Thursday, July 12, 2018

IN BETWEEN, TOGETHER

Life five years ago was routine, predictable: school, laundry, taxi service, church, dentist appointments, feed the cat, music lessons...

Life five years from now will no doubt be characterized by routine, too. What that routine will look like? I have no idea.

Today, however, I find myself in a season of In Between, between full-time homeschool mother of seven - and - who knows what. This is a place of shifting rhythms and irregular activity, where the demands of each day differ from those of the day before, and each month's calendar creates a unique thumbprint of life lived between lives.

I do not like In Between. I like The Known. I like familiar, routine, predictable.

My oldest son once commented that there is wisdom in planning one's family so that kids are not going through puberty at the same time Mom is going through menopause. (Amen, Little Brother!)

I will say, however, that there is something very sweet about being In Between together, me and my youngest.

We share similar struggles, frustrations and faith challenges. Although I am fully confident my youngest has a beautiful life ahead of her, I am sympathetic to her questions, doubts and fears. I know firsthand how little comfort platitudes like "Oh, don't worry...everything will work out fine!" can be. I understand that the best I can do for my daughter is listen, encourage and pray as she works through the challenges of this season her own way and at her own pace.

I do not like change, but I should not be afraid of it. While I do not know what the future holds, I do know with absolute certainty that God is sovereign, faithful, loving and good. I may not be able to answer my youngest's questions about the future, but I can share with her a confident faith in the One who does have answers to life's difficult questions.

She, in turn, gives her mother bursts of sunshine and delight as we walk this foggy path together: music, sung or played; spontaneous dance parties; spur-of-the-moment adventures; ice cream runs. Her joy for life is never long suppressed, even when life is full of uncertainty. And her joy is contagious.

In five years, my dear child, we will both be in very different places in our lives, perhaps calmer, more settled, more predictable places. But today, I am thankful we get to walk the path through In Between together.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

THE BEST WAY TO PRAY...IS TO PRAY

"I wonder how many of us really think about the power and privilege of prayer," the pastor said. My prayer sisters - one of whom sat three pews behind me that Sunday morning - immediately came to mind. "B--- does!" I thought. "And S---!"

For over a year and a half now, we have met every other week to pray for one another. These small coffee-shop prayer meetings have radically impacted my faith and my day-to-day life. We have seen God answer so many prayers, often in ways we could not have imagined beforehand. God's faithfulness has encouraged us to pray more, pray bigger, pray braver.

As we have prayed for and with one another, as we have wept together, laughed together, and truly wrestled - like Jacob - with God, God has knit our hearts and lives together. He has given us the courage to be honest, vulnerable, and broken, and the freedom to be ridiculously, ecstatically joyful.

Do you struggle with prayerlessness? Do you desire to be more prayerful? Let me encourage you to find a friend and simply ask: "Will you pray with me?"

Don't wait until you get your life together. Don't wait until you feel spiritual, or like less of an emotional disaster. Don't wait for somebody else to take the initiative.

Grab a friend TODAY and pray.

Then, meet and pray again.

And again.

Keep praying, and you will be blown away by the power, mercy, and goodness of God. He LOVES to answer prayer.

You'll not only want to pray more: you'll be moved to worship.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. - Matthew 18:20

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

GIFT

"What do you think are the most valuable things Mrs. Linda and Dr. Harriss taught you as piano teachers?" I was making conversation as we ran errands in town yesterday.

She thought a moment. "How to read music. Chords and cadences. They gave me the tools to play anything I want." She paused, then added, "And this: Mrs. Linda taught me that the music is not about me. It's a gift to be shared with others."

* * *

"I don't even know why I'm visiting this church. I am not like the people here. I don't even have anything to offer this church, no way that I can serve."

It had been a dark couple of months. On top of everything else that had been lost, she'd been asked to leave the church she loved. "It will just make everything easier," she was told. How many ways can a heart be broken?

No one at the new church knew about the hidden wounds. They just saw a quiet, withdrawn, pale young woman. They didn't know how bright and bubbly she had once been.

A middle-aged woman walked over and sat down beside her on the pew. "Hi! My name is Melodee," she smiled. "We are so glad to have you worshiping with us this morning!"

Melodee, it turned out, was the church pianist. Just the week before, Melodee and her husband had put a contract on a house several states away.

After service, Melodee ran up, her eyes glowing. Melodee took her by the hand. "Did I hear right? Do you play the piano?"

"Yes."

