Thursday, August 14, 2014

Just wait - I'm working on it!

It's VERY common in our house for children to have to wait for things.  I'm one mom with two arms and three boys.  Sometimes they all need something at once, and other times, I'm in the middle of other important things and they just have to wait a few minutes.  That's okay, and from my perspective as a mom, it's hopefully teaching long-term character qualities like patience and contentment.  I don't want my kids to have an attitude of 'want it now, get it now'.  So honestly, their waiting doesn't bother me much anymore (at least not as much as it did when I was a first time mom).

It would be easier for everyone if babies and toddlers could just comprehend statements like, "I'll working on it!" and "Hang tight, mommy knows that you are hungry!".  I'm often hopeful that they can be reassured of three things:
1.  That I hear them.
2.  That I'm doing something about it.
3.  That my timing is going to be good.  (even when I choose for them to wait)

Unfortunately, babies aren't like adults.  All they know is that they have a need...NOW...and you aren't taking care of it fast enough.

I'm convinced that one of God's ways of sanctifying us as parents is showing us little glimpses into our relationship with him as "Father".  And I think if we are honest, our hearts are much like babies and toddlers sometimes.
  • We cry (complain / grumble / whine to our friends) because we want and need things.
  • We don't really trust that our Father hears us - so we keep trying to either take care of it in our own way or we remain bitter and upset.
  • We aren't really sure that our Father knows our needs, and don't feel confident that he is doing something we can't see.
  • We haven't considered that our Father might be wanting us to wait for bigger and greater purposes (maybe even to teach us patience or contentment).
  • We don't believe that our Father has our best in mind and has better perspective than we do.
When I say, "Babies - I'm getting your bottles ready...I'm almost done...just wait a few minutes!", I'm reminded that God is in the process of meeting my needs too.  I might be doubting it or feeling confused about how God is going to take care of a situation, but I need to have faith that my Father is "making my bottle" (so to speak).

Of course one thing that doesn't carry exactly in this analogy, is that sometimes when we think we need something, God's answer might be "no" or "wait a really long time" or "I'm going to give you something completely different".  And even in this, I pray I can respond more like an adult who is okay with waiting a while (even for a lifetime), trusting my Father to give me only what's best for His glory and kingdom.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Rest is Disguised as Work

Since I've had 3 little ones at home, I've found it more important than ever to strike a healthy balance between rest and work.  No matter how much I strive, there are always more crumbs under a high chair, more dirty clothes, and more unexpected spills.  The tasks never stop, and giving into the temptation to beat it once and for all can leave me drained and disappointed.  In the moments where I feel overwhelmed by having a toddler attached to my knees and babies on my hips, I sense God's word beckoning me to experience the blessing and command of sabbath rest.  Regardless of your season of life, you need to rest, or eventually you will experience negative consequences of trying to be all things to all people at all times.  

One of the more interesting things I've discovered about rest, is that it often comes disguised as work and things that might appear 'restful' sometimes end up being meaningless or even burdensome.  I've spent many rest times frustrated by this, and I wanted to share the way I've experienced this play out in my life.  (Maybe you can relate to some of them, and have a few to add to the list!)

*For the sake of this post, I'm defining 'rest' as: taking a break from our normal labor in order to re-gain strength, mentally, physically, and spiritually. 

Things that look restful (but really aren't)
1.  Browsing blogs, social media, and Pinterest.
This is one of my go-to 'restful' activities.  It tricks me nearly everyday.  I get a few minutes to myself and my immediate reaction is to pull out my computer or smartphone.  I figure it must be restful because I'm sitting down and I'm not having to think critically about anything.  However, 1 hour later, I usually find my heart in knots.  I've read a handful of controversial and divisive Christian blog posts (which have left me doubting all of my own biblical convictions), I've seen a massive array of home decor items I didn't know I was missing, and I've realized I forgot to Instagram my afternoon tea.  I usually end this time feeling let down and frustrated that I didn't do something more productive, because nap time is over and all I've done is scroll and click.

