(I am sorry to say I couldn't figure out the timer on my camera so I am not in the picture.)
I am home from our women's retreat. It was wonderful. Lots of fun to spend time with the women of our church doing my nails, eating so much good food and growing in Christ.
Friday night while doing my nails I mentioned that my hair has been breaking off and wondered what that was all about. Suddenly 2 women were asking me how old I was and a discussion about peri-menopause and menopause ensued. While I was interested in the conversiton in the back of my mind all I could think was, "WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO ME ABOUT MENOPAUSE??? I AM ONLY 25 YEARS OLD!" I don't know if I am excited about the prospect of finally nearing the end the period chapter of my life or freaked out at the process of getting to that end. Both I think. Of course, again I am only 25 and I am not totally convinced I have actually begun that process. Maybe I will do a little research about it. You know when I finally go into menopause I won't be shy about sharing to many details with you.
As I have mentioned before, besides planning the retreat, with much help, I also spoke at the retreat. I had 2 wonderful topics and I managed to present both of the without passing out, hyperventilatng or shaking as if I was having a seizure. I don't think I will be taking my act on the road anytime soon but I don't think I embarassed myself.
Now that it is over I thought I would post my complete thoughts on the subject of "Above Average" here. Further thoughts on Gratitude later in the week. Grab a cup of coffee for this long but hopefully enjoyable post.
We live in a culture where “above average” has come to be a phrase that can create stress and a sense of failure when we compare ourselves to the standards set by the world around us. Everywhere we turn we see over the top weddings, parties, clothing, lifestyles, personalities, homes, cars, boats, etc. There is no way we can compare and no way we can measure up. It definitely takes more than a little to be above average by those standards and we will never measure up when we compare ourselves to those images. This weekend our theme is based on a quote I read in a devotional that says, “It takes so little to be above average.” When I came across this quote in a devotional I was so struck by the simplicity and truth of the words. How one simple act of kindness, keeping my promises, following through on a task makes me above average in so many ways. But this is not above average in the world’s eyes, this is above average in God’s eyes. God reminds us in Isaiah that His ways are not our ways.
I have a friend that I email with. She is really more like a pen pal. Although I have met her in real life our relationship has been built almost entirely through email conversations. I think there is something about writing your thoughts that helps give them clarity and something about reading other peoples thoughts that helps you give them clarity. A couple years ago I was lamenting to Jen about my life. I was feeling very insignificant, unaccomplished, lazy, purposeless, whatnot. I was explaining to her how I saw all these other women doing things and I really felt like I was doing nothing. I specifically called out two friends I have who work full time as the primary bread winners in their families. They both are totally competent and reliable. The one friend was getting up at 4am to run before work training for a half marathon. I could barely get up by 9am to go on a run and half the time I opted out once I got up. I really needed to pull myself together. I was looking forward to a much needed pep talk from my friend. She wrote me back and said essentially, “why are you comparing yourself to people whose life has nothing to do with your own?”…hmm….interesting…Could it be that I am measuring myself to the wrong standard? It is a question that rings in my mind on a regular basis when I find myself wanting to compare myself to others.
So often we compare ourselves to others and only see the areas we don’t measure up. I have friends who come over to my house and tell me it is always clean. Now I assure you my house isn’t always clean but I do try to keep it tidy most of the time. I have one child at home with me during the day. This friend who feels her house is never clean has 4 children at home with her all day. If I had 4 children at home all day I would have a very different looking house. And if you are thinking that you only have one child at home and don’t keep the house up keep in mind I have been home perfecting my homemaking for 15 years. And again, my house isn’t always clean.
This weekend as we think about becoming “above average” we won’t be comparing ourselves to the average of the world around us. We will be looking instead at who we are in Christ. We will be comparing ourselves to who we were before Christ, who we would be without Christ vs who we are as heirs with Christ living our lives for the Lord.
I have come to realize that God’s purpose for me at this stage in my life revolves around my family, raising children, encouraging my husband. At times it doesn’t feel very important, sometimes I feel like I could really just “phone it in”. I get stuck on auto pilot just plodding along. I get frustrated with this purpose and start thinking about getting a job, interacting with other people and doing something of more significance with my life. Not that raising children isn’t significant but some days it certainly feels like maybe I could squeeze a second purpose into my days. Then God reminds me of the bigger picture. Maybe I will never receive any accolades for my parenting but I am helping God create people who could go on to make a significant impact on the world or who might have children who will. I may not be written about in history books but I am part of history because I am raising a generation which will go on to raise another generation and the impact I have on my children will make a difference for generations to come.
Your stage of life might be different. God might be calling you to work and influence the people you work with. He might be calling you to something entirely different. Wherever you are that should be your focus. Jer 29:11 reminds us, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God knows where you are and it is exactly where you are supposed to be at this moment in your life.
You might be in a stage of your life you don’t really like. Maybe you are single and want to be married but feel it will never happen, maybe your married and not very happy and can’t see that you ever will be again, maybe your children are driving you crazy and you feel like they will never grow up. We can tend to get stuck looking at the one tiny spot of life we are in and miss the bigger picture God has for our lives. I think of Joseph from the bible. He started his life off as a favorite child and then one day everything went wrong. His brothers attacked him and sold him into slavery. And just when he had gotten himself a pretty good slave job he gets tossed into prison. But God is there directing it all. He then interprets the Pharaohs dream about an upcoming famine and is released and put in charge of preparing the nation for that famine. After all that when his brothers show up looking for food he doesn’t blame them for the trials he has endured in his life but instead tells them that what they meant for evil God meant for good. He saw not a moment in his life but the whole picture and knew God had been with him the whole time.
