A Mom’s journey in the love of Jesus Christ

The calm before the storm, the quiet before the chaos…I sit at my kitchen table reading a story while everyone is still asleep. It is about a mom of three boys and her journey as she tries to raise them in the love of Christ. It is inspiring and motivating and a little intimidating.

Over the week end I spent too much time in Facebook as many of us do. I scrolled through people’s photos of their clean living room, their Martha Stewart dinner, and their smiling children and a feeling of inadequacy washes over me. Why does everyone else have it together?

On Saturday, I sat in the waiting room at my daughter’s ballet school chatting with another mother. I listened to her talk about their morning routine. How her kids loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, swept the floor and rarely even argued. The same feeling of inadequacy confronted me again.

Why does it feel like my kids are the only ones arguing constantly? Why am I the only one who can’t seem to keep the floor clear of toys or the bathroom mirror free from handprints? If so many other can do it why cant I?

This brings us to Sunday morning, a rush of activity trying to get everyone fed, dressed and semi-presentable for church. We make it out the door with only two minor arguments and one spilt glass of juice. Everyone piles into the SUV and then piles out and rushes into the back of the sanctuary to quietly take our seats. Not 5 minutes into the service and my two-year-old is running out to look for cookies and my 4-year-old is telling me she is SO bored. Finally, the pastor calls for children’s time and Sunday school dismissal. The kids run off and I am left alone. I breath a sigh of relief, no one had a melt down during the prayer so it was a success so far. As I Iisten to the message that old familiar feeling of inadequacy creeps up again. He is talking about staying connected to the Lord, gulp. I love the Lord deeply but how much time do I spend with him? I can easily make excuses about how busy I am or how tired I am or how there is just no spare minutes in the day. But I know somehow that is not valid.

I gaze out the window at the parking lot replaying the hours and minutes in my day and consciously try to see how I could add that time into my day. Then I remember that uncomfortable conversation I had with he ballet mom on Saturday. She was talking about how she gets up an hour early to read and pray. Maybe I could do that? My thought is interrupted by the worship team as they begin to close the service.

After the service I gather my crew and head for the door as quickly as I can before I lose one. Someone stops me just as I am about to get through the door with all four kids. She smiles at all the kids and then she begins to commend me. “You look so beautiful and you are always so organized and on time. Your children are so kind and polite. You have it all so well put together.” I thank her then head to the car. As I drive home I laugh to myself and I think about that sweet woman’s comment and how far from reality it is. How can she look at MY family and say we were on time, or quiet or put together? I haven’t washed my hair in…well I won’t say how long and my sons hair is growing wings because he needs a haircut so badly. She is not seeing my sink full of dishes and basket full of laundry at home. She is just seeing a glimpse of a much larger picture.

Later that evening I returned to social media before heading to bed. I scrolled through some more pages and the gnawing feeling of inadequacy returned. I turned to my husband sitting on the couch next to me and made the comment, how come everyone else looks so put together. He very wisely said to me “That is just their highlight reel.”  I turned back to my phone and went to look at my profile. I realized that if I had been someone else looking at my posted photos I would have thought my life looks pretty perfect too.

We all work so hard to appear perfect, to appear on top of the world, but why? It is a vicious façade of judgement really. I judge others and they judge me and I’m constantly wondering who I measure up to and who I don’t.

 

A familiar verse was brought to my attention this week – Psalm 139:13-14 [highlight1]“You created me in my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”[/highlight1] The Lord has quietly reminded me that I am his child and he has created me perfect. He gave me the perfect set of skills to be a mother to MY Children, he gave the perfect temperament to be in MY marriage and he loves me perfectly where I am at. He knows me, all of me. He knows about the times I yell at my kids, the times I am selfish, the times I am late or messy or mean and he loves it all. I do not need to be afraid to show the good, bad and ugly because I am redeemed.

I am challenged this week to try to be more authentic, to break the cycle of comparing in my own community. Not to air all my dirty laundry but just to stop the battle of trying to hide all the imperfections, all the real-life moments. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made, we are loved by the king and we need to extend authentic love and grace to ourselves and to those around us!

