Saturday, February 27, 2010

Is It Really Obedience?

The past several months I have been learning new some things about obedience. I always thought that obedience meant you not only had to obey but you had to do it with the right attitude. Granted, that would be the ideal scenario. Yes, the truth is that we SHOULD obey and we SHOULD have a good attitude about it. So does that mean if you obey but your attitude isn’t right, then you haven’t truly obeyed? I bet there are different opinions out there about it.

The Bible character that I think of most often when I hear the word obedience is Abraham. He obeyed a number of things and these weren’t little things. He obeyed packing up his family and moving to a land he knew nothing about. He obeyed when God told him to sacrifice his son (thankfully God came through and provided a ram instead). I could go on. The point is that we read about all of these ways that Abraham obeyed and we wish we could be like him.

I started realizing something, though. The Bible provides the background information. It doesn’t go into the feelings and emotions that were evoked in Abraham. I think it’s important that we don’t forget he was a real person with real emotions. He wasn’t a robot. It’s not like he obeyed and didn’t have feelings behind it. Can you imagine the turmoil within him that he experienced when God asked him to sacrifice his son? Do you not think he questioned what God was doing? We don’t know for sure, obviously. I tend to lean more toward the likelihood that he was not exactly thrilled about the idea. Would you be?

Last summer our family found ourselves in a position where everything about our lives was going to drastically change. We became foster parents to two young children. It was not something I had sought. It was not something I wanted. I could write an entire book on just that experience alone.

It was one of the toughest things our family has ever gone through. It affected our lives in so many ways and I found myself obeying but with my heels digging in. Once the experience was over and the children were returned home, I felt a sense of relief that it was over with but I battled guilt for many months. All I could think about was that I went through that experience with the wrong attitude.

God began to show me that all He asked of me was that I obey. He didn’t say anything about liking it. He didn’t ask me to like it or to want it. The point was that He asked us to obey and we did it. It has taken several months for that to really sink in.

Well, this past Thursday we had our ex-foster children over for a few hours. They hadn’t been back in our home for many months. My children were thrilled to spend time with them. At one point the little girl came and sat on my lap. I held her and a feeling of regret washed over me. I started berating myself about my attitude again. Why wasn’t I able to truly enjoy that experience instead of just barely surviving it? At the time it seemed like they were with us forever but when I thought about it, they had only been with us a few short months. Could I not have handled a few short months of inconvenience without having a negative attitude? Guilt was coming upon me again. But then God reminded me that all He asked of me was that I obey. I did what He asked. Hmm…so maybe I am more like Abraham after all? I don’t know. One day I hope to ask Abraham about the feelings, thoughts and attitudes he had when God asked all those things of him. Until then I know that obedience is really just that. It is obeying.

Sometimes the “right” feelings won’t be there. They may take time to follow the act of obedience. The point is that we obey. Our heels might be digging in and we may not like it but in the end all we need to do is obey. God can then work on the other areas that need change. Obey what I command you today (Exodus 34:11).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lessons In Trust

In the beginning of February I registered my youngest son for middle school. Up until that day I had been wrestling between keeping him at his K-8 school and sending him to another school district, where my highschooler attends. That would mean he would be going into a “real” middle school. I liked the idea of keeping him at the K-8 school because of how good it has been for our family. I absolutely love our neighborhood school. It is one of those rare gems in a failing school system.

My husband wanted him to go to the middle school. He felt there were more opportunities for him, including the chance to play football, something my son desires to do. My son also wanted to go to the middle school. The only one that was holding those plans back was me. At first I had what I would call my “logical” reasons for keeping him at the K-8 school and in my eyes, my reasons made sense. But God began to show me that my reasons were really just excuses. At the root of my disagreement about him going was fear. I was afraid. I was fearful of letting go. He is my baby. He would argue that but I know other mothers can relate…your youngest remains your baby no matter how old they are!

I knew that by keeping him at his K-8 school I would have a sense of “control” over him but God wanted me to go a step further and trust Him. I was putting my trust in his school, the teachers, and in the sense of nearness I would have with him just being a few blocks away. There is nothing wrong with those feelings—don’t misunderstand me. What made it wrong was that at the root of those feelings was fear. God doesn’t want us to fear, He wants us to entrust every single area of our lives to Him and that most certainly includes our children.

