Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Fish Hook & Full Moon

It's not what you think.  I know you're thinking lakes and calm waters and the beauty of nature.  This is not nearly that serene or beautiful.  And before I even get started, I want to apologize to the older gentleman that was in Goodwill on Wednesday evening last week, minding his own business, patiently waiting for his wife to try on her selections in the fitting room.  I'd also like to apologize to any other passers-by in the general vicinity of the ladies fitting room around 7:45 p.m.  

And while we're making apologies and disclaimers, it's important to make note that my children's main source of safety and protection from inanimate objects is found in their Dad.  I have been known to both knowingly and (mostly) unknowingly allow my children to have lids to those squeezy fruit pouches that fit nicely inside their mouth, but have more difficult time finding their way out of their mouth.  I've been known to let them eat things off the floor, suck on grocery cart child restraint straps, and perhaps eat larger than safe pieces of hot dogs.  Which is why I attribute much of what happened last Wednesday night to the fact that I was out there in the world alone with my kids without their Dad's eye for safety.  Poor things.

I mean, I'm all for safety--well maybe not completely-- but let's face it, there comes a time as a mom when a child is bored and so you allow them to be entertained with the closest thing (safe or unsafe) to squeeze 10 more minutes of time out of whatever it is that you are so bent on accomplishing.  And since it appears to be my day of confession, while I'm at it I might as well confess that I let my kids ride down the street sans helmet on their bike.  I know, it's appalling.  I didn't even realize it was a big deal until I started getting awful looks from the bike helmet police (read here: other more safety cautious mothers).  What has this world come to?!  But I digress in my need to confess and clearly establish that it's not always "safety first."  Sometimes it's "Let's see what this does.." first.  And sometimes it's "Oooh this looks fun" first.  And every now and then it's "I just need a few more minutes, so sure you can play with that" first.  The latter was the case in this most current uncalculated safety risk.

Last night, Reid had a meeting and it was AWANA night for the kids.  If you're not familiar with AWANA, it's an incredible Bible-based program for kids where they play games, memorize scripture, and have a larger group Bible story time.  They probably also teach kids skills on how to survive the mishaps of their parents-- if not, it wouldn't be a bad thing to add to the curriculum.  AWANA is church-sponsored program that happens to be inflation-proof.  It still only costs $.50 per child and I'm pretty sure that was the going rate when I was a child in AWANA programs more than a handful of years ago.  Reid and I have been known to refer to Wednesday nights as dollar date-night.  I know, it's really super spiritual of us to take this perspective on it.  But for just a meager $1.00 we get an hour and a half of alone time out on the town.  Woot woot!  This was a great bargain date until Max came into our world and totally put the kibosh on dollar date night.  These days it's the two of us and our trusty side-kick who would rather be scaling walls than sitting in a restaurant or screaming in the quiet zone at the library instead of quietly reading by the library fireplace baby boy...because we're too cheap to hire a babysitter and because the kid is The Cuteness that neither one of us likes to be apart from unnecessarily.

Which brings me to the horrifying events of last night.  Did I mention I was alone with above mentioned child?  I want to be sure to clearly establish that Reid bears no responsibility in this--which I feel I have successfully accomplished.  

Those of you who know me, know that I do nearly all of my clothing shopping at thrift stores.  If I have a free hour and I'm near a thrift store, then I'm going to go ahead and see what's there.  Last Wednesday night I decided I would spend the free 1 1/2 hours at Goodwill with Max.  I was looking for a new top--you know one of those flowy blousy poet tops that's gathered at the waist but hangs down.  I've seen so many women I know wearing them and they're adorable on them, so I thought I'd see what I could find.  Now I realize that some of you are appalled that I went to Goodwill looking for something specific that is currently on-trend.  I know it seems crazy, but I typically go with specific things in mind and about 75% of the time I find what I'm looking for, or something pretty close.  You should try this sometime.

I looked for nearly 45 minutes and found a few things I thought were cute, including a pair of Nike workout shorts, while Max remained (mostly happy) in the stroller .  I headed to the fitting room with high hopes that one of the tops I had found would work on me.  There was an elderly gentleman sitting outside the handicapped fitting room waiting for his wife who was trying on her finds.  The fitting rooms at this particular store (I like to call it a recycled clothing boutique) were the kind with the slatted doors that have approx. a 1 1/2' gap between the door and the floor.  

I squeezed Max, his stroller, and all my hopeful poet blouse candidates and other treasure finds into a standard sized fitting room.  For reasons I still can not explain, I hated every one of those cute tops on me.  I had loved them so on everyone else and hated them on myself.  I was so shocked that I think I tried each one on three times hoping to see if maybe I could warm up to them.  

So now Max and I have been in this standard sized (read here, super tiny/size of a shoe box) fitting room for approximately 10 minutes and (of course) he is still strapped into his stroller.  He begins to melt down and in an effort to appease him I handed him one of my hangers to play with.  You know the plastic kind with the swivel metal hanger part because --clearly-- this is the wisest solution to pacify and entertain a fidgety baby in a tight spot whose strapped into a stroller.  No, of course it's not the wisest thing!  I wasn't thinking, "What's the smartest thing to entertain him with?"  or "What's the BEST solution to this situation?"  I was thinking, "Buddy, I've still got 6 more things to try on cause Mama needs a new outfit.  Here!  Look!  Doesn't this look like fun?  It's a hanger!"  