[quote title=”Mercy” Text=”“Mercy doesn’t erase mistakes but it always redeems it, and in the process erases guilt” ” name=”April Buhler” name_sub=””]

 

 

VALUE: Cross-Cultural Servanthood

Our staff are reading an interesting book called Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer. Faith Fellowship heralds three values: Faith, multi-generational and multi-national community, plus servanthood. This book blends the last two values for us.

The way this value looks for us includes the following definition:

Servanthood – This means that, in our ministries and individual lives: we will grow toward

  • Putting the best interests of others ahead of our own
  • Utilizing our gifts, resources and abilities to the benefit of building up the body and the individuals in it
  • Choosing humility, graciousness, gentleness and compassion as our first response to others inside and outside our immediate fellowship

This is far harder than it sounds when reading words on paper. Everything within us seems to fight against acting like Jesus in Philippians 2 where it says he emptied himself and became a bond-servant.

Elmer’s point in his book (p. 17) is that in a cross-cultural situation it is natural for North Americans to act from a point of superiority even without realizing it. He says that our superiority “appears in disguises that pretend to be virtues – virtues such as

  • I need to correct their error (meaning I have superior knowledge, a corner on truth)
  • My education has equipped me to know what is best for you (so let me do most of the talking while you do most of the listening and changing).
  • I am here to help you (so do as I say).
  • I can be your spiritual mentor (so I am your role model).
  • Let me disciple you, equip you, train you (often perceived as “let me make you into a clone of myself).

The author summarizes that “superiority cloaked in the desire to serve is still superiority. It’s not our words that count but the perceptions of the local people who watch our lives and sense our attitudes.”

There is no question then but that servanthood begins from a deep sense of humility as to who I am and a deep sense of respect and honor as to who God has made you to be. Your culture, faith, experience, background, personality and understanding of God as filtered through the Scriptures all are facets of life that I pay attention to.

Our perception of servanthood is filtered through our cultural lens. What we think of as service is easily interpreted as superiority or ignorance by another. This is never so obvious as in the different ways we greet each other and show respect.

Our perception of servanthood is also filtered through our generational lens. We were all raised with what we were told was the “right” way to show respect to others – to those older, to men, to women, to relatives, to strangers, to those in authority, etc.

Being mixed in the soup of multi-culturalism and multi-generationalism can easily leave one feeling like there may no longer be any right way to do much of anything. Servanthood is a value we are still learning. What have you learned about servanthood in your context, culture and circumstances? Bless you as you put Biblical servanthood into practice.

 

What’s it All About?

The messages I get often start with Why or Where. Why is God letting this happen to me? Where is God right now and why isn’t he answering my prayers? Why am I here?

Rick Warren, in his book Better Together (p. 12), says “the purpose of your time on earth is not primarily about acquiring possessions, attaining status, achieving success, or even experiencing happiness. Those are secondary issues. Life is all about love and developing relationships – with God, and with other people. You may succeed in many areas, but if you fail to learn how to love God and love others, you’ll have missed the reason God created you and placed you on this planet. Learning to love is life’s most important lesson. Jesus called it the “great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). Nothing else comes close in importance.”

If you’re like me, it’s easy to nod my head in agreement but then I meet real people in real life.

For example, K. is the mom whose son is an aggressive autistic wreaking havoc in the community. K. has a husband dying from a brain tumour and acting out against her. K. has a daughter who gave her a three-week-old child to look after since the daughter didn’t want to leave her life of drugs and prostitution. Now K. has kidney cancer and lives in serious pain. Her messages to me express how overwhelming life is. Her trust and faith in God were ejected long ago. How do I love in this situation?

  1. came by for prayer again today. One son is an alcoholic and one a drug addict. She converted to Christianity from another religion and is seeing huge transformation in her own life and choices. She battles and fights for her boys but is drained of energy. She can’t keep a job because she is always chasing to intervene in her son’s latest escapade. The things she loves disappear again and she knows who took them. Yet today, she declares that God knows who needs those things most and she releases them without animosity toward her son. Still, she is in desperate need. How do I love in this situation?
  2. is a young professional who was lonely. She prided herself on her purity until she met an older man who overwhelmed her with compassion and care. She quickly fell prey to his sexual advances and found herself involved in things she never imagined doing. When that relationship ended, within a week, she was into another relationship with a younger man who repeated the same activities with her. She feels trapped because of her loneliness, guilt because of her faith, helplessness to make meaningful choices. How do I love in this situation?
  3. is an older refugee who longs for connections. He had significant status in his home country before he had to run for his life and come to Canada a year ago. He is learning English and loves to talk but no one seems to have time for him. He is constantly sending out invitations to come and share food at his home. He would love to still make a difference in his home country through a politician here but needs help accessing his representative so he can share his story. How do I love in this situation?

