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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Naughty

My kids were crazy yesterday.  They are always a little crazy but yesterday they were bananas.  I don't know if it is post-birthday party let down or pre-Christmas morning madness but they just could not get along.  They would play nicely for a while then explode.  I think there was more whining, crying, slapping, and toy throwing in a single eight hour period than in their entire past lives combined.  They seriously earned their ways onto the naughty list.

Mid-afternoon, exhausted from coming up with new and interesting consequences (they had already had a couple time outs a piece and lost their outing to Half Price Books to hear The Polar Express and see Santa), I told them that quite frankly they had worn their mother out.  The next time anyone hit anyone else they were both getting a spanking.  Since those don't happen in our house with any kind of frequency, I explained that this meant I was going to hit each of them on their bottoms.  Baby Boy looked at me and giggled.  "That's a good story, Mom," he said.  Somehow I managed not to laugh.

I prayed I would not have to follow through with my threat.  I don't spank and I was a little disappointed in myself for resorting to it even as a threat, since I would have to follow through if they earned a consequence.  Luckily, there was no more violence.  There was some more whining and general bad behavior shortly thereafter and I determined that perhaps everyone needed to spend some quiet time in their beds.  Baby Boy promptly fell asleep.  Baby Girl calmed down and announced, "Mommy, I happy!" after twenty minutes or so of quiet time.  The rest of our day was without incident and, thankfully, without spankings.

Today my children are the precious, if precocious, little munchkins I know and love rather than the mini monsters of yesterday.  I'm a grateful mommy, not only since I have hope of a happier and less tiring day, but because of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thanks to Him, yesterday was an unremarkable day, not even distinguished by a rare spanking, much less by the full-on melt-down fit that I at one point was tempted to throw. I did not say or do anything to my children that required so much as an apology.  It is nothing short of a miracle, since, like any parent, there were times when I really, really, really wanted to blow my top and/or run screaming down the street.

I'm an awful person, really.  I have an explosive, ugly, rage-filled temper.  I'm terribly impatient.  I'm selfish, the kind of selfish that would abandon all responsibility to pursue my own pleasure above all else and not look back.  It's true.  The reason I bring it all up is that my children have no idea about any of that.  They know I can get mad (or "cross" as Baby Boy puts it), but they don't know I'm capable of a berserker kind of rage.  The idea of me inflicting harm on them, even something as mild as swat on the bottom, seems far-fetched and downright silly.  If they had a concept of patience, I think that they would attest that I am full of it. And I love them way more than myself and I think that they know it.

None of it is in my power.  I shudder to think what kind of parent I would be without God's help.  I'm not proud of myself for my reactions yesterday; I'm grateful to God.  Grateful for the ability to take a step back, take a deep breath, and ask the Holy Spirit for a next move.  Because that is what I do, everyday and so many times on days like yesterday that I can't even count.  I'm not a perfect parent.  I say things I shouldn't say, model behaviors I shouldn't model, just like everybody else.  But I'm perfect-er than I ever thought I could be, because I am guided by One without flaw, with all wisdom, with keen sight and perfect judgment.  No matter how many parenting books I've read (and I've read a lot) none of that knowledge is equivalent to having a manifestation of God living within me, just waiting to tell me what to do, how to respond, what words to say.

I'm going to mess up sometimes; there will be days when it is Mommy who is decidedly naughty.  When that happens I'm going to apologize.  Then I'm going to show myself grace, because I want to teach grace.  I want to model it.  I want them to learn what it looks like and how it feels on good days and on bad ones.  Because God gives us grace, whether we deserve it or not.  He doesn't keep a naughty or nice list; His gifts are without condition.  He wants us to behave because we love Him, not because we fear Him.  We're all going to have days where we are terrible and we need some quiet time to get right.  Then we'll have those days when we are good and make the right choices.  God's love is the same both days.  I want to get a revelation of that and pass it on to my children.  So this is my prayer this morning:  I want my children to know that my love for them is changeless, on the challenging days and on the easy ones, whether they be naughty or nice, so that they might learn by example the character and nature of God's amazing grace.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Peaceful Abode

Peace is a big concept around this time of year.  We see it written in fancy script on snowflake-laden greeting cards.  We sing, like the angels, "Peace on the earth, goodwill toward men."  There are images of cozy fireplaces and old-fashioned Christmas trees shining in dimly lit rooms.  The idea of peace is big at Christmas.

