Friday, November 12, 2010

Between You and Me / Anxiety

“And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.”
Genesis 13:8
I have four daughters, and four sons. To each of you I say, “I don’t want there to be anything between you and me.” I have four sons in law, and four daughters in law. “I hope there will never be anything between you and me.” I have three brothers. To them and my sisters in law I say the same “Don’t let anything come between you and me.” If you know me, I want there to be nothing between you and me. I want our relationship to be everything it should be, whether as your mother, your sister, or your friend.

There’s a story in the book of Genesis about a man and his nephew. Abraham was a wealthy man. God had blessed him with cattle and land. He lived in the land of Canaan with his wife, Sarah, and his nephew, Lot. They migrated there from Ur, a land of pagan idolatry. It was in this place that God chose to bring Abraham to start a new generation that would love and serve Him. Abraham didn’t use the excuse that he came from a pagan background. He trusted God to fulfill His promise through him and Sarah, although they were both nearing 100 years of age.

Everything belonged to Abraham. Lot was a tag-along. In fact God’s original plan was for Abraham to leave all. In part he obeyed, but not completely, because he brought Lot and his father, Terah with him. The Bible says that Terah was an idolater.

One day Abraham noticed that his servants and those of Lot were fighting over the greenest pasture for their sheep. Abraham valued the relationship with his nephew more than his animals. He knew that if their shepherds were disagreeing, in a short time, so would they. So although everything belonged to Abraham, he came up with a solution: “Lot, you choose the pasture land you would like to have. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right. If you choose the right, I’ll go to the left.” And Lot chose the richest pasture land. It reminded him of the rich land of Egypt, which by the way he remembered, because Abraham had taken his family there during the time of famine, instead of trusting the Lord to provide his needs.

Abraham was willing to give up the best pasture land in order to keep anything from coming between him and his nephew.

God saw Abraham’s heart, and He called Abraham apart to live in the land of Hebron. Hebron means “the place of communion.” The verb commune means to communicate intimately. Abraham and God were friends, intimate friends.

Abraham was far from perfect. But God chose him to be the father of a nation.

Maybe because I’m a widow, and I don’t have the companionship of a husband, but I long to have an intimate relationship with God. I’m not where I wish I were in our relationship, but I know what I long for.

But just as there are things that come between a husband and a wife to harm their relationship, there are things that can wedge themselves between the Lord and a Christian. I know. I’ve experienced it. Just as I’ve enjoyed close communion with the Lord, I also know what it is to feel something is not right.

The ultimate goal of a Christian should be to please the Lord, and bring honor to Him in all we do. Unless we take stock of our lives, and acknowledge what it is that is hindering our relationship, whether between husband and wife, mother and child, or a Christian and the Lord, we’ll never make that relationship more intimate.

So I’ve tried to analyze my personal relationship with the Lord, and I came up with a list of possible problems that could come between the two of us. At the top of my list is “Anxiety.” I’m going to share with you what I’m feeling this morning.

The dictionary defines anxiety as “uneasiness usually over an expected misfortune.” If I’m going to be a blessing to you, I must expose my feelings, and I’ll have to admit, I very often have feelings of anxiety. I started this lesson exactly one week away from a very exciting trip. The most unsettling thing I do is to leave the comfort and security of my beloved home. But this was going to be a happy trip, because I was meeting my son, David, and his wife, Jolene and their three children, whom I had not seen in almost two years. I was also going to be attending a Christian Womanhood Spectacular, which I’ve attended only in my dreams since I was a young wife and mother. The joy and thrill of that precious reunion, and my dream of a lifetime come true, was being over-shadowed by anxiety: what if my plane from Chiapas takes off late, and I don’t have enough time to change planes in Mexico City? What if the hotel I reserved for that night cancels my reservation, because I have a late check-in, and I have to sleep in the lobby, or in the airport? Is it cold in Chicago in October? Should I take a coat? Will my luggage be over-weight? And on and on went the “uneasiness” of this “expected misfortune.” Not only do those feelings bring a distance between the Lord and me, it robs me of the joy I should be feeling, it makes me unproductive, it robs me of much-needed sleep, it makes me irritable with others, it makes me say things that I wouldn’t say, or even think if I would simply do what the Bible tells me to do in Philippians 4:6, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The most valuable treasure anxiety takes from me is peace, the peace of God, according to this Scripture. I need to do what Peter tells me to do, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” I Peter 5:7 Peter was a fisherman, and I believe we can imagine our casting our cares on Jesus, just as Peter cast his net into the sea. I don’t envision God sitting up in Heaven, shaking His head in disgust at me for not trusting Him, because of the last part of that verse, “He careth for you.” Our anxieties are important to Him, because they’re part of what keeps us from being close.

