Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Favorite Things

The other day my daughters were introduced to "The Sound of Music". You know the one. Julie Andrews twirling around without a care in the world as she sings at the top of her voice about the hills being alive and how her heart wants to sing.

One of their favorite parts was the scene where all the children are in Maria's room thanks to a very loud thunderstorm outside. The younger kids especially are scared to pieces when the bright flashes of lightning strike and the thunder claps beyond the safety of that little bedroom.

To make the kids feel better and help them forget their anxious feelings about the storm outside, Maria teaches them that famous song called, "My Favorite Things". Before you know it, the kids are singing and dancing with smiles on their faces just at the thought of some of their favorite things such as snowflakes and kittens. It's true. Thinking about the best things in our lives brings joy, no matter how big or small that favorite thing may be.

A friend of mine shared that her church was having a very unusual service recently as they go thru a study on the book of Genesis. The week before, they had studied about Abraham and Isaac and the account of when the Lord asks Abraham to sacrifice the most precious thing in his life: his only son, Isaac. You know the story. At the very last second before Abraham plunges the knife into the chest of his son lying on the altar, an angel stops him and points out a ram nearby which the Lord provided in place of Isaac. It was just a test.

The next week at my friend's church, they were going to be given a small piece of wood. Each person was to write the name of something (or someone) they knew the Lord was calling them to give up for Him. It could be anything, good or bad. Anything that was holding back their hearts from honoring the Lord above all else with full abandon. After writing it down, each person was supposed to walk to the front of the room and toss their piece of wood into a fire, symbolizing the spiritual significance of laying down their idols upon the altar.

Now please understand. There was nothing weird going on here. And it wasn't just another (albiet clever) way to hammer home legalism in these church members. It was designed to be a powerful picture, something they would remember vividly, of the day they literally threw into the fire to be burned whatever it is that may be keeping them from the relationship God longs to have with each one of us. I thought it was one of the coolest things I've ever heard about a church doing and wished I could've been there myself that day.

This got me thinking. If I had been one of the children dancing and singing with Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, what would I have listed as some of my favorite things? And if I were to look closer at what I came up with, would I find anything that's taken up disproportionate importance in my life as compared to my walk with Jesus? Would any of my "favorite things" (although none of them evil in and of themselves) qualify as an idol I was not willing to burn at the altar of commitment to a deeper walk with Jesus?

It was a difficult question to ponder.

You see, I've already been asked to sacrifice something that was so precious to me I fought tooth and nail not to give it up. I held on stubbornly and refused to loosen my grip on something that most Christian circles would say is definitely a good thing and couldn't possibly be among the things God asks us to give up for His glory. No way. I tried to convince myself I was definitely NOT hearing His voice telling me to bring this particular piece of wood to the altar. It couldn't be.

And yet, it was.

After a long, painful struggle, I was finally, FINALLY ready to toss my idol into the fire. It broke my heart to do it. It felt like a crushing blow to my chest until there were times I literally had to stop and catch my breath. It took me down to nothing to give it up. I felt like I was burning right along with it.

It was my marriage.

My marriage?! What kind of God asks a "good girl" to trust Him and get a divorce?! I couldn't understand it. But nevertheless, He made it undeniably clear that's what He was asking me to give up, and I knew if I did I would undoubtedly experience a walk with Him more intimate than I had ever known. Because He would be the only One I had left.

Over the last several months, I've thought a lot about Abraham. The relief he must've felt when he saw that ram tangled in the bushes must've been so great he likely fell to the ground, his knees buckling at the emotion of realizing he would not have to sacrifice his beloved son. What a tremendous experience to see God provide a way out and Abraham be allowed to keep Isaac with him in this life.

God did that for Abraham.

But not for me.

There was no "ram" provided in place of my marriage's death. Oh, I tried to bring along my own "rams". This counselor. That pastor. This mentor. That accountability group. Each time, the rams I brought to substitute for the death of my marriage slipped from my grasp, leaving me with nothing on the altar, nothing to toss into the fire, but the thing I thought it would kill me to give up.

So what happens when God DOESN'T provide the ram? Where do we go after we watch the one thing we thought we couldn't possibly live without disintegrate in the fire before our eyes? Who do we become when that precious thing is stripped from us?

I didn't know then, but I've learned it firsthand.

