Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Flashy Things and My Heart

Linking again with Marla for the read-along. This week, 7: Media. I walked into this chapter feeling so good about myself. I believe smug would be the appropriate word. Our house is QUIET, and I like it that way. We have a friend who lives with us off and on (she's a bit of a vagabond, but we love her) and the biggest shock to my system when she's with us is the constant noise. Between music, TV shows, talking, singing, etc. I have days when my sinful heart can't wait for her to leave for school or work.

We cancelled our cable almost 2 years ago for financial reasons and realized shortly after how good it was to not be plugged into TV, DVR, and the constant consumerism flashing at us in 2 minute or less chunks. We almost never watch live TV, and have recently started taking family walks every night before plugging into something from Netflix. My husband's job is physically and mentally taxing, so sometimes he needs to just sit and stare at what I affectionately call "flashy things." My thorn in the flesh causes good days and bad days: I have super productive days when my house is super clean by the end, and days when the most productive thing I do is power through half a season of a TV show (thank you, Netfilx Instant!) Neither of us have smart phones, and the only reason we have unlimited texting is because our teenagers only communicate with 160 characters or less. Yep, I was smug coming into this chapter. Jen Hatmaker (and the Holy Spirit) can't touch me, I've got every excuse covered, I can power through without even blinking.

But as I read this book aloud in the car while my sweetie was driving us home from his grandfather's funeral I got a lot more than I expected from this chapter. Yes we read aloud to each other. We get that we're weird, there's no need to point it out. We are more than occasionally old fashioned 30 year old's and we're ok with that.

It was all fun and games, laughing it up at that crazy Hatmaker family until I got to Day 15. Jen starts talking to her former self in an encouraging torrent of "this is who you are, but this is is who you are becoming" and "don't lose heart" and "focus on the Kingdom." Oh my heart needed that. But most of all my heart needed to hear this:
Self-hatred is not appropriate when God reveals a new angle. That is not the way of Christ, who abolished condemnation under the banner of grace. The wise responder humbly receives truth, allows it to supersede the version he or she is holding, and adjusts. This progression is not cause for shame but gratitude; thankful God never leaves us where we are but draws us into a richer faith. ...I don't even know what I don't know. - p. 109
I had a very rebellious few years after I graduated from high school and before I met my husband. By a few I mean almost a decade of doing everything possible to run as far away from all that I knew to be true. I put myself in so many dangerous and foolish situations that I laid in bed last night crying, thanking God that he preserved my life. He very much brought me up from the pit and redeemed my life from destruction. I often look back at those years with shame and heartache and the things I lost, the mistakes I made, the riches I squandered chasing after everything that is temporary and vain. I read Ecclesiastes and feel sometimes like maybe I could have written it, I grasped at the wind!


God promised me, his child, that there is only grace in Christ. It is no longer me who lives my life, but Christ in me. The only thing sweeter than that is death. I am not my own, I was bought with the price of Jesus' blood. Propitiation has been made for all of my wanderings and failings. All of those old things have passed away, my LIFE has been made new.

Thank you Lord for using my sister Jen to remind me of the truth of the gospel in my life.

So I keep reading, and Day 26 is another needed kick in the head.

Back story: When my husband and I have morning worship together we have a time when we ask each other "How's your heart?" We often forget to ask this question of each other, so we for now are forcing it for the sake of it becoming habit in our relationship, and for it to become natural worship to God to care for each other. It helps us love each other better, and pray for each other better, and sometimes it's just good to know that another human being knows where our heart is at day to day. The particular day we read 7 together we had a long "How's your heart?" time because we were in the car for 7 hours with nothing to do but talk to each other or listen to the radio. Our hearts are in about the same place for once. There is a lot of tension in our lives, many things floating in the air without answers and we are trying to figure out which thing is what God wants for us. My poor husband has the hard job of leading our family right now in following Christ when there is just enough light for half a step in the direction we're supposed to go. It's just plain hard and exhausting right now.

