Monday, July 28, 2014

Come Up Higher

This morning I woke up and came down stairs and was immediately hit with the disaster that is my house. I made my coffee and surveyed the mess. I wasn't feeling great last night so ended up walking out of my kitchen after dinner and just turning the light off instead of cleaning up. Sipping my coffee, I dodged toys, books, pillows, and blankets on my way to the couch. I looked up and saw my dust covered book shelves, unorganized nick knacks strewn about from a wild game of football yesterday. I got up and opened the curtains in front of my back door to look out into the back yard. The worship song I was listening to was about the Creator so I thought it would be nice to look out at creation but all I could see was my disaster of a back yard. Green Pool, discarded lunch dishes on the back porch, toys scattered throughout the yard, popcycle wrappers, grass that needs mowed, chores that need done in my garden...*sigh* the list goes on.

I sat back down, trying to listen to the worship music and concentrate on meeting with the Father. But all I could think about was what a giant failure of a wife, mother, and homemaker I was. Silently running through the ginormous list of chores that needed to be done and berating myself for slacking off and letting everyone else slack off all weekend. Out of no where the Lord invades my thoughts saying, "I have so much more."

This was a startling thought. So much more what? But in my heart I knew exactly what He was talking about. This may be shocking to some but the truth is my disaster of a house and lax cleaning skills are pretty low on His radar. Like pretty much non existent. What's important to Him? What "more" could He be talking about?

I have a very limited amount of alone time available to spend with the Father. Very limited. So here I was feeling awful about myself and wasting time with Him. And please don't misunderstand. The Lord doesn't trivialize our thoughts, feelings, concerns, or worries. He cares, genuinely cares about what we care about no matter how big or how small. But our worries are NOT His worries. Does He care about cleanliness, self control, holiness, and stewardship? Absolutely. But He has so much more for us then worrying about those things!

So my challenge for today is to come up higher, to pursue Him through my everyday tasks; to see myself the way He sees me. I am His child, His creation and obviously He trusts me enough to give me my house, my children and frankly I think He thinks I'm doing a fabulous job!

Maybe you're not a stay at home mom like me and these are not your issues. The point is, if for any reason you feel like you've failed, or the tediousness of this life is getting to you, if anything starts to cloud your vision of what really matters let me encourage you today by saying, "Come up higher, there is so much more." Set your sights on things eternal. If it's not going to be here a gazillion years from now don't worry about it! If you have eternal lives under your care, they are the ones who deserve your attention. Your relationships with the Father and with those in your life are what's important, so let the weight and the burdens of the temporal things fall today. He has so much more in store.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wake Up Call

The last few weeks I've been waking up at 6:00 am. My kids don't usually wake up until 7:30ish so waking up so early was initially kind of annoying. But after the first couple of mornings fighting to go back to sleep I finally got up and out of bed. I came downstairs and it was sooooo quiet! It was so nice that now when I wake up and see how early it is I jump right out of bed and enjoy the calm before the storm. HA! I make my coffee and often times just sit in silence until my kids wake up. Sometimes I zone out and don't think about anything, I think my brain just needs that every now and then; to be completely unplugged from the internet, tv, kid problems, and grown up problems. And while reflective silence is amazing, I usually end up spending this time in worship and prayer in His presence. It's so wonderful!

This morning, I made my coffee, nibbled a piece of fruit and turned worship music on. I found myself just slouched down into the couch, eyes closed, face lifted up, my body completely relaxed, just breathing in the stillness and peace of the moment. And there I found myself sitting with Jesus. In my imagination? In the Spirit? Whatever you're more comfortable with but in my heart I could see us sitting together. I was sitting on the floor next to Him, leaning on His knee, and He gently stroked my hair. And there are no words between us. Just breathing, just peace, just contentment, just shalom. And it's more then enough for me for I could only stand it a few minutes before I found myself face down on the couch melted by the power of His great love and joy in me. How is it without saying a single word He tells me all I need to know? Do you know that feeling? Like every crack and crevice of your being is being filled? At least for the moment you are whole, made complete in Him.

So here is a thought I had this morning once my kids woke up and came down the stairs one by one. After they each had their morning snuggles and kisses and smiles and it was time to make breakfast I thought, "ya know maybe I'll set my alarm and get up a little earlier so I can have more time with Pappa." This is serious because I set my alarm for no man. That's just how good this morning time is. But in that moment I locked eyes with Him and I could feel that unspoken desire, or entreaty to stay. "Just stay with Me." It's not like He doesn't know what my life is like so why would He ask me if I weren't able to say yes and if He weren't able to make it happen? So what if we could stay there, in that place with Him always? What if during the craziness of our day our soul, our inner being, could be with Him in that place? And what if every decision, thought, action, motivation came out of that place of wholeness and dependence on Him? How would my day be different if I didn't carry the worries, stress, frustrations, brokenness, suffering, pain, and empty places of this life? If my soul was at rest, and kneeling by the One who makes me whole would I react in anger or frustration? Or could I suddenly find myself with an untapped reserve of patience, compassion, and peace of mind? How do I do that? I feel like for now, for me it means just carrying an awareness that this is happening. If I have to "do" anything then isn't it beside the point?

Maybe it means just stopping what I'm doing and breathing Him in, maybe meditating on His goodness and seeing myself with him. Maybe it means surrendering some things. Maybe it means waking up early and giving Him my day and finding my center to start out with. Maybe it means blogging about it haha! I hope so! And I'm certainly on a journey to find out.

I hope your day and heart would be filled with the joy and peace that comes only from Him.

Shalom friends!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

10 Real Life Gardening Tips I Learned the Hard Way

I think we can all agree that the majority of my blog posts are about spiritual matters so this time I wanted to share a different side of myself with you. I love gardening. My parents get a big kick out of this since I hated working in the garden growing up. I think that was mostly because I didn't appreciate, well, much of anything as a teenager. As an adult, wife, mother, responsible citizen who lives in the current economic climate I've really come to appreciate a lot of things I didn't back then. Hard work, the value of a dollar, where real food comes from, just the joy and satisfaction of seeing your hard work pay off are all a few reasons I've come to love gardening; not to mention, gardening is an extremely rewarding spiritual experience as well. But there are also many frustrations about gardening I didn't quite share in as a youth. Which brings me to the point of this post. I've compiled only a few of the major mistakes, twists and turns, gardening has showed me to share with all of you. If you're a beginner I hope you find this list helpful. These are just a few tips to get you started.

