A valuable lesson

Thick, white bread with a consistency like cotton wool was a once a week treat. Chocolate cake was about a twice a year treat.  I played outside where streams of raw sewage would flow, and diaper-less children would squat any which way.  Corners were places for beggars – hands stretched out, eyes downcast.  My first movie was not ‘Cinderella’ or ‘Sleeping Beauty’ but ‘Chariots of Fire’.  Brown paper wrapped parcels would arrive with much fanfare, after having travelled across many seas.  The contents of them was not candy and treats, chocolate or clothes, no…those parcels contained vitamins and medicines.  I hand-washed clothes for play, without realizing it was the only option we had, and when I checked my bed for snakes at nighttime, it wasn’t part of a game.

Fast forward 26 years.  I still remember the sights, the smells and the sounds of living in such a different culture.  I don’t begrudge my time in that place at all – in fact I’m the only one in my family who has been back to visit.  I love that I know how blessed we are, in every way, in the first world culture we live in.  Sometimes I catch myself rolling my eyes at the first world problems that surround ourselves here.  Sometimes it makes me giggle.  Sometimes it makes me groan.  And sometimes I feel like shaking people and sending them on the first plane out of here……to smellier, dirtier, hungrier nations.

All this to say I have the benefit of experience.  I can compare and know, really know, how very blessed we are.  So I should know better….

The other day I was driving home from somewhere.  And God spoke to me.  God speaks to me most in the shower and in the car.  On all accounts I should be a very clean but very distracted driver.  I was coming home from being in a very gorgeous home and I allowed that thought of ‘I really loved that home and its beautiful decor, I wonder if I will ever have anything like that’ to linger just a bit too long.  You know what I’m talking about.  That thought just didn’t pop into my head and pop out…but it attached itself.  UNTIL, a few minutes later (while I was still driving) God gently spoke these words to me….’You’ll never know what they sacrificed to get their house and belongings’.  GAH!!!  Talk about a slap in the face.  Thanks God – its true – you never know what people sacrifice in their personal/ private/ spiritual lives.

Anyway – I thought that was that for that thought.  I thought it had been dealt with.  Not so.  The next day I was doing a quick clean of the house and noticing ALL the stuff everywhere that shouldn’t have been everywhere and the fact that the sofa had been drawn on again etc.  And I found myself saying the words aloud ‘We don’t deserve nice things, even if we had them, we would just ruin them’.  And as soon as those words were out of my mouth, I wanted to take them back.  I didn’t mean them.  I know what I value the most in life – and things certainly aren’t them.  I believe we should all hold ‘things’ very lightly in our hands and if someone needs something we have – then the best way to show God’s love is to give give give.  Not keep keep keep.  This is what I believe.  Then why the ugly words and ugly thoughts?

All because I had allowed that thought (of envy – let’s call it what it is) to take up residence – even if it was just for that short amount of time.

I was so upset at myself for thinking and saying those things…that once again while in a car….God spoke again to me on this subject…..’Don’t waste precious time on things’.  And he reminded me of how brief our time on this earth can be.

I can look back at Facebook account and already I have had five Facebook friends pass away.  All due to different circumstances, but five people, all of them younger than 30, in fact all of them younger than twenty five.  Life can be short.

I have no idea how much time on this earth I have.  But I no longer want to even entertain thoughts for mere minutes on the subject matter of stuff.  Stuff stuff stuff.  Sy Roger tweeted this thought yesterday – ‘Why waste time envying my neighbor’s ‘greener grass’: God wont give it to me. Better that I appreciate & cultivate my own patch of potential’.

Cultivate my own potential.  Yep.  That’s what it is about my friends.  Appreciate your most valuable assets – your family and friends and giftings God has given you, and then cultivating them.  Reaching up and out.

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Let’s get physical, physical!

Now that you all have that song in your head, along with Olivia Newton-John sporting some kinda lycra fluorescent outfit picture in your head…..actually I want to write about getting practical today.  But I don’t know of any songs about that.  Tricked ya!

