12/07/2013

Soul Purge of the Mind

I was the plunder. Two opposing forces were fighting over me and I was being pulled and torn in their tug-of-war. It was all I could do to stand my ground and not be destroyed in the process. This battle inside my mind felt like it was far more than just a rough pregnant morning. It was me teetering on the edges of sanity, gazing bleary-eyed over the precipice considering all the dreadful possibilities.

During those times every emotion and every perception is bleak. I was bobbing there on the open sea without a star to guide me, sinking in and out of massive, rolling waves. Each wall of black ocean that came toward me was enough to drag me down into death. It's a surprise and a wonder every time I come out the other side, choking and gasping for air. The pain in my heart was real and the lies in my head got louder and more dangerous. It was all I could to to lay back and surrender to the fantasy of being rescued from the pain. I knew my Prince would come for me but I didn't know how or when.

The battle came on a Sunday morning, and it was a relatively normal, and stressful Sunday. My temper began heating up with minor infractions from the children. Getting ready for church wasn't fast enough, breakfast wasn't clean enough, this thing was in my way, that thing reminded me of how hard my life was. The fuse was burning steadily toward the TNT. Finally my three-year-old, a lego toy, and a t-shirt got tangled up in my fingers. I grabbed the car, painstakingly made by little fingers, and flung it across the room where it exploded into pieces. Broken-hearted tears, my own deep rage at myself, and trauma was inevitable. I had to get out of there.

I cried all morning. In the shower, in the car, in the lobby, in the pew, in the lines to pick up the kids, I cried because I couldn't control it. No one was brave enough to approach me. I was unapproachable, on purpose. Why would I go to church in a state like that? Because I had to continue doing regular things; what had to be done. My war-torn mind was telling me to stay home, wallow in self-pity, let the television 'love' the children today, sleep, escape. But I couldn't surrender to the nothing of depression. My thoughts were a fire of irrationality with thick, black smoke preventing me from seeing light. I knew I had to take the kids to safety. I had to seek refuge from myself.

The sermon was all about finding God during crises. The story was the woman with the small amount of olive oil. All God needs is the smallest grain of hope. I see the once nameless princess in The Neverending Story cradling the last grain of sand from her world, Fantasia. That's all that's left. That's all God needs. From the mustard seed and the small bottle of olive oil He multiplies and overfills our containers, our hearts, our world.

I wanted to cry for hours and days. My belly shook with each sob. The baby inside kicked and shifted, completely oblivious. We got home and I was exhausted. I held my grain of Fantasia with a tight fist and crawled into bed for a nap where I put it under my pillow. The battle was winding down and I knew somehow that God would win and the storm would pass while I slept.

When I woke up, my mind was quiet and calm, but desolate. The sea was still, but it was still dark and cold. The battlefield was empty of life, littered with bodies, carnage. Soon I would have to face my husband and speak coherent words. Who knows what to do with the aftermath of such a thing? I went through the motions until a single pinhole of light broke through the cloud cover. I barely noticed it until the slowly spreading warmth of God's presence surrounded me. He was in the face of my husband's unexpected and loving response. He showed up in the silence that rested between words and child noises. I could finally see it again: light!

It wouldn't be the last time I would be vulnerable to such deep emotional crisis. You can call it spiritual warfare, hormonal meltdown, or prenatal depression. I know it as a battlefield, the trenches, a darkness in my soul. God has shown me that it is necessary. It is a purging that can only happen under His precision-guided hand of mercy and grace. And there's no stopping it. I am able to postpone it at times until I can get away from other humans, though. The last two times it happened I got in my car and drove, cried, parked, screamed, and spewed the poison out where only God and the unseen realm could hear me. Each railing lunatic vent would ricochet off of the windshield and shock me into cascades of sobbing, like I couldn't believe the things I was saying to God. But He waits, silently, for every drop to be spilled. This broken heart I hold out to You God, this charred, calloused, and barely recognizable thing, is my offering. It's not even contrite, but a filthy pile of lies and delusion. And He pulls it all out of me, every remnant of it. The tears wet the pathway to His altar as the words reveal what sin and sickness has been lodged within.

I really believe we all need help getting the entirety of our sin out of us. Especially that deep sin that is in the marrow of our souls, caked on the very foundations of our minds. If we are truly honest with Him, He'll provide a place to cleanse our heart of those things. It may not look or feel like what I've just written. But I know that it must happen. Graciously, the pregnant environment of my mind has provided access to places I normally can keep God out of. I thought it was an attack from the enemy, and it may be that the wicked play a part in it. But God, Himself, is taking full advantage of my weakness in order to purge impurities from me that I wasn't aware existed. This dark night of the soul that, as a mother, I don't have the luxury to endure for weeks on end. He gets it done in a day, or a drive. As long as I don't struggle or try to avoid it, God uses it for a miracle.

11/28/2013

A Thanksgiving Dive into Jesus

The kids and I have been making a list of things we're thankful for this month. They have things on their lists like, "Angry Birds", "Horsies", and "Cake!" But there are other things that make me pause. Stuff like, "Our shoes", "The (Holy) Spirit", and "the world". I think it's pretty cool that my five-year-old daughter is thankful for her shoes when they are tattered and used old hand-me-downs. That is, until we go to the shoe aisle and her shoes suddenly look less appealing.

The truth is, most of the time my kids aren't thankful. Most of the time they are your typical "first world" children who can't see anything they have when all they want is what is just out of reach. They mostly don't appreciate the value of the incredibly blessed life they lead. My husband and I give them the short speeches about starving children in Africa when they won't eat their peas, but it goes right over their heads. Sometimes we give to charity on their behalf and watch videos about kids in other countries and how they live. But when the complaining happens, I can tell they still have a very limited perspective on their wealth.

I understand how hard it is to be thankful when you have so much. It's almost as if we were all born rich in this country, just by being born American citizens. All of our creature-needs are fulfilled from day one. The hard part is trying to choose which brand to buy. If we were to be honest, the vast majority of us struggle more with how to organize and utilize all that we already have. Unfortunately the typical American is very poor in their soul because of all that their body has access to.

What strikes me lately are the simple things my peers say and post online that they're thankful for. I'm not judging anyone's "gift list" from God, I know I have some personal blessings, myself, that would mean a lot to me but very little to others. These days, however, I've been less inspired all the "small things" that tend to dominate these lists. "Hot tea on the back porch" and "Light streaming through windows" truly are beautiful things. Nobody's knocking appreciation for all that our five senses enjoy. But God has been taking me on a very dark and scary journey through a deeper truth about the human condition.