Now I know that some of you are dying a little inside right now.  The fact that I just handed my son a germy Goodwill hanger to play with is making you have an internal melt-down and some of you are shaking your head and experiencing the shivers of utter disgust.  If it's any consolation (likely it isn't) he had already had a snack cup full of Kix which he had removed the lid from and dumped onto the floor.  I was able to "rescue"  some of them from the "clean section" of the floor and put them back into the snack container to try to appease him.  Pretty much what you're thinking right now is what I'm sure he was thinking too.  He didn't want the dirty Kix back.  He didn't want anything to do with those germ-filled balls of cereal.  And then he began to increase in voicing his displeasure with greater volume. This is the point at which, I handed him the hanger.  

It was somewhere after trying on the workout shorts and before getting my pants back on that Max began to scream.  Not the "I'm tired of being here" scream, this was more the "I'm in trouble, need help, and am terrified" scream that can be heard throughout the entire store drawing all attention to my particular fitting room.  I looked down at him and found that he had somehow decided to suck on the hanger part (I know--with the germs already--I know).  Somehow the hanger hook had worked it's way into his mouth; more specifically toward the back of his mouth and he had fish-hooked himself.  Trying not to panic while standing in my undies, I attempted to remove the hanger.  It wouldn't budge-- not forward, not backward, not up, or down.  Insert full-on panic where I lost all sense of reason and crouched down to his level to try to calmly, without freaking out, remove the hanger.  

As seconds passed, and the screaming got louder the following thoughts passed through my mind:
What will I do if I can't get it out?  How do you take a baby all the way to the ER (alone) with a hanger stuck in his mouth?  How do you explain how the hanger got stuck in his mouth?
Then I noticed another obstacle to my speed in being able to get to the ER.  I didn't have any pants on.  My next thoughts were:
How do I stand up and get my pants on with this hanger stuck in him?  What if it gets worse while I'm getting my pants on?
And as I'm gently, ever so gently still trying to find the right angle to get the hanger to give way and come loose I thought:
Oh goodness.  How am I going to explain this to Reid?  "Hi Reid, ummmm... so Max and I are at the ER because....well.... we were at Goodwill and I was in the fitting room and I handed him a hanger..."  

No.  There was no way I was going to be able to bring myself to tell my husband I had allowed our son to get fish-hooked by a hanger.  Meanwhile poor Max is looking at me desperately like, Uh, Mom.  This is freaking me out!  Help!!!"
I saw the fear in his eyes, set the panic aside, and prayed, "Jesus, help."  Right then, the hook came loose and I got the hanger out without any injury at all.  Poor Max was relieved momentarily and then suddenly terrified all over again at the fact that the whole event had happened at all.  He looked at me as if to say, Why did you give me that hanger?  If Dad was here, he never would've given me a hanger.  He wouldn't even have kept me in this fitting room so long as to need entertainment from a hanger!

This all happened in just moments.  And as I looked in his eyes I felt this sense of guilt wash over me.  What kind of mother gives her child a hanger with a swivel hook on the end?  What kind of mother keeps her child in a tiny fitting room so long that he should even need a swivel hooked hanger for entertainment?  And right as I was about to have another disparaging, guilt-ridden thought, I had a realization...

When I went into panic mode and crouched down, I had crouched down with my back to the door.  When your back is to the door and you're in crouch position in between outfit changes, in a fitting room that has a 1 1/2 foot gap between the door and the floor, what happens is this: part of your body (namely your backside) appears in plain view for all to see.  Where people would normally only be able to view your feet in that gap if you were standing; in crouch position, that 1 1/2 foot gap is the ideal size for the greater part-- if not all-- of a rumpus to hang out.  Which is exactly where I found myself in that very moment.  There in crouch position, my guilt over being the worst mother ever was superseded by images of the poor old gentleman who had been subjected to being inadvertently mooned by me as he innocently waited on his bride in her fitting room.  And then my imagination went to all the blood curdling screaming that had likely attracted some onlookers who were wondering what in the world was going on in there with that poor child, only to come by and see my backside hanging out of the fitting room.

And I stood up, unstrapped Max, and held the poor terrified child in my arms I thought, "Max, I'm so sorry that due to the fact that many people just saw my bottom, you are going to have to endure at least another 5 minutes in here hiding out with me until they have all left and moved on."

The moral of the story is: Hangers are not toys for babies and if you're going to have to crouch down in a fitting room, just be sure your backside isn't facing the door-side.

You're welcome for the wisdom that probably comes to you without experience.  Clearly I've only managed to gain it the hard way.   And you're welcome for the laugh at Max's and my expense.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Body and Soul

I have been writing and writing but nothing post-worthy has developed just yet.  Lots of potential in the yet unpublished blog posts.  This is what I keep telling myself.  Just pretend to agree with me.

So this is just a quick post to boost your health both body and soul.  This entire "Majestic" album by Kari Jobe has been on repeat and repeat and repeat in my home today, but this is by far one of my favorites especially in this season of Lent and Easter.  What a gift this beautiful sister and Christ-follower is to the body of Christ!

