Thursday, October 29, 2009

Music Memories

The other day I was driving to go pick up Josh from work and listening to a playlist on my iPhone. The kids were in the back seat chattering away and I was feeling mentally exhausted. The song changed and “A Long December” by Counting Crows came on. Suddenly I was 17-years-old and driving my little, blue Geo Metro. Instead of a backseat full of children, I had a group of my friends with me. We are all laughing and singing along to the song. As the song continued to play, I felt memory after memory of high school wash over me. Friends I hadn’t thought about it years, the emotions of being in a new relationship with Josh, and the carefree ability we had to go where we wanted whenever we wanted. Everything seemed young and fresh and fun.

Again the song changed and this time “Babylon” by David Gray brought me to my first year of marriage. The coziness of our loft apartment in Federal Way surrounded me as I remembered listening to the song while I cleaned on my day off. I could picture our cats sitting on the couches and a fire in our little pink fireplace as the rain came down outside. Our marriage was new and sparkly and it felt more like make believe than reality.

With a third song, “Yellow” by Coldplay, I am engaged and visiting Josh in California. We are driving down the freeway and excited to see each other after a month’s separation; what seemed like an eternity to me at the time. We are in love and excited for what the future holds. We talk about what our wedding will be like and he tells me about how this song, that I’d never heard, always makes him think of me.

Then, I realize something about all of the memories that these songs are calling forth; they’re all softened by time, rose-tinted. The worries, fears and stresses that I was dealing with are minimized in the remembrance of the small joys I experienced. Laughing with friends, cleaning my house and planning a wedding replace the broken relationships of high school, the cancer my Grandma was battling during my engagement and the difficulties of the first year of marriage.

It made me think about how I view my life now and how I’ll view it in a few years. What song will bring me back to this time when my kids are young and I get to spend each day with them? I realize that the joy of hearing them play together, the sweetness of baby arms wrapped around my neck and the excitement of celebrating their small victories will someday minimize the stress of finances, neverending household chores and being frustratingly overwhelmed.

I silently pray, “Dear God, please help me to recognize and appreciate the things of today as I’m living it, instead of tomorrow when I’m remembering it. Help me to have a softened, rose-tinted view of my life and acknowledge the joys that surround me.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

It’s Christmas morning and I go to open the giant box that my mother-in-law sent us. As usual, she’s drawn little cartoons and written notes all over the outside of the box. I slit the packing tape with a kitchen knife, expecting to find a number of smaller packages wrapped in tissue paper with nametags attached to them. Instead I find…a Jack LaLanne Power Juicer. What?!

Now don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful juicer. It can take whole carrots, oranges, apples, anything and turn it into a nutritious and delicious beverage. I’m sure that someone who is into juicing would have been very excited about it. I am not one of those people. I have never juiced anything in my life and it’s not something I have a desire to start doing.

Josh and I looked at each other in confusion. Huh? A juicer? By this time the kids are excited to open more presents, so the juicer gets set aside. An hour later, all the presents are open and it’s time to call people to wish them a Merry Christmas.

Janet answers the phone in two rings and the first thing she says is, “How do you like the juicer? Did you see that it came with the bonus accessory kit?” Stumped for an answer, Josh acknowledges that we saw the bonus kit and asks what made her think of getting a juicer for us. His mom explains that she had gotten one for each of his two sisters and us because they were a great way to get all your fruits and vegetables quickly and efficiently. Josh thanks her for thinking of us and then lets the kids chatter away to their grandma on the phone.

So this juicer has sat, unused, in my garage for the last two years. It’s dusty, neglected, and forlorn. It’s a fully functional appliance, but I don’t see any value in it. To me it’s useless. Sometimes that’s how I feel about the gifts God has given me. You look at a newborn baby, excited at all the potential gifts that God has placed inside them and eagerly watch as these gifts come out as the child grows to adulthood. I feel like I’m a juicer. My gifts and talents, in contrast to those of the people around me, seem efficient and good for your health.

I know you are…

I look at Josh and see the creativity and gifting God has given him for music. He can sit down with his guitar and create music that inspires people, evokes emotion and worships God. If I sit down with the guitar I can play three chords and those not very well.

