Sunday, June 23, 2013

More Loving than Thou

Holiness has much less to do with perfection than we think.  Nowhere does God say that the goal of the Christian life is to "not sin".  Holiness NEVER looks like finger wagging condemnation, distanced relationships, judgement, shame, guilt, hypocrisy, or nit-picky over-the-top controlling rules and regulations.  If you've been burned by "holy" people, or feel like holiness is not worth your heart, keep reading to discover true holiness- which looks and feels like God's LOVE and power.

Holiness simply means that as followers of God, we are different from people who don't follow God.

When we look at the Bible, it is very clear that we are not different because we are "perfect", but because we have God's spirit (Ephesians 1:13, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22) and it is the primary force that drives our actions and attitudes (Romans 8:5-9).  God is love, and if we are followers of God we are set apart from this world not by our high moral standards, but by our LOVE (1John 4:7-8John 13:35).  The holy spirit is not an annoying conscience that we can push to the side when it tries to keep us from watching bad movies.  It is a raw force of the universe whose power transforms lost causes, revitalizes melancholy hearts, and always acts in heroic and sacrificial love.

If being Holy looks like God's spirit acting through us, then being holy looks like love and the Holy Spirit.  Less like being "perfect" and more like:
  • Forgiving people who don't deserve it.
  • Not letting jealousy or bitterness ruin our relationships.
  • Being humble and not having to be "right".
  • Serving other people even if it means we can't do something for ourselves as a result.
Holiness doesn't have to look like this,

It looks a lot more like THIS.

Holiness has nothing to with us "quitting sin".  It has everything to do with us deciding to live in a way that is led by God's spirit of LOVE.  Even though everyone who believes in God and follows him has his spirit in their life, we all know it doesn't always feel or look that way.  How do we unleash this powerful spirit that fills our life and transforms the world around us?  God says the best way is through obedience (1 John 5:2-4).

We don't stop sinning to GET holy, we stop sinning because we ARE holy.

I saw a documentary on the vegan lifestyle (I was not converted, but still impressed).  They were explaining how making the transition off of processed foods is really challenging, and your body truly needs to "detox".  They recommended NOT going cold turkey, if you try to go vegan by "giving up" foods you love you will fail every time.  Instead they said to slowly just add more vegetables into your diet.  As you do that, you experience the energy and health that come with it and slowly the vegetables just naturally push the junk food out.  So in theory, instead of clinging to your Cheetos bag, you won't even want it any more.  That's really how holiness and sin work.  We are all clinging to our little addictions or habits, and letting go feels impossible and honestly undesirable.  But the closer we get to God, the more natural obeying him will feel.

Getting closer to God can feel intimidating, and it's hard to think of all the changes you would need to make for a spiritually "healthy" lifestyle.  It doesn't have to be overwhelming, he is closer than you think.  He is ready and waiting to do all the heavy lifting (Matthew11:28-30).  Unlike all those times I have tried and failed to "get in shape", I'm not alone on my spiritual journey.

My relationship with God is driven far less by my own will power than by His grace.  

And as hard as it may feel to take the first step, Holiness is truly God's plan to make us HAPPY.  It will be worth it.  If you're up for the adventure, here's some simple ideas of how to get started "eating your veggies".

