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May 3, 2012

Laying Down the Good

Laying Down the Good

Our boys are still at the ages where they like mom to lay down with them at night as they fall asleep. Each night I get the plea,

“ Mom will you please lay down with us?”

“Mom, you have to lay down with me, too!” 

and pretty much each night I do. We are going to sleep these days to the melodious sounds of DC Talk. Each boy gets one song ( unless I inadvertently fall asleep…ahem) to drift off to dream land. Usually, it doesn’t even take the entire song.

There are many nights when I have to choose to stop and do this. I have so many other things that need to be done. Good things. It’s a good thing to clean the kitchen at night. It’s a good thing to make sure we have clothes to wear for the next day. Some days, for my sanity’s sake, it’s a good thing for me to sit and watch a favorite tv show. Threw that one in just in case you thought all my “good things” were so noble as the first two.

I am sure you have your list of “goods” as well–especially if you are a single mom. I have had a few nights here recently when my husband’s work schedule had me solo parenting. Many of you have the same situation. Many of you are single moms for other reasons. Whatever the cause, time is precious to a single mama. She has much to do and not much time to do it in. The list of “goods” doesn’t just battle for the time of mamas, but of so many of us just as women. We have “good” things that need to be done that limit our time with others. Time that they may so desperately need and we will be called to lay down. When that girlfriend calls and you can tell her heart is heavy, but you were just on your way to do this or that. When your aging parents require a trip to Wal-Mart, a trip you know will take an entire afternoon that you really just don’t feel like you have to spare. When that neighbor needs to be run here or there, calls you last minute to see if you can facilitate him or her, and completely changes your plans for the one day you had off.

There are lots of “good” things that we need to be doing. Scripture tells us to keep doing the good (Galatians 6:9).  It does not, however, tell us to get caught up in it. The Word does not tell us to place doing the “good” above all else. Above love. Above relationship. Above investing into others.

This week I have been to a fundraiser for a father of 3 fighting cancer. His list of “goods” has probably changed. This week one of the boys in the AWANA group I work with lost his mom to cancer. His “good” is different now, as is his entire family’s. You have similar experiences I am sure. The family whose child requires more than they ever thought. The couple fighting for their marriage. The spouse carrying the load of the family, due to some injury or illness that has come upon his or her loved one. All of their “good things” they thought needed to be done before have changed.

What I pray for us all is that it doesn’t take a major event to put our “good” things into perspective. I pray we would have hearts that seek what God esteems above what we think He does. I pray our desire to be seen as a good friend, a good mother, a good wife, a good whatever doesn’t trump the very ones we are trying to be good to.

While we continue to do the “good” things on our list, as we should, Lord helps us to remember what You desire. Give us sensitive spiritual ears to hear the nudgings of Your Holy Spirit that we may know when to lay down our “good” things for holy opportunities, no matter how small they seem to us, You place before our feet and hands.

 

 

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The Love is What They Will Remember

The Love is What They will Remember

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

These verses were read at my wedding and I’ve reviewed them many times over the nearly 30 years of being with my husband.  Yet, they are more than words on how to have a successful marriage; they teach me how to love my children and how to teach my children to love each other.  For if love does not first appear in the closest relationships we have (between husband & wife, parent & child, sisters & brothers), how can we expect it to appear in relationships in the professional world, on the playing fields, in the school rooms, in the board room, or even on the highways.

As parents, we must teach our children patience.  Sometimes that means telling them no, even during the mist of a temper tantrum, allowing them to be angry at us instead of giving into their every wish.  We must teach them to be kind at home first, to their brothers and sisters and that kindness can overflow in how they treat neighbors and strangers.

Our love as parents protects our children from wrong decisions, false teachings, bad friends, and dangerous situations.  A parent’s love stands up for their children, giving hope when all seems hopeless and encouraging dreams when it seems dreams are lost.

At the end of our days, our children will not remember the party we didn’t let them go to or the toy we didn’t let them have.  They might even laugh fondly at the restrictions and groundings they were forced to suffer.  More importantly, our children will remember our love for them and how we, as parents, demonstrated to them the love of our Abba Father.

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Engaging Culture with Discernment

Engaging Culture with Discernment

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.                                                    -Romans 12:1-2

Well, it seems that the pot has been stirred yet again.  The opening of The Hunger Games movie this weekend has Christians visiting again the issue of how to deal with culture.  So what’s a Christian to do?  How should we think about and engage culture? How do we know when to flee, and how do we keep from being simply reactionary?  How can we learn to be critical and discerning regarding culture?  How do we train our children to be leaders in critical and discerning thought regarding culture?  I have a few ideas.

