Friday, February 26, 2010

Happiness Under Attack

Imagine eating a sweet and sour lemonhead. The candy's sweetness wears off slowly in spots to reveal bursts of the the lip puckering center as it twirls around your tongue. Except for the first and last taste, it is never "just" sweet or "just sour." Instead, it's an amalgamation of the two.

This is me. One emotion starts, then is tempered by another until neither is pure enough to let myself completely fall into it. How is it that a single human being can experience simultaneous, conflicting emotions? I don't understand it, but I live this irony every day.

My husband can provide way too much proof of how my sadness, loneliness, and hurt bubbles over into anger before simmering down again into an even deeper sadness and penitence for that anger. It seems I can never "just" be sad...or "just" angry without the two weaving themselves into an Chinese knot that'll take me a good bit of time to untangle.

Now, once again, I've fallen into the well of conflicting emotions.

For the past five years, building our house has been on hold, plans gathering dust on the shelves. When the project stopped, I was devastated. All the furniture had been chosen. A huge folder housed books and lists with all my selections from fans and light figures to counter tops and paint chips!

But when our "worst case scenario" happened, God gave me a Bible passage just for me, one that gives me comfort even now when I read it: "Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:17-18).

House or no house, I would praise and serve God. And I have done just that.

But I have also day dreamed, visualizing my new house any time I needed an escape from our present house's problems...and also any time I needed to be reminded of God's promise to me that this day of restoration would come: "And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you" (Joel 2:25).

My visions have been my faith walks. In them, the house is always bathed in light. It's never too hot or too cold as I step from room to room. The colors and furniture placement never change. I don't trip over any toys or shoes out of place. Beautiful. Spacious. Airy. Holy. Perfect.

I've been flitting in and out of this dreamworld for the past 5 years, just waiting for the happiness to break forth into reality.

And one week ago today, it happened.

Before I was even out of bed, the slab for our new house was being poured. A cool, God-given day dawned perfect for pouring and drying concrete and a short shower overnight to finish the process.

Seeing the house's outline traced in the dirt with wood boards brought fresh tears of happiness to my eyes. Watching the concrete poured in the forms by swirling mixer trucks. Watching the skeleton walls rise like a Phoenix. Knowing with each board, with each nail--I am seeing hope in action, seeing God's word made flesh--it's just been too emotionally overwhelming to write about.

To my husband and me, this structure has come to symbolize so much more than a house. It symbolizes God's promise to take care of us, to bless us for obedience within a trial. And it also symbolizes restoration, that we are finally getting back some of what we lost when the woman destroyed his career.

Such happiness...but would you believe it's been mixed with such unexpected sadness? Yes, sadness! And I have felt too guilty about it to write and share the "joy" about our new house.

I want to weep with joy over the progress. But I have also wanted to weep in sadness over the structural changes we had to make from the original plans, the light fixture that's no longer available, etc. And then this same week, my husband ran into someone from his old job and also got a letter in the mail dealing with his disbarment.

We've literally spend months without giving more than a passing thought to the past. And now several things all at once? What was going on?

At my aunt's house on Wednesday, I was nosing through her bookshelf and saw a neat-looking cover. She suggested I take and read Randy Alcorn's Lord Foulgrin's Letters. Inside the pages, I found fiction based on Scripture concerning Satan's demons.

In one passage, Alcorn suggests that while we readily accept that each person has a guardian angel watching over her, we don't consider that each person might have a guardian demon assigned to watch over her, too. Not a comforting concept.

But weren't my conflicting emotions just a problem with my processor upstairs? Or was it really something more.

Yesterday evening, Doug and I sat down and realized this week, we had both been individually feeling assaulted by the past.

Was it someone whispering reminders to me and Doug of our losses and reinforcing those thoughts by arranging the happenstance meeting with the old employee, and by perfectly timing the letter's arrival in the mailbox. Was it all ordained by Satan's minions to temper my enjoyment of God's blessing? To keep me silent in shameful guilt for being a bit sad versus bubbling over in praise to my God?

It makes me wonder.

So prepare for weeks of bubbling in the future. God is good. Good keeps His promises.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Losing the Bells and Whistles

Staring at the computer screen this afternoon, I could almost feel the wrinkles deepening on my forehead as I struggled to follow a fast-paced presentation. The once feathery lines easily covered by makeup are now ravines not even the best cover stick can touch.

I have always joked with my husband that I never found a gray hair until I put him through school. But when I look back at the photos, the youthful, round face suddenly morphed into an older, more angular look about a year after our first son was born.

And yet, it wasn't my son (or the twins that followed) who made me look all of my 33 years.

