You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit

I have never had reason to describe myself as a “morning person”. I have re-arranged my schedule at various times of my life (including this one) to be up early but it’s never been my natural rhythm. So when my wide awake brain popped my eyes open at 4:30am (30 mins before my alarm), I jokingly thought to myself “Well…this is an act of God.” However, when I sat down with my Bible app for an extra half hour and “randomly” stumbled upon a verse that I’ve read a million times but suddenly jumped out at me with different implications that spoke directly to something that has been nagging in the back of my mind for a while now, that thought suddenly didn’t seem so much like a joke.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Psalms 37:4 NLT

I had been wrestling a bit with this concept that God should be enough, that my joy and contentment should come from my relationship with Him, that if I never board another airplane or my body never cooperates again, I can be okay – even happy – in those circumstances. Except I wasn’t. I’m not.  I want lots of travel and supernatural healing, just to name a couple of things. And doesn’t the Bible say right there in Psalms that I can have what I want? I’m not sure how to “delight in the Lord”. Some days I “get it” better than others and it’s something I pray for daily but some days, delight is not the word I would use.

But I realized that morning that the verse isn’t saying I can get whatever I want. It’s saying if my focus is on my relationship with Jesus, He will give me the actual desires. Not what I think I want – He will actually give me the desires that line up with Him.

Now I’ve HEARD that general concept before. I’ve heard it preached from the stage and in various podcasts and in this devotion and that study and blah blah blah. But for some reason, it made sense this time. And there was a bit of a relief in realizing that it’s okay to “give up” a dream or desire. I don’t have to keep striving for something just because I “always have” or it’s “my thing”. God might, quite literally, be removing a dream or desire from my life and replacing it with something else. And that’s okay. It’s good.

That being said – I still wouldn’t mind a plane ticket and supernatural healing.

Let it Go! Let it Go!

Last year “on this day” (such a fun feature!) I posted on Facebook: NineTEEN days from now I’ll be on a plane to the Philippines! We’re in the teens people!

After that last trip, I finally admitted that my heart and passion is really with the people and ministries in Navotas. I still LOVE my sisters in the Wipe Every Tear safe houses and the ones that haven’t made that choice. My thoughts, feelings and opinion of the Wipe Every Tear organization has not changed. But I’ve always been drawn to hungry/homeless ministries. Drop that in the middle of Manila (figuratively speaking) and I’m smitten.

Tomorrow, at 5:00am, a team from World Family Missions start their first flight to Manila. The leader, a wonderful woman by the name of Sarah, mentioned the possibility of this trip to me back in March. And I was certain – CERTAIN – I would be on that plane. No doubt in my mind. I was SO sure of this that I basically informed my husband instead of asking his input and I didn’t even really pray about it…unless you count telling God all about my plans.

Obviously there was a different future in store for me and I will NOT be on that plane tomorrow. I’ve cried…buckets. I’ve been mad. But in the end, God always puts together the perfect team. As much as the “Mama Rhoni” side on me wanted to be on the plane to help a pregnant leader with her toddler, God had other people – the perfect people – in mind for support. As much as I wanted to snuggle a particular little girl and her sisters in Navotas, there are other people that God wants there. I will be praying for this group, but they are not “my” team. (But I’ll probably still cry when I see updates and pictures or even when I just think about them. So apologies to everyone who crosses my soggy path over the next week or so.)

I am reading a book by Shauna Niequist titled “Present over Perfect”. Early in the book it asked the question I’ve often seen in various forms- if you had a bottomless bank account and empty calendar, what would you do. The answer is supposed to highlight your passion. My answer rang through my mind almost before I finished reading the line. Travel. Duh. But a few pages later, she asks “What are you unwilling to let go of?” That answer rang clearly and just as immediately…Nothing! But as I tried to read on, my eyes kept drifting back to that question. It continued to nag at me until I stopped to mull over it for awhile. Quietly the real answer rose to the surface….travel. And my health.

I’m not sure if I can fully explain this recognition but I’ll try. I still cling with an iron grip to the idea of being my version of healthy. In the depths of my being, I have this notion that if I just check all the boxes and follow all the rules, I can control how my body will respond. That theory has been debunked more than once and yet, still I clutch that belief. Letting go does not equal a disregard for all healthy practices. It simply means doing what I’m supposed to do, what I can do without an expectation of results.

