Friday, September 21, 2012

Fancy Pencils

My oldest daughter is in school this year. She's five and loves to learn. The tiniest things give her fits of giddiness. One prime example was the day she came home and proclaimed "we tested my eyes in the library today, and then I got a pencil!"

I remember purchasing school supplies, well, picking them out. My parents purchased school supplies. For a time, the "oil-dipped" pencils were the must-have school item.

My daughter brought home a pencil with a blue eraser and a sparkling, royal blue holographic block print. She excitedly asked me to sharpen the pencil so she could begin drawing with it on our oodles of blank computer paper that the girls have free access to.
I did, and within a minute or two, a frustrated cry escaped her mouth. I looked over to see a piece of broken lead and a worthless pencil in her hand. I took the pencil, shaved more away with the sharpener, and it broke off in the sharpener. After about three attempts, I had a conversation with her about quality.

That was when it hit me. Aren't we just like pencils? The extra sparkly, flashy ones look good on the outside, but inside they are poorly put together. There are hollow places, cheaper wood, they break easily, but when we look at them, those are the ones we are drawn to. Without God, all of us are poor quality pencils. Now, when you pay a little extra for those quality "yellow number two" pencils, they may not be flashy. They're downright boring. Still, the wood is stronger, the lead seems fused to the wood instead of a flimsy shaft pressed between two halves, and it sharpens so well, only a turn or two will produce a fresh point!

 (Rachel's drawing for me)
So it is with God inside us. We are solid. Useable. Quality. There is a strength under pressure, a reliability. Though we look plain, we have much more under the surface.

 In first Samuel, Israel was given a king. I Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NIV)

 Isaiah 53:2(NIV) describes Jesus in the following manner: "He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him."

If you feel like a plain pencil today, perhaps that is exactly how God has designed you to be. He doesn't need your eraser, either. :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blessed are those who mourn...

