discipline

One thing that people frequently tell me is that they don’t know how I do it all.   For those of you who read this blog you know that I don’t particularly feel that accomplished any given day… but the fact remains that I do manage to hold down a full time job, feed and care for two tiny humans, and in general have friends, family, and meaningful relationships in my life.  And yes, that means that on any given day, I am getting a lot done!

Over the next few blogs, I am going to share a few ‘rules of life’ that I have found to be helpful in my daily life.  All three fall under one big umbrella: discipline.  Living a disciplined life isn’t something that Americans find particularly appealing.  We live in a binge and quit culture.  If we can’t read an entire book in a sitting, we put it down and never take it back up.  If we don’t master a new hobby or skill set in a quick amount of time, we throw up our hands in disgust.  If we don’t lose 5 pounds the first week of a new diet, we give up and dive headfirst into the nearest tub of ice cream.  I know- I do it too.

But I have found that, for me at least, the only way to truly grow as a person- or at this stage in my life, the only way to really get anything at all done (!)- is to have discipline in my approach.  To plan ahead, to make a goal, and then to chip away at that goal, one tiny bite at a time.

As Christians, discipline should be something that awakens a holy desire in us.  In fact, are Christ’s followers not called disciples?  Inherent in the title alone is the practice of daily devotion.  There was a time in my life when I was able to set crazy, ambitious goals, and then just do them.  To run half marathons.  To take up new hobbies.  To read 100 books in a year.  Those days came crashing to a halt the day my first child was born.  For a while, accepting this was really hard.  I didn’t realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in being a do-er.  A reader.  An artist.  A person who did fun things and had adventures.

To be fair, I still do all these things.  On a less grand scale.  With much planning.  And I still love doing them.  But there is less applause involved.  And part of my process of growing is realizing that this is ok.  Do I run so that I can casually wear the race t-shirt at social gatherings or drop stories about my latest training program?  Or do I run because I love being outside?  Because I realize that excersize is a vital part of my own self-care?  Because it feeds my soul?  Losing some of the external applause, while humbling, also sharpens my ears to the song my own soul sings when I do things just for the joy of doing them.

Yet running, just like reading God’s word or painting a canvas, isn’t always the thing that I want to do at any given moment.  How does one engage in doing things when we don’t feel like doing them?  Discipline.

pathI am a goal setter.  But I also recognize that setting achievable goals is an important practice.  10,000 steps per day.  One chapter of this book each night.  Paying attention to the food that goes into my mouth. The book takes longer to read.  The weight takes longer to melt away.. but it happens.

Once you start achieving your small goals, it is kind of amazing how fast those small goals add up to big ones.  1 book finished becomes 10, then 30.  A few ounces lost adds up to pounds.  A few rows of knitting turns into a baby blanket.  Slowly, one day at a time, you are reminded that you are a person that CAN do things, even if it takes longer.  But, paradoxically, these things become more precious for the effort that went into them…

even in darkness

139

I had a conversation a few weeks ago where someone asked me what I thought about times in one’s life when you don’t feel God’s presence as strongly as you once did.  While the person seemed to be asking me an open ended question, I felt the tension of needing to give the ‘right answer’.  I knew that what I was supposed to say is that when you feel far from God, you just grit your teeth, double down, and wrestle your way back into the Light.  So, in my shame and cowardice, that is what I said.

But here is the truth.

I am in that place- the valley.  I have been for a while now.  And right now, today, I don’t have the strength, or even the desire to pull myself up by my bootstraps.  I’m weary.  I’m battered.  And, paradoxically, I am okay with it.

Because here in this valley, I am in the process of learning one of the most valuable lessons I have ever been given.

Though I may waver, God is faithful.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
 You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!
Psalm 139:1-6

Me? I am fickle.  I am bound by circumstance and perspective.  My view on life, on God, on everything, is bound by time and situation.  I can’t see my way out of this place.  Also- I am tired.  My days are consumed with watching small children, with holding down a full time job, with walking the dog, and doing the dishes, and the dozens of other small obligations that seem to crowd into my life.  When I reach the end of my day, I am just as often crashing into bed feeling like I narrowly escaped catastrophe as I am going to sleep with a prayer on my lips.  Right now I do not have the time, quiet, or capacity to be pursuing God like I ought to be.  Like I want to be

…and that is okay…

You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:16

Because God never changes.

His love for me is unwavering. No matter how I act, no matter what I do, His love for me remains.  Because Love is knit into His character just as firmly as fallibility is woven into mine.  God’s love is not based on merit, on effort, or on intentions.  It is based upon the fact that we are His beloved children, created by Him and treasured by him.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!
Psalm 139 17:18

I am, by nature a do-er.  I grew up in a family known for their good works.  My temptation is always to view my worth in terms of my worthiness in terms of what I have done to deserve love, to deserve mercy, and (let’s be honest) to deserve applause.  Living life in a day to day race to the finish line makes me feel as if I am somehow not measuring up.  When a day goes by and my Bible remains unread, I imagine it glaring at me from the nightstand, resentfully neglected.    When the pile of Christian Living books on my bookshelf is covered by a layer of dust, I see this as physical evidence of my unworthiness, of my failure as a disciple.