Practical Tips for a Spiritual Detox:
  • Ask God to help you  Tell him you want to spend more time with him and learn his wisdom.  Admit that you will give up quickly on your own.  Ask for his voice of encouragement and love to strengthen you. (Hebrew 13:20-21James 1:5-7, 2 Peter 1:2-4)
  • Read your Bible everyday  (Romans 15:4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
    • Start with just a verse of the day, it will take you less than 5 minutes to read.  
    • Work your way up to 15 minutes a day when you are ready.  This should cover about a chapter a day.  Start with a small book like Ephesians or James, it will feel good to finish it in less than a week.  
    • Spend some time reading through a gospel, like John, it's a great way to get to know Jesus as a person.
  • Pray
    • Start with asking God to be present in your journey to get closer to him.
    • Move on to being thankful.  Give god credit for at least one thing you are thankful for and praise him everyday, even if it is combined with a simple mealtime prayer at first.
    • When your heart is ready.  Ditch your baggage.  Confess the things that have been keeping you far from God and ask for his help to claim your victory over your addiction to sin. (2Timothy 2:21)
  • Choose who you listen to
    • You will be listening to God through prayer and reading his word, but this world is a noisy place.  Choose some of the other messages that come into your brain wisely.  Consider listening to classical or Christian music, thinking critically about the movies and TV you watch, and trying to make as much in your life consistent with hearing God's voice as possible.
  • Get in the real world
    • Make sure that you are getting the right support for your journey to get closer with God in a solid Christian community at a church or with Christian friends who are encouraging you. (Hebrew 10:24-25)
    • God's spirit will transform your heart, don't let it stop as a personal experience.  Practice the same  love and forgiveness you are experiencing with the people around you.  Either through volunteering to help your community or by taking a step to let God heal a broken relationship you are holding onto by forgiving and reconciling with someone.
John 13:34-35 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

May God's love guide, protect and strengthen you on your adventure!

Monday, June 17, 2013

For the days Motherhood feels like unwashed laundry, dirty dishes, and coffee that isn't working.

My little girl had her dollie cradled in her arms.

She rocked her back and forth, making a strong shushing sound right in her ear.  She reached for the empty plastic bottle and put it up to her doll's lips.

"Is the baby tired?" I asked.


"Are you..."

I was interrupted by a "Shhhh."  Olivia then made a snoring sound, the kind we make when I am pretending to be a sleeping princess and she wakes me up with a kiss (or the other way around).  She wanted to let me know the baby was sleeping, and- come on mom- to be quiet.

She turned her attention back to her dolly and looked into her eyes intently, so tenderly.  She started to hum.

My heart beamed to the point of bursting.

She has seen me do this a million times, with her and with her little brother.  I quietly handed her the little blanket and she finished putting the baby to sleep.

"Olivia", I told her, "I love you.  I am so proud of you.  When I see you taking such good care of your baby I know that you have a loving heart.  It shows me that you are so kind, and that makes me very happy.  I can tell that you have been watching me.  You are so smart!  You remember everything you saw me doing when I put my baby to bed- and you are doing such a good job being just like mommy!"

I gave her a big hug!

And then I got chills.

Because for a moment, I heard God whisper "I feel the same way about you, sweet baby girl.  I'm so proud of you when I see you loving your babies.  It tells me a lot about your heart.  Keep learning from me.  I love you."

This simple act, mommas, of rocking our babies, of late night tears (theirs and ours) of all that is entailed on the journey of mothering- is truly an act of love.  Our daddy is so proud.

1 John 4:11-13
Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another.  No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit.

Here is a younger Olivia quietly shushing all of her dollies and moving them out of her room to all go to sleep together on our couch. 

Confession: Flint slept on the couch behind a bank of pillows for much of his early life (he loved falling asleep around everyone).  So that's just where Olivia thought babies took their naps :).

Thursday, June 13, 2013



My fingers draw back from the keyboard, my eyes close, my back relaxing and head tilting up.  This simple writing prompt feels more like a command after a rare hour where I have had time to write.

Typing is noisy.  So many thoughts in my head begging to be organized on the screen.  So many voices and stories echoing through my thoughts, either validating the truths, questioning my assumptions, or laying colored lenses and perspective onto every choice of word, every conviction, every vulnerable confession.

My laptop listens to me.  It repeats back my sentiment on it's screen to check that it understands.  It doesn't.  My words fail me.



*This is a creative writing exercise I participate in with a beautiful community of women bloggers.

3 Unexpected Reasons Holiness can make you Happy

Buck naked.  Flat on my back.  For like...forever.  Looking in the corners of the ceiling suspiciously for hidden cameras.  The most awkward doctor's appointment I have EVER been to.  Ever.  And I've had 2 kids.

