Monday, December 11, 2017

Where's Your Tent?

I gotta tell you, we have had a tough fall at the Fletchers.   So many things have happened that are not tragic, and one of them would not have thrown us off.  But the culmination of a whole bunch of things in a row has us feeling pretty discouraged some days.   We have to rally ourselves again and again to stay positive and trust God.

While listening to the book of Acts, Chapter 2,  in the Message I heard these words:
I saw God before me for all time.    Nothing can shake me; he’s right by my side.I’m glad from the inside out, ecstatic;    I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope.
I realized at that point that that is the answer as to “how do you do it?”   People have asked me that question in multiple situations over the years as our number of children and their number of challenges have grown.   The answer is this:

I look for God and see that he is before me for all time.  He is what I see ahead and I know that He can handle anything I'm facing.    And I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope... and it's staying there, regardless of what kind of darts the enemy may throw may.  

When things get dark or dreary at home, work or church, and I start to ask God all kinds of questions about the here and now I remind myself of these things.  That he is before me and that there is always hope.   The hope that never disappoints…. the hope that is found in Christ.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Do you hear them?

Christmas can be a great time, but Christmas can always be a sad time.   Holidays are super hard for people who are missing a loved one or whose families are not getting along.    Society has created expectations for the "perfect Christmas" that nobody can achieve, no matter how hard we try.  So today I want to ask you, "What do you hear when you hear Christmas bells?"

Do you hear the joyous sounds of expectation for the celebration of a newborn king?   Or do you hear the pain of regret, the music of sadness and grief?

You may know that the song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was originally a poem written by Longfellow on Christmas Day 1864.    What you might not know is that  it was written from the experiences of his life at that time involving the tragic death of his wife and the crippling injury of his son Charles.

When listening to this song the other day, I realized that this is the true beauty of Christmas.... that God's son entered this world as a baby to meet us where we are.  At the very heart of Christmas is a God who saw humanity and wanted to get close to us.  God wanted to become man so that he would know what it was like to be us.... not just when we were experiencing the peaks of joy -- but also when we were in our deepest valleys.

Emanuel.  God with us -- not just on the days when we are excited about life and feeling on top of the world -- but God with us ALL of the time.

So wherever you are, let these words speak to you as a reminder of what Christmas is all about -- that God is not dead or asleep but instead is with us, ensuring that the wrong will fail and that right will prevail and that the end result will always be peace on earth and goodwill to man.

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day​
Their old familiar carols play,​
And wild and sweet​
The words repeat​
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!​

And thought how, as the day had come,​
The belfries of all Christendom​
Had rolled along​
The unbroken song​
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!​

Till, ringing, singing on its way,​
The world revolved from night to day,​
A voice, a chime​
A chant sublime​
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!​

Then from each black accursed mouth​
The cannon thundered in the South,​
And with the sound​
The carols drowned​
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!​

It was as if an earthquake rent​
The hearth-stones of a continent,​
And made forlorn​
The households born​
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!​

And in despair I bowed my head;​
"There is no peace on earth," I said;​
"For hate is strong,​
And mocks the song​
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"​

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ​
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!​
The Wrong shall fail,​
The Right prevail,​
With peace on earth, good-will to men!​

Monday, December 04, 2017

What needs to be torn up?

Are you ready for Christmas?  The Christmas season is upon us whether we are ready or not and whether or not we fully appreciate the season.  

But as my husband who loves the church calendar will tell you, this is not Christmas … this is advent — a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus.  

Yesterday morning he preached from this passage from Isaiah 64:

“If only You would tear open the heavens and come down! “

He mentioned that sometimes God has to tear open some things in our own lives before we are ready for what God has for us during advent.

I invite you to join with me as we ask God to open the heavens and tear whatever needs torn open so that He can truly enter our hearts this Christmas.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Building Muscle

If you are my Facebook friend, you may have noticed that I am on a mission to get in shape for a 2.6 mile marathon I’m planning to walk on March 17th to support the organization where I work.  I say that tongue in cheek because if you are my Facebook friend you are probably so tired of reading about it that you may have unfollowed me by now.

Now that I have a trainer, I’m finding that there is a science to building muscle.  It involves repetition, very slow increases, and consistency.   It has to be intentional and it is often painful, though if you are doing it right, never too painful.

