Thursday, June 12, 2014

Spiritual Mothering ... What is that?

I am writing this morning to participate in the She Reads Truth #SheSharesTruth experiment – against I-don’t-want-to-say-my-better-judgment and not really against my will, but against something, i.e. I don’t really want to put these words down but am somehow feeling compelled to do so. (How about that for an intro? Ought to be interesting to see where my mind goes this morning.)

So, the subject matter is around spiritual mothering. Specifically, some of the triggering questions that were offered up to the SRT community were the following: How is spiritual mothering already taking place in your community? Has a godly woman influenced you in your growth in the Gospel, or has mentoring a young believer impacted your life? How would you like to see Titus 2 shape your relationships moving forward?

Although I have had (and still have!) a number of wonderful Christian women in my life – many of whom have certainly pointed me toward Christ, when I think of those individuals who have set aside part of their lives to pour into me, everyone who is top of mind is male. And I don’t think that’s wrong. I’m thankful for these men. (And I hope I’m not currently blanking on some huge impactful period of my life where a woman devoted a significant part of hers to growing me in the faith. If I am, I’ll blame it on pregnancy brain. Seems to be my go-to excuse, which is mostly warranted, these days.) But it just feels wrong to say this. Like I am defying some century-old bond of womanhood where I am supposed to have a female in mind to offer this recognition to. But the truth, at least as I see it, is what it is. Men have been my spiritual mothers. 

But that’s not where this story ends. Just as many families get stuck in certain cycles (of poverty, of abuse, etc.), I am convicted that I am perpetuating this problem for the women in my own life. I know that in the times where I have clearly pointed other women to Christ, it has felt amazing. But my most vivid memories of knowing I helped shape spiritual futures happened many years ago. Even though my husband and I currently host what our church calls CityGroup house churches that meet during the week. And I try to give something of myself to all of the women. And I’ve taken the time and effort, at times, to invest more in some of the women than others. But I know that there’s not a single one who I have poured my all into. 

Here’s where the excuses come again: We host this weekly group, plus we meet every other week with a couple to discuss their marriage (and by virtue of that, also ours), plus we serve on the greeting team, plus I spend a Sunday a month in nursery, plus I volunteer in other ways as needed, plus I work a pretty time-consuming and demanding job. Plus, I’m pregnant. And many of these service areas are genuinely about me giving time and attention to others instead of myself. But you know what? In truth, I want more. I want a woman, many years from now, to be able to look back and answer the above questions about having a spiritual mother differently than I did. And not for my own glory, but so that they can trace part of their growth back to a time where God put me in their lives or when God all-of-a-sudden spurred me into action in their lives. 

I’ve commented at SRT before about an idea that I have recently become inclined to initiate at my church called Apples of Gold. (Not that it has to be called that.) The concept is around older women mentoring younger women – with a regular component of the gatherings involving teaching them to cook and leading a devotion time. But I feel so inadequate about leading this for many reasons: 1) I'm not old! I'm 36. But in my church, I'm certainly not young. 2) I haven’t really seen this modeled. My previous church had this program, but I was never able to participate in it. I have just loved the idea of it for several years. 3) I’m not an expert in the kitchen. I’m a good cook. My husband and others generally enjoy the food I prepare. My husband probably even says I’m a great cook. But I don’t have mad chopping skills, or whatever I envision other women who would volunteer to do this have. 4) I don’t have time. (Who does, right?) But of all the times to get this grand idea, this timing seems the WORST! I’m pregnant with my first child while trying to juggle all of the things I already have going on. How does this work? 

But I know the answers to all of my questions and fears and excuses, while maybe not easy, involve Jesus. Jesus can teach me to model what I haven’t seen. He can guide me, if I let Him. Jesus can take away my insecurities. And in the meantime not allow me to hide behind them. And Jesus can help me find the timing. He can’t pray for me. He can’t trust in Him for me. He can’t put aside my selfishness for me. But he can guide my heart if I eagerly seek to follow Him in this. And if that means I have to give up something I’m already doing to accommodate a new phase in my life, he can help me make those hard decisions. 