What are the things I'm most thankful for today? Existence, salvation, God's unfailing mercy to a corrupt creation. I look at all that I have and all the people in my life and I wonder where we would be without Jesus Christ's sacrifice. Thankfulness doesn't even begin to serve as an adequate word for what I feel toward a God who salvaged a doomed race of beings. We were so close to being wiped out! We owe our very existence to Him, and every breath. The little blessings He allows us to experience mean nothing unless they can be seen as the merciful gift that they are. Even those who don't know Him or give credit to Him are able to enjoy what He set into motion. This is a God who is to be praised and honored with all that we have. I read a quote today, "It is impossible to be grateful for what we feel we were entitled to." I don't remember who said it, but it rings so true. We are a haughty and arrogant people who feel like we deserve all the good we receive. It is my privilege to be in a position to see my unworthiness and my inability to save myself. I place my entire fate on the shoulders of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Happy Thanksgiving to THAT!


11/09/2013

Esteeming Myself

I've always felt uncomfortable with compliments. I used to think it was because I didn't have enough self-esteem or I was believing the lies about my worth. Lately I've realized that I was closer to the truth when I cringed at the kind observations. I knew then what I still know: I don't deserve it. If that sounds like an insecure little girl fishing for compliments, stop right there. I'm more secure now than I've ever been in my life. But my security isn't in my abilities, my talents, or any of the other gifts I've been blessed with. My security is solely in Almighty God.

Failure is one of the things I used to be good at. I would throw my whole heart into something with abandon, believing that I had it all figured out, and end up face-down in the consequences of my decisions. And believe me, I could rationalize anything. One of my gifts was investing into my own personal perspective. At times, I was even devoted to it enough to make everyone else sound like fools when they contradicted me. I'd convinced a lot of people that my plans made sense. After all, I had faith in my talents and my charm, and so did they. Life would just work itself out within all the good intentions of myself and the people who cared for me. Everyone talked a lot, including me. We lived lifetimes within our words until finally our actions stepped forward. Neglect and lack of focus made our words meaningless. The reality would set in and we would be left with fragments of goals and ambitions, and with little hope for success. Then I would surrender to failure, the ever-present shadow behind every one of my self-centered dreams. So it became my home-base, my starting-over point, and my sanctuary: failure.

You can go a couple of places when you're good at something like failure. You can become bitter and enraged with the "unfairness" of it all, or you can be humiliated and feel small and helpless. I suppose I fluctuated between the two, which made for very unpleasant company to say the least. But even crazy people can find others to wrap themselves in. During my bitter times I would find gentle people to manipulate and live vicariously through. With my amazing powers of insight I would dissect them and break open their illusions and feel powerful again. After I saw the damage I had done to those weaker than myself, I retreated into humiliation and shame. During those times of cowering and disintegrating I surrounded myself with powerful people I recognized who would reaffirm my weaknesses and subdue my dangerous impulses to dream. They kept me down for years as self-punishment for my time of reckless abandon.

You see, I don't deserve to be called "kind" or "beautiful" or "a good person".  I've looked on as my words tore holes in people that may never heal. I've stood by as cruelty raged and I could have done something to stop it. I've heaped shovel-fulls of sin, my own and others', onto the head and shoulders of the innocent. I deserve destruction, death, and hell. So do you, by the way. Put that in your self-esteem pipe.

Enter: Jesus, stage right. As I was staring at the gaping mouth of flames, I understood His love. When I was flat on the ground trying to hide myself beneath the falling rocks, I understood His mercy. While the desperation of my heart cried out in infantile wailing, I understood His powerful, sovereign grace. The more I see of Him, the less I think of myself. How do I esteem myself now that I've seen Him? Dirt, dust, nothing... and like Job I loathe myself.

You may see something more delightful in me than I see in myself. Good observation and thanks, but please don't give me credit for it. If I'd had my way I would have sold it to the highest bidder. Anything that only appears "good" in me will be burned away by His presence of perfection. Everything truly good in me is only Him and that's all that will remain in the end. The rest is my surrender and my obedience. If I'm truly good in any way now, it's because He made it so. It's not me, OK? Let me show you what I was without Him.

I was an empty shell of a person with no life of her own, gasping in the air He provided in order to act out my sin and rebellion. I was part of this obstinate creation, hell-bent on scraping my own worth out of this fleeting existence. I was gnashing my teeth at God in arrogant self-righteousness, telling Him how things ought to be. I was born into it, I bled it, I oozed it: SIN. Just like everyone else conceived in this realm. You're welcome.

It's only by God's saving act of mercy that I live. He purchased me with the blood of His Son. I have no right to myself, I never did. I was born for Hell until He rescued me for Heaven. All I can do is praise Him, wait on Him, and marvel at His work in me. I'm just along for the ride. But, thanks for the compliment anyway. It's nice to know my Jesus is showing.

9/08/2013

People Focus


Our focus determines what we accomplish. It also maps out our destination and guides our steps. Focus pinpoints the specific target of our energy and time. The choices we make reveal our focus. Priorities are made plain by the power of our focus. When all else fades away, it's what we are focused on that remains. That doesn't mean that the right path is perfectly straight without obstacles or blind curves. If our focus were a firefly then the intermittent blink would be what lures us. We would go to where we last saw the blink and wait expectantly until we saw the next one. Never move unless you regain your focus. Go back to where you last saw it.

Anything that pulls us away from our focus is a distraction. They can be powerful if we let them be. We hold the remote control to the greatest carnival of distractions. When we starve those thieves of our attention, they'll fade. Some people are masters at grabbing your attention, they're called marketers. They are talented people, but God's got their number. Discernment is the key. Look past the lie to the person who's selling it. Pull back the curtain and you will find your focus again.

After Jesus, every person young or old that we find ourselves in contact with should become our focus. Not to worry, God will build our boundaries and guide us into specific influence as we trust Him with each interaction. With Jesus as our permanent focus we'll find ourselves guided toward people most of the time. (Do you love Me? Feed My sheep.)

Look at the faces of the people in your life. They are made in God's image. What better way is there of being reminded of God? We are a "spitting image" of our Father in Heaven. Sure we've been degraded and dishonored by sin and corruption. But it doesn't take long to see God's miracle in each human. Just think of their uniqueness and that's just the beginning. A lot of us like to go out into the forest or up onto a mountain to experience God's glory. Don't forget that all of nature is gonna burn, baby. Sure it's beautiful and wonderous but it's going bye-bye. Not people, though, or at least not the soul of people. God has made us to be eternal and that must mean we are eternally significant to Him. Shouldn't people be eternally significant to us? Shouldn't they be a primary part of our focus?

