Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Digging and Dung

I was reading this morning in Luke 13:

6And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7And he said to the vinedresser, 'Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' 8And he answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

I am certainly not an expert Bible Expositer but this parable spoke powerfully to me, especially in light of Sunday's sermon on the patience of God. I am the man - looking at the tree that is my life and saying - "It's been a whole 40 years God - why isn't there more fruit?" Or, more recently, "It's been a whole hour of trying to be a good mom, why isn't there more fruit?" This morning it was "God, he's been my husband for 16 years, why doesn't he bear the fruit I think he should?" Seeking fruit on my tree, I find only an occasional raisin. In my despair and frustration, I want to cut down any tree that isn't bearing fruit in my hasty timetable. God is the wise and patient vinedresser whispering to me - "I am bearing fruit in you and your loved ones - wait on Me - give it time...I do promise you, though, if it is fruit you seek - I will have to dig at your heart and it will be painful. Healthy fruit is only borne out of regular pruning. The rotten roots of sin and selfishness must be dug out. Healthy fruit must be nourished by the application of dung. Yes, Jen, what appears to be nothing more than manure heaped on your life is truly the soil that I will use to bear fruit in your life. Do you trust me? Are you willing to wait for it?"

With a weak and trembling heart, I say to Him, "Yes, Lord, I will wait. I RECOGNIZE that it is you doing the careful, gracious digging at my heart because you love me. I trust that you know the right amount of trial needed to refine me to be more like you. It is in the wait that I blossom."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What would I do differently if I was a new bride today?

I was talking today with a sweet young lady who is to become a wife in 28 ½ days – yes, of course she knows the exact number of hours til she becomes a Mrs. but I’ll just leave it at a vague 28 1/2 days.. I was thinking back to my early years of marriage and pondering the things I would do differently in the early years of my marriage to Phil. Here are a few of the musings I came away with:

1. I would have defined my identity in Christ. Becoming Mrs. Philip Smidt threw me into a bigger identity crisis than I ever imagined it would. I had lived in the life and body of Jennifer Munson for 23 years – for better or worse, I knew what to expect of her. Jennifer Smidt, wife of Phil, caused me to rethink my whole purpose and very existence on this planet. Except, it didn’t need to. I needed to look to my Creator and know Him. Then, I needed to understand what He called me in His Word as His chosen daughter. Then, and only then, would being uniquely called to be Phil’s wife make any sense or have any grounding.
2. I would have prepared myself for some serious exposure – and I’m not just talking in the bedroom… Marriage brings together 2 sinners under a covenant for life where each person’s sin is exposed and revealed in the interactions with their spouse.
3. I would have sought to understand that submitting to my husband ONLY flowed out of a heart submitted to Christ. I was trying to put the cart before the horse (or in this case, the actions before the heart) I kept trying to muster up enough submission to let Phil lead me when what I really needed to do was repent of my independence from God, let Him change me at the heart level and beautifully, submission to Phil would overflow from that new heart.
4. I would have taken full responsibility for my personal relationship with Jesus. As a young bride, I really clung to the whole “spiritual leader” thing and over time, realized that I believed Phil being the spiritual leader meant I was off the hook. He was responsible for the spiritual health of our marriage after all. I didn’t truly experience my wrong thinking until our relationship started fraying at the seams and I blamed Phil entirely.
5. I would have prayed more. About the seemingly little things (Lord, please help me learn how to iron a shirt properly) the medium sized things (Lord, please show me how to prepare a balanced meal for my family) and the huge things (Lord, are you sure you want me to quit my job and stay home??)
6. I would have been asking God for a mother’s heart long before I had children. Next to being a wife, being a mother is the most self-revealing role you will encounter. I would have prayed for more selfless love and patience as a new wife because Lord knows, I need unceasing amounts of both and I would have had a jumpstart on aligning my selfish heart to Jesus’ selfless love that mothering requires.
7. I would have found an older godly woman and stalked her. I would have begged her to let me sit at her feet and show me the ways of godly wifing and mothering.
8. I would have owned an ESV journaling Bible. Yes, I realize they did not exist in the early 1990’s but they do today so for the purpose of this writing – you aren’t off the hook. Study bibles are wonderful tools for digging deeper but each of us as wives must simply sit with the words of God before us and see what it is the Holy Spirit that dwells inside you wants you to know and hear. Removes the temptation to distrust the HS in you and always see what the experts have to say. The HS indwells you – let Him speak to you personally.
9. I would have surrendered to the fact that biblical femininity is radically different than what the academic, supposedly “evolved and advanced” world tells me it is. It is not oppressive, boring and second rate – it is freeing, life-giving and the greatest joy and challenge I have ever grabbed hold of.
10. I would have rested more. I’m not talking about “I’m resting with Oprah and bon-bons chilling in the freezer because I don’t deserve this mundane housewife gig” – I am talking about the true rest that only comes from a quiet heart. Elisabeth Elliot wrote a book entitled Keep a Quiet Heart and the title alone convicts and intrgues me. Rest is found in Christ alone – the noise in our hearts and heads comes from listening to too many voices

After 16 years, I can gratefully look back and see what God has taught me about Himself, myself and marriage. I can RECOGNIZE His fingerprints all over my marriage to Phil. My prayer is - no matter where you are in your journey towards becoming a wife or living as a wife for years and years – that you can recount the growth God has shown you and grasp the redemptive thread of His work in your life.

Redeeming F Words

On June 11, I turned FORTY. I'm told forty is the new thirty. I hope not. I don't want to be thirty again - don't want to relive that decade. It was very happy in so many ways but it was also painful. God did a lot of redemptive restoration in my life and relationships in my thirties and while I am grateful for it, I don't want to go back. I want to face my forties living FREELY out of the redemption He has worked in my life. God gave me 3 more F words as a vision for what He desires from me in the next half of my life...

FOCUS - I am spontaneous and FUN. That is what my orderly, schedule-oriented (read uptight) friends call me. I do not like keeping to a rigid schedule. What if I feel like doing the 3:15 activity at 10:30? Some days I just want a nap to come right after breakfast. But, as I mature, God is changing me and showing me that while spontaneity can be fun at times, it does not produce the righteous life that God desires. If I am going to train my mind and heart and body to glorify God in all I do, I must be focused. I must have a plan. Which leads me to...

FRUITFUL - I am a very busy person. My calendar gets booked weeks in advance and I am not a world-class surgeon...I am a wife and mother. My business does not always equate with fruitfulness though. I can run around all week feeling frazzled and busy with seemingly good things but not the right things - the activities that are bearing fruit in myself and my family. (Note: CJ Mahaney writes a very challenging blog series on this topic at his website...view from the cheap seats) God wants my time to be allotted to those things that will bear fruit for His kingdom - not my kingdom. Which leads me to choice F word #3...

FAITHFUL - God wants my life to be characterized by faithfulness.

Psalm 37:3Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

Be a friend to faithfulness? Huh? Good-time Jenny doesn't really want to have to be a loyal friend to faithfulness...that requires effort and commitment on my part. And that is exactly what God is asking of me. He is asking me to be faithful to His Truth, His saving work on the cross for me and the redemption He has worked in me. For the next 40 years of my life, He is asking for my whole heart - a heart faithfully committed to Him. And I will give it because He is faithful and He will care for me in ways far more glorious than I could imagine.

Sure, Jennifer Garner got to be thirty, flirty and thriving but I'd much rather follow Jesus and RECOGNIZE Him in the vision He gave to me for my forties: Focused, Fruitful and Faithful