Year of No Nonsense

It’s been a  hot minute since I’ve splashed words about this space. I had 2018 all planned, scheduled and tied neatly with a bow until life casually spewed gasoline about and flicked a lit match into the middle of it all.

  • I cancelled an early season race in anticipation of returning to the Philippines. And that trip never came together.
  • I volunteered to co-lead the 6th grade girls group in our church’s youth group – something that is so far outside my comfort zone that it’s not even in the same time zone. Not to mention it completely torpedoed my anticipated schedule.
  • I planned on racing in July, August and September. And July 1st I tore a muscle in my hip resulting in crutches for three weeks and physical therapy. Three and a half months later I still feel regular pain/discomfort and cannot run.

Those are the big ones. And yet, it hasn’t been a bad year. It wasn’t what I expected but it has been full of fun, meaningful, happy moments and events.

That being said, as the tail end of 2018 barrels towards us at an unnerving rate, I am also drawn to the idea of a “Year of No Nonsense”. What is that you ask? For me it means a life focused on a few things: being present in the moment, being kind to myself as well as others, being intentional with important relationships, banishing laziness but embracing rest without guilt…and learning the difference.

I’m a planner by nature. Some of my triathlon friends met to discuss our race plans for next year and I showed up with a spreadsheet. But there’s a necessary balance. I’m attempting to enjoy the process and/or journey instead of focusing on what comes next whether that’s one set at at time in the pool or one conversation at a time.

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Worship Wednesday – Distractions

I truly believe one of Satan’s most effective tools against the Jesus follower is distraction. I can attest that’s true for me.

Whenever I think of worship, Brother Lawrence comes to mind. I had really only heard of him in passing and always associated him with making the act of washing dishes an act of worship. That was about all I knew. So I downloaded “his” book “The Practice of the Presence of God” (not an affiliate link, just for reference) It’s not difficult to read. The concept is actually quite simple…and yet incredibly difficult. I have, admittedly, not read the whole  book yet. I got about halfway through and got…distracted. But what I have taken away so far is that his entire life, physically, emotionally and mentally, was centered on Christ. Every thought was submitted to Him, every action. And when he realized it wasn’t, he IMMEDIATELY returned to that practice. Nothing in the book indicates that this easy. The title even indicates it’s a practice. But I was overwhelmingly impressed with his dedication to it.

I feel like this practice of abiding (now THERE’S a word Christians have taken over) fully in God’s presence all the time is the key to true worship. We can’t “regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion” if we are not focused on the object of our worship. Regard. Consider or think on, gaze at steadily in a specified fashion, pay attention or heed. How often during your daily tasks do you regard God? I know I don’t very often. I’m pretty good about it first thing in the morning, while the rest of the house snoozes and I sip my coffee with a cat in my lap. I’ve made a habit of stopping during the day to pray about specific requests that comes to my attention. Yesterday I had a moment of overwhelming gratitude for my job and I paused to thank God for it. (That’s not a daily occurrence by the way. I love my job but I’m rarely overwhelmed by that.) But while I’m planning or cooking dinner or helping my kid with his horrendous math homework or in the gym…I am not filtering those activities through conversation with God. Because those very activities can be a distraction or they can be a vehicle to worship the God that grants me the ability to perform those activities.  And right now, they are a distraction.

Right now (always), I’m easily distracted. I committed to focus more on God and immediately all these shiny thoughts hit my brain to draw me away. Even while praying this morning, my mind kept drifting to my grocery list…the grocery list that I hadn’t even considered before I started trying to pray!

I don’t have the answer or solution. But I think Brother Lawrence did. Practice. And as soon as I realize I’m not practicing, start again.

Don’t Wanna Not Gonna

A teacher recently described our youngest as “politely defiant”.  I laughed because while he and I have had some pretty epic fights, they only happen when I force him to do an assignment he *really* doesn’t want to do. If someone simply asks him or gently suggests/encourages, he just….won’t. Very quietly. And yes, even politely. If he don’t wanna, he’s not gonna.

But lately, he’s been doing assignments, whether he wants to or not. Hubby explained to him that if he wants to attend the charter high school that he likes, he has to prove NOW that he can work hard. (Assuming, of course, that he even gets drawn in the lottery. But that’s irrelevant to the lesson here.) We’ve had the discussion that even with activities/jobs/projects/classes he LOVES, there will be some element that he doesn’t like. But ultimately, to do what you like, you also have to do those things you don’t. And although it’s only been a couple of weeks, he’s proving he can spur HIMSELF to do the less than fun tasks.

I’ve written two whole paragraphs about lessons we’re trying to teach our youngest. And this post is not ACTUALLY about him.

I’ve been to the gym like…once…in the past two weeks. The temperatures are dropping. It’s dark when we leave home for work. It’s dark when we leave work for home. It’s been rainy. I don’t want to get up early. I don’t want to get in a pool when it’s dark and 30 degrees outside. I don’t want to move after work. I want to lay on the couch, sleep and eat bread & cheese and drink hot chocolate when I do wake up. I am a summer girl through and through. Every year I try not to complain about winter. But I hate it. I am incredibly envious of animals that hibernate through these dark bitter months. Seriously.

Earlier this week I turned off my alarm and slept WAY late. I made it to work on time but it was a rushed morning. I was lamenting that I “just need to find my motivation again.” And yes, that would be nice. But if I rely on finicky motivation, then when I don’t wanna, I’m not gonna. And I’m *really* good about rationalizing why that’s okay.

Turns out that training through the winter is the element of triathlon that I don’t like but I just need to do anyway. If I really want to do well next spring/summer, I have to emerge from my carb filled blanket cocoon even if I don’t have a friend waiting (That turns the training session into a non-negotiable event & I’ll go no matter how little motivation I feel). I think they call it drive. Or grit. Thankfully it’s something that can be developed.

Some lessons are easier to preach than practice.

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.