Tag Archive | worship

One of Those Sundays

one of those sundaysIf you’ve attended church for any length of time, you’ve had one of those Sundays, when it seems getting out the door is the most difficult task of the week. Kids lose shoes, a pacifier hopelessly disappears from the diaper bag, arguments erupt about trivial things–some mornings everything seems to work against it.

I had one of those Sundays this week. I didn’t get to bed until late the night before. Then two hours later someone on our street shot a handgun. Not far from our house, I would say. We don’t live in a dangerous neighborhood, so it didn’t scare me as much as startle me awake. Adrenaline kicked in, and sleep was hopelessly over. I lay there planning the next few chapters of my newest novel while waiting to get tired. But I never quite dropped into deep sleep again.

Also, when I shot awake, I managed to get something in my eye. It hurt. It’s now Sunday afternoon, and it still hurts. Whatever is in there isn’t going anywhere. The act of squinting all morning gave me the worst headache, which combined with a lack-of-sleep headache until I felt sick to my stomach.

However, I showered and made it to church. I was tired.  My eye was hurting and running all over the place. Head was aching. When I get too tired, my heart races, so I was listening to that and hoping I didn’t die before church let out. Right–fatigue is my number one trigger for anxiety attacks. Pain is number two. So between the lack of sleep and the pain in my eye… It was hopeless.

But I was there. I sat through it. I spent most of it hoping it would be over soon. I wanted to go home, rinse my eye out again, maybe try a nap, take an Excedrin, and not do the friendly fellowship thing while I felt like I was dying.

Today I  was also supposed to bring a book for a friend. She offered to beta read a novel coming out in July, and I had that ready to go. Only she didn’t make it–car trouble. I wasn’t the only one fighting a battle concerning church today.

Clearly I survived. My eye will eventually shed whatever’s in it or heal if something scratched it. I will eventually catch up on sleep. Nobody will hold it against me that I wasn’t the friendliest person in church today. It’s all fine, even though it didn’t feel fine in the midst of it.

I forget sometimes that worship invites battle. It seems so easy to get up and go to a building and sit there. But so much more happens. God speaks and draws us close when we worship with our church families. We hear about needs we can fill. We sing praises to the one who made the universe. We hear from scriptures practical ways to live for God and invite others to live for him, too. Spiritual battle is very real, and those Sundays when it’s hard to get there–I don’t think those are coincidence.

The hard Sundays I tend to listen a little harder, look a little deeper. I don’t know if the attacks are random or if the enemy truly tries to keep me out on weeks when I most need to be there. But just to be safe, I want to make sure if there’s a message for me on the hard Sundays, I don’t miss it.

This Sunday, the message was one I can’t hear enough, the reminder that God is pleased with me because of Jesus, not because of anything I do. I can always use that reminder. I talk myself out of believing that on a daily basis. I can’t make God happy with me by doing good. I do good because I’m thankful God is happy with me. My head knows that’s true. But my heart can doubt. I need to hear it over and over until my heart finally believes it for good.

Today, while my eye was running and my head was pounding and anxiety about took me to the ground, God wanted to remind me of that. He’s happy with me. I’m a wreck sometimes, but that’s okay. He loves me. I obey because that truth is so important to me, but that truth stands regardless of how big a mess I am.

I truly hope next Sunday morning is easier than this Sunday was. But if not, I will do my best to show up to worship and listen to what God has to say. It is an honor and a privilege to worship with the people in my church, and I don’t ever want to take it for granted.

Finding Celebration

finding celebrationThis year I’ve been thinking through spiritual disciplines,  which are simply ways to keep God forefront in my mind and heart in a world that doesn’t make that easy. Things like prayer, hospitality, journaling, retreats, worship, etc.

Last night I was looking through my new favorite book, which has all kinds of disciplines in it. Included in this book is a quiz to help a person decide what disciplines might best fit with what God is doing with her now–and because of that I’ve been focusing on prayer, since God is clearly teaching me more about prayer right now.

But last night I was feeling heavy and unsettled. I’m falling into old patterns. I’m trying to organize my space and time and life so I honor God, hoping to grow, trying to get some things in order as I enter a new stage in my life. Last week I finished teaching kids who aren’t mine. This year most of my kids will fly the coop. Most of the excuses I have for not pursuing God as I should are leaving me. It’s time to get serious about this.

