Friday, July 18, 2014

When Do I Rest?

Every January I spend some time thinking about what should be my "word" for the year.  That may sound cheesy, but intentionality is not my strong suit, so I've found the practice a good one.  One word, well-chosen,  reminds me of an important focus for the year and guides my decision-making and prioritizing.  This year that task was tough.  Nearly into February, I was still without a word, still without a focus.  Then one morning, as often happens, something in the Word jumped out at me:

"On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work." --Genesis 2:2

First God finished.  Then He rested.  Honestly, the word that first grabbed me was FINISHED.  Maybe that was my word: FINISH.  I reasoned that God had earned the right to rest, because He had finished His work. Perhaps I needed to focus on finishing things.  Great idea, great word, but the thought of it left me feeling weighed down and on the verge of tears. 

  Because, really, does a wife. a mom, a teacher EVER finish?  Truth be told, I was not resting because I never felt finished. The problem is that I tend to view my roles as a continual and unending work that will not be finished until the kids are grown, until I retire, and until death do us part.  And frankly, I wasn't so sure I could make it to "finished" if I didn't get some rest!

Here's the thing:  The Bible doesn't end at Genesis 2.  A whole lot of Book comes after Genesis, and it's ALL the work of God.  Not only that, I'm living proof that He is STILL working in this world.  What God finished before he rested was the work of creation. One work. Granted, that work was pretty impressive, but it was not His entire work for all of eternity.  He finished that work, then He rested.  He didn't quit.

In viewing the "big picture" things of life as what had to be finished before I could rest, I was actually hurting my work and God's work in me.  

The cost of never resting is an overwhelming desire to just quit. 

What a relief to read more closely, to let God show me the Heart behind His words.  Yes, I need to finish what I start, and a rest feels much more blissful when it comes after a hard effort that is completed.  The rest, however, is just as much a part of the ultimate work as the finishing.    

Therefore, what I need to give myself permission to do is rest after finishing "the work of _____________."   

Then, with the satisfaction of one job complete and a well-earned rest, I am refreshed to continue in the Great Work to which God has called me.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Grace and Truth

"Because He was full of grace and truth, from Him we all received one gift after another."  John 1:16

This was my memory verse this week.  Not to simply repeat, but to meditate upon.

Because Jesus was full of grace, He made it possible for me--and you--to receive what we don't deserve, the favor and presence of God Almighty.


However, I'm not sure we can fully fathom the magnitude of His grace unless we also remember the truth part.  My pastor's son, also a pastor, preached it in a way that resonated this Sunday.

"The key to doing all the things you should that you can't do it."

How's that for a feel-good truth?   

It is, really, because once I realize that I can't do what is required, I can marvel at the wonder that Christ has done it for me.  Unless I grasp the truth that I am capable of nothing that is holy, unless I see the truth of who I am without Christ, I can't fully absorb the magnitude of the grace that He has showered upon me.

Without the ugly truth about me, I can't appreciate the utterly magnificent grace of Christ.

I experienced this truth in a very vivid way last week.

I was innocently folding laundry when some very unpleasant memories just popped into my brain.  UGLY memories of something awful I did as a young teenager. And then that memory set off another, and another, and, unfortunately, my misguided youth provided ample fodder for a complete avalanche of memories of my depravity.

Imagine a version of the FB movie--with only the bad things.  Yeah, it was that--only longer.

The realization of who I was without Christ rammed right into my solar plexus and knocked me down.  It sucked the air right out of me to realize just how rotten I was capable of being.  This should not have been a great revelation to me, but it was.

You see, normally I have this talent for completely forgetting anything that is unpleasant, and frankly, there are many things in my past that I prefer to forget. (Don't get me wrong, I had a safe, happy childhood and was well loved by two wonderful people--it's ME that was horrible.)

I truly was rotten, but I was a bit stunned because I've always been so nice.  It's a bit of a shocker for a pathologically nice person to realize that her pleasant temperament was just a sweet coating around a selfish, dishonest, nature.

That day as I folded and the memories flooded back, I was undone.

Honestly, I don't know why on that day I had those memories. My first instinct was that my enemy was accusing--pointing the finger to show me how unworthy I am to even attempt to serve Jesus. Maybe it was, but he should have known better.  Because as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the realization hit me that my unworthiness is sort of the point of the Gospel.  

Jesus shouldn't use me.  But He does.

And those sickening memories--as unpleasant as they were, turned out to be a gift.

Here's why:

In remembering who I was apart from Christ, I was amazed at where He has brought me.  I hated looking at the picture of the past, but it helped me see that that person, is no longer who I am.  I'm still in progress, but I really am a new creation.

