Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sleepless in Endwell Advent Day 11

'Twas two weeks before Christmas and all through my house
Everyone was sleeping at 4:40 am - except me!

That's two days in a row now and I'm not exactly wild about it. Instead of laying there with my eyes squeezed shut hoping for sleep to come back, I get up. I turn the lights on four Christmas trees (yes, I know I have a problem), find some instrumental Christmas music to listen to (is it me or does this become more pleasing as we get older?), brew my favorite Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee, warm up a corn bag (Have I mentioned I am obsessed with corn bags? I can't sleep without a few of them in the bed. I even warm them up during the day when I'm cold just to put on my lap for comfort.), light a candle or two, and settle on the comfy couch to be still and listen knowing I won't be disturbed by another human being for hours.

I've got about four different Advent books going. Two for the morning, one for afternoon if I have time and one to read before I sleep. Being completely preoccupied and absorbed by the Biblical account of Jesus' human birth is one of the greatest joys of Christmas. Don't believe me?  I dare you to try it.
May I share what stirred me and is perhaps the reason I am up at this hour?

When approached by the angel who brought her the news that she is God's chosen one to be His Son's mother, "with heart pounding, with uncertainty, fear and confusion, Mary's response was clear: 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord.'
Mary from Peru

As we consider that moment of decision for Mary, we see in her a witness and example of how we are meant to live. Her mission reminds us that God's call is sometimes difficult. It may lead us to set aside our own plans. It may mean giving up hopes and dreams we have cherished for a lifetime. It may mean risks. It may be frightening.
Mary from Kenya

Sometimes God asks us to be with people we don't want to be with, to go to places we don't want to go to, and to do things we don't want to do. This is part of what Mary's story teaches us. Mary is twice said to be favored by God, and yet God's favor meant not a life of bliss, but a life of risk. It must have been hard to imagine that this was what it meant to be favored by God.
Mary from Panama
Knowing how Mary responded to God's request, we are inspired with her, to say, 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.'
Mary from Kenya


As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we remember the little town of Nazareth and God's choice of a young woman from this humble village through whom He would do His greatest work. This season brings us an invitation as surely as Gabriel brought Mary an invitation.

Part of the invitation of Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, is to offer ourselves wholly to God just as Mary did. Christmas is not about how much you buy or what you eat or whom you visit. It is about your willingness to say, with Mary, 'Here am I, Lord. Use me according to your will.'"
Mary from Dominican Republic
This is what I love about concentrated time seeking God and waiting for Him during Advent. We find ourselves in the story. He speaks to us and invites us. Why else would He have written it down and preserved it for every generation?

I ask myself a few questions.  Has God asked me to be with people I don't want to be with?  Yes.

Has God asked me to go to places I don't want to go?  Yes.

Has God asked me to do things I don't want to do?  Yes.

Has God's call on my life proven to be difficult sometimes?  Yes.

Have I had to lay aside some of my own plans?  Yes.

Have I given up some hopes and dreams I've had for a lifetime?  Yes, on occasion.

Have there been risks?  Yes.  Have I been frightened?  Oh yes.

Can you see where this is going?  Perhaps, I too, am favored by God. No, I'm not comparing myself to Mary in virtue and purity.  Heaven's no!  That ship sailed a long time ago.
Mary from America
But I do know this -  I can't get too far into the Bible before I am overwhelmed with the message of God's love for me and invitation to be a part of His story that continues all the way to the last page.

So, am I favored by the Lord?  Yes and by the way, you are too.
Mary from the Holy Land

So take heart! A difficult life, multiple opportunities to surrender your will and endless invitations to experience God's power and wonder are exactly what characterizes a life blessed by God. Talk about good news great joy!

As this year, 2014, draws to a close and I am weary from a hard year with few answers, I am delighted by this truth today.  I hope it hits you the same way.

I love Advent and it's only Day 11. So much more to come. I'll be waiting and watching....


