Thursday, January 30, 2014

Agents of change

After the new year rolled over, I was feeling pretty sure that I was the manager of change in my life. Every January, it's as if I have a clipboard displaying a list of all means of self-improvement, and I put checkmarks by the ones to which I will agree. Eat fewer cookies? Check. Read my Bible more? Definitely. Drink green smoothies? Pass. Some things, sure, I'll change them. Some things I pass up. But regardless, I am doing it. January tricks me into thinking I am the arbiter of who I am becoming.

But you know that I don't really believe that, if you've been around here a while. In my head, I know God can and will assign agents of change in my life that can be surprising, annoying, inconvenient, and even painful.

I think of things like unplanned pregnancies, "spirited" children who threaten to break us, sudden loss, relationship crises, major moves to places like Montana, and I am jolted back to understanding that God's the boss of change. Of heart-shaping. Of making the seas of life rock so that our faith anchor is grounded more firmly than ever. My brain knows this. But so easily, I get preoccupied with my own plans.

Well, remember how in my last post, I said I wanted to begin waking up early to read my Bible daily? I was going to manage this bit of change by setting my phone alarm 30 minutes earlier. I was to start Monday morning of last week.

Well, two days earlier, we got a new puppy. Sometimes I call her Pup-a-lup, but her name is Fielder. I was not connecting any dots between wanting to read my Bible more and getting a puppy. Why would I? In fact, it was not until Monday morning at 5 a.m., when Fielder was crying and I was up 90 minutes before my phone alarm was to go off, that I realized God had His own agent of change for me. And it was a furry one; far more effective and non-negotiable than a phone alarm. Today she woke up at 4:40 a.m. God and I may want the same thing for me; but we may not go about changing me in the same way.

My first instinct is to resist and complain and regret that I signed up for ANY bit of change, be it the Bible reading or the dog acquisition. Isn't that so human? To fight any and all change, to try to remove oneself from new responsibility and unwanted imposition?

But as silly and small a thing as a puppy is, what if God chose that puppy for this place in time for my heart (and those in my home) to create something new there? Something necessary and long-awaited. Patience? Self-discipline? Gentleness? Flexibility? Does it even matter? Sometimes just the fact that we are to practice flexing and serving when and where God gives opportunity is enough of a lesson. It is not even about waking up early or taking her out 50 times a day.

I think the bottom line, the rich fruit pressing its way through any agent of change, is submission.

God wants to be quite sure that no matter what, we're following Him. We're catching what He throws, even if it looks like something we do not want to hold.

It is not for the faint of heart; if I say "Yes, Lord, I'll fully submit to you," we both know that means we are submitting to every agent of change that could come our way. My worst fears flip through my mind and I question whether I really want to sign up for true discipleship. That's what it is, you know. A disciple of Christ is willing to go wherever Jesus leads. A disciple relinquishes all rights to manage change in her life and trusts God to change her when and how He chooses.

Most of all, His rate of change for our hearts is perfect and loving. On the spectrum of change, most people agree that zero change is bad. We are not supposed to stagnate, to stay so comfortable that nothing ever changes. And if someone does desire that way of life, most of us agree that those people are unhealthy and probably live fear-based lives. On the other end of the spectrum, people who cannot seem to escape the tide of constant change can also be unhealthy. Not being able to keep a job, keep kids in the same school for more than a few months at a time, or maintain relationships could be evidence of a destructive lack of stability.

So there is a precious middle ground, a zone of ultimate growth where the rate of change in our lives is neither too slow nor too fast. I don't know where that is for myself. God is the only one who knows what I can handle. When he pushes me up out of my comfort zone, that means I'm ready to move. I may not want to (I probably don't), but I'm equipped and capable through the power of the Holy Spirit, probably far more than I realize. And when the Lord slows me down, bringing me into a restful season, He knows I need that too. He is perhaps refueling me for what He sees coming next. Only God can pace the growth in my heart so that I am neither stagnating nor overwhelmed.

The puppy is a minor example of an agent of change. She really just reminded me that I love to be in charge of what changes me. And often, I am not. Many friends of mine are facing formidable agents of change that have brought much pain and confusion into their lives. I've been there too, and I'm sure I will be again someday. If you're in such a season now, or if you're realizing some discomfort may very well be a divine appointment for changing your heart, submission is the only path through it. I won't say "out of it," because some challenges are long term. But embracing God's sovereignty and trusting His goodness every day or every hour or every minute is the greatest heart-salve.

He only changes us because He loves us so much. In His perfect wisdom, He knows when we're ready to grow up, to be pruned, and to die to our old ways. Let's not just allow God to change us, but let's invite Him to.

As long as it's after 5 a.m.

Just kidding.

Not really.  


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

One reason I shut God out


I am so uneasy when there is unresolved conflict in my life.

