Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Do the Next Thing

This has been the hardest year of my life. Many days I would become so overwhelmed with sadness, anger and fear that I would almost be paralyzed. My mind would take trips down the what if road I would be unable to complete the basic chores on my daily list.

One day I was looking through a journal I have had since high school. In it I keep quotes, cartoons and pamphlets that are meaningful to me. I came across a pamphlet that was given to me during my husband’s seminary years. I was privileged to learn under Elisabeth Elliot.

The pamphlet is entitled Do the Next Thing. The author is unknown. I have printed it below:

At an old English parsonage down by the sea, there came in the twilight a message to me. Its quaint Saxon legend deeply engraven that, as it seems to me, teaching from heaven. And all through the hours the quiet words ring, like a low inspiration, 'Do the next thing.'
Many a questioning, many a fear, many a doubt hath its quieting here. Moment by moment, let down from heaven, time, opportunity, guidance are given. Fear not tomorrow, child of the King, trust that with Jesus, do the next thing.
Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand, who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe 'neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.
Looking to Jesus, ever serener, working or suffering be thy demeanor, in His dear presence, the rest of His calm, the light of His countenance, be thy psalm.
Do the next thing."

When I read these words I was able to get up and do the next thing on my list. I realized that I did not have to spend my time worrying. I didn’t have to allow thoughts of future events that had not happened yet from ruining my present. All I had to do was the very next thing. I had to sweep the floor, vacuum the house, care for the children or run my errands. I did not have worry.

In Matthew 6:25-34 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
   28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Today has enough to deal with. Focus on the tasks in front of you. If you find yourself in a situation that seems overwhelming commit it to prayer then do what you can. Sometimes the answer will be in the very next thing you do. When I allowed myself to simply do what was necessary I was less anxious and my world seemed less scary. Some of the tasks I had to do were hard.They themselves were overwhelming. But breaking them down I could look at the task in small steps instead of the whole thing. 
My year is ending better than I once imagined it would. It is different than I had planned but in the end it is turning out better than I planned.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Perfect Fraud

Webster’s dictionary defines perfect as a : being entirely without fault or defect <a perfect diamond> b : satisfying all requirements c : corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept <a perfect gentleman> d : faithfully reproducing the original.

For most of my life I have had a problem with being a perfectionist. Definition C was how I lived. In many ways I allowed this ideal prevent me from being myself. I recently heard a sermon where the pastor said when you present yourself in any way other than who you really are you are a fraud. I realized that most of my life I had been living as a fraud.

In High School I wanted to be thought of as a smart kid. So I hung out with smart kids and pretended that I was doing well. Actually I struggled with Math, Science and Foreign Language but keeping up my fraud was more important than getting help so I never went to tutoring. I volunteered at church. I never admitted that anything was ever bad. I put on my happy face and never let people see below the serface.

In College I wanted to be seen as having a close relationship with God. I read my bible but only to complete assignments. I prayed, but only as a means of having my request heard. I wondered why others seemed to be so close to God and why I felt so distant but I figured I just needed to work harder. But deep down I figured that it was because God knew the very depths of my soul and after looking at it he decided that I was not someone he wanted to be close to. That was the fraud I was telling myself. That deep inside there was nothing to draw anyone into a relationship and so the best I could hope for was being useful. After all people didn’t get rid of those who were useful. So I set out to be perfectly useful.

I got married and spent a lot of my time trying to anticipate my husband’s needs. I thought if I could be a mixture of June Cleaver and Martha Stewart all rolled into a nice package that my marriage would be perfect (or at least I could pretend it was.) As John started working in ministry I poured myself into becoming the perfect pastors wife. I taught classes, organized events, always presented myself as put together. There was nothing wrong with these things, in fact, I enjoyed doing them. But I was not doing them because I enjoyed them. I did them because if people saw me the way I wanted them too. (as perfect) then they could never criticize me or say I wasn’t a good pastors wife. And they would never begin to guess how insecure I was about who I was. They would certainly never guess how hard I tried to achieve the standard of perfection I tried to live up to in order to make God love me.

This perfect fraud I was portraying began to seep out. I became critical of my husband. He would share a story of an incident that happened in our home or ministry and instead of understanding how it connected people to him I would worry that it showed us in a way that was less than the perfect image I was trying to maintain.

When our girls came into our lives I was determined that they would perpetuate the fraud. Sundays were filled with anxiety. Could they just be “good” at church when people were watching them. The list of Don’ts became ever longer. Don’t throw a fit. Don’t run. Don’t be too loud. Always be neat. Always answer when spoken too. . .the list grew each week based on the behaviors they displayed. My thought was if people saw that my kids were not perfect they would know I had no idea how to raise special needs kids. They would know how every day I ended berating myself for failing again to be the perfect mom and raise perfect kids.

The cracks in my life were growing bigger. They were getting harder to hide. A snap at the kids when people were looking. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep this up. After all, I needed to be good in order for God to love me. I was sure that one day I would receive a note that said I knew I shouldn’t have wasted my blood on you. On the outside no one would have ever guessed.

