Friday, August 26, 2016

I AM THAT MOM

For the most part, I am pretty laid back. Easygoing. Passive. (Or, to be more accurate, passive-aggressive.)

I don't like to inconvenience people. I prefer to make do with what's at hand, than to trouble someone to fix a less-than-desirable situation. Even where it concerns my kids...I don't want to be "that mom," the one who insists that what's good enough for everyone else is not good enough where her kids are concerned.

But that seems to be changing, slowly, at least a little bit, at least where my role as a mother is concerned.

The youngest chicken was registered for a dual-enrollment class at our local university. After the second class meeting, she came home looking like someone had let all the air out of her balloon. "Mom, I don't think this class is going to challenge me very much," she lamented. "I don't want to waste an entire semester doing mediocre work for a mediocre class."

I could have said (I thought it): A whole lot of life is mediocre, Sister. Excellence, I'm afraid, is not the norm. So, just put in your time, do the mediocre work required of you, and check that course requirement off your list.

Or, I could have said (I thought it): Jackie has gone above and beyond the call of duty to get you registered for this class. Whether the class is mediocre or not, I don't want to bother her again, to ask her if she could please adjust your schedule for the umpteenth time. (Jackie is our dual-enrollment liaison at the school, and SHE IS AWESOME.)

Or, I could have said (I thought it): The extraordinary teachers, their classes are already full. It would be rude - and a little arrogant, don't you think? - to ask someone at the university to open up just one more slot for you, because you want something better.

Or, I could have said (I thought it): What difference does it make how much you get out of this class? If you finish with a decent grade, isn't that what really matters?

But then I thought...

Yes, much about this life is mediocre. But why settle for mediocre when there is the possibility - maybe only the teensy-tiniest sliver of a possibility - that you can have excellence instead?

Yes, Jackie has knocked herself out for us, and I am tremendously grateful for all her help. And if I ask her to help us this one more time and she says "No," I am still tremendously grateful for all that she has done for us. So, why not ask?

Yes, it would be a little presumptuous to ask for another slot in a class that is already full. But (see preceding paragraph), why not ask?

No. No! I cannot say that it doesn't really matter what you get out of this class. No, a decent grade is not what's most important. If you, young chicken, are going to sit under the instruction of a teacher for three hours a week for an entire semester, if you are going to read assignments and write papers, if you are going to invest a significant part of this year of your life in the relationship you have with this teacher, then that matters a whole dang lot. And the fruit of that relationship will have consequences that will reverberate throughout your entire life.

I want my youngest chicken to do well in school. I also want her to be challenged, not just academically, but personally. I don't want her to settle for some mediocre performance to meet the minimum requirement to satisfy a college check list - I want her to absolutely fall in love with learning.

Life is too precious to just "make do" with what's at hand simply because Passive Mom thinks aiming for excellence requires too much effort and causes a little bit of personal discomfort.

And so, I made a phone call and I emailed Jackie and I realized...

I am that mom.

Honey, it's about time!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

MORE LESSONS LEARNED FROM A LAMB

Tension.

So much of life is characterized by tension.

Last month, I wrote about a few of the things I learned from a lamb this summer. (Read those thoughts HERE.) Yesterday, Helen showed her lamb, and last night she sold him.

We drove home after the livestock sale without Bertie. Helen was pretty stoic - she has no problem with the reality that he was a "commercial" lamb, although she will miss working with him every day. I, on the other hand, was an emotional mess.

I am SO GLAD that we no longer have to drive back and forth to the sheep barn every day (it's a 30 minute drive, one way) - we'll have more time to focus on schoolwork, now - but, dang, I really liked that sheep! Happy/relieved and heart-broken, both at the same time.

So much of life is not either/or - it's both. Tension.

But back to things I have learned from a lamb...

Or, more precisely, lessons learned or relearned in the context of working with a lamb this summer, that have nothing at all to do with a lamb, but with people...