So I took practical measures to at least limit my anxieties. I made a list of things I needed to get done before my departure date. I even put little abbreviations of the day I should have each one finished by the side of each item. I at least knew what needed to be done.

There are anxieties I have which are real. I have actually slept in a hotel lobby, but I have precious memories of that short night, and the lessons the Lord taught me. I have also had luggage that exceeded the weight limit several times. But I’ve also seen the Lord deliver me from having to leave anything behind, or even having to pay extra.

Many things that cause our anxiety, whether real or imagined, can be useful: they can motivate us to get organized, take stock of the way we spend our time, or just simply be thankful for someone, perhaps, we’re afraid we’re going to lose. Just as I may know the consequences of my plane taking off late, I must realize there are certain things over which I have absolutely no control. I can’t control the weather in Chicago, any more than I can control flight schedules. I must do as Peter tells me. I must cast my care on Him, Who cares for me, and realize that some things are totally out of my control. I must do the best I can to be on time for all my flights, and I wisely went online, checking the weather forecast for Chicago. But the success of failure of my trip didn’t depend on everything going perfectly. It depended on my trust in the One Who cares for me, and Who is in the “control tower” of my life.

So that morning I went fishing. I did some casting. I did this by just talking to the Lord, and admitting my anxieties to Him. I prayed for my pilots, and I asked Him to put kind people in my path. I asked Him to give me His peace for my anxieties.

And that’s exactly what He did.

Billie Sloan
Nahum 1:7

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

MY KIDS AND ME - Chapter 7

“The Common and Ordinary.
The Schedules and Routines”
I am writing this book shortly after my 65th birthday. I have eight children, and twenty-eight grandchildren. At the moment of this writing, I have been alone for almost three weeks. I am taking a brief respite from work and travels, and am enjoying being able to make my own schedules and establish my own routine.

Ordinarily, I am with one or more of my children, their spouse and their children. So there are times when I must “go with the flow,” and keep up with their pace. If I am traveling with my son, David, and his wife, Jolene and their three children…which is the only way I can spend time with them every two years during their visit in America, and before their return to their mission field of Ukraine…I must go on their strict routine and schedules.

When I’m at home in Chiapas, living across the drive from my church, necessitates doing certain things before people arrive in my yard for certain activities.

Even during this luxurious break from my normal routine, I am staying in a mission apartment, so I must comply with certain schedules of the church activities, which I thoroughly enjoy: ladies’ Thursday morning visitation, ladies meetings, and other church activities.

Can one ever say, “I am the sole ruler of my life? I can plan my day how I want, doing exactly what I would like to do, and when, and until I get ready, I’ll not quit?” Will I ever be so independent that I can completely eliminate all interruptions and distractions? I think not.

If that is your dream, as it is mine at times, let me confirm that the happiest person on earth is not the person who has all the money she wants to spend, spending it however she likes, with whomever she pleases. She does not get up at her leisure, and sleep whenever she gets tired.

Even in this brief time that I am at liberty to “do as I please, and go as I please,” I have found myself forming little limitations, routines, and schedules. Not only do I feel more rested than if I had nothing to account for having gotten up in the morning, but I actually have a sense of having accomplished things that I could have otherwise not gotten done had I been surrounded by children and grandchildren. I schedule times for reading, relaxing, and napping. I have a routine for shopping, and doing fun things. I have gone to the library, and browsed through expensive purses and suits, although I haven’t purchased them.

There is something inside us…at least inside me…that demands order…reasons for doing what I do, answers to “what am I doing here, and why am I doing this?”

And so it is with raising children.

