Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day 30

I'm still here, and I did not quit.  But blog posts will just have to wait until I can get some more sleep.  Which I hope is very soon.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Day 25 Whispering "Thank you"

(After posting what I wrote below, I realized that I'd already posted a week or so ago about this insomnia thing, but I suppose if God isn't done teaching me through it, it's okay to write about it again.  Besides which, I read recently that insomnia can actually lower a person's IQ.  In that case, I can't really be expected to remember what I've already written, right?)  :)

So the last couple of weeks have been rough.  It's seems rather ironic that I would be suffering with this bout of insomnia in the midst of this "fast."  Over the last few days, though, I've wondered if this might be the best time for some sleepless nights.  I was thinking this morning about the years before Rebekah was born when we struggled with infertility.  Some of my most intimate moments with God were during those times...moments when I had to learn to trust Him with everything.  Trust that whatever He had for me was better than what I was planning out for myself.  Trust that He was enough...more than enough...to satisfy.  I remember being so thankful that before we ever had a baby, I had reached the point of accepting that we never would, and finding peace in that because I knew that He was in control.  I also remember coming to believe that the infertility was a gift...something that He used to shape and mold me...to sanctify and bless me...in ways might not be possible without trials and tears.  Accepting that maybe the infertility was His choice for me.  The best choice, not a curse.  I admit, it's easy for me to say those words since our struggle with infertility ended as it did, with not one but four precious babes born from my womb.  But as I said, I did come to those terms before the babies came.

So now I'm wondering if insomnia is what I need to sanctify me in this journey.  To force me to keep my eyes on Him and rely on His strength...like I said I would when I started this fast.  Because I promise you that with the amount of sleep I've been getting I would never make it through breakfast, let alone a whole day, without lashing out with my tongue.  Historically I've been reduced to a complete mess when insomnia has settled in for a long visit.  But this time it's been different.  Somehow it has only served to focus me.  To make me more aware of my tendency to snap or criticize, and to be more on guard against it.  I have to be honest, I've had some lapses.  This morning, for instance, when Anna (for reasons I could not imagine), snatched my coffee cup off of the kitchen table and swung it above her head.  Splashing coffee all over the table.  Which was covered with books, school papers, etc. (She said she thought the cup was empty).  I'll leave my response up to your imagination, but it wasn't what I wish it had been.  However, it was a whole lot better than what it might have been, or perhaps would have been a few weeks ago.  The thing that has amazed me is that for most of the many weary days over the last weeks, I haven't felt like snapping.  I have felt a level of patience and tolerance that is unusual for me even at my best.  That's how I know that it's not me.  I've been so aware of God's presence and help that I have found myself thanking Him for the insomnia.  I said at the start of this that my greatest desire was for more of Him...even primary to my desire to conquer my sharp tongue and critical spirit.  I know that drawing closer to Him is really the only way to be transformed.  And whatever He uses to demonstrate His love for me, and my need for Him, is all good.

So I've been saying "thank you" a lot.  Every time I am in the midst of a situation in which I know full well I would normally criticize or snap...and I don't.  Every time sweet, loving, encouraging words come out of my mouth.  Every time I don't feel angry, irritable, or impatient.  It's all Him.  And I'm whispering "Thank you, Jesus" right out loud.  And the kids look at me funny, and I don't even explain it to them, but I'm still glad they hear me saying it.  Thanks to Him for every good or right thing I do...it's all Him.  Thanks for every sharp word or unnecessary criticism that I don't say...it was His spirit holding them back.  And, okay, thanks for insomnia.  I can't promise I'll say it tomorrow, but I'll say it today (though I'd still be more than glad to sleep, and glad for any prayers along those lines).

**In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote the above post earlier today, but just now went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription sleep aid. It was generic.  It cost $50...after insurance.  It's entirely possible that I could lose sleep over spending $50 on a prescription.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day 23

For the past 2 to 3 weeks, I've been dealing with grueling insomnia.  I'm getting bleary...can't even remember if I've already blogged about insomnia at some point during the last couple of weeks.  This is a struggle I've had off and on for the last 10 years or so, but fortunately I'd been sleeping really well for months...until now.  I'm finding it hard to keep up with everything, so blogging just hasn't made the list.  I'm hopeful that I'll be able to write soon about more that I've been learning over the last week or so, but in the meantime, thought I'd post a couple of pictures from our time at the beach.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Day 16

I haven't been finding the time to write, and I'm missing it.  Flannery O'Connor said, "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say."  I honestly think this is somewhat true of me.  I process better when I talk...or write...about what I'm thinking.  And it flat out keeps me accountable, particularly when I'm writing in a public place like this.

