Lent: Day 25, 26, & 27…

Day 25: intentions

I had good intentions of getting a lot done today, including adding something to Lent.  It didn’t happen…any of it.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15 


Day 26: insanity

Today I unintentionally added insanity to Lent:

My little raccoon dumped a bag of chili cheese Fritos on the master bathroom floor mat.  It looked like the Pyramid of Giza piled atop white Egyptian sand.

He stole his sister’s deodorant and hacked it into little pieces all over the upstairs bathroom.  Moisture-blocking deodorant, when ground into a fluffy bath mat, is very hard to clean.

He locked himself in the bathroom while I was making an important business call.  We don’t have a key.

He threw multiple toys over the banister…after I had just taken them upstairs to the toy room.

He removed and hid all the printer ink cartridges…as I was trying to print copies of music for Sunday.

He ninja-swiped open dirty diapers as I tried to change him.  I am so done with poop.

All of this was before 10:00 am.

I didn’t have time to add something inspirational today…(hello, reality…thanks for showing up uninvited.)

“Be gracious to me, O God, for man (boy) tramples on me; all day long an attacker (a toddler) oppresses me”  

Psalm 56:1


Day 27: coffee creamer

So, obviously the last couple of days have been ridiculous, but let’s be honest.  This is life for most people: crazy.  When asked how things are going, we all say it:  “Busy.”  “Crazy”  “insane.”  This is the norm for most of us, especially if we’ve got lots of responsibilities, whether it be tasks at work, or children at home, or a combination of the two.

Again, I got nothing done today.  I seemed to rush and rush, strive and toil, with little to nothing to show for it.  When I left to go pick up the kids from school, the house was still a mess, laundry still needed to be done, and I still hadn’t finished preparing for the bible study I was supposed to lead tonight.  We drove straight from school to church to meet up with Daddy for dinner.  During the bible study, the older kids were going to hang out in his office while he worked and Judah was going to the nursery.

When everything was finished for the night, I texted to see if they had already headed home.  I was surprised to hear that yes, they were already home because Gideon had thrown up.  My first thought was “oh, no! Not more sickness!”  Then, I heard the rest of the story.

Apparently, Gideon has a routine when he hangs out in Daddy’s office.  He goes to the staff coffee station and sneaks the little individual cups of coffee creamer.  Tonight, it seems as thought our 5-year-old with the early signs of addictive behavior, couldn’t stop himself from indulging.  He consumed enough cream to make himself sick…well, that and the starburst flavored slushy he got with dinner.  (It makes my stomach curdle just thinking about it.)

When he ‘fessed up to the deviant looting of coffee condiments, he said it was such creamy goodness that he couldn’t stop himself.  This from the child who at age two snuck a stick of butter from the fridge, pulled a chair up to the TV, and ate the butter like a Snickers.  (We are really going to have to keep an eye on this one.)  He obviously doesn’t know his own limits, or what’s good for him.

In the world of sweet things and buttery goodness, it’s very possible to add too much of a good thing.  Not so with Lent, or with God.  My crazy has needed an abundance of grace and He has more than enough to not only meet my level of need, but to surpass it.  His  mercy will never run out, and of His goodness I will never grow weary.  It’s impossible to have too much of Him.  When I allow myself to actually taste His goodness, even in the midst of crazy, all I want is more.  I can’t stop myself from indulging.

When I find myself growing weary and sick of life, unable to think of something spiritual to write about (as I did the past three days), it’s not because I’ve somehow had enough Jesus, or that He’s gone AWAL.  The reality is that I’ve not been opening my senses to taste the little morsels of goodness that He has individually packaged for me throughout the day.  I haven’t tasted.  I haven’t thanked.

Unfortunately for Gideon, God used the little 5-year old’s intolerance for copious creamer consumption to get my attention.  I thank Jesus for His grace.  He has loved me through the past half-week, despite my weakness and inconsistency.  He has loved me, even when I’m not feeling it.  He has remained faithful.

Over Lent, I’ve been adding and adding, and the days that I thought I wasn’t adding at all, grace was being added unto me.  I just didn’t recognize it.

“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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”  

2 Corinthians 12:9

 

Lent: Day 23 & 24…

Day 23: A good book

On the way back home from our Spring Break adventures, I picked up a book I’ve been slowly reading through.  A good book is hard to put down, but when you can’t even go to the bathroom without your two-year-old knocking on the door and demanding your attention, even good books take awhile to finish.

