Too Full for Comfort.

About a year ago, I was doing the full time student, full time mom, full time wife thing. Psychology and Counseling studies by themselves can be comprehensive and repetitive, so after 3 years, an associates degree and nearing my bachelors degree, I was feeling like I had over eaten at a Thanksgiving dinner.

Enough was enough.

But much like feeling that way at Thanksgiving, sometimes we reach for the pumpkin pie assuring ourselves that it most likely won’t do any harm. It’s just dessert, after all.

I reached for one more class, assuring myself that at least I’d be a little closer when I decided to pick my degree back up… after all, it was just one more class.

I failed the class. I had over eaten my studies and my mind and will to live through that semester were just done. I spent most of it laying on the couch staring at the course work or adventuring with my kids. The class just sat there, like a half eaten piece of pumpkin pie.

Once the semester was over, I finally decided to hang the hat and my last 12 credits to rest for a while. I realized it took more courage to be honest with myself and where I was at in my life, then to continue on in a learning coma, resenting every moment.

Seasons changed, and spring was leading into summer. A similar situation started happening in my spiritual walk. I remembered feeling a similar way in high school. Over done and full on studying the Bible and reflecting on God’s word.

But I often felt guilty.

Were my parents and teachers right? Was I not studying enough of the Bible? Was I not praying enough? (But really… a Bible class everyday at school, Chapel once a week, and church twice on Sundays….)

It’s only taken a decade and some horribly guilty feelings in life to realize the answer to that question is no.

The bite of pie that made me realize it was my son.

Wyatt has been my perseverance maker(sometimes I think I was just plain going crazy). For the first few years of his life, I loved him so deeply…but he threw temper tantrums like a banchie and I often asked myself what I did wrong. But the years went on, and frustrations, patience and sweat through it all… many prayers, both angry and sad…many apologies to my family and God and we were into 2nd grade.

I had become rather chummy with each teacher up to this point. We would frequent emailing weeks to months to bounce around ideas on how to help Wyatt pay attention in school and be considerate of other people. And then…2nd grade.

You’re probably wondering what in the world 2nd grade has been like. Well, his teacher and I are like BFFL (that’s best friends for life). At one point we were emailing two times a week. I deeply considered buying the woman a coffee card and having a rolodex of “Thanks for all you do” cards…

One day a month or two into the school year after the second email that week, I just wept. I had remembered not really liking school at his age for the same exact reasons: playing and art time were way more fun. In that time I remembered what it was like to just over dose on learning. And that’s when it struck me.

Some people can sit and learn for days, months, decades even, and come clean with A’s. Then, with a yawn, a stretch, and a sip of a juice box…go back to the books. But my son and I can do about a month… and we have learned so much that we need a week or two to let everything settle in. We aren’t stupid. We aren’t un-dedicated. It’s just the way God made us. We like to serve, laugh, smile, and explore…and get a little learning in.

The weeks following were much quieter, much more understanding, much better. He still has issues at school, but we both don’t sweat it… so long as he isn’t making his teacher’s job a nightmare.

All that to say… It was a few weeks later that I noticed my lovely Bible was quite dusty. The guilt and comments returned to my head like I was 14 again. I’m a failure. But this time, I looked at my son and thought about the lesson we had just learned together.

Why have I been pressuring myself all these years to be a textbook Christian? You know… the ones that pour over the Bible and study it and retain everything and smell like forgiveness and smile like heaven? The ones that make reading the Bible and praying for 3 hours in the morning before the kids wake up is a cake walk and a part of living out the divine nature? (not exactly…but you know what I mean.)

It was enough.

I’d over eaten.

I wasn’t done following Jesus. I wasn’t done reading the Bible.I was over the lie that I had to read the Bible daily and take part in every religious opportunity in order to maintain my relationship with Jesus when I just couldn’t do it that way.

I still read the Bible. One verse at a time. One day at a time. But I do it because I absolutely love that Jesus was born, lived, and died for the purpose that I could better understand who God is. I want to think about one thing at a time. I want to intentionally think about what I am doing, the way I know I can handle it. I don’t want to do it to purge and scorn myself and somehow get there faster. I’m a slower learner. I take smaller steps. (I don’t ever remember Jesus telling Thomas to quit asking questions and just trust him already. I mean, duh! Right?)

