Wednesday, October 31, 2012

You're So Vain, bet You think This Post Is About You....

Philippians 2:3
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was hunter, known for his beauty.  Filled with pride, he loved himself so much that he was unable to love others.  Eventually, he was led to a body of water, where he glanced his reflection- unbeknownst to him- and fell in love with himself.  He was unable to leave the beauty of his very own reflection. 

And there he would spend the rest of his days, alone with himself...until the day that he died... 

As hard as it is to admit, there's a little bit of narcissus in all of us, isn't there?  A part of us that is afraid to take our eyes off of ourselves.  A voice inside of us that lures us in, keeping us fixated on self, preventing us from focusing on others.  Sometimes this voice comes with the sound of praise- reminding you of your accomplishments, stroking your ego, and giving you glory for all that you have done and all that you are.  Other times, this inability to take our eyes off of ourselves comes in a discouraging way.  Causing you to obsesses over yourself...if only I could have done better.  If only I could do more, be more, have more...

No matter which voice, whether positive or negative, we become the center of our attention. 

When we are consumed with ourselves, we are inhibited from loving others the way we were intended to love them.  When we are the focus we miss the opportunity of connecting with others. 

Pride and selfishness are some of the most isolating characteristics a human can possess....and whether the focus is positive or negative...fixation on self is just that.   

For those of us who cannot stop looking at ourselves...we will find, like Narcissus, a life filled nothing but self.  We will find everyone else around us fading away, washed up in the waves of our selfishness.  Consumed by the appetite of our ego.  And ultimately...desperately, and utterly alone.

C.S. Lewis declares that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but learning to think of your self less....

To allow your focus to fall on the people around you, and the God inside of you.  The God that is calling your name, asking you to love Him because He has already loved you.

The ironic thing is that the God who loves us so much is the only One who has the authority to focus on Himself...but He chose, in fact, to focus on You instead.  To give His heart to you.  To give His life for you.  To think of you in His last dying moment...instead of thinking of Himself. 

The only way to be freed from the snares of ego and pride is to do just that.  The only way to unlock the prison of selfishness and be freed from the obsession of insecurity, is to fix your eyes on others.  To allow others to be loved and valued just as much as you love and value yourself. 

Because no matter how hard we try to save ourselves... turning our eyes away from this self is the one and only place where true salvation can be found.   

Sunday, October 28, 2012

5 Things I LOST now that I'm a Parent: But what I've Gained

I was just taking in my life the other day and looked to my husband and said, "When exactly did these little people get here?"  It's amazing how quickly life goes by and how fast we have transitioned from newly weds, to love birds, and now to the parents of two amazing little kids (Ella- age 2, Elijah - age 5 months).  5 years has gone by fast, and we're excited to see what God has planned for the next 50!

Who could have prepared us for the world of parenthood?  Pretty much no one.  With this transition opens up an entire universe, one to which we never knew existed.  New rules, new standards, and in fact...a new you.  Our lives have changed so much over the past 25 months and with that change has come a lot of sacrifice.  Some days you look around at the mess, the laundry, chaos, and the insanity and all you can think about is the sacrifice...but most days...most days are filled with so much joy, and such blessings. 

We have lost some things through the transition into parenthood, but we have gained so much more.  Here are some of those things:

1.  We have lost sleep:  Let me put it this way, no one told me I had to be an early bird in order to put in an application for parenthood. it's a little too late.  My husband and I love us some sleep, and I look back fondly with memories of Sunday mornings, pre-children, sleeping in until 10:45am and still catching our 11am church service right down the road.

Well, I can't remember the last time I have seen 10am on my alarm clock.  And on sick nights, newborn nights, and teething nights...I see a lot of numbers on that clock (2am, 4am, 6am...) none of which are 10am....

Though John and I have lost many hours of sleep over the past two years...we have gained so much joy.  The mornings are a fun time for our family, and it's incredible to be greeted by these precious little kids that love and adore you so much...and to see the biggest smiles on their faces and the immense joy they have in just starting a new day.  Such innocence.  Such beauty.  So much so, that some mornings John and I have resorted to take turns going in to get them just because we each want to be first to see their precious smiles.

For this, I wouldn't trade anything...not even all the sleep in the world.

2.  We have lost freedom:  One of the first changes I felt after the arrival of our first was the complete lack of freedom that we now had.  Going from being completely independent, to now having a little life completely dependent on you  definitely comes with some pressure.  No more late nights out, no more midnight movies, no going out to eat past 7pm (unless you have a sick love for tantrums...).  Our schedules revolve around our children, and if you're having a backyard party at 2pm...well, there's a good chance we can't make it, because it's nap time ( have a sick love for tantrums...). 