1. Dream big, start small.

My garden has easily doubled in size every year. I'm already making plans for my garden next year and it will be twice as big. I'm glad I started out small though. Oh I had vast and wonderful dreams for my little garden that first year. I planted carrots. A lot of carrots. At the time I juiced about a pound of carrots every morning. I envisioned myself strolling out to my garden every morning, pulling a few fat juicy carrots for my morning juice, plucking other wonderful ingredients along my way like kale, mint, garlic, parsley. So more then half my garden was carrots. Well here's the deal about carrots. Once you pull them, they're done. Not like a tomato plant that keeps producing. One and done. That's how carrots work. Also carrots take FOREVER to grow and mature. I planted early spring and finally by November I just pulled them all up. I got one tiny harvest of sour, dirt tasting, pinky sized carrots. But you know what? I learned from that. I learned a lot from that. It takes time to learn what kind of soil you have, what plants need what to grow. I learned carrots don't grow very well in the soil I have in my backyard. I learned that I don't like one and done plants. I learned that gardening helps you grow patience not just vegetables; that was the hardest lesson of all. So my advice is dream big, dream real big. Think about all the different kinds of plants you'd love to grow but start small. Instead of planting 10 rows of one thing plant 2 or 3 of one plant and see how it does. Especially if it's your first year. Generally the first year isn't that great even if you know what you're doing. So don't invest a lot of money, time, and energy in a huge garden that very well won't produce much at all. I learn something every year about different plants and I've talked with gardeners who have been gardening for 30 + years and are still learning new things.

2. Don't neglect your dirt.

If you're like me and have 4 kids, a large dog, and a cat then you are probably about sick of poop. That is until a truck load of horse, cow, goat, rabbit, or chicken crap gets dumped into your garden. NEVER have I been so excited to dig in cow poo as I was that first year. I personally unloaded 400 lbs of organic cow manure into my garden. Hmmm let me rephrase that. I didn't *personally* *unload* 400 lbs of manure. But I did, all by myself, unload 400 lbs of manure from my van onto my garden. (Oh here's another tip, if you're serious about gardening invest in a truck!) I was pretty much just as excited about cow poo the second year I did it as well! What kind of dirt do you have? Sandy? Clay? Brown, red, black? I'm pretty lucky in these parts. Most of Oklahoma sits on a clay foundation but my back yard is full of some of the darkest, richest black earth you'll find. Stick a shovel in my back yard and you're bound to hit a worm, no lie. So figure out what you have to start with and what plants like it or don't like it. Then fertilize, fertilize, fertilize. I prefer organic and here are some ways I've found work for me:
Organic manure. Get it wherever you can find it. Places like Lowes and Home Depot usually have 40 lb bags of it pretty cheap (although it gets more expensive every year!) Often times you can find it on Craigslist from farmers or ranchers who give it away as long as you can haul it off. Just be sure to double check that no chemicals/pesticides/weed killers were used around the compost pile because this can totally screw your garden.
Compost kitchen scraps all year. All year I keep a big plastic ice cream tub (got plenty of those lying around) with a lid under my sink that I can fill up. My kids take turns taking it out to the garden to dump when it's full. You can actually find pretty nice looking compost bins for this purpose that can sit on your counter. But with 4 kids I can never have anything nice.
Grass clippings, leaves, mulch. These all make great compost. Great to mix in before you start and great to mulch with once your plants have come up. Basically you only want organic materials so no cat litter, grease, plastic, although cardboard and coffee filters are great.
Buy organic fertilizer. There are lots of options, pellets, powders, mixes. Every year before I plant, after I've readied my soil I dump a big tub of organic fertilizer over my garden, especially right before it rains so it can get nice and soaked into the earth.
There are also lots of homemade fertilizers for different plants you probably already have the ingredients for in your kitchen. Epsom salts are great for tomatoes and peppers. Banana peals and coffee grinds are great for tomatoes as well. Egg shells are an excellent source of calcium for plants with blossom end rot. Pinterest is a wonderful resource for all kinds of fertilizer recipes.

3. Thinning is your friend.

Probably one of the hardest things I've had to do as a gardener is thin out my vegetables. Why would I want to pull out a perfectly good plant? Thinning out certain plants is really one of the best things you can do though. Carrots, beets, pumpkins, squash, okra, leeks, are just a few that I can think of that really benefit from being thinned out. They all need room to grow. Root veggies can be especially deceiving. They can look fabulous on the top but if they're all crammed together they don't grow down, they grow up. So for example, you can have a gazillion beautiful carrot tops (told you I learned a lot about carrots my first year) and literally no carrots. Not all is lost though, many times you can do something with those plants that have been thinned out. Beet greens are super yummy, so thin those babies out and toss in a salad. Squash, cucumber, zucchini, pumpkin, they all transplant pretty easily. So if you have three or four sprouts next to each other and you have room spread them out once they are a few inches tall. If you don't one will end up taking over and the rest will die off anyway.

4. There IS such a thing as too much love.

Wait a little while after planting before you start to weed your garden, especially if you're not 100% sure what your sprouts look like. Spinach in particular looks a lot like grass. I usually wait until my sprouts are all a few inches tall before I go to town weeding. I did learn this the hard way the first couple years after pulling out a lot of my sprouts thinking they were weeds. Doh! *hand to forehead* Another way we can love our plants to death is by watering incorrectly. Yes there is a right way and a wrong way. A lot of plants have their own preference but I pretty much water all mine the same way cause I'm just bossy like that. Kale for example prefers to be watered the same amount the same time everyday and since I grow a lot of kale that's when I water everything else. It's much, much better on your plants to water only once a day. Give them a good soak preferably morning or evening. This way they form longer roots and are heartier plants. There's also such a thing as over watering. If the ends of your produce start to rot or if your plants start to yellow, especially leafy greens, you're probably over-watering. Sometimes this can't be helped because of too much rain. I lost a lot of beautiful spinach plants this year to too much rain. You can also over-love your garden by too much pruning or what I like to call, "impatient pruning." Impatient pruning is when you see a bit that needs pruned but are too lazy to get the proper tool to prune with so you yank off the branch, shoot, blossom, leaf, stem, or sucker and accidentally rip your plant out of the ground.....don't ask me how I know that.

5. Don't let your weeds take root.

Once you are completely sure what is weed and what is sprout feel free to weed away to your little hearts desire. As soon as you see that little weed pop it's head up yank it out of the ground. Don't let it go to seed or you'll have a full blown invasion on your hands. I personally have a bowl designated for weeding in my house. It's labeled "attitude adjuster." Just ask my 8 year old. This system works pretty well and weeds are really not a problem for me any more. Seriously though, going a day or two without much weeding probably won't hurt but eventually the grass and weeds WILL take over. I became very aware of this last year when I was 8 months pregnant in July and it became literally impossible for me to bend over; what am I saying I stopped bending over the minute I found out I was pregnant.

6. Know your enemy.

This is a big one. I lost a whole crop of squash one year to vine borers because I didn't know what was happening until it was too late. And nothing brings the "f" word out of me like a blasted squash bug....OK OK OK, nothing makes me *think* the "f" word quite like a squash bug. They are foul and disgusting creatures and you do not want them to infest your garden. There are just far to many pests to name and suggest remedies for in one blog post. So do your research. If you see a bug, don't assume it's OK because it's probably not but there are a lot of friendly bugs so don't just start smashing. If something weird starts happening to your leaves, vines, roots, or stems inspect the plant thoroughly for any sign of insect activity immediately. Don't wait and see what happens because what will happen is everything will die. Nothing more frustrating then leaving your garden healthy one night and waking up to it half dead the next morning. One caterpillar alone can decimate a lettuce crop in one night. Something nibbling your fruit after you've waited patiently for forever for it to ripen? Rabbits, mice, squirrels, moles, birds....all easily remedied by a feisty cat. Seriously. That's my advice. Get a cat. Haven't had a problem with animals sneaking in my garden since.

