Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Guilt: Snakes and Safeguards

                   ( Part 2 of a series on Guilt.  For part 1, see Guilt: The Mother Load)

My neighbor proudly showed me his picture of the six-foot black snake he killed in the back yard.  I’m pretty sure he expected me to gasp at the sight or fall down and thank him for rescuing our neighborhood from the hideous creature.  To his frustration, I asked: “that’s a king snake.  Why’d you kill it?”

There has always been a tension between me and some of my best friends that I’ve watched have cardiac arrests at the mention of this animal.  It’s very hard to convince people who are deathly afraid of snakes that there IS something good about those slithery enemies.  As a country girl, born and raised, my dad taught me something most people seem to forget:

Snakes eat rats.

(I am aware that cats eat those too, but there are people who also mistakingly think cats are evil, man-hating creatures.  This blog is about snakes.)  Snakes not only eat rats and mice, they eat pesky insects that damage crops.  My dad didn’t grow an acre-and-a-half garden every year like this (rain or drought) by going willy-nilly with a hoe or shotgun on every meandering reptile that crossed his path.

Snakes, in and of themselves, are not a problem.  The problem is their poison.  If you don’t want to live in rat-infested homes or with damaged crops, you will learn to kill the poison and appreciate the snake.  

Likewise, guilt, in and of itself, is not a problem.  In fact, guilt is a spiritual safeguard.  It is the verb, noun, and adjective that can keep dangers and diseases from rotting our souls.  If we want a fruitful spiritual life and flourishing garden that nourishes those we are around, we will learn to pay attention to, and adequately respond to our guilt.
I will address false guilt in my next blog post.  For now, let’s look at how God dealt with guilt in the Old Testament.  Lev 5:14-19, 6:1-7, and 7:1-6 tells about the procedure for a ‘guilt offering.”  If there were any of God’s people guilty of an offense against God or another person, and there was a possibility of restoring the offense, that person would have to bring one of his own possessions and sacrifice it at the alter.  It did not matter whether the offender meant to do harm or not—the point is God’s standard was not met and there had to be a substitution for the wrongdoing.  The transgressor had to sacrifice something important to him/her-- an innocent animal without a blemish or imperfection.  Once the ceremony was complete, the guilty party would repay what he or she owed plus 20%.  These acts of worship were important for safeguarding the community—the public was reminded of the standard that keeps people from being harmed or robbed from God’s best, the offender was motivated to act justly and wisely in the future, and all the wrongs were made right.

We can appreciate Jesus more fully when we dive into the practices of the Old Testament.  If you are familiar with the New Testament, particularly Romans 5, you will understand that Jesus, who was perfect and innocent, substituted Himself for us on the cross.  We often do the wrong thing, whether innocently or knowingly, but now because of Jesus, we do not have to sacrifice ourselves or our belongings.  We can confidently say "I WAS guilty, but with Jesus I am no longer condemned." It’s a radical tension to live with, but the blood that should be on our own hands, is now on the hands of Jesus.

The world will do a fine job of trying to excuse your guilt from you.  You’ll hear the subtle reasons for your bad decisions—your needs weren’t met as a child, your environment wasn’t right, your parents didn’t nurture you, your personality just is the way it is, your ADD wasn’t medicated correctly.  But this country girl can tell you what the world is doing to you—they are killing your harmless snakes and letting the rats infest your heart, to the point that the guilty people don’t actually feel their guilt and the innocent people bear the weight of guilt that is not theirs to be responsible for.  Maybe we need to hear: “you really are guilty.”  We can't excuse it, cover it up, forget it, or remove it.  There is only remedy for guilt: Jesus had to die for it.