However, I’ve been failing at some things. Not praying like I want to pray. Not studying like I want to study. Anyway, I opened my book and started at the beginning. The book has disciplines grouped, and the first grouping is worship. It’s one I’ve barely looked at. So, I looked at it.  One of the first disciplines I saw was celebration.

Ouch. Celebration. I struggle with this, both spiritually and otherwise. Years ago, I would make a big deal out of holidays, birthdays, festivals. But when my husband lost his job eight years ago and we fell back below the poverty level after years of being above it, I stopped with many of those things. Money was an issue, and we were all frustrated with life, and I didn’t have the energy for all of it. In survival mode, I didn’t leave room for celebration.

Now I belong to a church that pay attention to the church calendar, so there are seasons where we celebrate, like Easter, and seasons where we wait, like Advent and Lent, and again, it seems difficult. I struggle to decide how to implement these in my family. They’ve grown accustomed to not celebrating, so they roll their eyes when I try. We’ve become very somber and cynical, and I think it has everything to do with us not celebrating. Not celebrating God as an act of worship–praise–and not celebrating the rhythms God has put in the world, like seasons and birthdays and anniversaries.

Last week in a post I mentioned I was trying to look at goals in a new way. Instead of simply writing a goal for my life and then failing, I am trying to decide why I’m failing. And so I looked at celebration, which used to be part of my life, and tried to figure out what had changed.

First, my family is older. They simply don’t get excited about things. If need be, I can celebrate alone. And eventually, if I can restore some lost traditions and create some new, they’ll get on board. Especially birthdays–I doubt any of them will actually turn down the chance to be king for a day.

Part of it is indecision. I freeze. Should I get a gift? Make a meal? What should I do to celebrate Advent, given the internet has five million awesome ideas? How can we add new traditions to Easter to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection? How can I celebrate God on a daily basis through praise? Singing? Writing? Art?

Being the kind of person who overthinks everything, all those questions make me crazy. And at this moment, I’m not sure how to overcome this one. But I’m going to try.

Finally, I’m tired. I just had a physical, so I know I’m healthy. I’m a type one diabetic, and that can be draining. It takes constant diligence, so I get mentally tired. But the worst offender is simply my schedule. My husband works second shift, and neither he nor I have done well with a second shift life. If I’m going to be serious about living life to the full, I have to sleep better. There is no way around that. I need to watch my sugar levels so I’m not wakened at four a.m. to fix a low. I need to go to bed earlier. I love to study and read before bed, but I have to start that earlier, because I wake up early regardless of when I go to bed. Maybe I have to nap. I know I need to step up the exercise. But however I do it, I have to get more sleep so I can live with more energy and excitement about my days.

So, I have some work to do. Celebration wasn’t on my radar at all. But if I want to reach the world in any way, I can’t do it all somber and uninspired. The Bible is filled with praise. I intend to work through Psalms, especially, and remind myself that God is about joy. Because of him I have a guaranteed awesome future. And celebrating that is important. Celebrating people I love is important. Celebrating God’s creation–seasons and harvests–is important.

And maybe, if I don’t overthink this and simply call out my inner child, I can have fun with this. And then my family can have more fun with life. I want my children to follow God their entire lives. It’s an adventure with ups and downs and smiles and tears. Lately I haven’t been expressing the full scope of this journey. I feel that if I do, my children, my family, and all those around me will see more of God and want to join me in celebration, too.


Diabetes, discipline, and being a pancreas

I’m a type one diabetic.  That’s the insulin kind, the one where the pancreas stops doing its job and the afflicted person must learn to think like a pancreas.  Even though a pancreas doesn’t have a brain of its own, it’s a smart little thing, and I’m not excellent at taking its job.

My life works better if it’s very routine.  If I eat at the same time each day, and I eat about the same foods, and I exercise about the same amount, and  the climate doesn’t shift, and my sleep schedule remains static, and I don’t get sick or experience stress, my sugar levels stay steady, and I feel good.

