Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Balancing Act--how do we do it?

“How do I balance everything?” 

I've heard this question asked by college students, single adults, parents, co-workers and ministers.  Men and women who've been married a short time or for decades have wondered how they are to balance their responsibilities and their relationships.   This troubling dilemma seems to affect people regardless of age, gender, or stage of life.  Most of us think that once we solve the problematic balancing act, we'll feel successful, effective, and peaceful.

We all feel the problem, but few of us can give or live the solutions. I’ve rarely met a person who actually has the answers for how to master the balancing act.   There’s a reason we keep asking the "balance" question but seldom get adequate, long-lasting advice:

The Bible does NOT tell us to be balanced.

When I flip through the pages of Scripture, I find commands such as: Be holy.  Be wise.  Be fruitful.  Be strong.  Be humble.  Be patient.  I can always count on God's Word to help me think and give me specific directives.  His Word equips me  and every believer for good works, but never does it suggest we be "balanced".

This truth is freeing: Jesus assumes that when you follow Him, you'll be a little off your rocker.  That’s okay because rocking chairs (even the perfectly balanced ones) don’t go anywhere--they're stationary objects, moving back and forth, back and forth, until its occupant is lulled to sleep.

Christians have got to get off the boring rocking chair and stop asking how we balance all these things we may not even need to have in our life.  When our priorities are loving God and people, we're able to focus on what we need to do.  We need to wake up and move forward by striving to be biblical, not balanced.

"He has told you...what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" -- Micah 6:8

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

From Messy Mommy to Missional Motherhood

I had two childhood dreams: to be a country music singer and a foreign missionary.  I admit one desire was of the flesh and one was of the Spirit, but the two dreams worked beautifully in my mind.  I planned to spend all day in the dirt with the people and write/sing their stories at night.

I do not prefer to sit in church and talk about missions, raise money for missions, or read books about other people on the mission field.  I am built by God to be the feet of the Body.  I like to go, see people face-to-face, and tell their story.  I am happiest in life when I can see that I am personally making a difference, so you can imagine my giddy spirit when this mission dream seemed to become reality at the age of 23.  After spending a year as a missionary on an American college campus, my husband and I started the process to serve over-seas.  We had lived off of my husband’s income and saved mine so that we could easily deploy.  3 days before the first plane ticket was to be bought for the first mission conference, I found out that I was pregnant.  The mission agency put us on hold and wanted us to wait a year after having a child, but by that time we were pregnant with the second child and had seen God re-define our plans and give us a clearer sense of my husband's calling.

Unfortunately, I was not happy to find out we were expecting.   For me, having children was the death of a dream.  Raising children didn't fit in my plan:  I wanted to fix people who were already broken, not bring new people into this broken world.  It pained me to watch the money we saved to evangelize the poor go to raising our own kids.  Nevertheless, I could not deny what God had planned and given us--we had decisions to make.

I know enough about child development to understand that the first five years of a child’s life are crucial.  But Titus 2 gave me a greater reason to stay home with my pre-schoolers: I did not want to dishonor the Word of God by chasing my own dreams and desires.  As a young woman, I needed to find the best way to love my husband and children.  I set out to primarily stay home even though I do not prefer “working at home”.  This didn’t just mean I cut a 40+ hour work week out of my life, but also much of my own personal interests.  I rarely sang at church or committed to many extra activities. Any job or ministry that I was involved in during those pre-school years were to contribute to the overall welfare of the family and didn't take me away (physically or mentally) from being the primary care-giver to our children. ( I've had many friends who have desired this lifestyle, but were not able to stay home for reasons beyond their control.  I believe “mom at home” is the best situation, but not always possible.)

As a young mom, my life no longer consisted of a jam-packed schedule that made me feel important. I now lived with a calendar consisting ONLY of doctor’s appointments.  I had left a job where I was around a hundred people a day, talking/counseling/teaching college students to sitting in the living room with one little baby girl.   I didn't know how to sit and nurse a baby for 8 hours a day.  I was conditioned to set goals and finish them, now simple tasks (like laundry) seemed impossible.  I did not know how to go all day long without seeing one adult face.  I didn’t know how to be happy singing to just one little baby when I once got that fulfillment on stage.

There was one word to describe me as a parent of my first new-born baby: Miserable.  Baby Kinley couldn’t talk to me—she screamed at me all day and all night.  Because of her reflux, she was in constant pain and could barely sleep for more than 20 minutes.  Not only that, she clung to me for four years.  She screamed whenever I left her.  One of my family members thought Kinley needed to be psychologically evaluated.  Her dependence on me was not normal.

By the time my baby was 6 months old, I had lost a lot of weight and looked unhealthy.  My body could not keep up with the demands of the baby--between breast-feeding and stress I had nothing left for me.  There was one memorable day when my husband came home and I was emotionally in pieces.  I looked and smelled awful.  I was covered in spit-up and my floor was covered with clutter.  I pined away, “I don’t know what I’m doing.  I can’t accomplish a thing.  Where is my life going?”   Kinley was taking her five minute nap at the time, so my husband took a picture of her off the wall and made me look at it.  “THIS!!!!” he firmly told me.  “You are accomplishing THIS!!!  Look at her!!!  See her fat rolls???  You did that!!!”

