Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Heading South

Dinners - prepared and in the freezer. Check.
Baking instructions and reminders - clearly displayed. Check.
Laundry - washed, folded and put away. Check.
Suitcase - packed and ready. Check.
Boarding pass in hand. Check.

OK. I guess I'm ready to go!

Last summer I was contacted about speaking to a MOPS group in Florida. Though the obstacles seemed large at the time, we have delighted in seeing God take care of them. Now He's worked it out that I'll be speaking to two MOPS groups tomorrow in the Tampa area.
And I'm excited!
Not just because I get a break from being a mom for a couple days.
Not just because it's c-c-c-cold here and almost 80 degrees there.
Not just because I'll get to see my mom and grandma at one of the meetings.
Not just because I'm going to wear a pair of cute capris I bought awhile back and haven't been able to wear yet, because it's too cold in Michigan.

Those things are all nice, but what makes me really excited is having the opportunity to see God work something out and to be a part of it. For so long, I was despairing of my role as a mother. Ever since God has given me hope that He's using my children and my struggles as a mother to make me into the woman He wants me to be, I have been eager to share that hope with other moms.
I think too often we wear a mask, trying to make others think we have it all together, refusing to be real with each other. There is something wonderful about getting in front of a group of moms and admitting my weaknesses, frustrations, and struggles - being real - and pointing them to the hope I've found in God. I love when women tell me how encouraged they are to know they aren't alone. It inspires me to share honestly when I realize God takes the hard times we have faced and uses them to bring comfort to others who are going through the same thing. He truly is a Redeemer.
And I'm excited that tomorrow I get to share this message twice with a bunch of moms who have been weary and frustrated and are in need of hope and encouragement. (While I'm enjoying my own break, in a cute outfit and warm air, and seeing my mom and grandma...God is entirely too good to me!)

And when I get back, I get to go to Five Minutes For Mom's Ultimate Blog Party. Yippee!!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ahhh, That's Better!

In my last post I was mulling over whether or not I should continue to wake my kids at 6:00 on school days because they were interrupting my quiet time for reading my Bible and praying. Thanks to those of you who shared comments and encouragement with me!

I decided to tell them they needed to stay in their rooms quietly until 6:40, so I could have this much-needed time alone. Elizabeth's response to my decision was quite funny, though I was honestly trying not to laugh at the time. (She is almost eleven and her hormones are starting to surge. I know this is true because she cries at the tiniest thing these days.) So when I told the kids I wanted to have that window of time from 6:00 to 6:40 alone and quiet downstairs, Elizabeth got wide-eyed and started crying. She said she needs to come down and eat her breakfast because she is starving every morning and can't possibly wait until 6:40 to eat. (I have a thing about them not taking food up to their rooms. We've had ants, you know, I just don't want to go there again!) She acted as though the world would end if she couldn't do this early rising thing. But we were able to convince her since she doesn't eat that early on Saturday and Sunday, she probably won't wither away on any other day. She agreed to try.

So yesterday I came downstairs alone at 6:00 and sat down to pray. The words Thank You, Lord for this time alone and quiet with You had so much more meaning after the struggle I went through to acquire the time. They were just as rich this morning.
And I'm reminded of one of the ways God works in my life. He builds desires in me, moves in me to want something, allows me to struggle so that "thing" is just out of reach and I'm really hungering for it, and then He works things out and the "thing" I've been desiring (in this case, time alone with Him) is sweeter to me than it was, or would have been, without the struggle.
In the midst of the struggle I'm too often frustrated, thinking, "Woe is me!" When the time is right, He works it out and I see He was there all the time orchestrating life and using the trials according to His good purposes. Then I am able to thank Him for the hard times. I want to grow in my faith and be able to thank Him during the hard times, too.
I am a work in progress - aren't we all? - learning to trust Him more each day, learning to surrender my will to His, and filled with joy that He is so patient with me. Isn't He good???

Friday, February 23, 2007

To Wake or Not to Wake?

