Be Calm and Burble On

DSC_0122A few months ago, we acquired a new resident for our aquarium. I named our little African dwarf frog Sir Hops-a-Lot, and he provided quite a bit more entertainment than the fish that just swam in circles all day.  My daughter and I did a little research and found that African dwarf frogs are very social.  This discovery led to the purchase of another African dwarf frog, Sir Spotty, to be a companion to our first one.

Not long after both frogs joined our household, I noticed a peculiar thing about Sir Spotty that caused me to panic a little.  He was floating near the surface of the water with his arms and legs spread out, totally motionless.  I thought he was dead, but to be sure, I knocked against the glass several times until he shifted slightly, as if startled out of daydreaming.  The next day I caught Sir Hops-a-Lot doing something very similar.  He was closer to the bottom of the tank with one foot rested on a plant and the rest of his body suspended in the water, swaying gently with the current of the tank.  “Please don’t be dead,” I thought to myself.  We had just had several of our fish go belly up in the last few days, and I wanted to think that we were not aquatic animal killers.  Sir Hops-a-Lot stayed in that position for over an hour before darting up to the top of the tank for a little air.

I decided to do a little more research on African dwarf frogs to see if this was a normal occurrence for them.  In doing so, I read that African dwarf frogs in captivity often participate in what is commonly called “burbling.”  A frog in a burbling position is effectively zoning out for a while, giving his body a rest from constant swimming or hiding.  You might say that he is in a meditative state of sorts.  This information was a great relief, although I admit to still knocking on the tank occasionally when they look particularly dead.

One recent morning, I was sitting at the dining room table, reading a bit of Scripture and journaling in my notebook.  I looked up to see that Sir Spotty was burbling again, and I noted how still and peaceful he looked.  It reminded me of a verse in Psalms – “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)  Curious, and because the kids somehow were still miraculously asleep in their rooms, I looked up “Bible verses about being still” and was surprised to find so many on that topic.  I was drawn to the passage in Lamentations 3, where Jeremiah famously talks about the Lord’s mercies being new every morning and about the greatness of God’s faithfulness.  A little further down, Jeremiah proclaims: “The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.  It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.”  In the margin of my Bible, some years ago, I had written “I must HOPE~SEEK~WAIT on Him!”

I tried to remember the last time I had truly been still.  When had I I last sought out God with no other distractions and then waited for His answer?  Four noisy kids now demanding breakfast and clean underwear and morning hugs answered that question all too clearly.  Being still and listening for God’s voice had disappeared a long time ago and had been replaced by grocery lists and overflowing laundry baskets and scraped knees.  Even when I got up early enough to meet with God before the kids woke up, my mind was still distracted with to-do lists and the busyness of life.  Too many a prayer was interrupted by a seemingly greater need of one of the kids.  Too many a Scripture reading was halted by the chaos of life.

I realized that I needed to make time again to just be still.  In my Scripture reading just this morning, Moses tells the Hebrew people to stop being afraid of the Egyptian army in hot pursuit.  He encourages them to “stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD.”  He basically tells them to be quiet and let the LORD do the fighting for them.  How often am I missing out on God doing some great things in my life because I won’t be quiet?  Perhaps, to drive the point further home, what peace and contentment could the Lord bring if I would stop checking Facebook/emails/cell phone games/latest TV show so frequently?

It has been quite the challenge to learn to be still, to turn off the constantly humming “mommy thoughts”, and to realize that I do not have to be constantly entertained or busy all the time.  Every day is a struggle.  I ask God to please take away the distracting thoughts and try to focus on one time a day that I can just make like a frog and burble.  It’s usually after the kids go to bed (I mean sleep, because well we all know that “going to bed” doesn’t necessarily mean quiet kids!).

And in the midst of the most chaotic days, I give myself a little grace.  If “being still” doesn’t happen today, it will tomorrow. And I’ve always got my burbling frog friends around to remind me.

My Journey to Freedom: Healing for the Good Girl

(It’s been a while since I posted the previous entries in this series.  If you haven’t read them or need a refresher, here’s the links:

Part One:  Following the Rules

Part Two: Thou Shalt Not Wear Pants

Part Three:  It’s Never Enough )

Do you ever find that it’s easier to draw out a tale than to finish it?  The telling of the event is always more natural than bringing it to a solid and worthy conclusion.  I used to dream of being a writer, once upon a time, as an idealistic junior high student with big hair and even bigger glasses.  I fantasized about a career in children’s literature and wrote dozens of original stories and poems.  Most of them, however, I never finished.  It felt just too difficult to come to a good ending.

