Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I Moved A Storm

I moved a storm.  Yep.  You read that correctly.  I moved a storm.

Ok, so I didn't personally move the storm, but God certainly did.

With my daughter's permission, I'm going to fill you in on a snippet of what's been clouding our home for the past few months.  To make an extremely long story short:  a few months ago my daughter was suddenly hit with severe anxiety.  It paralyzed her personality, crippling her in so many ways, and left our household feeling trapped in the eye of a storm.  There were days that my husband and I would have to physically remove her from the car just to get her to school.  My husband was in tears the day he had to carry her into the school grounds because she was physically fighting my efforts.

Teachers, counselors, staff, even the principal of the school, rallied around our daughter to make her days easier.  She wasn't being bullied, nothing even remotely damaging had happened to her.  She couldn't explain it.  She was crying because she was crying, and she had no idea why.  She was worried about the "what if's" - what if something happened to her? What if something happened to me?  What if something happened to her dad? Her brother?

We read book after book about anxiety, we met with a psychologist, her pediatrician, a behaviorist...and we were all at a loss.  My church family covered her in prayer, as well as myself and my husband.  Every day I was begging for prayers: "please pray for me, I'm so lost. I don't know how to help her. I can't get through to her."  My daughter's prayer journals were filled with words like "why is this happening to me? Why won't it stop? Why can't I be normal?"  I tried to tell her that her anxiety and worry meant that she was lacking trust in God - but she couldn't even grasp the idea of turning to God because she felt her world was spinning.  Her outrages in the mornings would exhaust her, and once home from school, she would nap and then wake up with barely a memory of the morning.

I had to beg others for prayer because I couldn't form a single sentence when it came to my time with God.  My tears were my prayers for months.

Finally, we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  We weren't quite out of the danger zone, but there was some light trying to break through the clouds.  And then she had a four day break from school, just a couple of weeks ago.  The night before she was to go back to school, she was inconsolable.  Crying because she was scared. "What if I get sick at school? What if something happens while you're at work? What if...what if...what if..." I locked myself in the bathroom and started to cry out of anger and frustration.

In between my tears I sent a group text to the women in my life I lovingly refer to as my prayer warriors.  I needed prayer.

Each morning I wake up before the sun rises to make a cup of coffee to sip during my time with God.  The house is dark, I don't turn on a single light, and I quietly make my way through the house, careful not to wake anyone.  The morning my daughter was going back to school, my back was turned towards the window in my kitchen, but there was no mistaking the flash of light that filled the house.  Shortly after that came the thunder.  I paused, afraid to breathe.  I waited.  More lightning.  More thunder.

This is my daughter's biggest fear, aside from the unknown "what-it's." Thunder and lightning. I grabbed my cup of coffee, turned around to look out the window and whispered, "are you kidding me, right now, God??"

I was mad.  I was frustrated. I couldn't believe God would do this to me. To my daughter. To us.

I walked upstairs to find my husband awake, staring out the window. "Babe! Did you see this lightning? It's crazy!" My husband loves thunder storms.  Our bedroom was being lit up like a summer day at noon.  I just looked at him, ready to cry, and headed straight to my closet - my war room.

As soon as I closed the door to my closet, I broke down in tears.

"Why are you letting this happen, God?  Can't you give her a break?  She doesn't need this!  She's already nervous!  She's already scared!  Why are you doing this??"

I kept talking, directly from my heart.  Anger, frustration, hurt, and fear was pouring out of my eyes in the form of tears.

"You can move this storm, God.  I know you can place your mighty hands down here and push this storm away.  Do it!  I know you can and I want you to do it!  Move it!!  Please God, I'm begging you!  Even if it's just long enough to get her to school, move it!  I know you can!"

I continued my quiet time with God (although I don't know how quiet my angry whispers were...), and went on about my morning, kissed my husband good-bye as he left for work, got myself ready and prepared to wake my daughter to help her get ready for the day.

Just before I went into her room, my husband called.  "You know what's weird?  I haven't seen any lightning since what we saw this morning..."

My heart stopped.  I wasn't even paying attention.  I never looked outside.  I didn't notice that the lightning and thunder stopped.

"You know why it stopped, don't you?" The words nearly jumped off my tongue. "I prayed about it!"

I know my husband wanted to give a belly laugh, but instead he offered a polite giggle.  My joy didn't allow room to translate his laugh as persecution.  My prayer was not only heard, but answered immediately!  I nearly ran up the stairs to wake my daughter; I was so excited to tell her about the way God answered my prayer.

