Community Builder #1: Commitment

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Twelve men. Eating, sleeping, serving, laughing and crying together. Learning and growing and depending on each other. Showing the absolute worst side of themselves in front of each other. Correcting and encouraging. Betraying and forgiving. The relationship that the disciples had with each other and with Jesus is an impressive display of what community looks like. Jesus asked a lot of the disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. Meaning that if they wanted to be with him they had to make a commitment. If they wanted a part of this strong and lasting community they had to be all in. So how can we emulate this ultimate example of community in our relationships? There are six elements that can help us develop this type of community.
Constant. Commitment is not swayed by what is going on in your life at the moment. It is making phone calls even when you are busy. It is sending a text even when your life feels like chaos. It’s holding on to a friendship even when you feel that you have been wronged. It is making it work even when you move away from each other. It is continuing to pursue someone when they drop their end of the friendship. It means not backing away when things get difficult. They didn’t always get it exactly right but through the three years of Christ’s ministry on earth, the disciples stuck to their commitment to follow him. And, in the end, those who stayed true to their promise benefited greatly from that.
Exhausting. Galatians 6:9 tells us, “Let us not grow weary in doing good for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.” Investing in the lives of other people is an example of the “good” we are asked specifically to do in this verse and throughout the Bible. Loving other people is not an easy task. True commitment is wearisome and frustrating, it is not always what you feel like doing. There are times you will feel totally drained by the burdens of other people but you will reap the benefits of true community if you do not give up.
Inconvenient. A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17). Community doesn’t always fit perfectly into your schedule. Taking food to a friend isn’t always on the way. It isn’t always convenient to have a long chat with someone who lost a loved one. It’s not always easy to spend a little extra time helping someone move. But it is in those moments that true community is born.
A Choice. Commitment doesn’t just happen. If you commit to running in a marathon you have to choose everyday to get out and train. You have to choose every moment to keep running. You have to choose to practice and eat right and show up for the race. You can’t make a commitment and expect the rest of it to fall into place. It is a moment by moment combination of choices. Commitment in order to form community is the same. You can’t just say you are going to do it and then go on with your life. You have to choose every day to do things differently.
Planned. In my last post I encouraged all those type-A people to destroy their planners if their need for a schedule is keeping them from ministering to people. But the reverse can be true of those who do not plan at all. Stacks of invitations without replies, neglected appointments, constantly saying maybe to anything you are asked to do, waiting around to see if something better comes along and never showing up for important events can all keep you from truly building into the lives of those around you. There has to be a balance. Your schedule cannot rule you but you also should not be so disorganized that you do not have time for other people. Your top priority should always be the needs of others.
Narrow. In an age where we can be measured by the number of Facebook friends we have, it is easy to begin to feel as if quantity is far better than quality when it comes to relationships. As Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” It is hard to build a solid, strong relationship with 3,000 people. There is a reason there were 12 disciples and not 100. Community comes through closeness and it is hard to be close with a crowd. To form community, it is better to invest deeply in a few close friends than to graze shallowly over every person you know.
Community can be developed out of commitment if its members are willing to stick together and focus on each other. It may take planning. You may end up exhausted. It may be inconvenient. But over time you will develop a small group that remains constantly bonded.

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Community killer #1: Overcommitment

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When I was in high school I had every square inch of my life planned. There was rarely any wiggle room and I liked it that way. I went to church and was very involved in my youth group. In the fall I did soccer and the school play. In the winter it was basketball and choir. In the spring it was track and musicals. I did bible club and art shows and national honor society and I still had to find time to do my homework and actually go to school. Through the summer I went to church camp and even found other youth groups to get involved with. I went to bible studies and went on mission trips and started a band. I had my hand in everything. I thrived on being busy.

But I often found myself in situations where my friends wanted to hang out and I was too busy to accept their invitations. They wanted to come over and watch tv or run to grab some lunch or just sit on the couch and talk about life but I didn’t have time. I said no so many times that they stopped asking. I was always going somewhere or doing something. I was constantly rushing past people to get to the next thing. I was too busy for people and then I made myself even busier to push down the feelings of loneliness and seclusion that inevitably came from never actually spending time with my friends.

