Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sometimes We All Need to Blow Up

Have you ever noticed that it's often easier to assimilate information when there's an image attached to it?

Last month I went on my church's women's retreat, and the speaker utilized several powerful images.  Danna Demetre was our gifted retreat leader.  I've been particularly eager to share two of her metaphors with you.  The first one describes our responsibilities in life as a series of balls.  The second one equates our spiritual life with a glass of chocolate milk.  Both certainly piqued my interest.

Life is like a series of balls

When we describe life as a series of balls, prioritizing becomes easier.  Imagine your daily responsibilities are akin to bouncing rubber balls.  You do laundry - you bounce a ball.  You cook meals - you bounce a ball.  You pay bills, work, and clean your house - all of this is bouncing balls.  Each of us could bounce balls all day everyday.

In addition to rubber balls, we also have glass balls.  Unlike rubber balls, these are not designed for bouncing.  They are fragile and require careful attention.  Glass balls signify our relationships.  They are far from ordinary, and we must safeguard them.  A friend of mine added that you can store these balls on the shelf for a little while.  But every once in a while you need to dust them off and tend to them.  And you can always reach for them when needed.  

The third type of ball in life is a balloon.  This ball requires attention as well, but instead of bouncing or protecting it, we must blow air into it.  Our spiritual life is like an uninflated balloon.  Effort is required to advance it along its intended trajectory.  When we neglect it, it shows.  When we blow it up, we expand and reach our fullest potential.  We can blow air into our balloons by reading scripture, praying, and experiencing Christian community and worship, for instance.

Not only do these images depict different responsibilities in life, but they demonstrate how to tend to them.  It's especially important not to bounce rubber balls at the expense of our other balls.  We must pull back and reprioritize when that's the case.

Our spiritual life is like chocolate milk

Just as we must inflate our spiritual balloons, we must stir our glasses of milk.  Imagine you're a glass of milk and God is the Hershey's Syrup.  Have you ever thought about what happens when you add syrup to a glass of milk?  It simply sinks to the bottom. You must stir the syrup into the milk in order to make chocolate milk.  The same principle applies to our spiritual life.  God provides us with rich blessings through faith, but in order to be fully transformed by those blessings, we must stir our faith up.  Again, reading scripture, praying, and experiencing Christian community and worship are ways to do that.

So if you have been feeling overrun by bouncing rubber balls, don't be afraid to pull back.  If you have been feeling rather empty, try inflating your spiritual balloon.  If you have dedicated your life to Christ but haven't felt any differently lately, try stirring things up.  Sometimes we just need an image to lock on to that can make all the difference.

To read other posts about my recent women's retreat, check out The Redemptive Nature of Girl Power and Why It's Important to Run for the Hills.

{Photo by Luke Jones at Flickr, Edited}

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Redemptive Nature of Girl Power

This year I decided to go on our church's women's retreat after some not so subtle prompting from the Holy Spirit.  I had never been on a women's retreat before.  In fact, I had only been away from my family for two nights one other time since the birth of our first child five years ago.  I was convicted when I signed up with a couple of girlfriends that it was the right decision.  But as the date approached, I started to doubt.

All of us can keep busy schedules.  Those of you with little children may sometimes feel engulfed by yours.  It was one of those times for me.  I had just hosted family for several days for Easter the weekend before.  The visit was great, but in its wake our house was a mess and our kids were exhausted.  I felt the need to relax, but instead I was supposed to pack and travel the next weekend too.  I wondered, “Will my weekend away really be worth all of this hassle?” 

Despite my doubts about going, I kept my commitment and followed through.  I knew God would bless the weekend – but he did so in a way that surprised me.  These are some of the retreat blessings I anticipated:  The opportunity to hear a fabulous speaker, make new friends, divorce my cellphone for a weekend, and take a long nap.  (I was particularly excited about the latter.  Seriously, moms, when is the last time you took a long, uninterrupted nap completely guilt-free?)  Well, God did deliver on all of those things, but they weren't the best part.  The best part was experiencing the unique power of collective feminine witness, which manifested itself in three ways.

First, I experienced connection.  When I mention connection, I am not talking about making new friends.  I am talking about the power of female community.  I live in a house with four males – my husband, two sons, and a male cat.  As wonderfully sensitive and loving as they are, they are not females.  I was amazed by the vulnerability and desire to share stories on the retreat.  It was prevalent and effortless.  It was women communicating in the way God designed us to need. 

