Sunday, July 31, 2016

A response to #myquestionablelife

A response to today's teaching at Highland.

Legalism vs. a life of pleasure-seeking with Jesus as an accoutrement. I hardly know a Christian that doesn't have a history steeped in legalism (do this, don't do that; behave the "Christian" way; deny everything and die to your every desire; serve, serve, serve; earn, earn, earn God's approval and blessing). It's a sad twisting of the disciplines that help to make the soul of a Christ-follower, and a real indictment of our need to be in control all the time. Grace is inherently risky. Oh, the gloriousness of God. A call to freedom and healing by such a powerful and simple thing as trust. I really resonated with the call to live the life that is rooted in the Living Christ, as opposed to running so far away from the weight of the legalistic paradigm that you end up being your own lord and master and adding in Jesus for guilt.  

Living an open life. "Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven." (The Message, Matthew 5) If we are friends, you'll know that I'm all about talking about the real stuff. I stink at small talk. I want to connect with you about stuff that's authentic to your life and your heart. I may find it easier to "go there" than other people, but it would be a lie to say that it's not hard to put myself out there. I struggle with fear-- fear of what too much authenticity (if there is such a thing) might do to the friendship; fear that I will open up and be disappointed at a lack of reciprocity. It wasn't until today's sermon that I realized that when those fears are present, they reveal that my living an open life is all about... me. About what I will get out of a relationship by being open (a meaningful connection?), about what may happen if it doesn't go the way I hope (loneliness? disappointment? embarrassment? pain?).

There's nothing wrong with desiring meaningful connections with others, but I was challenged today to be open with others with my heart centered on reflecting the nature of my generous Father. "Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added." God knows what I need relationally in my life. I can drop the fears and insecurities and trust that by being open I may prompt someone to open their own heart to Jesus, and trust that God is going to bring the people into my life that will connect with me in the way my heart needs. Living from a place of fear, anxiety, or insecurity makes my life closed in and small. It's not the "open house" Jesus was talking about. 

Trusting could bring pain. That choice to live rooted and abiding in Christ-- you know it may bring pain, right? Oh, if I could banish that thought forever. I'm truly growing tired of my brain bringing it up over and over and over again. If I am most tempted to be my own lord and master, it's not to seek wealth and things and empty pleasures. It's to avoid pain. Today during worship after the message, I was pondering the lyrics of surrender in Lead Me to the Cross and I just got frustrated by that incessant nagging pop-up thought that inserts itself into my spiritual journey at every turn. And I think in response to my frustration, the Holy Spirit brought to my mind a time in my life that was immensely painful to help me overcome this question. 

You see, right before Joshua and I got married, I was really seeking the Lord. I desired closer communion with Him, and I wanted Him to reach deeper into my life and make me more like Himself, reveal Himself to me. I remember having a conversation with a friend and I told her, "I just want the Lord to fillet my heart." I meant I wanted him to slice it clean in two, get to the parts hidden within, deal with me in that place. I prayed that prayer; God answered it. The very word "fillet" is used to describe cutting meat with a knife. Did I somehow think I was going to escape without feeling any sort of pain?  

In retrospect, I can see the Lord did the filleting in the most swift and gentle way possible, but it was painful and it was painful on purpose. The deep and wrenching pain I felt led to an education in love, generosity of spirit, openness instead of relational retreat. It was my first course in realizing how selfish I was (the second course started when I had kids). It was the beginning of choosing to put away childish responses to old wounds and instead bear the fruit of the Spirit. Today I looked back and saw all the Lord had built from that one small thorn pierced into my heart, and I realized how I would not give back the ground I have gained just to avoid hurting the way I did. I'm not going to fear the pain anymore. It will come again as life unfolds-- it will visit all of us. But I won't shy away from the life abundant that Christ has for me by refusing to abide in Him and His Lordship because I know something painful might happen today. 

I thought about the crucifixion-- God chose that on purpose, Jesus walking straight into a painful death. Jesus endured the pain for something worth infinitely more to Him-- the redemption of mankind and our communion with Him. He could've chosen to avoid the path of pain. But He would not give away the ground to be gained just to avoid hurting. Shooo-eee! That one got me in the feels, ya'll. 

