Day 20: Songs of Joy

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I love it when the children lead part of our Advent service with their songs and readings.  It is always a special service.

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OK do you trust me?

Blessed.  Beyond Blessed. This exact term was resonating through my head this spring.  I was asking myself, “Do I feel beyond blessed only when everything comes together?”

Because what happens when things fall apart?  Can you still look up to the Lord your God and say you are beyond blessed?

This spring, I was reminded in the tinier plans that if things go according to what I really want or the contrary what I fear, God IS.  God is good.

I realize I did not go through any major crisis moments this spring so my heart is humbled when I look to my friends who did.  But we are reminded in the minor inconveniences as well as the intense struggles that God IS.

We had four trips in two months (three to the Midwest) which seems just plain crazy.  One was unexpected–my sweet grandmother passed away on April 1st.

One thing I feared in all this…I am talking about an anxious reaction…is people getting sick.  Stomach bugs and bad colds always thwart plans. Yet we have no control over them.  It has been a horrible year for sickness.  Our kids have all been sick multiple times.  It started the last week of September and was off and on until the second to the last week of school.  It has not just been us–many of our friends have dealt with it too and some much worse.

We went to St. Louis in mid May for my husband’s graduation ceremony.  He earned his Doctorate of Ministry from Covenant Seminary.  Before we left we had plans to leave our kids with Friend #1’s house (btw–for the sake of this blog post I am referring to friends with numbers but it does not imply their ranking as friends).  Only days before we left, Friends #1 lost a loved one and had to travel to the Midwest for the funeral.  Thankfully Friends #2 offered to take our kids.  The day we were supposed to leave Friend #2 came down with a stomach bug and we had to leave our kids with Friends #3 who graciously offered to take our kids last minute.  I remember through the whole ordeal God saying to me, “OK do you trust me?”

We have no family remotely close to where we live.  We have to rely on our friends in these situations.  I am extremely grateful for “our village” who came through for us last minute and reassured us our kids would be fine.  I cannot imagine how lonely and frustrating life would be if we did not have “a village.”

Our kids eating breakfast with Friends #2 while we were away

Our kids eating breakfast with Friends #2 while we were away

My fear is I would be sick in St. Louis since I was exposed to all this crud.  That became reality as I went to bed the first night in our hotel feeling a little queasy and an hour later sick in the bathroom.  I was frustrated, angry, and anxious.  I felt like God was saying, “OK but do you trust me?”

I recovered quickly.  I did not miss his graduation lunch or the ceremony or the Cardinal games the next day.

Cardinals game with the husband and his brothers...

Cardinals game with the husband and his brothers…

I did miss some things, but overall I made it to all the important things. It was a tremendous honor to see my husband earn his D Min after hours and hours of work on his dissertation, multiple trips to St. Louis, and countless amount of time interviewing and reading.

Graduation Day!

Graduation Day!

We came home from St. Louis exhausted on a Sunday afternoon.  The youngest child was going to a birthday party which Friends #4 who graciously agreed to pick her. The middle child was going to a different party about a half hour away.  I made plans in advance to have him ride with Friends #5 since I knew we would be exhausted from our flight.  We had to get up at 3 AM central time.  As we arrived home Friend #5 texted me and said their daughter got the dreaded stomach bug and they weren’t going.  How do you tell your son you are not going to take him to a birthday party a half hour away because you are functioning off three hours of sleep especially when you have not seen him in four days?  My plan was to take him and set up a sleeping bag in the van.  I would sleep while he was at the party.  I was grumpy about the whole thing but again I felt like God said, “OK do you trust me?”

I texted Friend #6 last minute who was on her way to the party and agreed to pick up my son and take him along.  With our younger two gone all afternoon we could take long naps and get caught up on the sleep we lost.

That was Sunday.  On Friday we got ready for our annual church retreat at a camp about 1 hour away.  We left Saturday morning and had a full day of activities that first day.  Sunday morning the husband woke up and said, “I don’t feel great.  Kind of yucky.  But I don’t think I am sick.”  Anxiety began to run rampant again. I knew he was getting sick.  My kids don’t need to be constantly watched anymore, but I cannot let them run off alone.  Especially when there is a lake, a large woods, and unfamiliar parts of the camp.  My kids were excited to be at camp but a little out of control the first night.  I felt like I NEEDED my husband’s help.  Again I felt like God said, “OK do you trust me?”

The husband got sicker as I feared and had to go home.  However, the kids were amazing.  I don’t think I had to break up a single fight the rest of the weekend.  They always told me where they were going.  They stayed out of trouble. They had a wonderful time!  So did I!

Three kids at our church retreat

Three kids at our church retreat

I had a great hike around the lake with them at the conclusion of the weekend and we saw a bald eagle perched in a tree.  Another reminder of God as we see the handiwork of his creation.