1. Flee the obvious in light of Scripture.  What do I mean by obvious?  Books, movies, video games, and music that by the genre they have been put in obviously are set apart by Scripture to be avoided because by their nature they are meant to lead one into sin.  Examples would be porn, erotica, or any other genre of sexual deviance. Other areas not sexual in nature should be considered as well.  Be sure definitions of what is sin are Biblical definitions.

2. Filter out those things that you (or a family member) are susceptible to.  If your child cannot read a fantasy novel or play a certain video game without having a major disassociation with reality, then remove those things from his use until you deem him more mature and discerning. Also be careful to not make a blanket generalization that just because you are avoiding something, everyone else should as well.  We want to be careful not to fall into legalism as we seek to make wise choices for our families.

3. Test the rest. Test it how?  By engaging it – reading it, watching it.  Watch it with your mind.  Pay attention to the message being sent because there is always a message. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but usually it’s mixed.  Be willing to pull apart the subject matter and find what might have been dropped in there just because we are all made in the image of God.  Look for themes of redemption – everyone wants to be saved, fixed, or found. What is the message the author or movie maker ultimately wants to leave us with?  How does it stand up with Scripture?  If it’s not a Biblical worldview, then what worldview is it?  Postmodernism?  New Age?  Secular humanism? (Ah, yes, we have to know what those are, don’t we.)  Take every thought captive -2 Corinthians 10:5.

4. Do engage in material “from the other side” knowing your own limitations and sinful inclinations.  If you have a friend who needs to check her horoscope everyday, you may want to become a bit more versed in the “language of the Babylonians” in order to show her from Scripture how what she is doing is leading her away from God.  Usually, in order to have these conversations, you need to know something about the subject so that you can have the credibility that comes with knowing what it is you are saying to stay away from. We do our non-Christian friends well to be able to intelligently discuss their views with them. More than a few have come to know Christ through those avenues, C.S. Lewis being an excellent example of this.  Do this with much prayer and  accountability.  Let someone you trust know that you are reading a book to learn more about what your friend believes and have that person pray for you as you research and engage in conversations with unbelievers.

5. Represent the subject accurately.  We are all clouded by our own biases and judgments, so, as people of the truth we must make every effort to represent whatever we are critiquing as accurately as possible.  Don’t you hate it hear a critique of what Christianity is supposedly about, only to learn that the critic is entirely misinformed, or worse is intentionally misrepresenting Christianity?  I just read a review of The Hunger Games by a well-respected Christian.  It was not a favorable review – which is fine.  (Remember – a review is someone’s opinion, nothing more.) What bothered me about his review was the fact that his relaying of the story had some major inaccuracies, especially regarding the thoughts and feelings of the characters, which were very much revealed in the storytelling of The Hunger Games itself.  I highly respect this man, so I was left disappointed.

6. Teach your children to do all of the above at appropriate times in their maturity and development.  It is so fun to have discussion with my children regarding culture – what they like, what drives them crazy, and how they see others trying to make life work apart from Christ. They have not always been able to do this.  They had to learn, and are still learning…as am I.  But it has been so encouraging to learn together, to sharpen one another, and to challenge one another to think more Biblically and not reactionary (I’m a mom…yes…it still happens.)  All of this came bit by bit as we engaged age-appropriate content over the years with them.

I also suggest checking out the ClearPlay DVD player.  It has been a wonderful tool for our family allowing us to watch more movies and shows together while filtering out the elements (e.g., gratuitous language) without detracting from the storyline.

I offer these suggestions because it is my desire to see Christians intelligently engaging culture with a Biblical worldview. We belong to Christ Jesus and we have been fully equipped to engage our culture with discernment.  Put on that armor and go forth in the Spirit of wisdom, courage and truth.

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Confessions of a Waffle: aka How My SmartPhone Makes Me Stupid

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Early in our marriage, we read the book by Bill and Pam Farrell, Men are Like Waffles and Women are Like Spaghetti. We laughed over the differences in men and women–we learned, too, that not all those traits applied those directions for us. Then, there were all the personality tests–all created to help us interact with others and with each other, as a couple.