Anyway, those are my thoughts from today. That and not wanting to raise my kids legalistically but needing to learn the balance of grace and authority in training up these little ones in the way they should go. So much to learn! Glad to be with my fellow Highlanders as we journey down the road. 

Peace and love tonight. Penny for your thoughts!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Cup Overflows

Sometimes, you breathe Psalm 23 as a prayer of faith. Sometimes, it's a smile and an acknowledgment and a "thank-You." 
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. 
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. 
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 
Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. 
There are times in my walk with Jesus that I have opened the Scriptures and I've felt like it's 
like swallowing sawdust. And there are other times when I read and His Word is so sweet-- "sweeter than honey to my mouth!" I would say those sweet moments come during the times when I am most open to His Spirit at work within me and I am abiding in Jesus. Lately I've been working on mindfulness and abiding, which-- to my joy and surprise-- go hand-in-hand. And reading over Psalm 23, I feel like I could dive into the depths of those words and swim in the truths revealed about God and about my identity in Him for a long while. I drink them in... and they quench a thirsty spirit. 

Today I was reflecting on the past week and the words "my cup overflows" popped into my head. It was such an apt description of my heart. Highland's Kids Camp was Tuesday through Thursday at Montford Park and it was truly a thing of beauty. And Thursday evening's Highland in the Park was the icing on top of the cake. I am beyond thankful, joyful, and humbled to count myself as part of the Highland "family" -- and it really is a family, because I know the second I find myself in a hard spot I've got easily 50 people blowing up my phone to help, pray, love on me. After being away from this community for awhile, it's not something that I take for granted. My cup really does overflow. Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever! Amen. :)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Choosing Differently

The sunlight is waning in the evening sky, and I'm standing in bare feet on my back deck while the cool mountain breeze blows my hair around and gives me goosebumps. It's only 7:00 but everyone is already in bed, including Josh, and although I know he needs sleep I'm still working at not being disgruntled over being left lonely. I watch the leaves on the trees flutter wildly, bathed in the golden light of sunset. And for once, in an uncharacteristic bout of emotional intelligence in the present moment, I consciously acknowledge the loneliness that I feel.  

Loneliness is a feeling I hide from. I run for cover so quickly that I rarely take the time to name it, let alone ruminate on the reality of it. Tonight I chose differently.

I came back inside, closing the sliding glass door behind me. The barrier instantaneously shut out the background noise of the wind in the trees, and I was enveloped in a silence that seemed to magnify my aloneness. I looked at the bookshelves heavy with books and considered reading; the television remotes lay haphazardly in a recliner offering escape into entertainment. Instead of groping for those quick fixes, I stood in the middle of the living room, analyzing myself in a way that was quite unusual.

When I'm lonely, I read novels or watch TV shows with my favorite ensemble casts because they mimic the sense of community that I'm hungry for, I said to myself. For once, it was an unappealing prospect. Perhaps because when you're psychoanalyzing yourself, it's easier to see the unhealthy coping mechanisms for the flimsy things they are. This struggle with loneliness is decades old. I briefly wonder if my deep avoidance of loneliness has to do with the sudden loss of a sibling as a young girl. Nevertheless, we moved back to Asheville in large part because of community. You know what to do. In an uncharacteristic bout of willpower, I made an atypical choice.

Shoving the remotes aside, I picked up my phone and sent a text. What are you doing tonight?

That simple message led to hours of conversation on the front porch of a dear friend... woman to woman and heart to heart... wrapped in a hoodie and a blanket to keep warm as darkness descended and the air turned cold. Quiet tears and laughter under globe string lights, loneliness melting away in the warmth of friendship. When I finally drove away to go back home to my house full of sleeping beauties, my heart was full and bright.