Coming home on Monday, my youngest got the dreaded stomach bug.  The following day my oldest woke up with it. My anxiety escalated because I knew I was running the Minneapolis Marathon the following weekend.  I had invested months of training, bought a plane ticket, motel room & rental car.  Plus it was the first time I would run a marathon with my sister.  I did NOT want to be sick.  I hoped my husband and daughters caught what I already had, but I had no way of knowing.  Our symptoms were all a little different.

Again I felt like God was saying, “OK do you trust me?”  I was so paranoid about getting sick I hardly had time to be nervous about the actual marathon.  The end of this story was I did travel to Minneapolis, I did run in the marathon 100% healthy, my sister ran it too, and it was an amazing weekend.

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Me running in my fourth marathon

I know had I got sick and missed it, that I would STILL be beyond blessed.  Because whatever happens God IS.

It’s a bit harder to wrap my finger around this idea of “beyond blessed” when I think about some old friends God put on my heart recently. During our time in St. Louis old friends of ours lost a child.  On my way to Minneapolis to run a marathon with my sister, an old friend lost her sister unexpectedly.  While I was talking to my mom about her trip recently to visit old friends she mentioned her friend’s son is dying of cancer.  I’ve seen evidence in all three of these situations via Facebook and social networking that all three of these people are clinging to the hope that God IS.  Despite all the feelings of anger, frustration, depression, pain, despair, and loss–God IS.  Because they know if we don’t have the hope of God’s love through Christ, then what we do have?

Will you stand on the hope of God promises?  And will you pray for those in your life today who may not “feel beyond blessed” for whatever reason?

 

Why running is dangerous

Becoming a runner is dangerous.  I am not referring to barking unleashed dogs or dark streets without streetlights at 5 AM.  I am not referring to running your first marathon in Kmart shoes…which I in fact did and do not recommend.  I am not even referring to injured knees or plantar fasciitis.

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Check out those Kmart shoes

Running changes you.  It is easy to get caught up in the inner transformation and make running or triathlon (or whatever sport that drives you) your religion.

You might be like me and discovered once upon a time that running gave you the confidence you never believed you truly had.  When you could hardly run a mile without huffing and puffing and your muscles were screaming, “Mercy!” you never dreamed you would be training for marathons let alone run a 5K.  And when you completed a race, you felt like you could do anything.  That it’s up to you and your willpower.  It’s up to YOUR ability to fight.

Another triathlon mom says:  “I challenge you to fight…face your issues head on. Look your challenges in the eye and put up your dukes.  Your life isn’t going to make itself.  No one is going to come to your rescue.”

What is dangerous?  It is easy to believe it is all about YOU.

But it can’t be.

It is about God.  God orchestrates your life.  And you cannot rescue yourself as much as you think you can.  But God can.

We run and we begin to feel better.  It helps with our anxiety and depression.  It helps us crave carrots and apples instead of Oreos.  We feel more motivated at work.  Tackling laundry does not seem as daunting of a task.  We long for the outside air.  We feel better about our bodies.  We find meaning in life and our joy returns.

amy half marathon

Better. Better.  Better.  It is a word I hear constantly.  Each year we want to become a better wife.  Or a better mom.  Or a better house cleaner.  Or a better (insert your own ambition here).

Although running makes us feel better…it doesn’t make us better.

Because you are like the rest of us.  You’ve screwed up and you will continue to do so.

Christ is better.

Not only is he better, but he is the BEST. As long as you try to make yourself better, you will keep making things like running your religion.  What happens when you can’t run anymore?

And even if you truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior you will be tempted many times in your running journey to believe it is about you.  You may need to remind yourself (or someone may gently remind you) that it is not.

The Bible verse that is painted on the wall plaque where my and my children’s medals hang from has the verse John 11:25 written on it.  It is also embroidered on my gym bag.  It says:

I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.

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Not a verse that makes you picture running.  However it was the text read at my Grandpa’s funeral back in 1989.  I have run a few races in memory of my Grandpa raising money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. My grandpa went to his heavenly home after a seven year battle with cancer that started in his prostate and spread to his spine and then his brain.  My dad is now a prostate cancer survivor.

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This text reminds me that the one who believes in me [Jesus] will LIVE.  It is through Christ we have life.  Not through running.  Not through swimming.  Not through biking.  Not through whatever it is that drives you.

But running is a gift.  And I don’t want to forget that it is a gift from God.  Because every good and perfect gift comes from Him.

14 years ago I ran my first ever 5K on the campus of Calvin College.  I thought it would be a one time thing. I never believed that it was the beginning of an amazing spiritual/mental/physical journey.  And now in only 33 days I will run my fourth marathon and this time I get to share the experience with my sister.  I am forever grateful for this journey.

