Monday, August 3, 2015

Go, Grandma, Go!

My mother-in-law was in town recently for a visit.  She stayed for a week, and in that time, I think she only spent a couple of hours with my husband and me.  The rest of the time she was playing with our son, Jonah.  He's three and he loves his Grammy.  We are so grateful for the time she spends with him, but it is hard not to notice that after she leaves we go through a bit of Grammy Withdrawal.  This phenomenon is pretty well documented across the web, but I think too much is made of the misbehavior that comes with recovering from a grandparent visit.  I think when we bemoan the struggle to adjust to "normal" life we forget that our kids are dealing with complex emotions that they are not always equipped to express.  They may be sad, a little mad, confused or frustrated, and we need to remember to support them as they work through those feelings.  But mostly, I think they just don't understand yet why a good thing has to end.  And for Jonah, having Grammy around is a GREAT thing!  

When she visits, Grammy gives almost all of her attention to Jonah.  He in turn, becomes a little dictator, and she's having fun playing with him, so she goes with it. He wants to play cars? They play cars. Have a picnic? Sure! Stay up late talking? Absolutely. All good stuff. Not always reasonable for mom to continue on the other side, which small children don't understand. So when I have to say no to staying up late because we've got an early morning, he throws a fit to delay bed time. When I can't stop to play cars because I'm in the middle of doing the dishes, he hangs on my legs and generally makes a nuisance of himself. As a mom, I like to give into those impulsive fun things too, and sometimes I do, but mostly I'm trying to gently teach him that he is not the actual center of the universe and mom has to prioritize her time to meet all of our responsibilities and needs. So play time does have to wait until our work is done. There are plenty of days that I'd rather be on the floor playing than working, but in the end, that creates more stress for me as I struggle later to catch up with deferred work, and it robs him of the opportunity to develop some independence as he entertains himself in appropriate ways, like doing his own chores! So, I for one, am glad that he gets to experience being utterly doted on by Grammy.  She doesn't have the responsibility of shaping the character of my child, although I know she models good character for him. She can shower him with attention and fun and adventure, and what a wonderful experience that is for both of them.  

One day he'll be grown, and I will be able to be more of a friend to him, but for now, while he's learning how to be a person, and I'm the one teaching him, I'm so grateful he has a friend and ally who loves him as much as I do and can spoil without ruin.  And if working through an adjustment to normal life after the visit is the cost, I'm happy to pay it.       

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chasing Flies

Today I spent more time than I care to mention chasing a giant fly around my house, trying to usher it out the back door.  I finally got it corralled between the sliding doors and kept tapping on the screen, not letting it settle into peaceful stagnation before it had found its way outside.  I found myself getting frustrated that it was taking so long.  I thought at one point that maybe I should just kill it.  I'm not morally opposed to killing flies.  I've ruthlessly eliminated their annoying buzz from my home for years.  I probably will again.  But for whatever reason, today I really wanted that fly to find freedom.  You see, it was a winter fly.  You may not know, but flies often come back to life.  In the cold of fall and winter they fall, seemingly dead, in secluded corners or, as is often the case at my house, in between the windows and the screens.  If you're a lackadaisical window cleaner like me, they stay there throughout the cold season, and sometimes, when the weather warms up, they do too.  And they come back to life.  I couldn't quite bring myself to kill this tiny miracle, because even though my analytical mind tells me that the fly was just hibernating, the idea that a creature could live in the in between space of life and death for so long and then suddenly spring forth with vibrant life IS a miracle.  I just couldn't squash it.  Even when my three year old was begging me to get it before it got him.  Even when I was frustrated that it wasn't doing what I wanted it to do, what I knew was really going to be best for it.  Now in the grand scheme of things, a fly's lifespan is not that long.  Who knows how many days (hours?) this poor fly has to live.  But today, I didn't feel like it was up to me.  Today, I related to how that fly came to life in the warm rays of the sun, and I marveled at the not so tiny miracle of something once dead finding new life, having the chance to fulfill its purpose on this earth.  And I prayed that I move as determinedly toward my purpose as that fly does and that God will continue to nudge me, and cajole me and usher me along the way.  And I pray the same for you.

