31 October 2008

Have We Lost the Art of Neighborly Love?

When I grew up, I knew several people on my street, especially the neighbors on each side of my house. My one neighbor, Mrs. Pence, was a sweet old woman who was more of a grandmother to me than my own grandmothers were able to be. She would listen to me chat away forever, and she always had treats for us. As I got a little older, I began to bring her sweet treats of my own... sharing the cookies and brownies I so loved to make.

But as I grew into adulthood and moved off on my own, most of the time I didn't really ever get to know my neighbors. I had social anxieties that stopped me from being friendly with people until my hardened outer shell had been sufficiently cracked.

During our time in Illinois, I actually did make friendships with several of my neighbors, and we had a nice little community going. We lived in a mobile home park on the Naval base, so we had the commonality of being Navy to bring us into friendships. But it was towards the end of this tour that I was deeply betrayed by a close friend, and the damage done closed me off to neighbors for years. I could not trust people, and I hated to have others in my house. I was perfectly content not to know any of my neighbors.

In Virginia, I began to heal, and although I eventually devolped deep and meaningful relationships with the people at my church, even letting some into my house... I still didn't dare to let my neighbors into my life. It didn't help that we didn't live in a very good or safe area. But even after we moved onto Fort Monroe, where once again we had the commonality of all being military, I did not befriend many neighbors.

So when we moved here, and the woman at the housing office informed us that we might be snubbed by our neighbors because they were officer and we are enlisted, I actually said, "That's ok, I never make it a point to know my neighbors anyway."

I actually laugh at myself that these were the words I spoke only eight weeks ago. The office lady was in fact quite wrong. (Almost) Everyone we have met so far has been nice. Not that we have been advertising our rank status, we haven't hidden it either... and it really hasn't mattered much to the people we have met. Of course Paul is Navy among mostly Army, so we are different anyway. (And they are continuing to move enlisted on our street, so we are currently at 7 officer families and 4 enlisted families.)

I have noticed that it has become remarkable easier for me to carry on new conversations with people I am just meeting. And I have had people over for dinner three times already. I thank and praise God for the work he has done, is doing, and will continue to do in me. I talk to people all the time here. I haven't really gotten to the point where I would consider anyone more than acquaintance friends, but that will come with time.

So last week as we were walking over to the park for some free food offered at a WSMR party, we stopped to talk to a family moving into one of the many empty houses on our street. We talked for quite a bit, and another neighbor joined us as he and his daughter were heading the same direction we were. He wanted to welcome the new family just as we had.

A few days later, we stopped and talked through our car window for just a bit on our way home from the commissary. Paul wanted to see how they were doing and when their household goods were due to arrive. After arriving home, he found Justin to take down to meet their son who is about the same age, and he stayed for quite a long time chatting. When I went down to get him for dinner, we decided to invite them over for the next evening since they wouldn't have their stuff yet and were living on cold sandwiches.

It turned out they were not able to come over because they needed to make a trip into town that evening that could not be postponed, so we invited them for the next night instead. I know how tired out you are at the end of receiving your HHGs, and they probably wouldn't be unpacked enough yet to cook anything real anyway. Although she didn't want me to go all out or go to any trouble, they agreed to come down for dinner anyway.

I made my famous potato soup and tried out a new pumpkin cheesecake recipe. I even had to borrow some sugar from my other neighbor for my bread since I used the last of mine in the cheesecake. She commented on how sweet it was for us to have invited the family for dinner.

That night, we had a great evening. The kids played. The husbands sat outside around the fire pit chatting. And we two moms sat at my kitchen table talking. It was so nice to have a real conversation that wasn't surface chitchat. I felt a real connection with this woman... the possibility of something more than just acquaintance status. I know she will only be here for 8-11 months... but it will be nice to be neighbors while it lasts.

One of the things she said to me really stuck out. She said, "you sure know a lot of people around here already for being here such a short time." I commented that I got hooked up with the homeschool group quickly through one of our neighbors who seems to know everybody! (She has been here five years and counting...)

Then she said that she has lived on plenty of bases where people weren't so friendly, and people didn't always get to know their neighbors.... but after being here less than a week, she had already had three or four different people/families stop by to say hello and introduce themselves. I think I commented on how maybe being so isolated out here, it puts a higher focus on community and being neighborly.

At the end of the evening as we said our goodbyes, this family just thanked us over and over for inviting them over and preparing such a wonderful meal. It was almost like they still couldn't believe we wanted to go to the effort.... but it wasn't really an effort at all. It was pure joy to do something so simple for someone else to make their transition here easier.