But...I'm going to the beach tomorrow.  Taking the children, without Jim (it's a very busy time of year for him at work), just for a few days.  I'm really, really looking forward to spending some concentrated time with them away from school work and housework.

For anyone who reads this, I am just going to come right out and ask you to pray for me.  As soon as you finish reading this paragraph.  Pray the the Lord will bless our trip, and continue His work in my heart and with my tongue.  I need the prayers....I need the help.  And I always need more of Him.


We Interrupt This Message for....

A post on the lighter side!  The floor re-finishing project has left the house a wreck for a couple of weeks.  I really struggle sometimes to conquer the "tyranny of the urgent"...the desire to stop everything and battle the current mess, for instance.  I am so tempted to even stop doing schoolwork in order to put the house in order.  I've been trying to resist the temptation, and to remind myself that I want to "make the days count".  So the house is still a mess.  But on Sunday afternoon I played.  I played with the kids, and I played with my camera.  I played "Set" (a card game), jumped on the trampoline, "ooohed" and "aaahed" over frogs and tadpoles caught in the creek, and captured a lot of it on film.  And I can honestly say that the messy house felt a little less...disturbing.  God really does change hearts, and I am overwhelmed at His capacity to do new things in me.  :)

So here's some photographic evidence of the day.  I know, I know;  I'm not in any of the pictures.  Next time I'll turn the camera over to Rebekah while I'm jumping on the trampoline.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Day 15...Tired.

I'm still here, and still "fasting" (or trying to).  Today marks the half way point.  I have a half-written post from Day 10 which I'll try to finish tomorrow...but I'm just really tired.  Been battling with insomnia for the past week or so, and it's catching up with me.  I've had trouble with insomnia off and on for years, but I've been blessed with several months of good sleeping...until now.

But here's the surprising thing.  Usually when I'm sleep deprived, my tongue is at it's sharpest.  Lack of sleep seems to feed every bad tendency...it heightens irritability and depression, lowers self-control, and fogs the mind.  I'll admit I'm feeling quite foggy, but I am honestly just humbled by the fact that I have not felt irritable or edgy with the children (or Jim).  I've had a couple of moments when I had to ask them to cut back on the decibels a bit while they were playing.  But overall I have just felt...patient.  I am willing to say that this is miraculous.  I feel as if the Lord is carrying me, almost...above all of it somehow.  That He is blessing my desire to please him and to bless my family.  I'm feeling deeply thankful and very, very much aware of how much I am dependent on His strength.  Within the first few days of this "fast", I was listening to a recording of Noel Piper, talking about Sarah Edwards.  Sarah was Jonathan Edwards wife, and I love reading/hearing about her.  Noel Piper was recounting a story about a time in Sarah Edward's life when she had a particularly intense encounter with the Lord, which seemed to be life-changing for her.  It was in the midst of a very difficult time in her life, and Noel Piper shared that the story reminded her of the lyrics of a song...which happens to be one of my very favorite songs.  I've pasted the lyrics below, because they have seemed to be the theme of my last two weeks.  I cannot read the words without tears, and they are especially meaningful to me now after the last many nights without sleep.  If the Lord has brought this insomnia on...I'll welcome more.  It has caused me to recognize more deeply than ever that He is with me...He loves me...He desires good for me.  Perhaps I might have convinced myself that I could harness my tongue and change my life on my own strength.  Tonight I am gratefully unable to do that...because I know that it is only the Lord who has kept me from falling over recent days.  I'm going to sleep (or at least to bed!) with these words tonight:

Jesus I am resting, resting
In the Joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For by Thy transforming power
Thou hast made me whole.

Jesus, I am resting, resting
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.

O how great Thy loving kindness.
Vaster, broader than the sea!
O how marvellous Thy goodness,
Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Beloved,
Know Thy certainty of promise,
And have made it mine.

Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
I behold Thee as Thou art,
And Thy love, so pure, so changeless,
Satisfies my heart;
Satisfies its deepest longings,
Meets supplies its every need,
Compasseth me round with blessings;
Thine is love indeed!

Ever lift Thy face upon me,
As I work and wait for Thee;
Resting 'neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,
Earth's dark shadows flee.
Brightness of my Father's glory,
Sunshine of my Father's face,
Keep me ever trusting, resting;
Fill me with Thy grace.

