Bland and Lukewarm

I tasted the cookie dough. Yeah, yeah, I know, raw eggs. Salmonella risk be cursed. It melted in my mouth like a bit of sweet bliss. The sugars were balanced perfectly with buttery goodness and the chocolate chips still “crunched”. Oh, but something was off. Hmm, what was it? The sea salt. Yes! That teaspoon made an enormous difference in the melding of flavors and balance of sweet and salty.

You see, salt is meant for a purpose. In its simplicity, it adds a depth of flavor unmatched by other spices. The absence or overuse of it can render a dish unpalatable.

Recently, I learned that another person I know has walked away from faith, no, not just walked away, but become an apostate- an outspoken zealot for making a case against God. This makes 4 people in the past 5 years. It just doesn’t gel in my mind. I am left questioning: how could the faith that once seemed evident and thriving in these “friends” now be replaced with a fist raised towards God? I am affronted; left with a mixture of pity and disbelief.

The offense gives way to pity for those who have left the path of faith to follow the great deceiver- Satan- who has sought and devoured yet another person whose disingenuous belief crumbled under the weight of the cares of this world or even disillusionment with God Himself.

Then, almost in the same moment, I am drawn to my knees in abject humility: mindful of my own lukewarm faith, my own lack of zeal, my own fickle heart and emotions.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:13:

“You are the salt of the earth. But suppose the salt loses its saltiness. How can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything. It will be thrown out. People will walk all over it.”

And again in Revelation 3, He says to the church of Laodicea:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm- neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

It’s like my saltless cookie dough: it may be good, but it lacks balance. Its blandness renders it useless as a dessert. Or it’s like taking a drink to refresh a parched mouth, but the water, which is meant to be cool and quenching is lukewarm and unpleasant.

Have you become a saltless, lukewarm Christ follower? Have you lost your spiritual fervor, your first love? My own fervor wanes, but hearing of this apostasy has caused me to realize that my faith takes work. It is a continual, deliberate, concerted effort to not lose my first love, to not allow “life” to wash out the flavor of Jesus in my actions and words.

Just like salt must be preserved to retain its flavor, so we must be persevering in our faith, moving forward, not becoming lukewarm. Because we are easily distracted, often too busy or perhaps covertly deceived by our own wandering minds, it means we have to PASSIONATELY pursue spiritual things to love God first and best.

By grace we have been saved and by grace we carry on, while continuing on the relentless renewal of our minds through God’s word and prayer, flavoring the world around us with the love of Jesus.Salt by Salt Shaker   Original Filename: 6507-000073.jpg

Drowning Parents

They just keep coming like relentless waves crashing against the rocky shore. At first, I was shocked. Now when I hear something new, my stomach turns sour and my eyes well up with tears. “Not another one”, I hear myself scream.

I am searching for some common thread and find none.

They found a condom in her purse. He smoked something that made him vomit. She is pregnant. He is verbally abusing his girlfriend. They were up all night at the hospital because she had alcohol poisoning. Gay porn was discovered on his laptop. She ran away from home. He is getting high every chance he gets. They found a pregnancy test in her drawer. She denies the faith. He questions if there even is a God.

These are all real scenarios, from real kids that I know. Kids from the church. Kids that were home schooled or public schooled. Kids that were in AWANA all their lives. Kids whose parents are godly, gospel loving parents. Kids who served in the nursery. Kids who went to youth group every week.

I grieve. I wrestle with it. I ask God why. I shake my head. Something went wrong. Or did it?

There are the “other” parents that I now observe from a distance because some of them have put me there; ostracized because they “have heard” what my son has done. They are afraid that their children will be tainted by him, so they avoid me and do not let their younger kids play with mine.

The rest of us, whose kids are the main characters in the scenarios above, are left…. heart broken, baffled, wrung out, embarrassed.