This way of living has bled over into my current lifestyle. Do you want to be in a bible study? “Sure.” Do you want to be in choir and teach children and help with women’s ministry and take counseling classes? “Yes, of course. Yes to everything.” Do you want to coach a soccer team and serve on the PTO board and write the school newsletter? “Yes, yes, and yes!” And then I find myself halfway doing everything and pushing everyone away so that I have time for everything I said I would do. My eyes are always darting to the next thing. My mind is always on something else. I am always running somewhere and forgetting birthdays and turning down invitations and flaking on relationships because I have to keep moving or it will all fall apart. I am constantly trying to accomplish twelve things at once and so I never really accomplish anything. My mind is so set on my schedule and tasks that I forget that there are people all around me who I am called to love. And because I’m not finishing the things I commit to, I am frustrated and I end up taking it out on the people around me or pulling away because I am ashamed that I didn’t do what I said I was going to do .

I know this mindset is keeping me from building a community. So what do I do?

1. Be here. Be now. Even when we are in the same place at the same time…at a church function or a backyard BBQ…we have trained our minds to be so active that we have already moved on to the next thing. We are already thinking and planning for tomorrow. Or we are worrying about what else we could be doing. One Saturday, my son had a soccer game. After the game our family had to split up in several directions to get to birthday party’s and meetings and to do grocery shopping. For the entire game I made lists in my head. I thought about who needed to go where. I imagined the scenarios that could occur so that I could deal with them before they even had time to happen. When the final whistle blew I realized that I had not been fully conscious for the last hour. I had not talked to anyone. I had not cheered for my son. I hadn’t smiled at the coach or complemented any of the team members. I left his game feeling as if I hadn’t really been there at all. I cannot enjoy conversation or remember details of the lives around me if my mind is whirring with other activity. I can’t enjoy what I am currently doing if my schedule is so full that I need all of my leisure time just to keep it organized.

2. Empty calendar, full heart. It’s okay to have an empty calendar. It’s not okay to have an empty heart. A couple of weeks ago I left my daughter’s gymnastics class thinking, “I just sat in a room with 20 other people and never said a word to any of them.…no wonder I feel so lonely.” I have been so busy lately that my e-mail inbox was overflowing so I took the time to clear it out. I had a book I needed to finish. I had a blog post to write. I had a grocery list to make. I handed my son his iPad and got to work. But we are not called to be busy, we are called to love. God tells us on multiple occasions that we have two major commands to obey. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I have often found myself so busy that I do not even think about God, let alone focus on how I can love Him more. And I am guilty of filling up my life with the good intentions of serving God while being too busy to even think about why I am doing any of it. Service for God becomes empty busyness…just like everything else…when I forget to do it out of love for Him. And, as well, it is easy to get so busy that I forget to love others. If loving people means to wipe your schedule clean or throw your planner in the trash then do that. When you are too busy, other people’s needs will be inconveniences…but they will be opportunities when you are available.

3. Know your goal and say no to the rest. I find myself saying yes a lot because I view each activity as an individual choice without making an overarching goal for my life. Does my son like soccer? Then I sign him up for soccer. Does my daughter want to play piano and take gymnastics and take acting classes? Then I sign her up for all of them. I like to read so I join a book club. While all these things have the possibility of building community they may, more likely, end up giving you random friendships in various different locations that never add up to solid relationships. If your goal is to build community then only say yes to the things that will help you build deeper relationships in the location you are in. If my goal is to build community then I shouldn’t say yes to driving 30 minutes away to have my child in an acting school where we don’t know anyone. I could, instead, say yes to a group of friends who are taking a bible study together. I could say yes to my kids playing in the same basketball league with their friends from church.

4. People, not projects. For the 2017 calendar year, our family adopted this phrase as our goal. We had noticed our lives had become cluttered with fixing our house and taking the kids to practices and writing books and checking off lists…but it was almost entirely empty when it came to people. We decided to make Tuesday nights a night of open house…we invited people to come as they are, eat what we are eating and do what we are doing (which is usually watching YouTube videos or doing homework…or if we are lucky the kids might put on a play or teach us a game). It has gotten loud, it hasn’t always been convenient and, tangibly, we have accomplished very little…but we have gained extra members of our family. We have made memories that will last much longer than painted walls or published manuscripts.