The travel piece is easier. As soon as I realized I really was NOT going to be able to go on this trip, I immediately started thinking about and saving for the NEXT possibility. I never asked God if that is an option. I just assumed I would return. I’ve always had the intense desire to travel. That’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember. But once upon a time, I was in a place where I balanced that desire with the desire to be obedient to where God called me. And as I told Sarah the other day “I think that the desire to go back <to the Philippines> is starting to supplant the desire to be obedient.” My first step was donating money I planned to save for my own trip. That’s not a humble brag on generosity. My heart was not fully happy with the decision and I most certainly did not feel generous. I needed a physical action to go along with the emotional response. I could not mentally “let go” without mirroring that physically.

This whole “letting go” thing is not a one and done act. I don’t know exactly what that process will look like but I have a sneaking suspicion it involves re-learning how to truly “be still”. That, however, is another post in itself. Because “still” is not the most accurate descriptor for me. And neither is laconic.

Thanksgiving?

I think I’ve mentioned this before but I live a charmed life. Seriously. But I don’t participate in “30 Days of Thanksgiving” or anything like that because history shows, if I commit to do something like that, I am less likely to do anything even slightly resembling my commitment. I will take pictures daily and be aware of beautiful, wonderful moments in my life…but the moment I sign up for “100 Happy Days” or whatever the flip it’s called…pft. Pictures? I have a camera?

I have been slowly becoming more aware of moments of thankfulness and more conscious of actually including God in those moments with quick prayer of thanks instead of fleeting thoughts of contentment. But recently I’ve found this dangerous irritating little voice whispering in the back of my head.

Me: “Gorgeous sunrise. Thank you for a beautiful start to this clear day. I love driving in clear weather.”

Dangerous whisper: “Yeah…but would you still have a thankful heart if there was a foot of snow on the ground and nothing but gray clouds overhead?”

Me: “I love my home so much. Thank you for providing this beautiful shelter and the opportunity to indulge in Thanksgiving cooking!”

Dangerous whisper: “What if you were spending Thanksgiving in a hospital? Or a homeless shelter? What would your attitude be like, your prayers sound like?”

This voice is dangerous because it’s prompting me to start adding a layer to my conversations with God. It’s causing me to start asking, not for more moments of contentment, but a heart and spirit that is prepared to be thankful and content in situations that aren’t beautiful, warm & cozy.

20151124_193906I am still incredibly grateful for the plethora of warm fuzzy moments that I’m experiencing. I mean seriously – this was my view while baking pies this week. A cat napping near a fireplace…it doesn’t get more warm & fuzzy than that. At the same time, I am aware that my comfort isn’t what is important…and it’s definitely not guaranteed. Would I still maintain a grateful heart and deep rooted joy even in the midst of hard times?

Blessing or curse

I’ve read (skimmed if we’re being honest) a couple of different articles lately touching on this idea that we American Christians are “blessed” with our material abundance and/or how easily that phrase rolls off our tongue.

“Oh I’m doing well. God has really blessed us lately with our new car/house/promotion/health/insert latest toy”.

The articles both made me nod emphatically in agreement and squirm uncomfortably in my chair. Because I’ve done that. And I didn’t just do that before I went to the Philippines where, upon arrival, my eyes were opened & all deceptively pretty but false theology was burned away in  a flash of enlightenment. (Where is my sarcasm font?)

It’s easy for me to denounce false theology when it’s being preached by some big shot. Not to pick on the “prosperity gospel” (but to pick on the “prosperity gospel”), I cringe when I hear the idea that financial/material abundance is the will of God, that there is some sort of quid pro quo  between us and God. We have faith & He spoils us with the latest gadgets or more square footage or excellent health insurance.  I denounce it vehemently. God doesn’t promise earthly comfort. He promises a relationship with and transformation through Him. Amen and hallelujah.

And then. Then I sit in my big fluffy ridiculously comfortable chair sipping on my freshly brewed coffee with just the right amount of creamer, wrapped in my warm blanket in the middle of the summer because the central air in my crazy big, clean and sturdy house has made me chilly. I sit there with my cat purring on my lap and I look around and think about my refrigerator full of food and my reliable, emissions tested vehicle full of gas. And I thank God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon me and my family. We serve in our church. We tithe. We pray and attend our Lifegroup. We have checked the boxes of  “good Christians”. And this insidious idea that God is rewarding us for our good deeds slithers in and takes root.