We raised them to be different. Maybe that’s just it. All the work we did and we thought we would have our “prize” at the end: a successful child, a godly child, a child that others look at and admire as an example. Then naturally, they would look at us and think, “They did parenting right. Accolades are due them.”

I can’t shake the guilt or disappointment- no matter how I try. It keeps coming back, hauntingly. I know it doesn’t do me any good, (in fact it only harms and points an accusing finger). It comes through the stares of the parents whose kids are on the right path, keeping their noses clean and heading towards a bright successful future. They don’t mean to (probably), but they have this oh so smug aura about them. And every time, it twists my own knife further.

Meanwhile, we are crushed, sitting on the sidelines trying to love our children unconditionally, trying with every ounce of our being to exemplify patience with their foolish choices. Our hearts broken. Our minds perplexed.

All I can do is cry out through the tears as another wave, another heart-wrenching story comes at me. I beg God to save them all, to let them see the dawning of another day, to save them from an early death and eternal separation from Himself.

Did I do everything right? No. Neither did the other parents. Are there lessons to be learned? Yes, by us all. Will God have to save all in His time? Yes. He makes things beautiful in HIS time.

I am left to weep and try to make sense of it all. The waves wash over me and they linger through the salty residue left behind. At moments, I think I might drown. Then I remember the life preserver at my waist. I can’t see it. I just know it’s there and that alone assuages my fear and guilt for another moment.

Life is Like a 1,000 Piece Puzzle

One by one, I turned over the pieces. My excitement was a bit diminished by the task- tedious and monotonous.  One thousand pieces was daunting. The tiny cardboard cut-outs appeared so insignificant and disjuncted. Yet, I knew this was an imperative step I would not regret later.

Life is like this 1,000 piece puzzle: sometimes daunting, at moments seemingly impossible, pieces and parts that appear elusive to the bigger picture, progress is slow, but bit by bit an image is born.

I studied the box’s glossy image, captivated by the night time cityscape. It was peaceful and serene, so unlike the scattered mess that lay before me. The edge pieces would prove so much easier than the middle (this I knew from experience), so I tackled them first. Without these, the more challenging parts would lose their definition and purpose.

I know the “edges” that frame the whole must be constructed meaningfully and purposefully. It would be simple to fashion the framework into a “self- gratifying, grab for the gusto, it’s all about me” picture. But the more arduous effort is trusting the Divine power outside myself to be the framework that will hold up and support all the smaller parts. God as Master of me, hemming me in before and behind, sometimes chaffs against my self-sufficiency, my sense of accomplishment even. Yet, deep down my soul cries out for Him.

With the edges complete, I decide to piece together a part that seems most challenging, for fear that if I leave it for last, I will become discouraged and give up. It is the reflection of lights on water; lights that appear almost identical except for a few variances in color. After this section, the other parts flow together nicely, until I tackle the night sky, which is a vast expanse of blackness, save a few small stars. I want to rip out my hair. It is driving me nuts!

Some seasons of my life have been this night sky: perplexing, discouraging, even enraging. I can’t see how things fit and I certainly am NOT enjoying it. Time stretches out before me vast and uninviting. I have to tell myself to remember WHO: frames me in, keeps me safe in His loving, watchful care, and knows the plan far beyond the moment of difficulty I see.

Other seasons have been the more pleasing satisfying parts: the “easy” pieces that fit together on the first try, the ones you spot amongst the messy pile and just pop them right into their spot. These pieces are like the breath of fresh air, the lovely lingering sense of a job well done or just the simple pleasure of being with family and friends. These are the days you wake up and feel at peace, when your faith buoys you above the surface and anchors your soul to rest in the bigger picture.

I gingerly place together pieces 999 then 1,000. Running my hand over the completed picture, I sit back in my chair satisfied and wonder how many hours this took me. Does it matter? Not really. I am finished and now relish the fruit of my labors both easy and difficult. 