I thought getting my moles checked would be like when you get a massage and they have the warm blanket over you and they uncover your arm and then cover it, then uncover your leg, then cover it.  It's not.  Having an elderly woman with lipstick on her teeth (and unevenly on her lips) tell me about skin cancer, wearing my sunscreen, and warning signs for mole growth while walking slowly around my naked body

Then she hands me a brochure about sun protection.  The cover is a woman out hiking in the sun who is covered from head to toe.  Long sleeve windbreaker, long pants, huge safari hat with a neck flap.  It was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen.  I left it there.  But picture something like this:

I'm sorry.  I'm sure that is a GREAT way not to get a sunburn, but that really necessary?!

Is that how you feel about holiness?

I mean holiness is a great way not to get in trouble...but isn't it extreme?  Like these guys swimming fully clothed with their dumb hats on?  Won't most of us be okay just putting on our sunscreen and drinking plenty of water?

Here is the secret that Satan has been great at keeping all these years:  Holiness is not judgmental, extreme, conservative, old fashioned, hypocrisy, or legalism.  Real Holiness can actually make us extremely happy!  

Here are 3 ways.

1.  Holiness is our CALLING.

1 Peter 1:15-16 "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy".

My kids are still really young, but I will admit that I fantasize about them someday saying, "I want to ____, just like you mom!".  Whether it's writing, serving, studying, cooking...anything!  Isn't emulation the highest form of flattery?  Our father DELIGHTS in us when we say, "Daddy, I want to be holy just like you!"  It is the absolute core of who God is, on a completely different plane than hobbys, sports or talents.  Can you imagine how painful and disrespectful it is when we say holiness is not worth our time or effort?

We are adopted children of the king.  You know what is beautiful about our new place in our family?  Although we couldn't have been any more different that our father and big brother at the time of our adoption, over time, we start to resemble them more and more.  There is a family identity as a child of God and we are invited to participate in it!

God's Holy Spirit lives in us (Romans 5:5, Galatians 4:6, Ephesians 1:13).  God is love, and for us to  be able to hear his spirit, love him and others, and truly be holy or "set apart" as his children we have to obey him. (1John 5:2-4, John 15:12-14).  Obedience, or holiness, is how we respond to the Spirit of God's love and truly experience our calling as His children.

2.  Holiness gives us FREEDOM.

Romans 6:14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

Does holiness feel restrictive?  There is an amazing truth waiting for you in God's word.

You know what is restrictive?  Sin.  Ugh.  It's packaged to us like fun times and cool kids and marketed by Satan like cigarettes- but it's death.  Anxiety, depression, loneliness, addiction, aimlessness, angst, bitterness, victimhood, broken relationships...sin is a disaster waiting to happen.  During different seasons don't we all feel powerless before our own tempers, sex drives, or other cravings?  You may not be in a dark place at the moment, but the result of sin is always death.

In Romans 6 Paul draws the line.  You are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness...there are no free men.  Holiness can feel like slavery to righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:14)...but it's actually freedom from sin!  You don't have to be stuck in the cycle of meaningless, broken, defeating sin.  Ditch the baggage.  Just stop what you are doing.  Tell God and anyone else that you need to that you are sorry.  Decide to be different- to love others, to learn the truth, and to follow God.  You will be amazed at the transformation and freedom that the Holy Spirit will bring to your life.

3.  Holiness produces JOY!

John 15:10-11 If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.

Did you hear that?  These "commandments" from Jesus aren't mean to make us miserable...they are designed to protect and deepen our relationship with God so we can experience complete JOY!  Here's the truth about sin. It separates us from God.  When we let sin into our lives and refuse to deal with it, we are letting distance come between us and God.

Satan would love to claim your soul, but he'll settle for your life.