7. Don't be afraid to get dirty, or smelly.

Cow manure, squished squash bugs, sweat, these are a few things I've had to overcome once I first started gardening. Now, I'm not a girly girl by any means but dirt (haha who am I kidding? Cow poo!) under my finger nails was a new experience for me. I wonder now why I would even bother painting my nails. Actually. No. I never wonder that, the thought of painting my finger nails never even crosses my mind any more. Dirt, sweat, bugs, whatever the residue is called that gets on you after touching a tomato or squash plant and makes you itch for forever, it's all part of it and if you want a successful garden you're going to have to roll up your sleeves, have a designated pair of shoes JUST for gardening, and get used to crap getting under your nails. Literally.

8. No shame!

Failure is not just an option. It's a given. There are so many variables, pests, and learning opportunities that sometimes things are just going to go wrong. There's no shame in that. Sometimes you'll rip out your own plant accidentally, or over-water, or be too tired to water or weed, or you'll plant too early or too late or it will be too hot or too cold. Epic failure is part of the gardening experience. Sometimes plants have a mind of their own and just won't produce for many different possible reasons even if you do everything perfect. The reward is totally worth it but if you let every dead plant or tomato that's already half eaten get you down you will miss all the joys of gardening. Obviously there's nothing like bringing in a big harvest but gardening is like it's own parallel universe, stuff just happens sometimes that's out of our control and it happens to the best of us so there's no shame in it. If anything it's the gardener equivalent of battle scars, something to brag about and freak out the civilians with.

9. Don't go it alone.

Of course you should have your significant other be on board and on the same page. My husband is all for a bigger garden, less he has to mow he says, but he's not majorly into gardening. He helps me with the heavy lifting and is supportive but doesn't like to talk about seeds, compost, or bugs; nor does he share in the depth of my hatred for vine borers and squash bugs. I have friends that garden and I thoroughly enjoy sharing many conversations centered around those topics with them. Facebook gardening groups and blogs are also great resources. I'm part of an awesome group about urban gardening and it's full of advice and opportunities to share pictures and condolences for dead plants. Like I said before, there is always something to learn, why not learn from someone else's mistakes?

10. There's a reason He walked in the garden everyday.

Maybe I'm just super spiritual but with each of the points above I can't help see an underlying spiritual lesson to be learned. Life is a journey we learn along the way; we start out humbly but that doesn't mean He doesn't want us to set our sights on bigger goals and dreams. No matter what, you can't forget about or neglect your foundation. Sometimes it takes intentional maintenance to keep our core beliefs, the foundation of our faith healthy. Without it nothing good can grow out of our lives. If we've believed one lie it can shape every aspect of our life. It's important to drink deeply from the well of His Spirit daily, to let our roots grow deep into His Word and Truth so we won't be swayed by the storms of this life. Because there is a very real enemy that would try and rob you of the fruit in your life. We have to stay vigilant, knowing his plan is half the battle. The Word says, "resist him and he'll flee." Guard your heart, your mind, don't let yourself be taken in by his schemes. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. Darkness, dirt, hard work, it's all part of this life. But you are strong, capable, created with a purpose, and you can do it. And when you still manage to fail? Do not be ashamed! We've all been there. We've all fallen short. But there's a reason the Father walked in the Garden with Adam every day and there's a reason you should walk in yours every day. Relationship. When you put your heart and soul into it, no matter the out come, you won't be disappointed. Don't neglect your garden, and don't neglect your relationship with your Creator. Let Him tend your heart as you tend your garden. Watch the seeds come to life. Enjoy the fruit and share it with your loved ones. And feel free to share it with me any time! You're not alone!

If you have an awesome gardening experience I'd love to hear about it. Comment below and share this post with your friends if you've enjoyed it!

Friday, June 27, 2014

One of Those Days

Ever had one of those hair pulling, scream out loud, make you want to cuss, foot stomping, fist pounding days?

What do you do when that happens? I'm still learning how to handle these times like a mature Christian adult woman and not like my 3 year old. But I gotta say, it's hard! After fighting the urge to rant and vent on Facebook or call my friend and rage about the injustice of it all, not too mention doing all the things I mentioned above, what do I do with all this negative energy?? I'm sure there are lots of books out there on how to handle "those" days. They probably recommend finding an outlit, a way to displace all that negative energy into something positive, like doing things like yoga, meditation, taking a walk, or keeping busy with a hobby like gardening or wood working or, I don't know say, blogging. And those are all well and good and I do plan to go pull some weeds in a bit after I'm done blogging. But I'm really trying to discover how I can stop and in, not just those disappointing moments or moments of heart break, but also times of frustration and even joy and let the Father breathe life into every part of the situation and my heart. I want to share every aspect of my life with Him.

Warning: Rabbit Trail Ahead:
How does He do it? How does He love us so? We are such a frustrating species! Sheesh, I mean really. I feel like generally speaking I'm a pretty loving, forgiving, good natured person. It's in my personality to go with the flow, take life as it comes, not stress about things. I'm usually not easily angered and just being a parent has taught me sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo *deep breath* sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo so so so much patience. AND YET, still I find myself so frustrated at times with people. And I know I must really frustrate people too. A LOT. And by people of course I mean my husband. So HOW does The Father do it? Just love us despite it all? I want to be more like Him in this area. I want to love people even when they are frustrating.

Choking back my sentiment, I refrain from blasting on Facebook or from gossip. Instead, I fall humbly in worship. And in that weak and vulnerable moment, I know He sees me. He sees my heart. He sees my frustration. He sees the injustice. But He also sees my own weakness. And He doesn't blast me. He doesn't shame me for my judgement or lack of compassion or understanding. He doesn't expose my own lack of consideration for people at times. He just loves me. In that moment The Spirit comforts me and breathes peace on my soul. I no longer feel the need for retribution. Forgiveness comes easy. Can I learn to walk in such grace all the time? Can't this be my initial response? It can be so hard sometimes to choose to die to your own desires and instead choose to be more like Him. But the more we offer up of ourselves the more He gives back of all that He is. The more like Him we are the more we gain in the end.

Sure there are times when the truth, spoken in love needs to be said. Absolutely. But this can't be done out of our own sense of what righteousness is or our own desire for justice or retribution. It must come from a place of true compassion and true forgiveness and yes, relationship; if speaking the truth only makes YOU feel better it's probably best left unsaid at the moment. Trust Pappa to be the one to handle it in His own way in His own timing.

