Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stirring and Lego Harmonies


I've made no secret that my house is noisy. And I know you are thinking its because of my boys and while yes, they are loud, they are not the primary givers of noise.

Tim is responsible for a load of the loud. If it's not my boys it is music. The piano, the banjo, the guitar, drums... being married to a musician=loud.

We spend the majority of our days listening to music. We scrutinize vocals, we evaluate bands, we listen to new songs, to drummers, etc. It comes with the job.

Worship music is our passion and our life. Recently I walked some very sad and dark moments. I have seen the valley and some of the evil inside it. And there are times it straight up plagues me. Images, thoughts, doubts, fears, they come sometimes without cease and without relent. So on days when the torment seems unbearable, I turn up the music to drown out the attacks.

And yes, I turn it up loud. Truth and scripture floods in and it brings relief.

So, often almost every waking moment, there is music happening in this house. The other night was no exception but my mind was not entirely aware of it. It was just business as usual.

My kids had each gotten a new Lego set and they were sitting at the table begging for assistance. With a groan and a fleshly curse of all-things-requiring-parental-guidance, I sat down and said, "five minutes".

I started helping and at first it went something like, "No, not that one. Stop. Hand that here. Pick it up. Good grief. Cora, touch ONE more of your brothers' Legos and I will banish you from this table forrreeeever...." 

But when a rhythm was established it grew quiet. Everyone working on their Legos. Only in that moment did I hear my boys singing. Without intention, without conscious thought they were singing to the song that was on the speakers.

The lines I heard whisper-sung from my sons' lips were,

"Lost are saved find their way at the sound of Your great name 
All condemned feel no shame, at the sound of Your great name 
Every fear has no place at the sound of Your great name 
The enemy he has to leave at the sound of Your great name 
Jesus, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us, 
Son of God and Man You are high and lifted up 
and all the world will praise Your great name 
All the weak find their strength at the sound of Your great name 
Hungry souls receive grace at the sound of Your great name 
The fatherless they find their rest at the sound of Your great name
Sick are healed and the dead are raised at the sound of Your great name" 

Now in this moment, I wanted to sing His praises as an overflow of my heart. It took no effort or thought, it was an exclamation that just flowed out in this rare and precious moment. My kids, singing songs of worship, doing mind challenging activities... people, we were witnessing a rare gift. Perhaps a miracle. 

There are times in life, like during Lego Harmonies, or let's be honest, in the midst of a bowl of Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream when the praises pour out of my mouth and my heart swells. Praise is a natural outflow. 

But what I'm learning is that those moments aren't ever-present. There are long stretches of desert wanderings and if I'm not careful I forget the bread falling from heaven and start squalling with the "why me Lords?!?"

It's in the long wanderings that it takes intentional purposeful stirring of my affections for God. When I'm wiping rear ends, breaking up fights, cleaning vomit, or playing bus driver it's not normal for my heart to naturally overflow praises and thanksgiving.

One of the things I've been working on is identifying the things that stir my affections for the Lord. I want to know them, identify them and do them. 

What stirs your affections? Motivating your praise sometimes needs to be an intentional, deliberate act to bring focus and admiration. And sometimes those things that bring to mind all that God has done and His faithfulness or His character is what is needed to do battle.

For me, it's worship music. For some it's nature or maybe it's prayer, or just silence.  I want to encourage you to not wait for those rare moments of overflow but to lead your heart intentionally. Praise becomes a lot more every day when you purposefully and intentionally stir your affections for Him.

Here is one of our favorites (see lyrics above as proof). Even if you didn't set out to worship in this moment, I hope this song stirs your affections for Him as it does mine. If not, you have a heart of stone. I'm kidding. Sort of.  :) 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How will they know Me?


Today, I am going to let you in on an issue God and I have been "working" on. This isn't going to be flattering to me. Rarely are my issues flattering to me. But, for the love of authenticity here goes:

I have been a walking, seeking, Christ-follower for 16 years. I have learned many hard lessons and walked many rough miles with the Lord. He has shaped me and molded me, at times gently, and other times ruthlessly. So, to be fair, I do have some lessons filed under "nailed it".

But this simple, elementary, YEAR ONE, basic Christian lesson, I have quietly and secretly filed under "inept".

And here it is: Love others.

Let me explain. People can drive me crazy. People can be idiots and I should not be required to LOVE them. They can be flat out dangerous. People inflict pain and heartache so I learned how to keep myself safe from people.

Turns out, I am a master wall builder. I can build a wall fast enough to make your head spin. And they are thick. They are impervious to all forms of attack. They can keep out ANYONE. So, instead of trusting people, I built walls. It kept me safely inside and potential sneak attackers outside. 

Years of keeping people at an arms length, safely outside the walls, had me a master at people avoidance. People getting too close to me physically or emotionally left me very uncomfortable. I've mastered the duck and sneak down grocery isles when seeing someone I knew. I found it easier to avoid than engage. If I avoided people or at least deep conversations or deep relationships, I couldn't be hurt. This had just been a lifelong skill that I developed. It brought me comfort and I had made peace with it. 

But about 6 months ago I felt my heart de-rail. I sat down to talk with the Lord and I heard a very still and very quiet, "Tara, if you love Me, you love My people." I sat there thinking about all the people I love. Tim. My kids. My family. And a few people in my church. And smiled. I answered, "I know Lord. I love them."

End scene.

Isn't it just oh-so-precious how we think we can end a conversation with GOD the Almighty, Creator and Master of the entire universe?

Every single time I sat down to read my bible, pray, listen to worship music, cook, shower, sleep,  I heard, "If you love Me, you love My people."

GAH!! I know! I know Lord!