The Bible, communion, prayer… are all great tools and reminders of the freedom we have in Jesus,but they are not the way to Jesus. And honestly, if doing any one of those things makes you resent the life and death of Jesus, it’s never a bad idea to take a break, step back, and ask yourself why you are doing it in the first place.

God never wanted a bunch of brainwashed children coming to him out of obligation…He never wanted a pouty whiner who felt the “kingdom” just “couldn’t be the same without my help”…he never wanted a resentful child who stayed because that’s what they were supposed to do.

He came as a child because He wanted us to see how vulnerable He really is.
That the God most powerful could become flesh to bridge the gap between perfection and complete destruction.
He stayed as a human so we could see that we had the same struggles.
He died when it was time because love does.

In his whole journey, Jesus took time away. Jesus took naps. Jesus pleaded with God. And when it came time, He knew it was time to lay down His life, so He did it.

Somewhere in it all, I put a corporate suit on Christianity rather than the hands of service and honesty of the human flesh. Somewhere in it all my faith, or rather, my religion told me I could never slumber, or sleep, or feel tired, or exhausted. I had to USPS the crap out of Christianity.

I can’t do it all…but I can serve.
I can laugh.
I can read a few Bible verses a week.
I can chat with God.
I can take a day off and breath.
I can have grace on others because a lot of the time…life is hard and graceless.

I can sit at the Thanksgiving feast and never feel obligated to eat more than I can handle again.

Grace happened. Freedom is right now. And love does.

Thank God.

Hope.

My girl’s prayers and conversation lately are filled with ‘I hope’s’. Anywhere from “I hope my daddy’s hand feels better” to “i sure hope it doesn’t rain today”. She sets her hopes high sometimes, but it sure does not stop her from hoping some more the next morning.

As I listened to her hope prayers at dinner, I realized that’s what it is.

Hope. Where is it?

In the last few weeks in the high hopes and good things covered by the lowest lows and deepest pains; between joyous hugs are heart wrenching pains and spilled over tears. A lot of silence. A lot of reflection. Some loss, some gain… many lessons and reminders.

If anything has come out of this, it’s a longing to be more intentional, more faithful, more hopeful.

Sometimes in growing up and the lessons in life, hope is stripped and we are left with a hard cynical shell of resentment and hatred towards our past. Most of the time completely unrealized by the teachers and role models that raised us, instead of being raised and nurtured to be faithful, hopeful and loving, we were raised to be logical, rigid, and discipline oriented. The ironic part of all of it is it was done so with the hope that we would turn out faithful, hopeful, and loving.

Well that can leave you feeling hopeless. The never ending generational struggles.

But, maybe the hope isn’t found in the sunrise, the upturn, the changing… it’s found in the moments before in the darkness, the sadness, the struggle. That’s where we are desperate. Would I even need Jesus if I wasn’t desperate? Would I even care to call out to him if there wasn’t an urgency for Him to intervene?

I have no idea where you are in this moment. Maybe you’ve been a long time reader of my writings, or maybe this is the first time you’ve looked.
Maybe life is good, or maybe you are almost divorced, broke, and no where close to a happy ending.

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter where you are at in this moment. The Jesus I’ve journeyed with and seen over the last 9 years just says “Come as you are.”

Come broken.
Come angry.
Come humble.
Come lonely.

Come wherever you are, because wherever it is, He is.

Hope.
There is already hope where you are. Just come as you are.

The journey continues.

Sometimes the cost of not listening as a kid was a dirty look and no TV for the night. But at times in the journey I realize that God isn’t in the business of dealing out consequences when I’m not paying attention. My inability to slow down and align myself with the Creator of the universe is consequence enough. Opportunities get overlooked, I fall short, or there is not enough of me to go around.

A few years ago I started believing something toxic. I believed doing all things through Christ meant I could literally do anything in Jesus name. In the last few months defeating this thought has become a thing I don’t want to do.

