Friday, April 26, 2013

Strength in Weakness

I've been thinking, which you know means trouble or at least a blog post...

I know my life has been stressful this past year, or two, or three, or...anyway, our life has been very full and we are in the process of making it even fuller for the next few months.  In my mind this move will make our life simpler and more relaxed. While it will do that in some areas, we will bring most of the fullness of life with us wherever we go.

This past week I was confronted with an interesting reality, other people have full busy and at times stressful lives too. It isn't just me.  Their stress may be different, what I am struggling with might be going just fine in their world while what they are struggling with is going just fine in mine, but we are all struggling. Somehow I find comfort in this.

When it is just me and everyone else is making it happen then my struggles feel like failures.  Everyone else knows what they are doing but I am screwing up.  I am lame and clueless and have nothing to offer in the world.  Big "L" on my forehead.
"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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Cor 12:9-10
 In my weakness I have strength.  "When I am weak, then I am strong."  I don't know about you but that is very reassuring in my life.  Since I am weak a lot.  I mess up a lot.  Yet, "I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties."  In downsizing, in job changes, in parenting challenges, in car problems, in potholes in the road, in dirty carpet, in a day I never got around to combing my hair, in too much gossiping, in too much pride, in control issues, in undisciplined days, in missed opportunities, in mistake  after mistake after mistake.  I delight in my weaknesses, "for when I am weak, then I am strong".

How were you strong today?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

It is time for spring

It is a lovely spring day to day in Minnesota.  Finally!  I have been thinking for a few weeks that if I shoveled away the snow I might find some tulips pushing through the dirt despite the cold.  Today I looked out and discovered they hadn't just pushed through the dirt, they have now pushed through the snow.

Of course I pushed aside some leaves near our grill and found out that the weeds have also arrived.  Why are they always so much more enthusiastic and resilient than the stuff I actually want?

This picture was taken on April 8th last year.  Not sure I will even see this by May 8th this year.

But who knows, upper 70's in our forecast.  My optimistic attitude is at an all time high today

Happy Spring!.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Family Collage

We are getting ready to put our house on the market.  I don't know what your house is like but for us this is a project.  I have a girlfriend who has sold several houses.  They spend one weekend straightening closets and cleaning and they are ready to roll.  That is not how we live.  Not that the house is dirty, there are just a few unfinished projects always lurking.  And we aren't great an preventative maintenance so there are a few rooms that need paint, leaky faucets that need to be replaced, and a couple cabinet doors to put on.  Plus, contractors tend to accumulate contract materials.  So our storage room/work room/garage is a little over run with hardwood flooring, old sinks, doors, paint, shower pans, etc.  Things we might want someday so we toss in the corner.  But now we need it all gone.  Or at least out of the way...So we are also looking at dumpster options.

Those things are on John's punch list and he is busy working through it.  My list is more about purging, straightening closets and packing up superfluous items throughout our house.  This week I was in Jake and Isabelle's rooms.  I try to let my kids rooms be a reflection of who they are.  

Part of the wall in Jake's room.
Jake was 8 when we moved here.  About a year before we bought this house I did a big room makeover at the old house including painting one of the walls to look like a cabin.  We were going for that nature room look.  It was great but a lot of work.  The new room was bigger and I couldn't get excited for that level of detail.  So he ended up with a similar paint color on the walls and some framed prints of wild animals.  There is his foundation.  Jake slowly started adding to his wall like it was a giant cork board.  I think the first thing he added to his wall was a group picture from a jr high camp he went on.  Then some scout patches that didn't go on the uniform.  When he started being part of school plays his stars and pictures from that went up, wrestling posters, and his Kenyan souvenirs.  His room would never have been in a magazine but I loved it, it was like a timeline of his youth.

No pictures of the door. :(
Isabelle's room was born a nursery.  It is still a dark pink color that I love and think has transitioned out of the preschool years nicely but she thinks is too baby.  Like Jake she made her mark on a room that started out perfectly styled by mom.  She discovered stickers and tape around age 4 and would confiscate pictures of herself and people she loved to tape to the wall.  One day she stuck an entire sheet of butterfly stickers to the floor near the door.  They stuck tight and became a fluttering entrance to her space.  And then there was her door.  It started with name stickers.  If she came home with a name sticker on her back it would likely end up on her door.  Then she discovered my label maker and the alphabet went up.  When she learned to spell a few phrases followed.  And then a sheet of pet shop stickers.  I believe some of her cousins helped contribute to the collage over the years as well.  And it became a door that announced Isabelle and put her mark on her space.

