Filters

The struggle is real in my home.  With five kids, two of whom are well into their teens, we have every device imaginable at our fingertips.  Phones, computers, Kindles, and I-pads all compete for attention and, to tell you the truth, I could go Amish in a split-second and toss them all out the window.

Until I want to write a blog post.

Or watch Chip and Joanna.

Hence the struggle.

Filtering what my kids watch and listen to is like swimming up a waterfall with my ankles tied together.  Information rushes in so quickly these days and software updates constantly change the game.  I can’t keep up.

So how, in an age of information overload, do we protect our children?  In spite of internet filters and limits on what shows they can watch, too often they are still exposed to things that go against God and His desires for them.  Even if we successfully put up a concrete wall of internet safety, they are not in our home 24/7.  They have friends.  Their friends have TV’s and computers.  We cannot block it all, no matter how much we try.  There must be a better way to protect them, a more effective and dependable filter.

In the book of James, the twelve tribes of Israel have been dispersed throughout the world.  They are suddenly immersed in new cultures and learning to survive away from their beloved homeland because of persecution.  I can only imagine the temptation they faced to compromise, to “fit in” and just not be noticed or singled out.

I’m sure their kids, growing up in this foreign culture that did not feel foreign to them,  (this was their normal, just as a world full of electronic devices is normal to my kids) often pouted and whined, “Everybody else is doing it, why can’t we?”  The adults likely felt the same struggle.

So James reminds them of who they are and Whose they are.  He encourages them to face suffering with the courage of God and allow God to use it to refine them, making them more like Jesus, who happened to be James’ oldest brother. (Can you imagine?)  He reminds them that they are here for a purpose…God’s purpose.  He wants to use them. Their obedience, though it will not save them, will model the love of the Father to the dark society in which they live.  They have been given a mandate to love and serve sacrificially, because Jesus sacrificed his very life for them.  They are to live outwardly what has happened inwardly as evidence of their salvation and position in the Kingdom of God.

In chapter 4, James warns them about resisting worldliness.  Selfishness, arguing, boasting, befriending “the world” and arrogance are all on his list.  He didn’t tell them to only allow Christians into their home.  He also didn’t tell them to stay home and avoid society in order to avoid temptation.

He told them, in order to win the spiritual battle for their hearts, to turn away from their own interests and submit to God alone.  There are two opposing forces at work, battling to influence our minds and either cripple us spiritually or give us wings:  the World and the Kingdom of God.  They are polar opposites.  We cannot function in both at once.  We either live as an enemy of the World, or we effectively become enemies of God.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m choosing enemies it’s not going to be the Creator of the Universe.

As I ponder this, though, I wonder if what I just wrote is true.  Every day I make a thousand little decisions that add up and affect my loyalties.  This morning, as I was teaching this chapter of James to my children, a light bulb switched on in my spirit and the words came alive as never before regarding the choices we make minute by minute, hour by hour.  We talked about the characteristics of worldliness.  (They had no problem making a long list!)  I looked at them and gently challenged my sweet ones, “When you watch TV, like on Disney, and listen to music do you see any of these things?”  Three pairs of eyes widened as they nodded and named off the list again:  Pridefulness, boasting, selfishness, arrogance.  I continued…

“When you watch or listen to things that are filled with worldliness, it gradually soaks in.  The Bible says that ‘Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Luke 6:45) so what happens is your heart becomes full of these characteristics and it begins to show in your behavior and attitude.  We have to remember that God is the only one worthy of judging what is right and wrong, so if He says these things are sin then they are.  If we want to live as a friend of God then we have to choose not to immerse ourselves in the messages of the world.”

Boy, do I wish this was easy.  I wish that my just saying it to my kids would result in instant transformation and that they would, from this day forward, make awesome choices and have no desire for the things of the world.  But that is not reality.  I can filter internet and TV (which I do) all day long, but if their hearts are not drawn toward the Father then the second they leave my home they will run in the opposite direction of everything they have been taught.

I guess the next question is, how do we help them turn to God?  Well, we begin by modeling it ourselves.  Do they see me change the station when something inappropriate comes on the TV or radio?  Am I having good, gentle discussions with them as they learn to navigate these choppy waters or just casting judgement when they make choices that I disagree with?  It is in the day to day, minute to minute living and learning from real life consequences as well as experiencing blessing from good decisions that their little hearts are molded and shaped for Jesus.  I cannot cast a blanket of rules and expect them to blindly follow.  Legalism breeds sin.  Always has, always will.  But grace draws us to the Father.  Unconditional love and acceptance, having a safe place to land no matter how they have messed up and knowing who they are in Christ are the foundation for them to draw from as they stumble, fall, and learn to walk again.

