Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Contentment Thieves

I wrote last week of my teenage commitment to a life of contentment.  That commitment has, of course, been sorely tested in the years since then.  My enrollment in the contentment course will, I believe, be lifelong.

Shortly after I married, I was blessed to do Beth Moore's study of Philippians.  In it, she lists the Five Thieves of Contentment, five things that rob us of our joy.  I copied those off and posted them on our fridge.  Each "thief" can be identified in Philippians 4.

Pettiness

Philippians 4:2-3 references two women- Euodia and Syntyche- who were, apparently, not "of the same mind."  It sounds like they were fighting.  They were good people- they had both labored with Paul in the gospel, and their names were "in the Book of Life."  But they had let a petty disagreement rob them of their contentment.

When I'm annoyed or offended at someone- a friend, a coworker, a family member- I am not content.  If I am honest with myself, I can usually see that I am being petty.  True conflict does arise and has to be addressed, but most of life's little slights just serve to make life less happy.  Let it go.

Anxiety

Paul is very clear in his command: "Be anxious for nothing."  That's a tall order.  I get anxious.  I worry.  But when I do, contentment deserts me.  Worrying about the future is one of the best ways to rob the present of its joy.  After all, even the most perfect situation can be overshadowed by an expectation of a disaster around the corner.  Paul also gives us the answer for anxious thoughts:  "Pray."  And don't just pray, pray with gratitude, with thanksgiving.  Remember what blessings you do have, and commit the future to the Lord.

Destructive Thinking

Remember, contentment isn't based on one's circumstances.  It's based on one's outlook.  The mind is the place where contentment either starts or dies.  Paul tells us to think on things that are true, noble, lovely, pure.  Don't just think on them, meditate on them.  Be careful what things you allow your mind to repeat over and over.  Those things shape who we become.  Make sure your thoughts are based on God's truth.

Resistance to Learning

As I wrote last week, Paul learned to be content.  Sometimes, we don't want to learn to be content.  We'd rather wallow.  We like to complain.  We need to vent. (If you don't believe me, check out social media.)   Learning contentment is hard.  Hardship doesn't automatically teach us.  We have to be willing to submit ourselves to the lesson. 

Independence from God

We're weak.  We're human.  True contentment requires greater strength than we have on our own.  That's okay.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." All things- even banishing the Thieves of Contentment from my life.


Monday, June 29, 2015

The Future

Would you want to know your future?

If someone today could tell you where you’d be in a year, would you want to know?

Would it change your decisions?  Would it change your perspective?  Perhaps.  But for good or ill? 

What if you were enjoying a trip with your family, living each day to its fullest?

Bryan at Landstuhl Castle, Germany, July 2011

Would you want to know that one year from that date, people would be attending your funeral?

Some of you are saying, yes, you would want to know, for better or worse, what is coming.  You’d make plans.  You’d do things.  You’d say things.  Others would rather just deal with things as they come.  There’s no sense in worrying about things you can’t change.

It’s been three years since Bryan died, and I can say unequivocally that I am thankful that we didn’t know what was coming.  We lived his last year (with the exception of the last four weeks of his life) just like we had lived the years before it.  We worked, we played, we enjoyed the ups and struggled with the downs. 

Might we have done things differently if we had known he wouldn’t be here?  Sure.  We probably would have spent the last year trying to “get things in order.”  But I don’t necessarily think that the decisions we would have made would have left us any better off.  We would have been very tempted to make life-limiting decisions, missing out on the everyday happinesses as we tried to control things beyond our control.

There were things that were a hassle in the immediate days after Bryan died.  Passwords, for one.  I knew some, but not all, of the passwords.  And everything these days has a password.  It took me a week to unearth the will.  (Bryan wasn’t organized.  I can say that because he’s not around to contradict me, but, trust me, he wasn’t.  The will was in a basket on a shelf in the closet, not in the file labeled “WILL.”)  But those are little things and they all worked out in the end.

