Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fix Your Eyes

Ladies and gentlemen, it's been a tough week.

Remember when I said that God has been teaching me to be satisfied in him alone? How I've learned that He does and will satisfy me more deeply and fully than anything the world could ever offer? How everything else - relationships, health, material stuff - will always leave me wanting more?

That belief has been put to the test this week.

I've been in a "funk" for days. Down in the dumps. Irritable and short-tempered. Seeing problems and obstacles everywhere I looked.

By this morning, I'd had enough. Driving alone in my car, I turned off the music and cried out to him. "Search me, O God, and know me; test me, and know my anxious thoughts." Psalm 139:23

It didn't take long to hear his voice. The Holy Spirit soon made it clear that I've been putting my hope in all of these different places in my life, looking to everything else to find satisfaction and fulfillment. And slowly, insidiously, discontentment crept in. All of the space that should be filled with thanksgiving and grace and peace became crowded with thoughts of doubt, worry, and self-pity.

You know how it goes. One minute I'm on my knees, offering all I am to God. Full of thanksgiving and praise, rejoicing in everything the Lord has done. Marveling in the work of his hands.

And a moment later, something goes wrong. My husband has another bad month at work. My children frustrate me. My body fails me.

It isn't wrong to hope for the best in this life. There are plenty of "temporary" things that I look forward to - vacations, milestones and memories, a better financial position for our family. But when I stake my joy in the things that are passing away, disappointment and frustration will always rule the day.

I will not be satisfied because of how I look. No matter how many half-marathons I run, one bad picture will leave me feeling defeated.

I will not be satisfied in how much money we have. Even if my husband's business finally takes off. Even if we dig ourselves out of debt. Even if, someday, we have something in the budget to spare. There will always be something else that is just out of our reach.

I will not be satisfied in my marriage. Great as we are, Ben and I will always be two flawed, grace-dependent people who will argue and irritate and push each other's buttons. Relationships - any relationships - will disappoint sometimes.

I will not be satisfied in having another baby. I long to have another baby, and I have to surrender that desire to the Lord over and over, to trust that his plan and his timing for our family are perfect. But even if he gives me the most amazing baby GIRL ever, she will still poop and cry and throw things and talk back to me. My children, wonderful as they can be, will sometimes leave me feeling nothing but frustration and disillusionment.

Are you depressed yet?

Honestly, I am. A little. Everything that I struggle with from time to time came crashing down on me this week, and right now, my spirit is a little downtrodden. But after lots of whining and crying and "why Lord, why?"-ing, God brought this verse to my heart:

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

A very familiar verse, and one whose meaning has changed for me over the years. I used to read that as, "Awesome! If I just love Jesus, he'll let me have every single thing I want!"

Then it became, "He'll let me have every single thing that I really really really want!"

Then, "He'll let me have every thing that He wants?" (less fun)

Now, I think, I get it. The desire of my heart is Jesus. Beyond all of the "stuff" that I wish for, the overwhelming desire in the deepest part of my heart is to walk, every day, in the joy of knowing Jesus. To live each day with the peace that comes from keeping my eyes fixed securely on him.

But I can't live that way if I delight myself in anything else. So, again, I have to lay it down. The disappointments. The failures. The unanswered prayers. The unmet expectations.

In the shadow of the cross, I lay before him every bit of fear, worry, disbelief, and anger that has been like an anvil on my shoulders. I confess my sinfulness - a bitter heart, envious thoughts, entitled attitude, and harsh words. I wrench my eyes from the "here and now" and ask for his eternal perspective.

And oh, he is faithful. In the shelter of his wings, broken and utterly at the end of myself, I find his peace. His love floods over me, washing me clean. He creates in me a clean heart and renews a right spirit within me.

He gives me hope.

Hope. Is there anything better than hope?

Confident, life-affirming hope that no matter what happens in this life, Jesus is mine. He is my rock and my redeemer, my shield and my shelter, my help and my counselor.