I look at my friend Judah, who is the youth pastor at our church. He has a passion and a talent for art. He can create paintings that he then sells to benefit anti-slave trafficking charities. He decorates his home and office to create an atmosphere that is warm and inviting. He uses his artistic abilities to glorify God and create awareness about the injustices that occur in today’s society. If I wanted to paint a picture it would have to be a paint-by-number and no one would want to buy it.

I look at my friend Dee. She seems to excel at everything she puts her hand to: photography, quilting, decorating, and even raising chickens. She has this personality that invites you in and quiets your soul. She is a nurturer and a mother to so many people in her life. She inspires me just by being her.

But what am I?

Then I look at myself. I’m good at administration and organizing things. But that seems like such a boring gift. I don’t see any value in the gifts God has given me; like my juicer, I see it as useless. I see the gifts that my friends have and I wish God had given me that instead of what I’ve received.

Someone once said to me that it’s hard to recognize the gifts God has given you because they come naturally to you. I don’t see my gifts from God as a valuable contribution because I assume everyone can do it as easily as I do. I see the things that are hard for me and admire those abilities in others. I can easily recognize their gifts, but not my own.

Then I look once again at my husband and my friends. I look at them and compare them to me for a second time. This time I notice that the things that come easily to me are difficult for them. My husband is awful at time management and organizing things. He calls me his “wifetary.” The same is true for my friends. Where they are weak, I am strong. And it’s not just in the “boring” gifts I have of administration and organization. I find that another thing that comes naturally to me, opening my home and providing meals for people, is an area that they see as a gift in me.

I’ve always been told that it’s not good to compare our gifts and abilities with others because we all have unique and valuable things to contribute to the kingdom of God. But I think that in this instance comparison has helped me to see value in what I’ve been given.

It’s like when we were selling our home. The realtor did an appraisal of our neighborhood to help us establish the value of our home. The need for an appraisal arose because no two properties are exactly alike which means that there cannot be a set measurement of value. The value of my gifts goes up, for me, when I recognize how uniquely I am designed by God.

We are the body of Christ and we all have different functions to perform that lead to the betterment of the body. One gift isn’t better than another; it’s just different. I began to see that the gifts I had received from God, when He formed me in my mother’s womb, were important to Him and His plan for me to have. As I look around and see the abilities God has given to my friends and family I now glorify God for the creativity He had in creating us and for the unique way He made me.

God knew what was best for me; what would improve the life He has planned here for me on earth. Just like my mother-in-law, He wants to provide me with the tools to better my life. My mother-in-law saw the value in a juicer because, if used regularly, it can improve your health and give you energy. To me, the juicer was useless and there were other gifts I’d like better. Although I might still also feel that way about some of the gifts God’s given me, I realize that it’s important to use them and see the value in them as well as recognize how my contributions are unique.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Great Battle of '09

My house has become a war-zone! It’s me against the germs! And unfortunately, right now the germs are winning.

The last three weeks has been filled with sickness. Snotty noses, fevers, sore throats…and the kids are not feeling well either.

When I feel like this, it’s hard for me to remember I’m the mommy. I just want to curl up in my bed with some tea and a good book and stay there. Instead, I have three children who need food, entertainment, questions answered and bottoms wiped.

Tuesday night I had a mental breakdown. I would be embarrassed for anyone to have seen the way I was acting; I was embarrassed that my husband had to see it. I threw a full-on hissy fit; there was crying, screaming and I think I actually kicked my feet. My husband took one look at me and quickly ushered our children out of the room. What was the source of my anger? The crib was broken and wouldn’t go back together. That’s it. My son doesn’t even sleep in that crib right now. But, it was vitally important to me that I fix it before my daughter could go to sleep in her room.

Much humbled, I came out of the room (after fixing the crib) and picked up our youngest to nurse him to sleep. My husband silently took our daughter in her room to put her to sleep, then (silently) came back out to finish his homework. I sat there, crying and nursing, knowing I had been selfish and immature.