Still, there are many times Christians sin and make mistakes.  We have guilty emotions to keep us from further temptations, pitfalls, and sins.  Even though we are to trust in Jesus’ work, we DO still have to work.  But we don’t correct our guilt by making further sacrifices.  The new law is “Trust and obey”.  If we’ve sinned against someone, we ask forgiveness.  We pay back what we owe if that’s possible.  When we realize we’ve made a bad decision (on purpose or innocently) we just admit it, learn from it, and move on.  We can't keep hanging around the Old Testament ceremonies smelling the blood, feeling bad that we are not the perfect sons and daughters of God.  We need the courage to look that king snake right in the face, discern if it is useful or poisonous, step over him in obedience, and let the freaky thing do his job without freaking out about him. what ways does this analogy disturb you?  :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Guilt: the Mother Load

As a young child, I was advised on managing my emotions.  As a teenager, I was taught the value of hard work and operating a budget.  As a college student, older women coached me in the art of running a household.  As a young woman preparing for marriage, I spent hours in pre-marital counseling learning how to establish effective communication habits with my spouse.  But nowhere in my three seconds of pre-children counseling, was I prepared for the daunting task of managing my guilt as a mother.

I graduated college with a B.S.E. in elementary education.  I spent hours behind a desk learning how to be a specialist in classroom management.  Yes, I am certified by the State of Arkansas to teach the ABC’s and 123’s and beyond to multiple children by using Apple Annie, plastic teddy bear counters and geometric pattern blocks.  I am a trained bachelor of academic education, but somehow expected myself to be the master of motherhood. 

Unfortunately I found out that being a proficient mind-reader of my infant was a process and not an instantaneous skill given to me at her birth.   I had to learn that one cry meant “hold me”, consistent crying meant “feed me”, and multiple soft fusses accompanied by the moving legs meant “I need to poop”.  I failed to be a fortune-teller, unable to for-see the toddler quickly pull herself up in the bucket of the shopping cart, flip over, and land head-first on the parking lot pavement.  I released myself from that guilt when the same child made straight A’s in kindergarten (Whoo!  No long term damage).  I wasn’t naturally adept at managing the umpteen antibiotics, multiple aspirators, and Kleenexes that came with the ear infections.  And of course it was my fault that my children had the numerous ear infections.  I didn’t eat enough spinach while pregnant.  I should never have taken them to germ-infested grocery stores.  Instead, I should have been at home milking my own cow and tilling my flower-bed sized yard into a flourishing garden of beans and herbs and wheat.  I should have also played my genetics card right and married someone with big ears to counter-balance my tiny canals that passed on just the right amount of genetic conditions making someone susceptible to allergies and snot-blocked auditory meatus that resulted in multiple infections and five surgeries of two of my children.  Or I could have just realized sooner that we were all allergic to dairy.  I guess the cow would have gotten in the way.

It was hard to come to grips with the fact that I was no magician—unable to enchant my young ones to the exciting adventures of eating small trees and leaves in the form of broccoli and lettuce.  I did not charm my refluxed infant into rhythmical sleeping patterns in order to have a peaceful night’s sleep.  As a mother, I expected myself to be equipped as a judge between the sibling rivalry, a referee in their monopoly games/soon to be wrestling matches, a diplomat in the affairs of childhood disagreements, a politician that inspired my little followers with my riveting rhetoric, and a coach that produced winning champions and child prodigies.  When I don’t perform these jobs with correct discernment, skill, some creative acrobatics, and of course, a soothing, pleasant tone of voice that results in instantly well-mannered, healthy, responsible, and sensible children, guess what happens?   I get a visit from my undesirable companion: GUILT.

Guilt is a quirky little beast familiar to all moms who actually care about their children.   But I’ll tell you that I’ve found ways to contain this shrewd animal with his seductive eyes, sharp claws, and a paralyzing, poisonous bite.  At my house, he's trained to stay in his cage.  I hear him scratching every now and then.  Occasionally he escapes, but I’m quicker now and clever enough to trap him again.  He spends more time hearing me laugh at him than I do getting irritated or immobilized by him.