My test results were a bit odd in that I was very strong on two opposite points, mediocre on one and non-existent on the last one. The results show that I am equally and strongly an otter (extrovert, people person) and a beaver (introvert, task-oriented person) with a little lion and not at all a golden retriever. One friend told me that is called masking.  It means I am really one of those and the other is a learned behavior I accumulated over the years to be who others thought I should be. It’s not really that important which is which for this article.  The point is I have unique traits that encompass who I am–so do you!

From those unique traits, I find that I am really more waffle than spaghetti.

  • I don’t multi-task well.
  • I cannot talk on the phone while driving. Even a blue-tooth would be too much for my attention span.
  • I have to block out sound, even now with the kids home, while writing this.
  • I need to sit toward the front in large events or I get totally distracted and miss much of the event.
  • If you call me on the phone (or I call you), I will find the quietest place to go, so I can truly listen to you.  If I cannot find a quiet place, I will say the most inane things, because I am half-listening to you.
  • I get easily overwhelmed by many activities planned.
  • I secretly wish those activities will be cancelled–most of the time.
  • A group of people together is fun, but it sucks energy out of me — I get exhausted from that time.
  • I prefer to meet with one friend at a time. From these times, I have an indelible memory from our conversation. I even remember expressions, hand gestures, and other impressions. I tend to remember conversations like this for a very long time. Yet, I will forget a thousand other things.
  • Also in a large group, I tend to be over-stimulated to the point where I find that I say the most foolish things out of discomfort.
  • My SmartPhone is TOO MUCH for me.  So many choices! So many choices! So I get sucked into a time-loss vortex trying to get ONE task done. I can not focus with a SmartPhone. It makes me utterly stupid.
  • My Kindle is OVERWHELMING, too!  So many choices! So many choices! I want to read THEM ALL–AT ONCE!
  • I prefer a single book in hand, a single hand-craft, a single child with a book–one activity and person at a time.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule–I LOVE and enjoy a large group of kids to feed and entertain. In fact, I love hosting large groups of all ages.  It exhausts me, but also makes me inordinately happy. In a few weeks, I am leading crafts at our women’s retreat.  I equally look forward to teaching the large group AND sitting alone outside with my Bible. Another exception is music, which settles me–I can do nearly anything, any two things even!, if music is playing (calms the savage beast, I guess).

At the beginning of this year, I prayed for my one word for 2012–and the Lord prompted TWO. Simple Focus.  I knew they were for me.  I knew that I was spinning like a pinball and self-destructing on TILT. I could feel it.  My normally laid-back ease was replaced with anxiety and stress, using harsher words and tones with my dear family.  This was not what the Lord intended for me.

In striving for one goal (to help our family financially), I have gotten myself into too much and over-my-head trying to be every-woman and multi-tasking mama (ha!).  For a time, I have sacrificed some important priorities in the process.  Looking down the road, I have come to the conclusion that the trade-off (financial help for family time) is not worth it.  I will not be glad in twenty years that I spent 75% of my day behind the screen of the computer. I simply won’t.

So I began to make steps toward simple focus–even taking steps backwards! I truly believe that God not only gives us second and third chances, but also, He sets our feet back at the beginning to try it again.  His Word says He sets our feet in spacious places.  And I had worked myself into a helpless/hapless corner, from which He needed to extricate me. It was a painful process, during which I endured many sleepless nights–causing pain to others I care about in the ordeal.

But it’s done now. I feel a release to walk wisely and well from this point.

I still have some steps to make–for the goals and priorities the Lord has placed before me during this season in my journey. He has still provided work for financial help–that is still a need and priority for our family. I am still spending time behind the computer screen or on my smart phone–some wasted and some not.  There needs to be a better balance still.

The past three days, God has prompted a Lenten fast for me.  Now, I am not in a liturgical church.  Our church is inter-denominational. Some years, I fast for lent.  Some years, I fast weekly for other set-apart times.  Some times, I do not fast at all. I believe that the Holy Spirit will prompt each of us in fasting, and He will most certainly teach us and prompt us toward fasting. A Lenten fast is a good practice, though.

Last year I fasted from sugar–from the time Joanne entered the hospital on January 11th, til the time she went home from Spalding (longer than Lent, but my Lenten fast nonetheless).

This year, I have prayed and heard one thing from the Lord–social media, meaning Facebook, Twitter and (gulp!) Pinterest.  As a writer (something I love to do and want to spend many years focusing, honing and pouring out this way), I will be spending more time journaling thoughts and prayers. Also, I hope to spend more time writing here at A Martha Heart. I hope you will stop by for a nice two-way conversation with me here in the comment section. I will greatly MISS YOU around internet-town. I intend to make reading your blogs a priority, too. I have missed reading your hearts in the busy-ness of my spin-balling, upside-down life.