It nags at me all day long. I know some people can compartmentalize more effectively. But I can't. When I am at odds with someone else, I am never free from discomfort. It is an itch that won't go away.

That's how I awoke this morning, itchy, emotionally. And on day 3 of my new commitment, I prayed for God to speak to me as I opened His word at 6 a.m. Let me back up and be a bit more honest: I didn't want to ask God for anything, really, because in truth, I was afraid of hearing instructions regarding the conflict that I may not want to carry out. I wasn't ready to be told what to do. However, I knew I needed something. So I threw up a general "Help. Intervene. Do something." sort of prayer. But instead of a light beaming down from heaven onto my Bible, I struggled to keep my eyes open. I think I reread the same paragraph in Hebrews six times, trying to wrap my mind around it before my brain was fully awake. And then everyone else woke up.

Soon after, the conflict in all its misery nagged at me throughout pancake making and children wrangling. Pandora hummed in the background - a Christian station - and half-caring, I wondered why I was hearing the same song twice in a matter of twenty minutes. But it caught my ear because it was one of my favorites, though this morning, I couldn't connect with the lyrics.

In my morning haze, I watched my daughter walk to the bus stop with a neighbor. I took the dog outside. I drove my son to school. All the while, I acted as if I left God closed up in the Bible, like a bookmark, stuck there until the next time I opened it. But He was quite awake, and working. Even in the haze. Even with me.

As I drove home after drop-off, I felt burdened, but the solitude allowed me to process how I felt. And one thought came to mind. I felt named, and not in a good way. The Holy Spirit whispered to me to dig down. Get it out. The nagging emotion bubbled to the surface:

I am named Rejection.
I am named Injury.
I am named Loneliness.
I am named Fear.

It was strange. All these names were jumping out at me, like stickers being slapped onto my chest. Names that defined me and demanded my attention and made me teary.

But wait, what? Distantly, on the car radio, there is was again. That song. Now I was hearing it for the third time in an hour! I turned it up to try to listen, knowing that three times is no coincidence.

You are more, You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord, You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here, You are here
In Your presence I'm made whole
You are God, You are God
Of all else I'm letting go
(the chorus)
Oh, I'm running to Your arms
I'm running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign
(And then the part that gets me every time. The part Jesus knows is one of my favorite parts of all songs of all time. The part I've sung-prayed in my heart of hearts over and over again...)
My heart will sing
no other Name
but Jesus, Jesus
My heart will sing
no other Name
but Jesus, Jesus.
My heart will sing
no other Name

but Jesus, Jesus...
I could end the post right here because the reminders were all I needed.
I remembered He is God. I let go of the rest. I stopped resisting, I went running to His arms, and I ripped off all the other names on the way. Because my heart will sing no other name but Jesus. He is the only one who gets to name me.
Jesus. I am named by Jesus. He names me Beloved. And Bride. And Daughter. And Beautiful. And a thousand other names full of endearment and honor. 
I don't know when the conflict will be resolved. But I guess that wasn't the point. I guess God's biggest priority was getting me into His arms, not fixing everything.
One Sunday, our pastor said something I felt was unforgettable. He said that God will never tell us what to do before He tells us who we are. I had forgotten that, and I tried to shut Him out because I wasn't ready to be told what to do. But of course God knew that; He knew I wasn't in a place to be ordered around. He just wanted to remind me who I was, which is exactly what I needed most.
I needed a clear identity before I needed clear direction. And what's amazing is that once we know who we are, it becomes clear what we need to do. There is no ordering around or God tapping at the rules with a pointy stick. When my identity is clear, my path is instantly illuminated.
And what about you, dear friend? Is your heart burdened by any other names that have been slapped on you this week? Or can you say with confidence that your heart sings no other name? If you are wondering what to do in a certain problem, maybe try asking the Lord to remind you who you are first.
I'm praying for us tonight. May the Lord help us shed all other names but His.

{song above is Forever Reign, by Hillsong}


Friday, January 17, 2014

An invitation and my RSVP

Today I felt convicted.

I can hear fifty different challenges to do this or that in the Christian life and 49 of them won't mean a thing to me. I hear 49 of them and say an easy, "No, that's not for me, not right now." But today, I heard the one. The one invitation out of 50 that pricked at my spirit; it was something I'd heard in a sermon on the radio. As I listened, I thought, "Wait, is this for me? I think so..?"

And then twenty minutes later, as I sat in Bible Study, I heard the same thing being suggested by a person in the room. Two hits in an hour. Same challenge. Same nudge in my spirit to just say Yes.

I hesitate to even tell you what the thing is, because I don't want you to be distracted by the thing. It's far from the point of my thoughts here. But I felt convicted about not reading God's word often enough, not craving it and loving it like I want to. And so the challenge was to get up 30 minutes earlier every day and BEFORE you touch ANYTHING else - coffee, your phone, toothpaste - before any other thing, you read God's word. Period. 30 minutes, for 30 days.