In talking to my BFF yesterday, who might want to remain anonymous for many reasons, we were talking about resiliency.  She and her husband are some of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met, but they have also been through more crap than you can imagine.  I seriously could write a book about all of the hard things they have gone through in their lives.   Because of this they are also the most resilient people I know.   No matter what they go through they still get up the next morning and continue to be thoughtful, giving, kind, generous, loving people.   Every.  Single.  Day.

I’m concluding as I get older that resiliency is like a muscle and it is only built through hard times.   When God brings us through a crisis that seems overwhelming, we have one more memory to build our foundation of endurance and faith.   The more we go through hard things, if we trust in Him and allow Him to make us stronger, the more resilient we become.

I’ve also been thinking about how our tendency as parents is to rescue our children from the things that God may have in mind to make them more resilient.   We have rescued our adult children from their hard times on multiple occasions and I am questioning whether or not this is hampering them from developing the incredibly important muscles of resilience.

When I first went to the gym, I never said to myself “I am so happy that my arms feel like they are going to fall off right now.”   But when I saw the results of the pain that I went through, I feel pretty good about what I did to get to where I am.  That’s building physical muscle.  It’s how it works.     

Now, I am replacing that language as I have made progress and I often do say to myself, “Wow, my arms are hurting.  I bet I’m building muscle.

So if you are going through something difficult in your life, it may not be your first response to say, “I’m so glad I’m going through this hard time.”  But it may be that once you are over on the other side you will be pleased with how you got to where you are.  That’s building spiritual muscle and resiliency.  It’s how it works.

The same is true in my spiritual life.   Having gone through the hope cycle multiple times in my life: (suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope) I can recognize what God is doing.  I can sometimes even say to myself, “Wow, God must be working in and through me right now.”  

I had a coworker share this song with me and I love it because it talks about dancing in the deep while God calms the storm.     This is my prayer in my own life … that I will become the kind of person who well step out into the sea and dance in the deep, knowing that God is building spiritual muscle in me and that I am becoming more resilient by the day.   

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Have a story?

Usually I write a lot of words.  Sometimes too many.   But today I just want you to watch this video -- not just have it on in the background.  There are some pictures with printing on them that are totally worth the 4 minutes it takes to watch the video.

Today is #ThankfulThursday and I am so grateful for the elements that have made up my story, because without them I wouldn't be the person I am today.

I am also grateful for the opportunities God has given me to speak into the lives of others as He writes their story.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Scarcity or Abundance?

I grew up in a home where my parents had a spirit of abundance.    Funny thing is, we were dirt poor but I never knew it.  I mean I knew we weren't rich, but I had no idea how little we really had until I got older.   My mom made all of our clothes or we got them at Value Village (similar to goodwill)  -- the only thing we bought at the "real" store (Kmart) were undergarments (OK, so I admit I am feeling like an elderly person writing this and the word undergarments seemed appropriate).    We never had store bought snacks.... everything was homemade.  (Did you know that you can trade one homemade cookie for six oreos at lunch if you have friends whose don't have parents who bake?)   I know that my parents got "commodities" monthly -- big blocks of not that great cheese are one of the things I remember.  We drove very old vehicles -- I should say one vehicle at a time, we never had two.    We lived in a "Fixer Upper" that, I kid you not, my parents bought for $9,000 in 1973 and fixed up with a inner city development loan from the government.

We knew not to ask for extras because there wasn't money for them.  Because we knew how it worked.  When pay day came, tithe came first.  Then there were the missionaries we were supporting, that was next.   The major bills were paid and whenever that was over, the rest was for food, gas, and once and a while a special treat like a trip to Baskin Robbins or the "Pop Shoppe" where we would buy a case of very cheap pop in bottles that had to be returned.   

Never once in all of that was I ever hungry.  The clothes I head weren't my favorite but I never had to go to school wearing used undergarments.   (I remember lusting after a $6.99 peach velour top at Kmart and begging for it for several weeks until I realized I didn't need it).   Our family vacation was an annual trip to the church convention and we drove, sleeping in the back of the station wagon and camping in tents at KOAs.   We didn't go to restaurants on the way -- we had our government cheese sandwiches in a cooler and those little boxes of cereal which we only had on that trip.   Every labor day, when it was free admission, we went to Elitch Gardens, our local amusement park, and decided how to spend the tickets that my parents could afford that year.

