Sunday, January 3, 2010

First Things First

Every year through the holidays, we have an ongoing argument disagreement that is as traditional as placing the stockings over our mantle. And like our other annual "discussion" it revolves around our Christmas tree.

To be honest (call me bah-humbug if you must) I could do with or without the tree, but if we are going to have a tree, then for me it must be a real one. I can't hang with the artificial concept yet. I know many others who have held my opinion have fallen and given in finding convenience and practicality worth the sacrifice, but I'm just not there yet. Unfortunately my preference for the "real thing" is not matched by a commitment to the care of the tree. To be frank, it's just too hard for me to get down there (though I am working on that) but I am the one who remembers it needs to be watered and am constantly reminding the two men in my house that it should be taken care of. They unfortunately are not as convinced as I am of the necessity of the water, and so usually by the time the tree comes down, there are several days prior to it that I am afraid to even turn on the Christmas tree lights for fear of spark to an inferno.

Well, this year we got our tree really late, only a week before Christmas, and so by Christmas day it was actually still in pretty good shape (which is why I prefer putting off getting the tree as far into the season as possible.) To be honest that week I harped and nagged enough to make sure it got watered pretty consistently. It was an easier task since no presents really made it under the tree till Christmas Eve. This year I even found myself underneath the branches doing a little watering of my own. But once the tree's big day passed, getting anyone to take the time to bend down beneath it to give it a drink was nearly impossible, or it may as well have been since I don't think anyone ever really bothered.

So yesterday I had reached my fill of the dead dry tree in my living room and although the aroma actually increases nicely at this stage, it's also a warning sign that it's time to pack things up and go. As it is my tradition to christen with the lights when it arrives, it is also my job to give it its last rites by removing the decorations and the lights at the end of the holiday.

Yesterday I took care of this trees last rites. It was extremely dry, somewhat sadly so when you consider the tree only stood in our home for 2 weeks and a day. The first part of the job is simple, removing the decorations, all of the ornaments placed by my children. This year it was especially easier because my dear husband was working alongside me. The kids were off at their grandparents and we put in a movie and began removing each ornament one by one. As we got to the finish of that stage of the project, Neal and divided into our traditional jobs, he putting each decoration back in it's place and I beginning the process of carefully removing the strands of lights from the tree.

For years my husband has been advising that when I put the lights on the tree, I should just lay them across the top of the branches, easily place, easily removed. But I don't. Although I don't hold much to my mother's tradition of the perfectly decorated tree, I do care for one that is not obviously covered with ugly green wires. So the reason for the long process of putting on the lights is because of the time spent carefully camouflaging the wires inside the branches. It is a long process, but one I take pride in and am always pleased with in the end. Or should I say, until the end. When it comes time to take the lights down, it is never an easy process.

The once soft and supple branches of the noble tree are now sharp and brittle. As I reach in trying to find the line of the wire, I find myself getting stuck and scratched. It isn't fun and it isn't comfortable. As I found myself in this process yesterday, it occurred to me, we can be a lot like the tree, as believers, when we are dry, we not only lose our softness, but we can become brittle and hard, even abrasive. The tree which stood so beautifully just weeks before, decorated and lit to proclaim Christmas was now droopy, worn and dry. Instead of being something to admire, it had become ill-equipped for its purpose, it had become disqualified. It needed to be removed, and at the end of the day, as I laid it out at the street, it really was a shell of what it had once been.

I really found myself "connecting" with the tree, for lack of a better term. I knew I too had been letting myself get dried out, not being watered the way I should. Of course in the tree's "defense" it could no long be held responsible for it's water supply once it was cut from it's source and set apart as a Christmas decoration. It's roots had been cut, and it had no manner in which it could draw water on it's own, and even the watering stand it stood in would only serve a purpose for a time. Without it's roots, the tree was on death watch from the moment it was cut. Unlike the tree, I am completely responsible for my own "watering." My roots have never been cut, but it is mine to drink in from the source, my Source, the Father, by being in prayer, in His word and in fellowship with Him.

At the end of 2009, I felt highly impressed to unplug myself for a few days. I decided I needed to step away from the computer, including email and blogging, particularly Facebook and just step aside for a couple days and try to get my mind back on what's important. I didn't know what to expect, if anything, I just knew I needed to do it. It wasn't easy. Midnight December 30th, crossing into December 31st, I signed off.

The week before had been a difficult one. I did something, or participated in something that created quite a commotion. I still feel like I am riding the backlash of a foolish decision, but I know where my heart was in it, and I know the Lord knows where my heart was in it. It wasn't my best move, but it wasn't as earth shattering as it seems to have played out either. Over the course of my unplugged days, I just realized I need to let it go and leave it in the Lord's hands to work out however He sees fit. My heart is wounded, but I know sometimes "stuff happens" and you grow as you go.