It probably goes without saying that I struggle to make that happen, and so I don’t always feel good.  My family has to stop sometimes and wait for me to correct a low or bring down a high.  They know sometimes we cut a shopping trip short so I can fix my levels, and sometimes we arrive someplace late because Mom isn’t able to drive when it’s time to leave.  Although I attend church meals–or other social meals–they never go well, so everyone knows to leave Mom alone afterward while she fixes what inevitably makes her feel terrible.

My spiritual life needs discipline, too, just like my physical life.  God doesn’t require me to read his Word daily for a set amount of time.  He doesn’t have strict rules about time spent in prayer or scheduled moments of meditation.  If I miss church one Sunday, I’m not thrown out of the family.  But, routines in my spiritual life make me feel better.  I need to worship and participate in communion to experience his power in my life.  I need to read the Bible and pray to know who God is and how to live the life he meant for me.  I need to meditate on him and avoid things that harm me so I have the resources to deal with anything he puts in my path.

The only way to be prepared for the life God has in store for me is to prepare, to train.  It isn’t exciting, but that means routine.  Physical routine is the best way for me to fight my physical limitation.  Spiritual routine prepares me to fight my spiritual limitations, namely being in sinful body in a sinful world.

Spiritual routine and discipline aren’t about legalism and doing things to make God love me or accept me.  It’s one reason there are no one-size-fits-all disciplines.  It’s why God never said “Open each day with thirty minutes of Bible reading followed by twenty minutes of prayer.”  It’s individual, but it’s important.  It’s how we feed and grow and remain healthy.

I will continue to struggle with diabetes, and I will continue to struggle with spiritual routine, too.  Sometimes I’ll let other things take too much time and attention.  Highs and lows in blood sugar come with symptoms that are hard to ignore, but when I’m spiritually out of balance it’s not always so obvious, so I have to be careful.  I need to watch myself, and it’s a good idea to have others regularly watch with me and help me stay the course.

Because in the end, I’m working toward a feast.  I’ll eat just like everyone else, with no thoughts of being a pancreas.   And then I will also see Jesus, for whom I trained with such discipline, and he will eat and laugh with me.  As I get older that day becomes more exciting, worth any difficulties along the way.  Discipline and routine aren’t always exciting, but my excitement over the rewards to come make it all worth it.

Deep Breath

I’m writing this on Sunday, late in the morning.  I’ve spent this morning puttering, trying not to get so involved in projects that I lose track that this is Sunday, a day to rest, refresh, focus on God, prepare for worship.

I will post this on Monday morning, the morning of our first day of school.  As I’m home schooling, the first day of school is a big deal for me.  I’m supposed to be prepared–lesson plans ready, pencils sharpened, notebooks organized, work space cleaned out, healthy breakfast and lunch waiting in the kitchen somewhere, all that.   Tomorrow I’m supposed to be chipper and filled with enthusiasm about this coming year, because I want to impart a little of that attitude to my two remaining students.

Reality is, I’m not ready.  I’ve never walked into a year less ready.  Besides teaching my own, I’m teaching a couple pottery classes this semester, tutoring some high school seniors in English and Math, cleaning a house on a regular basis, doing the normal mom-taxi thing, all while sharing a vehicle with my oldest, who starts work at 6:30 a.m.  Most moms have similar craziness scheduled for their year.  It would help immensely if I were prepared, but I’m not.  Not even close.  Lesson plans? Winging it, at least for the next few days.  Supplies?  Hoping I have things left from last year.  And all that healthy food in the kitchen?  Seems I somehow forgot to shop last week, so we have a few stale post-wedding cupcakes and a bunch of post-wedding grapes.  Good news is that means the fridge is rather clean.

My husband is starting school this week, too, so while he will actually spend most of his waking hours here at home, he’s off limits most of the time while he studies, and his school schedule just happens to be exactly wrong for him to help me with the other kids’ needs.  It’s frustrating at best.

So today, I take a deep breath.  I want to clean house, prepare lesson plans, overhaul my whole life.  And in truth, I’ve done a little puttering and cleaning today, but I need to focus on rest, on refreshment, on worship preparation, which might simply mean leaving all the whirling thoughts of the semester behind when I walk through the church doors.

