Monday, October 20, 2014

A Powerful Statement

So one thing my husband Scott and I have in common is that we are sermon junkies.  We love a great message from the Bible delivered by a gifted communicator.  On the top of our list is Andy Stanley.  I've quoted him many times here.

We try to listen to everything he teaches because it is always relevant and always truthful and almost always somehow exactly what we need to hear at the moment we hear it.  God works in cool ways like that (which is another reason why we need to have a steady diet of His Word coming into our lives often).

Saturday we had yet another wonderful opportunity to travel about an hour one way to Ally's last volleyball tournament. Instead of settling into my seat and like always putting my MercyMe soaked playlist on the radio that he patiently endures, I spoke Scott's love language instead when I said, "Do you have Andy's new series on your ipod?"  Every once in a while I'm a good wife.

He wasted no time cuing it up. 
Scott drove, I knitted a sock and our souls were fed.  All the way there and all the way back.

In The Meantime is a sermon series for those of us who find ourselves in a hard, undesirable situation(s) that we can do nothing about.  Absolutely nothing.  We are simply at its mercy.  What are we to do?  He had my attention.

One of the last things said right before we pulled into our driveway made me put down the knitting needles and scramble for a piece of paper and pen because I knew it was one of those powerful statements that I would revisit for a long time.  We backed it up and listened to it three or four more times.

You have no idea what or who hangs in the balance of your decision to remain faithful when everything around you says 'be faithless'.  And you won't ever know if you don't see this through and trust God to be faithful to you and His promises, accomplishing His purpose through it.

Neither did the Apostle Paul who while in prison decided to best use his time to write letters to churches. He had no idea those letters would become part of the New Testament that would ultimately be for our benefit. 

See what I mean?  And that's just one thought - there was so much more.

The truth is, Scott and I are not the only people I know going through adversity, affliction, difficulty, God's silence, God's uncooperation, etc.  Almost everyone is in some way or another.  That's why I had to share this with you today.  I can never keep anything this good to myself.

Don't quit before you find out what or who hangs in the balance of your faithfulness.  And if you are in an 'In the Meantime' situation, download or watch these messages.  You won't waste a minute of your time and who knows, you might get just the push you need to get to the finish line with your faith intact.  And even with joy!  I think I did.

You may even become a sermon junkie too.  Trust me, it's not such a bad thing.  

Click here to listen

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It's Not On You

So have you seen the commercial on tv where a person turns into a diva/monster of some kind because they are 'not themselves when their hungry' and the solution to bring them back to normal is to give them a Snickers bar?  Yeah, it's funny.
Last week when the weather sort of turned cooler, I switched my outdoor workout back indoors.  (Hello again Jillian, I did not miss you all summer.)  Because the sun is shining today and it's warm out again, I grabbed my charged up ipod and headed outside.  It was then I realized what my Snickers bar is.

You see thanks to my tech-savvy family members, this ipod is loaded with all my favorite groups and songs that powerfully point my attention to how awesome God is, how much He loves me and the fact that He has a plan for my life.  It wasn't long before my spirits were up and I was feeling hopeful and content - back to myself again.

As song after familiar song played, other things came to mind too.  Things that are taking up residence in my thinking from the content I'm studying in the Bible right now.  

Specifically this simple 4 word phrase:  It's Not On You

Check this out:  "As spiritual people, we tend to tie our hopelessness to our belief that God has somehow let us down or refused to come through.  Job's raw confession -

What strength do I have that I should continue to hope? What is my future, 
that I should be patient? Is my strength that of stone, or my flesh 
made of bronze?  Since I cannot help myself, the hope for success 
has been banished from me.  Job 6:11-13 

conveys that he felt hopeless because he could not help himself."*

Well I certainly know what that feels like.  Strength gone.  Patience gone.  All hope of success as depending on me, banished.  You too?  

We live in a culture that celebrates problem solvers, leaders who are firmly in charge seemingly able to control everything, and a well-planned lives.  Have you ever heard this, "God helps those who help themselves"?  Yeah, that's not in the Bible.

Consequently, when we can't get there ourselves or are tired of waiting for rescue, hopelessness can settle in.  The truth is, we don't have to go there.  Just like He was for Job, God is our help.  God is our strength.  He is the One who is holding the world in place.  He is the One ultimately in control.  It was never meant to be on us.