And since I still had half a cheesecake left, I cut a huge hunk to take over to my neighbor who had loaned me the sugar earlier in the day. (I think she got a good investment for her 1/3 cup of sugar!) She was also so appreciative of my simple gesture. It was such a wonderful feeling to be able to bless other people with my skills. I think I have missed that since we left our church family in Virginia.

But this evening got me thinking. Has our culture lost this art of neighborly love? I grew up watching old shows of the 50's in syndication..... Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, The Patty Duke Show. This was a time and a culture where neighbors mattered. People not only knew who lived on their street, but actually took the time to know and help each other. They took on each other's responsibilities and were not so focused on themselves.

Of course I am not saying that this no longer exists.... but has it become more of the exception than the norm? It is easy to be helpful and kind to the people you already know. But you really have to put yourself out there sometimes to do these things for people you don't know. It can be scary at times to sacrifice yourself in any way not knowing what will come out of it, especially in our society that is so Me oriented.

Even though my heart wanted to bless this family, and I felt like it was no big deal.... wouldn't have I reacted similarly if another family had welcomed us this way? With actions and not just words? If someone had brought "the new family" food or invited us to dinner.... or even came to our door to introduce themselves and welcome us to the neighborhood instead of us going out to meet them?

Although these specific examples did not happen with us, we have been quite blessed by our neighbor who opened herself up to help us... she is a wealth of information and resources about this base, the area, and the homeschool group. She has made our life so much easier here since we met her two or three weeks after arriving. She is one who often goes over and welcomes a new family to the neighborhood, and she feels badly if she hasn't had the time to do so.

Maybe it is that this base has somewhat of a 1950's feel to it. I have heard jokes about how nothing has been planned for since the 50's. I have enjoyed the easy pace of life. In a lot of ways it is like living back in a former decade. But maybe that isn't all bad. I kind of like it.

So what do we do in this society that has gotten so scary? When you are somewhat afraid of the people around you? When you think it will cost you more than you are willing to pay to reach out and help another person? And how did we get this way? How did we get so self absorbed and isolated from each other? Ever notice how the bigger and busier the place is you live, the more isolated you can be? You may have people everywhere around you, but that doesn't mean you're not isolated.

Romans 13:8-10 (New Living Translation)

Love Fulfills God’s Requirements
8 Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. 9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.”[a] These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. Well I think our culture only knows how to do the latter.... love yourself. It seems so few are willing to put someone's needs... anyone's needs before their own. Maybe that is part of the reason our divorce rate is so high in this country. Some have been hurt so badly, all they know is to take care of themselves. They are so afraid of being hurt further, that they do not have the ability to put anyone before themselves... it is just too risky. I think others are just too filled with pride or lust to care about anyone other than themselves. I know there have been points in my life where both could have been said about me. We live in a fallen world filled with pain and greed and sin.

But when we try to break free from this world, when we step out and away from ourselves, when we sacrifice ourselves (in love) for the sake of someone else.... don't we feel wonderful? That high is so much better than anything we can do for ourselves. And wouldn't you say that this is true because this is how God designed us? He has a purpose for our lives that does not revolve around us. Sure, he wants us to be blessed, to be happy and joyful.

But he wants that to be accomplished when we are serving someone else instead of ourselves. He doesn't want us to be consumed with "what is is going to cost me if I do this for someone else?" But rather, "How can I better myself by giving of myself in love to help someone else in need?" I think it is amazing the lessons we learn when we love our neighbors, with our actions as well as our words.

Lord God, you are an amazing Father. I thank you so much for all the work you have done in my life this past year. I can see how your healing has been manifesting in my life as I relate to those around me. I can see in this place how you are beginning to give me a heart and a love for people in a way I have not ever experienced before. Thank you for providing these opportunities and experiences to practice being more selfless and less selfish. I love you. Amen.

24 October 2008

My Son, The New Neighborhood Bully...

We had homeschool PE today in the neighborhood. All the kids walked, rode, skate boarded, roller bladed... whatever activity they wanted... around our large block. They got a sticker for each pass they made. It was fun to watch them, and once the other families started heading home, we made our way home as well. Justin, however, stayed out to play with his friends.

About an hour later we get a knock on the door. One of the homeschool dad's came over to inform us of a scuffle our son had been in. Apparently, he hit another neighborhood kid. So as Paul went off to claim our son, I saw a very uptight looking woman marching my way with her son.

Great, a confrontation. Those of you who know me, know I do not like any kind of confrontation. But I faced this one head on. As the woman approached, I looked her straight in her face, not wanting to hide at all. She was too angry to look at me, though. She informed me that my son hit her son (who by the way was larger and older than Justin).

I told her that I was sorry that my son hit hers, that it was not acceptable, and we would definitely handle it with Justin. She went on and on about how hitting is not ok in any circumstances, and that she teaches her children it is not ok to fight.

