Monday, February 25, 2013

Finding God

I was greatly challenged and inspired by Larry Crabb’s perspective on how we can move through our problems to develop a deeper relationship with God—where He is the focus of our lives, not ourselves or the problems that we want Him to solve for us. The following are quotes from his book Finding God.

“We have become committed to relieving the pain behind our problems rather than using our pain to wrestle more passionately with the character and purposes of God. Feeling better has become more important to us than finding God.”

“Modern Christians are presented with two options for dealing with our lives: Either we can understand how our souls have been deeply wounded and how to receive God’s healing nourishment, or we can obey God as we would a stern, uninvolved father, and never tell him how bad we hurt. Either our hurt is the point, or it is no point at all. Either our needs matter more than anything else, or it is wrong even to mention them.

We need a third way of handling our lives—a way that combines a passionate sensitivity to our deepest struggles with a tender insistence that something matters more than how we feel. It is healthy to face the pain in our souls, to feel bad when others violate our dignity, to admit to ourselves how desperately we long to feel loved and valued and accepted as we are. But, in the middle of all this, we need to remember that the point of Christianity is not us, but the God who cares for us.

Our hunger does not obligate God. He is not a waiter who, at the snap of our fingers, runs out of heaven’s kitchen loaded down with trays of food to fill our hungry stomachs. With his blood Christ purchased a people for God and made us priests to serve him (Rev. 5:9-10). We exist for him, not the other way around.

But bowing before God, living for his pleasure rather than for ours, does not reduce us to slaves whose personal feelings do not matter. God cares about our hurts. He wants us to enjoy our new identity as unique, forgiven, valuable men and women with something important to contribute. How we feel, how we’ve been treated, what we do, why we do it—everything about our lives is important. We are valuable players in the cosmic drama he directs, and we are not wrong to be concerned with how we’re getting on.

But God matters more. He invites us to enter into relationship with him on his terms. He invites us to join him in achieving his great purpose: the overthrowing of evil and the bringing together of all things in Christ. He invites us, in short, to find him. And he lets us know that in the process of finding him, we’ll find ourselves.

We must, however, do more than superficially agree that finding God is a higher priority than solving our problems. Somehow that purpose must reach into our hearts in the same way that cancer spreads through the body, destroying everything in its way. Until the reality of God crowds out every other reality, until we are moved to know him with a passion that we feel nowhere else, we will not use the struggles of life as an impetus to find God. Until our passion for finding God is deeper than any other passion, we will arrange life according to our taste, not God’s.”

After Larry Crabb’s brother was killed in a plane crash in 1991, his deep pain and grieving over this loss caused him to wrestle with God like he never had before. He cried out “God, I don’t know how to come to you. I need to know you, to sense your presence, to feel your love, more than anything else. But I don’t know what to do. Every path I follow leads me back to me. I must find the way to you! I know you’re all that I have. But I don’t know you well enough to be all I need. Please let me find you.”

His search and what he discovered as he “found God” led to his writing this book (which I highly recommend if you are looking for a soul-searching kind of book to read).

May God help each one of us to come to know Him well enough to be all that we need in whatever struggles we are facing. May God use our problems as an impetus to find Him and to help our passion for Him become deeper than any other passion in our lives. May we know and believe that we exist for Him, not the other way around. And may our desire to find God and to know Him more intimately be greater than our desire to relieve our pain or to solve life’s problems.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lessons from my Dad

In light of my upcoming birthday, I want to share some of the many lessons I’ve learned from my Dad over the past 43 years.

1. How to ride a bike
2. How to drive a car (Interestingly, while knowing how to drive a car was important for about 10 years, since I have lived in China for the past 18 years without a car, knowing how to ride a bike has actually been an even more important skill in my life)
3. How to set goals (although comparatively, my goals have definitely not been as crazy as my Dad’s—which have included running his age in miles on his birthday beginning in his 30s up to age 59, celebrating his 60th birthday by biking across America, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro...)
4. Alongside the goal-setting was the understanding that giving it my all and trying my best was more important than the accomplishment or failure

 5. The importance of discipline (Running was an activity that our whole family was involved in and my Dad influenced my three siblings and me to run every single day—which I did from age 10 to 20)

6. Along with discipline was the lesson of making sure to stop and smell the flowers (I remember the Con Ed running trail in Boone when every time we got to the top of the long uphill my Dad would make us take a break to enjoy the view and to catch our breath)
7. The importance of pace, especially on the longer runs, and being able to persevere. I will never forget my Dad running alongside me during our many road races, encouraging me toward the end that the finish line was just around the corner (or over the next hill...) “Don’t give up. You can do it.” This has been one of my most valuable lifelong lessons. When life gets hard and I feel like giving up, my Dad inspires me to keep pressing on and to endure the hardships. Knowing that my Dad is a runner, it won’t surprise you to know that as he started to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, he whispered, “Is this a good pace?”

8. The importance of family activities/vacations and making memories together. Including a love for the outdoors and camping.