And I want to do it. Well, actually, I don't want to. Who wants to do that, really? But I want a change in my heart more than I want to sleep longer. I want to lean into Jesus more than I want to be comfortable. I want to want to listen to His words more than I want anything else, but I don't. Yet.

It's altogether simple and incredibly difficult at the same time because this challenge requires one thing, the "d" word: discipline.

I cringe at the word. There is nothing on earth pleasantly associated with that word. No one likes either to be disciplined by someone else, nor do they like to discipline themselves. Our nature instead lunges at what feels good, is partial to whims, laziness, and compulsion. Oh, and sleep, when it's dark outside. And guess what? In Montana, it's dark until a ridiculously late hour of the morning. When I wake up, it's a black as midnight outside. Frankly, that bugs me.

What's even dumber is that I would never EVER buy into the idea that I could be a good parent without disciplining my kids. When I stand in the shoes of a parent, it is so crazy obvious to me that a healthy person needs discipline. But when I stand in the shoes of the child that I am in my own heart, the immaturity digging it's heels in here and there, I fold my arms and complain like a toddler who pushes her peas around on the plate.

I will lovingly, patiently, and carefully discipline my own children in every area of life (on most days, let's be real), but I am so very babyish about disciplining my own self. As I sat in Bible Study, pondering this today, I got increasingly annoyed at this contrasting truth. I am nearly 40 years old, and still haven't mastered self-discipline. Not even remotely. That bugs me too.

But I'm thankful my true Love cares about me too much to leave me where I am. He is always the one beckoning me, charming me to His side. What a privilege we have that we can be in a living, dynamic relationship with the God of the universe and the God who knows my every thought, follows my every breath.

I will put forth my best effort to jump into this new routine for one reason only: when He calls, I know He only has my best in mind. And I suspect He is not bidding me to work, but to romance. He is not drawing me to lessons and rules, but to intimacy and to refresh the desperate parts of my heart I don't even see. I am already feeling a bit romanced, actually, like the greatest guy ever just stuck a slip of paper with his phone number under my windshield wiper and it is up to me to dial.

RSVP'ing to a better life than the one I had yesterday?

Yes is my reply.

Have a great weekend, friends.


Wednesday, January 08, 2014

A beginning and a word for 2014

Last year, do you remember what my word for the year was? Oh. My. Gosh. Can you just please go read my post I wrote on New Years Day of 2013 so I'm not the only one freaking out about it? It was so prophetic, became so real and so powerful along the way. In fact, because of that, on our trip to CA, on New Years Day of this year, I took my family back to the exact spot where I took the picture in that post through which God showed me the word. In my heart, it was a memorial visit, an anniversary I quietly celebrated with bowed-down gratitude in my heart for all that transpired this last year.

If there was ever a year God brought to life a single word, then 2013 was it. To think that He gave me this word before any of the year had unfolded, before we knew we were going to move to Montana, before any of the crazy and difficult things 2013 would think that He knew every moment in advance and promised me leaves me speechless. He said, "Leslie. Before 2013 begins, know in your heart of hearts that no matter what happens, we will be together."

It was as simple as that. And as those 365 days unfolded in entirely complex ways, His message remained simple. We're together in this. Every step. Wow. He knew exactly what I needed.

This year, I wondered if He would give me a word at all, or if He did, if it would lead me into an equally powerful year of Him proving day after day to be what I needed.

I prayed. And I got the sense that 'listen' was my answer. Not listen right this minute. But listen, in all the things. I got the sense that 'listen' was a diving board, a place from which to launch the whole year.

Right now, I feel pretty cluttered; I always feel like that after Christmas. The house is cluttered with new things, my head is cluttered with revitalized goals, my body is cluttered with the ridiculous number of cookies I ate during the holidays, and my heart feels a little lost, neglected. In fact, my Bible is actually, physically lost. Sort of symbolic, isn't it? Tonight I began to ask myself, "Where exactly do I start? How do I start improving my marriage this year? Where do I start teaching my kids new things about the Lord? When do I start moving forward on book writing and eating healthier? And where is my Bible??"

"That's where you start, my darling," He says. Tune in to your husband. Tune in to me for direction on time management. Tune in to the questions your children are asking about life and the world around them. Tune in; listen first.

I feel like I hear from God fairly regularly. I stop to really listen to Him speak to me maybe once or twice a month. We have a pretty good thing going, but on the other hand, I feel pretty lazy in my walk right now. Is it crazy that I want to change that and hear from Him every day? And is it crazy to imagine I could somehow supernaturally acquire the discipline and the time management to tune into Him daily, quiet and listening for His guidance on relationships and my jobs and my ministry? I don't think so, and I want it. I want to try living a year that isn't fueled by doing.

