Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's All About the Atmosphere

Creating an atmosphere.

Today I was nodding off in the car on the way home from church. I think I'd just hit a wall of exhaustion. So I came home, turned a noisy fan on full blast, closed the blinds, pulled the covers up over my head and was out like a light within moments of hitting the pillow.

A few hours later, I awoke to hear Aila fussing about taking her nap, so I went into her room. She wanted a full water cup, her fan on, a teddy bear to hold, 4 kisses, and for her hair to be stroked. And once all of that was in place, she drifted off to sleep.

I'd created an atmosphere, first for myself and then for Aila, for sleep to be possible.

I found myself thinking back to being at church this morning. North Star Church is so very good at creating an atmosphere for worship. While some make worship some sort of "show," I'm grateful that I'm honestly unaware of what's even going on up front and am just mindful of my own time of proclaiming thanks and praise to my God. In a room full of hundreds, the time spent at His feet feels so personal and so intimate.

Made me wonder if I create an atmosphere of worship in our home...if the words we speak and the things that are seen make this a place where "worship" is not merely singing songs on Sunday morning, but the mark of our lives.

And to take it a step further--what about the atmosphere in my heart? Am I cultivating an atmosphere of worship, or am I filling my heart with junk that gets in the way of worship? Am I devouring the Word of God, or am I lapping up the offerings of entertainment news? Some days it's one, and the next day it's the other. Am I meditating on the One who made a way for all of humanity to be reconciled to Him, or is my heart cluttered with selfish desires that war against me? Again, some days it's one. Other days it's the other.

I truly want my life to an offering of worship. But that means I need to create an atmosphere conducive to worship. Clear out all the sin that so easily entangles...and make a way for worship.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nothing at All

"If you can't say something nice, then say nothing at all." Such a familiar phrase--and it's certainly true enough. But what's been on my heart a lot this past year is

"If you can't speak worthy words, then speak nothing at all."

Jeremiah 15:19 has proved to be a guard over my tongue these last many months. "If you will speak worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman." Worthy meaning VALUABLE. Full of the value of truth. Edification. Praise. Gratitude. Conviction. Understanding.

It's why sometimes I post nothing for a stretch of time--I'd rather post nothing than worthless words. And that can be hard for me sometimes, because I feel like I should be able to come up with something to say, even though days will go by without that sense that there's a fresh word to share. But what good is it if I have "something" to say, but that "something" is void of value?

I guess that's really all I had to say today. I genuinely long for these words--and all my words--to be worthy ones.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Frustrated

"Ugh, I want the last hour of my life back, " I muttered to Justin as I set my computer on the nightstand and slid further under the covers. I'd just spent the last 60+ minutes trying to find a flight home to California. There was a deal for an astonishing $163 ROUND TRIP, available from now until next February. And can you believe that there was not ONE scenario that worked? I kept thinking I'd found something do-able, only to end up banging my head against a brick wall. Imagine an hour of this:

"Oh--this might work! Wait, no--"

Flights around all holidays sold out.

Proctoring AP exams.

Justin's trip to the Dominican Republic.

Heading up to New England.

Family wedding.

Speaking at Kickoff.

Can't take that much time off from tutoring.

She Speaks Conference.

Our anniversary.

That might work, but a 4-day trip? It'll take longer than that to recover from a flight with both kids!


I was completely and utterly frustrated.


And just kind of heartbroken, too. Anytime I feel like there's a hope to visit home and it doesn't work out, it's tough. Especially with the $163 airfare dangled right in front of me! It SHOULD be able to work out, right?

I was lying in bed, sleepless. It's 4am now and I was running that word "frustrated" through my mind. And while I'm annoyed at this whole flight situation, I am actually quite grateful for some frustrations I've seen played out before me:

The frustration of the wicked.

Those times when I sense the enemy is up to no good, but I see his schemes dissolve before his oh-so-frustrated eyes. Those "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good" type moments. Those "No weapon turned against you will prevail" times. Those "He who digs a pit for another falls into it himself" kind of scenarios. Those "Haman hanged on the very gallows he'd built for Mordecai's hanging" moments. It's tough to deal with times of frustration, unless of course it involves seeing the schemer fall! And oh, how I delight in my God who "thwarts the plans of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success" (Job 5:12).


He frustrates the ways of the wicked.
Psalm 146:9

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Deleted Dreams

Getting published. It was the furthest thing from my mind as I walked out to my mailbox last Friday.
But there it was.