I calmly agreed that hitting was not ok, that we did not teach our children that fighting is ok, and I politely thanked her for bringing it to our attention what our son had done.

This did not have any affect on her at all, as she stood there shaking in anger. She did not really want to hear anything from me, she just wanted to yell at me about what my kid did to her kid. Then she went on about how we were lucky she decided not to call the police, because she could, after all, because it was one person assaulting another person.

Now I am in no way condoning what my son did. The older boy was telling Justin something he knew to be untrue and then wouldn't let him do something, and Justin got so emotionally upset that he lashed out and slugged the boy. He should not have done that... he should have walked away from the situation. But he didn't.

But I have to say, this boy was not injured. He didn't have bruises or anything broken. He wasn't bleeding. It was a typical boyhood scuffle. I could not figure out why this woman was going off the handle over it. Call the police? I would like to think if she had called the police because a seven year old hit her son (and I did find out later that her son hit mine right back), that the officer would have laughed at her.

If my son came home telling me another child hit him, I am sure I would not be happy about it, but I would probably ask him what he did first. I understand that boys will be boys, and sometimes that includes hitting. I would hope that I would not be so overcome with anger and fury that I would come close to verbally attacking the other child's mother.

As the woman marched off with her son, I could hear her telling him to stay far away from my child (like he is a violent bully or something). But then she changed her mind and came back so she could yell at my son. She wanted to know why he hit her child and started yelling at him that it is never ok to hit someone else. Of course by this time Justin was in tears.

After the whole thing was over, I still couldn't figure out what had caused such a violent reaction from this woman. The tension coming from her was palpable. As I discussed it with Paul, he said, maybe she has some wounding from her past that this triggered. Huh.... that's a good point. My husband is so smart!

After all, I lost it becoming all irrational at my best friend's birthday party last year because the guys wrote all the girl's Pictionary words, and we girls didn't know what they were. How are you supposed to draw a word that you have no idea what it is? I got so upset after awhile that I left the room and refused to play. I was in tears. I was angry and afraid I was going to lash out and lose it.... and this was just a game of Pictionary. But I didn't know why I was reacting that way until a little later when some of the ladies prayed with me and I discovered that the situation had stepped on some of my woundings from the past of being unjustly made to feel stupid.

So maybe Paul is right. Maybe there was some kind of abuse in this woman's past. Maybe she was bullied, or a victim of a household with domestic abuse. I don't know. Probably never will. But I also realized that I need to do two things.....

After disciplining my son for his inappropriate behavior, I needed to tell myself that there is nothing wrong with my son. He is not a bad kid, and I am not a bad parent. This is part of my woundings.... since my son was born I have not had much outside help with him, and I was made to feel that he was a burden, or too hyper, to too active.... you name it. It took me a long time to be able to ask anyone for help because I felt like if family wouldn't even help, why would someone else. I had felt like there was something about my son (really for the simple reason that he is a boy) that was unlovable and it was somehow my fault. So whenever he does something wrong, I feel guilty about it and feel like a bad parent. So the first thing I had to remind myself was that I do have a sweet and loving son who sometimes screws up (don't we all?), and I am not a bad parent because sometimes my kids screw up.

The second thing I had to realize was that although there was nothing I could do or say to this woman to make the situation better, I could pray for her. I know nothing about her... her history, her pain, her beliefs (other than it is never, ever, ever acceptable in any situation to hit another person).... but God knows. And He knows exactly what she needs.

So Father God, I lift up this angry mother to you. I ask that you touch her today. If she does not know you, Father, I ask that you show yourself to her and open her eyes to see you. If she does know you, Lord God, I ask that you would show her how much you want to heal the wounds she may still have in her life. Please bring peace and healing into her life. Forgive me for wanting to judge her, and thank you for showing me that there might be pain behind her actions, and reminding me that everyone needs someone to pray for them. I love you. Amen.

22 October 2008

For I Know the Plans I Have for You...

Don't you just love it when you have a verse that shows up in several places in a short time frame? Isn't that just a wonderful reminder that God is speaking to us?

Last year, during Paul's fourth deployment, I was cruising along in my healing, battling demons of my past, releasing weight, and really seeking the Lord in everything I did. At one point, I had a verse come up three times in three different places within three days.

Jeremiah 29:11

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Now I like this verse for several reasons. First of all, isn't it always nice to know that the person in charge of your situation has no intentions of hurting you? And not only does He not intend to hurt us, but he actually wants to make everything better for us.... he has a PLAN!

Now I love to plan. I get all organized, sometimes I make lists. I play with numbers. Planning is great. Now follow through..... that I am not so good at. My organization tends to fall apart. My friend tells me I'm the most organized disorganized person she knows. It's true. Though I think I am discovering part of God's plan for me is to learn to be more organized and consistent in areas of my life that aren't... organized and consistent.

