December 6, 2013

How to Make a Mom Fall Over

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , at 2:08 pm by Tamara

I can just picture her.  She’s dirty and sweaty from working all day, and hungry because she’s barely had time to sit down and eat.  Her clothes are ratty and out of style because she can’t afford to buy new ones.  And she’s working a low-class, thankless job that proclaims to the whole world “I’m poor.”  And then, here strides up this handsome, wealthy, single man, who just happens to own the field where she’s working, and he looks straight at her.  I bet she thought, Fantastic!  Could the ground just swallow me up?  Because I would like to die.  Right. Now.

He must have blown her over when he tells her, “Don’t go anywhere else to work—I want you to stay here in my fields.  I’ve told my men to look out for you, and you can stop and drink from my water whenever you need to.”  Actually, he did literally blow her over, because it says she “fell on her face, bowing to the ground” for Boaz (Ruth 2:10).  Now, to my modern sensibilities, this is just a TAD over-the-top dramatic.  I mean, I consider myself fairly dramatic, but I’ve never fallen face down in front of someone.  (Well, at least not on purpose.  Ahem.)

I read this passage today for the first time since I became a mom, and suddenly Ruth falling on her face when Boaz encouraged her didn’t seem too overly dramatic.  I have a lot of moments as a mom where I don’t feel put together.  When I’m working hard but don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything, when the only thing hiding my post-baby flab rolls are pajamas I have’t had a chance to change out of, when the ingredients for that gourmet dinner I planned to cook are spoiling in the fridge because I haven’t been able to put the baby down long enough to make anything but spaghetti, when I’m sacrificing for my kids and just HOPE they can sense my love for them.

Instead of pointing out everything Ruth probably thought was wrong about her at that moment, the next thing Boaz says to her is that he’s heard of everything she’s done to take care of her mother-in-law.  He basically tells her, “I can see everything you’ve sacrificed and how hard you’re working, and I admire you for it!  Let me do what I can to make your life a little bit easier.”  I think if someone came up to me and said something similar to me about my life right now, I’d probably have an emotional reaction akin to falling on my face at their feet and weeping.  “I can see everything you’re sacrificing and how much you love your kids and husband.  I really admire you for it!  If there is anything I can do to make your life a bit easier, let me know.”

I’ve read some great articles lately about the “Mommy Wars,” and how easy it is to get hostile towards moms who are parenting differently than we choose to.  I get the hostility.  I confess I’ve felt it myself.  But I recognize that it’s not really hostility, it’s a fear/guilt/self-consciousness mix.  Fear: “Oi, that sounds really hard.  Do I need to do that?”  Guilt: “Would my kids be better off if I did it, too?  Am I failing my kids?”  Self-consciousness: “Does she think I’m a terrible mom for not doing ____, too?”  And this can apply to ANYTHING another mom is doing differently than I am: food, diapers, sleep methods, working out, vaccines, schooling etc, etc.  And because we care SO MUCH about making the right decision for our kids, when someone else’s choice makes us slightly doubt our own choices, our natural response is “Defend!” which sometimes turns into “Attack!”

Pick your poison, but basically any different decision can fling me off on a sling-shot roller coaster ride of fear/guilt/self-consciousness.  Another mom brilliantly (and hilariously) described this as feeling like other moms are “Parenting AT her.”  (“Quit Pointing Your Avocado at Me“)

But I’ve been really challenged lately to allow myself to step off that roller coaster, and do what I can to help my other mom friends get off it, too.  I’ve seen what a huge difference just hearing one person say “You’re a great mom” can make.  The fact is that, at the heart of our differing decisions lies the same thing: a passionate, self-sacrificing love for our kids and a desire to do what’s best for them.

