Friday, November 16, 2012

Minding My P's

I took a deep breath.  I’m pretty sure I was sweating.  This is ridiculous, I thought.  As hard as I tried, I could not fit all of our scheduled activities inside that little white box on the calendar.  In a moment, I was a ball of stress, ready to skip this holiday season altogether.
I know I’m not alone.  We all have too much going on and too little time to get it all done.  We all struggle with saying yes and saying no and cramming too much “good stuff” into what little time we have.  It happens to me every single year right about this time.  And so often, I come dangerously close to missing what this season is all about.
Trying to get ahead of myself this year, I’m choosing to be mindful of my “P’s.”  Perfectionism and People-Pleasing.  Why these two get turned up a hundred degrees during this winter season is beyond me, but they demand that I keep a constant check on them both.
Perfectionism is something I’ve been trying to overcome for a while now.  Not only do I struggle with thinking everything around me should be perfect, but there is a desire deep within me to make myself perfect, too.  In my mind I know this is impossible, yet I strive for it daily.  And it doesn’t stop there.  If I expect myself to be perfect, then you can bet my expectations for those around me are way up there as well.  Especially those who are closest to me. 
While I’ve made some strides in lowering those unrealistic expectations, I still get sucked back in every now and then.  And it usually happens when my mind is cluttered and distracted.  I read an awesome book this summer, given to me by a dear friend who understands my struggle.  It’s called You’re Already Amazing, by Holley Gerth.  And I found the most freeing piece of scripture within her message:
If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.  1 John 4:12 (NKJV)
I now realize that I don’t have to be perfect, because God’s perfect love lives inside of me.  This word for perfect actually means complete, whole.  My life in Christ should continue to grow and mature, but it begins when I acknowledge that I am nothing without Jesus.  That He is what gives my life meaning.  He is what makes me complete.
This spring, Cody bought me a pair of polarized sunglasses for our anniversary.  First of all, I should say, I have never spent more than $20 on a pair of sunglasses and that’s at the high end.  A $5 pair has always served its purpose just fine.  But, having purchased some polarized sunglasses himself for a recent fishing trip, he wanted to splurge and get me these ridiculously, over-priced sunglasses.  When I found out how much they cost, I told me that I could not keep them.  But then, I put them on and walked outside.  Immediately after that, I changed my mind and decided to keep them.  Oh, and I think I said thank you to my sweet husband.
Less than a month later, Jake knocked them off the kitchen counter and a teeny, tiny scratch resulted from the fall. It was barely noticeable… until I put them on.  That teeny, tiny scratch lined up perfectly with the exact spot on the lens that my right eye looked through when I put them on.  After inquiring about replacing the lens (and calculating how many $5 pair of sunglasses I could buy with the money it would require to purchase one lens), I decided to live with the scratch.  It’s a good reminder to me that God can use all those scratches, scrapes, and scars, if I let Him.
I'm learning, through my own brokenness, that when His light lives inside me, He can shine through those cracks, which He allowed in the first place.  I’ve come to appreciate the messiness of life too, and have found beauty in what otherwise seems to be a very ugly place.  And it all started with recognizing that I will never be perfect.  It’s not possible.  And I have wasted so much time and energy trying to make it happen, when God says that He can use me just like this, imperfections and all.
Oh, but there’s that other pesky “P:”  People-pleasing.  This sounds so noble, so gracious, so selfless.  But God has shown me that it is actually the essence of selfishness and pride.  Pleasing people has nothing at all to do with the fact that I care about people… it has everything to do with the fact that I care about what they think of me!  It involves thoughts centered entirely around me.  I’ve been guilty of spending an absorbent amount of time replaying conversations in my head.
What did she mean when she said that?
Oh, I should have said this….
What does she think of me?
That was a dumb thing to say….
And when I give that much brain space to myself, it is sickening.  But that is exactly what people-pleasing is all about.  Putting myself higher than others and wanting desperately to be liked and valued and accepted.  All of the things that God gives to me freely.  I don’t have to win a popularity contest, because He says that I am loved, valued, and accepted, flaws and all. 
A phrase from the book my friend gave to me that I have seared into my memory so I never forget it is this:  “Love all, please One.”
So simple, yet so very hard to live out.  God is the only One who sees my heart, so He is the only One I should be seeking to please.  Matthew 22:37-39 holds Jesus’ response to the question:  “What is the greatest commandment?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (NIV)
We are commanded to love others too, but this comes second to giving God top priority in our hearts.  And loving people is different than pleasing people.  Love accepts that others might not agree with me.  Love gives even though it understands that it is impossible to be liked by everyone.  Making sure that my words, my attitudes, and my actions are pleasing to God lets me off the hook of trying to make everyone like me.  Instead of replaying conversations in my head, wondering what so-and-so thought about such-and-such, I can approach God and ask, “What do you think of this?”  and “What do you think of me?” 
Asking God to share his thoughts is something that I forget to do.  In my busyness, I often seek to get these questions answered by others, when, in fact, God is waiting for me to take those questions to Him.  And when I get still enough and quiet enough, I am always amazed at what I hear in that gentle whisper. 
He waits for us to ask.  He wants us to come to Him and place Him as the top priority in our lives.  The rest just kinda falls into place.  So, as I step back and stare at my jam-packed calendar, I have to stop and ask God,
What do you think about all of this? 
What is most important to you? 
What have I committed to with the wrong motives or wrong attitudes? 
What do I need to let go of?
How do you want my time to be used?
And then comes the challenging part: clearing away the distractions so that I can hear His answer.