It's amazing what just being in His presence can do. My frustration was totally deflated and my attitude totally changed. It might sound too easy but Jesus is really the answer to every problem. Re-calibrating, bringing Him back to the center of my focus, of my life is how I can handle stress, frustration, disappointment, injustice, and even success and blessing. He is the well from which we can draw out every resource. We do not have to be dependent on our own ability for self-control or patience and thank God for that! Because I'd be a screaming, head banging, foot stomping, fist pounding lunatic right now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Walking Through Disappointment

Someone asked me a while back when I was going through a really difficult season of my life how I was able to stay positive. My response was that for most people somewhere a long the line lies disappointment, whether that be financial struggles, health issues with your child or parent, or even just a lack of relationship and dependence on the Father. I told my friend that I was choosing to trust that this life is not the end of the story, that I still had so much to be thankful for and that if I trusted Him, fixed my eyes on things above, I could get through anything. The truth is this life can easily be filled with disappointment, disappointment in others, ourselves, or even filled with the deception that somehow God disappointed us. This world is full of heart ache but it's not forever. How do we make it through those hard seasons of disappointment? How do we still live a hopeful, joy-filled life in spite of experiencing crushing disappointment? I want to share with you a few things I've learned so far, a few pearls of wisdom that haven't failed me yet and have really got me through those barren places of my life.

Number 1: Forgiveness 
I don't think I could say enough about it. The act of giving and receiving forgiveness has completely and utterly transformed my life and set me free. Let me stop right here and say I've been wrestling with this blog post for a few days because of this lesson on forgiveness. I don't take lightly how hard the message of forgiveness can be. While praying about it a little while ago I asked Pappa, "Why isn't forgiveness one of the fruits of the Spirit?" And this is what He said, "It's not a fruit because it's the tree." Forgiveness is the Spirit. Forgiveness is Jesus and when He's planted within you, you have the ability to forgive. All those other fruits are fruits of that Tree of forgiveness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. We couldn't have any of that if it weren't for the forgiveness that was planted in our hearts to begin with. It's a gift. Just as He's given us forgiveness He has lovingly given us the ability to forgive others. I believe it's because we were never intended for a life where forgiveness was necessary. Unforgiveness is part of this world and it leads a dark and miserable place that He doesn't want any of us to live. When we're not able to forgive in our own strength He gives us grace to walk forgiveness out one day at a time, one minute at a time sometimes. And sometimes He can change our hearts in an instant, whether that's through a change of perspective or a deeper revelation about the situation or a miraculous healing of our hearts. And as we forgive we are set free. Free of the hurt. Free of bitterness. Free of the dread of running into the person we need to forgive. Free from fear, and I've come to realize that fear is largely linked to unforgiveness issues. The gift of being able to forgive others is so overwhelmingly loving on the Father's part. He understands the world we live in and the likelihood of the hurt we are liable to experience. Instead of having to carry all that hurt and pain around we can let it go through forgiveness and experience freedom. Please know I don't mean to trivialize any hurt or offense you may have experienced. I know this is not a Disney movie. I'm not so naive that I don't understand serious trauma and dysfunction others can cause us. But I can testify that no matter what the offense, you can be free from it. Why does He let those hurts happen to us in the first place? Well that's a blog for another day, and I don't have the answer other then it's just part of dysfunction of this world. I've asked Him many, many times why and you know something? He doesn't ever have an answer for me either. He's only ever given me a deeper understanding of His love for me and even the love He has for those who hurt me. And sometimes that's STILL not enough for me. But His grace is sufficient to get me through it in that moment as I surrender and allow Him to move in my heart and as I lean into His gift of forgiveness.

Number 2: Forgiveness
Ha! See I told you I couldn't say enough about it! But this time I want to share the other side of the coin that is the gift of forgiveness. I struggled for a long time with not being able to receive forgiveness. I believe that was largely in part to the fact that I'm acutely aware of my unworthiness and likelihood to mess it all up again and again. How could I receive His forgiveness when I know in my heart I'm just going to sin again. But the truth is, He is worthy. What does that have to do with forgiveness? His ability and willingness to forgive is His prerogative. Is it right for me to doubt His grace? Or the amount of grace He's capable of? He is worthy of my surrender. My surrender to His will, to His desire to move on my heart, and His ability to forgive me no matter the sin. By not receiving that grace I've put myself in a place of pride and false humility and that's one place I've learned is not fun either! He's so worthy of our trust and surrender so let go of that veil of shame and let Him cleanse you, again and again and again.

Number 3: Hope for Today
I think the biggest joy killer and peace robber is worry. We all know that right? I mean that's kind of old news. But how do you walk that out? When money is so tight and you don't know how you'll pay the next bill? What will those test results mean for your child and family? What if the house doesn't sell? What if you don't get that job? What if God doesn't heal you? What if your husband never gets free of addiction? What if there will never be peace in your home? Now, now don't worry...Yeah. Right. At least that's how I used to feel in my own valley of disappointment. But somehow, you can shut all that down even for just a second. Focus on the right now of the moment. Close your eyes and ask yourself, "Where is God?" He's with me. Breathe. What's He saying? He's saying He loves me. He's saying I'm beautiful. He's saying I'm enough. He's saying He is enough for me and I choose, in this moment to believe Him. Right now. Today. He's enough. I have hope that He will fulfill that promise just for today. When you have nothing for tomorrow, no idea how it will work out, you can have hope, just for today.

Number 4: Perspective
So I hope I'm alone in saying that upon occasion I may or may not have the tendency to be slightly self absorbed. But I wouldn't blame you if I'm not the only one. It's SOOOOO easy to do these days. Everything around us encourages us to live life all about ME and to want what we want NOW. It can be so easy to get caught up in our own drama, and sometimes it's kind of superficial like spilling coffee on our shirt on the way to work or getting a flat tire with a van load of kids. And a lot of our drama is #firstworldproblems. But. Sometimes we have legitimate drama, real heart wrenching, gut clenching issues and sometimes we've just barely got our heads above water so excuse me for not caring about your expensive phone being dropped in the toilet drama. Am I right? Maybe you're in that disappointed place and you just wish the people around you would get some perspective! You've got your own problems. So you are probably thinking this lesson is about teaching those superficial people about getting some perspective right? Don't you know me by now? The truth is if you're in a valley, and I know this next part is gonna hurt, Pappa's going to use it. He's going to grow you in a way others will never understand. This low place is really an opportunity to go deeper, deeper in Him, deeper in trust, deeper in faith, deeper in love. And that is the perspective I mean. So when I say to get perspective I don't mean, be happy to eat your vegetables because of all the hungry children in the world, (although that is true and you should) what I mean is set your sights on things above, on things eternal. "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:1-3). I know looking up when you carry such a burden can be really, really hard and it takes a lot of self control. But you can do it one moment at a time. It's why He gives us daily bread. Hope for today. Provision for today. Grace for today. Peace for today. That's all you need every day.

