Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Family Meeting - Creating Unity and Avoiding Power Struggles

The past two posts I wrote about my slow and powerful recovery from being a serious control freak.  My need to govern may have been stealth and unobservable by most bystanders, but my family can attest, it was mom's way or the highway when push came to shove.  (If you only knew what fortitude it takes to even type that here, you would fall down and worship God for His awesome and intimate touch and His relentless pursuit of transformation in each of our hearts).

I have come a long way, yet feel like I'm just starting to really get a grip on what it means to decide what I will do (know my boundaries and stick with them), let them decide what they will do (release and empower) and pray like crazy over the difference (trust God and step out of His place and His movement in their lives).  Not to digress too far, but I am finding that I learn lessons in layers.  It seems I started learning about healthy boundaries about 28 years ago and as I look back over the terrain of my life, I see how there have been milestones where I let the lesson sink in further and become more integrated.  I guess that is sanctification in a nutshell.  Bit by bit He makes us more and more like Him. 

I am excited to impart a few tools over the next few posts which have been of such great support to me as I am growing in this new level of release.
At the end of my last post I mentioned the "Family Meeting" which is something I really want to share with you.  This gift came my way via a sweet friend who is constantly doing diligent research and reading so she can improve the way they do "family."  I just love gleaning from her.  I'm going to jump right in here and tell you what we're doing and how it has blessed us:

Once a week, on Sunday evening, we hold a "Family Meeting."  The gist of this meeting is three-fold.  
1. Spiritual
2. Planning and Informing
3. Problem Solving

We start our meeting in prayer followed by our weekly devotion. Each member of the family takes a turn leading the devotion, so one week I present it, the next my husband guides us, the next, my 13-year-old son shares and finally my 6-year-old has his turn and then we go back through the rotation.  Since I am raising boys, I want them to ultimately lead their families spiritually, so giving them an opportunity in this devotional leadership is preparing them for that future role in their families.  We don't tell them what to do with their week as to how to lead us.  We encourage them to be thinking about their devotion all week and bring something from their personal walk with the Lord to share with the rest of us.  For my youngest, it may be a repeat of his Sunday School lesson or of some reading we did together in his Jesus Storybook Bible.  My older son may bring us a piece of wisdom from his quiet time.  My husband read through Proverbs Chapter 3 last week and then shared about what it means to him to trust in the Lord. 

Following the prayer and devotion, we go into our Planning portion of the meeting.  At this point in the meeting we might talk about things we want to plan to do together (such as going to Disneyland in the fall, or where we want to serve in our community, or what day we are all doing yardwork this coming week).  Then we lay out our coming week's calendar so everyone is aware of what is coming up for all members of the family in the next week.  Also, during this time of the meeting, my husband and I will make our "announcements."  Announcements are things we have decided as parents (that are not up for negotiation, but need to be known by the whole family).

Announcements also can include things like when I said, "I have noticed you boys are coming late to our morning lessons.  I will not wait for you.  I will keep my day rolling.  I am available for that time to teach you, but if you miss out on my availability, I am going on with my day and you will have to do your lesson alone and turn in proof of your learning to me before you will be allowed to play later in the day."  Just that kind of FYI is the "deciding what I will do" part of life that lets me free them up to make tons of mistakes as they learn from their own choices - without me yelling, getting frustrated and resentful or throwing in the towel. 

After the Planning time of our meeting we go into the Problem Solving time.  We each get to bring up concerns or requests.  We don't talk about "Mom, I need new tennis shoes," here because that is not a family issue.  We discuss things like the way we are treating one another, rules that have not been followed, guidelines for bedtime or screen use or other hot topics.  We may resolve ongoing conflicts such as when brothers are in each others' space too much or how late we tarry after church (as some of us want to get in the car and go and the more extroverted of the bunch want to stay and chat until the custodian locks us out of the building).  Each family member can bring an agenda item (or more than one, though we go around to each person in a rotation, so there may not be time for more than one concern per person). 

We have some "Guidelines" for the meeting which I'll just put out to you here:
1. One person talks at a time (we pass a little nerf ball and whomever is holding the ball is the speaker - this immediately and simply eliminates any spirit of argument and interruption). 
2. Everyone listens while someone else is talking just as they would want others to listen to them.
3. If you are bringing up a concern, you must bring a suggested solution (or two) with it.
4. If you disagree with anything someone else has said, you must present an alternative solution.
5. No solution is put in place until there is a unanimous consensus.
6. If we cannot resolve a concern, it is tabled until the following week.  

When someone brings up their concern or request, they also share their suggested solution.  Then we all talk things out, taking turns by throwing the talking ball to one another.  Finally, the ball lands in my husband's hands and he sort of wraps it up.  We keep notes on what was decided and everyone signs the notes so it is "official."  The beauty of this process is that we are all focused on solving a problem rather than arguing or complaining.  We share our concerns or questions and then we are forced to listen instead of getting stuck in defending our position.  Family members who tend to dominate have to step back and those who are reserved have to take a turn giving input.  The playing field is leveled.  We all participate together.  No question or concern is too ridiculous (we're dealing with a dreamer six-year-old here, so we do get a few doosies in the mix sometimes) or too heavy. 