It's so easy to pull away when we desperately want to hide from whatever that is that sets off the "ick" alarm inside of us (for me, loneliness). It's so much better to lean in and reach out for connection. That is the stuff our human hearts were made for. So glad I was invited to sit on a front porch tonight. So glad I made a different choice.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why the War in Syria Matters for a Stay-at-Home Mom

As is evident from my Facebook posts and Instagram feed, my days are filled to the brim with my children. A baby, toddler, and almost-preschooler require my almost-constant attention and energy, and my days are filled with feeding children, playdates and playgrounds, family-friendly adventures, and naptimes, bathtimes, and bedtimes. For a while I wasn't comfortable in my stay-at-home mommyhood... I felt like I should be able to raise my children and do something bigger to change the world and fulfill a great calling. It's only recently that I have grabbed onto the fact that for this season, being a mommy is my great calling and I can settle into it and enjoy it while it lasts. So why do I keep sharing articles on Facebook about the war in Syria along with my lament for her people? Obviously I am not a political activist or even someone who can/is going to do something for the people of Syria. I was thinking today about what motivates me to keep drawing attention to Syria and this is why I think it matters to all of us, stay-at-home moms and all:

There is an Albert Schweitzer quote that struck a chord in me the first time I read it and has haunted my memory since: "Think occasionally of the suffering from which you spare yourself the sight." Popular culture tells us rid ourselves from every toxic situation and person in our midst. "I will only allow light, love, and life-giving things that inspire me to be present in my life!" Well, looking at the One who was Light, Love, and Life... I do not see Jesus removing himself from "toxic people" (unless you count the Pharisees, I suppose). The Gospels are filled with His encounters with men and women who were broken and messed up-- the ones nobody wanted to be around. The Savior often inserted Himself right into their path, and did not mind when some were bold enough to step right into His. Good thing he wasn't worried about their negativity.

Following in Christ's lead, I do not think that we should shy away from reality just because it is disturbing, distasteful, or--yes-- negative. It is horrible-- I would daresay toxic-- to read about the woman who watched her son be decapitated by shrapnel and her daughter's limbs be blown off during an airstrike at a Syrian refugee camp near the Turkish border. It makes me nauseated as a fellow human being and downright heartsick as a fellow mama. While I don't think that we should obsess or fixate on what is dark, evil, or macabre in this world, I don't think we should simply refuse to think on anything dark, evil, or macabre, either. Because thinking on it is worth something. Allowing myself to be aware of the deepening situation in Syria (or insert any sickening injustice at home or abroad) has borne the following fruit in my life:

1. Gaining perspective. It is equivalent to a defibrillator shock for getting my heart back into the game. As a mother of three little ones, I am telling you that I easily grow physically tired, mentally and emotionally weary, and sometimes downright resentful of being needed ALL THE TIME. Gratitude is replaced with grumbling, my general demeanor becomes thankless, and I take wonderful things for granted. Wonderful things like three healthy, happy children; a safe home with all the modern conveniences at my disposal; living in a city whose main concerns currently revolve around bathroom signs, unchaining dogs in back yards, and preventing the cutting down of ancient trees to make room for more parking lots. I'm not saying those things don't matter; I'm saying that we have a lot to be thankful for that our situation is not dire enough that they don't matter. Civilians aren't dodging sniper fire in the streets. My children are fascinated by airplanes flying overhead, not terrified that they will die every time they see an approaching aircraft. Despite my own personal struggles and the things that are truly serious in my life, I am reminded to be thankful that the backdrop of my daily life is primarily safe, beautiful, and bountiful.  

2. Taking responsibility. The backdrop of my life is primarily safe, beautiful, and bountiful. Watching from afar as a country decimates its population, using civilians as pawns in a play for power, reminds me that I am partially responsible for weaving the fabric of my own country. In every encounter I can choose love or hate, generosity or self. I can build up society through my words and actions or I can tear it down and contribute to a culture of selfishness, greed, and insatiable consumption. I have the ability to nurture goodness and peace in myself, my home, and my community. God has given us influence.  
3. Praying. Whenever I read the latest on the Syrian conflict-- the death toll of civilians trapped in their razed cities, refugees bombed in their camps, the horror and trauma recounted by survivors of this conflict filled with war crimes-- my soul cries out, God, have mercy! The people of Syria need our prayers. They need our prayers! Our government needs our prayers. I make no claims to understand the intricacies of the Syrian civil war and the politics that play into its endlessness. I have no idea which foreign policy stance would be the best for the United States to adopt in what is increasingly becoming a global conflict as more nations become involved in the fighting. But it's election year. We need to pray for our leaders. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 takes on quite an urgent tone with this lens. 

