Just Ask Anne

anne_of_green_gablesI was invited to share a devotional recently at an “Anne of Green Gables” themed baby shower. The guests of honor were a sweet friend and her newly-adopted and long-awaited baby girl. Anne was adopted too, so it was a fitting theme for a very special celebration.

Most of you are probably familiar with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s precocious and charming character, “Anne-with-an-‘e’.” My former roommate Kim was obsessed with her. Years later I, too, became enchanted as my two oldest daughters and I read the books which chronicled her adventures together. And while Anne had a penchant for creating mischief, she also possessed a wisdom beyond her years.

As I reflected on a few of her well-known quotes, they reminded me of some biblical principles for parenting…

1) Relating to God.

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into…that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”

When you become a parent, your time is no longer your own. You can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself! As a new mom I especially missed my long, uninterrupted times with God. Often I’d be too tired to even focus my scattered thoughts into prayers. I used to beat myself up for this.

Here’s what I would tell that mama now:  God knows. Give yourself grace. He does.

I was inspired by Gigi Graham Tchividjian’s habit of leaving her Bible open on the ironing board, so she could read or meditate on a verse or two as she went about her busy day. There are many creative ways to relate to God. And He is always closer than a prayer.

Jesus said, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.” (The Message)

2) Making mistakes.

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

I remember cuddling my own perfect newborn baby girl and determining to be the perfect mom for her. And then there was that day I was visiting a friend at the hospital and literally FORGOT that I had a nursing baby at home! Upon my return, I was greeted at the door by a frazzled husband and a famished child! Oops. Major mom fail.

Mistakes will be made. Thankfully kids (and usually husbands) are very forgiving. So is God.

“…His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:23b,24a, ESV)

3) Being content.

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

I believe the secret to contentment as a parent is to enjoy what is good in each season. If you focus on what is difficult, you’ll miss what is delightful. If you lament the things you’ve lost or fret about the future, you’ll miss the gifts you’ve been given.

I absolutely dreaded the teen years. And while teens can be challenging, they are also a ton of FUN! I have experienced great joy in watching each of our daughters develop into beautiful young women. Look for the good. It’s there.

“… you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on…the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8, The Message)

4)  Finding friends.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Two decades ago we packed up our two-bedroom apartment and a five-month-old baby and moved “across the pond” to jolly old England. Where we didn’t know One. Single. Soul. Suddenly I didn’t feel so jolly.

Wherever we go, we need kindred spirits–those friends of the heart who just “get” us. Soon after settling into our quaint little English village, God graciously answered my prayers for such a friend through Caroline, herself a new British mum. Through the years there have been others who have come along just when I needed the encouragement of a fellow mom. I currently meet once a week with some dear kindred spirits to pray for our children.

Parenthood is best played as a team sport. Don’t go it alone. Your kindred spirits are out there too, just waiting to be found.

(Paul speaking of Timothy) “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20, NAS)

 5)  Risking love.

“There is no use in loving things if you have to be torn from them, is there? And it’s so hard to keep from loving things, isn’t it?”

“Enjoy this time. It goes so fast.”

I used to hate it when older moms or random strangers would say that to me when my kids were young. Because I wanted to hold onto my babies forever. And I knew I couldn’t.

Making the decision to have a child…is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” (Elizabeth Stone)

There is an inherent vulnerability that comes with having and loving a child. It can be hard on the heart. But nothing has taught me more about selfless, sacrificial love than being a mom. It has stretched me and called out the best in me. It has taught me to love like God loves.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NLT)

Parenting will take all you’ve got. And then some. But love is always worth the cost.

Whether you’re a new parent just embarking on your journey, or one who’s logged some parenting miles, take heart. There is help and wisdom to guide you along the way.

Sometimes it may come from a surprising source, like a former orphan girl named Anne.

But always, always, it is readily available from your ever-present and never-failing Heavenly Father.

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When I Am Weak

The Christian life is filled with paradoxes.  Our former pastor Rick Mann used to call these apparent contradictions:  “Upside Down Kingdom Principles.”  They are those spiritual truths that are the opposite of what you might naturally think.  Teachings that make you do a double take.  Things like:  “The first shall be last.” or “To save your life you must lose it.”  Or the one I’ve been pondering recently:

“When I am weak, then I am strong.”

