Friday, August 26, 2016

Once Again, I Choose...



Well, the first few days of school are over and my resolution to releasing my sons into God´s hands for the fulfillment of His purpose for them is going as well as it is to be expected. I’m not as worried as I thought I’d be, but I’m still anxious.

You know? As a parent, sometimes we create an image in our heads of how our children should be like…well, maybe not all parents do that, but I certainly am guilty of indulging on this self-designed fantasy…The thing is that there are moments when the fantasy seems possible! At rare occasions, I see something that leads me to believe that my kids will actually fit into the mold I have created for them. At those moments, I feel like I could fly with elation and happiness. Soon, however, reality hits me in the head like a brick (two bricks, actually) and the realization that the image I’ve created in my mind still is and will always be a fantasy causes me great disillusion.

There are SO many things wrong with what I have just stated above that dissecting it could take years of useless analysis with only one conclusion: I need help!

But, what can I say? I have to be honest with myself. Pretending I’m something I’m not is not going to make me be a better parent just as pretending that my kids are something they are not is not the solution. Forcing them to fit into the image I have created for them is utterly ridiculous. Hey, at least I’m aware of this now…a while ago, I was still under the impression that I could control my sons’ lives. So, there is hope for me, right?

The thing is that the unknown, the uncontrollable, the unpredictable causes me great anxiety. I fear when I don’t know what will happen. I tremble at the thought of unforeseen outcomes. I crumble when I see alterations to my plans. I get nervous when I face circumstances that I was not expecting, especially if they disturb my routine. I become overwhelmed very easily. Stress bubbles over instantly when things don’t go my way.

Well, it all comes down, again, to the issue of trust. And once again, God speaks to me through the things I have around me. Today, as it often is, it was my devotional reading: “Trust Me in the midst of a messy day. Your inner calm…your Peace in My Presence…need not be shaken by what is going on around you…When you start to feel stressed, detach yourself from the disturbances around you. Instead of desperately striving to maintain order and control in your little world, relax and remember that circumstances cannot touch My Peace. Seek My Face, and I will share My mind with you, opening your eyes to see things from My perspective.”

There you go!

That’s why the Apostle Paul told us through his letter to the Philippians, Chapter 4: 6-8

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.

Paul’s formula is: Prayer + Petition with Thanksgiving = Peace that surpasses all understanding. But in order to maintain that peace, we need to check our thought-life. We need to remove the disturbing ideas from our head, remove ourselves from an environment that increases our fear and anxiety and instead, surround ourselves with everything that is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. I need to intentionally fill my head with the things of God in order not to have any room left for anxious thoughts or delusions of control. I need stay on course, and concentrate on seeking Him first, and then allow Him to smooth out the road where I walk.



It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon. The first football game of the season is tonight and I have to work at the concession stand with the other Band Booster Moms. Grant decided to stay at school to hang out with some other band members, and Dylan came home telling me exciting stories of his day at school. Regardless of how I feel, I’d say the new year is off to a great start. I choose to trust Him!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Releasing Them



Tomorrow, a new school year begins for my sons. One is going into 4th grade and the other one will be a freshman in high school…I can’t believe it yet. Yesterday we went to freshman orientation and it was like having an out-of-body experience. I still remember when we went to sixth grade orientation…Grant was so lost. He felt so out of place. He knew not a soul in a gym full of kids. Now, High School. After 3 years in band he has made friends and best of all, he knows the halls of the High School which means he will not feel so lost. I am so proud of that child. He is actually excited about going to school. I, on the other hand…I worry.

Dylan...he is not ready yet. He likes to stay up late at night and sleep in the morning. He likes to spend his days doing pretty much nothing. He truly enjoys the carefree days of summer…just like his mama. Needless to say, he is not looking forward to the new school year. However, he is curious about the fact that as a fourth grader his classroom will be on the top floor. He is also feeling good about being one step closer to the top of the elementary school society ladder. Therefore, in a way, he is excited. I, on the other hand… I worry.