Those marks are gone, Jake's walls are bare and the many holes patched.  Isabelle's stickers have been scraped off and thrown away.  And I grieved a little as I scraped and packed.

I stood in Jake's room today.  Walls bare and ready for paint, all his stuff packed and piled in the middle of the room and was ready for a wave of grief to hit me, but it never came. I realized it was just a room.  We may be leaving this space behind but we aren't leaving him behind.

We raise our children to leave us.  To move out and start lives of their own.  While the releasing can be hard, seeing them go out into the world and begin a life of their own is the goal of parenting.  Leaving our home doesn't have to mean leaving our family or disappearing from our lives.

As Jake goes off to start a life of his own, John and I are going on to a new life as well.  

When I married and left home my parents stayed put.  Same jobs, same home, same life.  They did turn my room into an office but everything else from my childhood stayed pretty much the same.  My youth always sitting there waiting for me to go visit.  By the time my parents finally left I was well established in my own life and was ready to see them go out and have a new adventure.

As we were packing up the house I worried I would never feel at home in their new place, worried I was loosing home.  Yet from the moment they moved in it has felt like they have always been there, and the whole family has always been a part of it.  

It turns out it isn't about a place or stuff. It is about the people, family traditions and the unconditional, unchanging love for each other we take wherever we go.

Isabelle will follow us to a new home and make her mark. It won't be the mark of an immature toddler but of a maturing young woman.  She will tack the timeline of her youth to the walls of her new room.  Jake however probably won't make any significant mark on our next house.  He will be there, he will be with us this summer and hopefully a few more weekends and summers in the future but his room will only be a stop over place from now on, not a place to set down roots and make a mark.  Yet his presence in the house will be significant because no matter where he goes he will always be a part of our traditions, the life we lead and what defines us as a family.

So we may peel up the stickers from Isabelle's floor and take down the pictures nailed to Jake's wall but you can never remove the memories of their childhood from our hearts.  As we go forward we will add new experiences and create new traditions in new places.  Jake and Isabelle will find new walls to make their marks and post the new memories.  But in our hearts will be the full family history, past, present, future; a beautiful collage of who we have been, who we are and who we are becoming.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

There is no rushing the end of winter

My mind is confused this morning.  I looked out the window to see it snowing.  I was watching hopelessly out the window when I saw a flash of light followed moments later by a clap of thunder.  Did that really happen?  A snowstorm and thunderstorm happening simultaneously?  Welcome to spring in Minnesota.

Winter is always a struggle here in MN.  It is long, cold and spring doesn't come til the last possible moment.  Most winters I try to create positive attitude momentum in the late fall to catipult me into the spring.  Cold Aprils are always a challenge but usually I muster a little hope and remember it isn't much longer.

This year a challenging fall sucked up all our energy and we entered winter without much momentum.  Thus I sit here in April feeling like this has been a very, very, very long winter.  There has been a lot of complaining on facebook and for some that may be helpful but I have decided to have something of an out of body experience regarding winter this year and simply refuse to acknowledge it good or bad.  I am in survival mode.  I am afraid if I do start complaining I will get sucked down into a hole so deep I might not notice when spring finally does arrive.  I'm not putting a fake happy face on winter I just refuse to engage in its bad behavior.

Basically I am just trying to patiently wait for it to be over. 

I was looking out the window at the tire swing this morning.  I have looked out the window at my tire swing many times over the years.  I have seen it trapped in place by snow that rose up to meet it, seen the dip in the snow where it pushed the snow out of its way as it swayed back and forth, seen it hanging over a light dusting of snow.  And I have seen it soaking up a summer sun, getting blown around in a spring storm.  My children have jumped off it into a pile of fall leaves.  I have gone out and let it rock me back and forth on a warm summer day.

When I look out the window on a day like today I don't just see my tire swing in its depressing state and feel despare, I see the summer that came before and is sure to come again.  It might not look good at the moment but it won't be long now.

And I think about life, about the ups and downs of life, the good and the bad.  Winter may feel long this year but it will come to an end.  I may want to go shovel all the snow off my flower beds and take the hair dryer to the bushes in my front yard encouraging them to start budding.  I want to DO something, take action, be in control of the end of this winter and the beginning of spring and summer.

But I can't, I have no control over the weather.  I can only wait, watch and trust God to turn all this waiting into something beautiful in perfect time.

While it is easy to see that I can't control the weather and so therefore take a stance of guarded but patient waiting, there are so many other areas of my life I struggle to accept the fact that I do not have control.  As crazy as taking a hair dryer to my bushes in an attempt to make spring come sounds, sometimes in life I try to do the same thing in other areas.