It was the losses.

My husband's career. Stability. Security. Faith in earthly justice.

And suddenly, I wasn't a carefree young adult anymore.

I was a mom who had to decide to obey God's calling and stay at home to raise my children, despite the fact that my husband's present job (and future outlook) was "unstable" at best.

Almost overnight, I became a grown up woman who had been sucked into an all-about-me circus of a world where everything open and shut only to find myself spit out on the dark side of the moon. Nothing would ever be the same.

Learning to put total faith in God (literally) for my family's daily bread, learning to weave God into everything I did and to shift my focus on Him--such brain remapping is difficult.

Living by faith ages a person fast because the focus is no longer on the temporal but on the eternal and everything that's at stake for all eternity.

One of the fastest things I learned is how to survive without all the materialistic trappings of our former life, something many people in this current economy have had to do.

No I-phone. No Books-A-Million. No globe-trotting vacations.

The irony of this wasn't lost of me today when I sat down for more training on the new computer platform that's replacing the one I've used in my online teaching for the past seven years. Tomorrow, thankfully, marks the end of my training but only the faintest dawning of actually applying that knowledge.

This new platform is cumbersome. It's slow. It's not as visually appealing. And it doesn't have all the perks of the more costly interface that my state is leaving behind because it is now considered "cost prohibitive."

But it works.

In my heart, I admit that I still fight to not be sucked back into a world that tells me I "have to have" the newest, the best, the most apps.

In that same heart, I also know that losing the bells and whistles of my former life is the best thing that ever happened to me.

It has taught me to be more creative. To live more simply. To have a God-centered view of the universe. To understand what isn't important.

But I still cry occasionally over what is lost.

Today is one of those days.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: David Murrow's The Map

David Murrow’s second book, The Map: The Way of All Great Men, immediately draws the reader in with an “a la Da Vinci Code” title and relatively fast-paced fictional story of his around-the-globe chase to uncover a map hidden in the gospel of Matthew and reveal it to the world before other interested parties discover and suppress its secrets. Ten chapters in, though, the text shifts from fiction to non-fiction with the author revealing he discovered “the map” while in his pajamas, not on this dangerous quest.

The remainder of the book attempts to explain why Matthew is the only gospel not written in chronological order. Murrow concludes that Matthew intended the Jewish male reader to view the gospel text as a symbolic map of three distinct “journeys” for how to live a life like Christ—the journey of submission, strength, and sacrifice.

If the reader can get past Murrow’s insistence that he’s discovered a “map,” which sounds more hokey pop-culture than hard-core theology, he does have an interesting view of why Jesus’ life experiences are structured so differently in Matthew’s gospel.

Overall, he has two worthwhile points that a new (or old) disciple of Christ would benefit from. One, that some new Christians jump over the journey of submission and go straight for a journey of strength…eventually burning out and doing more harm than good in the church because they never learned to submit first to God’s voice and commands. And two, that most Christians stay in the journey of submission, never making the turn to the journey of strength where they work for Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, though, Murrow has one major flaw—until a half-thought in the very last chapter, he ignores how Christ’s three-part journey could apply to women. He gives several good examples of men in the Bible who exhibit this three-stage walk with Christ; yet, he ignores women like Queen Esther and Ruth who also are good fits for his theory, merely choosing to say that few of the women’s stories are told in detail.

While I understand Murrow’s calling is obviously to minister to men, and I respect that, his comment that he’s unsure if women are required to walk the three journeys in the same order as men is disconcerting. To imply that the Bible shows a pattern for how male Christians should walk in the footsteps of Christ (from submission to strength to sacrifice) and then to imply that female Christians might not be required to walk that same journey in that same order as their Lord did, honestly, seems shortsighted and unscriptural.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hardwired at Conception

As the fastest eater at our table, Emerson usually cleans his plate and then starts fishing for whatever is left on mine. Our of sheer self preservation, I usually let him get down from the table early and tell him to "go play" or "be happy," my way of hinting that crying is not the appropriate response to being taken away from the food.

Lately, as soon as his feet touch the floor, he toddles immediately over to Wyatt's chair and pulls up, eyes peering over the table's edge as he searches for some unfinished morsels to steal. And Emerson has turned into a stealthy little thief, netting one freshly baked Easter cookie and one unfinished peanut butter sandwich this past Monday alone.

But one night last week, he tried a different tactic, crossing behind my chair to stand beneath Amelia who had only a few beans left on her plate. She looked down at him, but he didn't say anything. Then, grasping one bean between her fingers, she leaned over and placed it in his mouth just like a mama bird.