So let’s get practical for a moment.  Practical.  My Mom’s group had a wonderful speaker last week.  She shared about her childhood and early adulthood.  She overcame some amazing circumstances and is now a pretty inspirational lady. She is a mother to 8, married to a great guy, homeschooling, hospitality queen etc etc.  Amazing.  I could have listened to her stories for hours because I really respect her – she is doing an amazing job and her heart is so in the right place – she’s a vessel for the Lord.  Humble but intentional in all she does.

I do wish that she could have shared for longer…..what I really longed to hear about was how she got from point A in her life – dealing with ‘stuff’, to point B – being a mature woman of God.  We’ll just have to have her back to Mom’s group another time….

As she spoke to the group I could kinda feel some angst in the room…..the whole ‘you’re getting your kids to memorize huge chunks of scripture while I just want to pee alone’ kinda angst.

SO.  Let’s get practical.  I’m on this journey too – the journey of dealing with all the demands that a young family places on you, along with a limited budget and all of the demands that places on you, but, I have this desire like so many of you do too, to BECOME that Superwoman of God.  So here are some things I am learning along the way….some I learnt the hard way…others by the grace of God I have gotten right….

1.  Getting your people in the right order.

God first.  Husband next.  Children next and then……ministry/ friends and extended family.  I see people around whose lives revolve around their kids.  They make amazing Moms in the process but what happens when the kiddos leave home?  And what happens when the kids all of a sudden realize they are not the centre of the universe when they end up in a group setting? I’ve found that the times I am most patient, most loving and kind towards my children and husband are the times when I have given God first place in my thoughts and actions. Everything just gels so much better.

2.  Quiet time/ bible reading time/ devotional time.

Just do it.  In whatever way works for you, at whatever time works for you.  And you’ll find it becomes addictive and you realize your days change and you can handle the interrupted shower and the spilt cereal so much better.  Don’t be legalistic about it, don’t place pressure on yourself about to do it for certain amounts of time…..we’re all busy – but we all have the same hours in a day given to us. Just do it.

3.  Talk to God throughout your day.

To be honest my days do not usually start with saying ‘good morning Lord, how are you going to use me today?’.  Nope.  Usually my first thought is something along the lines of ‘Lordy it can’t be morning yet’…..but if I can get my thoughts on God and chat to God by the time I’m in the shower, then great!  I don’t think I ever understood the concept of praying continually throughout the day until my oldest boy began school.  All of sudden he was not under my watch – I had to learn to let go of him in a new and scary way and my prayer life took on new heights.

4.  Input.  Need more input.

Just because your hands may be engaged in a household task like school lunch making or my favourite – ironing (yes that was sarcasm), it doesn’t mean your mind and soul and ears can’t be engaged at the same time.  Come on people – if you’re reading this you are most probably a woman and that is what us women do best – we multi-task.  And we multi-task well.  So find some great podcasts or online Christian programmes that you can watch on demand – or live.  Get some input!  There are loads of churches that put their messages on itunes for free.

5.  Include your kids in your ‘ministry’ things as naturally as possible.  

However big or small you think your ‘thing’ is.  The fact that your world is bigger than just those around you, the fact that you are doing ‘Jesus with skin on’ stuff speaks mightily to those kids.  Actions speak louder than words.  You can create your own teachable moments.  It may be as simple as bringing your kid’s teacher a hot coffee on a cold, cold day, or bringing your child with you as you deliver a meal to someone.  BUT don’t let this edge out spending time on what is important to your kid.  Today I had to fulfill a promise of playing soccer (in between snow showers) with my middle child and I have to tell you I was grumpy about it.  Grumpy. GRUMPY. My attitude was not what it should have been.  But thankfully I have tomorrow to get that attitude adjusted, and hopefully no snow showers tomorrow.  You see if I was too busy doing stuff for others, but not stuff for my own family – then what is that teaching them?

6.  Get yourself a mentor. 

I can only write about this now because I have finally sorted this out in my own life in the last couple of weeks.  I am soooo thrilled to have an older woman say YES to me.  She is there for me for those moments when I need to dissolve, when I need a shoulder and advice.  When I need a woman’s perspective.  And she is sooooo kind and loving – but not gushy, perfect I think for me as I’m not a gushy person. I’ve known for so long that it is so important to have this in my life, but I haven’t made it happen, until now.  Here is a fantastic blog post about mentoring.  Read it and then do it.  I haven’t dissolved on my mentor yet…….but there will come a day when I will….but she will be ready for my tears and snot I’m sure.