But thankfully when God has a plan... He follows through!

The second thing I like about this verse is the word declares. It is present tense. It does not say "declared the Lord", as in to the Isrealites. He is declaring it, still. He is declaring it.... to me. And you, too... but since this blog is about me, I'll stay focused on that. (hehe)

When out Christmas shopping (not too long after the before mentioned time frame where this verse kept popping up), I saw this verse written on the sail of a small sail boat. Now my husband is a sailor... in the Navy, but he also likes to sail... in sail boats. He took lessons when we lived in Illinois and fell in love with it. So I had already purchased a small sailboat for our livingroom decor.

So when I saw this one, I had to buy it. I knew this was a good verse for Paul as well. I think sometimes he worries about which direction to take, or how to best lead our family. I thought it would be a comfort to him, as well, to be reminded that God has not only a plan for him... but a wonderful plan for him and our family.

In April, a friend gave me a birthday present that was placed inside a decorative bag... with this verse written on it. And Tricia said, "Look Mommy, it has your verse on it!" I do not know if my friend got the bag on purpose because she remembered me talking about the verse several months before, or if it was a coincidence. Either way, we thought it was cool to have that verse on a Happy Birthday bag.

Then just this week, another wonderful friend of mine sent me an unexpected surprise in the mail... a Virginia care package for the family feeling a bit homesick for Virginia...(thank you so much wonderful friend, you know who you are!!! It was such a wonderful pick-me-up that I really needed!) Inside this care package was a card with a verse on it. You guessed it! Jeremiah 29:11 (and 13 too). I laughed. I don't know if this friend remembered our history with this verse, or if again it was a coincidence, but it was great to see it in there.

The next day as we went to our 6th new church (in seven weeks), I glanced at the bulletin they had handed us, and what do you suppose was written on the back? Right again! Jeremiah 29:11.

On the way home, I told Paul... "See Hon, God is reminding us that there is a reason we are here (in N.M.) and He has a plan for us."

This is always a good reminder to have. Last week, The Lord brought back some hope into my life for this whole church shopping process. And this week He brought more encouragement. Isn't our God such an Awesome God!

Father God, I thank you for the encouragement and hope you bring through your word and through your people. Thank you for using my friends to remind me once again of your love and your plans for us. As Jeremiah 29:13 says... You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.... remind me daily that I need to seek you with ALL of my heart, not just the parts that are already open. I love you, Lord. Amen.

17 October 2008

A Trustworthy Saying...

If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.

These are the words that Paul wrote while in prison to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (NLT).

I think this is a great reminder of where to put our priorities. When things get tough, it is ok. Each time we choose to die to self, to turn away from our fleshly desires... we will find life in Jesus. Kingdom life is so much more rewarding than the fleeting things of the world.

And when struggles come (which they always will), and we choose to endure and persevere, instead of giving in to the world... we will one day reign with Jesus, sharing in His inheritance.

But if we deny Jesus and turn to the world for everything we need... then on judgment day, we too will be denied. Personally, I'm not sure I can imagine any struggle here on earth that would be worse than to be denied by Jesus.

(And here's my favorite part) And if we lose our faith, if we become unfaithful and give up on Him..... He still will never give up on us! BECAUSE THIS IS WHO HE IS! Isn't that incredible?

It is so encouraging to me because I can look at these past weeks and see where I have struggled, see where I have lost faith and have chosen the world rather than to face hardships and struggles. I can see where I have lost my way (thankfully for just a short period of time), but I know that Jesus has not given up on me. He still has faith in me. He wants to live with me, struggle with me, reign with me.

All I have to do is repent and refocus.... turn back away from the world and its "cop out" solutions, and refocus on Jesus who is the giver of real life.

Lord Jesus, I thank you that You love us so much that you will never be unfaithful to us. You will never give up on us, even in our darkest times. Thank you that when we mess up, You are there waiting for us to turn back to You. Lord, forgive me for where I have put other things before You. And help me remember this trustworthy saying, this reminder you have given us through Your word. I love you. Amen.

15 October 2008

A New Commitment

In 2007, I made a huge commitment to take control of my life and especially my eating. I began to focus on growing in the Lord and facing the things in me that needed healing. Along the way, my eating habits changed. Eating appropriate portions was now second nature. I didn't graze all day, and I knew when to stop and more importantly when to not start at all.... and I lost almost 45 pounds.

The first 8 months of this year, I began to yoyo a bit. I was still facing very hard things, and my eating would swing a little. I'd gain a couple of pounds when I wasn't dealing with things, then I'd come to my senses and readjust... my eating and my progress towards healing, then I'd loose those couple of pounds. But I never began moving forward towards that ultimate goal of reaching my healthy weight range. It was frustrating to come so close to it and just stop making progress.

