My Problems My Own. My Problems I Own.

TySo. It turns out that identifying a problem is not even half the battle. Identifying a problem is actually more akin to using the word “problem”. Take for example “I have a problem with beanie babies.” The whole point of this statement is the beanie baby, the addiction itself, but we/I get stuck at the word problem and think we’re/I’m good. As if just saying it is enough.

Now, don’t get me wrong, admitting a problem is the first step, and it’s a big step. But for me, myself and I, I think I quite like to set up camp at “I have a problem,” let myself hang out there for a while, and feel somewhat proud of myself for identifying this. Let myself really sink my teeth into the fact that I have a problem, instead of sinking my teeth into the problem.

And I don’t just identify it once. That first time I identify a problem is an adrenaline rush, so of course I want to do it again. And once I identify it a second time, I’m well on my way to sage, mage and all round problems guru.

“Oh yes, I know I have a problem with social media, but I recognize it for what it is. #problemsguru #identified #selfimpressed.”

So by the time this problem has reared it’s ugly head a couple more times, I have deluded myself into thinking I have a handle on it, when the opposite is quite true. See I’ve identified this before, and the first time I did it lost some of it’s power over me. I’ve said it out loud and it lost a little more of it’s power. But then I said the same thing again.

“I have a problem with Beanie Babies.” Power down.

“I have a problem with Princess Diana Beanie Babies.” Power down

“I have a problem with Princess Diana Beanie Babies.” Power stasis.

“I have a problem with Princess Diana Beanie Babies.” Power up

Diana

There are a lot of things that get easier with repetition. I’m a huge fan of “if you say something long enough you’ll believe it.” But some things you have to repeat with more than just words on a loop. Some things you need to tackle head on every day, not just admitting you have a problem, but praying through, praying over, talking through with people who can actually help and not just people you are comfortable with. Sometimes the very people you can talk to, are the people you have the biggest problem with, and so repeating the same thing to them is not going to help anymore.

The thing is. The Princess Diana Beanie Baby isn’t the problem, and the more I say it is, the more I believe it is. As if the Beanie Baby is something outside of my control, external to me, and not something I’ve swallowed whole. No matter how many times I grab hold of that Princess Diana Beanie Baby, the common thread is not the beanie baby, it’s me.

It’s me.

I’m the problem. Not the addiction. The addiction has no life without me.

I’m the problem. Not the Beanie Baby. The Beanie Baby is off doing it’s own thing.

It’s me.

It’s me.

Wow, seeing that in Black and White on the screen, well, off gray and white, is a little daunting.

See I can hide behind the words and I can hide from the Beanie Babies. I can stay off Ebay, and I can stay away from collectors fairs. I can even push the trading manual to the back of my closet, and take my name of the Beanie Baby fan club volunteer list. But the problem is still there, because the problem is me.

Christine Caine is hitting me with some hard truths in her new book Unashamed. Now my Beanie Baby is not shame, but really, wherever she talks about shame just insert your own Beanie Baby and you will be shocked by what you hear:

So often in our spiritual lives, we experience the same thing. We get saved and start a good run – out of Egypt and right through the wilderness, building our heart, soul and mind muscles as we go. We build up our stamina, character, and fruit of the spirit output. We start to advance, grow, and mature in our spiritual journey. Things really seem to be flourishing in many areas of out lives.

Then we hit a wall.

That internal roadblock moment where everything seems like it should still keep moving forward, but it won’t… because we are holding back something somewhere. 

Because we are holding back. Because we are keeping something from God. Because he can have the idea of Beanie Babies, I won’t buy anymore, I won’t go to the member site, I won’t pay the subscription, but I’ll just keep the ones I already own. Look, I’ll even put them in a box in the basement. He won’t even know they are there.

So is it all doom and gloom? Am I to be a slave to the Princess Diana Beanie Baby for the rest of my natural life? No. Because the son has set me free and I am free indeed (John 8:36). No. Because I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). But it takes more than saying you have a problem, it takes renewing your mind so that when your spirit falls back on the problem, your mind can kick into gear and get you out. So that when you see it, and identify it, you can walk away from it without it touching you. How do we do that?

The apostle Paul said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8).

That thing that I’ve identified needs to be replaced with whatever is true. That thing that keeps popping up when I see that Ty symbol, needs to be replaced with something noble. That thing that tugs at my heart when I hear the unwrapping of a McDonalds Toy, that needs to be replaced with whatever is right.

