Sunday, August 27, 2017

My Heart's Report Card

I could feel the sadness creeping in. It was heavy and thick, like Mississippi mud, and I tried to swallow it down, but it rose up, a knot in my stomach that threatened to crawl through my chest and escape as a ragged sob.

Sometimes, you just don't want to lose it in public...but sometimes you do anyway.

This weekend at church, we continued our "Rooted" series. First, we talked about being rooted in the word, and then in our relationship with God. Last week we talked about being rooted firmly in relationships with other believers, and this week, we talked about being rooted in our purpose.

It didn't really affect me until then end...until the worship team was singing about moving forward and Pastor Freddy prayed about clarity of vision. That's when the knot started forming.

Five years ago, I received a calling from God (and you can read about that here). He didn't ask me to do anything specific at the time. He just told me He was calling me.

I know it was real. I know He's calling me. I know He wants something very big from me.

But I still have no clear vision of what that is...and somewhere, deep in me, that weighs so heavily.

I remembered feeling like that another time at FLC, just over three years ago, when we visited on a Saturday night on a whim.

I was pregnant with Avery at the time, and Pastor Freddy was preaching on GOING: praying hard for God's will, but MOVING. I wrote a blog post about it because, even then, I felt the indescribable urge to move forward, but felt the hand of God holding me back until the time was right.

And once again, last night, there I sat on the front row, tears streaming down my face because I'm so ready for my vision.

Or am I?

Cognitively, I'm very aware that I'm NOT ready. I have six children. Five of them are still in our home, three of them are ages four and under, and we have yet another baby on the way. Taking care of them is most important right now, and I know I'm not ready for any huge responsibilities beyond that. Raising them is part of my preparation process.

Furthermore, I know that, should God give me more of His vision, I wouldn't wait for His timing. I like to jump in with both feet, and I would jump straight into the wrong thing. It's almost certain.

I think that's what made the overwhelming sadness so difficult to contend with: I felt like there was no reason for it! God's got this! I'm very why the heavy heart?

When I got home, I did some digging. I went back to the blog post I wrote three years ago, and it ministered to me.

First, it brought back to mind a verse that I should truly plaster all over the walls of my house just to make sure it gets plastered on my heart:

For the vision still awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end-
it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come;
it will not delay.
Habakkuk 2:3

It is exactly what I am sure of in my heart, and there it was, staring right back at me from God's Word. He is so good.

Secondly, however, it reminded me to look back and see the progress that's been made in the last three years, as well as completing a sound assessment of where He's still doing some major work on me.

I started two pages in my prayer journal: one for "lessons learned" and another for "lessons He's still teaching me." Then, I went back through almost every, single blog post I've made since the one in May of 2014. The results were both uplifting and sobering.

I was able to fill an entire page with lessons I feel God has worked solidly into my heart, lessons that have become part of my daily walk, part of who I am as a follower of Christ.

However, there was also 2/3 of a page of lessons He's still teaching me - areas where I may have picked up part of the lesson, but have continued to fumble or have just dropped altogether.

I felt both deep conviction and sincere gratitude. God has already given me my next steps: complete the ones He's already given me.

There are areas in my life - diligence, household management, self-doubt, confidence - where He's still teaching me lessons, and if they are not tended to before I go into ministry, I will crumble and fold under the pressure of the enemy.

Pastor Freddy even preached on that last night! He said, "Sometimes we have to go back and complete what God has already asked us to do in order to move forward into what He has next." At the time, however, I was unable to see how that applied.

I once was blind, but now I see - thank God for His amazing grace. It's time for me to move backward and pick up some things I've dropped in order to make sure I'm fully equipped for the road ahead.

I made a report card for my heart: in some areas I've got O's for outstanding and S's for satisfactory, but I've also got some big fat N's staring back at me for areas in which I desperately Need Progress. 

The main verse we've concentrated on for our Rooted series has been Colossians 2:6-7:

Therefore, as you have received
Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him,
rooted and built up in him
and established in the faith,
just as you were taught,
overflowing with gratitude.

And very appropriately, that's where I ended up last night. I laid my head to my pillow overflowing with gratitude, knowing all God has already done, grounded in what He's still doing, and excited for what's to come.

