Monday, February 21, 2011

Hey, where'd you go?

In a brief moment of sanity (insanity?) I've decided to combine my two blogs into one. I'm in the process of moving all of the posts from this blog over to Simply Rea. Hopefully if I only have ONE blog to keep up with I will actually post something of substance a little more frequently.

As I posted over there:

Occasionally I will have what seems like a Really Great Idea. I will get excited about this Really Great Idea and start to run with it only to find that it wasn't such a great idea, in fact sometimes it is a really lousy idea.

One such Really Great Idea was trying to start two blogs at once. I thought I'd keep this one for my lighter ramblings and the other one for my deeper thoughts. That's not working out so well. First, because apparently I have more light ramblings than deep thoughts, and second, because I barely have time to write for one blog, let alone two.

And let's face it, if this blog is about being simply who I am, then who I am is someone that can't just be reduced to one or two facets of my life. I'm made of flesh and spirit, God's beloved with dirt under her fingernails and I really can't separate the two. Every day is touched by the breath of God, every day offers the opportunity to hear his voice in the most mundane of tasks.
I was going to delete posts as I moved them, but after the laborious process of moving and deleting two posts I discovered the Export/Import Blog feature which accomplished everything within the span of less than a minute. Sometimes I'm slow to think about stuff like that!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ready, Aim, Fire!

photo by Stacirl

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  James 3: 7,8 (NIV)

You'd think it wouldn't be a problem for an introvert like me, but I did it again. I got upset, and instead of taking some time to step back, give the situation to God and let him quiet my heart I charged in with cannons blazing and my tongue lighting the fuse.

Let's take the lay of the battlefield, shall we?

On one side we have our history with the school district. Gates' kindergarten year was filled with problems. It was fortunate that he has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge because otherwise I am afraid it might have turned him off of school for a long time. We knew that his teacher had been transferred to the school at the last minute and was unhappy about it, we just didn't fully realize how much it was affecting her work in the classroom. We spent a lot of time blaming our discomfort on our unfamiliarity with 'the system'. It wasn't until first grade that some conversations with other parents brought the realization of just how much of the problem rested on his teacher. So we are understandably leery of school district politics and the transferring of teachers who don't want to be transferred.

On the other side we have our new school, built after Gates finished first grade to accomodate our expanding side of the city. The difference in staff at every level is amazing; handpicked by the principal to fit her educational philosophy it is a beautiful model of top-down influence on corporate culture.

This year Indy starts kindergarten. On Thursday evening I went to the introductory meeting to get his teacher assignment. With less than three weeks to go before the start of school the highlighted portion read 'TBA'. During the meeting the principal explained that due to higher than expected enrollment they would need another teacher but that they had to wait for the district to do a final count on August 3rd to determine needs, which would probably result in a teacher being reassigned from a school that had fewer students than anticipated. I sat through the rest of the meeting with my sole thought being "Oh HELL no, we are not going through this again."

After the meeting I lined up with other parents who had documents to turn in, questions to ask, problems to solve. A large portion of the line seemed to be made up of parents with children in the 'TBA' class, and they were not happy. And I am ashamed to say I did nothing to make them any happier. With scathing tone and sarcastic wit I told about our past experience. I expressed my feelings about the situation. My tongue worked its magic, spreading poison with every word.

When it was my turn to speak with the principal I handed in the paperwork that was my guise for speaking with her, and then I began to question her about the teacher situation. I voiced my frustrations, I whined, I may have made vague threats about how we were NOT 'doing this again'. In short, rather than extending her grace in a situation she had as little control over as I, I dumped all of my frustrations on her and as much as blamed her for misery that had as yet to make itself known.

It hit me today as I was folding laundry (a time that is exceedingly useful for deep contemplation) that I had really screwed up. Again. It is amazing how quickly I can use my tongue to spread poison, to start fires, to tear down. James certainly had it right when he said that no one can tame the tongue. With many of my actions I have a moment or so to think before acting, time to consider if it is kind or not. But there is something about speech that seems to bypass that moment of self-awareness, spewing out of my mouth with barely a thought. And once I head down a certain path it is incredibly difficult to reign it back in, to remember to season my words with grace and kindness. I make myself the center of the universe and act like a spoiled child when things don't go my way.

I can't undo the words I said. I also can't justify them by insisting on my 'right' to feel that way. But thanks to the instant nature of modern technology I was able to sit down and quickly email the principal an apology. I was able to do what I should have done from the start, assure her that I am praying daily for a teacher placement that will be a complement to her already excellent staff.