In the Philippines I met a woman who lived under a tarp next to a bridge with her sore covered, naked children. And the next day I watched this woman show up at church, like she does weekly, with her kids in their ill fitting Sunday best….clothes we wouldn’t even donate to Goodwill. She was excited because we were the same age and we were both mothers. We come from polar opposite lives but we could connect. We talked about kids and parenting…and our faith in God. Her relationship is deep and sustaining and vibrant. She is impoverished materially and abundantly rich spiritually. Her very life should be all the proof I need to eliminate that sneaky idea that living comfortably is proof of God’s favor. Why me and not her (or any of the hundreds of thousands around the world like her)? And yet. Just last week I found myself snuggled in my chair thanking God for all His blessings. And perhaps I was a bit smug because OBVIOUSLY we’re doing something right. When suddenly Joseph (yes, of the  techni multicolored coat) came to mind. Specifically him telling his brothers “What you meant evil, God has used for good…”

Okay. So this is a leap but take it with me. I haven’t had anyone plot to murder me lately. (At least I don’t think so.) I haven’t been sold into slavery. Nothing  bad or evil has happened to me in a long time (or arguably…ever). But sitting there I began to wonder…what if all this abundance and comfort isn’t a gift from God. What if it is a distraction from Satan? What if I’m not blessed…but cursed? The idea shook me. What do I DO with that? Because  (again with the honesty) I’m not going to sell my family into poverty. I’m not going to look my children in the eyes and say “I’m sorry but you have to go hungry now. And sleep on the street. Oh…and forget about being clean or having medical care. But you’ll have God!!!” My husband and I DO have the opportunity to provide for our family and I don’t think that’s intrinsically bad. There’s a responsibility that comes with the opportunity though. (With great power comes…oh never mind). And that’s where Joseph comes in. So…maybe Satan IS trying to distract me. Maybe this comfort WAS meant to curse me by weakening my relationship with God. But God can use all….this.  But here’s what I didn’t get from the other articles (see above – skimming said articles) – it doesn’t end with the realization that our American wealth does NOT equate blessing. It doesn’t even end with the idea that the goodies might actually be meant for evil. It all BEGINS with the realization that God can use everything we have for His purposes. “What you meant for evil, God used for good.” But recognition without action is nothing. After all, everyone in the parable of the Good Samaritan RECOGNIZED there was a man lying in the road dying. But they didn’t take action to help. (Well look at me with all my Biblical illustrations tonight. I can check that “good Christian blogger” box now).

I don’t want you to feel guilty for being materially wealthy. I went down that path so you don’t have to.  God doesn’t deal in guilt trips. Guilt immobilizes, it doesn’t result in transformative action. Conviction is more God’s bag.  If guilt immobilizes, conviction motivates. But I wasn’t convicted about my possessions. I was convicted about how I SEE my possessions.

Soooo GREAT. We’re all convicted. Now what.

Well  my action step is daily communication with God. It’s checking in. It’s recognizing, every day, that I am abundantly spoiled. And asking Him what He wants me to do with that. How does He want to use this big house? How does He want to use my physical health, energy and the abilities that provides? Some days – most days – I don’t get a clear answer. Or an answer at all. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. I just want to live in the awareness that everything I enjoy belongs to God. I don’t want to keep falling into the trap of complacency and believing that I’m “good enough” because I have (more than) enough. And I never EVER want to insult my beautiful brothers and sisters worldwide by uttering the words “I’m blessed because I have….<insert material wealth>” I’m blessed for the same reason they are. I’m blessed because I can have a relationship with Jesus.

A plan for us all

Stacey over at Glitter and Churchy Church published a post today that spurred me to edit/publish one I’ve been sitting on since last weekend when I attended the same conference she talks about. Go read…now or after you finish here. Whatever. But go read. She took a short term mission trip and used it to fuel her passion AND actions.  (By the way, she pulls off that signature look she mentions in a FANTASTIC way.)

So there was a Human Trafficking 101 conference here in Boise last weekend. Because, believe it or not, human trafficking & child exploitation happens right here, in our safe/clean/beautiful/boring town. I went in looking for resources and action steps more than information. I’ve read and watched and seen the statistics. I have the information. But what I didn’t have was first hand accounts from people who work with this issue on a daily basis. What I didn’t have were the personal stories from my backyard.What I didn’t have were real, local numbers from the offices of warriors in my community. I went in prepared to take notes. I didn’t, convinced that there was no way I’d forget what I’d heard. But driving home I realized I was so overwhelmed, so over-saturated that I could only remember bits and pieces and the emotions. I was exhausted and I couldn’t process or feel anything.  They showed a documentary after the speakers and I just went straight home. I couldn’t handle anything further. And I was frustrated. I wanted action steps. I wanted to sign up to DO something. I work well in a support role…give me papers to files, contact lists to alphabetize & color code, a blog or twitter account to update, a fund raiser to organize. WHERE WAS THE DOTTED LINE TO SIGN UP TO DO SOMETHING?!!?