For this series “My Journey to Freedom,”  I have felt this exact same way.  It feels like a whole lot has to be crammed somehow into a clear and logical ending, when in truth there is no ending.  It is a journey, after all, and although I live free in Christ, I haven’t arrived.  Not yet. 😉  Still, I will do my best to explain to you just what happened in my life the last year or so that radically altered my thinking and my faith.  Some have questioned why.  Why share this tremendously personal story online?  Won’t people perhaps vehemently disagree with you, or scorn your choices, or even be offended that you have not followed the path of your youth?

Indeed, the reception of the previous posts has not all been good.  I think that it is hard and scary for some people when you start asking questions about the things you were taught all your life.  Believe me, I fully considered that before embarking on the first post of the series last summer.  I balked at doing it at all, knowing it would absolutely cause controversy, but the Holy Spirit kept nudging me to write my story.

In September of 2012, the pot that had been slowly simmering for so long finally burst into a full boil.  I could not handle it any longer – all the rules, the stress of doing everything just right, the frustration at not feeling as if I were ever pleasing God, everything.  So I just quit.  Right then, I talked to Chris, who had been having similar feelings and frustrations of his own, and we agreed together to leave the church we had been attending for eight years.  All at once, everything stopped.  I no longer taught children’s church; there was no more nursery duty to fill more of my church time.  We had no idea of where to go or what to do next.  We attended my in-laws’ church for a brief time on Sunday mornings, but we did not go anywhere else on Sunday evenings or Wednesday nights.  It felt strange to have my entire spiritual world upended, just like that.  I found, to my consternation, that pretty much my entire social life had revolved around church, and now I felt empty and alone.  I worried that we had made the wrong decision and prayed for answers and for peace.

This is when I made a heart-rending discovery.  I prayed, but I didn’t feel connected to God in any way.  I tried to keep reading my Bible, but God still felt distant and aloof.  Without all the rules and the busyness of my former life to masquerade as spirituality, I was left with an empty shell of a Christian life.  My personal relationship with Jesus Christ had suffered dramatically as a result of my focus on outward behavior.  I didn’t know how to fix it, how to draw close to God.  I knew the verse by heart – “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” (James 4:8)  I feared that maybe I wasn’t really saved, that maybe somehow it had all passed me by.  The Bible wasn’t speaking to me, and I was desperate to find out why.  Surely someone else had experienced this exact same dilemma as my own – that of growing up in a Christian home and then becoming disillusioned with it in their adulthood.  I hit the internet and searched for people with stories like mine.  It was difficult to find anything, and the ones I did find had heartbreaking endings of the author turning away from God.  I didn’t want to do that either.

By this time, we had found a new church that we attended once a week.  The pastor there preached through the Bible, verse by verse.  We started attending when he was in the book of James.  After every service, I would go home and search out the things he had said in my Bible, to see if in fact they really were true.  He said then (and has said it many times since, as it’s a favorite statement of his) “Stick to God’s Word.  It has all the answers to life, and it’s the best commentary on itself.”  It was as if the Holy Spirit had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You heard him!  Now get home and get in God’s Word.  He will do the rest.”

And so I began to search the scriptures.(John 5:39)  Through a lot of stilted, uncomfortable prayer and heartfelt journaling, I started to see who the God of the Bible really was.  I realized that I had always had this view of a big scary God who was never quite pleased with me, no matter what I did.  But my Bible revealed a God who is a loving Father, full of mercy and grace.(John 1:14)  He is also all-powerful, and we are admonished to fear Him. (Psalm 111:10)  Being God-fearing does not mean worrying about whether I am doing enough to please Him.  It does not mean ending each day in frustration and defeat because once again, I did not live up to what I thought I should.  No, being God-fearing means a reverence for God and the boundaries He sets in His Word, knowing that there will be consequences when those boundaries are crossed.  And yet, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)  Of course, I’m going to fail – I am a sinner that needs a Savior – but when I seek His forgiveness, he removes my sins “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)

And when I began to see God in this whole new light, my prayers were not so awkward.  I looked forward to meeting with Him every day.  Bible reading was not a drudgery – some days I only read a verse or two, but God spoke in my heart through them just as much as the days I read chapters.  I realized that it was okay to question things, and I took my Bible and went right down my list.  Bible versions?  Proper music?  Dress?  How often to go to church?  As I prayed and studied, it was evident that a lot of these controversial areas were about personal conviction, not scriptural mandate.  The breath of freedom that this discovery brought me was exactly why I titled this series “My Journey to Freedom.”