We wrap up our meeting in prayer and then we spend an hour doing something fun together like going on a bike ride or out to ice cream, playing a board game, backyard soccer or hide-and-go-seek (we're dorks, I know!).  We decided having a fun, unifying activity after the meeting makes the evening something we all can look forward to, so no matter whether we resolved our concerns or not, we all end the night on an up note. 

By having an early supper, then the meeting, followed by a family fun activity, we are strengthening our bonds with one another.  We are teaching our boys valuable problem solving skills and modeling how families worship God while connecting with one another.  The fruit of this process has been rich and sweet.  Our boys feel they are giving input that matters.  They buy into the solutions because they helped decide what would happen.  They are learning to negotiate with one another instead of the occasional getting frustrated and yelling or slamming doors. Our family looks forward to Sunday evening as a time of connection.  When we are frustrated about something through the week, we don't get anxious or overwhelmed.  We can table it as an agenda item for the family meeting and trust that together we will find an answer to that concern without arguing or getting into power struggles.  We are on the same team.  God says in Ephesians for us to be diligent to preserve the spirit of unity in the bond of peace.  The family meeting does that in spades.
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If you haven't put a family meeting in place, I strongly encourage you to give this a try.  If you have other great tools for solving problems as a family or for coming together on a regular basis, please share!  We're all here to learn, grow and encourage one another.  I love hearing from you either here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.  ... 

Next week I am so very excited to be writing about Bible Journaling and how it has transformed my intimacy with God over the past month. 

Gratefully Linking Up with: theweekendbrewbutton

Friday, April 17, 2015

What Is Left When We Relinquish Everything?

A few years ago I started praying over my friendships.  It wasn't the first season of prayer in this area.  I had shared with my dear friend and prayer partner how I had a longing for more connection and sweetness with women in my life.  She said, "Let's pray over this."  God was so faithful to strengthen existing friendships and bring new women into my life - women who really love me - women whom I pray for, give to, share with, listen to and cherish - women who show up on my doorstep with flowers or a Starbucks for no reason whatsoever.  I'm beyond blessed.  

I've always had this habit of taking a weekend away at least once a year for my own personal retreat.  I pack up my paints, my camera, my Bible, my journal and my tennies and go somewhere lovely alone for two whole days.  This year a few of those friends whom I had prayed for decided we would do this get-away together.  At the last minute, one of us got ill and couldn't make it, so it was just me and my sweet friend, Christine.  We headed to San Simeon and got a room at a little inn there.  If you have never done this, or it's been long enough that you don't remember the sweetness of the last retreat you took, I encourage you to put one on the calendar asap.  It doesn't have to cost a lot.  You can go somewhere local for a day if an overnight won't work.  Swap childcare with a friend if your husband can't provide a day of caring for your children.  Just provide time to separate from life, regroup, gain perspective and rest. 

You know (or at least I pray you do) how it is when girls of any age have a sleep-over.  We stay up, chat our hearts out as we solve the problems of the world together - at least our little worlds.  Lately God has been inviting me to grow out of the habit of attempting to control others.  {You can read about that here.}  Girls, this hasn't been a perfect and pretty journey.  I've cried tears of grief as I feel myself releasing my oldest son.  I've felt confused as I wonder what takes the place of directing him and setting firm limits with consequences.  I've sensed the freedom God is providing for both him and me in the process, but with each additional relinquishing, I feel more residue of the fear that has been the trigger to years of a control-based thread that ran through my parenting.

Now I'm finding, this thread runs through my marriage too.  Yeah, baby.  Not my proudest moment, but you need to hear it, especially if you may have these leanings too.  You know how God gave curses to Adam and Eve and the snake in the garden after they all sinned?  The curse given to Eve was that she would desire to rule over her husband, but he would rule over her.  Without getting into a theological debate here, I want to say, "thanks, Eve."  I sure experience the fallout of that curse.  I would have been capable of bringing that on my own head without her help, I'm sure.  Either way, I find that I want to prescribe what my husband will and won't do - especially when it comes to how we parent our sons.

Why do I feel this drive to control others?  I'm discovering in more personal ways that the root of control lies in fear.  When we fear, we grasp at straws - and we shove God out of the picture (either quietly or boldly) as we take over "knowing how things should be" and often sharing our expectations with others around us.  You know, how we "share"?  ... "Hun, don't do that!" "Babe, you didn't let them stay up that late and eat THAT did you?"  "Don't say that around the kids, they'll start to copy you," and on it goes.  We prescribe the way others should behave because we are sure if things don't go as we expect all hell will break loose - literally.  In our attempt to keep things solid, we actually create a mess.  It may not show on the surface for years, but believe me, a habit of control only leads to two reactions from others - they either comply (agree on the outside, but never engage their hearts in the agreement) or they rebel (either boldly or passively).  Who wants that? 