We can't have an intimate relationship with God if we are still sneaking time with our ex-master on the side.  The distance grows and grows.  When we are far from god we can't hear him speak love into our lives, his wisdom seems so hidden, his strength inaccessible, and our will to follow him and his power to change our lives and use us to affect the lives of everyone around us isn't there.  We don't even realize what we are giving up!  The immediate pleasure is not worth the ultimate gift that came at the ultimate price (1Peter 1:13-20, Pastor Andy Wood says more).

Just say no.  No to mediocrity and YES to holiness with all of it's purpose, freedom, and joy.  Chasing after God and trying to obey him by learning the Bible, living in christian community, and obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of you is the only way to truly live.  

Check out my other post "5 Ways to Know if it's a Sin" to think more if there is something in your life that may be keeping you from the happiness of holiness.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

How to Survive a Family Vacation in 5 Easy Steps

We just came home from our first ever family vacation with our two kids under two. We had SO MUCH fun, but it was so much work.  In case you are planning something similar, here's 5 lessons I learned the hard way.

1.  Play "Expectations Limbo"- How low can you go?

A whole week.  With my man undistracted by work and my kids giggling and discovering spectacular things they've never experienced before in their short little lives.  What could be better?!  I looked forward to it for months...which is basically asking for disappointment.  I brought a book and bubble bath and the stuff to give myself a pedicure "after bed time".  None of those things saw the light of day from my suitcase.

I felt guilty sidestepping the "how was it?!" question from a dear friend when I got back.  How ridiculous is it to complain about a weeklong vacation?  But she's been there and taught me: "If it's time away with only your husband, it's a vacation.  If it's time away with the kids, it's a trip."  Wise words.

2.  Wherever you go, there you are.

Here's the thing, this is "vacation" not the twilight zone.  Unless you are traveling with someone or to somewhere that provides childcare you are still on the hook for feeding, naptime, bath time, bed time, sick kids and night wakings.

Life is tough with young kids.  At home (a childproofed, familiar place) I have a hard time getting to the grocery store.  I'm not sure why I thought that going to Disneyland, Sea World, San Diego Zoo, and Coronado beach all in the same week seemed reasonable.  You know, sandwiched between an 8 hour drive on either end.  Next time I am going to focus more on family time and less on family attractions.

3.  Repeat after me: "My husband is a wonderful man."

The best and worst part of family vacation was expecting to have quality time with my hubby and getting family time instead.  He wasn't distracted by work but we were both distracted by the kids.  Mike and I almost never fight, he is my hero.  I was so sad when we got in a fight (even a small one) on vacation.  Up till now vacation was always a recharge and connect time for us.  Something about expecting to have a ton of fun and ending up with melted down kids, not enough sleep, and an ant infestation in your vacation cottage just doesn't bring out the best in people. 

Take a breath.  Remember how much you love each other (make a list!) be ready to apologize and make up...the fun way.  Meet in the middle, recognizing you are both stressed out and not getting a "vacation" in the relaxing way you are used to.  The truth is, you're in it together- and isn't he so hot when he is loving those kids, spoiling his family, and holding your hand in the middle of a weekday?!

4.  Take turns.

"Family time" is oh so moderation.  Take turns giving each other a break, or take your kids out for one-on-one dates.  It's fun to mix it up and if one kid is antsy, one parent can go be goofy and silly while the other one stays home to relax during nap time.  It works.  If it's possible to work in a babysitter, DO IT.  

5.  Enjoy the little things.

Forget getting the perfect picture, rushing around to see everything, or the "make the most of it" mentality.  You can make the most of your time not by skipping naps to squeeze in more activities, but by taking it waaaaaaay slower than seems reasonable.  If you aren't so worried about not missing anything, you'll be less likely to actually miss having fun.  Giggle with the kiddos, look them in the eye, don't stretch them (or yourself) too far and remember that "vacation" is going to look a lot less different than real life for a little while.

Hope this was helpful!  Enjoy your trip!  We had a lot of fun on ours...even if it wasn't exactly what we expected.  We did it together and came home blessed and thankful, able to laugh about some of our ridiculous expectations and rookie mistakes.  That's what being a family is all about :).