Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"All In"

About a month ago I was invited to join the Z (Zondervan) Blog Squad and given the opportunity to review a few books.  They mailed me some titles (for free) and I've been spending some time reading and highlighting and re-reading and writing in the margins.

One of the books I picked was called "All In" (Student Edition) by Mark and Parker Batterson, author of "The Circle Maker". 

"It was great...but I didn't always like what it had to say," said my twelve year old.  I read the book first and then passed it along to her, to challenge her and also to get a second opinion.

The book is aimed at young adults but the material transcends age.  It's a call to go "All In" as the book says, to strip down to our humblest and die to ourselves, to take up or crosses and be completely surrendered to Christ.  It asks a simple question: You are one decision away from a totally different life.  Are you all in for God or not?

 It's not an easy thing to read.  I found myself being uncomfortable in many sections because I, like many Christians like to think of myself as a disciple but when it comes to really living it out, I get scared. This way of living makes so logical sense.  It flies in the face of everything the world tells us and so it requires that we walk a slippery plank in order to step out in faith...while having people throw rotten food at us.

The book was amazing.  It's full of zingy one liners that leave you feeling like you're getting a pep talk from your coach during half time.  Things like:

"We've cheapened the gospel by allowing people to buy in without selling out."  "If Jesus is not your Lord of all, then Jesus is not your Lord at all."  Yikes, right?  You mean I can't just show up to church on Sunday and put a little money in the collection basket, say my night time prayers and call it good between me and God?  This book dares us to consider that our lives, every second of them should be lived solely to glorify God. 

But..but...that means I can't live for stuff that makes ME happy!  That's a lot to ask!  Yes.  It is.  And that is exactly why so many people can't manage it.  They weigh the sacrifice and decide that it's just too much.

Batterson talks about God's grace and how it costs nothing but demands everything.  "Everything?" I say?  Yes...everything.  And everything is a tough pill to swallow. This book reminds me a lot of Francis Chan's "Crazy Love."  It's a message that many people love to hear but hate to live out.

This book challenges all of Christ's followers to quit playing around, to stop standing on the sidelines and to jump; jump in the scariest of scenarios without any worldly sort of parachute.  It's exactly how I want to live my life even though I often feel like I'm crawling towards my goal and so it was a reminder and a motivator to keep the course.

If you are a Christian who lives their lives on the fence, this book might infuriate you.  This is not your "God is love, just accept him and everything will turn up roses" kind of message.  This is a "God died for you, he loves you more than anything and is asking for you to hand your entire life over to him" kind of message. 

The great thing about this book is that it doesn't tell you that you should do "something" and then leave you to decide what that might be.  It gives a simple plan for starting out and encourages readers to make decisions, stand strong through failures, rely on God for everything and stop wasting their gifts.

My daughter and I had some great conversations about what this kind of living means for both of us.  It encouraged us to talk about our gifts, our failures and our successes and to support one another in striving to give our all to God. We remind ourselves that "God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called!" 

I highly recommend it for teenagers but I recommend it for adults as well.  I found a lot of insight that bridged the generation gap.  This would be a great study to do together with your teen or young adult.  There are endless conversation starters!

I don't believe in coincidences.  I know I was supposed to read this book, to push the boundaries of what this world might consider sane in order to live crazy for Christ.  It's a call I think all of us should answer.  It's up to you.  Are you all in?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Potential Of Blind Faith

You've all heard about the placebo effect, right?  It's a term mostly used in the medical community to describe what happens when a patient has a positive response to an inert treatment.  In other words, patients have reported having improved symptoms, less pain and even healing of their ailments in response to taking a pill with absolutely no medicine in it.

It proves that our perception is what is important.  How faith, something physically intangible, can have dramatic physical effects.

I read another recent study that suggests that our bodies respond to food based on our beliefs and feelings about that food.  These results are preliminary but based on the findings, one can deduce that there is a high likelihood that we've been missing a huge link between brain and body when it comes to our physical functioning.

Just like in the placebo effect, people are effected more by what they believe than what is actually happening.  It's not the pill that cures them, it's the faith that heals them.  Our beliefs are powerful, faith is powerful.  Our thoughts are formidable and they can work either for us or against us...more than we realize. 

So many of us are walking around blindly.  We don't see the truth and realize the full potential of our faith.  When the blind man came to Jesus,  Jesus asked him "What do you want me to do for you?"

"I want to see," he said.

I'm taking a creative liberty here but in my mind Jesus smiles.  He knows that this man believes that anything is possible and so he heals him. He does the impossible. Afterwards, he doesn't say, "I've healed you, now go on with your life."

He said, "Your FAITH has healed you."  There is no doubt that the man would not have been healed if he didn't believe it was possible.

We often expect it to be the other way around, that God  should heal us first and then we throw our faith into the equation.  "Prove yourself God!  And then we'll believe!"  Our prayers are often less powerful because our belief is less powerful.  Jesus said, "All things are possible to him that believes."  All things.  Not some things.  Not most things except for the really hard stuff. 