The journey is far from over.  I still don’t know all the answers.  But now I am living in this new-found freedom, worshiping and following my Savior, rejoicing in the hope that He gives, not the fear of not enough.  I write this for that person who may be searching, just as I did, for someone with the same experience as their own.  If that’s you, run, run, run to receive His amazing grace and unfailing love.  Be encouraged that there are answers and that there is hope.  Most of all, know this: God will give healing to the good girl who just never could be good enough.

My Journey to Freedom: It’s Never Enough

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(For part one of my story, click here.  For part two of my story, click here.)

I memorized quite a lot of scripture growing up.  After the prerequisite “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” and ” Be ye kind one to another,” two verses that were early ingrained in my mind were Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:  it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  It was explained to me that no matter how good I was and no matter how many good things I did, it would never be enough to save me.  I had to accept God’s grace and ask Jesus to save me, knowing that my best efforts here on earth could never measure up to a perfect God.  To a child’s uncluttered, innocent mind, this was wonderful news.  I gladly accepted Christ as my Savior and understood even then how unworthy I was of this precious gift.

After I was saved, I started hearing a lot about “fruit” of salvation.  This teaching explained that you would truly know if someone were saved or not by their fruits, or good works.  I quickly internalized that the more people saw me doing good things, the more they would think of me as a good Christian.  This was reinforced by the adults around me.  I heard things like “Well, you know, Susan only goes to church on Sunday morning so she probably wouldn’t be a good choice to teach Sunday school” or “I’m pretty sure he just keeps his Bible in the car so he won’t forget it for church.  I guess there’s not a whole lot of Bible-reading going on there.”  I still believed that salvation was a gift, but that works were also really, really important.  Maybe salvation didn’t necessarily depend on your works, but if you didn’t have a lot of good works to show for it afterwards, perhaps you weren’t really saved.

Take, for instance, reading your Bible.  I sang “Read your Bible, pray every day” with great fervor in Sunday school class.  I heard quotes like D.L. Moody’s “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”  It quickly became a matter of great anxiety for me.  What if I weren’t reading enough?  What if I missed a day?  It became all about the doing, all about the act.  I read my allotted verses or chapters each day, and that was it.  At college, I made sure that I did my Bible reading in a place where others could see me.  I didn’t want them thinking that I wasn’t spiritual.  Then, I heard a preacher talk about mature Christians.  He said that when it came to Bible reading, you should be reading more and more each year.  He mentioned that he himself was reading ten chapters a day and was hoping to increase that to twenty chapters a day soon.  I felt deflated after hearing that sermon.  Here I was, struggling to read even one chapter a day.  I had babies that were getting up several times during the night and a toddler that certainly wasn’t going to allow her mother to sit and read for even a few minutes unbothered.  I was trying to read through the entire Bible in one year.  If I missed a day, I felt defeated and frustrated and tried desperately to catch up.  It was a losing battle.  At three chapters a day, two days missed meant I was trying to cram nine chapters into one day.  There was no room for the Holy Spirit to speak to me through God’s Word.  I was simply trying to get the work done.

And let’s not forget church attendance!  From the day of my birth (literally!) I attended church for Sunday school, Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and any other special services that might be scheduled during the week.  We were always at church.  The Bible said “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is,” after all.  Pastors interpreted that as “you ought to be at church every time the doors are open.”  I heard my parents and others speak derisively and even condescendingly of those who only attended our church on Sunday mornings.  Worse yet were the folks that went to “that liberal church that only has one service a week.”  There was no good reason to miss church.  If you were sick, you had better be on your deathbed to miss church.  When I became an adult, I was afraid to miss a church service.  What would people think?  If I did not attend a service, almost certainly someone would bring it up at the next service.  In a question masked with “godly concern,” they would inquire “Were you sick?  We sure missed you last week!”  I wondered what they would say if I just blurted out, “Nope.  I didn’t feel like coming last Sunday night.  The Sunday morning service was great, and I just didn’t feel a need to be there again Sunday night.”  But I never had the courage or audacity to say it.