And this cup of deliciousness I called breakfast and just had to share it with you!  I'm super crazy about smoothies right now and with it being spring and warmer, this one just seemed like a good concoction for today.  I call it Citrus and Strawberry Daiquiri Smoothie:

1/3 Cup Naked brand Berry Blast Juice
1/3 Cup Orange Juice
3/4 Cup Strawberries
1    Cup Non-Fat Vanilla Greek Yogurt (not shown in photo--I forgot to put it in the pic.  Oops!)
1/4 Cup Ice
Squeeze Juice of 2 lime wedges or juice of last 1/3 of lime

Next time I'll make it more GREEN and add Kale and Spinach, but this was delicious!  :)
Have a happy healthy start for your soul and body today!  I hope to have refined one of my draft posts for you soon, but this is what you get for today!  Enjoy!

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Day the Dam Broke. Thoughts In the Aftermath of IF (part 1)

I don't tend to run on emotion or feeling.  In fact, I tend to pride myself on being generally composed and stable.  I'm not a weepy girl when those animal shelter commercials with Sarah Mclachlan singing in the background come on.  I don't tend to bawl through movies.  I can see another person cry and not even be able to conjure up a misty eye.  And while this is still part of how God has wired me, I was even more composed and less prone to express tears and/or sad/frustrated/angry emotion 13 years ago.  In 2001, I sensed the Holy Spirit inviting me to a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him.  At that time I was meeting with a spiritual mentor and while praying with her I understood that He was asking me to surrender control of my emotions to Him.  I realize that for some of you this would be an easy surrender; girls are supposed to be emotional and not so matter-of-fact about things, right?  The thing is, prior to His asking for control in this area, I had spent my whole life hiding my heart--that most tender part-- from Him and from others as well.

As a little girl I grew up on acres and acres of land where there was as much adventure as there was solitude to be found all around me.  From the early age of 5 or 6, I can remember running to the woods or the fields of tall grass and daisies when my heart or my body hurt to the point where tears were coming.  I can remember sneaking off to cry because I didn't want anyone to know I was hurting or think me weak.  I would remain until my tears had ceased and my eyes were no longer red and puffy, so that no one would know I had been crying.  It's a mystery to me why I did this.  I had a generally happy safe childhood, but somehow early on I bought into the lie of the enemy that tears were a sign of weakness and that as a girl I shouldn't encourage any appearance of already perceived weakness.  --Seriously, my parents never taught nor modeled this and so I can only attribute it to a lie whispered that I believed early on.

Fast-forward 20+ years.  The Holy Spirit, in the quiet, whispers to me Will you give Me control of your emotions?  What?!  Wait!  No.  I can't.  If I do that You might turn me into some blubbering charismatic crazy girl.  I can't do that, Lord.


Will you trust me with your emotions? He asked again.

I knew I wanted to because I had come to love Him so and I was desperate for a deeper intimacy with Him. Yet, I was still afraid.  What if I jumped in with both feet with my trust and He totally turned me into this weepy irrational Jesus freak who can't stop crying or being generally weird-- because that's totally how God works, right?!  Where do these crazy thoughts of how God works come from?  The enemy, that's where!  He's terrified and insanely jealous of the intimate relationship we get to experience with God through Jesus.  The position of nearness to God that he once held and no holds longer is what He desires most to keep the children of God from.  Satan knows if he can keep us from getting too deep, too close, we will never experience the full freedom that is ours in Christ.

Turns out, after a brief back and forth with the Holy Spirit I did give in that day.  (If you know Him, you are aware that He's crazy persuasive!)  I surrendered control over my emotions to Him.  I then proceeded to cry for a solid 3 months straight.  This is super healthy in a young marriage.  I totally recommend going into a marriage with your husband under the illusion that you are a very composed woman, and then lose it for three months straight with the only reason you're able to give is that it was the work of the Holy Spirit.  Uh-yeah--this is not awesome for young love!  Nonetheless, my husband is the most gracious friend and knows Jesus so deeply, so he was able to just let the Holy Spirit lead and work this season of tears out in me.

I can remember one day (it may have been after two months of days filled with inexplicable tears) I was out in our garage and I was a mess--again--for no apparent reason.  I prayed, "Father, is this ever going to stop?!  I'm so tired of crying and being unstable every single day?  When will it stop?"

He spoke so tenderly to my heart, "Brenda, you have been holding back and refraining from tears for over 20 years.  2 months of tears doesn't seem like much to ask to balance the scale of tears stored up and not shed."

He had a point.  That day I surrendered was as if the dam broke and all the tears held back began to pour out in a steady stream.  It was at least 3 months before that reservoir was empty the tears finally ceased.  Eventually, my tears did begin to find their way into a more normal balance of release and restraint.

I use the word restraint lightly because ever since that day I surrendered, the two things in which I still have no restraint are my tears and emotion when the presence of the Holy Spirit invades my space-- in church, in worship, in my car, in my kitchen, in my sleep....  He still wrecks me all the time at a moment's notice.

So it was from the beginning of my weekend in Austin at IF...

(to be continued)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lent and My If:Table

Hospitality is not my gift.  Ok, so I should say that it’s not my natural tendency—aka. gift.  Since this is the case I have, in the past, – ok when I say ‘in the past’ maybe I am in fact referring to yesterday and maybe also all the days before it— anyway, in the not-too-distant past, I have used this as an excuse to not open my home to dinner guests.  Don’t get me wrong, I love people and I actually enjoy cooking really yummy food, but order and organization of the mass of papers that come through my door (via the mail and two elementary schoolers) along with the piles (via aforementioned paper carriers) always seem to get the better of me.