No, all things, even that which we didn't even know was possible!

Next to this guarantee, our dreams and prayers are woefully small.  I know that I often put boundaries around my prayers.  I say, "God...please heal my Aunt Doris...if you can."  I start to forget that the creator of all things can do literally anything and I say, "Yeah, but we've got to have some logic about this.  It's not like he can make me leap tall buildings in a single bound."  And that is my problem.

While many things seem impossible and unreasonable, God is asking us, begging us to come to him with the perspective of the blind man, knowing with all of our hearts that nothing is without possibility or out of his boundaries.  I can't ask God to perform miracles and the then try to handcuff him with my disbelief and restrictions. 

Can you imagine what we could all accomplish, what miracles would transpire, to what heights we could reach if we really did believe that through him all things are possible.  Literally?

It's ironic that I can see yet I am so blind to the what God has to offer me.  

I don't like to admit it but when I pray and God doesn't answer my prayer in the way that I would have hoped, there is a small part of me that assumes it's because he can't.  That's a huge mistake.  Indeed, he could make someone return from the dead if he wanted!  I just have to accept that he didn't answer on purpose because there is a reason that I can't quite wrap my head around right now.  His not answering a prayer does not disprove his power.

Yesterday I went to see the doctor.  My ear was painfully inflamed.  The doctor took one look and said, "You've got an outer ear infection."  "An OUTER ear infection?" I said.   "I mean, I've had plenty of experience with inner ear infections.  I didn't know you could get one on the outside!?"  "Oh yes," she said.

I shrugged my shoulders as she wrote my prescriptions.  It seemed I had somehow contracted something that I didn't even know I could get.  And isn't it like that with God as well?  There are so many things that he could do, so many possibilities that I can't even fathom.  Just because I don't know they are possible doesn't mean they aren't!

So, perhaps I need a prescription for faith.  I need to swallow that pill every single morning and believe with all of my mind, body and soul that anything is possible, that if he wanted me to, I could jump over a tall building.  This is where the magic happens, when we throw all reason out the window and look past the laws of physics and peer into the possibilities of Christ.  There is a place where we have boundless potential.  It's the birthplace of miracles and that place is one step away from where we are right now.  It's lives in the second we let go and jump, falling, falling, falling into the deep and endless competence of God.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hope and Cope

When my mom died it took me about a year to fully recover.  For the first few months I wandered around aimlessly, present in body but completely lost in the grief, drowning in it.  It took every ounce of energy just to keep my head above water, to breathe, to put one foot in front of the other.Every moment was filled with immeasurable anguish.

It was different when my dad passed.  Perhaps it was because I expected it. His death was hard but bearable, there was a peace about it.  I knew it was coming and could brace myself for impact whereas my mother's death sneaked up on me.

When I look back at all of the people I've lost; grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, friends, I can say that the grief associated with each of  their deaths was as unique as each of them. They each felt so differently in my heart.  Mostly, the deeper the relationship I had with each individual, the deeper the pain, the longer the grief.

This week I lost a friend, one of those special people with whom months can go by without speaking and when you do again, you pick up exactly where you left off.  He was funny and beautiful and I loved him, like I love all of the special people in my life.

This past winter, after months of freezing temps I developed somewhat of a bad attitude. Being someone who was always perky, he'd try to cheer me up, mostly to no avail.  "Still snowing?" he'd ask.  I always answered "yes" because it was always snowing.  And always freezing cold.

And then one day the sun came out brilliantly and I stood outside and let it shine on my face.  It felt like life, full of warmth that seemed to soak through my skin and down inside every nook and cranny of my body.

I said sarcastically, "there is this bright, warm ball of light in the sky...I can't remember what it's called."  "It's me," he said, "I'm smiling."  He did have a killer smile, an irresistible one that reflexively made me smile back.  And that bright smile has been extinguished.

The news of his passing felt like someone kicked me in the stomach.  My heart raced, my mind couldn't keep up with my emotions.  I woke up crying in my sleep.

Losing someone hurts and I absolutely hate that I've had so much experience with it.  Still, I've learned that with each passing, despite the grief, I have more and more hope.  I know that despite the pain, things do get better.  The pain does abate and there is light at the end of the tunnel, a light that beckons and says, "you will get through this and there is joy and happiness over here on the other side."

It's just- I have to walk through this mucky, painful, horrible place to get there.  I can't skip a step, I can't take a short cut.  The only way to heal is to keep going and holding on to faith and hope.

I do believe that we have the capacity to get over the loss of our loved ones.  Of course we never forget and it takes a different amount of time for all of us, but we do get there...eventually.  I think the hope lies in knowing that there will come a time when it won't hurt so much.

It's hard to imagine death being good in any way but with each loss, we learn.  And while there is always an emptiness, we gain a strength over death.  It starts to lose it's sting. We learn how to cope and we learn how to hope and that makes all the difference.