Right now I want my house on the market.  It makes me want to just rush through the process, move the furniture over the spots on the rug, shove clutter into closets and slap a sloppy coat of paint on the exterior of the house.  How can I hide and rush all these projects?  But taking short cuts now leads to problems in the future, longer waits for an offer and problems when inspections come.  Better to wait, do it right.  Move through the process and come to the end in God's perfect timing.

Same with relationships.  You can't restore a relationship over night or with one conversation.  You can't force people to like you or forgive you.  It is slow patient action one day at a time. I want to rush the process, and then I want to get mad when the other person isn't on board with me but, that isn't how it works.  There is no warming up the bushes in a snowstorm.  You just have to wait for it to be over and for God to naturally melt the snow and wake up the branches.

So this long winter is like many things in life.  Not exactly what I want or the way I want it but just what God has at this moment.  And just like winter eventually ends and is followed by the magical Minnesota summer, so those trials in life eventually come to an end and leave us with the blessings God prepares for us while we wait.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Slave to Righteousness

Several years ago, a year or two before Isabelle was born, we went to see the Newsboys in concert at the Minnesota state fair.  The concert included Go Fish, before they were a kids group, and New Song.  It was a great and memorable concert although it didn't start that way.  When this outdoor concert started it was pouring rain.  POURING.  We managed to sneak up to some empty seats under the upper deck until it stopped but so many people sat in the pouring rain listening to Go Fish start us out.  I would have left.  Random about me:  The only thing that makes me crankier than being cold is being wet and cold.  Luckily I didn't get too wet and since it was August, once the rain stopped it warmed up and I dried off and managed to pull myself together.

We love all 3 bands and the whole concert was fantastic but the most memorable part was at the end of the concert.  The album "Adoration" had just come out and we ended the evening all singing the chorus "Holy, holy is our God almighty.  Holy, holy is his name alone." Over and over and over and over.  At first it was fine.  You sing it a couple times without thinking about it, then you are still singing so you think about it and acknowledge it is good.  But after that you are still singing and it starts to feel awkward, how much longer are we going to repeat this chorus?  Until it happens, you let go and let it become part of you and experience the power of God's presence as you sing of his holiness.

This past week I had the same experience with a passage of scripture.  I read Romans 6 every day for a week.   My friend Jen had written this post for Easter.  We had been discussing the editing process of the post and so she sent me her original draft as well for discussion.  In her first draft she had suggested reading Romans 6 every day for a week after Easter as one of her tips.  I like direction and had just finished reading John so I figured I would see what God might have to say in this passage.

I find that scripture speaks to me different depending on what is going on in my life. This passage is about the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin because of Christ's resurrection.  The first couple days I really had to concentrate on the readings because it made me think about other people who have sin issues!  Way easier to see others sin than my own.

The third day I decided to map it out a little.  On the one hand the chapter doesn't seem that complicated but on the other hand it is really complicated.  I kept feeling like if I could track the conversation better I would know what was going on.  Here is my summary.  (click here to read the passage in the bible first.)

1-We are no longer sinners because our sin died with Christ.  No guilt, we are forgiven and our sin is forgotten.

2-We are free from sin. It no longer controls us.  We are no longer slaves to sin.--yet for some reason we keep going back to it.

3-Because of the resurrection and our share in it we live with Christ.  Death does not control us, Jesus died for our sins, we cannot die again for them.  Our future with Christ is secure.

4-Therefore (As Chuck Swindoll says, whenever you see a therefore ask yourself what is is there for.)  Therefore (see 1-3), we offer ourselves over to God.  Don't pursue sin, pursue righteousness.  Don't let sin control you, sin is not your master.  I am under the law of grace.

5-We are not free to sin because we are forgiven through grace, we have chosen obedience to God and are now slaves to righteousness.--I realized here we end up slaves either way, will we chose sin or righteousness.

6-Offer yourself to God as you used to offer yourself to sin.  Sin leads to death but obedience and righteousness lead to holiness and eternal life.

That was day 3, the day I started thinking about my own sin.  And the day in the song progression where you have moved beyond just singing for singing and realize it is a good song.  But now you want it to be over, yet day 4 comes and I am still singing!  What else is there to say about this passage?
v13, "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness, for sin shall not be your master because you are not under the law but under grace."
On the surface of this verse, day 1-3, I don't think about offering my body to sin.  I am not a prostitute, I don't do drugs, only have the occasional glass of wine, I don't steal, I don't go seeking out sin, I am not standing on the corner asking sin to come my way.  Clearly this does not apply to me.  But then day 4 comes along and God has you just where he wants you.

