Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Set Free

For most of my life, I let two things dictate every decision, every action:

1. Rules.
2. The offspring of Rules: Fear.

I wanted to keep the rules, I liked the rules.  Rules were safe - not to be questioned, not to be discussed, definitely not to be broken.  Why?  Well, that was scary (see above-mentioned offspring) - people might not like me if I didn't keep the rules.  I might have to endure conflict and that would break my biggest self-imposed rule: Don't create conflict.  Don't have an opinion, don't speak in class or any group (someone might disagree), in fact, just try not to speak much at all.  That's pretty safe.  I liked safe.

Any guesses on how this was working out for me?

I may have done a super job avoiding conflict, but I also missed out on a lot of living for fear I would do something wrong.  Well, of course I would have done something wrong!  I believe that's called being human.  But in my mind "wrong" would be disastrous.  So I stayed in my safe world, with my safe rules.

Going to church was safe.  Worshiping was not.

Reading the Bible was safe.  Studying and sharing it was not.

Working to earn God's favor was safe. Believing His unfailing love was not.

Saying the "right" thing was safe.  Saying the truth was not.

Security in others' opinions?  Safe.  Security in Christ alone?  Not.

I considered myself a Christian - and I believed as much as I knew how to believe.  But I was still in bondage to rules and fear.  I was swimming in a very small pond, not aware I was made for the open sea.

Then God called me out.

Seven years ago, with my then 9-month-old in the church nursery, I walked in to a Bible study for mothers thinking it was quite the "godly mommy" thing to do (safe!) not knowing the Lord would use it to springboard me into a faith explosion and spiritual growth off the charts (not safe! not safe! warning! warning!).

One particular morning, the topic touched on grace, salvation and God's great love for us.  I forget the exact wording, but the gist was that Jesus died not only to save us from hell at death, but to save us every single day from our own sinfulness.  That we did not have to be enslaved to ourselves - our shortcomings, our sin, our habits, our struggles - while we walked this earth.  Jesus died to extend us grace every single day, not just as we enter eternity.  


How come I never knew about THAT grace??  I'm sure it was told to me, but whether I didn't understand or I still chose my own rules I don't know.  What I did know is that this grace was news to me!  Grace extended to me every day?  Up to that point my belief system went like this:  Follow the rules, get baptized so you don't go to hell, keep following the rules so God doesn't get too mad at you, say I'm Sorry to God a lot and try to earn back His favor, then life is over and you get to go to Heaven because you followed the rules.  The end.

I know.  Delightful.

But this grace? This grace changed my entire way of thinking, of praying, of reading the Word.  I felt like I was hearing God, not just talking at Him.  Joy, gratefulness, worship.  I actually felt like a new creation.  The old was gone, the new had come!

That was the beginning of great spiritual growth, but also of great spiritual trial.  That is not coincidental.  The following years brought a devastating miscarriage that made me question God and my faith like nothing before, it brought repeated struggles with depression and anxiety that drove me to my knees and to my God.  It brought loneliness as we moved away from family and comfort (safety!) and to where the Lord was leading us (not safe!).  Loneliness that made me cling to Jesus because, with a toddler and an infant at the time, a husband at work and no real friends in a new place, He was often all I had.  It brought other trials, but there were also many, many times of respite, rejoicing and a real knowledge of living in community and seeing the Body of Christ in action.  Peaks and valleys.  Growth and rest.

But as for the trials, this I know:  Through that Bible study, He called me out of safety and to true knowledge of Him and His grace before He allowed me to walk those roads.  He packed my bags before He sent me on the trip.  His grace was, and is, truly sufficient for me.

Today, He reminded me that I was starting to let fear creep back in to my heart.  Desire for stability and familiarity was quickly becoming an excuse to once again retreat to safety and fear-based decisions.  I am so thankful that in His great love and mercy, He cares enough about us to not let us settle for mediocrity.  (I also have a feeling this will not be the last time He has to remind me.)

Ah, there He goes again with that daily grace of His, refusing to let me be enslaved to my habits and tendencies today and any other day to come.

Amazing Grace.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I'm Right Here

"I know you can't see me, baby, but I'm right here.  Mama's right here, honey."

As soon as the words left my lips that day, I knew there was more to the moment.  More than my attempt to comfort a wailing, sick and uncomfortable baby while driving to the pediatrician's office.  Those words were meant for me as well.

That day as I drove, my heart was breaking and tears were brimming. I had never heard my sweet 10 month old scream like this, she always calms down and goes to sleep in the car.  Always. But not this time. Every mile I drove seemed to bring a renewed intensity to her cries. (Later we would learn a nasty ear infection was the culprit.)  Logically, I knew she was right where she needed to be - safely buckled in her rear-facing car seat so we could get to the doctor. But since she was facing backwards, of course she couldn't see me.  She was hurting and desperately crying out for her mama and everything in me wanted to stop the hurt.

I mentally ran through my options.  It would have been ridiculous (not to mention illegal) to take her out and drive the rest of the way with her on my lap.  She would have been able to see me, to feel me, and it may have offered temporary relief, but would have put her in great danger.  Forbid that something would happen, but nobody ever plans a car accident.  Her little body would have no protection without her car seat. Not an option.  I could have stopped and held her, but I knew the screams would start again as soon as I put her back in her seat.  What she really needed was to get to the doctor without delay. So as her mother who loves her beyond words, I had to let her experience momentary discomfort in order to get her what she really needed.  And it was hard.  So hard.

My only option, all I could really do, was speak to her - to remind her I was close by even if she couldn't see me.

"I know you can't see me, but I'm right here . . ."

My husband pointed out the other day that as a family we have been through almost every major change possible over the past year: job changes, school changes, the birth of not just one but two precious babies, and a major move.  Any one of those things would be enough to deal with, but all of them in such a short amount of time has proven extremely challenging to every part of me - spiritual, emotional and physical.

For various reasons, the past two months in particular has just about put me over the top.  Or down in the depths.  Whatever.  Nothing feels settled, every area of life feels upended and there is no margin.  There are mornings I wake up and tell God, "Nope, sorry.  You got the wrong girl because I just can't do today."  And of course I still get up, because I'm a grown-up and also because leaving five children to fend for themselves just really isn't such a great idea.

But the whole day often feels like a battle and I find myself grasping for spiritual straws - trying to read a verse here, throwing out prayers that hit the ceiling there - and I ask God, "Where are you? I know you're here.  I know that logically.  But I can't feel you.  I can't see you. Are you sure you're here??"

" . . .I'm right here . . ."

That day as I drove, as the feeble attempt to calm my screaming baby escaped my lips, I realized the Lord was just as much comforting another one of children - the one that was driving, the one whose heart is screaming for her Father every day, who desperately needs to see Him.  And He reminded me that just as I was doing the best for my child right then, so is He doing the same for me.  Always.

Even when I can't see Him.

Even when I can't feel Him.

He's still driving me toward what I really need, even if it means discomfort.  And while that doesn't completely dry my tears, and I still feel in the midst of daily battle, it feels good to at least  hear His voice.

To be reminded He's right here.