I tore open the envelope and read the words "We are pleased to inform you that your devotion has been chosen to appear in the September/October 2010 issue of Devozine." Maybe as much as a year ago, I'd submitted a story to Devozine, a magazine for Christian teens. And here, many months later, I was getting word that my words would be in print.
After the initial excitement wore off, I realized that I didn't even remember what I'd submitted. I vaguely recall writing something about a mishap that my best friend Kelly and I had shared during our senior year, but I can't be sure. I even went into my documents file to look up what I'd sent...and then I said, "Ohhhhhhhh!" as I remembered what I'd done with it:
I had DELETED it!
A month or two ago, I was going through my computer files, deleting old or unnecessary files. I saw the document entitled "Devozine Submission" and thought, "Nothing's going to come of that" as I pressed the delete button.
So much time had passed that the possibility of getting published was no longer even on my radar--to the point that I felt no hesitation in deleting my copy of what was sent. I have been writing and submitting off and on for years, and I have several rejection letters taped up in a closet (all with the positive feedback highlighted on each so that I wouldn't be totally discouraged). It's never "happened" for me. And so I pressed delete.
Mary Beth Whalen tells of her own "Scribbled-On Dreams." She was jotting down ideas for a book in a spiral-bound notebook, but when the idea got shelved for a few years, she even let her young son scribble in the notebook. Five years later, the book was published, but she kept that scribbled-on notebook as a reminder that simply because WE have given up on our dreams, God may still intend for them to be realized.
So I'll wait until that September/October issue comes out to see what on earth I wrote! And in the meantime, I'll give thanks that my delete button can't thwart the plans of God. :)

Me First, Part Two

Let me tell you when it's really tough to live out You first and leave Me first at the door. It's at 6am after 5 hours of sleep when the dog needs to go out, and I'm exhausted but Justin is even more so, but I still just don't want to do it. And as I sank down deeper under my covers, all I could think of was yesterday's post. I knew this is where the rubber meets the road.

Me first is so much easier than You first. It doesn't require anything of us. I wasn't really ready to start laying down my own flesh, which to be honest, really just wanted to stay in bed until Justin had to get up and let Jack out. Maybe there's no easy time to put what we want on the backburner--certainly not at the crack of dawn!

But really, if not then...

...when?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Me First

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought...
(Romans 12:3)
"Me first!"

Yep, I heard this phrase today. Multiple times. Me first, me first, me first.

Sure, my kids were saying it. But this week I've been mindful of my own battle against this mentality.

This week I subbed at a high school and headed out the door without breakfast every day. I don't normally skip breakfast, so I felt really ready to eat by the time lunchtime rolled around. But those long-legged students always beat me over to the dining hall, and I was stuck in a long line. I know (because I used to teach there) that teachers are allowed to cut in line and get their food first so that they can get going on their lunches or get to their commitments or meetings, and I've done that in the past.

But I couldn't bring myself to do it this time.

Oh, I wanted to--with my blood sugar plummeting, I was so ready to eat. But you know what? So were those students! Even if it is allowed, why should I get to go before a bunch of other people who are just as hungry as I?

Do you, like me, ever park where you shouldn't, as though the rules don't apply to you? Do you change lanes constantly while driving, assuming your time is more important than that of the others in the cars around you? I am SO guilty of that one. It's all evidence of that "Me first" attitude. Believe me, I'd like to call it something else, but I know that if the shoe fits, I've gotta wear it.

And so in my coming and going lately, I am trying to be mindful of the way I think about what it means to be first. After all, according to our God, the first shall be last. And the ones who let in that trying-to-merge driver whom everyone else is ignoring, the ones who say, "You can go ahead of me" in the grocery line or who choose to be a spouse's needs first--these are the ones who are first in His Kingdom.

I teach my children to say "You first." But I'm learning right along with them.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others above yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Clean

videoThis is what Trevor was doing to pass the time as I was making dinner tonight. What a picture it painted to me of the forgiveness we celebrate--the truth that we once were defiled and dirtied by our sin, but were made clean by Christ's redemptive work on the cross and His resurrection.
We try to un-simplify it, don't we? Doesn't it seem like there should be more to it than that? But the moment someone crosses from self-righteousness to Christ's righteousness, something happens in an instant. Much like the words of my little boy: "Dirty......clean!"

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow;
Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
Isaiah 1:18

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Impostor

Confession time. I can't live the lie any longer.

I don't know the first thing about basketball.

Oh, I know that the ball goes in the basket. Aaaand that's about it. But I led a group of 100 junior highers to believe that I was an authority on the subject.

A few years back I got a call about a long-term sub job as a P.E. teacher at a junior high. Let's just say that the job for which I am least qualified on God's green earth is "P.E. Teacher." At a junior high, no less.