5. Be intentional about choices you make. Our busy lifestyles have created a constant flow of traffic that is never traveling in the same direction. We have paved our own roads and they never intersect. Sometimes we have to force our paths to intersect with others. I am guilty of making a plan for my life and pushing forward with determination in that direction without taking time to join up with anyone else in their lives. We may have to change our personal, individual goals so that they align with the ultimate bigger picture goal of forming better community. If you want to build community you may have to say no to your child playing travel soccer so that you can stick around and invest in the people you have already built relationships with in the youth league. You may have to go to an event that you aren’t that interested in. Or it may be as simple as sitting on your porch more often, resisting the urge to tidy the house one more time. The bottom line is that community will not just happen, you have to create it with intentionality.

Busyness is the enemy of true relationships, it does not breed true community. Fighting against overcommitment can be as big as changing your entire schedule or as little as putting down a book to listen. It can mean clearing your calendar or being more focused about the choices you are making. Or maybe you just need to be exactly where you are, making a point to enjoy exactly what you are doing right now.

I Don’t Love My Tribe…But I Want To.

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Tribe mentality has become extremely popular. The phrase “love my tribe” is on t-shirts and coffee mugs. People label their photos on social media with it. I’ve even seen babies wearing it across their onesies. But could this catch phrase actually be keeping us from the underlying sense of community that we really desire?

I am thankful that we have become aware of the prevalent loneliness that has attacked our lives throughout the internet era and, in response, have adopted a movement to combat the issue. “Love my tribe” in it’s essence is a direction in which I long to see all of us go, but all the hashtags and tattoos in the world won’t change the fact that we are surrounded by a culture that has mainstreamed loneliness while advertising community. Society tells us we should be independent, busy, and have perfect Facebook lives while also telling us it is possible to be so woven into other people’s lives that we begin to rely on them as a branch of ourselves.  These two ways of living cannot co-exist.  Tribe mentality has arisen because we see the disconnect, but unless we clearly dig into its underlying significance, we will remain confused about which direction we should be headed. Without clear parameters, we will inadvertently fall prey to a lifestyle that isn’t at all what we are aiming toward. We can think that community means baseball teams and PTO and church functions and BBQs until we slowly slip into the busy lifestyle that is actually preventing us from having community at all.

If we aren’t careful, the concept of tribe could become a commercialized pacifier for the ache of seclusion that has settled into our core. Our world has begun to think that if you feel lonely, you can throw on a t-shirt with the right slogan and you will feel better. Flippant use of the phrase can soothe us into thinking that we are not really as lonely as we feel. If we tell ourselves and the world how much we love and rely on the people around us, then it must be true…that we really are part of a group..even if our internal voices are telling us that we are lonely and miserable.

I have, more than once, put a “love my tribe” t-shirt in an online shopping cart simply because I long so much for it to be true in my life. In an idealistic way, I want to say “love my tribe” but what I am really saying is “I want so badly to have a group of people who help and encourage me. I want to pour into others and have them pour into me. I want to know others so deeply that I experience their emotions.” I have realized that to continue using the phrase could create a cycle of pushing down painful emotions that are meant to help me turn toward a solution. I can’t fix the problem of being alone if I am continually convincing myself that I am okay. All the talk of tribe could give me a false security about my relationships. If I label it with the right words and I say it often enough then I may be able to falsely convince myself that I have it, that I am truly experiencing “tribe” as it was meant to be experienced. I will never dig deeper into relationships if I’m already assured that I am deep enough.

