to rip your heart out of your body and watch it make mistakes, watch it get hurt, watch it walk away from you all the while longing to pull it back into your chest and save your heart from the world. Parenting is pride-filled joy in your heart's successes with new dresses and touch downs and a 97 percent in algebra after an all-night cramfest/ complete emotional breakdown. Parenting is when you pour your life into a person who will eventually find meaning and love and fulfillment from someone with another name. Parenting is raising a child to become someone different from all your plans, all your dreams, and all your prayers, and yet, even in major disappointments and majors successes you would never change the heart that was once pulled from your chest. You love. In loss and in gain, you love. In hurt and in joy, you love.

Parenting can send your soul soaring above the clouds in pride and can slam you to the floor in an eye-gushing pleading prayer.

This is what you may never read in any "What to expect" book.

Plan your woulds and would nots with joy and anticipation, but never beat yourself up for walking away from the woulds and would nots to walk this journey with the rest of us who truly have no idea what we are doing. You will not be the first to give up on homemade baby food. You will not be the last to praise God for Pampers. There are bigger hills to climb ahead.

And when you reach those hills and deep valleys, I hope you call your mom or dad. I hope you say, "wow, guys, parenting is tough. Thank you for all you've done for me." If by chance you don't have a mom or dad to call, call another parent who has already walked this road. Chances are they will listen and hug you and remind you that you are not the first to wake up one day realizing that you have no clue what you are doing.

In this occupation of parent, it is perfectly acceptable to admit failure, to change plans, and to recognize our complete incompetence. Raising a human being is a difficult endeavor. What they don't tell you is that the most difficult roads are often the most life-changing. For better or worse, you will not learn everything about your child, but you will learn a lot about yourself.