5. Thankfulness
Now here is where I say be happy and eat your vegetables because there are starving children in the world. I wasn't going to include this one in this blog because I thought it was a little too obvious. Yet, I know, for me at least, I still need to be reminded. Often. This IS a fallen world and there is always someone going through something worse then I am. Maybe something about my situation is so disappointing but my children are all healthy. Not every parent can say that. At least I HAVE children, not everyone who wants a child can have one. You get the idea. Maybe it's an issue with your spouse. Maybe it's hard to be thankful for the one God gave you right now. Can you find one thing you appreciate about them? Often times it will be the one thing that drives you the most crazy! At least it is for me. My husband is a rock. He's solid and dependable. When he commits he always follows through. He's not flighty or tossed to and fro. He doesn't scare easy and he's not easily provoked. And that makes me crazy sometimes! Why? Because I'm the total opposite and could be quoted in saying I feel like he's the rock tied around my neck dragging me down! But only in my most dramatic moments of course, because I am thankful for those qualities. He's saved us from some pretty horrible ideas I've had that at the time seemed brilliant. But seriously, maybe it's just a small tiny thing you can hold onto for today. I'm thankful for clean water, and a working washing machine, and children who sleep through the night, and breakfast in the morning. Those are small things to me but I guarantee you someone wishes desperately that they had what I have.

So there you have it. 5 simple steps to help walk through disappointing times in life with hope and joy. Simple right? But definitely not easy! Please share in the comments below if you are walking through something and would like prayer or if you have your own experience and lesson that has helped get you through hard times. Somewhere up there I should have included how much it helps to be encouraged by loved ones who truly see you and care about what you're going through even if it is superficial. Nothing is superficial to Him, He cares about what you care about!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Blinding, Heart-stopping, Jaw-dropping Perspective

It all started on Easter. Naturally. Our pastor asked us to ask the Lord if anything was coming between us and Him. Kind of a check up on your relationship type thing. Feeling very confident that nothing was up I asked Him. Immediately He said, "You are mad at Me. For not healing your jaw and not moving in your finances the way you want."

*gulp* Um yeah. Pretty much. And I basically agreed that was true and that I wasn't going to deal with it just that moment.

Let me put a pin in this post right there and rabbit trail for a minute. God can handle your sin. He can handle your stubbornness and your disobedience. He can even handle a closed door. Or a wall. Or whatever else you may throw up between you and Him. It's why He says He stands at the door and knocks. He doesn't just occasionally stop by and knock or walk away frustrated altogether. He stands there. And knocks. For as long as it takes. Days, months, years. Obviously He would much rather we be more open and receiving but He can handle it when we can't. In fact, I feel closer to Him knowing I can trust Him with the fact that I'm just not ready. I don't think He's mad at me or waiting to punish me. Course hind sight is always better and in the end I always smack my forehead and swear I'll never do it again but it's inevitable. This is not to be confused with misusing grace. I understand the fact that He's merciful and there's grace but there are also consequences in not obeying right away and there is love in that too. I'm just saying if you're struggling with something that He's repeatedly "knocked on your door" about you don't have to walk around in guilt in shame. Just simply be honest with Him, and ask for His help. It's all in daily bread folks.

So He was right. Under my cheerful exterior, and honestly my delight in Him, I was mad at Him for not healing my jaw. I haven't shared with many people that I have been struggling pretty seriously with chronic pain from my TMJ since October last year. Most days it's a mild tingly tightness and gum swelling like what happens if you go a long time without flossing and then floss. But some days it's bad enough I can't chew or talk much. But twice now I've had flare ups so bad that all I could do was walk around my house night and day crying for several days at a time. Literally. And I've asked more then once for Him to heal me or questioned why I haven't been healed. I could write more about all of this and one day I will but that's not for today. I know many struggle with chronic pain and I've definitely grown in my compassion for them. And I do NOT have the answer.

He was also right when He said I was mad about our finances. I hope I don't sound like a spoiled brat when I say I've wanted "more" because truthfully our lives are so full. Full of love. Full of joy. Full of peace. I love our bigger then average HUNGRY family of 6. I love my middle class neighborhood and house. I love my junky van that the kiddos can full-on trash out (And they do. Often.) or that doesn't even lock and who cares because it's not worth much anyway. (I'm totally serious and I can't help but chuckle as I write about it.) But I would be lying if I said that I was happy about having to work. so. dang. hard. I've felt like we are very much just spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere at times. I know we're not alone in that. Many are struggling and again I do NOT have the answer. I've asked more then once for Him to do something about it. To bless us. To prosper us. Not in a name-it-and-claim-it kind of way but in a genuine ease-our-burdens Father, kind of way.

*sigh* So like I said, I basically had a reality check, that yes I was mad about it, but no I was not ready to deal with it. I did ask Him to help me. I did just trust Him with it. I trusted Him with my confusion, my disappointment, my hopes, my goals, my dreams, my pain, and my fear.

That was on Easter. Between now and then I have heard countless testimonies. Just testimony after testimony of His great favor and provision. New cars. New houses. Financial blessing. Restored relationships. New jobs. New ministries. Miraculous healing.  And I'll be honest. I was getting a little crabby about it. Not with any of those sharing the testimonies because truthfully I can rejoice with them. I've learned that if you can't rejoice with those on the mountain top despite being in the valley, no matter how long, you may not share in the view from up top. Let me just emphasize right here that things can change in an instant! So never begrudge your brother or sister their victories. Let it encourage you not discourage you.

That being said I can't say I wasn't getting a little annoyed with my Pappa about it. Truly I could see He is at work in many of my friends lives but just as many of us are still waiting, desperately at times, waiting for Him to intervene. I was starting to be a little "elder brother-like" in my heart towards Pappa. "Here I am plowing away and you throw them the party??" "Don't you see me toiling away here?" "What did they do that I haven't done?" "Haven't I been a good girl?" "Haven't I done everything you've asked me?" And as ugly as that is, and knowing it, and also casting down many other equally ugly thoughts from the enemy, I knew I could still trust Him with my longing and questioning heart. Even when I don't understand His heart He always understands mine. Always.

So I made a choice. I was through feeling this way and I wanted to talk it out and get help with prayer from a few brothers and sisters I trusted. And I really want to encourage you. When you've been struggling with something, no matter what it is, talk to someone about it. Sometimes just saying it out loud can totally deflate the enemy's lies. Sometimes we wrestle with something so long that it just grows in our mind. I made a plan to do just that. I even made an appointment but due to some unforeseen circumstances completely out of my control I wasn't able to make it. And I didn't feel "off the hook" I felt even more annoyed. Like, "um, see? I am being a good girl here. What's the deal??"

That night, the night of my missed appointment, the night I was feeling even more hopeless about my attitude and disappointed about my circumstances, I had a dream. I often dream. And this may seem weird but sometimes I believe my dreams are real. Like somewhere, in the supernatural realm, heaven, or where ever my spirit is when I'm sleeping my dream is reality. In a reality that's different from this one, this earthly reality I live and breathe on a day to day basis, I visit in my dreams. And in this dream I was somewhere far away, somewhere "space" like. There was darkness, mostly it is what I would imagine looking out from the moon would be like. I could see stars. It was quiet and loud at the same time. Like when you're underwater, everything is muted but the sound of the water and your heart beat are in your ears. Then I was with a crowd of people. And we were worshiping. It was a roar of praise yet I still had that underwater sensation. And our worship grew and grew to the point that it was so utterly overwhelming that I couldn't take it. I couldn't do ANYTHING but give Him my EVERYTHING. And I was desperate to do so. So desperate to scream and shout of my love for Him but so choked up by His love for me I couldn't speak. And there was light. Blinding, piercing, all consuming light but at the same time it was still the dark space-ness. Like the light was in me. In my head and heart and coming from me but also stabbing me and blinding me and shattering me at the same time. Finally I couldn't take it and I fell to what must have been the ground. I felt sand on my face and could see the feet of those around me. And as I looked off into the distance I could see Earth. It was a view from space. I could see the atmosphere. I could see the clouds of His glory cover the earth as we sang, as we gave our all He poured out His all over the earth.

