Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Non-Celebration Celebrations

I'm not a huge fan of Valentine's Day. When I was single, I both dreaded and anticipated Valentines Day. MAYBE this year I'd be one of the lucky girls going on a fancy date and receiving flowers. If that didn't happen, then I was an emotional wreck, convinced I'd go to my grave an old maid. Drama I can definitely live without. Can I get an AMEN?

My first Valentine's Day with Curt was significant because he told me loved me. By the next Valentine's Day, we were already married and Valentine's Day seemed almost insignificant. Each year we'd ask each other, "Are we celebrating this year?" and we'd hem and haw, get each other some small gift we didn't need, and go out to eat. But it felt so forced. Call me rebellious, but I don't like someone telling me I have to show love on a certain day. What is appealing about finding a babysitter and a dinner reservation on the same night that everyone else who has a chance at a date is doing the same thing? (Don't be afraid to admit that I'm making you weepy with my romantic sentiments.)

The first Valentine's Day after Grant was born, I took him to a photo studio and we got our picture taken together to give to Curt. I repeated it the next year with both kids and a tradition was born. As we added kids this idea started to seem like a bad one due to the amount of work involved to coordinate outfits and school schedules and bad moods and nap time and snack time and... It is worth the hassle though to see how excited the kids are to give Curt the new picture.

Curt's gift to me is his steady hand as a painter. I am not allowed to help paint because I'm impatient and sloppy and paint goes everywhere except on the wall, so each year around Valentines Day, Curt paints a room in the house for me. I'm sure he can hardly wait to get his painting assignment from me for this year.

Since we pretend to be anti-Valentine's Day, we also axed buying a card. Any romantic sentiments had to be presented in a home-made card or letter. This year I cut out a giant heart, embellished it with the very cheesy slogan, "For Valentines Day, I'd give you my heart, but you stole it the minute I laid eyes on you," and then decorated the heart with conversation heart candies that the kids helped me pick out. I thought it was clever until Curt gave me a hand-written love letter - the kind every woman dreams of. (GULP). He completely got the short end of the stick on that one this year...

Our final non-Valentine's celebration is a fancy family dinner. We set the table with breakable dishes, Curt grills steaks to perfection, and we dine by candlelight. It's typically my favorite part of Valentine's Day but the afternoon fell apart so fast and furiously, I was convinced that dinner may not happen. The kids got off the bus jacked up on goofballs from all the candy and sugar consumed during their school Valentine parties. The sugar wore off and we went from love fest to all out war. One daughter got in a "word fight" with her friend at school and it took FOREVER to get to the bottom of the story and come up with an applicable solution and consequence. She called her friend to work it out, clear up confusion, confirm that "yes, we're still friends," and then got sent to her room to memorize half of the New Testament. Another daughter completely lost her mind over something so small that I can't even remember what it pertained to. She also got sent to her room to memorize the entire book of Proverbs and every other verse in the Bible about controlling your anger. It became apparent that it would take an act of God for them to finish their memorizing before dinner.

I found myself storming around the kitchen throwing ingredients in bowls, spilling cause I was hurrying, and internally chanting my version of James 1:19-20, "Slow to speak. Slow to get angry. Quick to listen. Live a righteous life. REPEAT." I was irritated that our non-celebration of love was actually void of any mushy-gushy emotions. I felt like a failure as a mom that my daughters are still battling the same issues they've been working on for months. It was hard to be objective in that moment when nothing was going according to plan.

Our night redeemed itself. We had our family dinner, but we forgot to use the breakable dishes and we only dined partially by candlelight because the kids were complaining that they couldn't see their plates. I realized as I puttered around the kitchen cleaning up the aftermath of our fancy meal, that these tough scenarios aren't failures, but are teaching opportunities for my girls. One daughter put into practice conflict resolution. Another is learning self-control. These are tools they will take with them into adulthood and won't they be glad they have them?