If my focus isn't people then I am not following God's direction. The light God shows me will illuminate the people He has brought into it in order to teach me about Himself. Difficult people are the best candidates for teaching us about Jesus. Our offense reveals our lack of faith. We should find ourselves on our knees, not self-righteously praying for those challenging individuals, but praying about what is within us that refuses to love them. The lack of grace we have for them threatens God's grace in us as we begin to sense darkness creeping in. Distraction fashioned by the enemy convinces us we shouldn't focus on a person's eternal qualities. Instead we find ourselves dwelling on their sin. That infuriating person before you will someday stand before a perfect God. "Mercy" should be the first thing on our lips concerning them. Forgive them Father, for they are clueless.

The more I get a clue the more I actually see the people around me. I've begun to truly see them. I'll admit that I'm not at a place where I know exactly what to do with the people I bump into, but at least they all matter now. It's got to the point where I really hate the idea of "expendables" in movies. Every human life lost should be mourned. Every lost soul is a tragedy to God. Deception would have us place diminished value on people who seem unimportant to the story that we prefer. But every life is a story of measureless worth to God. He is infinitely invested in every person who ever existed. He can be infinitely grieved by their sacrifice which made the salvation of someone else possible. Or didn't you know that others who were lost before you paved the way for you to be found? How else would you have been born without your unsaved great-great grandperson donating the genes? Shouldn't God have been merciful and not allowed for them to exist so they wouldn't end up in Hell? But if He'd done that you never would have been born. And God sees your unsaved ancestors as clearly as He sees you. Only His heart broke over their loss. All Heaven rejoices over your salvation. So say thank you and love even those who could be destined to choose destruction.

People are it. We are the reason God made this place. Every person you see is the reason. Don't forget where your focus should be because we're everywhere.

8/31/2013

Mom and Grams

I've had Mom and Grams here for the past few days but they fly home tomorrow. I am so sad to see them go. This is a tough time to be without my women, the ones I was born of. Just having them in my life for the past few days has been a reminder of all the things I miss about them. Now I have to miss them all over again. But I'm so thankful and blessed that they came for a visit. It's good to be seen and known by them and it's good to see and know all the wonderful things about them that are truly unique. Some of the highlights were hugging my mom, processing my life with her and hearing her encouragement and guidance for both me and the kids. Also I loved Grams stubborn insistence on helping as much as she could despite being ninety-one and deserving constant pampering. My favorite moments were watching my mom play tag with my two little speed racers around the house and hearing about my Grandma's days in Kansas as a child during the Depression. I could live in my Grandma's childhood and the memories she shares with me. Life was so much simpler then and I'm so privileged to hear about it. This crazy postmodern zoo could learn a lot from the 1920s and 30s. I long to keep my Grandma's simplicity and love of life alive in my own.

The two of them cherished every hug from the kids like they were gold nuggets chiseled from the streets of Heaven. They hung on all the rambling kid words and admired many sweet moments between brother and sister as I glowed with a mother's pride. I hope the memories of this visit get lodged deep within the hearts of my children like they are in mine so that even time cannot disintegrate them.

During their time here it was hard to settle in knowing that they were leaving in only a few short days. They sort of still felt distant even though they were right here. Soon I'll go back to being without their physical presence in my life and that of my little family. But I'm going to be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. I'll hold my love for them as a favored blessing from God, locked away in my treasure box in Heaven. We'll talk on the phone and remind each other of the love that's always there, distant or not. I'll cry about them leaving and blame it on pregnancy hormones so they won't feel guilty and be tempted to move closer and uproot their lives. Not that I would object.

They can never really know how much I love them, not unless God gives them a special revelation. It's His love that makes my own possible. If He hadn't given me eyes to see who they truly are then I wouldn't be able to love them so much. If I hadn't made Him first in my life, even before them, I could never have loved them at all. I missed out on so much of who they were back when I was more self-absorbed and yet lived closer geographically. I saw them frequently but never saw them with God's eyes. Now that I can truly love them I must do so from a distance. So be it, Lord. But You know my heart goes with them and I pray that they know it too. I'll just give them this writing so they can have a small glimpse of the blessing that they are to me. I can hardly explain it with words. May my tears speak the volumes I cannot utter.

8/11/2013

What are You Looking At?

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Matt. 5:8

I did a mini study on the beatitudes during my morning journaling a few weeks ago. It's something I could probably do every day for months and get more out of it. But today I have purity on the brain. Originally my thoughts on being pure in heart were about what comes out of us. This is referring to pure motives and an honest heart before God. But we cannot know our hearts true motives if they are impure from lies and cover-ups. There are many scriptures referring to the heart. I'm sure being pure of heart can be seen in many different ways. Here are some thoughts on one particular aspect of purity.

In order to know why we do things we must wonder, examine, and focus on cause and effect within us. We all have certain triggers or cultural and personal expectations for example. But it's important to know the "why" of our actions. Without our own "why" we end up at the mercy of others' "whys" and become slaves to those influences. The motive behind our actions means everything to God.

Pure Influences
What am I allowing into my heart? God tells us to guard our hearts above all else. It is the wellspring of life. Living water flows out of our hearts.We drink of Jesus and He becomes in us a wellspring of life. Our hearts go from being deceitful, hardened stones to springs of living water when we fill ourselves with Him. Where do we get this living water? Is it in our televisions, radios, or books? Is Jesus in those places? I suppose it depends on the content and our focus. It's pretty hard to find Him just anywhere.

Movies
There's only so much emotion a person is built to endure in one sitting. Add a soundtrack, visual effects, personal triggers, and familiar actors and you can end up with deep influences finding their way into your heart. "It's only a movie," we tell ourselves. "It's only make-believe," we tell our kids. But humans are built to be changed by stories. Stories teach us practically everything we've ever learned. It's either our perception or someone else's that is told. We'd like to think we can watch anything and not be deeply effected. But God built us for change and we learn a great deal from Hollywood whether we like it or not. Most of it needs to be unlearned as soon as possible. I won't even mentioned all that they taught me as a child!

Music
Music is a highway directly into our hearts. Whatever travels along a pleasant melody has direct access to our souls. We were designed to be influenced by music and to use it to define who we are and the expression of that self. Our worship of God is made more rich and full with music. It's meant to flow out of us like the same highway that goes in, directly back to God. We represent the things we sing (audibly or inaudibly) like anthems represent nations.