And I woke up. And it's like, how do I breathe? How do I be human again? How do I have any bitterness or resentment towards Him in my heart after that? When I gave my all and was pierced by Love's light? Oh sure I could function. I could talk to my husband and make dinner, and clean, and homeschool my kiddos. But on the inside I walked around in a daze, blinded by that light, unable to really make sense of it all. Finally, a few days later, He began to explain it. It's all perspective. I made an appointment to receive prayer and encouragement when all I really needed was to lay down and die. HA that's all! But seriously, I saw the earth and realized what mattered. His glory, His presence, His light changes everything.

Later that day, while making lunch for my little hungry beasts, er, I mean my little darlings, my 3 year old suddenly starts freaking out. This is not that unusual so I didn't panic. He was extremely upset because he wanted to use a particular cup but my 8 year old daughter wanted it and wasn't going to give it to him. I intervened and gave the 3 year old the cup. Now before you judge to harshly my parenting skills let me explain that for the past few months we've been working with my daughter on appreciating her age, that despite the extra responsibilities there are many freedoms that come with being the oldest. So after the jolly 3 year old skips out the door with his cup and a lecture on not screaming I looked my girl in the eye. I held up my hands and made a circle with my thumbs and fingers. I said, "this is your brother's world. He lives in a world where there are special cups and special toys and special pop-cycles and special flowers and special TV shows." Then I made the circle a little bigger and said, "this is your world. You live in a world where there is computer time, and sleepovers, and soccer, and summer camp." Then I went back and forth with the "worlds" and asked her, "which world do you want to live in? This world? (small) This world? (big) Special cups? Or special sleepovers with friends?" She of course chose her world over his and walked off happy with her cup. And in my spirit I could see His great big hands, "This world? or This world? Where houses and cars and 'toys' are special? Or where My Spirit covers the earth and the most important thing are souls?"

As we grow in this understanding we can get bogged down and feel like all we want is the "special cup" right now. But with our "age" or maturity in our relationship with Him we can see that despite the extra responsibilities like the not-so-fun fruits of the Spirit: self-control, long suffering, patience, gentleness, kindness, to name a few, we see that there are also many freedoms that come with this understanding, love both given and received, joy, peace, a life filled with His glory.

Which world do you want to live in? A world with stuff? Or a world filled with blinding light and fierce love?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Just Stop

Do you ever just stop what you're doing and let yourself be swept away in the moment, swept away in the sound of His voice? That Peace calling your name, "Come dance with Me."? I don't nearly as often as I should. I get busy, I get distracted. I get tired. But sometimes I stop. Sometimes I acknowledge His persisting and I join Him in the song, in the dance. He sweeps me away, close to His heart. And He fills me with joy, with peace, with everything I didn't even know I needed. My children are so much better at this. When they hear His song, which I normally have worship music playing and lately that's been Awe by Christ Stewart, they just stop what they're doing and twirl. They just twirl and twirl. They close their eyes, they lift their hands, and the heart cry is always, "I love You, Jesus." I know this type of in-the-moment, swept away, awe takes many forms for many people. Sometimes I'm just playing the piano, practicing so my students don't over take me HA!, when suddenly I I feel that nudging, "Take My hand, come away." and I begin to play a song not of myself but a song of heaven. Sometimes I see His face in the smile of one of my children. I see that drooly baby grin and I feel His warmth overwhelm my heart. I can't help but soak in that moment and worship Him with all the trust in my heart, trust for that baby, for my family. Sometimes I'm out working in my garden and there's sweat, and muscle strain, and dirt. And as I dig deep in the earth I hear His whisper, "Go deeper, come, I have hidden treasures you could never imagine." And when I see those tiny sprouts my heart is full of hope and trust that He's not through with us yet. He's a live, and on the move.

It's in the heart of each of us to love Him. Passionately, intimately, fiercely love Him and I know it sounds cheesy to say but it's because of His great love for us. It's because He's always calling that He created us with the need to answer. And He's always speaking. I've heard many sermons about how sometimes there are periods of time God doesn't talk to us and I have to say I believe that's false. He's ALWAYS speaking. He's always calling you closer. Always. If He is the Lover of our souls how could He keep silent? If you went days, weeks, or months without talking to your spouse do you think maybe there might be something wrong? I'd like to challenge you by saying if you're not hearing His voice there's something wrong. And it's nothing to be ashamed about. It's easy to get to a place of distance with Him. So easy to look away, to be distracted, to not even realize you've started to wander off. And I don't mean just wander away in "sin" at least not by the typical definition. You can be active in church, reading your Bible daily and follow all the laws and rules that keep us on the straight and narrow but still have wandered away from the warmth of His embrace. There's temptation everywhere. I think that's why Pappa is speaking this to me today. The way to keep this from happening is to just stop. Stop what you're doing when He calls and just be with Him.

I thought I'd share a tiny bit of what this looks like for us. And don't mind the basket of laundry, or art projects on the floor. Don't mind the jiggly camera because of the curious baby. Just stop, see that life doesn't have to be perfect or put together for Him to love you and to call you and to see you and to want to be with you. Life doesn't have to be clean or orderly for you to be swept away by His love. In fact, in my experience He likes it a little messy.

Monday, March 10, 2014

No Borders, Boundaries, or Personal Space

Personal Space. We all need that right? You have to have balance. You can't say yes to everyone. You can't be pouring out your heart to people constantly because you'll get burn out. You can't volunteer for everything and you can't DO everything. Sometimes you just gotta say no. Sometimes you have to hold people at a distance. Especially those certain people. You know the ones I'm talking about. Those that just take and take and take. Those that criticize everything you do and say. We need boundaries for people like that....RIGHT?

Some people really struggle with this. So they wrote a book about it. Lots of books out there on how to just say no, to have healthy boundaries in place so you don't get hurt, don't give too much, and don't get burn out. Because let's face it people, there are leeches out there. Lost, hurting people that see life in you and they want it. They'll suck the very life out of you so be careful, put up boundaries so you don't get hurt.....RIGHT?

Sounds good, sounds true. God wouldn't want us to pour out to someone who doesn't appreciate it or will take advantage of us or will hurt us. Don't cast your pearls among the swine, right? I know I've thought and believed these things. I've even given advice along these lines. So why is Pappa stirring this up so in my heart lately? Why do I feel Him tugging at some of those borders, boundaries, and personal space bubbles I've erected? Could He have something better in mind? Could He have another, fuller, better, more satisfying way for me to live then for me to guard my heart and home? Let me share some of the questions, and ideas swirling around in my spirit today. Journey with me as I work this out for myself.