My “life” puzzle isn’t finished until I draw my last breath. The sum of the parts make the picture that God intended- and those will never look just like anyone else’s.  My own finished product will be uniquely mine, fashioned and put together by the Creator of the universe. What could be more beautiful than that?!

white flag

I threw in my little “corner of a napkin on a toothpick” white flag, yet deep down I knew it wasn’t enough. That was a paltry excuse for surrender but it was all I could muster.

I had to be broken and emptied of all my own efforts before I would give in. Or was it give up? Yes, that was the word I was frightened of; the word that would convey that I had somehow lost my control or even {gulp} been overcome. In my mind the words surrender and defeat seemed synonymous. And I don’t go down easily- never without a fight.

Try as I might, I was unable to manipulate circumstances to my liking. I came at it from the guilt angle. I came at it from the fear angle. I came at it from the “learn form me and my mistakes” angle. Nothing worked.  The longer the battle drug on, I found the one thing that made me feel better- anger. I would shun him. I would stand in my corner with my guns drawn- my words were weapons and I used them unrelentingly. If I could injure enough, would he come back- hurt, defeated, humiliated? Would I conquer and overcome?

No. Just the opposite. Right before my very eyes there was withdrawal and disengagement- but not the kind you want. He was sauntering away from the battle lines with a self- satisfied kind of grin on his face. He was through with my antics and was about to walk away victorious- the one that was happier, more satisfied with life and in cool headed control. (Or so it would seem.)

That is when I did it. I picked up the white surrender flag and waved it furiously and unabashedly. My agenda was smashed. My will was turned. My battle plan- to control the situation, to have things turn out MY way, to put up my dukes and fight like I meant it- failed. He didn’t win though. God won. God had his way with my heart- finally.

Maybe this is your response in a trial or life situation. You are, like I did for so long, flicking in the itty-bitty white flag, thinking that’ll suffice; that all God needs is that little corner of your heart and will, not the WHOLE thing. To wholly surrender would be to lose: to lose your identity, your own dignity or self-satisfying sense of accomplishment. It would change everything and leave you feeling uncomfortably vulnerable, open to something that is scary and unknown.

Yes, that was me. That has been me so many times in life and for certain, I will be there again; grasping for control, asserting myself over something, someone or a situation. I will have to surrender to a holy plan, one that may not suit me or seem to make sense. But I know deep down that only wholly surrender will be the place of true solace, the place where the battle is not mine, but God’s, the place where giving in does not mean defeat, but true soul quenching rest.White Flag

A Day in the Life of Jane

I start each day the same- fresh with no mistakes in it, like Anne Shirley says in “Anne of Green Gables”. As I sit with my steaming mug of caffeine in a still house, I am hopeful and invigorated. My mind wanders all over the place, roving through scenes from the previous days and curious how this day will unfold before me. I think about what to make for dinner before I’ve even had my breakfast and I am concerned about ”getting it all done” and it’s only 7 a.m.

Should I bake some delicious muffins (yes, please!)? Or should I go sweat profusely with a run? There are limitless choices. The next 12 or so hours cast a mysterious aura in front of me. Will the day be mostly sunshine and rainbows or will it be fraught with black cloud moments or worse, just turn into a big pile of oh, well, you know?

I pray and read my bible. Like the coffee I crave, this is truly my lifeline, my sustenance, my sanity preserver, my one sure thing. I am calmed, helped, assured, reminded, comforted, challenged.

Then, the kids get up on the wrong side of the bed, the husband texts about problems at work, the dog won’t stop barking, the laundry needs to be started. And if that weren’t enough to fizzle a fresh start, I’ve already had to don my mental boxing gloves to fight the temptation to despair, the guilt I just can’t shake over poor choices or the looming sense that things may go terribly amiss. Clearly, I have OMS- overwhelmed mom syndrome.

It is only 9 o’clock now. The hope and expectations of this day have already blurred like watercolor on canvas. I recall the words of God about how He cares for me, loves me fully, knows my needs, but my situation looks a little bleak and the words get fuzzy. Breathing a little deeper, I calm down again. (My caffeine has kicked in too, so the world just looks a little brighter!)

