Family of Christ: Fellowship

Pastor Mike was preaching from the fourth chapter of the book of Acts tonight.  The sermon title was, “Smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors”… and he spent some time talking about persecution.

I have a somewhat romanticized idea about persecution and martyrdom because I’ve never seen it with my own eyes.  You read about the suffering of the martyrs, and how nobly they went to their deaths, and you think to yourself, “ah – even their captors must have respected them”.  This view is enhanced when you hear, years later, that one of their captors comes to Christ.  Ah, how noble!

But is it really like that?

How many more people are calling them names, talking behind their backs, treating them with contempt?  How often do they drag home at the end of the day, bearing the weight of misunderstanding and squashed hopes?  Hindsight is 20-20… in hindsight we see the kind word that changed the stranger’s day and thus their life.  Living in that moment, it’s the futility of explaining the love of God to people who don’t want Him, of being ridiculed, of being belittled.  How do they bear up?  How do we?

How do we, indeed, manage to live this Christian life?

Of course the first source is our Lord Himself.  But the next source is our fellow Christian, in whom the Spirit of God also dwells.

What a privilege we have, to be part of this body of Christ!  To reach out to our siblings and ask for prayer, to speak words of encouragement, to be healed, to worship together in Spirit and in Truth.  We each carry God in our hearts, and I am lately being drawn to the beauty of our family.

Each one of my siblings in Christ has something to teach me – because they all bear Christ in their hearts.  Each one of my siblings in Christ has something to bless me with.  Each one of my siblings in Christ is someone to love.  We are given this family so that we can support one another through the rough times, and through the smooth.   We should be praying together and bouying one another up.

I am delighted when I bop over into one of my siblings blogs and am blessed with insight.  I am honored when I am asked to pray.  I wish I could express to you, my beloved siblings, how much joy and love and appreciation I have for you all – how your existence brightens my life.

We are given this family as a GIFT, as a blessing – and this drawing together as a family is what will get us through the dark times, when they come.

Yes, this is where I start hugging everyone and telling you how much I love you.  Y’all just have to work with it.  Crazy Californian Jesus Freaks.  ;)  I only wish I could share the emotion itself.  So beautiful.  I am so very *grateful* for this blessing.

Thanks all!

Humility and the Marks of Old Sin

I left at comment over at Deep Strength’s blog, just something that came to me… and it didn’t make sense to the people reading it, so I’m going to flesh it out here.

When I look in the mirror, I see the reflection of a lot of sin – and some happenstance.  I carry the weight of too many seasons in life where I used food to get me through … and then didn’t clean up my mess after the season was over.  I carry the weight of too many seasons where sloth was my bosom companion, whether because of fear (long story) or pain or simple inconvenience.

Although I am neither particularly slothful or gluttonous *today*, I still wear the consequences of those sins.  At 42, it takes a *lot* of work to get fat off of my body.  I can’t just stop eating too much and poof, it goes away.  So I wear my sin for all to see.  And it’s embarrassing.  Very embarrassing, some days.

But this isn’t about me… except that the thought that came was, “perhaps this embarrassment at old sins that I’ve repudiated is to teach me compassion to other folks, folks who wear their old sins on their shirtsleeves”.   I think of the ex-gangbanger, who has tattoos up his neck… do I treat him differently, even when I meet him at church, than I would someone cleaner cut?  How about the lady whose face is caved in from doing meth?  She’s clean now, but her face isn’t going to fill in and look normal.  Do I treat her the same way I treat someone who looks like me?  What about the person who doesn’t speak standard English, or who struggles with swearing?

How do I treat my siblings in Christ, what assumptions do I make about them based on their outsides?

A commenter said, “But what about the fruit of redemption”?  Which was my point.  I know other religions where there is no redemption from sin, and the good news of the Gospel has always been that you can be new in Christ.

And that WAS my point.  Being forgiven from sin is one thing.  Turning away and repenting is another thing.  But having been repentant is only the first step.  It takes a lot of work to clean up the mess of sin – sometimes a lifetime of work.

And so I feel both more compassionate to those around me and more convicted of the need to work on the remnants of my own sin.  If my life is here to glorify God, then my witness matters.  And if I’m witnessing His all-consuming power and grace in Southern California, well… maybe it would be better if I didn’t feel apologetic about the body I happen to inhabit.  Since I feel apologetic about what I did to it, and not the stuff that just happened… maybe I should work harder.

