Thursday, September 27, 2012

Real Grace Produces Sweat

“Grace isn’t real unless it produces sweat.”  I heard that on the radio about a month ago.  I came home and wrote it on our dry erase board in the kitchen.  My husband looked at me like I was strange.  “Well, what does that mean?” I asked him…we both fumbled through a conversation of what it means in our heads, but I left it up to contemplate it some more, and to remind me to ask God to show me how to sink that into my heart.

We’ve heard of grace in that it is by grace we have been saved (Eph. 2:8)…it’s the unmerited favor of God.  We have done nothing to receive His free gift of life.  Yes, but there are other mentions of grace that I guess I never really understood.  I am guilty of interchanging grace for mercy.

This week, I have looked grace in the face.  I am sweating.  I think I get it. 

Grace is mentioned 170 times in the Bible…probably not something I should have casually dismissed in my walk with God, huh? 

Grace is indeed unmerited favor.  We have done nothing to deserve our salvation, and there are no works that we could do to make God love us any more or less.  There is also nothing in the world that could separate us from the love of God.   But grace is also a gift that God gives us to live this life to its fullness.  It’s the oomph we need to keep juggling everything we’ve been given-and to juggle with joy.  That’s right, grace is juggling with joy! (Notice, I am not using joy and happiness interchangeably-vast difference!)

2 Corinthians 9:8 says that “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”  The New Living Translation says it this way:  “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”

Both versions state that this grace is given generously so that it abounds to us…so where does the sweat come in?  Because here’s the deal…God’s heart is to give, then why do I so often feel like I don’t have everything I need, let alone anything left over to share with others?  My plain and simple answer is this:  grace is freely given, but we have to take it!

It’s been a really hard week at the Stack house.  My 5 year old fell at Sunday school and had 3 stitches on the back of his head.  Though today it seems to be better, Monday and Tuesday were filled with headaches, oozing (sorry if that’s tmi!), and well, he just needed a mommy.  But so did my 2 year old who is cutting his 2 year old molars and who also accidentally had some peanut butter, resulting in some serious welts all over his face.  He needed his mommy too.  Wait, but so did my sweet little princess.  She is, after all, only 6 months old, and her top gums are swollen…she has the runny nose, teething fever.  I tried to cuddle all three at once, but they wanted me to themselves.  And then there is my poor 4 year old…healthy as a horse, and feels so left out because he isn’t requiring medical attention and extra snuggles.  Of course, there were also all of life's daily chores that had to be done on top of some other things that are challenging us right now.

I admit that I lacked patience much of the time.  I cried after they went to bed…partly because of exhaustion, partly because I hadn’t even had time to shower or eat an actual meal each day.  Partly because I am selfish.  Yup, I still want a little time each day to myself.  I’m being honest here…not time to shower or eat, but to create, write, read…whatever.  This is SO not the season for that right now!

My 4 year old loves playing games….anything competitive is his cup of tea!  Feeling guilty for not giving him “extra” cuddles this week, I told him that if he cleaned up his legos, I would play any game he wanted yesterday.  The little ones were sleeping, and I figured I had about an hour.  All I needed to do was prep dinner…perfect.  I could do that while he makes sure he little lego pieces are put away before our baby-zillas awoke.  Well, he took his good, old time cleaning those legos up.  I told him over and over that we were running out of time. I was watching him dawdle as I hurriedly chopped veggies.  Please take my offer of our special time together.  I watched him continue to play.  I really wanted to spoil him with my time and attention, and I asked him to only do one thing for me.  Those legos had to be cleaned up before the little ones woke up, and I needed him to do it since I was rushing through my chores to spend time with him…come on kid!  Sure enough, little ones were awake and the legos were still scattered.  Of course, he complained and whined, claiming that I told him we’d play.  Yes, I gave you what you needed from me, but you needed to take it.  Taking it required some sweat.  Ah-ha!

Grace is the unmerited favor of God and the abilitiy to receive abundant life from his glorious riches.   God used our lego fiasco to teach me what had been written on the dry erase board for a month…grace isn’t real unless it produces sweat.  He’s always giving it, but we have to take it.  My dear child needed to take hold of what I was offering and mix it with some sweat, not to have my love which is freely given, but to have fullness of joy.  What a great revelation, and a great thing to teach to my children.  That we are not entitled, but that we have everything we need, we just have to take it.  We have to run the race.  We have to work out our face with fear and trembling.  We need to take heart, not be afraid, and believe.

