This summer has been an absolute blur. I work from home so, in between meetings, I get to enjoy the sounds of my children. All day long. (I really do love them!!)

We were a little more prepared this year and had each come up with a few summer goals to incorporate into the chore chart. I started off with all kinds of incentives to get them motivated, hoping to instill a sense of ownership in them – opportunities for an increased allowance, summer parties, whatever I could think of. I have found myself increasingly frustrated and disappointed at their level of effort. At their performance.

The other day I was driving in my car fuming about how many times I have to remind them of the goals they wanted to accomplish, of the duties they are neglecting, of the prizes they are losing. Then I started in on myself. I started thinking about the clumsy way I’ve been juggling the readings, the workbooks, the studies, the writings, the meetings, the cleanings, the garden weedings, the feedings, the constant upkeep and outfitting of us all, the home improvements, the connections with family and friends, the workouts, the financial plannings, that career of mine.

As the list grew, so did my tension! How easy it was to turn this new, God-given desire to tend my life well into a performance-based nightmare for us all! I am so thankful that my Father is not in heaven standing by my chore chart shaking his head, sending me on a guilt trip, and making me feel like a loser for not back-handspringing out of bed to knock them all out first thing each morning. I am thankful for the reminder that those things on my heart are no longer “chores”; they are things I want to do because, let’s face it, they make my life better. Many of them are pleasures. All of them are expressions of my gratitude. None of them cause my Father to love me any more or less.

Oh to be so patient. I want desperately for my kids to get that this life is theirs. To no longer see themselves as a slave to works/chores, but to remember we came up with those chores to help them achieve their goal. Those chores are meant to be working for them. What a life-changing perspective!

I want them to get it sooner than I did (shoot, I’m still trying to get it!), but I certainly can’t force or manipulate them there, and I want to be careful I’m not adding guilt and shame on them. They were, after all, their goals. This has to be a unique revelation for each of us. A shift from performing well to truly living in excellence. From operating as a slave to walking as the master of our zone. From a stress-filled attempt to earn approval through good behavior to a desire for relationship. When I find myself struggling to make time to spend with the Lord, I feel bad. Not because I am letting him down, but because I MISS HIM. In truth, I am letting myself down! I love how Jeremiah says:

When I discovered your words, I devoured them.
They are my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
Jeremiah 15:16

I know that feeling! There is nothing more satisfying than identifying and being fed on his words. I love that he rewards us with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) for walking with him, just as I tried to reward my children for pressing on toward their earthly goals. I love that he has freed us from the mindlessly obedient chore chart mentality, and shown us he is after our hearts. That makes me hungry to know him more and to live more excellently. Hopefully I am contagious!

Stones of Remembrance

Today is my birthday and wow. I have been overwhelmed with sweet messages, encouragements, and fun surprises. Overwhelmed!

You know, we put an awful lot of significance on this day that we happened to be born into our family. Each journey around the calendar is anticipated and celebrated anew, marked with cards, parties, songs, and special recognition. I’ve always found it interesting how much weight we give to anniversaries, days of births and deaths.

This celebration of my natural birth is fun (and much appreciated!), but it’s not the date I celebrate in my heart.

There is another day I find even more miraculous than that day I came squealing into the world. A day that I, as a grown woman, was birthed into infancy, into eternity! What a strange time this has been, awakening to see that the old girl is gone, replaced quite literally with a tender, innocent, and (still) often bawling baby. Watching this new girl with wide eyes learn to walk, talk, and live all over again has been absolutely amazing.

That second birth is the most precious day of my life! I am so grateful for it.

It seems we humans have always had this desire to commemorate special days and events. After leading the Israelites across the Jordan, Joshua had representatives from each tribe take stones from the river to build altars. Joshua said:

“We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them…”
Joshua 4:6-7a

About 300 years later, Israel wins a battle and there is this account:

Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns… He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”
1 Samuel 7:12

Stones of remembrance and gratitude.

This day has me thinking. I celebrate my natural birth once a year, but my spiritual birth is one I am constantly revisiting in my heart and mind. These blog posts are my own stones of remembrance. Each one commemorates a step in my journey, a victory, a revelation. Together they are piling high, creating a memorial that reminds me, my children, and anyone else who reads along with us where I came from, how I was delivered, and how incredibly thankful I am. I’m such a thankful girl!