Interestingly, Boaz didn’t just encourage Ruth, he changed Naomi’s whole outlook, too.  She went from being bitterly convinced that God had forsaken her, to blessing God and Boaz for showing them kindness and not abandoning them (Ruth 2:10).  Encouraging words are powerful things.  You never know how on-the-brink another mom may feel, about life in general or even her faith.  One loving, encouraging sentence may be all it takes to give her the strength to not only make it through the day, but feel a sense of joy and fulfillment at the end of it.  And a related benefit is that when my brain is focused on encouraging another mom, it’s usually too busy to beat me up for anything.

So, the next time you see a mom who looks gorgeous and put together, instead of beating yourself up for the spit up on your shirt and mascara on only one eye, consider that this might be the first time all week she’s been able to shower, let alone be nicely dressed, and tell her how lovely she looks.

When you hear of a gluten-free mama, instead of beating yourself up over the PB&J your two year old is eating, consider that she might desperately wish her allergic son could eat easy meals like that, and tell her you admire how hard she works to keep him healthy with his unique needs.

When you talk to someone who’s made different vaccine decisions than you, instead of telling her she’s a horrible mom for putting her kids in danger (whether by vaccinating or not), tell her that you admire that she cares enough to do her own research and do what she thinks is best for her child.

When you see the mom in the grocery store whose kid is throwing a tantrum, instead of glaring at her, tell her she’s doing a great job at staying calm and she’s a great mom.

When you stop by your friend’s house unexpectedly and she’s sitting in a disastrous living room holding a fussy baby, tell her good job for putting her baby above her desperate desire to have a vacuumed floor and that she’s obviously got her priorities right.

She may not fall at your feet, but I guarantee she’ll love you for it.

Note: This is hardly a perfect post (a symptom of having 10 minutes to type while the baby sleeps and the toddler eats, yes, PB&J ), but if you know another mom you think would be encouraged by this, feel free to share!

January 13, 2012

Dead Chicken Wrangler

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 11:07 pm by Tamara

Slimy....

The other night I had to use a whole chicken for a recipe.  I’m not particularly freaked out by raw meat, but there’s just something mildly disturbing about being covered in bacteria-infested slime from a dead animal as you tug and hack away at it.

Life lately is a little less than glamorous.  In theory, we’re trying to get into fulltime ministry.  In practice, life doesn’t feel much like ministry.  It seems like things like “serving God,” “ministry,” “missions,” etc. should have at least an aspect of glamour to them.  Like there should be some sort of heart-swelling feeling of changing the world and leading people out of darkness and sacrificing for a cause and being looked up to as a spiritual giant.  Like I should feel like God’s special favorite, like he’s proud of me.  Happy with me.  I don’t quite envision ministry to entail things like living with my parents and spending half the day wrestling with a dead chicken.

I was reading Leviticus a while back, and thinking how awful being a high priest sounds.  Here is the man with the most “spiritual” job in the whole country, and his job seems…disgusting.  I wonder what Aaron thought when he heard the list of his new responsibilities and compared them to his brother’s.  I have to wonder if I would have been angry:

Well isn’t this just fantastic.  Here’s my spoiled, stuttering brother Moses, who already got to grow up in palace luxury while I was a slave, and now he gets the glamour of leading the nation, and what do I get?  I get the nasty, bloody job of constantly slaughtering, dissecting, bleeding, burning, and cooking sacrifices.  I get to check for hairs growing in yellow skin sores.  I get to inspect houses for mildew.  I get to tend fires and lamp stands and carry heavy things.  I get to teach people laws about bodily discharges.  I get to kick people with infectious skin diseases out of the city.  Wonderful.  Sign me up.

But there is something incredible, awesome, jaw-dropping that priests got to do that no one else did: they got to commune with God.  There is only one person who gets to go into the holy of holies, into God’s very presence and glory: the high priest.

Pillar of Fire

The wonder of that is easy to miss, because I forget how great my God is.  This is the God who shakes mountains, who thunders and smokes, who makes men fall down in terror, who can make your skin radiate after just a glimpse of his back, who makes walls of water crash down over entire armies, who conceals himself in a giant swirling pillar of fire.  To approach him is a very, VERY big deal.  To communicate with him, be his special assistant, step in between him and people he’s angry with, be a recipient of his blessings, sweep the floor of his house…these are big deals.