It is Thursday.  I still have two teething kids, and one of them is a strong-willed two year old.  My first grader is learning fractions, and my 4 year old is learning to print.  I could use some grace.  I want fullness of joy.  I want enough left over to give to others.  But just like when we want to lose weight, we gotta sweat. 

So, let’s sweat it out together.  Let’s take hold of everything we need.  Let’s have enough to share with each other.  Let’s juggle with joy!


P.S.  I played a game (or three) with my little guy after the littles went to bed that night.  We even popped popcorn…after the legos were cleaned up.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Countering Lies with Truth

Warning:  this is a vulnerable post.

This actually wasn’t meant to be a post.  But the more I looked at it, I thought, perhaps other people out there struggle with some same things I do?  If not, well, I just remain extremely vulnerable.  If so, then I hope you are encouraged.

So here’s part one of the honesty:  I’m overwhelmed.  I think that on the outside, I look like I have it together…I think.  But, I’m overwhelmed.  I have a home school first grader, a preschooler, a spicy, feisty two year old, and an adorable little 6 month old who so badly wants to be mobile.  As soon as my eyelids are forced open to someone’s cries in the morning I am serving my children in some way, shape, or form usually until we lay them down at night.  We’re talking 13-14 hours of someone almost constantly needing me, 7 days a week!

Clarification:  I’m not complaining.  I feel very blessed to be the mother of these children!  I know I’m bias, but I think they’re pretty fabulous and I truly am grateful to hang around them all the time.  However, the endless day to day routine has worn me down.  When I’m worn down, I’m much more susceptible to letting my emotions control me rather than my mind:  danger zone! 

I have caught myself mumbling little words of discouragement to myself this past week, as you can read below.  I decided to be proactive.  I was tearing myself down with my musings and negative thinking.  I sat down and wrote out the things I was struggling with and then wrote down the truth  

What I’m thinking is that we have a very real enemy who wants us to feel like we have the weight of the world to carry.  And he loves to wait until we’re tired and overwhelmed to hit us with these ridiculous lies.  How do we counter these lies that we mindlessly utter to ourselves and start to believe?  With truth.  Though we are tired, worn out, and don’t have a moment to ourselves, we must feed ourselves truth so that we can’t hear the lies.

I decided to be extra vulnerable and share some of the lies I have been listening to and the truths I’ve been using to counter them.  As a mother, I know I am responsible for speaking words of encouragement and nurturing little spirits…close to impossible unless my own spirit is encouraged and nurtured.  Hands down, after meditating on truth, I am refreshed and have my head back on straight!

Without further adieu…
Lie #1:  I am not beautiful, and not worthy of love. 

Truth:  Postpartum weight, ponytail hair, and baby food on my clothes do not dictate my beauty or worth.  I am beautiful, inside and out. 
  • Psalm 139:14:  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 
  • 1 Samuel 16:7:  But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
  • Proverbs 31:3:  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
  • 1 Peter 3:3-4:  Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.
  • 1 Timothy 4:8:  Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.
Lie # 2  I am not a good mother. Explanation:  I’m having a really trying time with my 2 year old.  I have entered and exited toddler years twice already, and though they were hard, they were nothing like we’re experiencing with this little guy.  I’m exasperated.   I feel like we’re constantly…I mean constantly…training this guy and because of that, my other kids are often sacrificing time and attention on behalf of him.

Truth:  I am a good mother because I’m training and addressing the behavior.  He is a gift from God, and God has every day of His life written down for him before He was even born.  Training is constant.  I want the promises of God for his life, so I will do the constant work to see the rewards given to him.
  • Proverbs 23: 13: Do not withhold discipline from a child
  • Deuteronomy 6:5-9 ESV:  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
  • Colossians 3:20-24 ESV: Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
  • Proverbs 7:1-3 ESV: My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.
  • Exodus 20:12 ESV: Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
Lie #3:  I’m inadequate. There isn’t enough time in the day to get done what I want to get done.  Because I do not check off all of the things on my personal to-do list, I have failed today.

Truth:  My to-do list is unimportant.  God has given me grace to do His will.  Walking outside of His to-do list is just a waste of time.
  • Proverbs 19:21:  Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. 
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9:  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
  • Psalm 127:1:  Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
Lie #4:  If I’m not in control, things will not turn out for good.