Like I have mentioned repeatedly, I have issues letting go. In no other area of my life is such a truth more evident than when it comes to my children. I like to hold my sons tight and close to me. As a child who once, a long time ago, left home and never really came back, I know trying to hold them is futile. They don’t belong to me. They were given to me on loan. And the loan’s is maturing right in front of my eyes. But I fear tremendously about the kind of world my sons will have to live in once they are on their own.

As I was feeling melancholic and worried about all these thoughts, I saw my Jesus Calling devotional sitting right by my computer, so I opened it on today’s reading and … yes, you guessed it, God had a message of hope that spoke straight to this very subject in a way that brought peace to my soul.

“Entrust your loved ones to Me,” the reading began… “release them to my protective care. They are much safer with Me than in your clinging hands.”

Wow…just wow…

I know…I know all they truly ever need is Christ. I just want to be the Mother that they need. I want to make my job obsolete. I want to soften the grip of my clinging hands and release them because, as difficult and as hard to believe as this truth may sound to my ears, He does love them more than I do.

I don’t want them to feel trapped in my arms. I don’t want to suffocate them and smother them. And if I don’t watch out, that’s exactly what I might end up doing given my controlling tendencies. I remember a song by one of my favorite secular groups from when I was in college, Pearl Jam…I know, I was a huge Pearl Jam fan, what can I tell you… The thing is that they have a song that lingered in my mind as I typed these words: Release Me. As it is the case with most of Pearl Jam’s music, this is not a happy song. It is a lament. It is a son wishing he could tell his Dad to see him as he really is, to love him, and to release him. I don’t want my sons ever having to feel the need to sing this song to me.



God doesn’t want us to have idols. I need to remember that I run the risk of making my sons my idols. I pray I do learn this lesson well and release them now…relax in the peace of the knowledge that God cares for them and watch Him act in their lives as they become themselves and grow in their love for the Lord.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Truth in Love



As I move closer to finish reading the book What´s so Amazing about Grace? By Philip Yancey I grow a bit more uncomfortable. In part, I think it might be because the book was written in the 90s when the author might not have been able to foresee the depths of society depravation that goes on today, almost 20 years after its publication. Or, perhaps it is mostly because of my own refusal to generously extending grace to those who disagree with me… the thing is, reading the last few chapters of this book has seriously challenged my way of thinking about how to deal with those outside my comfort zone. But the way it is accomplishing such goal is not necessarily the most effective for me, personally.

However, anytime God wants me to pay attention, to truly listen to a particular message, He not only works it out in repeated themes and instances, but He also always finds different ways to help me understand it better. The message that the author may be trying to communicate, though not entirely to my liking, was made clearer to me by Pastor Doug, my beloved home church´s Pastor this past Sunday.

As I usually do every Sunday I worship at our home church, I scanned the bulletin for the title of the sermon, and there it was: “Respect for others.”

When I read the title, it didn´t hit me right away. I´m telling, you, when I don´t particularly want to hear or see something, I become very slow. However, the more Pastor Doug kept unfolding the truth of 1 Corinthians 13, the Love chapter, the clearer it became to me how God was massaging in my brain the theme of my need to awaken my love for those whom I don´t agree with…those who are different.

“We, as Christians, must stand for the truth…but we must do so in love…with tact.” I´m not sure those where the words verbatim, but that is the core message that God communicated to me through Pastor Doug´s words.

I think that is my main discomfort with Yancey´s way of delivering the same message: that he doesn´t emphasize, to my satisfaction, at least, the importance of standing with the truth of the Bible. The key is that while we stand firm on the truth, we need to communicate it with love. “Our goal is not to change people´s lifestyles, but to share the good news of Jesus Christ!” Pastor Doug said. “It is not up to us what they do. We are not the Holy Spirit. It is not our job to make people feel convicted.” These words truly drove the message home.

