Saturday, December 31, 2016

Grace Year

The year 2016 was a bit of a roller coaster for me with my oldest child moving to the other side of the globe and my youngest leaving home, but I prepared for it and gave myself extra grace.  For me, this grace looked like coffee with lots of half and half, salted almonds, and massively huge bags of tortilla chips.  It also looked like me being a little nicer to myself. 

At one point (actually, most of my existence previous to this year) in my life, I forced myself to do lots of things and I was very disciplined—mostly because I thought that was how I was supposed to be.  It seemed to be the mode of operation for all the women I admired. So I chose to work hard at working out, eating right, and being diligent with a mostly-regular quiet time.  I got up early, made lots of food from scratch, and kept a clean house. 

Now, however, as I am nearing the half-century mark (and am a novice empty-nester), I am starting to find out who I really am…and that I don’t enjoy all that structure so much and that I really prefer slowness to speed.  I have discovered I am a nicer person if I don’t try to be someone that YOU want me to be, but, instead, tap into the person that God made ME to be; He’s the only One that needs to approve anyway, amiright? 

And you know what?  I’m not really the tough girl I used to strive to be, nor am I very brave; I only look that way sometimes because I hang out with my adventurous family.  I’m actually the one that cries like a baby when the hiking gets hard and hyperventilates when I have to climb mountains.   I’m just a normal, sometimes fragile, middle-aged (wow, I have never used that adjective to describe myself) gal who resists change like the plague and who happens to like cute things that look like animals (you know, like the cow-shaped cream pitcher that allows you to dispense milk while simultaneously pretending the animal is vomiting) and flannel sheets with rabbits on them (not actual rabbits, though that would be cozy). 

I have taken to walking in the sunrise with my exuberant pup most days rather than performing exercises that make me want a four-hour nap by 9 a.m.  I let myself eat a cookie with my coffee and have no guilt about it; I even bought a cookie jar shaped like a fox to put them in.  Brent and I have been doing a Bible read-through in the mornings where we read a passage and then talk about it, and I haven’t been as rigid about spending my own time in the Word, nor have I been journaling regularly. But I am gaining a depth of knowledge from listening to Scripture being read to me.  In fact, each night when I go to bed, I am anxious for morning to come so we can have our coffee/Bible time all over again.

Since my kids are out of the house and my morning schedule is much more lenient, I am allowing myself to sleep in occasionally (but not if it makes me miss my coffee date) and enjoying the coziness of my flannel sheets and the deliciousness of slumber. I occasionally purchase convenience products as part of my meals and have chosen to not look at the labels but instead, to enjoy my reduced stress level.  Also, I often just consume tortilla chips from a giant bag for an entire meal, and I’m okay with that. 

My house is easier to keep clean now, with less people inhabiting it, but it still gathers dust and pet hair and cobwebs.  Uncharacteristically, or maybe not really (who am I anyway?), lately those things haven’t really bothered me.  Occasionally, if someone is coming over, I will pull my sweater sleeve over my hand and do a quick dusting of the china cabinet.

And, instead of feeling a loss of control by giving some of these former “necessary things” up and loosening my grip on some of the others, I have felt a new freedom and a deep-seated joy in my paradigm shift. I am not suggesting that these changes are all positive, nor necessarily permanent, but switching things up a bit has helped me successfully navigate formerly unchartered territory.  I am also learning that spending more time on what I enjoy actually fuels my mind and body to complete the drudgery  important things that all card-carrying adults must do (ie: laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and buying actual food).

Lately, though, I am hankering for a bit more structure and will likely pick up some of the dropped balls; others, however, will continue to sit on a lower shelf; they don’t need nearly as much attention as I formerly gave them.  And like the “chips for supper” decision, I’m okay with that. 