Everything Else
Words, sights, physical imprints through touch and smell; we are so influenced by all of this. Without God's guiding hand we are completely vulnerable to what our senses take in. Even seasoned Christians who have learned the discipline of taking every thought captive are in danger of the prowling lion. He's subtle and crafty in his manipulations. He steals our peace with lies he whispers every day through what we read, see, and hear. He knows humanity so well that he plays us like puppets as soon as we open ourselves up to him. The prowling lion picks off the weak first and then lays traps for the strong.

Expectations are often rooted in lies. Desires can be born of lies. Wandering attention can be enticed by lies. Purity is the only way of keeping our hearts completely guarded. By pure I mean holy. Holiness and righteousness are those sweet words that have their meaning in Jesus. Truth is born of a pure heart when we shall see God. Through all the deception and all the chaos, we shall see Him. Past the crowds of parading people who are being pulled by the current of the enemy, we see God waiting for us to follow Him only. Faintly through the haze of our stormy emotions and turmoil we think we see a ghost! But, no, it is our Savior come to take our hand and help us to walk on top of the waves of fear and deception. He always leads us into His reality and higher, deeper into His truth.

Pure eyes, washed in His blood. The blind can now see in order to follow. Pure hands that hold daily the Master's hands and feel for His closeness. Pure feet that find the narrow path and fit into His footsteps on unsure ground. We are only able to see God if we are pure in our hearts. Clean my heart of the lies, Lord. Help me to keep myself pure by running to You. Help me rescue others from the influence that paralyzes them, but not to get dirty by even the garment of their sin. I can only do that if I am pure in heart and am watching You do it first.



7/17/2013

Trouble with Expectations

Sometimes we can be so powerful with our expectations that people actually strive to meet them, however unrealistic or impossible. Children are notorious for trying to meet their parents' expectations. If they fail, which they often do, it's their parents' response which can make or break them. Do they stand forgiven or rejected?

Even as an adult there are many expectations placed on me. Society expects that I take care of my part of living in it while people closest to me may know where I fail in that area and expect less. The closer a person is, the more tailor-made the expectations should be. However, friends and loved ones still surprise and disappoint. People change and become unpredictable. I've decided it's best to leave expectations sitting on an open palm where even a gentle breeze can remove them. It's less disappointing that way.

I had high expectations for my future when I was younger. I was going to be on stage as a "rockstar" touring the world and blowing kisses to fans. In my mind I was meant to have a voice for goodness and rightness as I strutted my talent across a well-lit platform. People would see that I was a solid example for their kids and an indispensable asset to their moral cause. I began singing and performing as much as I could and took many risky steps toward this dream of mine. I expected God would put pavers before me like a floating bridge till I reached the heights of success. Blessed going and blessed coming! I spent tons of money, theirs and mine. Soon I found myself disheartened, disillusioned, and disappointed.

But were those really my own expectations or those a powerful few had for me? I've always been sensitive to peoples' feelings toward me. I suppose that comes from being a performer; I wanted to know how my audience was feeling so I could cater to them accordingly and get that coveted applause. If I didn't meet their expectations then they would remove their love, encouragement, and belief in me. It's almost as though they only saw my potential and not me. Potential is all in the eye of the beholder, I came to discover. Depending on the strength in me that people most related to or enjoyed, that was the potential they focused on and hoped for me. Many people felt they knew me well enough to see my true potential. Therefore they built their expectations around that and I listened to them.

If only everyone held onto their expectations as lightly as I've learned to. We would discover so much more potential than is seen at first. God sees my truest potential. His goals and ambitions for me are perfect and perfectly in line with His story of redemption for the world. I'm still not sure where He's taking me or where I'll end up, but I know His expectations are the most realistic and doable of anyone's I'll ever know. I want to listen to those expectations.

However, it is a common habit for me to put words in Gods mouth. I sometimes start my morning journaling with "What shall I do today, Lord?" God has broadened my mind to hear Him say, "Who said I was going to ask you to DO anything?" He just expects me to acknowledge His presence, abide in Him, and adore Him for it. The DOing part seems to just happen. It's when I try to meet God's expectations that I lose my hold on His hand. It's unfortunate when a recovering know-it-all like me thinks I see where God is going with something. "Oh! I see where You're taking me. I can totally do this! I got this!" Then I turn around to wave good-bye to Jesus and fall backwards into a pothole. Ouch. God gently pulls me up, dusts me off, and I limp a little slower beside Him, talking about the pain and how sorry I am. He smiles at me all the time. God is a super smiley guy, ya know? He gets a kick out of me.

The paradox of God's expectations is that He knows everything that will happen but we don't. He expected that I would let go and fall into the pothole because He knew it would happen. He made sure that some angels came in advance and cleared away any sharp objects so I would be too badly injured. Of course, pain helps us learn so He didn't fill the thing in. He knows how stubborn I can be. It's very reassuring to be taken care of and even disciplined by God who knows all. I've always been His and I've always been protected thanks to my praying parents. That's some pretty sweet Failure Insurance. My kids have it, too.

One dangerous thing about having kids is that it's fun to write peoples' future in our minds. It's fun like playing with dolls and toy soldiers. We are in control over that person's fate, or though it seems. When they are young and we are powerful they may even try to follow our plan and we can watch our mighty influence at work for a while. When my kids finally get a clue as teenagers that I was trying to play God with their lives they will show me who's boss. There's nothing like the human will to do battle for it's own freedom. No one can control it but the human to whom it belongs. God gave that to us and He has let us use our wills however we choose to, even if it means we don't choose Him.

I want to love my kids and everyone around me the way God loves. Love provides a safe place for people to change and grow and discover who they are. Love lets go of expectations and allows the person to blossom into a completely different and better version of themselves. Love forgives and forgets risks that failed and sins that crippled and betrayals that hurt. God has let me zig-zag into His perfect plan and now that I'm here I'm staying in it. By God's grace I'm staying His course. 

7/11/2013

A Pregnant Brainstorm

Pregnancy always makes me slow down. "It's not necessarily always a good thing," said the fifty extra baby pounds I put on since the last one. I'm really good at gaining weight and not so good at losing it. But I like slowing down. Maybe it's the nausea or maybe it's the scary pounding that my heart does at the top of the stairs when it's pumping for two. I find that sitting and vegging comes so easily when I'm pregnant. My brain slows down enough for me to enjoy mind-numbing cell phone and internet games. I hardly ever play them unless I'm pregnant. I wonder what it all means?

