Friday, January 8, 2010

Speed Bumps

"Anything worth doing, is worth doing well." It's something I tell me kids from time to time. Usually it's said in frustration because it has not been accomplished in some given task, a homework assignment, a chore, a project - whatever the case may be. It's usually said when effort is lacking, or the goal of "getting it done" has just been to get past it, rather than to actually accomplish the task.

So when the reminder isn't required, when things are "done well" from the get go, I find myself very pleased. Those are those "proud mama" moments we mothers live for. Truth be told my children are not the only ones who often need the reminder. I am often tempted to do as little as necessary for the sake of being finished, perseverance isn't necessarily my strong suit. But when I manage to apply this principal in my own life, it makes me proud. Not the negative, "full of self" kind of pride, but the joyful excitement that I am putting my best foot forward, doing it (whatever "it" may be) "as unto the Lord."

So I've been really excited about how this year has started. I made a commitment to put "first things first," and have had the determination to stick to it. And I have to say, it had really started great! I found myself getting in to quite a groove with my daily work outs. Yes, did you catch that? Work outs, as in plural, more than one! I was getting up in the mornings before work and before my daily devotional time and getting a morning work out and then having a 2nd one in the afternoons. And did you catch that too? Morning devotionals... I have been keeping up nicely with my church's bible reading plan. I even discovered the benefit of working out first, I was wide awake and my mind was sharper for reading. I was really enjoying the sense of accomplishment, living out, "anything worth doing is worth doing well."

I read somewhere once that 21 days is how long it takes to create a new habit, so I was really disappointed when I ran into some trouble on day 6. The stomach flu hit our house Tuesday afternoon. When I picked my daughter up from school I was informed she had thrown up just moments before I got there. I had already missed a day's work with Ethan who had complications from a dental appointment that day. It didn't hinder my workouts though, and my reading was on track. Tuesday evening was spent racing after my daughter every time she raced for the bathroom, easily more than a dozen times before she finally went to bed that night. She said it made her feel better if I rubbed her back while things were... um... er... happening. This is the child who somewhere along the way cured me of my vomit issues. I used to have to run the other way, I remember flat out bailing out on Neal in the early days of our marriage when he got... uh... sick. But I digress.

After one episode that evening I looked my daughter in the eye and said, "you know you're going to give this to me, right?" Apologetically she smiled back and said, "I know, but I feel so much better when you're here and rubbing my back." Yeah, that's what being a mama is all about. So I kept running the race with her throughout the evening. Wednesday morning I got up and did my work out and my bible reading after I took Ethan to school. I was stuck home all day with my little sickie, so I took advantage of the extra half hour of sleep in the morning. Victoria had a pretty good day Wednesday, no races, and I did a longer workout combining my morning and afternoon routines and read the daily reading.

By Wednesday afternoon I was starting to feel a little... funny. I couldn't go to church with the boys, even though Victoria seemed well at this point. No school, no church. I spent the evening trying to figure out the funny feelings in my tummy. Was it hunger? (Wish I had guessed "no.") Was it side effects of being back on my low carb diet? (It happens.) Or was it something worse? And by about 10 o'clock that night, I got my answer. It was undoubtedly, the something worse. Thanks Victoria, you're such a giver.

Wednesday night was miserable, sleepless and awful. By Thursday morning I knew I couldn't even drive my kids to school with any confidence. Neal had to come home and take them for me and I literally slept buried in covers till 1 pm. When I finally got up things were still awry and I felt like someone had run me over with a Mack truck. It wasn't pretty at all. At all, at all. Working out was not an option. I did manage to stand on the Wii board long enough to do my daily body test. The computer told me, "your legs seem a little shaky." Yeah, you have no idea. It was even hard to be excited about the 2.9 lbs I had lost since the previous day. (Though if you're going to find a silver lining...)

I spent most of the day yesterday crashed on the couch. Achy, weak, tired and... off. Working out never became an option. It was almost bedtime when I finally grabbed a bible and read the daily reading. Yay for that at least, because of all my goals, that remains the most important. Today is a new day, but my body is still recovering. I got on for my body test this morning with a "Wii fit age" 18 years older than it was before the flu hit. That sounds about right. Although today I should have at least made it back to work but even that didn't happen because my daughter decided to have a relapse this morning, I blame her father's brilliant idea of giving her tuna for dinner last night. (Sorry for all you visual people.)

