Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Waiting When We Don't Want To

My best friend invited me and my young boys on a hike last week. She provided each child, her two pre-school-aged girls and my two pre-school-aged boys, with a jar to fill with whatever struck their fancy as we walked the trails. 

Unfortunately, and despite a heavy hand with the bug spray, we were attacked by swarming mosquitoes as soon as we were out of the car. Really, the attack started as soon as we opened the car doors. The little pests flew into my car within seconds and I was still shooing them out of my window while driving days later. 

But, we were determined to trudge along and enjoy the path. So we walked, swiping at ourselves and our kids as we went. It wasn't long before the children were hurting and itching so much that we had to put an end to our hike. Just 10 minutes after we'd begun!

Everyone was on board except my youngest, Caleb. He was insistent that we stick it out and follow the path. After all, he hadn't even filled his jar half-way! 

He was willing to ignore the bites he was covered with and stick it out. Perhaps to see what would come 'round the bend. Perhaps to catch more bugs. Maybe just because my little guy loves to explore. Whatever the reason, he threw a fit and as the rest of our troop ran to the safety of the car, I ended up having to pitch Caleb over my shoulder and carry him back!

I thought about our little walk of horrors today as I read Isaiah 26:8. 
"In the path of your judgements, 
O Lord, we wait for you; 
your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul."

In the path of your judgements. 

The image that brings to mind is one worth contemplating. Much like in the picture above, when I hear the word, "path" I picture a trail with a definite beginning and end. If you're on the path, you're heading to where it leads. When you follow the path, you're at it's mercy. Another version calls it "walking in the way." To me, it implies action. Almost like I can imagine the moving sidewalks at the airport being our path or our way. We hop on one and we're ready to go where it takes us. When we get on a moving sidewalk we have every expectation that it will lead us to an end. Whether the route is scenic or not isn't up to us. It's been predetermined by the architects who built the path and the airport. We have just one expectation: take me from point A to point B. 

And so here we are on the great journey of life (if you'll allow me such cheesy symbolism) and we choose our path and, well, there we are. "Giddyup!," we might say. Or "Git er done," for the less couth crowd. And so what does it mean for us, as followers of Christ, that Isaiah says once we're on the path we should... WAIT

As humans, we are naturally curious. Why else would Adam and Eve have tried the one and only forbidden fruit that existed in their world? They wanted to see what would happen. Have you ever made a decision that you knew was unwise or hasty? And after you made it you felt a bit of contentment or excitement despite the possible error in judgement? Maybe you thought that even if it turned out that you'd made a wrong call, at the very least you'd get to see how the story would unfold. 

I think it's that curious drive in us that keeps us barreling down the path at break-neck speed. Maybe we've encountered some problems lately. Maybe our spiritual walk is lagging. Maybe our marriage is on bumpy ground. And we decide to put our heads down and push through. We keep trudging along thinking, "If I can just get around this bend... If I can just get to the end of this path, I'll be alright." 

It takes more strength to stop amidst a difficult situation than it does to ignore the circumstances and bullheadedly walk on. When the mosquitoes come out in full force, when the air gets thick with their buzzing and your legs sting from their bites, what will you do? Will you bow your head and tell God that you'll wait? 

He designed your path and He knows what lies up ahead. Checking in with Him for directions is the wisest move we can make. But it isn't the move of the impulsive and it isn't the move of the proud. It is a move of faith. "I will stop moving," we have to say. "I will wait on the path."

Later in the book of Isaiah, the prophet goes on to say this in the last verse of chapter 40: 
"...But they that wait for the Lord,
shall renew their strength.
They shall mount up with wings like eagles.
They shall run and not be weary.
They shall walk and not faint."

See that? If we pause in the middle of the mosquitoes and wait long enough to hear from God, we won't just be walking on the path anymore. Our God-given "wings like eagles" will carry us through and fly us over. What a sight we'll see when we follow the path as God intended it!

MySpace 3.0 Layouts

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How Bad Can I Be?

"How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just doing what comes naturally.
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just following my destiny."

Last night I visited the Dollar Cinema with my oldest son, Micah. Due to our frugality, we see children's movies about 2 months after the rest of the country. Last night we saw The Lorax. The original book about the Once-ler and the Lorax is an encouraging one. It teaches the value of taking care of the earth and it reminds us that greed is bad and that our actions have consequences on others.