So I got to the place where I had to let go.  I just had to.  Piling on rules and more rules and consequences that would happen if those rules weren't followed is not going to keep my son from the perils of adolescence.  The good news is that God moves in concert with our willingness.  As I have opened to release, He has met me and blessed me with greater peace, freedom and grace.  A deeper calmness fills our home.  My boys show love more freely.  Laughter pervades our days (instead of tension or the occasional stressed session of raised voices and hurt feelings).  We have a sweet family.  Even so, this pattern of control has been a part of our life and God saw I was ready (and even willing) to learn to live without it. 

I found myself asking God what would fill the emptiness left as I let go.  His answers have been surprising.  I have been given control in exchange for control.  I'm gaining self-control.  When I feel like correcting my son, telling him what to do, engaging in the power struggles we are so experienced at falling into, I stop.  I quiet my heart.  I turn to God.  I let go.  I have control - over me.  I have also been given freedom and trust in exchange for control.  With that has come peace - you know that famed peace that passes understanding, that's the one.  As my friend reminded me this week, we can't dictate what our children will choose anyway (and my sweet son isn't even choosing poorly yet - it's the darned fears that tempt me to board the control train time and again). 

I've come up with a little formula for myself in this process.  It goes like this:
1. Decide what I will do.
2. Let them decide what they will do.
3. Pray like crazy.

That first line - decide what I will do - is all about healthy boundaries.  I'm not talking about boundaries where I am secretly manipulating others to do what I want.  You know, the way we can say something but underneath we aren't leaving anyone in the room any real choice or room to fail.  No.  Not that.  I mean, I just decide what my limits are and I share those with my loved ones.  Then I just live within those and let them make their own choices - without my expert advice, opinion and guidance.  This stuff is uber-practical.  The other night my exhausted six-year-old was fighting sleep.  He screamed at me in the height of his tired stupor: "You can't make me sleep!"  I just said, "Oh, you are so right.  I wouldn't even try.  You are in charge of your sleep.  I'm not.  You can stay awake for the rest of your life if you like.  I'd like you to sleep because I care about you, but I would never force you to sleep."  To this, he replied with tears, "But, mommy, I'm so tired, I just have to sleep!"  You see, when there is no power struggle, the fight often is over.  Ingenious.  Amazing.  God-ordained goodness.  {After all, He is the author of will and choice}. 

Another sweet tool has been the family meeting ... but that will have to wait til next week.  Can't wait to share about it with you, though.
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Where are you in the process of letting go?  Are you finding yourself stuck in demanding that others do it the way you think it ought to be?  Are you letting go, but grieving the losses that come with any process of relinquishing?  Are you a pro at release?  I'd sure love to hear and as always I'd love to pray for you wherever you are in the process.  Share here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.

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Linking up with ....

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Confessions of a Recovering Control Freak

I hadn't seen her in a month or so - not since I went to her home to help work out the kinks in her daughter's sewing project one Saturday afternoon.  As I rounded the corner in Target, on my quick jaunt through the store - you know, just zipping through for a few things - I saw her there, staring at the clearance items in the craft section.  I said her name and she turned.  We hugged the hug of friends who miss one another but can pick up where we left off no matter the time that has passed between our last connection.  As we chatted it all came rushing out - how the family has been so sick and she's been homebound caring for them all.  The conversation turned to our teen boys.  Good boys from good homes still turn into teenagers and the various hormones and challenges {and girls!} throw us all for a loop.  I told her that after only one year of being a teen mom I had this inner urge to walk up to every mom of teens I know, give them a hug, a gift card to Starbucks and shout, "You go girl! You are a rock star!"  She said, "Why doesn't anyone tell us it will be like this?"

Now, don't get me wrong - and hang in there, all you moms of toddlers, you'll be okay.  My son is amazing.  Really.  He's doing great for this age.  Compared to me and my trek through adolescence, he deserves a gold medal.  But still.  The thing is that these years are meant for launching.  I don't know about you, but I'm not so good at the letting go part of life.  I can organize circles around people.  I am able to direct, plan and supervise.  When it comes to letting go, I'm a hot mess.

The thing no one told me about being a teen mom is the refining plan of God.  It isn't so much about my son and his need to become his own person as it is about me and my need to make sure he'll be okay - and by okay, I'm coming to find out I mean my version of okay.  I had no idea how deep this need for control was in my heart.  It just doesn't rear its ugly head in the same way with littles.