I am not talking about everyone who uses this phrase. I love that so many people have adopted this concept and are implementing it into their lifestyle in a way that I struggle to duplicate. They are the ones who are picking each other’s kids up from school and cooking dinner for each other. They are the ones who are rushing over as soon as they hear the news of a death. They are the few who are opening someone else’s fridge without hesitation. They know where the coffee mugs are in someone else’s cabinets. They can order food for each other, they know each other’s dreams, they ask for help, they aren’t afraid of mistakes ruining what they have together. But I can honestly say that I don’t have this. I have friends, I have groups of people who I interact with and I have plenty of people I love and can trust.  I sit with the same people at church every week, I’m in a small group, I go to women’s ministry events. I’m in the choir. I go to bible studies. I have people over for dinner and go out with friends. But I do not truly have a tribe, and that’s my own fault. I don’t feel like I have community, but I want it.

Over the next few weeks I will be evaluating certain life habits that may be sabotaging my efforts to build a tribe. I will call these “community killers.” I will also be thinking through some things that I can do in order to make the tribe mentality a reality, I will call these “community builders”. Like me, you may feel like you don’t really have a tribe but the good news is that you can. The first step is recognizing that what you thought was community may not really be community at all and that a tribe is possible if you are willing to put in a little work.

The Best Way to Waste Your Gifts

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I am currently lost in motherhood. There are days I feel like everything that makes me who I am is slowly disappearing and I’m gradually becoming nothing more than the coordinator of everyone else’s lives.  I feel like the ultimate goal for the entire week is to find an elusive hour for myself to take a nap. At the end of the day there is little time or mental energy left to actually pursue an avenue for any of my creative abilities. At times I allow the hectic life of having small children to convince me that I am of no use to God. If my talents and abilities cannot be used in big, life-defining ways then, to me, they must be worthless.  If at the end of the day I do not feel like I have accomplished anything then I think that everything I did must have been wasted.

I am guilty of believing numerous lies that have kept me from using my talents for God’s glory. Here are a few ways that you could be wasting your gifts without even realizing it.

  • You are thinking too much about yourself. God has gifted me with the ability to sing and I’ve practiced my whole life. But for many years my tendency was to think about how singing made me feel. If I had a bad performance, I was crushed. I scrutinized every note and rated my success by how few mistakes I had made. My goal was always perfection. My goal was always to please myself. Within the last year God has shown me how much I was wasting my gift by looking at it that way. If I thought I might fail I just simply avoided the opportunity. I never took any risks by trying something new. I only shared my talent within very specific parameters. And worst of all I always thought about the details of my performance and never about how I could serve God and others with my voice. Within the last year I have learned to pray for those who are hearing me. I have learned to sing to my family and friends…no matter how awkward it feels. I have learned to let God guide my steps instead of always taking the reigns. And the rewards I have reaped from this are tremendous. When I laid the desire for my glory aside the burden of perfectionism, anxiety and selfishness disappeared and I was able to experience the joy of giving the glory to God, the only one who deserves it.
  • You could be thinking too small. You write in your journal every day but it’s only for you. You are afraid to let anyone read it or even know that you write at all. But what if you were meant to share your internal processing with others? You could open up to a close friend. You could write a blog post. You could share an idea with your Sunday school class or bible study. You could meet with another writer to encourage each other. You could even write a book or send an article to an online magazine. You could be potentially wasting your gift by keeping it all to yourself.
  • Or you could be thinking too big. My generation is particularly bad about seeking instant gratification. We have not had to work for things like people did in prior eras and so what has developed is a sense of entitlement, a need for recognition and a desire for great self-fulfillment. This can be prominent even in Christian circles where we are told to live big for God…step out of our comfort zones…do hard things…which in and of themselves are not bad concepts but have forced a culture that inadvertently expresses that big and brave and bold are all that counts. In order to keep our focus, we must balance bold living with steady plodding. We can’t all be public speakers and authors. We can’t all be missionaries and non-profit founders. We can’t all be on the radio or pastors of mega churches. Some people have to work in the nursery and serve communion and sit in the pew with a child and make sure the bulletins get printed. We can use these opportunities to support those who are doing big things. These may even be the situations that prepare you for the next step God has for you.
  • You could be too specific about how your gift is used. It is a commendable goal to want to be a pastor. But if that is the only acceptable venue for your public speaking ability then you may miss a lot of chances to bless others with your teaching. What if you teach a bible study at church?  What about teaching one-on-one in a mentor-type relationship? What about teaching at a college campus ministry meeting? Pray about a creative way to use your skills that could lead you in a different direction. Many of the most innovative, successful ministry opportunities have come about because someone with an unused gift prayed for an opportunity.
  • You may be failing to see the big picture. Matthew 6:33 is a familiar verse, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” Because motherhood robs me of brain cells…because I am weak and unfocused…because I cannot determine on my own what is the most valuable thing to be spending my time on, I must submit to what these verses are saying. If I put God’s kingdom first, everything else will fall into place. I can get so anxious about what I’m supposed to be doing, how I’m supposed to be spending my time, how I’m supposed to be using my talents, how I’m supposed to be serving God that I actually end up not serving God at all because I am so caught up in the logistics of it all. If I am working toward the correct goal…to build the kingdom of God…then every little bit counts. Every shoe tied, every nose wiped, every letter sent, every phone call made, every hug, every text message, every word written…adds up to something greater than myself.
  • You may be forgetting who you are trying to please. The ultimate goal is not to feel pleased with yourself at the end of the day but to please the one who has given you the ability to do what you are doing. You can please God just as much by singing your child to sleep at night as you could standing before a crowd of thousands or recording a chart topping Christian hit. Or if you worry too much about pleasing others you could become paralyzed with doubt or you could become unfocused and wishy-washy because you are swaying with the differing opinions of those around you. Focus on pleasing God in every decision you make and you will never be wasting time or opportunities.

