Monday, February 27, 2012

Growing Pains

My legs used to hurt so much I felt I couldn't stand it.  Many times I couldn't settle into sleep at night.  I guess they didn't know then that extra calcium would have relieved the ache... I vividly remember the night--it seemed like it was the middle, the very darkest part of the night--that my mom put me in a tub filled with warm water.  She swished the water around and murmured comforting words, "It's just growing pains...they won't last...this pain is because you're growing taller."  But I would have amputated those legs in a heartbeat.  Gladly.  And been crippled for the rest of my life.

It's very, very hard to recognize discomfort, much less pain, as a good thing.

Growing pains can easily be mistaken as an indication of harm or trauma rather than growth.

So how do I know if what I'm suffering is trauma or growth?  Is the current discomfort a sign of something terribly wrong or gloriously right?

If you've ventured into new territory, decided to make changes, are attempting to leave behind the status quo, seize the dream that's stirred your will experience growing pains.  In the same way your arms and legs grew too long for your brain when you were a teenager, your heart has outgrown your current equilibrium. Inevitably, venturing into unknown territory will rattle your sense of identity, confidence in your ability might waver.  All because you've been bold and brave enough to reach for more, bigger, deeper, higher than you've ever gone before. 

This discomfort is good.  It's a sign of growth.  It'll make you lean into the Source of strength, wisdom, and grace.

There will be moments when it would be so much easier to back off, back down, back up...anything to relieve the discomfort.  Don't do it.  Hang in there.  Remain focused.  Remember the words He has spoken--both the ones written in the Book and the ones that He's breathed into your spirit.  His words are spirit and life, the calcium that eases the growing pains.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don't try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he's the one who will keep you on track.
Don't assume that you know it all.
Run to God!
Run from evil!
Your body will glow with health, 
your very bones will vibrate with life!

Proverbs 3:5-8 MSG

*John 6:63

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Getting Your Face Washed

Today is Ash Wednesday.  When my kids attended the Catholic school they were required to attend mass on this day.  The priest would mark the sign of the cross on their foreheads with a mixture of ashes and holy water to remind them of repentance.  They were to leave this black smudge for the rest of the day as a sign of humility.

They hated it.  It was itchy.  It felt shameful to them.  They couldn't wait to wash it off as soon as they came home.  I have to say that I was happy to remove that stain from the faces of the little ones I love.  Turns out it's a pretty effective object lesson in so many ways...

Sin can be so much fun at the time--afterward it's so uncomfortable.  It itches and rankles and tears at our spirits.  Regret blocks out the sunlight.  Shame saps energy.  We just wish it could be wiped away...and it can!  What joy it is to be cleansed!  How much joy it must give our Father when we let Him remove the stain!  How awful would it be to keep that stain when He's longing to remove it?

I remember a day when the kids were all preschoolers and I was trying to get everyone out the door, but no one else felt any sense of urgency.  In fact, they were squabbling in the doorway.  I totally lost my temper and I YELLED at them.  It worked.  They paid attention and in that moment it was such a relief to let loose with my emotions.  But it wasn't long until I began to feel ashamed.  They were being kids, very little kids, kids in training.  Yes, there were plenty of reasons why I felt pushed right over the edge.  I'm human and I'd reached my limit.  I felt awful.  I'd dishonoured little people that I loved very much.  I told them I was sorry, but I still felt gross.

When I arrived at my destination I burst into tears, telling my friend all about what a horrible mother I was.  My little one came up to me and--with very big, earnest, blue eyes--asked why I was crying.  I told her I felt so awful for losing my temper.  She reminded me that I'd said sorry to them and then asked, "Did you tell Jesus you're sorry?"  I responded that, yes, I had.

"Well, then you're just being silly!"  And she ran off to play.

I laughed.  A wobbly, watery, semi-hysterical laugh.  She'd nailed it.  Taken away all my right to wallow in shame.  Gone.  Washed.  Free.

We have no business punishing ourselves.  Whether we've lost our tempers or committed a "biggie," the price for our freedom has been paid.  To say we cannot forgive ourselves is the worst kind of pride, it is to say that His gift is not enough.

If we've harmed others through our sin, we need to make it right with them and then go get our face washed.

Today is a good day to have the stain washed away.  Smudges of dirt and shame don't belong on the faces of the King's children.  You were created to shine with His's not a glory earned, but bestowed.  Let Him wash you.  He's longing to.