My main priority is to spend less time distracted by the many things and more time focused on the simple things.  For me, it is life-giving, rejuvenating and restorative. I believe in the process, I am giving myself a gift. I know the Lord will meet with me here. He will make it a place of springs–a place of purpose, peace and joy–and an investment for high returns!

What is your priority right now? Does it line up with the goals in your life? Take time to take stock. It is a FOR YOU kind of decision that will leave you without regret many years down the road. What is holding you back?

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A Puzzled Perspective

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I love games and puzzles.  Even more, I love observing others, as they play games or puzzles. There is something about it that tells me more of the core of a person–not the outer layers of every day. It helps me to understand them–and love them as the person that they are, not the outer shell. You can be sure, if we have ever played a game or worked a puzzle together, I was observing you.

So it should come as no surprise that when my Chris and I had the opportunity to work with the youth group over ten years ago, we set about to teach a lesson in team-work involving puzzles. We set them up, in a way, for responding to their environment. Also, we observed those responses, bringing it around to the focus point of the timed-activity.

Here are the four scenarios:

Team one had a puzzle and the correct picture that went with the puzzle.

Team two had a puzzle and the correct picture that went with the puzzle–but it was missing a few pieces.

Team three had a puzzle and the incorrect picture for that puzzle.

Team four had a puzzle and no picture.

We set the timer for 20 minutes and told them to work together to complete their puzzles. What do you think the outcome was?

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Team one went right to work, speaking with one another a little, focused on the picture and puzzle pieces and working very quickly. They finished their puzzle with time to spare. They chatted on a very surface-level of conversation.

Team two did the same, working silently at the beginning, focused on the picture and puzzle pieces and progressing quickly. However, about midway, they discovered that they couldn’t find some edges or obvious-colored pieces. They began to dialogue about it.  They were slightly frustrated to have an incomplete puzzle at the end. They spoke just beyond surface-level conversation.

Team three started to work with the same intensity and eagerness to finish as the first two teams.  However, it wasn’t five minutes before they realized that the picture didn’t correspond to the pieces they were filtering through. Oh they interacted alright.  They were downright angry with us.  Disbelieving that we would be so unfair, as to give them a puzzle with the wrong picture! They talked it through and nearly finished the puzzle.  They were fuming at us. They spoke a level or two beyond surface-level conversation. They even told stories of their own lives.

Team four realized up front that they had no picture, so they set to working together, using the cues the colors and pieces provided.  They talked and interacted the whole time.  While a little sad they had no picture, they seemed to take it in stride.  They worked around the difficulty and even had laughter, as they worked together.  They also did not finish in twenty minutes, but they actually made more headway than team three. They shared at the deepest level of conversation.  Their stories created interaction and laughter.  They acted like a team.

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So what was the point? Holly missed her management classes and psychology experiments from college? No.  Not really, though there was certainly an undercurrent of both topics.

One point was for a team to work well together, they worked best when they interacted with one another, trusted in and relied on one another’s help. To complete the task quickly, however, these teams all needed the correct blueprints to be successful. But the blueprints alone did not create a team.

Another point was that when our blueprints are incorrect, we get frustrated, because we are relying on false teaching/direction. This, too, shows how our human nature relies on what our eyes see and how we long for direction. When we don’t have the wrong picture, but rather no picture at all (like team four), we rely on clues and one another. It is not as frustrating, because our expectation is not for a picture, but for one another to step up and work together.

Also, we spoke of how not being able to finish something is very frustrating.  We have an enemy of our souls, the prince of this earth, who strives to remove pieces to our puzzles every day. Again we find that people working together, along-side one another, as a team, provides stability and even joy in the midst of our hardships.

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To end the story, I want to urge you to build wisely with others. Use the blueprints, the Bible, to build and carry out the calling God has on your lives. But the Bible alone will not do it.  God calls us to work in-tandem with others, to be equally yoked in our building, to communicate, to battle the stealing and lying enemy and to keep our focus on the goal, using His Blueprints.

But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:25 NIV

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

We’ll be studying this a bit more over the next couple of months.  I have some questions burning in my heart about what it means to build, with whom shall we build, how do we hear God and obey Him, and finally, what does it mean to put our hands to the plow and not look back. Come along!  It’s going to be life-changing.

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