Ephesians 2: 1, 5-10
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins
even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

1.  In what way are we like that poor fly, dead in a windowsill? 
2.  What does God think of complacency and stagnation in our lives?
3.  How do you overcome complacency and stagnation when you recognize them in yourself?
4.  How open are you to God's plan and purpose for you?  Are you willing to follow Him?  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Priestly Blessing

Part of my Bible study lesson this week was to look at the Priestly Blessing and try to put it into my own words.

Numbers 6: 24-26
The Lord Bless you and keep you.
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

 I have always loved this blessing, because the sentiment is so beautiful. Actually, I'm not sure I could have told you what the sentiment really was.  I loved the sound of this blessing.  And each time I've heard it I've had vague ideas about what it means and what its purpose is.  I took for granted that having the Lord bless you would be a good thing.  Blessings are like presents, kind of.  At least they were to me.  And being kept has always had this connotation for me of being cared for, without having to contribute anything to the effort, beyond the satisfaction the keeper took in, well, keeping.  As for the rest of the blessing, I wasn't sure what a face shining upon someone might mean, but I knew that being gracious generally meant being thoughtful and forgiving, which sounded good to me.  And I had no clue what lifting up a countenance upon someone would even look like.  So, clearly, my favorite blessing was super special to me.    

I have heard this blessing at almost every church service I have attended since I was a small, small child, and when asked to put it in my own words, I drew a blank.  I really didn't know what I was being blessed with when I heard it.  That is so sad!  Because this is the blessing of all blessings, my friend!  Given to us straight from the mouth of God.  And all these years it's been laid out before me, and I've walked right over it, looking to move on to the next thing.  If that isn't convicting, I don't know what is.  So, if you are the praying type, please say a prayer that I learn to slow down and pay real attention to what God is offering me in my life.  That I might recognize and seek out His blessings wherever, and whenever, they come along.  Even when they're inconvenient to my plans.  Especially, then.

So what is the big deal about this blessing?  After quite a bit of thought and reading and research, and yes, some prayer, this is my personal, sometimes heavily influenced*, interpretation of this incredible blessing! 

Before we can even begin to understand what it means, first we have understand that to receive this blessing we must have faith that it comes from God and is meant for us personally.  The receiver of  the blessing is singular in each stanza, just as we are singularly called to faith in Christ.  Secondly, to receive this blessing we have to acknowledge the sovereignty of God.  More, we have to faithfully follow and obey the Lord, which has the added benefit of increasing our faith!  How about that!  And finally, it is important to recognize that being a child of God is a honor.  The moment we declare ourselves to be a child of God, we become a testament to who He is in the world.  And that was probably the biggest wake up call moment for me when researching this blessing.

One of my favorite things about God is that when we step out in faith, He always shows up and meets us there.  That is never so apparent as in this blessing!  When we follow Him in faith and submit to His will for us by recognizing His sovereignty and His plan for us, He invites us to be with Him.  To dwell with Him.  And it's an offer He makes to every one of us, no matter our past or our station in life.  By worldly standards that is unheard of!  So what exactly is He offering us when we step out with Him in faith?