God reminded me that we are all works-in-progress and just because we have a bad day, it doesn't mean we haven't come leaps and bounds from the wretched mess we were when He redeemed us. In God's perfect timing, I got an email this morning from a college buddy. The purpose of the email was specifically to encourage me in my mothering and to say, "Well done. Keep pressing on." It brought me to tears. Thank you Lord for skewed plans, for imperfections, for non-celebration celebrations, and Your perfect plan. You are so good!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I'm A Believer

For the past seven years the women of our church have been invited to attend an annual Night in Prayer where they gather to pray from midnight to 6 a.m. Each year when they make the announcement, in spite of my best efforts to be holy, out comes Miss Judgy Judgerson’s. SIX hours praying? I can barely pray for five minutes before my mind starts wandering. I pictured hundreds of holy, serene women praying silently while I sat in my seat fidgeting, twiddling my thumbs and tapping my pen, counting the minutes until I could leave. And what mother in her right mind would voluntarily give up an entire night of sleep? It’s counterintuitive to how we live our lives, grasping for every spare second of sleep we can find. God made me after all, and knows that I morph into grouchy-crazy-woman somewhere around 2 a.m. I was certain the best way I could serve God and my family was to tuck myself into bed, maybe pray myself to sleep, and let all the other crazy women of Solid Rock do the sacrificing of their time and sleep. Until this year.

I was actively trying to convince myself that God’s desire was for me to get a full night of sleep when I got a call from my friend Melanie. A published author of multiple Christian fiction novels, God has equipped her with a talent that I stand in awe of. She had been asked to write a bedtime story to be shared with the women at the Night of Prayer and she wanted ME to read it! I was so touched that she would trust me with her story so I confessed the sin of my bad attitude to the Lord and then whole-heartedly accepted. That, I’m embarrassed to admit, is how God roped me into setting my agenda aside and joining up with what He was doing in the hearts of the women at our church.

As I write this, I’m still a bit wrecked emotionally. I had seen the agenda and thought I knew what to expect, but I had NO idea how God would show up and blow those expectations away. There was something about 700+ women, half of them in their pajamas, gathered in a garage-turned-living room at a time when the majority of us are usually sound asleep, that brought a raw authenticity to our time together. Women were so excited that when I arrived 30 minutes early to do a mic check, the lobby was already alive with activity. As I entered the building I could feel the presence of God and the sweet aroma of the Holy Spirit. We milled around tables loaded with strong coffee, cookies and chocolate and gathered at precisely midnight to kick off the evening.

Our time was broken into four sessions that included corporate worship and some form of teaching, instructions on how and what to pray for during small group time, and then a concentrated time in small groups spent praying for each other, for our church, for our families, ourselves, and praising God for who He is. At 3 a.m. we dined on a hot breakfast buffet and chugged more coffee before regrouping for the final two sessions.

Diane, one of our pastor’s wives, got up and explained how the night came into being. God gave her a vision of an army of women gathered together praying for each other, their specific church body and the church as a whole around the world. She chose the time by modeling Jesus. When He really wanted to connect with His Father, He stayed up all night and prayed. The fact that the timing is a sacrifice made it feel more intimate and vulnerable. As Diane planned this year’s Night in Prayer, she invited other churches to join with the women of Solid Rock to pray. God answered her prayer to expand this movement and as we kicked off our time together, we skyped in a group of ladies praying at a different church in Portland and viewed a video greeting from a church gathered in Arizona praying with us. A church in Cairo was scheduled to pray with us but due to the unrest in their country, they had to postpone until next year. The prayer is that each year, more churches will join with us in one unified voice blanketing our country and the world in prayer. How cool is that?

Diane reminded us that in our culture, our name does not define who we are. Most of us don’t even know what our name means. But God IS defined by His names and His names never change. Each year, Diane chooses a handful of names of God and then has cards designed that contain the name of God written in both Hebrew and English and two Bible verses that reference the name. When we broke into our first small group time, our leader handed us each a card with one of God’s names on it. The prayer was that God would divinely orchestrate which of His names we personally received. After the cards were passed out, we took turns introducing ourselves, reading our card, sharing (if we knew) why we thought God gave us that name, and then taking a minute to praise God for being that name.

It doesn’t sound profound, but that time was powerful. Woman after woman through tears shared how the name of God she received was exactly what she needed. Great vulnerability. Great pain. Great suffering. Shared with a group of strangers united only by the God who calls Himself “Everything that I AM, I will be to you.”

I got Prince of Peace and the two verses are Ephesians 2:14, “He Himself is our peace,” and John 14:27, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” Prince of Peace is one of my favorite names of God, and as I reflected on why I’d get this reminder, God answered by bringing pictures to my mind’s eye. Of my friends battling cancer. Of precious children battling huge medical hurdles. Of marriages that are dissolving in heart-breaking ways. I realized that God has given me a “gift” to give my friends who are hurting. I can leave them with “peace of mind and heart.” Thank you Jesus!