In this year, the grace year of 2016, the year I lowered my expectations for who I am and what I should accomplish, I am much more content with who God made me to be.  In conclusion, I guess I write all of these to convince myself that even in a time of great transition, I’m still okay.  Life is still good.  And the liberties I have given myself to “grieve” and adjust—to be more childlike and less hardcore--have made me feel less frantic and frazzled.  That’s what we all want, isn’t it?  Just a little sanity mixed in with our craziness?  We always think we are in control; we really never have been.  However, being nice to myself in my year of transition has leveled out the bumps of this wild ride and made the bruises not nearly so bad.  At least nothing a Hello Kitty band-aid and a few tortilla chips can’t fix.

This is real life folks, not dress-rehearsal.  I am planning on enjoying it fully. 
How about you?

Happy 2017!

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and He answered by setting me free.”
~ Psalm 118:5

Friday, December 30, 2016

Stop Feeding It--repost

Brent and I are planning to an extended fast to ring in the new year 2017.  The last few years, we have adopted the practice of doing a one day fast most weeks, but we thought doing a longer time of food denial might help us do a little re-set on our diets, our priorities, and our prayer life.  I thought about writing a blog about fasting, but when I looked through my archives, I found this from December of 2012 and thought it appropriate even though it refers to a different kind of starving...

I once had a very wise 7th grade English teacher who, when asked how he got his dog to stop pooping inside the house, said,

 “It’s simple; I just stopped feeding him.”

Cute.  Now, if you love your dog, I wouldn’t recommend that.  And maybe if you want to keep feeding your dog and he won’t stop pooping on your carpet, you could get some diapers and cut out a hole for his tail, or you could hook up a bucket-type thing—like you see on horses in parades—to catch anything falling from his little hiney.  Or you could train him to do his duty outside.  Novel idea. 

You know though, when you apply this idea to sin in our lives, it makes perfect sense.  We can struggle with sin all we want, but until we make a decision to demote it to it’s rightful place—with us being it’s master through Jesus’ resurrection on the cross—and it being our slave, we will have no victory (I wrote about that in my last post.  You can read it here). Really, it’s all about starving;  starving our sinful habits until they are no longer habits, saying “no” to ourselves when we struggle with an appetite for temporal sinful pleasures, and ignoring our feelings (by listening to our minds that are filled with God’s truth) when they thirst for vengeance, unforgiveness and immorality.

If we want sin to stop coming out of us (believe me, dear reader, I could have written that in a much more creative, distasteful way), we need to stop feeding it.  We need to crave God’s glory more than our pleasure.  We need to see long, like God does, and not short, like we do.  And we need to make choices that make us look more and more like Jesus and less like ourselves.

So, here’s to starving our sin (and our dogs, but only if we don’t like them. Kidding, I’m kidding.  Don’t report me) until old habits die and new life appears.
No carpet cleaning necessary.

What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:21-23

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Newborn King

This is my new grand niece, Amelia Josephine, born two just two weeks before this picture was taken.  I had the privilege of spending her very first Christmas with her along with lots of extended family.  We spent most of our holiday time ooing and ahhing over her tiny perfection and watching her 22-month-old brother do cute things.

As I held little Amelia in my arms, I was struck by the reality—THE REALITY-- that Christ was born to us as a baby--A BABY!  At this time of year, we read and sing of this fact often;

"You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger." 
   "The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head." 
"Holy infant so tender and mild" 
 "Glory to the newborn King"

But do we truly understand what Christ did for us by becoming utterly helpless?  Do we comprehend how He left His place in Heaven and confined Himself in skin?  Do we grasp how our most powerful God allowed Himself to sleep silently in an animal trough?  Can we truly fathom that the same voice that created the entire universe now limited Himself to a feeble cry?

It’s absurd, really.  A limitless, ageless God chose to intersect time and space and become a limited, time-bound man; and not just a man, a baby; tiny, helpless, poor.

So why did He do it?  God saw His children needed Him.  Yet, because of their sins, there was no way they could get to Him.  So He became one of them, and He lived among them to save them and bring them close again.  Not only did He live with them; He loved them; and He died for them…and in their place.  And then He rose again—conquering death, their greatest foe. 

