A Giant Question Mark

That’s what the future looks like right now.  A giant question mark.

We joined this mission organization back in 2007 as associate members.  That’s a six-month to four-year commitment.  At the end of four years, we can either stay on as full members or pack up and move on to the next thing.  Our four year mark is coming up in December.

Initially, we assumed we’d stay on forever.  Now, we aren’t so sure.  Actually, we are feeling more and more sure that we are not supposed to stay.

So what’s next?  Who knows?

My husband is sending his resume out.  Right now, his resume is hanging out in the inboxes of a ministry, some non-profit organizations, and some corporate places — in Atlanta, Washington DC, Blacksburg, VA.  The resume is probably on its way to Charlotte, maybe even some places in the Orlando area.

We just don’t know.  Big question mark.

I am gearing up to homeschool the children this year.  I’ve been an on-again, off-again homeschooler for a while now, but I’ve never homeschooled six children.

This is the year my baby would have gone off to kindergarten.  I was this close to having a quiet home, time for mid-morning coffee with friends, time to stay caught-up on laundry, the opportunity to watch Rachel Ray.  I could have eaten dark chocolate with my last cup of morning coffee without having to hide!

Instead, I’m bringing everybody home.  I’ll be teaching kindergarten, second grade, third grade, fifth grade, seventh grade, and eighth grade.

I’m excited!  I’m terrified.  I’ll love it.  I’ll hate it.  I’ll feel like SuperMom.  I’ll feel like LoserMom, losing her patience over multiplication tables and cursive writing.

So, we’ll be starting our homeschool year in Florida.  And we have no idea where the school year will end.  It’s all a big question mark.

How about you?  Have you ever lived with a huge question mark hanging over your head?  You survived, right?  RIGHT?  You can encourage me?  You can encourage me, you know, right down there in the comment section, by telling how you survived the dreaded question mark.

And you’ll pray for me.  For my husband’s job search.  For my kids. For our apartment neighbors, who probably enjoyed the hours of quiet while my kids were in school.  Right?  RIGHT?

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Grace

I have fallen in love with the book of Isaiah!  Grace and mercy are woven throughout this whole book of the Bible.  Yes, God is pretty stern & pronouncing judgment in here; but in the midst of that shines His grace and kindness.

This morning I read from chapter 46 “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are far from righteousness.  I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed.”

As I read that verse, it struck me.  This is the difference between the God I know and the gods of so many other religions!  Other religions require people to be good enough to earn their righteousness.  Other religions require people to do enough good things to earn their way to God.  My God knows that I am stubborn and stupid and far from righteousness, and so He brings His righteousness to me!

My heart is bursting with thankfulness.  My God knows how rebellious I am; He knows how stubborn I am; He knows how awful I am.  My God knows that if I had to get to righteousness on my own, I’d be in deep trouble.  Cause there’s no way I could figure out how to work my way to His righteousness.  And even if I figured out how, I’m not self-disciplined enough and good enough to actually do it!  My God knows this about me.

He knows all about me.  And yet He loves me.  So He brings His righteousness to me.

There it is — God’s grace and kindness smack in the middle of Isaiah in the Old Testament.

And today my heart is full.  My God is so good.  There is no other like Him.  He did for me what I could never do for myself.

And He did it for you too.

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What’s your faith in?

This morning, I came across this video of Rich Mullins.

I love it when God sends me messages through multiple sources to drive a point home.  Last week, while studying Isaiah 40, I was struck by the notion that God presupposes we will be weak and weary and stumble and fall.

The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  – Isaiah 40: 28-31

In the middle of reading those verses, I was struck by the contrast between God and us.  He does not grow tired and weary.  We do.  And then if we hope in Him — if we place our confidence fully in Him, rather than in ourselves — He will renew us.

According to this passage, it’s a given that we’re weak and will stumble and fall.  Even the strongest among us will get weak and stumble.  But God does not.

God is not surprised when I screw up.  He is not shocked when I get weary and want to quit.  He expects that.  Because I am not Him.  And I think it pleases God when I realize that and look to Him to fully strengthen me and renew me and uphold me.

So back to the video I came across this morning, here’s Rich Mullins talking about his humanity —

 

I love how he put it.  “I would rather live on the verge of falling & let my security be in the all-sufficiency of the grace of God than to live in some kind of pietistic illusion of moral excellence.”

How many of us live in a pietistic illusion of our own moral excellence?  I know I’ve been guilty of that.

Then he said, “My faith isn’t in the idea that I am more moral than anybody else. My faith is in the idea that God and His love are greater than whatever sins any of us commit.”