Enter Day 26. I could quote the ENTIRE day because I cried while reading it to my husband. But I won't. I'll just quote the part that brought hopeful tears:
the story of God's people comprises a billion little moments when an average believer pressed on, carried through, stepped up. In the quantity of ordinary obedience, the kingdom truly advances.
I was ready to feel so self-justified as I read this chapter. Instead I was reminded over and over that I am only Christ-justified.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Grace for purging

Back again with Marla talking about Jen Hatmaker's book 7: this week is Possessions. But before I go into what thoughts I had while reading this chapter I want to talk about Marla. Marla is a brave woman. Who else would host a read-along about such a conscience challenging book and willingly take on open and honest discussion about things that are challenging Western church culture like consumerism? And who else would do it with such grace and reckless obedience to the work God is doing in her heart? I'm convinced only my friend Marla would. I love her brave heart, I love that she doesn't think she has all the answers, and I love that she is so kind, forgiving, and apologetic when the iron sharpening iron hurts. I'm thankful she didn't give up hosting this read-along after last weeks explosion of discussion about clothes, 'cause I think this is all good stuff for the Western church to realize that consumerism is a cultural thing, not a God mandated thing. And now I'm stepping on toes...

I was just thinking the other day how cool it is to read a book about the journey God has had you on for years. I didn't realize that God was taking me through some forced fasting, I just thought he was trying to make my head explode! Every chapter so far has resonated in my heart not because Jen Hatmaker is so eloquent (although I love her writing,) and not because I feel really convicted by what is covered, but because this is confirmation that the journey my heart has been on over the last few years is good and right for me. I cried when I read about Jen speaking at a women's conference and all those ladies giving away their possessions, it reminded me of the church in the NT that Paul had to tell them to stop giving 'cause it was too much sacrifice for them. I cried in hope for those women, and in joy that God has brought me to a place where that seems good, not crazy.

When my husband and I married 4.5 years ago we combined two adult lives and households into one house. We moved into our house 6 months later and put everything in one bedroom and said we would unpack 1 box a night until that room was cleared out. 3 years after that almost every box in that room was opened, dug through because we were looking for something, and then thrown back in with more stuff piled in on top. It was floor to ceiling waste, and it just made my heart sad, but I didn't want to tackle it all by myself, and besides not all of that junk was mine. Sometimes I step back and marvel at the childish attitude I have in our marriage, it's all mine unless something has to be done about it and then it's not mine at all.

Then we started talking adoption, and quickly we started talking adoption of a particular girl. I laid awake in bed at night thinking of her sleeping on a mat on the floor while I laid in my comfy bed that I constantly complained about. I looked at labels on things I wanted to buy and often saw the name of the country she lives in. I thought of her beautiful face with sweat pouring down it while she made all of that junk that I didn't even appreciate and just piled in the room of waste. Her delicate hands struggling to get a seam just right on a shirt I wore once and didn't like how it fit so I gave it away. She is in a safe place and not doing hard labor, but many children in her country are not, and now I have a face to put to that ugliness. The daughters and sons of that country are slaves to the daughters and sons of this country, and we all turned a blind eye because we want to keep up with the proverbial Joneses more than we want to care about the quality of life of strangers on the other side of the planet.

So as we prepared our house for imminent arrival (which still has not happened 6+ months later, but at the time we thought it would be within the next few days,) we started to analyze every thing in the room of waste. We dug out every corner of our house, looked it over and decided if what we had was really worth keeping. There was urgency to the purging. We wanted nothing to stay if it would distract in any way from our loving our daughter. About half of our possessions went out the door in a weekend because we wanted our hearts and lives to be uncluttered. We wanted our daughter to walk in our house overwhelmed by love, not stuff.

She still is not home, and it's looking more and more like she will never be. So should we just start re-amassing things to fill the whole in our hearts left by the daughter who never made it home? Should we just readjust back to "normal" and forget all about the dream of loving people more than we love our comfort and happiness? Perish the thought! Even as I pray for God to work miracles to get her home, and pray for my heart to heal if she doesn't come home, I pray that God would not allow us to fall back into "normal" but would continue to conform us from glory to glory. The awareness of this precious life half a world away caused my heart to be aware of millions of precious, marginalized, forgotten lives all around me. Even if she never makes it into my arms, she is part of the legacy God is building in my heart. He is tearing down what I want my kingdom to look like, and is building a glorious messy kingdom of grace that gets all up in the brokenness of lives and sets prisoners free, heals brokenhearted, and cares about the orphan and the widow in their affliction.

I pray that God continues to tear down my waste and mess. I pray that his kingdom would come, his will would be done, on Earth, and in my heart, as it is in Heaven.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fig leaves or armor?

