October 20, 2014

When I was Wrong

I'm just going to start writing and see the form this post takes.

Something bothered me about my last post but I couldn't quite totally put my finger on it. I kept asking God, What is it? Please give me your wisdom and discernment. If I said anything wrong, please show me, I want to correct it. Why don't I have peace? What is it??

And I think after prayer and time in the Word and a timely conversation with a friend and a couple sermons, it came down to two things:

1) I love the Church. I do. But have you ever read something that created contempt in you towards something or someone? I'm trying to think of something specific... Like if you read a very anti-fill-in-the-blank post or opinion or comment or status you come away with this contempt and disgust towards that specific topic/person/party/subject? I think my last post, however inadvertently and unintended, had a high likelihood of creating contempt towards preaching and pastors and the Church in America.

Don't get me wrong. There's a place for sound judgment, and that's Biblical. But I think when we exercise Biblical judgment it should be specific and have strong Biblical grounds. But if we just make blanket statements towards something overall, it paints the entire picture in a negative light, when in reality there are a lot of people in the body of Christ in America who love Jesus and his Word and are seeking to follow him as best as they know how.

With that said, I shouldn't have generally targeted topical teaching or the Church overall in America. Because while I'm inside my head and know exactly what I mean, nobody else is and so you only hear what I write and not all the inner dialogue that accompanies it.

So to clarify: what do I even mean about a small God and what did topical teaching or the Church in American have to do with my statement?

I'm going to use an illustration Matt uses that I think is so wise and helps us easily understand. If I don't eat anything all week and then Sunday morning comes along and I finally eat something, I'm going to scarf it down because I'm starving. But I'm going to be starving again in a few hours because my body is malnourished but that's too bad because my next meal isn't for seven more days. Well, to add to that, what if the meal I had was just a hotel-type breakfast buffet? Very light, non-substantive food. That adds to an already serious problem.

Unfortunately, I think that's what can often happen in many believers' walk with God. We don't seek God or read his Word or talk with him at all during the week and then Sunday comes along and we try to spiritually stuff ourselves, hoping it'll last but most often it doesn't and then we start the week off again in that same pattern and it doesn't take long before we're spiritually malnourished. Well, what if we add to an already serious problem and the only spiritual food we get on Sunday is light and fluffy and non-substantive? It doesn't teach or equip us how to know and walk with God ourselves, which is very, very Biblical and is actually what shepherds in the New Testament are encouraged to do: equip believers into maturity in their faith and knowing Christ.

This is a downwards spiral that is very likely to lead us into all sorts of unBiblical thinking, like: something bad happened to me, God doesn't love me; I don't feel God so he must not love me or be near to me; I don't feel like reading his Word so I won't; I'm not equipped to talk about God or share Jesus with others so I won't; I'm afraid what people will think of me when I pray so I don't, and on and on.

The only way those types of beliefs (and many others) about God are confronted and grown is in light of the truth of Scripture and growing in the knowledge of Christ, both through his Word and in communing with him. If we're not doing these things, we easily develop a small or inaccurate view of God.

It's always awkward when you're first getting to know someone; it takes time and intentionality and purposefulness to get to a place of familiarity and deeper trust and I think the same is often true of God as we pursue knowing him and getting to a place of trust and loving him and stepping out in faith (which gets deeper and deeper the longer we pursue him and walk with him).

Which I think lends to a bigger and more accurate view of God, a big God if you will. Does it take tragedy to become discontent with shallow belief and a desire to know him more? No, absolutely not. It takes a starting place. For me, it happened in college. I grew up in a legalistic church where knowing God equated trying not to do bad things (like have a TV in your home) and trying really hard to do good things (like be at every church event). Both of those were outward things and hardly indicative of a truly transformed heart. I can't remember one time hearing that Jesus transforms us from the inside out and gives us his Holy Spirit to do what we can't do in our natural selves, however well-intentioned we may be; like Ravi Zacharias has so perfectly said, The Holy Spirit doesn't just change what we do, he changes what we want to do. Boom. Yes.