I must admit I’m somewhat embarrassed by my weaknesses.  I’d prefer to hide them, ignore them, deny them.  I don’t understand how weaknesses could possibly be a means of strength.  The way I see it, when I am weak, then I am…weak.

Apparently the apostle Paul felt the same way.  But after having a few heart-to-heart chats with the Lord (three, to be exact) concerning his weakness, Paul did a total turn around.  He now saw his situation in a completely different light.  And an “Upside Down Kingdom Principle” was born:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV)

I wanted to try and get this principle right side up in my brain.  Because I honestly didn’t get it.  So I prayed for understanding.  I studied and meditated upon this passage.  I liked the way “The Message” translated the first part of verse 9:

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”

I’m a big fan of grace.  It appears that weakness, like a magnet, attracts it.  Maybe our weakness really is a blessing in disguise, if it invites grace and shows off God’s strength.  Perhaps this is why Paul could not only endure, but could also exult in his weaknesses:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9b, NIV)

I discovered that the Greek word for “rest on” is episkenoo, which means “to fix a tent or habitation on.”* The Pulpit Commentary explained that a literal translation would be “to tabernacle over.”

This immediately brought to mind the image of the tabernacle, the tent where God’s presence dwelt during the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings.  Robertson’s Word Pictures seemed to agree with this imagery, describing Paul like this:

…as if the Shechinah of the Lord was overshadowing him.”

I’ve heard the word “Shechinah” tossed around here and there, but never really knew what it meant or where the term originated.  Curious, I googled it:

Shechinah:  An extra-biblical expression coined by the Jewish rabbis from a form of a Hebrew word that literally means “he caused to dwell.”**

It was all starting to come together!  I could now see how Paul was able to “glory” in his weaknesses:  Because they revealed GOD’s glory!  God comes and dwells right there.  His grace meets us in our places of weakness, embarrassment, and struggle.  We can rest in the Power that rests on us.  Rather than minimizing Paul’s effectiveness in ministry, his weaknesses were paradoxically the very things magnifying the “Shechinah” glory of God in and through him!

This summer these ceramic lanterns kept catching my eye.  I’d notice them on TV or in the Home and Garden section of a store.  They are rather plain and ordinary, but quite stunning when they’re all lit up.  The openings are where the light gets out.

We are like these lanterns.  We’re nothing fancy, but we have the light of Christ in us.  Our weaknesses are the holes, the cracks that let the Glory out!

If, along with Paul, our life’s goal is to glorify Him, then this begins to make sense:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  (2 Corinthians 12:10a, NIV)

We can say, “Yes, Lord.”  Yes to weaknesses, challenges, and difficulties.  Yes to gaps, flaws, and cracks.  Yes to plain and ordinary.  If they invite Your grace, if they reveal Your strength, if they manifest Your glory, then we too can delight in saying YES!

For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10b, NIV)

YES!  I am weak, but HE is strong!

Lord, let YOUR glory shine!

 

*The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon

**Source: www.gotquestions.org

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Earthen Vessels

earthen-vesselThis fall I have the opportunity to teach, for the third time, a class at our church called “Foundations:  Christian Living.”  I’ve known and walked with the Lord for over three decades.  I should have this Christian Life thing down by now, shouldn’t I?

Well, turns out I don’t.

It’s easy to become discouraged when the gap between Who-I-am and Who-I-am-called-to-be appears to widen instead of narrow.  Being confronted with one’s weaknesses and failures at this stage in the game can certainly intensify feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy.  The enemy of my soul knows and loves to exploit this.

Who are YOU to teach a class on the Christian life?  Look at you!  All this time, and you still don’t have it together.  What kind of example are you to these young believers?

These defeating thoughts kept running through my mind last week as the start date of the class approached.  I decided to go for a walk in an effort to clear my head and pray.  So I headed down the hill that leads away from our house, pouring out my heart, confessing my sin, and acknowledging my fears and feelings of inadequacy to the Lord.  As I turned onto a side street, the following phrase entered my mind, clear and succinct, the way I’ve come to recognize God’s voice when He speaks:

We have this treasure in earthen vessels.