Excerpt from The Journey by Adam Hamilton

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent...The (Real) Most Wonderful Time of the Year

 It's finally here - December. My most favorite month for so many reasons.

Have I ever told you that I have a Christmas thought every day? That's right.  Every.day.all.year.long. What? Doesn't everyone?

It's so easy to do. These thoughts range from being with family and friends, decorating (inside and out), the beautiful snow, the trees, the lights, the gifts (to purchase and to make), the food, the gatherings. And so much more. But the best part of all, the thing I look forward to most, is observing Advent.

To aid me I have purchased many a devotional. They add up over the years and each one is special. Some might call it an obsession. To them I say, what's wrong with that?

What's the big deal you may ask.  This is - from one of my favorites:

"The month of December and the season of Advent are not synonymous; they are, in fact, radically different. December brings all the outward preparations, all that we have to do to prepare for Christmas. Advent is an invitation to an inward preparation, calling us to listen, to attend to the preparation of the heart. Advent calls us to stop - however briefly - all of the frenetic doing and invites us to come into an experience of the holy. Advent is an experience of anticipation, an invitation to prepare for the coming of the light of Christ into our world. Advent is a dance set to the rhythm of waiting. We wait for the holy, we wait for the birth, we wait for the light...Advent reminds us that we are a pregnant people, for God calls each of us to bring forth the Christ."*

See what I mean? Now that's something to get excited about and it lasts so much longer than the outward delights, the opened gifts and extra pounds.

Sitting quietly each day, reading, praying, waiting, hoping - that's what Christmas means to me. Eventually, it turns into worship, which is what ultimately brings us the calm and peace and true joy we are all looking for.

If you've never considered this practice, I'd like to invite you to intentionally celebrate your December this way. Just set aside time each day to be still. In quiet. By the lights of the tree is the best spot, I think. Read. Enter into the Biblical story. Imagine. Dream. Pray. Listen.

If your first thought is that you don't have the time, you may be the one who needs it most. Make the effort. I promise you won't be sorry.

Every year I invite God to show up and show off. I ask Him to come into my world in a miraculous way. He never disappoints. You see, that's how the first Advent of Jesus happened and it's also how the Second will come. It won't be ordinary and it won't be predictable. We will be in awe of Him and thrilled.

If we are His pregnant people then He is eagerly waiting to be born in us. Why not ask Him to reveal Himself in a way you've not known Him yet? It's not too late - it's only Day 2.

Go buy an Advent devotional if you can. If that's not an option, I'm sure there are many online offerings. If you're local, you can come borrow one of mine.

Of course, the best text is the Bible itself. Linger in Luke 2 for the month. Add in some prophetic passages from Isaiah. Then keep your eyes pealed for glimpses of His grace and love meant for you.

Whatever you do, don't get so swept up in the cultural celebration of Christmas that you miss Advent. It will bring the deep meaning we are all longing for.

"It really is a small commitment of time.
But with time comes focus.
With focus comes fresh truth.
With fresh truth comes wonder.
With wonder comes joy."**

I'd like to try and post something most days here too. So come on back and join me as we await His Arrival with eyes focused and hopeful.


*Christ, Light of the World by Thomas Kinkade
**And He Shall Be Called Wonderful Counselor by Larry Libby & Steve Halliday

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Enemy of Thanksgiving

I have a sign in my living room that a crafty friend made me a few years back at my request. I love it and don't ever take it off its shelf but I realize now it doesn't say the right thing. It should read, 'How Many Days Until Thanksgiving' since that's what I'm really counting down to. Because when we finally get there, I stop counting and simply savor each day as my favorite through the end of the year.
We are inching closer and closer. Just nine days until we feast. It's time to start planning menus and grocery lists. For me, these recent years also mean changing sheets and anticipating the return of a college kid or two. 

Oh you noticed I left out a certain newlywed couple? Well, I'm choosing denial as my coping mechanism because they will not be at our table next week. Sniff sniff. So I won't be talking about that today. 
Scott continues to preach gratitude every Sunday with a new action item each week. Having homework keeps the subject on our minds continually. 