Here, in the middle of my wrestling through release, God meets me.  He has been quietly whispering redemption over unfinished business I didn't even know existed in my heart.  It is for freedom that He set us free and He continues to relentlessly and gently pursue that freedom for each of us.  His oh-so specific touches come in unexpected moments.  He speaks.  I randomly picked up The Screwtape Letters (part of my resolve to read something written by C.S. Lewis every day because his writing clears the windshield and I see God more clearly through his lens).  Right there, hidden in the preface was this amazing revelation as C.S. Lewis describes the way he imagines hell:
I feign that devils can, in a spiritual sense, eat one another; and us.  Even in human life we have seen the passion to dominate, almost to digest, one's fellow; to make his whole intellectual and emotional life merely an extension of one's own - to hate one's hatreds and resent one's grievances and indulge one's egoism through him as well as through oneself.  His own little store of passion must of course be suppressed to make room for ours.  If he resists this suppression he is being very selfish.  On Earth this desire is often called "love."  In hell, I feign that they recognise it as hunger.  
I feel this urge to assure you I haven't lived out my parenting life solely from this motive.  Whatever.  The point here is that this very motive - domination, suppression, control - has entered into my life as a parent, a wife, and probably to a lesser extent, a friend.  God in His mercy is weaning me of the need to control.  Like all weaning, it feels a bit raw as I muddle along to what is next.

Once again, this isn't just for me or even just for those of us with children.  When we examine our hearts, most of us will find places where we experience fear.  Fear leads to control.  Control leads others to two reactions.  They either conform, or they rebel.  Neither outcome comes from health and love.  We prefer conformity {mwah ha ha ... you ARE mine and you WILL do as I say}, but the truth is that conformity is external.  God wants more.  He knows what lies below the surface - in our hearts.  He longs for and moves towards obedience rooted in love.  To get us there He allows a vast opportunity for our free will and choice.  He risks our foolishness and sin so that we might choose.  I'm learning to follow His lead and allow those around me the same freedom - to fail, to fall, and ultimately to find their own way. 

What this looks like in my life is that I am confessing my blunders to my son while asking him to give me some grace as I learn how to release him.  I go to the Lord in prayer and confess my weakness and my deep need for Him.  I ask Him for grace to trust Him more.  I pour out my fears at His feet and try not to act on them in my relationships.  Perfect love casts out fear.  Trust doesn't mean promises that all will be well.  It means God will be with me when the stuff hits the fan.  Relying on Him doesn't mean others will go the paths I hope they will.  It means I can focus on my own walk and abiding relationship and leave them free to be found by God in theirs.

I am asking my son's opinion more.  I am giving him the reins in choices about his life.  I am stepping back while my husband steps in.  I am challenging my son with my ideas of what I hope he'll strive towards and asking him what standards he wants to set for himself.  It is so different from anything I've known.  Pressing down on him with more rules and consequences will only produce rebellion (outward, blatant rebellion, or passive aggressive sneaking) or a compliance that doesn't engage his heart.  As always, when it comes to Jesus, the way up is down.  The way to life is through the cross.  I'm dying again - to self-reliance and control.  Can you feel the breezes of freedom in the release?

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If you, like me, are walking into trust and letting go of control which is rooted in fear, I'd be honored to pray for you or just to say, "Way to go!" as you do.  Share here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.

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Linking up with:

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Other Half of the Story

"God never gives you more than you can handle," she says, "so, you will get through this somehow."  Hearing this profession, quoted as if from Scripture, gives me pause.  It reflects a certain perspective about God and His expectations of us.  If He never gives me more than I can handle, then He must expect me to handle it, right?  I've marched to that drum - expecting to pull myself up by the bootstraps, keep a stiff upper lip and press on (or whatever other "encouraging" can-do slogans Nike or the Queen of England want to pitch in here).

When you think about it, when the deep stuff hits the fan, it's really ALWAYS more than we can handle.  Way more.  God allows more than we can bear.  He knows we are weak.  The truth is whenever we can handle things, we often do so without a second thought about Him.  When the tide starts to rise, we reach out for help.  I'm not saying we only draw near when trouble comes, but we sure have a desperation that is hard to come by on sunnier days.  There's just something about a trial that strips us down and helps us look inward and upward. 

Life wasn't designed to be "handled" and certainly not handled on our own.  We weren't intended to bear our own burdens, solve our own problems or work out our own difficulties.  God wants us to come to Him, to depend upon Him {and others} and grow in the process.  

This week has been full of doosies. I'm on a personal learning curve in motherhood.  As our children grow, we must grow with them.  Each stage of parenting requires new skills.  Just when we get really good at what they need and how to go about things, they change and we have to adjust.  Parenting never runs on auto-pilot.  We have to engage and be willing to go through huge emotional ups and downs as we walk with our children through life.  The biggest challenges for me have come as I learn to let go and entrust my  children to God.  Sounds simple enough, but in reality I find I want guarantees from God ... I want assurances they will be okay before I really let go and trust.  Unfortunately trust doesn't work that way.  By its nature, trust means stepping out into the unknown and believing we won't fall.  Letting go of my children doesn't mean I abandon my role as their mother or set aside boundaries and limits.  It means letting go of the outcomes of my parenting and being impervious to their reactions to those boundaries.  I can only go so far laying the foundation and then they have free will as to what they do with what my husband and I provide.  This is a hugely hard pill to swallow.  Horse-sized, if you ask me.  I've gagged on it several times along the way, but I'm getting it down bit by bit.
I have to, for their sake.