Find out what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:10 NIV

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

the color of winter

The color of springtime is in the flowers; 
the color of winter is in the imagination.   
 ~Terri Guillemets


My grace is sufficient for you.  2 Corinthians 12:9
As a Momma of two little ones, I often wonder why a simple task like getting out of bed in the morning can be so stinkin' hard.  This morning I deviated from what I know works for me.  This morning my day began without coffee, without prayer, and without Jesus.  If I ever question whether the time I spend with Him each day counts for anything, the events of this morning cleared up all those uncertainties.
My daily routine involves drinking a full cup of strong coffee (preferably before the kids get up so that it is still hot) and spending some time with Jesus.  This is not because I am holy or disciplined or a good person;  it is because my life is a complete mess without Him and I have come to that place in my life where I realize my total dependence on Him.  In the past, my time with God was always about checking off a box on a long list of things that I told myself I should do.  It was empty to say the least.
Several years ago, God gently took my life and dumped it upside down and made me very aware of the fact that He alone is in control of my life.  At first, I fought it with everything in me, but what I experienced in the middle of the most heart-breaking season of my life was absolute freedom.  I was hurting, no doubt, but I trusted that God would take all that pain and use it somehow.  The realization that I was not in control and that God's plan was entirely different from mine brought me a strange sense of peace.  It made absolutely no sense to me, but I started to want to know more about what His plan for my life involved, because surely it was better than the draft I’d written up. Part of that involved making time each day for Him.  

I won't tell you that I never miss a day...because I do.  Stuff happens.  Just like everybody else, I live a crazy life.  I've had to get real creative with what that time looks like since two little people joined our family two and a half years ago.  But, it is a precious time to me, and every now and then (like today) God reminds me of why I so desperately need it.
For the past couple of weeks, Jake has been getting up when it’s still dark, thanks to daylight-savings.  This morning, he slept in…. until 6:00.  So I took advantage of the extra sleep and stayed in bed, too.  When both kids woke up, we did the usual get-dressed-brush-teeth stuff and then headed downstairs for breakfast.  Somewhere in between making lunches for school and getting breakfast going, I snapped.  I yelled.  Loudly.  There were tears.  Lots and lots of tears… not mine.   

I know what you are thinking…. especially if you are a mom.  Maybe I got your attention.  Perhaps you’re settling in, getting ready to read about what horrible antics my toddlers pulled on me, what catastrophe occurred, or what hilarious story I’m about to disclose.  Well, I’m afraid I have bad news.  I’m sitting here a few hours after my hectic morning, trying so badly to recall what happened, what set me off, what punishable behavior justified my outburst, and I've got nothing.

So where did I leave off?  Oh, yes, the yelling and the tears.  And then my husband entered the room.  He greeted me with: “Why are you yelling?”  To which I responded with: more yelling.  Am I the only one who wants to scream back even louder when someone (such as my sweet, rested husband) points out my apparent flawed attitude?  It got way worse before it got better.  I was ready to crawl back into bed by 7:00am!  

The worst part about my morning was that I knew I was wrong.  I knew I was overreacting.  I knew I did not want to be yelling at my family.  My anger at them turned to anger at myself.  Why is this so hard?  I'm really trying, I thought. And then, I recalled a message I heard yesterday; one that I need to be reminded of often.
It goes something like this:  I can never try hard enough to be patient enough, kind enough, good enough…without Jesus.  I can make up my mind to try to have patience and gentleness every single day and it still won’t be enough…unless I rely on Jesus.  I will continue to end up in this place of guilt and defeat over and over and over again…unless I allow His grace to work in my life. 
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Grace is a gift that I’ve already been given.  I cannot earn it.  I cannot work to get it.  When I try on my own without Jesus... to be patient and not scream at my kids, to love my husband and not resent him for the extra hour of sleep he got, to keep this family afloat during a crazy holiday season,... I end up in the same place I was yesterday.  The Bible says that God has everything I need, and I know He wants to teach me through His Son, Jesus.  Through who He is.  Through what His Word says about the life He lived.  By spending time with Him, I get a better idea of how He can help me approach my hectic day.
Without my dependence on Jesus daily, it just becomes this never-ending list of things I’m striving for… on my own.  And every time I attempt to go that route, I look up and I’m somewhere I don’t want to be.  In the middle of screaming at my entire family this morning, I got a sweet text from a friend, commenting on another post I had written on this blog.  She told me she thought I was such a patient mom.  When I read her sweet words, meant to encourage me, I realized that God, in His great sense of humor, had used those words to remind me that I am nothing without Jesus.  I am not patient.  I am not kind.  I am not peaceful.  Only when I go deeper into my understanding of who He is am I even able to grasp what it means to live like He did.  As I drove my kids to school, I wondered how I let my morning get so far out of control, and then I remembered this verse:  My grace is sufficient for you.  2 Corinthians 12:9
Thank you, Jesus, for your grace. Thank you that no matter how badly I mess up, your grace is always enough.  Thank you that I have been freed from the burden of striving to be good enough.   Please help me to accept your grace and extend grace to others, including my family.  Without you I am nothing.  Thank you for showing me what a difference you make in my everyday life.  Thank you for reminding me how ugly it can be when I lose sight of you.  Amen.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