I became a Christian when I was a freshman in college. The next year I got involved in a Christian fellowship group and learned about something called a "daily quiet time" or DQT. (Since we had an acronym for everything!) I then got into the habit of spending time each day reading my Bible and praying. It was a good thing.
I continued with this practice through college and into my married life, until I had kids. Then it pretty much went out the window. Oh, I tried, but I was tired and overwhelmed with baby stuff and just couldn't seem to bring myself to manage fitting DQTs into my life, too. So for years, my "quiet times" were probably monthly, or semi-monthly at best.

God is so gracious, though. I love that although I wasn't making time for Him, He never let up on His love for me or His desire for me to know Him. Over time, I came to understand His love for me is not dependent upon my performance, or my keeping of spiritual disciplines. Nothing I ever do will increase or decrease His love for me. He loves us because He chooses to love. With that understanding, my gulity feelings for not having quiet times faded and my desire to have those quiet times grew!
While the desire was there, I still couldn't imagine how I could make it work. Then I was at a TimeOut for Women! conference and one of the speakers, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, gave us a "30-Day Challenge." Nancy had been talking about God's desire for intimacy with us and closed with a challenge for us to spend some time alone and quiet with Him each day, for the next 30 days. She gave some practical suggestions on how we could do it (like getting up earlier, but I don't want to get up earlier!) and that was the push I needed. I accepted the challenge and began a new leg on my journey with God.

It has been about a year and a half now that I've been getting up (most days) at 6:00 and spending time praying, studying God's Word, and enjoying His love for me. Though I realize that window of time from 6:00 to 6:40 is no more holy than any other time of the day, God is no less present to me the rest of the day, and He doesn't love me any more now than He did two years ago when my "quiet times" were nearly non-existent, I have come to cherish and even crave these times with Him.
That brings me to today and the question pressing on my mind. It used to be that I got up at 6:00 so I could have these peaceful moments with God before I woke the kids at 6:40 to get ready for school. One day Elizabeth got up at 6:00, too, to have extra time in the morning to play a computer game or work on an art project. That wasn't a big deal. She was pretty quiet.
Then Joshua started asking me to wake him up at 6:00 so he could play computer games, too. And my quiet time started getting a little noisier. Now Matthew has become a regular part of the 6:00 bunch and I'm thinking I need to take the word "quiet" out of the time I spend with God in the morning. (As well as the concept of "alone.")
This morning I "pulled Elizabeth out of bed" like she asked me to, to make sure she would get up. Then I half-heartedly wakened Joshua and told him he could get up if he wanted, though I was hoping he'd say he wanted to stay in bed until 6:40. Matthew didn't need any help. He just got up. (This does leave me wondering why I have to work so hard to get him out of bed at the times when I really want him up...)
I came downstairs, settled into my chair and began to look at Psalm 34:7. The angle of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Then Joshua settled down next to me to play a computer game, and I asked him if he would please take it into the other room. He agreed reluctantly, but at least he agreed. Soon a conversation began between Joshua and Elizabeth, but I tried to tune them out and just imagine the angel of the Lord encamping around me.
Just then Matthew stood before me with a bowl full of oatmeal. Turning on his charm, he said, "Mommy, would you be nice enough to make this oatmeal for me?" I wanted to say/yell very sarcastically, "No! I'm trying to meet with God here! Would you just leave me alone?!?!?!" I knew that wouldn't be a good response, so I got up and made his oatmeal. I noticed, though, that I had become quite grumpy in the opening minutes of my "quiet time." "Grumpy" is not the behavioral disposition I'm hoping to obtain each morning, and I started getting teary as I considered what was going on inside of me. So I put Matthew's oatmeal on the table for him and went up to Elizabeth's room to journal and pray and try to sort things out with God, while echos of the kids' voices resounded from below.
Part of me thinks the kids shouldn't come downstairs before 6:40. They don't need more computer time. They could use the extra sleep. I could use the peace and quiet.
Then I wonder, "Am I just being selfish?" Selfishness and I have a long history with each other and I'm trying to break things off with it, so I question my own motives a lot. I'm wondering, is it selfish for me to want the kids to leave me alone for this 40 minute window of time? Am I just spiritualizing my own selfishness?
I want to delight the heart of God by the things I do and say and by the person I'm becoming. I believe that starts by me spending this time with Him each day. It delights my heart to be in His presence this way. But something isn't working now and I'm not sure what to do. Anyone have some words of wisdom and experience to share with me???