I remember when my children were small, I would go to bed at night, and look back over my day with disgust. What had I done? I had washed, and cooked and cleaned. I had bathed my children, washed dirty faces and hands before meals. I had put them down for naps, washed out diapers, folded mountains of laundry, and I had made out menus and grocery lists. I had home schooled. All these activities were products of routine and schedule. And I would think, “I just worked and worked all day around my children, and never took time to talk with them, or play games with them, or listen to their stories.” Than I would begin to fantasize about the next day, and how I would change my life: “I’ll get up in the morning, and before I dress, or fix breakfast, or start school, I’ll sit down in the living room floor and play games with them. I’ll leisurely stroll into the kitchen, and have breakfast on the table in twenty minutes. Then before dishes are done, we’ll dress and go out for a walk.”

And on and on my fantasizing would go.

The next morning, just as one would step onto a ramp like the one you put your groceries on at Wal-Mart, or lug your luggage (so that’s where luggage got its name!) onto the ramp at the airport, I would step out of bed, and onto my routine-ramp, and before you knew it, it would be eighteen hours later, and I had nothing more to show for my day than the same things I had performed the day before.

But without my even knowing it, I was creating a nest of security for my children, and for myself. My children knew what to expect. They knew what came next, and what was expected of them, and what they could look forward to. There were certain dishes I prepared on certain days.

The greatest damage the devil can do to your happiness is to convince you that you are doing everything wrong. You’re the reason for all your problems. And many times he convinces us to do things the way everyone else around us is doing it.

From the time our children were born, until they left for college, we had a naptime routine. This didn’t necessarily come at the same time every day, but it did fall into the same slot: immediately after lunch, which at our house was about 2:00. We raised our children in Mexico, where the big meal of the day is served in the afternoon, usually between 2:00 and 3:00. This beautifully allows families to come home from school and work, enjoy a leisurely meal together, and then return to their work or school around 4:00. This is called, Siesta Time, and in my little mountain village, many shops and businesses close down during that time.

This is perhaps why this routine started, but even today, I find myself looking for a quiet corner wherever I am, as soon as lunch is over, and dishes are done, and enjoying a thirty-minute to hour long nap. I won’t go into the benefits of this tradition, because I’m talking about routines and schedules.

But even as I have spent these three weeks alone, I religiously take my delicious naps every afternoon. The great joy of being alone is that I can manage my own naps whenever I like…not while grandbabies are down for their naps.

There is a joy, and sense of fulfillment, a feeling of “doing what I should be doing, when I should be doing it,” in routine and schedules, even at my age. I schedule one hour for writing this book, immediately after my devotions. So my mind is not tangled up in thinking, “I should be preparing my IRS, or making phone calls, or running to Wal-Mart.”

Isn’t this somewhat similar to being in the center of God’s will? While your children are too young to know God’s will, schedule and routine will provide that safety for them, that feeling of being secure in knowing that they’re doing exactly what they should be doing, at exactly the right time. This familiarity with our activities creates this warm soothing comfort zone. There is the looking forward to story time after supper around the table. “This is a tough math problem, but as soon as I’m through, I can work on my spelling words.”

Don’t you remember as a child sitting in a classroom, maybe absorbed in trying to answer a history question, and all of a sudden visions of sitting around the dinner table came to your mind? How comforting, and soothing simple routines provide for us in our times of distress.

Is it possible that my two young friends, Josh and Caleb, even as I write, are somewhere in a prison, with thoughts of their father’s home going only three days ago…and their not being able to be with their families? What could possibly get anyone through such an agonizing experience? Do they have memories of their father doing the familiar, routine things with them? The familiarity of his being behind the pulpit, of always standing for what was right? Could this be their cushion in a cold prison? This warm memory of “Dad always…”

Is it family vacations he always provided for his children, and their families every year? This “looking forward to the familiar?” Tradition, routine, schedules…that’s what brings happy memories, and cozy comfort in cold, dark prison cells.

It was routine that allowed our family to always have devotions around our dining room table. It wasn’t the powerful messages that came out of those routine times. I never had time to prepare anything, and many times my mind wouldn’t have allowed me to organize spiritual thoughts in order to convey them to my children. It was routine that allowed my children to learn Scripture passages from the time they could sit up in a high chair.

Sitting around our table, Bibles in front of us, my little papers with Scriptures to be quoted and the Scripture of the week to be memorized, brought a feeling of “everything’s going to be all right. Everything is where it should be, and everyone is where they should be.” That sense of well-being, and peace comes forth from routine…the same ole same ole.