My daughter is going to be a Kindergartener in September. I'm homeschooling but that doesn't make it any less stressful. Instead of school supplies I need to buy curriculum and instead of separation anxiety I need to think of ways to make learning fun. I feel like it's all right on the tip of my tongue and yet I am powerless to grasp it. There are so many factors and variables. This is where I often find myself, pregnant or not. Stuck between fifty and a hundred choices.

I like to stand in front of the products in the grocery store and just marvel at the choices. All the deceptive packaging and pricing; the way they discount an item to the same price Walmart would charge just by adding two extra bucks to the "original price". Also, if they'll charge me fifteen extra bucks for it "elsewhere" then it must be a smokin' deal, right Grocery Outlet? Too bad "elsewhere" means as imported goods in a far off country. You can't fool me, unless you're selling something I know nothing about or that I love too much. Hearts of palm are a weakness of mine. I know, like, what are those? They are yum. Buy me lots of them.

Choices are so hard to make. They change everything. I used to read those "Choose your own adventure" books when I was a kid. I was usually filled with regret at my first choice and went back and read the other outcomes and kicked myself more times than not. I loved those books, though. But I think they helped perpetuate my anxiety over consequences. If only I could get it through my head that not choosing is also a choice: a choice to do nothing. That can have the most regrettable consequences of all. Living out scenarios in my head doesn't seem to be working out. It's definitely not working my body out, just ask my thighs. Or ask the dog hair that never quits and haunts my ankles in every room. Or ask the dog! She gets out of the house maybe once a week these days. But what if my heart stops because of baby, and walking, and hot sun!? Too many variables. Can't do it, pooch.

Everyone has their addictions. Mine is apparently thinking myself into a sedentary state of being. I can reason myself into bed any time of the day, especially first trimester pregnant. This is not a good or flattering thing about myself. But it is a nuisance. I can't take much more of it to tell you the truth. I need to use my imagination to my own benefit, but how? How do I harness the trains of thought in my mind to go where they need to go? I need to build tracks that will take them there. Preparation, but not planning. Planning is sitting, deliberating and writing lists. Too dangerous. I need to physically prepare for the future of my thinking. If I know I will sabotage any physical activity then I need to make it easy for myself at first. Don't plan to wear sandals if the house needs cleaning. Get out the work tennies and plan to beat feet! Don't leave the music off just to induce relaxation and coma. Turn on the dance craze and get to scrubbing! Don't neglect the kids so that they bug me out of my work. Prepare busy-boxes in advance to keep them stimulated (t.v. makes me feel guilty enough to stop working and play with them).

There are some things I'm buried under and some things outside my control. Grace will come swooping down like a beautiful eagle to give me time, energy, and mercy to get myself dug out. I remember when I quit one of the fiercest-gripping addictions known to man: cigarettes. I prepared the family for what was to come and I set aside a weekend for the worst of it, a month in advance! When the time came I did everything I could think of and I was all prayed-up. Success! After dozens of tries, the key was preparation. I need to learn to love preparation. It's boring but it's effective.

6/10/2013

Pay Attention

We spend such a vast amount of time waiting. Now that I am a mother I realize that it's imperative that I learn to wait well. Just this morning I froze between holding a scooter and rinsing a rag to wait while my five-year-old buttoned her sweater. Frustrations began to creep in but instead of sighing with impatience (the typical me behavior) the sweet thought occurred to me, "Look at her beautiful hair." Her morning-matted golden hair pin-striped with every possible shade of brown was soft enough to touch if I'd had a free hand. Jesus, whispering with His still small voice, would have me take in these moments like a slow inhale that takes in a delicious scent. I not only looked at her hair, I gazed at it. The next thing I knew she was done with her task and ready to get back on her scooter for another ride. I was released to continue my cleaning with that moment tucked away in my heart.

"With the Lord a day is like a thousand years..." 2 Peter 3:8
If I trusted God more maybe I would lose myself in those moments more often. Instead I trust the clock, my cell phone alarm, my to-do list, and my insufficient memory. Sometimes I will even tell people to remind me of things because just the act of delegating my memory helps it work better. How can I possibly breathe my children and my husband in when the hammering second hand beats me over the head with time? Time, the futile battle with sunset that we never win. And yet God has all the time in the world at His disposal. 86,400 seconds that He can turn into a thousand years whenever He chooses. That's 525,600,000 of His minutes that He can pack into our 24 hours. Just think of all we could experience in just one of God's days! He's got all the time in the world, literally.

"The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day." Joshua 10:13
Josh got a whole extra day!? By the way, now we know the science that the Earth stopped, not the sun. God just put on the brakes, baby, cuz that's how He rolls. So what makes me think that He wouldn't supply me with more than enough time to trust Him and get important stuff done? But I fear the ever-dreadful question, "What did you get done today?" At four o'clock when it's crunch time around here, the sun makes it's way to the back of the house and I start to look for evidence of something accomplished. What will I have to show for this day when my husband comes home? Only God knows.

"...and a thousand years are like a day." 2 Peter 3:8b
God is infinitely efficient. He can get a thousand years worth of work done in one day, piece of cake. If I trust Him maybe I can catch up on my Spring cleaning during these last two weeks of Spring. Two weeks could equal a whole season! He can definitely make it happen. But His priorities may be different than mine. I best get in line with His. For example, instead of getting in the shower and starting laundry I had another Jesus moment happen on my couch. I got the brilliant (see: Jesus) idea that I should equip the kids for conflict resolution instead of plugging my ears to their arguing and whining. So I made up a kid-friendly version of healthy confrontation. Want to hear it? Here it goes: It's a sandwich. The first piece of bread is the positive observation. You say something you like about your 3-year-old brother like, "I LIKE that you are super cute, buddy." The inside of the sandwich is the thing that bugs you, "BUT, when you make that annoying sound it really bothers me." Slap the last piece of bread on the sandwich by giving a couple of positive options. "MAYBE you can sing a song or go upstairs and make noise." If you are really ambitious you can tag another positive thing on top like a toothpick that holds it all together. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as my kids say (thank you Veggietales!). I LIKE, BUT, MAYBE. The empowerment my kids felt just learning tools to get along has helped them to play sweetly while I write this blog. Win, win! Thank You Jesus for Your excellent use of time.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. 
( from "Great is Thy Faithfulness" by Thomas Chisolm 1866-1960)
God is worthy of our trust and our lives because every breath belongs to Him. Lord Jesus, take my moments. Fill them with Your richness and a thousand years' worth of Your presence. Show me all the details I missed while I was staring at the second-hand in my head. Please redeem the lost moments by doubling the blessings of these present ones. Hold my hand and engulf me in Your arms when I must pay attention to painful moments. Change my eyes, my ears, and my focus to experience You in everything. By doing this You will help me wait well. I know now that those times of waiting are gifts that I've been reluctant to receive. I can see so much when I'm waiting. I can pay attention to so much more when I slow down.