We become HIS "favorite thing". We become the precious piece of His heart He values above all others. We become the daughter (or son) He would move mountains to rescue, to protect, to love.

As I watched the flames dying out and saw that nothing but charred embers remained of my marriage, I will admit I had some moments along the way where I was downright furious that God didn't provide the ram. I mean, that's what He's SUPPOSED to do, right? I didn't REALLY want to give up my marriage! He was supposed to come in and save the day and change lives and restore what was broken so I could give Him all the glory and praise. That was the deal. And I would've given Him all the credit til the day I die for saving what was a hopeless mess. It would've been my song for the rest of my days to declare how He made all things new.

I finally turned from that dying fire, the smoke gently whirling up into the sky which I thought could never possibly be blue again. And then.

As the ashes scattered at my feet and a breeze blew them away, I remembered Jesus' words to His disciples as they, too, gave up the most precious thing in their world, having Jesus physically present with them. Just before He ascended into heaven, He said, "

"My peace I give you. My peace I leave with you."

Peace. The one thing that had been so elusive in my marriage and so brief in its visits. I couldn't be wrapped in peace as long as I was stubbornly holding onto things I thought were better. But the moment I gave that thing up, I felt His peace in ways I can't even express.

I wish this for my daughters. I long for them to know this peace that passes all understanding. I want them, too, to feel God's smile upon them and understand how precious they are to Him. I want them to know they BELONG to Him, that they MATTER to Him, that He NEVER will grow weary of them. And yet I know that often this type of intimate understanding only comes after tossing into the fire our most precious things. And that part makes me hurt to think of my daughters having to do someday. So I ask the Lord every day to spare them of this kind of pain. To find a way into the deepest part of their hearts WITHOUT the suffering that tends to prepare us for hearing His voice more clearly.

I don't know what He will choose to use in their lives. But I do know this: He longs for us to know
Him in more than just a casual relationship. And He will ask us to give up anything, ANYTHING that we hang onto for the security and belonging that only HE can provide. And He is GOOD.

And that conclusion, that assurance that we belong to a LOVING Father, makes it okay. Not fun, not painless, not anything short of agonizing. But okay because I know the end of the story. I know Who will be there after the last ember of my sacrifice fades away.

I don't believe God caused my divorce. I believe it made Him incredibly sad to see. I believe He mourned deeply that day just as I did. But I also believe my pain has not been wasted. He has used and will continue to use this awful, painful reality called divorce to make me better. I don't know how He does it, but He redeems broken stories like mine.

So what should be written on your little piece of wood for the fire? Is today the day you finally set fire to it and get back the room in your heart it's been stealing? Don't wait. There is joy unspeakable waiting on the other side of that flame.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I've been thinking about this girl a lot lately. 

Meet little girl Sharon, age 8. The year was 1986 and although this picture may not look like anything special to you, it was a big deal to me at the time. 

You see, I've never been an especially spirited or adventurous kind of gal. I like to play it safe. You won't find me on an extreme snow boarding show or extreme makeover shows or extreme...well, anything. 

Nope. Not this girl. I like to keep my feet on the ground and my path straight ahead. No twists, no turns, no unexpected risks or uncertain outcomes. The safer, the better, actually. 

So that brings me back to this picture and why it caught my eye the other day. 

I had been trying for a while to get up the courage to hang upside down on our little metal swingset in my backyard. I remember marching myself out there with determination and courage, grasping tightly the metal bar while lifting one leg and then the other up and over that bar, and then clinging to that pole for dear life. 

All I had to do was just let go. A simple thing, really, and not all that risky now that I look back and think about it. But at the time, it felt extremely dangerous. Everything looked so distorted when my world was upside down and I felt much higher up than I actually was. It seemed as if I were suspended at least 50 feet up into the air and if I actually let go of that metal bar, I would surely come crashing down straight onto my head. So I would just stay there. Too afraid to release my grip. Disappointed in myself but willing to live with that if it meant safety. 

I worked on this for quite a while. Each time I would think, "today's the day! I'm gonna let go". And each day I would chicken out. Too risky. 

The day this picture was taken, my mom was out there to witness the big event. I climbed back up, hooked the back of my knees onto the metal bar, counted to three, and did the one thing I was so afraid to do. I released my grip and let go even though my world looked upside down and I was afraid of what might happen. 