2.  Retail therapy.  (namely, walking around at Target)
If blogs, social media, and Pinterest are my go-to inside of the house 'rest' activities, then I would call retail therapy my go-to outside of the house activity.  When someone else is watching my kids for a few minutes, a trip to browse the aisles at Target with no one rushing me sounds like bliss.  I picture trying on flats, admiring the new throw pillows, and even digging through clearance items without the threat of anyone's temper tantrums.  But let's face it, when I leave Target with a cart full of items I didn't even know I needed, I don't exactly feel awesome.  I come down from that Target high, and I'm not even sure why I purchased more blue aztec print napkins.  Rest has slipped between my fingers once again, and now I'm wondering what to do with this new stuff I need to manage.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things.  Trips to Target alone are nice, and it is fun to get new ideas on Pinterest.  I'm only saying that in my personal experience, these things aren't good substitutes for REST.  They might provide a entertainment and recreation, but I'm usually not returning to real life feeling energized and ready to go. 

Things that look like work (but can really provide rest)
1.  Exercise
Over 4 months ago, I started training for my first 5K.  Before that, I had not 'sweat' exercised consistently in almost a decade.  Sure, I live a fairly active lifestyle, but I was not a person who really pushed hard at physical exercise.  Running a 5K in July (albeit, slowly) really changed my mindset on these things.  What I've learned is that exercising (to the point where I'm breathing heavy and sweating for 30 minutes or more 3-5 days a week) significantly boosts my mood and energy levels.  Did I mention the word, significantly?  This was shocking to me.  When I take 30 minutes out of my evening or morning to exercise, it sounds like it's going to be a ton of work, but instead it leaves me energized to take on the day.  I never regret exercise (once it's over), and I can often use that time to listen to a sermon or reflect quietly on the things God is teaching me...which is extremely helpful!

2.  Studying scripture
When the kids go down for a nap, I often knee jerk to pull out the laptop, but I love it when I get out my study books instead.  It sounds a little like school work to voluntarily study a biblical doctrine or a few verses of the bible, but I find it to be extremely rewarding.  Getting my mind of off myself is crucial to good rest, and studying God's word gets my perspective right every time.  Worshipping God with my mind is very relaxing to me, and so is writing about what God is teaching me.  I can usually end this time by praying for God to help me re-align my heart and do the tasks at hand for his glory...which is exactly what rest is about!  

3.  Meeting with friends
Once again, it sounds like a lot of work (especially if you are a busy wife and / or mom) to find time to be with friends.  And for introverts, this might not be relaxing at all.  But I am really energized by good conversation over coffee.  In fact, if I'm in a funk and feeling a little isolated, I can usually trace it back to a lack of community and time with women who encourage me in my faith.  I've never left a time with girlfriends feeling more exhausted thinking, "that was draining and not worth it."  No!  I always leave encouraged to pursue Christ and tackle the callings God has laid before me.

4.  Keeping a tidy house
This one is a little tricky, because it requires work before rest (and sometimes if you work more, rest never comes).  But all I know is that when I've managed my house well and kept things tidy, I have a much more restful 'rest time' than if the place looks like a pit of destruction.  I've found that if I leave my cleaning for later, I'll often spend my time resting feeling slightly guilty (so it's hard to fully enjoy).  Also, I have to keep tabs on the clock for my rest if I don't clean ahead of time, because I know that I still need to get up and keep working (versus getting my work done and using the rest of the time for relaxation).  Just a thought!

5.  Crafting, creativity, and baking
Does anyone else feel like working with their hands is therapeutic?  Getting out the craft supplies or the sewing machine makes a huge mess (and one that does take more effort to clean up later), but it's almost always worth it.  Having an hour or two to sew quietly can do wonders for my mood and excitement to be with my kids later in the day.  I'm not sure what it is exactly, but a little creativity and using my brain for other things I can focus on the joy of completing a project for fun...not because I have to, but because I like it.  The same is true for un-obligatory baking!

