Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why do we grab the counterfeit, when we could receive the real?

Chuck E. Cheese keeps sending me these online coupons. I have a love/hate relationship with that place. It's a dreamland for children, and a nightmare for adults.  It's got overpriced greasy pizza, flashing lights, noisy games, loud music, and a big rat that walks around causing the big kids to squeal with excitement and little kids to scream in terror. If we take the kids there for a play date, we get a coupon and go when it's slow... like on a weekday at lunchtime. When we ask the kids what they want to do for their Birthday's, it's a no-brainer, Chuck E. Cheese's of coarse, duh! Having 3 grown boys has taught us a lot about starting traditions. If you start a tradition of big birthday parties, your children will expect them every year, and be satisfied with nothing less. So we told our girls that the way we do birthdays in our family is, you get to choose what you want to do and invite one friend. We'll bring the gifts, the cake, and the coupons. Unfortunately, 90% of the time they choose Chuck E. Cheese's. The only reason that place is an option at all is because the kids absolutely love it, and because they offer coupons and wine (Smart marketing! They knew that they needed to offer the adults something to take off the edge!)  The kids have always been perfectly content with the birthday parties we've offered, however, as they get older, they're beginning to notice how other families celebrate their children's birthdays. Some kids get the Chuck E. Cheese Deluxe Birthday Party and get to invite all their classmates. At these parties, everyone gets party hats, noise makers, a special Chuck E. Cheese cake, and Chuck E. himself comes out to celebrate with them! Oh, and recently Chuck E. Cheese's got a ticket booth! The birthday kid goes into a glass booth that blows tickets all around them.  The goal is for them to catch as many tickets as they can before their time runs out. For an adult, it would be equivalent to being put in a money booth. The kid gets to keep all the tickets he catches and then turns them in for  grand prizes. These prizes that the children just can't live without, end up being tossed aside and never touched again once they get home.
The last time we were there, I was watching the birthday boy in the ticket booth all in a frenzy grabbing tickets. As I stared at him, I saw a reflection of all human nature. We greedily grab at things that we want or think we need. Those things never bring the lasting satisfaction they promise, so we continue to grab because we're still empty. We live under the delusion that we know what's best for us, what will make us happy. The problem is, we tend to grab at all the wrong things. Those things that promise fulfillment, but never deliver. We grab for what we crave and then indulge ourselves. We experience a temporary high, then later, have to pay the price for the thing we couldn't resist in that moment. The lows are never worth the highs. Then we tell ourselves, "I'll never do that again. It's not worth the price I had to pay," ... until another temptation comes along and we justify why this time, it's okay to grab. 
In Mathew chapter 6, God tells us we don't need to worry, he'll provide everything we need. I love the Message bible's version of this passage. It says, "What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving..." I love that! We can choose either to live our lives at an exhausting pace, in a frenzy, grabbing for ourselves what God has not yet given us, or we can choose to relax and look to God for provision, noticing what He places before us, and responding to that giving. One path is exhausting and comes with it's all too fleeting highs followed by the deep and lasting lows, while the other path invites us to rest and leads to lasting joy, peace, and contentment. If we are too preoccupied with grabbing for ourselves, we may miss out on all the beautiful things he's trying to give us. If our fists are closed around the counterfeit, our palms aren't open to receive the real. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Are you playing in tune?

If we look closely, we'll find that life is full of parables of God's kingdom. Twice a week, Ellie has violin lessons. As I sit and watch, I notice that the goal is to make beautiful music. That's done as each one does their part and plays in tune as they follow the master. When someone is out of tune or is doing their own thing, the master gently corrects them for her goal is to help each student play to their fullest potential. She also has advanced students who walk around among the students in class showing them how to hold their bows correctly, helping them tune their instruments, showing them how to sit properly with their backs straight and feet on the floor, or helping them keep time with the music. They have all been taught these things, but sometimes they get lazy, forget, or become distracted. Often the students will ask each other for help. They whisper, "What page are we on? Can I barrow your pencil to write in that note?" They are all working toward the same goal. They are all trying to make beautiful music together. They're not in competition with each other, but all on the same side. Each one taking the responsibility to follow the best they can, but also helping each other play in tune with the song.