Sorry if this is less than coherent.  Blessings.  :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Day 9. My mouth has motor memory.

So spring break is over.  But it wasn't really a break, because the house was torn up, floors being sanded, dust everywhere, cold outside, had to cancel a trip to the beach, and three people got stomach bugs (and then that whole birthday thing).  Still, it's always just nice to have a break from the normal routine, and I did enjoy that.  I had some trepidation going into Monday, though.  I knew that I was already a bit...testy.  From the sanding, the mess, the sickness, and just generally not accomplishing what I felt I needed to in order to start back to school well. Besides which, I know myself.  I knew that getting back into the routine was likely to be a huge challenge to my fast.  It's usually trying to manage all of the normal events of the long strings of "normal" days that drives me to control freakishness.  There's usually too much to fit into the day, and I'm trying to make it work anyway, often running over the little (and not so little) people who don't keep up with the plan.

It's not who I want to be.  I know that it's not who God wants me to be.  Because He calls me to holiness, but also because I'm missing out on delighting in all of the good gifts He has given me.

So back to the week after spring break.  I learned yet another new thing about myself over the last two days.  My mouth has motor memory.  I must have dozens...maybe hundreds...of little lectures stored up in my brain.  They cover an enormous range of transgressions, large and small.  Someone didn't get his chores done before breakfast?  Got it.  Didn't clear the dishes/wipe up a spill/put away a toy or game or book?  Got that covered too.  Working too slowly on schoolwork?  I've got half-a-dozen lectures ready for that one.  And on, and on, and on it goes.  The alarming part, though, is that I discovered today that all of those lectures are just waiting there for an event to trigger them, and they are practically jumping out of my mouth before I knew they were coming!  I'm not kidding...over the past two days I've just kept hearing this voice from my past...okay, I just wish it were from my past...correcting and criticizing just like always.  I'm likening it to the way your fingers can type certain words seemingly on their own. Or your feet just start pedaling when you climb onto a bike.  Unfortunately, my "mouth memory" doesn't serve such a useful purpose as those other forms of motor memory.  I am trying to look at the bright side, though.  Maybe if, God willing, I am able to really win my own personal little "war of words", my mouth will start remembering new phrases.  Wouldn't it be great it I started spouting, "Hi honey, how was your day?  You look tired; sit down and let me get you the newspaper," without even thinking about it?  Or how about, "Great job, guys...you sure did work hard at getting your rooms cleaned up."  Or better still, "I love you.  I think you're great.  You make me smile.  You make me so happy.  I'm so thankful God made me your mom."

Even when I can't offer up praise and really do need to correct someone (at least after these 30 days), there are so many positive, patient, grace-filled ways to do that without lecturing and tearing down.  ("...only what is useful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.")

So here's to "motor memory" of the mouth.  I'm counting on it.  Tomorrow is a new day...and I'm going to start plugging some new phrases into our old routines.  Yes, I am frustrated with myself.  I want to be "there" right now.  But I am believing God's promise that He will be faithful to complete the work that He has begun.  I started the day feeling pretty discouraged, but I'm going to bed hopeful.  Even though I've blogged about a lot of failures over the last week or so (and those are what we generally focus on, right?), I'm also glimpsing some signs that "the times, they are a-changin'".  More about that later, though.  On to day 10!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Day 7 Lessons Learned (well...learning).

I couldn't get anything written yesterday, but had several thoughts to share from the past few days.

1).  I wrote in the first "31 Day Fast" post that my harsh words and critical spirit were a manifestation of fear.  I've also realized that another facet of that involves unmet expectations.  I think that I have built up a whole shaky foundation (a "house on sandy land") based on the idea that I can plan everything out, and if only my plans work (and my expectations are met),  everything will be just fine.  If my expectations aren't met, I do believe that my gut reaction is often rooted in fear, even though it looks like anger and frustration.  My birthday was a glaring example of this.  The expectation is that my family (particularly my husband) will recognize my birthday in the ways that are meaningful to me.  The fear (if my expectations aren't met) is that I am not worthy.  If I were a really wonderful wife and mother, then my family would just gush and pour love out all over me on my birthday.  Crazy.  Of course, there are plenty of times when my criticism and harsh words are rooted in just plain selfishness (there's no fear involved when I walk into a room and see that someone hasn't cleaned up their toys for the tenth time that day, or when the children are all playing loudly (even though it's happy loudness), and I just want some peace and quiet, for instance).  The bottom line is that the criticism and harsh words are just not okay, no matter what their source, but I am finding that it's helpful to understand where they are coming from.