He loved me as I was, but He didn't leave me that way.

It was a gift to feel the full weight of my sin, because it helped me to grasp the full weight of the Gospel.

Can I just tell you---it is an unspeakably awesome thing to stand before a holy God, undone, and say, "I am not worthy," and to feel His gentle whisper, "I know. But you're mine."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sex-traffickers, the Prophets and Jen Hatmaker

The past few weeks God has been creating a perfect storm that is MESSING. ME. UP.  I feel compelled to write, but I'm not even sure I can express clearly what is churning in me. I want to be polite, clear, and logical in challenging people, like the ever-gracious Tim Elmore, but my discontent is so deep right now that I think I'll probably slip more into a Matt Walsh-esque degree of snarkiness.

Except that, honestly, I don't feel snarky.  I feel desperate.

Here's the storm:

I have recently begun working to put on a 5k to raise money for She is Safe, an organization that works to fight human trafficking through prevention, rescue and restoration.  I've been interested in the issue for several years, but in recruiting helpers for my cause, I have been reading and re-reading stories of girls affected by human trafficking.  I am sickened by the number of cases in which it is actually a girl's family that sells her into slavery to be used up and abused as a commodity to satisfy the greed and perversion of oppressors.  What kind of parent would sell a child into prostitution?

At the same time, my chronological read-through of the Bible has landed me in Jeremiah (aka, the weeping prophet).  Turns out he was weeping because he was commanded to give God's message of judgement to a people who didn't want to hear it (Jeremiah 7:27). As He speaks through Jeremiah, God calls His people "adulterous" and accuses them of prostituting themselves to other gods.

Meanwhile, during my break from teaching, I am also finally reading the book 7:An Experimental Assault on Excess by Jen Hatmaker, which was recommended by a friend.  While reading the chapter on her drastic reduction of media consumption, the final "disturbance" collided with the previous two to produce a spiritual typhoon within me.  I don't know what it was specifically about that particular chapter (conviction, perhaps?), but suddenly the realization hit me full in the gut:

How can I be enraged by impoverished parents selling their daughters, when we here in the land of plenty are prostituting our own children to idols?  Because whether we realize it or not, I'm afraid we are.

For the past nine years I have worked in the youth ministry at our church.  For the past eight years I have taught writing classes to Middle School and High School students.  Every year for the past four years, the young people I've encountered have gotten markedly more self-absorbed, demanding and apathetic about the Gospel.  And I'm talking about the good kids.   This does not make me angry; it breaks my heart, because I LOVE these kids!

Sincere, godly parents bring their kids to church faithfully, send them to camp, VBS, and mission trips.  What they don't recognize is that their kids don't even see the spiritual feast laid before them because they can't take their gaze and attention away from their smart phones.  They have no interest in the Word of God because they are too busy broadcasting their own words and images into cyberspace and then compulsively checking their "approval ratings."  (I once listened to a group of 14- and 15-year-olds discuss their marketing strategies for getting Instagram followers.)

I've watched as teens receive praise and honor (heck, I've been one of the adults heaping praise) for worshipping at the altar of achievement, even when the pursuit of that success has become a source of identity, an idol, in the life of that student.  I've watched when that success leads to arrogance, pride and contempt for those less talented.

I've witnessed teens who obediently sit in church, passionless and bored, critiquing not the content of the message, but the entertainment value or delivery.  If it doesn't satisfy them, they feel they are absolved of the responsibility to listen--because the Word of God is no longer good enough on its own.  Yet I've seen these same seemingly passionless kids raising their hands in adoration for a boy band or football team. I know many girls who know exponentially more about the members of One Direction or Luke Bryant than they do about Jesus, and many boys who know more about their favorite athlete or video game than they do about their Savior.

More often than not, I leave my time spent with youth grieving for them and the emptiness that they don't even realize is their life.  I'm not blaming this entirely on the adults in their lives.  The culture that surrounds them certainly plays an overwhelming role, relentlessly bombarding them with lies and distractions.  I constantly thank God that I did not have to navigate my teen years during this generation.

But here is the conviction that is crushing me.  We tell our kids to follow Christ, but then we give them full access to every possible distraction that isn't blatantly evil.  We avoid boundaries because we fear stirring up a heart of rebellion.  Wanting to extend grace, we make excuses for "little"sins so often that I fear this generation doesn't see the need for a Savior, because they don't really think their sin is all that bad.