Truth:  I need to let go of control, and give that to God.  He is the author and perfector of our faith and has caused the world to go in motion.  He can surely handle my marriage, home, and children!
  • Romans 8:28:  And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.
  • Isaiah 59:1:  Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
  • 1 Samuel 2:6-9 NKJV:   "The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up.  He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. "For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, And He has set the world upon them.  He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. "For by strength no man shall prevail.
  • Psalm 24:1:  The earth is the Lord, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.
Lie #5:  When I’m stressed out, or when I finally get a break, I’m entitled to giving in to food, tv, or time wasting activities because that is what relieves my stress.

Truth:  This does make me feel better…for a few minutes.  However, the negative consequences of these activities far outlive the immediate gratification they bring.  If we want true rest, peace, and joy, that can only be found in intimacy with the Lord.
  • Psalm 107:9:  For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness.
  • Psalm 62:5: Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.
  • John 7:38:  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.
  • Philippians 4:7:  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
If you are still, thanks!  I know this one was a long one!  I just wanted to be humble and real.  I really struggle from time to time with some of these things, but the good news is that none of us have to!  Take your thoughts captive and make them obedient to God.  Then take your renewed mind and continue to pour into your family-they are eternal investments!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Speaking Words of Life

“You are so kind.  Thank you for caring about me.” 

Someone recently said that to me.  Now, I’m a pretty humble person I think, but I must admit, words of affirmation spoken to me are so refreshing!  These words affirms something in me that 1, someone sees me for who I am, not what I do or what I have, 2, God is continuing a good work He started in me, and 3, my actions mean something to someone!  I don’t generally consider myself as kind, but I must admit, it made me smile to know that it is God’s kindness shown through me. 

Words of affirmation are so important to those we speak them to, and to those who hear us speak them to someone else.

Truth be told, these encouraging words were refreshing because it spoke to who I was, instead of what I was.  It was not a compliment on my parenting, my abilities, or my activities.  Don’t get me wrong:  those are needed too!  However, these words settled right into my heart.  Unbeknownst to the speaker, I have asked the Lord to work on me in the areas of kindness and gentleness.  I’m a type-A, matter-of-fact, task-oriented kinda girl.  I’ve been operating under the excuse of that is just how God made me.  That’s true, but He also gave me a spirit of kindness.  After all kindness and gentleness are fruits of the spirit, and it was time for my fruit to diversify!  This hasn’t been easy for me, but because of grace, I am able to grow in this area.  The work I put in this area was a little secret between me and the Lord.   Because He gives abundantly more than we can ask or imagine, my little secret was oozing out!  I love that someone saw it!  I started asking God to show me more little secrets in other people so I could speak some life-giving words to refresh others’ spirits.

I shared encouragements with many people since.  Then I realized:  I don’t regularly do this with my family!  A change had to be made.  On my kitchen cabinets are two shabby looking pieces of paper scotch-taped to my aging, chipped cabinets.  It’s a sad site, but the words on the paper are not for decoration-they are a constant reminder to me.  On one I have written “Be a joyful mother of children!”  On another, I have written, “The Power of Life and Death is in the Tongue.”  Why my kitchen cabinets?  That’s where I spend the most time…at the counter, with those old, creaky white surfaces staring back at me.  It’s where I am first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  It’s where I grow the most frustrated.  It’s to the side of me as I teach my kids, it’s in front of me as I prepare our meals.  It’s right there when I get frustrated that I was interrupted for the thousandth time while trying to cook, clean, or educate.  It serves as a constant reminder that we are capable of putting to death our old man ways of complaining, being selfish, becoming quickly angered, and put on clothes of compassion, kindness, and selflessness. 

It was there in the kitchen this week that I could have nagged my husband about something I always ask him to do, but he always forgets.  Knowing I had little eyes watching and knowing that I was in charge of powerful words, I looked at him and said, “You are such a good provider for our family.”  My husband works so hard for our family, and I cherish him.  Does he ever hear that out of my mouth?  Nope.  Often times, the words spoken are reminders of what he forgets to do.   He thanked me later for those words.  It did something to his spirit.  I think it supplied him with joy to know that I didn’t just rely on him, but I saw his heart of provision, and I am grateful for it.    Those words also spoke to my boys, who are always listening.  It illuminated to them a side of daddy that they had not seen:  a provider.