You see, motherhood is a great investment, but it is an investment in a person.  We don't get to own them or determine their path.  We rear our children so that they will go on and have their own lives, still connected, but completely separate from ours.  As much as I enjoy watching my boys become more dynamic, more interesting and more themselves, grief has surprised me at each passing season. 

You may not be a mother.  I bet you still have something in your life which has some claw marks on it from clinging while God is asking you to release. 

Pull up Pinterest, Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram and you are flooded with images of life going well.  Picture perfect living explodes across the screen.  Celebrations, smiles {along with great lighting and Photoshop} sometimes shed a falsely biased glow over the lives we see from the outside.  It can start to feel pretty lopsided - maybe THEY are handling what God has given them.  Maybe I'm the only one who ever raised her voice at her children or skipped a shower and just washed up with a baby wipe or fed the kids cereal for supper.  Maybe I'm alone in this imperfection and weakness.

So, we decide not to share the other half of our story.
We tuck it away behind our own posts of goodness and all-American dreams come true.

Trust me.  Behind every one of those enviable posts lives a real person with real problems, trials of their own, an occasional broken heart and learning curves that take their breath away.  Behind each of the golden moments, real people are living real lives with real struggles and their own fair share of both good and bad days.

We all know this, but sometimes it just needs to be shouted out again ... We aren't perfect - not one of us.  Do you remember in the Wizard of Oz, when they finally come to him, all eager to get their wishes met?  The curtain is pulled back exposing the wizard for what he really is ... just a man from Kansas.  Life can pull back the curtain on us, and it should.  We aren't super-human.  We don't need to be

Right now, as I sit processing the emotions of this week, I'm acutely aware of the need I have for God and His power, love and comfort.  I'm learning afresh that life isn't a relay race, where God passes me a baton and expects me to run the next stretch without Him or others beside me.  I'm sharing my burdens with others and asking for their help.  To say that is hard is an understatement.  As humbling and awkward as it is, I am reaping great benefits by letting others pour wisdom, prayers and words of hope into my parched heart.

I'm leaning on God - literally crying out to Him at times.  I'm remembering, when I am weak, He is strong.  His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

Someone once told me, "God is a gentleman.  He won't force Himself on you.  If you want to run the show, He'll step back and let you."  I think some of that is true.
Running the show is tiring.  Letting go is hard.  He remains present.   

This post won't be my all time favorite.  It may not even "generate traffic."  I'm sort of under the heap right now - living out the other half of the story - the one that never makes it onto social media because it isn't about how to bake the perfect pie, decorate your mantle just so, or parent with finesse.  I decided to write this anyway, because maybe like me, you need to hear the other half of the story sometimes.  Maybe you need to know you aren't alone.  Maybe you need that curtain pulled back on my life so you can have the courage to let yours be drawn open as well. 

It will pass.  I'll make it through.  Just for tonight I didn't want to paint it other than it is - momentarily difficult, painful and reaching up to Jesus.

I can't handle all that life will dish at me, but He can and always will.

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I would love to hear from you.  If you are struggling or celebrating, I want to hear the other half of your story.  
Feel free to comment here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.  
Let's encourage one another and remember together we are never alone. 

Linking Up With:
 Fellowship Friday 64 & Burdens

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Silencing Your Inner Pharisee

She stepped up to the stage, bent over her guitar case and took her place on the stool in front of the microphone.  Clearing her throat as she averted her glance towards the floor, she said, "You'll have to excuse me, I'm a little nervous."  From the first strum, I sat captivated.  Her voice was flawless and lilting in all the right ways.  She held her guitar with an ease that told me this was her solace and her passion.  I felt my tears welling up as I watched her tell a story with her music.  Every so often throughout the performance her voice would crack just the tiniest bit and she would shake her head ever so slightly as if to say,
"Not good enough."

When the recital was over, I made my way over to her and said, "I just wanted to tell you how beautiful your voice is and how moved I was - almost moved to tears - by the gift you have in your music.  Thank you for blessing us with it.  Oh, and one more thing.  I saw you shake your head at yourself on several occasions as you played.  You don't have to do that.  You are amazing.  Please don't ever shake your head at yourself."  I was near tears again as I walked away from her - her mother standing behind her, silently mouthing, "Thank you," to me.  It was a message she wanted to give to her daughter, but at this age they don't always want to hear it from mom.