By lunch, our schoolwork is in full swing (yes, my kids are schooling at home again this year- long story). It has been a morning of testy attitudes, complaining, occasional tears and laziness – some of it mine! Cherry on top of the morning? The hubby has forwarded yet another rejection letter for a job he didn’t get. I feel resentment creep over me. I want to go for a run, better yet, run away.

It’s 3 pm. A bedraggled me must run some errands (The high point to having teenagers in the house- I can leave everyone at home and have a few blissful moments of  alone time.) I run to the store half-ass, trying for the life of me to remember what is on my shopping list- that I conveniently left at home. Walking down the coffee I aisle, I stop and take a deep inhale of the smell that started my morning. It {almost} has a placebo affect and for a brief moment, I feel invigorated again. Then I go down the beverage aisle. The boxed wine catches my eye and for a moment I imagine drinking large amounts and sitting numb while the world goes on around me. A voice rebukes me from my daydream. That’s not me- though at moments, I am tempted. 🙂

Throw in soccer practice then dinner dishes, walking the dog, et al… The day has blazed past me at warp speed. My body is worn from the fatigue and I look forward to bed as a delicious respite from the past hours of chaos and clamor.

My mental boxing gloves are well-worn. They have been put to good use today fighting off a number of evils from within. I am amazed to think of how determined I was just a mere 14 hours ago- ready to face the day armed with truth, zeal and caffeine! How easily I succumb to the out of control craziness!

But I did have my moments I guess: beautiful brushstrokes of grace, joy, love, appreciation, gratefulness, peace, sweetness, bliss, comfort, faith, awe, grit, perseverance, success, kindness.

I lay down, happy. Knowing that the sum of the parts of my day look beautiful on the canvas of the bigger picture and knowing that tomorrow, I begin again with a fresh start and no mistakes.

Help for the Journey

We recently heard a message about what it means to know and follow Jesus by daily cross-bearing. Then this past week, our challenge was to take a hard look at things, people or pastimes, that we bow down to instead of God.

Double whammy! Makes me squirm in my seat just thinking about it… Nothing like a healthy dose of “wake up and rearrange your thinking”.

I have, for many months been thinking, rethinking, and analyzing many things- (parenting tops my list right now), but particularly how I LIVE OUT my faith in light of life’s circumstances. Now, I just cannot get this image out of my mind:

Daily I have to die to self, take up whatever cross God gives me and follow the Master, Jesus.

A cinch? NO. Not for me. Not for anyone. Oh sure, we will follow Jesus if He takes us along a pleasant, air-conditioned, dust free, path. And at moments, life can feel that way; all the planets align and our world resembles the chocolate river scene from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”: deliciously easy, delightful to the eyes and overwhelming the senses with pleasantries.

But follow Him AND cross bear? At the same time? Even when the path I have to tread is full of jagged rocks, all uphill, the weather is humid and every ounce of my strength is gone? Could this really be what God wants from us? Yes and yes.

We can do it because Jesus did it before us and that after He had been beaten with a razor sharp whip, spat upon, goaded, slapped, mocked, ridiculed.

But here is the beautiful part. Ready?

Jesus, in His human state of physical, emotional and mental weakness, had help. The 30-40 pound wooden beam proved to be more than He could bear. A man named Simon came and finished carrying it to the place of crucifixion. Even Jesus did not bear His own cross without help.

We don’t have to either. There is a plethora of assistance right near us. In fact, it is also right INSIDE of us. Yes. The power of the living God, creator and upholder of the universe and every person, dwells IN US: the Holy Spirit! Then there is the word of God at our fingertips: the Bible. Not only that, we have the ability to commune with Him on a personal, gut wrenching, heart rending level through prayer.