A few weeks ago, our small informal group met for it's weekly gathering. We were discussing the broad and narrow road in Mathew 7. "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter it, but small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it." Wow, I just noticed when I typed that scripture, it doesn't say "many will enter". It says "many enter"... as in now! What if this scripture isn't talking about ultimate destination? What if it's talking about how easy it is to live a destructive life now and miss out on the full life God intended for us. How easy it is for us to live our lives leaning on our own understanding instead of trusting that our creator who loves us wants to lead us into a full life if we will just follow him. Maybe it's warning us that few people live their lives looking to him for guidance and being led into a full life. Instead they trust in their own ways and end up destroying their lives. It's our choice. John 10:10 says, "The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." The context of that whole passage is about sheep listening to the shepherd's voice and following him as he leads them into a full life. The enemy wants to destroy them, but the shepherd came so he could lead them into a full life. We weren't created to live independent of our father or each other. We make a mess of our lives when we do. When we live intentionally following our shepherd, he will lead us to the green pastures and cool waters that restore our soul (Psalm 23). He's playing the most beautiful song and invites us to be a part of it.  How easy it is to do our own thing and play out of tune. Sometimes we think we could write a better song. We don't trust the master. It takes intention to follow the master and stay in tune. When we are in tune, it just feels right. We are in sync with the master, each other, and the beautiful song. It's like, Ahhh, now this is how it was meant to be played, this is how life was meant to be lived. It's exhilarating, fulfilling, it's what we were created for. 

Another thought that came to me was that this is Ellie's first year in violin. A first year student plays nothing like the master. In fact, sometimes it's hard to tell what song she's even playing. It would be unfair to expect her to perform like a master violinist at this stage. She still has so much to learn, but she's moving in that direction. At this point she makes lots of mistakes. Those mistakes can be her greatest teachers. She needs the freedom to make those mistakes; that's part of the learning and growing process. Too often we try to prevent our kids from falling and making mistakes. We think we're helping them, protecting them. We forget that it's a process... a journey... their journey. It takes time to get there. We need to remember, they're in good hands.

Just a little side note... I notice that I begin a lot of thoughts with "what if?", and "maybe". I'm much less dogmatic than I used to be. I used to think I knew everything. That doesn't leave much room for growth. Growth means you learn something you didn't know. Often that means letting go of what we think we know. To do that, we must be willing to hold things loosely, with humility. I think we're afraid to do that because we fear we may be led astray or be blown about by every wind of teaching. We can avoid that by holding things up to the scriptures (Acts 17) and placing them in context with the whole of the bible and viewing everything through the lens of Jesus being the perfect reflection of God who is LOVE.  It frees me to wrestle with scripture and be honest with my limited understanding. 1 Cor. 13 says, Now we see but a poor reflection, eventually we will see fully. Phil 3 says, And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you, only let us live up to what we've already attained. These scriptures give the perfectionist in me so much peace. God doesn't expect me to know everything. He continually invites me into knowing him deeper. I seek truth because it helps me know him more deeply and leads me into greater peace, joy, and freedom. It carries me into a fuller life. I don't have to know all truth, I can rest in the fact that He does. He's the master musician, I just follow his lead and become part of his beautiful song. 

Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

On our quick trip to the beach recently, we met three adoptive families! Two of them adopted from China and one adopted domestically. I can't stop thinking about the conversation I had with the woman who adopted domestically. This woman and her husband adopted their great nieces. The birth father was put in prison about 4 years ago and this couple fought a 3 year battle and finally won custody of the younger niece who is now 5. Then eight months ago the mother died of a drug overdose and they got custody of the older sibling who just turned 10. The older sibling is angry and dealing with a great deal of grief. The adoptive mother is wondering why this child is not grateful to be in a safe and loving home. I just sat there and wanted to cry. I don't know all the circumstances in this situation. From what the woman told me, it sounded like the children weren't safe and their needs weren't being met. But even if this is the case and the children are now in a safe, loving environment... does the child not have a right to grieve? While she has gained some things, she has still lost so much... 
This may surprise you since I have two adopted children whom I adore and can't imagine my life without, but to me adoption is not the ideal situation. What would be ideal would be if fathers never went to prison and mothers didn't die of drug overdoses. What would be ideal is if China didn't have a one child policy and there was no poverty in the world and mothers had the choice to keep their children. Unfortunately we live in a broken world. The ideal situation is not always possible. So while adoption is better than the alternative, a child growing up without a family, we must remember that's only half of their story. The other half is very tragic. We can't pretend the other half doesn't exist. The other half is a wound that needs healing. Healing doesn't occur by ignoring a wound and pretending it isn't there. We need to acknowledge their losses and grieve with them as well as cherish all that we've found together. When we take in a child, we need to take every part of them, wounds and all.