"Praise God!" Melodee explained that she and her husband would be moving in two months, and that they had been praying that God would provided another pianist. "Would you please pray about maybe playing the piano for church? I think you might be the answer to our prayers!"

* * *

She's been playing for worship a couple of months now. Even during practice sessions, there is a sparkle in her eyes and a smile on her face. "I LOVE helping with the music at church," she told me - yet again - as we drove home from practice last week. "I am having so much fun."

* * *

I wondered Sunday morning if anyone else noticed she had no music on the stand in front of her as she played an offertory. All she had was a melody in her head, a set of tools given to her by two wonderful teachers, and a gift she was eager to share with someone else.

The tune - "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" - an old favorite; the arrangement, entirely her own, made up in the moment, flowing from her heart, through her fingers, to the keys.

* * *

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely
and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is he:
His eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.
- Civilla D. Martin (1863-1948)

Friday, June 29, 2018

LESSONS LEARNED FROM TOADS

I've spent a lot of time this summer cleaning a swimming pool. I have learned that toads like swimming pools. Well, they like pools until they don't like them any more; then, I guess, they hate swimming pools. At least, I think the toads would hate the swimming pool...except by then, the toads are dead.

I wonder how many toads drown in swimming pools across the United States every summer. Must be millions.

After I throw the dozen or so dead toads out of the pool filter basket, I try to rescue the live toads still searching for a way out of the pool. I like toads. Toads eat bugs. Toads remind me of happy times in the garden. (I knew it had been a long, lonely week - Steve away at work, the youngest working at 4-H camp - when I found myself talking to the toads I was chasing. Some people talk to their plants; some, to their cats; me...I talk to toads.)

Things I have learned from toads this summer, while cleaning a swimming pool:

Toads are much better swimmers than people.

Sometimes the things we think we absolutely must have - the things we most desperately want - are the very things that will destroy us. I'm pretty sure every one of those toads thought the water looked irresistibly delicious right before he hopped into the pool.

Very good things - like cool, clear water on a hot summer day - can become the very worst things, taken in excess.

Both the shallow end of the pool and the deep end of the pool are deadly - even for an expert swimmer - if you cannot use the ladder and you refuse the help of the big person standing on the deck.

Sometimes fear makes us run away from the thing we need the most. Not ONE of the toads I saved this summer swam toward me - they all swam as fast as they could away.

Blessings are found in unexpected places...like, "Hey, toad, that big scary woman sweeping a pool skimmer toward you really is your new best friend!"

And now, enough about toads. Time to get dinner on the table!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

WHY DOES THE CHURCH NEGLECT HER OWN? (Part 4 of 4)

(This is Part 4 of a 4-part series. For previous posts, click: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.)

Why does the church neglect and wound her own? I can think of lots of possible reasons: sin, apathy, laziness, self-interest, callousness, ignorance, denial, wrong doctrine, misplaced loyalties, blindness (sometimes willful), rebellion...

While the question deeply concerns me and is worth study, accurately diagnosing why a particular congregation of the visible church neglects or wounds its members is a job for someone with much more life experience and training than I possess. I am, however, qualified to say to someone who has been wounded by the church she loves: "You are not alone." If you are that person, I want to encourage you:

It is okay to acknowledge, "This happened to me, and it was wrong." Pretending that "It's all good!" when, in fact, it is NOT all good is not only not helpful - to you or to the church - it is harmful. Settling for a false short-term peace over the grungier long-term work of sanctification and spiritual health is like taking an aspirin to treat cancer.

Acknowledge the hurt, but don't make it your whole life. Of the churches mentioned in Part 1 of this series of posts, all three have serious problems that need to be addressed, but they also have many strengths and positive qualities. If you have been hurt by the church (or by someone in the church), resist the urge to paint the situation with one big brush - everything about the church/person is all bad, all the time. Acknowledge what is wrong, but also be mindful of what is good. Then, move ahead. The future is much bigger than the past.

Obviously, if you attend a local church where Scripture is not preached and taught accurately and faithfully, you need to find another church! Likewise, if your local church fosters and perpetuates attitudes, policies, and practices that undermine the spiritual health of its members, and if the church has a history of refusing to correct this situation, you need to find another church. Do not feel guilty about that.

Leaving a church you love is not an easy thing to do, and the decision to leave an unhealthy church is not one that should be made lightly. Dig deeply into God's Word and prayerfully seek your Father's will. Find other Christians to pray for you and with you. Seek outside counsel. Pray for God to guide each step as you walk this difficult path.

