It’s Monday and I’m already out of Apples

It was a Monday and I was out of apples.

I am a fruit hoarder.  I always keep a glass bowl of fruit on our counter; I think it looks beautiful. I go to the grocery on Thursday and fill the bowl full of ripe fruit – anticipating it will last until the following Thursday. But on this particular week, it was only Monday and the apples were gone.

Jamus walked in from work and I am sure he saw it on my face; the disappointment of the day and brokenness of spirit. If he did not see it on my face, he had a heads up from a few “Annie gone crazy” text messages I had sent him earlier in the day. Head planted deep in a tear soaked pillow, I went through the bullet list of how NOTHING had gone right that day (dirty house, misbehaved kids, had not had my quiet time, depressed). Then, after wallowing through the extensive list I did an ugly cry and exclaimed, “and if that’s not enough, it’s Monday and we are already out of apples!”

Maybe you can relate. What should we do when it’s Monday and we are already out of apples? Or, when it’s Monday and we’re already out of patience, out of love, out of enthusiasm, out of energy, out of creativity, out of toilet paper, etc.
My feet hit the floor heavy; I was tired from our two year old deciding to have a blueberry bagel party at 2am in the morning. I was tired of seeing that massive boulder of dirty clothes – didn’t I just wash those? Seriously, how did this happen? I have nothing to show for my work! I worked hard to clean the house, but it somehow looks like it vomited on itself at the end of the day. I do intense workouts and eat healthy but I cannot seem to get my rear-end to look like Jillian Michaels’ and she promised it would in any pair of jeans I put on. My children were annoying me, and to be honest, I just did not like them very much.
As a result, overwhelming guilt came over me. I should be able to keep a clean house and love my children perfectly all the time. Then there is the boredom. I’m tired of eating peanut butter sandwiches every day, watching the same Disney shows and tackling the same arguments with the kids. “No, it’s not okay to slam your brother into the wall!”
But in the midst of all of the whining, it hits me like a ton of bricks: Why am I so unthankful when God has given me so much? I have three healthy children. There are women who have lost children to death or who are barren, and here I am acting complaining. Wow, I really am an unthankful, spoiled brat. I looked at the empty glass bowl on the counter and it was as if it was mocking me, reminding me that I am empty and a fruitless Christian.
I felt broken just like the bird on our driveway yesterday. “Poor bird!” James exclaimed. “Can we help it Mommy?” he asked, as he offered up his Panera cup to the crippled Robin. The bird looked as if it had crashed into a window and broken his neck. It was probably the neighbor’s windows (they actually use Windex). The bird’s neck was stuck in a sideways/twisted position and he was frantically wobbling around between death and confusion. I wanted to put the poor thing out of his misery, but not wanting the kids to think I was a bird killer, I left it lying there broken.
We were not meant to be broken. When Adam and Eve took the fruit and ate of it, brokenness began. Children die, cancer grows in our bodies, depression attacks, marriages crumble, sex trafficking, infertility, sadness, war, hatred – are all signs of the curse and the result is brokenness.
We spend our days looking to be full, but apart from Christ, we will stand (or lie) there broken.
My feelings lie to me.

I read in Isaiah 53 that Christ “was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with his stripes we are healed.”
In Christ, I am healed. I am a new creation. It is no longer I that is living, but Christ that is living in Me. He was broken (literally) so that I could become beautiful to God. He covers all my ugly and broken mess from yesterday, today, and tomorrow. My nasty broken Monday is covered by his broken body. My tears are washed away in His blood.
According to Colossians, “He has delivered us (me) from the dominion of darkness and transferred us (me) to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” When I start living for my kingdom here on this earth, things start to feel broken. I start to feel broken because I am called to another kingdom. I am to live for HIS kingdom. I cannot make this earthly kingdom work for me.
I am reminded that I have this “treasure in jars of clay – to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us . . . . We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

I complained today about everything, raised my voice at the kids, surfed the internet entirely too much and definatley will not be nominated for mother of the year award. I was a complete brat BUT the Lord does not see a brat, He sees His son Jesus Christ, in whom He is well pleased.

Some days, we must be emptied before we can be filled. Some days, our little temporary kingdoms must be shattered so that He can remind us that a greater kingdom is coming. Some days we have to come to the end of ourselves before we’ll realize we must look to Him. Some days we are reminded that we are jars made out of clay, and some days we are reminded that our weaknesses ultimately show His glory.
Whether it’s Monday or Saturday, and whether there are 7 apples or no apples, Jesus is still King, and He’s still on the throne – and He’s still enough.

