Monday, November 28, 2011

Black Friday

I had never done it before and it seemed like such a crazy thing to do. Who really wants to get out of bed at 2 a.m. to get to Wal-Mart at 2:30 a.m. so that you can wait in the cold with a bunch of other crazies? In a few minutes they (the other crazies) will be trampling you to get to the HDTV first and sawing off your arm to get that laptop that you scored. It's a jungle out there, so stay home.

That has been my presupposition for years, and it has served me well.

Then there is a bigger reason I don't do Black Friday. It's me. I am competitive. I could get pumped. I could get feisty. I could throw an elbow trying to get what I wanted. That part of me may not be all bad, but on a Black Friday....yeah, it's all bad. And I don't like that feeling. I don't like being controlled by greed or desire. And it is not only not good, but dangerous as well. Look out for the pepper spray, the arrests, the riots, and the deaths . . . all over getting some PS2. No deal is worth that.

This year, for some reason or other, I was drawn in. I think it started with the midnight openings. That sounded like fun. Stay up late on Thanksgiving Day, and then head out to enjoy some late night shopping with friends or family. And, then there were the $20.00 boots at Belk! So I opened my mouth and before I knew it, I was committed to this adventure. My 18 year old daughter was going to make sure of that.

I will let you know that I set some boundaries. I would not even consider Walmart or Target. That was for the bloodthirsty crowd. I was there for fun. (Did I really just type the word, "fun"?)

Off we go, and it is unlike anything I have ever seen. The parking lots for Kohl's and Best Buy are completely filled and we have to park at Olive Garden and walk. But we don't mind, the air is alive as if something magical is going to happen when the stores open. Frothy Starbucks cups warm most hands. ( I find it completely ironic that no one balks at 5 bucks for coffee while searching for "deals.")

The line for Best Buy swings around the perimeter of the store. The Kohl's line stretches from one end of the strip mall to the other. My daughter and neice head to the Best Buy line. I head out for Kohl's. Because it is almost midnight, I wait with a few other shoppers across the parking lot from the beginning of the line. None of us wants to trudge to the back of the line, we plan to wait for the entire line to pass us and then we will go in.

Unfortunately, this plan worries one or two of those fighters in the real line. There is a fear that we plan to rush the door and break the line to get in ahead of them. A man looks at us and yells, "The line starts back there!", as he points out the obvious. A few yards down a woman seconds his emotion with, "The line is in the back!"

Being the self-elected spokesperson for the group, I yell out to our fearful friends in my sweetest Southern-ease, "Hey, y'all can chill. We are not going to break. It's okay. We are going to wait until the end of the line." This seems to be met with relief and chit-chat resumes. Fist fight averted.

When the doors open, there is cheering! Yes, cheering! Do these people not realize this store opens its doors everyday? They could do this every morning if they wanted. I bet the Kohl's employees would feel very appreciated if they had someone there giving them a rousing cheer each day. "Woo-Hoo, you opened the door! Thank you!! I love coming to your place of business!"

The rest of the early morning is filled with courtesy and kindness. Really. People are very nice at this hour, I suppose. Or maybe it is that I am in middle Georgia rather than in metro Atlanta. Whatever the reason, I made it through Black Friday without getting harmed or harming others.

I think my big lesson for Black Friday was remembering that no gift, no thing, no present, no material item is worth sinning. I had avoided Black Friday in the past because I did not want to be overtaken by greediness and grabbiness. I made it through this year without a fight, but because I struggle with the "wish-I-had-that" mentality, I find my mind is the bigger battlefield. Just looking at Black Friday ads or any Christmas catalog can get me thinking so much about stuff instead of what Christmas is supposed to be about. I have a long way to go in following 2 Corinthians 10:5, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

The "wish-I-had-that" attitude is a desire for more than what God has materially given me. Instead of being grateful for what I do have, I am only looking at all that I think I am being denied. Talk about entitlement. In our culture it's easy to excuse because we live here in the land of plenty. But God doesn't give me a pass on greed. In fact, He calls greed idolatry. Idolatry. I have to let that one sink in for a minute or two.