After leaving Virginia, things have been really tough, and I've been running from reality. I haven't wanted to face the fact that I've known this whole year.... sooner or later I have to face my anger. I have to work through it and release this pain that is causing it. I have not wanted to do this. So instead I've been hiding out a bit.... in food, in television, and even in housework. It is funny to me now that I have used something positive (keeping my house clean, something I have always struggled with before when I was escaping) to escape.

And although I thank the Lord each day that I have not gained more than two or three pounds, I am recognizing that I am eating when I'm not hungry. I'm eating more than I need because it tastes good and makes me feel better. I am reaching for that chocolate, or Mountain Dew, or homemade tortilla chips for reasons other than hunger. I am not exercising at all, which is a goal I wanted to work on once arriving here. The body that once seemed so much slimmer to me (178 is tiny compared to 243 three years ago), is now becoming more uncomfortable because I know it isn't where I need to be. After 10 months at this size, I have lost much of that sense of accomplishment.

I am again struggling with getting my mindset right. I need to be eating right for my health. I need to be exercising for my health. I need to be turning to God and not food for my health..... not just because I have 20 more pounds to lose to feel better about myself.

I have been trying to numb myself again, but it isn't really working like it used to. That is good news really, because it shows how far into reality I have really come. Once you begin to leave that world of denial, once your eyes have been opened to its deceptions and destruction... it is hard to go back.

So I am at a crossroads. I am at that point where I can clearly see the two roads before me. If I continue down the path I have been walking these past 6 or so weeks, I know that the path to denial will become longer and wider. It will become so much easier to travel. And with enough time, I will reach that destination. I will become engulfed back into that world of denial to the point where I may forget reality and once again be trapped in my own self-made hell. Although I said it is hard to go back, it is not impossible with enough time running away from reality. And I know deep in my heart that I do not want to return to this world.

So instead I must choose the second path. Although very narrow and sometimes filled with tribulation, this walk down the road of reality is where I will find joy, peace, and healing through my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the road that leads to fulfillment and satisfaction. This is the road that leads to contentment and self purpose. This is the road that leads to salvation and everlasting life.

I have heard it preached that as a true believer, you are never really standing still. You are either moving forward toward growth and toward God, or you are slipping backwards away from Him. So as I take this very brief moment to stand and choose my path, I realize it is not two paths in front of me, but instead one before me and one behind. I know I must turn that 180 degrees away from the road behind me...this ever growing path that leads to everything the world cannot give me. That is the slippery road down and away from God.

Instead, I am choosing to make a new commitment... a re-commitment to walking forward. I am choosing to take that small scary path that will lead me in the exact opposite direction of where I have been. I want to move closer to God, not farther away from Him. I want to go where He wants to take me.

Something else I have realized about that slippery path down... every step you take brings you a step closer to forgetting what is really important. Spend enough time slipping away from God, and you will forget what He has done in your life. You will forget how He has changed your life. You will start to wonder where God is.... why can't you find Him? Where did He go? Why isn't He helping me? You will forget that He's not there because YOU walked away from Him.

Father God, please forgive me for slipping and sliding down this road of the world. I have been hiding and running by turning to things of this world instead of turning to You. I have allowed food and television to re-enter my heart in places that they don't belong.... places that belong to You. Please give me strength and courage to turn once again away from them and towards You. You are the source of everything I need. Thank you for Your everlasting love and patience. I love you. Amen.

13 October 2008

Like Little Children

Yesterday, Paul and I decided to attend the service at the post chapel.... just the two of us. The kids stayed home and enjoyed their Sunday off (the search is wearing on them, too). The service we attended was the Contemporary Gospel Service.

Going in, I do not think that either of us had any real hopes that this would be our church, but I also think that we both felt pretty strongly that we should go at least once just to check it out. In fact, I think that the Lord was prompting us to go... at least once.

Yep, it was Gospel. Not really our style of worship at all. It was amusing and entertaining (in a good way), but we both knew this was not what we were looking for. But God always has His reasons for asking us to do things, and after leaving this service I could recognize some lessons and reminders that were evident in this experience.

This church was almost the exact opposite from last week's service we attended at the "plastic" church, though amazingly there were a few similarities as well. It was like seeing an example of how the same situation can happen, but the behavior behind it can be exact opposites.

Again, the people were nice and friendly. The Pastor/Reverend came over to welcome us immediately. But this time, you could literally feel God's joy exuding from this man, and his whole family as a matter of fact, in the enthusiasm they displayed in their excitement to praise and worship the Lord. "Each day is a gift, and a day to come together to worship the Lord is a special gift." This is the message you get just by being near this family of God, actions speak so much louder than words.