If I had not cultivated the habit of routine, the “this-comes-after-this” way of life, there are times when I wouldn’t know which way to go when I wake up in the mornings. Perhaps because as people grow older there is this sense of not having enough years, or months or days to get everything done that I would like to accomplish in this lifetime. I feel at times that there is going to be more crammed into the next day, because I didn’t get it all done today. There is a peace, a sense of direction and purpose and accomplishment every morning, as routine guides me through my maze. It’s the turning on the coffee pot and heading for the shower…steps firm and sure that I’m doing at least one thing right this day, and so everything else should fall into place, too. Even though my mind is numb with drowsiness, and I know by looking at the clock, and by the way my body is screaming to “please, one more hour under the covers,” that three hours’ sleep is not enough to perform all the activities that lie ahead. But by the time I’m through with the normal routine, and I sit down with my coffee and Bible, I have a certain feeling of accomplishment, and of being ready for the day.

It’s that turning off the decision maker…knowing exactly what comes next…that frees my mind, once it’s awake, to start praying for my children, and the other people and things and problems I pray for every day.

There is one simple thing I’ve learned in this life: the fewer the decisions, the fewer the mistakes. The fewer the decisions, the more freedom for peaceful thoughts and tranquility. There’s no “shall I start laundry today, or wait one more day?” Well, at my house if it’s Monday or Thursday, it’s laundry day for me. No decision there, so if the electricity goes off on Monday morning, I can put something else in the laundry slot for Monday.

When my children were all at home, I had…please don’t laugh…certain dresses for certain days. I absolutely loved Saturday’s at our house, because that’s the day we didn’t have school, and I got to do only housework that day. I had a yellow dress that I used only on Saturday’s. It was short sleeved, so I had more freedom to roll out the dough for our cinnamon rolls. I never wore that dress on Wednesday’s or Monday’s…just Saturday’s. I don’t particularly like yellow, and I don’t believe it’s my color, but it was given to me, and so I wore it for housework.

So what do yellow dresses have to do with anything? I would have asked the same question before my children left home.

But after they left for college, imagine the comfort in midst of the agonizing homesickness of knowing exactly what I was wearing when my children would think of home on Saturday’s….this yellow cushion to curl up on.

No matter how silly your routine, or how weird yours may be, don’t be afraid of it. It’s tailor-made for you and your children.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Hearbeat of a Banquet

(Instead of posting Chapter 8 of my book, My Kids and Me, I’ve decided to send you some of the thoughts I’m having, and the emotions I usually feel this time of the year. Thank you for letting me share them with you.)

“The Heartbeat of a Banquet”
On Friday afternoon, November 19, just two weeks from today, Lord willing, I’ll walk into the lovely Banquet room of probably the most prestigious hotel in our little town. As always, I will arrive about an hour before 4:00 in order to arrange my personal things…my folder containing programs customized for everyone who will take part in our annual Ladies’ Christmas Banquet, and my own program, which will basically play the part of my brain for the evening, telling me exactly what I should be doing, when, and where; my Bible, handkerchief, water, pens, music, etc. Don’t worry…all those items are on a list in a pretty pink notebook I’ve chosen for my notes this year.

I also want to be relaxed and organized so I will be able to greet each lady at the door.

But I think the most important reason I arrive an hour early is because I want to take in the beauty, and the atmosphere before anyone else arrives. My daughters and several ladies from the church will arrive about 10:00 that morning to finish the final touches of the decorations.

But by 3:00, my girls will be in their rooms at the hotel, which are reserved several months before the Banquet. I did this last year, and my children said that was one of the most wonderful parts of the Banquet…being able to leisurely dress for the banquet, and step out of their rooms and into the Banquet room. And then after the banquet, not to have to take babies and belongings out to vans and carry sleeping babies into the house late at night. By the end of the banquet, babies will be in their jammies, and tucked into bed by their “nannies for the evening.”

So if I get there an hour before the Banquet, no one is there. I just walk among the tables, taking in the atmosphere of what will soon be filled with the chatter of lady friends, some who have saved all year long in order to buy their $20 dollar ticket. Some will be wearing designer dresses, some dresses will be homemade, and some will be from last year’s Banquet. This represents the different walks of life these women come from.