The first day of unplugging was the most challenging. I was a little moody. It was kind of like going through withdrawals almost, or maybe not almost. All of a sudden I was on high alert with all the disorder in my home that I normally overlook: mounds of laundry, messy kids, undone dishes, messy kids, forgotten chores, messy kids. Suddenly they had my full (fool) attention. I was a bear. But late in the day of the 31st I was starting to settle down, and I was starting to listen rather than just react, being given direction and opportunity to be someone who responds to circumstances. We went to church that evening, and it had its uncomfortable moments from the aforementioned incident, but it was also a nice evening of worship and prayer. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out with our younger children and some favorite neighbors, laughing and playing ringing in the New Year.

Friday morning was a real eye opener for me. My oldest spent the night away with friends but returned in the morning before I woke up. What I woke up to was a flood, literally in our front bathroom. There stood Jake scantily clad in the bathtub while the toilet ran and ran and ran out of the toilet, out of the bathroom and into my hallway. I don't think Neal appreciated the weight of the situation because I beat him there. I pulled off the tank top trying to stop the flow and felt the flow sopping into the bottom of my pajama pants. I was responding to the situation without a curse or a yell, which sadly is not my nature. I turned to find my younger son carrying towels from every corner of our home to try and stop the flow. A thousand times I could find myself in that scenario and 999 times I would find myself yelling at Jake and cursing the water. Instead I found myself handling the flood and praising Ethan for his quick reaction to the emergency. I know it was the Lord, because during the time I chose to unplug from the internet, I was purposing to plug into Him instead.

Maybe this doesn't seem like such a big deal to you, maybe you're always one who is calm and quick thinking, looking to parent with positivity, but I will confess, those are not my strengths. I am high strung, passionate and fervent, and when those things are not properly anchored, like the bristles on the Christmas tree, they poke and prod painfully at times.

One of my life verses is John chapter 15. I call it a life verse not so much because it is one I find myself living out as consistently as I would like to, but rather because it is one I constantly find myself being reminded of by the Lord.

The heart of the chapter for me is summarized in verses 4 & 5, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." It's so simple, and a truth I am well aware of, and yet time and time again, I find myself wandering from its practice. Abide, abide, abide.

Another life verse for me is Psalm 90:12. "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." This one is a life verse in the sense that it is a continual prayer of my heart, a cry of my heart actually, that the Lord would help me to prioritize my life in such a way that I would truly and consistently put first things first.

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. So much so that for many I have become the butt of a lot of jokes. Although it has hurt at times, I know there has been a lot of good to it, building relationship, making connections, even ministering to people, and yet I think it has gotten out of balance. Although I am sure for every person who has teased me or even ridiculed me for my constant presence there, there are probably two who love me and are happy to connect with me and be able to track me down there. But it doesn't change the fact that I have let it become too much of a good thing, and sat on Facebook in lieu of better choices, like time with my family, time in the word, even my blogging here. All are better choices that have gone by the wayside in lieu of "dilly dallying" on Facebook.

Over the course of my 3 day hiatus, I have started a new daily devotional time reading along with my church's "Bible in a Year" reading plan. I have spent time in prayer, I have taken a long walk with the Lord. I have started a new health/ exercise regimen and worked out consistently three days in a row! I read a book, an autobiographical testimony of the amazing work God did in one man's life, and am well into a second autobiography, in just three days of reevaluating use of my time.

Most predominantly though, is the inner change I sense. Have you ever had one of those crazy days where you woke up in motion and felt like you were running to catch up all day long? When you long to finally have that moment to just stop and sit for the first time in the day and catch your breath, do you know the moment I mean? The "ahhhh" moment. There's just this sense like you have dropped back down into first gear and you are actually living your life instead of blazing through it. It has nothing to do with the time or activity, it has to do with the the source of the strength to get through it. Maybe it's kind of like transferring from a bicycle to a luxury car. Instead of pedaling to exhaustion, I just have this sense of riding along.

I'm not foolish, I don't think I have suddenly arrived and will never find myself back on the bicycle, but I do feel a greater determination to better plug in to the source of true strength. Abide, abide, abide.

Priorities. They are what I need to reevaluate. I need to put first things first. There is a time and place for Facebook and other secondary things, but I need to have my life in order. For 2010, my goal is "first things first." I want to live my life true to what I proclaim to believe, my priorities being my key relationships first, caring for my walk with the Lord, looking out over my loved ones. It's a process, and one I am sure I would falter at, but I am going to do my best, and I'm going to try not to do it in my own strength.

I leave you with a great word picture for the concept. Here's to "first things first" in 2010.

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