But, as we all know, while popular, peace is not very prevalent.  Ask most people how they are during this time of year and the answer is:  STRESSED OUT.  "How are you?" is replaced by "Have you finished your Christmas shopping?" or "Are you ready for Christmas?" as the most frequently asked question.  And people out there are nasty.  They are cutting each other off in traffic, laying on their horns, pushing past fellow shoppers to get to the latest sale item. In the air there's a feeling of grumpiness.  I took my kids to see the big Christmas tree at the Dallas Galleria and it was downright scary.  It made me want to hide in my house and order food from the Schwans man until December 27th or so.

I was given a gift early this year.  God graced me with illness just before Thanksgiving, so I would take a step back and reevaluate my holiday priorities.  He gifted me with financial difficulty so that I could opt out of the consumer-driven American Christmas madness.  And, you know what?  It's been awesome.  Fun.  Peaceful.

It's not that we've toned down this Christmas.  Our house is the most Griswald-like on our block with our brilliant yard decorations that shine so brightly by night that my children no longer need a night light in their room.  Their window is filled with a incandescent glow reminiscent of an alien landing.  There is not a room in our house where you will not find something Santa-related or a snowman (my personal favorite holiday friend).  We've watched Elf, The Christmas Story, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snowman... repeatedly.  My kids have sat upon Santa's knee and told him what they want for Christmas:  two babies and a school bus, respectively.

So it's not that I'm not participating in Christmas.  It's that I'm not worrying about Christmas.  I'm not stressed.  I'm happy.  I have moments where I start to panic with upcoming preschool parties, play-dates, and both children's birthdays thrown into the mix.  But I take a deep breath and remember that if I don't have time to make a cookie tray it's going to be okay.  If I don't have time to make those really cute reindeer treats I saw on Pinterest, I can bring candy canes from the Dollar Store.  My kids would rather have a happy mommy than a domestic diva.

A year or so ago I read a scripture that really struck me.  It is Isaiah 33:20 and says:  "Look upon Zion, the city of our festivals; your eyes will see Jerusalem, a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved; its stakes will never be pulled up, nor any of its ropes broken."  At the time, I looked upon my home, the "city" of my festivals, and what I saw seemed neither peaceful nor permanent.  Though we were putting on a good face, things were tense at the Espinoza house and it seemed at any moment either Phillip or myself could pull up stakes and move on, breaking a rope or two on our way out.  I wept and prayed.  I asked God for our home to be a peaceful abode.  I made those words, "a peaceful abode," my computer screensaver so that I would remember to be intentional in this prayer.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at the computer (probably looking up those aforementioned reindeer treats) and my screen saver popped up.  There were the words "a peaceful abode," spinning slowly across my screen, and I realized that my prayer had been answered.  I don't remember the moment we went from grumpy to grateful, from pissed to peaceful, but somewhere in the past year, by God's grace, it happened.  Looking at those words as a promise answered instead of a petition was a wonderful moment for me.  It was like God winked at me and whispered, "Merry Christmas."

The most important of our Christmas traditions happens each evening.  We light candles for Advent, sit together as a family and sing songs.  We read books and then we tell the story of Jesus' birth.  We laugh and rejoice together.  While the kids may not understand fully that the birth of this one little baby boy is the reason our house is filled with joy and peace, my husband and I do, and we know that we are planting seeds of faith even while singing "Jingle Bells" at the top of our lungs.