God has strategically equipped us all with the skills we need to serve Him but if we continually give in to these pitfalls then we could be wasting our gifts and talents without even realizing it.  How can you reshape your thinking so that you can guard against wasting your gifts? In what other ways could you be wasting your talents?

The Perfect Sunday Routine

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Every Sunday I imagine our morning routine going something like this:

I awake to the smell of coffee. My husband is already up and has prepared my cup exactly to my preference. I don’t need the alarm because I wake cheerfully to the soft sounds of sweet baby coos coming from the bassinet beside me. I have time to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee and consume an egg white omelet with loads of veggies that were grilled the previous Sunday during my afternoon meal prep for the week. My family eats together as we do our family devotions over breakfast.

My kids don’t need to be reminded to put on the clothes that I ironed the night before. They comb their own hair and brush their teeth without being asked. They even wipe down the sink and clean the countertops…and they succumb to the sudden urge to scrub the toilet as well.

Worship music is playing throughout the house while the kids look over their memory verses in the living room. I have plenty of time to shower, dress, fix my hair and put on my makeup before the baby needs to be fed. Then we all file calmly and peacefully into the van. More worship music is playing in the car. The sun is shining.  The kids are happy. I feel relaxed.

We arrive on time. I am well prepared for the solo I am scheduled to sing. My kids go to their classes without complaining. The baby is cooperative and happy. I sing miraculously and I feel pleased with my appearance, my accomplishment and my overall demeanor. I leave feeling blessed and fulfilled because I gave a perfect performance and everything fell precisely into place.

But if I’m honest, most Sundays are a disaster and I marvel at the fact that we even make it to church at all. They usually look more like this:

I wake to the alarm and a crying baby. I try to eat something healthy but Lucky Charms sound better. I shovel the sugary cereal into my mouth with the smell of a freshly filled diaper wafting from the fussy infant in my lap.

I rush to put on makeup, desperately trying to cover up dark circles and wrinkles. I suddenly notice that my sleeve is covered in baby vomit. My clothes will have to be changed but I can’t think of another thing I own that fits and is clean. I comb my 9-year-old’s hair and try not to let my frustration spill out in the way I speak to her. I fail and feel guilty for the rest of the morning.

The screaming baby disrupts my already strenuous schedule. I stop to feed her again even though we should be leaving in 5 minutes and my hair still looks like a yeti that got ahold of a hairdryer. I try on three shirts only to discover that they are all too small because of the extra 15 lbs of baby weight I still have taunting me around my middle. I start to cry but realize I don’t have time for that so I grab the least tight shirt and head out the door with it still unbuttoned.