What if instead of saying yes or no we inquired? What if we asked Him if He wants us to do something? What if instead of pouring out of ourselves we poured out of Him, and were extension of His heart?  What if we never had to fear burning out because there was grace to accomplish whatever He told us to do? What if there was a never-ending supply of resources, peace, love, grace, compassion, consideration, patience, etc.? What if we didn't turn anyone away who was hungry, weary, or hurting even if we didn't agree with what they believe or their actions? I promise you He will never, ever have you turn someone away. That's just not who He is. Even if they've hurt you in the past, even when they've hurt Him, He always hopes. So, what if we were just Love? What if we never had to fear for ourselves or our hearts? What if we never had to be afraid of getting hurt? What if we were so so deep in Him and we so trusted His love, acceptance, and His satisfaction in us that we could be free and vulnerable with people? What if we didn't have to worry if they liked us or about how they might treat us because who they say we are doesn't matter? What if we, like Him, were not afraid of sin?

I'm being reminded of all the walls, and boundaries that I've put into place and every single one that I can think of is there out of fear: fear of being taken advantage of, fear I might be treated badly, fear I might not be heard, fear I might not be seen for who I am, fear that my kids might be hurt or see something I think they shouldn't.  And here's a thought about our children: what if who they were created to be was one of our greatest resources? What if who they are is the Part of Pappa He wants to show to someone hurting? What if we could trust Pappa to protect them as well? Every single wall I've raised was put there by me, to protect myself. Never has He instructed me to protect myself ever. Period. Oh and here's a doosie, there are even a couple of walls to protect my Self from my God. Because what if asks me to do something I don't want to do or if He does something I don't understand? What if I can't trust Him.....?

I'm ready for a world, for a Church that throws their concern for "balance" out the window. What does that even mean? "Oh be careful, stay in balance." Well here's the deal folks, everywhere I look the world is so OUT of balance and in wrong direction, and if I can be so bold, all these fears are a major factor. What if the church stopped worrying about getting burn out or getting out of balance or with giving too much that they didn't have anything left for themselves or their family? What if we trusted our Father and go where He says go and give when He says give and trust that He will take care of us and ours? People are hurting and dying out there and I have the tendency to look the other way because what if I get hurt? I ignore the starving and cold man on the street because what if He tries to hurt me or my children? I push off the needy relative or acquaintance because I'm too tired, or have nothing to give, or am too offended by their neediness. But what would this world look like if instead of being afraid we might have to do something, we asked if HE wants to do something? What if my children saw me trusting Pappa and living out His Gospel instead of being consumed with self or fears? What if they saw me loving with a fierce love that could only come from Him? What if I CAN trust Him? What would happen if we did trust Him?

A friend of mine, nah a crazy rock star uncle of mine, shared this on his Facebook status and I had to share.
"Pride cannibalizes awe. When our thoughts drift to how we have been poorly treated, how we are right or deserving of more, or how we will never be good enough, our worship is devoured, eaten up by the Self. We remain under the umbrella of our own authority, recognizing no greater authority and no longer enjoying greater Greatness. There is an antidote to pride, and it is not to think less of ourselves. Instead, we ought to dwell upon the God who did become one of us, who gracefully withstood our scorn and self-adulation. Jesus is the God who, in the face of pride, calls us to the cross. How can we be proud there?" 

And can I add, how can we be afraid there? 

Do you feel convicted? Is it a holy, righteous fire that fuels that conviction? My heart burns with it now and I've found that it's much better and easier to respond quickly to Him then to wait until that fire has grown cold. Let's be His hands and feet and stopping playing church and Be the church.

Grace and Peace.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

DO you have the right to an opinion?

You don't have to look far to see something you don't agree with. Especially if you call yourself a Christian. I almost hate to use that term because it's practically become a derogatory term. To clarify, by "Christian" I mean someone who genuinely loves the Lord and is doing their best to let Him actually BE their Lord. As a Christian, living in the freedom of His Lordship, it's easy to see those that are not living that way and see the negative that lifestyle may your opinion that is. It's easy to see the darkness when you're used to living in His light. It's easy to see the lack all around you when you're living in His provision. It's easy to see fear and hate and all around ugliness when you are so aware of His peace, love, and beauty. And so it's easy to point it out. And it's easy to start to think that you have the right to point it out. It's easy to begin to forget that all those beautiful things are bestowed on you because you have a gracious and loving Father and not because you some how are more deserving then someone who is living in darkness.

Lately I've seen and heard fellow Christians voicing their opinions...and claim the right to those opinions concerning the choices of not love in others. Don't get me wrong, I've been guilty of this myself. The real question in my heart lately, though, has been, "Do I actually have the RIGHT to my opinion??"  I've been hearing lately by many this idea that we all have this God-given right to our opinions. And well, that just doesn't feel right to me.

When a famous person does something I may not approve of, do I have the right to form an opinion about whether I think it's wrong, because hey, after all aren't they a role model and haven't they chosen to be in the public eye and don't they have the responsibility of living a perfect life?? When the President makes a decision that I don't agree with don't I have the right to voice my opinion about it on a social network? When my pastor decides to wear jeans instead of a suit don't I have the right to form my own opinion about whether or not he's being spiritual enough? When another mom at the grocery store has clearly chosen a different style to parenting isn't it right for me to voice my opinion about it? Or maybe even just think about my opinion about it?

I started thinking about what that word opinion really meant because I think Christians have turned it into something it's not and to quote Fezzik from The Princess Bride, "I do not think that word means what you think it means." So I looked it up in the good ole dictionary. Opinion: 1. a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty. 2. a personal view, attitude, or appraisal. 3. a judgment or estimate of a person or thing with respect to character, merit, etc.

By forming a personal opinion about someone you are judging them. It's that plain and simple. Whether you voice it or not it's judgement. And what does judgement mean? It means the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion. So essentially by forming an opinion about someone or their actions you have taken a place of authority in their life. You have come to the conclusion as to whether they are right or wrong. Who's place of authority you ask? Ahhh and here's where you may want to stop's God's place.
Can we have a moment of silence for all the pieces of our souls that just died? *Gulp* 

OK so here's the deal. I'm not writing this blog because I've formed the opinion that every one is too opinionated and judgmental. I've just noticed a trend, especially on social media, and especially from Christians on social media who are making judgements and justifying them with the word opinion. And so the truth is we're not called to be opinionated or judgmental. We're called to be the Love poured out, the Compassion driven, Forgiveness giving people He's created us to be and modeled for us in His very existence. Obviously, that doesn't mean agreeing with or encouraging behavior that is blatantly not love. Let's just remember that none of us would be the same without Jesus and if someone's life is reflecting a life with out Him it's cause for compassion and love not judgement and shame. 