An hour later when we went to bed I apologized to my husband for losing it and I started crying again. That’s when it hit me: I’m the adult. I’m the mommy. It doesn’t matter how sick I am, and how much I want my mommy. My children are reaching the age where they’re going to start remembering things. I am the mommy in their memories. I can’t act like the child I feel inside. I need to make sure their needs are just as important, if not more important, than my own.

So, I’m taking on the spirit of Philippians 2:3-4:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

I know that although my mom and dad are miles away from me right now, I have a heavenly Father who sees my needs and is able to meet them even better than my earthly parents could if they were here. He will bless me, care for me, help me as I bless, care for and help my children that He’s given me…I’m really hoping we all feel better soon though!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Esse Quam Videri

It’s Thursday and I’m supposed to meet her at Starbucks in 30 minutes. The fear grips me as I say a quick prayer while I change my clothes and put on some makeup. Feeling guilty for not setting aside more time earlier in the day to pray and prepare, I kiss my kids and husband and head out the door.

Each week I meet with a young woman in our church to talk and mentor her. Each week I feel like I’m letting her down; wishing I were more spiritual and had more wisdom to offer her. But, she keeps coming back and seems excited for our weekly discussions. I try to steer the conversation to accountability topics: school, family, relationships, ministry, and her walk with God. I feel stiff and awkward, worried that I might accidentally slip and say something that a mentor shouldn’t say. I find that sometimes I don’t listen as well as I should because I’m desperately trying to find something insightful and challenging as a response.

Last week things changed. God began showing me the importance of being genuine, of being me. He showed me that He created me as a unique individual to fill a unique need. This young woman didn’t ask to meet with me because I’m some doctor of theology or great spiritual leader. She wanted to meet with me because I have a relationship with her and she likes to talk with me. My feelings of inadequacy don’t come from her; they come from my own insecurities.

So, as I walked to the local Starbucks that Thursday I pushed aside the normal feelings of guilt and focused on the fact that I was about to enjoy an hour of adult conversation with no children to interrupt. I quit reminding myself that I was a mentor and needed to play that role, and instead embraced the idea of just being me.

It was one of the best times we’d had in the nine months we’d been meeting. We laughed and chatted and lost track of time. Before we left I prayed for her about the things she’d shared, not because that’s what a mentor would do, but because I felt like I wanted to. It was so relaxing and comfortable to just be myself and not overanalyze everything I said or did.

This plays out in more areas than just my mentoring relationship. As a wife, mother, friend and Christian I’m constantly trying to appear to have it all together. I want my marriage, family, home and relationships to be perfectly in order and ready for inspection. I’m slowly learning that people don’t want to see the perfect Melissa. The perfect Melissa seems like she doesn’t need help, advice, companionship or encouragement. I’m also learning that in trying to be the perfect Melissa I’m alienating myself from those who are closest to me.

If I’m not being real with my husband, friends and relations how can they have an authentic relationship with me? They need to know the messes I’m dealing with, the struggles I’m having and the fears that haunt me. That way they can help me walk through it and rejoice with me when they’re really overcome, and not just covered up.

It’s a classic example, but still poignant, to compare the way I was acting to the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. In Matthew 23 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees by saying to them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” I was working so hard to make sure that the outside appearance is acceptable, but I was neglecting the inside.

My husband has a tattoo that says, “Esse Quam Videri” which means in Latin “to be rather than to appear.” He got it to remind himself that he wants to genuinely be the man of God he knows he should be, not just have the appearance of one. Taking a cue from him, I’m working on making sure that the person I present to the world around me is the real Melissa and not the perfect, fake one.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Standing in God’s Shadow

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Ps 91:1)

While playing on the playground, by children often seek areas of shade to escape the scorching California sun. In the shadow of a tree or structure they find relief in the heat and can see again once out of the brightness.

To abide in the shadow of the Almighty means to allow Him to come between me and something else. I hide in the coolness of His presence and can see more clearly. Psalm 121:5b-6a says, “The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day…”

These verses got me thinking about where in my life I need to seek out God’s shade. It also made me wonder about the times where I have felt like I was in darkness…could those have just been times when I was in God’s shadow, which was so big I didn’t realize what I was being shielded from? The closer you are to the shadow caster the bigger the shadow…