Of course, there are always obvious things that are restful no matter taking naps and having a quiet time reading and meditating on scripture.  And I don't think it's less spiritual to choose the nap - because God created us to need sleep and we are being prideful if we think we are that one superhuman who can survive well without it.  

What do you do for rest?

...and if you are struggling with resting a little too much, you might like this post on being a "Sluggish Woman" or my sister-in-law's thoughts on being a hard-working wife and mom.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My favorite old sin: Self-Suffiency

Every year in early August, I find myself reflecting on the anniversary of my conversion.  Here are some thoughts as my 8th year as a follower of Christ draws to a close.

(this pic is circa 2004 - my high school graduation - still 'having it all together' on the outside)

I used to tell Jesus, "I got this."  
Before I became a Christian 8 years ago, one of my favorite things to do was act like one.  I thought that the essence of being a Christian was behaving like one...which included doing things like reading the bible, praying, attending church, and doing good htings.  I thought it was especially important to not sin, because it seemed like Christians were supposed to 'have it all together'.

So I would try to have it all together; focusing on my appearance, my achievements, my relationships and my social status.  But, each time I tried to act like a Christian, I would eventually fail and find my life devastated by my sin and circumstances.  This made me feel awful, so I ran to Jesus in worldly sorrow.  I disliked the consequences of sin, but instead of repenting and leaning on God's grace, I just resolved to do better and try harder.  I told Jesus in essence, "I got this. I'm going to start living up to your expectations from now on.  I'm going to start behaving like a good Christian."

For days, weeks or even months (in some cases), I would read my bible, journal, attend church activities, say and do "good" things.  I would push the desires of my flesh deep down, as if I could stop them.  I thought, "If I could just stop acting so unholy, things would be better.  I just need to change."

And my falls got uglier and uglier.  Eventually, I would run out of strength to keep pretending and trying to lead a double life; acting like a complete hypocrite to the faith I supposedly held dear.  Like an un-trained athlete trying to run a marathon, I would crash after the first few miles.  This seemed to confirm in my heart, "I must not be a Christian because I can't act like one.  Why even try?"  Then I would give myself permission to just be "free" and stop trying to obey God's restrictive laws.

This cycle continued until the age of 20, when God miraculously intervened and allowed me to realize that I was incapable of changing myself or acting holy.  It was so freeing to finally admit to God in tears that I needed His mercy, because without it, I was doomed.  I was done trying to save myself...all I could rely on was his grace and pardon.

Let's face it, I still like to try to be perfected in the flesh
These days, it's tempting to slip back into a similar cycle.  I see an area of my life being threatened by sin, and my response is to try harder and make a plan to change.

The scary thing is, before I was a follower of Christ, I didn't have the framework or the knowledge to be able to "try hard" for very long.  But now, I can sometimes disguise good works apart from faith as Christian growth, and no one knows the difference.  But thankfully, God is good, and he won't let me go on in my own strength for long.

He continually weakens my muscles and causes my plans to fail.  He reminds me that the old me was self-centered and full of pride.  I was my own savior.  Sometimes I think I'm doing good if I don't let any "bad sins" back into my life, all the while ignoring the fact that I've given way to my favorite old sin:  self-sufficiency and living life apart from the grace of Jesus.

And this is the lie of the deceiver: that once we become a Christian, we can stop doing bad things and start doing good things.  It is false to believe that after we have saving faith, we move past our need for God's grace and on to working hard to be a better wife, mom, friend, and servant.  The goal isn't to 'get saved' and then 'be good'.  The goal is to love God and find our joyful identity in Jesus.  Out of this flow all heart transformations.

