Can You See Me?

Can you see me? Because I want you to. But, as badly as I want you to see me, I’m terrified that you will; if you see me, then you can reject me. And rejection hurts.

image courtesy of josef.stuefer via flickr

image courtesy of josef.stuefer via flickr

The really crazy part is, if you don’t see me, I still feel rejected. And it still hurts.

I want to be seen, but being seen is scary.

Do you know me? Do you really know me? Maybe more importantly, do you want to know me? Because I want to be known. But, my fear of rejection overshadows that desire, too.

courtesy of istock. Used by permission.

courtesy of istock. Used by permission.

Do you see me now? Because some of the time I don’t want to be seen…not really. Being seen involved being exposed. And being exposed almost always means pain. If you really see me, you will see that I am not perfect. To be seen is to be vulnerable. And vulnerability is very scary.

I think vulnerability is scary for anyone, but it is especially scary for me. You see, growing up someone very close to me told me that once people got to know me, they wouldn’t like me. So, the very thing I longed for, the very thing we’re designed for, became an incredible source of fear and pain. I needed to be seen, but being seen would mean being known, and being known would mean rejection, and rejection means pain.

Yet, to a one who needed to be seen, God has become El Roi…the God who sees.

And what is more precious than to be seen by the very Creator of the Universe? What can be more amazing? Even just thinking about it makes my head spin!! The Creator of the Universe, the One who holds everything together, arguably the most important being in the Universe, sees me. Not only does God see me, He knows me. 

God knows me in ways no human being ever will. He sees not only my appearance, He sees and knows my heart. 

He sees and knows my heart…and He loves me anyway. He loves me so much that He sent Jesus to die for me, to set me free from the pain of sin and death. How incredible is that?! 

I still struggle with fear of rejection. But, as I begin to more clearly understand the depth of God’s love for me, and as I learn to live in light of His love instead of in fear of man’s rejection, the sweetness of the fellowship is beyond description. And it is anything but painful.

The Idol of Abstinence

The news is spreading across the Internet…Bristol Palin is pregnant, again. And she is still not married.

In most any situation, this would be awkward. But for Bristol, the issue is even more complicated. She’s been an outspoken advocate of abstinence for the last six years. And she has been paid a significant sum of money to be that outspoken advocate…to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Well…I guess we can see how well that worked…

 

abstinence idolYou know what I think? I think we’ve made virginity some kind of idol…as though it is the most important thing in the world to preserve and protect. Our children’s virginity is our measure of success as a parent (“well, at least they stayed pure…”) or our scarlet letter of shame.

But should that be the measure of success for us as parents?

Is our most important metric whether or not our children abstain from sexual activity until they say “I do”? Really?

What about rebellion?

We joke about it and make light of how teens rebel. In some ways we expect it.

But that is wrong.

The Bible is clear about a spirit of rebellion…it is like witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23). And I’m pretty sure that is worse than having sex before you’re married?!

More than worry about rebellion, or purity, or behavior in general, what we need to worry about is guarding our children’s hearts. The New Living Translation says it best, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23.

Please, parents, don’t focus so much on your child’s “sexual purity” that you forget to guard your child’s heart. That is what drives their behavior.

Remember, sex is designed by God for our pleasure. Yes, it is designed to be shared between a husband and a wife. But, bodies do what they’re designed to do, whether they are married or not. Our children can very easily and quite by accident find themselves in compromising situations. They make mistakes. And so do we. 

That is the beauty of a relationship with a God who knows and understands our brokenness. He has already made provision for our sin  and He empowers us to walk in His strength.

Brokenness with repentance is a precious thing.

Rebellion, on the other hand, is ugly and has few remedies.

So I ask…what do you really want? A child who does all the right things but for all the wrong reasons? Or do you want a child who may or may not stay morally/sexually pure, but they recognize sin when they commit it, love Jesus, and are willing to repent when they make a mistake?

What is a better measure of success?

Guaranteed Outcomes?

I wish life had guaranteed outcomes. I really do.

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I wish that it worked like a vending machine; you put a certain number of coins in, you make your selection, and tada…whatever you want comes out of the little slot.

 

 

 

Or you go to the coffee shop and give them money and they give you a cup of joy with foamy creaminess.

Photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Unfortunately, life does not have guaranteed outcomes. You can invest your entire life in something, only to have it collapse into a heap before your eyes. You can invest your life’s savings into a “guaranteed” investment opportunity, and watch your future disappear in moments. You can make “all the right choices” and still deal with negative consequences, through no fault of your own.

That can be especially true in parenting.