9. My Dad’s example of taking his job seriously and working hard, along with how he clearly communicated to my siblings and me that we were even more important to him than his job (he would rotate taking us with him on business trips and he would have regular special time with each of us—taking us out to Shoney’s breakfast buffet or Bojangles’s Biscuits before school)
10. The blessing of seeing him set aside this kind of special time with each of our kids when my Dad and Mom have come to China and their having each of their grandkids spend a special week with Grammie and Poppie when they turn 12. Even though we live far away, my kids know how much my Dad values them, just like I knew when I was growing up —without a doubt.

11. The value of all people—regardless of skin color or status. The way my Dad has always taken a sincere interest in people and talked with them by name (like the janitor in his office) has left a deep impression on me. I can still see him rolling down his car window at an intersection to pass on McDonald’s coupons to a homeless person, and asking him how he was doing that day .
12. The blessing of giving to others. My Dad has an incredibly generous heart and he loves to give to people in need (like at the soup kitchen or through Habitat for Humanity), to his family and friends, and to what God is doing around the world.

I recently came across a college scholarship application that I filled out 24 years ago. This is how I answered the question “What person has directly influenced you the most and how?”

“My father has been the biggest influence in my life. I started running ten years ago under his encouragement. As result of his training system, I learned that patience, determination and hard work result in success. Today, these values form the backbone of my beliefs. In addition, his support both in times of my success and failure has shown me that it is not what I accomplish but how hard I try that matters.”
"let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b

I’m so thankful for my Dad’s ongoing example in my life, for his encouragement and support to me, to Charly and to our kids, and for what I am continuing to learn from him.

There is a great phrase in Chinese that literally means “to add gas,” like at a gas station (pronounced jia yo). It’s used especially in sports competitions to cheer someone on, and when I think of the remaining “life to the full” that God has in store for my Dad, who is 68 years young, before he reaches the finish line, I am cheering for him, like he has cheered for me my whole life: 加油!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

How to be a Lazy Mom

It kind of runs contrary to what the Proverbs 31 Woman is all about. And it is not a title I would have chosen. But four years ago Joshua told me I should write a book called How to be a Lazy Mom.

We were walking home from the grocery store together and he was struggling a bit with the heavy bags I had loaded him down with. He was probably thinking that my bags seemed comparatively lighter and was reflecting on how much I liked to delegate work to my kids. So he told me that I should write a book to help other Moms learn how they too could become lazy by getting their kids to do all of their work for them.

My preference for a book title would have been a little more positive, like How to Raise Capable Children. But Joshua’s title is definitely catchy.

Two years ago, after we moved to Lanzhou, all three kids and I were out shopping for some apartment necessities when we saw this decorative hot plate in a little shop:

We thought it was funny, and the kids decided to buy it for me as a birthday present. It sits on the bottom shelf on our coffee table, and one guest commented after visiting with us for a few days that it seemed to be the motto of our home.

I think you know, the truth is I don’t want to be a lazy mom. I grew up in a family where laziness was frowned upon, and because of my genes and upbringing, I value productivity and efficiency just like my parents do. So How to be a Lazy Mom doesn’t sit well with me. My natural desire is to be a high capacity Proverbs 31 kind of woman, but migraine pain has changed my lifestyle and pace of life. The positive side is that it has helped me appreciate the value of being more than doing. I am not a perfectionist like I used to be, and I have learned to give myself grace instead of evaluating myself by how much I am able to accomplish.

What have my kids learned from me?

These are some lessons that I hope they learn:

Not to be consumed with perfection.
But at the same time, how to strive for excellence to please God.
Not to do half-hearted or sloppy work.
But to do their work “as unto the Lord” even when no one is watching.
How to find the right balance of being and doing.
How to have a sense of identity not based on their performance, but on being a son/daughter of the King.
The blessing of serving others.
And the blessing of receiving help when they are in need.
The importance of soul rest and reflection to grow deeper in their relationships with God.
How to receive God’s grace and then to extend that grace to themselves and to others. Compassion.

Our kids are not perfect, and they still have arguments now and then about chore distribution. But I was amazed on the day after we arrived in Lanzhou that our kids initiated coming up with a chore schedule. They held their own meeting after we got to the village last spring as well to determine what chores were necessary there and how to divide them. A huge blessing to me when I am out of commission is that our kids can keep the house going with shopping, meals, cleaning and laundry, in addition to their home schooling. Life goes on without me. Overall, our kids have risen to the occasion in the absence of a high-capacity-juggling-all-the-balls-with-ease Supermom. They have had the opportunity to grow in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise. We can see how God works all things together for good. Blessing in the pain.

A few weeks ago, I shared during my class at the mosque that my greatest feeling of success comes when I see my children truly loving others. When I observe them serving on their own initiative. Like when Joshua volunteers now to carry the heaviest bags for me back from the grocery store. Or asks to carry a guest’s luggage up all of our stairs. When our kids don’t have to be reminded (or forced) to do work, but can find real joy in helping someone else, I feel successful as a (lazy) mom.


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