On Christmas morning, my children are going to have gifts to open (at least two babies and a school bus), but the greatest gift has already been given to them.  And because of this greatest gift, the gift of a Messiah who loves us without condition, they have spent this holiday season in a home characterized by peace.  By joy.  By love.  This Christmas I re-gift my children a peaceful abode and I know that it is something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.  So on this "one week until Christmas" morning, I wish you a merry Christmas, but beyond that I wish you a peaceful Christmas.  I wish you lots of hugs and laughter.  Lots of moments where you are more aware of the peaceful, beautiful, wonderful presence of Jesus than you are of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas crowd.  Peace in your home, goodwill toward men, and a hosanna in the highest to the One whose birth we celebrate and whose love is never ending.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

No Matter What

So on the spiritual front, things have been pretty extreme lately.  Not bad, per se, just challenging.  God's been growing me and growth is painful.

For starters, since Thanksgiving my asthma has been flaring up.  I cough; I have difficulty breathing.  At the end of the day I am exhausted from a day full of shallow breathing but can't sleep because I can't stop coughing.  It's awful.  My emergency inhaler is offering little to no relief.  I remember that this happened last year at the very same time and I went to the doctor a few days after Christmas to get back on Advair.  I don't like Advair or any of the other regulating steroids prescribed for asthma.  If you choose to take it I'm not judging; they just have some long term effects that make me shudder.  Still, I need to breathe, so I've almost called up my D.O. several times.  When it comes time to pick up the phone, though, I feel a Holy Spirit nudge to put the phone down.

I think God wants to heal my asthma.  Not just temporarily relieve the symptoms, but actually take the condition away from me entirely.  And I think He wants to do it on faith alone, no interventions either traditional or holistic.  I rejoice in this revelation.  When it came down to praying on it, though, God opened up a whole can of worms in my spirit that we needed to address.  Because I believe in healing.  Radical, miraculous faith healing that comes from the power of the Holy Spirit and the holy name of Jesus Christ.  It would be really strange if I didn't considering how many times I saw God lift my son out of illness and medically certain death.   But I find that, since Eddie's death, doubt and disbelief have invaded my spirit like a cancer, stealthily and without my even realizing it.

I've been praying for healing, but it is with this internal shrug like, "Well, I'm praying for it but I realize it's probably not something you really want to do."  That is nothing but disbelief clothed as acceptance, a wolf in sheep's clothing.  I started reading a book by Bill Johnson (love it, by the way) that a friend gave to me.  Not five pages into this thing, I'm reading about a radical healing miracle, where God re-grew a man's bone in his leg and healed cancer in his neck.  I burst into tears.  I believe, I know, God did that and does other things like it all of the time.  I believe that the miraculous should be common place among followers of Christ.  But it hurts.  Because at the end of the day, Eddie did not receive a new liver.  His small intestine didn't grow a few feet and start absorbing nutrition.  He's not sitting in my lap right now as a living testimony to the healing power of Christ.  And that really, really hurts.


So I've been avoiding the pain.  I don't go to churches where they lay hands on people as a matter of course. I don't pray the Holy Spirit down on my family when they are ill; I just say a perfunctory "Please God touch and heal {insert name here} in the name of Jesus Christ, by whose stripes we are healed" and then wait for the virus to take its course.  I'm embarrassed to admit that, but it's true.  I pray for my kids but I don't believe anything out of the ordinary is going to take place after I do so.  They haven't had any crazy, life-threatening stuff (thank you, Lord) so it's been easy to be in mediocre belief for their health.

God doesn't want my faith to reside in mediocrity.  I know that.  So I kept reading.  I kept crying.  I kept throwing myself on the mercy of God.  This is spiritual warfare and my battle cry became the cry of the father in Mark 9:24 who shouted out to Christ, "I believe!  Help my unbelief!"  I began to pray in earnest over my lungs, crying down the power of heaven into my circumstances, standing on God's healing promises, feeling His power enter into my body, physically, like a fire raging through me.  I haven't prayed like this since my baby died and it was hard and done with weeping, both of gratitude and pain.  It was like God was entering into me, searing me with Holy Fire, cauterizing the gaping wounds that I didn't even know were there.  Every time I prayed like this, my lungs would open and I would breathe.  By that night, though, the symptoms would be back.