Because if gluttony and sloth are really “real sins”, then I *should* feel sorrow about what I’ve done.  Just like drug use.  Just like violence.  Just like … anything else.  And just like anything else, when I’ve repented and been forgiven and turned away, I can stop feeling the weight of the guilt and just feel sorry for the side effects.  And just like all of that, maybe I can work a little harder about cleaning those consequences up.  Yeah, it sucks that I have to work harder to get back to “normal” than someone who didn’t slip – and it is entirely true that I *do* have to work harder  – but that’s just what it is.

Sin has consequences.  Redemption is a new beginning, and we don’t need to weigh *anyone* down with the “I’ll never be enough” nonsense – will we not all receive a new body with no tendencies to *any* sin nature when we’re with Christ? – but redemption doesn’t mean you don’t have to mop up what was spilt.

So – today I received a dose of humility, in my heart and not just in my head.  Thanks DS!  And thank you, Lord … always.

The Girl with the Jar

A metaphor came to me…

There was a girl who lived and worked in the house of a rich man.  Every day, he would hand her a covered pitcher of liquid, and then he’d text her through the day and tell her where she was to go, and who she was to serve.

The girl did not prepare the liquid, and it varied from day to day.  (Sometimes it seemed to vary from person to person!)  One day it was chicken soup, the next day it was wine.  The girl did not choose who to serve, she was directed.    All the girl could do was choose to obey, or not.

It confused the girl, sometimes… because the man who gave her the liquid would tell her to give just a drop to one person and a giant draught to the next.  When *she* tried to pour out liquid for someone she thought needed it (but she hadn’t been told to help) she would find that her pitcher didn’t give nearly as much, it wasn’t as nice, and sometimes it wouldn’t pour anything at all.

When she stopped listening to the texts, she found that the pitcher dried up, there was no more for her to give until she went home and ‘fessed up.  The man was kind about it, but she felt sad for disappointing him.

Her very best days were the days she laughed and played with her friends, stopping instantly when the text came, and running off on the master’s business.  Some of those days it seemed like the pitcher would never empty – and it made her so happy to care for so many people.

One day she tried to give herself airs, because after all – the people usually thanked her, not giving credit to the one she served.  The pitcher started serving sour wine – it was awful!

It was hard to stay a simple servant, happily giving out what she was told and nothing else, but eventually she learned that this was the path to the most joy.   And so she did.  Not every day was perfect – some days she fell into her old habits.  But learn she did, because joy is a wonderful teacher.

I don’t think it’s quite that straight a line, but I will say that my joy is very full, and I don’t want to let go.  I am so grateful to be part of the family of Christ, and to serve Him and His body in any way He wills.  It is a profound blessing.

Unity

This was a wonderful week of being taken outside of myself and outside of my strength – and this post is a praise, and something to muse upon.

Because I didn’t have the strength to do the things I had to do… I had to pray, and ask my friends to pray for me.  And I was given sufficient strength to do all that I needed, and more.

Because I didn’t have the wisdom to counsel … I prayed, and asked friends to pray, and was given the words that needed to be said.

Because I was faithful and went to do the church-work that I signed on to do, even though it could have been rescheduled, I was blessed and refreshed in my work.

I was blessed to be asked to pray by some of my sibs in Christ, blessed in fellowship online and off, and so what I bring out of this week is a profound sense of the unity of the family of Christ, and a gratitude for all of you, my sisters and brothers.

Subsisting outside my strength and competence, this came to me:  I need to trust God more, rest in Him more, and remove “myself” from the equation more often.  I want to move to a place where I am as interested and excited about what God might choose to do through me today as I am about anyone else – and as separate from any sense of pride.

I battle frustration in my evangelical work.  Some sow, some water, some reap.  I do what I can about sowing and watering, but reaping hasn’t been given to me.  Not for lack of trying or praying!  It is frustrating, when you care deeply about the end result, to not see fruition.   I want to just … try harder!  Must try harder!  But that is the flesh.

