Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Easy Rhythm

There is an easy rhythm to a life of Grace.  And the best part about Grace is that it is a total GIFT, not something to strive and work for.  I have learned, though, that walking in it consistently requires one thing. Surrender.  I write about this a lot, I guess, because it is what God is working into my heart and mind these days.  He invites me with every sunrise to just open my hands and let go.  Let go of my worry and anxiety, let go of my need to control, let go of my expectations of others, let go of my plans for the day and let Him take all of those burdens off my shoulders and just be free to live and move and breathe.  The days that I make the choice to receive this daily gift of Grace and walk in it are glorious, easy days, no matter the circumstances I face.  The days I refuse to open my clenched fists and let go are marked with stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.  Seems like the choice would be easy, right? Not for this stubborn girl.  There are so many days when I choose to believe that striving and worrying will accomplish more than resting and praying.  Probably because I am new to this kind of faith. This real, every minute of every day faith that you don't cling to only in the storms but in the everyday messes and realities and struggles that are common to every mom.... I wanted to share how I am "practicing" the art of Grace, because I suspect I am not travelling alone on this journey.

Taking my thoughts captive. This is especially difficult for women, because our emotions are so very powerful, and tend to rule our thinking.  I am learning to just STOP. When I begin to feel that heart-racing anxiety, or the heat of anger, or the rush of frustration, I (try to) make a conscious choice to reign all of that in, remind myself of Who is in control, and of my own responsibility to show Grace in the same measure that I have received it (which, by the way, is enormous, so I should be spilling out massive amounts of Grace on everyone!)  And when I choose Grace in those moments they instantly turn into opportunities for growth, for teaching, for encouragement!  It works. Every time.  It just takes practice!

Choosing Calm.  I have lots of reasons to worry.  We all do.  None of us are exempt from the harshness of life, the consequences of choices made, the challenges of relationships.  But for so many years, I allowed these things to dictate my state of mind, my outlook, my choices, even my personality.  I did not possess that calmness of Spirit, that Peace, that I saw in some women and longed to have.  What a shame it took so long for me to realize that the way to Peace is easy.  It is as simple as a whispered prayer.  Praying is no longer something I try to remember to do each day.  Somehow, it has become a natural flow of conversation in my days, not a scheduled obligation.  I don't know exactly how that happened, but it is a lifeline for me in this mess of a life!  And the funny thing is, it is so much easier than lugging that load of worry around.  Why do we assign such value to worry?  Like somehow it is a gauge of how much we love someone, or a measure of how important something is to us... Worry is NOT an indicator of anything except my own lack of trust.  (Ok, stepping off the soapbox now.)

Embracing second chances.  Often it seems that I get it wrong more than I get it right, but this is the great beauty of daily Grace.  It is not about getting it right all the time.  It is learning to see our failures as opportunities to try again, wiser than we were before, and with a new perspective.  Again, this requires surrender! Saying, "Ok, I blew it, but I can start over. I can admit I was wrong, I can ask for help, and I can try again!"  I am so thankful for all the second chances I've been given.  They are gifts from a God of second chances!  And with that perspective it is possible to be grateful even for the times I blow it.

Cultivating Thankfulness.  When I take time to be aware of the countless gifts, big and small, that God lavishes  on me every single day,  I cannot help but feel loved and cherished and cared for.  And being aware of all that Grace surrounding me, I can't help but share grace with others.  Ann Voskamp's book, 1000 Gifts,  truly changed my life in this area of gratitude.  And since reading that book I have noticed how many times thanksgiving and thankfulness are mentioned in my Bible reading.  Everything comes down to this.  Recognizing who we are, Who God  Is, and what He has done for us.  Not just in saving us, but in loving us so well each and every day.

These are the things on my heart and mind today, as I prepare for a week of crazy schedules and busy days.  Not things that I have mastered or can even claim to walk in consistently, just the things of this everyday faith that I want to remember and eventually grow into.   Prayers for my sisters on this same journey, that we will recognize the choices we have every morning, and that we will choose Grace! And when we blow it at breakfast, we will choose to receive Grace and start again! And at 5 o'clock when the toddlers are crying and clinging and the supper isn't ready and the house that was just clean 2 hours ago is a wreck we will stop, take time to be thankful for all the mess and choose Grace again. And in the late hours when we lie in bed we will think not about our overwhelming schedule for tomorrow, but we will reflect on the Grace of today and say Thank You.   That's what I'm praying.  For me and for you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

For Just Today

A million times a day, it seems, I get it wrong.  My best intentions get trampled by my fickle feelings and I fail. I am the one sitting at the table with the sour expression on my face.  I am the one snapping at a child for spilling milk. I am the one speaking harsh words to the precious man who works so hard to provide for us.  I am the one who doesn't make the phone call or send the card because I am just too busy.  I am the one complaining in my spirit about the endless chores and responsibilities of being mom and step-mom to seven.  If I can't get it right at least some of the time, then how in the world am I supposed to create a loving, grace-filled, peaceful home?  These are the daily battles I face, the struggles that I can't seem to overcome. I think I half-expected Jesus to show up with a magic wand and just zap my attitude into submission.  He hasn't done that, but He continues to give me daily opportunities to practice. (I, for one, think the magic wand is a great idea, how about you?)