This blog should really be in two parts as it's going to be lengthy, but if you hang in there with me, I feel like it's worth reading the whole thing. Matthew 5:4 states "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
If you know me well, or ask my family about me, I'm pretty tenderhearted. In fact, other than insects, I have only killed something twice in my life. Each time a gerbil or hamster or cat or dog died (sometimes the cat WAS the death of said gerbil or hamster), we would hold a funeral and read Ecclesiastes 3 (a time to weep, a time to laugh,) over their dirt mound. One time I hit a cat, and I was horrified to learn that dead animals on the side of the road don't die instantly as I'd previously thought. My sister and I turned the car around and in the glow of the headlights we saw it lift its head when she called out "kitty, kitty, kitty". I didn't have the strength to finish it off with the tire iron though it crossed my mind. Ugh. My fiance (now husband) thought I'd killed a person when I called him sobbing about it. The other time I intentionally finished off a field mouse that my cat had tortured and left for dead. Its shallow breaths were more than I could watch, so I took the brush for our barbeque that had a nice sharp edge, turned my head and finished the deed. As soon as I heard and felt the crunch of decapitation I dropped the weapon and shook with sobs, crying "Lord, please forgive me!"
Perhaps you cannot relate. You may think it silly that I cried over a mouse. You may be like my husband, who believes if it is wise enough to survive, then it may stay in your company. If it gets eaten by coyotes or hit by a car, it wasn't worth keeping. Still, this is who God made me to be. And, death is a hard experience for me to process. Even separation from my parents when they'd take a much needed break from the five of us or my Mom when she traveled to a two-day teacher's conference would cause me to give a grand homecoming in their return. When I was 8 years old my aunt died-that was my first real experience with losing a loved one. Internally, my heart knows that we are not meant to be separated from those we love. From the moment I became a big sister, I have been attached to everyone-and devastated by any separation, permanent or temporary. That is a part of this world I will not ever enjoy. It is the reason I most anticipate heaven. Revelation 21:4 promises "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
While in college, I lost a classmate to suicide, my grandfather passed away, and a church friend and mentor was taken while recovering from surgery. More recently I've lost a classmate to cancer, and another was murdered while pregnant this year. Two of my cousins have died in the last two years, much too young to be gone. And in 2010, I faced the greatest grief of all. We'd had two healthy beautiful daughters, and the second pregnancy was planned-she even arrived on her due date. We planned our next pregnancy, I was charting, and recognized the signs that pointed to a pregnancy. Elated I had already begun to tell friends and had set up the doctor's appointment to confirm, though it was too soon for a positive test. 6 days later, something felt wrong. And, within a couple days my body processed a miscarriage. I didn't know why I felt so terrible. I hadn't even had a positive test, yet I was grieving in depths I didn't know possible. How could I compare my grief to someone with a positive pregnancy test, or someone who had measured their gestation in weeks instead of days? I didn't know what to say or how to feel. Until you go through it, you can't know. I'd been guilty in times previous of sharing a "comforting verse", or giving well-meaning advice to someone. I cringed at the letter I'd written quoting a New Testament passage about being reunited in heaven and how wonderful it was. Now on the receiving end of well-intended thoughts, words and verses, I realized how hollow and uncaring they could be in reception. "It's God's will." "It's okay, God's timing is perfect." "Just trust God." "This was His plan for your life." "I know just how you feel." "You can always have another one." "At least you have two healthy daughters."
I began to have very un-Christian thoughts toward people when they would state these things to me. I knew God was perfect and so was His timing, and I was angry with Him. I was wrestling with it. I didn't need a reminder from anybody whose faith wasn't being shaken. I was aware how unfair and imperfect the world had become and didn't need anyone but God to tell me about it. He was showing me that He was in control of my life, not me, and it was terrifying. He took what was His, but I thought it was mine. No chances, no warning, no saying good-bye. Just gone. Gone too soon. I felt guilty for my anger and my less than perfect faith. My sweetest comfort came from a friend who simply said, "I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm praying for you."
Finally. No judgment, no preaching, just compassion. Her own experiences had given her wisdom and tact that I greatly appreciated. In our love for others, we desperately want to talk to them, but there are no words. We want to hold them and let them cry on us, but sometimes there are no tears. If we are of opposite genders, sometimes it is inappropriate for us to reach out and comfort a friend, though our best intentions are there. It is then that we can truly lift them by prayer and let the Holy Spirit do all that we fail to do. He is intimately connected to the heart of hearts and knows what each person needs. If you long to hug your grieving friend, pray that the Holy Spirit will do it. Each thought you have, surrender it to God that He would reach out and heal internally those deep voids you cannot physically touch. Especially when you are at a distance from your friend or loved one who is grieving, do not hesitate to pray and pray often. Your prayers do far more than you could ever know. It is not necessary to use the worlds' means to do good for someone.
Job went through some serious losses. But though the Old Testament hadn't introduced Jesus or the Holy Spirit, Job 16:19-21 states "Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend." Your prayers do a great deal of good for one who grieves. Sometimes, that is the best you can offer. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they WILL be comforted." (emphasis mine) ~Tammy

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Less than perfect

Most of you realize there is no such thing as a perfect mother.
Perfect wife, perfect Christian, perfect person.
In this world, we can be sure of one thing-only Jesus was perfect.

Still, we keep trying. Yesterday while two of my three sweet daughters were in their rooms sleeping or occupying themselves and the oldest was reading library books on the couch, I tackled the task of mopping our hardwood floor (not easy because nobody can travel from point A to point B until the floor is dry). Usually we keep it well swept and just spot-wipe the spills, but a thorough mopping is not a task that is easy or fun around here. While mopping, the epiphany set in that God doesn't have a plan for me to be a Perfect Tammy someday in this lifetime.

You'd think I would have realized that by now, but somewhere I got it in my head that Perfect Mother Tammy existed. That I was continually being measured against her standard of perfection and that at some point I would eventually "arrive". No longer would I be bothered with impatience, but would handle all tantrums with serene angelic peace. I would find loving, non-sarcastic ways to speak motivation into my children, showing them the rewards of obedience. The threatening and nagging would be a dim scratch on the surface of my new glowing approach to motherhood. My children would blossom into compliant, well-behaved members of society. They would no longer talk back to me, they would eat whatever was served to them instead of using such gems as "eew" or "I don't like it" or "That smells bad". (Who knew kids wouldn't want to eat hearty oatmeal with apples, cranberries and almonds in the packet at Grandma's house? They prefer plain oatmeal with milk and a little brown sugar.)