And 11 years later….look at that.

I couldn’t see the worth of all those seemingly meaningless mothering tasks at the time.  I can see it now—the places in my heart that were once filled with struggle and doubt are now full of joy and peace.  Anyone who knows Kinley would have a hard time believing all the trouble she caused me as a newborn and toddler.  Let me be the first to tell you—she's not normal, but she doesn't need psychologically evaluated.  She now depends on the Lord as she once did on me.  I could have traveled the world over to be a part of God’s work, but I’ve seen the Holy Spirit just as evident in my own home. I could write a long time about the good works displayed in her, but she's not the point.  It is the Seed that is good, but I got to plant it and construct the soil in which it would grow.  I got to nurture that Seed in her.  God is still using me to prune her and still using her to prune me.  I don’t know if the future holds a period of rebellion on her part or not, but I am confident that the Lord has sealed her heart and claimed her as His.  My husband and I more than halfway done raising Kinley, and it's thrilling to see her heart beat harder for missions than mine ever did. 

As I struggled through my purpose in life, I realized quickly that motherhood could not be my highest calling, or mothering would quickly become my idol.  We are first and foremost children of God, and when we carry out that calling we help our children become like Him.  I've made the decision to spend my ideas and talents on the reality God has given me now, not an idea of something I may have in the future. 

I want to encourage every mother that your work is not going to waste if done in the name of Jesus.  Think of the woman with the alabaster jar (Mark 14:3-9).  She broke the bottle that held her most expensive possession and poured the perfume on the feet of Jesus.  The disciples around her criticized her in their hearts because what could have fed the poor immediately around her was spent on the future of one man.  Jesus didn’t think it was a waste.  He said “she has done what she could”.  I urge you, young mom, to break the jar that holds your dreams and desires and pour it all out on Jesus by serving your family. When you break your jar, let it spill into the homes of others so they can be anointed and refreshed also.  Let what you do in your home proclaim the Gospel to the world.  Don’t try to hold on to a few drops or long for the fragrance back like I did—it will rob the joy out of you.  Break your jar with confidence so the Lord may produce bigger dreams in your children than you could have dreamt for yourself.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Spray Paint and Spiritual Things

I'm sure that my uncle had a lot of faults; funny thing is, I was never aware of any of them.  He's a laid-back, patient man who gets amused by the tiniest things.  I loved playing at his house when I was a child.  I remember chasing cats in his barn, feeding his cows, playing hide-and-seek, and spray painting his wall.  Yep.  Somehow in my free time as a 6 or 7 year old, I found a can of spray paint and took it to the brick wall of my uncle and aunt's enclosed back porch.  I don't remember why I did it, but I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I knew I had to show my relatives what I had done. I don't remember what my uncle said to me, but I do remember that he didn't get angry.  I remember that I did not get disciplined and I knew I should have.

Last night as my kids tricked and treated, they all got to meet my uncle for the first time.  Over 25 years after the incident, my children got to see the evidence of my childhood mishaps.  My aging uncle turned on the dim light to the back porch and pulled back his jackets that hung on the wall.  There it was....clear spray paint on a red wall.    As my kids squealed with delight over their mother's mischief, the conversation went something like this:

Kids: "Mom, I can not believe you did that."
Me:  "Me either."
Kids: "If we would have done that, we would have gotten a spanking."
Me: "Yes. Yes you would."
Kids:  "WHAT were you thinking?"
Me: "I don't know.  What could I have been thinking?"
Kids: "I guess you were thinking that wall could use some re-decorating."

My uncle's reaction was strange.  He chuckled years ago, and today he is still genuinely laughing about the whole ordeal.  He told me that he passed by the "artwork" the other day and thought of me.  My uncle and aunt sat at their table in amusement and said "if that's the worst thing that's ever been done to us, we'd be doin' alright."

My uncle never had to muster up the right feeling when it came to that stuff; he automatically responded well when children messed things up.  There's a reason he doesn't react in explosive anger.  When he built the walls of his house, he wasn't thinking of resale value.  He was thinking of the value of the people in his home.  And though he had every right to lash out at me over the permanent markings, he chalked it up to the fact that kids do stupid things and it doesn't necessarily mean they'll turn out to be stupid people. 

Last night made me think a lot about the things I want to pass down to my kids.  Do I want to pass down shiny heirlooms that sit on a shelf, untouched by grimy hands?  Do I want something tangible that can be admired by observers?  Because the truth is: the prettier something is, the less it's been used.  The fine china doesn't give my kids their daily nourishment--they are fed by the bowls with the dents and knicks.  Each scrape and scratch and scuff on my dining room table tell the story about a happy kid who was coloring or eating or running their toy car across it. 

I want to pass down useful qualities, unseen by the eye.  I want to be a parent who is strict on love, and lax on stuff.  When people look at my kids and grandkids, I want them to see the handy artwork of Jesus (who in the flesh, happened to be a man strangely unattached to things.  He left the world homeless, His only possession being the people He left behind.). 
I wrote un-useful things on my uncle's wall.  His reaction to my uselessness wrote useful things on my heart.