Monday, December 26, 2011

Give me Your eyes so I can see

This song has pretty much been the anthem of these last couple months of my life. It's one of my all-time favorites.

Give me Your eyes for just one second....
I feel like I'm looking at the world through a different pair of lenses.  It's still blurry most of the time, but now and then, I get a clear glimpse of the deep-seated heartache of a passer-by, the desperate longing for something more in the eyes of a mother doing her grocery shopping, the attempt to conceal worry and concern in the man selling the Sunday paper in the busy intersection.

I know I miss so much- my mind whirling as I go through the motions of the day, reflexes tuned to my children's moves but not to the hearts around me.  Occupying myself with noise and flashing images, as if I'm afraid of silence and stillness. I'm caught up in myself, and I miss all the people the Lord would have me reach out to, even if it's just to smile and give a friendly hello.

Give me Your arms for the broken hearted....More and more, I see those around me for who they are. Broken-hearted beings in search of something to fill that gaping hole. Burnt out on life- on marriage, parenthood, careers..... The senile old woman- missing her family, feeling abandoned ever since her husband died. The man with road rage- always angry, always at the boiling point, never satisfied, always in a rush and wishing he could just have peace. The flustered young woman who snaps at her child- trying to juggle her roles as wife, mother, daughter, and friend and feeling quite inept.

I remember, in one of my darkest hours, driving down the interstate in my black Nissan Sentra, baby Merika buckled into her carseat, tears streaming down my face and a parade of emotions marching through my soul. I remember coming to that bridge, punching in the gas, determined to crash through the barriers.... end it all.  And then my cell phone rang.....

I think of all the times a friend or family member called at the perfect time, the God-time, the time I needed it most. And that hello on the other end of the phone was like God wrapping His arms around me and pulling me to safety, reassuring me, saving me, loving me.  I thank the Lord for people who listen to the Holy Spirit when He says, "Make that call," or "Stop by her home," or "Write that letter."

Give me Your love for humanity.....
There's something we all have in common- we're all human. And, despite all our differences, preferences, and backgrounds.... we are all made from the mold of humanity.  Lord, it's so easy to point fingers and shake fingers and give the finger when it suits us because we feel (or know) we are right.  We forget how wrong we've been and the mistakes we've made. It's my nature to offer myself more grace than I would someone else.  Isn't that the truth for us all?

If there's one thing I've learned from sticking my foot in my mouth a few hundred times, it's that we rarely know the whole story.  We judge based on actions, what we would do, how it affects us, blah blah blah- but we.... I.... often have a hard time looking at the heart of the person.  I spent a couple years resenting my husband- hating him, really- because I was more concerned about my own heart than his. I allowed myself grace, but him I gave none.  I wanted him to understand my perspective, but I was not interested in his heart, his view, his feelings.  Of course, I don't think I could have verbalized any of this at the time, but it is very clear to me, looking back, that mercy was a tool I used in manipulation.  But grace and mercy aren't really grace and mercy when they are not used in the spirit of unconditional love.  It's easy to do something when it serves me, when it benefits me, when it feels good to me.... when it causes no pain on my behalf.

But then I see the Lord's love for humanity- His own creation.  A love like no other that led the Word of God to become flesh to save the souls of men.  (John 1:1-14)  Not something He had to do, but something He desired to do because He loves us.  A choice.  A choice to endure shame and pain and rejection.  To be nailed to a cross and suffer the sins of the world.  It's hard to understand, to comprehend.  And maybe that's what keeps a lot of people from becoming Christians- they don't understand why this man, Jesus of Nazareth, "had" to die on the cross and how that painful death saves them from their sins. I admit, for the longest time I didn't really understand it either.  Maybe if we understood that we'd have a clearer picture of God's love for us.

I want that love- love that doesn't count the cost to me, but just sees the need in others and reaches out. My hands and feet as Jesus' hands and feet. My heart beating one with His.

Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten....

He wasn't a beggar- he was selling the Sunday paper on the corner.  He was bent over his a stack of papers when we pulled up to the light.  "Is he wearing a woman's jacket?" I noted, more as a comment rather than a question.  His jacket was the sort you see unfashionable old women wearing these days. It might have passed for a man's jacket as it was made mostly of slick black material, the kind "windpants" are made of, except the sort that is poofy like we wore in the 90's with a piece of floral material across the back.

He shook uncontrollably, not because of the cold (although it was a little chilly), but because of some nervous disorder.  Immediately I felt my heart pricked.  He was old, his face weathered.  I'm not sure what nationality he was, and at first I thought he might be Korean, but the wrinkles hooded his eyes, and so I couldn't  be sure. Maybe he was from Honduras or even from India. Regardless, he's a creation of God.
I reached for my purse, then I set it back down. I looked down at it, mouth opened wide, wallet within view. Brandon looked at me, seeing the inner argument unfold. He looked at my purse and at me as I quickly snatched my wallet from the bowels of my bag, zipped it open and thrust a crisp bill his way before I could contemplate it any further.

Brandon rolled down his window, and the old man in the woman's jacket leaned forward, holding up a paper.