I’ll be honest.  I don’t know how you pinterest people do what you do with your homes!  You have these homes that are clean whenever I come over—and you have small children.  Are you secretly running a toddler clean-up boot camp in your house?!  No, that can’t be it.  I’ve tried that with absolutely no success with the first two children and am thinking I’ll just skip that kind of fruitless energy expended on the third.  Do you just chuck everything down the basement stairs when people come over?  Is there a secret compartment for hiding all your stuff behind your bookshelf?!  Seriously!

So I had just comfortably resigned myself to the fact that our home would simply be a place of refuge and solitude for my family, when along came 21 days of prayer and fasting in January, the If: Gathering in February, and Lent in March.  If you’ve walked with Jesus for any length of time (and by length of time, I mean for a day or more) you know that He doesn’t ever seem concerned with our comfort.  In fact, when He asks me to pick up my cross and follow Him I’ve come to understand that this does not involve a bag of chips or a couch; which is unfortunate because my tendency is to really like both the chips and the couch.

At the beginning of the New Year,  our church always encourages us to all participate in 21 days of prayer and fasting in some form.  During the 21 days of prayer and fasting I heard God whispering something to me.  He whispered three words, “Open your door.”  And while it may not make any sense to you, I knew instinctively exactly what He was asking both Reid and I.  He was asking us if He could have our house.  It was as if He was reminding both Reid and I that we had asked him 7 years ago to use this home for His glory.  In the past 7 years, while we have (in part) used our home for His glory to the best of our ability, He was now—in 2014—asking for more.  Both of us sensed it.  

And then after attending the If: Gathering in Austin this past February, I knew that it was time.  
Has there ever been an area in your life where you have felt God calling you and yet you excused stepping into it or stepping out because you've thought, “That’s just not how I'm wired."?  You see, this area of hospitality is exactly that.  I have always used the excuse that "it's just not my thing/gift" or whatever other spiritual excuse/spin I could put on it to avoid having to labor in refining this area of my life.  Recently, though I've been wrestling with this question of What if the area He’s calling me to step into is not just for me, but for so many others?  And isn't that usually the case with the Holy Spirit and the calling He places on our lives?!

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenton season. Admittedly, I have never before celebrated nor really understood what Lent was.  In my ignorance I always thought it was a Catholic thing, and since I wasn’t Catholic I assumed it didn’t apply to me.  How convenient, right?!  This year is different though.  The idea of Lent has continued to come across my social media feeds and across my heart and mind.  FYI: Singer, Kim Hill, posted a Lenton Devotional the other day that is fantastic!  I printed it off and we began reading through it together as a family today.  This particular line resonated with my soul this morning as we read aloud,

            “Ash Wednesday, and the pilgrimage of Lent, shake us awake from our delusions and pretensions, force us to plumb our own depths, and alert us to our need for the rescue God accomplishes for us in Christ.”

            How is it I have never known to celebrate, engage with, wrap my soul around this rich season of our faith?  And yet it is interesting that today is Ash Wednesday.  It’s the beginning of Lent where we begin to follow Christ to the cross and carrying with us our own cross—dying to ourselves and our own wants and desires.   It’s interesting because it’s also the very same day that I have set to host my first If: Table.  Trust me, you’ll want to click the link to see what this is all about.  In short, it’s inviting 6 women for 2 hours into my home for a simple meal and intentional conversation.  It’s not the 6 women, or the 2 hours, or the intentional conversation that I shy away from, it’s the “in my home” part that I find challenging with a young busy family.

However, this season of Lent I've decided that I am abstaining from the comfort zone.  There I said it.  By comfort zone I mean those things that I have excused as “not being my gift” so I let other people carry the load in those areas.  I believe that there are areas He hasn’t necessarily gifted us, but that He has, in fact, called us to step into.  And as such, busy family (including a living tornado disguised as the cutest 18 month old boy) and all I am hosting my very first If:Table tonight.

Tonight, as I prepare to open my door and to sit at my table with my sisters, my preparation is a labor of love for my King.  It is not something easy for me to organize, clean, set up, cook, etc. as it is for some of you with the gift of hospitality.  Still, our Father asks us to offer our bodies—not as dead slain sacrifices-- but as living breathing sacrifices day after day after day and this is our act of worship to Him.  (Romans 12:1) 

You see, tonight He is going to stir in us through our conversation.  Tonight His presence is going to fill my dining room in our worship of simply eating what He has provided and enjoying a unique bond in Him that He has given.  Tonight, women from different life-stages and stories will come around one table and share life together.  And we’ll do this around the very same table I grew up eating at.  The table where we will sit has hosted many meals from when I was 10 until now.  It’s the table where my step-dad became my dad and my step-brothers grew to become, simply, my brothers.  It has witnessed prayer after prayer for blessing upon the food and upon those who dined with us. 

Tonight a journey into hospitality begins at my If: Table.  My hope is that what happens at this table will multiply—that a few of those who dine together tonight will catch a vision to host 6 women, for 2 hours, a simple meal, and intentional conversation as well.  My dream is that Christ, through us and our time together, will transform the women in this community through relationship with Him and through relationship with one another.  It’s beginning with 6, but I’m believing that by engaging in this area of discomfort (for me) that God will take this living breathing sacrifice and multiply it for His glory.  My dream is that there are 10 women hosting 10 tables of 6 women each month for a gathering such as this—and then 20 women hosting.  The goal is not that we would host the same women each time, but that every 2-3 months we would host an entirely different 6 women at our tables and so that every 3 months, we are reaching more and more and more women and building deeper intentional sisterhood with each other around Jesus Christ.