Because of an imperfect world I still have to realize that at times there may be something in front of me that I am not able, or not supposed to do. Likewise, there may be something in front of me I am supposed to do, and don’t want to finish. When I allow God to come into these moments and face these situations with honesty, God has already begun filling the gaps. The impossible is already becoming possible, and I am already doing something “in Christ”…even if the largest part of the moment is God changing my heart a little bit more.

I came to believe that being a Christ follower, having a relationship with Him, or letting His way of living control how I was going to live meant having a sword and boldly proclaiming that I loved Jesus. I think I was terribly wrong.

Love and grace play such a larger role in this way of life then I ever expected. I find myself relating to Paul, a person who I originally thought was a complete wimp. There is something much larger at play in facing the true image of ourselves, and choosing to pick up grace and love each day of a God-man who died for people who could care less. There is something real about knowing I am a person who could care less, and love anyway believing one act of love changed everything for everyone.

It’s not about throwing scripture and “Christian” terms all over people. It’s about living life in such a way that they are taken back 2,014 some odd years and see the face of forgiveness without me uttering a word about my beliefs.

I thought the biggest consequence of not “evangelizing” someone was a deep agonizing guilt that I had let God down. It turns out, there is a much bigger feeling of loss when I don’t love someone when I am having a rough day myself. That I have chipped away at their view of Jesus, and robbed them of the truth about His amazing grace.

If I’m being honest with myself, The world isn’t what’s getting in the way of others seeing Jesus. I am what is getting in the way. And the only way to remove myself from obstructing other’s view of Jesus is to quickly reconcile back to the way He lived, even when it hurts. Jesus doesn’t need me to carry the Bible like a sword, slaying other’s views, beliefs, and lifestyles. He wants me to live like He said so His love can change the deepest part of their souls.

Turns out the biggest thing in my life isn’t what bill came in, what job is on the line, or if my kids behaved for the day. It’s if I lived grace.

Technologically Challenged.

New Jersey was cold in the winter (That’s putting it mildly if anyone remembers the blizzard of ’96. Good year for the Olympics. Bad for weather.)

So I remember the first signs of warmth. I was the first one in the house with the blinds up glued to a sunny window. The first one with a blanket out on the somewhat wet grass to lay out and soak up some warmth in between shivers. The first one to ask when we could picnic, and swim in the lake, and ride bikes until I couldn’t see anymore because it was so dark outside.

I remember the moment school let out one summer. The blanket was laid out under the huge tree at my neighbors house that crept over their rock wall and left a perfect canopy. We would lay under it and stare up towards the sky through the sun-illuminated leaves. I couldn’t even tell you how long we would lay there. It didn’t really matter.

I was drawn back to those days this week watching the sun shine through the trees walking with my girl listening for birds.

There were no cell phones.

There was no agenda.

As kids we’d be gone for hours until the parents would phone one another to get the other’s child home for dinner. We’d scarf it down and beg to go back out to soak up the last minutes of the sun (and secretly wait to hear the ice cream truck and promptly beg for a few quarters.)

Something robbed my kids of those carefree days. Something robbed me of those carefree days.

I could say it was 9/11. I could say that parents got smarter locking in on their kid’s every moves. I could say the world’s a better place because everyone is more careful.

But I’d be lying.

Somewhere in the jumble of growing up and becoming an “adult”… while we put on our big kid pants and go to college, and get big kid jobs, and mortgages, and insurances… we take off carefree exploration, and stopping to savor, and creativity, and adventure. We’ve taken on immediate communication and “on-demand” and sacrificed the anticipation and joy of waiting.

I never thought I’d say it, since I was one of the first kids begging my parents to get AOL to IM(that’s Instant Message), but I miss only having a home phone. Getting mail. Being legitimately bored. Having 2 TV’s… not like 7 screens (phones, iPads, laptops, computers…and the 2 TV’s).

All this instant access has corrupted the beauty of family and community. What’s instant access if you have no one to share it with?

We wind up trying to talk to each other between pings and walls made from tech screens that have our attention glued. I read a post somewhere this week that I totally needed to hear: We love our gadgets and use our people. (Ok God, you’ve got my attention.)