More gospel, less self-sufficency
I hear the Apostle Paul calling me out as he rebukes the Galatians, "Oh foolish, Emily!  Who has bewitched you?...  Did you receive the spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the spirit are you now being perfected by works of the flesh?"  (Galatians 3:1-3 my name inserted for emphasis)

As I embark on my 9th year, redeemed by Jesus, I'm tempted to resolve to try harder.  I want to tell Jesus, "Okay, in my 8th year I didn't do so good, but next year I'm going to evangelize for you, I'm going to pay better attention to my kids, I'm going to serve my husband more, I'm going to stop complaining to my friends, and I'm going to control my love for cookies."  This sounds sooo good, and my law loving heart wants to fist pump and say, "Yes!  Go me!  You can do it!"

But the gospel and the bible bid me to do differently.  They call me to start out this 9th year by getting on my knees and saying, "In my 8th year, I didn't do so good.  But you died for my lack of evangelism, my selfish parenting, my disrespect of my husband, my grumbling, and my gluttony.  Only by your grace and mercy am I saved, and the goal isn't to get better, the goal is to love, know, and worship God.  I have your righteousness, and only by your power can I resist the temptation to sin."  This is more humbling, and it requires my law loving heart to repent and trust nothing but the true savior.

As I embark on my next year as a believer, I want more gospel and less self-sufficiency.
Can you relate?

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Letter for Lewis

Dear Lewis,

I can't get enough of your cute fuzzy hair and your little brick feet.  You are truly a wonderfully-made little boy, with mommy's skin, daddy's light hair, hazel eyes, long eyelashes, runners legs, and small dimples.  But even all of your adorable physical attributes don't do justice to the heart God created for you.  You have a brave heart.  I've almost never seen you not try something because you thought it was too tall, too scary, or too dangerous.  Instead, you calculate the challenge and go for it.  Sometimes once you get into it, you realize that it's too hard and you call for me, and that's okay too.  I'm so glad that you try, and that you aren't afraid of doing things that require great courage.  I'll always remember how physical you are.  I can tell Daddy needs to come home when you start trying to tackle me at the knees, plowing into me like you are a linebacker taking down an opponent.  We've decided that you can climb on most of the furniture, because I think if we restricted all climbing, your little spirit would be crushed.  You've never met something too tall to climb!  One afternoon, Daddy had his 8 ft ladder out in the yard, and with his supervision, you raced your way to the top with no problem.  At the top you seemed disappointed that there wasn't more to accomplish.  Even with your friends and brothers, we're having to teach you about gentle touch.  It's your natural desire to just push, wrestle and whack with a playful and curious attitude.  I wonder if this is the way you wish people would play with you, in a way that gives you a challenge and a reason to rumble.

I hope that as you get older, you learn that God gave you all of these traits (both internal and external) for his purposes and his glory.  I pray that you will see that you can't do everything on your own, that you aren't as strong or as invincible as you think, and that you run to God for his strength and wisdom.  But even if you are a man humbled by your inability, I hope that you remain brave and courageous with faith in what God can do through you with the strengths he gave you.  Lewis means "famous warrior" and I think warrior is a good word to describe your determination and aptitude to physically achieve big things.  We pray every night that God would make you a famous warrior for his kingdom, that you would use your fighting spirit to achieve incredible purposes for the Lord.

But more than anything, my prayer for the next year is that you would internalize the seeds we are planting about God and the gospel.  Mommy and Daddy can't make this happen in your heart on our own, but we really hope you have a 'boring testimony', coming to know Jesus as your savior as early as possible.  Not so that you would have a perfect or easy life, but that you wouldn't remember a time spent out of God's hand of protection and unconditional love in the midst of your trials.

I can't wait to get to know you in your 3rd year, and learn more about the mysteries in your little heart.


p.s.  Here are some pics from your 'Digger Party' at Grandma & Grandpa's house - it was a blast!

from the jensens blog
Grandma Gayla and Mommy made this double chocolate cake for might have had too much cocoa in it because you didn't want to go to bed when we got home!
digger birthday cake - construction birthday party

from the jensens blog

from the jensens blog
You loved using your digger fork to load cake into one of your big diggers.
from the jensens blog

Gabe and Cal were at your party.  They sure do love you!

See Lew's 1st Birthday - a Backyard BBQ