Thursday, February 20, 2014

How to battle the what ifs

Somedays I wish the whole world would just go away and let me have my moment of doubt, of weakness.
In solitude.
With no audience. 
With no questions.
With no arguing.
With no what ifs clanging around like so many cymbals in my head.
It's those what ifs that really trip me up.

I think we all have an Achilles' Heel. Right? 
Our fatal flaw.
Our downfall.
The thing that makes our brave words fall on the shell of an empty, fearful heart.
The thing that brings us low and small.
The thing that makes us question just about everything there is in the world to question. 
The thing that always seems to make us want to run, but sadly there just isn't anywhere to run.
The thing that makes our hearts cry buckets and our souls grieve sadness.
The thing that causes our hope to falter and fail a little. or a lot.
The thing that shames us because we know in our heads but our hearts refuse to follow.
The thing that the enemy uses to push us down and roll us like a tumbleweed through a desolate, lonely valley.
The thing that squelches our growth, our joy, our living.

I'll be honest. Mine is fear.
Yep, I said it out loud.
It's been my Achilles' Heel since forever.
Paralyzing, portentous, irrational.
So irrational in fact, that I'm afraid to talk about the things I'm afraid of. I put on a brave face and I spew out brave words, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, I'm no better than the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. 

Yeah, I'm a hot mess.

And the biggest fears are the ones spinning around in my head. The ones that come from watching too much TV or reading too many thrillers, which ironically, I don't really do. My imagination does this all on its own. It has a teeny tiny trigger and then BAM! Look what I can do, mom! The ones that never happen are the ones that paralyze me. The what ifs.

I wonder how much time we mamas spend what if-ing ourselves to a painful demise.
How many moments are stolen by this byproduct of fear? 
How many moments are missed because I was caught in a what if and not in the moment before me--the piece of time I was standing upon and within?
How many smiles and kindnesses and happy sounds go unobserved into the atmosphere because I was what if-ing my life to pieces? 
And how often in the process of what if-ing my life to pieces does my life actually go to pieces?

I do this. a lot. I have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and depending on the circumstance, Plans D, E, and F as well. I want to have all my ducks in a row and all my pieces on the table all the time. When they go missing, I get twitchy. i. get. fearful.

Sometimes what if-ing is good--like what if my baby gets hungry while I'm out? Yes, pack some formula, some bottles, some extra cuz you just never know. And if we are talking about me, I pack diapers and wipes and burp rags and extra clothes and jammies and pull ups and an extra set of socks and if you have extra socks, may as well have extra shoes--for you and the baby. Because what if...

I confess.
I may have a slight control issue. It's almost laughable, I know.

There's no reasoning to what ifs. There's no rationale to fear. There's just straight out battle. Warfare.  
And how do I battle shadows? 
How do I slay dragons that don't exist? 
How do I make the demons flee and tremble?
How do I make the knot, the one that grows in the pit of my stomach and weighs my feet down just like my spirit so I can't move to the light, go away?
How do I give up control so that Jesus can take control? 

I am brought up a bit sad and low when I think of what all my what if-ing does. 
I have pushed God's sovereignty right out the door and then locked it up tight behind Him. I have made my fears my idols and my what ifs my offerings to a god that can never free me, never save me, never forgive me, never redeem me, and never heal me. And the One who can patiently waits out my what if-ing because He knows. He knows I will grow weary of trying to outwit, outlast, and outplay the world. He knows my heart will turn back before my mind will.

Because all of my well laid plans, all of my what if-ing, all of my strategies are illusions--a teetering house of cards that needs only the smallest of life's breezes to collapse.

The Lord wants my what if-ing. He wants my plans. He wants my fears. Because what He really wants is my heart. All the nooks and crannies where unsavory things hide and lay waiting, where my fears lurk unchecked, and my what ifs take up residence. He wants the whole ugly-beautiful mess. So He can take that and offer me peace.

And with peace comes the security of knowing my Abba Father's love for me is greater than my very best what if. That His provision and protection and divine interceding is more potent than my worst fear. And in Him there can be no darkness. And in Him there can be no fear. Whom have I to fear because God is for me and if God is for me, who can be against me. I have been redeemed and freed from a life of slavery--slavery to a slippery master, slavery to fear, slavery to what ifs.