I felt like crying because as I was telling her, I was telling myself.  I felt her pain of her self-rejection as I affirmed, "you don't have to shake your head at yourself." I knew what it feels like to be shot down by critics.  I understand the all too familiar feeling that comes from internalizing those voices until they sound like your own.  Perfectionism is poison.  Jesus called it leaven - the yeast that goes through the whole loaf that we are to avoid like the plague.   

You don't have to believe the lie: 
Not. good. enough.

I know that message and maybe you do too:  "Here's the mark, and you missed it."  Just whose mark is it that we are trying so hard to meet?  Why is this mark always just beyond our reach?  Even when we achieve what it is that we thought would make us happy or gain us approval, it is as though a new mark takes its place and on we go, jumping ever higher, but never quite satisfied with our own performance.  All the while we are missing out on the biggest piece of the picture: abiding in love. Then comes the greatest injury of all - we transfer our perfectionism onto God. 

This week I've been pondering the Pharisees.  Wherever we see Jesus interacting with them, we see them questioning Him (either directly or indirectly).  He responds by either turning the tables on them so that they are left unable to corner Him, or by calling them out, exposing their sins.  In no other encounters do we see Jesus in direct conversation rebuking people, saying, "Woe to you."  He met many who would seem to warrant condemnation and rebuke - harlots, thieves, drunks and the adultress.  What was it about this group of religious leaders that caused Him to speak out so often and so severely?

What is the sin of the Pharisee?  Basically, as I have searched through scripture this past week, I'm seeing the pattern of their lives -
  • Beautiful and put together on the outside, while covering sin on the inside; 
  • making a public show of their religious practices while neglecting their own inner life with God (abiding, love, mercy and humility); 
  • Heaping rules on people rather than extending hope; 
  • Preaching works righteousness rather than grace and dependence.  
The Pharisee elevated himself based on his own works and then laid out a spiritual "to do" list for others.  In so doing, he blotted out any need for God.  It's the tower of Babel all over again ... "I'll work my way to heaven." 

Jesus made a statement about the Pharisees once to his disciples.  He said, "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."  Here are the pillars of the faith - the Pharisees - those looked up to as holding the keys to the kingdom.  We are told that we have to be even more righteous than them.  At first glance it might seem that Jesus is asking us to do even more ... if the widow tithed her little mite which was all she had, I start to think I have to give even more sacrificially than her.  When is it enough?  How can I be sure?

We can try to perform for Jesus, hoping against hope that our giving, serving and doing is good enough.  Secretly, in the recesses of our hearts, we know it is not.  So we push ourselves to do more.  A mentality based on earning will turn us into religious workaholics - and sister, I've been there.

Into this frenetic striving Jesus breathes peace.  What does it mean to be more righteous than a Pharisee?  Jesus shows us, and it boils down to two simple aspects of life with Him.  Above all else our righteousness must not consist of actions divorced from our heart.  Our inner and outer lives must come together so that all our works are fruit which fall from the tree of our abiding, rooted in faith and nourished by grace and love. 

Our works are fruit.  They do not earn us one thing.  They never have and they never will.
Consider Eph 2:8-10 
For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves.  It is the free gift of God, not as a result of works, than no one can boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Yes, we work.  He planned for us to work.  Rather than producing salvation or sanctification, our works are a response to a relationship.  They are a reflection and extension of our abiding relationship, revealing His work in us.  Any other work is empty and will burn off like chaff.  Why?  Because God wants YOU, not your works.  We might be satisfied keeping Him at arms length while we do all the good deeds of the faith, but He knows we need more than a job to do and a standard to live up to.  We need Him.    

Secondly, we remember that our righteousness is not our own.  On the cross, Jesus made the great exchange.  He took every sin we committed or will commit and every sin committed against us upon Himself and gave us His perfect righteousness in trade.  I'm not just preaching to the choir here.  I am reminding myself and you of the essence of the good news of freedom.  It's a done deal.  He did it already.  That righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees, it's yours - free of charge to you, at full cost to Him, because of His great love with which He still loves you as you are right now.  Just take a bath in that truth.  Can you soak down into it until your soul gets all pruney with the goodness of it?  If it isn't in your bones, it's got further to go.  Let the gospel get into the deepest parts of your heart.  You are beloved - as is.  You are righteous now - in Him.  No works will achieve your heart's desire - just faith and grace filled with love. 

We all have our own inner Pharisee - that voice telling us to jump a little higher, to make the outside look good and never, never let them see us sweat.  We may try to check off the boxes on our own religious to-do list (praying in the morning, at meals, making sure we go to Bible Study, giving to the needy, be a godly wife and friend and on it goes).  All those things are wonderful, but if they aren't fruit, they are burdens which do nothing but separate us from God.  God aims to release us from these burdens and transition us from trying to "be good enough" to the place where we know in the depths of our soul that we are His beloved.
We didn't earn it and we can't lose it. 

We can strive to earn the gift or we can open it, savor it, and like a little child, look up from this lavish provision and ask with all joy, "For me?" 