That's another lesson from the past that He's still writing on my heart:

My adventure doesn't start
when I become the person I'm supposed to be;
my adventure is in the BECOMING.
Alissa Shea Coburn
December 30, 2016

And I'm enjoying my adventure. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Tie that Binds

Earlier this week, I wrote An Open Letter regarding the recent events in Charlottesville, racial tension, and what I feel we do from here.

One of my suggestions (which came from people far wiser than me) was for us to seek out "the other:" find someone who looks and thinks differently than ourselves and listen very openly to their feelings and try to come to a place of understanding.

However, in giving counsel to the world, you place yourself in a very precarious position. You either learn to take your own advice or risk becoming the worst kind of hypocrite. I know I don't want to ever be considered hypocritical, so I decided to be brave and reach out.

But in all honesty, I totally cheated.

I reached out to Raniesa, my new friend from church. She certainly looks differently than I do, her skin a lovely, rich, dark shade of brown, but our personalities are so similar that it hardly felt unsafe to approach her.

As a matter of fact, I quite literally told her I wanted to talk to her because I trusted her enough to be honest with me if I said something dumb, knowing she would love me regardless. As I said, that seems to be cheating, but maybe we'll just call it baby steps.

We plopped down on her bed last night right around 7:30, and before we knew it, more than 3 hours had passed. Those 3 hours impacted me more than I ever could have imagined; I think they impacted us both.

I already knew our minds worked similarly and have joked that we're really the same person
in different bodies. What we didn't see, though, was that it was the combination of some remarkably similar and some vastly different life experiences that led us to that point.

And as much as I think we both thought we knew, we were shocked by certain revelations.

For example, we both attended Denbigh High School (and barely missed attending with one another), but where my experience was one of relative racial integration and harmony, hers was a much more segregated experience. With few exceptions, her friends were black, and she rarely saw people "cross the lines" into other groups.

We also have some similar family structures and issues, but many of the conversations in our families were vastly different, and led us, early on, to have contrasting assumptions about people of other races.

One thing, though, was very much the same: coming to Freedom Life Church changed us. Both of us encountered grace and truth in a way we hadn't up until that point, but also, because of its very eclectic congregation, it challenged and changed many of our racial assumptions.

Last night I confessed that, before coming to FLC, I felt like most black women tolerated me but really didn't like me. I really had no problem with them, I've just always felt like I annoy them. There were obviously exceptions to this, but generally, that was my perception.

FLC introduced me to amazing, beautiful, spiritually deep women who love me, listen to me, and value me...and a good portion of those women are black. Perception changed.

For Raniesa, growing up in church meant growing up in a "black church." For the most part, races worshiping together was unheard of for her, and she remembers vividly being hugged by Carrie when she first visited, a very southern white woman. She said she froze in that moment, wondering if Carrie was confused and if she knew that she was black; until that moment she had never been hugged by a white woman.

I don't know how it's possible to laugh and have your heart break at the same time, but hearing that caused both reactions in me - so close and yet so far. But now? Perception Changed.

We talked about so many things last night: her deep fear for her son as a black man, my fear for my sons' futures as white men (believe it or not, that's a thing); the term "white privilege" and our perceptions of it; church; experiences with racism. It was deep and personal and beautiful and so much fun.

On the way home, the words our youth pastor, James Wilson, Jr., posted on facebook earlier this week struck me in an entirely new way:
When you love someone you realize their story is a part of yours and what they experience effects you. Because you love them you are willing to be vulnerable with and for them, you are willing to use your platform to stand up for them, your are willing to lose your reputation for them, you are willing to give your life and its comfort for them.
Before last night, I liked Raniesa a lot as a person and loved her as a sister in Christ. When I left, knowing her much more intimately, I loved her. Why does that make a difference? Because I fight for people I love. 

She has claimed a piece of my heart, and once someone truly has real estate in your heart, there is an undeniable shift: I would fight to the death for the people I love, any hour of any day. Love is the tie that binds.

This realization energized me to my core. I started trying to think of all the people I wanted to know on a deeper level. It brought to mind so many individuals I've always thought I've known, but have probably only scratched the surface. It made me want to get in contact with and truly know people who not only don't look like me, but who don't think at all like me.

I'm not in any way under the assumption that all encounters will end like last night - I'm not that "sunshine and rainbows." However, I sincerely believe that even if I come away from an encounter still in disagreement, if I listen to understand their experience, I will still come away with an empathy and respect that I wouldn't have had otherwise, and that is always a worthy endeavor.