Next week, with Snakes and Safeguards. I want to pass on what I’ve learned about guilt: how guilt is both useful and useless, and what we mothers (or anyone else) are suppose to do with it.  Until then…
Grab a recycled spoon and have some lactose-free vanilla yogurt mixed with honey and topped with sugarless granola and pesticide-free strawberries.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Praying through the Pain

I usually write my blogs with other people in mind.  The teacher/counselor in me seeps out as I pass along the info and experiences I've gathered along my life.  I believe that there answers to everything problematic in life--I take pleasure in finding and giving answers.  Not to mention, I like sharing my opinion, and the blog forum gives me the outlet to do so even though no one is specifically asking. :)

But tonight, I have a different agenda.  This blog is about me and my problems, specifically one of my child's problems.  I need prayer.  Our family needs prayer.  I've already cried to God and don't want to text anyone this late at night.

I'll give the background story that most people know already.  Over two years ago, my husband and I made the decision to move towns for his job/vocational ministry.  The decision was a pivotal spiritual moment in our lives.  We felt God directing us to a college ministry on a different campus.  Individually and collectively, my husband and I pointed to Genesis 12 and studied the story of God's call on Abram/Abraham to get up and move to the land God would show him.  We were confident that God was directing us to get up and move again.  We aren't "fathering"  many nations like Abraham did--but, when it comes to evangelizing and discipling college students, in a sense, we are spiritually parenting a small part of the nations.  For this, I am truly happy and deeply satisfied.

As most of you know, nothing went smoothly for about two years.  Our house wouldn't sell for the first few months, my husband was out of town during the week and then came home for weekend daddy duty and husband hours.  Every once in a while, someone would ask me if I regretted the decision to move.  With the exception of a two week period of doubt in those two years, I said no every time.  I became a proficient reader of Genesis, analyzing every detail in the life of Abraham and Sarah.  I truly believed that just because things weren't "working out" did not mean God had quit working.  I constantly had to remind myself that this move was not about me and my family; it was about the advancement of the kingdom. 

Living in limbo and by faith that can't see around the corner has not been easy.  But by far the most difficult part of this process is feeling like a bucket-collecter for all of our children's tears.  For the longest time, one or all three would cry for Dad, cry over their former school, cry for their old house and neighborhood and former church, and weep because they missed their friends.  The hurt has been felt most deeply by my oldest daughter.  She is sweet and loyal and genuinely loves people.  It hurts her to leave people and she desperately misses her old life.  As in the story of Abraham and Isaac, I felt like we parents were continually putting our kids at the alter, holding a knife over them, waiting for a substitute provision of God to keep the pain from going to its deepest level.

A renewed sense of peace washed over me two weeks ago when my daughter said: "This has been really hard and I didn't want it.  But I think God moved us here for a reason and I think it was the best decision. I'm glad to live here."  She still believes that but this week has shed more tears.  She started school a couple of weeks ago (she had the choice of me homeschooling her or going to school when a spot opened up for her).  She's the "new kid" now and the 7th girl in her class of 19.  The other 6 girls have already paired up with their bff and our oldest daughter is the odd girl out.  She spends her recesses alone, swinging and reading, reminiscing her old friends as she watches others frolic about happily the way she once did.  She loves the Lord and longs for a Christian friend.  If  not a Christian, at least someone with character, but the truth is she is more mature than most her age and has a difficult time with the common cruelties of other children.

Once again, I feel like we're raising the knife over our kid.  We feel responsible because we are the ones who "climbed the mountain" by moving from Fort Smith to Central Arkansas. We're the ones holding the knife by our decisions.  And I just wonder, how long do we have to wait?  I don't believe God calls us to sacrifice our kids for the kingdom.  God sacrificed his own son so we wouldn't have to sacrifice ours.  But they do suffer.  My oldest daughter is repeatedly bound up by the lingering anguish of loneliness.  I know there are bigger problems in the world, but not right now for her world.

