Sunday, December 11, 2011

Walking in a Winter Worryland

I'm a worrier by nature. I never really knew this about myself until a few years ago I was talking to my sister about one of her children. She was describing my niece to me and she said, "She's a worrier...a lot like you." (I took me a minute to figure out that she said "worrier" not "warrior". That was disappointing, but far more accurate, I suppose.)

In retrospect, though, I had to admit she was completely on point.

When my dad was late coming home from work, I assumed he had been in a horrible accident.
When I can't get a hold of a family member, surely some great danger has befallen them.
When I get a phone call from someone out of the blue, I'm positive they're going to relay some tragic message.
I won't even tell you the thoughts that went through my mind when I was in VA and I couldn't get a hold of my husband in TX all night. (I put him on NyQuil probation after that one.)

My husband told me last night I come up with the worst possible scenario on my mind and then act as if it's the reality of my life.

So here I sit, totally stressing myself out about things over which I have absolutely no control and, frankly, things that I'm not even sure are the case. And I say to myself worry is a sin. I remind myself to cast all my cares on Him. I'm trying to present my request with thanksgiving and then let it go.

But I still have a knot in my stomach.

How do we really, genuinely, completely lay our anxieties down? I'm sitting here in a rare, quiet moment trying to be the good Christian who trusts her God.

But my head is throbbing.

In my prayers I plead with God to help me trust Him. I know He is good. I know He cares. I know His hands are capable. I know my hands are not.

But when I think about it, my heart races.

And then I read some words that pierced through the dark, anxious cloud hanging around me.
Our lives are full of supposes. Suppose this should happen, or suppose that should happen; what could we do; how could we bear it? But, if we are living in the high tower of the dwelling place of God, all these supposes will drop out of our lives. We shall be quiet from the fear of evil, for no threatenings of evil can penetrate into the high tower of God. Even when walking through the valley of the shadow of death, the psalmist could say, will fear no evil; and, if we are dwelling in God, we can say so too.
~Hannah Whitall Smith

You see, it makes all the difference when I consider my vantage point. I am not lying on the ground being buried under the troubles of this life. I am high above the worried world, safe and secure in the Shelter of the Most High God. What, for crying out loud, am I so very afraid of?

My tummy is still a little fluttery. My head definitely still hurts. I'm very much looking forward to getting some answers and putting this all behind me.

But, under the wings of God is a very good place to be. There is rest here. There is comfort here. There is a nice, gentle breeze up this high. And I'm very willing to scoot over if you want to join me up here.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

~Psalm 91:1-2,4

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tummy Time

The problem with being a baby is that you have to do things you don't like. For the sake of your "development" your parents and even your doctors subject you to frustration after frustration. In some sick, twisted way your struggles somehow build up your strength.

Not the least of these struggles is what is referred to as "tummy time".

Tummy time is that part of an infant's day where he is left face down on the floor and required to flail, whimper, and wipe his nose in his own snot and drool in order to build up the muscles in his back and neck. This job becomes increasingly more difficult when you have "off the chart" noggins like my sons do - poor kids.

As 6-week-old Jeshua was lying on his belly, starting to climb the Mt. Everest of frustration, I thought I would give the sweet guy a little morale booster because, let's be honest, it's almost just as frustrating to watch someone you love be frustrated as it is to be frustrated yourself.

I laid down on my stomach facing him and put my face right in front of his. I started saying great cheerleader phrases like, "Keep pushing! Keep pushing!" and "I know it's hard, but you can do it," and "You are working so hard. I'm so proud of you!"

And then, as is often the case, I learned something in that moment with my baby.

"This is what it means to encourage."

The Biblical idea of encouragement isn't just telling people you're-doing-great-keep-at-it-never-give-up-I'm-praying-for-you-atta-boy. Yes, verbal affirmation is great and often invaluable, but it takes even more to truly encourage someone.

It takes getting down on your belly with them.

The Bible's idea of encouragement is to come alongside someone, to spur them on, and to literally "give courage" to them. It has the idea of walking with a person, side by side, in a common direction. To truly encourage someone you can't stand at a distance. You have to be next to them, belly down and chin up.

When a friend is having a hard time in her marriage, get down with her and say, "Keep pushing! Keep pushing!" When your child is being left out because she doesn't agree with what's "cool", lay beside her and remind her, "I know it's hard, but you can do it." When your husband feels like he can't keep up with his job or his studies (or both), put your face in front of his and tell him clearly, "You are working so hard. I'm so proud of you!"