I make mistakes (ok, no sugar coating...I SIN) because I am human, because I fail to turn to God first when problems arise. I need to walk daily in humility, sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I need to learn to speak when he says to speak, and to shut up when he tells me to shut up. Oh, how desperately I need wisdom to navigate the battlefields of life with my weapon tossed aside, seeking instead to bind up those who are already injured.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13

Lord, let my words be light-bringing and life-giving to those around me instead of a raging fire. Let me never take lightly the power my tongue can hold.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Church ladies

photo by Paul Lowry

This past week I hosted a spa party at my home. I invited a number of women from church and the lone neighbor who actually happened to be outside long enough for me to corner chat with her. She declined, giving various excuses about needing to mow her lawn, being all sweaty, not looking up to par, being tired from a week of work. I tried to dispel her arguments, "No really, who cares what you look like? Look at me! It's a spa party, it's supposed to be relaxing and it sounds like you could use it! Mow your lawn, shower and you'll STILL have time to come." But no deal, she was steadfast.

I suspected another reason hiding behind the surface ones, a reason that was later confirmed. Even though I hadn't said a word about the guest list she knew who was coming...Church ladies. And she didn't think she'd fit in.

When did it become this way? Oh sure, in the 1st century when Christians were being tossed to the lions I can see why your average unbeliever would say "You know, I think I'll pass on being seen at your party." And yet the growth of the church in spite of persecution tells us that there must have been something about these Christians that drew others to them. But at some point, lions and persecution aside, we got the reputation as 'People you don't want to hang out with'. Is it the picture of the pious saint, nibbling cookies and rhapsodizing about the five hours spent in prayer that morning? (On her knees. On the wood floor. With splinters.) Is it the picture of Christians as an exclusive club of dour evangelists who will only admit you to our gatherings if you accept the '5 Steps to Salvation and Living a Righteous Life Unlike Those Worldly Sinners' booklet and promise to adhere to its guidelines? Or maybe we've been pegged as the type who put on sweet faces and say "Bless your heart" as we stick the knife of gossip in your back.

It hurts my heart to know that somewhere along the line my neighbor has decided that Church ladies = people she wouldn't feel comfortable around. Like we are somehow so radically different from her that none of us have ever made mistakes or struggled with our weakness. That maybe we would regard her as a 'project' to be 'led to the altar' and then discarded. That she just wouldn't have anything in common with any of us and would have no fun.

If that is what she thinks of when she thinks of Church ladies then in some way I am failing. I am failing to reflect the love and grace that have been showered on me. I am failing to reflect the reality of being part of the body of Christ and yet part of this world. Because the reality is that in my house that night were a bunch of flawed and crazy women. Yes, I can lean towards the prim and proper has more to do with introversion than any thought that somehow that makes me more holy. But as a whole we were a motley group of brash and reserved, rocker, nature lovers, horse riding, gardening, creating, stumbling, rising, life-living ordinary women.  We worship passionately, but we also live life passionately and in that we could have found common ground.

I'm on a mission now. A mission to change what those around me think of when they think of Church ladies. I want their first thoughts to be of grace, of joy, of gentleness, of welcome. I want them to see a flawed individual being made whole by the grace of God. I want them to see my heart. I want them to see the heart of God.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3: 7-14 (NIV)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stormy weather

He ping pongs from one window to the other, practically hyperventilating in his fear. The clouds are still moving in, the thunder rumbles in the distance but the thought of what is to come has sent him over the edge. Too nervous to eat, he begs to check the radar so that he can see how big the storm will be. He begs to go down to his bedroom, but can't stay there because he must continue checking the windows, watching the progression of the storm. The sky turns green. His fear is a tangible presence, a scent in the air that rips at my nerves like no storm ever has. He cannot be comforted, either by prayer or by my arms around him. We give him large headphones to block the thunder. The power goes out. Worry is a beast that claws at his insides, refusing to be distracted by snacks or movies on the battery run DVD player.

The power comes back on, the storm passes. He continues to pace, reporting on the advancing blue sky as if fearing that if he does not keep tabs on it, it will retreat. He begs to know the wind speed. He asks again to check the radar. Fear takes its time in loosening its grip on him. Slowly it retreats, but I know that each day he lives life with his eye on the sky (and the radar) waiting for the next storm.

I am exhausted from over two hours of this emotional upheaval. I want it to stop. I want to say "Peace, be still," and have it be so. But how can I do for my child what so often I cannot even do in my own life?

In my life I often struggle with fear. Fear that holds me back from doing what I should be doing or what I want to be doing. I am a champion worrier. I have been for years. I look to the horizon and I see the clouds. Aspergers. Finances. The shadow of loneliness. Flickers of failure. I begin to focus on the possibilities, the 'what-if's', the sense that something that I'm not going to like might be forming on the radar and I WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S COMING!

Gates and I have a verse that we will often say together when he's afraid of something. The verse is Psalm 56:3 and simply says "But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you." Time and time again in the Bible we are told not to fear, not to be afraid. I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I don't think God expected us never to experience fear. We're human, with human emotions. I think the key is in that verse. WHEN I am afraid (not 'if'), I will put my trust in God.