As we look at our lives it can be easy to get stuck where we are and feel like God will leave us here forever. But our lives are filled with many activities and adventures and God has a purpose for each one of them. When John and I were going through infertility it definitely felt like my whole life, like I was on hold and would be forever stuck in that place waiting for another child. Everyone around us was having children while we were frozen in place waiting for our child. When I allowed myself to get sucked into that thinking it would feel overwhelming but when I reminded myself that no matter the outcome my life would go on and God had so many other purposes for my life than this one moment it was easier to endure. Even this stage of raising children is temporary. While God might be keeping me at home right now the fact is that my children will eventually grow up and leave home and I will leave the raising children stage of my life and look to see what God has for me next.
I think of the writer of the devotional book that inspired this weekend, Emilie Barnes. She started out over 20 years ago writing home management/organization books from a Christian perspective and has had a great deal of success in that area writing and speaking. Then one day she found out she had cancer. Her whole life changed, as she fought the cancer her relationship with God deepened. God used her to encourage the others who were seeking treatment at the facility she was at and now today she has become a somewhat prolific devotional writer. While they aren’t the deepest devotionals I have read they really display of depth in her relationship with the Lord that you doesn’t always come across. But she didn’t start out her life knowing how to be a great homemaker or even knowing God. She grew up in a home with an alcoholic father who died when she was a teen. Her mother had to work and so she was in charge of managing the little 1 bedroom apartment the family moved into after his death which prepared her for managing her own home. She met he husband on a blind date and came to Christ through their relationship. They married when she was 17. A couple years later they had their first child. A few months later her brother’s wife went to the store and never returned leaving him with 3 pre-schoolers. He went into a depression and so they offered to take the 3 kids while he got his life back together. She now had 4 pre-school children and found out she was pregnant. She tells the story in one of her books of one afternoon where she brought the kids to the backyard, spread out a blanket and passed out. She said she didn’t care if they ate dirt or worms, then she wouldn’t have to feed them lunch! Ha ha. At that time, in the midst of exhaustion and business of raising 5 little children she didn’t know that some day she would be a best selling author, that God would use the skills she learned taking care of the house after her father died and then taking care of 5 little kids at a young age to inspire women around the world to be better homemakers. She was just a 21 year old in a very overwhelming stage of life. She kept moving forward and kept open to what God had for her and followed him down the path he took her on. God had a plan for her and those busy, stressful and difficult years of her life were all necessary for her to become the woman she needed to be to be used by God.
And God has a plan for all of us in whatever stage of life we are in.
I look at life like a giant painting, mine is modern art with many images mixed together to create a collage of sorts. Sometimes we get focused in on one corner of the painting, that can be OK at times, like when I was in infertility, that is where I needed to be and nowhere else, God was molding and growing me in that space, but I needed to remember there was a bigger picture. Sometimes you step back and observe the whole picture. There will be blank spaces but you can also see where you have been and what you have done, what was important to you. Often that is where I find myself before a new adventure, through that observation God often directs me to the next thing in my life.
As we live our lives listening to God we begin to be aware of the prompting of the spirit in the activities of our daily life. Every day each of us do little things, prompted by the Holy Spirit, that are above average. If you hold the door for that mom pushing the stroller, show up on time for a meeting, get a sub when you can’t make your nursery duty, read a book with your child even when you are tired, listen to your husband talk about his job even when you have no idea what he is talking about, you are above average.
“It takes so little”. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like so little when God asks us to do something. It feels scary and overwhelming, exhausting. When that “little” is our own will it can turn out to be not so little at all but, when that little is following God’s prompting it will feel so little no matter what it is.
It can be frightening to follow God’s promptings. He might ask us to do something outside of our normal activities and that can be scary. I know that many times in my life I have resisted the prompting of the Holy Spirit in my life. I remember one winter I had made up some fresh mini loaves of banana bread. I was going to visit 2 different friends that day so I wrapped up 2 loaves to bring to each home to eat as a treat while we talked. It was one of those very cold, way below zero days and I needed gas so being the high maintenance girl I am I drove a little out of my way to a gas station that pumps the gas for you. I cracked my window and told the guy to fill it up. I never even turned off my car. While it was filling I had an overwhelming desire to give the guy one of my loaves of banana bread. An internal discussion ensued about the fact that I needed to bring one to each of my friends, maybe he would think it was weird or wouldn’t like it or think I was secretly poisoning him as if I was some serial killer or something. In the end I gave in to my fear and drove off without giving him the loaf. As the day played out for reasons I don’t recall I never did give away both loaves and when I got home I couldn’t stop thinking about how I really didn’t need both loaves and should have given it to the man pumping my gas in the freezing weather. God knew early in the day I wouldn’t need both loaves. I don’t know what would have happened but I know it was a missed opportunity that I can never have back. And I know that it would have taken so little for me to give it to him. I also can recall a time where I followed that prompting and sent a note to my sister-in-law encouraging her to not give into fear but to trust God to take care of her. That note of encouragement prompted her and her husband to take a risk and follow a dream they had been holding back on because of fear.
So this weekend we are not going to spend time comparing ourselves to others but instead we are going to learn to see who we are in God’s eyes. We are going to ask God what our purpose at this stage of life might be and how it fits into the bigger picture God is creating in our lives. And we are going to be listening to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and see where He is leading us and what he is asking us to do. And in viewing our life from that perspective I hope you will all discover that it really does take so little to be above average.