“Ministry” for me right now is NOT glamorous.  It is not heart-swelling.  I do not feel like I’m impacting anyone, or helping anyone, or doing anything grand to advance the kingdom.  No one is impressed by me or looking up to me.   Lately I am cutting a lot of chicken, changing a lot of diapers, doing a lot of apartment searching, paying lots of bills, scrubbing lots of gunk, etc, etc, etc.  I don’t feel very “useful” to God.  But if Leviticus teaches me anything about service to God, it’s that serving doesn’t always involve glamorous things.  That’s not the point.

What I DO as God’s servant isn’t always glamorous, but what I GET is very, very glamorous: I get to know God.

Friends with the God who made THIS.

What could be more glamorous or heart-swelling than getting to personally be friends with the creator of the universe?  To communicate with him whenever I want?  To know that the veil keeping me out of the Holy of Holies was dramatically ripped in half when Jesus died, and now I can go in his presence whenever I want?  To know that he loves me and values me, and that neither of those is dependent on how glamorous or important or useful I am (or feel)?

As I was writing this, a snippet of a verse floated through my head, so I went to find it.  It sums it up pretty well:

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.  For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.  O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.”  Psalm 84:10-12

So no matter how insignificant my daily grind may seem sometimes, that’s really not the point.  I’m a dead chicken wrangler in the house of the God of the universe, and not only that, he’s my friend.  That certainly makes my heart swell a bit.

 

P.S.  This post was really hard to come up with pictures and a title for.  “God’s Diaper Changer?”  Um, nope.  Pictures of slaughtered little lambies?  Um, no.

April 27, 2010

Really, God?

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , at 10:20 pm by Tamara

Sometimes I really think I know where God is going with things.  His power is so obvious, His control over the situation so seamless.  Take the story of how God delivers the Israelites from Egypt.  God needs a leader, so He miraculously arranges for a baby boy to be rescued and adopted by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter.  I see where He’s going with this!  Who better to free the Israelites than Pharaoh’s own grandson, who just happens to be an Israelite himself?  It’s perfect!  Moses just grows up, becomes pharaoh, sets the Israelites free, and rules all of Egypt.  Isn’t it so amazing how God can put people in powerful positions in order to have them do His will?

Pause.  What?  Moses commits murder?  Pharaoh orders him killed?  Moses runs for his life, leaving his wealth, his power, his position?

What?

I’ve had some “what?” moments with God before.  I think I know the track He’s rumbling my life along, and then—WHAM—everything gets derailed.  Without warning, Moses goes from a life where he was probably learning political strategy, forging alliances, using wealth, and dreaming of how God might use him to deliver his people.  And then suddenly, he’s sitting at a dirty, dusty well in the backwoods, where no one respects him and he’s constantly looking over his shoulder in fear.  Everything is lost.  To add insult to injury, his solitude is cruelly interrupted by the jangling, jostling, bleating sounds of a smelly herd of sheep plowing their way towards him.  Not only that, but they’re being shepherded by the daughters of a pagan priest.  Great.

Moses watches them fill their water troughs, wishing they’d hurry up and finish so he can be left in peace again.  And then the shepherds come—big, burly, dirty men who start harassing the girls and shoving them away from the well.

Now, to be perfectly honest here, I’m not sure I would have done anything.  I can physically feel how depressed, worthless, afraid, and abandoned I would be feeling at this point.  All my big dreams of doing great things for God are gone.  The most important thing in front of me is a well and some idol-worshipper’s sheep?  I have a sad feeling I might have just gotten up and walked away.  What’s the point of doing something so small when I failed at something so big?  But Moses doesn’t walk away.  Exodus 2:17 says he did two things: “Moses stood up and helped them.”