On day 4 I was feeling a little stressed about a work situation and right here in my living room God nails me with the truth that my stress is the offering of my body to sin.  Really I was stressed because of fear I was experiencing at a maybe event in the future.  If I am now a slave to righteousness I don't need to fear because whatever happens God will be there.  As a matter of fact God repeated this message to me this morning when our pastor talking about saying to ourselves, "what's the worst that could happen?" said maybe the real question is, "how will God's grace meet me if the worst happened?"
v 16,"Don't you know when you offer yourselves to someone to obey you are slaves to the one you obey--whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?"
Point 5 above comes from this, we are slaves one way or another, do we want to be slaves to sin or righteousness?  Satan or God?  Personally, I choose God.
v20, When you were slaves to sin you were free from control of righteousness." 
Day 6 had me asking the question, "is this what our culture really wants?"  Freedom from control of righteousness?  This is the moment in that repetitive singing that God really became present.  Seeing the world the way He does.  Watching people choose to be slaves to sin because they think that is freedom when really our freedom comes when we choose Christ.  Paul, the writer of Romans, asks "What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!"  What I see today is people who are not ashamed of their sin but proud of it.  Yet don't understand or won't accept that those actions lead to death.  How hard that is to see and accept.

v23, "for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
What is my summary at the end of this week?  I am a sinner.  I don't want to be a slave to sin but I keep offering myself right back up to it.  As I thought about all the people in my life that look to me for encouragement, children, family, friends and strangers I meet throughout my day, I wondered how I, as sinner, could have anything to offer.  The truth is I have nothing to offer but Christ in me.  And the best way to ensure people will meet Him through me is to be constantly seeking to know Him better.  And what I realized is that the moment I start thinking I have this whole sin/righteousnes thing all wrapped up, I stagnate, I can't know Christ better when I refuse to see my sin.  Every day I must offer myself a new as a slave to righteousness rather than sin.

This Easter I heard a new song I just love.  The bridge is, "O Death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory?  I choose to be a slave to righteousness and death has lost its sting.  Alleluia.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Walking into Fear

The very first post I put on this blog was about my fear.  I wrote an intro to a blog I initially had no intention of telling anyone I was going to write.  Of course I can't keep a secret and so 3 posts later my entire family knows and I put a link to it on facebook.  Then I emailed my sister a little something I had written for myself a couple years earlier to see what she thought of it and she basically said, pull yourself together and put it on the blog!  So I did.  And although I themed that post about failure it is also about fear because I realized I feared failure.

Since then I have pushed past lots of fears in my life and have reveled in the joy I experienced on the other side.  I am still surrounded by fears, over come by them some days.  But having learned the reward of pushing beyond them I do not let them control me anymore.

I read a blog by Michael Hyatt and today he has a post about overcoming fear.  He says that:

When I’m afraid, I have a practice of walking right into my fears rather than away from them. If people can get used to that, their fear will dissipate. Most of the power of fear is in your mind; it doesn’t really exist. It’s just this idea that looms because we are unwilling to face it. But the way to declaw it, the way to defuse it, is to step into it—right into the middle of it—and do the thing that you are afraid to do.
 As I prepare to begin what I hope to be a long career in real estate (I am tired of starting new jobs every year) there are a lot of new things I am going to have to do and a lot of things I am afraid of having to do.  When I come upon one of those things I am going to remember to walk into my fear rather than run away from it.

Running away from your fear may rid you of that one fear but could potentially bring to fruition some of your other fears.  I may be afraid of some aspects of real estate but I am more afraid of being in a career with no future or earning potential that I do not like.  I might not want to work but if I don't we will go broke. (I realize it seems like we are already there but we are still in control of the choices we make with the money we have, my fear is loosing the control.)

So in the next few months I will be walking head on into all my fears.

Michael's blog also references a story of a father and son.  They were at disney about to get on a water ride when the son's fear overtakes him and initially they turn back but then he changes his mind and they go on the ride.  Part way through the son, thrilled with the experience says to the father,  "dad, I love it!  It isn't scary at all...thanks."  He goes on to talk about the fact that he is the father and his son trusts him and knows he would  never put him in danger.

I also have a Father that loves me and that I trust.  We all do.  And He will never walk us into danger.  But we still experience fear causing us to want to run from the opportunities before us.  Sometimes fear does signal danger and we are wise to heed it, but sometimes it holds us back from fulfilling the purpose God has for our lives.  Those are the times we need to just walk into it knowing we are not alone, God is right by our side.