Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Why it's easier to give than receive

They say it's better to give than to receive and I like that because, let's face it, it's easier to give than receive. Hang with me here.

Giving says:
"You're in charge!"
"You did the nice thing!"
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"You don't owe anyone anything!"
"You look good in someone else's eyes!"

Receiving, on the other hand, means:
You're not in control.
The score isn't tied.
You aren't the one in power.
And you can't take any credit.

I'd like to believe that giving is a selfless act (and for those of you with perfect hearts, I'm sure it is), but a lot of the time for me, it's laced with selfishness because I gain the unseen upper hand in the relationship. The giving is so masked in goodness that the other person doesn't even realize (and often I don't even realize) how self-promoting I'm actually being. Because the truth is that I want the relational upper hand; it makes me feel better about myself. I want to have the balance thud decidedly on my side. I want to be thought of as thoughtful and selfless. And receiving really isn't any of that.

In the last month, a dear friend bought me coffee and another brought over dinner for no reason at all, and I found myself inwardly scrambling for how to make it up to them. "I'll pay for coffee next time," or "I'll make her dinner next month." Scorekeeper-style--yuck. Neither of those women were offering those gifts to me with the expectation that I'd do something for them in return, but unless I did, I had trouble settling into the receiver role.

And it makes me wonder if that's how I see God a lot of the time--a scorekeeper who's waiting for me to repay Him, or someone I can turn to and say, "Look! I did something nice! Now you can do something nice for me!" Clearly, bad theology and not something I actually believe in my core, but if I'm honest about the way I functionally live out what I believe, it typically goes something like that. Earn. Earn. Guilt. Guilt. Work. Work. Not Enough. Not Enough. But the truth is that I am on the receiving end of things when it comes to God--not in control and in His debt. And that's actually my strength: It's finished. The score is settled. And I can't take any credit because it's all been given to me.

I don't really know how to make my giving more selfless and genuine and my receiving more rested. But I'm guessing that scorekeeping view of God and everyone has something to do with it. I need to get acquainted with being a loser in the best possible sense, because as strange as it sounds I really do believe that the way up is down.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Celebrate well

Do you ever feel guilty celebrating? Maybe because others aren't experiencing the same joys you are, or because you're wondering how long the good things are going to last?

I do.

When good things happen--everyone is healthy, my family is at peace with one another and themselves, I find a pair of jeans that fit (miracle!), a hot cup of coffee (another miracle!)--I temper my celebration to self-protect. I often react to good things with one of three emotions:

fear ("When is the shoe going to drop? I know these good things won't last.")
doubt ("Why should I get good things? I don't deserve them.")
or guilt ("Others aren't experiencing this joy now." Or, "I'll probably just start loving these good things too much and make them idols.")

I don't want to fully celebrate; if I just go ahead and assume the long/hard/frustrating path, then I won't be disappointed. Total self-protection. But if I'm really communing with the Father and am not making those things idols, then they're good things that I was made to celebrate.

So, I'm asking myself, how well do I celebrate good things--like really, guilt-free, all-out celebrate them? I think God desires a lot more party in my heart.

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In reading through the Bible in a year five years, I recently came to 1 Kings 8 about Solomon dedicating the temple he built for God. After 40 years in the desert and many more decades of uncertainty with Saul's rivalry with David, and 14 years building and furnishing the temple, the Israelites seem to arrive at a season of peace and goodness that they'd been longing for. They were obedient, God was dwelling among them, and they'd built a beautiful temple for His Name. And after all those years? They celebrated. For TWO WEEKS. They sacrificed tens of thousands of animals in His honor--so many I can't even wrap my head around it. Solomon prayed with hands outstretched to heaven--the very posture of his body reflecting freedom and openness. And after two weeks, Solomon sent everyone home.

I'm wondering what it would look like for me (or you?) to celebrate well. For many of us, everything isn't good and just how we want it. Lots of expectations are unmet and people and circumstances aren't what we want them to be. But in those moments when everything (or even a few things) in our pictures of how life should look is looking pretty darn good, how are we celebrating? Are we celebrating at all? I want to make my life one of praise, where even a hot cup of coffee is an opportunity to speak highly of Him. (And a two-week party wouldn't be bad either.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

A word about our Christmas card

I thought our Christmas card was okay until I got everyone else's in the mail and saw their professional photos on Facebook...and until ours came to our door last week. 

There are too many words.
The pictures are too small.
The layout is busy. 
All pictures were taken on my phone. 
And there is zero color coordination. 
Let's just say it didn't come out like I thought it would.