Moses made a huge mistake in Egypt.  I can remember times I’ve wondered if I have too, and if I’ve completely messed up God’s plan.  Or sometimes it just seems like God has plunked me in the middle of nowhere for no reason.  But He still challenges me to 1) Get up, and 2) Do what He’s put in front of me (Ex. 2:17).  No matter how small it is.  No matter how far gone I feel.  No matter how powerless I feel.  I have no way of knowing what wonderful things God might do through my obedience.

I don’t always get God.  I “think” that I think in big terms, have big dreams, lofty goals, careful plans:

“God, couldn’t You make me president so I can DO something about this?”

“Oh, if only I was a famous movie star, I’d share the Gospel with everyone.”

“I can’t wait to be on the mission field so I can make an eternal impact.”

Those aren’t bad dreams, per se, but it seems like God doesn’t often work that way.  In my case, He’s taken me from being heavily involved in multiple ministries to working a retail job.  Really, God?  Are you sure?

Have you ever had one of those moments?  Ever felt powerless to impact anything?  Ever stared down at that exploding baby diaper, or at the piles of paper covering your desk at work, or at the five page study guide for that test, or at the notice about your layoff, and said, “Really, God?  This is my life?  This is what You’ve given me to work with?”  Don’t get me wrong–I’m enjoying life right now, but it doesn’t seem very spectacular, or like there are many life-changing moments in it.

“Really, God?  A smelly herd of sheep, and pagan shepherd girls?”

“Yes, Moses.”

In the end of the story, God’s plan was infinitely more incredible than where I would have gone with it.  A vision of God in a burning bush?  One of those shepherd girls becomes his wife, and saves his and his son’s lives?  Miraculous powers, signs, and plagues?  The entire Egyptian army being wiped out?  Wow.  But the really impressive half of Moses’ story starts with him just showing compassion and watering a flock of sheep.  Just like Moses’ story, I think the story God’s writing for me—and you—will be more incredible than we imagine.  And it, too, will probably start with obedience in a lot of small things.  We just need to get up, do what He’s put in front of us, and trust Him for the rest.

January 12, 2010

Another New Thing….

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 11:44 pm by Tamara

I start work tomorrow, and I have to say I’m feeling pretty apprehensive. The problem is that I just plain really like being liked, and, to be honest, starting all over again trying to make people like me is a blow to my pride and security. Will they like me? Be fine with the new girl telling them what to do? All in all, if I’m honest, I’m a little bitter that I had to go to all the work to build relationships, earn approval, etc., at my old store, and now have to start all over again. And, even worse, I don’t like seeing my PRIDE rear its ugly head when I realize all this!

I’ve been thinking of all the Bible characters who suddenly had to start over. My favorite, though, is Joseph. Imagine the effort it took to degrade himself to not only do the work of a slave, but do it with excellence. But he did it, working with so much integrity that he was promoted to incredible favor because the Lord was with him. And then, WHAM! He finds himself in prison. Prison. A dirty, disease-ridden, dark place where he was probably chained, beaten, starved and mistreated. What in the world made him decide to get off the floor of his cell and serve? I think I would have cried foul. Forget about prison, part of me is crying foul just because I have to start at a new store! I think I would have wondered how this could possibly be what happens when the Lord “is with you.”

But there are two patterns to Joseph every time he is brutally forced to start over. One, no matter where he was, he just plain worked. I doubt he was imagining much “career advancement” when he served the other prisoners, but he did it anyway. Two, the reason that he rose each time was that God was with him (Genesis 39:2). God made everything he did prosper (39:23), God made other people like him (39:21), God showed other people that His spirit was with Joseph (41:38). God was so faithful to Joseph, but Joseph would have missed it all if he decided to be angry at God or to just quit. God knows what He’s doing!

My takeaway for tomorrow is to first of all just stop worrying about it and…work! The goal at this new job is (duh) not to make people like me, but for them to see Christ. I haven’t been at peace about tomorrow because my eyes have been on the wrong place: me. God keeps us in perfect peace when our minds are fixed on Him and trusting Him. So, I need to think about Him tomorrow. How can I show His love, priorities, work ethic, integrity, etc? And I need to trust Him that if I need to be liked to accomplish what He wants, He’ll make people like me. And it will be because of HIM in me.