The words on the cabinet were there to remind me to speak life when my 4 year old struggled over printing the number 3 this week.  For whatever reason, my boy just couldn’t connect his brain to his hand when it came to fleshing out those two little curves.  Frustrated, he quit.  I looked him in the eye and said, “You always have a smile on your face.  I can see you’re frustrated.  You can take a break, but I know you can do this!  You are so smart.  That night, he came to me with some very interesting looking threes scrawled on a piece of paper.  “You did it!” I exclaimed.  We still have work to do, but he said, with his typical smile, “I did it for you!  I am smart!”  My heart was on overload.

Those words were with me today during first grade phonics.  How many rules in the English language are there anyways?  I knew he was feeling overwhelmed by all the rules today…he was fidgeting, procrastinating…it was going to take all day to finish the lesson at this rate.  My typical m.o. would be to remind him to focus.  Because I frequently have to do this, it could almost resemble nagging.  Instead, I sat beside him and praised him over the work he already did.  “Wow!  Look at your handwriting!  It’s amazing!  You remembered to put a double consonant on that word before adding the suffix!  Great memory buddy!”  He literally beamed.  That’s all it took…he kept going, making sure that I wasn’t too far away for some extra praise if needed.

When we choose to speak words of life, we receive joy.  We make an eternal investment.  We partner with a mighty God who is speaking those same words to someone’s heart.  We just put an audio track to what He is already sowing in that person’s spirit.  There are many things in this life that silence us:  fear, exhaustion, stress, selfishness, busyness, technology.  But we’ve been given power to speak life!  Why wouldn’t we want to use power!  In a world where the power of death is being rampantly spoken, let us encourage one another to speak words of life!  If you do not tell your husband and your kids who they really are, who will?  When we speak these words to our children, we train them to believe who God says they really are and we treasure them by celebrating who they really are! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Very Muppet Birthday!

I love party planning.  I’m not always on top of things, but my husband knows that I generally go overboard so that people “get” the theme.  In June, we celebrated my Noah’s 4th birthday and he asked for a Muppet Birthday Party.  Noah is notorious for asking for something that is generally not sold in stores (Seven Dwarfs, Narnia, etc.)..I thought the Muppets would be easy as they had just released a new movie.  Not so much.  While I see things in stores now, a whole whopping 3 months ago was a different story. 
For those of you wanting to plan a muppet party, here’s what I came up with.  For those of you not ever caring for muppets…sorry, but the pictures are cute!  I loved coming up with these ideas and creatively executing them.  Many of these ideas could be transferable to different party themes.  And for those of you who attended the muppet party, here are the pictures! 

First: invitations.  I scoured the internet looking for an idea and I mashed a few together to come up with this: 


Filled with “muppetisms” and adorned with a green, Kermit collar, I was hoping the theme was suggested to our attendees!

Next, I wanted to create a themed menu.  This was a lot of fun.  We served Miss Piggy’s in a blanket, Party Like an Animal Pasta Salad, Rainbow Connection Fruit Kabobs, Swedish Chef Meatballs, Pepe’s Southwestern Salsa, and It’s Not Easy Being Green Punch (which turned out rainbow because I couldn’t find green sherbet last minute!)  There was also a snack table set up outdoors with marshmallows (Noah’s favorite), popcorn, and Fozzy Bears (gummy bears).  I cut up a piece of green cardstock and wrote my creative titles (so people would “get” it) and placed a coordinating muppet sticker, which was the only item I actually found in a store that was themed!

Next, were the decorations.  We’re a balloon family.  Naturally, I wanted to tie in the decorations with our theme, but again…the stores were devoid of all things muppet.  I was fortunate enough to find some mylar balloons on Amazon for a very good price.  I made rainbow balloon bouquets with the mylars and used green, yellow, and rainbow streamer.  I felt the need to provide some sort of backdrop for his birthday cake eating, so I quickly drew up some favorite muppet characters on a poster board.  We used all different colored plates, napkins and cups (mostly from leftover parties) to create a rainbow connection feel. 
Cake and cupcakes were compliments of my sister.  She did an amazing job…the inside was even rainbow!  Amazing!
Everyone had a great time!  It was a hot day, so we swam, had a water balloon fight, and of course broke open our home made piƱata!  I had planned on playing pin the tail on Fozzy Bear, where I drew a fozzy and had little fabric bear tails, but we had too much fun doing everything else!


All in all, it was a good party!