We went out to eat exactly six times a year.   We went out for each of us kids birthdays, mother's day and father's day and we went out to eat on the one day that we went Christmas shopping at the mall... the only day we went to the mall.   We met in the middle and split up so that we could go with one parent or the other to buy for each other.    Our gifts were small but we spent a great deal of time picking out just the right thing.  

The other interesting piece of it all, was that if someone needed something, my parents always found a way to help them.   We had people over for Sunday dinner regularly and there was always a neighbor who needed a ride or needed a loan.   My parents never told them no -- they found a way to help in whatever way they could.  

In the midst of all that, I grew up hearing my mom sing.  She singed while she cleaned (and there was a lot of cleaning to do as she ran a home day care with 6 kids plus the three of us until I was 14). She singed while she cooked and baked.  She sang while she "mended" and sewed.   And it wasn't just that she sang, but what she sang.

"He owns the cattle on a thousand hills..."

"I've got a mansion, just over the hill top..."

"I'm a child of the king..."

Her spirit was always upbeat and positive.   She was always so positive.  I am sure there are days when she and my dad had conversations about how hard it was to figure out how to pay bills, but we never heard them.    If there was a need, they prayed.   And as they prayed, I watched God do miracles.

One day we sat down to supper and my mom said, "we are out of grocery money so we are going to have to be very creative the next several days" and during family devotions we prayed, as always that God would provide.   Literally that evening a friend from church came over and said, "I feel like God was asking me to bring you groceries."

Another time that I remember vividly was when our old station wagon finally died.    My dad announced that it was unrepairable and that we had no money in savings to buy another one.   Again as a family we prayed.   The next morning an acquaintance down the street called and said, "You wouldn't happen to need a vehicle would you?  We have an old one in the back that runs well and we just want to get it off our property.  We would sell it to you for a dollar.".   

My mom and dad had a spirit of abundance, gratitude, faith and a willingness to share.  

I contrast that spirit to the one that I have had lately.  We have had so many financial setbacks in the past year that I can't even name them.  All of our kids are needing our money and it seems that no matter how much we make we can't get ahead.   I have scrambled and pushed and tried everything I can think of to fix some of these problems... but I haven't prayed nearly enough, and our answers have been desperate borrowing of dollars and not trusting in God.

Last night after a particularly frustrating day where everything seemed to culminate, I was reminded of one more song that my mother used to sing.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

I realized that last night I was there.  I had reached the end of my hoarded resources.  I have been living with a scarcity mindset and that limits God.  I’ve been relying on myself, and that means He can’t step in and do the cool stuff.

I don’t know what is going to happen with many of the situations I’ve been trying to fix.  But I do know that I serve a limitless God.  I am a child of the King who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and I’m going to inherit a mansion some day that’s just over the hilltop.   

I regret that I have not been modeling this for my children lately and I need to do a better job.  

I’m not sure why I shared all that today…. maybe it is because you are struggling with the same thing.   Or maybe it was just because I needed to.   If it’s the latter, thanks for listening.  :-)

Monday, November 27, 2017

I thought I had my PhD

Twelve children that transition to young adulthood without fully developed brains (the brain isn't done growing until a person hits age 25) means a lot of mistakes.   It also means that parents have a lot of forgiving to do.   I used to tell people that Bart and I had PhDs in forgiveness, and that we were well beyond the 490 mark for some of our kids (you know, 70 x 7?).

In fact, we have one son who, in the last 5 months has hit a deer driving Bart's car and gotten into an accident in a mall parking lot with my car that caused 8900 worth of damages and a 36 day old insurance battle which is still ongoing.  I still don't have my car.    He has also been put on hold at work twice as two different vehicles he drives have stopped running...(they were "his" vehicles, but he doesn't have any money.   He also left his stuff too close to the heater and started his room on fire.  Fortunately, our daughter was home or the parsonage would have gone up in flames.

This has been a great opportunity for us to practice forgiveness and we have always prided ourselves in offering grace and forgiveness and doing it well.

But I ran across this on Facebook the other day and it smacked me right in the face.   It said:

Forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:

1)  I will not dwell on this incident.

2)  I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.

3)  I will not talk to others about this incident.

4.  I will not let this incident send between us or hinder our personal relationship.

Ouch.   I may have not forgiven as easily or as well as I had thought.

I took a screen shot of the four questions.  I think I need to read them often.   I guess I don't have my PhD after all, but I need to work on getting it.