She turned into a little mother again this past Wednesday. Emerson was having an all-out meltdown because supper wasn't heating up fast enough for him. As I fussed at him for the tenth time to hush and wait, he slumped to the floor in the front of the refrigerator and started to just bawl. After watching him for a few seconds, Amelia walked across the room, sat down with her back to the fridge, too, and put her hand on his shoulder. She said something, and he stopped crying. Mommy magic.

Sixteen months old, raised in a household with two rambunctious boys, trains, tractors, dinosaurs, Clifford, Franklin, and Pooh bear books...and yet she's already exhibiting the characteristics of a mother, characteristics I see and feel in myself.

I agree that men and women are socially conditioned to fulfill certain roles. But the more I watch my children develop, the more I am seeing God-given differences between girls and boys--differences that society isn't stamping on them but that God interwove with care into their DNA at conception.

Knowing that, it makes me feel special that God made me a woman. It is empowering to know that the protectiveness and compassion I feel for not only my children but for others, too--those characteristics are a part of me by the Father's design.

I think the feminist movement has for too long attempted to blur the line between man and woman. Where they promised female empowerment, what actually has happened is a sense of loss as we women have pushed away and downplayed parts of ourselves that society would consider too stereotypically "female."

But God made me a woman. He designed me to be a woman, to act like a woman, to think like a woman...not to live a life where I pretend I'm not a woman but am "just another one of the guys" working up the corporate ladder. What's more empowering than that?

I listened just today to one pregnant young woman get berated over the phone by her boyfriend for spending $7 to feed the two sick children with her some lunch. Then, he hung up on her.

It hurt my heart. I wanted to tell her God designed her as a beautiful creation worth more than rubies, that she deserved to be treated as a precious creation.

God. Designed. Her. What master craftsman could do better?

But I didn't say anything--didn't quite know how to butt into a conversation I couldn't help but eavesdrop on as I stood in line.

Tonight, I wish I would have said something.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tigger Goes Visiting

Giving doesn't come easily. Neither does service. Both require sacrifice, a concept that seems foreign to human DNA.

A lifetime of giving and serving, though, makes the actions come more readily, proving these two character qualities must be sown and cultivated throughout our lives if we want them to become a part of our nature.

Yet, with one-year-old twins and a three-year-old, I must confess that I've found it difficult to drum up the desire to involve my children in many service opportunities. In fact, I've intentionally not involved them.

Sure, I always explain to them my personal acts of giving and service. I've even taken them along for the ride when I delivered outgrown baby items to a needy family or a prayer shawl to a woman whose husband was dying.

In all those instances, I have talked with them about how Jesus expects us to give to others who aren't as blessed as we are. I've tried to hammer those ideas home with my words and my actions.

But for all my talk and walk, I haven't gotten them really involved. My brain keeps saying, "They're too young to really understand" or "They won't remember, so don't bother." And besides, it's easier to just do it myself.

But my soul has flinched at those thoughts, wondering when is the right age? What if I wait too late?

Last year, our church ministered to a local nursing home by worshiping with them one Saturday a month. In obedience to God's call, I answered this service opportunity. Each month, I would play too many wrong notes on their piano, hoping the small group would hear some semblance of a few old hymns. And each time, daddy would keep all three children.

This year, though, the date moved to one Tuesday each month--a day of the week when I don't have an easily-lined-up babysitter.

I knew this in January, but the morning I had to decide whether or not to take my children, I cut my fingertip off. My response to an hour's worth of bleeding? A shameful "Whew. I don't have to take the kids today."

One month later, this morning I had no excuses...and nowhere to pawn off my children. My mother had an appointment at the beauty salon; my mother-in-law had prayer meeting; my husband had work.

So listening to that less-than-still-small-voice by this point, I took the plunge--with a pack of bribery crackers in tow, of course--and prepared for the worst.

But Amelia didn't cry at the wheelchairs (a miracle in itself). Wyatt didn't break anything. Emerson didn't trip an elderly person.

At one point, I even laughed a little.

I had told Wyatt that we were going to visit some people who didn't have anybody to come love them, that Jesus wanted us to show love to others. Minutes later, he looked out across the partially-full lunchroom and asked, "Where the people who have no people to love them?"

I'm not sure what he expected lonely, love-hungry people to look like. But they looked like everybody else to him.

After the worship service, a few ladies from our church led the twins around the tables, and I prompted Wyatt to "introduce" his stuffed Tigger to several men and women. His shyness kept him glued to my legs, but he did speak a few words; he did let a couple ladies hold and bounce Tigger on the tables; and he did reluctantly hug one woman who asked for a hug.

