I’ve Been Trying to Squeeze Out Some Fruit of the Spirit on My Own

Like any good parent, I think I have the sweetest, most amazing children in the world, but somehow, we still occasionally have days around here when paradise feels like it must be in some other home. (I know, with this much sweetness, how could we NOT always have the happiest home EVER?!)

Kaylia and Everett

But Monday was a day like that. Oh, my goodness, I was tired. I really think my patience gets refilled during the sleep that happens after 6 am. I’ve been missing that chunk, recently.

So we plowed through homeschooling, Everett decided that naps were a waste of his time, my head was aching, and by the time Ben got home, the introvert in me wanted COMPLETE SILENCE FOR THE REST OF THE DAY.

On days like that, I want to be so much better. I want to try harder, and love harder, and just be more awesome, but for the last few weeks, I’ve had these verses hanging around in my head:

 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It doesn’t matter how much I try, it’s just not happening that way – I only bear fruit when I remain in Jesus.

Years ago, I heard a message about the Fruit of the Spirit that still comes to mind all the time. The pastor explained how the Fruit of the Spirit is just that: fruit. It’s the product of the Holy Spirit growing and thriving inside of us. We don’t start with the fruit, or focus on the fruit – it’s what we enjoy when we’ve gone through the hard work of growing.

It would be silly to get frustrated because there are no apples to eat in our backyard, when we haven’t even planted any apple trees yet.

In the same way, I need to focus on the planting, instead of the produce. I can’t be frustrated with myself over a lack of fruit – I need to get busy planting.

apples

But I want apples! Right now!!! And when I want those awesome Fruits of the Spirit, and get impatient with myself for not being more self-controlled, or kind, or whatever, my natural reaction is to try harder, to muster up all the self-discipline I may have inside of myself, and squeeze out some fruit with sheer force.

That’s not really how it’s supposed to work, though. That self-discipline leads to…nothing.

So I’m trying to change the way I think. When I notice a lack in patience or whatever else, I’m trying to take it as a sign that there’s actually a lack of a connection with the Holy Spirit. I don’t need to try harder – I need to ask for more help. I need to get alone to pray. (Quick, 30 second cries to Jesus for help while I’m in the bathroom have seemed helpful!) I need to memorize Scripture.

And I need to stop beating myself up. That’s a big one. I can be so hard on myself, but really, I need to stop stressing about the apples, and focus on what really matters.

In the end, I just want to be consumed with the Spirit, abiding and remaining in Him until I become a healthy, growing, flourishing branch.

 

When Dreams Are Marinating

Thanks so much to everyone for your comments and thoughts on dreams this week. It seems there are two main thoughts which keep surfacing: 1) It can be difficult to determine which dreams come from God, and which ones are our own, and 2) It can be difficult to wait on God to see those dreams fulfilled.

On Wednesday, I shared a few thoughts on clarifying which dreams come from God, and today, I want to talk about the dreams that require some waiting and patience!

Reading Heather‘s book, Dream Big, has gotten me thinking a lot about the balance between actively pursuing our dreams, and staying still while prayerfully waiting for the time of completion.

Over the last few years, I’ve gone through a number of experiences which felt as though God was teaching me about the art of waiting – to stop planning, and stop pursuing, and just learning to abide in Him.

This does not come naturally for me. I am a planner, and I like to be in control of my schedule and my life. Learning to let go of “The Plan” was difficult for me, and is something I wrote about in a blog series called, “Chucking the Five Year Plan” (Part 1, 2, 3, 4)

It has been an interesting challenge for me to process Heather’s thoughts and suggestions for having a one year, and five year plan, and being intentional about pursuing dreams. As I read her book, and worked through her exercises for coming up with a plan, I realized how much I’ve allowed myself to swing to the “No Plan” side of things, as I’ve tried to leave room for God to take the lead. I admire Heather’s wisdom in allowing God to do things in His time, while actively and intentionally preparing yourself to be ready for the time when He starts to move in more noticeable ways.

She writes,

When God plants His dreams in us, we often have to wait to see them fulfilled. However, this doesn’t mean we sit around watching TV, checking Facebook, and waiting for our big dreams to come knocking. There are little opportunities every day…that God uses to prepare us for our big dreams. If only we weren’t so easily distracted.

I know how tempting it can be to try to force our dreams to happen. I know how it feels to believe in something so much, to be so sure it is from God, and to be completely confused as to His timing and what He is doing to bring it about.

Sometimes, seeing ourselves in a time of preparation is a very difficult thing. Waiting for seemingly endless amounts of time can be very hard. I have not always faced my times of waiting, the seasons of “marinating” in my life, with as much grace and patience as I wish I had.

The most difficult season of waiting I have ever experienced was before Kaylia was born.