I am not the woman I want to be, for sure.  But I am not the woman I once was, so I know that God is working and changing me, conforming me to His image a little at the time.  So I am not without hope for the future, but sometimes finding hope for just today is hard.  Truth is, most days I simply give up too soon.  I grow weary of constantly having to begin again, having to ask forgiveness for countless lapses in the area of selfishness and pride.  Always fighting the urge to throw in the towel.  Because of the mommy-weariness, the wife-frustrations, the money-anxiousness, because of the sin-sickness of my heart that seems to drown out all the effort I put forth.

This is the scary part of faith.  Choosing to put your whole self out there, body, mind, heart and soul, every day, and leave it out there to be challenged by the storms and trials, the hurts, the fears, the failures...  Choosing not to build those walls of protection that keep your heart safe but leave it cold and alone, sacrificing your pride to show grace and love well.  Surrender. In the little things, not just the big things.  Surrendering my attitude and my tongue countless times a day, these two monsters that seem to ruin all my efforts to be the wife, mom, step-mom, and friend that I should be.

To whatever You have planned for my day, to whatever You bring my way, I surrender.  I will trust You. I will rest in the fact that You love me, that you are Good.  I will choose to believe that You alone have what I need for just today.  Tomorrow will worry about itself.  Today I will put myself out there, even if I am shaking in my shoes a little bit.  I will trust You with my heart, and I will not build those walls.  I will open my heart to You, so You can love others through me.  And when I mess up, (which inevitably will happen) I will ask forgiveness and start over.

For just today, I am going to rely on Grace.  And hopefully tomorrow I won't forget.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What Now?

Sitting here this morning, drinking cold, fresh water, with an air purifier cleaning my air and a washing machine humming along, I cannot help but feel guilt mixed with relief that it isn't me out there staring at a pile of sticks that was once my home, sifting through debris for any salvageable part of a life that has been blown away.  I am almost ashamed to be sitting here at all, with so many out there working to help others recover, but the little ones need their mommy here, and prayer is my work for the moment.  I am busy making lists of things we can donate, wishing my bank account held enough to make a difference, but knowing God always takes the gift and makes it enough.  All of us have felt, to some degree, the gravity of this disaster, and my heart swells to see the work being done and the sacrifices being made to help others rebuild and recoup.

I find myself asking, "What now? What is it that I should learn from this and how should this event change me, my perspective, my habits?"  Because when life is interrupted, in any way at all, doesn't God shout to us in these times? Doesn't He say, "Wake up! Listen! Look around! See My hand at work, see My people moved to love and serve, see My provision when all is lost, see My Grace in the midst of the suffering!" And how foolish would we be to SEE and then go back to life as usual? Chalk it up to a temporary inconvenience and move on with our busy schedules and priorities... Isn't that what we tend to do? We don't like change. We like comfort.  So we cling to Him in the middle of the crisis, and as soon as our comforts are restored, we forget.  So what should we remember? A month from now? A year from now? I don't know about you, but I have a list (of course, always a list with me) of things I don't want to forget.

1.  God is big. He is in control, and really, there is NOTHING that we control.  Our very lives are in His hands at every moment, awake or asleep, and every provision comes from Him, whether we take the time to be grateful for it or not. So I want to be THANKFUL in all things. Hold my hands open to accept ALL that He gives. The things that I see as good, the things I don't understand, the things that hurt, ALL of it, with a grateful heart and a childlike trust.

2.  God is good.  Life is unfair and harsh, nature is relentless at times, unspeakable tragedy happens all around us, but He is GOOD and He loves us and is bringing ALL things together for His purposes and in the end, we will see with Heaven's perspective and understand, but for now we REST and know that He loves us.

3.  God doesn't hurry or get stressed out, so if my life and purpose are in Him, neither should I.  If I am following Him, there is no need to worry about what I might run into, right? If He is leading and He is good, then can't I trust that where my steps go He has gone ahead?  Easier said than done, for sure, but it is truth and I want to believe it. Lord, help my unbelief!

4.   The people in my life are more important than the stuff in my life.  Of course we all know this. But look at how we spend our time... Are we living it? The last few days with no power, we have spent time visiting relatives, playing games with our kids, literally sitting on the front porch all afternoon blowing bubbles and lying on the couch late into the night with a single candle burning, just talking.  And it felt right, and good, and soul-nourishing, and I wonder why we don't turn things off when we have the choice?  I don't want to forget how full my heart has been as a result of slowing down and just being together.

5.  To be like Jesus, I MUST HELP those in need. I must give what I have, sacrificially, and trust God to provide for me and my family.  If we do not do this we can not call ourselves Christ-followers. I am so convicted about my selfish hoarding of resources to the point that I feel the urge to give everything away.  I am praying about what God would have us give to help others in this crisis and in the future, because that is what we are called to do!  We are not saved to sit comfortably and whine about electricity and hot water while our brothers and sisters go without food, clothing, and shelter.  (I am preaching to myself, rest assured, I did my share of whining!)

6.  I want to teach my kids to see outside the walls of their own home and their own comforts and be moved by the hurts and needs of others. They will be helping me this week gather items that can be donated to families with children who now have no toys or clothes to call their own.  I don't want them to forget this event. I want it to change them, too.  Parenting isn't always about sheltering your children from every unpleasant thing.  It is about shaping hearts to care for others and teaching them to live like Jesus.  If we don't, who will?

I know this post is a little "preachy" and I do not intend it to be, I just want to get these thoughts down in black and white before life gets back to its relentless pace and I get distracted and forget.   I want to truly SEE God in this, and my selfish heart fights me all the way.  I would love to know what things others are doing and changing as a result of this tragedy, because I think we can all inspire one another to do the good works that God has already laid out for us to do.  I love seeing believers being "Jesus with some skin on"!