In The Struggle

As Jake and Lilly quickly approach two and a half, a precious new phrase is uttered daily and now bounces off the walls of our home. 
“No!  Me do!”
Getting dressed, getting undressed, brushing teeth, washing hands, climbing into the car, climbing out of the car, buckling seat belts, unbuckling seat belts, putting shoes on, taking shoes off… I could go on and on and on.  Jake’s newest discovery is the mobility of the step stool.  This has opened up so many doors for his little adventurous spirit… as well as many drawers that should remain shut.

Some of these tasks are easy for them to do.  They are 100% capable and complete them independently.  Others require my help and they can’t stand the thought of that!  For example, while getting undressed is easy, getting dressed is a different feat altogether.  In order to avoid a complete and total battle-of-the-wills at 7:00 am, I have learned (painfully, I’ll admit) to allow “the struggle.”
Let me define “the struggle:”
Those simple little morning routines that six months ago took us about fifteen minutes to complete can now require as much time as an hour…. or more, depending on the general mood of the morning.  So, instead of trying to rein in my little people who think they can do everything all by themselves, I let them exert as much effort and determination as they can possibly muster up, and allow them to give it everything they’ve got.  My struggle to get two toddlers out the door in the morning has been replaced with their struggle to figure it out, and in the process, has provided pure entertainment for a Momma at her wit’s end.
This week, as “No! Me do! No! Meeeeee do! Nooooooooo! Meeeeee dooooo!” poured out of the mouth of my wee one, I took a step back and watched, smiling at the sight of two legs going through the same pant leg…. backwards.  After a time of struggling on her own, a tiny body with a horrible wardrobe malfunction hobbled over and said, “Pease hep!”

And “please help” is my cue.  Only after those words are uttered do I step in and assist.  Sometimes, my kids realize right away that they need my help and other times it is a painstakingly slow and grueling process.  But I wait.
During that particular struggle this week, I realized that God does the same for me.  He allows “the struggle,” and probably gets a kick out of my efforts, which always end up completely jumbled without Him.  But He waits patiently for me to realize that I need Him.  That I can’t do anything without Him, but through Him, I can do all things because He gives me strength.  (See Philippians 4:13) 
In Matthew 9:28-29, Jesus asks two blind men, desperate for healing, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  As they answer, “Yes,” Jesus restores their sight and says to them, “According to your faith let it be done to you.”  
Merriam Webster defines faith as “the firm belief in something for which there is no proof;  complete trust.”  During the last six weeks, I’ve had to repeatedly rely on my so-called “faith.”  And lately, after making my requests known to God, I’ve often pictured Jesus asking me this same question:  “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”
If I’m honest, sometimes I really don’t.  Sometimes, I buy into the lie that God must need my help.  That my efforts could speed things up, move things along.  He must sit back and chuckle when I tell Him how I think He should run this show.  It is such a ridiculous thought when I picture the same scenario going on between me and my two toddlers. How could my efforts do anything but get in His way and muddle things up?
But it’s right there in the middle of my “struggle” that I remember His power and strength, and I realize that He is able. There are numerous more healings in the book of Matthew and each time Jesus makes someone well, He says something similar. 
To the Roman officer who has faith in a single authoritative word from Jesus, he replies, “Because you believed, it has happened.” (Matthew 8:13 NLT) 
To the sick woman who reaches out in faith to touch Jesus’ cloak, believing that it is enough to heal her, Jesus says, “Take heart, daughter.  Your faith has healed you.” (Matthew 9:22 NIV)
To the leper who says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean,” Jesus answers, “I am willing.  Be clean!”  (Matthew 8:2-3 NIV, emphasis mine)
As I continued reading about the people Jesus healed and those He raised from the dead and all the other miraculous things He did, this verse stopped me dead in my tracks:  “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”  (Matthew 13:58 NIV)  I so badly do not want to be that place!  Though I’m glad God allows me to struggle it out on my own, I don’t want to choose that path, if I can help it. Life is much less hectic, when I allow my faith, not my fear, to direct my day.  If Jesus asks me, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  I want my answer to be a resounding, “Yes!” 
So, how do I get there?  
Remembering how He has worked in my life in the past helps me to recognize his power and authority in my present.  
Focusing on who He is reminds me of what He is able to do. 

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”  Matthew 17:20-21