On our way to church I discover that my shirt is definitely not going to stay buttoned and I finally let myself cry about it…but not too much because I don’t want my mascara to run. I shimmy into the pair of Spanx that I had peeled off on the way home from church the week before, praying that the people in the car next to me have their own Sunday morning crisis to worry about so their eyes aren’t drawn to my disastrous scene.

I’m supposed to sing a solo but I’m running late for practice.  The tight ball of thoughts I had been winding all morning begins to unravel…”should I feed the baby before or after practice?”…”will I have enough time to work on my song?”…”I look like a mess!”….”wait, doesn’t my husband have to give announcements this morning?…how is that going to work out?”…”did my son remember to put on underwear?”

The morning speeds along like a cut-rate circus…fumbling, off-balance, poorly trained, unprepared.  As I step on stage to sing, I can’t remember the words to the first verse. My voice in the ear piece is too loud and it’s shaky and off-key. I can’t hear the piano.  I want to sound good…no I want to sound perfect. I want to get every entrance and every word and every note exactly right …but all that enters my mind is “I can’t”!

And even as I sing it doesn’t sound right in my head. I close my eyes and raise my hands and pray that God uses my Spanx wearing, crazy hair, shaking voice- self to reach people who need to hear the words I am singing. It’s in that moment that I know I can’t, but He can…and I step back and let Him. I no longer tell myself that I have to get it right but only that I have to give Him the glory. And the cracks in my perfection begin to feel like the perfect place for God to shine through. In the midst of my inadequacy the audience rises to their feet and I know without a doubt that it’s not me that is stirring them to move…it’s not my skill or my accomplishment because in that moment I have nothing to offer…it’s God showing His strength through my weaknesses.

I realize on the drive home that I wouldn’t trade my mess for the perfection of a properly synced Sunday morning. I wouldn’t hand over the feeling of completely falling apart in order to receive a life that seems to perpetually fall into place. I wouldn’t trade in the overwhelming defeat and the lack of control that I experience on a daily basis because every faulty step along the way reminds me that I have a Savior who is stronger than me. When my weaknesses overtake me and all I can do is cry in desperation, “I can’t”…His response to me is “But I can”.  And He will do it much better than I ever could on my own. If I could do it all by myself, I would miss the chance to see God work in my mess…I would keep moving forward and never seek to grasp His mighty hand.

If everything was perfect, if I always got it just right, I would be deceived into thinking that I am in control. If I could take care of it all and I always felt like I was doing my best work then I would be missing the chance to see God do it better. In the end, I would take every blunder, every fault, every mistake because every single time I mess up I can be reminded that I may not have it all together, but He does.

So, I don’t need the perfect Sunday routine. I think I’ll hold on to my mess…it seems to be working for me.

 

 

I let both of my kids fake an illness and I don’t regret it

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My oldest daughter had become a regular in the nurse’s office. First it was her back. It hurt so bad that she couldn’t run so she sat on the bench at recess and it hurt when she tried to sit on the floor with the other kids so she had to sit in a chair. She found a way to call me everyday. Her teacher finally suggested that she come home.  She took a day to rest and use my heating pad. We got her checked out at the doctor and lightened the load in her backpack.

Then it was her tummy. It was every day for a week until one day it hurt the “worst that it’s ever hurt” and so I picked her up from school. The baby’s two month check-up  was scheduled for that day and we had already pushed it back several times. We couldn’t reschedule so I brought the ailing child with me. Walking into the doctor’s office had a miraculous effect. It may have been the wafting aroma of alcohol swabs. It may have been the healing presence of a caring doctor. But my guess is that it was fake all along and she had pulled one over on me.

On Friday of the next week she was back in the nurse’s office. When the nurse called, I asked to speak to my child because I wanted her to know it was not okay to keep tricking me. We talked for awhile…”I looked in the mirror and my face is so pale…my tummy hurts the worst that it ever has…I feel like I’m going to throw up”. I had heard it all before and so I called her bluff. “Okay, but if you come home you will not be going with your friends to gymnastics tomorrow.” When she answered “okay” I knew she wasn’t messing around.  I took her home and she actually was sick. She was sick in the toilet, she was sick on her bed, she was sick in a bowl and I felt horrible for second guessing her.