I have an image of the perfect home school life.  It’s very organized, and yet also filled with spontaneous moments of exploration and learning.  It’s a life of slow hours of reading, cooking, wandering through the outdoors, living a life that’s peaceful.  Really peaceful.  And it’s not possible.  But today can come close.  Regardless of what tomorrow brings, today I can be slow, and I can rest, and I can ignore the coming chaos, and God says it’s okay.  I don’t need to feel guilty.  I don’t need to carry the weight of the world.  God will do that every day, but today it’s more obvious, if I take a deep breath and let today be what it’s meant to be.

For many of us, August is the month to start new, either sending kids to school, or teaching them, or any of many jobs that deal with semesters and ebbs and flows of busyness.  And it’s easy to go off center, falling under the tyranny of the urgent, losing focus in the whirlwind.  So God gives us opportunities–one a week, in fact, to recenter, slow down, play the role of child, if you will, where it’s okay to play and rest and daydream.  This semester, I will need it.  And I may fight it, thinking I need all those hours to get things done.  I hope I remember the important things and how God demands rest.

Take a deep breath.  It’s Monday, and it might be a crazy week, but take heart–Sabbath rest is coming again, just around the corner where it always is, beckoning us to refresh and realign and think awhile on the eternal peace yet to come.  Look forward to it, and use it, and thank God for giving it to us.

Wandering with Pencils

I had one of those Sundays.  One of those worship experiences where I walked in unprepared, struggled to keep up, and left thankful God doesn’t give us a grade for enthusiastic worship each week, because I flunked the quiz.

Recently I started to attend a church that shares another church building, so our worship is in the late afternoon.  I like that.  We never walk out the door to go to church angry, as often happened when we’d oversleep or have trouble waking up a child.  No, our Sundays are now lazy and wonderful, and there is plenty of time to slow down mentally and spiritually, discard the distracting events of the week, and walk into church focused.

But then there are the days like yesterday.  I watched people talking and laughing and felt out of the loop, although I’m in exactly the same loops as last week when I didn’t feel that at all.  I didn’t get excited about the songs.  Every little thing distracted me–shuffling, whispering, motion–all of which happen any time people sit in a room and try to be still and silent.  Nothing was different, but I just didn’t engage, and mentally I was rather whiny and impatient with it all.

I know I didn’t walk in ready.  I had a busy Saturday, and I was still a little worn out and had gotten too much sun, and I skipped my Saturday evening Bible reading, which really focuses my next day.  Okay, that’s sort of an excuse.  And I went out with my daughter before worship–usually I don’t shop on Sundays, but I let it slide this week as said daughter asked for my company and is getting married in five weeks and leaving the nest.  So I didn’t unwind as much as normal.  Another decent excuse, I suppose, discounting the fact that I wasn’t doing much resting on the Lord’s Day. (And for the sake of the point of this post, we’re just going to discount that.)

It certainly wasn’t the message, although maybe…  Maybe it was the message.  You see, the message was really good.  Things I needed to hear, and things I’ve already been considering, and I never take it for granted when I have a thing in mind and God shows me the same thing from many angles.  So perhaps I found myself in the midst of a spiritual battle, and I don’t think I won the round.  I should expect a battle every time I step into the presence of God, but I just sauntered in without preparation and then found myself surprised when God wanted to speak to me and Satan didn’t really want me to pay attention.

I think I need a refresher course in spiritual battle.  I don’t act like I have an enemy.  I don’t always know how to discern if roadblocks are from my own sin or an enemy deceiving me, and I wonder how often I miss the mark by not having a clearer idea of the spiritual workings in my life.  Definitely an area where I need to focus and learn and study–if God considers me a soldier and asks me to wield a sword, I need a better handle on the techniques of battle.

At one point during yesterday’s worship an adorable little toddler was wandering a bit and picking up pencils from the pews as she came to them, and I had to smile, because mentally I was very much that little girl, letting my mind go wherever it pleased and getting diverted by every pencil–every stray thought that entered my head.  I doubt God thought I was being as cute as that little toddler, though.  He wanted to meet with me, and I wasn’t holding up my end of the visit at all.

Next week,  I make sure I take time Sunday to pray or read or nap or whatever it takes to calm my mind and focus it and prepare–even get excited!–for the meeting to come.  I hope to walk into worship realizing I may have to fight to visit with God and try not to spend my time in God’s amazing presence wandering with pencils.  While it’s a fine pastime for the little ones, I should be past that stage and engaging like a spiritual grown up.