Pastor Doug also shared a story that I had partially heard before about a professor at Moody Bible Institute who came out of a lifestyle of deep sin to the full redemption of the healing power of Christ. And his advice to Christians was that when confronted with people who disagree with us on how to deal with a particular struggle in their lives, if the person approaches us in an antagonistic manner and asks us if what they are doing is bad, “don´t answer, but instead, divert the question to our own struggles and how Jesus is delivering us from it.” Build a friendship first with the person, and then let Christ deal with him or her directly.

I know it will take me a long time to have the courage to put into practice the lessons God is trying to teach me regarding showing love and respect to those I don´t agree with. But He sure is opening my eyes, which up until now where tightly shut. Let´s see if I can finally discover what IS, indeed, SO Amazing about Grace.



Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 
Ephesians 4: 15

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Thorn in the Flesh



As a person of a rather controlling nature, I have issues when it comes to letting go. I tend to think that if I don’t do it, nobody would do it right…or at all. This attitude gets me in a lot of trouble and causes me a great amount of conflict, particularly at home. I also always feel overburdened. The worst part is that I have been known to loudly boast about my supposed ability to do it all.

While the rest of the world (meaning my immediate family) seems only capable to perform single tasks, I run around doing five things at a time…which fills me up with pride…and opportunities to rub it in, of course: “for real? You were sitting on that same couch on the exact same position when I left home three hours ago!” “I did the laundry, graded 75 papers, cooked dinner, did the dishes and you still haven’t been able to take the garbage out!” “Do you think you can put the milk back in the fridge? I’m scrubbing the bathtub and typing a paper up there…c’mon! Help me out!”

Yep, if you were around my house during boasting time, you’d think I’m no ordinary Wonder Woman.

The reality, however, is much different. I am a disaster! I’m riddled with stressful contradictions and rather manic behaviors that make me to do it all…but wrong. I’m a completely disorganized perfectionist. I’m a dirty clean-freak. I’m a punctual procrastinator. I’m a lazy hard worker. I’m an impatient tender hearted. I’m a grumpy happy person. I’m a distracted focused minded. I’m an introvert extrovert. I’m a princess laborer. But one of the most damaging of my contradictions is that I want to control everything around me…while I am completely out of control myself.

I am deeply flawed. I am weak. I crack under pressure. I panic at the first sign of something wrong. I fear changes in my plans. I quit when it gets too hard. I flounder when I don’t know where I am. At the end of the day, I’m not able to do it all. My house is a mess. My kids are not what I dreamed they would be. I’m not what I fantasized I would be either. There are a bunch of things I’d like to do that I can’t. No matter how much effort I put into it there are many things I would never be able to resolve, change, improve, get, or get rid of, make bigger, skinnier, darker, lighter, brighter, taller, shorter, smaller, better… because it is not up to me…it’s out of my hands.

But guess what? I think that’s kind of sort of what Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 12 when he says:

So to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” 
(2 Corinthians 12: 7-9)

There is nothing that cures a conceited soul and a swollen ego better than discovering that you have a thorn in the flesh that you can’t get out.

But what really is a thorn in the flesh? I think the fact that Paul never tells us means that it could be anything. The thorn, according to me is anything that you get and can’t hide which exposes your vulnerability and makes you humble. It could be that huge zit you get on the tip of your nose on prom night. It is that aspect of your life that reveals weakness and teaches you that you are not strong enough. It is that condition that shows you that you don’t have the power to change things on your own. It is the situation that makes you realize the only way you can survive or get through it is by sticking close to the One and Only source of strength. It is that thing that keeps you near God.

I cannot imagine what an insufferable …insert any expletive you’d like in here… I would be if I could really control and manipulate the outcome of all the things I worry about. If I were able to have everything just like so, all the “i’s” dotted and all the “t’s” crossed…I would not be able to stand myself! And the worst thing… I’d be miles away from my Heavenly Father. It is that thorn in my flesh (well, in my case, many thorns) which keeps me grounded on a level of reality where I can see how my weaknesses lead me to my strength.

I cannot do it all, so why try?

There, I said it! I feel liberated. If I leave the house and my family decides it’s more important for them to chill on the couch than to do their chores, I will survive!