I am reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamante.  It’s a retelling of the story of Jacob found in Genesis.  It is told from the point of view of his daughter, Dinah.  It is beautifully written and contains such accurate historical and cultural detail, that I feel as though I am walking alongside Dinah on a dusty trail as she dishes her family dirt.  I hear her telling me of God’s faithfulness throughout her generation and mine.

I am thankful for these little escapes into another world, a little getaway from feeling like the toddler police are about to pound down the door.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Ephesians 3:20-21


Day 24: A pig

Our neighbors invited us to a pig roast this afternoon.  So on this 24th day of Lent, we added a pig.  It was yummy.  Sitting outside in lawn chairs, chomping down on some slow roasted pork in 65 degree weather…seriously, does life get any better than this?  I am reminded that Jesus wants me to have life abundant…I think that includes springtime skies and good food.

I am thankful for neighbors, for pigs, for beautiful spring weather, and moments like these.

“Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.”

Psalm 85:11 

Watch me fail…

Yesterday was game day: my daughter’s debut on the middle school basketball team.  As most sports enthusiasts know, girls’ 5th-grade basketball is where it’s at.  The NBA has nothin’ on the drama of a 20-minute scrimmage of tweens.  The NCAA can’t compare to the fast pace surprises and amazing display of developing talent.  It truly was a memorable evening.

The three mini-games played last night were purposeful.  Most of the young women participating were only just beginning to learn the rules of the sport.  So, the shortened matches were a chance to learn by doing.  (Sort of a toss the baby in the swimming pool approach)  Dribbling a ball down the court in practice alongside your teammate only requires one set of skills.  However, maintaining control of the ball while a ponytail covered in spirit ribbons whips you in the face is another.  Practicing lay-ups and working on jump shots provides some building blocks of the basics.  But, remembering which basket to aim at in the midst of screaming pre-teens and enthusiastic parents, now that’s an essential lesson all of its own.

A friend and I were laughing as we watched.  Some of the athleticism in unintentional plays was awkwardly unreal.  In the split-second of receiving the ball, the ability to chunk it towards the side wall as if it were a football (or a soggy sock) takes amazing muscle reflexes.  The agility required to scramble on the floor over jump ball after jump ball is not qualitative.  We both agreed that we probably couldn’t imitate was we saw, even if we tried.  And if we were to attempt such feats, there’s no way we’d last a full 20-minutes.

Thankfully, my daughter has wisdom beyond her years.  She was telling us before dinner the night before about this upcoming match.  With great excitement she said, “Ya’ll have to come!…Come watch me fail!  We are horrible!  There’s no way we will win, but you have to come!  It will be great!”  Oh, my sweet, sweet, girl.  I love that she held excitement in the sport, not in the hope of winning.  I love that she didn’t merely want to play the game, but moreover wanted us to enjoy simply watching her play it.

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“Come watch me fail…”  

Wow.  She has more self-confidence and security than most adults, including myself.  I don’t know if I’d invite any of y’all to be spectators at an event in which I was assuredly going to bounce my own ball into my own face.  She could have pouted.  She could have turned red in embarrassment.  She could have cried from the uncomfortableness of her awkwardness.  Her hope, however, was not placed in points or winning.  Her aim was to learn and enjoy the game.

Many of us are in situations or circumstances that likely require us to learn.  I’d argue that none of us is beyond spiritual growth, for sure.  2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  But how do we approach the opportunities to grow set before us?  How do we approach our transformation?  Do we listen to the Spirit to even discover chances to mature?

One tendency is to approach the court in fear.  There was another sweet girl on our team who avoided the ball at all cost.  I don’t think this was intentional, because she was happy to be there, she was glad to be a part of the team, and she had some occasional hustle.  However, at one moment in the game, as she stood next to a fellow teammate, the ball was passed in her general direction.  As it barreled towards her, she dodged to the side, in an instinctual response to avoid fast-flying objects.  The girl next to her reached as best she could to cover for this young lady’s evasiveness, but to no avail, the ball hit her elbow and bounced off.  Like a pinball machine the orange ball of danger was directly boomeranged back into the poor timid girl’s arms.  She caught the ball squarely in front of the chest, as coach had taught. But, as if it were an intense orb of fire, she immediately flung it in the air…into the arms of the opposing team.  Without hesitation, she turned her face to the coach and mouthed with distraught wrinkled brow, “I’m sorry!”

Our fear in situations can cause us to rely on instincts that are better reserved for real-life-danger.  Is it really necessary that I react to my children as if they were an attacker mugging me in the parking lot?  Is it really necessary that when confronted with conflict I hide in a back room as if an axe murderer was hunting me down in my house?  These reactions, while they seem completely rationale in the moment, only deprive us gaining wisdom and strength through trials.  Rather than soaking in and absorbing wisdom, we repel it like water on a duck.