What is the weight of the world you're trying to lug around?  It was easy for me to come up with a few boulders.  I'll spare you the gory details this time.

One of the songs that came on next was a new favorite by MercyMe.  Not shocking for those of you who know me well.  Certain people have actually accused me of having nothing else on that ipod.  Psh.  There's only 120 MercyMe songs on there - plenty of room for others.

Unless you've bought their most recent cd, you probably haven't heard this one.  If you'd like to listen to it (and I highly recommend you do) click here.

Check out these lyrics.

I don't have to know you
To know that you will go through hard times
It's just part of life
Don't let that moment blind you
And don't let it define you
Take heart, that's not who you are

Our God is able, more than capable
To be faithful to the end
He'll finish what He started

Remember you're forgiven
So there's no need to give in
To the lie that you're disqualified

No matter what you've done
Grace comes like a flood
There's hope to carry on
He'll finish what He started
No matter what you face
His mercy will not change
He's with you all the way
He'll finish what He started

This work He started in you now
He's faithful to complete it
The promise was sealed when He cried out
It is finished

He'll finish what He started

I know what you're thinking and I couldn't agree more - you should go out today and buy this cd or at least click on the link and listen to it yourself.  

Here's the thing.  The day you decided to follow Jesus through faith in His death and resurrection, God started a good work in you.  And no matter what He will complete it. 

It's not on you to figure out all the details.  Your job and mine is simply this -  believe it.

Guess what happens when we do?  We're blessed.

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said 
to her will be accomplished!  Luke 1:45

What has the Lord promised?  Straight from the Apostle Paul's pen:  "....He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."  Phil. 1:6  He'll finish what He started!

Yeah, this song and the Bible truth it underscores beats a Snickers bar any day. 

Oh and I believe this finally settles which Bible verse I will print beside Ally's picture in her last high school yearbook. 
*Beth Moore in Children of the Day

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How Are You Doing?

Hey there!  How are you?  I'm coming down off the high of having my college boy home for the weekend.  It wasn't a scheduled visit, which made it all the sweeter.

I had just told Scott that these last five years of my boys being away I have not had to endure the stretch between Labor Day and Thanksgiving without a visit.  This year I knew I would have to and wasn't looking forward to it.  Twelve weeks is a long time and would be a record for me and Ben.  Not one I wanted to set.

I can always tell when I'm at my missing kids limit and need a fix (usually between 5-6 weeks).  In fact, last Monday I was facetiming Ben and may or may not have whined, "Hey, why won't you come home for a visit?"  Not missing a beat, he responded, "Because you didn't give me a car."  Oh yeah.

The next day I went to Bible study where a new friend who also has a son at the same school approached saying, "We are going up to get our son for the weekend and yours is welcome to ride along."  Yee--ha!  I couldn't wait to get home and make plans.

On the way, I had two thoughts.
1.  Good things happen at Bible study.  (Go to Bible study!)
2.  Sometimes God gives us something we want even when we don't ask Him for it.  Just because He loves us.  I was feeling the love.
So we had a glorious weekend enjoying our son's company.  This picture a sweet friend of mine took captures one of my favorite moments even though he was probably making fun of me for something.  I washed up all his laundry, made him some yummy food but could not seem to convince him to read to me or let me read to him any of our collection of Fall scholastic books collected over the years.  I only asked for that one little thing.  Sheesh.
The older I get, the more I'm learning about myself and my patterns.  While truly grateful for the last few days and every chance I'm with my older kids, I still tend to experience some letdown when one of them leaves again.  That's where I found myself today.  Usually it doesn't last too long but long enough for others close to me to notice if you know what I mean.

Additionally, I was a little disappointed that something I was hoping and praying for over the weekend did not happen. Then I woke up this morning to find cloudy skies and when rolled together all this threatened to put me in a grumpy mood.  It so ticks me off when the weather can affect me that way. 

Because this ain't my first rodeo, I know I quickly have to fight the temptation to let this kind of discouragement take me completely over.  If I don't a new, meaner battle emerges - doubt.

As I sat down for quiet time this morning with the Lord, right away I remembered something I heard just last night when I was kind of bored and catching up on some blogs I enjoy.  The author said this and it has been on my mind ever since.