Yet though our life has been somewhat restricted...we have learned to find so much joy in the people in our life rather than the events in our life.  There is something indescribably special about spending the evening at home with the kids and playing games, doing crafts, or having a dance party (that Elmo guy can really break it down...).  We have so much fun having picnics at home, walking to the park, and having friends come to play.  We've learned to connect more with our family, but we've also learned to connect more with the friends in our lives.  Though we can't always go to the fanciest restaurants...we can have friends over for pizza, ice cream, and games.  Sharing these moments with the people we love most have become some of our most special memories.  Forget freedom...we have each other. 

3. We have lost our hobbies:  It's really a miracle that I'm even writing right now...before bedtime, and not during a nap.  (Well, Baby is napping...and Ella is playing kitchen set with daddy).  But seriously, there's a whole lot more that I'd like to do than write.  I would love to enroll in cooking classes, go play tennis on a beautiful fall day, and sit and read books at a coffee shop.  John would love to play some basketball, take up woodworking, and learn the drums...but you know what, we don't have the time right now.  Beyond our careers and our family, and after spending time with some friends- at the end of the week our time bank is pretty much spent- and our minutes don't roll over! 

Though we've given up our hobbies (only for a season...), we've been blessed to find so many new joys in our children.  I love cooking for my family every day, getting creative with meals and making fun treats.  John takes some time out to work with his hands, making things for out kids to enjoy rather than just going out and buying them. We've learned to make do with the time that we have and integrate our hobbies in those ways.  There will be a day to drive to Starbucks and pick up my books once again ...but for now, I'm going to enjoy Dr. Suess, The Hungry Caterpillar, and All of God's Critters again, and again, and again while my little ones are snuggled close. 

4. We have lost our dreams: You know, lost is a strong word.  Rather, our dreams have been transformed.  I remember the days of longing to travel, to see the world and write about it.  Or of opening a home for troubled teenage girls and pouring into their lives every day.  And long...long before that....dreams of playing in the WNBA (yes, this is now funny to me too...). 

Though my dreams have come and gone throughout my life, most recently  my dreams have been transformed.  The moment I saw the precious face of my teeny little babies, I knew my dreams now belonged to each one of them.  I live to make them smile, and dream about the day when they will find their purpose, joy, and significance in this world- and in the eyes of our God.  For now, I live to teach them those things, and my greatest dreams are for them to know that they are loved.  Oh, so loved.  For me, there is no greater fulfillment than that.     

5.  We've lost our view of God: I don't know what I thought of God before.  I mean, I was in relationship with Him, and I knew He loved me and I loved Him.  But you know, I don't think I really grasped that until I had children of my own.  Having these children as an extension of who I am has taught me to love in a way that I never even knew was possible, and to give of myself in a way I never dreamed I could.  To know that I serve a God who loves me in such a deep way is breath taking.  He is willing to give everything for me.  And He did.  His love for me is ferocious, and because of this He wants me to live my life in a way that matters.  He wants to fill my heart with joy.

John and I find ourselves learning lesson after lesson about God's love and grace through our daily interactions with our children.  We have gotten just a glimpse of his heart in a way we never saw before....and the Father's love for us  is so much greater than we could have ever imagined.   

I am so thankful for my children, and for the family God has given me.  Sometimes I need to remind myself of these joys, but I am thankful for a God who is willing to graciously remind me of all that I have been given.  The joys far outweigh it all.  I'm grateful.  May you be, too.   

Monday, October 22, 2012

Taking off your mask: On Being Real

Psalm 139
"My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth."

I spoke at Faith Evangelical church last evening in Allentown, PA to an amazing group of young men and women.  One of the topics that was addressed was about authenticity in relationships...and how to be real with the people around you.  The conclusion?  Sometimes it's really hard to be real.  Sometimes it seems impossible to let go of the mask.  Sometimes it's painfully difficult to show your true self to the world.  The person we are, not the person we want to be.  And's hard to believe that we have anything worth really showing. 

Psalm 139.  Easier to read than to believe sometimes.  A psalm filled with value statements promoting our worth, our value, our meaning in the eyes of God.

"Intricately woven"...."Fearfully and wonderfully made." 

Sometimes we feel more complicated than intricate.  More afraid than fearfully made.  More wounded than wonderful.

It's hard to be real, because that means letting our true colors shine.  It means sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly.  It means being open and honest about our struggles and our fears, our joys and our strengths.  It means being okay with where we are and who we are becoming, and then sharing that with the world.

It's hard to be real because sometimes we don't even know who we really are.  We know who we wish we were.  We know who we want to be.  But sometimes it's hard to come face to face with who we actually are.

It's hard to be real because it leaves us vulnerable and exposed.  It allows us to be seen, which allows us to be judged, which allows us to be valued.  Sometimes we're more concerned about how this world values us than how our God values us. 