6/02/2013

Know Thy Mortal Self

Why is it some days I am "on" and other days I am "off"? This is definitely one in a string of "off" days. Because of my overthinking tendencies I often find in these days deeper meaning in my depressing state. It must be spiritual warfare or major marital conflict or... something heavy, right? But the reality is, it's probably just PMS. No! Could it really be hormones and other biological misfirings that are making me crazy? I should have more faith than that. But just last week I was on top of the world with a spring in my step and enjoying the gaieties of life in the most wholesome way possible. Now, for the past two days I have been fighting the doldrums only to find myself irritable, ill-motivated, and for absolutely NO reason I'm throwing temper tantrums! Once I was a capable woman, full of potential and thriving in God's shiny blissful peace. Now I am barely gulping air as the muddy swamps of sadness push against my throat and threaten to pull me deeper. This is not right! Especially since my marriage is getting better all the time.

My husband is a brave soul. He has often referred to PMS as something I suffer from even as I appear to be suffering from it. Wow, brave or... something else. My parents could tell him that the most heinous mistake they could have made when I was an adolescent was to tell me I was going through a "phase". Something so invalidating and dismissible was heart-breaking to my newly budding identity. But it was true. The teenage years are a rotating ball of hormonal changes, as predictable as the stars. So why am I denying the fact that I may be experiencing the PMS phase of the moon? Because I need to grow up and face the facts. Stuff's changing and in the wise words of my dear husband (speaking for God, no doubt), "Someday you'll know your body."

What?! Me, not know my own vessel?! But he's right. The only words I understand from this mortal coil are "Hungry" and "Tired". I jump to it's aid whenever it seems to say those things. The problem is, I speak Body worse than I speak Spanish, comprendo? My own fearfully and wonderfully made temple, this tool for God's glory has been communicating to me what it needs and all I hear is "hungry" or "tired". No habla, tortilla, queso pasa? Two word vocabulary: hungry, tired. This complex machine must be saying so much more than just that.

If I were an infant, being hungry and tired might be the only reasons I feel yucky. But now I am over thirty and entering into the territory of imbalanced hormones and deteriorating metabolism. There is a wonder of change happening in my blood and brain that only the adventurers in modern medicine have uncovered. The internet is a wealth of bad diagnoses but it didn't take long before it helped me come to terms with my denial. One out of three women experience PMS, especially the over-30 kind of women. Thank you. I'm thirty-five in July.

On top of this villainous womanly ailment I also have a poor diet and irregular exercise-ness. Oh, and my upper back and shoulder tension is an issue, especially when I'm carting a writhing, screaming three-year-old out to the car. I won't say that my kids are part of my problem because they aren't. I'm the one who could be mothering them better and perhaps I will when I understand my body more. They are part of my precious, not my problem. Three-year-olds are notoriously challenging. Go ask your mom.

So instead of just eating or sleeping I need to get creative about maintaining my frame. The habit of snacking or napping to solve every bad day has got to give up. I know that more time with Jesus can fix every problem but He keeps talking to me about the same thing: self-control. I set myself up for failure when I'm irresponsible with His temple. He gave this beautiful bod to me to take care of and to use for His glory. Ever since I can remember I've selfishly neglected it or merely pacified it and got by on bare minimum. But just the way I stop and listen to my children, I need to stop and listen to the cry of my mortal self. This self that has served me on so little attention and abuse for so long that it is finally burning out. If I don't take care of my body then I'll croak! How much good can I do for this world as a sick or dead person?

I'm glad I took the time to write this. I also took a B-Complex before I sat down and that's one of the reasons I finished this. Now I have a headache and a backache and it's not because I'm hungry OR tired. It's because I'm done sitting. OK, sweet body, I'm going to love you, too. Let's move.

5/04/2013

Through the Intersection

I have such a traffic jam going on in my head it's like rush hour in Orange County. I remember when it use to take me an hour and a half to go 15 miles to work every weekday. I didn't mind after the first few times. I found preachers to listen to and I people-watched the cars around me. Everybody has their way of passing the time. But if I wasn't paying attention to traffic I would nearly rear-end someone or miss a valuable acceleration window and peeve off the coffee drinker behind me. It's so easy to lose focus in the waiting. Routine starts to relax us until we forget that we're suddenly hurdling down a concrete river with thousands of tons of metal all trusting that we'll make it to work alive. Suddenly it becomes about getting in front of the slow guy in the fast lane and gaining that extra three minutes. We're so easily bored with inactivity. But there's actually so much going on, isn't there.

I took the kids to Saturday Market today. In Oregon that means I took my kids to see the "hippies", as I like to call them. The kiddos stayed safely in the double stroller as we navigated through packed rows of booths. I had my sunglasses on and was able to observe people without anyone knowing a whole lot about what I was thinking. I just strolled by merchants and farmers and took it all in. The kids were quiet for the first fifteen minutes and waved to the occasional stranger who smiled at them. Then my boy smelled popcorn and he got instantly whiny for lunch. A heavy sadness hung in the midst of everyone. There was such a dissatisfaction in this group that professed enlightenment. I noticed how many words were posted and worn. So many words! Stuff like "You're the reason I'm medicated." and "Occupy Eugene, not (insert middle eastern country of choice)" I spent a great deal of time reading peoples' declarations of their beliefs and protests. I saw a mild-mannered woman with a shirt that said something about how she was against "the war on drugs". Against it? A lot of it was confusing for me. I don't really know what they mean by "occupy". Apparently I'm not in the know. By the time I'd cycled through the entire market I felt dumber, more tired, and slightly depressed.