I struggle with this.  I want to control and just keep them from messing up in the first place, but that is not possible.  There are only certain things I can do, provide a safe haven for them, a home where there are standards and filters and loving discussions bathed in forgiveness when the filters fail.  (Which they will.)  And I can help them develop their own, holy filter…a realization that choosing things that honor the Kingdom are always better, always more beautiful, and always with good consequences.  It takes time.  It takes a lifetime.  And it depends solely on the grace of God manifesting in the prayers and hard work we put in as parents.

 

You Can’t Hold It All

We left the hotel room in a flurry of bags, blankets and collected “treasures” from a week in Texas.  Since I tend to get sleepy when driving past mid-afternoon I was determined to get on the road by 7:00 am.  The kids, though, groggy, were on board with the idea.  They were as ready to be home and in their own beds as their mama!

As we paraded down the sidewalk to the parking lot one of my kids began to leave a trail.  A shoe.  A shirt.  A book.  Frustrated by the delay, I looked back to figure out why they were dropping all of this stuff, expecting to find an unzipped zipper or something like that.  Instead, I realized this child had thought it would be faster just to wad all of their loose belongings into their bathrobe and carry the awkward bundle to the car where, I guess, it would have been deposited on the floor and stepped on for the next eight hours. My child carried an empty backpack that was fully capable of holding all these things securely.

I scolded them, explaining why failing to secure the belongings had only resulted in delay and frustration and wouldn’t it have been easier to just throw it all in the bag instead of leaving a trail of clothing from the hotel to the car that you now have to go back and pick up?  And if we hadn’t looked back and noticed the stuff on the ground we would not have known what the heck had happened to all those clothes!

Then God gave me a spiritual flick on the head, nudging me to listen to what I had just said and, in turn, listen to what He wanted to tell me:

We have so many things we are asked to carry.  Our relationships, our homes, our jobs, finances, families, our health and spiritual disciplines are all responsibilities we must juggle.  But what we often forget is that we don’t have to carry all of them up front all of the time. What we need to hold in our hands changes constantly.   It can feel so overwhelming but we must intentionally keep the main thing the main thing!  The rest can be stowed away temporarily.

Think of the Holy Spirit as our great Backpack.  (I know…this is a big stretch!  Bear with me here!)  The Bible says the Holy Spirit is our helper.  (John 14:26)  It also says Jesus brings rest in the midst of the difficulties of life, promising not to “lay anything heavy or ill-fitting” on us.  (Matt 11:29)  So as I imagine this, I see myself…when walking well in faith…with Jesus by my side.  He is wearing the backpack that holds all of my “stuff.”  As my day progresses and my family needs to be front and center, I reach into the backpack and take them out, giving them my full attention and tending to their needs.  Then, a little while later, I get an email and a bill is due.  I can temporarily entrust my family in Jesus’ care as I take out the “financial” burden from the backpack, tending to it while my kids entertain themselves, read, play, etc.   Then the dog throws up.  ALL the stuff goes in the backpack at that point because…well…dog vomit.  Ugh.   Then the afternoon continues and my husband comes home.  I put the stress over what I just cleaned up in Jesus’ backpack and focus on this man that God has given me, greeting him with a smile and kiss and offering him dinner and a chance to rest.  Again, all of my responsibilities are nearby and available to be tended to as needed, but they are not all up front and overwhelming me all at the same time.  (And thank goodness for that because who wants dog puke front and center all the time!  Sorry…I digress.)

Does this make sense?  I think one of the biggest mistakes we can make as human beings is the same one my child made.  We don’t trust that there is enough time or energy to get all the things done so we refuse to put ANY of them down and soon they are spilling out all over the place and nothing gets done well.  But Jesus is right here by our side with an empty backpack and He is not only fully capable of holding every single one of our burdens, he WANTS to hold them.  It doesn’t mean He takes the burdens out of our lives completely, but He does take them out of our overfilled arms and off our backs!

As a woman, a wife, and a mom my life has gone through many seasons.  There are years where my biggest accomplishment was that I took a shower and the kids were still alive at bedtime.  There are others where I was more productive in keeping home, relationships outside my home, and serving.  Some years I have been a prayer warrior, others I have barely breathed out two or three words of desperation to God while trying to bring down a high fever or handle an epic tantrum.  We cannot do everything all of the time. And when we try, we will generally not do any of them well.

For example:

It’s OK, young mama, if your babies are demanding all of your time and you had to order pizza for dinner two nights in a row.  But make eating pizza an event!  Light candles! Play music!  Thank God as a family for that convenience and celebrate it!  You will have more time to cook as your kids grow, I promise.  And when you do, it doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy.  And please don’t wish away their little years by longing for things that would bring you more accolades.  In these long, exhausting years do your very best to be satisfied with the approval of the audience of One.  Your Heavenly Father sees and knows every sacrifice, every bottle cleaned, every diaper changed, and every exhausted kiss you give your husband.