"I'm doing as good as God is making Himself known to me.  I'm a happy girl even if I'm going through a difficult time if God is revealing Himself to me through His Word and through my circumstances and through how He wants to show Himself to me.  I'm the happiest when I read the Scriptures and they seem to come alive to me."

This brought a question to my mind:  How good am I doing?  People ask all the time. What warrants me to respond, "I'm doing good."?  

Is it mood?  Is it circumstance?  Am I good when things are going my way?  When I'm in good health?  When my kids are obedient to me and to the Lord?  When my husband is showing me love in ways I like him to?  When all the bills are paid?  Does it have anything to do with the weather (God forbid)?

What makes me (doing) good?  

You see, had you asked me that question this morning and I felt safe enough to be completely honest, I might have answered, "I'm kind of bummed I won't see Ben for another six weeks." OR "I'm a little sad because I miss Drew and Brittany and they aren't coming home for the holidays." (See how quickly I slide down that slope.)  OR  "I'm disappointed because something I really wanted didn't happen as I hoped."  OR Would I go the other way and say "I'm great" because I want to be positive even though it's really me being phony?

Can I just say here how much it drives me nuts that the high of a great gift or blessing from God can sometimes fade into a longing for the next thing in no time at all?  That quote up there wakes me up and really challenges me in an exciting way.   
I am adopting that measuring stick.  Why?  

Because as I think about it, God IS revealing Himself to me through His Word.  Often.  The Scriptures ARE coming alive when I read them.  Most days I get up from my red chair encouraged and motivated, even happy.  From here on out, that will be enough.

Secondly, I do see Him at work in the lives of others even when I can't see what He's doing in mine (this is why we have to tell each other what God is up to!).  He is revealing Himself to me this way too.  It doesn't make me jealous or feel neglected, it gives me hope.

The truth is if I use that measure - I'm doing as good as God is revealing Himself to me - based on those things - then I am doing good!

What a better way to look at things. That's something solid to stand on, rather than my feelings for any given day.

But wait, that was the easy part.  Did you notice the other phrase that stood out to me as well 'even when I'm going through something difficult'? That is the struggle, isn't it?  I know it is for me.  And here's my frustration, this isn't new news.  I already know all this and you probably do too.  The problem comes when I fail to dwell on it and allow the day's concerns to take over.  Even when....

So much of being an overcomer is mind over matter.  It's what we choose to think about and dwell on in our minds.  No wonder we are encouraged by Paul in Philippians 4:8:

 "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, 
whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

This is why I have to shift my thinking.  Even though I'm going through something difficult and have been for two solid years now, can I say I'm good?  Today 'these things' means to me that in spite of all that's going on or not going on in my life, as long as I can see God in His Word, I'm going to be just fine because it's here that all is right in the world.

Does that make you uncomfortable, cause you to bristle?  Could it be that God hasn't revealed Himself to you in a while?  Therefore you aren't honestly 'doing good'?  

If you've read this far, you know the solution.  Now it's just a matter of doing it.  We need to slow down, sit down, get out our Bibles and invite God to show off.  He does it so well.  Don't wait another minute.

My son was just telling me that he doesn't understand how his roommates can be so messy.  When he asks them, the answer is that they don't have enough time to put their laundry and other piles away (which drives my neat freak crazy).  He said, "Mom, we all have the same amount of time in a day.  How can they say they don't have enough?  They have hours to sit on their phones and computers every night.  I tell them to quit making excuses and just take a few minutes and do it."

Same goes for us, girlfriends.  It doesn't take hours of Bible study to experience God.  If you are new to this, start out small.  Five minutes if that's all you have.  Increase the time as you go.

But if you've been walking with the Lord a long time and find yourself dwelling on the negative and being discouraged much of the time, don't struggle any more.  You need to be in His Word.  I mean really reading it getting to know the God who loves you.  That's the whole goal of the Bible.  The only way those pages come alive to us is if we read them

As God begins to reveal Himself to you and you remember to dwell on it through your day, you'll find yourself when asked saying, "I'm good!  Even though things are tough, I'm happy because God is alive and showing Himself to me!".

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What I Should Have Said

Have you ever wished you could take back something you said?  Something you really didn't think through before it escaped from your mouth?  Well I have.  Too many times actually.

It is no secret that 2014 has been a year full of celebrations for this Burtis family.  Namely Drew's graduation from college (with high honor) and his wedding to a godly, funny, cute girl our whole family adores.  We are so very grateful for each accomplishment and event.