So, I have undoubtedly hit a hindrance along the way to 21 days to creating a new habit. I'm hugely disappointed. Now the question remains, will this be a detour or a speed bump?

Too many times in the past I have let glitches become detours, turning me away from the road I was on and never actually finding my way back to it at all. Unfinished stories, weight loss plans abandoned, giving up on reading plans three chapters into Leviticus, there's a long history of "almosts," "not quites," and "never was." And I have to tell you, I'm a little fed up with the me that has allowed them.

So I am determined not to let 2010 be another year that fizzles out before the first month of the year, much less the first week. I want this glitch to be nothing more than a speed bump, that may have slowed me down, but will not throw me off track. But my greatest determination comes in deciding that I'm not going to try to do this in my own strength. I believe the Lord is the One who helped me start this tear off well, and I am going to believe on Him to help me get back on track. As soon as my body cooperates, I'll get back to that work out... those work outs. I'll determine to keep on keeping on with that readinging plan, through Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronmomy! After all, the Bible says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." So I am going to trust and pray He is in on the new "First Things First" plan with me, and we'll get back to it ASAP. It's worth the effort, after all, anything worth doing is worth doing well.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:17

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Falling In Love Again

It's been almost 21 years (wow!) since I fell in love with my dear husband, but I can sit here close my eyes and still remember so many details about that time in my life. I remember the way my blood pressure would rise just thinking about him, feeling my heart swell at the anticipation of spending time with him. It doesn't hurt that he can still rise my blood pressure and still make my heart go pitter patter, but this was a different kind of love, a new love. OK, OK before you go running and screaming from the computer, this post isn't about my passionate love for my husband, though if you'd like to read about that, you can do so here.

What I do want to talk about today is similar though, my heart's been set a pitter patter again, but not for my dear husband, but rather for my First Love, the greatest romance of my life, my love for the Lord. I'm not falling in love for the first time, like I did with Neal nearly 21 years ago, but I am falling in love again like I did almost 19 years ago with my Lord and Savior.

2010 has started off nicely, it feels more fresh and new than any year I can recall in recent history. I know it had lots to do with my unplugging in the transition of the New Year, but it's being built upon with renewed focus and a new effort towards discipline in life. Discipline and romance? How does that compute? I don't know actually, but it does.

Actually, I guess it does make sense. I never feel more loved than when my husband makes me feel like a priority. He does it in lots of different ways. Sometimes I'll hear him on the phone with a friend and I hear him say, "OK, let me check with my wife and I'll get back to you." It blesses my heart to know he is putting me and our marriage ahead of whatever adventure he's being invited into on the other end of that line. Or sometimes when my kids have made a poor choice and been disrespectful to me, I hear him say, "Don't talk to my wife (your mom) that way," and crazy as it seems it makes me really happy. It tells me he values me, because I belong to him, I hold a place in his life above all other people. Most of all when Neal sets aside time just for me, that really makes me feel loved. I remember for my 35th birthday when he went out of the way to plan a whole weekend just for the two of us. He booked a room at a bed & breakfast in Solvang (one of my favorite places) for a weekend, made arrangements for childcare, booked us a train ride, rented a car, and surprised me with the whole thing. He quite literally swept me off my feet, and it required a lot of planning, purposefulness and well... discipline to accomplish it, but it meant the world to me, and I felt so very loved.

Well, I've been trying to exercise the same kind of discipline with my First Love since the start of this New Year. I have decided that spending time with God needs to come first. I have decided that my time and attention need to be directed at him above all else. I've joined in with my church in the reading plan for the year, not just because I want to click something off a "to do" list, but because I know the Father is found there, in those words. I'm not reading and rushing but rather like my pastor said recently, I am seeking to "read the scriptures and be read by the scriptures."

The other night I rented a great movie (that I highly recommend) called Joshua. At one point in the movie this rather angry priest is talking about the scriptures, preaching hell, fire and brimstone, sharing a very legalistic view of the word when he turns to the main character and asks him holding out the bible what he makes this book out to be. Joshua looks at him and says, "It's a love letter." I suppose that sentiment has become somewhat of a cliche, but it doesn't make it any less true. (Cliches become cliches for a reason after all, don't they?)