My dear sister who is caring for a very sick loved one, maybe you stayed up later than everyone else last night and watched Netflix instead of doing the sink full of dishes.  That may not have been the most productive use of that hour…but then again maybe it was. You have to build rest into your day in order to survive.  Sabbath.  Call a friend and ask her to bring you coffee.  Offer up breath prayers when you are desperate and know that God hears them just as clearly as longer, more eloquent offerings.  Just be in His presence.  You don’t have to say a thing.

My single friend, you may long for husband and a house full of kids.  (Or maybe you don’t!)  God has not given you that “burden” to carry in life and you may feel like a third wheel at social gatherings, but you are very needed and useful.  Serve Him.  Serve His people who run around like chickens with their heads cut off and be an instrument of peace and rest in your community and church!  Use your freedom to go where young mothers cannot in their season of life.  Pave the way for us who will, one day, be empty-nesters and join you on your adventures!

Most importantly, friends, seek the Lord.  Ask Him what he wants you to hold in your hands at this moment.  Then don’t give in to the temptation to carry anything more.  That may sound simple, but you know as well as I do that it is not.  Do one thing at a time and do it well, then put it in the “backpack” before taking out the next thing.  This skill we work so hard to instill in children when learning to care for their belongings is just as useful to us as women as we navigate the busyness of life!

Gosh, I’m thankful for the lessons God teaches me through my kids.  I would love to hear from you if you have anything to share in this area!  You can comment here or email me at alifeofsimplejoys@gmail.com.  I so enjoy interacting with you and learning about the ways you seek to keep life simple!

 

Traveling…Mercy!

I’m convinced road trips are one of God’s most efficient tools for refining me.

This morning my alarm went off at 5am and I hit snooze not once, not twice, but three times.  I had spent the last two days packing up our entire family for a road trip to San Antonio.   My husband has been out of the country on a mission trip and will meet us in Texas for our niece’s wedding.  So that means I’m driving us, solo, for two days, and keeping kids from killing each other without Daddy as backup.

We left the house at 6:15 with me fully expecting them to all go back to sleep for the first few hours of the trip because I’ve been told on multiple occasions that this exactly what they do when they travel with FRIENDS.

BUT NO.

These kids who insist every. single. morning. that they are not hungry, that they are “never hungry when I wake up” wanted food immediately.  But I had a plan in mind and I stood my ground, wanting to get on the road and keep the schedule I knew would result in an efficient and memorable trip.  So I said no, that we would wait a little while to stop for breakfast at our normal eating time.  After much weeping and gnashing of teeth we started driving.  We stopped in Jackson, Tennessee and had Chick-fil-a around 8:45 am and WOULDN’T YOU KNOW a couple of kids had to be reminded to EAT because they suddenly weren’t hungry!  For. The. Love.

Throughout the day, I felt myself getting impatient.  I know you probably cannot relate (#sarcasm) but I’m just being honest here!  I got tired of complaints about being crowded/hungry/uncomfortable/and mom’s music choices.  One child and I bickered for about ten minutes over something stupid and finally made the wise decision just to drop it and be quiet.  I wasn’t going to win any mother-of-the-year awards, I just wanted to get to the hotel and let them veg in front of a TV with no time limits for once.

But here is the simple joy God injected into what began as a frustrating trip.  The same child with whom I had the conflict with became a comedian and we ended up in stitches. I put on 80’s music and we sang.  Loudly.  Off-key.  We all laughed and danced in the car and the highlight was when we belted out “Total Eclipse of the Heart” while in a traffic jam on I-30 just outside Texarkana!

Isn’t it funny how a simple choice can change the entire tone of a day?  Choosing to drop a grudge and laugh, choosing to stop wanting silence and embrace silliness?

Then there was the moment when we passed our first Whataburger billboard because…y’all…there are NO Whataburgers in Tennessee.  The entire car filled with happy yells and all the kids nearly jumped out of their seats in excitement because, “Guess what we are having for dinner!”

And all the people said…Amen and pass me a fry.

 

 

 

 

Simply Great

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.”

Helen Keller

 

Greatness really isn’t glorious.

When I think of greatness, I usually think big!  I imagine royalty, (especially the British sort) and pageantry.  I think of servants and orders being given and followed without question.  Lots of “Yes ma’am’s.”  Gosh, that sounds nice.  I envision someone like Princess Kate with a bevy of personal assistants making sure her dresses fit perfectly and that her stylish little hat is perched at the precise angle that accents her professionally applied “smoky eye.”  She gets in her limo and is escorted to London’s finest restaurant where she dines with society’s elite, enjoying expensive wine and caviar while cameras capture it all and plaster her face all over every magazine, praising her etiquette and conversational expertise.  Doesn’t that sound lovely?

And how about a spot of tea?