Our desires change. And when we sin, it grieves us. And when we've gone several days without spending any time with him, we feel it. When I said that for me it started in college, this is what it looked like: I had a woman (hi, Laura!) start meeting with me every week and for the first time I was actually being equipped and taught to study the Bible for myself and talk to Jesus normally and without fanciful words and invoking a passionate voice (anyone relate? or was that just me?). But the number one thing I started doing was to simply ask Jesus for what I lacked (and it's a discipline I do to this very day): Lord, would you give me a desire to read your word? Would you give me a desire to meet with you? Would you fill me with hunger and passion to know you and your Word? Would you stir the affections of my heart to love you and to love what you love?

I asked and I still ask. I began to be gut-honest with him about where I was at and my lack of desire. And that continues to this day. I've become more and more gut-honest with him through the years, particularly after the last almost-two years.

Does this all make sense? I feel like I'm rambling.

So, reigning it in. I shouldn't have made such general statements about the Church in America because we can get wisdom and grow from topical or less-inductive sermons. It just can't be our only spiritual food. It has to be coupled with knowing and loving Jesus for ourselves or we'll be ill-equipped for anything other than good tidings.

And (and I promise this is it),

2) This one is brief. I strongly recommended reading, Rare Bird, and I still do but just keep in mind that it's a memoir so it shouldn't be read as a prescriptive book on grief, but rather a descriptive book on one woman's journey of grief. That means I would recommend using discernment on a couple things mentioned in there. Overall, a great book though.

Ok, whew, what are your thoughts? Can you relate? Any stories of your own?

And a couple pictures to make up for my rambling...

(These are oldies but goodies.)

Blankie marks on Asher's face, he's woken up like that since he was about a month old!

October 17, 2014

Grace showed me that I'm done with pursuing a small God

Wednesday was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I debated whether I was going to even mention it. I felt the same way that I felt about Congenital Heart Defect Awareness week back in February - I hated it. I hated that it meant something personally to me. I wanted to be sad for other people. Or better yet, I didn't even want to know it existed. Like before, when everything in my life fit comfortably. I was confident of my views about God and his Word. I was confident that there were Biblical answers for EVERYTHING. (I can't hardly stomach the know-it-all I was before our lives changed so drastically that January 18th day.)

But I did mention it because I know I'm not alone. So many others could relate personally to that day too. It means something a whole lot different than just a sort of passing holiday like Columbus Day (which by the way, why are we still celebrating?)

I just finished the book, Rare Bird (read it. Please read it. Whether you can relate personally or not, please read it.), and the author said something so profound that completely encapsulates how I feel today, now, in the aftermath of loss and grief:

Ask me on a Wednesday and I'll say that Jack's death is part of God's beautiful plan for the world and that every action and every second of that terrible Thursday had to happen in order for that plan to be fulfilled, though my human eyes are too clouded to see what it is. Ask me on Friday and I'll say we live in a sinful world where bad things happen to good people while an all-knowing God let this happen to Jack - even gave us a foreboding of what was to come - He didn't make it happen. Other days I won't say anything at all. I mean, what do I know?

I'm certainly not willing to drag other hurting mothers into my brain games as I try one idea or another on for size. I'm not going to tell a mother whose first grader was gunned down in a classroom that it was part of God's plan. I may be there with Jack's death on more days that I'm not, but I refuse to come to these conclusions for anyone else. 

And it's tricky. Because hurting people want to understand; we want to know why. But we don't want people coming to conclusions for us, feeding us neat little answers of what God's will is and how His mind and heart work. No thank you.

I guess the only thing that is certain to me now is that the small God I followed before, the one I must secretly have believed would spare my family pain if I just didn't ask for too much or set my sights too high, is somehow not big enough to carry me now.

That little God isn't the one who comforts me when I despair. No, it's a big God, whose loving voice reminds me of my mother's, who gently whispers to me, "I know, Anna. I know, honey. I know."

I am so done with a small God. I am so done with a God that can be wrapped up in a topical sermon, full of elaborate props and silly illustrations. Do you know what that did for me in my darkest hour? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I once expressed concern to a pastor whose church we had been attending for a significant amount of time that I couldn't remember the last time I had heard him preach the Gospel. His response? Well, I guess I consider myself more of an encourager, more of a motivational preacher.