Parenting, it turns out, is much like a crap shoot. You can make your choices, but you really don’t know what the outcome will be for a very long time. And even if you do all the things that “experts” recommend, you can’t guarantee outcomes, especially as children get older. It isn’t like when they are young and you can control all the details of their environment. In the end, control shouldn’t be the goal anyway. Having worked with college students professionally and raising a few of my own, over-controlled home environments leave children weak and unprepared for the real world when they leave home, and be assured…they will leave.

But, it still seems like we should have some guarantees…some sort assured return on our investment, especially when we try so hard to be faithful. And when you don’t get the outcome you expected, prayed for, worked towards, and invested in, it is very disappointing. Such has been my reality lately. God and I have had many a serious conversation on this issue, usually involving tears, and a great deal of meditation on what the Bible says about parenting.

And what the Bible says about parents.

Which led me to Daniel.

In the opening verses of Daniel, we find out that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all taken to Babylon after Judah fell.

What I find intriguing about Daniel and Co. is that in a generation so corrupt and disobedient that God sent them into captivity, these four young men were different…very different. They were so in love with the Law and the Law Giver that they resisted the peer pressure and indoctrination of the Babylonian Empire, remaining true to God and His ways through out their lives; Daniel for more than seventy years.

That didn’t happen by accident.

It happened because their parents did a fantastic job raising them

in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

We can tell by the outcome that these parents did a good job, in the midst of a perverse generation where so many others failed.

Judging by the results, these parents did everything right. And I am very confident watching their boys be carted away by the lawless, heathen Babylonians was not the outcome they’d expected. And they probably never knew what the real outcome was. If they were anything like me, they struggled with what God allowed to happen.

On further reflection, though, I’m struck with the reality that God loves our children more than we do. Indeed, Jeremiah 29:11 is just as true for them as it is for me…God knows the plans He has for my children, and His plans are for good, not harm…for them or for me.

Romans 8:28 & 29 talk about God’s plans as well. He promises to use everything in our lives to make us more like Jesus.

That is absolutely the outcome I desire for my children…what more could I want for them than to be more like Jesus.

I am beginning to learn, however, that it won’t look like I want it to; it won’t be the neat, tidy package all wrapped up with a bow like I planned. My children will experience heartache and disappointment. My children will make poor choices and suffer consequences…consequences I would try to protect them from. But, in my desire to protect them from pain, I might also prevent them from truly knowing God, from being able to find comfort in Him. After all, when do we get to know God the most intimately?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Through pain.

We can’t get to know God as Healer until we need to be healed.

We can’t get to know God as our Strong Tower until we need some place to hide.

We can’t get to know God as Comforter until we need to be comforted.

It is in those moments, when we most need Him, that God helps us understand His love in a way ease and comfort never will.

Suffering can build intimacy and faith.

Suffering can develop trust and confidence.

This has been true in my life. And as painful as the process may be, it is what I pray will be true for my children…

intimacy with God…a deep abiding confidence in His character, regardless of circumstances.

As I walk a broken road with children whose hearts I can no longer protect, the One who has so faithfully carried me is proving that He can also carry them. It doesn’t get much better than that.

A Cord of Three Strands

I’m studying in Colorado right now, investing time in theological development classes for Cru. And I’m on my own; my family is still in Spokane. That is by design; it is easier to study and work on projects or assignments without the pitter-patter of little feet.

It is also the first time in my adult life that I’m on my own. Even before I got married, I lived with roommates or at home. I’ve never had space all to myself, even temporarily. It’s actually been very nice, too, for the most part. As the mother of many, I am surrounded by noise. It’s okay; noisy children are generally much healthier than quiet children…I’ll take the noise any day. But constant noise wears you down. Sometimes it is nice to sit in silence. It is also nice to be the only one making messes; it is so much easier to keep things tidy that way. Or to leave a mess out with no fear that it will be disturbed; very convenient when working on major projects over a period of several days. Cooking is easier, food lasts longer, laundry is quick and simple. In so many ways, living by myself is easier than living in a full house.

But, easier isn’t always better.

Since I’ve been in Colorado, I’ve been sick twice. Once wasn’t so bad; I kind of knew how to manage. The other was all sorts of awful. Fever, body aches, tummy troubles, exhaustion…the whole nine yards. And I was all alone…nobody was around refill my water cup or to re-wet the cool cloth I was putting on my head. Nobody to make me a smoothie or heat soup or wash the dishes while I was down. A whole day went by where I didn’t eat and hardly got out of bed. I was sick!

That experience drove home a lesson Solomon wrote about a long time ago. Ecclesiastes 4 says “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV.