7.  Practice, practice, practice

Practice listening to God.  Practice hearing him, really hearing him.  You will get things wrong – but if you and I don’t try and keep trying, then for the times when we really hear a message that needs to be told to someone, or if we hear an instruction that needs to be done to speak to someone, then we’ll miss out.  And others will miss out on seeing God’s mighty power.  Also practice in your head what you would say to others if you were given an opportunity.  You may well laugh at this – this is pretty up there as far as my dorkiness levels go – but I give myself pretend topics and I pretend to prepare messages to share as if I am speaking to a women’s group.  I ask the Lord ‘what would you have them know’…..dorky right?  But it gets my head in the right space of at least attempting something way out of my comfort zone and ultra relying on God.

8.  Be kind to yourself.  

I’m not going to become that Superwoman of God if I am a tired, sick mess.  And neither are you.  We need sleep and decent food – but I’m also all for a few treats too.  Moderation, my friend.  Peanut butter m&ms are my vice and that’s ok.  Oh and coffee.  We need bucket loads of coffee.  You and me.

But you know – and this is my last point – I talk about becoming THAT Superwoman of God.  The truth is – she doesn’t really exist.  We’re all on a journey.  We’re all at different stages of maturity – but we all need Him and we’re all needing to keep coming before God and as I said in my last post – emptying ourselves of ourselves and becoming more like Him.

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Empty Vessels

If there was ever a prize for the person with the most diverse range of people that they followed on twitter I think I may be in the running for it.  Among the people I follow on twitter are a few celebrities, some pastors, a chef, some home executives, my hairdresser, and some registered dietitians to name just a few.  As long as the tweets I read are not full of self-promotion, I love twitter. I find it inspiring and encouraging.  More so than Facebook.

This week I read a tweet that has been quietly marinating deep within for a few days.

‘The oil ran out because the empty vessels ran out…fresh oil comes daily to the empty vessel’ – Mark Peterson  (Pastor at C3 Church, San Diego).

The more I think on this, the more I love it.  Love it.

It is referring to 2 Kings 4, in which Elisha the Prophet ordered the widow to collect empty vessels and he poured oil from the sole thing she had in her house – her single vessel of oil, into the empty vessels.  Therefore providing for her in a tangible and helpful way.  She was destitute, and had no way to help herself.  But God saw her need and through Elisha provided over and above.

The widow was obedient, she collected as many empty vessels as she could.  And they, in turn, were filled.  She must have felt like a bit of a twit.  Her neighbours must have thought she had lost her mind.  What could she do with empty vessels, when all she had was one single pot of oil?  But, as Spurgeon says, ‘Her faith, when exercised, was equal to the emergency’.

God takes care to deliver us in ways that exercise OUR faith.  We’ve never going to get results for the Kingdom if we’re not growing.  If we’re not trying new things – if our ‘tent pegs’ are not being enlarged.

What does that look like?  How can we make that happen?

To me – it is by starting off with being an empty vessel.  Less of my selfish desires and wants.  Emptying myself of the things I feel are important.  Surrendering myself.  Saying ‘Not my will, but yours Lord’.  By being ready to obey.  What does that mean?  You know that quiet calm voice in your head, that tells you to do something that you wouldn’t think of yourself….that is often the Lord.  Quietly, because He is a gentleman, directing your ways.

As long as there are still people unsaved – we need to be empty vessels.  Spurgeon says ‘Our own fullness shuts us out from receiving God’s fullness’.  I love that.  As long as I am concerned about my world and my life and my issues – my eyes are not on Him and on others around me.

Coming back to the widow and her oil – the vessels were not half-filled.  No, God’s not like that.  He’s not the God of half measures – in Him there is FULLNESS of joy.  In Him, my cup runs over.  We serve a mighty, mighty God.

Daily, repeatedly, I need to empty myself of me, so I can be filled, to the brim, with Him.