The few days leading up to February 1st, which is when you could first apply online for open enrollment, I would throw out crumbs to my son. These crumbs were reminders of how good his current school is and all the things he would be missing out on if he moved to a middle school. I don’t feel proud for doing that. I was still trying to twist things and make them happen the way I wanted them to happen. In a sense, I guess I was digging my heels in. Maybe you have done the very same thing with God. You know He is telling you one thing and in your mind you agree with what He is saying…but as you go along with it, it’s almost as if you need to be dragged along.

Anyway, the morning of February 1st arrived and I once again tried to get my son to see my side. I told him that this was it, once I applied to the middle school and if he got in there, there was no going back. What I was really trying to do was scare him. Again, wrong. I had prayed earlier that morning that God would give me peace about the decision, something I was obviously lacking. I went online and began to fill out the application and almost immediately I felt that sense of peace that had been missing. As I took that first step, granted with some apprehension, God flooded me with His peace.

A few minutes later I was checking my email and read a devotional I get from SpiritLed Woman. I read the first line and had to laugh. It spoke directly to me: Our life on earth is a life of seasons, a life of changes. I immediately sensed God talking to me. It went on to say how some seasons in life are eagerly awaited (I was thinking about the birth of my children) and how other seasons are less happily anticipated (like those moments when my children enter a new stage of growing up).

This devotional went on to say that what keeps us pressing on in the midst of changes, whether they are good or bad, is the belief that God is in full control. Do you see why I knew God was speaking directly to me? I had somehow lost sense of that. Sure, He had been in control up until this point…but for some reason this new season in my son’s life caused me to doubt and lack trust.

I’m so glad that God is patient with me. Some lessons are harder to learn, so they end up being repeated. I find myself leaning on Him to a greater degree as my children get older. Looking back now, it all seemed so much easier when they were little. Sure I remember feeling worn out, tired and wishing I had a manual of instructions on what to do at various times. But things are different now. I have one child who only has two more years of high school left. He has important decisions to make about his future. I have another child who has one more year of middle school left and then she steps into that blazing fast season of the high school years. And then, well you already know about my littlest one entering that season of middle school.

Yes a part of me desperately wants to hang on. I sometimes wish that life was like our TiVo. I could just stop and pause it. Take time to view what’s in front of me before it speeds by too fast. How thankful I am that I’m not the one in control of the buttons. God is. He has my children in His hand and I can entrust every season of their life to Him.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Treasure of Friendship

When you have found a good friend, you have truly found a treasure. They are keepsakes that keep on giving. A good friendship can weather any storm and believe me, they will come. In fact, it has been through the storms of life that I have learned who my real friends are. They are the ones who stuck with me, who helped to see me through. They are the ones who encouraged me and yes, even at times disagreed with me.

Sometimes we think that a good friend is one who will always tell us what we want to hear. We think a friend will never disappoint us. But any relationship in life, be it marriage or in parenting, we know the reality. People are people and they will let us down. Our husbands, our children and yes, even our friends will let us down. It’s up to us what we do with those disappointments. Will we allow them to mold and shape us? Will we allow them to cause correction in our character?

Proverbs 27:17 says that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. A good friend will love you, be dependable and loyal but a good friend will also sharpen you. Being sharpened hurts! It’s tempting to try and escape the pain, to push away what is causing that pain. Yet God uses our friends to challenge us. He uses friendship to sometimes reflect what is really in our hearts—what needs to be changed.

There is an Arabian proverb that I really like. It says: A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away. The good, the bad and the ugly…you get it all when you have a real friendship. It all comes out and only a good friend will stand by your side to carefully sift away those shortcomings and faults. In the end, she blows away the impurities and chooses to dwell on the harvest of good within you.

If you have a friendship like this, treasure it and hold onto it! Don’t let it go. Don’t let a foolish misunderstanding or disagreement stand in the way of what God wants to use in your life. Allow God to work through your friendships to make you into the person that God desires you to be!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What If?