And just saying “I know I have a Beanie Baby Problem” will not cut it. You have to grab the Beanie Baby by the throat and cut the sucker’s head off.

Render Unto Caesar: Brexit

Mark 12:17

Jesus said to them, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.

Francis Chan has said some wise things, some things that have stuck with me and some that I’d rather would go away. One thing that is imprinted on my heart is the notion that we waste our time waiting for a “calling,” that we have gotten too caught up in semantics and Christian-ese and would rather wait than live as Christ taught us to live. He said that we are instructed to look after the widows and the orphans, so let’s just do that until we hear otherwise. 

There’s a lot going on right now in the political world of both my home country and my adopted country. Things that I don’t necessarily agree with, and things that I agree with but find myself lambasted for. I have a voice and I like to use it. My 8th grade report card read “Sarah loves to communicate, regardless of language and medium.” Thanks for that Mr. Sarl, 20 years later and it’s still with me, in a good way.

I didn’t vote on Brexit, but I will be voting on the coming Presidential election. And the thing is, it matters and it also doesn’t matter. Both things are of vital importance in-country and on the world stage. But whichever way it goes, it’s not the end of the world. The UK is leaving the European Union now, things will change. Safe to say that things would have continued to change had they remained. We may end up with President Trump. I think we’ll survive if we do, I may just have to shut down my twitter feed awhile and focus on the chickadees that nest outside my kitchen window.

CoinIn Mark 12 the Pharisees bring Jesus a coin and question him about paying taxes. Jesus answers simply “Whose image is on this coin?” and from this we get “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Whose image is imprinted on you, on your soul, on your heart? Because mine sure as heck isn’t Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton, it’s not the Union Jack or the flag of Europe. The image that I bear, that I was born with, that I was called to bear, is Christ’s. I was created in God’s image. In his image do I labor.

Whose image is on this coin?

Whatever is happening politically I will continue to speak out against injustice, to speak out against poverty, to speak out for love, love, love. Trump or Hillary can get eight years at the most. In a few years time, we’ll know how Brexit is going to shake out, and you know what, the world won’t fall in the meantime. It will look different for sure but it’s not going anywhere. Our only calling is to continue to love God and love others. To be the hands and feet of Jesus. He already has a voice, and his voice I will repeat in the oncoming political storm:

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Emergency Room

When everything is going well, you like to think that your first response will always be prayer. “I will pray for you.” It’s our response to most things. My approach to prayer over the past few years has been somewhat different. Instead of inviting God in a few spoken words, or many spoke words, I try to make my life a prayer. To make everything an encounter with God. To have him with me in everything. At the end of the day, I don’t get to cop out with “I didn’t have time today,” because he is with me in everything.

This started when I was on my first maternity leave. I wanted to have my “quiet time” but I was exhausted. So instead, I laid down on my bed, and prayed “Lord be with me as I nap.” And I took a nap with God. Yeah it sounds silly and like cupcake Christianity. But it was a great nap, and I woke up feeling so light and happy and grateful, who was I to say that God wasn’t in something that restorative and up-lifting.

It’s been a long journey, and don’t get me wrong, I still pray in the more traditional way too. But I don’t worry about prayer as much anymore.

13458590_10154108822755867_4200165403927757269_oSo last night when my husband called me in a blind panic, when we rushed to drop the boys off at a friends house, when we went to the emergency room with our baby girl. No, my first instinct was not to pray about it. My first instincts were, calm Ben, calm M, keep the boys safe, call the Doctor. We had been in the ER for about an hour and a half before I realized I hadn’t prayed yet. And I had to smile.

Because I had friends speaking words for me.

Because I had friends being the hands and feet of Jesus, which tonight happened to look like pizza and a guest room.

Because even though I had said not one word to him, my heart is always turned towards him.

And so, without any words of my own, the whole journey from the gas station, to the frantic phone call, to Kim’s house, to the ER, had been full of God. Of his protection. Of his love. Of his peace. How else does a mom of a nine month old show such poise and presence on this kind of night?

So then I prayed.

Not “Please God,” not “Be with us now Oh Lord,” but “Hmm, thanks for having my back tonight.” And I went immediately back to watching my sleeping baby and stroking my husband’s hair. My words did not call to him, but my life did, and he will always answer.

And she is fine.

Your Happiest Child

 

DSCI24381 Timothy 11 talks about “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” The word that is actually used here, comes closer to what we would consider “happy God.” When I think of God, I think of phrases like “well pleased” and “plans to prosper,” when I think of “Happy” I think of Pharrell Williams. But a happy God, now that is something to think about.