I've tried everything and nothing helps.  
I'm at the end of my rope.
Is there no one who can do anything for me?
Isn't that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.
He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions 
where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind,
but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved.
Those who enter in Christ's being-here-for-us 
no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud.

A new power is in operation.
The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind,
has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you
from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

Romans 7:24-25;8:1-2 MSG

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In His Image

Today I made a new skating dress for my little one.  She needs two for the competition on the weekend.  She was so excited that she could hardly stand it and was willing to do just about anything to help me so I'd be free to work on the dress.  She loaded the washing machine, made tea, passed pins, and cut some of the simpler pieces.

It was so much fun!  It's always fun to make something beautiful--even more fun when it's to delight someone you love.  It made me think of my Papa...and I imagined His pleasure as he flung those northern lights across the sky on Valentine's Day knowing that it would give my heart shivers of wonder.  Did His eyes twinkle when He poked those two dimples in my daughter's cheeks knowing I'd relish them?  And that sunrise this morning...did He smile in anticipation of my pleasure?

When He created us "in his own image," He gave us a drive to create.*  I used to think I wasn't creative because I couldn't paint a picture or write a I recognize "in His image" creativity everywhere.  In my sister who turns a ball of yarn into a beautiful sweater, my friend who cooks and bakes endless delights, one who photographs to capture glory, one who builds a house, one who can't stop doodling, and the one who creates solutions for problems.  Reflections of His creative nature are everywhere.  We have an urge to co-labour with Him in creating.

And so my little one urgently wants to help me.  She cut the straight lines and sewed the simpler curves.  She made a matching scrunchy for her hair.  When all was said and done she declared, "It's beautiful!"  She pirouetted and revelled in the swirl of the skirt.  Said it was fun making the dress with me.

Yes, yes, it was.  My heart lifted praise to my Papa because it's fun creating with Him.  My stitches were lovely, but they became breathtaking when filled with the dancing, swirling life He created.

Every moment that catches our breath is an invitation to worship.

"You are worthy, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honour and power.
For you created all things,
and they exist because you created what you pleased."
Revelation 4:11

*Genesis 1:27

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Unscripted Romance

I'm not very good explaining why Valentine's Day isn't a really big deal for me.  It usually ends up coming across as a judgement on the way others do it.  Believe me, it's not!  I've thoroughly enjoyed everyone's romantic updates on Facebook.

You see, if I'd married a man who was a crazy romantic and loved setting up secret rendezvous and writing steamy sonnets, I'm sure I'd love it!  I'm very romantic at heart.  But I didn't.

When the honeymoon was over, I needed to learn to really love the good man I married.  The committed, for better or for worse, until death do us part, on good days and bad days, kind of love.  Yes, he needed to learn to love me in ways that are meaningful to me too--but I didn't/don't get to demand that or the timetable.

It was sometime during the years when all three of the kids were preschoolers (two still in diapers) and I a sleep-deprived wreck, that I realized I felt pretty despondent about the unromantic state of our matrimony.  Actually, there were times I felt downright angry and indignant.  I was trying so hard to do all the things I was supposed to do (according to the books I'd read) to keep up my end of the deal.  I could have listed all the things he wasn't doing that I thought he should have been doing.  This included being more "romantic."  He wasn't following my script.  At all.  The script seemed so reasonable to me.  It seemed others were following it.

I was offended.

Offended.  Not ticked or annoyed.  Offended.  In the core of me resentment and a sense of self-righteousness had taken root.  It doesn't take a genius to recognize this wasn't headed in a very good direction.  I felt a little terrified and helpless.

The kindness and patience of God is abundantly obvious to me because He speaks into the turbulence of our lives.  Maybe I was just uninformed.  Maybe we just have to learn some lessons through the process.  Whatever the case, it certainly wasn't out of my own wisdom that I figured out the key.  I needed to forgive him.  Not because he said sorry.  Perhaps he hadn't done anything wrong.  I needed to forgive because through pain and disappointment I had let offense take root in my heart.

I needed to forgive him for failing to meet my expectations.

I was really and truly afraid that by letting going of my expectations maybe I was letting him off the hook...losing control...and maybe somehow losing hope of him loving me in a way that felt meaningful to me.  I felt like I was letting go of some of my rights.  In a wild and reckless bid for freedom I chose forgiveness anyway.

I never said a word to him about it, but something changed, something shifted, in our marriage that day.   What I did was set him free to love me the way that had been in his heart to love me all along.  I think it may have become less intimidating to express love to me.  I was set free to recognize his love in ways I hadn't been able to before.