Now that I’m a full three years out from those immediate grief-filled days, I know that we couldn’t have foreseen all the changes that Bryan’s death would necessitate.  And if I had known, I probably would have collapsed from the seeming enormity of it all.  Instead, I’ve made those changes over time, and in many ways, we’re a very different family than we were then.  I’m certainly a different person, and my children have grown so much that it’s hard to remember what it was like having seven “little people.”  There is no way we could have foreseen those changes and prepared for them, even if we had known the future.

Instead, we lived life each day.  Bryan always lived like life was short, so we got a lot of living done.  We took six young children on an overseas trip when I was pregnant because Bryan said, “You never know how much time you have!”  He didn’t want to wait till it was more practical.  He wanted to live NOW. 

The whole Bain family
plus my sister Sara
plus Austin in Mommy's tummy
in Germany, July 2011

So should you know the future?  If you’re truly living in the present, you don’t need to know what’s around the bend.

{For my reflections on the past anniversaries of Bryan's death, see
First Anniversary: One Year
Second Anniversary: From the Outside Looking In}


Friday, June 26, 2015

Day Trippin'- Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo

This summer, I knew a nice lengthy vacation wasn't a good idea, but I still want us to really enjoy our time off together.  (And I don't want Minecraft to turn my kids' brains to mush.)  I decided that we would plan some day trips and go out and do the things that we don't do during the school year.  In spite of the taciturn weather we've been having, we've had a few fun days.

First up: The Zoo!

And...where is Nathan?  He's at Run Camp.

We'll probably do this a few times because I of course bought a pass.  Any guesses on how much it would cost our family to get into the zoo?  Just a nice little trip to the local zoo.  $99.  Ninety-nine dollars!  Yes, it's true.  Life is expensive these days.  At any rate, the $125 pass made a lot more sense.

 I've loved the zoo ever since I was a wee thing. When I was little, we lived in San Antonio for a brief period of time, and I spent my 2nd birthday at the zoo.  (I'll bet it didn't cost us a fortune to get in then!)  Here I am with Grandaddy (and the giraffes and an ostrich) on that day.


(As a side note, on that very zoo trip, I kept saying, "We don't color on the walls, do we?" to all of the adults present.  They agreed with me, praised me for my excellent recitation of the rules, and then when we got home, after cake and ice cream, realized that I had colored all over my walls with red crayon.  At least I knew better.)

I have to say that the San Antonio Zoo has really done a beautiful job with its new exhibits.  There's so much natural greenery, but they've also done a good job making sure that all the animals are still visible.

In the case of the snakes, TOO visible, at least as far as I'm concerned.


Austin wasn't really big enough on our last trip to the zoo to really appreciate it all, so he was especially fascinated.  


All the younger boys were absolutely insistent that they mark every. single. animal. off on the zoo map.  They each had their own copies and we spent an awful lot of time on map-marking.  Austin held onto his nearly the entire time, trailing it behind him as he ran from exhibit to exhibit.  


We finished the day off with a picnic.  (Evan was busy catching up on his map-marking.  He apparently missed a bird or fish.)  The kids had a great time, and the best part of day-tripping is, of course, heading back HOME at the end.





Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Content

Even when I was very young, I enjoyed observing people, listening to their stories, watching how they made their decisions.  I remember thinking that I could learn an awful lot from other people's triumphs and disappointments.

So far, my observations have led me to see something very clearly:

People who are content are content no matter what their circumstances.
People who are discontent stay that way even when their circumstances improve.

Discontented people always feel like something could be better, and when things change, they're sure they will be happy, but they're not.  Because something could always be better.  Something is always lacking.  "Sure, I finally got a new job, but the lady in the office next to me doesn't like me."  "My house is bigger, but now I'm going to complain about how hard it is to clean."  "I've switched churches three times in the last five years, and every one of them has failed to meet my needs."

Discontentment is miserable.

When I was a teenager, I made a conscious decision to be one of the content people.  I was not going to let my circumstances dictate my happiness.  But it's more difficult than it would seem.  After all, life is full of unhappy events, and I'm a realistic person.  If the going gets tough, I feel it just as keenly as the next person.