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Precious Moments

Wednesday is my day to go to school. I start off in first grade, make my way through lunch with first, third, fifth, eighth, fourth, and finally sixth graders (just fifteen minutes with each so the teachers can take a quick break), spend time back in fifth grade, and finish the day out in third grade. My kids' school is very big on parental involvement (one of the reasons we chose that school) and I enjoy the time I spend volunteering there.
If I ever had doubts about wanting to help out in the classroom, however, they would've all been washed away today. As I opened the door to Matthew's first grade classroom (I tried to be quiet and unobtrusive, honest!) one, then two little voices piped up, "Matthew, your mom is here!" At that, Matthew hopped out of his seat and ran to give me a hug. Then two of his classmates followed suit. I hugged them back and looked apologetically at the teacher as I told the kids to go back to their seats. This type of greeting is common when I go into his room, but somehow today it struck me as particulary precious.
Later in the afternoon, when I was in Joshua's third grade classroom, I overheard a conversation between two girls, that absolutely delighted my heart. I've known these girls for quite awhile because they were both in Joshua's class last year and we used to play "Honey, if you love me." (Do you know that game? It's lots of fun!) They always have hugs for me and often call me "Mom." This afternoon as they were getting ready to go out for recess, one said to the other, "Mrs. H. must be married to God or something. She's so nice!" I'm smiling even now as I recall that adorable conversation.

Right now my kids love that I come into school and volunteer in their classrooms. They're willing to hug me in front of their friends. Joshua even asks me to stay in his room when I've finished the work his teacher has for me, just so I'll be there.
I realize though, it won't always be this way. (I have a friend who has to get "pencilled in" on her teenage daughter's schedule if she wants to do something special with her daughter.) The day will come when my kids will squirm and turn the other direction if they see me in the hallway at school. Their friends may very well turn on me and start thinking of me as an "old fashioned" nerdy-type. And hugs? I imagine they'll be saved for the confines of home and bedtime.
I'd like to be wrong about these predictions, but those who've gone before me tell me this is how it will be. As I think about the precious moments I had today I almost imagine there will come a time when I'll "miss these days."
Wait. Did I really just say that??? I usually grimace when "older" moms give me that line about, "There will come a time when you'll miss these days." And I look at them thinking, "You don't really remember what these days are like, do you?!"
Oh, I don't know. Maybe it's true. "These days" have plenty of challenges and hardships which keep me from believing I would ever miss them. However, I think I'll try to spend more time mulling over the hugs and adorable comments - looking for the joy in each day - and store up for myself precious memories.

Only, if somewhere down the road you happen to see me in the presence of a weary young mother and I start to say something like, "Oh, they grow up so fast, dear. You know, there will come a time when you'll miss these days!" Please, please, please, run up to me and cup your hand over my mouth!!! (That mother and I thank you in advance!)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Lavish Gifts

For Christmas, my mother-in-law gave us a family gift. As in, the whole family - her sons, their wives, and all the grandchildren. The gift was a family outing to the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, Michigan, and we all took the trip this weekend. Oh, my, did we ever have a GREAT time!!!