All three of them may remember nothing about today. But it was a start...if not for them, then for me and my attitude about involving them in serving, giving, and loving like Jesus.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

On The Wings of Love

One cold, rainy afternoon. Grandmama's heart quilt. Six wings. Three bouncy children. A box full of Sunday duds. And three invisible halos.

From our three more-than-a-little-mischievous angels to you--Happy Valentines Day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fighting Alzheimer's

This work-from-home mommy has spent twelve hours this week away from home in training for her job--no kids, no diapers, no crying episodes.

It's been a taste of my BC life--you know, "Before Children."

The one hour commute each way. The praise music blaring as I sing with abandon because no one can hear (or criticize). The desk lacking in random toys and shoes. The quiet office where I'm not constantly having to hit the mute button and threaten a child with an afternoon in his room if he doesn't use his inside voice or apologize to his little sister right now!!

A working woman's paradise.

This fall, my online classes will move to a new platform, which requires me to learn this new system. Honestly, just the thought could make me hyperventilate if I don't quickly ground myself with the thought that I'm not required to figure everything out this week or even this month.

Each day of the training, I've walked back to my van with this pounding headache and pushed foot to floor, wishing I could just click my heels together and be back at the sanctuary of home.

But it's a good headache, obviously the result of new synapses forming in my brain. I can actually visualize little comets zooming from one point in my brain to another to make connections from the routine, the old to the new, the unfamiliar.

Back and forth they weave a sparkly-trailed web, meeting at crossroads of light before leaping off into space again. Sometimes they explode upon impact, leaving nothing but scattered ideas behind. Others, they burrow deep, like when a rock climber's rope anchors securely in a deep crevice, and I make the connection.

I've never been one to embrace change with much grace, especially change that requires this much effort to figure out how to squeeze a circular column into a square hole.

But then I remembered reading that people who are constantly learning to do something new are less likely to develop Alzheimer's. So, as I rub my aching head, I laugh and tell myself that God has given me this new learning challenge to save my brain from the deadening repetition of reading Good Night Moon for the billionth time.

As I drove home today, I had one of those random thoughts where I wondered whether intense Bible study would help keep my brain sharp, too. It makes me scratch my head in deep thought; it sends me scampering to my resources and Greek/Hebrew dictionaries. And yet my head never aches when I do Bible study.

I mulled that over through several red light cycles, then realized why intently studying God's word doesn't send me scampering for the Ibuprofen bottle.

I don't have to figure it out. No pressure. No timed launch date to meet.

I encounter Scripture with the attitude that God will give me insight through His Spirit when I earnestly seek Him. And what's more, I readily accept that a good many things about God are beyond my comprehension now (and some until eternity begins).

As a result, I'm fascinated and elated each time another spark of light reveals another tiny glimpse of my God. I accept the mysteriousness and incomprehensible nature that is God and feel the freedom to wonder, to question, to simply "not know" and be ok with that not knowing even though I really, really, really wish I knew the answer.

So maybe Bible study isn't rigorous enough to keep the plaques from building up on my brain. But one thing I'm sure of--it instills in me a passion for following Jesus that's enough to keep hardness from surrounding my heart.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why I Skipped the Super Bowl

It has been mentioned in every conversation around me lately. It has required me to maneuver around sales racks of NFL t-shirts and caps just to reach the produce section at Wal-Mart. And it has meant that even the newborns at a local hospital are being given black and gold caps.

The Saints winning the Super Bowl--call it a sigh of relief to finally have Louisiana in the news over something our state can be proud of. The week before the game, you could feel the electrifying excitement around town. Like many, we live vicariously through our state's football team. When they win, we win.

But tonight, I didn't watch the first half of the game.

I wanted to.

But my love for the Saints is trumped by a greater love that resides in my heart--a love for worshiping my Jesus.

But if I'm really, really honest, I expected to attend just "another" routine worship service for an hour, and then I'd go home and do what I wanted to do--watch the game.

But then God showed up.

In the midst of my brain-scattered, unfocused attempt to worship Him...

God. Showed. Up.

And He spoke to me. He answered one of those questions I'd been throwing heavenward for months without really expecting an answer.

"Why not me?"

Why not me receiving God's call to life as a missionary in some exotic locale or at least in the place my brother and his wife are moving? Why not me and my husband receiving God's call to move to another state and start his career over?

Why didn't God call me to something big?!?

A dear, dear Christian friend, Lyla, posted awhile back about two men who sold themselves into a lifetime of slavery just so they would have a chance to share Jesus' love with 3,000 slaves who lived on an island with their atheist master.