Every person we meet has a different story and love needs to be applied uniquely to their situation. We need wisdom and compassion and grace greater than we can imagine.

Who are the significant people in your community who need practical demonstrations of love? What can you do for even one of them?

Distinguishing God from nature

We live in an age where many seem to worship the creation more than the Creator. The lines between stewardship of creation and worship of creation are blurring. This probably shouldn’t surprise us as the signs of this shift are evident in our culture.

We have people who create havoc over how cows and chickens are slaughtered but who ignore the slaughter of babies in the womb even when the child’s organs are being harvested and sold to keep other humans healthy and whole. We have people who flaunt abhorrent sexual practices as a right while ignoring the sex trafficking, bondage, abuse and oppression that such lifestyles often nurture.

In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul says that God designs creation in such a way that his character can’t be misunderstood by those who search for him. Those who suppress the truth of his power and divine nature have no excuse. When people shift from worshiping the Creator to worshipping the creation God gives them up to their own foolish thinking. One of the first evidences is that they compromise their God-oriented sexuality. “They exchange the truth of God for a lie.”

Once this step is taken the slide continues into “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (NIV)

Paul finishes by saying that the most amazing thing is that they not only do these things but they approve of others who do them. Ever notice how our society celebrates openly those who do these things? If not celebrates, at least tolerates willingly to avoid being labeled.

That’s not how we would usually expect God to express his wrath when we go our own way – to let us have the consequences of our own choices and to let us explore the depths of our own sin nature.

All along, God wants us to see that there is nothing but Him who can satisfy the deepest desires of our heart. There is nothing but the way he designed life which will meet the deepest needs of our soul. By allowing us to follow the options we choose we are meant to see that this option won’t meet our expectations for soul-satisfaction. Tasting the fruit of our soul’s destruction, brought on by wrong choices, is meant to prod us back to him and the way he designed for us.

Yes, care for creation – pick up that trash, grow those trees, steward the fish and birds and whales – but realize that you do this to remind others of how good and how gracious the Creator is in providing everything we need for life and godliness.

Can Different Generations Really Come Together as One?

It’s no secret that while building up a church family with multi-generations is the dream of most congregations that this is more challenging than it seems. Different generations have different soul language with the music they respond to; they have different heart language in what they feel committed to with their time and resources; they have different body language in terms of how they build relationship and share their lives.

Sociologists might label the four key generations as Builders, Boomers, Gen Xers and Millenials. Each has been shaped by different backgrounds, different times, different perceptions of their culture and different experiences of faith. Perceptions , actions and reactions to what is happening will vary. How do you build unity in the middle of so much chronological diversity?

Loving your different generation neighbor often involves first building a relationship – taking an interest to show you care by listening, asking insightful questions, praying for and supporting in practical ways. Our seniors would love to have someone sit with them over tea and ask them to share their experiences. There needs to be verbal expressions of respect for their experience and wisdom. They can make great mentors.

Liz Selzer, in her book 3D Mentoring (p. 122) says “People need to see each other as competent, authentic, able to create meaningful connections, accountable, and dependable. “ They need to find their voices in three ways: by building a learning culture where everyone’s strengths are celebrated and appreciated; give opportunities for all to participate in a way where it is safe to take risks and fail; establish a forum where everyone’s voice gets heard and encourage everyone’s contribution.

This kind of culture happens one on one as we intentionally sit with each other and listen to each other. There is a God story in the life I am facing and preparing myself to hear it and appreciate it changes my whole attitude toward what God has done and what He is still doing.

Which generation can you expand your heart toward? How will you do that?

Have You Really Left Home?

This is an incredibly challenging time and place to find a new home – especially if you’re young. Spaces and dollars are few for many of you. It takes a reorientation of your expectations to find your roots and to dig them down so that you hold on and grow where you are.

