Saturday, April 30, 2011

Facebook and the Vanity of It All. . .Blog Day #6

I find it interesting that for the past few years, my Lent season has always been about vanity. I gave up wearing make-up for two years in a row (much more difficult than it should be).  That lesson was about relying upon the attitudes and love reflecting from my heart, rather than trying to live up to someone else's expectations on what beauty is. Not that I'm a beauty queen or anything. Not even close. But I believe that in those years, wearing make-up symbolized the use of a mask to lead people into seeing a false version of myself. It took two Lent seasons to learn that if I followed and obeyed God, loving Him with all my heart and all my mind and all my soul just as Scripture says, the beauty of the Holy Spirit would emanate from me.  People would be drawn to me because they would be drawn to Him, the God I would be representing.

How does this compare to giving up Facebook? What does Facebook have to do with vanity?

Only this: I have always wanted to be famous. Beautiful and famous. Talented, beautiful and famous. Skinny, talented, beautiful and famous. And a super-spy. But that's another story.

Slipping into a fantasy-land was always a defense mechanism for me, especially during the most lonely and empty times of my childhood. I would pretend that I was a part of a favorite TV show (like the Cosby show episode when Theo decided he wanted to move out so Dr. Huxtable pretended to be a landlord). Or I would pretend to be the heroine in some fictional story I would make up, usually involving bad guys with guns and me discovering I had super-spy fighting moves. . .

Even now as an adult, I find my mind wandering into daydreams where I would have the perfect words to an earlier conversation.  Or imagining scenarios that would answer my "what if. ." question for the day.  But more dangerously, I find my mind delving into daydreams of how my life would be if I got exactly everything my heart desired. 

The Discovery: I still want to be skinny, talented, beautiful and famous.  All my sinful secret wanderings involve the elevation and admiration of me. My imperfect self involuntarily feeds on this dark and ugly part of my heart and the monster of narcissism wants to be seen.  When I'm low in mood, lonely or spiritually struggling, this desire to have my bucket filled with human admiration and approval seems to grow from that pit.

I have been working on taking my thoughts captive. . .Prayer helps so much in that area, as well as meditating upon Bible verses.  The Facebook fast seemed to be one of the most effective ways to gain control of my wayward thinking.

I think it's because FB feeds into my desire to be admired. I pick and choose what people see of me. So FB friends get to see my kids in their cute moments. . .and read about all my accomplishments as a mother, wife and _(insert hobby)-ist.

In Facebook's absence I had no one to impress.  No one to look on me and notice that I can be funny and witty with my words (well, online anyway). No one to give me encouragement whenever I wanted and no searching for compliments just to boost my ego. It was a tough 40 days.

*sigh. . .a world in which I am not overly-admired for my good looks and movie-star qualities.  Who knew that it would bring me back down to earth and remind me that life is not about the Self.

But I'd still like to be a super-spy. . .

Friday, April 29, 2011

Respite from the Daily Grind, Blog Day #5

There's not much I want to say today. . .So I'll keep it short and simple. This song has become one of my favorites. And in the midst of a fun but tough day, I am reminded of the days where my status updates turned into prayers and praises.

Now excuse me while I patiently go yell at my kids to go back to bed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Church Choir, not just robes and old ladies, Blog Day #4

No offense to old ladies, of course.

This blog entry isn't just about church choir, though it's been a huge part of my life during the entire Lent season.

It's more about worship. Well, about the worship of Jesus Christ, specifically. And of being called to serve in a way that honors Him.

Ever since I realized I believed in what the Bible has to say about Jesus, I've heard His voice calling to me about key events in my life. Some spiritual people would say they were "visions". But I prefer "promptings from the Holy Spirit",because I am in no way a prophet nor am I channeling any kind of psychic abilities.

No, God speaks randomly and mostly when I'm alone and in His Word.

I knew I needed to be baptized to solidify my new commitment to change my life into total obedience to Him.
I knew the boy who I was just starting to date would become my husband.
I knew that I would have a 5th child, and he would be a dark-haired boy named Henry.

And this last time, when my circumstances were trying and I was at a spiritual crossroads, I heard from Him again when I was pleading for His strength and wisdom. He whispered to me in my desperate need to honor His sacrifice for me despite my temptation to throw the towel in. He told me that I would serve Him in such a way that I and others around me would be brought to worship and lift up His name. It would be through song.

Now, I must confess, I wish this meant that I would supernaturally become a Christian diva.