What's funny is I used to be that one hippy girl sitting near the dirty drum circle, smoking cigarettes and talking smack. It had felt so good to be part of the crunchy-looking dread-locked kids with patchwork pants and tattoos hanging out. I didn't understand a lot of what people stood for but I knew I wanted "peace". I even had a peace sign tattooed on my shoulder as a seventeen-year-old. I hated when people would fight and I'd get right in the middle of it to stop them. Today, however, I could hardly look at the hippies even though they were everywhere. It wasn't because I was afraid or judgmental. It was because I knew them without knowing them and I hurt for them. I loved them. Those are the boys and girls I loved and left behind. I miss them. But I never really understood them. They didn't understand me, either. I always longed for something more than that brokenness.

On the way back to the car I saw a freight train up ahead. My kids and I love trains so I started running toward it pushing the double stroller with all my might. We made it in time to see the last dozen train cars go slowly by only ten feet away from our faces. We heard the squeak of the giant wheels and felt the rumble underneath us. The best part is always the train whistle (it doesn't even sound like a whistle! It's like a fog horn, why do they call it a whistle?) that cuts through all the other city noise to declare it's presence. The puny automobiles swish by like gentle waves brushing the shoreline. But not the mighty train! It hollers, shakes, and monsters it's heavy self across the landscape like an unstoppable force. What a magnificent machine and what a contrast to the fleeting words printed on t-shirts and cardboard. The train doesn't ask you to listen to it's voice, it just tells you. It doesn't wait it's turn in the intersection to walk, carrying it's sign. The train takes the intersection and you'd better wait for it to pass. I think I ran toward the train because I wanted to see glory. I'd had my fill of overpriced knick knacks and produce. I'm always looking for the extraordinary and the force that can't be moved. I thought peace was it, if I would just give it a chance. But the real satisfaction comes when I am in the presence of the unshakable God. I want to get on His back and rumble through this life unhindered and undistracted from His purposes. Solidly we'd roll on the tracks He's already laid out before us. Others will have to get out of our way. Listen to us bellow our war cry against the captivity of His creation. He's coming... I hear Him now and I'm running toward the sound. He's coming soon.

4/21/2013

Staying Close to Jesus

I went to church today feeling a lot less lonely than I did last Sunday. It's been a week of me imagining Jesus in bodily form close to me. I've never really done that before but since my imagination is more pure I feel confident that I can bring Him nearer in that way. In spirit I laid my head on His chest and it couldn't have been more real. It seems so impossible to be fulfilled in that way. But doesn't a child's imagination fulfill their longing for wonder and discovery? We are supposed to be like little children with Him. Some may say, "It can't be better than the real thing. Heaven will be the time and place for embracing our Lord." Indeed. But let us not forget that we are already seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. The Kingdom of God is within us now. Eternity for the born-again starts as our beings are transformed into the likeness of Christ. My life didn't feel very heavenly when I first began following Jesus. Being merely a follower, I was a lot like the disciples before Pentecost as I flailed around trying to understand the words of life I was devouring like bread. Little did I know that the Bread of Life was healing deep broken places in me so that I could start receiving more of His love. That love had planted seeds that took five, ten, and even fifteen years to grow. Now I have a personal harvest where there once was a polluted wasteland.

All that to say I've been healed enough to have the Spirit's power to take every thought captive. I still need a lot of practice cleaning up after letting my mental environment get sullied. There's no escaping the obnoxious voice of the enemy yelling and making a spectacle of himself. I simply don't allow the din to penetrate my will and influence my actions, on a good day. Sometimes I find my mind wandering into that old familiar place of self-hatred and perversity. But I start to feel the ground beneath me give way and I get disoriented and start to panic. That's been my cue lately to check my thoughts. Some days it's been too long since I checked and I am so far off base in my thinking that I've already stained my day and stunk it all up. Thankfully, Jesus' blood is the most powerful cleanser in existence and He is merciful and gracious to help me restore my pure mental environment. But that takes time with Him and time focusing on His reality, i.e. the Truth. Then I can reach for His hand and He's closer than a thought.

Today I doubted if I was in the right church. I started to feel like an old housewife in the midst of dream-conquering college students. My ambitions to be a part of the worship team started to look impossible so I turned my hands over and let them drop. I even started letting go of being a member of that church. Then the pastor began the message. "Navigating the Jungles of... Delay" Delay?! So waiting can be a jungle too? This was part 3 in his jungle series. As is common among God's children it was exactly what I needed to hear. Earlier in the week my "Moms Equipped" bible study was about waiting on God. Our study leader asked, "What are you doing while you are waiting?" After hearing those two messages I knew I just needed to stay put. I am a master at switching goals because stuff is taking too long. But I need practice sticking it out. So this time I'm going to wait, delay, tarry, and yearn.

One of several good quotes from Pastor Aaron today was (I paraphrase), "It is the tension of the process that gives us the ability to accomplish God's purpose." He was actually referring to a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, but I made the connection with us humans. Tension. Isn't that what makes stories and movies so exciting? Isn't that what romance is all about? Without tension we would turn quickly into limp, overfed butterfly-like clumps that didn't squeeze the goo off of our wings enough to fly. We'd be spoiled brats at the mercy of our own flesh. But if we do the work to wait in Jesus and let Him take us through the difficult passages toward His goals for us, we will emerge as radiant and glorious before Him. He will watch us with great pleasure as we play out His perfect story. I want to be a part of what He does here. I will hold onto Jesus' hand in the pure and trusting way that only a child can. Wherever He guides me and whatever I do as I wait for my dreams to come true, I will imagine Him near me.

3/03/2013

My Tiny Tenants

Now that we are settled into our new house, we have a constant trail of visitors streaming in. I'd love to say they are welcome guests but unfortunately for us, they aren't. They are tiny sugar ants who have moved into the dark regions of space under the house and around it. This being a hundred-year-old house, it has countless doorways for the little bugs. At first I was shocked and appalled at the amount of places they were coming in. I called the pest control guys and they said it is impossible to seal anyone's house tight enough to keep them out. I suppose we'd have trouble breathing if we sealed it that tight everywhere. But nearly every room was letting them in. So I have planted ant traps in places where the kids can't play with them but yet the ants can. I've killed probably five families of ants so far and the second wave has started coming again. Now that the initial shock has worn off and I am accustomed to seeing black moving dots in various places, I find myself fascinated with them. Not only am I impressed with their amazing God-given instinct to seek out what they smell, I am entertained by how they communicate with each other. Their little antennae are so important to them. But this is war, after all and in the end I must destroy them. I am so used to squishing them that it doesn't even gross me out anymore. I'm thankful they aren't the stinky kind of ants so it's just a one-finger squish and wipe deal. I am armed with some pretty effective ant killer that gets passed from daddy ant to baby ant and on down the line. I find myself thinking, "I kill you. I kill you and your whole fam damily. DIE!" without remorse. Insects belong outdoors and I am OK with their deaths. They are just doing their jobs and are relentless at it. If I let them take over I will no longer be able to eat my food without examining every bite for moving specs of "pepper".