So off I go to assemble my meal, while the tornado of a child (that I love so dearly) is napping!  But before I do, let me ask you:

What has He been stirring in your soul that He wants you to offer Him as a living sacrifice day after day after day?  What non-gift do you know He’s cultivating into a gift/ability for you?  Comment please and encourage one another (and me) that we may know we are not alone in this!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Worship &the Word, Gathering, and Obedience

I came home at 9:15 last night in awe and undone after leading our monthly Worship &the Word women’s ministry.  This morning, even before I put my feet on the floor I was overcome again by His goodness to us last night.  Being in His presence like that with a small tribe of sisters who are all-in with Him and with one another is something that I have experienced only a handful of times and in various sized settings.  And I still (now at noon) can not shake this thrill at what the Spirit of God is stirring all over the globe and right here in my little corner of it.

One year ago I sensed God asking me to step out of my comfort zone and begin a monthly gathering of women.  I wasn’t sure exactly what the structure would be and I was sure it would last 6 months and then fizzle out.  –Nice confidence in His call, right?!— The premise behind our gathering was to come together in worship, to provide transformational teaching directly from His Word, and to give women opportunities in ministry to operate in their giftings (teaching, worship, technology, d├ęcor, etc.).  I knew He was saying that He desires for His daughters to be gathered together—unified—equipped to do the work He’s made them for—and released into the world (their individual spheres of influence) to do it.  What I didn’t know was whether or not this idea would strike the hearts of the women I knew and/or compel them to join in and be a part of such a gathering on a monthly basis. 

As a side note (and testimony to how God is faithful and speaks the same thing to several people in various places to confirm that He is in fact saying a particular thing)  a girl named Jennie Allen was hearing the same thing I was about gathering women 6 years prior to when I would hear it and her call was to be on a much grander scale!  While I was dreaming up Worship &the Word, Jennie was assembling an army for the If: Gathering.  The mission and vision of If is: To Gather, Equip, and Unleash the next generation of women to live out their purpose. 

Worship &the Word was birthed out of a need I had.  I was dry, hungry, feeling alone as a woman in the race of faith.  I didn’t know if there were any other sisters out there struggling, yet so hungry for a life lived out as Christ-followers –not just on Sunday, but 7 days a week.  I was struggling.  Struggling to live out the Word of God consistently and I longed to journey this road of faith with others that were feeling the same itch I was.  So, the Holy Spirit provided me with the vision and I began to take the steps to gather women at Worship &the Word.  It wasn’t because I thought it would be anything, but rather simply out of obedience to what I heard Him saying.

That first month we started in December of all months.  This was not my plan.  I planned to start the new year with our first gathering in January, but I was over-ruled by the Spirit’s prompting me to gather in December.  So I scrambled, studied, wrote, poured over worship songs, created worship slides, put a play list together, set up candles, set up tables and chairs, and we began.  And oh, by the way—the night before the first gathering the Lord told me to ditch my message and read from A Bethlehem Christmas,  by Charles Swindoll. 

“Really, Lord,” I argued, “All that time I spent studying and pouring over Your Word…I thought you wanted me to teach and…and…”  My thought trailed off.

“And what?” I heard Him ask.

“All that time?  All for nothing?  And you want me to READ something?  It’s just that… well, to be honest, that seems really lame and such a waste of time invested in all that study.”

“Yes, all that time in study,” He began, “All that time in study was for you, sweet one.  I love teaching you new things and opening your eyes to truth you have not previously seen.  So it was not for nothing.  It was for you.  And yes, I want you to read—simply, read this section in this book to them this first month.”

And then the truth came out of me—He has a way of finding it out and pulling it out, doesn’t He?

“But, reading isn’t hard and doesn’t really look very impressive.  Anyone can get up and read something,” I responded, begrudgingly.  I’m sure I sounded like the most whiney prideful child.

“Exactly,” was His reply.

And even though I knew where He was going with this, I wasn’t ready to give in yet,
“I thought you wanted me to teach.  I thought you wanted me to study and teach.”

“Yes, I do.  But not yet,” was His patient reply.  Man is He patient or what?!

“But,” still struggling with how this idea would make me appear in the eyes of my peers.

“What is it?” He asked—knowing full well exactly what it was.

“You know what it is and I’m ashamed to say it.  It’s….it’s…”  and then suddenly knowing I was known and loved anyway I confessed, “It’s my pride and selfish ambition.  Reading doesn’t seem smart enough, or impressive enough.  Oh Jesus, I’m so sorry.  Forgive me.  I’ll read, ok?  I’ll read.”

I’m not sure I was as sorry as I was ashamed to have to admit it.  To have to admit that part of my hunger for this gathering was tainted by a desire for peer approval and maybe even I was looking for a pat on the back.  He wanted to be sure there would be none of that in me, so He asked me to read.  Ha!  Funny thing—months before I asked Him to kill my pride and guess what?  Turns out—He took me seriously.  Whaddaya know?! 

That first gathering I wasn’t sure that anyone was going to come.  And I wasn’t sure if it mattered if anyone came.  I was so desperate for the time in His Presence that I planned to have a full-on Worship &the Word gathering even if it turned out to be just me and Him.  As I set the chairs and tables and prayed they’d come, women began to trickle in.  That first month began and there were 40 women that came.  As He promised He would, His presence filled the room and I was blown away! 