I have a hard time with that. Put my trust in God? Rest in the assurance of His care? Oh, no no no! I have to keep my eyes on the horizon! What if the storm moves in and God isn't paying attention? Doesn't He know that I need to know how big it is going to be?
I love the story of Jesus calming the storm (Luke 8:22-25). I can imagine the disciples in the boat, watching the storm roll in, glancing over at Jesus asleep in the boat. Worry begins to creep in. What if God isn't paying attention? Yeah, that's His Son and all, but...what if? Or, what if God plans on plucking Jesus out of a capsizing boat, saving him at the last moment but not them? The waves get higher, water begins spilling over the sides. How can he SLEEP through this? "Master, wake UP! We're going to DROWN!" Jesus awakes, speaks the words and the storm stops. I imagine the disciples continuing to scan the sky, a bit uncertain that it is really over.

Could you have done it, if you were one of them? Could you have sat in the boat with the waves washing over the sides, trusting implicitly that the One who was with you was fully aware of what you were facing? Could you have remained calm when the world around you was in turmoil?

Can you do it today? Can I? Can I lay aside my worries about what is looming on the radar and simply say "Lord, I am afraid but I will trust in you." Can I stop my frenzied preoccupation with my fears and let God do what He wishes with my life? I have learned that preoccupation with what I am afraid of crowds out all ability to do anything else. Just as Gates couldn't concentrate on anything while the storm raged, neither can I accomplish the work God has called me to do if I am busy worrying about the storm that is raging.

Storm clouds of insecurity are dotting the horizon. What if all of my words are for nothing? Does any of this matter? Will God use the words I thought He put into my heart? I can only rest on the words of Paul in Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Stormy weather lies all around us. But the God of peace is with us.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Through His eyes

I originally wrote this post back in October of 2008. Lately this song has been coming to mind AGAIN because of another Bible study I'm doing. So I thought it might be time to revisit it.

I've just finished my Bible study for the day. These past two days the study has been about laying aside our judgment of others. I struggle with this sometimes, because I love to be right and if I lay aside my judgment it means I'm laying down the desire to PROVE that I'm right. Most of all, it means I'm laying down my pride, the pride that tends to ignore all of the broken parts of myself, all of the repair work that God has had to do on my life, all of the forgiveness and mercy I've been granted. I lay down my pride and I look in the eyes of another person and see myself. More than that, I see the potential for God to move in their lives in the way he's moved in mine.

The past few days this song has been echoing in my head and it seems appropriate. If I'm to lay aside my judgment I need to see people the way God sees them. And so my prayer echoes the words of Brandon Heath's song "Give Me Your Eyes":

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
Ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see

Update 2010:

I was thinking about this song again last night at Bible study, and guess what was playing on my radio when I woke up this morning.

Here's what I'm learning about having His eyes. It hurts. It hurts with a pain that is very nearly physical, the pain of a heart that is breaking along with God's. Having His eyes is one thing to ask, it is another thing to move beyond just having His eyes to asking "What do you want me to do, God?"

The study we are doing now is the popular "Experiencing God" by Henry Blackaby. We learn to experience God by joining Him in His work around us. In order to join Him where He is at work I NEED to have His eyes. But when I see through them I see broken people, I see pain. I see past the shell of someone I don't like and into a heart that is crushed beneath the weight of life, of choices made and unmade, of waiting for love that seems elusive. And it hurts.

But I wouldn't have it any other way, because one thing I know is that I am loved greatly, deeply, unendingly by the One who gave His only child for me. If I can plant the seeds in someone's life that grow into an understanding of that same love for them, then it is worth it. So I cry out with every breath I take "Lord, give me YOUR eyes."

Monday, May 17, 2010


This post was originally written in May of 2008.

Source: NASA
 Before I married my husband I gave him two ultimatums. Don't ever ask me to move to South Dakota and don't ever grow facial hair. No beard, no mustache, no goatee, nada. I felt that these were entirely reasonable ultimatums to issue. After all, South Dakota is a barren wasteland whipped by unending blizzards in the winter, tornados in the spring, and dust in the summer. And facial hair is itchy. Acceptable on other men, just not on the one I'm kissing.

Well, I now live in South Dakota. My husband is a man of his word though and never asked me to move here; the idea was all mine. I am, however, happy to report that there are far fewer blizzards, tornados and dust storms than previously imagined. In fact, South Dakota is a very lovely state most of the time. A bit windy, and it could use a few more mountain ranges sprinkled about the state, but it has a beauty all its own, a beauty that can be alternately quiet and wild. (I still remember my first South Dakota thunderstorm and how I sat by the window for almost half an hour that night watching the lightning turn the sky into a giant strobe light.)