4. Understanding brokenness. At some point in our lifetime, I am likely to cross paths with a person affected by this conflict. Millions of Syrian people are displaced and moving into Europe. Globalization will bring people into our paths that we could never foresee. First of all, it would make us a lot more culturally intelligent if we had a basic understanding of what the Syrian people have endured for the last half-decade. Secondly, this conflict is another reminder to understand brokenness in the lives of people we meet. We can never know what someone has endured and hidden in their heart. Instead of taking offense (appropriately referred to as the bait of Satan), choose to be mindful of how brokenness affects all of us. Hurt people hurt people. Hurt people are off-putting. Hurt people are... toxic? Back to that Schweitzer quote. 

5. Self-examination. There are Syrians who have chosen to stay in that besieged city of Aleppo. I can't believe that people are still surviving in a place that has pretty much been reduced to rubble, with no electricity or running water, but they are there-- some by choice. I recently read this article about the last pediatrician in Aleppo who stayed because, "who would treat those babies if everybody left?" He was killed when a hospital was targeted by an airstrike. I am always amazed by people who run toward danger when everyone else is running away from it-- those "helpers" Mr. Rogers talked about. There are doctors and medical personnel, principals and teachers, photographers and journalists who know they are essentially choosing to die in a war zone so that they can help the innocents who remain. I ask myself - is there any part of my identity that is so dedicated to loving and serving others that I would choose to sacrifice my life to fulfill the calling? For strangers? Talk about self-examination!

Forcing ourselves to respond internally to the Syrian conflict provides the opportunity for us to act outwardly by choosing to live and move intentionally in the readiness of the gospel of peace. I may be a stay-at-home mom and not a legislator on Capitol Hill, but I believe in the ripple effect. Be the change you want to see.   

Friday, May 13, 2016

Because He Lives

I remember one day when I was eight or nine years old, my dad asked me, "Megan, would you still be a Christian if it could be proven that Christ had never resurrected from the dead?" He was a seminary student in Kentucky and I was following him as we wove our way through the pews of Estes Chapel, which was bright inside from the afternoon sunlight shining in through the windowpanes. For some reason I was on campus with him that day. 

In my little-girl heart, wanting to be true to my faith no matter what and not having the propensity to think through the theological implications of the resurrection, I paused for a minute and then answered in the affirmative. I still remember the incredulous look on his face when he turned around to me and said, "Megan, without the resurrection, there is no Christian faith!" 

I am having a particularly difficult afternoon. Since Olivia's birth I have been dealing with postpartum anxiety and I had reached a breaking point today. Desperate for just one moment to myself without holding/nursing a baby, coaxing a toddler to eat something other than a cracker, or arguing with a preschooler, I asked (okay, demanded) my husband for "just a few minutes" without the kids. 

As soon as the words leave my mouth, the flood of anxious thoughts slams into my mind. A fist squeezes around my heart because of knowing the grief that would come if he took them down to the playground and there was an accident and one of them died and the last thing I said was that I wanted a minute away from them. A visceral physiological response to the anxiety grips me, and I want to throw up in the shower, where I've ensconced myself for sanctuary. I can hear the howling of my heart - that there is something in me that is broken and that I am impoverished in spirit, with nothing left to pour into these little ones with whom I have been entrusted.  

Blessed are the poor in spirit... His Word washes over me as I let the hot water beat down on my head. I cry hot tears that I can feel through the scalding spray on my face. 

Now would be a good time to talk to me, I tell the Lord. I am weighed down by guilt at my inability to handle my easy life compared to so many others in this world who have endured terrible, crushing circumstances. But I know the reality of the state of my soul right now - and there is nothing or no one other than the Holy Spirit that is going to be able to do anything about it. 

The melody and lyrics to that old hymn Because He Lives floated through my head.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow...
Because He lives... life is worth the living, just because He lives...

I pondered the lyrics. Can Jesus make life worth living, just because He's alive? My mind sprang back to the memory of wandering behind my dad in the seminary chapel when he questioned me about the importance of the resurrection. Which then led my mind to the foundational hope that I have found in Christ and the power of His resurrection... that He makes dead things alive again; He takes what has been crushed and broken and makes it into something beautiful; His Spirit can fill that hollowness of soul, that brokenness and poverty of spirit with a supernatural grace to turn my face, mind, heart to goodness and wholeness again, a fount overflowing with something to give. Something of His.  