1. There is a huge difference between saying you will do something - and - honoring your commitments. It is wonderful to want to help others; it is even more wonderful to actually follow through on your promises. The Bible exhorts us to let our Yes be Yes, and our No be No. I have learned that it is wise to answer Yes slowly, thoughtfully, carefully...to try to make sure my Yes will indeed be Yes before I speak. This is a HARD lesson to learn. It is also hard to be working alongside another who is learning this lesson, to bear the brunt of someone else's unfulfilled obligations. And it is extremely hard to watch your child have to deal with the frustration of working with others who don't follow through on their commitments.

2. Concerning livestock, there are people in this world who work with lambs/hogs/cattle because they truly love the stock and the livestock industry; and then there are those who care very little about lambs/hogs/cattle, but who care very much indeed about ribbons and prize money. There is room in this world for all kinds of people; but, at a livestock show, the people who are in this for the long haul, the people who actually genuinely love working with sheep/hogs/cattle, the people who care about the future of the industry, those are the most fun to interact with. They. Are. Awesome.

3. Watching the kids who showed animals...Some absolutely loved everything about their animal: feeding, grooming, cleaning up after, showing, everything. Some were there...for I'm not really sure what reason. They were unaware, un-engaged, and obviously wanted very much to be somewhere, anywhere else. Not sure why the heck they were in the barn at all...

4. A junior livestock show and sale takes a TREMENDOUS amount of time, energy, organization, sweat, muscle, and money. And a lot of people in my community give these things freely because they care about the livestock industry and they care about the future of the industry. Extension agents, volunteers, area farmers, feed suppliers, businesses who help underwrite the event and who bid on stock in the sale ring...SO MANY PEOPLE give freely of their time, energy, and resources to encourage young people who are genuinely interested in learning. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who invested in my daughter this summer as she cared for, trained, showed, and sold her lamb. Thank you. In a day when so many folks seem interested only in taking, it was a blessing to me to see so many whose desire was to give.

Today, we will clean up and put away the blue halter and the feed and water bowls (and, yes, I will cry - I am crying right now, writing this). Today, it's back to physics and art history for Helen and me. But, man, we have learned so much this summer, so many valuable lessons working with a lamb.

Thank you, Bertie.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A BROKEN PENCIL

My youngest is studying personal finance this year in school. Before we talk about how to make a budget or reasons to start saving now, we are reading Randy Alcorn's book, Managing God's Money. This is my third or fourth time to read Randy's small volume on stewardship, and I am thankful for the opportunity to consider once again the biblical principles of money management which he presents.

After we both read a particular chapter, I ask Helen, "What jumped out at you? What is your takeaway? What from this chapter do you think will stick with you on into the future?"

From Chapter Two, Ownership: It All Belongs to God, my personal takeaway is the image of a broken pencil.

Mr. Alcorn writes:

"When teaching from 1 Corinthians 6 - 'You are not your own; you were bought at a price' (NIV) - I occasionally ask someone in the front row to lend me her pencil. When she hands it to me, I break it in half, throw it on the floor, and crush it under my foot. The reaction of the students is shock and disbelief. What right do I have to break someone else's pencil? When I explain that it's really my pencil, which I planted before the session, everything changes. If it belongs to me, I have the right to do with it what I want.

"Many of our problems begin when we forget that God is the boss of the universe. But in fact he is more than the boss; he is the owner. I might resent a powerful person for taking control, but everything changes if I realize he owns everything, and therefore, he has the right to do what he chooses."

If the pencil is Mr. Alcorn's pencil, he is free to do with it what he chooses. If he wants to break it in two and smash it underfoot, I have no grounds to object.

And if all "my" stuff is really God's stuff (which it is), then God is free to do with "my" stuff what He chooses. If I myself am God's (which I am - He created and sustains me), then God is even free to do with me whatever He pleases.

Understanding this truth - that it all belongs to God - has immediate, great-big-huge implications for my life. For example...

The day after rereading chapter 2 of Managing God's Money, I was driving down the road and my van died. It does this randomly, and it always stresses me out. But on this particular day, as I shifted into Park so that I could try to restart the van, I thought to myself: "Everything I have really belongs to God. This is God's van. He can do with it whatever He wants. And if He wants this van to die right now, right here, that's his prerogative. He is free to do whatever He chooses."