So it occurs to me, if He took the time to write this beautiful love letter for me, then shouldn't I, at the very least, take the time to read it? Does it require discipline and effort? Well, yes it does, because the fact of the matter is, my Love has a lot he wants to say to me. But knowing the nature of my Love, He is not wasteful with His words, so each of them are important, none to be ignored. I have decided that this needs to take precedence over other activities in my life, like hours of time on Facebook and in front of the television on the couch... sometimes all three at once. Instead I want to spend the bulk of my time cultivating my romance. As much as I would like though to spend all day reading my love letter, practicality wins out. I am a wife, a mom, an employee. I have three kids who need me, a husband who's needs I want to meet, a job, a house that requires time and attention, life continually going on. It has to be tended to, and it turns out there is even still an appropriate time and a place for Facebook and TV watching (like the awesome time I had watching Joshua).

The difference I am finding here in the New Year, what is working to care for the greatest romance of my life, is God's place in all my activities, He's #1. Oh Lord, as I proclaim it, please by Your Spirit, help me to maintain it.

The bible says it like this, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:17.

I'm putting Him first, for the first time in a long time, and everything. feels. so. different.

When Neal makes me feel like a priority, like he did on my 35th birthday, I want nothing more than to show him my love in return. I was so grateful for that weekend, not just for the time spent but the effort he put out to make it happen. I look back on that weekend with the fondest of memories because we just were able to enjoy each other's company so much. We just hung out together, focusing on each other, on our marriage. It strengthened the bond between us. Not only did I feel loved, but by the end of the weekend I know I had managed to show him love too, as much as he gave, I did my best to give back. We both came home feeling refreshed and renewed.

It's a lot like what I have been feeling these past few days, but even more so. As I have given my relationship with the Lord the honor and attention it deserves, reading, praying, meditating, even just "chatting" with God, I cannot begin to express to you how much I have been made aware of His love for me in return, and the strength I have found in it, is nothing short of miraculous.

I've been trying to take better care of myself physically in the New Year too. And I am coming to realize even that is a form of worship to the Father when kept in balance and perspective. My body and my health are gifts from God, and I need to be a good steward of them. The other night my son Ethan said something very profound. He said, "I only have one life, so I have to use it wisely." Unfortunately he was talking about the Mario Bros game on the Wii, but the truth of what he said rang in my heart. It's so much more true for us than it was for him in his game.

I've managed to work out every day so far this year, but this morning it was hard to get out of bed. For a moment I thought about enjoying another half hour's sleep before I got up to do my morning reading, but then I remembered that yesterday spending half an hour stretching and exercising made me a lot more awake and alert when I sat down to read the Word. So when I realized it was to the benefit of my relationship with Him, I got out of bed instead of heading back to sleep. Lord, continue to be my strength and my center in all I do.

Even as I am sitting here writing this blog, I cannot tell you how many times I have stopped and asked Him to help me find the words to share what He wants me to share. I want Him to be first in that too.

I have to tell you, it's so much like falling in love 19 years ago. My mind is consumed with Him, I fall asleep thinking about Him, I wake up thinking about Him. Last night Neal and I went to the store together and as we were packing our groceries in our car one of the store employees came over and started making conversation. Before I knew it he was telling us about some serious concerns in his life. I could hear the Lord in my ear, "pray for him." So before he walked away, I asked him if we could. The three of us stood in the parking lot and Neal and I laid hands on him. That is so not my nature. But even being in the grocery store parking lot had become about Him, my relationship with Him, and it's wonderful.

Unlike the potential to fail in reciprocating Neal's love when he makes me a priority through effort and discipline (of romance), the Lord will never fail in responding to my attempts to deepen my relationship with Him. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. James 4:8 says. It's "kingdom math" and I love and appreciate that so much. It's a guarantee, and the Lord will never fail to accomplish it.

I pray 2010 will be a year of Great Romance, the greatest of romances, because as much as I give and invest, I can never outgive God, and the return is unending. May 2010 be a year of Great Romance in your life as well... in Jesus' name.

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.