The resort is all about families having fun together, and that is exactly what we did. From going down the water slides (really fast!) in innertubes or floating in the lazy river, to squirting each other with hoses or standing under the 1,000 gallon bucket that dumped water every five minutes, we had a great time together.
Besides the indoor water park, there was one other attraction about which my kids were particularly interested. The arcade. (If I am to be perfectly honest, I must admit I was pretty happy when I found out the arcade included a "Dance Dance Revolution," a.k.a. DDR.) Like most arcades my kids enjoy, this was one whose games gave out tickets which were redeemable in the end for "prizes."
Right away my kids were talking about which games they wanted to play and what prizes they hoped to earn, as we scoped out the arcade for the first time. My initial thought was, "How can I divert their attention from this room? Surely, we don't need to waste our time and money here!" I am usually so stingy when it comes to arcade games. When I do take the kids somewhere that has an arcade, it is common for me to say something like, "I'm going to give you one dollar for tokens, and that's it." But something weird happened in me at the Great Wolf Lodge arcade.
As I contemplated being there for an entire weekend, and considered the fact we were there via a gift, I got the idea that maybe, just maybe, I could be a little generous with the kids. I went over to the machine used to buy tokens and read the sign. It said, if you bought $20 worth of tokens you would receive 12 bonus tokens. Seemed like a good deal to me. But did I really want to spend that much money? For arcade games and tickets and (in my opinion) worthless prizes? That is so not my character! However, after I thought about it a little more and discussed the idea with my husband, I decided I was going to put that $20 bill in the machine and get those 92 tokens.
So when Joshua asked if we could go to the arcade I said, "Yes. Let's go," and the two of us were on our way. When we got there and went to get our tokens, Joshua looked surprised as I put the $20 bill into the machine. The look on his face at that moment was cute, but it was nothing compared to his expression as he watched the machine produce 92 tokens. His eyes were like saucers as he kept looking from me to the tokens, with a very large grin on his face. He was a combination of joy and excitement, with a dash of disbelief. To me, his response was worth every penny I had just spent.
What made it sweeter still was listening to him recount the event to Elizabeth and Matthew later that night. The kids were all in bed and Joshua told them, "Mom put in a $20 bill and tokens just kept coming out. And we get to use them all!" (Yeah, except the 12 bonus tokens. Those were all mine for DDR!) The joy and excitement in his voice filled my heart with delight.

As I further considered Joshua's response to my "lavish" gift and the delight his response brought to my heart, my thoughts turned to our God and how He might view our responses to His lavish gifts. When we look at a glorious sunrise or sunset (or the Northern Lights - Have you ever seen those?) and our hearts flow with praise for God's handiwork and the beauty of His creation, do you think He smiles and says, I made that just for you to see?
Or when we are looking at one of our children, marveling over the fact that little person was once just a little tiny cell, stuck in awe at the thought God created them - let alone saw fit to make us their mother - and with tears streaming down our cheek we thank God for that child's precious life, do you think His heart fills with delight as He says, I did this because I love you so much?
What about the times when things all seem to be going "your way"? You've been stressed about a certain situation but it has all worked out. The kids are unusually well-behaved. Your friend called just to let you know she's been praying for you. Your husband said you deserve a night out and he's made plans to take the kids on an outing without you. Then you, giddy with joy, ask God, "Why are you so good to me???" And He, also with joy, replies, It brings Me joy to see you joyful.

The Bible says God desires to lavish His love on us (1 John 3:1), every good gift comes from Him (James 1:17), and He will never stop doing good to us (Jeremiah 32:40). Certainly we all have difficult things in our lives with which we must contend - and if you've been with me for long you know I believe those hard times are ultimately good because God is good and uses everything in our lives according to His good purposes.
But as I watched Joshua this weekend, filled with joy over my lavish gift, I was reminded and thankful that God delights in doing good to us. How wonderful is that? The Creator of the universe - in the midst of holding the world together in perfect balance - wants to delight your heart!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Psalm 34:3

Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together. Psalm 34:3

One of the ways I spend my quiet time with God in the morning is by picking a psalm and going through it one verse at a time, one day at a time. I read and memorize the verse, looking up any words I don't understand (like "pestilence" in Psalm 91!), and spend time meditating on the verse as I ask God what He wants to say to me through the words. On Monday I began going through Psalm 34 and am loving it.
The psalmist has made a willful decision to glorify the Lord and I am eager to spend time in this psalm because (I read ahead!) I know he is going to talk about God's faithfulness, which has led to him make this decision to live a life of praise. But before I get that far, I have been so encouraged to let my own life be praise to Him as I "extoll the Lord at all times." (v.1)
This morning as I was mulling over verse three, I began to think, "How can I encourage others to 'Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together'?" And I thought, "Ahhh! In my blog!"

So, today I invite you to glorify the Lord with me. Take a moment to think about something God has done for you, for which you want to praise Him. Or, think about the things about God you love and adore, for which you want to praise Him. Then leave your thoughts as a comment.