What? There is no encouragement apart from the Gospel. It literally means Good News. What's more encouraging than that? The good news that God is a God who forgives, redeems, restores, transforms, makes new.

I don't need to have a catchy sermon title with flashy props. I need God. The one described in the Bible.

I want to know about the God who met Elijah in the wilderness when Elijah wanted to die because he was so profoundly discouraged. Did God give him a three-point motivational talk about what he can do to snap himself out of it and start receiving those blessings and speak the word of faith? No, he sent an an angel to minister to his most immediate needs. Then he spoke words of empathy and compassion, Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you. And then he sent Elijah to a mountain and said, Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.

He revealed himself to Elijah. Not in demonstrative acts of grandeur (he wasn't in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire) but through a gentle whisper. And it was enough for Elijah. He returned to the work God had given him to do.

That's the God I want to know. That's the God who can't be contained, summed up, wrapped up, explained away, minimized, who quite frankly, destroys all cutesy perceptions about him that we propagate through shallow, entertainment-oriented, numbing American church practices.

Too few are equipped to withstand and endure loss and suffering and calamity because most of our spiritual upbringing has been about making us a more moral person, not about knowing the God of the universe in his power, his love, his gentleness, his nearness, through his Word, and talking and communing with him.

And without planning for this to all work together this way, this is what I read in my devotional time this morning:

"We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known, as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything" (2nd Corinthians 6:3-10).

God and faith and knowing him and walking with him and loving him and others are much more profound and deeper and richer and better than simply having good morals. Real life calls for much more than that. Maybe those silly illustrations and promises of prosperity work in a good, calamity-free world, but not in the one I live in.

I no longer feel this pressure to have a spiritual answer and bow-tied experience to share with people. This is what I know: I don't know why our story is what it is, but I know that the God I love now is so much better than the small view I had before. He has been profoundly near, profoundly loving, profoundly more powerful and bigger than I ever fathomed. And I love to meet with him. I love that this journey isn't done and I have more time to be transformed as I look to him and love his Word.

October 14, 2014

Where do we find ourselves this fall season?

I can't believe I haven't posted since August. I wanted to give my blog a big, fluffy hug when I pulled it up just now. I miss writing. I miss this place. I write often in my journal but there's something about thinking out loud and "conversating" with others through this space.

Life is rolling along as usual around here. In place of trying to catch up on all my thoughts, I'll post an update on each of us. (It's also fun for me to come back and read what life was like at different seasons.)

He's in his final three months of clinicals for the Family Nurse Practitioner program. I (we) have never wanted something to be done and over with so much in our entire lives. It's been the most intense three years we've ever experienced. (Don't anyone ever tell me that you can't go to school because you have a family. Matt has done it working full-time the entire time WHILE having babies and kids and losing our precious daughter and moving twice and a whole lot more.) It's only by the grace of God and Matt's hard (HARD) work that we've come so far and the finish line is in sight but if God can give us the grace to do it, he can give anyone the grace to do it. It also helps that he loves clinicals (which is good because it's what he'll be doing so that's great, right?). He (we) are just weary of juggling so many responsibilities - work, clinicals, school, studying, family. But, as always, Matt's just plain awesome about everything.

His mom and dad both visited us in the last month.

I'm also plugging along. I turned 31 a few weeks ago and I know this is so cliche I can't hardly stand it, but really the 30s are so much better than the 20s. I feel like for the first time I'm really understanding who and how and why I am. I'm not self-conscious or apologetic anymore about things (like having a strong-willed personality). It's how Jesus made me and especially the last couple of years I've found so much comfort and encouragement and celebration of who I am (rather than the regular stream of "correction" and discouragement I've gotten from many people along the way). And Matt (who matters the most) tells me regularly, I love who you are. I love that guy. I have more to share, about my Grace and things Jesus has been teaching me about myself and parenting, but I'll save those for a separate post.