So, if you were reading your Bible faithfully and attending all the church services as much as you could, it would seem that you were a pretty decent Christian.  Sorry, but that was not enough.  Fellow Christians always wanted to know what else you were doing for Christ.  Were you singing lovely Christian songs in the service to bless and encourage others?  Were you serving in the nursery to help some poor, stressed-out mother hear God’s Word that day in church?  Were you witnessing and telling other folks about Jesus every week?  Were you teaching in children’s church, or Sunday school, or VBS, or preferably all three?  Were you tithing and giving at least ten percent of your income to the Lord’s work faithfully?  The Lord really wouldn’t be able to bless you if you weren’t, you know.

It was a truly exhausting way to live.  I did all of the above and still felt like I WAS NOT DOING ENOUGH.  The gospel for me (and a whole host of other Christians around me) had changed from “not by works, lest any man should boast” to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  It would take me a long time to realize that Christ did not suffer death on the cross just for me to continually worry about what I was doing for Him.  Breaking that mindset would be incredibly difficult.  Until then, the frustration and feelings of complete inadequacy while trying to appear to the rest of the world that I was “happy and busy for Christ” would continue to build until I just literally would not be able to take it anymore.

To be continued…

In This House

DSC_0060The dining room is the central hub of our family activities.  At any given moment, you will find us homeschooling there, or finishing up yet another art project, or eating together, or folding laundry, or building Star Wars lego sets, or a host of other activities.  We are fortunate to have a very open floor plan, with the dining room opening up to the kitchen, the living room, and the playroom.  Since we spend so much of our time there, I chose the dining room as the place to put up our family “rules.”  I painted a canvas gray and added the meaningful words in my favorite colors, yellow and turquoise.  It looks fantastic on the wall next to the big picture window.  But there’s no point in having it just look pretty.  I wanted my children to understand the words on it and use it as inspiration to be a better family together.  So,my little chicks, let me tell you how we do things “in this house.”

1.  We do second chances.  

So, you didn’t get your math lesson the first time around.  Maybe you forgot and left your dish in the living room instead of carrying it to the sink.  Maybe you dropped your shoes right where Daddy could trip on them on his way out the door to work.  It’s okay.  We do second chances, and third chances, and as many chances as you need to get it right.  The times you don’t get it right are learning experiences for you.

2.  We do grace.  

This one is easy to say and hard to execute.  Grace is undeserved kindness.  God showed us the ultimate, purest grace of all by giving us a way out when all we had done was sin and disobey Him.  We are to be Christ-like – therefore, that means showing grace to others.  Is your brother being especially annoying today?  Be kind and courteous to him anyway.  Did you neglect to do your chores?  Mommy will not yell or be unkind.  She may even give you a second chance.  (see #1)

3.  We do real.

Having the joy of Christ in our hearts does not mean we will be happy all the time. Bad days are bound to happen.  In this house, we can be real about how we feel.  We don’t need to hide behind a mask and pretend everything is okay.  And when family members let their guard down and are real with us, we show compassion and understanding and seek to help them however we can.

4.  We do mistakes.

Nobody in this house is perfect.  We all make mistakes from time to time.  If you make a mistake, own up to it.  We understand and respect the fact that you are human and will make mistakes.  It also makes it easier for us to clear things up and make things right again.  Sometimes, mistakes are beautiful.  They teach us to be humble and to learn from failure.

5.  We do “I’m sorry.”

If we have wronged or hurt anyone in this family in any way, we apologize.  Even if we didn’t mean to offend, we recognize that feelings can be hurt.  So we say “I’m sorry.”  We say it a lot, including Mommy and Daddy.  It is a mark of good character to admit you did wrong and show your contrition.  And in this family, “I’m sorry” is always accompanied by a hug.  Always.

6.  We do loud really well.

We love to play, sing, dance, and generally cause a great ruckus in the house.  This is usually a wonderful thing – after all, God instructs us in His Word to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”  I love hearing your fun, most of the time.  It reminds me that we are not boring or dull and that we are enjoying the life God has given us.  However, there are two times when you need to hit the mute button – when Hosanna is taking a nap and when Mommy is holding her head and looking like she is about to punch something.  It is called a headache, and for your well-being, you should probably keep it down to a dull roar.

7.  We do hugs.

All the time.  I demand them from you all on a regular basis and dish them out as often as I receive them.  In case you were secretly hoping they would go away, they will not.  Whether you are eight, eighteen, or twenty-eight, you will give your mother a genuine, “I-love-you-lots” hug.  At any rate, she surely will be hugging you.  And don’t forget your siblings!  Hugs all around!