"Isn't that amazing? That lets us know that He is near to us all the time! He hears our prayers!"

I sent my daughter off to school, and began my hour long commute to work.  I was still on a fluffy cloud (because the storm clouds were gone) and had to tell more people about the way God answered my prayer.  I shared with my mom; I sent a group text to my prayer warriors, and I shared with my coworkers.

One of my coworkers responded with, "so I have you to thank for that?"  Confused, I asked what she meant.  She proceeded to tell me that in all the years she lived in the valley (approximately a 20-30 minute drive from my home) she had never experienced thunder like she did that morning.  "It shook the whole house! I've never been through anything like that!"  My smile must've been from ear to ear...I remembered that I asked God to move the storm, not necessarily stop it.

I spent the rest of the day with a smile on my face, praising God to anyone who would listen.

God will do that sometimes. He likes to show off every now and then.  Especially during the storm.

When we are in the middle of a stormy part of life, that's when God will grab the opportunity to calm the storm.  He knows that when He calms our storms, we will sing his praises to all who will listen.

Does that mean that should be the only time we praise Him?  Of course not.  We need to praise Him in all things....the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But the moments like this, when it's so clearly obvious that He is near and listening to our words and our hearts, are the moments that will sit deep in our hearts and serve as a reminder when we face another storm.  When I feel like God isn't hearing my prayers, when I feel like my words are being scattered in the wind...I'll always come back to the time God moved the storm.

"Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
He replied, You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8:23-27

For all the days of my life, I will never forget the way God answered my prayer that morning.
I poured my heart out to Him with genuine conviction and belief that He could do anything.
My faith was not little that morning.  My faith was big.  It was loud.  And it was real.

When we feel like we are drowning in the storm, let's approach God with conviction that He can do anything in our lives.  After all, He shaped the mountains, he placed the stars, and he controls the oceans.

He can move the storms for you, too.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Do I Give Enough?

At the beginning of each year, our church hands out boxes of 52 envelopes.  These envelopes are a soft blue color and the date of each Sunday of the year is stamped on the front.  And if that's not easy enough, our church has the ability to set up our weekly contributions online!  I love it!  I used to have my weekly contribution set up online....that is, until I had to start using the envelopes.

Let me start here:

Jesus tells us that it's impossible to worship God and money (Luke 16:13).  Jesus says that we will love one and hate the other, or devote ourselves to one and detest the other.

I love God.  Obviously.  And I like to think of myself as a simple girl; don't get me wrong, I love a fancy pair of shoes and a well-made handbag, but you won't find me out there buying either one.  Several years ago you would've seen me in Nordstrom's with my credit card hot to the touch because I was using it so much, but that lead me to a path of destruction.

My husband is a firefighter and works crazy hard to provide an incredible life for me and our children.  He picks up extra shifts so that I can work part-time, we can take the kids to Disneyland (although not anymore because it's so dang expensive), my son can play year-round baseball, and my daughter can take dance classes, or painting classes, or whatever she's in the mood to try.  His job is not easy, despite what some may think.  He comes home after a 24 hour shift physically and mentally tired.  He may occasionally get a full four days off, but he's not himself until day four, and then he has to go back and do it again.

So, he likes to see where his hard earned money is going and what it is being used for - rightfully so.  He knows God, he acknowledges God, but he doesn't love God...yet.  And he definitely doesn't think we should be giving to God, because he views it as giving to the church, not to God.

This has been a crazy topic in our home and has been the source of many, many arguments.  So......I had a brilliant idea < *cough, cough* > that I would give to God....without telling my husband.  How could I be wrong with that?  I mean, I'm doing my biblical duty, I'm honoring God and all that He has given to me, so how could I be wrong?

For a whole year, I gave my weekly contribution to God through the online service our church provides.  For years before that, I was the only one who handled our finances.  For years before that, I vowed to tithe based on my gross income.  I even increased my tithe when I got a raise.  And every Sunday I felt good watching the collection plate pass my hands knowing that the next morning I would see the deduction from my checking account.  For years, I tricked myself into believing I was doing the right thing.

And then one night we sat down with a couple from church who have been our closest friends for many years.  We were discussing finances (the conversation was going decently well; I was being called out on a lot of sin, but my husband was being given pointers as well), and just when I thought the conversation was over because the four of us were laughing and cleaning up dinner, it quickly turned on me when I said, "well, there is one more thing...."  However, I said this statement with such confidence because I believed my church-going, God-loving friends would sign up on Team Jenn right away.