It is time for me to take my hands off and let them be directed from Above.  To eagerly accept any opportunity to bless or to speak or to love… but not to try to plan those opportunities and figure out what I “should” say or do.  To not grab after the joy of being involved, but to rest and let God work through me.

It is hard to accept that other humans have their own timetables, their own stuff going on, and that it is impossible to know enough of the contributing factors so that you can say, “if I X, then Y will occur”.  Heavens, even if you knew everything, there’s still free will.

I want to be the best blessing I can be – and that means that I let God choose, not me.  God knows better, He loves the people around me more than I do, and He knows my abilities and my heart – and He knows the right moment.

I must rest in Him.

Too Many Plates

Women are experts in adding too many plates to their lives.   I do it, and I do it pretty frequently.  I find that I’ve added “just one little thing” too many, and it’s time to take some of the plates out of my life.  It’s never fun, it feels like you’ve failed.

The mythical Superwoman – working or not – makes us all feel like we should be able to do everything.  Hold down a job while making all our own cheese and teaching our toddlers to code in Japanese.  If some other woman somewhere has done it, then we should do it too.

I don’t think that our desire to try to add things to our lives is a bad, when it’s in its place.  There are a *lot* of good things that need doing, and if we all sit in our corners and pout, those things won’t get done.  But this is why we have to have our priorities straight, so we know, if something’s going to come crashing to the ground, which plate that’s going to be.

First – God.  This is NOT the same as church work.  (Sorry, church.)  This is your relationship with God, your commitment to obey Him.

Second – husband.

Third – kids/immediate family members.

Fourth – self

Fifth – Every Other Thing – prioritize as you see fit.  Usually paid work > volunteer work and school > hobbies, but common sense can sort this out pretty well.

Accept first that there are innumerable good things that need doing.

Accept second that it is not physically possible to do all of them.

Accept third that old, established plates are easier to keep spinning than new plates.

Accept fourth that the seasons of life change, bring their own plates, and make various plates easier and harder to spin – and that you cannot change what season of life you happen to be in.  You can wait for another season and prepare yourself for a particular plate, but you can’t rush time.  Being faithful in what you are charged, in the now, is training in and of itself.

A useful tool in managing your plate spinning is an honest assessment of how much time/energy/resources you have to spin plates.   I find that sitting down and talking things out with my husband is the best way to get this done.  He’s the one who gives me the okay to go forward on church work, and tells me what I can commit to.  Will I overcommit on my own?  Yep, day ending in Y.  I want to make others happy – and I LIKE reading books to kindergarteners.

Being able to manage a lot of external, down the list plates is one of the ways that women display social status and capability.  It’s our little “who’s the best mom” competition.   (If you don’t believe me, then why are most society wives highly placed in volunteer organizations?)  We compete for resources when we’re in charge, and we compete to do the most showy jobs when we’re not.  We’re paid in social status, and in approval.   Wealthy women can outsource quite a lot of their family responsibilities and home maintenance, and if they’re wealthy SAHM/W, they probably don’t see much of their husbands anyway, so that amount of time *is* a social marker in and of itself.

But I digress.  Every woman here knows that the pressure to add plates is ongoing.  You have to make your choices mindfully and wisely.  You can’t do *that* without having your priorities in order, knowing how much time you have at the end of your priority list to spend, and reminding yourself *constantly* that you cannot short-shift your husband or kids, no matter how pretty the plea that’s been made.

You really, really, can’t do everything.

YOU are someone’s Titus 2

Deep Strength is having a fascinating conversation over on his blog in regards to duties vs. things we get foisted upon us.  https://deepstrength.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/scrupulosity-boundaries-and-saying-no/

A gentleman by the name of feeriker mentioned that women mentoring other women were becoming scarce on the ground.  True!  So what do we do about that?

First – we need to just accept that our communities are necessary, and they’re a mess.  Humans need to live in community to thrive, and the Western world has trashed most of the natural webs of community, replacing them occasionally with choice-communities.

Second – we have to step up and get over our own fears and inadequacies.  I am part of the mentoring program at our church, and I have full respect for my mentee.  I can’t imagine what courage it would take to ask a stranger to be my mentor!  I wish it didn’t have to work this way, but okay, that’s how it works.  It’s also a little weird to volunteer to be a mentor.  I don’t have experience in all life’s stages, and there’s a whole lot I’m not fit to mentor through… but you know, I’m older than my mentee.  And she’s older than a teenager.