From before that first gathering I prayed, “Jesus, make this a place where women can not only come and worship and grow deeper in you, but also can lead this time with their unique gifts.  I don’t even know what that looks like, Lord, but bring women with a passion for leading worship.  You know I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.  I will use my ipod and create slides on power point, but there have to be women who are ready and able to lead in this area!  Please, Jesus, bring women who have decorative gifts, technology gifts, gifts to simply set up and serve.  Make this fertile soil for my sisters and I to begin operating in the spiritual and natural giftings you have placed inside of us—for YOUR GLORY.”

In the months that followed attendance fluctuated and eventually dropped and leveled to an average of 13-20 women each month.  Each month I would pour hours into all the elements of our Worship &the Word gathering, and each month I would ask God, “Is this still valuable?  Do we keep doing this?  Will you bring other women to speak, to lead worship, to serve?”  His answer was always yes.  And so I pressed on.

Nearly 5 months ago my sweet friend, musician and new worship leader came to me and told me that she was ready to lead some worship at our monthly gathering.  We had actually been talking about it for 9 months, and finally she was sensing the Lord pushing her out of her comfort zone to step up and lead.  I’m pretty sure I had a private sob session after our meeting together.  It was happening!  What I had asked of the Lord was happening!  The first woman had heard the Holy Spirit nudge, and although she was terrified, she was saying YES!!!  It would be another few months before we would actually pull it off, but in the days leading up to passing that worship in song piece off to her, God used her to build bridges and bring others in alongside her to help her bring a live worship experience to Worship &the Word.

Julia shared with me how she had asked some other ladies to help lead alongside her.  She told me about honest conversations they’d had about getting rid of any competition between them and working together.  The other two women could not have agreed more and a Worship team was birthed.  One week before this month’s gathering I got off the phone with her and as I drove down the road with tears streaming down my face and fist pumping in the air I shouted, “You, Lord!!  You’re doing this!!  Thank You!  Thank You.  I am undone by Your provision and the flat-out move of Your Spirit!”

All this brings me full circle to last night.  Last night was our first night where I didn’t have any hand in leading or facilitating worship through song and music.  Can I just tell you how freeing it was to let it go into the capable hands of these who were gifted and made to lead in that way?!  So freeing!!

There was this small tribe that assembled last night, maybe 15 of us (at the most)-- 15 of us to whom God had whispered, “Come.”  That small tribe of us heard His voice and came last night.  We came without pretense or other motive.  We came to worship our risen Savior together.  We came to be real together.  We came and wrestled through deep questions across the table… together.  This small tribe brought their voices and because they did, the time together was rich. 

This small tribe that gathered last night represented the move of God’s Spirit upon His daughters.  He is stirring and He is moving.  Many of us are sensing this restlessness, this desire to go deeper, to love more fully, to live more accurately according to His Word that we believe with everything in us is indeed TRUTH.  We are longing to love one another well, so the world might know that Jesus came in love, to love, and that in Him there is unity.

In our discussions I heard women longing for a lost and dying world to see Jesus in us; not because of what we say, but because of how we live and love.  Each woman was ready to link arms with the woman beside her, lay down her own insecurity and fear, and run with her sisters so that God may be glorified in all our lives.  Each sister resonated with the knowledge that in Christ, we are not called to compete with one another, but to celebrate and cheer each other on.  As we talked we realized that it is to the advantage of the Kingdom of God (of which we are all a part) that we all run our very best race and use our gifts for the benefit of each other and the lost.

As we packed up and closed out the evening I found myself in conversation with women who are sensing this move of God’s Spirit to bring unity among us amidst our diversity.  Their words gave life to my soul and watered dreams that He has planted inside me.  And though we were small in number as we gathered last night, God always promises to multiply all that is entrusted to Him.  We closed in prayer asking God to take the loaves and fish that He had just fed us through our time together, and multiply them throughout our community and our areas of influence.

I am so thankful He only asks us to say Yes.  He doesn’t ask us to know how to do what He’s got in store.  He simply asks for our participation in obedience to His will.  When we say yes, even if we are terrified, He will fulfill His purpose to draw all men and women unto Himself.

So with this Worship &the Word ministry, with the blessing of our church covering, we will continue to gather, and He promises to lead.  When we gather, He promises His presence goes before us and invades our space.  When we gather He has promised that He will, by His Spirit move in and through us to do that which He has purposed and planned in, through, and for us—for His Glory.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

The other night I drove over an hour south to be in a home with 40+ strangers studying God’s Word.  It’s funny how I can believe I am a confident self-assured woman until I step into a room with over 40 other women.  Is anyone else this way?  Tell me I’m not alone.  All of a sudden, walking up the walkway I felt the same way I did my very first day in public high school. 

That first day of high school I had transferred to the public high school from private Christian school.  I was convinced that all of the girls were better dressed, cuter, and more fun than I was.  Ordinarily, I was a fairly confident teen-ager, but something about the shift in comfort zone and situation shook all that.  I remember that first day of school.  I had carefully picked out my outfit.  I had shopped, tried on, and tried on some more before I found just the right thing.  I felt good, confident-- ready to take on my freshman year in my fall colored sweater and denim skirt.

Then the first day of school came.  I didn’t even get past homeroom before I got tripped by a girl who said unkind things about what I was wearing.  I was mortified.  I walked around the front of the row so as to avoid the tripper again.  I went back to my seat.  Just as I sat down the most generous thing happened.   The girl behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hi, I’m Alison.  Do you need help with knowing where to go?  I’m sorry those girls are so mean.”  Ali became my bff that day and for the remainder of my high school career.  To this day I consider her one of my most precious friends.