And like last week, the family was in charge of the whole service. His wife did all the announcements. His daughter was the sole vocalist while his son-in-law played with a couple others in the worship band. Pretty much it was a whole family affair. But This service has an extremely small congregation, so I got the impression this was due to necessity and not control issues (last week we got the impression that they didn't want anyone else involved because they wanted to be in control of everything). The pastor invited my husband to read the Bible passage, as well as calling out to others in the middle of the service to help. They seemed to find great joy in including everyone around them.

And the worship, although not our cup of tea, was authentic. They were not putting on a show for the people, striving for beauty and perfection... they were putting on a show for God! It is amazing the difference in those two concepts when you see them both back to back.

But the highlight of this service was the pastor's wife. She sat in that second to front pew, only feet from her husband as he gave his message. He didn't really use his notes, he was going on and on getting more and more in the spirit, letting God's words flow through him as he preached. And with each statement he made, his wife excitedly yelled "yes" or "Amen" or "Hallelujah". She would clap her hands in excitement and jump up in the air. I couldn't really see her face very well because I was two rows behind her, but her entire countenance seemed to be one of an excited child hearing wonderful news. She was bursting with excitement and could not contain herself. It was like watching a child on Christmas morning just before they are to open their presents. You know, that excitement that is so contagious.

Of course this brought to mind the gospels and the story of the little children who were brought to Jesus, so I looked them up this morning. I'll cite all three, but I'm only going to post one since they are so similar....

Mark 10:13-16 (New Living Translation)

Jesus Blesses the Children
13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

(Also.... Matthew 19:13-15 and Luke 18:15-17)

I have heard this passage before, and I have heard sermons preached on this. I have looked upon my own child as an example of what it looks like to come to the Lord like a child. Her faith is so strong, and she has an amazing relationship with the Lord. But I have to admit this is the first time I have seen this message lived out so well in the life of an adult. It was a pure joy to watch this 60 something year old woman loving her Lord with the heart of a child.

As the Pastor finished his sermon (and hundreds of "amens"), everyone gathered up front, holding hands and singing together before parting for the day.... and I could feel the Lord in that place. I could feel His spirit in that room, and it gave me hope. Hope that we will find what we are looking for. We will find Him in the places He leads us.

I also realized something else... it can be so easy to get caught up in thinking that your church is right and all the others must be missing something if they don't do it your way. And I do still think that some churches are just missing it.... I have been to a few now where I have not felt God's presence and there is definitely something missing spiritually.... but that is not really what I am talking about.

I loved my church in Virginia.... the worship was awesome, the sermons were great, the people wonderful. The fellowship and love between the people was genuine. And it was easy sometimes to wonder why everyone doesn't do things our way... aren't they missing how great it is?

But in this service this week, God was there! He was flowing in His spirit, and He was blessing the people there. It wasn't the style we like, and it is not where we want to settle.... but it was amazing for the people who come there each and every Sunday. I can only imagine that they might be thinking the same thing I have.... "It is so wonderful here with God in this place... why doesn't everyone want to worship like this? Aren't they missing out on something wonderful?"

Although I do not believe that God brought us to that place to find our new home, I do believe that He brought us there to teach us something important. The lesson? God truly does speak to each person and each culture and each congregation in the ways they need Him to. (While staying biblically consistent... I'm not talking about some of the crazy religions out there where they think God is speaking to them in the way that applies only to them.) And just because something is different from what you like or what you have experienced, that doesn't mean it isn't exactly right for someone else. That is a good reminder.

I also believe that God wanted me to see what it really looks like, in the life of an adult.... to come to the father as a little child does. He wanted to remind me what joy and excitement He wants to bring into my life again. He wants to see me get this excited about each and every day to serve and worship Him. He wants me to exude such enthusiasm and excitement into the lives of others who are desparate to feel His presence.

But here's the real question..... Can I let go? Can I let go of the anger and the pain? Can I let go to heal the anger and the pain? Can I let go and let God come into my life in the fullness that HE desires?

I think it is so easy in our "grown-up" world to only let God in on levels that are comfortable for us... but we are still keeping some walls up. But when you look at a child, what do you see? I often see that a child either has all the walls up, or all the walls down. They either trust or they don't. It isn't until they get older that they begin to see all the shades of gray that confuses everything.

And I don't think God wants us living in gray..... He wants us living in his light! He wants us living in His glory, not in darkness, and not in the middle either. But how to we find our way out of this grayness that consumes our lives? How do we get past these gray concrete walls that we've built to protect ourselves, but all we are really doing is imprisoning ourselves away from God's light?