Life Lessons From Candy Land: Sweet But Not The Sweetest

Candy Land is a nostalgic game for many of us. Eleanor Abbot, the inventor of this “delicious” game, was brilliant in her attempt at enticing children with chocolate promises and sprinkled confections. What kid doesn’t like sugar? We purchased the classic board game this past Christmas partly because I wanted to have a few warm “throw back” moments with my kids. “Ahhh, we are playing a game mommy used to play with her mommy…. special times!”
Thus far, Candy Land has been anything but an “enchanted place filled with candy, sweets and yummy treats” (as reads the back of the game box). My son, James, starts Kindergarten next month (yes, I just shed a few tears). To say that he does not like to lose would be a gross understatement. In fact, he hates losing. What complicates the matter is that this Miss America Reject knows nothing about “first runner up” in board games. In fact, I kick some serious “tale” in the game of Candy Land. I have actually tried to lose and can’t. Some people just have serious skills. Okay, so I’m being sarcastic; obviously, I understand that winning in Candy Land requires no talent and is purely luck of the draw (I know that since I’m “Reformed,” I’m not supposed to use the word luck, but you know what I mean). Anytime I get a good card – you know, one of those magical cards with a picture of lollypops or a cupcake that sends you way ahead on the rainbow path, leaving your enemies in your gumdrop dust – when this happens, my son gets angry as a hornet and quits the game. Granted, he has tried some methods to increase his chance of a victory. These methods, although I do not recommend them, consist first of him getting mom to look the other way. Second, he’ll volunteer to stack the deck himself. Recently, his most extensive effort has been to simply have an all out emotional breakdown. Yep; it’s true. The apple does not fall far from the tree.
The other day, the Lord used Candy Land to teach me a “God lesson.” I was getting ready to win (once again) and then it happened. I drew one of those magical cards. However, this time, the card sent me back down to Cupcake Commons at the beginning of the game! Finally, I was going to lose. Did I cry or throw the board across the playroom floor? No! Of course not. Being the mature pastor’s wife that I am, I took my little gingerbread man back to the beginning with impeccable sportsmanship and a front-row-of-the-Baptist-church smile. My son looked at me with complete confusion and what appeared to be genuine sadness. Then he said, “Mommy, let’s just pretend that you didn’t get that card. We can stick it back in the deck.” He was sincerely concerned for my wellbeing (the kid acts like I have melt downs or something). Knowing how bad losing felt, James did not want his mommy to feel the same letdown.
This was so sweet and compassionate, but at the same time, it was incredibly revealing. The reason my son would get so painstakingly angry is because winning was his treasure. His identity and security was wrapped up in wins and losses. He had to hold on to winning with everything he had, even if it meant cheating. These teachable moments are always available, but typically I’m so busy or distracted (or lazy) I fail to take advantage of them. This time, God’s grace allowed me to show my son that the reason mommy was not angry with a Candy Land loss is because mommy has a treasure far greater than winning a game. Mommy has Jesus. I do not have to win Candy Land – the “Kingdom of Sweet Adventures” – because my hope is in another Kingdom, “a kingdom that cannot be shaken,” according to the writer of Hebrews. Even when I fail at winning a game, I’ve not been ultimately failed, because my security is in Jesus who cannot and will not fail me. When I don’t feel accepted by others because of my performance and flaws, I can still have an inner joy because I know that God accepts me in spite of my flaws because each and every flaw has been washed away from my account by the blood of Jesus. When I receive criticism and condemnation for my shortcomings, I don’t despair, because Jesus perfectly loves and embraces me and says there is no condemnation remaining for me.
Why are these things true about a woman that fails miserably so much of the time? Because Jesus came and lived the perfect life and then He died the death that I should have died. He’s promised me that I have an inheritance in heaven (Eph. 1:13) and nothing or no one can take that away. The things of this earth were never meant to make me happy. The emptiness James feels when he loses (and the emptiness that we all feel when we fail) is ultimately to point us to the cross where Jesus bled for our sins.
Paul Tripp says it well, “We’re fat, disappointed, driven, in debt, and addicted because we treat this here and now moment as if it were all that we have. We have acted as though it is a destination, when all that is going on now is somehow, someway a preparation for the final destination that is to come.” God didn’t create us for “our best life now” (as some would understand it); rather, we can rest assure that the best is yet to come. There is a land that is coming that is far better and far sweeter than the prized possession at the end of Candy Land.
As a Christian, there are days when we flip over those magic cards – feeling amazing and so close to God. Other days we will get a card that we do not like or that “sets us back,” and we may legitimately ask the question, “If God really loves me, how could he allow this to happen to me?” However, we don’t know that God loves us based upon our current circumstances (which will fluctuate like the wind). Rather, we can be fully persuaded that God loves us because He gave us His Son on a tree 2,000 years ago. Nothing screams LOVE louder than a bloody cross. Even when we don’t “feel it,” His goodness never changes. His love never changes. However, our perspective does. Are we obsessed with our own kingdoms: sprinkles and lollipop lands? Or is our hope in His kingdom? Winning cannot make us happy. Sex cannot make us happy. Having obedient children will not make us happy. Having the body of a supermodel will not make us happy. Money, comfort, and health were never meant to sustain our joy. Finally, consider the words of C.S. Lewis, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Candy Land is great, but it’s not the end of the world.