Here's what I wrote in my journal: You are all-powerful, ever-present, all-knowing, full of grace, mercy and compassion! Lord, how could I but praise You? How could I but love You? How cold I but worship You and call others to do the same? And Lord, I thank You that even though You are so great - so mighty and lovely and holy and good - You are still interseted in me. Broken and imperfect me. You are truly Amazing!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Ultimate Blog Party

Okay, Okay. I'm still pretty new at this blogging thing and must admit I've never been to a blog party before, but this sounds fun. Five Minutes for Mom is setting this party up for the week of March 2-9. You can get the details at their site. What do you think? I'm going!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

They're going to be fine

I don’t think I’m unlike most any other mom “out there.”
*I love my kids tremendously, yet some days they drive me nuts and I want to run away from them.
*I want to fill their lives with wonderful memories of our times together, though sometimes I want them to simply leave me alone.
*My desire is to raise them to be God-loving, respectable human beings, however, some days I’m afraid I’m ruining them for life when I’m at my wits’ end and display a scowling countenance.
*I want to train them on the right path, but sometimes I am at such a loss for what to do!
*I want to be a “perfect” mommy. But I’m not, and I often fear my kids are going to pay the price for my failures.
Knowing this background, perhaps you can understand why I was so encouraged by my grandmother’s words to me this past week.

Especially since my grandfather’s death two months ago, my grandma and I have been spending quite a bit of time together. Sometimes we run errands. Sometimes I take her to appointments. Almost always, we go out to lunch. And without exception, I enjoy listening to her talk.
Lately, she’s been reflecting a lot about her childhood and I’ve been inspired by what a wonderful mother she had. My grandma is 89 years old. Her mother washed laundry for a family of seven without an automatic washer and dryer. She cooked and cleaned for all of them without the modern efficiencies I take for granted. She made yummy treats for all the kids to enjoy. Grandma said, “She worked hard, and she was tired. No wonder she went to be so early every night.” And I could hear the admiration and love in her words.

As I sat and listened I began to wonder, “What will my kids be saying about me and their childhood when they’re 89 years old?” I shared these thoughts with my grandma and told her about some of my insecurities as a mother, and my concerns that I’m messing my kids up through my failings.
She looked at me with all the kindness and sincerity she could and said, “They’re going to be fine, Karen. They’re going to be fine. The boys are a little rambunctious now. But they’re boys. They’re going to turn out just fine.” With those simple words, my grandma spoke volumes of encouragement to me.
It may be helpful for you to know, my grandma doesn’t mince words. She speaks her mind – sometimes leaving the listener wishing they were in another room. I love her dearly and have just learned to let some of her words slip past me with a smile and a nod. I always figure I can take her at her word, knowing she doesn’t cover up her true feelings.
It may also be helpful for you to realize my grandma dealt with many of the same frustrations I do. My dad and my son, Joshua, are very much alike – from their looks and habits to their quirks and personalities – so Grandma understands me when I talk about my hard times with Joshua.
That’s why it was so encouraging for me to hear her say she thinks my kids will be just fine. I’m going to continue to do my best, to seek God for wisdom and grace, to trust Him to carry me through mothering, and, yes, I’m going to continue to mess up sometimes. But as I do these things, I am going to also do my best to remember the words I found so dear this week. “They’re going to be fine.”

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Not again!

I was scheduled to speak to a MOPS group this morning on the east side of the state. (No need to worry about the "lake effect snow" that cancelled MOPS on the west side last week.) However, I received an e-mail yesterday from the speaker coordinator, saying school had been cancelled for two days in a row due to the extreme cold, and could she please have a number to reach me "just in case." I gave it to her but thought, "Please, God. No. Not again!"

Throughout the day I was praying for the women who (I hoped!) would hear me speak today, and asking God to let this meeting happen. I left my phone on through the night just in case a call came in at an odd hour, hoping it wouldn't. When the alarm went off bright and early (Check that. It was still really dark.) I hopped in the shower, got ready and was on my merry little way, just like last week.
As I drove, I was singing and praying and looking forward to a good morning with these MOPS moms. It must have been the singing that muffled the sound of my phone ringing.
After I was sure Mapquest had led me astray, I grabbed my phone to call the church and confirm that I was heading the wrong way. When I picked up the phone, I saw there was a missed call and a voice mail from 7:23 this morning. My heart sank. I thought, "Please, God. No. Not again!" And I reluctantly listened to the voice mail.