I read the other day that you are only as happy as your happiest child. I can’t tell you where it comes from, the person who said it to me couldn’t remember where they heard it, but lack of origin aside, it’s so true.

When my children suffer, I suffer.

When my children hurt, I hurt.

When my children worry, I worry for them.

When my children are bored, I am irritated with them.

But it is true. The more common phrase is that you are only as strong as your weakest link, but I think the strength of your family has a lot to do with the happiness of each person. If someone is unhappy it affects everyone else.

Which brings me back to this happy God of ours. Is God inherently happy? Or does he have to find his happiness? If God is only as happy as his happiest child, what does that do to God?

His happiest child.

I am lucky to live in America. Even luckier still, to live in Maine, a more blessed place there never was nor could be (see picture above). I am a happy child of God. Even when I am sick, or whiny, or dissatisfied, I’m still pretty happy. Even when I feel fat or alone, I’m still pretty happy. If God if as happy as his happiest child, it’s not me I’m thinking about. It’s someone leading a life thousands of miles away from me, or even a few blocks away from me, without food, without family, without faith.

God is bigger than I am. When T is sad, my insides want to stuff him back into my womb to protect him. When C is afraid, I could take on the world to protect him. When M is sad, I hold her and don’t let go. Moms are pretty reactionary, or over-reactionary beings. It’s hard wired into us.

I think God can be simultaneously a happy God, and a God of lamentations. That he can see his whole universe and still get out of bed in the morning, while undone laundry is sometimes enough to keep me hiding in my room.

I think he can be all things at all times to all people and I will never understand that completely. But to only be as happy as your happiest child? I’m pretty sure we should be spending our time raising that happiness bar for him.

Big Friend Little Friend

letter_writi_24714_lgI moved to Maine almost thirteen years ago. I came straight out of a Masters program into a marriage. Within the space of eight days, I turned in my thesis, had a party with 150 of my nearest and dearest, flew to America, got married, and moved in with the in-laws.

It would be 13 months before my work papers came through.

The internet was still in it’s infancy, and in Maine it was dial up all the way.

Thirteen years later, I have people in England, Mississippi, Florida and North Carolina.

Thirteen years later, I have three children under the age of six.

I spent a lot of time thinking I was a bad friend for not communicating more, with my people in England, with my people who moved away from Maine. But the funny thing is, while I thought that often about myself, I never thought it once about them.

I would get a one line email from a friend in England and be overjoyed. Instantly I would be transported and be by their side, sharing a communal history, praying for each other, being so thankful they were in my life. In a one line email.

Both of my college room mates from England got married and had babies without me there. I found out over email. But I was over the moon, the news was so fantastic. When we meet up once a year, less so now, it is as if no time has passed at all.

When a friend likes a picture of mine, or retweets something, or writes LOL underneath a status update, it is amazing.

Because contact with my people, no matter how brief, is precious, cherished, it blesses me beyond it’s bounds. They say faith is like a mustard seed, but so too is friendship, love, a little goes a long way.

Imagine then, how you feel when someone likes your update, how God feels about the time we spend with him.

How much of our Christian lives do we waste feeling guilty about the time we spend with him? I know that I spent the better part of a decade thinking more about that than about him.

2 Corinthians 12-9How much time do you spend criticizing yourself, chastising yourself, making deals with yourself, about how much time you spend with God? Because it is all a waste of time.

He loves you. He loves all of you.

He loves all of you all the time.

He would love to spend every minute with you, but you know what? When you look his way and smile, he is elated. When you send a few words to him, he rejoices.

I’m not saying this to give us a cosmic excuse for reducing our God time. No, if you enjoy a quick email from a friend once a year, if you rejoice in the remembrance of that friendship, if you feel blessed by that moment, just think how much more the time we spend with God means to him.

And who doesn’t want more of that?

But we have to do something really hard first. Stop feeling guilty. Leave it behind. It is unworthy of your time. It wastes your time. Take the time you would spend feeling guilty about the time you spend with God and actually spend it with God.

Or not.

Spend it with a family member, or a good book, or the good book. Imagine how much time you free up when you let go of the guilt.

When my friend emails me one sentence that says “Hey, sorry I didn’t get back to you, that’s crazy, miss you.” I spend not one second feeling guilty about our relationship. I spend not one second sending guilt and shame her way for such a short email. No, I love her, I cherish her, I thank God for her.