Mom was there to snap the picture, serving as cheerleader (and perhaps assistance in the event I needed a hand) and ready to capture my moment of victory. I suspect I'm not smiling in the picture because I was playing it cool, as though I'd done this hundreds of times before and my mom was just being a mom, wanting a picture of an ordinary moment. Right. 

I've thought about that little girl who was too afraid to let go because I've recently parted ways with her. 

It took me a very long time. Far too long, actually, to tell her goodbye. I would get up my courage time and time again that I was going to take the next leap, let go of things I'd been clinging to for so long, and experience the freedom that comes with releasing things which were robbing me of really living. And with that courage, I'd march out to my grown-up version of the swingset, hook my knees onto the pole, and then sit there. 

And there she would be again, shouting that I couldn't possibly let go. My entire world was upside down, for pete's sake! I grew to hate that girl with such a loud voice and such influence over my choices. Her name may be little girl Sharon, but she seemed a lot like someone else I know who goes by the name Deceiver. 

And so I held on tightly, refusing to loosen my grip and experience what could be the next step of my life. Oh, there were other voices besides little girl Sharon urging me to keep hanging on. They came up with lots of reasons that sounded good at first glance, but the more I listened and studied and scrutinized those voices, the less they sounded like voices I should be giving creedence to. 

Because you see, in the midst of all those voices, there was one voice among them I began to hear a little more clearly with each passing day. 

This voice was different. This voice was calm. It was soothing. It was peaceful and gentle even though the message this voice brought was scarier than all the other voices combined. This voice required no action on my part but one:


Y'all, I just can't tell you how I struggled mightily with that voice. I couldn't. I wouldn't. Absolutely not, I argued. That's not safe. I can't possibly be hearing that voice correctly, I would tell myself. Surely all these other voices can hear and discern more clearly for my life than I could. No, I think I'd much prefer to cling to this metal bar and only halfway experience living. Sure, my hands were aching and my grip was faltering, but I would manage somehow. If I just listened to all those other voices vying for my allegiance and followed their instructions, I could do this! No need to let go and let my world be turned absolutely upside down. I'll just stay right here, thank you. 

But here's the thing about this voice: 

 "My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life." (John 10:27)

I did know that voice. 

It was Jesus. It wasn't the loudest voice in the midst of turmoil and others who told me they were representatives of Jesus so I should trust their input. It wasn't the most compelling voice sometimes when all I wanted to do was just keep hanging onto that metal pole. 

But it was the only voice that was still there in the darkness. The only one that never left my side regardless of my fear or my questions or my anger or my tears. 

It was the only voice I knew in my heart to be Truth. 

And I knew it was time to follow that voice. It was time to release my grip regardless of how upside down my world would be when I did. 

And it was the same voice that was there in the rubble and ashes of that upside down world. 

John 10:28 goes on to say, " They are protected from the Destroyer for good. No one can steal them from out of my hand. The Father who put them under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief. No one could ever get them away from him.

I adore that passage. It comforted me as a kid when I was worried about my salvation. Did I do it right? Did I mean it sincerely enough? Am I REALLY okay and in His hand for good? 

And it comforted me in those dark weeks and months after releasing my grip and feeling upside down at first. But the strangest part was this: even though I was upside down, I could see clearer, hear better, and live more fully than I had ever thought I would be able to in such chaos. 

That voice I had heard and (oh, so slowly) agreed to finally follow was now keeping His promise to be the Good Shepherd who guides, sustains, and protects His own. Through no goodness or amazing faithfulness on my part, Jesus has seen fit to be the promise keeper He's told me He would be. He hasn't left my side in this upside down, broken world. 

Because you see, He, too, knows the feeling of releasing His grip on how He hoped things would go. He understands the fear and the pain of seeing your plans not go the way you always wanted. He knows fully the road of faith and how it is difficult. The difference is, He never tripped or faltered on that difficult road like I do. 

But He's there to pick me up, dust me off, and bring me exactly what I need in that moment to keep me going. 

I would cheer little girl Sharon on in that picture if I could. I'd tell her I'm so proud of her for letting go even though it took her a long time to get up enough courage to do it. And I'd tell her that was just the first of many times her world would feel upside down, but that it's the times we are upside down that we most clearly hear the one Voice that matters. 

And that really is ALL that matters. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pretty Little Liars

Y'all, I'm failing at this parenting thing. 