But they'll be in the mail soon and in your trashcans soon after, and this is real life over here, captured in a far from perfect Christmas card. At least I avoided typos (I think). We love you so much that we're going to send you one anyway. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Three Things Thursday

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Thing One: Temptation
If you're really my friend, you'll buy me ridiculous amounts of Bark Thins (Dark Chocolate Pretzel--with Sea Salt). Actually, if you're my friend you will NOT buy me these because I will absolutely eat every last one of them. In a day.  They should just get it over with and call it crack. Hoping my grandmother hates them so I can eat the bag I bought her as part of her Christmas gift. Truth. Oh, and it's Fair Trade so it's clearly guilt-free (just don't read the label).

Thing Two: Victory!
The newly-three-year-old of the house is officially potty trained! His idea + Cars undies (or "fundies," as we call them) + Bribery + A grand prize trip to visit his favorite cousin = Done in a under a month. Whew. You're welcome, landfill. We're filling you up at half the rate.

Thing Three: The only two words you need to know.
The one-year-old now knows the only two words you really need to know in life: "No!" and "Cookie!"

Monday, December 8, 2014

On Advent and suffering and hope

Advent. It's a season of slowing--originally slowing in order to connect to our longings--those unmet-in-this-world desires. It's also a season of anticipating a hope that answers those longings. 
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David's Psalm in 2 Samuel 22 describes God as His deliverer, rock, refuge, horn of salvation, shield, stronghold, and Savior. In His might and delight, God rescued David again and again from the hands of the giants living in Midian. I love those qualities of God--deeply love them. I've experienced them, so they carry weight and meaning for me.

But I'm also struggling with these attributes of God. "He rescued me from my powerful enemy" and "God saves the humble." Part of me nods--yes, yes. But there's this other part grappling with all the godly, humble people I know who haven't been saved or rescued from their enemies. They've died of cancer. They've lost children. They continue to struggle with alcoholism. Their husbands have cheated. They've lost their jobs. And like Mary and Martha after their brother died, I'm asking, "Lord, where were you? Why didn't you come?" And I wonder about a larger, global suffering--how and why God allows beheadings, rape, disease, torture, and starvation. How does that jive with His character that David describes?

I don't have a lot of answers. Many days it feels like God has turned a blind eye and abandoned me (or the world) in my suffering. But I do know a few things. I know Mary and Martha didn't know the whole story, and I don't either. I know that the existence of suffering doesn't negate God's character as our good, kind Rescuer. And if suffering didn't exist, would I really long for Heaven? Would I really need Jesus at all or commune with Him deeply? Could it be that suffering draws us into Him in a way nothing else could?

I don't often understand the story He's writing. It's costly and messy and confusing. Many of Jesus' disciples felt the same way: "On hearing [Jesus' teaching on communion], many of His disciples said, 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'" Jesus then asks Peter if he wants to leave too and Peter replies, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:60, 68). 

So many questions are unanswered for me about Jesus. But like Peter, who else would I go to? He alone gives words of eternal life, and there's hope there in the darkness.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Children's Advent Devotional

I'm still getting my "I'm-back-into-blogging" feet under me. Some days it feels like I'm dragging my feet, and other days it's like my feet are dragging me. Either way, I've been doing the usual: seeing family, cleaning poop off the wall, reading, overseeing toddler painting sessions and one-year-old climbing obsessions, and getting wrapped up in the Christmas spirit (pardon the pun...I couldn't resist).

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Speaking of Christmas spirit, I came across a children's Advent devotional put out by Focus on the Family that I highly recommend--short, scripture-based, interactive, and true to Advent. Now, before you go thinking that I'm that put-together mom who has Advent activities for her kids, please know that this one was started three days late, and particularly drew me in because it was FREE and e.a.s.y. Love those. There's no do-it-yourself about this, no Pintrest-fail moment you're going to feel. You literally print out a poster, tape it together, print out characters for each day to put on said poster, and print out the devotionals (or to save paper, just bookmark it and read it from you computer if your littles can keep their hands off the keyboard for three minutes). I loved it so much that I sent the hubs to laminate the poster (printed on card stock) and characters so we can use it again next year. (Full disclosure: I also needed a break from the one-year-old who's decided that getting into things she shouldn't is lots of fun, so I sent her with him too, as a "Daddy-daughter date," of course.) The devotional also has ideas for younger and older kids, so it works well for a variety of ages. Click here for the link.

What Advent resources do you like to use with your kiddos?