But no, I did not spontaneously develop an angelic vocal tone with a multiple-octave singing range to boot. (Lord, help me to not be disappointed.)

God was going to use a gift and talent I already possessed, as meager and rusty and inconsistent as it was, to bring me to a new level of worship and prayer. My piano skills would be honed and sharpened to help bring myself and others into glorifying Him through music.

I already had it out with my ego last fall, when I decided to play once a month with the worship band. The piano at FBCDavis was an old friend. We had history, she and I. I had loved being the only piano player to step up and accompany the choir the way I did. So I eased in with an easy commitment, hiding in the shadows of a worship leader whose talent and genuine heart for God brought out the best in all the singers and band members, not to mention the congregation who listened and sang along.

And then, much to my ego's dismay, I was honored to become the choir's accompanist at the same time I decided to give up FB for Lent. I practiced as much as I could, playing through a couple of the most difficult songs I've played in a long time. Instead of updating my status on how good God was and how awesome an opportunity it was to play these awesome songs, I told God Himself in prayer. Instead of sharing with the world how I was in my element at choir, I praised God for being so good to me and for speaking/playing through me. I thanked Him for choosing me to play, mistakes and all.

Every week leading up to Good Friday, a love was growing through this new way to worship Him. I guess you could say that it was an old love re-kindled. Even now as I type my chest tightens and I can hardly breathe under the pressure of this deep love.

Every week leading up to Good Friday, the words of all of the songs hit home as I took my extra time to think about Jesus' road to the cross.

That road: full of betrayal, torture, agony, loneliness, and the weight of the sins of all man-kind.

Good Friday came, and as I sat at that piano I knew the Holy Spirit was breathing out the sound waves that worked together to create the beautiful harmonies and melodies coming from the instruments and voices. In the heaviness of remembering His gruesome and painful death for my sins, I didn't play my best. But He was there, my heart was His, and it wasn't about me.

And then Easter. . .Resurrection Day. . .A day of rejoicing and celebrating. When I played alongside the band, all I could think of was Him. When I played for the choir, my heart was praying the words they were singing. It was the deepest and truest worship I have ever offered up. Through me and the rest of the people on the church's humble stage, the whole room offered a deep and true worship in celebration of a God who conquers death.

He had called me so softly. I focused on Him alone. Then He blessed me so abundantly.

How good it is to be a child of God.

Thank you, Lord, for your loving-kindness towards me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Running, My New Obsession, Blog Day #3

Back in February, I decided to take on a new hobby: Running. There was no thought put into it. I just decided one day, downloaded a schedule (Thanks Mel), and began. New Year's Resolutions had restarted my goal of shrinking down to 145 lbs. And I was inspired by my friends who were looking and feeling much more healthy than I have been in a long time.

So, the Couch to 5k program became my hero.

I started with a 5 minute walk, 2 minute jog, and 5 minute walk. I was a little too zealous and took no days off, so my knee forced me to take it easy. Then my wallet was emptied out onto the most expensive shoes I have ever bought in my life. Fast forward to the middle of Lent and I ran a 5K with a time of 36:29.3. Not bad, all things considered.

Run a 5k. Check.

Next up: 10k. . .scheduled for Memorial Day.

It's after Lent now. I can steadily run up to 5 miles.
It helped to have 40 days of no Facebook, aka distraction and procrastination.
No imaginary world in which I could impress people with my new success.
Just being healthy because God wants me to take care of my body. And because extra chins are unsightly.

I learned something from all this, of course. Track with me, if you can. . .

If you are a runner, you will concur with me that there is a moment in your run where you hit a groove. All of a sudden, you're muscles completely relax and you get into a steady rhythm. That's what it seems like to me, anyway, after mile 2. But I have to actually get to mile 2.

Those first two miles, no matter what kind of warm-up and stretching I've done, are kind of brutal. I don't know if it's because I'm still overweight or because I've never been in running shape before, but it's a struggle for me not to think, "I'm not sure I'm going to make it." Every bone in my body wants to quit and walk the rest. But I keep going. I set my eyes ahead and never look down. I concentrate on sucking in my stomach and run to the rhythm of the music playing on my headphones. And then my breathing evens out, my muscles stop protesting and I relax into the workout. Time passes by and the run is finished. . .I recover quickly during the walk home and I feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

And here is the faith lesson:

The Apostle Paul uses a race to give us a picture of what our faith should be like. He says to run the race as if to win the prize (1 Cor. 9).