I hope reading this has touched you. I hope it's opened your eyes at least a little. But more than anything, I desperately hope and pray it moves you to action because the only way we know we belong to the truth is if our love is not just in speech and words, but if it moves us to action (1 John 3:18-19).

Here is your call to action: contact someone today. Don't put it off until tomorrow. Tell them you want to know more about their experience and who they are. Ask to be part of their world. 

After all...

The world is changed by your example,

not your opinion.

Paulo Coelho

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Regarding Charlottesville: An Open Letter

Once upon a time, long, long a few years ago, when significant world or national events occurred, I would jump into the fray, quick to let the world know my viewpoint, absolutely positive that I was right. I just knew lives would be changed. I was in for disappointment.

Instead, I rapidly became thoroughly convinced that just about NO people's minds are changed by a social media post, and the only thing gained was a mixture of angry or supportive comments and maybe a few "likes."

The outcome was nowhere near worth the energy it took to navigate the resulting calamity, nor the wear and tear on my thumbs. 

Since then, I've spent most of my time sitting back and watching the world burn, which is certainly what it feels like. Every now and then, I have forgotten myself and waded into someone's comments section. It didn't take long to remember why I'd kicked the habit.

I like to think I've gained some perspective since then, just from listening - a little bit of listening goes a long way. But I haven't really considered jumping back in. The water looked cold and crowded, and I could see the sharks circling.

Then, over the weekend, in Charlottesville, VA, armed,white supremacists and counter protesters clashed at the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, with tragic consequences: three people lost their lives and several others were badly injured.

Many of the subsequent responses that passed through my news feed saddened, angered, and perplexed me...but I still wasn't wading in. Everyone else had plenty to say, and I saw no need for me to add my two cents to the already deafening din.

I watched with pride and sorrow as my pastors managed their social media accounts in the aftermath. As leaders of a very intentionally multi-racial and multi-ethnic church, they were obviously and understandably hurt, grieved, and outraged by the events. Nevertheless, for the most part, they spoke words of strength, solidarity, and unity into what otherwise could be a very polarizing situation.

Still, for the last two nights, instead of sleeping, I have wrestled with internal questions over how we, as Christians, should respond, and whether we might be missing something. The Bible definitely calls us to seek justice for those oppressed, but it also calls us to seek peace, speak with wisdom that is pure and gentle, and to love our enemies.

At times, it seems impossible to pursue each avenue equally: on which side should we err?

I knew the answer I felt pressing into my spirit ALL NIGHT LONG, and today, I sought to share that with one of my pastors. When I walked out, I had gained some insight into his heart and philosophy and he into mine, but where we agreed when I walked in, we still agreed, and where we differed...well, that hadn't changed remarkably either. 

However, there was one thing he said that resounded in my heart like a gong: I have a voice, too, and it's my responsibility to use it.

I am overwhelmed and convicted by the fact that I am more than aware of my calling to speak the words I feel God has put on my heart, but until now, I've been too scared and fearful to address racial tension, and instead, generally stuck to what was safe: my all too often realizations that I have jacked something up and the lessons God has taught me in the mess.

Today is no exception.

I have felt for some time that I had no right to speak about racial tension: after all, I'm the whitest of the white. But today, Pastor Kyle taught me that to withhold my voice from the dialogue is wrong because only when we share our hearts with love and humility can we truly make a difference.

So, without further delay, here are a few of my thoughts and feelings regarding our current racial climate:

To my friends and family of color...
I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry to see you hurting, and I'm so sorry for what you have endured, what you are enduring, and what you almost inevitably will endure in the future. I am praying for peace and love. I am hoping beyond hope that you will not allow roots of bitterness to strangle your hearts, but will instead, throw yourself  into the arms of Jesus and grow your roots deep into Him. It's a tall order, I know, but a worthy pursuit nonetheless. If I can help you in any way, I will -- but you'll probably have to let me know how to do that because I don't always understand fully. I try, but I'm pretty sure I get it wrong. I love you.

To my fellow white folks with noble hearts and pure intentions...