And yet, when I read scripture, this is simply not true.  God’s love for me is not tied to my efforts.  Who I am, my identity in Christ, is hidden in something much more solid than my own efforts.  I am a child of God.  Dearly loved.  Redeemed.  Delighted in. Known.  Seen.  Treasured.  None of this depends upon or even reflects what I do to deserve it.

I am beginning to feel that this time of darkness is truly a blessing.  Though I don’t always feel competent successful in this phase of life, I can come to rest on the truth that God’s love is built on the solid truth of who HE is, not on the capricious reality of who I am at the given moment.

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
 If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
   but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.
Psalm 139:7-12

When you next find yourself in the valley, straining to feel God’s presence, and feeling condemned by your own shortcomings, I invite you to see this as a time of invitation.  A time to rest, to reflect, to intentionally not try to climb your way out.  Instead, join me in the process of waiting and listening.  And trust that God’s love is still there, still unwavering, still the truest thing about you.  For this has been a lesson that is changing my life right now.

Yet also, realize this- when I speak of the valley, I am using present tense.  I think we often view these chapters of life as lessons that need to be learned, or times we need to endure before we can bounce back, invigorated and ready to overcome.  Yes.  I am learning.  Yes, God is speaking.  But, yes.  I am still here in this place.

Often we don’t know the reasons or the answers to why things happen to us.  And that is yet another time when the big-ness of God can be a comfort.  For he knows I am here.  I am not forgotten.  Though I may not feel the closeness with God that I crave, though I may not feel the delight I once felt, I know God is there.  And for now, that will have to be enough.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139:23-24

Lean not on your own understanding.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
Proverbs 3:5

pathI love this verse.  The words to Proverbs 3:5-6 are the lyrics to the song that I sing both my children each night before bed.  My son came home from school last week and this was his ‘scripture’ for the week.  To hear his precious, 3 year old voice reciting these precious words meant the world to me.  Of the lessons I hope they learn from their mother, I hope these words rank high on the list.

So I was surprised to discover today that I have not been living as if I believe them.

I was watching this video today, as part of my Lenten devotionals.  The monk who is speaking tells of the lesson he learns from his dog- who greets each morning by springing out of bed with an exuberant yip.  This dog’s delight to face the day points to two things- first, an admirable lack of caffeine dependence, and second (and more importantly), an inherent trust in the faithfulness of God.  In order to take joy and delight in what our day holds, we must trust that the One crafting the day has our good in mind.  When we know this deep in our souls, we are able to engage our lives with a sense of lightness and whimsy.

How do you get out of bed in the morning?

I know I don’t spring out of bed.  When facing the day of late, my attitude has ranged from somber to resigned.  I look at the future with a sense of anxiousness, not adventure.  When did this happen to me?  I know the One who holds my future.  I believe his promise to work things for my good!  I delight in my work, my children, my friends… so why the sense of resignation?  When did my actions and attitudes begin to belie my belief?

And how to change it?

Resolution #1- Seek delight.
Daffodils.  Curly toddler hair.  trail mix.  thomas the train.   All wonderful, beautiful elements of my day so far.  Did I take the time to delight in them?  No.  I walked past, fixated on the next task in front of me.  Going forward, I hope to acknowledge these small gifts, allow them to bring to light the blessings and love in my life.

Resolution #2- View the future in light of the past.
I am amazingly blessed.  God has been so faithful to me.  Even when things logically should NOT work out- budgets shouldn’t balance, children should have been injured- I have been amazingly, miraculously blessed.  God is good.  All the time.  Why is this not my operating premise?  From here on out, or at least, starting today, starting right now, I am walking in trust.  God will provide.  God is good. He is the bringer of daily bread, and the one who directs my paths.

How are you neglecting to walk in trust? How are you leaning on  your own understanding?  In what ways is God calling you to walk in trust, to embrace delight, today?

Paraclete

I don’t know about you all, but I have a powerful need for encouragement.  Perhaps it’s because success at my job isn’t easily measurable.  Perhaps it’s because my love language is words of encouragement.  Perhaps its because I am simply human.  All I know is that I need to hear that I am loved, that I am valued, and that I am doing well on a regular basis.

Which is unfortunate.

Because this world isn’t exactly engineered to do that.  We live in a society of cynics.  People who employ sarcasm as a weapon.  These days, we are all critics.  Voicing our opinions on Facebook, on yelp reviews, in countless ways.  When I read my book, my default mode is to examine what I didn’t like about it, instead of what I did. The same goes for restaurants, TV shows, etc.  Will I notice when it begins to creep into the way I view my life?  My faith?  My children?