I had two amazing experiences when I felt as though God was clearly telling me we would someday have a baby girl. In the moment, those times were powerful, but by the next morning, doubts would always set in, and it was hard to believe God had really spoken to me.

There were times when the waiting was almost unbearable, and I didn’t know how to be faithful in the waiting. I was so blinded by my desire for a baby, I couldn’t see the opportunities for growth or preparation in that time.

We were asked a number of times during those years why we didn’t just adopt a baby. Part of me wanted to pursue adoption, but part of me was held back in a way I couldn’t understand or explain.

I remember one weekend in particular, when my thoughts and feelings reached a climax. I was tired of waiting for God, and I was tired of the longing and unhappiness in my life. Would it be so wrong for us to take the situation into our own hands, and just go adopt a baby? (That makes adoption sound easy, but I realize it’s not! It just seemed much more possible than pregnancy at that point.)

The weekend of this emotional climax happened to be Family Camp at Red Rock Bible Camp, and I attended a chapel session one evening. The speaker was talking about the Bible story of Abraham and Sarah, and as he was speaking, I got caught up in the story, reading farther along. I read about how God promised them a baby, and then nothing happened – for years, and years, and years….

Because they are Bible characters, it is easy to assume they handled this well, but they really didn’t. Sarah decided to take things into her own hands, and made Abraham sleep with her maid so they could finally get that promised baby.

But it wasn’t the promised baby.

It was the maid’s baby, and as that child grew up, he caused a lot of grief for everyone involved. It was unnecessary, avoidable grief, because it was wrong for the whole situation to ever have happened. If Abraham and Sarah would just have waited with faith and trust, Isaac would eventually have come along.

As I sat there in that chapel, it suddenly struck me how tempted I was  to be a little like Sarah. I really wanted to adopt a baby, not because Ben and I felt called to adoption at that point, but because I wanted to be in control. I was tired of waiting on God, and since adoption is not a sinful thing to do, surely it would be okay to pursue.

Except that deep down in my heart, I knew God was saying “no”. We weren’t meant to adopt our “promised” baby. I still felt God had spoken to me years before, and His words had been, “Wait on me.” But in my times of doubt, it was hard to keep believing, and extremely tempting to start thinking like Sarah.

And so we waited. I have no idea what would have happened if we hadn’t, but I am so thankful and happy and blessed because of the life we have now.

***************************

So how do you know? How do you know when it’s time to take action, and when it’s time to just sit tight, because God is up to something whether we know what it is or not?

When do we “marinate” in all that confusion and waiting, longing for these dreams we have deep in our hearts?

I am still working on the answer to those questions, because I think it’s different in each situation, but I’m starting to realize that the answer might be in the “how”.

How am I taking action?

Are my actions pure? (Sleeping with the maid…not so much!)

Do I feel peaceful about my steps forward, or am I just getting a “no” from God?

Is there a deeper reason why I might be held back from taking action?

I felt frustration whenever I was held back from actively pursuing my dreams, but looking back, I can see growth and purpose during those times of “marinating”. Sometimes we need an extended period of time to just sit, soaking it all in, learning to live in the tension.

Reading Heather’s book has enabled me to better define what I choose to do during a season of “dream marination”. 🙂

Sometimes, the pain and struggle of living in the tension IS the preparation. I don’t think I could have handled a five year plan in that season of my life.

But I’ve moved into a different season, and I can see how the dreams I have now could benefit from an intentional plan of preparation.

Just as I couldn’t force God’s timing when it came to having a baby, I cannot force God in His timing for my new dreams.

I’m starting to see the peace that can be there for us in the season of marinating.

I believe that allowing God to control the timing of our dreams is just as important as allowing Him to determine what those dreams are in the first place.

***********************

Okay, everybody, last chance to comment, and have a chance to win Heather’s new book!

My question for today is this: How’s the marinating going? Are you able to “actively wait”, with intention, peace, and purpose, or do you struggle with impatience?

Oh My Word, I’m Orange.

I have heard of those orange people before – you know, the ones who eat so many carrots, their skin turns orange?

I’ve always thought it would take a very weird person to end up in such a situation. I mean, first of all, who actually likes carrots enough to eat so many, it alters their skin color?

And secondly, it doesn’t take a very intelligent person to think, “Hey! My skin is orange. I need to put down the carrot, and pick A DIFFERENT VEGETABLE TO EAT!!”

It’s not that complicated.

But here I am. With bright orange hands.

How did this happen?

Well, I eat a lot of vegetables. Particularly, soup. I have perfected my vegetable soup. Oh, it is so good. I have figured out exactly what I like in a vegetable soup, and I experience much pleasure from my bowl of soup.