He's 4 1/2 and in pre-school at a new school this year. We're all loving it, especially him. The teacher is fantastic and he comes home with such quality things he's learning. The other day we were driving away from a park and out of nowhere he started asking me questions about Jesus and how he lives in our hearts and how can he live in two places at once. I pulled the car over to talk to him face to face because the questions warranted undivided attention. I explained as simply as possible the Gospel (which is really simple or Jesus wouldn't have praised children for understanding what the most learned couldn't). I could tell his wheels were turning. I pray unceasingly that Jesus would draw the hearts of my sons to himself and I have great peace knowing I never have to force anything. Jesus is powerful enough, I just need to be mindful of those goldmine moments. Micah continues to grow up (why? WHY??) and amaze us with who he's becoming. He's very different than me and sometimes he and I struggle because of that but like I've told him for as long as I can remember, I love you and I love who you are. 

Asher just turned 3 and this little guy is a firecracker, and we love him for it. He's probably the most like me which means I often know how to engage with him. His age group filled up this year for pre-school so he's home with Luke and me but he's fine with it. He loves to play with Micah and others but he plays great by himself too. I love to watch him when he doesn't know I'm watching. He has such a vivid imagination and has whole worlds running smoothly with just a few cars and legos and airplanes. He's the most affectionate of us all and is constantly saying things like, Mom, you're piddy. I love you. He can be very stubborn if the mood hits him but overall he's very amiable and fun to be around.

He's 4 1/2 months now and also 20 pounds and oh, this little guy. He has completely stolen our hearts. I love him so much. He's finally started sleeping through the night again (like 7-7ish) after a severe sleep regression that nearly sent me into the abyss. Overall he's a very happy, contented baby. He loves Micah especially and Micah loves trying to make him smile and laugh. It's the sweetest thing to see. Sweet wee one.

(I couldn't refrain from overposting pictures of him. But he's the baby, it goes with the territory.) 

So here we are. A brief recap of where we've been these fall days. I'll be writing more about my sweet Grace and other thoughts I've been thinking but this'll do for now.

I love hearing back from you guys and I read and try to respond back to every comment (both here and on Facebook) so tell me, what have your days looked like?

August 28, 2014

Asher's 3rd Birthday Questionnaire

The end of August is always a busy birthday season for us. This year Matt turned 32 on the 26th and Asher turned 3 on the 27th. We had a big birthday party for Asher at our house and then a quiet dinner with a few friends for Matt's birthday.

Both nights were fun and memorable celebrating two of my favorite guys.

I did a questionnaire with Asher like I did with Micah on his fourth birthday. His answers are so funny, they totally encapsulate our sweet and funny boy.

1. Favorite color: pink

2. Favorite toy: my turtle one (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

3. Favorite TV show: Tigger

4. Favorite movie: the Lego movie with Batman on it

5. Favorite food: ice cream

6. Favorite animal: peanut butter and jelly

7. Favorite song: Speak Life (same as Micah's on his birthday)

8. Best friend: Micah

9. Favorite drink: water

10. Favorite thing to play outside: riding my bike

11. Favorite breakfast: peanut butter and jelly

12. Favorite lunch: peanut butter and jelly and ice cream

13. Favorite thing about Micah: It's his birthday

14. Favorite thing about Daddy: Daddy

15. Favorite thing about Mommy: I don't know, Mom.

16. Favorite dessert: ice cream

17. What do you want to be when you grow up: a plane

Oh our funny boy, we love you more than we can say. His name means "blessed" or "happy" and it's true in every sense of the words. I laughed when they placed him on my chest and I laugh every day now at some silly thing he does or says. I couldn't imagine life without the fullness and joy he brings to it.

Thank you to everyone who came and celebrated our boy with us!

August 13, 2014

Why I can become weary of Churchdom

I started this post a couple of weeks ago and kept coming back to it but just couldn't quite put it all together. I wasn't going to publish it but I think a few of us can relate. It's not totally polished or clean but I've had these thoughts swirling for quite some time now and then I had an incident happen that drew a clear line of demarcation. And I thought, This is what I mean.

So here it is.