Lent Day #1: Prone to sin

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I was talking with one of my children last night and he/she was saying how he/she is good all day long at school and rarely gets his/her name on the board anymore.  He/she gets his/her work done on time and does not distract others.  This child was saying how difficult it is to come home and “keep being good.”  It is hard to follow the rules all day long, sit still, listen, and be kind to others and then come home without falling apart.

It made me think how much easier it is to sin at home.  It is easier to take my anger out on my husband or the kids at home versus places like the grocery store or church.  It is easier to complain at home in front of the captive audience of my family who I know will continue to love me versus friends who may come in and out of my life.  It is easier to harbor anger towards those I am close to and act like they owe me something instead of choosing to forgive and move on.

I am grateful for the Lenten season because I am reminded that I can’t earn my way into good standing by following all the rules of the Christian life.  We tell one another not to be so hard on ourselves and now wallow in our mistakes.  Yet we also need to ponder how EASY it is to sin.  In our more natural setting like home, it is our tendency to choose grumbling instead of gratefulness or resentment instead of forgiveness.

It is the season of Lent.  May our hearts be humbled.

What is wrong about being crazy busy

I have noticed that we as moms tend to be “all-or-nothing” about many things.  Take eating for instance.  We are either a slave to My Fitness Pal obsessing over what to eat for lunch hence not using up all our precious calories.  Or we enter into what I once heard a speaker call “Screw-itsville.”  Just love yourself.  Accept your body for what it is.  Eat that doughnut.  You probably deserve it anyway.

Or take keeping the house as another example.  Daily chore charts, cleaning schedules, and to-do lists cover the refrigerator.  The laundry must be all caught up and the floors swept daily.  Or throw the charts out the window, clean whatever you can in the short time you allot, and as long as the kids have socks and underwear–who cares about the laundry.

I have noticed we are the same way when it comes to “being busy.”  We feel like we need to be the “busy martyr” running kids from one activity to the next, cooking a meals that hit all areas of the Food Pyramid, buying snacks for the basketball team, leading Bible Study, and planning our friend’s baby shower until we crash into bed and wake up at 3 AM with our mind racing about all we need to do the following day.  Or we feel like we need to be “zen like moms” with time to breathe, relax, and visit the day spa.  Pamper yourself.

There needs to be some sort of balance.

Life is a rhythm of “busy” and “inactivity.”  Finding that balance means “working hard” and “resting hard.”  Sometimes I feel like I am too far on one side and not the other.

I have been a runner for many years, but it was two years ago I discovered track runs.  I used to think running laps around the track was boring and monotonous.  Until I learned of actual track workouts such as running fast 800 meters and then running slow 400 meters or sprinting a 200 and then walking/running slow another 200.  Put in fast paced techno music on your iPod or run with a couple buddies and you got yourself a great workout with more variety than running laps which might give you bad flashbacks to 4th grade PE.  It is that slower lap known as the recovery lap that is equally important as the fast lap.

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Kevin De Young describes it in his book Crazy Busy explains it like this:

People like to say life is a marathon, not a sprint, but it’s actually more like a track workout.  We run hard and then rest hard.  We charge a hill and then chug some Gatorade.  We do some stairs, then some 200s, and then a few 400s.  In between, we rest.  Without it, we’d never finish the workout.  If we want to keep going, we have to learn how to stop.”  (93)

The problem is some of us who struggle with “chronic busyness” and we skip that recovery lap.  We think we don’t need it nor we do we have time for it anyway.  The problem is we are not completing the workout.  We are drowning in a bunch of unfinished projects and clutter.  Those of us living in the land of “Screw-its-ville” are only doing recovery laps or we’re just hanging out on the bleacher watching everyone else run by.  We are living are our days with no plan, no goals, and no structure.  You know the old saying, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it.”

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God may call us into big careers, daunting projects, or to be moms to thirteen children.  Busy lives?  You bet.  We cannot live the kind of life God called us to live if we are not resting in His Word and abiding by Him.  God gave us the gift of the Sabbath to worship Him.  For how many of us has Sunday become another day of run around chaos?

De Young also says:

“It’s not wrong to be tired.  It’s not even wrong to feel overwhelmed.  It’s not wrong to go through seasons of complete chaos.  What is wrong—and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable—is to live a life with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need.”  (118)

My friends it is not trying to do everything perfect by the book with lists and schedules and systems even if they look beautiful displayed on your refrigerator. When we try and try to be Super Mom, often times we feel much worse.

But it’s not saying “Screw it either.” Which feels great in the moment, but not so much when we’re feeling directionless.

It is abiding with Him. It is making him the center of your day and the Lord of your life.  The daily rhythm will change, but you will not be walking it alone.   You will find direction and you will find peace.

December 21: Kids in Worship

1-2014-12-22I love our church’s Christmas program.  Actually it is not a program at all.  The children help lead part of the service and help the congregation understand the meaning of the Advent season.  They do this readings, songs, and symbols.  It is a beautiful thing.  I loved watching my three kids be worship leaders with their Sunday school friends.