It was amazing how that thought transformed a normally stressful situation into a not-very-stressful-at-all inconvenience.

There were big, ugly, nasty things going on at the Kendall house last night. So, on top of the mile-long ToDo list I was anticipating this morning, I have also been washing lots of bedding, cleaning floors, and swishing a copious amounts of Clorox around. Yeah.

I was up before 5:00 this morning (actually, I was up most of the night, just not up and dressed and ready for work). As I surveyed the work ahead of me, I really had no idea where to begin. Before the sun came up, my day was already a disaster!

My day. Only, today is not my day: today is God's day. My time is not my own: it is God's. And God is free to do with my day and with my time whatever He wants. Even if it is not what I had planned for myself. Even if it means I never get around to the things on my Thursday ToDo list.

The challenge I face today is not how to make the best use of my time, but how to be the best steward possible of God's time, of the time God has entrusted to me to use for his Kingdom work.

It is amazing how that thought transformed a potentially stressful situation into a wonderful opportunity.

When I acknowledge God's ownership of everything in my life - my van, my time, my writing, my refrigerator, my school calendar, my children, my dreams, my everything - when I acknowledge God's ownership of everything in my life, I am free to loosen my tightfisted grip on personal expectations and desires, free instead to look for God's good purposes in the circumstances of my life.

My life? No, that belongs to Him, too.

It's all His, and He can do with it whatever He pleases.

Amazing how that thought transforms stress into peace.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

IF I COULD WAVE A MAGIC WAND...

In his book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, Chris Anderson states that "the only thing that truly matters in public speaking is not confidence, stage presence, or smooth talking. It's having something worth saying." He asserts that the foundation of any good presentation is the gift the speaker wishes to give to his audience, that one thing the speaker feels passionately about, that he genuinely believes will benefit his listeners.

Mr. Anderson believes everyone has something important to share with the world, and he asks his readers, "If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one idea you'd most love to spread to other people's minds?"

I am a relative newbie to public speaking, so I am taking notes as I read through Chris Anderson's book. In response to his comments on pages 14-15, I wrote in my notes: What do I feel passionately about? What ideas would I like most to communicate to those who hear me speak?

It did not take me long to formulate an answer. Two things popped into my mind right away: I want most to communicate something to others about the sufficiency of Christ and about the value of motherhood.

If I can effectively communicate only one thing to a reader or listener, it would be this: Jesus saves sinners, Jesus alone, and Jesus saves completely and eternally.

To the young mother, I would also want to offer this encouragement, simply because the calling of motherhood seems so grossly underappreciated in our day: Yes, motherhood is a difficult job, but it is also a worthy endeavor. Lean hard on Jesus, young mother, and persevere.

Jesus alone saves sinners (and He also sustains mothers!).

We live in a culture that insists there are many ways to overcome our fallen state, many paths to a glorified life, many roads to heaven. We hear from politicians, from celebrities, and even from so-called Christian preachers, that all faiths are equally valid. The mentality seems to be that it doesn't matter what you believe or who you follow, as long as you are sincere in your faith, think positively about yourself, and act kindly toward others.

Jesus, however, taught something very different. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). In the book of Acts, we read:  "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must by saved" (Acts 4:11-12).

The apostle John tells us that "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12). Could Scripture be any clearer? Christ alone is the way of salvation. To teach anything else is to teach a lie.

Now, not only is it true that we find salvation in no one but Christ - not in Allah or in the Buddha or in our own inner goodness - but it is also true that Christ saves us by Himself, without any help from us. Our salvation is not accomplished by a joint effort between us and Jesus, where we do our part and He does His part. No, our salvation is accomplished completely and absolutely by Christ, and by Christ alone.

Some churches today teach that we are saved in part by our good works, but, again, that is contrary to what we read in Scripture. Citing the psalmist, Paul tells us in Romans 3:10-11, "None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." Paul continues in verse 20, "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."

Without Christ, we are dead! Without the quickening of the Holy Spirit, we can neither choose to trust Christ nor can we do any good work! How can dead men do anything to accomplish even the smallest bit of their own salvation?