Let that sink in.  I have been thinking about it all morning.

When I focus on my own behavior, even my own good behavior, then my focus is not on God.  We Christians can make an idol out of morally good behavior.  We can behave as if our faith is in our own morality.

Whereas, if I live on the verge of falling, then I am constantly aware of my own weakness.  I am constantly aware that I am fully reliant on God.  I am constantly aware of His love that far surpasses the extent of my sins.  And that’s a good place to be.

If I live on the verge of falling, then -to paraphrase one of Rich Mullins’ songs- then if I stand, I stand on the promise that Christ will pull me through, and if I fall, then I fall on the grace that first brought me to Christ.  Either way, my focus is on Christ and He gets the glory.

 

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What am I learning?

This morning we stayed home from church.  We needed a morning of going nowhere, wearing pajamas, sipping hot cocoa, making pancakes, snuggling together.  We needed a morning to just be together as a family.  And so we stayed home from church.

And we did something we haven’t done in a long time — my husband pulled out his guitar and the old notebook full of praise choruses and we sang together.  We were off-key and had trouble remembering the tunes to some of the songs, but it was a good time.  It was a total flashback to our college days and the early years of our marriage when we hung out with college Young Life leaders.  And it was cool to teach the kids “Sweet Adoration” and “Oh, Heavenly Father” and “My All in All.”

After we finished singing, I asked the children to share what they are learning in Bible class at school or at church.  Some of them thought I wanted a laundry list of facts, so they offered a list of detailed information they have learned.  You know, cerebral stuff — what they call, “head knowledge.”  I heard a chronology of King David’s life and a list of battles the Israelites fought before they entered The Promised Land.  But, of course, that’s not what I meant.

However, it made me think.  Do I do that?  Instead of learning the nuggets of truth about God’s character, instead of seeing myself in the story and thinking about how God might want to change me, I learn a list of facts, a bunch of names, a chronology of events.  I approach the Bible the way I approached history class.  I memorize details as if God’s going to give me a final exam, grading me on how well I can recite back the names and dates and events.

Pretty silly, huh?  But it’s easier sometimes to have all this knowledge of the Bible than it is to allow the Living Word to transform me.  It’s easy to think I’m super-spiritual, a Wonder-Christian-Woman because I am good at sword drills or Bible trivia.

But that’s not the point, is it?  There isn’t going to be a massive Old and New Testament Survey final exam at the end of life.  God’s not going to be hosting a giant Bible Quiz Bowl game at the Pearly Gates, and He won’t be giving out crowns with lots of bling-bling or mega-sized mansions to the winners, a` la some divine game show host.

No, the point is not the amount of information I’m storing up in my head.

Is my mind being renewed by the information I’m learning?  Am I being transformed?  Am I doing the Word instead of merely hearing it?  That’s the point.  Right?

Finally, this morning, one child said he has been learning about Noah and that when God asked Noah to start building the ark, it didn’t make sense.  And he said, “So I’m learning that we should obey God and do what He asks us to do, even if it doesn’t make any sense to us.”

Yes! That’s the sort of answer I was looking for.  And that’s the sort of thing my Heavenly Father is hoping for me — that I’m learning to apply His Word instead of merely memorizing facts.

I’m glad we stayed home this morning.  I loved staying in pajamas, snuggling, eating pancakes, singing old praise songs, and talking about God with my kids.  And I love when He uses them to teach me or remind me of what I need to learn — and He does that a lot.

How about you?  What are you learning?

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A Little Bit Country

So I’ve been listening to country music lately.  It’s fall, and I’ve got fake orange and red and yellow leaves around my living room.  And I’ve got pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon candles around everywhere.  And we made caramel apples last weekend.  And it just seems like country music goes with autumn.

My husband says that doesn’t make sense.  But for some reason, the soundtrack to life right now just feels a little bit country.

I’ve been playing a country radio station in the car because we don’t have a lot of country music on our iTunes.  We have a lot of Dwight Yokum and Vince Gill and some Johnny Cash, but not much more than that.  So I’ve been listening to the radio in the car and at home, I listen to a country station I made on Pandora.  And if I have a kid with me in the car, I sometimes have to turn off the radio if certain songs come on because I don’t want them singing about their a*# in the sand or about how they’re pretty good at drinkin’ beer.  (Actually, I let that drinkin’ beer song keep playing because we get a kick out of it. I just hope they don’t start singing it at our little mission school.)

And just the other day, I sweet-talked my husband into using one of his iTunes gift cards to download Darius Rucker’s albums.  That Hootie sure can sing country!