Chapter 2 of 7 with Marla and friends, and I am conflicted. I preach to my HS girls often about our hearts, that changing our actions isn't nearly as important as our need for God to change our hearts. I feel like Jen Hatmaker gave me a dose of my own medicine this week. So, since I don't know where to start with this, and usually I can just free form ideas into the madness that is this blog, I'm actually going to follow Marla's suggested pattern for the week.
In a culture that elevates beauty and style, the Christian community is at genuine risk for distraction, even deception. - p 67
I struggle with this often. I come from a church tradition of always wearing Sunday best. I wore a dress to church every day of my childhood. It was the one day a week when my mom would curl my hair, she would even paint her nails for Sunday morning. I now go to a church where jeans, shorts, flip-flops, whatever, is the standard. It's almost as odd (culturally contrary) in my current church to wear a dress on Sunday as it would have been for me to wear shorts to church when I was a kid. Usually though I wear my "nice" clothes because if I didn't wear them to church I would have no need to even have anything other than jeans and t-shirts in my wardrobe. Here's my real struggle though: for a church that in it's actions says that particular clothing is not necessary for worship, I've had more conversations on a Sunday morning about clothes (hair, make-up, etc.) than about real heart issues. I have had more people ask me if I made the scarf I'm wearing that day than people asking how my heart is doing with our adoption process, or lack thereof. But before I start feeling all high and mighty, I know I'm the same way. I will comment on a million things I like about your outfit before I ask how I can pray for you this week. Some Sundays I get so concerned about what I will wear that day, and how out of control my hair is, that I end up fighting with my husband about nothing and not even taking a breath until I sit down in my seat at church. Most of the week I have no clue what I'm wearing, but somehow my heart is programed to care on Sundays in an unhealthy and unnatural way. What are Sundays for? Am I there for corporate worship, teaching, fellowship, and love or am I there to make a good impression, to make people think I'm all put together, to be noticed?

I don't know where I fit as far as my attitude about clothing. My current wardrobe is about 1/4 of what I used to have. But there are a lot of days that I feel discontent because I have the same 100+ items to choose from. I have had days where I smell something all day and then realize it's the pair of jeans I've been wearing for so many days that I can't remember the last time I washed them. Every time I sit down with a new knitting project my husband asks if I'm making myself ANOTHER scarf. I have walked away from a $2 t-shirt in the Target sale rack because I can't justify the purchase, but have splurged on a $20 (it's on sale how can I pass up that deal?) purse because I'm just tired of the one I have. I would love to say that I don't care about clothes, but every time my fashionable mom is clearing out her closet I get excited to go "shopping" for new things. I'm so contradictory it's embarrassing. I know I would have a hard time limiting myself to only 7 items of clothing because I would be worried that people would notice my repeat outfits, but if I'm being realistic I think I wear about 10 items of clothing on a regular rotation with very few substitutions. The problem though is that none of this matters. I could have half as many clothing items as I do now and still have a heart that is too focused on outward appearance. I could have twice what I have now and love my neighbor better.

I NEED spiritual clothes more than physical trappings. I need a belt of truth wrapped around me, and a breastplate of righteousness protecting my heart. I need shoes for my feet that make me ready to charge forward preaching the gospel of peace. I need faith that covers me like a shield and protects me from fiery darts of comparison, greed, envy, strife. I need the knowledge of my salvation to protect my mind from doubt. I need the double edged sword of the Word of God to pierce through to the thoughts and intentions of my heart. I need prayer to cover me like a cloak.

This is what I need, but often I feel like Adam and Eve sewing together fig leaves to hide myself from God and others.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Beans, Rice, and Perspective

Here I am with Marla for the first week of the 7 read along. FOOD. This chapter felt so familiar to me. God has taken me through my own food journey for the last year and half, and I could so relate with what Jen Hatmaker had to say (both the "I can't take it anymore" and the "wow God.")

My body has always been weird. I have a multitude of reminders that I have a broken body because of a broken world, but the one that could have explained a vast majority of those issues is that I have extreme food allergies. Unfortunately, 30 years ago no one was testing babies, toddlers, young children for food allergies, unless they had an obvious reaction. My momma always fed us pretty healthy food, very little packaged stuff, minimal ingredients, low sugar and fat content. All the stuff we are supposed to have. I was allergic to most of it and had no clue. I felt nauseated after eating at almost every meal for as long as I can remember. I have major sugar spikes and drops that seem to be random. I had behavioral issues, concentration issues, and constantly was alternating between ok and sick. These were all seemingly unrelated, but new research shows that many of them can be connected to constantly being exposed to foods you are allergic to. Rather than having one major reaction I was having hundreds of little ones that were piling up.