Keep trying. You might jack it up, but some effort is always better than no effort at all. It's confusing for us, I know. For me, there's some level of shame and guilt, particularly as a southern, white girl because I'm no stranger to our history, but at the same time, I'm proud of my heritage, too -- a daughter to the home of bluegrass, hard work, and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps until you make it work. I like that about my roots. Added to that, while each of us of every color have inborn biases, I try to be as nice as I can to everyone, no matter their race, and sometimes it feels like getting lumped into one giant, white clump is unfair because, after all, I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING! 
Also, can we just lay it out on the table that we've experienced racism, too. I know it. You know it. It feels good to say it, right?! Holding it in forever has felt like being the kid who has to pee really bad, but is too intimidated to ask the teacher to go to the bathroom until, finally, it leaks out at the MOST inopportune moment (I'm not going to say how I know what that feels like, but let's just say...that was one time I was really grateful we moved). However, like that unfortunate lack of bladder control, if we don't just go ahead and address it, it's going to leak out at the worst possible moment, like when our friends are already hurting. 
One of the things I tried to convey to Pastor Kyle today is this: I believe, our inability to express that we, too, have been harmed by racism is feeding an undercurrent of bitterness. It feels, sometimes, like our hurts and experiences don't matter, and while we understand the deep hurt felt by our friends, understanding their hurt doesn't negate doesn't make it go the same way that knowing other people are starving to death can never satiate the roar of a stomach that hasn't eaten for two days. 
But here's the key: we wouldn't turn around to the starving person and complain about our grumbling tummies. It would be an insult. It would hurt. I'm really hoping this metaphor drives it home to you like it does me because, frankly, while I'm glad it's been discussed, I don't want to discuss it further here. 
Instead of nursing our own wounds, I think it's high time we put more time and attention into healing others. That means having some hard, transparent, awkward conversations with the intent to learn about those who are different than us...and I DO NOT mean on facebook. Forget social media. Treat someone to coffee. Take a walk. Have lunch. I don't care what you do, but listen to learn and understand, not to respond. Ask questions. 
That's how we learn, and that's how we heal.

 Finally, to the men and women who call yourselves the Alt-Right/Neo Nazis/whatever you're calling yourselves these days...

I know most people are calling you monsters. I know they say they hate you. However, this is probably where I will depart from others and, were this little diatribe in person, I'd probably get a rotten tomato to the face. 
I don't hate you. I feel for you very deeply. Broken people seek to break people, and healed people seek to heal people, and you are so obviously hurt, broken, and fearful. I don't know if it's a fear of losing your voices or your power. I don't know if it's a fear of what you don't understand, but somewhere in you there is so much hurt and fear, and somehow, it has manifested itself in rage and hardened hearts. I am praying for you, too. For you, it seems the root of bitterness has already strangled any roots you had to Christ, or even human kindness. Nevertheless, I am more than certain that no one is beyond the reach of my Savior. No one is beyond the reach of love. No one is beyond the reach of hope. 
And therefore, I love you. I hope for you. I pray for you, not with half-hearted words, but with the DEEP conviction that like the one sheep who strays from the ninety-nine, your heart, too, is worthy of pursuit. 

Inevitably, that last section will anger some people. I know that, and I accept it. I firmly believe deeply that it may be anger and indignation that change social policies, but it is only through love and patience that we will change hearts...and the latter can do far more to heal our nation than the former ever could.

Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received,
with all humility and gentleness,
with patience,
accepting one another in love,
diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit
with the peace that binds us.
Ephesians 4:1-3

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Come On In

"Not today, Satan. Dear God, help me."

I just kept saying it. Over and over. "Not today, Satan. Dear God help me."

When that didn't feel like it was bringing me to the peace I needed, I thought about the power of worship and praise, so above the din of my bickering children, I started singing.

(singing) "Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder..."
(turmoil) "Why do we have to listen to what YOU want all the time?!"
(singing a little louder) "Consider all the worlds thy hands have made." 
(more turmoil) "Yeah, well One Direction is dumb." 
(singing louder still) "I see the stars I hear the rolling thunder," 
(It's like WWE up in here, apparently) "Ouch, you pushed me! You're a jerk!!" 
"Hands off and no name calling!" (singing ever louder) "Thy power throughout, the universe displayed."

It felt ridiculous, trying to sing over their outrageous behavior, but it brought a smile to my face, even if out of nothing more than sheer defiance.