2).  My view of God plays a huge role in my capacity to exhibit grace.  And my view of God has been inaccurate.  I have always had trouble understanding God as a loving Father.  I have long battled a picture of God as a father who is harsh and impossible to please, watching and waiting to catch me making a wrong choice, or failing in some way that I might not even understand.  Over the years, He has been changing my understanding...revealing more of His true character to me.  And as I've learned more about who He really is, I have desired more and more of Him.  Over the last few days, though, I realized that my long years of viewing Him wrongly have still been impacting me in the way I relate to my children.  I have put myself in the place in which I long believed Him to be...constantly watching and waiting for the children to "mess up" in some way, so that I could jump in and correct them.  I know what a dangerous practice this is for them.  I know that the result of this kind of parenting is for them to develop an image of God that mirrors the one I long held. As their earthly parents, we have such a huge influence on their understanding of God as their Father.  I know that I have a responsibility to teach them obedience.  To impart an understanding of truth, and of God's holiness.  But I also have a tremendous burden to give them a picture of grace.  I happened to hear a perfect quote on the radio yesterday as I was mulling this over.  I don't even know who the speaker was on the Christian radio station, but I had just turned it on in the car when I heard this:

Truth without grace is brutality.
Grace without truth is hypocrisy.

I have lived as a victim of truth without grace.  I have leaned way too far on this side of the balance as a mom.  I'm so thankful that my Father has given me a different image, and I am longing to help my children to know a God of truth and  grace.  

3).  The whole big picture (struggling to deal with unmet expectations, and growing in my understanding of God's love and grace for me) leads me to a deep desire to look at my husband and children differently, and to respond to them differently.  I have a perfect illustration of this, and it goes back to the whole birthday fiasco.  There's a piece of the birthday story that I didn't share.  It's about cake.  Remember the issue with unmet expectations?  Well, in my "birthday language", a birthday requires a cake.  It's actually been a running joke in my family for years.  Jim and Elijah prefer pie for their birthdays.  Pie!!  We pretend to fight about it at their birthdays every year.  I always make them pie, but I always make it clear that cake is...well...better.  Right.  Pie is just...wrong.  :)  Early in our marriage, when I realized that birthdays are just not a big deal to Jim, I made it easy.  I told him that I really like to have a birthday cake.  I told him what kind of cake I like (chocolate, with raspberry filling), and I told him where to get it.  Done, right?  So generally there has been a cake for my birthday.  This year, remember, he was refinishing the floors.  He was sick.  I knew he couldn't have remembered to get a cake.  But while I was out doing some errands the morning of my birthday, he went out to a store near our house.  I got home first, and saw him carrying in the big bag.  And out of the bag he pulled...a pie.  He pulled out the pie, looked at me, and said, "I got you a Key Lime Pie."  I looked at the pie, looked back and him, and said (through gritted teeth), "Yes, you did."  Unfortunately for him (I hate to admit how glad I was, though), a friend had invited me for tea on my birthday, and had served...you guessed it...chocolate cake with raspberries.  She had asked Rebekah what kind of cake I like.  I came home with the leftover cake from the tea, and it's not my fault that Jim asked me what was in the box, right?  And what else could I tell him but the truth?  Yes, I was petty and selfish.  I was angry and hurt because....my expectations had not been met.  I told the whole story to a friend today, and teared up from laughing about how silly it was.  How could I have behaved that way?  (I did tell Jim I was sorry the next day...but I also asked him if he seriously didn't hear any alarms going off when he read the words "Key Lime PIE").

But now here's the lesson learned.  I had been figuring this out over the past few days, but the sermon at church this morning brought it all together for me.  God calls us to holiness.  He has the right to call us to holiness, because he is holy.  But we fail.  And He loves us anyway.  In fact, because of His great love for us, He sent His Son to die for our transgressions; in order that we might be called His sons and daughters.  My best efforts to please Him fall short.  My best gifts to Him are like filthy rags.  And yet He shows grace to me, and looks on me with love.  He delights to give me good gifts...when I have nothing to give.