8.  We do family.

There are lots of exciting things to do and places to go and friends to hang out with in this world, but family always comes first.  We will always be your best friends, your biggest cheerleaders, and your shoulder to cry on.  That’s why when anything comes between you and your brother, or you and Mommy, or any other relationship in this house, we deal with it right away.  We take care of it because those are the most valuable relationships (outside of Jesus Christ) that we have.

9.  We do love.

And that is the cord that ties us all together.  For better or for worse, we are all in this together because of love.  When God gifted me with each one of you children, my heart was filled to bursting.  I was in awe at the love I felt and still feel for each of you.  If you ever find yourself unsure of how much I love you, come ask and I will be more than happy to tell you and show you!  And sometimes, we may not be very good at communicating our love for you.  Love is kind and patient, and sometimes we forget to show it that way.  If that happens (and it will, trust me, see #4), please let me know so I can rectify that.  I always want all of you children to feel loved.  Oh, and Daddy too – I’m crazy in love with him!

 

This sign is to remind of us of all these things – things that are important to us but can easily get forgotten in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  But, little chicks, remember this.  None of these are possible without prayer.  We have got to connect with our Heavenly Father daily and seek His help in these areas.  And when we do that, well, this house is going to be home to one happy family!

 

Seasoned with Grace

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Tonight I decided to make Southwest Turkey Meatball skillet (a fabulous recipe from Clean Eating) for dinner.  I pulled out the ground turkey from the freezer and turned around, bumping into a very determined David.  “Mom, how old do you have to be to drive a jet pack?”  I sighed, thinking of the one thousand times before he had asked this exact question.  “David, we’ve talked about this before, and now is not the time to bother Mommy,” I said firmly.  “I’ve got to get dinner ready before Daddy gets home.”  He shrugged his shoulders and moved, ever so slightly to the left.  “So, Mom,” he continued as if I had not said anything at all.  “Probably when I’m sixteen I’ll be able to have a jet pack.  How long until I get to be sixteen?”  Growing a little more impatient now, I said something to the effect of “not for a long, long time.”  His face fell.  “Go on now, get out of the kitchen,” I shooed him towards the living room.  “I’m making meatballs right now.” He looked a little crestfallen, but ever the persistent one, he moved exactly one inch outside the kitchen and kept asking questions.  Did jet packs go very fast?  Did I think that Daddy would build one for him?  What about Jango Fett?  Where did he get his jet pack?  Did Daddy ever use a jet pack to get to work?  Finally, I was thoroughly exasperated.  “David, I said this is not the time to bother Mommy!  Please get out of the kitchen and go play with something!  Right now!”  And although I said the word please, my tone spoke otherwise.  His shoulders slumped, and he walked slowly down the hall to his room.  I could hear him in his room, banging a few legos around.  Meanwhile, I had a recipe to make.  I carefully seasoned my turkey meatballs with a little salt and just a touch of cumin, so Gabi would not complain that they were too spicy.  I stirred the broth and added a little more cumin, some paprika, and lime juice.  All these seasonings were going to transport our tastebuds to the Mexican border.  As a final touch, just as my husband walked in the door, I chopped up some fresh cilantro and mixed it in.  I took a sneak taste, verifying that it was indeed seasoned to perfection.

As we sat to eat, conversation flowed easily around the dinner table.  Gabi had reached a new level in her Eyepet video game.  Mikey was excited that Mommy had made them hot chocolate as a mid-afternoon snack.  David was silent for a while.  He finally spoke up and stated, “Daddy, I’m not going to talk about jet packs, know why?  ‘Cuz that makes Mom mad.”  He dragged out the word mad as if it were terribly difficult to say.  I looked at him, startled, and then a red flush crept up my face as I remembered the harsh way I had spoken to him only moments earlier.  I quickly apologized, told him that I was not mad at him, and encouraged him to talk about his jet pack obsession.  He was only too happy to oblige.  Chris fielded most of the questions; so I was left to my thoughts. . . and my guilt.  A Bible verse that I make the kids say every time they speak unkindly to each other came to mind.  “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 NIV)   I noted a stray sprig of cilantro on the side of my bowl and thought how that little seasoning made the dish taste amazing.  I had not seasoned my words when I spoke to my son.  If anything, I had sprinkled them with way too much black pepper so the whole thing jarred the tastebuds of the receiver.

I typed out that verse in the notepad on my phone.  I pray God will bring it to memory the next time I am tempted to speak without grace, to reprimand without love, to lecture without kindness.  May my words, especially to the ones I love the most, be seasoned with grace and compassion.