Here is the truth.  I do not know a single human being in my circle who is not in desperate need of affirmation.  Whether we realize it or not, our souls yearn to be blessed.  We all need to be told that we are seen.  That we are loved.  That we are important.  And it doesn’t take much to do that.  But here is the problem… in order to truly be able to bless others, we must know what it is to be blessed.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.
John 14:16-17

According to GotQuestions.org, “The Greek word translated “Comforter” or “Counselor” (as found in John 14:16, 26;15:26; and 16:7) is parakletos. This form of the word is unquestionably passive and properly means “one called to the side of another,” with the secondary notion of counseling or supporting him. This Counselor, or Paraclete, is God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. He is a personal being who indwells every believer.”  In other words, we have a full time encourager, who lives with us and constantly is whispering words of truth and affirmation into our lives.

How do we attune our ears to hear the Holy Spirit?  I believe the easiest first step is learning what is NOT his voice…

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

If you are hearing a message that makes you feel less:  less loved, less free, less beautiful or wonderful, I am willing to bet it is not the voice of God.  When we encounter God, we always want to be higher.  Even when we feel convicted, it is a conviction out of a need to be closer to God, not a feeling of condemnation or shame.

Who are you to God?  The Bible is full of answers.

You are:
Dearly Loved
Bought with a Price
Redeemed
Forgiven
Perfect
Whole
Created to be You on Purpose
There is a Plan for your life
It is a Good one
You are a Bride
You are Beautiful
You are Unique
You are Seen
You are Known
You are Not Alone
A Son or a Daughter
A Brother or a Sister
Restored
Important.

Take some time today and read over the list.  Reflect upon something that sticks out to you.  (Or add something to my list!) Realize that this is the TRUTH about you.  Hold it in your mind as you go about your day.

You.
Are.
Loved.

bones

Yahweh took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of Yahweh to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 
Ezekiel 37:1-2

Have you been there? To the valley of dry bones?  Have you gazed out upon what you thought would be verdant life, only to see shriveled dreams, dust and ashes?  Has the thing you cherished, the vision you held dear, evaporated before your very eyes?

The spirit of discouragement is a powerful thing.  As Christians, we deal in intangibles.  How does one measure a soul?  How do you determine success or failure when you are operating in the realm of discipleship? Often, God does not bring growth in a linear fashion, but instead, in fits and starts.  And often, all too often, we pour time, energy, love, and hopes into something that seems to whither before our eyes.  In that moment, staring at a valley of bones (or an empty room, a rebellious teenager, a marriage in shambles) we hear a voice whisper “you have failed.”

Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
Ezekiel 37:3

Let me tell myself you something important.  When you are doing kingdom work, it is not  your responsibility to make something succeed.  You cannot do it.  We cannot white knuckle a fledgling ministry into succeeding.  We cannot convince someone to come to Jesus by a winsome argument.  You cannot cure societies ills by gritting your teeth and working that much harder.

That’s God’s job.

He may do it.  Or he may not.

So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
Ezekiel 37:7-8

This is our job.  Speaking the message.  Obedience.  Simply to take the next step.  It is God who puts the bones back together.  We humans are such silly, all or nothing creatures.  We either take on too much- trying to make water into wine through our own machinations, or we sit back and do nothing- saying that we are waiting on God to provide. The answer lies in the middle.  We must find the balance.

If God has planted a dream in your heart, or given you the responsibility to shepherd a ministry, your job is obedience.  To do the next thing.  It is only when we are faithful in our small tasks, that God brings forth the miracle.  When God tells us to speak, we must speak.  When he calls us to act, we do it. It is human hands and human voices God uses to change this world.

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”
So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
Ezekiel 37:9-10

So often, we are expecting God to do mighty things.  Heal the terminally ill.  Take a small church plant and grow it into a mega church.  Convert the jihadist.  He does that.  But he also does so much more than the grand acts.  Much of God’s work is invisible, small, mundane, and ever so much more powerful than the miraculous.  The majority of Christendom has not been created by supernatural acts, but by the faithful obedience of generations of believers.  It is the faithfulness of God’s children to live into their gifts and to offer their lives to God that has sustained our faith and transformed our world.  God creates the seeds that grow into flourishing crops.  But he allows us to plant them.

I don’t know what mountain you are staring at today.  I don’t know the vision God has birthed in your heart.  But what I do know, is that in order for that dream to happen, two ingredients are required.  God’s power, and your obedience.  Bearing the fruit is not your task.  But planting the seed is.  And if you are hearing that whisper in your ear, the one who has told you that you have failed, that you aren’t good enough, remember the valley of dry bones.  Sometimes one act of obedience, one whisper of prophecy, is all that is required to resurrect those bones into life.