A week later, I can think more clearly. I can process. I’ve gotten past the sense of overwhelming helplessness and frustration. One thing that we heard multiple times was that the majority (80? 90%?) of girls that are trafficked come from abusive homes/situations. And it’s very easy to take that fact and think “Oh. My daughter/niece/cousin/neighbor doesn’t fall into that category. She’s safe.” But. But. That’s looking at only a portion of what happens. Your loved one may never be physically touched. And for that, I am grateful. Believe me. You may know for 100% certain that she’s in a safe, loving, positive, protected home. There are a LOT of amazing families out there. But there was another aspect the detectives mentioned that never occurred to me. Exploitation. One of them said “Once upon a time you worried about the creepy guy down the street. Now we’re putting computers in every 13 year old’s pocket and we have to worry about every creepy guy IN THE WORLD.” These guys who exploit are are masterminds at manipulation.  And by nature of their development and hormones, even your well adjusted, confident, protected daughter is not 100% safe. She may never be touched by these guys. And that’s GOOD. Please don’t get me wrong. But what happens if they convince her to simply send them a video of her changing. Or a “tastefully sexy” picture. Once that door has been opened, it’s rarely going to stop with “tastefully sexy”. What happens when she realizes what her image has been used for? When she realizes just how many hundreds of thousands of people have seen it? When she realizes as she’s walking down the street that some of these people could recognize her for…that? How is she going to view men now? What kind of damage is being done to her psychologically, emotionally, relationally?

I hear it said all the time that this is a “women’s problem” or a “female problem”. It’s not. I understand where that phrase comes from but our men are hurt by this too. If they are watching porn, their expectations of women and relationships are damaged. If they’re not, it’s often implied they’re “not men”. After all, it’s just natural, right? And what about how the damage to the women affects them. These are future wives and partners. And yet, these children will be running the world we live in. These children will be making decisions that influence us. These children will be raising the next generation. These children are exposed to sex and are more sexualized  than any generation before. On average they are exposed to porn at the age of 11. ELEVEN. When I was in 5th/6th grade, boys and girls were just starting to rediscover each other….by tripping each other and pulling hair and playing chase. The ones who snuck a kiss behind the tree on the playground were publicly tried and found guilty of having cooties. We may have learned what sex was in a very clinical manner at that age…and we were horrified by the idea. Now? Now it’s entertainment and something to experiment with. AT ELEVEN.

Last weekend I was a bit frustrated and a lot overwhelmed & discouraged. I didn’t have an action step. I didn’t have a plan. Over the past week though I’ve realized – we ALL have an action step. Because all of us can influence a child. Rescuing the currently exploited girls (and boys) is important. Please don’t misunderstand. That is INCREDIBLY important. But if we just rescue after the fact, we will never make progress against the problem. There is still demand and there will ALWAYS be someone to utilize. But if we influence our children, if we raise them with knowledge of healthy relationships and to be violently opposed to the very idea of using another human being, then the demand AND the source starts to shrink.

This is a problem for all of us. And we don’t have to be social workers or detectives or on a task force to make a difference.  If you’re a parent, be THAT parent. Be the unreasonable, over protective parent who insists on knowing every password and pass code. Be the nosy parent who reads texts and checks phones and computers. Be the paranoid parent that has tracking/monitoring software on devices. Be the embarrassing parent who insists on having THOSE mortifying conversations.  Be the parent who knows your child and who is influencing them. We don’t have to lock these precious kids in a cellar to protect them. They need to understand the world.  They need to see and experience all the good while still recognizing the negatives….and being equipped to deal with those. But we also can’t give them unlimited and unsupervised exposure. Be involved. (Admission – I don’t do all these things all the time. I’m not a great mother. I know all the areas I could improve. But I can’t give up. You’re not a perfect parent either. It’s okay. Just don’t give up.)

If you’re not a parent, be a mentor and a friend. Be a safe place, a safe person for someone. Be a positive influence, show our children what life CAN be like. They need more than mom and dad….and some don’t even have that positive example to see. My hat is off to the people who face this darkness head on in daily battle. We need them. But we “common people” have a job to do that is just important. We have an action step. We have a place to start.

Cracked pedestals

I was going to comment on the whole Steven Furtick house controversy. (Summary: Pastor of a mega church & author of multiple best selling books builds an obscenely large house that is legally in the name of a trust managed by one of the elders but allegedly requests for financial transparency have been denied.)