"No paper," Brandon said, shaking his head. "Merry Christmas," he smiled as he folded the bill into the man's shaking hands. I could tell he hadn't held many of these.  He stared at it, hand shaking, wind flapping the cash wildly. I was afraid it was going to whip out of his hands and be carried off by the breeze.  His mouth moved, his body shook, and I couldn't hear his words as he stepped away from our van, still staring at the money before he tucked it into the safety of his pocket.

"What was that about?" Brandon asked, referring to the up-purse, down-purse.
"I knew God wanted me to give him the money Mom and Dad gave me as a gift. It was so clear, but I felt like I just wanted to think it over.  Then I realized, no... if I think it over, I'll make an excuse, the light will turn green, the moment will pass, and I'll have ignored that still, small voice which was so definite and sure. I don't know what he'll do with the money, I just know that God wanted me to give it to him."
I spent the rest of the drive wondering about the man.  What is his story? Where does he come from? What are his desperate needs?  Does he have family to provide for? Does he have a home? Does he know the Lord? I should pray for him, I thought.  I can give him money, but what he really needs is prayer.

A week or so ago, I received a book in the mail from our curriculum supplier, Sonlight.  The Holzman's, the family behind Sonlight, had read a book written by their friend, Clare DeGraaf, and found it so moving that they wanted to share it with Sonlighters.  It amazes me how God moves through other people, and I was so thankful to receive the gift of The 10 Second Rule.  
The 10 Second Rule is an easy read. It's not a lengthy book with a complicated, hard to follow message. In fact, the message is rather simple. Do the next thing you are reasonably certain God wants you to do (which, by the way, will never contradict what He requests of Christ-followers in the Scriptures).  It's interesting that this book should arrive at the time in my life when I am really trying to tune into the desires and promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Not a coincidence, I'd say.

It was as if God Himself was saying, "Mandy, stop over-thinking it. Stop. Listen. Obey."

I confess, I do tend to over-think things.  Will he waste the money?  Will that person think I'm strange if I give her a hug? Is God really asking me to do ____?

And, truth is, sometimes there are times when it's me that would like to do something, and it's not God calling me to do it.   When God impresses upon me to do something, it's clear and hard to ignore... even though I may try.  But my husband will tell you that I'm one of those "let's save the world" types who wants to help everyone.  But, I'm beginning to see a difference between "Mandy wants" and "God wants".

Of course, all of this applies within my own family. Do I see their needs? Oh Lord, build within me that discernment- to know when to speak and when to hold my tongue, to know when they need that hug or special Mom-moment, to do things at the right time.  To know when my husband desperately needs that kiss or hug or alone time with me... when he needs me to stop everything and just be with him.  To listen for that prompting to call my mom at "just the right time", when she needs to talk or needs to know she's loved.
Like I said, it's easy for me to wrapped up in the "Mandyness"- you know, the chores that need to be done, daily frustrations, minor irritations, what's going on in my own head. I don't want to be like that. I want my heart to be open and my mind focused on the Lord, ready for the task He has prepared for me.  I don't want to miss those moments.  I want to see others through God-glasses, lay aside my own concerns, worries, and agendas and live for Him- truly taking my place in the Body of Christ, reaching out with Jesus-love.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What I learned from skipping Christmas

 I am really, really glad we decided to do a low-key Christmas this year.  It was truly a relaxed, hassle-free holiday for once, especially since we were able to avoid all the chaos of the stores.
We were able to steer clear of most of the commercial holiday gimmicks (especially since we don't watch television), and no one seemed to miss going sans-trees and holiday decor. (Although, I still do have a fake strand of evergreen above the kitchen windows- it's been there for a year.)  I've read so many posts on Facebook, blogs, and other places in which people exclaim that they are so stressed out.  And, from my current prospective, I have to say that most of that stress is self-done.  I feel we choose to put so much on ourselves around the holiday seasons- we want it to look and feel a certain way, and we think we have to have so many gifts under the tree, and the family meal has to go just perfect and....

Then there's the depression that sets in when you cannot afford to buy very many gifts for your children, and the pretty Christmas picture you have in your mind does not unfold as you wish it would. I know what that's like, I've been there as well.  But, more and more lately, our family has been looking at other families around the world and seeing that, even at our poorest, we are incredibly rich.  

We complain about not having this or that gadget or toy, or not having the best gifts under the tree, or there not being ham at the Christmas Eve dinner (finger pointing at my husband here, ha!) .... and we're so caught up in what we want, what we desire, and things we think we need... when in reality, it's all a cherry on top. I suppose this is one of the big negatives of living in America where wealth is taken for granted and called "poverty", where people who have a big screen television and expensive gadgets complain about not having enough food on the table. I don't think we understand how completely ridiculous that sounds to someone in Lesotho, South Africa where our friend, Nkutu, lives.
Our perspective is extremely skewed, and we call our selfish desires our "rights", and we think we deserve every little thing we desire while people who work harderthan us, live tougher than us, and see things no human being should ever see struggle just to get food on the table

Believe me, I'm preaching to myself as much as anyone else.
And, maybe it sounds like I can say this stuff now because we're doing good financially, but that hasn't always been the case.  And, while the main reason we're doing well financially is because of the grace of God, another reason is because we've learned our lesson in managing money, don't buy anything we can't pay with in cash, and try to keep a savings stored up.  However, all of that is just MONEY and it can be gone in a second.. and someday it will.  (Seriously, all China has to do is cash in on all the debt we owe them, and the people of the United States are going to find that they won't be able to afford a loaf of bread!)