I tried really hard. I worked really hard. I prayed that God would help me try harder and work harder. But He wanted me to learn something more valuable.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

This was the lesson. GRACE. Not something you earn. Not something that is given to the perfect  people but that which is lavished on the complete failures, degenerate sinners and those humble enough to admit they do not have it all together. Grace that says I love you no matter what you do. Grace that is not dependant on me at all. GRACE.

You see the problem with being a fraud is a lot more than living a lie. A fraudulent life includes lying, pride, fear, a critical spirit, and sadness that permeates your soul. Grace gives freedom. Freedom not only to allow me to live real. But allows me to pour freedom onto my children and my marriage. Grace allows me to see others in their imperfections and to accept them where they are.

I am not saying I don’t slip back sometimes into striving for approval. There are days when my striving spirit takes over once again. But I now know what it feels like to go from a Perfect Fraud to covered in Perfect Grace.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me.  

You have been on the trail for a while. The journey has been good, a few bumps along the way, but nothing that has taken you off the path. Ahead you see the rise of mountains. But you have nothing to fear. The sun is on your back and you have a song on your lips.

Your companion has been with you the entire time. When you have stumbled he has picked you up. Sometimes you have had to lean heavily on him but he has never left your side.

Slowly, without warning, a shadow covers the sun. A cold breeze whispers across your face. You notice for the first time the path ahead seems covered by brush. You continue forward but reach for your companions hand. You enter the valley.

At first the darkness is manageable. After minute your eyes have adjusted and you can see the path ahead. Your companion is still there right beside you, holding your hand. But as you keep going the darkness envelopes you, you stumble, your hand rips away and you lay on the ground all alone. You cry out and your voice echoes off the canyon walls. Where did your companion go? He was just here. You reach out and feel the empty space all around you. Did he leave? Just when you needed him most he has abandoned you. You become angry. Fine, you think, I’ll do this myself. You get to your feet. Realizing that you can no longer see the path you place a hand on the wall. You feel the rocks and roots jutting out. As you journey your hand is scraped. Cut and bleeding you continue, hoping that you will see some light just ahead. As you walk branches that feel like hands keep reaching for you. You slap them away.

You begin to hope that you will encounter others. You have before and they have always been encouraging and helpful. Then a pinpoint of light comes into your view. It gets bigger as you come closer. You discover it is a lantern. A guide stands holding the lamp. You greet the guide. So happy to finally have some help. The guide starts to walk with you as you talk you notice that he is not saying anything. Finally, he turns to you and you notice the gleam in his eye. You take your next step and he sticks his foot out and trips you. Your laying on the ground, he extinguishes the lamp. Kneeling next to you he whispers in your ear, “you deserve to be here. It’s no wonder your companion left you. You didn’t actually believe him when he said he would never leave. You should have tried harder. You are worthless.” You feel more then see this guide leave. Alone again you replay the words in your mind. Slowly they sink into your heart. He’s right, you think, I never should have believed him. After all what did I really know about him? I should have just relied on myself.”

You walk on. Now your hand is bleeding, your pants are torn, legs scraped up. In your mind you rail against everyone who ever left you. You stumble again and this time you begin to sob. You determine that you will just lay here. You are too tired to continue on. You look around you and think, so this is it. You put your head down and drift off to sleep.

You waken to the feeling of being carried. The darkness still surrounds you but you know you are not alone. You rest. You know your companion has returned. “Where did you go? Why did you leave me?” “I’ve been here the whole time. I never left. I reached out to you but you slapped my hand away. I was there the whole time.” “But when I meet the guide, you let him do and say those horrible things.” “But you didn’t have to accept his assistance and you didn’t have to believe his words.”

Before long the darkness is lightened and you see the sunshine. The coldness of the valley is replaced with the warmth of the sun. The cannon replaced by a meadow and cooling spring. You look back and see the darkness. Though you have come through you still remember the feelings. You look ahead and the path seems smooth again. But are those mountains on the horizon?

Whatever has brought you to the valley, your choices, others choices or just life, our Father will be there with us. We are not alone. At times it may seem like we are. We  listen to the lies of our enemy. We begin to doubt  the goodness of God. But the Character of God does not change. In psalms David calls the Lord our Sheppard. Thousands of years later Jesus says I am the good Sheppard. He loves us. The valley may be dark but Jesus is with us.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Happily Ever After

Once Upon a Time the story begins and the beautiful princess always gets the guy. He is handsome and strong. He is able to handle the dragons, curses or simple kindness she brings into his life and in the end they live happily ever after. But did you ever wonder what happened when the shininess of the Armour began to fade.
We all present ourselves to each other with our best side showing. Our dresses and crowns beautiful. Their swords sharpened and shields polished. But as we get to know each other we begin to see the scuffed and nicked places on the shield or the torn hem on our dresses. We ask the questions and hear the stories of the battles fought, the injuries acquired and the narrow escapes that have left some scars.We have a choice at that point. We can choose to continue the hunt for someone with impeccable Armour, someone without nicks and scars. Or we can look at this Knight and see his wounds as honorable. These scars are the proof that this man is real. The rusty spots show character that has developed during the tough time in life.
In the end the Happily ever after we experience in life is accepting others for who they are, finding the beauty in the imperfections, and loving the rusty spots even as God buffs them out.