Yes, it has carrots in it, but it also has lots of other vegetables. And yes, I was eating it two or three times of day (my snack options are very limited…), but still. It has lots of other vegetables in it!!

Then at Christmas, I was driving, and happened to look at my hands on the steering wheel. I thought, “My hands look…orange. That’s weird…..Am I eating too many carrots, or what?”

I asked Ben about it, and he thought I was being silly. Of course they weren’t orange!

I forgot about it for a few weeks, until one day when I was washing Kaylia’s hands. I saw our hands in the mirror, and compared to her little hands, my hands were bright orange.

Ben still thought they looked fine, but I decided at this point not to listen to him anymore, and emailed my naturopath.

Sure enough, it turns out that some people are really sensitive to the level of vitamin A in their bodies, and will turn orange sooner than the average person.

Lucky me.

No more carrots for a long time! Fortunately, I’ve faded enough that no one notices my orange hue unless they are really looking for it, and we all compare hands. So I don’t feel quite as self-conscious about the whole thing!

But here’s the thing. My orange hands are making me think about spiritual stuff. That sounds like a huge stretch, but here are my weird thoughts:

It just happened. I ate carrots, and ate carrots, and ate carrots, and suddenly, there were the orange hands. I didn’t think I was doing anything strange or excessive, it was just part of my life.

I look at my orange hands, and wish that it was as easy to show Jesus in my life as it is to be…orange.

The single-parenting thing has made me tired and impatient at times, and I get frustrated, and don’t respond in the calm, gentle way that I wish would. I try so hard to be the way I know God wants me to be, but then something frustrating comes up, and the same old reaction spills out.

But the other day, it hit me – I’m more focused on the end result than I am on the process to get there. 

I try to be patient, but it’s focusing on God, praying, reading His Word, controlling my thoughts – that will bring me to the end result.

What I continually put into my body will be what comes out.

If I eat foods containing vitamin A, all the live long day, then yes, I will end up with orange hands.

If I keep putting Jesus in, again and again, all day long, then when the difficult moments come along, I will not spew impatience and frustration.

I heard once that if you fill a glass with iced tea, and you bump it, obviously iced tea will be what spills out. Not water!

You get out what you put in.

I would love to choose Jesus again and again, until the point where He pours out of my life without me even trying to make that happen.

When I get bumped by life’s frustrations, I want to spill Jesus!

What Glorifying God Looks Like…

The tendency is to look for the marvelous in our experience; we mistake the sense of the heroic for being heroes. It is one thing to go through a crisis grandly, but another thing to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, no one paying the remotest attention to us. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest)

So I realize that Oswald Chambers was not a stay-at-home mom, but I feel as though he was speaking directly to my life…. Maybe this theme is getting old around here, but seriously, I feel like it’s the goal of my life to learn how to shine for Jesus, even in the smallest, most insignificant, every-day little things.

There is a part of me that always seems to long for something “grand” and very important, but for now, glorifying God looks like patience when asked the millionth question of the day, or wiping up the hot chocolate that spilled and seemed to hit absolutely every piece of furniture in a 5 foot radius. It looks like answering Anika’s questions about how God answers prayer, and it looks like taking care of sick girlies and being house-bound for days on end.

What does “glorifying God” look like for you right now?

Chocolate Cheerios, and other disturbing things

Kaylia and I went on a little shopping trip to Superstore today, and I saw something really disturbing.

I saw Chocolate Cheerios.

So, I realize that there are many, many other disgustingly sugary cereals out there, and some of them are also chocolate. But seeing those Chocolate Cheerios was just another reminder of the fact that in our world, we need to wait for absolutely nothing.

We have microwaves so that we don’t need for food to thaw, or even heat up on the stove or in the oven. We have email so that we don’t need to wait for mail. Starbucks even has instant coffee so that not only do you not need to drive to a Starbucks for Starbucks coffee, you don’t even need to wait for it while you make it at home, because it’s instant.

And you don’t need to wait for dessert anymore, because breakfast is dessert.

That’s kind of gross, actually. I’m not even referring to the fact that eating Chocolate Cheerios for breakfast is gross. I’m talking about the disturbing fact that there’s actually a demand for that kind of thing.

So you look at the world around us, where everything is instant, and it’s no wonder that there’s very little patience for anything. Kids grow up even faster than they used to, and don’t wait to do things that they should be waiting for, and innocence is not desirable anymore.

And we can go to the store and buy Chocolate Cheerios.

But my favorite thing in all of this is that we get a choice. Those things may be happening all around us, but we still get to choose if we’re going to go along with it.

I can choose not to buy Chocolate Cheerios, and I can choose to make healthy breakfasts from scratch. I can choose to slow down, and learn patience, and embrace innocence for our girls, because it’s up to us to determine what our home will look like. We make a safe little haven in the midst of craziness, and we don’t chase naivity, but we go after an enchanting childhood, and a place to rest and relax and rejuvenate, before heading out into the big wide world once more.