For all the folks talking about the "Christmas Spirit", I really hope they aren't talking about the Spirit of Christ... because that's not what I see this time of year (for the most part). What I see is a spirit of materialism, people concerned about what they are getting, what to get for other people, who got something better than they did.....  and depressed when the "Christmas Spirit" doesn't hit us like we hoped, and we can't smile through the season because the season is a hassle and a hoax and is making us go broke and our kids hardly appreciate the things we spent good money on.
Know what I mean?

I'm not saying we can't have nice things, but man... so often we make life about those "nice things".  This morning, I was looking at my face in the  mirror, noticing the subtle changes that aging brings, and I actually felt okay with that.  It's just a face, it's just skin, it's just a vessel. It's not me... it's just the vessel that contains me.

Lord, I don't want to be so obsessed with how I look, what I have, and my own status in life that I miss the point of it all.  It's not about any of that, yet we spend so much of our time- waste so much of our time- obsessing over it all.
These last half-dozen years of my life have been very interesting to say the least. I had everything stripped away from me, and I had everything "returned" (so to speak) and more. For me, who I was, my identity, was tied to my stuff- the appearance of things, how it looked, how I looked, what I had.  It was very humbling to have that all taken from me. Very. 
I didn't write a lot on my blog in those days, and when I did, I didn't go into much detail about that part of our lives. It was embarrassing. I didn't want anyone to know that we hardly had two pennies to rub together, and were always in danger of losing our business and our home.   But, through all of that, God taught me that it's just stuff.  And I learned to give, even when I had little to give (whether it was of my money, time, effort, strength, love..).  I learned to take joy in those "simple" things, which, in reality, are the big things.
But it's so easy to forget those lessons.

This month has been absolutely amazing as we have leaned on the Lord to show us what to do, how to bless others, how to be vessels of His love. I keep having to remind myself- it is not about  me.  It's easy for me to get caught up in my wants, feelings, plans.... and to ignore God's desires, His will, His hopes for me.

We started out this month with plans not to "do Christmas", and yet I feel that we have "done" Christmas more than ever.  It has been so refreshing to set aside the materialism, the rush and the mental stress of it all, and just focus on Christ.   It's been so great have so many opportunities to teach our children about giving, real giving.  Giving to people who can't afford to return the favor, who won't be able to repay your kindness.  I'm talking about the kind of giving that is not a "gift exchange", but the kind of giving that is as Christ's example- giving to those who truly need and will never ever be able to repay you.  I mean, if we're going to celebrate Christmas, isn't that what it's REALLY all about?

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:8]
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  [Romans 5:6] 
That is what it's about, isn't it? That's what life is about.  Sometimes I picture Christ dying for those who had stoned Him, scorned Him, betrayed Him- dying for those who hate Him, blaspheme Him, use His name in vain.  Dying for those who justify sin and love wrong-doing.  Dying... dying for the murderer, the child-abuser, the rapist.  Not just the "good" people, but those society deems bad and horrible and disgusting as well.

This is the kind of love we are called to have. To love the unlovable, not just those we like.  To give, to extend ourselves to the fullest extent.  To think of others, to serve others, above ourselves.

This was the lesson God was desperately trying to teach me when  our friends were living with us, yet I kept thinking about myself, my own feelings, and justifying myself by society's standards.  Afterall, as people kept telling me, hadn't we gone "above and beyond" in inviting a family of six into our home for a month? 

But Christ calls us to go beyond what "good people" do, to stretch ourselves, to give until it hurts.  And, in doing that, there really is no room for this mindset that Imust have, I will have, I deserve....

Like I said, I feel that, in "skipping" Christmas, I have had the best Christmas of all.  I've appreciated my family more than ever, I've enjoyed giving more than ever, I've seen the Holy Spirit move more than ever (not that He wasn't moving before, I just didn't see it).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A sapling grows the way you bend it.

You must start training your children one year before their first birthday, because if you don’t, they will be trained without your input. A sapling grows the way you bend it. But if you don’t bend it, it will grow and take shape just the same, though not as you would have it. It will be shaped by the prevailing winds, which, you can be sure, never blow in the right direction. 
From day one, every conscious moment of a child’s life is training; every event, and non-event, is schooling, preparation for the rest of life. If a child’s eyes can see, tongue can taste, nose can smell, hands can feel, or ears can hear, training is in progress. Parents don’t need to initiate a program, set aside a time, or confront the child in some special way for training to occur. Training and schooling never cease, never rest. A child develops with or without you. If you are not deliberately leaving your imprint on every stage of his development, know that someone is. [Source]