Expecting Rainbows

We all have expectations. Unrealistic expectations in parenting and other relationships can set us up for failure, discouragement, and depression. Can you think back to a time when you were really looking forward to something and it just didn’t quite live up to your expectations? Maybe it was a concert, vacation, or a date night. Or, maybe you can relate to my most recent “let down” – a colossal failure in baking what was supposed to be an award-winning birthday cake. My little girl (Ellie) asked me to bake her a “rainbow” birthday cake. Generally, I stick to buying cakes from the local bakery; however, this time I was feeling all “Pinteresty” and so I ventured out of my comfort zone and decided I would try to bake. I could hear the approval of my daughter and other family members as they told me how I am Martha Stewart on steroids, so talented in so many different areas, etc. I have heard that box cakes (this is as about as homemade as it gets for me, so stop judging) generally don’t go wrong since everything is basically spelled out for you. The box cake let me down. A day before the party my sister and I baked the layers (which I thought was a brilliant time saver). The day of the party, I was expecting a beautiful cake – perfect in every way. Then I began to add the second layer, only to see my beautiful cake crumble into countless pieces like the Tower of Babel. I tried to reconstruct the pieces together with the icing but it was of no avail. The cake was a total disaster. My expectations were not met. So, with only an hour before the party, I had no choice – I sent my husband to the bakery.

Last week, Pleasant Valley Community Church had the opportunity to sit under the teaching of pastor and church planter Michael Crawford. One of the things Michael taught on was parenting. I truly appreciated that this talk did not consist of a ten step program on how to be a better parent. I do not need any more steps or formulas; after all, they never seem to work. Quite simply, he told us to look in the Bible, study the attributes of God (our Father) and essentially seek to imitate that. Now, obviously God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and therefore He loves perfectly, disciplines perfectly, listens perfectly, comforts perfectly. So, no, we can’t love and parent perfectly; however, God gives us the grace to generally have the ability to love and parent like Him. However, I’m fully convinced that one of the greatest obstacles to us parenting like our Father is the sometimes unrealistic expectations that we establish for ourselves and our children.

We all have expectations for our children, and we typically grow discouraged when they fail to live up to those expectations. Michael encouraged us to list our expectations for our children. Here are mine:

1) No whining or complaining. I expect my children to wake up in the morning with smiles on their faces. Then, after breakfast, I expect them to tell me how thankful they are that I served them a hot bowl of oatmeal with orange juice. When they ask to watch another episode of Spiderman and I tell them, “no,” I expect them to say “Okay mommy! You are so wise and know what’s best for me; I will trust your decision!”

2) Love Siblings. I expect my children – all under that age of 5 – to always enjoy being together. I expect sounds of laughter coming from the playroom at all times, not shrills of annoyances and imitations of a UFC cage fight. I expect James to tell his sister He forgives her immediately. Yes, she bit him and body slammed him, but Jesus hung on a cross for us so he can get over it. Ellie should want to share her new Barbie golf cart with her baby brother. I mean why can’t we just all hold hands, skip, and sing songs all day long?

3) Desire to learn about God. When we sit down to read The Jesus Story Book Bible, I expect an eager desire and determination to learn about their Creator. There should be no random and unrelated questions about how many frogs are in the pool or what snacks we will be eating tomorrow. I expect full attention. After I have disciplined one of my children, I expect their hearts to be deeply moved by my amazing ability to recite the Gospel and how Jesus has paid for their sin. I would appreciate tears of repentance and gratitude for my effort. While reading through the Bible in the morning I expect my preschoolers to sit still and not ask for any drinks or cereal refills; after all, the real Bread of Life is being served to them. Basically, I’d like for my kids to be kind of like little junior John Pipers.

4) No interruptions during “Mommy time.” “Mommy time” consists of daydreaming, Facebook, Pinterest, television, bath time, phone time, exercising, etc. If mommy is involved in any of these activities the children should take a mental note not to engage in sibling battles, screaming, writing on furniture, potty breaks, jumping from couch, climbing up walls, or putting toys down toilet bowls. I expect them to know that the text message that mommy is sending is of the utmost importance and has to be sent in a timely fashion. Also, if mommy is on rep 34 on her crunches it is best not to ask her any questions.