I was thinking how nice it would be if saying thanks was my automatic first reaction to everything both wanted and unwanted. I mean, the natural knee jerk response like when I think about Christmas. I am immediately happy and excited and can't wait for all the traditions and festivities that come with it. Or when I think about my kids being all together with us. I am giddy and can't stop grinning.
 
Many of you know for years now I keep a daily list of what I'm grateful for, so that should mean I've mastered it, right? I'd like to tell you that's true, but let's be real here. I fail often. As I consider this, I realize there is an enemy to the practice of thanksgiving. It has a name and that name is entitlement.

Anyone raising teenagers is well aware of how this word presents itself.  For example, I imagine many of you have heard this, "But their parents let them fill in the blank so I should be able to."  Entitlement.

Or "I'm a senior and seniors deserve fill in the blank." Entitlement.

Or maybe you know someone who has reached a certain advanced age and says things like, "I have lived long enough now and deserve fill in the blank." Entitlement.

I think it's even starting much younger like when our kids come home comparing to their friends saying, "Mom, everyone has fill in the blank, I'll be an outcast if I'm the only one who doesn't." Entitlement.

It is so easy to see it in others, isn't it?  What if we looked in the mirror at our grown-up selves? The truth is, I'm just as susceptible to copping this attitude as anyone else. Looking back over my life I'm embarassed at how many times I not only felt entitled but actually spoke it out loud. Cringe with me:

Like when I was approaching graduation from high school and tried telling my parents, "I'm 18, you can't tell me what to do. I can do whatever I want." Entitlement.

Or when I grumbled at age 20 because there wasn't a suitable mate in sight. "Why can everyone else find a husband? I should have one too." Entitlement.

Or maybe when several years into marriage and childbearing we were still bouncing between apartments unable to afford our own house. I whined, "It's not fair. Everyone else has a house.  We work hard, we deserve one too." Entitlement.

Let's not forget the never ending comparison of our gifts and abilities to someone else's. "Why can't I write or speak or sing or play an instrument like her? I deserve to be good at any of those things." Entitlement.
Did you notice a second word that accompanies the self-infused entitlement?  Deserve. Yuck. Where do I get off thinking I deserve anything someone else has? 

I looked up entitlement in the dictionary and found this: "the right to be guaranteed benefits...."  Rights. Now there's a culturally signifcant term.

Who among us doesn't feel we have the right to expect something we believe we deserve?

The person whose heart is steeped in gratitude, that's who. 
Steeped in gratitude?  That is so counter-cultural when you consider our entitlement issues. That's the point! As with so many issues for us Christ-followers trying to be obedient to the Scriptures, entitlement falls into the category of "Do not conform to the world...." Romans 12:2

You see, the common denominator and breeding ground for rights, deserving something and entitlement come from fixing our gaze horizontally (conforming to the world) on what others have or can do or have accomplished. 

Comparison is a downward spiral, a losing game we dare not play, a trap we can't afford to fall into. Along with the others, it is also found at the root of entitlement.

It's what keeps us from being grateful.

When we compare with others, we give room for entitlement to grow in our hearts, which then gives birth to discontentment which will eventually take up every inch of space leaving no room for gratitude.
Jesus knew we might fall for this tactic of the enemy and gave us instruction through a conversation with Peter, whom He dearly loved. Jesus told Peter how he would live and how he would glorify God in his death. It wasn't very glamorous and certainly insinuated pain and suffering. Peter looked around.

He saw John nearby and asked Jesus what was going to happen to him. Jesus said to Peter, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" John 21

I can so relate to Peter. God has pointed me to those verses many, many times when I'm given to whining, complaining and comparing.

"What is that to you, Angela? Follow me." In other words, "Mind your own business and keep your eyes on Me."

When I choose to follow Jesus, I am consciously trusting Him to lead me wherever He is going. Wherever He wants me. Because that place is where He will be too.