I caught my breath.  Tears sprang to my eyes.  I repeated this verse, which is from 2 Corinthians 4:7, over and over as I continued down the dirt road, meditating on the meaning of His words.

We have this treasure…  Jesus… the Pearl of Great Price… the One Thing that Matters… I have Him!

…in earthen vessels…  that’s me all right… weak… flawed… inadequate… unworthy.

See?  Just look at you!  That ‘other’ voice taunted again.  Only now I knew how to respond.

“If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, The Message)

(That last part makes me laugh.)

What if our weaknesses actually create a better backdrop to highlight His power?  The apostle Paul certainly came to accept this as true in his life and ministry:

“Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b, NAS)

Rather than disqualify us for ministry, what if our flaws even help to enhance our effectiveness?  After all, they keep us humble, honest, and dependent on Him.  Isn’t that the best and safest place to be?

We are earthen vessels, ordinary and imperfect.  God’s only condition for service is that a vessel be clean.  Then He delights to fill and use it to accomplish His purposes.*

He is the Treasure, extraordinary and perfect.  May our weaknesses draw attention to HIS greatness, and our imperfections serve to showcase HIS glory.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves…” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NAS)

*See 2 Timothy 2:21.

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Imperfect Progress

I am a recovering perfectionist.

This may surprise those of you who have visited my home and observed my less-than-perfect housekeeping habits firsthand.  The problem with perfectionists is that we get trapped in this “all or nothing” mentality.  So if we can’t do something perfectly, we don’t want to do it at all.

I’m going to swallow my pride and share a current illustration of this in my life.  A little over three years ago I embarked on a weight loss journey.  It should not surprise you that I followed the program to a ‘t.’  As a result I lost over 30 pounds!  (34, to be exact.  We perfectionists like to be exact.)  This was huge for me (no sarcasm intended)!

Well, the weight stayed ‘lost’ for a while, but then the pounds started finding me again.  I finally recommitted to lose the extra weight again almost a year later and managed to shed ten of those unwanted pounds.  Unfortunately within the following year they paid me a return visit, only this time they each brought a friend!  So, once again, I re-enrolled in my weight loss program, bid twenty pounds farewell and (once again) arrived at my goal weight after several months of faithfully sticking to the plan.

Now, is it just me or did you notice a pattern here?  In case you missed it, let me highlight it for you:  Gain.  Lose.  Gain.  Lose.  Gain.  Lose.  I’m quite experienced in the weight gain department.  I had grown in my ability to lose weight.  But I was tired of this teeter totter.  Pounds up.  Pounds down.  I needed to develop a new skill: maintaining a healthy weight.

About the time I was longing to jump off this playground ride, a verse jumped out at me during a Sunday morning sermon.  It was Philippians 3:16, from the New Living Translation:  “But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.”   I had made progress in my weight loss journey.  The challenge now was holding on to it!

When the pounds start creeping back on, my perfectionist tendencies kick in.  I feel like a failure and quit trying.  The scales then tip (no pun intended) drastically in the other direction.  I relinquish nearly all the progress I have made.

But I’ve recently adopted a new mantra, one that is helping to change my unbalanced,  “all or nothing” approach to life.  Lysa TerKeurst shared it in her new book, Unglued.  Fellow perfectionists, recite with me:

“Imperfect progress is the goal.”

It has taken me awhile to really believe this.  Little by little, however, I’m becoming more comfortable accepting my imperfections.  I have good days and bad days.  But I’m learning to pick myself up and forgive myself when I fail.  I don’t have to let one bad day turn into a month of bad days.  God’s mercies are new every morning.  (Lamentations 3:23)

I’m still learning how to maintain a healthy weight.  I have my ups and downs.  (Pun intended.)  But God sees my heart, and knows that I’m sincerely trusting Him to help me change–even when the number on the scale is moving in the wrong direction.  His grace is sufficient for me and His power is made perfect(!) in my weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)  I’m so thankful for that.

It’s a battle sometimes (okay, all the time!).  But I’m still in it and I’m not giving up.  For me, that in itself is progress.

So here I am, no longer swinging from one extreme to the other, learning to live somewhere in the messy middle.

Imperfect, but making progress.

His work in progress.

And you know what?

I think I just might be perfectly okay with that.

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