This week as you go through your life, notice the voice telling you, "You need to lose weight," "Don't let them see you struggle," "You ought to say, 'yes' to that," "You aren't special" ... and silence your Pharisee.  Jesus is always in the business of shutting down the Pharisees.  He speaks peace and grace where they speak law and works.

Hear Him saying, "Woe to you, you blind guides, you empty, whitewashed tombs"
... and then hear instead His beaconing invitation, 
"Come unto Me, Abide, You are already My beloved."

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I love hearing from you.  Feel free to comment here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.  

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When the Road Ahead is Unclear


Life feels predictable at times.  My calendar teems with plans bound to happen.  Our checkbook is balanced with enough to cover anticipated costs and then some.  Jobs seem secure and promised.  Everyone in the family is healthy enough for me to take it for granted.  The living room is vacuumed, the dishes are clean and stacked in the cabinets and my "to-do" list seems attainable.  It is well with my soul when I can check off the boxes and feel a sense of control.

At other times life throws curve balls - hard ones.

I remember when we were selling our first home.  I was six months pregnant with our first son and my mother-in-law sent us an email with a link to some new houses being built in her area where mortgages were going to be way more affordable than our current home in Los Angeles.  My (up to this point) very stable and predictable husband decided overnight that we ought to move to the Central Valley.  So we sold.  But it didn't happen quite that easily.  Our house was on the market for weeks with people parading through at all sorts of hours while we kept things immaculate and took the dog on an infinite number of walks to clear out for would-be buyers.  We did finally sell, but that inbetween waiting period was excruciating - exacerbated by the nesting instinct I was going through.  I longed to nest and I was being uprooted instead.

You know how that is.

We want roots.  We want predictability.  We want a plan.  Or at least we want a clue as to which way the wind is going to blow so we can properly set the sails.

If we are honest we'll admit that in the midst of these "hallway" experiences - where we are neither "here" nor "there" but just in the middle ground that seems like no man's land - we can get a bit upset with God.  I mean, shouldn't He give us a hint as to what is going on?  Wouldn't it help for Him to give us a heads up?  He sees us wrestling and yet sometimes we wait and wait and nothing seems to change and there isn't even a sign as to when this indefinite period of ambiguity will come to a close.

Years before that house sold, I lost my job.  I didn't know if we were going to be able to keep the apartment where we then lived.  What would become of me?  Would I ever work again?  It seems like a lifetime ago when this happened, but in the midst of that trial, I felt like a looming mountain was over my head and every direction I turned I hit wall after wall.  Ultimately I got a much better job and was able to finish my graduate degree while working, but in the middle of the storm I had no idea which way things would land

I endured way worse trials when my father died, when my marriage hit unthinkably hard times, when dear friends ripped the rug out of relationship, when chronic health problems would not relent, when we left a church which had been our spiritual home for years, when people sinned against me or when sins I had committed caught up with me.  Each of those experiences brought with it some sense that life had hit a dead end and I had seen the last of the "good ol' days."

Sometimes we wait for someone to respond to an outstretched apology.  Other times the doctor needs to call us with the results of our test.  We can be waiting for a bomb to drop - just knowing that our boss or our spouse has news that will turn our life upside down.  Waiting can even be for something wonderful like a new job, a proposal or a move.  When it isn't coming as expected we feel unearthed and uneasy.  I don't know about you, but sometimes I'd rather have bad news than no news.

Why does God not just forklift us out of these hallway experiences?  Why isn't He like the great prince on a stallion, riding through and scooping us up, preventing our tears and grief?  I will tell you what I have come to believe is at least part of the answer.

While we long for something concrete - a sense of control and direction - God longs for us.

He knows that giving us what we are asking for - earthly security and one more chance to grab at the steering wheel of our own life - will keep us from true dependence upon Him.  As I look back over the many "hallways" of uncertain times and the trials where my heart broke in two, I see clearly that I drew nearer to God in those times than in most others. 

God is the lover of our soul, the Good Shepherd.  His name is Jehovah Jireh - The Lord, My Provider.  Abraham spoke this name when God provided a ram in place of Isaac after Abraham had bound Isaac and was prepared (knife poised) to sacrifice his son.  Talk about an excruciating waiting period!  God did come through, but as He did, He brought Abraham to a place of deeper faith through the process of waiting. 

I am not of the mind that God brings calamity as an enemy bombs a shelter.  God is lavish in His provision and He longs for us as a mother for her children or a lover for His beloved.  If we will not give our children stones when they ask for bread, it doesn't make sense that God would bring illness, calamity and hardship on those He loves.  As Dallas Willard said often, "Don't ever believe a bad thing you hear about God - God is light and in Him is no darkness whatsoever."  Amen, Dallas.  God doesn't bring these hardships, but He allows them and makes good use of them - for our good and the deepening of our connection to Him. 