There are so many metaphors that come with an ant infestation. The devil is subtle and sneaks his ideas into our heads like a scout ant. Before we know it we have a trail of sinful thoughts that is consuming the sweet and special parts of us. A little distraction and a little negligence and bad habits like black ants crawl all over us and threaten to contaminate our favorite things. Those are just two that I've thought of.

Could anything good come of an ant problem? Well, my house is cleaner by the day in ant-specific places. Also, I've blessed myself and a couple of others with this clever blog about it. If I've killed a nest of ants today then I've accomplished something worthwhile. Now when I see them in the bathrooms, on the windowsills, in the cabinets, or on the walls I won't be so disgusted.

1/18/2013

Turning the Page

Moving away is like dying. Part of my heart will stay here with the people who have loved me so well. I will never get that part back until I see all of them again in Heaven together to celebrate the One who gave us hearts to begin with. But how I hate to leave them for now.

Anyone who has known me for more than five years knows how much I have said good-bye. One very close friend even described me as "loving to start over" when I was in my twenties. While there was comfort in that before I had kids, now there is a heavy sorrow. Starting over with children is a completely different galaxy of emotions. How can I explain to a three-year-old that almost everything he knows will change? Faces will look strange and sounds will be new. Even the air will feel different! Fortunately there will be many things that won't change. Toys, family, and certain rituals will be such a comfort. But I know too well what it's like to seek a friend's company and not be able to find them anywhere. God made each human being wonderfully unique and no one will ever replace them.

I am reminded of God's sorrow at knowing all of mankind and having to part eternally with many of them. All of the hairs on our heads are kept track of and every thought passes before God's perception. What an honor to be able to look forward to being with Him forever and to be a part of His story of love for us. Earthly good-byes are never as painful as they could be when I am saying them to my family in Christ. I know we will meet in Heaven and the reunion under the light of God's presence will be a party that will last hundreds of years. More reasons to look forward to my true Home.

If I could express my gratitude for all that my friends have helped me with here, it would take the rest of my life. This past year or so has been a trial beyond anything I could have imagined. But the outcome is glorious and the victory is God's. I am so blessed to be a benefactor of His winnings and a collector of His plunder. My family will "eat" for years on just what God has provided us through the souls in this town.

The looking ahead is so exciting. If it's been this good so far, what could the future possibly hold? The life laid before me is going to be better than any story written by human hands. There will be dark and difficult times but the resulting victories will be unfathomably great! God is a masterful storyteller. To trust Him is to play a part of perfection. When I let my own ideas try and change His plan I am messing with God's most epic revelation of Himself. But when I surrender my ideas and imagination to His will, He allows me to add my own unique touch on it and therefore play an important role that only I could play. Is this not the most miraculous thing; that God would let a broken creation influence His perfection? He first perfects us and then trusts us to trust Him and do what we can with what is His. So I will trust Him with all He's given me and I get to be a part of God's story.

1/01/2013

Thoughts on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I went and saw the first Hobbit movie last weekend. Once again I was taken by the hand into Middle Earth. I went willingly into the land where bright green and gold conflict with deep darkness and filth. The many creatures that sprung from the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien all have their own wonderful uniqueness. These stories are such a marvelous description of the weak confounding the strong. I left with a grand feeling of triumph and security in my God. But there sure was a lot of falling happening in that movie. I probably jumped in my seat five times and gasped once as down... down... down people fell left and right. Of course, I won't tell you how the falling played into anything because if you haven't seen the movie then I'd ruin it for you.

It has been ten years since I read The Hobbit for myself. I remember falling madly in love with that book. It was soon after that I devoured all three volumes of the Lord of The Rings. Peter Jackson and the rest of them have done such a good job recreating the world and characters of those literary masterpieces. Unfortunately most of the fans miss the one marvelous point of the stories. They are far more rich and vibrant experiences when you enter into them with the Holy Spirit.

So many parallels, I can't write them all without giving away crucial scene spoilers. But I remember watching the team of dwarves, the hobbit, and Gandalf running and fighting and the unseen hand of what they called "Fate" saving them and keeping them just barely out of death's clutches. "Fate" this and "Fate" that. Oh just come right out and say it, it's GOD! Gandalf being a different sort of wizard is definitely a picture-type of a child of God. His submission to this "Fate" person, that from now on I shall call God, mirrors that of Jesus' complete oneness with Him. There are many things that Gandalf knows and trusts that only a supernatural wisdom could have revealed to him.

Leave it to Hollywood to implant a lie in the midst of it all. The disappointing moment for me was when I was jolted back to our fallen reality where human virtues reign. During a moment where Gandalf said some things that were very much out of character for him, I smelled the devil's handiwork. Tolkien was probably doing the face palm up in Heaven when that part of the script was written. He said, while gazing toward the audience, "I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love." The Hollywood Gandalf was talking about why he chose Bilbo for the journey and he mentioned some ridiculous crud like how it gives him courage to have the little guy around. Ok, I can see that perhaps it does make people feel better to see the underdog overcome huge obstacles of fear. But don't give me the "random acts of kindness" spiel where humanity has the power to save itself. So if that's hogwash, then why did Gandalf choose Bilbo?

Sometimes we don't know why God asks us to do something. There is a hunch or a feeling we get that doesn't conflict with God's Word and we go with it. We can be sure that His ways are higher than our ways and then watch expectantly for His hand to move. More often than not God uses the weak things and the lowly things to glorify Himself. Even at the very end of Tolkien's stories it is the lowliest creature of them all that saves the world unknowingly.

I recall all the physical testing and all the beatings the main characters had to endure. They haven't completed their mission and they are already half-alive from battles and hardships. It reminds me of the endurance that is required of me during my spiritual testing from the enemy. God has used every single tear I have cried to wash my past wounds clean and equip me for His glorious purposes. No pain is wasted here. God can use it all! The opposition of the world, the flesh, and the devil only makes me stronger as I hold fast to my LORD Jesus' hand in the storm.

So much application from that movie and book and so little time to write it all down. One thing remains: God's Unseen Hand. He arranges my circumstances in ways that look absolutely perilous but turn out perfectly according to His plan. This life is for grinding and smoothing. Adventure is a great way to see what we're made of. Bring it!