Why did you adopt when you already had 3 children?

I was talking to a friend of mine today and she was telling me that her mom was curious about why I adopted 2 little girls when my 3 sons were nearly grown. I know people adopt for a variety of reasons, one being they can't have children. That obviously wasn't our reason.  One reason honestly, was that I felt so full and blessed in my relationship with my husband and kids that I couldn't imagine not sharing it. Love is like that. It desires to share itself. When I was younger, I thought that all families were happy families like the one I grew up in. There was always plenty of food, plenty of fun, plenty of love, and it was a safe place. As I grew older, I became aware of just how rare this kind of family was. I learned that there are so many that grow up in broken homes, abusive homes, some even have no place to call home at all. When our youngest son was 2 we started fostering children. God was opening our eyes to all the children in the world who needed a family to love them. And there I was with extra food on my table, extra room in my home, and extra love in my heart. I feel like when God puts something on your heart... burdens it with a desire... it takes more effort not to do it then it does to do it. When God speaks to my heart it's like that commercial with the kid on that cartoon The Family Guy... He's standing there looking at his mother saying, "mommy... mommy... mommy... mommy... mum... mum... mum... mummy... mummy... mummy... Lois... Lois... Lois... mummy... mom..." And the mother is staring straight ahead like she's gonna lose her ever lovin' mind if he doesn't stop calling her. That's kind of what it's like. Well, maybe not quite like that, but ya know... the calling just doesn't stop. In fact the desire just grows stronger and the conviction deeper and you know it's one of the things you were created for. Anyway, I thought I'd just share that in case you were curious too!

"Come here, let me help you up."