"Tithe.  I give each week to the church.  [My husband] doesn't know about that.  BUT!  I don't base my tithe off the household income, only mine."  I smiled the whole time I said this.  I was so proud of myself for being so sacrificial with my money.  I couldn't wait to hear them applaud me and tell my husband that it's my duty to give back to God.

That's not what happened.

I was sitting next to my best friend and across from her husband.  Nobody laughed.  Nobody smiled.  In fact, it was dead silent.  The next words spoken were from her husband, "what else, Jenn? What else are you hiding?"  Tears instantly sprang to my eyes.  I was confused.  Where was the Team Jenn flag he was supposed to be waving?  I looked to my best friend.  She wouldn't even look at me.  I started to defend myself, defend my actions, justify that I was doing the right thing.

"My husband doesn't want me to give to the church!  But I have to!  What am I supposed to do?"

For the next several, lengthy, torturous minutes (ok, I'm exaggerating, it wasn't exactly torture), it was explained to me why it was wrong.

It's never wrong to give to God.  Ever.  Let's clarify that.

The wrong was in my deceit.  My husband had no idea I was giving to the church.  On the occasional Sundays that he would join me, he never asked me about contribution because he didn't know that we could give our contribution online.  He assumed that I didn't give to the church...and I let him assume that.

Aside from deceit, without realizing it, I was separating our money.  My husband is so generous.  He works so hard and allows that extra money to go towards something we want to do as a family...or, he puts it towards debt I incurred over years and pays off all our debt.  All that money that he earned as he watched a man die in front of him, as he pulled a lifeless child out of a swimming pool, as he cut apart a car to rescue a young girl, as he risked his life on top of a burning building...all that money that was earned through his emotional sacrifice, he allows to be used as our family needs for "extras" in life.

And yet, I was taking my money and doing what I wanted with it.  Without asking him.  Without telling him.  Because I assumed I was doing the right thing.

The day after we spent time with our friends, we sat down and went through all of our bills and set up a brand new, beautiful budget (that's coming up in a future blog).  There was only one thing missing:  he didn't allow for contribution to the church.  Nowhere in our budget were the words "church" or "God."  I didn't say anything, I wanted to let my husband lead this conversation.

A couple hours later I called my best friend: "I don't know what to do, he didn't allow room for a contribution!  I can't do that!  What am I supposed to do??"  She asked me if I was given an "allowance" in the budget (this is the money that I'm given each week to use however I wish - no questions asked).  My husband budgeted for each of us to have a weekly allowance of $40 (sounds like a lot until you realize how many times you eat out, how many coffees you buy or how long it takes to save for a haircut).

My best friend said to me, "perfect!  So tithe off of your allowance each week!"
Me:  "What?  I can't do that!  Only $4 each week?  Are you kidding me?"
Righteous Bestie:  "Absolutely!  That is yours, God knows you can do anything you want with it - so why not tithe off that?"

I felt so much guilt about the idea of giving only $4 each week to God.  There was no way I could ever live with that.  So, the next night at church I pulled aside the minister's wife.  I explained to her what was going on, how I had been deceiving my husband and my plan to repent, but now I didn't know what to do about tithe.  I told her about my bestie's suggestion and asked for her advice.  She laughed, smiled, hugged me so tightly and said, "I think that's a great idea."  I must have looked at her like she was crazy because she laughed again and followed it up with the most beautiful reminder, "God isn't worried about how much you give from your wallet, He's only concerned about how much you give from your heart."  I felt instant relief pouring over my shoulders.

She reminded me that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), not necessarily a rich giver.  She said, "God is more fired up about the fact that your heart is aching to give him more, but you are giving him what you can. You have an allowance that you can use for anything you want, but you want to make sure you give to God.  That's awesome!  That's what He wants!  You can revisit the topic of contribution with your husband later, but for now, I think giving from your allowance is an awesome idea."

That night I church, I went to the table and asked for a box of envelopes.  There was something about the way that box felt in my hands.  Suddenly I realized that it truly was in my heart to give to God.  I didn't think of it as a duty or a bill I had to pay.

I wanted to give to Him because I love Him.  Because I'm grateful for all that He has given to me.  And that was all that mattered.

"As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  'Truly I tell you,' he said, 'this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.Luke 21:1-4

It's not about the dollar amount.  It's all about the heart.

My husband knows that I give to God each week.

What he doesn't know is that every week, as I write my name on the outside of that envelope, and place four $1 bills inside, I thank him for allowing me the opportunity to give to God with my heart.

My husband, without meaning to, has taught me a lesson about giving to God...he taught me to have the heart of the widow.