He is a good God. A wonderful Savior. I am grateful for His attention, and He was there because I called out to him-- a bleating little sheep who had lost its footing today. I cried out from the pit, and He answered me. His love endures forever.

I wrote this blog because I know that although all of our lives' circumstances differ, we often find ourselves in similar straits, at the end of ourselves. Christ encouraged me today, and I hope that I can in turn encourage you by being a reminder of His goodness and response to our needs. Cast your cares on Him, and He will sustain you; cast your anxieties upon Him, for He cares for you. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Parallels

His Aunt Shell is here with his cousin to play, and he can't come out of his room until he picks up his Legos that he dumped all over the floor. There are other toys strewn about, but I'm not focusing on those. Just the Legos, Aidan.

An angry outburst complete with the attitude of a teenager wanting Mom to just shut up quickly melted into heartbroken sadness that he was unable to enjoy the dance party his sister and cousin were having in the living room. "I don't want to be in time out!" he wailed.

"You aren't in time out, Bear," I told him lovingly. "You can come out just as soon as you pick up your Legos."

"But I don't want to be by myself!"

My mama's heart squeezed to the max, I sat down beside him on his bed and wrapped him in my arms. "I love you so, so much, Bear. You aren't by yourself. I'm right here." The crying lessened a little.

"I just want you to do it, Mama."

"No, Bear. You have to learn to clean up the messes you make. Mommy can't do it for you."

This was the scene yesterday afternoon in my house, and as I sat next to Bear on his bed I was struck by the spiritual parallels of this moment that I was having with my three-year-old. It pretty much mirrors me and the Lord sometimes. Sin that isolates and robs the joy set before me. An immature expectation of God to take a magic wand and erase the consequences of my choices and actions, or to make it not hard to do what He wants me to do, or for Him to just do the work Himself without requiring any (or much) effort on my part. Nevermind the principles of sowing and reaping that are established in His Kingdom. 

Checkmate. You're right, Lord. Help me to get it right so that I can teach this little boy to run and follow hard after You.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Coming Home

For a brief moment in time, I'm alone. Moments of solitude are rare nowadays... part of the package... a package that I love. But it's always in these pauses from the demands of "Mommy! Mommy!" that the emotions settle and my heart asserts itself into the silence. Today, I'm sad.

Contentment has been easy to come by in our return to Asheville. Despite being a Florida native, returning to live in Florida a year and a half ago didn't feel like a particular homecoming. The Blue Ridge stole my heart about the same time that Joshua did, almost a decade ago. And two weeks ago we returned to once again make the mountains our home. On moving day I ascended up the first steep grade from the Piedmont alone in the car with Olivia, and I felt contentment settle upon me, just like the misty clouds settled upon the weathered shoulders of the mountains that day, a mantle laid upon gentle ridges burgeoning with the first blossoms of spring. The beauty of this place ministers to my soul. The change of the seasons mirrors an internal longing I have for transformation. It makes me happy to think about raising my children here. We have a community glad to see us return. Life is full of good things.

But sad I am, all the same. The heart doesn't always keep time with circumstances. I miss the friendship of my mother, the fullness of having a home always full with life and love and voices laughing and discussing and disagreeing and arguing over whether we would be watching yet another political debate or the Lightning game. I see in my children, especially my son, the hole that the absence of Nana and PopPop has left. I see it in myself, if I look closely enough. And it reminds me of the inevitability of death (because if you know me well, you know that eventually everything circles around to death for me) and the fact that one day the loss will be permanent until we are reunited in Glory, not just a temporary geographical separation lessened by FaceTime and phone calls. And this is probably where that familiar sadness comes to settle... a part of me wounded in childhood that left a large and jagged scar; the part that is always eager to play its song when anything remotely hinting of loss says hello. And so I write for catharsis instead of turning to more detrimental coping devices. Since all of the Oreos are gone.  

We are all wounded people -- I know how deeply my one childhood trauma has affected me, even 25 years later. It makes my heart ache for those more deeply broken, more repeatedly broken, or still with gaping wounds that the Healer has not been invited to touch. Let us treat each other gently, yes? And on this Good Monday let us praise God that by His wounds we are healed... what a pleasure to trust in and allow our Lord to deal with our guarded and wounded places, He who has redemption in mind. It is Good News, indeed.