This morning as I was driving Emma to school, she said, "Mom where is God?" I said, "He's right here with us." She said, "Is He in the car?" I said, "Yes! and He'll be with you in school all day. He'll never leave your side. If you have the itchies (a sensory thing she gets when she's agitated about something), God is right there to rub your back and love on you. And he's always whispering things in your ear like, "'Emma, I just love you', 'Emma, you are my sweet girl, 'Emma, I'll never leave you'. " She said, "The other day when Lily L. fell on the 'concreak', He whispered to me to help her up and love on her. I said, "What did you do?" She said, "I helped her up and hugged her and brought her to Miss Kim." Wow, my little girl is learning to listen to her Father's voice. God says, "My sheep will hear my voice." Then a thought came to me... When did His voice change? When I used to fall, I felt God say, "Come here, let me help you up."  When did He start saying things to me like, "You fell again? Shame on you, and you call yourself a christian?"
Out back we had a tree with a vine growing up it. Every year I noticed the vine getting bigger. One day I noticed it was actually killing the tree. That tree with the vine choking the life out of it is actually a good metaphor for what I think too often happens to us when religion starts to wrap itself around our relationship with God. What begins as a loving, life-giving relationship with our Father (christianity), can sometimes get the life choked out of it by the deadly vine of religion. It's crazy, we go from being set free from the bondage of sin, straight back into slavery with the bondage of religion. Why do we trade our freedom for slavery again? Religion changes our relationship with God into a bunch of rules taught by men to try to control behavior through manipulation and guilt. The problem with getting people to conform on the outside is that it never really reaches the heart where true transformation occurs. People can learn right behavior without ever changing their hearts. In fact, it does more harm than good because it tempts us to be good actors by putting on display our good behavior, hiding our bad behavior, and judging everyone else's behavior. Jesus came to set the captives free. His intention wasn't to free us just to enslave us again, but to transform us through a loving relationship with Him. He never came to bring another religion, but to reveal the true nature of the Father that religion distorted. When the vine of religion gets wrapped around the true gospel, it disfigures God and the relationship he intended to share with us. Our Creator is not an angry god that needs appeasing. He's a loving Father who came in the flesh so He could be known by His creation, us, His children. His intention? To live along side us every day sharing his love with us, and manifesting that love through us. It's so humbling to realize, God Almighty created us just to have a relationship with us! (Acts 17:24-28) That relationship begins here on earth and carries on throughout eternity. He invites us to dance with him. The dance is better if we let him lead. He promises not only to lead us into "life", but "life to the full" if we let Him. For a long time I thought that I needed to do something to get God's approval. As though a father doesn't adore his children simply because they are his. I looked for ways to please Him. Ya know, "What do you require of me, God?" "What would You have me do for You?" Over time I realized, He isn't asking me to do something for Him, but inviting me in on what He's doing. His will is simply for me to join Him in loving whomever He places before me any given day. (John 13:34).
One day while grocery shopping, I got the opportunity to love the woman behind the counter at the deli. While I waited for my turn, I noticed the exchange between her and the other customers. The woman behind the counter was short and rude to the customers, and they in turn would grab their meat, reflecting her rudeness back to her. Or maybe it was visa-versa... who knows which came first, the chicken or the egg? Anyway, the typical payback game was in full swing... round and round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows. As I stood there waiting my turn, God gave me a glimpse of this woman through His eyes and suddenly I felt compassion for her. When it was my turn I said, "Do you have to stand on your feet all day back there? You must be exhausted!" She looked at me and her look softened. She said, "I have a terrible migraine." I said, "I'm so sorry." Then I noticed when she called the next customer, she said, "Can I help you honey?" It woke me up to how God's love can have a ripple effect. God was inviting me in on loving his daughter, acknowledging her worth, and showing her that she is cared for. He was loving her through me and in turn He could love the other customers through her. It may be simple tasks like that where He invites us to minister with Him to a broken world. It's like a dance, when I let Him lead, it's beautiful. When I try to lead, ugh! Unfortunately, just the other day I was leading and it was not pretty. I was getting a prescription filled and the woman behind the counter said, "Next." I heard her voice, but didn't see her for a minute because I thought there was only one cashier checking people out. Then she said again in a very loud, strong, authoritative tone, "I SAID NEXT!" It made me jump. I felt like a little kid in trouble. I noticed it also alarmed people around me. They were shaking their heads in disapproval and whispering. It fueled my indignation toward her. I stepped up to the counter and gave her the raised eyebrow like, "How dare you talk to me like that!" Although the words never left my lips, it was written all over my face. To be honest, it actually felt good for a moment, like I was putting her in her place with the rest of the crowd. You know how it feels to play the payback game. At first it feels kind of good like, "Ha-ya, take that!" That's how sin is, it always feels good for a moment (there's a reason it's tempting), but it's never worth the pain it causes. You've heard the saying, you may have won the battle, but you've lost the war. That's what happened in that moment. No one ever wins the payback game. That was not a shining moment for me. As I walked away, I realized I missed an opportunity to give this woman grace and perhaps missed out on allowing others to witness the transforming power of grace. What if I responded in love and listened for the spirit's voice, and instead of paying back evil for evil, I payed back evil with good. What if I apologized and said, "Oh, my bad, I didn't even realize you opened up another register." and overlooked the offense. Was God giving me the opportunity to change the coarse of this woman's day by letting Him love her through me? Or maybe he wanted me to help others see that there is another way... a way that breaks the cycle of the payback game. See what I mean, not so pretty when I take the lead.
After all these years, I still remember an incident that happened in forth grade... I was in a crowded hallway and everyone was pushing and shoving to get through. I remember a girl behind me ramming her books into my back. I turned and made a mean face and said, "Cut it out!" She looked at me sincerely and said, "I'm sorry, I was pushed into you. Are you ok?" I remember blushing with embarrassment over my quick anger. I think that seemingly insignificant encounter stuck with me all these years because there was a powerful lesson in it for me. When someone responds to our rudeness or anger with kindness, instead of reflecting it back to us, we don't get to justify our anger. Instead we get a clear look in the mirror at exactly how ugly our behavior is.
Now as I sit here and reflect on all this, I can still hear the voice that says, "Shame on you, will you ever get it right?" But I've learned that that's not the voice of my Father. My Father is not the accuser. So I tune in to the voice that says, "Come here, let me help you up."