If we're going to be real, we've God to really understand who we are in the eyes of God.  We've got to be confident with who he has made us, where we are at, and where He's taking us.  We've got to be okay with our humanity- struggles, sins, and all, recognizing that only in the pit of our humanity is when we are in need of a Savior.

We were rescued by a God who connected with us by his wounds.  Maybe sharing ours will be the only way that we can really connect with others.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Five Ways We Keep Our Marriage Strong:

Google "marriage jokes" and these are some of the things you'll find:
Marriage is not a word. It is a sentence--a life sentence.

Marriage is very much like a violin; after the sweet music is over, the strings are attached.

Marriage is love. Love is blind. Therefore, marriage is an institution for the blind.

Marriage is an institution in which a man loses his Bachelor's Degree and the woman gets her Masters.

Marriage is a thing which puts a ring on a woman's finger and two under the man's eyes.

Marriage certificate is just another word for a work permit.

Marriage is not just a having a wife, but also worries inherited forever.

I really despise marriage jokes.  First, I despise them because they are critical, negative, and completely discouraging.  But secondly, I despise them because at the core....they reflect the heart of a very broken society, with a very twisted view of marriage.  They reflect a world around us that is struggling to see marriage as a blessing, but rather see it as a hindrance.

Turn on the local news and you will hear story after story of broken marriages, destructive relationships, struggling families, and the on again off again romance of Hollywood that confirms our societies apathetic view on holy matrimony.    

I despise marriage jokes because I believe they affirm the very thing the Enemy is trying to do in the world around us- steal, kill, and destroy our God-ordained, God-given, God-created relationships.  They make light of a very serious matter and snuff the image of God in the very relationships that were meant to reflect and honor Him.  
Marriage is no walk in the park. It is a road full of really hard choices, ridiculous selflessness, and constant service.  But it is a journey full of blessing, healing, and hope.  It is a hazy glimpse of God's incredible love found in the eyes of another human being. 

My husband and I take this seriously, and try to live out this kind of love each and every single day.  Some days are way harder than others, and many times we make mistakes.  But more than anything, we have committed to five things to keep our marriage strong...

1.  Friendship:  It's easier to be friends than lovers.  And those who start as friends, make the best lovers.  John and I founded our relationship on a really strong friendship.  I see the roots of that friendship sprouting in our marriage every day.  Each component to our friendship is like a string- and we have string after string tying us together and holding us close.  We share similar interests, hobbies, passions, and beliefs that keep us connected.  But we also have many differences- differences that we see as opportunities to learn, experience, and get to know one another even more.  We love spending time together, experiencing things with one another, and consider the other as our best friend.  We don't let our marriage cover over our only accentuates it. 

2.  Laughter:  When I met John I thought he was the funniest man alive.  Now I know better :)  But the truth of the matter is he keeps me laughing and makes me smile.  We have so much fun together, and some of our most intimate memories involve us laughing until there are tears streaming down our faces.  There is a time and place in marriage for tears of frustration, anger, and sadness...but there should also be a time for tears of joy.  Make that a priority in your marriage.  

3.  Confession:  As hard as it is, John and I are getting really good at saying sorry.  But we've evolved.  We don't just say sorry anymore- because the word "sorry" doesn't always hold much meaning.  We have learned to confess to one another, to take ownership and responsibility of our sins, flaws, and weaknesses, and to apologize specifically for how we have hurt each other.  As humbling as this can be, confession has brought an intimacy between us that is far greater than any prideful "rightness" could ever bring.  We've learned to confess to one another, and then to forgive one another.   

4.  Affection:  While affection was the norm in our first 3 years of marriage- two children later, a lot has changed.  Affection is no longer the "norm", it's a priority.  It's an action and reaction to one another that involves being deliberate and choosing to make time for intimacy, romance, and quality time.  It's a part of our life that we've had to learn to integrate in our day to day, rather than just save for special date nights.  We give affection through our words, loving glances across the couch while reading books with the kids, holding hands in public or even across our dining room table.  We've learned to show affection through our words, our actions, and our attitudes with one another.  And let me encourage you...a little love goes a long, long way. 

5.  Connection:  With so many opportunities to "connect" throughout the day via Facebook, emails, text messages, and interactions with others- sometimes our need for connections is depleted by the time we are face to face with our spouse at the end of the day.  John and I do our best to save our connecting for one save our favorite stories of the day with each other, to call and text each other throughout the day, and to always save the last few minutes before bed as our time to emotionally connect.  We're deliberate in having deep conversation with one another, and make the most of the time we're apart by thinking about each other and then sharing those thoughts when we get the chance. 

Marriage is not an easy road, and the proof of that is reflected in the many marriages around us that are falling apart.  But God's design for marriage is not to add burdens but to bring blessing into our lives.  May God give us the grace to honor our relationships with our spouse, to invest in them, and to show them the love of Jesus every opportunity we get.  And may we be blessed in return.