Listening is undoing. It's stopping. It's waiting.

It's self-control and submission and believing each minute that I am not in charge, nor do I know what is happening.

The more I think about it, the more I love this challenge because I suspect making a habit of listening will mean deconstructing many things about the way I work. I have no idea what needs to be rearranged in my heart; but God does, and if He sees fit to shake things up, then I know it's for my own good. I know He loves me too much to leave me the way I am.

Somehow the word 'listen' helps me clear the clutter from my path and see the road. 'Listen' is a road sign pointing me to the things the Lord knows I really want and need. He is telling me where to start.

I'm going to try to listen.

And because I have an 8-year old boy, I hear Yoda in my head: "Do....or do not. There is no try." Right. I will listen. Thanks for setting me straight, Yoda.

(See? I'm already listening.)


Monday, January 06, 2014

If you've ever faced an obstacle

If you've ever come face to face with disability, your child's, your friend's, your own...

If you've ever needed encouragement to press on through a challenge...

If you know a family who is persevering with a special needs child...

watch and share this.

It is the final, 11 minute long video cut of the trip my husband led to the Base Camp of Mt. Everest back in March. It made history, as you'll see by the news coverage at the end. It made hearts burst. And it made one boy named Eli a bit of a celebrity.

This video is visual proof that God took the small and feeble offerings of a few people, raised it all up in His hands, grew it bigger than we could have ever imagined, and created something miraculous.

Eli would love it if you shared this story with anyone you know who has a family member living with special needs.

And for all of you who prayed and gave toward the trip, huge thanks. Huge.

For the backstory, and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can read this post and this one and this one in order.

And hey. Show the video to your kids. Inspire BIG dreams. Tell them that even people who God made a little differently can change the world. Help Eli show them the value of every life.

OK I'll stop talking so you can watch in peace.

Best thing ever, right?
This video can also be found on the homepage of the Trek for TEF website,
I hope you find it a little easier to climb your own mountains today.


Sunday, January 05, 2014

On home and belonging

Tonight we are back in Montana after over a week spent on our first pilgrimage back to California.

I wondered how it would feel, to return to our former southern California city of residence, and then leave again, for the second time. Where would our heartstrings feel more closely tied? What about the kids and their longings for "home?" And which end of the trip feels more like our home? It was impossible to predict.

Of course there are so many things I miss about California. Like this below. Obviously. And our entire family and precious friends. And many, many things I do not miss. And there were things and people I missed in Montana. And some things I did not miss.

I've been noticing how many people who know us say things to me like, "Wow, so how's Montana? Kevin must be LOVING it there!" Or, "Kevin must really be IN HIS ELEMENT." Statements like that. Because they know my husband is an outdoorsy guy, and I guess the presumption is that he will feel more comfortable outdoors in MT than in CA. I guess. On the maybe-one-day-a-month he gets to do something outdoorsy, since there are still jobs and trash day and bills to pay in Montana.

And the implication also is that I am probably not loving it as much, I'm not "in my element." They say things like, "But how are you doing there?" with a grave tone like Montana gave me an illness. Because I guess the way the obvious things about me fit with the obvious things about Montana is questionable.

So while we've been in California, my husband and I have been chatting about these funny presuppositions. I asked him if he felt he belonged more in one place than the other. I wondered what exactly "my element" is. Where exactly do I feel most at home? Where do we belong?

I was a little surprised that he felt like I did: strangely hazy about all of it. Neither of us felt overwhelmingly connected to either culture, either home, either terrain. He hasn't felt an enhanced sense of belonging living in Montana just because he likes the outdoors. Probably like I didn't feel an intense sense of belonging living in California because I happen to like Anthropologie and pedicures and 70 degree winters. I also like places with no Anthropologie, no need for pedicures, and 20 degree winters. We started to understand that the things that are obvious about us and about different environments have very little to do with whether we feel we belong there.

Our preferences have very little to do with what feels like home.

And at the end of the day, we were reminded that nothing really feels like home. Not really. Because we were made for more.

We were designed for so much more than pedicures and camping and lattes and church on Sunday and Christmas cards and the right winter boots. As long as we look for home, comfort, and belonging on this earth, we won't find it. We fit in none of the places.

We don't belong anywhere but with Jesus and His people in a second Eden, in a perfect paradise. And the Bible says He has a home for every believer there in heaven. An address, finally, where we will be "in our element". We can't feel at home in CA or MT or any other combination of letters. We can't even feel comfortable in our own skin, as we are. But one day, we'll know belonging. And Jesus will heal us from the inside out. 

And then we'll know what it feels like to come home. 

Happy New Year, friends, from our temporary home to yours.

{p.s. for more thoughts along these lines, I remembered I wrote this post a while back with which my heart still resonates...}