God uses these trials - and even the foggy times of waiting - to give us an invitation and an opportunity.  He is with us in the waiting.  He asks us to wait on Him.  Not only that, He promises His presence and support as we do:
Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up on wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary (Is 40:31).  
We wait and He waits with us.  Let's not waste these precious times of waiting by wishing them away.  We can grieve and cry out to Him (a great way of connecting authentically which is modeled throughout scripture, especially in the Psalms).  We can be filled with a range of emotions.  Simultaneously we can choose to receive the gift He has for us in each of these seasons - the gift of greater intimacy with Him.

The hallway can be uncomfortable with all its unfinished business.  We long for a place to settle and we want answers.  I'm not saying you should set up camp in the hallway, but maybe you can pause and see the goodness of His presence with you - as you wait.

Where you are, He is with you - Jehovah Jireh, Your God and Provider.

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Feel free to share your "hallway" here in the comments or on my Facebook Page.  I would love to pray for you as you wait.  

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

God is With You

My friend and I sit on couches facing one another, sharing depths of our hearts and listening.  We hold sacred space as we read from spiritual books together, pray and dare to speak of longings and brokenness.  One phrase echoes in my heart:

God is with me. 

So simple and yet the strongest of tethers, this short string of words bound my wounds and instilled hope.  Life can be so unpredictable and relationships upend us without notice.  The impeccable and intimate timing of the Lord through the midst of trials brings the very words we need to hear to draw us nearer.  

I'm bringing up two boys.  Their lives entwine with mine and I feel all the ebbs and flows of what comes at them and through them - oh the growing pains of motherhood!  Through it, the echo persists:

I am with you

Just in this season, I picked up a book which I had dabbled into a few years ago.  I never made it past the first few chapters then and the message never permeated past my spiritual epidermis.  This time through I am sopping up the goodness.  Sitting in my chair at church I heard a quiet thought, "Read Leanne Payne again."  That same week in a conversation with my mentor she happens to mention, "I was thinking you might want to read Leanne Payne."  Then I receive an email that Miss Payne was very ill and needed prayer.  A week later I got the email announcing her passing and commemorating her ministry and her love affair with Jesus.  Sometimes God leads us so specifically

Miss Payne begins her book by celebrating smallness.  What a way to start!  A woman with an international healing ministry talks about the essential need to acknowledge her own insignificance.  I remember writing just a few weeks ago about what it means to find strength in weakness ... again God echoes His messages to me.

As significant as that was, the second chapter calls me deeper still.  Here she explores the need and blessing of practicing the presence of God.  

As I read about Henri Nouwen, C S Lewis, Mother Theresa, Brother Lawrence and others I hear the echo deep within me 

I decide to practice this discipline by repeating that phrase throughout my day.

I'm painting baseboards in our Living Room:

God is with me ...
I'm reaching out to my teen son as he navigates the hard roads of growing up:
God is with me ... 

I'm hosting children in my home:

God is with me ... 
I'm listening to a friend as she shares a burden: 

God is with me 
I'm discussing finances with my husband:
God is with me. 

It isn't just a mental exercise of repeating words.  This mantra awakens my amnesia-prone soul to the reality of what is unseen.  As Paul told us to "fix your eyes not on what is seen, but is what is unseen," these words give me spiritual binoculars to see beyond what presses in around me.  Elisha saw chariots of fire all around on the hills - He saw what was unseen and that seeing gave him peace, courage and wisdom.  When I remind myself "God is with me" I see beyond my circumstances.  I enter His presence and everything is transformed. 

After years of walking with Him, I feel like a baby all over again as I practice His presence in this way.  How often do I go through my day keeping Him at arms length or acknowledging Him on occasion or waiting until certain moments of the day to draw near - during devotions or prayers at mealtime or bedtime or when trouble crowds in?
By simply saying in my heart, "God is with me," I am brought to a moment-by-moment faith.
God is near.  

The deepest desire of our hearts cries out to be beloved, forgiven and held.  Like winter snow piling up over flowerbeds, our daily shuffle can crowd out His presence.  He remains, yet we can not sense how near. We have covered Him without meaning to and we long for what is hidden yet alive with promise. 

We are beloved, yet we live like those who need approval and fear rejection.
We are invited, yet we remain just outside the banquet hall.
We are chosen, yet we act like we never made the cut.

Just today, even this week, I invite you to join me in remembering.   
God is with you.Remind yourself in as many moments as you can.  Don't leave your bed in the morning without stilling your rambling thoughts and recalling how cherished you are - by the God who is with you always.  As you go through your day, bring to mind, "God is with me."  Allow the awareness of His presence to become like air to you.  It won't come easily at first, but as with any practice, in due time you will not even have to work at all at what had been a discipline.

I would love to hear from you as you practice the presence of God.  Feel free to share here or share on my Facebook page

Let's remember together:
God is with us.

Linking up with ... beloved_brews_faithbarista_badge “countingmyblessings"Picture Grace&Truth-300x300Fellowship Fridays 61 & Friends