Encouragement doesn't come from the sidelines. We have to jump out of the cheering section and join our brothers and sisters in the trenches - there speaking the truth that will give them strength, boldness, and the courage to press on.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.
~Hebrews 3:13

Friday, February 04, 2011

On a mission

I have never had a mission statement, but I've always thought it sounded cool. You know, to be able to say, "Yeah, my mission statement for life is _______________," and then say something super-spiritual that perfectly (and ideally) sums up my relationships with God and others. I've tried to think of mission statements. I've tried to narrate my calling as a person. I've mentally written, edited, and scrapped many different mission statements all without really putting too much thought into it...or much prayer.

I was reading a blog the other day written by a woman with 7 kids on how she manages her home. I have one kid and a small 2 bedroom apartment and I have trouble managing my own home, so of course I wanted to glean any tips and tricks I could. She talked about chores, and about meals, and about schooling, but what stood out to me the most was toward the end of her post. Someone asked her how she was able to balance time with the Lord with her busy life and she began to talk about her mission statement.

She and her husband are extremely gifted and passionate evangelists. They love to entertain guests and show them the love of Christ in their home. At the same time, the Lord has seen fit to bless them with seven children who need her nurture and care. What started as a passing comment by a friend ("You were made to have babies") turned into her mission statement - "I've called you to bring forth life".

What a mission! What a statement! What a grand and humbling calling from the Lord.

See? This is why I want a mission statement!

I read another post yesterday entitled simply "Designing your Mission Statement" and the advice she gave was to list your roles and give a brief description of them in order to better understand the jobs God has given you as a person. She says, "Ask yourself this question: what are the important roles in my life?"

I am:
A daughter of the King
Nathan's wife
Judah and baby's mother
Bible study leader

Then she suggests that you move on to "dream" - to make goals for yourself in each of those roles.

Abby - to understand myself as a person. To know how I think, what my hangups are, my strengths and my weaknesses in order to be the "me" God desires.
A daughter of the King - to know God more fully and more deeply. I want to be constantly learning, constantly growing, constantly understanding more about the Lord than I did yesterday.
Nathan's wife - I want to support my husband in whatever way he needs. I want to be his biggest cheerleader, his best friend, his faithful champion, and his trustworthy confidant. I want to help him know the Lord more fully because of his relationship with me.
Judah and Baby's mother - I want to protect his health, foster his learning, and challenge his understanding in whatever ways I can. I want to be a faithful instructor about life, people, and most importantly the Lord. I want to help him see and know more about the world around him and the God who created him.
Homemaker - I want to run a place of peace and order. I want this to be a place where everyone, family and stranger alike, feel safe, nurtured, and free.
Bible study leader - I want to help people see and know God more fully. I want to help people get excited about the truths of Scripture, and I want to challenge and encourage them to apply those truths to their lives. I want people to be constantly deepening their relationship with the Lord, and I want to use my passion to spur them on to growth and depth.
Friend - I want to be a person of encouragement and grace. I want to be life-giving, not life-sucking. I want to feel the freedom to love others and to be loved by them. I want to be a source of peace for them.

The next step is to "Define your roles" - look at each of the roles above and think of 3-5 ways you can meet your goals in those areas.
Taking 15 minutes each day for myself (writing, a bath, reading, etc.)
Journal through FANOS (feelings, affirmations, needs, ownership, sobriety) at least weekly

Daughter of the King:
Bible study and journal every day
Quietly listen to at least one worship song every day

Nathan's Wife:
spend one-on-one time with him talking through our days every day
Ask how things are going at work and at school
Talk about the sermon every Sunday after church
Pray for him every day - ask how I can be praying for him and tell him how I've been praying for him

Judah and Baby's Mother:
Spend time every day praying with Judah
Spend time every day talking about and showing Judah God's creation (including the new baby)
Sing worship songs with Judah and teach him Scripture
Being intentional about affection and family time with our kids and in front of our kids

Spend time learning and applying how to live healthier lifestyles (meals, exercise, sleep habits, etc.)
Invest time in saving money
Keep the laundry done and the kitchen clean
Have a guest to dinner once a month

Bible Study Leader:
Spend time every day in whatever passage we are studying that week
Spend time every day praying for the girls in the Bible study
Have one-on-one time with someone from Bible study once a month

Talk to one in depth and at length once a week
Give/send a card or letter to someone once a month

This blog post has taken a couple of weeks to write, process, pray through, and evolve and in that time I feel like God has really been making it clear to me what His purpose is for me at this time in my life. I feel like I can clearly hear His words to me, His heart for me, and the mission for which He created me. You ready for this?