Here are some examples of the names of God and the women who received them:

v A young girl who had recently been robbed of her innocence got The Lion. “Stop weeping – behold the Lion…has overcome. Revelation 5:5”

v A fresh-faced high schooler struggling to find the words to explain her faith in Jesus to her friends received The Word. “Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise.” Colossians 3:16

v A college-aged girl who “didn’t get to be a child because she was raising her siblings” received Child. “To us a child is born,” (Isaiah 9:6) and the verse on the back was the first Bible verse she ever memorized.

v A young, and newly-minted widow received Immanuel. “And he will be called Immanuel (meaning God with us).” Matthew 1:23

v A wife who faced life struggles so intense she “didn’t know where to go for help” got the card that said Physician. She was a little confused until she read the verse, “And wherever He went, He healed people of every sort of disease and illness. He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn’t know where to go for help.” Matthew 9:35-36

The most heart-wrenching was an expectant mother. She wept as she shared that she carried a beautiful baby girl in her womb that had recently been diagnosed with a disease that gave no hope of survival. The name of God and verse that she got to face that horrendous scenario? Daddy, Father. “Abba Father, everything is possible for You. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want Your will not mine.” Mark 14:36. We wept as we laid hands on her and asked God to take this suffering from her, but also to be willing to surrender to His will not ours. It was powerful and raw and intimate and beautiful and unlike anything I had experienced before.

We followed up that prayer time with another large group session. I had the tremendous honor of being the mouthpiece for the amazing story of mercy that God gave Melanie. She wrote a poignant account of the prostitute Rahab. God chose to use her as a vehicle to shelter the Israelite spies and in exchange, spared her life when they took the city of Jericho. The message of God’s great mercy culminated in a conclusion that reminded every woman in the room that we are NOT defined by our past. Our God redeems from the darkest pit and exchanges our past for a beautiful future. When I finished reading the only sound in the room was quiet weeping as the women of Solid Rock let this truth wind its way to their deepest pain and greatest fears.

I had to leave early and didn’t get to attend the last two sessions. They included a prayer walk around the building with focused prayer for our church and its leaders, a woman’s personal story of experiencing God’s mercy in her life, communion and a chance to have your feet washed and be prayed for as a symbol of receiving God’s mercy. From all accounts, it was an incredible end to a fabulous night.

I expected to be exhausted the entire drive home, but instead I felt euphoric. I crawled into bed at 5 a.m. and lay there wide awake, mind racing, pulse pounding, heart renewed. I may have been the Night in Prayer’s biggest skeptic going into last night but now, I’m a believer (cue music from The Monkeys.) Come Lord Jesus!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Day Changer

There are times when life feels too big. Too daunting. Overwhelming. Sometimes I dialog with God about it. "Ummm... You want me to do what? I think you picked the wrong girl for that job." And then like Moses, I run down the laundry list of reasons why I am NOT qualified and why someone else would be perfect for the job instead. Obedience is not easy. It requires great courage and faith. I've never looked back at a time in my life where I waffled between complacency and obedience and regretted choosing obedience.

I was reading Acts chapter 9 today at the gym and got the giggles. Saul, a leading Jewish ruler in Jerusalem who hated anyone who followed The Way, was "breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples." He was so zealous to squash the rebellion that he got permission to travel out of Jerusalem for the sole purpose of seeking out new believers and bringing them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. On his way to Damascus, he is stopped in his tracks by a "light from heaven that flashed around him." Saul is physically blinded by the light and Jesus speaks to him audibly through the clouds. Jesus gives Saul instructions to continue into the city and tells Saul he'll receive further instructions once he's there. Talk about a day-changer!

While Saul is fumbling his way into Damascus, Ananias, a follower of Jesus, is also about to have his day changed. He has no idea what's about to hit him. First, "the Lord called to him in a vision." Ananias probably didn't anticipate audibly hearing from God when he planned the events of his day. Second, God give him specific instructions, down to the address, of a house He wants Ananias to visit. He tells Ananias, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight." I've got to believe that if Ananias wasn't shaking in his sandals before this, he is frozen in terror now. Every believer had heard of Saul and his deadly hatred. Going for a Christian visit to pray for Saul's healing was probably not on Ananias' Bucket List.