Stickers Don't Have To Stick!

Warning... know before you read this that it's the philosopher in me speaking, so these are some really deep thoughts... I tend to be a verbal processor. Poor Keith has to listen to me process things. He's such a good listener. My quiet husband processes things in that little head of his. Then opens his mouth and wisdom comes out. When I open mine, feelings and emotions come out first... eventually I sort through it to get to why I'm feeling a certain way. I think that's why I like to write, it helps me process things and seems to help me get to the root of what's going on. 
A friend of mine was telling me how her daughter's feelings were hurt by another little girl on the bus the other day. It's so easy for us to say to our kids, "Oh, don't pay any attention to her, she's just a bully." As though they should be able to dismiss other people's opinions easily. Our intention is to help our kids learn to shake things off and not be easily hurt by others opinions because we know they will face people like that all their life.  Ellie has a little girl in her class now who is unkind to certain people (including Ellie) just about every day. I told Ellie, "Since we don't know what's going on in her life, just assume she might be passing on some unkindness that has been passed on to her. Let's pray for her and ignore her mean comments." I'm trying to teach her not to reflect the ugliness shown her, but to rise above it and have compassion since we don't know all the circumstances in another person's life. Then the other night as I was putting Ellie to bed she said, "I don't want daddy to go with me to the third grade breakfast in the morning". I said, "Why not?" She said, "Because the kids make fun of his bald head." I said, "Daddy is a very handsome man and a lot of men choose to shave their heads." Then I asked her, "What if daddy was embarrassed to have breakfast with you because his friends said, "Your little girl doesn't look like my little girl?" She said, "I'm not embarrassed by daddy, I just don't want them to hurt his feelings." Oops, my bad!  I thought she was embarrassed by him when she was only trying to protect him. I said, "Ellie, don't worry, daddy can handle it." So what's my point??? I guess that people have opinions, and sometimes their opinions hurt us. It's easy to think our kids problems are small, and ours are big. But when their peers judge them, it's as big to them as it is to us when our peers judge us. I got a little taste of that just yesterday, only this woman was not intending to hurt me, she just insulted me by accident. I was with my friend who has a baby and helping her by pushing the stroller. The woman at the counter said, "Awww, is that your grandchild?". Ouch! But that in itself is not an impossibility. I just turned 46 and I do have a married son who is 24 and he and his wife could have a child right now. (I had my first child when I was 21 and made my mom a grandma at 42.) But here's the kicker, my friend who was with me is 39. The woman at the counter then commented, "Sorry, you two just look so much alike." And you didn't assume I was the kids aunt!? So that would make me the mother of a 39 year old. Do the math... Double Ouch! So what do you do when you get a jab to your ego like that? You can't say, "Well perhaps the woman is just being unkind because she's been treated unkindly." She wasn't trying to insult me.  I'll let you in on the ugly egocentric thought process that went on in my head... Get ready, it's pretty gross!  In my head, I quickly ran to my own defense... "I've been running this morning and I do have on my running clothes with a hat and no make-up after all. Then there's my friend who has on make-up and heels and happens to look like she's in her 20's even though she's 39. That must be it. I couldn't look 60 years old could I?" I know, I told you it was ugly, just being real. Later I called and whined to one of my sisters about it. Jeannie's 11 months older than me and has been insulted similarly. We of coarse stroked each others egos and said how crazy the woman was. Sisters are always good for that! That was only a temporary fix though.  I started thinking about how our society's values are pretty messed up. We value people who have youth, beauty, talent, wealth, education... Our society mistakenly judges them as having more worth than people who don't have these things. Our world is so upside down. Think about it. Is a younger person worth more than an older person? And what about beauty, isn't it in the eye of the beholder? Is a person who has been given talents worth more as though the talent originated with them and wasn't a gift to be used to serve others? And wealth... even if you have "earned" it, didn't someone give you the ability to do that. Now I agree some people toss away their gifts, but can we even be the judge of that when we don't know their particular  story? Isn't a person's worth determined by their creator anyway? Why do we think we have the authority to determine each others worth? How