Honestly, I am not a very patient mom. I wish I could say the above scenario was just how I handled things...with grace and worship and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

But then I'd be a liar. Plus, let's face it, if that was really how I normally handled things, this wouldn't have felt so foreign, and we wouldn't be having this little conversation.

But on this particular day, despite my children's best effort's at making me a nut job, the Holy Spirit rose up...and let me tell you, it was sweet.

I finally had to separate them because things were getting out of hand, but when I did, I didn't raise my voice. Even when they argued about going to their rooms, I didn't raise my voice (if you know how loud I am naturally, you know what a gin WIN this is.)

God is GOOD, ya'll. What this led to was pretty amazing.

It led to a conversation with Ryan about how we can be a household of people who build each other up or tear one another down, and I asked him to consider how we accomplish each of those things and where he really wants to live.

It allowed me to have a separate conversation with Emily about something that had really been bothering her that had NOTHING to do with anyone in our house, but was something she really needed to get off her chest.

And it allowed me to do all this without having to make it about me because, when I lose my mind, that's what happens. We lose a lot of time making it about me because I have to go back and apologize for my ungodly behavior.

I never realized what I was missing.

I've been doing a devotion called "Overwhelmed by My Blessings: Encouragement for Moms." It's written by Robin Meadows, a mom who raised seven children, and I love it because it is REAL.

In today's devotion she said:

What if we began to rename these challenging daily "opportunities"? What if we began to see that these disappointing situations are actually the hand of God in our life , and in the lives of our children?

WOW. Challenging right? What if every time my kids are acting all cray cray I thanked God for the opportunity to teach them about Him, His grace, and His love?

But then she went on (and this part REALLY got me).

He is giving us opportunities to make hard, right choices of love, patience, and self-control; to choose Him. He is present us with teachable moments for our children, and for our own hearts. He is giving us occasions to become more like Him. He is giving us special moments to teach our children that anxiety can be controlled by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, and it begins with us controlling ourselves.

Did you feel that? Like the wind being knocked out of you by a supernatural punch to the gut?

I sure did.

Consider this:

A man who does not control his temper
is like a city whose wall is broken down.
Proverbs 25:28

The breaching of the wall of Helm's Deep from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

None of us is perfect, but by allowing my children's behavior to influence my behavior, I have been showing them that it's acceptable to lose your temper and forego self-control. I mean, sure, I've taught them a lot about humility and going back to apologize, too, but you need a lot less of the latter when you're able to do the former.

In church, we often talk about breaking walls down and demolishing strongholds. But by losing my temper, I've been breaking down all the wrong walls - like walls of protection I pray over my family. I'm making a way for the enemy to come into my home and relationships.

Every moment of every day, we stand at the door of our hearts and decide who we're going to invite in. When you pray and praise, you intentionally invite God into that moment.

However, when you allow your anger to take control, you've taken your eyes off what's important and left the door wide open to the enemy. 

The next time you feel overwhelmed, invite God into that moment. Ask Him to take it over. Thank Him for the opportunity for growth and teaching. Lean into Him.

And goodness knows, sing His praises. Go a little praizy crazy. Worship will help you conquer any enemy you face - the enemy within, or the enemy without. (It also makes you look pretty crazy, and that's always a good time).

The Fresh Prince getting a little praizy crazy.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Lidl Humiliation

Obviously, my trip looked nothing like this, but man, it feels like it sometimes. 

I didn't really expect to learn a lesson about myself in the grocery store yesterday, but like most lessons I've learned, the timing wasn't really up to me.

My kids wanted to go to the new Lidl store around the corner. It's an interesting store, full to the brim with natural light and an eclectic assortment of goods. And I swear they pipe the smell of fresh, hot cookies baking throughout the store because you CANNOT escape it.

The thing about Lidl stores, though, is that you have to bag your own groceries. Fine! I knew that, and I was prepared.

We had two carts, with a little sibling in the front of each. Ryan was in charge of one cart over to the side and holding Phinehas's hand, while Emily and I sorted out the bagging of the groceries in the other cart.

When we had the groceries arranged appropriately, I looked up, and Ryan had wandered off about 10-15 feet. He and Phinehas were playing some sort of "ride the cart and swing it around game," and it really irritated me.

I scolded him, and asked him to think through the reasons why he should NOT be doing what he was doing. He was able to come up with "Phinehas might get hurt," and I was more than happy to add on a couple more reasons.