One of the beauties of the Gospel is that Christ redeems everything in the lives of his followers. This includes our wounds, our tears, and our brokenness. I see two ways (there are doubtless more) that a child of God can grow from and learn from a bad experience in the church:

First, these experiences expose ways that we are prone to make the church an idol. Yes, I should love my church and I should be able to trust my sisters and brothers in Christ, particularly my leadership, to have my best interest at heart and to love me well. But, where have I perhaps placed a level of confidence and security in others that I should place only in God? God is a jealous God, and He will not tolerate idolatry in his people - even if the thing I "worship" is a good thing, like my local church. Where I am convicted of such idolatry, I need to repent.

Second, ask yourself, "What have I learned from this experience that equips me to better love others in the church?" Going back to the three people mentioned in Part 1: The woman ignored by her church leadership knows personally how painful it is to be "put off" and forgotten; she knows that when a sister in Christ says, "I need to talk," she needs to make time to listen, the sooner the better. The young man given no satisfactory answers to hard questions, he knows personally how damaging trite answers and misapplied Bible verses can be to the souls of the wounded, and he will not want to do to others what was done to him. The young woman abandoned by her church, she knows now how important it is - how necessary, if we are to emulate Christ - to walk toward the suffering rather than away, even if it makes her uncomfortable.

When we've been hurt, we often want to focus entirely on the faults of the offender and on how that person needs to correct certain attitudes and behaviors. Listen to someone who has been there: you cannot control the behavior of others. What you can do, however, is choose how you will behave.

Every single one of us how the power to be a force for health, healing, growth, and meaningful relationship within the church. What will you do?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

WHY DOES THE CHURCH NEGLECT HER OWN? (Part 3 of 4)

(Part 1: HERE. Part 2: HERE.)

I do not know why the church neglects and wounds her own. I do know...

It is not because the church loved me well that I grew to love Jesus. It is because Jesus loves me well that I am resolved to love the church. Even when I am neglected, wounded, weary, sore.

And toward that end, I pray: God, please grant me true repentance. Not lip service, but genuine contrition. Help me to turn away from this wickedness in my heart that inclines me not to love your bride.

I pray God will forgive me for simplistic answers and misapplied Bible verses, Scripture wielded like a bludgeon against the stumbling and the broken-hearted.

I pray God will forgive me for settling for shallow, superficial relationships. Of  saying "It's so good to see you!" on Sunday morning, then giving no thought to that person throughout the week. Lord, give me the desire for and equip me to pursue relationships that are intentional, engaged, intimate, inconvenient.

I pray God will forgive me for my self-defensiveness, lack of faith, and fear of dark places of the soul. Jesus went to hell and back for his people. Why do I think He expects me to do less? Jesus says, "Follow me."

I pray for eyes to see the needs of those around me, and for wisdom and discernment to know how to love my sisters and brothers well.

I pray that God will cure me of lethargy, passivity, and self-interest.

I pray for courage to walk toward the hurting and into the strife, not away, even when I am hurting, too.

I pray for integrity, the moral strength to tell the truth instead of ignoring sin or pretending everything is fine when it is not, simply because I fear the reactions of others.

I pray for mercy, for me and for the church I love.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

WHY DOES THE CHURCH NEGLECT HER OWN? (Part 2 of 4)

(For Part 1 of this series of posts, click HERE.)

I do not know why the church neglects and wounds her own. I do know...

Within the visible church - those gathered under the name of Christ - there are both wheat and tares, sheep and goats, true shepherds and hirelings; and while I may think I know which is which, only God knows the true condition of a person's heart.

I know that even among wheat, sheep, and shepherds, we are not all at the same place at the same time, spiritually speaking. My faith journey and yours will not look exactly the same. I may be blind to things that you can see. You may be unaware of things to which I am spiritually sensitive. We need much grace, for ourselves and as we relate to one another.

I know that even the church - a very good thing - can become an idol. I am tempted to look to the church to satisfy and sustain me, rather than looking to Jesus. When the church utterly fails me, I realize how much of my faith I have put in the church, in the people who make up the church, instead of in God.

I know that the church is a redeemed harlot, and that old ways are hard to leave behind. Like the prostitute in 2 Kings 6, those within the visible church will even "eat their own children." And yet Christ, possessing power and love that we cannot comprehend, looks at his sin-scarred bride and says: She is precious to me; I will redeem her; I WILL redeem her.

I know that my redeemer calls me to love as He loves, even the most unlovely, and especially his bride. To answer that call, I must keep my focus on and fan my desire for Jesus.

Come, Lord Jesus!