What if instead of spending my moments being afraid or what if-ing my moments away, I spent them pressing into Him, trusting that He will be with me whatever I face--He will go before and be my cloud by day and my fire by night. What if I held up my hands and surrendered my filthy, dirty, holey rags completely and fully to Him. What if I bravely gave Him all the fears I'm trying to out plan and let Him plan my road? Because what I'm really doing when I cling so tightly to my fears and my what ifs is leaving God out. I'm choosing fear instead of faith. Anxiety instead of love. Control instead of surrender.

And this is the battle. This is how I slay my invisible, too real dragons and this is how I make the demons flee and tremble and this is how I make the shadows turn to light:  

I speak Truth even when I cannot feel Truth. I claim Truth even when my heart feels differently. I cling with all my might and with all my weakness to the One who has promised He will never leave me and He will never forsake me even when I'm paralyzed and can't do, can't believe anything else. I choose Jesus. I claim Jesus. I speak the name of Jesus.

Because if God is who He says He is, then He will do what He has promised to do. And if I claim Jesus, and keep claiming Jesus, in the middle of my darkness then the darkness will flee. Oh, I might not feel it, but it will happen. If I claim God's sovereignty and provision in the midst of my what if-ing, then suddenly the need for the what ifs seems empty, wispy, insubstantial. Because what do my what ifs matter in the presence of an All Powerful, Almighty, All Knowing God? They don't. God is more concerned with the heart behind the what ifs. He's more concerned with the state of my soul than the state of my imagined fears.

I know this sounds simple and simple is never easy. But simple is always better. God made everything about having a relationship with Him simple, just not always easy. But relationships can only exist, can only grow if there's trust. And if there's fear, there's no trust, and without trust there's a compromised relationship.  If I want to battle my what if-ing, my fears, I have to choose more of Jesus. I have to choose to be overwhelmed by Jesus and not by fear. I have to choose faith instead of fear and love instead of worry and surrender instead of control. And it won't happen in a day. But it starts with a small choice: To confront the what if, to catch it and take it captive in Jesus' name, to cover it with love and grace and watch Him transform fear into faith, that's the road. That's the choice. That's the battle. 

And that's the victory.

Grace always Rises,

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

To Lie or Not To Lie...A Tall Tale

Ever have a moment where you are just so sure that someone has a secret camera somewhere focused on you? Like you're being punked for some twisted soul's amusement somewhere? As a parent, those moments sometimes come with alarming frequency.

My eldest. Ah, the sweet first born. The most remarkable big sister.

Until that day.

I picked her up from school and she ran to me. She rarely runs to me these days. She is an elderly seven after all. And running to her mother is sometimes considered undignified when one is seven. She ran to me and gave me a big squeeze right around my middle and buried her face in me and I held that girl tight.

"Mama, I ate all my lunch today."
"Oh you did. Good job, bean."

For the last little bit, this first born hasn't been eating her lunch and then brings it home, which I suppose is so much better than throwing it away, but the principle is still the same: She's not eating her lunch. Well, she's eating the cookie and the chips, but the fruit and the sandwich...yeah, that's for the birds.

So my mom radar was going beserk when she instigated it. I saw in a flash where this was going to end. And I grimaced inside a little in sad trepidation.

"I ate it all," she said. Proudly.
I calmly took her backpack as I opened up the car for her. "Well, how about if I check right now? Just to make sure you ate all your lunch." You can't tell a lie once and still expect unadulterated trust. A hard lesson for a small person. Or a big person.

Fear. That's the only word that I can use to describe how her eyes got big with panic and how she started to backpedal and flounder the way only a seven year old can.

"I did eat it all. I promise. You don't have to check right now. You could check when we get home?"

Oh sweet baby girl. Don't you know that lying breaks a little bit of your soul? Don't you know that lying builds walls and moats and fortresses out of flimsy little cards? Don't you know that lying never gets you where you thought you wanted to go? It takes you somewhere dark and frightening and grown-up and that's not where a seven year old belongs. Don't you know the weight of carrying a lie is so heavy and drags us from Jesus? 

"No, I'm going to have to check it right now." I say it gently. Regretfully.

I unzip her backpack and take out her lunch box. She's trembling and her eyes are round saucers in a pale little face. I open her lunch box and her entire sandwich sits there, taunting, teasing, teaching. And inside, my flesh wants to flail a lying little girl. And I want to rant and rail because she defied me. In a strange twist, I found my pride to be a bit wounded because my own daughter dared to lie, dared to instigate the lie, dared to perpetuate the lie, thinking that I would not catch it. Who does she think she is anyway?