So I started reading Philippians daily- the entire book through each day- and before each reading, I would remind myself that Paul was in prison when he wrote it.  His life's work, by every human estimation, was on hold, and his life was hard- physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Even in those circumstances, Paul was saying, "Rejoice!"  How did he do it?

In his letter, Paul reveals his secret.  

"I have learned in whatever state I am,
to be content:
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.
Everywhere and in all things 
I have learned both to be full and to be hungry,
both to abound and to suffer need.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Philippians 4:11-13

Paul had learned to be content no matter what befell him, in good circumstances and bad.  And he was content because Christ gave him strength to be content.  

It is a truly beautiful thought that Paul learned to be content.  He didn't say, "How do I keep my spirits up in prison?  Well, I was born a pretty optimistic person.  I'm just a glass half-full kind of guy."  No, contentment was a lesson he learned.  And that means that all of God's people can learn that lesson.  It's a difficult course, and there's no graduation, but the study is worth it.

Next time you hear yourself complaining, or you find yourself asking God to change your situation, stop and ask yourself if this circumstance might be a good opportunity to learn contentment.  If Paul can do it, so can we, through Christ who gives strength.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Kid Filter

“Mom, can we listen to ‘Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?’”

“Umm, sure,” I replied, as I turned on the My Fair Lady soundtrack. 

Stefan’s request caught me a little off-guard.  I had visions of those words popping out of his mouth at preschool or Sunday school.  I hope all of the adults in his life are current on their classic musical lyrics.

It’s funny how things seem different when you have kids.  You listen to music with different ears and see movies with different eyes.  All parents have had the experience of sitting next to their little ones on the couch watching TV and thinking, “I do NOT remember that part!”  (Home Alone, anyone?  I certainly had forgotten about the girly magazines in that one!  My kids did not rewatch that this Christmas.)

A lot of little things, of course, go over a child’s head.  When I was young, I thought that in Rocky Mountain High, Colorado, the friends around the campfire, “everyone says hi!” and that Leroy Brown was the baddest man in the whole DOWN town.  Maybe it was just me, but I think that’s a pretty common experience.

But then there are the things that they DO notice.  Those small things that I thought for sure would just slip right by them.  And that’s when being a parent makes me grow up, again. 

The bar is raised when you’re parenting.  You’ve got this little human (or a hoard of little humans) watching you, listening to you, and learning from you.  It’s terrifying.

And that’s why as many people who can have kids, should.  The rest should get involved with other people’s kids.  It’s an important part of the human maturation process.  Nothing puts one’s habits and choices in clear focus like having an impressionable child examining every move.  Go ahead, try explaining away some small indiscretion.  Children will have none of it.  And if you do convince them that your compromise was necessary under the circumstances, your conscience, as you look into those trusting eyes, will condemn you.


It’s the kid filter: Parenting cleans up the parent’s life.  It’s not just about raising the kids; it’s about not being a kid yourself.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Daily Portion Part 2- Swinging Extremes

In my quest to trust the Lord’s daily portion, I’ve noticed something in my life: extremes.  We humans like extremes.  We swing from one extreme (“I NEVER eat sugar, ever, ever”) to the other (“All the donuts!!!!”).  People who seek moderation are rare indeed. 

Moderation.  Balance.  Those concepts are so integral to the blessing of the Lord’s daily portion.  I know that.  I seek moderation and balance, and yet I still seem to swing from one extreme to the other.  Some days, I work very hard- too hard.  I do everything.  I don’t stop.  I can keep going like that for weeks at a time.  Months, actually.  Like the Israelites in the wilderness with the manna, I gather and gather and gather.

And then, the crash.  It’s inevitable, of course.  I’m human.  I wear out.  No more gathering.  At all.  The opposite extreme kicks in and I just don’t do anything.

Over the course of time, this swinging is so destructive.  When I’m in “gathering” mode, I’m doing too much to hear the Lord’s voice clearly.  I’m just forging ahead, doing what seems the most urgent.  In “sit in my tent” mode, I’m too tired to do what the Lord wants me to.  Plus, the “manna” I hoarded is stinking (unfulfilled commitments are piling up and remaining undone), but I don’t have the energy to do anything about it.