We can also deflect the scary ball of responsibility onto others, but the lesson is for us.  It always ricochets back.  They have their own issues to deal with and their own path of maturity.  Only we can deal with our ‘stuff’.  Do we receive the hard things as opportunities of growth?  Do we instinctually fling them into the air?  Even if our acknowledgment isn’t as quick as the young girl’s, we will eventually feel regret that the opportunity to grow was lost.

Another tendency is to over-analyze the situation and our position.  There were some young athletes who really took to heart their defensive positions, that even after the ball had moved cross-court and was now in their team’s possession, they were still defending their territory.  They got so lost in their assigned job, that they missed the larger lesson and flow of the game.  There was no acknowledgment or rejoicing that their own team had the ball!

Man, I do this every stinkin’ day.  I get lost so easily in my tasks or seemingly designated position (usually self-appointed) that I miss the larger picture and the goal that Jesus is working me towards.  I can over-think what I should be doing and how I should be doing it, that I miss valuable play-time.  I forget that the purpose and plans to which God has called me are also ordained and controlled by him.  I can become very self-focused on what I feel is a valuable priority, that unknowingly I am left standing alone, in a very defensive position, with only my check-list in hand.  Meanwhile, the Spirit is yelling and pointing at me to get down court and help.  Your team has the ball!

Lastly, the tendency I observed in my daughter is the one that I hope to learn from.  This is the tendency to joyfully engage.  She was puzzled most of the time.  She kept up with the team and when the ball came to her, she dribbled a few times and then passed it off to someone who had a little more experience.  Over the course of the three-game evening, I saw great improvement in her understanding and her skills.  She never perfected her skills, nor did she ever fully understand what was swirling on around her.  She did, however, slowly transform from nervous and timid, hands glued to her sides, to quick feet with spurts of trying to steal the ball from the opponent.  I watched as she fervently sought out the coach and his instructions throughout play.  And, thankfully, she has a great coach, who is teaching the girls through encouragement and support.  He could have gotten worked up about the lack of points on the board, the number of turn-overs, or the amount of double-dribbles.  Instead, he guided each player only in a way that resulted in joyful participation.

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We left having lost, won, and tied at least once.  My daughter, though she expected to walk away a “failure”, left with new knowledge, confidence, and deeper joy.  I am thankful that she engaged the challenge of flying balls and twisted feet.  I pray that I learn from her to have the same joy and courage when it comes to potential failure.  I pray that I have the guts to invite others to come alongside me and witness my weakness and inability.  I pray that just like her I find my value in something other than winning, gaining points, or being impressive.  Instead, I hope to score steadfastness and maturity.  James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  Every time a hurling challenge flies my direction, I can respond with thankfulness, knowing that the opportunity for joy and a strengthening of faith awaits…I just need to have open hands, elbows out, palms forward to receive it.

After the game, we went to a sandwich shop for dinner as requested by our star-player.  My jersey-wearing-girl ferociously downed her meal.  She said, “Man, playing basketball is a good workout!  I could eat two of these.”  When we also engage with the circumstances laid in front of us–when we don’t run or hide from the difficult and sometimes intimidating things to which God has called us–we get a good workout and a healthy appetite as well.  Our bodies and souls, while fatigued, become stronger and more steadfast.  Our desire for Jesus and His word intensifies.  We look less to unhealthy escapes or quick-fix wisdom because it just doesn’t sound good anymore.  We’d rather be fueled through these hard times by the healthy life-giving and recharging Word of God and His encouraging Spirit.

Thank you, God, for 5th-grade girls’ basketball.  Thank you for the awkwardness, the confusion, and the spirit to confront fear with the best of friends.  Thank you for my daughters invitation to watch her fail and for the safety she must feel in our relationship to take that risk.  Thank you for coaches that speak words of encouragement and refuse to let us quit.  Thank you, God, for the sovereignty of Your plan and Your testing through any circumstance.  Thank you for opportunities to grow and to enjoy having a position on Your team.  Thank you for gratitude and the joy that quickly follows.

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Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre!
He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.

Psalm 147:7-8

He prepares all things for our growth.  What wisdom and beauty He is.  To Him be all glory and thanksgiving!

Pass the friggin’ peas!

I realized this weekend that something has happened to me.  I wish I could say it’s been a good change– a noble transformation.  But in terms of Life After Rehab, it probably would fall under the category of “relapse”.  The best way for me to sum up my condition: an ugly exchange.