But what will take place here on that night will also represent hundreds and hundreds of hours of work, planning, preparation, and prayer put into this event so dear to my heart.

Thousands of dollars miraculously raised by friends, children, churches across the USA, our church here, and the hard work of my Sunday school ladies are required to fund this gala evening.

As I walk in my imagination among the tables, which will be so beautifully decorated this year with fresh flowers, my mind goes back fifty years…

…1960. I was only 16 years old that November 15th afternoon, as my parents, my three little brothers and I drove across the border, and along the two-lane highway that led me away from my country, my beloved church, school, and friends into this strange land called México. Everything uncommon looks strange in the eyes of a teenage girl: the people, their customs, their food, and their language.

I was blessed enough to have a teenage brother who was my very best friend and constant companion. We even enrolled in school together, and for the next three years, which would conclude our high school years, we sat in the same classrooms, and shared the same friends. We went on “dates,” and we clowned around. We even enjoyed staying in the same bedroom in twin beds while we soaked in all the attention required for two teenagers with hepatitis.

How do a different people become yours? What makes a strange country become home? Why is it sometimes easier to express yourself in a second language than in your first language?

It happens by just being there, and letting it happen. It isn’t learned, and it isn’t forced on you. It happens to you like a sweet aroma happens to you when you walk through a garden, or a forest.

Never in my wildest teenage dreams would I ever imagine loving a land, a country, a city, a people like I love my home, and the place where God has called me.

I believe when God gives a call, He also gives a love. It’s like a magnet drawing you to it, whether it is to care for your children, to care for the sick, to pastor a church, or to minister to prisoners. The surrender to God’s call brings peace.

We’re talking heartbeats here.

My girls and the ladies in our church make up the core of the production of this event. They’re considerably younger than I am, and the part they play in this annual affair requires lots and lots of hard physical work…work with their hands, as they spend hours designing invitations, creating the lovely corsages for each special lady, making centerpieces.

Their tired feet walk and run from sun up until sundown, chasing toddlers, running errands, shopping, reserving, and ordering.

Their voices make phone calls, and rehearse songs, and invite friends.

Fingers work almost non stop at their computers, typing out programs, songs and menus; or punching in phone numbers as they call to make sure reservations are confirmed.

But the part of my anatomy that will be working most throughout the months and now days before the Banquet will be my mind. My mind works although I lie down for an afternoon nap. In my mind I can picture how I want everything to be that evening. I see the platform; I see the tables reserved for special guests; I hear the songs.

I go over and over in my mind the essay I will be reading that evening…something I’ve done ever since our first Banquet years ago…a speech that goes with the theme for the Banquet.

And you can’t involve the mind without getting the heart in on the act. My heart is stirred at times while I’m alone in the early hours of the morning with the Lord. As I open my Bible and read, my emotions are active as I realize the theme of this year’s banquet: “Celebrating Fifty Years of God’s Goodness.”

For some of the ladies attending that evening, this is probably one of many invitations that they will receive. Because of their position in life, events like this abound. Why do they choose this particular one year after year after year? Because the heartbeat of our Banquet, the purpose of this annual event is reaching hearts, and stirring emotions. And year after year these ladies tell me before they leave, “Thank you for this evening. It’s the highlight of my year, and of this season. My heart feels so full.”

If my heart isn’t prepared for that evening, their hearts won’t be touched.

As I grow older, my mind works a lot more than my hands or my feet do. My mind works now in fact, more than my hands or feet ever worked when I was a young mother. Only when I sleep does it also rest.

But my body gets tired and weary, so I must, especially during this time, make sure I eat the right food, and get enough rest…even more than I normally would. My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I’ve noticed when I’m physically exhausted, my spirit is weary, also, and I’m not as aware of His presence.

I desire an alert sound mind, which is required of me as I write, speak, and teach.

I pray this prayer every night before I go to bed, for my children and for their mother: “Help me/us to wake up in the morning refreshed and encouraged about the challenge of a new day.”

If you read this, and if you are praying for this Banquet, will you also pray for the Lord to give this 66 year-old mind alertness required for the days ahead, and especially for the evening of November 19? Pray for my heart to be soft and not hard as I face the challenges and demands of each day.

And pray for the Holy Spirit to touch and change the hearts of the ladies who attend, so when they walk out that evening, they’ll be forever different than when they walked in.