The other morning, I was listening to country music and folding laundry and Griffin, my five-year-old, was pulling all the arms off his LEGO people (and was then going to ask me to put arms back on all the LEGO people — which is clearly becoming one of the main things I do with my time now).  Anyway, Griffin looked up and said, “This is farm music.  This is the kind of music people on farms listen to.”  Then he gave a long discourse on farms and fields of soft, green grass and how farms are the perfect places to have picnics.

So that’s how I’ve been feeling lately — a little bit country.  How about you?  Do you think country music goes with autumn?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sniffle my way through listening to that song Darius Rucker wrote about thankin’ his momma.

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Baby Steps

My son has had a difficult time adjusting to third grade.  Maintaining focus and staying on-task are challenging for him.  When the work seems difficult, his tendency is to shut down.  He is intimidated by hard work.

Not long after school began, my son, his teacher, my husband, and I sat down to talk goals and strategies.  Guided by our questions, my son stated his goal — “I want to work hard and get my work done quickly at school so I won’t have homework.”

With that goal in mind, we worked together to develop some simple strategies to help him accomplish it.  As we left the meeting, my son felt that his goal was possible — quite the opposite of his feelings earlier that day.

Since then, he has had good days and bad days.  Some days, he meets his goal; others, he does not.  We celebrate his successes.  On the bad days, we either gently remind him or firmly remind him or hug him while he cries — whatever is needed most.

In addition to staying on-task and working hard, I would also like to see my son work more neatly, keep his desk clean, do his corrections quickly, etc., etc., etc.  But his teacher recently reminded me — Baby Steps.  One thing at a time.

What a good reminder!  One thing at a time.

You see, like my son, I also tend to get overwhelmed.  Sometimes I think of all the many things I want to improve about myself.  And it seems like such a long list.  Too long.  Too much.  So I do nothing.

I’ve been trying to take a deep breath and remind myself — one thing at a time.  Just one thing.

I’ve also been reminding myself of that with my other children.  I can’t expect them to mature immediately.  They will grow in baby steps.  I can prayerfully choose one heart-issue at a time to focus on with my children.  That means, I will intentionally overlook other things that aren’t as important, trusting God will deal with those later (if they need to be dealt with at all).

This approach works with my third grade son, but I think God brought it to my attention especially for my 12-year-old daughter.  She’s a ball of pubertal hormones!  She is testing limits and does not always make wise decisions.  She is a sweet, responsible daughter and big sister one minute, and the next, — well, the opposite of that.

I can easily feel overwhelmed and frustrated when I think of what I’d like to change about her.  But that’s not the right focus.  And it’s not my job to change her anyway.  That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  So I am trying to wisely choose what heart issues to focus on and correct or encourage.  Baby steps.

And for the rest, there is grace.

Isn’t that how the Lord works with us?  He doesn’t bombard us with conviction about every sin all at once.  Little by little, He grows us.  And He gives us lots of grace.

I’m learning to give that kind of grace to my children.  And to myself.

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October? Really?

Seriously?  It’s October?  When did that happen?

It’s fall.  My favorite season.  You know, Florida doesn’t experience autumn.  Palm trees don’t turn glorious colors.  There are no sidewalks covered in crunchy burgundy leaves.  Floridians don’t put on jeans and cable-knit sweaters and Merrell boots and rake leaves for their children to jump in.  There is no strolling through the woods enjoying the crisp air and a hundred shades of red and orange then sitting inside sipping hot chocolate or spiced cider next to a fire.

No, there’s none of that in Florida.

But I’m not in Florida.

I’m in Massachusetts.  Boston.  And Boston does experience autumn.  Right now.  Which makes me a happy girl.

I’m looking out a window, and there are trees with red and green and yellow leaves.  There are still far more green leaves than any other color, but a taste of autumn is a feast to a girl from Florida.

This morning, I saw people wearing jeans and sweaters and fleece vests.  They were strolling down sidewalks, sipping Starbucks, crunching little yellow leaves under their feet.  They were wearing chunky, clunky boots and LL Bean hats, playing with their dogs in the park.  They were pushing strollers, their bundled-up babies getting rosy cheeks in the cool air.

It’s autumn here.

I am wearing a scarf and a sweater.  And I’m not sweating.  In Florida, I wear scarves and sweaters to keep me warm in the air conditioned buildings and then de-layer to actually go outside.

This morning, I actually did that little dance, rocking back and forth from my right foot to my left with my arms crossed and my hands jammed under my armpits just to keep warm!

It’s autumn in Boston.  I am seeing every yellow leaf, every cool breath of air as a gift just for me.

It’s October.  Autumn in Boston.  And it’s lovely.  Very lovely.

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