I wonder how many of us think the race too daunting, and don't even try. I've done that. I've spent all day in a pity party, wishing I could be in bed hiding. I've eaten a whole batch of brownies all by myself, uncaring of the consequences. And I shamefully admit that I've ignored the fact that I have professed faith in Jesus Christ just because I didn't want to do the work needed to forgive someone. The training and discipline it takes to run a race properly just seems too hard sometimes.

I wonder how many of us start the training, but poop out. I have done this. I had a moment of weakness only one day back on Facebook. "I'm going to wait a few minutes, and see if anyone comments on my post, or has a new update." 5 minutes turned into 30, then an hour passed by. Then another. Pretty soon it was too late for me to go out for my run. And I had eaten a whole lot of cheesecake and chocolate malt balls and leftover biscuits with honey butter. You can say that I was wallowing in my laziness. The next day was spent shaking this off and ignoring feelings of burn-out and mental fatigue. Have you ever been excited to serve people in some fancy ministry, but find yourself burning out and not wanting to continue? Say, for example, like being a mom of toddlers?

I wonder how many of us start running, but quit before finding the "groove". . .Starting something new is always the hardest step. Becoming a Christian, i.e. professing faith and changing one's life, is the "hard" part. Then your life has to change, which means your friends and relationships have to change, which means you have to trust that God will take care of things and that He knows best, which means that you have to acknowledge your constant state of brokenness and live in humility. My spiritual calves are locking up already just thinking about these things.

So here's the best faith lesson of the day:
On my runs, I've found that staying hydrated keeps me from getting cramps. And resolving to finish the run is a must. In my faith, I've found that drinking the Living Water (God's Word) keeps me from becoming spiritually ill and cramping up. And resolving to obey and serve and love and forgive until the end of The Race is a must.

No procrastinating. No complacency. No waiting around for people to post or write me notes. No over-eating empty calories. No bad attitudes. No rash and inconsiderate words coming out of my mouth. No pooping out and watching hours of useless television. No getting stuck on how jiggly I still am. No getting stuck on how others are better "runners" than me. No being satisfied at how spiritual I am and ignoring The Creator who got me there in the first place. No losing sight of the Wonderful End to pick the dandelions off the path.

*sigh. . .I am still a work in progress.

Amazing what one can think of when there is enough FB silence.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Ever Elusive Contentment, Blog Day #2

Picture this: you're an 11 year old girl working in 100 degree weather in an inhumane chicken house gathering hundreds of eggs. You're wearing your yucky old loafers (which, of course, you've checked for cockroaches and spiders). You've got chicken mites in your hair, dust and sweat all over your skin, and the stench of standing chicken manure in your nostrils.

Then picture this day after day of summer vacation, working alongside parents who are tired, unhappy and conversation-less.

Definitely a picture of discontentment. Or, at least, of unhappiness.

That girl was me. I spent much of my childhood working on my parents' ranch. Each day off was spent taking turns with my sister selling eggs to visiting customers. We rotated days working for 2 or 3 hours in the hot (or freezing cold) afternoon in the conditions described above.

We were paid a little allowance for our efforts. But because the conditions were rough for children and adults alike, not much was said. No words of encouragement, no family vacations, no playdates, and no 4 hugs a day. Dinner, albeit together, was silent. It was just the daily grind of a family with immigrant parents struggling to make a living.

It was the combination of the hard labor, monotonous life, and lack of emotional warmth that made unhappiness and discontentment indistinguishable from each other. Now, as an adult who lives by faith in a God who sacrificed His son for me and relishes in the grace that is lavished upon me, I can clearly define the two:

Unhappiness is when 1) I don't get my way. Or 2) things aren't going my way. Or 3) life is just miserable. But #3 is usually a result of #1 and/or #2.

Discontentment is 1) me being ungrateful. Or 2) me wanting to be satisfied in some way. Or 3) just me wanting to be more important to others than I should be.

Have you noticed a common theme? Me and mine.

So being unhappy as a child was understandable. Everyone in the house was unhappy. Circumstances were tough, and we all wished for something else. I might even go so far as to say that the dreams of the adults had been dashed, causing a cold and lonely atmosphere. I myself was lonely. I knew there was more out there. I wanted my life and family to be like the Cosby's. The Brady's life would have been awesome. The Seaver's house would have been even better.

Always in the gloom of my life, there was something better. Mediocrity was unacceptable. I began striving to always have my way. Getting my way meant that I would have the best I could. I would do what it took to get what I wanted.