Then Monday rolled around and the little dude woke up with a tummy ache. He rolled around in the chair, he laid in the floor, he sipped his milk instead of chugging it. There did seem to be something wrong but nothing so drastic that I should keep him home from school. He is usually not a complainer so I told him, “Go to school and if your tummy still hurts later you can call me.” I didn’t expect to hear from him again. My husband dropped him off at 8:30, then at 9:25 my cell phone rang. I thought about the mistake I had made the Friday before with my 9-year-old and so I answered quickly. “Yeah, okay, I’ll come get him”.

I signed him out and he left the office dragging his backpack behind him. I started the car but waited for him to buckle up before I pulled out. “I was headed to Target to pick up some coffee. Do you just want to go home and lay down? I can get it later.”

“Target?…Well, I guess we could do that first and then we could go home…” He kept his voice nonchalant but the grin on his face gave me the first idea that maybe I had been fooled once again.  My second clue came when we walked through the sliding glass doors. He skipped over to the rows of cheaply priced items at the front of the store and began to shout from ten steps away. “I’m gonna get this slime…I can pick something out for Mia when we go look at the toys.”

In that moment I knew he was faking it but I couldn’t make myself take him back to school.

Sometimes when a child says they have a tummy ache they are trying to tell you something else that they don’t have words to express.  Then it’s my job as a mother to try to figure out what they are trying to say. “I have a tummy ache” could mean “I’m nervous…I’m bored…I’m scared…I’m tired…I don’t want to face this day…I am overwhelmed…I need to be with you…I need someone to listen…I want to feel like someone cares for me.” I felt like it had been days since I had even talked to my son and I think he felt it too. He had spent the night with a friend. I was taking care of an infant and his sick older sibling. We had church and small group and everyone needed clean laundry.

We got everything we needed at Target. The baby had started to cry so we checked out and headed out to the car. “Can we go home and play Minecraft? I’ll teach you how.” I chose to ignore the fact that he was skipping school to play video games and I just said “yes.” We built a house together. He knew all the right bricks to use and how to get my sheep into the pen we had made for them. He laughed at the cave I constructed just for storing my cake and laughed even harder when I called it my “cake hole.” When it started to rain, we hid in his tower watching the drops through the glass ceiling. We chased chickens and walked on top of the trees. He showed me an underwater castle and we played hide and seek.

When he got up the next morning he was fine. Whatever had been bothering him had passed…whether it was sickness of body, mind, or heart…it was better and he left for school without an argument. I thought back to the day that my daughter had gone to the doctor for her back. We got frozen yogurt and listened to Taylor Swift in the car. We went shopping and took selfies together. The day her tummy hurt she helped me take care of the baby and we laughed when the wind tried to blow our grocery cart away. We watched old 90s sitcoms and made cookies.

They will have to go to school every day for the next decade but how many more days do I have to play with them? Maybe next time I will give them time with me before they have to beg for it. But for one day I let them both get away with faking a tummy ache and I don’t regret a second of it.

Revisiting The Desires of My Heart

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A few weeks ago I wrote this blog post on pursuing the desires of your heart. I encouraged readers to ask God for big things and to expect Him to act on their behalf whether it is through answered prayer or a change of heart.  In the process of praying over my list of desires I have imagined the possibilities of how God is going to surprise me with His answer. I have imagined meeting new people who introduce new opportunities. I have imagined big events and life changing steps. But in dreaming big, I failed to see one possibility that could arise from presenting my desires to God. What if He wants everything to stay just like it is? What if he looks at my list and nothing I desire lines up with His will and He doesn’t have anything bigger and better to give me in exchange? What if He gives me nothing more than I already have and His desire for me right now is to find contentment in what He has given me?

What if for every single desire on my list God’s answer is a big, obvious “no” or “not right now” or “I want you to stay just where you are” or “keep doing what you’re doing”…and what if it’s not even presented in some giant, miraculous life changing, burning bush kind of moment? What I want is for my life to take a huge swerve toward the magnificent but what if God is asking me to keep driving for hundreds of miles in the same direction on the same two lane road? We all want to give a hearty amen to the idea of asking God for big things but can we still affirm His ways when nothing of significance happens?