He is my satisfaction.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Running My Race, Part 3: The Finish Line

"I have finished the race, I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith." 1 Timothy 4:7

I did it!

After weeks of training, I ran my first half-marathon. 13.1 hard-earned miles, run by my very own legs. My only real goal was to finish in one piece, without help from an ambulance. But I secretly hoped to run the race in less than two-and-a-half hours. Which I did, with two whole minutes to spare!

Today, as I nurse my sore muscles and joints and reward my hard work with some home-made ice cream, I'm reflecting a little bit on this thing that I just did. My purpose in all of this was to begin living out 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." 

I wanted to learn what it meant to surrender myself in obedience to the Lord, in a practical, tangible way. Through the sweat and frustration and tears and elation of training for this seemingly impossible thing, I longed, somehow, to bring glory to the One who created me. I wanted to please my Father's heart. And I hoped that someone else might catch a glimpse of Jesus in my journey.

In the week leading up to the race, I was under vicious attack from the enemy. We know that Satan wants to destroy anything we do that might bring God glory. All week, my husband was plagued with terrible abdominal pain and nausea. After pulling double duty every night, I felt completely exhausted and irritable by week's end. I missed the two short runs I had planned for the week, and I was already off-track due to my own illness the week before. We had a frustrating, stressful day on Thursday, and by Friday, I was in a terrible mood. Irritable, emotional, short-tempered, and absolutely dreading the run. On Friday night, when I desperately needed a solid night of sleep, I tossed and turned, plagued by anxiety, doubt, and thoughts of every single thing that has ever annoyed me in my entire life. At the crack of dawn, I sat on the edge of my bathtub, dressed in my race gear, and cried out to the Lord for help. And, I kid you not, he brought this to my mind: "Put one foot in front of the other..." You know, from the claymation Christmas movie? You can't say He doesn't have a sense of humor.

I had been dwelling in my emotions and uncertainty, but God directed me to quit whining and just MOVE. So, in obedience, I moved. I put one foot in front of the other, all the way to the race parking lot. All the way from my car into the stadium, and all the way around and around until I found the Not Your Own ladies gathered under our tent. And as soon I saw them, I was reminded why I was doing this crazy thing at this ridiculous hour, and I was okay. More than okay - I was pumped.

The race itself went amazingly well. Not easy, mind you, but easier than I expected. I ran the first half at a very slow pace, chatting with three wonderful women about our kids, our bodies, our husbands, our homes, and our Savior. Even on the tough hills of the middle stretch, the miles flew by with relative ease. Around the 8-mile mark, I decided to pick up my pace a little, and ended up running the rest of the race by myself. I turned up my worship music and turned on my after-burners. By mile 11, I was really beginning to hurt, and by mile 12, I had to pray through every single step. "Just keep my feet moving, Jesus," I whispered through my wheezing. And He did. As I finished the race with my version of a sprint, I felt the most amazing sense of victory. Not only because I had just pushed my body to run for two hours and twenty-eight minutes straight, although that felt incredible. The real victory was that I threw off everything that hindered me, I fixed my eyes squarely on Jesus, and through him, I ran my race.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dancing in the Presence

You will make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand there are pleasures forever.
                                                                                                                                                            Psalm 16:11

I began reading a new book, Dancing With My Father by Sally Clarkson. I began to think about how much I live each day with (or without) the joy of the Lord. In the book, the author prays to be released from "the burden of striving."

To that, I say, A-MEN. So often, I live under the weight of that burden. Striving, always, to be better. A better wife. A better homemaker and housekeeper. A better cook. A better runner. A better friend. A better mom.

I compare myself to every other woman I see. 

She always looks so cute and put-together.

Her house is always spotless.

She is seen serving everywhere in the church.

She parents so intentionally, and does an amazing job of homeschooling her kids.

What happened to her baby belly?!