He chose to enter the world in a way that none expected; not as a king; wearing extravagant robes and sitting on a royal throne, but as a baby; swaddled with strips of tattered cloth and lying in a hay-filled manger.  Our mighty, strong, omniscient God chose to come to us in the most unthinkable form, wrapped in skin and humility; a tiny newborn babe.

Just like little Amelia.  Just for little Amelia.  And just for you too.

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
~Matthew 1:21

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankfulness Things: Love


For my last Thankfulness Things post, I want to share the thing I am most thankful for:  unconditional love.  Humanity has trouble with this one—even the best of us—but God extends it freely. 

When we surrender our right to ourselves and ask Jesus to be our Savior, He exchanges our sin for His Righteousness.  He gets our rags and we get His spotless garment of forgiveness and love.  The trade is mighty uneven.  Even so, because of the shedding of Christ’s perfect blood for our sins, we are covered with “Jesus clothes” and our Holy Father sees as clean and pure.  We can do nothing to earn this; it is purely unconditional Love that gives it.  Because Jesus took our sins to the cross with Him, He is our ultimate sacrifice, our propitiation, our substitute, our payment—by His wounds we are healed.  I love this quote by Tullian Tchividjian in his book, One Way Love, The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces that because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak. Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose. Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary. Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.”

And because Jesus loves you unconditionally, you can be sure you are precious to Him.  The good day/bad day scenario doesn’t work with God.  He loves you all the time because of Jesus.  He sees you as righteous every day because of Jesus.  His judgment is assuaged because Jesus satisfied it.  He views you as He views His son, because of Jesus perfection—not yours.  God can love us unconditionally because all of the conditions of righteousness were met in His Son. 

We can do nothing to deserve His love.  That is why it is called “unconditional”, but we can extend to our family, our friends, even our enemies to show them what true love is.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 
~John 3:16

The love of God is greater far
  Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
  And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
  God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled
  And pardoned from his sin.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thankfulness Things: Sanctification


I love to walk in the early mornings and see the day wake up little by little.  The sky, usually deep dark blue when I begin, turns all shades of pink, purple, and orange as the sun peeks over the horizon.  It does this every day—whether I can see it or not; sometimes the clouds cover the splendor; other times, I don’t get outside until the sun is fully up and all I see is the big blue sky.  Regardless of the weather or my activity, though, the sun continues to rise.  When I walk, the verse, The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day”(Proverbs 4:18) often comes to mind and I am filled with gratefulness that God is continuing to work on my rough edges and selfish desires.  God promises me that if I will allow His Spirit to work in me and if I will obey Him when I feel like rebelling, He will be faithful to His job to change me into the Tori he intended since the creation of the world. 

Sometimes, when I have chosen not to use my renewed mind, or when my time in the Word is lacking, I struggle to act Christianly.  And sometimes, even when I am doing “all the right things”, I still mess up because I am human and faulted and weak.  The times that I fall are the times that I doubt God could ever use someone as clumsy and clunky as me.  But He can, because even though I am faulted and tempted by my rogue emotions, God uses imperfect vessels to carry out His perfect plans.  He does this purposely to help us remember we aren’t as great as we think, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”(2 Cor 4:7) because He is so much greater than we can imagine. 

In the same way that I can’t control the rising of the sun, I can’t control the speed of my sanctification.  I can, however, take hold of the promise that it is happening within me, even without my awareness.  God is good like that. 