In the midst of all this joy, I got a message from a friend saying, "Great job raising Drew.  You must be so proud."  To be honest while I liked hearing it, I felt uncomfortable.  My knee jerk response was, "Well let's not forget he was a compliant child.  He made it easy for us."

For the rest of the day I was troubled and couldn't put my finger on why.  I asked God about it in prayer.  Immediately my mind went to the text exchange.  I imagined Him asking me, "Why did you respond that way?"

Well, we all know it wouldn't be humble to say, "I know!  Isn't he awesome?"  Instead, I guess I was embarassed and chose a form of false humility.

Why is it so hard for us to take a compliment without making an excuse?  I think I felt guilty somehow.  Who was I to think I raised a great kid and could take the credit?   

Many years ago, my favorite Bible study teacher said once (and I remember like it was yesterday), "When you are given a compliment, don't answer: 'To God be the glory' or 'It's all because of Jesus' or 'It's not me, it's God.'"  She said, "When you are a believer speaking to another believer, that is already established.  Of course everything is about God and to His credit.  But you can receive an encouragement with grace.  Simply say, 'Thank you so much. That means a lot to me.'"

If I could go back and change my response to that text I would.  Again, not to elevate myself or any parenting success but because it was kind of her to notice and what I said wasn't altogether true.  We had sweat and trained and prayed our way to these celebrations.  It wasn't a cake walk.

Probably the biggest shock to Scott and me in relation to raising kids is that each one requires a different strategy.  Easy(ier) children could tempt us to say yes all the time.  They are so good, why not?  They delight us with their obedience and we want to please them right back.  But the truth is parenting takes day in and day out tireless effort even when you have a child who responds well to your discipline and training. 
I checked this with my husband to see if I was crazy (I have to do this often).  I said, "We did hard work raising Drew (and the other two), didn't we?  Even though he turned out good and wasn't strong willed, we still had to work for that, right?"

He agreed and probably thought we were done talking about it.  Silly man.  Because I can rarely let a thing die so quickly, I went on.

"While we did say yes to a lot of things, we also did the hard work of saying no, didn't we?"

When he wanted to spend hours playing video games, we said no.
When he wanted to listen to music that was not God-honoring, we said no.
When he begged for a cell phone earlier than we were comfortable with, we said no
When he wanted to watch movies that were not appropriate, we said no.
When he considered dating in high school, we said no.
When he wanted to sleepover at a friend's house that we didn't feel was a good influence, we said no.

If you asked him, we said no in ways that seemed unnecessary or unfair.

Like when after a busy week that consisted of no measurable family time and he wanted to go out with friends, we said no.
When we learned that he (as a jr in high school) procrastinated working on a term paper and we had a 3-snowdays-in-a-row winter storm and he wanted to play outside with his siblings and friends, we said no.
When he was 19, away at college and wanted a smartphone but had no income to pay for it or compelling reason (need), we said no. 
When he was 20 and wanted to take his 21-year-old girlfriend (now wife) on a 15 hour road trip to visit newlywed friends for a week, we said no. (for so many reasons)

And we made him do things he didn't want to do.

We insisted he read a missionary biography every summer.
We made him do household and outdoor chores.
When a teacher told us he was trying to fit in with "cool kids" by letting his grades slip, we made him switch his seat (remove the influence) or we would make sure it happened. Because he had a job, he paid for his own cell phone and gas for the car.
We went to church as a family every Sunday his whole life.
He was expected to get up early EVERY Sunday morning since he was a pre-teen to help his Dad run sound for the early service.

All those no's weren't easy or popular, but we believe they attributed in part to the man our son is today and the choices he makes for his family.

Like anything we endeavor that yields positive results, we can expect hard work and consistency as part of our effortAnd we can enjoy success!  Then it's our responsibility to share any wisdom gained with those coming behind us.

So I guess I write all this today to encourage you Moms (and Dads).

1.  If you've done the hard work of parenting and are are given a compliment, receive it with grace and gratitude.

2.  If you've done the hard work of parenting and your child didn't turn out quite as you hoped, your answer when asked can be, "This isn't how he was raised. We are praying that he will return to God and live according to His Word."  There is no shame in that.