It's tempting to simply shrug these trends off and say, "Well, they're teenagers--it's a stage---they'll outgrow it."  We would be buying a lie.  According to Jen Hatmaker's research for 7, "94% of evangelical churches reported loss or no growth" last year.  She claims, "We are losing three million people annually, flooding out the back door and never returning."  The people flooding out are those who have been raised in church--those we thought were just going through a stage and would outgrow it.  Why do they leave?  Because they have found something else to worship.

Honestly, if I found out that one of my kids was battling an addiction to drugs, I would WAGE WAR on those drugs.  Why, then, do I buy into the notion that it's unreasonable to wage war on an addiction to an ipod, video game, cell phone or shopping?

My aim is not to point fingers or place blame, but simply to challenge us ALL to examine our role in the lives of our young people.

In my case, I know the first heart I need to examine is my own.  Do I have idols that pull me from Jesus?  Do I need to remove anything from my life that competes for first place?  Am I placing importance on any thing or behavior that is actually misplaced worship?  Am I making excuses for my own sins, rather than agreeing with God, being honest about them and repenting?  I want to start with myself because the best way to help the young people in my life is to set the example of honestly and humbly tearing down the idols in my own life.

Next, (and, I have to confess, this is MUCH harder for me), I need to put in place and enforce appropriate boundaries in the lives of those over whom I have authority.  This task is tough for me because I hate confrontation--and boundaries create confrontations.  Boundaries are not popular--and I want people to like me.  In many cases, the boundaries I need to set will be very countercultural. People will think I am weird--or worse--judgmental.  For a weak-willed, distractible people-pleaser like me, enforcing boundaries is a daunting task.

But God calls me to speak the truth, and the truth is this:  Anything that keeps a person from full surrender to Jesus is an idol, and we as parents, teachers, mentors, have an obligation to protect our young people from idolatry.   If not, we are prostituting them.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Five Minute Friday (okay, Saturday): LAST


What a great word as we are beginning Cross Country season again.

My kids are blessed to be part of the most encouraging team in the nation. (I'm not exaggerating.)

Coaches, parents, and any athlete who is not currently running-- all of them line the course to cheer for every team member.

Even the very last one.

At 6'1" and 200 pounds, my son is built more like a linebacker rather than a runner, so he is occasionally the last finisher from our boys' team.  I'm so grateful for the cheering section that is always there for him!

The beauty of Cross Country is that although every race has a first place finisher, every athlete competes primarily against himself.  It's not just about did you win, but did you improve.

I love Cross Country because you can be last and still have a victory!

Last night even as he charged across the finish as the last man on the team over the line, my son had victory--because his time was a full two minutes faster than his previous race.

Even so, the sport of Cross Country is not an individual sport because each runner is also part of a TEAM.  Although he competes against himself, every runner's effort contributes to the success of the team.

It reminds me of The Race of which Paul speaks in Scripture: the spiritual one.

Like running, spiritual success requires hard training, rest, and nourishment. (And if I attempted to cover all of that, this would not be a five minute writing...)

Like running, spiritual success should be measured in such a way that growth is a victory.

I'm so grateful for coaches who teach through sports what Christ models in the spiritual realm.  They have a unique training plan for every athlete based on that athlete's needs, experience and fitness.  It's not a one-size-fits-all work-out.  They hold the runners accountable for doing the work they prescribe, and they emphasize how their individual efforts improve the entire team.

Best of all, they get just as excited over a victory for the last man across the line, when he is running with his whole heart, as they do the first.

Oh, Lord, let me live this way as I seek to be a disciple who makes disciples.  Let me see each person as a unique creation with a unique history.  Let me love them where they are at and encourage them to move deeper into You.  Let me help show them how their efforts and progress contribute to the success of Your Body and Your mission in this world.  Above all,  let me be thrilled for the progress of the one who may be last, but who is running hard after You.

In my own walk, let me measure myself not by how I compare to others, but by how much I am growing to look like You.

Share your thoughts on Five Minute Fridays

Monday, August 5, 2013

Who's counting? I am.