I was pretty happy with my parenting solution. Score one for mom for helping with that frontal lobe development!

But Emily was NOT happy, and because she's related to me AND a teenager, it was remarkably obvious. I asked her what was wrong, and after a little prodding, she said something like this:

That was really loud mom, and really embarrassing. You really embarrassed him.
Two things happened in that moment. First, I realized I had just disrespected my son in public. I'm trying to build this kid's self-esteem, not decimate it. I may have just influenced his ability to think through consequences, but I also hurt him unnecessarily.

Second, and more importantly, I realized I had been so loud, not just because I naturally AM (and I REALLY AM), but because I wanted to be seen parenting his misbehavior well.

I wanted to be seen parenting well.

That really hurts to write. It hurts to put out there. But there it is because it's honest.

I had this moment where the Holy Spirit held a mirror to my face and said, "You need to see this as it really is. You need to see what your intentions were."

I apologized to Ryan right away. I told him I was sorry for disrespecting him in front of all those people. He needed to be corrected, but his heart also needs to be protected, and I had wounded him for the sake of my own pride.

After we got settled in the car, I also had to thank Emily for correcting me. That, too, was humbling, but necessary. Sometimes, my kids will try to correct my parenting, and they get a "talk to the hand" response. They'll understand when they're parents.

But this was very different. She expressed herself respectfully, and she was RIGHT. If it hadn't been for her, I wouldn't have been able to see the error of my ways, and she needed to know that was appreciated.

The more I thought about it, though, that behavior has a tendency to be my modus operandi: I consistently struggle between my desire to give my best to God, and my desire to be SEEN giving my best to God.

In my parenting...
In my marriage...
In my friendships...
In my worship...
In my writing...
On my facebook wall...

I've often commented that God gave me "showy" gifts. Singing, writing, speaking. Teaching and exhortation. The expression of most of my gifts involves me being seen, but with them come a constant struggle with my own pride.

I read an article this morning about Francis Chan, and why he left the church he was pastoring. He said about the period after his book Crazy Love was published:

I freaked out during that point in my life....The pride...[going to] a conference and seeing my face on a magazine...and hearing whispers...and walking into a room and actually liking it.
Man...that resonates with me. I haven't written a book yet, and my face certainly hasn't adorned any magazine covers, but I can still see me in that statement.

Jesus was pretty clear about where he stood on this behavior:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people,
to be seen by them.
Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven.
So whenever you give to the poor,
don't sound the trumpets before you,
like the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets,
to be applauded by people.
I assure you: They've got their reward.
Matthew 6:1-3 (HCSB, emphasis added)

My flesh desires greatly to be seen. What's left for me, then? Do I stop sharing those gifts? Maybe, for a time, if it gets out of hand, but generally, His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So when I worship, sometimes, I vacillate between a genuine outpouring of praise and worrying about what people are thinking about me, and then I smile and think to myself, "forgive me, thank your grace is sufficient."

When I write, I vacillate between genuinely wanting to share hope and healing and wondering how many people will read the post and how I can boost my numbers. When that happens, I smile and pray and ask for forgiveness, and praise God that His grace is sufficient to cover that, too.

I'm telling all this for two reasons. First, because sharing it keeps me in check. If I have made the world aware that I desire to be seen, it's a little easier to remember to be humble; I've admitted my weakness to the world, and the world has a way of reminding you of those weaknesses.

But also, because I know I'm not alone. There are an abundance of Bible verses about pride because, as fallible humans, it's one of our greatest faults.

Your struggle may not look exactly the same, but I would fairly confidently assert that it's roots are in pride and selfishness: a need to be right, a need to know, a need to feel desired, a need for control. They all come from the same place.

No matter what your particular brand of pride looks like, know that His grace is sufficient for you, too. He loves you anyway, in a way that is deeper and wider than your comprehension, and it began before He laid the foundations of the earth.

Whether your lessons come in the hazy morning light after a night of mistakes, the computer lit glare of an internet faux pas, or (like me) the front of a remarkably sun-lit grocery store, the pure, dazzling light of your Savior covers it all.