In one of my more mature moments I replied to GOD, "Yes, Lord, I LLLOOOVEEEE Your people. I serve many of them at church. I lead a bible study. I feed them. I clean up after they come over to eat. SEEEEEE??? LOVE LOVE LOVE. Lord, You know me, THAT IS HOW I LOVE."

Close bible, say amen, turn off worship music. done.

And still I heard, "If you love ME, Tara, you love My people."

I opened a new book I'd picked up and the first chapter broke out John 21 and the whole "Peter, if you love Me, feed my sheep..."  More wisdom oozed forth as I said, "Lord, I love the people you put close to me. But if you are talking about loving the FRINGE sheep, the ones with RABIES... those sheep BITE, Lord. Surely You don't want me loving the rabid sheep."

I began to talk to Tim about how I felt the Lord wanted us to go find the homeless and lost and marginalized and serve them. I shared what God was saying over and over to me and I told Tim I had come to the conclusion we needed to serve in a homeless ministry or feed them a Thanksgiving meal or SOMETHING, because God wasn't going to let this go anytime soon.

Thanksgiving was approaching so we packed up the car and headed to my childhood home in Tyler. And this is where things got interesting. The Lord had an object lesson for me. I pray one of these days, I will not need the object lessons. But I am thick-headed so here we go:

On the day after thanksgiving as I packed my car, and was saying goodbye to family, I heard God tell me, "Hug them".

HUH??!

This is not something I normally do, (I am universally known in my family as the non-hugger-people-phobic) but being a bit broken and off-center, I obeyed. I hugged them. And I heard God say, "Don't let go until I tell you."

Let's just say some of those hugs were LONG. My recently adopted 5 yr old niece, Emmy, started with an awkward obligatory hug that turned into a baby clinging on for dear life. I wept and felt my heart physically move in my chest to get closer to her heart. I felt her grip soften, I felt her melt. And my heart broke. The dam released. And God moved in. I felt my boundaries dissolving and God saying, "If you love Me, you love My people".

I looked at this crew of a family. 
 I saw a sister turned young mom forced to grow up too early, a cousin fiercely loving two adopted, hurting babies, a newly widowed wife, an exhausted brand-new mom. And I saw the Redeemed.  My heart wanted to hug them and never let go. This was a wall coming down.

We got into the car and I began reading from a biblestudy book out loud to Tim.  I was crying and reading aloud from this book about how to love and serve the homeless and the marginalized. We were crying and praying together. 

Then I heard a squall from my 2 yr old. She had to pee and she had to pee RIGHT THEN. I hollered for Tim to pull over. Anywhere. He said there was NO WHERE to stop. 

Then he spotted a burned out gas station. I said, "Great! pull over and she can squat" (two seconds into screams and I'm going straight heathen-raised-by-apes)  He pulled over and then spotted an actually working gas station behind the burned gas station. Awesome. We are in business.

With tunnel vision I grabbed Cora and ran for the station. I didn't look around. I didn't take in my surroundings (have I mentioned we are awesome in crisis?!?).  I ran for the building and plunged on in. I saw the sign for the restroom and like a bull in a china shop I crashed in. Then as I grabbed Cora to hold her on the potty my tunnel vision faded and I saw blood and matter ALL over the restroom. As I froze, Cora began to pee in her pants. I held her over the horrific toilet and not letting the door close me in this murder scene?!? I freaked. I said, "Hurry! Hurry! Cora!!" and when she finished, I didn't even pull her pants up. I spun to leave and ran smack dab into my ash-faced son. 

He said, "Mom! I can't go in there!" He pointed to the boys room. He said, "There were cuss words written in poop on the walls." 

I said between clinched teeth, "Go to the car!" I pushed him towards the door and as we tried to pry open the door to leave my husband was on the other side.

I looked at Tim and said, "Go!" He looked at my face and although I was giving him the Holy-Crap-Eyes he said, "We can't go. The prostitutes outside are being vulgar and I don't want the boys to see."

I said, "I'll take prostitutes over blood and feces. GO!"

He grabbed my sons by their faces and we ran. We threw the kids in the car and got out of there. 

And not a word was spoken for miles. From anyone. And I heard, "If you love Me, you love My people."

I saw two completely different worlds that day. Are we to serve and love the lost, the homeless, the prostitutes and the desperate? ABSOLUTELY YES. This is not optional but a command of Christ's disciples. If we are attempting to model our lives after Christ then there is no question that He went after the very lost, the tax-collectors (in Roman society these were not IRS style tax collectors but stealing-to-fund-the-Roman-goverment's-murder-of-men-women-and-children type of tax-collectors) the sinners (the outcasts, homeless of Roman society) and His own flock (His disciples).

And perhaps the ones I struggle with loving the most? The ones in my very own flock. The ones sitting beside me in church. These are the very ones I built walls to keep out. Loving people means being vulnerable and getting bruised and beaten occasionally. I had only learned that keeping them at arms length kept me from getting bitten by some rabid sheep. But really, it keeps me from learning to love others.

Am I willing to risk bruises and sorrow and hurt in the call of obedience? Yes. Am I willing to do what He asks of me even when it scares the daylights out of me to take down protective walls? Yes. Is this hard for me? HECKS YES.

But because His radical, unconditional, sacrificial love for me was given when I was in the crowd spitting on Him I'll do whatever He asks. 

And I am marinating on this verse to help me love others when I want to run or scream or cry or vaccinate the rabid. 
"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.” John 13:34-35

Why God walks us through the lessons He does at the times and ways He does I do not know. But I share this so that if you get an awkward hug, a weirdly placed, "I love you" or a bizarre ANYTHING from me, it's because we are working. God's leading me. He's teaching. He's whispering to me and I am listening.