Stand Strong!

I’ve always been a runner by nature. And no, not the sport kind of running. Absolutely not.

I’m talking about in life, relationships. When things get too scary, overwhelming, or dysfunctional and I don’t see an easy answer, I run. I’m out. Truly, most of the things I’ve run from should have been avoided from the beginning, but that’s another story.

This week I visited a museum that, before I met Christ, would have made me so happy. It would have fit right into my Unitarian Universalist, open-minded mentality. It was an interesting blend of Biblical (both Christian and Jewish) art, religious artifacts, and Greek mythology. Uh, ok…? I walked through feeling confused and unsettled. Some thoughts:

  • I was surprised by the building itself, which according to their website is a “Golden Ziggurat, reminiscent of ancient stepped pyramids from the time of Abraham”, rising above the atrium. Interestingly, ziggurats like the one in Ur, where Abraham was from, were the most sacred part of a temple. They were the dwelling place for the local pagan god, like the moon god Nanna in Ur, or Marduk in Babylon.
  • The artwork given the most prominence (displayed in the atrium under the ziggurat), called “Tapestry of the Centuries”, is spectacular but seems to carry a mixed message that I still haven’t completely wrapped my mind around. Described by the artist to comprise “the people and events that shaped world history, from the birth of Jesus Christ through 1999 A.D.”, it has images of Gautama Buddha (563 B.C.), Zarathustra (founder of Zoroastrianism, 1500 B.C.), Mithra (the Zoroastrian angelic divinity, or Zarathustra himself). Jesus’ birth and death were represented, but not his resurrection.
  • When I saw the life-sized statue of the Greek god Bacchus tucked in an alcove directly across the atrium facing this painting, I almost fell over. I’ve just been researching the Assyrian king Nimrod, who commissioned and oversaw the building of the Tower of Babel (a ziggurat). Here are some (of many) other names he is known by:
    Zarathustra/Zoroaster, Gilgamesh, Baal, Adonis, Dionysus, Bacchus, Orion, Mithra, Apollo, Ra, Osiris, Marduk (I compiled this list from Wikipedia and from a list documented in a book called The Giza Discovery by Peter Goodgame).

I am shocked that what I see as disrespectful (and arguably vulgar) gestures to my Father are not just tolerated, but embraced and applauded by Christians here in the so-called “Bible belt”.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.
Galatians 6:7

To be fair, nowhere does the museum claim to be founded on either the Christian or Jewish faith; I had simply assumed it was…as I suspect most of the millions of visitors have. There was no blatant lie, just (it seems to me) a subtle trick. From the website:
“The Museum is a cultural crossroads, utilizing art for tolerance and understanding reflected in the various archaeological exhibits and decorative art from Israel and the Holy Land.  [Our] vision encompasses the classical arts with a call to beauty which emphasizes the Biblical figurative art illustrating the narratives of the Bible and a call to the study of classical Greco-Roman art, archaeology and architecture.”

So what does this have to do with running?

This experience has, among other things, helped me see that I am no longer the girl I used to be. (Praise God!!) Quite honestly, I don’t like feeling creeped out, and I hate deception and manipulation. My old nature was full of fear – it would have me cursing that place, running out of there, and putting as much distance between us as quickly as possible. But instead I stood there, truly fearing for those who enter unaware and without discernment. For the underlying message the seminary students who work there are taking in. For all the children who sit in that ziggurat listening to presentations that their parents think are holy. I stood there thinking of all who will fall for the universalist spirit worshipped there, whether intentionally or not.

A couple months ago, I heard a verse that was so encouraging to me. It is promises just like this that have strengthened me lately.

“Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”
Isaiah 41:10 MSG

I decided to go read the whole chapter today and WOW. The heading of that chapter is “In Comparison to Idols” – it is God talking about idols and false gods! So perfect for today as I’ve tried to process this whole experience. I don’t feel like running. I don’t feel afraid. Instead I feel called to a higher level of vigilance and awareness. Jesus said:

“Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come using my name…
Do not follow them.”
Luke 21:8

People, we have to wake up to what is all around us!! We have to take the blinders off even though they seem to make life more convenient. We have to stop hiding our heads in the sand thinking this stuff is no big deal. We have to stop running away from our spiritual authority and responsibility. We have to stand strong!