This day is often focused on encouraging people to stretch themselves and their dollars to reach out and demonstrate your affection for others in your world. Dinners, cards, flowers and calls are intentionally shared. Those in marriages are encouraged to push their expressions of intimacy even deeper. It is sometimes easy to give something other than yourself to accomplish your duty.

Donald Harvey has written a book called “Love Decisions” focusing on a dad’s talk with his daughter about the potential for love and her preparation for it. The first question he brings up is “Have you really left home?”

His biblical focus is on Genesis 2:24 where we are told that a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife so they become one flesh. A person who is ready for lasting relationship both detaches and then attaches. Some who have been already married haven’t really effectively detached from their birth families and they find themselves constantly torn between two loyalties.

The issue isn’t only about moving your body out of a shared space with your birth family. It is about making the primary motivation for your mental and emotional decisions based on a foundation other than your parents. Of course, family will always be important and have some degree of influence on many of our decisions but it is the degree of that decision making which shows whether you have left home or not.

Preserving a healthy family relationship, while developing other positive relationships, is an important part of developing some level of independence. You don’t have to rebel or move far away to establish this readiness.

Here’s what Harvey (p. 18) tells us. “When you have truly left home, you will demonstrate independence versus dependence – you will act versus react. And your decisions will have more to say about you than about other people. The bottom line will always be, “This is what I think is the best thing for me to do,” and you will act accordingly. If, instead, your behavior is a reaction to others, then maybe (you guessed it) you still haven’t left and there’s still some work to do before you’re ready to make any real lovedecisions.

“Leaving home is not as simple as it sounds. It isn’t just a by-product of age. Nor is it always indicated by a change in address. It’s a process – one that requires many steps and encounters many interferences. Still, it is not only an accomplishable goal but one that must be attained before you are ready to make any significant lovedecisons. Assess yourself and your relationships. Have you made the break from home and dependence to self-sufficiency and independence? Are you somewhere “in process”? Or are you still clearly tied to your parents?

Developing a faith that is your own is an essential part of this readiness for intimacy. If your heart has learned to love God and to be loved by him then it is tuned to understand how love works in the human realm.

Are you living the right story ?

We live in a world of stories. We love to hear stories and tell stories. Our stories
fill out our sense of identity, purpose, need and hope. My son Richard was home
from Rwanda a month ago and he and his sisters and I were sitting around our
living room sharing stories. It got a little weepy at one point. My young
granddaughter Kylie stopped at the door for a moment, left and returned with an
armload of stuffed sheep. She quietly went to each person and dropped a sheep
into their arms then she left. We all hugged our sheep and kept telling stories but
that sensitive act of Kylie is a story worth telling.
The Christmas story is a story of God stepping into our weepy human story with
a lamb and weaving our story into his bigger story. The challenge for most
people is that there are so many different versions of Christmas stories that it
can be confusing. Getting the right story is important because that story will
define our sense of identity, purpose, need and hope.
The main Christmas story most of our children hear is that they are at the center
of the story. By being good and doing good they can get what they want. If they
get what they want they will be happier, with-it, smarter, comfortable, loved. All
their hopes and dreams will be satisfied.
Christmas in the first story is about what we give and what we get. When we get
older it’s about dressing up and getting out, eating, putting a smile on our face
and staying busy shopping – but it’s still about giving and getting. There’s a
popular commercial that boldly says “I want that.” That’s the first story.
The alternate Christmas story of the Bible is the one we quickly refer to at this
time of year and then put back on the shelf until next year. In this story God is at
the center and it is all about him – his love, his gift, his action, his sacrifice. The
story is plain and simple, nothing to attract Hollywood to make a film about it.
It’s about a sin-broken world wrestling with overwhelming issues, people making
self-destructive choices, desperate for a Saviour, hoping against hope to make it
through another day. It’s about the Creator stepping off his throne as our king
and being humiliated to becoming a baby in a refugee family. When we grow up
with this story we realize that the tag line changes from “I want that” to “He
wants this.”
Why is the right Christmas story so important when it comes to our identity,
purpose, need and hope?
Perhaps during 2018 we can focus more intentionally on exposing our hearts to
the right story.