The answer to having joy when the desires of your heart are not fulfilled is to find contentment. So that you can say as Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”. It often means not getting what you want and in our “have it your way” culture it is not an attribute that is widely pursued. We may have good jobs, but we are told we could have a great one. We may have loving families but we are told that we could have perfect ones. We may live in a nice house but we are told it can always be improved. According to the world, our lives could always be better. If your list of desires has started to sound too much like our discontented culture…if your list has made you unhappy with the life God has given you…then you have missed the point of making the list.

If you find yourself holding too tightly to your list you may have developed some wrong ideas about what contentment means. You may find it hard to seek contentment because it sounds like too much work with little to no return. Even in Christian circles where contentment is celebrated, it is still surrounded by many misconceptions. It may help to point out what contentment is not. Being content is not:

  1. Settling for less.  It is trusting God more. Being content with what you have may not look like your idea of the best for you but in His sovereignty and wisdom God always knows what is perfect for His children. Trust that he knows what he is doing.
  2. God’s worst for you. It is ultimately His best. It may be hard and it may be frustrating but God is truly for you, not against you in the things he chooses to give you. He may be shaping your character which is far more important than getting what you want in the moment.
  3. Based on circumstances. It is based on how we think about them. The situation you find yourself in will never be exactly how you want it and if you don’t decide to be content in all things you will be chasing the perfect life around for the rest of your existence. If you find yourself saying “if I only had this” or “if only that would happen” or “if only this would go away” then you are probably battling discontentment and you should evaluate your motives behind your desires.
  4. A joy killer. It is a joy giver. Joy does not belong exclusively to those who get everything they want. In fact, those are the people who tend to be the most unhappy because they are always searching for the next thing that will bring them fulfillment. When I think about the most joyful people I know it is those that in plenty and in want have chosen to be content.

Here are some ideas for developing more contentment in your own life:

  1. Be faithful. Don’t wish for another role so much that you neglect the one you have or you fail to see the one that God wants you to step into. The problem may not be that you don’t know what God wants you to do next…it may be that you just don’t like what he is asking of you. You may want to lead a great revolutionary ministry but the next step may be to volunteer in the nursery. You may want to write a best-selling book but the next step might be to write a blog post that no one will read. You may want to get married but the next step might be to watch your married friends’ kids so that they can have a date night. You may want to find a job outside the home but your next step might be to change another diaper.
  2. Be thankful. Don’t complain. God has blessed all of us more than we ever deserve. Even if you are in a dead-end job…even if you feel underappreciated…even if you are lonely…even if you are chronically ill…God sent His Son to die for you and offered you salvation despite the fact that we are all terrible sinners. That in itself is enough to be thankful for but God chooses to bless us beyond that. Make it a habit to find something to be thankful for everyday.
  3. Be trusting. Don’t assume that God is punishing you or testing you. Remember that God’s plan is always perfect even if it doesn’t make us happy. Ultimately it is not His goal is not our happiness anyway…it is our holiness.
  4. Be obedient. Don’t try to leap ahead on the path you have been given. Take the next step in front of you. This is the way I think about it…I can see what I want in front of me but I am separated from it by a huge chasm. It is way too far for me to jump. God has prepared a path for me to follow that leads in another direction…one that is manageable one step at a time. I am not guaranteed that this path will lead to the thing that I want but it will lead somewhere and it is better than trying to leap over an insurmountable distance. But I know he is trustworthy and I know he has my best interest in mind and I know it is fruitless to jump or even to keep standing still staring across the chasm so I follow Him into the unknown. I can’t be guaranteed that my next step will lead to what I want but it will lead somewhere and that somewhere is part of God’s plan because it is all He has given me to do so far.

Being content does not cancel out the desires of your heart. It does not eliminate the need to ask God and seek Him. But it does offer an opportunity to hand your desires over and trust God with the outcome. It gives you a more peaceful avenue to follow as you run hard after what God places in front of you. So, keep pursuing your desires, keep seeking God but in order to remain at peace while you do it, find contentment in each step along the way.