 

In Proverbs 8:17 God tells us that I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.

Those who seek him, will find him. But above all else, those who love him are loved. That’s the only requirement. Love. I think I have some time for that.

It’s The Little Things

I was faced with a dilemma this week. My four year old had a tick at the base of his skull, just barely in, but there it was. My husband wasn’t home, he usually deals with these things. For a split second I thought maybe I would be best leaving it in and having Ben dig it out when he got home an hour later. Then of course, I grabbed the tweezers and tried to remember everything my Maine family has ever told me about removing a tick. We don’t have ticks in England.

I got it out. The head didn’t break off. C didn’t complain too much. I flushed the offender immediately.

When something is a little problem, do we deal with it straightaway while it isn’t really that big of a deal, or do we leave it? Not wanting to pick at something, disturb the peace, rock the boat? Then, when enough time has passed and it becomes an actual problem, that we actually have to deal with, then do we sink our teeth into the problem?

If I am afraid to deal with the little problems, for fear of making it worse, messing it up, or otherwise screwing it up, don’t I just postpone something worse?

I have often thought that ignoring things is a good way of dealing with something. I ignored a relationship problem at church and missed out on years of what is now a wonderful friendship. I ignored a Jesus problem in my heart and missed out on years of authenticity. I ignored a calling and embraced nervousness, and so missed out on many speaking opportunities. When I finally spoke at another event, I found out that he had it covered, and that I loved doing it, but I missed so much while I lived in my fear.

If you let the tick burrow in, he’s much harder to remove, and you risk so much more. If you deal with the small problem immediately, then you’ve dealt with it and put it behind you, in less time than it takes to be afraid of something.

Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What exactly are we so afraid of that we let the insignificant define us?

A quiet moment

IMG_8250-627x470Last night I was overheating again. I know this because Ben told me I was. Apparently me shutting down and falling asleep on the couch, combined with warm weather, means danger Wil Robinson! So off I went to the AC in our room, to read a book and recover.

We have a very small second floor. It has three small bedrooms, and a big hallway that contains a crafting zone, a board game library, and Ben’s desk. One AC in our room serves very well to keep all rooms cool. So last night, after C and M were asleep, we opened their doors to let the cool air in.

T had gotten home late from Little League, and so was getting into bed with the door open, from whence he could see the light from my room, where I was reading. And he wanted to read too.

I can never turn down that little boy who wants to read until he feels sleepy. So, for a while, he was my reading buddy. I sat on my bed reading. He sat on his bed reading. It’s a small place, so we could see each other, and I loved it. Glancing up from my book and seeing those gangly legs on the top bunk, those arms grasping the giant book he had chosen. Every so often he would read aloud and I would hear how far he has come this year.

Then it was “one more book” time, and for that he snuggle up right next to me, I couldn’t resist any longer. He read Tiny Bear’s Bible and cuddled up with me. He told me how nice this room was, how nice and cool, how nice my blankets were, how comfy he was. Then I tapped him on the head and sent him back to his bed. He was asleep in less than a minute.

Twenty minutes before this beautiful scene, he had been benched at Little League, by his coach, who happens to be his dad. His behavior at Little League vacillates between passable and deplorable. Tonight was beyond deplorable.

He is chastised. He feels remorse. He moves on.

It’s that simple to him. When he does something wrong, we deal with it, he accepts it and he moves on. Now to a six year old, moving on more often than not looks like forgetting and repeating the same behavior, but I am promised that at some point it will stick.

He is chastised. He feels remorse. He moves on.

He forgives himself, because he knows that we love him. He moves on, because he knows we will always be there. He is a repeat offender, because he has no fear that we will stop loving him, but also that we will keep helping him to get it right. He is confident in our love and our parenting. He knows we will catch him, he knows we will rebuke him, he knows we will forgive him.

I beat myself up all the time. I swore again. And again. And God doesn’t like profanity right. I don’t even like profanity but I use it. I was envious again. I gossiped again. These are not lesser sins, it’s all the same thing in his eyes.

And with my words I know that he still loves me. With my words I know that he will always be there. Even with my heart I know these things. But in the pit of my stomach, in my body language, do I still think that there is something I can do, some line I can cross that will make him turn away from me. Make him say “Everyone at the cross but Sarah, she’s just too far gone.”

My son is chastised. He feels remorse. He moves on.

I yearn for the confidence in my God that T has in me.