(I've been known to say that for much lesser offenses like bodily function noises, public sassing, or even a son calling his date hot on facebook. Generally anything they do that embarasses me.)

3.  Lastly, be empowered.  Parenting is not easy.  Kids and culture can wear us down. Keep in front of you the kind of adult(s) you want to leave your home one day, and make the necessary decisions (one by one) that will get them there.  Even if no one else is doing it.  Even if they resist.  YOU are the parent and you know best.

Always use the Bible as your guide.  There is no greater wisdom for parents written anywhere.

How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to your Word.  
Psalm 119:9

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace... 2 Timothy 2:22

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.  Proverbs 22:6

Train yourself to be godly.  1 Timothy 4:7  Then train your children to be godly.

***One last thing, while it's never too late to get back in the driver's seat, training kids into adults starts when they are like this..... 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

When Open Houses Aren't That Fun

So it's been about a month since I wrote last.  I hope you are well.  We've been plenty occupied with volleyball games and school activities.

Tonight was our last Open House.  Sniff.  Nah, I'm not that sad.  These haven't always been my favorite event to go to.  I mean don't get me wrong, it is fun trying to jam our 20-something years since high school bodies into those how shall I say... desks. Obviously.  Then there's the issue of trying to find each class.  Maybe you've heard I'm a little directionally challenged.

For years back in Syracuse at Faith Heritage at least there was the camaraderie of the same (mostly) parents year after year, friends.  Not so much in the bigger public school.   It can be a stressful way to spend your evening if you're me.

Last year was the worst.  It was the day I realized I can no longer leave the house without these.
Allow me to illustrate.  First of all, I was alone.  I'm sure Scott had some important and unavoidable excuse that kept him away, but I'll be jiggered if I can remember what it was.  I tried to talk myself out of going.  I mean, really, how many of these do I have to attend?

You guessed it, all of them apparently.  My conscience kicked in because I don't want to be THAT Mom who skips Open House.  And truth be told, I did want to meet Ally's teachers.  I've got to admit though that I was nervous about trying to find my way around the still unfamiliar school.

So I pull up where all the cool parents who've known each other since their kids were little chatted excitedly.  I tried not to give off the newbie vibe as I made my way in the front door.  Just inside was a table manned by students.  I approached casually, with phony confidence.  They handed me Ally's schedule and a map of the school.  Check.

I proceeded to the auditorium to hear the plan for the night.  Follow your child's schedule, cram yourself into tiny desk, listen to teacher's hopes and dreams for your student, then go to the next class.  All between loud bells and within 2-3 minutes.  Check.  Been there, done that.  (Well, either at our old, familiar school or with Scott's company, ahem I mean, guidance.)  Come to find out -this would make a significant difference.

Next I attempted what all Type A personalities would.  I half-listened to the principal while trying to get a jumpstart on my route to the first two classes.  I reached for my Dollar Store readers.  Oh no!  Not in my purse.  That's when I realized I had a major problem. 

Look at that print.  What person over the age of 25 could read that?  The schedule was no better. 
The first and most logical solution was that I should go home.  I tried, right?  Who would expect me to navigate my way around an unfamiliar school where I didn't know anyone?  Then I heard my own voice to my kids when we moved here and I sent them off on their first day.  Stinks when you have to suck it up and do what you expected of your much younger and seemingly more insecure kids.

So I found my resolve.  If nothing else, I am a problem solver.  What I did next I knew would horrify Ally if she ever found out, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I went back out to the table of students, pushed the papers with tiny print in front of them, and asked them to circle the classrooms I need to go to, write the numbers BIGGER on the map, and tell me which order I would need to visit them.

They looked at me for a solid minute then I could see it in their eyes.  "Ally Burtis's mom doesn't know how to read."

Believe it or not, it went uphill from there.  The kids helped me out and I survived.  The next day I bought an extra pair of readers to be kept in my purse.  For the rest of my life I presume.

Tonight, however, was way better.  In fact, it was the best Open House ever.  No small desks, no bells, no schedules.  Just go visit the teachers you want to.  Scott was with me.  Ally came too.  The teachers love her.  They seem very young too incidentally. Thirty minutes in and out.  Yes!  And I didn't embarass my daughter.  Come to think of it, I didn't need glasses either. Win win!

Still, I guess I'm a little sad.  Because in case I didn't mention, it was our last one.