So when the innocence of childhood wishes grew into self-centered teen-aged angst, I started my journey into discontentment. Unhappiness turned into the monster of dissatisfaction. I wanted more. . . .more attention, more "normal" experiences, more activities, more talent, more freedom. . .

A pattern, I must say, even in my spiritual maturity, I still follow today. Contentment had become elusive. I had been striving so long to always have more, that I couldn't recognize contentment if it came up and bit me in the rear. In fact, discontentment became one of my default settings.

Then. . .
40 days of no Facebook.
Out of the muddy water of making myself appear impressive.
Not having others' lives to look to and compare myself with.
Replacing the hours spent reading updates and comments with thoughts and words of God. Listening for His small still voice.
Obeying instead of being kicked in the pants.
Soaking in the love that comes from a God who cares enough to discipline me.
Reaping the benefits of my own brokenness.
Receiving all the benefits that come from believing in a Savior who took the punishment for my sins upon Himself.
Pulling from the shroud of grace that consumes me daily.
Using just a little of it to extend a smaller scale of it upon myself and others around me.
Forgiving myself for always looking elsewhere for satisfaction and contentment.
Prayerfully, with intention, redirecting my thoughts to what I have, and not what I don't have.
Understanding that while life is hard, I am deeply blessed.
Discovering that the grass under my feet is lush, soft, and brilliantly verdant.

God had spoken loudly to me during my 40 days of social networking silence. One afternoon, as if a glowing spiritual lightening bug was flying around my head, He said, "See that? Catch it. Hold it. Remember it. It's name is contentment."

Praise the Lord for being so kind to me.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Social Network Fast, Blog Day #1

Have you ever experienced the feeling of almost stifling quiet? The kind of quiet that makes you feel as if you have been suspended in time? I have. At the bottom of a deep pool. I used to jump off the diving board, expel all the air out of my lungs, and enjoy the silence as I sank my body down to the bottom. I would stay positioned there until my chest would burn and I would have to swallow against my body's instinct to breathe in.

And there was this kind of stifling quiet that came to me once again during this year's Lent season. But I didn't do anything nearly as exciting as holding my breath underwater until I'm about to take water into my lungs. I took a break from social networking. No Facebook, no Twitter, no BeenUp2 and no blogging. I would have skipped texting and emailing, too, if they weren't such an essential form of communication in this day and age.

So now, after 40 days of nothingness, I am going to blog for 40 days straight. A blogging blitz to describe the things that went on in my isolated and lonely silence. I felt like I was suspended in time, yet becoming more productive and growing faster than I have in a long time. There was a transformation, a refocusing of faith, and an old flame refueled. . .

The blogs are in no particular order, the topics will be random. I've had 40 days to think and ponder. Many hours of staring at my iPhone, wishing I could just touch the Facebook icon. Many Facebook updates I wanted to text people, but didn't for fear of appearing desperate. Many awkward stares (with me doing the staring) in passing Facebook friends whose lives I was no longer a "part of".

It seems so shallow, a Facebook fast. But social networking has a trap that people don't quite know they're in. It feeds into our natural selfishness. It has a tendency to engulf us in our own minds. My own internal monologue changed to the third person, and I started narrating my own life to myself. I became the main theme of my life and everyday was shaped to make myself look more impressive to the people, most of them mere acquaintances, with whom I shared my Facebook life with. When I felt I couldn't be impressive, I thought my life deficient in some way and strove to make it perfect. It often left me gazing at the pasture on the other side of the fence, whose grass seemed to be so pleasingly bright and shiny green. A dangerous road to be on when one's claims are of obedience and trusting faith in an almighty God who is the controller and savior of all things created.

After the initial detoxification, my mind rose out of the muddy water and I began to see the blessings around me. I discovered contentment in them. I realized that my "trials" were just my faith in the refinement process. I heard the small, still voice calling and I obeyed. Day by day, my focus turned from an inward magnifying lens to an outward scope of how I can serve and love better.

Not only did I spiritually awaken to a whole new maturity level, I learned to discipline myself physically. I lost 15 pounds, and can now run 4.5 miles without losing a lung. I ran a 5K race for the first time, and I've rekindled my love for cooking and eating healthy. On a more geekier side, I practiced piano nearly everyday and rejoined the church choir as the accompanist. That in itself deserves it's own blog entry.

What can I say, God was a movin' and a shakin' in this weary soul. . .And I'm going to share all the ways He did. . .For 40 days. . .yes, with a social networking tool. . .Tell your friends. . .