2000.  Spring rain to green the farm

2001. My chatty cowboy, up early and ready to talk.

2002. Cows romping in a new roll of hay.

2003. Birthday Boy in his fez.

2006. Laughing around the dinner table...THIS is why cooking is worth the effort!

2007. Being a "retirement home" for an old horse.

2008. Old friends and new helping my boy celebrate 15.

2009. Two big boys perched timidly on horses.

2010. Outside chores on a gorgeous day.

2011. Pair of chicks with the sandhill cranes.

2012. Digging for truth even when it hurts.

2013.  Nineteen years of Katie.

2014. Sunrise Easter service over the lake.

2015. Adorable Bocce ball partner--the cuban version of our Camille.

2016.  Hugs from my man-child.

2017. A painful break for a child, but one that will bring healing.

2018.  Holy Spirit pause so I can offer a kind response to an abrasive e-mail.

2019. My boy showing he's a man by loving on a hurting sister.

2020. Choosing what is best (people) over what is urgent (lists!)

2021.  A family of sandhills stopping traffic to cross the road.

2022. The Wobble!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Graceful Parenting

When my oldest was in preschool, the school involved parents by asking two parents each day to stay and help out with the class, supervising and participating along with the kids.  On one of my "helper" days, the other mom in class came over and complimented me on my daughter's sweet disposition and cooperative spirit and asked, "How did you do that?"

I could only respond, "I didn't do anything, she was just born that way.  I guess I'm lucky."

Smiling ironically, she responded, "Ohhh, I see now.  God didn't have anything to teach you."

As it turned out, she and her husband, both accomplished professionals, had delayed having children until they were firmly established in their careers and financially stable.

She told me, "Before we were parents we would spend time with my brother and his family, and when their kids acted out, we'd look at each other knowingly and simultaneously think 'our children will never behave like that.'"  Apparently, prior to embarking on the parenting journey, they had studied up on all the best methods of child-rearing.  Therefore, they were confident that because they were so knowledgable in the art of parenting, their offspring would be a constant delight.

She chuckled then and added, "...and so God gave us Tess."

Tess was a beautiful little red-headed spitfire with an iron will and relentless spirit.  Daily she rammed head-on into her parents' boundaries, causing them to slam the parenting books shut and hit their knees.  It paid off, because I was often impressed with how they handled the tumultuous girl with grace, firmness and abundant love.

Still, at four she was rarely a delight to be with.

Tess's momma realized that God was using her little fireball to humble her proud heart.  "If I had had a sweet-natured child like Katie, I would have been sure it was due to my excellent parenting.  With Tess, I have to cling daily to Jesus and know that only by His grace will we survive her childhood."

I've often wished I could see Tess now that she's nineteen.  I'm sure she's still strong-willed, but I bet her parents' consistency and love in those early years helped her to learn at the very least that she is not the center of the universe and that her actions have consequences.  I suspect that were I to meet her now, I would find her to be a delight.

I share this exchange because I think we all need a little humility like Tess's mom. It's so easy to look at a young person of excellent character and attribute every success to their parents.  It is also far too easy to witness the wrong choices of another child and shake our heads and speculate about what the parents did wrong to produce such results. I've certainly been guilty of both.

Just today I heard a mom applauding her daughter's lifestyle choices. She ended with the observation: "I guess I did something right."

I'm sure that mom probably did do something right (and if she's like me, she probably did some things wrong, too). Unfortunately, the unintended implication of a comment like that is that the parent of a child making different choices must have done something wrong, which may not be the case at all.

Children are not products: If you put in the right ingredients you get a predictable result.  No, they are fallen humans made in the image of God--just like their parents are.

I'm not saying that parents have no influence on their kids, they do.  We each have a sacred and important stewardship in raising them.

However,  this parenting adventure in a community of believers has shown me that even if a parent does everything right,  kids still have free will.  One of them--or all of them--might make choices that go against everything they have been taught.

Conversely, I know that parents can do a multitude of things WRONG and still have kids that own their choices, rise above the mistakes and lead productive and wholesome lives.

So this is my rally cry to parents to give grace to the wounded, grieve with those who grieve, support one another, pray for one another, celebrate victories and acknowledge that every parenting victory belongs to God alone.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Springtime Blessings

1900. Friends who will carry me to the Cross when I am too overwhelmed even to crawl there.

1906. Thursday morning class--my weekly blessing of enthusiasm.

1911. Trusty brown stapler: still going strong after 25 years and countless moves.

1935.  Ishaan's funny comments: "Mrs. Odell, I was telling my dad all about what you are like, and he said, 'That doesn't make any sense!'" (How I wish I could have heard his description!)

1940. Recipes the old-fashioned way--in the mail from my mom.

1946.  The innocent and compassionate heart of Jon C.

1950.  Fair Week and a Reserve Grand Champion pig!

1967. Tearful kids saying goodbye to their 4-H animals.

1968. My boy/man setting his sights on something and rallying others to achieve a goal.

1983. Tiny raccoon footprints scooting across the marsh.

1990. Twenty years with my Cowboy.

1995. The unconditional acceptance of farm dogs.


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