If you are a faithful Christian, living to the best of your ability in obedience to God and His Word, and you’re not in the middle of a mess, you are fit to help someone else along.   There is not a mysterious pool of virtuous 60yo women ready to mentor all the younger women in the church. That group of “older women”?  That is probably YOU – at least to someone.

We have to re-create community, and the way we do that is by being willing to share whatever we have and let God increase it, be part of it, and work through our poor best.

A word, though, about over-commitment and choice communities and what women do to one another on the daily…

Women don’t have a problem asking other women to help them with whatever the pet project is.  That’s kind of what women do, it’s a creating-community thing, as everyone chips in and gets something done, meanwhile getting to know one another, doing some status dancing around, etc.  Community creation and maintenance is important.

But it turns dark very quickly, because our base communities are weak.  So if you don’t have a solid line on your baros (central duties) and priorities, it’s super easy to find yourself serving on every committee.  There aren’t enough hands to go around.  And you can get all of your approval needs met by serving on all those committees, while your duties to husband and family fall by the wayside.  (An hour collating copies will get you praise from three teachers and a principal – an hour cleaning the kitchen will be unnoticed three days hence – it’s not super startling why it’s such a temptation).

So it’s vital that you stay in the Word, that you stay close to God, and that you surround yourself with women who put their husbands above any other mortal, women for whom, “Let me ask my husband” isn’t an odd phrase.   Yes, there’s a lot of carrot and stick going on with the PTO, the women’s casserole society, and coffee-of-a-Tuesday… so it is imperative that you know where your duties lie.  That’s the only way you’ll know how much time you have to offer the other good things in life.

….

This ended up being a bit scattered, because I was on defcon 5 emergency cleaning everything today.  My husband thinks I overreacted to the tick I found in my hair this morning just-a-tiny-bit, but hey… um… everything’s *really* clean now.  :p

The Opposite of a Mid-Life Crisis

What’s the opposite of a mid-life crisis?  Can someone look that up for me, please?

I’m feeling very nostalgic this year.  It all started when I went digging for an old photo, because I was thinking of my husband and his two best friends from HS and college.  Their photo was in our wedding album, and I started flipping through, amazed that in just a few short months, we’ll be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary.

Amazing.  Oh, it doesn’t feel like yesterday – but surely it was only five years ago?  Not 20?

I don’t feel old.  I’ve been expressing this to a few folks, and they think I feel old.  I don’t.  Sorry, I have the world’s best mom for attitude on aging, as far as she was concerned, 40 was when you get a good start on things, and your fifties are the best decade hands down.  (I’m 42, fwiw).  The only time I feel old is when I ask my son if his workout made him sore… and it doesn’t… and I’m having to hold onto walls to ease myself down into a chair.  Fourteen, I wouldn’t be 14 again… but can I have the recovery rate?  I’d also like the metabolism and the skin elasticity, while you’re at it.  But no, I don’t feel old.  I feel like myself.

I was snuggling up to my husband this morning and thinking that we’re right in the middle of our child-rearing cycle.  Ten years ago, we were getting ready to celebrate our daughter’s first birthday and our son was finishing off his first year in preschool.  Today, the son was making me waffles and sausage for breakfast…  It’s a wonderful time in the cycle of momness.  Ten years from now, it’s quite possible that we won’t have kids at home.  Likely, even.

Mind-blowing.  Even five years from now, our son will be in college, whether here or away.  Five years!

Yes, now is the time of transition… where I figure out what I’m doing with my life post-kids in the home.  It’s also the time to count my blessings, except I can’t count that high.

So what do you call it, when you feel greatly blessed, when all around you, you see opportunities for personal growth, for familial growth, when you look forward eagerly to the years ahead and all that they have in store?  When you look around and are absolutely jaw-to-the-floor in awe?  When you look ahead and it looks *even better*?

Why blog this? 1) Because I’m thinking it 2) Because maybe someone, somewhere, can get some hope and blessing from it.  3)  We have to share the good stuff, it reminds folks that it’s still out there.

Happy Mothers’ Day, y’all.  I’d share my waffles, but you’re too far away.  :D