I know you’re wondering, what does my first day of high school have to do with the other night—now so many years later?  Well, the other night, although the scene was entirely different, I felt like that same 14-year old girl.  It wasn’t because of the women that I felt this way.  This time it was entirely because of my own insecurity.  The whole hour long drive I prayed and psyched myself up.  My confidence was high.  Then I got out of the car, confidence plummeting back to zero.  I walked into this beautifully warm home decorated with simple Christmas elegance.  I was greeted warmly by a sweet girl and at that moment I found myself second guessing everything.

My hair, I should’ve done my hair differently. 
My shoes-- maybe I should’ve worn flats instead of heels. 
Short sleeves under the jacket were a bad idea.
What if no one likes the gift I brought for the gift exchange?
How come I forgot to wear the black tank top under the black top? 
What if I say something stupid? 
What if I seem over-excited to be here? --Because honestly, I was like a child on Christmas morning!  I was so excited to get to go and take in the Word without having to tear down or set up or be in charge of anything.  I was about to burst with excitement over being in the company of really sweet, deep godly sisters that know and love Him like I do.  And the sister leading and teaching has been a virtual (via podcast, book, and replayed conference teachings) spiritual mama to me in this season of my life. 

I made my way into the kitchen.  There I decided to swallow my insecurity and go make a friend.  Do you know that one of the best ways I’ve found to shut up insecurity and fear is to reach out to another person and say hello and begin asking them about themselves?  It’s true.  Over the next few moments I greeted and tried to get to know anyone that came within 4 feet of me.  I wish I could say that I felt my confidence come back as a result, but that’s just not true.  I actually felt just as lame as when I walked through the door, but I chose to not give any credit to that feeling.  Instead, I decided to find my way insecure and afraid, into this gathering of strangers.  As I did, I experienced my heart translate “strangers” into “sisters.”

I have never experienced, in the body of Christ (outside of my own little church bubble) such welcome, warmth, and unity.  Here were these many women, with many different stories, many different hurts, many different struggles all gathered in this powerful unity around one thing—lifting high the cross and the Word of God. 

As Lisa hosted and taught, you could hear “Mmm-hmm” and “uh-huh” and “yes” echoing around the room.  These women were engaged with what God was speaking in and through her.  These women were desperate for the Holy Spirit to speak into their lives through the Word and through each others Spirit-led words.  These were women, sisters, who have experienced life and struggle and hurt.  One woman—just two months prior—had come home to find her husband had taken his own life, another was celebrating her son’s 3 week sobriety, and another’s dad had been imprisoned for 27 years (most of her life) and was potentially about to be released.  I sat there, in the presence of these women and I realized that the feeling of insecurity was gone.  I began listening to and looking at these sisters with deep compassion, and my eyes were no longer able to stay on myself.  And I realized something all over again.  The root of insecurity is selfishness.  Isn’t that the craziest thing?!  When I am feeling insecure it is because I am more concerned about myself and how others perceive ME than I am about anyone else. 

After we closed in prayer, praying the Holy living Word of God—Scripture--over each need presented, there was time for visiting.  One by one different women came up and spoke sweet words of life over me.   Now I don’t mean super spiritual words of life—simply, “Hi, I love your jacket.  I’m Susan.  Is this your first time here tonight?”  Words of life don’t have to be super spiritual, they can simply be words that extend to another out beyond yourself; words that show you have an interest in another sister.

And then near the end of the evening, while I was in the middle of chatting with another woman—hearing some of her story—suddenly someone threw their arms around my neck from behind.  I didn’t know a soul there, so I knew it wasn’t someone I knew well, but it was the kind of hug from behind that you would give a dear friend you were so excited to see.  I turned to see who it was and it was Lisa-- host, author, mentor mama.   She had me wrapped up and began gushing with excitement over my coming and representing our 5 a.m. ladies study group.  There is no welcome like the one that sister laid out for me and all of the others who were there.  Every ONE was important to her.  Every ONE was significant.  And every ONE was loved deeply from the out-pouring of Jesus’ love in her.

That night marked me and I am forever ruined (again) for the average and ordinary.  This is how we are called to live and to love; to wrap our hearts and our arms around strangers.  To open our hearts, our homes, and our lives to those who are seeking friendship.  To share any wisdom we’ve gleaned from the Holy Spirit.  Trusting that, in Christ, we have enough to pour out on many.  I have been challenged to love well those that God has sent me to love; to listen well those who need to be heard; to stay deeply rooted in His Word and His presence.

Thank you dear 40+ sisters for teaching me with your lives.  This is the Church (with a capital C) as I believe it was intended to be.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Just when I was beginning to get my brain back

What is it about being a mom of little ones that steals a whole portion –or even the entirety—of your brain.  More importantly, what is it about being a mom of littles (as I like to call them) that steals the smartest, most intelligent parts of your brain?!  I’ve heard that pregnant women experience a phenomenon called “pregnancy brain” or “momnesia.”  Now, I don’t know anything about that since all three of mine did not change my hormones or expand my belly when they came into my life; but there is something to this thing about having children under school age that has always caused me to experience a significant temporary drop in my IQ. 