"The Lord Bless You and Keep You"
In some ways, I think the first stanza of this blessing is a restating of God's promise to protect his people and make them strong.  In Genesis we saw God promise Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that a mighty nation would grow from their families and that the nation would be God's own chosen people.  Genesis also showed us that the family of Jacob rejected God's chosen leader for them and ended up in captivity, as slaves in Egypt.  They broke faith with God and paid the price.  So, here we are, many years later, and God is giving Moses this blessing for the Israelites and the first thing He offers is blessings.  All the blessing of prosperity that God had offered to Abraham and Jacob are being offered again.  And furthermore, He is offering to bless them by keeping them.  I had to look up what that would have meant to them, and so what it means to us, and what it comes down to is that our humanity makes us weak.  Very few of us has the strength required to maintain our own holiness.  None of us has it without the intersession of Christ.  So, to be kept means, not only to be guarded and protected from the physical dangers of living in a fallen world, but also to be shielded from the spiritual dangers as well.  When we walk in faith with Christ, and by walk I mean live our lives to embody and reflect that faith, we are offered the eternal blessings of God and His strength and protection.  Sometimes that will mean our physical protection, but it will always mean our spiritual protection, so that we can be preserved for eternity with Him.  How awesome is that?!?!  God knows us and he knows our weaknesses.  He knows the temptations and traumas of living in this world and he offers us the assurance that through our faithfulness He will guard our hearts, so that we may one day abide in His holy presence!  Talk about blessings!

"The Lord Make His Face Shine Upon You and Be Gracious Unto You"
I think sometimes we modern day Christians take for granted that at one time God actually lived with and among the Israelites.  It's hard for us to imagine, not only what that would look like in modern times, but also what it would mean.  I think in many ways people today are not so different than those ancient Hebrew tribes.  Even with God dwelling among them there were still those who doubted His sovereignty, His provision for them, His promises.  And God dealt with them harshly.  And by harshly, I mean he sent plagues and fire to consume them.  Sometimes when I'm reading in Exodus and Numbers I have the thought that maybe God's punishment for idol worship or ungratefulness was a little over the top.  I wonder where His compassion was, and then I recognize that I am reading the Word through the lens of the politically correct, unaccountable, entitled society that we live in.  In truth, God's greatest desire was to be in relationship with His people and to live with them, among them.  It's crazy to me to think that God desires to be with us in such an intimate way, Him being who He is, and we being so broken and unworthy, but He does.  The problem is that God is Holy and for us to survive His presence we must also be Holy.  This seems an impossible requirement, and in truth, it is.  It is.  Without the redemption offered by the sacrifice of Christ, it is.  And what is true now, was true then, which is that what is in our hearts is valued.  The gift of this stanza  is that it offers God's people a chance to be with Him, despite our unholiness, our brokenness, our sin.  When we walk in faith with God, and by walk in faith, I mean live our lives in a way that reflects who He is, He will show us His grace by making His face shine upon us.  Well, what does that mean?  Simply put, it means that by grace He will make His presence known to us.  We will see His glory and He will be with us.  And the more our faith grows, the more we will know Him.  What an important distinction!  As our faith grows, God will reveal Himself to us more.  Not the other way around, which is how I think we sometimes want it to be.  But lucky for us, the path to faith is through faithful obedience, so if we desire a closer relationship with God we know what we need to do!

"The Lord Lift Up His Countenance Upon You and Give You Peace"
This is probably my favorite stanza of the Priestly Blessing.  It just says so much about the character of our God.  In the first stanza we see God blessing us with prosperity and protection, seeing to our physical and spiritual needs.  In the second stanza God offers us redemption through His Grace and a way to be in community with Him.  But in this third stanza He simply expresses the pleasure He takes in our obedience and faithfulness.  Lifting up one's countenance is, apparently, the ancient Hebrews way of saying that He smiles at us, which I just LOVE.  When we are faithful, when we live out that faith, when we enter into a relationship with God, he is pleased, and it makes him smile.  And he rewards that pleasure with peace.  A peace that passes all understanding, as they say.  I have witnessed that peace.  You can tell when you meet someone who has that kind of peace.  They are set apart.  They are the fishers of men in the world, because that kind of peace is a lure to the broken and suffering.  And God offers it to each of us!  Every day, as we step out in faith, as we follow where he leads us, as we welcome Him into our hearts, as we come to know Him more, he offers us His peace.  HIS peace.  Which is so much more than worldly peace.  His peace isn't shaken by illness or financial calamity or a flat tire.  HIS peace is abiding and true, and I want it.         

 * By heavily influenced I mean that I was greatly inspired by the thoughts and research shared in this piece:      Aaronic Ben