Jesus and his group of followers were intentional. Jesus invited, the disciples came (Matthew 9). They ate meals together (Jesus various teachings to the people included shared meals, and don’t forget the last meal they shared). They did life together. They hung out with the outcasts (tax collectors, thieves, prostitutes), and stopped to spend time with kids(Mark 10:14). Jesus own home town didn’t accept him, but he frequently plugged into places that would accept him.

Possible offenses aside, I really need to ask myself: Is my current use of technology helping or hurting my relationships? Am I watching My Little Pony and playing Fruit Ninja with my kids… or catching up on The New Girl and trying to get the high score on the latest word game with my kids dancing around (no, most likely hitting each other) for my attention? Maybe I can stand being a little more difficult to get a hold of, leave the cell phone at home, and possibly delete a few apps to communicate the old fashioned way… log on to my computer. (Or even waiting a few days until I see so-and-so to talk to their good-looking face). Go on a run with no playlist or iPhone. Watch a DVD, or play a board game.

Maybe even play outside with my kids until the sun disappears.

#SigningOff

 

Silence.

Lack of finances will totally take you through some situations you filed under “I’d rather not”.

This year, almost half way through, has definitely fit the phrase “Things I don’t want to do.” In reflection of all the situations I have come up against I am pretty certain that the one common denominator is fear.

Isn’t it amazing? Human beings seem so fearless at times. My daily schedule isn’t exactly Evil Knievel style (packing a healthy snack for a 1st grade boy is quite a daring task though. I mean c’mon… He could get made fun of for having an orange instead of Gushers.), BUT thinking about some of the tasks I took advantage of daily, compared to the last month… you really start noticing when you live out of fear instead of faith.

My pastor in the program I attended in Utah at 17 frequently said “Life always looks better in hindsight.” We can look back and reflect on the good steps and faulty ones, and make decisions on how to move forward.

At my church, our pastor has been teaching on contemplative spirituality. For a big phrase, it’s quite simple. It is definitely one of the things I had unknowingly feared the most. It’s the silence around us and in our minds. Have you ever gotten really quiet? I mean so quiet you aren’t even thinking? Until yesterday I thought it impossible. I can’t even walk to the grocery store for 3 minutes without thinking or singing in my head.

Jesus always went away to a quiet place. I am really starting to think it wasn’t because He was holier then everyone else. Life gets loud. It gets chaotic. He had crowds and disciples following Him a lot. He was a teacher, a listener, a friend, a son, a brother. When we look at Jesus’ human side, and break it down, He’s quite relatable. I am not Jesus… but I can relate. After days of teaching kids, and listening to how days have been, and connecting with friends, and parents, and sisters and brothers… something inside me says slow down. Decompress. Breathe.

Put the phone away, drive away, find a quiet place, and inhale the creator of my inner most being.

It’s there, in the quiet place of reflection, my emotions can’t hide behind dusters, errands, and laundry. Up until yesterday I had no idea the silence could decompress my fears and bring out hidden motives without guilt being attached. It’s just a few peaceful moments of being with the creator of the universe.

It has made me realize something profoundly simple. I am an addict.

I crave background noise. Not to mention a good beverage or snack. I really can’t shake a finger at someone else for their drug of choice.  I have mine too. And if I bet to wager… there is a possibility you have one or two addictions as well.

That silence I have forced upon myself has done me good. It’s like accomplishing cleaning…on the inside (yup, I said it!). Much like the AM coffee or PM munchie, I am quickly realizing I can’t live without silence and solitude, but I can live with a lot less of the other stuff.

 

 

If you’d like a great source for this click here and view messages from 4/27/14-5/18/14

The power of perspective.

Up until a few weeks ago, I thought a lot of the people in the Bible were spiritually self-loathing/self-righteous I-can’t-ever-live-up-to-that kind of folk. I mean really… could you sing about how much you love Jesus while getting brutally tortured and say these trials are joy? I looked up to Paul, but legitly thought he may have had a mental disorder. 

Something changed.

I was thinking about that passage in James 1 I had read over millions of times in my own trials and challenges since I was 11. I had used this as my “life verse”. I had thought, at times (in complete arrogance now in hindsight), “wow, I am so close to God.”

Oh, Merissa.