He will never shrink away from us, disgusted by our stench. He will never blow us off, preoccupied with bigger, better things. He will never balk against us asking for help, thinking our weakling state beneath Him.

And here is the more beautiful part: we may here bear a cross, but one day it will be replaced by a crown!

How I’ve Screwed Up Parenting and Other Idiotic Mistakes

I hate the expression, “If I could do it over again, I would….” because, well, we CAN’T do IT OVER AGAIN! Sad, yet true. But a little introspection never hurts either. That’s what this post is about: the raw emotion of coming to terms with mistakes I’ve made; good ideas done with wrong intentions or motives and a fair bit of kicking myself squarely in the arse.

Mercy me. At this point in my parenting, I can assure you that, whatever I thought I knew before, I now realize I knew nothing of the complexities I would face and if I did, I may have just run off into the sunset as a DINK (dual income, no kids) with the hubby.

Who signed me up for this job anyways???

It began with breast feeding only and organic homemade baby food. Yep. No feeding on demand though. No rocking my babies to sleep. No siree! That would “spoil” them, make them too dependent on me and make our home a child-centered place. Assinine me bought into these ideas hook, line and sinker. {Just for the record- I am still a HUGE fan of breast feeding-  total La Leche mama over here.}

God laughed at my foolishness and gave me a first born with a will like iron, who has pushed every boundary from the get go. I read a few books that were so misguiding, I can hardly contain myself thinking of them. “Spank them till they break.” Oh, o.k. 5,000 spanks later, no will broken, just fomented anger in my child and in myself. Great idea. NOT. Stupid, abusive idea. Not what God’s intentions were when He tells us to “withhold not correction”.

Sending them to school daunted me. The idea of my kids being surrounded by a bunch of trash talking heathens for 6 hours a day?! No way! Home schooling would be the insulating blankie we could wrap them up in. Yes, no prob. This way, I can teach them my worldview AND make darn sure they don’t hear the “F” word.  (At 7, my oldest comes home and blurts “FUK” out after playing at a church friend’s house-oops.) Foiled again.

For all the good it was having them at home 24/7, it had its down falls. One thing for sure is, my strong suite is not patience. I am a tiny bit “Tiger Mother” by nature and that is not a quality of a great teacher. I tended not to look favorably on childish behavior or the inability to apply oneself to the glories of handwriting and computing arithmetic problems. My hypocrisy was such an ugly thing and I modeled it for them like a pro at moments- teaching them the Bible one minute and yelling at them the next!!

Presently, I am coming to terms with the fact that in two years I will have 2 “adult” children. OH. MY. GOODNESS!!!!!!  Just recently, I realized that somehow, somewhere along the path, I had overlooked something so important, I have pretty much been doing continual face palms since it dawned on me- I neglected PRAYER- the everyday, without ceasing for each and every situation kind (not just in moments of crisis or peril). And most of all, unceasing PRAYER for God to save them! I was too busy believing that if I just taught my kids the gospel message enough, they would in turn embrace it whole-heartedly and never look back. Wrong again. For all of man’s efforts, do not change the heart of a child. Only God does. Plain and simple.

You see, I did some right things, very good things even. Teaching my kids at home had its sweet, memorable moments and I do know they heard the truth of God from the beginning. BUT, my motivations were a bit askew and definitely wreaked of spiritual pride.

Yes, I DID pray for my kids, but not nearly as fervently as I should have. I should have spent concerted effort on bent knee before the feet of Jesus and less time applying the rules.

I am majorly humbled as I write this; saddened by idiotic mistakes I’ve made and by seeing the folly of my own prideful ways.

If I may be so bold, I would shout it from the mountain tops: “PRAY, PRAY, PRAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN!” Don’t trust in human efforts: in organic eating, or clean living, or home schooling, or spanking, or church programs, or being a godly example even, or anything- BUT GOD. Check and recheck your motives for everything you do to make sure that pride has not crept in in place of true humility and utter dependence on God each and every day.