Really. The story I am about to tell you is 100% true, not embellished in any way, and ironically is a story about 100% lies. 

I had to look up the official diagnosis for someone who is a compulsive liar just to see how many of the characteristics lined up. This is what I found:
"Pathological lying can be described as a habituation of lying. It is when an individual consistently lies for no personal gain. The lies are commonly transparent and often seem rather pointless."

Now I'm just downright frightened. But read for yourself what transpired and you be the judge. 

The girls and I attend an awesome church. We've been there about a year and a half and I could not be happier. The people are warm, the teaching solid, the music exactly my preference, and heart of the church to be outward focused spot on with the call of the Gospel in our lives. Like I said, I love it and am so happy to be there. We've started getting more involved recently and are getting to know lots of new folks. Our days of being anonymous and sitting in the back are over and it's time to let this unsuspecting group of people get to know the real Webber Women, warts and all.

I just didn't think we'd be showing them this many warts quite so soon. 

The service was over. I talked briefly with a couple new friends, gathered my things, and made my way to the children's area to pick up my younger two girls. Armed with my badge bearing the same ID number as the girls, I made my way to my third grader's room first. 

As I got closer, I noticed her teacher was leading the group in a closing prayer. I knew the prayer time would be very brief (because let's face it, any time when the adults in a room full of kids close their eyes for an extended period of time, the results are just not going to be quite as spiritual as one might hope.) Although I couldn't hear what was being said, I observed and soon the prayer was concluded and the kids resumed whatever it is that 3rd graders do to be loud and unruly. 

Approaching the door, I waved to Lauren and she quickly made her way to me. She was in quite a hurry, actually, but since she feels that being quarantined into a children's church area is degrading and only for babies, I assumed she was just anxious to be back among "her people", a.k.a. the grown-ups. 

Thanking her teacher, I smiled and offered him a glance of the ID number in my hand, which he studied for a brief moment before saying, "We prayed for you guys on your upcoming trip." He was really being genuine and kind.

I was baffled. Oh no. Was I having a senior moment? Was I planning a trip that I had forgotten all about? Was it TODAY? Where was I going? I racked my brain, trying desperately to recall any trips I was planning to take in the next few days. 

Nothing. Alzheimer's and dementia run STRONG in my family so I'm always looking for signs that I am losing it. 

With no other option but to admit my forgetfulness, I had to admit it to this nice man who had cared well for my daughter while I sat in church. I had no idea what he was talking about. 

"Trip? Where are we going?" I asked, half laughing to hide my confusion, half hoping he would fill me in on the plans I had made for myself and forgotten. 

"You know, your trip home? Back to Australia?" the man replied, dead serious and most likely growing concerned that I was traveling literally across the world and did not seem to remember this.

Image result for pictures of australia

And then it hit me. She hadn't. She wouldn't. 

She did.

I looked around for the little fibber, but discovered she had taken off like a brushfire in September. She was nowhere to be seen. 

You see, the girls have discovered a few pre-teen shows on Netflix. They're harmless, but the girls seem to really enjoy them mostly because they take place in Australia and they enjoy listening to the young girls' accents. Lauren especially has been enamored and trying out her Australian accent with words like "crikey" and "mate". 

Here we were, just starting to get to know people at our new church, and she pulls this? We certainly would be making a new, fresh start with new relationships, but now they would be questioning every word we said thanks to my little truth stretcher (this time it wasn't just stretching the truth. She had snapped it right in half.). 

I informed this poor chap that we were, in fact, from America, and that we had no plans to travel to Australia in the foreseeable future. Graciously, the man laughed a little and seemed amused (and confused). He said she told him she was "just here visiting her American cousins, Olivia and Lauren." 

I later found out more of what had transpired during the hour she was in the class. When asked what part of Australia she was from, she didn't miss a beat. In her weird combination of a southern, British, and Australian accent, she said, "We just moved to a new neighborhood. I'm not really sure where it is." The teacher had asked if she lived near Sydney (the only city Lauren has ever heard of thanks to Nemo), and Lauren had immediately pounced on that by saying, "Oh, yes! We live very close to Sydney!" 

I apologized to this man for the confusion, thanked him for his prayers (hey, we can always use more prayers on our behalf even if they are based on lies), and started to leave. The teacher, maybe wanting to share a smile (or a glare) with my child, leaned out the doorway and said, "Bye, Hope! See you next week!"