A year and a half ago I finally ended up at an allergist's office as a last resort. They did the prick test for quite a few things (75+) and I experienced my first taste of anaphylaxis. My husband had to be called at work to come take me home 2 hours later once they felt my blood pressure had normalized. I walked into the allergist's office knowing 1 food I was allergic to. I walked out with a list of 10 things to eliminate from my diet immediately. I didn't even know what to eat for dinner that night. My entire world turned upside down. How had I made it this far in my life without any awareness that I was slowly killing myself?

I was confronted with my own mortality months before my 30th birthday, and it took me weeks to get over the shock of it. I was in a very miry pit of despair, and had only salad and chicken to comfort my broken heart. Every new thing I tried to make came out as a disaster at least once. My husband is still convinced that a particular brand of rice noodles is actual rice glued together in noodle shapes and if you cook it too long the glue melts and you end up with a hearty ground turkey sauce over rice rather than spaghetti. I didn't have snack food anymore. Shopping took me at least twice as long because I had to read every ingredient on the package. More than once I walked out of the grocery store crying, abandoning my cart half full of awful tasting food on an aisle, because I just couldn't take the constant reminders of what I couldn't have. The final straw was when I went down the anaphylaxis road again after partaking in Lord's Supper. This is a commanded grace that I can no longer have, surely God had to have planned for this way back when Jesus broke the bread!

I got tired of people trying to relate to me by telling me how hard it is to find quality organic fruit. I was hurt more than once by someone who argued that allergies were all in my head and I just needed to rise above. I felt so alone when with friends or family because every meal revolved around people asking me what I couldn't have at the meal, and then telling me how good that banned substance was. I lost 40 pounds in 6 months, mostly because I was not even coming close to meeting basic dietary needs on a daily basis. People would invite us to dinner, I would tell them about my food restrictions and suddenly they would forget to call to schedule dinner. I tried to send recipes to friends and family, post successful meals to Facebook, bring things to potlucks with every ingredient written down, make bread for the entire church so that I could participate in Lord's Supper. Since I tend to live life full force that's what I did with this new-found issue. I was on my own personal crusade to educate everyone I knew about food allergies and tell them how to treat people with food allergies better.

But God had bigger plans than me making sure that everyone knew I was dying on my cross of food allergies. I started to realize how wasteful I was being with the abundance of food I was turning my nose up at because it wasn't what I was used to. Rather than complain that I had to eat yet another rice and bean meal, God made me aware of the millions of lives that would treasure beans to add to their rice, if they even had rice. I saw absolute joy in the eyes of a couple people I gave grocery bags full of food that I had to take out of my pantry. People I love who were struggling to put food on their tables and I didn't even know it until I gave them a bag of noodles. A friend confided in me that she was so thankful for bread that I gave her; her dinner the night before had been a scoop of peanut butter and a scoop of jelly out of the jar because she couldn't afford bread and that's all she had left in the house. People I hugged at church and told them I loved them were going hungry. While I complained about another batch of brownies that tasted awful, I forgot to invite people to dinner. People who would have been happy with any disaster meal I made were being neglected because I was too busy talking to listen. I realized that there are people in my city who have to eat food they are allergic to because that's the only kind of food they have at the local food bank. Starving people all around me and all I could think about was how hungry I was!

And in my hunger God gave me Romans 8. This has been the anthem of my heart for almost 2 years. I am not condemned because I am set free IN Christ. If I live according to what my flesh wants I die, but if I live according to what the Spirit wants for me I live. I am an adopted child of God, and part of my inheritance in the Kingdom is suffering. But I'm not alone in my suffering, Christ suffered, and all of creation groans for final redemption! The Spirit knows what is in my heart and intercedes for me when I am without words to go on. All of these things are being used to conform me into the image of Christ. I was chosen specifically for this life. But in everything I am sure of one thing, NOTHING can separate me from the love of God.

Not even food allergies.

I have truly experienced hunger, and it makes my heart ache for others. Lord thank you for beans and rice... and perspective.