I know, I know. Pretty basic, right??

July 20, 2009

Three Chances to Murder

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , at 4:51 pm by Tamara

He didn’t kill him. I wonder how long he crouched in the cool, damp air, watching the man who was pursuing him with irrational hatred sleep soundly in the center of his camp. He’d had countless other opportunities to kill him, like that day in the dark depths of the cave when he was no more than a hand’s breath away from him—and hadn’t. Instead of accepting the allegiance of the people who adored him and would no doubt fight to see this insane enemy of his displaced, he’d chosen to leave his home and live in desolate mountain places with a band of miserable thugs. Now here he stood watching him sleep while the warrior beside him begged him to let him go and take vengeance at last. Did he think of how unjust it all was? Did he resent that he’d done nothing to deserve this life of running and fighting and nearly starving? But he said no.

“God has chosen him,” he whispered, “And God-forbid that I’d do anything to hurt God’s anointed. God will deal with him, but we couldn’t hurt him and be guiltless.”

And so once again he showed breathtaking nobility and walked away, his faith utterly in God to justify him. He knew that he was blameless before God, knew he hadn’t done any of the things he was being accused of. He resisted the temptation to murder, not once, but twice. And could it even be considered murder? God had chosen him to be king and delivered the evil king who pursued him right into his hands, twice. But he put his beliefs to action and left it up to God. He was not a murderer. He was the farthest thing from it.

I wonder if he rested securely in that, knowing that murder was a temptation he knew how to resist. Did he revel in the joy of facing a great temptation and passing the test? Did he praise God for helping him to do what was right? Did he think that, whatever happened, at least he knew he would never be a murderer?

And then, suddenly, it is years later, and he has been given everything he’s dreamed. God has lavishly rewarded him for the way he has followed Him and striven after His heart. He’s walked intimately with God, heard countless people tell him what an example he’s been to them, how much he’s encouraged them to walk rightly and resist temptation. But now Nathan the prophet is standing in front of him in his rough robes, his eyes full of disappointment and anger and disbelief, and in four words everything shatters to pieces: “Thou art the man.”

He is a murderer.

http://restorationupdates.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/david-and-nathan.jpg

One of our elders spoke on Sunday about David and Bathsheba, and this struck me like it never had before. Up to this point, David was not a murderer. He was the farthest thing from it. He could have written a book on it: The Idiot’s Guide to Not Murdering Anyone, Even Your Worst Enemy. It would have been a best-seller; his blog would have been the top viewed site of the year; he would have received endless fan mail from it. He KNEW how to resist this temptation and had proven himself many times. And then, out of seemingly nowhere comes this hideous chain of events: his adultery with the wife of a man who is not only one of his loyal mighty men but also the son of one of his closest advisors, followed by ordering his murder. It’s a sick, jarring slash across the life of an incredible man of God. Every time I read it, his adultery reminds me that no one is ever above sin, even the best person. But this time Jim’s message made me think just a little deeper. I knew David had never committed adultery before, but I’d never thought about how he’d refused to murder his worst enemy, King Saul, TWICE, and then he murders Uriah, his friend and loyal warrior. What changed?

Was it easier to resist temptation when he knew he was blameless—easier to trust God to solve the mess when he hadn’t done anything to deserve the mess? He knew God was capable of saving his life and making him king of an entire nation, so he resisted murder. But did he think God wouldn’t help rescue him once he’d committed a horrible sin? What did he think would happen if he just admitted his sin with Bathsheba? Did he think God couldn’t, or wouldn’t, save him? Did he feel so guilty that he decided, rather than throwing himself on God’s mercy, that he had no choice but to try to solve this problem himself?