Whew! It was my husband, asking me to call if I heard the message by 7:30, and it was 8:10. Oops! Turns out it was just a school-clothes mishap, and he handled the situation fine on his own. And I could almost hear God chuckling, Don't worry, Karen. I've got this morning under control.
So I proceeded to turn around and head in the right direction to get to the church. In deed, God did have things under control.

As I shared my heart with these moms, I could see them connecting with what I was saying and my heart was filled with joy. We talked afterwards and I loved hearing comments like, "I really needed to hear this message today." God gave me opportunity even after I spoke to share about my confidence in His goodness and to point to Him in all things.
As I reflect on this morning, it brings me joy to know God was just as good last week when MOPS was cancelled as He is today when it wasn't. He never changes and my hope is in Him!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Weekend to Remember

What an incredible weekend I just had! If you've been reading my posts the past few weeks, you know I've been looking forward to this weekend because Kathy Troccoli was coming to my home church for our Winter Women's Conference.
In addition to the blessing of hearing Kathy sing and speak of the love and goodness of God, I was given the gift of being her personal assistant, a.k.a. taxi driver. I met Kathy, her road manager, and her pianist at the airport and drove them back and forth from their hotel to the church yesterday and today, and will take them back to the airport tomorrow morning.
This opportunity was such a blessing to me. I have long admired Kathy's passion for God, her authenticity, and her desire to be a holy woman. Those of you who have read my book know how significantly God has used Kathy in my own journey toward holiness. To be able to have some one on one time with her and to share some of my heart with her truly was a gift from God.
He spoke to me again this weekend about living a life which is pleasing to Him. He reminded me that His glory can shine through my brokenness. He poured out His love upon me. And my response to Him is, I want to delight Your heart, God. In all I do and say and am, I want to delight Your heart!

If you ever have the chance to see Kathy Troccoli, take it. I confidently believe she is an instrument God uses for His glory and you will be eternally blessed by the experience. I know I have been!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

HE Isn't Surprised

OK. So I was scheduled to speak for a MOPS group on the west side of the state this morning. I've been looking forward to this particular speaking engagment for quite awhile, in part because I was going to have a special guest there to hear me.

I got up and ready for the morning and was on my merry little way. I'd driven for nearly an hour when I heard the guy on the radio say something about cars in ditches and, "Be careful out there." I didn't even know what station was playing and figured it must be somewhere far away from me, because my surroundings were fine. For the moment.
Right about then I saw the tail lights and hazard lights of the cars in front of me. Glancing at my clock I wondered if I should call my contact person and tell her I might be late. After about 20 minutes of going no faster than 5 miles an hour, I placed the call. That's when I found out MOPS had just been cancelled today. Yes, when I was about 15 miles away from the church.

We will try to reschedule. Maybe it will be this year. Maybe next. I know this cancellation isn't the end of the world, but I was so looking forward to it! I was really tempted to be disappointed, and to let my disappointment color my day.

God used that extended time in the van, going really slow, to allow me to think about my circumstance and to make a better decision than wallowing in disappointment. I realized that when I was laying awake, praying that He would work in the hearts of women as I spoke to them today, He knew I wouldn't be speaking today. When I was putting on my make up, covering up my blemishes, He knew no one was going to see them anyway. When I was glancing at the clock, wanting to be sure I allowed enough time for morning traffic, He knew it wouldn't matter.
In fact, when we scheduled this date last summer, God even knew then that it wouldn't happen today. And I realized that's OK with Him. If God wanted to, He could have kept the snow away. If God wanted to, He could have made the roads perfectly clear. If God wanted to - but He didn't.
I have confidence God is in control, and works all things just as they should be. And as He gave me opportunity to think about that Truth while I was driving, I realized it would be foolish to choose disappointment. Why be disappointed in God's best???
Instead, I'm believing in Him. Perhaps there was a mom who needs to hear my story and she wasn't going to be able to be at the meeting today. Maybe I won't be rescheduled until next year because the woman who really needs to hear me isn't even enrolled in MOPS yet. I don't know the answer. But I know God does. So, I choose to trust Him.

Maybe this experience I had, which I'm sharing with you now, is something God intends for your good. Is there a circumstance in your life which surprised you and has left you disappointed, but which you realize God is ultimately using for good? Remember, He isn't surprised by our circumstances. And even when we don't like them, God is still good!