No, our salvation is God's work, accomplished in Christ alone, and by Christ alone. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made  us alive together with Christ..." (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Paul writes in Philippians 3:  "Indeed, I count everything loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake...I count them (Paul's good works) as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith..." (Philippians 3:8-9).

Christ alone. Yes, that is an offensive particularity to some. But to the Christian, Solus Christus is a source of peace with God, eternal security, and glorious doxology. And to the young mother laboring to raise up the next generation, it is a source of tremendous comfort, power, and hope.

Remember, sinner, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee - it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee - it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that is the instrument - it is Christ's blood and merits; therefore, look not to thy hope, but to Christ, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Christ, the author and finisher of thy faith; and if thou doest that, ten thousand devils cannot throw thee down. - C.H. Spurgeon

Thursday, August 11, 2016

LOVING LEVITICUS

Driving back home from Montgomery today, so I won't have an opportunity to write - time for a repost! Thank you for a wondeful week of fellowship and great conversation, Emily...I love you and your awesome family, and it was a delight seeing the cousins having so much fun together! :)

LOVING LEVITICUS
- originally posted Wednesday, February 12, 2016

In this year's "read through the Bible," I am currently in Leviticus. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus...this is about the point that so many folks throw in the towel. It can be very difficult to come back day after day and read description after description of how to kill this goat and where to kill that bull and what to do with the blood from those two pigeons and...

Last Friday, I was feeling weary and discouraged. As I sat down to begin my morning reading, I prayed, "Really, God? Do you really have anything to teach me today from Leviticus? From all these Old Testament laws about burnt offerings and grain offerings and peace offerings and sin offerings? How on earth can I possibly glean any nourishment or encouragement from all these rules and regulations?!"

You know what? God did meet me in the early chapters of Leviticus, and He encouraged me. As I was reading through verse after verse of tedious details about sacrifices, it occurred to me:  God cares very much about seemingly insignificant things. He notices and cares about every single little detail.

The same God who spelled out all the precise details of how to make a sin offering - that same God is aware of and attentive to even the teeniest details of my life and faith and struggles and needs. That realization encouraged me very greatly indeed!

This morning, further along in Leviticus, I was reading in chapter 21 about holiness and the priests. God was giving very specific instructions about what the priests could and could not do. An interesting phrase is repeated over and over in this section of Leviticus, as God commands his people to live holy, set apart lives: "I am the LORD who sanctifies you."

Now, it might be tempting to think Scripture is teaching us that if the priests did just what God told them, that was what would make them holy. But that's not what we see in this passage. No, quite the contrary. God makes his people holy - He sets them apart. And He sanctifies them. And because they are set apart, and because God sanctifies them, they are called to live lives characterized by righteousness, purity, and faithfulness to God. God - not the priests (nor us, his "royal priesthood" today) - God himself does something amazing that works in us to produce changed lives. Again, here in the tedious book of Leviticus, I found great encouragement!

In chapter 23, I read this morning about the feast days that God instituted for his people. Again, something strange kept popping up. As God lays out the rules for each particular holy day, over and over He says: "You shall not do any work....You shall do no ordinary work....You shall not do any work." Odd, isn't it, that when we want to enter into the presence of God, to stand before his holiness, we want to work. To do something. And yet God commands us:  DO NOT WORK! He is so serious about this that He declares He will destroy anyone who violates this command. Against all my desires to work in order to earn an audience with God, He commands me to do quite the opposite:  He commands me to REST.

So, if you, like me, are chugging slowly through Leviticus - all those tedious passages about skin diseases, and body fluids, and how many goats to sacrifice on which day and exactly where they are to be killed - be encouraged. Be GREATLY encouraged. God is all about the details. God saves and sanctifies his people. God commands his people to rest.

This tedious book of Leviticus? Turns out, it's not tedious after all!