I see this cowering weakness in myself. It’s easy for me to run to God for help when I’m doing well. “My enemies pursue me without cause!” I cry to God, and fearlessly and gladly ask for His help against sin. But what about when the mess is my fault? What about when I go to God, not as a blameless shepherd, but as a horrible failure and adulterer? Is THAT when I start to take matters into my own hands?

Yes, it is. Maybe not to the extent of murdering anyone (unless we’re talking about murdering them in my heart, which is a whole different topic.) But I’m no different than David, and it could definitely go there. What if David had boldly approached the throne for mercy and help in his time of need before he tried to cover it up by murdering Uriah? Maybe he would have gone down in history—yes, as an adulterer, but not a murderer. And I know God would have helped him. He helped David even after he was both, when he cried out simply, “Have mercy on me, oh God, according to your unfailing love!”

Sin is a snare, not just because of its consequences, but because of how powerfully it tempts me to run from God and try to hide my shame. But He urges me over and over again to claim my life in Christ and accept that through faith in His son, I have boldness and confident access to Him no matter what (Eph. 3:12). And I need to use that access. He promises that when I timidly crack open the doors and enter His throne room He’ll welcome me with open arms, no matter how I’ve failed—whether it’s as small as a grumpy attitude or as gigantic as murder and adultery. He promises to come running to meet me and embrace me, even if I’m the prodigal daughter covered in reeking mud from the pigsty. I need to remember that. I need to burn that truth onto my heart and radiate that same grace to others. Like David, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” But what a wonderful, powerful grace it is.

Jude 1:24-25 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

June 17, 2009

Wilderness

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 3:40 pm by Tamara

I wonder how Moses felt coming down from the mountain.  Talk about a “mountain top experience,” and then God sends him away.  How must have that hurt to turn and walk away after such a breathtaking experience of closeness with God?  Did he feel like his heart was being strangled, like he wanted to beg God to just let him stay?  And then he spends the next forty years, not leading the people to victory in the promised land, but wandering around aimlessly in circles.

I don’t know why he didn’t get resentful.

The moments when he can’t handle it anymore almost bring me to tears.  The moments when he wants to give up, or gets mad at God, or fed-up with the people.  I’m glad such an incredible leader was human.  I’m sobered that God didn’t step in and neatly fix everything so he could accomplish the goal.

Oh, wilderness.  My problem with wilderness times is I feel like I’m slogging my way through emptiness.   It’s not a great, dark battle, it’s just long, and dry and feels pointless.  God’s so quiet in the wilderness.  It’s not like He stoops down and says, “I’ve got you out here so I can teach you great things, and let me give you a glimpse of how I’m going to use this in the future.”  No, it’s just…quiet.  And dry.  And a lot of hard work.  A lot of plodding and very little sense of direction.  And the dreams that I can see, I’m afraid might be mirages of my imagination.

And then I start to wonder how I got there.  My confidence that God is walking with me wanes and I start to get worried.  Did He lead me here for a reason, or am I here by my own mistake?  Did I disobey, turn away?  How do I trust Him and keep walking when I’m scared it’s my fault I’m there?

I have a lot of temper tantrums in the wilderness.  Sometimes I stop in fury to kick off my rock-filled shoes and want to grab the rocks and throw them madly at God, wherever He is.  Sometimes I get so discouraged that I sit down and just cry.  Are You mad at me?  Is this my fault?  Or am I where You want to be?  And He’s usually very quiet.

Sometimes the wilderness takes more faith than the valley.

It’s the quiet wilderness that tells me if what I believe is just emotion.  Whether I’ll keep believing Him when He’s just quiet; keep pressing to know Him when there’s no thrill.  Whether I’m willing to work out  my faith, or if I just want it handed to me in neat, one-hour, experiential packages.

I want to know Him.  I want to walk with Him.  I want to push forward, and not settle for camping in the desert.  I want the promised land at the end, I want the crown, I want the “well done.”  I don’t have an insightful, tidy conclusion for this.  Probably because I’m still out plodding in the dust.  But I still believe.  And I think, even though the horizon line doesn’t look any closer, that I’m still walking.