He is actually very romantic--it's just not according to the script and I was missing it all when I was angry.  I couldn't receive the gifts he was trying to give to me when my hands were full of my own expectations.

I read The Five Love Languages and began to make the translation from his love language to mine.  I've learned to see the way he immediately fixes a loose handle on a pot as an expression of tenderness.  When he builds something for our home his fingers are fashioning poetry in wood.  The twinkle in his eyes now speaks volumes to me--even when he doesn't have words.  I learned to choose to express love in ways that are meaningful to him and not just instinctive to me.  We're both still learning--'til death do us part.  Why don't they make movies about stuff like that?

I've had to lay down my expectations again and again, only to discover a hundred other ways he loves me.  Roses may not be delivered today because the calendar says he must or because I've badgered him into it, but someday when his heart tells him I need a boost he'll bring me a bouquet.  I'll feel like the luckiest woman alive.

He's a prince among men and I wouldn't trade him for anybody.

I have learned to truly love the person I married.

In fact, I'm crazy about him.

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave.
Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame.

Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it.
If a man tried to buy love with all his wealth,
his offer would be utterly scorned.

Song of Songs 8:6-7

Monday, February 13, 2012

Stones of Remembrance

Several years ago we had a mostly new group of people in our home fellowship group so we did a getting-to-know-each-other-better exercise.  We each took a stone and wrote a word on it that represented a time in our lives when we saw God help us in a significant way.  Then we told our stories to each other.

This exercise was based on Joshua 4:4-7:

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen...
He told them, "...Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it on your shoulder...
...We will use these stones to build a memorial.
In the future your children will ask you,
'What do these stones mean?'
Then you can tell them, 'They remind us...
that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the 
Ark of the Lord's Covenant went across.'
These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.

It was a profoundly moving exercise and the beginning of a great bond in our group.  When the evening was over I took the stones my husband and I had written on and put them on the window sill.

The house we were living in at the time was 1300 square feet.  When my kids (then ages 3, 4 &7) woke up the next morning, the very first thing they noticed was the stones.

They asked.  

I told them, "They remind us..."

Of course they wanted to do their own stones!  We built a little pile on the window sill.  It grew.  Some got scattered along the way.  I've tried to keep them on a tray of candles.  Long periods of time go by and we don't really think about adding another stone (though I know we overlook many opportunities).

Yesterday, my son added another stone.

You see, we gave him a bow and arrow for Christmas--something his warrior heart has passionately longed for.  It turned out it wasn't a very good one so we took it back to the store.  Unfortunately, they didn't have another with which to replace it.  My husband did a lot of research.  The next best thing we could find was quite a bit more expensive.  Devin was frustrated.  Discouraged.  Sometimes angry.  He felt like this always happens.

Yesterday husband and son visited an archery club so they could try out a variety of bows to get an idea of what they should be looking for.  They had so much fun!  The club was full of life-like targets and people who know a lot about archery.  Kind strangers gave my son all kinds of tips.  He tried out a variety of bows.  He was in boy heaven!

Then someone gave him a really excellent bow their child no longer used.  To keep.  I wish you could have seen his face when he came bursting through the door to show me.  It was even better than what he thought he wanted.  The wait had been very, very hard for his little heart, but now it was all worth it!

After all the exuberant story-telling and demonstrations, he wrote on his own stone of remembrance.

A foundation of faith is being laid.  He's going to need the reminder.  He has higher mountains to climb and bigger rivers to cross.  Hopefully, the stone will help him remember.  His Father is with him.  He cares about the things that matter to his heart.  God's plan is always better than what we think we want.

Remembering gives us strength to endure the waiting with joy.

Whatever you're facing today, you've been prepared for it.  Remember what He has done.  

Take courage.  


So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord!  

Psalm 31:24

Friday, February 10, 2012

Good for Your Health

Hope is good for your health.  Weariness, anxiety, and dread weaken us body, soul, and spirit.  "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones" or "saps a person's strength."  Don't we know it!

All this pondering and pursuing of hope this week has been good for me.  Letters from other hope pursuers have inspired me.  I'm not nearly as tired as I "should" be on a Friday night.

I see that the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad,
and my tongue shouts his praises!
My body rests in hope.