5) A Happy Heart all the time. I expect my children to just “act right!” If I am going to be completely honest, sometimes I don’t care if they really believe in Jesus and want to obey Him. I just want them to act right in front of people so I look like I have done a good job as a mom. I expect them not to show anger outwardly. Just put a smile on your face! I expect them not to be scared when I leave the room or leave them in the church nursery. I expect my children to dress nice with matching clothes – no left over peanut butter from lunch on their faces. And for goodness sake, just put a smile on your face when a church member asks you how you are doing! I expect them to control their emotions. Emotions are hard to deal with and mommy can barely deal with her own emotions, much less teach you how to handle your anxiety. Kids who obey all the rules make us look good; that’s what I want. Sometimes while praying for my kids’ attitudes, I am faced with the ugly truth that I am not praying for them simply because I am concerned about their well-being, but because I just want my life to be easier.

6) Thankfulness. I expect to hear THANK YOU . . . for cooking, cleaning, trips to Dairy Queen, etc.

7) Obedience. When Mommy asks you to pick up the toys I expect first time obedience. I should not have to count to three.

I expect. So, let’s review my list of expectations above and see how this thing plays out.

No Wining or complaining. I am a Christian and I still struggle with whining. My kids are not Christians; of course they are going to complain! The good news is that God is patient. Remember, Israel walked through the desert for 40 years complaining and whining, even after God has proven faithful and over and over again. Because I have Christ in me, I have patience, so I can love my children and relate to their struggles. Preach the Gospel to yourself and your children. Let’s remind ourselves what we have been given Jesus and Jesus is better than anything we are not getting. Jesus lived a life of perfect gratitude and went to the cross and died for our little ones. Let’s pray for our children and ask God to open their eyes to this great gift.

Love Siblings. How well do I love those around me? Am I quick to forgive when someone has hurt my feelings? Do I become impatient in the grocery store when the “coupon queen” is going through her portfolio? Do I enjoy sharing my wealth (“toys”) with others? Do I get frustrated when someone does not ask me to play? I am getting frustrated with my children for not loving each other when I am struggling with the exact same thing. Jesus loved those around Him perfectly, knowing we would not be able to.

Desire to learn about God. The Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the very power of God (1 Cor. 1). How can I expect my kids to desire to learn about God when their hearts have not yet been changed by God? Good parenting and getting out a chalkboard with catechisms does not save my children; it must be a work of God’s Spirit. Furthermore, I look at myself and I say I love God, and yet there are some days that I would rather turn on the TV than to tune into the book of Romans.

Do not interrupt mommy time. Yes, I need time to relax and take a breather. If I am not taking breaks, I am going to get all crazy on my family. However, I need to realize that when my kids are young there are many times they will still need me to do things for them. One of these days when they are older, I’m sure I’ll long for those days when they “need me” again. At the same time, I need to be reminded that God is available all the time. He does not need a break from being God because He is all-powerful. He is always listening. Waiting. Engaged. He does not check out. Father, help me to be like you.

Happy heart. What!? A happy heart all the time? They are not going to always be happy and “act right.” After all, we live in a cursed world. Even our emotions are all jacked up. Praise God for these moments of breakdown my kids have because they are humbling me and making me realize I cannot do this . . . I cannot do this thing called parenting apart from God grace. It is so revealing of my sin that it hurts, but it’s a good hurt.

Jesus is a man who knew sorrow and yet he never sinned. Jesus gave us emotions. One of our children went through a phase where they would say they “I am so angry at you!” They said this like 37 times a day. This got very annoying and I would get to the point where I would just say well “Get over it!” or “Oh, wow, angry again, huh?” God convicted my heart, and made me take the plank out of my eye. I get angry. When I do not get something I want or thought I deserved, I often get angry at Him. I must preach Gospel to myself and my children. God lets me come to Him all jacked up, emotions and all. He is redeeming my craziness. He does not tell me to “get it together” before I come to him. Do my children feel like they have to get it together, or else mommy does not love them? I want them to know they can come to me with their messes and I will love them through the grace of God.

Listen to Mommy. Of course our children should listen to us and we should teach them ways to be better listeners, but I need to realize that I have a listening problem as well. There are many times God is speaking to me and I am too busy to stop and listen.

First time obedience. I mean really!???! Sure, we should teach our kids to obey, but should we become angry when then continue to struggle with disobedience? No! First of all, I do this to God all the time. Secondly, much of the bible was written about people who just did not get it right the first time. Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book on parenting entitled Give Them Grace does a great job of explaining this. Fitzpatrick says, “When you disobey, you are saying that what you want is more important than anything else. You have forgotten the most important thing of all: Jesus Christ was obedient unto death for the joy set before him. Do you know what that joy way? The joy that was set before him was redeeming you. Please see and know this love. His obedience is the most beautiful, important, satisfying thing in the world. As you lift your eyes to his obedience, you will be able to obey.”

We all have expectations. I think this exercise was so helpful and revealing. I encourage you to take the time to make a list of your expectations. I plan on doing a list for my husband and myself as well. Do not forget that the second half of the exercise is to place the list against the Gospel. I EXPECT God will use this in your life to bring about more of His glory.

PS: Please pray for me as I prepare to write a series for young women.