Lord God, thank you for every moment and every experience you use in our lives to teach us something important about You. Thank you for renewing my hope and showing me again that I will find You when You are leading my path. Lord, I ask that You shine Your light on the gray areas in my life, and that You will give me the strength to let go of them so You can knock down the walls that need to come down. Help me let go so I can be completely filled with Your joy, exuding excitement and enthusiasm for You..... excitement that will be contagious to those around me. I love You. Amen.

08 October 2008

Mountain Top Experience

Many in the Christian circles will use the expression "mountain top experience" to describe a time in their walk with God that is a great high. A time where everything is going right and you are filled with God's glory, blessing and promises. You know exactly where you are and who you belong to. The cares of the world cannot even touch you because you are so engulfed in the Kingdom of God.

This, of course, is not where I am currently at. My current mountain experience is more literal.... well maybe a bit figurative as well.

I am surrounded by beautiful mountains... on three sides of us are these huge mountains. They are breathtaking to look at. Amazing to see these creations of our almighty God. But when you actually think about what all would be involved in reaching the tops of them? It is quite overwhelming.

Right now I feel as though these physical mountains that are surrounding me also represent the obstacles and trials I am experiencing here in this place. I am being surrounded, at least on three sides..... but maybe that side that is still open is the path to God? It feels like I am completely surrounded by struggles, pain, isolation, doubt, anger.... all these things I want to run away from. But somehow in the midst of this, I am still ignoring that open path. The one that leads to Jesus.

I have mountains to climb, huge mountains to conquer on this journey to healing. But I am afraid of these mountains, so I just sit here and watch them. I look up and see how high they are, how rugged they are. And I don't want to go there. I keep forgetting that I do not have to go there alone. All I can see is that if I start trekking up this peak on my own, I am going to fail.

And I am completely right.

I cannot do this on my own. I need a tour guide. I need a man of experience who knows all the answers... a savior to lead the way up this huge mountain.

So why do I insist on being stubborn? Why do I ignore the signs of help? Why do I stay on the paths that lead to distruction? I know I am on them. I have been fighting them for weeks now, but in my own strength. And that is why I am failing to make any progress at all.

Lord God, I know I cannot do this myself yet I am so stubborn. I know that when we get to the point where we realize we cannot do it, that it is just too much... that is exactly where you want us. Because it is in these moments that we can truly see how much we need you, that you are the answer. I do not think I am there yet... at least not in my heart, because I am still running. I hear you speaking your truths to me, but they are not sinking in. Lord, I am afraid to climb this mountain and deal with this pain and anger, and so I keep running. But running away from this is also running from you, and I do not want this either. Please help me surrender all of this to you. Help me open up my heart and fully trust that you can and will lead me up this mountain. Help me stop running. I love you. Amen.

07 October 2008

Stained Glass Masquerade

by Casting Crowns

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin’ so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they’ll soon discover
That I don’t belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything’s okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I’ll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the part again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone who’s been there
Are there any hands to raise
Am I the only one who’s traded
In the altar for a stage

The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart

But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be

Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay

Chorus x2

Well if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin’ so small

I have always loved this song, since the first time I heard it. It would remind me of what my church was NOT like. It helped me remember that I was around people who loved me and really wanted to know who the real me was, and they were real themselves. They were there for me when I was hurting and needing help and prayer. If I walked in the door and painted on a smile, or said I was fine when I wasn't... someone would just look at me and say "Are you sure? You don't look like everything is fine." And they would share and seek prayer for their problems as well, instead of pretending everything was just fine. I had learned through this family of mine that the love of Jesus was enough to make them stay. It was a wonderful place to be.

This Sunday, we chose to listen to this song as we pulled away from the church service we had just attended. Only this time, it was not a reminder of what we already had.... it was a reminder of what we do not want.

Have you ever been to a church where everything was just too perfect? Where everyone is just trying too hard? Where it seems like they are putting on a show rather than truly worshipping the Lord?

The people were nice, and we were encouraged when we walked in hearing Jars of Clay in the background. They were playing contemporary Christian music leading up to the beginning of the worship. People welcomed us and introduced themselves. The Pastor came by to say hi. The youth pastor came over to talk to Nikki. Real people, real relationships. That's what their website said.

Then the four pastors took their places on stage and began to lead their "incredible worship". (This was the headline that caught my eye in their add and what brought us to this church in the first place.) Unfortunately, their idea of incredible worship was not our idea of incredible worship. When the worship began, we immediately felt like we were in the middle of a Tammy Faye Baker Telethon. Nothing about their worship seemed real to us. It was not genuine. But it looked good. Almost perfect.

I had a really hard time with this one. I kept trying to reconcile in my head the differences between what I read and heard with what we saw. The message this church wants to proclaim is extremely good. Relationship, not religion.... Believing the Bible from cover to cover..... Powerful prayer works miracles in our lives.... and so on. This is what I read on their website, and these same words were spoken in their sermons. This is what I am looking for.