Lord, lead me. Help me to follow. (There, now, that wasn’t so bad.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

It’s About What You Say, Not How Well You Say It

Written as part of the She Reads Truth #SheSharesTruth experiment 

So often, it seems that we get caught up in our own abilities or how we’re going to present something in this amazing way that we forget that the message itself is what is important. But the truth is, unless you’re a motivational speaker, the actual content of your message is what will be focused on for most presentations people attend. 

This is actually a very timely concept for me to grasp. I’m currently preparing to deliver training in D.C.; and the whole purpose of next week’s event is to judge how good I am at training. Gulp. (And I’m not normally a trainer!) The point is not for those in the room to learn the information. They will all be federal employees who already know the content. They just want to know if I know it. And there will be, I’m sure, an element of criticism around my delivery of the message that they want me to share. Ick. Super stressed. I already get nervous before presenting. But to present for the purpose of being judged!?! Not my idea of a good time. 

But I have to remember: It doesn’t have to be about that. If I know the materials (and in this case, that’s also the issue – just started prepping yesterday really), it will speak for itself. In fact, no amount of fancy speech and delivery skills will make up for not knowing my stuff. The content is far more important than how dynamic a speaker I am. 

And how much more so is that true when delivering the message of Christ! So often we are drawn in by powerful speakers. People who make us feel something. People with charisma and charm. But if we’re not careful, we can become less concerned about the actual message being delivered. And we can be duped by the messenger. Plus, dynamic deliveries often bring praise upon the messenger, more so than the message.

But in this passage, Paul makes it clear that he’s not playing the orator. He is just a simple sharer of good news. He has a message, and he’s going to share it. But he’s not going to puff it up. He’s not going to be commended for how well he did in delivering it. He doesn’t want pats on the back for how great a speaker he is. He wants the focus to be on the message itself. On Jesus. For that is what we are called to: “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (vs 2).

If we know nothing else and share nothing else, and do it in a meek and humble way, we’ve done exactly what we’re called to. We are not called to making ourselves known. We are called to make Jesus famous. In our hearts. In our lives. In our communities. In our world. But we do that, not by being boisterous and bringing attention to ourselves, but by sharing him in all that we do and all that we say each and every day. Because really, our lives are not meant to be about us. They are meant to be about him. And he’s big enough and powerful enough that he doesn’t need our oratory skills to bring his message in such a way that it changes people. He can handle the changing. He just needs us to know him and love him and share him. He’ll take care of the rest.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Rest Will Take Care of Itself

At the beginning of the book of Joshua, he has been commissioned by God to do THE BIGGEST THING he could ever imagine. Moses, the leader, has died. And Joshua, Moses’ assistant, will now put on the leader hat and deliver to these people the one thing they’ve been searching for – for most or ALL of their lifetimes: the homeland that God has promised them. 

But Joshua knows that the final scenes of this very dramatic story have the potential to be the most daunting. It’s not as if it’s just open and unoccupied land. It’s not as if it’s just there for the taking – first come, first serve. They will have to take the place away from those who currently consider it their home. And he’s guessing that these people are not just going to move out without a fight. I mean, it’s not like it’s a saved seat. There will be no: Excuse me. Umm, this land is actually ours. God was saving it for us. So I’m actually going to need you to find another place to live. (In fact, that tactic doesn’t even go over well when it is just a saved seat you’re squabbling over.) And the response will be something stronger than a sassy: Oh. Well. I didn’t see your name on it.   

So, Joshua is probably a little scared. Out of his MIND! So, the Lord tells him to be strong and courageous. He actually says it three times in the first nine verses. 

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them (Vs 6).

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go (Vs. 7).

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Vs. 9).

God really wants Joshua to be strong and courageous. 