That chapter, and the countless other letters written in the New Testament, were not written by spiritually advanced and worthy persons who knew God better than the back of their hand. They were written by men who were terrible human beings, were changed and overcome by the love of a God who became a human, like them, so they could be saved… and writing in their failures, torment, and unbearable situations.

These are not passages written by spiritually powerful, priests and pastors. These were working class men. These were men who beat and killed Christians. Men who met Jesus and were changed in unexpected ways. They didn’t sit in a church pew and decide they better choose Jesus at age 8 so mom and dad would be proud. They were mediocre. They were roaming around in their own lives, their work, their bills…and Jesus said “Follow me.”

These men were relatable. Because they failed as miserably as I do. 

They had no ministry agenda. No five points on how to save a “secular” and “sinful” neighbor. No ways to live long and prosper in happiness and wealth. They had no church building. No funds. No 17 Bibles in 17 different versions sitting in dust on their bookshelves.

They were broke. They were nomads (I think we’d call them squatters?). They had the reminder of the grace of Jesus over their lives. They had loving their neighbor. They grew community. They shared everything they had. They gave up all they had. Not because they had a savings account and 401 K to fall back on. They deeply loved each other. They memorized and lived and breathed Jesus and his acts. That love. That life changing core rocking act of Jesus spurred them on to live it out in every way possible even to physical death.

They did it because it’s what they were supposed to do. It’s what Jesus said would be worth it. They trusted that God was before, God was with, and God would lead the way in the future. 

It’s in the dust, the wreckage, it’s in facing a wall of financial uncertainty that we have the amazing opportunity to realize:

Matthew 6:25-34

25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God[a] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

God is all powerful can he not stop or start whatever He pleases? Can He not withhold and bless in the same situation? Does He not know exactly what I need in this exact moment?

Why do I minimize Him to church classrooms and Sunday services? Why do I only allow Him into the moments that cause me the least amount of growing pains? Why do I not believe His hand is both in the bad and the good, for my good and my growth. To bring me closer to living heaven in the moments that seemingly hurt the most, or bore me with mundane and seemingly trivial repetitiveness?

All this is not trial. All this is God washing over, and protecting, cleansing, renewing and removing the cancer and growths that have penetrated my marriage, my family, and me.

He is finishing what He started…not abandoning. He is growing new and good things that I may not yet see…but know they are coming.

And while I wait in the unpaid bills and pending finances… I feel the wall of prayers and service of our church community. I hear the laughter of my unharmed children. I see the smile, the heartbeat, and embrace of my living husband. And I know without an unshaken doubt that God is here. He is alive. His work is not finished.

2 Corinthians 4:8-18

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.”[a] 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus,[b] will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are[c] being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

What’s a trial?

This has been the hardest and most rewarding year of my life. If you’ve known me for a significant period, you know that’s saying something.

As I enter this post I want to be clear. The information I am divulging is simply to communicate how good God really is.

In the last week my family has lost their primary source of income, health insurance deductible (because of income loss), and multiple family friends have passed away. In the last month, we’ve almost had our car towed and rental taken away, both as result of an error, multiple doctors visits, and unexpected car bills.

This has unequivocally been the worst month of our lives.

Seemingly.

But I say that as just the scrape to the knee. Because it’s so temporary.

For the first time in eight years we have had opportunities to serve that I thought might never come around again. Life changes and spirit changes I had begged God for in the financially good times. Remembering now, that I would trade everything to have those changes happen.

No… This post isn’t for sympathy, money, or a vent.

this post is to testify to the amazing and life changing power of Jesus.

In this month I have seen lives change.
I’ve seen walls around hardened hearts shatter.
I’ve seen my family laugh and spend time together.
I’ve seen my husband serving.
I’ve seen our community band around us and behind us just being present.

All opportunities I may not have taken if the situation was different.

As I’ve seen the dollars dwindle to dust and waking this morning aware of exactly what bills might not get paid… I asked myself: “am I leaving behind a legacy of love and service and the power of Jesus to my kids? …Or just a debt.

Silence.

Out of all the things I cannot control, I can allow my life living purpose of reflecting Jesus’ person and character out in everything.

I can allow His love to humble me to serve and watch Him abundantly bless those around me.

I can’t miss the point in all this.

I can’t miss Jesus.

Job 19:25 “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.”