What if? You will understand this question as you read on…I recently watched this movie on the Gospel Music Channel. It was called “Second Glance”, made in 2005. In all honesty, like some of the Christian movies can be, it was a bit hokey. But the message behind it really impacted me. It was about a Christian teenager who started getting unsatisfied with his life. He was looking for something more exciting, especially when he set his sights on a particular girl in school. He got tired of being “the nice guy” and made a statement that sometimes he wished he had never been a believer.

Well his wish ended up coming true and he began to see how differently his life would have been had he not been a Christian. It affected his family…parents were divorced, his mom wasn’t around to take care of him, his sister had never been born. A friend of his had ended up committing suicide. Even teachers were impacted by the fact that his positive influence wasn’t there. He started hanging with the wrong crowd and “enjoying” the party life of typical teenagers. But it didn’t take long before he saw what a mess his life really was.

Throughout the course of this, he had an angel hanging around. When this teenager finally came back to his real life the angel told him how Satan was trying to lure him, to get him off course. He pointed out how he thought all the other kids were having all this fun and he was missing out. But like the angel said, all he was missing out on was sin. Yes, sin is fun for a season but the end results are nothing but hurt and living a life that grieves the Lord.

The other good lesson taught in this movie was about the fact that this teenager had a thing for a girl who was not a believer. But the angel talked to him about what God thinks of relationships and how important it is that he ends up marrying a girl who has been untouched.

It reminded me of one afternoon not that long ago when I was parked outside my oldest son’s high school waiting to pick him up. Kids were pouring out of the school and walking in front of my van was a very pregnant teenage girl. My son was already in the van with me. We were waiting for a couple of girls that attend our church who I drive home twice a week. When I saw this pregnant teenager I was shocked. I don’t know why but I was. I said something like, “Look at that! She is pregnant!” My son looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Yeah, there’s a lot of girls in school that are.” I was dumbfounded. “There are?!” I asked incredulously. Apparently I must be from another planet because I got one of those “duh” looks from my son.

What a world our children live in. I also recently had to opt out my two youngest children, in 5th and 7th grades from a sex education class that teachers in our local school district are being forced to teach. Apparently Milwaukee has either the highest or almost the highest rate of teenage pregnancies (by the way it was my 10th grader that informed me of that). MPS, the school system my younger two are in, want to start reaching children BEFORE even middle school with sex education because it’s no longer just in high school they are getting pregnant. It is happening in middle school!

Some of what my 5th grader was going to be receiving in sex education is what my now 10th grader just got in his last semester of health. I read through the list of topics and I was absolutely stunned. What in the world is going on, I often wonder. Our children are facing a lot of pressures and a lot of temptations that yes, we as adults faced when we were younger. But I would also challenge that with each passing generation it gets tougher.

Our children can easily become tempted as this teenager in the movie did. They may look at the “fun” they see other kids having and feel like they are missing out. I think it’s a good lesson to sit down with our children and discuss those things. I mean, I have it pretty good. Despite how some would like to tear down those who make the choice to send their children to public school, we have fared very well with our kids. I am so incredibly proud of my children. They have not fallen for the temptations of the world and I stand on the prayers that I have uttered over the years. I believe they are in God’s hands. That gives me an extra measure of faith I wouldn’t have otherwise. I trust their lives to Him.

But what if that temptation did come? What if they did start to wonder what it would be like to not be a Christian? I plan on having my older two see this movie. They might have difficulty with the whole hokey-ness (yes I know, not a word) setting of it but I pray the message behind it will reach them. I would love to talk to them about how differently their lives would be if Dan and I had not given our hearts to Christ. We are “first generation” Christians so we don’t have a religious background in any shape or form. I know for a fact we would be divorced. In fact, it would stand a good chance that our youngest son would never have been born because I don’t think our marriage would have made it until then.

I think it would actually do all of us some good to really take a look at our lives and re-evaluate them. We may spend a lot of time complaining about things. We may see the world and think we are missing out on something. We may wonder “what if?” Yes, that’s right…what if? What if we were out there? What would be different? A lot would be different and it wouldn’t be good and so I think we really need to have a grateful heart and give God all the thanks for the difference He has made in each of our lives. I know I plan on talking to my children about that…