I, on the other hand, am not holy.  Yet I hold my husband (and children...and sometimes others, too), to a standard which I myself cannot attain.  I have no right to hold them to this standard when I fall short of it myself.  And yet when they fail, I am quick to criticize and blame.  I do not treat them lovingly.  Even when they strive to please me, I sometimes view their efforts as falling short.  I fail to show grace.  I generally recognize my mistake afterward, repent, and try to repair.  But a pattern of this kind of critical, difficult to please behavior in a relationship is toxic.  My husband bought me a pie.  I wanted a cake.  Seriously?!?  His desire was to please me (someone out there is wondering how he could've thought a pie would please me, but trust me...he truly did.  It was Key Lime, after all).  Why could I not accept this offering of love with grace?  I pray that I will learn to do so.  I think that's part of the reason why I decided to include the pie story here.  At first (on my birthday), I didn't write it because I didn't want to discredit my husband.  But when I thought about it honestly, I can only discredit myself when I share this, and hopefully become even more convicted.  (I do hope somehow got a good laugh out of that whole story though...I know that someone out there can relate...right?) 

I'm going to end with more words of wisdom from Paul David Tripp  This is from War of Words again, and is a description of the four principles on which the book is based:

 - God has a wonderful plan for our words that is far better than any plan we could come up with on    
    our own.

 - Sin has radically altered our agenda for our words, resulting in much hurt, confusion, and chaos.

 - In Christ Jesus we find the grace that provides all we heed to speak as God intended us to speak.

 - The Bible plainly and simply teaches us how to get from where we are to where God wants us to be.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Day 5...

Too late (and too tired) to post, but I'm still sticking with it.  Really learned a lot today, but will have to share another day.  I've had a couple of long-distance friends mention that they want to join in...if you have, I'd love to hear how it's going for you.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Day 4. Sweet Water.

I don't have time to write a lot today, but I really wanted to take the opportunity to share while I'm feeling happy (and don't have any embarrassing moments to tell about).  I can't claim any great victories today, because I honestly wasn't even with the children for most of the day, or with Jim.  But I did have some very sweet time in the Word and in prayer this morning, and just have felt fortified and sheltered.  As much as I felt under attack yesterday, today I felt shielded.  I believe that the Lord just gave me a reprieve today, and His sweet presence "to cheer and to guide."

He also gave me some wonderful friends who provided me counsel...support...and, well....chocolate doesn't hurt either.  So thankful for the women He's placed in my life.

There's a quote from Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) in which he says "God made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure."  There have been a handful of times in my life, always when I felt I was right where God wanted me to be no matter how difficult the situation, and I really believed that I could feel His pleasure.  This situation isn't anything like the other times (our adoption trip to Ethiopia comes to mind), but I am feeling that sense of God's pleasure now, and it feels sweet.  I know that I am stumbling and failing my way through this, but I am finding joy, and am full of hope.

We did have dinner all together tonight, and I was intensely award of how much I was enjoying the children.  I couldn't even tell you whether anyone had their feet on the chairs.  I truly didn't notice.  :)  I also walked past the girls' room at bedtime and saw one of the girls swinging from a bar on a top bunk.  I have a whole repertoire of sharp corrections which I normally might spout off about that (they might start off with, "How many times have I said...", or "You know better than to be...", and the words would be carried on a voice thick with irritation.  You know, it was just as easy to say lightly, "Hop down, please," and just keep on walking.  I had seen her face...she had frozen mid-swing when she saw me noticing what she was doing.  She must have been steeling herself for whatever sharp correction she was expecting.  That little girl and I both felt pretty good about the whole encounter.  :)

I have one parting thought for the day.  I love Amy Carmichael, and long ago memorized a quote from her book If.  Here it is:

If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love.  For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.

This is where I want to live....so brimful of sweet water (living water), that I cannot spill a bitter drop.  Isn't that a good dream?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Day 3. Sigh.

I woke up this morning feeling (in retrospect) overly optimistic.  Though I was still rolling my eyes at myself over the whole "feet on the chairs" incident yesterday, I still found myself thinking, "this is going to easier than I thought."  Famous last words.

Does anyone else have weird birthday issues?  I like birthdays.  I like my birthday.  And I have certain ideas about how I would like my birthday to go.  Having someone sort of...forget...doesn't fit with my plan.  Now, in the someone's defense, he is not a birthday person.  Doesn't even like his own birthday.  And he didn't truly, entirely, forget.  It's just that some folks' idea of celebrating a person's birthday entail getting up the morning of said birthday and running around like crazy trying to pull something together.  And all the while I'm thinking that if you truly love someone, you would of course have been planning for weeks for that person's birthday.  Or at least for days.  Or, okay, maybe just the day before???