In preparation for a women’s retreat in which I am speaking in a couple of months, I’ve been studying the simple reality that God takes the bad and replaces it with good.  Charles Spurgeon calls it the ‘beautiful exchange’.  There are numerous places in Scripture where God promises to take the ugly and replace it with beauty–to give us an amazing trade.  It’s the spiritual version of receiving filet mignon in exchange for a day old peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the lunch table.  We do nothing but benefit from the deal.

However, this is what I mean by my recent ugly exchange:

I’ve given back the fillet mignon and have snatched the pb and j after it’s been halfway down the throat of another.  It’s gross and ugly.

I went from a sensitivity to the Spirit’s stimulation to an overstimulation of insensitivity.

November is the month of ‘thanks’.  It’s customary to stuff our faces, overindulging in the good stuff at Thanksgiving dinner, and go around the table giving thanks for all we have.  What better time is there than now to refresh gratitude, to count bounty, to turn away from the ugly exchange and embrace once again the good Jesus has for me?

I’ve gone from scooping up dish after dish of all that God has placed before me, to starring at my empty plate listening to others ask for me to pass the sweet potatoes.  I look down and have forgotten to lift my eyes to the cornucopia feast laid with care for me– well, for all of us.  I have starred at the emptiness and have entrapped my eyes on all that is missing, insomuch that when I hear the requests of little ones for help in cutting their turkey or buttering their roll, I forget that the table is even set.  When I hear loved ones asking me to pass the green bean casserole, I grow frustrated and disillusioned.  I merely shout back, “We don’t have turkey, we don’t have butter…there is no green bean casserole!”  But, of course, in front of my place card,  the facts are sure and certain:  There is a bounty to be had.  Yet, all I can see is scarcity on a shiny white plate.

There is nothing for me.

There is nothing for them.

What went wrong?  Where has the beauty gone?  Why has the sensitivity to the Spirit abandoned me?

I have approached the table without gratitude, with eyes closed to what the Father has prepared for me.  My vision is near-sighted and all I see is what lay immediately under my nose.  When I have been sensitive to the Spirit, it is only because my first waking breath has started with authentic gratitude.

Ann Voskamp has picked up and reenergized what has existed since creation:  “And God saw that it was good.”  It’s a fact and an attitude of thanks that our society has forgotten.  We love to wallow in our hardships.  We love to loathe in our sufferings, because to do so (in theory) receives the attention and affections of others.  Why are we so hungry for pity and mercy to fill our plates when love and grace have been poured out to quench our appetites?

Have you ever known someone who is (or perhaps you find yourself) longing for encouragement, affirmation, and care, only to receive pity?  It doesn’t satisfy our hearts.  Most of the time when we pity others, they only persist all the more in telling us how horrible or difficult the situation because their need has not been met.  In our selfishness, this only convinces us to serve another round of pity and false compassion.  Almost assuredly when we are overstimulated by the sensitivity of others all we seem to produce for them is disingenuous pity.  It’s a horrible cycle.  In our competitive society we are rarely comfortable to sacrificially love and support one another.  We wrongly assume that genuine care jeopardizes our own successes.  We desire lack-luster meals of pity because there is an absence of daily and persistent offerings of authentic gratitude for one another.

What if we daily fed to one another encouragement, reminders of God’s love, words that promote peace and gentleness?  We’d probably sound like happy-go-lucky hippies…and maybe that’s my point.

We might sound uber-positive in a sarcastic and ribbing world, and that might be uncomfortable (for us and others).  It might even look a little self-righteous or inauthentic in the eyes of those who’d rather live at surface level competing for “best-looking”, “most-popular”, or “most likely to succeed”.  However, we wouldn’t be so aggravated by the weak, the needy, or the hungry.  We’d see the feast of provision before us.  We’d smell all the wonder of pumpkin pie and desire to share it even with those who mock us.  We wouldn’t be so cruel and self-centered and we’d pass the friggin’ peace!

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I have taken the beauty of the Holy Spirit and traded it in for the old selfish pouting of the past.  What was I thinking?

When I adhere to the Word of God:

1 Thessalonians 5:18:  “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

…than I realize I have more than enough to share.  I have more than enough time.  I have more than enough compassion.  I have more than enough love.  I have more than enough prayer.  I have more than enough grace.  Not because I am righteous, holy, or better than others, but because it has been graciously given.  I stop being insensitive and annoyed and am genuinely thankful that I have been adequately equipped for all the hungry mouths before me…and I even start sounding like I have peace that passes understanding and joy that never ends.

Please, be my guest at the table and have a generous helping.  The feast set before us tastes much better…

…and there’s more than enough to go around.