But how can he be? He needs a plan. He needs to know how to attack. He needs to know what type of enemy he is facing. 

No he doesn't. At least not yet. That will come. He really just needs God’s Word. It will provide all the direction he needs. And he needs to trust God on this.  

While the Lord encourages him to be strong and courageous three times in verses 6, 7 and 9, the real practical key to success provided in this passage is in vs. 8: 

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

I’m going to guess that Joshua has read this Book of the Law before and never really saw it as a manual for a hostile takeover or an all-out war. It never really struck him as that kind of book before. But it is. Or it can be. If you meditate on it. God’s Word is meant to strengthen and empower us to face every scary thing we can imagine. He’s given it to us to grow our strength and courage. The rules are there to guide us, to keep us within the lines – on the path to success.

And although, through Christ’s death and resurrection, we aren’t condemned by the law anymore, we are still to be bolstered by God’s Word. If we make it a regular part of our day, of our lives – meditating on it all the time, our lives will be better for it. While he certainly doesn’t promise that we’ll never have tough times, he does guarantee that his ever-present love and his Word will get us through it all. 

So, be strong and be courageous. The manual for getting through the tough and messy – the Bible – is readily available to guide us. If we’ll only meditate on it – allowing it to soak in, the rest will take care of itself.

Friday, March 28, 2014

I Told You So

Have you ever decided ahead of time how mad you were going to be about something before it even happened? Told yourself, “I don't want to do X because Y person is only going to do Z. And when they do Z, I’m going to be sooo mad!”? I have. I refer to it as getting “pre-angry”. Deciding ahead of time that I’m going to be extra-angry when someone fails to do what I want AGAIN, in the exact way that I’m expecting them to. I’m not sure why I think I can get extra-angry in these situations. Probably just because I predicted it and had time to stew about it before it even went down. By the time that they fail me (i.e., don’t do what I want), I’m ready to POUNCE! OR my only solution for preventing my anger (instead of just deciding: 1) to believe in the person and 2) to not be angry if they do something other than my wishes) is to decide ahead of time that I won’t be sucked in again. That I just won’t do X this time. 

That’s Jonah in this story. He was angry that God made him go to Ninevah to make this big pronouncement that he was going to destroy the whole place because of how evil they were and then didn’t live up to the promise that he had Jonah make. Jonah was mad because he knew God would want to forgive them. He knew God’s nature. He had God’s number. And the thing is: What he predicted was that God would do something amazing, not horrible. But if God was not going to destroy Ninevah (which Jonah knew he wouldn’t), then he didn’t want to waste his time making the threat. In Jonah 4:3, Jonah said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 

Paraphrase: “I told you that you were going to do this. And now you’ve done it! That’s why I was justified in disobeying. Because I didn’t want to be sucked in again for no reason. I didn’t want to have to talk big about what you were going to do – knowing you’d never do it – and then look like a fool when you didn’t do it. But you did it! You sucked me in again, after I convinced myself that you had changed, and here we are. I’m so humiliated I could die!”

But God never changes. The good thing about that is: He’s always good. It’s not like being sucked into the messy lives of those we love who might fail us. God never fails. We may fail in wanting the right things from God. But God doesn’t drop the ball on who he is. He’s consistent. His gracious, merciful, patient, loving, relenting-from-disaster character will always hold true. Jonah was right about that. But what Jonah seemed to forget was: He didn’t deserve forgiveness (or that plant that sprouted to keep him cool) either. He’d known God long enough that he’d become entitled. He thought his relationship with God was about him. He thought he made the rules. He thought it was about what he could get out of God. 

But it’s never about us. It’s always about God. Everything. All the time. And that’s part of what Jonah got pre-angry about. Because he was going to obey God’s wishes for one reason – to tell those awful people how God was going to destroy them and everything they loved and then sit back and watch the filthy place burn like they deserved. But if God dared to make this about him again, if he dared relent, Jonah was going to be mad.