When I think about my weekly schedule with little children, maybe I sneak in a quick conversation with a friend during a playdate.  Maybe I meet a friend for coffee and have a quick heart-to-heart before dashing to pick my children up from preschool.  Maybe I arrange to have a dinner out with a friend once in a while.  I might feel fueled by each of these outlets, but they are not the same as a collection of women coming together to communicate for an entire weekend.  I saw lives not just touched, but transformed.

Second, I experienced communal wisdom.  If you think about it, each of us has a limited sphere of connection.  Despite the fact that I am a pastor and rather outgoing, my immediate circle of friends is small and fairly homogeneous.  The friends whom I regularly see live near me, are of similar age, and engage in some of the same activities.  I know their stories, and they know mine.  Imagine the power, however, of hearing new stories from women of varying ages and backgrounds.  Imagine the communal truth that can emerge.

Just like wars have been fought for similar reasons throughout history, I’m learning marriages end for similar reasons.  Friendships collapse for similar reasons.  Children go down the wrong path for similar reasons.  Sharing communal wisdom is essential for the protection and growth of what we value most.  We all know live, personal testimonies are far more effective than anything we can read in a book, but we need to take advantage of the opportunity to hear them.  If you are a young woman, perhaps you have been hesitant to go on a retreat because yours is largely attended by older women; consider the fact that their stories might be just what God wants you to hear. 

Finally, I experienced continued growth in perspective.  In one weekend, there were stories of divorce, imprisonment, assault and battery, and mental illness, among others, and that’s from a healthy, suburban church.  Creation is still groaning.  If you think you must suffer alone and in silence, if you believe no one can possibly understand your pain, if you think there is no place to express your anger toward God in Christian community, you are listening to the Deceiver.  Sometimes the greatest gift God can give us are hands to hold from women who understand, and together we can resurrect from the ashes through faith.

So in answer to my question, “Will my weekend away really be worth all of this hassle?”, my answer undoubtedly is YES.  God blessed my time on the retreat abundantly.  And in fact, I have come to see the hassle beforehand differently too.  The responsibilities that seemed onerous to arrange before I left are for a family that I now appreciate even more.  For amidst a recognition of life’s trials, we can better celebrate every good gift.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Why It's Important to Run for the Hills

Last weekend I ran, well really drove, to the hills.  I attended my church's women's retreat in the Pocono Mountains.

Moms, when is the last time you packed your bags and left your family for a couple of nights?  

Maybe you practice the discipline of it, and take an occasional weekend away to recharge or connect with girlfriends.  But if you're like me, you've done it next to never since you've had children.

In order to get away, I had to push through some doubts.  First, would a weekend away really be worth all of the hassle?  I was cleaning, packing, stocking the house, and arranging the necessary logistics.  I was exhausted - and hadn't even left yet.

Second, would my husband be okay watching our young children all weekend and then going back to work on Monday?  Would he be able to shoulder the extra work in addition to the various additional responsibilities that had cropped up?  We all have a family rhythm, and my time away was a break from ours.

After going on the retreat, I can confidently answer that everything worked out okay - actually, better than okay.  My husband had a blast with our children.  And I returned refreshed, renewed and transformed.

If you have been feeling reluctant - over even guilty - about needing some time away, I wonder if you've wrestled with any of these thoughts:

My husband just doesn't understand nor appreciate what I do all day!  Have you given him the chance to do it by himself?

My children won't stop whining - even an occasional thank you would be nice!  Have you given your children the opportunity to miss you?   

I am so exhausted.  One day bleeds into another - it's like I am reliving Groundhog's Day!  When is the last time you allowed yourself a break? 

Sometimes we just need encouragement to get away - encouragement that says it will be worth the extra work to arrange it.  Sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to do it.  You don't have to be supermom.  You can step away.  In fact, you can actually be more "super" after you do.

We can't allow maternal pride to rob us of a break.  Yes, other people will do things differently than we do in our absence.  But I've learned over the years that just because they do it differently doesn't mean we always do it better.  God created each of us with strengths and weakness; the strongest model for family life is one that accepts an influx of guidance and support.

Christ established a model for us to emulate by heading for the hills.  Mark 6:45-46 states, "Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.  After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray."  Yes, Christ was praying to the Father, but he was also intentionally removing himself from those he was beholden to in order to refuel.

If you've been sensing the need for a little time away, have you ever considered that it is Jesus himself who is bidding you to go?

{Photo by Dhruvaraj S at Flickr, Edited}

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