Blessed be the struggle that shows us the path to Christ. Blessed be the Grace that is more than enough!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Limits of Grace?



One of my personal goals for before the semester begins is to finish reading Phillip Yancey´s book What´s so Amazing about Grace? I´m trying to read one chapter a night as part of my devotionals…and last night´s chapter was…how shall I put it…well, challenging. It was a chapter called something like, “Grace-Healed Eyes.” I read it with great attention, but I can´t deny it made me truly uncomfortable. The chapter was about how to extend grace to people who are “different.”

When I finished the chapter and put the book down on my night table I have to admit that I had a feeling of uneasiness which I had trouble shaking off. What was God, if anything, trying to tell me through Yancey´s words and stories? Am I really supposed to offer grace to the greatest of sinners? Is Grace really that big that can cover even the darkest and deepest of sins? Or does Grace have limits?

That was the question that got me. “Does Grace have limitations?” God used that one thought to point out that I don’t really know what Grace is. It took only that one thought, for the Holy Spirit to show me that what I thought of as Grace was nothing more than a self-constructed, a Gisela-made notion that is incomplete, vague and totally wrong. My limiting view of the truth of Grace didn’t permit me to comprehend the fact that Grace covers it all...not just the deepest and darkest sins of those trapped in the pit on the other side of the pages of a book, but the deepest and darkest sins of me.

The humility that comes with the realization that Jesus’ sacrifice spilled out the miracle of Grace which washes me clean is the only way I can understand that any limitations I may perceive in the ability of Grace to clean it all are imposed by my own inability to see how much it has already cleaned in my own existence. Only when I underestimate the amount of garbage that Grace has disposed of in my life I can impose boundaries to the power of Grace.

Even though sin is never to be tolerated, I cannot withdraw love from the sinner. After all, if I profess to be a follower of Christ, I need to remember that He gave it all for us…even me…a great one among sinners. He came to rescue the fallen. His precious blood was needed because that is the only thing that can wipe off the stains of all of us who wander the pain-filled alleys of this world. Jesus is the friend of sinners precisely because we are the ones who need the balm of His healing presence. He is the friend of sinners because He loves us and in His love He wants to do what Only He can do: break us free from the grip of sin as He rescues our souls.

I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to challenge me to love as God wants me to love and to understand that as God is Limitless so is His Grace. It is God’s sovereign prerogative to apply it generously to all He chooses. And it is my calling to extend it freely as He moves me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Love Never Fails!



“Huh? Love is patient? … you are NOT patient with me, so…you don’t love me!?” This was the reaction of my 10-year-old Dylan when he heard our Pastor read Sunday’s Scripture which happened to be 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7…

Of all the Sundays for Dylan to pay attention to the reading of Scripture, he had to hear this one!

Sigh…

Thank goodness for his very short attention span so he just truly heard that part…I would be in real big trouble if he had heard the rest!

The truth is that, as I have expressed often before, patience is one of those fruits of the Spirit that have not yet matured in me. My shortness of temper gets me in deep trouble many times, with a lot of people…but mostly with those I love the most…and truly, mostly with Dylan. He’s got a way about him that moves me to have the most outrageous and profound love for him while at the same time it just drives me insane! Therefore, our relationship is based on a series of struggles between trying to stay calm and expressing exuberant demonstrations of affection as well as frustration.

The problem is that my lack of patience with Dylan is so obvious that even he, the king of things going over one’s head, can see it. And I don’t know how to become more patient.

I pray, I try, I strategize…but at the slightest push of a button, I lose it and end up yelling. Hence, Dylan’s misconception that my lack of patience equates lack of love…and it breaks my heart that he might think that.