But basically all I have to say on the matter is that I DO think that financial transparency for a church and it’s leaders is vital. Perhaps I’m spoiled by our home church that puts financial information in the welcome packet for visitors – including pastors’ salaries. I don’t know how common of a practice that is. However, I DO feel that if you embrace the role of a public figure and/or leader, you also have a responsibility to be more transparent than some might consider comfortable. It’s not a comfortable or easy role. Whether you’re a Rick Warren or a Steven Furtick, you have a unique opportunity to positively influence those who look to you as an example and for guidance. Leading means being an example and that’s difficult to do without transparency. (If we get really down to it, I think all Christians should probably be transparent, with finances especially, if asked. Just most of us will never be asked!)

Ultimately, it’s not really my business how this pastor – or any pastor – spends their money. I understand the controversy. But that’s a matter between him and God, as are all matters. I can be outraged by behavior all I want but in the end, I’m only accountable for MY actions and habits and life.

What this little incident did though was give me an opportunity to have a short but (hopefully) meaningful conversation with one of the boys. He was rather concerned and extremely disappointed. His comment was “I hope he’s going to show everyone up by announcing it’s actually for a ministry project, not just for his family. He’s my FAVORITE PASTOR. I LIKE HIM SO MUCH. Why would he do this?” See, the idea of this man building an unnecessarily large & luxurious home was abhorrent to him. He feels it’s unnecessary and gluttonous (can that be used for possessions?) and just….It just made him uncomfortable. And it made him uncomfortable because he has this guy on a pedestal. And so I was able to point out how human heroes will always disappoint us. (The right) Role models are good. I highly encourage our boys to engage in relationships with trusted mentors. But. But. They’re human. And when you forget that and start moving them to idol status, the crash when they screw up is going to be that much worse. There’s more disappointment & less grace. More judgement and less understanding.

It makes me take a step back and wonder – who do I idolize? Who do I have on a pedestal? Are my role models upstanding examples in my own life that can pour into me, be transparent with me? Or are they an imagined persona of a distant person that could never live up to those expectations anyway?

Cracked and Oozing

I keep thinking I should write more. But I don’t want to primarily share negativity. I want to write uplifting and cheerful and fun words. And when life is uplifting and cheerful and fun, I’m focused on living it, soaking it in. So those experiences and words? They are held close and treasured but rarely shared with a blank page. I hope to remedy that. But herein lies the current problem. Primarily? Mostly?  I’m tired. I’m emotionally exhausted from the strain of decisions made by members of both my immediate family and the one I married into. I’m drained from watching my husband struggle to stand up for what he knows is right while trying to balance the feelings and hurts and relationships of those he loves. I’m frustrated that I can’t help him and that no one else involved seems to feel peace is a priority if it means any kind of sacrifice on their part – all while he is sacrificing his energy and heart. I’m wearied from watching helplessly from a distance as those close to my heart attempt to self-destruct, taking out other loved ones with them. I’m broken hearted from the deluge of news from friends and acquaintances that reverberate through conversations and texts and social media with pain that encompasses the physical, emotional and spiritual realms.  I’m emptied, physically, from the apparent rebellion of my body. And I’m worn down, mentally, from the uncertainty – how will my body react to my former “normal”? Is it really all in my head? Am I losing my mind? Becoming lazy and subconsciously creating an excuse?

I feel cracked, oozing energy at all levels. I looked at the 100 Word prompt thinking I just needed to write SOMETHING and immediately felt as if my brain was wrapped in a thick, suffocating blanket. The idea of anything outside of essential day to day actions just…well… fatigues me.

I want to be support for my husband, not another burden. I want to be loving and attentive wife and mother and sister and daughter and friend. I want to be active. Right now, I’m none of that. I feel as if I’m a shadow, going through necessary actions.

Thankfully everything in life is temporary – highs and lows and every season – it all passes and ripples and morphs into the next phase. I know that. I’m just ready to start reshaping this one, molding it like clay into a more invigorating life (and persona). However, I’m not the Potter. I’m the clay. God doesn’t want life to be lived under my own strength. He doesn’t want me to simply survive situations but to grow closer to Him, become more like Him. The temptation to insulate myself (and my family) rears its head. The desire to “write off” the difficult people and situations sneaks into my spirit. The fantasy of telling people they got themselves into this mess or lambast them for their deficiencies is attractive. But none of that is an option. As quickly as I find those ideas growing, I (try to) uproot and remove them from my psyche. That’s not who I was created to be. I was created to be cracked. I was created to ooze emotions and energy on the behalf of others. I was created to love. And that’s not easy or fun. It doesn’t feel good. It’s not romantic. I might not have the energy to respond to a writing prompt, or write at all. I might not be able to fathom training for a triathlon, or even running a 5k. But I will continue to love. Or at least strive to. But maybe after a nap?