~ As I was drafting this post, I got a message from my beautiful sister-in-love Erin that her health situation has gone from worse to...worser?  The words are blurring through my tears.  I pause and wonder if I can post such a thing at such a time...  I can because hope isn't truly hope until it faces something we can't fix or change on our own.

I'm confident that God is right beside her...that He cares...that we will look back and see His hand...I see her surrounded by a loving community, but the wait has been so very long.  Will you pray with me for Erin, that her hope will be renewed, and that the miracle will come soon?

May your heart be glad and body be at rest as you place your confidence in the Lord.

Proverbs 17:22b KJV/NLT;  Acts 2:25-26 NLT

Thursday, February 9, 2012

When You're Low on Hope

What do we do when we run low on hope?  Some days life comes at us from all directions and some days the wait for the promise gets long...  Our hope gets battered.  Never mind "extreme hope," we'd be happy for a shred of hope!

First of all, I think it's really important to be honest when we're feeling low on hope.  (Nothing will sap that last little bit of hope energy like trying to pretend you're something that you're not.)  It happens.  We're human.  There is no condemnation, but there are ways to have your hope refreshed.

There are a few things that help me a lot...

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us.
And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement
as we wait patiently for God's promises to be fulfilled.

I have my favourites.  Both Joseph of the multi-coloured coat and King David inspire me.  So much many times it looked like circumstances and other people were wrecking the good plan...but God's promises were still fulfilled.  Just reading and rereading certain Psalms can refresh my hope.

I also love hearing the God stories of others.  I challenge you to ask someone you consider faith-filled to tell you one of their best God stories.  Chances are it'll remind you of something in your own life and before you know it, you'll be hope-full again.  In fact, both of you will be renewed!

Finally, when you're running low on hope ask someone to pray for you.  It's always a bit of a risk.  I dread getting a whole lot of well-intentioned advice or being misunderstood, but a wise friend will let you pour out your heart and then carry you to the heart of the Father in prayer.  Some of my friends prayed for me this week when I was feeling really weary in my home schooling and it changed everything.  I may never stop being surprised by what a huge difference it makes when I ask someone to pray for me.

Glory to the One who is the source of our hope and who sustains our hope!

Blessing you with the shred of hope you need.  Feed that hope and you'll have extreme hope, overflowing hope.  Hope that preys on hopelessness.

I pray that God, the source of hope,
will fill you completely with joy and peace
because you trust in him.
Then you will overflow with confident hope
through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:4, 13
P.S.  If you need someone to pray for you and you don't know who to ask, send me a private message.  I'll pray.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

More Than Optimism

Ten years ago I was in the home of someone I barely knew.  In their washroom was an artfully decorated and framed quote.  I had to copy the words.  It was beautifully written.  If the hosts thought it was strange that I came out scrabbling for pen and paper and returned to the washroom, they were too polite to mention it!  :-)  I've had that little scrap of paper under the blotter on my desk ever since.

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.  
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well,
regardless of how it turns out.

I later learned that this was written by Vaclev Havel while he was being held as a political prisoner under a communist regime.  He was there because he believed in and was vocal about freedom.  He had hope that Czechoslovakia would be a free country again.  

I don't know if he knew that he was quoting the essence of one of my favourite hope verses, but he was:

And we know that God causes everything to work together
for the good of those who love God
and are called according to his purpose for them.

This verse doesn't say that God causes everything...humans cause all kinds of trouble.  But he can make something beautiful out of anything for those who are willing to trust Him with their lives.  

This is hope.  

It's a promise I've put to the test.  There's no limit to what kind of circumstances He can transform.  

This is more than the power of positive thinking.  It's a promise backed by the character of God.

Extreme hope that preys on hopelessness.

Romans 8:28 NLT

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Extreme Hope

Last week my beautiful friend Jen sent me a text in which she said, "I bless you with extreme hope, abiding faith, extreme hope that preys on hopelessness."

It kind of blew my hair back.  It's like she had seen into a secret place and typed out one of my heart's desires.  It's a longing that has defied description, but she described it.  I've been savouring those words.

I have hope.  Lots of hope.  Hope is one of the words that defines my life.  My passion is to spread hope.

But I'm timid too.

Sometimes I'm afraid that you will think I don't understand the depth of your pain and disappointment.  And I might not.  Your pain may not the same as mine.  I haven't walked the same road you walk.  I don't want to seem insensitive.  I hesitate...not because I don't believe in the hope, not because I haven't experienced glorious hope, but because I'm afraid you might not believe me when I say it's for you too.  So I hold back.