can we live in this world and not conform to it's crazy system? In my head, I know those things are not important, but why does the flesh seek them out? Why do we spend so much time and money to hold on to the things that will inevitably pass away? It's such a trap, a cobweb, a tar-baby (remember Uncle Remus?) How can we be set free from that game that we will never win? How can a person's comment hold the power to make us feel differently about ourself. I didn't suddenly become old when the woman made the comment, what became different was how I viewed myself. And what if I am getting old? Isn't that what we all do? Why should that matter? I know that things will cause us pain, but I don't think we're intended to live there, I think we're intended to learn and grow from it.  When I feel pain like this, a red flag goes up and tells me that I'm living out of my flesh again. That is a scary place to be because I'm at the mercy of other people's opinions. I view myself through their skewed lenses. I'm forgetting that what God values is what is really valuable, not what the world values. The world values things that pass away. From time to time I find myself in situations that expose something in me that God wants to free me from. He doesn't want us to be controlled by others opinions or to value things that pass away.  I've learned that the game the world plays is this, we perform a certain way that gets the approval of our culture and hide the things that get us disapproval, because we think that approval is what gives us worth.  It's just insane if we really say it out loud! 
I just wrote on my list the other day to pick up a couple of copies of the book,
You Are Special, by Max Lucado because I thought it would be helpful for my girls and my friend's daughter who was being teased. It's funny how things happen. I wanted to get it to teach my children that no one has the power to take away their joy unless they give it to them. I know that others' opinions only affect us as far as we believe what they say about us. I guess I didn't realize how much I needed the message myself. This book is not just for kids. 
Sorry Max, I'm gonna attempt to paraphrase your book here. The book is about a town of little wooden people (us) whose opinions of each other are in the form of stickers. The wooden people give stars to the people that have qualities they value like intelligence, beauty, talent...  and dots to people with qualities they devalue. In the story Punchonello, a boy with lots of dots, gets so depressed about all his dots that he doesn't want to leave the house. Then one day while looking out the window, he notices a girl with no stars or dots, Lucia (Her name means light. She's a christian.) Punchonello is amazed at her freedom to not be weighed down with dots or stars. (Imagine, not allowing other people's opinion of you to stick. Not giving others that power over you? If their opinion didn't cause you to view yourself differently.) He asks her why the stickers don't stick to her? She says, because she spends time with Eli every day (the maker of all wooden people, God). So Punchonello goes to meet with Eli himself. He asks Eli why stickers don't stick to Lucia. Eli tells him that the stickers only stick if you let them. If what others say matters to you, then the stickers stick. Who are other wooden people to tell you whether you have value or not? Whimicks don't have the authority to tell other whimicks their worth... only the creator of the whimicks can do that. The only thing that matters is who your maker says you are. And your maker says you are special just the way you are. If you decide what others say is more important (or truer) than what your maker says, then you will carry around these debilitating labels that make you feel superior or inferior to other wooden people. If you spend time with your Maker, he will tell you the Truth about yourself and others and the Truth will set you free. Spending time with God will help you trust God's love and the more you trust His love, the less you care about the opinions of others.  My apologies to Max for paraphrasing his book... it's much better when he writes it. We will always be at the mercy of other people's opinions of us, and even our own opinions of us, until we decide... only His opinion is what matters because His opinion is what is true. Oh and by the way, as Ponchunello was leaving, one of his dots fell off.  Notice it didn't fall off when he met Lucia and was told about Eli, and not even when Eli told him he was special just the way he was, but when Ponchunello said to himself, "I think He really means it". It was when he believed what his maker said about him was true. There is a way to live outside of all this mess and it's only through Him. What if we all viewed people the way God does with unsurpassable worth? What if every time we caught ourself taking away a person's worth with our opinions about what we view as good or bad, we stopped ourself and chose to give them their true worth? What if we treated ourself that kindly?