The facial hair ultimatum, however, has remained unchanged and is likely to remain that way.

Ultimatums. Those uncompromising demands that carry the threat of severing relations if they are rejected. Life on OUR terms. Now obviously I love my husband, and I would have married him, South Dakota, facial hair and all. But am I guilty of issuing ultimatums in other areas of my life? Am I guilty of issuing ultimatums to God?

I grieved deeply when some close friends had a daughter born with a congenital heart defect that meant she would live for only a matter of days. I drove up into the mountains and I hiked and climbed and prayed. And I tried to strike a deal. "God, heal her and I PROMISE that the first thing I write that sells, all the proceeds are yours." Yes, I was trying to get God to do two things for me at once.

Ultimatums, deals, call it what you like; often I want God to operate on my schedule, to conform to my fears, my likes and dislikes. I want God on MY terms. I hold back from turning over my whole self to him because what if he wants me to do something I don't like? So I hand over little bits and pieces, with ultimatums and deals attached. "Ok, God, you can have this part of me if you will PROMISE never to make me go to Africa or any other place with bugs. OK, God, I will be faithful to say what I sense you want me to say, as long as its on my blog and NOT in front of the church. OK, God, I'll give up this, but don't take that, ok?"

We miss the point. God is God. He can do whatever he wants. He doesn't need our petty little deals and he doesn't have to abide by our ultimatums.

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.
The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations.
(Psalm 33: 6-11 from the NIV)

I'm issuing ultimatums to the one who was before all, is in all and rules all? I think I'm going to strike a deal with the one who is able to foil the plans of nations? Sometimes I question God. Sometimes I don't quite understand His ways or His plan. But this I know, God is God. He doesn't become less God in my mind if I question him, but he does if I start to think I can control him.

Lord, today, let my honest prayer be to listen for your purpose and your plans. No ultimatums, no deals, just every area of my life open to your will.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Part of the family

Originally published 5/3/2008.

Sometimes when my husband is out of town I allow the boys to come spend the night in our bed as a special treat. (OK, really I'm just afraid that they'll need me and I won't hear them.) It always follows the same pattern, but they always want to do it and I'm always willing to let them try. Still, getting two small boys to fall asleep in the same bed is no small feat; it's like they are some unstoppable energy machine that has to keep on making noise and wiggling until 'boom' the battery runs out and silence and cessation of motion ensue instantly. It was no different this time. There were repeated cries of "Mom, he's bothering me," and "Mom, he's poking me." And finally there was the ultimatum. "Mom, I don't want Indy to be a part of our family any more."

Oh dear. What is a parent supposed to do with THAT statement? I'm not even sure what heinous crime Indy committed in order to deserve banishment from the family, something about scrubbing that was keeping Gates awake. I gently told Gates that we are all part of this family and I would be very sad if anyone was missing because I love them both so much.

I suppose it isn't that uncommon to hear from our children. I can recall wishing every now and then that my brothers belonged to a different family (or that I did). (Sorry guys.) What made me sad as I thought about it today is that sometimes we carry that attitude with us into adulthood and into the church. Sometimes there are people in the church that make us think "Boy, I wish they weren't part of the family; I wish they'd go someplace else."

I'm not talking about the people who are making things difficult for the church, I'm talking about the people that we just don't like. Maybe their personality irritates us. Maybe they have a disability that makes us uncomfortable. Maybe they don't dress 'right'. Maybe they challenge our faith in areas we don't want to be challenged in. Somehow they 'scrub' us the wrong way.

We don't want you in the family, you talk too much. We don't want you in the family, you need too much. You aren't up to my standards of what a church member acts like. You're too emotional. You're too philosophical. You're too distant. You're too clingy. It isn't fun to be around you. Your personality is scrubbing up against me and it irritates me.

God, forgive me for the times I haven't wanted people in my church family that you had placed there. When we stop seeing people as part of our family, we lose the ability to BE family to them. We forget that God put them there, just as surely as he placed each of our children in our earthly families.

Who don't you want in your family? Are there still people I wish weren't a part of mine? If I'm being honest, sometimes my hangup to being invitational isn't so much that I'm an introvert, it's that I don't want that person to be part of MY church family. It's a whole lot easier to invite someone who acts like me than it is to invite the person I wish would just disappear from my life.

A very wise friend of mine has said that if someone irritates you, pray for them. Continue to pray for them. You may not like their behavior any better, but you will find yourself being filled with love for them. You will begin to see them as part of your family. I've seen it played out in my own relationships; I need to be more diligent about continuing the practice.

Paul had some things to say about the church acting as a body:

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.   Colossians 3:12-15 (NIV)

One body. One family. We strive to cultivate things like compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience in our own families. Can we humble ourselves enough to cultivate them in our church family as well?