And I had to stop and breathe. And again. Breathe. Because this couldn't be about me. Wasn't about me. About my wounded mama's pride or my tattered mama's heart. I had only to decide on how I would respond, what would be my choice. Because I knew this was going to happen. I saw it early. Almost like Jesus knew and He was just getting me ready.

"You lied to me. You know there are big consequences for lying. And you didn't eat your lunch. There are other consequences for that." I say this so calmly, so softly. Because I know that her spirit needs to hear the words more than her ears. Her heart needs to let these seep in deep and wide first before her smart little brain can maneuver out of it.

She gets in the car. I get in the car and look at her in the rearview mirror.
"Mama, what are my consequences?" Her voice is small, her eyes won't meet mine. It's sad, really, that soft words brought her low and shamed. And I pity her a small piece. Very small.

"I don't know. I have to talk to your dad first."
Tears now. A torrent. "I don't want you to tell daddy."

And here's the kicker, we never want our Daddy to see our shame, our mistakes, our wrecks. We never run to the Father with our foibles and faults, bragging. We never outright say, "Yeah, I lied." No, we rationalize and justify and try to finagle, even with our Father. And our souls right crack down the middle when we do that. Because really, who do we think we are? Like He's not gonna know?

And in the middle of our unrighteous tirade, the Father's heart says gently, "Stop. Just. Stop." Because we do the same thing. Don't we perpetuate and instigate and carry on, even as we have full knowledge of the mistake we are making? And He knows this and tries to get our attention. And we just. keep. going. Until we fall sheer off the ledge and end up in some mud and miry pit of our own making.

"I have to tell daddy sweetheart. I don't keep secrets from your dad and I can't make this kind of decision on my own. We are a team."

Her head dips below the seat and she cries. I'm sure she's sorry. But sorry doesn't really matter until it's remorse. Sorry doesn't really matter because it's just a word. Sorry doesn't really count unless the heart gets involved. Because there's no change unless the heart hurts. 

I'd like to tell you that her consequences were enough to make her think twice before telling another lie.
I'd like to tell you that her lunch is gone every day.
I'd like to tell you that we have conquered this mountain. Forever.
And I can't. Because ironically, I'd be lying.

Because she lied this weekend. And not just once. And my response was not as graceful or as dignified as it should have been. I may have lost my temper. Sigh.

Lying is part of the human condition. We want to avoid pain and punishment, but in trying to avoid those things we actually create more pain and more punishment. We traverse a steep and slippery slope when we choose a lie over a truth. 

And that's the crux. It's a choice. To choose to utter a lie or to utter a truth. There's one or the other. Here, there's no middle ground or almost truths or not quite lies. It's black and white.

And it doesn't matter if you're 7 or 77, the results are the same. A harsh descent. A bitter reality. Cantankerous consequences. A soul splintered. Trust tainted. Relationships rocked. 

It's a bit humbling when your own offspring throws the lunch you made to the wolves. It's a bit humbling when your own offspring tells tall tales and white lies and oh, how quickly those little white lies turn into unmanageable plot twists and giant ships incapable of being navigated because they have minds of their own. Those are treacherous waters for a meager 7 year old.

I know it might seem a bit like I'm overreacting. But what happens when she's 17 and hasn't got it? What happens when she's 27 and doesn't know? I can't make it stick, that's a job straight for Jesus. But I can make sure she knows. And I can keep piling truth on her heart, truth upon truth upon truth, because when those tall towers of lies crumble fast and low like so many shifty cards, I want her to have the Truth that she can cling to so she won't drown in all the mess. And when her heart cracks right open, all that glorious graceful truth can fall right in. 

And at the end of this day, it's a hard mama's-job to let the girl-child choose. And it's a hard mama's-job to gently realign the steering and the direction of the boat and let her try again. And try again and again until she can do it on her own.

Trusting that she'll get it. Trusting that all the truths I can pull from the Word, while they might fall on deaf ears, fall fast on an open heart. Trusting that one day her choices will reflect the truths her heart knows. Trusting that all this knee-praying and grace-seeking will lead us both closer to Jesus.

Grace Always Rises,