I accepted it.  I accepted that God was working something so much more powerful in me than just a simple physical healing so, although it is inconvenient and uncomfortable, I'm bearing with it.  I'm praying on it.  I'm believing on it because He said He wants to heal this so HE IS GOING TO.  I don't have to know what the hold up is.  I can believe and accept that His timing is perfect and going to bring about even more growth, more glory.

It was with this mindset that I went to Sojourn church this past Wednesday morning.  There is a ladies group  there that I love to meet with whenever I can.  They love the Lord so much and lift each other up in Him so powerfully.  I knew there would be women there who would lay hands on me and pray, so I went with the intention of asking for prayer, of receiving.  As soon as I walked through the doors of the prayer room, though, I heard a conversation going on between two women about healing.  About what does it mean when you pray for the healing, when you believe, and when you don't receive.  At first I was just going to sit and listen, thinking God had a word for me from these two women.  Then God spoke to my Spirit and told me to get in there.  So I joined the conversation.

Something miraculous happened.  All of a sudden, God began to pour out of me from all that He has been pouring into me over the past week.  Words began coming out of my mouth, words of faith, words of comfort, words of Truth.  He wasn't only speaking to this woman who needed to hear what He had to say, He was speaking to me through me.  It was a rather out-of-body experience.  What she needed to hear and I needed to reiterate is that God is good no matter what.  If He seems to be withholding something it is not because He is mean, unloving, or doesn't care.  It isn't because we aren't praying right or believing enough.  It is because He wills something so much greater for us than the thing we are asking for.  It is because He loves us too much to grant our request.  She said she just needed to see the Hand of God in her situation, that she needed His hand, and I was able to say with all confidence, "No, you don't, you only need His Presence."  I told her if I had been healed of asthma this week, I would not have been positioned to talk to her and that I was grateful that God had placed me in her life that morning, exactly as I was, dealing with the same issues and able to share His Truth.

Bill Johnson talks about "thy kingdom come" being about calling the power of heaven down to earth and thereby performing miracles in His name.  I believe that.  He is speaking Truth.  It is also truth that the next line is "thy will be done."  So if you have asked for His intervention and you do not receive, you can still trust that there is something greater in the works for you.  Our will is hopelessly flawed; His is infinitely good.  What I shared yesterday and what I believe, totally, completely, and with my whole heart, mind, and spirit is that God is good no matter what.  All the time.  He loves us all the time, in every circumstance, in every affliction, in every trial.

It is God's will that I be miraculously healed from asthma.  I know this because He told me so.  It was also His will that Eddie die on that early Saturday morning in August 2007.  I don't know all the reasons and I don't need to.  I believe that it was for a greater good, not just for others but for me as well, because God only loves me.  This much I do know:  because Eddie died, I am positioned to be a light to people who prayed and lost.  Who believed and then suffered.  I am able to speak about the amazing, overwhelming goodness of God from a position of strength because I have been there.  I know that this has great value and enables me to serve my Lord in a radical, wonderful way that brings me great joy.  I know I have peace, I know I am beloved, and I know I have a grateful heart.  I know I have a little boy waiting for me who will be pleased that I took the gift that was his life and held it up as a beacon of God's love.  So, I'm going to wait on the Lord, not in impatience, not with an entitlement attitude, not in fear, but in grateful expectancy of how He is going to shower me with love.  I'm going to praise Him for sealing up those cracks in my faith, those wounds of disbelief, through whatever means was necessary.

After my powerful, Spirit-filled morning on Wednesday, I promptly developed food poisoning.  I know what this is.  It's the enemy's pathetic attempt to make me throw my hands in the air, disavow everything I just told that woman, and go back to an attitude of, "Really, God?  Seriously?"  It didn't work.  I laughed at satan and told him how pathetic he was.  That disbelief had no power over me.  I praised God for an excuse to be still and spend time with Him.  Don't get me wrong; physically I felt like death warmed over.  But it has passed and because of it I spent hours with God that I otherwise would have spent in business.  What satan meant for evil, God used for good, because I trust Him.  No matter what.  And that is all I need to do.