So if this is the message that you believe and preach, then how is it that you can be so plastic? This church is saying they believe all these things, yet they give off the image of performing for perfection... putting on a show... unrealistic optimism.

During the service as I was sensing these things, I had a hard time determining whether I was accurate in my assessments, or if it was triggering what I call my "mother filter". She is a hyper-positive person that says all the right things but I do not believe in her sincerity at all. So was I just sensing something that wasn't there because of her? Or was this really a problem?

I got my answer at the end of the service when my husband (who does not have my "mother filter" problem), turned to me and started reciting the Casting Crowns lyrics, "shiny plastic people".... so he got them a little wrong, but I knew what he was talking about.

I thought back to the red flags I did see on their website. They put an incredible amount of focus and emphasis on how qualified its leaders are, all the degrees they possess, and how if you want to join the music team you must audition and be prepared to handle criticism and comments from their musical leaders/professionals. (I'm not sure they used the words professionals, but it was clear that is what they meant.) There were a lot of mixed messages, I was just hoping the side I liked would be the winner.... but this was not the case.

As I watched all the pastors in complete charge of every aspect of this service, I recognized that I do not want to be in such a controlled/controlling environment. I don't want to be micromanaged by my church leadership. There is no real freedom there, no matter how much you preach about relationships and love.

So that brings me back to my original question... How can I reconcile the complete differences in what is being preached and what I see? I do believe that they "believe" what they are saying, but somehow they are still getting it all wrong.

Then I thought of my mother. I know my mother "believes" in all her new age positive mantra as well. But she just doesn't know how insincere she seems. She wants to believe so badly, that she has herself fooled, and the enemy has her right where he wants her.

And the answer came to me... They do not know how plastic they are! They think they have all the answers and are on the right track. They actually think their worship is incredible. They don't know they are missing the "real" in real relationships, real people.

This made me sad. Sad to know and to see exactly how Satan can even have believers all wrapped up in his web. He has them fooled, maybe not as badly as my mother... but nonetheless, they are missing a huge key and don't even know it.

Lord God, please open up the eyes of the lost... those who are lost in the world as well as those who are lost in the church. Help them see what is real and who you really are. Help me keep a positive attitude with each church we visit... like Edison who said "I haven't failed, I just found 999 ways NOT to make a light bulb!"..... we aren't failing in our search to find a home church, we are just finding churches that don't fit us. Give us wisdom and discernment with each visit. And thank you for each lesson you are teaching us in the search. I love you. Amen.

04 October 2008

Here We Go Again

Sunday number five.... church number four.

This time, we opened up the phone book to take a cruise along its entries for local Las Cruces churches. Paul found one he was interested in trying, but I decided to take a look also. I turned to the nondenominational section and one jumped out at me (though not the one Paul had chosen). Its name was just mentioned to me last night in fact.... but the person who was talking about it actually said their church was near this one. But still, the name was familiar.

Then I checked out the ad located at the top of the page, and the words "incredible worship" screamed from the pages. This is a very important factor for my husband and I, and the main reason we didn't love last week's church.

I turned to it's website, and this church says it's best known for it's "incredible Praise and Worship Music and a dynamic Youth and Children’s Ministry". There is also a lot of talk about "relationship, not religion.... real worship, real people.....spirit filled, praying, praising power-packed church that believes the Bible from cover to cover".... and programs for the whole family.

Again, I see a church that looks great on paper, but what will we find when we get there? Each week I get all excited about what I read, but then feel a bit let down afterwards. And each week gets a little worse as our wait continues. In some ways, it almost feels foolish to get all excited and put my hope in something only to have it deflated week after week.

But tonight I made a realization and a decision. It's ok to get excited about what I read. Afterall, how silly would it be to walk into a church, hoping to find my fit, without being even the least bit excited. Shouldn't we all be excited at the opportunity to meet with the Lord each Sunday morning? That was my realization.

And here's my decision.... I am going to continue to walk into each church we visit with an open heart and mind, seeking the Lord. And if this is not the right church for us, I will not be disappointed or feel foolish for my excitement. Instead, I will choose to look forward to the next opportunity the Lord gives me to be excited about a another possibility. I know my fit is out there somewhere, and God will help me find it.

Lord Jesus, you know our hearts and our desires, and I ask you to help us in this process of finding the right church home for us. Guide us and lead us in the direction we should go, and please make it completely clear to us when we are (or are not) in the place you want us to be. Thank you for working in our lives. I love you. Amen.

April 2005

April 2005
Justin, Kim, Nikki, & Tricia

October 2011

October 2011