Truth be told, I've had a problem with perfectionism for most of my life. My first name, Tammy, is a Hebrew name that means "perfection". I can still remember the day I received a 99% on a spelling test in third grade and burst into tears. I still remember misspelling the word "bulldozer" (forgot an "L") in the fifth grade spelling bee.
Achievement seems to be something I strive toward. I want my performance for God to earn His approval and admiration. "Well done, Good and Faithful Servant." (that is Biblical) "I am impressed how you crammed an 80 hour work week into 60 hours faithfully. I'm keeping track of all those deeds you're doing for me. You're busy for me. Way to go!" (not Biblical but very indicative of our culture)

If we don't have something to show for our efforts, we cannot receive applause. My sweet husband gets to hear me tell him excitedly when I've completed some deep cleaning task that might otherwise go unnoticed (which is why it is an event in our house). There is a hole in our heart, our very soul that cries out, "Notice me!" "Tell me I'm doing a good job!" "Let me know that I matter!"

It's a needy, selfish soul we have, but our Creator made us that way. He and He alone can fill that need. This is my current prayer, that He would tear the veil of self that I'm hiding behind and take me to the cross. That I'll face the gods of self-esteem, self-awareness, self-confidence, to name a few, and kick them to the curb that He in His glory would reign on the throne of my heart.

My mom will be the first to point out to you that my middle name, Jean, means "by God's grace".

Ephesians 2:8-9 Good News Translation (GNT)

8-9For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it.

In the light of His perfection, I can simply be the Tammy He created me to be. A little louder than some, though I try to be mild, but eager to please Him and trying very hard to do my best. He gave me the children that I have specifically because they'd be in my care daily-but not because He wanted me to do it without His help. Until we are aware of our need for His help, we forget to ask.
He has been STRONGLY making me aware of my need for His help for the last year and a half. But now, I'm starting to get it.
:) Thanks, Lord. Your infinite patience is greatly appreciated.
And, no longer having to achieve perfection, your yoke truly is easy and your burden is much lighter than the one I've been lugging around!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


It is a normal thing to experience loneliness from time to time.
You may wonder how a woman with three children at home could possibly feel lonely, but this is a frequent feeling for stay-at-home moms. Especially if their immediate family members are not close by.

There is a desire to interact socially with people who are not dependent on you-people that simply enjoy your company rather than needing your caretaking. You give each other energy with your very presence. A mutual understanding of life and all that we experience as humans.

So, I spent some time looking at my Facebook page and flipping through comments and other peoples' photos. I spent some time reading news articles.
Conclusion was: the computer held no satisfaction for me. Any "notifications" on my facebook page were like feeding cotton candy to a refugee who hasn't eaten in days. Brief joy followed by sincere disappointment and longing for something fulfilling.

I left the computer, did the dishes when the youngest was napping, and then while the older two watched a movie, I read a book that I'd been meaning to get back to. What a difference.

The book is titled "The Pursuit of God". I'd ordered it online after reading a couple chapters from a library copy. It's not a novel and it's not a quick read. Each chapter takes digestion, contemplation, and a good week to really comprehend and apply. So, chapter 3 was here and waiting for me.
A.W. Tozer wrote this book in the early half of the 20th century and his books are on the intellectual level of other authors like C.S. Lewis.

The words and thoughts as well as verses were food for my starving soul. This, this was what I had been missing! I was lonely, yes, but lonely for the Spirit of God. That He would reach out and touch me and bring life. Here is a short excerpt:
"Similarly, the presence of God is the central fact of Christianity. At the heart of the Christian message is God Himself waiting for His redeemed children to push in to conscious awareness of His presence." He then mentions Frederick Faber who wrote many songs and sermons. One was, "I love Thee, Lord, I know not how  My transports to control; Thy love is like a burning fire Within my very soul."

The main theme in this book is to set aside our self-whatever it is that we think we're here to do, and instead just focus on God. What He has purposed us to be is a follower of Him. The tasks we complete are secondary to our purpose of just keeping our eyes on Him.

Even though I greatly enjoy the company of others and try to plan social interactions with other people and their children, there is something great and marvelous that I often miss if I'm planning my time away.
The girls will always remember Mommy and where she spent her free time. Was it at the computer? With her nose in a book? In the kitchen? Bent over picking up toys? Texting on my cell phone?
I hope that someday I'll be passing on a remembrance of a Mom who had a gentle, quiet spirit. A Mom who could take time just to be with her Savior, reading her Bible.

In the meantime, if I am feeling lonely, I don't think I'll be getting on the computer. God may be everywhere but that's not where I've been finding Him. :) And no, I don't think He's on Facebook right now.

Monday, July 30, 2012

"What if I stumble, what if I fall?"