He holds His light to our blemishes, not so we can be ashamed of them, but so we can see them in contrast with his perfection and make appropriate corrections. The only way to be MORE like Him, is to see the ways in which we are NOTHING like Him, and to be more like Him is, daily, my goal.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Being a Moana Mama

I'm on a Disney kick lately. I don't own this, obviously. It's a Disney thing.

If you're a Disney lover (or just a parent of a young child), you're probably familiar with one of Disney's newest animated feature films: Moana.

If you're not, you should acquaint yourself. The soundtrack is epic, the story line is inspirational, and let's face it, who doesn't appreciate Dwayne Johnson singing and dancing around...even if it is in animated form.

Now that it's on Netflix, we watch it at least once a day...sometimes twice.

Moana is torn between being the person she's told her island needs her to be - the leader of her people, the new chief - and being the person she feels called to be - a voyager on the open sea.

She strives to convince herself that the island will give her all she needs (and no on leaves), but she's drawn to the water, to the line where the sky meets the sea. It calls to her.

I'm a mom...of 6, with another sweet blessing on the way. When you're a mom of almost 7, there just isn't much time to do anything else BUT be a mother of almost 7.

I'm virtually on an island (that must be made of unfolded laundry), and my people need me.

But the horizon calls me. And a lot of times, that makes me feel really guilty. I feel like taking care of my husband, children, and household should be enough, it should fulfill me, but I LONG to go, do, and be other things.

But there's hope. Here are a few things God revealed to me through countless viewings of Moana:

1. To Everything There Is A Season

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under heaven
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NKJV)

As Moana grows, she learns to take care of her people. She gets well-acquainted with their needs and how to fill them. When she tries to run off to the ocean, her father redirects her attention to where it needs to be...until it's finally time to venture out on her quest.

There is a season where she is learning to lead her people, which will eventually make her into the person she needs to be in order to persevere through the next part of her journey.

The season I'm currently in is important because of the calling I've received to shepherd these beautiful little people, but ALSO because it's preparing me for the next season.

God is not wasteful. He is calling me to something else, but in His time, and when I'm ready. I have to accept that and enjoy it. Taking care of my children is all-consuming right now, but it won't be forever. As they say, the days are long, but the years are short.

2. My "Other" Calling Has An Appointed Time

For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end - it will not lie.
If it seems slow,
wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
Habakkuk 2:3

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
"This is the way, walk in it,"
whether you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
Isaiah 30:21 (ESV)

I sometimes have this feeling that I'm missing out on my calling by being a parent. Go ahead. Judge me. It's the truth.

I'm fully aware that being a parent is a high calling. I know the stewardship of young minds and hearts is a great responsibility. That hasn't kept my eye from wandering over to the horizon and wondering what adventures might be just beyond my reach.

However, time and again, I have tried to run off toward what I thought was my calling, and each time, with immense love and incredible patience, my heavenly Father has redirected my attention.

Unfortunately, Moana had to sneak away for her adventure (earthly parents don't always get it right), but I know, when it's time, my Father will not only let me go on my quest, He will lead me.

He's not going to let me miss my purpose. I just have to be patient.

3. Bring Them Along

shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,
not under compulsion, but willingly,
as God would have you;
not for shameful gain, but eagerly;
not domineering over those in your charge,
but being an example to the flock.
And when the chief Shepherd appears,
you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
1 Peter 5:2-4 (ESV)

In order for Moana to complete her quest, Maui has to teach her to sail. Once she has succeeded and restored the heart of Te Fiti, she returns to her people to teach them as she has been taught. She becomes a voyager, and then teaches them to be voyagers, as well.

Slowly, but surely, as my children grow, all of us will have more time to spread our wings and learn new things. It's my job to be here for them, but also to continue learning and growing (as is appropriate for my season), so I can teach them.

As I'm able, I need to learn, grow, and adventure, so I can return and teach my children to do the same. My kids need to know they can go great things for the Kingdom of God, and they can learn that from my example. 

Thus ends my lessons from Moana. Seasons come and seasons go, but the love of my eternal Father remains steadfast and unchanging. He will teach me, guide me, and eventually, lead me to adventures beyond the horizon. Until then, it's my job to patiently wait, and be content to enjoy the season I'm in.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Identity Crisis

Well...this is awkward.

It's been so long since I've written, I barely feel I know how. Pardon me while I limp along.

For the past couple years, my identity has been a central theme. I look back on posts like this one from last year and laugh a little.