Unfortunately, this morning was a bad morning for someone.  He has been working really, really hard for the past two days, and went to bed sick last night.  Woke up with a fever.  Poor guy.  I truly did feel bad for him.  Didn't want him to go to Starbucks and get me a cup of coffee.  Didn't want him to have to run around trying to make the day special for me.  But I could feel myself building up resentment...because he wouldn't be in this predicament if he had done anything about it before today!  So he (and several of his little minions) still did a bit of running around trying to make something special, but I had already closed my heart to it and decided to be mad.  My feelings were hurt.  Some old wounds (having nothing to do with him) were opened.

Yes, I know how selfish this all sounds.  I wanted to skip posting today, but I decided to just put it all out there.  Because confession if good for the soul, right?  And because maybe someone else can relate to this a bit.

How unfair is this to my husband?  What sort of burden am I placing on his back by measuring his love for me according to his capacity to meet some largely unspoken standards about my birthday, of all things?  What sort of unreasonable burden am I placing on him if I expect him in any way at all to meet my deepest needs...to satisfy my longings and heal my wounds?  I seriously sat in my room and cried this morning, drinking my coffee and nursing my hurt, but two thoughts kept coming to me over and over and over, and I finally had to get up and write.  The first is a scripture verse:

"And my God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 4:19.

My God shall supply every need.  Why, oh why, am I looking to anyone else to supply my needs?  And why on earth should I be hurt or angry when someone else fails to do it?  Do I meet my husband's every need?  Not even close.  Do I truly feel thankful and blessed at the efforts he makes to love and care for me?  Not nearly enough.  Do I encourage his efforts...however lacking my selfish heart might perceive them as...or do I let him know that he is not measuring up to my standards (standards which I could never meet myself)?  By now we all know the answer to that question.  Selfish heart...when will you learn? 

And here is the second thing that kept coming to me this morning; this verse from a song by John Newton:

When Satan appears
To stop up our path,
And fills us with fears,
We triumph by faith;
He cannot take from us,
Though oft he has tried,
The heart-cheering promise,
"The Lord will provide." 

He tells us we're weak,
Our hope is in vain;
The good that we seek
We ne'er shall obtain;
But when such suggestions
Our faith thus have tried,
This answers all questions,
"The Lord will provide." 

No strength of our own,
Nor goodness we claim;
Our trust is all thrown
On Jesus' dear name.
In this our strong tower
For safety we hide;
The Lord is our power,
"The Lord will provide." 

The Lord will provide.  And now that I have written all of this down, I'm ready to get back to my fast.  Did I fail today?  Ummm...horribly.  I'm not sure how I'm going to have a "do-over" in this situation.  I'm ashamed of myself.  I'm trusting, though, not in my strength, or my goodness, but "in Jesus' dear name."  

Maybe I'll have a better report for Day 4.  But on the other hand, I don't want to record this day as a failure if the Lord has spoken to me through it.  And He has, so I'm moving on.

Oh, and I can't end this without adding this disclaimer:  my husband is wonderful and loves and cares for me in countless ways.  I did admit right at the beginning that I have weird birthday issues, remember?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Day 2...a Hard Habit to Break

The roots of a critical spirit go deep.  This goes much deeper than just an issue of the tongue.  I've kept telling myself that what comes out of my mouth is the overflow of my heart, but shutting my mouth has definitely helped me to really take a hard look at the state of my heart.  I'm more convinced than ever that I am dependent on God's grace to change me...though I think He is using this experience to work on it.

I didn't mention yesterday that Jim is refinishing our wood floors this week during spring break.  He and I both know that I don't have a high tolerance for disorder and noise.  At this moment, most of the furniture from our living room and dining room is shoved into the kitchen, and the belt sander he rented has been cranking away (very loudly) during all of our waking hours since 7:30 yesterday morning.  (It's too bad this blog doesn't have sound effects...you could listen in right now).  Ahhh....sanctification.  Do you think this is what "learning in the trenches" means?.  Maybe it just wouldn't be as effective if I were beginning this quest during a peaceful, orderly week (as if there were such a thing).