Seriously!  Tell me I’m not alone here?!  When our first daughter came along I shrugged it off as just being a new mom (a working mom) and having too much on my mind.  I figured my mind was just full of too many other things.  Then when our second daughter came along 2 years later and I had TWO under 2…I wondered if my brain had decided to move to an undisclosed location with no forwarding address.  Simple things, like when my husband would ask me if I could bring him a drink of water.  I would head to the kitchen and after many minutes I would return to the room where he was with a handful of M&Ms and begin carrying on conversation with no recollection of the original reason I had gone into the kitchen in the first place.  I can’t even tell you how many requests went unfulfilled by me and eventually fulfilled by him (with no complaining or saying anything about it at all to me) that I never even realized.  There were so many times when meeting him somewhere he’d ask if I could bring him a shirt or jacket so that he would not have to wear his uniform to wherever it was we were going; I would say, “Oh yeah, you bet!  I’ll bring you one.”  Hang up the phone, and it was as if my brain had been erased.  I’d grab my keys, drive to meet him, without ever thinking twice about the shirt or jacket I was supposed to be transporting with me.

Then came the day we finally had both girls enrolled in school.  (Insert breathes a deep deep breath of fresh sweet 4 hour freedom).  Sure, I mean, that first day I cried as I walked away leaving them both there in the care of strangers, er…I mean well equipped teachers and staff.  But by day two I was kissing them in the car, dropping them off at the curb, and using every ounce of restraint I could muster not to peel out of the parking lot and get on with the 4 hour freedom ride.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my girls, but all moms that have their children in school (public or private) know exactly what I’m talking about.  You know you do!  Don’t leave me out here hanging, friends.  A simple nod of acknowledgement of understanding will suffice as you read this.

Ok, thank you for that.  Now I feel that we can move on together in solidarity through the rest of this rant.  I appreciate your honesty and ability to identify.

About one week after sending the girls off to school and experiencing 4 hours of silence.  Uninterrupted trips to the bathroom—no one opening the door—no fingers under the door… no sounds of the Backyardigans in the background... no one asking for anything from me for those 4 hours.  I had the most phenomenal thing happen. 
I had an intelligent thought. 
It caught me off-guard for a moment and I felt as if I should get a pen and paper and write it down.  I didn’t.  In retrospect I should have, because for the life of me I can’t remember what it was.  But when it came, it brought friends …more intelligent thoughts even deep spiritual conversations between God and I that I had been missing for so long.  This continued for nearly 8 years.  Every year when my girls would head back to school (Can I just get a WHOOP for sending kids back to school?!) my brain would come back to me from whatever distant beach it had gone on vacation to during summer break while my girls were home.  And I somehow blocked out the fact that my brain—the part that operates on more than just the tyranny of the urgent-- and I were ever separated for those first 7 years of motherhood.

That is until Max came home.  Somehow, I had forgotten how dumb I get when there is a child under 5 years old in our family.  I find myself scanning journals of the past few years to, in fact, confirm that I do have deeper thoughts than:  What’s for dinner? What time is it?  When were you last changed?  What is the answer to that 5rd grade math problem?  Is there a letter e at the end of that word? What in the world is a supplemental angle? Is it wrong to bribe your kid with Candy Corn? And the list goes on…

So,  if you are in this place with little ones, I just want to write to encourage you. 
You aren’t permanently dumb. 
The drop in your IQ is only temporary and your thinking brain will return when your kids become school-aged.  (Unless, of course, you choose to homeschool—and since I don’t, I can’t really tell you how that all works out.  I have plenty of really smart friends who do homeschool that could better educate you as to when they got their brains back and I can point you in their direction if this looks like your future).  

In the mean-time, give yourself some credit.  You’re deeper-thinking brain has had to step out momentarily because there is no room for it. That space is being taken over by the part of your brain that filters thoughts like: 
What is that you’re eating?  Why is it so quiet?  How did you get that Sharpie marker?  How will I remove that Sharpie ink from the carpet?  Is the toilet really the best place to play basketball?  How do I keep him from getting out of his crib without using duck tape or Velcro?  Would it be wrong to use Velcro sheets and pjs?  Why is it so quiet out where the baby is?  Poop, although brown, should not be used as paint…ever. 

And while it may seem like an eternity, this season passes in the blink of an eye.  I can honestly say this because as a mom of a 10, 8, and 1 year old I can honestly say that I now have a blessed perspective on the speed at which life moves. 
And if I could be dumb longer, I would. 
Wait.  That came out wrong. 
What I meant by that was, if I could slow down time and let this season last longer with each of them at their present ages—I sure would. 

This is the shortest of all time that I know I will long to have back again one day when they are (all three) so much bigger.  And I know that in 4 short years, I will have more of my thinking brain back.  It will be traded in for a girl who’s nearly old enough to drive, one on the verge of her teens and pushing the latest fashion envelope, and a little boy wearing a backpack that’s too big as he heads off to ½ day Kindergarten.  Oh sweet Jesus, I’m not ready for all that.  Make the low IQ years feel like forever, Lord.  I never thought I would pray such a thing, but the age gap between our precious gifts has brought so much crazy perspective.  I didn’t plan it this way, but I’m so glad He did.  And I’m sure He’s got a great reason behind the whole drop in IQ thing too.  Probably has something to do with focus and our children’s safety.  J  I read this great quote in an article regarding “mom-brain” that I’ll close with.

"It has been postulated that, this memory impairment may be helpful so that women will forget about other stuff and focus on caring for the child."

Yeah.  Probably valid and what a nice name for it—memory impairment.