I try, and try, and try again. I make lists. I make lists of lists that I should make. I resolve to change this, purpose to improve that. I promise to become more consistent, more organized, more patient, more giving, more serving. More on top of everything. And then, because I am human, I fail. I fall short. The laundry piles up, the blog goes unwritten, the four-year-old wets his pants, and a last-minute order for takeout is placed. And I, once again, feel horribly and dismally inadequate.

It isn't that I'm slogging through each day, depressed and defeated (although that can describe how I feel on some days). It's that I am so busy trying to accomplish, to achieve, to impress, that I never stop to just enjoy. I don't play with my kids because I just have to sweep the floor and fold the laundry. I don't watch tv with my husband because I just can't leave those dishes for the morning. I don't drop everything to call a friend who comes to mind, because my nap-time to-do list seems so much more important.

I focus so much time and energy on planning how to order our lives, and working to order our lives, and lamenting how much our lives are disordered, that I leave no time to dance. To sit in the presence of the King and dance and shout for joy at the wonder of all He has done. 

There is a balance to be found. I am charged to be excellent in anything God calls me to. It is part of my calling to create order, to make my home a place of beauty and rest, and to train my children up in the ways of the Lord. All of that takes effort and time, thoughtful planning and intentional execution. 

So, how do I find that balance? Where do I draw the line between how God wants me to spend my time and energy and the pressure I feel to be perfect? 

How do I live the Mary life, and "choose the better thing?" 

How do I silence the accusations of "not enough" and learn to remain, basking, in the presence of the King? 

Running My Race: Part 2

The other day, I ran my longest run to date: 11.5 miles. It felt amazing, to be running and running and think, "I'm still running! I haven't died!" At various points in my run, every single part of my body hurt.  But I pressed on. I am in awe, not of my accomplishment, but in what I can do through the Holy Spirit, and to the glory of God.

As I ran, my mind was on the rapture. The Big Day was looming (according to Whats-his-name), and everywhere I looked, people were talking about whether or not the world was actually about to end. The conversations I heard and read fell on one of two extremes - REPENT OR BE DOOMED, or utterly cynical. I was invited to "End of the World" parties, where everyone planned how they would live it up before the world ended, and what they would be doing after they were inevitably "left behind."

Now, my soapbox. I get the joke. Really, I do. I see the ridiculousness in the idea that one person would be privy to information that the Bible clearly tells us is for God alone to know (Mt 24:36). And while I found some of the snarky commentary funny, I was also saddened by how many people do not understand what "end of the world" really means. The truth is, this world is passing away (1 Cor 7:31). One day, Jesus is going to come back to make the world right again (Rev. 21:1-5). And when it does, we will all stand in judgment before the God who made the world and everything in it (Rev 21:6-8). And when we do, and please hear me: You want to be on the side of God. To be separated from the presence of God for eternity is tragic, and it is the very real consequence of not choosing to follow Jesus while you have the chance. 'Nuff said.

As I ran, the words of a Christ Tomlin song filled my ears: 

And I hide my eyes
With my face to the ground
In the presence of Your Majesty
And I clap my hands
And I lay my crowns
In the presence of Your Majesty 

I gazed out across the green, rolling hills and distant mountains of the Oregon countryside. I imagined what it will be like to run on the other side, after Jesus has come and restored everything on Earth to the way that God created it. I pictured myself running fast, flying over the hills that right now make me wheeze. The freshest air I've ever smelled flowing through my lungs. Every joint and every muscle operating exactly as God designed them to. No pain. No huffing and puffing. And above all, the sweet, glorious, overwhelming presence of my Lord and Savior. Right there. Always. Forever.

See? If you are not a believer, I pray that you can look past all of the crazy that is too often the picture of Christians in America, and see the Christ. The One who has prepared a place for everyone who believes. Believe me - you want to go to there.

oh, hello there

Oh yeah. I "launched" a new blog, didn't I? Welcome back, me.