"I have called you to encourage and cultivate growth."

Physical growth. Intellectual growth. Emotional growth. Spiritual growth. God has called me to spend my life growing, I have been made and redeemed to lift others up and to help them grow.

So let it be written, so let it be done. I am now a woman on a mission, and I have found great freedom from things (perfection, for one...being Susie Homemaker, for another), and freedom to things (like spending the entire morning in our pajamas rocking out to Justin Roberts "Songs from the New Testament").

If God has given me a purpose, and if God has given me the means by which to fulfill that purpose, and if God has given me the opportunities to fulfill that purpose, then why should I go about my life wondering if I'm really using my time wisely or if I'm doing "enough"? "Enough" is doing the things God has given me each day to humbly reveal His glory in my life.

"Enough" is what I plan to do today, and I'm going to start by encouraging my son to eat something other than yogurt. I feel like we are both going to do some growing this afternoon.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reflecting God's Creative Side

"What's your creative outlet?"

I started asking my friends this question a few years ago when I first came to seminary. I figured everyone had to have one. Apparently, not everyone thinks this way.

I'm not a linear thinker. I'm not an analytic thinker. I think I'm a thinker, but just not what you would consider a "thinking" thinker. I tend to have a whole different way of thinking - a more "scenic route" kind of thinking. How I ever made it all the way through graduate school thinking the way I do I can't be sure.

"Make a chart of the book of Jonah," the assignment said. I handed in a map with stick figures - Kindergarten-level stick figures, at that. Somehow it still got an "A" and the comment hand-written at the top, "This is not a chart." (Okay, now I know how I made it through seminary: God's grace was hard at work in my life.)

I have a deep respect and appreciation for linear thinkers. In fact, I stand in amazement of people with type-A personalities. Most of my friends since coming to seminary fall into this category (something about graduate-level studies breeds this personality...or summons it, rather). My husband is one of these people, and I love the way he approaches our budget, understands Scripture, and diligently studies.

There are so many times that I wish I was more organized, more structured, more...linear. Why can't I just make meal plans for a month at a time? Why did I always have at least 10 major assignments left to accomplish within the last 2 weeks of the semester? Why can't I just start a journal entry with "Dear Diary"? Why did I take French for so many years and all I really remember is "quelquefois"? Why, oh why, can't I remember what happened at the Battle of Carchemish?!

And then I turn on some music, and something stirs within my soul. "Find me in the river, I'm waiting here for You" I hear him sing, and my heart starts to sing, too. I feel compelled to read a Psalm, write a poem, and praise my God for faithfully meeting me, even in the dry riverbed. I pull up pictures for visual aide, and all day long I will be thinking about the cracked dirt and God's promises that if I stay by the river I will never cease to bear fruit, not even in the dead, dry heat of summer. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I love that God can speak so clearly to me through His creative side. I love that I can look pretty much anywhere in His creation and see a deep life lesson. I love that I look at my son and am moved by the Lord's grace toward me. I love that my husband reminds me of God's faithful hesed. I love that I listen to children's songs about the Bible and am moved to tears because of the simple and profound truth I hear. I love that music makes me want to write, and I love that writing makes me want to sing praise to God. I love that God made me a creative thinker.

Back to my original question: What is your creative outlet?

The first friend I asked (who was, of course, a type-A, analytic, linear thinker) said, "I don't know. *long pause* Working on cars, I guess. I like figuring out the problem and solving it, and then fitting it all back together." Another friend answered, "Cooking. God made so many incredible flavors and spices, and I like to see how they can come together."

"Creativity" doesn't have to mean art. I'm a lousy artist, but I love to write. What's yours (ironically, you might have to get creative in thinking about your answer)? PowerPoint? Writing Greek papers? Learning new languages?

In the beginning, God created. All throughout Scripture He is making things new. How do you reflect this side of God?

What is your creative outlet?

P.S. To keep things fair, while you think about that, I'm going to go make a menu plan. I've gotta start somewhere, right?