Yes, it may be tough. Yes, I may experience pain. Yes, I may be asked to go there alone. But, He will be there.
I don't know about you, but I don't want to be anywhere God isn't. 

Choosing to follow Him with full trust births thanksgiving. My thoughts are then steered in the direction of Who I know God to be, what I read recorded in the Bible about His character and faithfulness, and what I've witnessed in my own life (listed in my journal).  

And I give thanks. Come to think of it, I can't stop saying "Thank You" because He is not done. Not done with His kingdom agenda. Not done with me. There is so much more to come.

When I make room for all that, everything else dims.
Maybe as Thanksgiving approaches, we should pay closer attention to the words we speak or allow to be spoken in our homes. Have some of those nasty words above subtly crept into your heart and home? Do you see entitlement attitudes at work? Maybe you've never really noticed until now. 

Remember, entitlement is the enemy of thanksgiving which means we need a radar up, sensitive to spotting it and squashing it so that gratitude has room to grow and reside long after the turkey leftovers are eaten.
 
Just a side note (let's call it a bonus!) - have you noticed that grateful people are much more pleasant to be around than Johnny Rainclouds? Me too and I know which one I'd rather be and be around.

It's certainly not too late to make some changes. I know I'll be working on this, requiring it of myself and urging it in the ones I'm raising.

Happy Thanksgiving friends. I'm grateful for you.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Women

I'm a little surprised to discover that we are ten days into November and I have not written a word about Thanksgiving. I am well aware that it is holiday time! Oh yes I am. If there was any doubt, keep reading. These friends made an appearance November 1st.


And the first tree went up too.  Now don't get offended.  There's nothing Christmasy about this tree (except that it is a tree with lights on it). You can clearly see that it is decorated in all brown (ornaments, ribbon and garland compliments of Hobby Lobby).  Not a Christmas color.  A Fall color.  It screams Thanksgiving!

Here's my favorite room in the house all set for November. Even though we are not eating the main meal here this year, I will still enjoy it for the month.
Scott has been preaching the last few weeks about gratitude. It's always good to put that in the front seat in November. I keep a daily list year-round of things I'm thankful for, what brings me joy each day, and even things I don't want that I'm trusting God will use for my good like many of you do. Doing this kind of feels like Thanksgiving everyday, without the turkey and pumpkin pie.

When I think about what I'm thankful for, women a little further down the road than me and their wisdom always rises to the top of my list.  I am very blessed to have many older women willing to take an interest in me and pour their experiences and advice into my life.

As a woman I have always been well acquainted with my inadequacies and insecurities.  Because of that, I have always been hungry for the advice of women I admire figuring if I want to turn out like them, I need to get close enough to ask how and listen.

I'll share a little secret with you - it always pays off. I have received more than this blog has the space to record.

I wonder if I would ever have opened my home to entertain without women showing me how to do it by teaching me in their homes.

I doubt I could be enjoying a 24 year long marriage without the stories of experienced women describing the sometimes too funny to get rattled over God-given differences between husbands and wives.

I'm sure I could not have raised these three kids if I didn't have older women to listen to my doubts, fears and sometimes panic reassuring me, "You can do this. Here's what worked for me. Here's what didn't." 

I never could have led women's ministries for all the years I have if they weren't there to notice me, affirm my gifts and abilities, and show me how best to use them.

Just the other day I met one of these irreplaceable ladies for lunch. Whenever I'm with her, I come away energized, ready to plunge deeper into the life I've been given with renewed resolve, and wanting to be like her when I grow up.

As always, she inquired about everything that pertains to me. Then she reviewed items discussed during our last visit and asked about progress (i.e. accountability). She promised her continued prayers for my family. She encouraged me to trust God with everything.  Then she said something she hasn't said before. "We all need a kick in the pants once in a while. I promise I'll give you one when you need it."

I didn't laugh, but I did smile because I felt the love behind it and appreciate this so much. She wouldn't be the first. I remember many a kick in the pants from my own mother. Unfortunately, for awhile I was not a very good student.