In it, I said I was "Almost Alissa." God had spoken to me, shown me who He wanted me to be, and somehow, I ascertained that I was ALMOST there. Just a little more tweaking, I thought, and then...then I'll be who God wants me to be in order to achieve the purposes He has for me.

I am both amused and shocked by my own naivete. My identity is much more "in flux" than I realized.

I've struggled some recently because I was feeling like I don't "fit in" at our new church. It's been difficult for me to form relationships, and often, I feel awkward and uncomfortable.

However, last week, at a vision meeting for the worship team, I realized the real crux of the issue.

During an ice breaker we were supposed to take selfies with the people around us. Some ran around enthusiastically taking pictures with one another, while others of us took selfies with the people around us, but beyond that, were comfortable sitting back and watching the others.

One of the younger team members came over to take a selfie with us, and she said, "I don't know if ya'll are introverts or what, but I love y'all, too! Let's take a selfie!"

I was totally okay with the selfie, but I REELED at the thought that I was being perceived as an introvert, not because I don't like introverts (I happen to LOVE them), but because that statement challenged everything I know about my identity.

I have known one thing from a VERY young age...I am an extrovert. I am a chatty, upbeat people-person.

I thought about it for the rest of the meeting and I came to a realization: the reason I'm not connecting with other people right now is because I'm not even connecting with myself. It reminded me of this conversation from the Lion King:

Adult Simba: Creepy little monkey. Would you stop following me! Who are you?
Rafiki: The question is, who... are you?
Adult Simba: [sighs] I thought I knew, but now I'm not so sure.
Rafiki: Well, I know who you are! Shh. Come here, it's a secret. [Whispers, then grows louder]
Rafiki: Asante sana Squash banana, Wiwi nugu Mi mi apana!
Adult Simba: Enough already! What's that supposed to mean, anyway?
Rafiki: It means you're a baboon... and I'm not.
Adult Simba: I think you're a little confused.
Rafiki: Wrong! I'm not the one who's confused. You don't even know who you are!
Adult Simba: Oh, and I suppose you know?
Rafiki: Sure do. You're Mufasa's boy! 

Obviously, I don't own this image. This is all Disney. :)

I thought I knew who I was, or at least, I thought I was close, but now I see it in a different light.

I'm not confused because I lost sight of who I am. I'm confused because I somehow lost sight of WHOSE I am. I am God's girl.

What I'm starting to realize, is that my personality will be in transition my entire life. Some elements will probably stay: joy, bubbliness, a degree of silliness, and I'll always be an extrovert at heart. However, other aspects of my personality may look different in different seasons or different situations. 

No matter what, though, I can never be who God wants me to be if I lose sight of the fact that I'm HIS, and anything I go through, whether tragedy or transition, is according to His purpose for my life: to teach me and to train me. 

All things work together for the good of those who love God:
those who are called according to HIS purpose.
Romans 8:28 (HCSB, emphasis added)

All things are not good. All feelings are not good. All seasons are not good.

But all things WORK TOGETHER for the good of those who love God, and who can recognize that what they "want" is not God's purpose. Sometimes we have to let go of what we want in order to receive what is truly best: God's purpose.

I've always felt a pressure to perform as the "Alissa" everyone expected me to be: positive, outgoing, talkative, etc. If I wasn't in character, then I was a disappointment. I felt the need to apologize for "not being myself."

However, I now understand that no one's expectations of who I am or how I behave can define me, and in reality, those expectations are for more internal than external. If I have a deep, abiding connection with God, "me" at any given moment will reflect HIM, and that's really all that matters.

Ironically, giving myself that freedom has actually made me feel more like "me" than I have in a REALLY long time. I feel settled, less like a performer and more genuine.

Many times in the Bible, we are told to take off our old way of life and clothes ourselves in Christ. As the sanctification process takes place, and we become ever more a reflection of Him, that outer garment changes to reflect the process.

There are times I have a message to share that I feel will deeply impact someone, and there are times I just feel it necessary to explain what's going on with me. This post is by far the latter.

Nevertheless, friend, if you feel "not yourself" lately - if you're not even sure who "yourself" is anymore - please know you are not alone, and that the only thing that really matters is that you know WHOSE you are.

Embrace that. Find yourself in Jesus, the one who is same, yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8).