Sometimes I consider the stories of others and wonder would I still have this hope if I'd gone through that?

I've decided that the answer is yes.  Hope isn't relative to circumstances.  People who have gone through "that" have told me that it's as real for them as it is for me--perhaps more so.  Hope is a confidence in the person of Jesus Christ, a firm expectation that God will do what He says He'll do.  That His plans are always good.  That He can make something beautiful out of the worst of human messes.

"Extreme hope that preys on hopelessness."

I receive that blessing, Jen.  I'm praying for a courage that won't hesitate to invite Hope into any and every situation.  I want to fearlessly wage war on hopelessness.

He will not crush those who are weak, 
or quench the smallest hope until he brings full justice with his final victory.
And His name will be the hope of all the world.

Matthew 12:20-21

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Unto Us, A Son

I'll be the first to admit that my sense of humour is a bit quirky...especially when it come to words.  The phrase "family planning" is one that seems logical to others, but makes me want to break into (hysterical) laughter.  In my life it's been a bit of an oxymoron.

Once upon a time seven specialists predicted that my chances of ever bearing children were slim-to-none.  When that precious first baby arrived I was "lucky"...better adopt if I'd like another.  Just when I despaired of ever having a second, I began to lose my breakfast...lunch...and supper.  After that second precious one arrived, I decided that it was unlikely I could make it through another pregnancy and take care of the two I had.  Sort of a count-my-blessings-and-cut-my-losses philosophy.  For the first time in our married lives we tried to figure out how not to have children.  Let's just say that before my second was through her colicky stage, I started losing my breakfast...lunch...and supper...again.

From the first moments of realization my thought processes leapt from "this isn't possible" to "it's a boy."  I can't explain how I knew, I just did.   Mostly I went around saying, "I don't know this happened!"  (My husband kindly but firmly pointed out that I sounded like an idiot and needed to stop saying that.)

Nine years ago today I held my son for the first time.  His birth was miraculous.  He was a big baby, bigger than my body could deliver without some trauma to both of us.  In the same way my heart is labouring to birth a man of character--not without some trauma.  To both of us.  It often feels like a job that's too big for me.  How is a mother to know how to properly nurture the heart of man who was born to conquer?  I make mistakes and seek grace.  I constantly turn to the Creator who has written the manual and He gives wisdom so we both grow.

Some days this man-child makes me scratch my head in confusion.  Many days I hold my breath as he insists on risking a higher, longer, bigger...jump, flip, turn.  Every day he makes me laugh with a laughter that I feel from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.  The grey hairs are a small price to pay, the laugh lines definitely worth it, the fierce hugs keep me going.

I honestly don't know if I'll ever succeed in persuading him to contain rude noises at inappropriate times, but I think together we've figured out how to keep a heart connection.  I'm determined to continue modelling grace--given and received.  I'll keep leading him to the One who sustains me. Trusting that will be enough to help him climb the mountains yet to be discovered.

Love you, Buddy.

And I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants,
and my blessing on your children.
They will thrive like watered grass, like willows on a riverbank.

Isaiah 44:3b-4

Thursday, February 2, 2012

We Did It!

Did you notice?  I've been so busy this week that I didn't realize it until this morning.  We survived January!  In fact, in many ways we thrived through January.  This seems worth making note of, even celebrating.  

Like the kids, standing tall, hoping the line behind the pantry door is higher than it was the last time we measured...  They're uninhibited in their joy over the increased height. Their growth brings joy to us because we love them!  Facilitating their healthy growth is one of the most important goals of our lives.  How much more our Heavenly Father?

So I look back and I can see growth and I'm excited!  I see my Papa smiling with me...  It's all by grace.  He's happy too...because all He's ever wanted to do is set us free and help us grow in freedom.  He wants to lend us His strength to conquer the giants we face.  I feel like we conquered January.  It was uphill some days.  For those of us who live well north of the 49th parallel there could be as much winter ahead of us as there is behind us, but there's a change in the air and the days are noticeably longer.  We'll make it.

We bring joy to His heart when we reach for and receive the gifts He's given.  You don't have to be getting every thing "right" today to make Him smile.  You just need to be reaching for Him in the midst of whatever you're facing...and one day soon you'll look back and see that you've grown.

 Don't bargain with God.  Be direct. Ask for what you need. 
This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. 
 If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? 
 If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate?  
As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. 
You're at least decent to your own children. 
So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?

Matthew 7:7-11 MSG