Sunday, January 22, 2012 at 8:31pm

Those of you who were born in the '80s and remember your childhood as the '90s plus will recognize those lyrics from a D.C. Talk song. Today I was musing my own version-What if I grumble and what if I bawl?
You see, it is easy to complain. In fact, with social media we are better able to bellyache about our life than we ever were before instant messenger (AOL/AIM-8th grade-1995). From texting to twitter, we share more about ourselves than sometimes our own family (living with us) is aware of. My husband will come across a "note" I wrote on Facebook or on my blog that only has two entries and ask me later, "You wrote a blog?"I am not a quiet, meek person. After 3 deliveries, my husband can attest to this. I have strived to be in some phases of my life, but I've realized that God wants to use me as I am-as He created me. Still, I yearn for the gentle and quiet spirit referenced in I Peter 3:5-6. I love to do public speaking, performing, and just talking to people. Lately I've wondered about my witness. Not a guilt trip, but a conscience check. Am I effective with my words and with my life? Or do I seem like everybody else?

Paul writes to the Philippians in Chapter 2, verses 14 and 15, "Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of everything. I'm not sure I've been doing that. Now, this is not a charge for us to do of our own doing. He also states in Romans 7:15 "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."Yes, that's it! That passage is longer and very wordy, so I recommend a newer translation such as New Living to clarify his thoughts. I don't want to complain. I have so much I'm thankful for! In fact, when I'm praying at night before bed, my thankful thoughts far outweigh my requests.Still, when I speak to others about my children, too much of me is self-reliant. I really think that God made me to handle the challenges of motherhood and then just left me to do it. Ha!Why is it so difficult for us to "know" in our head what to do and yet "not know what to do?!" Please pray with me on this journey that as I learn to yield control to Him, learn to rely on His strength for the challenges I daily face with two darling but strong-willed girls (and a still-sweet little infant girl). His grace is made sufficient in my weakness and that is why if I must grumble, I must grumble only to the one who can do something about it.

What is difficult for me is a breeze for others, and some things I can readily handle that leave others wiped out. Instead of focusing on the things that need fixing, my perspective needs to be "what is the purpose of today?" Why am I being given another day on this Earth? What can I do to highlight God's hand in this dark world? It should not be about Tammy, but about our most wonderful hope-at the end of 2012 or 2112 or 21,112, God will still be God. Gas prices raise and lower (mostly raise), and kingdoms rise and fall (always fall), and He was and is and is to come. In light of that, what does it matter if I can't control the social behavior of my children the way I think I should be able to? God didn't ask me to control them-He asked me to guide them to Him. After all, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. The best I can do is model it myself and take time away when I'm losing control and let His Spirit refresh me.May you be encouraged on our journey together. I hope I'm lifting up someone else today with this-God has certainly been lifting me through the prayer and encouragement of friends. Thank you!

Faith and Flowers

Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 9:32am

I was spending some time with God this week and thinking about my children. I was praying about his purpose for me and my life. Sometimes as a stay at home Mom, it's easy to lose perspective. What is my ministry? What does God want me to do today? Who does he want me to speak to?I had an image in my mind of a garden. God has given me three beautiful daughters. Each of them are gardens with fresh soil. He can cause the magic of growth, but He has tasked me with cultivating the soil, nurturing the planting with seeds, lots of water, and making sure the garden is constantly exposed to his Son. It is up to me to be diligent as I look for weeds. The longer I let them grow, the deeper the roots and the higher risk that they will choke out the healthy growth.

The water? I must be filled up myself so that it overflows into the garden. Without daily time with God, I don't have enough for myself so the negative comes out and harms the plants. Am I speaking with fertilizer or pesticide?

It is important not to put the seedlings out into the harsh spring until they have strength to weather a dip in temperatures. For now, they are still inside the house on the kitchen table or by the window.

I hope this will encourage someone else that our daily lives are meaningful-and that if we are listening we might have a chance to do some really great gardening this year!

Dave and the girls planting seeds in our garden last summer

Obedience and Talents

I'm re-posting this from my facebook page as not everyone in my reading circle is on facebook. I'll be posting two other "notes" today that I'd blogged. :)
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 3:20pm ·

We have a radiant floor heater in the bathroom-it is programmable and in the winter keeps our tile warm under our feet. In the summertime, we have the floor turned off. So, yesterday morning, Dave (my husband) asked if I had turned it on. "No." *sigh from Dave*Our almost-5 year old is very curious about how things work and is tall enough to reach the control-and has been reprimanded in the past for playing with the buttons. Our 3 year old is now tall enough to reach the control, and we knew it had happened the night before, but we knew not who had done it.