Ananias' response was all too familiar to my own, but more subdued. "Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." My response would have been more like, "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!?!? That's like signing my own death warrant. I'm pretty sure you have the wrong girl."

I love that God doesn't get mad at Ananias. He simply replies, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." And with that explanation, Ananias puts his big-boy pants on, takes a deep breath, and goes. He "went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord - Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here - has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again." God changed Saul's name to Paul and Paul became the most effective missionary of all time, spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire known world.

What if Ananias would have allowed fear to drive his decision and said no to God? Who would God have chosen to use instead? Ananias' courageous obedience allowed him the exclusive opportunity to be witness to history in the making and to have a role in Paul's supernatural healing! What a huge honor.

It made me reflect on my own life. Is there something God is asking me to do that just sounds absurd? Am I letting fear dictate my decisions? If I say no, what will I miss out on? Who will God use in my place? I don't want to miss my chance for greatness in God's kingdom. What about you?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Value of Hard Work

On Monday our kids had the day off school so their teachers could work on report cards. Normally I would fill a free day with play dates or something fun but the church where they've been attending mid-week youth group (Northside Community Church) had a much better idea. The youth director organized a work day and invited all the kids in 1st through 5th grade that attend youth group to give up their day off to serve the Lord by doing service projects like yard work around the church property.

Our kids were hesitant to commit and kept getting hung up on the fact that it was four hours of work. "How can we work for FOUR hours? That's a LOOOONNNNGGGG time Mom!" We agreed. I've never been able to get the kids to work for four consecutive hours doing yard work, but I know they are completely capable, so we vetoed them and said "Yes" to the work day for them.

The night before the work day we read Colossians 3:17, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." We reminded the kids that since they have chose to be followers of Jesus, that their attitudes and efforts in every endeavor are reflections of the God they are serving. When they work hard it brings Jesus honor and gives God praise.

They were somewhat underwhelmed by my pep talk and when I dropped them off at 10:00 a.m. the following morning, they were quasi-excited and a little apprehensive. The doughnuts and hot chocolate in the lobby quickly numbed the pain of working for hours and I could see them perking up before I left the parking lot. When I picked them up at 2:00 p.m., they were beaming and so overly-excited that I had to implement a "tell one thing you liked about today and then it's someone else's turn" system because they were all yelling over each other! The youth director had nothing but praise for how hard they worked, how diligent they were, and how much fun they had in the process. According to Grant's calculations, the work crew raked and bagged up 750 pounds of leaves. Way to go Grant, Katie, Alli, and all the other kids who gave up their vacation day to learn the value of working hard. I am one proud Mama!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Back At It

I swam today for the first time since early September. I am happy to report that while I was dreading it on the drive to the pool and pep talking myself all the way to the water, it wasn't as bad as I envisioned. I had no panic attacks and I actually remembered all the things I learned last year. It was a bit like riding a bike - it came back much faster than I anticipated and I managed to swim 25 laps. And with that swim, I have officially kicked off the triathlon training for 2011. Here are my goals for this year, in no specific order.

1. Complete two Olympic-distance triathlons, one in June and one in August.
2. Stay alive and don't drown during the swim.
3. If I make goal number two, don't be the last person out of the lake. (Please, oh please God, have one more person be a slower swimmer than me.)
4. Get familiar enough with my bike that:
a. if the chain falls off during the race, I can put it back on myself and I won't have to sit on the side of the road crying.
b. if I get a flat tire during the race, I can change it by myself using all the handy dandy gadgets Curt has strapped to my bike and I won't have to sit on the side of the road crying.
c. get familiar enough with the clip-in pedals that I won't be the girl in the transition area who forgot to unclip and is in a tangled pile on the side of the road crying while all the spectators are inwardly laughing their heads off.
d. remember that if all else fails, I can call Curt and he will turn around and come back and help me. What a good husband!
5. Pick some people off on the run since it's the only portion of the triathlon where I actually feel like I know what I'm doing.
6. Remember to not ask "Where are they handing out medals?" at the Blue Lake tri since they only give medals to people who actually finish in the top three and that will NOT be me. I can guarantee that.
7. Have fun.

It's official. I'm back at it!