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Generally I associate this with marriage. Indeed, that is the context in which I have heard it mentioned most often. And the idea that the Holy Spirit is the third part of the aforementioned cord is great for illustrating the strength available to Christian couples who rely on the Spirit in their relationship. But I think that oversimplifies and misses the point of what Solomon is saying, mostly because he isn’t talking about marriage in this passage. He is talking about community.

We use the word “community” quite loosely in our culture. We have community centers, we try to foster “community” while mourning its loss, both inside and outside the Church. We are more connected digitally connected

"Global Network Devices" Image courtesy of hywards at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Global Network Devices” Image courtesy of hywards at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

than ever in history, and more lonely than ever as well. I don’t think we are really experiencing the biblical idea of community, at least not as a general culture. And that is sad.

The reality is, we are all need community and fellowship. We are all on the verge of falling down or needing help to get back up, but in so many ways we’re traveling in isolation, afraid to let anyone know our weakness or potential for falling. And we are worse off because of it.

I don’t have any wonderful solutions. Just the realization that community is a good thing and I want more of it. I am also equally aware that community isn’t instant, easy, or problem-free. Sometimes the people in our community contribute to our falls. Sometimes we contribute to theirs. Community is messy. And often painful. It is the opposite of easy. But in the end, it is so worthwhile. And the fruit of walking with people, through brokenness and failure, through pushing and being pushed, through helping people back on their feet and being helped…the fruit of walking in humility and brokenness with others is the treasure of community…of being truly “known” and knowing others.

photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers, all rights reserved

photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers, all rights reserved

That is a treasure that can not be replaced by digital devices, meet ups, or sterile community centers. That treasure can only be found in the hard work and muck of walking through life together…falling down and getting back up…in true community.

What do you value about community?

What do you fear?

How do those realities affect your choices on a daily basis, and what do you want to do about it?

 

Not So Merry Christmas

For most of my life, Christmas has been a time of wonder and magic, and not because dreams come true. Christmas has been a wonderful time because for as long as I can remember, family has come together for laughter and merry making, all centered around the birth of Christ. Oh sure, there may have been some conflict here and there, but my childhood memories are free of such distraction. Even my adult memories have been mostly joy-filled.

A few times, however, life has been anything but merry over Christmas. One of the hardest was twelve years ago when I was grieving the death of a precious baby girl delivered into the arms of Jesus far too early. It is tradition to decorate for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. But I didn’t want to; I was still so devastated from my loss that it was virtually impossible to even think about being merry, let alone invest the energy to make it happen.

Our then 7 year old daughter, however, would have nothing of my humbug attitude. Single-handedly, she got the decorations out, and engaged everyone in helping put them up, even her Scroogely mama. I will never forget how God worked through that time, or through that precious girl.

Fast-forward twelve years, and once again I am facing a holiday that isn’t quite so merry. The reasons are different, but the heartache is all too familiar; disappointment and loss, well seasoned with rejection. The enemy’s lies are mingled in, making today not quite so merry as it has been in years past. And I find myself at a cross-roads. Today is supposed to be so fun, the highlight of the year. Families gather to exchange gifts and laugh. Most of my Christmas memories are sweet and joy-filled. Do I let the pain I am experiencing today overshadow the joy of what we are celebrating? Do I allow the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy steal my joy, kill my excitement, and destroy my holiday? Or will I allow the Spirit of God to comfort me, sooth my wounded heart, and fill my soul with joy that is not dependent on circumstances? And what will life look like if I do?

Honestly, I am wrestling right now…that’s why I’m writing. It is far easier to write about walking through heartache than it is to actually do it. And to walk through with grace, keeping my eyes on Jesus instead of my circumstances…that feels almost impossible at this moment, truly.

A dear friend told me recently that I need to focus on the big picture, not the brush strokes. And today, in reality, is just a brush stroke…just one single brush stroke on a room-sized canvas. It feels like a huge black splotch, but since I know the Master who holds the brush and chooses the paint, I know what I’m experiencing isn’t an accident. And, if I can step back from the momentary pain (as overwhelming as it is) to gaze in the face of my Savior, I can live as though it is true that God holds the brush and chooses the paint.

But that choice is more difficult to make than it might at first appear. It requires experiencing the pain. It requires acknowledging the heartache. And it means letting go of both…which is also hard.

God holds the brush, and He controls the paint. He is a master craftsman and I can trust Him. Even when it doesn’t make sense. And I pray that everyone else who is struggling on this festive day, for whatever reason, will be able to step back from the moment and gaze at the big picture, seeing both the brush strokes and the Master Craftsman who holds the brush. And in seeing, be able to rest, embracing the comfort and peace He offers, as difficult as that may be.

Disappointment and Success

My three oldest daughters applied to staff a leadership camp we’ve been involved with for the last six years.