Tim Keller in his book Counterfeit Gods, says, "Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God." I want my whole heart to be set on God. Knowing Him. Loving Him. Trusting Him. Resting in Him. Black Friday is not a bad thing or a good thing, it is neutral. What matters is not whether I go out with the crowds on Black Friday, but what my heart is set on every day.

Father, may my heart be set on You this season and all seasons. May I have a heart of contentment and thankfulness for the blessings You have generously poured out upon me. I have a healthy family. I have a warm bed. I am well-fed. I have shoes on my feet. I have clothes to wear. I have friends. I have a church family that loves and encourages me. I have a job I love. Thank you Father, I've gotten a steal of a deal.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Mask

I met with some friends the other day. We try to meet regularly to pray for each other and to share our struggles to walk in faith. It is a small and safe group. I know what I reveal there will be kept in confidence. And I know the ladies there will pray for me. Everyone should have such a place, but I know I am among the blessed who do.

Even though my friends are trustworthy and have proven themselves as such, I find that when I lay out the truth about my heart, I often feel fearful. There is something in me that says, "They are not going to like me after they know this about me. They are not going to want to pray for me if they know how self-centered, greedy, jealous, judgmental I am. They are going to run!" I am afraid to be completely real with these beautiful, open, trusting souls that God has brought my way. It is nonsensical. It is foolish. It is a stronghold.

I have been reading a great book entitled, "Relational Masks," by Russell Willingham. He defines strongholds this way: beliefs and thought patterns that are opposed to the knowledge of God

When I read what I just wrote about my fears with my friends, I can see one of my false beliefs is, "If I am honest, I will be abandoned." I feel embarrassed just typing that out for you to read because, well, because if I am honest, I will be abandoned. You might not like what you see. You might stop reading what I write. Better to put up a front (fake exterior) and have it all together, right? The problem with the front (or mask) is that it gets the love and the praise. The real me is hidden from view. And it is the real me that needs others, that needs support, prayer, acceptance.

Some days I wonder if it is worth it. Is it worth the whole fight to be real and authentic in such a mixed up, two-faced, fake world? Wouldn't it be easier to go with the flow and hide who I am so I won't get hurt?

Being real carries real risk: I may get hurt. Let me rephrase that: I will get hurt. Not every time, but sometimes when I open up I will get shot down by someone I thought I could trust. Moments like that can send me reeling. Moments like that seem to shout: "Shields up!" And indeed there is a place for some healthy shields (boundaries) with those who have shown themselves to be unsafe. But that is another blog. The short answer is yes, it is easier to fake it, hide who you are, and wear a mask of "got it all together".

In the long-term, however, hiding who I am and pretending to be someone else damages my spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical health. I am split in two, when God intended for me to be whole. And when I am divided I cannot stand. The emotional work is exhausting and the loss of true relationship leaves me feeling very alone.  

What's a girl to do? Well, I fight the good fight of the faith. I ask God to help me to see these lies that I am believing and to act in accordance with the truth of His Word.

Is is easy? No way! It is a fight, a battle, a no holds barred knock-down-drag-out kinda deal. We are talking strongholds here, not a tiptoe through the tulips. This is for your soul and your the enemy is not going to give any ground without a fight.

But, here is the good news: though the struggle to walk in truth will be as long as this life, each time I show up to the fight I get a little bit stronger. The truth is proven powerful and the power of the lie is diminished. I am not alone. I am not abandoned. This small part of the body of Christ (my friends) do not run away. They pray for me. They hug me. They tell me they are drawn to my openness and vulnerability. I am strengthened and renewed to fight for another day.

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth 
and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. 
We take our lead from Christ, who is the source
 of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. 
His very breath and blood flow through us, 
nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, 
robust in love.  
Ephesians 4:14-16 (Message)

Look at all the gifts of grace God wants to give to me if I am willing to leave my old ways and embrace His truth: Spiritual maturity, growth, knowing the truth, telling the truth, keeping in step with other believers, His breath and life flowing through me, spiritual health, robust love; that is some kind of list.