I’m a single parent.  Exhaustion is inevitable.  (Trust me, married parents, you have NO idea.  All the single parents are saying, “Amen!”)  It’s draining to be everyone’s everything all the time.  I’m going to have to work each day until I’m very tired.

What isn’t inevitable, though, is the crash.  The push-past-the-limit-until-all-strength-gives-out crash.  That’s something I bring on myself.  Poor planning and overscheduling guarantee a crash.  So does failing to recognize when my mind has reached its limit.  (I have found that it’s often my mind that feels overloaded, even if I can still physically keep going.)

Recognizing that it’s my choice how much I “gather” each day is the first step toward finding the right amount.  It’s easy to feel like circumstances beyond my control are directing my days, but I have more say in the matter than I like to admit.  I can set priorities and plan ahead.  (“Today, it’s most important that I…”) I can be realistic in my planning.  (“I won’t schedule any projects right before we leave because it’s very likely that one of the kids will have a crisis on our way out the door.”)  And, I can say no when things get to be too much.  Even my kids have learned that Mom is “done” in the late evening. 

Being “insanely busy” and “stressed”- how many times have those terms come up in conversations you’ve had lately?- does not make me a more committed Christian or a better mom.  Insane and stressed people aren’t really better at anything than rested and focused people.  I like to be busy each day.  I want to get out and gather my daily portion with strength and determination.  But each day, I want to avoid the extreme.  No more pushing past the limit. 


Moderation- it might not become the latest trend, but it certainly does have a sustainable ring to it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Daily Portion

My ladies’ Sunday school class just finished the Breathe Bible study by Priscilla Shirer.  The study focuses on, to quote the subtitle, “Making Room for Sabbath” and creating “margin” in all areas of life.  The concept is an excellent thing to ponder in our busy, distraction-filled lives.
 
In the interest of honesty, I have to confess that the skeptical side of me wanted to say that the study stretched the “Sabbath principle,” as opposed to actual Sabbath-keeping, to its absolute theological limit.  After all, the Bible has lots to say about the Sabbath, both in the Old and New Testaments- we really don’t have to read very much into it.  But, I took a step back and realized that Breathe, with its emphasis on turning our focus to the Lord, had a lot of wisdom, and I should probably try to quiet my skepticism and be a little more teachable. 

Through the course of the study, the Israelites and manna came up repeatedly, and I had a chance to see the story from a new perspective.  I’ve mentioned before the daily nature of God’s provision.  The story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath has guided me through many tough spots in my life. 

The prophet came to a widow and asked for bread.  She told him that, due to the extreme drought, she had only enough oil and flour for that one day.  After that, she and her son would starve.  Elijah convinced her to share what she had.  “Do not fear…For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up nor shall the jar of oil run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’”  (1 Kings 17:7-16)  The interesting thing about this story, of course, is that the Lord didn’t send a stockpile of flour and oil.  The widow simply didn’t run out.  Each day, she got up, and what she needed was there.  Daily provision.  Daily trust.

I try to remember that as I go through my life.  Don’t worry.  God’s mercy is new every morning.  He doesn’t give us one big lump to portion out as we have need.  Tomorrow will require a new portion, and so will day after that, and the day after that.

And then there was the manna.  I had always seen that story as another example of that daily provision, and, in fact, it is.  But there is a crucial difference:  The Israelites had a choice.  The widow simply had to get up each day and use what was given to her.  The Israelites had options.  They could have chosen not to go out and gather the manna.  They could (and many did) choose to gather more than their daily allotment and hoard the excess. 

I realized, as I contemplated the story anew, that there are times when I also have a choice.  I can be disobedient and lazy (“Lord, I’m too tired to do that.”) and refuse to gather.  I can run around like crazy, worry about future days, and attempt to store up provision against shortages.  And for me, like the Israelites of old, it never ends well.  “Every man had gathered according to each one’s need…But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank.”  (Exodus 16:18, 20)


So in my life right now, I’m seeking the Lord’s guidance each day: What is His portion?  What does He desire for me to gather?  And I know, as I trust His leading, I’ll see His daily provision.