I’m really glad there’s a choice. We’ll choose to skip the Chocolate Cheerios, among other things.

Remembering How “The Basics” Can Make Such a Difference

I read a fantastic blog post a few days ago, and now I can’t find it again anywhere, but it’s stayed on my mind constantly ever since. It was about how we as parents can have more patience with our kids. Five steps to becoming a better parent. I read it very eagerly. And guess what – most of them had nothing to do with the kids.

Most of them had to do with getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, eating well, exercising.

I was expecting great new parenting strategies. It was an excellent reminder that if  you’re not taking care of the basics, nothing else will go very well.

I’m painfully aware of that this morning. A friend was over last night until midnight, and while the conversation was inspiring, I knew I would feel it in the morning. And feel it I did. Anika and Kaylia felt it, too, I’m pretty sure.

It’s very hard to be patient when you’re tired.

So I could beat myself up for being a crumby parent today, or I could realize that I need some sleep, and we’ll try everything again after a nap. I’m trying to be realistic about limitations and expectations. Naps are a wonderful thing.

Been Thinking About Labels

Fair warning for everybody – when it’s going to be a serious day around here, the title will always include something that I’ve been thinking about…

There is this wonderful lady I know who made me wildly happy by agreeing to be my mentor, a few months ago.

She blesses my life, heaps love and encouragement on me, reminds me of what is truly important and worth striving for, and teaches me so much that I now spend a good portion of my life feeling challenged, uncomfortable, and humbled.

Learning is hard! But very good.

Anyway, she has this thing about labels. She’s made me realize how often people will make statements about themselves that are negative, and verbally strengthen things in their lives.

Stuff like, “I’m just not a patient person.” Or “I tend to be a perfectionist.”

That second one was mine. I was talking on the phone with her one day, and called myself a perfectionist. She reminded me gently, once again, that I had labelled myself.

So why are labels harmful?

Well, let’s say that I struggle with being patient. If I keep saying over and over again that I’m not a patient person, I’ll really have hammered it into my head that I’m not a patient person. And then, when I’m in a situation where patience is not the easiest thing to produce in the heat of the moment, I’ll already be thinking, “I’m not a patient person!” And I won’t try my absolute hardest to rely on the Holy Spirit to muster up just a little bit of patience from somewhere.

Which is kind of dumb when you think about it, because one of the fruit of the Spirit is patience. If I have the Holy Spirit in me, and if I am trying to live my life for Jesus every single day, then there should be the fruit of patience growing somewhere in some small corner. It needs a little more sun and a little more love, but logically, it should be there, waiting to be discovered.

But I won’t find it if I just say, “I’m not a patient person”, and use that as an excuse, as a “life pass” for being impatient.

This is a challenging one for me to think about, because I like to talk a lot. And even the Bible says that people who talk a lot have a higher chance of saying something foolish. I’m starting to learn about the power of words, and what happens when I toss them around carelessly.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)

So I’m thinking about it more and more all the time. I’m starting to notice, not only when I do it, but when other people do it, too.

Poor Ben had no idea what was coming…

One night when we were talking, Ben was sharing some thoughts on a difficult situation that he needed to deal with, but was struggling to do so.

And he said, “I’m just not a confrontational type of person!”

And something suddenly clicked in my head. Ben has often said this about himself, and has often struggled with being direct enough in difficult situations. He wants to change, but he’s “just not a confrontational type of person!”

Suddenly I got mad. Not at Ben – but at the lies that he’s believed for so long. Without either of us realizing it, Ben’s weakness was labeled over and over again.

So I burst out with something that went kind of like this:

“You are labeling yourself!! I do NOT believe that you are a non-confrontational type of person! I believe that you are a person of honesty and integrity, and that you live in obedience to God. If He is laying it on your heart to address a situation, I believe that you will do so because you seek to do His will, to glorify Him in all that you do, and to have relationships with others that are open, honest, and pleasing to Him!!”

(I got a little carried away. But I believe it’s all true!)

And he kind of blinked and lay there quietly for a little while.

Then he said very cautiously, “Alright, well…I need prayer for…a situation…in which I am feeling…uncomfortable…about talking to someone…about some things which…I find…difficult…to share….” And then he peeked over at me to check if this was a safe statement to make, or if I would burst forth again.

I found his prayer request to be acceptable.

But it’s not like I’m the label police or anything. I’m still trying to figure this thing out myself. Still trying to choose words that bring truth and life, instead of claiming junk that I don’t actually want in my life.

I’m just thinking that if I’m going to eat fruit, I would like it to be the life-giving kind.