But I’ve been reading the book of Mark and, well, Jesus had a lot to say about true greatness.  It’s simple, really.  And it does not involve expensive restaurants.

Or a fabulous British accent.

That should not surprise me.

The disciples followed Jesus, often, in a state of confusion.  They lived a life of sensory overload, witnessing miracles and events that most of us only dream of in today’s world. It was an honor to be in the company of the Messiah, to say the least.  As the days went by and the crowds grew bigger the disciples began to forget exactly Who the crowds were there to see.  They were riding the coattails of the Son of God and feeling pretty darn good about their position in society at the moment.

So Mark 9 tells us they were traveling with Jesus to Capernaum and they were talking amongst themselves.  Actually, they were probably arguing.  They were doing what my kids do at restaurants when we are all trying to be seated.  They were jockeying for position.

“I call sitting by Dad!”

“It’s my turn!”

“Not fair!  You sat by him last time!”

“You ALWAYS get to sit by him!”

(Notice they aren’t arguing over sitting by me.  They are SO over me.)

Well, they thought they were keeping this conversation on the down-low, that Jesus wasn’t aware of their little power trip.  How easily they forgot exactly WHO they were following down that dusty road.

Jesus turns to them and asks, “What were you talking about?”

Um, well, um…their eyes look down, embarrassed, because they know He knows and they are trying to figure out how to backpedal out of this one.  Mark doesn’t tell us if they answered him.  I don’t think they did.  I think Jesus let his question hang in the awkward silence for a few seconds before letting them know he already knew the answer to the question he was asking.

Then he drops the bomb.

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  Then he called a child who was nearby and gently brought it to the center of the group of men.  He makes sure they all get a good look at the little one, taking the child into His arms.

“Whoever receives one child, just like this one, in my name receives me.   And whoever receives me doesn’t receive just me…he receives Him who sent me.”  In other words, guys, you are all focused on the wrong thing.

God’s kingdom is the exact opposite of everything this world tells us is right and good and effective.  It is upside down and inside out and we are wise to step back and observe how Jesus taught and what that should look like in our lives today.  We are here to serve. We are here to love.  We are here to gently shepherd our families and train them up in the ways of God, not expecting glory for ourselves in return.  Our mission is simple, but it is not easy because it goes against everything society says is true and great.

Greatness is about humility and service.  It is not about status or stuff.  It is not about Pinterest-worthy decorating, housekeeping, or even efficiency.  In fact, very often God will call us to be “ineffecient” and even “impractical” in the eyes of those around us. There may be six loads of laundry in my living room, waiting to be folded.  My sink may be full of dirty dishes and the junk mail piled up on the kitchen counter.  But the still, small voice of God whispers, “Stop.”

What if stopping means a lost opportunity to climb up the ladder of success?  What if it means I look like an idiot and someone shows up, unanounced, at my front door?  What if stopping means I put down the thing that would have been so great, such a boost to my career or position in ministry, and quietly do what God asked me to do that no one but He may ever see?  It could mean spending long hours praying and interceding, cooking a meal, writing a note, or just snuggling a child who needs a little extra attention in the moment.

It could mean a million different things, but the point I am making is this: Who am I serving?  What is my motivation for what I am doing?  If I am piling on one responsibility after another, drowning in a sea of stress and sacrificing the peace in my home…why? Why am I doing this?  What made me decide it was worth the price I (or my family) am paying?  What if I drop the selfish ambition and focus on cultivating humility, serving my family and friends and knowing when to say no to things that often interfere in this sacred mission God has given to me?

In theory, this sound great, right?  But the reality is I make a million little decisions every single day that scream to my loved ones, “There are a ton of things in my life more important than you!”  They will know their worth to me by the choices I make and the way I serve, or don’t serve, them.

My husband deserves a wife who greets him with a smile and a kiss.  He doesn’t need to hear all the things that went wrong the second he walks through the door after work.

My kids deserve the benefit of the doubt. So often I assume the worst and heap shame upon them for past mistakes when, in fact, they are just doing what normal kids do…trying to figure things out and making the same dumb mistakes I did along the way.  I want the world to look at me and declare me successful when the truth is I am flying by the seat of my pants most of the time and I can take neither blame nor credit for how my kids turn out!  My greatness is not measured by the lives of my children, the size of my house, the type of car I drive or the friends with whom I keep company.  It is only measured by how much of myself (including opportunities for recognition) I literally murder in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a lost and dying world.

This takes guts.  This takes strength.  And it takes incredible humility, daily choosing to be a living sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

I am tired of jostling for position, aren’t you?  We make things so complicated, but Jesus never did that.  He lived simply, humbly, and effectively.  Let’s just plop down right where we are and feast together in His presence.  I  believe there really aren’t any bad seats in His house.  I’ll scoot over for you.  🙂