Last night, because of the general chaos going on in our house, we didn't sit down for dinner until after 7pm.  Just to set the stage, please remember that I've already mentioned being a control freak.  I am the table manners Nazi.  "Sit up, please."  "Put your feet on the floor."  "Stop laying on the table."  "Ask someone to pass that to you, don't reach across the table," "Don't chew with your mouth open....talk with food in your mouth....take such a big bites..." etc., etc., etc.   (Sounds delightful, doesn't it?)  Anyway, last night we were trying to squeeze around the table (remember all that extra furniture in the kitchen...and the dining room is off limits because of the sanding).  As I squeezed around a corner to put plates on the table, I came up behind two girls sitting at the table with their feet underneath them on their chairs.  Yes, normally I would've immediately told them to put their feet down (something along the lines of, "Chairs are for bottoms, not feet.  Put your feet down, please").  But I'd been mentally preparing myself all day for dinnertime.  Practicing the fine art of ignoring.  My mouth was ready to stay closed, but...I forgot to tell my hands.  I can't even explain what was going through my mind...maybe it was like an "out-of-body" experience, but my hands reached out all on their own, turned those little girls bodies, and nudged their feet onto the floor.  I wish you could've seen the looks on their faces.  (I wish I could've seen the look on my own face; I think I was as surprised as they were.)  I looked back at them, shrugged sheepishly, and said, "ummm...sorry."

Obviously I need a little more practice at this.  We'll see what happens on Day 3.

On the upside, from my quiet time today:

"You blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean."  Matt. 23:26.  This might not strike you as a super encouraging passage of scripture (!), but I am feeling deeply thankful that God is leading me through a process of cleaning the inside of my cup.  I have so much hope in that.

And this:

"No distrust made him (Abraham) waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised."  Romans 5:20.  I give glory to God for every act (or word) of kindness that comes from me, and for every critical or harsh word that I was able not to speak today.  Though my faith often is so weak, at this moment, on this day (and by His grace), I am fully convinced that God is able to do what He has promised in me.  And, oh, His promises are good.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A 31 Day Fast

I have a sharp tongue.  I can be critical and judgemental.  I'm a bit of a control freak.  All of these areas in which I struggle with sin in my life are really just symptoms of a much bigger problem.   The problem is clear to me...I need to trust God and submit myself more deeply to Christ's authority in my life.  I need to trust Him more, believing that He has my life (and the lives of my husband and children) in His capable and loving hands.  I don't need to be in control, because He is.  I am aware that my harsh words and criticism (far too often directed at my husband and children) are the response to deep fear.  Fear that things will "go wrong."  What if my husband doesn't lead well (parent well, conduct family worship the "right" way, make the "right" decisions for our family, participate in the "right" ministries, pray enough, eat healthy food, wear the sweater without the holes to church, choose the right restaurant for dinner...oh my...how did all of that come out?!)  What if the children don't turn out "right"?  What if I don't teach them the "right" subjects in school, or they don't learn them anyway, or they aren't hard enough workers, aren't kind and sweet, don't behave well enough in public, don't play a musical instrument, don't comb their hair or match their clothes, don't have nice table manners, go out in public with snotty faces, can't answer the questions in Sunday School, etc., etc., etc.  Oops...there I go again.  And the biggest fear (the fear behind all of the other fears)...what if something I DO causes them to turn away from Christ?!?  What if my sins and failures cause my children to sin and fail?  What if my greatest desire for them...to see them them love and follow Christ...is thwarted by my own example to them?  And so, driven by all of that fearfulness, I nag.  I snap.  I criticize.  Not all the time...and there are plenty of days when our home flows  with sweetness and laughter and joy and hope.  But there are far too many moments and days when the poison of my fear emerges from my mouth like venom.  I want to trust God to work in my heart, and in the hearts of my husband and children.  I want to grow in faith, in the knowledge that He loves them even more than I ever could, that He has a good plan for them, and that He will be faithful to complete His work in me and in them.  I don't need to fear.  I don't need to control.  I need to rest in Him.

So, the fast.  Today is April 1st, and today (and for the month of April), I am fasting from criticism.  I am determined to break the habit, and pull out the roots of it.  So I am going to be radical about criticism for this one month.  I am not allowing even what I would usually call constructive criticism.  I want to be clear that I know how necessary it is for me, as a mother, to be able to correct my children, but for the next 31 days I am even going to put a fairly extreme limit on correction (I'll explain that later).