Friday, August 5, 2016

TREASURES

Gifts my kids have given me:

  • New eyes, to see new things.
  • New ears, to hear new voices.
  • New ideas, so I can think in new ways.
  • New questions, that I never thought to ask before.
  • New answers, when I have reached a dead end.
  • New taste buds, to enjoy new foods.
  • A new vocabulary, with words like solfeggietto and pointillism and Sriracha.
  • New music, by artists like Moritz Moszkowski and Steve Vai and The White Stripes.
  • New stories, stories about long ago and now and ever after.
  • New friends, like Lisa and Mark and Amber and Carson.
  • New family: new sisters and brothers and children and grands.
  • A view to a new future, with bright possibilities for this next season of life.

How big does a womb have to stretch to hold seven children? How big does a mother's heart have to stretch to hold seven children? And then, add their lovers and in-laws and children, their roommates and fishing buddies and best friends...how big does a heart have to be then? How much can it expand?

That's the best gift, I think - a new heart, one that is a bigger, broader, fuller, and more grateful than I could have imagined possible.

Thank you, my loves! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

PRAYING WITH OPEN HANDS

We all have more demands on our time each day than we can possibly hope to meet. I get out of bed each morning knowing that I am not going to get everything on my ToDo list checked off before I crawl back into to bed at the end of the day.

How can I choose wisely what to do today, and what to leave undone? And at the end of each day, how can I be free from worrying about all the things I didn't get around to?!

The Bible tells us in James 1:5 - "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it [wisdom] will be given to him." Those are encouraging words for this oftentimes overwhelmed mom!

This verse tells me that God is the source of wisdom. It also assures me that God gives wisdom generously to those who ask for it, and that He doesn't reproach me when I acknowledge me need for his help. I can never ask God for wisdom too many times. I can never ask for too much. God is the source of all wisdom, and He is able and willing to meet my need.

So what does this have to do with my mile-long ToDo list?

One of the first things I pray each morning is for God to give me the wisdom to know what to do and what to leave undone. I ask him to help me choose wisely what things to make a priority. I also ask him for grace to let go of things I will not be able to accomplish.

As I pray, I picture an open hand, palm up. My prayer is for God to put into my open hand the tasks He wants me to work on, and for Him to remove from my hand those things that are not his will for me that day. I also pray that I will not be tight-fisted - that I will not insist on MY ToDo list while neglecting God's priorities for me.

This "open hand" prayer does not mean I accomplish everything on my ToDo list each day. However, it does mean that, trusting God's wisdom, I can climb into bed at night without suffocating under a mountain of guilt for the Undone.

This "open hand" prayer is something I have practiced for several months now. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a new application for this prayer.

Sunday evening, a group gathered around the table had a rather animated and emotionally intense conversation concerning a topic about which we all held strong opinions. I left the table that evening feeling bruised and discouraged because I didn't think anyone else had listened to or seriously considered my thoughts on the subject. My input into the conversation had been ridiculed and then dismissed.

I climbed into bed with a heavy heart. "God," I prayed, "I want to be heard and listened to, but I have been ignored. I want my input to be respected and thoughtfully considered, but instead I have been dismissed." I was well on my way to a full-blown pity party when my morning-prayer image of the open hand popped into my mind.

I want to be heard, listened to, respected - these were things I was grasping tightly inside my balled fists. These were things I did not want to let go of, things I did not want to give up.

Then I considered my sweet Savior. He, of all people, should have been respected...but He was reviled. He, of all people, should have been listened to, but He was ignored. His opinions, of all opinions, should have been highly considered, but they were dismissed.

And He was content to be disrespected, ignored, dismissed...for my sake.

My "open hand" prayer took on a whole new meaning. "Lord," I prayed, "help me to release from my white-knuckle grasp those things which I think I deserve, those things I think I must have, but which You, in your wisdom, have withheld from me. Things like respect and thoughtful consideration. Let me instead graciously receive what you deem necessary for me at this moment, even if it is not what I would chose myself."

Amazingly, the prayer strategy that helped so much with my overwhelming ToDo list - that same prayer strategy transformed tears and emotional turmoil that Sunday evening into inner peace and assurance.

I will not check everything off my ToDo list today. That's okay. I may not be heard or valued or respected. That's okay, too.

I have given my ToDo list and my personal desires to God: He knows exactly how best to manage them.