So in conclusion, based purely off the definition of the words opinion and judgement and the well known Scripturally based standards concerning judgement the answer to the question in the title of this blog, NO we do NOT have the RIGHT to our opinions. Would you please join me in repenting for all the times we've done this and let's receive His forgiveness and His supernatural revelation concerning these things? Let's ask Him to teach us how to love the unlovable, those easy to judge, and let Him fill your heart with compassion for all those who are desperately in need of it.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Jehovah's Witness walk into a bar....

So what do a priest, a rabbi, and a Jehovah's witness all have in common besides the start of a bad joke and now the title of this blog post? Two words come to mind: organized religion. Lately I've been contemplating the idea of the Church and exactly what that means for us, big picture as THE Church and small scale for our family. I got to thinking about why we do what we do when it comes to our practices and beliefs, how we fellowship and why we chose our path of worship. I also recently read a book that got me thinking a bit deeper a long these lines.

I first started thinking about all the things I love about different religions because here's the deal, I love people. I love all types of people. Even Muslims. Even Jews. Even Catholics. And even though I've chosen my own way to worship and like every one I tend think my way is the better way there are still many things that I genuinely appreciate about other religions and people groups. For example, I love traditions. I love routine and I have a hard time with change. This part of my self is extremely drawn to avenues of faith like Catholicism and the Orthodox Church. I love the structure, and the preciousness of different rituals and ceremonies that go deep with their meaning. I'm also a little wild and crazy. May be why the Pentecostal church draws my admiration. Sometimes I want to drop all the constraints of those traditions and run around the church screaming about how amazing my God is and of His amazing love and grace poured over me with out measure.

Here's another thing about me: I am a true missionary at heart. I have deep compassion for people who don't know this Love that I have come to know and can't live with out. I love the Baptist heart for missions. What an amazing work they have done all over the world. Another reason I love those of the Methodists stream. Hate the sin, love the sinner is their motto and you can see it by the size of their churches. You don't get that large by making people feel unwanted.

Jehovah's Witnesses. What can I say about them. Do I brace myself when they come to the door? Um, yes. But listen, something moves them to go door to door telling people of their faith. I don't know many others that do this. It is a strong belief and a strong love that brings them to a stranger's door to tell them about Jesus as they know Him. And I just can't judge a person for that.

I could go on and on because there are sooooo many different religions. But obviously there are parts of each one that I don't agree with because I've been called a different way. The number one reason I am pulled away from organized religion, non denominational or otherwise is this, any time there is a hard and fast rule about anything, a standard of measure for which to judge someone...eek that's where I want to jump ship pretty quick.

So I started thinking about this book I had read. It was one man's journey from being lost in a world without Jesus to pastor and finally leaving the typical church and having "house church". Our family attends a non denominational church and an even less traditional house church...of sorts. HA! I truly believe every church has the opportunity to be used by God in a unique and individual way not unlike each person is created with a specific design and purpose. Our church has such a beautiful anointing for healing those wounded by other churches, cause hey, it happens. Another church comes to mind that has a huge and fabulous children's ministry and in all the years it's been around I can't remember one time a public scandal has been a part of it's history. That's pretty amazing. But what if this author is right when he says the Church is supposed to be like family?

And that's exactly what I'm finding. A family. But why does that start freaking people out? Because it really does. You start talking about meeting as a family, worshiping God together, caring, and helping each other like a family and people start getting a bit uncomfortable. Why?

Let me back up and share some observations with you. These are my own personal observances and may not be true for anyone else. But what I've noticed in every single "church" that I've been apart of is this allowance for the possibility of what is most often described as "Guests" or "Newcomers". The pastor and worship leader are constantly aware of the possibility of guests, people who may never have been in a church, seen a church, heard the name of Jesus, or only recently started coming to their church. The entire service then caters to this possibility. For example, a church with, let's say 300 people is made up of 90-95% faithful attendees and in the case of Tulsa, Oklahoma those people are largely made up of families who consist of children of God who were raised in the church, who've been "saved" for as long as they can remember. And all of those God-fearing people are also aware of the possibility of newcomers. So when the pastor gives the salvation message again at the end of service everyone quietly, patiently, faithfully listens and hopes that perhaps someone will be saved today. But the odds of someone in that 5-10% not being saved are pretty slim, especially in this area. But nonetheless the entire service is custom made for what is lovingly known as a "Baby Christian" or someone who is "Lost" someone hearing the Word of God for the first time. So how does a church ever become grown up Christians made up of mature sons or daughters of God? Their own personal quiet time, small groups, discipleship groups, and Bible studies are an excellent place to start. But what if there is another way? What if the Church was a family?

What if when you gathered together with your family to worship you were all aware of who each other are? You would be aware if there was a stranger in your midst and you would cherish the chance to get to know him or her. And what if when you began to share with one another it was with a knowledge that you were all on a journey to maturity, to adulthood in your faith? And what if worship was about really touching the heart of the Father and less about getting everyone to sing the words or stand or not stand or clap or not clap or just be comforted because of bone weariness life lived alone apart from a family?? What if you went somewhere in worship? What if you, altogether as a family, accomplished something in the Spirit for the Kingdom? What if instead of spending time shaking hands with the stranger next to you, you hugged your sis and in that moment you knew your hearts where somehow joined as one? What if instead of taking up tithes and offering and hearing another message about why we take up tithes and offerings you spent time sharing about how God made provision supernaturally that week? What if, instead of listening to a message largely catered to a Guest, or someone who doesn't know of Christ's love, you shared and listened to what God is doing and speaking into the hearts of His grown up children TODAY??

Why is family so weird?? Because it's made up of crazy uncles, red headed step children, goofy cousins, and protective older brothers? Ha well there is that. For me if I had my choice I'd rather be THAT family, the big fat Greek family all up in each others business. Because what if your car broke down? Wouldn't it be nice if you had a cousin that could fix anything with an engine and could come fix it NO CHARGE? What if you had sister you could call when you were desperate for a babysitter? What if you had a mom and a dad that was just always there? What if you had an uncle that could build anything, home, barn, shed, or just be there to help hang a shelf or fix a broken cabinet? What if you needed help moving? Wouldn't it be great if there was an army of family to get you packed, loaded, and unloaded in one Saturday and the only thing they expected was some pizza at the end of the day? What if you went a little over board and bought a new entertainment center off craig's list made of real wood and it had to be picked up TODAY and oh yeah it's upstairs? Wouldn't it be nice if you had a brother you could call to help pick it up? And wouldn't it be funny if that brother accidentally dropped his end and broke one of the doors and then you had license to tease him for all time? What if there was always a birthday, wedding, or birth to celebrate? What if there was always someone to help keep you on the straight and narrow, to pray with you, encourage you, hug you, cry with you, SEE you for who you were created to be, and speak that into your life even if you don't believe it yourself???

Well all those things I have and are real life examples of my family outside of church. I'm not saying you can't find a "family" within a church but my prayer for the Church is that instead of watering down Christianity we could all grow up, see each other, and go outside those walls to find and rescue the "lost" instead of waiting and hoping they find us. And if that's weird...well wouldn't be the first time I've been called that!