As I lay in bed waiting to fall back asleep in that sweet quiet time between his departure and the kids' voices greeting me, I had some moments of clarity.Why was it that we wanted so much for our children to obey us? Did it really matter if they turned on the radiant heat? Other than a little higher electricity bill, no. So what was the big deal?I realized that-at home, the environment is relatively safe. The kids know what they can and cannot do, and within those constraints, they exercise their free will (our children more strongly than others). But, when we are away from home, the girls do not know what is and is not safe. If I tell them not to touch something and they disobey at home, we pay for a warm floor. Away from home? The possibilities can be much more serious.

In order to keep them safe, we need them to obey us in the little areas so that they are trained to immediately obey us in the big areas.I then got a "click" moment from God. The parable of the many talents where the servants were given something and some multiplied them and then were given more. I've always heard it taught about money or talents. This time, it struck me that obedience is a talent. If I am faithful to God in little areas with not much consequence (getting up earlier to spend time with Him, praying instead of scrolling through the Facebook yard sale page because I'm trying to fill time, spending money on others instead of selfishly when I get a couple extra dollars-focusing on what He cares about instead of myself, etc), then He will give me a chance to be faithful in big areas.

When Abraham was led to the desert to sacrifice Isaac, it was not his first encounter with trusting God.
God first asked him to leave his home and go where God led him. Abram obeyed, faltered at Pharaoh's house, but kept trying, and with continued proven obedience and trust, earned the privilege of the ultimate test. What comes from these tests and trials? A deeper faith, a closer relationship with God, a heightened connection and fulfillment from following Him, and a satisfaction in our very souls.If I will choose to be obedient to God in little areas where it doesn't seem to matter one way or the other if I obey, then my obedience multiplies and He can ask me to be obedient in large areas where it matters more and affects more people-thus showing His glory. It is our purpose to direct others to Him, not to get credit for ourselves.

All of this from a little programmable thermostat in our bathroom. Best part? I spoke to the girls when they were awake and said, "Girls I have to talk to you about something. Somebody broke the rules and pushed buttons in the bathroom." Right away, our almost-5 year old piped up and said, "It was me, Mom.""Thank you for telling the truth, Rachel."
If we can teach our children at this stage, cannot God also teach us no matter what age we are? :)

Prayer and Fasting

I can't believe I haven't had a post on here since September of last year-and yet, I can. I didn't really think anyone was reading what I posted here so I was content to post the occasional thought as a "note" on my Facebook page.

My daughter, Naomi just turned one. I am no longer nursing her, and that is where this post begins.

You see, fasting is a complex challenge posed to Christians. While still pregnant and during her first year of life, I'd heard multiple pastors/teachers speak on fasting. "It doesn't have to be food" was the most popular phrase. "Fast something that costs you and take the time you would use to spend praying and drawing close to God."

I fasted from Facebook, I fasted desserts, did lots of different things, but none of them really resounded with that depth in my heart that I'd had in the past when I fasted actual meals.

A friend of ours was seriously hurt and the day we found out, I felt strongly that I should fast that day until dinner, and be in constant prayer for this friend. It was amazing what happened. The early part of the day I would pray whenever I thought of him, but as the day progressed and my three girls interacted with myself and each other, I wasn't thinking of him at all. Then, I had a hunger pang. And when I say pang-it was a real pain in my stomach saying "Why haven't you fed me yet?"

At that point, I remembered our friend and began praying again. This happened throughout the day. At the end of the day, I was famished and broke the fast at dinner, but it was a breakthrough in my mind of why the Bible speaks of fasting. Specifically food.

There is a physical consequence that goes beyond our selfish desire to only care for ourselves-and that is where intercession takes place. If I fast something that is outside my body-it may not be a true need. I may dearly miss it, but if it's just a want, it is not the life-giving sacrifice that shapes my heart.

As you read this, perhaps it is a completely different experience for you. Fasting is not dieting. That is the number one reason why I wouldn't recommend fasting for long periods of time. Fasting is for us, but really it shouldn't be about you at all. This was specific and I was able as I wasn't pregnant or nursing (for the first time in almost six years!)-and I knew it was for a short period of time. There was a pressing urgency on me-it wasn't an idea I came up with myself.

I am still in prayer for our friend and hope you can be too. "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. -Romans 12:12"