But thank goodness God dares. Thank goodness he gives us what we don’t deserve. I just pray that we Jonahs out there – who know God and the mercy and grace and love and patience and relenting that is part of his very being – don’t forget that we didn’t always know God. We didn’t always know his character. And we weren’t always the “good” people we envision ourselves to be. Thank goodness someone was willing to tell us about him – not because we deserve his grace, mercy, love, etc. – but because God is bigger than all of the things we’ve done that need grace, mercy, love, etc. 

May we never lose sight of our undeserving nature. And may we never grow weary of the steadfastness of God’s.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Crack and Cheese

I told my husband I would write down this recipe immediately, so I wouldn't forget it. And then, I don't know, life happened. Or at least something more important than writing down a recipe did. But I've had it on my mind for the last month or so. So, here it is.

It all started with this: Warm Crack Dip. I regularly make recipes from the Plain Chicken blog. It's actually written by a friend of a friend. But that's just an interesting bonus tidbit. I follow this blog for the FOOD. This chick knows how to make tasty things that are simple. And the Warm Crack Dip, which I made for the first time ever for our 2014 Super Bowl party, is just another example of one of her tasty, yet simple delights.

Once people started eating the Crack Dip, a crowd formed and hovered around it until it was gone. Well, technically, it wasn't gone. But they stopped eating it once it got hard to get, i.e. someone was going to have to be bold enough to assert themselves and turn the dish on its side to get the baked-on goodness off. But our friends, thankfully, aren't crude. So, the dish was abandoned when it got to this point. And when I say "thankfully", I partially mean: Thankfully FOR US! Because that crack dip turned into some of the best mac and cheese I have ever had!

I don't like to waste. So, when the party was over and we were cleaning up, I could (without being judged) turn that dish on its side and scrape all the rest of the goodness into Tupperware for future enjoyment. But I never actually planned to consume it the way we did.

It was a weeknight. And for some reason I had actually told Mr. Love what I was cooking. Probably because some days there's nothing more that he wants than Kraft mac & cheese. And since it's easy, some days that's quite alright by me. I can't even remember the rest of the meal. If I had to guess, I'd say pork chops and green beans ... So anyway, after making an unlikely announcement about my plan for the meal, I went to the pantry to pull out said mac & cheese. And to my dismay, there was none. So, I panicked. No, so I thought: How can I make a substitute that Love will enjoy? (He honestly prefers Kraft over so many other types of mac & cheese.) I see shells. And I start thinking about what's in the fridge. Crack! We have Crack in the fridge! This is going to be (better be!?! hopefully will be!?!) amazing, I think!

Oh, and, it was.

If my memory serves me correctly, other than the Crack dip, all I added to the cooked shells was milk. And probably salt and pepper. I got a bunch of other ingredients out, but didn't need to use them. And I honestly didn't measure the amount of milk. I just poured until it looked right. (Sorry, not much of a recipe.) Y'all - THIS STUFF WAS AMAZING! I mean, really, starting with Crack dip, it would have been hard to mess up. But still. I never imagined it would be this good.

I was going to (lamely) name it Miracle Mac because it was a miracle that I made a mac & cheese from scratch that Mr. Love liked. (I'm telling y'all, he loves my cooking. But he has this weird uber-strong comfort food association with the Kraft stuff.) But my Love (more cleverly) said it should be called Crack and Cheese. So, while I take full credit for the creation, my hat is off to him for his gift of nomenclature. Here is a pic of her delicious now:

(Sorry, I didn't think about taking a pic, until I was packing away leftovers. Yes! Leftovers! Crack dip is the gift that keeps on giving!)

All I can say is: Make Warm Crack Dip. And if you happen to be lucky enough to have any leftovers, please make Crack and Cheese. It just might change your life. You're welcome.

(NOTE: If you missed the imbedded link above to the Warm Crack Dip recipe, click here.)