I do want to be clear that I don't believe that I can, in my own strength, conquer this sin in my heart, or that by controlling what comes out of my mouth I can change what is in my heart.  (Luke 6:45...for out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks).  My desire is to pursue God wholeheartedly, and to seek His healing.  I'm committed to pray intentionally and specifically each day during my "fast" that God will use this time to transform my heart...to form new "habits" of trusting in Him more fully and speaking words of grace.   So here we go.

The rules:
1.  Avoid speaking any critical words.  Criticism is generally defined as being related to faultfinding. Interestingly, when I looked up antonyms for "criticism", some of the words listed were "approval", "praise", "compliment", "plaudit".

2.  Avoid, as much as possible, correction.  This is different from criticism, and yes, I intend this even with my children.  My intention is to allow correction only when it involves a safety issue or a clear "heart" issue (obvious sin).  If one of the children is, for instance,  hanging from a chandelier, preparing to climb out of a second story window, or playing with a knife, I'll have to put a stop to that.  If a child is treating someone else unkindly, or generally sinning against someone, I'll need to address it.  What I will try NOT to address are any behaviors which are not related to sin...basically all of the stuff that is generally annoying or irritating, and which often really does need to be addressed, but from which no real harm will come if I let it go for a month.  Things like someone chewing with their mouth open, or not sitting up at the table, or humming while doing their schoolwork, or holding their pencil the wrong way, or wearing clothes that are dirty or mismatched.  I could go on and on with this list, but you get the point.

On a side note, I do know that generally it is good and wise to address all of these "small" issues.  It's honoring to others to practice good table manners, to be clean and neatly dressed, and to avoid annoying behaviors.  It's important to learn to hold your pencil correctly!  It's even helpful to be able to match your clothes.   But for an avowed control freak like me, it's just going to be necessary to go "cold turkey."  And for my houseful of children, who are far too accustomed to having their every transgression addressed (and often not too gently), I imagine it might be quite a relief.  It might even help bring some transforming grace to some of the children who I fear might be following in my footsteps.  I'd like to see the children be less critical, and maybe they will follow my example.  I know that after this 31 days I will need to be able to correct even these "lesser" issues, but my hope is that I will do it less frequently and more gently.  I don't believe it will cause any lasting harm to ignore some of those things for one month.  Though you might want to avoid coming for dinner in April if you can't tolerate seeing some open-mouthed chewing.  :)

3.  When I fail (which I will), I need to have a "do-over" as quickly as possible.  Take it back.  Re-state it.  Ask for forgiveness.  I'm not going to make excuses or tell myself that I won't let it happen again.  Zero tolerance.

4.  Control my face, body language, and tone of voice right along with my words.  The right words (or even no words) can be completely negated by a sarcastic, "snarky" tone of voice, and angry look, or arms folded across one's chest.

5. Praise and encourage as much as possible.  I want to replace my harsh words with healing words.  I'm not going to try to prescribe this (nothing along the lines of "I will say nine encouraging things every 47 minutes"), because my heart is to pray that God would give me His heart and words for my family, rather than to set up an something which might only result in me trying to control with my words.

6.  Pray, pray, pray.  And expect to see God work.  What might God do to transform my heart, and even my home, when I seek Him in this?  I believe that He will bless this.  My desire first and foremost is for Him, but I do believe that "all these things will be added unto me" (Matthew 6:33).  My time at His feet, praying and studying His word, and seeking His help, far outweigh any of the other "rules" I've set up for myself.

I recently read something helpful in Paul David Tripp's War of Words.  There's a section in the book called "Choosing Words of Grace" in which Tripp emphasizes "five elements of grace-full talk."  They are based on Ephesians 4:29, and here they are (in abbreviated form):

     -Be unshakably committed to wholesome talk.
     -Consider the person to whom you are talking ("...only what is helpful for building others up).
     -Consider the problem you are being called to address ("...for building others up according to their 
     -Consider the process ("...that it may benefit...give grace to....those who listen).
     -Don't let your speech hinder the Holy Spirit's work.

My intention is to write about my progress here over the next month.  Not every day, but often enough to help me...not only to stay accountable, but to recognize God's hand and help.

Oh, and one more thing.  I am NOT TELLING anyone else in my household about this little experiment.  I haven't written on this blog for months, so no one here ever reads it, or is ever on Facebook.  If you read this, please don't tell.  I think my fast would be much less effective if everyone here knew about it.  I want to bless them, but I also think that one of the measures of the effectiveness of this "fast" will be whether they notice a difference without knowing what I'm doing.