“In general, the soul makes greater progress when it least thinks so, yea, most frequently when it imagines it is losing.” 
~St. John of the Cross

O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thankfulness Things: God's Design


“In the beginning God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Once, when Brent and I were first married, I decided to impress him with my culinary prowess and make a big pot of chili.  I diligently followed the recipe that said to include “ 4 cloves of garlic, crushed”.  Being new to reading recipes, and especially new to garlic, I assumed “a clove” was the entire head of garlic—which I thought was plenty, but hey, garlic was supposed to be good for you—so I added FOUR ENTIRE HEADS of garlic to the pot.  Needless to say, because I didn’t understand the directions of the recipe, our chili was VERY GARLICKY and completely inedible.  Sometimes, I think we assume God did that same thing when he decided to create people; that He went about it haphazardly and things turned out all wonky. We think it strange that we are supposed to be “equal” but have different roles. We want to change His recipe for maleness and femaleness.

As a woman, I can be dissatisfied in the role God gave me—to be a help-mate, a nurturer, a life-giver in every sense of the word.  I can view my feminine role as weaker and therefore become a competitor to, rather than a completer of, my husband.  When I try to embody the role that God gave to men and I aggressively disdain the internal urgings of my feminine soul, I may be praised by the world, but I will struggle internally.  I will struggle because I was made to be a woman and the desires and instincts that make me want to care for others, do “home” things, and be sensitive to the emotions and moods of those around me are put there by an intentional God.  The book Designed for Joy explains it well, “[God] didn’t make one mistake in creating humans male and female. Why does this matter? Because for us to embrace our femininity, we must first understand that it wasn’t an accident.  This not only gives us confidence to trust God’s design; it should also bring us great joy.  The Lord of the universe created us like he intended—and called it good.”

As a woman, like the man, I am created in the image of God.  This realization should give me the freedom to eagerly display my femininity and, when living in tandem with Biblical masculinity, provide a way for me to show a full picture of our Father to the world.  God’s created design really is the best for us in all of nature (have you ever tried to fight against gravity?  You WILL lose) and in our personhood.  When we choose to stay under His Lordship and within His boundaries, we have so much freedom to be ourselves, and so much protection from the influences of our dark world.

It’s still okay with God if I bring home the bacon (to put in the chili, of course), as long as I do it with an understanding of who I am in Him.  I can do some masculine things and still have the heart of a woman who desires to please God by following Him and willingly submitting to His authority. 

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thankfulness Things: Sovereignty


I was always amazed when I read the story of Esther in the Bible.  At one point, Esther learns that her people are to be violently annihilated and she, as the queen, may be able to save them.  But, the law of the land was that no one (not even the queen) could enter the king’s presence unbidden.  If the king did not extend his scepter to this impostor, the penalty was immediate death.  Yet, Esther, fully trusting in the God she served said, I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”  She trusted more in the plans of her sovereign Father than in her own imminent danger.  And as the story goes, Esther is invited into the King’s presence and God’s people are saved from extinction.

Not only do I struggle with having the attitude of “…if I perish, I perish”, but I am constantly trying to control all of the variables so that I don’t have to even think about perishing.  In my finite mind I believe that if I can just get the safest flight, or the car with the most advanced air bags, or if I can consume enough spinach and quinoa, and if I never ever sky dive, THEN I will be fully insulated from anything bad that might happen to me. 

But here’s what really happens:  When I focus my energies on myself and my health and my possible demise, I am consumed with worry and I feel like everything is a threat; I feel out of control.  But when I replace those thoughts with words of surrender to God’s perfect plans, I can rest in His sovereignty.  He is after all, the One who is actually in control—I never have been.  As I read through the Bible, it doesn’t guarantee that I will be safe from harm, but it does say God is good.  He’s good even when I don’t understand His “goodness”.  It doesn’t say that my life will be all roses, but it does say God’s plans will prevail.  Now, if God is always good, and if His plans always happen the way he intends, then why do I worry, as if I had any power to change things?  I can’t, of course, throw all caution to the wind, as God calls us to be wise and use our transformed minds, but I can stop worrying about what is coming next and trust in He who is in charge of history. 

And I can even go skydiving if I want. 

But only if I want to speed my journey to heaven because I am sure I would die from a heart attack on the way down.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2

Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art; I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.  Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee, and Thy beauty fills my soul, for by Thy transforming power, Thou hast made me whole.”