Yeah, it's worth it. Sign me up for that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mommy Guilt

I have been watching my dear friend (and heart twin) Bethany as she parents her sweet first-born son, James. Actually, I "watch" through her blog and through Facebook because we no longer live in the same town. I hear her heart to be a good mom and to do right by James, so that he will be all that God has created him to be. Truly, God has placed a big responsibility on the shoulders of moms and dads and we do well to take it seriously.

And yet, I know in my own parenting adventures, I can try to carry the weight of that responsibility alone. And let me tell you, it can get heavy fast. I have to come each day for a refresher course with Jesus. He reminds me that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. This lets me know that if things are feeling too heavy, I have left His yoke behind and have fashioned my own.

His yoke is to teach as I walk, talk, cook, work, clean, get groceries, garden, etc. Lifestyle evangelism as it were. "Look Levi. See the beautiful fall colors on the trees. God made the trees. God gives them these beautiful colors. Isn't God amazing?" Levi is three, so this is appropriate to his understanding. As he gets older we will go deeper.

Jesus' yoke is about being in the moment, being present with my child, and answering his questions about life (and death, if you have a child like Levi). As with all of God's commands, when I am walking with Him and being aware of His life in me then there is no heaviness, no worry, no "Am I doing a good job?" There is only light and life and rest and peace. Yes, even in the midst of a storm or trial. This doesn't mean that pain is not there. The hurts and grief in this life can be deep, intense, and, sometimes it seems, without end.

I remember when we lost our second born girl to stillbirth. That was a deep and intensively painful time. Taylor, our first born, was only two at the time. Explanations were not easy, and yet I had a sense of peace and rest that God would protect her heart and give us wisdom in our words. I don't even remember the words we used to talk about the baby sister who would not be coming home with us. While my heart hurt for our losses, the yoke of Jesus was easy and light. I felt as if I were being carried on Jesus' arm in the midst of the sadness that enveloped my heart.

However, I can remember so many other times when the losses were really only minor life disappointments and they seemed to so weighty.

I wanted to give my children an "ideal" childhood: loving parents, boundaries, a strong and loving God, freedom to run and play, and sweet memories to look back on. While those are all good things, there was a lot more wrapped up in that definition. There was a false belief that I could (and should) shield them from hurts and disappointments as much as possible.

I wanted to be a parent who was true to my word. So when I made a promise (and every word I spoke I considered a promise), I would move heaven and earth to carry it out. Sometimes circumstances would try to change the best made plans, but I would not hear of it. Rain? We are going anyway! We will stay two more days until we see the sunshine on the beach! Money issues? We will find a way around them. My kids are going to summer camp!

Funny thing is, instead of teaching my children that my word was good and I was trustworthy, I was teaching them that I was their god. I would make sure they got the best. I would make sure they were treated fairly. I would provide all the love, nurture, and life experiences they needed. And an interesting thing happens when your god is a person, your god fails you. Again and again and again. I could never be all they expected of me or I expected of me. I was doomed to failure. I tried so very hard to be this great mom, but I was constantly struggling with a sense of failure; also known as "mommy guilt".

Enter the grace of Jesus. I'm not even sure when God showed me I was trying to be god to my kids, but He did. He did it in His usual gentle and merciful way. I had failed again and the Father spoke. "It's not your job to make their lives perfect and pain free. And you can't anyway. You live in a fallen world. Sin and pain are part of the reality. Trust me to be God to them in their disappointments." Wow. What a great idea. Rest. Walk with me. Trust.

A childhood without small disappointments would do little to prepare my children for the world. Sometimes it does rain. Sometimes the van needs repairs and there is no longer money to take that trip to Six Flags. Life goes on.

If I don't let my children feel these minor inconveniences, how will they be ready for the Goliaths in life? It was the life in the wilderness with the sheep that prepared David for facing the giant. He had already battled the wild animals to defend the sheep. God had already shown Himself powerful in David's life. He was ready to trust His God with more.

Father, I am so thankful, that I get to step off the throne that rightfully belongs to You. I can rest and walk with You and trust You to be enough for my children in the midst of their disappointments. You are preparing them for a life in which they can bring You glory. You are God and you are good!