Nevertheless, I've seen Hollywood destroy more than a few children's tales, so I approached this brightly-colored film with the same trepidation that exists any time I expose my kids to any media.

In a world where "sinful" has become a playful description and can be found to describe food, makeup, perfume, and underwear (are there any men's items that are marketed as sinful?) I was surprised to see, at least in theory, a song that went to the very core of human nature and our fall into the arms of sin.

The Once-ler, who has broken a promise to the Lorax and has begun cutting down more truffula trees, tries to reason that he's not really that bad of a guy because he is just doing what comes naturally. (Listen to the whole song, here.)

Isaiah 64:6 says, "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep away like the wind."

Left to our own devices, left to follow our own natural inclinations, we will do just what the Once-ler did. We'll give in to greed, selfishness, broken promises, and sin.

Sin is an ugly word. But the Church shouldn't treat it like a dirty word. It's ok to say it. It's ok to talk about it. And, if we follow Luke 17:3, there are even times when we're encouraged to talk with another Christian about their own sin. "So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them. And if they repent, forgive them."

I'm weary of my kids growing up in the current culture where it's popular belief that whatever you're inclination is must be the right thing for you. If you listen to what's happening in America you'll hear about "my truth" and "your truth." I am not ashamed of the Gospel and I cannot be afraid to say that I believe there is only one truth and it's HIS. And despite Lady Gaga singing about "capital H-I-M," her theory that we're perfect because we're born this way is not one I want my kids to subscribe to.

And just like the Once-ler, who really was doing a bad thing, finds salvation when the Lorax descends from the skies in a glittery shaft of light, we too, who are consumed with our own bad things, have a way out.

1 Corinthians 15:57. "But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord, Jesus Christ."

I loved that the Once-ler's song was such a good jumping off point for a meaningful conversation on the way home with Micah. I hope to teach him that everyone sins and that acknowledging our own sin is not the equivalent of self-hate. But that, instead, it's actually what a loving God calls us to do. We can't appreciate the perfection of our God without first acknowledging our own imperfections.

You can appreciate the Once-lers song for yourself. It's still in theaters... well, one theater, at least.

MySpace 3.0 Layouts

Monday, May 21, 2012

Iced, Tall, Nonfat, Two-Pump Mocha with No Whip

My husband, Terry hates to order for me at Starbucks. My drink has been the same for 4 years now, and he still doesn't have it down. I like an iced, tall, nonfat, two-pump mocha with no whip cream. It's just around 100 calories (thanks to omitting that 3rd pump of syrup) and it always, and I do mean always, hits the spot.

I didn't really get into Starbucks until after college (probably because that teeny college town in East Texas didn't have one back then! I still heart you, Java Jacks!). I was working at a Bridal Salon in the same shopping center as a Starbucks. I started off getting one frappucino in the morning. Then I kept graduating sizes until I was downing a Venti (for those of you who live in a hole and Mom, who hates coffee, that's a large). And by the time I quit that job I was up to at least two Ventis a day!
I've cut back, WAY back, since then.

And here's what I'm thinking about today...

Everyone who enjoys coffee has their set drink at Starbucks. Or maybe they've got a few favorites that they rotate through. We pull up or walk up to place an order and without much thought, we rattle off our wants, stringing together words that only make sense to Baristas.

And it's occurred to me that some of us might treat our prayer life in much the same way. "Ok, so it's time to pray. Are you ready for my order? Ok, here we go: Health, Money, Friends, New House, Fun at Church, Promotion at Work and, uh, World Peace."

We don't ask God what he'd like us to have. We place our order because, in much the same way that I know I'll enjoy that first sip of my mocha, we truly believe we know what's best for us.

We think we've got it all figured out. If God just grants us prayer requests A, B, and C, we'll make the rest of it work out. And like little children, we look out on the world without seeing the big picture and we say, "I want."

Now here's where the comparison between Starbucks and our Almighty Father has to end. When you order your coffee, I don't suggest that you tell the Barista that you'll have whatever he thinks is best for you. But I do hope that when you and I pray today, that that's what we say to God. Oh, I think He'd love for us to tell Him what we want. As long as we follow it up by acknowledging that we trust His choices for us better than our own.

So my Big Fat challenge for myself is to see a Starbucks, remember what He taught me today, and ask Him to teach me to pray.