It's an appropriately gloomy day, this day that he is laid to rest.  The sky is weeping a bit.  Little tears are running my windows and my face.  But tomorrow the sun will shine again and I will be reminded of his smile and someday soon, I will be able to smile back.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Your Kids Can Learn and Feed The Hungry With One Click

As a homeschooler, I'm always on the look out for cool websites where my kiddos can learn and have fun.  We're also big on making sure that our kids understand that they are part of a global world. We want them to understand that this big rock does not revolve around them and they have responsibilities, they are called to be the change.  The only way to do this is to give them opportunities to do so, to get them involved.

I was discussing this with a friend and neighbor recently who is also a teacher.  She told me about an awesome website that her school uses which encourages children to learn facts while at the same time donating rice to people around the world who are hungry.

The concept is simple, for every correct answer the child gets on the site, they donate 10 grains of rice to help end world hunger.  I was so excited to get home and read all about it and the more I did, the more excited I got.

Freerice is a website which is owned by and benefits the United Nations World Food Program. They are the largest humanitarian organization out there right now which is helping fight world hunger.  Their goals are to help educate and feed people around the world.  They make money on the site by generating advertising revenue and then they use that money to help serve the needs of people globally.  It doesn't cost anything to sign up.  You just play, it's that easy.

Kids (and adults) can practice subjects like math, English, geography, foreign language, chemistry, SAT test prep and more.  It's fun and a great way to get children involved in helping with world issues such as hunger.  Plus, I find that it's very easy to motivate my kids to practice their facts because they know that they are doing something to help someone else.

It's free to register and it takes less than a minute to sign up and start playing!  So, would you please consider signing up? Would you tell your children that there are others less fortunate and that they can do their part by learning and clicking?  What do you have to lose?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

How Do I Survive My Daughter's Adolesence

Sometimes I wonder how my life will come to an end.  Will it be a slow, painful death?  Will it be quick? A fall from a faulty ferris wheel? Will I be run over by a furniture truck? Will I finally succumb to that heart attack that I always think I'm having?

C'mon...admit it.  You've thought about it too!

Readers, it is with both sadness and relief that I tell you I don't have to wonder about it anymore.  I know what's going to kill me.

Why didn't anyone tell me that the teen years were going to be so horribly awful?  Oh, wait. I guess they did and I rolled my eyes and said, "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."  

Well, I'm now standing in front of that teen bridge and it's creaking and swaying violently from side to side.  It's fraught with danger, missing boards, clearly not constructed with safety measures in mind. 

We've taken the first step onto it and I'm clinging to the rope, trying not to stare down the thousands of feet below where some jagged rocks and a throng of hungry crocodiles await me. I'm fairly certain that I will not survive my daughter's adolescence.  It will kill me.    I will crash.  I will burn. This will be the end of me!

I remember when she was a baby and she refused to sleep more than half an hour at a time.  This went on for months and I thought that infanthood must be the most awful, painful stage of parenting, that things could only get better, that it was all uphill from there.

Boy was I wrong!!

Okay, in the grand scheme of things I can't complain too much.  She is a great kid and she has a good heart.  She is loved and we've built her up enough that she can go with the flow as Hal and I figure out what the heck we are doing.  She obeys and always tells the truth in the end.  We've installed a pretty hefty moral GPS system in her too.

It's just that she's a kid and kids can be idiots! Their brains can recognize good decisions... but their brains are also easily distracted by glittery things.

I was talking to a lovely woman the other day who said that if we pay close attention, we will notice that our child's behavior goes in cycles.  They tend to turn into whiny, button-pushing heathens either the three months leading up to their birthdays or the three months after.

Looking back it's been pretty clear that Laila struggles those months right before her birthday.  She tests the limits, pushes back and overall tests every boundary we've ever set.  This is exactly what's going on right now.  We should have expected it! Thing is,  an adolescent pushing the boundaries is pretty much torture. Also, there are countless new issues that have cropped up that I never had to deal with when I was a kid.  My parents never had to deal with cell phones, computers or the internet.   It all makes those endless, sleepy days seem like a week of laying on a soft, sandy beach at a five star resort.


I keep reminding myself that every challenge that we survive, every smile that comes after a long talk, every hug that resolves a disagreement, every time I hold her hand and get through the questions, the awkward conversations, the hurt feelings and misunderstandings, that I've laid a foundation of a good relationship, laid one more brick on the long road of her becoming a lovely, young woman.

I expected adolescence to be overwhelming for her; all the raging hormones, all the realization that her parents know nothing, all the growing hair in weird places.  I just never expected it to be so overwhelming for me too! The other day I contemplated how I could run away from home.  Does anyone offer a place where they can drop off their pubescent children for four years while the parents sail around the world and pick them up only after they've turned into humans again?

It's times like this that I miss my mom the most, that I appreciate the struggles she had with me and that I wish I could call and say both, "sorry" and "help!" For those of you who have gone through these trying years with your children, please tell me that I'm doing the right thing.  Tell me that if I just keep moving forwrad and don't lose focus, if I keep loving her and being there and jumping through each hoop, surviving each obstacle, that there is a chance that I might survive!!