Yesterday, on the spur of the moment, Matt and I decided to visit a church we've never been to. I'd had to run and meet someone leaving him with all the kids so I got to the new church before he did. I was standing outside waiting for him and a man (probably late 20s) walked up with his dog and sat on a rock just a few feet from me. He was obviously a "transient". I don't know how else to describe him except to use that word. And I don't mean it negatively, just descriptively.

He had a dog and I commented on what I thought he had called him. Bums. He laughed and said, No, Bones

We ended up exchanging small talk for a few minutes. I said that I was waiting for my husband and three kids. He said, Three? Wow, you must be busy! I said, Well,  actually we've had four in four years but we lost one. As I explained, his face transformed into one of the most sincere looks of compassion I've ever received. He closed his eyes and blew his breath out slowly.

There was something about him; he had a certain depth and simple sincerity to him. I asked him more questions about himself and when I found out he was from New Hampshire, I asked him how he ended up here. He shared how he had turned from the Lord when he was 17 after his dad died unexpectedly and had spent the next seven years on the road. He had recently come back to the Lord and God had given him a picture of mountains and rivers and the stirring to make his way this way. He originally thought God wanted him in Washington but when he was coming through this area, he knew this was it.

He said he spent those wayward years turning people away from God and now he wants God to use him to turn people towards him. He's not sure what that looks like but he's been experiencing such an incredible community of faith (at that church) that he's decided to stay longer.

We talked more about losing my Grace, him losing his dad, him losing three children through abortions that different girlfriends chose to have during those wayward years, how loss and grief can make faith deeper and stronger.

It was one of the richest and most genuine, faith-encouraging conversations I've gotten into ever with a stranger at church. There was no shallow small talk and then looking for an excuse to leave or go sit down, having done our part to "greet somebody new".

And I knew what he was talking about. That the fact that he was experiencing a rich community at church was enough to keep him here longer. Because it's not the norm.

And here's where I'm going to be very honest about something.

Sometimes I get very, very tired of Churchdom in our country. Not CHRISTendom. Churchdom.

I get so weary of showing up on Sunday and knowing what to expect. High fashion. Shallow small talk. Word of the latest weekend on the lake, at the beach, in the mountains, at work. Rarely, if ever, getting into deeper or faith-filled conversations. Leaving and still feeling disconnected and like this whole Christian "community" is a farce.

I'm not saying those other conversations are wrong; it's just when that's all there is week after week, it leaves a soul desiring so much more.

I sat through the service yesterday and thought about that guy and our conversation. I thought about what was different about it. And I realized it was because there was no pretense. He didn't have any self-consciousness about himself; he was simply engaging the next person that showed up in his sphere (me) with conversation that was spurred from a natural outflow of his walk with God.

And then the next day I was reading in 1st Corinthians 4. Paul is confronting the Corinthians because they had started to act as if their wealth and giftings were somehow of themselves. He said, What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1st Corinthians 4:7)

He then went on to contrast their (the apostles') condition: To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless (4:11).

I was completely taken aback at the word homeless. Because it's exactly how I had described this man. And it made me wonder (again) if we're the ones to be pitied. We have our wealth and giftings and more resources available than any other generation and yet so often it produces boasting, pride, selfishness, shallowness. Just before these verses Paul tells them, I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready (3:2).

I don't want to be a Corinthian. (I also don't want to be homeless.)

But I do want depth. I want it in my own soul and I want it in the soul of the Church.

So how do we do that? What does it take?

I think it's simple in answer and difficult in practice.

I think it first takes spending time with the Lord and in his Word. This transforms our hearts over time and creates a tangible outflow of loving him and loving others. Through conversation, through prayer, through service, through encouragement, through exhortation, and so on. "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth" (1st John 3:18).

And then I think it takes intentionally creating an atmosphere of authenticity and openness, truly engaging others. It means we care about the next person who shows up in our sphere; we decide that they matter. Sometimes it means that we're the initiators and others times it means we're the responders. But we engage.

So I want to start there. I can't change an entire culture but I can decide that the next person who crosses my sphere matters. Their story matters. Their life matters. I can look them in their eyes and listen with my heart and maybe, just maybe, they'll walk away feeling a little less isolated and a little more known.