Thankfully, my sweet husband Justin used to coach basketball. So I knew he could hook me up when I walked through the door, tossed my keys on the counter and said, "Okay--I need you to teach me how to do a lay-up."

So the next day I announced to a bunch of acne-prone individuals, "Alright, so here's how you do a lay-up."

It was all very Cyrano de Bergerac.

I spent the two weeks of that sub job faking my way through lay-up lessons, dribbling drills and jump shots. I led everyone to believe I was a b-ball expert, but I knew I was nothing but an impostor.

I've been there in that "I'm an impostor" place since then, too. I've wanted to appear to have it all together, to be able to juggle it all and do it with excellence. Trying to be a wife who brings Justin good, not harm, all the days of his life. Wanting desperately to expose my children to truth every chance I get. Getting my house ready for Bible study. Doing my Bible study. Facilitating said Bible study. Figuring out child care. Subbing. Tutoring. Couples' small group. Women's ministry. Speaking ministry. Maintaining friendships both near and far. All in the name of making dents in this world for His Kingdom and wanting to be sure I live so as not to "bury my talents." So I put on my happy face and I go, go, go.

But my mask fell off on Wednesday night in the form of an "ugly cry" in front of 10 women.

It was terribly uncomfortable for me to break. Publicly. To find myself saying outloud "I can't do it all." With so much competing for my time, I've loaded too much onto my plate. But Heaven forbid that it would be so much that I would end up dropping that overloaded plate in such a public place.

I want to be real. I'm not doing anyone any good by leading people to believe I've got it all together. That is so frighteningly far from the truth. So after my Wednesday night declaration that I can't do it all, I very intentionally took one thing off my plate and let out a mighty big sigh of relief.

We can't do it all--which is tough when it's all good stuff, isn't it? And yet we are loved...Loved by a God who is fine with you and me being broken jars of clay. We're adored by the One whose power is revealed as perfect in the smack dab middle of our weaknesses.

Thea Nelson doesn't have it all together. There--I've said it. And she still doesn't know anything about basketball, either. :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Terrified

Wide-eyed. Terrified.

I took my 4-year old son and 2-year old daughter out to a Hibachi restaurant today--but it didn't go the way I had hoped. I was so excited--so sure they'd get such a kick out of it...
And maybe they would have if the chef hadn't started the show off with the most tremendously ginormous * fireball * that I have ever seen, just two feet from my children's sweet little faces!

Never in my life have I ever seen anyone actually trembling with fear, but poor Aila was literally shaking like a leaf. And Trevor's eyes got cartoonishly big, just wide with terror.

The problem was that the fear lingered long after the presumed threat was gone. While I was busy devouring my delicious teriyaki chicken, Trevor kept asking if we could leave, as his eyes darted around. He was so consumed with worry that something else would come out of left field. He couldn't enjoy anything more about the experience because he kept anticipating the next big, bad thing.

Fear truly is a thief, isn't it? It steals our joy and robs us of peace. We can't even live in the moment because we're terrified of what just might come out of left field. I find it timely that this happened today, because just yesterday I learned that there is one commandment that is uttered more than any other throughout the Word of God:

FEAR NOT.

Fear not because He has overcome the world. Fear not because He is with you. Fear not because no weapon that's turned against you will prevail. Fear not because He is able to guard what He's entrusted to Him. Fear not because perfect love drives out fear.

Fear not.

What is your greatest fear? What thought consumes your mind so that you can't even be in the moment?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Over It

It's snowing right now in the Atlanta area. For the third time this season. And from what I'm hearing from the online community, the people around here are just kind of "over it."

But I'm not. I'm delighted. Falling snow is still a wondrous thing for this California-born-and-raised girl! Never once growing up did I get to have a snowball fight in my front yard or make snow angels with the kids down the street. But around here, it usually snows once a year, so it's neat when the snow falls, but not quite the miracle it is to those who have never known it to be that way.

I guess when something is new, the awe and the wonder are still there.

Like salvation. To the one who has occupied a church pew since I was 6, it's not something that takes my breath away as it should. I've heard countless times how Jesus' death on the cross completely wiped out my every offense and made a way for me to be restored to the Heavenly Father I've grieved. A truth that should have me face down in awe and wonder doesn't move me as it should. Of course I know it's amazing, and I'm thankful. But perhaps not awe-struck.

But I consider the ones to whom this beautiful truth is new--the ones who have only recently come to know redemption of their sins. They can't contain their joy, their thanks. For those who have gone without grace for so long, knowing the truth of salvation is a cup of cold water in a desert. Mercy is wondrous, and grace, awe-inspiring.

So as I go out and play in the snow today, I want to be mindful of the enormity and the wonder of what was done on my behalf to make me white as snow.