Then there's the older woman in our little church who watched an unbelieving boyfriend of mine walk the aisle and pledge faith. She warned me to wait for the fruit. I didn't and a number of consequences happened. Talk about regret.

Still another calmed down my overactive emotions when I wanted to let a leadership team member go who regularly got on my nerves. I listened and humbled myself. No regret.

It can be easy to come alongside and be a cheerleader. To encourage and affirm. They like us when we are always positive, but what if the young women in our lives are not making the best decisions? What if they are heading down roads we know they will later regret?  Do we have a responsibility to speak that?  Not everything they want to pursue is good for them or for the body of Christ that is looking on. (Don't forget as a Christian all of our decisions affect others.)

It's tricky because we are living in a culture of tolerance. Everything's good. Nothing is "wrong". If she's enthusiastic, we don't want to be the wet blanket. If there isn't a black and white directive in Scripture we back down even though our advice is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

Sometimes a little I-care-enough-about-you-to-interfere can stop or at least slow down a possible train wreck. Consider 1 Corinthians 6:12 "Everything is permissible for me - but not everything is beneficial..."

Maybe it's a sign of getting older, but I just can't do it. I'm not into false flattery and I can't give politically correct advice when asked.

Recently a sweet young woman I love asked how I thought she should handle a situation she was facing.  Having experience from the other side of it, I knew my response wasn't going to be what she was expecting but I wanted her to consider her perspective was not the only one. When I shared what I thought she should do, she said that she never in a million years imagined me saying that. She was expecting the opposite (me taking her side). And that she hadn't thought of it that way. And that it made sense.

Sensing I had her best interest at heart (this is key), she slowed down, deciding to wait it out and pray. (Bonus - it gave value to the pain of my experience.)

I think we older girls owe the young'ns the honesty of confidently saying, "Maybe that's not the best idea or have you considered the consequences?" Surely we have benefitted from that at some point or another whether we took the advice or ignored it. If we don't, who will?

If you are a young woman, I can't encourage you enough to find an older woman you respect, who has the fruit of godliness and wisdom displayed in her life, and ask her for input. Over and over again in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, we are advised to live wisely and seek Godly counsel and warned about what results if we don't - foolishness.

Whenever I'm feeling particularly self-important or unwilling to listen  to someone who is for me, this verse comes to mind.

"Do not be like the horse or mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they (God's instructions) will not come to you."  Psalm 32:9

Isn't that the main thing anyway? That God's instructions will come to us. Another reason why we need each other. So grateful.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Burtis Kids Busted

They say one of the problems with social media is that we tend to only share only the good stuff of our lives.  What we are proud of.  Our finest moments and achievements.  Well, not today.  

In case I've painted a picture of our family for you that is always favorable, today you will see what I really deal with behind the scenes.  

The sass.  
The sarcasm.  
The relentless attack and accusations on my parental love and committment to these children I carried and sustained in my very body.  

How dare they?  

I believe they deserve this post today. 

It all started after my oldest son (formerly known as my beloved firstborn) apparently read my blog yesterday (likely the first time).  

I innocently and lovingly shared some Halloween photos of Drew, Ben and Ally when they were little and much cuter.  If you missed it, you'll need to read the last portion.  You can quickly catch up here.  

(In case this is hard to follow, the writer's name appears at the top of their contribution.  I am in blue.)

Note the time these shenanigans started.






Note: it's morning now.








Well, aren't they adorable with all their intellectual humor?

Can't you imagine them high 5-ing each other?
I mean seriously, who do these people think they are? 

What can we learn from this?

1.  Don't get your kids ipods - ever.
2.  Never compliment or brag about them to anyone.
3.  No matter how fair you try to raise them - they always think someone else is the favorite.

At least Ron, Renee and I don't do this to our mother.
Nor do Scott, Tim and Johanna subject their parents to this disrespect and ungratefulness.

Lastly, don't even get me started on the spelling and grammatical errors up there.