I stopped in my tracks. Turned around and gave him the same look, except this time he knew what it meant. 

"Her name's Lauren," I said. I gave a nervous laugh, shrugged, and walked away. 

Next week's lesson will likely be the story of Ananias and Sapphira from the book of Acts. (If you don't know it, look it up. You'll see what I mean.)

Honestly. These kids just frighten me sometimes. They're so well-behaved in public and with teachers of all kinds that no one would EVER suspect any one of them would pull such a stunt (for over an hour, I might add. It takes some focused concentration to keep up with an attempted accent that long without slipping up.). 

And in the ultimate irony, today after school Lauren told me about a misunderstanding between some classmates. Because the teacher wasn't there to see it for herself, who did she call upon to relay the facts of what had actually transpired?

My little Hope. I mean, Lauren. 

Suddenly the recent trouble this guy has been in seems a little too close to home:

A Close Shave

No one ever mentioned to me that being a mother would mean having to master the art of hiding things from my children. And I'm not talking about Christmas gifts or special birthday surprises. I'm talking about plain, ordinary objects that for some reason my children have shown some kind of weird fascination with and either use for purposes not intended or magically touch them and lose them instantly.

Case in point: One school morning a couple weeks ago I found a lone razor on the bathroom countertop in my daughters' bathroom. 

This was obviously an immediate red flag in my mind. I do have one daughter who has expressed some interest now and then in shaving her legs, but just like all the female population, she quickly figured out it's not nearly as much fun as she'd hoped so she abandoned that idea pretty quickly. Knowing that it was not likely her that had been using the razor, my suspicions were raised all the more.

I was soon to find out the culprit, and let me tell you, it was a scenario that not even eleven years of parenthood had prepared me to imagine.

It was just downright weird, to say it plainly.

I went into my youngest daughter's room to wake her and get her ready for another exciting day of kindergarten. There she was, all snuggled in her bed, a cherub face and surrounded by her beloved stuffed animals. Her favorite blanket, all ratty and stained, clenched in her little fist as she sucked her thumb. Such a picture of childhood innocence, right?

I spent the next few minutes rousing her from her childish dreams, gently helping her from the bed and making sure she was well on her way to getting dressed before I left the room. She was pleasant and it was an uneventful, peaceful interchange between the two of us. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Going downstairs, I began collecting backpacks and water bottles and getting breakfast out for the girls. I had really forgotten all about the razor in the bathroom.

My memory was soon prompted, however, when I heard yelling and crying and laughing from upstairs. My two older girls came rushing down the stairs to blurt out the big news of the morning, "Mom!!! Leighanne shaved off half her eyebrow!!!"

Not far behind them came my kindergartener, tears streaming down her face and an angry furrow of her two eyebrows. Er, make that an angry furrow of one and a half angry eyebrows. What had seemed like such a cool idea had obviously turned into a terrible, devastating idea to this kid. Her big sisters had oh so graciously pointed out the humor in this situation, and she was none to pleased to realize the finality of what she had done.

I took a good look at her and tried my best to convince her it was no big deal. After all, I had woken her up this morning and hadn't even noticed, so she was bound to escape the teasing of her fellow kindergarteners, who often times don't even realize that they're wearing their clothes backwards or that they forgot to wear shoes that day. It was one of those moments I wished I had taken more care to hide all my razors. But to be fair, how many stories have you heard of a 6-year-old shaving off her eyebrows? It had just never occurred to me that this might happen.

After several threatening looks to my older daughters, they found a way to control their laughter and go about the business of breakfast. I got Leighanne into a state of sad but stable resignation at the fact that she would just have to live with this look for a few weeks, and we were doing pretty well with this reality.

My mom, who has been taking the girls to school for me in the mornings, pulled up and I sent the older two out first so they could warn her to NOT, under any circumstances, make any remarks whatsoever about the missing eyebrow. They quickly filled her in before Leighanne approached the van.

Phew. My mom played it very cool and said not a single word. She called me later, though, and let me know how the car ride had gone. She said they were all three laughing and having a good chuckle over the whole thing, especially when my 9-year-old suggested that Leighanne could just tell her teacher and classmates she had been playing with a blow torch.

Good grief. There's just no stopping this kid when she gets an idea in that cute little head of hers. Eyebrows are overrated, anyway, aren't they? 

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