MySpace 3.0 Layouts

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Moral Dilemma

Someone called through the screen door of my front porch. I was in the kitchen cooking and when I peeked my head around the corner, I saw my neighbor from across the street. I've only ever seen him from my car and we've got a "smile and wave"relationship.

I was thrilled he'd crossed our busy street to come say hi. When we moved I was hoping to break our cycle of being duck-and-run-into-the-house kind of neighbors. It might not be my natural instinct to stop and chat before heading inside at the end of a long day, but isn't the Christian life all about fighting many of those "natural" instincts?

I opened the screen door and was surprised to see that my neighbor wasn't alone. He was accompanied by a couple and their pre-teen daughter. The little girl had bright red hair and as I looked down the front steps at her, it dawned on me who she was. I recognized her face from all the photos that had been in the house, my current little Sugar Land bungalow, when it wasn't mine yet and was still rented by another family. This family.

And that's when my smile faded and I realized this couldn't be just a courtesy call. There was a purpose behind the visit.

Mom stuck her hand out and introduced herself and launched into a story. It was a tale of a new house, incorrect data on Fort Bend ISD's website, a distraught daughter who realized the new house she loved placed her on the wrong side of the school lines. She would have to move after the Summer and attend a new school that, mom was quick to let me know, was less than reputable and had unacceptable test scores.

She talked for a long time, but I knew where she was going in a matter of seconds. I finally interrupted her, "You want to use our address."

She nodded. We talked for another 10 minutes on my front porch. During that time, even more neighbors (some we'd met and some we hadn't) stopped in our front lawn to greet this popular and obviously much-loved family.

Despite all the neighborly distractions, I listened to what this mom had to say. And I commiserated with her. Yes, I knew how hard it was to leave a school where all your friends were. I'd done it myself. Yes, I knew how a change like this could be devastating to a young girl. Yes, I understood that the problem could be solved if they used our address (their old address) and we all "pulled one over" on the school district.

While I listened enough to nod at the right time, my mind was actually reeling at the irony of the situation. We'd been praying about our new neighbors, praying for the chance to cultivate relationships and find ways to serve. Now here I was, with half the street in my yard and I could elicit grins all around if I would just say "yes." Here was this family, with good intentions and a healthy concern for their daughter. And they needed help. Help I was ready to give...

...except I knew it was dishonest.

I eventually sent my house's previous tenants away with the promise to speak to my husband and then get back to them.

It's a strange world we live in when telling someone that you won't help them is actually the right thing to do. And, let me tell you, it felt strange to say to them when they stopped by today, that we really do wish them well and wish we could help them, but at the same time our answer had to be no.

And it was disheartening when we watched them walk across the street after we closed our front door. They went directly to our neighbor's house and, we can only speculate, but I imagine they told him about our refusal. So much for making friends.

Sometimes, aiming to follow Christ's example can feel a bit backwards in our lost world. As a Christian, my goal is to spread the Gospel and I look for ways to say, "Yes!" to people in an effort to  show them how pervasive Christ's love is. Instead I might have just alienated our whole street.

During my quiet time, I went to the Bible to search for peace on the situation. I went to the first place I could think of regarding scripture on lying. The Ten Commandments. And I read,
"Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Exodus 20:16.

When I read the last word and felt the common thread God was weaving through the plot line, I was reassured that the difficult decision had been the right one.

Before the Dad walked away today, his last words to us were that he'd just let the school district sue him and he'd do as he pleased. Seems we were lucky to escape a partnership with this man.

In the end, the one who loses out the most is the little girl. But not because she'll have to change schools. I'm sad for her because she watched her parents ask complete strangers to lie on her behalf. And I'm cautioned, as a parent myself, to be ever-so-aware of the concessions I make when it comes to my own children's well-being. What would I do for them? What moral boundaries might I be tempted to cross?

I spoke to my dad about the situation last night. When we realized that the neighbor across the street used to know my grandfather really well, my dad said, "He shouldn't be surprised when you say no. He knew what kind of man Grandpa was." What Dad meant was that my Grandfather had a strong moral backbone and a Godly character. That was encouraging to me. I'd made the same decision Grandpa would have made.

I'd decided that the best way I could show my neighbors God's love was to jump at the first opportunity to help them. But God actually had a different scenario in mind. His plan was for us to follow Romans 12:2 and not conform to the patterns of this world. Sometimes in an effort to be more Christ-like, we have to say no.

MySpace 3.0 Layouts