The love that 1 Corinthians 13 speaks about is perfect. In contrast, I am completely imperfect …particularly in the way I love. Therefore, when left to my own devices, it is no wonder I fall short of the love expressed in Scripture. God is the only one who can teach us how to love the way 1 Corinthians 13 describes because God is Love Himself. He is the conduit, the way that leads us to love perfectly, even in our imperfection…

We love only because He loved us first (1 John 4: 19). Otherwise, any love we might profess would stem from some form of co-dependent, selfishness that has only one person at the center: me. It is only by the power of God’s Love that we can begin to know what love really is. However, what I gather from the teachings in this glorious chapter of 1 Corinthians is that while I still reside on this shore of eternity, I would only know how to partially love. I would have only a reflection of the perfection of that Love that God is. That perfectly patient, kind, unselfish love that never fails is only fully achievable in God…in His Holy presence…once our corrupt will has finally become pristine and perfectly in tune with the will of God by the completed work of Sanctification in Christ…once He finally gets to pronounce us clean and paid for the day of our judgement.

Does this mean, however, that I am to resign myself to some form of imperfect love while still on this world? Of course, not! The process of Sanctification begins in the here and now. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit is hard at work, growing His fruits in me, and I stay close, praying and “eagerly desiring the gifts of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14: 1) it will be possible for me to see the beginning of my transformation. I and all those around me would be able to see how I have put away my childish and selfish ways as the part that I know continues to expand and the reflection on the mirror becomes less blurry.

“Dylan…no matter how I react, how little patience I show or how crazy you make me, there is nothing in this world that could make me stop loving you! Do you understand?” I said these words to my son with a kiss later on. “Um hum…” was his reply as he walked away seemingly unharmed. I pray God helps me be a teachable subject so I can truly begin to learn how to love perfectly even within my own imperfection.

Friday, August 12, 2016

One Day at a Time



I’ve never been a runner. Ever since I was a young girl running felt exhausting and useless (unless I spotted a dog on the horizon, which always jumped started my inner-propeller because I was terrified of the furry things). As an adult, there is no way I can run. I’ve pretty much always known that if my life ever depends on running to safety…that’d be the day I’d meet my Maker…and that’s OK with me. However, when it comes to my internal speed I tell you, I’m always racing. My hours of operation begin at dawn and I close shop way later than I should because there are never enough hours in the day. Running behind makes me grumpy. Delays infuriate me. Slow-pace drives me insane. And the funny thing is that sometimes I don’t even know why I’m rushing.

Let’s take a couple of days ago, for example. It was my birthday. It was a joyous day…however, when the evening came, I allowed myself to become grumpy. I don’t even remember why. I’m not sure what triggered it. All I know is that by the time I went to bed my spirit had sunken into a pretty sorry state.

The worst thing is that I do that quite often. I talk myself into misery. I find ways to turn a perfectly good day into something rotten, filled with dissatisfaction. I let stress drain me. I let worry keep me away from peace.

And I think that the root of that problem is found somewhere in that constant rushing thing. I have a hard time taking life one step at a time. I’m always looking ahead…as if the future were something I had any control over. That’s what I keep forgetting. And forgetting this tiny detail makes me lose precious time…which is ironic since that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid with all the rushing around! But the truth is that I lose time and energy because as I fret about what’s coming, I miss what I have right here and right now.

The wonders of today are just a blur on my window as I speed up through life.

That’s not what God wants. He is not in a hurry and He doesn’t want me to be either. Instead, He calls me to sit by His glorious side and be still. He wants me to wait patiently in Him and stop being anxious about the details of my life, for they are all taken care of. He wants me to remember that I am co-heir to His Kingdom with Christ, so as I share in His suffering, I will too share in His victory. He wants me to remember that it is all already accomplished, and that the unfolding of His plan for me includes the resolution to all my concerns in a way that is perfect, even if different from what I would have designed.

I don’t want to waste my days being grumpy about the unresolved stress of the future. I need to remember how much I dislike running so I can learn how to walk. I need to remember that I CAN’T run…so I better stop trying because I’m going to be worn out way too soon. I need to remember the old fable that taught us: slow and steady wins the race.

Hopefully next year, on my birthday I will not allow myself to waste my time being grumpy for unimportant reasons. In the meantime…I’m going to do my best to slow down as I drink the calming waters of His presence.