I know the answers.  This a time of struggle that will build her character.  She has to learn that God is her ultimate bff.  This situation will help her comfort others as she has been comforted.  There are answers, but there has been no earthly solution for two years and counting.  And at only 9 years old, that's a significant percentage of the life she's known.

So please pray.  Pray for my husband and I.  Pray for our kids.  Pray for wisdom for us and a solid friend for our precious girl.  I want to cut the ropes and put the knife away for good, but feebly trusting I'll hear a rustle in the bushes signaling God's provision for this tension.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Friends of Faith: the people that persevere

I’ve heard a lot of testimonies recently from Christians who were in troubled times and God instantly and miraculously delivered them from their troubles.  I love those stories.  I live those stories.  I can not list the many times God has protected me, provided for me, and proven that He is capable of making possible the impossible.  In Hebrews 11 (the famous Hall of Faith), there are numerous stories of those faithful men who “conquered kingdoms…shut the mouths of lions…quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword.”  There were women who received back their dead loved ones by resurrection, groups that walked through the parted Red Sea and watch the strong walls of Jericho fall down.  There is even a man named Enoch who didn’t experience death.  He just flew away in the sky.  Could that be me please?????

But there are other stories recounted in Hebrews 11.  There are stories of people who obeyed God when it cost them everything.  Obedience cost their homes, their property, control over their children, their reputation, and their own lives.  These are stories that are compelling to read about, and complicated to live out.

I know a few people whose names I could insert into Hebrews chapter 11.  They are dear friends of mine.  They are around my age, and in my opinion, not old enough to experience the hardships that have been placed before them.  For their own privacy, I can’t mention most of their names, but I can put their circumstances into categories: 

*I have two friends who are experiencing significant health problems.  Not the flu, or the allergies or asthma we deal with in my household.  Their health issues are life altering, making them unable to function in the every-day activity of life.  I’ve tried to pity them and they won’t let me.  They turn the conversation around and praise their Father. 

*Then there’s Sabrina, who was widowed in her early 30’s.  She’ll be the first to tell you that the single mom life mixed with grief is hard.  She doesn’t pretend.  But she just WON’T give into despair.  The harder life gets, the more she’s determined to trust God through it all.

*Then there are my friends who spouses have committed adultery.  Note the plural form of friends.  Some have been forced to divorce.  Some have reconciled and have a thriving marriage, leaving an incredible legacy for their children and covering a multitude of sins.  My friends feel rejected.  And yet they are resolved to trust in God’s faithfulness even when His own people can’t seem to pull it off.

*Then there are my friends who have children with special needs.  The care for these children is so constant, so tedious, and so demanding, with very little glory given to the parents.  These parents are exhausted.  And yet they endure.  They persistently show the love of the Father with very little earthly reward.

*Last but not least, my sister.  She is an able-bodied, capable and smart woman.  Somewhere along the way she’s realized that to those whom much has been given, much is required.  Right now, she is involved in a scenario that is tragic. She is offering help, aid and assistance for people at the expense of her time, money, emotions, and physical health.  She is simply sad.  And yet she is steadfast in proclaiming the Good News and being Jesus in the flesh.

The people in these five scenarios have no earthly promise that things are going to turn out okay.  They are people like in the Faith Chapter who have not yet “received the things promised, but [have] seen them and greeted them from afar, and [have] acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

These faithful people remind us to not grow weary.  We are to persevere no matter how simple or substantial the specific acts of obedience about God’s commands to love Him and others.  They are people who have figured out that God is good even when life isn’t.

When I was 18 years old, a roommate challenged me to memorize Habakkuk 3:17-19: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God the Lord is my strength….”

To put that passage in our context, I encourage you to live with this declaration: “Though there be no food in my pantry, no money in my bank account, no health in my body, no daddy for my children, no faithfulness from my spouse, no “normalcy” for my child’s future, no end to my friend’s pain, no glory in my circumstances, I WILL rejoice in the Lord.  I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God the Lord is my strength.”