Ever since I read the story, I've thought, wow, what a calling. But what about me? Why didn't God call me to some awe-inspiring mission like that? Have I just been missing it?

God led my Pastor to preach tonight's sermon on the story of the demon-possessed man whom Jesus healed, casting the demons into the swine. After Jesus literally gave him his humanity back, he wanted to do something "BIG" for Jesus, too.

But his story concludes, "As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, 'Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.' So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed" (Mark 5:18-20).

My soul felt the message God was speaking.

Just like God had a mission for this man to stay and witness to his village, God has made it clear that He desires me to stay in the not-even-on-a-big-map town of Watson. My mission is here.

It may not be what I (or anybody else) would consider big. But at least I know it is God-ordained.

When God speaks...I'm still awed.

What an unasked-for blessing as a result of my obedience in putting my desire to watch a ballgame beneath my desire to go to communal worship.

Oh what comforting words I would have missed had I just stayed home.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Debut Review

The prospect of receiving a complimentary copy of any book to read and review was just too tantalizing for this English teacher to pass up. So, I joined BookSneeze and did a happy dance when my first book came in the mail last week from Thomas Nelson.

Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts (3rd edition) would have been a worthwhile purchase...ten years ago. Each chapter corresponds to one book of the Bible and presents the foundational information per Biblical book--summary/title analysis, author, date, themes/literary structure, and outline. Then, the remainder of each chapter presents various charts, maps, and some narrative information. As the cover says, new to this edition are photos, full color, and the ability to download online/reproduce all the charts and maps found within the text.

The reproducible, color maps are the only selling point of this book. Otherwise, some charts like "Ten Favorite Myths" about Jesus were interesting while others like "The Cycle of Good and Bad in Scripture," left out more information than provided and seemed to just fill space. And on a random glance through the Index, I found one chart, "Mountains of the Bible," wasn't even listed there, leaving me certain I wouldn't be able to find it again.

Additionally, I was disappointed with one of the main selling points—photos! There was an severe lack in most of the Old Testament chapters, and those included had no explanation concerning how they related to that particular Biblical book. Also deleted from this edition were line drawings of temple and tabernacle furnishings, reducing those two structures to one insufficient drawing each.

Before the age of the study Bible, this text's easy-to-access information about each Biblical book would have earned it a place by my bedside. But I found no "new" basic information that wasn't already located in my study Bible. So unless you have a need for color, reproducible maps (which is, as the title implies, the best feature of this text), save your money and just buy a good study Bible.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

No Florence Nightingale

Eight eyes bloodshot and swollen with pink eye. Five ear infections (and two more ears with fluid on them). One run-of-the-mill digestive system virus with some tongue-twister of a name I can neither pronounce nor spell. And a bad cold that the doctor thinks could be a mild case of the flu.

No, none of the above describes my body. And no, I'm not living near a nuclear power plant, although I'm beginning to wonder considering how infrequently we've been out in public lately.

I feel like the soldier who was knocked out cold early in the battle only to awaken and find herself the last woman standing. And we all know what that means. Whoever isn't sick is relegated to nursing duty.

But there's one itsy bitsy problem.

I am no Florence Nightingale.

Nursing school never made a blip on my career radar.

Sure, I am more than happy to be the mommy/wife nurse who provides a lap and loving arms to wrap around feverish little bodies. But other than that, I just don't have the always-cheery-under-pressure temperament to provide care for people who are irritable, intentionally grumpy, incessant crybabies, and completely non-appreciative.

In a funny/not-so-funny moment yesterday, Wyatt's usual complaints about the food I serve escalated to include the water I offer at mealtimes. He wanted "hot" water instead. Like the mean nurse I am, I refused and had a good laugh out of earshot.

At yesterday's trip to the doctor, though, I did learn that Wyatt thought the doctor (not mommy) was the miracle worker.

After the examination, we went to leave and Wyatt wouldn't move. He then said ever so seriously, "But mommy, I not feelin' better yet!."

It seems he honestly believed that's what going to the doctor was all about--an immediate cure.

After a week and a half, everybody seems to be slowly on the mend. But for now, I'm still getting a good dose of what it is like to be a servant....and it's not an easy role, putting others' needs completely above my own.

I am reminded that to be a true disciple of Christ, I must be willing to be a servant of all...and yet I'm struggling to be a servant to just four people I love.

Then again, if I think about it, I find it much easier to serve those I don't know than my own family.

Somehow, I think being a servant to those closest to us, those whom we see every day--that might be the most difficult test of servanthood there is.

Photo: One sick baby girl with pink eye and two infected ears.