They were turned down.

I’m disappointed.

But, as we’ve contemplated why they might have been turned down, I’ve been reminded again of what is true. Acceptance and success aren’t always based on character. Sometimes people are considered successful because they have a lot of money. Or because they have nice things. Or because they are friendly and popular. Or because they are friends with the right people. Sometimes, the gems get missed because they aren’t obvious to the casual observer.

God knows.

He knew what Israel would be looking for in a king. Someone who looked the part; tall, handsome, energetic, winsome (at least in some ways). He also knew what lay behind those good looks and winsome personality; a man without character. A man who would be led astray by the influence of popular opinion and who’s confidence was in himself rather than where it belonged. God knew, when He sent Samuel to anoint the king, what the journey would be. He knew.

God also knew what kind of king Israel really needed, even though that future king was only a shepherd, and a kind of scrawny one at that. God told Samuel, in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees…man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” NASB.

God said David was a man after His own heart, and he proved to be a good king. Actually, he was one of Israel’s best. And God promised he would always have a descendent sitting on the throne of Israel.

Even Jesus wasn’t that impressive, as far as world leaders go. He never owned a home, never led an army. Before He died, He lost all of His followers! And if you want to talk about impressive, you won’t be listing any of His disciples in that bunch. A rag-tag bunch of social misfits, they were anything but impressive. Yet, Jesus knew what lay in their hearts; He knew their unrecognized, untapped potential. And He used them to change the world! He knew that what mattered wasn’t what people could see. What really mattered was what people couldn’t.

Obviously, I’m a little biased about my children, and I am so proud of the young women they are becoming. I think the organization that rejected them was wrong. I also know that if my girls had needed the experience of serving with this organization, God would have worked it out. They didn’t, so He didn’t.

Instead, God is giving my precious, beautiful, amazing daughters (like I said, I’m a little biased) an opportunity to learn about disappointment, in the comfort and security of a loving home. It is an opportunity for them to “keep their crowns on”  no matter what the world tries to do, and to begin learning the definition of true success.

Rare Beauty

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a baby shower, celebrating the imminent arrival of a precious baby girl. It was a typical baby shower, with all the appropriate games, goodies, and festivities. Except, this shower was for a mama almost nobody knew, at a church she’d only been attending for three months, to celebrate her fourth child!

Having grown up in church, I know the drill…first babies (or the first baby born at the church, usually) get celebrated. But if you host a baby shower for every baby that a woman has, well, that can lead to problems. Some women can have several (disclaimer…I have eight living bio children, and have been pregnant thirteen times). And, well, we might miss someone!  How terrible would that be?  And it just wouldn’t be fair. So, to keep things even, and easy, we’ll just celebrate the first baby. Or maybe we won’t celebrate babies at all…just send a card and have a flower up on the piano.

Yes, I understand the reasoning behind the decision not to host a baby shower for a mama who has been blessed with multiple babies. And I understand the motivation not to leave anyone out. But I think along the way, we’ve lost sight of some very important details. First, babies are a blessing. They should be celebrated!! And where else should babies be celebrated, but in the Church?

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Back to that baby shower I attended. It was truly beautiful. These women (at least twenty of them) really didn’t know the mama. They simply knew she was going to have a baby, and that she needed help. They didn’t ask why she needed help. They didn’t judge the reason behind her pregnancy, even though she is not married, and has children with two different men. They simply didn’t judge. They loved. And they loved well. One person gave a gift card for $150! Many provided diapers and wipes and other very practical gifts. Some brought handmade treasures – a gift that requires far more than just money. And, of course, she received LOTS of clothes – in a variety of sizes. A bouncy seat, an expensive car seat-stroller combination, even a swing, will be keeping this baby girl comfortable after her arrival. And all of this from women who knew little other than a young mother was in need of love.IMG_00001141

Well, let me tell you, she feels loved! She cried. And through her tears, she explained that she’d never experienced anything like that before, in her life. Her journey has been a difficult one.

This precious woman’s story would bring tears to your eyes, truly. It is not the story any mama wants for her little girl. But this story is a picture of God’s love!! Like that precious group of women at the shower the other night (most of whom I don’t know – we’ve only been at the church for three months), God takes broken, wretched, hurting people, and He showers them with love. He doesn’t limit who He’ll love. He doesn’t care about boundaries (though they are desperately needed) or consequences (though He lets us deal with them, most of the time) or stupidity (though, again, He lets us deal with the consequences). He cares. He meets us in our deepest, darkest hurt, and He loves us. And as He loves us, He heals, corrects, restores, and transforms. That is a rare beauty, indeed.